Publications/Jun 21, 2017

Roman Law and the Two Languages in Justinian’s Empire

Roman Law and the Two Languages in Justinian’s Empire lead image

Simon Corcoran. “Roman Law and the Two Languages in Justinian’s Empire.” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, volume 60, no. 1 (June 2017): pp. 96–116.

This paper, reflecting Fergus Millar's work on linguistic and cultural diversity in the Roman empire, surveys the evolving relationship of Latin and Greek as languages for Roman law. Normative texts remained predominantly Latin until the completion of Justinian's codification (534), even though that was a genuinely bilingual product. However, following the already existing pattern in the Greek east, a vast corpus of Greek materials was then quickly created to teach the codification in the official law schools. Designed to aid engagement with the source-texts, these ended up superseding them. Roman legal Greek, a mixture of Latin terminology plus standardized Greek vocabulary, became stabilized. After 534, new legislation was most often in Greek, necessitating parallel Latin materials to help Latin-speaking students, although sixth-century collections of Novels (‘new laws’) were still bilingual. In practice, however, in most of Justinian's empire, a lawyer (such as Dioscorus of Aphrodito) could function with limited Latin. Soon Roman law would bifurcate into two monolingual traditions, Greek in the east, Latin in the west.