Freedom and Rights in the Ancient Near East


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships


Classical and Near Eastern Studies


This study investigates ancient Near Eastern concepts of freedom and rights. These are conventionally identified as Western values, first conceived in ancient Greece, where ideas of individual and political liberty were born from the struggle against Persian imperial expansion in the fifth century BCE. But the convention of attributing liberty and rights to Greece and the West, while identifying slavery and tyranny with the Orient, originates in ancient Greek ideology rather than in objective historical inquiry. Recent work in ancient Near Eastern history, including my own research on social classes, reveals that theories of personal and political rights and liberty were operative in Near Eastern societies long before democracy emerged in classical Greece.