European Legal History

This information is for the 2013/14 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Umberto-Igor Stramignoni NAB7.17


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 practices 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 the first part of the course we will study: the emergence of the legislative assemblies of the people of Republican Rome; the rise to power of Augustus and his Chancery; the great jurists of the 2nd century CE; the challenges of the “new religion”, Christianity, for the Roman constitution; the turmoil and decline of Empire during the 4th and 5th centuries CE 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', has transformed itself and continued to play a very central role in the imagination, thought and language of Europe and the world over. 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, at the end of the Middle Ages; the rediscovery of the Justinian Digest and the challenge it represented for the law of the Christian Church and for the medieval world; the cultural revolution of the Italian Renaissance; the emergence of (legal) Humanism and of the scientific method; the early Enlightenment; the modern movement for legal codification; the French Revolution, and the birth of the French Civil Code.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT. 4 hours of seminars in the ST.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 2 essays in the MT and LT.

Students will be also be asked to make oral presentations on select topics covered by the syllabus.

Indicative reading

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


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

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

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2012/13: 3

Average class size 2012/13: 3

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills