The Costitutions of Melfi

cost regni siciliarum Among the various testimonies of culture at the court of Frederick II, the Constitutions, which the emperor promulgated in the Bowls Hall of the castle of Melfi in August 1231, surely occupy a prominent place, as they represent the first legislation with a modern state constitutional imprinting and the largest secular legislative monument of the Middle Ages. Also called Augustali Laws, they might as well be considered the first “agreement” in the history of the state and the Church, as there is an attempt to define the border between the two supreme powers. The framers of the Augustali Laws In 40 were called to put hands on this project to unify all the laws enacted in 1220: certainly there was a great movement to the castle of the most famous personalities of the time, including the notary Pier delle Vigne, taken to court in charge of the royal Chancellery, who was the main drafter of the Constitutions. An important role was also played by Roffredo Beneventano, famous jurist of the time, the archbishop of Capua, Giacomo Amalfitano, the shadow-man of king, Berardo di Castacca, Michele Scoto, esteemed Scottish philosopher, mathematician and astrologer, and finally Ermanno di Salsa, the only German emperor brought with him by the emperor from Germany. Probably participated in the writing of the Constitutions also the father and uncle of St. Thomas Aquinas. The law of the man who abolished the divine judgment It’s a misconception that this legislation – 255 titles, divided into three books: public law, judicial law and feudal, private and criminal law – only contains rules issued by Frederick II. In fact, in the Constitutions of Melfi were kept some of the laws of the Norman kings, and in general of all predecessors, except those promulgated by his father, Henry VI. That said, it must be recognized that Frederick’s code introduced important innovations: the royal power was enlarged, so barons and cities were deprived of the rights and privileges that were granted illegally. The feuds became state property and were forbidden to be sold, in order to reduce the fragmentation of feudal organization. The clergy were subject to the ordinary courts, and they lost the prerogative to judge heretics. More generally, the administration of justice was entrusted exclusively to the state apparatus, enshrining the equality of citizens before the law and abolishing the divine judgment. Especially the Constitutions hit directly and profoundly the lives and prospects of free towns, eliminating all their autonomy. Frederick II also legislated on the ecological matters, establishing penalties for those who had polluted and regulating the cutting of forests and hunting. Among the more unpredictable laws we find those on the location and maintenance of cemeteries, and among the most curious is that forbidding clerics from becoming actors. The pillars of modern law The code had great resonance and diffusion in the kingdom, as it was translated into Greek to be better understood and applied by the majority of the people who spoke this language. It was largely kept in the south of Italy and various rules remained unchanged over the centuries. Of its inspiring principles always remained track in the legislation of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies until the unification of Italy. Frederick II fell: he lost the Kingdom of Sicily and the imperial crown but the Constitutions of Melfi have found a place in the history of civilization and the law of nations. Source: Federico Messana, “Liber Augustalis o Costituzioni melfitane (1231)”, Copyright  ©2002 Federico Messana, from