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Thread: The Ancient Germanic Law System

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    The Ancient Germanic Law System

    This belief in the numinous power of the law derives from the fundamental cultural concept of Germanic law. The very word “law” derives from the Proto-Indo European ur-log (*Proto Indo European -reconstructed) that literally means “that which has been laid down”. This notion of law was tied closely to the Germanic conception of time. In their worldview, the Germanics saw the law as the weight of force given by past actions, in a layering effect upon the present. Thus law was built up over time, by decisions and actions reached in the past, which guide and direct the flow of the future. Because this model of fate was not preordained, but rather, shaped by the weight of forces in the past, it brought the Germanic legal system into a form of “ancestor worship” of the law; law was revered as customary decisions to be upheld because they had already been set in the Well.
    Legal power thusly resided in the hands of all freemen who had the power to affect the Web of Wyrd through their actions and interrelations. Kinship, oath-relations, and tribal allegiances all had their contributions to the social structures that defined Germanic law and how it related to the individual. The community ultimately met “at Thing”, a legislative and judicial assembly, to deliberated as peers (Thingmen)


    gave each member of a sib (tribe) or tuath (*Celtic- “tribe”) a stake in decisions unlike that of other non-martial societies.Because of the strength of the martial undercurrent of Germanic society, and the general status of the male population in the fyrd (reserve army), this class structure was tempered by such an egalitarian glint. The fact that all freemen were not only expected but also required to bear arms Some historians contend that rather than egalitarian, this system reflected the competing heterarchies of Northern Europe. This attitude was prevalent amongst the Germanic tribes and a similar train of thought ran through their cousins, the Celts, in Brehon Law.

    As an individual conscious system, this worldview spawned a unique preeminence for women in pre-Christian Germanic society. They had more rights and status than in any social system until the twentieth century. A woman could hold property, bear arms, and advocate at Thing (albeit through a male in their lineage or marital group). They had the unconditional right of divorce for cause, and the right to determine use and allotment of property. Although rare, they could even be selected to accede to a chieftaincy and on occasion the kingship, because of their innate legal status.


    http://normannii.org/guilds_lore/lore/germanic_law.htm

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    Germanic Laws

    (Customary law codes of the Germans before their contact with the Romans.)

    They are unknown to us except through casual references of ancient authors and inferences from the codes compiled after the tribes had invaded the Roman Empire. These codes (called leges barbarorum), dating from the 5th to the 9th cent., are usually divided into four groups: the Gothic (Visigothic, Burgundian, and Ostrogothic), the Frankish (Salic, Ripuarian, Chamavian, and Thuringian), the Saxon (Saxon, Anglo-Saxon, and Frisian), and the Bavarian (Alemannic and Bavarian). The Langobardic, or Lombard, laws are sometimes classed with the Saxon. Our knowledge of the early German laws is much hampered by the faultiness of manuscripts; many are known only in fragments.


    Nature and Scope

    It is now generally agreed that the laws were substantially Germanic, although the form in which they were cast was a more or less crude imitation of Roman codes. Roman influence was generally strong, since German customs had been thrown into new patterns by Roman contacts when these compilations were drawn up; all except the Anglo-Saxon are in Latin, although interspersed with Germanic legal terms. For the most part, the leges barbarorum deal with penal law and legal procedure; some of the older ones are merely lists of compositions to be paid for specific personal injuries.

    Private and public law are scantily treated. Much material can, however, be found concerning landholding (one of these provisions became the basis for the Salic law of succession) and the personal relationships that governed public law. A codification was sometimes called a pactus (e.g., Pactus Alamannorum), because people and ruler cooperated in enactment of the laws. The Roman population under Germanic rule continued to live under Roman law, for law was regarded as personal, not territorial. Their law was codified (the leges Romanae, or leges Romanorum) in the Gothic and Burgundian kingdoms and was applied to Roman subjects and to the church. Another type of legislation distinct from these was the Frankish capitulary (see capitularies).


    Important Codes

    Probably the oldest Germanic codes is the Codex Euricianus by King Euric, the personal law of the Visigoths; a related code was adopted in 506 under Alaric II, the Lex Romana Visigothorum, or Breviary of Alaric, for the Roman subjects. Both were later superseded (c.654) by the Lex Visigothorum, or Liber iudiciorum, compiled under Chindaswinth and Recceswinth; this for the first time applied to Goths and Romans alike. In the 13th cent. it was translated into Spanish as the Fuero juzgo.

