Cicero’s Law: Rethinking the Roman Law of the Late Republic


A fundamental re-assessment of Cicero’s place in Roman law
Ed. Paul J. du Plessis
Edinburgh University Press

This volume brings together an international team of scholars to debate Cicero’s role in the narrative of Roman law in the late Republic – a role that has been minimised or overlooked in previous scholarship. This reflects current research that opens a larger and more complex debate about the nature of law and of the legal profession in the last century of the Roman Republic.


Benedikt Forschner • Catherine Steel • Christine Lehne-Gstreinthaler • Jan Willem Tellegen • Jennifer Hilder • Jill Harries • Matthijs Wibier • Michael C. Alexander • Olga Tellegen-Couperus • Philip Thomas • Saskia T. Roselaar • Yasmina Benferhat


1. Introduction, Paul J. du Plessis
Part 1. On Law
2. A Barzunesque view of Cicero: from giant to dwarf and back, Philip Thomas
3. Reading a dead man’s mind: Hellenistic philosophy, rhetoric, and Roman law, Olga Tellegen-Couperus and Jan Willem Tellegen
4. Law’s nature: philosophy as a legal argument in Cicero’s writings, Benedikt Forschner
Part 2. On Lawyers
5. Cicero and the small world of Roman jurists, Yasmina Benferhat
6. “Jurists in the shadows”: the everyday business of the jurists of Cicero’s time, Christine Lehne-Gstreinthaler
7. Cicero’s reception in the juristic tradition of the early Empire, Matthijs Wibier
8. Servius, Cicero and the res publica of Justinian, Jill Harries
Part 3. On Legal Practice
9. Cicero and the Italians: expansion of Empire, creation of law, Saskia T. Roselaar
10. Jurors, jurists and advocates: law in the Rhetorica ad Herennium and De Inventione, Jennifer Hilder
11. Multiple charges, unitary punishment, and rhetorical strategy in the quaestiones of the late Roman Republic, Michael C. Alexander
12. Early-career prosecutors: forensic activity and senatorial careers in the late Republic, Catherine Steel
Postscript, Paul J. du Plessis

Available from Edinburgh University Press

  • Hardback: 9781474408820
  • eBook (PDF): 9781474408837
  • eBook (ePub): 9781474408844

New Director for the Centre for Legal History

As of 1 August 2016, the Centre has a new Director. Dr Paul du Plessis, Senior Lecturer in Civil Law and Legal History at Edinburgh Law School, has taken over from Professor John W. Cairns who served as Director of the Centre for many years.

The Centre for Legal History provides a lively social and scholarly focus for the active research community – faculty members, postdoctoral researchers, and postgraduate students – in legal history, including Civil (Roman) law, in the School of Law. The University has a long tradition in the field, as the Chair of Civil Law was founded in 1710, with Civil Law taught continuously in the University since then. The Centre has a reputation for success in postgraduate study. Major interests pursued are Roman law, the learned laws in the Middle Ages, the history of law in Europe, the history of Scots law, and legal history in Louisiana. The interests of the Centre avoid a narrow focus on law as rules, and research is typically comparative and interdisciplinary, drawing on a wide range of sources. The location of the Centre in one of the world’s leading research universities, with access to excellent resources and research collections not only in the University but also in the city of Edinburgh, make it an ideal location for legal historical research.

The Centre organises a number of seminars and lecture programmes. The Edinburgh Roman Law Group, founded by the late Professor Peter B. H. Birks when he held the Chair of Civil Law in Edinburgh, presents a regular and lively programme of speakers on Roman law. The Alan Watson Seminar for Legal History, also initiated by Professor Birks, holds interdisciplinary seminars on medieval and early modern law in historical context. A more recent initiative is the programme of Ancient Law in Context organised with Ancient History (in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology). This offers an interdisciplinary research network exploring law and economic and social development, bringing together specialists in ancient law and all aspects of ancient history – social, economic, and political. The Henry Goudy Seminar meets once a month during term time to discuss works of classical literature. Finally, the Centre holds the biennial (sometimes annual) Peter Chiene Lecture, bringing in a distinguished legal historian to speak. From time to time, the Centre also sponsors and organises specialist conferences and seminars, such as those on the medieval ius commune (from casus to regula) and humanism (ad fontes).

The Centre also holds relaxed social events through the year.

The Centre seeks to engage with the wider community, and does this largely through its blog, the Edinburgh Legal History Blog, which is written by John W. Cairns, Paul J. du Plessis, Guido Rossi, Karen Baston, and guests including current legal history students at Edinburgh Law School.

Find out more about the Centre for Legal History

Members and Associates of the Centre for Legal History

Forthcoming Events at the Centre for Legal History

Workshop Announcement – Law in Theory and History: a Neglected Dialogue

The Centre for Legal History and the Centre for Legal Theory are proud to announce a joint workshop on the above-mentioned theme. The idea for this workshop arose from two edited collections produced by Maks del Mar and Michael Lobban (Legal Theory and Legal History (2014) and their newly published Law in Theory and History (2016)). The rationale for this workshop takes its cue from the blurb of the most recent work: “Legal historians have often been sceptical of theory. The methodology, which informs their own work is often said to be an empirical one, of gathering information from the archives and presenting it in a narrative form. The narrative produced by history is often said to be provisional, insofar as further research in the archives might falsify present understandings and demand revisions. On the other side, legal theorists are often dismissive of historical works. History itself seems to many theorists not to offer any jurisprudential insights of use for their projects: at best, history is a repository of data and examples, which may be drawn on by the theorist for her own purposes. The aim of this collection is to invite participants from both sides to ask what lessons legal history can bring to legal theory, and what legal theory can bring to history. What is the theorist to do with the empirical data generated by archival research? What theories should drive the historical enterprise, and what wider lessons can be learned from it?”

This blurb will form the springboard for the topics discussed during this workshop. Rather than focusing solely on these two books, the aim of this workshop is to bring together a diverse range of scholars working on different fields to debate the merits of legal history and legal theory in dialogue. Speakers are encouraged to produce papers about their own fields of interest, but within the broader theme of the workshop.

Venue: The University of Edinburgh, School of Law

Date and time: Friday 28 April 2017 9 am – 6 pm

Invited speakers:

Professor Caroline Humfress (St Andrews)
Professor John Hudson (St Andrews)
Professor Michael Lobban (LSE)
Professor Tom Gallanis (Iowa)
Dr Chloë Kennedy (Edinburgh)
Dr Stephen Bogle (Glasgow)
Dr Paul J. du Plessis (Edinburgh)
Dr Daniel Carr (Edinburgh)
Dr Maks del Mar (QMUL)

Professor Claudio Michelon (Edinburgh) will act as session chair.

Each speaker will have 45 minutes plus 15 minutes for discussion. The workshop will end with dinner. Accommodation will be provided in the Kenneth McKenzie Hospitality Suite for those coming from outside Edinburgh.

Invited speakers are requested to sent their titles and a short abstract of no more than 500 words to Paul du Plessis no later than 1 December 2016.

Aberdeen PhD Opportunity: Emergence of a Vernacular Legal Culture

A Translatio Studii within Late-Medieval Scottish Legal Literature? The Emergence of a Vernacular Legal Culture

Project Description

The medieval Scottish legal text, Regiam Majestatem, has been described as an enigma. It presents itself as an account of the laws used in the courts of King David I (r.1124-1153), and yet it was probably written in the first few decades of the fourteenth century. It claims to be a Scottish text, and yet it is substantially based upon an English treatise known as Glanvill. The decision of the presumably Scottish compiler of Regiam to base his work on an English text is even more puzzling in the context of the early fourteenth century, a period in which Scotland and England were almost constantly at war. Furthermore, its authorship is uncertain, and historians debate exactly why it was written. The original text itself was obscured through its transmission in a relatively uncritical manuscript tradition. No critical edition of the text exists, and those who wish to engage with Regiam are faced with the daunting task of studying the many surviving manuscript versions of the texts.

All of these problems surrounding Regiam are currently being debated by historians. Yet one particular aspect of the history of the text of Regiam has not been studied in great detail as of yet. In the mid- fifteenth century – and perhaps as a result of a parliamentary commission of 1469 – the Latin text of Regiam was translated into Scots. The translation is extremely curious. It is not word for word – in fact, its relationship with the original is in places quite loose; a cursory glance at the prologue of the Latin original, and the Scots translation, makes this quite clear.

