Vol.3, No.1 | [Articles] The Judicial Punishment of Decalvatio in Visigothic Spain: A Proposed Solution based on Isidore of Seville and the Lex Visigothorum



The Visigothic judicial punishment known as decalvation has been widely studied for more than a century, yet there exists no general agreement concerning its exact nature. Scholars concur that decalvation involved a shameful mutilation of the head and hair, but there is disagreement about whether the punishment involved scalping or merely shaving one’s head. Some well-known texts seem to suggest scalping, but several little-known passages from Isidore of Seville and the Lex Visigothorum clearly indicate that enduring decalvation did not preclude one’s hair from growing back, and that decalvation could be inflicted on a malefactor more than once. Additionally, a thirteenth century Castilian translation of the Lex Visigothorum renders decalvation as ráyanle la cabeza, shaving the head. These and other medieval texts support my contention that in the Visigothic kingdom decalvation normally involved shaving the head, or perhaps shearing the hair very closely, but that it did not normally involve scalping.

Keywords : Visigothic, Isidore, Jews, Decalvation, Law