Patrick Griffith (KCL) - 2014-15 Students

Barbarian Codes and Canon Law: Legal Innovation in Merovingian Frankia

This project seeks to bring a new perspective to the ongoing debates surrounding the nature and purpose of legislation in the early medieval west by uniting secular and ecclesiastical legal materials. Shortly after the Roman empire had ceased to exist in the west many of the ‘barbarian’ successor kingdoms started to issue their own law codes. What came to be known as the ’Salic law’ of the northern Frankish kingdom was perhaps the most alien in terms of its language and conceptual frameworks to those of the sophisticated, Roman imperial tradition. However, as a result of the Merovingian dynasty’s aggressive expansion southwards during the fifth and sixth centuries this alien Frankish law came to occupy a prominent position in the early medieval west. In contrast to these seismic changes, churchmen across Gaul continued to meet and, with some regularity, produce their own body of written rules now known as canon law. Many of these churchmen were descended from imperial Roman families and self consciously sought to preserve facets of romanitas. Many of them, also, were coopted into the ‘barbarian’ kings’ new legal efforts. By uniting these two legal traditions this project seeks to build a more secure context within which to understand Frankish legislation and also to shed new light on the processes by which Gallic society was transformed.

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