Tag Archives: Classical Antiquity

Entering the field of Byzantine law

Mosaic with emperor Justinian - Ravenna, San Vitale
A mosaic with emperor Justinian – Ravenna, San Vitale – source: Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes real or supposed barriers keep you from investigating new subjects. For a long period I saw the sources of Byzantine law as a conglomerate of difficultly accessible sources. On my legal history website Rechtshistorie I scarely mentioned Byzantium and its laws, and to be honest, I was not always aware of this substantial omission. Nowadays algorithms tend to lead your focus to themes and issues, but this time a personal announcement about a new introduction to Byzantine law finally pushed me into adding some lines and references to my webpage on Roman law. On top of that came the question to look again for modern translations of the several components of the Justinian compilation. In this post I will tell you briefly about this new handbook and modern ways to approach Byzantine legal history.

Changing perspectives

When I started studying legal history in the early eighties of the last century three fields captured my attention: Roman law, medieval (canon) law and Old Dutch Law. Only gradually other fields such as the common law came into view, partially guided or seduced by the open stacks of the former law library at the Janskerkhof in Utrecht, a place often mentioned here. For my dissertation the medieval ius commune and its development during the Early Modern period became central in my research. When I looked at the study of the Justinian Digest Byzantine law at last came more into my view, thanks also to the projects of other researchers. At some point I detected the handbook by N. van der Wal and J.H.A. Lokin, Historiae graeco-romani iuris delineatio. Les sources du droit byzantin de 300 à 1453 (Groningen 1985). A month spent in Frankfurt am Main also meant literally coming a bit closer to current research on Byzantine law.

The history of the Byzantine empire or East Roman Empire spans a millennium. and somehow this period remained long at a distance for me, and I guess for many others, too. Judith Herrin’s classic work Byzantium (2007) did reach my bookshelves, but even though she devoted a short chapter to Byzantine legal history I was not pushed into action to update my website. This month I was surprised to reread a brief post from 2010 on my blog with some useful information about Byzantium and its legal sources. At Wikipedia you can now find articles on Byzantine law in various languages, often presenting in some detail the historical development of laws and legislation, but their sections on primary legal sources are often very succinct.

Thanks to Daphne Penna and her kind message last December I looked at the book she published with Roos Meijering, A sourcebook on Byzantine law. Illustrating Byzantine law through the sources (Leiden-Boston 2022). This introduction is also available online, with full access for private and institutional buyers, but with a bibliography in open access. The book of Meijering and Penna is more than just an anthology of well-chosen substantial and representative examples of sources for Byzantium’s legal history. The editors really want to make students and scholars first and foremost enthusiast about Byzantine law. Thus their book is more than only a modern successor to H.J. Scheltema’s Florilegium iurisprudentiae Graeco-Romanae (Leiden 1950).

With Scheltema we see one of the truly great scholars dealing with the sources of Byzantine law. Together with D. Holwerda and N. van der Wal he succeeded in completing the massive new edition of the Basilicorum libri LX (17 vol., The Hague-Groningen 1955-1988). This edition gives both the text of the Basilica and the accompanying scholia (glosslike commentaries) in two separate series. The Dutch translation of the entire Corpus Iuris Civilis has just thirteen volumes.

logo Basilica Online

Last year I did notice the Basilica Online, but my first visit was coloured by the perception this resource was only accssible for subscriberrs and subscribing institutions. I did not want to present it here or at my website as a stand-alone resource for Byzantine law with most of its parts out of reach for casual visitors. Luckily the new handbook acted as a nudge to look at it longer and better. Two important features of the Basilica Online are presented in open access, a bibliography by Th. van Bochove and a new praefatio by B.H. Stolte. If the new anthology with all its qualities does not yet convince you it is possible to find safe guidance to Byzantine legal history these contributions by Van Bochove and Stolte should make you rethink your assumptions about this subject. Both authors do not hide the problems of their field, but their explanations and guiding remarks are illuminating. Stolte stresses the value of the Latin translation offered by Heimbach, and he notes the lack of an overview of the various tituli, some consequences of the separation between text and scholia, and the absence of the promised new Prolegomena in the Groningen edition of the Basilica. This edition depended very much on the use of microfilmed manuscripts, and some important manuscripts came only very late into view.

For my website the challenge was now to find a balance between redoing without any need the efforts for full introductions done by these scholars from Groningen or presenting a succinct but helpful series of commented references to major publications and editions, and assuring the result gives due attention to the work done by scholars working elsewhere, too. Daphne Penna convinced me quickly to present such information on my webpage for Roman law.

In my concise overview I mention in particular modern introductions. For the Basilica I point of course to the modern edition and its online presence, but I point also to a digitized version of the older edition by Heimbach and other German scholars. It seemd logical to create a section with some other sources available in modern editions, and I added references to online resources for finding Greek manuscripts and modern translations of Greek works.

Revisiting translations for Roman law

In January 2022 I assumed my overview of modern translations for Roman law was fairly complete, and thus I perhaps underestimated the value of the idea to provide more translation in European languages, the obvious aim of the project of Bela Pokol (Budapest) who invoked the help of DeepL to create translations into fifteen languages, In my post about his massive enterprise, aiming at contemporary lawyers and less at scholars of Roman law, I tried to establish the merits of DeepL’s translating capacities and to assess the value of Pokol’s translation which has the English translation by Samuel P. Scott as its starting point, not the Latin original. By the way, DeepL deals now with 29 languages, including Lithuanian, Ukrainian and Bahasa Indonesia, but no Latin.

By sheer coincidence Bela Pokol asked me last week to look again at the presence of completed translations for Justinian’s Digest in modern languages. Using resources such as Unesco’s Index Translationum and the Karlsruher Virtual Catalogue I noticed I had not yet added everything I had deemed necessary at my web page. Even the incomplete but most valuable German translation project which reached D. 34 in 2012 was missing. I checked also the library catalogue of the Max-Planck-Institut für Rechtsgeschichte und Rechtstheorie in Frankfurt am Main.

Banner Pinakes, IRHT

Eventually a second hunt for finding a digital version of the volumes of the Repertorium der Handschriften des byzantinischen Rechts led me inter alia to the French Pinakes portal for Greek manuscripts (IRHT, Paris-Orleans) which mentions among its links the databases of Princeton University Library for tracing digitized Greek manuscripts and modern translations of Byzantine sources. Both databses can be used with a filter for Law. Luckily at Pinakes the the three volumes of the repertory for Byzantine legal manuscripts has been used. It seems the PDF’s of the repertory created by L. Burgmann, A. Schminck, D. Getov and other scholars are now absent at the server of the institute in Frankfurt; I could only retrieve them for the first and third volume. Many volumes of the Fontes Minores series edited in Frankfurt with articles and editions of legal texts are now available online in Göttingen.

You will agree with me that with a fair number of modern introductions in several languages, important online introductory essays and bibliographies in open access, a number of recent editions of legal texts, some of them with translation, and even online access to repertories for (digitized) manuscripts and translations, you can no longer deem Byzantine law completely out of your reach. I can imagine you might feel a bit dazzled by the efforts of eminent scholars. However, surely Penna and Meijering have done their utmost best to infect you with their enthusiasm to embark on your own journey into Byzantium’s legal history. An empire suriving more than one thousand years and covering in some periods large areas of Eastern Europe and ASsia Minor deserves scholarly attention, in particular when you realize the Eastern Roman empire played a key role in transmitting the sources of the classical Roman lawyers.

Keys to understanding the ancient Egyptian empire

Screenprint startscreen "Hieroglyphs: Unlocking ancient Egypt", British Museum

A few months ago already I spotted the beautiful catalogue Hieroglyphs. Unlocking ancient Egypt for the exhibition with this name at the British Museum (13 October 2022-19 February 2023). My initial interest was the palaeographical side of hieroglyphs. In 1822 Jean-François Champollion famously announced his decipherment of this script. One of the great merits of the exhibition is showing not only the Rosetta Stone as crucial to this breakthrough, but a combination of his own stamina and intellectual creativity, the comparison of several sources, languages and scripts, and not in the least cooperation with many people in Europe, Britain and Egypt. The exhibition traces in fact the development of what we now know as Egyptology from the Middle Ages to the present. I will nof forget to look at legal sources in this fascinating story of philological work, the acquisition of cultural heritage by European countries and the chalenges of Egyptology in our days. By choosing Egypt as a subject I follow my tradition of starting a new year with a contribution about an empire or imperial laws.

