oa Fundamina : A Journal of Legal History - Legal history and method(s)

Volume 16, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1021-545X
  • E-ISSN: 2411-7870



No one teaching Roman law at a law school in 2010 will be wholly unfamiliar with the ongoing debate about the future of the subject - a debate which pops up with nauseating regularity at every curriculum reform meeting. In those jurisdictions where the battle has not been lost, this debate, usually presented in terms of the "relevance" of the subject for legal education, has managed to divide opinion sharply and has uncovered simmering tensions about conceptions of law in the twenty-first century and the purpose of teaching law at a university. It is, of course, not a new debate. In many European jurisdictions, most notably those where codification occurred, this debate has existed in various forms since the nineteenth century when, according to a commonly held (if only partial) truth, Roman law ceased to be a direct force of legal change. But the nineteenth century is not the proper seat of the debate. The accepted macro-narratives of European legal history, such as that of Wieacker, have argued that the roots of this debate lie in an earlier epoch - the sixteenth century - when (mainly, but not exclusively) French Humanist scholars began the process of "historicising" Roman law. The French have been blamed for many things in the history of Europe, but for once it would seem that they are not the culprits (if there are any culprits at all). For while French Humanism may have had a profound impact on the study of the sources of Roman law, Osler has shown that it was the disintegration of legal unity at the end of the Middle Ages rather than the "elegant" approach (whatever that means) of the Humanists roughly a century later which would prove to have a long-term negative impact on the position of Roman law in the legal development of Europe.

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