This is more of a short musing post, which is more a matter of raising possibilities in comparative speculation, rather than providing any solid conclusions. The focus is a clause in the Edictus Rothari of 643 CE that I just stumbled across in passing which snagged my interest: No. 44. A content warning for the entire post may be of use here as the clauses discussed more broadly here focus on various trauma, including beatings and, particularly, injuries to, and the severing of, ears. The specific clause, per Katherine Fischer-Drew’s translation reads as follows:
He who hits another man with his fist shall pay him three solidi as composition. He who strikes another on the ear shall pay six solidi.
Fischer-Drew, Trans. The Lombard Laws, p. 61
It’s a relatively simple seeming clause, that sets a blow to the ear [alapas] at double the value of any other punch. The value given for the ordinary punch, in fact, reiterates the value given in the preceding clause, where one punch is valued at three solidi, two punches at six solidi, three at nine solidi, and four or more at twelve solidi (Edictus Rothari, No. 43).
The positioning of the clause in the law-code more broadly is the first point of interest. With the specific focus on the ear in No. 44, it feels like it should be part of the injury tariffs, which for wounds inflicted on freemen run from Nos 46-74, and as discussed previously, list a wide range of injuries to specific body parts. (For a fuller discussion of these across the early medieval law-codes, see Lisi Oliver’s The Body Legal in Barbarian Law). The intervening clause (No 45), serves as a general introduction to the tariffs, outlining that the compositions given in the list below must be paid accordingly, and that thereafter the faida [feud] should end. As such, the separation of the blow to the ear form the specific injury tariffs seems to be a deliberate strategy by the law-givers when they organised the law-code. Moreover, the ear appears twice more in the main injury tariffs, with Edictus Rothari, No. 53 setting composition at a quarter of the victim’s praetium [the amount to be paid should they be killed] if the ear is severed fully. A few clauses later, Edictus Rothari, No. 56 outlines a fine of sixteen solidi as composition, if a person strikes and wounds the victims ear. Perhaps, then, we simply have three clauses, haphazardly arranged in the law-code, with increasing composition for increasing severity of the damage inflicted.
The positioning of this clause before the introductory clause for the tariffs, however, emphasises that it is not part of the injury tariffs as a whole. Instead, it forms the final clause of a short cluster on the beating of a freeman (Nos 41-44). The main organisational strategy here, then, could simply be that the wounds in the beatings cluster are inflicted by bare hand, while those in the tariffs are for more significant wounds that might be inflicted with weapons and result in lasting damage. Perhaps, then, the blow to the ear in question is just part of a fist-based drubbing.
The clauses on the beating of a freeman address a number of possibilities. In Edictus Rothari, No. 41 the beating is premeditated (but not under royal instruction) and the victim is assumed to be standing about or walking along unprepared. The assault is described as being turpiter [disgraceful, shameless], and as an assault on honour the composition is calculated at half their praetium [worth]. The next clause increases the composition to two-thirds his praetium, if he is tied up in the process. It is worth noting that the Edictus Rothari does not give specific values for the praetium of a freeman, but an approximate scale can be inferred from Liutprand, No. 62, issued in 724 CE, in which a freeman who is not a landholder is set at 150 solidi, while one who has land at 300 solidi. Assuming these values were even close to those used eighty odd years earlier, then the severity of the crime and composition can be clearly seen, especially when contrasted to the values given in the next clause, of three solidi per blow up to a maximum of four blows and twelve solidi.
So how does the doubling of the composition for a blow to the ear fit into this? Is the ear being considered as a more delicate part of the body which might be damaged internally from a blow form a fist, even if no visible wound remains? I find myself wondering if the issue is in the translation. The Latin of the law-code in fact uses ‘alapas’ for the blow in question, which can mean boxing the ears, but may more broadly be translated as a slap in general.
It seems to me unlikely that an openhanded slap could do more physical damage than a punch thrown by the same person, as the open hand would surely dissipate the force somewhat. So the doubling of the composition from three solidi to six for the blow seems to me unlikely to be corresponding to that. I assume, instead, that the act of slapping itself is being taken as a form of insult, where the assailant is more concerned with damage to their victim’s honour and standing than they are with actually causing lasting physical harm. But if that is the case, then the increased values given for insult to honour are still exceedingly low compared to those for the deliberately premeditated assaults considered in the nearby clauses (or the twelve or twenty solidi for verbal insults made in the heat of the moment, per Edictus Rothari, Nos 381 and 198, respectively). Nor is their any moralising in the clause. If the focus is not specifically the ear here, then perhaps a slap amongst Lombards is just a (very) petty insult, with a little more compensation due, but not drawing further comment?