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Fresh Water in Roman Law: Rights and Policy*

  • Cynthia Bannon (a1)


Fresh water came from a variety of sources, streams and springs as well as aqueducts. Much of the Roman law on fresh water concerns its supply, regulating rights to use it with a variety of legal institutions from public and private law (e.g. ownership, servitudes, interdicts). The study of fresh water has usually followed the legal categories, segregating the public water supply from water that was private property, and consequently segregating different types of evidence. In this paper varied evidence is analysed using the ‘bundle’ approach, an analytical framework from legal scholarship on rights in the environment, in which water rights are not monolithic but are represented by component rights, including rights of access, withdrawal, management, exclusion and alienation. Analysing component rights in fresh water reveals significant continuities in the Romans' regulation of it and the impact of this regulation. Although there was no centralized water administration in the early Empire, Romans took a systematic approach to regulating fresh water based on consistent working principles and policy priorities.

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The author thanks Dennis Kehoe and Peter Reich for reading early drafts and the editor and referees for helpful direction.



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