Beginning in the eleventh century, scholars in what is today northern Italy began to rediscover the Roman legal tradition as expressed in the Emperor Justinian’s sixth-century Corpus iuris civilis. In the centuries that followed, jurists, merchants, clergymen, and civic leaders all across the Italian Peninsula pragmatically integrated Roman law with the long-held customary laws of their own towns and cities. Over time a new and dynamic system of civil law emerged, one which continues to evolve to this day. The works featured in this exhibition are simultaneously examples of—and evidence for—the flourishing of Italian civil law in the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries.
The Yale Law Library’s collection of early Italian city statutes contains codes from over three hundred and eighty municipalities—including major cities such as Milan, Bologna, Rome, and Venice as well as tiny villages like Bellosguardo, Crasciana, and Montebuono. Regardless of their size, all of these municipalities took pride in their laws, and looking at the title pages one can sense the important role that these codes played in defining a municipality and its citizens.
As you explore the exhibition in the posts that follow, note the ways that the books’ owners marked and annotated them; the coexistence of printed and hand-written statutes; and the transition from the Latin of jurists and scholars to the Italian of merchants and politicians.
The Law Library’s Italian statute collection provides a rich resource not only for legal history, but also for the history of reading, print culture, manuscript culture, bookbinding, Italian social history, political history, and much more. In addition, the books are fascinating cultural artifacts. We welcome you to make use of them.
BENJAMIN YOUSEY-HINDES & MIKE WIDENER
“The Flowering of Civil Law: Early Italian City Statutes in the Yale Law Library” is on display October 2008 through February 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.
Image at right: Sicily (Kingdom). Regni Sicilie constitutiones per excellentissumum j.v.d. do. Andream de Isernia (Naples, 1533).