The Roman law

The Romans achieved the major successes in two areas. The first one was engineering and the second one was law, which is functioning successfully, to a certain extant, in the world today. However, Roman law was codified relatively late. Just in the second and the third century AD Roman jurists began recording comments, which in a codified form became one of the most valuable cultural inheritance of the medieval Europe.

The beginning of the law

The Roman law took its shape originally as a result of customs. However, that caused so-called uncertainty of law because at first customary law had been handed down from generation to generation which (what is easy to guess) led to judges’ abuses, the more so that they derived from the richest social classes and they maintained law inequality for the majority of poor people. Therefore in 450 BC the first codification of custom law was created – it was very important for Roman law, so-called law of 12 boards.

The Roman law was created in the way of acts passed by local communities (comitia). First voting was open, then undercover dividing citizens to tribes (tribus) or centuries. Then this kind of act had to be verified by the Senate.

Another source of Roman law were praetors edicts, resolutions of the Senate in 1st and 2nd centuries AD and great Roman lawyers’ opinions – it consisted in that a judge could ask a lawyer, so-called jurist, about an opinion in a particular case and this opinion was final for the judge. It was very important because this way the Roman law was on a very high level. Jurists did also an official interpretation of acts and in the later period it was possible to quote well-known and celebrated jurists’ pronouncements during a trial and it also couldn’t be disregarded by judge. Add to this emperor’s constitutions – differently in Principat and Dominate as the source of Roman law.

We owe many things to the Roman law, for example distinction of such concepts as ownership and possession (Romans understood ownership as unique right to decide about the thing with taking advantages from it, and possession as an exact state in which the thing is under possession control), division of the law to relative and unconditional, division of responsibility to contract and delict and shaping creating, basic contracts, I mean purchase – sale, loan, lease, commission – the main credit was here the determination of mutual both parties’ right and duties and sphere in which the parties may shape a contract. Similar contracts existed before the Roman civilisation but they were short of precision in determination mutual parties’ responsibility.

First emperors introduced a new law, which was then accepted by the Senate and the next ones proclaimed decrees by virtue of new law principles were introduced.

The Gaius Institutions

In 1816 in the library of capitula in Verona the handbook "Gaius' Institutionum commerntari guattor", colloquially called "Gaius’ Institutions", was discovered. It was a handbook, written in the 2nd century BC for law adepts. Its big importance for Roman law consists in that it doesn’t come from later compilation but it’s almost a whole re-created as an original text from classical period. "Institutions" presents law in a specific systematic. The handbook is divided in 3 parts - personae (law applied to person), res (law applied to things, in which law of obligations was taken in), actiones (law regarding complaints).

The Justinian Codex

One of the main sources which allow us to understand the Roman law is "Corpus iuris civitis", that is so called "Justinian codification" from 529, which brought the renaissance of the Roman law in the 11th century. "The Codification" accumulates and orders all the regulations of ancient Rome and forms the basis of the regulations adopted by West civilisations. "The Codification" consists of three parts:
- Digesta seu Pandecta -; that is so called Digests. Digests were elaborated on the basis of 39 classic lawyers notes by 16-person commission. They consist of 9123 fragments included in 50 books, which according to the creators were the greatest achievement of the law in the classic period. After gathering them and doing compilation Justinian ordered to burn the source texts and forbade commenting Digests or even to quote original fragments when explain ambiguities arose.
- Codex – so-called collection of emperor’s laws order from emperor Hadrian to Justinian. The commission which was creating the Codex was authorised to introduce changes in contents of constitutions.
- Institutiones - Institutions. Institutiones, published in 533, replaced "Gaius Institutions" in the law schools as it was brought to perfection and brought up to date. Its creators were professors of law: Theophilus and Dorotheus and their work was supervised by Tribonian.

The Roman law and the contemporary law

Almost all of the contemporary civil law systems have their roots in the Roman law, modelling themselves on its systematics, conceptions and even formulations. In connection with that, the Roman law and (particularly shaped in it and intercepted to contemporary law) juridical terminology links different law systems, even those created in very different social-economical systems. So we can say that the Roman law is an universal language in the lawyers’ environment since medieval times till today. Roman law outlived the state which had created it. When the invincible empire collapsed in the West Europe the Roman law was almost forgotten. But during the middle ages it was born for the second time to conquer whole civilised world again.

It’s true that there are a few countries in which Roman law obliges in almost not-changed form today but there are also a few countries which law would be free from its influence. With regard to the importance of the Roman law in the history of law it is paid a lot of attention in jurisprudence. As we couldn’t imagine studying contemporary philosophy without Greek one as well we couldn’t study contemporary law not knowing the Roman one. So we could say that the Roman law is studied to bring perfection to the contemporary law.

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