The First Law School – Berytus c. 250

The First Law School – Berytus (today Beirut, Lebanon).

The First Law School - Berytus
The First Law School – Berytus

Formal legal education flourished in the law school of Berytus (today Beirut, Lebanon) in the Roman province of Syria centuries before the first Western law school opened its doors at the University of Bologna (about 1088) and the first American law school in Litchfield, Connecticut (1784). Anton-Hermann Chroust, a classics and legal scholar, identifies the institution as the leading Roman law school from Diocletian’s (284–305) to Justinian’s (527–565) reigns, calling it “the midwife of all laws” by the latter emperor, despite the fact that Rome and Constantinople (after 425) had their own law schools.

Justinian outlawed the teaching of law save at these three colleges, which he raised to imperial law schools in 534. Berytus offered a five-year term of study, and graduates had no trouble obtaining work. Students heard lectures on Gaius’ Institutes’ four books as well as compilation texts on dowries, guardianships, wills, and legacies. The curriculum changed dramatically when Justinian’s Code was published in 533. Aside from the Institutes, first-year lectures now covered the first four volumes of Justinian’s Digest, with the remaining books presented during the next three years. The imperial constitutions and statutes of the Code were examined in the final year. Initially, instruction was given in Latin, but by the fifth century, it had been transferred to Greek. The fifth century also saw a change in the way people were taught. Reading translated indexes and composing remarks became the pedagogical focus, rather than case studies and exposition.

According to classics researcher Kathleen McNamee, Berytus drew students from more than twenty regions. The school was then devastated by a major earthquake in 551, which killed tens of thousands of people in the city. The school reopened twenty-five miles south of Berytus at Sidon, a Phoenician city, but it never regained its former importance.


The Laws of Solon (594 BCE);

The Twelve Tables (450 BCE);

The Justinian Code (529);

The Law School Revolution (1870).


First Law school of Berytus

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)

Additionally you might be interested in:

Top 10 Law Schools – Ranking 2021