This is the fifth part of our five part series (I, II, IIIa, IIIb, IIIc, IV) on the structure of the Roman Republic during the third and second centuries BC, the ‘Middle Republic.’ Last time we looked at the odd but very important role played by the ROman Senate as the central coordinating organ of the res publica, despite its lack of formal powers. This week, we’re going to look at the last major civil structure in the republic: the courts.
Roman law is, of course, a massive topic and we can’t cover all of it. I am going to proceed here to lay out just a few features of it, namely the evidence we have for it, the basics of Roman legal procedure and finally a discussion of how individual status could impact one’s legal rights and position. For those interested in a deeper take, I really do recommend A.M. Riggsby’s Roman Law and the Legal World of the Romans (2010), which is a very accessible portal into Roman law and legal practice. In any case, the Romans were a litigious, law-oriented culture which made heavy use of the courts both as fields for elite competition and as dispute-settling mechanisms.
But first, as always, if you like what you are reading, please share it and if you really like it, you can support this project on Patreon.1 If you want updates whenever a new post appears, you can click below for email updates or follow me on twitter (@BretDevereaux) for updates as to new posts as well as my occasional ancient history, foreign policy or military history musings, assuming there is still a Twitter by the time this post goes live. I am also on Bluesky (@bretdevereaux.bsky.social) and (less frequently) Mastodon (@email@example.com).
(Bibliography Note: The bibliography on this topic is vast. As noted above, I think A.M. Riggsby’s Roman Law and the Legal World of the Romans (2010) is the best place for a newcomer to start. There is also the older and still useful J.A. Crook, Law and Life of Rome (1967) and some discussion of principles and procedures in A. Lintott, The Constitution of the Roman Republic (1999). On wills and testimentary law, E. Champlin, Final Judgments: Duty and Emotion in Roman Wills (1991) is the essential reading. On courtroom practice itself, see L. Bablitz, Actors and Audience in the Roman Courtroom (2007). The fragments of preserved Roman law are assembled in M.H. Crawford, Roman Statutes (2 vols, 1996), but this is not by any means a beginner-friendly volume, unfortunately. Finally, the Corpus Iuris Civilis can be found online in Latin at the Latin Library; various older English translations also float around online, but note also the new translation, B. Frier, ed., The Codex of Justinian (2006), though this is hardly easy to get a copy of.)
Evidence and Laws
The effort of charting the Roman legal system is immediately different from our previous effort in the Greek polis for a few key reasons. First, of course, we are dealing with just one legal system rather than dozens; there were many poleis, but only one Roman Republic. Second, whereas I noted that we have no complete code of laws from any polis, we do have an effectively complete law code for Rome. The challenge is that this code, the corpus iuris civilis (‘Body of Civil Law’) was compiled in 534 AD and represents the slow but steady accretion of law from the earliest written Roman law – the Twelve Tables (the exact text of which does not survive in full) – to the sixth century. Meanwhile the great majority of Roman statutes are lost to us or survive only in abridgements, summaries or commentaries. Nevertheless our evidence for Roman law, legal procedure and practice is much, much better than for any Greek polis.
What sources do we have? Well, we do have some Roman laws, either in fragmentary inscriptions or as quoted – typically only in part – in other works. But we also have two introductory textbooks in Roman law which survive, one by an author known only as Gaius (the most common Roman praenomen, so this tells us basically nothing) dating from the second century AD and another compiled under (and credited to) Justinian (r. 527-565), both called the Instititones or ‘trainings.’ We also have the corpus iuris civilis, as mentioned, a massive compilation of legal works which include the Digest, a compiled summary of the opinions of the chief legal theorists (jurists) of the Roman imperial period. And then finally layered on top of this, we have historical works, which can give us a sense in some cases of how the law changes or who might report on famous trials, though as Andrew Riggsby notes (op. cit.), the conventions of the historical genre was such that the author wasn’t supposed to display too much pedantry into the details and so the legal episodes in the historians are sometimes rendered with frustrating imprecision.
