Tag Archives: Roman law

Roman law and its digital life

Scholars working in the field of Classical Antiquity have wholeheartedly embraced the use of digital tools. Some portals concerning aspects of the ancient Mediterranean are even among the very best current websites. It is a sheer joy to figure out for example how to travel from Asia Minor to Italy using the Orbis interactive map created at Stanford University. In this post I would like to look at the possibilities to work with Roman law texts in digital versions.

Banner of the Amanuensis program

Are websites or tools available which can help to achieve the aims of both traditional and more advanced aims in classical philology when dealing with the texts of the great Roman lawyers and the compilations created in the sixth century AD? The answer might surprise some younger readers, but in fact one of the earliest computer programs dealt already with this subject. One can only admire the foresight and wide view of Hofrat Josef Menner (Universität Linz) to create the program Romtext not just for Justinian’s Digest, but also for his Codex and Institutes, for the Institutiones Gaii and the Codex Theodosianus as well as the Breviarium Alarici (Lex Romana Visigothorum) and even less well-known texts, for example the Tabula Heracleensis. The program functioned since the early seventies on a standalone computer. His program has now been converted by Peter Riedlberger and Günther Rosenbaum into a modern program, called Amanuensis. This tool was launched in March 2014 and is available both for the main personal computer systems and also as an application for smartphones. Amanuensis has been out already for some time now, and version 1.5.2 certainly merits attention here. In the Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, Kanonistische Abteilung 101 (2015) 793-794 the creators announced their tool in print to the scholarly world.

The search screen of Amanuensis

The origins of Amanuensis from a computer system with only bare essentials is still immediately visible in the austere search screen, both on your pc and on a smart phone. However, in this new incarnation Romtext still scores above the various websites with Roman legal texts where you can perform only searches in one singular text, not within the complete corpus of Roman law texts. The list of resources even includes three early medieval Germanic law codes, the Völkerrechte. You can set the search interface in sixteen different languages. You can tune the search mode to include exact phrases, skip occurrences or include various endings of a word, and by clicking on a paragraph you get the context into view. It is also possible to search for particular texts using the normal abbreviations for Roman legal texts. Amanuensis does deal also with assimilation in words to make searching for different spellings easier. In other words, you can perform the kind of searches you expect of similar tools. Long fragments in Greek have been excluded from the corpus.

Logo The Roman Law LibraryOn my own legal history portal Rechtshistorie I have listed at the page for Roman law links to a number of digital version of the Corpus Iuris Romani. At the Latin Library the texts for Roman law compiled under the authority of emperor Justinian have been put together in one section, the Theodosian Code and the Institutes of Gaius appear separately. Surely The Roman Law Library at Grenoble can boast the largest variety of Roman legal texts, but here, too, you have to search within individual sections. Yves Lassard and Aleksandr Koptev include at their magnificent portal when possible two or even more editions of a text, something to keep in mind when using Amanuensis and other resources, such as the very good searchable versions of the Institutiones Iustiniani, the Codex and the Digest at the Intratext Digital Library. At Intratext you can for example also search for words in alphabetical listings and benefit from the KWIC presentation (keyword in context).

A plethora of texts

Lately I have looked at several online text corpora, and it is rewarding to mention here at least some of them. The Corpus Scriptorum Latinorum guides you for Roman legal texts to the versions at the Latin Library. DigilibLT, Biblioteca digitale dei testi latini tardoantichi (Università degli Studi di Piemonte Orientale (Vercelli)), does not include any Roman law text among its Latin texts from Late Antiquity. The Bibliotheca Polyglotta created at the Faculty of Humanities at Oslo University is awe-inspiring for its sheer scope and range, from Arabic texts to the Bible in several languages, and from Ashoka inscriptions to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, Roman law is absent. At Monumenta, a Swiss portal created by Max Bänziger, you have access to a large number of texts in classical and medieval Latin, but legal texts have not been included.

In another Swiss project, the Corpus Corporum – Repertorium operum Latinorem apud universitatem Turicensem at the Universität Zürich, you will find a wealth of Latin resources, among them for medievalists Migne’s Patrologia Latina. This portal builds on the strengths of some digital corpora which figure in this paragraph. I would have expected to find Roman legal texts in the section Latinitas Antiqua, but instead you will find Justinian’s Digest among the Auctores scientiarum varii as the only Roman legal text. For a different slant – and a very different layout – you can visit the Bibliotheca Augustana created by Ulrich Harsch (Augsburg) who has also included the Laws of the Twelve Tables, Diocletian’s price edict and other short texts.

Banner Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University

Let’s conclude this brief tour of major textual corpora for digital humanities with the Perseus Digital Library (Tufts University, Medford, MA). You might wonder why I did not start with this digital library, doubtless the richest online resource for Greek and Latin texts, and you will not be disappointed here when looking for the Quran, Icelandic sagas or texts on American history, too. Roman law is conspicuously absent. On a separate domain the Perseus Catalog does bring you to external versions of Justinian’s Digest, even in the 1909 translation by Charles Monro and William Buckland, the Institutes and the Codex, and to the edition by Theodor Mommsen and Paul Krüger of the Corpus Iuris Civilis at the Internet Archive, with the Institutiones and the Digesta (5th ed., Berlin 1888), the Codex Iustinianus (5th ed., Berlin 1892) and the Novellae (Berlin 1895). The Perseus Catalog does not bring you to the Codex Theodosianus also present at the Internet Archive in the edition by Mommsen and Paul Meyer (Berlin 1905). The Perseus Digital Library exists also in a special version for advanced philological research, Perseus under PhiloLogic, using the PhiloLogic technology developed at the University of Chicago available for text collections, encyclopedias and dictionaries, in many cases in open access. It would be great to approach Greek and Roman legal texts, too, with modern digital tools.

Knowing more is more than just fun

Today I received a flyer of a Dutch newspaper advertising with the slogan “Meer weten is wel zo leuk” [Knowing more is really nice]. I immediately combined their advertisement with the matters at stake here. The ideal of an all-embracing Altertumswissenschaft can still bring a smile on our faces. It would be great to connect aspects of ancient civilizations seamlessly and effortlessly with each other, and indeed the online availability of so many resources and their rich variety makes achieving the aim of histoire totale less far away than before. Why does Roman law get such a marginal place in the text corpora described in the middle of this posting? I had better not speculate on any answer. Perhaps Romtext and its current form simply have not yet been noticed very much outside the German-speaking world.

In last month’s posting about law and pocket books I noted an Italian pocket edition of the Digesta, but now you can actually have the Corpus Iuris Civilis and some supplementary texts literally in your pocket. It is not just that the Romans paid particular attention to legal matters, it is not even the perfection of their laws and commentaries nor the brutal exclusion of whole groups in society, it is the impact on Roman society and the reception of Roman law that matters crucially in understanding the Roman world and its significance during two millennia. Leaving out law when talking about the Romans might make things seem easier, but it does leave out something that mattered very much for them.

In fact scholars in the field of Roman law might sometimes yearn to achieve what others working in fields such as Assyrian and Egyptian history have already done with computers and digital tools. One can only admire the way ancient inscriptions and papyri have been made accessible online. The way things work for studying Roman law are changing, too, even if you can only find a trickle of news about Roman law on the deservedly famous blog of Charles E. Jones, AWOL – The Ancient World Online. Thanks to Sarah E. Bond’s blog about law in Classical Antiquity and her links I arrived at Paul Du Plessis’ (Edinburgh) very useful online companion to Borkowski’s Textbook on Roman Law (5th ed., Oxford, etc. 2015) who alerted me to the services of Amanuensis, and made me work to update my webpage on Roman law.

Logo Ius Civile

In most cases the Ius Civile portal of Ernest Metzger (University of Glasgow) is one of the surest places to look for online information about Roman law, for example his clear listing of online versions of the various parts of the Corpus Iuris Civilis, but evidently Amanuensis has yet escaped his attention. On the blog of the online scholarly journal Roman Legal Tradition Metzger alerted on September 8, 2015, to a recent article by Thomas A.J. McGinn on Roman law and the expressive function of law. It is worth citing Metzger’s opening words:

Those who study Roman law don’t “collaborate” with other disciplines: they live in them. Romanists who aren’t part philologist and social historian don’t exist, and without some acquaintance with philosophy and the history of ideas they’re just left behind. So they don’t talk about “interdisciplinarity.” Like the old joke: “What’s water?” said the fish. The corollary is that Roman law is the perfect mirror for all manner of studies, and that includes relatively new ones, like the expressive function of law.

Metzger succeeds in making his readers really awake! To do justice to the role and importance of Roman law legal historians should do their best to bring this fact to bear on the study of Classical Antiquity, and make other scholars more aware of and wary about Roman laws, lawyers and institutions. Roman law is indeed a mirror of all aspects of the Roman civilization. In my view the mirror of ancient society is distorted when Roman law in its turn is not clearly visible. Of course the laws of the Romans can be biased, disgraceful or wrong, but a mirror should show such characteristics, too. Specialists of Roman law might be versatile scholars in other disciplines as well, but it is up to scholars in these disciplines to turn an eye to Roman law. You are at your own peril when you turn a blind eye to this central element in Roman life and culture. Having a nifty tool as Amanuensis at your disposal, if you want at your finger tips, can be most useful to make your mind up about Roman law. We have to thank scholars such as Josef Menner, Yves Lassard, Aleksandr Koptev and Peter Riedlberger who took and take the trouble of paving the roads to electronic access to Roman legal texts.

logo-Index Iuris

This week I noticed also the launch of Index Iuris, a portal at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC. Its creators, Colin Wilder (University of South Carolina), founder of the portal The Republic of Literature, and Abigail Firey (University of Kentucky), leader of the team for the Carolingian Law Project, have as their aim the development of a portal for all kind of historical legal texts. Including resources such as those now available in Amanuensis will be a major asset for this ambitious project. Hopefully it will not detract too much energy from their other projects, and exactly for this reason the co-operation of other scholars is most welcome.

Opening a book: Laws in your pocket

Cover A few years ago I came across a pocket-book on the bylaws of eighteenth-century Amsterdam. Its very size made me muse about the kind of books you would like to carry with you, the actual choice booksellers offered and offer you in the particular field of pocket law books. With this post I launch a new series of contributions with the motto “Opening a book”.

The book that prompted me to write about pocket law books has been digitized for the digital library Early Dutch Books Online (EDBO), the fruit of cooperation between the Royal Library in The Hague and the university libraries of Leiden and Amsterdam. Meanwhile EDBO has been integrated into the Delpher project of the Dutch Royal Library.  An anonymous book called Amsterdams burgerrecht: Dat is Verzameling van privilegien en handvesten [Amsterdam’s citizens’ law, being a collection of privileges and charters] (Amsterdam 1787) attracted my attention because of words following the subtitle: “Uit de groote Handvest en andere schriften byeen verzameld, om als een zakboek van ieder gebruikt te kunnen worden”, compiled from the Major Charter and other writings in order to serve as a pocket-book for everyone’s use. Initially I was tempted to see this fifty page book as a typical product of the so-called Patriotic Period (Patriottentijd), the period with a strong movement in favor of political change in the Dutch Republic, but there is a much earlier edition from 1748. Both EDBO and Delpher are connected with the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands, the retrospective bibliography of Dutch books published between 1540 and 1800.


The extensive information in these resources left me with one question, the actual dimensions of this book. I checked in vain the catalogues of the three libraries holding this book, the Royal Library in The Hague for the digitized copy, the university library at Groningen, and the library of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The copy at the Rijksmuseum is interleaved with pages holding notes said to date around 1770, and this made me wary. The collation, the physical form of this copy is slightly different, too, but this can be due to a mistake in checking the pages of this particular book, π2 A-B8 O6, at Amsterdam A-B~8 C~4 . Alas there is no image of the digitized book with a scale for dimensions or colors, something which you might take to for granted when digitizing old books and manuscripts.

