Law as a Civilising Factor in the First Millennium

Lorsch, Isometrie der Torhalle von Südosten; Source: Drawing by Katarina Papajanni

This special research field is focused on the phenomenon of law as a key element and driving force behind cultural development. By concentrating our efforts on the civilisations of the first millennium, we address a multiplicity of ideals and realities here that were created not least with the aid of law.

To study these, we have adopted an integrative, interdisciplinary approach that spans time and place from late antiquity to the turn of the millennium, from the Near East to Western Europe and from North Africa to Scandinavia. A key area is the Middle Ages. Law in this context should be regarded as a very real tool and building block in the individual worlds that humankind has created for itself. This applies in equal measure to Imperial Rome, the barbarians and the Carolingian Empire, to secular customs and church institutions, collections of laws, as well as statute books and laws, and customs handed down other than by the written word. Of particular interest are those regions and territories where the writ of Roman law did not extend. The lands beyond the Limes, later conquered by the Franks, lend themselves to studies of such integrative and transformational processes. Similarly, the formation of barbarian empires within what was once the Imperium Romanum, the laws recorded there and the partial adoption of the normative ideas of late antiquity and their dissemination through the medium of the church demonstrate the dynamic effect of the law as a civilising factor that has persisted from the first millennium through to the modern age. The changes and discontinuities in state structures both in Europe and in the eastern Mediterranean (Byzantium) are also of great interest. Of major significance here is the role of received norms and their adaptation to fundamentally altered social conditions. The work of the research group on Byzantine legal sources of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, which is based at the Institute, is participating in this research focus area.

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