Original text - Definition of Roman law
“Between 753 b.c. and a.d. 1453, the legal principles, procedures, and institutions of Roman law dominated Western, and parts of Eastern, civilization. The legal systems of western Europe, with the exception of Great Britain, are based on Roman law and are called civil-law systems. Even the common-law tradition found in the English-speaking world has been influenced by it. In the United States, the Common Law has been paramount, but Roman law has influenced the law of the state of Louisiana, a former French territory that adopted a French civil-law code.
Roman law began as an attempt to codify a set of legal principles for all citizens. In 450 b.c. ...view middle of the document...
Roman law steadily accumulated during the course of the empire, and over time it became contradictory and confusing. In the early sixth century a.d., the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, appointed a commission to examine the body of law and determine what should be kept and what should be discarded. From this effort came the Corpus Juris Civilis, a Codification of Roman law that became the chief lawbook of what remained of the Roman Empire.
The decline of the Roman Empire also led to the diminution of interest in Roman law in western Europe. The Corpus was unknown to western scholars for centuries. During the twelfth century, however, Roman law studies revived in western Europe. In the late eleventh century, a manuscript containing part of the Corpus was discovered in Pisa, Italy. The remainder of the compilation was soon recovered, and schools where Roman law could be studied were established in Bologna, Italy, and then elsewhere in Europe. By the twelfth century, commentaries on the Corpus Juris Civilis appeared, and in time men trained in Roman law found posts in secular and ecclesiastical bureaucracies throughout Europe.
As a result, the legal systems of the Catholic Church and of almost every country in Europe were influenced by Roman law. Around the year 1140, the scholar Gratian prepared the Concordance of Discordant Canons, or Decretum. The Decretum was the largest and best-organized compendium of canon (church) law up to that time. Gratian used the Corpus Juris Civilis as his model, and later canonists studying the Decretum used the same methods that Roman lawyers applied to the Corpus Juris Civilis. Many scholars became masters of both Roman and Canon Law.
Among the nations of western Europe, England, which had already established a viable common-law tradition and a system of royal courts by the time that Roman law became accessible, felt the impact of the revival of Roman law the least. Nevertheless, English Law drew upon Roman admiralty law, and the crimes of forgery and libel were based on Roman models. English ecclesiastical courts applied canon law, which was based on Roman law, and the universities of Oxford and Cambridge taught canon and Roman law. Scholars have noted the similarities between the Roman and English actions of Trespass, and the equitable method of Injunction may have been derived from canon law. Much of western European Commercial Law, which contained Roman law, became part of English law without much change.
The legal systems of most continental European nations owe their basic structures and categories to Roman law. Scholars point to several reasons for this "reception" of Roman law. In some areas such as southern France where remnants of Roman law had survived the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Corpus Juris Civilis helped to explain the institutions that were already in existence. More important in ensuring the reception of Roman law were the political principles that it contained. Law that had been...