Category Archives: Scholars

A journal for digital legal history

Logo The Journal for Digital History

In some cases it can be very hard to find the right words for a post about a particular subject. Luckily announcing a new journal is a different matter! A few weeks ago the Journal for Digital Legal History has been launched by the Universiteit Gent on its platform for scientific journals in open access. The editors-in-chief of the new journal are Dirk Heirbaut, Annemiek Romein and Florenz Volkaert. Among the seven members of the editorial board are for example Andreas Wagner, officer for digital humanities at the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory in Frankfurt am Main, and Stephen Robertson (George Mason University). Familiar names in the advisory board are Serge Dauchy (Lille), Thomas Duve (MPILHLT), Heikki Pihlajamäki (Helsinki) and Dave de Ruysscher (Tilburg).

In their opening statement the editors-in-chief explain the need for a journal devoted to digital legal history as a wish expressed by several scholars during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year at the online digital legal history conference in March 2021 organized by the MPILHLT – reviewed here – scholars from Ghent did not hesitate to mention their wish to create and host a new journal with this particular focus. Other journals might devote more or less regularly space for articles on digital legal history, but creating a special platform is indeed welcome and sensible, too. Not just subjects touched by both legal history and digital humanities should get space in the JDLH, but digital methods, too, need to be presented, reviewed and discussed. Scholars are in particular invited to bring new approaches and widen the horizons of legal historians at large. Scholars willing to act as reviewers of digital projects are also invited to contact the editorial team.

Creating a journal is a sign of the willingness to create a part of the scholarly infrastructure that will help to lay sure foundations for any new discipline. It expresses also the seriousness of scholars devoting their creativity, curiosity and other scholarly qualities. Digital legal history is not a passing hype or whim. There is all reason for reflection on the digital turn and its impact on doing legal history in our days. It is up to all scholars with an active interest in digital legal history to contribute not only to this field in the ways they see fit, but also to help establishing this journal as a clear point of reference for this discipline. My best wishes for the future of the Journal for Digital Legal History (@DigiLegalHisto)!

Translating Justinian’s Digest with DeepL, a multiple challenge

The clivus Capitolinus, the slope of the Capitol Hill in Rome - image Wikimedia Commons
The clivus Capitolinus, the slope of the Capitol Hill in Rome – image Wikimedia Commons

This post is a tale of the unexpected. Last week I received a message about a new translation of the Digesta Justiniani, the famous sixth-century compilation of texts by the classical Roman lawyers. Soon two things became clear: It was not just a single new translation into one particular language, but into a number of languages, and these translations were not the fruit of just one scholar, but mainly the product of the online translation tool DeepL. Béla Pokol, a Hungarian lawyer at the Eötvös Lorand University in Budapest, used the powerful DeepL tool for translating the Digest into fourteen (!) European languages. For this project he had to process some 45,000 pages. You can download the translations as PDF’s from the section Law Working Papers of the online journal Jogelméleti Szemle. Journal of Legal Theory. A cordial exchange of questions and answers with Béla Pokol followed quickly. Here I will look first of all at the Dutch translation, but whenever necessary other languages will figure here, too. I will try to distinguish carefully between the input of DeepL and Pokol’s own efforts.

DeepL takes the plunge

I suppose normally you would use the translation function of the browser created by one of the Big Tech Firms for occasionally translating some information in languages which are clearly out of your range of linguistic capacities. In these cases you get a rough idea of the core of a text, with for example a number of words even left untranslated. The seduction of DeepL’s offer to bring really good translations from and to a great number of sounds for me simply too good to be true. So far I received just once a translation created by DeepL which I ignored completely by going straight for the English original of an article.

Enter Béla Pokol who at the very least has designed a kind of ultimate test for DeepL, translating from a dead language like Latin into modern languages, and not just a general text from classical literature, but the very core text collection of Roman law. Classical Latin has a complex syntax and a rich idiom. The classical lawyers seem to prefer a less rich vocabulary, but their concise and trenchant arguments set a great challenge for translators. To mention just a few modern examples, the Dutch team led by Job Spruit worked between 1993 and 2011 on their translation in twelve volumes of the Digest, Code, the Justinian Institutes and the Novellae [Corpus Iuris Civilis. Tekst en Vertaling]. The German team led by Okko Behrends started in 1995 and reached with the fifth volume published in 2012 only D. 34. The recent project for a version of the Digest with Latin text and an Italian translation was first published in five volumes between 2005 and 2014; the web version was launched in 2017. In 2011 I wrote here a post on recent and older translations for Roman law. At the page for Roman law of my legal history website Rechtshistorie I mention more translations, a number of them available online.

The idea for using DeepL to tackle the intricacies of the Digest came after Pokol had used DeepL to translate his book Juristocracy from English into seven languages, with surprisingly few errors. He enlisted the help of his daughters to deal with the new challenge of the Digest, because he had noticed only a small number of translations of the Digest into modern European languages. Hence the decision to aim at fourteen languages, starting with Hungarian, followed by French, German, Portuguese, Spanish. Italian, Dutch, Finnish, Rumanian, Czech, Slovakian, Slovenian, Polish and Russian. It took Pokol and his daughters a year to produce the 45,000 pages of these translations.

First impressions

For the aim of this post I decided to look first at the translated results, and only afterwards at DeepL. How should one quickly assess the quality of these translations? As a matter of fact many years ago I selected three passages in the Digest for translation into four languages which figure at my legal history website as Exempla iuris Romanorum. D. is a text on fraud, D. 19.2.59 a text about a building agreement, and D. 32.52.3 a text about hereditary law. I add to them the first case from the Digest I ever encountered, D., a case of deadly damage caused by a collision of two carts on the slope of the Capitol. A fifth check was quickly found, too, using the words plumbum, lead, and balineum, bath, both terms frequently used in connection with water, as can be seen in the Topoi database in Berlin on Roman water law discussed here in 2019. As a quick reference I used the Amanuensis tool of Peter Riedlberger and Günther Rosenbaum.

The Dutch translation created by Pokol using DeepL has 3921 pages. The first translation seems really good (p. 261), especially when DeepL succeeds in keeping everything in a single sentence. Spruit and Wubbe, the Dutch team for D, 4, used two sentences in their translation of D. The second example, D. 19.2.59 figures at pp. 1363-1364. Here I hesitate about the building being destroyed (verwoest), the verb concutio does mean to shake heavily. DeepL puts in the word ongeluk as a partial translation of acciderit. The case about a will speaking about books in D. 32.52.3 fares less well (p. 2164). In the first part the word bibliothecas has been translated as bibliotheken (libraries) but it is clear bookshelves are meant. In the second part the word scrinia does not mean writing tables but chests. Some words have more than one meaning, and it is vital to use the one clearly meant in the context of a case.

The case with the mules and two carts on the Capitol hill (D. killing a young slave is somewhat longer than the fragments here above. At first DeepL impressed me with a clear disposition of this complicated case (p. 681). The mule-drivers (muliones) become only once koetsiers, coachmen. However, translating the term lege Aquilia by “Lex van Aquilia” is decidedly odd. This law and another Roman law, with few exceptions, remains in Dutch untranslated. I cannot plod here through every occurrence of the word lead. In D. 32.35.3 the bath of Iulianus becomes the Julianabad (p. 3241), a very early homage to a former Dutch queen, instead of het badhuis van Julianus or het Juliaanse badhuis. Tibur has been left untranslated, but it is clearly Tivoli, and the word scitis has been promoted to Scitis. In the leges preceding this case DeepL has more luck with some difficult names of locations.

A multiple challenge

On closer inspection there are very real problems. The translation of the references to the works of Roman lawyers is a matter of some wonder. The book title membranae is translated as Perkamenten, parchments. Spruit cum suis opt for Notities (Notes). At some point an author Callistratus is mentioned, a name not mentioned at all within the Digest. The title page of the translation provides a clue to the origin of some of these problems. Pokol has not created a translation from the Latin original, but from the English translation by Samuel Scott, The Civil Law, including the Twelve Tables… (17 vol., Cincinnati 1932). This fact alone severely diminishes the value and possible importance of the translation under review here. It does matter much less which faults can be attributed to DeepL or to Pokol since the very starting point is awkward, and not what one would expect someone to do.

In his article ‘The enigma of Samuel Parsons Scott’, Roman Legal Tradition 10 (2014) 1-37 Timothy Kearley devotes pages 29 to 32 to an assessment of the value of Scott’s translation of the Justinian corpus. Reviewers accorded it mostly only value as a introduction for students and as a quick reference tool. Apart from mistakes in his translations they faulted Scott for ignoring the edition by Mommsen and Krüger and generally being less aware of the latest (German) scholarship. Kearley expands his views in his study Lost in Translations. Roman Law Scholarship and Translation in Early Twentieth-Century America (Durham, NC, 2018).

What is the value of Pokol’s efforts? He wrote to me his explicit aim was helping modern lawyers to have “a speedy online help” for Roman law and to make it a living heritage. Alas as a reference tool the current translation is marred by a lack of running titles indicating on each page the title of the Digest. In some titles, in particular D. 50.17, De regulis iuris antiqui, the numbers of the leges are not given correctly. Book 50 ends with leges numbered above 1000. This has simply escaped his attention. Pokol did not include the introductory constitutions and the Index Florentinus. It shows definitely he aims indeed at lawyers in general, and not at students and scholars who want to study Roman law for its own sake. Let it be clear Pokol did not at all attempt to translate the Latin original of the Digest. In his view the Hungarian translation of the Digest by DeepL is quite good.

Looking deeper into DeepL

It brings us to the final question of this post, the value of DeepL for translating classical Latin into any modern European language. DeepL offers currently 26 languages. Apart from European languages only Chinese and Japanese are now included. Arabic, Hindi and Swahili are absent. The inclusion of Finnish and Hungarian, two Finoegrian languages, is remarkable. Polish and Russian, too, are languages with a number of very real difficulties. Swedish and Danish are present as Scandinavian languages. There is simply no Latin to test here with DeepL at the moment of writing. DeepL does succeed in faithfully translating English into Dutch at a notable level for fairly difficult texts as the ones used here as tests. It might make you certainly curious about the way it would work as an assisting tool, for example when translating a textbook for Roman law into another language.

To give DeepL quickly a second chance to prove it can produce something convincingly adequate when faced with a text offering some difficulties I entered the text of my recent contribution ‘A dictionary for the Spanish colonial empire and canon law’ for a translation from English to Dutch. Using the free version of DeepL without a trial period this meant each time only 5,000 signs could be entered, roughly half of my post. The translation of the first half contained only a few problems, and in the second part with many Spanish words these were correctly left untranslated, and only some easily detectable glitches in the syntax occurred.

For your interest – and perhaps consolation! – I looked around briefly for other online translation tools which do include Latin. I found a few websites featuring both Dutch and Latin. Translatiz depends on Google Translate. In its Latin-Dutch translation of D. 32.52.3 the word legatis becomes luitenants, lieutenants. ImTranslator seemed at first to offer besides Google also Microsoft and PROMT for Latin-Dutch, but the two last do not offer this functionality. A search in Dutch for tools made in the Low Countries brought me to Webtran where you get only a word for word translation for Latin-Dutch filled with silly mistakes, and not even clear sentences at all. Opentran and the Dutch version of I Love Translation join the ranks of tools with insufficient qualities for translating legal Latin. Remembering just in time Cicero’s vehement sigh Quousque tandem abutere nostra patientia, Catilina? I will leave it at that for now, even though these tools did solve this particular question correctly.

It is a feat to climb the Capitol Hill of faithful translation from any language and for any subject! No doubt sooner or later an online tool will appear which will be able using artificial knowledge to produce translations from Latin, not only for regular classical texts with their own peculiarities, but also for legal texts. Classicists are keen in using digital humanities to sensible ends. The challenge remains to learn yourself sufficient Latin and to find reliable translations made in years of toil and endless care for details, and secondly to have all necessary capacities for understanding the way Roman lawyers thought, argued and acted. A good translation is an act of interpretation in itself, a necessary foundation for further research. Meanwhile we can benefit from a substantial number of older and newer translations for Roman law. As for having an impact on modern lawyers and legislators the quality and vitality of thinking and writing about law and legal history by legal historians should seduce people to enter the realm of Roman law in all its manifestations through the centuries until now.

A great institution at 200: The École des Chartes

The bicentenary lofo of the ENC

Jubilees come in various forms. Some are obviously too arbitrary or only remotely interesting, others call rigthly for your time and attention. Among French educational institutions the grandes établissements take pride of place. The École nationale des chartes (ENC) in Paris is surely very special among them. In 2021 it celebrates its bicentenary. Although it is obvious to make a comparison with the Monumenta Germaniae Historica in Munich, commemorated here in 2019 for its own bicentenary, the ENC distinguishes itself by being a school for archivists and paleographers. In this post I will look at the fundamental aspects of the ENC, some of its former pupils and at some famous episodes from its history.

The institutional setting

The royal ordinance of February 22, 1821 for the foundation of the ENC – image ENC

Fairly recently the ENC became a part of the Université PSL (Paris Sciences & Lettres) after a period as part of the university Paris Sorbonne, hence the different URL’s for some elements of its current digital presence. I had better start here with stating that the ENC is formally not a grande école or grand établissement with an independent status, but it ranks decidedly with its equals. I should tell you also immediately I am deeply impressed by a work on the development of history as a profession in France during the nineteenth century, written by Pim den Boer, Geschiedenis als beroep. De professionalisering van de geschiedbeoefening in Frankrijk (1818-1914) (NIjmegen 1987). This study helps you very much to see major institutions, minor and major figures and developments in their context. During the nineteenth century the ENC provided France in the first place with archivists and paleographers who put their work in archives at the service of historians. The chartistes did write theses, but these stayed closed to the documents; aktengemäss was Den Boer’s vignette for their production. We tend to associate the ENC with critical source editions, but producing book length editions is a much later development. The ENC shows its core qualities in the new critical edition of the royal ordinance of February 22, 1821 founding this institution, available online as a PDF and introduced with a video.

The creation of a journal by the ENC, the Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes (BEC) in 1839 was an initiative of the newly founded Société de l’École des Chartes. It is one of the oldest still existing scientific journals. You can find digitized issues at the Persée portal up to 2015. Among the issues from this century are some thematic volumes. With its training in the auxiliary historical sciences and its insistence on using historical research methods the ENC soon became a model institution. Dlplomatics, paleography, chronolology and sigillography are perhaps the best known auxiliary sciences for historians. These disciplines are still taught at the ENC, but next to the classic training for archivists the ENC offers four other masters. digital humanities for historians, digital humanities, transnational history and medieval studies. At the Theleme portal the ENC offers course materials, dossiers on several themes, and a number of bibliographies. You can benefit for example from the materials on book history in the Cours section. When reading Early Modern French documents you will encounter abbreviations listed in the Dictionnaire des abréviations françaises.

The ENC uniquely has both a library and a journal called bibliothèque, and both deserve some attention here. Its collections brought the library a recognition for excellence (Collections d’Excellence). Of course there is also a bibliothèque numérique, with apart form licensed resources also three digital collections from its own holdings, and three virtual exhibits. For the theses of students the library has created a subdomain in its digital library called ThENC@. On a second subdomain Theses you search in all these since 1840. PhD theses defended at the ENC between 2013 and 2020 are conveniently mentioned in a list.

Celebrating a bicentenaire

Of course it is clear the projected celebrations for the bicentenaire could only partially proceed in its original planned format. I will therefore skip presenting the program, except for the special issue on the jubilee published by the history journal L’Histoire (PDF). It is much more interesting to look at some of the educational platforms creaetd by the ENC, one of them put online only a few weeks ago.

The French sense for structure has led the ENC to create yet another subdomain for is applications with the nice abbreviation DH, because a number of them are a part of digital humanities. You can have a look at applications under development, too. The best known is perhaps Éditions en ligne de l’École des chartes (Élec), with currently 32 electronic editions. A few years ago I wrote here a contribution about Graziella Pastore’s edition of the Livre de jostice et de plet. The most used online edition is probably the great dictionary – actually formally only a glossary – for medieval Latin created by Charles de Fresne du Cange. The theme range of the editions is really wide. There are also some acts of scientific congresses, and for example a repertory for medieval French translations of texts in classical Latin and Greek. Among other projects I simply did not know about the online version of the Dictionnaire topographique de la France (DicoTopo,) a very useful tool for tracing French (historical) geographical locations.

I had expected to find here also a reference to the Theleme portal, but the ENC views this as an educational resource. Theleme stands for Techniques pour l’Histoire en Ligne:: Études, Manuels, Exercices, Bibliographies, a host of things much needed by (French) historians. The bibliographies for the historical auxiliary disciplines are splendid. Among the tutorials (cours) I would single out those dealing with book and printing history. The Dictionnaire des abréviations françaises should inspire palaeographers worldwide to create similar tools showing abbreviations for their own country and language. The dossiers documentaires offer both historical and palaeographic commentaries for images of charters and other documents in French and Latin from France. They offer students a most useful introduction in studying medieval and later documents.

