Roman Law in Context

Roman Law in Context

Roman Law in Context

Roman Law in Context


This book explains the rules of Roman law in the light of the society and economy in which it operated. The main topics discussed are the family and inheritance, property and the use of land, commercial transactions and the management of businesses, litigation and how easily the Roman citizen could assert his or her legal rights in practice. The book involves a minimum of legal technicality and is intended to be accessible to students and teachers of Roman history.


This book attempts to look at Roman law in its social and economic context. To do so is to court criticism from both historians and lawyers. The attempt, though arduous, is not quite doomed to failure: just over thirty years ago John Crook's deservedly successful Law and Life of Rome (1967) appealed to both camps. What need is there for anything more? Two points arise. First, if Law and Life of Rome aimed to illustrate the social and economic life of Rome through its law, the concern of the present book is more to understand the law in the light of the society and its economy.

Second, in the last thirty years there have been extraordinary finds of new evidence, especially inscriptions, and there have been remarkable developments in Roman social and economic history. A book which took proper account of all of this would be a good one. Unfortunately, this is not that book. To reflect all the new material would require a much longer treatment, and many years of painstaking composition.

This book therefore presents only a sketch, which may perhaps conjure up a faint image of what would be possible if the final work itself were ever to be executed. The book is aimed at historians rather than lawyers, and the choice of topics, emphasis in discussion, and bibliographical references all reflect that. The topic of commercial law is discussed more fully than the rest, partly because of its intrinsic interest and partly because it (unlike family law) has apparently not yet been much absorbed into the consciousness of historians.

For many constructive comments and suggestions I am most grateful to Peter Garnsey and Paul Cartledge, the editors of the series in which this book appears. The book would never have been finished had I not been able to enjoy the oasis of tranquillity that is the Robbins Collection at the Law School in Berkeley. For their hospitality and help I am glad to be able here to thank its staff and particularly its director, Laurent Mayali.

October 1998 . . .

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