Although the compilation of Justinian's code was greatly aided by the older codes, the attempt to revise the jus vetus was an original undertaking of the Emperor. In the year 530 Tribonian was instructed to gather a commission which would revise the works of all the classical jurists, make excerpts from them, reject all obsolete materials, eliminate all contradictions, and, finally, arrange all the materials collected in some definite order. For the purpose of doing this the commission had to read and study about two thousand books, containing over three million lines. This enormous work, which in Justinian's own words, before his command none ever expected or deemed to be at all possible for human endeavor and which freed all jus vetus of superfluous redundance, was completed in three years. The new code, published in the year 533, was subdivided into fifty books and was called the Digest (Digestum), or the Pandects (Pandectae), It found immediate application in the legal practices of the Empire.
Though this Digest of Justinian is of very great importance, the haste with which it was compiled necessarily caused the work to be defective in certain respects. It contained many repetitions, contradictions, and some quite obsolete decisions. In addition to this, the full power given to the commission in the matter of abbreviating texts, interpreting them, and combining several texts into one, produced a certain arbitrariness in the final results, which sometimes even mutilated the ancient texts. There was a decided lack of unity in this work. This fault is responsible for the fact that the learned jurists of the nineteenth century, who had high regard for Roman classical law, judged Justinian's Digest very harshly. Still, the Digest, in spite of all its shortcomings, was of great practical value. It also preserved for posterity a wealth of material extracted from the classical Roman juridical writings which have not been preserved.
A History of the Byzantine Empire - Table of Contents
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