Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 September 2008
As in other societies, adultery was a punishable offence among the Germanic peoples. Although it is a topic which has commanded considerable attention, it has been given attention not so much because it deals with family law and its significance to social history, as because it concerns the treatment of women. But closely related to the question of women, of course, is that of how men view each other. Even as early as Tacitus, evidence exists that Germanic women were treated with respect, and were subject to the protection or mundium of male relatives. Although exaggerated, the account in the Germania gives us some understanding of the role of Germanic women in respect of betrothal, marriage and family life. But it also leaves us with questions to which we most likely will never find answers.
1 Germania, trans. Hutton, M., rev. E.H. Warmington, Loeb Classical Library, rev. ed. (Cambridge, MA, 1970), chs. 18–20.Google Scholar
2 Brunner, H., Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte, ed. von Schwerin, C.F., 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Berlin, 1906–1928) II, 854.Google Scholar
3 Lex Visigothorum (hereafter L. Visig.) III. 4. 1 and III. 4. 3, in Leges Visigothorum, ed. Zeumer, K., MGH, Legum sectio I: Leges nationum Germanicarum 1 (Hannover, 1902), 147–8Google Scholar. L. Visig. III. 4. 9 (Leges Visigothorum, ed. Zeumer, pp. 150–1) required the adulteress to be delivered to a husband's wife for punishment if the wife's husband was convicted of adultery, and seems to contradict the view expressed by Brunner (above, n. 2).
4 L. Visig. III. 4. 4 (Leges Visigothorum, ed. Zeumer, p. 149). Leges Burgundionum (Liber Constitutionum) LXVIII. 1, in Leges Burgundionum, ed. de Salis, L. R., MGH, Legum sectio I: Leges nationum Germanicarum 2. 1 (Hannover, 1892), 95Google Scholar; Drew, K.F., The Burgundian Code (Philadelphia, 1949), p. 68Google Scholar. Edictus Rothari 212, in [Leges Langobardorum, ed. Bluhme, F. and Boretius, A.], MGH, Leges (in Folio) 4 (Hannover, 1868), 51–2Google Scholar; Drew, K. F., The Lombard Laws (Philadelphia, 1973), p. 93Google Scholar. See also Alfred 42. 7, in Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen, ed. Liebermann, F., 3 vols. (Halle, 1903–16) I, 77Google Scholar. There are parallels to Roman law, notably Lex Romana Visigothorum XXVII. 1 (Pauli Sent. II. 27. 1), in Lex Romana Visigotborum, ed. Haenel, G. (Leipzig, 1849), p. 372Google Scholar, and Leges Burgundionum (Lex Romana) XXV, in Leges Burgundionum, ed. de Salis, p. 146.
6 Likewise, Bullough, V. L. and Brundage, J., Sexual Practices and the Medieval Church (Buffalo, NY, 1982), p. 132Google Scholar, add that the church tried to replace justified homicide, when a spouse was caught red-handed, with monetary payment.
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8 Assuming, of course, that the adulteress or the adulterous couple was not killed in flagrante delicto. For the Bavarian law, see above, n. 5.
9 Similar views are expressed in Wallace-Hadrill, J.M., Early Germanic Kingship in England and on the Continent (Oxford, 1971), p. 39.Google Scholar
10 It is common to many of the Anglo-Saxon laws, in addition to the Alamannic and Bavarian.
11 We must question the overly optimistic view regarding the influence of Christianity upon Æthelberht's laws taken by Imbert, J., ‘L’influence du christianisme sur la législation des peuples francs et germains’, Conversione al cristianesimo nell’ Europa dell’ alto medioevo, SettSpol 14 (1967), 365–96, at 367.Google Scholar
12 Liebermann, Gesetze der Angelsachsen I, 5.
13 ‘Her’ is not explicit in Whitelock's, translation, but is included in the earlier translation in The haws of the Earliest English Kings, ed. Attenborough, F.L. (Cambridge, 1922), p. 9.Google Scholar
14 English Historical Documents, c. 500–1042, ed. Whitelock, D., 2nd ed., Eng. Hist. Documents 1 (London, 1979), 393.Google Scholar
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17 This interpretation is an old one. See, for example, Ancient Laws and Institutes of England, ed. Thorpe, B., 2 vols. (London, 1840) I, 11Google Scholar, and Wilda, W.E., Geschichte des deutschen Strafrechts (Halle, 1842), p. 827Google Scholar. Much scholarship has followed, including such well-known historians as Sohm, R., Das Recbt der Eheschliessung aus dim deutschen und canonischen Recht (Weimar, 1875), p. 76Google Scholar, and Roeder, F., Die Familie bei den Angelsachsen, Studien zur englischen Philologie 4 (Halle, 1899), 136–7.Google Scholar
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19 'If anyone lies with the wife of a man of a twelve-hundred wergeld, he is to pay to the husband 120 shillings; to a man of a six-hundred wergeld 100 shillings is to be paid; to a man of the ceorl [common freeman] class 40 shillings is to be paid.’ Gesetze der Angelsachsen, ed. Liebermann I, 56. English translation in English Historical Documents, ed. Whitelock, p. 411. The same compensatory ratio in Alfred 10 is also evident in Alfred 18.2 and 18.3. The direct relationship linking the atonement for adultery with the value of an individual's wergeld in Alfred 10 is considered meaningless by Rosenthal, Die Rechtsfolgen des Ehebruchs, p. 56, n. 1.
20 See above, n. 3.
21 Lex Baiwariorum VIII. 1 (Lex Baiwariorum, ed. von Schwind, p. 353).
22 Grimwald 7, in Leges Langobardorum, ed. Bluhme and Boretius, p. 402.
23 Leges Burgundionum (Liber Constitutionum) XXXVI (Leges Burgundionum ed. de Salis, p. 69). See also Lex Frisionum IX. 10, in Lex Frisionum ed. Eckardt, K. A. and Eckhardt, A., MGH, Fontes iuris Germanici antiqui 12 (Hannover, 1982), 48.Google Scholar
24 The church also remained silent when the husband, desiring to stay with his wife, reprimanded her. Penitentiale Theodori, II.xii.11, in Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, ed. Haddan, A.W. and Stubbs, W., 3 vols. (Oxford, 1869–1878) III, 200 (II.xii.12Google Scholar in McNeill, J.T. and Gamer, H.M., Medieval Handbooks of Penance, Columbia Univ. Records of Civilization 29 (New York, 1938), 209).Google Scholar
25 Bede, HE 1.27 and II.5, in Bede's Ecclesiastical History, ed. Colgrave, and Mynors, , pp. 84 and 150 respectivelyGoogle Scholar. Also see Asser, , De rebus gestis Ælfredi, ch. 17Google Scholar, in Keynes, S. and Lapidge, M., Alfred the Great: Asser's ‘Life of King Alfred’ and Other Contemporary Sources (Harmondsworth, 1983), p. 73.Google Scholar
26 See Schultze, A., ‘‘Das Eherecht in den älteren angelsächsischen Königsgesetzen’, Berichte über die Verhandlungen der Sächsiscben Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, phil.-hist. Klasse 93.5 (1941), 1–79, at 73–4Google Scholar; cf. Æthelberht 77. See also Gesetze der Angelsacbsen, ed. Liebermann, I, 7.Google Scholar
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30 Even Attenborough, , Laws of the Earliest English Kings, p. 177Google Scholar, says that it was not difficult to please an injured husband.
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