"Laws' Empire: Roman Universalism and Legal Practice"

Michigan Law Authors
Areas of Interest
Publish Date
New Frontiers: Law and Society in the Roman World
Publication Type
Book Chapter

Official (Graeco-) Roman sources envisaged a world ruled by the universal law of Rome and its emperors. This chapter analyses Roman legal universalism “on the ground”, from the perspective of concrete legal practice. Using a wide range of evidence from the High to Late empires – legal, papyrological, epigraphic, literary, and Patristic – it argues that “legal anthropology” approaches are an essential corrective to the legal-centralist standpoint that is dominant in most studies of Roman law-in-action. In particular, if we set to one side a (nineteenth- and early twentieth-century) state-based theory of law – in which official law codes, formal legal institutions and the state are seen to stand at the core of all social order – we can begin to re-think the existing dominant paradigm of an Imperial “monopoly” over Postclassical Roman law and legal practice.

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