This section is from the book "Popular Law Library Vol1 Introduction To The Study Of Law Legal History", by Albert H. Putney. Also see: Popular Law-Dictionary.
The early Roman legal actions were elaborate and symbolic. The important forms of actions were four in number: (1) legis actio per sacramentum; (2) legis actio per judicis postulationem; (3) legis actio per manus interjectionem, and (4) legis actio per pignoris capionem.
The legis actio per sacramentum was an elaborate mock battle for the possessions of the article in dispute, accompanied by each party putting up a certain sum as a wager, known as a sacramentum, as to the justness of his side of the controversy. A judex was appointed to hear the case, and the form of his decision was as to the sacramentum, the winning party receiving back his sacramentum, while that of the losing party went to the State in the nature of court costs. The decision as to the sacramentum, of course, carried with it the decision of the real question in issue.
The actio per judicis postulationem was a later action than that per sacramentum, and possessed many advantages over it. There was no sacramentum required, the demand need not necessarily be for a fixed sum, and there was no fixed minimum amount which must be involved. The case was decided by arbitrators appointed by the magistrate.
The two remaining forms of legis actiones, were rather forms of execution than of law suits. Under that of per manus injectionem, either the property or the person of the debtor could be taken to satisfy the debt. The laws governing the sale into slavery of an insolvent debtor were at first very harsh, but were later greatly modified. The action per pignoris capi-onem, corresponded roughly to the common law action of distress and was only allowed in a few cases.