As you may note from the dates where, while we have a lot of evidence for Roman law, most of it is imperial in date and indeed not only imperial but high or late imperial. And that makes reconstructing the legal world of the Roman Republic more challenging. We sometimes know from our historical sources that Roman law changed at one point or another, but as noted these sources tend to write with a genre-compliant level of imprecision which makes tracking exact changes difficult. What sustained evidence we do have, from things like Cicero’s legal speeches, come from the Late Republic. So while we have a lot more information on how the legal system of the Roman Republic functioned as compared to that of any Greek polis or indeed of any ancient society anywhere, there are still sometimes frustrating gaps in our knowledge. Still, I would describe our understanding of the Roman legal system as relatively complete.
In practice, Roman law has three main sources of law – that is, fonts from which the law itself is created – formal, written law (leges and plebiscita, in the imperial period imperial decrees do this too), edicts by magistrates that supplemented the written law (edicta), and finally the role of precedent in two forms: the mos maiorum (the customs of the ancestors), a general instinct by Romans (and thus Roman juries) to adhere to tradition and also by the slow accretion beginning in the second century BC (and becoming prominent really in the imperial period) of case law and legal theory compiled by Roman legal theorists and advisors called jurists. These forms differ a bit between the Middle and Late Republic on one hand and the (much better documented) imperial period, but we can sketch out the system in the Republic as such:
The bedrock of law were laws and plebiscites passed by assemblies; after 287, plebiscita passed by the concilium plebis have the same legal force as leges (singular: lex, ‘written laws’) passed by any of the other assemblies. During the Republic, these actions by assemblies were the strongest form of law and overrode the others. However these laws tended to be quite general and so they were supplemented by edicta (‘edicts,’ literally ‘things said out’) issued by the magistrates who oversaw the courts, the most important of which by far was the praetor urbanus; these edicta set out how that magistrate intended to handle various legal issues (mostly private law), which in practice amounted to legal rules.
In practice, praetorian edicts – simply often called ‘the Edict’ in our sources and by scholars – varied little year-to-year, with most urban praetors simply reenacting the edict of the year before with minor changes. A magistrate looking to make such changes to their edicta might in turn seek the advice of a jurist on how to craft such changes. These edicts tend to be consistently structured, with the magistrate indicating that they will permit an ‘action’ (that is, a legal proceeding to resolve a dispute) in this or that case, e.g. “if anyone dumps anything in a road, I shall grant an action.”2 Alternately, they might come as complete formula, specifying in the case that something happens the legal action that will be taken, complete with penalties, fines, restitution and so on.
Finally, serious cases went before juries and as we’ll see – just as with Greek courts – there were no strict rules of evidence nor interpretation of law imposed upon the juries. Consequently, the speakers could absolutely argue that perhaps what the accused did was/wasn’t illegal, but it should be, often on the basis of precedent and tradition, and urge the jury to act accordingly. Thus Cicero in the Pro Milone insists that Milo’s murder of Clodius (if he did it, which he didn’t)3 surely should be pardoned by the jury on the grounds that Clodius was a threat to the republic. Alternately, some of the accusations Cicero flings at Verres in the Verrines, for instance that he failed to consult his consilium (‘advisory council’) on important decisions are probably not in reference to actual laws broken, so much as an accusation of criminal negligence on the grounds that consulting the consilium is traditional best practices under the mos maiorum.
Public and Private Law
Like the Greek courts we discussed, the Romans divided legal actions into two categories, public actions (under the ius publicum, ‘public law’) and private actions (under the ius privatum, ‘private law’).4 Generally, we might think of these categories as being somewhat like the modern distinction between criminal and civil law, but in practice many of the things we would consider under criminal law – particularly crimes against persons and their property – were private actions for damages in the Roman legal system (same as the Greeks in this regard), rather than public actions.
The two kinds of actions had very different procedures, so we’ll deal with them separately, starting with ius privatum. Most private law was governed not under written statutes (the leges) but by the urban praetor’s edicta. We can start with a dispute, because as with Greek courts, Roman courts imagine most of the legal issues they deal with as disputes between two parties. A dispute leading to a private action might be something like a property dispute, a failure to return a loaned object, for instance or a dispute over the precise boundary of a field. It might also be things we imagine as crimes, such as theft (furtum) or battery (iniuria, ‘injury’ but note that word’s etymology – it means something in iure, ‘unjust, unlawful).
In the Republic, there were two ways now to proceed, though they both involved going to the magistrate, generally the praetor urbanus unless a foreigner was involved, in which case the issue might go before the praetor peregrinus. The older way, more common before c. 150 BC was a legis actio (“legal action”), which followed a very strict script, with each party approaching the praetor for the complaint and having to speak specific words to trigger a legal action. The phrases that we see in our sources tend to be so strictly preserved as to deviate from the Latin of their own day and the legal action would fail if the words were spoken incorrectly. This was terribly inflexible and so began to be replaced in the second century by what we call formulary procedure, which is the more common way for Roman private legal actions to proceed.
Formulary procedure works in two basic phases. First, the two disputing parties come before the relevant magistrate (again, usually the praetor urbanus, but sometimes the praetor peregrinus) in a preliminary hearing during which the case was in iure – ‘at law.’ At this preliminary hearing, the two parties laid out their dispute to the praetor. The praetor then needed to find a judge (the iudex; sometimes a panel of judges, but not a whole jury) to adjudicate the dispute and set for that judge a set of instructions, called the formula. That formula has a few basic elements: who is involved, what they dispute, how the judge ought to reach a verdict and depending on the verdict, what happens (for instance setting or limiting monetary damages). Andrew Riggsby presents (op. cit., 113) a fairly typical schoolbook example of a formula:
Let Titius be appointed judge. If it appears that Aulus Agerius deposited a silver table with Numerius Negidius and that the same was not returned to Aulus Agerius by the bad faith of Numerius Negidius, let the judge condemn Numerius Negidius to pay the value of the matter to Aulus Agerius. If it does not so appear, absolve him.5
Judges were selected by the praetor, but agreed upon by the parties. The praetor had a list of Romans who qualified – they needed to be free born (not freed) citizen men of a certain wealth with good reputations. The praetor could then suggest possible judges, until he found one that both parties would agree to, making this process resemble arbitration as much as a criminal trial. Once the formula was given, a judge selected and the trial of the matter scheduled, it went to trial and the praetor’s job was basically done. The two parties would then present their cases – giving a speech, calling witnesses, presenting evidence and so on – before the judge, who would deliver a verdict.
In practice in reaching that verdict, the judge had to do the work of both a judge in a modern court – deciding questions about how the relevant law should be applied – as well as the work of a jury in deciding questions of fact (“did Numerius actually steal that table?”). What the judge did not do was in anyway constrain the parties arguing to anything like ‘truth’ or ‘standards of evidence.’ Once in front of the judge, you could make whatever arguments you liked, short of attempting to bribe the judge (which was a crime).
The system for public law was only somewhat different. Again, while we might correlate our criminal law with Roman public law, that’s not quite right; only a set handful of crimes, understood to be crimes against the community or crimes where the injured party might not be able to vindicate their rights fully, were governed under public law procedures. The basic categories were: ambitus (electoral bribary), repetundae (official corruption, lit. “things that must be given back”), vis (‘political violence,’ particularly violence understood as being against the state), falsum (forgery and counterfeiting of official things, namely documents (like wills) and coins, whose contents were guaranteed from the state), peculatus (stealing state property), maiestas (‘treason,’ very broadly construed to include official incompetence) and finally some cases of homicide (usually those involving close relatives or the use of poison).
