The origin of…Judge

“Time is the fairest and toughest judge.” Edgar Quinet

Post 67 Judge

In Ancient Egypt there were no professional judges. There were councils of elders (kenbets) who were responsible for court cases involving minor disputes and small claims. More serious cases were heard at the Great Kenbet, over which the pharaoh presided. He was the supreme judge and lawmaker, although much power was delegated to others.
In Ancient Greece the first known written laws were written around 620 BC by Draco (known as the Draconian constitution). There were no judges but a system of jurors existed. These jurors were randomly selected by lot and were chosen on an annual basis. The jury at a trial consisted of at least 201 jurors to make it difficult to bribe the whole jury.
In Roman times until about the end of the 2rd century a judge was a private person (iudex privatus), who had to be a Roman male citizen and was usually a reputable person in the community. Judges were chosen from the album iudicum (a list) and were appointed when both parties agreed on one. The iudex (or judex) listened to the arguments of the counsels, weighed the evidence and decided on the sentence. Since the iudex was not a legal technician, he normally consulted with jurists to discuss the case.
Later on the cognitio system was introduced in which the trial took place before a magistrate and his decision could be appealed to a higher magistrate. The main difference between the cognitio system and the systems were in use before is that not the State resolved the entire case (as in our current system), whereas before two parties could resolve disputes between themselves.

In Medieval Europe, the law was based on old Germanic ideas and influenced by the ancient Roman law system. There were three types of courts, the Church courts, the manor courts and the royal courts (where common law was used). The first one that a right over matters of Church and clergy, the second one was intended for ordinary people to solve out cases petty crimes. Knights and barons offered their justice in these courts. Royal courts dealt with serious cases like murder, treason, burglary, rape etc.
These courts were usually run according to trial by ordeal or trial by combat. In the first case, the accused hat to perform a painful test, like putting his hand into a boiling pot of water. In case the burn had healed after three days he was believed to be innocent since God had healed him. In the second case, the accused had to fight the accuser and it was believed that God would protect the innocent.
In England King Henry II (1133-1189) instituted legal reforms and developed a system of royal courts administered by judges who traveled the kingdom. He also attempts to replace trial by ordeal and trial by combat by formally establishing trial by jury in 1166. In a trial by jury twelve local people were called upon to make a ruling according to his/her own knowledge in the trial. If the accused was found to be guilty, the judge would then determine his or her punishment. This system laid the foundations for the use of trial by jury in common law.

In 1804 Napoleon established what is known as the Napoleonic Code, in which the civil law system was fundamentally changed. Judges were prohibited from deciding a case by way of introducing a general rule, since these were made by the legislative power and not the judicial power.


  1. a person who has the power to make decisions on cases brought before a court of law
  2. a person who decides the winner in a contest or competition
  3. a person who makes a decision or judgment (source: Merriam Webster).

The English judge comes from Middle English juggen, from Anglo-French juger, from Latin judex, judge, from judicare, to conclude/to judge/to declare, from jus right/law/binding decision + dicere to decide/name. Spanish juez and Italian giudice have the same Latin roots.
Dutch rechter comes from Middle Low German richter, from Old High German rihtari, from Old English rihtere, ruler/governor. Derivation from the verb rechten/richten, to judge/govern.

Judge in other languages:
Dutch: de rechter
Spanish: el juez
Italian: il giudice


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