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No 27, november 2024 – Late medieval ius commune: concepts, methods, influences


  • Wouter Druwé (KU Leuven)

  • Dante Fedele (CNRS-Lille)

In recent decades, research on late medieval ius commune has brought to light unpublished texts, catalogued manuscripts and editions, investigated the production of the juridical book, traced the biography and production of several jurists, explored multiple institutes of private or public law, and offered syntheses on medieval legal science as a whole. However, while important works have long drawn attention to several historical and methodological questions, including that of the definition of ius commune, these questions still continue to challenge us today. Devoting a dossier to some of these issues seems necessary, not only to renew the debate among specialists, but also to show its relevance and importance to the community of historians and legal historians in its broadest sense. Our ambition is to collect studies that contribute to a better historicisation of medieval ius commune (twelfth century – early sixteenth century) and to strengthen a methodological awareness in its study, with the aim of overcoming approaches to this concept that are sometimes too vague and to avoid the ever-present risks of a merely dogmatic legal history.

Without being exhaustive, the following questions in particular seem to invite for reflection:

Research themes

1. The notion of ius commune

Often used to refer generally to what has been called the ‘system’ of ius commune – namely a unified system of Roman, canonical and feudal learned norms in medieval and modern Europe – this concept needs to be studied more closely in order to grasp the dynamics of its construction and to distinguish the different meanings it had in medieval texts. How did the transition from ius commune understood as natural law or law of nations (Dig.,, 1.1.6) to ius commune understood as Roman law as a whole occur? To what extent did this concept come to include canon law as well, considering that despite the emergence of the notion of utrumque ius, civil and canon law remained separate disciplines? And to what extent was feudal law also included in the term? Furthermore, how did the notions of iura propria (Dig. 1.1.6, 1.1.9) and ius singulare (Ordinary gloss ius singulare ad Dig. 1.3.16) contribute to the definition of ius commune? And what different approaches can be recognised according to the periods and places of production of the studied texts? Regarding the latter, the geography of the project is intended to be broad and also aims at the relationship between ius commune and other notions used in vernacular languages such as ‘droit commun’ and ‘common law’.

2. The links between education, doctrine and practice:

  • The main aim is to reconsider the relationship between the different genres of legal literature and the teaching of law, at different times and in different schools. What logical and didactic tools were used in teaching, and what was their impact on the interpretation of libri legales? To what extent does the use of these tools allow us to establish precise relationships between the teaching of law and the teaching of other disciplines such as theology, logic and grammar?

  • On the other hand, while ius commune has often been reduced to a scholarly law or Professorenrecht, we would like to investigate the influence exerted by the doctrines of the ius commune on legal practice, and more generally on medieval political, social and economic reality – again taking into account local situations and the evolution over time. In their interpretative activity, what part did the jurists play in clarifying the texts studied and in adapting them to contemporary reality, drawing from them argumenta to be used in practice? What role did the production of consilia and allegationes play, not only in judicial disputes, but also in response to initiatives from administrative bodies and even in the framework of diplomatic disputes? What is the relationship between the scientific activity of jurists and their active participation in institutions and political life? And to what extent was the development of ius commune influenced by the demands and needs of political authorities?

  • This leads us to raise the question of the interactions between ius commune and particular laws (iura propria), on the one hand to re-evaluate the ‘absolute’ or ‘subsidiary’ nature of the former (according to Francesco Calasso’s terminology) in different contexts, on the other hand to encourage authors to reflect on ius commune not only as a positive body of laws, but – above all – as a method, based on a refined use of dialectics, not only aiming at the harmonization of different opinions, but also of distinct normativities.

3. The relationship to sources:

  • Since the middle of last century, historiography has insisted on the need to take into account the manuscript tradition, alongside the printed tradition, in order to achieve a global view on medieval legal science. More recently, the need to renew our approach to modern editions has also been formulated by book historians proposing an analysis of the latter that is comparable – in breadth and depth – to that normally devoted to manuscripts. Beyond the study of individual works, how, from a methodological point of view, can the examination of manuscripts and printed editions still contribute today to nourish and even reorient research on medieval ius commune?

