Corpus iuris civilis

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The Corpus Iuris Civilis ( CIC or, to better distinguish it from the ecclesiastical Corpus Iuris Canonici , also CICiv , German: "Existence of civil law") comprises a body of law that has been so called since the time of humanism and which was written from 528 to 534 AD. was compiled on behalf of the Eastern Roman emperor Justinian . The collection that emerged in a late restoration phase of Roman imperial culture, which compiled and codified ancient and late ancient Roman laws , came after theThe fall of the Roman Empire was largely forgotten and was rediscovered in the 11th century mainly by Irnerius of Bologna . For centuries it was the most important textual basis for Roman law, which was applied in large parts of Europe until the 19th century . Its content has also been incorporated into numerous modern legal works and legal systems in multi-level and multi-layered reception processes .


The modern title of the work Corpus Iuris Civilis only became common in humanism. It appears prominently on the 1583 printed edition of the Justinian texts by Dionysius Gothofredus and has since become generally accepted. The designation of the collection as corpus iuris (“ corpus of law ”), on the other hand, corresponds to contemporary Justinian language usage and can also be found in the Middle Ages, for example in the glossator Accursius in the 13th century.


Under the direction of the quaestor sacri palatii Tribonianus , the still valid imperial decrees from the reign of Hadrian , which were codified in the Codex Iustinianus , became part of the work . The Codex was first published in 529. On December 30, 533, a modified second edition came into force. This version is the one that has remained known to this day. The Institutiones Iustiniani , a beginners' textbook that was based on old textbooks, especially that of the high-class Gaius , was used as an introduction and was published in 533. The middle section is made up of the digests (also: pandects), which were also published in 533. Finally, the Novellae , a collection of supplementary laws ( leges novellae ) from the Justinian era after 535 itself and mostly only passed on in the Greek version.

The new codification of Roman law was a masterpiece, especially in view of the shortness of time. Older codes became obsolete and the revised legislation made litigation much easier for the future. In some respects, such as the legal status of women and slaves , the CIC was a very progressive piece of legislation from today's perspective. From the point of view of that time, however, it had conservatist traits, since in several points the ideas of the Roman legal tradition were given precedence over the demands of the Christian church for the last time: For example, divorce was expressly allowed, and also the private law position of women , which had steadily improved in the course of the Roman Empire , was still significantly cheaper after the CIC than it was in the Christian Middle Ages .

The historical background of the new codification was formed by the constant loss of influence in Roman culture, which contemporaries perceived as inexorable. Justinian wanted to refer specifically to the significant Roman past. It was therefore decided to summarize and preserve the highly differentiated Roman law, which existed in a confusing variety of legal sources (old laws, imperial sayings, writings by lawyers etc.) in one work. That right should be eliminated that no longer applied in late antiquity ; In addition, the old legal sources were partly changed and adapted to the new legal situation. This was done by omitting certain regulations or reformulating the old legal texts and adapting them to the needs of the time . This process was already opened with the Diocletian legislation of the Codex Gregorianus .

Structure and drafting time

The parts of the Corpus Iuris Civilis are:

  • Institutiones (= a legal textbook introducing the Codex and Pandects, which was co-published by the legislature and therefore has special authority. The institutions arenot to be confused with the Institutions of Gaius . The institutions are merely based on the work of Gaius.)
  • Pandects | Digesta (Latin: orderly presentation) or Pandectai (Greek: all-embracing), 533/534 (= summary of the applicable law)
  • Codex Iustinianus (= collected imperial laws that are still valid since the 2nd century AD)
  • Novellae : Imperial laws passed after the year 534 were collected and published in various collections of novels. Although Justinian's novels are likely to have been published in Latin and, as far as they concerned the East, also in Greek, the official Latin version was lost early in the vast majority of cases, as Latin was no longer understood in Eastern Europe from the 7th century, which is why for a long time it was mistakenly assumed that it did not exist. In the Middle Ages, the so-called Authenticum was widespreadin Western Europe- a collection of novels with 134 novels: the Greek now in (re) translation into Latin. Today a collection of 168 short stories is usually used: the Greek in the original language.

