Category Archives: Manuscripts

Digitizing legal manuscripts at the Vatican Library

In this century several major research libraries and national libraries have started to digitize their manuscript collections. On my blog I have reported for instance about digitized legal manuscripts in the British Library. Legal manuscripts were included also in the project Europeana Regia for the reconstruction of the medieval royal libraries. One of my earliest posts concerned the Swiss project e-codices. More recently I wrote here about digitized manuscripts from Chartres and the Mont Saint-Michel. The digitized medieval and Renaissance legal manuscripts at the Collegio di Spagna in Bologna did not escape my attention, too. In 2013 the project at UCLA for the Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts came to a halt because the two courageous scholars responsible for this project could not cope anymore with the tasks of creating a consistent and yet detailed catalogue. The question how to find out about the presence of digitized manuscripts is not easily answered.

Logo Digivatlib

For one particular massive project there is a way to stay informed. The current digitization project for the manuscripts of the Vatican Library has made considerable progress. Already some three thousand manuscripts can now be viewed online. However, this library did until this week not publish lists of recent additions. How can you stay informed about manuscripts which might interest you? In this contribution I will look at the efforts of Jean-Baptiste Piggin, a journalist and historian in New-Zealand, who since 2015 has patiently reported at his blog Macro-Typography about recently added digitized items. His service to scholars and the general public deserves our thanks and admiration. For your convenience I have put together a list of the legal manuscripts Piggin signalled until now. Piggin himself is interested in the history and use of diagrams, including those created by medieval lawyers, and this offers me a chance to write here about legal iconography, too. At Twitter you can find Piggin, too (@JBPIggin).

Thousands of manuscripts

The collections of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV) in Vatican City are truly extraordinary. Not only their sheer number is immense, but also the presence of many remarkable manuscripts make this library an institution beyond repositories elsewhere. During its long existence the BAV was able to acquire entire manuscript collections. The Palatini came from the ducal library at Heidelberg, the Ottoboniani from cardinal Ottoboni, the Urbinati from Urbino, the Chigiani from the Chigi family, and these are just a few examples. Luckily there are even special bibliographies for the modern scholarly literature about these manuscripts. The BAV has created a separate online manuscript catalogue. The main digitization project of the BAV has several sister projects, for example for Syriac and Chinese manuscripts.

Logo Bibliotheca Palatina Digital - UB Heidelberg

The most important accompanying project deals with the Palatini latini, some 2,000 Latin manuscripts originally kept at Heidelberg, and now digitized and only accessible online at the portal Bibliotheca Palatina digital of the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg. With the advanced search mode of the Palatina Search you can directly search for particular manuscripts. For the subject Recht you will find some 220 digitized manuscripts, but alas it turns out this search does not yield the result you would expect, because not only legal texts show up. Using filters such as Pal. lat. does help somewhat, but in my view it is not correct when the filters Justiz and Kanonistik give almost completely identical search results. The fact you can find individual texts within a manuscript is not only welcome, but simply necessary. The overview of Palatini latini is organized in some twenty lists with each one hundred manuscripts. Arranging by year, author or title does help a bit. However, a check with the lists’ view at Heidelberg makes clear you can confine your search for legal manuscripts among the Palatini latini mainly to the shelfmarks Pal. lat 621 to 800. The university library at Heidelberg has a separate website for searching images in the Palatini manuscripts.

Having the Palatina Search at your disposal is really useful and important when you look at Piggin’s series of posts with digitized Palatini latini. It would be a herculean task to add for each manuscript in his lists a short or long description. For the Palatini Piggin often gives the author’s name and the title of a work. So far Piggin has counted some 3,200 digitized manuscripts from the BAV. In his early posts he did not include complete lists. Until now he mentioned on his blog some sixty Palatini latini with legal texts. By the way, at the end of each post Piggin asks for comments and additions from people who know more about newly digitized manuscripts.

Apart from the Palatini latini Piggin mentions I have now a list in front of me with 33 legal manuscripts. This number puzzles me a lot. Stephan Kuttner and Reinhard Elze published two volumes of their Catalogue of canon and Roman law manuscripts in the Vatican Library, I: Codices Vaticani latini 541-2299, II: Codices Vaticani Latini 2300-2746 (Città del Vaticano 1986-1987). These two volumes should have been followed by three consecutive volumes, but for various reasons this has not yet happened. Gero Dolezalek and Martin Bertram have put PDF’s with the draft galley proofs of the third volume online. They bring us to Vat. lat. 11527. A similar project for other manuscript collections at the BAV is one of the projects that will bear fruits in particular for the field of medieval canon law. The overviews created by Brendan McManus for medieval canon law texts, the Manuscripta Iuridica database at Frankfurt am Main for texts concerning Roman and feudal law, and the Initia operum iuris canonici medii aevi of Giovanna Murano are at many points much more concise for manuscripts held at the Vatican Library. With this information at our disposal I should really look again at the nearly fifty (!) posts Piggin published and check them against these combined resources. For my consolation I can only remark that you will have to perform a similar task when you want to know about for example medieval medical or mathematical manuscripts at the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.

After all these preliminary remarks I had better give you simply these thirty-three manuscripts as presented by Jean-Baptiste Piggin, starting for your convenience with the Vaticani Latini:

  • 630 pt.1 – Isidorus Mercator, Decretalium collectio
  • 841, De Regimine Principum, a guide-book for princes, by Giles of Rome (Aegidius Romanus)
  • 1130, anonymous (John of Paris?) on papal authority
  • 3978, handbook for the Inquisition
  • 3740, about 60 texts on apostolic poverty made to advise Pope John XXII at the time of a controversy with the Franciscans 1322-23 on the issue
  • 3833, Collectio Canonum by Deusdedit, written between 1083 and 1087. This is the sole complete manuscript of this legal work. See Lotte Kéry. Notable for tabular material, but no diagrams. This is a palimpsest with four Vulgate gospels from the 7th or 8th century underneath (see Trismegistos)
  • 12723, manuscript records of the Inquisition

The presentation of these manuscripts differs from a short notice to a much fuller description for some of them. “Lotte Kéry” refers to her repertory Canonical collections of the Early Middle Ages (ca. 400–1140) : a bibliographical guide to the manuscripts and literature (Washington, D.C., 1999), partially digitized by The Company with the Search Engine. Trismegistos is a database for ancient papyri and inscriptions. I will expand later on Piggin’s interest in diagrams.

The descriptions for the other manuscripts I took from Piggin’s blog follow here in alphabetical order of their shelfmarks. Behind the arrows I expand or correct his notes:

  • 1396, a consilium of Baldus de Ubaldis >> numerous consilia by Baldus and other authors
  • Borgh. 7, Pope Boniface, Decretales
  • Borgh. 12, Works of Godefridus Tranensis
  • Borgh. 26, 13th-century legal text, Apparatus Decretorum
  • Borgh. 95,14th century, legal, Arnoldus de Augusta
  • Borgh. 154, Tancredus, 1185-1236, Opera, 13th-14th century
  • Borgh. 214Opera quaedam de re iuridica, 14th century,
  • Borgh. 226, Novels of Justinian
  • Borgh. 230, Iohannes de Lignano, 1320-1383 Lectura super decretales
  • Borgh. 231, Abbas Antiquus
  • Borgh. 248, Rottfried: civil law, canon law >> Roffredus Beneventanus, Libellus de ordine iudiciorum
  • Borgh. 262Decretales of Pope Gregory IX, glossed by Bernardus Parmensis (also known as Bernard of Parma, Bernard Botone, Bernard Bottoni), seems similar to Ms. 1 at Syracuse University
  • Borgh. 290, Bottoni, Bernardo, Summa super titulis decretalium
  • Borgh. 348, collection of opinions written in 1320 for Pope John XXII before 14th-century decision to extend inquisition to practitioners of “black magic” in southern France. Notes >> a reference to Annelies Maier, Ausgehendes Mittelalter III (Rome 1977) 208.
  • Borgh. 372, Glossa on Justinian >> Codex Justinianus with the standard Accursian gloss
  • Borgh. 374: A 13th-century text of the Emperor Justinian’s legal codifications including the Institutions, annotated by medieval lawyers. Justinian was emperor at Constantinople 527-565. >> Institutiones, Novellae, Libri Feudorum and Tres Libri (Codex 10-12).
  • 64, legal synopsis
  •, legal texts, compiled by Capuchins
  • 189, papal register
  • 1024, the Liber Judiciorum, an early-8th-century code of Visigothic law (probably) copied in Urgell, Spain
  • Ross. 555, a beautiful Hebrew codex with four fine Italian miniatures. From Evelyn Cohen I read that this is Jacob ben Asher’s legal treatise, the Arba’ah Turim, and that the images depict a synagogue scene, animals being slaughtered according to Jewish ritual, a wedding and a courtroom scene.
  • 157, Innocent IV, decretals
  • 158, Azo of Bologna, decretals >> Azo, Summa Codicis and other works
  • 159, finely illuminated law text by Bernardo Bottoni on Gregory’s Decretals, with a 14th-century arbor consanguinitatis where the tree is held in a planter by the law-giver (discussed by Hermann Schadt, Arbores, at p 259 ff.)
  • 160, Johannes Andreae, Boniface VIII, decretals dealing with marriage and other legal issues >> mainly the Liber Sextus of pope Boniface VIII
  • 1057, bound book of papal records

