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Horace the Slave Seller

Logo TwoI teach a course in Roman law for final-year students, and I always set aside a few seminars to discuss the legal aspects of selling slaves: documents recording slave sales, the sale of free persons as if they were slaves, and of course slaves with “defects” or special qualities. Roman slave law is emotionally tough. We bring disciplined minds to the texts, but we can’t close our intellect to the human beings we’re discussing. We struggle most when we talk about the buyer’s protections against “faulty” slaves. The quotation marks defend our humanity; the Romans weren’t so queasy, probably because status-types were embedded in their thinking, and the legal incidents of status had to be meticulously explored. One inevitable incident was the fact that humans, as items of commerce, could have shortcomings. This led the Roman jurists enthusiastically to discuss limbs, senses, and dispositions. The discussion shocks us, but what shocks us further, as Prof. Carrasco reveals, is how deeply the specific rules on slave sales had penetrated the popular mind.

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Refugee Scholar

Logo ThreeEighty years ago Salvatore Riccobono founded a congress at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, dedicated to Roman law. It ran for two decades and was chronicled in the Bullettino dell’Istituto di Diritto Romano and in publications of the CUA. The "Riccobono Seminar" was a remarkable event in the American academic scene, and for short time gave hope that Roman law might get real purchase in American law schools. Riccobono himself promoted the view that Roman law underlay the western legal tradition, and to that end invited scholars to address the seminar. Papers often departed from the general theme, but one class of participants had a special incentive to stay on point: refugee scholars. Among these was Fritz Schulz (1879–1957).

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The Expressive Function of Roman Law


Those who study Roman law don't “collaborate” with other disciplines: they live in them. Romanists who aren't part philologist and social historian don't exist, and without some acquaintance with philosophy and the history of ideas they're just left behind. So they don't talk about "interdisciplinarity." Like the old joke: "What's water?" said the fish. The corollary is that Roman law is the perfect mirror for all manner of studies, and that includes relatively new ones, like the expressive function of law.

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S. P. Scott, translator of "The Civil Law"


Students who come to learn Roman law invariably have a Bluebeard Moment with their teachers: "Don't open that door," the door being the covers of S. P. Scott's The Civil Law. Scott was an independent scholar from Ohio, and 100 years ago began translating all of Justinian's compilation, together with a handful of earlier sources. It appeared in 1932, published in 17 volumes, and remains in print. No one denies the feat — and no one praises the translation.  It’s a fair judgment, but perhaps Scott’s reputation should rest on more.

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