chapter  1
30 Pages

The Old World

Despite the fact that Sihon did not accept this request for a laissez-passer and suffered dreadfully for not doing so, it is often and correctly observed that the beginnings of diplomacy occurred when the first human societies decided that it was better to hear a message than to eat the messenger. If that has been agreed then there have to be rules which assure the safety of the messenger, and if there are rules, there has to be some sanction for them. This must have been true from times before we have any record at all, and from early recorded history, when the evidence is derived almost entirely from epigraphic sources – often frustratingly broken just at the crucial point – it is clear that diplomatic exchanges were quite frequent, that they led to what were evidently treaties, that good faith and enforcement were even then perennial problems and that the sanction for the safety and general good treatment of ambassadors was divine. It was no doubt the more effective in a world where the local pantheon would be expected to intervene regularly in daily life and to be the source of sudden and nastily effective retribution in the case of wrongdoing, either directly or by human agency.1