Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 September 2016
B. GENERAL BACKGROUND
C. JOANNES LEUNCLAVIUS (1541–1594)
D. ECLOGA SIVE SYNOPSIS BASILICORUM (1575)
E. PARATITLA: COLLECTIO TRIPARTITA (1593)
F. IUS GRAECO-ROMANUM (1596)
One of the distinguishing features of legal humanism is the use of Byzantine sources for criticism and illumination of the Corpus Iuris Civilis. The sixteenth century saw a gradual increase of the knowledge and accessibility of Greek manuscripts that transmitted these texts, as well as of the number of scholars sharing this interest. Among them, Joannes Leunclavius, as I will argue, occupies a special place. His work on Byzantine sources raises the question whether it was driven by an interest in Roman law or by a fascination with Byzantium. What part did these sources play in Leunclavius’ work? Among legal humanists he is probably the best candidate for being a byzantinist. If he is not one of that curious breed, who is?
In 1994, some aspects of Leunclavius have been investigated in the Rechtshistorisches Journal on the occasion of the quatercentenary of his death. At the time Douglas Osler implied that Leunclavius’ interest in Byzantine sources was moved by the same consideration as the other humanists’: “one consideration, and one consideration alone: they provided a useful tool for the textual criticism of the basic source of contemporary legal practice in the West, the Latin Corpus Iuris of Justinian”. Twenty years after the commemoration of 1994, it is time to test that verdict, which goes to the heart of the questions connected with the nature of legal humanism.
The honour for discovering Byzantine legal sources and their potential for textual criticism and exegetical work on Justinian's legislation is due to the legal humanists: Graeca leguntur, as the title of Troje's well-known book has it. The presence of Greek is almost a hallmark of work in the humanist tradition, which has contributed enormously to the state of the texts of the Digest, Code and Novels as we read them today in modern critical editions. Part of the reasons for this humanist interest in Byzantium is their awareness of the historical context of Roman law in its Justinianic form, resulting in a return ad fontes.