Journeys to journals on Classical Antiquity


At the end of each year it is difficult to avoid the great range of lists of all kinds of bests, and I hardly dare to even mention them here. In 2014 the Archaeological Institute of America gave an 2015 AIA Award for Outstanding Work in Digital archaeology to Charles E. Jones and his blog The Ancient World Online (AWOL) to honour his “work on open access material relation to the ancient world, serving archaeological information to more than 1.1 million unique visitors to the site since its inception in 2009”. AWOL needs no laurels, but this praise is certainly justified. One of the latest messages at AWOL in 2015 concerns scholarly journals in open access dealing with ancient law. On December 29, 2015 Charles Jones listed eighteen online journals which specifically deal with some field of legal history in classical Antiquity, and he challenges readers to find and report more journals. A number of these journals figure here in my blog roll, and thus I was immediately interested in checking this list. At AWOL is a list with now nearly 1,600 scholarly journals available in open access for the vast territories of the ancient world. Is this selection of journals touching legal history indeed complete? This post will look at some answers to this question. Indeed I was so eager to publish it that I somehow had posted it with a wrong date, a year ahead.

The power of a list

Lists can have uncanny powers. They might seem to offer everything available or they bring the best possible selection. A good list can enhance the authority of its author, and users of such lists feel comfortable with the knowledge of such lists. Thus it can feel awkward to question a list at all for its qualities, but in my view there is just one way to find about both the positive and negative sides of a list, and that it is by checking each item. This simple approach proved to be rewarding and revealing.

The international character of the list is remarkable. In most fields within Classical Studies the number of journals with English titles is impressive, but they do not outnumber journals in other languages. However, for legal history you will find in this list just two journals with an English title, Roman Legal Tradition, published online since its start in 2002 and edited at Glasgow, and The Journal of Juristic Papyrology, published since 1946 at Warsaw. I did wonder about the presence of other relevant journals with English titles, and thus I quickly checked among the titles of the main list of journals at AWOL. Two titles seemed worthy of inclusion, the Ancient Greek Law eJournal and the Ancient Roman Law eJournal, but they turned out to be something else, a quick reference point for recent research published at SSRN, the Social Sciences Research Network. Both e-journals bring together papers to be published or already published on either Greek or Roman law in other legal journals. The two selections show how both fields currently can appear outside the province of legal history: nine publications for ancient Greek law, and five for Roman law, mainly in American law journals. A third title does not refer to a scholarly journal, but to the reports of the Hellenic Society for Law and Archaeology, where the laws in question are obviously laws touching upon cultural heritage. I cannot figure why PoLAR: The Political and Legal Anthropology Review figures at all at AWOL, in particular because only few issues are available in open access. Anyway, for good reasons these three journals were not deemed fit for inclusion in the new list of journals dealing with ancient legal history.

Logo MPI Frankfurt am Main

Two German titles in the list made me very curious because they did not seem to be current journals anymore. The Jahrbücher für historische und dogmatische Bearbeitung des römischen Rechts appeared three times between 1841 and 1844. The brothers Wilhelm and Karl Sell launched their journal from Zürich and Bonn. The second journal, Themis. Zeitschrift für Doctrin und Praxis des römischen Rechts, appeared in two short series between 1828 and 1848, the first series in 1828 and 1830, the second from 1838 until 1848. This journal was the idea of Christian Friedrich Elvers from Rostock. The subtitle of the first series was Zeitschrift für praktische Rechtswissenschaft, only the second series mentioned Roman law. Elvers filled the pages of his journal in particular in the second series mainly with his own contributions. In 1841 Elvers had become a judge at Kassel, and this move probably influenced his activities for the journal. Both journals have been digitized at the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main. In my view it is one of the characteristics of the study of Roman law in nineteenth-century Germany that articles and book reviews appeared not just in the journals devoted to legal history, but also in the profusion of general law journals. Such statements can be checked readily thanks to the massive digitization at Frankfurt am Main of relevant journals published between 1800 and 1918. Just for the record, I did look also at the sister project for eighteenth-century journals (Zeitschriften 1703-1830), but in this set Roman law was not used in any title. In 2011 I wrote here about digitization projects for old legal journals and also about projects for creating online access to current journals in the field of legal history.