Piggin very sensible enlivens his lists with small format images of often remarkable illuminations, but to keep it here within sensible length I have excised the images and his remarks, except for those concerning legal trees such as the arbor consanguinitatis. In a post about digitized manuscripts in Bologna I have looked at the Mosaico project and its section about the Arbor actionum, the “Tree of actions”, a tool designed for determining which legal action(s) you should choose. Among legal diagrams Piggin looks in particular at the arbores consanguinitatis et affinitatis, and he proposes some substantial revisions of the views expressed by Hermann Schadt in his classic study Die Darstellungen der Arbores Consanguinitatis und der Arbores Affinitatis : Bildschemata in juristischen Handschriften (Tübingen 1982). Piggin published a post about legal arbores, and he has even has written an accompanying guide, The Missing Manual: Schadt’s Arbores. The virtual exhibition Illuminating the Law of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge shows some examples of these arbores. Piggin questions the very use of the word tree and invites scholars to look more closely and use terms carefully.

In Piggin’s notes the sheer variety of manuscripts faithfully mirrors the wealth of the manuscript collections at the BAV. For the field of legal history I have included also some items concerning the papal inquisition (Borgh. lat. 348, Vat. lat. 3978 and 12732) and some papal records (Reg. lat. 189 and Urb. lat. 1057). The manuscript Vat. lat. 3740 with questions concerning apostolic poverty reminded me of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and this subject as a bone of contention figuring in his novel. DigiVatLib does in many cases include at least some bibliographical information with which you can start further exploration of a manuscript.

Apart from his interest in legal iconography Piggin explores the origin of the use of diagrams with stemmata. I can only admire his tenacious approach and the way he blogs about his research in ancient and medieval history. The main results of his research appear at his own website. One of his latest blog posts concerns the text of a medieval commentary on biblical arbores humani generis, a kind of genealogical schemes showing the genealogy of Christ. The text seems to have been overlooked because it only filled gaps in drawings. It seems the kind of discovery only made by those who look at things supposedly well-known with an ever open mind.

While finishing this post the staff of DigiVatLib is busy transferring digitized manuscripts and incunabula to a new platform with enhanced interoperability. There have been complaints presence of large watermarks on the digitized images. It is also remarkable to see an interface for English, Italian and Japanese. There is now an advanced search mode with even fuzzy filters (“partial match”). You can tick a field for non-digitized items and choose to search only manuscripts. The galleries with selected manuscripts and the twenty latest digitized items wet your appetite for more. Twice every month you can get at Piggin’s blog a preview of newly digitized manuscripts. Even if it is possible to correct and expand his notes on legal manuscripts, you must admit that creating commented lists does at least provide useful orientation. Perhaps some legal historian might take up the challenge of providing a regular list of updates for digitized legal manuscripts at the BAV with sufficient information to start benefiting truly from this massive digitization project.

500 years Utopia

Quentin Matsys, portrait of Pieter Gilles

Portrait of Pieter Gillis by Quentin Matsys – Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica – source: Wikimedia Commons

This year I have succeeded so far in avoiding centenary celebrations, but some of them are definitely interesting from the perspective of legal historians. In 1516 Erasmus published his edition of the Greek text of the New Testament, the Novum Testamentum graece, with for us a remarkable title, Novum Instrumentum (…) (Basel: Johann Froben, 1516; VD16 B 4196; online for example at the Swiss portal e-Rara). Even with all its shortcoming this edition proved to be a starting point for many developments in scholarship and theology. Legal historians might prefer to leave the onset of the Reformation to church historians and theologians, but they will certainly not want to forget another book published in 1516, Thomas More’s Utopia (Louvain: Dirk Martens, 1516; more bibliographic details in the Short Title Catalogue Vlaanderen).

The flood of literature about More, his book and his circle make it almost impossible to look at it without preconceived opinions and views. Is it possible to say something new, something worth reading at all within the compass of a blog post? However you may think about this state of affairs, I would like to present one of the main figures appearing in More’s Utopia. Pieter Gillis was a humanist scholar who merits attention for his work in the field of legal history, in particular with his edition of a source for the history of Roman law, yet another book printed by Martens in Louvain. In fact, it is seldom noted at all Gillis was a trained lawyer, and thus certainly prepared for his tasks as the city registrar of Antwerp. He is not the only lawyer you will encounter here.

First editions from Louvain

Why should authors in the early sixteenth century turn to Dirk (Thierry) Martens (1446-1534) for the publication of their books? The Nationaal Biografisch Woordenboek has a fine article on him (vol. VI, col. 633-637). Martens printed his first book already in 1473 in his native city Aalst. He was among the earliest printers of the Low Countries. His first publication – published together with Johann of Paderborn – was a religious work, the Speculum conversionis peccatorum of Dionysius Cartusianus (Denis of Ryckel), a book digitized in the Flemish digital library Flandrica (GW 8420). From 1492 onwards Martens had his firm in Antwerp and since 1512 in Louvain, the only university town of the Low Countries. In 1491 he used for the first time in the Low Countries Greek type fonts. Printing the works students needed provided him with a stable market. Martens is even credited with promoting the use of the Roman type font. He was definitely a printer with some remarkable feats on his record.

Pieter Gillis (latinized Petrus Aegidius) (1486-1533) initially studied law at Orléans (1501). However, soon he became active as a corrector for the printing firm of Dirk Martens. Already in 1503 or 1504 he met Desiderius Erasmus, one of the authors coming to Antwerp to have his books published by Martens. In 1504 Gillis registered as a student at the university of Louvain, and in 1509 Gillis became the city registrar of Antwerp. In 1512 he got the degree of a licentiatus in law from the university of Orléans. Dealing with Gillis is indeed entering also the book trade of his time, one of the reasons I supply for the book titles in this post at least some bibliographical references. The NBW has a good biographical article on Gillis by M. Nauwelaerts (vol. I (1970), col. 4-7). A much older article in German by A. Rivier for the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie can also be consulted online (ADB (1875) 125-126).

The road to More’s Utopia

Ambrosius Holbein, image with More, Aegidius and Hythlodaeus

Ambrosius Holbein’s illustration with the protagonists of More’s Utopia – edition Basel 1518, p. 25; copy Yale University, Beinecke Library

Before going to More’s Utopia I must acknowledge here the great assistance offered in writing this post by the very useful and extensive International Thomas More Bibliography of Romuald Lakowski. The story of how More came to write Utopia scarcely needs retelling. As a diplomatic envoy he met Pieter Gillis in 1515. The two men became friends, and one of the fruits of their meeting was More’s book. In the prologue of Utopia More tells about his encounters with Gillis and Raphael Hythlodaeus, the stranger recently arrived from Brazil whose stories are the very heart of his book. When preparing this post I wondered where people would have found the famous images taken from the first edition of Utopia, the image of the island and the Utopian alphabet. Surely this last feature came into existence thanks to the suggestions and expertise of both Gillis and Martens. Lakowski provided me with the link to a digital version of the first edition of Utopia at a library where you probably will not expect a copy, the Gleeson Library of the Geschke Center at the University of San Francisco. The digital books in this library cannot be found using regular online search tools such as the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog and the Universal Short Title Catalogue (University of St. Andrews). Other early editions such as the one published in Paris by Gilles de Gourmont in 1517 (Gallica) and the famous edition by Froben (Basel 1518) can readily be found in various libraries, the latter for example in the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.

The Latin text of More’s Utopia can be searched in several ways. You will find just the text in The Latin Library, and a colourful version at the Bibliotheca Augustana of Ulrich Harsch, based on the version created at the Oxford Text Archive. For a linguistic approach you can benefit from the search functions offered in the version at IntraText. At first I would have preferred to leave translations out, and thus honour the principle ad fontes so dear to sixteenth-century humanists, but having a translation within your reach is most helpful. The first translation of More’s Utopia was the work of a legal humanist, Claude Chansonnette (Claudius Cantiuncula). Interestingly Cantiuncula (around 1493-1560) had been at Louvain before going to Basle where he published his translation Von der wunderbarlichen Innsel Utopia genannt das andere Buch (…) (Basel: Bebelius, 1524; digitized at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich). Cantiuncula decided to translate only the second part of More’s book, not the first half. At this point it is most welcome to point to the bibliographical survey of people connected to Desiderius Erasmus, Contemporaries of Erasmus. A biographical register of the Renaissance and Reformation, [CE] P.G. Bietenholz and T.B. Deutscher (eds.) (3 vol., Toronto-Buffalo-London 1985-1987; reprint 2003). This work contains entries for Pieter Gillis (CE II, 99-101), Dirk Martens (CE I, 394-396) and Claude Chansonnette (CE I, 259-261), and of course for Thomas More (CE II, 456-459).

Among the modern German translations of Utopia the version of historian Gerhard Ritter (1898-1967) is still being reprinted. Ritter made his translation early in his career (1922). You can see in a post from last year my photograph of several pocket law books accompanied by the modern incarnation of Ritter’s translation which gives you also the Latin text.

A meeting of lawyers

Title page of Gillis' edition with the Epitome Aegidii

The title page of Pieter Gillis’ edition of the Epitome Aegidii – Louvain: Martens, 1517 – copy Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

The excellent website of Lakowski with its most useful bibliographies for many subjects concerning Thomas More and his Utopia taught me looking at legal matters around Thomas More is not something new. In this post I will just look at a few aspects. Let’s go back to Pieter Gillis who published in 1517 a number of sources in the field of Roman law. Dirk Martens printed his Summae sive argumenta legum diversorum imperatorum… Caii et Iulii Pauli Sententiis (USTC 403069; digital copy at the Digitale Sammlungen, Munich). The Latin title of his book is certainly long, but it does clearly indicate the constituing parts edited by Gillis. His work contains the editio princeps of the Epitome Aegidii, a shortened version of the Breviarium Alaricianum/Lex Romana Visigothorum, in itself a reworking of the Codex Theodosianus. The manuscript he used contained also a shortened version of Gaius’ Institutiones (Epitome Gai) and the Sententiae Pauli. Among the rare Early Modern editions of these texts is a very rare book by the famous Dutch book collector Gerard Meerman, Specimen animadversationum criticarum in Caii Jcti Institutiones (…) (Lutetiae Parisiorum: apud Merigot, 1747).

The story of Pieter Gillis’ edition is intriguing. What manuscript did he use? Surprisingly Marcel Nauwelaerts wrote in his article for Contemporaries of Erasmus about Gillis’ edition “of which is a manuscript is preserved in the library of the University of Leiden (MS BPL 191 ba)” (CE II, 101). Is there truly a manuscript once owned or written by Petrus Aegidius? Many manuscript catalogues at Leiden can be consulted online in its Digital Special Collections. The manuscript Leiden, UL, BPL 191 BA can even be viewed online. The catalogue entry by P.C. Molhuysen makes it very clear this manuscript belonged to Paul Petau who wrote a brief summary of the content on the flyleaf. It seems Nauwelaerts was too eager to find a manuscript connected with Gillis. The manuscript has also been described within the online project Medieval Manuscripts in Dutch Collections, but here, too, things are not completely straightforward. Searching for the Epitome Aegidii yields only the manuscript Leiden, UL, VLQ [Vossiani Latini in quarto] 119. When searching directly for BPL 191 BA you find it with as its title Epitome legis Romanae Visigothorum, which is in itself not wrong, but not complete either.

Finding out more about the Epitome Aegidii

Logo Bibliotheca legum

A few years ago Karl Ubl (Universität Köln) started the Bibliotheca legum, a project dealing with early medieval law in France. The project deals with many texts and a multitude of manuscripts, including those with Roman law texts and the early medieval codes conveniently known as the Völkerrechte, “laws of the nations”, because they were addressed to the populations of certain territories. The Breviarium Alaricianum, also known as the Lex Romana Visigothorum, is among them. The Epitome Aegidii, too, figures in this project, currently with thirty manuscripts. Here it becomes clear the Dutch manuscript portal should also refer to Leiden, UL, BPL 114, also consultable online. When you search for “Epitome edited by Aegidius” you will find it together with BPL 191 BA, but without Voss. lat. qu. 119. The Manuscripta juridica database at Frankfurt am Main uses the term “Lex Romana Visigothorum (“Breviarium Alarici”) (Epitome Aegidii)” and offers 25 manuscripts.

The Epitome Aegidii is also among the many subjects in the opus magnum of the late José Maria Coma Fort. His book Codex Theodosianus: historia de un texto (Madrid 2014) is also available online in the digital repository of the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (PDF; 3,8 MB). Last year Faustino Martinez Martinez reviewed this book most approvingly for the online journal Forum Historiae Iuris. Here I can scarcely do justice to the efforts of José Coma Fort. He mentions Gillis at several turns and discusses his edition in detail at p. 371-375. He concluded the manuscript Gillis used is probably no longer extant. Coma Fort brings into relief the way Gillis’ edition was almost unknown until Meerman’s reimpression, and he looks in particular at the discussions concerning the Epitome Aegidii of humanist scholars such as Bonifacius Amerbach, Johannes Sichard and Johannes Cujacius. Did they willingly ignore the editio princeps? Even today it can be considered a rare book. One of the earliest general bibliographies, Konrad Gessner’s famous Bibliotheca universalis (Tiguri [Zürich] : Froschauer 1545; online at e-Rara) has an entry for Petrus Aegidius without his legal work (p. 543). The USTC has references to eleven copies. Using the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog I could add copies at Lausanne, Vienna (ÖNB, online) and Heidelberg. The Vatican Library, too, has a copy. The tenacity of Wouter Nijhoff and especially M.E. Kronenberg in creating together the Nederlandsche bibliographie van 1500 tot 1540 (‘s-Gravenhage 1923-1971) comes only sharper into view for current scholars with so many resources within easy reach online. In their bibliography NK 15 is the entry for Pieter Gillis’ book, and NK 1550 deals with Martens’ edition of More’s Utopia.

Dirk Martens of Aalst printed at Louvain in 1516 yet another editio princeps, the first edition of the book on legal argumentation by a Dutch lawyer, Nicolaus Everardi (around 1462-1532), his Topicorum seu de locis legalibus liber, a work I studied for my Ph.D. thesis. In 2011 I presented here a post about the digital versions of several sixteenth-century editions of this book, incidentally one of my most often read posts. It is only fitting to revisit in the 200th post of my blog Louvain in 1516. At the end of this post I realize how I like to bring things together in one post. Hopefully you will not mind the way I led you here to such important resources as the Bibliotheca legum and José Maria Coma Fort’s great book on the transmission of the Codex Theodosianus!

A postscript

University College London organizes on June 30 and July 1, 2016 the graduate conference Imagined Worlds in the History of Political Thought, an event also in coniunction with the quincentenary of Thomas More’s Utopia. You can send a proposal for papers before April 15, 2016, by mail to

The power of words: Some thoughts about Umberto Eco

Image of Umbert Eco - photographer unknown - source: Wikimedia Commons

Umbert Eco – photographer unknown – source: Wikimedia Commons

The death of Umberto Eco (1932-2016) makes the world mourn a most versatile author. In fact you might do him justice by seeing him almost as a true uomo universale. In his writings, both his scholarly work and his novels, the thing resonating within you long afterwards was and is the encounter with a mind full of curiosity about the world, culture and life at large. As a small contribution in remembrance of a great intellectual I will look here at a few aspects of a period close to his heart, the Middle Ages. With The Name of the Rose Eco did not only write a great detective novel and a philosophical treatise about visions of reality and truth, but he returned in a way to the territory where his career started. This novel is marked by elements of law and justice, reason enough to have a look at it here.

A story in black and white

Eco’s great story, set in the early fourteenth century, has not just one central narrative thread, the quest of William of Baskerville and his assistant Adso of Melk to solve crimes and the mysteries surrounding them. The Name of the Rose is also a book about confrontations between old and new ways of thinking and action, and of strife even between people at both sides. The Franciscan William of Baskerville meets a formidable opponent when the Dominican friar and inquisitor Bernard Gui arrives on the scene of the monastery in Northern Italy. Both religious orders came into existence shortly after 1200. They almost fought each other to receive able men into their ranks. The different ways of living and preaching inspired them to outshine each other. Now Bernard Gui (around 1262-1331) was a historical figure. Interestingly he was not only the most famous inquisitor of his time, but also a very active historian of his order, see A.-M. Lamarrigue, Bernard Gui. Un historien et sa méthode (Paris, 2000).

Cambridge Uniersity Library, ms. Ff 3.18,fol. 1r

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, start of II-I; England, circa 1320-1340 – Cambridge, UL, ms. Ff 3.18, fol. 1r – image: Cambridge University Library

800 years ago the Dominican order was founded. Part of the worldwide jubilee celebrations is the virtual exhibition A pipeline from heaven: eight centuries of Dominican books created by Cambridge University Library. Among the manuscripts shown in the online gallery you can find the Summa Theologiae, the major work produced by Thomas Aquinas. I searched in this exhibit in vain for the inquisition and Bernard Gui, but let’s first remember how Eco started as a scholar with writing about Thomas Aquinas. Eco’s Ph.D. thesis dealt with the views on art of this Dominican philosopher and theologian. Aquinas wrote many of his works using the scholastic method of distinctions using questions and answers. Argument after argument is dissected in a seemingly cool and calm way. Personal views or involvement seldom surface. Eco succeeded in pinpointing Aquinas’ views of art in his discussions of perception, contrary to the opinions of eminent scholars such as Étienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain. Once you realize this, it is easier to see how this discovery influenced Eco’s later scholarly and literary works.

When William of Baskerville reads and explains the telling signs which contain clues to unravel what happened at the Benedictine monastery infected by crime, Eco knowingly plays with scholarly views of medieval and modern philosophy. Using and focusing on signs was for some time the very heart of the vogue for microhistory. The Italian word connected with the microhistory paradigm is spie, traces. Eco was virtually the founder – together with Roland Barthes – of semioticsthe theory of signs, their meanings and relations. In the thirteenth century a number of Dominican friars set out to write both manuals and encyclopedias covering all kinds of knowledge. Very soon the papacy realized that their deep theological knowledge made these friars fit to become inquisitors. Bernard Gui himself wrote a manual for inquisitors, edited by Michel Mollat, Bernard Gui. Manuel de l’inquisiteur (Paris 1926, reprint 1964; Les classiques de l’histoire de France au moyen âge, 8-9). Gui made notes and instructions and carefully documented his activity in the Languedoc in another manuscript [Le livre des sentences de l’inquisiteur Bernard Gui (1308-1323), Annette Pales-Gobillard (ed.) (Paris 2002)]. David Burr (Virginia Tech) has translated a number of the texts in this edition, in particular Gui’s views on detecting heresy. Gui mentions among other heretical matters the views on poverty of the Franciscan writer Petrus Olivi which figure in Eco’s novel, too.

As part of the Dutch jubilee celebrations of the Dominican order the journal Tijdschrift voor Geestelijk Leven [Journal for Spiritual Life] published a special about Dominican history [Het hart op de tong. 800 jaar dominicaanse verkondiging (TGL 72/1 (2016)] with an article by legal historian and theologian Daniela Müller (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen) on Bernard Gui (pp. 27-35), summarizing in Dutch at the same time a part of her recent research about medieval heresy and the position of women. Müller writes Gui served his order also as a procurator generalis at the papal court in Avignon, and even became involved in the canonisation of Thomas Aquinas. He also acted as a papal nuntius. Müller’s recent research about Gui’s protest against the decision of pope Clement V compelling bishops and inquisitors to work together is real news (see her article ‘Der Bischof und der Inquisitor’, in: Ketzer und Kirche. Betrachtungen aus zwei Jahrtausenden, Daniela Müller (ed.) (Münster 2014) 237-262).

For Bernard Gui words and views did not stand independent of beliefs and practices. You might say he read the views of people as signs of religious convictions and adherence. He outright connected particular expressions with heretical views, even if he had not yet asked specifically about the latter. Eco succeeded most powerfully in showing one of the major faults of the inquisitorial procedure, the combination of the function of persecuting officer and judge in one person. Is it a play on his own name – Eco means echo in Italian – that the other main character in The Name of the Rose, Jorge of Burgos, the monk killing so many of his brethren, also acted as a staunch persecutor of new views and a terrible self-appointed judge? Eco would have spoilt his novel by placing the motto Only connect used by Virginia Woolf at the start of his first novel, but surely this is the most concise clue to his book.

The joy of writing and sharing knowledge

Banner Index Translationum

Eco involved himself in Italian life and culture with his own column for a newspaper and regular appearances on television. In a number of his books, for example about the history of beauty, he left behind him his familiar territories of medieval history and current philosophy, and reached out to a much larger audience. Among these books I personally most like his work touching on the history of language research, La ricerca della lingua perfetta nella cultura europea (1993), translated into nearly twenty languages, as you can check in the Index Translationum of UNESCO. The history of the search for the perfect language brought Eco in many cases to authors expressing their own theory about the original language of humanity. Even Dutch was in the seventeenth century sometimes presented as the language spoken in Paradise! Having started with studying the world where Latin was the lingua franca this subject certainly made Eco smile. His command of European languages made him the ideal author for this theme.

I first read The Name of the Rose as a student of medieval history. Although I did find at first his proliferation of extracts from medieval authors close to going through an overturned card file I had no doubt whatsoever of his skills as a great story-teller. The joy of writing and sharing is visible everywhere in his writings. Since I first read this book I have reread it several times, and my admiration for it has grown. While writing this post I noticed how many tags I can use for classifying my musings about Eco. We are lucky to see in Umberto Eco someone defying normal classifications. He was a great scholar, and even his faults and flaws have turned into art. Few scholars have been as candid and full of humour as Eco about his own mistakes. Nobody is perfect, but Eco’s legacy will continue to help us perceiving signs, detecting hidden perceptions and connections. He makes you transcend the world of books and marvel at the Book of the World.

Serving the history of medieval law

Photo Frank SoetermeerThe medieval relation between Roman and canon law can in a way be summarized by the expression utrumque ius, “both laws”. Medieval lawyers working in the field of the learned law saw both legal systems as twins. One of the major stumble blocks in understanding the nature and medieval development of either system is exactly the stubborn way in which modern scholars often refuse to look in the garden of their neighbours. Sadly, these days a scholar who had the courage and all qualities to avoid this false separation and to bridge supposed and real gaps is no longer with us. This week the electronic news bulletin Rechtshistorisch Nieuws of our colleagues in Ghent contained a short obituary on Frank Soetermeer (February 7, 1949-January 6, 2016). Instead of focusing solely on his scholarly work I would like to honour him with some personal memories.

The first time I really met Frank Soetermeer was at the Gravensteen in Leiden in 1990. For many years the legal historians of Leiden had their offices in the old county prison. During a coffee break I saw a poster with an announcement about the International School of Ius Commune at Erice. Just when I had finished reading its text Frank Soetermeer showed up and told me he would be one of the scholars teaching that year. On arrival in Sicily I realized that apart from the poster and the encouraging words of Frank Soetermeer I did know hardly anything else about this event for graduate students! Soetermeer gave his audience a very fine lecture about the production of legal manuscripts at medieval universities. He spoke about his research with natural authority in calm but fluent French, and I shared the admiration for him with the other graduate students attending. That same year he gave me a copy of his dissertation, De pecia in juridische handschriften (diss. Leiden; Utrecht 1990).

Originally Frank Soetermeer came from Rotterdam, but he lived for many years in Utrecht and taught at Amsterdam. He visited Leiden regularly for the famous Friday afternoon seminar about medieval legal manuscripts held every winter and spring. A few years after the Second World War legal historian E.M. Meijers and palaeographer Gerard Lieftinck founded this seminar. Legal historians from several Dutch universities, be they versed in Old Dutch law or papyrology or just a young curious student, and a palaeographer of world renown, Peter Gumbert, met at the Gravensteen to read together the often tiny handwriting of remarkable manuscripts. In a year with river floods threatening the town of Culemborg we were fortunate to have in Leiden a medieval legal manuscript normally kept at the municipal archives of the former town. Few of us could possibly have seen as many manuscripts as Frank had, and we felt lucky with his presence. As on the photograph shown here a smile was never far from his face, but as often his eyes showed question marks signalling questions and points to be investigated. I remember Frank arriving at the Gravensteen almost always wearing a hat, a tradition he clearly enjoyed.

Few Dutch dissertations have been translated both into Italian and German. Soetermeer’s outstanding Ph.D thesis was translated as Utrumque ius in peciis: aspetti della produzione libraria a Bologna fra due e trecento, Giancarlo Errico (trad.) (Milan 1997) and Utrumque ius in peciis: Die Produktion juristischer Bücher an italienischen und französischen Universitäten des 13. und 14. Jahrhunderts, Gisela Hillner (trad.) (Frankfurt am Main 2002). Frank discussed earlier research into the pecia system which had focused mainly on the field of medieval theology and on book production in Paris, and looked systematically at its use at the law faculties of medieval Europe. Fourteen articles have been reprinted with English summaries, additional information, corrections and useful indices in the volume Livres et juristes au Moyen Âge (Goldbach 1999). A very useful introduction in English to his studies of the pecia system is to be found in his article ‘Between Codicology and Legal History: Pecia Manuscripts of Legal Texts’, Manuscripta 49/2 (2005) 247-267. His article about Hostiensis (Henricus de Segusio) in Ius Commune 26 (1999) has been digitized in Frankfurt am Main. A quick look at his writings as included in the database with scholarly literature of the Regesta Imperii project at Mainz reveals he contributed nearly thirty biographical articles to the Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon, often abbreviated as BBKL or the “Bautz”. A fair number of his articles can be accessed in their original form or as preprints at Academia.

Only a few of Frank’s articles focused on medieval canon law, in particular ‘The origin of Ms. d’Ablaing 14 and the transmissio of the Clementines to the universities’, Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 54 (1986) 101-112, and ‘La proportion entre civilistes et canonistes à l’Université de Bologna vers 1270’, in: El Dret Comú i Catalunya: actes del IIIer Simposi Internacional, Barcelona, 5-7 de novembre de 1992, Aquilino José Iglesia Ferreirós (ed.) (Barcelona 1993) 151-166, but particular his contributions to the BBKL show his affinity and deep knowledge about canon law and major canon lawyers such as Guillaume Durand, Bernhard de Montmirat (Abbas antiquus), Oldradus de Ponte, Guido de Baysio (Archidiaconus) and Petrus de Sampsone.

On rare occasions I saw Frank in my home town Utrecht. The few times this did happen we both looked slightly bewildered, because Frank did travel much and we just did not expect to see each other in Utrecht. One of the happiest memories of briefly meeting Frank in Utrecht was when I saw him with Nella Lonza and their child. The happiness of Frank, of this couple with their child, is indeed a memory to treasure. It is with disbelief that I have to use the past tense in writing about him. If I had to single out any of his articles it would have to be ‘La carcerazione del copista nel pensiero dei giuristi bolognesi’, in: Gli ultramontani. Studi belgi e olandesi per il IX centenario dell’Alma Mater bolognese (Bologna 1990) 121-139, also in the Rivista Internazionale di Diritto Comune 6 (1995) 153-189. Masters in Bologna and elsewehere argued about the way one could compel a scribe to finish writing a legal manuscript, including the small initials, see his study ‘Un problème quotidien de la librairie à Bologne: «Minora» manquants’, in: Excerptiones iuris. Studies in Honor of André Gouron, B. Durand and L. Mayali (eds.), (Berkeley 2000) 693-716. Frank Soetermeer showed how you cannot confine the study of law at the medieval universities to just one discipline. In his work he traced with patience and precision the impact of the learned law in medieval Europe, an impact beyond the pages of the manuscripts concerning legal doctrine. With the death of Frank Soetermeer we have lost a fine scholar, a true gentleman, a loving father and a steadfast companion of his beloved, a man to be remembered.

Around the Fourth Lateran Council (1215)

Among the commemorations to be included here in 2015 is the most important medieval ecumenical council, the Fourth Lateran Council that took place in November 1215. As it happens the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) closed fifty years ago, and already a brief look at the constitutions of both councils reveals many differences, beginning with the sheer number of decrees and constitutions. With just 70 constitutions and one additional decree, the convocation for a new crusade, the Fourth Lateran Council led by pope Innocent III is remarkably concise in its output which, however, does not diminish its importance.

Some constitutions have received more attention by historians than others, and scholars do try to create a more balanced view of this major historical event. On November 24, 2015 the international congress Concilium Lateranense IV: Commemorating the Octocentenary of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 will begin in Rome, and in Murcia the conference Innocent III and his time will start on December 9, 2015. In this contribution I would like to look at the pictorial representation of this council, and at a project covering a number of medieval church councils.

The image of the Fourth Lateran Council

Logo Parker Library on the web

When you recall for yourself the images most closely associated with the Fourth Lateran Council – often abbreviated as Lateran IV – you might imagine a fresco of pope Innocent III or the famous marginal drawing with debating cardinals in a manuscript of Matthew Paris’ Chronica maiora (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, ms. 16, fol. 43r). This college tries to protect image rights for this illustration as much as possible. At the website Parker Library on the Web full access is only possible at subscribing institutions. Without complete access you can only browse manuscripts but when you arrive at the very page of the manuscript with this illustration its lower half has been blotted out completely. Corpus Christi College and Stanford University Libraries have announced access to this website will be widened next year.

Detail BnF, ms. Latin 4915, fol. 398v

The Fourth Lateran Council – from Johannes de Columna o.p., “Mare historiarum”- fifteenth century – detail, BnF, ms. Latin 4915, fol. 398v

In fact it proves to be very hard to find online any other medieval image of Lateran IV, and this is one of the reasons why this section of my post is rather short. I did find two images in a fifteenth-century manuscript of a chronicle by a Dominican friar, Johannes de Columna, Mare historiarum, in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) in Paris (ms. Latin 4915, fol. 398v and 399r). You can search for archival collections and manuscripts at the BnF in a special website, and for illuminated manuscripts in the BnF you can use the Mandragore portal. Ms. Latin 4915 has been digitized at Gallica, the digital library of the BnF. The chapter heading indicated in red ink mentions two issues at the council, the condemnation of the views of Joachim de Fiore, and the convocation of a new crusade.

Detail BnF, ms. Latin 4915, fol. 399r

The second image mentions in its heading two other questions dealt with at Lateran IV, the foundation of new religious orders, in particular the Dominicans, and matters between the king of France and barons from England. 1215 was the year of the Magna Charta. This chronicle by a Dominican friar has been lavishly illustrated with more than thousand historiated initials. You cannot fault the illuminator for showing Saint Dominic in this work. It would be great if we had images from the thirteenth century, but this image from the fifteenth century does give you at least the idea that a council is more than a prolonged series of debates between cardinals, bishops, mighty abbots and the pope. In and around the Lateran basilica and palace much more happened in 1215.

Logo Index of Christian Art

For more information about the iconography of the Fourth Lateran Council one should start with consulting an article by Raymonde Foreville, ‘L’iconographie du XIIe concile œcuménique: Latran IV (1215)’, in: Mélanges offerts à René Crozet (…), Pierre Gallais and Yves-François Riou (eds.) (2 vol., Poitiers 1966) II, 1121-1130, reprinted in her volume Gouvernement et vie de l’Église au Moyen-Âge: Recueil des études (London 1979). A second step will be searching the matchless information assembled for the Index of Christian Art (ICA) of Princeton University. You can gain access outside Princeton to all materials at the institutions in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Utrecht where you can consult the copies of the card files.

