Tag Archives: Roman law

Serving the history of medieval law

Photo Frank SoetermeerThe medieval relation between Roman and canon law can in a way be summarized by the expression utrumque ius, “both laws”. Medieval lawyers working in the field of the learned law saw both legal systems as twins. One of the major stumble blocks in understanding the nature and medieval development of either system is exactly the stubborn way in which modern scholars often refuse to look in the garden of their neighbours. Sadly, these days a scholar who had the courage and all qualities to avoid this false separation and to bridge supposed and real gaps is no longer with us. This week the electronic news bulletin Rechtshistorisch Nieuws of our colleagues in Ghent contained a short obituary on Frank Soetermeer (February 7, 1949-January 6, 2016). Instead of focusing solely on his scholarly work I would like to honour him with some personal memories.

The first time I really met Frank Soetermeer was at the Gravensteen in Leiden in 1990. For many years the legal historians of Leiden had their offices in the old county prison. During a coffee break I saw a poster with an announcement about the International School of Ius Commune at Erice. Just when I had finished reading its text Frank Soetermeer showed up and told me he would be one of the scholars teaching that year. On arrival in Sicily I realized that apart from the poster and the encouraging words of Frank Soetermeer I did know hardly anything else about this event for graduate students! Soetermeer gave his audience a very fine lecture about the production of legal manuscripts at medieval universities. He spoke about his research with natural authority in calm but fluent French, and I shared the admiration for him with the other graduate students attending. That same year he gave me a copy of his dissertation, De pecia in juridische handschriften (diss. Leiden; Utrecht 1990).

Originally Frank Soetermeer came from Rotterdam, but he lived for many years in Utrecht and taught at Amsterdam. He visited Leiden regularly for the famous Friday afternoon seminar about medieval legal manuscripts held every winter and spring. A few years after the Second World War legal historian E.M. Meijers and palaeographer Gerard Lieftinck founded this seminar. Legal historians from several Dutch universities, be they versed in Old Dutch law or papyrology or just a young curious student, and a palaeographer of world renown, Peter Gumbert, met at the Gravensteen to read together the often tiny handwriting of remarkable manuscripts. In a year with river floods threatening the town of Culemborg we were fortunate to have in Leiden a medieval legal manuscript normally kept at the municipal archives of the former town. Few of us could possibly have seen as many manuscripts as Frank had, and we felt lucky with his presence. As on the photograph shown here a smile was never far from his face, but as often his eyes showed question marks signalling questions and points to be investigated. I remember Frank arriving at the Gravensteen almost always wearing a hat, a tradition he clearly enjoyed.

Few Dutch dissertations have been translated both into Italian and German. Soetermeer’s outstanding Ph.D thesis was translated as Utrumque ius in peciis: aspetti della produzione libraria a Bologna fra due e trecento, Giancarlo Errico (trad.) (Milan 1997) and Utrumque ius in peciis: Die Produktion juristischer Bücher an italienischen und französischen Universitäten des 13. und 14. Jahrhunderts, Gisela Hillner (trad.) (Frankfurt am Main 2002). Frank discussed earlier research into the pecia system which had focused mainly on the field of medieval theology and on book production in Paris, and looked systematically at its use at the law faculties of medieval Europe. Fourteen articles have been reprinted with English summaries, additional information, corrections and useful indices in the volume Livres et juristes au Moyen Âge (Goldbach 1999). A very useful introduction in English to his studies of the pecia system is to be found in his article ‘Between Codicology and Legal History: Pecia Manuscripts of Legal Texts’, Manuscripta 49/2 (2005) 247-267. His article about Hostiensis (Henricus de Segusio) in Ius Commune 26 (1999) has been digitized in Frankfurt am Main. A quick look at his writings as included in the database with scholarly literature of the Regesta Imperii project at Mainz reveals he contributed nearly thirty biographical articles to the Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon, often abbreviated as BBKL or the “Bautz”. A fair number of his articles can be accessed in their original form or as preprints at Academia.

Only a few of Frank’s articles focused on medieval canon law, in particular ‘The origin of Ms. d’Ablaing 14 and the transmissio of the Clementines to the universities’, Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 54 (1986) 101-112, and ‘La proportion entre civilistes et canonistes à l’Université de Bologna vers 1270’, in: El Dret Comú i Catalunya: actes del IIIer Simposi Internacional, Barcelona, 5-7 de novembre de 1992, Aquilino José Iglesia Ferreirós (ed.) (Barcelona 1993) 151-166, but particular his contributions to the BBKL show his affinity and deep knowledge about canon law and major canon lawyers such as Guillaume Durand, Bernhard de Montmirat (Abbas antiquus), Oldradus de Ponte, Guido de Baysio (Archidiaconus) and Petrus de Sampsone.

On rare occasions I saw Frank in my home town Utrecht. The few times this did happen we both looked slightly bewildered, because Frank did travel much and we just did not expect to see each other in Utrecht. One of the happiest memories of briefly meeting Frank in Utrecht was when I saw him with Nella Lonza and their child. The happiness of Frank, of this couple with their child, is indeed a memory to treasure. It is with disbelief that I have to use the past tense in writing about him. If I had to single out any of his articles it would have to be ‘La carcerazione del copista nel pensiero dei giuristi bolognesi’, in: Gli ultramontani. Studi belgi e olandesi per il IX centenario dell’Alma Mater bolognese (Bologna 1990) 121-139, also in the Rivista Internazionale di Diritto Comune 6 (1995) 153-189. Masters in Bologna and elsewehere argued about the way one could compel a scribe to finish writing a legal manuscript, including the small initials, see his study ‘Un problème quotidien de la librairie à Bologne: «Minora» manquants’, in: Excerptiones iuris. Studies in Honor of André Gouron, B. Durand and L. Mayali (eds.), (Berkeley 2000) 693-716. Frank Soetermeer showed how you cannot confine the study of law at the medieval universities to just one discipline. In his work he traced with patience and precision the impact of the learned law in medieval Europe, an impact beyond the pages of the manuscripts concerning legal doctrine. With the death of Frank Soetermeer we have lost a fine scholar, a true gentleman, a loving father and a steadfast companion of his beloved, a man to be remembered.

Journeys to journals on Classical Antiquity


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

The power of a list

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

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

Logo MPI Frankfurt am Main

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

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

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

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

Cover RIDA 61 (2014)

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

The changing world of scholarly journals


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

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 Latinorum 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 and the Institutes of Gaius among the Auctores scientiarum varii as the only Roman legal texts. For a different slant – and a very different layout – you can visit the Bibliotheca Augustana created by Ulrich Harsch (Augsburg) who has not only the Iustinian codification and Gaius’ Institutes, but also 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 Qur’an, 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 to 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 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.


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.