Tag Archives: Ancient law

Democracy in ancient Athens

These weeks one of the books I am reading discusses the first democracy. Last year Antoon van Hooff, a scholar who taught at Nijmegen, published Athene. Het leven van de eerste democratie [Athens. The life of the first democracy] (Amsterdam 2011; third impression 2012). Although aimed at a Dutch public, Van Hooff shows not only British scholars know how to write about Classical Antiquity for the largest possible audience. Reading his study I realized it would be interesting to look at new sources and publications on ancient democracy. In this post I am happy to benefit from the riches offered at The Ancient World Online – abbreviated as AWOL – by Charles Jones of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (New York University), a blog offering a wealth of information on new projects and publications in this vast field. Here I take the liberty of choosing rather at random postings in 2012 at this veritable treasure trove.

Pioneering democracy

Dēmos: Classical Greek Democracy is a project led by Christopher W. Blackwell which figured at AWOL in March 2012. Van Hooff mentions it in his book, too. This project aims at creating an online encyclopedia about the Athenian democracy. The project website is part of the Stoa Consortium. Among the features are translations of ancient Greeks texts, and notably a series of lectures given at the Center for Hellenic Studies of Harvard University on “Athenian Law in its Democratic Context”. Michael de Brauw contributes a glossary of Athenian legal terms.

In July 2012 Jones published a notice about another project led by Blackwell for a new edition of the papyrus with the so-called Constitution of the Athenians of Aristotle (London, British Museum, Pap. 131). Images of this papyrus can be viewed at a website of the Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina. The accompanying website brings you much more, including the classic commentary by J.E. Sandy and word lists.

Ostrakon with the name of Cimon

Ostrakon with the name of Cimon, 486 or 461 BC – Athens, Ancient Agora Museum

In the ostracism, the procedure to ban people whose power the Athenians wanted to curb, ostraca were used, potsherds with the names of politicians to be banned. These potsherds are among the most visually speaking objects concerning the Athenian democracy. Van Hooff does not fail to tell again the touching story of Aristeides – reported by Plutarch – who helped an opponent to write his name on a ostrakon. In January 2012 AWOL reported briefly on the new Berliner Papyrusdatenbank where you will also find ostraca from the collections of the Staatliche Museen Berlin. In June 2012 Jones wrote about a project of the universities of Halle, Jena and Leipzig for cataloguing and digitizing their papyri and ostraca. Ostraca are found elsewhere, too, not only in Athens. Roger S. Bagnall and Giovanni Raffall have published ostraca from Trimithis, an Egyptian village. At AWOL I found an announcement of the digital version of the edition by Hélène Cuvigny of ostraka found at Didymoi in Egypte.

Greek inscriptions can be found also online in the digital version of the Inscriptiones Graecae and other source editions, a project of the Packhard Humanities Institute. You can find the Inscriptiones Graecae also separately in a digital version provided by the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Ostraca are in particular present in the section Kerameikos III, Inschriften, Ostraka, Fluchtafeln, from the edition by Werner Peek (Berlin 1941; reprint 1974). The website of the Center for the Study of Ancient Documents at Oxford offers an extensive selection of online resources concerning classical epigraphy. At Duke University you will find an online list of editions of papyri, ostraca and tablets. In the section on ostraca and tablets you will find a great variety of texts. I did not immediately spot an edition of ostraka from Athens. Among the editions and studies are Mitteilungen aus dem Kerameikos. I. Ostraka, Alfred Brückner (ed.) (Athens 1915), Ostraka, Mabel L. Lang (ed.) (Princeton N.J., 1990; The Athenian Agora, 25), Stefan Brenne’s study Ostrakismos und Prominenz in Athen: attische Bürger des 5. Jahrhunderts. v. Chr. auf den Ostraka (Vienna 2001), and Ostrakismos-Testimonien, I: Die Zeugnisse antiker Autoren, der Inschriften und Ostraka über das athenische Scherbengericht aus vorhellenistischer Zeit, 487-322 v. Chr., Peter Siewert et alii (eds.) (Stuttgart 2002). Van Hooff remarks that ostracism was exercised in Athens only fifteen times between 487 and 417.

