Tag Archives: Translations

Medieval laws in translation

Languages can act as formidable barriers to our understanding of both past and present. Even if you happen to have a talent for foreign languages translations can help you in many ways to gain insight into the messages and form of a source. In medieval Europe many legal sources were written or only accessible in Latin. However, a number of medieval legal texts have been translated into the vernacular. In this post I want to look at a number of medieval translations of such sources and at two modern translation projects. Recent news about these projects offers me an occasion to write about this subject.

Medieval translators at work

In the Middle Ages translating the works of Aristoteles from Greek – or Arabic – into Latin formed probably the largest translation project of a millennium. The volumes with the scholarly edition of the Aristoteles Latinus project are still being published. For many scientific disciplines medieval translators took the trouble of translating important sources. In the field of law, too, one can point to translations. The most massive project, the Basilica, is not only a translation but also an adaptation of Justinian’s Institutes, his Digest, Codex and the Novellae. For some parts of the Justinian codification older Greek translations exist which the translators around 900 used in Byzance. A team at the University of Groningen led by H.J. Scheltema produced a modern critical edition of the text and the scholia, the accompanying glosses [Basilicorum libri LX (17 vol., Groningen 1953-1988)].

A very interesting example of a translated medieval legal text is Lo Codi, a legal commentary from the twelfth century originally written in Occitan, a language spoken in Southern France and Catalonia. Lo Codi has been translated in French, Castilian, Latin and Franco-Provencal. I wanted to check information about this text at the homepage of Johannes Kabatek at the Universität Tübingen. Since his move to Zürich this page has been removed, but luckily he has put them on his private website. At this webpage you can compare different manuscripts and versions. An article about Lo Codi by Kabatek from 2000 is also available online (PDF). Kabatek does show Lo Codi is an independent adaptation of the Summa Trecensis, and not just a translation.

Banner The Medieval Nordic Legal Dictionary

The first large-scale project I want to introduce in this post is The Medieval Nordic Legal Dictionary, a project led by the University of Aberdeen. Not only a dictionary will be the fruit of this project, but also translations of Scandinavian laws. Two volumes with translated laws have already appeared. A few years ago I wrote here about medieval Scandinavian laws, and it is surely helpful to be able to use these translations alongside the original texts. The page for laws of this project provides you with a quick overview of the main laws. the current editions and the planned or already published translations. The bibliography of the dictionary project shows that luckily for some texts translations appeared in the twentieth century, however, in a number of cases into current Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish or Swedish.

Some medieval legal texts have been translated in the sixteenth century. This month I saw an announcement for a lecture in Paris on April 6, 2016 by Patrick Arabeyre (École nationale des Chartes, Paris) on ‘Deux exemples de traduction vers le latin dans le domaine juridique : la traduction d’ordonnances royales par Étienne Aufréri (1513) et la traduction des Coutumes d’Orléans par Jean Pyrrhus d’Angleberme (1517)’ as a part of a conference on La traduction en vernaculaire entre Moyen Âge et Renaissance. The first subject of his lecture were royal ordinances edited by Étienne Aufréri in 1513, and he looked also at the translation by D’Angleberme of the Coutumes d’Orléans (1517). A second lecture by Frédéric Duval, also attached to the ENC, concerned the versions of Lo Codi. In April 2015 Duval presented a paper about French translations of the Corpus Iuris Civilis.

Nowadays the French Biblissima portal is a fine gateway to several projects concerning the production and transmission of manuscripts, and using the English interface it is very much accessible. One of the online databases at the École nationale des Chartes is called Miroir des classiques, “Mirror of the Classics”, a project in which Duval participates. Unfortunately this database does not yet contain any notice about translated legal texts, but eventually they will be included. How can one trace more medieval translations? For Ancien Français, one of the phases of medieval French, there just happens to be a resource that can help you. The bibliography of the Dictionnaire Étymologique de l’Ancien Français (DEAF) does lead you to a number of translations, many of them still only existing in manuscripts. The section C of this bibliography shows for example two thirteenth-century translations of the Code de Justinien. The entry at CodiFr mentions Lo Codi and states flatly this is a translation of the Codex Justinianus, a notice clearly in need of some updating. Under the letter I you will find both a complete translation of the Institutiones Iustiniani and an abridged version. Five manuscripts exist with a French translation of the Digestae. The Summa Codicis of Azo, too, exists in a French version, the Somme Acé. By the way, you can find a number of online dictionaries and textual corpora at the website of the Dictionnaire de Moyen Français. For the field of medieval canon law one has to single out the medieval French translation of the Decretum Gratiani. This translation has been edited by Leena Lofstedt, Gratiani Decretum. La traduction en ancien français du Décret de Gratien (5 vol., Helsinki, 1992-2001). I have not taken a complete tour of the sources of the DEAF, but it is certainly rewarding to look for yourself, and not only for matters concerning France. Anglo-Norman texts appear here, too.

Searching in manuscript catalogues will no doubt yield further results. A search in the digital catalogue for archives and manuscripts of the British Library brought me to ms. Royal 20 D IX, a late thirteenth-century French translation of the Authenticum and the Tres Libri, the books 10-12 of the Codex Justinianus. The database Manuscripta Iuridica at Frankfurt am Main contains for example for the French translation of the Institutes – usefully put together as Institutiones Justiniani, versio Gallica – references to thirteen manuscripts. The manuscript in London, too, has not escaped the attention of Gero Dolezalek and Hans van de Wouw, the creators of the Verzeichnis der Handschriften zum römischen Recht bis 1600 (4 vol., Frankfurt am Main 1972) used for the database, nor did they miss the French version of the Digestum Vetus, and the Infortiatum. For Azo you will find not only the translation of his Summa Codicis, but also a translation of his summa on the Digesta.

Twelve volumes and an addendum

Five years ago the last of the twelve volumes of the modern Dutch translation of the Corpus Iuris Civilis appeared. I wrote here a post about the presentation of the final volume in 2011, and in that post I looked also at other complete translations of the Corpus Iuris Civilis. On Friday April 15, 2016 yet another volume was presented at a symposium in Utrecht. Jop Spruit, the indefatigable founder of the project, translated with Jeroen Chorus also the Libri Feudorum, a twelfth-century text from Lombardy concerning customary law dealing with fiefs. Kees Bezemer wrote the introduction to this translation with facing Latin text. In my view the translators wisely choose to follow the version of the Libri Feudorum as found within the Corpus Iuris Civilis. One of the arguments to include this work on customary law into the curriculum of the medieval law schools was the presence of glosses by Accursius. The modern critical edition gives both the oldest and the most used version (Vulgata) [Karl Lehmann (ed.), Das Langobardische Lehnrecht, (Handschriften, Textentwicklung, ältester Text und Vulgattext, nebst den capitula extraordinaria (Göttingen 1896; online in the Internet Archive)]. However, more versions came into existence. At the symposium in Utrecht Jeroen Chorus gave a talk about possession in the Libri Feudorum. Dirk Heirbaut compared the feudal law in the Libri Feudorum, the Leenrecht van Vlaanderen and the Lehnrecht of the Sachsenspiegel. Rik Opsommer discussed the use of the Libri Feudorum in the practice of Flemish feudal law, and Kees Bezemer looked at the role of feudal law in Early Modern Europe with a focus on a case in seventeenth-century Germany which became the subject of a disputation defended at Frankfurt an der Oder. The best point of depart to start exploring Early Modern German juridical disputations is the digital library of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte, Frankfurt am Main.

The team of Dutch translators hesitated about the right number of the latest volume in the series of translated texts of Roman law. Twelve is such a beautiful number suggesting completeness! They finally opted for 12 Addendum. The set of twelve volumes can still be ordered from Amsterdam University Press.

Until now I have looked almost in vain for other translations of the Libri Feudorum. The translation by Lorenz Weidmann, Die Lehensrecht verdeutscht (…) was printed at least seven times between 1530 and 1541. The German bibliographical project VD 16 does not only make such statements possible, but it leads you also to the digital version of the first edition Augsburg 1530 (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek). Robert Feenstra wrote about it in his article ‘Kaiserliche Lehnrechte. Die Libri feudorum in deutscher Fassung nach Alvarotus und andere Inkunabeldrucke zum Lehnrecht. Mit Beiträgen über Johannes de Vanckel und die casus summarii des Baldus’, Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 63 (1995) 337-354. There is also an online version of a translation by Jodocus Pflanzmann printed in an incunabula edition, Das buch der lehenrecht (Augsburg 1493; GW 7776). The Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin) has a useful overview of editions and partial editions before 1501 of the Corpus Iuris Civilis. GW 7654 is a French translation printed at Paris around 1486 of Justinian’s Institutes, interestingly made in verses. The identification of the probable author, Richard d’Annebaut, is also given in the bibliography of the DEAF with references to the unique manuscript source, London, British Library, ms. Harley 4777.

