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Rediscovering the hidden structure. A new appreciation of Juristic texts and Patterns of thought in Late Antiquity

Final Report Summary - REDHIS (Rediscovering the hidden structure. A new appreciation of Juristic texts and Patterns of thought in Late Antiquity.)

REDHIS aimed to chart and understand the circulation and use of classical juristic writings and thought patterns during Late Antiquity. Its results have yielded a radically new appraisal of the enduring role of classical jurisprudence in Late Antiquity, showing the persistence of a learned legal culture in an era traditionally defined as one of decline. REDHIS has been conceived and managed as unitary multidisciplinary research, its approach defined by close readings and careful contextualisation of three distinct types of sources: (1) copies of classical Roman juristic writings and their Greek commentaries directly transmitted on papyri and parchments; (2) Late Antique texts that engage explicitly with classical juristic literature; and (3) Late Antique imperial laws, especially Justinian’s. The research has yielded significant results in each of these three areas.

(1) The systematic exploration of library holdings in Europe and the US has resulted in the identification of an unexpectedly high number of previously unknown or unpublished papyri and parchments with juristic content. Quantitatively, we have increased the number of such papyri and parchments by 50%; this evidence provides new grounds to the hypothesis that jurisprudential books circulated uninterruptedly in Late Antiquity. Qualitatively, we have identified fragments of writings of jurists hitherto not attested in the papyrological record (Callistratus’ De cognitionibus, Paulus’ Manualia, and Marcianus’ Institutiones), or copies of previously unattested fragments of Papinian’s Responsa and of two works of Ulpian. Moreover, as a by-product of the exploration of papyrological collections, witnesses have come to light of imperial constitutions, of the Theodosian Code, and a copy the Digest contemporaneous with the original, and which allowed us to reassess the early dissemination of Justinian’s compilation. Finally, autoptic examination of known juristic papyri, using high-tech devices, has improved readings of previous editions and developed our knowledge of Latin and Greek legal book-features: format, paratext (titles and rubrics), and marginal annotations by ancient readers.

(2) REDHIS has mapped all Late Antique texts, western and eastern, that made explicitly use of juristic classical works, studying how they were transmitted, read, recycled, and adapted for legal education and legal practice. We paid special attention to the multifaceted adaptation and cross-cultural reception of Gaius’ Institutiones (to which an entire book was devoted). All these studies are the foundation of a comprehensive volume on the transmission, reception and transformation of classical Roman juristic Literature in Late Antiquity.

(3) Based on the examination of an extensive corpus of imperial constitutions dealing with private law (4th to 6th cent.), REDHIS has shown that Late Antique legislators generously borrowed concepts and contents from classical jurisprudence, calling upon the concepts elaborated by classical jurists, even when jurists are not referred to explicitly in the text. Even when enacting legislative reforms, emperors articulated novelties within a framework largely based on previous legal thinking; therefore, all Late Antique emperors maintained a strong, uninterrupted link with classical juristic literature. Therefore, Justinian’s desire to resolve debates that were inherent in the works of classical jurists does not point to a late revival of jurisprudence (which, in fact, had never disappeared from courts and legal education); it rather indicates another stage in its reuse, based on the goals of a compilation that carried legal force. REDHIS extended the examination of imperial constitutions to their rhetorical structures, showing that features of Late Antique legislation traditionally ascribed to a decay of the legal language and reasoning in fact responded to well-mastered communicative goals.

The three axes of research brought converging results. They showed that, throughout Late Antiquity, the works of classical jurists (mostly of the Severan dynasty) continued to be copied and read, becoming canonical for legal education and practice, as well as in the legislative activity of emperors. The works of classical jurists are therefore shown to be the hidden structure of the juridical culture of Late Antiquity. REDHIS brought to the scientific community more refined and nuanced perspectives on law in Late Antiquity, increased the number of available documents and bettered their comprehension, while opening new research avenues centred on the documents themselves.