Leiden Law Blog

Révigny’s Manuscript on the Digestum Vetus digitally available

Posted on by Tobias van der Wal in Private Law
Révigny’s Manuscript on the Digestum Vetus digitally available

In September, the Leiden University Library made a manuscript by the French jurist Jacques de Révigny (1230/1240–1296) available in digital form. This manuscript contains Révigny’s ‘lectura’ (lecture) on the Old Digest (‘Digestum Vetus’), the first of the three parts into which the Digest, Justinians’ codification of the writings of the Roman jurists, was divided during the Middle Ages. Révigny gave lectures on all parts of the Corpus Iuris, but only a few of these have appeared in print. Of his ‘lectura’ on the Old Digest, only two copies exist (the other copy is held by the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples), and its importance is underscored by the red dot on the case in which it is kept, indicating that in case of fire, or (more likely) flooding of the library, it is to be among the first manuscripts to be rescued.

Jacques de Révigny was a student at the University of Orléans, 110 km to the south-west of Paris, and taught at the same university, as baccalaureus and as professor, between 1260 and 1280. He gave legal advice, was a lawyer before religious courts, and in 1289 he was, like many of his colleagues, appointed bishop. He held this position at Verdun until his death en route to Rome in 1296.

The ‘lectura’ of the ‘Digestum Vetus’ is essentially an account of the lectures Révigny gave on the Digest, written down by one or more of the people in attendance, perhaps coordinated by the professor. Within the ‘lectura,’ a distinction can be made between the regular lectures, and the special lectures, known as ‘repetitiones’ or ‘disputationes.’ These were held at special moments during the academic year, usually when a new professor was inaugurated or on the occasion of a visit by a foreign professor. During a ‘repetitio,’ a significant amount of time was dedicated to the discussion of single law or a section of a law. The explication of the law was followed by a discussion, where advanced students could ask questions. Révigny was known as a strong debater, as is exemplified by the anecdote that at one time during the discussion, Révigny managed to embarrass Franciscus Accursii, the son of the important glossator from Bologna, a fact that through the ages appears to have made an indelible impression.

The manuscript in Leiden is remarkable in that it contains forty of these ‘repetitiones.’ These have been inserted at the place of the law at hand. The large amount of time dedicated to a discussion of a single law is reflected by the fact that these repetitions can sometimes span across seven columns with eighty lines each. The Leiden manuscript differs not only from the one in Naples with respect to the number of these ‘repetitiones,’ but also because it is more complete: where the Naples manuscript cuts off after the 14th book of the Digest, the Leiden manuscript continues until D. 22,3,2.

The Leiden manuscript dates from the end of the 13th century and was made in Italy or Southern France and consists of 276 folios. It is known as ‘D’Ablaing 2,’ after the collection of Willem M. D’Ablaing (1851–1889). D’Ablaing was born in Jakarta, graduated from Leiden magna cum laude, was a student of Bernhard Windscheid in Leipzig, and was a lecturer in Leiden and, after 1882, professor of Roman law. In the four years between obtaining a significant inheritance from his father, Baron d’Ablaing van Giessenburg in 1885 and his own death, he acquired 45 manuscripts. Only in 1888, shortly before his untimely death, the ‘lectura’ by Révigny was added to his collection. Since D’Ablaings scientific and personal papers have almost entirely been lost, the details of this acquisition remain a mystery.

The manuscript has been digitized to mark the farewell of Kees Bezemer from the department of Legal History. It can be found in the library catalogue, by searching for the shelfmark ‘ABL 2.’ Although the digital viewing experience is open to improvement, one is encouraged to take a look. After all, Révigny’s ‘lectura’ is a real page-turner, in that after days of attempting to decipher the handwriting, one has turned a single page, at which point ‘the session’ appears to have ‘timed out.’


  • P.C. Boeren, Catalogue des manuscrits des collections D’Ablaing et Meijers, Codices Manuscripti XII, Leiden 1970.
  • Kees Bezemer, Les répétitions de Jacques de Révigny, Leiden 1987.
  • Lange & Kriechbaum, Die Kommentatoren, München 2007.

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