Mirror of the Saxons


More than 400 manuscripts of the Sachsenspiegel (Mirror of the Saxons) survive, attesting to the wide dissemination and influence on the whole of Europe of this first law book in German. The most beautiful copies are the four illuminated manuscripts, all produced between 1295 and 1371, and now held in Heidelberg, Oldenburg, Dresden, and Wolfenbüttel. The most artistically valuable of these documents is the Dresden manuscript, preserved in the Saxon State and University Library. Its 924 image sequences on 92 pages are the most extensive of those in the four illuminated manuscripts, and depict approximately 4,000 persons in total. Each page is arranged in separate columns for image and text, which enhance and clarify each other, and which are linked by decorated initials. The Sachsenspiegel was written around 1220 as a compilation, in Latin, of Saxon customary law. The Saxon knight and administrator Eike von Repgow (circa 1180–circa 1233) translated the work into Middle Low German around 1220–33. The Latin original has not survived. The work is the first large legal document in German and had a profound effect on the development of the law not only in Germany but in many countries of Eastern Europe. It is in three parts: the preambles, the section detailing common law, and that defining feudal law. The preface mentions that the source of this legal code is divine order: God is himself the Law. The author requests the support of "righteous people" in the case of his having overlooked any legal questions, asking them to settle such matters in accordance with their "insight" to the best of their abilities. The Dresden manuscript was copied between 1295 and 1363, in the area of Meissen, Germany. It was severely damaged by water after the bombing of Dresden in February and March of 1945 but was restored in the 1990s.

Last updated: October 17, 2017