How to learn Roman law

My postings on Roman law have received a gratifying welcome. Several have asked how to learn more. Although this is a tad off-topic of this site, the spirit of Sententiae Antiquae hangs over it; I have asked The Power That Be for, and received, a special category for such posts. Yes, this implies there will be more.

By way of background, since the 1980s I’ve taught Roman law in alternating years as an advanced undergraduate course. It remains one of my three favorite courses.

Finally, I’m not just saying “take that”, thow it on the cyber-floor and move on. Questions are welcome; I can also offer more readings, hypothetical cases, quizzes, more reading suggestions…all accompanied by typically witty salon conversation. Do feel free. You can find me here, or on Twitter @chopin_slut.


Barry Nicholas, An Introduction to Roman Law (OUP)
John A. Crook, Law and Life of Rome, 90 BC -AD 212 (Cornell)
Bruce Frier, A Casebook on the Roman Law of Delict (Scholars Press via OUP)

All paperback, all in print as of this writing

What to do

Nicholas is the primary textbook. There are several others, but this gives the clearest explanations and most coverage.

Do a once-over of Part One, with particular attention to the history (I.2) and sources (II, III). Roman law is profoundly connected with Roman history, so you need an overview. Don’t try to master the sources section, but keep referring to it as needed, especially when we get to delicts.

For the balance of the book, read in order, starting with the Law of Persons. I strongly suggest omitting the Law of Inheritance the first time through. It is not as fundamental to understanding Roman law as the other parts, and really requires knowing those other parts very well indeed.

You should realize that Nicholas was writing in the UK for UK students. You may find some of the examples from UK law a little strange, but neither I nor my students have ever found them opaque.

The only other point on Nicholas is to read his Delict and Quasi-Delict sections, but use Frier to learn delicts. See further infra.

Crook places Roman law in a historical context. It reinforces the readings in Nicholas, introduces real cases and other evidence. The two books complement each other.

Frier has written a wonderful book. Working through the cases and section introductions will give you a wonderful introduction not only to delicts, but to the actualy workings of Roman law. If you try to answer all of his questions on all of the cases, you’ll be at it for a very long time. I suggest a selection of cases. If and when you get to this point, please query me and I’ll provide a list.

There are various supplemental books which can prove very helpful. Depending on how this post works, or doesn’t work, I may, or may not do a followup on them.

And, to send you on your way as well as to make up for the lack of a video in the last Roman law post, I leave you with this quasi-law video.  You will enjoy Roman law; about the video…I cannot say.


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