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Ritual Magic Or Legal Performance? Reconsidering An Old English Charm Against Theft

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Chapter Summary

More than a century following its initial publication, Felix Liebermann's three-volume Gesetze der Angelsachsen (1903-1916) remains the most comprehensive study of Old English law, underlying all subsequent research on the subject. This chapter argues for the theft-ritual's inclusion among the canon of Anglo-Saxon legal texts. Although not a "code" (a term which has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years)11 in the manner of Æthelberht or Alfred-Ine, its inclusion in the Edward-Edmund group as well as its similarities to other legal ceremonies such as anathema rituals, indicate that the text held some sort of legal meaning, whether or not it represented actual practice. Furthermore, comparisons between the version of the text preserved in legal manuscripts and its predecessors reveal a pattern of revision designed to emphasize the thematic and rhetorical commonalities between the ritual and more traditional examples of pre-Conquest legislation.

Keywords: Æthelberht; Anglo-Saxon legal texts; Felix Liebermann; Old English law



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