Travel of ideas in the nineteenth century: from Scotland to Chile

by María Ithurria (PhD student, University of Edinburgh) and Claudio Soltmann (Historian, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)

Introductory remarks

Let us go back to the nineteenth century. There is no doubt that Andrés Bello (1781 – 1865) was a prominent intellectual figure for Latin America. His work had a massive impact on the rise of post-independence nation-building. Bello was born in Venezuela but spent his entire adult life between London and Santiago de Chile: the London years (1810-1829) provided him with the most vibrant intellectual environment of those times, and Chile was the perfect place to develop the knowledge acquired there. Bello is widely recognised due to his work as the drafter of the Chilean Civil Code, which was borrowed by many other Latin-American countries. On the other hand, he is well-known as the founder of the Universidad de Chile. Is worth saying that this university played a crucial role in the construction of Chile as an independent country.

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Report: Water and Waterways Management in the Roman Empire Workshop

by Peter Candy

On 18–19 July 2019 the Centre for Legal History hosted an interdisciplinary workshop on the subject of the management of water resources and waterways during the Roman period. The meeting was organised by Peter Candy and Dr Marguerite Ronin (Brasenose College, Oxford) with the help of funding provided by Marie Curie Actions. The conference brought together archaeologists, ancient historians, and Roman lawyers from several different countries to discuss interdisciplinary approaches to the understanding of Roman water management strategies. The papers were grouped into three themes: (i) the management of waterways; (ii) the management of land adjacent to waterways; and (iii) the exploitation of water resources.

The central aim of the workshop was to explore the potential and challenges of studying a historical problem from the perspective of different sets of evidence. From this point of view, the conference was a success. The management of water resources was an ideal subject, partly because the effective exploitation of water was essential to both agricultural and urban development in the ancient world. Moreover, the contributions of archaeologists and lawyers combined to lend an insight into the integrated technical and legal strategies that the Romans employed to the challenge of supplying water to the places it was required. In the case of rural communities, for example, irrigation was a central concern; while cities frequently relied upon rainwater collection and aqueducts to provide for their populations. Maintaining the navigability of waterways (both natural and man-made) was also an important task. In all these cases, the construction and maintenance of the necessary infrastructure was facilitated by the Roman legal framework, which provided remedies designed to govern the relationships between the individuals engaged in these tasks.

Finally, the organisers would like to thank Prof. Paul du Plessis (University of Edinburgh), Prof. Nicholas Purcell (University of Oxford), and Prof. Luigi Capogrossi Colognesi (Università degli studi di Roma La Sapienza) for their participation and support.

You can download the workshop programme here:
Water and Waterways Management in the Roman Empire

Call for Papers: Administrative Multinormativity

Call for Papers

Authors’ workshop
Administory: Journal for the History of Public Administration

Download the Call for  Papers in German here: CfP_de

Volume 5: Administrative Multinormativity

Which normative standards are able to guide administrative action? Irrespective of the era or administrative culture under analysis, it should be clear that administration is not merely a dispassionate enforcer of legal norms or an executor of political programmes. Rather, administrations operate within a network of different normativities. Neither a law-like, differentiated programme of norms nor a binding force that derives its strength from judicial enforceability or from the authority of higher political instances are necessary features thereof; it can be the case that normativities only are diffuse and informal; sometimes they first become visible when conflicts over norms erupt.

But beyond legal programming and political guidelines, what normativities are we actually talking about? First of all, it can be generally said that administrative differentiation often goes hand in hand with normative differentiation – but not necessarily so. Thus, economic administration – especially if it is closely connected with its clientele – can orient itself to a large extent on economic imperatives and rationales, even if these are not reflected to this extent in the existing law. Technical administration can identify with the technical rationality of engineers. Social administration can adopt dispositions inspired by social welfare principles that might stand in opposition to the law’s narrow possibilities for action.

What is clear is that the administration itself is normatively differentiated. The law often absorbs these special rationalities in the form of special laws and thus translates them back into legal regulation (but this does not always occur). On the other hand, normative plurality does not exhibit itself only in such functional differences. Certain ideas of honour and conceptions of loyalty generate their own normative power in a variety of different ways. At the same time, it is also clear that the standards of diplomatic courtesy mean that Foreign Service officials can act differently than officials belonging to a domestic regulatory agency.

However, conflicts of standards, generally speaking, can arise in many everyday contexts. There has always been a certain conflict between the economic imperative of conserving various resources and the appropriate fulfilment of administrative tasks, between official requirements and the routines tied to the pragmatic performance of service subcutaneously converted into normative categories, between the rules of cleverness of subaltern ‘stubbornness’ and hierarchical command logic, as well as between local and central rationalities of action.

Administration thus proves to be a particularly difficult venue to comprehend when it comes to ideas about what can be regarded as ‘right’ and ‘appropriate’. Such contradictory entanglements can manifest in the agencies themselves, in the relationship between different agencies, or in the relationship between the administration and the administrative audience.

Contributions mapping out this landscape are now being collected for the special issue of Administory: ‘Administrative Multinormativity’, edited by Peter Becker (Vienna) and Peter Collin (Frankfurt am Main). Case studies involving 19th– and 20th-century administration should show how cooperation and conflict between different normativities were carried out, how new normative arrangements emerged, and how normative conflicts were made manageable.

First versions of the texts will be discussed at an author workshop to be held on 27-28 September 2019 at the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History, Frankfurt am Main; travel and accommodation costs will be covered. We invite historians, jurists, sociologists and cultural and political scientists to submit contributions (in German or English). Proposals (maximum 500 words) should be submitted to or by 15 May 2019.

Early Modern Moveable Texts and Minotaurs

Guest blog by Ross Macdonald 

Anyone studying early modern legal texts knows that the text, and its authorship, may be “moveable”; they may appear successively under the nominal authorship of different jurists, so that identifying the true writer may be difficult. One striking example arose in my recent study of collation, the procedural device whereby gifts made by parent to child are taken into account when the child later claims in succession to the parent’s estate.

The nominal author, in this case, was Marcus Antonius de Amatis, a jurist who was an assessor on the Rota of, successively, Genoa, Lucca, and the Marche, dying in 1624. His Decisiones Rotae Provinciae Marchiae appeared in various editions, in particular as part of a composite work issued in Frankfurt am Main in 1602 and (without apparent changes) 1662, Decisionum Libri II nunc primum in Germania…  Vicentii Carocii Tudertini et Marc. Ant. de Amatis.  At the end was appended a Repetitio L. si emancipati C. de collationibus  [= C. 6.20.9]; while no author was explicitly identified, Vinnius in his own book on collation quite understandably cited it under Amatis’s name. Besides its length – 58 dense pages –  the Repetitio fills the reader with gloom by its opening greeting: this topic is like Daedalus’s Labyrinth in Crete: once you enter, getting out is impossible or at least very difficult.

But the Repetitio was not by Amatis at all. The clue is in its concluding pages. These comprise a long eyewitness account of a famine riot in Lyon on 24 April 1539, written – it says – by “pater meus nobilis, et egregius vir Ludouicus de Laurentiis legum doctor” and addressed to François, Cardinal of Clermont and Papal legate in Avignon.  This suggests that the true original author – the “pater” – was Louis Laurenti (Nice, post 1467 – Avignon, post 1504; doctor legum in 1504, and one of a family of Avignonese jurists); biographical details taken from  Le Chesnaye-Desbois, Louis: Dictionnaire de la Noblesse (Paris, 1863-1876).  The son was Hieronymus de Laurentiis (Jerome da Avignon, 1517-1606): Coing, Handbuch II/2 (1976), p. 1181, 1183.

To complicate matters, the Repetitio was also published under the son’s name as an appendix to Decisiones Rotae sacri palatii apostolici Avenionis. … Auctore illust. &  Mag. D. Hieron. a Laurentiis, Avenionensi, Utriusque Iuris comite, & eiusdem Rotae decano  (Lyon, 1600). This version was cited in turn in Fontana’s  Bibliotheca Legalis (1688) and Burkhard Gotthelf Struve’s Bibliotheca iuris selecta  (Jena (6th edn), 1725).

So, back to the Labyrinth with Ariadne….

Ross Macdonald  is a  doctoral candidate at Edinburgh Law School



A Newly-discovered Medieval Legal Manuscript

Guest blog by Ross Macdonald 

Readers with an interest in undiscovered antique legal texts will be fascinated by a recent report by scholars from Northwestern University, Illinois into a medieval law text discovered in the binding of a 16th century volume. (A summary article is at  and the full article, which appears in (2017) Analytica Chimica Acta,  at ; henceforth “Analytica”). The finding brings to mind the techniques used at Vindolanda, on tablets from London’s Walbrook, and carbonised scrolls from Herculaneum.  As such it has received press coverage, some of it – in the way of second-hand press coverage – going breathlessly beyond what was actually said (“a sixth century manuscript”). This blog briefly considers the legal significance of the text deciphered.

First, though, the document and the technology applied to it (with apologies for any mis-statements arising from my effort to summarise). This involves a printed (1537) copy of Hesiod’s  Works and Days  which Northwestern’s Library acquired in 1870. It has now been found that the volume incorporated an earlier manuscript legal text (which turns out to be from Justinian’s Institutes): not, as in some cases, as strips of padding in the spine, but re-using two parchment pages to cover the endboards. In the process the pages were treated to remove most of the existing writing, but some survived partly because the ink had “burnt” into the material; and the pages had been trimmed heavily at the sides and corners to fit the boards. The research team set out to identify the text if possible, by imaging it in different spectra. Their achievement, which is remarkable, has been to make most of of the writing – apart from some of the smallest script – readable. (It should be said that many passages only make sense once their legal source is identified and compared with other editions; information which was not available to the research team.  I found the editions from Venice (1618) and Lyon (1627) – the first available online at;view=1up;seq=171 , the second at – particularly useful in that respect: both retain the Vulgate text but print it in extended form – the “Analytica” like many medieval versions contracts words very heavily – and both add extra commentary to the standard medieval Gloss.)

So, the point of the project was partly to test the potential of the team’s methods for future use, and in that they have been brilliantly successful.

The legal significance of the texts is, therefore, very much secondary. How were the passages to be identified?  They consist of central texts surrounded by marginal glosses – one margin having been cropped away from each page – and various interlineations by later users.  Fortunately a (relatively) easily-readable passage in the gloss on one page discussed Adam’s marriage status (or lack of it under canon law), and the text could be identified as Book 1.10.4-5  De Nuptiis of the Institutes. This led the team to postulate that the manuscript had been compiled specifically for educating canon lawyers; that it represented a relatively early stage in textual development – the glosses being fragmentary; and, going further, that it may have been discarded when changes in canon law made the old text obsolete.

While possible, that is not the most obvious explanation. There are two crucial points. First, the other page covers Institutes 1.12.4-5  Quibus Modis Ius Potestatis Solvitur (ie loss of paternal authority, particularly by military service or capture). This has nothing to do with canon law; indeed this page has more notes by users than the other; and the two pages are not contiguous. So the manuscript need not have been prepared in a specifically canonist teaching context. Secondly, the gloss (so far as I can make out) is not fragmentary, except insofar as all legal glosses were  – though by looking only at “Analytica” one admittedly can hardly tell, words being so highly abbreviated and lacking most of the helpful markers (indexing by letter, line breaks,etc) seen in many editions. At any rate, comparison with print editions suggests that all the expected gloss words are present (though, as I note later, not all necessarily in the right order). In short, the manuscript looks like a standard edition of the Institutes with the usual Glossa Ordinaria.

