Medieval law

The Middle Ages form a period of roughly thousand years, from 500 to 1500. During this long period not only clear local differences existed, but also different legal systems came into force. In Byzance a form of Roman law ruled, the so-called Byzantine law. Only after 1100 Roman law became again a subject of intensive study in Western Europe. The Catholic Church developed its own law, canon law, which grew in importance after 1100. Apart from canon and Roman law local and regional legal systems existed, customary law. Such regional laws could become imperative for other regions, too. Among the laws issued in late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages are law books such as the Lex Visigothorum. Likewise a city charter could be followed by other cities. On top of that some legal systems were specifically bound to persons or groups. Manorial rights and lease law were imposed on some people, but for instance merchants largely developed their own law, before Roman and canon law, too, came to bear on it. Both Roman and canon law had in them the possibility to offer more or less absolute legal norms.

Roman law during the Middle Ages

Since the start of the nineteenth century the revival of Roman law has been disputed. This was prompted by the prestige associated with Roman law and with national pride: pride on an own independent legal development or pride on the healthy influence of this legal system from Classical Antiquity. The start of this revival is for some part still unclear, due also to the kind of questions one asks and the landmarks one is looking for. It depends also on wanting to maintain or not an unbroken continuity from Late Antiquity. Searching for the “revival” of Roman law could imply looking at quotations of and references to Roman law, looking at the number and the date of manuscripts with Roman law texts, researching education in law schools or looking at other forms of the study of Roman law. Clear and sensible questions stand at the beginning of any fruitful research.

  • quotations and references: one has to reckon with purely formulaic quotations, which only serve as a reinforcement or seal of the juridical nature of a document or legal act
  • the early manuscripts: their number is small; less then a hundred relevant manuscripts dating before 1100 exist, but some of these dates have been established in the (early) nineteenth century
  • educations in law schools: a recent debate on legal education in Lombardy, particular in Pavia, has lead to a rejection of a real continuity with Roman law in this respect

A major problem is at one hand the rather unexpected and largely unexplained sudden return of the complete text of the Digest of Justinian, and at the other hand the fact that the vulgate text, the most widely used medieval text of the Digest, does differ from the oldest manuscript, dating from the sixth century, kept in Florence, the littera Florentina. In the twelfth century Bologna was the primary place where the intense study of the Digest started. One did study the Codex also. Between the lines and in the margins one placed comments in the form of glosses. In particular Azzo’s comment on the Codex, the Summa Azzonis, gained great authority in legal practice: “Chi non ha Azzo, non va a palazzo”. The glosses grew out into complete line-by-line commentaries. In the thirteenth century Franciscus Accursius assembled the nearly 100,000 glosses of different origin into a standard gloss, the Glossa Ordinaria. In Bologna, the study of canon law might have started even earlier, and perhaps it was studied even more thoroughly. Thus the law schools of Bologna formed the beginnings of its soon much visited university (1088). Soon juridical abbreviations were created, as you can see also in some examples from medieval legal manuscripts in Cambridge.

After their study at universities such as Bologna, Paris, Oxford and Montpellier lawyers found a job in the service of bishops, royal courts, cities and legal courts, or they became in their turn teachers at other universities. In the thirteenth century new universities started, for example at Cambridge, Orleans, Toulouse, Padova, Naples and Salamanca. The creation of new universities continued during the next century with Cologne, Heidelberg, Erfurt, Siena, Pisa, Perugia and Dublin, and also in Eastern Europe, with Vienna, Prague, Krakow and Budapest. In 1425 the first university of the Low Countries was founded at Louvain. In the fifteenth century a number of university foundations faltered, but others still exist.

Lawyers acted as judges, professors, advocates or as counselors. They often advised courts. Their consilia formed the basis of verdicts. Medieval judges often only pronounced a verdict, but they did not formulate it. In particular during the Late Middle Ages courts asked lawyers to write consilia, pieces of legal advice. To avoid partial advice one tended to ask for consilia from faraway. Law faculties delivered a kind of collective consilia. The Roman law offered the possibility of a more or less independent legal standard, something decidedly necessary in view of the great number of legal systems and forms. Well-known lawyers wrote commentaries on city statutes, or they were commissioned to revise them.

At university, one did not just train new lawyers. One studied intensively the old texts, the glosses and newer commentaries. This study did result in new legal doctrine. Medieval doctrine did contribute for instance a lot to the understanding of subjects in private law such as legal persons, unjust enrichment, possession and contracting. One worked also in the field of legal procedure, public law and political theory. Some of the great “romanist” lawyers are Odofredus de Denariis, Jacques de Revigny, Cino da Pistoia, Bartolus de Saxoferrato, Baldus de Ubaldis and Paulus de Castro.

Scientific study of medieval Roman law

During the eighteenth century the first attempts came to study the history of Roman law during the medieval period. Before that time one studied the Roman law with a view to practice or from interest in Classical Antiquity. Both views could be combined. The attempts of the Enlightenment period have been superseded by the first multi-volume standard work, the Geschichte des römischen Rechts im Mittelalter [History of Roman law during the Middle Ages] (1821-1830) by Friedrich Carl von Savigny. However, for individual lawyers and universities from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries it is certainly worthwile to use older studies. Since Savigny the outpouring of studies has continued.

The present scientific study takes place in a number of centers. Leiden has developed a tradition with among others attention to the medieval School of Orleans and courts in early modern Europe. At Frankfurt am Main the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte is an important research institute with a rich library and large microfilm collections. Active research groups are also present in Rome and Catania. At Leipzig a project has started for an online updated version of the repertory of medieval manuscripts concerning Roman law, the Verzeichnis der Handschriften zum römischen Recht bis 1600 (4 vol., Frankfurt am Main 1972) by Gero Dolezalek and Hans van de Wouw. In July 2012 the database Manuscripta Juridica was launched at Frankfurt am Main. It will eventually include also canon law manuscripts.

The modern study of medieval law focused during a long period on private law, and thus tended to neglect customary law, public law, criminal law, procedure, legal institutions and the social context of law. This situation was clearly reflected in studies, and more particular in the choice of texts for critical editions.

A number of editions of the Corpus Iuris Civilis can be consulted online. They often contain both the medieval glosses and additions by humanistic scholars. Some examples of projects around specific old editions:

  • Corpus Iuris Civilis, AMS Historica, Biblioteca Digitale, Università di Bologna – a digital version of the edition Lyon: Hugo de la Porta, 1556-1558, with a presentation of the project
  • Corpus Iuris Civilis, Ames Foundation, Harvard Law School – a digital version of the edition Lyon 1604, with a substantial introduction about this version originally produced by Denis Godefroy
  • Corpus Iuris Civilis, Virtuelle Bibliothek, Universität Würzburg – a digital version of the edition Lyon 1627

Literature

Introductions to medieval Roman law

  • Kenneth Pennington, ‘Secular and Roman law’, in: Medieval latin. An introduction and bibliographical guide, F.A.C. Mantello and A.G. Rigg (eds.) (Washington, D.C., 1996) 254-266.
  • Eltjo Schrage and Harry Dondorp, Utrumque ius. Eine Einführung in das Studium der Quellen des mittelalterlichen gelehrten Rechts (Berlin 1992) – first edition in Dutch (Amsterdam 1987); condensed and updated as ‘The sources of medieval learned law’, in: The creation of the ius commune. From casus to regula, John W. Cairns and Paul J. Du Plessis (eds.) (Edinburgh 2010) 7-56.
  • Gérard Giordanengo, ‘Droit romain’, ‘Droit canonique’, in: Jacques Berlioz et alii (ed.), Identifier sources et citations (Turnhout 1994; L’atelier du médiéviste, 1) 121-144, 145-176.
  • G.J.C.C. van den Bergh, Geleerd recht. Een geschiedenis van de Europese rechtswetenschap in vogelvlucht [Learned law. A history of European legal science from a bird’s view] (4th ed., Deventer 1999).
  • Frank Soetermeer, Utrumque ius in peciis. Aspetti della produzione libraria a Bologna fra Due e Trecento (Milano 1997) – on the production of juridical books for university use; also in German: Utrumque ius in peciis. Die Produktion juristischer Bücher an italienischen und französischen Universitäten des 13. und 14. Jahrhunderts (Frankfurt am Main 2002).
  • Eltjo Schrage (ed.), Das römische Recht im Mittelalter (Darmstadt 1987) – with a bibliography by Robert Feenstra.
  • Manlio Bellomo, L’Europa del diritto comune (7th ed., Rome 1994) – also as The common legal past of Europe (Washington, D.C., 1998).
  • Ennio Cortese, Il rinascimento giuridico medievale (Rome 1992).
  • Hermann Lange, Römisches Recht im Mittelalter, I: Di Glossatoren, II (mit Maximiliane Kriechbaum): Die Kommentatoren (2 vol., Munich 1997-2007).
  • Ennio Cortese, Le grande linee della storia giuridica medievale (Rome 2000).
  • Emanuele Conte, Diritto Comune. Storia e storiografia di un sistema dinamico (Bologna 2009; online, Università Roma Trè) – updated Spanish translation: La fuerza del texto. Casuística y categorías del derecho medieval (Madrid 2016; online, Universidad Carlos III, Madrid).
  • Emanuele Conte and Laurent Mayali (eds.), A Cultural History of Law in the Middle Ages (London 2018) – volume 2 of A Cultural History of Law.