  • Specific problems flow from our systematic approaches, which were fundamentally unknown to medieval jurists. On the one hand, the commentaries only follow the order of the libri legales, which forces researchers to gather and analyse passages on a certain subject that are scattered in various volumes and were often written at different times in the career of a jurist: how should we proceed to elaborate a coherent discourse while respecting the nature of our sources? On the other hand, when studying the consilia one may ask to what extent they can be used to reconstruct the thought of their author, knowing that they were often pro parte.

4. Influence on the modern era (mid-sixteenth – nineteenth centuries)

Despite the rise of humanism and national sentiment, the breakdown of religious unity and the decline of Latin as a universal legal language, can we recognise an influence of the methods developed by late medieval ius commune on the legal culture of the modern era?

5. Varia

Contributions that do not directly address these methodological issues, but focus on specific lawyers, sources or institutes, are also welcome, provided that the authors keep these issues in mind and make them clear in their discussion.

Selective bibliography:

  1. Autographa I.1 Giuristi, giudici e notai (sec. XII-XVI med.), ed. G. Murano, Bologna, CLUEB, 2012.

  2. Autographa I.2 Giuristi, giudici e notai (sec. XII-XV), ed. G. Murano, Imola, La Mandragora, 2016.

  3. M. Bellomo, The Common Legal Past of Europe, 1000-1800, Washington, D.C., The Catholic University of America Press, 1995.

  4. M. Bellomo, ‘Ius commune e ius proprium. Riflessioni su tendenze e aspetti della storiografia giuridica europea sul medioevo’, in Excerptiones iuris. Studies in Honor of André Gouron, ed. B. Durand and L. Mayali, Berkeley, Robbins Collection Publications, 2000, p. 35-47.

  5. J. Brundage, ‘Universities and the “ius commune” in medieval Europe’, Rivista internazionale di diritto comune, 11 (2000), pp. 237-253.

  6. F. Calasso, Introduzione al diritto comune, Milan, Giuffrè, 1951.

  7. M. Caravale, Alle origini del diritto europeo. Ius commune, droit commun, common law nella dottrina giuridica della prima età moderna, Bologna, Monduzzi, 2005.

  8. O. Cavallar-J. Kirshner, Jurists and Jurisprudence in Medieval Italy. Texts and Contexts, Toronto/Buffalo/London, University of Toronto Press, 2020.

  9. V. Colli, Giuristi medievali e produzione libraria, Stockstadt am Main, Keip, 2005.

  10. H. Coing, Europäisches Privatrecht, t. I, Älteres Gemeines Recht (1500 bis 1800), Munich, C.H. Beck'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1985; t. II, 19. Jahrhundert. Überblick über die Entwicklung des Privatrechts in den ehemals gemeinrechtlichen Ländern, ibid., 1989.

  11. O. Condorelli, ‘La dottrina delle fonti del diritto nel Commentario del Panormitano sulla distinctio prima del Decretum’, Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung – Kanonistische Abteilung 91/1 (2005), pp. 299-354.

  12. Construction de l’Europe: naissance des Universités et diffusion du droit savant, dossier in Revue d’histoire des Faculté de droit et de la culture juridique, 28 (2008) (with contributions by J. Verger, E. Cortese, G. Dolezalek, A. Lefebvre-Teillard, J. Krynen, G. Leyte).

  13. E. Conte, Diritto comune, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2009.

  14. E. Cortese, ‘Agli albori del concetto di diritto comune in Italia (sec. XII-XIII)’, El dret comú i Catalunya, ed. A. Iglesia Ferreirós, Barcelona, Fundació Noguera 1999, pp. 173-95.

  15. W. Decock, Theologians and Contract Law. The Moral Transformation of the Ius Commune (ca. 1500-1650), Leiden/Boston, Martinus Nijhoff, 2013.

  16. D. De ruysscher, ‘Ius Commune Legal Scholarship and Coherence: The Author's Structure’, Historia et ius 15 (2019), paper 7.

  17. Der Einfluss der Kanonistik auf die europäische Rechtskultur, ed. O. Condorelli, F. Roumy, M. Schmoeckel (vol. 1-6), Y. Mausen (vol. 4) and D. von Mayenburg (vol. 5) [Norm und Struktur, 37], Cologne, Böhlau, 2009-2020.

