Germanic law

Germanic law. A designation covering the customary law and civil law of the various Germanic peoples from the time of the ancient tribes to the modern period of nationhood. In Ukraine, Germanic law (GL) has usually been identified with Magdeburg law (municipal autonomy), but it embraces many other legal institutions, norms, and traditions. Medieval collections of GL, such as the Sachsenspiegel and later codifications, were translated or revised by the Poles (eg, B. Groicki in 1558–9) and were thus known in Ukraine. They had some influence on the Lithuanian Statute and legal practices in the Lithuanian-Ruthenian state and Hetman state.

GL was brought to Ukraine under Poland and Lithuania by Germans, who founded self-governing farming settlements and urban communities. An enterprising German would pay a lord or the state a sum of money for the right to found a colony under GL. This tenant, called the lokator or osadchyi, would normally be appointed the soltys—the lord's steward and village administrator. He was granted privileges for his feudal services: land, part of the money rent collected for the lord from the settlers, the right to demand certain corvée labor, freedom to build a mill or tavern, and the exclusive right to judge the settlers.

In the 14th century Polish nobles began purchasing the soltys titles and privileges from the original holding families. The new Polish owners abolished rural self-government under GL and introduced large-scale corvée. Only on crown and church estates did a measure of self-government remain. In the villages, GL had coexisted with traditional Rus’ law, which had given its inhabitants greater economic security and a degree of self-government. In the late 15th and the 16th century the distinction between the two laws disappeared; certain forms of GL (the soltys, fiefs) were combined with the practices of Rus’ law. This process was accompanied by the total abrogation of village self-rule and the imposition of serfdom.

Halban, A. Zur Geschichte des deutschen Rechtes in Podolien, Wolhynien und der Ukraine (Berlin 1896)
Jakowliw, A. Das deutsche Recht in der Ukraine und seine Einflüsse auf das ukrainische Recht im 16.–18. Jahrhundert (Leipzig 1942)
Kuras, S. Przywileje prawa niemieckiego miast i wsi małopolskich XIV–XV wieku (Warsaw 1971)

Mykola Chubaty, Roman Senkus

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 2 (1988).]

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