Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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LAW, Roman


LAW, Roman. This general title is used to express the collection of the principles of law that were in force among the Roman people, and, more especially, the collection of laws published by Justinian, which constitutes the last stage of Roman law. Before reaching this stage, Roman law, considered in itself, without any regard to events, passed through four periods. The first period extends from the foundation of Rome to the law of the Twelve Tables (year of Rome 1 to 300). This is the period of its birth. The second period is from the law of the Twelve Tables to Cicero (350 to 600). The contentious disposition early exhibited by the Romans gave to the law an importance which increased daily. The third period, from Cicero to Alexander Severus, includes the space between the year of Rome 650 and the year of Rome 1000. This is the epoch of its maturity and perfection. While the Roman arms extend the rule of its laws over the greater part of the known world, the science of law is carried to a high degree of perfection by the eminent minds that devote themselves to it. Their rare talent marvelously improves and fertilizes the naturally ungrateful and sterile soil of primitive law. The fourth period extends from Alexander Severus to Justinian. This is the period of its decadence. To the spirit of ingenious but rigorous deduction, and to the learning which produced great jurists, there succeeded, in practice, the rule of citations, in science, the more laborious than fruitful work of compilers and abbreviators. At last the number and contradictory teachings of the works of jurisprudence produced confusion and obscurity. To remedy this evil and render the study and application of law less difficult, Justinian caused to be compiled, abbreviated and codified all that was worthy of preservation in the old law. This task, which was accomplished by John, Tribonius, Theophiles and other jurists, produced: first, the Digest, a collection of the decisions delivered by the most esteemed jurists (533 B. C.); second, the Institutes, an abridged treatise for the use of students, presenting in a short course the principles and definitions of law; third, two lessons on the Code (527 and 534), devoted to the imperial constitutions. These three works, each of which received the force of law, together with a certain number of later imperial constitutions (the new or authentic constitutions), form what was styled the corpus juris civilis. Under this form, which certainly is not its best form, the Roman law has outlived Roman domination, preserved its sway even over nations which had escaped this domination, exerted its influence over all European legislation, and still exists and is obeyed or consulted, either as positive law or as written reason, among most of the nations of modern times.


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