The Edictum Rothari (also Edictus Rothari or Edictum Rotharis) was the first written compilation of Lombard law, codified and promulgated 22 November 643 by King Rothari. The custom (cawarfidae) of the Lombards, according to Paul the Deacon, the Lombard historian, had been held in memory before this. Now it was promulgated in Latin, a very vulgar and coarse Latin, by the king with the advice and consent of his council and his army.
The Edict, in 388 chapters, was primitive in comparison to other Germanic legislation of the time. It was also comparatively late, for the Franks, Visigoths, and Anglo-Saxons had all compiled codices of law long before. Unlike the Breviarium Alaricianum of Alaric II, it was mostly Germanic tribal law dealing with wergelds, inheritance, and duels, not a code of Roman laws. Despite its Latin, it was not a Roman product. Unlike the near-contemporary Forum Iudicum, it was not influenced by Canon law. Its only dealings with ecclesiastic matters was a prohibition on violence in churches. The Edict gives military authority to the dukes and gives civil authority to a schulthais (or reeve) in the countryside and a castaldus (or gastald) in the city.
The Edict was written down by one Ansoald, not a bishop or lawyer, but a scribe of Lombard origin. It was affirmed by a gairethinx convened by Rothari in 643. The gairethinx was a gathering of the army who passed the law by clashing their spears on their shields in old Germanic fashion, a fitting passing for so Germanic a Latin code.
The Edict makes no references to public life, the governance of trade, the duties of a citizen; instead it is minutely concerned with compensations for wrongs, a feature familiar from the wergeld of Anglo-Saxons, and the defence of property rights. Though Lombard women were always in some status of wardship to the males of the family, and though a freeborn Lombard woman who married an aldius (half-free) or a slave might be slain or sold by her male kin, the respect, amounting to taboo, that was owed to a freeborn Lombard woman was notable: if any one should "place himself in the way" of a free woman or girl, or injure her, he must pay nine hundred solidi, an immense sum. For comparison, if any one should "place himself in the way" of a free man he must pay him twenty solidi— if he had not done him any bodily injury— and in similar cases involving another man's slave or handmaid or aldius, he must pay twenty solidi to the lord, the price for copulation with another man's slave. Roman slaves were of lower value in these matters than Germanic slaves "of the nations".
Physical injuries were all minutely catalogued, with a price for each tooth, finger or toe. Property was a concern: many laws dealt specially with injuries to an aldius or to a household slave. A still lower class, according to their assigned values, were the agricultural slaves.
In the laws of inheritance, illegitimate offspring had rights as well as legitimate ones. No father could disinherit his son except for certain grievous crimes. Donations of property were made in the presence of an assembly called the thinc, which gave rise to the barbarous Latin verb thingare, to grant or donate before witnesses. If a man shall wish to thingare his property, he must make the gairethinx ("spear donation") in the presence of free men.
Slaves might be emancipated in various ways, but there were severe laws for the pursuit and restoration of fugitives. In judicial procedure, a system of compurgation prevailed, as well as the wager of battle.
The general assembly of freemen continued to add ritual solemnity to important acts, such as the enactment of new laws or the selection of a king.
Lombard law governed Lombards solely, it must be remembered. The Roman population expected to live under long-codified Roman law. It was declared that foreigners who came to settle in Lombard territories were expected to live according to the laws of the Lombards, unless they obtained from the king the right to live according to some other law.
Later by the reign of King Liutprand (712-743) most inhabitants of Lombard Italy were considered "Lombards" regardless of remote ancestry and they followed Lombard Law.
- Early Germanic law
- Ine of Wessex
- Lex Salica
- Breviarium Alaricianum
- Forum Iudicum
- Corpus Juris Civilis
- Codex Theodosianus
- Oman, Charles. The Dark Ages 476-918. London, 1914.
- Paul the Deacon, Historia Langobardorum IV.xlii (English translation by William Dudley Foulke, 1907)
- Information on the Edictum Rothari as part of the Leges Langobardorum and its manuscript tradition on the Bibliotheca legum regni Francorum manuscripta website, A database on Carolingian secular law texts (Karl Ubl, Cologne University, Germany, 2012).