Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.03.18 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.03.18

Spyros N. Troianos, Die Quellen des byzantinischen Rechts.   Berlin; Boston:  De Gruyter, 2017.  Pp. xix, 407.  ISBN 9783110531244.  $137.99.  

Reviewed by Zachary Chitwood, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz (


Spyros Troianos, the doyen of the study of Byzantine law in Greece, over thirty years ago penned what is now widely considered the standard reference work on Byzantine legal sources, Οι πηγές του βυζαντινού δικαίου (The Sources of Byzantine Law; 1986). He considerably revised the work in two successive editions (1999 and 2011), continually incorporating new scholarship into his overview. Troianos’ overview is a peerless work, and every serious scholar of Byzantine law knows and uses it.

Nonetheless, the fact that this standard reference work was written in Modern Greek has made it difficult or inaccessible to some researchers, particularly those working outside of Byzantine Studies. Though the third edition was translated into Italian by Pierangelo Buongiorno (2015), the present volume, a German translation of the same third edition of the text, represents a welcome means for Troianos’ work to gain a broader readership. Dieter Simon, as much known for the study of Byzantine law in Germany as Troianos is in Greece and his long-time colleague and collaborator, has translated the text along with Silvia Neye. Moreover, Troianos himself, who Simon in the Foreword notes “speaks German better than some native speakers” (p. VII), was consulted regarding the additions and changes that were made for the German edition.

Before discussing the contents of the book, it is briefly worth noting for whom Troianos’ book was originally intended and how the choice of audience required, from the viewpoint of the translators, some bibliographical changes from the Greek edition. Although, as mentioned, this overview of Byzantine law is much cited by scholars, it was originally conceived as an introduction to the subject for the law students that Troianos taught over the course of many decades at the University of Athens. Given the language abilities of his students, he understandably tended to cite scholarship in Modern Greek, including translations into Modern Greek of scholarly works in other languages. The translators, for their part, have where possible excised these citations of Modern Greek translations of non-Greek research and replaced other works of Greek- speaking scholarship with references to corresponding works in German.

Occasionally, the translators have updated Troianos’ textbook with references to editions or scholarship that has appeared since 2010 (when Troianos’ submitted the third edition of the text to the publisher). Though this is in itself unobjectionable, these revisions are quite mercurial and in a few instances were sloppily implemented, which led to unfortunate errors in the text. For instance, on p. 271, where the Taktikon of the Byzantine monk and canonist Nikon of the Black Mountain is discussed, in the main text it is noted that the work is largely unpublished, but n. 407 on the same page draws attention to Christian Hannick’s new edition of the Taktikon, which appeared in 2014. Moreover, in another place where the new edition of the Taktikon should be cited, in a discussion of typika on p. 304 (in particular n. 532), it remains unmentioned. Other important editions of texts that have appeared since 2010 and discussed in Troianos’ overview are passed over in silence, such as George Dennis’ new edition of the Taktika of Leo VI (p. 254) and Charlotte Roueché’s new online edition of Kekaumenos (p. 252). Given this haphazard updating of editions and scholarship with works appearing after 2010, it would have been better to more conscientiously rework the text or simply to have avoided updating it altogether. In any case, these examples are not “legal texts” in the traditional sense and a reader would probably not consult Troianos for the most up-to-date information on them.

Troianos’ book is divided into seven chapters, which, aside from the introductory Chapter One (“Einführung”), are organized chronologically. The first chapter is a concise yet informative discussion of many of the basic features and questions of Byzantine legal sources. One of the great difficulties within Byzantine law more generally, and something that Troianos skillfully navigates throughout the work, is the parallel development and relationship between canon and civil law. While in Chapter Two (“Von Diokletian bis Justinian”) Troianos chronicles the first collections of canon law in the Greek East until the time of Justinian, he does not really delve into civil law until Chapter Three (“Das Zeitalter Justinians”), where he discusses Justinian’s efforts at codifying Roman law.

