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Lives behind the Laws

The World of the Codex Hermogenianus

Serena Connolly

Publication Year: 2010

In this exploration of the administration of law and its role in the lives of ordinary people in the northern provinces of the Roman Empire, Serena Connolly draws upon a rich but little-known legal collection from the late 3rd century known as the Codex Hermogenianus. The codex is composed of imperial responses to petitions sent to Rome, written by a team of the emperor's legal experts. These petitions and responses provide a wealth of information about provincial legal administration and the lives of the non-elite petitioners. The man who prostituted his wife, the mother whose malicious son undersold her farm, and the slaves who posed as free men to get a loan are just a few of the lives to encounter. Lives behind the Laws makes a valuable contribution to Roman social, political, and legal history.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title page, Copyright page

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii-viii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xviii

To ordinary Romans, the emperor must have seemed an enigmatic figure. On the one hand, he was everywhere: his face was on coins, his statue watched over his subjects in basilicas, and his name appeared on laws posted across the empire. Yet their opportunities for contact with the emperor were scarce. ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xix-xxvi

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pp. 1-15

From the Code of Hammurabi, dating to around 1780 bc, which contains a provision binding the ruler to provide protection and justice to the weak, to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution of ad 1791, granting (or, in Cushing’s opinion, confirming to) Americans the right to petition their government for redress of grievances, protecting the weak and responding...

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1. Seeking Justice in the Roman World

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pp. 16-38

Petition and response has been a feature of systems of justice in the West and Near East for thousands of years, indicating that it has fulfilled the needs of non-elites in search of justice. The Romans used it for understandable reasons. Their legal system was a complex mass of laws, procedures, and offices, so an individual with a legal problem stood little chance of taking...

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2. The Rescript System

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pp. 39-62

ὰ  e predecessor to the Codex Hermogenianus (CH) was the Codex Gregorianus (CG), the earliest known official collection of rescripts, which comprised texts illustrating various points of law from both halves of the empire that dated from ad 196 to 291 and was organized by title.1ὰ   e CH, named after Hermogenian, magister a libellis to Diocletian...

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3. The Rescript System in Context

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pp. 63-97

ὰ  e area that is the source of the rescripts comprised the provinces of Pannonia Inferior, Moesia Superior and Inferior,  ὰraci a, and finally Bithynia and Pontus.1 To the west was Greece, long part of the empire; to the north was a frequently breached frontier dotted with garrisons; to the south was the eastern Mediterranean; to the east was the eastern Mediterranean...

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4. Using the System

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pp. 98-136

As Diocletian arrived at Philippopolis, one of the petitioners waiting to hand in a petition was Sisola. She had lent a man a single cow, which met its end as a result of a hostile incursion. This was the answer she received from Hermogenian and his fellow officials:...

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5. The Emperor and His Petitioners

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pp. 137-158

In chapter 2, I claimed that Diocletian did not answer his subjects’ petitions himself; in this chapter I want to suggest that he employed highly skilled officials to carry out the task, not simply to save him time and trouble but also to bolster his self-presentation. Literary and art-historical evidence, as well as the surviving rescripts of ad 293–294, suggest that the system of petition and response benefited emperors as well as their subjects. ...

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pp. 159-166

Ancient systems of petition and response existed around the Mediterranean with little variation for several thousand years, and that of the Roman Empire even survived its political demise. There were, I believe, several reasons for the Roman system’s longevity. First, the system was not created ex nihilo, but rather was based on traditional practices...

Appendix 1. The Skaptopara Inscription

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pp. 167-173

Appendix 2. Catalog of Extant Entries from the Codex Hermogenianus

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pp. 175-204


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pp. 207-244


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pp. 245-259


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pp. 261-270

E-ISBN-13: 9780253004123
E-ISBN-10: 0253004128
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253354013

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 1 map
Publication Year: 2010