Timetable of Legal History logoIn about 507, Clovis I (466-511) caused the tribal or customary law of the Franks to be set in writing although written in Latin and with the formal title of Lex Salia or Pactus Legis Salicae.

 

Gibbon thought that the Salic Laws had been created as early as 421. In his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, he wrote:

"The most powerful tribe or nation of the Franks appointed four venerable chieftains to compose the Salic laws and their labours were examined and approved in three successive assemblies of the people."

It evolved considerably and later shaped other law codes throughout the territory of France, as it expanded, right up to the French Revolution, by which time the name "Salian" had fallen into disuse and replaced with Frank or, later, French and France.

Clovis, who united the Franks, is considered to be the first of the French Kings.

Salic law greatly influenced the later Lex Ribvaria and the edicts of Charlemagne (747-814). It was published concurrently but separately from the Burgundian Code of Gundobad.

Salic Law was based on a clearly defined class system area, quantified by the wergeld associated with each of them. The wergeld for the common free Frank was 200 gold coins (solidi). The wergeld for a woman of child-bearing age: 600 gold coins. Where a person was murdered within their own house by a group of conspirators, the wergeld was tripled.

There were generally speaking three classes of people recognized in law: slaves, the ordinary Frank freeman or freemen, and members of the King’s entourage. In Salic Law, slaves were treated as cattle; property.

The written Salic law mostly set to paper ancient customs. Much of it focused on agricultural life with a range of articles to provide for compensation for the "striking of a sow" to the theft of sheep.

Salic LawThe ceremony for the transfer of rural property was quaint:

"Let him go with witnesses to the place sold. Let his pay the price in the presence of these and let him acquire the property. And let him give a box on the ear of each of the little oness, and let him twist their ears in order that they can give testimony."

The Lex Salia also covered criminal law.

Most crimes were punishable by fines (wergeld) to be paid directly to the victim or his family, with a small portion going to be king.

Eventually abandoned by the French, Salic Law was rediscovered by a monk in 1358 (manuscript of Salic Law, pictured).

One provision of Salic Law gained great importance and prominence in the history of France.

The Lex Salia law of succession stated to stipulate that a women could not inherit property or titles which, according to certain proponents, bore upon the succession rights to the throne of France. Title 59, article 6 stated that:

"... concerning salic lands, no portion or inheritance is for a woman but all the land belongs to members of the male sex who are brothers."

For reasons of political expediency, Salic Law declared, in the late 1500s, to have always been part of French law, remaining so until it was repealed in 1759.

According to Edward James’ book The Franks, title 45 of the Salic Law reads as follows:

"If a man wishes to migrate to another village and one or more of those who live in the village wish to receive him, but one or more of those who live there disagree, he shall not have permission to migrate there. But if he attempts to settle in that village contrary to the objection of one or two of them, then the latter must warn him. And if he refuses to depart, he will warn him must do so with witnesses and must say "Man, I inform you that you may remain here this next night, as the Salic law specifies, and I inform you that within 10 nights you must leave the village."

REFERENCES:

  • Gibbon, Edward, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  • James, Edward, The Franks (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1988)
  • Kibler, W., and Zinn, G., editors, Medieval France: An Encyclopedia (London: Garland Publshing Inc., 1995), page 856-857.
  • Salic Law (Lex Salica) at http://lexsalica.com/lexsalica/
  • Shakespeare, William, Henry V, Act 1.