Discussing the Libri Feudorum is entering a territory where three decades ago things might have seemed straightforward. Things have changed very much since Peter Weimar’s article ‘Die Handschriften der Libri feudorum und seine Glossen’, Rivista Internazionale di Diritto Comune 1 (1990) 31-98, reprinted in his volume of essays Zur Renaissance der Rechtswissenschaft im Mittelalter (Goldbach 1997) 171-238, and the study of Gérard Giordanengo, Le droit féodal dans les pays de droit écrit. L’exemple de la Provence et du Dauphiné XIIe – début XIVe siècle (Rome 1988). I must refer you here to online bibliographies such as the one provided by the Regesta Imperii at Mainz to see how much has been written recently about the approach of medieval lawyers to feudal law.

Of course it is possible to use modern translations of medieval legal texts, but in this post I wanted to investigate medieval translations. For searching modern translation one can benefit from the Online Medieval Sources Bibliography which even offers filters for translations containing also the original texts, translations in English, French or other languages. It might be helpful to end here with briefly noting the publication of the revised edition of Fred Blume’s translation of Justinian’s Code edited by Bruce Frier [The Codex of Justinian (3 vol., Cambridge, etc., 2016)]. The German translation project for the Corpus Iuris Civilis reached in 2012 its fifth volume with the books 28 to 34 of the Digest, edited by Rolf Knütel [Corpus Iuris Civilis, Band 5, Digesten 28-34 (Heidelberg 2012)]. Let’s hope the leaders and translators of such projects will and can benefit from the recent Dutch experience in completing a book project with nearly nine thousand pages.

A postscript

Frédéric Duval will present in June 2016 a paper about the late-medieval translations into French of parts of the Corpus Iuris Civilis at a two-day conference in Tours, Les traductions médiévales à la Renaissance et les auto-traductions (Tours, June 8-9, 2016).

In 2017 the Miroir des classiques project of Duval contains very detailed information also for medieval French translations of legal texts.


Twelve volumes of Roman law in Dutch translation

Ad fontes, “to the sources”, is one of the characteristics of the historical sciences and philology in the Western world. Historians and other scholars prefer for many reasons no longer to rely on second-hand information, on editions which do not show clearly the intervention of its editors, and one should use preferably the original sources and not a translation. Sometimes this view gained power as a core of historical doctrine, almost literally a dogma. Dealing with sources from the closest possible distance became part and parcel of the historian’s trade.

Sometimes scholars devote themselves not only to the use of sources at first hand or in critical editions, but to the translation of sources. In particular texts in Latin and Greek from Classical Antiquity have been translated into Dutch during the last decades. In my view it is quite a feat to have so much translations in a language which is spoken by only 23 million people, mainly in my country and Belgium. Patrick De Rynck and Andries Welkenhuysen published a bibliography of Dutch translation of classical texts, De Oudheid in het Nederlands (…) (Baarn 1992), online at the Digital Library for Dutch Literature. They published a supplement in 1997. For some authors a team of scholars works on the Dutch translation of all major works, for example a number of works by Augustine of Hippo has been translated recently under the aegis of the Augustijns Instituut in Eindhoven.

The Corpus Iuris Civilis in Dutch

On November 15, 2011, the twelfth and last volume of the Dutch translation of the Corpus Iuris Civilis will be presented in Utrecht to Mr. Ivo Opstelten, the Dutch minister of Security and Justice. A translation of the Institutiones Iustiniani, the first volume of the series, was published in 1993. The twelfth volume of the series Corpus Iuris Civilis. Tekst en vertaling contains the Novellae 115-168. During the eighteen years it took the team of scholars led by Jop Spruit, Robert Feenstra and the late Karel Bongenaar (1935-1999) the membership of the team changed remarkably little. Instead of Feenstra ‘s name which figures on the covers of the Institutes and the Digest Jeroen Chorus and Luuk de Ligt strenghtened the editorial team for the Justinian Code and the Novels. However, the project had to change from publisher. Initially Sdu Uitgeverij in The Hague and the Walburg Pers in Zutphen published jointly the series. In 2005 the publishing house of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences (KNAW) took the series over, and the last volumes are published jointly by the KNAW and Amsterdam University Press. Bibliographers and cataloguers can show their skills in describing the set and the volumes correctly according to the varying national standards.

