Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Roman Law Definition:

Form and content of law that was developed by the Romans during their 1,000 year empire starting in 500 BC; form in that it was written, and with content that sought to publish a comprehensive code of private law thus addressed a predictable structure for its people and the economy.

Related Terms: Fiat Justitia Ruat Caelum, Civil Law, Civil Code, Canon Law, Common Law

Roman law is the source of modern civil law.

When the Roman Empire began, circa 500 BC, it benefited greatly from a code of laws that was published in all the major centers for the people to read and for the judges to enforce: the Twelve Tables.

This tradition of written law stuck and culminated in the Corpus Juris Civilis of one of the last emperors of the Roman Empire, Justinian (482-565).

The Romans expanded upon the Twelve Tables, tentatively at first, benefiting from great legal minds and writers such as Tiberius Coruncanius (281-241 BC) and, later, Cicero (106 to 43 BC) as well as direct forays into amendment such as Lex Aquila of 286 BC.

Roger Roman CenturionThe law they developed was logical and for the most part, commensurate with most people's common sense. In a nutshell, although it often provided rough justice, it was a hit with the people who knew what to expect in their private lives and in regards to commercial dealings.

By the time of Justinian, Roman law had become a massive body of written law mostly polluted by the writings of too many jurists, making it difficult for the judges to know which law to apply.  The Law of Citations had brought some order but not enough.

Justinian ordered that the law be struck anew into a single publication (it turned out to be several publications) which became known by several names such as the Pandects, Justinian's Institutes and Corpus Juris Civilis (literally, the body of civil law).

Gradually, from the time of its publication in 533, this bible of Roman law permeated Europe and formed the basis of the civil law of Europe. Germany, in particular, took to Justinian's Roman law. Indeed, to a German jurist, the term Roman law is taken to mean Justinian's Institutes.

Many have contributed to Roman law including Tribonian, Justinian's foremost jurist, and those who from who Tribonian drew, Gaius and Ulpanius.

No system of law has more influenced the law. Most systems of law, whether stated to be civil or common law, borrow extensively from Roman law as evidenced by the plethora of fundamental Latin legal principles such as caveat emptor, res judicata or salus populi est supreme lex, or laws related to contracts, torts, families, wills and estates.

Comparing the Roman law to the common law, one jurist (Austin; cited by Schultz ) wrote:

"Turning from the study of the English to the study of Roman law, you escape from the empire of chaos and darkness to a world, which seems by comparison the region of order and light."

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