One L(ove)

January 10, 2009

The Yassa and Bankruptcy

Filed under: Uncategorized — galileehitchhiker @ 8:05 pm
Tags: ,
Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan

I’ve recently become interested in bankruptcy law. I guess it came while updating and reading some excerpts from Professor Resnick‘s Collier volumes that are in one of the libraries in the firm. I guess it also came when I found out that one of the attorneys in the law firm I work in is going to be teaching at Hofstra this semester on debtor and creditor rights. Feeling a little pressure within me to narrow down my interests and figuring out what field in law I want to adopt when I graduate, I became curious about bankruptcy law in the United States and started googling some information about it. I came upon this Web site about Yassa, which is a secret code of law created by Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongolian Empire. The Web site contains some excerpts from historians about the Yassa. One of them I found particularly interesting. It is that of the famous 14th/15th century Egyptian historian al-Maqrizi, who, knowing that the task of analyzing the Yassa would be too great since no copies of it were made available (since it was a secret yet the principal law of the land), made a list of what the Yassa entailed:

1. An adulterer is to be put to death without any regard as to whether he is married or not.

2. Whoever is guilty of sodomy is also to be put to death.

3. Whoever intentionally lies, or practices sorcery, or spies upon the behavior of others, or intervenes between the two parties in a quarrel to help the one against the other is also to be put to death.

4. Whoever urinates into water or ashes is also to be put to death.

5. Whoever takes goods (on credit) and becomes bankrupt, then again takes goods and again becomes bankrupt, then takes goods again and yet again becomes bankrupt is to be put to death after the third time.

6. Whoever gives food or clothing to a captive without the permission of his captor is to be put to death.

7. Whoever finds a runaway slave or captive and does not return him to the person to whom he belongs is to be put to death.

8. When an animal is to be eaten, its feet must be tied, its belly ripped open and its heart squeezed in the hand until the animal dies; then its meat may be eaten; but if anyone slaughter an animal after the Mohammedan fashion, he is to be himself slaughtered.

9. If in battle, during an attack or a retreat, anyone let fall his pack, or bow, or any luggage, the man behind him must alight and return the thing fallen to its owner; if he does not so alight and return the thing fallen, he is to be put to death.

10. Chingis Khan decided that no taxes or duties should be imposed upon fakirs, religious devotees, lawyers, physicians, scholars, people who devote themselves to prayer and asceticism, muezzins and those who wash the bodies of the dead.

11. He ordered that all religions were to be respected and that no preference was to be shown to any of them. All this he commanded in order that it might be agreeable to Heaven.

12. He forbade his people to eat food offered by another until the one offering the food tasted of it himself, even though one be a prince and the other a captive; he forbade them to eat anything in the presence of another without having invited him to partake of the food; he forbade any man to eat more than his comrades, and to step over a fire on which food was being cooked or a dish from which people were eating.

13. When a wayfarer passes by people eating, he must alight and eat with them without asking for permission, and they must not forbid him this.

14. He forbade them to dip their hands into water and ordered them to use some vessel for the drawing of water.

15. He forbade them to wash their clothes until they were completely worn out.

16. He forbade them to say of anything that it was unclean, and insisted that all things were clean and made no distinction between the clean and unclean.

17. He forbade them to show preference for any sect, to pronounce words with emphasis, to use honorary titles; when speaking to the Khan or anyone else simply his name was to be used.

18. He ordered his successors to personally examine the troops and their armament before going to battle, to supply the troops with everything they needed for the campaign and to survey everything even to needle and thread, and if any of the soldiers lacked a necessary thing that soldier was to be punished.

19. He ordered women accompanying the troops to do the work and perform the duties of the men while the latter were absent fighting.

20. He ordered the warriors, on their return from the campaign (battle) to carry out certain duties in the service of the Khan.

21. He ordered them to present all their daughters to the Khan at the beginning of each year that he might choose some of them for himself and his children.

22. He put leaders, (princes/bogatyrs/generals/noyans) at the head of the troops and appointed commanders of thousands, hundreds, and tens.

23. He ordered that the oldest of the leaders, if he had committed some offence, was to give himself up to the messenger sent by the sovereign to punish him, even if he was the lowest of his servants; and prostrate himself before him until he had carried out the punishment prescribed by the sovereign, even if it be to put him to death.

24. He forbade military leaders to address themselves to anyone except the sovereign. Whoever addressed himself to anyone but the sovereign was to be put to death, and anyone changing his post without permission was also to be put to death.

25. He ordered the Khan to establish permanent postal communications in order that he might be informed in good time of all the events of the country.

26. He ordered his son Chagatai to see that the Yasa was observed.

While there is no doubt that most of the demands made by the legal prescriptions of the Yassa are barbaric, for our purposes read #5 again. Under Genghis Khan’s law, the debtor would be put to death if he “files” for bankruptcy for the third time! This certainly would have made the life of the counsel for the creditor much easier. At times, it is really frustrating to comprehend that the law is not immutable, that it can change at any time (I am willing to bet that if there’s anything that people want to be permanent and unchangeable in society, it would be the law. The reason is because there are so many interests at stake when the law changes. That’s why people get worked up over the decisions made by the Supreme Court and who’s going to sit on the bench when a spot is available). However, reading about the codes like the Yassa make you grateful that the law is alterable and flexible. It’s not disastrous or catastrophic when the law changes (that is inevitable since we change over time in our ideas about ourselves, our existence, how we relate with one another, and how we should be governed — essentially, the law changes when we change and the argument that the law should be immutable since it is anchored in morality is futile since morality also gets weathered by the deluge of time and by the progressiveness of human thought; in other words, there’s no such thing as the law or morality if there are no humans [what good are law and morality if there are no humans? How can we talk about these concepts if there are no humans?], and since we are creative beings, the law and morality are bound to change). When the law changes, it’s rather an opportunity, a blossoming of society to become more humane or, conversely, more mad.

Currently listening to: Karl Böhm & the Wiener Philharmoniker – Beethoven’s Symphonie no. 9


Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: