Ktetor’s law in the Byzantine Еmpire

Keywords: ktetor, ktetor’s Law, bishop, typikon, system of rights and privileges, possession, basileus foundation of a monastery, legal status of monasteries, epitrope, successor.


Ukraine, modernizing state institutions, needs an active study of world experience. The logic of administrative reforms involves the analysis of foreign experience of similar transformations. The granting of the Tomos to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the role of the President of Ukraine in this led to increased attention to the regulation of state-church relations. It is no coincidence that we are interested in the legal heritage of Byzantium as an organic component of the global heritage.

The purpose of the article is to analyze the features of the institution of the ktetor in the Byzantine Empire.

The scientific novelty lies in the study and identification of the features of the legal status of patronage in the Byzantine Empire, determining the directions of its development.

The rights and duties of the ktetors were regulated by canons of church councils and Iaw acts, including monasteries typikons, edicts and emperors novellaes.

Justinian continued to develop legal regulation of ktetor’s activity. If in pre-Justinian times these relations were regulated by the Marcian and Valentinian III edict from AD 455  about wills for churches and Zeno edict from AD 470 about wills  for saints, martyrs and angels, in Justinian times only for the period from 530 to 554 there were issued 2 edicts and 5 Novellaes, directly devoted to fundraising, as well as 6 Novellaes, which in some articles commented  Ktetor’s Law.

The legislation established the next ktetor’s rights:

- to carry the honorary title of ktetor;

- to present his clerics to the bishop for dedication to the church or to the monks in the monastery, while the recommendation of the ktetor was optional for the bishop;

- to manage the established institution indirectly, being represented by an administrator.

The ktetor was a plaintiff in the name of established institution and conducted its cases in courts. He received various property and non-property donations, without any right to alienate property. The ktetor regulated the contribution issues in the process of monastery entering, and he was responsible for the admission of new members to the monastery.

Basileus strived to limit the rights of the ktetor as much as possible in favor of the bishop, who had jurisdiction over the monastery. Introduction to the Justinian's 7th Novellae Constitutiones declared the will to stop the attack of private individuals on monasteries property and to restrict the ktetor’s rights on the property of the monasteries they founded. The emergence of the ktetor’s right was associated with the transfer of the thing – after the formal transfer of the ktetor's property for the construction (restoration) and maintenance of the church institution.

Ktetor’s rights were significantly limited by the 67th Justinian's Novellae, having restricted them to the custody of the monastery he founded. The ktetor title was also assigned to those who due to the impossibility to build a new institution, restored the old one. According to Zeno's law, the management of property which was given by will for church needs carried out due to the will of the testator, but in the way prescribed by law. The bishop looked after the ktetor and his successor to ensure the nature of the donation immutability. In case of their attempt to change it he could even remove an administrator or the ktetor. According to Justinian's law, the ktetor stopped managing the donated property by appointment of a manager, who was accountable to the bishop. Justinian imposed episcopal jurisdiction over all consecrated property. According to 67th Justinian’s Novellae, all donated property required an inventory, which was kept by the bishop.

The ktetor determined the heir in his Will and he appointed the administrator of the donated property. In this case, the bishop did not rule, but only monitored the proper management. If the heir delayed the governor appointment according to the will of the testator, the bishop took over the management of the donated property by himself and appointed oikonomos (property manager), afterwards ktetor could not appoint even an abbot without the bishop’s consent. The ktetor’s heir – the epitrope – was obliged to maintain the inherited monastery in accordance with the donor instructions and current legislation. The epitrops could make additions to the monastery typikon only if they were given the right of testamentary dispositions.

The ktetors could bequeath the founded monastery to their children and others. The land ownership assigned to the monastery was also transferred with it. Custody of the monastery stayed after the ktetor until his death. After that it passed to his heir. After the end of the ktetor’s house, the monastery gained independence. Ktetor could transfer a cell or a small monastery to a cleric, monk or large monastery reserving the right to receive certain income. After the ktetor’s death the recipient acquired the right of full ownership and possession of the object.

Conclusions. Development of the ktetor institute in Byzantium has to be noted as an important instrument for protection of monasteries and their founders rights.

Ktetor’s Law is a system of rights and privileges endowed to individuals or legal entities (ktetor) after the foundation (construction) of a monastery. According to some scholars, they were similar to jus patronatus, as they were endowed as a special privilege to the ktetor or founder of an ecclesiastical institution. However, the patronage was mainly not a right but an obligation of the monastery founder in the interests of the Church.


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Omelchuk,  V. V. (2020). Ktetor’s law in the Byzantine Еmpire . Scientific Papers of the Legislation Institute of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, (4), 68-78. Retrieved from https://instzak.com/index.php/journal/article/view/1832