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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Iconoclastic epoch (717-867)

The internal activities of the emperors of the Isaurian dynasty 


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The contents of the Ecloga, subdivided into eighteen titles, deal mainly with civil law, and only to a slight extent with criminal law. They treat of marriage, betrothal, dowry, testaments, and intestacies, of wardship, enfranchisement of slaves, witnesses, various liabilities connected with sale, purchase, rent, etc. Only one title contains a chapter of criminal law on punishments.

The Ecloga differed in many respects from the Justinian Code, and even contradicted it at times by accepting the decisions of customary law and judicial practices which existed parallel with the official legislative works of Justinian. When compared with the latter, the Ecloga represents a considerable step forward in many respects. For instance, its marriage laws included the introduction of higher Christian conceptions. True, the chapter on penalties abounds in punishments which prescribe the maiming of the body, such as cutting off a hand, tongue, or nose, or blinding the convict. But this fact does not permit one to consider the Ecloga a barbarian law, because in most cases these punishments were intended to take the place of the penalty of death. In this sense the Isaurian emperors were right in claiming that their legal accomplishments were greater in their humanity than the work of the preceding emperors. Also the Ecloga prescribed equal punishment to the distinguished and the common, to the rich and the poor, while the Justinian law frequently prescribed different penalties without any real basis for the discrimination.

The Ecloga is distinguished by an abundance of references to the Scriptures for confirmation of different juridical principles. The spirit of Roman Law became transformed in the religious atmosphere of Christianity. Throughout the eighth and ninth centuries, until the time of the accession of the Macedonian dynasty (867), the Ecloga served as a manual for the teaching of law, taking the place of Justinian's Institutes, and it was more than once subjected to revision; for instance, there was the Private Ecloga (Ecloga privata) and the Private Enlarged Ecloga (Ecloga privata aucta). When, after the accession of Basil the Macedonian, a change took place in favor of Justinian law, the legislative deeds of the Isaurian emperors were officially declared to be nonsense (literally silly talk), which contradicted divine dogma and destroyed salutary laws. Still, even the emperors of the Macedonian dynasty borrowed many chapters from the condemned lawbook for their own legislative works, and even in their times the Ecloga was again revised.

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