The Byzantine Sea Law


The Byzantine Sea Law or also called Rhodian Sea Law is one of the least known among the Bulgarian legal historians. An obvious reason for this is that its influence on the Bulgarian medieval society has never been allowed, because of the lack of any speci-fic evidence. However, it should be remembered that the Bulgarian coastal cities, especially those on the southern coast of Black Sea, often passed from Byzantine to Bulgarian possession, and vice versa, so that its application in the trade and shipping there has not excluded.

The Byzantine Sea Law could be found in various manuscripts, in whole or parts of it, stored in Italy, France, Spain, Holland, Germany, Austria, Russia and Greece. The law was included in the 53rd book of the legislative corpus Basilica. It was first published by Simon Skardi in 1561. Some manuscripts contain two or three parts of the law: the first - introduction, the second one - with 19 chapters and the third one - with 47 chapters; there are several additives too. The main body of the law represents the third part. According to the researchers, the first part has been attached to it later, and the second one - most likely composed together with the third. The Byzantine Sea Law was composed in the period between 600 and 800 A.D. The researchers found the roots of a number of provisions in Justinian Digests and other Roman legal acts. It sets out rules originating from different ages and sources: probably these are early commercial contracts, imperial regulations and local customs.

The Byzantine Sea Law regulates a wide range of legal matters and relationships bet-ween entities related to maritime trade and shipping.

Protection of property and offenses against it are set out in the initial text of the law. It also dealt with crimes against persons, evidence and perjury; contracts and guarantee in them, the protection of the deposit. In relation to the security of shipping, the law incorporates a number of texts relating to the breach of discipline on the ship, preven-ting danger of pirates and fire, difficulties in the supply of food and water. As to the ship owner, the law regulates the liability and the institute of co-ownership of the ship, and as to the sailors - their pay, restrictions on goods that can wear and their main duties.

Transport of the goods is another essential part of the law. In this regard there are regulations about: the state of the ship and crew, receiving, loading and unloading of cargo, cargo requirements and the payment, the  deadlines for its delivery, obligations for recovery of the load, the violation of the contract - consciously or unconsciously. The Byzantine Sea Law regulates also the maritime loan, hiring a ship, the partnership between merchants (association), relationships between the shipmaster, traders and sailors. Also contemplated are the circumstances associated with the loss of the ship, jettison of pro-perty, participation in the rescue of the ship if necessary, the consequences of a collision of the ships, etc. 

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