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From Hutton Webster's, Early European History (1917); edited for this on-line publication, by ELLOPOS
IX. THE EARLY EMPIRE: THE WORLD UNDER ROMAN RULE, 31 B.C.-l80 A.D.
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THE ROMAN LAW AND THE LATIN LANGUAGE
IMPROVEMENT OF ROMAN LAW
The Romans were the most legal-minded people of antiquity. It was their mission to give laws to the world. Almost at the beginning of the republic they framed the code of the Twelve Tables, which long remained the basis of their jurisprudence. This code, however, was so harsh, technical, and brief that it could not meet the needs of a progressive state. The Romans gradually improved their legal system, especially after they began to rule over conquered nations. The disputes which arose between citizens and subjects were decided by the praetors or provincial governors in accordance with what seemed to them to be principles of justice and equity. These principles gradually found a place in Roman law, together with many rules and observances of foreign peoples. Roman law in this way tended to take over and absorb all that was best in ancient jurisprudence.
CHARACTER OF ROMAN LAW
Thus, as the extension of the citizenship carried the principles and practice of Roman law to every quarter of the empire, the spirit of that law underwent an entire change. It became exact, impartial, liberal, humane. It limited the use of torture to force confession from persons accused of crime. It protected the child against a father's tyranny. It provided that a master who killed a slave should be punished as a murderer, and even taught that all men are originally free by the law of nature and therefore that slavery is contrary to natural right. Justice it defined as "the steady and abiding purpose to give every man that which is his own."  Roman law, which began as the rude code of a primitive people, ended as the most refined and admirable system of jurisprudence ever framed by man. This law, as we shall see later, has passed from ancient Rome to modern Europe.
 Institutes, bk. i, tit. i.
Cf. The Ancient Greece * The Ancient Rome
Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) * Western Medieval Europe * Renaissance in Italy