One of my favorite London spots is a large “tourist trap”: Portobello Market. Portobello Market always reminds of Ariel from The Little Mermaid’s treasure trove of human gizmos. To some, it’s a packed road lined with vendors peddling teetering jumbles of overpriced trash. To others, myself included, it’s a goldmine of surprising deals, food stalls, and one-of-a-kind antique trinkets. When I was living in London, I spent many Saturdays shuffling up and down the street, finding some new treasure every visit. This visit was no exception.
In a hidden corner of a gallery whose entrance was completely blocked by a street stall, I found an antique book salesman with a 16th century copy of Justinian’s Civil Code printed in Lyon. A smidgeon of background information to clarify why this had me so awestruck. In the 6th century, the Byzantine emperor Justinian issued the first major codification of Roman law, solidifying the concept of law as an institution and body of rules to be uniformly applied. Coming out of the Middle Ages in the 11th century, the re-discovery of Justinian’s Corpus Juris Civilis sparked a renaissance of Roman law. And though leading up to the 19th century Napoleonic codification that forms the basis for most modern civil law systems, humanism, the Enlightenment, and a whole host of other social and intellectual movements heavily influenced the civil law tradition, an argument can be made that it all started with the Corpus Juris Civilis. Kind of a big deal. Well, to a law student anyways.