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

The Corpus Juris Civilis (Body of Civil Law) also known as Codex Justinianus is a fundamental work in jurisprudence, issued from 529 to 534 by order of Justinian I, Byzantine Emperor.

This code compiled 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 private collections such as the Codex Gregorianus and Codex Hermogenianus.

Justinian gave orders to collect legal materials of various kinds into several new codes which became the basis of the revival of Roman law in the Middle Ages. This revived 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 of the church since it was said that ecclesia vivit lege romana — the church lives under Roman law.

The work was directed by Tribonian, an official in Justinian's court, and distributed in three parts: Digesta (or "Pandectae"), Institutiones, and the Codex Constitutionum. A fourth part, the Novels (or "Novellae Constitutiones"), was added later.

Codex Justiniani[edit | edit source]

The Codex Justiniani (Code of Justinian) was the first part to be completed, on April 7, 529. It collects the constitutiones of the Roman Emperors. The earliest statute preserved in the code was enacted by Emperor Hadrian; the latest come from Justinian himself. The compilers of the code were able to draw on earlier works such as the official Codex Theodosianus and private collections like the Codex Gregorianus and the Codex Hermogenianus. Due to legal reforms by Justinian himself, this work later needed to be updated, so a second edition of the Codex (the so-called "Codex repetitae praelectionis") was issued in 534, after the Digest.

The Code reflects the social order of the later empire. The position of the emperor as an absolute monarch with unlimited legislative, executive and judicial power is implicit throughout. Numerous provisions serve 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. Among these provisions are several enactments to the prejudice of other religions like Judaism.

Servitus Judaeorum[edit | edit source]

The principle of Servitus Judaeorum (Servitude of the Jews) established by the new laws determined the status of Jews throughout the Empire for hundreds of years ahead. The Jews were disadvantaged in a number of ways. The emperor became an arbiter in internal Jewish affairs and Jews could not testify against Christians and were disqualified from holding a public office. Jewish civil and religious rights were restricted: "they shall enjoy no honors". The use of the Hebrew language in worship was forbidden. Shema Yisrael, sometimes considered the most important prayer in Judaism ("Hear, O Israel, the Lord is one") was banned, as a denial of the Trinity.

Digesta[edit | edit source]


The Digesta or Pandectae consist of a collection of legal writings mostly dating back to the second and third centuries B.C. 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. The Digest, however, was given the force of law, like the other parts of the Corpus Juris.

Institutiones[edit | edit source]

As the Digest neared completion, Tribonian and two professors, Theophilus and Dorotheus, made a students' textbook, called the Institutiones 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 since 21 November 533 and were given the authority of law on 30 December 533 along with the Digest.

Novellae[edit | edit source]

The Novellae consisted of new laws that were passed after 534

Recovery in the West[edit | edit source]

Justinian's Corpus Juris Civilis was lost in the West, where it was scarcely needed in the primitive conditions that followed the collapse of Odoacer's sub-Roman kingdom. 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 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 center for the study of law through the High Middle Ages.

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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