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Medieval Sourcebook:
The Ecloga on Sexual Crimes (8th Cent.)


[Adopted from Genokoplos]

The Ecloga of Leo III (717-41) was meant an abridgment of the Corpus Juris Civilis, but there are several modifications to be noted in it. These have led some scholars to term the Ecloga the first law code to be influenced by Christian principles. This influence is apparent in the following list of criminal punishments, taken from the Ecloga. Although the frequently mentioned punishment of mutilation might offend modern sensibilities, it is important to note that such measures often replaced capital punishment and were considered to provide a time for penance, thus presumably allowing the wrongdoer to secure the forgiveness of God.

THE ECLOGA ON SEXUAL CRIMES

1. A married man who commits adultery shall by way of' correction be flogged with twelve lashes; and whether rich or poor he shall pay a fine.

2. An unmarried man who commits fornication shall be flogged with six lashes.

3. A person who has carnal knowledge of a nun shall, upon the footing that he is debauching the Church of God, have his nose slit, because he committed wicked adultery with her who belonged to the Church; and she on her side must take heed lest similar punishment be reserved to her.

4. Anyone who, intending to take in marriage a woman who is his goddaughter in Salvation-bringing baptism, has carnal knowledge of her without marrying her, and being found guilty' of' the offence shall, after being exiled, be condemned to the same punishment meted out for other adultery, that is to say, both the man and the woman shall have their noses slit.

5. The husband who is cognizant of, and condones, his wife's adultery shall be flogged and exiled, and the adulterer and the adulteress shall have their noses slit.

6. Persons committing incest, parents and children, children and parents, brothers and sisters, shall be punished capitally with the sword. Those in other relationships who corrupt one another carnally, that is father and daughter-in-law, son and stepmother, father-in-law and daughter-in-law, brother and his brother's wife, uncle and niece, nephew and aunt, shall have their noses slit. And likewise he who has carnal knowledge with two sisters and even cousins.

7. If a woman is carnally known and, becoming pregnant, tries to produce a miscarriage [abortion], she shall be whipped and exiled.

8. Those who are guilty whether actively or passively of committing unnatural offences shall be capitally punished with the sword. If he who commits the offence passively, is found to be under twelve years old, he shall be pardoned on the ground of youthful ignorance of the offence committed.

9. Those guilty of "abominable crime" [homosexuality?] shall be emasculated.

from E. Freshfied, trans, A Manual of Roman Law: The "Ecloga", (Cambridge, 1926], 108-12.). Reprinted in Deno Geanokoplos, Byzantium, (Chicago: 1984), 78


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall June 1997
halsall@murray.fordham.edu