Law and Ethnic Identity in the Western Kingdoms in the Fifth and Sixth Centuries
The evidence for the nature and functioning of law in the kingdoms that developed in western Europe in the period following the ending of Roman rule has received considerable attention in the course of the past hundred years, but much of it has been very narrowly focused. This has in part resulted from undue certainty as to the character of much of the evidence being investigated. Until recently it has been taken as axiomatic that some if not most of the surviving legal codifications of this period reflect the norms of early Germanic societies, albeit contaminated by certain diluted elements of Roman procedure and jurisprudence. This approach was developed by the leading late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century editors and students of these texts, above all in Germany, and, although much modified, still retains a dominant position.1 For the period considered here, the study of the Frankish and to a slightly lesser extent the Burgundian laws has been particularly influenced by such ideas. Other texts, such as the Visigothic compilation of Roman law known as the Breviary, have been recognised for what they are, but in consequence have enjoyed rather less attention. As possession of a distinctive body of law has rightly been seen as a possible focus around which a sense of ethnic identity, however formed, can maintain itself, the codes have a potentially central role in the study of the formation and preservation of ethnicity in the immediate post-imperial centuries in the West.2
KeywordsEthnic Identity Legal Codification Legislative Activity Sixth Century Century Onward
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