Corpus Juris Civilis

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Corpus Juris Civilis

(kôr`pəs jo͝o`rĭs sĭvī`lĭs), most comprehensive code of Roman lawRoman law,
the legal system of Rome from the supposed founding of the city in 753 B.C. to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in A.D. 1453; it was later adopted as the basis of modern civil law.
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 and the basic document of all modern civil lawcivil law,
as used in this article, a modern legal system based upon Roman law, as distinguished from common law. Civil law is based on written legal codes, a hallmark of the Roman legal system, in which disputes were settled by reference to a written legal code arrived at
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. Compiled by order of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, the first three parts appeared between 529 and 535 and were the work of a commission of 17 jurists presided over by the eminent jurist Tribonian. The Corpus Juris was an attempt to systematize Roman law, to reduce it to order after over 1,000 years of development. The resulting work was more comprehensive, systematic, and thorough than any previous work of that nature, including the Theodosian CodeTheodosian Code
, Latin Codex Theodosianus, Roman legal code, issued in 438 by Theodosius II, emperor of the East. It was at once adopted by Valentinian III, emperor of the West.
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. The four parts of the Corpus Juris are the Institutes, a general introduction to the work and a general survey of the whole field of Roman law; the Digest or Pandects, by far the most important part, intended for practitioners and judges and containing the law in concrete form plus selections from 39 noted classical jurists such as Gaius, Paulus, Ulpian, Modestinus, and Papinian; the Codex or Code, a collection of imperial legislation since the time of Hadrian; and the Novels or Novellae, compilations of later imperial legislation issued between 535 and 565 but never officially collected. Because it was published in numerous editions, copies of this written body of Roman law survived the collapse of the Roman empire and avoided the fate of earlier legal texts—notably those of the great Roman jurist Gaius. With the revival of interest in Roman law (especially at Bologna) in the 11th cent., the Corpus Juris was studied and commented on exhaustively by such scholars as IrneriusIrnerius
, c.1055–c.1130, Italian jurist and founder of the law school (c.1088) at Bologna, which became the center of legal scholarship in Europe. Though little is known of his early life, it is generally agreed that he became a professor of rhetoric and dialectic at an
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. Jurists and scholars trained in this Roman law played a leading role in the creation of national legal systems throughout Europe, and the Corpus Juris Civilis thus became the ultimate model and inspiration for the legal system of virtually every continental European nation. The name Corpus Juris Civilis was first applied to the collection by the 16th-century jurist Denys Godefroi.


See H. F. Jolowicz, Historical Introduction to the Study of Roman Law (2d ed. 1952) and Roman Foundations of Modern Law (1957); A. T. Von Mehren, The Civil Law System (1957).

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