Corpus Juris Civilis



The ''Corpus Juris'' (or ''Iuris'') ''Civilis'' ("Body of Civil Law") is the modern name for a collection of fundamental works in jurisprudence, issued from 529 to 534 by order of
Justinian I Justinian I (; la, Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus, ; grc-gre, Ἰουστινιανός ; 48214 November 565), also known as Justinian the Great, was the Eastern Roman emperor from 527 to 565. His reign is marked by the ambitious but ...
Byzantine Emperor This is a list of the Byzantine emperors from the foundation of Constantinople la, Constantinopolis ota, قسطنطينيه , alternate_name = Byzantion (earlier Greek name), Nova Roma ("New Rome"), Miklagard/Miklagarth (Old Norse), Tsargr ...
. It is also sometimes referred to metonymically after one of its parts, the Code of Justinian. The work as planned had three parts: the ''Code'' (''Codex'') is a compilation, by selection and extraction, of imperial enactments to date; the '' Digest'' or ''Pandects'' (the Latin title contains both ''Digesta'' and ''Pandectae'') is an encyclopedia composed of mostly brief extracts from the writings of Roman jurists; and the ''Institutes'' (''Institutiones'') is a student textbook, mainly introducing the ''Code'', although it has important conceptual elements that are less developed in the ''Code'' or the ''Digest''. All three parts, even the textbook, were given force of law. They were intended to be, together, the sole source of law; reference to any other source, including the original texts from which the ''Code'' and the ''Digest'' had been taken, was forbidden. Nonetheless, Justinian found himself having to enact further laws and today these are counted as a fourth part of the Corpus, the '' Novellae Constitutiones'' (''Novels'', literally ''New Laws''). The work was directed by Tribonian, an official in Justinian's court in
Constantinople la, Constantinopolis ota, قسطنطينيه , alternate_name = Byzantion (earlier Greek name), Nova Roma ("New Rome"), Miklagard/Miklagarth (Old Norse), Tsargrad (Slavs, Slavic), Qustantiniya (Arabic), Basileuousa ("Queen of Cities"), Megalopo ...
. His team was authorized to edit what they included. How far they made amendments is not recorded and, in the main, cannot be known because most of the originals have not survived. The text was composed and distributed almost entirely in
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
, which was still the official language of the government of the
Eastern Roman Empire The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople la ...
in 529–534, whereas the prevalent language of merchants, farmers, seamen, and other citizens was Greek. By the early 7th century, Greek had largely replaced Latin as the dominant language of the empire. The ''Corpus Juris Civilis'' was revised into Greek, when that became the predominant language of the Eastern Roman Empire, and continued to form the basis of the empire's laws, the '' Basilika'' ( Greek: τὰ βασιλικά, 'imperial laws'), through the 15th century. The ''Basilika'' in turn served as the basis for local legal codes in the Balkans during the following Ottoman period and later formed the basis of the legal code of Modern Greece. In Western Europe, the ''Corpus Juris Civilis'', or its successor texts like the ''Basilika'', did not get well established originally and was only recovered in the Middle Ages, being "received" or imitated as private law. Its public law content was quarried for arguments by both secular and ecclesiastical authorities. This recovered Roman law, in turn, became the foundation of law in all civil law jurisdictions. The provisions of the ''Corpus Juris Civilis'' also influenced the
canon law Canon law (from grc, κανών, , a 'straight measuring rod, ruler') is a set of ordinances and regulations made by ecclesiastical authority (church leadership) for the government of a Christian organization or church and its members. It is t ...
of the
Catholic Church The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with 1.3 billion baptized Catholics worldwide . It is among the world's oldest and largest international institutions, and has played a ...
: it was said that ''ecclesia vivit lege romana'' – the church lives by Roman law. Its influence on
common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent, judge-made law, or case law) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial tribunals by virtue of being stated in written opinions."The common law is not a brooding omnipres ...
legal systems has been much smaller, although some basic concepts from the Corpus have survived through Norman law – such as the contrast, especially in the ''Institutes'', between "law" (statute) and custom. The Corpus continues to have a major influence on
public international law International law (also known as public international law and the law of nations) is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally recognized as binding between states. It establishes normative guidelines and a common conceptual framework for ...
. Its four parts thus constitute the foundation documents of the Western legal tradition.

