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Middle English, from Old English dōm; akin to Old High German tuom condition, state, Old English dōn to do


b (1) : judgment 3a (2) : judgment day 1
  • 3 a : destiny; especially : unhappy destiny
b : death, ruin



Writing in the eighth century, the Venerable Bede comments that King Æthelberht, "beside all other benefits that he of wise policy bestowed upon his subjects, appointed them, with his council of wise men, judicial dooms according to the examples of the Romans."luxta exempla Romanorum" is the Latin phrase Bede uses here; the meaning of this statement has exercised the curiosity of historians for centuries. It was not, as with the continental Germanic tribes, that Æthelberht had the law written down in Latin; rather, without precedent, he used his own native language, Old English, to express the dooms, or laws and judgements, which had force in his kingdom. Some have speculated that "according to the examples of the Romans" simply meant that Æthelberht had decided to cast the law in writing, whereas previously it had always been a matter of unwritten tradition and custom, handed down through generations through oral transmission, and supplemented by the edicts of kings. As such, Æthelberht's law code constitutes an important break in the tradition of Anglo-Saxon law: the body of Kentish legal customs, or at least a portion of them, were now represented by a written statement - fixed, unchanging, no longer subject to the vagueries of memory. Law was now something that could be pointed to, and, significantly, disseminated with ease.

Whatever were the exact motives for making oral law into written code, King Æthelberht's law code was the first of a long series of Anglo-Saxon law codes that would be published in England for the next four and a half centuries. Almost without exception, every official version of royal law issued during the Anglo-Saxon period was written in Old English.

See also