The contents themselves of this book – at least posing as a pocket-size book – on the bylaws and ordinances of Amsterdam are interesting. For readers in 1787 the stress in the first pages on the military duties of the burghers (citizens) was surely interesting. The importance of the old schutterijen, the Dutch city guards, had been curtailed by the Orangist government, and building new militias was one of the items on the agenda of the patriotic movement. The book gives for a number of subjects extracts in chromnological ordr.er from old ordinances, but the anonymous author gives the ordinances from 1394 partially in full length and places them prominently after the first short section about tolls.

An old practice still alive

Some small books: four

Some small books: four “dwarsliggers” in Dutch and a German book from the Reclam series

My insistence about the omission of the exact dimensions of this book is not a petty criticism or a hobby-horse. Dutch books in the seventeenth and eighteenth century were renown for the fine quality of printing and their handsome format. There is no need to remind English and American readers of the success of a series of short scholarly introductions which is surely due not only to the distinct quality of the authors but also to its handy shape. Germans know the Reclam’s Unversal-Bibliothek with cheap but reliable text editions, and the French have the Que sais-je series. Since 2009 a Dutch publisher has gained considerable success with really small pocket books containing texts printed crosswise (dwarsligger) measuring just 12 by 8 centimeter. The Reclam volume on my photo measures 15 by 9,5 centimeter.

Cover .

Lately I bought two pocket books giving you access not just to Dutch law in general, but doing this in a translation into easily understandable Dutch, meaning without juridical jargon. De wet in gewoon Nederlands [The law in normal Dutch] by Douwe Brongers (Amsterdam 2007, 4th ed. 2013; 703 pp.) starts with two documents from another legislative level, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, followed by the Dutch constitution, and large sections of the Dutch codes of civil law, criminal law and court procedure. Brongers brings in a second volume, De rechten van iedere Nederlander [The rights of every Dutchman] (Amsterdam 2013; 208 pp.), laws on consumer rights, privacy, equality, door-to-door selling and internet trade, the national ombudsman and the special children’s ombudsman, personal identification, governmental publicity, and the law concerning labour conditions. Their size, both in the number of pages (700 and 200), and physically (16 x 11,5 cm) make them less comfortable as books which you would really put into the pockets of your coat. The idea of combining compact size, concise information and clear language is indeed appealing.

Even legal historians use sometimes the pocket size for their publications. Julius Christiaan van Oven wrote a small book meant to guide his students attending his lectures at Leiden [Overzicht van Romeins privaatrecht. Leidraad bij een inleidingscollege (first edition Zwolle 1934; 7th ed.,1964)]. There exists even a pocket-book edition of Justinian’s Digest [Digesta Iustiniani Augusti, Pietro Bonfante et alii (edd.) (2 vol., Milano 1908-1931; reprint 1960 in one volume)]. In our century of electronic publication it should come as no surprise to find both a digital and a print version of J.E. Jansen’s study guide Romeins recht (2nd. ed., Amsterdam 2014), a volume in a series with more than forty short and small-sized introductions to the various fields of law.

Does this post gives you a taste of more?! You can tune the great database behind the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands to give you any book printed in a particular bibliographical format, but it depends on the data in the catalogues behind the STCN whether you will find the actual dimensions of a publication. Using words like zakboek or zakboekje and older words such as compendium you can spot a trend in Dutch book titles during the last quarter of the eighteenth century, but this is not the first period of the use of these words in book titles attempting to attract the attention of buyers. Pocket-books on law in the late eighteenth century shared for example the company of books on gardening, horse riding, veterinary medicine and freemasonry, and you will find books with a clear political aim, too. Almanacs used to be really small, and their modern incarnation such as the Enkhuizer Almanak bear witness to a clear standard size surviving the centuries.

The Dutch Royal Library has recently created an overview of digitization initiatives in the Netherlands, and with some luck you can still access, too, a useful list with the actual URL’s of digital collections, in my view an essential asset inexplicably missing in the final report Bibliotheekcollecies in het netwerk published online in August 2015. For your convenience I have created a shortlist of the main relevant collections on my page for the history of Dutch law.

At the scene of crime with the Romans

Flyer For a number of very sensible reasons the history of Roman law has a prominent place within the study of legal history. However, in most cases we tend to focus on Roman private law, sometimes we take public law into account, and criminal law holds at its best a marginal place. This blog tries to avoid undue attention to Roman law, but there is no need here to exclude it completely. The current exhibition about Roman criminal law at Nijmegen (Nimwegen / Nimègue) at Museum Het Valkhof is an excellent occasion to look at this subject in some depth. Its title Plaats delict. Misdaad bij de Romeinen [The scene of the crime. Crime among the Romans] suggests correctly that artefacts will help you to get a better view of Roman attitudes towards crime.

The variety of crimes

Inscription about a murdered farmer

The exhibition at Nijmegen has been developed in cooperation with a number of German museums which created the travelling exhibition Gefährliches Pflaster. Kriminalität im römischen Reich [Dangerous pavement. Criminality in the Roman Empire]. At Museum Het Valkhof, a museum for art, history and archaeology, there is a clear stress on a way of presentation suited to young people. There is no accompanying catalogue, but only short texts with brief explanations about the objects put on display. Children are invited to play the role of Quintus, a Roman crime investigator, and to find out who has committed a murder. From Frankfurt am Main there is a skull with traces of a murderous attack. Children can also take a seat in a Roman court and deduce the exact way cases did take place. An inscription concerning a Roman investigator at Nyon (Switzerland) and an inscription telling us about the murder of a farmer certainly help to imagine how crimes touched the lives of very real people. At Nyon Quintus Severius Marcianus had been very successful as a praefectus arcendis latrociniis, and his home town honoured him with an inscription.

The crimes shown in this exhibition offer a wide variety, from theft and counterfeiting coins to playing with prepared dices, and from burglary to murder and the plundering of tombs. Punishments, too, show a great variety: penalties in money, hand cuffs, slavery and forced labour, and the death penalty in various forms, be it as a gladiator, fed to the lions, by beheading or crucifixion.

Waxtable with a fine

From the perspective of legal historians it is remarkable that Roman law is scarcely invoked at this exhibition, often only implicitly or strictly in the context of an object. For lesser crimes your punishment would often be a fine, an amount of money to be paid. It is a pity the exhibition shows only a replica of a second century wax table with such a fine, held at the Archäologisches Museum Baden-Württemberg in Rastatt.

The longest text about Roman law in the exhibition gives a short overview of the various sources of Roman law. The major place of private law is mentioned, as is the efforts under emperor Hadrian (117-138) to unify Roman law. The Codex Justinianus is described as a text-book for students. Just two paragraphs to summarize a development of many centuries is simply too short to bring more than a few things to the attention of people. More to the point is the explanation about the accusatory nature of judicial proceedings. The parties involved had to bring a case themselves to court. The role of provincial governors to hear cases and to ask for judgments from the emperor himself is also mentioned, but none of this information is further corroborated.

Roman burglars at work

The information concerning the objects on display fares better, with nice captions such as Inbrekers aan het werk [Burglars at work] for a box with traces of an attempt to force its lock. Some walls of the exhibition rooms have been decorated with actual Roman wall paintings or evocative artists’ impressions, showing for example a number of inscriptions in a Roman settlement. The exhibition shows small statues of dogs given to the dead in their graves to protect the gifts accompanying their bodies. The ubiquitous Cave canem [Watch out for the dog] is only hinted at by showing a bronze head of a dog.

Objects, stories and history

I left the exhibition at Nijmegen with mixed feelings. It is easy to admire the telling array of objects, to learn about them from the concise information about them, and to get here a general impression of Roman life, crimes and punishments. The immediate involvement of children in an imaginary murder investigation is to be welcomed as an example of teaching a subject by making students play a role in a historical setting. However, I cannot ignore the lack of more information about the Roman judiciary, and in particular about its development. The quality of the information for each object is much better, but this shows also forcefully that texts – or maybe a video presentation – can enhance the understanding of objects.

At the entrance of the exhibition you read the Romans faced much the same crimes as we do nowadays. The very substantial difference in punishments could have been highlighted stronger. The attention paid by Romans to safeguard their possessions could have been easily linked to their veritable obsession with hereditary law, the very heart of Roman private law. In the museum shop at Nijmegen with a nice selection of books on Roman history I searched in vain for the German book published for the original exhibition by Marcus Reuter and Romina Schiavone, Gefährliches Pflaster. Kriminalität im römischen Reich (Mainz 2013). Reuter works at the Archäologischer Park und RömerMuseum in Xanten, a town not far from Nijmegen, which makes this omission even more painful.

Apart from the leaflet for children and a general flyer no printed information is available. In face of the Dutch fondness for English books studies such as Jill Harries, Law and crime in the Roman world (Cambridge 2007) and Olivia Robinson, The criminal law of ancient Rome (London 1995) could at the very least have been shown. For me it seems legal historians at the Radboud University Nijmegen have missed a chance to create for this occasion at least a succinct brochure which might redeem this conspicuous lack of further information. The city of Nijmegen can proudly trace its history back to Roman times, At Museum Het Valkhof is also a permanent exhibition about the Peace of Nijmegen (1678-1679), which without any doubt has benefited from advice by legal historians. Let’s hope they will exploit more actively future chances for cooperation with archives, museums and libraries, starting in their own town or region.

Plaats delict. Misdaad bij de Romeinen, Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen, May 18-October 5, 2014 – www.museumhetvalkhof.nl

A postscript

While finishing this post I visited also the exhibition De Krim / The Crimea at the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam, the archaeological museum of the University of Amsterdam. A splendidly flowing projection of tribes and their movements in the Roman empire from the first to the seventh century and a movie about excavations help here to see the context of the treasures shown. If I had noticed it earlier this year a posting about the Crimea and Ukraine would have been close to current world news, and for that reason the exhibition did not end in May, but will be open until August 31. In fact the museum fears either Russia or Ukraine will come with juridical claims when the objects would return now to the lending museums on the Krim (see a press release of the Allard Pierson Museum (August 20, 2014) and for example the Dutch newspaper Trouw, August 22, 2014). In one of the corridors of the Allard Pierson Museum is a small photo exhibition Culture under attack about the threats to cultural heritage worldwide since 1945.

The dog, the cat and the mouse: animals and legal history

Monkeys playing slaves - sculpture in wood - source: Kommissio für das Deutsche Rechtswörterbuch, Heidelberg

Man and animals live together since the domestication of a number of animals many thousand years ago. Through the ages they often got along quite well, but sometimes man needed the law to deal with the unexpected behaviour of animals. The company and companionship between women, men and animals is not completely harmless or effortless. Relationships ranged and range today from animal worship and sometimes almost human care for pets at one end to harsh treatment as mere objects and outright systematic cruelty, serving mankind in the end as food, provider of skins, cruel entertainment and other goals.

In a conference on Das Tier in der Rechtsgeschichte [Animals in legal history] at Heidelberg from April 2 to 4, 2014, legal historians and other scholars will discuss several aspects of animal and human life and the interaction between them. The program of the conference at Heidelberg has been created in cooperation with the commission for the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch. In this post I will look at some aspects of the interaction between animal history and legal history. This is an occasion, too, to look at the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch, one of the typical German dictionary projects.