Imagining ancient Athens is made easier by a new virtual tour of the Acropolis, a website announced at AWOL on November 1, 2012. In his announcement Jones point also to the information about the geography of ancient Athens gathered at Pleaides, a website of his own institute and the Ancient World Mapping Center (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

Digital Antiquity

A lot of websites and blogs cover current research in the field of Classical Antiquity. The Digital Classicist is one of these blogs, which will lead you to several partner projects. For the congress calender of this blog I can find information for ancient history at websites such as Ius Civile and Compitum. In fact the versatile use of information technology in many forms should gain your admiration for the perseverance and great creativity of scholars studying ancient societies. Those scholars devoting also time to creating attention for such inventive projects on their blogs merit our gratitude for their efforts! In this short post I have only shown a few examples of much more which you can discover and enjoy for yourself and others. Even finding your road and choosing the means of transportation in Classical Antiquity is not forgotten. The ORBIS website of Stanford University will help you gaining insight into aspects of daily life which have relevance for legal history, too.

As for reading about the Athenian democracy, Van Hooff rightly reminds his readers that exactly this particular form of democracy has not always inspired modern Western democracies. One of the merits of revisiting familiar stamping grounds is to get more conscious of the different possible approaches to the Classics during the centuries. The twentieth century saw a number of shifts in attention and perspectives. Two decades ago appeared Christian Meier’s Athen. Ein Neubeginn der Weltgeschichte [Athens. A new start of the world’s history] (Berlin 1993). Classical Antiquity still has the power to be a mirror for contemporary society, and this is surely not restricted to works by British or American scholars.

A new forum on ancient Greek law

Logo of the DEGRIAC Forum

This week I received information from Emiliano J. Buis (Buenos Aires) about a new platform for the study of ancient Greek law, the Grupo de Trabajo sobre Derecho Griego Arcaico y Clásico y sus Proyecciones, abbreviated DEGRIAC. The new platform for the study of archaic and classical Greek law and its influence has been launched by the Instituto de Investigaciones en Historia del Derecho, the National Research Institute on Legal History in the capital of Argentina. The objective of this research group is to study ancient Greek law in its original sources and their impact from several disciplines. Buis teaches both at the law faculty and the Department of Classics of the Universidad de Buenos Aires. Theoretical aspects will get attention, too, in view of the historiography on ancient Greek law. One of the aims is to look at the laws of ancient Greek city states in a diachronic way and to study the tensions between aiming at justice and actual juridical practice in Athens and other cities. The DEGRIAC group invites scholars to participate, but first of all ideas, suggestions and help are welcome. You can reach Emiliano Buis in his function of coordinator at the mail address degriac@gmail.com. Good luck to this initiative from Argentina!

Rivista di Diritto Ellenico, a new e-journal for ancient Greek law

A few days ago the French legal history blog Nomôdos, the twin sister of the e-journal Clio@Themis, announced the first issue of the Rivista di Diritto Ellenico, a journal devoted to the study of ancient Greek law.

Logo Rivista di Diritto Ellenico This new journal is edited by scholars at Torino, Isernia and Verona. The Rivista di Diritto Ellenico is published in open access, but there is a connection with the publishing firm Edizioni dell’Orso in Alessandria. The first issue of the Rivista di Diritto Ellenico contains eleven articles and seven book reviews. The translation in Italian of an article from 1963 by Hans-Julius Wolff, ‘Verjährung von Ansprüchen nach Attischen Recht’, is a service which could very well be inspired by the translation into French of classic articles in each issue of Clio@Themis. All contributions in the first issue are in Italian. However, the editors invite authors to submit articles in Italian, English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish and modern Greek. You can send email to the editors at this address.

In the section Rara et dissertationes you will find digitized versions of articles and theses which are difficult to trace; at this moment you will find just two items. The Foglio Giusgrecistico is the news bulletin of the review, with announcements of conferences and details on the contents of new publications. The section Collana announces the republication of Diritto greco antico by Arnaldo Biscardi (Milano 1982). In the links section you can download either as a PDF or as a text document a useful commented list of links for the study of ancient Greek law.

