Law, Language, and Empire in the Roman Tradition

The book that was chosen for the review was written by Clifford Ando, a researcher who studies Roman law and religious traditions. The book under consideration is called “Law, language, and empire in the Roman tradition,” and was published in the United States by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2011.

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This work presents a valuable source that can be used in research papers as a thorough discussion of various aspects of the legal system in Ancient Rome. The book includes five chapters that are devoted to various problems related to law. In the first chapter, the author pays close attention to the evidence that helps to analyze practices that were used in Ancient Rome in order to settle disputes between the subject peoples of the Roman Empire and those who were foreign nationals. In the chapter, the author discusses the origins of the legal code that was used in ancient Rome and that became the basis of legal systems in numerous countries in various parts of the world. Consideration is given to the role of the oldest ethical theories in the establishment of the legal system in Rome.

The second chapter of the book focuses on changes related to different periods of Roman law and aims to describe the links that exist between Roman law and modern legal systems. In particular, the researcher focuses on the contribution that Antoninus made to the Roman law, whose decision to enable all people in the Roman Empire to become citizens had a significant impact on taxation policy and military build-up.

In the third chapter of the book, the author reviews works by famous lawyers and researchers such as Gentili. Covering sources that are more than four hundred years old, the author tries to determine whether there is a connection between the concept of justice and the willingness of the Roman Empire to initiate armed conflicts in order to expand its power. The application of the new fetial law discussed by Gentili was manifested as an “evasion of responsibility” (Ando, 2011, p. 62). The justice of various wars that were declared by the Roman Empire is analyzed with reference to the use of a “legal-religious ritual” (Ando, 2011, p. 40). The latter is presented as the key factor that acted as a moral justification of wars.

In the fourth chapter, Ando pays focused attention to the unique concept of Roman democracy, and continues to discuss the exterior policy of the empire and the self-image of Romans in reference to their political rights. The author attempts to analyze the key themes in the literature that appeared in the period of the global leadership of the Roman Empire. Among the works that are reviewed and cited are the book of Daniel and other sources that help to understand the way that the Roman Empire and its further growth options were seen. In addition, the relationship between the individual and the collective approaches to law and life in general is discussed in the chapter under consideration.

Seeing “dignitas, imperium, and libertas” as the properties of particular citizens and the society in general, the author raises the question of limitations that existed for individuals in relation to their rights and properties (Ando, 2011, p. 68). Discussing these concepts and problems in a professional manner, the author provides the combination of facts, retrieved from classical sources and his own reasoning that show his strong interest in the topic of Roman law.

The final chapter is devoted to the impact of the monarchical worldview on the Roman Empire, and the author presents his thoughts on the reluctance of modern researchers to approach the topic of the Roman Empire and monarchy in a more objective manner. The author’s opinion on the connection between these two ideas is clear as he states that monarchy “institutionalized and embedded different forms of domination” in the life of people in the Roman Empire.

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The discussion is based on famous sources and works that remain unknown to many people who know a little about ancient history. The monarchy, the author believes, encouraged those in power in the Roman Empire to start using the mechanisms of social and legal domination against their people. The author, however, does not try to state that this turning point was the primary factor that caused the “corruption of republican ideals” related to the liberty of the subject (Ando, 2011, p. 113). The exercise of virtue, which is more commonly defined as happiness, was not available to everyone in the Roman Empire, as is clear from the author’s conclusions. The position of women and children as dependent subjects is also discussed in the chapter.

In general, it is accurate to regard the book under consideration as a collection of essays devoted to the various aspects of Roman law and the way they are related to modern legal systems used in different countries. Taking that into account, it is difficult to generalize the opinion of the author. Considering that Clifford Ando is the author of numerous articles devoted to the political economy, infrastructure division, and social division in the Roman Empire, his expert knowledge makes him able to analyze all elements of this system. Due to this, the author is able to form an independent opinion when analyzing problems that have already been discussed by other researchers in the field.

