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date: 23 October 2020

lex Iulia on jurisdiction

Abstract and Keywords

The lex Iulia on jurisdiction was a complex regulation concerning both civil and criminal proceedings. The archaic procedure per legis actiones was generally abolished and substituted with the formulary proceedings. The purpose of the law was to simplify and shorten the trials.

Keywords: legis actio, formulary proceedings, Augustus, civil proceedings, criminal proceedings

Lex Iulia on jurisdiction is a term referring to lex Iulia iudiciorum privatorum and lex Iulia iudiciorum publicorum, laws promulgated by Augustus in 17 bce. At that time the princeps was acting within the bounds of his potestas tribunicia, so one may infer that the laws were passed in the plebeian assembly, which technically makes them plebiscites. These were laws on civil and criminal procedure, respectively. They were part of Augustus’ political programme to simplify and shorten proceedings.

Gaius (Gai. Inst. 4.30) writes that the two Julian laws (together with the lex Aebutia) abolished the legis actiones—that is the civil procedure of the Twelve Tables in use since the archaic law period, bringing in the formulary procedure. Gaius’ use of the plural “Julian laws” led Wlassak to think that there might have been two leges Iuliae iudiciorum privatorum, one for Rome and one for the municipalities.1 However, Kunkel argued persuasively that the lex iudiciorum publicorum might have applied to the legis actio sacramento used in murder cases, replacing it with proceedings in the criminal courts. What is more, Bertoldi has argued that the law on public proceedings abolished the legis actiones in penal matters. The formulary procedure was recognised as lawful (iudicium legitimum), and the legis actiones were eliminated with the exception of cases heard in the centumviral court (cf. Cic. De or. 1.173) and the actio damni infecti (Gai. Inst. 4.31).

The only literal passage of this law to have come down to us is in Ulpian D. Lex Iulia iudiciorum ait “quo minus inter privatos conveniat.” It refers to the agreement of the parties consenting to the jurisdiction of the urban or peregrine praetor.2

Under the lex Iulia, the term for the iudicia legitima—that is proceedings in which the parties were Roman citizens in Rome or within the first milestone—before one judge (their counterpart being the iudicia imperio continentia) expired after 18 months, as Gaius (Gai. Inst. 4.104) stated (cf. Lex Irnitana 91).3 It is said that in such a situation the case dies—lis moritur.4

The parties were able to choose a judge from a list, and in case of disagreement, a procedure of reiectio (rejection) was applied (Edictum Augusti de aquaeductu Venafrano 67–69). It was also possible to choose a judge who was not on the list if both parties agreed (lex Irnitana 87).

None of the parties was to enter the judge’s house; otherwise, they would be liable for prosecution for bribery under the lex Iulia ambitus, and the penalty was a fine of 100 aurei, according to Modestinus (D. Modestinus is clearly writing about criminal proceedings, as the parties are called reus and accusator, so we cannot be sure whether the provision was applied in civil proceedings as well. Cassius Dio (54.18.2–3) added that the orators should take no payment for performing the duties of advocates and that during their year of service jurymen were prohibited from entering the houses of all involved in such proceedings.

The two leges Iuliae contained provisions prohibiting the use of force: Ulp. D. Ne quid autem per vim admittatur, etiam legibus Iuliis prospicitur publicorum et privatorum . . . (cf. also Ulp. D. 48.19.32).

There also was a provision in the lex Iulia iudiciorum publicorum exempting witnesses from testifying against their relatives, in-laws, freedmen, or patrons (Paul. D. 22.5.4), as well as a prohibition on the prosecution of more than one person at a time with the exception of injury (iniuria) suffered by the accuser himself (Ven. Sat. D. It was obligatory for the prosecutor to give the basic information about the alleged crime (place, name of the accused, date, or at least the month in which the crime took place) in a written inscriptio (Paul. D. 48.2.3 pr.).

According to Suetonius (Aug. 32), Augustus made another 30 days in the year available for jurisdiction in both civil and criminal proceedings (maleficium negotiumve) to avoid latency, and he instituted an additional division of judges appointed from the poorer citizens, to hear cases concerning small sums of money (see also Pliny, NH 33.7.30). He also lowered the minimum age for judges to 30. In an attempt to control avoidance, the emperor was forced to allow each of the four divisions of judges a year off in turns and to make November and December months of vacation from judicial duties. One may infer from Macrobius’ Saturnalia (1.10.4) that Augustus wanted to reduce the length of festivals (the Saturnalia were to last only three days) in order to increase the number of forensic days.

Using the ius liberorum, a judge could excuse himself from performing his duties by a privilege given in the lex Papia to freeborn citizens who had at least three children, and to freedmen with at least four children. Under the leges Iuliae, children lost in war (bello amissi) could be taken into consideration as well, and treated like surviving children (see Fragmenta Vaticana 197–198).

The lex Julia on jurisdiction was a complex regulation concerning both civil and criminal proceedings adjusting them to the needs of the developing Empire.


Beggio, Tomasso. “Per legem Aebutiam et duas Iulias sublatae sunt istae legis actiones. Alcune considerazioni sull’evoluzione dei iudicia legitima a partire dalla lex Aebutia.” In Il giudice privato nel processo civile romano: Omaggio ad Alberto Burdese, Vol. 3. Edited by Luigi Garofalo, 85–140. Padua, Italy: CEDAM, 2015.Find this resource:

Bertoldi, Federica. La Lex Iulia Iudiciorum Privatorum. Turin, Italy: Giappichelli, 2003.Find this resource:

Cannata, Carlo Augusto. Profilo istituzionale del processo privato romano: I, Il processo formulare. Turin, Italy: Giappichelli, 1982.Find this resource:

Crawford, Michael H., ed. The Roman Statutes, Vol. 2. London: Institute of Classical Studies, 1996.Find this resource:

Giltaij, J. “The problem of the content of the lex Iulia iudiciorum publicorum.” Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 81, no. 3–4 (2013): 507–525.Find this resource:

Johnston, David. “Three Thoughts on Roman Private Law and the Lex Irnitana.” Journal of Roman Studies 77 (1987): 62–77.Find this resource:

Jolowicz, H. F., and Nicholas, Barry. Historical Introduction to the Study of Roman Law. 3rd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1972.Find this resource:

Kaser, Max, and Karl Hackl. Das römische Zivilprozessrecht. 2nd ed. Munich: C.H. Beck, 1996.Find this resource:

Kunkel, Wolfgang. Untersuchungen zur Entwicklung des römischen Kriminalverfahrens in vorsullanischer Zeit. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1962.Find this resource:

Metzger, Ernest. A New Outline of the Roman Civil Trial. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Metzger, Ernest. Litigation in Roman Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Paricio, Javier. “Reflexiones acerca de la legalización del procedimiento formulario romano: Sobre la lex Aebutia, la lex Iulia de iudiciis privatis y la supuesta lex Iulia municipalis.” Foro 1 (2004): 96–110.Find this resource:

Rotondi, Giovanni. “Leges publicae populi Romani”: Elenco cronologico con una introduzione sull’ attività legislativa dei comizi romani. Milan, Italy: Società Editrice Libraria, 1912.Find this resource:

Talamanca, Mario. “Il riordinamento Augusteo del processo privato.” In Gli ordinamenti giudiziari di Roma imperiale: Princeps e procedura dalle leggi Giulie ad Adriano. Edited by Francesco Milazzo, 63–260. Naples: Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, 1999.Find this resource:

Wlassak, Moriz. Römische Prozeßgesetze, Vol. 1–2. Leipzig: Duncker, 1888–1891.Find this resource:


(1.) See also Javier Paricio, “Reflexiones acerca de la legalización del procedimiento formulario romano. Sobre la lex Aebutia, la lex Iulia de iudiciis privatis y la supuesta lex Iulia municipalis,” Foro 1 (2004): 108–110; and Tomasso Beggio, “Per legem Aebutiam et duas Iulias sublatae sunt istae legis actiones. Alcune considerazioni sull’evoluzione dei iudicia legitima a partire dalla lex Aebutia,” in Il giudice privato nel processo civile romano. Omaggio ad Alberto Burdese, ed. Luigi Garofalo, vol. 3 (Padua, Italy: CEDAM, 2015), 131–140.

(4.) On the mors litis see Bertoldi, Lex Iulia, 186–187.

(5.) It is possible that the financial penalty was introduced in a senatusconsultum and not in the statute itself.

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