The creation of a new platform for scholars working in the field of legal history is an enterprise for which the founders need great courage, stamina and discernment. The choice for an e-journal in open access seems a promising one. Let’s hope the editors and all people involved with the Rivista di Diritto Ellenico succeed in making this new e-journal a success!

Open the gates! Digitized journals on legal history

Talking and writing about digital libraries can be hampered by very different views about the making, form and contents of a digital library. Nowadays we take a digitized catalogue for granted, and almost every library has a website with online access to its catalogue, sometimes even to several catalogues. Some digital libraries define themselves by the variety of social media which they use. Tweets and blog posts, presence on social networks, and even link collections on a separate site are among the possible forms of virtual presence. Law libraries have joined these activities, too. For the interest of visitors of my blog I have brought together a number of blogs by the departments for rare books or special collections of some libraries with important holdings for legal history.

I have often expressed my objective to track as many as possible digital libraries with content in the field of legal history, meaning digitized versions of books and other resources of a library. Law libraries themselves have to face multiple tasks and multiple forms of digitization, and let’s not forget the variety of presentation offered by the vendors of digital library programs. A law library typically offers a number of so-called e-resources, with primarily the major subscribers’ only databases with access to recent jurisprudence, sometimes also similar databases for historical books, an e-repository for the publications of the staff of the law school or law faculty to which they belong, and online access to legal journals, this also often using subscriptions by the library. Very often all these resources can be used also off campus. Law libraries face heavy expenses maintaining the number of journals on paper, but maintaining online access to them, too, is not cheap. Some law libraries offer a number of web guides, too, sometimes in great detail and on many subjects. Creating online exhibitions is also one of the ways of giving digitization its wide scope.  Depending on awareness of user accessibility and user friendliness, the possibilities of a given system, the funding available and the scope and range of a law library it can be clearly indicated which parts are open to all and sundry, which ones can be used only inside the library and which also at home, sometimes even through a special law portal. Those libraries marking the accessibility of their resources or simply briefly describing them instead of only listing them deserve credit for the time and trouble taken to help the visitors of their websites.

How about digital access to journals for legal history? The variety of presentation is daunting , both for the number of back issues accessible and for the wide range of their vicinity to the present. Some journals of venerable standing and a rich tradition are only offered in open access for a very limited number of years, and often only the nineteenth century issues. Other journals with a similar long history can be accessed freely thanks to the legal situation surrounding a journal: if a research institute published itself a journal less copyright issues can be expected to occur. More fundamental is the fact that articles touching legal history are not only published in the major legal history reviews but also elsewhere. It will not do to use only the mainstream journals, but you often have to get hold of a journal which you normally would not read at all.

Legal journals have flourished particularly in Germany. A very welcome selection of them has been digitized at the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main. The first section is concerned with journals between 1900 and 1918, a project for a second section awaited for eagerly aims at the period 1703-1830 and will hopefully be launched in 2013  in cooperation with the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preussische Kulturbesitz. There is more to be found in Germany. Klaus Graf has created a very useful list of websites for digitized scientific journals, one of the most often read posts on his Archivalia blog. The German Wikisource website mentioned by Graf provides a list of digitized legal journals, and similar lists of journals for other disciplines, for example for history. On the list of digitized legal journals you will find apart from the Max-Planck-Institut – which easily dominates this list – mainly a collection at the Universität Bielefeld, a project in which 160 journals from the period of the German Enlightenment (Aufklärung) and other relevant periodicals have been digitized, and digitized journals at the Bibliothek für Bildungsgeschichtliche Forschung of the Deutsches Institut für Internationale Pädagogische Forschung in Berlin. The general German project for the digitization of old scientific journals, DigiZeitschriften, offers only a limited number of issues in open access. Here the bulk of the journals can be accessed only at subscribing libraries or by the cardholders of such libraries. In view of the sheer number of German journals it is clear digitization is expensive, but is it not clear, too, that the phenomenon of German scientific journals dominated science during the nineteenth century, and that therefore conservation and access are important both for historians of science and for those pursuing disciplines building also on accumulated information? One has only to look at the number and variety of Jewish journals from Germany digitized at the Compact Memory website to envisage the role of journals in German society at large.

One of the main gateways to digital journals in open access is offered by Lund University Libraries, the well-known Directory of Open Access Journals. Perhaps less well-known is JURN, a searchable repository for some 4,000 journals. The accompanying blog offers guidance, lots of links to similar initiatives and relevant blogs, and a general guide to free academic search. By the way, OpenDoar, the Directory of Open Access Repositories at the University of Nottingham, is not the only website where you can look for such repositories, but certainly a very useful one. The university library at Regensburg offers an electronic journal library for both open and limited access journals with an interface iu German, English and French. The World Legal Institute has on its website an International Legal Scholarship Library with access to some forty legal journals.

Some countries have decided to create national repositories for the production of scientific journals. SEALS is a Swiss project which has started only recently. Persée is a project for digitizing not only older, but also more recent issues of scientific journals. Revues.org is a French organization offering online access to nearly 300 current scientific journals, with a substantial number of them containing articles not only in French. Some nineteenth-century journals and parliamentary documents in the field of French criminal law are available online through the services of Criminocorpus. Digitized scientific journals can appear in more general collections as well. The Digital Library of Dutch Literature is planning to digitize a number of journals which touch upon the history of Dutch literature, and not only journals dedicated exclusively to Dutch literature.

Legal history with a Dutch view is the subtitle of my blog, and maybe it is appropriate to mention it when pointing to the websites of the International Institute for Social History and of Aletta, formerly the International Study Center for Women’s History, both in Amsterdam. Women’s history is a new subject for this blog, and although I feel ashamed I have not touched this subject before, I am happy it shows up here finally. Aletta has a fine selection of digital scientific journals on women’s history. The IISH has an equally useful selection of weblinks, foremost among them the Virtual Library Women’s History maintained at the IISH, and ViVa Women’s History, an online current bibliography of women’s and gender history. There’s more than only the Women’s Legal History website of Stanford Law School, the great Women’s Legal Biography Project at Stanford, and the IntLawGrrls blog, but today journals are my chosen subject… Surely more lists of a similar kind exist. To round-up the Dutch corner of this post a reference to a journal on Dutch history: the Royal Dutch Historical Society has digitized the years 1970 to 2010 of the Bijdragen en Mededelingen betreffende de Geschiedenis der Nederlanden – Low Countries History Yearbook.

Doing legal history can among other things boil down to have to consult sometimes a very great variety of scientific journals. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the field of ancient history. The presence of a list of digitized scientific journals touching on the whole range of ancient history, from Sumeria to the Roman Empire, including the various auxiliary disciplines – epigraphy, papyrology and much more – is a witness to the proliferation of journals, more than 900 of them available to some extent or completely in a digitized form. Charles Ellwood Jones maintains this list at his blog Ancient World Online. The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, the institution where he works, has also a Facebook page for Ancient Studies with useful announcements of new digital services, such as online bibliographies. A few months ago I wrote about digital papyrology in a post concerning the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and a month ago sources in cuneiform script presented in new ways figured in another post. It can offer you food for thought how scholars doing ancient history seem to embrace modern tools more and more and often to their great benefit. As for now, it seemed useful to bring the rather scattered information on digitized journals relevant to legal history together, but I am sure more is to be found. Additions to this overview are most welcome!

A first postscript

Klaus Graf rightly points to the digitized issues of Ius Commune, the journal published between 1967 and 2001 by the MPI for European Legal History. Some articles of the journal Rechtsgeschichte founded in 2002 can be consulted online, too. It is true this post deals with two kinds of digitized journals, both older journals no longer appearing and more specific early legal journals, and with digital versions of currently appearing journals, some of them available as web-only journals – the e-journal in its purest form -, others presenting online more or less completely back issues of the paper version. There is certainly a need to distinguish between them, but all these varieties are important, either as research objects or as resources for research.

