Bio-Bibliographical Guide to Medieval and Early Modern Jurists

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Notes on Websites

We have been trying to maintain and improve MEMJ for fifteen months when we did not have physical access to a library. In the process, we had to rely much on online resources, some of which we knew about previously, some of which we did not. This is not a comprehensive list of the websites used in compiling MEMJ, but a listing of those that we found useful, if sometimes annoying, as we tried to do our work under trying circumstances. Readers who find that we have missed an important site are invited to let us know by email.

That a remakable amount is now available online is a commonplace; that it is of uneven quality is also a commonplace. Prior to the pandemic, many teachers were telling their students never to use Wikipedia. Wikipedia is, however, a very large enterprise, and there is much in it that is reliable. What we probably should be doing is trying to teach our students how to tell when something in Wikipedia is likely to reliable and when it is likely not to be reliable. That same skill will become increasingly valuable as we, as it seems inevitable, move more and more into digital research and well beyond the specific example of Wikipedia.

The copyright laws remain the single largest barrier to a future of digital research. Journal articles are, for the most part, available online, at least if one has access to an academic library that subscribes to the various services that publish such journals online. Articles in collective publications like Festschriften, proceedings of conferences, and collective works on particular topics (which academic publishers seem to be increasingly favoring) are not generally available online after some vaguely defined date in the early 1920s. The same holds true for freestanding books (e.g., scholarly monographs and editions of primary sources). The Internet Archive and HathiTrust are to be commended for making available during the pandemic, to the general public, in the case of the former, and to member libraries, in the case of the latter, online ‘loan’ copies of digitizations that they have in their possession, even if the items are under copyright. They got sued by a consortium of commercial publishers for their pains.

‘Orphaned copyrights’ remain a problem that seems to defy solution. Imagine a scholar who published a monograph in the 1950s that remains the most authoritative on the topic. The scholar is long dead. His or her literary executor may never have existed, and if such a person existed, s/he cannot be found. For most practical purposes, the work cannot be made available online until the second half of this century. A solution similar to that used in the US for performances of copyrighted music would seem to be a way to solve the problem, but gettting the legislatures to turn their attention to the problem has so far not been successful.

Let us turn more specifically to the websites that we have been using during the pandemic, arranged according the sections of our reports:

Modern Editions

The sources of classical Roman law are easily available online in good editions. The Roman Law Library, compiled by Y. Lassard and A. Koptev and hosted by the université de Grenoble, is the one that we have found most useful. It has virtually all the sources in HTML text. It does not include the editors’ notes. In some cases, e.g., the ‘Berlin stereotype’ edition of the Corpus Iuris Civilis, links are provided to images of the original text, in this case the one hosted by the Internet Archive. Most of the HTML does not include the texts in Greek, though some does. While the website continues to be maintained, it does not seem that anything new has been added to it since 2015.

For medieval Roman law, a number of libraries have put online an early modern edition of the Corpus with the great gloss. We note here the Godefroy edition in the printing of 1604 that the Harvard Law School Library has placed online, and which can be accessed from metadata compiled by the Ames Foundation.

For medieval canon law, access to modern editions of the sources is more complicated. The Medieval Canon Law Virtual Library by David Freidenreich and Edward Reno and hosted by Colby College, has a large collection of medieval canon-law sources that are in the public domain, many of which are in downloadable PDF form. Some of what is available on this site is, in fact, early prints: e.g., Goffredus Tranensis, Sinibaldus Fliscus (Innocent IV), and Hostiensis’ Summa Aurea. Although the pages in the Medieval Canon Law Virtual Library are dated in 2009, there has been at least one recent addition, a link to Edward Reno’s 2017–2018 transcription of the glossa ordinaria on the Liber extra, which is on a separate site. As of this writing, books 1 and 4 have been transcribed to what seems to be a high degree of accuracy from the editio romana of 1582, and the citations compiled in modern form on a separate spreadsheet. The editio romana itself has been available for some time on a site hosted by University of California at Los Angeles.

The Medieval Canon Law Virtual Library contains links to various online versions of the Friedberg edition of the Corpus Iuris Canonici. That available from the Columbia University Library is complete (vol. 1) (vol. 2). It contains PDF images of the edition, backed up with an optical character reading of the text, against which searches may be run, but with caution; the OCR is not completely accurate. The MDZ (BSB) version is of Gratian (vol.1) only, has the text retyped in HTML (seemingly quite accurately), but does not include Friedberg's notes. A comparison of the two versions and references to the new online edition of the ‘first recension’ of Gratian may be found in the ‘Modern Editions’ section of our report on Gratian. In addition to the version of the Liber extra continued in the Columbia version, there is an HTML edition of the text in the Bibliotheca augustana of the Universität Augsburg. It is an elegant piece of web design, and the text seems to be remarkably accurate. It lacks, however, a search-engine and does not include Friedberg’s notes.

