LEGAL ISSUES IN THE RESPONSES OF POPE NICHOLAS I TO THE BULGARS OF A.D. 866
The Responses of Pope Nicholas I to the Questions of the Bulgars of A.D. 866. is a first-rate historical source, generally known in subsequent medieval manuscripts as "Nicolai Papae responsa ad consulta Bulgarorum". The original text of the document comprising the questions posed by the Bulgarian Prince Boris to Pope Nicholas I has not been preserved in the Vatican archives but the content of the questions may be reconstructed with relative ease, given that practically each of the 106 responses starts with a brief paraphrase or citation of the question addressed in the reply. In this document, we can generally identify four groups of relevant historical facts. The first set of facts provides a fragmentary depiction of the social structure of Bulgaria at that time, including references to freemen, slaves, pagans (nonChristians) and Christians, priests, monks and Christian missionaries, soldiers and border guards. The second group of facts relates to the Christian faith and the Christian church, including accounts on the conversion and Christianization of the population, the rebellion against the reception of Christianity, references to prayers, fasting during Lent, confession and penance, holy communion, Church canons, ecclesiastical courts, the right to seek church asylum, and the status of patriarchs in Constantinople and Roman popes. The third group of facts depicts daily life of ordinary people: customs and various pagan rituals, fortune-telling, sorcery and witchcraft; clothes and clothing; food and nutrition; field-work and crafts; the military service, military rules, weapons and equipment; parent-children relations; relations between the Christianized and non-Christianized population; burial ceremonies, etc. The fourth group of historical facts pertains to legal issues in the field of criminal law, matrimonial and family laws, and criminal procedure law, which have been subjected to a more extensive analysis in this research. On account of twenty responses provided by Pope Nicholas to Prince Boris’s questions, the research findings indisputably show that the following crimes were punishable in Bulgaria at that time: murder, forced castration, abduction, theft, robbery, poisoning, renunciation of the Christian faith, incest, male adultery, priests’ debauchery, bigamy, false accusation, false representation of personal identity or profession, defamation, taking flight from the battle with the enemy, disobeying the order to enter the enemy lines, failure to keep the military gear in good condition, and criminal negligence of border guards. However, Pope Nicholas responses include hardly any references to sentences and forms of punishment for specific criminal offences. Whenever asked about the punishment for a specific crime, Pope Nicholas referred Prince Boris to the secular laws which were applicable in the Christian countries of Western Europe at the time. In fact, the Pope’s emissaries brought some of these codices to Prince Boris together with the Pope’s letter of reply. Judging by the contents of eight answers provided by Pope Nicholas, it may be inferred that Prince Boris explicitly inquired only about death penalty and exile from Bulgaria, after beating the offender and severing his ears and nose. Eleven replies provided by Pope Nicholas unequivocally demonstrate that Prince Boris had posed many questions related to matrimonial and family law, including legal institutes and issues such as: absolute prohibitions and restrictions on entering into marriage, engagement arrangements, legal form of marriage, pre-marital gift of a man to a future wife, matrimonial relations between spouses, causes for divorce, and marriage between Christians and non-Christians.
Given that Pope Nicholas’s letter contains only four responses on criminal procedure law, it seems to have been the least covered issue in Prince Boris’s questions. The four questions addressed in the reply were as follows: whether the Prince is permitted to pass judgment in criminal cases; whether offenders can be tried and sentenced to death during Lent or church holidays; whether it is permissible to use torture for the extortion of confession; and the proper procedure for taking an oath in court. Broadly speaking, the right to seek refuge in church falls into this category of legal issues; thus, when asked about the treatment of persons who flee into the church seeking indemnity after committing a crime, Pope Nicholas responded that criminal proceeding may not be instituted against persons who seek asylum and remission of their crimes in a church.
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