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IRANIAN GOVERNMENT & ADMINISTRATION: 

NOTARIAL INSTITUTION

IN ANCIENT IRAN

 

By: Mansour Shaki

 

 

The function of a notarial institution is not explicitly set forth in the extant records for all pre-Islamic periods, but allusions to procedures for drawing up and executing documents suggest the existence of some sort of notarial practice.

 

The Achaemenid period

In the Achaemenid period documents related to private and social affairs were registered on clay tablets in Elamite and Akkadian, some with Aramaic endorsements on the sides, and on parchment and papyrus in Aramaic. Tablets found in the treasury and fortifications at Persepolis attest the early registration of documents in the court chancery. The numerous texts from fortifications, written at many sites in the area encompassing Persepolis and Susa and recording transfers of supplies, date from 509 to 494 B.C.E. (13th-28th years of Darius I, q.v.), whereas the much smaller number of Treasury tablets from Persepolis and the vicinity include records of silver payments in the years 492-58 B.C.E. (the 30th year of Darius I to the 7th year of Artaxerxes I, q.v.; Cameron; Hallock, p. 588). The treasury tablets were written under the supervision of the chief economic official, the Persian Farnaka, who, as head of an extensive administrative apparatus, oversaw the correspondence, most of which bears subscripts naming the scribes (Hallock, p. 590). They were deposited in the chancery, a royal registry. In addition, about 200 broken stone plates, pestles, and mortars inscribed in Aramaic were discovered at Persepolis; the inscriptions are records of the manufacture of these objects by artisans in Arachosia (Bowman; Levine). In addition to clay tablets and stone objects, a number of other documents were written in Aramaic on more perishable materials, which have survived in much smaller quantities (Cameron, pp. 24-31; Greenfield, p. 704). The widespread use of parchment for transactions, agreements, contracts, and the like in the Achaemenid empire may be assumed from the existence of a "guild" of parchment makers in Babylonia (Eilers, p. 49 n. 1; cf. Oppenheim, p. 579). That some scribes were well versed in Aramaic is also clear from a gracefully written parchment translation of the inscription of Darius I at Bîsotûn (q.v.), found at Elephantine in Upper Egypt, and from the "Aršâma (q.v. 2) letters," written on leather in Susa and Babylon (Greenfield, p. 703). The Akkadian and Elamite languages, traditionally written on more cumbersome clay tablets, were in time superseded by the more expedient Aramaic written on parchment, thus promoting the development of the Persian scribal tradition. Tablets continued to be used occasionally until the mid-Parthian period, however (Oppenheim, p. 571). It has been plausibly suggested that bullae were originally attached to documents of this period written in Aramaic (Cross, pp. 46-51). There is also rich economic and legal documentation from ancient Babylonia and Egypt, a substantial part of which is dispersed in various museums and remains unpublished. As the social and economic environments of these highly advanced Achaemenid dependencies were in many respects distinct from those prevailing in Persia, these documents seem to fall into a different cultural category.

 

The Parthian period

During the Seleucid and Parthian periods Greek was in use concurrently with Aramaic, and eventually the Greek system of preparing documents was introduced into Persia and adopted by Persian scribes. This change is apparent from the Avroman documents and parchments from Dura-Europos (qq.v.), which together provide the earliest evidence for the registration of deeds and contracts under the Parthians (see CONTRACTS ii). These documents attest that a developed law of obligations existed in Parthian domains and that Iranian scribes had already contrived an elaborate system for drawing up contractual agreements. The registry or archive of a royal wine storehouse (mdwst) containing more than 2,000 ostraca of the 1st century B.C.E. has come to light at Nisa, the Parthian capital located in what is now southern Turkestan. The documents, written in Aramaic script, are primarily notations not intended to be kept long; their contents were entered into a permanent document, probably on parchment, which constituted a running total of wine deliveries to the storehouse. Among these ostraca are dozens of emphyteutic leases of royal vineyards situated in the precincts of Mihrdâdkerd (D'yakonov and Livshits; Lukonin, p. 694). Three Sogdian contracts between private persons have also been preserved among the documents from Mount Mug, drafted in the second half of the 7th or at the beginning of the 8th century (Dokumenty). Chinese archeologists have recently discovered another Sogdian document recording the sale of a Samarkand slave woman in 638 (Yoshida and Moriaso).

 

The Sasanian period

A large number of Middle Persian papyri and a few parchments have been discovered in Egypt; they contain fragments of documents and official letters from the period of the Sasanian occupation (ca. 619-28). They are complemented by Greek papyri of the same period. From Persia itself there is a hoard of 199 discovered by Ernst Herzfeld near Ray and dated by him to the 6th century. The texts are related to supplies of wine and other commodities and have been interpreted either as treasury records (Weber) or as authorizations to warehouse workers to issue supplies (de Blois). In addition, repeated references to drawing up, signing, and sealing (nibišt ud âwišt) legal deeds confirm the existence of some sort of registry in the highly legalistic Sasanian state. Further confirmation is a complete model Zoroastrian marriage contract (paymân î zanîh) from the Islamic period (Pahlavi Texts, ed. Jamasp-Asana, II, pp. 141-43), which, despite a number of modifications and adaptations of the marriage articles to conform to a predominantly Islamic environment, still retains the character of its Sasanian prototype. Consistent with Sasanian tradition, the Yazdegerdî year 627 (the era beginning with the 20th year of Yazdegerd III, i.e., 1278 C.E.) and the Zoroastrian month and day are used; the identities of all participants are to be registered by their names and the names of their fathers and grandfathers and the domiciles (districts and provinces) of the couple specified. At the end the contract is to be signed by three witnesses, whose identities are to be similarly recorded. Although officiation at marriages, divorces, and adoption ceremonies was within the competence of a priest (môbed), there is no information in the text on whether it was drawn up by the môbed himself or a scribe. There is, however, no reference in the Sasanian law book Mâdayân î hazâr dâdestân to scribal functions, with one exception, in which the emphasis is on the maximum number of scribes to be engaged to record the minutes in tribunals of inquiry (pt. 1, p. 78). The general tenor of numerous legal cases, as well as the social environment of the Sasanians, suggests that documents were, as a rule, drawn up according to prescribed forms by people who were well versed in the subtle phraseology of Middle Persian, especially juridical terminology. They were then signed and sealed by the parties concerned, their witnesses, and in some instances officials like môbeds or rads (high-ranking spiritual or religious leader or judge, eminent religious personality; Mâdayân, pt. 2, p. 18).

Presumably the only literate people who could handle the technicalities of Middle Persian were the religious authorities and the scribes, who formed a stratum of the clergy. There are instances in which documents were only signed and sealed by môbeds or rads; the scribal part in the process of registration thus seems to have been indispensable. But, unlike the Achaemenid notaries, who managed registries, checked documents, and stored the copies (ham-pachchên) in archives, the function of the Sasanian scribes seems to have been essentially confined to writing. In Sogdian legal documents (contracts and receipts) the names of the scribes are usually given.

A number of formalities and conventions of Sasanian notarial practice are given in the Madayân. For example, the cost of preparing documents in duplicate (uzênag î pad nâmag-passâz) in traditional law (kardag) was 2 of every 9 drahms (dirhams) or 3 of every 10 drahms of the value of the property involved, whereas in civil law (dâdestân, q.v.) expenses did not exceed 2 of every 18 drahms. The expenses for a condemned person (marg-arzân) could not be more than 95 drahms (Mâdayân, pt. 2, p. 15). When a contract involved two partners with unequal assets or interests the original (mâdagwar) went to the person with the greater share and the copy to the other (Mâdayân, pt. 2, p. 33). In accordance with the pronouncements (pad châštag) of eminent jurists, the ordeal document (yazišn-nâmag, drawn up by the judge or rad recommending or ordering a trial by ordeal) was attested on the day of Ardwahišt but, in accordance with traditional law, on the day of Hordâd (Mâdayân, pt. 2, p. 13). The text of a testament could be changed when formulated and revoked at any time until it was signed and sealed (Mâdayân, pt. 2, p. 10). A "separate seal" (muhr-wêxt), "detached seal" (muhr-brîd), or "loose seal" (muhr-wišâd) in a document was tantamount to its having been "ripped open" (wišâd-dib; Mâdayân, pt. 1, p. 102).

