Two texts in Justinian’s Digest (533 CE) deal with the liabilities, under the lex Aquilia, of two offenders, the first of whom mortally wounds the victim and the second who finishes him off. One of the texts purports that the second attacker is liable for killing, whereas the first attacker is liable for wounding; the author, Domitius Ulpianus (ca 170–223), attributes this view to Juventius Celsus (67–130). The other text by Salvius Julianus (ca 110–ca 170) advocates holding both attackers liable as killers and is thus taken as marking a contrarian view.
The conflicting texts have always puzzled legal scholars. This book covers all attempts at a solution advanced since the High Middle Ages. Roman law with its irritant contradiction has sparked a colourful spectrum of intellectual responses. Since the 19th Century, the problem has been identified as one of ‘overtaking causality’ or ‘interruption of the causal nexus’. Special attention is given to the transition of Roman law as a ‘received’ source of law in many countries, interpreted so as to function as the law of the land, to a subject of historical research, controlled by standards of critical scholarship.
The fact that comments have continuously addressed the same issue over the centuries, and the volume of them, allows for the identifying of mega-trends through statistical analysis, finding ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in the ever evolving discourse. One can also look, with support of quantitative analyses, for continuities and breaks in the evolution of interpretations. A history of Roman law exegeses emerges, highlighting the changing objectives and methodologies over time. What were the changing fashions of interpretation, the blind alleys, the enduring progresses? How has this evolution coloured today’s approaches to the problem of ‘overtaking causality’?
Returning to a classical problem, an effort is made to part ways with the established concepts of contemporary causality concepts, without forsaking the legal point of view.
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