urbotamal (OSw) orbotemal (ODan) óbótamál (ON) úbótamál (ON) noun

‘A non-compensation case’. A case involving a crime that, due to its severity and perceived disruption to the general peace, could not be expiated with a fine as was the custom for most legal infractions in the medieval Nordic areas. Such crimes included rape, killing a man at his home, in the churchyard or at an assembly (þing) or the violation of a settlement or truce. Sorcery and witchcraft are also cited as grounds for an urbotamal. It has been suggested that punishment of loss of personal rights incurred by committing an urbotamal was a result of influence from the Christian church.

The number of crimes that constituted an óbótamál in Norway increased over the course of the twelfth century during the legal reforms of King Magnus Erlingsson. Forging a letter or seal of the king, for instance, became an óbótamál in MLL (IV.4). At the same time, it seems that many suits dubbed óbótamál in Norway were nevertheless resolved by means of compensation, especially in cases where the king granted clemency.

After the institution of Jb in Iceland, the property of a person convicted of an óbótamál was seized and divided between the bishop and the king. This probably replaced the earlier practice of holding a confiscation court (ON féránsdómr) for outlaws.

Similarly, according to the medieval Danish laws, those convicted of an orbotemal had their property confiscated and transferred to the outlaw’s heirs or the king, depending on the circumstances of the offence.

In certain Swedish laws (e.g. UL and ÖgL), an urbotamal was listed among breaches of the king’s peace (OSw eþsöre). Crimes classified as urbotamal, in particular murder (OSw morþ), were later punishable by the death penalty in the late medieval and early modern periods.


crime ONorw GuL Krb
crime that cannot be expiated by fine OSw DL Mb
non-compensable crime ODan ESjL 2
ODan VSjL 50, 53, 54

outlaw cases OSw YVgL Urb, Add
OSw ÄVgL Urb

unatonable crime OIce Mah 2, 4 Llb 30, 63 Þjb 3, 19
OIce Js Þjb 9

Refs:

CV s.v. úbótamál; Fritzner s.v. úbótamál; Hertzberg s.v. úbótamál; Imsen 2009; KLNM s.v.v. böter, drab, edgärdsman, fredløshed; konfiskation, landsvist, niddingsværk, orbodemål, spådom, straff [suppl.], torvevæsen, trolldom, trygð, tyveri, urkundsförfalskning, voldtægt; LexMA s.v.v. Buße, Eid, Landfrieden, Strafe; Lund 1967 s.v. orbotæmal; Orning 2014; Schlyter 1877 s.v. urbota; SL YVgL, 249−50; SL ÄVgL, 71−72; Tamm and Vogt 2016; Tveito 2005

Citation
  • ‘urbotamal’. A Lexicon of Medieval Nordic Law.
    http://www.dhi.ac.uk/lmnl/nordicheadword/displayPage/5552
    (01/26/2022)