Lex Frisionum
Explanatory notes to the text and translation

Text and translation

The complete text of Lex Frisionum presented below is based on the transcription by Herold from 1557. A facsimile has been published by Siems (1980).

The sequence of the titles and articles in Herold’s version has been followed her, except for Wlemar's judgements, which Herold erroneously included in Lex Thuringorum: here, they have been placed at the end of Additio III, after the other articles by Wlemar. Probably the numbers (here in the left column) were not part of the original Lex, but were added by Herold.

The second column presents the Latin text. Here, Herold has been followed literally where capitals, italics, and the representation of numbers are concerned. Eckhardt & Eckhardt (1982), in their edition, wrote out in full the verbs and other words that appeared abbreviated in Herold's version. Furthermore, they corrected some of Herold's spelling mistakes. The full and corrected spellings by Eckhardt & Eckhardt have been adopted here.

The third column gives the translation into modern English (by Kees Nieuwenhuijsen). All fine amounts have been presented numerically (regardless of the original form); all other numbers have been represented according to the Latin original. By way of illustration, some words have been added [between square brackets]. Germanic terms have been represented untranslated and in italics, usually followed by a translation [between square brackets].

In the fourth column, the amounts (fines and wergeld) have been converted to silver pennies. Also in this columns are remarks by the translator.

Fine amounts

At first sight, the fine amounts in the Lex Frisionum are confusing. For example, there is an article that specifies a fine of 24 solidi for chopping off a freeman's nose (XXII: 10), while another article fines the same offence with over 60 solidi (Add. III: 10). The latter amount is higher than the weregeld of a freeman (50 or 53 solidi, see Title I).
This seeming contradiction is caused by the fact that the amounts in the Lex are based on several different monetary systems. First, there are two types of solidi: the golden solidus and the more modern silver solidus. Furthermore, the Lex occasionally specifies amounts in pounds and ounces, it distinguishes between 'old' and 'new' money, and at one time it mentions Frisian pennies.

Initially, early medieval Frisians used Merovingian golden coins. There were golden solidi and smaller golden coins: the denarii, als known as tremisses. Each solidus equalled three denarii. The golden solidus disappeared by the end of the 6th century, and during the course of the 7th century also the golden denarius vanished. In its stead, the new silver solidus came into circulation. Its Germanic name was shilling ('scillinc'), and its value was the same as the golden denarius: each shilling equalled 12 silver pennies. These silver pennies were the actual coins which the Frisians used for their daily trade. They weighed 1,3 gram each.
In short: the old golden solidus equalled 36 silver pennies, and the new solidus equalled 12 silver pennies (Henstra, 1999, p 48 ff).
Although gold coins had long been out of circulation at the time when Lex Frisionum was recorded, they could still be used as unit of account. Similarly, in modern Europe, where in 2002 the Euro became the official currency, many people kept on thinking in old guilders and Deutschmarks for several years.
However, in some cases the ‘solidus’ must be interpreted as ‘silver solidus’, for instance in the wound register (Add. III, from article 8 onwards), where the amounts are given according to the new system. This is apparent from the explicit addition that the fines must be tripled, and from a comparison with the wound register in Title XXII. Also in several other articles, scattered through the Lex, the new system must be applicable, because otherwise the fine amount would be extremely high.

The Lex gives a few amounts in pounds. A pound was made up of 240 silver pennies; one pound consisted of 12 ounces (Henstra, 1999, p 54).
Where the Lex speaks of 'old' and 'new' money, it does not refer to gold vs. silver coins, but to the money reform by Pippin the Short in the years 754/755, a few decades before the Lex was recorded. Pippin introduced a new silver penny that was slightly heavier than the Anglo-Frisian silver penny (weighing 1,3 gram) that had been in use by the Frisians and the English. Among numismatists, those old pennies are also known as sceattas (Henstra, 1999, p 63 ff).
Frisian pennies are mentioned only once in the Lex. Probably, these were silver coins, with a value equal to the Anglo-Frisian sceattas (Henstra, 1999, p 281).

Next to the translation of the Lex, in the right-hand column, all amounts have been converted into silver pennies. The conversions have been done by Dr. D.J. Henstra. Also, various notes regarding amounts and conversions have been added on his advice.

The following abbreviations have been used:

GS  = golden solidus (the old measure of account, 3,9 gram gold),
sh  = shilling,
tr    = tremisse = denarius,
sp  = silver penny (the ordinary coin, 1,3 gram silver).

Whenever a conversion contains a ‘GS’, it's an amount from the old system with golden solidi, each equalling 3 shillings or 36 sp (silver pennies). Conversions without a 'GS' relate to amounts under the new system with silver solidi or shillings, each equalling 12 sp.
Eventually, each amount has converted to a number of sp. Thus, all amounts can be compared directly.

Lex Frisionum
Start Page

Table of contents
Text and translation
Explanatory notes
© Dr. Kees C. Nieuwenhuijsen
home page: www.keesn.nl