Trial by Water through the Ages

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Töyräänvuori , J 2021 , ' Trial by Water through the Ages ' , Studia Antiqua et Archaeologica , vol. 27 , no. 2 , pp. 301-330 . < >

Title: Trial by Water through the Ages
Author: Töyräänvuori, Joanna
Contributor organization: Faculty Common Matters (Faculty of Arts)
Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS)
Centre of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires (ANEE)
Date: 2021-12-01
Language: eng
Number of pages: 30
Belongs to series: Studia Antiqua et Archaeologica
ISSN: 1224-2284
Abstract: The concept of trial by water or water ordeal is best known to the wider public through European witch trials from the Late Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period, but the practice is first attested in near eastern texts from the Middle Bronze Age (2200–1550 BCE). The depiction of the medieval trials is largely folkloric, such trials were nonetheless known throughout the ancient world. The best evidence for ordeal by river is found in the letters from the clay tablet archives of Mari on the Upper Euphrates. A central site for divine arbitration among the Amorite kingdoms, the practice seems to have dwindled after the destruction of Mari and its cultic sites in 1759 BCE. Reviewing the ancient evidence for trial by water, this article demonstrates how the trials were used for a particular purpose: to verify the truth statements of compromised witnesses in legal cases that for lack of credible witnesses could only be solved by divine arbitration. The ancient background of the concept will help us better understand why the practice was later connected with witches in the European context.
Subject: 615 History and Archaeology
Peer reviewed: Yes
Rights: cc_by_sa
Usage restriction: openAccess
Self-archived version: publishedVersion
Funder: Academy of Finland
Grant number:

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