Lombard Laws

The Lombard laws originate with the Edictus Rothari, promulgated in 643 CE, three-quarters of a century after the Lombard conquest of northern Italy in 568 CE. The laws, written in Latin, detail a variety of crimes and the appropriate compurgation, including fines and punishments for murder, violence and injuries, theft, arson and so forth, as well as regulating inheritance, marriages and oath pledging. Lombard kings subsequent to Rothari expanded the laws throughout the seventh and eighth centuries, most notably an extensive series of promulgations issued throughout Liutprand’s reign (712-740 CE) and with shorter additions made by Grimwald in 668 CE, Ratchis in 746 CE, and Aistulf in 750-755 CE.

Following the Carolingian conquest of Northern Italy in 775 CE, the Lombard laws continued to be used in northern Italy. Frankish legislation augmented the Lombard laws, sometimes with capitularies specifically addressing Italy and the Italian legal contexts or the Carolingian empire as a whole. In the ninth century Servatus Lupus (ca. 805-62 CE), Abbot of Ferrière, arranged Frankish capitularies chronologically by the rulers who promulgated them; a systemisation which Patrick Wormald notes differed from the practice usually seen in manuscripts of the ninth century. Lupus also undertook the systemisation of various other Germanic law-codes, or leges barbarorum, that were in use within the Carolingian empire, including those of the Lombards, along with the codes of the Salic and Ripuarian Franks, Bavarians and Alamans, in a text known as the Liber legum. Lupus’ innovation in ordering the capitularies by promulgator remains as a feature in the later copies of the Lombard legislation. However, beyond two manuscript witnesses of the Liber legum produced in the tenth and eleventh centuries, his systemisation does not appear to have served as a direct exemplar for the later surviving manuscripts of the Lombard Edictus or its later redactions. Nevertheless, Lupus’ systemisation of the leges barbarorum marks the first steps in over three centuries of legal studies focusing on the Lombard laws.

When Carolingian Italy was incorporated into the Holy Roman Empire under Otto I in 962 CE, Lombard and Frankish legislation again continued to be in use, and Italian legal culture was, in turn, supplemented with Saxon capitularies. In the late-tenth or early-eleventh century a redaction known as the Liber legis langobardorum and sometimes edited as the Liber Papiensis), was produced in Pavia, drawing on the archives which united the laws with those Frankish and Saxon capitularies specifically relating to Italy. The motives for producing this redaction have been seen as a sudden shift in the use of the Lombard laws from ‘royal edict to scholarly compilation’ in the late tenth century, my own research has focused on the ongoing development of the Liber legis langobardorum in its manuscript contexts throughout the entire period. Chris Wickham argues that, following the razing of the palace in Pavia in 1024 CE during a revolt by the local inhabitants, Italy hardly existed as a state and Pavia lost its position as a centre of political power. However, judges and notaries remained active in association with the city throughout the remainder of the eleventh century and into the twelfth. This period marked an increase in the study of the Lombard laws and legal culture, resulting in the extensive production of commentaries, sample pleas and glosses being made to the Liber legis langobardorum.

The final major step in the development of the Lombard law, arising directly from this intensive study of the laws, occurred in the late eleventh century, with the redaction of the Lombarda. With these the contents of the Liber legis langobardorum were reordered so as to be arranged by legal theme rather than according to the chronological order in which they had been promulgated.


“Edictus Langobardorum,” ed. by Frederick, Bluhme, Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Legum, 4 (Hannover, 1868)

The Lombard Laws, trans. by Katherine Fischer-Drew (Cinnaminson, NJ, 1973)

Faulkner, Thomas, ‘Carolingian Kings and the Leges Barbarorum’, in Early Medieval Law in Context, ed. by Jenny Benham, Historical Research 86 (2013), 443-64

Gobbitt, Thomas, ‘Materiality, stratigraphy and artefact biography: codicological features of a late-eleventh-century manuscript of the Lombard laws’, Studia Neophilologica 86 (2014), 48-67

McKitterick, Rosamond, ‘Some Carolingian Law Books and their Function’, in Authority and Power. Studies on Mediaeval Law and Government presented to Walter Ullmann on his 70th birthday, ed. by Peter Linehan and Brian Tierney (Cambridge, 1980), pp. 13-27

McKitterick, Rosamond, ‘Script and Book Production’, in Carolingian Culture: Emulation and Innovation, ed. by McKitterick (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 221-47

Radding, Charles M., ‘Petre te appellat Martinus. Eleventh-century judicial procedure as seen through the glosses of Walcausus’, in La Giustizia nell’Alto medioevo II (secoli IX-XI), XLIVa Settimana di Studio sull’Alto Medioevo, Spoleto, 11-17 aprile 1996 (Spoleto, 1997), 827-61

Radding, Charles M., ‘Legal theory and practice in eleventh-century Italy’, Law and History Review 21 (2003), 377–81

Radding, Charles M. and Antonio Ciaralli, The Corpus Iuris Civilis in the Middle Ages: Manuscripts and Transmission from the Sixth Century to the Juristic Revival (Leiden, 2007)

Wickham, Chris, Early Medieval Italy: Central Power and Local Society 400-1000 (Michigan, 1981, 1989)

Wormald, Patrick, ‘Lex scripta and verbum regis: legislation and Germanic kingship from Euric to Cnut’, in Early Medieval Kingship, ed. by Peter H. Sawyer and Ian N. Wood (Leeds, 1977), pp. 105-38

Wormald, Patrick, The Making of English Law From King Alfred to the Twelfth Century, vol. 1: Legislation and its Limits (Oxford, 1999)

Wormald, Patrick, ‘The leges barbarorum: law and ethnicity in the medieval west’, in Regna and Gentes: The Relationship Between Late Antiquity and Early Medieval Peoples and Kingdoms in the Transformation of the Roman World, ed. by Hans-Werner Goetz, Jörg Jamut and Walter Pohl (Leiden, 2003), pp. 21-55