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Roman law - the basis for law codes of most countries

Roman law - the basis for law codes of most countries

Roman law of ancient Rome has affected the development of law in most Western civilisation and parts of the East.

It is the foundation for law codes of most countries of continental Europe (civil law) and derivative systems elsewhere.

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Development of civil law and international law

  • Civil law (jus civile) developed during the Roman republic (753-31 BCE). The law was based on custom or legislation and applied only to Roman citizens. Foreigners had no rights unless they were protected by some treaty between their state and Rome.
  • By the mid 3rd century BCE, international law (jus gentium) was formed by the Romans and applied to themselves and foreigners. This law was developed by the magistrates and governors who were responsible for administering justice where foreigners were involved.

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Written law and unwritten law

The Romans divided their law into written and unwritten law. 

  • Written law (jus scriptum) means laws gathered from legislation and laws based on a written source.
  • Unwritten law (jus non scriptum) means custom.

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Various types of written Roman law

  1. The first consisted of leges or enactments of one of the assemblies of the whole Roman people.
  2. The dicta (edicts) or proclamations were issued by a superior magistrate (praetor) on judicial matters.
  3. The senatus consulta were resolutions of the Roman senate. They carried no legislative force during the republic but could be given power by the magistrates' edicts.
  4. The constitutiones principum were expressions of the legislative power of the emperor. 
  5. The responsa prudentium were answers to legal questions by leaned lawyers.

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