Roman Law: Meaning and Evolution

Rome made limited contributions to the literature of political theory, but the development of politics was greatly influenced by the governmental structures and legal system of Rome. Rome is connected with the effort to construct a successful and orderly system, whereas ancient Greeks are recognised as the wellspring of a free and democratic political system. Laws were initially codified in writing form in ancient Rome, providing a respectable and practical interpretation of law.

What is the meaning of Roman Law?

Roman law is the body of law that governed the ancient city-state of Rome. It includes legal developments that date back over a thousand years of jurisprudence, from the Twelve Tables (449 BC) to the Corpus Juris Civilis (AD 529), which was commissioned by Justinian I, the Eastern Roman emperor. The most common legal system in use today, civil law, is based largely on Roman law; the two titles are occasionally used interchangeably. Latin legal language is still used in many of the legal systems that it inspired, including common law, demonstrating the historical significance of Roman law.

Evolution of Roman Law

The following are the ways through which Roman Law are evolved −

  • In the eighth century B.C., Rome was already a town in the Etruscan region.

  • The Laws of the Twelve Tables, composed in early Latin around the middle of the fifth century B.C., are the earliest surviving source of Roman law.

  • Rome was ruled by the Senate, two consuls, and subsequent monarchs. Prior to the construction of the Twelve Tables, very few individuals were familiar with the law.

  • When requested, members of wealthy families—the majority of them patricians and senators—gave legal counsel.

  • The Senate either presented legislation on its own or voted on consuls' suggestions. The Late Republic period is well understood (200-30 B.C.).

  • The maintenance of mores was another legal duty assigned to the censors.

  • When requested, members of wealthy families—the majority of them patricians and senators—gave legal counsel.

  • Law authorities began to publish books. Rome had expanded during this time from a small city state to a large empire.

Theories of Roman Law

Roman law is a singular accomplishment in the history of law. It was one of the most innovative contributions made by Roman culture to humanity. It was also perhaps Rome's greatest intellectual legacy. Roman law achieved a previously unheard-of harmony between justice and fairness, civil and natural justice, private and public interest, moral authority and coercive power, judicial flexibility and legal certainty, tradition and innovation, simplicity and scholarship, abstraction and casuistry, and judicial flexibility and certainty.

Roman law serves as a constant paradigm for the proper evolution of legal systems across time and as a key tenet of developing international law. Roman law serves as an excellent illustration of how a legal system may be created and updated using fairness-based concepts and precepts.

Jus Gentium

Natural law and Jus gentium both fall under the same category. It evolved through a fusion with jus naturale. The addition of famous jurists' decisions substantially broadened the scope of jus gentium. Jus gentium has a few distinguishing features, including −

  • The fact that it governs all of Rome's provinces as well as the city itself.

  • Its appeal was impulsive and its validity was without dispute.

  • This legislation was administered equally and without distinction everywhere.

  • This rule reflected Roman sophistication and culture while upholding law and order, becoming a symbol of Roman success.

Jus Civile

Etymologically, it refers to the law that governs and binds Roman citizens. The Twelve Tables gave rise to a small and formal corpus of civil law. It featured many technicalities that undermined justice and contained several remnants of early religious concepts and Roman-specific circumstances. Jus civile was frequently used during the Republican era to refer to private law, but only in a very specific sense; civile law was the set of regulations that Roman jurists created via interpretation.

Jus Natural

The most comprehensive view of natural law, which is self-imposed and does not always apply, was offered by Cicero. The most significant contribution of Stoicism to political thinking, it is of the nature of moral law and is linked to the idea of the inherent equality of individuals.

Branches of Roman Law

The Roman law covers a vast variety of issues regarding people's rights and duties and is incredibly extensive. Different roman law-related branches include the following −

Features of Roman Law

The following are the features of Roman Law are −

  • Civil courts and tribunals consider matters in the field of law known as civil law.

  • Instead of imprisoning either side, the damages done to them are compensated by giving them a fixed quantity of money.

  • They are a body of laws and judgements that have been codified and that all parties must abide by.

  • As contract law is the primary branch of civil law, it strongly favours binding contracts.


Roman law is a legal system in many countries, especially in continental Europe and former colonies of those countries. It covers such cases as company law, contract law, family law, copyright law, etc. It is inquisitorial and the judge is given a strong role, acting as an examiner, counselor, and advisor. He is entitled to ask questions, inform, encourage, and advise parties, lawyers, and witnesses, and to counteract any mistake.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Why is Roman law important?

Ans. Roman law is the firm basis on which contemporary legal culture has formed and evolved upon as a whole. The Civil law system is founded on the late Roman law and its most characteristic feature: that its essential ideas are codified into a system which functions as the major source of law.

Q2. What were major Roman laws?

Ans. The major Roman laws are −

  • The removal of loan interest.

  • Mandated that at least one plebeian consul be elected annually.

  • A magistrate is banned from having two consecutive tenure in the same year, or the same tenure for the following 10 years.

Q3. What were the 12 Roman laws called?

Ans. The statutes that formed the cornerstone of Roman law were known as the Laws of the Twelve Tables. The Tables, which were formally proclaimed in 449 BC, combined older customs into a permanent body of regulations.

Q4. What is the other name of Roman Law?

Ans. The Roman Law is also known by the Civil Law System.

Updated on: 14-Apr-2023


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