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Bio-Bibliographical Guide to Medieval and Early Modern Jurists

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Report No. t009

Andreas Alciatus



Alternative Names

Andrea Alciato; Andrea Alciati



A.’s family originated in Alzate (prov. Novara), whence his surname. He was born in Milano, the son of Ambrogio, a wealthy merchant who held public offices, and of the noble Margherita Landriani. A. had a humanistic formation under Aulo Giano Parrasio and Demetrio Calcondila. From them he acquired knowledge of the Greek and Latin culture and philological training. In 1508, he began legal studies in Pavia with, among others, Jason de Mayno and Philippus Decius. From about 1511 until 1514, A. was in Bologna. Since the university of Pavia was in a crisis due to the war, the expulsion of the French, and the first Sforza restoration (1512–15), A. obtained his doctorate in civil and canon law at Ferrara in 1516.

A. became a well-known humanist jurist who has considerable claim to having brought the teaching of law in the humanist fashion to France. Beginning in 1518, he taught at the university of Avignon with another Italian, Gianfrancesco Sannazzari della Ripa. Both instructors used the method of teaching then current in Italy, the dialectical-rational or Bartolist method. Neither A. nor his contemporary humanist jurist in Germany, Ulricus Zasius, criticized Accursius and the commentators in the manner of Guillaume Budé, although they both corresponded with Budé and with Erasmus. A. did, however, begin to lecture at Avignon in the humanist style, but outside of the regular course of instruction.

During the Lutheran Reformation, A., who cultivated a critical Erasmean form of Catholicism, publicly maintained loyalty to the Holy See. In 1521, Leo X granted A. the title of Count Palatine, which carried the power to create doctors. Due to an economic crisis in Avignon, A. returned to Italy, to Milano, and spent the years 1522 to 1527 there writing, while the law faculty at Pavia remained closed. Following the French capitulation and the dismissal of Francesco II Sforza and with Milano in the hands of Charles V, A. returned to teaching in Avignon in the autumn of 1527 at lower pay. Understandably, he was happy to accept the favorable conditions offered him by the university of Bourges in the spring of 1529. According to custom, he gave his first lectures in the Bartolist style, but the visible disappointment of the listeners led him immediately to show off his humanist skills. His listeners were many, and included future jurists like François Connan, and even Francis I, from whom he obtained aid and protection. It was at Bourges that legal humanism was developed and perfected. Ancient extrajudicial sources, works of Latin poets, rhetoricians, historians, and theorists, and readings from the ancient manuscript of the Digest (Codex pisanus or florentinus), were used better to understand and interpret the Justinianic corpus and to improve technical discourse. A. used the Latin of the Roman jurists not that of the medieval writers.

In 1533, A. left Bourges when the Sforza duke Francesco II made him a senator of Milano. He taught at Pavia until 1537 when problems with student discipline and the insecurity of his position and salary caused him to take a teaching post in Bologna. A. remained there for four years, teaching an historical-philological survey of the legal texts and their restoration. While A. was teaching at Bologna, he collaborated with Antonio Augustín and his young secretary Jean Matal in the restoration of ancient texts of Roman law. (The latter were working with others on an edition of the Codex florentinus that ultimately led to the publication of a transcription of the manuscript by Lelio and Francesco Torelli in 1553.) In 1541, A. returned to Pavia. In 1542, due to the wars, the suspension of legal teaching, and the late payment of his salary, A. accepted a position offered to him by the duke Ercole II of Ferrara. In 1546, Pope Paul III nominated him to be an apostolic prothonotary, giving him clerical status and asking him to come to Rome to advise him about the council of Trent. Interestingly, A. does not seem to have advised Pope Paul III, but in 1548 he advised Charles V on the transfer of the council from Trent to Bologna. Also in 1546, A. returned to teach at Pavia again, but the last years of his life were tormented by gout and difficulties with student discipline. He reportedly died as a result of excessive drinking and was rumored to have departed from the Christian faith.

A. wrote a great deal, not all of it about law. His first writings reflect his growing knowledge of law, and the historical-philological and linguistic formation that he had acquired previously. His Annotationes in tres posteriores libros codicis (1514, but begun as early as 1511), is filled with accounts of magistrates and obsolete procedures and shows his historical curiosity in the very choice of the subject. The Opusculum quo graecae dictiones fere ubique in digestis restituuntur, dedicated in the same year, testifies to his legal interests as well as his interest in Greek. Around the same time, he began his well-known collection of Milanese inscriptions, an effort stimulated by the humanists’ interest in epigraphy, but original in its focus on public law. It became a great book-album accompanied by the drawings of the inscriptions with commentary and ultimately the source of A’s pioneering history of Milano in Roman times, published long after his death as Rerum patriae libri quatuor (Milano 1625).

