Monuments of Imperial Russian Law: The Polyglot Nakaz

March 12, 2012

[Catherine II (1729-1796), Empress of Russia]. Nakaz jeio impieratorskogo velichestva Ekateriny Vtoroi samodevzhitsy vserossijskaia olannyi Kommissii o Sochinenii proekta novogo ulozheniia | Instructio Sacrae Imperatoriae Maiestatis Aecaterinae Secundae Autocratorissae Omnium Rossiarum Coetvi Auspiciis Illius Convocato ad Conficiendam ideam Novi Legum Codicis | Ihrer Kayserlichen Majestät Instruction für die zu Verfestigung des Entwurfs zu einem neuen Gesetz-Buche verordnete Commission  | Instruction de sa Majesté Impériale Catherine II. pour la Commission Chargée de dresser le project d’un Nouveau Code de Loix. St. Petersburg, 1770. Special Collections, Harvard Law School Library

The Nakaz has been described as “one of the most remarkable political treatises ever compiled and published by a reigning sovereign in modern times” (I. de Madariaga, Russia in the Age of Catherine the Great (1981), p. 151).

The most magnificent and desirable of the more than 40 editions of the Nakaz, this four-language version is spread across two quarto pages, two columns to a page. There are four separate title pages, respectively in Russian, Latin, German, and French. The opening and closing pages include allegorical engravings designed by Jacob Shtelin (1709-1785) and engraved by a Swabian artist then resident in Moscow, Christopher Melhior Roth (d. 1798). The Latin translation was by Catherineís state secretary and current favorite, Grigorii Kozitskii (1724-1775). The translators of the French and German texts have never been identified.

Catherine II presented copies of the four-language version to contemporaries throughout Europe. The copy shown here was given to the Earl of Chesterfield, accompanied by a letter of presentation in her own hand.

The four-language version evidently enjoyed a large print run. In 1808 the Academy of Sciences remaindered 1,421 copies by weight of the paper; whether they were pulped is unknown. By 1861 this edition of the Nakaz was bringing a substantial auction price.

See: A bibliography of 43 editions of the Nakaz appears in W.E. Butler & V.A. Tomsinov (eds.), The Nakaz of Catherine the Great: Collected Texts (2010).

“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.


Published In: