Jill Harries

in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780199211524
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History


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Roman historians have long used Roman legal texts – in the shape of the Twelve Tables; statutes, often preserved epigraphically; juristic writing; and the imperial codifications – as sources for economic, social, and even political history. Far less attention has been paid to questions relating to legal history and, in the case of the legal writings preserved in the late Roman codifications, how the legal texts should be used as historical sources. After a series of statutes promulgated by Augustus, emperors largely abandoned public laws as their means of legislation. Instead, for purposes of general legislation, they resorted to the edict, which as magistrates they were entitled to issue. However, as the emperor's imperium as a magistrate was for life, so his edicts too became permanent and were notionally applicable under his successors as well. As the Roman citizenship expanded, more people in the Roman Empire became subject to Roman law. The period from the accession of Diocletian in 284 to the promulgation of the Corpus Iuris Civilis by 534 saw the appearance of three legal codifications.

Keywords: Roman Empire; Roman law; codifications; legal history; legal texts; statutes; legislation; Corpus Iuris Civilis; edicts; Twelve Tables

Article.  6479 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Greek and Roman Law ; Classical History

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