The Laws of the Salian Franks

The Laws of the Salian Franks

The Laws of the Salian Franks

The Laws of the Salian Franks

Synopsis

Following the collapse of the western Roman Empire, the Franks established in northern Gaul one of the most enduring of the Germanic barbarian kingdoms. They produced a legal code (which they called the Salic law) at approximately the same time that the Visigoths and Burgundians produced theirs, but the Frankish code is the least Romanized and most Germanic of the three. Unlike Roman law, this code does not emphasize marriage and the family, inheritance, gifts, and contracts; rather, Lex Salica is largely devoted to establishing fixed monetary or other penalties for a wide variety of damaging acts such as "killing women and children," "striking a man on the head so that the brain shows," or "skinning a dead horse without the consent of its owner." An important resource for students and scholars of medieval and legal history, made available once again in Katherine Fischer Drew's expert translation, the code contains much information on Frankish judicial procedure. Drew has here rendered into readable English the Pactus Legis Salicae, generally believed to have been issued by the Frankish King Clovis in the early sixth century and modified by his sons and grandson, Childbert I, Chlotar I, and Chilperic I. In addition, she provides a translation of the Lex Salica Karolina, the code as corrected and reissued some three centuries later by Charlemagne.

Excerpt

Understanding the transition from the highly civilized urban culture of the Roman world at its height to that of the localized and heavily rural medieval world is a problem that has attracted scholars for many centuries and produced explanations of great variety. in spite of scholarship building upon scholarship and increasingly refined techniques and tools available to a range of interdisciplinary scholars, students of the transition continue to fall into two camps, and this is especially true of those who deal with the transition from Roman Gaul to medieval France. the question is not one effusion; obviously there was a great deal of fusion involving pre-Roman Celtic elements, Mediterranean immigrants of highly Romanized background, and Germanic invaders belonging to numerous tribal groupings. in spite of much study the problem remains—how great was the Germanic contribution to the new medieval civilization, how much was the Roman? and there is still no general agreement.

Any further attempt to resolve the problem justifies a careful reexamination of all the materials available for this study. the Frankish laws are one of these materials, and a very important one. They have not been utilized as much as one might expect because transmission of the laws has presented some very difficult problems, problems which generations of learned editors have not entirely overcome even today, although a good text (in several versions) has now been produced. the first written Prankish laws date from the late fifth or early sixth centuries—an extremely critical period in the breakup of the western Roman world and the establishment of a number of Germanic kingdoms on former Roman soil. a body of source material dating from this period from the Germanic point of view is obviously of great importance.

By the opening of the sixth century, the western Roman Empire had collapsed, although some independent remnants might still survive in Britain. But on the continent the Franks had established themselves in the northern part of Gaul and would control most of the remainder of Gaul before many years had passed, the Visigoths had Spain, the Ostrogoths had Italy, the Burgundians (soon to be conquered by the Franks) had . . .

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