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Barbarian Europe

Karol Modzelewski

European culture has been greatly influenced by the Christian Church and Greek and Roman culture. However, the peoples of Europe’s remote past, whom the Greeks, Romans, and their medieval heirs called the «barbarians», also left their mark. Closely examining ancient and medieval narratives and the codifications of laws, this thoughtfully conducted comparative study sheds light on the illiterate societies of the early Germanic and Slavic peoples. The picture that emerges is one of communities built on kinship, neighborly, and tribal relations, where decision making, judgement, and punishment were carried out collectively, and the distinction between the sacred and profane was unknown.
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Chapter II. The Laws of the Barbarians


1. From Recited to Written Law

In Pavia, on 22 November 634, King Rothari announced the first written codification of the law of the Lombards. In the epilogue-like chapter 386 of this act, we read: “With the favor of God and with the greatest care and most careful scrutiny, obtained by heavenly favor, after seeking out and finding the old laws of our fathers which were not written down [inquirentes et rememorantes antiquas legis patrum nostrorum, quae scriptae non errant] and with the equal counsel and consent of our most important judges and with the rest of our most happy army [exercitus] assisting, we have established the present lawbook containing those provisions which are useful for the common good of all our people. We have ordered these laws to be written down on this parchment […]. Issued and confirmed by the gairethinx according to the usage of our people, let this be strong and stable law.” At the same time, the king made provisions for the future: “[…] those things which, with divine aid, we have been able to recapture through careful investigation of the old laws of the Lombards known either to ourself or to the old men of the nation [tam per nosmetipsos quam per antiquos homines memorare potuerimus] [should be preserved] in this edict.”62

This is the only such solemn declaration of a royal codifier, made and written down at precisely the same time when the norms of tribal law were being...

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