Report: Water and Waterways Management in the Roman Empire Workshop

by Peter Candy

On 18–19 July 2019 the Centre for Legal History hosted an interdisciplinary workshop on the subject of the management of water resources and waterways during the Roman period. The meeting was organised by Peter Candy and Dr Marguerite Ronin (Brasenose College, Oxford) with the help of funding provided by Marie Curie Actions. The conference brought together archaeologists, ancient historians, and Roman lawyers from several different countries to discuss interdisciplinary approaches to the understanding of Roman water management strategies. The papers were grouped into three themes: (i) the management of waterways; (ii) the management of land adjacent to waterways; and (iii) the exploitation of water resources.

The central aim of the workshop was to explore the potential and challenges of studying a historical problem from the perspective of different sets of evidence. From this point of view, the conference was a success. The management of water resources was an ideal subject, partly because the effective exploitation of water was essential to both agricultural and urban development in the ancient world. Moreover, the contributions of archaeologists and lawyers combined to lend an insight into the integrated technical and legal strategies that the Romans employed to the challenge of supplying water to the places it was required. In the case of rural communities, for example, irrigation was a central concern; while cities frequently relied upon rainwater collection and aqueducts to provide for their populations. Maintaining the navigability of waterways (both natural and man-made) was also an important task. In all these cases, the construction and maintenance of the necessary infrastructure was facilitated by the Roman legal framework, which provided remedies designed to govern the relationships between the individuals engaged in these tasks.

Finally, the organisers would like to thank Prof. Paul du Plessis (University of Edinburgh), Prof. Nicholas Purcell (University of Oxford), and Prof. Luigi Capogrossi Colognesi (Università degli studi di Roma La Sapienza) for their participation and support.

You can download the workshop programme here:
Water and Waterways Management in the Roman Empire

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


Our colleagues Seán Patrick Donlan of the School of Law of the University of the South Pacific and Vernon Palmer of the Tulane Law School have organised what promises to be an important conference on 4 November 2016, exploring the very significant role that Spain, Spanish culture, Spanish government, and Spanish ultramarine law played in Louisiana. This is a central topic requiring further investigation to help us understand not just the history but also the legal histories of Louisiana, the USA and Spanish colonialism.

In the 1970s, there was a lively debate between Professors Pascal and Batiza over the sources of the Digest of the Civil Laws now in Force in the Territory of Orleans of 1808. The latter showed that the overwhelming majority of the articles originated in French law; the former argued that they were Spanish in origin, if sometimes put in “French dress”. There can now be no doubt that the majority of the articles of the Digest were taken from the Code civil des français and its Projet of 1800; there was not a sustained attempt to embody “Spanish law” in “French dress”. This specific point has been fully explored in your blogger’s work, Codification, Transplants, and Legal History: Law Reform in Louisiana (1808) and Quebec (1866) (Clark, N.J.: Talbot Publishing, 2015), where he shows how and why the redactors used the sources they did. This work resolves the Batiza-Pascal debate. Nonetheless, there was a revival of the Spanish law in the decades following the promulgation of the Digest.

The significance of Spanish law and culture cannot be denied. Under Spain, the colony of Louisiana developed and flourished. The impact of Spanish law and customs and their influence on the law and culture require to be teased out. Of course, important work has already been done. One can point, for example, to the writings of Gilbert C. Din, on, to give two topics, slavery and the Cabildo. Others have also explored various issues. Given current historiography it is no surprise that slavery features in such work on Spanish Louisiana, including as well as the study of Din, a pioneering study by Hans Baade published as long ago as 1983.

The conference will cover: “Lawyers of Early New Orleans” by Kenneth Aslakson (History, Union College); “Spanish Law, Encyclopaedias, and the Digest of 1808” by John W Cairns (Law, Edinburgh); “Through a Glass Darkly: The Minor Judiciary of Feliciana, c1803-1810”, by Seán Patrick Donlan (Law, South Pacific); “‘The Spanish Spirit in This Country’: Newcomers to Louisiana in 1803-1805, and Their Perceptions of the Spanish Regime” by Eberhard (Lo) Faber (Music, Loyola); “A Confusion of Institutions: Spanish Law and Practice in a Franco-phone Colony Louisiana, 1763-c1798” by Paul Hoffman (History (Emeritus), Louisiana State); “A Dark Legacy of Spanish Governance: The Tradition of Extra-Legal Violence in Louisiana’s Florida Parishes” by Samuel C Hyde, Jr (History, Southeastern Louisiana); “The Supreme Court, Florida Land Claims, and Derecho Indiano” by MC Mirow (Law, Florida International); “Allegiance and Privilege: William Panton and the Spanish Realm” by David Narrett (History, Texas at Arlington); “Reclaiming Homes across the Florida Straits” by Susan Richbourg Parker (Former President, St Augustine Historical Society); “The Prosecution of Clement: Slave Violence and Spanish Legal Process in New Orleans, 1777-78” by Jennifer M Spear (History, Simon Fraser University); “Entangled Lives, Entangled Law: Women of Property in early Louisiana” by Sara Brooks Sundberg (History, University of Central Missouri).

