In Chateaubriand's Voyage en Amérique et en Italie, we read: “In Gothic languages, Scandinavia was called Mannaheim, which means ‘country of men,’” and what the Latin of the sixth century has translated with vigor by these words: “the factory of the human race.”2 This extract, as an echo of Jordanes's vagina nationum, demonstrates the growing interest for Scandinavia in French intellectual life during the nineteenth century, and especially for Iceland, described by Chateaubriand as “the Norse historical archive.” Just as MacPherson's Ossian had at the end of the preceding century, the discovery of Ari Thorgilsson or Snorri Sturluson (“the Herodote of the North” for Chateaubriand) further opened a new field of research for French scholars.In fact, this field had been opened up from at least the middle of the eighteenth century, when Montesquieu fantasized about a mythicized North as a homeland of freedom (in opposition to the South) and saw it not only as factory of mankind but as the “factory of instruments that break the iron forged in the South” (Montesquieu 1973, EL, XVIII:5; Mohnike 2016, 18; Davy 2010, 96–7). Reviving Montesquieu's historical approach, the French scholars of the nineteenth century saw the North as a well that drew its waters from many streams.Legal historians did not hesitate to tap into it (Sturmel 2002, 90–121; Audren and Halpérin 2013), testifying to their own curiosity, but more generally to the scientific interest of French lawyers and historians for Scandinavia. This was demonstrated when the academician Louis-Jean Koenigswarter wrote in 1853: “The ancient customs and laws of Scandinavia have real advantages for those who study the antiquities of European laws over the first written customs of the barbarians.”3 This interest of French historical, legal, or geographical sciences for Iceland is reflected also in the superlatives used to qualify the Nordic island. For Jean-Marie Pardessus, Professor at the Faculty of Law of Paris, Iceland is, of all the parts of Northern Europe, “the most remarkable by its civilisation, its literature and its laws” (Pardessus 1834, 45). For Jean-Baptiste Bory de Saint-Vincent, geographer and politician, the Icelandic nation “is one of most intelligent from all over the world,” and “no one is more faithful to its own traditions’ (Bory de St-Vincent and Lacroix 1840, 251–8). For Henri Prentout, Professor at the University of Caen, Iceland is “the most interesting country to have a picture of the Scandinavian society in [the] 9th century” (Prentout 1911, 206). Pardessus's judgment about Icelandic singularities reads as follows: I could say that Iceland is almost more Scandinavian than Norway, because alliances and invasions [that] came from Europe have quickly altered the pure Scandinavian race in Norway. . . . That is so true that historians who wanted to study mores, customs, laws, and Scandinavian literature have always focused on Iceland.4Such an affirmation by a French scholar in the middle of the nineteenth century is not surprising because the North had become the home of a myth a few centuries earlier, dating back perhaps to the reception in France of Olaus Magnus's Historia om de nordiska folken in the middle of the sixteenth century (Davy 2019, 12), or to Rudbeck's Atlantica sive Manheim, a work that so influenced Montesquieu and Chateaubriand (Wolfram 1990, 2) in its confusion of Plato's Atlantis story and Virgil's Ultima Thule, and which managed to trace the homeland of all civilizations back to Scandinavia (Anttila 2014, 245). Thus, what Xavier Marmier writes in the middle of the nineteenth century is significant: Beyond the Baltic Sea, we leave our science. A wall of fog hides the surroundings and Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Lapland, Spitzberg, Finland, and also Russia appear behind this wall with their imprecise forms and confuse themselves with our imagination. It is here our Thule; here is this country half fabulous and half historical of Ancients, this foggy kingdom whose customs we cannot identify and position with precision, and on which we are told so many strange things. (Marmier 1840, 95)In fact, since the beginning of the early modern period, Thule seemed to embody a sort of original sanctuary where the origins of peoples and of their laws could be found, the birthplace of the world. Why should it not, therefore, also be the fons et origo of the homo juridicus? Certainly, French scholars were not unanimous in assimilating Thule to Iceland. But such an assimilation was often made by many of them, and it contributed to this mythical approach and the quest for the origins of Europe's nations there.At the beginning of the nineteenth century, John Pinkerton reminded everyone that famous and talented scholars had based their research on the “imaginary hypothesis” of a Scythian migration from Scandinavia outwards. In their minds, he says, the language, mythology, and morals of the Scythes had been preserved in the “Icelandic desert” intact, such that the Scythian advance through Scandinavia has become “a very curious object of study” (Pinkerton 1804, 247). A few years later, in 1822, Fabre d'Olivet believed that he had located the source for the first Mexican legislators in the Atlantis, and in the Borean race, “whose peregrinations have led it from Iceland to America” (Fabre d'Olivet 1822, 188). The belief was repeated by the jurist Ernest Glasson at the end of the same century (1889, 12). Here, we find ourselves on the threshold of a larger Indo-European perspective, amply exploited since the beginning of the nineteenth century by Malte-Brun, for example, who envisaged “one great family from the banks of the Ganges River to the shores of Iceland” (Malte-Brun 1828, 400), but also by Frédéric Eichhoff (1853, 11–2) and Adolphe Pictet (1859, 3).Furthermore, since the days of Montesquieu, there was no doubting that the North had been, long ago, a country of freedom. This was an idea that became widespread through to the end of the nineteenth century. Ernest Nys (the famous Belgian promoter of the study of international law), for example, envisaged the Far North as “the liberty's servant and defensor which fought for the independence of men versus despotism” (Nys 1896, 125). Iceland embodies this topos through the memory of the Norse migrations, Norsemen being forced to flee the tyranny of Harald Fairhair (Haraldr inn hárfagri) at the end of the ninth century. Land of freedom, founded on an anti-monarchical legacy, Iceland is also described as the land of equality, that being, as Henri Prentout pointed out, a dominant trait in old Scandinavian society (1911, 206).Following in the footsteps of Paul-Henri Mallet, who called Iceland “the Athens of the Ice,” several French historians in the nineteenth century presented Scandinavia as the “paragon of democracy.” “Common misfortune had brought them together,” wrote Georges Depping, “all equal, and no one could impose their own domination on others.” And, after enumerating the powers of the assemblies and the “lavmand” (i.e., lawman, lögmaðr/lögsögumaðr, who presided over the Althing), he added: Here was the simple and democratic government of this small Free State, separated from Europe by the boreal seas, and seated between the rocks, volcanoes, and ices of Iceland.5Various scholars made the small step that transformed Iceland into the antecedent of the Parliamentary system. Charles Hertz saw medieval Iceland as a Parliamentary republic (1879, 336); Gabriel Gravier located Iceland as the origin of Parliaments (1887, 171); Joseph-Louis Ortolan attributed a Norse origin to the word “Republic” (1831, 373); and Ernest Nys depicted Iceland as the “mother of England and grand-mother of United-States” (1896, 100).All these historical and legal reflections attest to the evidence of a relationship woven in fantasy between Iceland and the French scholarly world from the end of the eighteenth century until the end of the following century. There are therefore questions to be asked about the stance of French legal historians in that period toward Iceland, and about what it meant. On the one hand, it allowed them to renew their approach to their indigenous legal culture by locating in unknown (or hitherto ignored) sources the origins of their own national law elsewhere than in Roman law or in those law-codes that they termed “barbarian.” On the other hand, this allowed them to retain the notion of a civil law-code whilst avoiding the risk of an ever more perilous “Germanism.” When it comes to meaning, the use of Icelandic sources gave to many of these scholars of a liberal disposition (almost all of them from 1830s to 1840s) a sort of historical base from which their own political opinions could flourish.It even gave birth to a “Norse school” in French universities, a “school of legal history with a Scandinavian wing.” This school focused, on the one hand, on discovering (or rediscovering) Icelandic sources of law (see section I below) and, on other hand, on modeling those sources as a way to discover the distant origins of French law (see section II below).At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Noël de la Morinière, interested in Scandinavian antiquities in Normandy, admitted to the widespread contemporary ignorance of Norse texts: “They are not familiar to French people,” he said. “These documents seem to us like as Boreal forests which we only know from the sea littoral but in whose milieu we dare not penetrate” (Morinière 1799, 28). And when Domenico Alberto Azuni, a Sardinian jurist summoned to Paris by Napoleon Bonaparte, published his treaty on maritime law in 1810, he managed to ignore Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and, of course, Icelandic laws. When Jean-Marie Pardessus presented his monumental Collection des lois maritimes in the Themis review of 1823, he disregarded Scandinavian laws on the subject before the fifteenth century. In 1839, Édouard Laboulaye, member of Académie des inscriptions et belles lettres and Professor at the Collège de France, wondered out loud: ‘Who knows the name of Gragàs [sic], that curious law-code of the Icelanders?’ (Laboulaye 1839, 49). So we need to step back and review how the interest of French scholars in Icelandic sources took shape.The corpus of old Icelandic texts in France became known less through the writings of the early French pioneers of Icelandic studies in the seventeenth century (Isaac de La Peyrère or La Martinière) than through the authors of the eighteenth century, such as Jean-Baptiste Des Roches de Parthenay and Paul-Henri Mallet. The former, with a presentation of the Edda and a few sagas, such as the Eiríkr saga rauða (Saga of Erik the Red), in his Histoire du Dannemarc (1730), showed how French intellectuals begin to become acquainted with the wealth of this hitherto unknown culture (Des Roches de Parthenay 1730, lii–lviii). Mallet rooted the Icelandic medieval corpus within the domain of European learning. Mallet analyzed the Edda, used the sagas and the Grágás, and joined together the three elements of the poetic, narrative, and legal triptych in Icelandic patrimony (1755). For this Swiss scholar, these sources are the tabernacle of an immemorial culture (Davy 2022). A century later, Frédéric Eichhoff, a linguist and philologist, after translating Völuspá (sometimes called a “mythological code of the old Scandinavians” [Cordier de Launay de Valéri 1806, 168]), wrote as follows: How not to recognize in [this patrimony] the vigorous and true picture of the ancient Scandinavia's beliefs, the same as that in the Germania, the same as that across barbarian Europe before the Middle Ages; these latter fade into obscurity before the Gospel light, cast like a late spine-chilling gleam on the frozen rocks of Iceland?6Mallet and Eichhoff both follow in the path of Giambattista Vico and his hope that poetry and myths will help to unravel the mystery of ancient cultures (Gianturco 1977, 93–4). The philological development of fables and legends becomes a “literal mime of history,” and the mythological corpus becomes “its articulated discourse” (Schefer 1977, 172). In French universities, the reading of Vico offered a challenge to the exegetic school that gradually influenced the small band of legal historians such as Lerminier, Klimrath, or Laferrière (Audren and Halpérin 2001, 4). At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the influence of Vico's New Science opened up two lines of thought.On the one hand, we know how, via Vico and through Mallet, the members of the Coppet group draw inspiration from Icelandic poetry for their own approach to liberalism. For Germaine de Staël, to take an example of someone whose influence on the destiny of legal history in France remained important during the first half of the nineteenth century (Gaudemet 1998, 109), the North seemed “naturally metaphysic” and a national “soul,” a “genius,” and a “spirit.” These are the lessons that she derived from the Icelandic sources that she discovered through her reading of Mallet (Berthier 1977, 206). With Mallet, as Sismondi repeated in 1807, the study of Scandinavian customs, laws, religion, and liberty became paramount, “not only for Scandinavian peoples, but for all Europeans too” (Sismondi 1807, 17). This would have notable consequences on the works of some French jurists such as Henri Klimrath (Audren 2006, 123). And, at the end of the nineteenth century, Charles Ginoulhiac, Professor at the Faculty of Law in Toulouse, affirmed nothing less when he wrote that “because German and Frankish peoples, as Gauls before them, kept, in their own poetry or their songs, the memory of the important events of their founders, it is hardly surprising that they should preserve by that same route the legislation that they adopted” (Ginoulhiac 1884, 151). In other words, for many lawmen or historians of the French nineteenth century, Icelandic poetry was the key to discovering the oldest of old laws.On the other hand, the Eddic texts were also a source for understanding ancient symbolism. Dareste, famous historian and jurist, thought that Icelandic legal formulas were conducive to the democratic spirit (Dareste de la Chavanne 1881, 5). These formulas stood, according to Klimrath, as a “collection of the universal legal symbols” (Klimrath 1843, 149). Frédéric de Portal looked at the sagas in the same light. In his view, they are the “legends of the Scandinavian society's first ages” (Portal 1874, 202). For some jurists in the nineteenth century who studied the origins of French laws, the sagas (on which Iceland has a “quasi-monopoly”) were fables and folktales that contained a mythology that allowed one to access juridical prehistory (Koenigswarter 1842, 67). For them, this was no doubt an alluring hypothesis, and their presupposition about the sagas’ legal potential illustrates an aim behind Romanticism, which was to comprehend human destiny