Historically land ownership, and extraction of tax/rents from tenants on that property and therefore the extraction of tenants from the property in event of non payment or other cause would have been by some combination of tradition and force.

What legal system first codified the concept of 'Eviction' as a legal process for a property owner to displace a tenant under a specific set of circumstances (such as non payment of rent) or alternatively make explicit protections for free(non serf) tenants?

Existing data points:

The Wikipedia page for eviction is focused on current rules, but the illustrations within it suggest 'eviction' as something that involved police/authorities (rather than hired thugs) from at least the 1800s.

For the UK there are Irish tenant acts from 1870, and the Evesham Custom formalized in 1880, the very titles of Evesham and Ulster customs would suggest a traditional rather than legal framework in the UK prior to that date.

Going further back in Europe there is the different legal frame work of land bonded Villeins/Serfs whose rights are outside the scope of this question.

A likely candidate would appear to be Roman law, with the large pool of city dwelling freedman, highrise multi tenant buildings, cash economy and comprehensive legal system.

This print book is paywalled but the public table of contents indicates that Roman real estate law existed and also appears to contain in an appendix an Egyptian 'eviction notice' which may be an even earlier Egyptian date.

China would also appear to be a likely candidate, though the Equal Field System and Well Field System appear to be working on a different structure that did not produce laws governing rents and tenancy.

  • 2
    From the Holy Roman Empire there is the Sachsenspiegel, dated early 13th century, which to my knowledge included tenant rights and eviction clauses. Don't know about "first" (and I don't quite like this kind of question, as it boils down to "first that we know of" and "what does it matter if there was an earlier legal code at the other end of the world?").
    – DevSolar
    Jun 10, 2022 at 9:58
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    "To my knowledge" w.r.t. Sachsenspiegel meaning I once attended a lecture on the Sachsenspiegel as a whole, and distinctly remember an illustration depicting an eviction of tenants. As the lecture was not specifically about that, it did not go into details, but I would daresay if someone bothered with adding a drawing, there will be text to that end as well.
    – DevSolar
    Jun 10, 2022 at 10:09
  • @devsolar, I agree it is a problematic question, since it not only depends on what survives, but on how we translate it when we do not necessarily have the cultural context of the the 'current' wording for free vs serf vs slave or rents vs taxes vs corvee. Jun 10, 2022 at 10:28
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    The Code of Hammurabi details tenant vs landlord rights, it details when a landlord can and cannot evict and the various penalties, ie a landlord can evict if tenant does not maintain property. As for tenant rights, it does mention a law that the landlord has to pay a penalty if he breaks the lease, etc.
    – ed.hank
    Jun 10, 2022 at 11:26
  • Just recently came across an eviction hearing in an 1833 newspaper, over nonpayment of tithes. The case was thrown out because the law stated that a case could not be brought until 30 days after notice was given, and the 30 days was not up. So, at least by January of 1833, they had detailed eviction laws, though I can't say all what they are. Aug 5, 2022 at 0:42

1 Answer 1


The relevant sections of Code of Hammurabi as per Avalon Project, and dated circa 1755-1750 B.C., are:

  1. If a chieftain or a man is captured on the "Way of the King" (in war), and a merchant buy him free, and bring him back to his place; if he have the means in his house to buy his freedom, he shall buy himself free: if he have nothing in his house with which to buy himself free, he shall be bought free by the temple of his community; if there be nothing in the temple with which to buy him free, the court shall buy his freedom. His field, garden, and house shall not be given for the purchase of his freedom.
  2. The field, garden, and house of a chieftain, of a man, or of one subject to quit-rent, can not be sold.
  3. If any one buy the field, garden, and house of a chieftain, man, or one subject to quit-rent, his contract tablet of sale shall be broken (declared invalid) and he loses his money. The field, garden, and house return to their owners.
  4. A chieftain, man, or one subject to quit-rent can not assign his tenure of field, house, and garden to his wife or daughter, nor can he assign it for a debt.
  5. He may, however, assign a field, garden, or house which he has bought, and holds as property, to his wife or daughter or give it for debt.
  6. He may sell field, garden, and house to a merchant (royal agents) or to any other public official, the buyer holding field, house, and garden for its usufruct.

Quit-rent being "a [payment] imposed on occupants of freehold or leased land in lieu of services to a higher landowning authority": I interpret "one subject to quit-rent" as being some rough equivalent to an English-Common-Law-type serf. The degree of similarity must of course be justified by a comparison of the relevant English Common Law clauses to the comparative clauses in Code of Hammurabi.

Note that the effect of the above is a sort of bankruptcy protection. Assets used for income generation may be seized for non-payment of debts owing; with the exception of those ("the field, garden, and house") required to not be homeless and to have the means of feeding self and family.

At a more abstract level I interpret "A chieftain, man, or one subject to quit-rent" as citizenry. It is unclear to me if non-citizens would enjoy the same protections, as clearly there is a class comprising those who are none of "chieftain, man, or one subject to quit-rent"; and those would at a minimum include all those regarded as slaves.

Note that scutage (literally shield money - "money paid by a vassal to his lord in lieu of military service") is the specific English term for a quit-rent paid in lieu of military service. This suggests that a (presumed knowledgeable) translator has chosen quit-rent over scutage in the translation because it is more general and not only in lieu of military service.

  • 1
    A bit skeptical on whether that quitrent 'as linked to WP' is exactly the concept on display in the code? (Translation choices…; -> do you have srcs explaining what the Babylonian concept entailed?) On "chieftain…", I think slaves are indeed not covered, obviously (?), but it sounds like certainly 'foreigners' are excluded as well? Or who else might qualify as non-citizens then & there? (Excellent example. Going back further than will be a bit tougher than usual ;) Jun 10, 2022 at 23:42
  • @LаngLаngС: The term "quit-rent" is an English Common Law legal term - not a literal translation - chosen by the translator to best represent the legal concept in play. Jun 10, 2022 at 23:59
  • Exactly. Some translation choice, even probably quite adequate for a one word cultural appropriate translation. Is it also technically 'the same'? That choice might be also slightly misleading (or be indeed 'an exact parallel'? IDK.)? // Your caveat in A is well placed, but adding a full footnote on that would be even better? I find the term difficult to interpret in this context (now: ~'there are some provisions'; better: 'these are the provisions, explained') Jun 11, 2022 at 0:13
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    Comparing the various translations linked in the WP article, there are L. W. King (1915): "chieftain, man, or one subject to quit-rent"; C. H. W. Johns (1903): "ganger, or constable, or a tributary"; Robert Francis Harper (1904): "officer, constable or tax-gatherer"; Douglas R. Frayne (1990): "a soldier, fisherman, or carrier of the load/burden". The last source also gives the transliteration "rēdûm bā’erum u nāši biltim"
    – ccprog
    Jun 11, 2022 at 0:22
  • The french WP article tries to give an explanation (after Dominique Charpin, Hammu-rabi de Babylone, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 2003): "Les textes distinguent deux types de soldats : le rēdum, littéralement « celui qui suit », une sorte de fantassin, et le bā'irum, littéralement « pêcheur », un soldat qui patrouille sur des navires. Il s'agissait de l'essentiel des troupes, soldats de métier rémunérés par le système de l’ilkum : en contrepartie du service (militaire ou autre), une terre était mise à la disposition du soldat."
    – ccprog
    Jun 11, 2022 at 0:59

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