Roman Civil Law Third-Party Stipulations

By Joseph Manning

Today I’ve got something of a one-liner from Ulpian the Roman jurist for you:

Alteri stipulari nemo potest, praeterquam si servus domino, filius patri stipuletur: inventae sunt enim huiusmodi obligationes ad hoc, ut unusquisque sibi adquirat quod sua interest: ceterum ut alii detur, nihil interest mea.

Let’s break this down phrase by phrase.

Alteri stipulari nemo potest

Alteri – other, second:  We see this word surviving today in the form of ‘alter,’ ‘alternative,’ and ‘alternate.’

Stipulari  – To stipulate: This one is clear enough. Our English word comes directly from Latin.

Nemo – This word means ‘no one’ or ‘no body.’  I’m pretty sure no English words derive from it.

Potest – This is the verb of the sentence.  It means ‘can’ as in ‘to have the power or capability to do something.’  That is how it comes to us today in the form of ‘potent,’ ‘potential.’

So we get “No one can stipulate for another.”

praeterquam si servus domino

praeterquam – Except; from praeter + quam, ‘except’ and ‘how much.’  We kind of use a similar expression in English with ‘except in as much as.’

si – if

servus – slave; compare our ‘service’ and ‘servant.’

domino – master; our words ‘domicile’ comes from the Latin word for ‘house’ which was domus.  The domino and domina were the master and lady of the house.

This phrase says, “Except if a slave for a master”

filius patri stipuletur

filius – son; we have ‘filiation’ and ‘filial’ in English but not much else compared to the Romance languages with French fils, Italian figlio both meaning ‘son.’

patri –father; here the word is being used in the technical legal sense of pater familias.  Patriarchy, expatriate, and patriot all come from this Latin word, the latter two denoting a meaning of ‘father-land.’

stipuletur – this is the verb ‘to stipulate’ again.

What do we have? “son stipulates for the father.”

inventae sunt enim huiusmodi obligationes ad hoc

inventae – having been invented; this is a participle.  The word is nearly the same as what we have in English.

sunt – This is the third-person, plural, present of the verb ‘to be’; so we get ‘they are.’

enim – for, in fact, truly; so.

huiusmodi – of this kind.

obligationes – obligations.

ad hoc – for this; in the sense of ‘for this particular purpose.’  We use this Latin phrase directly in English to mean ‘to serve a purpose in a particular instant’ or ‘on the spot.’

This phrase says, “in fact, obligations of this kind were invented for this purpose,”

ut unusquisque sibi adquirat quod sua interest

ut – so that;

unusquisque – every one; this is a combination of two separate Latin words, unus + quisque, one and each.  Our word ‘one,’ Greek ‘enus,French, ‘un‘ Spanish, ‘uno‘ and a host of others all have common origins.

sibi – This is a reflexive pronoun like the Greek auto.  ‘himself’

adquirat – this is similar to acquiro the only difference in the prefix ad rather than acAd means ‘to,’ ac means ‘and.’  It has the same meaning as we would think — acquire.

quod – what; the Germanic question words start with ‘wh‘ ‘hw‘ or ‘v‘ as in ‘why,’ ‘where,’ ‘who,’ ‘what,’ or Anglo-Saxon ‘hwæt.’ The Romance languages use a k phoneme as in Spanish ‘qui‘ or French ‘qu’est que c’est.‘  Latin used a mix of the two with a kw of sound.  This is all due to a common Indo-European ancestor word.

sua – this is a possessive pronoun.  We see it today in English ‘suicide’ as to kill oneself.

This phrase is, “so that everyone acquires for himself what in is his own interest.”

ceterum ut alii detur, nihil interest mea.

ceterum – this should remind you of ‘et cetera,’ which is Latin for ‘and others.’  I guess here it could be translated as ‘otherwise.’

detur – this is a form of the verb ‘do‘ ‘to give,’ where we get ‘donation’ from.

nihil – nothing; from this word we get the common English phrase ‘ex nihilio’ meaning ‘out of nowhere’ or ‘from nothing.’

I think a decent translation is “otherwise nothing to my interest results such that someone else is given [something].”

“No one can stipulate for another, (except if a slave [stipulate] for a master [or] a son for a father), in fact, obligations of this kind were invented for this purpose, so that everyone acquires for himself what in is his own interest, otherwise [for example there is] nothing to my interest that results [if] someone else is given [something].”

My Latin is very rusty, but I think this is best I can do while still trying to preserve the original.  Please comment if you think it needs some tweaking.

So we see at Classical Roman civil law third-party stipulations were not in favor except in limited circumstances.  Today in Louisiana civil law third-party stipulations must meet certain requirements to be effective, though the requirements are much broader than being restricted to slave/son circumstances.


B. Frier & T.A.J. McGinn, A Casebook on Roman Family Law (Oxford University Press 2004)

J.F. Gardner, Women in Roman Law and Society (Psychology Press 1988)

B. Nicholas, An Introduction to Roman Law (Oxford University Press 1976)


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