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Grounds for the Diversification of Law

Achaemenian period is quite negligible, available evidences indicate that the Achaemenid society had a wide range of laws. On the basis of the information that has reached us through the Greek sources, criminal laws were given the greatest importance during that period, a fact that can also be attested by studying the inscriptions of the Achaemenian kings. Josephus Flavius has made a brief mention of the Persian laws and has emphasized that even from the viewpoint of a critic like Apollonius, the criminal laws of Persia were commendable.

In order to evaluate the criminal laws of the Achaemenian period, both in the areas of legislation as well as implementation, it is important to take into consideration the principle emphasized upon by Dāryush which specified that every criminal should be punished only according to the degree of his crime. Another principle that has been recorded by Herodotus is that as per the Persian laws, neither could the king nor could any other Persian in a position of authority condemn a first-time criminal to death and nor could any Persian severely punish a slave for a single crime unless it was proved that his crime had exceeded the value of his services. This principle has, on the one hand, gained the commendation of some historians of law while, on the other hand, some others have regarded it as an ethical principle rather than a legal one. 

As regards the administrative and financial systems and the related laws of that period, it should be noted that during the process of his reforms, Dāryush had fulfilled upon the earlier promise of Kurosh (Cyrus), to formulate taxation laws and had systematized the procedure of taxation throughout his empire. The steps that had been taken during that period towards the regulation of the administrative and financial affairs of the country had succeeded in laying the foundation for an organized social structure. This fact can be verified by observing a number of positions specified in the ancient Persian language in the administrative and financial systems of the country such as “hesāb-ras” (auditor), “khazānedār” (treasurer), and “bāz-ras” (inspector) that had, with some alterations, found their way into the sacred Aramaic texts as well as other books.

Very little information is available on the personal laws of the Achaemenian period and whatever negligible information is available is related only to laws concerning marriage, such as the permissibility of plural marriages and the non-permissibility of marriage between immediate blood relatives. Apparently, the personal laws during the Achaemenian period shared a close connection with the religious teachings of those times. There is a possibility that after the conquest of Babylonia, the Persians had adopted certain Babylonian laws, and particularly their laws related to trade and commerce and had implemented them throughout the Achaemenian Empire.

As regards the judicial system, it is evident that a group of judges - usually seven in number - was selected as judicial councilors of the king or what the Greek historians have referred to as the “royal judges”. This council presided as the highest judicial authority of the empire and great importance was given in their selection to the levels of their knowledge and trustworthiness. The membership of this council was life-long unless any of the judges would commit a crime, in which case, he would be sentenced to a severe death punishment.


* source: Pakatchi , Ahmad "Iran Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 ,pp.621 - 622


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