By Chiara Benati
Publif@rum, No.18 (2013)
Introduction: Legal texts are aimed at maintaining order and defining what is legal in a given society. In the Middle Ages they often take the form of descriptions of situations and cases representing the conditions for the application of various rules. This combination of the normative and descriptive aspects of legal texts results in their importance as sources not only for legal, but also, more generally, for social and cultural history.
The importance of legal texts as historical sources is even greater when they represent the first – and for a while the only – texts to be written in the vernacular, as is the case for medieval Scandinavian legal texts. For this reason, an investigation of the earliest legal texts can highlight some aspects of life and society in Scandinavia at that time.
The Äldre Västgötalag is the oldest preserved Swedish legal text. This provincial law for Västgötaland, Dalsland and North-Western Småland was written down in the first half of the thirteenth century, probably by Eskil Magnusson (1175-1227), laghmaþer in Västgötaland between 1217 and 1227.
The Äldre Västgötalag has come down to us in two manuscripts; only fragments of the older of these, Holm B 193 of the Royal Library in Stockholm, are preserved. The most important record of the text is, therefore, represented by the younger of the two manuscripts, Cod. Holm B 59 (the Royal Library, Stockholm). This manuscript, which was certainly produced after 1280, is a miscellaneous codex for private use which also contains, among other texts, the scribe Lykedinus’ annotations on the more recent version of the provincial law of Västgötaland, the so-called Yngre Västgötalag. Cod. Holm B 59 is the manuscript used by Collin and Schlyter in their 1827 edition of the text, which is the basis for this study.