Byzantine law

Byzantine law. Positive law in Byzantium in the 6th–15th century AD, founded on Roman law. At times Byzantine law was influenced by the customary law of various peoples who themselves had adopted the Byzantine legal and political systems. Slavic influence on property law is evident, especially in the institution of community control with the allotment of land for individual ownership. As Byzantine law spread, it affected the law of Kyivan Rus’ as well; certain norms of Byzantine origin, especially those concerning public law, can already be seen in the treaties of the princes of Kyiv with Byzantium. Byzantine judicial norms were partially reflected in the Ruskaia Pravda. However, the influence of Byzantine law was strongest in the church decrees of Kyivan princes. Church legal proceedings in Ukraine were carried out on the basis of the norms of Byzantine law and specifically according to certain Greek legal compendiums: the Nomocanon the Ecloga, and the Procheiron (see Canon law). In addition to the official compendiums of Byzantine law, South Slavic versions were known as well: Zakon sudnyi liudem (based on the Ecloga), and Knigy zakonnyia (The Books of Law). Not only members of the clergy, but also so-called church people, came under the jurisdiction of church courts. A number of the norms of Old Ukrainian customary law were incorporated into the Byzantine compendiums of law in Ukraine, and especially into their Ukrainian counterparts, Kormchaia kniga (based on the Nomocanon), and Zakony hradskiie (Municipal Laws). Byzantine law had an influence on Ukrainian positive law of that time, enriching it with new concepts and institutions, mainly in civil law (in the areas of inheritance and testament). In Bessarabia Byzantine law as codified in the medieval Hexabiblos Harmenopoulos was in force until the Revolution of 1917.

The reception of Byzantine law in Ukraine was only partial, because of the highly developed and deeply rooted norms of Old Ukrainian customary law. The influence of Byzantine public law on institutions in Kyivan Rus’ was minimal.

Vasyl Markus

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]

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