Montesquieu

Our fathers the ancient Germans1 lived in a cli­mate where the pas­sions were very calm. Their laws found only what they saw in things and ima­gi­ned nothing more. And as they jud­ged the vio­lence men suf­fe­red by the size of their wounds, they put no more refi­ne­ment into offen­ses done to women. The law of the Germans2 is quite unu­sual in that res­pect. If you unco­ver a woman’s head, you will pay a fine of six sols, the same amount if it is the leg as far as the knee, twice as much above the knee. It seems that the law mea­su­red the outrage done to women’s per­sons as one mea­su­res a geo­me­tri­cal figure : it did not punish the crime of the ima­gi­na­tion but of the eyes. But when a Germanic nation had trans­por­ted itself to Spain, the cli­mate found quite dif­fe­rent laws. The law of the Visigoths for­bade phy­si­cians to bleed a free­born woman except in the pre­sence of her father or mother, her bro­ther, her son, or her uncle. The peo­ples’ ima­gi­na­tion was kind­led, the legis­la­tors’ also was arou­sed ; the law sus­pec­ted eve­ry­thing for a peo­ple who could sus­pect eve­ry­thing.

These laws thus paid very close atten­tion to the two sexes. But it seems that in the punish­ments they made, they had more in mind to flat­ter pri­vate ven­geance than to exer­cise public ven­geance. Thus, in most cases, they redu­ced the two guilty par­ties to ser­vi­tude under the family or the offen­ded hus­band ; a free­born woman3 who had given her­self to a mar­ried man was tur­ned over to the autho­rity of his wife, to dis­pose of her at will. They obli­ged sla­ves to bind the wife if they caught her in adul­tery and pre­sent her to the hus­band4 ; they per­mit­ted her chil­dren to accuse her, and to have her sla­ves tor­tu­red in order to convict her.5 So they were bet­ter at refi­ning to excess a cer­tain point of honor than at crea­ting a good admi­nis­tra­tion ; and we must not be sur­pri­sed if Count Julian thought an offense of this sort cal­led for the loss of one’s home­land and king.6 We should not be sur­pri­sed that the Moors, with such confor­mity of ways, found it so easy to set­tle in Spain, to main­tain them­sel­ves there, and to delay the fall of their empire.

[Germains, as opposed to Allemands, which in French would designate modern Germans. This Germanic confederation is mentioned in Roman documents beginning in the year 213.]

Ch. lviii, §1-2.

Lex Visigothothorum, book III, tit. 4, §9.

Ibid., book III, tit. 4, §6.

Ibid., book III, tit. 4, §13.

[See Book XII, chapter xxviii.]