Tag Archives: Ancient law

A meeting of laws in ancient Egypt

Start screen Synallagma

In December 2009 I started my blog on legal history, and every year I look back in particular to see how far I succeeded in “spanning centuries and continents”, a phrase I used in an early post. The number of gaps and omissions is perhaps not as large anymore as I had feared, but some subjects and themes seem to escape my attention, or they are definitely outside my range. This week I encountered a subject which reminded me how historians can avoid a subject not only for some sound technical reasons, but also like a kind of elephant in the room, very visible but nevertheless almost not to be mentioned. When studying Roman law we long to see its influence everywhere in the Roman world, but there is a state of mind in the Roman world we do not often mention, the awe of the Romans for Greek culture. A redesigned website about contracts in Greek law can perhaps help to put the balance right. Ancient Greek law seldom figures here, another reason to look at this interesting project.

Ancient Greek law

How should one approach ancient Greek law? Even when I did not dare to write about it here I have been aware of the very useful Nomoi portal for this vast subject, hosted at Simon Fraser University, The Digital Classicist Wiki gives you a fair idea of digital projects concerning Classical Antiquity. For the latest news you can often reckon on the marvellous Ancient World Online blog (AWOL) which figured here prominently in a 2016 post about journals for ancient legal history. In a post about inscriptions I did mention projects on the rim of the Roman empire, but in fact all countries around the Mediterranean and in the Near East form the territories of Classical Antiquity. I did not hesitate to mention papyri in that post, too.

In the project in the middle of this contribution a lot of themes come together: Greek law, inscriptions, papyri and Ptolemaic Egypt. The very title of the project Synallagma. Greek Contracts in Context goes with an explicit reference by its creator, Uri Yiftach (Tel Aviv University) to its earlier title, “Greek law in Roman times”, a phrase which indeed suggested Greek law is only a footnote or at its best a lesser relative of Roman law. Synallagma means originally mutual exchange. In the user guide and introduction Yiftach explains the working of this database with some 6,000 legal documents. With twelve fields you are able to filter for your specific search question. In the advanced search mode you can add search fields at will. In the overview of results the locations of documents, mainly in Egypt, take pride of place. Among the strengths of the Synallagma database are not only the references to the main overviews of inscriptions and papyri, but they will even directly link to them. You will see for example an embedded screen with information from Papyri.info, an aggregator of the main papyrological databases. These databases bring you to images, too.

A very useful function is the clauses section which distinguishes the elements of a contract. In the start screen you can select from twelve contract categories. You can set the presentation of search results in various orders. Thus it is easy to ascertain for example the first occurrence of a cheirographon in 247 BCE, and its latest in the eighth century CE, or to filter for contracts with women as one of the parties involved, in 1220 items. The drop down menu for gender includes also a couple, groups and forms of incorporation. Acts of sale dominate with 2820 items, followed by petitions and applications. some 2,500 items, nearly 1,600 lease contracts, and nearly 1,400 loans and deposits. The sum is higher than the total of 6,000 items, and one can readily assume the petitions concern all kind of contracts. There are 420 laws and decrees.

From Greek law to the Roman empire

P.Rain Cent. 166 - image Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna

P. Rain. Cent. 166 – image Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna

I was intrigued by the testamentary dispositions (235 items) in the Synallagma database. When I saw two of them stem from Ravenna in the sixth century CE I could not help being greatly interested from the perspective of Roman law. Alas the first, P.Ital.-01-00004-and 5, dated 552-575, and P.Ital. 01-00006 from 575 did not show up correctly at first in Synallagma. At Papyri.info only P.Ital. 1.4-5 (ChLA 17.653) is present. P.Ital I refers to the edition by Jan-Olof Tjäder, Die nichtliterarischen lateinischen Papyri Italiens aus der Zeit 445-700  (Lund 1955). In the Trismegistos database (TM) P. Ital. 1-6 (ChLA 2.714) is recorded as a Latin text in Greek script. ChLA stands for Chartae Latinae Antiquiores, and you can search for items in ChLA using an online database.

Synallagma notes two other documents from Ravenna. The first is P. Rain. Cent. 166 / ChLA 45.1346 = P. Ital I 10 = TM 35870, a Latin act of sale from the sixth or seventh century CE, digitized at Vienna. Another act of sale from 151 CE (SB 6 304, TM 18822) in a papyrus held at Giessen which turns out to be a wax tablet, written in Latin with passages in Greek script. You can read about it online in a study by Hans Georg Gundel, Antiker Kaufvertrag auf einer Wachstafel aus Ravenna (Giessen 1960). Papyri.info has a checklist for the most used editions and their abbreviations. I have on purpose expanded some of these references to papyri, but in fact I left much more out as you can check yourself.

Logo Trismegistos

Recently appeared a volume of essays with the title Ravenna: its role in earlier medieval change and exchange (London 2016), edited by Judith Herrin and Jinty Nelson, now put online in open access by the School of Advanced Study in London. Simon Corcoran contributed an article on ‘Roman law in Ravenna’ (pp. 163-198) and looked also at the evidence of papyri. Trismegistos makes it very clear that many hundred papyri stem from Ravenna, but only 70 are dated later than 400 CE.

One of the few quibbles I have with Synallagma is the absence of a possibility to save your results. No doubt such features are present for those who register with the project, and do not stay content with the guest access I used. You can frown on me for leaving Synallagma so quickly for the lures of papyrological databases, and eventually even for Roman law, but we should admit Synallagma inspires you to check such resources and link them with your own favorite subjects.

As for linking places with objects I cannot help adding here a link to Peripleo, the latest jewel in the crown of the Pelagios initiative. It offers nothing less than an interactive map where you can click on modern and ancient locations to find objects from Classical Antiquity associated with them. Miraculously there is no direct entry for Ravenna, but in one of its supporting resources, the Pleiades gazetteer, it is present, clearly a case of oversight. You might feel sometimes almost sick from manoeuvring from one site to another, but did scholars not use to work with piles of books in front of them to find their way? By patiently combining and comparing information, and as often as possible looking at projects or studies with a very particular search angle such as Synallagma, you can build slowly and cautiously but also consistently. Hopefully such resources will surprise you also every now and then with insights that help you decisively.


Messages on stones and histories in fragments

Banner Epigrafia 3-D

How can you make the memory of past actions last for later generations? In the Ancient World important matters were often committed in writing on stones. Studying inscriptions is one of the way historians dealing with Classical Antiquity approach their subject. Since the sixteenth century scholars versed in epigraphy, the study of inscriptions, help to gain insights into a vast subject which deals with three continents and roughly two millennia. Only a fraction of possible sources have survived, and thus it is understandable and necessary historians want to make the most out of them. Access to new resources and wider access to existing sources are most helpful in refining and re-adjusting our insights about this period.

Lately a number of online projects has come to my attention which bring ancient inscriptions closer to our century. You can do this in particular by just following the notices about epigraphy at the indispensable blog Ancient World Online of Charles Jones. Old editions have been digitized, new inscriptions are increasingly edited immediately in the digital domain, and some projects literally give us a wider view of these sources. A few years ago I already noted here a project sponsored by a Californian firm to present clay tablets from Mesopotamia in three-dimensional view. A Spanish project, Epigraphia 3D, dealing with Roman inscriptions in 3D-view prompted me to write here again about inscriptions. In some cases I will also look at other ancient sources, in particular papyri, but Roman inscriptions will be the main focus point.

Preserved in stone

Logo Hispania Epigraphica

The project Epigraphia 3D is the result of the combined efforts of the Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the Museo Arqueológico Nacional (Madrid) and the Museo Nacional de Arte Romano in Mérida. Even if your Spanish is rather weak navigating the website is easy. Two galleries with three-dimensional images of inscriptions form the heart of the project. The first gallery (Galería 3D MAN) for the archeological museum at Madrid contains 37 images, the second gallery (Galería 3D MNAR) shows nearly 60 images from the collections at Mérida. It is simply great to look at stones with inscriptions and to view them as if you were walking around them. Inscriptions mentioning slaves should remind you about an element of Roman society and law calling for particular attention. The variety of formats is in itself already a lesson widening your horizons. For every object the relevant epigraphical databases referring to them are mentioned. It would be a great service to have for each object direct links to these databases. However, you can at least use the link to its original location at the well-known Pleiades interactive map of the ancient world. For Roman inscriptions in Spain the main online resource is Hispanica Epigraphica (Universidad de Alcalá) with an interface in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Epigraphy as a historical auxiliary discipline has long been dominated by scholars writing in German, French and English, and therefore a Spanish point of reference is actually very welcome. In fact there is even an impressive and extensive online guide (labeled Recursos) introducing you to epigraphy. The section with enlaces (links) will bring you to many of the more traditional online resources. Some of these projects try to cover not just Roman of Greek inscriptions. Trismegistos, a platform created at Cologne and Louvain dealing with papyri and materials restricted to ancient Egypt and the Nile valley, recently started covering also inscriptions from other regions. By the way, the list of the Trismegistos partners and contributors is another fine overview of the main projects for papyri and ancient inscriptions. The mighty Epigraphik-Datenbank Clauss-Slaby (EDCS) features now also a searchable map for Roman inscriptions all over Europe.

Logo Digital Epigraphy and Archaeology

The Digital Epigraphy and Archeology Project led by the University of Florida has as one of its aims creating a toolbox for making three-dimensional inscriptions from squeezes, paper casts of inscriptions. with a nice showcase of 3D images of various ancient and medieval objects. The other projects on this website are a virtual museum of world heritage with 3D-images, seemingly now filled with just one object, and a section on interactive classical theatre. My first impression is that of a pilot project, and in fact it made me search again for projects showing more results. I could fairly quickly find a very relevant example which uses the freeware Sketchfab technology, a 3D-image of the famous Law of Gortyn, a legal text cut into the stones of a city wall on the island of Crete. You can find the Greek text online in the Searching Greek Inscriptions database, and an English translation in Paul Halsall’s Ancient History Sourcebook (Fordham University).

A bird-eye’s view

Logo Europeana Eagle

Reading about maps helping you to trace quickly inscriptions all over Europe – in fact I spotted a number of them found within my own neighbourhood – wets the appetite for more. You would like to be like an eagle finding inscriptions everywhere! The Epigraphia project shows in its bottom banner a number of logo’s, unfortunately not directly clickable, and one of them is to the Europeana Eagle project, a new branch of the Europeana network with magnificent online portals for several major subjects and themes in European history. It is infuriating that Europeana fails to give a quick list to them at its galaxy of sites. I have looked here in two posts especially at Europeana Regia with manuscripts from the libraries of three medieval kings. Currently the Eagle project covers nine online collections, including Hispania Epigraphica, the EDCS and the Epigraphic Database Heidelberg (EDH). The EDH has a clickable map of Europe bringing you to specific regions. Eagle contains now some 300,000 items.

Somehow I must be a bit old-fashioned when I worry about not seeing immediately at Eagle any reference to the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, but surely this has been connected to the main databases for searching Roman inscriptions. For those worrying about a too exclusive view at and use of inscriptions it is reassuring to see among the nine collections harvested at Eagle the Arachne database (Universität Köln) for archaeological objects. In my view Eagle scores with one particular feature, a mobile app for the two main platforms which enables you to view inscriptions in situ and check for their presence within Eagle. The app can even tell you whether Eagle contains similar inscriptions.

For scholars and everybody

Banner Ancient Lives

Greek and Latin can be formidable barriers to understand the classical world, yet the attraction of Classical Antiquity remains strong as ever. Precisely the inventive use of digital technologies has opened the world of classical studies to a much wider public. Interestingly the inverse connection, too, has started. Recently I encountered the crowdsourcing project Ancient Lives, a partnership between the Classics Faculty of the University of Oxford and the Zooniverse initiative. It is most remarkable that the Oxyrhynchus papyri collection (P. Oxy), almost the Holy Grail of papyri from ancient Egypt, should figure in a collaboration of classicists and the general public. Asking people to get involved in transcribing papyri is audacious indeed, even if you can see the appeal of this treasure to scholars worldwide. The Oxyrhynchus papyri is also one of the largest papyri collections. Nearly 80 volumes have been published for their critical edition. In view of the many aspects of creating this edition it becomes understandable to call upon people outside Oxford to help with one phase of the editorial process, creating reliable transcriptions which of course have to be checked and fortified by a critical apparatus. Imaging Papyri is the main project dealing with the Oxyrhynchus papyri.

On purpose I mention this project for papyri at Oxford, even if it seems to be a turn away from inscriptions. Exactly this effect can be viewed, too, at Oxford. There are at least two other epigraphical projects at Oxford I would like to include here. A focus on Egyptian papyri might almost blend out another project for sources from Egypt, the Corpus of Ptolemaic Inscriptions for the study of some 550 inscriptions and monuments with inscriptions. It is important to notice here the use of EpiDoc, an international initiative to develop a tailor-made version of TEI XML for publishing inscriptions online. With the Vindolanda Tablets from Northern England in the first and second centuries CE we encounter a resource particular close to daily life in a Roman province. The Vindolanda fort was situated south of Hadrian’s Wall. A concise virtual exhibition accompanies the online edition. The tablets contain not only complete documents and letters, but also drafts and school exercises. The presentation with at the left an image of a tablet, in the middle a transcription and at the right a translation is readily usable, and the search functions are most helpful. These tablets help you to look at Roman law in the context of daily life. They show encounters between the Latin culture and the peoples newly brought into the Roman empire or living at its borders.

A number of the websites highlighted here contain lists of links to other epigraphical projects, and thus you can easily expand my post to look beyond my personal interests. To round off my tour of projects I would like to look briefly at two other British projects dealing with inscriptions in regions where their very survival has become a matter of grave concern. King’s College London has created websites for the Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania (IRT) and for the Inscriptions of Roman Cyrenaica (IRCyr), regions in modern Libya, a nation with currently almost no functioning state, where ancient monuments become a prey for rivalling armed groups.

Histories in fragments

Lately I looked at the project portal Fragmentary Texts which aims at bringing together research concerning lost texts from Classical Antiquity and their afterlife in fragments. The links section of this portal gives you a nice overview of various projects dealing with the fragments of ancient authors. One of the reasons this project resonates for me is the fact that the study of legal history in ancient times also very often deals with fragments. Complete texts are actually exceptional. We might forget that for example the Twelve Tables, the praetorian edict and the texts of classical lawyers are mainly known from reconstructions. The textual transmission of Justinian’s Digest is nearly complete, but in its turn it contains enough elements of elder texts to allow scholars to reconstruct such texts which no longer exist independently. Only since two centuries we have a complete text of Gaius’ Institutiones when a palimpsest manuscript was finally discovered in Verona.

Inscriptions can help completing ancient texts or show a different textual transmission. Graffiti in Pompei sometimes help scholars to find the right wordings of famous quotes from literary texts. When you study Justinian’s Digest and Code you will note the inscriptiones, the preliminary references giving the names of consuls or the reference to the work of a classical lawyer. The very word inscriptio might remind you to look beyond manuscript sources, and to study law also in relation to its role in society. Reading for instance about the special inheritance rights of Roman legionnaires who had served many years with the Roman army, something linked with the concept of the peculium castrense, comes much more into life when you can look at military diplomas and inscriptions bearing witness to their lives and activities. Instead of only admiring such objects in a museum or knowing about editions of the texts engraved on them it is now possible to connect your own research and interests with them on many levels.

Let’s end here with pointing to three blogs. Two blogs of the Hypotheses network deal with ancient epigraphy, the French blog Épigraphie en réseau of the EpiDoc project, worth reading even if not updated seriously since 2012, and the Spanish blog e-pigraphia: Epigrafia en Internet, very much kicking and alive. Current Epigraphy is another blog that you might want to consult to keep up with developments in an old but vital part of Classical Studies. Studying inscriptions from other periods is of course also a most interesting theme, but here I prefer to remain close to Classical Antiquity.

A postscript

Both for those who think my post was too short and those who think it was (again!) too long follow here for your benefit and quick reference some of the newest additions about epigraphy at Ancient World Online: the Claros database (Madrid) with a concordance for Greek inscriptions, Axon; Silloge di Iscrizioni Storiche Greche (Università Ca’Foscari, Venice) the projects at Berlin for the Inscriptiones Graecae (IG) and Inscriptiones Christianae Graecae (ICG) with Christian inscriptions in Greece and Asia Minor, the Inscriptions of Israel / Palestine (Brown University) and even some of the latest issues of the Année Epigraphique in open access. All of them would perfectly suit another post on epigraphy. I should have pointed also to the digital library of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW), New York, home to the AWOL blog, and at at the very least I can give here a link to the digitized publications about ancient law and inscriptions.

On March 10, 2016, Sarah E. Bond published Epigraphy Enchiridion, a post on her blog about online handbooks and guides for Greek and Latin Epigraphy. Somehow I completely overlooked the app accompanying Eigraphia 3D with 60 inscriptions held at Mérida, well worth exploring!

Journeys to journals on Classical Antiquity


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

The power of a list

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

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

Logo MPI Frankfurt am Main

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

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

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

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

Cover RIDA 61 (2014)

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

The changing world of scholarly journals


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

Democracy in ancient Athens

These weeks one of the books I am reading discusses the first democracy. Last year Antoon van Hooff, a scholar who taught at Nijmegen, published Athene. Het leven van de eerste democratie [Athens. The life of the first democracy] (Amsterdam 2011; third impression 2012). Although aimed at a Dutch public, Van Hooff shows not only British scholars know how to write about Classical Antiquity for the largest possible audience. Reading his study I realized it would be interesting to look at new sources and publications on ancient democracy. In this post I am happy to benefit from the riches offered at The Ancient World Online – abbreviated as AWOL – by Charles Jones of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (New York University), a blog offering a wealth of information on new projects and publications in this vast field. Here I take the liberty of choosing rather at random postings in 2012 at this veritable treasure trove.

Pioneering democracy

Dēmos: Classical Greek Democracy is a project led by Christopher W. Blackwell which figured at AWOL in March 2012. Van Hooff mentions it in his book, too. This project aims at creating an online encyclopedia about the Athenian democracy. The project website is part of the Stoa Consortium. Among the features are translations of ancient Greeks texts, and notably a series of lectures given at the Center for Hellenic Studies of Harvard University on “Athenian Law in its Democratic Context”. Michael de Brauw contributes a glossary of Athenian legal terms.

In July 2012 Jones published a notice about another project led by Blackwell for a new edition of the papyrus with the so-called Constitution of the Athenians of Aristotle (London, British Museum, Pap. 131). Images of this papyrus can be viewed at a website of the Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina. The accompanying website brings you much more, including the classic commentary by J.E. Sandy and word lists.

Ostrakon with the name of Cimon

Ostrakon with the name of Cimon, 486 or 461 BC – Athens, Ancient Agora Museum

In the ostracism, the procedure to ban people whose power the Athenians wanted to curb, ostraca were used, potsherds with the names of politicians to be banned. These potsherds are among the most visually speaking objects concerning the Athenian democracy. Van Hooff does not fail to tell again the touching story of Aristeides – reported by Plutarch – who helped an opponent to write his name on a ostrakon. In January 2012 AWOL reported briefly on the new Berliner Papyrusdatenbank where you will also find ostraca from the collections of the Staatliche Museen Berlin. In June 2012 Jones wrote about a project of the universities of Halle, Jena and Leipzig for cataloguing and digitizing their papyri and ostraca. Ostraca are found elsewhere, too, not only in Athens. Roger S. Bagnall and Giovanni Raffall have published ostraca from Trimithis, an Egyptian village. At AWOL I found an announcement of the digital version of the edition by Hélène Cuvigny of ostraka found at Didymoi in Egypte.

Greek inscriptions can be found also online in the digital version of the Inscriptiones Graecae and other source editions, a project of the Packhard Humanities Institute. You can find the Inscriptiones Graecae also separately in a digital version provided by the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Ostraca are in particular present in the section Kerameikos III, Inschriften, Ostraka, Fluchtafeln, from the edition by Werner Peek (Berlin 1941; reprint 1974). The website of the Center for the Study of Ancient Documents at Oxford offers an extensive selection of online resources concerning classical epigraphy. At Duke University you will find an online list of editions of papyri, ostraca and tablets. In the section on ostraca and tablets you will find a great variety of texts. I did not immediately spot an edition of ostraka from Athens. Among the editions and studies are Mitteilungen aus dem Kerameikos. I. Ostraka, Alfred Brückner (ed.) (Athens 1915), Ostraka, Mabel L. Lang (ed.) (Princeton N.J., 1990; The Athenian Agora, 25), Stefan Brenne’s study Ostrakismos und Prominenz in Athen: attische Bürger des 5. Jahrhunderts. v. Chr. auf den Ostraka (Vienna 2001), and Ostrakismos-Testimonien, I: Die Zeugnisse antiker Autoren, der Inschriften und Ostraka über das athenische Scherbengericht aus vorhellenistischer Zeit, 487-322 v. Chr., Peter Siewert et alii (eds.) (Stuttgart 2002). Van Hooff remarks that ostracism was exercised in Athens only fifteen times between 487 and 417.

