The idea of the Commons reflects a time before private ownership became the touchstone of social value and significance. In Athenian Democracy it was held as both an obligation and endowment by those who demanded both private rights and public responsibilities as the condition of their citizenship. The Commons was later referred to in The Institutes of Justinian, a grand summation of Roman Law, as res communes, the common inheritances protected as an entitlement for all citizens. These included "those things common to mankind – the air, the running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea.”
In 1215, the Magna Carta recognized forests and fisheries as res communes, and it is for this reason that, even through the Dark Ages in Europe, the idea of the Commons persisted as those shared lands reserved for all those known collectively as “Commoners”.
Despite what we see today in the United States, the authors of the American Constitution did bring the idea of the Commons to the New World. They began their Constitution with the clearly expressed desire to “promote the general welfare” and it was in this abiding spirit that “Commonwealths” were established and, in towns both large and small, a central area called “The Commons” was preserved for cultural celebration, arts, and public demonstration.