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p271 Chirographum

Article by Benjamin Jowett, M.A., Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford
on pp271‑272 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

CHIROGRAPHUM (χειρόγραφον), meant first, as its derivation implies, a hand-writing or autograph (Cic. Phil. II.4). In this its simple sense, χείρ in Greek and manus in Latin are often substituted for it.

Like similar words in all languages, it acquired several technical senses. From its first meaning was easily derived that of a signature to a will or other instrument, especially a note of hand given by a debtor to his creditor. In this latter case, it did not constitute the legal obligation (for the debt might be proved in some other way); it was only a proof of the obligation.

According to Asconius (in Verr. III.36) chirographum, in the sense of a note-of‑hand, was distinguished from syngrapha; the former was always given for money actually lent, the latter might be a mere sham agreement (something like a bill of accommodation, though with a different object), to pay a debt which had never been actually incurred. The chirographum was kept by the creditor, and had only the debtor's signature; the syngrapha, on the contrary, was signed and kept by both parties.

In the Latin of the middle ages (see Du Fresne, s.v.) chirographum was used to signify tribute collected under the sign-manual of a person in authority, similar to the briefs and benevolences of former times in our own country. It was also used (see Blackstone, b. II c20), till very lately, in the English law for an indenture. Duplicates of deeds were written on one piece of parchment, with the word chirographum between them, which was cut in two in a straight or wavy line, and the parts p272given to the care of the persons concerned. By the Canonists, Blackstone remarks, the word syngrapha or syngraphus was employed in the same way, and hence gave its name to these kindº of writings.


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