Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.12.11

Frier on Reiner on Frier on Reiner.   Response to 2000.11.02

Response by Bruce W. Frier, Law School, University of Michigan

As to the Corpus der Römischen Rechtsquellen zur Antiken Sklaverei(CRRS), I will not trade barbs with J. Michael Rainer and Heinz Bellen. If, after reading my review, they still honestly believe in the present form of this project, then so be it; and if their work should eventually find a large and appreciative audience, I will gladly be proven wrong. Plainly, much time and money went into the volumes that I reviewed. To squander such resources would be scandalous.

I do hope, however, that the editors of CRRS, their peevishness once abating, will reflect on my comments with greater calm and self-awareness. As I demonstrated (nor do they attempt to show otherwise), CRRS lacks scholarly credibility on many fronts. In defense, they cite the preface: "This project should be of help to all those who have no special knowledge of Roman law but would want to include the legal basis of slavery in the Roman world in their studies." I give their translation; the original German is equally evasive, but it may mean that CRRS is intended only as an introductory text. On the other hand, they also describe this as "a carefully planned interdisciplinary project," indicating (as did the volumes under review, in many, many places) that the authors also have serious academic aspirations. But this simply underscores my more fundamental point. Rainer and Bellen seem unaware that the two goals are distinct, and that each may obstruct realization of the other, with potentially dire results. The burden of my review was that this did in fact occur and on a monumental scale: a work that is neither guide nor corpus nor scholarship; interdisciplinary in pretense alone; remote, dull, dispensable.

For the better part of the past thirty years, both in teaching and writing, I have struggled to make Roman law accessible to non-Romanists. It is false to assert that I am "incapable" of appreciating the nature or urgency of this task; see recently B.W. Frier, "Roman Law's Descent into History," JRA 13 (2000) 446-448. But CRRS is not helping the cause, or so I think.

Frankly, I had expected rather more from the Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur Mainz/Germany. I still do. It may be, as Rainer and Bellen intimate, that subsequent volumes will surpass the standard set by the first. If so, swell. But CRRS is a long-term project. Perhaps even now it is not too late for its editors to think -- at last, truly and deeply to think -- about what it is that they are doing. Then they might yet succeed in rescuing this project from the oblivion that otherwise seems likely to engulf it.

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