Roman law, Roman religion & Romance Languages

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Roman law, Roman religion & Romance Languages

The Romans believed in law, and tried to live by it, frequently failing when political necessities seemed more important, or integral to the purpose. Roman Law developed (in Rome) for around one hundred years before the birth of Christ, and continued after his death to circa. 220 AD.

Nevertheless, more centuries were needed before the Emperor Justinian (justly named: 482-565) codified it in his Corpus Juris Civilis which we translate as ‘Body of Civil Law’. Then, a long time after lawless Germanic bands had destroyed Rome itself and the remnants of its Empire (q.v.) Roman law emerged again in the 11th century as a popular subject for study in Italian universities.

Even later it evolved by what appeared to be a natural process, enhanced by learning, into the common body of civil law (Romano-Germanic) – a ‘family’ of legal systems used in the Holy Roman Empire (q.v.).

Of such is evolution, because Roman ideas are dominant in the French Code Napoléon, adopted in 1804, as well as in law codes that developed in Spain, Switzerland, Austria and Germany itself.

The codification system appeals to judges, who are called upon to use it as a strongly urged guide, for example in sentencing in a penal court. Judges in Anglo-Saxon states not using the Napoleonic Code must rely on their own judgment, seasoned by experience. In this way the judiciary may appear to be freer, but surely more likely to make mistakes than the perceived high rationality of Roman law provides for.

In essence, Roman law developing inside the Code provides a logically consistent set of principles – rules for solving disputes. This may appear peculiar to foreigners, who cannot understand why legal disputes are so interminable, especially in countries like Spain, when the Code should enable judges to make vastly quicker judgments. Perhaps there are not enough judges.

Roman religion had much in common with the Greek form, though it evolved from Etruscan and other native Italian religious beliefs (and practices). Romans identified their gods with those of Greece, for example Jupiter = Zeus, Juno = Hera, Neptune = Poseidon, Minerva = Athene, Diana =Artemis, Mars = Ares, Mercury = Hermes etc.

   Thus many Greek myths and legends were adopted by the Romans and applied to their gods; most were originally agricultural and fertility deities, but Romans also worhipped household gods and built shrines for them.

Unfortunately for the human race politics eventually insinuates itself into everything, and Rome was no exception. Observances and rites in Rome became very tightly enmeshed with politics. From Julius Caesar (q.v.) onwards, the custom of according divine honours and worship (including the construction of temples) to dead rulers became customary. Naturally not all rulers were worshipped as gods after their demise, as in certain cases such as Caligula where it would have been inappropriate. Besides, that young man went to his early and violent death believing he was already a god: woe betide any contemporary who disagreed.

Augustus, always clever except in the choice of wives, encouraged cults of ‘Rome and the Emperor’ to spread throughout the provinces and Italy, which usefully provided a public and entirely visible focus of loyalty to his regime.

With Constantine (q.v.) Christianity became the official religion throughout the Empire from the early 4th century, though ‘pagan’ practices and beliefs proved difficult to dislodge, especially in more rural districts away from the towns. In many cases the Christian took over originally pagan practices, festival and rituals, and continued to take them over for many hundred of years. In Latin countries the famous Carnival, for instance, is a Christianised version (in some cases hardly Christianised at all) of originally hallowed pagan festivals celebrated to congratulate the gods for a successful passing from Winter to Spring.

Romance languages have nothing to do with anything romantic at all. The key part of the word is Romance. They are a group of languages descended from Latin, in particular from what is called Vulgar Latin – which does not mean it is obscene – it was the common language of the whole Roman Empire (q.v.). Latin itself is a member of the Italic branch of the Indo-European language family, which is why, for instance, Romanian sound similar to Castilian.

Modern Romance languages are French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Provençal, Catalan, Sardinian, Romanisch (a common language of European gypsies) plus various mixtures and creoles such as Ladino.

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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