So it seems likely that the source manuscript was a standard “pecia” style copy of part or all of Book 1, perhaps commissioned by a student (not being a palaeographer, I make no comment on the likely date). With the era of print editions (often including more extensive critical textual apparatus) there would be ample reason to dispose of a worn old manuscript.

One might add that the gloss layout seems technically rather inexpert: the gloss does not match up with the adjacent Institutes text (some appears to relate to text which would have been on a previous page); there is not the “bespoke” page-by-page adjustment of text layout which is common at least in printed editions; and there is a significant error in the copying, which I now turn to.

The page on Institutes 1.12.4 contains a long interlineation near the foot, in the gap between the central text and the marginal gloss. (While the image embedded in the authors’  blog is just readable – enough at least to identify the text – the version embedded in the “Analytica” article itself has slightly poorer resolution.) It is, compared with the very small and now-illegible other notes on that page, fairly firmly written. The passage puzzled me, but it turns out – when “Analytica” is compared with printed editions – to be a misplaced marginal gloss: one which should have belonged in the (now-lost) left-hand margin but had been missed out by the copyist and added in at some later date. That sort of error is common in legal manuscripts: thanks to the abbreviations, and the frequent repetition of important words, it was easy for a copyist to jump a couple of lines by mistake. The “Analytica” gloss actually differs slightly from that in printed editions: they read  “bestiis.  Deducendis forte, vel etiam cum comederet cum eis, vel alia bestialia faceret”; “Analytica” seems to have “comederent… facerent” but again that sort of variation was common, as the “n” was often skipped in abbreviation and the associated “macron” (ē) might be mistakenly omitted or, conversely, extended in full form thus altering the tense.

As for the other brief notes in smaller script, only a few letters can be made out. They seem to include additional citations – with the occasional “FF” sign which denotes passages from the Digest – but I could not be sure.

At least two other unusual variants in the text are worth noting. First, in Institutes 1.12.4, at (in the Birks/Macleod translation) “to release a son from the bonds of his authority”,  Krueger has “relaxare”. The more common late 15th century and 16th century reading was “liberare”.  But Cujas (as the Lyon 1627 edition notes) pointed out that “omnes veteres codices” had “relaxare”. This, too, is the “Analytica” reading, which may perhaps suggest a relatively early manuscript date.

The other relates to Institutes 1.10.4, in Krueger “Duorum autem… liberi… iungi possunt” (ie can marry). The common 15th/16th century version was similar, “coniungi”. But there was another possible reading, discussed at length by Cujas (again excerpted in the Lyon 1627 edition): “non possunt”; this went back to a commentary by (or attributed to) the Theophilus who participated in Justinian’s work of compilation. And we see “non” interlineated in the “Analytica” manuscript. Since it was re-used as binding in 1537, we seem to see here a Humanist influence predating Cujas.

So, arguably, a relatively “ordinary” legal text. But its very ordinariness can make it in its way as valuable as egregious nuggets. Any addition to the corpus of medieval legal manuscripts is useful, and the potential of the Northwestern University team’s method is immensely welcome for future research.

Ross Macdonald  is a doctoral candidate at Edinburgh Law School









Stair Society Bursary, 2017-2018

For the academic year 2017–18, the Stair Society, Scotland’s leading legal history society, will offer one or more one-year bursaries of £1,000 to postgraduate students who are enrolled in a Masters or PhD programme and who are preparing a thesis in Scottish legal history, broadly construed. At the time of application eligible postgraduates will be registered at a UK or Irish university. The bursary may be used for subsistence costs, research trips, or to attend conferences.

Applications should be made by 31 March 2017 to the Secretary of the Stair Society, Dr Karen Baston, by email attachment to:

These should include: a) a letter of application setting out the current stage of completion of the thesis, with an appended outline; b) a CV; c) details of any other funding which the candidate is receiving towards their studies; and d) two academic references. Applications should be submitted as a single PDF file.

