Mataix, Lex Rhodia & the transmission of Ancient Maritime custom

Lex Rhodia de iactu: an example of the transmission of an Ancient Maritime custom through history

Emilia Mataix Ferrándiz (University of Southampton)

The lex Rhodia de iactu (the Rhodian law about jettison, i.e., about throwing goods overboard in order to lighten and consequently save the vessel) is the subject of title 14.2 of the Digest. This title includes commentaries by several jurists on an enigmatic Rhodian law apparently about jettison, but also tackling other problems in navigation law, including fiscal issues. The treatment of partial jettison of cargo is essentially known today as “general average”, an institution incorporated in the York and Antwerp Rules (Rule XIV) as a legal principle of maritime law. The rule of jettison was mainly transmitted through medieval codifications, such as the French Rôles d’Oleron (VI) and the Spanish Consulat de Mar (CXVIII). According to this principle of “general average”, the parties in a sea venture proportionally share any losses resulting from a voluntary sacrifice of part of the ship or cargo to save the whole in an emergency. Dig. 14.2.1 Paul. 2 sent. insists on the idea that if the property were sacrificed for the benefit of others, the loss should also be shared. This paper does not just study the transmission of the guidelines of the Lex Rhodia through a series of regulations and codifications, but also analyses the different ways in which various individual cases were treated according to the different rules, beginning with the treatment of the matters on a case-by-case basis by the Roman jurists and then moving on to the general application of the customary principles in the medieval codifications. Such an analysis will show us not only the importance of the guidelines furnished by the Lex Rhodia, but also how customary practices were transmitted through legal dispositions in the ancient and medieval Mediterranean.