The latest addition to the fleet of subdomains and digital projects of the ENC is ADELE (Album de diplomatique en ligne), an online project providing images of medieval charters for diplomatics, the study of charters as an auxiliary historical discipline, a classic activity at the ENC since its foundation.

Beyond reading old scripts

Being able to study old scripts was perhaps the thing most clear to outsiders about chartistes. It was not a coincidence professors at and former students of the ENC got involved in looking at the infamous document posing itself as evidence in the Dreyfus case around 1900. Interestingly chartistes were found both among the dreyfusards, those defending captain Dreyfus, and among his fierce opponents. In an earlier contribution I looked at this case and the importance of a newly found secret dossier. I remember in particular reading the article about the position of former élèves by Bertrand Joly, ‘L’École des Chartes et l’Affaire Dreyfus’, BEC 147 (1989) 611-671 (online, Persée).

It is not entirely by chance that the scientist René Girard (1923-2015) , one of the most famous former students of the ENC, became interested in the role and importance of mechanisms for blaming people. His theories about scapegoat mechanisms made him most interesting for anthropologists, but legal historians, too, have to be aware of such phenomena, and not only when dealing with criminal law. Roger Martin du Gard (1881-1958) became an author of famous novels, foremost the series Les Thibaut (1922-1940), which brought him in 1937 the Nobel Prize for literature.

The ENC does not have its own various series of source editions like its slightly older German counterpart, the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, but its professors and former students certainly produced numerous critical editions in the classic French series such as the Classiques de l’Histoire de France. Many theses defended at the ENC have as its core a source edition. Today the ENC offers four master degrees, including a degree for digital humanities, beside the original course for archiviste-paléographe. Its horizon goes beyond the Middle Ages. The MGH offer currently summer schools in the historical auxiliary sciences, but the institute does not have a school. A number of German historians did contributed editions for the MGH or were at some time a staff member. Both institutions have their own distinctive qualities and know an equally rich history with sometimes dramatic periods. Both deserve laurels as pioneers and models for contributing to historical research in Europe. For me 2021 would not be complete here without a commemoration of the ENC’s bicentennial!

Remembering Michael Stolleis

Michael Stolleis - image MPILHLTIt seems difficult these weeks at my blog to leave Frankfurt am Main for other locations. The news about the death of Michael Stolleis on March 18, 2021 cannot be passed over here in silence, and thus again Frankfurt comes into view. Some obituaries succeeded very well in showing Stolleis’ role and achievements, and therefore I will not try to repeat everything already said with eloquent words.

The history of public law

On March 19, 2021 the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory announced with sadness the death of Michael Stolleis (1941-2021) on March 18, aged 79 years. Stolleis was a director of the institute from 1991 until 2006, and acted as its interim director from 2007 to 2009. In view of his work for the institute it is certainly necesary to stress he was from 1974 to 2006 also a professor for public law and legal history at the university of Frankfurt. Klaus Günther wrote an obituary for the law faculty. He points to Stolleis’ role for the Research Centre Normative Orders in Frankfurt. In the obituary at the main website of the Universität Frankfurt Enrico Schleiff stressed the fact Stolleis was a true intellectual and a scholar who set Frankfurt on the map worldwide.

Patrick Bahners looked in his contribution for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in particular at the background. Stolleis’ father was burgomaster of Ludwigshafen between 1937 and 1941. After finishing secondary school Michael Stolleis followed the footsteps of his father who was both a vinegrower and lawyer, and started with learning viniculture. From a visit to a wine museum in Aigle I remember in particular how the plants and fruits need attention in every month of the year. Knowing about steps set before you, having to live in the present and working at the same time for the future is an excellent preparation for life. Bahners mentions rightly the way Stolleis combined objectivity with personal kindness. From the few times I met him I remember the word locker, relaxed, a label I did not associate at first with German professors, but luckily Stolleis could indeed look most happy and friendly. Stolleis contributed regularly to the FAZ with articles that struck me as most readable, well-informed and resonating in you mind long afterwards.

Stolleis studied law, German language and literature and art history at the universities of Heidelberg and Würzburg. He wrote his doctoral thesis under the aegis of Sten Gagnér in Munich [Staatsraison, Recht und Moral in philosophischen Texten des späten 18. Jahrhunderts, defended 1967, published Meisenheim 1972)]. Stolleis wrote a moving article in remembrance of his Doktorvater, a piece telling you much about Stolleis himself, too [‘Sten Gagnér (1921-2000), ein großer Lehrer der europäischen Rechtsgeschichte’, Quaderni Fiorentini 29 (2000) 560-569; PDF]. In 1973 he defended in Munich his Habilitationsschrift (second thesis) on Gemeinwohlformeln im nationalsozialistischen Recht (Berlin 1974). At that time it was one of the first forays by German legal historians into the history of the Third Reich. Its theme, terms for the common good in Nazi law, can only be tackled successfully by someone trained also in German language and literature. Just a small example of Stolleis’ gifted pen and his calm judgment is his concise summary of the history of the Deutsche Rechtshistorikertag, in particular the paragraph on the dark years of the Third Reich.

The striking thing for me about Michael Stolleis is the combination of public law and legal history at one side, and promoting both fields whenever possible, as much for the general public as for fellow scholars. Frankfurt had a reputation for critical thinking with the Frankfurter Schule. Among the second generation of this group of scholars which focused on philosophy and social theory Jürgen Habermas and Niklas Luhmann stand out. Stolleis is responsible for putting the history of public law in Germany’s history on the same level as political and social history. The four volumes of his Geschichte des öffentlichen Rechts in Deutschland (Munich 1988-2012) definitely widened for German legal historians their fields of interest, and opened a necessary perspective on German history long overlooked as a defining and decisive element. However interesting, the history of private law cannot be the sole focus of legal history. Public law belongs as much to it as criminal law, procedure and canon law.

Only in my last post I mentioned the Repertorium der Policeyordnungen der Frühen Neuzeit, a project started by Stolleis. Social law as a historical subject was the theme in his Geschichte des Sozialrechts im Deutschland. Ein Grundriss (Stuttgart 2003). If you think Stolleis focused only on Germany you might turn to his preface for the biographical dictionary Juristen. Ein biographisches Lexikon von der Antike bis zum 20. Jahrhundert (first edition Munich 1995). His book on the image and the metaphor of the eye of the law shows him at work also in in the field of legal iconography [Das Auge des Gesetzes: Geschichte einer Metapher (Munich 2004)].

The Max-Planck-Gesellschaft loses with Stolleis one of its most active and resourceful directors. Between 1991 and 2006 the institute in Frankfurt transformed already much by opening to wider fields and new approaches, and thus it prepared for the final touch, a change in its very name. Leading such transformations and normal scholarly business in sometimes difficult situations, and through losses as the untimely death of Marie Theres Fögen, is a great achievement. I will not try to list all awards, academy memberships and honorary doctorates Stolleis received. Let one prize suffice, the Hegel-Preis awarded by the city Stuttgart to Stolleis in 2018. Hegel was not just a very influential philosopher. His views became central to state building in nineteenth-century Germany and nineteenth-century science, in particular for historical research, with consequences for the twentieth century at large.

In a time when law faculties have turned into law schools or just Fachbereiche we should remember Stolleis as a truly outstanding thinker whose publications can help to free you from preconceived views and following trodden paths. My words can hardly do justice to Michael Stolleis whom I greatly admired. Sadness about his death should be mixed with gratitude for his life, achievements and example of a lawyer and historian firmly rooted in past and present.

A postscript

On March 23, 2021 Thomas Duve published on behalf of the Max-Planck-Institut a much more detailed obituary for Michael Stolleis, in German and English. A very insightful and moving tribute by Kjell Å Modéer was published in June 2021 at Sådant allt met rätta.

Questioning how to do legal history in a virtual world

Banner MPI Legal History and Legal Theory, 2021

This week I received a message from Andreas Wagner of the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory, Frankfurt am Main, about an online survey concerning our views on scholarly events in a virtual world. I had already planned to look at the website of this institute and to ponder the impact of its new name. The word European did no longer fit the actual width and coverage of the scholarly research at the institute. Legal theory has come to the institute as a third branch with its own director. Even the name of the institutional Twitter account has been changed (@mpilhlt)!