The difference that the translator created between the Latin original of Regiam Majestatem and the vernacular text may tell us something about his purposes in writing. In turn, this may reveal something significant concerning the emergence of vernacular Scottish legal culture during the fifteenth century. In her book, Rhetoric, Hermeneutics and Translation in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1991), Rita Copeland draws attention to the hermeneutical practices that were used by medieval commentators seeking to interpret and transmit particular texts from the past into their own world. These hermeneutical practices – such as amplificatio and abbreviatio, the attribution of an intentio auctoris to a text by means of an accessio ad auctorem, and allegoresis – were frequently used by medieval commentators to create difference between the texts they produced and the originals. While in principle the commentators, and subsequently translators, claimed to serve the original texts, they worked “in effect to contest and supplant that text” (Copeland, 1991, p.94). To some extent, their aim in so doing was to rework the text “for changing conditions of understanding” (Copeland, 1991, p.64). This serves to explain something of how medieval critical practices worked through the disciplines of grammatical exegesis and rhetoric.

Is it possible to locate the loose translation of Regiam within such critical practices? If so, what does this tell us (if anything) about the development of vernacular Scottish legal culture, which is evinced in the statutory tradition from the late-1390s onwards? Can considering these questions shed light on why more and more Scottish clerks began to record legal disputes in the vernacular during the fifteenth century (for example in the Aberdeen Burgh Records)? In order to answer those questions, the candidate will need to study the translation of Regiam in light of surviving early manuscripts of the Latin original. He or she would also need to consider the translation of Regiam within the broader context of the development of Scottish vernacular culture.

A candidate who tackles these questions properly will develop a pre-existing expertise in Latin, Scots and palaeography to a very high standard. Such skills would enable the candidate to go on to work on manuscript culture and textual transmission and criticism of ideas in the medieval period out-with the field of Scottish legal history.

PLEASE NOTE: We require a research proposal to be included in your application, for more details:

If you are interested in this topic then please apply online. It is not necessary to email unless you have a specific question.

Funding Notes

This project is funded by a University of Aberdeen Elphinstone Scholarship. An Elphinstone Scholarship covers the cost of tuition fees, whether Home, EU or Overseas. This scholarship will not cover living expenses.

Selection will be made on the basis of academic merit. The successful candidate must be able to read Latin and Scots. He or she must also be prepared to undertake extensive archival research that will call for significant paleographical skills.

(With thanks to Ross Macdonald for alerting the ELH Blog to this opportunity.)

Edinburgh Roman Law Group, 11 March 2016

Guest Post by Peter Candy

The Edinburgh Roman Law Group was pleased to welcome Professor Caroline Humfress on Friday 11 March 2016 to present her research concerning ‘Natural Laws and the “Hypothetical Case” in Roman Juristic Texts’.

Set against the backdrop of the recent publication of R. H. Helmholz’s Natural Law in Court, Professor Humfress argued that natural law was one component of the conceptual armoury that the Roman jurists drew upon when calculating legal opinions. This was demonstrated in relation to the jurists’ fondness for the hypothetical case method. Professor Humfress argued that it is in these cases that we find juristic natural law reasoning at work.

Following the paper an eager audience engaged in a lively discussion of the paper. Questions ranged from those concerning the place of natural law within jurists’ conceptual framework, its relationship with the law of slavery, and the impact of Christianity in late antiquity. After drinks the group capped off an excellent evening with a meal at Ciao Roma: the next meeting is very much looked forward to.

Assistant Professor in Legal History (Zurich)

The Faculty of Law at the University of Zurich is seeking an

Assistant Professor in Legal History (duration of three years, not tenure track)

The assistant professorship is designed to further qualify the holder in the discipline of legal history. Upon completion of the position, a habilitation or equivalent achievement should be submitted. Requirements for the position of assistant professor include a doctorate with outstanding results and, if possible, an academic background in the history of Private law and/or contemporary legal history. In addition, the candidate’s current research project should have a strong focus on legal history. A focus on the early modern period and/or contemporary legal history is of advantage. Scholarly experience in a doctrinal legal discipline is also of advantage, but not a strict requirement. Applicants who do not speak German as a native language must be willing to familiarize themselves with the German language.

The University of Zurich aims to increase the percentage of women working in teaching and research and therefore specifically encourages qualified women to apply.

Application materials (cv, list of publications and presentations, teaching portfolio) must be sent by regular mail to the University of Zurich, Faculty of Law, Dean’s Office, Rämistrasse 74/2, CH-8001 Zurich by 9 March 2016. Submission of publications and research papers may be requested at a later stage.

For further information, please contact Prof. Dr. Andreas Thier (

Details are available at

2015-16 Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition

The Legal History and Rare Books Section (LHRB) of the American Association of Law Libraries, in cooperation with Gale Cengage Learning, announces the annual Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition. The competition is named in honour of Morris L. Cohen, late Professor Emeritus of Law at Yale Law School. Professor Cohen’s scholarly work was in the fields of legal research, rare books, and historical bibliography.

