The Byzantines were very active in law and Christianity. Based on the works of several emperors, the idea of creating written law and adopting Christianity into governance of the Byzantine Empire was of high import among the rulers of the first three centuries of the Empire, which lasted for a millennium.
Several of the laws from the Roman Empire and later from the Byzantine Empire carried through until the Middle Ages in Europe as foundational civil and criminal law that guided society in those times. But even after the Code of Justinian (“Corpus Juris Civilis”) was developed in the sixth century A.D., further development of law was needed in the Byzantine era, and one of the seminal works was developed in the eighth century under Emperor Leo III called the Ecloga.
The Ecloga was developed in 726 as the predominant legal manual of Byzantine courts and law schools. As opposed to previous codes which were written in the original Roman Empire language of Latin, for wider acceptance and use, this law book was written in Greek, the language of the Byzantine Empire.
While the Ecloga was much like other Byzantine codes in that it drew from Roman law, it had a more “fair” application in that Leo III insisted n including Christian principles in the law based on humanity, mercy and grace. What made the Ecloga so different from previous codes was that it included Christian principles in the application of law, as opposed to having an unequal application of law in a secular sense that meted out punishments according to family status, social status , gender or class.
The Ecloga equalized the law across all divisions of the populace, took away the death penalty from many crimes (limiting it only to rare cases of treasons, heresy, slander and some murders), gave women and children more rights in civil law and cut back rights of men, also looked to apply the laws and punishments equally across all social classes, so even the aristocracy were subject to the same punishments for crimes as the more indigent of the population.
In exchange for the elimination of the death penalty, some punishments that fall under the category of “mutilation” were introduced, which included amputation of limbs and blindness. And in an attempt to eliminate corruption in the judicial system, the Ecloga codified salaries for judicial officials and prohibited the offering or acceptance of gifts by these officials.
The Ecloga was a substantially important work in that it guided Byzantine law for the following centuries, and also had a role in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance period in Europe, and the Ecloga was a fundamental model in Slavic areas like Russia, Bulgaria and others –and even was an important guide in the establishment of the code in the Russian Orthodox Church, which was state-sanctioned at the time.
It was also established that much of the Ecloga and Code of Justinian were vital in the establishment of Islamic law after the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453 and was the new force in the Middle East and eastern Europe. So in many ways, the Ecloga has had a staying power that was not rivaled due to its Christian principles and wide influence across most of continental Europe and the Middle East, from where much of the world’s future societies would branch.