Imagining ancient Athens is made easier by a new virtual tour of the Acropolis, a website announced at AWOL on November 1, 2012. In his announcement Jones point also to the information about the geography of ancient Athens gathered at Pleaides, a website of his own institute and the Ancient World Mapping Center (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

Digital Antiquity

A lot of websites and blogs cover current research in the field of Classical Antiquity. The Digital Classicist is one of these blogs, which will lead you to several partner projects. For the congress calender of this blog I can find information for ancient history at websites such as Ius Civile and Compitum. In fact the versatile use of information technology in many forms should gain your admiration for the perseverance and great creativity of scholars studying ancient societies. Those scholars devoting also time to creating attention for such inventive projects on their blogs merit our gratitude for their efforts! In this short post I have only shown a few examples of much more which you can discover and enjoy for yourself and others. Even finding your road and choosing the means of transportation in Classical Antiquity is not forgotten. The ORBIS website of Stanford University will help you gaining insight into aspects of daily life which have relevance for legal history, too.

As for reading about the Athenian democracy, Van Hooff rightly reminds his readers that exactly this particular form of democracy has not always inspired modern Western democracies. One of the merits of revisiting familiar stamping grounds is to get more conscious of the different possible approaches to the Classics during the centuries. The twentieth century saw a number of shifts in attention and perspectives. Two decades ago appeared Christian Meier’s Athen. Ein Neubeginn der Weltgeschichte [Athens. A new start of the world’s history] (Berlin 1993). Classical Antiquity still has the power to be a mirror for contemporary society, and this is surely not restricted to works by British or American scholars.

A new forum on ancient Greek law

Logo of the DEGRIAC Forum

This week I received information from Emiliano J. Buis (Buenos Aires) about a new platform for the study of ancient Greek law, the Grupo de Trabajo sobre Derecho Griego Arcaico y Clásico y sus Proyecciones, abbreviated DEGRIAC. The new platform for the study of archaic and classical Greek law and its influence has been launched by the Instituto de Investigaciones en Historia del Derecho, the National Research Institute on Legal History in the capital of Argentina. The objective of this research group is to study ancient Greek law in its original sources and their impact from several disciplines. Buis teaches both at the law faculty and the Department of Classics of the Universidad de Buenos Aires. Theoretical aspects will get attention, too, in view of the historiography on ancient Greek law. One of the aims is to look at the laws of ancient Greek city states in a diachronic way and to study the tensions between aiming at justice and actual juridical practice in Athens and other cities. The DEGRIAC group invites scholars to participate, but first of all ideas, suggestions and help are welcome. You can reach Emiliano Buis in his function of coordinator at the mail address degriac@gmail.com. Good luck to this initiative from Argentina!

Rivista di Diritto Ellenico, a new e-journal for ancient Greek law

A few days ago the French legal history blog Nomôdos, the twin sister of the e-journal Clio@Themis, announced the first issue of the Rivista di Diritto Ellenico, a journal devoted to the study of ancient Greek law.

Logo Rivista di Diritto Ellenico This new journal is edited by scholars at Torino, Isernia and Verona. The Rivista di Diritto Ellenico is published in open access, but there is a connection with the publishing firm Edizioni dell’Orso in Alessandria. The first issue of the Rivista di Diritto Ellenico contains eleven articles and seven book reviews. The translation in Italian of an article from 1963 by Hans-Julius Wolff, ‘Verjährung von Ansprüchen nach Attischen Recht’, is a service which could very well be inspired by the translation into French of classic articles in each issue of Clio@Themis. All contributions in the first issue are in Italian. However, the editors invite authors to submit articles in Italian, English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish and modern Greek. You can send email to the editors at this address.

