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Manumissions, in the Codex Justiniani

Manumissions, in the Codex Justiniani

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1250

Shelfmark: Harley MS 3753

Item number: f.81v

Length: 41.2

Width: 26

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

The Codex Justiniani, called the 'Digest' or 'Pandects', goes back to 534 when the Emperor Justinian had imperial decisions and enactments compiled as part of his programme to codify Roman law. When law began to be studied in western European universities, starting with Bologna in the 11th century, the 'Pandects' became valued as basic legal texts. The need for huge textbooks like the Codex Justiniani fuelled the development of workshops to produce books outside of monasteries. In England, Oxford became a manuscript producing centre, turning out books like this one, which was owned by Merton College. In a section on property and money matters, this page has a brief subsection on manumission (the freeing of slaves), a reminder that slavery was part of the reality of the medieval world. The layout of the page is a type developed for glossed textbooks (textbooks with explanatory notes between the lines or in the margins). Written in larger writing in two columns in the centre of the page, the 'Pandects' is surrounded by wide margins in which glosses are written in small writing. Blank spaces were left where masters or students could add more glosses. Subsections are high-lighted by titles in red (rubrics) and imaginary creatures, which must have provided a break from the heavy legal material.

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