Law Enforcement Agencies of the Ancient World

Where there is law and order, there are criminals who show zero regard for it. The dynamics between cops and robbers is not a new one; it can be found in several ancient civilizations who all had their unique, but somewhat similar ways of handling troublemakers and wrongdoers. They all went by different names but shared the same goal. Here are a couple of examples of law enforcement agencies throughout the ancient world.

1. The Medjay and Temple Priests of Egypt

Harmony was a central focal point in ancient Egyptian culture, leading to the creation of various law enforcement agencies. They started off with simple police officers who guarded public areas with wooden sticks, trained dogs and funny enough, even monkeys. Then as the empire grew, they received Medjay warriors from their Nubian neighbors who eventually became known as the “Chiefs of the Medjay.” And later on, there were special units created specifically for the temple priests in order to preserve the sanctity of the temples by ensuring proper behavior during religious festivals.

2. Igbo Okonko

For the ancient Igbo people who are still found today in modern-day southern Nigeria, most criminal activities were generally handled by the head of the family. But in some parts of Igbo land, the more heinous crimes were the responsibility of the Okonko, a secret society of the village’s most powerful and wealthy men. They often held court for accused criminals who were later punished accordingly if found guilty. Members of the Okonko weren’t spared from the judicial process either and were often sentenced to death if caught lying or acting shamefully.

3. Incan Tokrikoq

The Incan empire is known for its sophisticated architecture and impressive agricultural system. Just about every aspect of this civilization was well-organized including their legal system which dictated that anyone accused of a crime could only be judged by someone of a higher rank, or a tokrikoq. Accusers found guilty received the death penalty by hanging, stoning or being thrown off a cliff. Murder, adultery, drunkenness and rebellion were some of the things that could get you killed in the Incan empire. And they were done publicly as a way to instill deep fear in potential offenders.

4. Judaean Shoterim

Public safety was held in high regard in ancient Judea. This was emphasized by their rigorous court system that consisted of a judge in every town and two appointed shoterims who carried out the judge’s orders. They were entrusted with enforcing the laws, most of which were non-crime related. These included making sure dogs were locked up, regulating the sale of weapons and ensuring that pits were covered. The shoterim were also legally obligated to inspect property boundaries, set market prices and issue warnings to property owners to remove an unsafe structure or tree. They received their payment through the collection of local taxes.

5. The Paqudu of Babylon

The paqudu were the Babylonian version of police officers who were entrusted with protecting the town and maintaining an overall sense of harmony. They did this in the form of responding to noisy tavern parties and arresting looters for vandalizing the temple properties, among many other things. But according to temple records, the most hilarious task was when they searched an entire neighborhood for a suspicious large amount of fresh beef following the disappearance of a sacred cow from its stable. Needless to say, they found exactly what they were looking for, and turned over the tasty loot to the court as evidence.

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