Cracking the codex: Long lost Roman legal document discovered

Dr Simon Corcoran and Dr Benet Salway of the history department at University College London have found fragments of an important Roman law code that previously had been thought lost forever.



It’s believed to be the only original evidence yet discovered of the Gregorian Codex – a collection of constitutions upon which a substantial part of most modern European civil law systems are built.



They made their remarkable find by painstakingly linking 17 pieces of seemingly incomprehensible parchment. Together they form, according to Dr Salway, “a page or pages from a late antique codex book – rather than a scroll or a lawyer’s loose-leaf notes,” judging by the number of abbreviations within characteristic of legal texts, and the presence of writing on both sides of the fragments.



Thought to originate from Constantinople (modern Istanbul) the page or pages bear “the text of a Latin work in a clear calligraphic script, perhaps dating as far back as AD 400,” Salway added.



Code breakers



The Gregorian Codex – or the Codex Gregorianus – was compiled during the reigns of a string of Roman emperors, from Hadrian (117-138 AD) to Diocletian (284-305 AD). It was thought to have been published around 300 AD, but little is known about its original format and composition. The identity of its author – a man by the name of Gregorius (or Gregorianus) – is very shady, and no surviving copies have been found. Until now, that is.



“These fragments are the first direct evidence of the original version of the Gregorian Code,” said Dr Corcoran. “Our preliminary study confirms that it was the pioneer of a long tradition that has extended down into the modern era and it is ultimately from the title of this work, and its companion volume the Codex Hermogenianus, that we use the term ‘code’ in the sense of ‘legal rulings’.”



Signs of “Intensive Use”



The fragments found by Corcoran and Salway contain sections where Roman emperors have replied to legal questions raised by members of the public. The pages have evidently been reviewed quite heavily, because various scribblings in have been added by readers around the main text. “The responses are arranged chronologically and grouped into thematic chapters under highlighted headings, with corrections and readers’ annotations between the lines,” commented Dr Salway. “The notes show that this particular copy received intensive use.”



There are passages within the script that are consistent with quotations of the code in other documents. Additionally, there are sections of new material never before seen in modern times that should make for fascinating and highly illuminating study.



Dr Corcoran and Dr Salway’s finds were made as part of Project Volterra – a ten year study of Roman law in its full social, legal and political context, funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council. It’s hoped that further examination of these Gregorian Codex fragments will yield some revealing insights into the late period Roman legal system.

The Ancient World in London

Shooting Hadrian's Wall - Photography Tips From Derry Brabbs

Top 10 Roman Emperors in the Movies

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Production Administrator

    £17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading and fastest ...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sunroom / Conservatory / Extension Designers

    £16000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Planning Assistant

    £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working for one of the count...

    Recruitment Genius: Purchase Ledger Administrator

    £5120 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working for one of the countr...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence