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					Law and Life of Rome
                            J.A. Crook

         Synopsis of Text

                                Allen Whittaker
                                    Roman Law
                             November 13, 2003
J.A. Crook does a wonderful job at bringing to life Roman law in an exciting way. Using
quotes from real legal texts helps to add colour and give the book a more life like feel as
we can read about real cases. From the laws of status in Roman society to the loop holes
that were in many of the laws, J.A. Crook gives us an excellent overview of what life was
like in Rome.

Chapter 1 – Introduction:

In the introduction we learn that just by looking at law of a society we can‟t get a whole
picture, but it does throw some reflection on what roman society was like. With Roman
law there is a large amount of information we have, not just from the upper classes but
also the lower classes as well and from everyday things. Instead of discarding laws as
time went on the Romans built up along side of the primitive system it already had. As
well Rome did not destroy the laws her subjects had in place with respect for their own
dealings, but also sometimes borrowed laws from them to incorporate into her own.
When making acta, they would remain in place unless latter changed even if the emperor
was hated. To help further preserve law, citizens were also asked to perform as judges,
arbitrators and jurors.

Chapter 2 – The Law of Status:

This chapter looks at the importance of status in Roman society, but with particular
attention paid to that of the slave. The author notes that it is hard for us to think of a time
when men‟s rights and duties solely depended upon the differences of legal status. Thus
this chapter breaks down the varying levels of legal status and provides an in-depth look
at the interactions that they would take in regards to one another. One note I do find
interesting in the chapter is this, “The slave is regarded by many historians as the
determining factor in the economic, social and intellectual life of antiquity.” (p.55) This
shows us to what degree the slave class was important in Roman society.

Chapter 3 – The Machinery of the Law:

In this chapter, the author looks at the structure of Roman law as it pertains to the civil
and criminal laws and the differences between them. Also the book looks at the creation
of the formula system and how flexible it was, and what it meant for the Roman citizens
who had cases that were being tried. This chapter also looks at the roles and duties played
by the various people involved in the law system itself. One of the most interesting jobs
that the book points out is that of the judge, “It could be extremely arduous and complex
task, and the judge who preformed it with prejudice or partiality was liable to legal action
against him.” (p80). Towards the end of the chapter we see the slow degradation of the
status of the Roman Citizen and the problems, namely the death penalty without appeal,
they could now face in the courts.
Chapter 4 – Family and Succession

With the introduction of family, succession and wills, this chapter also looks at the two
forms of marriage as well, manus and non-manus. Although not as official as manus, the
non-manus marriage was more common in the early empire and continued to grow. This
is interesting as although the husband had powers over the house, namely the children
(Patri Potestas outlined on page 107), the wife still had some degree of power and
authority over her property (p103). The chapter also goes onto discuss the fields of
guardianship and caretaker ship, and who is responsible for the children and wife. This
chapter ends with an in-depth look then at succession and inheritance. The last will and
testament was one of the most important legal documents of the time; where slaves could
be freed, as well as family inheritance could be given. We also learn of the problem of
refusal (p 125) and what the Romans did the counter this. The author makes note of the
soldiers will and how they had more freedom with the formality of the document. This
however does not come as a surprise as the author points out this was to get more men to
join the army.

Chapter 5 – Property

This chapter begins by looking at the problem of proving ownership over an object, and
the degrees to which one can prove it. One quote I find interesting is, “Possession was
„nine points of the law‟” (p145) and it has made me wonder if this is where the more
modern term „Possession is nine tenths of the law‟ has come from. The problem faced is
that if someone had an object in his possession it was hard to prove that he was not the
owner of it. The „Vindicatio‟, was a powerful action that helps to explain ownership in
legal terms (p144). The Author notes that land is the most valuable of property in the
Roman world which is not surprising as he goes on to mention that a man could make a
good living off the rent money from land. Lastly the chapter looks at damages and theft
as the major cause of problems with land and property.

Chapter 6 – Labour

With the degree of slave labour that was being done in Rome its not surprising that they
had laws on this subject. Though the author points out, “The upper class thought working
for one‟s living at all rather sordid” (p180). This is interesting because the upper class
created laws to govern labour, which showed they cared to some degree what happened
to the lower classes as well as their slaves. This chapter also looks at the workings of
buying and selling of slaves, with reference to surviving records (p185). This further
proves the importance of slaves in Roman society.

Chapter 7 – Commerce

This chapter gives a very good overview of Roman law as it pertains to commerce,
particularly the outline on commercial law on pages 206 and 207. The chapter also talks
about high interest rates and the borrowing of money. One interesting quote from
Atticus‟s uncle Caecilius, “not even his relations can squeeze a shilling at less than
twelve per cant.” (p212) The chapter also talks about travel laws which I found of interest
more so the laws pertaining to innkeepers and how they could post what they were not
responsible for (p227). Most of the procedures that the Romans used in their laws can
still be seen in one way or another today.

Chapter 8 – The Citizen and the State

The last chapter talks mainly about the loop holes in Roman law, with a very interesting
tail of L.Veratius. This is a good way to end the book, after we have looked at the
majority of laws, commenting on the problems faced with these laws and how they were
exploited mainly by the rich. In the end however, Roman law makers recognize the loop
holes in the system and correct it “The excellence of the Roman law is justly extolled.”
(p281) The Roman attention given to conservation of laws makes their legal system some
what cluttered, but very precise. In all we must, as the book states, be in awe of the
Roman genius behind such a system.

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