At Home with the Langobards | Rotharis’ Edict

Last week, while discussing writing, we briefly mentioned the Edict of Rotharis, therefore we dutifully dwell on this organic collection of laws of the Langobards. Rotharis, born in Brescia in 606, member of the Arodingi lineage and Aryan duke of his city, ascended the throne in 636, on the death of King Arioald; he married Arioald’s widow Gundeperga, catholic and member of the very noble Letingi family, being the daughter of Queen Teodolinda. According to tradition, the Langobard dukes would have commissioned – and presumably piloted – Gundeperga to choose the new king and groom, according to a method already applied by the Langobard monarchy with Rosmunda and Teodolinda herself. Rotharis therefore renewed the formula of an Aryan king flanked by a Catholic queen, who, since Teodolinda’s time, ensured a substantial balance in the Kingdom and a policy of tolerance. Rotharis’ edict was promulgated at midnight on 22 November 643 and is the first written code of laws of the Langobard people. A body of rules whose substance, faithfully Germanic, is mainly based on the antiquae leges patrum, unwritten but handed down through the memory of the king himself and the antiqui homines.

Written by Langobard notary Ansoald, (he had the task of drafting and not compiling the text) the Edict was approved by the Gairethinx – the General Assembly of the Kingdom of the Langobards, made up of those who held the weapons (exercitali or arimanni)- beating their spears on their shields according to Germanic tradition. It was written in Latin, a Latin that is far from elegant and correct, in which Germanic words often appear, given the difficulty of rendering them in Latin. There was much debate among historians as to whether the edict of Rotharis was valid for the entire population of the Langobard Kingdom or only for the Langobards themselves; most maintain that it only concerned the Langobards, while forthe rest of Italians, the Justinian Code of 533 remained in force: that is, that the edict had the character of the personality of the law and not a character of territoriality. On the whole it is a set of codes with the aim of replacing the feud, i.e. blood vengeance, the guidrigildo, i.e. the pecuniary indemnity due to the injured party, or his relatives, in case of disputes of a private nature, as a result of theft, beating, wounding, murder. Compared to the practice of feuding, it was a considerable progress on the way to the peaceful settlement of conflicts between different subjects and their family clans, though in many aspects it appears as a very rough and approximate legislation. If the party that was sanctioned by the institution of the guidrigildo was unable to pay the established sum – which, in some cases, as for the killing of his wife by her husband, was set at a deliberately exorbitant amount – the offender was practically reduced to slavery, which was the equivalent of a life sentence. There are 388 chapters, which deal with the repression of crimes against the state (1-14), against the safety of persons (15-147) and things (148-152), inheritance law (153-177), family law (178-226), rights in rem (227-244), rights of obligation (245-258), liability for servants (259-270), damages (271-358), obligations (359-366). Chapters 367-388 seem to be added to fix omissions or to derogate from previously marked rules.

Langobard Acts, 48-54, year 643

48. Of the eye removed. If someone plucks out one eye from another, calculate the value [of that man] as if he had killed him, […] according to the rank of the person; and half of that value is paid by the one who plucked out the eye.

49. Of the cut-off nose. If someone cuts off someone else’s nose, pay half of his value, as above.

50. Of the cut lip. If someone cuts the lip of another, pay a composition of 16 solids and if you see the teeth, one, two or three, pay a composition of 20 solids.

51. Front teeth. If someone drops one of the teeth you see when you laugh, give for one tooth 16 solids; if it is two or more [teeth], those you see when you laugh, pay and calculate the composition according to their number.

52. Teeth in the jaw. If someone drops one or more teeth from the jaw to another, pay for one tooth a composition of 8 solids.

53. Of the cut ear. If someone cuts one ear to another, pay them a composition equal to the fourth part of its value.

54. Of the wound on the face. If someone causes an injury to the face of another, pay him a composition of 16 solids.

(Edict of Rotharis, in Anthology of the Early Medieval Sources, edited by F. Gasparri and F. Simoni)

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