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Seminars and lectures

The Centre for Legal History organises a number of seminars, lectures, and discussion groups throughout the year.

Detail of a historiated initial with a portrait of a famous man, at the beginning of a biography. BL MS Harley 3485. f. 122

Ancient Law in Context  is an interdisciplinary research network comprising scholars from different disciplines who are interested in the interplay between law and society in the ancient Mediterranean. The co-ordinators of this group are Professor Paul J. du Plessis in the School of Law and Dr Ulrike Roth in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology. 

We start from the belief that there are a number of fundamental problems to be addressed: how and how far Roman law and other legal systems provided a framework for, and even perhaps facilitated, economic development, social change and political evolution, and whether that development, change and evolution modified the content and procedures of Roman law and other ancient legal systems; and how the use of legal evidence may lead to a better understanding of ancient societies, and vice versa. While the expertise of the co-ordinators lies within the study of law and society in the Graeco-Roman world, the network aims to include discussion of legal systems also of other parts of the ancient world. 

ALC also provides a forum for doctoral students to undertake research on aspects that fall within the remit of the network.

ALC aims to meet as a network once per term to discuss a specific issue within its remit.

For more information, contact Professor Paul du Plessis (

We especially welcome inquiries from doctoral students on the following areas:

  • The interplay between law and society in the Roman Republic and early Empire
  • Law, society and the Roman familia
  • Roman slavery and the law
  • Greek slavery and the law
  • The use of Roman law in later legal systems, esp. the use of Roman slave law in early modern slave-owning societies

The Edinburgh Roman Law Group was founded in the early 1980s by the late Professor Peter Birks, then holder of the Chair of Civil Law at the University of Edinburgh, later Regius Professor of Civil Law at All Souls, Oxford. It is an interdisciplinary forum devoted to the study of Roman law in its broadest sense. The Group consists of specialists, students and members of the public with a general interest in Roman law.

Professor Paul du Plessis is the convener of the Edinburgh Roman Law Group and all enquires about it may be directed to him at

The group meets on two or three occasions during the course of the academic year. All meetings are open to the public.

If you wish to be informed of future meetings of the ERLG, join our mailing list by sending an email to the convener at



The Edinburgh Roman Law Group organised a conference on 'Law and Society in the Roman World' in 2004/05. The proceedings have been published as a volume in the Edinburgh Studies in Law series as JW Cairns and PJ du Plessis (eds) Beyond Dogmatics: Law and Society in the Roman World (EUP 2007).

New Frontiers: Law and Society in the Roman World (EUP 2013; pbk edn 2014), edited by Paul J du Plessis, continued the interdisciplinary perspective and approach explored in Beyond Dogmatics.

During the course of the 1980s, Peter Birks, then holder of the chair of Civil law at the University of Edinburgh, set up a Roman law club. According to the advertisement for this club, it was designed to operate in conjunction with the Edinburgh Roman Law Group and was ‘… an informal activity of the [Edinburgh Roman Law] Group with the particular aim of encouraging students whose interest in law or the ancient world attracts them to the study of Roman law.’

After Peter Birks’ departure from the chair in Civil law in the late 80s, the Roman law club lay dormant, while the Edinburgh Roman Law Group went from strength to strength, becoming one of the most prestigious meetings of its kind in Europe. With the filling of the chair in Civil law once more in 2013, it seems appropriate to resurrect the Roman law club also. Given the long and illustrious history of Civil law teaching at Edinburgh, it seems appropriate to rename the club after one of the great civilians who held the chair in the past, Henry Goudy,* professor of Civil law at the University of Edinburgh from 1889 to 1893. Thus, from 2013, the newly resurrected Roman law club will be known as the Henry Goudy Seminar in Roman Law.


The Henry Goudy Seminar is a Roman law reading group that meets twice per semester to discuss law and life in the ancient world. The group is convened by Jonathan Ainslie. In this semester we will be meeting online. All students and staff with an interest in legal history and the history of the ancient world are warmly invited to take part. We particularly welcome undergraduates to attend, whether or not they formally study Roman law. 

Those wishing to obtain a copy of the reading in advance should contact

The Chiene Lectures honour the memory of Peter Chiene, a graduate in Law and Philosophy of the School of Law. After concluding his studies in 1971, Peter qualified and practiced as a solicitor in Edinburgh. He retained a lively interest in legal history, especially in the historic links between Scotland and the Netherlands during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, until his tragic, early death.

Past lectures


'Beyond (Roman) Law and Empire'
Professor Caroline Humfress (St Andrews)


'The Survival and Vitality of The Civil Law Tradition in Quebec, 1760-2017'
Professor Michel Morin (Montreal)


'The Invention of Legal Orders: Historical Comparisons between Roman, Chinese and Jewish Laws'
Professor Jean-Louis Halpérin (ENS Paris)


'National, Transnational and European Legal Histories: Problems and Paradigms. A German Perspective'
Professor Thomas Duve (Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte)


'The Parallel Universes of Baker, Joblin and Julian: Causation and Law'
Professor Boudewijn Sirks (University of Oxford) 
(Published in Edinburgh Law Review, vol 17 (2013) 22-36.)


 'Divisio obligationum'
Professor Laurens Winkel (Erasmus University Rotterdam)


'Conserving Culture and Copyright: A Partial History'
Professor Emeritus WR Cornish (Cambridge University) 
(Published in Edinburgh Law Review, vol 13 (2009) 8-26) 


'On locatio conductio'
Professor Dr Wolfgang Ernst (Arthur Goodhart Visiting Professor in Legal Science, University of Cambridge, and Institut für Römisches Recht und Vergleichende Rechtsgeschichte, University of Bonn)


'The Canon Law of Taking Sanctuary for Debt: Its Relationship to English and Scots Law'
Professor Richard Hemholz (University of Chicago Law School; Visiting Professor of Law, University of Cambridge)


'Uncodified Rules in Uncodified Law'
Professor Klaus Luig (Institute for the History of Modern Private Law, University of Cologne)


'Aspects of Reception of Law'
Professor Alan Watson (University of Georgia, School of Law)


'The English Legal Profession and Legal Education:The Role of the Inns of Court (1340-1642)'
Professor John H Baker (Professor of Legal History, St. Catherine's College, Cambridge)


'Witness and the Attestation of Formal Documents in Scotland, 12th-13th Century'
Professor Geoffrey Barrow (FBA, FRSE, Sometime Sir William Fraser Professor of Scottish History and Palaeography, University of Edinburgh and Professor Emeritus)


'Roman Law in a Mixed Legal System: the South African Perspective'
Professor Dr Reinhard Zimmermann (Professor of Private Law, Roman Law, and Comparative Legal History, University of Regensburg)


'Jacques de Revigny and the Orleans School of Law'
Professor William M Gordon (Professor of Civil Law, University of Glasgow)


'The History of Notaries since the Reformation'
Professor Peter Stein (Regius Professor of Civil Law, Cambridge University)


'Are the Judges to be Passive or Active in the Conduct of Civil Proceedings? Some Continental and Scottish Ideas from before 1800'
Professor Dr Mr Jeroen Chorus (Professor of Roman Law and Legal History at Leiden University and Judge in the Amsterdam Court of Appeal)

Founded in 1985 by Professor Peter Birks as Legal History Discussion Group, the forum has evolved into a series of interdisciplinary seminars (two a year) led by international specialists on medieval and early modern law in historical context. The Seminar is named after Professor Alan Watson, who held the Chair of Civil Law in Edinburgh from 1968 to 1980.

The convener of the Alan Watson Seminar is Dr Lorren Eldridge. All enquires about it may be directed to her ( If you wish to be informed of future meetings of the Alan Watson Seminar, join our mailing list by sending an email to the convener at

Past speakers include

  • Professor George Gretton
  • Professor Burkhard Schafer
  • Professor Niall Whitty
  • Professor Peter Birks
  • Professor Steven Neff
  • Professor John Cairns
  • Professor Angelo Forte
  • Professor John Blackie
  • Mr Grant MacLeod
  • Professor RK Osgood
  • Mr Peter Young
  • Mr David Sellar
  • Mr DB Walters
  • Professor T Tsumoda
  • Dr B Brown
  • Professor Reinhard Zimmermann
  • Professor David Johnston QC
  • Professor Kenneth Reid
  • Professor Sir Neil MacCormick
  • Professor David Garland
  • Dr Alexander Murdoch
  • Professor David Nichol
  • Mr Robert Shiels
  • Ms Andrea Loux
  • Dr Tom Green
  • Dr Adelyn Wilson
  • Dr Karen Baston
  • Professor Paul du Plessis
  • Dr Remus Valsan
  • Professor Xavier Prévost
  • Professor Igor Mineo
  • Professor Eliza Marzal
  • Professor Emanuele Conte
  • Professor Alejandro Rodriguez de la Peña
  • Professor Orazio Condorelli
  • Professor Wouter Druwé
  • Professor Dr. Mathias Schmoeckel
  • Dr Viviana Kluger

The Cambridge–Edinburgh Roman Law Moot offers students an exciting new forum for intellectual and social exchange at the heart of the Western legal tradition. A collaboration between the Centre for Legal History at Edinburgh Law School and the Faculty of Law at the University of Cambridge, with the participation of the University of Edinburgh Mooting Society and the Cambridge University Law Society, the Moot pits teams of four undergraduates from each University against one another to argue a dispute in Roman private law set in the reign of the Emperor Justinian the Great (527–565 CE). The libellus for the inaugural Moot involves claims of damnum iniuria (loss and damage to property) and iniuria (outrage), and associated subtleties connected with the law of property and burial.

It is anticipated that Moot will take place annually in the autumn, alternately hosted in Edinburgh and Cambridge. The format is a double moot, in which each team presents argument against the other both as claimant and as defendant. A professor from each University presides. The first competition will be held online on 10 September 2020. It is hoped that future competitions will be held in person and a perpetual trophy will be presented at a dinner for all participants at the conclusion of the Moot, together with a Præmium Optimi Oratoris sive Best Oralist Award.

The Centre for Legal History, Edinburgh Law School, is proud to announce the formation of an online forum devoted to the study of Historical Jurisprudence. Historical Jurisprudence, broadly conceived, involves considering the intersection of legal history and legal theory, and how thinking about the law has changed over time. The forum will meet online, three times per academic year, to host an invited speaker who will present a paper on the main figures within this movement and the intellectual ramifications of their scholarship. The conveners of the Forum are Dr Lorren Eldridge and Professor Paul J. du Plessis. We look forward to welcoming interested scholars from any jurisdiction, including graduate students, to the first meeting of the Forum in late 2022.

Image credit: Detail of a historiated initial with a portrait of a famous man, at the beginning of a biography. BL MS Harley 3485. f. 122. Further info