The Roman Origins of the Public Trust Doctrine
U of Michigan Public Law Research Paper No. 655
Journal of Roman Archaeology, Vol. 32 (2019)
13 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2019 Last revised: 13 Feb 2020
Date Written: October 14, 2019
The modern Public Trust Doctrine, one of the pillars of environmental law, originates in the efforts of Roman jurists to regulate the building of private villas alone the coast of Central Italy. The jurists begin by recognizing the seashore as public property and requiring public permission for private building; but this doctrine is eventually fortified by incorporating the widespread social construction of certain property as "common to all" (communes omnibus) or even "owned by all" (communes omnium). The result is the Roman creation of a sort of equitable trust in which the State owns property for the benefit of all of its citizens — broadly similar in concept to the modern Public Trust, although without the immediate environmental concern.
Keywords: Roman law, Roman history, environmental law
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