Book Review: Law, Language, and Empire in the Roman Tradition


by Clifford Ando

Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011. Pp. xii, 166. Append., notes, biblio., index. $49.95. ISBN: 0812243544

Law as a Tool of Empire

Observing that the Romans perceived civil law as systematizing individual relationships, Prof. Ando (Chicago) notes that it was also a tool of empire. He then examines how Roman civil law evolved to handle a “pluralistic” empire, which, from its beginnings in the third century BC included not just Roman citizens but persons with partial citizenship, such as freedmen or those with “Latin” rights, as well as non-citizen subjects, a situation that persisted until AD 212, when Caracalla granted full citizenship to virtually all free persons in the Empire. 

Ando opens with two chapters, “Citizen and Alien Before the Law” and “Law’s Empire,” which discuss how the Romans came to extend citizenship to virtually everyone, and how their legal experts juggled the complexities of “legal pluralism,” largely by defining often equally complex legal work-arounds. He then follows with chapters titled “Empire and the Laws of War” and “Sovereignty and Solipsism in Democratic Empires,” in which he discusses Roman justifications for war and empire, and concludes with “Domesticating Domination,” which examine how the Romans coped with the limitations of individual freedoms under a virtually absolute monarchy. 

Ando does an interesting job of reconciling conflicting concepts in Roman understanding of civil, public, and “international” law, and the law of war. This book will be of particular value to those interested in how the evolution of Roman citizenship and how the Empire was governed, and the Roman perception of the law of war. 


Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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