Magdeburg rights


Magdeburg rights

Magdeburg Rights (German: Magdeburger Recht) or Magdeburg Law were a set of German town laws regulating the degree of internal autonomy within cities and villages granted by a local ruler. Modelled and named after the laws of the German city of Magdeburg and developed during many centuries of the Holy Roman Empire, it was possibly the most important set of Germanic mediæval city laws. Adopted by numerous monarchs in Central and Eastern Europe, the law was a milestone in urbanization of the region and prompted the development of thousands of villages and cities. Apart from Magdeburg itself, notable towns based on Magdeburg Law (or its local variants) were Biecz, Frysztak, Sandomierz, Kraków, Kurów, Minsk, Polotsk, Poznań, Ropczyce, Łódź, Wrocław, Szczecin, Złotoryja, Vilnius, Trakai, Kaunas, Hrodna, Kiev, Lviv, Czernowitz (currently Chernivtsi in Ukraine), Brody, Lutsk, Volodymyr-Volynskyi, Sanok, Sniatyn, and Nizhyn, as well as Bardejov, Humenné and Krupina in present-day Slovakia.

Spread of the law

Among the most advanced systems of old Germanic law of the time, in the 13th and 14th centuries, Magdeburg rights were granted to more than a hundred cities, in the north and east towards Russia, including Schleswig, Bohemia, Poland, Belarus[1], especially in Pomerania, Prussia, Lithuania (following the Christianization of Lithuania), Ukraine, and probably Moldavia. In these lands they were mostly known as German or Teutonic law. Since the local tribunal of Magdeburg thus also became the superior court for these towns, Magdeburg, together with Lübeck, practically defined the law of northern Germany, Poland and Lithuania for centuries, being the heart of the most important "family" of city laws. This role remained until the old Germanic laws were successively replaced with Roman law under the influence of the Reichskammergericht, in the centuries after its establishment during the Imperial Reform of 1495.

Contents

As with most medieval city laws, the rights were primarily targeted at regulating trade to the benefit of the local merchants and artisans, who formed the most important part of the population of many such cities. In medieval Poland, Jews were invited along with German merchants to settle in cities as part of the royal city development policy.

Jews and Germans were sometimes competitors in those cities. Jews lived under privileges that they carefully negotiated with the king or emperor. They were not subject to city jurisdiction. These privileges guaranteed that they could maintain communal autonomy, live according to their laws, and be subjected directly to the royal jurisdiction in matters concerning Jews and Christians. One of the most interesting provisions of the settlement privileges granted to Jews was that a Jew could not be made Gewährsmann, that is, he could not be compelled to tell from whom he acquired any object which had been sold or pledged to him and which was found in his possession. This effectively amounted to permission to buy stolen property. Other provisions frequently mentioned were a permission to sell meat to Christians, or employ Christian servants.

External merchants coming into the city were not allowed to trade on their own, but instead forced to sell the goods they had brought into the city to local traders, if any wished to buy them.

Being a member of the Hanseatic league, Magdeburg thus was one of the most important trade cities also, maintaining commerce with the west (towards Flanders), with the countries of the Baltic Sea, and the interior (for example Braunschweig).

See also


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