But where the written word is ambiguous / doesn't exist, the intentions and spoken words have legal force.
Of course, proving intentions and spoken words can be very difficult, which is why it's important to make sure the written word says what you mean.
For the most part, contracts by mouth/handshake were enforced by trust. In a small market where everyone knew everyone you had a symbol (such as a handshake) that said "okay, we have a contract". Get a reputation for walking away from agreements, and you would rapidly find yourself unable to do business.
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