A story spanning centuries

My own encounters with hieroglyphs did not start at the British Museum in 1980 and admiring the Rosetta Stone, but already earlier on. In 1976 I saw a copy of the Rosetta Stone in the municipal museum of Figeac, Champollion’s place of birth. He was truly one of the few heroes in philology from the nineteenth century, next to scholars such as the Grimm brothers and Wilhelm von Humboldt. The exhibition catalogue does not start with the heroic struggle between Thomas Young and Champollion, but takes you first to the fascination for Egypt that started much earlier. The first chapter of the exhibition catalogue, edited and largely written by Ilona Regulski, is aptly called ‘The truth in translation’. She charts attempts at decipherment from medieval Islamic scholars upto 1835, the age of the European vogue of collecting Egyptian antiquities at all costs by governments, tourists, museums and scholars. Regulski opens the catalogue with an introduction to the aims of the exhibition, followed by a lucid and concise explanation of the writing system in the hieroglyphs by Pascal Vernus. The crucial features of hieroglyphs are the combined use of both logograms represebng concepts and actual objects on one hand, and using ideograms for phonetic representation on the other hand. This combination worked for centuries as a code which proved very hard to crack.

Champollion's manuscript and the first edition of the Lettre à M. Dacier, 1822
Champollion’s manuscript and the first edition of the Lettre à M. Dacier, 1822 – image source British Museum

The second chapter describes the almost legendary race to decipherment led by Thomas Young (1773-1829) and Champollion (1790-1832) accelerated by the finding of the Rosetta Stone in 1799. Regulski shows that both men were only occasionly the archetypical chauvinist enemies so often depicted. Far more important were their individual choices to prefer at some point hieratic, demotc or Coptic script as the main road to understanding. Perhaps more important was Young’s vision of Egypt as a beneficiary of wisdom from classical Greece against Champollion’s perspective of Egypt as the origin of classical Antiquity. When you cloak such perspectives in terms of supremacy and inferiority a far more pervasive bias can easily develop. Both men made some wrong turns in their research. Champollion was very lucky with his scholarly training, his connections and his choice of other resources to combine with the Rosetta Stone. It was not just a matter of focusing on the royal names in cartouches, but of gaining insight in the peculiar qualities of hieroglyphs where logograms mostly represented concepts, but also could be used to represent sounds in the rendering of foreign names, such as Ptolemaios and Cleopatra, the two names that finally brought Champollion on the right track to complete and reliable decipherment. With the beautiful and most telling illustrations in view from several museums it becomes clear, too, how much easier it is now to compare such sources. On the website of the British Museum Regulski presents a concise overview of the steps taken by Young and Champollion in their attempts at decipherment.

My curiosity for hieroglyphs grew even more by an episode of the National Geographic tv series Lost treasures of Egypt on the written legacy of Tutanchamon. Deft research of a number of objects connected with this pharaoh led to the suspicion some objects were originally destined for or commissioned by a forgotten Egyptian queen who was almost literally written out of Egyptian history. The most obvious way to do this was tampering with the names in cartouches. In one case the new name was obviously superimposed with a different kind of gold leaf. In some cases there are indications similar attempts were done for Tutanchamon’s legacy, too.

In the third chapter of gthe catalogue Regulski leads you away from the pharaohs, religion and Egyptian dignitaries to the impact of decipherment for understanding Egypt’s culture and society at large. For example, rather slowly grew any true understanding of Egyptian poetry and its genres, as shown by Richard Bruce Parkinson in his contribution.

‘Rediscovering ancient Egypt’ is the title of the fourth chapter, but it could have been named discovery equally well. Understanding the pharaohs, their reigns and dynasties certainly did not escape from reinterpretation thanks to finally being able to read and understand hieroglyphs, hieratic and demotic script correctly. Bilingualism during the Ptolemaic period comes into view, as are the concept of time and views of the afterlife. Personal life gets attention, too, with subjects such as crime, family, marriage and divorce, satire, love, medicine and magic. Several specialists contributed to this chapter. Here and elsewhere in the catalogue you will find texts in translations as examples of particular source genres.

In the short paragraph on crime (pp. 201-204) Ilona Regulski looks at a variety of texts, from royal decrees to court proceedings and private notes. Legal documents could touch many subjects, including mortgages and loans. The evidence is preserved in inscriptions and papyri. For the history of daily life and family relations Susanne Beck points to the existence of family archives (pp. 204-209). The footnotes to both paragraphs point you to relevant literature. The great strength here is showing all kinds of documentary evidence and objects.

Banner Leipzig Digital Rosetta Stone

In the fifth and final chapter new approaches are presented. In the first paragraph Monica Betti and Franziska Naether introduce the Leipzig project for an online version of the Rosetta Stone. Fayza Haikal connects in her short contribution the decipherment of Egyptian scripts and the ongoing efforts of Egyptologists with the search for Egyptian identity. Her point of using knowledge of Arabic poetry to understand aspects of ancient Egyptian poetry is well made. Egypt’s fragmented ancient cultural heritage belongs both to mankind and to living Egyptians who can contribute from inside Egypt – mentally and physically – to research into Egypt’s multi-layered history. This contribution certainly serves its purpose to underline the need to prevent a kind of de vous, chez vous, sans vous in doing research concerning Egypt’s history of more than four millennia.

Matters for reflection

My summaries of the five main chapters of this splendid catalogue do hardly justice to the wealth of information and insights they bring, and to the wonderful accessible writing style of all contributors. The catalogue is a heavy book, but it is hard to put it down and not to read it in one session!

By showing objects now held in various countries and bringing in the assistance of scholars from many corners of the world the catalogue and the exhibition show graphically some of the dilemmas facing current Egyptologists. How must one deal with the fragile remains of antiquities that were taken from Egypt with care or carelessly from their original context? Hardly any untouched mummy has survived nowadays, and the few ones that do show – thanks to modern research methods – things we would not know in any other way. Even when you return objects to Egypt it is not or only sledom possible to restore their original configuration. It is much to the credit of Champollion he pleaded with the Ottoman authorities to impose at least some restrictions on the large-scale industry of providing Europe indiscriminately with Egyptian antiquities. Some most valuable object genres were disregarded at all. Objects were even simply thrown away immediately because Europeans were not interested in them in the early nineteenth century. Of course some scholars and institutions tried to work diligently, but they could not always maintain high standards of conduct. Surely it is important to see that the hunt for contemporary copies of the Rosetta Stone and for similar trilingual or bilingual inscriptions did help to see this object in a wider setting. The catalogue provides you with an overview of these inscriptions in an appendix.

The catalogue with so many qualities misses only a few things. There is no list of contributors and their affiliations. For some lenders of objects their location is specified, but for most institutions this is not mentioned at all. The lenders contribute immensely to the value of this exhibition with their willingness to lend in some cases truly unique objects. The very presence of Egyptian antiquities in so many institutions all over Europe, not only in London or Paris, could hardly been shown better. Not only the major European countries took part in the race to acquire the supposedly or really most important objects.

Egyptology as a discipline recently received heavy blows by stories about outrageous behaviour around original sources, in particular papyri. This exhibition helps to show the genuine efforts for solid and realiable study of ancient resources which outshine the selfish aims of some people who acted against fundamental principles of good science. Cooperation, comparison and critical understanding are essential for keeping research into classical Antiquity at the level the many subjects and periods incliuded in it fully deserve.

Hieroglyphs. Unlocking ancient Egypt – London, British Museum, 13 October 2022 – 19 February 2023

Three new databases for Roman law

Start screen Infames Romani, PoolCorpus

An aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic affecting scholarly research was and is restricted access to archives, libraries and museums. Online materials became even more important for both teachers and students than they did already before 2020. Classicists have embraced the possibilities of the internet and grasped also the use of digital humanities to widen and deepen their research, and to present the results in often interesting ways. At my blog and website I try to find and follow projects with a connection to legal history. While updating and reassessing the information about Roman law on my website I encountered at least three databases that I had missed earlier on or are simply still rather new. I certainly would like to make here some amends for the times Roman law came only seldom here into view. Apart from a presentation of the three databases I will also briefly mention some of the latest additions to my links list for Roman law. In this year’s Open Access Week it is good to know these resources can be accessed freely.

