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Boudewijn Sirks

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Regius Professor of Civil Law*

Boudewijn Sirks was educated in Law at the University of Leiden, followed by studies in Theology and Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam, where he took up his first post as a Research Assistant in Philosophy.

In 1978, he moved back to his original discipline and became Lecturer for Legal History at the Utrecht University, later Senior Lecturer for legal techniques. In parallel, he completed a PhD in Law at the University of Amsterdam, where he became Reader and acting Chair for Legal Techniques in 1989. In 1997 he moved to the Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe University in Frankfurt, where he took up a chair in History of Ancient Law, History of European Private Law and in German Private Law until his present appointment, effective per 1 February 2006.

Professor Sirks? research interests span ancient history of law, papyrology, European private law and civil law. He was an editorial member of the Journal of Legal History and is of the Studia Amstelodamensia. Studies in Ancient Law and History. He spent time as Visiting Scholar at the Columbia University, New York and Visiting Professor at the University of Kansas.


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Journal Articles


A J B Sirks, 'Furtum and manus / potestas' (2013) 81 Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis (forthcoming) [...]

The nature of furtum has been subjected to various interpretations, often with the assumption that this changed between the Twelve Tables and end of the 2nd century AD. It is submitted here that the delict was originally an intrusion upon the power of the pater familias and in its most acute form (furtum manifestum) punished with a religious sanction, viz. declaring the fur sacer. The same sanction is found in the Twelve Tables for other delicts, connected with the power of the pater familias. Since manifest furtum always implied that the fur was caught red handed, desacralisation of the delict led to a reduction of this to mere being caught in the act.

ISBN: ISSN 0040-7585

A J B Sirks, 'Noxa caput sequitur' (2013) 81 Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 81 [...]

Generally it is assumed that caput in the phrase noxa caput sequitur refers to the delinquent slave or filius familias. The liability for the delict is attached to his person. It is argued, however, that caput refers to the pater familias of the deliquent. The Twelve Tables contained a rule on their direct and personal liability (with surrender to the autorities). The introduction of the edicts on furtum and the lex Aquilia, with the direct and exclusive liability of the pater familias for the wrongdoings of those, subjected to his potestas, led to a correction: the pater could now refuse to defend them and surrender them to the authorities, or engage in the process, with afterwards still the possibility to surrender, now to the plaintiff. The phrase as such refers then to the inclusion of the decemviral rule on liability of persons, subjected to patria potestas, into the formulas for the delicts.

ISBN: ISSN 0040-7585

A J B Sirks, 'The parallel universes of Baker, Joblin and Julian: causation and law' (2013) 17 Edinburgh Law Review 22–36


A J B Sirks, 'Das Dotalprivileg in den deutschen Gebieten im 19. Jahrhundert' (2012) 129 Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung Rom. Abt. 522 [...]

Abstract: During the preparations for the German Civil Code, the Women's Association petitioned in 1876 for the insertion of the Roman dotal system. The paper analysed the reasons for it and sets out, that this system indeed provided women the best security of their properties in case of marriage, divorce and insolvency.

Die Petition des Allgemeinen Deutschen Frauenvereins, 1876 eingereicht beim Reichstag, das römische Dotalrecht in das zukünftige bürgerliche Gesetzbuch einzuführen, war keine Nostalgie oder pandektistischer Enthusiasmus, sondern eine Wahl für ein den Frauen günstiges Ehegüterrechtssystem. Theoretisch bedeutete es vollständiger Gütertrennung, und insoweit dem Ehemann eine Dos überlassen worden war, konnte die Frau diese schon bei drohender Missverwaltung zurückziehen. Dazu kam ihre privilegierte Dotalhypothek. In der Praxis war die Dos sicherlich nicht nur eine Gepflogenheit des Adels und höheren Bürgerstands, sondern auch ein Mittel für die ärmeren Schichten, im Falle eines wirtschaftlichen Zusammenbruches oder einer Insolvenz, noch etwas für sich zu retten. Das war möglich, weil und solange die Frau ihre privilegierte Dotalhypothek hatte. Dabei half auch, dass die Dosbestellung im 19. Jh. sehr aufgelockert war. Die Rechtsprechung zeigt vielfältige Anwendungsformen, wobei die Kollision mit dem sogenannten Kaufgeldhypothek oder reservatio dominii, über die Frage, welche Vorrang haben sollte, besonders hervortrat.

A J B Sirks, 'Did poverty lie at the origin of the Colonate?' (2012) 36 Koinonia 133 [...]

The colonate must have been a public law contract which assured poor people that their poll tax would be paid, but for which they tied themselves to an estate. It was essentially already an institution in 293/4 AD.

ISBN: 0393-2230

A J B Sirks, 'The purpose of the lex Fufia Caninia' (2012) 129 Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung Rom. Abt. 549 [...]

The lex Fufia Caninia set limits to testamentary enfranchisement. It is suggested that this was done to reserve for the heir as manumitter a sizable amount of claims on inheritances of his inherited slaves.


A J B Sirks, 'Cornelis van Bijnkershoek as author and elegant jurist' (2011) 79 Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 229 [...]

Bijnkershoek wrote next to his three works on international law a series of books on Roman law and on the private law of Holland and Zeeland. Those on Roman Law deal with various aspects, mostly with textual criticism of the Corpus juris, while a part consists of essays on specific subjects. The book on private law combines analyses of certain legal problems with jurisprudence of courts. Are all these texts obsolete by now? A modest exploration of these essays suggests that is not the case as far as textual criticism is concerned; at least some of the essays in Roman law are still actual for present-day research. The essays on private law are of course of value for historical research.

ISBN: ISSN 0040-7585

A J B Sirks, 'The Slave Who Was Slain Twice: Causality and the lex Aquilia (Iul. 38 dig. D. 9, 2, 51)' (2011) 79 Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 313–351 [...]

D. 9,2,51, in which a slave is slain twice and dies, and where Julian considers both assailants equally liable for killing, has been interpreted in the context of causa superveniens. In that case Julian’s opinion becomes contradictory. It is argued that the text should be read in the context of the Stoic theories on causality as current among the jurists in the first centuries AD. In these theories there existed no causa superveniens as of the modern causality theory. As such its application is ill at place here. Instead, in applying these Stoic theories Julian’s view can be explained as his attributing a causa antecedens to the first assailant, with full imputation of the effect of the subsequent causa principalis to him, and attributing a causa adiuvans to the second assailant, while valuing at the same time the latter not just as a reinforcing cause but also as a causa mortis and a full effective cause. For other jurists the latter evidently went too far.

ISBN: ISSN 0040-7585


A J B Sirks, 'Die Voraussetzungen und Methode von Seeck in seinen Regesten' (2010) 78 Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis. 395–430 [...]

The suppositions and method of Seeck in his ‘Regesten der Kaiser und Päpste’ (1919). – In his article of 1889, Die Zeitfolge der Gesetze Constantins, on the dating of imperial constitutions, Seeck boldly assumed that the central imperial archives up till ca. 390 had been lost when the Theodosian Code was compiled and that therefore the compilers were forced to resort to provincial archives for the period 311 – ca. 390. This assumption was squarely denied by Bresslau in 1912 in his Handbuch der Urkundenlehre. In the introductory chapter of his Regesten der Kaiser und Päpste of 1919, dealing with his methodology, Seeck suggests that he has corrected the errors he made. However, upon closer analysis it appears that he did not react at all to the substantial criticism of Bresslau, but kept to his original (and still unacceptable) assumption, obscuring his methodology on top of this. As a result his data in the Regesten are less precise than they should have been if a proper and rigorous methodology had been applied. As an example of the advantages of a proper methodology the case of the Gesta Senatus is cited. Here proceeding methodologically generates an interpretation of the events which might have satisfied the contemporaneous requirements for confirmation of the Theodosian Code in the West in 438 and therefore would be an acceptable explanation.

