Roman Law, Medieval Legal Science and the Rise of the Civil Law Tradition

  • George Mousourakis


The civil law tradition is the oldest and most prevalent legal tradition in the world today, embracing the legal systems of Continental Europe, Latin America and those of many African and Asian countries. Despite the considerable differences in the substantive laws of civil law countries, a fundamental unity exists between them. The most obvious element of unity is the fact that the civil law systems are all derived from the same sources and their legal institutions are classified in accordance with a commonly accepted scheme existing prior to their own development, which they adopted and adapted at some stage in their history. The civil law tradition was the product of the interaction among three principal forces: Roman law, as transmitted through the sixth century codification of Emperor Justinian; Germanic customary law; and the canon law of the Church, which in many respects derived from Roman law, but nevertheless constituted a distinct system. Particularly important in this process was the work of the medieval jurists who systematically studied, interpreted and adapted Roman law to the conditions and needs of their own era. From the fifteenth century onwards, the relationship between the received Roman law, Germanic customary law and canon law was affected in varying degrees by the rise of the nation-state and the increasing consolidation of centralized political administrations. The present chapter traces the common history of European civil law from its beginning in the High Middle Ages to the emergence of national codifications in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A significant part of the work is devoted to the discussion of the historical factors that facilitated the preservation, resurgence and subsequent reception of Roman law as the basis of the ‘common law’ (ius commune) of Continental Europe.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • George Mousourakis
    • 1
  1. 1.International RelationsRitsumeikan UniversityKyotoJapan

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