Finding the literature

Finding Roman law texts and associated literature

The following is an overview of one of many different search strategies which may be employed to find Roman law texts and associated literature. As with many such strategies, much will depend on the purpose with which the search is undertaken and the results which the researcher hopes to achieve by employing such a strategy.

  1. The first step is to identify the topic of your research. It can be either a general topic (e.g. mandate) or a specific one (e.g. risk in sale). The more general the topic, the more likely you are to find large numbers of texts dealing with it.
  2. The second step is to get a broad overview of this topic in Roman law. A good starting point is Berger, A. Encyclopedic Dictionary of Roman law (reprint – Union, N.J. 2001). This work provides clear and useful dictionary entries on most topics in Roman private law. In certain cases it will also provide you with references to the main Roman law texts on the topic (though these tend to be quite dated). You may also wish to consult a number of textbooks (mostly older ones) such as Buckland/Stein or Thomas where you will find copious references to Roman law texts in the footnotes.
  3. Alternatively, you may wish to consult the alphabetic list of titles printed at the front of the Mommsen/Krüger edition of the Digest. This requires you to know a little Latin, but it will also tell you which titles in the Institutes, Digest, Code and the Novels deal with a specific topic (e.g. Mandate). It is less useful when you are researching more specific topics (e.g. risk in sale) though.
  4. Where your topic of research is a fairly specific one (e.g. the concept of matrimony), a very useful tool that has appeared in recent years is the BIA [Bibliotheca Iuris Antiqui] database. This database, on a CD-ROM, allows the user to search through the entire corpus of Roman legal texts for specific words and sentences. This is an extremely valuable and fast search tool, but owing to the expense, it is not carried by many libraries. A cheaper version of this may be found of the Packard Humanities CD-ROM, which is free, but which requires the user to purchase a computer programme to access the material.
  5. To this should now be added the free amanuensis programme [] that can be downloaded for use on your desktop. An app version of the programme is also available for your tablet or smartphone from your service platform [such as ITunes].

  6. Once you have identified the relevant texts that pertain to the topic of your research, you may consult them either in the standard edition of the Digest [Mommsen/Krüger] or in translation [Watson]. Be mindful of the original context of the text, its author and the possibility that the text may have been altered by Justinian’s compilers. The easiest method to check this is to analyse the footnotes accompanying the text in the Mommsen/Krüger edition. Other works such as the Index Interpolationum may provide further evidence of interference, but these should be taken with a pinch of salt in light of more recent attitudes towards the level of interference with the texts.
  7. Once you have assembled all the texts and you have analysed them as described elsewhere, secondary literature has to be identified. It is important to remember that Roman law is a truly international discipline with scholars writing in many different languages. It is likely that you will encounter articles and books in languages which you cannot read. Do not be disheartened by this as the vast body of secondary literature is bound to contain many contributions in languages that you are able to read. Secondary literature on a specific topic can be identified in one of two ways. The dishonest way is to look at the footnotes cited in recent textbooks to get an indication, but it should be borne in mind that the authors of textbooks are often selective in including secondary literature. The best (and most honest) way to find secondary literature is to use one of the increasingly popular search engines such as Firstsearch (Articlefirst) available in most universities in the United Kingdom. The online version of L’annee philologique is also quite useful for tracking down articles on Roman law. Finally, a general search using one of the search engines such as Google Scholar may also provide you with interesting insights, especially in relation to material published online or on SSRN.