Killing a slave: Computational modelling of a Roman legal doctrine

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


This paper looks at the endpoint of a historical development of a legal doctrine which assesses liability for killing a slave in Roman law by the lex Aquilia. The doctrine leads to the problem of causation in ancient Roman and modern English law, and the affinities between ancient juristic and modern judicial practice. The paper aligns judicial tests for causation with theoretical models and their implementation in computable form in three stages of complexity: simple causation, overdetermination, and preemptive overdetermination. With the help of the logic programming language Prolog and its human readable syntactic sugar Logical English, we provide a simple reconstruction of a debate between two Roman jurists, Julian and Celsus. We show that counterfactual reasoning is a key component of identifying the proximate cause of an incident that is the subject of legal redress. The logic programming model makes it explicit that while reasoning with facts is based on temporal precedence, it assumes a knowledge base which represents expert knowledge as well as a commonsense understanding of the world.
Period15 Jul 2022
Event titleGlobal Meeting on Law & Society: Rage, Reckoning and Remedy
Event typeConference
LocationLisbon, PortugalShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Roman law
  • Legal reasoning
  • computational modelling
  • causality
  • counterfactuality
  • logic programming