How did law evolve during the Roman period?

Roman Laws

Roman law is the legal system of post-Greek ancient Rome, including the legal branches spanning over a thousand years of the constitution, from the Twelve Tables (c. 449 BCE) to the Corpus Juris Civilis (529 CE) commanded by Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I. Roman law establishes the fundamental framework for civil law, the most extensively used legal system today. Roman law’s historical value is reflected by Latin legal terminology’s continued use in many legal systems influenced by it, including the famous common law.

Twelve Tables

The original legal text is the Law of the Twelve Tables, recording from the mid-fifth century BCE. The plebeian tribune, C. Terentilius Arsa, suggested that the law be written to prevent judges from applying the law arbitrarily.

After eight years of continuous political struggle, the traditional social class convinced the patricians to send a delegation to Athens to copy Solon’s Laws; they also sent delegations to other Greek cities and towns for a similar reason.

In 451 BCE, according to the old tale (as Livy tells it), ten Roman citizens were picked to write the laws, known as the decemviri legibus scribundis. While they were doing this task, they were assigned imperium (supreme political power ), whereas the administration restricted the magistrates’ power. In 450 BCE, the decemviri wrote the laws on ten tablets (tabulae), but these laws were seen as unsatisfactory by the majority of plebeians. A second decemvirate is deemed to have added two new tablets in 449 BCE. The people’s assembly approved the new Law of the Twelve Tables.

Early law and jurisprudence

Many laws involve Lex Canuleia (445 BCE; which supported the marriage—ius connubii—between plebeians and patricians), Leges Licinae Sextiae (367 BCE; which made limitations on ownership of public lands—ager publicus—and also made sure that one of the delegates was common men (plebeians)), Lex Ogulnia (300 BCE; plebeians gained access to priest posts), and Lex Hortensia (287 BCE; verdicts of plebeian assemblies—plebiscita—now unite all people).

Pre-classical Period

In the period between about 201 BCE to 27 BCE, we can see the evolution of more flexible laws to match the time’s needs. In addition to the formal and old ius civile, a new juridical class was created: the ius honorarium, which can be explained as “The law proposed by the magistrates who had the right to publish edicts in order to supplement, support or correct the current law.” With this new law, the old formalism was being abandoned, and the empire used new, more flexible principles of ius gentium.

The evolution of law to new requirements was given over to juridical practice, to judges, and particularly to the praetors. A praetor was not an official legislator and did not technically constitute new law when he issued his edicts (magistratuum edicta). In fact, the consequences of his rulings enjoyed actionem dare (legal protection) and were in effect often the root of new standard rules. His predecessor’s edicts did not bind a Praetor’s successor; however, he did take rules and lessons from edicts of his predecessor that had indeed proved to be relatively useful. In this way, a constant content was developed that proceeded from edictum traslatitium (edict to edict).

Classical Roman law

Few examples of new additions in Classical Roman Laws are:

  • Roman jurists divided the legal right to use a thing (ownership) from the actual ability to manipulate and use the thing (possession). They also established the difference between tort and contract as sources of legal responsibilities.
  • The conventional types of contract (contract for work, sale, contract for services, hire) governed in most continental codes and the features of each of these contracts were formed by the Roman constitution.
  • The classical jurist Gaius (around 160 CE) developed a system of private law based on the distribution of all material into persons (personae), things (res), and legal actions )actiones_. Romans used this system for many centuries. It can be identified in legal treatises like William Blackstone’s Remarks on England’s Laws and enactments like the German BGB and the French Code civil.

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