Assignment 1: The Constitution of the Visigoths, AD 654 – SpainIn this first assignment, you are asked to read two selections of what is arguably the first Western constitution, the opening book of the twelve-book Visigothic Code (or, Book of Laws [Liber Iudiciorum]). As you will read in the secondary sources, this massive law code was produced in the middle of the seventh century in the center of the Iberian Peninsula. It was promulgated by the Visigothic King Recceswinth (653-672) in the royal capital of Toledo. The Visigothic Kingdom was a diverse, multi-cultural and multi-religious society that emerged over the course of two centuries after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The Kingdom was defeated and disappear in the early eighth century, after which the peninsula was split into an Islamic caliphate in the south and a collection of small Catholic communities in the north. But, before then, in the seventh century, the Visigoths were producing impressive legal pronouncements, such as the Visigothic Code. Unfortunately, only thirty years after the issuance of the Code, it was revised and a whole new book of anti-Jewish legislation was added. Your task in this module is to analyze the aims of constitution and then evaluate the constitutionality of that new legislation.Readings:Visigothic Code, Book 1 (the constitution) and Book 12.3.Michael J. Kelly, “Recceswinth’s Liber Iudiciorum: History, Narrative and Meaning,” Visigothic Symposium 1 (2017): 1-21.Roger Collins, Visigothic Spain: 409-711 (London: Blackwell, 2004), 223-227.Questions:1. What is the law intended to be, for what purposes, and how is it to function, according tothe opening constitution of the Visigothic Code?2. In the closing book of the revised Code (Book 12.3), how do we see law actually be presented? Does the anti-Jewish legislation fit within the bounds of the constitutional framework of the Code, or, in other words, was the anti-Jewish legislation constitutional?




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Recceswinth’s Liber Iudiciorum: History, Narrative and Meaning
The Liber Iudiciorum, the renowned law-code of the seventh-century Visigothic
Kingdom, has provided a foundation for legal books, historical narratives, nationalist
rhetoric and religious fervor in and beyond Greater Iberia repeatedly throughout the
centuries since its construction. Despite its subsequent impact, there is still no
consensus on the contemporary meaning of the code and its functionality. Even the true
authorship and precise dating of the code’s construction still elicit debate, with two
recent doctoral theses, for example, taking contrasting points of view.1 Some of the
uncertainty lay in the fact that the code was revised twice, but other problems relate to
ongoing arguments on the general role of Visigothic monarchs and their relations with
ecclesiastical and noble figures, the social practices of the law, the potential ‘levels’ of
literacy of the period, the relation between representation and reality, center and
periphery…in short, many of the core concerns for archaeologists and historians of
early medieval Iberia. To grasp the meaning of code as it was when promulgated in the
650s by King Recceswinth (649-672) scholars need, this essay argues, to read it as a
See Nicholas Hunot, The Struggle for Power and Stability: Church-state Relations in Visigothic Spain,
586-712 (Ph.D. Thesis: Indiana University, 2014) and Michael J. Kelly, Writing History, Narrating
Fulfillment: the ‘Isidore-moment’ and the Struggle for the ‘Before Now’ in Late Antique and Early
Medieval Hispania (Ph.D. Thesis: University of Leeds, 2014).
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fine example of Visigothic literature produced in a vibrant ‘moment’ of historicalwriting.
In this essay, I show how, with the Liber Iudiciorum (LI), Recceswinth used the laws
of the past and present to construct a spiritually imbued legal-historical narrative that
directed memory, invented religious associations, and promoted his dynasty. More than
that, I suggest that it is by this rubric of localized historical production that the LI should
be read to have meaning or significance, functionality and purpose, in the Visigothic
Kingdom of Iberia and Gaul. To reach the core of the argument, it is framed by an
introduction to the code, by another historical narrative (mine: depositing for the
historical archaeologist layers of representation on top of others) about the emergence
of the conditions for (the dialectical materialism one might [but I won’t here again] say)
and then the appearance of the LI.
The Liber Iudiciorum is a twelve-book law-code issued by the Visigothic King
Recceswinth (r. 649/653-672) in
653. It was promulgated by the king at his first
council, the Eighth Council of Toledo (VIII Toledo), in the Praetorian Church of Sts.
Peter and Paul.2 The LI was edited or added to in various ways by subsequent kings,
A new critical edition of the Liber Iudiciorum is currently in preparation. The international project, codirected by Michael J. Kelly (SUNY Binghamton) and Isabel Velázquez (UC Madrid), will be published
in OA digital and print form by Networks and Neighbours. In the meantime, this essay refers to the
editions of Zeumer: Lex Visigothorum in Leges Visigothorum antiquiores, MGH Legum, ed. Karl Zeumer
(Hanover and Leipzig, 1894 and 1902), 21-313 and 33-456. For the Spanish councils, this essay uses: La
Colección Canónica Hispana, ed. Gonzalo Martínez Díez and (from 1982 forward as co-editor) Félix
Rodríguez, 6 vols (Madrid, 1966-2002), referred to hereafter as CCH, with respective volume noted. On
the site of the council see Chron. 754, 35, and the opening of the council: Anno quinto orthodoxi atque
gloriosi et vera clementiae dignitate praespicui Recesuinthi regis, cum nos omnes divinae ordinatio
voluntatis euisdem principis serenissimo iussu in basilicam sanctorum apostolorum ad sacrum synodi
coegisset aggregari conventum […]. This church would become the site where kings were anointed and
blessed before going off to war, and was raised by Wamba to the status of being its own see. For an
edition of the Chronicle of 754 see José Eduardo López Pereira, Crónica mozárabe de 754: edición
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creating three distinct Visigothic versions: that of Recceswinth (653), that of Ervig
(681), and that of Egica (694).3 Each king added laws and adapted the sentiment of the
code according to their own wishes and historical situations. This essay examines only
the meaning of the LI of Recceswinth.4
Recceswinth’s LI is composed of legal constitutions ordered by topics across twelve
self-contained books. The laws derive from a variety of sources, Visigothic and
otherwise. The Visigothic sources include the Codex Euricianus, Breviarium Alarici
(or, Lex Romana Visigothorum), Visigothic Formularies, Isidore (Bishop of Seville
from c. 600 to 636), the Second Council of Seville, the councils of Toledo and
unreferenced laws of King Swinthila (r. 621-631).5 One can also find apparent vestiges
of Gothic language and imagined traditions,6 as well as pieces of non-Visigothic legal
texts such as Justinian’s Corpus Iuris Civilis and Burgundian laws.7 Curiously enough,
there are no laws of the Ostrogoths.8 LI XII, the twelfth book of the LI, relies on Biblical
crítica y traducción (Saragossa, 1980), Chronica Minora, MGH, AA, 10, ed. Theodor Mommsen (Berlin,
1894), 334-60. For discussion of the Chronicle of 754 see Ann Christys, Christians in Al-Andalus, 7111000, 2nd edn. (NY: Routledge, 2010), 28-51 (esp. 33-35).
The Egica version has been known as the Vulgata since Zeumer’s edition. Roger Collins agrees with
Zeumer that the final recension is a vulgate one, not an official recension issued by Egica, based on the
diversity in the manuscript and because it contains only three laws of Egica. See Roger Collins, Visigothic
Spain: 409-711 (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 233-36, and Yolanda García López,
Estudios Críticos y Literarios de la ‘Lex Wisigothorum’ (Alcalá: Universidad de Alcalá, 1996), 36-37.
See Céline Martin, “Le Liber Iudiciorum et ses differentes versions,” Nouvelle series, 41 (2011), 1734.
Codex Euricianus: LI 2.1.14, 5.4.13; LRV: LI 2.1.10, 2.1.18, 2.1.24, 2.2.7, 2.3.7, 5.2.6, 6.4.2, 7.6.1-2,
10.1.5; Visigothic Formularies: LI 2.1.23, 3.1.5, 5.7.1, 10.1.18; Isidore: LI 1.1.4-5 (unnamed), 2.1.3
(attributed to Recceswinth); II Seville: LI 10.3.4, ascribed to Recceswinth, and 10.3.5 titled antiqua; IV
Toledo: LI 5.7.9, referred to as antiqua; V Toledo: LI 2.1.7; VII Toledo: LI 2.1.6; VIII Toledo: LI 2.1.5:
Swinthila: LI 2.1.5, attributed to Chindaswinth.
