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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Justinian the Great and his successors (518-610)

The legislative work of Justinian and Tribonian 


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All this explains the acute need for a single collection of imperial edicts accessible to those who had to use it. Much had been done in this direction before Justinian. In his own legislative work he was greatly aided by the earlier Codex Gregorianus, Codex Hermogenianus, and Codex Theodosianus. In order to facilitate the use of classical literature (the jus vetus), a decree was issued during the reign of Theodosius II and his western contemporary, Valentinian III, which granted paramount authority only to the works of the five most famous jurists. The remaining juridical writers could be disregarded. Of course, this was only a formal solution of the problem, especially since in the works of the five chosen jurists it was not at all easy to find suitable decisions for a given case, because the jurists often contradicted one another and also because the decisions of the classical jurists were often too much out of date to be practical for the changed living conditions. Official revision of the entire legal system and a summing up of its development through many centuries was greatly needed.

The earlier codes contained only the imperial constitutions issued during a certain period and did not touch upon juridical literature. Justinian undertook the enormous task of compiling a code of imperial constitutions up to his own time as well as revising the old juridical writings. His main assistant in this task and the soul of the entire undertaking was Tribonian.

The work progressed with astonishing rapidity. In February, 528, the Emperor gathered a commission of ten experts, including Tribonian, the Emperor's right hand in his great legal enterprise, and perhaps partly their inspirer, and Theophilus, professor of law at Constantinople. The problem of the commission was to revise the three older codes, to eliminate from them all the obsolete material, and to systematize the constitutions which had appeared since the publication of the Theodosian code. The results of all these labors were to be gathered in one collection. As early as April, 529, the Justinian code (Codex Justinianus) was published. It was divided into ten books, containing the constitutions from the reign of the Emperor Hadrian to the time of Justinian; it became the sole authoritative code of laws in the Empire, thus repealing the three older codes.

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