Visigothic Code

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The cover of an edition of the Liber Judiciorum from 1600.

The Visigothic Code (Latin, Forum Iudicum or Liber Iudiciorum; Spanish, Libro de los Jueces, Book of the Judges), also called Lex Visigothorum (English: Law of the Visigoths) comprises a set of laws first promulgated by the king Chindasuinth (642-653) of the Visigothic Kingdom in his second year of rule (642-643). His law code survives only in fragments. In 654 his son, king Recceswinth (649-672), published the enlarged law code and it was the first law code that applied equally to the conquering Goths and majority population which had Roman roots and had been ruled by the Roman laws.

The code finally abolished the old tradition of having different laws for Romans (leges romanae) and for Visigoths (leges barbarorum), by which all the subjects of the Visigothic kingdom would stop being romani and gothi to become hispani. In this way, all the subjects of the kingdom were gathered under the same jurisdiction, eliminating social and legal differences, and allowing greater assimilation of the populations.[1] As such, the Code marks transition from the Roman law to Germanic law and is one of the best surviving examples of leges barbarorum. It combines elements of the Roman law, Catholic church law and Germanic tribal customary law.

The first law codes[edit]

During the first centuries of Visigothic rule, Romans and Goths were ruled by separate laws. The earliest Code of Euric was compiled at some time around 480. The first written laws of the Visigothic kingdom were compiled during the rule of king Alaric II and were meant to regulate lives of Romans, who made up the majority of the kingdom. These early laws were based on the existing Roman imperial laws and their interpretations. The Breviarium (Breviary of Alaric) was promulgated during the meeting of Visigothic nobles in Toulouse on February 2, 506.[2]

During the reign of king Leovigild an attempt was made to unite laws regulating lives of Goths and Romans and a revised law code (Codex Revisus) was issued. In 589, at the Third Council of Toledo the ruling Visigoths and Suebi, who had been Arians, accepted Catholicism. From now on the former Roman population and Goths shared the same faith. King Reccared issued laws that equally applied to the both populations.[3]

Visigothic code[edit]

Fragment of an 11th century Liber Judiciorum translation to the old Catalan language.[4] Guarded at Santa Maria of Montserrat Abbey on the Montserrat mountain, Catalonia (Spain).

The code of 654 was enlarged by the novel legislation of Recceswinth (for which reason it is sometimes called the Code of Recceswinth) and later kings Wamba, Erwig, Egica, and perhaps Wittiza. Recceswinth's code was edited by Braulio of Zaragoza, since Chindasuinth's original code had been hastily written and promulgated.[5]

During the Twelfth Council of Toledo in 681, King Erwig asked for the law code to be clarified and revised. Some new laws were added, out of which 28 dealt with Jews.[6]

The laws were far-reaching and long in effect: in 10th century Galicia, monastic charters make reference to the Code.[7] The laws govern and sanction family life and by extension political life: the marrying and the giving in marriage, the transmission of property to heirs, the safeguarding of the rights of widows and orphans. Particularly with the Visigoth Law Codes, women could inherit land and title and manage it independently from their husbands or male relations, dispose of their property in legal wills if they had no heirs, and women could represent themselves and bear witness in court by age 14 and arrange for their own marriages by age 20 .[8]

The laws combine the Catholic Church's Canon law, and have a strongly theocratic tone.

The code is known to have been preserved by the Moors, as Christians were permitted the use of their own laws, where they did not conflict with those of the conquerors, upon the regular payment of Jizya tribute. Thus it may be presumed that it was the recognized legal authority of Christian magistrates while the Iberian Peninsula remained under Muslim control. When Ferdinand III of Castile took Córdoba in the thirteenth century, he ordered the code to be adopted and observed by its citizens, and caused it to be translated, albeit inaccurately, into Castilian language, as the Fuero Juzgo. The Catalan translation of this document, "Llibre Jutge", is among the oldest literary texts found in that language (c. 1050).


The following list has the book and titles from the Visigothic Code.

  • Book I: Concerning Legal Agencies
    • Title I: The Lawmaker
    • Title II: The Law
  • Book II: Concerning the Conduct of Causes
    • Title I: Concerning Judges, and Matters to be Decided in Court
    • Title II: Concerning Causes
    • Title III: Concerning Constituents and Commissions
    • Title IV: Concerning Witnesses and Evidence
    • Title V: Concerning Valid and Invalid Documents and How Wills Should be Drawn Up
  • Book III: Concerning Marriage
    • Title I: Concerning Nuptial Contracts
    • Title II: Concerning Unlawful Marriages
    • Title III: Concerning the Rape of Virgins, or Widows
    • Title IV: Concerning Adultery
    • Title V: Concerning Incest, Apostasy, and Pederasty
    • Title VI: Concerning Divorce, and the Separation of Persons who have been Betrothed
  • Book IV: Concerning Natural Lineage
    • Title I: Concerning the Degrees of Relationship
    • Title II: Concerning the Laws of Inheritance
    • Title III: Concerning Wards and Their Guardians
    • Title IV: Concerning Foundlings
    • Title V: Concerning Such Property as is Vested by the Laws of Nature
  • Book V: Concerning Business Transactions
    • Title I: Ecclesiastical Affairs
    • Title II: Concerning Donations in General
    • Title III: Concerning the Gifts of Patrons
    • Title IV: Concerning Exchanges and Sales
    • Title V: Concerning Property Committed to the Charge of, or Loaned to, Another
    • Title VI: Concerning Pledges and Debts
    • Title VII: Concerning the Liberation of Slaves, and Freedmen
  • Book VI: Concerning Crimes and Tortures
    • Title I: Concerning the Accusers of Criminals
    • Title II: Concerning Malefactors and their Advisors, and Poisoners
    • Title III: Concerning Abortion
    • Title IV: Concerning Injuries, Wounds, and Mutilations, Inflicted upon Men
    • Title V: Concerning Homicide
  • Book VII: Concerning Theft and Fraud
    • Title I: Concerning Informers of Theft
    • Title II: Concerning Thieves and Stolen Property
    • Title III: Concerning Appropriators and Kidnappers of Slaves
    • Title IV: Concerning Forgers of Documents
    • Title V: Concerning Forgers of Documents
    • Title VI: Concerning Counterfeiters of Metals
  • Book VIII: Concerning Acts of Violence and Injuries
    • Title I: Concerning Attacks, and Plunder of Property
    • Title II: Concerning Arson and Incendiaries
    • Title III: Concerning injuries to Trees, Gardens, or Growing Crops of any Description
    • Title IV: Concerning Injury to Animals, and Other Property
    • Title V: Concerning the Pasturage of Hogs and Concerning Strays
    • Title VI: Concerning Bees, and the Damage They Cause
  • Book IX: Concerning Fugitives and Refugees
    • Title I: Concerning Fugitives, and Those who Conceal, and Assist Them in Their Flight
    • Title II: Concerning Those who Refuse to go to War, and Deserters
    • Title III: Concerning Those who Seek Sanctuary in a Church
  • Book X: Concerning Partition, Limitation, and Boundaries
    • Title I: Concerning Partition, and Lands Conveyed by Contract
    • Title II: Concerning the Limitations of Fifty and Thirty Years
    • Title III: Concerning Boundaries and Landmarks
  • Book XI: Concerning the Sick and the Dead and Merchants who Come from Beyond
    • Title I: Concerning Physicians and Sick Persons
    • Title II: Concerning Those who Disturb Sepulchres
    • Title III: Concerning Merchants who Come from Beyond Seas
  • Book XII: Concerning the Prevention of Official Oppression, and the Thorough Extinction of Heretical Sects
    • Title I: Concerning the Exercise of Moderation in Judicial Decisions, and the Avoiding of Oppression by Those Invested with Authority
    • Title II: Concerning the Eradication of the Errors of all Heretics and Jews
    • Title III: Concerning New Laws against the Jews, in which Old Ones are Confirmed, and New Ones are Added

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O'Callaghan, Joseph (1975). A History of Medieval Spain. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. p. 49. ISBN 9780801492648. 
  2. ^ Visigothic Spain 409 - 711
  3. ^ Law and Society in the Visigothic Kingdom
  4. ^ "11th century Catalan translation of the Liber Iudiciorum". 
  5. ^ King, 148–149.
  6. ^ Law and Society in the Visigothic Kingdom
  7. ^ Fletcher 1984, ch. 1, note 56
  8. ^ Klapisch-Zuber, Christine; A History of Women: Book II Silences of the Middle Ages, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England. 1992, 2000 (5th printing). Chapter 6, "Women in the Fifth to the Tenth Century" by Suzanne Fonay Wemple, pg 74. According to Wemple, Visigothic women of the Iberian Peninsula and the Aquitaine could inherit land and title and manage it independently of their husbands, and dispose of it as they saw fit if they had no heirs, and represent themselves in court, appear as witnesses (by the age of 14), and arrange their own marriages by the age of twenty


  • King, P. D. "King Chindasvind and the First Territorial Law-code of the Visiogothic Kingdom." Visigothic Spain: New Approaches. ed. Edward James. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980. pp 131–157.

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