LI 2.1.14.
Justinian’s Corpus: LI 3.1.5, 6.1.7, 8.4.2, 9.1.10, and 10.1.17 (attributed to Chindaswinth); Burg.: LI
2.1.11, 3.2.8, 3.4.4, 5.6.6, 8.3.10, 8.4.1, 9.1.3, 9.1.5-6, and 9.1.13.
This could suggest a Visigothic authorship of the Edictum Theoderici. The prevailing opinion is that
the Edictum Theoderici is the work of the Ostrogothic King Theoderic, not the Visigothic Theoderic I or
II. The evidence (to my mind) is inconclusive, but for a discussion of it see Sean D. W. Lafferty, Law
and Society in the Age of Theoderic the Great: A Study of the Edictum Theoderici (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2013), and the review of Lafferty’s book by Otávio Luiz Vieira Pinto, in
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LI I is referred to as the ‘Visigothic constitution’ because it elicits the instruments of
law (de instrumentis legalibus)9 – its purposes, reasons and roles – and prescribes the
regulations for princeps and legislatores (the jurists of the royal court).10 LI II expands
upon these prescriptions, explaining why the king (princeps) should firstly be just and
then bound by the law.11 The prescriptions in the LI laying out the role and proper
activities of the king are mirrored in the canons of VIII Toledo. Judges, courts,
contracts, property, mercantilist activities, criminal laws, degrees of relationship,
fugitives, and land boundaries otherwise constitute the bulk of code. The LI is
dedicated, it would seem, to secular affairs, referring to religion in passing throughout
the text and only dealing with religious matters to any overt extent in LI XII, which
contains the legislation relating to Jewish life in the kingdom. This focus on secular
content appended by a dedicated religious volume is a crucial aspect of the LI’s
structure and meaning, as elaborated on below.
According to the narrative composition of the LI, around forty percent of Visigothic
laws, by the 650s, were recent legislation. In total, the LI contains over three hundred
‘ancient laws’ (antiqua), about one hundred laws from King Chindaswinth (r. 642649/653) and around ninety from his son and successor Recceswinth. The code refers
to antiqua what it suggests were laws promulgated before the Visigothic kings
Networks and Neighbours, 2.2 (2014): 400-03. For the influence of the Theodosian corpus on the LI see
E. Osaba García, “Influenza delle leggi costantiniane nella Lex Visigothorum,” in Diritto@Storia.
Quaderni di Scienze Giuridiche e Tradizione Romana, Anno II, Quaderno no. 2 (2003).
See Marie R. Madden, Political Theory and Law in Medieval Spain, 2nd edn. (Clark, NJ: Lawbook
Exchange, 2007), 30, who saw LI 1 firmly as a constitution. Dietrich Claude defended and expanded this
position, arguing that the constitutional elements apparent in the LI are comparable to modern
constitutional frameworks (Claude, “The Oath of the Allegiance and the Oath of the King in the
Visigothic kingdom,” Classical Folia, 30, no. 1 [1976]: 6).
Associating the Visigothic king with the authority of the Roman emperor, the king is referred to in the
LI as princeps.
See LI 2.1.2 and 5.
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converted to Catholicism.12 The LI was meant for diverse audiences and specifically
dictates rules for translated versions, making one wonder if Recceswinth was only one
of a number of persons in the kingdom who could speak Gothic.13
The LI survived the Middle Ages well, thanks, in part, to its continued influence on
Iberian history and law. In the thirteenth century, the Toledan Alfonso X, King of
Castile (r. 1252-1284), mined the LI for his law-code, Las Siete Partidas. His
predecessor, Don Fernando III (r. 1217-1252) confirmed the code’s legality. He had
also decreed that it be translated into Castilian and used for the fuero of Cordoba.14 In
various forms, more than forty manuscripts of the LI remain, the oldest of which is a
Recceswinth version: Vat. Reg. Lat. 1024.15 Closing it (138v) is the seventh-century list
(laterculum) of Visigothic kings known as the Chronica Regum Visigothorum.16 This
suggests a fundamental relationship between legal codification and historical memory
in the LI, but also more broadly in the earlier Middle Ages. Recceswinth’s LI may have
been the first instance of this, but hardly the only. Several manuscripts of Lombard laws
include the king’s list of Rothari, and an origins story of the Lombards.17 There are
For example, LI 5.7.9 and 10.3.5 which are associated, respectively, with IV Toledo and II Seville,
although the latter is represented also in the Codex Euricianus 276, at the beginning of the Paris Lat.
