Associations in the Greco-Roman World (AGRW)

An expanding collection of inscriptions, papyri, and other sources in translation (run by Philip A. Harland)

Blueprint (in Syriac) of Regulations for Craft Guilds (VI CE) Syria - Syria and Phoenicia

Syria (Syria and Phoenicia, Greater Syria and the East), VI CE
Hubert Kaufhold, Die Rechtssammlung des Gabriel von Basra und ihr Verhältnis zu den anderen juristischen Sammelwerken der Nestorianer (Münchener Universitätsschriften, Juristische Fakultät: Abhandlungen zur rechtswissenschaftlichen Grundlagenforschung 21; Berlin: Schweitzer, 1976), 173-87 = Sebastian Brock, “Regulations for an Association of Artisans from the Late Sasanian or Early Arab Period,” in Philip Rousseau and Manolis Papoutsakis, eds., Transformations of Late Antiquity: Essays for Peter Brown (Surrey, England: Ashgate, 2009), 51-62 (English translation used here with permission) = AGRW ID# 20398


Gabriel, bishop of Basra, included this blueprint for guild regulations in his now-lost ninth-century collection of legal rulings. Hubert Kaufhold reconstructed Gabriel's original from later texts and published it in 1976. Sebastian Brock provided an English translation from the Syriac original in his “Regulations for an Association of Artisans from the Late Sasanian or Early Arab Period,” in Philip Rousseau and Manolis Papoutsakis, eds., Transformations of Late Antiquity: Essays for Peter Brown (Surrey, England: Ashgate, 2009), 51-62. It is Brock's translation that is presented here with permission.

The dating of the Syrian association that originally composed these regulations is unclear. Brock suggests a Zoroastrian rather than Muslim context (which could place it as early as the sixth century) on the basis of the description of marriage customs in section 4, as well as the absence of references to gold currency. Similarities between these rules outlined here and earlier regulations on this site suggests some continuity in the organization of guilds from the Roman period into late antiquity and beyond.

