Beritus (Berytus) Nutris Legum (Beirut Mother of Law), Roman School of Law
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Phoenicia's Roman Law School

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Beritus (Berytus) Nutris Legum (Beirut Mother of Law)

Towards the middle of the third century after Christ a school of law and jurisprudence arose at Berytus, which attained high distinction, and is said by Gibbon to have furnished the eastern provinces of the empire with pleaders and magistrates for the space of three centuries (A.D. 250-550). The course of education at Berytus lasted five years, and included Roman Law in all its various forms, the works of Papinian being especially studied in the earlier times, and the same together with the edicts of Justinian in the later. Pleaders were forced to study either at Berytus, or at Rome, or at Constantinople, and, the honours and emoluments of the profession being large, the supply of students was abundant and perpetual. External misfortune, and not internal decay, at last destroyed the school, the town of Berytus being completely demolished by an earthquake in the year A.D. 551. The school was then transferred to Sidon, but appears to have languished on its transplantation to a new soil and never to have recovered its pristine vigour or vitality.

In many respects, one of the most important cities of Phoenicia during the time of the Roman Empire was Berytus. It became the seat of the most famous provincial school of Roman law. The school, which probably was founded by Septimius Severus, lasted until the destruction of Berytus itself by a sequence of earthquakes, tidal wave, and fire in the mid-6th century. Two of Rome's most famous jurists, Papinian and Ulpian, both natives of Phoenicia, taught as professors at the law school under the Severans. Their judicial opinions constitute well over a third of the Pandects (Digest) contained in the great compilation of Roman law commissioned by the emperor Justinian I in the 6th century AD.

Two great enterprises had substantially despatched Justinian’s work; however, he, or rather Tribonian, who seems to have acted both as his adviser and as his chief executive officer in all legal affairs, conceived that a third book was needed, viz. An elementary manual for beginners which should present an outline of the law in a clear and simple form. The little work of Gaius, most of which we now possess under the title of Commentarii institutionum, had served this purpose for nearly four centuries; but much of it had, owing to changes in the law, become inapplicable, so that a new manual seemed to be required. Justinian accordingly directed Tribonian, with two coadjutors, Theophilus, professor of law in the university of Constantinople, and Dorotheus, professor in the great law school at Berytus, to prepare an elementary textbook on the lines of Gaius. This they did while the Digest was in progress, and produced the useful little treatise which has ever since been the book with which students commonly begin their studies of Roman law, the Institutes of Justinian. It was published as a statute with full legal validity shortly before the Digest. Such merits as it possesses – simplicity of arrangement, clearness and conciseness of expression – belong less to Tribonian than to Gaius, who was closely followed wherever the alterations in the law had not made him obsolete. However, the spirit of that great legal classic seems to have in a measure dwelt with and inspired the inferior men who were recasting his work, the Institutes is better both in Latinity and in substance than we should have expected from condition of Latin letters at that epoch, better than the other laws which emanate from Justinian.

Papinian, Jurist

Latin in full AEMILIUS PAPINIANUS (b. c. AD 140 -- d. 212), Phoenician Roman jurist who posthumously became the definitive authority on Roman law, possibly because his moral highmindedness was congenial to the worldview of the Christian rulers of the postclassical empire.

Papinian held high public office under the emperor Lucius Septimius Severus (reigned AD 193-211) and was the best known of the Roman prefects. He was killed at the order of Severus' son and successor, Caracalla, perhaps for refusing to supply a legal excuse for the new emperor's murder of his brother and political rival, Geta.

The most important of Papinian's works are two collections of cases: Quaestiones (37 books) and Responsa (19 books) Definitiones (2 books), and De adulteriis (2 books), attained the highest authority and are regarded today as among the principal Roman contributions to the foundation of modern law. In the postclassical law schools, the third-year students, who were called Papinianistae, used the Responsa as the basis of the curriculum. The Law of Citations (AD 426) of the emperor Theodosius II made Papinian predominant among five classical jurists whose works were to be authoritative in legal proceedings. His books were written in precise and elegant Latin.

Ulpian, Jurist

Latin in full DOMITIUS ULPIANUS (b. Tyre, Phoenicia--d. AD 228), Phoenician Roman jurist and imperial official whose writings supplied one-third of the total content of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I's monumental Digest, or Pandects (completed 533). He was a subordinate to Papinian when that older jurist was praetorian prefect (chief adviser to the emperor and commander of his bodyguard) under Lucius Septimius Severus (reigned 193-211), and he annotated Papinian's works. Afterward Ulpian was master of petitions to the emperor Caracalla, and under Severus Alexander he served as praetorian prefect from 222 until 228, when he was murdered by officers in his command.

Ulpian wrote prolifically on law in a clear, elegant style. Like Papinian, he was an intelligent editor and interpreter of existing ideas rather than an original legal thinker, such as Marcus Antistius Labeo. His major works are the commentaries Libri ad Sabinum (51 books interpreting the civil law; incomplete) and Libri ad edictum (81 books concerning praetorian edicts). Justinian's compilers, headed by Tribonian, drew heavily on these and other treatises and monographs by Ulpian. A work variously called Tituli ex corpore Ulpiani, Epitome Ulpiani, or Regulae Ulpiani is no longer believed to be his.

Dorotheus, Jurist and Professor of Roman Law

Dorotheus (first half of the 6th century AD), jurist, was one of the principal codifiers of Roman law under the emperor Justinian I.

Dorotheus helped to compile the Digest, or Pandects (published in 533), and the second edition of the Codex Constitutionum (published in 534). With Tribonian (Tribonianus), head of the Digest's compilers, and Theophilus, he also prepared the Institutes (533) as an introduction to the Digest. Fragments of his Index (542), a commentary on the Digest, are preserved in the 9th-century law code called the Basilica. Dorotheus taught jurisprudence in the school of Roman law at Berytus at that time probably the best law school in the eastern Roman Empire.

Sources: Please see Bibliography (link below)

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