Page:Western Europe in the Middle Ages.djvu/47

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The leaders commanded the army of free men in time of war, and even in peace were surrounded by a bodyguard of selected warriors. The leaders also presided over the assemblies of men of military age, which discussed war and peace and judged such disputes as came before them. This last duty did not take much time, since most arguments led to family feuds rather than to lawsuits. If an injured party did take his case to the assembly there was no attempt to get at the facts. Each man asserted his claim and the court invoked supernatural aid in order to determine the issue. Usually a test was set for the defendant; he must find other law-worthy men who would swear that his oath was "clean"; he must carry a hot iron several paces without serious injury; he must sink several feet when thrown into a river or lake. If the defendant met the test he went free; if he failed he paid a fine, determined by the gravity of the offense. Most Germanic law consisted in long tables of fines; it cost more to cut off the index finger than the little finger, more for knocking out a grinder than an eye-tooth, more for killing a pregnant woman than one who was past the child-bearing age. The basic idea in all this procedure was to prevent a feud rather than to do justice. One side was placated by receiving money, the other by knowing that the gods had judged against it.

The German political system was directly opposed to that of the Romans in many important aspects. It was based on blood-ties and personal allegiance to a ruler rather than on loyalty to an impersonal state. It had no territorial basis; a man was a Visigoth because he was born of Visigothic parents, not because he was born within certain fixed boundaries. It was directed by unwritten custom and tradition rather than by man-made laws and administrative decisions. It demanded more of free men, in expecting all of military age to serve in the army — less, in not requiring taxes and obedience to economic regulations.

It is evident that rulers brought up in the German political tradition would find it difficult to maintain a government of the