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Науково-практична Інтернет-конференція 10.12.2015 - Секція №1
I. Inheritance law is the most developed branch of the law of ancient Rome. Just a cursory glance at Justinian’s Digest – a collection of legal opinions compiled by Emperor Justinian – is sufficient to reveal how much was written in Rome on inheritances. The issue of succession gave rise to lively interest in the society of the time, while numerous legal opinions, which have survived to-date, are a proof of ancient lawyers’ ability. This publication will present selected issues related to one particular problem: interpreting those testamentary dispositions, in which the testator did not exercise sufficient precision when naming the persons, whom the will concerned, thus giving rise to doubts as to the contents and validity of the will.
It may be supposed that the archaic forms of the Roman testament, i.e. calatis comitiis and in procinctu, favoured unambiguity in testamentary dispositions. Approval of the testator’s will by a people’s assembly or testimony from companions-in-arms, surely in combination with obligatory verbal formulas, must doubtless have constituted an effective weapon against imprecise de cuius dispositions. However, the appearance of the mancipatory testament in the 3rd century BC, including the oral nuncupatio in which the testator referred in general to the contents set forth in detail on testamentary tablets [1], opened the door to imprecision, lack of clarity and contradictions which needed to be interpreted. Apparently, however, the impulse for interpreting testaments did not come before the fathers of Roman jurisprudence in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC [2].
II. In the 1st century BC, jurists Quintus Mucius Scaevola and Alfenus Varus decided that testamentary dispositions, formulated in such a way as to make them incomprehensible, were to be treated as not written (pro non scripta) [3]. The others would remain valid [4]. This decision seems to suggest that the reason for upholding the testament was respect for the deceased’s will. This tendency, which is also visible in other decisions, is known as favor testamenti.
However, attempts at interpretation could end in failure. If dispositions remained incomprehensible, failure to appoint heres invalidated the testament in whole, as it was based on heredis institutio; failure to name the legatary invalidated the legacy; failure to name the slave to be bequeathed as legacy would similarly make the legacy null and void [5].
The question arises: in explaining a testamentary disposition, was it permitted to draw on other dispositions of the testament or even extra-testamentary circumstances? The lawyer Modestin (3rd cent. AD) resolved the question of validity of the testament for a case, in which de cuius dispositions did not allow establishing who was to be appointed as heir [6]. The heir was designated by first name only, while the testator had many friends with the same first name. The appointment of the heir was invalid if it was impossible to know which of them the testator intended to appoint or if the matter was open to doubt (quotiens non apparet). Modestin points out, however, that it was possible, as an exception, to interpret de cuius dispositions by going beyond the institutio itself and ascertain the heir’s identity on the basis of other premises. The proof, however, had to be unambiguous.
Classical jurist Aelius Marcianus (1st half of the 3rd century AD) allows examining extra testamentum evidence to find out the testator’s intentions. The lawyer describes a situation, in which two people with the same name entered into a dispute[7]. The disputed issue was which of them was the addressee of a testamentary disposition, considering that the testator failed to specify anything besides nomen. For the disposition to remain valid, the participant in the proceedings had to prove that it was him who the testator meant. He could also attempt to prove the opposite if he wanted to relieve himself of a burden.
An ambiguous appointment of a person entitled to a performance under a legacy by damnation gave rise to a rivalry between those entitled. A relevant example is found in the writings of Paulus (2nd/3rd century AD). The lawyer quotes the example, in which a testator’s two friends with an identical name aspired to the legacy [8]. Each of them was prepared to defend the heir in a dispute with the opponent. According to the jurist, the heir should choose the person whom he thought entitled and by whom he would be defended against the namesake. Even though the legatary’s identity remained unclear, the legacy continued to be valid, with the heir having the right to choose the entitled person. In describing the rights and obligations of the heir and potential legataries, this fragment also provides, if only indirectly, further proof to allow establishing the person, for whom a testamentary disposition is intended, on the basis of extra-testamentary information.