Candidates will be notified by 30 April of the outcome of their applications, which will be assessed by a panel nominated by the Society’s Council.

The successful applicant will also receive a year’s complimentary membership of the Stair Society, which includes free access to the Society’s publications via HeinOnline and complimentary copies of the Society’s publications issued during the year. Further information about membership is on the membership page of the Society’s website, at A successful candidate will be required to present a 400-word report to the Council on their year’s progress, covering the use made of the bursary, within two months of the end of the academic year. Successful candidates will also be required to acknowledge the support of the Stair Society in their thesis and in any relevant publication.


Edinburgh Postgraduate Legal History Conference

Guest blog by Peter Candy

Alongside the legal history session chaired by Ross Macdonald at this year’s Edinburgh Postgraduate Law Conference (for which see here), I also had the pleasure of chairing a second session dedicated to the same discipline. The theme of the conference – ‘Law and its Boundaries’ – was reflected across the four papers which were presented.

Graeme Cunningham (Glasgow), in his paper entitled ‘Law, Rhetoric and Science: Historical Narratives in Roman Law’, demonstrated that in the development of the law surrounding bonorum possessio the praetor was heavily influenced by equitable considerations. By showing the praetor’s susceptibility to rhetorical arguments, Graeme successfully showed the value of a contextual analysis when investigating the development of Roman legal thought.

Jumping forward 1700 years, Franziska Arnold-Dwyer (Queen Mary University of London) delivered a fascinating paper entitled ‘Fraudulent Captains, Gambling Aristocrats and a Transgender Diplomat: A History of the Doctrine of Insurable Interest’. Following Graeme’s lead, Franziska also demonstrated that the doctrine cannot be fully understood without an appreciation of the social and economic context from which it arose. Of particular interest to your blogger was the exploitation of policies requiring no insurable interest on the part of the insured, which were exploited by fraudsters who overvalued cargoes, only to arrange for them to be captured or sunk on the high seas. The practice will remind the classically minded of an episode in Livy (25.3.8-14), in which the Roman state assumed the risk of shipwreck for transports sailing with supplies to Spain during the Second Punic War. Groups of tax-farmers, never missing an opportunity to make a quick buck, repeatedly defrauded the treasury by overvaluing their cargoes and then reporting them lost at sea.

Two final papers were delivered by Ciarán Crowley and Aengus Fallon (University College Dublin). Ciarán, in ‘Censorship of Literature in Ireland lives on, though only just: Thoughts following the Censorship of Publications Bill 2013’, explored the historical origins and continuing impact of the Committee of Evil Literature. The presenter identified the missed opportunity presented by the passage of the 2013 bill, which might have led to the unification of the still-extant Censorship Board of Ireland with the Film Classification Board. Continuing on the theme of Irish legal history, Aengus Fallon discussed the influences on the drafting of key legislation in the Irish Free State between 1922-24. Again, as is evident from all the papers, context triumphed: the exigencies of the rapid creation of a functioning constitutional machinery, coupled with a scarcity of resources (Arthur Matheson, the sole parliamentary drafter at the time, was indefatigable in his task), led to a replication of the Westminster model and a spate of legislative plagiarism.

A debt of gratitude is owed to the session sponsors, the Centre for Legal History, as well as to the Centre’s director, Dr Paul du Plessis, who acted as discussant. Thanks should also be extended to the conference committee for convening the event, and finally to the presenters themselves, for providing such thought-provoking insights into their research.

Peter Candy is a doctoral candidate at Edinburgh Law School.

