What were the consequences of the Roman Law reception in Central Europe?

Authors Avatar by spannerhawk (student)

What were the consequences of the Roman Law reception in Central Europe?

The word reception, used in the context of the question at hand, generally denotes the transplantation or penetration of some or all of one law into another. Arguably the main reason for this occurrence is that the originally existing law has for one reason or another been exhausted and is in need of reform. However, this is rarely the sole reason. For something that is such an important cornerstone of society, the evolution of law in Central Europe – and indeed the rest of the world – is not as rigid as one might think. It is instead often quite a fluid, piecemeal process that is punctuated by sudden larger progressions, such as the creation of a major legal text or a groundbreaking legal case. It is also a process which is influenced by many factors that vary from country to country, culture to culture, and so on. It is for this reason that, in order to answer the question, we must first look closer at the specifics of this reception if we are to avoid confusion and vagueness.

The Roman Law reception in Central Europe was a gradually evolving process that crept its way across the legal systems of the lands of the Holy Roman Empire throughout the late middle ages and the renaissance period. The old native laws that it replaced, or at least inter-mingled with, were largely customary, traditional and unwritten; those running the courts could be nobles with no formal legal education, and vague crimes such as 'badness' and 'promiscuity' were punishable by imprisonment, beating or both. In a Central Europe that was mostly under the spell of the retrospective intellectualism and idealism of the renaissance, some people – mainly intellectuals – looked to the ancient laws of Rome for a more rational, objective and orderly written law, and the advent of printing made this more possible than ever.

In early modern Germany, there was a relatively clear-cut point in time from where Roman Law became the official subsidiary law. This was at the Imperial Chamber Court in 1495 where it was agreed that judges and assessors were to “make and explain their decisions in accordance with the common laws of the empire” - that is, the jus commune of the Holy Roman Empire, or Roman Law, functioning as a subsidiary law for all superior secular courts. There was the usual slow trickling of Roman Law into German Law before this, which also technically constitutes the 'reception' in Germany, but the aforementioned point in time was a huge leap for the reception of Roman Law in Germany. In other parts of Central Europe, the transition was not quite as obvious; the new laws slowly filtered and blended into the old. In Hungary, for example, while native laws were partly influenced by Roman Law, and there was a sizeable population of humanists who looked to old legal traditions, there was never a specific point, like there was in Germany, where a major switch was made. Instead, in Hungary, Weboczy's Tripartitum reigned supreme throughout the years of the renaissance.

Join now!

Germany's wholesale adoption of Roman Law was in fact somewhat of an anomaly in the reception in Central Europe. Poland, Austria, Bohemia and Switzerland, in a similar fashion to Hungary, did not completely accept Roman Law in the manner that Germany did, but it did inevitably permeate existing laws due to the exchange of people and ideas in Central Europe and particularly Central European universities, as well as the fact that Roman Law was the common law for the Holy Roman Empire. My reasoning for going into such detail about the specifics of the reception of Roman Law in ...

This is a preview of the whole essay