What was the first jurisdiction that had special rules for contracts to which a person under a certain age is a party? How did the modern concept that people under 18 can back out of contracts except those for essential products or services develop in English common law?

  • I don't know about common law, but in the UK it's set out in statute law in the Minors’ Contracts Act 1987. Nov 7, 2022 at 16:08
  • age of majority, depending on the jurisdiction, can start anywhere between 12 and 30(!) - Sparta only gave their citizens full rights at 30.
    – Trish
    Nov 8, 2022 at 1:14
  • Probably hard to disentangle from rules that those who are dependents in a household have limited rights.
    – Mary
    Dec 26, 2022 at 19:52

1 Answer 1


This was at least a feature of Athenian law. In the Aristarchus of Isaeus (early 4th century BC), it is recorded that "the law expressly forbids any child—or woman—to contract for the disposal of more than a bushel of barley". This is a sufficiently ancient and transmissible principle of law that there well may have been Egyptian and Sumerian analogs. You might get the details that you seek by focusing on medieval English common law.

  • 3
    Notably, later in the Roman Empire, slaves could enter into contracts as agents of their masters and this was used as an early step towards a corporation type entity.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 30, 2022 at 0:14
  • 2
    I checked the Code of Hammurabi, since I'm somewhat familiar with it and thought there might be something similar there, but I don't think there is. While §7 could be read literally as forbidding buying anything from "a child or a slave of a freeman" without witnesses or a contract, I'm fairly sure that the correct reading in context is something more like "from either a freeborn man or a slave" (i.e. from a person of any social class). And in any case that specific law only applies to buying without a witness or a contract (which, FWIW, is equated with theft and punished by death). Nov 7, 2022 at 20:42

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