THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO ROMAN LAW

edited by David Johnston

CUP (2015) p/b 551pp £23.99 (ISBN 9780521719940)

It is rare to read a book on Roman law which is difficult to put down, but this is such a book. The Companion is a collection of twenty essays by scholars, which guide the reader through the history and development of Roman law from the early days of the Republic through the Principate, the Dominate, the Byzantine Empire and beyond.

Parts 1 and 2 (chapters 1-4) set the scene. They provide the background history and explain the amphibious role of the jurists. They identify the sources of Roman law. The most important sources are the Twelve Tables (now lost), the Institutes of Gaius, the Digest and the Institutes of Justinian.

Part 3 (chapters 5-8) deals with the evidence which is available to the modern scholar. In addition to well-known texts, such as Cicero and the jurists, there is a treasure trove of documents recording actual legal transactions. Most come from Pompeii and Herculaneum. They relate to loans, purchases, auction sales, partnerships, security for debts, preparations for litigation and other business matters. The picture which emerges is that of a mature society which understood and used the complexities of Roman law.

Part 4 (chapters 9-14) covers the main areas of Roman private law. That means both substantive law and procedure. It is refreshing to see that civil procedure (a vital topic which many legal writers gloss over) occupies an entire chapter. Part 5 (chapters 15-16) deals with criminal law and public law. Many acts which we would regard as crimes, such as theft or assault, were treated as private wrongs under Roman law. Criminal law was the ‘poor relation’ of civil law. Part 8 (chapters 17-21) traces the evolution of Roman law after the fall of Rome. These chapters span the Byzantine Empire and the middle ages. They also review the impact of Rome on canon law, political thought and the modern world.

Is this a legal text book? No. With a few exceptions, it would not be the first port of call for someone inquiring ‘what Roman law was’ about such and such. The exceptions are chapter 9 (Slavery, Family and Status), chapter 10 (Property), chapter 11 (Succession), chapter 12 (Commerce) and chapter 13 (Delicts). Each of these chapters provides a clear summary of a discrete area of Roman law.

The style is clear, but cannot be uniform as there are nineteen different contributors. The editor has structured the book skilfully, so as to minimise overlap and achieve comprehensive coverage. This book has much to offer both the general reader and the professional lawyer or classicist. Finally, anyone who doubts the relevance of Roman law in the modern world may care to glance at King v. Chiltern Dog Rescue [2015] EWCA Civ 581.
Rupert Jackson—Court of Appeal

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