Sunday, 11 January 2009

240 years ago

Although the title page actually says 1769, on December 31st it was 240 years since the Constitutio Criminalis Theresiana was published. This criminal law passed by Empress Maria Theresa was her attempt at unifying criminal law throughout the countries under Austrian rule, thereby putting an end to various local judicial practices. E.g. the Theresiana aimed at limiting the use of torture for judicial purposes, and consequently it contains various descriptions in text and figures on the minutiae of the methods of torture. The parts of the book describing these methods are available in a German book publish by Reprint-Verlag in Leipzig: Folterwerkzeuge und ihre Anwendung 1769. This is not pleasant reading, and the pain inflicted by the torture is clearly visible on the faces of the victims in the illustrations.

The Theresiana also deals with cases of witchcraft and in that sense sums up Maria Theresa's previous endeavours to fight acts of superstition like the burning of corpses suspected of magia posthuma, see e.g. this post, although the Theresiana apparently had to be more conservative than the actual practice. Witchcraft trials had actually been abolished in 1766.

Fortunately, less than twenty years later torture was abolished with the criminal law passed by Maria Theresa's son Joseph II in 1787.

Online the Theresiana is available as a PDF file.

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