12161 fragment.
LI 2.1.9. Alberto Ferreiro suggests that Recceswinth spoke Gothic, as was related by the Chronicon of
Pseudo-Isidore. See Ferreiro, “Saint Martin of Braga and the Germanic Languages,” Perita, 6 (1987),
298-306. In the 610s, apparent ‘Germanic’ custom was present in functioning law in Iberia, but it is
uncertain if this was the situation in the 650s or whether it implies any knowledge of Gothic language
by the parties involved (see the Libellus Dotalis Morgingeba, in Miscellanea Wisigothica, ed. Juan Gil
(Seville, 1972), no. 20, and Diplomática Hispano-Visigoda, ed. Angel Canellas Lopez (Saragossa:
Institucion Fernando el Catalico, 1979), no. 100, 181-82.
For discussion on the transmission and influence of the LI before the twelfth century see García López,
Lex Wisigothorum, pp. 41-151, and for after the twelfth century, Madden, Political Theory and Law in
Medieval Spain, 43-98.
I would like to thank the staff at the Vatican Library for their assistance with examining this and other
The oldest manuscripts of the Ervig version are MS Paris Lat. 4418 and MS Paris 4667, from the ninth
and tenth centuries, respectively. On the manuscripts see García López, Lex Wisigothorum, pp. 35-69.
For the edition of the Chronica Regum Visigothorum (CRV) see the Laterculus regum Visigothorum, in
Chron. min., MGH, AA, 13, ed. Theodor Mommsen (Berlin, 1898), 461-68.
For the manuscripts with the Lombard edict and the Origo Gentis Langobardorum see Leg. Lang.,
xxvii-xxviii, xxxvii-xliii, and, The Beneventan Script, ed. E.A. Lowe, 2nd edn. (Rome, 1980), 11. For
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examples too amongst Frankish laws and histories, and the earliest manuscript of
Alfred’s law book has been connected to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and then later with
Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. The Scandinavian law book of Gotland was also
complemented by a historical narrative, the Historia Gotlandiae. This collective
evidence suggests, Patrick Wormald argued, an extra-practical reason for the lawcodes. They often made, first and foremost, literary sense, and served ‘ideological’, or
literary, purposes.18 Building on but traversing Wormald, what this all suggests, I
maintain, is the fundamental relationship between legal collections and historical
discourse. This significance is evident in the LI, in which the historical narrative,
constructed as it was, spoke specifically to those used to similar literature and similar
literary methods in seventh-century Iberia.19 The capstone of Isidore’s book on law in
the Origines (Etymologies), de legibus et temporibus, is his lesser Chronicles. In 654,
when the LI was promulgated, this Isidorian integration of law and history was rededicated to Recceswinth.20 Law served a spiritual function for Isidore, entangling
historical and spiritual knowledge.21 The advent of the Son, Jesus, brought
Paul the Deacon see Pauli Historia Langobardorum, in MGH Scriptores Rerum Langobardicarum et
Italicarum, saec. VI-IX, ed. Ludwig Bethmann and Georg Waitz (Hannover, 1878), 12-187.
On the historiographical dialectics that interprets the law-code as functional or symbolic see Edward
A. Thompson (Thompson, Goths in Spain [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969], 210ff.) against
Michael Wallace-Hadrill (Wallace-Hadrill, Long-Haired Kings [Toronto: University of Toronto Press,
1982 (orig. 1962)], 179-81), and for a mediating position Patrick Wormald (see Wormald, “Lex Scripta
and Verbum Regis: Legislation and Germanic Kingship from Euric to Cnut,” in Legal Culture in the
Early Medieval West: Text, Image and Experience, by Patrick Wormald [London: The Hambledon Press,
1999], 1-41). Wormald and Jacques Fontaine were part of the 1960’s-1980’s ‘anti-functionalist’ group
of scholars who developed a firm reaction against historians, of the previous generations, who had
interpreted early medieval texts as ‘functional’. Fontaine and others claimed that these texts were
aesthetic, which influenced also the development of the theory of the Isidorian Renaissance. Our
perceptions of law and history in relation to aesthetics have been made more dynamic, less reactionary,
since the Deleuzian-turn in aesthetics. Rosamond McKitterick, in dialogue with Wormald, argues that
written early medieval legislation can only have had symbolic value if audiences understood and
appreciated the practical function of law, therefore a law-code could only have meaning if its practicality
as legislation was expected (see Rosamond McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word
[Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989], 23-66).
