Detail map of Athina, Greece,İstanbul, Turkey,Firenze, Toscana, Italy,Pisa, Toscana, Italy,Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

A: Athina, Greece, B: İstanbul, Turkey, C: Firenze, Toscana, Italy, D: Pisa, Toscana, Italy, E: Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

The Code of Justinian, The Basis for Civil Law in Western Europe

529 CE to 533 CE
Justinian I depicted on a mosaic in the church of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

Justinian I depicted on a mosaic in the church of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy.

Thinking that the curriculum was contrary to Christian teachings, Byzantine Emperor Justinian I closed the last surviving classical school at Athens, causing Constantinople to become the capital of Greek culture. He also appointed a commission of scholars to codify 2000 volumes of legal works, some dating back about 1000 years. 

This condensation, produced from 529 to 533, formed the Codex Justinianus, later known as the Code of Justinian or, after a printed edition of 1583, as the Corpus Juris Civilis. The Corpus Juris Civilis became the basis for civil law in western Europe. It was written and distributed in Latin, which remained the official language of the government of the Empire even though the prevalent language of merchants, farmers, seamen, and other citizens was Greek. By the early 7th century, the official government language of the Byzantine empire segued into ancient Greek under the lengthy reign of Heraclius.

"This code compiled, in the Latin language, all of the existing imperial constitutiones (imperial pronouncements having the force of law), back to the time of Hadrian. It used both the Codex Theodosianus and the fourth-century collections embodied in the Codex Gregorianus and Codex Hermogenianus, which provided the model for division into books that were divided into titles. These codices had developed authoritative standing."

"Justinian's Corpus Juris Civilis was distributed in the West but was lost sight of; it was scarcely needed in the comparatively primitive conditions that followed the secession of Italy from the Byzantine empire in 8th century. The only western province where the Justinianic code was effectively introduced was Italy, following its recovery by Byzantine armies (Pragmatic Sanction of 554), but a continuous tradition of Roman law in medieval Italy has not been proven. Historians disagree on the precise way it was recovered in Northern Italy about 1070: perhaps it was waiting unneeded and unnoticed in a library until the legal studies that were undertaken on behalf of papal authority that was central to the Gregorian Reform of Pope Gregory VII led to its accidental rediscovery. Aside from the Littera Florentina, a 6th-century codex of the Pandects that was preserved at Pisa, apparently without ever being publicly consulted, (and removed to Florence after Florence conquered Pisa in 1406), there may have been other manuscript sources for the text that began to be taught at Bologna, by Pepo and then by Irnerius. The latter's technique was to read a passage aloud, which permitted his students to copy it, then to deliver an excursus explaining and illuminating Justinian's text, in the form of glosses. Irnerius's pupils, the so-called Four Doctors of Bologna, were among the first of the "glossators" who established the curriculum of Roman law. The tradition was carried on by French lawyers, known as the Ultramontani, in the 13th century. 

"The merchant classes of Italian communes required law with a concept of equity and which covered situations inherent in urban life better than the primitive Germanic oral traditions. The provenance of the Code appealed to scholars who saw in the Holy Roman Empire a revival of venerable precedents from the classical heritage. The new class of lawyers staffed the bureaucracies that were beginning to be required by the princes of Europe. The University of Bologna, where Justinian's Code was first taught, remained the dominant centre for the study of law through the High Middle Ages" (Wikipedia article on Corpus Juris Civilis, accessed 01-02-2010).

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