Roman Law Influence on Notaries, Tiro 50 BC

Cicero Senate Rome Roman LawRoman Law Influence on Notaries, Tiro 50 BC

Roman Law affects civil law notaries in many countries.

In ancient Rome, Marcus Tullius Tiro (103 BC-4 BC), initially a slave and then a freedman secretary of famed orator Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC-43 BC), is often regarded as the first notary.

[Rome, the TV series (available on, set in the first century BC, ran for two seasons on HBO and includes Cicero and Tiro as characters in several episodes.]

Tiro developed a shorthand writing system, known as nota, to record Cicero‘s speeches.  Marks and signs were substituted for common words. The word notary comes from the Latin words Notae Tironinae or nota.

Other literate people who wrote, recorded and witnessed documents for a fee, adopted the nota method, and the term notarius was used to describe them.  Literacy was not widespread among the general population.

Notaries became semi-officials during the early days of the Roman Empire.  They were also officers of the Catholic Church, and Popes appointed papal notaries.  The Roman Empire reached its peak during the second century.  As the empire grew and literacy increased, the use of notaries spread throughout the empire.  With the decline of the Roman Empire, the Pope and the Church took over many functions neglected by the Roman government.


After Columbus arrived in 1492, Spanish and French explorers came to the New World and brought their laws with them, which are based on Roman Law.  Notaries in Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America are known as notarios and have more legal training and authority than notaries public in the United States.

The British colonists and Pilgrims brought English law, which developed separately from Roman Law.  In the United States today, 49 states have laws based on English common law. But, the laws of Louisiana, based on French law, and Puerto Rico, based on Spanish law, trace back to Roman law.

For a while, Dutch colonial notaries in New Netherland and New Amsterdam (now New York), followed Dutch law, also derived from Roman law.  The colony of New Sweden, on the Delaware River, followed Swedish Law, based on Roman law.  The U.S. Virgin Islands, formerly known as the Danish West Indies, were purchased from Denmark in 1917, and also followed Roman law.

Current day Colorado, formed in 1861, was under the influence of Roman law for over one hundred twenty years, when eastern Colorado was part of Louisiana Territory (New France).  From 1682, when explorer La Salle claimed the land for France, until the Louisiana Purchase by Thomas Jefferson in 1803, the French and Spanish alternated ownership of Louisiana Territory.

The influence of Roman law spread far and wide and has lasted for centuries in some countries.

Image Credit:
Cicero Denounces Catiline fresco at Palazzo Madama, Rome by Cesare Maccari [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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