Edinburgh Postgraduate Legal History Conference

Guest blog by Ross Macdonald

Your blogger had the pleasure this week of chairing one of the Legal History sessions at this year’s Edinburgh University Postgraduate Law conference. If there was a common theme linking the two papers, it was “people on the margins”. Keith Ruiter (Aberdeen University) in “Outlawry in Medieval Scandinavia” noted the liminal (both physical and social) status of outlaws pending their possible reintegration into society, the early terminology dehumanising them as “wolves” or the like. Eric Loefflad (Kent) – “A Swiss Jurist on the American Frontier” – stressed the use made in the early US Republic of Emer de Vattel whose treatise partly rested political rights on settled agriculture, thus depriving indigenous people of secure legal status.

Dr Stephen Neff (Edinburgh), the discussant, welcomed Loefflad’s contribution to the growing recent re-evaluation of Vattel as an original thinker straddling the period between earlier natural law scholars (such as Vitoria) and later positivism in a world of nation-states.  But it remains arguable at what level he was actually influential – mainly perhaps at the level of shaping Jefferson’s vision of the Republic. American expansion would happen irrespective; Vattel’s views were just convenient. The subsequent discussion drew analogies to the medieval Crusades (in particular in Spain and the Baltic) where Christian expansion was driven forward without the need for a consistent intellectual justification.

As for Ruiter’s analysis – considering contemporary terminology, derived from early medieval poetry and sagas and later legal texts, to discover how the concept of outlawry may have changed and become more precisely focused on its effect on legal status – there was much for a Scots or comparative legal historian to find familiar and challenging.  While Ruiter drew attention to regional variation within Scandinavia (too often, as he noted, not differentiated) some features appeared in the wider Scotto-Scandinavian area or beyond.  Such as the “thing” or moot hill (Ruiter stressed the role of popular assemblies in enforcing early medieval justice), and places of sanctuary.  There were tantalising points of terminology – “biltogh” (only found in Sweden, meaning obscure, but Ruiter suggested “protection”) brings to mind Dutch “borgtocht” (guarantee) and perhaps the Scots “bield”.   All in all it was perhaps fitting that this paper was given just as Aberdeen University publishes its fine memorial volume to Professor Angelo Forte (“Continuity, Change and Pragmatism in the Law”, ed. ARC Simpson et al): this was a session that he would have enjoyed greatly.

Ross Macdonald is a doctoral candidate at Edinburgh Law School.

Postdoctoral researcher in Legal History – Tilburg Law School

The Department of Public Law, Jurisprudence and Legal History at Tilburg Law School is seeking a full-time postdoctoral researcher (30 months) who will be one of the main researchers in the project ‘Analyzing Coherence in Law Through Legal Scholarship’ (CLLS), funded by the European Research Council (ERC Starting Grant 2016). The project will start in January 2017 and will be finished in 2021.

The project will focus on analyzing legal scholarship of the early modern period (c1500 – c1800), concerning the theme of collateral rights (securities) and bankruptcy. The postdoctoral researcher will cooperate with the leader of the project, Dr. Dave De ruysscher, in establishing a methodology for tracing and assessing coherence in writings of legal authors.

Find out more and apply here

New Book: Oxford Handbook of Roman Law and Society

The Oxford Handbook of Roman Law and Society, edited by Paul J. du Plessis, Clifford Ando, and Kaius Tuori, surveys the landscape of contemporary research and charts principal directions of future inquiry. More than a history of doctrine or an account of jurisprudence, the Handbook brings to bear upon Roman legal study the full range of intellectual resources of contemporary legal history, from comparison to popular constitutionalism, from international private law to law and society, thereby setting itself apart from other volumes as a unique contribution to scholarship on its subject.

The Handbook brings the study of Roman law into closer alignment and dialogue with historical, sociological, and anthropological research into law in other periods. It will therefore be of value not only to ancient historians and legal historians already focused on the ancient world, but to historians of all periods interested in law and its complex and multifaceted relationship to society.


The table of contents is available here.

A launch symposium will be held on 6 December 2016 at Queen Mary School of Law. Find out more here.

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