09 August 2009

On the Origins of Property – Ownership

There is no point on which theoretical speculations have been more completely falsified than the question of property. The suggestion that ownership arose when men began to respect the rights of the first occupier of what had previously been appropriated by no one is curiously the reverse of the truth.

When ownership if first recognized, it is not ownership by individuals, but ownership by groups – the family, the village or the commune, the tribe or the clan.

Individual property arose from the breaking up of such groups, and the distribution of the rights of the whole among the members.

In some cases this process was hastened by wars. There are distinct traces that individual property was pre-eminently that which the warrior had seized as the spoil of victory; among the Romans, the spear was the highest symbol of property.

But the student of Roman law will learn nothing of this widespread primeval communism directly from the works of the Roman jurists. From the earliest time of which we have a record, the institution of private property was completely developed in Rome, and hence the singular influence it has exerted on the destinies of European nations.

From Introduction to Roman Law Hunter W. A. Revised by Lawson F. H. Ninth Ed Sweet & Maxwell 1934

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