Of man and beasts

Animals are no aliens in legal history. Especially in German legal history animals come into view already early. I invite you to look for example at images from medieval bestiaries in Bestiaire du Moyen Âge, a virtual exhibition of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (interface French, English and Spanish), They are portrayed in various ways in the famous illuminated manuscripts of Eike von Repgow’s Sachsenspiegel. In April Dietlinde Munzel-Everling will discuss the animals in the Sachsenspiegel. Jacob Grimm, one of the pioneers of German academic legal history did not only study and publish versions of the medieval animal epic about the fox Renard in his Reinhart Fuchs (Berlin 1834). In an earlier post here I looked in more depth at the various versions of this much liked medieval story. His explanation of German words in his Deutsche Grammatik (first edition Göttingen 1819) often included historical explanations. The word vogelfrei, meaning literally and originally “free as a bird”, was in the context of exiled people and victims of execution who were denied a funeral narrowed to “delivered to the birds”. No doubt Grimm will figure in the contribution of Michael Frosser-Schell on animals in his edition of the Weisthümer (6 vol., Göttingen 1840-1878).

At the conference in Heidelberg a physician and a theologian will help looking at animals and legal history from different academic disciplines. Wolfgang Eckhart will look at relations between humans and animals from a cultural and medieval perspective. Martin Jung will look at animals in early French protestant theology. Apart from a section on animals in some selected legal sources the conference has sections on animals in public and private law, both in towns and rural areas, animals and their roles in criminal law, animals and law in art and language, and finally a section looking at animals in Spanish law (Marita Giménes-Candela) and animals in the German and French Enlightenment (Ulrich Kronauer). In this last contribution the change in views about the maltreatment of animals will be discussed.

Legal procedure is a subject in the contribution of Inge Kroppenberg about the damnatio ad bestias in Roman law. Peter Dinzelbacher, too, will look at Tierprozesse, criminal procedures against animals. The hanging of dogs is the theme of Stephan Meder’s contribution. Hopefully they pay due respect to the classic study The criminal prosecution and capital punishment of animals by Edward Payson Evans (London 1906; reprint London 1987), but follow also the example of historians such as Esther Cohen to look beyond cases to their context and to patterns of argumentation. For studies about animal behavior and views about animals it is worth looking at the Animal Studies Bibliography created at Michigan State University. The College of Law at this university is home to the Animal Legal & Historical Center where you can conveniently search for specific historical cases and subjects, broader themes and jurisdictions.

Animals, law, history and the German language

Logo Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch

In the second part of this post the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch (DRW) takes pride of place. German scholars have a fine tradition of creating and editing dictionaries, with without any doubt the Deutsches Wörterbuch started by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm as one of its major feats. The long time it takes to create such dictionaries is almost proverbial for the tenacity of German scholarship. A second association with these enterprises are the efforts of the various German learned academies. Not only academies with a budget for these projects, but also scholarly teams have the courage to start them, for example the team of 400 scholars behind the second edition of the Handwörterbuch zur deutschen Rechtsgeschichte (HRG). The online version of the HRG gives you free access to the list of entries and keywords, some examples and to excerpts of the other articles. Paid subscription is necessary for full access to the complete online version, but you can buy PDF’s of separate articles.

The project for the DRW was started in 1897 by the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Since 1959 the Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften leads and finances the project. This academy supports also the Dictionnaire Étymologique de l’Ancien Français. The idea for a dictionary of the German legal language comes from the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. On the website of the DRW you can view the original printed version, a digital version and a summary of each article. The DRW has now reached the word Schulbuch. The website of the DRW contains an introduction in English and French to facilitate its use. For the DRW a great number of sources from Germany and elsewhere for example from the Netherlands, has been digitized on a separate website, where you can search in specific sources; you can check this overview with a list of the digitized titles. A list with externally digitized relevant sources counts some 1,300 titles. The DRW has a special text archive for full text searches. Thanks to scholars such as Grimm the scope of the DRW is not just the legal language of Germany, the former Holy Roman Empire. Grimm wanted it to cover all languages of the Western Germanic language family. Thus Old English, Anglo-Saxon, Old and Middle Dutch, Old Frisian and even Lombardic, and the several medieval phases of the German language are included.

As with any dictionary created over a long time span the early parts of the DRW are not as rich as later volumes. The first volume appeared in 1914. The presence of digitized resources helps you to extend the examples adduced for early and later articles of the DRW. Let’s look for example at the cat (Katze) (DRW VII, col. 563-564). The cat figures gruesomely in a punishment dating from the Early Modern period in which someone was to be put into a sack with some living animals, among them a cat. The Katze was also the nickname of a punishment or a prison. The DRW links directly to other general German dictionaries, and indicated further textual sources, where you can even exclude certain word forms. Interestingly the ten additional textual examples from digitized sources for the cat stem all from Old Frisian law, mainly from the Westerlauwersches Recht, W.J. Buma (ed.) (Góttingen 1977). Here the cat is one of the animals which when they cause damages oblige their owner to pay only a part of the normal sum of money to be paid as a fine. The cat gave its name also to a number of following entries in the DRW which you might look up yourself.

I owe you here information about the other animals figuring in the title of my post. The mouse (Maus) is only very rarely mentioned in a legal context (DRW IX, col. 380). In fact the evidence from a trial according to canon law Tirol around 1520 given by the DRW has already been printed by Evans (p. 259-260) in Appendix A of his study from a German almanac for 1843. As a Dutchman I can dream of a case of mice invading a room with Dutch cheese! Combining cats and dogs in the title of this post was seducing, but I could have guessed easily that a dog (Hund) would only for its literal sense take very much space in the DRW (VII, col. 53-61). However, the hunting dog (Jagdhund) has an entry for itself (DRW VI, col. 356-357), with additional entries for such subjects as the servant dealing with hunting dogs. I could not help smiling at the wonderful long compound German word for the very brief separate entry concerning the costs of the care for a hunting dog, Jagdhundverpflegungskosten.

Mistaking the scope of dictionaries

Even if you can detect limits to the range and quality of the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch you should remember that most languages do not have any kind of legal-historical dictionary worthy of a comparison with the DRW. Many people in my country complain about the largest dictionary – nicknamed the Dikke Van Dale [The Fat Dictionary] – it does not explain everything like an encyclopedia. They would be baffled by the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal (WNT) which looks very much like an encyclopedia of the Dutch language from 1500 to roughly 1925. Its sheer size makes it the largest existing dictionary of any language. You will forgive me this paragraph when I tell you on this website you can even find words from the Lex Salica using the combined search mode of the WNT with dictionaries for Old Dutch and Middle Dutch. A dictionary of the Frisian language is also present on this website. Verily the DRW is not an encyclopedia, and also not a lexicon of juridical constructions and concepts, for which you can turn to the HRG.

I would have liked to comment on the image with the chained apes, presumably a wooden sculpture somewhere in Germany, but I have not yet found more information about it. At the end of this post I would like to turn from history to the present, For a dictionary of current legal German you can consult online for example the Rechtswörterbuch, which brings you also to current German laws and legal study books. Animals in contemporary German law are the subject on the website of the foundation Tier im Recht. When I looked at this website with a poodle staring at you Germans will remember Goethe’s words in Faust about the heart of the matter, des Pudels Kern. In my opinion the various ways we looked and look at, dealt and deal with animals can say much about our attitude towards people, life and nature. The story of animals and animal law is not to be detached from human history, because it tells us about both the bright and darker sides of human life, our views of culture and society, its order and limits.


Legal texts in digitized manuscripts at the British Library

Logo British Library - image http://pressandpolicy.bl.uk/Last week I spotted somewhere on the web an announcement about the digitization of a particularly lavishly illuminated medieval manuscript with a legal text, the Decretales Gregorii IX, the major collection of papal decretals issued in 1234 by command of pope Gregory IX. The manuscript from the fourteenth century which prompted me to write this post is commonly called the Smithfield Decretals (Royal 10 E IV). At the British Library in London the digitization of manuscripts is a project on a vast scale, first of all in view of its rich and manifold collections concerning many themes, periods and countries. A blog dedicated to news on digitized medieval manuscripts at the BL helps you to stay informed about the progress of digitization for manuscripts from a particular period. The BL even advertises a smart phone application for the Royal manuscripts, but this app will no longer be supported.

In this post I will look at legal manuscripts digitized by the British Library. Even if the absolute number of relevant manuscripts is really small, an overview of them might be useful. The variety of periods and legal systems merits attention. To redress the balance I will take into account here also illuminated manuscripts with legal texts for which the BL has digitized at least a number of pages or illustrations. A comparison of the search functions of both catalogues is included, too. At the end of this post it might perhaps be possible to conclude which legal text could be scheduled as a new addition to the eBook Treasures of the British Library.

Searching for digitized legal texts at the BL

Some people will like to know as quickly as possible about the things that make a search interface more effectively or hamper its working. For once I agree in starting with a negative remark: the detailed view with the description – and most often a detailed bibliography – of a digitized manuscript at the BL seemed at first to lack a permanent web address. When you save the URL of this view – without noticing the tiny notice “Show link URL” – and you try to reopen it in a new tab or window you cannot access it anymore. A redirection notice appears, and you have to enter your search again. Thus the link I provided in the first paragraph to the Smithfield Decretals is not the link to the detailed view, but to the first page of the digitized manuscript Royal 10 E IV itself. I will give below the correct links to the full descriptions. In the manuscript view you will find a summary of the content placed at the top of the screen. You can search for manuscripts either using a quick search with two fields, keywords and manuscript numbers, or using the advanced search interface with search fields for keywords, manuscript number, title, author/scribe, provenance and acquisition, and bibliography.

A long search for digitized manuscripts with legal texts yielded as a result a rather short list with only some twenty manuscripts. For each manuscript I give the call number, a summary view of the contents, its date and a link to the full description:

The papyrus with the complete text of the Athenian Constitution is the subject of a recent post at the BL’s manuscripts blog. What strikes me most while searching for these manuscripts is the lack of concise categories added to the description of a manuscript. Of course I realize the difficulty in adding systematic descriptors when dealing with composite manuscripts and convolutes. The sheer number of manuscripts in the British Library has as one of its consequences that some manuscript descriptions can be rather outdated, but newer descriptions are often very detailed.

Some legal texts surfaced really by chance. I looked for the exchequer when I found Harley 1498, an agreement concerning the royal burial chapel at Westminster. This indenture is not a chirograph, a charter split into two or more parts, but a book with indentures. A second part of it is kept at the National Archives, E 33/1. The coronation book of the French king Charles V (Cotton Tiberius B VIII) can serve as a reminder that a coronation is a ritual with legal elements in it. The texts of French coronation ordines have been edited anew by Richard A. Jackson (ed.) , Ordines Coronationis Franciae: Texts and Ordines for the Coronation of Frankish and French Kings and Queens in the Middle Ages (2 vols., Philadelphia, 2001).

After repeated searches with a substantial number of very different search terms with a clear meaning for legal history I still have not found more than this tiny sample from the immensely varied and large manuscript collections of the British Library. I hesitate to include here a fragment of farming memoranda of Ely Abbey from the first quarter of the eleventh century (Add. 61735). The New Minster Liber Vitae from Winchester (Stowe 944) does contain the text of some charters and the will of King Ælfred, but these legal texts are not the core of this manuscript.

For some manuscripts guidance can be found online in repertories, and sometimes even at a specialised blog. Greek manuscripts clearly get special attention in London. The Zonaras blog for the history of Eastern Christian canon law is a very useful guide to this field, and I am happy to point to it for more information about authors such as John Zonaras and Theodoros Balsamon. Manuscripts with text concerning Byzantine law are the subject of two German repertories which are available online at the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main. You can download PDF’s of both the Repertorium der Handschriften des byzantinischen Rechts, Teil I: Die Handschriften des weltlichen Rechts (Nr. 1-327), Ludwig Burgmann, Marie-Theres Fögen, Andreas Schminck and Dieter Simon (eds.) (Frankfurt am Main, 1995), and the Repertorium der Handschriften des byzantinischen Rechts, Teil II: Die Handschriften des kirchlichen Rechts I (Nr. 328-427), Andreas Schminck and Dorotei Getov (eds.) (Frankfurt am Main 2011). Both books were published in the series Forschungen zum Byzantinischen Rechts; more PDF’s of some publications in this series can be found at a special subdomain of the website of the Frankfurt institute. English legal manuscripts are being catalogued by the untiring efforts of Sir John Hamilton Baker. He did this also for the Taussig collection with many English manuscripts now at the Lillian Goldman Law Library of Yale University [John H. Baker and Anthony Taussig (eds.), A catalogue of the legal manuscripts of Anthony Taussig (London 2007)].

Light on illuminated legal manuscripts

The Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library does quickly dispel any misgiving about the percentage of legal texts among the various manuscript collections. Let’s not overdo things here, and first go to the origin of this post, manuscripts with decretals or commentaries on papal decretals. Here, too, you can choose between a quick general search and an advanced search mode.

Prisoner seeking sanctuary, bas-de-page scene from the Smithfield Decretals

Prisoner seeking sanctuary – Smithfield Decretals, British Library, ms. Royal 10 E IV, fol. 206 verso – image British Library

A search for illuminated manuscripts with decretals yields 35 records. For each manuscript you can go to a page with thumbnail images and summary descriptions of the illuminations. Often you will find more detailed images, too. Thus choosing a scene using this overview from the bas-de-page illustrations of the Smithfield Decretals is even easier than using the complete digital version of this manuscript. The illustrations in the lower margins present often consecutive scenes and tales. In August 2012 Alixe Bovey (University of Kent) contributed a very interesting post on the decorations of this manuscript to the BL’s manuscripts blog, ‘Finishing the Smithfield Decretals’. Some books have only penwork flourishes at the beginning of chapters. Among these illuminated manuscripts with decretals I would like to single out Harley 2349, a manuscript written between 1340 and 1450 with papal decretals and statutes of England. The manuscript Royal 10 C IV with the Abbreviatio Decreti Gratiani by Omnibonus, written between 1198 and 1202 has penwork initials and some additional drawings in the margins. Omnibonus’s name made me remember the Omne Bonum, the illustrated encyclopedia by James le Palmer, a clerk of the Exchequer (four volumes, Royal 6 E VI and 6 E VII, written around 1360-1375).

A lawyer addressing an assembly

A lawyer addressing an assembly – British Library, ms. Harley 947, fol. 107r – image British Library (size reduced)

As for other legal texts in illuminated manuscripts you will have to pick your choice from a wide variety of manuscripts, from books with only one decorated initial to manuscripts with lavish almost full-page illustrations in historiated initials. Let one example suffice, the Statuta Angliae. This text and other statutes can be found in nearly sixty illuminated manuscripts. Hargrave 274 (written around 1488) contains the Nova Statuta and is probably the most elaborately illustrated example. Harley 947 (first half fourteenth century) with both the Statuta Angliae and the text of the Magna Carta deserves mentioning for its picture of a lawyer speaking to an assembly.

The Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts is truly a treasure trove, even if the manuscripts of the Cotton collection have not yet been included. When searching for an image with some relevance for legal history you find yourself here with a mer à boire. Legal iconography will not come back empty-handed from searches at this website or in the Online Gallery of the British Library. It is surely possible to include the BL in a comparison of online image resources of major research libraries, something that might be really interesting. In particular the use of taxonomies such as Iconclass might come into view when comparing different databases. A comparison with a portal such as Manuscripts Online: Written Culture from 1000 to 1500 would be equally valuable. In this post, however, I wanted to give due attention to the world’s second largest library and its manuscript holdings. I invite you to use its resources for yourself and to choose a manuscript that deserves digitization, or even inclusion among the showcases. The British Library has much more to offer, and I am sure this library will be present again in future posts.

A postscript

A very substantial number of digitized manuscripts with legal texts held in the British Library is accessible online thanks to the recent edition project Early English Laws which aims at creating new editions of English laws issued before 1215. Among the 81 manuscripts selected within this project nearly forty are at the British Library. However, here only these pages are shown which contain relevant legal texts. Hopefully it will be possible to include them in their entirety as a part of the BL’s Digitized Manuscripts program.

At the death of two leading Dutch legal historians

Tom de SmidtLast month Dutch legal historians were saddened to hear about the death of Jacobus Thomas de Smidt (December 19, 1923-February 18, 2013). In several obituaries, for instance by Arthur Elias for Leiden University, by Joke Roelevink for the Huygens Institute of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, and at the website of the Dutch National Archives, the great efforts and merits of Tom de Smidt for the study of Dutch legal history and the organization between Dutch legal historians are commemorated. Among the major projects he initiated are the project on the history of the Great Council of Malines, a project for the edition of the Dutch codifications in the period around 1800, and for example the West Indisch Plakaatboek, a multivolume edition of legal sources for Dutch colonial history in the Caribbean. De Smidt also helped Dutch archives to modernize, and helped the Indonesian government to deal with the records of the Dutch East India Company in the Indonesian National Archives. People remember his warm personality, his sense of humour and his encouragement to young scholars, and I can testify myself for this. In fact his words “Ja, moet je doen!” [Yes, do it!] are for me among his most characteristic utterances.

