Tag Archives: Rothari’s Edictus

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.


Toeing the Line Fine

At the start of last month somebody found my earlier post, in which I tabulated the fines for various injuries in the Lombard laws, by asking “why is the big toe worth two solidi, while the smallest toe is only worth half a solidus?” Two months prior to that, I got discovered with the terms “cut off fourth toe”. A theme seems to be appearing in the way that this blog gets discovered, and it presents a subject for this month’s discussion.

So, toes. To the latter enquirer I can only recommend seeking medical assistance, so it is to the former query I turn my attention to and the details given in the Lombard injury tariffs in the Edictus Rothari (643 CE).

The values identified by my visitor, two solidi for the big toe, half a solidus for the smallest actually mark the (probably maximum) values awarded for an enslaved person. The fine awarded would be paid to their owner, rather than to the person whose toe it was that got chopped. Moreover, the values searched for are only for the two ends, as it were. The second and third toe, for an enslaved person, are one solidus a piece, while the fourth toe is valued the same as the little toe, at half a solidus (Rothari, Nos 120-24).

For the aldius or aldia, the somewhat mysterious rank of the ‘half-free’, the values are double that of the enslaved person. Four solidi for the big two, two solidi for the second and third toes and one solidus each for the fourth and little toe (Rothari, Nos 96-100). The big toe of the aldius, as well as being valued more highly in terms of the actual composition, has two other parts included. Firstly, whoever cuts the aldius’ big toe off has to pay for the doctor’s fee and secondly has to cover the costs for the work lost while they were recuperating (Rothari, No. 96). As such, it can be seen that the payment for the de-toed aldius or aldia is again going to the one who owns them. ‘Half free’ seems still very close to enslaved.

The freeman (or woman) whose toes are severed has a similar progression of descending value from largest to smallest toe. The big toe is worth sixteen solidi, the second toe six solidi, the third and fourth toes three solidi each, and the little toe three solidi (Rothari, Nos 69-73). The step between half-free and free, therefore, is far greater than that between enslaved and half free people.

The value allotted to toes in the Lombard laws, aside from the differentiation by social class, is structured simply to descend by size, from largest to smallest. The real question, of course, is how do these values compare to the functionality of the respective toes? Conveniently, this is a subject that has already been addressed by the late and dearly-missed Lise Oliver in her The Body Legal in Barbarian Law. In Chapter Five she discusses to hands and feet across the early medieval, ‘barbarian’ laws has, and dedicates a section to toes in particular (Oliver, 2011: 159-62).

Lise notes that the most important toe is the big one, which carries half the weight carried by the front part of the foot; a lost big toe, then, would cause the person to limp for the rest of their life (Oliver, 2011: 159-60). This significance is clearly acknowledged in the Lombard laws, with the highest values of sixteen, four and two solidi are given according to social class.

From here, however, functionality and the Lombard injury tariffs diverge. Lise states that second most important are the two smallest toes at the outer side of the foot. She then adds, perhaps a little confusingly, that the three toes in the middle are the least important, and losing any one of them would have little effect on balance, walking, working, and so forth (Oliver, 2011: 160-61). Now, Lise seems here to have accounted for six toes on each foot there. In practice, the fourth toe is reckoned twice; for ranking the importance of the toes, it should perhaps be put halfway between the third and little toes.

The order of priority given to toes can be ranked according to the physiological importance and the relative value of fines.

Toe Physiological
Lombard Freeman
or Freewoman
or Aldia
Big Toe 1 1 1 1
Second Toe 4 2 2 2
Third Toe 4 3 2 2
Fourth Toe 3 3 3 3
Fifth Toe 2 4 3 3

Lise’s reckoning of the relative priorities of the toes in the Lombard laws, gives only the rankings for the freeman or free woman (although she does not make this explicit), but the descending order from inner to outer given for the aldius and enslaved people corresponds enough with the pattern she identified (Oliver, 2011: 159, figure 5.5). She contrasts this approach to the value of toes with those given in others of the Barbarian laws, and argues that only the laws of the Alamans and Saxons come closer to functionality. Even then a descending order can be noted. The Alamans give the big toe priority and rank the other four equally, while the Saxons also give the big toe priority, then treat the three interior toes equally, but treat the little toe as being the least significant (Oliver, 2011: 159, figure 5.5).

When the Lombard values for the toes of an aldius or enslaved person are considered, the gap in attitudes between Lombard and Saxon becomes even smaller. However, even without this there is some wiggle room for interpretation of the relationship of the different law-codes to physiological functionality. What seems most clear, though, is that with the possible exception of the big toe, the Lombard’s were not ranking the worth of toes by their functionality, but instead it would seem on size.


Lise Oliver, The Body Legal in Barbarian Law (Toronto, 2011)

Legal Pluralism and the Transformation of the Carolingian World

I had the pleasure of attending a work-shop/conference at the end of January on The Transformation of the Carolingian World. The workshop marked the impending end of the SCIRE research project of the Institute for Medieval Research, Vienna, but was used to outline and explore themes for the next major project that the Institute will hopefully hold. While some research in advanced stages was presented, many of the presentations focused on areas to explore within the scope of the new project, and the methodological and theoretical considerations that might underpin it. Although I am based in the Institute, it is not a project that I am formally associated with (yet). Throughout the conference, however, I felt multiple moments of belonging as the presentations and discussion repeatedly resonated with my own work and interests. Early medieval law played a recurrent role in the workshop: notably a paper from Karl Ubl outlining the manuscript contexts of the Lex Salica in the tenth and eleventh centuries, then a key note lecture on legal pluralism by Stefan Esders followed by a three-paper session on legal pluralism with contributions from François Bougard, Charles West and Helmut Reimitz. I will return to legal pluralism and my own research directions shortly. First, however, I want to note some discussion that arose surrounding the title of this new, proposed project.

The title of this new project is still provisional, and was repeatedly raised and discussed by participants and audience members alike. One problem raised with the ‘transformation’ aspect of the title, especially in relation to the ‘Carolingian world’, was the way in which it appeared to exclude research in areas that were never controlled by the Frankish hegemony. While it was emphasised that this was not the intention of the project, and it was hoped that the project would be wide-reaching, worries that researchers on, for example Visigothic Spain, Anglo-Saxon England or ninth and tenth-century Scandinavia might pre-emptively exclude themselves from participating before even realising their input was vital. One proposed response to this conundrum was to make the title The Impact of the Carolingian World instead.

Unfortunately, I had, and still have, my own problems with the use of the word ‘impact’ here. The impact of the Carolingians on the tenth and eleventh centuries, suggests to me that the agency of the developed being explored lay primarily with what the Carolingians themselves had done. The Carolingian world seems portrayed as a meteor, striking into the tenth and eleventh centuries, and scattering the people there. As a title, it removes the agency of the people in the tenth and eleventh centuries, suggesting that they were nothing more than the passive recipients of unchangeable events which had been predetermined in the eighth and ninth centuries. This implication of ‘impact’ stands at odds with what the organisers of the project repeatedly outlined as the intended focus of study, and was likewise contradicted by every presentation and research proposal. Always the focus returned to the ways in which people in the tenth and eleventh century looked back on the Carolingian inheritance, and then adapted, updated and appropriated it to suit their own immediate ends and historical contexts. As such, I hope that the term ‘impact’ will not be adopted by the project, although quite what term might be used instead I cannot say!

Stefan Esder’s keynote lecture focused primarily on Burchard of Worms  and his compilation of a major Canon Law collection around the turn of the tenth century, and Worms as a well-documented case-study for a detailed analysis of legal pluralism. The legal pluralism explored by Esders was very much the interplay of secular and ecclesiastical laws in the same area, and this theme seemed to me to be echoed to varying degrees in the other presentations that followed in the panel. My own research where it has begun to edge towards legal pluralism, has focused on the multiple use of barbarian laws across the Carolingian Empire and in the centuries following, as exemplified in the production of books containing copies of two or more barbarian law-codes. With a weather eye on future projects, I began assembling a few months back a research proposal relating to manuscripts containing a copy of the Lombard laws augmented with one or more other barbarian law-codes. The first manuscript that I considered for this list was, naturally, Paris, Bibliothèque, MS Lat. 9656 – one of the copies of the Liber Papiensis or Liber legis langobardorum which my current project focuses on, dating to the third-quarter of the eleventh century and containing in its final folios part of the prologue to the Lex Baivariorum (fol. 109r) and the Lex Salica Karolina (fols 109r-115v). Exploring further, I identified another five earlier manuscripts dating from the third-quarter of the ninth century through to the second quarter of the twelfth century, and, with the possible exception of one, having all been produced in northern Italy.

