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Reviewed by:
  • A Lexicon of Nordic Medieval Law ed. by Jeffrey Love, et al.
  • Tarrin Wills
A Lexicon of Nordic Medieval Law. Edited by Jeffrey Love, Inger Larsson, Ulrika Djärv, Christine Peel, and Erik Simensen. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2020. Pp. 579; 8 illustrations. Open Access (CC BY 4.0).

There are a number of challenges with large international projects that take a very long time to complete, particularly as there are almost no funding bodies willing to support projects beyond a few years and/or across national boundaries. The Medieval Nordic Laws project is now moving into its second decade and has produced many good translations of previously untranslated law codes, but it is far from finished. Such projects nevertheless tend to accumulate valuable [End Page 410] research resources along the way that support their work. Internet technologies allow research projects to publish resources as portions are completed and to update them when more information comes to light. The work under review, A Lexicon of Medieval Nordic Law (LMNL), is available as both an e-book (which can be ordered in hard copy) and as an online resource at The e-book provides an equivalent to a traditional publication format for the research, something recognized by most research evaluation systems, a sad necessity in these times. The online resource provides the information in a form that can be updated and corrected at short notice. This review focuses primarily on the e-book, but notes where the online resource supplements and/or improves on that work.

One question raised by the work under review is the extent to which it is useful to publish resources that are based on the work of a parent project before that project has completed its work. When a project publishes its data before the parent project is finished, it may not be comprehensive, and the underlying information may be subject to change and therefore unreliable. For those working in the field it is still useful to have preliminary data, but it is not necessarily a stable point of reference for their own published research. Another danger is that the spin-off project will appear to aim for comprehensiveness, but not achieve it because of its reliance on the parent project. At the same time it may not be clear what is potentially missing in the published material.

The corpus which LMNL covers is of considerable interest to a broad range of researchers. Law codes provide a means of understanding the societies in which they applied, as they define to a certain extent the social behaviours that were and were not tolerated; the treatment of people according to age, gender and social rank; and the exchange value placed on everything from commodities and land to personal injury and insult, to take some examples. For those researching early Nordic law and society there is a real need for accessible texts of the numerous law codes from the region. For comparative studies translations are particularly useful. It is reasonable to expect that legal historians working with this source material will have at least sufficient knowledge of the languages of their sources to evaluate a translation against its original, but nevertheless a comprehensive body of translations can advance the fields that use law codes as their sources by making it easy to gain an overview and locate important passages for closer study. In this way Nordic Medieval Laws, the parent project of LMNL, is extremely valuable as a comprehensive translation project, as is the lexicon itself.

A corpus of related texts involves a great many textual, lexical and semantic points of contact between those texts. The points of contact between the law codes include obviously the comparable sections and clauses of the legal codes, and this reviewer hopes that an index of related law sections and clauses will eventually be produced. Another point of contact is the lexicon, and here LMNL provides a lexical-semantic route into the comparison of the Nordic medieval laws across the region. Those researching and studying medieval Nordic law for phenomena such as insult, violence, marriage, or the status of slaves, tenants...