On the “Return of the Digest” one can find more in the following recent works:

  • Stephan Kuttner, ‘The revival of jurisprudence’, in: Renaissance and renewal in the twelfth century, R.L. Benson and G. Constable (ed.) (Oxford, etc., 1982) 299-323 – one of the best short introductions to the subject.
  • Wolfgang Müller, ‘The recovery of Justinian’s Digest in the middle ages’, Bulletin of Medieval Canon Law 20 (1990) 3-30.
  • Giacomo Pace, ‘”Iterum homines querebant de legibus”. Una nota sulla riemersione dei “Digesti” nel medievo’, Rivista Internazionale del Diritto Comune 3 (1992) 221-229.
  • Tammo Wallinga, ‘The continuing story of the date and the origin of the Codex Florentinus’, Subseciva Groningana 5 (1992) 7-19.
  • Wolfgang Kaiser, ‘Zur Herkunft des Codex Florentinus. Zugleich zur Florentiner Digestenhandschrift als Erkenntnisquelle für die Redaktion der Digesten’, in: Sachsen im Spiegel des Recht. Ius Commune Propriumque, Adrian Schmidt-Recla, Eva Kaufmann en Frank Theisen (eds.) (Cologne 2001) 39-57.
  • Charles Radding and Antonio Ciaralli, The Corpus Iuris Civilis in the Middle Ages. Manuscripts and transmission from the sixth century to the juristic revival (Leiden, etc., 2007) – reviews: Wolfgang Müller, Speculum 83 (2008) 1026-1027; Wolfgang Kaiser, Rechtsgeschichte 11 (2007) 182-185; Giovanna Murano, Scriptorium 62 (2008) 177-181.
  • Davide Baldi, ‘Il Codex Florentinus del Digesto e il Fondo Pandette della Biblioteca Laurenziana (con un’appendice dei documenti inediti)’, Segno e Testo 8 (2010) 99-186 – also online; see for a summary my blog post ‘Unravelling the secrets of the Codex Florentinus’.

Some titles of more general introductory works not only concerned with the Middle Ages:

  • Paul Koschaker, Europa und das römische Recht (4th ed., Munich 1966).
  • Peter Stein, Roman law in European history (Cambridge, etc., 1999) – first as Römisches Recht und Europa. Die Geschichte einer Rechtskultur (Frankfurt am Main 1996).
  • J.H.A. Lokin and W.J. Zwalve, Hoofdstukken uit de Europese codificatiegeschiedenis [Chapters from European codification history] (4th ed., Amsterdam 2014).
  • Karl Kroeschell, Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte, vol. I-II (9th ed., Opladen 1989) – a fine introduction with excellent examples of the sources.

An important and thought-provoking book that follows a major part of Roman law through history, touching on medieval Europe, Old Dutch law and South-Africa, shows what Roman law is about:

  • Reinhard Zimmermann, The law of obligations: Roman foundations of the civilian tradition (2nd ed., Oxford 1997).