ISBN: ISSN 0040-7585


A J B Sirks, 'The delictual origin, penal nature and reipersecutory object of the actio damni iniuriae legis Aquiliae' (2009) 77 Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 303 [...]

It is commonly assumed that the litis aestimatio of the actio legis Aquiliae was a penalty which, in practice, was set at the loss suffered by the victim of the wrong and therefore functioned as compensation. This assumption is based on the nature of the action as founding in a delict and characterised by the Romans as a penal action. It also shares the elements of penal actions. But this is at odds with other texts which treat the action as directed purely at compensation. It is suggested that in order to understand this we have to distinguish between the origin of the penal actions, which is penal and which carries certain common features such as the fundamental impossibility to sue heirs or descendants of the wrongdoer, and their purpose or object. It is possible to distinguish two groups, one aiming at a penalty, the other aiming at compensation. Only in the latter group the action can be exercised against the heir of the wrongdoer and only restrictedly: it is the compensatory aim which allows for this. Further, the lex Aquilia and its chapters are examined whether a compensatory purpose is distinguishable here as well.

ISBN: ISSN 0040-7585


A J B Sirks, 'Bijnkershoek over de ‘quade conduites’ van Huibert Rosenboom, president van de Hoge Raad (1691–1722). Een bijdrage op grond van tot dusverre onuitgegeven teksten uit de Observationes tumultuariae (als bijlage toegevoegd)' (2008) 76 Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 49 [...]

In the manuscript of the Observationes tumultuariae of Cornelis van Bijnkershoek there are several leaves with notes by his hand, as well as notes on the end leaves of the volumes. Some leaves and the notes on the end leaves of the volumes IX-XIV have already been published. What is published here in an Appendix, with explanatory notes, are the leaves with Bijnkershoek’s observations on President Rosenboom and his fellow judges (‘Directien’, ‘Quade Conduite’), and the notes on the end leaves of volumes I–VIII, which concern everyday matters of the Supreme Court, next to again observations on Rosenboom. On basis of these latter remarks the opening article reflects on the malpractices of Rosenboom and the way the Court functioned.

A J B Sirks, 'Laesio enormis again' (2008) 54 Revue Internationale des Droits de l’Antiquité 3e s. 461

A J B Sirks, 'The Colonate in Justinian’s Reign ' (2008) 98 Journal of Roman Studies 120–143



W.J. Zwalve and A J B Sirks, Grundzüge der europäischen Privatrechtsgeschichte. Einführung und Sachenrecht (Böhlau, Vienna 2012) [...]

Abstract: The purpose of this book on property, possession, transfer of property and security is threefold: to show the coherence between the main European legal systems, on the basis of the ius commune, to introduce into the basic concepts of civil and common law, and into the fundaments of the continental codifications.

Willem J. Zwalve und Boudewijn Sirks verfolgen mit ihrer Untersuchung drei Ziele: den Nachweis, wie groß – trotz scheinbarer Rechtsvielfalt – der Zusammenhang zwischen den unterschiedlichen westeuropäischen Rechtssystemen ist; die Gewichtung der rechtspolitischen Überlegungen, die den unterschiedlichen Kodifikationen zu Grunde liegen; und schließlich den Leser in einige Grundbegriffe des kontinentalen „civil law“ und des englischen „common law“ einzuführen und auf die gemeinsamen Traditionen mit dem kontinentaleuropäischen Rechtssystem zu verweisen.



A J B Sirks, 'An inheritance lost and a fraudulent slave' in A. Burrows, D. Johnston, R. Zimmermann (eds), Judge and Jurist, Essays in Memory of Lord Rodger of Earlsferry (Oxford University Press 2013) [...]

An exegesis of two Digest texts, D. and 4. It is suggested that two ways of valuation of the damages, a positive and a negative, are behind these.

ISBN: ISBN978-0-19-96773-4

A J B Sirks, 'Mommsen und der Codex Theodosianus' in I. Fargnoli (ed), ( 2013) (forthcoming) [...]

How reliable is Mommsen's edition of the Theodosian Code? Is there any ground for a new edition, where the books 1 to 5 are restored in the way Krüger endeavoured in his edition? The conclusion is that Mommsen's edition is reliable though in need of some improvement in some places, but that a reconstruction as envisaged by Krüger is too unreliable.


A J B Sirks, 'De gevolgen van de inlijving van Nederland bij het Franse Keizerrrijk in 1810 voor handel en nijverheid' in A.M.J.V. Berkvens, J. Hallebeek, A.J.B. Sirks (eds), Het Franse Nederland: de inlijving 1810–1813. De juridische en bestuurlijke gevolgen van de ‘Réunion’ met Frankrijk (Verloren, Hilversum 2012) [...]

The incorporation of the Netherlands in 1810 into the Napoleontic Empire meant the instant introduction of French law, under abolition of previous Dutch law. This was also the case for commerce, industry and agriculture. The complete subjugation to the Continental Blockade meant that for trade economic circumstances deteriorated, notwithstanding that this was partly compensated by the increased trade in specific agricultural products. To a certain extent it was the result of a decline over a much longer period. Financial activities suffered also in the end. The French law on commerce (primarily the Code of commerce, further an array of specific statutes and decretes) did only partially prove to be the modernisation needed. Particularly the Code was, compared to previous Dutch drafts and the draft of 1809, a tragic set-back, which was not made good until the new Code of commerce of 1838. However, other specific regulations proved to inspire new legislation or were maintained.

A J B Sirks, 'Observations on the Theodosian Code: Where did the compilers take their texts from and what did they do with them?' in S. Crogiez-Pétrequin, P. Jaillette (eds), Société, économie et administration dans le Code Théodosien (Septentrion, Villeneuve d’Asque 2012)

A J B Sirks, 'Strategies in Law and Justice in the 18th Century Dutch Republic' in S. Muller, S. Zouridis (eds), Law and Justice: A Strategic Perspective (Torkel Opsahl Academic EPublisher 2012)

A J B Sirks, 'The Supreme Court of Holland and Zeeland judging cases in the early 18th century' in P. Brand, J. Getzler (eds), Judges and Judging in the History of the Common and Civil Law: From Antiquity to Modern Times (Cambridge University Press 2012) [...]

The article sets out the structure and modus operandi of the Supreme Court of Holland and Zeeland, and next, by analysing four cases from the 18th century, the substantive law applied. This was Roman law, except when there was a statute, particular local law or customary law applicable


A J B Sirks, 'Een insana Doctorum controversia: de reservatoire clausule' in H. Dondorp e.a. (ed), Ius Romanum – Ius Commune – Ius hodiernum. Studies in honour of Eltjo J.H. Schrage on the occasion of his 65th birthday (Scientia, Aalen 2010) [...]

The clausula reservatoria in testaments allowed for later additions by way of a codicil, which would have force as if made by the testament. It caused problems, since it sometimes it counteracted dispositions of the testament. Bynkershoek was opposed to its use: only if it regulated something left open it was allowed. But the usus modernus of the Dutch Republic was very liberal and even accepted de facto revocations.

A J B Sirks, 'Einiges zum prekarischen Besitz' in H. Altmeppen, I. Reichard, M.J. Schermaier (eds), Festschrift für Rolf Knütel zum 70. Geburtstag (C.F. Müller 2010) [...]

Abstract: It is argued that precarium was not developed as instrument to grant common land.

ISBN: 3811439200

A J B Sirks, 'Peira 45.11, a presumed succession pact, and the Peira as legal source' in (Jahrbuch der österreichischen Byzantinistik 2010) [...]

