No single factor has had a more significant effect on the ebbs and flows of history than water. Water creates civilizations, and water brings them to extinction. Even today, thousands of years after we learned to harness the power of water, we continue to struggle in determining how to prioritize competing uses of water resources, how to make water available to all who need it, and how to protect it. Yet, these are questions that humans have faced since as long as history dares to recollect.
What factors guide civilizations in their decision whether, and to what extent, to regulate and protect inland waterways? This article looks at four legal codes from three distinct civilizations: From the Romans, The Institutes of Gaius and the Corpus Juris Civilis; from the Visigoth Kingdom, the Visigothic Code; and from the English, Magna Carta. This article proposes that, perhaps more so than inherited Roman tradition, two sets of factors influenced the extent to which these codes protected inland waterways: perceptions of water resource abundance and the propensity for navigability and trade of these civilizations’ inland waterways.