In 1518, A. published a collection of his works that assured him of fame, especially because his friend, the bookseller Francesco Calvo, distributed it beyond the Alps. It includes the well-known Paradoxa, a series of legal problems acutely and elegantly resolved; the Dispunctiones which, like the earlier Opusculum restores Greek texts missing from the vulgate Corpus iuris civilis; two books of Praetermissa, the second of which consists of the already-published Opusculum; the Annotationes to the Tres libri; a new work, the treatise De eo quod interest (TUI 1584, t.5), and, finally, a short Declamatio, a model of legal dispute derived from Seneca.

At Avignon, A. wrote a commentary on De verborum obligationibus (Dig. 45.1), which was published in Lyon in 1519. He reworked this commentary throughout his life. Between 1522 and 1527, A. wrote a Libellus de ponderibus et mensuris in Milano. It was printed in Haguenau in 1530 against his wishes. He did not want it published, because in it he had criticized Budé.

A. was very productive at Bourges. His De quinque pedum praescriptione was published in Lyon in 1529, together with De magistratibus. Attacks by those opposed to his method, prompted a reply written under the pseudonym Aurelio Albuzio: In Stellam [Pierre de l’Estoile] et Longovallio [Jean Longueval] . . . defensio (Basel 1529). The De verborum significatione libri quatuor (Lyon 1530), was A’s masterpiece on a fundamental title of the Digest (Dig. 50.16). The work on it seems to have been done largely at Avignon. The Commentaria ad rescripta principum on the Code, seems to have been largely based on his lectures at Bourges (Lyon 1530). Probably also at Bourges, he wrote the De singulari certamine vel duello tractatus (TUI 1584, t.12), which was dedicated to Francis I and published in Paris in 1541.

Three books of A’s Parergon iuris, a large number of brief notes on a miscellany of legal topics were published in Lyon in 1539. To these were added seven more books in 1543.

While dedicating himself principally to law, A. also produced writings on non-legal matters. In 1517 his re-evaluation of Tacitus as compared to Livy appears in a letter added to the pirated edition of Tacitus’ Annales by Alessandro Minuziano. A’s Emblemata first appeared in 1531. It contains a collection of allegories and symbols reproduced with engravings often by known artists – 140 in the main edition, 211 in the Padova edition of 1621 – accompanied by A’s moral commentaries in Latin verses. The collection was in the medieval Christian tradition of taking mythological, fabulous, historical, and literary subjects from the classical world. The work enjoyed 170 editions and translations into German, French, Italian, Castilian, and English. A.’s versatility is also shown in a number of occasional epigrams as well as unpublished Latin compositions, such as a translation of Aristophanes’ The Clouds (1518) and a comedy, Philagyrus, that imitates the Greek playwrights.

While none of A’s works enjoyed the huge printing success of the Emblemata, all of his important works were many times reprinted. Collections of Opera omnia appeared during his lifetime and were updated as he continued to write. Other works were added after his death. His Responsa, some 800 consilia, one of which is included in TUI 1584 (t.12), were first published in Lyon in 1561.

The importance of A. for the legal humanist movement is undeniable. The success of that movement and its profound influence on legal thought, particularly, but not only, in France, is also undeniable. There is also a long tradition, which continues to this day (e.g., D. Osler), of questioning the scholarly methods of the early legal humanists, including those of A. If we are asking the question whether A’s emendations to the vulgate text of the Corpus iuris meet modern scholarly standards, the answer has to be that in many cases they do not. He made too many guesses without firm, and in some cases any, manuscript support. If we ask the question, however, whether his quite profound knowledge of Roman (and Byzantine) history led him to reconstruct the historical meaning of many of those texts, a meaning that had been lost over the centuries, the answer should probably be more positive. His work is hard to evaluate because so much of it is scattered in short pieces. To the extent, however, that we are right in saying that the main thrust of his work was to show how the Roman texts were very much a product of their own time, one has to raise the question, even if it cannot be answered, why his work, and that of those who followed him, attracted so much attention among those who wanted to be, or, in fact, were, practical lawyers or politicians in the first half of the 16th century.

(The TUI 1584 database contains some detail not included here. Somewhat dangerously, we have attempted in the list of texts to arrange A’s works in chronological order on the basis of Belloni and Cortese’s account, using the first date of publication where we have no solid information about the date of composition.)

Source: A. Belloni, E. Cortese, DGI 1.29-32; R. Abbondanza, in DBI (1960).

TUI database



No. 01

Annotationes in tres posteriores libros codicis, 1514. Belloni and Cortese cite an edition in 1514 and a reprint by Francesco Calvo in 1518.

No. 02

Opusculum quo graecae dictiones fere ubique in digestis restituuntur, 1514. In six books. Belloni and Cortese cite an edition dedicated to Jacopo Visconti in 1514 and a reprint by Francesco Calvo in 1518.

No. 03

Paradoxa, 1518. In six books. Belloni and Cortese cite an edition by Francesco Calvo in 1518.

