Capitis Dimunitio “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “capitis diminutio” are taken from Ballantine’s Law Dictionary (3rd edition) and Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition):

 

 

(Ballantine’s)

Capitis diminuito maxima: a complete loss of civil status.

Capitis diminuito media: a partial loss of civil status.

Capitis diminuito minima: a slight loss of civil status.

 

(Black’s)

In Roman law, a diminishing or abridgment of personality. This was a loss or curtailment of a man’s status or aggregate of legal attributes and qualifications, following upon certain changes in his civil condition. It was of three kinds, enumerated as follows:

  • Capitis diminuito maxima: the highest or most comprehensive loss of status. This occurred when a man’s condition was changed from one of freedom to one of bondage, when he became a slave. It swept away with it all rights of citizenship and all family rights.
  • Capitis diminuito media: a lesser or medium loss of status. This occurred where a man lost his rights of citizenship, but without losing his liberty. It carried away also the family rights.
  • Capitis diminuito minima: the lowest or least comprehensive degree of loss of status. This occurred where a man’s family relations alone were changed. It happened upon the arrogation of a person who had been his own master, (sui juris,) or upon the emancipation of one who had been under the patria potestas. It left the rights of liberty and citizenship unaltered [see Inst. 1, 16, pr.; 1, 2, 3; Dig. 4, 5, 11; Mackeld. Rom. Law § 144].
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