The Lithuanian Statute
An outstanding monument to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania’s legislation, the first of the three statutes adopted in Lithuania in a mere sixty years. Drafted in 1522, it was adopted by the Vilnius Diet in an amended, supplemented version in 1528-1529. It was the first codification of the Lithuanian legal system. Thanks to this statute, the Grand Duchy, “a country which in the 16th century was experiencing a period of economic, social and cultural development, but was not in the forefront of Europe at that time, came to occupy a prominent and indeed singular place in the field of legislation” (Juliusz Bardach).
Lithuanian Statute included regulations of civil law, penal law and judicial procedure, and defined (in 13 chapters divided into 282 articles) the state system and social organisation of the Grand Duchy. Based on case law and individual privileges and containing certain borrowings from Roman, Ruthenian, Polish and Saxon-Magdeburg laws, the Statute was to be binding on all inhabitants of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
The Codex containing the Statute belonged to the promoter and co-author of this codification, Olbracht Gasztołd, Lithuanian Chancellor and Voivode of Vilnius (d.1539). It was acquired by the Library of the Zamoyski Estate before 1856 and after World War II was transferred to the National Library.
The Statute is written in West Ruthenian, the official language of the Grand Duchy used in the chancellery and in literature, enriched by elements of Church Slavonic and, as regards legal terminology, by Polish. The text is adorned by ribbed initials and the titles of chapters.
The first of the pages reproduced here (p. 417) presents the text of the first two paragraphs of Chapter XI dealing with penalties for injuring and killing a servant, a bee keeper or a craftsman.
The second page (p. 93) presents the preamble to the Statute with the Bogurodzica (an early mediaeval hymn to the Holy Virgin). The 17 stanzas of the hymn are written in a mixture of Polish and West Ruthenian.