In the section Rara et dissertationes you will find digitized versions of articles and theses which are difficult to trace; at this moment you will find just two items. The Foglio Giusgrecistico is the news bulletin of the review, with announcements of conferences and details on the contents of new publications. The section Collana announces the republication of Diritto greco antico by Arnaldo Biscardi (Milano 1982). In the links section you can download either as a PDF or as a text document a useful commented list of links for the study of ancient Greek law.

The creation of a new platform for scholars working in the field of legal history is an enterprise for which the founders need great courage, stamina and discernment. The choice for an e-journal in open access seems a promising one. Let’s hope the editors and all people involved with the Rivista di Diritto Ellenico succeed in making this new e-journal a success!

Open the gates! Digitized journals on legal history

Talking and writing about digital libraries can be hampered by very different views about the making, form and contents of a digital library. Nowadays we take a digitized catalogue for granted, and almost every library has a website with online access to its catalogue, sometimes even to several catalogues. Some digital libraries define themselves by the variety of social media which they use. Tweets and blog posts, presence on social networks, and even link collections on a separate site are among the possible forms of virtual presence. Law libraries have joined these activities, too. For the interest of visitors of my blog I have brought together a number of blogs by the departments for rare books or special collections of some libraries with important holdings for legal history.

I have often expressed my objective to track as many as possible digital libraries with content in the field of legal history, meaning digitized versions of books and other resources of a library. Law libraries themselves have to face multiple tasks and multiple forms of digitization, and let’s not forget the variety of presentation offered by the vendors of digital library programs. A law library typically offers a number of so-called e-resources, with primarily the major subscribers’ only databases with access to recent jurisprudence, sometimes also similar databases for historical books, an e-repository for the publications of the staff of the law school or law faculty to which they belong, and online access to legal journals, this also often using subscriptions by the library. Very often all these resources can be used also off campus. Law libraries face heavy expenses maintaining the number of journals on paper, but maintaining online access to them, too, is not cheap. Some law libraries offer a number of web guides, too, sometimes in great detail and on many subjects. Creating online exhibitions is also one of the ways of giving digitization its wide scope.  Depending on awareness of user accessibility and user friendliness, the possibilities of a given system, the funding available and the scope and range of a law library it can be clearly indicated which parts are open to all and sundry, which ones can be used only inside the library and which also at home, sometimes even through a special law portal. Those libraries marking the accessibility of their resources or simply briefly describing them instead of only listing them deserve credit for the time and trouble taken to help the visitors of their websites.

How about digital access to journals for legal history? The variety of presentation is daunting , both for the number of back issues accessible and for the wide range of their vicinity to the present. Some journals of venerable standing and a rich tradition are only offered in open access for a very limited number of years, and often only the nineteenth century issues. Other journals with a similar long history can be accessed freely thanks to the legal situation surrounding a journal: if a research institute published itself a journal less copyright issues can be expected to occur. More fundamental is the fact that articles touching legal history are not only published in the major legal history reviews but also elsewhere. It will not do to use only the mainstream journals, but you often have to get hold of a journal which you normally would not read at all.

Legal journals have flourished particularly in Germany. A very welcome selection of them has been digitized at the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main. The first section is concerned with journals between 1900 and 1918, a project for a second section awaited for eagerly aims at the period 1703-1830 and will hopefully be launched in 2013  in cooperation with the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preussische Kulturbesitz. There is more to be found in Germany. Klaus Graf has created a very useful list of websites for digitized scientific journals, one of the most often read posts on his Archivalia blog. The German Wikisource website mentioned by Graf provides a list of digitized legal journals, and similar lists of journals for other disciplines, for example for history. On the list of digitized legal journals you will find apart from the Max-Planck-Institut – which easily dominates this list – mainly a collection at the Universität Bielefeld, a project in which 160 journals from the period of the German Enlightenment (Aufklärung) and other relevant periodicals have been digitized, and digitized journals at the Bibliothek für Bildungsgeschichtliche Forschung of the Deutsches Institut für Internationale Pädagogische Forschung in Berlin. The general German project for the digitization of old scientific journals, DigiZeitschriften, offers only a limited number of issues in open access. Here the bulk of the journals can be accessed only at subscribing libraries or by the cardholders of such libraries. In view of the sheer number of German journals it is clear digitization is expensive, but is it not clear, too, that the phenomenon of German scientific journals dominated science during the nineteenth century, and that therefore conservation and access are important both for historians of science and for those pursuing disciplines building also on accumulated information? One has only to look at the number and variety of Jewish journals from Germany digitized at the Compact Memory website to envisage the role of journals in German society at large.

