Saturday, July 24, 2010

Burgundian Code - Women and Family

There were protective and restrictive laws that dealt exclusively with women. Daughters weren’t allowed admittance to the paternal succession unless there weren’t any sons, though they inherited the clothes and ornaments of their mother. However, they made provisions for a woman to inherit property, so long as no sons were alive and she had taken religious vows.

In a more somber law, the relatives of a young girl who had been raped were allowed to punish the guilty as they saw fit if the guilty was unable to pay proper compensation, though this was an extreme case. Even if in practice men resorted to violent acts of vengeance to right perceived wrongs done to them, the laws usually placed obstacles to this method and attempted to set up a regular procedure before a court.

The Germanic concept of the family was alive and well in the late fifth and early sixth centuries. The man essentially bought his wife and had to hand to the bride’s father an already agreed upon amount, called a wittimon. A third of the amount had to be used to buy a trousseau for the bride.

Also, after consummation of the marriage, the husband set up a marriage settlement sometimes called the “morning gift,” or morgengabe. The Burgundians frowned on intermarriage, though they didn’t make it illegal, just unprofitable. If, for instance, a Roman girl married a Burgundian without her parents knowledge, her parents were under no obligation to pay a wittimon or any inheritance.

Burgundian law restricted divorce to cases where the woman had been convicted of adultery, witchcraft or of violating a tomb. If a man’s wife committed a crime other than the aforementioned, he had no recourse except to abandon everything to her, which could be an expensive alternative. If he wished to separate from her if she had been found innocent, he risked having to pay her a “composition” equal to the amount of the marriage price (wittimon) together with a fine of 12 solidi to the treasury. The woman had no recourse, no occasion in which she could be granted divorce. As Halphen explained, “If she deserted the conjugal hearth, she suffered the penalty of being ‘smothered in the mire.’”

UP NEXT: The Burgundian Code - Some Examples


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


Greis said...


I enjoy reading your blog, and I have a brief question about your post. You mention the morning gift or morgengabe as being practiced among the Burgundians. Could you point out the source of this information? The reason I am asking is, because at least at Danish weddings we still have a custom of the husband giving his wife a 'morgengave', i.e. the morgengabe/morning gift. Are we dealing with the remnants of 1500 year old tradition or is it some sort of modernity projected back upon the sources depiction of the Wittimon? (And btw what is the ethymology of Wittimon?)

Marc said...

Hi Greis,
Sorry for the VERY tardy response. My source for the "morgengabe" can be found on pg.50 of Katherine Fischer Drew's translation of the Burgundian Code (I link to it under SOURCES in this post). Wittimon is also in the original Code. Both are old Germanic words.