The story

Corpus Juris Civilis Timeline

  • 527 - 565

  • 529

    The first part of Justinian's Code, the Codex Justinianus, is released and immediately adopted across the Byzantine Empire.

  • Dec 533

    The Digestum and Institutiones parts of Justinian's Code are released which supersedes all previous laws across the Byzantine Empire.

  • Dec 534

    Justinian's Code, which is the basis of law across the Byzantine Empire, is amended and updated.

Civil law: History

The law that had been in force throughout the Roman Empire when it controlled most of Europe and the Middle East was to some extent supplanted by Germanic laws when Germanic tribes carried out their great conquests. The principle of personal (as opposed to territorial) law was observed by the invaders, however, and thus the former Roman subjects and their descendants were permitted to follow the Roman law (leges romanorum) in their affairs with one another. The great Corpus Juris Civilis of Justinian, compiled in the 6th cent. AD and in use in the Byzantine Empire, served also to keep the old law alive. The medieval church, too, was an important guardian of Roman law, for much of the law used by the church was based upon Roman principles and concepts. Germanic law, although at first adequate, did not have legal concepts that suited the commercial requirements of the late Middle Ages, and there was then heavy borrowing of Roman ideas.

As part of a concurrent revival of interest in classical culture, the late 11th and the 12th cent. saw the resumption of systematic study of Roman law, chiefly in N Italy (notably at Bologna, where Irnerius gave the first lectures in Roman law), in S France, and in Spain. Extensive glosses and commentaries on the Corpus Juris Civilis and on other classical texts were produced. Through the agency of scholars and of judges trained in Roman law principles, these principles (though strongly modified) came to be observed in national courts in all classes of legal disputes, although for a long time courts of local jurisdiction continued to enforce customary law. Scholars of Roman law enjoyed increasing prestige by 1500 the Corpus Juris Civilis had become the basis of legal science throughout Western Europe. The next step, emulating the systematizing of Justinian, was to state these principles in exact, ordered form, i.e., as a code. The Code Napoléon (1804), the most famous of such works, had many successors.

In England there was some interest in Roman law during the Renaissance there, however, the early centralization of the legal system and the existence of an independent class of lawyers with an interest in the law as administered in the courts ensured the triumph of the common law. Nevertheless, civil law influenced the common law in the fields of admiralty law, testamentary law, and domestic relations, and civil law became part of the basis for the system of equity.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Law: Divisions and Codes

The Corpus Iuris Civilis of Justinian

The Byzantine Empire was the continuation of the Eastern Roman Empire: its capital was Constantinople, the modern-day Istanbul. Important parts of the Byzantine Empire were located in the Anatolian peninsula (modern Turkey).

Between 529 and 534, Justinian I (the most famous Byzantine Emperor) issued the Corpus Juris Civilis. The Corpus Juris Civilis is the first main and wide-spread codification of Roman Law. It has been widely used as a basis for Continental European Law, especially in the Middle-Age. This code indirectly influenced numerous modern legal systems.

Picture: Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was built by Justinian I.

The division of the Corpus Juris Civilis (“Body of Law”): The work as planned had three parts:

The Code (Codex): a compilation, by selection and extraction, of imperial enactments to date. It was the first part to be finished, on 7 April 529. It contained most of the existing imperial constitutiones (imperial pronouncements having force of law), back to the time of Emperor Hadrian (76-138). It used both the Codex Theodosianus and the fourth-century collections embodied in the Codex Gregorianus and Codex Hermogenianus, which provided the model for division into books that were themselves divided into titles. These works had developed authoritative standing. The first edition is now lost, a second edition was issued in 534 and is the text that has survived. At least the second edition contained some of Justinian’s own legislation, including some legislation in Greek.

The Digest (Pandects): an encyclopedia composed of mostly brief extracts from the writings of Roman jurists. It was completed in 533 as a collection of juristic writings, mostly dating back to the second and third centuries. Fragments were taken out of various legal treaties and opinions to be inserted into the Digest.

The Institutes (Institutiones): a student textbook, mainly introducing the Code, although it has important conceptual elements that are less developed in the Code or the Digest. The Institutiones are largely based on the Institutiones of Gaius. Two thirds of the Institutiones of Justinian consist of literal quotes from Gaius. The new Institutiones were used as a manual for jurists in training from 21 November 533 and were given the authority of law on 30 December along with the Digest.

All three parts were given force of law. They were intended to be the sole source of law: reference to any other source, including the original texts from which the Code and the Digest had been taken, was forbidden. Thanks to this, the law was clearer and more effective. The work was directed by Tribonian, an official in Justinian’s court. His team was authorized to edit what they included. How far they made amendments is not recorded and, in the main, cannot be known because most of the originals have not survived.

