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The Lex Saxonum: Christian laws forced upon Saxon Heathens in the 8th Century

The Lex Saxonum are a series of laws issued by Charlemagne between 782 and 803 as part of his plan to subdue the Saxon Tribal Confederation. Some scholars believe the Lex Saxonum is a compromise between the laws of the Heathen Saxons and the laws of the Frankish Empire. As a lay scholar, I feel that the victors typically do not compromise with the defeated, and these laws are the harsh laws of the Franks pushed on to the defeated Saxons, who had no say in the matter, being the clear losers in a 33-year long struggle known as the "Saxon Wars. These laws are clearly punitive to a losing Tribal People. I must comment on number six of the Lex Saxonum below, the claim that the Saxons had soothsayers who ate ashes of the dead to perform divination. It is possible that after the bodies were burnt on the pyres, Saxon soothsayers did engage in this practice. It is also possible this is Christian bias, and not something the Saxon soothsayers did. My educated guess is that the Saxon had soothsayers who did eat ashes of the dead as part of a divination rite (with most of the ashes being buried in a pyre). Nonetheless, this practice is banned by the Lex Saxonum.


I must also comment on number twenty-two. It is apparent that the Saxon Soothsayers were not to be put to death, which is pretty shocking, considering people who are not baptized or eat meat during the Lenten Fast get put to death. Instead, Saxon Soothsayers were to be turned over to the church. This implies to me, that the Christian Franks believed that these Soothsayers could accurately predict the future, and therefore, this art was somehow to be transferred to the church. Which is amazing, as both the Old Testament and the New Testament forbid the use of magic/divination/soothsaying via the death penalty. (See Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6; Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:9-14; Acts 16:16-18; Acts 19:18-20; Galatians 5:19-21; Revelation 22:15; for just a few of the biblical prohibitions against Soothsaying).


LEX SAXONUM

  1. It was pleasing to all that the churches of Christ, which are now being built in Saxony and consecrated to God, should not have less, but greater and more illustrious honor, than the fanes of the idols have had.

  2. If anyone shall have fled to a church for refuge, let no one presume to expel him from the church by violence, but he shall be left in peace until he shall be brought to the judicial assemblage; and on account of the honor due to God and the saints, and the reverence due to the church itself, let his life and all his members be granted to him. Moreover, let him plead his case as best he can and he shall be judged; and so let him be led to the presence of the lord king, and the latter shall send him where it shall have seemed fitting to his clemency.

  3. If anyone shall have entered a church by violence and shall have carried off anything in it by force or theft, or shall have burned the church itself, let him be punished by death.

  4. If anyone, out of contempt for Christianity, shall have despised the holy Lenten fast and shall have eaten meat, let him be punished by death. But, nevertheless, let it be taken into consideration by a priest, lest perchance any one from necessity has been led to eat meat.

  5. If anyone shall have killed a bishop or priest or deacon, let him likewise be punished capitally.

  6. If anyone deceived by the devil shall have believed, after the manner of the Pagans, that a man or woman is a seeress and eats men, and shall have burned the person, or shall have given the person's flesh to others to eat, or shall have eaten it himself, let him be punished by a capital sentence.

  7. If anyone, in accordance with Pagan rites, shall have caused the body of a dead man to be burned and shall have reduced his bones to ashes, let him be punished capitally.

  8. If any one of the race of the Saxons hereafter concealed among them shall have wished to hide himself unbaptized and shall have scorned to come to baptism and shall have wished to remain a Pagan, let him be punished by death.If anyone shall have sacrificed a man to the devil, and after the manner of the Pagans shall have presented him as a victim to the demons, let him be punished by death.

  9. If anyone shall have formed a conspiracy with the Pagans against the Christians or shall have wished to join with them in opposition to the Christians, let him be punished by death; and whoever shall have consented to this same fraudulently against the king and the Christian people, let him be punished by death.

  10. If anyone shall have shown himself unfaithful to the lord king, let him be punished with a capital sentence.

  11. If anyone shall have raped the daughter of his lord, let him be punished by death.

  12. If anyone shall have killed his lord or lady, let him be punished in a like manner.

  13. If indeed, for these mortal crimes secretly committed anyone shall have fled of his own accord to a priest, and after confession shall have wished to do penance, let him be freed by the testimony of the priest from death.

  14. To each church let the parishioners present a house and two mansi of land, and for each one hundred and twenty men, noble and free, and likewise liti [serf], let them give to the same church a man -servant and a maid-servant.

  15. And this has been pleasing, Christ being propitious, that whencesoever any receipts shall have come into the treasury, either for a breach of the peace or for any penalty of any kind, and in all income pertaining to the king, a tithe shall be rendered to the churches and priests.

  16. Likewise, in accordance with the mandate of God, we command that all shall give a tithe of their property and labor to the churches and priests; let the nobles as well as the freemen, and likewise the liti (serfs), according to that which God shall have given to each Christian, return a part to God.

  17. That on the Lord's Day no meetings and public judicial assemblages shall be held, unless perchance in a case of great necessity or when war compels it, but all shall go to the church to hear the word of God and shall be free for prayers or good works. Also, on the (christian) festivals they shall devote themselves to God and to the services of the church and shall refrain from secular assemblies.

  18. It has been pleasing to insert in these decrees that all infants shall be baptized within a year; and we have decreed this, that if any one shall have despised to bring his infant to baptism within the course of a year, without the permission of the priest, if he is a noble he shall pay 120 solidi to the treasury, if a freeman 60, if a liti 30.

  19. If any shall have made a prohibited or illegal marriage, if a noble 60 solidi, if a freeman 30, if a liti 15.

  20. If anyone shall have made a vow at springs or trees or groves or shall have made any offerings after the manner of the Heathen and shall have partaken of a repast in honor of the demons, if he shall be a noble 60 solidi, if a freeman 30, if a liti 15. If, indeed they have not the means of paying at once, they shall be given into the service of the church until the solidi are paid.

  21. We command that the bodies of Saxon Christians shall be carried to the church cemeteries and not to the mounds of the Pagans.

  22. We have ordered that diviners and soothsayers shall be given to the church and priests.

  23. Concerning perjuries, let it be according to the law of the Saxons.

  24. We have forbidden that all the Saxons shall hold public assemblies in general, unless perchance our missus shall have caused them to come together in accordance with our command; but each count shall hold judicial assemblies and administer justice in his jurisdiction. And this shall be cared for by the priests, lest it be done otherwise.



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