The Saxon Mirror: A Sachsenspiegel of the Fourteenth Century

The Saxon Mirror: A Sachsenspiegel of the Fourteenth Century

The Saxon Mirror: A Sachsenspiegel of the Fourteenth Century

The Saxon Mirror: A Sachsenspiegel of the Fourteenth Century


The Sachsenspiegel, or Saxon Mirror, compiled in 1235 by Eike von Repgow, may be said to mark the beginning of vernacular German jurisprudence. For the first time, Maria Dobozy offers an English translation of this influential lawbook, the oldest, and most important, set of customary law in the German language.

This lawbook with its amendments marks a major shift in the history of German law from purely oral authority and transmission to a written documentation that allowed greater consistency in legal procedure. The reception of the lawbook was vast. It was rapidly adapted across Germany, as the four hundred manuscript versions demonstrate. Beyond Germany, it was copied as the paradigm for lawbooks in Prussia, Silesia, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, and Bohemia. These codes of law became the standard for over three hundred years.

The Sachsenspiegel contains a compilation of the legal practices at the time in Saxony, an ethnically mixed territory, and encompasses the legal customs and procedures that regulated the daily life of peasants and landlords. It is a multidimensional resource for anyone seeking insight into German and Central European culture in art, literature, linguistics, literacy, law, ethnic diversity, women, and the Bible.


Aside from Roman and canon law, Eike von Repgow’s Sachsenspiegel was probably the most important legal text for all of late medieval Central Europe. It not only committed to written form a set of customs accepted by the German-speaking areas of the empire and its ethnic minorities for more than three hundred years but also influenced the legal systems in Prussia, Silesia, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, and Bohemia. Although scholars of medieval Europe acknowledge its influential role, surprisingly it has never before been translated into English. in fact, until now very little information about the Sachsenspiegel has existed in English for students or scholars.

The following translation of the Sachsenspiegel came about because my colleagues in history and literature encouraged me to make this seminal text available in English. Initially, I was quite daunted by the conceptual legal framework of the medieval collection of laws and customs (custumal), but I persevered, wanting this book to be accessible all those who desire to deepen their knowledge of German culture and history. This translation is based on the text of the illuminated manuscript (Cod. Guelf 3.1 Aug.2) housed in the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, Germany. It contains unique illustrations that, in tandem with the text, give us a formalized yet unidealized glimpse into the daily activities of the Saxons and the operation of the legal system. I have attempted to provide a faithful English translation of the text that I hope will open up this truly multidimensional cultural document and manuscript to the English reader interested in any aspect of medieval German civilization and culture.

Many libraries and individuals have helped make this translation possible. I am indebted to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the University of Utah Research Committee for their support of my research in Münster, Germany. the director of Department 231 of the Sonderforschungsbereich “Träger, Felder, Formen pragmatischer Schrifdichkeit im Mittelalter” at the University of Münster, Germany, Prof. Dr. Ruth SchmidtWiegand, and her staff, especially Dr. Dagmar Hüpper, deserve special thanks for their gracious generosity while I worked at the department. I have benefited immensely from discussions with them. Sincere thanks also . . .

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