A last part was later added: the Novellae. The Novellae were the new laws that were passed after 534, They were later re-worked into the Syntagama, a practical lawyer’s edition by Athanasios of Emesa (a Byzantine jurist from Homs in Syria) during the years 572-577.

Picture: the Justinian Code

After the Early Middle Ages, the Corpus Juris Civilis was often imitated as private law by most European continental states and its public law content was quarried for arguments by both secular and ecclesiastical authorities. This revived Roman law became the foundation of law in all civil law jurisdiction. The provisions of the Corpus Juris Civilis influenced also the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church and European kings such as the French one for example, used it to legitimate the basis of the absolute monarchy in France or the power of the Holy Roman Emperors. It also notably strongly inspired the Napoleonic Code in France. However, its influence on common law legal systems has been much smaller.

But in any case, it continues to have a major influence on public international law and constitutes the foundation documents of the Western legal tradition.


Justinian I (482-565), also known as Saint Justinian the Great in the Eastern Orthodox Church, was the Eastern Roman emperor, later known as the Byzantine Empire (ancestor of modern Turkey), from 527 to 565. During his reign, he sought to retrieve the empire’s greatness and reconquer the lost western half of the historical Roman Empire. His general, Belisarius, swiftly conquered the Vandal Kingdom in North Africa. Subsequently, Belisarius, Narses, and other generals conquered the Ostrogothic kingdom, restoring Dalmatia, Sicily, Italy and Rome to the empire after more than half a century of rule by the Ostrogoths. These campaigns re-established Roman control over the western Mediterranean, increasing the Empire’s annual revenue. During his reign, Justinian also subdued the Tzani, a people on the east coast of the Black Sea that had never been under Roman rule before. Justinian’s reign has also been marked by a blossoming of the Byzantine culture: his building program yielded masterpieces such as the Church of Hagia Sophia. But Justinian’s biggest contribution to was his Corpus Juris Civilis, a legal document that still influence modern law all around the world, centuries after its first edition.


Justinian from the Eastern Roman Empire attempts to wrest control of major portions of the western empire, including the reconquest of Rome.

Justinian commissions a uniform rewriting of Roman law, 529 CE, supervised by Tribonian 529–534 CE – and to be known through the ages as “the Justinian Code” Corpus Juris Civilis (Body of Civil Law).

The title Corpus Juris Civilis sounds magisterial, but unfortunately it incorporates, as well, severe restrictions and discriminations against the Jews (“Servitus Judaeorum”). Thus, about two hundred years after the Roman Empire began morphing to Christianity, anti–Judaism now gets enshrined into Roman law itself.

These now–codified [Church-inspired] Roman Empire discriminations, [“they (the Jews) shall enjoy no honors”] would severely impact Jews throughout Europe for many hundreds of years. Among other abominations, using Hebrew at all was forbidden and reciting the core–prayer the Shema (“Hear O, Israel, the Lord is our god, the Lord is One…”) was totally banned in particular. Among its more Machiavellian features: A Jew who converted to Christianity was entitled to inherit his or her father’s estate, to the exclusion of the still–Jewish siblings.

1 Answer 1

That is, it seems self-evident that at the source Justinian and his lawyers would have had a single book-shelf filled with the entire collection? But after that it gets complicated and sketchy for quite some time.

From its creation until centuries later the number of manuscripts used, compiled, in circulation was indeed quite manifold. Not least because of its sheer size. No 'original edition' survives and the very concept "corpus" indicates a small library of texts.

The surviving manuscripts are of course fragmentary the older they get and different parts of this corpus had a very markedly different popularity, leading to a different rate of adoption in various parts of the Byzantine Empire – with Italy being sufficiently divergent at the time to take the longest – and otehr parts of the old Roman world and after. As the Byzantine sphere of direct control retracted again, the spread of Justianianic texts slowed down even further.

Only in the high middle ages can we see renewed interest and rediscoveries that slowly lead to more comprehensive collections – of parts – that glacially approached a somewhat canonical edition of original material that by then had to be partially reconstructed already.

even if Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics had never been found. But it is unthinkable that a science of law could have taken shape in the medieval West without the rediscovery of Justinian’s Digest, about 1070 AD. The central monument of ancient Roman jurisprudence presented a model and a challenge to the medieval mind for which the eleventh-century reader was rather ill-prepared. To be sure, relics of the imposing structure of the laws of Rome existed … Lombard Italy and the formerly Byzantine regions of the peninsula had preserved portions of Justinian’s Code (Codex Justinianus), his elementary Institutiones, and an abridged Latin version of his Greek Novellae (the Epitome Juliani).
–– Stephan Kuttner: "The Revival of Jurisprudence", in: Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century, ed. by Robert L. Benson and Giles Constable (Cambridge, Mass., 1982), pp. 299–300.

