Better Call Gaius!

Gaius sets up his advice branch and looks forward to his first case.

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Salve!

My name is Gaius – just Gaius – it’s because I’m so great, like Pele. I was the best Roman lawyer, ever. Some people say I wasn’t outstanding, but what do they know? They don’t even know when I was born (about 110 CE, by the way), or when I died (179 CE? I can’t remember – long time ago).

Anyway, everybody knows I wrote the best textbook, the Institutes: such a great book, just tremendous. Justinian liked it so much he copied it. People used his fake news Institutes for a long time until they rediscovered my book (some numpty monk had written over it with passages from St. Jerome); obviously now mine’s back in print everyone uses that. After all, who could forget my catchphrase?

Omne autem ius, quo utimur, vel ad personas pertinet vel ad res vel ad actiones.

(All our law is about persons, things and actions).

Catchy, huh? Even though my writing’s so amazing, I can’t claim copyright after 2000 years, so I’ve had to set up an advice branch. That’s fine – I’m cool with it – I’d rather you came to me than went to Ulpian, or Paul, or that windbag Papinian. I get some interesting cases through my door. We can solve them together, and if you’re lucky you can bask in some of my glory.

p.s. It’s true I never received the ius respondendi – SEE YOU IN COURT!

BACKGROUND:

Gaius was a Roman jurist who lived during the second century CE. His life is an enigma. We know he was alive during he reign of Hadrian and lived at least until 178 CE. He was principally a teacher and a writer, never holding high imperial office. His major work, the Institutes (c. 160 CE), was rediscovered as a palimpsest (overwritten by some works of St. Jerome) by Niebuhr in a cathedral library in Verona in 1816.

The text of the Institutes is divided into four books and expounds the tripartite division of the law into persons, things, and actions (Ius personarumrerumactionum). This arrangement placed it outside the mainstream of juristic literature in the classical period, which was predominantly casuistic. However, Gaius’ textbook gained posthumous favour in later ages, as his legal writings were privileged by the Law of Citations (426 CE), relied upon by the framers of the lex Romana Visigothorum, and excerpted by the compilers of Justinian’s Digest. Justinian also modeled his own Institutes on those of Gaius. While some scholars criticize him  for being unoriginal and superficial, there is no doubt, as Jolowicz suggests, that ‘he had a great gift for lucidity and a nice sense of proportion’.

Author: Peter Candy

Peter is a PhD Student at the University of Edinburgh writing on maritime law in the Roman world.

2 thoughts on “Better Call Gaius!”

  1. Dear Gaius, my peacock was chased off my property by my surly neighbour. It now lives in his yard. I miss my peacock. Is it still mine? Yours. Claudia Metella.

    Like

  2. Dear Gaius,

    My neighbour’s pregnant mare keeps jumping the fence and making its way into my paddock. I’ve tried to remove the animal, but to no avail. Am I legally entitled to drive the animal from my paddock?

    Yours,
    Quintus Metellus

    Like

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