    The Lex Gundobada (Loi Gombette) was adopted (c.501) for Burgundians and for cases involving both Burgundians and Romans, while the Lex Romana Burgundiorum (c.506), also from the reign of Gundobad, applied only to the Romans in the Burgundian kingdom. Because of a mistake in copying, it has come to be known as Papianus, or Papian law; it was gradually replaced by the Breviary of Alaric. The most accomplished Germanic code was the Edictum Rotharis, promulgated in 643. Together with the Italian legislation of the Holy Roman emperors (the Capitulare Langobardicum), it became the basis for a renaissance of jurisprudence in Italy and maintained itself till the revival in the 13th cent. of Justinian’s Corpus Juris Civilis, which subsequently spread over all of Western Europe; the latter’s influence reached to the threshold of modern times.

    As to the Franks and more northerly Germans, their codes were less elaborate and they had none for Romans. Most ancient and also most important was the law of the Salian Franks, Lex Salica, first compiled (c.508*11) under Clovis
    I, which exerted great influence, for it was the fundamental law of the Merovingian and Carolingian rulers and later of the Holy Roman emperors. The Lex Saxonum and the Lex Angliorum et Verinorum probably owe their compilation to the initiative of Charlemagne; the Lex Ripuaria of the Ripuarian Franks, the Lex Baiuvariorum, and the Lex Alamannorum are distinguished by inclusions of public law.

    The most important compilation of northern and central German laws was the Sachsenspiegel. This, originally written (c.1230) in Latin, was subsequently translated into the vernacular. It showed an earlier stage of development than contemporary treatises in England and N France.


    Bibliography: See E. Jenks, Law and Politics in the Middle Ages (1913, repr. 1970); R. Hübner, A History of Germanic Private Law (1918, repr. 1968); The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.[/I]
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    The Ancient Germanic Law System

    "In the most corrupt states one finds the most laws." - Tacitus


    Blood feuds:

    The use of a hammer in modern lawsuits is probably of Germanic origin The early Germanic juridical system was based on the "eye for an eye" concept; someone who killed an innocent person was killed himself too, most of the times by family members of the victim. The blood feud system was very deeply rooted in Germanic culture and it took until the late Middle Ages before it completely disappeared.

    When a man killed another man it was the right of the family members of the victim to take revenge, if this was not done the family was considered "weak", the revenge often triggered a counter-revenge from the other family which made bloodfeuds get out of hand now and then, to settle the problem the killer (or his family) could pay the family of the victim "werageldaz" (Proto-Germanic), "wergild" (Anglo-Saxon), "weergeld" (Dutch) or "wehrgeld" (German), which means something like "averting-money", if this was accepted the bloodfeud was over.

    Paying werageldaz was not seen as something dishonourful, it prevented family feuds which often made matters even worse; a good example is the Celtic society in which wars often broke out between rival clans, some of those family feuds even continue to this day.


    Handling of cases:

    Juridical matters were handled by the "þing", a folk assembly that dealt with various matters of society, more information about the þing can be found here. The Germans looked at every case separately, in most modern juridical systems there is a basic law that adresses a case according to certain rules, which causes offenders to receive the same punishment for the same crime; though punishment may be lowered due to extenuating circumstances, a killer is still a killer and he will be punished for it, regardless of his motive.

    In the Germanic law system however, there was also a distinction between the different motives for a crime; so for instance, if a man killed an innocent person to steal his posessions it was considered an evil act and he would probably have received the death penalty for it, but if a man killed the person who stole his posessions, it was considered a good act and he would even have been rewared for killing the thief. Some time ago in the Netherlands an old man was punished for beating up a burglar with a baseball bat, I shall leave my own opinion on that matter in the background, but if the old man had lived 2000 years earlier he would have probably been rewarded for it.


