The term law has had different meanings over the centuries; however, according to the Romans, it was defined as the “art of social control.” It comprises a system of rules that are used to regulate the conduct of people under sovereignty. From the definition, it is evident that laws are not formed impulsively, but accumulated over a period to meet the needs of the people who employ them. It is also critical to note that the laws are influenced by the various industries available, social needs, religious beliefs, and political ambiance of the law-makers.
By learning the laws of a country, it is possible to understand the history of the region. From the previous information, it is factual to state that Rome was nation dominant in its government rule, jurisprudence, war, and religion. However, the region is globally recognized for its rule of law and governance (Du Plessis 13). As Rome became a social and economic hub, the law, governance, and law developed side by side. During the early stages of societal development, it was difficult to differentiate one from the others. Similar to contemporary law, Roman society began with valuing the family unit, otherwise known as gens. A collection of several families formed a tribe (curia) (Du Plessis 14). The collection of tribes formed a city, and a collection of cities formed the state. The performance of collective rituals formed the bond within the several groups. From the rituals and customs laws were developed, forming the most exceptional system of legislation in history.
“Roman Law” as a term is vague and unclear as it is used in more than one aspect. However, in practicality Roman law in a comprehensive view, it grasped the totality of the law applied in Rome. The public observed the regulations during its thirteen centuries of existence. Additionally, from a stricter perspective, it signified the laws established by Justinian. The laws developed by Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (Corpus of Civil Law), distinguished itself from Corpus Juris Canonici, which was superseded in 1917 (Du Plessis 20). Finally, in a looser perspective, roman law embraced, Corpus Juris. It is an interpretation of Roman law after Justinian by the unenlightened and modern courts, jurists, and critics adopting the customs to their respective sovereign laws.
During the substantial period of the Roman Empire and Republic, the region experienced various stages of legislative development. The leaders developed several lawmaking organizations that represented the different classes of people. Initially, the upper-class members of society made the laws that governed the nation. However, with time, the lower-class members are also known as the plebeians, also attained the right to make laws (Du Plessis 21). Comparable to modern society, it allowed all social classes in society to be represented. The plebeians demanded the physical writing of laws discontented with the possibility of being abused, which is an exercise practiced to date. The patricians resisted the change; however, with time, the notion of writing codes of laws and legal rights was accepted (Du Plessis 21). The outcome of the cohesion was the production of the twelve bronze tablets, which formed the first Roman law code.
Additionally, the Romans developed the praetor system, which was used to settle the various conflicts associated with a collection of various customs and people. The purpose of the system was to replace the role of families and fathers in the legal system (Du Plessis 30). It is vital to comprehend that in before the development of the system, fathers were the head of families and were responsible for accusing an individual and would present the information to a court. However, under the new system, an influential government official took written complaints from the citizens and investigated them (Du Plessis 35). The results of the investigation by the praetor were used to decide whether to authorize a trial before a judge. It is from the development of the praetor system that modern law courts were derived from. If the praetor authorized the trial, the plaintiff or complainant and the defendant would then present their respective evidence before a judge (Du Plessis 36). However, the only difference was that the praetor made the final decision. The action was the same for both civil and criminal cases, which is the core foundation of modern judiciary services.
Before assessing family law during the Roman empire, it is essential to note that society had not developed into modern aspects, and therefore, numerous laws are identified as archaic today. Nevertheless, compared to modern family law, it set the minimum age for marriage. During the Roman dominance era, male children would marry at the age of 14 years, whereas female children at the age of 12 years. Today, the law has further evolved, mandating that no marriages should occur with individuals under the age of 18 years (Muhametgalieva et al. 186). However, unlike the civil and criminal law, fathers had authority as they had to consent the marriage for the proceedings to continue. When it came to divorce, each partner had equal rights without the need for legal red tape.
Another common aspect of the family law present during the Roman era but abolished in modern society was slavery. Slavery was a common aspect of Roman culture, and one became a slave after being captured during the war, convicted of specific offenses, or born from a slave mother (Janux). The slaves were mandated to relinquish their freedoms to their masters, including the right to kill them (Janux). Though masters also had the freedom to free their slaves, it would result in them becoming Roman citizens. Though the practice is currently outdated, it was heavily practiced by the Europeans as they colonized various regions of the world, including America.
Comparable to Roman legislation, jury courts are another aspect of Roman society that revolutionized modern society. Under the Roman court system, only male citizens had the opportunity to accuse someone of a crime regardless of sex (Mousourakis 97). For the case to be heard, the accuser had to take an oath used to identify the demonstrate good faith. Taking an oath before accusing or defending anyone is still practice ed to date with legal fines for offering false testimonials (Mousourakis 102). Slightly similar to the modern court system, the accuser remained free, whereas the accused prepared for the case to assure their freedom, depending on the crime. From a personal perspective, the jury court system is among the most preserved Roman legal practice available. The trial procedures remained mostly the same with similar requirements for opening speeches, examining the accused and evidence provided, and finally, cross-examination of available witnesses. The Romans also accepted any evidence that identified the character of the accused (Mousourakis 101). Finally, both sides had the right to reject jurors and requesting for their replacement. Under the jury court system, the Romans designated penalties according to the type of offense committed, which is still present.
The assessment of Roman law has identified that it was used as the foundation for several western European Law codes such as those in France and Germany. They also influenced many other countries such as Egypt, Japan, and Spain, among others. However, England and its colonies developed laws that differed from that of the Romans. They are only indebted to the ancient Romans for the concepts used today to form the principles and legal concepts used to govern people's lives.
Du Plessis, Paul J. The Oxford Handbook Of Roman Law And Society. Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 13-43.
Janux. Law And Justice - Roman Constitution - 10.3 Debate: The Nature And Limits Of Freedom. 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahnyk3LKeuI&list=PLTve54sz-eh_bDHo7N3PCNNyhCDHBy9kR&index=72. Accessed 22 July 2020.
Mousourakis, George. Roman Law And The Origins Of The Civil Law Tradition. Springer International Publishing, 2015.
Muhametgalieva, Safia Hamitovna et al. "Influence Of The Roman Law On Formation Of The Romano-Germanic Legal Family". Review Of European Studies, vol 7, no. 6, 2015. Canadian Center Of Science And Education, doi:10.5539/res.v7n6p186. Accessed 22 July 2020.
Ristea, Ion. "The Roman system of criminal justice: the role of law in Roman trials." Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice, vol. 3, no. 1, 2011, p. 146-179. Accessed 22 July 2020.
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