What Roman Law teaches us: Modern Problems, Ancient Ideas

Pazmany Summer School


Greek philosophy, Roman law and Christianity are traditionally at the very heart of European legal culture. The values and the heritage of our common European culture have come under fierce criticism and therefore been constantly facing considerable challenges since the beginning of the 16th century. These challenges arise both from within and outside Europe.

In the course of this Summer School, we are aiming to discuss certain crucial, and consequently controversial issues of law and society in the broader transnational context. Namely, the history of Roman law is also a history of how to transfer values to countries and communities outside Europe. From this aspect, the American, African, South-Asians and Caribbean experiences of Roman law reception are worth considering. One particularly noteworthy experience pertains to the adaptation of the aforesaid values to a conventionally secular context. Within the international and intercultural context, a closer look at dire social issues may also be of particular interest. Such issues include the analysis of slavery and its contemporary iteration, dependent labour relations, or the investigation of gender issues from a historical perspective.
a) Methodological approach: a phenomenological glance at the sources of ancient law. Excursus on Hans Kelsen. Many students have been familiarised with Hans Kelsen’s name and work during the first term of their studies without any actual opportunity to fully grasp his ideas. Introducing students to a Roman concept of law could present a consistent approach to law and also enrich their view on this topic, helping them access modern concepts of law.
b) Overview of the history of ideas in Europe and an introduction to the transfer of the same to other cultures within the realm of colonial experience (Kenya and Aruba).
c) Ancient Rome maintained extensive trade relations with Africa and the Far East during the 1st century AD, therefore, elements of Roman law aiming to govern trade relations may be of interest to contemporary African and other students as well.
d) The experience of family in a transcultural framework.
e) Slavery, dependent work, and poverty from a historical and contemporary point of view.

em. Univ. Prof. Jeroen CHORUS (NL)
Univ. Prof. Viola HEUTGER (NL, DE)
Univ. Prof. Nadja El Beheiri (HU)
Univ. Prof. Elisabeth Herrmann-Otto (DE)
Univ. Prof. Cecil Abungu (EAK)
Assoc. Prof. János Erdődy (HU)
Prof. Charles J. Reid (USA)
Assoc. Prof. Grzegorz Blicharz (PL)

Students successfully completing the program will be awarded a diploma issued by the Law Faculty of the Pazmany Peter Catholic University. It is up to the decision of the students’ host institution whether they acknowledge this diploma with credits.

Assoc. Prof. Grzegorz Blicharz

Grzegorz Blicharz, PhD is Assistant Professor at the Chair of Roman Law at the Faculty of Law and Administration, Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, where his work focuses on Roman law, comparative law, Western legal tradition, and governing the commons. He teaches also at Lazarski Univeristy in Warsaw. He serves as co-editor of the Forum Prawnicze law journal, is member of Tesserae Iuris journal editorial committee, and has held visiting appointments at the University of Oxford (2020) and Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University (2021). He recently published in Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy (2021), and Oxford Journal of Law and Religion (2022).

Sharing Services in Platform Economy and Roman Law: Dignity of Work

Justifying the proposal for EU directive of 9.12.2021 – 2021/0414 (COD) – on improving working conditions in platform work, the European Parliament and the Euro­pean Council appeals to the right of every worker to working conditions which respect his or her health, safety and dignity (Art. 31 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union). The whole triad, including health, safety and dignity, can be conside­red a universal anthropology of human work. It is referred to in contemporary regula­tions, both national and international. Although ancient Romans did not use the modern concept of the employment relationship, they were nevertheless confronted with the phenomenon of work and did their best to regulate it according to their own lights. Why and how this was possible, and how it differs from our own framework in this matter, will be the subject of this course.

Prof. Jeroen CHORUS (NL)

Mr Justice Jeroen M. J. Chorus (1942) graduated at Leiden University and continued his studies at London (1968) and Rome (1974). He was attached to the Universities of Edinburgh, Leiden and Amsterdam (1966-1977) and held the Leiden chair of Roman Law and Legal History (1986-1993). He was raised to the bench in 1977 and worked in the district court at Arnhem (1977-1982) and the court of appeal at Amsterdam (1982-2012). His judicial work took place both in the private law and the criminal law divisions of these courts. He is now a senior legal adviser (i.a. collective redress of mass damages; return of cultural objects to their State of origin).

