Department Publication

Legitimacy and Law in the Roman World

Tabulae in Roman Belief and Practice

Elizabeth A. Meyer

Professor
( Cambridge, March 2004 )

Greeks wrote mostly on papyrus, but the Romans wrote solemn religious, public and legal documents on wooden tablets often coated with wax. This book investigates the historical significance of this resonant form of writing; its power to order the human realm and cosmos and to make documents efficacious; its role in court; the uneven spread - an aspect of Romanization - of this Roman form outside Italy, as provincials made different guesses as to what would please their Roman overlords; and its influence on the evolution of Roman law. An historical epoch of Roman legal transactions without writing is revealed as a juristic myth of origins. Roman legal documents on tablets are the ancestors of today’s dispositive legal documents - the document as the act itself. In a world where knowledge of the Roman law was scarce - and enforcers scarcer - the Roman law drew its authority from a wider world of belief.

  • Ms Meyer reintegrates the Roman law into the contemporary study of Roman social and cultural history and argues for understanding obedience to the law in terms of extra-legal beliefs and social practices while presenting a challenge to earlier ideas about Romanization.


Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
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