Roman law congress in Naples

Published on: Author: Ernest Metzger 3 Comments
Ernest Metzger

Historians of ancient law come together every year in September for the annual meeting of the Société Internationale pour l’Histoire des Droits de l’Antiquité. The SIHDA is one of the world’s most wonderfully conceived academic institutions: gravity, friendship and joy in perfect combination. And strong representation from every continent (except, you know …).

Roman law is the main thing, but there’s more than “common interests” at these meetings. Roman law has a remarkably unfragmented history, or more plainly, Roman lawyers are all playing in the same enormous sandbox. This means that the scholar with whom you share no colourable research programme will very likely pass on to you something valuable and interesting. And, one hopes, the reverse. There’s always a kind of immediate apprehension of any topic, and combined with good food and good company, the experience is unmatched.

The 68th meeting took place last week (16–20 September) in Naples, hosted by the Università degli Studi di Napoli “Federico II”, Dipartimento di Giurisprudenza. It broke all records: 300 participants, 170 papers, 5 parallel sessions. The theme: Regulae iuris. Radici fattuale e giurisprudenziali, ricadute applicative [‘Regulae iuris. Their roots in experience and legal logic, their practical consequences’]. A regula is a legal statement, more broad than a decision but less broad than a gnomic formula. The Romans fashioned them by excising them from controversies, but in the middle ages they became an independent mode of expression. By my count, roughly half of the papers were devoted to regulae.

Fortunately there’s a long and honourable tradition of speaking outside the theme, because my own mission in attending the SIHDA was to bring attention to a new manuscript of William Forbes (Professor of Civil Law in Glasgow, 1714–1745), and to seek participants for its study. In this I had great success! The Forbes manuscript is a commentary on Justinian’s Institutes, following a strong continental (and old-fashioned) model, but of course written by a Scottish professor. I regard the manuscript as an important part of the Scottish heritage.

Speaking of which …

The SIHDA coincided with the referendum on Scottish independence, and since I was one of only two (spurii) Scots at the conference, I became what the police call A Person of Considerable Interest. The SIHDA, it turns out, is a very good place to gather opinion on independence: you hear from people who worry about their own local independence movements, as well as people whose countries owe their existence to such movements.

The most moving part of the week was the presentation of a two-volume Festschrift to Laurens Winkel, Professor of Legal History at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam: Meditationes de iure et historia. Essays in honour of Laurens Winkel, ed. R. van den Bergh et al. (Pretoria 2014).

And being Naples, there was … pizza. If you want details, please write. I think I took a picture of every pizza.

Next year’s SIHDA is in Istanbul, and the hosts gave a colourful presentation of what we can expect. It was accompanied by the music below (warning: this will be going through your head all day).

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