Hague Journal on the Rule of Law

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 265–282 | Cite as

Medieval Origins of the Rule of Law: The Gregorian Reforms as Critical Juncture?



This article shows that there is an ascending consensus that the European Middle Ages were pervaded by a number of constitutionalist norms and institutions that facilitated the later development of democracy, the modern state, and the rule of law. However, the review of this literature also shows that there has been little attempt to systematically explain the origins of these norms and institutions. Against this background, the article discusses what so far seems to be the major “origins” hypothesis, namely, that these norms and institutions were a contingent product of the secular-religious conflicts in the High Middle Ages, reinforced by the rediscovery of Roman law and the political theory of Aristotle. This is contrasted with an alternative hypothesis, which traces these developments from latent tensions between church and rulers already present in the Early Middle Ages, and an attempt to bridge the two positions is made. The discussion draws in evidence from Western Europe and the Byzantine Empire in both the Early and High Middle Ages.


Berman Eleventh Century Medieval Historian Byzantine Empire Secular Power 
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Copyright information

© T.M.C. Asser Press 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceAarhus UniversityAarhus CDenmark

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