Codex Theodosianus


A Roman imperial law code, published on 15 February 438 on the authority of II, with a covering constitution addressed to the pretorian prefect of the East ( Theodosiana I). It had been approved by the Western emperor, Valentinian III, during his stay in Constantinople in October 437 when he married the daughter of II.

The reason for the publication of the code was practical. Texts of imperial laws had become confused, repetitive, and sometimes self- contradictory. For years there had been complaints and demands for reform (see Thompson, 1979, p. 21). Lawyers were becoming ignorant of the law.

II was interested in legal matters. On 26 February 425 he established professorial chairs for the teaching of literary sciences and law in Constantinople ( Theodosianus xiv.9.3). This was followed on 27 March 429 by a project aimed at updating and revising the existing Codex Gregorianus and Codex Hermogenianus (Codex Theodosianus i.1.5). The work proved impossible to carry out, and on 20 December 435 a simpler scheme was decided upon, designed to codify general enactments of Constantine (taken to mean after his defeat of Maxentius on 28 October 312).

Legislation was divided into sixteen sections according to general subject, the first, for instance, relating to the emperor’s decrees, the seventh to military affairs, and the sixteenth to legislation relating to the church. The emperor’s hand may be seen in the tendency, wherever possible, toward conciseness and brevity. The Theodosianus stands as a lasting monument to his reign and to the personal authority, sometimes underestimated, that he exercised.

There are fewer laws directed to officials in Egypt and Alexandria than might be anticipated, given the importance of the province to the empire. The code, however, provides some important information concerning social life in Egypt. In particular, the series of laws De patrociniis vicorium ( Theodosianus xi.24.1-6) throws light on the system of landholding in force in Egypt in the fourth century, mainly comprising small to medium landholders, and the threat to this system posed by the development of patronage.

Patronage laid the client open to abuses, and it also stood to deprive the state of revenue. Another series of laws defines the status and immunities of members of the Senate of Alexandria two years before the publication of the code ( Theodosianus xii.1.189-92, June- August 436).


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  • Thompson, E. A., ed. and trans. De rebus bellicis. A Roman Reformer and Inventor. New York, 1979.
  • Zulueta, F. de. De patrociniis vicorum. Oxford Social and Legal Studies 1. Oxford, 1909.