Sachsenspiegel (Saxon mirror)

Book page: Sachsenspiegel
Page from the Heidelberg illuminated manuscript of the Sachsenspiegel, circa 1300
Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg

Sachsenspiegel (Saxon mirror)

Law in the 13th century

The book is called the Saxon mirror, since Saxon custom is given here in the same way that ladies observe their faces in a mirror.

From the Sachsenspiegel, 1220-1235

The “Sachsenspiegel” (“Saxon Mirror”) is one of the most significant works of German medieval law. Under this title, Eike von Repgow depicted prevailing common law for the first time between 1220 and 1235. This contributed to the canonisation of legal provisions and to their wider dissemination. At the same time, the Sachsenspiegel is the first piece of prose in Middle Low German. The text is recorded in over 400 handwritten manuscripts, including numerous illuminated manuscripts. The latter made established law accessible even to the illiterate. The pages are divided into two columns, on the left are miniatures, on the right is text. An upper-case letter in each image refers to the relevant passage in the text.

Some of the legal norms depicted in the Sachsenspiegel were in force until the 19th century. Some of its provisions are still to be found in statues of civic law. Others have become well-known sayings, such as “first come, first served” (literally, “who comes first grinds first”, a rule which related to usage of mills).