Middle Persian legal terminology is rich in distinctive technical terms, which were, however, not always strictly respected by scribes. The least specific term is nibêg "letter, writing, book" (Mâdayân, pt. 1, p. 110). Nâmag generally meant "book, account, chronicle" and legally "decree, unsealed document," which when sealed became wizîr "executed document." Wizîr is defined as "the sealing wax plus document" (gil ud nâmag; Mâdayân, pt. 2, p. 34). Nâmag was also used for "edict" (nâmag î kâr-framân "edict of executive office"; Mâdayân, pt. 2, p. 38). It occurs as an element in various compounds: hilišn-nâmag "certificate of divorce," âzâd-nâmag "deed of manumission," uzdâd-nâmag "ordeal warrant" (Mâdayân, pt. 1, p. 78), and nâmag-niyân "archives" (lit., "document store"; nâmag-niyân î âtaxš î Huram-Ardašîr "archives of the fire of Huram-Ardašîr," Mâdayân, pt. I, p. 78). Dib was "a decree, a binding official document," as in dib î pâdixšây-kard "decree of executive authority" (Mâdayân, pt. 2, p. 38). Frawardag, synonymous with nâmag, most often meant "letter, epistle" and generally also "document, edict." Nibištag, literally, "a writing," legally denoted "report, record" (cf. nibištag kardan "to record (an offense)"; az nibištag hištan "to remove (an offense) from the official report"; Mâdayân, pt. 1, p. 97). MGLT÷ (Aram. megiltâ), interpreted as "nâmag," denoted "scroll." Git, gitâk meant "legal document, testament" (cf. Ak. gitÂtÂu "tablet," Aram. gitâ "document," Syr. gettâ "testament"). Pâdixšîr meant "treaty, covenant giving title to transfer of property for religious purposes" (inscription of Kerdîr at Ka´ba-ye Zardošt, 2-3; Back, pp. 389-92).

In Middle Persian legal texts various seals with distinct legal force are mentioned: "personal seal" (muhr î xwêš), "seal of office" (muhr î pad kâr-framân); and "trustworthy seal" (muhr î êwar), "authentic seal" (muhr î wizurd), and "credible seal" (muhr î wâbarigân), providing different degrees of reliability as evidence.

 

 

Bibliography

(For cited works not found in this bibliography and for abbreviations found here, see "Short References.")

Mâdayân î hazâr dâdestân, tr. S. J. Bulsara as The Laws of the Ancient Persians as Found in the Mâtîkân ê hazâr Dâttastân, 2 vols., Bombay, 1937; tr. A. G. Perikhanian as Sasanidski¥ Sudebnik, Yerevan, 1973. 

M. Back, Die sas-sanidischen Staatsinschriften, Acta Iranica 18, Lieàge, 1978. 

F. de Blois, review of D. Weber, Ostraca, Papyri and Pergamente, BSOAS 56, 1993, pp. 37-38

R. A. Bowman, Aramaic Ritual Texts from Persepolis, Chicago, 1970. 

G. C. Cameron, Persepolis Treasury Tablets, Chicago, 1948. 

M. A. R. Colledge, The Parthians, London, 1967, chap. 4. 

F. M. Cross, "Papyri of the Fourth Century B.C. from Dâliyeh," in D. N. Freedman and J. C. Greenfield, eds., New Directions in Biblical Archaeology, Garden City, N.Y., 1971, pp. 46-51. 

I. M. D'yakonov and V. A. Livshits, Dokumenty iz Nisy. Novye nakhodki dokumentov v staroi Nise i peredneaziatski sbornik (Documents from Nisa. New finds of documents in ancient Nisa and the Near Eastern collection) II, Moscow, 1960, pp. 135-57. 

W. Eilers, Iranische Beamtennamen in der keilschriftlichen Überlieferung I, Leipzig, 1940. 

J. C. Greenfield, "Aramaic in the Achaemenian Empire," Camb. Hist. Iran II, pp. 698-713. 

R. T. Hallock, "The Evidence of the Persepolis Tablets," Camb. Hist. Iran II, pp. 588-609. 

B. A. Levine, "Aramaic Texts from Persepolis," JAOS 92, 1972, pp. 70-79. 

V. G. Lukonin, "Political, Social and Administrative Institutions, Taxes and Trade," Camb. Hist. Iran III/2, pp. 681-746. 

E. H. Minns, "Parchments of the Parthian Period from Avroman in Kurdistan," Journal of Hellenistic Studies 35, 1915, pp. 22-65. 

A. L. Oppenheim, "The Babylonian Evidence of Achemenian Rule in Mesopotamia," Camb. Hist. Iran II, pp. 529-87. 

D. Weber, Ostraca, Papyri and Pergamente, Corpus Inscr. Iran., pt. 3, IV-V, London, 1992. 

C. B. Welles et al., The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Final Report V/1. The Parchments and Papyri, New Haven, Conn., 1959. 

Y. Yoshida and P. Moriaso, "A Sogdian Document Recording Sale of a Samarkand Slave Woman in 638," Annals of Foreign Studies 19, Studies on the Inner Asian Languages 4, 1988, pp. 1-50.

 

 

 

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Source/Extracted From: Encyclopaedia Iranica

 

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