Saga Literature, especially sagas of Icelanders and contemporary sagas, focuses on disputes among the Icelandic elite. As a consequence, the described action is permeated by legal terms and mirrors legal thought. While the correlation between literature and legal texts is close, there are nevertheless some marked disagreements between the law and the actions of the figures in actual feuds. This tension between written norms and the ‘saga world’ has been in the focus of legal anthropology for a long time. Traditionally, sagas of Icelanders have been viewed as witnesses of the Viking Age as opposed to the younger written laws, while research in the last decades has shown that the sagas rather mirror political and legal thought of the 13th century when they were written, just like the contemporary sagas. There is, however, a keen sense of ‘otherness’ of the distant past in these texts, including legal aspects: the progression of conflicts and important alterations of the law are repeatedly and explicitly linked. There are similar instances in Latin texts from the North. The proposed paper will look at this phenomenon and its implications for Scandinavian legal thought: how, by whom and on which occasions was the law altered? How do these changes affect the figures and the ethics of the unfolding plot? Is legal change important for the message of the texts? How is the projection of an indigenous ‘legal history’ linked to a broader European context?
Law is a cultural strategy to handle otherness in different ways. It is an instrument to define one’s own and the identity of the other. In the crusader-states law had one objective: bringing security to a field of threatening otherness. Thus, law in the crusader-states had a strong protecting aspect. However, the producers of law intended including and excluding purposes by their legislations. The paper will examine different purposes of law in the Holy Land concerning to otherness. The superimposed assumption is that otherness seen as chance is not-existent in the law-books, because they are about coping with extraordinary situations.
An area of ‘otherness’ pertinent to medieval Poland is the intersection of ethnicity and law, expressed as the contrast between ‘German’ and ‘Polish’ law. Studies of this subject have assumed a high level of generality. This paper examines one highly specific part of the dichotomy: the course of judicial cases. Through a cohort analysis of several hundred charters reporting that course in ‘German’ and ‘Polish’ law courts, it textures our understanding of what turned on that classification. In addition to formal aspects, it closely examines the two types of courts in terms of their location, jurisdiction, process, roles of presiding officers and communities, and legal finality.