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Roman law

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-T023-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 22, 2024, from

Article Summary

Law was Rome’s greatest gift to the intellect of modern Europe. Even today the Roman law library, and the achievements of the jurists who built it up, live on in the law of the Continental jurisdictions and of other countries farther afield. It is true that over the past two centuries codification has largely interrupted the long tradition of direct recourse to the Roman materials, but the concepts applied in civilian jurisdictions and the categories of legal thought which they use are still in large measure those of the Roman jurists. In England, perhaps for no better reason than that from the late thirteenth century the judges of the King’s Bench and Common Pleas happened to come from a background which cut them off from the clerical education which had given their predecessors access to the Roman library, there was no reception of Roman law. Post-Norman England thus became the second Western society to set about building up a mature law library from scratch. The common law (being the law common to the whole realm of England) and the civil law (being the ius civile, the law pertaining to the civis, the citizen, initially of course the Roman citizen) thus became the two principal families within the Western legal tradition. It is wrong, however, to suppose that the development of the common law was constantly isolated. There have on the contrary been important points of contact at almost all periods. One result is that the categories of English legal thought are not in fact dissimilar to those of the jurisdictions of continental Europe. The study of Roman law has contributed immeasurably to the idea of a rational normative order, an idea fundamental to legal philosophy as indeed to all practical philosophy.

Citing this article:
Birks, P.B.H.. Roman law, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-T023-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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