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13. Laws

Gudmund Sandvik and Jón Viðar Sigurðsson

Subject Literature » Medieval Literature

Place Northern Europe » Scandinavia

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631235026.2004.00016.x


The English word law is of Nordic origin. It stems from the noun lǫg , plural of lag (n., ‘layer’), notional cognate accusative object of the verb leggja ‘lay down’. So the short but sufficient etymology of lǫg is ‘layers’. lǫg has survived (as lög ) in Icelandic, while modern Danish and Norwegian have lov, Swedish lag, Faeroese lóg. They all mean ‘binding rule(s), [now] statutes made by national assemblies’. Lǫg also had a territorial sense: a region bound by rules. Gulaþingslǫg was the name which covered the west coast and interior of Norway, Frostuþingslǫg covered the Trondheimsfjord region (modern Trøndelag). Icelanders wrote about ‘our law’ ( vár lǫg ), meaning all Iceland. Around the year 1000 the Danelaw denoted the region in middle and eastern England where ‘Danes’ law’ (Old English Dena lagu ) more or less applied. This was the source of the loan in English. The origin of the noun law has been long forgotten. But in English-speaking countries people are well aware that the English common law consists of legal ‘layers’, binding precedents from judges in royal courts from the twelfth century onwards. 1 This chapter aims to show how on the other side of the North Sea legal ‘layers’ were transformed, from the thirteenth century onward, into region-wide and even realm-wide law-books (‘codes’). In European legal history these codes are the distinguishing ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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