Abstract

This article considers provisions of the laws issued by Alfred the Great that offer remedies for inadvertent harm and are supposed examples of “noxal surrender.” The clauses in question concern injuries by dogs and oxen, and death by falling trees. Scholars have long been fascinated by these instances, and they have routinely deemed them survivals of folk-law in Alfred’s compilation in work published in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The present article questions such conclusions. That these clauses are indebted in some fashion to ordinances of the Pentateuch—a possibility given little consideration in prior scholarship—perhaps better explains their role in Alfred’s laws than conjectures about the nature of primitive custom. As for the clauses themselves, their significance has likely been misunderstood. The celebrated clause on trees in particular fits not at all within the framework of noxal liability so often adduced to explain it, being instead an amalgam of biblical source material and notions drawn from the written legal traditions of the Anglo-Saxons.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-0383
Print ISSN
0039-3738
Pages
pp. 195-224
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-16
Open Access
No
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