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Introduction to Roman Law – Global Legal Collection Highlights

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This is a guest post by Dante Figueroa, a senior legal information analyst at the Law Library of Congress.  Some of Dante’s recent posts include Introduction to Canon Law – Global Legal Collection Highlights, Resources and Treasures of the Italian Parliamentary Libraries, and A Fresh Update on the Canonical Rules on the Election of a New Pontiff.

Elementi di Diritto Privato Romano
Elementi di Diritto Privato Romano

Visitors to the Law Library of Congress closed stacks may have seen our amazing collection of Roman law materials.  A question that many have asked is whether and how these books are used by researchers today.  For academic researchers it seems very interesting to consider the various intersections between the common and civil law worlds, when discussing the role of Roman law in terms of its influence in shaping both the common and civil legal systems.

In the world of civil law, Andrés Bello–a poet, intellectual, and polyglot, like many of the great men of the 18th century–, was also a Roman law professor.  He was a key figure in the drafting of the Chilean Civil Code.  The Chilean Civil Code was in turn adopted by Colombia, Ecuador and much of South America for which won Bello the reputation of father of codification in South America.  As an aficionado of Latin, he famously wrote that “nothing enhances the acquisition of foreign languages more than the previous knowledge of Latin” (Selected Writings of Andrés  Bello, 1997, at 120). In the field of law, Bello recognized the indisputable origins of Roman law–particularly, the Lex Romana Visigothorum, Roman Visigothic law–contained in the Ley de las Siete Partidas, which was one of the most important legal instruments applicable to the Spanish colonial America.  According to Bello, “the Siete Partidas are a copy of the Roman Pandects” (Bello, at 122-3).  The fact that “Roman laws have withstood the test of time” (Bello, at 123) is also evident in the U.S. legal tradition, where examples abound. In 1997, when commenting on Geer v. Connecticut (161 U.S. 519 (1896)), professor Richard Epstein skillfully argued that the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution should be disregarded in a case concerning private ownership rights over “birds in the air, the animals in the land, and the fish in the water” (Richard A. Epstein, The Modern Uses of Ancient Law, 48 S.C.L. Rev. 243, 245 [1997]); and, instead, we should make avail of “Roman precedents [which are] directly applicable.” (Epstein, at 255).

Materials in the Law Library’s Roman law collection include treatises by various important English legal commentators:

Other Roman Law items in our collection include:

We hope our readers become interested in exploring the amazing collection of Roman Law materials at the Law Library of Congress.

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