The Codex Theodosianus
was a compilation of the laws
Roman law is the legal system of ancient Rome, and the legal developments which occurred before the 7th century AD — when the Roman–Byzantine state adopted Greek as the language of government. The development of Roman law comprises more than a thousand years of jurisprudence — from the Twelve...
of the Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....
under the Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...
emperors since 312
Year 312 was a leap year starting on Tuesday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Constantinus and Licinianus...
. A commission was established by Theodosius II
Theodosius II , commonly surnamed Theodosius the Younger, or Theodosius the Calligrapher, was Byzantine Emperor from 408 to 450. He is mostly known for promulgating the Theodosian law code, and for the construction of the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople...
Year 429 was a common year starting on Tuesday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Florentius and Dionysius...
and the compilation was published in the eastern half of the Roman Empire in 438
Year 438 was a common year starting on Saturday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Theodosius and Glabrio...
. One year later, it was also introduced in the West by the emperor Valentinian III
-Family:Valentinian was born in the western capital of Ravenna, the only son of Galla Placidia and Flavius Constantius. The former was the younger half-sister of the western emperor Honorius, and the latter was at the time Patrician and the power behind the throne....
On March 26, 429, Emperor Theodosius II announced to the senate of Constantinople his intentions to form a committee to codify all of the laws (leges
, singular lex
) from the reign of Constantine up to Theodosius II and Valentinian III. Twenty-two scholars, working in two teams, worked for nine years starting in 429 to assemble what was to become the Theodosian Code. Their product was a collection of 16 books containing more than 2,500 constitutions issued between 313 and 437. John F. Matthews illustrates the importance of Theodosius' Code when he said, "the Theodosian Code was the first occasion since the Twelve Tables
The Law of the Twelve Tables was the ancient legislation that stood at the foundation of Roman law. The Law of the Twelve Tables formed the centrepiece of the constitution of the Roman Republic and the core of the mos maiorum...
on which a Roman government had attempted by public authority to collect and publish its leges
." The code covers political, socioeconomic, cultural and religious subjects of the fourth and fifth century in the Roman Empire.
A collection of imperial enactments called the Codex Gregorianus
The Codex Gregorianus or Gregorian Code is the title of a collection of constitutions of Roman emperors over a century and a half from the 130s to 290s AD.-History:thumb|Modern bust of Diocletian in his palace at Split, Croatia....
had been written in 291 and the Codex Hermogenianus
The Codex Hermogenianus or Hermogenian Code is the title of a collection of constitutions of the Roman emperors of the first tetrarchy , mostly from the years 293–94....
, a limited collection of rescripts from 293-294, was published. Theodosius desired to create a code that would provide much greater insight into law during the later Empire (321-429). According to Peter Stein, "Theodosius was perturbed at the low state of legal skill in his empire of the East." He apparently started a school of law at Constantinople. In 429 he assigned a commission to collect all imperial constitutions since the time of Constantine. The laws in the code span from 312-438, so by 438 the "volume of imperial law had become unmanageable" During the process of gathering the vast amount of material, often editors would have multiple copies of the same law. In addition to this, the source material the editors were drawing upon changed over time. Clifford Ando notes that according to Matthews, the editors "displayed a reliance on western provincial sources through the late fourth century and on central, eastern archives thereafter."
After six years an initial version was finished in 435, but it was not published, instead it was improved upon and expanded and finally finished in 438 and taken to the Senate in Rome and Constantinople. Matthews believes that the two attempts are not a result of a failed first attempt, but instead the second attempt shows "reiteration and refinement of the original goals at a new stage in the editorial process." Others have put forth alternate theories to explain the lengthy editorial process and two different commissions. Boudewijn Sirks
Adriaan Johan Boudewijn Sirks , known as Boudewijn Sirks and as A. J. B. Sirks, is a Dutch academic lawyer and papyrologist specializing in Roman law...
believes that "the code was compiled from imperial copy books found at Constantinople, Rome, or Ravenna, supplemented by material at a few private collections, and that the delays were caused by such problems as verifying the accuracy of the text and improving the legal coherence of the work."
