Roman Law Introduction Roman Law was the law that was in effect throughout the age of antiquity in the City of Rome and later in the Roman Empire. When Roman rule over Europe came to an end, Roman law was largely–though not completely–forgotten. (Ancient Rome, Compton’s 96) The earliest code of Roman Law was the Law of the Twelve Tables. It was formalized in 451-450BC from existing oral law by ten magistrates, called decemvirs, and inscribed on tablets of bronze, which were posted in the principal Roman Forum. According to tradition, the code was drawn up to appease the plebs, who maintained that their liberties were not adequately protected by the unwritten law as interpreted by patrician judges. (Ancient Rome, Compton’s 96) Originally ten tablets of laws were inscribed; two more tablets were added the following year. The tablets were destroyed in the sack of Rome by the Gauls in 390BC, but a number of the laws are known through references in later Latin literature.
The Twelve Tables covered all categories of the law and also included specific penalties for various infractions. The code underwent frequent changes but remained in effect for almost 1000 years. In the 6th century a commission appointed by the Roman emperor Justinian consolidated all the sources of law, resulting in the Corpus Juris Civilis (Body of Civil Law). The Corpus Juris had no immediate effect in Western Europe, but in the second half of the 11th century it was rediscovered in Italy. The study of law based on the Corpus Juris was instituted at European universities, and the Corpus Juris became an important part of Continental law. (Ancient Rome, Compton’s 96) Combined with canon law and the customs of merchants, they formed a body of law known throughout continental Europe.
During the 17th and 18th centuries the authority of the Corpus Juris began to decline as it was reexamined. The stage was set for the codification of modern civil law. In the 19th century most civil-law countries codified the bulk of their legal statutes. The Early Law Prior to the Twelve Tables, the law of Rome was religious in character, and its interpretation rested with priests, who were members of the patrician class. Complaints and agitation by the plebs, the common people, led to the reduction to writing of the existing legal customs and the addition of new principles unknown in the customary law. The Law of the Twelve Tables thus drafted was submitted to and accepted by the popular assembly.
This code set forth simple rules suitable for an agricultural community; it established equal law for patricians and plebs and was prized by the Romans as the source of all public and private law. The legal system established under this code, and the body of rules that developed around it, applied exclusively to Roman citizens and was known as the jus civile. (Ancient Rome, Compton’s 96) The laws of the Twelve Tables are one of the earliest extant law codes. Covering both civil and criminal matters, it is commonly believed that these laws served to codify existing custom. They provide not only a valuable insight into Roman law, but into Roman culture as well. Here are some excerpts taken from the translated version.
? Quickly kill .. a dreadfully deformed child. ? If a father thrice surrender a son for sale, the son shall be free from the father. ? A child born ten months after the father’s death will not be admitted into a legal inheritance. ? Females shall remain in guardianship even when they have attained their majority .. except Vestal Virgins.
? A spendthrift is forbidden to exercise administration over his own goods. ? Persons shall mend roadways. If they do not keep them laid with stone, a person shall drive his beasts where he wishes. ? It is permitted to gather fruit falling down on another man’s farm. ? If any person has sung or composed against another person a song such as was causing slander or insult to another, he shall be clubbed to death.
? If a person has maimed another’s limb, let there be retaliation in kind unless he makes agreement for settlement with him. ? Intermarriage shall not take place between plebeians and patricians. (Touregypt.net) Effects of Roman Rule Conquest over the Mediterranean basin compelled the Romans to work out a new system of law. Each conquered territory had its own system, and a body of law was required that would be applicable to both citizens and subjects. Between about 367BC and AD137 the new law was developed from the edicts of the praetor, or magistrate, who defined and interpreted the law in individual cases. The praetor of the foreigners administered justice in Rome in all controversies except those in which both parties were citizens; the praetor, or provincial magistrate, patterned his edicts in matters of commercial interest after the edict of the foreign praetor in Rome.
(Civil Law, Comptons 96) During the last century of the republic the rules of the new system were generally made applicable to controversies between Roman citizens. This new legal system was known as the jus gentium. The extension of citizenship during the years from 100BC to AD212 to all free inhabitants of the Roman Empire made the distinction between the jus gentium and the jus civile obsolete, and the city law or jus civile of Rome became the law of the empire. Provincial diversities were effaced by legislation by the senate and emperor and by juristic interpretation. The most significant development in the Roman legal system of this period was the right given by the first Roman emperor Augustus and his successors to eminent jurists to deliver responsa, or opinions, on the legal cases on trial in the courts. Among the most famous of these Roman jurists were Gaius (flourished 2nd century AD), Papinian, Julius Paulus (flourished 3rd century AD), and Ulpian, the last three of whom successively held the position praefectus praetoria, or minister of justice of the Roman Empire.
(Ancient Rome, Comptons 96) Augustus, the first ruler of Rome after it became an empire, restored civil order, peace, and prosperity to a Rome that had suffered several decades of civil wars. Born Gaius Octavius and adopted by Julius Caesar, he was given the name Augustus, meaning, consecrated, by the Roman Senate after he avenged Caesars death and consolidated his power. He later received the title, imperator, from which was derived the word emperor. (Ancient Rome, Comptons 96) Octavian Augustus was really the greatest civil leader that the ancient world ever produced. When he came to Rome after Caesar’s murder, his only possessions were an inherited name and whatever appeal his youth might bring; but in cold, sagacious steps he made his way rapidly on the policy of avenging Caesar. Through his good sense, moderation, and conscientious attention to duty, Augustus won the support of all major elements in the Mediterranean world.
In many provinces, which now enjoyed more careful government and suffered less from extortion, he was made a god, and the month of his final achievement was named after him. Augustus lived to be 76 years old. In his last year, he revised a recital of the great deeds he had achieved for the Roman State. The original version in Rome has disappeared, but another copy of this work, was carved on the temple of Augustus at Ancyra and still survives. In his administration of the Roman Empire, the disaster that upset Augustus the most took place in Germany.
While Augustus remained at peace with Parthia, he advanced the Roman frontier in Europe to the Danube and Rhine. By this advance he subjected modern Switzerland, Austria, much of Hungary, and the Balkans to Roman rule and protected the connections between the western and eastern provinces of the Empire; no other Ro …