Justinian Digestum Vetus

Manuscript Vellum
Bologna, Biblioteca Universitaria (BUB)
MS. 4308
13th century
(Researched and Posted By Casandra Sullivan and Renata Tutko)




This 13th century document is written in Literae Bononeisis font;

The content, 36 quires (faccicolo), 8 sheets (folios) each, (for a total of 292 leafs, and 584 pages, with the last 4 leaves/8 pages at end of draft writings and blank white space) of bound parchment (vellum), contained within mixed-material (wood and leather) covers, measures at 42cm high, 5×26 width pages. It is heavy!
There is no watermark, no pricking.
The layout is centered text in the middle, surrounded by glossing. Filled with various spacing and hands.

Decoration information includes:
Innitial letters in red/rossa and blue/azure;
Small font decoration at beginnings of paragraphs etc.
No major pictures/images, though marginal/glossing-area images are present in various hands. Doodles, mostly, in addition to maniscula and underscoring of particular passages.
Chapter headings in rossa, and spreading as such into the entire first sentence.
The black and dark gray [main] contents are written in what appears to be [at least] two hands;
Glossing/commentary in an additional series of hands (quantity unknown, but definitely at least 5 distinct ones, plus doodles).


Brief Introductory Commentary
Historical Chronology:

This document’s content is incredibly historically significant, and universally accepted as the fundamental root of what modern civil law has become in the region. It is the basis of what became all of European law documentation models itself after, and is deeply rooted in the many centuries of attempts to centralize both rights and power of the citizen. It is also a document veiled in great mystery, as the history behind it has many gaps in records. This particular incarnation’s creator, Irnerius, is equally as complicated, from a historical standpoint; a scribe that took it upon himself to transmute information that was centuries old, and update it while preserving it, with no certitude as to how he obtained the documents/ materials with the basis of the knowledge herein; then, the various manifestations of this document have continued to crop up, etc., with no real explanation where variations came from, or who was behind the writing now captured and moved through history. Many questions remain unanswered about the Justinian Digestum and its documentational offspring, such as the Vetus of the 13th century.


A short chronology of legal documentation during the formative years of the content of this manuscript’s 13th-century incarnation, after resurrection by Irnerius transpired:

Corpus Juris Civilis, the collection and revision of legal texts drawn up by the order of the Emperor Justinian
529: Codex (first edition), a codification of laws (leges) promulgated by the emperors from Hadrian to that date

533: Istitutiones, a manual for teaching law in 4 books

533: Digestorumseu Pandectarumlibri L, or Digestum, a systematic collection of opinions and comments taken from the jurists’ works of the republican and imperial Roman ages, basically the iura of the Roman law

534: Codex repetitae praelectionis (second edition)

534-565: Novellae Constitutiones, Latin and Greek Justinian’s new constitutions


Timeline Summary:

5th century — Justinian released
5th – 11th century — disappeared
11th century — Irnerius wrote it; named it, (not this copy/manuscript, but of which this is a copy)
12th century — Accursus made the glosses
12th – 13th century — Other glosses on it, and these glossers wrote the manuscript.
There were other unknown glossers who wrote on this one, and wrote on doodles.

First, to begin with two images of this legal document from the 13th century, which is a revised version of the material originally gathered and recorded in the 6th century.
Immediately please note the structured layout of the content: central information in two columns in center; scribes’ glossings on the periphery.

Bologna, Biblioteca Universitaria (BUB), ms. 4308, 13th c., Digestum vetus with Accursius’ apparatus, l. 10v

ENGL607px(Image re-shared from Lorenza Iannacci’s powerpoint presentation on The Legal Book)

Note the general shape created here on the page; this format was “perfected” in the 13th century, as the proper layout for documents of its kind. Also, note the various ongoings — multiple hands, several examples of the scribes’ presence in the immediate periphery of the main text, commenting [in the marginalia]…. and so, the dialogue between text and subsequent generations of its readers is recorded here, as a prime example of live interaction with the content of the written law.