Context of Code
The Code was written in Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...
and incorporated the terms Constantinopolitana and Roma for Constantine's capital and for the original capital in Italy. It was also concerned with the imposition of orthodoxy - the Arian
Arianism is the theological teaching attributed to Arius , a Christian presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of the entities of the Trinity and the precise nature of the Son of God as being a subordinate entity to God the Father...
controversy was ongoing - within the Christian
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...
religion and contains 65 decrees directed at heretics.
Originally, Theodosius had attempted to commission leges generales
beginning with Constantine to be used as a supplement for the Codex Gregorianus
and the Codex Hermogenianus
. He intended to supplement the legal codes with the opinions and writings of ancient Roman Jurists, much like the Digest found later in Justinian's Code. But the task proved to be too great, and in 435 it was decided to concentrate solely on the laws from Constantine to the time of writing. This decision defined the greatest difference between the Theodosian Code and Justinian's later Corpus Juris Civilis
John F. Matthews observes, "The Theodosian Code does, however, differ from the work of Justinian (except the Novellae), in that it was largely based not on existing juristic writings and collections of texts, but on primary sources that had never before been brought together." Justinian’s Code, published about 100 years later, comprised both ius
, "law as an interpretive discipline", and leges
, "the primary legislation upon which the interpretation was based." While the first part, or Codex, of Justinian’s Corpus Civilis Juris
contained 12 books of constitutions
, or imperial laws, the second and third parts, the Digest
and the Institutiones
, contained the ius
of Classical Roman jurists and the Institutes
Gaius was a celebrated Roman jurist. Scholars know very little of his personal life. It is impossible to discover even his full name, Gaius or Caius being merely his personal name...
While the Theodosian Code may seem to lack a personal facet due to the absence of judicial reviews, upon further review the legal code can give us insight into Theodosius' motives behind the codification. Lenski quotes Matthews as noting that the "imperial constitutions represented not only prescriptive legal formulas but also descriptive pronouncements of an emperor’s moral and ideological principles." Apart from clearing up confusion and creating a single, simplified and supercedent code, Theodosius II was also attempting to solidify Christianity as the official religion of the Empire, begun under Constantine's rule. In his City of God
, St. Augustine praised Theodosius the Great, Theodosius II's father, who shared his faith and devotion to its establishment, as "a Christian ruler whose piety was expressed by the laws he had issued in favor of the Catholic Church."
Books 1-5 lack the level of manuscript support available for books 6-16. The first five books of the surviving Codex draw largely from two other manuscripts. The Turin manuscript, also known as "T," consists of 43, largely discontinuous folios. The second manuscript is a Breviarium
, and a good part of the Breviarium
that is included in book 1 actually contains the original text of the respective part of the original codex. The latter part of the Codex, books 6-16, drew largely from two texts as well. Books 6-8 of the Codex were preserved in the text of a document known as Parsinus
9643. The document circulated early medieval French libraries, as well as the other formative document for the latter part of the code, a document held in the Vatican (Vat. Reg. 886), also known as "V". Scholars consider this section to have been transmitted completely.
- Primary sources:
- Codex Theodosianus (Latin), ancientrome.ru.
- Codex Theodosianus (Latin) (only books 1-9), Ed. Mommsen, Meyer, & Krueger (Latin). Website upmf-grenoble.fr. A list of imperial laws of 311 until 431 contains summaries of many laws involving religion from the Theodosian code and other sources, in chronological order. Codex Theodosianus XI-7-13; XV-5-1, -12-1; XVI-1-2, -5-1, -5-3, -7-1, -10-4 (on Religion), English translation Oliver J. Thatcher e.a., 1907. Website fordham.edu.
- Secondary sources: