Max Planck Institute for European Legal History

Max Planck Institute for European Legal History

Since its foundation in 1964, the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History has been dedicated to basic research from a historical perspective in the field of law. The Institute uniquely combines the knowledge of its experts and expertise on the history of law in Byzantine and Roman Europe in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, and the ius commune of the High and Late Middle Ages along with the history of private, criminal, public and church law in the early modern era and current age. The scope of historical analysis of law transfer processes, the interaction between law and other normative systems in a historical context as well as self-organization and law is becoming ever broader. A particular challenge embraced by the Institute in cooperation with other Institutes of the Max Planck Society is to create historical and empirical bases for a critical study of the system of law in a globalized world. To this end, the Institute is paying increasing attention to the interrelationships between European and non-European legal systems. The comparative dimension of research into legal history is also becoming increasingly significant.


Hansaallee 41
60323 Frankfurt am Main
Phone: +49 69 78978-0
Fax: +49 69 78978-169

PhD opportunities

This institute has no International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS).

There is always the possibility to do a PhD. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

Department Legal History in the early Modern and Modern period more
Department Legal transfers in the common law world, the history of EU law and the comparative history of legal method more
Ruling with the help of pragmatic literature
How clerics used simple rulebooks to establish the new legal order in Spanish America more
New web presence for Minerva-FemmeNet
Mentoring programme of the Max Planck Society launches new website more
The Spanish Conquistadors found it surprisingly easy to conquer the New World. However, it required more than violence and cruelty to rule the territory. A team of researchers headed by Thomas Duve at the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History is investigating the media through which the Spanish crown consolidated its dominion. Meanwhile, an international research group led by Carolin Behrmann at the Max Planck Institute for Art History in Florence is studying the importance of images in the consolidation and legitimation of law with a focus on Early Modern European history.
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The aftermath of Westminster: Decolonisation and state-building in Asia at the end of the British Empire

2017 Kumarasingham, Harshan; Vogenauer, Stefan
Cultural Studies Jurisprudence

State-building and constitution-making in Asia are closely linked to the colonial past of the region and to the reception of the British parliamentary system. British law encountered local or regional traditions. To what extent did these encounters differ from each other? Who were the main persons involved? Sir Ivor Jennings played a vital role in shaping the constitutions of states like India or Malaya. The project on “The aftermath of Westminster” at the MPI for European Legal History enquired how this process unfolded in various places.


Regulated self-regulation from a legal historical perspective

2016 Collin, Peter; Duve, Thomas
Cultural Studies Jurisprudence
“Regulated self-regulation” – this term is well known from the discussion in administrative law during the last years, at the same time it became a customary notion in debates in political science and sociology. However, it can also be used as a valuable concept for analysis in legal history. It usually incorporates types of social self-organization or participation that (also) serve the fulfilment of public purposes and are embedded in a state regulatory framework. more

Legislation in Early Modern Hispanic America: The Third Mexican Provincial Council (1585)

2015 Moutin, Osvaldo R.; Birr, Christiane
Cultural Studies Jurisprudence
The Third Mexican Provincial Council created one of the most persistent sets of canon law in Spanish America and the Philippines by consciously and creatively adapting European normative models to American social, cultural, and religious realities. New research initiatives at the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History investigate hitherto neglected sources to achieve a new comprehension of the ways juridical, cultural, and geographical factors shaped the (re)production of legal orders on both sides of the Atlantic. more
Within the framework of legal literature and book production in the Middle Ages, the works of Baldus de Ubaldis (1327–1400), the most famous jurist of his time, constitute a major theme in the research of the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History. His commentaria and consilia spread all over Europe in a very large number of manuscripts and early printed books, so that Baldus’ works became an important normative source of the ius commune. A researcher investigates the author’s surviving manuscripts and compiles an intellectual biography. more

The modernization of private law in Latin America and Europe

2013 Keiser, Thorsten
Cultural Studies Jurisprudence
Legal History of Latin America has always been strongly intertwined with the European Continent. Therefore it is interesting to see how in the first half of the 20th century various systems of Private Law in both continents have made important steps to modernity, trying to cope with the challenges of a new century. This quest for modernity and modernization has been dealt with in a project of the institute in 2012, dedicated to incorporate contemporary history into the research focus “Latin America”. more

The School of Salamanca and the New World

2012 Birr, Christiane
Politics, legal thinking, and ethics on the threshold to modernity: how does one act in a highly complex world, in which good intentions manifest themselves all too often as atrocious deeds, and in which the tested and tried political procedures of yesteryear seem hopelessly inadequate for coping with today’s global problems? A project at the Max Planck Institute for Legal History studies the School of Salamanca and the Spanish discourse about the relationship between Europe and the non-European world in an early phase of globalisation in the 16th and 17th century. more

The printing press and European legal history, 1500–1800

2011 Osler, Douglas J.
The project Bibliography of European Legal History catalogues the production of law books from the 16th to the 18th century. It is intended not merely to provide historians with a bibliographical resource, but also to uncover the patterns of production and dissemination of legal texts in the modern period. It suggests that the disintegration of medieval legal unity led to the formation of three legal families (Rechtskreise) in continental Europe: Protestant Germany and the Netherlands, the centralised kingdom of France, and the Baroque, Counter-Reformation legal culture of Spain and Italy. more
The historical region of South Eastern Europe in the post-ottoman period was characterized by an amalgam of old and new law, of traditional, transformed, and transferred normativity. All these normative strata overlapped in a complex way. At the same time, they were embedded in the process of national state-building, thereby facing its concomitant problems of legitimacy. The research project at the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History aims at reconstructing this intricate legal-historical realm of change. more

Age and Law

2009 Ruppert, Stefan
Jurisprudence Social and Behavioural Sciences
The scientific interest of the junior research group Age and Law at the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History is directed towards the legal history of age specific norms and statutory age limits that have structured the life course since the 19th century. Research topics include, amongst others, legislation concerning compulsory schooling or child labour in Prussia, criminal or welfare law addressing the young in early 20th century Europe, as well as retirement regulations or home care for the elderly in the late 20th century. more

Pictures in the Law

2008 Dölemeyer, Barbara; Härter, Karl; Stolleis, Michael; Vec, Milo¿; Vismann, Cornelia
Cultural Studies Jurisprudence
Illustrations or pictures have many functions for the law. They may serve as sources for legal history. They act as mnemonics in legal education and instruction. In legal practice they are used to identify delinquents, or to create publicity. The project’s research on the use of images in a legal context shows that law was at no time based entirely on texts. more

Jurisdiction in a medieval town

2007 Colli, Vincenzo; Lepsius, Susanne; Wetzstein, Thomas
Cultural Studies Jurisprudence
A project on the practice of adjudication in European cities of the late Middle Ages focussed on the long-neglected practice of civil adjudication. The abundantly surviving court documentation testifies many common features throughout Europe, manifest in common techniques of record-making, in the court proceedings and not to the least in the high potential to pacify conflicts through judicial conflict resolution. more
On 1 May 2004, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined the European Union. At the same date the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History began a project supported by the Volkswagen Foundation with the title “Legal cultures in modern Eastern Europe: traditions and transfers”. The project addresses the forms of legal transfer which have occurred in all the regions of Eastern Europe since the beginning of the 19th century. It seeks to describe the means whereby western codifications and systems of jurisprudence were transferred to the East, what proportion statutes, academic writings, legal education and case law had in this process, and what effect the integration of western legal models had on each of the individual legal traditions of Eastern Europe. more

Law and technology in the 19th century

2005 Vec, Miloš
Cultural Studies Jurisprudence
The intensive response of the law to the challenges posed by technology & industry in the 19th c. led to profound societal change. No longer merely responding to the presumed risks of industrialisation, law actively participated in shaping modern industrial societies. It formed an institutional framework for the use of new technologies and laid a foundation for the expansion of international business relationships. New fields of law & structures of legislation emerged. Around 1900, the emerging industrial state served as a laboratory for new patterns of legislation & implementation of law. more

The alphabet of law

2004 Kiesow, Rainer Maria
Cultural Studies Jurisprudence
Both the expansion in the volume of knowledge and theoretical doubt about the possibility of imparting a structure to this knowledge spelled the end of what had been an important genre between 1750 and about 1900, namely the legal encyclopedia. more
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