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date: 17 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Responsa—answers to discrete legal questions—are one of the oldest juristic technologies. Though an ancient mode of responding to legal uncertainty, responsa were also highly dependent upon the authority of the jurist offering them. This posed a tension between juristic authority and other modes of authority, and between the learned opinion of a trustworthy man and the demands of reason. Although responsa are found in many premodern legal cultures (including Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu traditions), this chapter focuses on the experience of Roman jurists. Starting from the earliest period in which responsa were given by jurists who were also priests, this chapter traces their history through the Roman late Republic and Empire (c. 50 bcec. 250 ad) as they increasingly became a written genre crafted by jurists whose position was at times tenuous.

Keywords: responsa, jurists, ancient law, orality, jurisprudence, Roman law

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