Monuments of Imperial Russian Law: Catherine the Great

March 12, 2012

Strube de Piermont, Friedrich Heinrich (1704-1790). Lettres russiennes: suivies des notes de Catherine II. Pisa: Goliardica, 1978. Facsimile reprint; originally published 1760 in St. Petersburg. Yale University Library

Peter the Great set in motion the measures required to found the Academy of Sciences in Russia, which opened shortly after his death in 1725. Law was among the sciences to be pursued. The Academy was to be simultaneously a research and a teaching institution, an Academy and a University. In 1738 Friedrich Heinrich Strube de Piermont (1704-1790) was appointed to be the Professor of Jurisprudence and Politics. He published at St. Petersburg in 1740 a major study in the French language on the origins of natural law. A revised edition issued at Amsterdam in 1744 was reprinted several times with emendations.

In 1748 Strube was assigned by the Academy to “expound the natural law and the law of nations”, for which he prepared a syllabus in Russian and Latin. Later that same year Strube petitioned the Academy to prepare ìa concise manual on Russian lawsî. He devoted the remainder of his life to the project, producing outlines and draft chapters, but never completing the work to the satisfaction of the Academy. He wrote in German, mostly copying from manuscript versions of early legislative compilations (relying on translators to tell him what they said). Although never published, the draft gave Strube his materials for a lecture treating the origins of Russian law that was published in Russian and Latin in 1756 and assisted a codification commission which used the draft in 1754.

Strube’s “Russian Letters,” shown here, were an extension of his studies of Russian law and history, especially his views on the origins of the Russian people. In this work he undertakes to “prove that the government of Russia is not a despotic government properly speaking” and makes mention of the “five” principal Russian law codes and the Commission formed in 1753 to prepare a new Code.

See: W.E. Butler, “F.G. Strube de Piermont and the Origins of Russian Legal History”, in Butler, Russia and the Law of Nations in Historical Perspective (2009).

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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