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Greater Phoenicia

8. Law

The sophisticated societies of the ancient Middle East developed law codes to assist in their organisation, and the famous law code of Hammurabi, the King of Babylonia, (reigned 1792-1750 BC) is well known.   Likewise, ancient law codes of the Phoenicians exist from Byblos, and one describes a constitution with democratic elements.  Source: Nicholas Hardwick


Beirut, whose name in antiquity was Berytus, later had one of the most famous law schools in the ancient world, which reached its peak during the Roman Period.  Gaius, the famous law teacher of the 2nd century AD, possibly taught in the city and the school was probably operating from the time of the Emperor Septimius Severus (b. AD 145, reigned 193-211).  The subjects which were taught were law and jurisprudence, that is, the theory and philosophy of the law.  It was one of the three important law schools in the Roman world, in addition to those at Rome and at Constantinople.  It produced lawyers who acted in various roles in the profession in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire from the 3rd-6th centuries AD.  Since the rewards of the profession were large, the school always attracted plenty of students.  Covering all the aspects of Roman Law, the course lasted five years.  The works of the Roman jurist Papinian (AD c.140-212) formed a major part of the course, and in later times the edicts of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (b. AD 483, reigned 527-565) were included.  Source: Phoenicia.org, section on Beritus (Berytus) Nutris Legum (Beirut Mother of Law); Hornblower, sv. Gaius (2)


Papinian, who probably came from Africa, and Ulpian, from Tyre, the most famous Roman jurists, were professors of law who taught there during the Severan Period.  Their legal decisions make up much of the Digesta or Pandectae (in the case of Ulpian, over two-fifths) in the commentary on Roman Law, which Emperor Justinian I had compiled.  Papinian, whose name in Latin was Aemilius Papinianus, became known after his death as a leading authority on Roman Law.  This is likely to be because of his high moral standards were in sympathy with the outlook of the Christian culture of the Later Roman Empire.  Under the Emperor Septimius Severus, he held high public office, including being the praetorian prefect.  Caracalla, Severus’ son and successor, had him killed, perhaps because he refused to legitimise the excuse for the murder by Caracalla of Geta, his brother and political rival.  The work of Ulpian, whose Latin name was Domitius Ulpianus, was very influential on the presentation of Roman law to modern Europe.   Source: Hornblower, sv. Aemilius Papinianus; Domitius Ulpianus; Phoenicia.org, section on Beritus (Berytus) Nutris Legum (Beirut Mother of Law)


The law school at Berytus played a significant part in the further legal activities of Justinian.  Dorotheus, who was a professor at the school was one of the two assistants of Tribonian, who was the emperor’s advisor on legal affairs, the other being Theophilus, who was professor of law in Constantinople.  Justinian commissioned the Codex of AD 529, with a second edition in 534, which was a collection of Roman laws, which Tribonian assisted to undertake.  Then, under the direction of Tribonian, a commission of lawyers prepared a summary of legal conflicts, called the Digesta ('Ordered Abstracts') or Pandectae ('Encyclopaedia').  This also took into account changes in the law which had taken place since the earlier surveys of the law, such as the Commentarii Institutionum by Gaius, which had been in use for four centuries.  Thus, while the Digesta was in progress, these three scholars wrote a textbook similar to that of Gaius, entitled the Institutiones, which since that time has been the book used to commence the study of Roman Law.  Source: Hornblower, sv. Justinian’s codification, Tribonianus; Phoenicia.org, section on Beritus (Berytus) Nutris Legum (Beirut Mother of Law)


The school was at last destroyed by external forces, rather than internal institutional decline, when the town of Berytus was destroyed by an earthquake in AD 551.  After this, the school moved to Sidon, but did not flourish as a result of its move to a new location, and never returned to its former greatness.

Source: Phoenicia.org, section on Beritus (Berytus) Nutris Legum (Beirut Mother of Law)