Justinian Code of Law: Lesson for Kids

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  • 0:03 Justinian the Great
  • 0:49 The Justinian Code
  • 1:40 Important Laws
  • 2:46 Interesting Facts
  • 3:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kristin Pia Hayman

Kristin taught for over 10 years in the elementary classroom. She holds a B.A. in Journalism as well as a Master's Degree in Elementary Education.

The Justinian Code was created by the emperor Justinian in the late days of the Roman (or Byzantine) Empire. This lesson will look into why the code was so important and what types of protection it gave to the citizens.

Justinian the Great

Imagine trying to run an empire, but not having a strict set of laws to enforce. Or imagine that there are laws, but most of them are not even written down! Would that be difficult? Well, Justinian sure thought so.

Justinian was given the title of emperor of the Byzantine Empire (also called the late Roman Empire) in the year 527. He was a strong leader; he was powerful and fair. One of his goals was to protect the people, but how could he do that when the laws were scattered and unclear? Even worse, because the empire was so large, some laws were enforced in one area, but not another. How confusing!

The Justinian Code

One of the most important accomplishments for Justinian was his creation of the Justinian Code. For this, Justinian had commissioners (heads of government), judges, and lawyers write down all of the laws in one place so that they would be clear to the citizens of the empire. The commissioners went through all of the old written laws, cutting out unnecessary laws, adding new laws, and changing the existing laws to make more sense. Talk about proofreading!

Justinian made it a point to add new laws to protect the people and even gave rights to women and slaves (two groups that had not had many rights in the past). Over time, four books of law were created, and together they made up the Justinian Code.

Important Laws

The Justinian Code talked about so many important laws including marriage, property, crime, adoption, slavery, business, and trade laws. Phew! Pretty much everything an empire might need was included in those laws.

There are many laws that still make sense even today. For example, the code stated that all ports and rivers were public areas, therefore everyone had the right to fish in those waters. It also talked about how the price of something you are selling has to be honest and fair, otherwise you could be charged with stealing.

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