Late medieval law courts functioned in society next to other forms of legal practice, like feuding, vendetta and common law. Courts had to compete with these practices in the public sphere, in order to have their truth-claims on the constitution and proper functioning of society accepted. The Council of Utrecht, an urban criminal court in the Netherlands, worked in a community disturbed by internal and regional party-struggles. Using textual, oral, performative and ritual communicative devices, the Council constructed narratives about society and its own position within it to assert its position as primary law court in the city.
The Wallachian evidence indicate that up to the first quarter of the 15th century land transactions and settlement of disputes were based solely on oral agreements and on witnesses’ testimonies. Early attested charters, usually brought in by monastic institutions had to be supported by established oral practices such as rituals, oath taking and witnesses. Documents were trusted and distrusted according to the status of their owner and, for at least a century witnesses deposition had precedence over the written document. My study surveys the ebbs and flows of the trust in the written documents as surfaces in the extant record. Although writing appears late in the medieval Romanian principalities, it is surprising to uncover to what extent the (much earlier) Western European pattern of transition from oral practices to the use of written documents in the land dispute settlements is replicated five to six centuries later.
After the annihilation of an entire Roman field army by the Visigoths at Adrianople in 378, a law was passed prohibiting the recruitment of slaves for the military. Instead, Rome chose to recruit new troops from those very same barbarians whom they had recently fought against. Within a quarter of a century a fundamental change in imperial policy allowed slaves the right to serve Rome in exchange for their freedom. There are several reasons for this policy change and this paper argues that the original decision to use barbarians over slaves as soldiers had devastating consequences for the Roman West.