One of the main gateways to digital journals in open access is offered by Lund University Libraries, the well-known Directory of Open Access Journals. Perhaps less well-known is JURN, a searchable repository for some 4,000 journals. The accompanying blog offers guidance, lots of links to similar initiatives and relevant blogs, and a general guide to free academic search. By the way, OpenDoar, the Directory of Open Access Repositories at the University of Nottingham, is not the only website where you can look for such repositories, but certainly a very useful one. The university library at Regensburg offers an electronic journal library for both open and limited access journals with an interface iu German, English and French. The World Legal Institute has on its website an International Legal Scholarship Library with access to some forty legal journals.

Some countries have decided to create national repositories for the production of scientific journals. SEALS is a Swiss project which has started only recently. Persée is a project for digitizing not only older, but also more recent issues of scientific journals. Revues.org is a French organization offering online access to nearly 300 current scientific journals, with a substantial number of them containing articles not only in French. Some nineteenth-century journals and parliamentary documents in the field of French criminal law are available online through the services of Criminocorpus. Digitized scientific journals can appear in more general collections as well. The Digital Library of Dutch Literature is planning to digitize a number of journals which touch upon the history of Dutch literature, and not only journals dedicated exclusively to Dutch literature.

Legal history with a Dutch view is the subtitle of my blog, and maybe it is appropriate to mention it when pointing to the websites of the International Institute for Social History and of Aletta, formerly the International Study Center for Women’s History, both in Amsterdam. Women’s history is a new subject for this blog, and although I feel ashamed I have not touched this subject before, I am happy it shows up here finally. Aletta has a fine selection of digital scientific journals on women’s history. The IISH has an equally useful selection of weblinks, foremost among them the Virtual Library Women’s History maintained at the IISH, and ViVa Women’s History, an online current bibliography of women’s and gender history. There’s more than only the Women’s Legal History website of Stanford Law School, the great Women’s Legal Biography Project at Stanford, and the IntLawGrrls blog, but today journals are my chosen subject… Surely more lists of a similar kind exist. To round-up the Dutch corner of this post a reference to a journal on Dutch history: the Royal Dutch Historical Society has digitized the years 1970 to 2010 of the Bijdragen en Mededelingen betreffende de Geschiedenis der Nederlanden – Low Countries History Yearbook.

Doing legal history can among other things boil down to have to consult sometimes a very great variety of scientific journals. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the field of ancient history. The presence of a list of digitized scientific journals touching on the whole range of ancient history, from Sumeria to the Roman Empire, including the various auxiliary disciplines – epigraphy, papyrology and much more – is a witness to the proliferation of journals, more than 900 of them available to some extent or completely in a digitized form. Charles Ellwood Jones maintains this list at his blog Ancient World Online. The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, the institution where he works, has also a Facebook page for Ancient Studies with useful announcements of new digital services, such as online bibliographies. A few months ago I wrote about digital papyrology in a post concerning the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and a month ago sources in cuneiform script presented in new ways figured in another post. It can offer you food for thought how scholars doing ancient history seem to embrace modern tools more and more and often to their great benefit. As for now, it seemed useful to bring the rather scattered information on digitized journals relevant to legal history together, but I am sure more is to be found. Additions to this overview are most welcome!

A first postscript

Klaus Graf rightly points to the digitized issues of Ius Commune, the journal published between 1967 and 2001 by the MPI for European Legal History. Some articles of the journal Rechtsgeschichte founded in 2002 can be consulted online, too. It is true this post deals with two kinds of digitized journals, both older journals no longer appearing and more specific early legal journals, and with digital versions of currently appearing journals, some of them available as web-only journals – the e-journal in its purest form -, others presenting online more or less completely back issues of the paper version. There is certainly a need to distinguish between them, but all these varieties are important, either as research objects or as resources for research.