Roman Law Facts: Learn About The Principles Of Their Legal System | Kidadl


Roman Law Facts: Learn About The Principles Of Their Legal System

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Roman law was a very integral part of Roman society in ancient times.

Roman law was present in all aspects of the daily lives of ancient Romans. The Romans were highly invested in legal matters, be it civil law or public law.

Just as we have standard law systems in modern-day countries like the United Kingdom and the USA, Ancient Rome too functioned under a set of legal systems. Roman law was not restricted to written law and codes but encompassed unwritten law as well.

Roman law dealt with a range of issues in the heydays of ancient Rome, including areas such as severe and petty crimes, property and land disputes, commercial matters involving two or more parties, and obstruction to government duty; everything came under the purview of the law. 

We are fortunate that a substantial portion of the ancient Romans formulated rules have reached us through the records that have survived the ravages of time and the elements. Most of what we have learned in-depth about Roman law has been extracted from ancient Roman books, scrolls, legal documents, inscriptions, and tablets. By studying these valuable sources of information, historians and archaeologists have pieced together the diverse parameters of Roman law.

Important Principles Of Roman Law

Roman law was part of the Roman Constitution. This constitution was not written all in one particular place like the ones we have in modern nation-states of the United States, France, and India. Still, it was an assemblage of collected materials from a variety of sources. It ran on the basic principle that the law was equal for every Roman citizen. Age-old traditions and customs, personal decrees issued by dictators and emperors, were all part of the consortium that made up Roman common law.

As a result of its verbal form in the earliest days of the Roman Republic in the sixth century BCE, the city of Rome and its environs were riffed with corruption at all levels of the judicial machinery. To bring radical changes in the Roman judicial system, a group of like-minded Roman citizenry revolted against the corrupt and inept system in around 451 BCE. Because of that successful revolt, the first batch of Roman law was formulated by the jurists of Rome at around the same time (circa 451-450 BCE).

Although the basic tenets of Roman law promised equal treatment in the eyes of the law, the ground reality was very different in ancient Rome. The bulk of the rights and duties that Roman law envisaged applied to only full Roman citizens, and many living within the boundaries of the Roman Republic or Empire were ineligible for a big part of it. This created divisions within Roman society on a large scale. The principles that governed Roman law on ink and paper did not include a large portion of the Roman citizenry.

Despite the drawbacks, the justice system of ancient Rome was still far ahead of other contemporary civilizations, and the Romans felt proud about the fact theirs was a culture that was rooted to some extent in a set system of laws and regulations. In tandem with one of the principles of Roman law that respected the course of debate and deliberation while formulating new laws, most of the rules that were enacted regularly came about after lengthy and careful discussions in the Roman assemblies of the time. 

The directions were made official only after a certain percentage of votes were garnered in its favor by the public. The idea of holding elections and letting the ordinary people participate in the legislative process was central to the Roman spirit of the law. Even in the Plebeian Councils, the members were given the scope to vent their views and opinions before the official proclamation of any new law or rule.

As far as the field of enactment of laws was concerned, Roman law was upheld by the officials known as 'praetors.' Praetors were high-ranking Roman public officials who were enormously influential. Their position was right below that of the 'consuls' to seniority. A praetor had the task of overseeing the delivery of justice to the petitioners at the courts. Helping the praetors to keep law and order in the city was the police force named 'vigils.' 

The vigils were trained to control common crimes such as theft, murder, and financial troubles. They were directly under the command of the praetors and were active in patrolling the cities. In case there was the need for a much larger force to control situations such as riots or armed fights between rival factions, dispatches of military troops were sent to check the disturbance. The rushing of military cohorts or the emperor's personal guards, the Praetorians, was a familiar scene in the streets of ancient Rome.

History And Formation Of Roman Law

Roman law never had a single source of origin. Several means were utilized by the ancient Romans to devise a legal framework to be used in the day-to-day affairs of the state. Decisions passed by the magistrates, edicts, and diktats ordered by the emperors, orders proclaimed by the Roman Senate, votes in electoral battles, plebiscites, and anything that the legal authorities seemed fit to add to the existing system, all contributed to the making of the Roman law. 

One has to keep in mind that the system of laws in ancient Rome, including criminal and civil law, underwent substantial changes all throughout the history of Rome. When Rome was a kingdom, there was hardly any citizen-friendly law in existence. After that, when Rome entered its republican phase, it had one set of laws. This set evolved into something else by the time the empire was established in place of the republic. Naturally, a series of legal reforms were put in place from time to time to adhere to the changing reality.

One of the chief sources of Roman law is the Corpus Iuris Civilis. This was a digest that was compiled during the reign of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the sixth century AD. Although it mainly talks about civil law, one of its component parts, the Digest, deals with private and public law. This part, the Digest, was written under the guidance of famous Roman jurist Tribonian sometime around 533 AD and has remained one of the best manuals of law ever to have been written. 

The Digest was the work of not one but several Roman jurists, three of them being Ulpian, Paul, and Gaius. Even though the Digest is arguably the most famous of all Roman law manuals, others have also contributed to the formulation of many modern-day laws. For example, the Codex Gregorianus and the Codex Hermogenianus were both published in the latter half of the third century AD during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. Two later manuals, namely the Theodosian Code of the early fifth century AD and the Codex Iustinianus of the sixth century AD, were later additions to the rich literature of Roman law.

Women in ancient Rome had limited rights under Roman law.

Problems And Challenges In Roman Law

Roman law was extensive and well-documented from what we have learned so far, and it covered almost all facets of human existence and was advanced for its age. However, for the ordinary Roman citizen, fighting legal cases in the court of law was definitely a significantly costly and lengthy affair.

When a person was accused by another in ancient Rome, the legal process needed the accuser to approach the court of law to seek justice. The magistrate had the power to decide whether a case was suitable enough to be entertained by lawmakers or rejected on lack of substance. 

In case the magistrate ruled in favor of the accused, an official was given the task of handling the matter. This representative of the law was called an 'Iudex Datus' and was vested with the power and authority to judge a legal matter from start to finish and then declare a verdict. 

The final stamp on the judgment was made by the magistrate, who acted on behalf of the Roman state. There was little to no transparency on the whole mechanism during the judicial process, and instances of corruption and bribery were common in Ancient Rome. 

Again, the system lacked the concept of legal representation, and both the plaintiff and the defendant were bound to represent themselves in front of the law officials. This made matters harsh for both the parties, as generally and understandably, very few ordinary Roman citizens were well versed with the nitty-gritties of Roman law. 

How Roman law was structured served the wealthy classes way better than it did the people of the poorer lower classes, creating a gaping hole in the entire Roman justice system. As a result justice was usually only reserved and gained by the wealthy individuals of the society.

Roman law allowed for a series of harsh and inhuman punishments. Depending upon the severity of the crime, guilty personnel was asked to pay fines, sent to prison, their personal property seized, sent into forced labor, or worse, banished into exile. The death penalty was also a common phenomenon. 

On many occasions, men belonging to influential families were awarded lesser degrees of punishment as compared to the members of the regular classes. Once a sentence was passed, there was little to no hope for the verdict to be challenged in a higher bench of law. What was once done was done, and there was no turning back.


What was the Romans' first code of law?

The 'Law of the Twelve Tables' (Lex XII Tabularum in Latin) was the first law code of the ancient Romans, and this was the first instance when Roman law was converted from customary law to written law. It is dated circa 451-450 BCE.

What is a Roman law that is still around today?

Roman law forms the bedrock of the modern European legal system. The concept of election can be traced back directly to the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire times. Official posts, such as that of the consul and the praetor, had set term limits. Even after Rome transitioned into an empire, most of the high-ranking offices remained democratic apart from the emperor.

What were the 12 Roman laws?

The Twelve Roman Laws or the Law of the Twelve Tables is the earliest form of written law in ancient Rome. It refers to those set of laws that were carved on twelve tablets made of bronze in ancient Rome in circa 451-450 BCE. Found only in fragments, these laws deal with rights that Roman citizenship guaranteed. They dealt with land ownership, debts, succession rights, punishment for treason, rights related to guardianship, and other miscellaneous legal rights.

What were the three important principles of Roman law?

Three important principles of Roman law are as follows:

Roman citizens had the right to be treated on equal terms as per the Roman legal system.

Roman Law held an accused person innocent until the same was proven guilty.

Any Roman law, be it a civil law or a criminal law, if deemed unfit for the legal systems, was liable to be stripped from the law code by Roman jurists.

Who made Roman laws?

Roman law was initially made by only those Roman citizens who belonged to the rich and influential patrician class. Gradually, however, as the Roman Republic gained momentum, representatives from the less privileged plebeian class won access to the exercise of preparing legal treatises.

Why is Roman law important?

Roman law is important because most of the modern European legal systems are based on it. The legal system of several countries of the contemporary era can trace the origins of their respective legal concepts back to the Roman legal system.

<p>With a Master of Arts in English, Rajnandini has pursued her passion for the arts and has become an experienced content writer. She has worked with companies such as Writer's Zone and has had her writing skills recognized by publications such as The Telegraph. Rajnandini is also trilingual and enjoys various hobbies such as music, movies, travel, philanthropy, writing her blog, and reading classic British literature.&nbsp;</p>

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