The voice of Hammurabi

Among the oldest existing laws are several codes of law from the Ancient Near East. Surely the most famous of them is the Code of Hammurabi. Since the stele with the text of this Babylonian law was found in 1901 at the spot of the ancient town of Susa several editions of it have been produced, mainly because of later found additional witnesses. Josef Kohler, the famous versatile scholar, first at the University of Würzburg and later in Berlin, started one of the earliest editions of the Code, written in the Akkadian language in cuneiform script, and the young Paul Koschaker worked on the edition of the sixth volume (Hammurabi’s Gesetz (6 vol., Leipzig 1904-1923)) with translated charters and a juridical commentary. This edition – except the second volume – is available online at JScholarship of the Johns Hopkins University. The stele is kept at the Louvre in Paris, and their website offers much about this famous object. Every book on the general history of mankind mentions Hammurabi’s laws.

On the web you can find English translations, for example by W.L. King at a website of the University of Evansville, and in Yale University Law School’s Avalon Project. The Online Library of Liberty has digitized the edition and translation edited by Robert Francis Harper (Chicago 1904). Jean-Pierre Morenon has digitized some French translations. A German translation from 1926 has also been digitized. The most recent edition is by Martha Roth, Law collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor (2n ed., Atlanta, Ga., 1997); a transliteration is provided in Riekele Borger’s Babylonisch-assyrische Lesestücke (3rd ed., 2 vol., Rome 2006). One can use also the edition and translation provided by M.E.J. Richardson, Hammurabi’s Laws. Text, Translation and Glossary (2nd ed., London-New York 2004).

All this can be termed received knowledge, easily retrieved and quickly to find nowadays. Agnes Jonker, a Dutch archivist who contributes often to the Dutch online archival forum maintained by Eric Hennekam, posted on September 30, 2010 a notice on a message of the same date from the University of Cambridge entitled “Gone but not forgotten: Babylonian bounces back” about Dr. Martin Worthington of St. John’s College, Cambridge, and his project of sound recordings of ancient Babylonian and Assyrian poetry and literature. He and fellow Assyriologists have made some thirty recordings which are presented at the website of the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London. Two recordings are concerned with the Code of Hammurabi. Albert Naccache reads the prologue and a number of paragraphs, and Aage Westenholz reads the epilogue and some other fragments.

Hearing a text being read can radically alter your perception of a text. Lately I was asked to give my opinion about the inclusion of biblical texts in booklets for liturgical use. I am inclined not to include them, except when these texts are really difficult to follow, for example because of unclear references to persons in a story or because of an unfamiliar word order in a less often used translation. Reading aloud from the Bible or from a law code is not just presenting information by mouth like in a lecture, but part of a ritual. It is ritual reading, and reading aloud enforces the text and what it represents. Yesterday I saw on the website of the Swiss journal Ancilla Iuris an article from October 2010 by Fabian Steinhauer, ‘To Order Observation – Beobachterin weiter Ordnung’, written in memory of Cornelia Vismann. She would have been the person to expand on this notion. Reading aloud the law gives it a viva vox. Hammurabi’s stele gives a very powerful image of a mighty ancient king, and this is reinforced, even doubled, by listening to the readings from his law. I agree completely with Martin Worthington in giving the pages with the recordings an additional URL, www.speechisfire.com.

Am I right in guessing this news from Cambridge somehow escaped legal historians? Even if I have simply been unaware of it last year I do like to write about it today. Hat tip to Agnes Jonker! When I first read about it on the Dutch archival forum I initially thought about a Fools’ Day joke, but this is definitely serious. Anyway, the website of the SOAS in London provides a lot of supplementary information, including the link to the website Knowledge and Power in the Neo-Assyrian Empire of the Higher Education Academy and the British Museum, where you can learn more about the Akkadian language and cuneiform script, with Hammurabi’s code among the exercises.

