Jean-Jacques Aubert

Legal transactions in Roman harbors

According to Ulpian (68 ad ed., Dig. 50.16.59), “‘Portus’ appellatus est conclusus locus, quo importantur merces et inde exportantur….” Harbors are by definition spaces of trade, implying a wide variety of potentially litigious situations. The legal sources paid some attention to the transactions that were completed in the context of harbors, showing shipmasters (navicularii and magistri navis) involved in deals sometimes conditioned by the transient nature of their activities. For instance, and among others, Dig. 14.1 (de exercitoria actione), 14.2 (de lege Rhodia de iactu) and 22.2 (de nautico fenore), CTh. 13.5 (de naviculariis) and the following titles, CI 4.33 (de nautico fenore) provide some information about the way economic actors were supposed to conduct their business. Outside Roman Egypt, the primary, i.e. documentary, evidence for commercial practices is rather scarce, except for one exceptional collection of wax tablets constituting part of the archive of the Sulpicii of Puteoli (TPSulp). Some 127 documents offer a glimpse of the legal issues confronting the business community of Puteoli in the first century A.D. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate to what extent these documents match the concerns of the jurists and lawmakers.