Human Rights in Ancient Rome

Human Rights in Ancient Rome

Human Rights in Ancient Rome

Human Rights in Ancient Rome


The concept of human rights has a long history. Its practical origins, as distinct from its theoretical antecedents, are said to be comparatively recent, going back no further than the American and French Bills of Rights of the eighteenth century. Even those landmarks are seen as little more than the precursors of the twentieth century starting-point - the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948. In this unique and stimulating book, Richard Bauman investigates the concept of human rights in the Roman world. He argues that on the theoretical side, ideas were developed by thinkers such as Cicero and Seneca and on the pragmatic side, practical applications were rewarded mainly through the law. He presents a comprehensive analysis of human rights in ancient Rome and offers enlightening comparisons between the Roman and twentieth century understanding of human rights.


In a certain sense this work is a sequel to the writer's previous investigations of humanitas (1980, 1996). While exploring that theme in a strictly criminal law context it occurred to me that Roman human rights as a whole might usefully expand the area under discussion. But it was found that there was very little in the literature apart from narrowly focussed etymological-semantic studies. A broader picture is needed, both for its own sake and because of its ability to shed light on the vital topic of human rights in today's world.

The work is cast in chronological form, covering the Roman Republic and Principate. For the Republic the main thrust is from the late third century BC to the era of Cicero and Caesar. The Principate is covered from its inception to AD 235 with the main emphasis on the period from Augustus to Marcus Aurelius. The Republican and imperial phases are treated separately, corresponding to what are in some respects significant differences between the liberal, easygoing climate of the former and the more carefully tailored, professional ambience of the latter. One of the by-products of the investigation has been the updating of some of the writer's findings on maiestas.

The book has been written with two classes of reader in mind-those primarily interested in the Roman scene, and those interested in human rights in general. In order to move the story along as briskly as possible, technical discussions are largely confined to the notes.

My sincere thanks are due to Mr Richard Stoneman, Senior Editor at Routledge, who again provided a generous measure of counsel and support; and to Professor Edwin Judge of Macquarie University, Sydney, who read part of the work in draft and made some valuable suggestions. I am also indebted to the librarians . . .

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