Although much of our modern world was shaped by the two world wars, the countries with the oldest written constitution in the world reveal that the legal framework for today’s nation-states had been laid down decades or even centuries ago.
Humans are highly developed and intelligent beings, but human nature has been hopelessly flawed since the beginning of time. It is imperative to lay down some guidelines to ensure at least a degree of order and justice in society. Exactly that is the function of the Constitution in every country: to be a guarantor of basic human rights and an authority on societal rules and obligations, as well as the source of luminescence that affords clarity on how to govern people as a community so that ultimately everyone benefits. Of course, since constitutions are also crafted by humans, they are guaranteed to have flaws and issues. But, on the whole, they work well, provided that they are implemented, and that too in a way that embodies the true spirit of the document.
Constitutions have been around for a very long time – the first known constitution belongs to the Sumerians and dates back to the 2300 BC. The first written constitution that we have physical evidence of, is from 2050 BC and it’s called the Code of Ur-Nammu of Ur. There have been several constitutions from roughly the same era that we know of, for example, the code of Hammurabi of Babylonia and the Hittite code. Not all constitutions aided the formation of a just society, however. The instance of the barbarian laws instituted in 621 BC by the Draco, the first recorded legislator of Athens, spring to mind. These laws were so unnecessarily harsh that they resulted in the formation of a unique word that we are all very familiar with – draconian. Of course, we still tend to trip up when it comes to law-making – though laws are much more relaxed nowadays, you can still be punished for the strangest things. For more on that check out the most ridiculous and weird laws in the world and, for even more, be sure to see most ridiculous laws in Texas!
Aristotle was the first to distinguish constitutional law as separate and more sacred than the rest. His fundamental definition of a constitution was “the arrangement of offices in a state”. He also defined what he considered a good constitution and a bad one, but even the former acknowledged the differences in class. Constitutions are constantly evolving as humans struggle to decide on what’s “right”, but it’s easy to see that a good constitution will result in a reasonably well-functioning society. For the top 10 constitutions in the world, check out the rankings by the Comparative Constitution Project.
Constitutions can vary immensely in length. The longest constitution of the world belongs to India, which translates into well over a 100,000 words when translated into English. Speaking of length, what country has the shortest written constitution in the world? The answer is Monaco with a total of the 3,814 words. They may also not necessarily be in writing, but may still be enforced. There are a fair few countries without a written constitution, for instance the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand. In a nutshell, as long as the law that prevails over a land dispenses justice, it may not have to be in writing.
Our ranking of the list is self-explanatory from the title: we picked the oldest written constitutions in the world that are still in use today from the Comparative Constitutions Project (we mentioned it before) and ordered them by year. We did not consider the constitutions of countries that no longer exist, or those that aren’t fully written down, such as the Canadian and the English constitution.
Now that’s we’ve covered the basics of constitutions, it’s time to check out the countries with the oldest written constitutions in the world: