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The Groningen School of Byzantine Law

The so-called Groningen school of Byzantine Law was founded by H.J. Scheltema (1906-1981). In 1945, after his appointment as Professor of Roman Law, he commenced the critical edition of by far the most extensive work on Greek-Roman Law: the Basilica cum scholiis. The text of the Basilica, divided into sixty books, is the Greek version of the mainly Latin Corpus Iuris Civilis, issued in the sixth century by the Emperor Justinian: the Basilica text and scholia together, are our richest source of knowledge of Byzantine law. Assisted by his two life-long collaborators D. Holwerda (1920-2011) and N. van der Wal (1925-2015), Scheltema completed the draft version of his magnum opus exactly two weeks before his sudden death in 1981.
It took seven more years to publish the final three volumes of the gigantic project which comprised seventeen volumes in total. In 1988, the last volume saw the light of day. To mark this occasion a symposium was held, attended by representatives of the two centres for the study of Byzantine Law with which Groningen University had an official agreement of cooperation: the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main, and the University of Athens. The proceedings of this symposium can be found in Subseciva Groningana (III) 1989 . An interview about Scheltema and his Basilica edition can be found here (in Dutch).

International collaboration

The study of Byzantine Law has always benefitted from international collaboration. In 1990, the partnership agreement with the Max-Planck-Institut led to a critical edition of four Byzantine legal lexicons: Fontes minores VIII. Lexica Iuridica Byzantina, by B.H. Stolte and R. Meijering from Groningen, and L. Burgmann and M.Th. Fögen from Frankfurt.
In 2011, J.H.A. Lokin and B.H. Stolte were invited by the Centro di studi e richerche sui Diritti Antichi (Cedant) to organize a two-week seminar in Pavia for an international audience of junior researchers. The results can be found in: J.H.A. Lokin / B.H. Stolte, Introduzione al diritto bizantino. Da Giustiniano ai Basilici (2011). In 2005, Professor Lokin was rewarded the first H.J. Scheltema-chair of Byzantine Law. In 2010, when he took formal leave of the chair, Prof. Lokin was given the opportunity to offer a temporary professorship to someone of his choice. In token of the great importance of international collaboration, Lokin decided upon Giuseppe Falcone, currently Professor of Roman Law at Palermo University. For two years Prof. Falcone held the Scheltema-chair. The results of the two-year cooperation between Groningen and Palermo have been presented at a symposium in June 2014 and have been published in the Subseciva Groningana . Members of the Groningen research team have also cooperated with scholars from the Universidad de Valladolid and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain.

In 2016, a round-table on Byzantine Law was organized by the Groningen Department of Legal History for the 23rd International Congress of Byzantine Studies which took place in Belgrade, Serbia. In 2017, F. Brandsma and D. Penna were invited to teach a course on the Basilica for the Master’s programme of the Department of Legal History of the Law Faculty of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece).

Since 2019, there is a close collaboration with the Department of Byzantine History of the Sorbonne University, which has led to teaching seminars on Byzantine law to students in Sorbonne, as well as training and supervising Master and PhD students of Sorbonne University. In 2020-2021, the Legal History Department of Groningen and the Department of Byzantine History of Sorbonne University worked together on the project ‘Using Byzantine legal sources in the Humanities’ which was part of the Van Gogh programme of Nuffic , the Dutch organisation for internalisation in education. As a result of this collaboration an online masterclass was taught about the Basilica text and scholia by F. Brandsma and D. Penna and a joint workshop on Byzantine law was held in Paris with members of both departments including Th.E van Bochove.

In May 2022, the Groningen Legal History Department organized an international Symposium on Byzantine Law, together with the Netherlands Institute in Athens on the occasion of the donation of Prof. Sp. Troianos’ Byzantine book collection to the Netherlands Institute at Athens. The reason for this donation has to do with Groningen and the research being done in the Legal History Department of the University of Groningen in the field of Byzantine Law. Sp. Troianos, Emeritus Professor of Legal History at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Faculty of Law and one of the foremost researchers of Byzantine law noted in that symposium: 'The Dutch Professor Herman Jan Scheltema, (Professor of Roman law and its history at the University of Groningen, 1945 – 1977) has made an impressive and comprehensive contribution to Byzantine studies and to the development and research of Byzantine legal studies, in particular that research is being continued in a meticulous manner by the Legal History section at the University of Groningen. Groningen is the only place outside Greece where Byzantine law is not only studied but also taught. It is also the only place where young researchers can delve into Byzantine law. To honour the research that has been done in Groningen all these years, I have decided to donate my Byzantine book collection to the Netherlands Institute in Athens.'

In August 2022, during the 24th International Congress of Byzantine Studies in Venice and Padua, our department organized an interdisciplinary round-table on Byzantine law.

Because of their expertise in Byzantine law, members of the Groningen Department of Legal History are frequently asked to lecture on Byzantine law and contribute in international scientific meetings. In the last five years (2018-2022) the following Universities and Institutions have invited members of the Groningen Byzantine law research team to give seminars and lectures on Byzantine law: University of Oxford, Sorbonne University, Johannes Gutenberg - Universität Mainz, University of Edinburgh, Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Institut für Mittelalterforschung - Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Aristotle University Thessaloniki, National and Kapodistrian University Athens, University of Cambridge, Università degli Studi di Cagliari.