Whereas ius privatum carried mostly monetary damages, the penalties in a ius publicum case could be a lot more severe. Of the above list, most were capital changes: vis, falsum, maiestas and homicide were all in theory punished by death, though in practice individuals condemned in this way were allowed to slip into exile rather than be killed. Conviction might also bring infamia, a formal of legal disability that, among other things, barred one for seeking office. Peculatus and repetundae cases involved just financial damages, while ambitus cases originally just barred one from seeking office, but eventually came to include exile as a penalty. No Roman tort came with corporal punishment, as citizens in Rome were (supposed to be) immune to corporal punishments of this sort. That makes this a very all-or-nothing legal system, which jumps almost instantly from ‘monetary damages’ to ‘death and exile’ as punishment options, as the Romans also did not maintain any long-term imprisonment facilities.
In the case of a public charge, anyone could prosecute (similar to our Greek ὁ βουλόμενος (ho boulomenos)), though it seems like it was normal for certain magistrates to be expected to take the lead on certain sorts of charges. Nevertheless, the Roman system had no public prosecutor or district attorney of any sort, so cases – even public ones – had to be brought on private initiative.
Trials of this sort could be held before Rome’s voting assemblies, but beginning in the second century, we also see jury trials. In practice the procedure here is that the person looking to launch the prosecution first went to the praetor to get permission to proceed and have the whole thing scheduled. The jury was selected much the same way as a iudex was, but with more individuals, typically 25 to 75 jurors for a trial (so larger than our juries, but not so large as Athenian juries) drawn from Rome’s propertied classes. As with private cases, there was no judge to constrain the arguments here, just a jury which at the end of the matter voted one way or the other (majority rules), delivering a non-appealable verdict.
So you are left to make whatever arguments you think will work. Except…you don’t have to make them, which brings us to one of the major differences in Roman court practice:
In a move you will either find brilliant or lamentable, depending on if you are currently admitted to one or more state or federal bars, the Romans invented the lawyer, or more correctly we might say they invented the legal expert (a iuris prudens) and the legal advocate (often orator or patronus). Now in our legal system, we combine these roles into the singular lawyer, but the Romans separated them out: a iuris prudens or ‘jurist’ was there to help you untangle questions of law, while your advocate was there to help you argue in court or more correctly, to argue in court for you. The distinction is summed up neatly in a quote from Cicero (Topica 12.51) where a jurist, Aquilius Gallus, who put himself out to answer legal questions from the public, when asked how to argue a question of fact quipped, “Nihil hoc ad ius; ad Ciceronem” – “This is not a question for the law, but for Cicero,” meaning for an orator.6
The advocate comes first, developmentally and clearly develops out of the Roman institution of patronage (patrocinium or clientela). As you will recall, Romans of lesser means and status might attach themselves to Romans of greater means and status for protection in a reciprocal relationship in which the client was expected to support his patron politically and militarily while the patron protected the client economically and legally. Well this is the legal angle of that: if you are a client and you get into legal trouble, you should expect that your patron will come to your defense. And since your patron wields so much more auctoritas than you do – that’s why he’s the patron and you the client – he will speak instead of you (rather than merely writing your speech, as a Greek logographer might) when the matter comes to trial. A patron could represent a client either before a jury in a public trial or before a iudex in a private one.
Of course if you do not have a patron and find yourself in legal trouble, you could always find a patron willing to represent you. In Roman custom, anyone who represents you in court becomes your patron (though they might also be engaged on a case-by-case basis and expect some rather more concrete display of gratitude), which of course in turn means that for a gifted Roman speaker with political ambitions, the courts might be a good place to collect valuable and influential clients whose political support you can use to your advance. This, of course, famously was how Cicero built his career.
In practice what this all means is that basically every Roman elite – because they all have large networks of clients – is going to be expected to show up in court at least some of the time to argue on behalf of their clients. Consequently, training in rhetoric was increasingly viewed as an essential part of the education of wealthy men – and even some wealthy women as, unlike in Athens, Roman would could represent themselves in court if they were sui iuris (legally independent) and some did, though it was very rare to do so. But note that the training here is rhetorical training, not legal training; Cicero insists that a good advocate should know the law but it wasn’t necessary to be an expert on it. A light smattering of legal knowledge would do.
That said, sometimes expertise was called for with tricky matters and here we turn to the jurists. Jurists seem to emerge as a distinct group in the mid-second century BC; they become a lot more prominent in the imperial period as formal legal education emerges. But in the Roman Republic, these fellows are not really professionals, they are simply elites who have opted to study the minutiae of the law effectively as a hobby, but thus they are also people you can turn to for legal services. Cicero notes they particularly held with pleading (that is, making the initial request for a case), in consulting and in drafting legal documents. As with orators, these fellows aren’t generally working for a fee, but are elites doing this work for prestige or out of patronal obligations or to advance a public image. The emergence of a true juristic profession will have to wait for the imperial period.
What actually happens in a courtroom proceeding follows the Greek model fairly closely so we needn’t belabor this point. As with that model, the trial itself consists of dueling speeches, sometimes multiple speeches for each party if they have multiple advocates. There are no rules of evidence, so advocates can introduce any sort of argument they think will be helpful; invective, distortion, character assassination, slander and misdirection are all permitted. Indeed, some of Cicero’s most famous legal speeches are famous because he uses such misdirection to obtain acquittals for clients who are obviously guilty (as for instance, with Cicero’s defense of Caelius – the Pro Caelio – where he transforms the case into a referendum on the scandalous and unpopular – according to Cicero – Clodia).
The Romans also, at least by Cicero’s day when we have a bunch of legal speeches (of Cicero) preserved) followed the basic structure of the Greek legal speech. The opening exordium works to establish a connection between the advocate and the audience, building trust before introducing the narratio, the ‘facts of the case’ as the speaker wants them presented. Then comes the divisio, where the speaker lays out the key question (in their view), structuring the dispute favorably for their case. Note how in a modern court, the divisio is often the job to some degree of the judge and his jury instructions; not here because there is no such figure. Then the speaker presents his affirmative case of why his solution to the divisio is correct, called the confirmatio, before a rebuttal of his opponents arguments in the refutatio. Finally, a big emotional finisher in the peroratio and the speech is done.
As with a Greek courtroom, one can have the law read out, read witness testimony, interview witnesses or present other evidence as part of the speech. Directly questioning the opposing counsel seems rarer in our Roman speeches to me, though rhetorical questions directed at the opponent (without expecting an answer) are pretty common. At its height, Roman rhetoric is every bit as refined as Greek rhetoric; Cicero is certainly in my view a match for Demosthenes (I actually like Cicero a bit more, but that’s perhaps because I prefer Latin generally to Greek).
Once the speeches are done, the iudex either makes a decision (as in a private case) or the jury votes (in a public case). The jury’s vote is simple: guilty or not, with a majority ruling. There is no appeals process for either public or private cases
Legal and Social Status
So far we’ve been talking about the ius civile, ‘civil law’ – literally the law for citizens. But Rome was unusual compared to Greek in an interesting respect here: the ius civile wasn’t the only ius. Instead the romans recognized, as a general principle, that there was also a ius gentium, ‘law of the peoples.’ This was part of the mos maiorum rather than a written part of Roman law but nevertheless the Romans considered all persons – even non-citizens – to have some legal protections under the ius gentium, a law that applies to everyone. Naturally the protections of the ius gentium were not as extensive as those of the ius civile; you’d much rather be able to appeal to the latter than the former. Neverthless, Roman jurists generally held that basic protections of person, property and contract applies as part of the ius gentium.7
Roman law thus did not operate under the principle that all were equal before the law: far from it (of course neither did Greek law). There was a law for citizens (ius civile), a law for non-citizens (ius gentium); non-citizens from certain allied communities in Italy in the Roman Republic might also have an additional package of legal rights on top of the ius gentium called the ius Latinum, ‘the Latin right.’ Of course the extreme version of this were the functionally non-existent rights of enslaved people in the Roman world; this is a topic really for its own post and one day we’ll take a more sustained look at ancient Mediterranean slavery, but in short: slaves in the Roman world had functionally no legal protections.
More complex was the position of dependents in families. As far as Roman law was concerned, the family – familia – headed by a father (pater familias) was a key legal unit. Children remained under the legal power of their father (patria potestas) until the father died (or in some cases for women, marriage); even an adult son remained the legal dependent of his father while his father lived. Individuals in potestate (under the power of another) didn’t hold their own property in a legal sense – their property came under the power of their pater familias. They also couldn’t conduct binding transactions without his consent (though an individual in potestate could still vote, serve in the army and run for office). Individuals under the legal power of another – be they children or slaves – could have a small amount of pseudo-property called a peculium, but this was still technically an extension of the property of the pater familias. The peculium is more relevant when dealing with slavery, but again, that’s a topic for another day.
Children who ended up without a pater familias were assigned a legal guardian (a tutor); a father might specify a guardian in his will – if not one was chosen by the praetor, with the law specifying the nearest male-line relative if possible. Guardianship of this sort lasted until the inheriting child was either 12 (for girls) or 14 (for boys). Notionally, these guardianships aren’t just to protect the children, but also the property, which after all of the child were to die before having children, might revert to the broader family.
The situation for women is more complex. Demographically, functionally all women in Roman society married at least once and Roman law effectively assumes this. Prior to marriage, girls are in the potestas of their father, like sons. Legally, this might or might not change with marriage. Roman marriages came in two legal types, cum manu and sine manu, “with” and “without” ‘the hand.’ Manus, ‘the hand’ here is another word for potestas, so really what this means is, “with the transfer of legal power” (cum manu) and “without the transfer of legal power” (sine manu). Under a cum manu marriage, a women essentially had the same legal status as a daughter to her husband,8 with her property becoming his property, even if she had before been sui iuris (legally independent), but she also becomes one of his heirs. Under a sine manu marriage, her legal position doesn’t change, she remains an heir to father but not her husband – essentially legally positioned much like her brothers.
The real significance of this, of course, is that women’s husbands are likely to be younger than their fathers and given ancient life expectancy, unlikely to live through their daughter’s whole adulthood.9 That in turn matters because sine manu marriages are clearly the most common sort by the Late Republic and probably even by the Middle Republic; the concern here is probably not the independence of daughters but rather the desire of fathers to keep any property willed to their daughters in their own family line, rather than it becoming the property of her husband (and his family). And that matters because a woman with no pater familias became sui iuris. In practice the combination of Roman life expectancy with the preference for sine manu marriage meant that there would have been a significant number of women who were sui iuris in Rome at any given time, thus holding their own property in their own name and conducting their own business. Those women might choose to remarry, but do so sine manu so as to retain their legal independence.
Now Roman women remained under all circumstances shut out of the ‘public’ functions in society: they could not vote, hold office, or participate in public trials. But Roman private law proceeded on the assumption that, unless specified otherwise – and it usually was not – a sui iuris women was not legally different from a sui iuris man; and recall most of the law here is private. Consequently, Roman women could hold property, execute contracts, do business, make wills, bring suit against people, and be sued themselves. That is a lot more legal latitude than women had in basically any other ancient society I know of and that’s well worth comment. However, women who were sui iuris were required to have a legal guardian, a tutor, however the tutores of adult women had a lot less power, being only able to veto her decisions and only under certain circumstances. Moreover, an adult woman was typically able to choose her own guardian and this was a continuing right; she could replace a guardian too. Interestingly, her sine manu husband had no say at all in this process – her choice of tutor did not need to be him (though it could be) nor did it need to be acceptable to him. It seems to have been common, at least by the late Republic, for women of means to choose guardians over whom they had significant control, such as their own freedman.
