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How contracts reveal the link between commerce and law in maritime societies


Ancient Maritime Loan Contracts studies the first millennium of the standard form contracts at the heart of ancient long-distance trade, from the fifth century BCE to Justinian. Maritime loan contracts recorded the terms of agreement on which a creditor lent a sum of money to a merchant or carrier to finance the purchase of a cargo for a trading expedition overseas. They were the lifeblood of the long-distance trade in bulk commodities that flourished in the Mediterranean and Black Seas and were also among the first private agreements to be fully committed to writing. From at least the fifth century BCE, these contracts were highly standardized in their terms, containing boilerplate clauses in a tried-and-tested construction. Maritime loan contracts continued to be used to finance maritime trade until the late Middle Ages, when they were only finally superseded by the contract of marine insurance. 

Combining a wide variety of papyrological, epigraphic, and legal evidence, Peter Candy’s framework illustrates the significance of these contracts in both their economic and legal context. By using an interdisciplinary approach, Ancient Maritime Loan Contracts addresses important questions about how maritime trade was financed in the context of the ancient economy; the response of individual legal cultures to maritime loan contracts; and the relationship between international commercial practice and legal development in the ancient world.

Peter Candy is Assistant Professor in Civil Law at the University of Cambridge and Fellow in Law at St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge.