Between c.1130 and c.1234, Europe experienced a revolution. Within just a century, an entirely novel legal order was built from the ground up. Partly spurred on by the rediscovery of the texts of Roman law, intellectuals crafted new institutions and new ideas that profoundly transformed every facet of life in Europe. The end result was a European Ius commune – a legal culture shared by the whole continent.
The prevailing explanation for this ‘legal revolution' assigns it a single, ‘Big Bang" like origin in the north Italian city of Bologna; there masters and their students working with Roman law generated a prodigious corpus of legal literature that formed the basis for legal education for centuries. This talk argues, in contrast, that it was local legal practitioners, operating in diverse social, political, and cultural contexts and reacting to new legal knowledge in historically contingent ways, who generated a heterogenous range of new legal principles. Their work is visible in less well-known legal writings that were often anonymous and intended more for practical guidance than for doctrinal reflection. The ‘legal revolution' that they produced looks more like the formation of multiple galaxies than a single ‘Big Bang'.
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