Jurists, Clerics and Merchants: The Rise of Learned Law in Medieval Europe and Its Impact on Economic Growth
Schäfer, H.-B. and Wulf, A. J. (2014), Jurists, Clerics, and Merchants: The Rise of Learned Law in Medieval Europe and its Impact on Economic Growth. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 11: 266–300. doi:10.1111/jels.12041
49 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2013 Last revised: 31 May 2017
Date Written: March 30, 2013
Between the years 1200 and 1600 economic development in most parts of Europe gained momentum. By the end of this period per capita income in Western Europe (excluding Orthodox countries) was well above the income levels in all other regions of the world. We relate this unique development to the resurrection of Roman law, which went hand in hand with the rise of law as a scholarly and scientific discipline. In this paper we investigate two competing hypothesis on the impact of these processes on economic growth in Medieval Europe: a) that the rules of Roman law were conducive to the rise of commerce and economic growth and b) that growth occurred not as a result of the reception of substantive Roman law but rather because of the rational scientific and systemic features of the new law and its training of jurists in the newly established universities. Using data on city population as a proxy for economic growth we find that the decisive impact for economic development was not primarily the content of Roman law, but the emergence of a legal method by glossators and commentators in their interpretation and systematization of the sources of Roman law (Corpus Juris, Digests), which originally consisted of a huge collection of cases. The endeavor to extract general normative conclusions from theses sources led to abstraction, methodology, and the rise of law as a scholarly discipline. Wherever law faculties were founded anywhere in Europe jurists learned new legal concepts and skills which were unknown before and conducive for doing business.
Keywords: Law and Economics, Legal History, Economic Growth
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