Albrecht Classen

title.none: Dobozy, trans., The Saxon Mirror: A Sachsenspiegel of the Fourteenth Century (Albrecht Classen )

identifier.other: baj9928.0009.015 00.09.15

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Albrecht Classen , University of Arizona,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Dobozy, Maria, trans. The Saxon Mirror: A Sachsenspiegel of the Fourteenth Century. The Middle Ages Series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. Pp. vi, 263. 55.00. ISBN: 0-812-23487-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.09.15

Dobozy, Maria, trans. The Saxon Mirror: A Sachsenspiegel of the Fourteenth Century. The Middle Ages Series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. Pp. vi, 263. 55.00. ISBN: 0-812-23487-1.

Reviewed by:

Albrecht Classen
University of Arizona

In her 1966 Ph.D. dissertation (Ohio State University) Madelyn Ute Bergen had outlined general observations and questions regarding how to translate the famous thirteenth-century Sachsenspiegel. Beyond her work, no further attempt seems to have been made to translate this highly significant lawbook into English. Prior to Bergen, Guido Kisch had published several studies on this text, such as Sachsenspiegel and Bible: Researches in the Source History of the Sachsenspiegel and the Influence of the Bible on Mediaeval German Law (1941), but Maria Dobozy is the first one--even though this is hard to believe--to have composed a complete English translation.

As Dobozy correctly points out in her introduction, "The Sachsenspiegel (1235) by Eike von Repgow marks the beginning of German jurisprudence" (1), but she also hastens to warn us from taking the latter term too literally, as Eike did not have any precedence or model to serve as the basis of his work. Consequently, the Sachsenspiegel represents a highly original lawbook in which much legal and social-historical information about medieval communities, mentalities, ethics, morality, and especially legal thinking is included.

Eike von Repgow came from a family that had settled in the area between the rivers Saale and Mulde southeast of Magdeburg (today capital of Saxony-Anhalt). At the behest of the Count of Hoyer, Eike began to write his legal "mirror" shortly after 1220, first in Latin, and later he translated it into Middle Low German. The majority of his rulings pertain to peasants and the conflicts within a rural community, but the Mirror also deals with feudal law and fundamental legal issues. According to the enormous manuscript dissemination, Eike's work found a wide readership and obviously appealed to a vast number of authorities, rulers, magistrates, and ordinary people especially in Eastern Germany, but also in other regions, probably because it was based on practical experience and also set up theoretical guidelines. More than 450 manuscripts testify to the extensive impact of Eike's Sachsenspiegel.

Dobozy observes four major aspects characterizing this custumal: the author incorporated the teachings of Christianity in his legal deliberations; he established territorial law; he developed a complex judiciary system with the king holding the highest position; he created a criminal code which would have a lasting impact. These she discusses in great detail and outlines the implications of the Sachsenspiegel for the social and judicial history of the late Middle Ages.

In face of the large number of manuscripts, Dobozy opted for a pragmatic editorial policy, especially as the original text is lost today. There are, however, only four illuminated manuscripts, an Oldenburg MS from 1336, a Heidelberg MS from 1294-1304, a Dresden MS from 1295-1363, and a Wolfenbuettel MS from 1358-1362 which all derive from a single archetype written in the Marches of Meissen (ca. 1291-95). For a number of good reasons Dobozy relied on the Wolfenbuettel MS and rendered a straight English translation of this base-text. The Wolfenbuettel MS, for example, is the only one which shows signs of having been used by contemporaries. The Oldenburg MS has the most complete text, but contains fewer than half of the illustrations; the Dresden MS, though also having a complete text, is very poorly preserved, whereas the Heidelberg MS is fragmented and lacks the feudal law.

A comparison between the English translation and the facsimile of the Heidelberg MS proves to be difficult at times as the numbering system used by Dobozy does not conform to the one in the manuscript, the reason being that it is preserved only in fragmentary form. Consequently, a reference system at least for all four manuscripts would have been very helpful. Book III in the Heidelberg MS is mostly congruent with Book III in the Wolfenbuettel MS, but Book I and II have a very different arrangement. Book I in the Heidelberg MS is Book IV in the Wolfenbuettel MS, and so forth.

Dobozy's primary purpose was to present the entire text in English, but it would have been nice to have the original on the opposing pages. Yet, the sheer scope of the Sachsenspiegel probably made this concept impossible for financial reasons. The extensive notes provide explanations of specific legal terms and guide the reader through the text. The volume concludes with an exhaustive bibliography and a highly welcome index.

Non-German scholarship will be very pleased with this translation as it provides the English version of one of the best Sachsenspiegel manuscripts. Dobozy demonstrates an extraordinary skill as a translator, especially in light of the rather complicated Middle Low German legal language used by Eike. Moreover, both the introduction and the scholarly apparatus offer highly valuable information about the text. The index, though not exhaustive (the topic 'suicide,' for instance, has not been included [103]), represents a highly effective key to search for particular aspects in this important medieval lawbook.