For details, please visit the University Profile Pages (MePa) of Th.E. van Bochove, F. Brandsma and D. Penna.


In the Groningen research programme on Byzantine law, the period of Justinian (527-565) has always occupied a central position. Moreover, it has been strongly influenced by the results that have sprung from the Groningen Basilica edition and by the desiderata that came to light in the course of that project. Holwerda was awarded a chair in Greek language and literature: apart from his work on the scholia to the Basilica, he published an impressive series of volumes containing scholia pertaining to the comedies of Aristophanes. The legal scholar Van der Wal became Professor of Roman Law: in 1964, he published an authoritative work on the Novels of Justinian, the Manuale Novellarum Justiniani (second edition 1998). In the meantime, a second generation of specialists grew up: Scheltema’s successor J.H.A. Lokin, B.H. Stolte and R. Meijering. In 1994, Van der Wal and Stolte published a critical edition of a work containing the rulings of Justinian on Byzantine canon law: Collectio Tripartita. Justinian on Religious and Ecclesiastical Affairs. In close collaboration with Lokin, Van der Wal wrote a short history of the sources of Byzantine law: Historiae iuris graeco-romani delineatio (1985). In 2004, the four scholars jointly published the Opera Minora of Scheltema as a tribute.

As the Basilica and their scholia consist of texts taken from the sixth-century Law schools for the main part, it was an obvious decision to concentrate research on Justinian’s professors of law, the antecessores: in the sixth century, they taught law at the Faculties of Beirut and Constantinople. Four of the antecessores have received special attention: Theophilus, Dorotheus, Anatolius and Stephanus. In his inaugural lecture in 1978, Lokin announced his intention to prepare a new critical edition of Theophilus’ famous Greek Paraphrase of the Institutes of Justinian. In his valedictory lecture in 2010, he announced the completion of Theophili Antecessoris Paraphrasis Institutionum, which was made possible with the help of Van der Wal, Stolte and Meijering who took the lion’s share of the work.

In 1999, Meijering and Lokin published a new critical edition of the Codex fragments of Anatholius which are preserved in two separate manuscripts: Anatolius and the Excerpta Laurentiana et Vaticana. Roos Meijering provided the fragments with an extensive philological commentary. Two further monographs dealing with antecessores were written by scholars of the third generation: F. Brandsma (currently Lokin’s successor as Professor of Roman Law at the University of Groningen) defended a thesis on Dorotheus, which was published in 1996 under the title Dorotheus and his Digest Translation; and in 2008, Hylkje de Jong published her thesis on Stephanus: Stephanus en zijn Digestenonderwijs.

Two other members of the Groningen research team are covering Byzantine Law mainly after the days of Justinian. T.E. van Bochove wrote a thesis entitled: To Date and Not To Date. On the Date and the Status of Byzantine Law Books (1996). A Greek translation of this monograph appeared in 2007. In the year 2012, D. Penna defended and published her thesis on the relation between Byzantium and the Italian city-states: The Byzantine Imperial Acts to Venice, Pisa and Genoa, 10th to 12th Centuries, A Comparative Legal Study.

From 2019-2021, a two-year, post-doc research was conducted at the Groningen Legal History Department by M. Tantalos funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung for the project ‘Forms of personal security (guarantee) in the Basilica cum scholiis: a contribution to the legal and economic history of Byzantium’, supervised by the Groningen research team of Byzantine law.

Current research concentrates on the genesis and study of the Basilica cum scholiis, an inexhaustible source of knowledge for the history of the Eastern and Western legal tradition. Members of the Groningen Byzantine law research team have published extensively on Byzantine law and an overview of their publications (books, chapters, articles) can be found on their University Profile Pages (MePa): (see Th. van Bochove, F. Brandsma and D. Penna ). Moreover, research on Byzantine Law from the period of Justinian continues: a critical edition of the scholia on the Paraphrase of Theophilus is being prepared. Special attention is also given to Byzantine Canon Law, until this very moment a still valid part of the law in Greece and the Slavic countries. A critical edition of the Nomocanon in fourteen titles is forthcoming.

In 2022, R. Meijering and D. Penna published their book ‘A Sourcebook on Byzantine Law. Illustrating Byzantine Law through the Sources’ which is the first book in English providing a wide range of Byzantine legal sources.

The Groningen Byzantine law research team publishes the open access journal Subseciva Groningana, Studies in Roman and Byzantine Law which focuses on Byzantine law, and all ten volumes that have been published so far are available online on the following website:

Finally, all bibliography (A: books and B: articles) collected by Th.E. van Bochove and relating to Byzantine law is available online at the following link: . This bibliography is occasionally being updated by its author.


Following the long tradition of studies and research in Byzantine Law, the University of Groningen still offers a course on Byzantine Law . This course introduces the sources of law in the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, covering the period from the founding of Constantinople in 330 to the fall of the Empire in 1453. The University of Groningen is the only university outside Greece to offer such a course.

Last modified:10 August 2023 12.21 p.m.
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