With Sigrid Amedick Andreas Wagner is the convenor of the online conference Digital Methods and Resources in Legal History (March 1-5, 2021), originally planned as a normal scholarly event in 2020. At this Max-Planck-Institute Wagner is involved with digital humanities and the project concerning the School of Salamanca.

Let’s not hesitate and give you here right below the message about the questionnaire. Hopefully the answers scholars give will help to establish best practices for online scholarly events, and help fostering critical thought about the way digital humanities and online research have an impact on doing legal history.

The questionnaire

Dear colleagues,

After roughly one year of covid-19 pandemic, working from home office, online team meetings and many other online things have come to shape our academic lives. Even academic conferences nowadays are starting to be organized as virtual events rather than be postponed indefinitely. However, no clear picture of benefits and drawbacks of virtual conference formats has emerged, let alone a common knowledge about best practices and about the many different forms that such virtual events can take.

At the Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory, we thus had the idea to launch a survey in order to solicit the opinions of the legal historians’ community on these things. This survey is meant to establish a glimpse of the state of virtual events in our discipline: the expectations and demands of scholars, the traps to avoid, and maybe even some ideas worth probing.

We cordially invite legal historians of all shades to participate and fill out our questionnaire. It contains about 40 questions in 5 groups/pages (General Questions, Activity Formats, Socializing, Publishing, General Comment) and it should take you roughly 15 minutes to complete. We will be very thankful for every response.

The questionnaire will remain open throughout all of February, closing on Feb 28 at 23:59:59 UTC. Results will be published on our homepage ( and announced or reported on at various media like twitter, newsletters, blogs and journal sites. The survey adheres to very strict rules about data protection, which is one reason why we will not be able to send you a confirmation message or information about the results individually (the questionnaire is simply not asking for your e-mail address).

If you have any questions about the survey, please send a message to and we will be happy to answer.

Best regards,

Andreas Wagner

May the best win! A look at legal history prizes

Some subjects on this blog come into view view thanks to kind alerts of scholars and institutions. Earlier this year the American Association for Legal History asked me to include a notice about one of its book awards in my congress calendar. Last week I received a message about an Italian premio in remembrance of Tullio Ascarelli and Domenico Maffei. The kind message of Paola Maffei prompted me to create a section in my congress calendar for the main prizes and awards in the field of legal history. Inevitably I will have overlooked some prizes in the first version, and hopefully you will inform me about other awards and prizes. Of course this offers me a chance to look here briefly at those prizes which I did find.

Prizes and awards

Banner Trinagle Wen Legal History, Duke UniversityLegal history portals are the obvious starting point for searching prizes and awards. One of the oldest still existing portals is Legal history on the Web of Duke University Law School. Its list opens with the prizes of the American Association for Legal History. The list of Duke University mentions two awards of the Law and Society Association, and the Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition offered by the Legal History and Rare Books section of the American Association of Law Libraries.

The list of the prizes offered by the AALH is rather long, and the number of themes and subjects is wide. In the list of Legal History on the Web one recently created prize is missing, the Peter Gonville Stein Book Award which is offered for the best book outside the field of American legal history. The Squire Law Library of Cambridge University has a page with a tribute to Peter Stein (1926-2016) by Lesley Dingle and Daniel Bates.

The Law and Society Association, too, offers a number of awards, two of them can be awarded for work in legal history, the general dissertation award and more specifically the J. Willatd Hurst Prize for a study in the field of socio-legal history.

The prize named after Morris Cohen is awarded for an essay dealing with matters touching legal history, rare books and legal archives. Cohen taught at several American law schools. His magnum opus is the Bibliography of Early American Law (6 vol., Buffalo, NY, 1998; supplement 2003). Morris Cohen (1927-2010) worked as a law librarian at several American universities. His obituary and the comments of colleagues show his importance as an inspiring scholar, teacher and book collector.

An international prize named after a scholar who died very young is the Premio Gérard Boulvert awarded at the Università degli Studi di Napoli by an international jury. Gérard Boulvert (1936-1984) did research in the field of Roman law. Mainly works on Roman law are entered for this competition. The interesting thing here is the presence of other smaller prizes.

One of the questions you face in creating a list of relevant prizes and awards is the choice between national and international prizes. At least two prizes deserved inclusion right away. The Deutsche Rechtshistorikertag, a biannual event, is open to scholars from all over the world, though scholars from Germany, Switzerland and Austria form a numerical majority. The Preis des deutschen Rechtshistorikertages is for young scholars. The Hermann Conring-Preis is an award for work in the fields of legal history, legal philosophy or legal theory. Hermann Conring (1606-1681) was a most versatile scholar who taught rhetoric, philosophy, medicine and political science. In one of his works, De origine juris Germanici (1643) he laid the foundations for academic research into German legal history.

So far we have already seen a few examples of multiple prizes. The Premio Ascarelli-Maffei consists of three prizes, the first for lyrical chant (Marcella Ascarelli Ziffer), the second for commercial law (Tullio Ascarelli) and the third for legal history (Domenico Maffei). Franca Ascarelli put some articles, a full bibliography and a curriculum vitae of her husband Domenico Maffei (1925-2009) on Academia, and also a PDF of a manuscript catalogue to which he contributed, the Catálogo de los manuscritos jurídocos de la Biblioteca Capitular de La Seu d’Urgell, Antonio García y García (ed.) (La Seu d’Urgell 2009). The first recipient of the premio for legal history is Manuela Bragagnolo (Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History, Frankfurt am Main). She received the prize on October 5, 2019 in a ceremony held at the Biblioteca Comunale degli Intronati in Siena, a most fitting surrounding for this event.

Looking back I realize the research for my Ph.D. thesis on Nicolaus Everardi was certainly written under the impression of Maffei’s first book, Gli inizi del umanesimo giuridico (Milan 1956). His first book has become a classic study. Among his book-length studies are works such as La donazione di Costantino nei giuristi (Milan 1964) on the Donation of Constantine, Giuristi medievali e falsificazioni editoriali del primo Cinquecento : Iacopo di Belviso in Provenza? (Frankfurt am Main 1979), and with Paola Maffei Angelo Gambiglioni giureconsulto aretino del Quattrocento. La vita, i libri, le opere (Rome 1994). He edited also the massive catalogue of the I codici del Collegio di Spagna di Bologna (Milan 1992). Maffei’s deep knowledge of juridical manuscripts and old legal books, and his wide interests made him into a legal historian who pointed to roads for doing comparative legal history.

Let’s end this post with another prize which owes its name to a towering figure in the field of comparative legal history, The Van Caenegem Prize created in 2014 by the European Society for Comparative Legal History, and awarded every two year to a young legal historian for an article in this field. Last year I wrote her my personal tribute to Raoul van Caenegem (1927-2018). Seeing his very name helps me to remember also the David Yale Prize and the Sir James Holt Award offered by the Selden Society. The existence of a substantial number of prizes in the field of legal history should work as an invitation, in particular for young scholars, to put your very best work under the scrutiny of the juries, and to make your research benefit from these awards. Hopefully the list of awards and prizes can help a bit to push aside hesitations to enter one of these competitions.

200 years Monumenta Germaniae Historica, a story of editions, projects and scholars

Flyer "200 Jahre MGH-Editionen"Every year some subjects and themes are brought to your attention just because there is some jubilee or centenary. In the face of their sheer number I wisely do not venture to trouble you with all centennial or even bicentennial celebrations. For me the Monumenta Germaniae Historica are exceptional in many ways. In view of the scholarly impact on the field of medieval history, German and European history, and in particular many fields of legal history. A meeting in Frankfurt am Main on January 20, 1819 has had a very important influence on the shaping of history as a scholarly discipline taught at universities. The flow of editions produced in two centuries is one thing to marvel at, but the story of this institution is much richer. Some celebrations have already been held in January, but the last week of June 2019 has been chosen as the week with more events around this bicentenary. I will try to be as concise as possible, but the story of the MGH deserves space!

