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
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
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.
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