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Gaius (fl. A.D. 130-180) was a Roman jurist whose writings became authoritative
legal texts during the late Roman Empire. Little is known about the details
of his life. The emperor of the West, Valentinian III (r. 425-455), decreed
that the works of Gaius were to be part of a core of legal work that would
be considered authoritative throughout the empire. (The other writers whose
works were included were Modestinus [fl. 250 B.C.], Ulpian [A.D. 170-228],
Papinian [d. A.D. 212], and Paulus [late second century through early third
century A.D.].) It has been said that Rome's one unique contribution to history
is Roman law and legal study. Gaius made one of the first systematic collections
and analyses of Roman law. Later works on Roman law, including the definitive
work of Justinian, are indebted to Gaius for their form, content, and inspiration.
The Institutiones iuris civilis commentarii quatuor of Gaius is a
collection of four books dealing with all aspects of Roman law: the legal status
of persons (slaves, free persons, and citizens), property rights, contracts,
and various legal actions. His compilation of this information in a clear and
useful manner remained the standard for deciding legal issues in the Roman
Empire (including surrounding areas and succeeding "barbarian" states
to which Roman law was exported or co-opted) for many centuries. The Institutiones was
used as a textbook and was endorsed as authoritative by Justinian, who included
it in his Corpus iuris civilis largely unchanged.
Not a small part of Gaius's importance lies in the wide-ranging and profound
influence Roman law had on western Europe. Besides its obvious place in modern
European law, its effects can be seen in canon law and the growth of the French
Works by the Author
Gaius. The Institutes, Part I. Translated by Francis de Zulueta.
Oxford: Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1946.
The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The
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