On 1 July 2021, a remarkable website called ‘Corpus synodalium’, compiled by Rowan Dorin and team of collaborators and hosted by Stanford University, is scheduled to go public. It is designed to contain all existing local synodal statutes and provincial canons from 1215 to c. 1400. In fact, it also contains a few such statutes and canons from the 12th and early 13th centuries, a large number of such statutes and canons from the 15th century, and a few from the 16th. It seems to be complete so far as printed texts are concerned for 1215 to 1400, and some progress has been made with transcribing texts that are available only in manuscript. The printed texts have been scanned to a relatively high degree of accuracy by using advanced scanning technology and painstaking checking.

Early Prints

The Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke contains links to online versions of the incunabula that it lists. Preference is given to those in the MDZ (BSB), but digital versions in other libraries can be reached by clicking on the URN, if it is given, or on the names those libraries that have a dotted line under them. Of the various search engines that GW offers, we have had the best luck with ‘Allgemeine Recherche’, but to search for an author, you need to know the normalized names that GW uses. They tend to be in Latin, but what are thought to be surnames are inverted, e.g., Ubaldis, Baldus de, but Bartolus de Saxoferrato.

For early printed editions after 1500, the union catalogue known as WorldCat frequently contains links to those that various libraries have placed online. The publicly available version of WorldCat is adequate for these purposes. The version designed for librarians, to which most major libraries subscribe, contains more bibliographic information. The Karlsruher Institut für Technologie has a virtual catalogue that aggregates many union catalogues, including not only WorldCat but also many national union catalogues and many catalogues of national libraries: KVK - Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog.

In order to use a library catalogue to find works of medieval and early modern authors, one needs to know what the library calls the author. For US libraries this information can be found, with much more (though not always accurate), in the Library of Congress author authority file. There are various ways of finding the authority files for European libraries. The most comprehensive is that provided by the Virtual International Authority File, which includes the Library of Congress. The one that we have found most useful is the CERL Thesaurus (Consortium of European Research Libraries Thesaurus). At minimum, it will tell you how someone’s name is spelled in the catalogue of the library in question, and is useful for getting from the Latin name to the vernacular form in which it is normally listed. In many cases the authority file is linked, and these, particularly those of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF) and Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (DNB) contain information, or guesses, about the person in question.

For 16th-century prints the Italian edit16 is a remarkable census, designed to include all books printed in Italy in the 16th century and those printed in Italian outside of Italy. Where possible, it includes images of the title pages of the books.

By way of expanding what it available in the Medieval Canon Law Virtual Library, the Ames Foundation has made available on a site hosted by the Harvard University Library digitized early prints of Antonius de Butrio’s Commentaria, Hostiensis’ Commentaria, Johannes Andrea’s Commentaria, and those of Panormitanus. The Harvard Law Library has also digitized all of the volumes of the Tractatus universi iuris (Venezia 1584–1586), and the Ames Foundation has prepared accompanying metadata. The Harvard Law Library has also digitized all the volumes of the Tractatuum ex variis iuris interpretibus collectorum (Lyon 1549). For these volumes, however, the metadata is much skimpier.


The University of Chicago Library has a useful web page that aggregates websites that list digitized medieval manuscripts. Many are limited to one country. Some of what is listed is quite specialized (e.g. digitized manuscripts of the Roman de la Rose) or quite broad but not including legal manuscripts (e.g., manuscripts containing musical notation). For our purposes, the most comprehensive is DMMapp: Digitized Medieval Manuscripts app. The site is somewhat amateurish, but it allows one to search for individual libraries and reports the approximate number of manuscripts that the library has digitized. It then provides a link to the library’s catalogue of what it has digitized. The digital map of libraries on the site is somewhat less useful for our purposes, but it can get you to the same results if used properly.

During the pandemic, we began to use extensively the digital catalogue of the Biblioteca apostolica Vaticana (BAV). The BAV uses the acronyms OVL for OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog) Vatican Library and DVL for Digital Vatican Library. The relationship between the two is not completely clear, but both will provide access to an online manuscript catalogue.The search page for manuscripts for which you know the signature is found at To search by author use The project has been going since 2010, and as of this writing, the site announces that 21,382 manuscripts of a total of some 80,000 have been digitized. What that means is not quite clear, but we discovered that searching for an author would call up digital cataloguing even if the manuscript itself had not yet been digitized. For example, searching by an author’s name (Cino da Pistoia) produced a hit to a manuscript (Urb. lat. 174) that could not be reached by shelfmark. The digital cataloguing sometimes contains information from the Kuttner Catalogue, sometimes not, even when the item is in the Catalogue. One hopes that eventually it will include all the information in the Catalogue. When the manuscript itself has been fully digitized, the cataloguing is very detailed and item specific, and the images can be reached through Even now, this project is a huge boon to researchers in medieval and early modern juristic works, and will be even more so when it is completed.