The same jurist (Paulus) considers a case, in which a person named Titius was appointed as a guardian under a testament [9]. However, considering that both father and son had the same name, doubt arose as to whom the testator intended to appoint as a guardian: nec apparet de quo sensit testator. According to Paulus, it was necessary, first, to analyse the testator’s will and, if it should prove impossible to ascertain who was meant, to deem the appointment invalid. In the jurist’s assessment, such a situation did not result from inadequate law but from the facts of the case – non ius deficit, sed probatio. Paulus also quotes two analogous cases. The first concerns the interpretation of a testamentary disposition on the freeing of Stichus, while the second – the bequeathal of the slave Eros. In both cases, the testator had two slaves with the same name. According to the jurist, if the de quo testator sensi principle could not be applied, the dispositions would, as a matter of course, become ineffective. Paulus pointed to a different solution for monetary legacies. If the testator’s will was not proved to the contrary, the bequeathal of the lower amount was valid. The point was, of course, to maintain the validity of a disposition to the extent that would not give rise to doubts.
The permissibility of interpreting the testator’s will on the basis of extra-testamentary circumstances is also attested in other texts which deal with authentic interpretations of the testament, authentic meaning provided by the testator himself. In a fragment on amending testamentary provisions, Domitius Ulpianus (2nd/3rd century AD) stressed that it was necessary to repeat all the formalities [10]. He considered, however, whether the testator was allowed to explain his unclear dispositions without undergoing a solemn procedure. Ulpianus quoted the examples of unclear testamentary dispositions: the testator bequeathed a slaved with a name borne also by a few other slaves; he bequeathed a legacy to Titius but a few of his friends had this name; he misstated the legatary’s or slave’s name. The jurist was presented with the question of whether, in such a situation, it was necessary to perform all the formalities or just clarify the dispositions. The lawyer opined that the testator could informally explain the unclear wording of the testament at a later time. This was a clarification of the testamentary provisions without prejudice to the will expressed previously in solemn form. In making the clarification, the testator adds nothing new nor changes the disposition but only explains an existing disposition: nihil enim nunc dat, sed datum significat.
Ulpianus’ decision seems to be very practical; a decision to the contrary would probably result in the disposition becoming invalid. The lawyer adopts respect for the deceased’s will as the guiding principle. This is, however, without prejudice to formal requirements. The jurist’s line of reasoning is this: sollemnia iuris   legal requirements necessary for a testament to remain valid do not only consist of the contents of a disposition explicitly stated in the testament but also extend themselves to include extra-testamentary circumstances which are either related to them or necessary for their proper understanding. Reference to them, made by the interpreter of the testament, identifies testamentary provisions which have already been given in the required form. Such a clarification could be provided by the testator himself, as it does nothing to alter the testament, but merely reinforces and specifies the existing provisions [11]. In other words, favor testamenti consists in allowing a more comprehensive interpretation of the will expressed in the testament.
Conclusion. The texts quoted present a Roman perspective on the analysis of unclear testamentary provisions: the perspective of the trial, examination of evidence, analysis of the deceased’s habits, local relations and probably a great number of other issues. Of course, the whole process must have been in a constant flux. Not infrequently, varying tendencies must have clashed during trials depending on the participants’ interests: in favour of a broader interpretation of the deceased’s will, in favour of acknowledging his individual habits or, on the contrary, in favour of interpretations strictly based on civitas. Undoubtedly, jurists pose no barriers to a full exposition of the deceased’s will, as it is the foundation of the testament and should be revealed to the fullest possible extent through interpretation. However, when despite efforts, it is still impossible to reveal the will, jurist say that it is not the law but the evidence that is lacking – the causes lie in the facts of the case.