through cosmogony, to discover the origins of things through the emergence of myths, and also epics and folktales (Lund 1974, 108). In 1867, Paul Gide (Professor at the Faculty of Law in Paris and André’s father) studied the status of women in the ancient Germanic world, declaring that he would take “literally” the most ancient texts of barbarian law, by referring to the Edda and the Brennu Njál's saga (Gide 1885, 205), on which Jean-Marie Pardessus said that the author wrote “a folktale that outlined the civil and political institutions of his Nation” (1834, 45–54). A few decades later, Rodolphe Dareste would attempt a translation of this famous saga (based on two Danish and English translations), considered as “the true picture of ancient Scandinavian society” (Dareste de la Chavanne 1896, ii). More generally, according to Guillaume Jollivet in his thesis about the dowry in French law from 1879, although sagas were written down later on, they still provide us with precious information on the primitive law of Scandinavian peoples because they accurately reflect ancient customs (1879, 258). These nineteenth-century French scholars clearly did not heed the various injunctions about the nature of the texts on which they worked: those of Mallet, who insisted on the difficulties of distinguishing between truth and falsehood in sagas because of their predilection for the marvelous and fabulous (1755, 106), or those of Pinkerton, who felt that no one should ignore the fact that the sagas are full of mistruths (1804, 384). On the contrary, many French jurists of the period simply wanted to establish the connections between sagas and law-codes—Pardessus, Koenigswarter, and Du Boys, to name but a few.The Grágás, the standard edition of which was established by Johan Schlegel in 1829 (that of Viljámur Finsens [1852] seems to have remained unknown during a large part of the century), began to be used in French historical circles in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Pardessus, who engaged in correspondence with the Danish publisher of the work, considered that serious misunderstanding of the sagas would result unless we had the Grágás “under our very eyes” (1834, 45–54). A kind of custumal collection for Dareste (Dareste de la Chavanne 1889, 343), a sort of compilation of court decisions comparable to the French Olim for Jollivet (1879, 278), the Grágás could not, however, be considered as laws or codes according to Pardessus, because the text had not been officially enacted (Pardessus 1831, 194, 201).Despite such nuances, many French jurists of the nineteenth century simply regarded this compilation as a draft of “the most ancient Scandinavian law,” as Koenigswarter put it (1850, 188). For the barrister Léonce Delaporte, in his thesis defended at the Faculty of Law of Paris in 1881, of all the old laws, the Icelandic Grágás reproduced Germanic customs most faithfully (1881, 154). For Paul Gide, the Grágás is the Scandinavian law's most ancient monument (1885, 229). For Jacques Flach (Laboulaye's successor at the Collège de France), the text dates only to the twelfth century, but it reveals a much older law (Flach 1870, 46). So it becomes habitual to regard the compilation as the substrate of ancient native customs, which is how the legal historian and sociologist Henri Lévy-Bruhl would still see it in the first third of the twentieth century (Lévy-Bruhl 1929, 457n3). Moreover, the late composition of the Grágás's manuscripts was not regarded as problematic because jurists and historians had confidence in the information given by narrative sources that referred to the laws enacted before the tenth century (as Pardessus and Geffroy said), or because (as Gide put it) “if one had to judge the seniority of an institution by the date of the official text that put it into writing, then Scandinavian laws could not claim the birthright,” whilst “the most recent laws in terms of their dates of promulgation are sometimes the earliest in terms of their origins.”7In other words, the philological satisfaction of discovering a corpus of texts that had been hitherto ignored had created a kind of heedless enthusiasm when it came to Iceland, a debt that European nations were obliged to recognize. That, at least, is what Ernest Nys affirmed: Icelandic people deserve our respect and gratitude. Their life is based on that most cherished sentiment, the love of liberty. This love endowed them with remarkable institutions, which render a service to the modern world. It is thanks to them, indeed, that we possess on the subject of the most interesting of the Scandinavian groups, the Norsemen [i.e., the Norwegian People], some literary monuments of the first order. It is thanks to them that we come to know so many rich folktales about customs, hopes and genius.8That sentiment was duly noted, and it was with those Icelandic sources in mind that a historiographical re-interpretation of the French legal past was undertaken.In the