Roman Law and Legal Culture

Jill Harries

in The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780195336931
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Roman Law and Legal Culture


This article focuses on Roman law and legal culture in Late Antiquity. There was scrupulous adherence to the legal juristic tradition, even while emperors were willing to implement and justify changes and reform. The responsive nature of imperial lawmaking, combined with the persuasive function of the epistolary form, permitted the emperors' lawmaking activity to facilitate two-way communications between subjects and emperor. Laws also kept pace with social change; the new and more austere moral climate of the fourth century was reflected in important developments in family and religious law. The presence of the imperial legal codifications shows the process of negotiation and legislation, which drove legal change and both defined and limited the potential arbitrariness of autocratic rule. Most significantly, legal change was driven, not only by emperors but also from below by the courts, by judges, litigants, and Christian religious reformers.

Keywords: Late Antiquity; emperors; imperial lawmaking; lawmakers; legal change

Article.  12232 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Greek and Roman Law

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