The Romans and infamy

The first database I would like to present is Infames Romani, the project of Clément Bur hosted at the PoolCorpus platform of the Institut National Universitaire Champollion (Albi-Rodez-Castres). It was a pleasant surprise to find this new element on a platform created for hosting biographical and prosopographical databases which until recently focused on students at French universities, mainly during the Early Modern period. Clément Bur wrote his PhD thesis La citoyenneté dégradée : une histoire de l’infamie à Rome (312 av. J.-C. – 96 apr. J.-C.) (Rome 2018), published by the École française de Rome. The database builds on his thesis concerning citizens whose behaviour or position in society led to marking them or simply made them infamous. People not just lost certain civic rights, they were outright degraded also by humiliating and infamous penalties.

The database with 210 cases distinguishes six penalties, everyone of them with subcategories, and a number of general cases. You can search by name, period, the kind of penalty with additional subcategories. Bur limited his research to the late Roman Republic and the first century of the Roman empire. Entries contain the text or texts mentioning a person and references to scholarly literature. In this introduction to the database Bur explains concisely his scope and aim, his definition of persons affected by infamy. He indicates the main resourced used for his corpus, and he mentions a few specific categories not included.

Start screen Trials in the Late Roman Republic

Among the databases Bur used one deserves some attention here. I wonder how I had not seen earlier on the database for Trials in the Late Roman Republic based on Michael Alexander’s Trials in the Roman Republic 149 BC to 50 BC (1990; 2nd ed., 2007) and extended by him, Tracy Deline and Federico Russo with the cooperation of others. The creation of this website started already in 2014, and because it is not a new database I will mention it only briefly here. The book has been converted both to HTML and XML. You can search the database with an XPath form or with Balbus. A second version of the database is currently work in progress. The TLRR database contains 391 cases, treated very summarily, and thus in this succinct form it has clearly to be consulted in tandem with Alexander’s monograph, available as a PDF at the TLRR website.

Roman bastards, a title with a twist

Start screen Roman Bastards Database

The team behind the Roman Bastards Database surely has a very sharp definition of Roman bastards, illegitimate children, but I hesitated to put this database here as the first item. Its title might easily be seen by the general public as a project for studying the most horrible Romans with the lowest characters and most brutal manners, the kind of persons figuring as the bad guys in movies with Roman history as its background or pretext. In their database Maria Nowak and Małgorzata Krawczyk of the Uniwersytet Warszawski bring together evidence on illegitimate offspring during the first three centuries of the Roman empire.

This database allows both searching and browsing, the last way not yet for legal sources alas, and you can use the analytical tools section for creating graphs of the occurrence of terms or their geographical distribution. The database contains currently 1828 items. Information about persons is divided over eight fields. Eight other fields contain information about the source for this person, with information about the exact text, the role of the person in the source, its date and provenance, links to online sources and references to scholarly literature. My first impression is that this database allows detailed searching for its subject, with as a bonus when needed links to external resources such as inscriptions and papyri. Some elements are not yet up and running, for example the list of abbreviations. The team scores points with clear user instructions.

A textual database for Justinian’s Digest

The third database in this post comes not as an online relational database, and not even as web pages using PHP or MySQL. For the Justinian Digest Marton Ribrary (University of Surrey, Guildford) has developed in 2020 a relational database which you can download and install yourself. The SQLite database has been written in Python and comes with sample queries. Ribrary developed this database in 2020 clearly to facilitate the integration of the Digest’s text – taken from the well-known Amanuensis app for Roman law – with some other resources, in particular the data created by Tony Honoré about Roman lawyers and their language.

Ribrary notes there are at least five other online versions of the Justinian Digest. He aims at a more structured presentation allowing more than just philological research, but also use as an artificial intelligence resource. In my view it is in the end helpful to be able to access and use texts in different formats. They allow for different approaches. Of course I added to my website the versions of the Digest in online libraries with Latin texts which did not yet figure on it. By mistake Ribrary suggests the Perseus Digital Library has a digital text of the Digesta. The Corpus Iuris Civilis is only part of its catalogue of texts.

A quick look at some recent additions

The typical thing to do with my web page for Roman law was first of all repairing broken links, a never ending task. During searches for correct URL’s I sometimes discover new projects well worth including, too, and this redeems my efforts. The section with the various original texts for Roman law needed a clearer layout. When necessary translations in print have been separated from digital versions.

This month I checked again the DigilibLT: Biblioteca digitali di testi latini tardoantichi created at the Università di Piemonte Orientale. Earlier on no legal texts from Late Antiquity were present at this portal, but in 2020 this has changed. The DigilibLT comes with an Italian and English interface. You can both read – and after registration download – several legal texts as PDF or TEI files. There is a PDF in English with an overview of the texts included and the editions used.

Among online journals for Roman Legal history The Journal of Juristic Papyrology deserved a place. It appears since 1946 and available in open access. In the section with bibliographies I could add TOCS-IN: Tables of Contents of Journals of Interest to Classicists, hosted by the University of Toronto and the Université Catholique de Louvain, an online service with both an English and a French search interface. After adding the first two databases discussed here it was only logical to add the Prosopographia Imperii Romani of the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, the database version of the biographical lexicon for the first three centuries of the Roman empire.

My web page ends with a number of online resources and portals helping you to find quickly texts, tools and other materials concerning classical Antiquity. I was much impressed by the commented list presented as Open access resources in 2020 and 2021 by the Institute of Classical Studies, School of Advanced Study, London. The section on law could be a bit more extensive, but for other subjects the choice of links offers a splendid fleet of resources now available in open access, for example for subjects such as epigraphy and papyrology. This list is a good reminder that only by looking wide and far, and sometimes quite close to your own town or country other scholars and institutions make great efforts to help the scholarly community at large. Gaps and omissions can be filled when you look around carefully, but also by the help of kind people alerting others to things that might be of interest to them. I would like to hear, too, about such things! Hopefully this spirit of cooperation will remain a cherished and stable element, too, in the present world where individualism can steer you away from communicating with others.

Gathering graphic evidence on false inscriptions

Startscreen Epigraphic Database Falsae

Doing research in legal history means dealing with facts and theories. Provided you have conscientiously worked with the facts at hand it becomes possible to verify theories. In this century we have to deal also with floods of information, including fake news and faked or unprovenanced sources. Some recent cases about illegal selling of and tampering with ancient papyri have even made headlines. In this post I will look at falsified inscriptions which pose as sources stemming from classical Antiquity. A team of scholars from the Università degli Studi di Bari, Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice and the Università La Sapienza in Rome has created the Epigraphic Database Falsae (EDF). What does this database contain? How are materials presented? What does it bring for (legal) historians? When useful in the context of this post I will look at some other projects in epigraphy, the study of inscriptions.

Defying a first look

Perhaps it is worth telling how I found out about this project. The EDF project is included in an overview of projects in the field of digital humanities at the website of the Associazione per l’Informatica Umanistica e la Cultura Digitale (AIUCD), the Italian association for digital humanities and digital culture. At the portal Digital Classicist you can find more about the project. One of the aims of the project team is to integrate EDF with other online resources for epigraphy. EDF is already searchable through the EAGLE portal, an Europeana project for inscriptions, but it will also be connected with the Epigraphik Datenbank Clauss / Slaby (EDCS), one of the main online portals for epigraphy, accessible in five languages. A query for falsae at Charles Jones’ blog Ancient World Online brought me both to EDF and to a volume of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL) founded by Theodor Mommsen. The sixth volume of CIL contains the Inscriptiones urbis Romae Latinae, and its fifth part is devoted to Inscriptiones falsae (Berlin 1885). You may consult this part online at the Arachne portal. Unfortunately the online version of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum created by the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften does not function completely at present; for the volume CIL VI,5 you are led to the Arachne portal.

The website of the Epigraphic Database Falsae does not lead you to any explanation about its aim and functioning. For this you must turn to the description at the Digital Classicist. Let’s therefore proceed to the search interface which is only in Italian. You can search by the ID of an inscription, by ancient city, by the text of an inscription and by bibliographical information. Interestingly you can also exclude towns, texts and bibliographical data. You can turn on a search for Greek texts, too.

EDF advanced search

By clicking on the button Ricerca avanzata more search fields become visible. In fact my screenprint does only show the first half of the thirty search fields. First of all you can search for items with a TM number in the Trismegistos database, and for items with a DOI (Digital Object Identifier). You can search here for example for modern country and city, the place of production, the name of the forger, the present location, material and dimensions, religion, social category, type of forgery, diplomatic transcription and the use of a particular kind of versification, to mention just a few of them. Here, too, you can narrow your search by excluding one or more terms. For a number of fields you can choose from a dropdown list. When you look for a particular type of forgery you can choose from seven categories, including also a partial copy of a genuine inscription.

Of course the best thing to do is to test the database by searching for some forgeries, but this was not as as easy as I had expected. At first I tried to find information about the Fibula Praenestina (TM 256173, EDCS-19600767), but this object which was long suspected to be a forgery, is now viewed as a genuine object from the seventh century BCE. Entering Roma as the ancient city led me to some 250 examples. EDF000151 is a forgery by Placido Scamacca in Catania, first mentioned between 1746 and 1750, who followed as his model a genuine inscription in Rome. The EDF entry leads you in this case also to this inscription in the Epigraphic Database Rome. It is good to note that at EDR118156 the inscription at Catania is not mentioned; I saw also a case where a forgery, also from Catania, is mentioned in EDR as a “copia moderna”. EDR shows images of inscriptions, and even thought they are in black and white, this is something you would like to have also for items in EDF.

I hoped to find some of the false inscriptions from CIL VI,5, but it seems they have yet to be added, or I might not have tried to find them in the right way. I also searched in vain for the text of the inscription on the drawing of the vase on the start screen. The thing to note in EDF is the attention to the actual place of conservation and the cataloging by institutions of individual inscriptions. EDF notes carefully who edited an entry and when.

Integrating epigraphic data

This is not my first post with double numbering for ancient inscriptions. Last year I included an inscription with the Lex Flavia Irnitana in a post on Roman water law, and a few years ago I looked here in a post at the project Hispania Epigraphica. In fact the last years epigraphic scholars have become very much aware of the ways not only to refer to a particular inscription, but also of the ways inscriptions are described. Working with digital resources has made this need even more acute. For epigraphy EpiDoc: Epigraphic Documents in TEI-XML has become a standard for formatting information about inscription. At Epigraphy.info you can follow the latest developments for the integration of a large number of epigraphic databases. There is a real difference in representation on a simple webpage coded in HTML, information encoded using XML following the EpiDoc guidelines, and storage along the rules of RDF (Resource Description Framework). Among the books which provide you with background about such developments is the volume with essays edited by Monica Berti, Digital Classical Philology. Ancient Greek and Latin in the Digital Revolution (ePUB and PDF’s for single articles in open acccess, 2019); a bit more attention to inscriptions would have been most welcome.

In view of the sometimes rapid developments in digital humanities it is necessary to be aware having reliable (online) editions of the text of inscriptions is one thing. It is wise to look for inscriptions not just at one portal or to rely on one particular database. Often they are strengthened by rich bibliographies, but integrating them with images and linked data is currently very much work in progress or projects for the future. Of course it would be wonderful to have already now a single epigraphic gateway, but we have to reckon with different needs and technological possibilities. In this respect facing the very real questions of those scholars who want to investigate forged inscriptions is a reminder research questions and objects can be quite different from your usual approach. The blog Current Epigraphy will help you to stay tuned with the field of the study of inscriptions from classic Antiquity.

Streams of life and strife: Water as a legal matter in Roman law

Banner Roman Water Law

After six months I should finally fulfill my promise to honor here at least once a year the role of Roman law. You might almost call it the mother of all legal history! Luckily I found a subject in Roman law close to current interests. Water as a vital element of life was not absent in Roman law. Its presence is in fact manifold. The project Roman Water Law at the Freie Universität and the Humboldt Universität in Berlin helps to look at regulations concerning water and its uses according to an interesting scheme. Legal attention to water has a very long history.

A Roman look at water

The project Roman Water Law has found space on the Topoi platform which stands out for its distinctive graphic design. Topoi currently contains nearly twenty research collections and smaller projects on a variety of themes. Actually the website for Roman water law is the fruit of two research programs of the Berlin Exzellenzcluster Topoi held between 2012 and 2017, “Water from a legal perspective” and “Infrastructures from judicial, gromatic and political perspectives”. The core of the virtual collection is a combination of legal sources found in the Corpus Iuris Civilis, three individual leges (laws) and the Codex Theosodianus with texts from Roman authors who touched the subject of water. The results are 572 entries with a Latin text and English translation to which one of ten newly defined categories have been assigned.

Table IX of the Lex Irnitana

Table IX of the Lex Irnitana – Museo Arqueológico de Sevilla – image: Red Digital de Colecciones de Museos de España, http://ceres.mcu.es

The harvest for Roman laws in the technical sense, leges approved by the senate of the Republic, may seem meagre with just three laws. However, one of them, the Lex Flavia Irnitana from AD 91, was only found in 1981. The fragments of six out of originally ten bronze tables are now held at the Museo Arqueológico in Seville (Hispania Epigraphica, no. 5058). This law, dated around 91 BC, is the most complete surviving example of a Lex Flavia, a municipal law. Chapter 82 of the Lex Irnitana deals with drainage and creating and changing roads, paths, canals and sewers, for which only the duumviri, a pair of magistrates elected for one year, are authorized if there is a municipal decree for their actions.

When you look at the overview of the 572 entries you can use first of all several filters. Thus you will quickly see that legal texts form the majority of the texts, only 73 items stem from Roman literature. Within the corpus of legal text the Digesta rule supreme with 435 entries. Among the sources from literature are 22 entries from Frontinus. Cicero provides only six entries. Texts found in the Corpus agrimensorum have been cited and translated using the work of Brian Campbell, The writings of the Roman land surveyors. Introduction, translation and commentary (London 2000). It is no surprise to find Okko Behrends as one of the scholars involved with the Topoi project. He edited and translated with Luigi Capogrossi Colognesi for example the volumes on Frontinus and Hyginus in the Corpus agrimensorum romanorum [vol. 4 (1998) and 5 (2000)]. You can also filter by keyword. Some forty Latin terms are given for this purpose. An entry can have multiple keywords. You can choose to open the entries for just one keyword or add entries for other keywords or subjects as well.

The core of the project are the classifications added to each entry. There are ten main types of classes, starting with definitions (44), followed by

Right to use water
Constructions to use water – Process of construction and maintenance
Legal protection of water use
Urban praedial servitudes of water
Regulation of damages and prevention of damage caused by water
Consequences of changes caused by water
Water as a route of transport
Water as a border
Buildings at banks, coasts and beaches

Under the heading Urban praedial servitudes five texts are included concerning stilicidium, the right to discharge eavesdrip (drops of rain) and the legal actions available in case of flooding (flumen). I could not help noticing that seemingly the keyword flumen has been added to the three texts for stilicidium, and that in one of the two texts for flumen the action concerning aqua pluvia is also mentioned, but not entered as a keyword. Adding the right keywords is certainly not straightforward. I looked also at the twelve texts in rubric 7.4, Storms and natural disaster, a subspecies of changes caused by water. The clear distinctions, the crisp style and the concise descriptions of standard situations should provide food for thought for any modern lawyer struggling with legal problems and trying to write about them in a most sensible and understandable way. In Roman eyes the actual situation in a particular legal case had to be faced squarely in order to provide a just solution. Last year someone asked me about Roman law and plumbing. I can reassure my acquaintance Roman lawyers said some very constructive things about plumbeae fistulae.

It is possible to download the database of Roman Water Law, created in the special Citable format created for digital humanities. It would have been more elegant to indicate the kind of tool to open it. On a tablet I could open it directly, otherwise you can use a simple text or code editor.

