The Northern Way

Commentary To the Germanic Laws and Medieval Documents

(Page 2)

"In all elections by the people, the electors shall vote viva voce. All free male citizens, who shall have attained to the age of eighteen years, shall be equally entitled to vote at all public elections." (10) The same law holds among the Chickasaws, (11) except the majority is reached at nineteen years. The Indian, like all primitive races, considers the young man to be mature at an earlier age than among civilised people, and a viva voce election is imperative among a tribe consisting chiefly of illiterates. Neither fact entitles one to the conclusion that it is based on a popular method of election, for the reason that no elections existed among the Indians, even though they possessed a National Council and deliberated matters in common. The viva voce vote is of the same kind as the verbal wills which, by an act of 1876 of the Chickasaw Nation, were valid, if made in presence of two witnesses. (12) The late date alone of this enactment shows that we have here no continuance of an old custom of Indians, who had no use for wills.

It is also interesting to note that, like the Germans, the Cherokees and Chickasaws passed stringent laws against the cutting down of fruit-bearing trees. "Every person who shall wilfully cut down, kill or destroy any pecan, walnut, hickory or other fruit or nut-bearing tree, standing and growing upon the public domain of the Cherokee Nation, or shall cut down for the nuts or fruit thereof, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor." (13) Here, again, there is no reference to an Indian custom, but merely the result of a new source of income from the abundant nut-bearing trees of the lately acquired domain. This law was incorporated in 1874 in the Cherokee New Code of Laws and only two years later passed as an Act of the Chickasaw Nation. This Act is as modern and as unrelated to the past as another Act of the Chickasaws of the same year establishing a Female Seminary into which no students shall enter "until they can read well in McGuffey's Fifth Reader," (14) a statement which a millennium hence will give the historian food for reflection and theorising.

I have carefully selected all the laws which distinctly differ from those of the United States and which to the uninitiated would seem as an inheritance from the Indian past, and have shown that in no way do they permit of such interpretation. There is but one single statement in the Chickasaw laws which seems to give an indication of a previous custom, and that is the one which refers to polygamy. "Neither polygamy nor concubinage shall be tolerated in this Nation, from and after the adoption of this Constitution, " (15) but as this Act of 1867 is repeated in 1876 as an Act to prohibit polygamy "from and after the passage of this Act," there arises a doubt as to whether we really have here an Indian survival. It is more likely that the reference is merely to a looseness of manners, common in any new society, and this is made certain by the Act of 1876, which shows that chiefly the Whites, and not the Reds, are meant by it, for we are told that "no right of citizenship whatever shall be acquired by such unlawful marriages," that is, that White men, who by their marriage to Chickasaw women could be adopted into the Nation, were to be deprived of this advantage, if they lived in polygamy, whether by not being divorced from their White wives, or otherwise.

Thus it appears that, while in character and daily habits Cherokees and Chickasaws may have preserved many ancient traits, they have, since the establishment of the United States and until their complete amalgamation with the Whites in 1906, when they were made citizens of the new state of Oklahoma, changed from the hunting to the agricultural and industrial state, have acquired the Anglo-Saxon ideas of property, individualism, education, politics, and have become as thoroughly American as the Franks of Carolingian times were Roman. Previous to 1906 a stranger resident among the Indians could live by the laws of the United States, even as in the Frankish Empire one could live by Roman or Salic or Lombard law. The Indians constantly opposed their far more simple and less intricate laws to those of the White man, utterly unconscious of the fact that these simple laws were one and all deduced from those of their neighbors, nay, that the United States, through its agents, really had framed the laws for them, either directly or by advising the Indian legislators. Even so the Franks were utterly unaware of the fact that their simple Salic and Ribuarian laws were derived from the Roman laws just as much, though not so directly, as were the Burgundian and Visigothic laws, and were based on the Theodosian Code and local Roman enactments.


There does not exist the slightest proof that the fragments of the Gothic Bible, as we now possess it, were part of a translation made by Ulfilas in the fourth century. The tradition which has grown up in regard to the whole Gothic question is based on a vicious circle of which the authorship of the Bible is the initial step. Upon close inspection the whole structure of Germanic philology, in so far as it rests upon the assumption of a fourth century Gothic literature, collapses from its own weight, and a new building has to be reared after the debris have been cleared away.

All that we know of the relation of Ulfilas to the Gothic Bible is based on the statements made by Auxentius, Philostorgius, Socrates, Sozomenus, Jordanes, Isidor of Seville, and Walafrid Strabo. (16) Auxentius had been a pupil and close friend of the Gothic bishop Ulfilas, yet all he had to say about his teacher's Gothic activity was that he had preached in Gothic and had left behind many tracts and interpretations in Greek, Latin, and Gothic. (17) No amount of theorising can explain Auxentius' silence in regard to a translation of the Bible, if it existed. The only inference we can draw from this statement is this that the Goths may have possessed in Ulfilas' time brief extracts or discussions on the Bible, such as were later known under the name of catena or speculum and as may readily be summed up as "tracts and interpretations."

Philostorgius, who died after 425 and therefore wrote fifty or more years after the probable translation by Ulfilas, informs us that Ulfilas was the inventor of the Gothic alphabet and that he translated all the Holy Writ into his native tongue, with the exception of the Book of the Kings, which he left out because the Goths were warlike and needed a check rather than encouragement in their martial spirit. (18) But Ulfilas did not invent a Gothic alphabet, having at best added a few additional signs to the Greek letters then in use, and the reference to the omission of the Book of Kings is apocryphal, totally devoid of probability. (19) We have, therefore, no reason to assume that the statement regarding the translation of the Bible is more correct. Apparently the unusual activity of the Gothic bishop had led to exaggerated accounts of his literary accomplishments among his warlike countrymen, and this legendary lore was seized upon by all the later writers. Sozomenus quoted Philostorgius almost verbatim (20) and Socrates merely paraphrased him. (21) The most amazing thing is the ignorance of the Gothic writers in the sixth and seventh centuries of any extant translation of the Bible, although it is assumed by all modern authors that the surviving fragments were written in the sixth century.

Jordanes, from whom we get the fullest account of the Goths in the sixth century, has nothing to tell us beyond the fact that Ulfilas gave the Minor Goths an alphabet, and that these were in his day reduced to poverty in Moesia. (22) It does not occur to him in any way to connect these Minor Goths with the Ostrogoths or Visigoths, but if, as is assumed, the Bible was written out in the sixth century in Italy, the Ostrogoths at least must have possessed Ulfilas' Bible. Jordanes' silence on this matter is ominous. The same unconnectedness of Ulfilas' Gothic with that of the Visigoths of Spain is assumed by Isidor of Seville, (23) who certainly would not have missed referring to it, if he had suspected it. More curious still are the remarks of Walafrid Strabo in the ninth century, who asserted that Gothic was a Germanic language and that learned Goths had translated the Bible of which monuments were still extant. At first it would seem that he was aware of the existence of the Gothic Bible in his time, but that is at once negatived by his quoting merely from book accounts (ut historiae testantur) and immediately adding that he had it from the tales of monks that in Scythia, among the Thomitani, services were still held in that language. (24) It may be possible that his reference to extant monuments of the Bible is to be taken as different from those found among the Thomitani, but then it becomes significant that he does not speak of a translation by Ulfilas, but by several learned men. If we accept his statement as correct in so far as it speaks of monuments still in use in the ninth century, we cannot reject his assertion that the translation was made by several men, and thus the ascription of the Gothic Bible to Ulfilas is once more made impossible.

With rare exceptions all the modern writers who, since the seventeenth century, have written on the Gothic Bible have accepted the dictum of those older authorities as final and have proceeded on the assumption that we have before us genuine documents of the time of Ulfilas or, at best, of redaction not more recent than the middle of the sixth century. But a number of important facts have been overlooked by them or have been so interpreted as to fit in with the a priori assumption. It, therefore, becomes necessary to reinvestigate all the Gothic manuscripts, both textually and palaeographically, before any theory independent of the statement by Philostorgius and the other ancient writers may be propounded.

In a Salzburg-Vienna MS. of an Alcuin text, obviously of the ninth or tenth century, two Gothic alphabets and a few Gothic sentences with transliteration and phonetic commentary are recorded. (25) The alphabets, given approximately in the Latin order, do not materially differ from those of the codices and the Neapolitan documents respectively, although a few peculiarities occur. Grimm (26) sees in the attached names of the letters Anglo-Saxon forms, but the resemblance is only remote, and such names as pertra, quertra for AS. peord, cweorn makes an Anglo-Saxon influence untenable. Whatever the case may be, the writer of the alphabet either knew or copied an alphabet, the pronunciation of whose letters was still known in the ninth or tenth century. This becomes even more certain from the appended passage:

1. uuortun otan auar

2. waurþunuþþan. afar

3. euang-eliu. ther Lucan

4. aiwaggeljo þairh Lokan

5. uuorthun auar thuo

6. waurþun afar þo

7. ia chuedant ia chu atun

8. jah qeþun.

9. ubi dicit /. genuit. j. ponitur

10. ubi gabriel .g. ponunt & alia sim.

11. ubi aspiratione. ut dicitur

12. gah libeda. jah libaida

13. diptongon .ai. pro e longa

14. pro ch .q. ponunt

The writer comments upon the phonetic values of the letters in the present tense (dicit, dicitur, ponitur, ponunt) and compares them with the current Old High German sounds. It is obvious from this comparison that no period previous to the eighth century can possibly be assigned to these comments. Indeed, Grienberger (27) has shown conclusively that the writing gaar for jer in the alphabet points to the composition of the whole passage in Burgundy by a Frankish German familiar with the Gothic of southern France, and that the information or, at least, the writing of this information cannot be placed before 910, while Massmann had long ago assumed that Gothic was still understood in the ninth century. (28) In Spain the Gothic language existed as late as the year 1091, for it was in that year prohibited by a decree of the Synod of Leon. (29)

In the sixteenth century the fragments of the Bible, later known as Codex Argenteus, had been described by several men who had seen it in the monastery at Werden, (30) and in 1665 they were published in full by Francis Junius at Dortrecht. The best description of the external appearance of the Codex was given by Ihre and Zahn. (31) It was executed in silver letters, the first lines sometimes in gold. The script is uncial neatly written between two guiding lines on polished purple vellum, but the color of the vellum varies to violet. The text is included in a rectangle containing twenty lines. At the inner edge of the page the number of the chapter is given according to the Eusebian canon, and occasionally notes are added, such as parallel passages from the Old Testament. The words in the text to which the notes or variants refer have a line with hooks at the end over them, as have also the nomina sacra. Zahn thinks (32) that the MS. closely resembles the Codex Brixianus, hence, that it cannot be a copy of Ulfilas' time, but must have been written at a later time in Italy. Gabelentz and Loebe (33) say that it was written at the end of the fifth century, or in the beginning of the sixth, when the Goths lived in Italy. "The Codex Argenteus" says Bosworth, (34) "is supposed to be the work of Italians in their own country at the close of the fifth century, or the beginning of the sixth. The only MS. in exactly the same style of writing, is the celebrated Gallican Psalter now in the Abbey of St. Germain-de-Prés. It is of the sixth century and is said to have belonged to St. Germain, Bishop of Paris, who died May 28, 576. The vellum is stained of a purple-violet colour, and the writing is in silver letters, and a few particular words in gold. This description would serve for the Codex Argenteus, the vellum of which, however, is purple, of a reddish rather than a violet tint." Streitberg, too, knows (35) that the MS. resembles the Codex Brixianus and was written in the 5./6. century.


10. Cherokee Constitution, p. 12. Back

11. Chickasaw Constitution, p. 6. Back

12. Ibid, p. 57. Back

13. Cherokee Constitution, p. 143; Chickasaw Constitution, p. 91. Back

14. Chickasaw Constitution, p. 99. Back

15. Ibid., p. 6. Back

16. W. Streitberg, Die gotische Bibel, Heidelberg, 1908, p. xiii ff. Back

17. "Haec et his similia exsequente quadraginta annis in episcopatu gloriose florens apostolica gratia grecam et latinam et goticam linguam sine intermissione in una et sola ecclesia Cristi haec omnia de diuinis scribturis eum dixisse et nos describsisse, qui legit, intelligat; qui et ipsis tribus linguis plures tractatus et multas interpretationes uolentibus ad utilitatem et aedificationem sibi ad aeternam memoriam et mercedem post se dereliquid," ibid., p. xvi. Back

18. Grammatwn autoij oikeiwn eurethj katastaj, metefrasen eij thn autwn fwnhn taj grafaj apasaj, plhn ge dh twn basileiwn, ate twn men polemwn istorian ecouswn, tou de eqnouj ontoj filopolemou, kai deomenou mallon calinou thj epi taj macaj ormhj, all ouci tou proj tauta paroxunontoj, ibid., p. xx. Back

19. "Ea Philostorgii sententia a viris doctis tamquam ridicula improbata atque explosa est," H.C. de Gabelentz et J. Loebe, Ulfilas, Lipsiae 1843, vol. I, p. x. Back

20. Prwtoj de grammatwn eurethj autoij egeneto kai eij thn oikeian fwnhn metefrase taj ieraj biblouj, Streitberg, l. c. Back

21. Tote de kai Oulfilas o twn Gotqwn episkopoj grammata efeure Gotqika kai taj qeiaj grafaj eis thn Gotqwn metabalwn, touj barbarouj manqanein ta qeia logia paraskeuasen, ibid., p. xxi. Back

font face="Georgia, Verdana, Trebuchet MS">22. "Erant si quidem et alii Gothi, qui dicuntur minores, populus immensus, cum suo pontifice ipsoque primate Vulfila, qui eis dicitur et litteras instituisse. hodieque sunt in Moesia regionem incolentes Nicopolitanam ad pedes Emimonti gens multa, sed paupera et inbellis," ibid., p. xxiv. Back

23. "Tunc Gulfilas eorum episcopus Gothicas litteras condidit et scripturas novi et veteris testamenti in eandem linguam convertit," ibid., p. xxiv. Back

24. "In Grecorum provinciis commorantes nostrum i.e. theotiscum sermonem postmodum studiosi illius gentis divinos libros in suae locutionis proprietatem transtulerint quorum adhunc monimenta apud nonullos habentur; et fidelium fratrum relatione didicimus apud quasdam Scytharum gentes, maxime Thomitanos, eadem locutione divina hactenus celebrari officia," MGH., Capitularia, Vol. II, p. 481. Back

25. Jahrbücher der Literatur, vol. xliii (Wien, 1828), pp. 1-41; F. Dietrich, Ueber die Aussprache des Gothischen, Marburg, 1862, p. 23 ff.; Streitberg, Gotisches Elementarbuch, Heidelberg, 1910, p. 36, Die gotische Bibel, pp. xxx and 475 ff.; H. F. Massmann, Gotthica minora, in Haupt's Zeitschrift, vol. I, p. 296 ff. Back

26. Jahrbücher, l. c. Back

27. Die germanischen Runennamen, in Paul and Braune's Beiträge, vol. xxi, p. 199. Back

28. "Wir entnehmen, dass im neunten jahrhunderte wohl noch handschriften der gothischen bibel vorhanden, wie noch ziemlich verstanden waren," Haupt's Zeitschrift, vol. I, p. 306. Back

29. "Et interfuit etiam Renerius legatus, et Romanae ecclesiae Cardinalis, ibidemque celebrato concilio cum Bernardo Toletano primate, multa de officijs ecclesiae statuerunt, et etiam de caetero omnes scriptores omissa litera Toletana, quam Gulfilas Gothorum Episcopus adinuenit, Gallicis literis vterentur," Roderici Toletani (Rodrigo Ximenes) Chronicon, lib, VI, cap. XXX. See Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, 2nd ed., vol. V, p. 201. The assertion made somewhere that the reference is to a calligraphy and not to the Gothic language is without any foundation, for the Gothic alphabet was never used for anything but Gothic. Back

30. Streitberg, Elementarbuch, p. 24. Back

31. See Zahn, Ulifilas, Weissenfels 1805, p. 46 ff. Back

32. Op. cit., p. 50. Back

33. Op. cit., vol. I, p. xxxi. Back

34. The Gothic and Anglo-Saxon Gospels, London 1874, p. vii. Back

35. Die gotische Bibel, p. xxv. Back

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