Bishop Rodrigo preaches at the Fourth Lateran Council - Madrid, BNE, Vit. 15-5, fol. 22r - image: Madrid, BNE

Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, archbishop of Toledo, preaches at the Fourth Lateran Council – Madrid, BNE, Vit. 15-5, fol. 22r – image: Madrid, BNE

Lately a senior medievalist at Utrecht told me in person with much aplomb the ICA is now available online in open access, but alas this is not correct. You cannot actually access the full online database without going to the university library at Utrecht, having off-campus access or using your membership of another library subscribing to the online version. Luckily I can use this latter opportunity, too, but my first online attempts did not lead me to any artefact showing one of the Lateran councils. The famous drawing by Matthew Paris is indeed present in the card files of the ICA, but the whole manuscript is curiously missing in the digital version. I could even check that the two other manuscripts used by Foreville, the Chanson de la croisade albigeoise by Guillaume de Tudèle (written in 1275; Paris, BnF, ms. Fr. 25425, fol. 81r; digitized at Gallica] and the Codex Toledanus (written around 1253-1255; Madrid, BNE, Vit. 15-5, fol. 22r, digitized in the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica) are not present in both versions of ICA. The Festschrift for René Crozet somehow escaped the attention of ICA’s staff. Only thirty percent of the materials within the Index of Christian Art is already available online. The image in the manuscript at Paris described by Foreville is only a sketch for a large miniature, and thus it has not been included in the Mandragore database. For those wanting to use Iconclass I can provide you with the right code for finding images of church councils of the Roman-Catholic Church, 11P3142.

Religious minorities in 1215

Before starting with the second section of this post it might be wise to point to at least some online versions of the constitutions of Lateran IV. At IntraText you will find a full searchable English translation, just as in Paul Halsall’s Medieval Sourcebook (Fordham University). There is a PDF of the text as published in the collection Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta, Giuseppe Alberigo et alii (eds.) (Basel and Freiburg 1962) 206-247, and at Documenta Catholica you will not only the Latin text, but also English and Italian translations. However, scholars dealing with medieval canon law are aware of a critical edition of these constitutions by the late Antonio García y Garcia, Constitutiones Concilii quarti Lateranensis una cum commentariis glossatorum (Città del Vaticano 1981; Monumenta Iuris Canonici, Serie A, Corpus Glossatorum, vol. 2). García y García edited also the contemporary apparatus, a scholarly commentary consisting of glosses, by Vincentius Hispanus and Johannes Teutonicus. Lateran IV is the only medieval council with a similar gloss. Almost all its constitutions were taken over in the Compilatio quarta – without c. 42 and c. 71 – and later in Gregory IX’s Liber Extra (1234), in this case without c. 42, c. 49 and most of c. 71.


Here I would like to bring to your attention RELMIN, a recently finished project in France led by John Tolan (Université de Nantes) dealing with legal texts touching upon the status and treatment of religious minorities in Southern Europe from Late Antiquity until 1500. The bilingual project website brings you to a database housed on a server of the Institut de Recherche d’Histoire des Textes. You will find here not just texts in Latin, but also in Arabic, Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew and a number of medieval vernacular languages. Using the tab for authors you can find conciliar texts filed under their Latin name, all of them starting with Concilium. From the Fourth Lateran Council you will find four constitutions (nos. 67 to 70). No. 67 concerns usury and the Jews, no. 68 the distinction in cloths between Christians and Jews, no. 69 prohibits Jews – and heathen (paganos) – to fulfill public offices, and no. 70 forces converted Jews to refrain from Jewish rites.

Even if you can object that RELMIN does not do anything new by looking at these constitutions, you can benefit from the translation of the original text, a succinct commentary, the list of manuscripts used in the edition by García y García, the list of older editions of conciliar texts and the bibliography for each constitution. The recent history of the Lateran Council by R. Foreville and G. Dumeige, Les conciles de Latran I, II, III et de Latran IV: 1123, 1139, 1179, et 1215 (Paris, 2007) is duly noted. RELMIN helps you to view these and similar texts in a much larger context of time and space. For the field of medieval canon law you can see how earlier canons influenced later constitutions, decrees and decretals, and you can put them side to side with secular texts. Instead of overloading this post with much more I will add here only the titles of two online Ph.D theses which I encountered while searching for more information about the manuscript in Madrid. Both of them are well worth checking in connection with the Spanish side of Lateran IV: Lucy Kristina Pick, Christians and Jews in thirteenth-century Castile: The career and writings of Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, archbishop of Toledo (1209-1247) (University of Toronto, 1995) and Fátima Pavón Cazar, La imagen de la realeza castellana bajomedieval en los documentos y manoscritos [The image of late medieval Castilian kingship in documents and manuscripts] (Madrid, Universidad Complutense, 2008).

Information, knowledge and understanding

I would like to end my musings around the Fourth Lateran Council and its impact in texts and images by pointing you to the wonderful introduction to this council at the website of Kenneth Pennington (Catholic University of America). Antonio García y García contributed a chapter about Lateran IV and the canonists to the History of Medieval Canon Law in the Classical Period, 1140-1234, Wilfried Hartmann and Kenneth Pennington (eds.) (Washington, D.C., 2008) 367-378, and in the same volume Anne Duggan discussed the legislation of all four Lateran councils.

London, BL, ms. Royal 14 C VII, fol. 126r

A drawing of the Council of London, 1237 – Matthew Paris, Historia Anglorum , ca. 1250-1259 – London, BL, ms. Royal 14 C VII, fol. 126r

For those insisting to see here at least one of Matthew Paris’ great marginal drawings I can provide the second best thing, an image of the council of London in 1237 in the autograph manuscript of his Historia Anglorum (London, British Library, ms. Royal 14 C VII, fol. 126r). I found this colourful image using the BL’s catalogue of illuminated manuscripts.

The riches of the major portals for illuminated manuscripts at London and Paris help to fill gaps in the Index of Christian Art. In this post I hope to have shown you not just some deficiencies of this project. It is probably wiser to remind yourself of the fact no single large-scale project will be able to contain and cover everything you are looking for. ICA does contain many things not easily found elsewhere, in particular not by the online search machine of the firm seducing us to believe it can find anything. Instead of anything and everything we neeed valuable information helping to add to our knowledge, to widen our perspectives, to sharpen our minds and opening roads to true understanding.

A postscript

Not only the constitutions of Lateran IV were commented upon by medieval lawyers. The second council of Lyons (1279), too, attracted commentaries, for example by Guillaume Durand, the author of the massive encyclopedic Speculum iudiciale.

Gathering all strengths for Nepal

Stay strong Nepal - ANHS-HimalayaSince Saturday the first news came about the major earthquake that hit Nepal its sheer size and impact become slowly more visible. You can follow the international news coverage for example at the dedicated earthquake page of the Nepal Research portal. On Tuesday some Dutch people who had been in Nepal returned and told on television about their experience and the situation in particular regions and locations. On Wednesday it was announced that the Netherlands would be charged with coordinating the relief efforts. Because of the immense number of airplanes now coming to Kathmandu it is often not possible to land or to fly away from Kathmandu Airport. In this post I will try to create a succinct overview of major online resources for contemporary Nepal and resources concerning its history and culture. The damage done to historic buildings is just one of the things affecting the people of Nepal.

Last week I did by chance search for online resources for legal history in Asia. It took me some time before I became convinced that it is useful to give here such an overview, because it took me a lot of time to find information and resources. You might ask yourself what is the use of digital libraries and collections in dealing with the impact of an earthquake. One can point to the Virtual Disaster Library of the Pan-American Health Organization and the WHO Health Library for Disasters, to mention just two examples. The availability of resources, be they material goods or information in print or online, and the presence of trained people at the locations with the most casualties and the greatest damage will make a huge difference. You will notice, too, that I have included at some turns legal materials and materials related to Nepal’s legal history, because this subject serves at this blog as the starting point for any contribution.

Access to resources about and from Nepal

The Library of Congress has among its country studies a guide to Nepal, but unfortunately this study dates from almost twenty years ago. The study can also be found on the website for country studies. Luckily the Law Library of the Library of Congress has a selection of links to more up-to-date information about Nepal. The LoC’s Global Legal Monitor show current legal information. Globalex (New York University) has probably the most extensive overview of the contemporary legal system in Nepal, with some attention to the history of this country. The Asian Legal Information Institute offers online access to Nepali legal resources. The United Nations started in 2014 with an information center in Kathmandu.

