Capitis Deminutio Minima: Sources of Roman Law versus Scholarly Tradition

Katrin Kiirend
pp. 139-147


Based on the Institutes of Gaius, the renowned jurist from the classical period of Roman law (82 BC – 250 AD), capitis deminutio (deterioration of status) in Ancient Rome was divided into three categories: capitis deminutio maxima (loss of liberty), media (loss of citizenship) and minima (loss of family rights). These affected the position of a person in society, his situation and status. Under the first, a person was no longer a free citizen and became a slave. Due to the second, a person remained free, but lost his citizenship rights. In the case of the third, only the family status and relations of a person were affected.

Despite the importance of capitis deminutio and capitis deminutio minima in particular to understanding the specifics of Roman law, there is a lack of consensus in academic writing as to the definition, translation and functioning of capitis deminutio. Many positions expressed in scholarly works also differ from ancient sources of law. In this article, the author searches for a suitable translation for capitis deminutio in Estonian and explains the ways in which capitis deminutio minima functioned according to various sources. The author then examines contradictions between primary and secondary sources, and the reasons behind them, and submits her position, which she deems to best reflect the content of original sources, on the functioning of capitis deminutio minima in classical Roman law. The author concludes with a examination of the most significant consequences of changes in family rights.