Encyclopedic in form, but partially outdated and criticized for their concept of legal history are:

  • Ius Romanum Medii Aevi (some 40 small vol., Milan 1956-1986) – unfinished “New Savigny” by many scholars.
  • Helmut Coing, Handbuch der Quellen und Literatur der neueren Europäischen Privatrechtsgeschichte (3 parts in 8 vol., Munich 1973-1988) – Part I: Mittelalter 1100-1500. Die gelehrten Rechte und die Gesetzgebung (1973).
  • Hermann Lange and Maximiliane Kriechbaum, Römisches Recht im Mittelalter (2 vol., Munich 1997-2007).

The following scientific journals publish regularly articles on medieval law:

Editions of texts by medieval lawyers

Starting from the nineteenth century texts of medievfal lawyers have been published in critical editions, Here follows a list in chronological order, with indications of digitized versions.

  • Rogerii Beneventani de dissensionibus dominorum (…), C.G. Haubold (ed.) (Leipzig 1821) – digitized, Europeana.
  • Dissensiones dominorum (…), Gustav Haenel (ed.) (Leipzig 1834; reprint Aalen 1964) – digitized for the Internet Archive.
  • Die Lombarda-Commentare des Ariprand und Albertus. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des germanischen Rechts im zwölften Jahrhundert, August Anschütz (ed.) (Tübingen 1855; reprint 1968) – digitized, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.
  • Juristische Schriften des früheren Mittelalters, Hermann Fitting (ed.) (Halle 1876) – digitized at the Bibliothèque Cujas (PDF).
  • Das Florentiner Rechtsbuch, ein System römischen Privatrechts aus der Glossatorenzeit, aus einer Florentiner Handschrift, Max Conrat (Cohn) (ed.) (Berlin 1882) – digitized at the Bibliothèque Cujas (PDF).
  • Die Epitome exactis regibus, mit Anhängen und einer Einleitung. Studien zur Geschichte des römischen Rechts im Mittelalter, Max Conrat (Cohn) (ed.) (Berlin 1884) – digitized at the Bibliothèque Cujas (PDF).
  • Die Quaestiones des Azo : zum ersten Male aus den Handschriften herausgegeben, Ernest Landsberg (ed.) (Bonn 1888) – digitized at the Bibliothèque Cujas (PDF).
  • Die Glossen des Irnerius, Gustav Pescatore (ed.) (Greifswald 1888) – digitized at the Bibliothèque Cujas (PDF).
  • Scripta Anecdota Glossatorum. Biblioteca iuridica medii aevi, G.B. Palmieri and A. Gaudenzi (eds.) (3 vol., Bologna 1888-1901; reprint 1913-1914) – digitized at the Staatsbibliothek Berlin.
  • Die Institutionenglossen des Gualcausus als Entgegung gegen Flach, Hermann Fitting (ed.) (Berlin 1891) – digitized at the Bibliothèque Cujas (PDF).
  • Le questiones di Ugolino glossatore, Valentino Rivalta (ed.) (Bologna 1891).
  • Summa Codicis des Irnerius, Hermann Fitting (ed.) (Berlin 1894) – now called Summa Trecensis; digitized at the Bibliothèque Cujas (PDF).
  • Quaestiones de iuris subtilitatibus des Irnerius, Herman Fitting (ed.) (Berlin 1894; reprinted Berlin 1977) – no longer attributed to Irnerius, digitized by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.
  • Summa “Cum essem Mantue” sive de Accionum varietatibus…, Gustav Pescatore (ed.) (Greifswald 1897) – digitized at the Bibliothèque Cujas (PDF) and online, Digitale Bibliothek Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