At this point we still have sixteen journals correctly included in Jones’ list, and an implicit conclusion from the last paragraph should help me proceeding here. In a list with open access journals you expect to find journals currently appearing, and only on second thought also retrodigitized journals. Curiously, the list does include not only the Romanistische Abteilung of the Zeitschrift für Rechtsgeschichte der Savigny-Stiftung, but also the Kanonistische Abteilung, a branched launched in 1910. The online issues of these journals have been digitized at Frankfurt, too, but this is a case of digitizing old issues, as for now up to 1919. Some journals in the list at AWOL do not offer exclusively articles concerning ancient law. Forum Historiae Iuris is one of the oldest online journals for legal history. Iura Orientalia does not only cover the field of ancient Oriental law, but also modern Oriental law, in particular ecclesiastical law. In fact the section on Byzantine law of this journal reminded me of two journals published in Groningen, the Subseciva Groningana (1984-), published only in print, and the Groninger Opmerkingen en Mededelingen, a journal for which only a number of individual contributions are available online in open access.

What more should be said here about the remaining journals of the list? It is good to see two online journals for the history of Greek law, the Rivista di Diritto Hellenico, alas possibly damaged by malware at the moment of writing, and Dike. Rivista di Storia del Diritto Greco ed Hellenistico (1998-). When I saw the title of The Journal of Juristic Papyrology I could not help thinking of the ZPE, the Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik. You can check online for the titles of all articles since 1967, and this journal surely does contain contribution about ancient legal history. The issues 73 (1988) to 133 (2000) of the ZPE are now available in open access. I bumped into an article by Sir Ronald Syme, ‘Journeys to Hadrian’, ZPE 73 (1988) 159-170, My title is a tribute to a scholar who impressed me as a student with his compact style. I will try to follow his example here more than in previous years! The journal from Warsaw is available online at a special platform for Polish scholarly journals in the humanities, Czasopisma humanistyczne.

The Rivista di Diritto Romano does offer space for articles on diritti antichi, other ancient legal systems, too. In fact the website of this journal is almost a portal to Roman law and its afterlife with sections on the palingenesis of Roman law texts, the Basilica, a list of journals, and online versions of numerous Roman law texts. However, a major drawback is the navigation at its website where you can find only the latest issue online. The Russian journal Ius Antiquum is a further witness to the international character of Classical Studies. I leave it to you to have a look at the other journals of a list which if not exhaustive surely proved to be interesting

Cover RIDA 61 (2014)

However, one journal must not be left out here. A few months ago I had already spotted the surprising online appearance of the third series of the very high regarded Revue internationale des droits de l’antiquité (RIDA). This journal, published by scholars at the Université de Liège, has digitized the issues XXVI (1979) to LIX (2012). The decision to publish such recent issues of a well-known. peer-reviewed international learned journal might well be a spur for other publishers to make moves in the direction of open access. The RIDA is even present at Facebook. The image of the new cover shows the new publisher, the Presses Universitaires de Liège, but on the RIDA website you can still subscribe to volumes published at Paris.

The changing world of scholarly journals


As for the 1,700 journal titles in the major overview at AWOL I am afraid a number of them is not in its entirety available in open access. One example: Brepols Online publishes the Revue d’Histoire des Textes, but only issues between 2006 and 2009 are to seen freely. Making a comparison with journals registered within the Directory of Open Journals is not as easy as one would expect today. You can search either by entering keywords in a search field for titles, forcing you to look for specific matters in a number of languages, or use the far too general subject filters. Even history or culture have not yet been deemed worthy independent subjects. At the start of a new year there are many days in which this sorry state of affairs can be changed, but anyway it will be useful to follow the posts labelled Law at AWOL – The Ancient World Online!

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