I feel that this corpus is suggestive of an important thread in the later development of the Lombard laws and hope to return to it in the future. For now, I include below the spiel on legal pluralism that I drafted for the project, to study and contextualise the following six manuscripts:

  • Wolfenbuettel, Herzog Augustus Bibliothek, MS Cod. Guelf. 130, produced in northern Italy in the third-quarter of the ninth century. Lombard, Ripuarian, Salic, Alamanic and Bavarian laws.
  • Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS Lat. 4614, produced in Northern Italy in the tenth century. Lombard, Alamanic and Bavarian law-codes.
  • Modena, Biblioteca Capitolare, MS O. I. 2, produced at the end of the tenth century in northern Italy. Liber legum (Servatus Lupus’ ninth-century systemisation of the Lombard, Bavarian, Salic, Ripuarian and Alamanic laws).
  • Gotha, Forschungs- und Landesbibliothek, MS Memb. I. 84, produced in the tenth or early eleventh century, in either northern Italy or Mainz. Liber legum.
  • Paris, Bibliothè Nationale de France, MS Lat. 9656, produced in northern Italy (possibly Pavia or Verona) in the third-quarter of the eleventh century. The Liber Papiensis, prologue to the Bavarian laws, and the Salic laws.
  • Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, MS Lat. 3519, produced in northern Italy in the second quarter of the twelfth century. The earliest phase of Lombard law (the Edictus Rothari), and the Bavarian laws.

Legal Pluralism in Lombard Law-Books

Legal pluralism, the concurrent use of multiple laws or legal systems within a geographically defined territory (Davies, 2010: 805-27), was central to the legal culture of the Carolingian empire. At an assembly held early in the ninth century Charlemagne made explicit the ‘personality of law’ as the legal norm for the peoples within the Carolingian empire, whereby a person was expected both to know and to be accountable to the specific laws of the ethnic gentes with which they identified (for a nuanced discussion of this event in relation to the legal culture and texts, see Faulkner, 2013: 444-45). Those gentes in whose name a law-code had not already been written were instructed to draft and emend one as inappropriate. Although Northern Italy had come under Carolingian control following its conquest in 775 CE, the Lombards had already produced an extensive collection of laws, beginning with the Edictus Rothari, in 643 CE, and continued to be expanded and augmented through until King Aistulf’s last piece of legislation in 755 CE. Lombard law continued to be used in Carolingian Italy, and, although separate to this study, dukes in the unconquered south of Italy continued to promulgate law as Lombard rulers.

For those peoples who did not already have a law-code of their own, the Lex Salica (507-11 CE) served as a model for the later codifications of the law under Carolingian influence, as it had previously for the laws of the Alamans (early seventh century) and the Bavarians (ca 745 CE). Rather than Salic legal content being (directly) imposed on the new law-codes, local custom was retained and a variety of differing penalties can be seen across the law-codes for similar crimes, such as the injury tariffs which are characteristic of Germanic law (see Wormald, 2003; Oliver, 2011). While far from universally accepted, Patrick Wormald has argued for a relatively weak legal literacy in early medieval Europe. He proposed that rather than being used as legislation, the laws were primarily vehicles for royal ideology and that the differences in tariffs outlined in the laws functioned as markers, used for constructing ethnic identities between groups within the empire and identifying to which a person belonged (1977; 2003). In contrast to this view, Rosamond McKitterick, in particular, has argued for a much stronger legal literacy, combined with a role for written codifications of law that extended far beyond their symbolic value as emblems of royal ideology (1980; 1989; 1994a). Likewise, the underlying features common to the barbarian laws indicate the existence of what Marurizio Lupoi has argued was effectively an early medieval common law, shared across Western Europe (2000; 2007).

While the direct connection between legal cases and written law-books is not clear from the manuscript evidence in Carolingian legal culture, with no direct quote of law surviving in a recorded case, books of law nevertheless must have played a significant role as well over 150 manuscripts containing secular legal texts survive (Faulkner, 2013; McKitterick, 1994b). The ninth-century in particular saw the production of law books of multiple law-codes of the leges barbarorum from across the Frankish realms, with thirteen extant manuscripts which were produced in the leges scriptorium, first associated with Emperor Louis the Pious, and emphasising the overall scale of law-book production there (McKitterick, 1994a; McKitterick, 1994b). These manuscripts variously containing copies of the laws of the Franks, Burgundians, Alemans and Bavarians as well as capitulary collections, Roman law, and other related texts. Most interestingly, however, none of these ninth-century manuscripts include a copy of the Lombard laws, despite the legal pluralism of the Carolingian hegemony and northern Italy having been incorporated into the Empire for well over a quarter of a century when the earliest of these leges scriptorium manuscripts was produced.