Compilation process

Justinian acceded to the imperial throne in
Constantinople la, Constantinopolis ota, قسطنطينيه , alternate_name = Byzantion (earlier Greek name), Nova Roma ("New Rome"), Miklagard/Miklagarth (Old Norse), Tsargrad (Slavs, Slavic), Qustantiniya (Arabic), Basileuousa ("Queen of Cities"), Megalopo ...
in 527. Six months after his accession, in order to reduce the great number of imperial constitutions and thus also the number of court proceedings, Justinian arranged for the creation of a new collection of imperial constitutions (''Codex Iustinianus''). The commission in charge of the compilation process was explicitly authorized to leave out or change text and to delete what was obsolete or contradictory. Soon, in 529, the Codex was completed and was conferred the force of law in the whole empire, replacing all earlier constitutions and the '' Codex Theodosianus''. A little more than a year after the enactment of the first edition of the Code, Justinian appointed a commission headed by Tribonian to compile the traditional jurists' law in a new, shortened and contemporary codification: the 'Digest or Pandects'. The traditional collection of jurists' law, Justinian believed, was so extensive that it had become unmanageable, necessitating a new compilation. The commission completed its work within three years, in 533. Tribonian's commission surveyed the works of classical jurists who were assumed in Justinian's time to have the authority to clarify law (''ius respondendi'') and whose works were still available. In total, there are excerpts from 38 jurists in the Digest.

The four parts


The "Codex Justinianus", "Codex Justinianeus" or "Codex Justiniani" (Latin for "Justinian's Code") was the first part to be finished, on 7 April 529. It contained in
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
most of the existing imperial ''constitutiones'' (imperial pronouncements having force of law), back to the time of
Hadrian Hadrian (; la, Caesar Trâiānus Hadriānus ; 24 January 76 – 10 July 138) was Roman emperor from 117 to 138. He was born in Italica (close to modern Santiponce in Spain), a Roman '' municipium'' founded by Italic settlers in Hispan ...
. 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 themselves divided into titles. These works had developed authoritative standing. This first edition is now lost; a second edition was issued in 534 and is the text that has survived. At least the second edition contained some of Justinian's own legislation, including some legislation in Greek. It is not known whether he intended there to be further editions, although he did envisage translation of Latin enactments into Greek.

Legislation about religion

Numerous provisions served to secure the status of Christianity as the state religion of the empire, uniting Church and state, and making anyone who was not connected to the Christian church a non-citizen. The Christianity referred to is Chalcedonian Christianity as defined by the state church, which excluded a variety of other major Christian sects in existence at the time such as the Church of the East and Oriental Orthodoxy.

=Laws against heresy

= The very first law in the Codex requires all persons under the jurisdiction of the Empire to hold the Christian faith. This was primarily aimed at heresies such as Nestorianism. This text later became the springboard for discussions of international law, especially the question of just what persons are under the jurisdiction of a given state or legal system.

=Laws against paganism

= Other laws, while not aimed at pagan belief as such, forbid particular pagan practices. For example, it is provided that all persons present at a pagan sacrifice may be indicted as if for murder.


The ''Digesta'' or ''Pandectae'', completed in 533, is a collection of juristic writings, mostly dating back to the second and third centuries. Fragments were taken out of various legal treatises and opinions and inserted in the Digest. In their original context, the statements of the law contained in these fragments were just private opinions of legal scholars – although some juristic writings had been privileged by Theodosius II's Law of Citations in 426. The Digest, however, was given full force of law.


As the ''Digest'' neared completion, Tribonian and two professors, Theophilus and Dorotheus, made a student textbook, called the ''Institutions'' or ''Elements''. As there were four elements, the manual consists of four books. The ''Institutiones'' are largely based on the '' Institutiones'' of Gaius. Two-thirds of the ''Institutiones'' of Justinian consists of literal quotes from Gaius. The new ''Institutiones'' were used as a manual for jurists in training from 21 November 533 and were given the authority of law on 30 December 533 along with the ''Digest''.


The Novellae consisted of new laws that were passed after 534. They were later re-worked into the ''Syntagma'', a practical lawyer's edition, by Athanasios of Emesa during the years 572–577.

