This article explores developments in Justinian’s legislation on church property as evidence of economic strain during the plague of the early 540s. It argues that changes to such laws that have recently featured in scholarly literature, namely the permission introduced by Novel 120 for the sale and emphyteutic lease of church-owned immovable property, were merely incremental and provide evidence for a plague-induced crisis that is at best equivocal. Other features of this same law that have not yet been adduced in scholarly literature on plague, however, potentially shed additional light on the consequences of plague for churches and related institutions. More generally, it is intended that this study make two methodological contributions to current discussions of the so-called Justinianic plague: first by demonstrating the limited utility of calculating rates of new laws per year or per decade, and second by showing the importance of contextualizing Justinian’s Novels not just in light of contemporaneous measures but also in light of the diachronic development of the area of law of which they form part.

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