The individual parts of the Corpus Iuris Civilis are divided into books and each book in turn is divided into titles. Each title in turn is subdivided into leges (singular: lex , German: law), which can sometimes have a subdivision into paragraphs.

History of the Corpus Iuris Civilis in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages

The reception of ancient law in the Middle Ages should prove to be an important aspect in the development of modern law. In late antiquity , the Roman Empire was factually (not under constitutional law) divided into two parts of the empire. The Western Roman Empire went under in the course of the migration of the peoples , while the Eastern Roman Empire was able to hold out for centuries; Until the 7th century, Ostrom remained a recognizable Roman-Late Antique state. Emperor Justinian came from the Latin Balkan provinces and had the goal of restoring the old Roman Empire. He started a restoration campaign (against Vandals , Ostrogoths and Visigoths ) so that the East Romans could partially gain a foothold in the west. During this time of departure, the Corpus Iuris Civilis was created from 529 onwards and therefore also came into force in the regained areas in the west. However, the Eastern Roman Empire was not able to hold large parts of its regained territories in Italy by 554 against the Longobards , who had advanced since 568 ; until 625 southern Spain fell again to the Visigoths, and Africa was then lost to the Arabs towards the end of the 7th century. The Corpus Iuris Civilis continued to apply in Italy to Roman citizens, but it was largely cut off from further legal developments. This only took place through the novellas of the Eastern Roman emperors in Byzantium, where the Greek became more and more popular after Justinian. That is why most of the novellas in the novella collections (see above) after 535 were written not only in Latin, but also in Greek - only those laws that referred explicitly to the Latin-speaking areas of the empire or to the entire Roman Empire were an exception . But by the 7th century at the latest, Latin became so uncommon in the East that Greek became the language of law and the Corpus Iuris Civilis could only be used here in translations. The Latin version of most of the novellas was therefore lost (see above).

In the western part of the former Roman Empire, the Corpus Iuris Civilis , to which Pope Gregory the Great, for example, repeatedly referred around 600, remained known for a certain time. The once highly complex classical Roman law was adapted and shortened to the current living conditions of Justinian's time. The accompanying simplification did not first come about as a result of the influence of Germanic legal customs; rather, it was laid out in the late antique developments, later known as Vulgar law . After the Great Migration, however , the Corpus Iuris Civilis lacked interpretation by appropriately experienced lawyers and, even more drastically, the legal texts no longer found social support because legal ideas had developed differently. The Germanic rulers of the successor empires ultimately enacted their own laws, collections of Roman and Germanic rights (see also: Germanic tribal rights ). The latter were based more on the (older) Codex Theodosianus of 438 than on the Codex Iustinianus . As a result, people were less and less concerned with Roman law - all the more so when the Eastern Roman emperors largely lost their political influence on Western Europe after 600 and their empire fell into a deep crisis. Around this time, Latin finally lost the status of a legal and administrative language in the East, so that from then on the Byzantine scholars generally no longer understood the Corpus Iuris .

The largest part of the Corpus Iuris Civilis , the Digest , was forgotten in the West and East from the middle of the 7th century. The digests were "lost" for centuries until they were rediscovered in the middle of the 11th century (as the so-called Littera Florentina ). This was followed by a turbulent period of confrontation with the fragments of the text, which Irnerius in Bologna began to drive forward in the second half of the 11th century .

Rediscovery and reception

Digestorum, seu Pandectarum libri quinquaginta. Lugduni apud Gulielmu [m] Rouillium, 1581. Biblioteca Comunale "Renato Fucini" di Empoli

The rediscovery of digests by northern Italian scholars paved the way for the development of modern jurisprudence . With the completion of the Justinian sources, the entire work had acquired a meaning that was understood as a revelation. The ratio scripta resided in the work , connected with it, unlimited trust. Irnerius was the first to work on the work scientifically on a large scale. It is believed that he was a trained rhetoric teacher who had extensive experience with ancient texts, including legal literature. In the time of Irnerius, contemporary legal texts did not provide a level comparable to the digests. The Germanic legal records of the early Middle Ages were even dismissed as "barbarian laws" by the later humanistic jurists in comparison to the rediscovered Roman law . Irnerius must have been amazed at the quality of the digests, which is why he was interested in exploring the largely unknown matter. He also taught the digests, initially probably in rhetoric lessons, later in law lessons.

