Byzantine Law

Law and religion scholars in the West typically ignore Byzantium. That’s so for several reasons, including the fact that so much of the relevant material does not exist in contemporary translations, and the fact, sadly, that Westerners since Gibbon are accustomed to dismissing Byzantium as irrelevant, although the empire lasted 1000 years and offers many insights into Christian jurisprudence. A (relatively) new book from Cambridge coves one of the more important emperors and his legal influence: Leo VI and the Transformation of Byzantine Christian Identity: Writings of an Unexpected Emperor, by historian Meredith Riedel (Duke University). The publisher’s description follows:

The Byzantine emperor Leo VI (886–912), was not a general or even a soldier, like his predecessors, but a scholar, and it was the religious education he gained under the tutelage of the patriarch Photios that was to distinguish him as an unusual ruler. This book analyses Leo’s literary output, focusing on his deployment of ideological principles and religious obligations to distinguish the characteristics of the Christian oikoumene from the Islamic caliphate, primarily in his military manual known as the Taktika. It also examines in depth his 113 legislative Novels, with particular attention to their theological prolegomena, showing how the emperor’s religious sensibilities find expression in his reshaping of the legal code to bring it into closer accord with Byzantine canon law. Meredith L. D. Riedel argues that the impact of his religious faith transformed Byzantine cultural identity and influenced his successors, establishing the Macedonian dynasty as a ‘golden age’ in Byzantium.

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