Byzantine Legal Sources Research Center at the Göttingen Academy of Sciences
The Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire, whose power endured for more than a thousand years after the foundation of Constantinople by Constantine the Great, and which was long the most powerful force in the Euro-Mediterranean cultural melée, is becoming increasingly important to a modern appreciation of medieval history. The Corpus Iuris Civilis, the Emperor Justinian’s monumental 6th Century codification of civil law, has attracted much interest in the West as a conduit through which classical Roman law was passed on to the Middle Ages and the modern era, however the fact is often overlooked that in the East the import of the Corpus continued uninterrupted in the Greek language and remained the foundation of law not only within the time and territorial boundaries of the Byzantine Empire. After undergoing various stages of transformation in the Byzantine era it was adapted during the Middle Ages in the Balkans, by the eastern Slavs and by the peoples of the Christian Middle East. In modern times it was still the current law in the principalities of Romania and the restored kingdom of Greece. A study of Byzantine legal sources thus reveals the continuous development of a sophisticated and highly literate legal culture under progressively changing political, social and economic conditions.
Nomisma of the emperors Leon III. and Konstantin V. who in 741 promulgated a codex called Ecloga.
With the eastward enlargement of Europe as a political entity, an understanding of Byzantine legal culture and its continuation in the Slavic-speaking countries has acquired a particular topical significance. The opportunities for and obstacles to a harmonization of the legal systems in the west and south east of Europe and those of Eastern Europe cannot be assessed without an awareness of the roots and traditions of both legal cultures. Nor can the developments in modern Russia be understood without a knowledge of the Byzantine roots of the Russian understanding of state and sovereignty
There is also the consideration that for some 900 years the Byzantine Empire found itself confronted with the world of Islam. The many and varied interactions between them have yet to be adequately researched. However the Center is doing vital work in paving the way by indexing and preserving the relevant texts.
A necessary precondition for any research into the development of Byzantine law is to index and preserve the underlying textual material. To this end a comprehensive, internationally unique archive of documents has been recorded on microfilm. This archive is available to scientists worldwide and has already facilitated many other projects. It provides a basis on which to inventorize the legacy of Byzantine law by preparing critical analyses of texts that have yet to be dealt with adequately, if at all, as well as to compile research aids (the Repertorium) and conduct language- and content-based investigations of Byzantine law in the widest sense. The strict separation of secular and canonical sources is neither possible nor meaningful, since legal life in the Byzantine Empire drew on both sources.
The project publishes its results in the series "Forschungen zur byzantinischen Rechtsgeschichte". One of main aspects of current work is Volume II of the "Repertorium der Handschriften des byzantinischen Rechts" (A. Schminck) which will be published before the end of 2010. Volume III is due for publication in 2013. Work on the so-called Peira of Eustathios Rhomaios (text and translation) is being continued by L. Burgmann. The edition of commentaries by Alexios Aristenos on the Synopsis canonum (E. Papagianni/Sp. Troianos) is complete and will be published together with the Prolegomena (L. Burgmann) in 2012 in the Fontes Minores (Volume XII). Four further volumes are in print. [more]