Legal history

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The legal history is an interdisciplinary science that both the circle of law and which the historical sciences is attributable. In German-speaking countries, legal history is traditionally taught as a basic legal science at law faculties and is divided into Romance, German and canonical branches. While legal history was of outstanding importance in legal studies in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it has been associated with an increasing decline in importance since around 1945 and - associated with this - with the need for legitimation.

The historical school of law as a starting point

The historical school of law of the 19th century was not a science of legal history in the sense of modern understanding. Rather, it tried to use historical sources to draw direct benefits for current law. At the same time, the traditional disciplines differentiated themselves during this time:

Romance Studies

Classical-ancient Roman law was recorded in late antiquity (533/534) in what was later known as the Corpus Iuris Civilis and has been one of the disciplines taught at the university since its rediscovery in the 12th century. During the reception of Roman law in 1500, the university-advanced Roman law as a so had Common Law (ius commune) on customary legal found way way into the legal practice (u. A. Mühlhäuser imperial law book , Constitutio Criminalis Carolina , Bambergische Embarrassing Halsgerichtsordnung ). The preoccupation with Roman law was therefore not a purely historical concern until the major codifications , the French Civil Code of 1804, the Austrian Civil Code of 1812, the German Civil Code of 1900 and the Swiss Civil Code of 1912. After its practical validity ceased to exist in the 19th and 20th centuries, Roman (private) law maintained its importance as a university preparatory course for the study of current (French, Austrian, German, Swiss) private law. Romance studies is also part of ancient legal history , which also examines the rights of other ancient cultures, such as cuneiform writing or ancient Greek law .

German studies

The emergence of legal German at the beginning of the 19th century is also, but not only, to be understood as a nationalist counter-movement to preoccupation with the nationally “foreign” Roman law. As a counterpoint to the impressively closed and systematically thought out Roman law, an attempt was made to construct an equally closed, systematic “ German law ” as it should have existed before reception. "German law" is not to be understood as valid law on the territory of Germany, but as exclusively "domestic" law that should have (almost) exclusively Germanic roots. This discipline in particular had to undertake a complete reorientation in 1945.

Canon Law

The canon law , the science of canon law is traditionally strongly influenced historically and is therefore considered as a third legal history discipline.

Legal history in the 20th century

The rethinking in legal history was not only a consequence of the codifications coming into force, because something like this could only be said for Germany. In Austria, the turning point did not take place in 1900 but in 1812, i.e. before the historical school of law emerged. Nevertheless, similar tendencies can be observed for Austria and Germany. With the differentiation and refinement of historical methodology, the question of the durability of their previous theses and the meaningfulness of their research approaches had to be asked anew for legal historians. The need to approach the historical sciences, of course, removed them more and more from the legal sciences. Legal history thus literally sat between two stools: The history of law practiced by lawyers is still insufficiently acknowledged in the historical sciences, and in the legal sciences there are increasing voices denying the need for legal history. Of course, this is also related to the return to ideas of natural law and the belief in absolute values ​​after 1945, for which the doctrine that all law is only a product of history can only have a disruptive effect. More than almost any other legal discipline, legal history today questions its own legitimacy.


The oldest still existing legal history journal is the journal of the Savigny Foundation for legal history . It stands in the tradition of the magazine for historical jurisprudence co-edited by Friedrich Carl von Savigny and has appeared in its current form since 1879 in a German and a Romance section, and since 1911 also in a canonical section at Böhlau Verlag . The Manz publishing house has been publishing the Zeitschrift für Neuere Rechtsgeschichte since 1979 . The journal Rechtsgeschichte of the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History has been published in Frankfurt am Main since 2002 as a continuation of the journal Ius Commune , which appeared in 1967 and was discontinued in 2001 . In 2011 the Commission for the Legal History of Austria of the Austrian Academy of Sciences founded the journal Contributions to the Legal History of Austria , which has since been published twice a year both online and in print by the publishing house of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. The legal history journal Journal on European History of Law , written in English and German and published twice a year in London, has existed since 2010 . For the field of legal iconography , legal archeology and legal folklore , the research on legal archeology and legal folklore published by Louis Carlen was published between 1978 and 2007 ; in 2008 they were replaced by the journal Signa Iuris - articles on legal iconography, legal archeology and legal folklore , published in Halle .


In legal history, the persistence, the constancy and the return of human behavior, even if changed, are just as visible as the quiet or eruptive change, and older people see both in the reflection of their own experience. "

- Baltl, Hermann 1991

What can be expected from lawyers who are carefree with knowledge of legal history who could not think about“ justice ”,“ legal validity ”or the difference between law and morality in any seminar on legal philosophy? Not even about the fact that in every state, including a democracy, an objection has to be filed? Will these lawyers resist the imposition of a new authoritarian regime? "

- Helmut Kramer 2006

See also



  • Harold Joseph Berman: Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition. Harvard University Press, 1983, ISBN 0-674-51776-8 .
  • H. Patrick Glenn: Legal Traditions of the World: Sustainable Diversity In Law. 3rd edition, Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0-19-920541-7 .
  • Johann Ulrich Schlegel: Roller Coaster of Law, Legal History and Legal Development. Schulthess, Zurich / Basel / Geneva 2014, ISBN 978-3-7255-7127-7 .
  • Michael Stolleis: Writing legal history. Reconstruction, narration, fiction? Schwabe, Basel 2008, ISBN 978-3-7965-2455-4 .

reference books

Lexicons and dictionaries on German and European legal history

Biographical reference works on legal history

  • Patrick Arabeyre, Jean-Louis Halpérin, Jacques Krynen (eds.): Dictionnaire historique des juristes français (XIIe-XXe siècle). PUF, Paris 2007.
  • Gerd Kleinheyer, Jan Schröder (Ed.): German and European lawyers from nine centuries. A Biographical Introduction to the History of Law. 5., rework. and exp. Edition, UTB, Heidelberg 2008, ISBN 978-3-8252-0578-2 .
  • Joachim Rückert (ed.): Lower Saxony lawyers. A historical lexicon with an introduction to the history of the country and a bibliography. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2003, ISBN 3-525-18241-4 .
  • Michael Stolleis (Ed.): Lawyers. A biographical dictionary, from antiquity to the 20th century. Beck, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-406-45957-9 .

Lexicons on individual aspects of legal history and related areas

Overall representations

Roman legal history

German legal history

Austrian legal history

Swiss legal history

  • Hermann Bischofberger: Legal archeology and legal folklore of the federal state Appenzell Innerrhoden. An inventory compared to the development of other regions. Appenzell 1999, ISBN 3-9520024-8-8 .
  • Louis Carlen: Articles on the legal history of Switzerland. Hildesheim 1994.
  • René Pahud de Mortanges: Swiss legal history - a floor plan. Zurich / St. Gallen 2007, ISBN 978-3-03751-044-5 .
  • Marcel Senn : Legal history - a cultural and historical ground plan , Zurich / Basel / Geneva: Schulthess, 4th edition 2007.

Web links

Commons : Legal history  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Law  - Sources and Full Texts


Roman legal history

German legal history

Swiss legal history


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Journal of Legal History . Retrieved February 12, 2011 .
  2. ^ Contributions to the legal history of Austria. In: Retrieved April 6, 2015 .
  3. ^ Hermann Baltl: The Austrian legal history. A scientific subject, a training goal and a political mandate. Leykam Buchverlag, Graz 1991, p. 19 (= Grazer Rechts- und Staatswissenschaftliche Studien , Volume 47).
  4. Legal history has a lot to say. In: Retrieved April 6, 2015 .
  5. The framework of legal habits. In: Retrieved April 6, 2015 .