Gardens and Neighbors
Private Water Rights in Roman Italy
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: University of Michigan Press
Private water rights were a valuable asset on Roman farms and villas. This study investigates the development and operation of private water rights during the late republican and early imperial eras. This is a book about law and how it worked for the Romans—in particular, how the law accommodated social, economic, and environmental constraints. Two questions drive the inquiry: how did rural landowners use legal institutions to secure an ...
1. Rationality and Rationing a Common Resource
What happens when one of the people using a scarce resource takes more than his share? This issue was controversial for jurists and landowners alike. A case preserved in the Digest of Justinian reflects the competition for water on rural property and is a signal for my approach to this competition, because it recalls the classic formulation of the tragedy of the commons, the herdsmen’s dilemma.
2. Law and Neighborly Practice
Aservitude depended on a fine balance in relations between neighbors. In a case preserved in the Digest of Justinian, the owner of a servient estate shared water from an open channel with the holder of a servitude on the same channel, and the owner of the servitude wanted to convert it to an underground passage. The case reports the opinions of two jurists who disagree about whether the holder of the servitude should be allowed to bury the channel.
3. Utility, Productivity, and Planning
Aservitude could be established only if it was useful to the dominant estate but there were questions about what was “useful.”The jurists developed the concept of utilitas or utility to define what useful meant in cases involving servitudes. In a short legal case reported in the Digest of Justinian, Paul lists negative examples that limit the scope of the so-called rustic servitudes, that is, servitudes attached to rural rather than urban property.
4. Servitudes and the Sale of Land
The case involves two subsequent purchases of the same property, and despite some disruption to the text in compilation, the situation can be reconstructed with some certainty. A servitude had been established to channel water to two properties owned by the same person. When one of these properties was sold, the servitude was transferred with the land even if it was not explicitly mentioned.
In Roman Italy, private water rights were governed by servitudes, a legal institution that afforded flexible solutions to managing a local water supply. This study has investigated the legal rules of servitudes in order to evaluate how and how well the regime of private water rights served the needs of rural landowners. We have observed the development of legal concepts relating to servitudes, such as daily/summer water and the use-it-or-lose-it ...
Index of Sources
Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 1 map
Publication Year: 2009
Series Title: Law and Society in the Ancient World
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