The Burgundian Code

The Burgundian Code


Institutional Affiliation


The Burgundian Code

The Burgundians’, were an East German tribe that settled in the Roman Empire. The Burgundian legal system, like any other in the Germanic tribes, was founded on custom and interactive relationships. Due to the aforementioned statement, the Burgundian laws frequently contradicted the formal Roman Laws. The Burgundian Kings became aware of these contradictions thus they converted Burgundian customary laws into written law codes. The written law codes are the ones that are referred to as Lex Gundobad. Subsequently, the Romans adopted the Burgundian rule due to the fact that these rules went to extensive measures to protect the Roman citizens (Comtois, 2006). As a result, the Burgundians took with them their customary laws into the Roman Empire, while the Romans established themselves under the Burgundian rules but still preserving the Roman statutory laws.

From 474 A.D to 516 A.D., the Gundobad assumed the duty to codify both set of laws. The codified set of laws gave rise to the Lex Gundobada. The Lex Gundobada was a critical set of law since it was an example of the fundamental transitional phase of law that combined both Roman and Germanic laws. Actually, the Burgundians had lived under the Roman laws for so long thus any earlier attempts to codify the laws prior to Lex Gundobada cannot be dismissed. Citations of the aforementioned statements are traced throughout the Burgundian code (Drew, 1972). A majority if not all the Burgundian laws create the limits of personal interactions between people, although no public law was clear. The Lex Gundobada was a style that veered away from customary law buttressed by ethical principles towards statutory law based on the political authority of the king (Pearson, 2005).

The preamble of the Burgundian Code states that the laws were envisioned to create principles for the rational treatment of all classes of subjects. Throughout the code, the objective is to safeguard both the civil liberties of the Roman citizens and the Burgundians against infringement while stimulating peace between the two tribal groups. In a bid to circumvent quarrels, a decent amount of reparation, referred to as wergild, were fixed in advance to aid as recovery in lieu of physical actions of vengeance. The divisions of class of the Burgundians and Romans remain vague (John, 2007). The Lex Gundobada intervenes to offer some hints with regard to the aforementioned concern. The Lex Gundobada affirms that there are two general divisions unfree and free with originarii and coloni appearing in between. The classes of free men represented in the code are portrayed as the highest, middle and lowest of the freemen and the freedmwn, or slaves who have earned their freedom from their masters. The group which assumed the lowest position in the free class was the freedmen (Duhaime, 2008). However, their off springs were considered to freemen and a freedman could be considered a free man subsequent to the death of his last master (David, 2013).

Under the class of freemen the nobles assumed the highest position. This class consisted of royal officials and servants. Although there was no clear basis for distinction between the middle and the lower class in the code, there existed certain features of the laws that specified that the middle class had a closer proximity to the upper than the lower class. The dominant feature under this era was the intermarriages between freemen; although the social ranking of their children remains a mystery. Another class was the coloni; they were ranked lower than the freemen although they were freeborn under the law. The coloni had the ability to hold land but they could not leave it on their own will or be evicted, thus their freedom was restricted. The application of penalties under the code did not obey the social distinctions present. The only exception present was the successful distinction between the free and slaves. With strict regard to slaves, the Burgundians applied the Roman rules by outlining punishments such as lashes of whips or death. The freemen were rarely prescribed to physical penalties except for three circumstances. The first being the sentence of slavery if a woman was found guilty of incest, complicity, or affair with a slave. The second penalty was the chopping off of a hand when one is found guilty of destroying property indicators or forgery. The final penalty was death in serious offences such as armed robbery, planned murder, and theft of slave or horse. The Burgundian offender was free to pay a fine in addition to any other awarded damages.


Comtois, M. A. (2006). Barbarians in the mist: The history and legacy of the Burgundians.

David, E. (2013). Burgundy. <‎>

Drew, K. F. (1972). The Burgundian code: Book of constitutions or law of Gundobad, additional enactments. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. <>

Duhaime L. (2008). The Burgundian Code. < › LawMuseum>


Pearson, A. G. (2005). Envisioning gender in Burgundian devotional art: 1350-1530 : experience, authority, resistance. Aldershot [u.a.: Ashgate. <‎>

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