    Local morals:

    In many rural areas of northern Europe, especially in the Saxon areas and Flanders there was also the so called "volksgericht" (court of the folk), this was an unofficial court that has even survived to this day in some areas, like the þing it was called together when needed, especially when the village morale was offended by acts that were not punishable in the normal law system like adultery or bad treatment of women, children, or old people, influences of the city-culture have added a sensation element to the volksgericht in most areas which has caused the authorities to take a zero-tolerance policy towards it, another problem is that people sometimes make mistakes; in a rural area of the Netherlands for instance there has been a situation some time ago where an innocent man was beaten up because the people had mistaken him for a child molestor.

    The old Germanic lawsystem also took the local customs into consideration; this was called common law or habit law, a verdict about such matters was called a "wijsdom" (wisdom) in Dutch. The þing did not start a lawsuit about every case themselves like nowadays; the victim or his family had to file a complaint first.


    Punishments:

    Dishonourful or criminal persons were called "nídings" and if someone had a feud with another person he could declare him "níd"; in Scandinavia such a person would then place a wooden pole with a horse head staked on it near the front door of that person to curse him. People who comitted "small" crimes often had to pay a fine; in older times this was an amount of cattle but in later times also money, this fine had to be paid to the king or the state, and another part of it was for the victim (or his relatives) of the offender's wrongdoings. A person who had comitted manslaughter (killing someone unintentionally) had to make himself known directly after the act, because if he did not do this it was considered murder and his punishment would be higher.


    Death penalty:

    The death penalty was also known to the Germans though it was often executed in an indirect way; criminals who were not worthy of their life were declared to be a "wargaz", which is an old Germanic word for wolf, wolves were seen as dangerous animals who posed a threat to children and livestock so every villager had the duty to kill a wolf instantly if he saw one, a similar custom was banning or declaring someone "birdfree" or "outlaw", people who were banned from the law system were no longer protected by it, their posessions became property of the state and their family ties ceased to exist, because those persons were not longer protected by the law everybody could kill them "like a bird in the air".

    More direct forms of the death penalty were burying the criminal alive (a practice that continued until the 17th century in the Netherlands) or hanging; the gallow was often positioned outside the city because it was believed to bring bad luck, though it was also done to warn bandits who entered the city to behave themselves well, a dog or wolf was often hung next to the criminal which symbolized the criminal character of his deed. Deserters, cowards, child molestors, and traitors were often killed and dumped into a peat bog, after which they were covered with a wooden mat-plaiting to conceal the disgrace that person had brought to his family.


    The Germanic juridical system:

    Germanic society initially did not knew any organized police system, there were however some people concerned with administering justice; in the folk assembly (þing) a man was often appointed who had to enforce the laws of the tribe, this man was assisted by a hundred men who were also appointed by the þing, this men offered him advice and added weight to his decisions. The Frisians had a legend that described the origin of the laws in Frisia (Friesland), a god arrived in a ship and with a golden axe he steered it to the shore, he then created a well and proclaimed the Frisian laws, this well was called "Axenhowe", it is believed that this god was Forsite (Forsyte/Forseti), though other theories suggest it was Thunar (Donar/Thor).

    The Germans often used holy places to hold their lawsuits because the presence of a god(s) was valued in a lawsuit, near the Dutch city of Naarden once stood trees dedicated to the goddess Herta where criminals were punished, in Scandinavia lawsuits were sometimes held under a holy tree dedicated to Frigga, both Frigga and Herta were probably names for the earthgoddess Erda/Berchta/Holda/etc. Another custom was to hang criminals on a tree dedicated to Wodan; by doing this the criminal was sacrificed to him. The "hof" (an open space, yard, field, or even building dedicated to a god) was also often used for holding a lawsuit, in the Netherlands the word "hof" is still used in juridical terms; "gerechtshof" is another word for court and for instance "hof van justitie" means court of justice.


    The Medieval juridical system:

    In many northern European countries the Medieval juridical system still had many influences from the old Germanic one, I shall now give some more information about the Medieval juridical system that existed in the area that is now the Netherlands, though most other northern European countries had a similar system so it is acceptable to generalize a little in this case. Originally a þing was held at a special place like a holy tree, a good example is the Frisian upstalbeam, which was an oak under which lawsuits were held, the most famous upstalbeam was the one at the city of Aurich in Ostfriesland ("Eastern Frisia") in Germany.