However, at broadly the same time that scribes in the leges scriptorium were producing law-books, Servatus Lupus (ca. 805-62 CE), Abbot of Ferrière, was also working within a framework of legal pluralism. He 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 (1999: 33). Lupus also undertook the systemisation of various other Germanic law-codes 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 on which this study in part focuses, his systemisation does not appear to have served as a direct exemplar for the later surviving manuscripts of the Lombard laws or its later redactions. Nevertheless, Lupus’ systemisation of the leges barbarorum can be seen as the first steps in over three centuries of legal studies focusing on the Lombard laws.

The absence of the Lombard laws in the ninth-century law-books of the leges scriptorium taken alongisde Lupus’ systemisation suggest (at least) two parallel paths in the development of the legal culture of the personality of law in the Carolingian period. While the leges scriptorium appears not have valued the Lombard laws, Lupus dedicated relatively more attention to thm and the Salic laws than to any of the other of the leges barbarorum, with Wormald describing these as the only laws which were ‘thoroughly overhauled’ by him (1999: 34-35). These two threads appear to have merged by the end of the ninth century, at least in northern Italy where the Lombard laws were still in use, and continuing well into the twelfth-century. The production of manuscripts of the Lombard legilsation within a frame work of secular legal pluralism, then had a long tradition in the later transmission of the laws, continuing through the incorporation of Carolingian Italy into the Holy Roman Empire under Otto I in 962 CE, and the razing of the palace in Pavia in 1024 CE during a revolt by the local inhabitants, from which point onwards Chris Wickham argues, Italy hardly existed as a state (1981: 168). Despite, or perhaps because, of this law-books continued to be produced and the laws were studied and used. New redactions of the Lombard laws were produced and developed, in a thriving culture of legal scholarship (Gobbitt, 2014; Radding, 1997; Radding and Ciaralli, 2007: 67-92).

The role of Lombard law-books augmented with other barbarian law-codes throughout this period and before, legal pluralism and the appropriation of the Carolingian world, then clearly mark significant threads the development of Lombard law and of Lombardist legal studies in particular. A manuscript-led study of the complicated material and historical contexts of these six surviving law-books produced across a period of some two and a half centuries will undoubtedly be informative and rewarding.


Davies, Margaret, ‘Legal Pluralism’, in The Oxford Handbook of Empirical Legal Research, ed. by Peter Cane and Herbert M. Kritzer (Oxford, 2010)

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

Lupoi, Maurizio, The Origins of the European Legal Order (Cambridge, 2000)

Lupoi, Maurizio, ‘A European Common Law before Bologna’, in Law Before Gratian: Law in Western Europe c. 500-1100, ed. by Per Andersen, Mia Münster-Swendsen and Helle Vogt (Copenhagen, 2007), pp. 1-20

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, Carolingians and the Written Word (Cambridge, 1989)

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

McKitterick, Rosamond, ‘Some Carolingian Lawbooks and their Function’, in Books, Scribes and Learning in the Frankish Kingdoms, 6th – 9th Centuries, ed. by McKitterick (Aldershot, 1994b), pp. 13-27

Oliver, Lisi, The Body Legal in Barbarian Law (Toronto, 2011)

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. and Antonio Ciaralli, The Corpus Iuris Civilis in the Middle Ages: Manuscripts and Transmission from the Sixth Century to the Juristic Revival (Leiden, 2007), pp. 67-92

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

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: Brill, 2003), pp. 21-55

Vampires, Witches and Witchcraft in the Lombard laws

Witches and witchcraft are addressed in four separate clauses in Rothari’s Edictus of 643 CE. Three of the clauses address accusations of woman as being vampires (striga) or witches (masca), with Nos 198 and 199 addressing accusations made against free woman by, first, their guardians and, second, by someone not holding their guardianship; No. 376 addressing the killing of ancilla (female slaves) and aldia (half-free women). The other clause, No. 368, addresses duellers carrying what Fisher-Drew translates as ‘witches herbs’ into combat. The Latin of this latter clause, however, gives it as ‘herbas quod at maleficias pertenit’ [herbs which pertain to bewitching], and may not necessarily represent the same type of witchcraft as the ‘eating of a living man from within’ addressed in the other clauses. It is on the treatment of these apparent masca that I wish to focus here.

The traveller on the Clapham Omnibus might well imagine that the punishment for witchcraft proscribed in the ‘barbarian’ early medieval laws of the Lombards might include burning, torture and execution. Such expectations would certainly fit with the biblical proclamation that one must not ‘suffer a witch to live’ (Exodus 22:18), especially considering the widespread tendency of early medieval royal ideology to present itself within a framework of biblical kingship. The laws, however, stand apparently at odds with this. Rothari No. 376 begins stridently and with clear direction:

No one may presume to kill another man’s aldia or woman slave as if she were a vampire (striga), which the people call witch (masca), because it is in no wise to be believed by Christian minds that it is possible that a woman can eat a living man from the within.

The Lombard Laws, trans. Katherine Fisher-Drew, p. 126

Despite the biblical model for witchcraft that the Lombard legislation could have been drawn on, then, Rothari and his advisors took a distinctly different direction. The belief in witchcraft is denounced as being against the rationality of Christian belief, and the guilty party is actually the accuser who has killed the aldia or ancilla, for an imagined crime. The clause then continues to stress that the action is both ‘illegal and impious’ and reinforces this with relatively weighty penalties on top of the composition for the killing itself. In addition to the sixty solidi for killing an aldia (as per Rothari No. 129) the clause outlines a further fine of 100 solidi. In the case of an ancilla, the composition for the killing varies depending on whether she was a household or field slave (again, as per Rothari Nos 130-136, and ranging therefore between sixteen and fifty solidi). The additional fine is set at sixty solidi regardless, however, and is split in two equal parts, with half going to the owner of the aldia or ancilla and the other half going to the king. As such, royal interest in preventing the killing of women as masca or striga can be clearly seen, and even if a man killed his own ancilla or aldia on grounds of witchcraft he would still be liable to pay either thirty or fifty solidi, respectively, for his impious and un-Christian act.

That Rothari and his advisors, had set themselves against such un-Christian behaviour, of course, does not mean that the average Lombard agreed with the sentiment. That the clauses existed at all indicates that women were being accused of – and killed for – ‘eating a living man from within’ and sometimes it seems that this occurred at the instruction of a judge who had presumably overseen the accusation of witchcraft. To counter this Rothari No. 376 concludes by stating that:

If indeed a judge has ordered him to perpetrate this evil act, then the judge shall pay composition according to the above written penalty from his own property.

The Lombard Laws, trans. Katherine Fisher-Drew, p. 127

Judges, then, it seems were considered as likely as ordinary Lombards to participate in the killing of women for witchcraft, and the opposition to such behaviour began at, and was perhaps limited to, the uppermost echelons of royalty and royal advisors.

The two clauses addressing accusations of being a masca or striga made against free women or girls, Nos 197 and 198, differ from the previous clause in their severity. Both clauses assume only the accusation was made, not the woman in question was killed, and appear in a swathe of other clauses that address the legal protection of women and crimes made both against or by them. The first focuses on an accusation made by a man who holds the guardianship (mundium) of the woman in question, and nominally results in the accuser losing her mundium and it being transferred to either her relatives or the king, as she wishes. However, the law specifically excludes the father or brother from inclusion in this crime, indicating that if her mundium is already held by her immediate relatives and it is they who make the accusation, then there is no further legal protection for her. In the case of No. 197, where the accusation is made by a man who does not hold her mundium, the crime is framed as an assault on her honour and unjustified imputation of shame. Where the other clauses relate accusations of being a witch (masca) or vampire (striga) together, here the emphasis shifts to be an accusation of being a witch/vampire (strigam) or a harlot (fornecariam). As such, the crime has moved from the supernatural to the misogyny and sexual control of fragile masculinity.

This shift to the regulation of female honour and sexuality is reflected in the next part of clause No. 197, in which, if the man can prove that the accusation was made in wrath rather than in certain knowledge, then he pays a composition of twenty solidi and is not further liable. If the accuser maintains his claim, however, then its validity is to be determined by the ordeal of a judicial dual (camfio): and if proven false here once more the accuser pays composition equal to her wergeld. Conversely, if the duel proves the accusation to be correct, the she is ‘guilty and [to be] punished as provided in this code’ (The Lombard Laws, Trans. by Fisher-Drew, p. 90). Fisher drew cross-references this to the 100 solidi composition outlined in Rothari No. 189 for fornicating free women, and to the previously discussed clause on the killing of aldiae and ancillae. How the latter of these would have worked in practice remains unclear, would an accusation of witchcraft proved by the camfio simply have resulted in the same punishment as for fornication? Or, did the strident terms of Rothari No. 376, denouncing accusations of witchcraft as illegal and impious, rise to the surface and take precedence once more?

Considering that the judicial duel would surely have been overseen by a judge who was, presumably, in possession of a copy the law-code, the punishment for the guilty must surely have been determined by him. Whether or not the capital punishment of a freewoman for witchcraft at the instigation of a judge led to said judge paying the composition and fine as for the killing of an aldia or ancilla, however, remains unclear.

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.

“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.

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)