History, nationalism, Romanticism

Logo MGH, Munich

The start of the project we now know as the Monumenta Germaniae Historica happened in a particular time and place. Horst Fuhrmann analyzed concisely in his splendid book on the scholars of the MGH the start of this enterprise and much more, and I follow here his lead [Sind eben alles menschen gewesen. Gelehrtenleben im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Dargestellt am Beispiel der Monumenta Germaniae Historica und ihrer Mitarbeiter (Munich 1998; online, MGH (PDF))]. After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1803, according to the late Peter Landau more important in Germany’s history than the reforms created by Napoleon, after the Napoleonic wars and the establishment of a new political order in Europe at the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) there was time in Germany to look backwards. You would assume that a number of people influenced by Romanticism founded the Gesellschaft für ältere deuttsche Geschichtskunde. the society for the study of older German history, but Lorenz vom Stein (1757-1831) and his visitors were not the archetypical romantics. This lawyer and former Prussian minister met at Frankfurt am Main with four delegates of the Bundestag, the central organ of the Deutsche Bund (1815). Vom Stein was known for his proposals for reforming public law and administration. Instead of looking back at the past he wanted to work to rebuild and strengthen Germany as a nation. The project originally set out to publish a number of sources in a relatively short time span, maybe ten years. Vom Stein had been in contact with leading German romantics to ask for their opinion and support.

In the first years the project met with some approval but also with indifference, criticism and even derision. Metternich subjected the first volumes to censorship. One of the ironies was the fact a team of students was sent to Paris to copy medieval manuscripts, because they were more bountiful and better accessible in the French capital than in other major libraries. The German states did not want to put money into the MGH. An offer for funding the project came not from German politicians, but from the Russian tsar. Vom Stein politely declined and spend a lot of his own money. In 1820 an accompanying journal was started, the Archiv für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde, the ancestor of the current Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters. From 1823 onwards an archivist from Hannover, Georg Heinrich Pertz (1795-1876), led the small team around Vom Stein. He designed the division of the editions into five major series, the Scriptores for editions of works dealing with history, the Leges with legal resources, the Epistolae for letters, the Diplomata for charters, and the Antiquitates for other sources. Pertz stayed with the Monumenta for fifty years.

Fuhrmann, himself a former president of the MGH, was quite right in writing a story about scholars as people, ordinary mortals with great gifts and sometimes wilful personal characteristics. The strife between Pertz and Georg Waitz (1813-1886) was not only a matter of different visions of history and scholarly practices, an archivist developing on his own the historical-critical method to edit sources against a scholar trained by Ranke, but also a clash of two humans. Some projects stemming from the MGH belong to the Vorarbeiten, preliminary works such as the Regesta Imperii started by Johann Friedrich Böhmer who later on after quarrels with the MGH decided to edit a series Fontes rerum Germanicarum (4 vol., Stuttgart 1843-1868). Others, too, had their trouble with the MGH and started their own series. Philipp Jaffé edited after his break with Pertz the series Bibliotheca rerum Germanicarum (6 vol., Berlin 1864-1873). Thus the MGH delivered not only its editions, but set path-breaking examples of using the historical-critical method. It became a model for projects abroad by the very fact they initially stuck to just publishing sources, not scholarly monographs. Controversies about its role and aims led to other important scholarly projects in the field of medieval history.

A human history

With Philipp Jaffé (1819-1870) we encounter perhaps the most tragic of all Monumentisten. Jaffé had studied in Berlin, and without getting a Ph.D. he started his own projects. The first edition of his Regesta pontificum Romanorum, a work listing 11,000 papal acts and charters up to 1198, appeared in 1851. In these years he studied medicine in Berlin and Vienna, believing he had no chance to make a career as an historian being a Jew. However, Ranke considered Jaffé his very best student and made him the first ausserplanmässiger professor in all Germany. Between 1854 and 1862 he worked for the MGH. On the title pages of the six volumes of the Scriptores series Jaffé helped editing his name was not mentioned. In 1863 a feud developed between him and Pertz, who eventually wanted to deny him access to the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. Jaffé started his own series with major source editions. He got estranged from his family, converted to Lutheranism, and in growing isolation he took his life in 1870, a fact that shocked the scholarly world.

It is impossible to follow here the MGH and its contributors through all its history, if only for the sheer number of scholars for which you can find photographs at the MGH website. Jews had indeed a great role for the published editions. In particular Harry Bresslau, the author of the Geschichte der Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Hannover 1921; reprint 1976; online, MGH) felt hurt under antisemitic attacks. During the period of the Third Reich Ernst Perels and Wilhelm Levison were among the targets of the Nazi regime. The MGH became a Reichsinstitut für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde, but Nazi control was not total. In 1939 Levison could find a refuge in Durham. In 1944 the MGH had to leave Berlin for Pommersfelden near Bamberg. In 1949 the institute came to Munich where the MGH found in 1967 its current location in the main building of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. You can find the titles of the MGH’s own publications about its history on this web page.

The library collection of the MGH is now famous for its riches, but it was only after getting in 1907 the books of Ludwig Traube and in 1911 those of Oswald Holder-Egger a substantial library came into existence [see Norbert Martin, ‘Die Bibliothek der Monumenta Germaniae’Bibliotheksforum Bayern 19/3 (1991) 287-294]. One of the special qualities of the online catalogue is the presence of links to reviews of works in the Deutsches Archiv. Nowadays we may take dMGH, the digital MGH, for granted, but such projects are solely possible with financial means and other support by institutions as for example the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). The MGH have a legal status under public law as an institution for the Freistaat Bayern with subventions by other Bundesländer. I have been fortunate to work in 1997 and 1998 with the library staff of the MGH, and my fond memories of these days prompt me to write here, too. Apart from the vast collection with printed books on the history of medieval Europe the Virtueller Lesesaal offers a lot of books in several sections. Here I would like to single out the digital version of Paul Oskar Kristeller’s Latin manuscript books before 1600. A list of the printed catalogues and unpublished inventories of extant collections (4th edition, 1993; supplement, 2006; revised digital edition 2016). This indispensable guide has been revised and updated by Sigrid Krämer and Birgit Christine Arensmann.

A mighty enterprise

The time with just five massive series of editions is long ago, a mighty fleet of series has sailed into our century. The Monumenta Germaniae Historica in its printed form take many shelves in a library and make a mighty impression. In the early eighties the very stacks with the folio volumes of the MGH collapsed in the rather new library of the history department in Utrecht, luckily before opening hours. Apart from a library catalogue you might better use the yearly leaflet with an overview of the editions which duly was posted near these stacks. The Gesamtverzeichnis 2019 is also available online (PDF). In 1997 even the library of the MGH decided to catalog again all editions since 1826.

Legal historians will within the old series and the current program of edition projects first of all turn to the Leges and Diplomata series. In the Leges series there are currently projects for sources such as the Collectio Gaudenziana (Wolfgang Kaiser), the Collectio Walcausina (Charles Radding), a part of the Leges Langobardorum, capitularies, formulae, and even for the most intriguing and difficult corpus of Pseudo-Isidorian decretals, just one example of a project which cannot be seen properly without looking to other forged collections around it. More soberly it is also an example of a project running over many decades. If you remember Antonio Agustín’s reluctance in the late sixteenth century to pronounce a clear verdict, a forgery or genuine material, even though he was in the best position to do this, you will understand the courage of scholars such as Horst Fuhrmann, Schafer Williams, Klaus Zechiel-Eckes and now Eric Knibbs to proceed in their wake with finally producing a critical text edition. Among other projects in this series are editions of medieval councils, a new edition of Regino of Prüm, royal constitutions, the glosses to the Sachsenspiegel, and the Latin version of an other treatise on German law, the Schwabenspiegel. It is good to see here attention for several kinds of legal systems

The publications within the Diplomata series may seem more straightforward. The sheer mass of charters issued from the Carolingian period onwards is indeed much greater than one could calculate in the first half of the nineteenth century. Nowadays not only charters of kings and emperors are being edited, volumes for some princes have appeared, too, and also for the Latin kings of Jerusalem. For the charters of the emperors Henry V and Henry VI there is even a digital pre-edition online, for the latter only for German recipients. Dieter Hägemann and Jaap Kruisheer, assisted by Alfred Gawlik, edited the two volumes of Die Urkunden Heinrich Raspes und Wilhelms von Holland (2 vol., Wiesbaden 1989-2006) with the charters of the only Roman king from the Low Countries. It is also the only case in which a Dutch scholar worked on a volume published for the MGH.

As for the newer series it is sensible to look here at just three series. In the series MGH Hilfsmittel we find works such as Uwe Horst, Die Kanonessammlung Polycarpus des Gregor von S. Grisogono. Quellen und Tendenzen (Wiesbaden 1980), the Wortkonkordanz zum Decretum Gratiani, Timothy Reuter and Gabriel Silagi (eds.) (5 vol., Wiesbaden 1990), the monograph of Rudolf Pokorny and Hartmut Hoffmann, Das Dekret des Bischofs Burchard von Worms. Textstufen – Frühe Verbreitung – Vorlagen (Wiesbaden 1991), and the printed edition of Linda Fowler-Magerl, Clavis Canonum. Selected canon law collections before 1140 (2005). Her work is now available online in a database with a German and English interface. Danica Summerlin and Christoph Rolker have added new canonical collections to the database.

