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Ferrymen and Fugitives

Legislation relating to the portunarium, or ‘ferryman’, appears four times within the the Edictus, the first of the written barbarian law-codes of the Lombards, promulgated in 643 CE in the name of King Rothari. The clauses on ferrymen run consecutively in the law-code, and are edited as Nos. 265 to 268 in Frederick Bluhme’s mid-nineteenth-century, Monumenta Germaniae Historica edition of the Lombard Edictus and Alfred Boratius’ edition of the eleventh-century version of the texts, the Liber legis langobardorum or Liber Papiensis in the same volume. The arrangement of clauses with related themes so that they are adjacent to each other in the laws is nothing unusual, numerous thematic blocks can be identified. In many cases these groupings also progress thematically from one to the next, or, after taking a step back, can be seen to work as units within a larger theme. The clauses to either side of those dealing with the ferryman illustrate this perfectly.

Rothari clause Nos 253 to 263 address the subject of theft, looking at various social iterations beginning with theft committed by a freeman, and then considering slaves, free women, ‘half-free’ women (that is, aldia), freemen ordering their slaves to steal for them and so forth. The following clause, No. 264, progresses from theft to freemen or slaves apprehended while trying to flee the country. While the person could of course be fleeing for many reasons, the clause specifically notes that, following Katherine Fischer-Drew’s translation of the Lombard laws, that the apprehending ‘judge or other resident’ should ‘keep safe the property which he [the fugitive] carried with him’, and then stresses on two occasions that the ‘properties that he took’ should be returned. While these could easily have been the personal properties of the fugitive, as the clause follows on directly from the discussion on theft, it seems strongly implied that those properties were stolen goods.

The clauses following here, Nos 265 to 276 address fugitives in different ways, including a bond’s man who run from their own lord to another (No. 269) and if that second man refuses to return them (no. 270); if they run to the king’s court (No. 271) or take sanctuary in the church (No. 272); if someone harbours or aids a fleeing bondsman (Nos 274 to 276) or, going back a few clauses in the laws to the focus of this discussion, the culpability and responsibilities of ferrymen who aid, knowingly or otherwise, fugitives (Nos. 265 to 268).

Rothari No. 265 begins the discussion on ferrymen, by allowing a ferryman accused of transporting a fugitive OR thief across a river to clear themselves from guilt with only an oath. Here it is assumed that the ferryman will not offer false oath, and the emphasis is on the ferryman having not known that their passenger was on the run. The specific requirement of ‘oath alone’ emphasises the law overall being on the ferryman’s side and hints at their importance in the travel and communication networks of the Lombard regnum.

Rothari No. 266, however, modifies this to include the situation where the ferryman is in the know and transports a thief fleeing with goods anyway. Here the ferryman becomes treated as an accomplice, must pay composition along with the thief for whatever goods were taken, and in addition must pay a further fee of twenty solidi to the king’s treasury. The fees and compositions due within the Lombard laws vary greatly, sometimes being as small as half a solidi, sometimes rising as high as twelve-hundred solidi. Twenty solidi, however, has been suggested to be the uppermost cut offline between the less and more serious cases, based on the understanding that if a person could not pay the fine, then they became a debt slave until they had worked off what they owed in the lesser cases, but a permanent slave if the value was more than twenty solidi (See Fischer-Drew: 28).

Rothari No. 267 examines the other half of that equation, wherein a ferryman knowingly transports a fugitive slave. Here, in addition to a fee of twenty solidi to the king’s treasury, the ferryman was obliged to search out and capture the fugitive, and then return them (with the property they were carrying, stolen or personal?) to their owner, or else to compensate the owner the value of the slave and said property.

When the fugitive in question is a freeman, however, and the ferryman knowingly transports him, then the stakes increase significantly. Rothari No. 268 states that here the ferryman must either pay a fine equal to his own wergild, or failing that lose his life. The clause, perhaps recognising that a fugitive freeman may be in a better position to put up a struggle than a fugitive slave (better health? better weapons? better training in combat?) and putting greater significance on the social value of a freeman than a slave, points out that even if the ferryman could not hold the fugitive, they should at least have run on ahead proclaiming the guilt so that others could intervene.

To my knowledge, Rothari’s Edictus does not make further comment on one other than a ferryman who knowingly aids a fugitive freeman. No. 276, however, addresses giving shelter or help in the form of directions or provisions, to a fleeing slave. As with No. 267, the person is obliged to hunt down the slave. If they succeed in catching the fugitive, they must return them and pay their owner for the lost labour, and if unable to catch the fugitive they instead repay the value of the slave and the property they had taken with them. In this instance, then, there is no fee made to the royal treasury.

Whenever a specific occupation or social class is addressed in the laws, there is normally a reason. The subtle variations between the laws are revealing when examined closely. That is to say: that a ferryman accomplice to a fugitive slave or thief pays a fee to the royal treasury; that a ferryman can prove that they did not know their passenger was on the run can prove their innocence with an ‘oath alone’; and that in the case of aiding fugitive freemen, only ferryman are addressed in specific detail. The question I am mulling now, then, is what do these laws imply for the social and legal context of Lombard Italy? It is not a question I can answer fully here yet, but I have a few thoughts fermenting.

The ability to move around the kingdom must have been vital, and with the many rivers bisecting the land ferries and their operators must have played a significant role. A fugitive, or any person, might be able to move relatively freely across open land, but when crossing a river they would need a bridge or ferry. The ferryman might be expected to know the goings on of the local area, to recognise well enough if a person was likely to be a fugitive slave. Conversely, for a freeman, clause No. 268 almost implies that the ferryman should be able to recognise that he is now a fugitive, as if some outwardly obvious change would occur between an honest and dishonest freeman.

As a nexus point in the transport routes of the kingdom, the actions of the ferryman are of importance to the kingdom as a whole. It may be for this reason that the twenty solidi fine for aiding a thief or fugitive slave goes to the king, not to their owner, that willingly, or at least knowingly, aiding them was an action against the king and the broader interests of society as a whole, as much as it was opposing the financial and labour interests of the slave in question’s owner. Returning to clause No. 265, the broader interests of society and infrastructure can again be seen where the fugitive or thief is unknowingly assisted, and the law falls very much in favour of the ferryman. Clearing themselves of guilt by ‘oath alone’ resonates with significance, and here the implications seem more obvious. The laws balance private interests with societal good: if ferrymen were worried that for every person of unknown or even apparently good-standing they let cross, they might later find themselves having to pay a fee, try and track them down and then return them or their value to their owner, would they take any passengers at all?

Edictus Langobardorum’, ed. by Frederick Bluhme; ‘Liber Papiensis’, ed. by Alfred Boratius, in Legum, iv, ed. by Georg Heinrich Pertz (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: 1868)

The Lombard Laws, ed. and trans. by Katherine Fischer-Drew (University of Pennsylvania Press: 1973)


On Ruling grids

Having just spent a month and a half travelling around France and Northern Italy looking at some of the manuscripts of the Liber legis langobardorum for my research project, I am now back in the office and writing up copious amounts of notes. One of the main things I have to be working on is the descriptions of the ruling grids, as used by the scribes to lay out the page and position the main text-block, decorative initials, glosses in the margins and the such like.

I’ve previously found analysis of these to be highly informative when considering the general ways in which a given manuscript was physically produced, and long hours spent considering the minutae of exactly which lines are extended to the outer edge of the folio or across the centrefold of the bifolium often prove to be worthwhile. Even if at the time, barely perceptible scratched lines, damaged parchment and dozens upon dozens of folios can cause the eyes to cross and the attention to wander.

At the moment I am writing up the details for Padua, Biblioteca del Seminario Vescoville, MS DXXVIII, one of the latest copies of the Liber legis langobardorum dating to the first quarter of the twelfth century. It is a plain manuscript overall, written in a single column with simple, pen-drawn initials for each clause offset from the text-block in the left margin, made in what appears to be the same ink as used for copying the text itself. There are glosses copied in the outer margin of many of the folios (they appear to be in the same hand as the main text-block, but detailed palaeographic analysis is currently a little further down my to do list), and running headings in the upper margin of each folio, recto and verso.

Here and now, however, it is the ruling grid that has my attention. My focus in this post is to consider the methodology of describing and analysing these, the implications for the production of the book (skirted around here somewhat, but nonetheless present) must wait for a fuller article on the manuscript itself. A summary glance at the data could easily be used to say that only two grids are used: Grid A has 38 long lines to the column and is used on the vast majority of the folios, while Grid B has only 37 lines and is used only on folios 31-33 and 60-61.

Looking at which of the long lines the scribe chose to extend to the outer margins of the page and into the centrefold (close analysis shows that here the ‘through lines’ do not actually go through, but instead stop just shy. Each folio was ruled individually, not as an open bifolium), gives a more detailed picture. Between variations in extension of the first two to four lines, the last one to three lines, and any of none to three lines around the middle of the page (between lines 16 and 23), a much larger range of ruling grids appear. three for type B, and at least 24 for type A.

In fact, there may be more than 24 of type A, as there are some subtle variations on the given theme, usually where only one line is apparently missing from one side of the grid. As the lines are often faint and difficult to discern, I have given the grid the benefit of the doubt and labelled these variants with an additional code e.g. Grid AD2 or AD3, rather than giving them a whole new code to themselves. If the variants are included, a further eight ruling grids can be added to the total – making for thirty-two of type A (38 lines) and thirty-five in all. A sizeable number for a manuscript of only eighty-three folios, averaging at one for every 2.4 folios.

In all those grids, the duplicates are generally adjacent. Despite the overall similarity of the grids, there are surprisingly few repeats of exactly the same pattern. Grid AP first appears on fols 46-49 and again on fols 6-67, while Grid AF appears on fols. 14-15 and 22-24, then perhaps in a variant form (AF2, which includes line 36 as a ‘throughline’, but not as an extender) on fols 76-79.

My initial instincts are to draw a diagram to summarise each one, and it is an approach I have used in the past on other manuscripts (both the collection of Anglo-Saxon laws in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 383 on which my doctoral project was based, and on the copy of the Liber legis lagobardorum in Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek MS 471, that formed the foundation for my current postdoctoral research project). It may still prove to be a useful tool here, but the variations in the ruling grids are subtle and I am not sure how much information the reader might glean from comparing to ostensibly similar grids. Take for example grids AA and AB below, where the only variation is that mid-lines 18-20 are extended in AA, and 19-21 in AB.

Ruling Grid AA (fols 2-5)

Ruling Grid AB (fols 2-5)

Instead, I have focused on tabulating the information, a PDF of the draft file can be found here. This provides a very dense appendix to an article or manuscript description, which is nonetheless far more approachable than the initial extended table of page-by-page data, painstakingly gathered in the library direct from the manuscript. Editing the data into this tabulated form is as much a process of analysis as presentation, and as actively constructed data (is there any other kind?) belays interesting suggestions on how the manuscript was produced. As such, there is a balance between the density of the information provided and its usability.

I wonder (idly, not as a challenge!) how many people will check the tabulated data in detail, preferring instead to refer to the key points that I draw attention to. This, then, like any research, is a case of forming, analysing and curating data. And as such, I will keep sifting through it partly to see what patterns and suggestions fall out for myself, but also to see if better ways can be found to present it.

Shaved Heads, Floggings & Burning in the Woods, Lothair 81

At the moment I am finalising a paper on arson in the Lombard laws, which I hope to submit before the end of the month. For now it is sitting to one side to be ignored until the last day of the month, to put a bit of distance between it and myself before proofreading it. In the process of writing it I had to brush up my somewhat rusty Latin skills and took to translating one of the capitularies of the Frankish King Lothair (795-855 CE, King of Italy from 821 CE), included in the Liber Legis Langobardorum.

The capitulary, edited by Alfred Boratius as Lotharii 81, is included in the 1868 edition of the law-book for the Monumenta Germania Historica series (Leges iv), p. 555. The working translation is perhaps a little rough around the edges, but proved more than sufficient for my purposes. I had a little help from a few colleagues along the way, mostly just confirming my suspicions as to what a specific sentence meant, but any and all mistakes remain my own.

It is our will, that if any person has dared to make a fire in the woods within the borders of our realm, it must be diligently enquired into; and if it is a slave that has done this, either his lord gives him to be flogged and [to have] his head shaved, or he is compelled to make emends for him for whatever damage he caused. If it is a free person that is proven to have done this, he is compelled to emend completely, and in addition to pay our fine. And if he does not have the composition, let him be flogged. But if it is done, it should be investigated by better men of that place. If any person is under suspicion, if he is a slave [then] he is sent to the judgement of his lord, or he [his lord] makes the oath for him; But if he is a free person, if it is appropriate he renders his own oath.

There are a few points of interest to me that go beyond the scope of the paper but which I wanted to note about this capitulary. The most significant being the ways in which it differs from the legislation in the Edictum. Rothair 148 already accounts for fires in the countryside to some extent, legislating that the cost of damage caused by a fire left negligently by the wayside should be paid in composition. The Rothair clause limits the responsibility of the negligent person somewhat, by defining a geographical limit (an area bordered by public roads and streams) and limiting it to damage done within the twenty-four hours after the fire was abandoned. Lothair includes no such limitations, concerned only to find out who caused the fire an to punish accord to their social position.

Another interesting point is that Lothair refers to the payment of ‘our fine’ in addition to making good for the damage done, which presumably draws on the Frankish laws in the Lex Salica which outline fines on top of restitution. The Lombard laws themselves, however, which this capitulary supplements, only include the singlefold composition for the damage caused. In the case of the deliberate burning of houses and mills, the Lombard laws state a composition of three times the value of the damage done, but this was not extended – at least explicitly – to the countryside or even other types of buildings.

