— or Code Napoléon(originally, the Code civil des Français) — is the Frenchcivil code, established under Napoléon I in 1804. The code forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion, and specified that government jobs go to the most qualified. It was drafted rapidly by a commission of four eminent jurists and entered into force on March 21, 1804. The Napoleonic Code was not the first legal code to be established in a European country with a civillegal system — it was preceded by the Codex Maximilianeus bavaricus civilis(Bavaria, 1756), the Allgemeines Landrecht (Prussia, 1794) and the West Galician Code, (Galicia, then part of Austria, 1797). But it was the first modern legal code to be adopted with a pan-European scope and it strongly influenced the law of many of the countries formed during and after theNapoleonic Wars. The Code, with its stress on clearly written and accessible law, was a major step in replacing the previous patchwork of feudal laws. Historian Robert Holtman regards it as one of the few documents that have influenced the whole world.
The categories of the Napoleonic Code were drawn not from earlier French laws but instead from Justinian's sixth-century codification of Roman law, the Corpus Juris Civilis and, within it, the Institutes. The Institutes divide law into law of:
Similarly, the Napoleonic Code divided law into law of:
Napoleon set out to reform the French legal system in accordance with the ideas of the French Revolution because the old feudal and royal laws seemed confusing and contradictory to the people. Before the Code, France did not have a single set of laws: law consisted mainly of local customs, which had sometimes been officially compiled in "customals (coutumes)", notably the Coutume de Paris; there were also exemptions, privileges and special charters granted by the kings or other feudal lords. During the Revolution, the last vestiges of feudalism were abolished. Specifically, as to civil law the many different bodies of law used in different parts of France were to be replaced by a single legal code. Leading this drafting process was Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès. His drafts of 1793 (which he had been told to produce, impossibly, inside a month), 1794 and 1796, however, were adopted only piecemeal by a National Convention more concerned with the turmoil resulting from the various wars and strife with other European powers. A fresh start was made after Napoleon's coming to power in 1799. A commission of four eminent jurists was appointed in 1800, chaired by Cambacérès, now Second Consul, and sometimes by First Consul Napoleon himself. After intensive scrutiny by the Council of State, by 1804 the Code was complete. Promulgated as the Civil Code of the French (code civil des Français), it was renamed the Napoleonic Code (code Napoléon) in 1807.