Roman law

It is known from ancient legal texts, literature, papyri, wax tablets and inscriptions, that Roman law was responsible for covering different facets of the daily life of the people of Rome, such as crime and punishment, land ownership, commerce, maritime and agricultural industry, citizenship, sexuality and prostitution, slavery and everything related to local and state policies, liability and damage to property, and the search for peace. The law was established by different methods, e.g., statutes, magistrates' decisions, emperor's edicts, assembly votes, plebiscites and the deliberations of expert legal advisors. They became multifaceted and flexible to deal with the different changes in the Roman world, and moved from republican to imperial politics, from local to national trade and from state to interstate politics.

What is Roman law?

Roman law is the group of principles of law that have been responsible for directing from generation to generation by means of traditions, laws and norms to Roman society from the time it was founded until it collapsed as an empire.

About Roman law

Roman law consisted of a series of different rules and regulations of a merely legal aspect, different types of principles and precepts that regulated the life of the Roman empire from the time it was founded by Romulus, until the people fell into the hands of the barbarians, and Spain, Italy and southern Gaul were formed. These principles governed practically every aspect of the life of the people, from property, inheritance, family relations and commerce, to name a few.


Roman law was a completely traditionalist law that sought to preserve legal institutions from generation to generation, did not seek to prevent the creation of new organizations, but protected those that already existed. It had a plurality of sources, so it was necessary to stratify and make a division between the systems that already existed, reducing a little the production sources. It was based on three different precepts, which had been enunciated by Domitius Ulpiano, these were that: one should live honestly and morally, should not cause harm to others and that each person should comply with the law and recognize the right of the other. It was an extremely formalistic right that gave great importance to the interpretation of this. It was strict and applied to both slaves, pilgrims and foreigners.

History of Roman law

The earliest history of Roman law has been lost. Rome already existed as a city during the 8th century BC. The first known source of Roman law are the Laws of the Twelve Tables, which originated in the mid-5th century BC. After the kings’ period, two consuls and the Senate ruled Rome. Very few people knew anything about the law before the Twelve Tables were erected to provide some legal certainty. The praetor, one of the Roman magistrates, published each year his edict announcing how he would apply the laws. The censors had a legal task, as well as the defense of customs. During the principality, jurists were active, among them Ulpian, Papinian, Paul and Julian. The mysterious Gaius wrote an introductory law book, Institutes, almost the only manual that managed to survive. During that time, Emperor Theodosian tried to impose some legal order with his code of law. The imperial decrees were compiled and edited into a new Code.


The stages of Roman law are as follows:

Classification of Roman law

Sources of Roman law

The human right has a plurality of sources, so it had to be stratified, the main ones are:


The term obligation comes from the Latin word “ob-ligae“, which means to confront one person in front of the other. It is a legal bond in which one person, whether the active subject or the creditor, has the right to impose on another the performance of a particular service. It is a right that people have to demand from another who is called a debtor, the fulfillment of a certain performance.


The Roman law has a historical utility because knowing the antecedents of the law will increase the knowledge of it. It must be studied as a practical model to raise the levels of science and art. It is a powerful weapon to study the legislations of America and Europe. It is important for the study of Roman history and literature.


Its influence has brought a series of changes in history that have made it essential to current law as it is considered the basis of virtually all legislation of the law. It is the basis of civil law in different countries benefiting the principles of culture, society, politics and economy.

Written by Gabriela Briceño V.

How to cite this article?

Briceño V., Gabriela. (2019). Roman law. Recovered on 23 February, 2024, de Euston96:

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