The series Schriften der Monumenta Germaniae Historica is one of the oldest series to supplement the original program. You can choose at will in this series for classic studies. I mention here for legal history Arno Borst, Die Katharer (Stuttgart 1953), Horst Fuhrmann, Einfluß und Verbreitung der pseudoisidorischen Fälschungen von ihrem Auftauchen bis in die neuere Zeit (3 vol., Stuttgart 1972-1974), the six volumes of the congress Fälschungen im Mittelalter (6 vol., Stuttgart 1988-1990), Harald Siems, Handel und Wucher im Spiegel frühmittelalterlicher Rechtsquellen (Stuttgart 1992), and Maike Huneke, Iurisprudentia romano-saxonica. Die Glosse zum Sachsenspiegel-Lehnrecht und die Anfänge deutscher Rechtswissenschaft (Wiesbaden 2014).

Within Studien und Texte, the third series which I like to mention, you will find indeed both source editions and monographs, such as Stephan Beulertz, Das Verbot der Laieninvestitur im Investiturstreit (Wiesbaden 1991), and Sascha Ragg, Ketzer und Recht. Die weltliche Ketzergesetzgebung des Hochmittelalters unter dem Einfluß des römischen und kanonischen Rechts (Wiesbaden 2006), the first of a number of recent volumes in this series with studies and editions concerning medieval inquisitions. For your convenience I refer to the page on medieval legal procedure of my legal history website where I have included these works.

Time to celebrate

Flyer Bock auf MittelalterIn its long and illustrious history the Monumenta Germaniae Historica had to deal with many crises and decisive moments. Think only of the 1880 fire in the house of Theodor Mommsen in Charlottenburg which destroyed working materials of the Monumenta, his personal library and some precious manuscripts in his custody! Remember the periods with a stifling political climate in the dark times of the Nazi regime. During the Second World War some materials were stored in a mine which was destroyed in 1945. Many projects suffered setbacks when editors failed to do their jobs properly, when death came too soon for experts dealing with most difficult matters, or clashes happened between scholars. The presidents and the Zentraldirektion have to steer between many rocks. Sometimes the presence of particular scholars is most helpful. From my own period I cherish the memory of Reinhard Elze, former director of the Deutsches Historisches Institut in Rome, who walked each day from his home to the MGH in the Ludwigstrasse. I think his steady rhythm and kind presence helped everyone in a way to stay focused and open to people and ways to solve problems of any kind. The funny poster makes me remember the way Horst Fuhrmann could make jokes and show his happiness.

The program for the jubilee contained events in Berlin and Vienna in January, the festivities of last week in Munich, and a symposium to be held at the DHI in Rome on November 28-29, 2019 on “Das Reichsinstitut für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde 1935 bis 1945 – ein “Kriegsbeitrag der Geisteswissenschaften”? [The research institute of the Reich for the study of older German history, 1935-1945. A war contribution of the humanities?]. The DHI and the MGH were forced to merge in 1935. What impact did the control of the Reich have, and not only for substantially widening the budget? On June 28 a discussion panel rightly stressed the international character of the MGH has today. In 1947 the MGH for the first time elected corresponding fellows, then and ever since from abroad. The flyer for this event shows a list with more than fifty scholars from Europe, the USA and Japan. The main scholarly meeting on June 28 and 29 dealt with the theme Quellenforschung im 21. Jahrhundert [Research on sources in the 21st century].

What laurels does the MGH need? The founders put a crown of oak leafs around the motto in Latin which defies translation, but inspiration and labor of love is the very heart, not only the forests of medieval Germany. Using the older volumes with the introductions in Latin, slowing down your reading speed to digest the wealth of information in the double apparatus of the annotation, checking the Deutsches Archiv for thorough articles, concise information about new works, and the yearly messages of the Zentraldirektion on the progress of editions in preparation, looking at the website for new books in the holdings of the MGH which you might want to use yourself, too, you realize the contributors to the MGH put all their talents into helping to create sure foundations for research, Grundlagenforschung. They challenge you to do your own tasks in a similar dedicated way. Let’s hope the staff and fellows of the MGH can continue to work for the community of scholars in the fields of medieval law and history!


At the passing away of Peter Landau

Peter LandauEvery year the death of scholars in the field of legal history makes you reflect about the very different paths scholars pursue in their research. Over the years I try here not to look only at their scholarly achievements, but also at the way they lived, their human qualities and attitude. Sometimes it is challenging to give a complete picture of someone in view of his many activities. With Peter Landau not only a scholar of medieval canon law has passed away. The Monumenta Germaniae Historica and the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte announced his passing on Thursday May 23, 2019. Here I will look briefly at his scholarly career and publications, and I will tell about my personal experience with him in Munich.

From Berlin to Munich

Berlin was the place of birth of Peter Landau (February 26, 1935), but you must mention a lot of other towns in Germany and abroad when you want to do him justice. You will find the main dates of his life in the curriculum vitae on the website of the Stephan-Kuttner-Institute for Medieval Canon Law. Landau studied from 1953 onwards law, philosophy and history in Berlin, Freiburg im Breisgau and Bonn. In 1956 he got support from the Studienstifitung des deutschen Volkes. He stood his first federal juridical examination (Erstes Juristisches Staatsexam) in Cologne in 1958. In 1960 he became an assistant at the university of Bonn. Guided by Hermann Conrad he defended in 1964 his dissertation on the canonical concept of infamy, published as Die Entstehung des kanonischen Infamiebegriffs von Gratian bis zur Glossa ordinaria (Cologne-Vienna 1966). His PhD thesis brought him in 1965 to Yale University where he worked with Stephan Kuttner, not only for the preparation of his second dissertation (Habilitationsschrift), but also as a lecturer on canon law. In 1968 he defended his study on the role of church patrons in medieval canon law, published seven years later [Ius Patronatus. Studien zur Entwicklung des Patronats im Dekretalenrecht und der Kanonistik des 12. und 13. Jahrhunderts (Cologne-Vienna 1975)].

Peter Landau hold his first tenure as a law professor from 1968 to 1987 at the very new university of Regensburg, founded in 1962 and really starting in 1967. In these years he was twice a guest lecturer in the United States, at Berkeley in 1977 and in Chicago in 1984. He declined the call in 1983 to succeed Helmut Coing at the university of Frankfurt am Main. It will not do mentioning here all academic honors bestowed on Peter Landau. His membership of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences led him in 1986 as their representative to the board of directors of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica (MGH), a role he had until 2014. In 1987 he became a professor of law at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in the surroundings of the Leopold-Wenger-Institut für Rechtsgeschichte. His major role in the field of research concerning medieval canon law is clear from his presidency of the Society for Medieval Canon Law (1988-2000) and his presidency of the Stephan-Kuttner-Institute of Medieval Canon Law since 1991.

In Munich

When you look at the list of Peter Landau’s publications, even when only updated until December 2014, the years in Munich gave him the space and time for many publications despite a growing number of other tasks and duties. In July 1992 Landau hosted the quadriennial International Congress of Medieval Canon Law. By chance I had planned to work in Munich for my own thesis in June 1992. Even during the weeks of preparation for this congress other things continued as well. I attended the seminar Landau held on Anglo-American legal philosophy. I remember helping the staff with sending out by post the final congress mailing. The congress was a great event, not just a chance to meet people, but also a gathering of scholars from different disciplines all bringing their light on medieval canon law.

Rather unexpectedly the Institute of Medieval Canon Law had to move from Berkeley, and in 1995 Munich was chosen as its new home. At a meeting in May 1995 with Peter Landau he asked me whether I would like to help with the new start of this research institute, and in particular with creating again a functioning library with the scholarly collection of Stephan Kuttner. Early 1997 I came to Munich to start with this task. Imagine yourself surrounded by hundreds of large boxes, many of them containing books, others offprints, letters and microfilms! Peter Landau set the direction of the things to do and just as important, he showed his confidence in me. His connection to the MGH helped to get quickly support from its library staff in creating an electronic catalogue. He urged me to attend also a seminar of his colleagues in the Abteilung A of the Wenger Institute, by any account Germany’s focus of research into Roman law. One of the most amazing things about Peter Landau was his absolutely marvellous ability to change focus and to go straight to the matters at hand, be they the very heart or important details. He smiled when his secretary Hille Sachtler gave him his daily map with letters to sign. Details about conciliar canons and papal decretals were literally within his reach in his large office lined with walls of files concerning legal collections and about ongoing research projects he was involved in.

