Littera Florentina

Littera Florentina Facsimile Edition

Italy — 6th century

Taken as plunder to Florence: ancient legal documents commissioned by Emperor Justinian I

  1. The most important surviving copy of an important Roman legal text commissioned by Emperor Justinian I (ca. 482–565)

  2. The 6th century manuscript originated in Amalfi, which was then part of Byzantine-controlled Italy

  3. Although its history in the 11th and 12th centuries is still debated, the codex came to Florence as plunder in 1406

Littera Florentina

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Littera Florentina

The Littera Florentina is the closest and arguably the oldest official copy of the 6th century Digest of Roman law, which was created at the behest of the powerful Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I (ca. 482–565). It came to its current home in Florence’s Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in 1406 as war booty from Pisa, but its earlier history continues to be debated among historians. Nonetheless, it is one of the most important documents in legal history and its introduction into the West sometime in the 11th or 12th centuries served as the impetus for an explosion of renewed interest in the study of Roman law.

Littera Florentina

The Littera Florentina is a manuscript of the Digest, a compendium of juristic texts of Roman law that were compiled from 530 to 533 at the behest of the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I (ca. 482–565). The Codex Florentinus is the most important surviving transcription of this important Roman legal text, and appears to have been made in the 6th century, making it likely the oldest. It came to its current home in Florence’s Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in 1406. In the course of a war between the Norman King of Sicily, Roger II (1095–1154), and Pope Innocent II (r. 1130-43), the manuscript was supposedly taken as war booty from the city of Amalfi in 1135 by Holy Roman Emperor Lothair II (1075–1137), an ally of the Pope. After being restored to Roman rule by the General Belisarius (ca. 500–565), Amalfi was part of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire from the 6th to the 9th centuries and thus a copy of the Digest was to be found there. This excellent specimen is joined here by other medieval copies to give a comprehensive record of this critical piece of legal history.

A Historic Legal Text

The massive legal text is written in Greek and presented in two columns and printed in scriptura continua, an uncial script without spaces between the individual words and without punctuation marks, presumably chosen to fit as much as possible into the massive tome. A glossary to aid the reader was first added by Irnerius of Bologna (ca. 1050 – after 1125) as part of the revival of the study of Roman law in the Latin West, and work was continued after his death by several of his students. The law school in Bologna continued to be the most important center for studying jurisprudence for centuries. All subsequent transcriptions and translations of the Digest are believed to originate from this codex, which is why it is given the name littera. By tracing these various transcriptions, it has been theorized that the codex was first taken to Pisa, the forces of which participated in the attack on Melfi alongside the Emperor Lothair II. As such, the manuscript was known during the Middle Ages as the Littera Pisana until it was plundered by Florentine forces after they successfully sieged the city of Pisa in 1406. Other historical sources argue that the text was discovered under more peaceful circumstances in 1070 and served as an impetus for the founding of the University of Bologna in 1088. Although its history in the 11th and 12th centuries is still debated by legal historians, its important role in legal history is indisputable, and as such has been one of the most prized possessions of the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana for 600+ years.


Alternative Titles
Justiniani Augusti pandectarum codex Florentinus
Codex Florentinus
Size / Format
1814 pages / 36.6 × 32.0 cm
6th century

Available facsimile editions:
Facsimile Editions

#1 Justiniani Augusti Pandectarum - Codex Florentinus

Leo S. Olschki – Florence, 1988

Publisher: Leo S. Olschki – Florence, 1988
Commentary: 1 volume by Alessandro Corbino and Bernardo Santalucia
Language: Italian
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scopa, colors). The pages are presented on a larger white background and the facsimile is slightly reduced in size compared to the original. The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
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