Continuation in the East

The term Byzantine Empire is used today to refer to what remained of the Roman Empire in the Eastern Mediterranean following the collapse of the Empire in the West. This Eastern empire continued to practice
Roman Law Roman law is the law, legal system of ancient Rome, including the legal developments spanning over a thousand years of jurisprudence, from the Twelve Tables (c. 449 BC), to the ''Corpus Juris Civilis'' (AD 529) ordered by Eastern Roman emperor J ...
, and it was as the ruler of this empire that Justinian formalized Roman law in his ''Corpus Juris Civilis''. To account for the language shift of the Empire's administration from Latin to Greek legal codes based on the ''Corpus Juris Civilis'' were enacted in Greek. The most well known are: * the ''Ecloga'' (740) – enacted by emperor Leo the Isaurian; * the ''Prochiron'' and ''Epanagoge'' (c. 879) – enacted by emperor Basil the Macedonian; and * the '' Basilika'' (late 9th century) – started by Basil the Macedonian and finished by his son emperor Leo the Wise. The ''Basilika'' was a complete adaptation of Justinian's codification. At 60 volumes it proved to be difficult for judges and lawyers to use. There was need for a short and handy version. This was finally made by Constantine Harmenopoulos, a Byzantine judge from
Thessaloniki Thessaloniki (; el, Θεσσαλονίκη, , also known as Thessalonica (), Saloniki, or Salonica (), is the second-largest city in Greece Greece,, or , romanized: ', officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country in Southeast Europe. ...
, in 1345. He made a short version of ''Basilika'' in six books, called ''Hexabiblos''. This was widely used throughout the Balkans during the following Ottoman period, and along with the ''Basilika'' was used as the first legal code for the newly independent Greek state in the 1820s.
Serbia Serbia (, ; Serbian: , , ), officially the Republic of Serbia ( Serbian: , , ), is a landlocked country in Southeastern and Central Europe, situated at the crossroads of the Pannonian Basin and the Balkans. It shares land borders with ...
n state, law and culture was built on the foundations of Rome and Byzantium. Therefore, the most important Serbian legal codes: Zakonopravilo (1219) and Dušan's Code (1349 and 1354), transplanted Romano-Byzantine Law included in ''Corpus Juris Civilis'', ''Prohiron'' and ''Basilika''. These Serbian codes were practised until the Serbian Despotate fell to the Turkish
Ottoman Empire The Ottoman Empire, * ; is an archaic version. The definite article forms and were synonymous * and el, Оθωμανική Αυτοκρατορία, Othōmanikē Avtokratoria, label=none * info page on book at Martin Luther University ...
in 1459. After the liberation from the Turks in the Serbian Revolution,
Serbs The Serbs ( sr-Cyr, Срби, Srbi, ) are the most numerous South Slavic ethnic group An ethnic group or an ethnicity is a grouping of people A person ( : people) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reason, ...
continued to practise Roman Law by enacting Serbian civil code in 1844. It was a short version of Austrian civil code (called ''Allgemeines bürgerliches Gesetzbuch''), which was made on the basis of ''Corpus Juris Civilis''.

