This is the only part that I have. If there was a Part II, I
didn't receive it.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 15 Dec 1996 14:35:05 +0000
From: Raimund Karl <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To: "CELTIC-L - The Celtic Culture List." <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Celtic Law - a short summary - Part 1
Now, as you can see from the subject line I have decided that I have
more fun with starting with the treatment of Celtic Law. Once again,
this will be a multi-part message, but I have learned from the last
one, I'll give the subject once again at the beginning of the actual
text together with the number of the part of the message it is.
The same rules that I gave for the treatment of Celtic Religion are
also in place here: You may distribute this message freely as long as
it is not used for commercial purposes and you include my
email-adress <[log in to unmask]>.
This message is part of a series that have been and will be published
on the Celtic culture mailing list <[log in to unmask]>. The
titles of the series which already exist are:
Celtic Religion - what information do we really have (7 part message,
also available as a single .txt file)
Celtic Law - a short summary
Celtic Social Structures - a short summary
Now, that's been the organisational statements, so let`s get into the
matter itself immediatly.
CELTIC LAW - A SHORT SUMMARY - PART 1
A lot of things have been said about Celtic Law, from that it in fact
did not exist and the stronger one was right, over that it developed
from a matriarchal system, that it was a matriarchal system (please
note that matriarchal is a legal term - it defines inheritance) up to
that it was a very complex and definitly better system than most of
todays legal systems. All of this is, to a certain extent, right, but
the greater part of it is wrong. What I will try to do now is give a
short summary of how Celtic Law really functioned, which things were
regulated by law, how the laws looked and how legal problems were
solved. Once again, I will start this with looking on the sources
that have come down on us.
THE SOURCES FOR CELTIC LAW
Mainly, we have two groups of sources that are of utmost importance
to our understanding of Celtic Law.
The first one of these is the Irish legal tradition. Mainly written down
by christian monks of the 7th to 10th century AD (though some texts
were written even later) these lawtexts, the bulk of which exists in
an edition by D.A.Binchy (Corpus Iuris Hibernici, from now on
shortened as CIH), though sometimes severly influenced by christian
motives, perhaps give us the most complete legal codex that had
developed separatly from Roman Law in Europe that has come down on
us. The main part of the Irish lawtexts is called the Senchas Mar.
These texts essentially give us a good view at how the law might
have looked before the Roman conquering in most of Europe.
The second one of those is the Welsh legal tradition. First set down
in about the 12th century AD it is definitly a good deal later put
into writing than Irish law, and, maybe because of this, shows a lot
more of foreign influences in the law already, starting with
influences of Roman law and going over Christian to Anglosaxon and
early Norman influences. Still, the basic system of the law and the
great bulk of actual laws still very closely parallel similar Irish
laws. The Welsh law has been taken down as the Law of Hywel Dda as a
single complex. In comparison with the Irish law it is very well
possible to filter out common Celtic concepts in the law.
Additionally to those primary sources, which do give us actual
lawtexts, we have some other sources as well that may tell us
something about actual use of the law and allow us to try to
reconstruct a picture of how old Celtic law might have looked.
First, there are the Irish and Welsh tales, which do, even though not
often, also tell about judical processes. These can tell us how the
laws were actually executed (in difference to the lawtexts themselves
that tell how the laws should be executed).
Second, there are the historical sources about Wales and Ireland,
which also tell us about how the laws were actually executed.
Third, there are the ancient historical sources which let us, once in
a while, glimpse at "customs" that can be explained by or even
exactly paralleled with later, Irish and Welsh legal proscriptions.
This can then be compared to other systems by Comparative IE Studies,
Comparative Linguistics and Comparative Legal Studies to provide
explanation models and fill in existing blanks with possible
These are the sources which are basically available to us when trying
to study Celtic legal systems, even though once in a while it might
also be possible that archaeology proviides us with a hint or two at
Now, that have been the sources once again as the starting point.
Next will come the sources for Celtic Social Structures, before I
continue with the basics of Celtic Law.
To be continued ...