The Earliest States of Eastern Europe
DG-2017-2018, 347-367

Justice for the Lord: the Process of 1467 in the Context of Socio-Cultural Changes in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the Second Half of the 15th Century

A. I. Hruša

The paper follows an example of establishing new ways of reasoning, taking
nonstandard decisions, and overcoming of the power of traditional norms, in
the practice of justice in the Great Duchy of Lithuania in the second half of the
15th century. The lawsuit of 1467, between Olekhna Sudimontovich and Yurey
Zenovyevich, concerning a land property over River Olenets, is analyzed. The
surviving record of the lawsuit allows us to analyze the motives of both parties,
the opportunities they had as to defend their interests, their explicit and implicit
claims, their attitudes towards social norms and traditional procedures, the repertory
of their steps, manoeuvres, strategies, their mental and emotional reactions in
changing circumstances, in response to new challenges and new perspectives. It
is shown in which conditions, circumstances, and socio-cultural environment new
forms of legitimization appeared. The lawsuit analyzed almost entirely lacked elements
of game or performance, in which the main method of the parties would
have been to influence each other and the judges, to manipulate them, to provoke
certain sayings or actions using linguistic, rhetoric, or psychological techniques.
The judges were not dogmatic in their following of traditional canons. Purporting
at finding out of the truth, overcoming psychological pressure from of the parties
of the lawsuit as well as their own hesitations and doubts, the judges took a nonstandard,
unprecedented decision. They chose logical proofs instead of traditional
One can conclude that social changes of the 15th century led to a decline of
old forms of piety, including the disappearance of severe and effective sanctions
for breaking religious and moral norms. This decline broke the balance of social
forces, increased violence, made intimidating and lie instruments in the hands of
certain powerful persons advocating their private interests. Traditional principles
and methods of justice became a mean of illegal claims and manipulations. The
judges found themselves in new, nonstandard circumstances, where there were no
ready decisions inherited from the tradition. In those circumstances they tried to
find out verified and balanced decisions relying not upon the tradition but upon
their own reasoning and upon the reasoning of those who assessed their decisions.
The judges, thus, turned to critical thinking. The latter implied that they
had to consider and to analyze, among other things, the subjective, personal factor,
to turn to an informal way of thinking, to search and consider new facts.
In those conditions of the changing forms of piety, the decline of moral norms,
the breaking of social balance, the inability of legal procedures, and the psychological
tension, documental practices emerged. Document was a heir of the
tradition. It replaced the tradition where the latter became routine and could not
play the role of religious imperative any more. Document replaced oral testimony.
When trial overcame the frames of the tradition and stopped to be uniform,
presupposing a standard sequence of steps, and when the judges faced unusual
circumstances, that was the document which helped to justify the strictness of the
course of the trial and the validity of the decision taken.

the Great Duchy of Lithuania, lawsuit, law, tradition, innovation, testimony, court procedures, proof, document, rationality, critical thinking, informal way of thinking

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