||Studies of law in early states have long relied on monumental royal inscriptions, compositions replete with hegemonic claims and hyperbolic narratives of state formation and centralization. Consequently, it is still often assumed that the formation of ancient states involved the implementation of coherent, centralized systems of order and social regulation, manifested and expressed in law codes and embodied by formal courts.
Norman Yoffee's numerous contributions to the subject have effectively challenged this perspective. Yoffee has focused his studies not on royal treatises such as the Laws of Hammurapi, but on the sundry documents of daily life in Mesopotamia, that is, cuneiform tablets recording contracts, litigations, and economic transactions among non-royals. Treating these sources as text, artifact, and archive, Yoffee critiqued approaches viewing them as mere instantiations of the king's verdicts, understanding them instead as the relics of practice, process, and political interactions. His work thus shifted discussion from the hyperboles of royal legal-literature to the realities of conflict and community dynamics. The sum of these analyses invigorates questions about the construction and implementation of royal ideology expressed in the royal law codes, and calls for new studies on the relationship between ideologically charged claims of social regulation, state formation, and social realities.
Building on Yoffee's explorations, this paper examines patterns in dispute resolution in early Mesopotamia, showing how private disputes traveled through many social and professional networks (or courts) in pursuit of resolution, and considering how royal ideology engaged such local traditions.