Famous Historical Documents

The earliest known historical documents are accounts of battles and ancient rites from Mesopotamia in cuneiform scripts from around the 30th century BCE.

The Shu King Book of Historical Documents describes Chinese rulers and deities from 2357–627 BCE. Hindu history 2964–1193 CE was outlined in a Sanskrit book, the ancient Vikram Sanval. This describes 124 kings of Indraprastha spanning 4,157 years, from the Mahabharat to the Mugal era. The Palermo Stone contains the Royal Annals of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt from the first through the fifth dynasty. It was engraved around the 25th century BCE. The Turin Papyrus, which dates from Ramses II's reign (c. 1303–1213 BCE), confirms the list of Egyptian kings of Manetho, a third-century BCE Egyptian priest.

Historical documents include the works of early historians such as Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484–c. 425 BCE), Thucydides (c. 460– c. 395 BCE) and Livy (59 BCE–17 CE), who wrote a history of Rome, the Ab Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City). One of the most influential Roman documents is the Corpus Iuris Iustiniani, the codification of Roman law by the Emperor Justinian, issued from 529–534 CE. This was the basis of most constitutions of modern European states.

One of the first British historical documents is a contemporary account of Queen Boudicca's rebellion in 61 CE by the Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus (56–117 CE). Early British municipal records include The Domesday Book of 1085, containing a survey of boroughs and manors in England commissioned by William the Conqueror.

The earliest documented legal code was probably that of the Babylonian king, Hammurabi, dating to c. 1700 BCE. Highly influential early European legal documents included the Salic law codified during the reign of the Frankish King Clovis I between 507 and 511 CE. William the Conqueror instituted a new civil law code for control of England after 1066. Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa (1122–1190), a German Holy Roman emperor, issued his Peace of the Land between 1152 and 1157, which enacted punishments for common crimes, as well as systems for adjudicating disputes.

Accounts of wars and subsequent peace treaties constitute some of the most important historical documents. The ninth century Peace of Wedmore established Danelaw in England. William of Malmesbury (c. 1095–c. 1143) described William of Normandy's conquest of England and the Battle of Hastings in 1066, which was also popularized by the Bayeux Tapestry. The Chronicles of Froissart (1369–1410) described the Hundred Years' War. The Peace of Westphalia, signed between May and October of 1648 in Osnabrück and Münster, ended the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) in the Holy Roman Empire and the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) between Spain and the Dutch Republic. The Treaty of Versailles signed on June 28, 1919, ended German involvement in World War I.

The Magna Carta of 1215 is one of the earliest political constitutional documents. Feudal barons forced King John of England to accept that his sovereignty was not absolute. For example, no free person could be punished except through the law of the land.

The Pennsylvania Constitution, the Frame of Government of Pennsylvania, was drafted by William Penn in 1682 to supplement the colony's royal charter, setting out the democratic rights and freedoms of citizens. Its fourth edition lasted up to the American Revolution. The United States Constitution is the oldest written constitution still in use by any nation in the world. The Constitution was adopted by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 17, 1787, after the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Articles of Confederation in 1777. The Bill of Rights, 1791, contained the first 10 amendments to the Constitution.

The Charter of the United Nations was signed June 26, 1945, by 50 of the 51 original member countries. Membership has increased to 192 countries. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was signed on April 4, 1949, as an intergovernmental military alliance. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), 1953, established the European Court of Human Rights, which can issue binding judgment in claims by individuals against states who are party to the convention. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty includes 189 countries.

Famous Historical Documents: Selected full-text books and articles

The Great European Treaties of the Nineteenth Century By Augustus Oakes; R. B. Mowat Clarendon Press, 1918
Documents on Germany under Occupation, 1945-1954 By Beate Ruhm Von Oppen Oxford University Press, 1955
Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages By Ernest F. Henderson; Ernest F. Henderson Biblo and Tannen, 1965
FREE! Educational Charters and Documents 598 to 1909 By Arthur F. Leach University Press, 1911
Church and State through the Centuries: A Collection of Historic Documents with Commentaries By John B. Morrall; John B. Morrall; Sidney Z. Ehler; Sidney Z. Ehler Biblo and Tannen, 1967
English Constitutional Documents, 1307-1485 By Eleanor C. Lodge University Press, 1935
Basic Documents in International Law By Ian Brownlie Oxford University Press, 1995 (4th edition)
Basic Documents in Canadian History By James J. Talman; Louis L. Snyder Van Nostrand, 1959
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Author Advanced search


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.