Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
Across the Centuries

Understanding Primary Sources:
The Justinian Code

Objective: Students analyze a section of the Justinian Code and collaborate to create a new set of laws for the class.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
3 hours over 3 days

Building Background:
Ask for volunteers to help you re-examine some of the events leading to the Roman Empire's collapse. Review how civil war, corruption, and foreign invasions that began in A.D. 161 left the empire weak. Several emperors such as Diocletian and Constantine tried to prevent the collapse by dividing the empire into smaller regions. The Roman Empire was officially divided by the will of Emperor Theodosius upon his death in A.D. 395. The western empire was quickly overrun by foreign invaders while the eastern half survived as the Byzantine Empire. Encourage students to list some of the Roman traditions that survived the fall of the empire. Remind students that Roman legal traditions survived through the efforts of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, who had Roman law organized into the Justinian Code. Tell students that they will be learning about this code and creating their own legal code to govern their class.

What To Do:

1. Distribute The Classroom Law Code worksheet. Tell students to read the samples of the Justinian Code that appear and answer the questions that follow. Encourage students to think about what other laws may have guided Roman and Byzantine society.

2. If your class has Internet access, visit the Medieval Sourcebook: The Institutes of Justinian, 535 CE (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/535institutes.html) and review the full text of the Justinian Code. Encourage students to click on each of the four books of the code to note all the different areas of law it addresses.

3. Encourage students to visit your local library to research state legal codes. Have students review a state's laws to learn about the different types of statutes included in a state legal code. Compare a state legal code to the Justinian Code. Have students take note of any areas of the law that they might find interesting. If students have difficulty understanding legal terminology, focus their efforts away from the individual laws and more on the areas of law.

4. Encourage students to share their research with the class. Have them vote to choose the areas of law they would include in a classroom legal code. Guide students by offering examples such as property law, judicial law, and criminal law. As students offer examples, record them on the board in an outline form.

5. Divide the class into small committee groups. Assign one part of the outline to each group. Explain to each committee that it is responsible for creating the laws that will appear in that part of the legal code.

6. Each committee will brainstorm and record new laws around its section of the classroom legal code. After finishing their new laws, each committee will choose a representative to present their laws to the class. Encourage students to ask questions about the laws and offer suggestions or revisions.

Wrap up the activity by posting each committee's revised laws. Review each law with the class to make sure that each student in the class understands the code. Have students offer suggestions about how the class might be able to enforce these new laws.


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