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Synodal Court

(316 words)

Author(s): Ogris, Werner
[German Version] ( synodus). The synodal court was a special form of ecclesiastical tribunal (Jurisdiction, Ecclesiastical), a “morals court” presided over by the bishop as judge; it investigated and punished offenses of the laity against canons of the church. It emerged in the ¶ 9th century and was modeled on the Frankish reprimand court. Seven jurors were required to inform the court of offenses known to them. Inquiries – aided by an extensive catalogue of questions compiled in 908 by Regino of Prüm – concentrated primarily on offenses …

Ordeal, Trial by

(1,373 words)

Author(s): Wißmann, Hans | Niehr, Herbert | Ogris, Werner
[German Version] I. Religious Studies – II. Old Testament – III. Legal History I. Religious Studies Trial by ordeal is a means of decision-making as to the guilt or innocence of a suspect in legal cases where there is no available evidence or testimony, and where no guilty plea has been entered. In place of an oath, but in ¶ line with the inherent logic of the oath, a conditional self-curse was sometimes employed; this would apply in cases where, for example, a slave was disqualified from a hearing under oath, and a divine declaration of the truth was sought, as a special case of divination. Although trial by ordeal (Ger. Gottesurteil, Lat. iudicium Dei) assumes a personal God who is willing to establish the truth and is capable, on the basis of his omniscience, of being the supreme and final authority, the various ways in which trial by ordeal is carried out suggest the notion of an almost automatic result from potentially dangerous elements: in trial by fire, the innocent person under ordeal is able to withstand touching fire or hot iron. In trial by water, the manacled suspect sinks if innocent (being accepted by the water, as it were); if guilty, he or she is rejected by the water and so swims (this was often applied as a test of witches as late as the 15th and 16th cents.). In trial by food, in the case of the poison ordeal, especially widespread in Africa, the poison harms or kills the guilty. In all these cases, however, the conclusiveness of the ordeal is tied to ability to survive such trials, and ultimately, such survivals are supernatural or miraculous, as in the testing of evidence by the so-called ordeal of the bier, in which the corpse of the murdered person starts to bleed in the presence of his unidentified murderer. The eschatological ordeals of Zoroastrianism (Zarathustra) are intended to correspond to the execution of justice and the investigation of the guilty, and their identification. Not only does the soul of the righteous deceased pass with ease over the “bridge of the decider” (Činvat Bridge) to its final habitation in the hereafter, while the soul of the enemy of the faith discovers the bridge to be like a sharp sword which it cannot cross, and plummets into an infernal abyss (Bundahišn, ch. 30); but also, at the end of time, all mankind has to step through fire and molten metal. The righteous will experience this glowing heat as “lukewarm milk,” but to the wicked it will be like molten metal which purges them or burns them to death (B…


(3,214 words)

Author(s): Beinhauer-Köhler, Bärbel | Otto, Eckart | Reeg, Gottfried | Krawietz, Birgit | Ogris, Werner
[German Version] I. Concept Talion is derived from the Roman lex talionis, in which it referred to a regulated act of retribution – in keeping with a legal norm that was meant to place limitations on self-administered justice. This stands in contradiction to the general understanding of talion as “doing as you are done by,” also in the sense of self-administered justice. In modern usage, talion is thus particularly understood in the sense of blood revenge or vendetta. The latter meaning is therefore focuse…

Prerogative, Royal

(402 words)

Author(s): Ogris, Werner
[German Version] ( iura regalia). The expression “royal prerogative” has several meanings. In a wider sense the royal prerogative is understood as including all the (German) king’s rights of rule, with the help of which government was carried on. The catalogue of royal privileges contained in the 1158 Roncaglia for imperial Italy, indirectly valid also for the German empire, included inter alia cities, duchies and counties, castles and streets, ports and escorts, forests and fisheries, coinage and excise levies, silver and salt mining, treasury and taxes.…