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GW Law Library
Research Guides

Roman Law Research

Emperor Justinian and the Corpus Juris Civilis

By the reign of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I (ruled 527-565 CE), the Roman Empire was politically and culturally divided into the Western Empire and the Eastern, or Byzantine, Empire. The Western Empire had collapsed fifty years before Justinian came to power, but during his reign, the emperor waged a successful campaign to reconquer some of the Western territories that had been lost to Germanic invaders, such as Italy and parts of Spain. Like other Roman emperors before him, Justinian faced the challenge of maintaining control and creating a sense of unity within the Empire.

One of the ways that Justinian sought this unity was through law. Roman citizenship had been extended to the empire outside of Italy in the third century CE, making inhabitants "citizens of Rome" and subject to its civil law. Justinian formed a commission of jurists to compile all existing Roman law into one body, which would serve to convey the historical tradition, culture, and language of Roman law throughout the empire.  This compilation, known collectively as the Corpus Juris Civilis, consisted of three different original parts: the Digest (Digesta), the Code (Codex), and the Institutes (Institutiones). The Digest (533 CE) collected and summarized all of the classical jurists' writings on law and justice. The Code (534 CE) outlined the actual laws of the empire, citing imperial constitutions, legislation and pronouncements. The Institutes (535 CE) were a smaller work that summarized the Digest, intended as a textbook for students of law. A fourth work, the Novella (Novellae) was not a part of Justinian's original project, but was created separately by legal scholars in 556 CE to update the Code with new laws created after 534 CE and summarize Justinian's own constitution.

View a Timeline of Roman Law.

Corpus Juris Civilis- English Translations

Corpus Juris Civilis - Online and in Print

Other editions in the library print collection

While the selections of Corpus Juris Civilis above are available both electronically and in print in the library's collection, a variety of other editions are only available in the library's print collection.  To view what is available, use the Catalog Search Box below to do either a JACOB (GW Law Library catalog) or WRLC (Washington Regional Library Consortium catalog). Search for the call number: KJA1062.2.