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Dominium or rerum dominium signifies ownership of property, and dominus is the owner. Proprietas is frequently used as an equivalent to dominium; and when ownership is distinguished from usus fructus, the word proprietas is preferred to dominium as an expression for ownership. The term dominium or dominium legitimum is, strictly speaking, confined to ownership ex iure Quiritium—i. e. to civil ownership—and does not include ownership in bonis—i. e. praetorian ownership.

Ownership is not defined by Roman legal writers, but the general notion implied in the term is clear. It is a right which, subject to certain legal limitations, entitles a person to exercise full control over a corporeal thing to the exclusion of all other persons. Ownership cannot, however, be defined by enumerating all the powers which may be incidental to it, as the ius utendi, fruendi, possidendi, disponendi, since ownership may exist notwithstanding that one or more of these powers is detached from it. A thing may be considered to belong to a person whose powers over it are very much curtailed; hence arises the difficulty of defining ownership. The limitations to which ownership in Roman law is subject are either general or special. The former are imposed for the purpose of enforcing the precept sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas: they prevent owners from so using their powers as to injure adjoining owners or the public generally. Special limitations on ownership arise by persons acquiring rights over property owned by some one else. For instance, the owner may be bound to allow to another person a certain use or enjoyment of the thing of which he is dominus, or to abstain from doing certain acts on or to his property and for the benefit of some other person. The only rights of this kind recognized by Roman law are servitus, emphyteusis, superficies, pignus: such rights are called iura in re aliena; they are protected, like dominium, by actions in rem: their nature is more fully explained under the head of Servitus. Ownership is in its nature single and entire; consequently the same thing cannot belong to several separate owners, but several persons may be joint domini or owners of one thing.

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