chapter  1
18 Pages

On Henry Sumner Maine, Ancient Law

ByDante J. Scala

In Ancient Law, the Roman legal code emerges as the linchpin to the development of progressive societies in the West—an accomplishment of great significance, given the paucity of such societies in a world where inertia has tended to govern. Ancient Law, the most famous work of the nineteenth-century legal historian Henry Sumner Maine, is known as a history of progress, and its reputation as such is perhaps an obstacle to its appreciation by today's readers. For those with a background in the social sciences, but who never have read Ancient Law, Maine's famous phrase "from status to contract" may still sound a familiar note about the progress of society. The gradual incorporation of natural-law jurisprudence into the framework of Roman law was another example of the eccentric steps which progress takes, and of the odd crosscurrents which propel progress within a nation's code of laws.