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 monarchy.
The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.
Last modified April 10, 2014