Roman Law Network

Current Projects

Our project has three long-term aims: to facilitate the interdisciplinary study of the rule of law; to enhance international collaboration between scholars working on the political-legal culture of the Roman Republic and Early Empire; to maintain a network of scholars, practitioners and teachers interested in law at Rome within Australasia and internationally in order to create a supportive environment for dynamic and robust future research.

These overarching aims will be addressed through three distinct, but interrelated, sets of research questions:

1. The Rule of Law and Ancient Rome

Rome of the Republic and Early Imperial period will provide an evidence-rich historical ‘case-study’ for our engagement with modern rule of law theories. Our examination asks not only ‘to what extent can Rome during the Republic and Early Empire be described as possessing a “rule of law” according to current (modern) rule of law theories?’ but also ‘in what ways can modern rule of law theories benefit from a better understanding of the role of law at Rome?’.

2. Perceptions of law and law-making at Rome

The 19th century theorist A.V. Dicey said that the rule of law required citizens to have a ‘legal turn of mind’. Our project will explore this question in the context of Roman legal and political culture as seen through the writings of lawyers, jurists, orators, politicians and historians of the Republican and Early Imperial periods, including Cicero, Livy, Sallust and Velleius Paterculus. Given the specific framework of legal, social, and political concepts in which citizens of the Republic and early Imperial period lived and thought, our project will yield a novel explanation of the nature of the attitudes required for the rule of law to exist in a community – a dimension not yet recognized by rule of law theorists and absent from Roman historical scholarship.

3. Lawfulness and abiding by the law in ancient Rome

The rule of law is popularly considered a good and positive attribute for a community to possess. One assumption that underpins this view is that individual citizens will value (whether as a moral good or for utilitarian benefit) ‘lawfulness’ and being ‘law abiding’. A public rhetoric about ‘good citizenship’ also existed at Rome. Our investigation will concentrate on Roman ‘virtue language’ as well as the use of political and legal invective, in order to examine whether shared expectations about lawfulness informed Roman behaviour. In this, we will address a significant gap in scholarship on Roman law and Roman political morality. We will also for the first time begin to explain how and why the rule of law was valuable to Roman officials, to its citizens, and also to its non-citizens, and what that may teach us about how and why the rule of law is valuable today, within particular states as well as among members of the international community.