Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Burgundian Code - Some Examples

Roman influences are seen in an important law that removed “the ancient rule of blame” whereby if an animal owned by a man injured or killed another man or beast of another by accident, the owner of the offending animal was not held liable.

The segregation of Roman and Burgundian rights was also safeguarded. Fines were levied to penalize the common practice of Romans petitioning their barbarian overlords to intercede on their behalf in lawsuits between themselves and another Roman, thus reducing the chance that a judge would be swayed by the presence of a barbarian overlord on behalf of one of the plaintiffs.

Some of the laws of Germanic origin can be identified by their titles and provide a more accurate depiction of Burgundian society as it really was than do the more Roman-like, and sophisticated, laws.

For example, “Of Those Who Set Traps For Killing Wolves” dealt with the problem of people stumbling into unmarked traps set by other people. These traps were of the type called tensuras, or drawn bows. This law defined a specific safety device that was required to be in place (Burgundian OSHA, if you will). This warning system consisted of two bows, one on either side of the tensura, each set to shoot an arrow higher than a man’s head so as to send a warning shot that alerted unwary pedestrians of the hidden trap. Hopefully the man wasn't taller than average.

“Of Horses Which Have Bones And Sticks Tied To Their Tails,” law stated the offense in the title and described the punishment to be administered based on varying conditions. The scindola tied to a horse’s tail indicated that someone had tried to scare the horse to avenge some perceived wrong committed by the horse’s master. The hope was that the horse would run around and get hurt or killed. The guilty party was required to pay the owner with a like animal in addition to returning the original to its owner. If the owner didn’t want a damaged animal, then two horses of a quality similar to the original were returned to the owner.

“Of Hounds, Hunting Dogs, Or Running Dogs,” explains that if anyone was presumed to have stolen a dog “we order that he be compelled to kiss the posterior of that dog publicly in the presence of all the people,” or he could pay a fine and a 5 solidi wergild to the dog’s owner.

“Of Falcons” requires anyone presumed to have stolen another’s falcon to either pay a 6 solidi wergild and a 2 solidi fine, or “let the falcon eat six ounces of meat from his breast.” Some translations had it as eating the meat from the top of his head. Neither would have been pleasant.

These laws reveal that, even at this late date, the Burgundians valued their animals, especially those associated with hunting or war, to a great degree. They also indicate a certain sense of humor, as exhibited by the codification of the penalty whereby one was required to become familiar with a hound’s posterior.

Assimilation between Burgundians and Gallo-Romans in the Burgundian kingdom was well underway by the time of Gundobad’s reign. Parts of the Burgundian Code made no difference between the two, with the same penalties applying to both. Still, total assimilation hadn’t occurred, and they were each judged according to different law codes as long as all concerned parties were members of either the Roman or Burgundian group. If a mixed conflict arose, then the Burgundian laws held precedent. Full assimilation would only occur when both groups practiced the same version of Christianity.

UP NEXT: Christianity in the Burgundian Kingdom


Drew, Burgundian Code.
Halphen, “Germanic Society,” in Drew, Barbarian Invasions.

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