Skip to main content

Roman Law as applied in Britain

Bloomberg tablet 30: ‘I ask you in your own interest not to appear shabby,’ dated to CE 43-53. Image credit: Museum of London Archaeology.

Recently, new texts, wax tablets, have surfaced that throw unexpected light on the legal system in place in Roman Britain.

The word "surfaced" has its literal meaning here. They were dug up on the site of what was to become Bloomberg's European headquarters in London. The "Bloomberg tablets" include:

• WT 29: a letter from a slave to a master about cattle as investment;
• WT 30: a letter about a loan that has seemingly affected someone’s financial reputation;
• WT 35: a note of a deposit (!) using the term arra of 200 denarii.
• WT 44: a written acknowledgement of a debt incurred as a consequence of a sale of goods;
• WT 45: a lex locationis for the transport of goods from St. Albans to London;
• WT 50: a receipt for rent collected by a slave in relation to two farms;
• WT 51: a praeiudicium together with the source of the jurisdictional competence (the Emperor)
• WT 55: some sort of promise (maybe a stipulation?)
• WT 57: a procuratio (with some aspects of legal representation?)
• WT 62: some sort of act that required seven witnesses (maybe an mancipatio?)
• WT 70: an account listing amounts of money lent to slaves.

That last one strikes me as odd. Someone was lending money to slaves? So slaves were borrowing money and were expected, in the normal course of business, to return it?

That cuts sharply against received notions of slavery. One does not lend money to chattel. It seems the sort of relation that can only exist between legal persons. Maybe I'm confusing ancient slavery with the antebellum US version.  Dear reader, does this WT 70 strike you as weird, or not?

By the way, background information about the discovery can be found in the news story to which I've linked you above. But that particular list of the documents above comes from The Edinburgh Legal History Blog.  Posted July 1.

Comments

  1. The Wikipedia entry, "Slavery in ancient Rome," states, "Skilled or educated slaves were allowed to earn their own money, and might hope to save enough to buy their freedom." So I suppose that they could borrow money. Regarding skilled or educated slaves, the Wikipedia entry also states, "Accountants or physicians were often slaves."

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

A Story About Coleridge

This is a quote from a memoir by Dorothy Wordsworth, reflecting on a trip she took with two famous poets, her brother, William Wordsworth, and their similarly gifted companion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.



We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic wate…

Hume's Cutlery

David Hume is renowned for two pieces of cutlery, the guillotine and the fork.

Hume's guillotine is the sharp cut he makes between "is" statements and "ought" statements, to make the point that the former never ground the latter.

His "fork" is the division between what later came to be called "analytic" and "synthetic" statements, with the ominous observation that any books containing statements that cannot be assigned to one or the other prong should be burnt.

Actually, I should acknowledge that there is some dispute as to how well or poorly the dichotomy Hume outlines really maps onto the analytic/synthetic dichotomy. Some writers maintain that Hume meant something quite different and has been hijacked. Personally, I've never seen the alleged difference however hard they've worked to point it out to me.

The guillotine makes for a more dramatic graphic than a mere fork, hence the bit of clip art above.

I'm curious whe…

Cancer Breakthrough

Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.

The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot. 

The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously. 

This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. 

The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question. 

GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…