Page:Select Essays in Anglo-American Legal History, Volume 1.djvu/26

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12
I. BEFORE THE NORMAN CONQUEST

tale; but we remember how rapidly the empire was being torn in shreds. Already Britain was abandoned (407). We may doubt whether the statute-book of Theodosius ever reached our shores until it had been edited by Jacques Godefroi.[1] Indeed we may say that the fall of a loose stone in Britain brought the crumbling edifice to the ground.[2] Already before this code was published the hordes of Alans, Vandals, and Sueves had swept across Gaul and Spain; already the Vandals were in Africa. Already Rome had been sacked by the West Goths; they were founding a kingdom in southern Gaul and were soon to have a statute-book of their own. Gaiseric was not far off, nor Attila. Also let us remember that this Theodosian Code was by no means well designed if it was to perpetuate the memory of Roman civil science in a stormy age. It was no "code" in our modern sense of that term. It was only a more or less methodic collection of modern statutes. Also it contained many things that the barbarians had better not have read; bloody laws against heretics, for example.

We turn from it to the first monument of Germanic law that has come down to us. It consists of some fragments of what must have been a large law-book published by Euric for his West Goths, perhaps between 470 and 475.[3] Euric was a conquering king; he ruled Spain and a large part of southern Gaul; he had cast off, so it is said, even the pretence of ruling in the emperor's name. Nevertheless, his laws are not nearly so barbarous as our curiosity might wish them to be. These West Goths who had wandered across Europe were veneered by Roman civilization. It did them little good. Their later law-books, that of Reckessuinth (652-672), that of Erwig (682), that of Egica (687-701), are said to be verbose and futile imitations of Roman codes. But Euric's laws are sufficient to remind us that the order of date among these Leges Barbarorum is very different from the order of

  1. The Breviary of Alaric is a diflFerent matter.
  2. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire, i. 142: "And thus we may say that it was the loss or abandonment of Britain in 407 that led to the further loss of Spain and Africa."
  3. Zeumer, Leges Visigothorum Antiqyiores, 1894; Brunner. op. cit. i. 320; Schröder, op. cit. 230.