European Legal History

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Umberto-Igor Stramignoni NAB 7.34


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law and LLB in Laws. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

This course aims to equip students with an in-depth understanding of the social and cultural history of the Western legal tradition (from its foundations in Ancient Rome to the onset of modernity), in order to engender a solid grasp of the basic assumptions and practises that underpin the legal systems of today’s Europe.

The seminars are built around certain significant traces left by Roman law, the heartland of the Western legal tradition, from its mythical beginning in the 8th century BCE all the way through to the French Revolution and the astonishing story of the birth of the French Civil code in 1804.

In the first part of the course we will study: law and religion in ancient Rome; the space of the law; the emergence of the popular legislative assemblies; women, slaves, and foreigners in the eyes of the law; the rise to power of Augustus and his Chancery; the great jurists of the Empire; the challenges of the “new religion”, Christianity, for the Roman constitution; the turmoil and decline of Empire; and the rise of the Eastern Emperors and of Byzantium as the “new Rome”.

In the second part of the course we will be considering how Roman law, now increasingly referred to by English common lawyers as 'Civil Law', transformed itself from the Middle Ages onwards, continuing to play a very central role in the imagination, thought and language of Europe. We will look at: how Roman law became immensely influential once again (both in Europe and beyond), upon its reappearance in new and different guises, during the Middle Ages; the consequences of the rediscovery of the Justinian Digest and the challenge it represented for the law of the mediaeval world and the Christian Church; the cultural revolution of the Italian Renaissance; the emergence of legal Humanism and of the "scientific" method in Europe; the early Enlightenment; the modern movement for legal codification; the French Revolution; and the birth of the French Civil Code and its lasting influence on contemporary Europe.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT and 1 essay in the LT.

Indicative reading

The general textbook for the course is the short yet iconic book by Peter Stein, entitled Roman Law in European History (1999). However, a mixture of visual aids and further readings will be used to complement the textbook, including a number of journal articles and book chapters from other monographs. Students are encouraged to explore the course Moodle page for more information.


Assessment path 1
Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours, reading time: 15 minutes) in the main exam period.

Assessment path 2
Dissertation (100%, 12000 words) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2015/16: 15

Average class size 2015/16: 15

Capped 2015/16: Yes (25)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills