The Importance of Bann

Few people today realise the important place which the word "ban" word occupied in post-roman and medieval legislation and therefore everyday life. The germanic word appears in the old languages of Europe in various forms:

Old Indogerm. aind. bhanati resounding, din
Armenian armen. ban word
Old Irish air. bann law
Germanic germ. bannan commanding or forbidding under threat or penalty
Old High German ahd. pan, pannes commanding or forbidding under threat or penalty
Middle High German mhd. ban, bannes
Old Nordic altn. bann excommunication, interdict, prohibition, curse
Old French OF. arban authoritative proclamation, and attached senses *)
Medieval Latin med.L. bannum various legal and ecclesiastical uses
Late Latin ahd. bannum
Old English OE. ebann ban, outlawry, announcement, conscription
Middle English ME. iban proclamation, edict
Friesisch fries. bon

*) publication, summons, proscription, outlawry, banishment, assemblage of military vassals, in early use, a summons to arms.
See also this interesting web page discovered in December 1997 about "ban" !

In its earliest application ban was understood to be an order for peace in the tribal congregation of the Ting (also Ding, Thing). The assembly of the Ting was not a general one but only of men who were free and capable of bearing arms. The Ting was the highest political convocation, and basically constituted the army as well as the tribunal. Medieval sources tell of a call for ban and peace. The origin of the word is much disputed. One scholarly faction interprets the word as "solemn speach" (related to the Greek phemi, phanai jwnh, janai, latin fanum, fari), relying on early Franconian legal texts which mention ban synonymously with verbum and sermo. Others deduct the meaning of ban from "icon" or "sign" (bandva, by equivocating bannus and bannire with bandus and bandire, as well as gothic banvjan with bandvjan). This sign was posted at the announcement of ban and peace by putting up a banner or a sword. One scholar consolidated both interpretations by pointing out that, during solemn celebrations sermon, and posting of a sign are deeply connected: the sign assumes the role of a message. In assuming that the call for ban and peace had solemnized the whole congregation under the divine protection of the Ting God, the origins of ban are probably of a religious nature. It should be noted that, although bannum and bannus are found in medieval Latin texts, they are not original Latin words (but of origins described above) and were unknown in ancient Rome.
(mostly translated from [1])

In Merovingian, Salian, Franconian and Carolingian law, ban meant an edict or interdict under threat of penalty. The king had unlimited (and by nature arbitrary) power to set punishment and fine under the king's ban (Königsbann). His ban also had the power to place the convicted outside of the laws of the community (homo forbannitus). These rules of justice were first laid down in the Lex Ribuaria and in the decrees of king Childebert (Decretio Childeberti). Charlemagne institutionalised the rights of the king's ban (Königsbann) by defining the list of eight crimes requiring punishment by ban (octo banni): refusal to join the army; crimes against church; widows; orphans; or the needy; rape; arsen and theft. The most common fine was the indictment to pay a hundreds pound of gold. But it was not so much the pecuniary punishment which was the worst. The loss of the king's protection and grace also meant that the convicted had to live on forever as criminal having committed a crime against his ruler.(4)

Whereas since the Franconian kings, ban also designed the amount of the penalty imposed (in Schillings), the Merovingian kings did not use the ban to collect fines, but rather in a more encompassing sense of their power to ask for obedience. If this obedience was denied, the ban imposed would mean that the guilty person would be put "outside the law", with all its consequences. (2)

Eventually, a series of diverse bans developed of varying intensity. Since the 10th century, the king may transfer a limited power of the ban to counts, provosts and Lords of the Manor. He could transfer it to church, bishop and abbot. This way the word ban came to designate not only the power to punish, but also the pecuniary fine, the legal condition and circumstances as well as the area pertaining to the ban. Areas covered by the ban were commonly called Bann-meile (fr. ban-lieue). The banned forest is but a small sector of geographical ban. Since all unplowed (conquered) land automatically belonged to the ruler, it was the vast area of European forests that were bestowed very quickly with the ban (Bannlegung) (5)


(1) Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde, Berlin 1976, S.34ff
(2) Handwörterbuch zur deutschen Rechtsgeschichte (HRG), 1.Bd, Berlin 1971, S.308ff
(3) Mommsen, Weltreich der Cäsaren, Phaidon Verlag, S.510ff
(4) Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde, Berlin 1976, S.167ff
(5) Peter Stotz, Handbuch zur lateinischen Sprache des Mittelalters, Bd.1, IV, p.32.3, unpubl.

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