Every system of laws recognizes a fundamental division of property into real and personal, or into movable and immovable. Although the exact dividing line between the two classes is a variable one in different systems, still in general rights over land and those things annexed to the land fall into one class, and the possession of movable articles into another. The very technical rules governing the exact extent of real property at common law will be considered in Volume Six of this series.

Personal property is older than real property. The stone hatchet and the rude canoe are considered the personal property of their owner long before anyone attempts to appropriate land to his exclusive use. Personal property, however, long remains of little importance; until a country has reached a comparatively high stage of commercial development the only kinds of personal property of importance are cattle and weapons, and the necessary legal principles for the regulation of the ownership of these articles are few and simple. The law of real property, on the other hand, becomes of the most vital importance, as soon as the ownership of this species of property is recognized at all. There is a long period in the economic development of every race, when practically the sole occupation open to the mass of the community is that of agriculture. As in every locality population tends rapidly to outstrip the supply of available land, the ownership, and the laws governing the ownership of real property, become of the most vital importance. The history of the development of the English law of real property will be treated in detail under the subject of legal history.