  18. O. Descamps and A. Wijffels, ‘Approches historiques de la notion de ius commune en Europe occidentale’, in Sur les chemins d'un jus commune universalisable, ed. M. Delmas-Marty, K. Martin-Chenut and C. Perruso, Paris, mare&martin, 2021.

  19. S. Donlan and D. Heirbaut (eds.), The Laws’ Many Bodies: Studies in Legal Hybridity and Jurisdictional Complexity, c. 1600-1900, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, 2015.

  20. W. Druwé, Loans and Credit in Consilia and Decisiones in the Low Countries (c. 1500-1680), Leiden/Boston, Brill, 2020.

  21. D. Fedele, The Medieval Foundations of International Law. Baldus de Ubaldis (1327-1400), Doctrine and Practice of the Ius Gentium, Leiden/Boston, Brill, 2021.

  22. A. Gouron, ‘Le droit commun a-t-il été l'héritier du droit romain ?’, Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 142-1 (1998), p. 283-292.

  23. J.-L. Halpérin, ‘L’approche historique et la problématique du jus commune’, Revue internationale de droit comparé, 52 (2000), pp. 717-731.

  24. R.H. Helmholz, The ius commune in England : Four Studies, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2001.

  25. Legal Consulting in the Civil Law Tradition, edited by M. Ascheri, I. Baumgärtner and J. Kirshner, Berkeley, Robbins Collection, 1999.

  26. L. Mayali, ‘Ius civile et Ius commune dans la tradition juridique médiévale’, in Droit romain, Jus civile et droit français (Etudes d'histoire du droit et des idées politiques, 3 (1999)), ed. J. Krynen, Toulouse, Presses de l'Université des sciences sociales de Toulouse, 1999, pp. 201-217.

  27. S. Menzinger, Giuristi e politica nei comuni di popolo. Siena, Perugia e Bologna, tre governi a confronto, Rome, Viella, 2006.

  28. D. Osler, ‘Turning the Title-Page’, Rechtshistorisches Journal, 6 (1987), pp. 173-182.

  29. A. Padovani, L’insegnamento del diritto a Bologna nell’età di Dante, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2021.

  30. B. Paradisi, ‘Il problema del diritto comune nella dottrina di Francesco Calasso’, in Il diritto comune e la tradizione giuridica europea, ed. D. Segoloni, Perugia, Libreria universitaria, 1980, pp. 169-300.

  31. K. Pennington, ‘Learned Law, Droit Savant, Gelehrtes Recht: The Tyranny of a Concept’, Rivista internazionale di diritto comune, 5 (1994), pp. 197-209.

  32. M.-F. Renoux-Zagamé, ‘Le droit commun dans l'histoire juridique européenne: valeur et signification d'un héritage’, in L'Europa e il diritto, ed. D. Castellano, Naples, ESI, 1989, pp. 17-37.

  33. E. Schrage, Utrumque Ius. Eine Einführung in das Studium der Quellen des mittelalterlichen gelehrten Rechts, Berlin, Dunker & Humblot, 1992.

  34. The Creation of the Ius Commune. From Casus to Regula, ed. J.W. Cairns and P.J. du Plessis, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2010.

  35. N. Warembourg, ‘La notion de “droit commun” dans l’Ancienne France coutumière : Point d'étape’, Glossae, 13 (2016), pp. 670-684 (available at

  36. A. Wijffels, ‘Qu’est-ce que le ius commune?’, in Le Code civil entre ius commune et droit privé européen, Brussels, Bruylant, 2005, pp. 643-661.

Provisional schedule:

  1. Submission of paper proposals by 1 December 2022.

  2. Selection of proposals by the coordinators before 10 January 2023.

  3. For accepted proposals, delivery of articles by 15 November 2023.

  4. First evaluation of the articles at the January 2024 committee.

  5. Submission of corrected articles by the authors before 1 June 2024.

  6. Second evaluation of the articles at the June/July 2024 committee.

  7. Final submission of articles by 15 September 2024.

  8. Publication in Clio@Themis n°27/2024 in November/December 2024.

How to apply?

Proposals for contributions (in French, English, Italian or German) should be sent, before 1 December 2022, to and

Applicants should explain how the proposed paper fits into the overall project. Each proposal should be approximately 400 words in length and should include the author’s first and last name, e-mail address and academic affiliation.

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