Savigny, Friedrich Karl von

Savigny, Friedrich Karl von

(frē`drĭkh kärl fən sä`vĭnyē), 1779–1861, German jurist and legal historian, a founder of the historical school of jurisprudence. He taught (1810–42) Roman law at the Univ. of Berlin, of which he was the first rector. In 1814, Savigny wrote The Vocation of Our Time for Legislation and Jurisprudence (tr. 1831), which developed the view that the legal institutions of a people are, like their art or music, an indigenous expression of their culture, and cannot be externally imposed. Savigny's thought was very much a part of the German romantic movement, with its emphasis on the Volksgeist [spirit of the people], folk culture, and national history. Thus, he opposed the movement for legal codification on the grounds that it represented an arbitrary interference with the natural product of the national consciousness. Savigny's juristic theories had great significance in the 19th cent. in England, France, and Italy, as well as in Germany. His work as a legal historian had even greater influence, however. His studies of Roman law are models of historical research, notable for their treatment of the historical and social factors that were involved in the development of the Roman legal system. The greatest is Geschichte des römischen Rechts im Mittelalter [history of Roman law in the Middle Ages] (6 vol., 1815–31). His books on the modern European system of Roman law include The Law of Possessions (1803, tr. 1848) and the uncompleted System of Modern Roman Law (1840–53, partial tr. 1867–94).

Savigny, Friedrich Karl Von


Born Feb. 21, 1779, in Frankfurt am Main; died Oct. 25, 1861, in Berlin. German legal scholar.

Savigny was a professor at the University of Berlin from 1810 to 1842. From 1842 to 1848 he headed a department for the revision of Prussian statutes. Savigny gained renown as the author of numerous works on Roman and civil law and as a prominent representative of the historical school of law. In his major work On the Vocation of Our Age for Legislation and Jurisprudence (1814), he viewed law as an embodiment of a certain mystical and spontaneously developing “national spirit.” Savigny was opposed to the codification of German civil law, considering such a step premature. He felt that since law did not derive from state power it could not be established by legislation. In Savigny’s opinion, the task of legal scholars was to disclose the “consciousness of the people” and to bring current legislation into accord with this consciousness.

The idea of the continuity of historical development proposed by Savigny was combined with a negative evaluation of revolutionary upheavals in history. This combination imparted to Savigny’s concepts a reactionary cast.


Istoriiapoliticheskikh uchenii, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1971. Pages 264–66.