The most informative chapters of the book are those devoted to the legal sources stemming from the period after the emperor Justinian until the fall of Constantinople (Chapter Four: “Von den Nachfolgern Justinians bis zu den Makedonen”; Chapter Five: “Von den Makedonen bis zur Eroberung Konstantinopels 1204; Chapter Six: “Von 1204 bis zum Ende der byzantinischen Herrschaft”). Troianos himself has long studied and even edited a number of the legal texts he discusses, and his masterly discussion of scholarship on the subject is often accompanied by his own insights. In fact, he does not refrain from advancing his own viewpoint on a number of scholarly debates, championing, for example, the controversial thesis of Andreas Schminck that the Eisagoge was composed before the Prochiron and not vice-versa (pp. 196-8), or arguing for the authenticity of the prologue to the Basilika (p. 209).

The final chapter (Chapter 7: “Das byzantinische Recht im 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhundert”) concerns the curious Nachleben of Byzantine law that occurred after the Greek War of Independence, when, according to the famous degree of 23 February 1835 of the regency council of Otto I, the Hexabiblos of the fourteenth-century canonist Constantine Harmenopoulos was to serve as the temporary official law of the Greek kingdom, indeed until the new Civil Law Book was issued in 1940. As one might expect, the rules of Harmenopoulos’ late medieval compilation sometimes were difficult to apply to a nineteenth- or twentieth-century context, and Troianos demonstrates this via a discussion of the controversy that arose in the Kingdom of Greece regarding the middle Byzantine prohibition on interest (which was included in Harmenopoulos’ work) (pp. 370-375).

All in all, Troianos’ overview of Byzantine legal sources has been by far the best book on the subject since the first edition of the work appeared in 1986, and this German translation of the third edition does nothing to change this state of affairs. The translation, which, as stated above, was read by Troianos himself, is accurate. Only in a few places did this reviewer find mistranslations, for example, on p. 258, n. 365, where “Ökumene” (“ecumene”) is the rendering for οικουμενικότητα (“ecumenicity”) in the original text.

A more serious problem in the translation is the misplacing or omission of accents in Greek. This difficulty stems from the fact that in the third edition of the book, Troianos employed the monotonic accentuation of Modern Greek when describing Byzantine Greek legal texts, where the polytonic accentuation was still employed. Yet while Troianos was able to correctly switch between the two in the Modern Greek version of the book, either the translators or (more probably) the typesetters have made many errors in the polytonic accentuation. Just three examples: Ἁνέκδοτα instead of the correct Ἀνέκδοτα (p. XVIII); Πὀνοι τῶν διδασκἁλων for Πόνοι τῶν διδασκάλων (p. 64, n. 17); νόμοι ιδικτοί for νόμοι ἰδικοί (p. 88). There are also some spelling errors in names. Again, these mistakes seem to stem primarily from the additions of the translators: “C. E. Zacchariae” for “C. E. Zachariae” (p. 43; this is an addition made by the translators); “Reimsch /Simon” for “Reinsch /Simon” (p. 243, n. 299; another addition made by the translators). These shortcomings, however, detract little from an otherwise crisp translation.

If Troianos ever manages to write a fourth edition of the text, this reviewer would suggest, first of all, that a translation into English would vastly increase the remit of the book. German or Italian are still more common among scholars than Modern Greek, but much less so than in the past. English is in any case underserved by overviews of Byzantine legal texts. Second, a chapter on the afterlife of Byzantine law during the centuries of the Tourkokratia would serve as a nice transition between the chapters on the last centuries of Byzantium and the Kingdom of Greece. Finally, more use could be made of the information on law and legal practices given by non-normative legal sources. For instance, the Strategikon of Kekaumenos, though discussed in the text (p. 252), contains advice to provincial judges.

In sum, the German translation of Troianos’ overview of Byzantine legal sources constitutes the best work to date on this subject and is a must-have for anyone interested in later Roman as well as Byzantine law. Neye and Simon are to be commended for making this invaluable text accessible to a German-reading audience.

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