Publishing twelve bilingual volumes with nearly 8,000 pages is quite a feat, but the qualities and stamina of the translators are just as remarkable. For the translation of the Digestae, the Codex Iustinianus and the Novellae two scholars took care of each of the fifty libri. Their results were discussed with one of the editors-in-chief, and then a second version was prepared. The final result was presented to the editorial steering committee. At some points other scholars helped the teams to clarify difficulties in the text which defy even the most courageous and skilled legal historian. The chief editors looked at it again when all libri of a projected volume were ready, with special care to the quality of the rendering in Dutch and the consistency of the translation, not just for the correct interpretation of juridical terms, and sent the ultimate version off to the publishers.

The auctor intellectualis and indefatigable leader of the project, Jop Spruit, has a record of keen interest in many aspects of the study of Roman law, and in particular translations have received his attention. He published a concise bibliography of Roman law, Bibliografie Romeins recht. Wegwijzer tot de bronnen, hulpmiddelen en literatuur [Bibliography of Roman law. Guide to the sources, research tools and literature] (Zutphen 1988). Translations are present in a chapter of Spruit’s guide. With Karel Bongenaar he presented four volumes of translations of pre-Iustinian law sources, Het erfdeel van de klassieke Romeinse juristen. Verzameling van prae-iustiniaanse juridische geschriften met vertaling in het Nederlands (4 vol., Zutphen 1982-1987), thus making accessible in Dutch a large number of the sources in collections such as the Fontes Iuris Romani anteiustiniani (3 vol., Florence 1940-1943; reprint 1964-1968) and adding fragments and texts found since the midst of the twentieth century. When starting the project for the Corpus Iuris Civilis Spruit and Bongenaar had already a lot of experience with translating the Latin of Roman lawyers.

Other modern translations of the Corpus Iuris Civilis

Not only in Dutch modern translations of the constituent parts of the Corpus Iuris Civilis exist, but asking for a complete translation yields only a few results. The German project Corpus Iuris Civilis. Text und Übersetzung led by Okko Behrends, Rolf Knütel and others started in 1990 with a translation of the Institutiones Iustiniani of which a third edition appeared in 2007. Between 1995 and 2005 appeared three volumes of a translation of the Digestae. The libri 1-10, 11-20, and 21-27 are available. All volumes are bilingual with the Latin text and facing translation. In comparison with the Dutch enterprise progress might seem slow. It is only fair to notice that Okko Behrends has been involved also in the edition and French translation of other sources from Roman antiquity in the series Corpus agrimensorum Romanorum, but it is equally true that anyone involved in translating for both projects has done or is doing this in the midst of other activities.

In the second volume of the Dutch project (Digesten 1-10 (1993)) Jop Spruit and Robert Feenstra discuss briefly a number of translation of Justinian’s Digest (pp. xxxi-xxxiii). Some of the translations of the Digest mentioned are a part of translations of the whole Corpus Iuris Civilis, and these editions date mainly already from the nineteenth century. A French translation was produced by Henri Hulot and others, Corpus Iuris Cvilis. Corps de droit civil romain en latin et en français (…) (17 vol., Metz-Paris 1803-1811; reprint, 7 vol., Aalen 1979). The set can be consulted partially online at the Portail Numérique de l’Histoire du Droit, only the translation of the Digest, books 40 to 50, and the Novels have to be added. The German translation Das Corpus Iuris in’s Deutsche übersetzt vom einem Vereine Rechtsgelehrter was edited by Carl Eduard Otto, Bruno Schilling and Carl Friedrich Ferdinand Sintenis (7 vol., Leizpig 1830-1833; 2nd ed. Leipzig 1831-1839; reprint Aalen 1984-1985), available online at the Hathi Trust Digital Library. In Italian you can even find two nineteenth-century translations, first the Corpo del diritto civile (…), Francesco Foramiti (ed.) (4 vol., Venice 1836-1844), and later by Giovanni Vignali (ed.), Corpo del diritto corredato delle note (…) (10 vol., Naples 1856-1862).

In English Samuel P. Scott published Corpus Iuris Civilis. The Civil Law (…) (17 vol., Cincinnati 1932; reprints New York 1973 and Union, N.J., 2001). This translation is available online, even though the reliability for scholarly use of this translation has been subject to doubt. Scott also included translations of the Twelve Tables and other texts. For the Digest exists a more recent English translation published by Alan Watson, The Digest of Justinian (4 vol., Phildelphia 1985; reprint 2008). The translation has been reprinted in 1997 in two volumes, without the Latin text. Spruit duly notes the translation in Spanish of the Digest by a team with among other A. d’Ors and F. Fernandez-Tejero (El Digesto de Justiniano (3 vol., Pamplona 1968-1975). Marc van der Poel, a reknown scholar of Neolatin, notes on his online bibliography for the history of Latin a Russian translation of the Digest by Leonid L. Kofanov, Digesty Justiniana (11 parts in 8 vol., Moscow 2005-2008).