The errors for Bamberg Jur. 1, Turin D.III.13, and Paris 4421 have already been noted, and the same tendency toward excessively early attributions can be seen in the other manuscripts Krüger listed. The Monte Cassino manuscript, which was reconstructed out of leaves later used to bind other manuscripts, today is more correctly attributed to the second half of the eleventh century. Vercelli 122, a manuscript of the Epitome Juliani of the Novels with excerpts of the Institutes and the Code, turns out to be another manuscript in minuscula romanesca, which Supino attributed to the mid-eleventh century. In contrast, the datings for Bamberg Jur. 2 and Cologne 328 change little: the Bamberg manuscript would be more properly described as XIex./XIIin., that is, within 25 years of 1100, while Cologne 328 is perhaps slightly later, from the early twelfth century. The attribution of the Verona fragment to the sixth century and the Berlin excerpt to the ninth are correct.

Even as Krüger was finishing his edition of the Institutes, he was turning his attention to Justinian’s Code. This work posed far more complex problems than the rest of Justinian’s codification. Except for a lengthy but still very partial palimpsest preserved at Verona, there were no ancient manuscripts comparable to F that might anchor an edition. Nor were the manuscripts from the medieval universities as complete as those of the Institutes, for they omitted all constitutions in Greek, most of the inscriptions and subscriptions stating the legislative circumstances for the individual laws, and books nine through twelve (which were transmitted separately as the Tres Libri). Nor was it even apparent how the vulgata manuscripts related to one another — an essential point for the Lachmann method — since they did not even agree on the order of presenting the constitutions. Krüger concluded that the university-era manuscripts, rather than having a direct lineage with antique manuscripts, instead derived from a shortened version of the Code, known as the Epitome Codicis, that survived in a handful of earlier manuscripts: evidently medieval scholars had taken the Epitome as a base text, reinserting previously omitted materials until they had reconstructed (with some errors) Justinian’s original text. He proposed, therefore, to concentrate on the manuscripts of the Epitome Codicis, relying on a small selection of the earliest manuscripts of the restored version to fill in the missing details.

The earliest evidence for the Epitome Codicis, therefore, is no earlier than the mid-eleventh century — the period of the earliest manuscripts and when it began to be used by Lombardist jurists. It is, indeed, to them that the creation of the Epitome must be ascribed. For them, as for no other group since the sixth century, the legal language of the Code would not have posed an insurmountable obstacle: experienced in applying and teaching law, they would have understood how important it was to preserve the precise language of every enactment. As laymen who lacked access to a monastic scriptorium, and who seem often to have copied books for their own use, they also would have needed something shorter than the original. In contrast to the Institutes, Justinian’s Code is an enormous work. The first nine books of the Code total roughly 340,000 words, while all twelve contain 420,000 words. Such magnitudes dwarf the other books used by these jurists: the Liber Legis Langobardorum without glosses is less than 60,000 words, about the size of Justinian’s Institutes, while the Walcausina with its extensive glosses totals just under 100,000 words. Seen in this context, extracting the constitutions of the greatest interest or with the most important practical implications represented a reasonable compromise between the intellectual interests of the jurists and the resources available to them for copying books in the middle decades of the eleventh century.

The manuscripts discussed in this book include several that rank among the most challenging of all medieval manuscripts. Written by multiple scribes, some of whom had elementary abilities or wrote with documentary scripts, manuscripts such as the Pistoia Epitome, Berlin 273, or even — in other ways — the Vat. lat. 1406 pose exceptional problems to anyone attempting to understand when, how, and by whom they were produced. One cannot be surprised that nineteenth-century scholars made mistakes dealing with them. It is less easy to understand how their errors came to be perpetuated so long. The absence of citations should have been a warning to anyone who thought about it: works that are studied are cited, even in the Middle Ages. In fact, as we have seen, the works of Justinian’s Corpus—with the exception always of the Novels—were virtually unknown between the sixth and the eleventh centuries. Early medieval manuscripts of these works amount to no more than two fragments of the Institutes, one of which also contained an unknown quantity of the Digest not even that much survives for the Code. Evidence that these works were discussed at all is hardly more substantial, consisting mainly of a few unsystematic collections and a handful of elementary citations, mainly in papal letters from the third quarter of the ninth century.

