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26.3.Bablitz

Typically, my Roman law class is taken by two groups of students: those eager to gain entrance to law school and those studying the classical world as their major field. What unites these two groups, with their disparate interests, and usually begins to be vocalised by them by the third week of classes, is their realization of how daunting it is to learn Roman law whose tendency towards the arcane and abstract is exaggerated further by its ancient context. In order to help the students acquire the detailed knowledge they need and to pull both groups of students out of their narrow zone of interest, I have devised an assignment that gives the students an opportunity to ''do'' the law instead of just desperately trying to ''learn'' it all and encourages them to immerse themselves within Roman society at a personal level.

In this presentation I describe and discuss this assignment which requires that the student take on the persona of a Roman legal scribe and compose a Last Will and Testament for a hypothetical "client". Provided with a "biography" of the client, the student is asked to write a will that would be held valid according to Roman law. In addition, the student is encouraged to be creative in adding extra elements to the will to account for circumstances not provided in the "biography". This assignment has been particularly well-received by students in my Roman law class for three reasons. First, they enjoy the opportunity to practice and apply what they have been studying in a more active way. Second, they like the creative process of filling out the "life" of Marcus in ways that are both historically accurate for the first century AD and give them scope to deal with somewhat peripheral or unique circumstances in the law. For example, students particularly like crafting the "careful" inclusion of gifts/support for mistresses or illegitimate children or figuring out how to provide support for a stepmother that Marcus hates for as short a time as possible without looking undutiful. Finally, students come to appreciate the timelessness of an individual''s personal world. Just as we today make wills which publicize both the good and the bad of our families and personal relationships, so too the Romans may have found themselves having to deal with deadbeat sons and money-grabbing in-laws.

Such an assignment complements the Casebooks on Delict (Frier – 1989) and Family Law (Frier and McGinn – 2004) which stress the application of the law rather than the simple memorization of facts. In addition, the assignment suggests many potential similar assignments. Again assigning them the role of scribe, students could be asked to produce vadimonia (such as those found at Puteoli) or copies of official military diplomatadisplayed in Rome. The student could also be asked to "be an advocate" and write a brief statement to support their client before the praetor at an in iure hearing, or perhaps, as a much larger assignment, to formulate a speech (nothing of Ciceronian length!) prosecuting or defending a client within the courtroom itself. Such hands-on assignments offer students stimulating ways to understand and engage in Roman law and the society that produced it.


   

Bibliography:

 Frier, Bruce W. 1989. A Casebook on the Roman Law of Delict. Atlanta, Ga: Scholars Press.

 Frier, Bruce W., and Thomas A. J. McGinn. 2004. A Casebook on Roman Family Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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