Crime & Punishment in 15th c. Bologna - The First Edition - No Copies in North America

Johannes de Anania [Giovanni d’Anagni] (ca. 1400 – 17 Jan. 1457)

Commentaria super prima et secunda parte libri quinti Decretalium. Add: Repertorium

Bologna: Henricus de Colonia, 7 Dec. 1479, 5 Jan. 1480


Folio: 42 x 28.5 cm. Three volumes bound as one: Pars I. 143 of 144 lvs. (lacking 1 blank). Collation: a10, b-i8, k6, l-m8, n-o6, p-q8, r-s10. (lacking blank leaf a1). Pars II. 210 lvs. Collation: A-F8, G6, H-L8, M6, N8-O8, P6, Q-R8, S6, T8, U10, X-Z8, [et]8, [con]8, [rum]8, [bus]8. Pars III. 48 of 50 lvs. (lacking 2 blanks). Collation: a8, b6, c10, d6, e8, f4, g8. (lacking blank leaves a1 and g8). Complete.


A fine, complete set of all three volumes. In three parts, dated: 7 Dec. 1479 (Commentaria, partes I-II); 5 Jan. 1480 (Repertorium). The third volume is bound first. Bound in 19th c. ivory vellum over thick boards, spine with red morocco labels, gilt. Large copies with generous margins, very clean with a few instances of light marginal foxing, a few minor stains, and light soiling. Clean marginal tear, not entering the text, to leaf T3 in Vol. II. Bottom margin of first leaf excised, no loss. Provenance: Bibliothèque du Plessis-Villoutreys, 19th c. bookplate. Once part of the library of the Marquis de Villoutreys in the castle of Bas-Plessis in Chaudron-en-Marques. In 1875 a wing was added to the castle to house the Marquis’ library. Earlier deaccession stamp on title: Biblioth. Lat. Vindobonensis.

EXTREMELY RARE. There are no copies in North America aside from a single copy of Vol. I only (Harvard Law Library), nor are there any copies of either of the other 15th c. editions (Milan, 1492 and 1497) in North America.

First edition of these commentaries on the fifth book of the Decretals, the official body of canon law, written by the accomplished Bolognese lawyer and decretalist Giovanni d’Anagni, who lectured on this text for more than twenty-five years. The fifth book of Decretals concerns crime and punishment, and covers such diverse topics as infanticide and birth control (both considered capital offenses.)

Born at Anagni at the turn of the fifteenth-century (no reliable date is recorded), Giovanni studied at Bologna, entering the Gregorian college probably around the year 1414 and graduating on 17 May, 1423. From Giovanni’s own recollection we know that he was the student of the well-known canonists Pietro d’Ancarano and Floriano Sampieri (Floriano da San Pietro.) His name appears in the rotuli of lectors at the University of Bologna for 1422, in which year he was assigned to read the Digestum Vetus on feast days. From 1424 to 1429 he was entrusted with reading the Liber Sextus of the Decretals and the Clementine Constitutions. After a brief sojourn in Florence, Giovanni returned to Bologna in 1431, and at once assumed the position of lector of the Decretals, a commitment he held until 1456-7.

Giovanni’s lectures attracted numerous important students, including Pietro Barbo, the future Pope Paul II, Ludovico Pontano (Romano) and Alessandro Tartagni, who later became Giovanni’s son-in-law. His name appears frequently over the years on the occasion of the awarding of academic qualifications. As a lawyer, Giovanni rendered his services on behalf of the Bolognese convent of S. Francesco (as is attested by a note dated 23 Dec. 1436 concerning his honorarium.) He also allegedly reformed the statutes of Lucca.

After the death of his wife, whose name is unknown, Giovanni undertook an ecclesiastical life. He was first appointed, in 1443, canon of the chapter of the cathedral church of Bologna and, subsequently, with the bull of Nicholas V of 24 October 1448, was elevated to archdeacon. In this role he was particularly solicitous towards the college of Ancarano, founded with a testamentary bequest of the previously-mentioned Pietro d'Ancarano. In 1452 he was given the honor of reciting, on the occasion of the coming to the city of Emperor Frederick III, a public prayer, as reported by Kristeller. Known for his fervent religiosity and generosity towards the poor, he contributed significantly to the construction of the church in which he is buried, S. Maria dei Servi, having joined that order on his deathbed, 17 January 1457.

Giovanni’s commentaries on the fifth book of the Decretals, the text to which he had dedicated himself for decades, were printed at Bologna in 1479-80, achieving a second (1492) and third edition (1497) before the end of the century. A manuscript of his commentary on the third book is preserved in the Vatican library (Vat. Lat 2281).

Crime & Punishment: Book V of the Decretals:

“Though the papacy sought to extend papal and ecclesiastical jurisdiction from the mid-twelfth century, judicial business at the curia largely expanded in response to external demand. Appeals to Rome from most parts of the West proliferated from the mid-twelfth century and papal decretals were essentially a by-product of this process. But it was not the papacy that initially made decretals into a body of law. Decretals were first assembled in private collections by their recipients; they were indeed addressed to specific individuals. But as interest in the latest papal rulings grew they began to circulate and canonists copied them from various sources into their own collections…

“These were initially haphazard affairs, but by the 1170s systematic collections of decretals were organized under subject headings appeared… These decretal collections became the subject of canonist commentary. Most of this activity was centered at Bologna, [at the Bologna Studium, i.e. the university, which attracted canonists from England, Germany, Spain, France and elsewhere in Europe.] The International character of the Bolognese ‘decretalist’ school indicates not only its reputation but the extent of canon law’s influence. Furthermore, the Bolognese decretalist commentaries circulated across Europe.”(Clarke, The Interdict in the 13th Century, p. 4 ff.)

In 1234 this evolving body of canon law was codified in the “Liber Extra”, the Decretals of Gregory IX, named after the pope who commissioned his chaplain, the Catalan canonist Raymond de Peñafort, to compile and edit this new collection from earlier ones (such as the Decretum of Gratian ca. 1250), and to augment the existing body of laws.

Book V of the Decretals deals with crime and punishment, including crimes of heresy, burning churches, practicing astrology, usury, and murder. A person cannot be tried twice for the same crime. Jews may retain old synagogues but not found new ones. Anyone who carries on trade with Saracens in a time of war will be excommunicated. One may kill a thief in the night but not during the day. Lost contents of documents may be proven by witnesses who have read them. No one may not speak ill of the pope. Title XXXIX, with sixty sections, deals with excommunication.

There are numerous laws that concern family life, from contraception (any sexual technique used to prevent conception), which is classified as a form of homicide, to laws concerning the welfare of children, such as infanticide (either through exposure, depriving the child of food, or other forms of neglect).

ISTC ij00250150; H 938*; Torchet 521; IGI 5245; IBE 3188; Kotvan 702; Sajó-Soltész 1881; Martín Abad J-44; Voull(B) 2735,20; Walsh 3188; BSB-Ink I-365; GW M12841