Private Law in the Rescripts of Carus, Carinus and Numerianus

Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis [Legal History Review], Vol. 41, No. 1 (1973), pp. 19-34


"With the political disorders, which after the death of the Emperor Alexander Severus (235) led the Roman Empire to the edge of the abyss and choked all true creative intellectual life, died likewise classical jurisprudence. When Diocletian (284-305) restores order a half-century later, he certainly succeeds in preserving the legal classicism in its vital elements; but he can no longer renew its productive force." This statement of Kaser on the end of classical law and the law of Diocletian represents clearly the view of most modern scholars. But it raises an immediate question. If classical jurisprudence and all creative intellectual life came to such an abrupt end with the death of Alexander Severus, how was Diocletian able to preserve legal classicism? Where did he, after 50 years of chaos, find properly trained lawyers who could issue classicising rescripts in his name? The problem is not much diminished when one observes that, so far as our sources go, the years 293 and 294 were the most productive for his rescripts, since quite a number date from earlier years -- 48 are expressly attributed to 286 and 95 to 290. Not enough time elapses for the education of professors of law to train Diocletian's jurists.

This paper is an attempt to establish the quality of legal expertise which existed on the eve of Diocletian's accession, in the reign(s) of Carus, Carinus and Numerianus. All the surviving rescripts of these Emperors which deal with private law will be examined to establish the law in them, their sophistication (or lack of it) and the precision of their legal terminology. The rescripts will also be related to those of earlier Emperors and of Diocletian.