Trial by combat

1540s depiction of a 1409 judicial combat in Augsburg between Marshal Wilhelm von Dornsberg and Theodor Haschenacker. Dornsberg's sword broke early in the duel, but he proceeded to kill Haschenacker with his own sword.

Trial by combat (also wager of battle, trial by battle or judicial duel) was a method of Germanic law to settle accusations in the absence of witnesses or a confession in which two parties in dispute fought in single combat; the winner of the fight was proclaimed to be right. In essence, it was a judicially sanctioned duel. It remained in use throughout the European Middle Ages, gradually disappearing in the course of the 16th century.

Origins

Unlike trial by ordeal in general, which is known to many cultures worldwide, the trial by combat is known primarily from the customs of the Germanic peoples. It was in use among the ancient Burgundians, Ripuarian Franks, Alamans, Lombards, and Swedes. It was unknown in Anglo-Saxon law, Roman law and Irish Brehon Law and it does not figure into the traditions of Middle Eastern antiquity such as the code of Hammurabi or the Torah.

The practice is regulated in various Germanic legal codes. Being rooted in Germanic tribal law, the various regional laws of the Frankish Empire (and the later Holy Roman Empire) prescribed different particulars, such as equipment and rules of combat. The Lex Alamannorum (recensio Lantfridana 81, dated to 712–30 AD) prescribes a trial by combat in the event of two families disputing the boundary between their lands. A handful of earth taken from the disputed piece of land is put between the contestants and they are required to touch it with their swords, each swearing that their claim is lawful. The losing party besides forfeiting their claim to the land is required to pay a fine.

Capitularies governing its use appear from the year 803 onwards. [1] Louis the Pious prescribed combat between witnesses of each side rather than between the accuser and the accused and briefly allowed for the Ordeal of the Cross in cases involving clerics.

In medieval Scandinavia, the practice survived throughout the Viking Age in the form of the Holmgang.

Other Languages
čeština: Soudní souboj
Deutsch: Gerichtskampf
français: Duel judiciaire
한국어: 결투 재판
italiano: Duello di Dio
magyar: Bajvívás
српски / srpski: Судски двобој
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Sudski dvoboj
svenska: Envig