See Wormald, “Lex Scripta,” 19-21.
See Marc Reydellet, “La diffusion des Origines d’Isidore de Séville au haut moyen âge,” Mélange
d’Archéologie et d’Histoire de l’Ecole Française de Rome, 78 (1966): 417-19 (esp. 383-437).
Isid., Sent., 1.19.6: Vel quod lex non tantum historice, sed etiam spiritaliter sentienda sit. For a
theoretical discussion of history as an epistemological and eschatological project see Paul Ricoeur,
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understanding of the mystical or spiritual sense of the law, and so humanity’s ability to
know, love and follow it correctly.22 History, law and spirituality were quilted together
in the form, presentation, meaning and intention of the LI.
The LI of Recceswinth, although certainly his, may have been a project devised by his
father and predecessor, and active legislator, Chindaswinth.23 In violation of the canons
of the Fourth (633) and Sixth (638) Councils of Toledo,24 Chindaswinth gained the
throne by usurpation, overthrowing King Tulga (r. 640-642) with the assistance of
certain nobles. He was crowned in the far north of the peninsula,25 and immediately
sought to prevent rebellions. Instead of working through conciliar legislation as past
usurpers had done (e.g., King Sisenand [r. 631-636]), he killed those whom he
perceived to be potential threats to his authority: two hundred Gothic nobles (primatis
Gotorum) and five hundred members of the ‘middle class’ (mediogrebus).26
History and Truth (Evanston, Il: Northwestern University Press, 1965). All references to Isidore’s
Sententiae are from the critical edition: Isidorus Hispalensis Sententiae, CCSL 111, ed. Pierre Cazier
(Turnhout: Brepols, 1998).
Isid., Diff., 33: “Ante adventum enim Redemptoris nostri, gentilis populus ideo non obtemperavit legi,
quia nondum intelligebatur sensu spirituali. Lex enim gravia atque dura secundum litteram jubebat, ideo
contemnebatur. Venit autem gratia Evangelii, temperavit legis austeritatem, applicavitque sibi gentilem
populum.” For the Differentiae see: Isidoro de Sevilla Diferencias Libro I, ed. Carmen Codoñer (Paris:
Belles Lettres, 1992), Liber Differentiarum, ed. Faustino Arevalo, PL 83, cols. 9-170, and Isidorus
Hispalensis Liber Differentiarum II, CCSL 111A, ed. Maria Adelaida Andrés Sanz (Turnhout: Brepols,
2006), and translation: Isidore of Seville’s Synonyms (Lamentations of a Sinful Soul) and Differences,
trans. Priscilla Throop (Charlotte, VT: Medieval MS, 2012).
For example, P.D. King, Law and Society in the Visigothic kingdom (Cambridge: University of
Cambridge Press, 1972), 18, and ibid., ‘King Chindasvind’.
IV Toledo 3. The Sixth Council of Toledo, canon seventeen, declared that nobody should prepare a
new king while the current one was alive, let alone usurp the living monarch. In the next canon it is said
that the murder of a usurped king should be avenged, a prescription Chindaswinth avoided, whether he
cared to or not, by tonsuring Tulga. This depends, in part on how we read, and believe, the sources.
According to Fredegar (Chron. 4.82), Chindaswinth took power with the approval of certain Visigothic
nobles and others, in northern Spain, and subsequently had Tulga tonsured. According to the Chronicle
of 754, Chindaswinth’s usurpation was done by means of an outright revolt. For an edition of the
Chronicles of Fredegar see Fredegarii et aliorum chronica, MGH Script. rer. Merov. II, ed. Bruno
Krusch (Hannover, 1888), 1-193. For a translation of book four of the Chronicles see Michael WallaceHadrill, The Fourth Book of the Chronicle of Fredegar (A …
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