This situation began to change only in the late tenth and early eleventh century. Indications that the Justinianic books were starting to find readers come from a number of directions: a few arengae from Ravenna, the Summa Perusina in and around Rome, the Bamberg Institutes, again from Rome. A different level of engagement, however, is apparent in the increasingly expert references to the Corpus found in the works of the professional jurists centered on the old Lombard capital of Pavia. One sees the use of the Institutes already in the generation of Bonifilius, whose first appearance in the documentary record comes from the 1010s by the 1040s the Code had also been taken up and while it is harder to be certain about the Digest a date around mid-century could not be far off. To judge from citations of the Corpus, such as the Marturi plea or the glosses in the Expositio and Walcausina, these studies went beyond collecting maxims and definitions to a systematic examination of Roman rules and procedures.

The role of these legal professionals in the history of Justinian’s works goes a long way toward explaining some of the most unusual features of the manuscripts. As laymen lacking ready access to organized scriptoria and large numbers of trained copyists, these early jurists often had to copy books themselves—either individually or in groups. The longest of Justinian’s texts, the Code and the Digest, were several times longer than the Lombard laws even with their commentaries: so long that they may simply have overtaxed the means for producing books for study. In response to this problem, the judges contented themselves with the Epitome Codicis, a collection of the laws most important to them that was expanded over time as new materials were extracted by return visits to the ancient manuscripts. We saw in chapter six that something similar may also have been done with the Digest.

The key text in this early period seems to have been the Code. Although it is a text that can seem sterile to us, eleventh-century jurists seem to have found endless fascination in it, perhaps in part because as a compendium of legislation it corresponded so closely to their manuscripts of Lombard law. It is the most cited work in the Expositio and the work for which we possess the greatest number of early manuscripts. The manuscripts also capture the intensity of scholarly work applied to the Code: the layers on layers of supplements and glosses that upwards of 40 hands applied to the Pistoia Epitome Codicis within a few decades the multiple reconstructions of the integral Code, witnessing the efforts of groups in different regions the fifteen copyists of Berlin ms. 273 the daring recasting of the entire format of the text represented by Montpellier ms. 82. The lack of interest in the history of the Code in the eleventh century must therefore be counted among the most serious failures of historians dealing with the juristic renaissance.

Given the feverish study of Justinian’s texts in the third quarter of the eleventh century, it is not surprising the discipline itself soon underwent a significant transformation. The restoration of the Code and the first manuscripts of the Digest both seem to date from the 1070s and 1080s. No less significant, perhaps, is the absence of work dedicated to the Lombard law that can be attributed to the 1080s or later. Taken together, these trends suggest that the energy, expertise, and personnel which had developed in previous decades was turning more exclusively to Roman law, the “hot topic” of the moment. As is typical with anything concerning the history of legal studies, too little narrative evidence survives for us to be able to trace this process in any detail: these were not men who wrote about themselves or each other, and the earliest surviving efforts to tell the story of these events were the self-serving and mythologizing comments of thirteenth-century Bolognese masters. Yet for our more limited purpose of tracing the history that created the medieval texts of Justinian’s books, the decades around 1100 marks an appropriate conclusion. Later scholars continued to suggest emendations and note collations, and it may not have been until the mid-twelfth century that the separation of the Tres Libri from the Code and the divisions of the Digest were completely stable. But they were working with texts that derive directly from manuscripts similar to those discussed in this book, and within a disciplinary context that had largely taken shape in the second half of the eleventh century.

–– Charles M. Radding & Antonio Ciaralli: "The Corpus Iuris Civilis in the Middle Ages. Manuscripts and Transmission from the Sixth Century to the Juristic Revival", Brill’s Studies in Intellectual History 147, Brill: Leiden, Boston, 2007.

DipLawMatic Dialogues

The Legal History & Rare Book Special Interest Section and the FCIL-SIS Roman Law Interest Group had a joint meeting on July 21 st to hear a fantastic talk on researching the Corpus Juris Civilis (CJC) by Fred Dingledy, Senior Reference Librarian at William and Mary Law.

Fred began by giving a history of the CJC, starting with Emperor Justinian I appointing the Codex commission in 528. He continued by providing a description of and the timeline for the development of each of the four components of the CJC:
1) the Institutes: the textbook for first year law students, and which also had binding legal effect
2) the Digest: the compilation of writings of jurists from the late Roman Republic to the early third century AD
3) the Codex: the compilation of excerpts from imperial constitutiones and
4) the Novels: posthumous compilations of Justinian I’s constitutiones.
Fred also noted the organizational problems of the CJC, which can make it difficult to research.