    In the 12th century AD representatives of the 7 free Frisian lands gathered there, the Dutch province of Friesland joined this bond after 1320. In the neighbouring province of Groningen the þing was often held on a "warf", which was originally a hill, the city of Warffum may have been named after this. During the Middle Ages the rural districts of Frisia and western Groningen were divided into "grietenijen" (griet=part), the head of a grietenij was the grietman who functioned as a plaintiff (comparable to the later Medieval "schout" and the English sherrif), later the grietman also became a judge.

    Every grietenij consisted of a few villages and formed a part of the gouw (a "gouw" or "gau" was an old Germanic province), an example of an old Frisian grietenij is the Schoterland. The province of Twente (Tuvante) was divided into several small parts that were called "kerspels", a kerspel was divided into "dingspels", in the province of Drenthe there was the "etstoel" (oath-chair), which was a landcourt and government organ in that province; it consisted of 24 "etten" (oathed ones) of which 4 from every dingspel, in 1791 this system was replaced by the "Hof van Justitie" (Department of Justice) that still exists today.

    In many other rural areas there was the "gouwding" (a court that was held in every gau), in the city this was called "jaarding" (year-þing) or "poortding" (gate-þing) because it was held at the city gates every year. In the province of Frisia the person who created the verdict was called "asega", though the Franconians called this person "rachimburg", the Frisian "ehera" was the chairman of the court and he also adviced the verdict, his helpers were called "atten" (oathed ones), a rank similar in name to that of the etten in Drenthe, the atten represented the free farmers from the "buurtschappen" (or dingspels) of the kerspel. The suspect and the witnessess could use oath-helpers; this were people who oathed that the person was speaking the truth and with that they confirmed his credibility.


    Germanic lawbooks:

    During the Middle Ages the way lawsuits were handled began to change, the Franconian empire began to dominate Europe and subjected many tribes, when Charlemagne conquered the land of the Frisians he prohibited the blood feuds and created a new law that was based on the old Germanic laws and the Romano-Christian laws, he also introduced a new system of fines. This new Frisian lawbook was called the "Lex Frisonium" (Law of Frisia), and it gives a good impression of the old Germanic laws, the entire book can be found online in English, Dutch, and Latin at: http://www.keesn.nl/lex.

    Another very important Germanic lawbook is the Saksenspiegel (Sachsenspiegel), which is a description of Saxon law that was written by Eike von Repkow between 1224 and 1230, it consists of 2 parts; landright and loanright, the Saksenspiegel was not an official lawbook but a private record of common law. Because the Saksenspiegel has not been influenced by Roman law it is a very important source of knowledge about Germanic jurisdiction.


    Other surviving Germanic lawbooks are:

    # The Codex Euricianus from the 5th century (Visigothic law).
    # The Lex Romana Visigothorum from 506AD (adapted Visigothic law for Roman subjects).
    # The Lex Visigothorum from 654AD (mixture of Visigothic and Roman law).
    # The Lex Gundobada or Lex Burgundionum from 484AD (Burgundian law).
    # The Lex Romana Burgundinum from the 5th century (adapted Burgundian law for Roman subjects).
    # The Mühlhäuserbuch (Thuringian law).
    # The Saksenspiegel from the beginning of the 13th century (Saxon law).
    # The Schwabenspiegel from 1275 (Suebian law).
    # The Lex Salica from 508AD (Salian Franconian law).
    # The Lex Ripuaria (Ripuarian Franconian law).
    # The Lex Saxonum (Saxon law).
    # The Lex Angliorum et Verinorum (Anglo-Saxon law).
    # The Lex Baiuvariorum (Bavarian law).
    # The Lex Alamannorum (Allemannic law).
    # The Lex Frisonium from 800 (Frisian law).
    # The Rudolfsboek from 1220 (Frisian law).
    # The Reichsrechtsbuch from the beginning of the 13th century (law of Medieval Germany).
    # The Deutschenspiegel from 1275, made in Augsburg and based on the Saksenspiegel.
    # The Leges Barbarorum from 802AD (Visigothic, Burgundian, Ostrogothic, Salic Franconian, Ripuarian Franconian, Chamavian, Thuringian, Saxon, Anglo-Saxon, Frisian, Alemannic, Bavarian, and Langobardic law (most of them are already mentioned above)).


