THE ROMAN WORLD
“The laws of the Roman people”, writes the Roman second-century jurist Gaius, “are based upon acts, plebeian statutes, resolutions of the Senate, imperial enactments, edicts of those having the right to issue them, and answers given by jurists.” This definition by Gaius gives an idea of the many ways in which water legislation might arise in the Roman world, to which one must add that both the empire as a whole and the local level have to be considered. Besides the Roman and Italian evidence, we shall look at material from an area stretching from Palmyra to Zaragoza, from Algeria to Gaul. In fact the number and the complexity of the legal texts from the Roman world far surpass anything we have from other ancient societies, and the literature on this topic is prolific, not least because, until less than a century ago, Roman water law influenced the water legislation of modern nations.2 Most, if not all, aspects of Roman water legislation have been the object of copious and often conflicting interpretations. By its nature, this survey must aim at brevity and cannot reflect the full range of past and recent discussions.
In a historical perspective it is interesting to notice that already the first legal text of the Romans, the famous Law of the Twelve Tables of the mid-fifth century B.C., contains a stipulation concerning water management, namely on warding off damage from flooding rainwater.3 Water is also mentioned in an early international agreement
1 Gai Inst. I 2; see Gordon and Robinson 1988. A selection of documents from
all these categories will appear in the following. On the sources of Roman law, see
in general Nicholas 1962, 14–45. Regarding edicts by magistrates concerning water,
the edict issued by the praetor was especially important, see Lenel 1927, section
43, passim, and the comments by Rodger 1989.
2 On Roman water law and late nineteenth-century legislation see for instance
Ware 1905, 15–21. 141–55. Some references also in Ossig 1898. Biondi 1938, 170,
comments on influences on the Code Napoléon and the Italian Codice Civile, and
on p. 591 refers to an Italian juristic debate of the 1920s involving Roman and
modern concepts of water law. See further Capogrossi Colognesi 1976, 522–3 on
influences on the Italian Codice Civile.
3 See below footnote 113.