Bologna, Biblioteca Universitaria (BUB), ms. 4308, 13th c., Digestum vetus with Accursius’ apparatus, l. 105r

pic2(Image re-shared from Lorenza Iannacci’s powerpoint presentation on The Legal Book)


Significance, according to Literature Sources,  and our Subsequent Notes in Response–
(Commentary and insight on this manuscript from various sources (books and online resources) and our remarks to various topics on this document):

(1) Law and Religion in the Roman Republic
Editor:  Olga Tellegen Couperous

In the intro to this text:
“Roman law is generally regarded as basically differing from other legal systems in Antiquity in that it reached, at an early stage in its development, a very high level of securalisation.  However, as late at the first century B.C., the Romans were regarded (and regarded themselves) as the most religious people in the world”.  (page 1)

Our notes:
There is a belief that when inspecting this document, that we should see a connection between Roman law and religion…
As is the nature of such documents, let’s refer to it as a classic case of “separation of church and state”; the struggle to classify the document’s relevance as cannonical law or civic law.
Irnerius — when he worked to revive this information — made it possible that these [originally-Justinian]-based “laws” spread across all of Europe; however, they were originally bound to religiosity and religious beliefs. It is the nature of such a fundamental and central document such as this one to straddle the line and be historically significant in both arenas.

Also: “Legal experts, and these were no longer necessarily pontiffs, began to publish their responses, turning Roman law into a fixed set of concepts that for centuries to come could (and would) be applied to a large variety of legal problems.  The fact that this did not happen for sacred law does not mean that religion lost most or even some of its relevance to Roman law and society”. (page 8)

Our notes:
This is interesting because of the “responses” used by people corresponding with the texts, i.e. the glossers, or commentators on the manuscripts; it also connects with what we discussed in class about people responding via dialogue to the written word.  Additionally, it is good to keep in mind for future study if we see a connection between law and religion in the material context of the text, and how we can learn about their society through the content of the material.

(2) The Digest of Justinian, vol. 4, Chapter “Ownership of things”
By:  Alan Watson

Law 34:  “Ulpian, census, book 4:  For the inheritance sustains the personality of the deceased, not that of the heir, as has been established by many instances taken from the civil law”. (page 10)

Law  66:  “Venuleius, Interdicts, book 6:  If a pregnant woman be bequeathed or usucpated or alienated in some other manner and then gives birth, her issue will belong to her owner at the time of the birth, not to him who then owned her when she conceived.” (page 10)

(3) Justinian’s Digest
By:  Tony Honore

“This work aims to assess the character of Justinian’s Digest and to provide up-to-date info about its compilation.” (5-6)

“The emperor and his minister claim that the Digest was com
piled in three years from 530-533 A.D. by a commission that read and edited some 2,000 libri (chapters) composed by legal authorities many years previously”. (5-6)

“In my view Justinian’s Digest related in a similar way to the works of Ulpian.  Over 40 per cent of the Digest text are expressly attributed by inscription to Ulpian”. (5-6)

Our notes:
(for “a” through “c”): 
These quotes are significant because they provide a historical frame of reference for the initial origins of the text.  They also refer to Ulpian, whom we quoted earlier, establishing a law.

(4) A Summary of the Roman Civil Law
By Patrick Colquhoun

Number 64, (Page 67):  “The only sources of Roman Law known in the Middle Age were the Pandects (Digestum), the Codex, the Institutes, the old Latin text of the Novels (Authenticum) and Julian’s edition of the Novels (Novella):  the rest used in later ages were as good as unknown.”

Number 63, (Page 67):  “The Division of the Pandects into the Digestum Vestus, Digestum Novum,and the Infortiatum, belong to the 15th and 16th centuries.”

Number 63, (Page 68):  “In order to prevent incorrect editions getting into circulation, three Ultra, and three Citra montan scholars were chosen every year in the University of Bologna, and termed PECIARII, thee were excused from all other munera publica, and held their sessions once a week for the purpose of correcting imperfect copies in possession of circulating libraries…Books thus corrected were advertised by the Bedel.”

Number 64, (Page 68-69):  “It now only remains to add a few observations
on the forms in which the Digest or Pandects are quoted by the glossaters and civilians; and it must be premised that the words Digestum or Digesta is not a synonym of Pandectae: the former signifying an abstract of the opinions of lawyers upon certain points of law, while Pandectae, from (two Greek words), implies a compendium of the law; hence, we find this book variously quoted by the letter D.D. or (the pie sign) and ff, which the latter is supposed to be a corruption of the D with a stroke through the middle; why not a corruption of the Greek (pie sign)?”

Our notes:
We feel this quote to be significant because it discussed what we learned about the name of the Digestum and its evolution/creation of its sign.

Number 66, (Page 73):  “Besides this Distribution of the Digest into Fifty books, it was divided into seven parts, but the reason that induced the Emperor to make his division is not known…(some attribute it to the number being perfect).”

Number 69, (Page 75):  “The unhappy wars and incursions of the Goths into Italy and Greece, occasioned, as we have already seen, the utter loss of Justinian’s law; but it is only on its recovery at Amalfi, Innerius, by the authority of Lotharius II, A.D. 1130 restored the Digest, code, and Latin versions of the novels.”



stamp -- RTBologna, Biblioteca Universitaria (BUB), ms. 4308, 13th c., Digestum vetus with Accursius’ apparatus, l. 293r
Digestum Vetus — seal and logo stamp for archives in BUB.
This document had remarkably complex dating data. It was labeled at 1270 a.C. on the spine of the box it is stored in, which turned out to be an assumption by the third-party folks that stored it prior to turning it over to the BUB. The handwritten note on the inside front cover said “14th century”, which was trumped upon further inquiry with the BUB librarians. This document is known to be from the 13th century. I included this image of the stamp/seal, to show how complicated the process can be, despite fail-safes and systems of coding and recording this information.
The issues exemplified in this matter are a microcosmic glimpse at the overarching matters related to this text.
(Leaf number, recto/verso etc. information unavailable, as I took the photo before I knew how to properly cite the information (therefore did not gather it); it is, however, I believe on the last page (inside back cover) of the entire manuscript.)

RenataT -- many glossings communicatingBologna, Biblioteca Universitaria (BUB), ms. 4308, 13th c., Digestum vetus  l. [unknown] v.
The presence of many personalities interacting with this text in history.

closeup text RenataTBologna, Biblioteca Universitaria (BUB), ms. 4308, 13th c., Digestum vetus  l. [unknown]r
Close-up of the font and type of decorative writing.

The various handwritings of scribes and students etc. sharing this document; this is the final quire of the manuscript, all with drafts of handwriting.

The various handwritings of scribes and students etc. sharing this document over time; this is the final quire of the manuscript, all with rough drafts of handwriting and signature logos etc…  Bologna, Biblioteca Universitaria (BUB), ms. 4308, 13th c., Digestum vetus  l. 291v, 292r

Extensive evidence of the many hands this manuscript had met; personality and dialogue between students, scribes, etc. present in these types of marginal comments and glosses.

Extensive evidence of the many hands this manuscript had met; personality and dialogue are definitely present here, between students, scribes, etc. as evident in these types of marginal comments and glosses. Bologna, Biblioteca Universitaria (BUB), ms. 4308, 13th c. Digestum vetus l. [unknown]r 

Source Summary:

Document/Manuscript itself at BUB:
Bologna, Biblioteca Universitaria (BUB), ms. 4308, 13th c., Digestum Vetus

Slides/presentations/notes of Lorenza Iannacci, Maddalena Modesti, Flavia Manservigi

— (1) Law and Religion in the Roman Republic
Editor:  Olga Tellegen Couperous

— (2) The Digest of Justinian, vol. 4, Chapter “Ownership of things”
By:  Alan Watson

— (3) Justinian’s Digest
By:  Tony Honore

 (4) A Summary of the Roman Civil Law
By Patrick Colquhoun

— (5) The Corpus Iuris Civilis in the Middle Ages:
Manuscripts & Transmissions
Edited by Charles M. Radding, Antonio Ciarelli



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