In the first volume of the new Dutch translation of the Codex Iustinianus – volume VII of the series appeared in 2005 – Spruit and Feenstra mention in the introduction other translations of the Codex (p. xli-xliv). Pascal Alexandre Tissot had already translated the Codex as Les douze livres du Code de l’empereur Justinien (4 vol., Metz 1807-1810; reprint Aalen 1979) – available online (Hathi Trust) – before his translation was also included in the series edited by Henri Hulot and others. The Codex, the Digest and the Novellae have been translated into Spanish by Ildefonso L. García del Corral, Cuerpo del derecho romano a doble texto (…) (6 vol., Barcelona 1889-1898; reprint Valladolid 1988). This translation is available online at the Biblioteca Juridica Virtual (UNAM, Mexico City) and most easily accessible through the Edictum website of Norberto Darío Rinaldi (Universidad de Buenos Aires).

Spruit and Feenstra note that translating Justinian’s Code is made more difficult by the way many constitutions have been taken over in shortened form from the Codex Theodosianus. They point explicitly to the translation by Clyde Pharr and others, The Theodosian code and novels, and the Sirmondian constitutions (Princeton 1952; reprint Union, N.J., 2007) as a fine tool for translating the Codex Iustinianus. In the Dutch project the Authenticae have also been translated and put together at the end of the Code.

I checked the Index Translationum of UNESCO, which one can try to use as a shortcut to get a more or less reliable view of extant translations worldwide from the last two or three decades, but the Dutch translation is sadly missing among the search results. It is not the first time that the Index Translationum appeared to be rather defective, but nevertheless it can be helpful to widen the horizon of a search. The search results for individual parts did however contain the selection of texts from the Codex Justinianus translated by Gottfried Härtel and Frank-Michael Kaufmann (Leipzig 1991) on the basis of the nineteenth-century German translation. It is worth reading the introduction and the epilogue to this Nachübersetzung (re-translation) dated “Leipzig Dezember 1988”. Härtel translated with Liselot Huchthausen also the Institutions of Gaius and the Laws of the Twelve Tables in a volume with selected legal texts (Römisches Recht in einem Band (first edition Berlin-Weimar 1983; 4th ed., 1991)). Although I have admittedly not done a complete and exhaustive search it seems plausible to conclude for now there is no sign of any other current project for a complete translation of the Corpus Iuris Civilis apart from the projects led by Spruit and Behrends, both cum suis.

The English translation prepared over the years by Justice Fred H. Blume of both the Justinian Code and his Novels has been painstakingly edited and made ready for online publication by Timothy Kearley (University of Wyoming). On the website in Wyoming the appearance of a new English translation of the Code by a team led by Bruce Frier, and a translation of the Novels by David Miller and Peter Saaris is announced for 2011. It is said to be published by Cambridge University Press, but I could not yet find an announcement on its website. For both translations Blume’s work is consulted. If you bring together a translation of Institutes, for example the one by Birks and McLeod (1987), the translation of the Digest by Alan Watson and his collaborators, and these two translations using Blume’s project you will have access to the Corpus Iuris Civilis in a recent English translation.

Finis coronat opus

The names of the translators participating in the project for the Dutch translation read like an overview of almost every contemporary Dutch and Belgian scholar in the field of Roman law. Spruit and Feenstra got assistance not only from Romanists, but also from specialists in the field of Roman history and church history. They acknowledge the fruitful contacts with the German translators. It is perhaps envious to single out some scholars, but in my opinion the Novellae would very likely not have been translated into Dutch from the original Greek if Jan Lokin, Nicolaas van der Wal and Bernard Stolte had not cooperated, and certainly not as quickly and thorough.

In this month’s Rechtshistorische Courant, the monthly bulletin on legal history in Belgium and the Netherlands published by the legal historians at Ghent University, the Dutch team gets praise for its perseverance. The project is compared to a kind of Tour de France, with all kinds of routes. I will not try to outdo their eulogy, but I am sure the end crowns the work!

A postcript

A new French translation of the Digest has arrived, Les cinquante livres du Digeste, Dominique Gaurier (ed.) (3 vol., Paris 2017), with also Lenels palingesia of the Edictum perpetuum.

The updated edition of Blume’s translation was published later than expected: Bruce Frier, The Codex of Justinian. A New Annotated Translation, with Parallel Latin and Greek Text (3 vol., Cambridge. etc., 2016).