Early Germanic law

Early Germanic law was the form of law followed by the early Germanic peoples. It was an important element of early Germanic culture.

Several Latin law codes of the Germanic peoples written in the Early Middle Ages after the Fall of the Western Roman Empire (also known as leges barbarorum "laws of the barbarians") survive, dating to between the 5th and 9th centuries. They are influenced by Roman law, canon law, and earlier tribal customs. Central and West European Germanic law differed from North Germanic law. [citation needed]

Germanic law was codified in writing under the influence of Roman law; previously it was held in the memory of designated individuals who acted as judges in confrontations and meted out justice according to customary rote, based on careful memorization of precedent. Among the Franks they were called rachimburgs. "Living libraries, they were law incarnate, unpredictable and terrifying."[1] Power, whose origins were at once said to be magical, divine, and military, was, according to Michel Rouche, exercised jointly by the "throne-worthy" elected king and his free warrior companions.[2] Oral law sufficed as long as the warband was not settled in one place. Germanic law made no provisions for the public welfare, the res publica of Romans.

The language of all these continental codes was Latin; the only known codes drawn up in any Germanic language were the Anglo-Saxon laws, beginning with the Laws of Æthelberht (7th century). In the 13th century customary Saxon law was codified in the vernacular as the Sachsenspiegel.

All these laws may be described in general as codes of governmental procedure and tariffs of compositions. They all present somewhat similar features with Salic law, the best-known example, but often differ from it in the date of compilation, the amounts of fines, the number and nature of the crimes, the number, rank, duties and titles of the officers, etc.

In Germanic Europe in the Early Middle Ages, every man was tried according to the laws of his own ethnicity, whether Roman, Salian or Ripuarian Frank, Frisian, Burgundian, Visigoth, Bavarian etc.[3]

A number of separate codes were drawn up specifically to deal with cases between ethnic Romans. These codes differed from the normal ones that covered cases between Germanic peoples, or between Germanic people and Romans. The most notable of these are the Lex Romana Visigothorum or Breviary of Alaric (506), the Lex Romana Curiensis and the Lex Romana Burgundionum.