In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section David Santillana

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Biographies
  • Major Works
  • Creation of the Tunisian Civil Code
  • Santillana’s Method Compared with Major Civil Law “Synthesists”
  • Islamic Jurists as Sources and Inspiration
  • Interaction with the Ulama
  • Santillana’s Sources of Law in the Tunisian Code
  • Santillana’s Approach to Contract Law
  • Santillana and Religious Individuation
  • Error of Law
  • Influence on Moroccan and Mauritanian Civil Codes

Islamic Studies David Santillana
Dan E. Stigall
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0269


David Santillana was a cosmopolitan jurist and expert on Islamic law who was born in Ottoman Tunisia in 1855. He had a long, multifaceted career as a scholar and legal practitioner in North Africa and Europe, but is best known for his scholarship on the Maliki school of Islamic law and for his central role in the creation of the Tunisian Code of Obligations and Contracts—the first successful modern synthesis of Islamic law and continental civil law. This codification, in turn, served as inspiration for the civil codes of Morocco and Mauritania.

General Overviews and Biographies

Born into a Jewish family in Tunisia, Santillana was initially educated at an Italian school in Tunis, but he completed his secondary studies in England. He returned to Tunisia in 1873 to begin his government career, serving as secretary of the Commission financière internationale (a commission created in 1869 to address Tunisia’s fiscal problems) and also as an interpreter to the Ottoman Bey in the Département des Affaires étrangères. Santillana later resigned from his post as Bey’s translator and enrolled at the University of Rome in 1880, where he studied law. After graduating in 1883, he began work as an attorney in both Rome and Florence, obtaining Italian nationality and developing expertise in Roman and Italian law. In 1896 he was chosen to preside over the Commission for the Codification of Tunisian Laws, working with French, Tunisian, and other legal scholars to create the Tunisian Code of Obligations and Contracts. Throughout his career, he continued to play a role in controversial legal matters across North Africa, such as the legal defense of Ahmed Orabi, an Egyptian military officer who staged a revolt against the British and French presence in Egypt. He also briefly taught at the University of Cairo, but, for reasons related to declining health, he returned to Italy, where he taught Islamic law at the University of Rome from 1913 to 1923. Santillana was married to Emilia Maggiorani, the daughter of his friend and colleague Odoardo Maggiorani. In 1902 Santillana and his wife would have one child, Giorgio Diaz de Santillana, who would travel to the United States and become a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the author of an esoteric book titled Hamlet’s Mill, An Essay on Myth and the Frame of Time. David Santillana died in Rome in 1931. Despite the unique place that David Santillana occupies in the pantheon of comparative law, civil law, and Islamic law, his work is not widely known to Western scholars, and there has been limited academic attention given to his life and scholarship. Charfeddine 2006 provides the most robust exploration of Santillana and his work on the Tunisian civil code, including some biographical detail. Renucci 2015 presents the most in-depth exploration of Santillana’s life and work beyond the Tunisian code. Lindo 1848 and Sloan 2009 offer general historic detail on the Sephardic Jewish community of which David Santillana was a part—and which influenced his syncretic approach to law. Lafi 2016 gives insight into the political clashes and incidents among various communities that would shape the political landscape in which David Santillana would be called to write the Tunisian code.

  • Charfeddine, Mohamed Kamel, ed. Livre du centenaire du Code des obligations et des contrats: 1906–2006. Tunis: Centre de Publication Universitaire, 2006.

    Collection of essays in which various jurists focus on the Tunisian Code of Obligations and Contracts, discussing its history and its contents. Many of the essays contain helpful information on the life and work of Santillana.

  • Lafi, Nora. “Challenging the Ottoman Pax Urbana: Intercommunal Clashes in 1857 Tunis.” In Violence and the City in the Modern Middle East. Edited by Nelida Fuccaro, 95–108. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016.

    A book chapter outlining violent events in Ottoman Tunisia between 1857 and 1864 that challenged Ottoman governance. Provides important background for the political context in which David Santillana would create his legislative opus.

  • Lindo, E. H. The Jews of Spain and Portugal. London: Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1848.

    An authoritative account of the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal, with an emphasis on the laws relevant to their expulsion.

  • Renucci, Florence. “David Santillana, acteur et penseur des droits Musulman et Europeen.” Monde(s): Histoire, Espaces, Relations 7 (2015): 25–44.

    DOI: 10.3917/mond1.151.0025

    A French-language article that explores the life and work of David Santillana, with a strong emphasis on biographical information.

  • Sloan, Dolores. The Sephardic Jews of Spain and Portugal: Survival of an Imperiled Culture in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

    Examines the history of the Sephardic Jews and their achievements in science, medicine, philosophy, arts, economy, and government. It also explores the Diaspora community in the Ottoman Empire, where David Santillana and his family worked and thrived.

  • Stigall, Dan E. The Santillana Codes: The Civil Codes of Tunisia, Morocco, and Mauritania. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2017.

    Examines the Santillana Codes, legal instruments that form a distinct class of uniquely African civil codes and are still in force today, in a legal arc that extends from the Maghreb to the Sahel. Presents the history of Santillana’s seminal legislative effort and provides a comparative analysis of the substance of those codes, illuminating commonalities between Islamic law and European legal systems.

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