July 25, 2013

Finding Roman laws

I'm working on a paper on a late Roman statute called the Lex Rivi Hiberiensis.  Tonight I settled down to start reading other laws in an important modern collection: Riccobono et al, eds., Fontes Iuris Romani Anteiuistiniani [=Sources of pre-Justinian Roman Law] (1940-43). It goes to show how much you need to learn before you can even use some books.

First, this book usually called FIRA by authors.  Finding FIRA is the first problem, because there is another FIRA (often cited in the same passages), the Fontes Iuris Romani Antiqui (=Sources of Ancient Roman Law), a work by Bruns and others (7th ed. 1909).  But once you've done that, there's many other compilations of Roman legal materials.  The most commonly used are Girard's Textes de Droit Romain--now succeeded by Giuffre's Les lois des romains (1978)--and Crawford's Roman Statutes (1986).  The point of these books is to make legal materials easily available to interested students who don't have the time for or access to the massive publications of Latin inscriptions that have been emerging year on year for nearly 150 years.

But you have to worry about selection bias.  The bias is based mainly on what makes a Roman law--if one accepts Theodor Mommsen's theory that "laws" were only those accepted by the Roman people (leges rogatae) or imposed upon the Roman people by a leader (lex datae) then the Lex Rivi Hiberiensis and statutes that might be comparable wouldn't be included.  The law I am interested in was intended for subjects of the Roman empire, not for Romans (of the city and its surrounds) themselves.  This particular distinction is followed in Crawford's Roman Statutes.

The other collections are more broadly based, and more useful for me.  Riccobono's work, in view of the debated meaning of lex, calls statutes like mine imperial constitutiones (even though many of them call themselves leges).  Riccobono's work is in Latin too, and so you have to read closely to find out the selection procedures--based, I think, mostly on intactness.  Once you've got that, you can start reading.