The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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Research Grants/Awards

Title of Project:
Law and Orthodoxy: Byzantine Legal Reform and Greek Religious Identity in the Crusading Era (c.1000-1260)

Total Fund Awarded:
HK$265,000

Principal Investigator:
Professor James MORTON, Department of History, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Funding Source:
RGC Early Career Scheme 2019/20

Abstract of Research:
Why are the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, the two largest Christian denominations in the world, separated from one another? It was not always so. In the early Middle Ages (c.400-1000), most Christians in Western and Eastern Europe viewed themselves as part of the same religious community. Nonetheless, European Christianity gradually divided into two distinct churches by the end of the medieval period: the Latin-speaking Church of Rome and the Greek-speaking Church of Constantinople (known today as the Catholic and Orthodox Churches respectively). The crucial period for this development was the eleventh to thirteenth centuries, when relations between Latin and Greek Christians gradually degenerated until the Latin Church of Rome eventually sanctioned a holy war, the Fourth Crusade, against the Greek church in 1204.

Previous studies of this subject have focused on theological and political explanations for this East-West schism, pointing to moments of conflict that can be identified as decisive ‘rupture points’. However, the eleventh to thirteenth centuries were also a time of significant evolution (and, in some cases, revolution) in the legal structures of the Churches of Rome and Constantinople. Both developed sophisticated, independent systems of codified law, institutional courts, and professional legal scholarship in this period. Drawing on recent insights from legal anthropology, my central hypothesis is that the emergence of these distinct systems of religious law in the Greek East and Latin West was critical in shaping their identities as separate Christian denominations.

My main research goals are to investigate how and why the Byzantine Church of Constantinople created a sophisticated religious legal system in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries, how this shaped Greek Christians’ views of themselves, and how the Greek church’s legal institutions survived the Latin conquest of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade of 1204. The primary sources for this project are a body of eleventh- to thirteenth-century Byzantine religious law texts, most of which are known but largely untranslated and unstudied. These consist of legal codifications, scholarly commentaries, court proceedings, professional correspondence, and lists of ‘frequently asked questions’ known in Greek as erotapokriseis. In addition to the project’s immediate research output, I hope that it will also serve as the basis for translations of some of the key primary sources into English.