laghmaþer (OSw) lögmaðr (ON) laghman (OSw) laghmandr (OSw) noun

One of the king’s officials; a royal judge. The laghmaþer was a prominent judicial figure throughout the Nordic lands during the medieval period. In most areas one of the prime responsibilities of the laghmaþer was the organization of assemblies (þing). Lagmenn were paid from a combination of public funds and royal grants.

In Sweden the term laghmaþer probably originally referred to a man learned in law who advised during assemblies. A laghmaþer was of particular import in Sweden, as he was placed over an entire province by the king. He led assemblies, suggested and framed judgments, recited law at assemblies annually from memory, presented official notices and legally recognize newly elected kings ahead of the eriksgata (q.v.), assessor in the ?provincial tax committee (? Sw beskattningsnämnd). Initially laghmæn were legislators in Sweden, but from the late thirteenth century on they were almost exclusively judges. In HL the laghmaþer seems to refer almost exclusively to judges. According to a charter dated to 1270, the laghmaþer in Västergötland was the recipient of a tax called lagmanskyld in the sum of fifty cattle every four years. In both Sweden and in Norway the laghmaþer had the right to demand hospitality from householders on the way to and from assemblies (cf. e.g. UL Kmb 10). After MEL was promulgated in Sweden, and perhaps even before, the laghmaþer had the power to convene extraordinary assemblies. One of most important duties of the laghmaþer in MEL was to hold four ‘land’ assemblies (landsþing) every year. The laghmaþer was also in charge of the general assembly for the areas governed by the Göta laws (aldra göta þing). ÄVgL (Rlb 3) stipulates that a laghmaþer must be the son of a householder (bonde, q.v.) and be elected by ‘all householders’ for life. The post was not hereditary, but it often fell to magnate families and later to members of the landed nobility. Laghmæn were commonly among the king’s council and were appointed by him and the bishop up until the sixteenth century, when it became a noble privilege to select lagmenn until 1668. In Sweden the office of laghmaþer was not abolished until 1849.

In Norway a lögmaðr could refer to anyone knowledgeable in legal matters as well as an official title. They remained legal councilors until the late twelfth century when a lögmaðr became a royal official. In the mid-thirteenth century they were given judicial powers and control of the lagting. As an official he was entitled to a portion of certain fines (cf. FrL Intr 1). Besides these a portion of royal estate was set aside for their maintenance (cf. FrL Intr 16). In later amendments lögmenn also received a fee from attendees at assemblies. A lögmaðr in Norway was required to ‘recite the law’, i.e. announce judgments which occurred at assemblies. Like the Icelandic Lawspeaker (lögsögumaðr, q.v.), the Norwegian lögmaðr was also responsible for dictating the law to the general public (cf. EidsL 1.10 and FrL Rgb 1). During the twelfth century the position of lögmaðr was absorbed into the royal sphere and became one of the king’s officials. He was also charged with prosecuting certain cases, such as those in which were illicitly resolved outside of a court. Occasionally several lögmenn were assembled to decide on a case. As in Sweden, the lögmaðr eventually became a type of judge in Norway and is referred to as such in e.g. MLL. Likewise in MLL the lögmaðr was responsible for setting up the boundaries (vébönd, q.v.) around the assembly and around the Law Council (lögrétta, q.v.). Early on lögmenn were drawn from among the hersir (‘local chiefs, lords’) and then from the landed men (lendir menn, see lænder). The office of lagmann was not abolished in Norway until 1797, and it was subsequently revived in 1890 as a new type of official.

In Iceland the lögmaðr replaced the lögsögumaðr after the Commonwealth Period. The term appears first in Js and subsequently in Jó and numerous charters. In Iceland the lögmenn were appointed by the king, and from 1277–83 there were two of them. They directed the General Assembly (alþingi, q.v.) and chaired the Law Council (lögrétta), which by this time was now a court rather than a legislative body. According to an ordinance issued in 1294 a lögmaðr in Iceland had to be a member of a chieftain’s (góði, q.v.) family. In later sources the term lögmaðr is often applied to earlier persons who did not bear such a title at the time. Icelandic lögmenn continued to be appointed until 1800 when the General Assembly was dissolved.

Macek (2009, 242) makes a distinction between the lögmaðr and one of its translations: lawyer. Where the latter is a profession involving formal education and practice, the former, she states, was a relative or friend to whom one turned for legal assistance.

lawman OFar Seyð 0
ONorw EidsL 30.11 44
ONorw FrL Intr 1
OSw ÄVgL Rlb, Tb
OSw HL Kkb, Rb
OSw ÖgL Kkb, Db, Gb, Äb, Rb, Bb
OSw SdmL Conf, Kkb, Kgb, Kmb, Rb, Till
OSw UL StfBM, För, Kkb, Kgb, Mb, Kmb, Rb, Add. 18
OSw VmL Kmb (correction), Rb
OSw YVgL Äb, Gb, Rlb, Tb, Jb, Föb, Add

legal expert OIce Grg Lsþ 116 Lrþ 117
OIce Js Mah 7, 29

magistrate OIce Js Þfb 2, 3 Lbb 5
presiding judge OIce MagBref Þfb 2, 3 Sg 3 Mah 2
sheriff OSw KrL Kgb Äb Jb Bb Kmb Rb Eb
OSw MEL Kgb Äb Jb Bb Rb Hb

CV s.v. lögmaðr; Einar Arnórsson 1945, 170−90; F s.v. lögmaðr; FJ s.v. lagman; Jón Víðar Sigurðsson 2011a; KLNM s.v.v. Allra Göta thing, embedsindtægter, häradshövding, lagman, lagting, rettarting, rettargang, stadsstyrelse; Lindkvist 2007; Schulmann 2010; SNL s.v. lagmann

  • ‘laghmaþer’. A Lexicon of Medieval Nordic Law.