Towards a South Asian Diplomatics: Cosmopolitan Norms and Regional Idioms in the Use of Documents
Studies in Historical Documents from Nepal and India, edited by Simon Cubelic, Axel Michaels, and Astrid Zotter. Documenta Nepalica, 1. Heidelberg: Heidelberg University Publishing / Kathmandu: National Archives, Nepal, 2018, pp. 37–84
50 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2018
Date Written: March 1, 2018
South Asia has since the third century BCE been the center of a distinctive diplomatic culture. Despite the twists and turns of history, and the extreme ethnic and linguistic diversity of the Subcontinent and its peripheries, this culture (as I will argue) exhibits a demonstrable set of family resemblances that appear with great continuity over many centuries. These features include both formal structural patterns and distinctive phraseology. This article represents a preliminary reconnaissance to identify some of the oldest distinctive features as they appear in the early records, beginning already in the edicts of Aśoka and in the Niya documents, developing in land grants of the Sātavāhana, Gupta, and Pallava eras, and being elaborated in wider cultural spheres thereafter. As will be evident, the results will be limited by the eclectic character of the sparse sources surviving from the first millennium CE and before, but is should also become clear that these sources illustrate the emergence over time of a norms for the production of official documents, norms that grew more formalized and more elaborate as they were adapted to serve other and more specialized legal or administrative purposes.
My aim here was not to attempt a comprehensive survey of formulary protocol in the South Asian cultural sphere but simply to demonstrate that such a thing exists, that it was built up progressively out of quite ancient features, and that some of the earliest attested features continued to be employed in one form or another around the widening peripheries of north India (even including calques in various regional languages, including Tamil, Javanese, and Newari, as I show). Certain elements of these can be found in use even in late-medieval times. This phenomenon may be compared with the role of structural elements and phrases from Roman law and medieval French law that survive in modern Anglo-American legal and administrative documents to the present day.
Keywords: diplomatics, legal documents, charter, property, India, South Asia, comparative history of ancient law, inscription
JEL Classification: B11, K00, K11, K40, Z12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation