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The Emperor Justinian, in the 'Codex Justiniani'

The Emperor Justinian, in the 'Codex Justiniani'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1250

Shelfmark: Harley MS 3753

Item number: f.4r

Length: 44.1

Width: 28.3

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 fueled 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. The daunting appearance of this page results in part from the density with which it is glossed (explanatory notes written in the margins and between the lines). A specialised layout had been developed to accommodate the practice of extensive glossing in legal and theological textbooks. In the centre of the page, the text of the Pandects proper is in larger handwriting, while wide margins hold the glosses. Some are contemporary with the original handwriting, while masters wrote others in later. Marks beside the glosses indicate the beginnings of paragraphs, as the decoration in the centre marks sections. In a portrait at the beginning of the 'Pandects', Justinian appears as a medieval king, his feet on a dragon--a sign of the defeat of evil.

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