Roman History and Law

Roman History and Law:

Roman History:

It spans a thousand years and covers not only the Mediterranean region, but Europe to the British is less, northeast to the Danube River, and eastward through Asia Minor: All of the roads led to Rome. Learn regarding its growth from a hilly, small, swamp of an inland settlement, its experiments with distinct types of governments, as well as cultural and customs and achievements, from togas and gladiators to satire and aqueducts.

Roman Empire, political system established via Rome that lasted for nearly five centuries. Usually Historians date the starting of the Roman Empire from 27 BC while the Roman Senate gave Gaius Octavius the name Augustus and he became the undisputed emperor after years of bitter civil war. At its peak the empire involved lands during the Mediterranean world. Rome had first expanded into other parts of Italy and neighboring territories throughout the Roman Republic (509-27 BC), but made broader solidified & conquests political control of these lands throughout the empire. The empire lasted till economic decline, Germanic invasions, and internal unrest in the 4th and 5th centuries AD ended Rome's ability to dominate such an enormous territory. The Romans and their empire gave political and cultural shape to the subsequent history of Europe from the middle ages and the Renaissance to the current day.

In 44 BC Gaius Julius Caesar, the Roman leader who ruled the Roman Republic such as a dictator was assassinated. Rome descended in more than ten years of civil war & political upheaval. After Caesar's heir Gaius Octavius (also known as Octavian) defeated his last rivals, the Senate in 27 BC proclaimed him Augustus, meaning the holy one or exalted. In this way Augustus established the monarchy that became known as the Roman Empire. The Roman Republic, which had lasted 500 years, was dead, never to be revived. The empire would remain for another 500 years till AD 476

The emperor Augustus reigned from 27 BC to AD 14 and ruled along with absolute power. He reestablished social and political stability & launched two of the centuries of prosperity called the Roman Peace (Pax Romana). Under his rule the Roman state began its transformation into the greatest and most influential political institution in European history. During the first two centuries AD the empire flourished and added new territories, notably ancient Britain, Arabia, and Dacia (present-day Romania). People from the Roman provinces streamed to Rome, where they became soldiers, bureaucrats, senators, and even emperors. Rome developed into the social, economic, & cultural capital of Mediterranean world. Despite the attention given to tyrannical and often vicious leaders like the emperors Caligula and Nero, most emperors ruled sensibly and competently until military and economic disasters brought on the political instability of the 3rd century AD.

The Roman Empire encompassed a vast amount of territory, but also let people of various different cultures to hold their heritage into modern times. The empire helped to perpetuate the literature, art and philosophy of the Greeks, ethical system and the religious of the Jews, the new religion of the Babylonian astronomy, Christians and astrology, and cultural elements from Egypt, Persia and other eastern civilizations. The Romans supplied their own peculiar talents for law, government and architecture and also spread their Latin language. In this way they formed the Greco-Roman synthesis, the rich combination of cultural elements that for two millennia has shaped what we call the Western tradition.

The Romans formed that synthesis throughout the longest continuous period of peaceful prosperity that the Mediterranean world has ever known. Even after a German invader in AD 476 deposed Romulus Augustulus, the last emperor reside in Rome, emperors who called themselves "Roman" (although they are known historically as Byzantine) continued to rule in Constantinople till AD 1453  .The impact of the Roman people endures till the present day.

Roman law:

One of the great gifts of Rome was that of law. Roman law played a vital role in the eventual emergence of the West. Of all the vast inheritances of Roman civilization, none were more significant to Western Civilization that the heritage of Roman law. And today the imprint of law is one of the prime forces that mark the Western world. Roman law built up for millennia. The earliest Roman law was secretly administered as the privileged class’s law. Over time it became the individual basis of civilized life during the Empire. Roman jurisprudence evolved into a legal system depends on natural-law theory as the basic test of the reasonableness of positive law. The prime major step toward a sophisticated legal system was the law of the Twelve Tables (449 BC). The cilmination of Roman legal development was Emperor Justinian I's Corpus Juris Civilis of (about 530 AD). Roman law, as preserved in Justinian's codes continued to be practiced in the Byzantine Empire and Eastern Roman till its fall (1453). The classical tradition was lost for centuries after the fall of Rome to the Huns and Germanic invaders. The Eastern Empire did not fall to the Barbarians. Therefore it was mainly through the Byzantine or Eastern Empire that Roman legal practice was passed to continental Europe throughout the medieval era.