At the same time, the work presents a balanced assessment of the evidence. When the researcher’s personal opinion is presented, numerous sources that appeared in different epochs are offered in support. Particularly, the author refers to real documents that indicate laws and their implications when discussing tendencies related to the life of different social groups in the Roman Empire. One of the works that are cited throughout the book to analyze the legal language utilized by the Romans is the Institutes, which presents the summary of civil and praetorian law. Analyzing the excerpts from the book that touch upon the rights and responsibilities of free and enslaved individuals, emancipated serfs, and people of power, the researcher demonstrates the balance of objective and subjective statements.

When it comes to more subjective opinions that are based on the researcher’s own worldview, the degree to which they correspond to reality is difficult to assess. History and law are not exact sciences. Indeed, the question of whether law can be called a science is still being discussed, and this is why it is impossible to consider the researcher’s opinions as right or wrong. In his work, the author gives pride of place to the use of multiple sources which helps him to be more objective when reviewing the main topics related to the establishment of the Roman legal system. In other words, the researcher tries to avoid analyzing facts devoid of context.

It is clear that Ando prefers a systemic approach to the analysis of facts, and finding differences and similarities between the Roman law and the legal systems of other countries helps him to make his conclusions more well-founded. For instance, when discussing the principles of law in connection with the position of citizens and aliens, the researcher draws parallels between the Roman law and the ancient Greek law and the terms “civitas” and “politeia”. The author’s style is quite complicated and a reader should have enough background knowledge to follow the arguments and the chain of logic. The author does not explain some terms that may not be familiar to a casual reader and this is why reading the book can be difficult. Despite that, some parts of the book could be used in lectures on the course. For instance, the book can strengthen the lectures on ancient legal relationships and the origins of political orders. At the same time, it can be applied to the ancient sociology as well.

Other books on the topic of the Roman law that deserve attention are “Roman law in context” by Johnston (2004) and “Roman law and the legal world of the Romans” by Riggsby (2010). Both works seem to be more appropriate for those who know little about the Roman law. The authors start by explaining the basic concepts, which would help a non-specialist to understand the legal system of the Romans more thoroughly. At the same time, using the work by Ando, amateurs are likely to gain fragmented knowledge as the book does not utilize a simple-to-complicated approach.

Instead, it includes essays that seem to be targeted at experts who are interested in fresh interpretations of old sources. More recent sources on the topic are presented by “Roman law and the two languages in Justinian’s Empire” by Corcoran (2017), “The historical and institutional context of Roman law” by Mousourakis (2016), and “The Oxford handbook of Roman law and society” edited by Du Plessis, Ando, and Tuori (2016). Despite the numerous advantages of the work by Clifford Ando, it does not seem to overcome other works in terms of the depth of analysis because all cited works are based on relevant evidence and present controversial opinions.

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At the same time, the book that was edited by Ando can be called even more up-to-date and controversial than the work discussed in the paper. Being a collection of essays by different authors, it provides the audience with an opportunity to become acquainted with various opinions. This book will also help amateurs to determine which approach to studying the Roman law is the best for them. Therefore, even though the work by Ando is of a high quality, it does not seem to be the best source on the topic for common people.

In conclusion, the usefulness of the book under consideration for different types of readers presents an important question. Given that it provides a thorough discussion of narrow aspects of the Roman law, the work is more useful for professionals and graduate students who can read it to retrieve food-provoking information to guide their further professional research. Personally, I would not buy it because I prefer books and articles that present information in a more illustrative way even when it comes to non-exact sciences. Nevertheless, I would recommend the book to those who possess enough background knowledge to use this source when conducting academic research because the quality of the book is very high.


Ando, C. (2011). Law, language, and empire in the Roman tradition. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Corcoran, S. (2017). Roman law and the two languages in Justinian’s Empire. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, 60(1), 96-116.

Du Plessis, P. J., Ando, C., & Tuori, K. (Eds.). (2016). The Oxford handbook of Roman law and society. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Johnston, D. (2004). Roman law in context. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Mousourakis, G. (2016). The historical and institutional context of Roman law. New York, NY: Routledge.

Riggsby, A. M. (2010). Roman law and the legal world of the Romans. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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