Those students who continued their academic study of the Digest and then of the other parts of the Corpus Iuris Civilis were the so-called glossators . They emerged from the newly founded school of law in Bologna . The study there was soon so highly regarded that students from all over Europe flocked to Bologna to learn about the texts. Later on, universities with academic legal instruction were established in other places, first in Northern Italy and then all over Europe (see Common Law ).

After completing their studies, the students returned to their home countries as learned lawyers, where they initially held high offices in ecclesiastical and secular administration. In the exercise of their duties, the jurists were able to apply the skills they had learned in Roman law, and in some cases they also applied the legal content of the Corpus Iuris Civilis in practice. Later they also took over offices in the judiciary and gradually ousted the “unlearned judges” ( lay judges ) who had not studied Roman law but spoke law based on local legal customs. A high point of this development is the creation of the Imperial Chamber Court, the highest court in the Holy Roman Empire , in which half of the judicial assessors had to be learned jurists. Roman law (and thus also the CIC) already played a role that should not be underestimated in the imperial policy of the Roman-German emperors from Friedrich I. Barbarossa , since the emperors tried to strengthen their own position on the basis of late ancient law. The last emperor to have laws inserted into the CIC was Henry VII at the beginning of the 14th century.

In continental Europe, the Corpus Iuris Civilis was the authoritative source of law for common law , in tacit agreement and for almost thirteen centuries , with a combination of Roman and local law, the so-called usus modernus . With the epoch of natural law , it was replaced by national legal codifications in many European countries, which, however, were based on the scientifically processed law of the Corpus Iuris Civilis and are in its tradition (for example the French Code civil , the Prussian General Land Law or the Austrian General Civil Code ). In Germany, the Corpus Iuris Civilis was valid in some areas until the entry into force of the German Civil Code (BGB) on January 1, 1900, albeit often only on a subsidiary basis. The BGB also has its roots in the scientifically processed CIC. This is what Pandect Science deals with .

The so-called interpolation criticism only started very late. This is a research that began in the second half of the 19th century and carried out investigations into the extent to which old, classical legal texts were changed, falsified or misinterpreted in late antiquity. In order not to endanger the administration of justice, it was suppressed for many decades, because the authority of the CIC could not be undermined.

Editions of the Corpus Iuris Civilis

See also


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Friedrich Carl von Savigny : History of Roman law in the Middle Ages . Vol. 3, 2nd ed., Mohr, Heidelberg 1834, p. 517 fn. A).
  2. ^ Okko Behrends : Corpus Iuris Civilis. In: Lexicon for Church and State Church Law. Volume 1. Schöningh, Paderborn 2000, p. 370.
  3. ^ Herbert Hausmaninger , Walter Selb : Römisches Privatrecht , Böhlau, Vienna 1981 (9th edition 2001) (Böhlau-Studien-Bücher) ISBN 3-205-07171-9 , p. 48.
  4. ^ Fritz Sturm : Ius gentium. Imperialist whitewashing of Roman jurists , in: Römische Jurisprudenz - Dogmatik, Tradition, Reception / Festschrift for Detlef Liebs on his 75th birthday, ed. by Karlheinz Muscheler , Duncker & Humblot, Berlin (= Freiburger Rechtsgeschichtliche Abhandlungen. New series, volume 63), pp. 663–669.
  5. Wolfgang Kaiser: The bilingualism of novellas across the empire under Justinian. Studies on Justinian's short stories. In: Journal of the Savigny Foundation for Legal History . Romance Department. Vol. 129, Issue 1, 2012, pp. 392-474, doi: 10.7767 / zrgra.2012.129.1.392 .
  6. ^ A b Max Kaser : Roman legal sources and applied legal method. In: Research on Roman Law , Vol. 36, Böhlau, Vienna / Cologne / Graz 1986, ISBN 3-205-05001-0 , pp. 119–121.
  7. Fundamental to interpolation research: Leopold Wenger : The sources of Roman law . 1953. p. 855 ff.