Chorus' published scholarly works are mainly concerned with Roman Law (including its medieval and modern history), Comparative Private Law and Civil Procedure. 

Recycling the Roman Law by moral theologians, circa AD 1500

The course will show how Roman Law was 'recycled' by Christian moral theologians, teaching in European universities around AD 1500.

The focus is on Adrian of Utrecht, teaching at Leuven University (the future Pope Hadrian VI, 1522-1523), and on some of his Quaestiones quodlibeticae. These are lectures on practical issues of moral theology. E.g., in his 6th quaestio, on 19th December 1496, Adrian investigates to what extent human laws are binding in conscience and should not be transgressed; in his 10th quaestio, December 1505, he inquires into the cases where a judge is or is not allowed to accept money for his judgment. Interestingly, Adrian derives arguments from Roman Law.

These arguments and the way they are used will be studied in the course.

Univ. Prof. Viola HEUTGER (NL, DE)

Viola Heutger is rector magnificus and professor of Translingual Practices in Educational and Professional context at the University of Aruba. She studied law at the Universities of Salzburg, Konstanz, Regensburg, Amsterdam and Naples. She obtained her PhD from the University of Salzburg. Heutger is an alumna of the Corso di Perfezionamento in Diritto Romano of the Roman University La Sapienza and of the Centro di Studi e Ricerche sui Diritti Antichi, Pavia. She taught Roman Law at Universities in the Netherlands, Belgium and at the Turkish-German University in Istanbul. Her research in Roman Law is focussed on the 4th century, the first laws on Sunday rest and the educational infrastructure in Constantinople. As visiting professor in Palermo, Vienna and Pisa she taught international sales law and has served as a legal advisor to law commissions in Curacao, Kosovo, Suriname and Poland.

Bi-lingual education and student exchange in the past

In her class in Budapest Viola Heutger will discuss the bilingual higher education in Constantinople during the time between Emperor Constantine and Emperor Justinian. The university has been founded in the 5th century (425, Cod. Theod. 14,9,3,1). After a devasting earthquake in Beirut in the year 551that destroyed the law school there, even more students and professors moved to Constantinople and throughout the end of the 4th century up to the end of the 5th  century Constantinople housed the most important library of the Roman Imperium.

Students studies law mainly in Latin. However, some students had a Greek background and we know about abstracts and teaching in Greek language. The administrative language in the new metropole Constantinople became Greek and that progressive switch from Latin to Greek we see manifested also in prominent buildings in Constantinople, not offering only a Latin inscription but also a Greek one. By discussing and analysing texts of the Theodosian Code we will learn about the students life in the past and common problems of a bilingual education then and now.

Assoc. Prof. János Erdődy (HU)

Janos Erdődy, PhD is an Associate Professor at the Department for Roman Law at the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences, Pázmány Péter Catholic University in Budapest, Hungary, where he teaches Roman law. His scientific interest encompasses the law of property, ancient legal thinking, the concept of natural law and restrictions on power and authority in ancient Roman society. His papers are regularly published in Iustum Aequum Salutare, Pázmány Law Review and the Journal on European History of Law. From 2013 he is a regular participant in the conferences of Société Internationale Fernand De Visscher pour l’Histoire des Droits de l’Antiquité.

Philosophy and Practice. The Role of rerum natura in Roman Legal Thinking

Decisions made by ancient Roman jurists may seem intuitive. True as it may be, intuition plays a fundamental role in legal decision-making to a certain extent. However, additional factors are still preponderant in classical jurists' responses. One of these factors is referred to as rerum natura in the primary sources. Its use was inspired by the need for a legal representation of nature and intended to define the basis for applying a particular norm. Therefore it served as a categorical imperative to certain decisions; and was referred to when the jurist wanted to indicate that, in his opinion, a particular solution was too far removed from the meaning learned from nature. The practical application of the term rerum natura could thoroughly be covered through the in-depth analysis of three classical texts (Gai. D. 28, 1, 22, 1 [2 rer. cott.]; Ulp. D 8, 5, 8, 5 [17 ad ed.]; Paul. D. 39, 3, 2 pr. [49 ad ed.]) from the Digest.

em. Univ. Prof. Elisabeth Herrmann-Otto (DE)