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    Very interesting post. I believe we could learn a thing or two from our ancestors in regards to crime and punishment.
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    Going into modern times, one of the 25 points of the platform that the NSDAP ran on was a return to the Germanic 'common law' system which is still used in the US, England, and Canada. As far as I know, this was not implemented, and certainly after the loss of WWII they were subjected to the EU/latin civil law.
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    Quote Originally Posted by SwordOfTheVistula View Post
    Going into modern times, one of the 25 points of the platform that the NSDAP ran on was a return to the Germanic 'common law' system which is still used in the US, England, and Canada. As far as I know, this was not implemented, and certainly after the loss of WWII they were subjected to the EU/latin civil law.
    Germany had civil law* before the loss of WWII, in fact they never had common law, at least that i'm aware of.





    *Also called Romano-Germanic law

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kadu View Post
    Germany had civil law* before the loss of WWII, in fact they never had common law, at least that i'm aware of.
    "Officially" roughly before the 13th century, and unofficially up until the 19th century in rural areas.
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    Tribal Justice System of Ancient Europe?

    As far as I know, the ancient tribes of Europe lacked a justice system unless someone wronged the chieftain or the tribe as a whole, but on a person to person basis people were required to handle matters on their own. For example if someone broke into your house and stole something of yours it would be your responsibility to handle the situation through whatever means necessary, and if you wronged the other person in the process then they or someone else could deal justice as they see fit. Is this correct or was there a different form of justice system that I'm not aware of or was misinformed on?

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    What I know from the relatively late ages in which there were records there were certain cultural values, but mainly "might makes right". A person could challenge another person to a duel and the winner is right. For most major transgression there would be a council of elders or "judges" which would hear the case and rule for an outcome. You also had the shild or whatever its called where if you killed somebody you would pay a certain amount to that family so that they wouldn't kill you then your family kill one of them etc. leading to a never ending feud. Similar with stealing etc. usually you would pay the apropriate fine. If you couldn't pay you became a slave. If you already were a slave then you could be killed or beaten whatever the person you wronged or your owner wished.

    As far as I know there wasn't much crime back then other than a tribe or clan raiding another one which wasn't considered crime. And with crime within a tribe almost unheard of. Such scum would be dealt with by the family obviously in whatever way they wished. No outside law enforcement would come in. I would say anyone that would steal from or do wrong to their brothers, sisters, fellow tribe members would probably get a severe beat down
    I guess in an extreme case say if you killed someone in your own tribe you would probably be thrown out. You would have to flee and never show your face again (or be killed). Sometimes this alone was a death sentence because where are you going to go?

    I would say its very similar to how a modern gang would handle justice.

    I know in the very old days it was might makes right but this wasn't a very pleasant life. It evolved into a system in which outside judges would rule on a case and everybody would honor their decision, though there are records of people who refused to do so which often lead to a duel. This basically evolved into our modern system of trial by jury and professional judges.

    Though this was only for major conflicts, mainly disputes between two families or clans. Everything within a group would be handled by the group. I'm not sure exactly when law enforcement first came about. I know there were sheriffs and such back in the middle ages but I don't think there were police that were on call for domestic disputes. I'd say thats a pretty modern invention coming with modern cities, cars, telephones etc.

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    Different System of Law? Germanic Law?

    This is something that I will be spending time researching in due course.

    I have always had this theory that pre-christian times were very different to the modern christian times that we find ourselves in, and this is reflected in the type of legal systems and a different philosphy. Two very different mindsets tends to suggest two different types of "law".

    I am not the only one who has thought about this, as I have read in another thread, content which is compliments and confirms my thinking.

    So here is the theory in its most simplfied form:

    Christian, Roman Law = Christianised thinking, the law of today
    Germanic, Saxon Law = Pre-christian thinking, Heathen, much more Lex Naturalis


    As i said i intend to do more in-depth research to support this theory. There are still gaps, but I still think this theory is very much a valid one.

    Im just wandering whether there is anyone else who has a similar thought to this and any contributions to this theory???

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    By Soldier of Wodann in forum Political Theory
    Replies: 15
    Last Post: Tuesday, May 19th, 2009, 07:33 PM

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