Hammurabi’s code in three dimensions

The audio sources for Hammurabi are not the only new form of presentation of this legal text. At Digital Hammurabi, the website of a project of the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md., a tool is presented which would indeed fit in the series from a well-known Californian company which in fact graciously supports iClay, a tool for three-dimensional representation of cuneiform tablets. Depending on your browser and the capacities of the graphic card of your computer you can look at such tablets from many angles. Epigraphy, the auxiliary historical science for the study of inscriptions, could benefit, too, using this kind of tool. One of the results of the project is a standard for computer encoding of Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform, included in 2006 into Unicode 5.0. The Electronic Tools and Ancient Near East Archives (ETANA) with its own digital library is one of the best websites to look for more information about Hammurabi and his laws. The Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative of the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, will help you to learn more about the cuneiform script.

Switched off?

Did you make your list of good intentions for 2011? I surely had one particular intention for my blog, to follow a much-needed list of subjects I want to write about. In January I succeeded not only in creating a number of these posts, but to my own surprise other subjects, objects and themes came to my attention. These days bring us many events and developments, and it seemed strange none of these would eventually influence me. The past and the present do touch each other. It was a matter of time before even I would find space here to present some of the connections between them. Let’s not longer write about serendipity, particular circumstances or alertness, but just present a few things that seem to stand in a particular constellation.

On January 23, 2011 the Dutch newspaper Trouw published an article about the opening of an exhibition at Teylers Museum in Haarlem around their copy of the famous Description de l’Égypte (23 volumes, Paris 1809-1829). Teylers Museum is the oldest public museum of The Netherlands. It will show this encyclopedic work on Egypt’s ancient history until May 8, 2011. In the same newspaper I read about the decision of the Al-Azhar University to freeze contacts with the Vatican. The Egyptian government decided this week to cut off the internet in order to stop growing resistance against it. Which online sources within Egypt about Egypt’s reality now and in the past can still be used? As a visitor of many digital libraries my thoughts went to the Digital Assets Repository, the digital library of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria. Can we reach it or not? Luckily this digital library and the library’s website still function. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina has not only created a special website for the digitized version of the Description de l’Égypte, but also a website called Memory of Modern Egypt. Unlike the other websites, however, the user interface is only in Arabic. I could not reach a third website, Eternal Egypt, on objects from Egypt’s long history. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina has got its own Internet Archive, but storage of Eternal Egypt goes only back to 2007, and worse, it could not be reached when writing this post.

The Description de l’Égypte is a monument to the efforts of French scholars from the Napoleonic era. One of its drawbacks is obviously that hieroglyphs had not yet been fully deciphered at the time of the expedition in Egypt and during the years of publication. In 1822 Champollion succeeded in breaking the secrets of this script when he succeeded in reading the trilingual inscriptions on the Stone of Rosetta. Too late for the first edition, and not yet included in the second 36-volume edition (Paris 1820-1830), and thus no wonder law is scarcely touched upon in this imposing work. By the way, the book title Description de l’Égypte had already been used in 1735 by Jean Baptiste le Mascrier. His book can be seen at the Gallica digital library.

Back to legal history! Some types of sources from Egypt containing information on Egyptian, Greek and Roman law can safely be consulted online. Papyrology, the study of papyri, is not only an auxiliary discipline for historians, but a discipline which brings much for the field of ancient law. It is really remarkable how papyrologists have taken large steps for digital initiatives which enable scholars – and thanks to a growing number of accompanying translations also others – to take good notice of texts preserved partially or only by papyri. Gregg Schwendner and his indispensable blog What’s New in Papyrology help you to stay informed about this field and its scholars. The number of interesting papyrological websites is substantial and I had better not present them all in just one blog post, so I will restrict myself firmly to a few examples. Almost every website has a generous links selection.

