Masterwork completed: Translation of Roman foundations of the law

15 November 2011

The Corpus Iuris Civilis, a collection of fundamental works of Roman law, was a major influence on the evolution of the law in Europe for more than five hundred years, making it the cornerstone of a common legal tradition on the European continent. Written in obscure legal Latin, the Corpus has now been translated into Dutch.

Corpus Iuris Civilis
On 15 November, the Dutch Minister of Security and Justice, Ivo Opstelten,  will take receipt of the final volumes of the twelve-part series.
After the Bible, no other book has had as great an impact on the evolution of the law and society as the Corpus Iuris Civilis, a collection of jurisprudence issued by order of Justinian I, Eastern Roman Emperor, between 533 and 576 C.E. For hundreds of years – indeed, until well into the nineteenth century – the Corpus influenced many different areas touching on European law: jurisprudence, the pursuit of science, the evolution of standards of governance, and both the structure and substance of the civil law as it developed in various countries in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It also provided the foundations for the Dutch Civil Code.

One of the main tasks occupying legal scholars in recent decades was to translate these ancient legal texts from Latin and Greek into Dutch. The driver behind the project was Jop Spruit, emeritus professor at Utrecht University, who served as the project’s editor-in-chief and co-translator. Professor Spruit and his Dutch and Belgian colleagues have spent almost 25 years producing this masterwork of translation.

"The Corpus Iuris has had an enormous impact on the Western legal tradition,” says Professor Spruit. “The systems and concepts used today in private law and many of the general concepts of both criminal and constitutional law are all derived directly from Roman law. It’s important for legal specialists to have access to that source.”

By supporting the translation of the Corpus Iuris Civilis, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and Utrecht University aim to contribute to a better understanding of the historical evolution of the law in Europe and to prevent the most important source of Dutch, Belgian and other European law from falling into oblivion.

The twelve volumes of the Corpus Iuris Civilis are published by Amsterdam University Press. The Latin and Dutch (and in some sections Greek) texts are given in parallel columns. The series will interest legal specialists, historians, classicists, theologians and all others fascinated by classical antiquity, the ancient foundations of our law, and the historical background of European culture and society. For more information, see].