The Justinian Code 529

The Justinian Code is “probably the most important and influential compilation of civil and secular law that has come down to us from antiquity,” according to John Hessler, a research specialist at the Library of Congress.

The Justinian Code
This mosaic portrait of Justinian I stands in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy.

Justinian I (483–565), Tribonian (c. 485–545)

Although the Twelve Tables contained the earliest documented Roman laws, following state-issued legal publications became increasingly important. The Justinian Code is “probably the most important and influential compilation of civil and secular law that has come down to us from antiquity,” according to John Hessler, a research specialist at the Library of Congress. Many academics regard this collection of legal works, which assembled practically the whole history of surviving Roman law in one location in the sixth century, as the root from which all later Western systems of jurisprudence emerged.”

From 527 until his death in 565, Justinian was the Byzantine Emperor. He aspired to recapture the western part of the Roman Empire, which had fallen to the Goths in 476, as well as restore the Roman legal system, which had been neglected for generations. Justinian aimed to distill the vast amount of information available, removing what was old, redundant, or incomprehensible, and systematizing the remaining concepts. By doing so, he hoped to bring the empire’s numerous disparate laws together into an one official body of work that could be accessed by anybody who required it.

The Corpus Juris Civilis, as it is known in Latin, was edited by the jurist Tribonian and published between 528 and 534. It is divided into four parts: I the Code, which consists of twelve books and contains a collection of imperial laws and constitutions; (ii) the Digest, which consists of fifty books and contains much of the historic works of Roman jurists, as well as the compilers’ commentary on the law, distilling the most valuable learning; (iii) the Institutes, which served as an introductory legal textbook on Roman law but was also enacted into law; and (iv) the Novels, which featured modifications or additional laws introduced by Justinian after the Corpus was completed.

The Code’s authority lasted several centuries in the East until being supplanted by new Byzantine rules. It essentially vanished in the West until the eleventh and twelfth centuries, when the Digest, in particular, established the foundation for the flourishing of legal instruction in Bologna and the rest of Europe.

SEE ALSO:

The Draconian Code (621 BCE);

The Laws of Solon (594 BCE);

The Twelve Tables (450 BCE);

The First Law School (c. 250).

Sources:

The Justinian Code

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)

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