Date of Award

2020

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Ancient History

First Advisor

Cam Grey

Abstract

Legal experts in the late Roman Empire were ubiquitous, persuasive, and influential creators of legal meaning. Contrary to the traditional scholarly narrative that posits that legal experts of the period were the ineffectual inheritors of Classical Roman law, this dissertation argues that legal experts neither wholly joined the Roman bureaucratic administration nor found themselves suffering from a mass intellectual decline. Rather, legal experts developed and utilized a contextually significant mode of legal argumentation in order to convince their contemporaries about the legal validity of their claims. By adapting a Critical Legal Pluralism approach to the late Roman legal expert, we can come to appreciate the multiple and powerful forms of the creation of legal meaning in the Empire. The Critical Legal Pluralist approach moves us away from a legal positivist or statist model of law and toward a model of law that values and analyzes legal meaning as it is operative in its local contexts. This dissertation builds on scholarship of the social world of Roman jurists and on newer actor-based approaches to legal history. The scholarship on Roman jurists has focused primarily on early imperial jurists and has approached legal history through a prosopographical methodology. The actor-based approaches to legal history focus on the role of the emperor in the creation of law and on the role of litigants in the processes of creating arguments. The actor-based approaches employ a methodology that aims at being more illuminative than exhaustive; this methodology reveals the wide range of strategies for navigating the law. The actor-based approaches, however, overlook the legal experts assisting, complicating, and hindering all forms of social legal practice. This dissertation reveals the integral role late Roman legal experts played in the empire-wide phenomenon of law by focusing on how the legal expert created persuasive arguments in law, what forms of compensation were given for legal expertise, and how legal practice varied over the heterogenous landscape of the Roman Empire. The “little men of law” filled the spaces of the Empire with individuals who were recognized as being capable and adept to creating legal meaning for their local communities.

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