1. Cfr. Gai. 2. 104: Eaque res ita agitur: qui facit testamentum, adhibitis, sicut in ceteris mancipationibus, V testibus ciuibus Romanis puberibus et libripende, postquam tabulas testamenti scripserit, mancipat alicui dicis gratia familiam suam; in qua re his uerbis familiae emptor utitur: FAMILIAM PECVNIAMQVE TVAM ENDO MANDATELA TVA CVSTODELAQVE MEA ESSE AIO, EAQVE, QVO TV IVRE TESTAMENTVM FACERE POSSIS SECVNDVM LEGE PVBLICAM, HOC AERE, et ut quidam adiciunt, AENEAQVE LIBRA, ESTO MIHI EMPTA; deinde aere percutit libram idque aes dat testatori uelut pretii loco; deinde testator tabulas testamenti manu tenens ita dicit: HAEC ITA VT IN HIS TABVLIS CERISQVE SCRIPTA SVNT, ITA DO ITA LEGO ITA TESTOR, ITAQVE VOS, QVIRITES, TESTIMONIVM MIHI PERHIBETOTE; et hoc dicitur nuncupatio: nuncupare est enim palam nominare, et sane quae testator specialiter in tabulis testamenti scripserit, ea uidetur generali sermone nominare atque confirmare. Gai. 2. 104: The proceedings are as follows: The testator having summoned, moned, as is done in other mancipations, five witnesses, all Roman citizens of the age of puberty, and a holder of the balance, and having already reduced his will to writing, makes a pro-formâ mancipation of his estate to a certain vendee, who thereupon utters these words: ‘Thy family and thy money into my charge, ward, and custody I receive, and, in order to validate thy will conformably to the public enactment (the Twelve Tables), with this ingot, and’ – as some continue – ‘with this scale of bronze, unto me be it purchased.’ Then with the ingot he strikes the scale, and delivers the ingot to the testator, as by way of purchase-money. Thereupon the testator, holding the tablets of his will, says as follows: ‘This estate, as in these tablets and in this wax is written, I so grant, so bequeath, so declare; and do you, Quirites, so give me your attestation.’ These words are called the nuncupation, for nuncupation signifies public declaration, and by these general words the specific written dispositions of the testator are published and confirmed. (tlanslated by E. Poste, Gai Institutiones, 4th ed., Oxford, 1904).
2. DAJCZAK W. Prawo rzymskie. Podstawy prawa prywatnego / W. DAJCZAK, T. GIARO, F.LONGCHAMPS DE BÉRIER. –Warszawa. 2009. – S. 54-55.
3. D. (Quintus Mucius Scaevola libro singulari ὅρων): Quae in testamento ita sunt scripta, ut intellegi non possint, perinde sunt, ac si scripta non essent. D. (Quintus Mucius Scaevola, Rules): Anything which is stated in a will in such a way that it cannot be understood is just the same as if it had not been mentioned at all (all the translations of Digest by S.P. Scott, Cincinnati 1932).
4. D. 34.8.2 (Alfenus libro quinto digestorum): Quae in testamento scripta essent neque intellegerentur quid significarent, ea perinde sunt ac si scripta non essent: reliqua autem per se ipsa valent. D. 34.8.2 (Alfenus Varus, Digest, Book V): Where the meaning of any testamentary provision cannot be ascertained, it is just as if it had not been written, but the other provisions will still be valid.
5. As for the mechanism for the recognition of certain phrases as not included cfr. E. BUND, Die fiktion «pro non scripto habetur» als Beispiel fiktionsbewirkter interpretatio, [w:] Sein und Werden im Recht. Festgabe für U. von Lübtow, Berlin 1970; BIANCHI E. Fictio iuris. Ricerche sulla finzione in diritto romano dal periodo arcaico all’epoca augustea, Milano, 1997. – S. 464-472. For the suspicions of interpolations see: O. GRADENWITZ, Interpolationen in den Padekten, Berlin 1887. – S. 205-206; EISELE FR. Beiträgen zur Erkenntnis der Digesteninterpolationen, ZSS 13, 1892. – S. 316-317; G. VON BESELER, Beiträge zur Kritik der römischen Rechtsquellen 4 (viertes Heft), Tübingen, 1920. – S. 208, S. 214-215; ALBERTARIO E. La crisi del metodo interpolazionistico, [w:] Studi P. Bonfante, t. 1, Milano, 1930. – S. 653-654; PEROZZI S. Instituzioni di diritto romano2, t. 2, Milano, 1947. – S. 538, przyp. 1; ZILETTI U. La dottrina dell`errore nella storia del diritto romano, Milano, 1961. – S. 145, 146, n. 124; VOCI P. Diritto. ereditario romano, v. 2. – S. 813-814, S. 951; GANDOLFI G. Studi sull`interpretazione degli atti negoziali in diritto romano, Milano, 1966. – S. 56-57; YARON R. Gifts in Contemplation of Death in Jewish and Roman Law, Oxford, 1960. – S. 186; WIELING H.J. Testamentauslegunh im römischen Recht, München, 1972. – S. 183-184.
