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Aug 22 2013

Code of Justinian

Justinian was emperor of the Byzantine Empire (or East Roman Empire) from 527 to 565. His full name in latin was Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Justinianus Augustus. Justinian assigned his Minister of Justice, Tribonian to the task of rewriting older Roman law with an objective of updating it, clarifying it, and standardizing it. This work became known as the “Corpus Juris Civilis”, or body of civil law.

The Corpus Juris Civilis was released in four major parts:

  • Codex Constitutionum – a compilation of existing laws
  • Digesta – an encyclopedia of writings from Roman legal scholars
  • Institutiones – a student textbook on law
  • Novellae – new laws that were added

While the first part contains most of the actual laws, all four parts are considered to be body of law that makes up the “Code of Justinian”. The first three pieces were released in the years from 529 to 534. The fourth part was compiled after the death of Justinian.

The original plan only included the first three parts, but when the work was done, it became obvious that there were still conflicts within the existing laws. A resolution of the conflicts was published as “Fifty Decisions” and then added into a second edition of the code in 534. More conflicts were discovered later and new laws were issued, resulting in the Novellae compilation many years later.

The Code of Justinian represented the entire body of civil law accumulated by the Roman Empire at that time. It later became a key foundation for English common law.