Ancient Roman Law Code Rediscovered

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Fragments of parchment bearing part of an ancient Roman law code have been discovered by researchers at the Department of History at University College London. Dr Simon Corcoran and Dr Benet Salway were approached by a private collector who had purchased the 17 fragments of parchment believing them to be biblical texts in Greek. Corcoran and Salway recognised that the texts came from a Latin legal work similar to the 6th-century AD Justinian code, but considerably more detailed.

They now believe that the parchments come from a copy of the Codex Gregorianus, a work of reference published around AD 300 recording the legal pronouncements of Roman emperors from Hadrian (AD 117-138) to Diocletian (AD 284-305).

This particular copy has been dated to around AD 400 on the basis of the calligraphic style. The surviving fragments come from a chapter on appeal procedures and the statute of limitations on an as yet unidentified matter. Some of the content overlaps with Codex Gregorianus quotations found in other documents, but the fragments also contain new material.

The fragments came from the binding of another manuscript that originated in Constantinople (modern Istanbul), the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. A common fate of ancient manuscripts in the 15th or 16th centuries was to be cut up and be reused as binding material.

This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 40. Click here to subscribe

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