Returning to Rome
The Western legal system
of the 20th Century is driven from Roman law
April 5, 2005
I had a memorable semester at the American University
of Rome in Fall of 1996. Watching
the procession of Pope John Paul II panders me to publish
this essay on the meaning of the canon law and its long history.
An argument in
deductive logic has an introduction, a body and a conclusion. Given that some
quantified proposition is true or false, by drawing conclusions
from this proposition, through deductive logic, we decide how to assign truth-values
as we arrive at our conclusion. In other words, the argument is intended to
offer conclusive evidence for arriving at the conclusion.
The modern Western legal system is embedded in a historical context.
It would not be the same system without this context. The system
of Roman law represents the introduction of this analogy. The new
Western legal system is the result of centuries of change that
have occurred since the end of the Roman Empire and the period
in antiquity. In describing the logic of Western law, we would
not have sufficient evidence to prove its validity without reference
to the legal history on which it is built. This is true in much
the same way that we would not have a properly structured argument
without sufficient premises to prove the conclusion.
The historical experience of the Western world shaped the legal
system into its current form. Since the Ancient Roman period, the
law has been consciously transmitted by Western societies. Its
present form is derived from history, not merely theory.
We consciously transmit "tradition" from one generation
to the next. The most conspicuous example is the foundation myth
of Rome as told by the young writer from Padua, Titus Livius, in
his epic history of Palatine Hill. The legend introduces Romulus
and Remus, the grandsons of the king of Alba Lunga in the Alban
Hill. Livius describes the use of this myth in its historical context.
The legends of the early history of Rome indicate the kinds of
people and behaviors that Romans found them admirable. Goethe said, "If
the Roman people were great enough to invent these legends we must
be great enough to believe them."
Each legend incorporates a metaphoric allegory, as these legends
are invented from earlier ones, adding to an evolving moral tradition.
Such metamorphoses have continued to also change certain traditions
as they are built upon the humanistic fictions, such as the Greek
story and the Latin story of the Rome's foundation. The Greek compound
talked about the aftermath of the Trajan War, the Aeneas and Antenor,
who left Troy and found new cities in Italy. These cities were
then ruled by kings. The Italic or Roman compound talks about the
Romans and Vestal Virgin, the Palatine Hill, and a man whose name
is Latin, Romulus, the founder of Rome.
In the 4th Century A.D., a Christian nation is built adding a
religious admixture to the traditional conflict between the position
of the Roman senate and the emperor. The restoration of temples
and construction of new Basilicas constituted grand reforms. The
location of these public buildings, which were later consecrated,
delivered messages of massive transformations that induced immediate
deliberation and captivated the mind of the later generations.
The art, literature and regimes, ruling in the period of ideology
transmitted power. This painstaking description of authors, works
of artists and enterprises began its legacy in the town of Augustus.
Augustus challenged Etruscans as the epos of Iliad renders the
deed of heroes. The tradition of Romans' predecessors, the Greeks,
also enriched future civilization.
The Platonists who pursued the prolegomena of "dialogue," animated
ideas in individuals in search of wisdom. The dialogue or practiced
dialectic, influences historic events. Humans, from the beginning
of their socialization, became curious about bodies, senses, passions,
and thoughts. This idle curiosity evolved from basic instincts.
Then, an incorrigible urge forced them to reflect upon their own
The Greeks' exaltation of humanity through the laws of nature
led people to trace the power of intelligence. This created gradual
and diverse modes of socialization - in which one span of time
transpired the next legacy, building upon the experience of its
predecessor. It is important to grasp the wealth of wisdom handed
down to us, to which we serve as conduits for subsequent generations.
The Romans' propensity for citizenship led to the invention of
laws by which the people were allowed to conquer the power of individuality.
This framework for circumscribing individuality later was matured
through its trials and errors. What is the Roman identity? It is
the power, the religion, the citizenship, the architecture, the
organizational skill, the legal system, the grand legion at peace
time, and the Latin language.
In the 5th century, the origin of citizenship - civis romanus,
and assembly of comitia was established. In 494 B.C. the discontent
of the Plebeians culminated in revolt against Patrician rule of
magistrates and Senate. Many of the Senate's laws were harsh. Some
codifications, for instance, read that "Any person who destroys
by burning any building or heap of corn deposited beside a house
shall be bound, scorned and put to death by burning at the stake...if
any person has sung or composed against another a song which is
slanderous or insulting he shall be clubbed to death..." Today,
in the 20th Century, the practice of these harsh punishments remains
alive and well in the most theocratic Muslim societies.
Civis Romanus was referred to a free born, male, and
adult. The phrase "papolus Romanus" and "Senatus
Populusque Romanus S.P.Q.R.," (the Senate and People of Rome)
is the building block of Romanization and citizenship. Civis Romanus
meant that you have not lived anywhere else as a citizen, but in
Rome. Civis Romanus in the republican age, by the 4th Century
B.C. encompassed of two large classes: patricians (bishops) and
The patricians claimed that they were the
descendants of original inhabitants of Rome. Plebeians claimed
that they came to Rome after the city was found. They were both
considered as first and second class citizens - both had a right
to vote - but the assembly and comitia was only held by the patricians.
The right to vote and to be elected for official positions gave
rise to inter into a new mechanism of power. During 91- 89 B.C.,
social war challenged reform between Rome and its allies. The allies
were called "socii." The sociis occupied most of the
Italian territories. They were the native cultures that submitted
to the Romans and were granted the status of ally. These allies,
with their taxes and land power, also contributed to the conquest
of the eastern Mediterranean. In exchange they obtained Roman citizenship.
In the Classical period, the precedent legal system invited
a large influx of immigrants from the periphery of the Roman
Rome, resulting in new laws. The main characteristic of the Classic
Roman law was the formation of two legal systems: Jus Gentium
(law for non-Roman citizens) and Jus Civile (law for Roman citizens).
This dual framework is the ancestor of modern international law.
Eighty Nine B.C. is notable for Roman military victories and
the political successes of allies who received Roman citizenship.
The date became important to those who lived south of PO River
in Italy. The local aristocracy was given a chance to enter the
world politics. The senate, the consul of the aristocracy, became
enriched with Italians. Virgil and Maecenas are of Etruscans' origin,
contributing to the growing importance of Romans living outside
of the city of Rome. After this date, Roman citizenship was given
to an individual, community or entire region. Romanization and
acculturation took place and Roman culture was diffused as people
spoke Latin - now an official language -- in Gaul, Spain and Switzerland,
In 212 A.D., the emperor Caracalla delivered an edict stating
that Roman citizenship was to be given to all the free born,
male adult inhabitants of the Roman Empire. The Trojan and Hadrian,
who came from Spain, were the first two non Italian emperors.
The superiority of the law implied that political power comes
from the law and is exercised through the legal system. Romans
realized that equality is defined in relation to the law since
this principle makes individuals "equal" in terms of
formal legal equality. The Romans were fascinated by the realm
of worldly action, that of laws and government. Their temples and
official buildings were available to the public, and their class
system based upon wealth. This is today also of great importance
to the new capitalist societies of the West. Rome today is mostly
recognized through its history and hysterology, which represents
profiles of historical figures, heroes, and reliefs in the arches.
The Western legal system of the 20th Century that is driven from
the Roman law was divided into three periods: the Ancient, the
Classical, and the Post-Classical. This legal system predominates
in continental Europe and other Western societies such as the United
States. The dialectical transformations revealed to "men" the
inhumane habits when they realized they must outlaw the slavery
of the ancient world and grant women full rights of citizenship.
As we currently view the world, we continue to consider
contemporary events which can affect our lives. We are permeated
knowledge of origins, roots and routes. Through us it is filtered
into guidelines for the future. The past reveals to us what
future predicaments may arise.
Fatima Farideh Nejat holds a Bachelors degree in Interdisciplinary
Studies of Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology and Women's Studies;
and a Masters of Arts degree in International Training and Education
from the American University in Washington, DC. She served in
diplomatic corps of Iran working at the Iranian Embassy in Washington,
DC, from 1970-80. She is currently Assistant Professor at the
Department of the Army, Defense language Institute in Monterey,
-- Berman, Harold. Law and Revolution. Harvard University Press. Cambridge,
-- Hibbert, Christopher. Rome, the Biography of a City: 3,000 Years of
Her History. From the Etruscan Kings to Mussolini. Penguin Books. London, England.
-- Krautheimer, Richard. Rome: Profile of a City, 312-1308. Princeton University
Press. New Jersey. 1980.