“Corpus Iuris Civilis”

1. Introduction

The term “Corpus Iuris Civilis” is anachronistic for the Early Middle Ages and appeared first in the 13th century. Nevertheless it is a useful collective term for the Codex Iustinianus, the Digest, the Institutes and the Novels in general. The Novels are not stated here, because the most important collection for the Early Middle Ages is the Epitome Iuliani. The Digest is relatively unimportant for the Early Middle Ages, so no manuscript will be given here. Below only the earliest manuscripts are listed, which are dated before the great renaissance of Justinianic Law in the late 11th century.

Codex Iustinianus: There are two different versions of this codification. The first codex (Codex novus) was promulgated in 529 after a committee of ten persons – Tribonian and John the Cappadocian among them – had worked themselves through the previous codices Gregorianus, Hermogenianus and Theodosianus to gather the constitutiones that were still valid. Justinian’s aim was the unification of law and therefore his Codex was promoted as the sole source for jurisdiction. Due to the emperor’s further activities concerning codification and legislation the Codex novus became outdated within a few years and a revision – the so-called Codex repetitae prealectionis – was published in 534.
Small parts of the first Codex, which was not longer valid after the second Codex had come into effect, survive in a single fragment (P. Oxy. XV 1814) so that we can only draw conclusions about its content from the revised version. The Codex repetitae prealectionis includes more than 4600 constitutiones and is divided into 12 books.
The Justinian Code has not received much attention in the Early Middle Ages.

Institutes: The Institutes are a student textbook sanctioned by Justinian, which was promulgated together with the Digest in 533. It contains four books with 98 titles from all relevant parts of law. The Institutiones of Roman classical jurist Gaius were an important  example for the Justinianic ones.


2. Edition

  • Paul Krüger (Ed.), Codex Iustinianus, Berlin 1877.
  • Paul Krüger (Ed.), Iustiniani Institutiones, Berlin 31908.

3. Reading recommendations (2000 onwards)

  • Caroline Humfress: Law and legal practice in the age of Justinian, in: Maas, Michael (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian, Cambridge 2005, 161-184.
  • Ulrich Manthe: “Corpus Iuris Civilis”, in: Handwörterbuch zur deutschen Rechtsgeschichte 1, 22008, col. 901-907.
  • Simon Corcoran: Justinian and his two Codes. Revisiting P. Oxy. 1814, in: The Journal of Juristic Papyrology XXXVIII (2008), 73-111.
  • Simon Corcoran: After Krüger: Observations on some additional or revised Justinian Code headings and subscripts, in: Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte. Romanistische Abteilung 126 (2009), 423-439.
  • Simon Corcoran: The Novus Codex and the Codex Repetitae Praelectionis: Justinian and his codes, in: Benoist – Daguet-Gagey – Hoët-van Cauwenberghe (Eds.), Figures d’empire, fragments de mémoire. Pouvoirs et identités dans le monde romain impérial (IIe s. av. n. è.-VIe s. ap. n. è.), Lille 2011, 425-444.

4. Further resources

Digital images of the P. Oxy XV 1814 fragment available here.


5. Manuscripts [26]