Mirror penalty

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A mirror penalty is a penalty that reflects the previous offense or is reciprocated in the same way. It inflicts the same kind of damage on a perpetrator as that which he has inflicted, or a different type of damage that is related to his act and is intended to make it impossible to repeat it. This usually means corporal punishment such as chopping off hands for theft ( lat. Punitio membri “punishment on the part of the body with which the crime was committed”). The underlying legal principle is a special form of Talion .“The punishment itself should say why it is imposed. Such punishments can be called reflective punishments because they are supposed to reflect the crime. "


Mirror penalties are widespread in almost every ethnic group regardless of culture and are already known from some early legal texts from antiquity . One example is the Codex Hammurapi (around 1800 BC). There mirror fines appear mainly in connection with crimes of bodily harm and homicide:

§ 1: If a citizen accuses a citizen and has thrown murder (guilt) on him, but (it) does not prove him, then who accused him will be killed.
§ 192: When a man knocks out a man's tooth, his tooth is knocked out.
§ 230: If a builder had carelessly built a house, it collapsed and killed the house owner's son when it collapsed, the builder's son is killed.

The Codex Eschnunna, on the other hand, was 200 years older and provided for material damages for comparable offenses , so it did not emphasize the atonement of the perpetrator, but something that today would be classified as civil damages. It is questionable whether these thoughts are similar to today's criminal offender-victim reconciliation . Both criminal law traditions are found in the Hebrew Torah , which has been used since 1000 BC. The oldest part of the Bible , which originated in the 3rd century BC . There you will find the so-called Talion formula several times : "a life for a life, an eye for an eye , a tooth for a tooth, ... wound for wound, welt for welt" or more abstractly: "measure for measure".

In research, however, this formula is mostly not seen as evidence of an actual legal practice of mirror sentences in Israel. Because it does not call on the injured party to retaliate , but on the perpetrator to compensate for the damage, the extent of which a judge should determine after a precise accounting of the damage. Concrete examples in the context show that the perpetrator should not knock out one eye for the loss of an eye, but rather that the perpetrator should provide compensation, for example in the form of the release of a slave ( Ex 21.18–26  EU ). The biblical Talion formula forbade the blood revenge that was widespread at the time and was intended to replace it with liability and damage settlement limited to the individual cause with the aim of reducing and preventing violence. Nevertheless, in the case of murder , for example, compensation for damages was excluded and the death penalty demanded ( Gen 9.6  EU ):

Whoever sheds blood, his blood shall be shed by people.

According to ancient Roman law, the deliberate arsonist was judged by the mirror penalty of death by fire. Since the tongue was seen as the main speaking organ, in antiquity and in the Middle Ages contradiction, slander , libel , betrayal , perjury , blasphemy and other acts committed by speaking were punished with mutilation, cutting off or tearing out the tongue. Mild forms were piercing or scorching the tongue.


Thinking of retaliation aimed at harming or annihilating the criminal remained widespread in legal history. It shows z. B. in the oral fairy tale traditions.

In the European Middle Ages , especially since the 13th century (see Sachsenspiegel ), the death penalty was tightened: Even thieves were hanged and exposed to the scorching sun as a warning.

In Islamic countries such as Iran or Saudi Arabia , which have enshrined Sharia as state law, Talion punishments are still possible today: thieves are cut off the hand that was used to steal. Offenders who swore perjury will either have their tongues cut off or their oath fingers cut off. Virgin rapists are emasculated , etc.

See also


  • Gustav Radbruch, Heinrich Gwinner: History of the crime. Frankfurt am Main 1990.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Heinrich Brunner : German legal history. Volume 2, Leipzig 1892, p. 767ff.
  2. ^ Max Kaser : Roman legal history . 2nd revised edition. Verlag Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1976, ISBN 3-525-18102-7 , § 29, p. 124.
  3. ^ Wolfgang Kunkel , Martin Schermaier : Roman legal history . 13th edition, Böhlau, Cologne a. a. 2001, ISBN 978-3-8252-2225-3 , § 2, p. 42.