law: Roman Law and Its Influence

The first law code in Roman history was the Law of the Twelve Tables, the prelude to the development of Roman law, a highly elaborate system that has had immeasurable influence on the growth of Western law. It was summarized in the Corpus Juris Civilis in the time of Justinian. Roman law developed the distinction between public law (in which the state is concerned directly, e.g., treason and taxation) and private law (concerned with disputes between persons, e.g., over contracts).

The breakup of the Roman Empire under the pressure of the Germanic invasions brought the disruption of the Roman legal administration. Temporarily the codes of Germanic laws eclipsed Roman law in Western Europe. In the simpler Germanic codes the main distinctive element was the use of composition for crimes, but most of the Germanic codes showed at least some Roman influence.

Roman law, together with the Bible, was the basis of canon law, the legal system of the Roman Catholic Church, while Muslim law was derived from the Qur'an and the traditional sayings of Muhammad, and later Hebrew law was based on the Talmud. Feudal law also showed the effects of Roman law, although in theory it was based not upon any concept of the state but on personal relations (see feudalism).

The revival of trade in the commercial revolution, and in the Renaissance brought new developments in maritime law. The study of Roman law itself was also revived, notably at the Univ. of Bologna. It became the basis of most Continental law, as exemplified in the French Code Napoléon, the archetype of codes that govern the jurisdiction of civil law.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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