Table of Contents
- Berytus Nutrix Legum: Hall of Fame
- Berytus Nutrix Legum: Origins
Berytus Nutrix Legum: Hall of Fame
That Beirut is the Mother of Laws is not an old maxim outdated and remembered only by arm chair historians. This city and her people, the Lebanese, continue to exert a massive influence on the world at large. This is especially true in the legal domain.
This is the Hall of Fame: a compiled list of Lebanese prominent in the field of law. Some of these men are truly giants, and have sadly gained more recognition abroad than at home. All the inductees have two things in common:
- They are Lebanese, or owe their success to Lebanon; and
- They are prominent and positively influential.
This here then is the Hall of Fame. It is not complete, as are all things by nature. It shall be updated time and time again, until not one worthy person of ancient times has been left out, and neither the great men of today.
Berytus Nutrix Legum: Origins
In days long past there ruled the earth an empire which to this day has not seen an equal. From the Wall in northern Britain to the Nile river of Upper Egypt, and from the Pillars of Hercules to the Great River, a Caesar ruled the Roman Empire. The influence of the Roman Empire on the modern world is truly unparalleled by any other civilization. The Empire offered the Mediterranean Basin a common culture, language, alphabet (the one you’re reading right now), engineering and architecture, Republicanism, and even facilitated the spread of Christianity. As of 2020 over 2.3 billion people worldwide still speak a language directly or indirectly descended from Latin. However arguably one of the biggest contributions the Roman Empire gave the modern world happened to be in the field of law.
The laws of the nations of the world are in fact Roman law. Civil Law, the most widely used legal system today, is a direct descendant of Roman law. On the other hand while common law may be distinct from the Roman legal tradition, it still draws heavily from Roman law as demonstrated by the plethora of Latin legal maxims.
The question then becomes, where does Roman law come from?
Let’s ask the man himself, Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus Augustus. You might recongize him under the name Justinian I, Emperor of the Romans.
Justinian I is widely considered one of the most important law makers in history. Not only did he codify and streamline the vast expanse of Roman law into one coherent text, he also added new laws. This book became known as the Corpus Juris Civilis; it is the basis of the Napoleonic Code (Code civil des Français) and therefore the basis of almost all civil law systems worldwide. Justinian had this to say about Beirut (Berytus):
These three works which we have composed we desire should be put in their hands in Imperial cities as well as in the most fair city of Berytus, which may well be styled the nursing mother of law, as indeed previous Emperors have commanded, but in no other places which did not enjoy the same privilege in old times…Justinian, Constitutio Omnem of the Digest, 16 December 533
Here is the origin of the term, Beirut Mother of Laws. There was once a law school in Beirut that taught and educated legal students from all over the Empire. Over one third of Roman laws came from Beirut. It finally fell not due to internal decay, but rather because of a cataclysmic earthquake in the sixth century. The law school even served as a prominent center of early Christianity.
For Rome to be the progenitor of the laws of the nations, and that Beirut is the Mother of Laws to the Romans, implies a great deal. It implies that Beirut is the Mother of Laws not just for Rome, but for the whole world.
The term “Berytus Nutrix Legum” has not been forgotten. It is the motto of the Beirut Bar Association, as well as being emblazoned on the flag of Beirut. When Paul Huvelin established the Faculty of Law at the University of St. Joseph in 1913, he dedicated his inaugural speech to the Roman school of law at Berytus.