Theft, Aldia and Ancilla: Slaves and the ‘Half-Free’ in Lombard Law, Part II

This is the second of two posts, discussing slaves and the ‘half free’, in Rothari’s Edictus, focusing in this part on female slaves and half-free in particular. The first post can be found here. The main points made previously were that the praetium, or ‘worth’ owed to their owner should they be killed, were highly differentiated for different types of slave depending on their duties. The lowest being a field slave subordinate to another slave valued at 16 solidi, the highest 50 solidi for either a trained household slave or a master swineherd with three or more underlings. The aldius, or ‘half-free’ was valued somewhat higher, at 60 solidi. Conversely, in the case of injuries, these are merged into two broad groups: aldii and household slaves in the first group, and agricultural slaves in the second.

While these tariffs for death and injury appear to refer only to men, sometimes explicitly, a clause close to the end of the Edictus elaborates on specific instance in which women are killed. Rothari No. 376 addresses the killing of another man’s aldia or woman slave, on the grounds that she was a vampire ‘striga’ or witch ‘masca’. True to early medieval style, it is the perpetrator of this attack who is punished, on the grounds that it is illegal, impious and that ‘it is in no wise to be believed by Christian minds that it is possible that a woman can eat a living man from within’ [trans. Katherine Fischer Drew, The Lombard Laws, pp. 126-27]. For killing an aldia the perpetrator paid a fine of 100 solidi ‘for the guilt’ as well as 60 solidi for her life. The same praetium as for her male counterpart. In the case of a female slave the killer pays 60 solidi for the crime and composition according to her status as a household slave or field slave, and here a cross-reference is made to the values outlined previously in the Edictus. While the values laid out are often explicitly male in their terminology, women appear to be implicitly included within them. Women are only discussed directly in the cases where the nature of the crime is such that the victim or perpetrator is explicitly female. The most notable instances are rape (The potential for men to also be victims of rape not being recognised in the Lombard laws) and injuries leading to the death of an unborn child (Rothari No. 75, set at half the praetium of the mother according to whether she is free, unfree or half-free).

The focus of discussion here, though, is on crimes committed by female slaves and aldia to see how the distinction between these ranks is addressed. The main instance in the Edictus is theft, which at the very least reflects the stereotypical behaviour which the Lombard law-makers expected from unfree and half-free women. Theft is addressed directly in four of the clauses: Rothari No. 253 addressing theft by a freeman, No. 254 by a slave, No. 257 by a folkfree woman, and No. 258 by a female slave or aldia. In all cases the basic reparation is for the thief (or the one who owns them) to return the value of the goods nine-fold, with further details according to status and gender. Theft by freemen, for example, are only considered if the value taken is over 10 seliquae (twenty-four seliquae being equal in value to one solidus). In addition to the nine-fold return of the goods, the freeman must also pay 80 solidi in composition for the guilt, but if he is unable to do so then he is to be killed. A similar situation is true for the slave, except that the composition due is 40 solidi.

In the case of the ‘folkfree’ woman who commits theft (Rothari No. 257), that is a woman who has been freed rather than one who was born free, no additional composition is due, but, as discussed in this post, the law states that ‘shame [should] be reflected on her who did this disgraceful deed’ [Trans. Fischer-Drew, The Lombard Laws, p. 257]. As it is the ‘folk-free’ woman who is specifically addressed her, it may perhaps be assumed that the ordinary freewoman is subject to the same punishment as for the freeman. The imputation of shame for having committed theft, then, may be a statement reflecting on one who has previously managed to increase their station on the social ladder, but has kept the stereotypical behaviour from their previous position. I would still argue, however, that as this law only address folk-free women, not freedmen, the moralising on behaviour by the Lombard lawmakers is still fundamentally about gender, rather than exclusively social mobility. Or rather, that it relates specifically to female social mobility.

Thefts committed by either an aldia or ancilla are addressed together in Rothari No. 258. No distinction whatsoever is made for the various distinctions in rank and position as identified for injuries and praetium discussed earlier. Instead, all are subject to the same punishment: return of the goods nine-fold by her lord and a payment of 40 solidi for the guilt. No mention is made here of imputing shame, which strengthens the argument made before that the moralising in the previous clause was explicitly about female social mobility. The question that rises, however, is what purpose exactly does this clause serve? If woman are being implicitly addressed in the explicitly male clauses, then how does this clause differ? Both proscribe a nine-fold return of the goods stolen, and both proscribe a 40 solidi composition for the guilt itself.

Conversely, these two clauses differ in a number of small but significant ways: firstly, the aldius is not mentioned at any point in relation to theft, only the aldia. Secondly, theft by male slaves is only addressed if the value of the property taken is up to ten seliquae (therefore opposite to the freeman, where theft is only considered for property above that value), while for the ancilla and aldia no maximum or minimum limit to the value is discussed. Thirdly, where restitution cannot be made by men (free or unfree), they are put to death, no capital punishment is outlined for women. Finally, it is explicitly stated that the lord of the ancilla or aldia makes the payment, while it is not made clear in the case of the male slave. If anything, then, the law seems to take responsibility and consequence away from the female perpetrator, making it explicit that it is the lord who pays and removing the threat of death from them. For the male slaves, however, the situation is reversed, and the laws appear to lessen the responsibility of their lord, apparently burdening the slave with a composition they most probably will not be able to afford to pay, and facing therefore death.

The laws, therefore, hint at the role of women in the lower social strata of Lombard society, and many inferences both wild and cautious could be drawn from the evidence. The implications of these laws for the distinction in social hierarchy between aldia and ancilla are less clear; the clause makes no distinction between the two. Taken alongside the injury tariffs and the praetium for the different social ranks, it becomes increasingly clear that no distinct line can be drawn in Lombard society between the aldius or aldia and the slave or ancilla. On the one hand, fine distinctions are sometimes made within these groupings, to the extent that the aldius or ancilla appear as simply one more gradation of value, positioned just one small step higher than the most valued of slaves. On the other hand, aldius and slave, aldia and ancilla can be grouped together without need for distinction: honour does not appear to be at stake and half free seems still to be, to a great extent, property.


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