Archive Authors Book Reviews E.J. Hutchinson

Notes on Defending Constantine (2)

Another note on Peter Leithart’s Defending Constantine.

There seems to be some confusion at work in a couple of passages regarding Theodosius I and Theodosius II, by which I mean that actions undertaken by the latter seem to be attributed to the former (and possibly confusion over the Valentinians as well). Two instances (I’m not sure if there are others):

1) On p. 186, we read: “Theodosius did not sit in on the deliberations of the Council of Ephesus, and he and Valentinian sent their representative, Candidianus…”. If one consults the index, he will find that the entries for both Theodosius and Valentinian point to this page. But Theodosius (I) died in 395, and the Council of Ephesus occurred in 431. Theodosius II, his son (401-450), was emperor at this time, as was Valentinian, but not Valentinian I, who died in 375, nor Valentinian II, who died in 392, but Valentinian III (419-455).

2) Similarly, on p. 198: “Constantine’s legislation was collected by the later Christian emperors, Theodosius, who commissioned the codification of Roman law, and Justinian, who commissioned both a codification of the law and a Digest and Institutes for lawers, judges and law students.” One could be forgiven for coming away with the impression that Theodosius I was responsible for the Theodosian Code, but he was not. It was published between 429 and 438 under the auspices of Theodosius II.

Incidentally, this codification was incredibly significant. I will quote part of the entry by the great legal scholar Tony Honoré in the Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd ed.):

The Theodosian Code could not by itself arrest the decline of the western empire, but in its own terms it was a success. It set out the text of all general laws in force since Constantine, thus resolving doubts about what was general, and hampering falsification. The texts were dated so that conflicts between them could be settled on the basis that the later prevails over the earlier….Theodosius did not go on to the ambitious project, adumbrated in 429, of a harmonious restatement of the whole law; but even a hundred years later Justinian was able to achieve this only in part….Justinian included much of the Theodosian Code in his own Codex, but repealed the rest. Outside his sphere of authority Alaric II embodied about a quarter of it in his Lex Romana Visigothorum (Roman Law according to the Visigoths) of 506 and it helped to mould the law in the other kingdoms that replaced the western Roman empire.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.