Civil Law, that rule of action which every particular nation, commonwealth, or city has established peculiarly for itself, more properly distinguished by the name of municipal law.
The term 'civil law' is now chiefly applied to that which the Romans complied from the laws of nature and nations.
The 'Roman Law'and the 'Civil Law' are convertible phrases, meaning the same system of jurisprudence; it is now frequently denominated 'the Roman Civil Law.'
The collections of Roman Civil Law, before its reformation in the sixth century of the Christian era by the eastern Emperor Justinian, were the following:--
(1) Leges Regi'. These laws were for the most part promulgated by Romulus, Numa Pompilius and Servius Tullius. To Romulus are ascribed the formation of a constitutional government, and the imposition of a fine, instead of death, for crimes; Numa Pompilius composed the laws relating to religion and divine worship, and abated the rigour of subsisting laws; and Servius Tullius, the sixth king, enacted many wise and good laws to maintain the cause of the poor, and to stop the oppressions of the rich. He also revived many of the obsolete laws of Romulus and Numa Pompilius.
Sextus Publius Papirius, Pontifex Maximus in the reign of Tarquinius Superbus, collected the royal laws, which collection is known by the name of Jus Civile Papirianum. Legislation under the kings must have been extremely simple; very few relics of it, however, have been preserved, and among them it is almost impossible to distinguish the genuine from the spurious. The Leges Reg' have been edited by Lipsius and other men of learning; and of the supposed laws of Romulus, a separate collection was published by Balduinus.
(2) Leges Decemvirales, or the Laws of the Twelve Tables. The uncertainstate of the law, in the Republican era, and the uneasiness occasioned by the continued quarrels of the particians and plebeians, rendered systematic legislation indispensable, so after great opposition on the part of the particians, a law was proposed by Caius Terentelius Horsa (B.C. 460, A.U.C. 293) to appoint a commission to draw up a body of laws; and (in N.C. 462, A.U.C. 301) three commissioners are said to have been chosen by the patricians to visit Greece in order to collect materials for a code; upon their return, after an absence of three years, ten commissioners, including the three, were appointed with the title De Legibus Scribendis, whose duty it was to revise, digest, and enforce the new laws. All other magisterial offices were then suspended, and these ten commissioners, or Decemviri, became invested with the sole management of State affairs. The Ten Tables they drew up, having been approved by the senate and comitia, were engraved on metal, and suspended in the Comitium, and all parties were so well satisfied with the result of the first year's administration of the Decemviri, that it was resolved to continue the same sort of government for another year'new members were elected to sit upon this commission, the only one re-elected being Appius Claudius. In the former year the whole ten had been taken from the patrician class, but this year three of them were plebeians. The new laws drawn up by this new commission having been duly approved, and reduced to writing on two supplementary tables, made up the total number of Twelve Tables, by which name they were subsequently known, and under which they became famous. To judge from the fragments of these laws which have survived, they were very epigrammatic and positive in their nature; they formed the catechism of education for the roman youth; indeed all well-educated persons were expected to know them by heart. Cicero, in his book De Oratore, describes the law of the Twelve Tables as a summary of all that is excellent in the libraries of the philosophers.
The Laws of the Twelve Tables were illustrated by the commentaries of several ancient lawyers, especially Antistius, Labeo, and Caius: the fragments of these laws have been collected and explained by many of the moderns, by Balduinus, Roevardus, Marcilius Augustinus, Gravina, Funccius, Bouchard, Gothofredus, and others.
(3) Jus Civile Flavianum, and its subsequent edition, Jus Civile 'lianum. This collection consists of the forms of pleadings, called Actiones Juris, adopted in all proceedings and acts of Court. it was complied about 440 A.U.C. or B.C. 312 by Appius Claudius Caecus, who, being blind, was obliged to employ an amanuensis, Gaius Flavius, hence the title of the collection.
The Flavian collection, being the first, was naturally imperfect; in consequence of which Sextus 'lius Paetus, surnamed Catus, published about 553 A.U.C. or 200 B.C. a supplement to it, again promulgating the new formulae subsequently introduced, together with an interpretation of the laws of the Twelve Tables, whence it is called Tripartita, because the first part contained the laws of the Twelve Tables; the second, their interpretation; and the third, the forms of pleadings.
(4) Edictum Perpetuum Juliani, Offilius, in Julius C'sar's time, made a compilation of the Pr'tor's Edicts, which was made perpetual by Salvius Julianus, at the command of the Emperor Hadrian, many years later.
(5) The Codes of Gregorius, Hermogenianus, and Theodosius the Younger.
Gregorius, or Gregorianus, appears to have collected the imperial constitutions belonging to the intermediate reigns from Hadrian to Constantine the Great.
Hermogenianus, or Hermogenes, is supposed to have formed a supplementary collection, and the remaining fragments consist entirely of the constitutions of Diocletian and Maximin.
These compilations are to be esteemed as the work of two private lawyers; the fragments which Cujacius (the most celebrated of all the interpreters of the Roman law) has placed at the end of the Theodosian Code are all that remains of these two productions Code are all that remains of these two productions.
The Theodosian Code collects the Constitutions enacted from the time of Constantine the Great (A.D. 312) down to A.D. 438, the year of its publication. It is of considerable magnitude, and is still extant, though unfortunately in an imperfect state. It is probable that this book, having been complied by imperial command, had the stamp of authority.
This Code was followed until suppressed by Justinian's order, and is not unworthy of the attention of the learned. The editor and expounder of the Theodosian Code is Jacobus Gothofredus, or Godfroy, who is the first and most illustrious of modern civilians. He bestowed his assiduous labour upon this code for thirty years, and left his great commentary to be completed by Antoine Marville, who published it at Lyons in 1665. It is animmense storehouse of judicial and historical knowledge. Ritter published another edition of it some seventy years afterwards. The best modern edition is that of Prof. Mommsen, published at Berlin in 1905.
Such were the several collections of laws before Justinian's reign. Those made by that emperor's order, which compose the body of the Civil Law in its present state, will now be referred to.
The Imperial, or Civil Law, as consolidated by Justinian, consists of four parts:--
(1) The Institutes, in which the elements of jurisprudence are disposed in a didactic form; its chief and leading objects are explained in a regular series, and the whole arranged in such a way as neither to oppress the student with a multitude and a variety of matter, nor yet to leave him destitute of any necessary helps to facilitate his progress in legal knowledge.
These Institutes were composed chiefly from Gaius, and especially from his Aureorum (of important matters), in order to teach the rudiments of the law and the great principles of equity, and were divided so as to form an elementary introduction to legal study. The division is into four Books, each book being divided into several Titles, and every title into several Parts; the first (not numbered) is called Principium, which is the beginning of the title, and those which follow, Paragraphs. The Institute are quoted with the letter I. or Inst.; thus 'si adversus, 12 I. De Nuptiis, is nothing more than 12 paragraphs of the title De Nuptiis, which on reference to the index will be found to be the tenth of the first book; this is usually now cited I. i. 10, 12.
(2) The Digest or Pandects, which are rules founded on the pure spirit of jurisprudence. The words 'Digest' and 'Pandects' are not synonymous; the former means an abstract of the opinions of lawyers upon certain points of law; the latter, from all and to receive, signifies a compendium of the law.
Tribonian received the imperial command De Conceptione Digestorum, A.D. 530, with directions to choose his colleagues; and seventeen were ultimately appointed with absolute power to make such use of preceding works as should appear most conducive to the object in view. Tribonian's library afforded forty of the works of the most renowned civilians, which, with above two thousand other treatises, containing three millions of lines, were abridged into a hundred and fifty thousand; the work was completed in the incredibly short space of three years, and published on the 16th December, A.D. 533, a month after the appearance of the Institutes; its publication having been delayed a month, in order that the elementary work might precede it, 1 Cloq. R.C.L. 66.
The Digest is complied from the decisions, conjectures, questions, and disputes of the most famous lawyers who had existed up to that time; and thus the substance of many thousand treatises is compressed into one work which superseded all the then existing Digests, and rendered unnecessary references, which had become not only laborious but almost impossible. The Pandects were divided into fifty Books, each book containing several Titles, divided into Laws, and the Laws generally into several Parts or Paragraphs.
Besides this distribution of the Digest into fifty Books, it was divided into seven Parts, but the reason that induced the emperor to make this division is not known. Some supposed it was done in order to separate the different matters, and include all that related to one subject in one Part, consisting of several Books. Others attribute it to the superstitious respect of the ancients for the number seven, as the most perfect. This book is variously quoted by the letter D.P. or, and p, which latter is supposed to be a corruption of the D with a stroke through the middle, or perhaps a corruption of the Greek. The most ancient method of quotation is by mentioning the initial words of the Law and Paragraph with those of the Book or Title, which necessitates a reference to the general index, with which all modern editions are not furnished; thus, sin. Ver. L. qu'situm est D., De Peculio. The second, by citing the initial words and numbers of the Law or Paragraph, with the initial words of the Book or Title; thus, sin. Ver. 3 l. qu'situm est 30 D., De Peculio; which is the method adopted by Heineccius. The modern mode, which avoids all reference to the index, is thus, D. 15, 1, 30, 3. The first paragraph is not numbered, and is usually quoted by the abbreviation in pr. (in principio); in like manner the last paragraph is sometimes quoted by the words in fin. (fine), or 'ult. (paragraphus ultimus), 1 Colq. R.C.L. 64 et seq.
