Tag Archives: Classical Antiquity

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.

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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!