Roman Law, Reception of

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Roman Law, Reception of


the assimilation of Roman law by Western European countries in the Middle Ages. The early feudal monarchies that arose on the ruins of the Western Roman Empire preserved elements of Roman legal thought and legislation. Special collections of Roman law were made for the Gallo-Roman population, the most famous being the Lex Romana Visigothorum (Breviarum Alarcianum), compiled in the early sixth century under Alaric II, king of the Visigoths. These collections had a marked influence on the development of feudal law in France and other Western European countries down to the 11th century.

The reception of Roman law on a large scale began in the 12th century and reached its culmination in the 15th and 16th centuries. The revival of Roman law was linked to the development of bourgeois ties and relations throughout feudal society because Roman law was characterized by an “unsurpassed precision in working out all the fundamental legal relations of simple commodity owners” (F. Engels, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Sock, 2nd ed., vol. 21, p. 311) and because it contained ready formulas, not found in feudal law, for regulating the exchange of property.

The adoption of Roman law helped overcome particularism in law and reflected the efforts of the nascent bourgeoisie to create a uniform national legal system. Feudal groups supported the reception of Roman law, expecting that it would strengthen their domination over the peasants. Monarchs discovered in Roman law, especially in the Roman state law of the imperial period, legal formulations that justified their policy of centralization and absolutism. The Catholic Church also promoted the spread of Roman law. The glossators and especially the post-glossators, who not only taught classical Roman law but also adapted it to the conditions of feudal society, played an important role in its dissemination. The reception of Roman law had especially far-reaching consequences in Germany, where in modified form (the law of pandect), Roman law prevailed until the 19th century.

The spread of Roman law in medieval Europe prepared the way for the incorporation of many of its provisions in the basic codifications of bourgeois civil law, notably the French Civil Code of 1804 and the German Civil Code of 1896.


Muromtsev, S. A. Retseptsiia rimskogo prava na Zapade. Moscow, 1886.
Moddermann, W. Retseptsiia rimskogo prava. St. Petersburg, 1888. (Translated from German.)
Vinogradov, P. G. Rimskoe pravo ν srednevekovoi Evrope. Moscow, 1910.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.