Roman Law

AuthorJeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

Page 387

Between 753 B.C. and A.D. 1453, the legal principles, procedures, and institutions of Roman law dominated Western, and parts of Eastern, civilization. The legal systems of western Europe, with the exception of Great Britain, are based on Roman law and are called civil-law systems. Even the common-law tradition found in the English-speaking world has been influenced by it. In the United States, the COMMON LAW has been paramount, but Roman law has influenced the law of the state of Louisiana, a former French territory that adopted a French civil-law code.

Roman law began as an attempt to codify a set of legal principles for all citizens. In 450 B.C. the Twelve Tables were erected in the Roman Forum. Set forth in tablets of wood or bronze, the law was put on public display, where it could be invoked by persons seeking remedies for their problems. Though the texts of the tablets have not survived, historians believe they dealt with legal procedures, TORTS, and FAMILY LAW issues.

From 753 to 31 B.C., the Roman republic developed the jus civile, or CIVIL LAW. This law was based on both custom and legislation and applied only to Roman citizens. By the third century B.C., the Romans developed the jus gentium, rules of INTERNATIONAL LAW that were applied to interactions between Romans and foreigners. Over time the jus gentium became a massive compendium of law produced by magistrates and governors.

Romans divided the law into jus scriptum, written law, and jus non scriptum, unwritten law. The unwritten law was based on custom and usage, while the written law came from legislation and many types of written sources, including edicts and proclamations issued by magistrates, resolutions of the Roman Senate, laws issued by the emperor, and legal disquisitions of prominent lawyers. Roman law concerned itself with every type of legal issue, including contracts, inheritance of property, family law, business organizations, and criminal acts.

Roman law steadily accumulated during the course of the empire, and over time it became contradictory and confusing. In the early sixth century A.D., the Byzantine emperor JUSTINIAN I, appointed a commission to examine the body of law and determine what should be kept and what should be discarded. From this effort came the Corpus Juris Civilis, a CODIFICATION of Roman law that became the chief lawbook of what remained of the Roman Empire.

The decline of the Roman...

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