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About us Faculty of Law Organization Departments General Law Studies and History of Law Rechtsgeschiedenis

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 the by far most extensive work of 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: 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 all told. 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 has 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 weeks 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).
Of more recent date is also the cooperation with scholars from the Universidad de Valladolid and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain. Currently, a book is in preparation in cooperation with the University of Athens, and in 2016 a round-table on Byzantine Law took place in Belgrade, Serbia during the 23rd International Congress of Byzantine Studies.
The department of legal history also collaborates with scholars from the universities of Rome, Italy (la Sapienza) and Paris, France (Sorbonne) in the project Latin in Byzantium, ca. 400-800 AD.
Advances in digital photography have made possible a better decipherment of the lower layers of palimpsests manuscripts. Main partners are the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.


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 jurist 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 rulings of Justinian on Byzantine canon law: Collectio Tripartit a. 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 for the main part of texts taken from the sixth-century Law schools 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, made possible through the assistance 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 under the title: 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 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.

Current research concentrates on the genesis of the Basilica, an inexhaustible source of knowledge for the history of the Eastern and Western legal tradition. 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.

The H.J. Scheltema-chair of Byzantine Law

In 2005 Professor Lokin was rewarded the first H.J. Scheltema-chair of Byzantine Law. 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. Prof. Falcone published widely in the field of Byzantine Law in recent years:

  • Il metodo di compilazione delle Institutiones di Giustiniano, Palermo 1998 (monograph)
  • I prestiti dalla Parafrasi di Teofilo nella cd. Glossa Torinese alle Institutiones (SDHI 62, 1997)
  • L’origine della definizione di συνάλλαγμα nella Parafrasi di Teofilo.1.Le fonti (SCDR XI, 1999)
  • La formazione del testo della Parafrasi di Teofilo (TR 68, 2000)
  • Genesi e valore della definizione di συνάλλαγμα nella Parafrasi di Teofilo (Scritti in onore di M. Talamanca, 2001)
  • Note historique sur la définition legislative de servitude (Rev. d’hist. de droit franç. et étr., 79, 2001)
  • ‘Ανωνυμον συνάλλαγμα’ e anonimo antecessor in PSI.55 (MEP, IV.6, 2001)
  • Giustiniano, i giuristi classici e i professori di diritto (Lezioni Emilio Betti, 2006)
  • Postilla sulla definizione teofilina di συνάλλαγμα (Scritti in onore di G. Nicosia, 2007)
  • Legum cunabula’ e ‘antiquae fabulae’ (cost. Imperatoriam 3)(Scritti in onore di A. Metro, 2010)
  • “Theophilus noster”. Zur Benutzung der Theophilos Paraphrasis seitens der humanistischen Jurisprudenz (IAH 2, 2010)
  • Premessa per uno studio sulla produzione didattica degli antecessores (Atti CEDANT 2011)
  • La veritas delle leges: C.; cost. Tanta §§ 10 e 12 (in press)

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 .

Last modified:28 May 2021 2.54 p.m.
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