We find enig­mas in the bar­ba­rians’ codes of laws. The law of the Frisians1 grants only one-half sou of com­pen­sa­tion to a man who has been bea­ten with a staff, and there is no wound so small that it does not award more. By the Salic law, if a free­born man laid three blows on ano­ther free­born, he paid three sous ; if he drew blood, he was puni­shed as if he had woun­ded him with a sword, and he paid fif­teen sous : the penalty was pro­por­tio­nate to the size of the wounds. The law of the Lombards esta­bli­shes dif­fe­rent com­pen­sa­tions for one blow, or two, three, or four.2 Today one blow is as good as a hun­dred thou­sand.

The cons­ti­tu­tion of Charlemagne inser­ted into the law of the Lombards would have those it allows to duel fight with staffs.3 That might have been in defe­rence to the clergy ; per­haps, since they were exten­ding the prac­tice of com­bats, they wan­ted to make them less san­gui­nary. The capi­tu­lary of Louis the Debonaire4 allows the choice of figh­ting with a staff or with wea­pons.5 Subsequently, serfs alone fought with staffs.

I can already see the par­ti­cu­lar arti­cles of our point of honor ari­sing and taking shape. The accu­ser would first declare before the judge that some per­son had com­mit­ted such-and-such an act, and the lat­ter would reply that he was a liar,6 at which point the judge orde­red a duel. The maxim became esta­bli­shed that when anyone had been cal­led a liar, a fight was man­da­tory.

When a man had decla­red that he would fight, he could no lon­ger get out of it, and if he did, he was sen­ten­ced to a penalty.7 Whence fol­lo­wed this rule : that when a man had given his word, honor no lon­ger allo­wed him to retract it.

Gentlemen fought among them­sel­ves on hor­se­back and with their wea­pons, and com­mo­ners fought on foot with a staff.8 From this it fol­lo­wed that the staff was the ins­tru­ment of insults,9 because a man who had been bea­ten with one had been trea­ted like a com­mo­ner.

Only com­mo­ners fought with their faces unco­ve­red10 ; thus they were the only ones who could receive blows to the face. A slap became an insult that had to be pur­ged with blood, because a man who had recei­ved it had been trea­ted like a com­mo­ner.

The German peo­ples were not less sen­si­tive than us to the point of honor ; they were even more so. Thus the most dis­tant rela­ti­ves took an acute inte­rest in insults, and all their codes are based on that. The law of the Lombards would have him who, accom­pa­nied by his ser­vants, goes to beat a man who is unex­pec­tant in order to mock and humi­liate him,11 pay half the com­pen­sa­tion he would have owed if he had killed him, and if, for the same rea­son, he binds him, he pays three-quar­ters of the same com­pen­sa­tion.12

Let us say, then, that our fathers were extre­mely sen­si­tive to affronts, but that affronts of a par­ti­cu­lar sort – recei­ving blows from a cer­tain ins­tru­ment on a cer­tain part of the body, and given in a cer­tain man­ner – were not yet known to them. All of that was inclu­ded in the affront of being bea­ten ; and in that case, the magni­tude of the exces­ses cons­ti­tu­ted the magni­tude of the outrage.

Additio Sapientium wilemari, tit. 5.

Book II, tit. 5, §23.

Book II, tit. 5, §23.

Appended to the Salic law on the year 819.

See Beaumanoir, ch. lxiv, p. 323.

Ibid. p. 329.

See Beaumanoir, ch. iii, p. 25 and 329.

See on the combattants’ weapons Beaumanoir, ch. lxi, p. 308, and chap. lxiv, p. 328.

Among the Romans, cudgel blows were not degrading : Lege ictus fustium de iis qui notantur infamia.

They had only the shield and the cudgel. Beaumanoir, ch. lxiv, pag. 328.

Book 1, tit. 6, §1.

Ibid., §2.