Peira 45.11 has been interpreted as a succession pact, but it appears it is merely the application of a divisio parentis inter liberos (Nov. 18.7). This shows, as other examples, that in the 11th century Justinianic Roman law was still the standard in Byzance for judging, and did not have become, as has also been sustained, a rhetoric device amongst others. This means that the Peira, a collection of 11th century judgments, is a serious legal source.

ISBN: 0378-8660

A J B Sirks and J. Hallebeek, 'Uit het Archief van de Raad van Justitie te Colombo: rechtsbedeling in Ceylon in de 18e eeuw' in R. van den Bergh (ed), Libellus ad Thomasium. Essays in Roman Law, Roman-Dutch Law and Legal History in Honour of Philip J. Thomas (Fundamina 2010) [...]

The National Archive of Sri Lanka contains much from the Dutch period. Three cases from the archive of the Council of Justice are described and analysed: a commercial case, a manumission and a criminal case. They show the multicultural society of Ceylon of the 18th century and the correct administration of justice.


A J B Sirks, 'Het appèl tegen de veedief Verhoef uit het Schieland (1740)' in Chr. Coppens, J. Hallebeek (eds), Fabrica Iuris (Gerard Noodt Instituut, Nijmegen 2009) [...]

Abstract: Bijnkershoek mentions in his Index the problem of appeal in an extra-ordinary (criminal) procedure: is the defendant to get legal assistance and the appeal to be treated as an ordinary procedure? The actual case he mentions where this question arose (again) is that of a cattle rustler from Schiedam.


A J B Sirks, 'The Senatus Consultum Claudianum in 438 and after in the west' in K. Muscheler (ed), Römische Jurisprudenz — Dogmatik, Überlieferung, Rezeption. Festschrift für Detlef Liebs zum 75. Geburtstag (Dunkler & Humblot, Feiburger Rechtsgeschichtlicher Abhandlungen 0) [...]

The SC Claudianum was still applied, be it in a reduced form, in the states which succeeded the Roman empire in the west, as appears from the formularies used there. Further, the title on the SC in the Theodosian Code is analysed in its entierety as a coherent compilation.

Presentation/Conference contributions


A J B Sirks, 'Roman Law as Emancipatory and Social Instrument in the 19th Century', paper presented at Thinking about Law. Essays for Tony Honoré 7 [...]

During the preparations for the German Civil Code, the Women's Association petitioned in 1876 for the insertion of the Roman dotal system. The paper analysed the reasons for it and sets out, that this system indeed provided women the best security of their properties in case of marriage, divorce and insolvency.


A J B Sirks, 'Collective liability in fiscal matters in Late Antiquity?', paper presented at Editrice Scientifiche, Napoli 587


A J B Sirks, 'Contractus e contrahere', paper presented at Atti del Convegno internazionale di diritto romano 2010 Copanello (forthcoming) [...]

What was the original meaning of contractus? it is argued, on basis of linguistic and philosophical arguments, that it designated originally a unilateral subjective legal act, which during the second century was reinterpreted, by way of the conventio-concept, as a bilateral legal act.



A J B Sirks, 'R.M. Frakes, Compiling the Collatio Legum Mosaicarum et Romanarum in Late Antiquity, Oxford 2011, ISBN 978–0–19–958940–1 [Oxford studies in Roman society and law 2]' (2013) 81 Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 284


A J B Sirks, 'L. Atzeri, Gesta senatus Romani de Theodosiano publicando. Il Codice Teodosiano e la sua diffusione ufficiale in Occidente, Berlin 2008' (2008) 76 Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 251


A J B Sirks, 'Martin Avenarius, Der pseudo-ulpianische liber singularis regularum. Entstehung, Eigenart und Überlieferung einer hochklassischen Juristenschrift. Analyse, Neuedition und deutsche Übersetzung, Göttingen 2005' Gnomon 325


Teaching: Roman Law

Other details

Correspondence address:

All Souls College
Oxford OX1 4AL

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