Recovery in the West

Justinian's ''Corpus Juris Civilis'' was distributed in the West and went into effect in those areas regained under Justinian's wars of reconquest ( Pragmatic Sanction of 554), including the
Exarchate of Ravenna The Exarchate of Ravenna ( la, Exarchatus Ravennatis; el, Εξαρχάτο της Ραβέννας) or of Italy was a lordship of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empi ...
. Accordingly, the ''Institutes'' were made the textbook at the law school in Rome, and later in Ravenna when the school relocated there. However, after the loss of most of these areas, only the Catepanate (southern Italy) maintained a Byzantine legal tradition, but there the ''Corpus'' was superseded by the '' Ecloga'' and '' Basilika''. Only the ''Corpuss provisions regulating the church still had any effect, but the Catholic church's ''de facto'' autonomy and the Great Schism made even that irrelevant. In Western Europe, the ''Corpus'' may have spurred a slew of Romano-Germanic law codes in the successor Germanic kingdoms, but these were heavily based on the older '' Theodosian Code'', not the ''Corpus''. Historians disagree on the precise way the ''Corpus'' was recovered in Northern Italy about 1070: legal studies were undertaken on behalf of papal authority central to the Gregorian Reform of Pope Gregory VII, which may have led to its accidental rediscovery. Aside from the '' Littera Florentina'' (a complete 6th-century copy of the ''Digest'' preserved in Amalfi and later moved to
Pisa Pisa ( , or ) is a city and ''comune The (; plural: ) is a local administrative division of Italy, roughly equivalent to a township or municipality. It is the third-level administrative division of Italy, after regions ('' regioni'' ...
) and the ''Epitome Codicis'' (c. 1050; incomplete manuscript preserving most of the ''Codex''), there may have been other manuscript sources for the text that began to be taught at Bologna, by Pepo and then by Irnerius. Irnerius' 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' pupils, the so-called Four Doctors of Bologna, were among the first of the " glossators" who established the curriculum of medieval 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 law that 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 The Holy Roman Empire was a political entity in Western, Central, and Southern Europe Southern Europe is the southern region of Europe Europe is a large peninsula conventionally considered a continent in its own right because of ...
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 The High Middle Ages, or High Medieval Period, was the period of European history that lasted from AD 1000 to 1300. The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and were followed by the Late Middle Ages The Late Middle Age ...
. A two-volume edition of the Digest was published in Paris in 1549 and 1550, translated by Antonio Agustín, Bishop of Tarragona, who was well known for other legal works. The full title of the Digest was ''Digestorum Seu Pandectarum tomus alter'', and it was published by "Apud Carolam Guillards". Vol. 1 of the Digest has 2934 pages, while Vol. 2 has 2754 pages. Referring to Justinian's Code as ''Corpus Juris Civilis'' was only adopted in the 16th century, when it was printed in 1583 by Dionysius Gothofredus under this title. The legal thinking behind the ''Corpus Juris Civilis'' served as the backbone of the single largest legal reform of the modern age, the Napoleonic Code, which marked the abolition of
feudalism Feudalism, also known as the feudal system, was the combination of the legal, economic, military, cultural and political customs that flourished in medieval Europe In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period last ...
. Napoleon wanted to see these principles introduced to the whole of Europe because he saw them as an effective form of rule that created a more equal society and thus creating a more friendly relationship between the ruling class and the rest of the peoples of Europe. The ''Corpus Juris Civilis'' was translated into French, German, Italian, and Spanish in the 19th century. However, no English translation of the entire ''Corpus Juris Civilis ''existed until 1932 when Samuel Parsons Scott published his version ''The Civil Law''. Scott did not base his translation on the best available Latin versions, and his work was severely criticized. Fred. H. Blume used the best-regarded Latin editions for his translations of the Code and of the Novels. A new English translation of the Code, based on Blume's, was published in October 2016. In 2018, the Cambridge University Press also published a new English translation of the Novels, based primarily on the Greek text.David J.D. Miller & Peter Saaris, ''The Novels of Justinian: A Complete Annotated English Translation'' (2 vols., 2018).

See also

* Frederick Barbarossa * Basilika * Byzantine law * Code of Hammurabi * Codex Repetitae Praelectionis * Corpus Juris Canonici * Henry de Bracton * Dušan's Code * International Roman Law Moot Court * List of Roman laws *
Twelve Tables The Laws of the Twelve Tables was the legislation that stood at the foundation of Roman law Roman law is the law, legal system of ancient Rome, including the legal developments spanning over a thousand years of jurisprudence, from the Twelve ...
* Zakonopravilo


External links

Corpus Juris Civilis – World History Encyclopedia

BBC In Our Time podcast 'Justinian's Legal Code'

Justinian's Code by Fred H. Blume

Latin texts

''Corpus Iuris Civilis'' complete

''Corpus Iuris Civilis''
Mommsen and Krueger edition; photographically reproduced
''Corpus Iuris Civilis''
Lion, Hugues de la Porte, 1558–1560: photographically reproduced *
Digestum vetus
Digestum novum
Volumen parvum

The Roman Law Library
Including ''Corpus Iuris Civilis'', Mommsen and Krueger edition; digitised

''Institutiones'', ''Codex'' and ''Digesta''

Text (edition unstated); digitised

English translations

''Corpus Iuris Civilis'' complete

English translation (from Latin editions earlier than that of Mommsen and Krueger) by S.P. Scott, 1932


In S.P. Scott's translation (see previous); digitised
Information on the ''Justinian Code'' and its manuscript tradition on the ' website
A database on Carolingian secular law texts (Karl Ubl, Cologne University, Germany). * Bruce W. Frier, ed. (2016, ''The Codex of Justinian. A New Annotated Translation, with Parallel Latin and Greek Text,'' Cambridge University Press, p. 2963, .


*David J.D. Miller & Peter Saaris, ''The Novels of Justinian: A Complete Annotated English Translation'' Cambridge University Press, p. 1192, ''Codex'' and ''Novellae''
Annotated Justinian Code
English translation (from the Mommsen and Krueger edition) by Fred H. Blume, 1943; revised by Timothy Kearley, 2005–2009 (greatly preferable to Scott's translation).


Selected Laws of Justinian
Internet Medieval Sourcebook {{Authority control Roman law Byzantine law Defunct constitutions Medieval legal codes Roman law codes Justinian I 6th century in law 6th-century Latin books 6th century in the Byzantine Empire Latin prose texts