The purpose of the competition is to encourage scholarship in the areas of legal history, rare law books, and legal archives, and to acquaint students with the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and law librarianship. Essays may be on any topic related to legal history, rare law books, or legal archives. The competition is open to students currently enrolled in accredited graduate programmes in library science, law, history, and related fields. Both full- and part-time students are eligible. Membership in AALL is not required.

The winner will receive a $500.00 prize from Gale Cengage Learning and up to $1,000 for expenses associated with attendance at the AALL Annual Meeting. The winner and runner-up will have the opportunity to publish their essays in LH&RB’s online scholarly journal Unbound: An Annual Review of Legal History and Rare Books.

The entry form and instructions are available at the LH&RB website:

Entries must be submitted by 11:59 p.m., 18 April 2016 (EST).

Call for Papers: British Crime Historians Symposium 5

7-8 October 2016
University of Edinburgh

The British Crime Historians Symposium meets every two years as a forum for discussion, debate and the presentation of research for all aspects of the history of crime, law, justice, policing, punishment and social regulation.

Previous events (organised by the British Crime Historians Network) have taken place in Leeds, Sheffield, Milton Keynes (Open University) and Liverpool.

Our initial starting point, as in former years, is the British Isles and its former colonies. However we particularly encourage approaches that open up and develop comparative and transnational frameworks across period and place.

This year’s conference particularly welcomes proposals that engage with the following:

• Interdisciplinary perspectives
• Comparative, international and transnational histories
• The relationship between past and present

Confirmed Keynotes Speakers are: Professor David Garland (New York University) and Dr Julia Laite (Birkbeck, University of London)

We welcome proposals for individual papers as well as panels, which should be emailed as an attached Word document to by 31 March 2016.

Each speaker whose proposal for a paper is accepted will be asked to speak for 20 minutes (to allow further time for questions and discussion). A panel should consist of three papers which together address an over-­‐arching theme or topic. We welcome proposals from scholars at all stages of their career including postgraduate students, and we encourage panel organisers to reflect this in any panel proposals.

For each individual paper proposed please include: title of paper; name, institutional affiliation (if any) and email address of speaker; abstract of 250 words.

Proposals for panels should also include: name, institutional affiliation (if any) and email address of the panel organiser; title of panel; summary of aims of panel (150 words); name of panel chair if known (if not included in the proposal a chair will be allocated by the conference committee); and full details of all papers and speakers (as for individual papers above).

The Conference Committee is: Chloe Kennedy (School of Law, University of Edinburgh); Louise Jackson, David Silkenat and Rian Sutton (School of History Classics & Archaeology, University of Edinburgh).

Any queries should be addressed to:



Alan Rodger Postgraduate Visiting Researcher

The University of Glasgow School of Law invites applications from PhD students in Roman law/legal history for the post of Postgraduate Visiting Researcher, to be held during the 2016/17 academic year. The selected candidate will spend a term in Glasgow and receive a £2,000 award for support. The deadline for applications is 15 January 2016. Full details are available at

The post was established in memory of Lord Rodger of Earlsferry (1944-2011), Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, and scholar of Roman law and legal history.

Beyond the Federal Arbitration Act: Student Writing Competition

A student writing competition is being organized in conjunction with the annual symposium convened by the Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution at the University of Missouri School of Law. This year’s symposium is convened by Prof. Carli Conklin and is entitled ‘Beyond the FAA: Arbitration Procedure, Practice, and Policy in Historical Perspective’. The symposium features Professor James Oldham, the St Thomas More Professor of Law and Legal History at Georgetown University Law Center, as keynote speaker as well as expert panelists from England and the United States.

The competition is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution and offers a $500 prize to the winner. The author of the winning paper may be invited to publish the winning submission in the symposium issue of the Journal of Dispute Resolution, subject to the agreement of the editors of the Journal of Dispute Resolution and the winning author.

Submissions should bear some relationship to the history of dispute or conflict resolution, broadly defined. Topics may therefore consider issues relating to the historic development of international or domestic negotiation, mediation, conciliation and/or arbitration, among other things. There is no requirement that papers discuss US law. Papers must be received no later than 11:59 p.m., Central time, on Monday, 9 November 2015.

Further information on the writing competition is available on the symposium website:

1 2 3 4 5