Robert Feenstra 1920-2013On March 2, 2013, Robert Feenstra passed away at the age of 92. For legal historians abroad he was without any doubt the best known and most respected Dutch legal historian. This week John W. Cairns (Edinburgh) is one of the first legal historians to commemorate Feenstra. If you want to mention major themes and projects with which Feenstra dealt during his long scholarly life you are faced with a very great variety. The history of Roman law in Europe after the end of the Roman Empire and Dutch legal history give only the boundaries of his research interests. Let it suffice here that only four years ago he published with Jeroen Vervliet a new edition of Hugo Grotius’ Mare Liberum (Hugo Grotius, Mare Liberum 1609-2009 (Leyden 2009)), and that in 2011 he witnessed the completion of the project for the Dutch translation of the Corpus Iuris Civilis. He continued the research started by Eduard Maurits Meijers (1880-1954) on the history of the School of Orléans, and many scholars from Leiden have followed him on this path. Feenstra published a number of volumes with articles by Meijers.

For six decades Feenstra was on the editorial board of the Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis. Feenstra helped fostering the relations between Belgian and Dutch scholars. Just like Tom de Smidt he served for many years on the board of the Foundation for the Study of Old Dutch Law. Today Paul Brood (Nationaal Archief) wrote a brief obituary for both scholars on the website of this foundation. Surely its own journal Pro Memorie will contain longer obituaries on both scholars in its coming issue. Luckily this journal published in its series Rechtshistorici uit de Lage Landen [Legal historians from the Low Countries] interviews with both scholars on their scholarly lives and careers (Pro Memorie 5 (2003) 3-38 (Feenstra); with De Smidt in the special issue Prominenten kijken terug. Achttien rechtshistorici uit de Lage Landen over leven, werk en recht [Prominent scholars look back. Eighteen legal historians from the Low Countries on life, work and law] (Pro Memorie 6 (2004) 313-329). Feenstra founded a circle of scholars studying the reception of Roman law in the Low Countries – convening either in Leiden or in Antwerp – where young scholars, too, often got and get a chance to present their doctoral research. I remember how I presented the first results of my doctoral research for this circle. The austere company listened patiently, asked questions on subjects I had neglected or problems which I had not yet grasped, and encouraged me to pursue my research. Robert Feenstra had a keen interest in people and he did not fail to help scholars with practical advice and suggestions for sources and literature. One of the things that impressed me always was the way Feenstra corrected his own views expressed in earlier articles. It makes you realizes how Feenstra’s career spanned almost half a century, his tenacity about cherished subjects, and the high scientific standards he applied to scholars and to himself. His presence at scholarly meetings all over the world expressed the continuity of Dutch legal history.

It is sad that both scholars are no longer with us to respond to our ideas, questions and emerging publications, but we can remain faithful to their memory by remembering their tireless efforts, smiling presence and amazing wide interests in contemporary life and legal history, and by following the paths and roads they paved for present-day scholars and future generations.

A postscript

On March 6, 2013, the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main published an obituary of Robert Feenstra. On March 28, 2013 the blog of the Peace Palace Library publshed an in memoriam on Robert Feenstra by Laurens Winkel.

Blogging about medieval glosses

Today I launched my new blog Glossae – Middeleeuwse juriidische glossen in beeld, “Glosses – Looking at medieval legal glosses”. The very heart of this blog is a manuscript fragment with glosses, marginal and interlinear comments, on Justinian’s Digest, not the ordinary gloss edited by Francesco Accursio (1184-1263) in the thirteenth century, but glosses by twelfth-century lawyers, collectively sometimes known as the glossators. The fragment with these early glosses surfaced during the cataloguing of fragments, in itself part of the preparation of a new manuscript catalogue at the Department of Special Collections of Utrecht University Library. Bart Jaski kindly provided detailed photographs of the manuscript (Utrecht UB, ms. fragm. 7.67) which help very much in the decipherment of the glosses which are sometimes very small and barely visible in the original.

The new blog is the first Dutch blog at the Hypotheses network, a French initiative. In 2012 a German branch has been founded. Encouragements from this branch helped me to decide to join this German portal. Of course the question of the main language for my contributions looms large. I have published a first, more general description of the blog in Dutch, with summaries in German and English. The study of medieval legal glosses is indeed marked by the uses of several modern languages, such as French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Publications in English are relatively new in this field. In my first post I mention the appearance of several blogs concerning medieval – in particular Carolingian –  glosses based in the Netherlands.

A very Dutch phenomenon is the collaborative study of manuscripts by both lawyers, historians and palaeographers. I feel privileged to have participated in the yearly Friday seminars on juridical palaeography at Leiden University. It seems this example has until now not be followed anywhere, but its advantages have been recognized and applauded. Scholars from Leiden, Utrecht and Amsterdam joined in the decipherment and study of medieval legal manuscripts, often covered with tiny glosses. By bringing together each other’s skills, talents and experience we were able to read these manuscripts and to discuss their contents at a level which hardly one of the learned participants could have reached independently. The seminar at Leiden gave me a living example of the great importance of scholarly exchange, discussion and support.

Even when writing (sometimes) in Dutch, a language spoken only by some 22 million people worldwide, I am very much aware of the need to transcend borders in time, language and approaches. I am happy that Bart Jaski will join me to write postings for the new blog, either about the manuscript fragment at Utrecht, about other juridical fragments, or about interesting projects and promising methods to deal with medieval manuscripts at large. In particular the use of digital tools to edit and comment on (layers of) annotation seems able to shed new light on the edition of medieval glosses, too.

In itself the fragment at Utrecht is not particularly long. Its importance lies in the presence of the relatively rare preaccursian – i.e. before the Glossa ordinaria edited by Francesco Accursio – glosses, which help us to document not only the development of medieval legal doctrine but also the growth of the mass with many thousand glosses at the disposal of Francesco Accursio during the decades in which he created the final form of the ordinary gloss. This year hope to bring you regularly news about my new project. Hopefully it will not distract me too much from this blog. I could not resist the opportunity to create a wider network around my new blog with a new Twitter account, @GlossaeIuris.