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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Inhabited by Romans and Romanized Gauls


The

nobles had no fixed place and no special rights during the migrations of the tribes. Among the Franks they were partly formed out of the civil officers, and soon included both Romans and Gauls among their number. In Germany their hereditary succession was already secured, and they maintained their ascendancy over the common people by keeping pace with the knowledge and the arts of those times, while the latter remained, for the most part, in a state of ignorance.

The cities, inhabited by Romans and Romanized Gauls, retained their old system of government, but paid a tax or tribute. Those portions of the other Germanic races which had become subject to the Franks were also allowed to keep their own peculiar laws and forms of local government, which were now, for the first time, recorded in the Latin language. They were obliged to furnish a certain number of men capable of bearing arms, but it does not appear that they paid any tribute to the Franks.

Slavery still existed, and in the two forms of it which we find among the ancient Germans,--chattels who were bought and sold, and dependents who were bound to give labor or tribute in return for the protection of a freeman. The Romans in Gaul were placed upon the latter footing by the Franks. The children born of marriages between them and the free took the lower and not the higher position,--that is, they were dependents.

[Sidenote:

570. PENALTIES FOR CRIME.]

The laws in regard to crime were very rigid and severe, but not bloody. The body of the free man, like his life, was considered inviolate, so there was no corporeal punishment, and death was only inflicted in a few extreme cases. The worst crimes could be atoned for by the sacrifice of money or property. For murder the penalty was two hundred shillings (at that time the value of 100 oxen), two-thirds of which were given to the family of the murdered person, while one-third was divided between the judge and the State. This penalty was increased threefold for the murder of a Count or a soldier in the field, and more than fourfold for that of a Bishop. In some of the codes the payment was fixed even for the murder of a Duke or King. The slaying of a dependent or a Roman only cost half as much as that of a free Frank, while a slave was only valued at thirty-five shillings, or seventeen and a half oxen: the theft of a falcon trained for hunting, or a stallion, cost ten shillings more.

Slander, insult and false-witness were punished in the same way. If any one falsely accused another of murder he was condemned to pay the injured person the penalty fixed for the crime of murder, and the same rule was applied to all minor accusations. The charge of witchcraft, if not proved according to the superstitious ideas of the people, was followed by the penalty of one hundred and eighty shillings. Whoever called another a _hare_, was fined six shillings; but if he called him a _fox_, the fine was only three shillings.

As the Germanic races became Christian, the power and privileges of the priesthood were manifested in the changes made in these laws. Not only was it enacted that the theft of property belonging to the Church must be paid back ninefold, but the slaves of the priests were valued at double the amount fixed for the slaves of laymen. The Churches became sacred, and no criminal could be seized at the foot of the altar. Those who neglected to attend worship on the Sabbath three times in succession, were punished by the loss of one-third of their property. If this neglect was repeated a second time, they were made slaves, and could be sold as such by the Church.

[Sidenote: 570.]


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