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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: September 2011

19 - Slavery and Roman law



This chapter will consider mainly Roman law of the classical period, between about 200 bc and ad 200. Occasional reference will be made to earlier and later law, such as the Twelve Tables (fifth century bc), and collections made in the late empire, of imperial legislation in the Theodosian Code (Codex Theodosianus), and of imperial responses to individual enquiries in Justinian's Code (Codex Iustinianus). From the mass of surviving Roman law concerning slaves, there will be room to consider only a few salient aspects.

The Digest was commissioned by Justinian in ad 527. It was compiled from the works of the major jurists, especially the five great jurists of the late second and early third century, Papinian, Paul, Modestinus, Ulpian and Gaius, declared authoritative a century earlier by Valentinian and Theodosius (ad 426). They refer to, or even directly quote, many earlier laws, imperial enactments or responses, and senatorial decrees, and cite legal interpretations by earlier jurists, going as far back as the late Republic. The Digest is also our major source for the content of the Praetor's Edict (see Robinson 1997: 39–42), which was the formal source of most Roman private law, detailing the legal remedies available, and the appropriate formulae, or procedure, for obtaining them. The Edict is particularly important as providing a means by which legal contracts made via slaves could be enforced against their owners – in other words, they made much of Roman business life possible.