Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

More laws, more problems? The role of (Roman) law in society according to Cornelius Tacitus

Whether implicitly or explicitly, we all have ideas about how the law is supposed to function, whose interests it should represent, and what role it should play in society. This project explores the ways in which these questions are addressed in the works of the Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus ( 56 – c. 120 CE).

2022 - 2024
Renske Janssen
NWO Rubicon Grant NWO Rubicon Grant

Leiden University; University of Edinburgh 

Project Summary

What is the role of law in society, how should it function, and whose interests should it serve? These questions are not just relevant for contemporary societies, but also played an important part in legal thinking in the ancient world. This becomes especially clear the works of the Roman author and magistrate Tacitus, in which the law plays a prominent but understudied role. This project analyses the way in which Tacitus discussed the origins and role of the law, its beneficiaries and its application, and connect this thinking to the wider legal discourse of his time. This interdisciplinary approach aims to reframe the way we think about Roman law by focussing on how it was perceived and discussed by educated non-experts beyond the professional sphere of the jurists, and thereby hopes to provide new insights into wider societal thinking about the role of law in the Roman imperial period.


Publications will be added as the project progresses.

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