The Codex of Justinian. A New Annotated Translation, with Parallel Latin and Greek Text. Volume 1: Introductory Matter and Books I–III. Volume 2: Books IV–VII. Volume 3: Books VIII–XII ed. by Bruce W. Frier et al.
Justinian's lawyers took less than seven years (from February 13, 528 to November 16, 534) to produce a first version of the Codex, the Digest, the Institutes, and a second version of the Codex. This second Codex, authoritatively reconstructed from various sources both Greek and Latin by Paul Krüger in the nineteenth century, has now received an equally authoritative translation in this massive trio of volumes produced by ten respected scholars of Roman law led by Bruce Frier. And although the creation of Frier's Codex was fast (less than ten years), its origins go back to 1919, when Justice Fred H. Blume of the Wyoming Supreme Court undertook the massive task of translating this complex and difficult text. He did so, with care and accuracy; but his translation was left in manuscript at his death in 1971. It was rediscovered in the library of the University of Wyoming Law School, made available to Frier and his colleagues, and, somewhat revised, provides the basis for the present edition.
In Frier's edition, the translation itself (with laconic but very helpful annotation) appears on the right-hand page, facing the Latin and Greek text taken from Krüger's ninth edition of 1914; the text has not been modified, but a telegraphic apparatus identifies nearly 200 places where the translation has followed a different reading. The annotation also discusses in some detail problems of dating individual fragments. The text and translation are preceded by a full list of the titles, with translation; an introduction to Justice Blume's work by Timothy Kearley; one on the revision of Blume's translation by Frier; and a superb account of the Codex and its history by Simon Corcoran. At the end there is an excellent glossary of Roman law terms and (from Krüger, but with addenda) a chronological list of the constitutions included in the Codex. The whole is printed in a clear [End Page 154] and readable font (both Latin and Greek), and in what I have read (a sampling of titles from all twelve books) I have found very few mistakes.
The Codex is, at least for the nonspecialist, the most difficult and remote of legal texts. While the Digest contains fragments of jurists going back to the late Republic and extending to the early third century, the Codex consists entirely of legal statements emanating from the emperors themselves, the vast majority from the reigns of Diocletian and later, with many by Justinian (or Tribonian) himself. Organized into a dozen books, with fragments arranged in strict chronological order within each title, the Codex feels far more fragmented and abrupt than comparable titles of the Digest. The latter are often structured within and around Ulpian's commentary on the Edict, and at least sometimes they form a single (if mosaic-like) discussion of a particular topic; the Codex subordinates logic to chronology. Some titles go on for great distances, including a range of related topics, but following chronology in jumping back and forth from one to another. It is not an easy book to read.
The translation itself is impressive; the technical terminology of law is very carefully translated, and where literalism is impossible, the Latin phrase is repeated in parentheses within the translation for clarity; technical passages are often annotated, and the glossary at the end generally supplies explanations when the annotations do not. There are passages that still stumped me in either language: parts of the law code (any law code) only make sense to those who already understand it. The less technical parts of the text are also translated fairly literally, matching the flowery language of legal draftsmanship with equally bizarre English. The imperial "We" is always capitalized; ornamental epithets and euphemisms for death, sex, or other vulgar concepts are preserved faithfully. Thus Justinian within a single paragraph (126.96.36.199) refers to the late Proculus as excelsae memoriae and magnificae memoriae; the untimely death of the bureaucrat is si . . . ab hac luce fuerit subtractus (12.19.11). In warning against trying to abandon a prosecution for adultery without the governor's permission, Valerian and Gallienus apostrophize the slacker (9.9.16): Ceterum erras tu, marite, existimans . . . Another fragment in the same title (rightly described in the note as "very obscure") about passive homosexuality goes off into periphrastic lyricism about sexual relationships (9.9.30): . . . ubi sexus perdidit locum, ubi scelus est id quod non proficit scire, ubi Venus mutatur in alteram formam, ubi Amor quaeritur nec videtur. . . . Here "sexual passion" as a translation of Venus (who lurks in a parenthesis) is less poetic; but in general the reader is always made aware of the striking style of much late-antique legal writing.
Romanists and historians know the importance of the Codex and thus of this translation: it is the last portion of the Justinianic legal code to receive a scholarly translation into English, and the annotation and glossary make it accessible to a wider audience. But although some familiarity with law makes it much easier to read the Codex, it, like the Digest, holds great pleasures for the nonspecialist reader. The style, as noted above, is remarkable and vivid; the vocabulary and syntax are distinctive, and not just in technical legal matters: any student of later Latin needs at least to dip into this text. And to read through some of the longer titles is eminently worthwhile. The elaborate and careful discussion of the reliability of documents in 4.21 is illuminating on problems of evidence, and the problem of forgery; it is far more detailed than the short title on the subject in Digest 22.4. To read the titles on the relationships between freedmen and their patrons (6.3–7) and on claims of free status (De liberali causa, 7.16) [End Page 155] is a painful reminder of the pressures placed on ex-slaves and their families and of the rapacity of their patrons and would-be patrons. So too the plight of decurions unable to escape their burdens (10.32); of bound tenants and coloni (11.48); of ambitious clerks striving for seniority, salary, bribes, and exemptions from onerous services (12.19). There is no text like this for revealing the greed, ambition, pressures, and suffering of everyday life in late antiquity. It is much better than fiction.
The late Ernst Badian once told me that any student of Roman literature needs to know something about Roman law; he was right, and I have been grateful for that advice ever since. But until recently (and still in Europe), Roman law has been the property of law schools rather than Latinists. (Perhaps that explains the extraordinary price for these volumes. Who but a lawyer could afford them?) That in the United States it has begun to move to departments of classics or history is a good thing both for the subject and for students of the classical world: it is a major part of Roman culture, and a major body of texts. Nobody has done more in recent times to make Latin and law mutually intelligible than Bruce Frier, and this superb Codex is another step in that direction. Thank you, Justice Blume. Thank you, Bruce and your fellow editors. You do justice to the Codex.