The final point that I wish to draw attention to here is the inclusion of corporal punishment in the clause; if the one responsible was a slave then they were to be flogged and have their head shaved. While the capitulary provides means to negate this, by letting the slave make emends in other ways (I assume that is through labour to make good the damage), the resort to physical punishment in the first instance differs greatly from the Lombard practices (as stated in the extant law-codes) that the capitulary otherwise contributed to. In the Lombard laws themselves, the use of corporal punishment is restricted appearing only in a very few instances. Considering that the Lombard law continued to be in force after the takeover of Italy by the Carolingian hegemony in 775 CE (and again after the incorporation of Italy into the Holy Roman Empire in 962 CE), it is interesting to see such a distinct change in local custom.

I will leave this post with a number of questions that this situation raises for me: how Carolingian in their law had the people of Italy become? If the Lombard law was not used exclusively, how much and how did the regional laws interact? Did this in fact change local custom as it appears to in scholarly hindsight, or was it interpreted as a logical extension of the legal context? Or, of course, was it simply that the change to corporal punishment was legislated only for slaves and if they raised their voices to protest such a stark change in custom, they simply were not heard?

CSI: Early Medieval – Exeter Book Riddle 26

I had the pleasure of giving a lecture at the British Embassy in Vienna on Thursday 13 March 2014, on the twin subjects of ‘barbarian law-books and early medieval book production’. The audience of a dozen or so were interested and, while new to the subject itself, asked enough thoughtful and insightful questions at the end to keep the conversation going for the better part of an hour after I had finished speaking. It was an excellent experience for the first presentation (of many, I hope) of my research to a ‘lay’ audience. The presentation dipped into the edges of my work overall, drawing on both the Anglo-Saxon and Lombard laws, and their respective legal contexts and manuscripts.

To bridge the divide between the laws and the law-books in the presentation, I used my own Modern English translation of the Anglo-Saxon Riddle No. 26 from the Exeter Book (Exeter, Cathedral Library MS 3501, I worked from the edition/transcription on the University of Georgetown website), framing it as a question for the audience to solve. Audience participation, check! However, wanting to obfuscate the solution a little, I segued in under the focus of the injury tariffs in the earliest of the Lombard Laws, Rothair’s Edictum (643 CE) and in Ælfred’s Domboc (890-901 CE). An exploration of the fines for murder and a deliberately grizzly focus on the compensation for cutting out another person’s eye. Delightful enough to set the scene for introducing the poem under the slight misdirection that it was a riddle about a murder and its consequences (hinting a little towards martyrdom and sainthood) and enquiring as to what might lie underneath the mystery.

The second piece of mild misdirection was to produce my own rough translation of the Riddle. When preparing for the lecture one thing I noticed in the extant translations that I checked was that much of the misdirection, multiple meaning and poetic terminology of the original is smoothed over. This is perhaps not surprising; when only able to employ one shade of a word’s meaning, the translator has to choose which. Where most of the translations that I checked have erred on the side of clarity, to show why Riddle 26 is a book or more specifically the Bible – oops, given the game away for those who did not already know – I opted to emphasise the violent crime.

In places the translation is a little rough, I admit, and I gave much less focus to the second part of the Riddle. What I ended up with though, I hope, has the feel of CSI: Early Medieval, with all the degradations of post-mortem trauma and decay hinted at in their gruesome detail. The murdered victim – long prior to being found and adorned in the trappings of a saint’s cult – having been dumped unceremoniously in the water. Then, having washed up on to the river bank, left to suffer the ‘blackened tracks’ of decay and natures encroach though the ‘useful drops of birds’ and the ‘stain of trees’.


Some foe deprived me of life

Took my worldy strength, then wet,

Submerged [me] in water, afterwards, from that place

Set [me] in the sun. There I was harshly deprived

Of the hairs which I had. Then, cruelly, I

Was cut with a blades edge, [my] blemishes worn away

Fingers folded, and the bird’s joy,

In useful drops, spread earnestly over me

Upon the murky bank some of the stream

Absorbed the stain of trees and came once more upon me.

Travelled forth with blackened tracks.

Thereafter, I was

Protected with wooden boards, furnished with leather

Decked with gold, skilfully adorned

With the ornamental work of smiths. Bound in metal threads.

Now the trappings and the red dye

And the glorious possessions, widely declare

The helm of the lord’s folk – by no means a presumptuous guard.

If my child of men wants to make use [of me]

They will be more favoured by that and the more secure in victory.

The heart the more determined and the spirit blither,

The mind the wiser, they will have friends

More special and closer, more just and more good

Braver and truer. Then their honour and prosperity

[Will be] gladly increased, and their graces,

Kindnesses arranged and they lovingly fasten

In firm embrace. Ask what I am called

To people beneficial. My name is famous,

Useful to men and myself, holy.