The Louvre/Art Resource, NY

“The abuses of earlier days,” such as oppressive taxation and the arbitrary seizure of property, were outlawed by the royal edict of King Urukagina of Lagash (written on the 11-inch-high clay cone shown here). Set down almost 3,500 years before the Magna Carta, in 2350 B.C.E., this document contains the first recorded use of the word “freedom” (amargi in Sumerian); it is widely regarded as the world’s earliest attempt at socioeconomic reform. Sumerian kings like Urukagina regarded it as their duty to curb much of the economic and social power of the temples; kings now considered it part of their “divine” mission to administer justice and to protect the weak from the strong.