Roman Law in European History

Roman Law in European History

Roman Law in European History

Roman Law in European History

Synopsis

Roman law has had a huge impact on European legal and political thought. Peter Stein, one of the world's leading legal historians, explains in this masterly short study how this came to be. He assesses the impact of Roman law in the ancient world, and its continued unifying influence throughout medieval and modern Europe. Roman Law in European History is unparalleled in depth, lucidity and authority, and should prove of enormous utility for teachers and students (at all levels) of legal history, comparative law and European Studies.

Excerpt

When we think of the legacy of classical antiquity, we think first of Greek art, Greek drama and Greek philosophy; when we turn to what we owe to Rome, what come to mind are probably Roman roads and Roman law. The Greeks speculated a great deal about the nature of law and about its place in society but the actual laws of the various Greek states were not highly developed in the sense that there was little science of law. The Romans, on the other hand, did not give much attention to the theory of law; their philosophy of law was largely borrowed from the Greeks. What interested them were the rules governing an individual's property and what he could make another person do for him by legal proceedings. Indeed the detailed rules of Roman law were developed by professional jurists and became highly sophisticated. The very technical superiority of its reasoning, which has made it so attractive to professional lawyers through the ages, has meant that Roman law is not readily accessible to the layman. Inevitably its merits have a less obvious appeal than art or roads. Yet over the centuries it has played an important role in the creation of the idea of a common European culture.

Most of what we know about ancient Roman law derives from a compilation of legal materials made in the sixth century AD on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. The texts that he included in this collection were the product of a thousand years of unbroken legal development, during which the law acquired certain features that permanently stamped it with a certain character. During this millennium, roughly from 500 BC to 550 AD, Rome expanded from a small city-state to a world empire. Politically it changed, first from a monarchy to a republic and then, not long before the beginning of the Christian era, to an empire. At the same time its law was adapted to cope with the changing social situation, but all the time the idea was maintained that it was in essentials the same law which had been part of the early Roman way of life.

Justinian's texts have been viewed from different perspectives by . . .

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