European Legal History

This information is for the 2021/22 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 highlights key moments in the history of law in Europe, from its emergence in antiquity to the onset of modernity.

The course opens with the appearance of a certain kind of “law” amongst ancient Romans circa 8th century BCE. It then turns to law’s subsequent configurations as they made the Roman world possible, but also as they related to each other over space and time. As the ancient world wanes, and is replaced by the extraordinary and expansive world of Christianity, the significance of Roman law but also its ties to everyday life and to other worlds change. Things will shift again during the Italian Renaissance, Northern Humanism, and European Enlightenment, and with the French Revolution of 1789, leading up to the first major codification of law to take place in modern Europe.

In the Michaelmas Term, we will explore: the multiple links between religion, law, time and physical space in ancient Rome; the emergence of the popular assemblies; family and property; Augustus and the passage to Empire; jurists and laws; Christians and their impact on the Roman constitution; the decline of Rome and the rise of Byzantium as the “new Rome”.

In the Lent Term, we will examine the law of ancient Rome as it reappeared, in new and different guises, at the end of the Middle Ages; the challenges presented by the Digest to the medieval world and the laws of the Church; the cultural revolution of the Italian Renaissance; the rise of legal Humanism and the scientific method; Enlightenment and the movement towards legal codification; and finally, the French Revolution, Napoleon, and his Civil Code.


This course will have a minimum of two hours of teaching content each week in Michaelmas Term and Lent Term, either in the form of a two hour seminar or an online lecture and one hour class. This course includes a reading week in Weeks 6 of Michaelmas Term and Lent Term.

Formative coursework

At least one formative (unassessed) essay per term.

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 or contact the course convenor directly.


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

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

The essay will be on a topic to be agreed with Dr Stramignoni by the end of the Michaelmas Term. Please note: if you elect to be assessed by essay you are still expected to attend and actively participate to all lectures and seminars.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2020/21: Unavailable

Average class size 2020/21: Unavailable

Capped 2020/21: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills