Empyteusis started in the early Roman Empire. It was initially granted by the state for the purposes of agriculture or development. In essence it was a long-term lease of an imperial domain for a rental in kind. The title existing before emphyteusis was ius in agro vectigali. The emphyteusis gave the lease-holder (emphyteuta) rights similar to those of a proprietor, although the real owner remained the person to whom the rent (canon or pensio) was paid. The tenant gained most of the rights of the owner. Accordingly, he could maintain actio vectigalis in rem against any one to recover possession of the land thus leased. Under certain circumstances, the land returned to the owner, as in the case of the death of the emphyteuta intestate, non-payment of the rent or taxes for three years (or two years in case of land held of the Church), lapse of time if a term was fixed in the original agreement, contractus emphyteuseos, which was a specific contract and neither an ordinary lease nor a sale. The rights of the emphyteuta embraced the full use of the land and its products and were alienable and transferable by testament or ab intestato.
Emphyteusis is still in use in countries such as Canada, Portugal,France, Italy, and Malta and, until relatively recently, in Scotland.