The variety at Topoi

Cover Becking, "Water management in ancient civilizations"

The Topoi project does not only bring digital results. Exhibitions are held and publications appear in print, too, for example the volume edited by Jonas Becking on Water management in ancient civilizations (Berlin 2018). An earlier publication touches the theme of Roman land surveying, Cosima Möller and Eberhard Knobloch (eds.), In den Gefilden der römischen Feldmesser. Juristische, wissenschaftsgeschichtliche, historische und sprachliche Aspekte (Berlin-Boston 2013). There is also an e-Topoi Journal for Ancient Studies available in open access. Received wisdom forbids me to create in this post also a nutshell guide to other relevant institutions in Berlin for the field of ancient studies. Just looking at the Topoi repository is a treat. You can look for example at ancient cylinder seals in 3D, astronomical diaries in cuneiform inscriptions from Babylonia, a digital representation of the Pantheon, and the Inscriptiones Christianae Graecae. The Topoi cluster itself has many connections. With the Berliner Antike-Kolleg I mention an institution which has close connections to Topoi.

I leave it to you to explore yourself more texts included at Roman Water Law. Many uses of water come into view on the website and in the database. One of the few things missing are baths, but here we clearly enter the summertime of the northern hemisphere. Roman lawyers did discuss them, too! If you want to pursue such themes in Roman law I would like to point here again to Amanuensis, the application for searching Roman legal texts created by Peter Riedlberger and Günther Rosenbaum, downloadable for both computers and smartphones. In an earlier post I introduced the app. It is good to know more texts have been included in it recently (version 4.0). Thanks to Ingo Maier a number of constitutions from Late Antiquity and the Latin Novellae of Justinian have been added, and thanks to Job Spruit also the Justinian Novellae in Greek. Hopefully the summer holidays give you a chance to relax and reload, and also to learn about and upload the latest version of such tools.

A postcript

The waters of the city of Rome are the subject of the interactive map and database of Aquae Urbis Romae (University of Virginia). Alas the use of Adobe Flash has been discontinued in 2021, but you can view a map of Rome from 1551.

Syria’s cultural heritage online, a case for open access

Logo Open Access WeekFrom October 22 to 28 the yearly Open Access Week will be held. Around the world there are initiatives to create open access in various forms. Institutions can choose for degrees of openness for their digital collections. The debate about open access to major scholarly journals is very important for the future of science and its presence in society. In some cases open access is most helpful in tracing, monitoring and preserving cultural heritage. For Syria this is even absolutely vital. In this post I would like to look at some projects aiming to preserve Syria’s cultural heritage. The war in Syria has taken the lives of too many people. Invaluable objects from its long history have been destroyed, and the same fate threatens today.

Syria’s cultural heritage

The Blues Shield logo

The UNESCO has created the Observatory of Syrian Cultural Heritage. Its name sounds like The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. This UNESCO observatory looks at buildings, movable heritage and intangible heritage, and it launches initiatives for their protection. You can find also information about the actions of UNESCO partners such as ICOM. The ICOM is home to the Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods and the Intangible Cultural Heritage & Museums Project, and ICOM has created other portals as well. ICOM works together with The Blue Shield, an organization which helps the coordination for saving and protecting cultural heritage in emergency situations. The UNESCO lists also other initiatives which aim specifically at Syria, some of the well-known, for example The Aleppo Project and the Damascus History Foundation. I could not help noticing Scanning for Syria, an international project led by Leiden University for scanning archaeological objects at Tell Sabi Abyad in the field and creating virtual reconstructions. You can find publications resulting from the excavations in open access in the Leiden University scholarly repository.

An important resource for finding such initiatives for Syria is the Syriac Reference Portal, but today I could not reach this website. Luckily I bookmarked a number of websites. The Syrian Heritage Archive Project has been created by the Museum für Islamische Kunst in Berlin and the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. Some of the results can be seen in the iDAi Gazetteer, an interactive map system which is connected with other georeferenced resources. The information for objects in Syria can be approached in several ways, in particular using iDAI objects.

Logo Syri-Ac

The Open Access Week mentions at its website many groups and events, but the very word Syria is sadly missing. It makes me more eager to proceed here to initiatives which offer more substantial contributions for Syria. Syri-Ac is a portal to resources for the Syrian language, literature and culture. There is a generous links section and a scholarly bibliography. Among the valuable sections the overview of digitized Syriac manuscripts stands out. You can use a sortable or a faceted version. The sortable version shows concise descriptions of the contents, and you can perform keyword searches. The faceted version allows you to filter quickly for languages, holding institutions, authors and genres.

The E-ktobe: manuscrits syriaques catalogue created at the IRHT/CNRS (Paris-Orleans) gives currently detailed descriptions of a restricted number of Syriac manuscripts. No doubt this resource will grow in strength. One of the largest online collections with Syriac manuscripts with manuscripts actually held in Syria is presented in the Virtual Hill Monastic Museum and Library, better known under its acronym vHMML. You can view manuscripts after registration. No registration is needed for the palaeographical introduction to Syriac scripts in the online School of the HMML. A perhaps unexpected number of digitized manuscripts and fragments containing items in Syriac can be found at the portal of the International Dunhuang Project, but thanks to Syri-Ac you are alerted to nearly 650 fragments. The Dunhuang project deals mainly with Tibetan texts and manuscripts found in the Chinese town Dunhuang.

Epigraphy is a scholarly field with a tradition for researching a part of Syria’s cultural heritage. Searchable Greek Inscriptions has an overview of online resources for Greater Syria and the East. In particular but not exclusively Palmyra is mentioned among the resources. The Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice has created The Ebla Digital Archives for royal inscriptions from the third millennium BCE found in Ebla/Tell Mardikh. The closeness of Syria to ancient and modern empires comes into view at the Hethitologie Portal Mainz which deals with cuneiform inscriptions found in modern Turkey and northern Syria. The Khalili Research Centre of Oxford University is responsible for OCIANA, the Online Corpus of the Inscriptions of Ancient Northern Arabia, an area which covered at least a part of southern Syria.

One of the general resources for Latin inscriptions is the Photographic Database within the Epigraphic Database Heidelberg. You can also search for images of inscriptions at the EAGLE portal. With the EAGLE mobile app you can take photos of inscriptions in situ and compare them with the database.

Finding more

Starts screen Monuments of Syria, Ross Burns

This post could be much longer, but maybe it is important to realize projects can easily be overlooked. Initiatives do not come from just one country. Some countries have institutes in the Middle East which watch developments in Syria carefully, others follow the Middle East since decades both on location and from the outside. The American School of Oriental Research (ASOR) in Alexandria, Virginia, has created the platform ASOR-Syrian Heritage with reports on damage inflicted to cultural heritage. The ASOR has a digital archive for its rich history in archaeological excavations. The University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, has an extensive digital collection with photographs from the library of the American Geographical Society and also the Wisconsin Palmyrean Aramaic Inscription Project. Damage to archaeological sites in Syria is discussed in particular by the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology. Monuments of Syria preserves literally images of the situation in 2011 and gives links to a number of resources. These are just a few of the websites you, too, can find using the ever-active Ancient World Online blog maintained by Charles Jones. Access to Mideast and Islamic Resources is an online journal which helps you to find just what it promises

Just as we cannot take open access as granted, we cannot afford to think every project concerning Syria can be traced easily. Online maps such as the one concerning the civil war in Syria or a similar map at Edmaps are ready at hand, but you need to search for other resources. It is a lucky situation the results of research in the filed of Classical Antiquity can almost always be found in open access. In Europe many people can benefit from an autumn holiday week. For those who like to sit behind a computer screen or surf with a tablet there is every chance to discover next week lots of resources in open access about a country which goes through a dark period in its long history. For me it would suffice if this post invites you to find out more yourself.

Women and law in medieval letters

Logo EpistolaeHow can you correct some of the deceptive perspectives, or even worse, outright biases, without surrendering your own powers of comprehension? What is humanly possible to change your mind? I think we should embrace every sincere invitation to let us listen better to voices easily overlooked in our regular research practice and use of sources. In the project under discussion in this post I will as usually try to look first of all for its qualities, and not only for things to be repaired or bettered. Epistolae: Medieval Women’s Latin Letters is a project created by Joan Ferrante, a professor of English literature at Columbia University, New York. Its core is a corpus of nearly 2,400 medieval letters, both in English translation and in the original languages. What does this substantial collection contain, and what not? How easy can you use its contents? What is in these letters for legal historians?

