Peter Gonville Stein, BA, LLB (Cantab); PhD (Aberdeen); QC; FBA; Honorary Fellow, ASLH

Peter Stein was born 29 May 1926 and was raised in Liverpool. He was admitted to Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge as an Exhibitioner to read classics. However, World War II intervened and he joined the Royal Navy serving in England and the Far East. By the time he returned to Cambridge in 1947, he chose the Roman Law option when tackling Law Qualifying II. Peter graduated with a BA in 1949, and an LLB in 1950; and became a Solicitor in 1951. Rather than practice, he won a scholarship to study Roman Law and Italian at the University of Pavia. From there, he joined the University of Nottingham as Assistant Lecturer and, a year later, joined the University of Aberdeen, where he obtained his PhD, and was Lecturer (1953-56) and Professor of Jurisprudence (1956-1968). He returned to Cambridge as Regius Professor of Civil Law and Fellow of Queens’ College between 1968 and 1993. He remained Emeritus Professor of Civil Law and Life Fellow of Queens’ College until his death in 2016.

Peter Stein was one of the twentieth century’s leading scholars of the Roman legal tradition. A prolific scholar, he authored or edited fifteen books and more than 100 articles. His first book, Regulae Juris: from juristic rules to legal maxims (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1966), traces the origins and development of legal maxims from antiquity to the Seventeenth century. The character and influence of the Roman civil law: historical essays (London: Hambledon Press, 1988) discusses the ethos and principles of Roman law and of their transmission and transformation in medieval and modern times. Of particular note is his analysis of the origin of the four stage theory of social development, which was adopted by Adam Smith; and his description of the attraction of Roman law to American lawyers when they were trying to establish their own legal system following Independence. His final book, Roman law in European history (Cambridge University Press, 1996) analyzes how Roman law has influenced European political thought and institutions.

 In 1974, Stein was elected a Fellow of the British Academy. On 20 April 1993, he was appointed an honorary Queen’s Counsel. In 2001, he became an Honorary Fellow of the American Society for Legal History. He was also foreign Fellow of the Italian National Academy (Lincei) and the Royal Belgian Academy and received honorary doctorates from the universities of Göttingen, Ferrara, Aberdeen, Perugia and Paris II (Panthéon-Assas). A fuller biography can be found at the Squire Law Library.