The Oldest Written Will – Flinders Petrie 1889

This is the very brief history of the Oldest Written Will – the Oldest Written testament.

A 1934 portrait, by Hungarian artist Philip Alexius de László, of Sir Flinders Petrie, who discovered the papyrus bearing the oldest known written will.
A 1934 portrait, by Hungarian artist Philip Alexius de László, of Sir Flinders Petrie, who discovered the papyrus bearing the oldest known written will.

The discovery of the oldest known will was reported in the London Standard on December 26, 1889. The papyrus was discovered in the ancient Egyptian town of Kahun, which is now Al-Fayym, some sixty miles south of Cairo, by Flinders Petrie, a prominent English archaeologist and Egyptologist who is widely considered as the father of modern archaeology. According to the London Standard writer, the revelation “curiously underscores the continuity of legal techniques.”

Prior to Petrie’s discoveries, historians and legal scholars had only studied the existence and evolution of ancient wills through later stages of civilization: discussions of Solon introducing wills to Ancient Greece in the sixth century BCE, Roman law relating to wills appearing in the Twelve Tables of the fifth century BCE, and the Justinian Code in the mid-sixth century of our own era. But it was the “singularly modern form” of this ancient will that made it even more intriguing. “It might almost be awarded probate today,” according to the London Standard piece.

The will appears to be from someone named Sekhenren, who devised “all the property given him by his brother for life” to his wife, Teta, with an approximate date of 2548 BCE. It barred her from “tearing down” the houses his brother had constructed for him, but it did allow her to give them to any of her offspring. An attestation clause in the will indicates that it was witnessed by two scribes.

What astonished commentators the most was the husband’s property being given to his wife at a time when women were supposed to be unable to obtain or exercise property rights. The news also shattered a long-held patriarchal practice of property going down to the eldest son. According to the article, “this radical departure from what has been thought to be eternal norm unsettles the entire history of the family…. It appears to place the period of legal evolution around two thousand years ago.”

So this was the very brief history of the Oldest Written Will – the oldest Written testament.

SEE ALSO:

The Laws of Solon (594 BCE);

The Twelve Tables (450 BCE);

The Justinian Code (529).

Source:

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)

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