Spanning a continent and a millennium

The second logo of Epistolae

The letters in the Epistolae project are written in Latin. They date from the fourth to the thirteenth century, and thus there are texts from Late Antiquity up to the century which often has been seen as the apogee of the Middle Ages. The collection contains both letters sent by women and letters they received. Apart from browsing the entire collection you can search the letters using separate search fields for the title of a letters, senders and recipients, and there is also a global search field. The first three fields automatically generate suggestions for items containing a part of your search which you can select for quicker searching. By clicking on the title of a column in the results view you can change its sorting order. There is a basic bibliography for the resources used for this project, with in many cases only the title of publications and their presence in Columbia’s university library. In the second section of the project you will find biographies about the women figuring in the project.

One of the things I quickly noticed is probably one of the historian’s idols, the absence of years or a period of years in a number of search results. In some cases a global date can be added easily because we know the years in which the sender or recipient lived. Historians prefer to know from which period or year, or when necessary even from which date a source stems. Temporal precision helps you to avoid generalisations for a period like the European Middle Ages which span a continent during a millennium. However, the thing clearly most important here is showing the existence of letters written by women or received by women in a language mostly associated with men and male education.

However large the number of more than 2,300 letters may seem, you will probably want to see as many letters written by women as possible, and in a second set letters written to women, and you might want to have also easy access to letters sent among women, but I do not see here the possibility to create this subset quickly. With this in mind I was rather amazed that you will find for Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) only three letters dictated by her and three sent to her. Her correspondence is good for three volumes in the modern scholarly edition, Hildegardis Bingensis, Epistolarium, Lieven Van Acker and Monika Klaes-Hachmoller (eds.) (Turnhout, 1991-2001; Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Medievalis, 91, 91a and 91b), commonly seen as one of the largest collections of letters written by a medieval woman. Hildegard is justly famed for the wide variety of people she wrote to and writing to her. The examples given here are restricted to letters to Elisabeth von Schonau, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Bernard of Clairvaux, and letters by Bernard of Clairvaux and Elisabeth von Schonau. The entrance for Hildegard of Bingen mentions the English translation [The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen, Joseph L. Baird and Radd K. Ehrman (Oxford etc., 1994, 1998, 2004)]. I did not find a statement on the website for this severely restricted choice, but it might be a matter of creating a balance between well-known and lesser known women.

A Dutch and Flemish view

You could bet I would look in the database of Epistolae for Dutch women, and this is indeed fruitful and revealing. There are 127 search results for a global search with the term Holland, and 208 results when you search for Flanders. However, something else becomes also visible. Each letter with more than one sender or recipient is recorded as many times as there are senders and recipients. Let’s look for example at the two charters of count William of Holland addressed to Margaret of Constantinople, countess of Flanders, written both May 19, 1250 in Brussels. I could not help spotting that William is according to the first charter only count of Holland, and in the second charter he figures as king of Romans. Ashleigh Imus provided English translations of these charters. I checked the text also in the source mentioned at Epistolae, the Oorkondenboek van Holland en Zeeland tot 1299 (OHZ), A.C.F. Koch, J.G. Kruisheer en E.C. Dijkhof (eds.) (5 vol., The Hague 1970-2006) digitized by the Huygens Institute / Institute for Dutch History.

The first charter, no. 851 in the OHZ, reads clearly “Willelmus Dei gratia Romanorum rex semper augustus, comes Hollandie,” both king and count, with for Margaret, “Margareta Flandrie et Hainonie comitissa”, yet another county, Hainault. In the second charter (OHZ, no. 856) William is called only king of Romans, “Willelmus Dei gratia Romanorum rex semper augustus”. When you check the OHZ you will see Margaret figures in more charters dated May 19, 1250. In no. 858 her name is abbreviated. No. 701 of December 16, 1246 is present in the Epistolae database, but this charter was not addressed to the abbot and monastery of Doesburg. Thosan is the Flemish monastery at Ter Doest.

In yet another letter, this time addressing pope Gregory IX in 1242, Ashleigh Imus rightly corrected a misprinted location in an old Italian edition. The charter mentions indeed Veurne (Furnes) in Flanders. There is a summary of this charter in the registers of pope Innocent IV [Les Registres d’Innocent IV (1243-1254) I, Elie Berger (ed.) (Paris 1884; online at Gallica), p. 52, no. 290], dated “Datum Lateranensi VI Idus Decembris”, December 8, 1243, and not on “III Nonas Decembris”, December 3, and edited from the papal register Reg. Avon. I 289, f. 47. I could not find this charter at the Belgian portal Diplomatica Belgica. Ferrante mentions the conflict about Hainault in her very interesting short biography of Margaret of Constantinople (1202-1280), without however caring to give the date of her birth and death.

You can check the charters of the only Dutch king of the Holy Roman Empire also in Die Urkunden Heinrich Raspes und Wilhelms von Holland, Dieter Hägermann and Jaap Kruisheer (eds.) (Hannover 1989; Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Diplomata), available online at dMGH, the digital platform of the MGH in Munich. The two charters nicely shows the difficulties of recording in a database the presence of multiple people involved with one item, and in this case even two persons with two roles in the first charter. Things are clearly not entirely correct when you cannot find Margaret when you use a global search for Hainault. You have to be very much aware of the fact that only 800 letters have been entered into the Epistolae database, even though 2000 letters have been collected and await further treatment.

If you want to follow the trail of charters in the Low Countries you can consult online several modern editions. For Guelders you have the Oorkondenboek van Gelre en Zutphen tot 1326, for the diocese Utrecht Oorkondenboek van het Sticht Utrecht tot 1301, S. Muller Fz. et alii (eds.) (5 vol., Utrecht 1920-‘s-Gravenhage 1959). For Brabant the Digitaal Oorkondenboek van Noord-Brabant brings you even more than the printed editions. Older editions for Frisia, Groningen and Drenthe can be consulted and searched at the Cartago platform.

Letters and charters

My probings in the Epistolae database point in the direction of a conclusion which is not entirely surprising. It seems a good thing to put in both real letters and charters into one database on the same footing, but alas charters need to be treated in a very distinct way in order to become usable for research. The projects for Holland, Utrecht and Guelders give you a searchable database and both OCR-scanned texts and images of the original edition. Of course you want to use all possible relevant sources about particular women, but putting them into a database and creating a reliable scholarly resource is not an easy thing, regardless of the subject you want to investigate. In the Epistolae database you cannot search directly for letters by women sent to other women, a thing many people will want to look for. In many charters women, in particular those of high rank in medieval society, do all kinds of things, in particular actions with legal consequences. It is perfectly understandable that you would like to have as many sources as possible in a single online resource, but one has to accept some consequences. To the philological skills needed to study medieval letters you will have to add the skills of the classic historical auxiliary sciences such as diplomatics, the study of charters, and palaeography.

Joan Ferrante wisely choose to rely on printed editions for her enterprise. Her knowledge of medieval literature and approaches of this vast subject has led her to launching a database that has its strength primarily in the letters given both in Latin and English. Realizing the idea of wanting to show both writing letters and using the pen for legal matters in charters is not unthinkable, but it will be a tour de force. Finding the voices of medieval women is a quest in itself, but you cannot afford to lose sight of all tools needed and existing.

Another thing that needs stressing is attention to the epistolary genre with its own particularities. You can get an idea of a further mixture of matters relevant to legal history by looking for example at a recent volume concerning the papacy and letters, Kuriale Briefkultur im späteren Mittelalter. Gestaltung – Überlieferung – Rezeption, Tanja Broser, Andreas Fischer and Matthias Thumser (eds.) (Cologne-Weimar Vienna, 2015; Regesta Imperii Beihefte, 37), available online at the website of the Regesta Imperii. In his contribution in this volume, ‘Letter-Collections in the Middle Ages’ (pp. 35-50), Giles Constable explains medieval letters are most often transmitted within collections. A real letter could be expanded and refined to serve as a literary text. He stresses the double nature of letters and charters which can have both a personal and businesslike character. Constable urges scholars to look carefully at each individual letter, and not to conclude things hastily because it is preserved in a particular collection. Wise words from not just one of the best known medievalists, but from a doyen in the field of medieval letters. His volume on Letters and letter-collections (Turnhout 1976; Typologie des sources du Moyen Âge occidental, 17) has been digitized by the MGH. You can learn basic things about medieval letters also in the chapter ‘Epistolography’ by Julian Heseldine in Medieval latin: An introduction and bibliographical guide, Frank Mantello and Arthur Rigg (eds.) (Washington, D.C., 1997) 650-658. On the resources page of Epistolae this guide is mentioned without a reference to this chapter.

Logo MGH, Munich

Speaking of the MGH, it is now possible to find at their dMGH platform also editions of letters in the Epistolae series, in particular the volumes of the Epistolae saeculi XIII e regestis pontificum Romanorum selectae, Karl Rodenberg (ed.) (3 vol., Berlin 1883-1897; MGH Epp. saec. XIII) in which you will find both real letters and more official correspondence. A letter to Joan of Constantinople, countess of Flanders and Hainault, sent by pope Gregory IX on November 5, 1235 (I, 563, no. 666) can be added in the Epistolae database. Among the latest publications of the MGH is the Codex Udalrici, Klaus Nass (ed.) (Wiesbaden 2017; MGH, Die Briefe der deutschen Kaiserzeit, 10) with early twelfth-century letters around the investiture conflict compiled by a cleric at Bamberg.

Visible and invisible filters

When finishing this post I could look also at the remarks about medieval letters in the first edition in Dutch from 1962 of the famous Guide to the sources of medieval history (Oxford 1995), also translated and updated as Introduction aux sources de l’histoire médiévale: typologie, histoire de l’érudition médiévale, grandes collections, sciences auxiliaires, bibliographie (Turnhout 1997) by Raoul van Caenegem and François Ganshof, to mention only the latest versions. Both authors mentioned in 1962 already everything I summarized here from later introductions to a rewarding genre which you cannot approach as if you can read everything at face value.

Banner Feminae

The most paradoxical thing about the project of Joan Ferrante is her apparent neglect as a professor of medieval literature of a thing which any student would know and duly acknowledge. It is one thing to set out to correct the bias filtering medieval women out of view, another thing to tackle the apparent biases in two distinct kinds of sources, medieval letters and charters. Both genres share a mixture of objective matters and personal touches. I am convinced of the need to use gender perspectives, but perhaps I am also too much a medievalist to forget about the challenges medieval sources pose for any kind of research. What can and has been done in research about medieval women can be traced in the online bibliography at Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index. You should not miss the bibliographies at Queens in the Middle Ages, too. A portal such as Monastic Matrix concerning medieval women’s religious communities is a model of its kind. The presence of English translations and accompanying biographies is surely most valuable for the Epistolae project, but the mélange of letters and charters has resulted in a rather unexpected mixture. It would be wonderful to use both genres together in one database, but one has to overcome some very real problems before you are able to hear the true voices of medieval women. In my opinion this database deserves a remix, an update with the 1200 letters waiting to be entered, and some tuning of the biographies and search interface to become fully operational as a search tool which can fulfill many needs.

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 by the 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 two papyri, 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.

Mapping the legal past

How often did you look this summer on a map? You no doubt checked an interactive map for the weather forecasts, and you might have used an app to guide you on the roads you took during your vacation. In this post I would like to look at interactive online maps, more specifically HISGIS systems, historical-geographical maps, which have a clear connection with legal history. The choice of maps is rather great, and I am sure you will pick those closest to your own interests and curiosity.

Several overviews have helped me to bring together the maps I mention here, first of all the overview at Anterosis, a project of John Levin. The Historical GIS Research Network, is one of the oldest websites with an overview of HISGIS projects. Lately I noticed the Electronical Cultural Atlas Initiative (ECAI), but the best current international overview of HISGIS websites has been created by the HGIS Lab, University of Saskatchewan. I dealt with a number of Dutch and Belgian projects in an earlier post concerning the bicentenary of the Dutch Cadastral Service, and thus I thought I could hardly bring you my typical Dutch slant. However, last week I noticed a veritable portal with a number of interactive maps concerning Dutch culture and history which seems perfectly fit for inclusion here.

The British isles

Modern drawing of medieval Swansea

Let’s start the tour with the United Kingdom to honor the work of the team of the Historical GIS Research Network. I could mention a lot of projects concerning London, but Locating London’s Past can stand as a fine representative of other projects. A more general map project deals with Ordnance Survey Maps (National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh). Tithes are the subject of a project of the West Yorkshire Archives Service, Tracks in Time: The Leeds Tithe Map Project. Another project with tithes, Cynefin Project: Welsh Tithe Maps, brings us to the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.

The project City Witness: Medieval Swansea contains some materials which I found particularly fascinating. Maps are only one aspect of this project with as one of its cores the story of nine men around 1300 about the hanging and miraculous survival of William Cragh. Among the textual witnesses used at City Witness is the manuscript Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, ms. Vat. lat. 4015, for which you can access online in DigiVatLib a digitzed version of a black-and-white microfilm. For Ireland one has to single out the project The Down Survey of Ireland: Mapping a change (Trinity College Library, Dublin) with information about this very early land survey made between 1656 and 1658, and also Ordnance Survey maps and three historical GIS maps.

Around the world

Cover Digital Gazetteer of the Song DynastySurely HISGIS projects are not confined to the United Kingdom or Europe. The best example to show this is perhaps The Digital Gazetteer of the Song Dynasty (University of California, Merced). A book about the rulers and administration of this Chinese dynasty (960-1276) was the starting point for Ruth Mostern and Elijah Meeks to create a much larger project to visualize the locations and extent of the power exercised by this dynasty. Ruth Mostern’s 2011 book provided the spur to start building this HISGIS.

It did cross my mind to look for projects dealing with Classical Antiquity, but I had a firm impression that interactive maps and the use of digital tools are far more common among classicists than among legal historians. The choice of online projects as shown at The Digital Classicist Wiki is stunning. I do not know where to start best with the plethora of projects. Elsewhere I came luckily across a pilot version of a modern representation of the Tabula Peutingerana created by Jean-Baptiste Piggin not yet mentioned in this wiki. Piggin tries to use his knowledge about diagrams to go beyond the Peutinger map website by Richard Talbert. You might want to follow the relevant posts about his project at Piggin’s blog. For an idea of what has been done for HISGIS and Classical Antiquity you can get a distinct idea at the Ancient World Mapping Center (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and the Antiquity À la Carte application. It is possible to commission new features to be added to this set of interactive maps.

I propose to turn now to North America. Among the sites I would like to signal here are first of all projects with the closest affinity to normal maps. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries (Newberry Library, Chicago) should in my opinion be viewed in tandem with Lincoln Mullen’s project Historical Boundaries of the United States, 1783-1912. Quite different are projects such as Jack Dougherty’s On the Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and its Suburbs, and Redlining Richmond, a project around the House Owners’ Loan Corporation and the New Deal in this town. Social and economic history comes into view at IWW History Project: Industrial Workers of the World 1905-1935 (University of Washington). I could not resist adding here a digital collecion without HISGIS maps, but I am sure the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps digitized at the Library of Congress is a wonderful resource for American history.

Inevitably some projects seems less easy to fit under one heading with similar projects. Close to geography are projects such as LandMark: Global Platform of Indigenous and Community Lands and Danske Herregaarde (Danish manors) of the Dansk Center for Herregårdsforskning. The Colonial Despatches: The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871 (University of Victoria) is based on the actions of the colonial government in these Canadian regions.

Traces of slavery

One theme is clearly seen as most suitable for the use of HISGIS systems. It is striking how many sites for the study of the history of slavery use it to present sources or the results of research. Instead of going straight for matters connected in the first place with the United States of America or the United Kingdom it can be instructive to start elsewhere.

