900 Solidi Clauses (in the Edictus Rothari)

A composition of 900 solidi marks one of the highest levels of fine given in the Lombard laws. It is exceeded only by the 1200 solidi fine for killing a free woman or girl (Rothari Nos 200 – 201), and perhaps by crimes which outline the death penalty as punishment. However, Rothari No. 5, which addresses a person who provisions or hides a spy within the land, gives a punishment of either death or a 900 solidi fine, suggesting that the two may have been understand as being broadly comparable. Likewise, Rothari No. 249 proscribes death unless a 900 solidi fine is paid, this time for taking mares or pigs as a pledge without the king’s consent. Certainly 900 solidi is a prohibitively high amount of money, and it must be assumed that only a thin sliver in the upper echelons of Lombard society would have had the wealth to pay off such a fine. As such, it is interesting to collate together all the crimes in Rothari’s Edictus of 643 CE that are reckoned at such a value, to see in what other ways they may be connected.

The first clause in the Edictus valued at 900 solidi, is the provisioning or hiding of a spy (scamaras in langobardic), mentioned previously with the death penalty stated as an alternative (Rothari, No. 5). From the outset, then, the high value of fine is associated with treachery and crimes against the Lombard state and government. The next instance does not appear so treacherous, as the fine is allotted for causing a disturbance in a council meeting or other assembly (Rothari No. 8). These councils and assemblies do not appear to be exclusively royal ones, although arguably it still encompasses protection, albeit of a different sort, of the Lombard administrative structure.

A little further into the Edictus, three consecutive clauses again have a 900 solidi composition ascribed to them, and each seems to have an element of treachery and nefariousness attached to it However, Only the first, defending a person who has killed his lord (Rothari No. 13), seems to be embedded in protecting the Lombard social hierarchy and order directly. In this clause the killer himself is to be killed, with no opportunity for relief through paying a fine, suggesting that the severity of aiding a spy mentioned previously instead overlaps two distinct levels, rather than implying a comparison. The other two crimes, are murder (or morth), which is to say secretly killing somebody and making some attempt by the killer to hide their identity or evidence of their crime (Rothari No. 14), and crapworfin or ‘grave breaking’ (Rothari No. 15). In the case of breaking into a grave, the law specifically mentions despoiling the body and throwing it out, suggesting that crapworfin was a specific plundering of the dead, more than just opening up a grave. As the composition for grave-robbing would be paid to the near relatives of the dead, this may suggest therefore that the family could open their own graves after the burial and retrieve any treasures buried along with the corpse if they so wished. While this may seem a strange behaviour to speculate on, it is a possible practice I have heard being considered, in which it is suggested that many of the robbed graves discovered by archaeologists may have been emptied by family relatively soon after the funeral ceremony was concluded. The conspicuous consumption and lavish wealth of the funerary rites, then, would be returned to the family and continue to circulate. I find such a notion intriguing, and have a long-standing note in my ‘to do’ list to follow up any scholarship on this practice, and flesh out what is otherwise (for me) an anecdote gleaned from a chance comment at a conference. While any information from readers on this subject would be appreciated, however, I digress from the point of this post.

The next clause with a 900 solidi composition comes soon after, with Rothari No. 18 prohibiting attacks on people on their way to or from visiting the king. Royal power and Lombard administration, therefore, is protected, as the cost of personal vengeance against somebody engaged in royal business is set to a prohibitive price.

The next clause outlines a 900 solidi fine for either falling on another person with arms to avenge some grievance, or else leading a band of up to four armed men into a village for similar reasons (Rothari No. 19). To me the first part of this is somewhat confusing, as it seems to contradict the more general fines outlined for killing a person by physical violence, in which composition equals to their praetium (that is, ‘worth’) or widrigild (cognate to the English ‘wergild’), according to their social class.

Rothari No. 26 gives a 900 solidi fine for the crime of wegworin, or blocking the road, against a free woman or girl. Here the payment goes half to the royal fisc and half to the man who holds her legal guardianship (her mundwald). The extent of fine here should be contrasted with the same crime against a free man, who is awarded 20 solidi, plus the composition for any injuries he may have suffered (per the following clause, Rothari No 27).

Two further clauses relating to women with fines of 900 solidi appear around the middle of the Edictus, with Rothari No. 186 being the fine for abducting a woman and taking her unwillingly to wife, and No. 191 for abducting a woman already betrothed to another. In both cases the composition is again divided equally between the king and the woman or girl in question’s mundwald. In the case of No. 186, the clause provides that if she has no relatives, then the king receives all the composition. It then goes on to state that the woman can then choose who should her mundium, naming father first, then brothers or an uncle, before concluding with the king. As with the exception of the king, the men named are all relatives, it seems unlikely that this final part of the clause is following on directly from the preceding point regarding the king receiving the entire composition when the abducted woman has no relatives. Instead, then, it may imply that, as her original mundwald had not been able to prevent her from being abducted in the first place, she may wish to transfer her guardianship to somebody with whom she feels more secure. This, however,is speculation beyond the scope of the clause’s stated content. The other clause, Rothari No. 191, seems far less in the abducted woman’s favour, stating that once the composition is paid, it may be arranged for the abductor of the already betrothed woman to become her mundwald.

The next clause to include a 900 solidi fine, Rothari No. 249, specifically outlines death if the fine is not paid. As with the provisioning of spies in Rothari No. 5, mentioned previously, the severity of this crime may then have been considered relatively more serious than the other 900 solidi clauses discussed here. In this clause, it is the taking of mares or pigs as pledges, without the king’s permission, that is the offence. I will throw my hands up here and admit that the underlying details for this currently escape me, as my research to date has focused on neither the functioning of pledges in Lombard society, nor the economic, social and agricultural structures revolving around various livestock. This is something I hope to return to with time, however.

Rothari No. 279 loosely echoes the previously discussed clause Rothari No. 19, in that 900 solidi is given as the composition due from a freeman who leads a band of enslaved people into a village for the purpose of committing a crime. The composition is split equally between the king and the injured party, and again a death penalty is outlined if the composition cannot be paid.

The last two clauses of relevance in the Edictus Rothari both address exceptions to the clauses outlining 900 solidi fines. Rothari No. 371, first confirms that if the crime is committed by an enslaved person, then the fine must still be paid (presumably by the one who owns them). It then emends the law to state that, however, should the enslaved person be owned by the king, then they are to be killed and no composition is to be paid. The second clause, Rothari No. 378, states that if a woman actively participates in a brawl, then she should be compensated for any wounds as if they were committed against one of her brothers, but because she joined the fight, she looses the 900 solidi composition outlined for certain crimes committed against her. From the crimes outlined above specifically addressing women, that would seem to imply that if a (free) woman’s passage along a road is blocked, or if she is abducted. As a consequence, Rothari No. 378, then, seems to argue that she only receives the full 900 solidi composition if she takes a passive role when these acts of violence are committed against her. Should she actively resist her attackers with force, then she looses the legal protection granted to her in Lombard law by her sex. Frequently throughout the laws, female resistance, activity and agency is implied, often even discussed directly. The laws, however, imagine a society in which femininity is passive and non-physical, and seek repeatedly to enforce that. The 900 solidi fine is just one means amongst many through which that was attempted.

This initial outlining of the 900 solidi fines is, I think, informative as to the main concerns of Rothari and his advisors, their legislative mentalities and the social structure which they were trying to enforce or create. In many of these cases the 900 solidi fine is split between the injured party (or the person who owns them or holds their legal protection) and the king. Royalty and the Lombard state, therefore, benefited directly from these crimes being pursued and punished, which contrasts distinctly with the vast majority of other crimes in which only the injured person (or their relatives, owner or guardian) profited. As such, at least some of the 900 solidi crimes show the interests of the Lombard state in maintaining and enforcing certain behaviours through multiple means, not only in the prohibitive value of the fine that is outlined. The main areas that can be seen to have been addressed in these laws comprise the protection of women, the restriction of nefarious crimes and the upholding of state and administrative structures. The clauses, then are both overt and subtle in their imagination, creation and enforcement of socio-legal norms. Further analysis and close-study of these will be both informative as to the concerns and structures of Lombard society and will provide a useful benchmark for comparative study when considering the relative severity attached to other crimes and clauses.

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2 thoughts on “900 Solidi Clauses (in the Edictus Rothari)

  1. Pingback: In proportion to worth | thomgobbitt

  2. Pingback: Crimes Punishable by Death | thomgobbitt

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