Sometimes you can happily live with the impression that all Roman laws are to be found within the pages of the Corpus Iuris Civilis, the mighty collection with the Justinian Digest, his Institutiones, Codex and the Novellae. For older Roman laws the Fontes Iuris Romani Anteiustianiani (FIRA) contain everything you would want to look at. The invaluable Amanuensis tool discussed here in 2015, enables you to find Roman laws quickly on your computer and even on your mobile phone. Dutch readers can boast the completion of a modern translation of the Corpus Iuris Civilis into Dutch, noticed here with some relish. Much of FIRA is accessible in Dutch, too, thanks to Job Spruit and Karel Bongenaar in their bilingual edition Het erfdeel van de klassieke Romeinse juristen (4 vol., Zutphen 1982-1987).
By chance I encountered already in the first week of 2017 a project which dispels the illusion that every Roman law is present in these volumes. Leges Populi Romani (LEPOR) is a database, the fruit of a project started by Paula Botteri, Jean-Louis Ferrary and Philippe Moreau. Eventually the universities Paris-I (Panthéon-Sorbonne), Paris 7 (Diderot), the École Pratique des Hautes Études, the EHESS and CNRS partnered to launch LEPOR at the Telma portal with online databases for research in the humanities, or more exactly the digital treatment of manuscripts and archival records, because Telma is the abbreviation of Traitement électronique des manuscrits et archives. I use here the logo of ANHIMA, the research unit for Anthropologie et Histoire des Mondes Antiques. It might be useful to give some guidance to a project which has only an interface in French. Starting with a subject in Roman law makes me feel I start this year in a way that is true to the training of European legal historians.
A new approach
At this moment you cannot yet find at the Telma portal the direct link to the Leges Populi Romani database. The project is clearly in the process of becoming an integral part of this platform where scholars of Classical Antiquity could already use the Callythea database, a repertory of Greek mythological poetry from the Hellenistic period. An Ethiopian Manuscript Archive documenting the history of Coptic Christians in Ethiopia is also to be launched this year. The Telma platform has a number of databases for medieval history as its core.
Back to the Leges Populi Romani! There is a general introduction to the project which takes as its starting point the need for a new version of Giovanni Rotondi’s Leges publicae populi Romani (Milan 1912). The laws in the database stem from 509 BC up to emperor Nerva in the first century. The plebiscites created before 287 BC will also be included. The laws of the Roman kings and charters given to corporations in the leges datae are excluded. For each law the database will contain five notices, dealing with its name, the date of publication, the rogatores, the theme or themes dealt with in a particular law, and sources with references to a law. Whenever possible this is followed by a selective bibliography of scholarship and a commentary about the contents of the law, its application, success or abrogation. The commentaries will be mainly in French, but sometimes in English or Italian. The conseils de recherche offer a concise user’s guide for the database. It is wise to look at the abbreviations, too, if only because here you will find a very good bibliography concerning Roman laws. Key elements in the advanced search mode (Rechercher) are the use of the field for the date or time period and dropdown menus for searching rogatores, themes of laws and specific sources. either a classical author or a specific textual corpus. You can also search for themes in Roman laws using a structured list (Thèmes de lois). Even when you study Roman law since many years it is good to look at the sheer range of Roman laws in this overview. In my view it is a graphic way to visualize the central role of legislation in Roman law and society. When you would perhaps like to browse or get a general impression of the database you can always use the free text search field in the right top corner of the screen, or scroll through the list of notices and pick a law at will. In my experience you will want to go from one law to yet another, just the thing made possible here,
Currently for some of the themes no notice has yet been created. The page with links does not yet function, almost the only element of Leges Populi Romani which comes in for any comment. The introduction does mention the Projet Volterra at University College London with the databases Law and Empire AD 193-455 (“Volterra I”) and Law and the End of Empire AD 455-900 (“Volterra II”), and the Centro di studi e ricerche sui Diritti Antichi (CEDANT) at the Università degli Studi di Pavia, more specifically the RedHiS project, Rediscovering the Hidden Structure. The Projet Volterra does not only bring you a lot of its own materials but als a set of pages forming a compact web guide to Roman law. In particular the attention to legislation by the Roman emperors should make it the companion to the Leges Populi Romani website. I would single out as the most distinctive feature of this new website the way it combines information about the creation of single laws with a far better perspective on similar laws than we had before. Having quick access to references where a specific law is referred to in Roman literature – or in inscriptions – is a further asset.
Before I end with only applauding the good work of this great French initiative and admiring the exemplary cooperation of several research institutes it is up to anyone studying Roman laws and using this website to comment on its qualities, to suggest enhancements, and perhaps to help creating an interface in English. Let’s end here with two wishes in Latin, Annum novum faustum felicem vobis, a happy and lucky New Year to you, a wish happily taken from the interesting Following Hadrian blog, and quod felix faustumque sit, my best wishes to the team of Leges Populi Romani!