AALL 2015 Recap: “As If Uttered by Our Own Inspired Mouth”: Researching the Corpus Juris Civilis

By Alyson Drake

Roman Law Program - croppedThe Legal History & Rare Book Special Interest Section and the FCIL-SIS Roman Law Interest Group had a joint meeting on July 21st to hear a fantastic talk on researching the Corpus Juris Civilis (CJC) by Fred Dingledy, Senior Reference Librarian at William and Mary Law.

Fred began by giving a history of the CJC, starting with Emperor Justinian I appointing the Codex commission in 528. He continued by providing a description of and the timeline for the development of each of the four components of the CJC:
1) the Institutes: the textbook for first year law students, and which also had binding legal effect;
2) the Digest: the compilation of writings of jurists from the late Roman Republic to the early third century AD;
3) the Codex: the compilation of excerpts from imperial constitutiones; and
4) the Novels: posthumous compilations of Justinian I’s constitutiones.
Fred also noted the organizational problems of the CJC, which can make it difficult to research.

Fred then explained about the medieval revival of CJC, and the subsequent translations of each of the four components of the CJC. He discussed the pros and cons of the various translations, and provided attendees with an annotated bibliography noting how to find those translations. Sources for various translations of each of the CJC’s components are available at online sources like Hein Online or for free at the Internet Archive. Want to read the whole CJC in the original Latin? Check out the edition by Krueger et al., which is considered to be the most authoritative version.

Finally, Fred talked about the relevance of the CJC through the Anglo-American English tradition, as the CJC was also very influential on many continental European legal codes; scholars such as Francis Bacon, John Adams, and William & Mary’s own George Wythe discussed it or cited it in their works. Fred also noted that it was cited as recently as 1997 in a U.S. Supreme Court case, Idaho v. Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Idaho, 521 U.S. 261, 284 (1997).

Many thanks to Fred for a very interesting talk, filled with fun anecdotes.

Roman Law Attendees - cropped

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