Byzantium and law

Choosing a subject for the first post in 2010 took some time. It had to be connected in some way to Roman law. After some reflection Byzantium came to my attention, and again a exhibition forms my point of departure. The Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland in Bonn presents “Byzanz: Pracht und Alltag” (Byzance, Luxury and Daily Life) from February 26 to June 13, 2010. If you have read for instance Judith Herrins Byzantium. The surprising life of a medieval empire (2007) you will realize once more the great historical importance of Byzantium and of Istanbul, the former Constantinople.

Those familiar with legal history will no doubt remember that thanks to Justinian, a Byzantine emperor, the Digestae was compiled, the great anthology of classical Roman law. Several online versions of it exist, including a version with several search functions at IntraText. The most important Byzantine legal book, the Basilika from the tenth century, is a translation of texts from the Digestae and the Codex Justinianus. A Dutch scholar from Groningen, Herman Jan Scheltema, published a critical edition of it (Basilicorum Libri LX (17 vol., Groningen 1953-1988)). The department of legal history at Groningen University has a proud tradition of research in Byzantine legal history. On their private (!) website for Byzantine law you can find out more about their scholarly and other activities, such as a small publishing company. Let me just mention that in 2009 the eight volume of the journal Subseciva Groningana has appeared. In the field of Byzantine law international cooperation is necessary. The Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte at Frankfurt am Main does not only publish its own Forschungen zur Byzantinischen Rechsgeschichte – and useful preprints of the second volume of the repertory of Byzantine legal manuscripts – but is with Groningen and other institutions active in an European network of scholars active in this discipline. Byzantine studies and Byzantine legal history are somewhat separate disciplines, and while recognizing their independence it would be wise not to let them drift too far from each other. Anyway, you can search for manuscripts with both legal and other texts in Greek using Pinakes: textes et manuscrits grecs, an online database of the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes in Paris.

A postscript: at Frankfurt a number of sources for and books on Byzantine law have now been digitized, among both volumes of the Repertorium der Handschriften des byzantinischen Rechts (2005 and 2011).

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