Fred then explained about the medieval revival of CJC, and the subsequent translations of each of the four components of the CJC. He discussed the pros and cons of the various translations, and provided attendees with an annotated bibliography noting how to find those translations. Sources for various translations of each of the CJC’s components are available at online sources like Hein Online or for free at the Internet Archive. Want to read the whole CJC in the original Latin? Check out the edition by Krueger et al., which is considered to be the most authoritative version.

Finally, Fred talked about the relevance of the CJC through the Anglo-American English tradition, as the CJC was also very influential on many continental European legal codes scholars such as Francis Bacon, John Adams, and William & Mary’s own George Wythe discussed it or cited it in their works. Fred also noted that it was cited as recently as 1997 in a U.S. Supreme Court case, Idaho v. Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Idaho, 521 U.S. 261, 284 (1997).

Many thanks to Fred for a very interesting talk, filled with fun anecdotes.

Compare And Contrast Legalism And Confucianism

Confucius lived in a period of time, which featured in Chinese history of philosophy "Hundred Schools of Thought". It is a period of time in Chinese history that philosophers, thinkers and the schools they were identified with flourished from the 6th century to 221 B.C., the year when the State of Qin united China under the First Emperor of China. One hallmark of their teachings, which were markedly different from the teachings of their contemporaries in Ancient Greek, was manifested in the fact that they were all attempting to provide practical and applicable solutions to the social and political crises they all were confronted with. For example, legalists promoted strict application of the law, arguing that punishments should be severe and definite so that the people will fear them. Confucius took a diametrically opposite approach from the legalists.

Legal Proceedings

An accusation and case is brought up prior to the Synkletos, then voted on at Synkletos and then decides a time and date for the trial. All evidence is withheld until the court session starts and the defendant pleads “not guilty” on the stand.

When the trial ends, the Imperator and his court must decide unanimously on a verdict.

Court trials can last any number of days, but only one session can be held per day. A session is 60 minutes long, with two 20 minute halves and a 20 minute break between.

Constitutional Laws are laws enacted by the Imperator which can not be changed.

Codified laws and records of trials will be published here.

Corpus Juris Civilis

Le prêt à intérêt était pratiqué par tous les peuples de l’Antiquité préchrétienne, à l’exception du peuple d'Israël. L'auteur examine d'abord l'interdiction du prêt à intérêt dans l'Ancien Testament. Il expose ensuite la pratique du prêt à intérêt en Grèce, avant de détailler les critiques d'Aristote. Enfin, l’auteur retrace l’évolution du prêt (mutuum) et de la réglementation de l’intérêt à Rome, des origines à Constantin. Il met l’accent sur trois grandes controverses parmi les romanistes modernes (XVIe-XXIe s.) : sur le nexum, sur la centesima et, surtout, sur le mystérieux fenus unciarium, le taux d’intérêt fixé par les Douze Tables : l'éventail des interprétations va de 1 à 100 % par an ! L’auteur recense les opinions de plus de 400 juristes et historiens, discute les plus importantes et propose sa conclusion.

The loan at interest was used by all the peoples of pre-Christian Antiquity, excepting the people of Israel. The author first focuses on the prohibition of lending at interest in the Old Testament. He then explores the use of loans at interest in Greece before examining Aristotle’s criticism. Eventually, the author follows the evolution of loan (mutuum) and interest regulation in Rome, from the origins to Constantine. Three great controversies among modern Roman law scholars (16th-21th centuries) are considered: nexum, centesima and above all, the mysterious fenus unciarium, the interest rate defined par the Twelve Tables, for which the range of interpretations varies between 1 and 100% per year! The author gives an inventory of more than 400 opinions expressed by jurists and historians, discusses the most important ones and suggests a solution.

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as '. juris civilis. fol.' and given by Thomas Jefferson to James Dinsmore. While the precise title and work are unknown, it is highly likely that Jefferson's notation refers to a copy of Corpus Juris Civilis. Brown's Bibliography Δ] includes the 1726, 2 volume, folio edition based in part on the copy Jefferson sold to the Library of Congress. Ε] George Wythe's Library Ζ] on LibraryThing notes "Precise work/edition unknown. Possibly an edition of Denis Godefroy's Corpus juris civilis." The Wolf Law Library moved a copy of the 1663 Amsterdam edition from the general rare books collection to the George Wythe Collection.

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Watch the video: Corpus Juris Civilis (January 2022).