Roman law is one of the most magnificent elements of our common Roman legacy: the development of Roman law covers more than one thousand years from the law of the Twelve Tables (from 449 BC) to the Corpus Juris Civilis of Emperor Justinian I (around 530). Roman law became the basis of legal practice in the Byzantine Empire as well as in continental Europe, and influenced all legal systems of the world.
Roman law in a broad sense refers not only to the legal system of ancient Rome, but also to the law that was applied throughout most of Western Europe until the end of the 18th century. In some countries like Germany the practical application of Roman law lasted even longer. For these reasons, many modern civil law systems in Europe and elsewhere are heavily influenced by Roman law. This is especially true in the field of private law. Even the English and North American Common law owes some debt to Roman law although Roman law exercised much less influence on the English legal system than on the legal systems of the continent.
It is impossible to know exactly when the Roman legal system began. The first legal text, the content of which is known to us in some detail, is the law of the twelve tables, which date from the middle of the 5th century BC.
Roman law was born as a part of the religious thinking of the Roman people, as a religious innovation never seen in the world previously. The Roman law, as every other element of the Roman political life, was a religious institution, the supreme form of the sacred force which could be found in words.
Roman law was revered with religious observance and had an enormously important place in the society in comparison e.g. with the Greek law, and considering this Roman attitude to their own legal system can only explain why Roman law was so outstanding and long living, and why it was the foundation of legal thinking.