Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Lombard Laws" reflect a completely different society

Upon review of the first half of the book 'The Lombard Laws' (Drew; 1973), one can see that they lived in an entirely different society than in modern times. Present was a complex clan and family structure that was the basis for the entire society.

Part of the reason for the development of the law codes and it's courts was to avoid the Germanic "blood feud." If something bad was perpetrated upon an individual or family of a particular clan, it was perceived as an attack upon the entire clan. This attack, real or perceived, was thought of by the Langobards as something that "must be responded to." That was true for other Germanic societies as well.

The laws make no mention of any type of "prison" as punishment. Punishment almost always was sanctioned as repayments via various set monetary amounts. Only in a few rare occasions was someone put to death for particularly heinous or high crimes.

The courts did not seem to be formal. I got the impression that they could be held outdoors, and facilitated by a representative(s) of the law. Present would be legal guardians, witnesses, the accused, character witnesses, victims, clan representatives, etc. Rather than an all-powerful court where almost everyone was afraid to open their mouths, and where the judge would be seated above everyone; the court of law and the two clans seemed to hold a somewhat equal balance of power. Most issues seemed to be nothing more than some type of bodily damage from a fight (ex. "a broken arm") or some type of property damage, and the question of repayment.

Women held no legal status, although some could hold high positions of honor. In other words, the head of the family household would be the legal guardian of a woman. No woman was the legal head of a family household. That fact of life could mean different things in different situations. For example, a free woman held a much higher status than say a male slave, half-slave male, and many others. A man had the legal right to commit justifiable homicide against another man if he was sleeping with his wife, which was actually one of the law codes. To say the least, the modern concept of a woman living alone and having "sex in the city" would be insane to the Langobards, or probably any ancient society for that matter. The earlier societies of the Etruscans and the Gauls may have exercised much more gender equality than the invading Romans and later Langobards did.

A family household might consist of a male head, his wife, their children, other relatives or in-laws, half-slaves and slaves, their children, and sometimes even the children of the family head and slave or half-slave women (which would create very complex inheritance issues, but which were detailed in the codes). The issue of slavery, and how it pertained to the Langobards and the Romanized population has not been made clear. In other words, as to whether or not the Langobards had slaves who were not Langobards(?). It is clear that, for example, that Tuscans and other regional natives were well-represented in all governing bodies of the Langobard state. The head positions were, however, almost always held by Langobard males.

Free Langobard males were basically at the top of society, but it's not yet clear as to the next level in this class system. Free Langobard women? Other free men? It should be noted that under Roman law, there very likely was a slave caste system already present in the Cisalpine region. It should also be noted that when a war broke out, the Langobard men did the fighting. One time a Moorish army was marching to invade France. The Franks asked the Langobards for help. After word got out that a Langobard army would be present at the battle, the Moors didn't show up, and that's a fact.

Code number 381 from King Rothari's Law was particularly interesting. It concerned the charge of cowardice. In other words, merely calling someone a coward. The law states: "381. If anyone in anger calls another man a coward and cannot deny it, and if he claims that he said it in anger, he may offer oath that [it was said in anger and] he does not know him to be a coward. Afterwards he shall pay twelve solidi as composition for this insulting word. But if he perseveres in the charge, he must prove it by combat, if he can, or he shall pay composition as above." In the Spartan-like Langobard society, being called a "coward" seemed to be the ultimate insult.


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