BULL STREET - The art of the Con

Justinian's Code: 529 AD

Justinian’s  laws were the runners of the modern concept of justice. This Emperor of Byzantium is best remembered for his codification of Roman law[14] in a series of books called Corpus Juris Civilis. His collection served as an important basis for law in that contemporary society, and was inspired by logic-based Greek legal principles. Many legal maxims still in use today are derived from Justinian's Code. His work inspired the modern concept and, indeed, the very spelling of "justice". It also had legs, this Roman Code survived in many parts of Germany until 1900 and important traces of it can still be found in the laws of Italy, Scotland, South Africa and Quebec. Roman law formed the base of civil law, one of the two main legal systems to govern modern society in Western civilization (the other being English common law[15]). He was the first to put a definition to those things “which are common to all. "The things which are common to all (and not capable of being owned) are: the air, running water, the sea and the seashores."

The Roman law created by Justinian has carried some of its most important elements into our justice system of today. Many of the laws on our statutes had their basis in the laws that Justinian created and his organizational conceptions of how the legal process should best operate are an important part of our culture today. The original law system utilized by the Roman’s was the “Law of the Twelve Tablets”  (or tables) [16] The Tablets had existed as long ago as 450 BC and the system of government that existed then was hardly what followed almost a millennium later. Thus, Roman law was always a work in process and changes occurred slowly but without a hiatus over the following years. The law as practiced when Justinian came to power was more like the English Common Law then the Twelve Tablets. 

These new “Common Laws” formally enacted during the passage of time by at first, tribal assemblies and as the culture became more sophisticated, by the Senate with oversight by the emperor. This evolutionary process continued until 130 AD when Emperor Hadrian instituted something he called the “Perpetual Edict” which was intended to replace both the “The Law of the Twelve Tablets” and the Common Law that had massaged and clarified it. The two were consolidated into Hadrian’s “Perpetual Edict” However, when these often diametrically opposed theories were folded together, chaos evolved for lack of precedent and common practice. This caused the creation of an entirely new class of authorities relative to the law, the Jurisconsults, who became recognized experts in all facets of legal affairs, the interpretation, the definition, and expertization. These folks were used, often in a forum like structure by both or either side, for the purpose of devising the best strategy for their cases.  It was something like a combination of mediation and modern courtroom procedure. The appeal process however, was simplistic; the Emperors rulings were always binding on everyone and were written for the part, clumsily into the law.

By the time the orderly Justinian became Emperor, it was difficult to determine who was doing what to whom and how often. Moreover, the Roman Empire had recently been acting like the moon, waxing and waning relative to battlefield victories and defeats. Interpretations of the Roman law became convoluted in far off parts of the country and the laws were not being administered on a level playing field. The appeal process became an abortion as conflicting regional laws made logical interpretations incredibly difficult.

In a manner similar to that of William the First, Justinian pulled in all the laws that were on the books throughout the empire. He fist attempted to remove the contradictions and then created a universality of regulations without regard for local customs. The code was finished in 533 AD and basically contained several distinct parts.

A. the Institutes   A basic legal textbook for students (and a good source of pithy definitions and maxims).

B. the Digest (Pandects)  A selection and logical classification of the currently valid response of the jurisconsults.

C. the Codex         A classification of the currently valid imperial constitutiones and earlier enactments into a statutory code.

D. the Novels        Amendments to the code adopted during the reign of Justinian.”[17]

Thus, Justinian’s Law, which was a compendium of the better parts of the laws that had been created in the Roman Empire for a millennium. His creation was well-organized and allowed efficient utilization. However, Justinian had over reached from a viewpoint of both his resources both manpower and government reconstitution. His push to physically recreate the geographic borders that had existed at the height of the Roman Empire had succeeded to a large extent but upon his death, they could not be consolidated or held. Justinian had created the ability of Rome to go out in style and soon that was exactly what happened.



©2005 Chapman, Spira & Carson, LLC
111 Broadway. New York, NY. 10006 Tel: 212.425.6100 - Fax: 212.425.6229

Terms of Use  |  Privacy Policy  |  Email