D. Justiniani Institutionum Libri Quator, The Four Books of Justinian's Institutions

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Justinian's Institutes

Title page from The Four Books of Justinian's Institutions, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator George Harris
Published London: Printed by J. Purser for M. Withers
Date 1761
Edition Second
Language Latin and English
Volumes {{{set}}} volume set
Pages iv, 73, 121, 100, 92, [11], [4]
Desc. 4to (27 cm.)
Location Shelf G-4
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]

The Institutes of Justinian is one of the four parts of the Corpus Juris Civilis, a comprehensive body of Roman Law.[1] Created by order of Emperor Justinian under the guidance of his minister Tribonian, the work is the basis of modern civil law systems.[2] The Institutes serves as an introduction to the law, a way for students unfamiliar with the law to build a legal framework by organizing the law into a three part scheme: the law of people, things, and actions. [3] Unlike Justinian's Digest, "each title appears to be a single, continuous essay."[4] The emphasis is on avoidance of confusion, ease of use, and the development of basic knowledge necessary to analyze more complex portions of the law.[5] In Justinian’s own words, it is a "cunabula legume" or cradle of the law.[6]

Illustration, dedication.

Tribonian did not create the Institutes from scratch.[7] Scholars posit that he polished and edited the drafts of two law professors in making the final version.[8] In addition, Tribonian relied heavily on older Roman law sources, especially the Institutes of Gaius.[9]

This volume, D. Justiniani Institutionum Libri Quator, The Four Books of Justinian's Institutions, is a translation with commentary by George Harris (bap. 1721, d. 1796). Harris, a lawyer educated at Oriel College, Oxford, first published his version of the Institutes in 1756.[10] He intended his work to be "an introduction to Vinny's Edition."[11]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as "[H]arris's Justinian. 4to." and given by Thomas Jefferson to James Dinsmore. Brown's Bibliography[12] suggests either the first (1756) or the second (1761) edition, noting that Jefferson sold a copy of the latter to the Library of Congress.[13] George Wythe's Library[14] on LibraryThing indicates "Precise edition unknown. Editions with similar imprints were published at London in 1756 and 1761" and also mentions Jefferson's copy at the Library of Congress. The Wolf Law Library purchased a copy of the second edition.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in contemporary full calf, rebacked in period style. Title page signed "J. Wickham 1789." Purchased from The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd.

This copy belonged to the notable Virginia jurist John Wickham (1763-1839), lead defense counsel in Aaron Burr's treason trial. Wickham studied law at the College of William & Mary and began practicing in Williamsburg in 1785. A longtime friend of John Marshall, Wickham was a loyalist during the Revolution.[15]

Images of the library's copy of this book are available on Flickr. View the record for this book in William & Mary's online catalog.

See also


  1. The Columbia Encyclopedia, s.v. "Corpus Juris Civilis," accessed March 28, 2014.
  2. Justinian’s Institutes, trans. with intro. by Peter Birks and Grant McLeod (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987), 8.
  3. Ibid., 12-13.
  4. Ibid., 12.
  5. Ibid., 15-16.
  6. Ibid., 15.
  7. Ibid., 12.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid., 16.
  10. T. A. B. Corley, "Harris, George (bap. 1721, d. 1796)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004- ), accessed March 28, 2014.
  11. The Four Books of Justinian's Institutions, trans. with notes George Harris (London: 1756), viii.
  12. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at: https://digitalarchive.wm.edu/handle/10288/13433.
  13. E. Millicent Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, (Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress, 1952-1959), 2:397 [no.2191].
  14. LibraryThing, s.v. "Member: George Wythe," accessed on June 28, 2013.
  15. Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, ed. Lyon Gardiner Tyler (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1915), 2:181-182.

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