  • Lo codi. Teil 1, Lo codi : in der lateinischen Ũbersetzung des Ricardus Pisanus : eine Summa Codicis in provenzalischer Sprache aus der Mitte des XII. Jahrhunderts, Hermann Fitting (ed.) (Halle 1906) – digitized at the Bibliothèque Cujas (PDF), and see also the Lo Codi website of Johannes Kabatek, Zürich.
  • Die Distinctionensammlung des Ms. Bonon. Colleg. Hisp. Nr. 73 (= Festschrift der Universität Greifswald zum Rektoratswechsel am 15. Mai 1913), Gustav Pescatore (ed.) (Greifswald 1913).
  • Juris Interpretes saeculi XIII, Eduard Maurits Meijers (ed.) (Napoli 1924).
  • La Glossa Torinese e le altre glosse del MS D. III. 13 della Biblioteca Nazionale di Torino, Alberto Alberti (ed.) (Turin 1933).
  • Scritti giuridici preirneriani, Carlo Guido Mor (ed.) (2 vol., Milan 1935-1938; reprint Milan 1980).
  • La Glossa di Casamari alle Istituzioni di Giustianino, A. Alberti (ed.) (Milan 1937).
  • Responsa doctorum Tholosanorum, E.M. Meijers (ed.) (Haarlem 1938).
  • Studies in the glossators of the Roman law: newly discovered writings of the twelfth century, Hermann Kantorowicz and W.W. Buckland (ed.) (Cambridge 1938; reprint 1969).
  • Tractatus duo de vi et potestate statutorum, E.M. Meijers (ed.) (Haarlem 1939) – with a repetitio by Baldus de Ubaldis on Cunctos populos (C. 1.1.1.).
  • Die Summa Vindocinensis. Aus dem handschriftlichen Nachlass von Emil Seckel, Erich Genzmer (ed) (Berlin 1939).
  • Pillius Medicensis Quaestiones sabbatinae, Ugo Nicolini (ed.) (2nd ed., Modena 1946).
  • Quaestiones de iuris subtilitatibus, Ginevra Zanetti (ed.) (Florence 1958).
  • Peter Weimar (ed.), ‘Tractatus de violento possessore Cum uarie multiplicesque a Pilio Medicinensi compositus’, Ius Commune 1 (1967) 61-103 – digitized, Frankfurt am Main.
  • La Summa Institutionum ‘Iustiniani est in hoc opere`, Pierre Legendre (ed.) (Frankfurt am Main 1973).
  • Hans Hoehne (ed.), ‘Pilii Medicinensis Svmmvla de reorvm exceptionibvs “precibvs et instantia”‘, Ius Commune 9 (1981) 139-209 – digitized, Frankfurt am Main.
  • Diego Quaglioni, Politica e diritto nel Trecento italiano (Florence 1983) – with editions of three tracts by Bartolus de Saxoferrato.
  • L.J. van Soest-Zuurdeeg, La Lectura sur le titre De actionibus (Inst. 4,6) de Jacques de Révigny (Leiden 1984).
  • Glosse preaccursiane alle Istituzioni, I: Libro primo, strato azzoniano, Severino Caprioli (ed.) (Rome 1984); II: Libro secondo, strato azzoniano, Severino Caprioli (ed.) (Rome 2004).
  • Annalisa Belloni, Le questioni civilistiche del secolo XII: Da Bulgaro a Pilio da Medicina e Azzone (Frankfurt am Main 1989).
  • La Glossa di Poppi alle Istituzioni di Giustianino, Victor Crescenzi (ed.) (Rome 1990).
  • Luca Loschiavo, Summa Codicis Berolinensis. Studio ed edizione di una composizione ‘a mosaico’ (Frankfurt am Main 1996).
  • The Casus Codicis of Wilhelmus de Cabriano, Tammo Wallinga (ed.) (Frankfurt am Main 2005).
  • Modi arguendi: testi per lo studio della retorica nella sistema del diritto comune, Severino Caprioli (ed.) (Spoleto 2006).
  • La Summa Trium Librorum di Rolando da Lucca (1195-1234). Fisco, politico, scientia iuris, Emanuele Conte and Sara Menzinger (eds.) (Rome 2012).

