“Let Shame be Reflected on Her”: Imputing and Negating Shame in the Lombard Laws

I’m currently working on the first wave of corrections for an article on poisoning in the Lombard laws. One thread of my argument revolves around the detail that, while the laws address both male and female poisoners equally, there is no shame imputed in the laws against them. This may not seem surprising when considered within the scope of the barbarian laws in general. Many of the clauses provide a means of limiting feuds by letting perpetrators make redress to their victims through monetary payment without, importantly, either side damaging their honour. Male violence, that is.

The laws also address violence perpetrated by women, and here the situation is very much reversed: violence, the laws note, is a thing ‘that men do, not women’ (Liutprand, No. 141, 734 CE) and when faced with women who transgress this boundary the laws seek to curtail it with a combination of shaming their involvement in such unwomanly behaviour and defeminising them in the eyes of the law. If a woman wades into a brawl and gets injured or killed, then her family are compensated as if the injury had happened to one of her brothers. Where the modern woman may face ‘bodyshaming’ or ‘slutshaming’, the Lombard woman it seemed had ‘killshaming’ and ‘brawlshaming’ to contend with.

My intentions here are not to explore the interesting relationship between female poisoning and female violence, as regards the imputing of shame. Instead, I wish to gather together some of the instances in the Lombard law where shame and dishonour are employed – whether that be where shame is imputed for someone’s behaviour, or where compensation is awarded on account of the shame inflicted upon them. This is very much a ‘work-in-progress’ sort of post, while I feel out the (to me) unknown territories lying beyond the article I am currently working on. Hopefully I won’t come out of this adventure red-faced.

A quick glance through the index of Katherine Fischer-Drew’s translation of The  Lombard Laws (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1973), which I will be drawing on for this post, reveals no entries for ‘disgrace’, ‘embarrassment’, ‘honour’, ‘humiliation’, ‘reputation’, ‘scorn’ or ‘shame’. Not a promising start, but perhaps indicative of the ways in which the legal themes of the laws have been studied and understood. Because a deed is seen as shameful it is given as a reason to legislate against it, and shame is, perhaps, understood more as a tool to enforce a law and denounce a practice or perpetrator, rather than as a legal theme in its own right.

Looking through the 388 clauses of King Rothari’s Edictus, the first written version of the Lombard laws, promulgated in 643 CE, the better part of a century before King Liutprand’s additions, the following examples jump out:

The first direct mention of shame is Rothari No. 41, which addresses a situation when a freeman is taken unawares and beaten. Seizing the unsuspecting man (without the king’s permission) is described as a ‘disgraceful’ act, and a weighty composition of half the affronted man’s worth (his praetium, or wergild), calculated according to his position in society, is owed to him in redress for the attackers having ‘treated the man shamefully and with derision’. This in addition to the fines accrued for any specific injuries to his body they may inflicted, as per the long tariff of injury fines given in the laws. The injury to honour itself may be unquantifiable and difficult to show to the outside world, but the awarded price of half his worth reflect the seriousness with which Lombard legislators and society judged the affront.

Rothari No. 181 takes shame in a very different direction, by addressing indirectly a woman who becomes a leper, mad or blind in both eyes after becoming betrothed. The underlying mechanisms to which this change in her mental or physical health is attributed is to her ‘weighty sins’, which I would consider a clear imputation of shame. The logic of shame places the fault directly on the woman, and the law then allows the man to break of the betrothal and receive the property he had given her as dowry back rather than finding him forced to still marry her against his will.

Rothari No. 190 addresses the man who marries or has intercourse with a woman, and with her consent, who is already betrothed. The law includes three payments, twenty solidi to the woman in question’s family for the ‘illegal intercourse’, and another twenty solidi to them to avert the feud. Meanwhile, he must also return double the marriage portion to the man who was originally betrothed to her, on account of the disgraceful way in which he acted. Rothari No. 191 adds a more nefarious version of this situation, in which the already betrothed woman is abducted by another man. although the abductor can again by his way out, at least in theory, as the composition is set at 900 solidi – one of the highest fines in the Lombard laws and an amount which must have been un-payable by most people. In addition to this, the originally betrothed man is considered to have been treated with ‘disgrace and scorn’, and the abducter must again pay to him double the marriage portion in redress. Sex and marriage outside the legal structures imposed on the woman (by her family) result in the honour of that family being disgraced, and shame is once more another injury which can be bought off.

Women again appear in Rothari No. 257, with strident tones demanding that for a folk-free woman caught stealing, the person who holds her mundium (that is the man who has legal responsibility for her, be it father, brother, husband or son) must return the value of the goods ninefold. This is the same as for any theft in the Lombard laws, however, the laws also take on a strongly moralising tone here that is not applied to male thieves, and the clause concludes by stating “let shame be reflected on her who did this disgraceful deed”.

The violent women mentioned by Liutprand at the outset of this post, have their origins in Rothari No. 378. In this clause it is argued that the redress for a woman who participates in a brawl and gets killed should be the same as if it had been one of her brothers who was killed: that is to say a value equal to her worth according to her social rank. This defeminising removes the ordinary protection on killing a free woman, an immense sum of 1200 solidi, on the basis that by participating in the brawl she had behaved in a manner dishonourable for women’.

This quick survey has not covered every instance in the laws. Some of the instances are not immediately apparent in any given clause but the suggestion comes to mind when the specifics of a law are read in conjunction with the entire law-code. I have omitted these here today, they will need a deeper layer of thought and study before I am willing to venture concrete opinions on them. Still, I cannot help think that clauses like Rothari No. 9 which includes redress to a value of half their worth for a person who has been falsely accused before the king, echo the similarly-valued redress for the unquantifiable damage to honour outlined in Rothari No. 41, when an unsuspecting man is attacked and beaten. A similar situation can be seen in Rothari No. 198, where a woman is falsely accused of being either ‘a harlot or a witch’. Although shame or disgrace are not directly referred to in the clause, the perpetrator must pay composition equal to her worth for the false accusation.

One of the most immediately apparent details that arises from the clauses from Rothari’s Edictus that I have included here is the difference in the treatment of shame as relates to men and women. With the exception of the indirect references to shame in the false accusations, shame is something that is imputed to women for (some) crimes that they commit or participate in, or else as the cause of the crime. Conversely, shame when imputed to men is something that must be redeemed through either the feud or the payment of composition. The role of shame in the Lombard laws, as noted at the outset of this post, is not limited to Rothari’s Edictus of 643, but can be seen still to be employed and developed in the laws of Liutprand through the first decades of the eight century. Indeed, even after the Lombard kingdom was conquered and subsumed into first the Carolingian hegemony and later the Holy Roman Empire of the Saxons and well into the thirteenth century and even beyond, the Lombard laws continued to be copied, updated and valid in northern Italy. Likewise, along with the laws, shame continued to be imputed, redressed and wielded as a moralising tool in the motivations of the laws throughout that time.


3 thoughts on ““Let Shame be Reflected on Her”: Imputing and Negating Shame in the Lombard Laws

  1. Pingback: Theft, Aldia and Ancilla: Slaves and the ‘Half-Free’ in Lombard Law, Part II | thomgobbitt

  2. Pingback: Barbarian Laws and Role-Play Games | thomgobbitt

  3. Pingback: Pigs and Pledges | thomgobbitt

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