Aistulf became king of the Lombards in 749 CE, following the abdication of the former king, Ratchis, his brother. Aistulf remained king up until his death in December 756. Throughout the course of his reign, he augmented the Lombard laws on two separate occasions, issuing nine clauses on 1 March 750 (Aistulf, Nos 1-9), and a further thirteen clauses in the fifth year of his reign, on 1 March 755 (Aistulf, Nos 10-22. A further two clauses are also attributed to him, edited by Friedrich Bluhme as Aistulf Capitula Spuria, Nos 23 & 24. The clauses, presumably, reflect the various pressing socio-legal concerns of his day, with some augmenting and updating previous legislation or responded to cases that had been brought to the attention of the royal court as they were not easily resolvable. A content note may be required here, as some of the law clauses mentioned in this post involve violence and killing, abduction and forced marriages, including with young girls.
My focus here today is Aistulf No. 15, issued as part of the second legislative session in 755, which addresses the situation in which a group of ‘perverse men’ [perversi hominis] threw ‘polluted and unclean water’ [aquam sorditam et stercoral] over the wedding party bringing a bride to the wedding (Bluhme, ed., Edictus Langobardorum, 201; Fischer-Drew, trans., The Lombard Laws, 234). In addition to the skin-crawlingly icky contexts – surely something that should be drawn to the attention of Horrible Histories, and reflecting the soap opera of early medieval Lombard life – the broader legal details revealed in the clause are also of interest. This can be seen from the modern English translation of the clause:
It has been made known to us that when a number of men walked along with a wedding party [paranimpha et troctingis] that was taking a bride to her bridegroom certain per- verse men threw down polluted and unclean water upon them.
Since this evil has been committed in several different places, we decree, lest a breach of the peace [scandalum] or homicide occur from this cause, that if any freeman tries to do such a thing, he shall pay 900 solidi as composition, half to the king and half to [the woman’s] mundwald [legal guardian]. If they are men who belong to someone else and they do this thing without their lord’s consent, and if their lord dares to offer oath that the thing was not done at his desire or with his counsel or advice and thus clears himself: the slaves shall be handed over to [the woman’s] mundwald, and he may do with them as it pleases him. In this case their patron shall bear no further blame. But if their lord does not dare so to swear, he shall pay 900 solidi as composition, as read above.
Aistulf, No. 15
(Fischer-Drew, trans., The Lombard Laws, 234-35)
Firstly, the clause begins by noting that ‘It has been made known to us…’ reflecting the situation in which new clauses address some of the specific cases that have been brought before the king, presumably as they could not be resolved by iudices [judges] and other legal officials acting at a local level. This, in turn, reflects the campaign undertaken in the second decade of Liutprand’s legislation, in which resorting to local judgement and custom where the law-book had not yet addressed a given circumstances were actively prohibited. This theme is discussed in the prologues to the legislation of Liutprand’s thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth years (725-27 CE). As an aside it should be noted that this campaign may have been a little too successful, and the prologue to Liutprand’s legislation of the nineteenth year, has a somewhat weary tone as it refers to ‘Our clemency [being] constantly beseeched by the unceasing controversies of the superstitious and vain.’ (Fischer-Drew, trans., The Lombard Laws, 194).
Of particular interest here, though, is the further statement in the clause that, ‘Since this evil has been committed in several different places…’, meaning that this was not an isolated case brought before the royal court. Rather, it seems to have occurred on multiple occasions. Presumably the previous instances had been individually dealt with, until Aistulf and his advisors recognised that it was a more deep-rooted problem. The clause them takes particularly heavy measures to prevent it from occurring again in the future, and outlines the broader reasons for doing so within the logic and structure of honour and the violence of the faida [blood feud].
Restitution for this crime is set in the clause at the distinctly high price of 900 solidi. In a previous blogpost I gathered together many of the clauses from the Edictus Rothari in which composition of this value was set. It is, for instance, equal to the composition due for committing morth [murder], that is the ‘secret’ killing of a freeman or enslaved man or woman, in which some attempt was made to disguise the identity of the killer(s) and/or victim. It can be further contrasted with the openly admitted and public killing of another person, in which for an enslaved man or woman the value would be between sixteen and fifty solidi, depending on their specific duties and degree of training (Rothari, Nos 130-36). While Rothari does not give specific values for the ‘widrigild’ or ‘praetium’ [wergild, worth], of a freeman, in 724 Liutprand had set the values at 150 solidi for if he was without landless or 300 solidi if he was landed (Liutprand, No. 62). The nefariousness of murder is particularly apparent in the relative differences in composition required to offset the insult to honour, and to stop further revenge-violence from ensuing. Free women, it will be noted, are not included in this discussion. The reason firstly being that the open killing of a free woman or girl had already been set at 1200 solidi, (Rothari Nos 200-01), with no specific distinction being made for murder. As the general value for a secretive murder would have been lower than for an open killing, the reasons for excluding freewomen from the clause on morth seem apparent.
Other clauses addressing crimes committed against free women do, however, include a 900 solidi fine, including Rothari No. 26 for ‘wegworin’ that is (forcefully?) blocking the road against her; Rothari No. 186 abducting a woman and taking her unwillingly to wife; or Rothari No. 191, abducting a woman who is already betrothed. Liutprand, No. 12 had also set a fine of 900 solidi for betrothing or marrying a girl under the age of twelve. In this, then, the values given in Aistulf No. 15 for tipping filthy water over a wedding party, accord with attacks on women and injuries to their honour (or, rather, through them that of their mundwald [legal guardian] per Lombard legal norms which did not allow women legal competency). The composition due, however, was to be split into two portions, half paid to the woman’s mundwald, the other half going to the royal fisc. With half the money going to the royal coffers, the clause establishes that this assault is not just a private matter against the woman and her guardian, but also against the Lombard regnum and rulers. This also echoes the practice where an underage girl is married or betrothed, within again half the composition going to the royal fisc. In Liutprand, No. 31 (723 CE) the earlier law on abducting women was augmented so that half of the composition would again go to the royal treasury. At the very least, the setup gave legal officials working on the behalf of the throne a strong motivation to pursue these manner of cases, and conversely removed any incentive for the families involved to decide to just let the events slide.
The composition of 900 solidi is usually only due when the perpetrator is a freeman. In the case of an enslaved person or people having thrown the putrid water at the bride, then the clause stipulates instead that their dominus [lord, enslaver] should swear oath that the crime was not committed at his bidding. Here the clause introduces a conditional argument for the outcome. Should the dominus be willing to swear that oath, then he is absolved of guilt and responsibility, and the perpetrators are instead to be handed over to the woman’s mundwald [legal guardian]. As ownership of the enslaved people has changed, this effectively would allow physical punishment or killing in retribution without perpetuating the faida or incurring further composition for the revenge. Should the dominus be unwilling to swear oath that he was not involved, then nor more mention is made of the enslaved people, and the dominus becomes fully responsible as if he had thrown the putrid water over the bridal party himself.