Leanne Bablitz

Research Interests

  • Roman social history and law (early imperial period)
  • Roman courtroom and legal procedure
  • Roman topography
  • Roman wills and succession


The social history and the law of the ancient Romans are the primary areas of my research. I am particularly interested in how the legal system manifested itself in the reality of Roman daily life as opposed to the ideal found in the law codes.

My first book examined the courtroom in Rome in the first two centuries AD drawing from three fields of study: Roman topography, Roman law, and Roman social history. More broadly this book contributes to our understanding of patronage in the imperial period, the accessibility of the courts to the lower classes, and the reinforcement of the established social hierarchy. Find a description of the book’s content below.

Currently, I’m exploring several overlapping research interests. I want to see what interests me the most! Here’s a list of what I’m working on now (find a brief description of each topic below):

  • Finding Justice in Roman Italy
  • Artistic Representations of Roman Legal Activity
  • Tacitus’ Depiction of Trials
  • Sourcebook of Roman Law in its social context

Finding Justice in Roman Italy

This study is devoted to the provincial courtroom in its various forms and will focus upon the physicality and practicality of the legal dealings of inhabitants within Roman Italy from the perspective of the participants.  Being able to seek justice, to have a wrong corrected, before a court is a right provided to members of almost every type of society.  It is just as common to loathe the experience.  In the early empire, litigation affected the daily lives of a vast percentage of the population of the Roman empire.  People could be involved in litigation directly as litigants, advocates, and judges, and indirectly as members of the audience.  This study investigates the participants and physical environment of the courtroom in Roman Italy during the first four centuries AD.

Artistic Representations of Roman Legal Activity

Literary descriptions of the Roman courtroom of the early imperial period give us valuable information but do not tell us all. They may mention the various participants (e.g., litigants, advocates, judges, and audience), but often we are given no solid description of the physical setting. As part of my research into the Roman courtroom, I am also interested in images of legal scenes which date to the first two centuries AD. The settings in which these individual scenes are found are suggestive not only of the importance of legal activities to certain types of magistrates and individuals but also the placement of legal activity within the city of Rome. Within the scenes themselves it is possible to identify the roles of the portrayed individuals by means of the gestures and poses indicated. Also, based on the nature of the scenes, it is possible to propose the type of legal setting which is being portrayed within each. Through such examination we gain valuable insight not only into what a legal hearing looked like, but also into those elements of their legal system which the Romans felt warranted illustration and commemoration.

Tacitus’ Depiction of Trials

Throughout the Annales we find accounts of trials. Tacitus both trained and practiced as an advocate and as such I would expect that he would provide particularly detailed and extensive narrations of such events. Yet, instead we find an extremely braoad range of accounts from those that contain barely a line of text with almost all critical information entirely absent, including such facts as the verdict itself, to that of Cn. Piso’s to which Tacitus devotes multiple chapters providing all sorts of details including even verbatim reports of some speeches. Why such variety? Clearly, Tacitus utilizes these narratives of trials for several purposes and it is these that I wish to determine. This might take forever, Tacitus can be tricky….

Sourcebook of Roman Law in its Social Context

I’m in the early planning stages of a sourcebook on Roman law to be used in the classroom. The types of sources I plan to include will be laws, literary texts, wax tablets, etc.  The texts will be in English to provide more accessibility for students. If you have specific texts you would like to see included (I assume you’ll be teaching such a course!) do get in touch with me!

Actors and Audience in the Roman Courtroom (Routledge Press, 2007) 

This book has been the focus of my recent research.  In the early Empire litigation affected the daily lives of a vast percentage of the population of the city of Rome.  People could be involved in litigation directly as litigants, advocates, and judges and indirectly as members of the audience.  It was customary for individuals out of general interest to attend the various courts held in public places in the city centre.  This book investigates the participants and physical environment of the courtroom in Rome during the first two centuries AD.  It also discusses various practical matters connected with Roman trials. For the Routledge Press website advertisement: click here

This book undertakes to provide answers to three crucial questions.   First, if one were at a trial in a courtroom in Rome during the early Empire, what would one see?  Second, what were the motives and hopes that brought the various participants to the courtroom?   And third, in what ways did all people who were present participate in the trial process?

In order to answer the first question, the first two chapters consider the physical nature of the courts found in Rome during the early Empire.  In the first chapter I examine the locations within the city of Rome in which legal hearings were known to have been held.  Located in very public settings, the courts made a major imprint on the urban landscape of the city of Rome.  On any given day, Romans out and about in the city could come across several courts.  Such public settings for the courts made the dispensation of justice both a very public and, in a way, very transparent business.  The second chapter moves into the courtroom itself and considers how the participants were physically situated there.  The focus of this chapter is upon a courtroom housing a criminal trial because the most extensive information survives concerning the physical attributes of this type of courtroom.  This chapter also treats how other types of courts possessed a variety of physical shapes.   Finally this chapter presents a possible reconstruction of the Centumviral Court because the source information for this court is particularly good and the building in which the court met, the Basilica Iulia, still stands.

The first two chapters, therefore, set the scene for trials in the early Empire.  The remaining five chapters address the other two questions posed above, namely the motives and hopes of the participants at the trial and the ways in which they took part in the trial.  While each chapter attempts to address these three aspects (identity, motives, and participation), our surviving sources determine how evenly these aspects can be examined.  Chapters 3 to 5 present separate discussions of the litigant, the judge and the audience.  Chapters 6 and 7 treat the advocate, for whom the most evidence survives.  In the case of all these chapters the participants in the courtroom are considered from several perspectives.

Each chapter identifies those fulfilling a specific role, examining their status, sex and origins.  The chapter then considers the motivations of each type of participant.  For example, while we might assume that plaintiffs initiated litigation because they felt wronged in some way, we discover to our surprise that the only motive of many was to attack their personal enemies in a public environment. In relation to the audience, we find that some members attended the courts to be entertained.  Others came to fulfill a duty to their patron, who might be a litigant or advocate.  Yet others came to receive pay for their applause.  The examination of motives makes the importance of social status very clear.  Two advocates, differing in social status, might act for very different reasons.  And while it was seen as a great honour for someone from a provincial city to serve as a judge in one of the standing criminal courts in Rome, for a senator, busy with public affairs, this duty was little more than an encumbrance.   Chapters 3 to 7 each explore how a specific group physically participated in the trial itself.  Chapter 3 shows that litigants on occasion actually approached a judge and grasped his knees for effect.  Some litigants would move from their own bench to that of the opposition or even leave the courtroom entirely.  Chapter 5 shows that audiences often were very noisy during the trial itself and reacted not only with the clapping of hands but also by shouting out statements of approval or hostility.  Members of the audience also did not always remain for the entire trial but came and went during the speeches.  Chapter 7 especially illustrates the physical aspects of the advocate’s involvement.   We have a wealth of information on how an advocate was to alter his stance and expressions throughout the delivery of his speech.

This study is primarily interested in the physical aspects of the courtroom and in the activities of those present in the courtroom rather than in legal procedural issues.  For this reason the evidence for both criminal and civil courts is presented together except where sources indicate differences between them or where the evidence leans heavily to one type.   It is important to note that the sources themselves rarely acknowledge differences between the types of courtrooms, whether criminal or civil.  In the reconstruction of a Roman courtroom in Chapter 2, therefore, since most of the evidence is connected to the standing criminal court, that type of courtroom is given greater attention.  A subsequent section discusses in what ways a civil courtroom is different.  In contrast a worried litigant involved in a either a civil suit or a criminal trial would devote equal energy to finding an advocate to represent him.  This united presentation maintains the focus of the study.

The Roman courtroom is an arena which brought together individuals from every social group of the population.  While gathered together within the same space, these individuals participated in this environment in several different ways.  All approached their roles with different ambitions, working under a variety of expectations concerning what they could achieve and enduring different types of demands.  The study of both the physical nature of the Roman courtroom and its participants provides both a visual reconstruction of the courtroom and an understanding of its participants.  It also offers insight into many of the more practical aspects of the daily functioning of the Roman legal system.  We learn, for example, when it was that the courts met during the calendar year, at what hours of the day these courts met, how judges were chosen and how out-of-town litigants found each other in the forum of Augustus before taking their dispute to the praetor.

Much as with the Roman arena and theatre, we find in the Roman courtroom an opportunity to study the symbiotic interaction between people of diverse social standing and the manifestation and reinforcement of several cultural practices such as the patron/client relationship.


I am happy to supervise graduate students in any of the areas of my research expertise. Our department offers a variety of degrees in which a historical focus can be achieved. For both an MA and PhD in Ancient History a high level of skill in both Ancient Greek and Latin must be acquired. If you are thinking of pursuing a degree in Roman History get in touch!

I very much enjoy teaching here at UBC. In the past 11 years I have taught several undergraduate and graduate level courses. I have also taken one group of students abroad for a week-long “course wrap up” tour of the Campanian region of Italy. Fun was had by all!
The undergraduate courses that I typically teach are:

  • CLST 232: History of Rome. This is a survey course in which we blaze at an alarming speed through almost 1000 years of Rome’s history. This course is designed to make the students want to learn more by taking our department’s upper-year courses after taking this one!
  • CLST 308: Roman Law. This course provides an introduction to the law of the Romans in the classical period. This is a very different type of class from other Classics classes in that it requires an elevated level of attention to detail (more like the level needed to learn a language) and the exams consist of fictional legal cases for which the student must provide solutions. This course discusses the laws which define adoption, marriage, divorce, slavery, succession, possession, ownership….
  • CLST 312: Roman Women. This course introduces students to the lives of women in Rome. This course also considers how diverse aspects of women’s lives were affected by the development of Rome from a small city in Italy into an empire encompassing all of the Mediterranean world. We look at issues of marriage, divorce, children, love, sex etc.
  • CLST 319: Roman Army. This is my most popular course and this has everything to do with the subject matter and little to do with me! I am a social historian so this course spends more time on life in the army than the battles themselves – be forewarned! Topics discussed include: army organization, recruitment, service, pay, equipment, supply, logistics, training, discipline, punishment, camps, medical care, diet, religion, relationship of the army with the emperor, relationship of the army with locals, private lives of soldiers and their legal status both during service and as veterans, realities of battle and siege warfare. We do examine several battles which were of extreme importance both as instigators of change within the army and for the historical development of the Roman empire.
  • CLST 353: Early Roman Empire. This course is the upper-year follow up to CLST 232. The course focuses upon the Roman empire during the first century AD following its consolidation by the founding emperors Augustus and Tiberius. The performance of certain of their successors is discussed. But the emphasis is upon social, administrative and economic themes.
  • CLST/CNRS/360s or 400s: a seminar of some sort. I have taught several of these upper-year undergraduate seminar courses over the years. One was entitled Tacitus as Historian in which we focussed on the Annales, the magnum opus of the first century Roman senator Tacitus paying particular attention to issues of narratology. I called another one The Romans and their Laws in which we examined how the Romans thought about, discussed, and formulated the laws of their community both civil and criminal. My most recent undergraduate seminar was entitled Pompeii: From Temples to Toilets. In this seminar we considered the ways in which the ancient city of Pompeii advances our knowledge of various aspects of Roman culture. Topics which were examined (they were picked by the students) were prostitution, painting, politics, space utilization – both public and private, religion, death and burial, bathing, hygiene, entertainment, banking and loans, gender, and daily life.

I have also taught several graduate level courses over the years. Titles include: The Legal System of Imperial Rome, Death and Dying in Ancient Rome, and The Social History of Roman Legislation.


Review of Growing Up and Growing Old in Ancient Rome: A life course approach, by Mary Harlow and Ray Laurence. BMCR online


Review of Julia Augusti: the emperor’s daughter, by Elaine Fantham (Routledge). Ancient History Bulletin.


Actors and Audience in the Roman Courtroom (Routledge)


“The Platform in Roman Art (30 BC – AD 180): Forms and functions”, in C. Deroux, ed., Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History vol. XIV 235-282.


“Judging Ovid”, The Classical Journal 104.1 33-41

Review of Law and Crime in the Roman World, by Jill Harries (Cambridge University Press) NECJ 36.3 220-222

“The Selection of Advocates for Repetundae Trials: The cases of Pliny the Younger”, Athenaeum 97 (2009) 197-208

“Three Passages on Tiberius and the Courts”, Memoirs of the American Academy at Rome 54 (2009) 121-133.


“A Relief, Some Letters and the Centumviral Court” in F. de Angelis (ed.) Spaces of Justice in the Roman World. Columbia Studies in the Classical Tradition. (Brill, 2011) 223-250.

“Roman Society in the Courtroom” in M. Peachin (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Social Relations in the Roman World (Oxford University Press) 317-334.


Review of Gardens and Neighbours: Private Water Rights in Roman Italy, by Cynthia Bannon (Michigan, 2009) Journal of Roman Studies 102 268-269.


“Law and Lawcourts in Ancient Rome” in A. Claridge and C. Holleran (eds.) The Blackwell Companion to the City of Rome (Blackwell Publishing)