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In the widest sense, right or justice (so ius reddere); and, derivatively, the place where justice is dispensed, the tribunal of the praetor (cf. Actio); but usually law, the system of social order enforced by the community. More strictly, human law as contrasted with fas, the divine law. (Nevertheless, the body of ancient rules which regulated the intercourse of the city-states of Italy, and which seems to have been a part of fas, was termed ius fetiale.) Ius, in the sense of human law, may be either customary in its origin (ius moribus constitutum) or statutory (cf. Lex). The two make up the ius civile or municipal law of each State. Ius civile, unqualified, usually means the civil law of Rome, more precisely designated as the law of the Quirites (ius Quiritium). Such principles of law as were common to all the Mediterranean States, and were applied by the Romans in cases where others than Roman citizens were concerned, were termed ius gentium. This ius gentium was often identified with natural law, but in the early Imperial period ius naturale commonly designated the postulates of natural reason and the sense of right. Closely analogous, therefore, is the conception of ius aequum as opposed to ius strictum. It was the acceptance and development of ius gentium and ius naturale that gave to the Roman law of the Imperial period its character of universality. The chief agencies in this development were (a) the edicts of the praetors (cf. Edictum) during the last two centuries of the Republic, and (b) the writings of the great jurists (iurisperiti, iurisprudentes), especially of those to whose opinions the emperors gave legal authority by granting them the ius respondendi. The edict law was sometimes distinguished from the ius (sc. civile), as English lawyers contrast “equity” and “law”; but the distinction, as in English law, was essentially historical. The real authority of the edict and the source of its authority—viz. the imperium of the praetor—were well expressed in terming it ius honorarium (Dig. i. 1, 7.1, honor=office). The juristic literature of the second and third centuries was cited in the later Empire as the sole authority for all the older law (ius vetus), and was commonly described as the ius, in antithesis to the leges promulgated by the emperors.

Ius publicum embraces all those rules of law which primarily subserve public interests; ius privatum those which primarily subserve individual interests (Dig. i. 1, 1.2). Ius privatum covers the law of the family and of property. Ius singulare, as opposed to ius commune, denotes a special rule contrary to the general spirit and tenor of the law (Dig. i. 3, 16).


A right, in the sense of a privilege granted to a special community or class. So the ius Latii, by which allies (socii) of Rome gained commercium and, in some cases, full Roman citizenship (cf. Latinitas); the ius Italicum, by which, in the Imperial period, provincial cities obtained the same rights as those commonly possessed by Italian cities—viz. municipal self-government and exemption from poll and land taxes; the ius liberorum, by which the mother of at least three children was emancipated from guardianship and obtained a special capacity of inheritance.


A right in the ordinary legal sense, which may be political, like the ius suffragii or ius honorum, or private, like family and property rights. In the family relations, ius is frequently equivalent to potestas; wife and children are alieno iuri subjecti, an independent person is sui iuris. Property rights the Roman jurists divided into real and personal according as they were enforcible by actio in rem or only by actio in personam (cf. Actio). Ius nudum was a right without a remedy. The praetor could not make any person heres or dominus who was not heres or dominus by the old civil law; but he could give such a person bonorum possessio and the actions necessary to protect his possession; and by refusing to give actions to the civillaw owner, he made the latter's right ius nudum.

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