A study of old Frisian compensation tariffs, a sort of bodily injury list, reveals just how strongly honour and body were linked to each other in the ideology of medieval Frisians. The research has given rise to a model of honour that can be used in many other cultures and eras.
This is the first study into the old Frisian culture of honour and, moreover, via a text genre that has received little attention to date: the compensation tariffs. Old Frisian compensation tariffs, which can best be compared to bodily injury lists, are lists of wounds to the human body and summaries of insults and material damage with the associated monetary compensation. A punch: 4 pence. Two ears struck off: 12 marks. With this system, the Frisians could end or prevent blood feuds by financially compensating injuries or insults that could be a cause of a vendetta.
Mediaeval Frisia, ca. 1200–1500, consisted of a string of autonomous areas. This autonomy was a deviation from the normal pattern in the Europe of that time, in which a sovereign such as a count, prince or duke ruled over a certain area. In Frisia the local nobility, also called the Free Frisians, were in charge. This nobility maintained a personal ideology in which the body and honour played an important role.
Nijdam shows that the compensation tariffswere an inextricable part of the triangle 'freedom', 'feud' and 'justice' that formed the foundation of the medieval Frisian Freedom. The fact that the Frisians were independent, gave them the right to hold feuds and to maintain their own legal system. Nijdam's analysis of the compensation tariffsclarifies the concepts honour and body and their interrelationship. The research demonstrates how embodied the ideology of the Independent Frisians was and reconstructs a consistent view of body and man of medieval Frisians.
Model of Honour
The body-centred model of honour compiled by Nijdam is so fundamental and universal that it can be used for the analysis of other honour cultures. The model regards honour as a sphere of influence that stretches from the human body to the surroundings, and can contain elements that belong to someone's honour and accordingly to his body: 'if you touch my car, you touch me,' or: ' if you lay a finger on my sister, you touch me'. With this embodied model of honour we can understand why a violation of honour literally causes pain. This insight can cultivate an appreciation of honour societies, which are no longer understood by modern Westerners, because the West lost its culture of honour during the course of the 20th century.
Cite This Page: