On studying the Theodosian Code

Banner Cedant- Il codice Teodsoiano

It is a good tradition to start here every year with a post about Roman law. Sometimes a new resource deserves attention, but this year I want to look at a text, the Theodosian Code, because it will be at the heart of a three-week course at Pavia with the title The Theodosian Code: Complilation, Transmission, Reception. The week is hosted by the center CEDANT (Centro di studi e ricerche sui Diritti Antichi) from January 8 to 26, 2018 at the Collegio Ghislieri. The course will be led by Detlev Liebs (Universität Freiburg) and Dario Mantovani (Università degli Studi di Pavia). In particular the partial tradition of the Codex Theodosianus has been the subject of investigation. Only a part of its text has survived the centuries in its original form, and a critical tradition arrived only belatedly. The edition in 1905 by Theodor Mommsen and Paul Meyer did not solve all riddles. The participants of the course in Pavia have the chance to hear about the latest developments in scholarly research from the very scholars who delve into this work of legislation from Late Antiquity. In this post I propose to create a kind of nutshell guide to the current state of knowledge.

New knowledge about an old text

Modern research does of course not lose sight of the critical edition published by Mommsen and Meyer, Theodosiani libri XVI cum constitutionibus Sirmondianis et leges novellae ad Theodosianum pertinentes (2 vol., Berlin 1905), but we tend to look in this century first to its availability online. Only its first volume in the Internet Archive is everywhere accessible online without having to use a U.S proxy. Perhaps you want to start 2018 with finally using this and similar tools. Klaus Graf explained a few days ago again concisely how to start using a proxy for Hathi Trust. For quick reference one can turn to the digitized version with only the text at The Latin Library. We will see to which source the cross references in this online edition point. Another quick way to the text is provided by the invaluable Amanuensis app of Peter Riedlberger and Günther Rosenbaum, introduced here in 2015. You can run his program also on your computer. There is no excuse nowadays for not giving references to the main text of Roman law. Clyde Pharr’s The Theodosian Code and Novels and the Sirmondian Constitutions: A Translation with Commentary, Glossary, and Bibliography (Princeton, NJ, 1952) provides you with a helpful translation in English of this code which assembled acts of Roman legislation between 311 and 437 AD.

Paul Krüger (1840-1926) could only publish an edition of the books I-VIII (2 vol., Berlin 1923-1926). He would surely have pursued this path, but he died before he could achieve this. In an earlier post I looked at his legacy, in particular at his papers hold at the Library of Congress. Krüger had worked together with Mommsen on a complete edition of the Corpus Iuris Civilis, but Mommsen decided to finish his own edition of the Codex Theodosianus without even mentioning Krüger on the title page of the edition.

Logo Pôlib - Lille

Having access to a text is one thing, approaching it in the right way is another. Probably the best way to start is to go to the version in the Roman Law Library created by Yves Lassard and Aleksandr Koptiev at the Université Grenoble-Alpes. Here the Constitutiones Sirmondianae and other texts are clearly distinguished from the main body of the Theodosian Code. The code came into force in 438 AD. Lassard and Koptiev give in separate sections the text of the Gesta Senatus Romani de Theodosiano publicando and the Leges novellae ad Theodosianum pertinentes. They also guide you to the digital version created at Lille of the Leipzig 1736-1745 edition of the version published by Jacques Godefroy (1587-1652). They point in their digital library correctly to a digitized version in the Internet Archive of the second volume of the Mommsen-Meyer editions with the Theodosian Novellae.

As a student I was intrigued by the title of the Constitutiones Sirmondianae. Jacques Sirmond (1559-1651) was a French Jesuit who published editions of many early medieval ecclesiastical authors. His fame for later generations rests upon his editio princeps in Appendix Codicis Theodosiani novis constitutionibus cumulatior (…) (Paris: Cramoisy, 1631, online, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Rome) of a number of missing constitutions in the editions that had appeared until his time. Of course the fame of this edition is a relative thing: you will see that only the German Wikipedia article for Sirmond mentions it.