Creating critical editions of important texts in the field of medieval canon law is one of the most urgent needs in this field, but also an often daunting task, even for the experts of the Kuttner-Institute. Peter Landau edited with the late Rudolf Weigand and Waltraud Kozur a late twelfth-century summa, Magistri Honorii Summa ‘De iure canonico tractaturus’ (3 vol., Città del Vaticano 2004-2010). He saw the completion of another summa edition, again with Weigand, Kozur, Martin Petzolt and Karin Miethaner-Vent and others, of the Summa ‘Omnis qui iuste iudicat’ sive Lipsiensis (5 vol., Città del Vaticano 2007-2018). The presence of these editions is among the most important developments in the field of ongoing research into medieval canon law.

You will soon be aware of the sheer width of Landau’s scholarly interest when you look at the different subjects and periods he addressed in his publications. The number of journals he contributed to is impressive in itself. It is a surpise to note his article on ‘Karl Marx und die Rechtsgeschichte’, Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 41 (1973) 361-371. A number of his articles concerning canon law have been reprinted with updates in the volume Kanones und Dekretalen. Beiträge zur Geschichte der Quellen des kanonischen Rechts (Goldbach 1997). You can find his contributions on many more themes in the volume Europäische Rechtsgeschichte und kanonisches Recht im Mittelalter. Ausgewählte Aufsätze aus den Jahren 1967 bis 2006 (Badenweiler 2013). Last year a volume appeared with 40 articles showing also his interest in German law of the two last centuries [Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte im Kontext Europas (Badenweiler 2018)]. He was the editor and co-editor of a number of volumes with articles on a variety of themes. His book on the foundations and history of Protestant church law shows another theme of his publications, Grundlagen und Geschichte des evangelischen Kirchenrechts und des Staatskirchenrechts (Tübingen 2010)Catholic Bavaria proved to be a most welcome and respectful home for the Protestant Landau.

Peter Landau showed his interests in many ways. His time was precious indeed. Very often he succeeded in asking immediately the right questions. It is reassuring to know he readily made time free for a beer in a nearby Biergarten when guests left Munich after a research visit. While reading my musings I noticed that I left out some very personal memories of Peter Landau which I really like to keep private, but I can assure you they show him at his most helpful. Let’s remember Peter Landau for his energy, his vision for the study of medieval canon law, his legacy as a teacher and a prolific author. In him we have lost a man of many qualities.


Diversity and unity: Raoul Charles van Caenegem (1927-2018)

Raoul Van caenegem - source: Academia Europaea, Friday June 15, 2018 Raoul van Caenegem passed away. Last week the legal historians of the Law Faculty at Ghent University, his alma mater, sent an in memoriam in a special issue of the Rechtshistorische Courant. The Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History published on June 25 a short notice about Van Caenegem. After some reflection about the right way to write here about Van Caenegem, translating these most fitting words from Flemish into English is probably the best thing to do.

Diversity and unity

After briefly mentioning his honours and awards the eulogy starts as follows: “The oeuvre of Van Caenegem is very diverse. A typical Van Caenegem story tells how he meets someone who expresses his admiration for his book. In such cases Van Caenegem did not reply “Which book?”, but remained friendly and tried to divine which book the other person could mean. Along his career Van Caenegem published about a wide range of subjects, making it difficult for relative outsiders to oversee his production. However, even knowing a small part of these publications leaves you mightily impressed. The editorial committee of the Rechtshistorische Courant will point here mainly to publications about legal history. Flemish medievalists do know him from his book on Flemish criminal law and criminal procedure in the fourteenth century, works inaccessible to foreign scholars because they have never been translated. It is the other way around with his Appels flamands, an edition of appeals from Flanders to the Parlement de Paris in the fourteenth and fifteenth century, widely read in France, but much less in Flanders.

The general public in Flanders knows Van Caenegem as the author of Geschiedenis van Engeland and Engeland Wonderland. His Flemish readers do not know generally about the praise of English legal historians for books such as Royal writs in England from the Conquest to Glanvill, The birth of the English common law and English lawsuits from William I to Richard I. English readers in turn might not know about the two general books on English history. Generations of Flemish students have toiled over Van Caenegem’s Geschiedkundige inleiding tot het recht, not knowing at that time this work has been translated meanwhile in languages ranging from English to Chinese, and that they are not used as student handbooks, but by graduate students and professors of legal history and comparative law. Two other publications fit into the same row, Judges, legislators and professors and European law in the past and the future. Medievalists might pass these books, but they were able to benefit from the Encyclopedie van de geschiedenis der middeleeuwen and its later translations and adaptations such as the Introduction aux sources de l’histoire médiévale. In this case Van Caenegem continued a work started by his own teacher François Ganshof, in other cases he was a pioneer without followers. For a general history of European procedural law you still have to turn to his synthesis in the History of European civil procedure. He was also the editor of many volumes and articles. There are two volumes for his English articles, but many could follow filling easily some bookshelves. We can point to his work on Flemish keuren – not only customary law, but also legislation by the Flemish counts, OV – and his studies about Galbert of Bruges.

The truly groundbreaking thing is Van Caenegem did not look upon old law as a national but an European phenomenon. Now it is commonplace to speak about European legal history, but this started only after 1990. Without diminishing the role of other great scholars we can safely say Van Caenegem’s handbook did play a vital role in this development. They helped lawyers all over Europe to realize this continent had once upon a time one common legal history, and that Europe is heading again to a shared legal culture. It is no coincidence that the European Society of Comparative Legal History awards since 2014 the R.C. Van Caenegem prize, named after the savant seen by this society as its great example. Van Caenegem himself did underline the fact European legal history in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period is not only a history of unity, but of diversity. Next to the great professors of the ius commune you can find the Grote Keure of Ghent. Long before the Brexit Van Caenegem emphasized how the common law was a strange element in the story of Europe. European law has many aspects. Van Caenegem knew as few others how to show this diversity for many branches of law: private law, criminal law, criminal procedure and public law. When you have an overview of Van Caenegem’s oeuvre you can only humbly confirm the words of an American scholar who many years ago said to a young student of Van Caenegem: You’ve been studying with God himself!”

A few words

I can confirm the mighty impression Van Caenegem could make when I remember my very first appearance for an audience of Belgian and Dutch legal historians. I felt instantly the presence of someone who was not only bodily, but also scientifically a giant with an inquisitive mind. In later years I knew also his kind but still towering presence. Fifteen years ago a vice-president of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences told how relieved he was when he finally knew how to address Van Caenegem without trembling to make a fault: mijnheer de baron, a consequence of the peerage bestowed on him.

For many years Van Caenegem served as a member on the governing board of the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt am Main. He wrote in 2010 a lovely article about his own memories of great scholars for one of the scholarly journals of this institute, ‘Legal historians I have known: a personal memoir’Rechtsgeschichte / Rg 17 (2010) 253-299. Earlier this year I received a copy of the first Dutch edition (1962) of the Guide to the Sources of Medieval History. Even when it is clearly the work of both Ganshof and Van Caenegem you cannot escape from the thought Van Caenegem made already his imprint. For those thinking all his books have been mentioned above, I can mention at least one other book I have at home, Over koningen en bureaucraten. Oorsprong en ontwikkeling van de hedendaagse staatsinstellingen [On kings and bureaucrats. Origin and development of contemporary state institutions] (Amsterdam-Brussels 1977), a book on state formation, institutional history and public law. For decades Dutch legal historians and historians abroad saw his name on the cover of the Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis. It will not help much to add here other things. We can only mourn with scholars at Ghent University the loss of Van Caenegem, we can share with them the profound gratitude for his countless services to European and legal history during his long and productive life.

A postscript

The blog of the association Standen en Landen / Anciens Pays et Assemblées d’États published on June 19, 2018 an in memoriam in Dutch and French. On June 25, 2018 Maastricht University published a notice on its website with a drawing of Van Caenegem taken from his 2010 article in Rechsgeschichte/Rg.

The Hafliðaskrá, a legendary law

Logo Islendinga Sogur, 2018This summer a very special commemoration will take place in Iceland. 900 years ago the first Icelandic laws, the Hafliðaskrá, came into existence. At the seventeenth International Saga Conference to be held at Reykjavik and Reykholt on August 12-17, 2018, the jubilee made it even into the title, Íslendinga sǫgur / 900 years Grágás Laws. What are the Gragas? What do we know about their relationship to this law? How does they relate to Icelandic sagas? I will try to provide an introduction to these laws and some answers to these questions. In two earlier posts Scandinavian laws came here already into view. The first post offered a general overview, and the second post looks at modern translations of Nordic laws.