Reprints

  • Placentinus, Summa Codicis (Moguntiae 1536; reprint Turin 1962).
  • Placentinus, Summa Institutionum (Moguntiae 1535; reprint Turin 1966).
  • Azo, Summa Codicis (Papie 1506; reprint Turijn 1966) – with Hugolinus’ apparatus on the Tres Libri.
  • Azo, Lectura super Codicem (…) (Parisiis 1577; reprint Turin 1966).
  • Azo, Summa Codicis (Venetiis 1581; reprint Frankfurt am Main 2008).
  • Odofredus de Denariis, Lecturae (Lugduni 1550; reprint Turin 1967-1969) – Digest, Codex and Tres Libri.
  • Dinus Mugellanus de Rossonibus, Apostille super Infortiato et ff. novo… (Lugduni 1513; reprint Bologna 1971).
  • Jacobus de Arena, Commentarii in universum ius civile (Lugduni 1541; reprint Bologna 1971).
  • Jacobus de Ravanis (Jacques de Revigny), Lectura super Codice (Parisiis 1519; reprints Bologna 1967 and Frankfurt am Main 1968) – wrongly attributed to Pierre de Belleperche.
  • Jacobus de Ravanis, Lectura Institutionum (Lugduni 1536; reprint Bologna 1972) – on name of Pierre de Belleperche.
  • Petrus de Bella Pertica (Pierre de Belleperche), Aureae repetitiones (Parrhysiis 1515) – reprinted in: idem, Commentaria in Digestum Novum; Repetitiones variae (Bologna 1968).
  • Petrus de Bella Pertica, Commentaria in Digestum Novum (Francofurti ad Moenam 1571) – reprinted in: idem, Commentaria in Digestum Novum; Repetitiones variae (Bologna 1968).
  • Guillelmus de Cuneo, Lectura super Codice (Lugduni 1513; reprint Bologna 1968).
  • Jacobus de Belviso, Commentarii in Authenticum et consuetudines feudorum (Lyon 1511; reprint Bologna 1971).
  • Cinus de Pistoia, In Codicem…commentaria (Francofurti ad Moenam 1578; reprints Turin 1964 and Rome 1998).
  • Bartolus de Saxoferrato, Opera omnia (8 vol., Venetiis 1526-1528; reprint Rome 1996-1998) – also edition Basel 1562, reprint 5 vol., Frankfurt am Main 2007.
  • Baldus de Ubaldis, Consiliorum sive responsorum volumen primum [-sextum] (Venetiis 1575; reprint in 3 vol., Turin 1970).
  • Jacobus Butrigarius, Lectura super Codice (Parisiis 1516; reprint Bologna 1973).
  • Jacobus Butrigarius, Queastiones (Bologna 1557; reprint Bologna 1981).
  • Niccolò Spinelli, Lectura Institutionum (Papia 1506; reprint Sala Bolognese 1978).
  • Niccolò Spinelli, Lectura super tribus libris Codicis (Papie 1491; reprint Sala Bolognese 1981).
  • Albericus de Rosate, Commentaria in Codicem (Venetiis 1585-1586; reprint Bologna 1979).
  • Johannes Faber [Runcinus], In Institutiones commentaria (Lugduni 1557; reprint Frankfurt am Main 1969).
  • Rainerius de Forlivio, Lectura super Digesto Novo (Lyon 1523; reprint Bologna 1968).
  • Agostino Fontana (ed.), Amphitheatrum legale (4 vol., Parma 1688; reprint Turin 1961).

In a class of its own is the massive collection Tractatus universi iuris (22 vol. in 29 parts, Venetiis 1584-1586); copy Harvard Law School, Harvard University Library – the largest collection of late medieval legal treatises published in the sixteenth century.

Links

For microfilms of legal manuscripts you can consult apart from the Italian online project Manoscritti giuridici medievali and the main library catalogue at Frankfurt am Main lists of the Istituto di Storia del Diritto Italiano (Università La Sapienza, Rome) and the Leopold-Wenger-Institut für Rechtsgeschichte in Munich. The special catalogue Archives et manuscrits (BnF, Paris) leads increasingly also to digitized manuscripts. For some French libraries you can find completely digitized manuscripts in the art history database Initiale (IRHT). The Vatican Library has created the platform DigiVatLib for digitized manuscripts. For many German libraries you can search for digital versions of medieval manuscripts using Manuscripta Mediaevalia. Swiss libraries digitize manuscripts very often at e-Codices. You can consult a number of legal manuscripts from the Carolingian period online in the project Europeana RegiaDMMapp offers you an interactive map and database to search for libraries worldwide with digitized medieval manuscripts.

In the United States you can find many microfilms in the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN, and in the Vatican Film Library of the Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO.