The Northern Way

Miscellaneous Law Texts

Laws Concerning Slaves

Gregory of Tours:
Enslaving Noble Families, 511

Members of noble families and others were often reduced to servitude as a consequence of war. Sometimes it was impossible to redeem such captives by reason of the ransom demanded.

Book III, Chapter 15:
But Theoderic and Childebert entered into a treaty and each took an oath that neither would wage war upon the other. They took hostages so that they might the more firmly adhere to what they had promised. Many sons of senatorial families were thus given but when a new quarrel broke out between the kings they were reduced to servitude on the fiscal domains. And those who had taken care of them now made slaves of them. Nevertheless many escaped by flight and returned to their own country, others were kept in servitude; among whom was Attalus, nephew of the blessed Gregory, Bishop of Langres, who was made a public slave and put in charge of the horses. He was the servant of a certain Frankish barbarian living in the district of Treves. Finally the blessed Gregory sent his men to inquire about the youth. They found him and offered gifts to his master, but he rejected them, saying, "One of such a family ought to be redeemed with ten pounds of gold."

Source:
J. P. Migne, ed., Patrologiae Cursus Completus, (Paris, 1849), Vol. LXXI, p. 255; reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 288-289.
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.



Gregory of Tours:
Harsh Treatment of Serfs and Slaves, c. 575

The decisions of Church Councils were not always effective in preventing harsh treatment of serfs and slaves. The priest in this instance acted correctly, but the mental reservation of Rauching appears to have nullified his promise.

Book V, Chapter 3:
(The widow of Godwin) married Rauching, a man of great vanity, swollen with pride, shameless in his arrogance, who acted towards those subject to him as though he were without any spark of human kindness, raging against them beyond the bounds of malice and stupidity and doing unspeakable injuries to them. For if, as was customary, a slave held a burning candle before him at dinner, he caused his shins to be bared, and placed the candle between them until the flame died; and he caused the same thing to be done with a second candle until the shins of the torchbearer were burned. But if the slave tried to cry out, or to move from one place to another, a naked sword threatened him; and he found great enjoyment in the man's tears. They say that at that time two of his slaves, a man and a girl, fell in love---a thing which often happens---and that when their affection for each other had lasted for a period of two years, they fled together to a church. When Rauching found this out he went to the priest of that place and asked him to return the two slaves immediately, saying that he had forgiven them. Then the priest said to him, "You know what veneration is due to the churches of God. You cannot take them unless you take an oath to allow them to remain together permanently, and you must also promise that they will be free from corporal punishment." But he, being in doubt and remaining silent for some time at length turned to the priest and put his hands upon the altar, saying, "They will never be separated by me, but rather I shall cause them to remain in wedlock; for though I was annoyed that they did such things without my advice, I am perfectly happy to observe that the man did not take the maid of another in wedlock, nor did she take the slave of another." The simple priest believed him and returned the two slaves who had been ostensibly pardoned. He took them, gave thanks, and returned to his house, and straightway ordered a tree to be cut down. Then he ordered the trunk to be opened with wedges and hollowed out, and a hole to be made in the ground to the depth of three or four feet, and the trunk to be placed therein. Then placing the girl as if she were dead, he ordered the slave to be thrown on top of her. And when the cover had been placed upon the trunk he filled the grave and buried them both alive, saying, "I have not broken my oath and I have not separated them."

Source:
J. P. Migne, ed., Patrologiae Cursus Completus, (Paris, 1849), Vol . LXXI, p. 318; reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 289-290.
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.



St. Eligius:
Redemption of Slaves, c. 630

St. Eligius, Bishop of Noyon, redeemed captive slaves in large numbers and of many nations. The Frankish supremacy over the Saxons probably accounted for the preponderance of Saxon slaves.

Religious men from all parts came to him, foreigners also and monks, and in whatever way he could serve he would either give them the money or share the price of the captives; for he had the greatest enthusiasm for this kind of work. Indeed, whenever he understood that a slave was being offered for sale, he hastened with the utmost speed in his mercy and immediately gave the price and freed the captive. Occasionally he redeemed from captivity at the same time as many as twenty, thirty, or even fifty; sometimes even the whole body of slaves up to a hundred souls, coming from various peoples, and of both sexes, he would free as they left the ship; there were Romans, Gauls, and Britons also, and men of Marseilles, but they were chiefly men of Saxony, who at that time in large numbers like flocks were expelled from their own lands and scattered in diderent countries.

Source:
Monumenta Germaniae Historiae, Scriptores, Bruno Krusch, ed., (Hanover, 1902), Tome IV, p. 677; reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 292-293.
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.



Fifth Council of Orleans:
Concerning Freedmen, 549

The Council of Orleans decreed the same things concerning freedmen for north-central France as the Council of Agde had done for southern France. The harshness of the masters was tempered by provision for an oath to be taken by the master for the forgiveness of his errant slave, but oaths were sometimes sufficiently indefinite in phraseology to permit evasions.

7. And because on the suggestion of many we have found for a certainty that those, who were freed from slavery in the churches according to the custom of the country, have been recalled to slavery again on the whim of all kinds of people, we have deemed it impious that those who have been freed from the yoke of servitude in the Church out of consideration for God should be disregarded. Therefore, because of its piety, it is pleasing to the common council that it be observed, that, whatever slaves be released from servitude by free masters, shall remain in that freedom which they then received from their lords. Also liberty of this kind, if it be questioned by any one shall be defended with justice by the churches, except for those faults for which the laws ordered revocation of the liberties conferred on slaves.

14. Concerning freemen who sell themselves for money or other things, or who have pledged themselves, it is our pleasure that if they can find the price, as much as was given for them, when the price is given, they shall be restored to their former status without delay, nor shall more be required than was given for them. And meanwhile, if one of them shall have married a free wife, or if one of them, being a woman, shall have taken a freeman as husband, the children who are born of them shall remain free.

22. But concerning slaves, who flee for refuge to the church on account of any offense, we decree that it should be observed that they be sent away certain of forgiveness, just as is acknowledged to have been written in ancient laws, after the lord, whoever he may be, has taken the oath to pardon the offense. For, if the lord, unmindful of his oath, shall be proved to have broken his promise, and the slave who accepted forgiveness shall be proved to have been punished in some way for that fault, the faithless lord shall be excommunicated. Again if the lord has taken the oath and the slave, though safe when pardoned, is unwilling to go and so seeks sanctuary because he might perish at the hands of his lord, then his master may seize the unwilling slave so that the Church might suffer no calumny nor molestation in any way whatsoever as if it had appeared desirous of retaining the slave; nevertheless the lord should by no means break his oath of forgiveness. But if he should be a gentile lord or one of another sect and be proved to be outside the pale of the Church and should seek the return of his slave, he shall have Christians as pledges of good faith who shall take the oaths to the slave on behalf of the lord; because they who fear ecclesiastical discipline for their transgression are able to keep what is sacred.

Source:
J. D. Mansi, ed., Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio, (Paris: H. Welter, 1902), Vol. IX, pp. 130, 134; reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, eds., A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 281-282.
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

 

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