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Byzantine Law was essentially a continuation of Roman Law with Christian influence, however, this is not to doubt its later influence on the western practice of jurisprudence. Byzantine Law was effectively devolved into two spheres, Ecclesiastical Law and Secular Law.
Early Byzantine Period
Corpus Iuris Civilis
Soon after his accession in 518, Justinian appointed a commission to collect and codify existing Roman law. A second commission, headed by the jurist Tribonian, was appointed in 530 to select matter of permanent value from the works of the jurists, to edit it and to arrange it into 50 books. In 533 this commission produced the Digesta.
Although Law as practiced in Rome had grown up as a type of case law, this was not the "Roman Law" known to the Medieval, or modern world. Now Roman law claims to be based on abstract principles of justice that were made into actual rules of law by legislative authority of the emperor or the Roman people. These ideas were transmitted to the Middle Ages in the great codification of Roman law carried throughout by the emperor Justinian. The Corpus Iuris Civilis was issued in Latin in three parts: the Institutes, the Digest (Pandects), and the Code (Codex). Currently in the World there are just three widespread legal systems: the common law of the Anglo-American legal tradition, Sharia, and Roman law (in, for instance, most of Europe, Scotland, Quebec and Louisiana).
Middle Byzantine Period
Following Justinian's reign the Empire entered a period of decline partially enabling the Arab conquests which would further weaken the Empire. These developments contributed to a dramatic weakening of legal standards in the Empire and a substantial drop in the standards of legal scholarship. Legal practice would become much more pragmatic and, as knowledge of Latin in the Empire waned, direct use of Justinian's "Corpus Juris Civilis" would be abandoned in favor of summaries, commentaries, and new compilations written in Greek.
The changes in the internal life of the empire which occurred in the years following the publication of Justinian's code called for a review of the legislation, so as for the requirements of the times should be met. Within the framework of the reforms Leo III the Isaurian, (the first Isaurian emperor), introduced, he provided also for the modification of current laws. In 726 he issued the "Ecloga", that bore his name as well as the name of his son Constantine. "Ecloga", referring to both the civil and criminal law, constituted, as was declared in the title a "rectification (of the Justinian legislation) towards a more philanthropic version". The membership of the editing committee is not known, but its primary mission, however, was, on the one hand, to modify those dispositions not in step with the times and, on the other, to provide judges with a concise legal handbook to help them dispense justice properly.
The dispositions of "Ecloga", influenced by the Christian spirit, as well as by the common law, protected and supported the institution of marriage, increased the rights of wives and legal children, and introduced the equality of all citizens before the law. The penalties of amputation and blindness, not in step, of course, with the Christian character of the enactment, were introduced, most likely, due to the customs of the East, reflecting the Byzantine concept in this period of changes. By means of his "Ecloga" Leo addressed the judges also, inviting them "neither the poor to despise nor the ones unjust to let uncontrolled". Besides, in his effort to deter bribery in the execution of their duties he made their payment local and payable by the imperial treasury. "Ecloga" constituted the basic handbook of justice dispensation up to the days of the Macedonian emperors, that also assumed legislative activity, whereas later it influenced the ecclesiastic law of the Russian Orthodox Church. Formerly the researchers attributed the juridical collections "Farmer's Law", "Rhodian Sea Law" and "Military Laws" to Leo III the Isaurian. These views, however, are no longer valid.
The Farmer's Laws
With the exception of a few cities, and especially Constantinople, where other types of urban economic activities were also developed, Byzantine society remained at its heart agricultural. An important source regarding law, which reflects in a particularly characteristic way the internal life of the Byzantine villages during the Middle Byzantine Era (7th - end of 12th century) is the "Farmer's Law". Due to its importance, the "Farmer's Law" roused the interest of researchers from a very early stage. Ever since it has been one of the most discussed texts concerning the internal history of Byzantium.
It is a private collection, continuously enriched, and refers to specific cases relevant to rural property within the framework of the Byzantine rural "community". As evident by the dispositions of the "Law", peasants were organized in "communities" and collectivelly responsible for the payment of the total tax the "community" was liable for, being obliged to pay as well the amounts corresponding to indebted members of the community. As for the chronology of its writing, since the text itself bears no specific date, it is placed somewhere in between the second half of the 6th century and the middle of the 14th. Very early on, it was acknowledged as a legal handbook of great importance and greatly influenced much of the law of the Slavic countries and especially Serbia, Bulgaria, Russia and Romania.
The Sea Laws
Dating problems, similar to the ones of the "Farmer's Law", presents a code of equal character, the "Rhodian Sea Law" (Nomos Rhodion Nautikos). Written probably between 600 and 800, it is a collection of maritime law regulations divided into three parts. The first part refers to the ratification of the "Naval Law" by the Roman emperors. The second specifies the participation of the crew in maritime profits and the regulations valid on the ship, while the third and largest refers to maritime law, as for example to the apportionment of responsibility in case of theft or damage to the cargo or the ship. The "Naval Law" was included in the Basilika of Leo VI the Wise as a complement to book 53.
In accordance with the model of the secular legal associations, the canons of the ecclesiastic councils concerned ecclesiastic issues and regulated the conduct of the clergy, as well as of the secular as concerned matters of belief. The "In Trullo" or "Fifth-Sixth Council", known for its canons, was convened in the years of Justinian II (691-692) and occupied itself exclusively with matters of discipline. The aim of the synod was to cover the gaps left in canon law by the previous Fifth (553)and Sixth Ecumenical Councils.
This collection of canons was divided into four parts:
a) The canons ratifying the doctrinal decisions of the first six ecumenical councils along with the teachings of the Fathers of the Church.
b) The canons specifying the obligations of the ministrational clergy.
c) The canons referring to the monks.
d) The canons referring to the secular. The influence of these canons carried on in the future and they were extensively annotated by Balsamon, Zonaras and Aristenos, the three great ecclesiastic jurists of the 12th century.
Later Byzantine Law
- ^ Mousourakis, George. The Historical and Institutional Context of Roman Law. pp. 402–403. ISBN 0754621081. http://books.google.com/books?id=8qE1zFHyGXoC.
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