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Unit information: Roman Law in 2020/21

Unit name Roman Law
Unit code LAWD20046
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Julian Rivers
Open unit status Not open




School/department University of Bristol Law School
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


Roman Law is arguably the most significant aspect of the classical world’s influence on Western civilisation. To a greater or lesser extent it has affected every modern legal system and it still provides a globally-recognised set of ideas. This unit aims to introduce students to the basic elements of Roman Law as set out in the Institutes of Gaius and Justinian. It seeks to do so in a way which combines (1) the analytical reconstruction of Roman Law’s conceptual system with (2) the recognition of change and development over the course of Roman Law’s long history, and (3) the role of law in the varied economic and social contexts of the many places it touched.

In particular this unit covers the history and sources of Roman Law; the law of persons: status, citizenship and slavery, marriage, family and children; the law of things: interests in property, the acquisition and loss of proprietary interests, and the law of death and inheritance; the law of obligations: contract and delict; the law of actions: litigation and the legal system; and Roman Law in the modern world.

No prior knowledge of Latin is required. Students will not be asked to translate original texts or comment on sections of original material. However, they should expect to become familiar with Latin basic technical terms and be able to explain their meaning (see Learning Outcome (1) below).

Intended learning outcomes

By studying this unit, students will be able to:

  • Explain and illustrate the main concepts of Roman Law;
  • Identify and use effectively the main historical sources of Roman Law;
  • Show how Roman Law developed from its earliest origins to the definitive restatement in Justinian’s corpus iuris civilis;
  • Give examples of the operation of Roman Law in practice;
  • Explain the modification of Roman Law principles in different economic and social contexts;
  • Trace the influence of Roman Law on European legal systems to the present day;
  • Engage critically with the role of Roman Law in sustaining ancient and modern legal cultures.

Teaching details

Teaching will be delivered through a variety of asynchronous and synchronous activities

Assessment Details

1 x summative assessment: coursework with a specified word count (100%)

The assessment will assess all of the intended learning outcomes for this unit.

Reading and References

  • The Institutes of Gaius, tr. W.M. Gordon and O.F. Robinson (Duckworth, 1988);
  • Paul Du Plessis, Borkowski’s Textbook on Roman Law, 5th ed. (Oxford University Press, 2015)
  • Barry Nicholas, An Introduction to Roman Law (Clarendon Press, 1976);
  • David Johnston (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Roman Law (Cambridge University Press, 2015);
  • Paul Du Plessis, Clifford Ando and Kaius Tuori, The Oxford Handbook of Roman Law (Oxford University Press, 2016)