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Byzantine Canon Law and Medieval Legal Pluralism: The Southern Italian Manuscripts (10th-14th Centuries)

  • Author(s): Morton, James
  • Advisor(s): Mavroudi, Maria
  • et al.
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Abstract

This dissertation examines the role of legal culture in shaping the identity of the Greek Christians of southern Italy as a cultural and religious minority in the pluralistic pre-modern Mediterranean world. In the period in question, southern Italy passed from the jurisdiction of the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire to that of the Latin Kingdom of Sicily and the Roman papacy. Nonetheless, the Italo-Greeks continued to compile and read manuscript collections of Byzantine religious law, known in Greek as ‘nomocanons’, for another three centuries afterwards. This study provides the first ever comprehensive attempt to identify and study the surviving nomocanons of southern Italy.

The aims of the dissertation are threefold: to introduce the reader to the Italo-Greek nomocanons and their contents; to explain why they were produced and preserved under Latin rule; and to analyse what they reveal about the place of Greek-rite Christianity in medieval southern Italy. I have combined the theoretical perspective of legal anthropology – especially legal pluralism – with the methodology of material philology to examine the manuscripts as evidence for the legal, cultural, and religious context in which they were produced. My interpretation has been guided in particular by the legal scholar Robert Cover’s theory of law as a social discourse or narrative.

The dissertation’s key conclusions are that the formal system of Byzantine religious law in southern Italy survived the Norman conquest for over a century as the local institutions of the Greek church remained largely intact. However, as the Italo-Greeks became more closely integrated into the institutional structures of the Church of Rome in the thirteenth century, the nomocanons began to lose their value as sources of legal authority. They came to serve instead as sources of cultural authority, used to explain and justify the maintenance of a separate Greek identity in the face of increasing assimilation into the Latin majority.

Finally, the dissertation provides a series of comprehensive descriptions of the contents and material characteristics of each of the manuscripts in question for scholarly reference.

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This item is under embargo until March 10, 2023.