Laws and literature

Medieval Iceland is famous for its sagas, legendary tales about Iceland’s medieval society with grisly stories, strong men and strange encounters. Icelandic is a language with roots in Old Norse. Approaching the sagas and the Edda, the most famous collection of sagas, is complicated by the existence of two versions, one in prose, the other in poetry.

Let’s first look at the Hafliðaskrá. If you would look in the Wikipedia in its various versions you will find only articles about this law in Icelandic, Swedish and Spanish. The lemma in the Icelandic Wikipedia is very short, the Swedish tells us more, and the Spanish points even to scholarly literature. The Hafliðaskrá is a set of laws proposed in the Althing, the Icelandic parliament, by Hafliði Másson and Bergþór Hrafnsson, a lögsögumaður, literally a law man, knowledgable about the law, a term not so far from the Latin iurisperitus. The Hafliðaskrá is also called the BergþórslögFor the first time in Iceland’s history laws were written down. The great paradox of the Hafliðaskrá is that there is no manuscript witness to its text. We know about it thanks to a saga. It is therefore unclear to which extent any laws issued in 1118 in the Hafliðaskrá are part of the Grágás law collection published around 1200.

Banner Handrit

For the Grágás 55 manuscripts are listed at the Icelandic manuscript portal Handrit, accessible in Icelandic, Swedish and English. There is an entry for the Grágás in the English Wikipedia. By the way, this is the point to mention the online version of the Íslensk-ensk orðabók (Concise Icelandic-English Dictionary), online in the Icelandic digital collection of the University of Wisconsin. The etymology of the word Grágás is curious. Either they are literally the Grey Goose Laws, or they were supposed to have been written with goose quills. The bibliography by Halldór Hermannsson, The Ancient Laws of Norway and Iceland. A Bibliography (Ithaca, N.Y., 1911; Islandica, 4) has been digitized and can quickly be accessed as part of Cornell University’s Islandica: A Series in Icelandic Studies where the latest monographs in the Islandica series published since 2008 can be read online, too.

Gragas - ms. GKS 1157 fol., f. 84

The Grágás in the Konungsbok – Reykjavik, Stofnun Árna Magnússonar, GKS 1157 fol., f. 84r – source: Handbok i norrøn filologi,

Scholars view two manuscripts as the main textual witnesses of the Grágás, the Konungsbók [GKS 1157 fol., since 1979 in the Stofnun Árna Magnússonar, Reykjavik; written 1240-1260] and the Staðarhólsbók [Reykjavik, Stofnun Árna Magnússonar, AM 334 Fol., written 1260-1281], both accessible online at Handrit, the digital library of Icelandic manuscripts, The Konungsbók manuscript was held for a long period at the Royal Library in Copenhagen, hence its Latin designation Codex Regius. The Grágás were edited by Vilhjálmur Finsen, first from the Konungsbók, published as Grágás: Islændernes lovbog i fristatens tid (…) in four volumes between 1852 and 1870. Finsen added a Danish translation. The first volume of his edition is online at Baekur, the central Icelandic digital library, but you can find all four volumes in the Internet Archive. In 1879 Finsen’s edition of the Grágás in the Staðarhólsbók appeared. Peter Foote, Andrew Dennis and Richard Perkins translated the Grágás into English [Laws of Early Iceland: Grágás (2 vols., Winnipeg 1980-2006)]. You can read the text of the Grágás in Finsen’s edition (vol. 1) also online at the Icelandic Wikisource. Another online version of the first volume of Finsen’s edition is in fact a reprint [Grágás. Konungsbók (Odense 1974)] which mentions other translations, in Latin, Hin forna lögbók Íslendínga sem nefnist Grágás. Codex juris Islandorum antiquissimus qui nominatur Grágás, Johan Frederik Vilhelm Schlegel (ed. and transl.) (Hafniae 1832) and in German, Islandisches Recht. Die Graugans, Andreas Heusler (transl.) (Weimar 1937), published in the series Germanenrechte of the Akademie für Deutsches Recht, an institution created in 1933 to support ideas of the Nazi regime about law and order in the Third Reich. J.F.W. Schlegel (1765-1836) was a Danish nephew of the brothers August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel. Heusler (1865-1940) was a Swiss medievalist and a specialist of Germanic and Scandinavian languages literature. Earlier he published for example a study on criminal law in the sagas, Das Strafrecht der Isländersagas (Leipzig 1911; online, Internet Archive).

German scholars have continued to study the language of the Grágas in great detail, leading to studies like such as Wortschatz der altisländischen Grágás (Konungsbók) by Heinrich Beck (Göttingen 1993). More recently appeared the monograph by Hans Henning Hoff, Hafliði Másson und die Einflüsse des römischen Rechts in der Grágás (Berlin 2012) who studies the person of Hafliði Másson and looks at the influence of Roman law and Christianity on laws in medieval Iceland. He also gives an overview of early Icelandic laws and their manuscript transmission.

While reading about the Grágás it becomes clear this name has been used only since the sixteenth-century. It must be remembered, too, that Iceland lost its independence in the years 1262-1264 to Norway. There is a very substantial distance in time between the surviving manuscripts and their redaction in their rather loose form transmitted over the centuries. Only a few leaves from the twelfth century with laws known later from the Grágás have survived [AM 315 d fol, dated 1150-1175]. Alas they are only partially readable at the surface without special light and other modern tools. At Handritin heima, a website in Icelandic, Swedish, Danish and German, you will find palaeographical and codicological guidance to medieval Icelandic manuscripts. We must remember in particular the efforts of Árni Magnússon (1668-1730) to save Icelandic manuscripts and books, but in 1728 a fire in Copenhagen destroyed many printed books and luckily only a smaller number of manuscripts in his house. Lost forever were thus early versions of famous texts such as the Heimskringla. For the prose version of the Edda the Codex Traiectinus, a manuscript written on paper around 1600 and held at Utrecht since 1643 (Utrecht, Universiteitsbibliotheek, ms. 1374; digital versionSpecial Collections UB Utrecht) is one of only four more or less complete surviving manuscripts.

Banner Stofnún Arni Magnússonar

The Stofnún Arna Magnússonar (SAM) in Reykjavik honours Magnusson’s heritage and scholarly work and promotes research in the field of Iceland’s cultural history. The institute hosts a number of projects and databases. Six language projects are presented at the Malid portal. The SAM has also created the Íslenskt textasafn, an Icelandic textual corpus, and the ISLEX Orðabókin, a multilingual online dictionary for the various Scandinavian languages. One of the projects awaiting completion is an online catalog of Icelandic manuscripts in Canada and the United States.

The University of Copenhagen has become the home of the Den Arnamagnæanske Kommission, a commission founded in 1772 to govern the Arnamagnæanske Stiftelse, the foundation that safeguarded Magnusson’s manuscripts, books and papers. You can read online at Baekur the 1889 catalogue of the 3,000 manuscripts of which 1,400 remain in Copenhagen. The Danish institute has created a separate website about medieval Nordic manuscripts and the online Ordbog over det norrøne prosasprog, a dictionary for Old Norse and Icelandic prose. The project for The Medieval Nordic Legal Dictionary has so far resulted in a series of translations and studies, and an indispensable bibliography which you can download. Creating the dictionary will be a work for many years. At Septentrionalia you can find a PDF version of Andrea de Leeuw van Weenen’s Grundwörterschatz Altisländisch (1999).

There is a clear tradition of studying Icelandic law in connection with Icelandic literature. This tradition is at work, too, in the choice of themes in the section around the Grágás of the conference in August 2018. Among the themes are the contrast between oral and written culture, the history of legal and administrative institutions, ecclesiastical versus secular law, and of course law and legal culture in the Icelandic sagas. The role of legal knowledge in politics and the historiography of medieval law and legal culture, too, will come into view. One of the things shown here at several points is the need to look at resources in neighbouring Scandinavian countries when you are studying one of them., but of course it is wonderful to go to all these Icelandic digital resources with their short names! While writing the last paragraphs of this post the weather in my country was rather hot. Hopefully it did not lead me to serious errors or omissions. Comments and additional information are always welcome, and to many posts I have added postscripts. Let’s hope the weather and volcanoes on Iceland will not disturb the conference in August.