second half of the nineteenth century, Paul Gide wrote: In Scandinavia we find the ancient Germania, the morals and institutions that Tacitus had described, somewhat modified no doubt. Everywhere else, by contrast, under the impact of natural and normal development, they have been fundamentally altered or falsified through alien influences.9From this postulate arises the simple question: What did French nineteenth-century jurists and historians discover through their interest in old Icelandic laws?In the first place, many legal historians of the period adopted a philosophy of history that regarded the ninth-century Vikings as replicating the barbarian invasions of the fifth century. The common origins (for them, perhaps more Gothic than strictly Germanic) of all these peoples stem from a classic perception of the North as a matrix of nations, as Koenigswarter calls it (1842, 66). It was from ancient Scanzia, Ortolan wrote, that “the old chroniclers show us the departure of Gothic hordes who impart to other tribes their own southward movement” (1831, 45). This ethnogenetic approach connected both waves of invaders, that of late Antiquity and that of the Carolingian epoch—and Lucien Musset still reflected that attitude in the middle of the twentieth century. We here encounter the chronological approach of a certain philosophy of history that several French jurists, such as Laferrière, decide to endorse (Durelle-Marc 2015, 174). “In the fifth and sixth centuries, Scandinavian civilisation was the same as that of the Germans who decided not to join the great invasion,” wrote Ernest Lavisse, the “renowned national teacher” of the Third Republic (1893, 730; Nora 1984, 247–91).In the second place, when they focused on ancient Germanic laws, many French legal historians elaborated on Tacitus's Germania through what medieval Scandinavian sources revealed to them. For Guillaume Jollivet, the law of Scandinavian people “reveals the strongest analogy with Germanic law as documented by Tacitus” (Jollivet 1879, 277). In 1897, Lucien de Valroger was still content to repeat the notion that “old Scandinavian law enlightens and completes what Caesar and Tacitus teach us about Germanic people and barbarian laws in the fifth century” (Valroger 1897, 326).The similarities between what the legal historians knew about old barbarian laws and what they speculated about ancient Scandinavian laws is enlightening. As Louis-Jean Koenigswarter pointed out, what had been previously rejected on the grounds of ignorance was now “confirmed by some serious research on ancient Scandinavian laws, which have been found to have indisputable links with the usages and customs of German peoples, hitherto described by the modern civilized world as ‘barbarian’ when they arrived on the historical scene.”10So, on the basis of this legal genealogy, many authors explored Icelandic sagas as a way to explain ancient barbarian laws (Guillouard 1894–1896, 31–2). The sentiment of Frédéric de Portal on this point is revealing: “The Visigothic law-code was not a reformation of barbarian laws but the writing down of ancestral customs, as revealed not only in Icelandic and Norwegian law-codes, the Grágás and the Gula-Things-Laug, but also in the eddas and the sagas” (Portal 1874, 216).Accordingly, Scandinavian sources could be a key to understanding old Europeans laws. This was one of the lessons taught in the works of the academician Auguste Geffroy on medieval Iceland: The attentive study of the history of Scandinavian law and customs reveals one of the sources from which modern societies emerged. Icelandic and Norwegian codes, the Grágás, offer us the distinctive example legislation, in modern terms, that had not been transformed by Christianity; and the Edda, that great theatre whose stage is sometimes a viking boat, sometimes the Odin's palace, sometimes the Uppsala's temple and its bloody sacrifices, takes us back to the customs, the prejudices, and the discourses through which we rediscover, in part, the habitudes and genius of our Middle Ages.11From the 1840s until the end of the nineteenth century, French scholars read barbarian laws in the light of Icelandic texts (Jollivet 1879, 280; Jobbé-Duval 1880, 115). For the French archivist Paul Viollet, the Carolingian epoch “always corresponds to that of ancient Scandinavian law” (1893, 251n1). Sometimes, it is true, they take liberties with the etymology. So Edmé Rathery suggested that vassals (vassi) in the Lex salica have a Nordic origin in the word “vask” found in Icelandic law (Rathery 1843, 52). His view, one that placed him in the shadow of Montesquieu, emphasized the Germanic origins of feudalism (Ourliac 1995, 26).For many French scholars in the nineteenth century, Iceland manifested itself as the sanctuary of the common culture of “Germanic civilization” (Zernack 2011, 174–82). They argued that an ancient linguistic community brought together “the different branches from a common trunk” (Joye 2007, 287). The discovery of legal Icelandic sources through Schegel's works, that Koenigswarter integrated into his history of French law as a component of its barbaric origins (Koenigswarter 1853, 42–4) filled a gap in the “monument of our ancient legislation” and allowed modern legal science to repair the omission (Koenigswarter 1853, 1–3). “Icelandic, Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish monuments offer us veins of some potential new riches to explore; they will help us to complete the study of the spirit of Germanic laws in their antique and primordial forms,” according to Du Boys.12This approach to Icelandic law, one which sought “the exact expression of the old tudesc customs” (Espinay 1862, 30), was not, however, without its critics. Ludovic Beauchet, professor at the University of Nancy, regarded it as debatable (Beauchet 1885b, xiiin1). Even so, he nevertheless declared that the study of Icelandic law in the thirteenth century “affords the particular interest of an ancient and rigorous law, based on the spirit of solidarity but not yet influenced by the Christian Church, and very close to the other Norse laws of the Germanic past” (Beauchet 1885a, 65). Thirty years earlier, Louis-Jean Koenigswarter had also written that “to affirm the Scandinavian race is nothing else than the Germanic race in its ancient purity” is probably false. But he accepted that the myths and folktales of ancient Scandinavia could throw light on Germanic antiquities better than the barbarian laws written in Latin and influenced by the Christian Church (Koenigswarter 1853, 4). As he put it, “one point on which all European scholars agree, is that they [European scholars] greatly illuminate the myths, history, customs, religion, and law from Scandinavian onto Germanic antiquity, and thereby cast light on the similarities between religion, customs, and law in both races” (Koenigswarter 1850, 186).For French jurists, ancient Icelandic law was attractive because of its impermeability to Christian and Roman influences, in contrast to the so-called “barbarian” laws, which all suffered from the weight of the ius Romanorum imposed on them (Esmein 1892, 40). As the lawyer Eugène Mouton pointed out, the laws written during the fifth century cannot provide an exact idea of Germanic laws because Christianity and sedentary civilization had replaced the nomadic life and heroic mythology of the Roman Empire's invaders. Thus, throughout Icelandic documents, it became possible to study old Germanic laws in their original forms (Mouton 1887, 82–3). Independent Norse culture was therefore placed in contrast to a medieval Europe that, year after year, had been subjected to the political and legal legacy of Rome (Minier 1854, 22). And it was a contrast of opposites by their very nature (Koenigswarter 1842, 67).Even the most fastidious of scholars now found many reasons to look for the common origins of European laws in Icelandic sources. That is what Jean-Servais-Guillaume Nypels, a teacher of criminal law at the University of Liège, said in his study of French law (1863): The old Scandinavian documents are the most important source of the Germanic legal history. That is not only because they are older and more extensive than other Germanic law-codes, but also because they are written in the vernacular language through which ideas come down to us without alteration.He then added: The first amongst them, that is to say those of Iceland, present Germanic law to us in its oldest and purest form, free from every alien element.13The reason for the impermeability of Icelandic law-codes was historical and geographical isolation, which many scholars pointed out. According to the lawyer and historian Edmond Bonnal de Ganges, it is to their boreal latitudes that the Icelanders owe the originality of their national institutions (Bonnal de Ganges 1875, 199). Legislation presented in the Grágás, stated the archivist and academician Eugène Cauchy, revealed to us a civilization hitherto ignored throughout the world (1862, 316). In his thesis, defended in 1874 at the Faculty of Law in Paris, Émile Jobbé-Duval seemed alone in his affirmation that canonical influences on the Grágás were the result of the influence of the Christian Church on ancient Germanic foundations (Jobbé-Duval 1880, 85–6). On the contrary, many French jurists found in Iceland an original and pristine legal tradition. In that way, they constructed an abstraction that accorded a large role to philosophy and history in the reconstruction of ancient law (Halpérin 2001, 17). As Auguste Geffroy pointed out, the Grágás was an original code that had not been modified by Christianity (1851, 64). It is a law free from all foreign influences, repeated Albert Du Boys (1865, 21), a national law-code immune to meddling influences, added Firmin Laferrière (Laferrière 1858, 8). This was the common credo of French legal historians in the 1850s and 1860s. For Louis-Jean Koenigswarter, “Roman law remained forever alien to Norse law-codes, and Christianity only penetrated Scandinavia many centuries after other European peoples had been converted” (1842, 5).The result tended to turn Iceland into a sanctuary. As Rodolphe Dareste put it, “among Scandinavian countries, Iceland merits particular attention. That is where there are the most venerable monuments of Norse language and Norse literature. Icelandic laws, as we see them, are not older than those of Danemark, Sweden, or Norway, but they are more marked by the spirit of the ancient law” (Dareste de la Chavanne 1881, 490). While Germanic culture had been altered in Denmark or Sweden, lonely Icelanders kept their own customs and their language intact, writes Eichhoff (1853, 42).The argument frequently used by French scholars in the nineteenth century to attest the original character of Icelandic law-codes was to insist on the idiom in which they had been preserved over many centuries. Unlike barbarian laws transformed by Latin, points out Koenigswarter, Icelandic law has retained an unarguable authenticity (1853, 4). In the same vein, Laferrière writes that “Icelandic law . . . had been declared in the general assembly of the Norwegian colony a long time before it was written down; at the beginning of each year, this law was orally reproduced by the President of Assembly called the ‘Promulgator of law’ [Lawspeaker, i.e., lögsögumaðr].”14 This sort of argument explains the interest of French jurists and historians in focusing on the oral tradition as long-surviving evidence of legal memory. In any event, Icelandic law is proof of a widespread conservatism (even revolutions are conservative in Iceland, recalled Gide [1885, 230]). And this process of “sanctification” gradually came to focus on the Lawspeaker (Davy 2021).Although the formulas remained clumsy (for example, the “zangmand,” in a study published in 1837 in the Revue britannique), they illustrated the historiographical interest in the central place accorded the lögsögumaðr: for Auguste Geffroy, the Lawspeaker was the Commonwealth's chief magistrate (1864, 352); for Ludovic Beauchet, written laws are the exact transcription of his lögsaga (1890, 721–7); he was “viva vox juris civilis” [the living voce of civil law], stated Rodolphe Dareste (1881, 492). Finally, French jurists saw the Lawspeaker as the physical incarnation of the “Icelandic legal genius.” The interest of nineteenth-century French legal scholars in Iceland should not be overstated. In many ways, the Icelandic legal history's attractiveness to historians and jurists reveals a desire to find an original, but fantasized, political and social model on which to project their beliefs about the origins of European laws and institutions, and thereby the origins of their own law. But such an approach was predicated on a lot of assumptions, only some of which turned out to be true. Their starting point was a faith in a pan-scandinavianism that has yet to be proved (Urbańczyk 2009, 137–62).So was this “Norse school” in French universities just a fantasy? Certainly, it was a hope that inspired a pioneering generation of liberal jurists (Laferrière, Klimrath, Laboulaye), largely influenced by legal romanticism. It had a lesser impact on the following generation, which had to confront methodological change in the faculties of Law, and face the hazards of the geopolitical context in Europe. The aspiration to explore Icelandic sources to justify, through history, a sort of political liberalism, which inspired Laferrière until 1851 (Durelle-Marc 2015, 19–23) or the ambition to distinguish through Norse history the origins of French laws from those of Germanic laws (those of “Southern Germans,” of course) were neither probably of sufficient weight to introduce a specific discipline into French universities. The political and ideological bias of its advocates, sometimes incautiously expressed, may also have served to limit its impact. Even before the First World War, the primitivism of Snorri's Edda, of the sagas and of the Grágás, was progressively abandoned as new and relevant Scandinavian historiographical works became integrated into French research. The social sciences also witnessed a real revolution in France at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, between the quest for the New History and its attendant prospectus of offering new scientific approaches, and the influence of “Durkhemian sociology”—both offering other perspectives on how to understand the national law of ancient societies (Mucchielli 1995, 55–98). It was the end of an era.Thus, we should close on the note of approval registered by Rodolphe Dareste when Ludovic Beauchet declined to go further back than the thirteenth century in search of the origins of the Swedish law of property (Histoire de la propriété foncière en Suède, Paris, Larose, 1904). Dareste could congratulate him on not “becoming lost in some idle speculation.”15

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