Roman law developed for about millennia. The early history of Rome and therefore if Roman law is lost. We know that Rome's origins were as an Etruscan town (eighth century BC). Roman law is the legal system prevailing from the founding of the city (753 BC). The earliest Roman law was not codified & secretly administered as the law of the privileged classes. Over time it became the distinctive basis of civilized life during the Empire.

Natural Law:

Roman jurisprudence evolved in a legal system depends on natural-law theory as the fundamental test of the reasonableness of positive law.

Twelve Tablets (449 BC):

Initially Rome was governed by kings who administered justice. The nobles led through Lucius Iunius Brutus rose up against the arbitrary rule of King Tarquin & declared Rome a republic (510/509 BC). Following the overthrow of the kings, two consuls and the Senate governed Rome. Very few people knew anything about law. Educated members of well-to-do families, typically senators & patricians, gave legal suggestion privately. From these impromtu informal starting, the profession of lawyers developed. The Senate proposed laws or voted on proposals of the consuls. The primary major step toward a sophisticated legal system was the codification of law in the Twelve Tables (449 BC). They were written in early Latin for all to read. .

Late-Republic (200-30 BC):

Much more is known regarding the Roman legal system by the time of the late Republic. The praetor, one of the Roman magistrates, would publish an edict each year describing how he would announce how he would apply the laws. The censors had legal responsibilities, especially the upholding of public mores. Cicero gives us fascinating insights into the Roman legal system. In his letters and pleads he define in realistic terms the administration of justice in his day. Not only were lawyers active, but some experts started to write the first law books. By this time Rome had grown from a small town to a large city administering a huge empire.

The Principate:

It followed the fall of the Republic. The great jurists of Rome emerged during this period. Some were employed through the emperors. Some of the most noted were Ulpian, Papinian, Paul, and Julian. Some sources survive providing fragmentary insights into the administration of justice. The poorly understood Gaius wrote an introductory law book, the Institutes. This is the only completely surviving Roman legal manual. What we do not know is how significant this particular manual was at the time, however as Justinian would later use it, we suspect it was extremely influential. Surviving letters from Governor Pliny define legal questions he posed to the emperor. The praetorial edict became a permanent institution. Emperor Theodosian tried to establish some legal order among the huge corpus of law that had developed over time through his legal code.

Justinian I's Corpus Juris Civilis (6th century BC):

The culmination of Roman legal development was Emperor Justinian I's Corpus Juris Civilis of (about 530 AD). This occurred in hard times. The Western Empire had fallen & Justinian was attempting to rebuild it. Justinian required creating a unified legal system by codification all levels of law. Justinian's legal experts collected Imperial decrees and edited a new Code, followed by later decrees, the 'Novellae'. Justinian also ordered a committee of experts to get ready an anthology of the classical Roman lawyers, the 'Pandectae' and 'Digestae'. And lastly, Justinian had a manual of law be prepared & decreed that it be necessary for all legal education. Justinian's 'Institutes' are written by means of Gaius' 'Institutes'. Roman law, as conserved in Justinian's codes continued to be practiced in the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire until its fall (1453). The classical tradition was lost for centuries after the fall of Rome to the Huns and Germanic invaders. The Eastern Empire did not fall to the Barbarians. Therefore it was largely through the Byzantine or Eastern Empire that Roman legal practice was passed out to continental Europe throughout the medieval era. It was the Justinian codification that would be the beginning point for the development of medieval law. It was used in the renewal, study and revival of Roman law throughout the middle ages and therefore the foundation for our modern Western law.

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