- Capital and Corporal Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England ed. by Jay Paul Gates, Nicole Marafioti
Capital and Corporal Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England, edited by Jay Paul Gates and Nicole Marafioti, consists of ten essays, along with an introduction by the editors, dedicated to investigating “how capital and corporal punishments developed and operated in English society between c. 600 and c. 1150” (p. 3). One of the stated aims of Boydell’s Anglo-Saxon Studies series, of which this represents volume 23, is to encourage multi- or interdisciplinary approaches, and the editors have done their work well in crafting a volume that meets this goal. The slate of contributors, although mostly drawn from departments of English, also includes historians, a linguist, and a biological anthropologist; all are united by their focus on the words, the actions, or the circumstances of punishment in Anglo-Saxon England. The consistency of this focus across the disparate essays in the volume is one of its most commendable features, and is a testimony to the work of the editors in crafting the scope of the project, in clearly communicating it to the contributors, and, of course, to those individual contributors for insightfully exploring within their mandate. An edited collection is, by definition, a communal project, but often it does not feel so, either to the contributors or to readers. This volume does feel so, with a number of key questions and issues recurring across individual essays with comforting familiarity, but not redundancy, for the reader. These include: interrogating the maximalist argument for an increasingly centralized administration of justice by the state during the Anglo-Saxon period; examining the relationships between the different types of text (not only laws, but also charters, homilies, etc.) that work together to establish “legal discourse,” leading to an expanded notion of what “law” might be said to be during the period; assessing the relationship between archaeological and textual evidence for punishment, and identifying the level of agreement or disagreement between the two; and examining the role of bodily punishment versus monetary compensation.
Luckily Capital and Corporal Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England is not a novel, because the remarkably clear-sighted Introduction would definitely function as somewhat of a spoiler. Marafioti and Gates lay out the scope and principal finding of the volume that “judicial sentencing was normally grounded in ideologies of social control, which sought to create and sustain authority at local, regional, and national levels” and was not, as is often the assumption, “motivated by cruelty, excess, or barbarism” (p. 3). The shift between a horizontal and vertical system of punishment during the Anglo-Saxon period is identified by the editors as one of the first of the volume’s three overarching themes, along with the role of punishment in a Christian society and the use of punishment by authority figures to enhance their power.
The volume opens with two essays that consider the role of monetary compensation in the judicial system of Anglo-Saxon England. In the first, “When Compensation Costs an Arm and a Leg,” Valerie Allen points out that recent treatments of the role of pain in feud and punishment fail properly to account for monetary [End Page 268] compensation, which she argues functions as a medium of exchange or third-party equivalent to both horizontally enacted feud and vertically administered punishment. As she puts it, “money does good psychic work” in allowing “anger to exit the body” (p. 19). Odd as it might seem, the gradual standardization of the coinage over the Anglo-Saxon period actually diminished its functionality as a form of compensation for injury, because the value of the coinage was now autonomous of the individual situation of exchange and the actual coins themselves. Daniela Fruscione, in “Beginnings and Legitimation of Punishment in Early Anglo-Saxon Legislation from the Seventh to the Ninth Century,” finds an alternate reason for the prominence of monetary compensation in the early rather than the late laws. She...