Well known is the Münchener Digitalisierungszentrum (MDZ) of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (BSB). As of this writing, it encompasses 2,705,191 digitized items, a large proportion of which have been digitized with the most up-to-date technology. The MDZ includes not only items from the BSB but also links to other German libraries’ digital collections. Of particular interest for our purposes are the digitized copies of the clm series of the BSB manuscripts (extensive, but not complete) and of the BSB’s collection of legal incunabula and early prints (also extensive but not complete). Searching with the Google search engine does not always return a hit to this website, and it is better to search it separately.

A similar center for digitization of material in French libraries, known as Gallica, is maintained by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF). It has more items online (8,461,164, as of this writing) than does the MDZ, and a smaller proportion is of interest to readers of this page. A number of provincial French libraries have done a remarkable job at digitizing their manuscripts. (Troyes comes immediately to mind, and there are others.) Searching for something on Gallica is difficult. (There may be tricks that we have not discovered. Google returns references to Gallica only selectively.) If what one is looking for is a manuscript at the BNF that is online, we have had more success using the search engine of the Département des manuscrits and limiting the search to ‘documents numérisés’.

For Roman law and Romano-canonical procedure, Gero Dolezalek’s Manuscripta juridica remains the best general source of citations to manuscripts, despite its age and the even greater age of the manuscript catalogues on which it relies. References have to be checked against more recent catalogues and for online availability, but it remains the best place to start for what it covers. It is a shame that no one has done the same thing for canon law manuscripts.

CALMA, discussed below under ‘Bibliography’ also, in some instances, includes manuscript citations, but not links.

Ideally, of course, someone should do an aggregative website of digitized medieval legal manuscripts. That may be too much to hope for, but what the music historians have done with online medieval manuscripts that contain musical notation shows what can be done.


The section Diritto europeo medievale e moderno of the BEIC (Biblioteca Europea di Informazione e Cultura), heaquartered in Milano, is an aggregative website that contains digitized manuscripts, incunabula, early prints, and 19th- and 20th-century literature. It began with the digitized collection of the Istituto di Storia del diritto medievale e moderno dell’Università degli Studi di Milano, and continues to grow. It includes both digitized microfilms and more modern images. So far, the contributors are all Italian. Navigation takes some getting used to, but there is a great deal there.

The OPAC RI Regesta Imperii maintained by the Akademie Mainz is particularly useful for its analytics of journal articles and collective works, such as Festschriften and conference proceedings, that concern the Middle Ages broadly conceived. Searching with the Google search engine does not always return a hit to this website, and it is better to search it separately.

The Biographie-Portal is a joint project of various German-language libraries and academies. It includes the ADB and the NDB, as well as entries from national biographies for Austria and Switzerland.

The relatively new Diccionario Biográfico Español (DBE), has recently become largely available online.

We close with our reactions to CALMA, of which we made some use during the pandemic. For obvious reasons, we did not use the printed version, but the one available through Mirabile: Archivio digitale della cultura latina medievale = Digital archive for medieval latin culture, an aggregative website available by subscription. The database ‘mediolatino’ within Mirabile includes CALMA and eleven other databases that concern medieval Latin. If you search for a particular author, say Cinus Sinibuldus Pistoriensis, you will not get any hits. That is not one of the variants of Cinus’ name that Mirabile recognizes. A little fussing will get you to Mirabile’s main entry ‘Cinus Pistoriensis’, and a rather large list of all the variants that Mirabile does recognize. This is accompanied by all the references that Mirabile has to Cinus. These references are linked, but the link simply gives you the full bibliographic reference to the item. To see what is actually included on the site, you have to go down to the bottom of the page to ‘progetti collegiati’ where you will find links to the full text of both the CALMA entry, and that of MEL (=Medioevo latino), a massive bibliographical database maintained by the Società internazionale per lo studio del medioevo latino (SISMEL), hosted on its own website in Firenze.

Having found the CALMA entries, we found them of somewhat uneven quality. That of Suzanne Lepsius for Bartolus is superb; that for some of the others, less so. We also found the citations to manuscripts that are transferred to Mirabile’s main search page disappointing. For example, for Cinus there is a listing of all of his works known to survive in manuscript, but all that you get is the reference that someone has made (it does not say who) to the manuscript with the signature but not the folio. Under that list by work is a list of ‘manoscritti’, which does not correspond to the manuscripts listed under individual works. Clicking on the link, however, brings you to a full description of the manuscript derived from CODEX = Inventario dei manoscritti medievali della Regione Toscana, at least some of which have linked images of the title pages of items in the manuscript. CODEX is, however, confined to manuscripts located in Tuscany.

Charles Donahue, Jr.