Manuscripta juridica

[Principal Investigator: G. R. Dolezalek]

Scope of the data base

The data base aims at providing a census of handwritten texts (as many as possible) of juridical literature from past times. At present, the main focus is on texts in Latin, and predominantly texts from medieval times before the invention of the printing press. The data base, however, also accommodates texts in vernacular languages and texts not from the Middle Ages.

In 1964 when the undersigned started to collect data of the kind, the original purpose was to find out - by statistical counting of extant manuscripts - which works of juridical literature were held in high regard in their time, and in which geographical regions they gained particularly wide dissemination. In contrast to art historians who will perhaps not worry whether the text in whose margin they find a precious artwork was held in high esteem or not, legal historians must accord utmost importance to this fact because they need to gauge how influential the text was.

Stock of the Data Base

The data base was first made available to the public on the internet in July 2012. Its stock had been collected by scholars of the Max-Planck-Institut for European Legal History, and in particular by the undersigned (during affiliation to the Institute in 1964-1989). At present ca. 8600 manuscripts are considered - of which 1232 were personally seen by the undersigned, about 400 were personally seen by other staff, and many more hundreds were analysed in photographed or digitized form. In addition, circa 1200 catalogues or inventories of manuscripts were perused. Their reports were crossed over with findings published in ca. 700 scholarly publications on legal history. The data base thus tells users “who published what and when and where, on handwritten juridical texts.”

At present, prominence is given to medieval literature on Roman law. This is however only the tip of an iceberg because extant manuscripts roughly contain a sevenfold higher number of texts on canon law. Only part of the undersigned's notes on canon law manuscripts have yet been fed into the data base.

Roman-law based notes from the undersigned's files had first been published by him (in collaboration with Hans van de Wouw) in 1972 under the title “Verzeichnis der Handschriften zum römischen Recht bis 1600”, four volumes, Frankfurt (Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte). The data had all been fed into an electronic file. Computer programs written by the undersigned formatted the data for publication and created 58510 index entries. This was by far the oldest electronic data processing applied to manuscripts, many years before personal computers were invented and developed. The contents of the afore-mentioned electronic file have fully been integrated into the present data base.

Another large quantity of data originated from 1423 analyses of manuscripts which had been compiled at the Institute in 1972-1975 by a team of researchers called “Arbeitsgruppe Legistik” consisting of Peter Weimar (project director), Elena Dietz, Linda Fowler, Hans van de Wouw and the undersigned. These analyses were typed or handwritten, and conversion to electronic format was only accomplished in 2011 and 2012. The “Arbeitsgruppe Legistik” mainly searched for works of Roman law written in the time span 1100-1250.

Much remains to be done. Many more materials are at large. In particular there exists a huge mass of data collected in the ambit of the Max-Planck-Institute's collaboration with the Institute of Medieval Canon Law while the latter seated in Berkeley, California (1970-1991). Special urgency should now be accorded to this vast unexploited treasure.

My thanks for technical construction and maintenance of the data base go to Dr Volker Novak, the Institute's CIO.

Gero R. Dolezalek (Emeritus professor of Civil Law, University of Aberdeen)