What Were The Law Code Of Ancient Romans


The law code of ancient Rome was the foundation of Western legal principles and is thought to be one of the most important legal systems in the world. The Roman Empire was founded in the late 8th century B.C. and by the 4th century B.C., the Roman Republic had been established. The law code of ancient Rome served as the basis of all Roman law and was the basis of much of what would become Western law. Even today, the legal systems of nations across the world are influenced by the Roman legal structure developed in ancient times.

Roman Legal Structure and Law Codes

The Roman legal system was divided into two distinct parts, civil and public law. Civil law focused on individual rights, contracts and property while public law dealt with matters of public order and government. Roman law was established with the Twelve Tables, which were created in the 5th century B.C. and formed the basis of private law in Rome. This legal code was based on existing codes such as those of the Etruscans and Greeks, but left an indelible mark on future generations of Western legal systems.
The Twelve Tables were unique in that they created a set of legal rights that could be applied universally for all Roman citizens, regardless of social class. This changed the practice of law at the time and would become the foundational basis for later Roman law codes. These laws laid the groundwork for the establishment of a fair legal system that was relatively consistent and took into account the rights of citizens throughout the Roman Empire.
The Justinian Code was a much later Roman law code that was created by the Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century A.D. This code was one of the most comprehensive legal codes of the time and was based on the earlier Twelve Tables and the work of the Roman jurists. This code made it easier for the legal system to provide a more consistent set of laws, which would govern the citizens of the Empire.

Roman Law and Civic Rights

The Roman legal system was designed to protect the rights of citizens and to ensure justice in disputes. The Twelve Tables made it illegal to commit certain acts against citizens, including murder or theft, and provided punishments for those guilty of such acts. This provided citizens with assurance that they would be protected in cases of injustice.
Roman law also provided protection for citizens when it came to the division of property or the negotiation of contracts. For example, the law established that any contract made with a third party must be done fairly. This allowed citizens to conductbusiness without the fear of being exploited by corrupt individuals or unscrupulous businesses.
Furthermore, the Roman legal system established rules for granting civic rights to citizens. In the Roman Republic, only male citizens were granted full voting rights, while women and slaves were given more limited rights. By the time of the Empire, these rights had become increasingly limited, but citizenship was still granted to some non-Roman citizens. This ensured that Roman citizens could retain a certain level of autonomy, with the government recognizing their rights as citizens.

Roman Law and Civil Disputes

The Roman legal system established a system of courts to handle civil disputes between citizens. These courts were structured in a hierarchical system starting with the local tribunal, or lower court. The higher courts in this system were called the praetorians and these dealt with more complex disputes. Decisions of these courts could be appealed to the emperor and the decisions of the emperor had to be respected.
This system of courts made it easier for citizens to settle disputes without resorting to vigilante justice. It also allowed disputes to be resolved quickly and fairly without involving too many people. This ensured that citizens were not treated unfairly or subjected to arbitrary or unjust decisions.

Roman Law and Punishments

The Roman legal system was based on a principle of deterrence and retribution. Punishments for breaking the law were harsh and were meant to send a clear message that breaking the law was unacceptable. Punishments included fines, imprisonment, corporal punishment, and even execution in extreme cases. These punishments could be used to punish crimes of theft, murder, and other serious offenses.
The extent of the punishment was based on the severity of the crime. While some punishments were severe, the law was designed to ensure that the guilty party was punished adequately without resorting to arbitrary or excessive punishment. This ensured that citizens were treated fairly and that they had the confidence to come forward and report any wrongdoing.

Roman Influence on Modern Law

Today, the legacy of Roman law can be seen in the legal systems of many countries around the world. Much of Roman law has been implemented in the legal codes of nations such as France, Germany, and England, and many of the principles of Roman law are still used to this day. This includes civil and public law, civil procedure, contracts, and criminal law, among other areas of law.
The influence of Roman law can also be seen in international law and conflicts that take place between nations. Many of the concepts used today, such as international treaties, owe their origins to Roman law and the treaties and alliances established between the different Roman political entities.


The law code of ancient Rome has been a major influence on legal systems around the world and has served as a blueprint for the way laws are drafted, interpreted, and enforced. The code established by the Romans represented some of the earliest attempts to create a standardized legal structure and provided the basis for much of what would become Western law. Although many of these laws have evolved over time, the Roman legal structure still represents an important development in the history of law.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

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