Authentica Habita and the Protection of Medieval Roman Scholars

by Nichole Slack Saturday

Authentica Habita, also known as “Privilegium scholasticum,” was a law issued by Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa at the Diet of Roncaglia sometime around November, 1158. It was an edict intended to protect traveling scholars. In a time where roads were unsafe and cities were becoming increasingly dangerous, Barbarossa felt that scholars should be shielded from the perils they were faced with. He believed that scholars shed light on the world, and he felt compassion for those “who for love of learning choose exile and poverty, and divest themselves of their patrimony while exposing themselves to every peril and suffering what must be most grievous to endure: bodily injuries without cause from the vilest of men.” Authentica Habita was a huge advancement in the protection of scholars throughout the Roman Empire.

At the Diet of Roncaglia, Barbarossa issued the decree to ensure the safety of “all those pursuing studies in one of the schools.” The first school that this was applied to was the university at Bologna. Today, it is considered by many to be the first university in the western world, and although historians attribute its establishment to somewhere around the year 1088 C.E., it still remains in operation today. Perhaps if a piece of legislature like Authentica Habita had not come into being to protect its students, the University of Bologna may not exist in the present day. (Pacaut, 1970) (University of Bologna, 2012)

Authentica Habita’s main purpose was the protection of scholars as they traveled to universities and during the time they spent at such schools. Authentica Habita included many provisions to ensure the safety of such scholars, and some sections were left vague, as to be interpreted differently for each individual incident that may occur. Some of the major conditions made law via Authentica Habita included imperial protection during their travels, immunity from the jurisdiction of the local civil magistrates in the areas in which they were studying, and the right to summon their foes in specific cases and they could choose the judge who would preside over the matter. Students were also protected from a variety of small legal charges (things that today we would most likely consider misdemeanor crimes). However, it was the law’s open-endedness that truly allowed for students to really take advantage of their newfound security.

Since the emperor demanded that Authentica Habita be included into the Corpus iuris Civilis, it was able to be broadened. Corpus iuris Civilis (also sometimes called the Corpus juris Civilis), translated as “Body of Civil Law,” is a collection of Roman laws that Emperor Justinian I ordered to be compiled. (Halsall, 1998) Because Authentica Habita was included in this anthology, it was then analyzed, annotated, and expanded by jurists occupied with Roman laws. Eventually, the law would come to represent much more than was actually present in the text. For example, oftentimes students were able to avoid paying taxes or tolls on various items related to their studies or their stay in university towns. Access to adequate housing was required for scholars, and under Authentica Habita, students were actually able to commandeer housing and a horse (to provide transportation) during their stay at a university, even if the owner of the lodgings and horse disapproved.

Students did, in fact, reap the benefits bestowed on them by Barbarossa’s new piece of legislature. Authentica Habita wasn’t just words on paper—it was actually enforced. There is one old story of a weaver who sang loudly as he worked in his home near the Collѐge du Vergier at Montpellier. His singing was interfering with student’s learning, so he was told that he had two choices: one was to stop singing, and the other was to leave and work where he would not disrupt the educational process. Unfortunately, the old man was so used to singing while he worked that he had to leave and go about his weaving elsewhere. This was permissible because Authentica Habita had been interpreted in such a way that the ease and comfort of scholars during their studies was protected by act, and since the weaver’s singing was disturbing their studies, scholars had the right to ask him to leave, and since they had the law of the Roman Empire to back them up, citizens were obliged to do as they were asked. (Kibre, 1962)

The Corpus iuris Civilis was serious business when it came to Roman law. When Justinian I came into power, Roman civilization was as messy and unclear as the boundaries of the Roman Empire. The Emperor restored civilization to his domain, and in the process, recognized that the entire aspect of civilization had plummeted into disarray, and he believed that law would pull things back to the way they should be, and would keep them as such. Justinian believed that when there was law, people would follow it, and by following such laws, would be civilized.

The Corpus iuris Civilis was therefore a project very close to Justinian’s heart. Since the former system of law was in ruins, he took it upon himself to have it restored. He went about hiring men to carry out the task, and the employee most closely associated with constructing the Corpus iuris Civilis was a man named Tribunian. It took him two years to compile (with assistance), and was published by Justinian (at his own expenditure) in the year 529 C.E. (Baker, 1931)

When a project such as this is so near and dear to an emperor that it is not only one of his first priorities upon ascending the throne, but he also publishes the completed work at his own expense, it would be foolish not to take it seriously. Since Authentica habita was added to this key body of work 629 years after it was published, it was recognized as a legitimate and important piece of Roman law.

All in all, Authentica Habita became an extremely important piece of legislature. Its seriousness was marked not only in its practical execution, but also because of its presence in Justinian I’s Corpus iuris Civilis. Because it protected scholars in a time where being a traveling student was becoming more and more dangerous as time progressed, it allowed scholars to safely carry out their studies. Because it also allowed for things like tax exemption and adequate housing, scholars were able to carry out their studies in peace and comfort, quite possibly increasing the quality of their work. The work of medieval scholars is still recognized today as being influential in their respective fields, and had scholars not had the protection granted to them through Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in Authentica Habita, that work may have never been completed (or perhaps not even started to begin with, since scholars often encountered obstacles during their travels to universities, and therefore, their studies could have been brought to a close before they even arrived). Authentica Habita protected medieval Roman scholars, and without their work, we may not have the knowledge we have today, making it important not only when it was issued in 1158 C.E., but also today, over 800 years later.

Bibliography

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Baker, G.P. Justinian. Binghamton: Dodd, Mead and Company, Inc., 1931. 99-102.

Halsall, Paul. “Medieval Sourcebook: The Institutes, 535 CE.” Fordham University: The Jesuit University of New York. Fordham University, Jun 1998. Web. 12 Mar 2012.

Kibre, Pearl. Scholarly Privileges in the Middle Ages: The Rights, Privileges, and Immunities, of Scholars and Universities at Bologna, Padua, Paris, and Oxford. William Clowes and Sons, Limited, London and Beccles, 1962. 1-17. Print.

“Our History.” University of Bologna. ALMA MATER STUDIORUM- Universita di Bologna, 2012. Web. 12 Mar 2012.

Pacaut, Marcel. Frederick Barbarossa. William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. and Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970. 85-88. Print.