Farmer’s Law, (Latin: Leges Rusticae, Greek: Nomos Georgikos) is a Byzantine legal code drawn up in the 8th century AD, probably during the reign of Emperor Leo III the Isaurian (717–741), which focused largely on matters concerning the peasantry and the villages in which they lived. It protected the farmer’s property and established penalties for misdemeanors committed by the villagers. It was designed for a growing class of free peasantry, supplemented by the influx of Slavic peoples into the empire, that became a dominant social class in later centuries.
Its provisions concerned property damage, various kinds of theft, and taxation. The village was regarded as a fiscal unit, and payment of a communal tax was required of all members of the community. The land and crops of delinquent farmers could be appropriated by anyone willing to pay the tax.
The significance of the Farmer’s Law lay in its axiom that the landowner was also a taxpayer; its influence was widespread, having an impact on legal developments among the south and east Slavs, particularly in Serbia.
For historians, Farmer’s Law constitutes an important source for the study of the internal life of the Byzantine villages during the Middle Byzantine Era (7th - end of 12th century). Due to its importance, the "Farmer's Law" roused the interest of researchers of Byzantine history from a very early stage and ever since it has been one of the most discussed texts concerning the internal history of Byzantium.
Harry Turtledove attended a seminar on Farmer’s Law when he studied Byzantine history. In his forward to the story "Farmers' Law", Turtledove acknowledged his debt to his former lecturer, Professor Speros Vryonis, Jr. (who would not have thought his student would utilize this knowledge for writing a detective story).
Farmers' Law in "Farmers' Law"
The Farmers' Law governed the conduct of villagers in the town of Abrostola. It allowed the farmer Theodore to seize the wages of the shepherd Basil after he was caught stealing milk and sheep he was tending for Theodore and force the blacksmith Demetrios to shut down his mill because it was drawing too much water from the Lalandos to allow Theodore to water his wheat fields.
However it was imperfectly applied. Because Theodore was a well-off and influential farmer, he prevented Kostas, another farmer, from receiving compensation when the two traded land which turned out was not as good as Kostas had originally thought. Theodore also killed an ox belonging to John which Theodore claimed had wandered onto his land. If this were the case, he would have been allowed, under Farmers' Law to do so without compensating John. However, the body of the ox was found on John's land. Nevertheless, Theodore avoided compensating John.
These various disputes left Father George with many possible suspects when Theodore was discovered murdered.
- See, e.g., Atlantis and Other Places, pgs. 225-226, HC.
- Ibid., pgs. 228-229.
- Ibid., pg. 224.
- Ibid., pgs. 229-230.