Digest of Roman Law online in English; and Hadrian on castrating your slaves

I’d like to highlight that an out-of-copyright translation of the Pandects, otherwise known as the Digest of Roman Law by Justinian, is actually online here as part of the Corpus Juris Civilis, under the  misleading title of “The Civil Law”.  Few people seem to know about this.

I thought that I would look at the comments on the Lex Cornelia, in 48.8, which I was discussing earlier in connection with legislation against magic.  The law is mainly concerned with assassination and poisonings, and so are the comments.  But there were clearly further provisions:

4. Ulpianus, On the Duties of Proconsul, Book VII. …

(2) The Divine Hadrian also stated the following in a Rescript: “It is forbidden by the Imperial Constitutions that eunuchs should be made, and they provide that persons who are convicted of this crime are liable to the penalty of the Cornelian Law, and that their property shall with good reason be confiscated by the Treasury.

“But with reference to slaves who have made eunuchs, they should be punished capitally, and those who are liable to this public crime and do not appear, shall, even when absent, be sentenced under the Cornelian Law. It is clear that if persons who have suffered this injury demand justice, the Governor of the province should hear those who have lost their virility; for no one has a right to castrate a freeman or a slave, either against his consent or with it, and no one can voluntarily offer himself to be castrated. If anyone should violate my Edict, the physician who performed the operation shall be punished with death, as well as anyone who willingly offered himself for emasculation.”

All this is interesting, considering that the priests of the state cult of Magna Mater (Cybele) were eunuchs!

A further interesting provision appears further down:

11. Modestinus, Rules, Book VI.

By a Rescript of the Divine Pius, Jews are permitted to circumcise only their own children, and anyone who performs this operation upon persons of a different religion will incur the penalty for castration.

This rescript of Antoninus Pius is second century, so cannot relate to Paul and Christianity; but if a similar attitude was around, it may explain why circumcision was not favoured by gentile converts.

Finally we get to something related to magic:

By a decree of the Senate it is ordered that anyone who offers sacrifices for the purpose of causing misfortune shall be subjected to the penalty of this law.

But the whole discussion relates to murder, rather than magic; clearly the latter was a minority concern.

Searching further for comments by Ulpian, I find this: 2. Ulpianus, On the Duties of Proconsul, Book VII.  This is in 48.22, concerning associations, but again may relate to Christians.

Anyone who becomes a member of an unlawful association is liable to the same penalty to which those are subject who have been convicted of having seized public places or temples by means of armed men.

5 Responses to “Digest of Roman Law online in English; and Hadrian on castrating your slaves”


  1. Jona

    If I recall correctly, Hadrian’s rescript is also known from a papyrus now in the Sackler library. But I may be wrong.

    Anyhow, Hadrian’s ruling against castration/circumcision was the direct cause of the Bar Kochba Revolt: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Historia_Augusta/Hadrian/1*.html#14.2

  2. Roger Pearse

    Thank you Jona; I had not known either.

  3. stephan

    Roger, as the internet’s authority on Tertullian and his anti-Marcionite works you should be aware of the great numbers of eunuchs in Christian assemblies especially among the Marcionites. There are a number of stories which float around about eunuchs in the Church throughout the second century period. This is especially unusual given we know so little about the constitution of the Church then, almost nothing about autobiographical details of the Fathers. Indeed its not like we would EXPECT to know what has hidden under their robes; the fact that we do is bizarre enough – think Origen. Marcionites continued to encourage the practice for their presbytery. If there were Imperial persecutions in the second century it might explain why Marcionites are credited with a very high rate of mortality rate by the Fathers in those bloodbaths.

  4. Roger Pearse

    Interesting, but I wasn’t aware of it. Do you have some ancient references for this?

  5. rey

    Tertullian Against Marcion 4.XI “Deny now, Marcion, your utter madness, (if you can)! Behold, you impugn even the law of your god. He unites not in the nuptial bond, nor, when contracted, does he allow it; no one does he baptize but a caelebs or a eunuch; until death or divorce does he reserve baptism.”

    I wonder about the word “treasury” in the law of Hadrian “their property shall with good reason be confiscated by the Treasury” what word that was in the original, since a treasury officer can be called Catholicos.