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Księga Elbląska (the Prussian city of Elbing legal document)

Galloglaich 3 | 36
10 Nov 2011 #1
I am interested in this legal document from the Prussian city of Elbing, which apparently includes laws in both Polish and German and an account of Polish Common law, the first on record according to the wiki.

Does anyone know where this document can be found online and if there is an English translation available?

This is the google-translated Polish wiki on it but it doesn't say much ipedi Lm-Bw &sa=X&oi=translate&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBwQ7gEwAA&prev=/searc h%3Fq %3DKsi%25C4%2599ga%2BElbl%25C4%2585ska%26hl%3Den%26biw%3D1920%26b ih%3D 998%26prmd%3Dimvns

This document seems to also provide evidence of the bilingual / bi-cultural status of the Prussian towns in the Middle Ages since evidently both German (Saxon) law and Polish common law were practiced in the Hanse City of Elbing (which is right next door to Frauenberg / Frombork where Kopernicus was born).

boletus 30 | 1,361
10 Nov 2011 #2
Does anyone know where this document can be found online and if there is an English translation available?

I do not know anything about English translation, but here is what I have learned about it.

Apparently, the manuscript of "Księga elbląska" was lost during World War II.

This document, however, has been printed in 1959, as "Najstarszy Zwód Prawa Polskiego" wyd. Józef Matuszewski, Warszawa 1959. (BTW, "Zwód" means "Spis" in Old Polish)

You can find the book in worldcat,

[Generally some of the world cat books can be downloaded, some can be bought, some can be borrowed. Check it out] . This is just a quick pointer:

Genre/Form: Sources, źródła
Document Type: Book
All Authors / Contributors: Józef Matuszewski

OCLC Number: 4233876
Commom laws in Poland, which constitute pt. 3 of a collection of laws, gathered by an unknown German in the 13th and 14th centuries. First published (German original with Polish translation) by A. Z. Helcel in v. 2 (1870) of "Starodawne prawa polskiego pomniki", under title: Księga prawa zwyczajowego polskiiego z w. XIII.
German and Latin text with Polish translation: p. 144-237.
Summary in German.
Errata slip inserted.
Description: 308 p. illus. 21 cm.

There seem to be quite a lot of fragments of that book on internet. For example, here is an article about a rape, which cites the article 17 of "Księga elbląska":

1. If anyone rapes a girl [of the knightly status], or carry her away against her will, he has to pay fine of 50 "grzywna" (*) to the judge and to her - as much as the judge will award for her disgrace.

(*) grzywna, an ancient silver coin, worth several denarii, used in Poland and other countries of Europe

Another bunch of articles can be found here:,1367

There are 1,830 references to the book on internet, so you might be lucky to find exactly what you want, even an English translation. I can help you with some fragments if you really need it.
OP Galloglaich 3 | 36
11 Nov 2011 #3
Thanks, I was hoping to find an English translation of the whole thing, but I appreciate the help here, I can look that one up and use automatic translation software to look at it. Thanks mate :)

Sounds like a pretty mild punishment for rape! Though I'm not familiar with that particular currency, is that equivalent to a groschen? I'll have to look that up as well. It's also confusing that it refers to 'knightly' status, in the towns it would be more relevant to be of burgher status, i.e. to have burgher or grossburgher citizenship.

I wish I could read Polish, it seems like this document will be an interesting insight into this world.

Thanks again,

boletus 30 | 1,361
11 Nov 2011 #4
Though I'm not familiar with that particular currency, is that equivalent to a groschen?

Check wikipedia - both English and Polish version. The latter has more specific details regarding various mass units and monetary units named "grzywna". Today Hryvnia is the monetary currency in Ukraine.

[For the sake of simplicity I only use singular names for coins, never plural]
As the currency in some countries of Western Europe, known as a "mark":
1 grzywna (Mark) = 4 wiardunek (Ferding) = 24 skojec (Scot) = 60 szeląg (Schilling)= 720 fenig (Pfennig)
1 grzywna (Mark) = 20 grosz (Groschen) = 60 szeląg (Schilling)

From one weight "grzywna" 60 coin pieces were beaten in Prague, or 48 "praski grosz" a.k.a. "czeski grosz" (Prague or Bohemian Groschen).

Grzywna also means "fine" in Polish,

I'll later translate more fragments about rape since you are evidently interested in the the subject. You will find it amazing how small the fine was when peasant woman was raped.
OP Galloglaich 3 | 36
12 Nov 2011 #5
I'm interested in all of it. I'm aware what a mark is! So grzywna means a mark. Back then a mark is roughly equivalent to 352 grams or 12 ounces of silver, so I'm guessing it is a gold coin? There were so many currencies in use in the area though it's rather bewildering. I wasn't even aware the Mark was an actual coin all the references I'd seen in German records referred to it more like a unit of book-keeping like the French Livre often was. Coins seem to be in denominations of Florin / Gulden, Thaeler, Kreuzer, Groschen, the Prague Groschen or Kutna Hora Groschen, the Pfennig, and the Dinari... I didn't even know about the wiardunek, skojec, and szeląg either. Thanks for teaching me this:)

So anyway if it means 50 marks, that is a very steep fine actually. Not many people would be able to pay that. It's enough money to buy 4 or 5 of the most expensive 'proofed' Milanese armours for example. So what happens if you can't pay the fine?

I look forward to any further translation of any laws from the Ksiega Wieczysta. The laws on rape are interesting because in some forms of German law in use in some of these towns (i.e. Lubeck law and Magdeburg Law) rape was supposed to be punishable by death. But that may not have been the actual practice in Prussia, these town-charters were kind of cookie -cutter but were adapted to different standards in different areas.

Thanks for your help,

boletus 30 | 1,361
12 Nov 2011 #6
So grzywna means a mark. Back then a mark is roughly equivalent to 352 grams or 12 ounces of silver, so I'm guessing it is a gold coin?

Actually I am not sure whether it was a coin at all. I saw a picture of "grzywna" that looked like an elongated silver ingot, It was basically a unit of mass, approximately half a pound. I saw it ranging from 189 grams (Chełmno, Kulm) to 280 grams (Moravian and Viennese), depending both on locality and time.

On the other hand, there is a nice article about early Polish coins, where they clearly state that:

The primary coins in Silesia since Boleslaw I were gold "grzywna" and silver "szkojec", "półszkojec" and "ćwierćszkojec" - where we can see, alongside a cross - a symbol of ruling religion, a swastika - a pagan symbol of good luck. (...) According to a habit of those times the names inscribed on coins were Latin, hence our "grzywna" was renamed "denar" or "floren" and the "szkojec" became "grosz". Since "grzywna" was originally gold it was also called "złoty". Grzywna contained 48 "szkojec".

As you see, here is a source of another numerical confusion.

Thanks for teaching me this:)

I am not going to take any credit for the factual data, because I know very little about the subject. I am only a facilitator. And a confused one sometimes. For example, as you will see below, I remain confused about "skojec" ("szkojec"), as two different sources give thwo different values for it: 1/24 vs. 1/3 of "grzywna". Someone must have made horrendous mistake, I think the error was in translation of "Najstarszy Zwód Prawa Polskiego."

So anyway if it means 50 marks, that is a very steep fine actually.

As you will see from the second part of my post, the fines were actually smaller than nominal and the judges were often quite lenient.

Punishment for rape
[Polish text below uses the word "zniewolona", which directly translates into "enslaved", but it actually mean "raped", I think.]

Article 17
1. If anyone rapes the girl [with knightly status], or leads her away against her will, he pays the penalty of 50 "grzywna" to the judge, and to the noblewoman as much as the judge will award for her disgrace.

2. The court acts in the same way when someone commits a rape on a married noblewoman or lead her away against her will.

3. (...)

4. When a country girl or a peasant's wife goes to pickup apples or berries, or after other things in the woods or to the field, and if she becomes raped there, a fine for it is six "grzywna".

5. (...)

6. If someone's daughter goes to the field or in the woods for apples, or after other things, and if she is raped, a fine for it is "trzysta" (*), because she was not allowed to go there alone.

During this period, the normal punishments for most crimes, as prejudicial to the good of the individual, were only private ones. Public punishments were the exceptions. However, it is believed that during Middle Ages, the protection of women was increased, in the sense that they enjoyed the blessings of the "mir" (peace) concept, which introduced public punishment alongside the private one. In this case, it would be a personal "mir".

(*) trzysta = 300 in Polish. See explanation below

Explanations regarding penalties:

Article 20

1. In the case of penalties that are listed above in "grzywna" (Mark), let it be known that the three penal "grzywna" count for one real "grzywna". When one pays a penalty of 6 "grzywna", it is actually 6 "szkojec".
[Apparently the wikipedia and this source have two different ideas about "skojec/szkojec". Here 1 "grzywna" = 3 "szkojec" ]

2. Let it be known that the name of penalty "trzysta" comes from here: formerly in Poland existed a habit of breaking salt into pieces, and one such piece was known as "krusza" (crumbling). Three hundred of those were called "trzysta". Even though salt is no longer in use as means of payment the penalty is still called "trzysta".

3. In this case, it was decided somewhere that one "szkojec" is given for "trzysta". Sometimes judges are so gracious that they take in the title of this fine four chicken or two, or even one.

4. If the fine is six "grzywna" a judge takes sometimes five or three "szkojec", or even one "łut".

5. If the fine is 70, 50 or 12 "grzywna" and because three penal "grzywna" are equal one real "grzywna", then the judge makes his own benevolent decision.

6. But let it be known that no judge or rarely any judge takes the total sum due as fine; he will be gracious if asked for it (leniency).

7. If the judge makes a favour, he requires the sum to be paid within fourteen nights. If one fails to make payment during that time, he will pay the fine of six "grzywna".

8. The procedure must follow this way because if one was granted reduction of the fine, one should be also

Interrupted transmission .... continuing

8. The procedure must follow this way because if one was granted reduction of the fine, one should be also given a grace regarding the deadline of the payment.

The issue of rape was handled differently in the Statues of Casimir the Great. In particular, the Article 125 say:
Article 125:
[quote]We set, that whoever grabbed, raped and deflowered a virgin without permission of her parents, of whatever status she was, his life will depend on grace of her and her friends (...)

The speculation here is that the offender could be even killed by her protectors, unless he made some sort of payment or married her.
OP Galloglaich 3 | 36
12 Nov 2011 #7
This is wonderful stuff, thanks especially for the link to that image.

Part of the confusion of coinage terms is that we tend to think of a stable value but we are talking about a period of Centuries in a vast region (even if we just mean North Eastern / Central Europe) so the values fluctuate considerably.

Do you know much about a type of currency called a Nogata? I was interested in that due to an evocative reference in the Chronicle of Novgorod

Similarly with the law and fines. They changed over time both in their enforcement and their written definition, the Księga Elbląska apparently dates from the 13th or early 14th Century, the Royal and Town laws changed dramatically between then and the time of Kazimierz Wielki or Kazimierz IV Jagiellończyk who were setting the groundwork for the mighty Kingdom Poland became in the Renaissance.

I think this interesting concept you mention of the "mir" relates to the German term Landfried, also called Landfrýdy in Czech. This was a complex idea derived from the earlier Catholic attempts at a "gods peace" or "Peace and Freedom of God movement", but it was a secular political union between the estates of a given region which lacks a strong central authority. Landfrieden typically consist of both gentry and peasantry as well as independent Church prelates (Bishops and Abbots) in some type of council or diet, which in turn appoints “justices of the peace of the roads” who collectively enforce the freedom or peace of the roads, punishing bandits, robber knights and other malefactors whose activities disrupt public commerce. The main reason for this was to prevent famine and regional starvation as often happened after wars when people were being too reckless, such as during the Hunger War. Famines were more perilous after the Black Death because they often led to outbreaks of plague. I know concretely that some regions in Bohemia, Moravia, Prussia and Pomerania, and I believe in parts of Silesia and Masovia too were essentially governed by Landfried, with or without some theoretical Prince or King as overlord (often absentee). Poland of course had real royal authority but I think it fluctuated in terms of strength and rarely had the ability to fully control every district.

There was also something called Landsgemeinde which were peasant associations or Communes, like the Slavic Veche seen in some parts of Russia. They had Landsgemeinde in Saxony in this big marsh called the 'Dishmarshen' and of course in Switzerland where some Cantons are still run this way, and the Zaporozhian Cossacks had some equivalent to this. I don't know if it existed in Poland for sure or not, or what the Polish equivalent would be. Eventually obviously anything like this was replaced and superceeded in Poland by the Szlachta.

boletus 30 | 1,361
13 Nov 2011 #8
Mods: should not this stuff go to History section, rather than to Genealogy, Ancestry?

Thank you for your explanation of Landfried.

Yes, I realized that value of coins change with time and locality - but not that much as 1 grzywna=3 skojec vs 1 grzywna=24 skojec. There must have been some other reason for such difference. And then I remembered that Copernicus was trying to reform money in Prussia and in Poland. So I searched.

I think you should be pleased to find several writings on money by Nicolaus Copernicus, at
The archives are translated from German/Latin to Polish/English and transcribed to Latin. Unfortunately there are some mismatches between Polish and English archives, so you probably need to study all his 3/4 writings to figure out where the stuff matches.

I started with the Polish version of "Modus cudendi monetam", and it quickly shows discrepancies between old "grzywna" and the "new" one. The simple reason is this: less silver, much more copper. The corresponding paragraphs where this explanation starts are shown below: in Latin(1) and in Polish(2).

1. Modus cudendi monetam - Zasady bicia monety (1519-1522) - Polish section, Latin transcript

In Prussia una marca uncialis (lötticht) facit dimidiam libram et tria pondera scotalia (skotgewicht) faciunt unciam. Marca autem continet in moneta 60 solidos. Olim qui erant solidi, nunc grossi dicuntur eorumque octo marcae complectebantur libram unam argenti puri alias feinsilber, hoc est duas marcas unciales (materia enim monetae eius est, ex dimidia argentea, ex altera dimidia aeres).

2. Modus cudendi monetam - Zasady bicia monety (1519-1522) - Polish section, Polish translation

W Prusiech jedna grzywna uncjalna (łutowa) stanowi pół funta, a trzy ciężarki skojcowe (Schotgewicht) stanowią uncję. Grzywna zaś zawiera w monecie 60 szelągów. Co niegdyś były szelągami, teraz zwie się groszami, osiem ich grzywien zawierało jeden funt czystego srebra, czyli fajnu tj. dwie grzywny uncjalne (albowiem stop takiej monety jest w połowie srebrny, a w połowie miedziany).

3. Modus cudendi monetam (1519-1522) - English section, Latin transcript
This seems to be exactly the same as 1 above

4. Modus cudendi monetam (1519-1522) - English section, English translation
But this seems coming from completely different source.

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