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Ex iure manum conserere: Symbolic violence in early Roman property disputes

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The technical term ex iure manum conserere known from the formulas of the old Roman procedure concerning ownership (legis actio sacramento in rem) means – exactly as in the words' common use – 'to come to blows according to the law'. It signifies an act of mutual violence regarding the thing in dispute for the purpose to prepare a trial. The judicial decision about who was entitled to use force is indirectly an acknowledgment of ownership. The terminology is in line with other institutes of Roman law, and there are parallels in Greek law. In contrast, Gellius interprets ex iure in opposition to in iure and therefore as 'out of court'. He explains manum conserere with reference to the procedure as it had already developed, viz. 'to seize the object jointly and claim it with the prescribed wording'. But his reconstruction is neither consistent nor supported by any other evidence.

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