Centuries of scholarship

With Godefroy and Sirmond we entered the field of legal humanism and erudite scholarship, and we have to note another thing that somehow is not always clear. The textual tradition of the sources of Roman law rests only for a small part on inscriptions and papyri from Classical Antiquity. Medieval manuscripts and Early Modern editions are very important. Earlier scholars might have seen manuscripts that no longer exist or are mutilated. Sometimes manuscripts were simply destroyed after the printer had finished an edition.

Late Antiquity is the perspective of the Projet Volterra at University College London, named in honour of Edoardo Volterra (1904-1984), with the Law and Empire AD 193-455 (“Project Volterra I”) database which helps you to search efficiently for laws concerning particular subjects or from a particular emperor. The section Early Medieval Texts is a fair attempt to create a nutshell portal for early medieval legal history, and the parallel section Resources for Roman law is perhaps even better, with for example a section for online journals and an overview of online contents of other journals. You might want to look also at the website Roman Empire of Simon Corcoran, one of the main scholars in Projet Volterra. Sadly the link to the Projet Volterra version of books 1 to 8 of the Theodosian Code does not work currently.

Banner Biblioteca Legum

It should not be a complete surprise to find ample information about both the Codex Theodosianus and the Constitutiones Sirmondianae also at the website of a project concerning early medieval law, the Bibliotheca legum: Eine Handschriftendatenbank zum weltlichen Recht in Frankreich led by Karl Ubl (Universität Köln). The project website can be consulted in German and English. In the Bibliotheca legum Ubl and his team give concise introductions to a number of early medieval laws, in particular the so-called Völkerrechte (“Law of Peoples”). The first part of the Theodosian Code (books I-V) has been transmitted to us only in the Lex Visigothorum Romana, sometimes called the Breviarium Alaricianum – hence the reference to Brev. in the version of The Latin Library – and its abbreviated versions, with pride of place for the Epitome Aegidii, first edited in 1517 by Pieter Gillis. You can read more about this Flemish scholar in a post I wrote in 2016 around him and Thomas More’s Utopia. By now it is clear that dealing with the Theodosian Code means entering a constellation of related texts. The Bibliotheca legum leads you to existing editions of texts, to a current bibliography and to the manuscripts containing a particular text. Both for the older editions and the manuscripts you can often go to a digitized version. Ubl points to seventeen manuscripts for the Theodosian Code and ten manuscripts for the Constitutiones Sirmondianae. For the Lex Visigothorum Romana and its abbreviated forms 105 manuscripts are mentioned, and you will find even articles published in 2016 and 2017.

Studying the Codex Theodosianus is an international affair. Among the studies after 2000 Ubl mentions for example John F. Matthews, Laying down the law: a study of the Theodosian Code (New Haven, CT, 2000), A.J.B. Sirks, The Theodosian Code. A Study (Studia Amstelodamensia 39; Friedrichsdorf 2007) and the late José María Coma Fort, Codex Theodosianus. Historia de un texto (Madrid 2014), a study which you can download as a PDF. There is an updated version (2017) of the very useful article by Detlev Liebs, “Codex Theodosianus”, in: Handwörterbuch zur deutschen Rechtsgeschichte 1 (2nd ed., 2008) col. 868-870) in the scholarly repository of the Universität Freiburg.

In this post I focused on the transmission and reception of the Codex Theodosianus. During the seminar at Pavia there will be attention also for the redaction of this code of law, with due attention to inscriptions and papyri, too. Boudewijn Sirks and Simon Corcoran will be among the scholars who will teach at Pavia a public of talented and hopefully most attentive students and graduate students about the latest findings and views concerning one of the great attempts in Late Antiquity to bring as much Roman laws together as humanly possible. As for myself, I learned at the very least a few things that needed to be added or corrected to the Roman law page of my legal history website Rechtshistorie. More importantly, I was most happy to see how a line of research starting with Johann Sichard, Jacques Godefroy and Jacques Sirmond through Gustav Haenel and Carlo Baudi di Vesme to Mommsen and Krüger is clearly kicking and alive in this century. Seeing the continuity, the disputes and new starts is a good thing!


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