CHAPTER VI. ROMAN JURISPRUDENCE.
If the Romans showed great practical sagacity in distributing political power among different classes and persons, their laws evince still greater wisdom. Jurisprudence is generally considered to be their indigenous science. It is for this they were most distinguished, and by this they have given the greatest impulse to civilization. Their laws were most admirably adapted for the government of mankind, but they had a still higher merit; they were framed, to a considerable degree, upon the principles of equity or natural justice, and hence are adapted for all ages and nations, and have indeed been reproduced by modern lawgivers, and so extensively, as to have formed the basis of many modern codes. Hence it is by their laws that the Romans have had the greatest influence on modern times, and these constitute a wonderful monument of human genius. If the Romans had bequeathed nothing but laws to posterity, they would not have lived in vain. These have more powerfully affected the interests of civilization than the arts of Greece. They are as permanent in their effects as any thing can be in this world - more so than palaces and marbles. The latter crumble away, but the legacy of Gaius, of Ulpian, of Paulus, of Tribonian, will be prized to the remotest ages, not only as a wonderful work of genius, but for its practical utility. The enduring influence of Moses is chiefly seen in his legislation, for this has entered into the Christian codes, and is also founded on the principles of justice. It is for this chiefly that he ranks with the greatest intellects of earth, whether he was divinely instructed or not.
[Object for which laws are made.]
Roman laws were first made in reference to the political exigencies and changes of the state, and afterwards to the relations of the state with individuals, or of individuals with individuals. The former pertain more properly to constitutional history; the latter belong to what is called the science of jurisprudence, and only fall in with the scope of this chapter. The laws enacted by the Roman people in their centuries, or by the Senate, pertaining to political rights and privileges - those by which power passed from the hands of patricians to plebeians, or from the populus to great executive officers - are highly important and interesting in an historical or political sense. But the genius of the Romans was most strikingly seen in the government of mankind; and it therefore the relations between the governing and the governed, the laws created for the general good, pertaining to property and crime and individual rights, which, in this chapter, it is my chief object to show.
[Greeks inferior to the Romans in jurisprudence.]
The Greeks, with all their genius, their great creation in literature, philosophy, and art, did very little for civilization, which we can trace, in the science of jurisprudence. They were too speculative for such a practical science. Nevertheless their speculative wisdom was made use of by Roman jurists. It was only so far as philosophy modified laws, that the influence of Greece was of much account.
[Jurisprudence culminates with emperors.]
Nor did Roman jurisprudence culminate in its serene majesty till the time of the emperors. It was not perfectly developed, until Justinian consolidated it in the Code, the Pandects, and the Institutes. The classical jurists may have laid the foundation; the superstructure was raised under the auspices of those whom we regard as despots.
[The Twelve Tables.]