Heidelberg Mirror of Saxony

Heidelberg Mirror of Saxony – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Cod. Pal. germ. 164 – UniversitĂ€tsbibliothek (Heidelberg, Germany)

Harz (Germany) — Beginning of the 14th century

From everyday common law to special feudal rights: the most important German legal text and the first German-language prose work of the Middle Ages with 337 picture strips as a witness to 14th century everyday life

  1. One of only a handful of copies of the lost original of the most important legal text of the Middle Ages

  2. In doing so, Eike von Repgow (ca. 1180 – ca. 1233) composed the first prose work of the German language

  3. After being pillaged and taken to Rome during the Thirty Years' War, it was returned to Heidelberg in 1816

Heidelberg Mirror of Saxony

Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)
  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (2)
Heidelberg Mirror of Saxony

One of oldest and most important German law books has also had one of the most turbulent histories of any medieval manuscript. The Heidelberg Mirror of Saxony is the only copy of a now lost 13th century original by Eike von Repgow. After a mysterious first few centuries of ownership, the manuscript first made its way from a member of the Fugger family in Augsburg to Heidelberg, where it became part of the famous Biblioteca Palatina before it was pillaged along with the rest of the library during the Thirty Year's War, and was finally returned to Heidelberg in the 19th century. Today, it comprises one of the greatest treasures of the Heidelberg University Library and one of the earliest sources on medieval German law ranging from common law to feudal rights.

Heidelberg Mirror of Saxony

No other book has shaped the history of German law in such a way as the Mirror of Saxony. After centuries of following a solely verbal tradition of law, the Mirror of Saxony represents the first written recording of everyday life and of the approved legal customary laws which applied only to a certain geographical region (in this case Saxony). Eike von Repgow wrote and compiled this work between 1220 and 1235 in the language of his homeland in lower-Germany, thereby creating not only the most important and unequalled German book of law, but also the first work of prose in the German language. The title Mirror was chosen by the author according to medieval speculum literature. Like a mirror, this textbook represented a reflection of the Christian world order and in the same manner Eike's Mirror also provided the Saxons with a view of "justice and injustice".

The Mirror of Saxony - Contents

The prologue contains an incantation by the author of the divine origin of justice and calls upon all people not to be lead astray from the law. The following common law regulates all questions about laws concerning village and neighbor, family and inheritance rights, constitutional law; including criminal, constitutional, and procedural law. The second main part of this book summarizes the norms of feudal rights, which covers the relationship between the feudal lords and their vassals. Thereby the Mirror of Saxony provides binding guidelines for all legal questions concerning cohabitation of peoples from different social groups.

The Earliest Mirror of Saxony Manuscript

The Heidelberg Mirror of Saxony manuscript is not dated, however, based on the form of the text, the image script, and especially the coat of arms originating from the northeastern region of Harz, its date of origin can be placed between 1295 and 1304. Originally the manuscript probably consisted of 92 pages, from which only a third now remain. The entire first book of common law is missing as well as parts of the second and third book and parts concerning feudal rights. These sides were probably excluded because they were so damaged, as can be seen in the condition of Image 19v and 20v. The state of preservation of the text and images differs and it is evident that these damages caused by pollution, abrasions, and fingermarks all indicate the frequent and heavy use of the Heidelberg Mirror of Saxony.

The Text: A Close Relationship to Eike von Repgows’ Original Version

Due to its similarity to the original text by Eike von Repgow, this Mirror is afforded a special importance. Upon its emergence at the turn of the 14th century, it shared a close temporal as well as spatial bond to the lost original manuscript, whose own emergence is likewise assumed to be only a few decades earlier in the region of Harz. The style of the illustrations provides a connecting link and indicates that most likely they were directly derived from the original.

Text and Images – a One-Time Collective Composition

The Heidelberg manuscript is characterized by a great harmony between text and images. This allows certain conclusions to be drawn about the illustrator, who possessed the ability to capture the quintessence of the legal text and interpret it in his own way, by exposing particular figurative aspects. In the rows of images running side by side the text, the written law is translated into a sequence of images – the imagery scenes therefore emerge out of the text. Through the complexity of the text, different temporal levels are described. The content of law contained in this manuscript is portrayed through the people and their attire, hand gestures and body posture, and symbols and subject matter of everyday life in such a way that the figures themselves become animated through their lively expression. The anonymous illustrator not only uses traditional symbols and gestures but also creates new forms. His main medium of expression in the scenes of justice is gestures of the hand, explaining their over-enlarged depiction in his drawings. This feature is not so strongly apparent in later manuscripts. Likewise noticeable in the Heidelberg manuscript is the frequent drawing of figures with many arms, which was often and necessarily used in order to portray the somewhat complicated procedures of feudal law.

The Fugger, the Palatina, and Rome

Little is known about the whereabouts of the manuscript since its time of origin up until the second half of the 16th century. It appeared in accounts from Heidelberg for the first time towards the end of the 16th century. At this time in Heidelberg, a book collection which became internationally known as the “Bibliotheca Palatina”, emerged out of the creation of a university in 1386 and the passion for books of the prince-electors' court. The Augsburg patrician Ulrich Fugger, who came from a branch of the well-known mercantile and banker family, had the controlling interest in this book collection's brilliant development. Due to his conversion to the Protestant faith and his considerable debts (caused not in least part to his generous book purchases and his lack of mercantile interest), Ulrich found himself completely at odds with his family. He found his refuge in Heidelberg with Prince Friedrich III. from Pfalz. In 1567 his library was brought from Augsburg to Heidelberg and upon his death in 1584, in accordance with his will, it finally became an integral part of the Biblioteca Palatina. One citation from the Fugger Library in 1571 calls it: „ein alt tuff Perment geschrieben buchlin von Lehenrechten und andern, mit altfranckischen figuren.“

In the Confusion of War

During the Thirty Years' War, Johann t’Serclaes von Tilly captured Heidelberg and in so doing, the Bibliotheca Palatina, along with our codex, was presented by Duke Maximillian of Bavaria to Pope Gregory XV and thus brought to Rome in 1623 by the Roman emissary Leo Alacci. The Mirror of Saxony was probably protected up until this time by only a simple wooden-cover binding which, due to weight considerations was later replaced by a lighter flexible parchment binding. The manuscript remained a part of the Vatican library in Rome until the Pope gave it back to the Bibliotheca Palatina in Heidelberg along with other German manuscripts in 1816. Since this time the codex is in safekeeping at the Heidelberg University Library.


Alternative Titles
Der Heidelberger Sachsenspiegel
Size / Format
60 pages / 30.0 × 23.5 cm
Beginning of the 14th century
337 miniatures featured alongside their relevant texts
Common law and feudal rights in medieval Germany
Previous Owners
Ulrich Fugger (1474–1584)
Pope Gregory XV (1554–1623)

Available facsimile editions:
Heidelberg Mirror of Saxony – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Cod. Pal. germ. 164 – UniversitĂ€tsbibliothek (Heidelberg, Germany)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 2010
Limited Edition: 580 copies

Heidelberg Mirror of Saxony – Insel Verlag – Cod. Pal. germ. 164 – UniversitĂ€tsbibliothek (Heidelberg, Germany)
Insel Verlag – Frankfurt, 1970
Limited Edition: 900 copies
Detail Picture

Heidelberg Mirror of Saxony

Feudal Law – Banner Fief

An enthroned king is shown at the bottom granting banner fiefs to two of his vassals, a bishop on the left and a secular lord on the right. Ecclesiastical banner fiefs were represented by scepters while secular lords were given an actual banner to represent their military responsibilities. These fiefdoms were indivisible and often a precursor for elevation to the ranks of the empire’s princes. The scenes above show the return of a fief (right) and the unlawful revocation of a fief (left).

Heidelberg Mirror of Saxony – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Cod. Pal. germ. 164 – UniversitĂ€tsbibliothek (Heidelberg, Germany)
Single Page

Heidelberg Mirror of Saxony

Landrecht, Second Book, Statutes 56–58

Marginal dĂ©cor illustrates the German legal texts on this page and are labelled with the initial from the relevant passage. For example, labelled “W” in the upper-left corner, two men create a dam to protect their village using blocks of turf and grass. Under “A”, a man is shown both harvesting grain and paying in coin instead of kind.

Bright shades color the cheery figures who smile as they carry out various tasks. Although this section deals with “land law”, it also features a hagiographic scene in the footer: St. Bartholomew is pictured with his own flayed skin hung over a pole he carries and stands before a figure seated at a table covered with coins. It is a playful metaphor for the pain of interest and lease payments.

Heidelberg Mirror of Saxony – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Cod. Pal. germ. 164 – UniversitĂ€tsbibliothek (Heidelberg, Germany)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Der Heidelberger Sachsenspiegel

Publisher: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 2010
Limited Edition: 580 copies
Binding: Leather with gold embossing. All leaves are trimmed according to the original. Wooden slip case.
Commentary: 1 volume by Dietlinde Munzel-Everling and Gernot Kocher
Language: German

The comprehensive scientific commentary (in German) was compiled by an expert team under the direction of publisher, Dr. Dietlinde Munzel-Everling (Wiesbaden) and Professor DDr. Gernot Kocher (Graz) and highlights the origin and history of the manuscript as well as the historical environment of the times. It allows the viewer an insight into many different aspects of medieval everyday life which are brought to life in a most impressive way right before the readers’ very eyes.
The text volume is a separate volume which accompanies the facsimile and helps to clarify images as well as text found in the original manuscript. The original lines of text from the manuscript are in old German and contain many abbreviations and an old system of punctuation. Therefore the text volume transcribes in German each individual line of text by explaining all abbreviations and converting the punctuation style into a modern-day system.
Running parallel to this on the opposite page is an explanation of the content and iconographic details of each individual scene found in the original manuscript.
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)

#2 Der Heidelberger Sachsenspiegel

Insel Verlag – Frankfurt, 1970

Publisher: Insel Verlag – Frankfurt, 1970
Limited Edition: 900 copies
Binding: Heidelberger Sachsenspiegel
Commentary: 1 volume
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)
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