New Publication: Byzantine Religious Law in Medieval Italy by James Morton

This new work from Oxford University Press is the first ever historical study of manuscripts of Byzantine religious law from medieval Italy. It offers a legal and institutional framework for reassessing relations between medieval Greek and Latin Christians. It includes identifications and descriptions of Italo-Greek canon law manuscripts, which will serve as the basis for future research.


Southern Italy was conquered by the Norman Hauteville dynasty in the late eleventh century after over five hundred years of continuous Byzantine rule. At a stroke, the region’s Greek Christian inhabitants were cut off from their Orthodox compatriots in Byzantium and became subject to the spiritual and legal jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic popes. Nonetheless, they continued to follow the religious laws of the Byzantine church; out of thirty-six surviving manuscripts of Byzantine canon law produced between the tenth and fourteenth centuries, the majority date to the centuries after the Norman conquest.

Byzantine Religious Law in Medieval Italy is a historical study of these manuscripts, exploring how and why the Greek Christians of medieval southern Italy persisted in using them so long after the end of Byzantine rule. The first part of the book provides an overview of the source material and the history of Italo-Greek Christianity. The second part examines the development of Italo-Greek canon law manuscripts from the last century of Byzantine rule to the late twelfth century, arguing that the Normans’ opposition to papal authority created a laissez faire atmosphere in which Greek Christians could continue to follow Byzantine religious law unchallenged. Finally, the third part analyses the papacy’s successful efforts to assert its jurisdiction over southern Italy in the later Middle Ages. While this brought about the end of Byzantine canon law as an effective legal system in the region, the Italo-Greeks still drew on their legal heritage to explain and justify their distinctive religious rites to their Latin neighbours.

Table of Contents:

List of Figures
List of Tables
Note on Translation and Transliteration
Part I. Sources and Context
1:Introducing the Byzantine Nomocanon
2:Greek Christianity in Medieval Italy
3:Patterns of Source Survival
Part II. Byzantine Canon Law in the Norman Kingdom
4:The Byzantine Background
5:Monastic Nomocanons I: The Monastic Archipelago
6:Monastic Nomocanons II: Style, Content, and Influences
7:The Secular Church and the Laity
Part III. From Legal to Cultural Authority
8:The Papacy Takes Charge
9:The Salentine Group
10: They Do It Like This in Romania
Appendix 1. Manuscript Descriptions
Appendix 2. Statistical Overview
Appendix 3. Uncertain and Disputed Manuscripts
Index of Manuscripts Cited
General Index

James Morton, Assistant Professor, Department of History, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

James Morton is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he teaches courses on ancient and medieval Europe. He studied Classics at St John’s College, Oxford, before obtaining an MA in Byzantine History at Queen’s University in Canada in 2011, and a PhD in Byzantine and Medieval History at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2018. His research focuses on the relationship between law, religion, and cultural identity in the pre-modern Mediterranean world.


Published by Ellie Wilson

Ellie Wilson holds a First Class Honours in the History of Art from the University of Bristol, with a particular focus on Medieval Florence. In 2020 she achieved a Distinction in her MA at The Courtauld Institute of Art, where she specialised in the art and architecture of Medieval England under the supervision of Dr Tom Nickson. Her dissertation focussed on an alabaster altarpiece, and its relationship with the cult of St Thomas Becket in France and the Chartreuse de Vauvert. Her current research focusses on the artistic patronage of London’s Livery Companies immediately pre and post-Reformation. Ellie will begin a PhD at the University of York in Autumn 2021 with a WRoCAH studentship, under the supervision of Professor Tim Ayers and Dr Jeanne Nuechterlein.

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