Concerning the Ordering and Regulation of Associations of the Crafts called <N>

  1. In the month N of the year N according to the numbering of the Greeks, all of us whose names are written below, who practice such and such a craft and live in the town N, like the rest of the populace living in this town practicing various crafts, who hold one another in honour and are obedient to one another on days of rejoicing or of grief, we too for a long time have been holding this association; and from that time until this day all the affairs of our craft have been conducted in a regulated, fitting and respectful way. But at the present time, because there are some among us who have departed this world, and there are others who have newly come and joined our association, becoming our companions and mates, we thought we should make this protocol amongst ourselves, so that we might in accordance with it visit our sick, bury our dead, comfort those of us in grief, and at the same time provide admonitions and guidelines which will benefit our entire assembly.
  2. The beginning of the admonitions and guidelines is as follows. On the holy days of Sundays, festivals and memorials which the Church keeps, our practice is for us all to come to the holy House of God for the purpose of prayer for our sins. We hear the teaching and the reading of the holy Scriptures, and we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of our sins and forgiveness of our wrongdoings. We appear there in love and harmony towards each other, ask after those who are nearby, and make enquiries after those at a distance. We resolve any affair that may arise in our association. Should there be someone among us who is sick, an official informs us and we all go together to visit the sick man, comforting him with kind words in order to give him some relief from his illness.
  3. When any of us is neglectful in this and fails to come to church and see his fellow members on these holy days, then he should pay a danaq; and if one of us does not come to visit the sick, he should pay a danaq. If there is anyone among us who, as a result of some transgression beyond the bounds of what is proper, is barred or banned from the Church and from the Holy Mysteries, but nevertheless has the audacity to come and approach the Divine Mysteries in one of the holy monasteries, churches or convents without the ban having been lifted, then none of us shall have the right to protect him or to associate with him until he accepts correction for his misdemeanor and pays a monetary fine of 10 staters. If any of us blasphemes against the glorious nature of the holy Trinity, the investigation of which is far beyond both heavenly and earthly beings, then we shall not have the right to associate with him. Rather, we shall report him to the holy Church so that people can sit in judgment on his audacity. Then, quite apart from the interdiction imposed upon him, he shall pay a monetary fine of 10 staters.
  4. We keep away from adultery, prostitution, magic practices, murder, the foul practice of having two wives, the disgusting practice of intercourse with mother, daughter, daughter-in-law, mother-in-law, brother’s wife, uncle’s wife, along with other such abominable things which are abhorred and rejected by Christian law.
  5. We abstain from giving (in marriage) our daughters, sisters, close female relatives, members of our family, to pagans, unless they have first been converted.
  6. We assent to and shall obey without dispute all the holy laws laid down by the leaders of the Church. We shall make bread for those in prison once a year. And anyone who shows contemprt for the seal sent after him by the holy Church shall pay one zuza.
  7. When the funeral service of one of the clergy in the church takes place, we shall all go together to the church and join the funerary procession with appropriate solemnity. Anyone of us who does not turn up in church and join the procession shall pay a zuza.
  8. If the funeral is for one of our members, the official shall let us all know and we shall all go together and dig the grave, carry the bier and bury the departed man with due honour. If any of us out of negligence fails to arrive for the funeral procession in time, and the procession is already crossing the bridge, he shall [when he turns up] pay half a zuza.
  9. But if the official should be negligent and fail to inform his companions, he shall give to each man whom he has not informed one zuza.
  10. We should all provide bread for the funeral of a father, brother, sister or wife of a householder, or uncle or aunt, (worth) 7 zuze, two men being (appointed as) the workers (=bakers?). And the official shall exact from each of us a qpiza of flour and bring it to the house of the workmen who shall bake fine bread. They shall boil up vegetables worth 2 danaq and 2 litres of oil in their own pots and bring them along to the house of the departed. For a neighbour and a relative, and when news of grief comes, we shall bring a gift (?) in accordance with the custom and usage we have.
  11. (If) anyone of us who has a lawsuit against his companions, and the Elder of the association and his fellow members adjudicate against him, and he does not submit to them but goes off and brings his case somewhere else, he shall pay a monetary fine of 5 staters.
  12. (If) anyone of us commits some wrongdoing amongst us, and his fellow members send to take his surety, and he and the members of his household get up and withhold the surety from them, they shall give one zuza. But if they go so far as to strike those who have been sent, they shall pay a monetary fine of 5 staters.
  13. If, while we are in some place or other in order to resolve some common business, the wife of one of us comes along and starts shouting, causing a disturbance and abusing our companions, then her husband shall pay a monetary fine of 10 staters.
  14. When it is our desire to drink wine together and enjoy each other’s company, then each man in turn, for a day at a time, entertains us in his house. He provides for us out of his own pocket, in accordance with the custom and usage we have. But any of us who does not entertain his companions in his house gladly shall pay a monetary fine of 10 staters. If there is anyone among us who complains about the equal helping which has been set before him and in his greed it seems too small, then let that helping be taken from him; let him stand up and give his companions three draughts to drink, and then sit down again.
  15. If his companions send a portion to someone in his house, and the members of his household do not receive it in a friendly way, he shall give one zuza.
  16. If, while we are drinking wine, one of us insults his companion, he shall pay a monetary fine of 10 staters. And if the person who is insulted and hurt fails to keep his patience but instead starts to cause a disturbance, insulting and hitting his companion, he too shall pay a monetary fine of 10 staters.
  17. If there is someone of us who is bidden by his associates to make a apokrisis or to drink wine, and he fails to do this or to drink, showing his companions (due) honour, he shall give 4 zuze.
  18. And if any of us should ruin a cooking pot or burn the roast, he shall give twice their value.
  19. If some stranger comes along and wants to open up a shop among us and to become an associate and companion with us, let him pay 15 staters and make a banquet for all his (new) companions. But if he is the son of a member, then let him pay 9 staters and let him make a banquet and a festive occasion for all his colleagues.
  20. If one of us is seized and held prisoner by outsiders, we shall go in a body together and stand surety for him and secure his release; we shall assist him dutifully and with rectitude, without (resorting to) killing or magic practices. Anyone of us who does not go with his companions (in such a case) shall pay one zuza a day.
  21. When there is a funeral procession for one of us outside the town, up to a distance of two parasangs, we shall all go in a body, dig the grave and carry the bier with the respect that is due.
  22. Any of us who newly marries a wife shall pay 2 zuze and, if a son or a daughter is born to any of us, that man shall pay 1 zuza.
  23. Any of us who buys [or: sells] a house, field, vineyard or a male or female slave shall pay 4 zuze.
  24. Anyone who insults the head of the association shall pay a monetary fine of 10 staters; but, if he raises his hand and strikes him, then he shall pay 30 staters.
  25. If poverty or destitution should befall any of us and that man does not have sufficient to provide his upkeep, then we shall all support him in love.
  26. Any of us who does not go with his companions to buy slaughtered meat shall pay two danaqs.
  27. And if one of us does not come to the funeral meal, he shall pay one danaq.
  28. Any of us who says with a curse, ‘I am leaving this association’ shall pay 4 zuze; and any of us who wants to annul and get rid of one of these rules set out above shall pay a monetary fine of 50 staters.
  29. By the willing consent of us all we elect N son of N and we make him head and leader of us all, the Elder of this craft, being one of us. We know and are assured that he is an upright person, who knows how to conduct all the affairs of our association in an orderly and fitting way. We shall obey his word and observe his command. Anything in accordance with religion that we are bidden by him to do, we shall carry out and fulfil to the best of our ability. None of us shall oppose him. If any f us is found to oppose or despise him, disdaining his word and ignoring his bidding, that man shall be expelled from our number; he shall be rejected by us and considered as an alien. We shall take from him whatever is appropriate in view of his misbehavior. We shall not act otherwise.
  30. I too, N, have made an undertaking; from the time that these my brothers, companions and mates have shown their love for me by electing me and making me their head and leader, I have tatken care for their affairs in all that is proper. I shall go and see them whether they are in good health or in sickness; I shall visit their sick, I shall bury their dead, I shall comfort their bereaved; I shall not be a detractor or accuser on either side (of a dispute); I shall not eat or drink at their expense when I am not in their company. I shall adjudicate with truth between one member and another; I shall not show favour to the wrongdoer. I shall provide the working [tools] of the craft for everyone as is fitting, without depriving or defrauding one party. I shall hold great and small in due honour. I shall not act in any other way and, should I do so, I shall pay the fine that my companions impose on me.
  31. Together we have declared and made known also the order in which se sit: at the head N son of N reclines; he gives 4 zuze, being the head of the association. After him is n son of N; he gives 4 zuze. After him is N the ‘herdsman’; he gives 4 zuze. After him is N the deputy head; he gives 6 zuze.
  32. We have written down and put seal to this protocol with our seals, with the assurance and seal of the holy Christ-loving bishop Mar N.


Translation by: Sebastian Brock

Item added: December 16, 2015
Item modified: December 16, 2015
ID number: 20398
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