6. D. 28.5.63 (62).1 (Modestinus libro secundo pandectarum): Quotiens non apparet, quis heres institutus sit, institutio non valet (quippe evenire potest, si testator complures amicos eodem nomine habeat et ad designationem singulari nomine utatur): nisi ex aliis apertissimis probationibus fuerit revelatum, pro qua persona testator senserit. D. 28.5.63 (62).1 (Modestinus, Pandects, Book II): Whenever it is not apparent who the appointed heir is, the appointment will not be valid; and this may happen where the testator had several friends of the same name, and in designating the one whom he appointed he used only a single name; unless it is disclosed by the clearest evidence whom the testator had in his mind.
7. D. 35.1.33 pr. (Marcianus libro sesto institutionum): Falsa demonstratio neque legatario neque fideicommissario nocet neque heredi instituto, veluti si fratrem dixerit vel sororem vel nepotem vel quodlibet aliud: et hoc ita iuris civilis ratione et constitutionibus divorum Severi et Antonini cautum est. 1. Sed si controversia sit de nomine inter plures: qui probaverit sensisse de se defunctum, ille admittetur. D. 35.1.33 pr. (Marcianus, Institutes, Book VI): A false designation does not benefit the legatee, the beneficiary of the trust, or an heir who has been appointed; for instance, where" the testator incorrectly refers to his brother, his sister, his grandson, or anything else. This was provided for by the Civil Law, as well as by the Constitutions of the Divine Severus and Antoninus.
8. D. 31.8.3 (Paulus libro nono ad Plautium): Si inter duos dubitetur de eodem legato, cui potius dari oportet, ut puta si Titio relictum est et duo eiusdem nominis amici testatoris veniant et legatum petant et heres solvere paratus sint, deinde ambo defendere heredem paradi sint, eligere debere heredem, cui solvat, ut ab eo defendatur. D. 31.8.3 (Paulus On Plautius, Book IX): When a doubt arises as to which one of two persons a legacy should be given, as for instance, if it should be left to Titius, and two friends of the testator of that name appear and claim the legacy, and the heir is ready to pay it, and both of them are prepared to defend the heir, the latter must elect to whom he will pay the legacy, and by whom he will be defended against the other.
9. D. 26.2.30 (Paulus libro sesto quaestionum): Duo sunt Titii, pater et filius: datus est tutor Titius nec apparet, de quo sensit testator: quaero, quid sit iuris. respondit: is datus est, quem dare se testator sensit: si id non apparet, non ius deficit, sed probatio, igitur neuter est tutor. D. 26.2.30 (Paulus, Questions, Book VI): Two persons are named Titius, father and son; Titius is appointed guardian, but it does not appear which one the testator meant. I ask what is the law in the case? The answer was, that he should be appointed whom the testator had in his mind. If his intention is not apparent the law is not defective, but the evidence is lacking. Therefore neither of them can act as guardian. Fragmenta Vaticana include this text, but enriched with the rest of the Questionum of Paul: FV. 227: Paulus libro sexto questionum sub rubrica de legitimis tutelis. Appolinaris Paolo. Duo sunt Titii, pater et filius: datus est tutor Titius nec apparet, de quo sensit testator: quaero, quid sit iuris. Respondit: is datus est, quem dare se testator sensit: si id non apparet, non ius deficit, sed probatio, ergo neuter est tutor. Hoc rescriptum est in Sticho manumisso, si duo sint Stichi et incertum, de quo testator senserit, vel si Erotem legaverit qui plures eodem nomine habuit servos. Quod in nummis legatis non ita placuit: si non adparet voluntas, id acceptum est quod minus est.