Nepals legal history

In Nepal the Nepal Law Commission, too, has put legal materials on its website, including historical constitutions, laws, treaties, statutes, bylaws, rules and regulations, to be found under the heading Documents – Law Archives. However, this website has not been updated since 2011. In her selective bibliography at her blog South Asian Legal History Resources Mitra Sharafi (University of Wisconsin) mentions just two items concerning Nepal, both by Mara Malagodi, Constitutional Nationalism and Legal Exclusion: equality, identity, politics, and democracy in Nepal (1990-2007) (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013) and an article, ‘Ivor Jennings’s Constitutional Legacy beyond the Occidental-Oriental Divide’Journal of Law and Society 42/1 (2015) 102-26. Last year Sharafi published Law and Identity in Colonial South Asia: Parsi Legal Culture, 1772-1947 (Cambridge, etc., 2014). As for recent studies about Nepal it is good to mention John Whelpton, A History of Nepal (Cambridge, etc., 2005) and Sebastian von Einsiedel, David M. Malone and Suman Pradhan (eds.), Nepal in Transition. From People’s War to Fragile Peace (Cambridge, etc., 2012). It can do no harm to use the compact information about Nepal and its history compiled at WHKMLA, and you will find there a number of links, too. A good look at relevant Wikipedia articles can bring you much information, too.

Digitized books and open access

A number of websites in Europe and the United States give access to digitized books and documents dealing with Nepal. The section Ostasiatica of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin has digitized some 50 works about Nepal. In the Hathi Trust Digital Library you have full access to some 70 books. A number of digitized items at Digital Himalaya deal with Nepal, in particular for maps, in the Rare Books section and the section for research journals. Among these journals is the very important Regmi Research Series, with translation of some Nepalese constitutions and other legal materials, and both an English-Nepali and a Nepali-English dictionary. You can also consult the 2001 census of Nepal, and last but not least benefit from the very substantial links collection crowning this digital portal. Cornell University, too, has digitized the volumes of the Regmi Research Series with documents in translation, and Cornell has also digitized a number of Nepali text books. At Cornell the department of Asian Studies has created its own selection of relevant links. Old Maps Online helps you find you without delay a great number of relevant historical and also more recent maps held in twenty libraries from many countries showing Nepal, Kathmandu and other locations and regions within Nepal.

At Southeast Asia Visions, yet another Cornell website, you can find 350 digitized Early Modern travel accounts concerning this region. As for scholarly journals from Nepal, you can access a number of open access journals for Nepal through DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals) or go directly to Nepal Journals Online. By the way, I did find nothing touching specifically on Nepal in a first quick search in the companion Directory of Open Access Books, but maybe other search terms will bring you more. In the OAPEN Library, another open access initiative, I could find at least some studies about natural disasters. When you use the forces of the advanced search mode at BASE (Bielefeld Academic Search Engine) you can find a substantial number of recent scholarly articles and books about and from Nepal, but also older works. BASE works with some 3,500 repositories all over the world. Only four of them are in Nepal, and only Nepal Journals Online is now up and running. The blog The Himalayas and Beyond, too, helps tyou o track current research.

The telling images

Header Nepal Picture Library

Images say more than thousand words, and in this respect one of the most important links at Digital Himalaya is to the Nepal Picture Library where you can find a number of photo collections. Digital Himalaya also mentions a project at Brown University, Providence, RI, with images of Buddhist mural paintings in three monasteries in Mustang in a Tibetan region of Northwestern Nepal. It is also useful to look at the resources of the Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library, although naturally the focus is strongly on Tibet.

Not just one language

One of the problems in helping Nepal is the variety of languages. Nepali is the main language, but in a number of regions other languages are used. The French project Langues et Civilisations à Tradition Orale (CNRS, Paris) deals with eight languages in Nepal. In Leiden the International institute for Asian Studies, too, has shown interest in some languages spoken in Nepal. Another major research institution, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, supports the Endangered Language Archive. SOAS, too, has a useful selection of relevant links for South Asia. For Nepal one can find in this selection in particular the Hindi Script Tutor which helps you learning the Devanagari script used also for Nepali, and a link to Mountain Voices with texts and translations of interviews, amounting also to an important resource for oral history. The Digital South Asia Library (University of Chicago) is in particular helpful with its repertory of online dictionaries for languages in South Asia and the overview of bibliographies, with among them also Chicago’s South Asia Union Catalogue.

Manuscripts and documents in Nepal

The past days I have not succeeded in getting access to the website of the Nepal National Library in Kathmandu. The Kaiser Library in Kathmandu has considerable historical holdings. A number of collections in Nepal has been the subject of projects sponsored by the Endangered Archives Project (EAP) of the British Library, mainly in cooperation with the Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya (MPP) in Lalitpur. EAP aims at conserving, describing and digitizing fragile and threatened archival collections, documents and manuscripts. EAP 066 dealt with some 50 periodicals and 140 monographs. EAP 166 was a project concerning some 6,500 rare negatives and photographs in two collections at the MPP. In EAP 171 a pilot study was conducted at the SOAS for Nepali manuscripts from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. EAP 272 is another project at the MPP, this time for ephemera and manuscripts mainly from the past century, but it included also older manuscripts. The fifth EAP project (EAP 676) aimed at conserving and digitizing seventeen privately held collections in Lalitpur with Buddhist manuscripts written in Sanskrit. The 10000 images in this collection have been published online in January 2015. The EAP blog at the British Library brings you news about this project. The University of Hamburg, too, works on the preservation and cataloguing of Nepali manuscripts, supported by its own office in Kathmandu. There is an online catalogue of the microfilms created within this project.

Scattered around the world more digital collections with objects from Nepal can be found. The University of Washington has some twenty music instruments in its ethnomusical holdings. In the Huntington Archive of Ohio State University you can find at least 800 images concerning Nepal. In the past anthropologists have collected materials in Nepal. Brian Houghton Hodgson (1801-1894) is just an example. His papers are at the British Library, and you can consult an online inventory of these papers thanks to the efforts of Cambridge University. The Muktabodah Indological Research Institute in Emeryville, CA and New Delhi has not only digitized manuscripts, but also created searchable e-texts in its digital library. The website is a portal to research initiatives and the various digital libraries with Vedic, Tibetan and Buddhist texts. The EAP projects for Nepal are not mentioned at this portal.

I would have loved to continue here with digital art collections, but their sheer number worldwide as represented at Himalayan Art has convinced me that there is no need to double its efforts.

The balance between quick reactions and completeness

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Sometimes help is needed immediately. Those victims still alive but buried under the stones and concrete of collapsed buildings need help now, and the people suffering from wounds and diseases need basic treatment or even surgery at the spot. However, in order to achieve the most humanly possible some kind of overview, some measure of preparation is needed. Epidemic diseases might occur. Roads are still blocked in many regions, communication is often impossible or hampered severely, and you can reach any villages only by walking long paths.

While writing this post I often thought that I should not try to outdo myself in bringing this amount of online resources together. A number of considerations changed my view. First of all, a number of resources within Nepal cannot be reached at all. Secondly, yesterday I could not view one of the major online resources, the Tibetan and Himalayan Library. A third consideration came in a very late stage. I would dearly like to have discovered much earlier the Virtuelle Fachbibliothek Südasien at the University of Heidelberg, abbreviated with the acronym SaViFa. I did not spot this service quickly on other websites at Heidelberg, such as those of the Südasieninstitut and its Kathmandu office at Lalitpur, and I overlooked SaViFa at the overview of other relevant Asian research resources in Heidelberg. Hopefully others more versed in Asian matters will have reacted already more efficiently than I can do.

SaViFa with an interface in German and English gives you with a first simple search for Nepal some 200 links to all kinds of online resources. The SaViFa portal offers many possibilities of its companion virtual portals and the special subject collections in Germany to refine your searches for particular resource types, regions, subjects and periods. CrossAsia, a service of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and the other major German portal for research on Asia, focuses clearly on East and Southeast Asia.

Let’s not wait any longer, may this post go its way! I promise to create a PDF with a more helpful arrangement of the many resources presented here in a sometimes rambling way, and of course I will try to correct any grave omission and factual mistakes. In my experience it is most rewarding to get familiar with subjects and cases far outside your usual territory. I learned a lot from finding my way into Nepal, a country on the roof of the world. Hopefully the world will continue and renew its efforts, and arrive and preferably stay with adequate help to rescue and support the people and treasures of that collapsed roof.

A postscript

Already while writing this post I was sure I would overlook some important resources. i would have liked to mention here much more, but alas it turns out to be rather difficult to find resources even at some universites with very promising holdings. However, the very least I can do is pointing you to a recent overview of digital resources for South Asian legal history created by Mitra Sharafi, a guest blogger at the inexhaustible Legal History Blog. I have seen some online library guides with either information already found elsewhere, very concise or lacking descriptions of resources, and this is a strong contrast with Digital Himalaya, a model of its kind among digital portals. It is a comfort to have Sharafi’s guidance and helpful comments about South Asian resources in these posts and at her own blog.

Celebrating common law beyond Magna Carta

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2015 is the year of many celebrations for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. It is silly to try to avoid mentioning it here, but I know my readers expect me to find a different slant on the celebration. The four remaining copies of the 1215 version get ample attention at the British Library. The Lincoln copy was put on show in 2014 at the Library of Congress (Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor). Earlier this year there was much media coverage for the finding of a later copy of Magna Carta at Sandwich, Kent. At first I would have almost believed the news concerned the finding of a fifth copy from 1215, but this was not the case. However, this copy from 1300 combined with a copy of the Forest Charter.

Recently Harvard Law Library decided to digitize its collection of manuscripts and archival records with texts concerning medieval English law. At Et Seq., the library’s blog, there were already two announcements, on March 25 about early English manor rolls by Mary Person, and on April 10 ‘Medieval Manuscripts Online-Magna Carta & More’ by Karen Beck. The riches of the digital collections at Harvard Law Library are certainly no secret, but now it seems they surpass their earlier efforts, this time with support from the Ames Foundation. Person and Beck briefly introduced the new digital collections, but there is a real need to tell more here.

A gateway to medieval resources

Detail of roll from Moulton, Cheshire 1518-1521 (Box 2, 16) - image Et Seq.

Detail of a manor roll from Moulton, Cheshire 1518-1521 (Box 2, 16)

Before going quickly to the newly digitized resources it is wise to look at the overview of historical and special collections, the web page on rare books and manuscripts, and finally the overview of digital collections and digital exhibits. This threefold entrance is in some respects confusing, but each approach is in itself valuable. The only snag is remembering where you found a particular collections, exhibit or link! By the way, the overview of digital historical databases deals with subscription databases.

The first series of digitized archival records consists of some 170 medieval rolls, mainly manor rolls and account rolls, most of them stemming from five villages in different English counties (Cheshire, Hampshire, Sussex, Staffordshire and Suffolk). Some items are effectively not rolls, but charters. The time range of the items goes from 1305 to 1770, with therefore not just medieval sources. These rolls will be successively digitized during the coming years. As for now you can read online only items from Moulton in Cheshire, with just one court roll [no. 20, Lenten court, 30 Henry VIII (1539-1540)]. There is an online finding aid (inventory) with descriptions of all items and whenever available links to their digital version. To assess the variety of materials digitized at Harvard Law School you might have a look at an earlier post here about medieval rolls. English manor rolls could be easily found using the Manorial Documents Register of the British National Archives. I find it harder to get an overview of them using the new Discovery portal, but in the end you can find for example other rolls for Moulton Manor.

The series of medieval legal manuscripts at Harvard Law School has been divided into two section, the first with forty registers of statutes dating from the early fourteenth century until 1500, the second for nineteen registers of writs. The oldest register of writs (Registrum brevium with also some tracts) dates from around 1275 (HLS MS 24), the latest one from around 1476 (HLS MS 25). One manuscript contains also yearbooks and tracts (HLS MS 193, around 1350). The volumes with compilations of statutes often contain the text of Magna Carta. The oldest manuscript present at Harvard which includes Magna Carta dates from around 1300 [HLS MS 57, Magna Carta cum Statutis]. You can also search for these manuscripts within the HOLLIS catalogue of Harvard University Library, using the filed “Other call number” and entering “HLS MS XXX”, with XXX for the manuscript number.

HLS MS 172, Sherriff's Magna Carta, around 1327

“Sherriff’s Magna Carta”, around 1327 (?, circa 1298) – Harvard Law School, MS 172

A splendid example of the presence of Magna Carta in Englsh legal life is a socalled sherriff’s Magna Carta said to date from around 1327 (HLS MS 172). However, in the overview of manuscripts it is suggested with due hesitance that it might even date from 1297 or 1298. Such copies were read aloud four times every year.

At the website of the Ames Foundation you can consult an overview of all these registers and manuscripts. The Ames Foundation invites scholars to provide more detailed descriptions of manuscripts, something until now only done for HLS MS 184 which contains the Statuta vetera, writs and some tracts. The description of this manuscript does refer to the overview of manuscripts created by John H. Baker, English legal manuscripts in the United States of America : a descriptive list (2 vol., London 1985-1990; Selden Society; reprint 2 vol., Buffalo, NY, 2010), and earlier in English legal manuscripts, vol. 1: Catalogue of the manuscript year books, readings, and law reports in the library of the Harvard Law School, John H. Baker (ed.) (Zug, 1975). The new description of HLS MS 184 gives you for each item in the manuscript the link to the digitized page. For many items you will find a reference to the numbering in the Statutes of the Realm or additional information about editions. The meta-data of the manuscript are not forgotten either. In my humble opinion this example sets a standard for describing English medieval legal manuscripts. The name of the author of this description should definitely be added.

The overview created by the Ames Foundation makes it very clear that what we encounter here is not just a very regular set of manuscripts. These manuscripts at Harvard will show surprises to those scholars who start with the large labor of dealing in-depth with each of them. The overview points to an unedited tract in HLS MS 24b, a single leaf with a large section of the Tractatus de bastardiae, described in 1997 by Jerome Arkenberg. ‘The Story Behind a Stray Manuscript Leaf’, Harvard Library Bulletin, n.s. 8.4 (1997) 46–54, an article available also online. I am sure this is only an example, and not an exception of a text yet to be edited and studied.

The digitized manuscripts help us to come closer to the actual versions of texts seen by those dealing with legal matters in the late Middle Ages, and this can correct the more synthesized critical editions of texts such as the Statuta vetera et nova. A comparison with the text versions printed in incunabula editions comes also much more feasible, and these early editions, too, can now be found in digital versions, too. The Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (GW) at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC) at the British Library increasingly point to digital versions . You can search in these online catalogues for Statuta regnorum and Statuta Angliae or use the GW overview of all editions of statutes.

Magna Carta seen in perspective

In the year of the celebrations around 800 years Magna Carta the newly digitized manuscripts at Harvard show above all Magna Carta did not stand alone. It got a place alongside other statutes of the realm. It would be most interesting to see what place or impact Magna Carta had on actual writs, and for answering this question, too, you can now consult at home on the screen of your computer or tablet the digitized registers of writs kept at the magnificent holdings of Harvard Law School. You will benefit also from the resources and articles brought together at the website of the Magna Carta Research Project. As for medieval canon law and Magna Carta, you could very well start with reading an online essay by Anne Duggan at the website of the project Early English Laws. A look at these earlier laws helps also to discern with more precision the new elements within Magna Carta.

At my own web page about legal history you can find among the information about the history of the common law links to other online resources for this subject which merits continuing attention because of the continuities and changes in the history of Anglo-American law at large. Apart from its printed publications and the priceless online Index to Year Book Reports (David Seipp, Boston College) the Ames Foundation is working with Harvard Law School to create further digital access to resources in the field of the history of the common law and medieval law in a wider sense.

The definitive history of Magna Carta will not be written because every generation will come with different questions and methods to approach the old roads to answers, and no doubt each generation will come up with new perspectives worth considering carefully again and again. Thanks to the staff at Harvard University for make these materials accessible for anyone interesting in legal history! As for Et Seq. you can subscribe to its RSS feeds, simply follow the 852 RARE items of this library blog or follow @hlslib at Twitter. If liberty is a value to treasure and foster you cannot pass by in silence this Icon of Liberty, the telling subtitle of a special website created by the American Bar Association for this year’s Law Day (May 1). Magna Carta 800th will keep you informed about many of this year’s celebrations. Among this year’s online exhibitions are Exploring Magna Carta of Boston College Law Library and The Magna Carta (Great Charter), 1297 of the Parliament House, Canberra.

A postscript

Linking Magna Carta and medieval canon law is not a whim or an isolated idea. On June 16 and 17 a conference will be held at Saint Louis, Missouri on the theme New Constitutions and Constitutional Beginnings: The Fourth Lateran Council and Magna Carta 800 years later. The conference is sponsored by the International Society for Medieval Canon Law (ICMAC). The Fourth Lateran Council is the subject of a congress later this year in Rome, November 24-29, 2015: Concilium Lateranense IV: Commemorating the Octocentenary of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215.