Header HGIS de las Indias

The HGIS de la Indias (Universität Graz) is a portal with a Spanish interface presenting interactive maps for the period 1701-1808. The Caribbean is the setting of Slave Revolts in Jamaica, 1760/1761. A Cartographic NarrativeTransatlantic Slave Trade is one of the most studied elements in the history of slavery. MCC Slave Voyage The Unity 1761-1763 is a website of the Zeeuws Archief, Middelburg about one particular ship of a Dutch slave trading company. At Mapping Slavery NL you can trace Dutch slave owners in several towns. There are books and websites for city walks along traces of slavery, for example in Amsterdam and Utrecht, but I could not readily find these links at Mapping Slavery NL.

For the United States we meet again Lincoln Mullen, this time for his project Mapping the Spread of American Slavery. The Texas Slavery Project focuses on a single state. For a long time it belonged to the so-called Territories, the states joining the United States at a later point in time. Visualizing Emancipation (University of Richmond) is concerned with a later phase. The aftermath and long repercussions of slavery are a stake at Collective Violence: Mapping Mob Violence, Riots and Pogroms against African American Communities, 1824 to 1974. The United Kingdom comes into view with Legacies of British Slave-Ownership (University College, London). The University of Edinburgh has created the portal Cartographie des Mémoires de l’Esclavage.

Looking at this overview I am sure I have probably missed a number of projects, but it is my objective to make the visual impact of maps for literally mapping slavery and other subjects more clear. When you read descriptions as the topography of terror we are inclined to think only of the Second World War, but creating maps of other events and phenomena is every bit as helpful and important.

A cultural atlas

Logo Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed

The last website I want to introduce here is a portal created by the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (RCE, Dutch National Cultural Heritage Service) in Amersfoort. The new WebGIS: Themakaart Portaal offers 22 different maps and atlases covering Dutch cultural heritage. As for now the riches of this portal can only be viewed in Dutch, and I cannot imagine why a version in English has not yet been created or at least announced for the near future. The landscape maps are also accessible at Landschap in Nederland, and the archaeological maps can be found also at a sister site, Archeologie in Nederland. A possible starting point is the Kaart van de verstedelijking (Map of urbanization) where you can among other things view Dutch urbanization between 1200 and 2010 and look at city plans taken from the major cartographical project executed by Jacob van Deventer during the second half of the sixteenth century. It is a pity that this cartographical portal does not contain all supporting information present at the landscape and archaeology portals. You can benefit from information about Van Deventer’s maps and the growth of 35 cities. On the other hand, can you really expect to find everything at a single portal? At least one of the maps has very substantial connections with legal history, the map concerning the medieval and later development of fen regions (Agrarische veenontginningen). Newly developed regions often came under a specific jurisdiction. In the north west of the province Utrecht a region is known for a peculiar tax, the dertiende penning (thirteenth penny) which had to be paid until recently at the sale of landed property. These jurisdictions have yet to be added to this RCE map.

While looking at the map concerning flooding risks and cultural heritage I realize how much good maps are needed in regions of India, Nepal and Bangladesh suffering flooding right now, in late August 2017. Creating road maps for Nepal is one of the challenges the Red Cross – for example Missing Maps, American Red Cross – brought to the attention of the world. Volunteers are invited to use recent satellite photographs to make reliable maps for those striving to help people. Historical GIS systems can be as interesting as their modern forerunners, and there is space for legal historians to add to them anything they judge to be important.

A digital approach to Roman lawgiving

Sometimes you can happily live with the impression that all Roman laws are to be found within the pages of the Corpus Iuris Civilis, the mighty collection with the Justinian Digest, his Institutiones, Codex and the Novellae. For older Roman laws the Fontes Iuris Romani Anteiustianiani (FIRA) contain everything you would want to look at. The invaluable Amanuensis tool discussed here in 2015, enables you to find Roman laws quickly on your computer and even on your mobile phone. Dutch readers can boast the completion of a modern translation of the Corpus Iuris Civilis into Dutch, noticed here with some relish. Much of FIRA is accessible in Dutch, too, thanks to Job Spruit and Karel Bongenaar in their bilingual edition Het erfdeel van de klassieke Romeinse juristen (4 vol., Zutphen 1982-1987).

Logo Anhima at the LEPOR website, Telma/CNRS

By chance I encountered already in the first week of 2017 a project which dispels the illusion that every Roman law is present in these volumes. Leges Populi Romani (LEPOR) is a database, the fruit of a project started by Paula Botteri, Jean-Louis Ferrary and Philippe Moreau. Eventually the universities Paris-I (Panthéon-Sorbonne), Paris 7 (Diderot), the École Pratique des Hautes Études, the EHESS and CNRS partnered to launch LEPOR at the Telma portal with online databases for research in the humanities, or more exactly the digital treatment of manuscripts and archival records, because Telma is the abbreviation of Traitement électronique des manuscrits et archives. I use here the logo of ANHIMA, the research unit for Anthropologie et Histoire des Mondes Antiques. It might be useful to give some guidance to a project which has only an interface in French. Starting with a subject in Roman law makes me feel I start this year in a way that is true to the training of European legal historians.

A new approach

Logo Telma (CNRS)

At this moment you cannot yet find at the Telma portal the direct link to the Leges Populi Romani database. The project is clearly in the process of becoming an integral part of this platform where scholars of Classical Antiquity could already use the Callythea database, a repertory of Greek mythological poetry from the Hellenistic period. An Ethiopian Manuscript Archive documenting the history of Coptic Christians in Ethiopia is also to be launched this year. The Telma platform has a number of databases for medieval history as its core.

Back to the Leges Populi Romani! There is a general introduction to the project which takes as its starting point the need for a new version of Giovanni Rotondi’s Leges publicae populi Romani (Milan 1912). The laws in the database stem from 509 BC up to emperor Nerva in the first century. The plebiscites created before 287 BC will also be included. The laws of the Roman kings and charters given to corporations in the leges datae are excluded. For each law the database will contain five notices, dealing with its name, the date of publication, the rogatores, the theme or themes dealt with in a particular law, and sources with references to a law. Whenever possible this is followed by a selective bibliography of scholarship and a commentary about the contents of the law, its application, success or abrogation. The commentaries will be mainly in French, but sometimes in English or Italian. The conseils de recherche offer a concise user’s guide for the database. It is wise to look at the abbreviations, too, if only because here you will find a very good bibliography concerning Roman laws. Key elements in the advanced search mode (Rechercher) are the use of the field for the date or time period and dropdown menus for searching rogatores, themes of laws and specific sources. either a classical author or a specific textual corpus. You can also search for themes in Roman laws using a structured list (Thèmes de lois). Even when you study Roman law since many years it is good to look at the sheer range of Roman laws in this overview. In my view it is a graphic way to visualize the central role of legislation in Roman law and society. When you would perhaps like to browse or get a general impression of the database you can always use the free text search field in the right top corner of the screen, or scroll through the list of notices and pick a law at will. In my experience you will want to go from one law to yet another, just the thing made possible here,

Currently for some of the themes no notice has yet been created. The page with links does not yet function, almost the only element of Leges Populi Romani which comes in for any comment. The introduction does mention the Projet Volterra at University College London with the databases Law and Empire AD 193-455 (“Volterra I”) and Law and the End of Empire AD 455-900 (“Volterra II”), and the Centro di studi e ricerche sui Diritti Antichi (CEDANT) at the Università degli Studi di Pavia, more specifically the RedHiS project, Rediscovering the Hidden Structure. The Projet Volterra does not only bring you a lot of its own materials but als a set of pages forming a compact web guide to Roman law. In particular the attention to legislation by the Roman emperors should make it the companion to the Leges Populi Romani website. I would single out as the most distinctive feature of this new website the way it combines information about the creation of single laws with a far better perspective on similar laws than we had before. Having quick access to references where a specific law is referred to in Roman literature – or in inscriptions – is a further asset.

Before I end with only applauding the good work of this great French initiative and admiring the exemplary cooperation of several research institutes it is up to anyone studying Roman laws and using this website to comment on its qualities, to suggest enhancements, and perhaps to help creating an interface in English. Let’s end here with two wishes in Latin, Annum novum faustum felicem vobis, a happy and lucky New Year to you, a wish happily taken from the interesting Following Hadrian blog, and quod felix faustumque sit, my best wishes to the team of Leges Populi Romani!