There’s one last avenue of status we should consider here and that’s social status. Roman law does not generally make distinctions among free citizens by status.10 This should be surprising: whereas the legal equality among citizens in a Greek polis was a product of the Greek ideological aversion to strong open status differences among citizens, the Romans had no such aversion. Patronage was a huge and fairly open part of their society. Yet we do not see the sort of distinctions we see, for instance, in the Code of Hammurabi or later post-Roman law codes in early medieval Europe, where different penalties were assessed for the same crime depending on the status of the individual or the victim.11 There are some exceptions and these mostly relate to crimes surrounding defamation or inuria; here the question was damages and in the Roman thought, a high status person had more reputation to lose from being lied about or humiliated, and so the damages would be higher.
Needless to say, Roman law is one of those topics we could delve deeper into endlessly. Some of these subtopics, especially the treatment and status of women and enslaved people in Rome, are ones that I want to return to in more depth in the future. But for now, I think this will have to do. On the balance, I’d say the Roman legal system is in some ways shockingly modern, complete with juries, two kinds of lawyers, and – by the rock-bottom low standards of the ancient world – a surprisingly ‘liberal’ legal order (which is nevertheless profoundly illiberal by modern standards, I must stress).
That closes out the main part of our series on the Roman Republic, but I have promised two addenda, one on the structure of Rome’s alliance system (which is going to take a more inter-communal flair and be less concerned with daily life and procedure) and one on Roman provincial governance outside of Italy.
- As a patron; no I will not shift to calling my patrons ‘members’ as Patreon is inexplicably doing.
- The actual text of that in one reconstructed edict reads, “Whence anything is thrown out or is poured out onto that place where commonly is made a road or where persons assemble I shall grant an action, for twice as much damage as thereby is caused or done against the person who dwells there.” from P.R. Coleman-Norton and F.C. Bourne, Ancient Roman Statutes (1961), 186, as helpfully given as an example in the Wiki article.
- He absolutely did.
- Note that both lex (pl. leges) and ius (pl. iura, but rare in the plural) mean ‘law’ but with a slightly different sense. Leges are generally written laws – the word is connected to legere, ‘to gather, to read’ – whereas ius is law in its more profound sense, closer to how we use the word ‘justice’ (which derives from it). When contrasted with lex, ius stands for fundamental principles of justice, law and rights, as compared to their written expression in a legal code (the leges). In a phrasing like ius publicum, we might read it as ‘public right’ as in ‘a public right of action;’ ius in this sense can embrace not merely the written law, but the whole of the law: leges, edicta, traditions and generally understood rights altogether.
- The names here are all standard, the equivalent of John Doe and Richard Roe in English legal texts.
- Riggsby, op. cit. 47, includes this quip in translation.
- The jurists, of course, explain that slavery is also part of the ius gentium, so the fact that the general protections of the ius gentium might not apply to enslaved people was itself held to be part of the ius gentium.
- Except that he could not, even in theory, have the right of life and death over her.
- Compounded by male age at first marriage being higher than female age at first marriage. So a normal Roman man, having children in his late 20s (with a wife in her late teens) is going to be in his mid-to-late-40s by the time his daughters are at marrying age (late teens themselves). Life expectancy for males at 25 is about 26 additional years, so roughly half of young Roman women will lose their fathers before or shortly after their first marriage. The next half-life of Roman fathers hits around 60 (so when their daughters are c. 30-40). Which is a fancy way of saying most Roman women will lose their fathers either just before or within the first decade or so after their first marriage.
- Though freedpersons had certain legal disabilities, mostly involving office holding.
- With the significant exception of crimes involving enslaved persons.