It is easy to see the importance of these topics. All are interesting and it is good to note those that link Louisiana with other Spanish colonies and their cultures. There are themes that stand out: slavery, free people of colour, women, violence, links and comparisons. But this is a rich mix of topics that should open up many new avenues of research, creating a picture of a complex society, ethnically diverse, with tensions raising from that diversity as well as from slave-owning and the presence of large numbers of “free people of colour”.

Books croppedDLV 1(Photos courtesy Georgia Chadwick)

For full details of the conference and the papers, click on the link:

Early Louisiana and Her Spanish World – Abstracts (June 2016)


Legal Literature in Sixteenth Century Scotland Conference. Aberdeen, 2-3 June

This Blog is please to notice that our colleagues in Aberdeen are organising the above conference on 2-3 June. It will be hosted by the Civil Law Centre with the support of the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies. Contributors provisionally include: Dr Athol Murray; Professor Gero Dolezalek; Dr Adelyn Wilson; Dr Julian Goodare, Dr Andrew Simpson; Professor John Ford; Dr Leslie Dodd. It looks an interesting and important event. It will be held in the Humanity Manse in Old Aberdeen. See

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.

Call for Papers: Law Collecting and Law Collections

Law Collecting and Law Collections
14 and 15 April 2016 (in Edinburgh)

Convenor: Professor John Cairns (University of Edinburgh)

A conference to address the broad topic of the history of law reporting and the collecting of legal decisions, primarily in Scotland but with the development of law reporting situated in its broader British, European and comparative context. The conference is intended to consider subjects such as how the role of precedent developed, in what form were the earliest records of judicial opinions or decisions, how the form of the modern law report emerged, and related issues.

Confirmed keynote speakers include Professor Sir John Baker, Professor John Ford, Professor Thomas Rüfner, and Lord Woolman. The conference will be hosted by the Scottish Council of Law Reporting with the University of Edinburgh.

Proposals for papers (proposals should not be more than 400 words in length) should be submitted to no later than 30 September 2015.

The conference is open to all interested in this subject area. It is expected that the fee, to include meals and refreshments during the conference and a conference dinner (but not overnight accommodation) will be in the order of £150. Please email if you wish to be sent a booking form.

Stephen Bogle to Give Inaugural ‘Law after Dark’ Talk at the Maastricht European Private Law Institute

Taken from the MEPLI Blog:

Stephen Bogle is a lecturer in Private Law at the University of Glasgow and a PhD Researcher at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on the emergence of a will theory of contract in Scotland, looking at how theology and natural law philosophy interacted with legal development in Scotland during the seventeenth century. Stephen’s research also touches upon obligations, including, but not limited to contract theory, legal history, and contemporary issues in consumer and commercial law.

Stephen graduated from the University of Edinburgh MA (Hons) (Mental Philosophy) (2005), the University of Strathclyde LL.B (Ordinary) (2007), the Glasgow Graduate School of Law Dip LP (2008), and the University of Edinburgh LLM by Research (Distinction) (2012). Stephen is also a qualified solicitor having trained at Maclay Murray & Spens LLP between 2008 and 2010.

What: Talk by Stephen on ‘Fairness, Just Price & Complex Markets: Lessons from Sir David Dalrymple’s Pamphlet Circa 1720′, followed by an open discussion with those in attendance. Drinks and snacks will be served.

When: 14 May 2015 (6:00pm – 8:00pm) [Please be advised that this is the first day of Ascension, which means that the Faculty of Law will be closed].

Where: Conference Room of the Café Tribunal (Tongersestraat 1, 6211 LL Maastricht).

How: If you are interested in attending this talk, email Mark Kawakami at: Please keep in mind that space will be limited.

Find out more about Stephen here


Magna Carta: Statute or Myth?

On 2 April, under the auspices of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Law and Literature at the University of St Andrews, Sir john Baker gave an excellent lecture in St Salvator’s Hall on “Magna Carta: Statute or Myth?” As one could imagine, the lecture was learned, wide ranging and elegant; but after a fascinating exploration of the historic Magna Carta of King John, Sir John focused on the 1580s, arguing that it was then that it started to take on much of the meaning currently attributed it. This can be traced through readings given in the Inns of Court by Puritan lawyers. Sir John also discussed Coke, King James and Magna Carta. Ultimately he wisely concluded, what all lawyers know, that it is not the words that make the law, it is the interpretation that matters. Ultimately it was Coke’s view that was to count.

St SalvatorsSir John

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