CHAPTER VI. ROMAN JURISPRUDENCE.
The laws of the Twelve Tables were the basis of all the laws, civil and religious. But the edicts of the praetors, who were the great equity judges, as well as the common-law magistrates, [Footnote: Maine'sAncient Law, p. 67.] proclaimed certain changes which custom and the practice of the courts had introduced, and these, added to the leges populi or laws proposed by the consul and passed by the centuries, the plebiscita or laws proposed by the tribunes and passed by the tribes, and the senatus consulta, gradually swelled the laws to a great number. Three thousand plates of brass, containing these various laws, were deposited in the capitol. [Footnote: Suetonius, In Vespa.] Subtleties and fictions were introduced by the lawyers to defeat the written statutes, and jurisprudence became complicated, even in the time of Cicero. The opinions of eminent lawyers were even adopted by the legal profession, and were recognized by the courts. The evils of a complicated jurisprudence were so evident in the seventh century of the city, that Q. Mucius Scaevola, a great lawyer, when consul, published a scientific elaboration of the civil law. Cicero studied law under him, and his contemporaries, Alfenus Varus and Aeulius Gallus, wrote learned treatises, from which extracts appear in the Digest. Caesar contemplated a complete revision of the laws, but did not live long enough to carry out his intentions. His legislation, so far as he directed his mind to it, was very just. Among other laws was one which ordained that creditors should accept lands as payment for their outstanding debts, according to the value determined by commissioners. In his time, the relative value of money had changed, and was greatly diminished. The most important law of Augustus, was the lex oelia sentia, deserving of all praise, which related to the manumission of slaves. But he did not interfere with the social relations of the people after he had deprived them of political liberty. He once attempted, by his Lex Julia et Papia Poppaea, to counteract the custom which then prevailed, of abstaining from legal marriage and substituting concubinage instead, by which the free population declined; but this attempt to improve the morals of the people met with such opposition from the tribes or centuries, that the next emperor abolished popular assemblies altogether, which Augustus feared to do. The Senate, in the time of the emperors, composed chiefly of lawyers and magistrates, and entirely dependent upon them, became the great fountain of law. By the original constitution, the people were the source of power, and the Senate merely gave or refused its approbation to the laws proposed, but under the emperors the comitia disappeared, and the Senate passed decrees, which have the force of laws, subject to the veto of the emperor. It was not until the time of Septimus Severus and Caracalla, that the legislative action of the Senate ceased, and the edicts and rescripts of emperors took the place of all legislation.
[Q. Mucius Scaevola.]
The golden age of Roman jurisprudence was from the birth of Cicero to the reign of Alexander Severus. Before this period it was an occult science, confined to praetors, pontiffs, and patrician lawyers. There were no books nor schools to teach its principles. But in the latter days of the republic law became the fashionable study of Roman youth, and eminent masters arose. The first great lawyer who left behind him important works, was the teacher of Cicero, Q. Mucius Scaevola, who wrote a treatise in eighteen books on the civil law. "He was," [Footnote: Cicero, De Or. i. 39.] says Cicero, "the most eloquent of jurists, and the most learned of orators." This work, George Long thinks, had a great influence on contemporaries and on subsequent jurists, who followed it as a model. It is the oldest work from which there are any excerpts in the Digest.