Previously on this blog I provided a translation and commentary on an account of the Ten Commandments in Old Frisian, which is the closest linguistic relative of Old English. Old Frisian texts are primarily legal in nature, and the Old Frisian account of the Ten Commandments fits within that classification as it is essentially an aetiology of law.
For this post, I provide a translation and commentary on the sixteenth statute of the Seventeen Statutes (an Old Frisian set of laws). The sixteenth statute details the right to give compensation as a way of resolving a feud caused by criminal action. However, there were exceptions to this right, which were mentioned in the sixteenth statute. This edition of the sixteenth statute from Bremmer's grammar and reader of Old Frisian includes a further section detailing five situations in which compensation could not be given. Of course, some of the punishments detailed in the text may seem rather harsh (e.g. cutting off the right hand of the forger of money/coins, and seething the servant who betrays/kills his legal master in the cauldron).
Below is the Old Frisian text with my translation and commentary.
This is the sixteenth people's statute and grant of king Charles,[i] that all Frisians may buy off their feuds with money. Through this they shall be free[ii] on the land of the Saxons,[iii] outside stick, outside flagellation, outside ordeal with hot ploughshares, outside rods, and outside all other corporal punishments. But if someone[iv] should be found guilty and sentenced at the people's convention[v] with justified accusation and with the judgement[vi] of the legal official, by the customary law of the people, by the summons of the magistrate, and by the consent of the emperor[vii] or his authorized messenger, concerning counterfeit money or concerning counterfeit coins, then his right hand must be cut off on the scaffold because of the two deeds.[viii] If he has committed capital crimes, nightly arson or other deadly deeds, then he shall pay with his own life to the satisfaction of all people by the judgement of the legal official and the customary law of the people: that is, that he should be placed on a wheel.[ix] But if he has committed theft according to the statute of the Frisians, and if he does not have the money to pay the fine for it, then he must be hanged. As he hangs by the way, so he has compensated equally people and frana.[x] Murder must be compensated with murder,[xi] in order that evil deeds may be averted.
This is read in the sixteenth statute: that all Frisians may pay for their crimes with money, if they have the means to do so, except for five exceptions.
The first exception is this: whoever breaks into the house of God[xii] and destroys the consecrated host, then by law he must suffer the north-facing tree[xiii] and the nine-spoked wheel,[xiv] and no money can be given for his life.[xv]
The second exception is this: whenever someone goes near sleeping men and near unaware awake people with burning firebrand and smoking fire at the house of God and at the vicarage and burns therein a man or horse or both of them, then he must suffer the north-facing tree and the nine-spoked wheel, and no money can be given for his life.
The third exception is this: whenever a man goes into a moor[xvi] and there robs people and murders men, he must be beheaded and no money can be given for his life.
The fourth exception is this: whenever a servant betrays or murders his legal master, then by law he must be seethed[xvii] in a cauldron and no money can be given for his life.
The fifth exception is this: whenever there is a traitor and he betrays land and people and he goes into the lands of the Saxons and fetches the high helmet and red shield and the equipped knight and he kills men inside Frisian territory and burns towns, he must be led north into the sea and drowned therein and no money can be given for his life.
[i] Charlemagne, who was king of the Franks and the first Holy Roman Emperor.
[ii] i.e. Not subject to corporal punishments.
[iii] A Germanic people, portrayed as the worst enemies of the Frisians in the Frisian laws (Bremmer 2011, p. 142).
[iv] Old Frisian: Ac wurthe're. Ac is a contrasting conjunction, while wurthe're is a combination of a preterite subjunctive form of the verb wertha ("become," and regularly used for passive constructions; cf. Old English cognate weorþan also used for passive constructions) and a third-person enclitic pronoun that is masculine and nominative singular. The word order here marks the protasis of a conditional sentence.
[v] Old Frisian: liodthing. Thing in Old Frisian can correspond to the conventional meaning in Modern English, but it can also mean a legal assembly. This meaning is also observed in the Old English cognate þing.
[vi] Old Frisian: dom. Cf. Old English: dom.
[vii] Old Frisian: keyser. The word is a borrowing from the Latin word Caesar.
[viii] The construction in the Old Frisian more literally reads as follows: "Then one must have his right hand cut off on the scaffold for the two deeds." The Old Frisian word ma can be used with a third person singular active verb to render a passive construction, and it occurs repeatedly in this text. A similar construction is observed in Old English man: e.g. Aymenn man cwealde: Aymenn was killed.
[ix] To torture the convicted criminal.
[x] As Bremmer (ibid.) notes: "The frana was the local representative of the count and ultimately of the Frankish king. He was charged with presiding the court sessions and with collecting the fines on behalf of the count. When Frisia had eventually slipped out of the count's authority, the office remained for sometime as an independent position to disappear in the course of the thirteenth century" (ibid.).
[xi] Observe the striking alliteration in the original Old Frisian: morth mot ma mith morthe kela. As Bremmer (ibid.) points out, this phrase is a legal proverb. Alliteration is a recurring feature in the wider text.
[xii] i.e. A church.
[xiii] i.e. The gallows. The direction of north was associated with evil (ibid.).
[xiv] A wheel used to torture the convicted criminal (ibid.).
[xv] Observe the 'double negative' construction. It does not lead to the negatives cancelling each other out.
[xvi] Old Frisian: wald. Cf. Old English weald, which refers to a forest (so also the German word Wald).
[xvii] Cf. Old Frisian: siathane. Inflected infinitive form of siatha. Cf. Old English: seoþan (hence the word seethe in Modern English).