Roman law is the legal system of both the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, from its earliest days to the time of the Eastern Roman Empire, even to the time of the Emperor Justinian I after the fall of Rome itself.
Roman law is the foundation of many legal systems of the world.
Roman law has its beginnings in the code known as the Twelve Tables (449 BC). From there Roman law became highly advanced for its time, developing over the centuries many of the legal institutions that are taken for granted today.
For example, it was Roman law that developed the differentiation between contract and tort; previously (as in ancient Greek law), contract violations were simply a kind of tort. Also, the differentiation between possession (which is a factual state: someone has something) and property (which is a right; later formulated as the right to do whatever one wishes with something) was developed in Roman law, most visible in the rei vindicatio, the action of the owner against the possessor to release a piece of property. Finally, the origins of today's concept that contracts are valid when there is a meeting of the minds can be found in the Roman rules about credits, which could be freely agreed on and were called stipulatio.
Roman law also developed the concepts of one law for the citizens and another law for foreigners – the beginnings of private international law.
Roman law also speaks volumes of the Roman mindset in general. Praetorial intervention ensured that the law could adapt to the changing needs of a rapidly expanding empire. This was achieved, however, under the guise of consistency and attachment to traditional values. The Praetor "changed" the law not by rewriting but by offering new remedies to cope with new problems. This attachment to the past and suspicion of change is arguably characteristic of Roman thinking.
The Emperor Justinian arranged for the re-organisation of most of Roman law in his Codex and his Pandectae, a fifty book set which took three years to compile and was completed in 533. The Emperor also ordered the production of a textbook, Iustiniani Institutiones (the Justinian teaching manual), during the early 530s. It was intended as an overview of Roman law for legal students and consisted of just four books. They were granted the force of law, an unusual distinction for a textbook. Justinian's work was completed by Pandectae (or Digesto), Institutiones and Codex are part of the Corpus Juris Civilis. This has been called the most influential law work ever written as it has been on the reading list for legal students in countries using Civil law for nearly 1500 years so far.
All three books appear regularly on Cambridge University syllabi. The first is suited to someone more interested in the impact of Roman law on later systems and the detail on the law itself here is comparatively brief. The second offers the most accessible and detailed information. The third offers many interesting insights and extra detail but occasionally fails to include areas which can be found in Borkowski's work.
de:Römisches Recht es:Derecho romano ja:ローマ法 nl:Romeins recht ro:Dreptul roman zh:欧陆法系 pl:Prawo rzymskie