SCS-4: Comparative Legal Thought and Practice in the Graeco-Roman World and Early China

  In-Person   SCS Session   Panel


Zhengyuan Zhang, University of California, Berkeley


John Weisweiler, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich


Zhengyuan Zhang, University of California, Berkeley


The last decade or so has witnessed a proliferation of scholarship on comparative pre-modern empires. Thanks to this, an increasing number of ancient historians have grown accustomed to studying the Graeco-Roman world with other pre-modern empires in mind as reference points. As they do so, they begin to realize that certain phenomena once considered to characterize the world they study are in fact features shared by many other pre-modern empires.

Despite its fruitful results, the current comparative scholarship has not yet fully realized the considerable potentials of this approach. Many comparative volumes have contented themselves with bringing specialists of different empires to write a chapter on their respective area, without trying to engage them in real work of comparison. Moreover, thanks to these comparative volumes as well as the numerous handbooks and companions, the Graeco-Roman world has come to be relative well-explained to outsiders of the field. The same cannot be said for many other pre-modern empires, such as those of early China.

The continuous discovery of massive quantities of bamboo and wooden slips in the past fifty years has revolutionized our understanding of every aspect of Chinese history for the period 300 BC–AD 300. The significance of these discoveries is far from being fully appreciated even by specialists, and still less by outsiders. This makes it all the more pressing to bring specialists of early China into dialogue with their counterparts of the Graeco-Roman world, and indeed those of other ancient empires as well.

This panel brings four historians of the Graeco-Roman world and three historians of early China into conversation. All of them have received training in both fields.