'Of Laws of Ships and Shipmen': Medieval Maritime Law and Its Practice in Urban Northern Europe

By Edda Frankot | Go to book overview
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Shipwreck, Jettison and Ship Collision in
Maritime Law

Of all things, in sea-shipping there are certain inevitabilities present in
nature and imposed by circumstances, which lead to the formation of
identical rules as regards content, regardless of geographical location
or the state of legal culture at a particular time.1

This quote, part of Landwehr’s argument that it cannot be assumed that Roman law was adopted in Hamburg solely on the basis of a similarity in the regulation of jettison, must be kept in mind when comparing the content of the written laws which were introduced in the previous chapter. Too often the influence of one law on another is assumed simply because they regulate matters in a similar fashion. There are, however, certain preconditions in every situation regulated by law, and only a limited number of solutions that law can offer. It is only logical, then, that different law compilations should sometimes come to similar solutions for a particular legal problem.2

The question that will be answered in this chapter is whether the written law compilations available in northern Europe did indeed come to similar solutions as regards the regulation of shipwreck, jettison and ship collision, and thus whether there was communality in this respect, even if direct influences cannot be established.3 To answer this question, the regulations of all the written sea laws available in northern Europe concerning each of these subjects will be compared. Special emphasis will be placed on those aspects of the law that were likely to come up in court. These are the most relevant to our research on legal practice in the town courts and represent the more interesting legal problems. Another aspect considered will be the differences within the legal compilations (for example when the Ordinancie and the Rôles d’Oléron, both part of the Gotland and Wisby Sea Laws,

1 ‘Gerade in der Seeschiffahrt gibt es jedoch naturgegebene Sachzwänge, die unabhängig von dem jeweiligen Stand der Rechtskultur und der geographischen Lage, zur Ausbildung inhaltlich übereinstimmender Regeln führen.’ Landwehr, Haverei, 104.

2 Cordes, ‘Lex mercatoria’, after note 38, also warns researchers to ‘distinguish clearly between influences based on relations on the one hand and similar but independent developments on the other’.

3 Whether any influence due to close relations took place will be analysed in Chapter 5 as regards the local laws of Lübeck, Danzig and Kampen.


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'Of Laws of Ships and Shipmen': Medieval Maritime Law and Its Practice in Urban Northern Europe


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