Elisabeth Herrmann-Otto studied Ancient History, Philology and Philosophy at the Universities of Cologne (1966) and Mainz (1974). She graduated (Dr. Phil.) 1977 about the subject: Ecclesia in Re Publica. From 1977-2000 she was attached at the Mainz Academy and managed the project: Forschungen zur Antiken Sklaverei. 1993 she finished her habilitation treatise: Ex ancilla natus. She was extraordinary Professor (apl. Prof.) at the University of Mainz (1993-1999), and Ordinary Professor of Ancient History at the University of Trier (2000-2013), speaker of the Graduate College: Slavery – Servitude – Forced Labour (2003-2010), editor of the book series of the same name (2005 ff.) and coeditor of the Handbook of Ancient Slavery (HAS, 2017).

Herrmann-Otto published works about Slavery, Early Christendom, Constantine, Old Age, Poverty and Women in Greco-Roman Antiquity. The connection  between Law and History is one of her main research goals. 

Slave Labour in Ancient Rome

I will begin the course with an introduction into the historical setting of Roman slavery from 1st century BC to 3rd century AD. A power point presentation will accompany my lecture showing eventually the iconographic difference of free and unfree labour.

In the second part a short introduction into the ancient texts will be given. We will read together juridical texts from the Digest, funeral inscriptions, contracts of labour and apprenticeship and literaruy texts about the management of the villae rusticate.

Univ. Prof. Cecil Abungu Abungu (EAK)

Cecil Abungu teaches at Strathmore Law School in Nairobi and is a Visiting Researcher with the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (University of Cambridge). His current research touches on African indigenous thought on future generations and AI governance. He holds an undergraduate law degree from Strathmore Law School in Nairobi and Master’s in law degree from Harvard Law School.

How different ideas on personhood influence rights thinking in Africa

Very many indigenous communities in Africa have long had a view of personhood that is unique to that endorsed in Western moral philosophy. The African view featured a perspective in which one’s personhood was also heavily determined by how they carried out their duties towards others in the community. In many African countries today, this view awkwardly coexists with the understanding of personhood that came out of western moral philosophy. In my sessions we will examine that tension and then look into the role it plays in thinking about rights in African countries.

Univ. Prof. Charles J. Reid (USA)

Professor Charles J. Reid, Jr., has a J.D. from the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law; a J.C.L. (license in Canon Law) from the Catholic University of America Department of Canon Law; and a Ph.D. in medieval history from Cornell University. His dissertation was on medieval rights thought. He has published extensively on the history of canon and Roman law in both American and European venues. He is currently writing a book entitled “Alternative Dispute Resolution in the Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church,” to be published by Brill, later this year.

My course on Roman Law will be focused principally on the philosophy of the great jurists, especially Marcus Tullius Cicero. It will also draw from Greek sources of Roman thought, especially Plato and Aristotle. As readings, I will be utilizing primarily essays that I have written, some published, some unpublished, supplemented, of course, with primary sources.

Univ. Prof. Nadja El Beheiri (HU)

Nadja El Beheiri

Graduated from the University of Vienna. Studies on Roman Law at PPCU. Corso di Perfezionamento in Diritto Romano 1999 at the University “La Sapienza” in Rome (Italy) and Collegio di Diritto Romano in Pavia 2005 and 2008 (Italy). Habilitation 2012 at the Catholic University in Budapest, 2014 nominated full professor. Head of Department of Roman Law, Pázmány Péter Catholic University. Editor-in-Chief for Pázmány Law Review. Since 2018 Visiting Lecturer at Strathmore University, Kenia. Publications in Roman Public Law, Natural Law and Phenomenology and Roman Law.      

Gender and the Roman Legal Tradition

In the background of modern gender theory (from Simone de Beauvoir to Judith Butler) stands the undoubtedly accurate observation that gender is not only determined by natural conditions but also by culture in the broadest sense. Based on the dichotomy between culture and nature, we will determine the position of women and men within the Roman community from a legal perspective. In Roman law, the interplay between nature and culture is expressed by the terms natura and mores. The term status concretises the position within the community. Remarkably, the disadvantages of women in Roman public life are not attributed to nature, but to mores, to customs. Within the course, we will discuss Roman legal texts. In a second step, we will inquire whether and to what extent the penetration of Christian ideas produced a change in the perception of the role of women.