The Papyrological Navigator (New York University) is perhaps the most sophisticated search site available now bringing together information on papyri from other databases as well. The Trismegistos portal (Leuven and Cologne) has probably the most assets and the widest range, for it aims at presenting papyri and inscriptions from Egypt and the Nile Valley between 800 BC and 800. You can find here texts, collections, archives, downloads, special fonts for your computer and a bibliography. The texts section of Trismegistos brings you to other databases covering the field of papyrology such as the Heidelberger Gesamtverzeichnis der griechischen Papyrusurkunden Ägyptens (HGV) and the database with Coptic documentary texts (BCD) at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Probably the most famous collection of papyri are the Oxyrhynchus Papyri at Oxford. The Giessener Papyri- und Ostrakadatenbank brings you also Greek ostraka. Giessen has even a digital library for publications about their papyri. Apart from texts –  in connection with the Perseus Digital Library at Tufts University –  you can also find photographs of papyri in American holdings using the Advanced Papyrological Information System of Columbia University. I cannot leave out Leiden and its papyrological institute and show at least its links collection.

Those who think studying the ancient history of Egypt is harmless or disconnected from the present should surf to the website about the history of medieval Nubia. This site aims at bringing together many resources. It has been the target of several internet attacks during the last week of this month. I found this site in a link collection for the classic period of papyri. There are also papyri with Arabic texts. The university of Zürich, host to the International Society for Arabic Papyrology, has started a project for an online Arabic Papyrology School.

The university of Heidelberg is working on the digitization of old Egyptological literature, including the Description de l’Égypte. Therefore even if the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and its digital library would be cut off from the web, you can still look online at the mighty volumes of this enterprise. The Dutch newspaper presenting the exhibition in Haarlem headed the article with the words ‘Battle lost, knowledge gained’ (Slag verloren, kennis gewonnen). Switching off the internet is a battle lost.

Centers of legal history: Leiden

A fortnight ago I wrote about Frits Grapperhaus, the deceased Leiden specialist of the history of taxation. At the very moment that I would like to write about Leiden as a center of legal history another scholar from its university has died, Pieter Willem Pestman. Today Gregg Schwendner, the creator of the blog What’s New in Papyrology, notes the obituary and bibliography on the website of the Leids Papyrologisch Instituut. No doubt this obituary will be translated into English.

Teaching and research at the Leiden department for legal history has three general focuses, the history of Roman law, European private law and European public law. However, some more specific themes are forever associated with research by scholars from Leiden. Eduard Maurits Meijers (1880-1954) is famous as the scholar who almost single handed started modern research into the legal doctrines developed at the medieval university of Orleans. His personal library included many early printed books and manuscripts. For many years the department was housed at the Gravensteen, the former county and city prison. Meijers’ books were kept separately in a special room. Nowadays these books and his collection of manuscripts are kept at Leiden University Library. Mentioning medieval legal manuscripts and Leiden must include the yearly Friday privatissimum, the special seminar in which paleographers and legal historians decipher and study together medieval manuscripts with juridical texts.

The Gravensteen, Leiden

Not just medieval law is studied at Leiden. Hugo Grotius gets deservedly attention as one of the most distinguished scholars of the Dutch Golden Age, and not just from the viewpoint of Dutch legal history. A juridical court, the Great Council of Malines, has been the focus of a project which touched both learned law and institutional history. Many sources for Dutch legal history have been studied and edited by scholars from Leiden. And how can one write about legal history at Leiden without due reference to the ongoing research into the history and the influence of Roman law? You do not have to agree with the idea that Roman law can immediately contribute to the creation of modern European supranational law in a kind of renewal of the 19th century Pandektistik, but you cannot ignore Roman law if you study for instance the new Dutch Burgerlijk Wetboek which shows more influence from Roman law than Meijers,  initially charged with the drawing of this new code of civil law, had in mind.

It is difficult for me not to expand all this information or just to mention more legal historians, for example those who studied at Leiden and now work elsewhere. One should of course refer to the Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis. Today one has to remember those scholars no longer with us. However, let me at least thank legal historians working or trained at Leiden for all encouragements, constructive criticism and kind help given since many years to me and many others.

See for an interview with Pieter Willem Pestman the article by Boudewijn Sirks and Bernard Stolte, ‘ Piet Pestman: interview met een papyroloog tussen mens en recht in het oude Egypte’, in: Prominenten kijken om. Achttien rechtsgeleerden uit de Lage Landen over leven, werk en recht, Theo Veen et alii (edd.) (Hilversum 2004 (= Pro Memorie 6 (2004)) 347-359.