(3) The Code, Codex Justinianius. This was commenced, under the imperial Orders, by Tribonian and a body of nine associates in A.D. 528, complied with great rapidity, and published in the following year, thus preceding in date the Institutes and the Digest. It was complied from the Gregorian, Hermogenian and Theodosian Codes and from other sources. Within six years of its publication, however, it was suppressed as imperfect and replaced by a new edition entitled the Codex Repetiat' Pr'lectionis, containing 200 of Justinian's own laws, and the 50 decisions on the most obscure and debatable points of jurisprudence. The Code was divided into twelve books, each book into titles, and each title into laws, each law containing several parts. The first is called Principium, being the beginning of the law, and those which follow, paragraphs. The letter C is the invariable mark of the Codex, which may be various quoted by the initial words of the paragraph, law, book, or title. The nine first books were emphatically called the Codex; the latter three (tres libri) contained the Jus Publicum, which had been separated from the whole at an early period, as of less practical utility, and often bound up with other words.
(4) The Novels, or New Constitutions (Novell' Constitutiones), which are explanatory of the Code. After Justinian's decease, some parts of his Novels to the number of 168 were collected and reduced into one volume, together with thirteen of the Greek edicts; which, toge her, make up the fourth and last division of the Corpus Juris Civilis. The greatest part of these Novels was composed in Greek, owing to the seat of the empire being then at Constantinople, where few or none spoke Latin in perfection; notwithstanding which some of then were published in Latin, and have been noticed by Antonius Augustinus. There are four Latin translations of the Novels. The Novels are quoted by their respective numbers. They are directed either to magistrates, bishops, or citizens of Constantinople, and were of equal force and authority for those private persons to whom they were addressed, and who were enjoined to have them proclaimed and to see them executed according to their form and tenor.
By the Civil Law was governed the greater part of Britain, for the space of about 360 years (from Claudius to Honorius), during which period some of the greatest masters of that law, whose opinions appeared collected in the body of it'as Papiniah, Paulus, and Ulpian'sat in the seat of judgment in this island. After the declension of the Roman empire, the Saxon, Danish, and Norman laws superseded a great portion of the Roman Law; but not very long afterwards it began again to manifest its influence, and entered largely into the composition of the Common Law. Under the influence of the foreign ecclesiastics, who, pouring into this country after the Conquest, long monopolized the administration of the law, great encouragement was given to the adoption of the Civil Law, till the nobility and laity became so jealous of its prosperity, and alarmed t its progress, that a long and fierce feud ensued between the laity, stoutly struggling for the Common Law, and the clergy for the Civil and Canon Law, to which, in the end, they entirely betook themselves; and, withdrawing from the temporal courts, left them to the superintendence of the common law years; still, however, keeping an ecclesiastic at the head of affairs, in the high station of chancellor, who, as his office gradually increased in influence and power, was enabled, in time, to introduce much of the spirit of the Civil Law into the administration of Municipal Law, especially in the Courts of Equity.
'The whole body of the Civil Law' (remarks Chancellor Kent, 1 Comm. 548) 'will excite never-failing curiosity, and receive the homage of scholars, as a singular monument of wisdom. It fills such a large space in the eye of human reason; it regulates so many interests of man as a social and civilized being; it embodies so much thought, reflection, experience, and labour; it leads us so far into the recesses of antiquity, and it has stood so long against the waves and weathers of time, that it is impossible ,while engaged in the contemplation of the system, not to be struck with some portion of the awe and veneration which are felt in the midst of the solitudes of a majestic ruin.' And see Gib. Dec. and Fall, c. xliv., for an outline of the Roman jurisprudence.
1. One of two prominent legal systems in the western world, originally administered in Roman Empire and still influential in continental Europe. 2. The Body of law imposed by the state, as opposed to moral law. 3. The law of civil or private rights, Black's Law Dictionary, 7th Edn.