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The Justice of Constantine

Law, Communication, and Control

John Dillon

Publication Year: 2012

As the first Christian emperor of Rome, Constantine the Great has long interested those studying the establishment of Christianity. But Constantine is also notable for his ability to control a sprawling empire and effect major changes. The Justice of Constantine examines Constantine's judicial and administrative legislation and his efforts to maintain control over the imperial bureaucracy, to guarantee the working of Roman justice, and to keep the will of his subjects throughout the Roman Empire. John Dillon first analyzes the record of Constantine's legislation and its relationship to prior legislation. His initial chapters also serve as an introduction to Roman law and administration in later antiquity. Dillon then considers Constantine's public edicts and internal communications about access to law, trials and procedure, corruption, and punishment for administrative abuses. How imperial officials relied on correspondence with Constantine to resolve legal questions is also considered. A study of Constantine's expedited appellate system, to ensure provincial justice, concludes the book. Constantine's constitutions reveal much about the Theodosian Code and the laws included in it. Constantine consistently seeks direct sources of reliable information in order to enforce his will. In official correspondence, meanwhile, Constantine strives to maintain control over his officials through punishment; trusted agents; and the cultivation of accountability, rivalry, and suspicion among them.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Law and Society in the Ancient World


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Front matter

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pp. vii-viii

The present book is the revision, largely accomplished in Heidelberg, Germany, of my doctoral dissertation, “The Legislation of Constantine the Great: Justice, Administration, and Reform,” which I submitted at Yale University in October 2008. I was blessed to call the Yale Department of Classics my academic home, ...


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pp. ix-x

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xi-xiii

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pp. 1-11

The present book treats several related subjects concerning the administration of the Roman Empire under Constantine the Great: the record of his legislation in the Codex Theodosianus; its formal characteristics and novel features; the transition from Diocletian to Constantine as reflected in imperial legislation; ...

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1. The Sources and the Codex Theodosianus

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pp. 12-34

Constantine was remembered as a prolific legislator even in antiquity, whether one celebrated or reviled him.1 A study of the legislation of Constantine presumes the survival of a substantial amount of that legislation some 1,700 years after the reign of its author. Much of the legal and administrative work of Constantine ...

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2. Formal Characteristics of the Legislation of Constantine

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pp. 35-59

The extant legislation of Constantine attests all of the forms that late antique legislation might take, including edicts, official letters, “orations” to the Senate, as well as private rescripts; but beyond offering excellent specimens for general acquaintance with the sources of law, the constitutions of Constantine also illustrate the means of their dissemination. ...

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3. Changes in Legislation from Diocletian to Constantine

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pp. 60-89

The figure of Constantine looms over the legal history of the Later Roman Empire no less than the religious. The reign of Diocletian marked the passing of an age, the reign of Constantine the birth of another. The reign of Constantine marked a rupture not with classical law, for most of it remained in force, ...

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4. The Propagation of Justice

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pp. 90-118

The universal edict was the natural vehicle to convey the pretensions of the Constantinian regime to the masses of the empire.1 Imperial edicts were heard with awe.2 These constitutions indeed suggest that just governance and the integrity of imperial officials ranked among the foremost ambitions of Emperor Constantine. ...

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5. Constantine and the Provincials

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pp. 119-155

An edict that survives in two fragments looms heavily over the following discussion. It ranks among the most vehement denunciations of judicial corruption produced by the Later Roman Empire.1 Among other things, this edict to the provincials famously forbids the exaction of fees for legal services. ...

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6. Constantine and the Imperial Bureaucracy

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pp. 156-191

The edicts to the provincials in September 325 and November 331 are a testament to the value perceived in communication under the reign of Constantine. By means of universal edicts, Constantine could inform both administrators and subjects of the law, of his expectations of the imperial bureaucracy, of available legal remedies, ...

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7. Control and Consultation: Breves, Relationes, Consultationes

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pp. 192-213

Several of the constitutions discussed in previous chapters illustrate evidence of a further means of controlling the administration, namely the traffic of reports. Official correspondence between provincial administrators, whether gubernatorial, fiscal, or military, and the imperial court was brisk. ...

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8. Appellatio

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pp. 214-250

Appellate jurisdiction may seem a surprising subject with which to conclude a book dedicated to the administration of Constantine the Great. The appellate system under Constantine,1 however, brings together the separate threads of this study. The provincial administration of the Roman Empire knew no independent judiciary. ...

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pp. 251-258

The Constantinian legislation on appeal, which culminated in the edict of August 331, ties together the separate threads and major themes of this book: the utilization of distinct forms of legislation to communicate with distinct audiences; the practice of addressing the inhabitants of the empire generally in universal edicts, ...

Works Cited

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pp. 259-276

Index Locorum

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pp. 277-284

General Index

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pp. 285-295

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028382
E-ISBN-10: 0472028383
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472118298
Print-ISBN-10: 0472118293

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Law and Society in the Ancient World
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OCLC Number: 808215636
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Justice of Constantine

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Roman law -- Sources.
  • Roman law -- History.
  • Roman law -- History -- Sources.
  • Constantine I, Emperor of Rome, d. 337.
  • Rome -- History -- Constantine I, the Great, 306-337.
  • Rome -- History -- Constantine I, the Great, 306-337 -- Sources.
  • Justice, Administration of (Roman law) -- History.
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