10. D. (Ulpianus libro secundo ad Sabinum): Si quid post factum testamentum mutari placuit, omnia ex integro facienda sunt. Quod vero quis obscurius in testamento vel nuncupat vel scribit, an post sollemnia explanare possit, quaeritur: ut puta Stichum legaverat, cum plures haberet, nec declaravit de quo sentiret: Titio legavit, cum multos Titios amicos haberet: erraverat in nomine vel praenomine vel cognomine, cum in corpore non errasset: poteritne postea declarare, de quo senserit? et puto posse: nihil enim nunc dat, sed datum significat. [...] D. (Ulpianus, On Sabinus, Book II): Where the testator wishes to change his will, it is established that everything must be done over again from the beginning. The question, however, arises whether, after the legal formalities have been complied with, he can explain anything which may happen to be obscure in his will, either in words or in writing. As, for instance, where he makes a bequest of Stichus, when he has several slaves of that name, and did not mention which one he had reference to; or where he makes a bequest to Titius, when he has several friends who are called Titius; or where he has made a mistake either in the name, the title or the surname of a party, but did not make a mistake with reference to the article bequeathed; can he afterwards state what he meant? I think that he can, for he does not give anything by doing so, but merely points out what was given. […]
11. BETTI Cfr. E. «Declarare voluntatem» nella dogmatica bizantina, [w:] Studi E. Albertario, t. 2, Milano, 1953. – S. 447. I regard text as an original one, but as regards interpolations see: G.BESELER, Miscellanea. – S. 416; DONATUTI G. Dal regime dei verba al regime della voluntas, BIDR 34, 1925. – S. 221; RICCOBONO S. Legati et fedecommessi, verba et voluntas, Mèlanges G. Cornil, t. 2, Paris, 1926. – S. 361-363; LAURIA M. L`errore nei negozi giuridici, Studi e ricordi, Napoli, 1983. – S. 55-56.; GROSSO G. Sulla falsa demonstratio delle disposizioni d’ultima volontà, [w:] Studi P. Bonfante, t. 2, Pavia, 1929. – S. 209, n. 51; GROSSO G. In tema di divergenza fra volontà e dichiarazione nel testamento, [w:] Studi S. Riccobono, t. 3, Palermo, 1936. – S. 173, n. 16; VOCI, L’errore P. … – S. 113; KADEN E.H. rec. P. Voci, L’errore…, ZSS 59, 1939. – S. 637; KOSCHAKER P. L’alienazione della cosa legata, [w:] Conferenze romanistiche tenute nella R. Università di Pavia nell’anno 1939 (XVII), Milano, 1940. – S. 150-151, n. 196; FLUME W. Irrtum und Rechtsgeschäft im römischen Recht, Festschrift F. Schulz, t. 1, Weimar, 1951. – S. 217-218; SOLAZZI S. Ancora del testamento nuncupativo, SDHI 18, 1952. – S. 214; DULCKEIT G. Plus nuncupatum minus scriptum, ZSS 70, 1953. – S. 196, n. 44.; BETTI E. «Declarare ... – S. 446-447; ZILLETTI U. La dottrina... – S. 416-417; BIANCHINI M. Le formalità constitutive del rapporto processuale accusatorio romano, Milano, 1964. – S. 153-154; VOCI P. Diritto... – S. 813-814, S.951; WIELING H.J. Testamentauslegung… – S. 255-256, HARKE J.D. Si error aliquis intervenit S Irrtum im klassischen römischen Vertragsrecht, Berlin, 2005. – S. 39-40. The first sentence of the fragment probably derives from Sabinus, cfr. F. SCHULZ, Sabinus-Fragmente in Ulpians Sabinus-Commentar, Halle, 1906. – S. 15; VOCI P. Diritto ... – S. 810. {jcomments on}

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