From the Feudal System
to the System of Justice

Law and Justice in the Middle Ages
The original form of justice is to take the law in one’s own hands. After the fall of the Roman civilisation in our area lawsuits were handled by the affected persons themselves. During the whole medieval period feud was a recognized means for finding justice. Often it lead to the extinction of entire families, which was against the interests of the ruling class. This is why it was replaced, step by step, by court procedure. Until the beginning of the 20th century the duel remained as the last relic of the feudal system.
In the legal understanding of the Middle Ages there was the principle of partition in a „Lower Court“, which settled offences such as theft, slander, brawl etc., and a „Higher Court“, which was competent for heavy crimes like murder and witchcraft. The „High Court“ was associated with the „blood spell“, the right to expiate crimes by execution of the offender.
The legal basis for the medieval justice system was the oral customary law, handed over from one generation to the other. It was only in the Renaissance and Baroque period that the principle, that Law has to be written down and that it can be changed by the sovereign, prevailed.
From today’s perspective the norms of that time seem barbaric und strict, very often judgements were made according to the principle „an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth“. Thieves were mutilated, slanderers were put in the pillory and thus exposed to public mockery.
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