Roman law was one of the most original products of the Roman mind.

From the Law of the Twelve Tables, the first Roman code of law developed during the early republic. The Roman legal system was characterized by a formalism that lasted for more than 1,000 years.

The basis for Roman law was the idea that the exact form, not the intention, of words or of actions produced legal consequences. To ignore intention may not seem fair from a modern perspective, but the Romans recognized that there are witnesses to actions and words, but not to intentions.

Roman civil law allowed great flexibility in adopting new ideas or extending legal principles in the complex environment of the empire. Without replacing older laws, the Romans developed alternative procedures that allowed greater fairness. For example, a Roman was entitled by law to make a will as he wished, but, if he did not leave his children at least 25 percent of his property, the magistrate would grant them an action to have the will declared invalid as an "irresponsible testament." Instead of simply changing the law to avoid confusion, the Romans preferred to humanize a rigid system by flexible adaptation.

Early Roman law derived from custom and statutes, but the emperor asserted his authority as the ultimate source of law. His edicts, judgments, administrative instructions, and responses to petitions were all collected with the comments of legal scholars. As one 3rd-century jurist said, "What pleases the emperor has the force of law." As the law and scholarly commentaries on it expanded, the need grew to codify and to regularize conflicting opinions.

It was not until much later in the 6th century AD that the emperor Justinian I, who ruled over the Byzantine Empire in the east, began to publish a comprehensive code of laws, collectively known as the Corpus Juris Civilis, but more familiarly as the The Justinian Code.

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  • Justice is a conscience, not a personal conscience but conscience of the whole of the humanity.
    Those who clearly recognize the voice of their own conscience usually recognize also the voice of Justice.
    Alexander Solzhenitsyn