Maritime law history

Maritime law historyThere was a great enlargement of the application of the principles of the Roman Law in the revival of commerce consequent upon the growth of the Italian republics and the great free cities of the Rhine and the Baltic Sea. The Teutonic barbarians had destroyed the commerce of Europe outside of the Byzantine Empire. Those bandits had no use for commerce. They infested the sea, at least some of them did, as well as the land, but it was only for the purpose of piracy. They were pirates at sea, and highway robbers on land. But when the reaction commenced in Italy, and the Italian republics grew and prospered and devoted themselves to trade, and the merchant fleets of Venice and Genoa and Pisa and Amalfi traded with the Byzantine Empire and the Levant, and especially after the Crusades had given an impetus to the trade of the Mediterranean, legislation was needed for the regulation of commerce, and the principles of that legislation was found in the Roman Law, which itself is conceded by the Roman writers to have borrowed them from the Rhodians. Three noted codes of maritime law were formulated in Europe during the three centuries between A.D. 1000 and A.D. 1300 - one, Il Consolato del Mare, which was adopted by the cities on the Mediterranean; the second, the Laws of Oleron, which prevailed in France and England; and the third, the Laws of Wisby, which governed the great free cities of the Hanseatic League on the Baltic.

The oldest of these codes was the Consolato del Mare, or Regulation of the Sea, prepared either at Barcelona, in Spain, then as now the principal seaport of that country, or at Pisa, in Italy, which at that time constituted with Venice and Genoa the great trading cities of the Italian peninsula. The date of its first promulgation is not known; but it preceded the First Crusade, which was commenced in A.D. 1096. It was a compilation of comprehensive rules for all maritime subjects, without much order in its plan, but marked by a most liberal and equitable spirit. It dealt with the ownership of vessels, the duties and responsibilities of the masters or captains thereof, duties of seamen and their wages, freight, salvage, jettison, average contribution, the rights of neutrals in time of war - in fact, with all the subjects that now enter into the admiralty and maritime law of all civilized nations; and its principles have been universally adopted by the nations. It was not the oldest of the Mediterranean codes of the Middle Ages with which we are acquainted. It had been preceded by one prepared at Amalfi, when Amalfi was the most famous of Italian seaports, and which was known by the name of the Amalfian Tables; but the Amalfian Tables were superseded by the Consolato del Mare, and the latter became and remained the maritime law of the Mediterranean through all the period of the Middle Ages, and down even to comparatively recent times. Both were confessedly based upon the Roman Civil Law. Feudal usage contributed nothing to them, but its antagonism and enmity; and they were radically at variance with the tenets of Feudalism.

The Consolato del Mare inspired the second great code of maritime regulation, the Laws of Oleron, which are supposed to have been compiled about A.D. 1150. It is generally understood that we owe them to a woman, Eleanor, Duchess of Guienne, Queen first of Louis VII of France, who procured a divorce from her, and afterwards of Henry II of England, the first of the Plantagenets. The statement is, that, when she was in the East whither she accompanied her first husband, the King of France, on the Second Crusade, she became acquainted with the Consolato del Mare, which was then dominant in the Levant, and being struck with its adaptability for use by the people of her own Duchy of Guienne, who were largely engaged in the Atlantic coast trade at the time, caused it to be recast and enlarged, and promulgated in the little island of Oleron, off the coast of Guienne, then the centre of the commerce of Southwestern France. It was soon adopted both in France and England under the title of the Laws of Oleron, by which name the compilation is known to this day. It is said to have been introduced into England either by Eleanor herself or by her son Richard Coeur de Lion. With more or less modification it is the maritime law of the civilized world today. If Eleanor of Guienne inspired or compiled the Laws of Oleron, or caused them to be compiled, it is greatly more to her credit than anything else history tells us in regard to her. But she is more likely to have been instrumental in the performance of the work than her utterly worthless and profligate son, Richard.