Thursday, March 29, 2012


The complexity of this legal system [in the later Roman Empire] was such that experts (iuriconsulti) were needed in every court, and sometimes just to draw up documents, but they may not always have been available or been fully reliable if they were. Even if legal help was accessible, courts did not necessarily judge justly, and the rich often benefited from judicial corruption and patronage .... In Egypt, papyrus documents recording the settlement of civil disputes in the fourth to sixth centuries show a strong tendency to avoid courts altogether, given their huge expense and danger, and to go directly to private arbitration.
—Chris Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000, 31-32. Sounds, uh, completely unfamiliar.

... But does Wickham do more there than rewrite the famous passage from Gibbon?
The expense of the pursuit sometimes exceeded the value of the prize, and the fairest rights were abandoned by the poverty or prudence of the claimants. Such costly justice might tend to abate the spirit of litigation, but the unequal pressure serves only to increase the influence of the rich, and to aggravate the misery of the poor. By these dilatory and expensive proceedings, the wealthy pleader obtains a more certain advantage than he could hope from the accidental corruption of his judge.

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