Ancient Treatise Holds Lessons For Contemporary Codes

Julian of Ascalon’s Treatise of Construction and Design Rules from Sixth-Century Palestine

Besim S. Hakim, FAICP, AIA
Albuquerque, NM
March, 2001
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This is a study of a treatise by Julian of Ascalon, an architect and a native of the Byzantine Palestinian coastal city of Ascalon and a contemporary of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I (A.D. 483-565; reigned 527- 565). There is some consensus that the treatise was written during the years 531-533, when the codification of Roman law that resulted in the influential Corpus Juris Civiliswas undertaken upon Justinian’s order.Julian’s treatise is a compilation of construction and design rules that address the prevention of nuisances and potential damages to proximate neighbors resulting from building activities associated with change and growth in the built environment. A framework of five categories was developed to analyze the technical aspects of the treatise: land use, views, houses and condominiums, drainage, and planting. The influence of the treatise endured intermittently for almost 1400 years, first in Constantinople, then in the eastern territories of the Byzantine empire, and later in some Slavic countries; in Greece it survived well into the twentieth century.This research project relied on sources in a number of languages: Greek, Russian, French, Italian, German, English, and Hebrew. It is the first study to analyze the rationale and technical aspects of the prescriptions and design rules in Julian’s important work, and the first comprehensive presentation of the treatise in the English language. The results of this research was published in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Volume 60, Number 1/ March 2001, pages 4-25.

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