No. 04

Dispunctiones, 1518. In four books. Belloni and Cortese cite an edition by Francesco Calvo in 1518.

No. 05

Praetermissa, 1518. In two books. Belloni and Cortese cite an edition by Francesco Calvo in 1518.

No. 06

De eo quod interest, 1518. Belloni and Cortese cite an edition by Francesco Calvo in 1518.

No. 07

Declamatio, 1518. Belloni and Cortese cite an edition by Francesco Calvo in 1518.

No. 08

Sylloge, 1504 X 1519. A corpus of Milanese inscriptions from the classical period, said to have been begun in 1504–5 and to have been ready for publication in 1518–19, it was never published, but the manuscript circulated widely. V. W. Callahan, ‘Alciatus, Andreas’, 25–6..

No. 09

De verborum obligationibus (Dig. 45.1), 1519. Belloni and Cortese cite an edition (Lyon 1519). It was published again, also in Lyon, in 1538, and in what is probably A’s final recension posthumously in his Opera omnia.

No. 10

In laudem iuris civilis, 1520. According to Belloni and Cortese, an oration pronounced in the autumn of 1520, at the beginning of A’s third academic year at Avignon, and published in 1530.

No. 11

Libellus de ponderibus et mensuris date, 1522 X 1527. According to Belloni and Cortese published in Haguenau in 1530 against A’s wishes.

No. 12

De quinque pedum praescriptione, 1529. Belloni and Cortese cite an edition (Lyon 1529).

No. 13

De magistratibus, 1529. Belloni and Cortese cite an edition (Lyon 1529). It was later published as a preface to the edition of the classical Notitia dignitatum (Basel 1552).

No. 14

In Stellam [Pierre de l’Estoile] et Longovallio [Jean Longueval] . . . defensio, 1529. Published under the pseudonym Aurelio Albuzio. Belloni and Cortese cite an edition (Basel 1529).

No. 15

De verborum significatione libri quatuor (Dig. 50.16), 1530. Belloni and Cortese cite an edition (Lyon 1530), dedicated to the archbishop of Bourges François de Tourmon.

No. 16

Commentaria ad rescripta principum, 1530. Commentaries on the Codex. Belloni and Cortese cite an edition (Lyon 1530).

No. 17

De singulari certamine vel duello tractatus, 1529 X 1533. Belloni and Cortese cite an edition dedicated to Francis I (Paris 1541).

No. 18

Emblemata, 1531. Belloni and Cortese cite an edition dedicated to Konrad Peutinger in 1531. It was printed in 170 editions and translated into several languages. For more of A’s non-legal works, see the biography.

No. 19

Parergon iuris, 1539. Belloni and Cortese cite an edition in three books (Lyon 1539). To these were added seven more books in 1543.

No. 20

De presumptionibus. Tractatus (Lyon 1549) lists this work as ‘incerto auctore, etsi nonnulli eum Alciato tribuant’. Ziletti was less cautious about the attribution. A’s output was large and was for the most part not organized in the traditional fashion. It is possible that this item is somehow derived from A’s works. It seems unlikely that he wrote it in the way that it is presented here. TUI 1584 gives the author of the additiones as Johannes Nicholai Arelatani, q.v. Johannes may have studied with Alciatus when the latter was teaching at Avignon..

No. 21

Responsa. Published posthumously (Lyon 1561), some of these 800 consilia can be dated. We know of no detailed study.

No. 22

Rerum patriae libri quatuor. A’s pioneering history of Milano in Roman times, was published long after his death (Milano 1625). It is based on his Sylloge.

No. 23

Opera omnia. Some of these were published in A’s lifetime, and so are obviously not omnia. Of those that were published after his death we know of none that contains both the Responsa and the Rerum patriae, but we have not examined them all.


Text(s) – Early Printed Editions

No. 06

De eo quod interest, 1518.

Early Printed Editions

Tractatus universi iuris: De eo quod interest. Et est commentarius ad l. unicam.C.de senten.quae pro eo, quod inte.profe. Venezia: F. Ziletti, 1584, 5.7va.

No. 17

De singulari certamine vel duello tractatus, 1529 X 1533.

Early Printed Editions

Tractatus universi iuris: De singulari certamine. Venezia: F. Ziletti, 1584, 12.293va.

No. 20

De presumptionibus.

Early Printed Editions

Tractatus ex variis iuris interpretibus: De presumptionibus incerto auctore, etsi nonnulli eum Alciato tribuant. Lyon, 1549.


Tractatus universi iuris: De presumptionibus, cum additionibus. Venezia: F. Ziletti, 1584, 4.304vb.

No. 21


Early Printed Editions

Tractatus universi iuris: Consilium in materia duelli exceptum ex libro quinto responsorum. Venezia: F. Ziletti, 1584, 12.301vb. One of some 800 consilia that were printed in 1561.



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