European Legal History

This information is for the 2017/18 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 European legal tradition (from antiquity 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 moments in the history of the law of Rome, widely considered to be the heartland of the European legal tradition, from its mythical beginning circa 8th century BCE all the way through to the astonishing story of the birth of the French Civil code in 1804, the first of the major legal codifications taking place in Europe in the early hours of modernity.

In the first part of the course we will explore: the ancient laws of Rome and their relationship to religion and to space; the emergence of the popular assemblies; the position of women, slaves, foreigners, and other minorities in the Roman world; Augustus and his Imperial Chancery; the great jurists of the classical age; the challenges posed by the new religion of Christianity to the Roman constitution; and the decline of Rome and the rise of Byzantium as the “new Rome”.

In the second part of the course we will be considering how the Roman law tradition, now increasingly referred to by the English as Civil Law, transformed itself and continued 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, upon its reappearance, in new and different guises, at the end of the Middle Ages; the challenges new readings of the Digest presented to the existing law of the Christian Church, and to the medieval world more generally; the cultural revolution of the Italian Renaissance; the emergence of Humanism and of the scientific method; Enlightenment; the modern movement towards legal codification; and finally, the French Revolution, Napoleon and, as he put famously it, his 1804 Code Civil. The course will end there, at the on modernity, when the European legal tradition began to face the wider and wider challenges presented by an increasingly complex, interconnected world.


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

No seminars in the ST.

Formative coursework

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

Indicative reading

The general textbooks for the course are Inventing the Individual (2014), by Larry Siedentop, and the short but iconic book by Peter Stein, Roman Law in European History (1999). In addition, students will be required to familiarize themselves with the content of a mixture of visual aids (designed specifically for this course by Dr Stramignoni), and of numerous readings complementing the two textbooks, including academic journal articles and chapters from other monographs. Those thinking to take this course 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 2016/17: 16

Average class size 2016/17: 17

Capped 2016/17: Yes (25)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills