Tag Archives: Italy

Gathering graphic evidence on false inscriptions

Startscreen Epigraphic Database Falsae

Doing research in legal history means dealing with facts and theories. Provided you have conscientiously worked with the facts at hand it becomes possible to verify theories. In this century we have to deal also with floods of information, including fake news and faked or unprovenanced sources. Some recent cases about illegal selling of and tampering with ancient papyri have even made headlines. In this post I will look at falsified inscriptions which pose as sources stemming from classical Antiquity. A team of scholars from the Università degli Studi di Bari, Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice and the Università La Sapienza in Rome has created the Epigraphic Database Falsae (EDF). What does this database contain? How are materials presented? What does it bring for (legal) historians? When useful in the context of this post I will look at some other projects in epigraphy, the study of inscriptions.

Defying a first look

Perhaps it is worth telling how I found out about this project. The EDF project is included in an overview of projects in the field of digital humanities at the website of the Associazione per l’Informatica Umanistica e la Cultura Digitale (AIUCD), the Italian association for digital humanities and digital culture. At the portal Digital Classicist you can find more about the project. One of the aims of the project team is to integrate EDF with other online resources for epigraphy. EDF is already searchable through the EAGLE portal, an Europeana project for inscriptions, but it will also be connected with the Epigraphik Datenbank Clauss / Slaby (EDCS), one of the main online portals for epigraphy, accessible in five languages. A query for falsae at Charles Jones’ blog Ancient World Online brought me both to EDF and to a volume of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL) founded by Theodor Mommsen. The sixth volume of CIL contains the Inscriptiones urbis Romae Latinae, and its fifth part is devoted to Inscriptiones falsae (Berlin 1885). You may consult this part online at the Arachne portal. Unfortunately the online version of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum created by the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften does not function completely at present; for the volume CIL VI,5 you are led to the Arachne portal.

The website of the Epigraphic Database Falsae does not lead you to any explanation about its aim and functioning. For this you must turn to the description at the Digital Classicist. Let’s therefore proceed to the search interface which is only in Italian. You can search by the ID of an inscription, by ancient city, by the text of an inscription and by bibliographical information. Interestingly you can also exclude towns, texts and bibliographical data. You can turn on a search for Greek texts, too.

EDF advanced search

By clicking on the button Ricerca avanzata more search fields become visible. In fact my screenprint does only show the first half of the thirty search fields. First of all you can search for items with a TM number in the Trismegistos database, and for items with a DOI (Digital Object Identifier). You can search here for example for modern country and city, the place of production, the name of the forger, the present location, material and dimensions, religion, social category, type of forgery, diplomatic transcription and the use of a particular kind of versification, to mention just a few of them. Here, too, you can narrow your search by excluding one or more terms. For a number of fields you can choose from a dropdown list. When you look for a particular type of forgery you can choose from seven categories, including also a partial copy of a genuine inscription.

Of course the best thing to do is to test the database by searching for some forgeries, but this was not as as easy as I had expected. At first I tried to find information about the Fibula Praenestina (TM 256173, EDCS-19600767), but this object which was long suspected to be a forgery, is now viewed as a genuine object from the seventh century BCE. Entering Roma as the ancient city led me to some 250 examples. EDF000151 is a forgery by Placido Scamacca in Catania, first mentioned between 1746 and 1750, who followed as his model a genuine inscription in Rome. The EDF entry leads you in this case also to this inscription in the Epigraphic Database Rome. It is good to note that at EDR118156 the inscription at Catania is not mentioned; I saw also a case where a forgery, also from Catania, is mentioned in EDR as a “copia moderna”. EDR shows images of inscriptions, and even thought they are in black and white, this is something you would like to have also for items in EDF.

I hoped to find some of the false inscriptions from CIL VI,5, but it seems they have yet to be added, or I might not have tried to find them in the right way. I also searched in vain for the text of the inscription on the drawing of the vase on the start screen. The thing to note in EDF is the attention to the actual place of conservation and the cataloging by institutions of individual inscriptions. EDF notes carefully who edited an entry and when.

Integrating epigraphic data

This is not my first post with double numbering for ancient inscriptions. Last year I included an inscription with the Lex Flavia Irnitana in a post on Roman water law, and a few years ago I looked here in a post at the project Hispania Epigraphica. In fact the last years epigraphic scholars have become very much aware of the ways not only to refer to a particular inscription, but also of the ways inscriptions are described. Working with digital resources has made this need even more acute. For epigraphy EpiDoc: Epigraphic Documents in TEI-XML has become a standard for formatting information about inscription. At Epigraphy.info you can follow the latest developments for the integration of a large number of epigraphic databases. There is a real difference in representation on a simple webpage coded in HTML, information encoded using XML following the EpiDoc guidelines, and storage along the rules of RDF (Resource Description Framework). Among the books which provide you with background about such developments is the volume with essays edited by Monica Berti, Digital Classical Philology. Ancient Greek and Latin in the Digital Revolution (ePUB and PDF’s for single articles in open acccess, 2019); a bit more attention to inscriptions would have been most welcome.

In view of the sometimes rapid developments in digital humanities it is necessary to be aware having reliable (online) editions of the text of inscriptions is one thing. It is wise to look for inscriptions not just at one portal or to rely on one particular database. Often they are strengthened by rich bibliographies, but integrating them with images and linked data is currently very much work in progress or projects for the future. Of course it would be wonderful to have already now a single epigraphic gateway, but we have to reckon with different needs and technological possibilities. In this respect facing the very real questions of those scholars who want to investigate forged inscriptions is a reminder research questions and objects can be quite different from your usual approach. The blog Current Epigraphy will help you to stay tuned with the field of the study of inscriptions from classic Antiquity.

The Italian thing: A look at a new palaeography tutorial

Startscreen "Italian Palaeography

How can you embark on studying original manuscripts and archival records or the digital versions of these documents? The number of online tutorials for Italian palaeography is distinctly low in view of the sheer number of digitized resources concerning Italy’s medieval and Early Modern history. The new online tutorial Italian Paleography created by the Newberry Library in Chicago and the University of Toronto Libraries is most welcome. What are its qualities? How does it stand the comparison with the earlier project of both partners for French Renaissance Paleography? Of course I will also look at the presence of elements directly touching upon legal history.

At the outset

Logo of The Newberry Library, Chicago

The activity of The Newberry Library in the field of medieval manuscripts and archival records is not a new phenomenon. A number of its departments and centers deal with resources from Europe. There is a concise page about palaeography. The Newberry Library can be proud of its fleet of introductory guides, too. The Digital Newberry brings you to numerous collections and virtual exhibits. The Newberry has created five crowdsourcing and transcribing projects. In their fine Introduction to manuscript studies (Ithaca, NY, 2007) Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham liberally used manuscripts and other documents from the Middle Ages and Renaissance held at The Newberry.

Logo Medici Archive Project

The University of Toronto Libraries can point among their digital collections to no lesser project than the Medici Archive Project. The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library has digitized a fair number of its manuscripts, to mention just one example, and it has placed a number of its digitized collections in the Internet Archive. The presence in Toronto of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies is a gem for medievalists. I explored a number of scholarly institutions in a post about the international congress of medieval canon law held at Toronto in 2012.

The number of digital collections with archival records from Italy is every bit as high as you might suppose. I counted some thirty projects for Italy on my web page about digital archives. If you want to get an indication of the number of digitized manuscripts in Italy DMMap quickly shows you some thirty collections, excluding those digitized at the Vatican Library with currently well over 18,000 manuscripts. These high figures should make scholars in and outside the Italian peninsula happy, provided you are able to decipher these documents and manuscripts. In earlier posts here I looked for example at the Progetto Irnerio for medieval legal manuscripts in Bologna and at the book series edited by Giovanna Murano about autograph manuscripts of Italian authors. You can use the tag Italy of my blog to find more relevant posts.

One of the reasons there are only few online manuals for Italian palaeography is the presence at several Archivi di Stato and also at the Vatican of a scuola di archivistica, paleografia e diplomatica. Universities do offer courses in palaeography, too. I have found only three free accessible online resouurces for Italian palaeography, the Materiali didattici per la paleografia Latina created by Antonio Cartelli and Marco Palma (Università degli Studi di Cassino) who deal mainly with medieval manuscripts, and the Lezioni di paleografia of Renata di Simone (Archivio di Stato di Palermo) with an introduction to medieval paleography and book history (PDF), both of them in Italian. There is a tutorial in English for Early Modern and nineteenth-century Italian documents at BYU Script Tutorial. By mistake Spanish is used in the Italian version of this tutorial on the platform created by the Brigham Young University. The thirst for people in the Anglo-American hemisphere to be able to use an introduction in English is understandable. This is a real need, and the new tutorial does tackle this challenge.

The Italian thing

Much what can be said about the website for French Renaissance Paleography applies also to the new tutorial Italian Paleography which was launched on July 25, 2019. The section with manuscripts leads you to a hundred examples of handwritten books (80 items) and documents (20 items). You can filter them by genre, period, script type, reading difficulty, region and holding institution. This choice of examples seems to have been in favor of manuscripts. For the regions the general localisation “Italy” seems a bit vague. For all other aspects the choice seems quite balanced. 31 items touch the field of politics and government, twelve have been labelled “Law”.

Among the items at Italian Paleography concerning law is a register of criminals executed in Venice, written around 1775 (The Newberry, VAULT Case Ms 6A 34). Its resource type has been indicated as manuscript book, but surely this is not a manuscript in the codicological sense, but an archival document in book form, with bound leaves. The tutorial show only four of the 59 pages. With respect to the type of resource the descriptions have been made in accordance with the Library of Congress’ Thesaurus for Graphic Materials.

Supplication, 1469 - The Newberry, Wing MS folio ZW 1 .469 recto

Supplication, Milan 1469 – The Newberry, Wing MS folio ZW 1.469 recto (detail)

A document from 1469 is perhaps a better example to show here, a supplication to the lord of Milan to reverse a condemnation.

The address of the supplication, 1469 - image: The Newberry

The address of the supplication, 1469 – The Newberry, Wing MS folio ZW 1 .469 (detail of verso)

This document is of course shown in its entirety. The supplication has been written in a very fluent hand, but the address on the back and the note below it show a less polished handwriting. In fact the main text of the document was written by a writing master. For each item of the tutorial a link is provided to the catalog description, a transcription and a background essay. This is really helpful, and anyone learning to read these documents should learn also not to turn to the transcriptions too soon. I will come back to the detailed description of the script(s) in documents given in each background essay.

The second section of the website is a concise handbook on the development of scripts used in Italy and the rise of the vernacular language. Two much older items have been included among the examples to show the most important points of departure. At the core of this website is not just the study of books and documents from Italy, but also very much the study of books and documents written in the Italian language. The description of the writing hands for the examples is given in Italian. For each phase and script type the relevant examples are listed.

The next section, the appendix, offers you access to a number of digitized calligraphy manuals and historic maps. The resources section leaves little to desire. There is not only a handy overview of the transcriptions and background essays, but also a glossary of palaeographic terms, an overview of relevant dictionaries, a bibliographical section and a section on transcription standards and metadata standards. The sections on abbreviations and symbols, teaching materials and the history of the project do not yet contain information.

I have saved perhaps the best thing for the end. At the start page of Italian Paleography you will find a number of short introductions to palaeography as a subject, its history, some tips and tricks, and also two videos in the right hand menu. In particular the page New to palaeography helps you for quick orientation into Gothic, mercantesca, cancelleresca, humanistic and italic (cursive) script. After creating an account for this website you can make transcriptions at this website using T-PEN (Transcription for Palaeographical and Editorial Notation). Thus this online tutorial offers you also a way to familiarize yourself with this important integrated tool.

Some differences

Banner French Renaissance Paleography

When you compare Italian Paleography with its older sister French Renaissance Paleography it is understandable some sections have simply not yet been filled. The website for France has a very similar structure. A clear visual difference are the interactive map and the clickable tags for topics and time periods. Reference materials can be found under a separate heading, not as a part of the resources section. The main parts of the website are listed on the start page. The section “About French documents” is empty. The presence of its logo on the start page declares more openly the use of T-PEN. There is a page Get started which in my view helps you initially as good as the videos of Italian Paleography. These differences amount mainly to a judicious remix of elements.

Logo UTL

Both websites are hosted by the University of Toronto Libraries. Their logo deserves a place next to that of The Newberry at the top of both online tutorials. At the bottom other institutions are mentioned as well. A number of libraries and institutions in the United States have graciously provided materials for this website. It is fair to conclude after this quick tour that both tutorials fulfill their purpose eminently. The combination of attention to documents with the Italian vernacular and the use of Italian for a very particular part of the descriptions rightly stress also the need to master the Italian language to some degree if you want to study sources in Italian. This linguistic demand combines with the need to be able to read the various kinds of scripts, some of them really challenging, and makes it clear doing history is not just a matter of reading texts translated into your own language and reasoning about them. Thus material and very physical aspects can help teaching you to look beyond the content of a document to its context. You simply need training for a number of essential activities in doing historical research.

The Italian tutorial shows an agreement from 1466 with an artist about the decoration of a chapel in the Sant’Antonio basilica in Padua. Art historians might be tempted to contemplate the very interesting sketch of the decoration plan in this document, and to forget the legally binding agreement. Legal historians should be seduced to look not only at the agreement itself, but also at the matter at stake and the possibility of putting artistic purposes and procedures into a clear legal framework. It is my sincere wish to the team for Italian Paleography that many students and scholars may benefit from their work. Just like its counterpart for French palaeography the training it offers can greatly assist your research in Italian manuscripts and archival documents. It will save you time and the efforts to learn things only when you arrive in Italy or have found the digitized items you are looking for at your computer screen.

New ways to medieval city registers

Screenprint Stadtbücher

How do you get the larger picture? Almost with a sigh we often long to see wide vistas, yet at the same time we want to zoom in while looking at a panorama of particular things. In this post I will look both at a repertory of particular sources, medieval and Early Modern city registers, for one country, Germany, and at an attempt to create a similar overview for medieval Europe. Last week I was alerted to the project for Germany, but this week I noticed also the project for a wider overview, and comparing the two projects is the most natural thing to do.

Efforts in Germany

The German project for Deutsche Stadtbücher has a subtitle in Latin, Index Librorum Civitatum. On closer inspection this portal can indeed be viewed in German, English and Latin. As for now the Latin is restricted to the headings of fields and filters. The project is the fruit of cooperation between the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the history department at the Universität Halle-Wittenberg and the Cologne Center for eHumanities (CCEH). The portal offers four main entrances to search: cities, city registers, literature and archives. The word Archives stands here for holding institutions, not only archives, but also libraries. You can also use a free text field search. It is possible to search only for digitized registers, too. An extra is offered in the expert search mode, and you can also use an interactive map. This map can be used with some filters, but it seems a number of them is not yet active. However, you can go to a second interactive map, the DARIAH-Geobrowser which enables you to filter for periods and series of Stadtbücher. The loading of the results takes some time… On the main map you can select other countries as well. The database has for example currently entries for two Dutch cities, Kampen and Groningen. It is great to have bibliographies for many cities.

City registers or municipal registers is a very broad term. The strength of this project is certainly the creation of eleven categories, ten categories with in four of them attention for those registers most dear to legal historians, court registers, statutes and bylaws, council registers, and the classic registers for acts and charters (cartularies). In the eleventh category you will find everything which does not clearly fit into one of the other categories.

In such a vast project, spanning five centuries, you will find inevitably aspects which are either exhaustively or rather sparingly covered. Project leader Christoph Speer explains at his staff web page that for some Bundesländer he could build on the work of Reinhard Kluge in the former DDR for 450 cities with 70,000 registers, and he refers to a number of publications about the project and German city registers.

Getting a larger view

In 2014 I wrote here about a number of projects for the digitization of Dutch and Flemish city registers, in particular court registers and council deliberations. I discussed projects for Leuven, Liège, and ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc). I briefly mentioned some maritime registers at Amsterdam and a project for medieval charters in Tilburg. The Leuven project Itinera Nova is supported by the municipal archive and the Universität Köln. Especially when I looked at the map of the Stadtbücher project in which a center of this university is one of the main partners I wondered for a few moments why Leuven is not mentioned, but it is better to look first of all within the limits set for the Stadtbücher project.

Having within your reach a good and consistent repertory for one country is a fine thing, but often we set out to search for a digital version of one particular source, instead of going first to a relevant repertory. In this context it is perhaps a blessing in disguise that until recently I had not found many digitized medieval municipal registers. I had noticed a French project, Le Petit Thalamus de Montpellier, and a Scottish project, Law in the Aberdeen council registers, 1389-1511. In my 2015 post about portals for medieval history I mentioned briefly the section Paris médiéval at Ménestrel with much attention to legal documents. By the way, similar section at Ménestrel for Lissabon is promising, but has not yet reached this level.

However, very recently I encountered the project Registres des déliberations municipales au Moyen-Âge: La voix des assemblées [REGIDEL], a project concerning cities in Southern France led by the Telemme laboratory at Aix-en-Provence. On November 24, 2017 the symposium Enregistrer les conflits. Pratiques délibératives et scripturales des conseils urbains en temps de crise (XIIIe-XVe siècles, Europe méridionale) [To note conflicts. Practices of deliberation and scriptural practice in urban councils in times of crises, 13th-15th centuries, in Southern Europe] took place. The project blog contains articles about cities such as Turin, Toulouse, Digne and cities in the Emilia-Romagna, in particular for Bologna.

A companion to the REGIDEL project has got its own acronym, MUAR, for Medieval Urban Assembly Records, nothing less than a projected repertory for urban council records in medieval Europe. Like REGIDEL it is currently a blog at the Hypotheses platform. The website aims at becoming an archival and biographical repertory of municipal registers, with a focus on council registers, covering the period from the late twelfth to the early sixteenth century. The interface is in English, French and Italian. Currently there are sections reserved for France, Italy, the Iberian peninsula, the German empire, Britain and Ireland, the Low Countries and other countries. The striking feature here is the wish to classify cities in one region. For a moment I thought the team behind MUAR had fallen into the trap of placing cities in regions which successively were ruled by different rulers, but they mean current regions, for France even the départements.

When I checked the various headings I found partially the same cities as mentioned above for REGIDEL. For Italy you can find Perugia, San Gimignano, Bologna, Reggio Emilia and L’Aquila. Orvieto is the most recent addition, but it has not yet been included in the section for Italy. Most links in this post are internal references. So far Marseille is the only French town in MUAR. All other sections are under construction. For each town a timeline of important events is provided. I decided to check the page for Bologna, a town which figured here in a number of posts, for examples concerning Italian city statutes and municipal ordinances. In one post I portrayed Bologna also as a center of legal history when discussing two projects in Bologna for the digitization of medieval legal manuscripts. In this post I mentioned for the Archivio di Stato di Bologna the digital version of the Estimi di Bologna di 1296-97, records estimating the properties of Bolognese citizens, and the Liber Paradisus, a register about the liberation of nearly six thousand slaves at Bologna in 1257. The MUAR project does mention the critical edition of the Liber Paradisus by F.S. Gatta and G. Plessi, Liber paradisus. Con le riformagioni e gli statuti connessi (Bologna 1956), but not the digital version. The Estimi do not figure at all, nor the digitized Registro grosso (1116-1380) and the Registro nuovo. It is tempting to say the team at MUAR has not yet realized how daunting their objective is, but we can read the notice telling the team is looking for scholars willing to cooperate with them. In view of the German project it seems wise they change from a blog to an online database to enhance search possibilities.

For Italy one can benefit from the Scrineum project of the universities of Pavia and Verona, and more specifically from the Atlante della documentazione comunale italiana (secoli XII-XIV). This Atlante certainly does not cover all Italian towns, but you can find entries for cities such as Genua, Asti, Vercelli, and in particular for Florence. Scrineum provides you with background essays about notaries and libri iurium, and with essays on types of municipal legislation, with text examples from Genua and Florence. Is it safe to assume that there are various groups of historians dealing with legal documents in medieval Italian towns, and that every group has a particular focus? Instead of taking you with me through all kind of resources I had better translate words of Paolo Cammarosano: “As for municipal libri iurium for which there is now a prospect of the creation of a repertory and successively editions, the analysis to be done must reckon with great complexity, different articulations, mixing of matters and outright disorder (…)”, a quote from his article ‘I libri iurium e la memoria storica delle città comunali’, in: Le scritture del Comune. Amministrazione e memoria nelle città dei secoli XII e XIII (Turin 1998) 95-108, online at Rete Medievali Open Archive. The impression of a quick search for literature on libri iurium in the online bibliography of the Regesta Imperii is that of a wide variety of publications focusing on a fairly restricted number of Italian cities.

 In the wake of earlier projects

One of the questions to ask for both the German and the French-Italian project is the presence and use of earlier printed repertories and related projects. For the Stadtbücher the team could rely on a project for the Bundesländer in the former DDR as a substantial point of depart. On a European scale fifty years ago a team with a great role at the start for two Dutch scholars, J.F. Niermeyer and C. van de Kieft, edited the first volume of the Elenchus fontium historiae urbanae (Leiden 1967), a project for sources before 1250. The first volume deals with Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries. The other volumes cover France and Luxemburg (vol. II.1, 1996), Great Britain and Ireland (vol. II.2, 1988), Austria (vol. III.1, 1992) and Hungary (vol. III.2, 1997). On the website of the Commission Internationale pour l’Histoire des villes (CIHV) you can find PDF’s with the preface and overview of the contents of the volumes I and II.2. The Elenchus contains selected texts for the early history of medieval towns. The CHIV also stimulated the creation of country bibliographies.

For Germany it is easy to mention recent and earlier works. Ulrich-Dieter Oppitz published the massive repertory Deutsche Rechtsbücher des Mittelalters (3 vol. in 4 parts, Cologne 1990-1992), in itself a successor to the earlier work by Carl Gustav Homeyer, Die deutsche Rechtsbücher des Mittelalters und ihre handschriften (Berlin 1856; online, Hathi Trust Digital Library; text only, German Wikisource) and his earlier Verzeichnis from 1836 (online, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich). Both works deal with legal treatises such as the Sachsenspiegel and Schwabenspiegel, but they look also at the laws of individual cities. A number of Rechtsbücher, influential municipal laws, and Schoffensprüche (decisions of aldermen) figure in the online version of the Repertorium Geschichtsquellen des deutschen Mittelalters under the heading Stadtrecht. I invite you to check also for example at Archivportal-D and the Archives Portal Europe for all kinds of city registers, for they can offer a quick way to relevant registers, too.

Many Dutch rechtsboeken have been edited by member of the Society for Old Dutch Law. Some of the nineteenth-century editions in the first series of editions will not quite stand the proof of modern textual criticism, but at least a large number of them has been digitized at Heidelberg for the Textarchiv accompanying the online version of the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch. It would be a good thing to create an overview of these texts, the original sources and whenever possible their current digital presence.

To conclude this contribution, proposing the creation of either a national or an European overview of city registers in their various forms is one thing, creating them in a sensible and feasible way implies thorough reflection on many matters before even starting such a project. Overviews of one particular source genre can be most useful, but you cannot lift a source or a genre out of their context completely without impairing in the end historical understanding. This consideration works certainly as a factor which makes scholars rightfully hesitant to cooperate in such projects. The fact that you work with partners from other countries will surely help to widen your horizon and question your assumptions. Let´s wish all courageous scholars who nevertheless join these projects wisdom, good luck and stamina!

A postscript

My view of the German project Stadtbücher is rather positive, but it is right to add at least one comment from Klaus Graf at Archivalia who criticizes the working of the filters and the absence of information for some German regions, in particular Baden-Württemberg. In my opinion the north of Germany is covered massively, for other regions you can clearly wish for more. For Saxony you can benefit from the Gerichtsbücher database for some 22,000 registers concerning voluntary jurisdiction, for example property sales, mortgages, custody and wills.

I spotted in open access the most valuable article on Magdeburger Recht by Heiner Lück in the Handwörterbuch zur deutschen Rechtsgeschichte III (2nd ed., Berlin 2013) col. 1127-1136.

A personal touch: Chasing autograph manuscripts of medieval lawyers

The Middle Ages span a millennium, and the very term has long darkened our understanding of this period in European history. Somehow the image of the Dark Age keeps to some extent its force for children, the general public and scholars alike. Seemingly out of the dark come the persons whose names we know, and romantic phantasy has often been very active to make them as colourful as possible. Clovis, Charlemagne, William the Conqueror and Saint Louis, the holy French king pronouncing the law, are among the people for whom we can find out more than only battles, deeds and orders, but we hear seldom the voice of more ordinary people. Thus the counsels of Dhuoda to her son, the visions and songs of abbess and composer Hildegard von Bingen, and Christine de Pisan, a passionate writer and defender of women, stand out even stronger, because they shed light on the history of women, too. In the field of medieval art there has been a hunt to find traces of individual artists. Some works of art still bear their names, but others remain anonymous.

Cover Autographa I.2

Medieval law, too, can seem not only a very masculine, but also a very impersonal affair. However, juridical glosses from the twelfth century in the manuscripts with the main texts of Roman and canon law are sometimes signed with an abbreviated form of the names of lawyers such as Azo, Jacobus Bassianus, Rogerius and Pillius. In the last decades another hunt has brought some astonishing results. Scholars have been able to identify autograph manuscripts of a surprising number of medieval lawyers. Individual scholars succeeded in connecting one or more manuscripts directly to the author of a particular juridical text. Surprisingly this is indeed possible for medieval lawyers, for many scholars not the group in medieval society you would immediately pinpoint.

On February 8, 2017 the second volume of a series of studies about medieval autograph manuscripts will be presented at the École française de Rome. This post is a small tribute to the scholars contributing to these volumes, and especially to Giovanna Murano, the courageous editor who has set an example herself in approaching legal manuscripts with new questions and sharing her wisdom and results with others. The blog Storia del Diritto medievale e moderno alerted me to the presentation of the new volume, and apart from translating the main information of their message in French I will try to provide some context for this important publication.

The hands of the masters

During the thirteenth century a system for the reproduction of medieval texts used at universities came into existence. Book shops were given controlled master copies, exemplars of these texts. Students could hire quire after quire for scribes to make copies. The pecia system – literally “piece” – was first described for theological manuscripts by Jean Destrez. Last year Frank Soetermeer died, the Dutch scholar who did research about the use of the pecia system for legal texts in Italy and France. Giovanna Murano, too published a book about the pecia system, Opere diffuse per exemplar e pecia (Turnhout 2005). Since a few decades it becomes clear that the chances for survival of original author manuscripts were relatively high. In the sixteenth century, however, printers often discarded the very manuscript(s) they had used to produce printed versions of texts.

Recognizing the handwriting of a specific author can be easy, but first you have to connect an inimitable script with him or her. The almost illegible script of Thomas Aquinas (circa 1225-1274) got nicknamed littera inintelligibilis by his contemporaries, and the mirror writing of Leonardo da Vinci in the fifteenth century is rightly famous. Medieval lawyers signed in particular charters, acts written on parchment, or added some confirming lines in their own hand to consilia, legal consultations. The cover of the new volume shows a consilium with some of such closing lines and signatures. The interest in these consilia has helped very much to make the identification of the handwriting of medieval lawyers possible.

Perhaps the single most important step was the identification of a set of autograph manuscripts in the Vatican Library written by or produced under the direction of Baldo degli Ubaldi (1327-1400), first signalled by Giancarlo Vallone, ‘La raccolta Barberini dei “consilia” originali di Baldo’, Rivista di Storia del Diritto Italiano 62 (1989) 75-135. You can read online (PDF, 9 MB) an article by Vincenzo Colli, ‘Collezioni d’autore di Baldo degli Ubaldi nel MS Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Barb. lat. 1398’, Ius Commune 25 (1998) 323-346. Twenty years ago Colli identified more autographs and other manuscripts close to their author for other medieval lawyers as well, for example for Guillelmus Duranti (around 1237-1296), the author of the Speculum iudiciale, a massive legal encyclopaedia, ‘L’apografo dello Speculum iudiciale di Guillaume Durand’, Ius Commune 23 (1996) 271-280 (online, PDF, 3 MB), and together with Giovanna Murano ‘Un codice d’autore con autografi di Giovanni d’Andrea (ms. Cesena, Biblioteca Malatestiana, S.II. 3)’, Ius Commune 24 (1997) 1-23 (online, PDF, 9 MB).

In the second volume of the series on medieval autograph manuscripts [Autographa I.2: Giuristi, giudici e notai (sec. XII-XV)Giovanna Murano (ed.) (Imola 2016)] you will find some eighty images of medieval manuscripts, and very often you will see a medieval consilium and a manuscript of a particular work as evidence for the identification of an author’s hand. Apart from lawyers who published legal works the team looks also at medieval judges (giudici) and notaries (notai). For the second volume twelve scholars have identified 49 authors and consulted more than one thousand manuscripts in more than two hundred libraries. The new volumes contains eighty photographs.

Giovanna Murano contributed an article about the autograph of Antonio de Roselli’s Monarchia for the second volume of the Festschrift for Mario Ascheri, Honos alit artes. Studi per il settantesimo compleanno di Mario AscheriPaola Maffei and Gian Maria Varanini (eds.) (4 vol., 2014), a publication briefly mentioned here, too, available in print and online. In the first volume a whole section is dedicated to articles concerning medieval legal consilia. Murano provides a must-read on this genre with her article ‘I consilia giuridici dalla tradizione manoscritta alla stampa’, Reti medievali. Rivista 15/1 (2014) 1-37. She offers an uptodate illustrated introduction to this medieval genre. It gives you an example of her rigorous thinking and dense argumentation. At every turn Murano makes you think and reconsider matters you had not thought about for a long time or simply not carefully enough. In a similar article she gives a status questionum for the study of the Decretum Gratiani, the great treatise for medieval canon law from the early twelfth century [‘Graziano e il Decretum nel secolo XII’, Rivista Internazionale di Diritto Comune 26 (2015) 61-139; online].

The first volume of the series Autographa appeared in 2012. In my view both volumes can serve also as a palaeographical atlas for anyone studying the learned law, i.e. the medieval – and Early Modern – use of Roman and canon law. Instead of hunting digitized manuscripts on your computer screen or tablet you might want to sit down and study the variety of handwriting offered by Murano and her international team. The books can be used indeed as a fine guide to medieval legal manuscripts. However, maybe it is simple the urge to come as closely as possible to the hands of the great magistri of Italian and French medieval universities that makes you want to have these books within your reach. The names of medieval lawyers change here from glorious but inevitable dead names into living persons, not just as law professors producing a theoretical frameworks for judges, advisors and officials all over Europe, but at work themselves, counseling parties or pronouncing judgment on cases which show law in action. These manuscripts and archival records offer a splendid window to medieval life and society. My warmest congratulations to Giovanna Murano and the scholars participating in this great project! It deserves your attention by all means.

A postscript

In 2018 a third volume of the Autographa series appeared on Donne, sante e madonne : 1 : (da Matilde di Canossa ad Artemisia Gentilschi) (Imola 2018).

Publishing laws in Early Modern Italy

This month I could add a number of digital resources for legal history to my website Rechtshistorie, but with summertime approaching I could not help asking myself during some fleeting moments whether scholars actually use these resources. However, when I encountered in a collection held at Het Utrechts Archief, the municipal and provincial archives of the city and province Utrecht, a seventeenth-century piece of printed ecclesiastical legislation from Italy I was only too happy to be able to use these online resources. In this post I offer a small tour of projects concerning legislation in Italy during the Early Modern Period.

What’s in a name?

My curiosity was evoked by a notice in an inventory about a publication in print of a condemnation by pope Innocent XI in 1679 of sixty-five theses concerning probabilism, an approach of Christian beliefs building on the works of some Jesuit theologians in the seventeenth century. Being a medievalist my first reaction was to look at the formal aspects of this publication: Is it a papal bull, a decree, a letter, a motu proprio or something else? Each of this forms has its own characteristics which can be used in particular to determine its age and nature, whether it is truly a papal publication, a forgery or something else.

The condemnation by pope Innocent XI - image Rome, Biblioteca Casanatense

The condemnation of probabilism by pope Innocent XI, 1679 – Rome, Biblioteca Casanatense, Per.est 18_14.313

Let’s look at the document I encountered, and I use here an image from an Italian database for Early Modern ecclesiastical legislation. Within the Scaffali digitali, the digital library of the Biblioteca Casanatense in Rome, the series of nearly 1,100 editti e bandi pontifici take pride of place. The Scaffali digitali can be viewed in Italian and English. In fact this collection can be accessed also using the portal site Internet Culturale. The first thing to notice in this digital collection is the presence of two editions of this text both issued on March 2, 1679. The edition I found is almost a poster, and described at the Casanatense as a manifesto. The other edition (shelfmark Per.est. 18_14.311) is a quire in folio format, a small booklet. The identical title of both documents, Feria 5. die 2. Martij 1679. In generali Congregatione sanctae Romanae, & vniuersalis Inquisitionis habita in Palatio Apostolico Vaticano coram sanctissimo D.N.D. Innocentio diuina prouidentia papa 11. (…), mentions in both cases clearly the congregation for the inquisition, the Congregazione dell’Inquisizione. The Latin text states clearly that pope Innocent was at a meeting of this congregation to promulgate his condemnation. From this I would conclude this condemnation is a decree published by the Roman inquisition of a papal condemnation. The description in the inventory at Utrecht will have to be adjusted to do justice to the nature of this document.

As for its theological and doctrinal continent it might be wise to add a note to the well-known standard editions of texts concerning doctrines of faith, the Enchiridion symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum edited by Heinrich Denzinger. The only trick is to indicate clearly the edition you used because in modern editions the numbering has been reshuffled (2101-2167 against 1151-1216). There are translations of Denzinger in several languages. In at least one online version Denzinger gives as the title for the sixty-five condemned propositions Propositiones LXV condemnatae in Decreto Sancti Officii.

Header Internet Culturale

At the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Rome is yet another collection with digitized ecclesiastical legislation, Bandi e bolli pontificie del XVI secolo, accessible at Internet Culturale, the digital portal of a number of Italian libraries with a multilingual interface, but this collection is limited to the sixteenth century. It is a reminder to look not only in the several constituent parts of the Corpus Iuris Canonici for canon law as it was brought together since the sixteenth century, but also in the material sources of law which sometimes did touch the whole Church as much as this main set of canonical collections. The position of the papal states and the Vatican within the borders of Italy inevitably make it necessary to look for its legal history not just at legislation for the Catholic Church, but also at sources elsewhere in Italy. I would almost forget to underline that reading the original publication adds a dimension to studying theological developments in the seventeenth century.

Old Italian laws at your screen

So far I have already mentioned editti, edicts, bolle, bulls, and bandi, an almost untranslatable word, and more terms will follow. Yet bandi with the singular bando is the word most used for publications of single laws and decrees. The entry Bando in the online version of the Enciclopedia Treccani interestingly links the word bando and banno with the German word Bann. The word bandit stems from bandito, someone banned, i.e. expelled by formal proclamation. The Fondazione Querini Stampalia has created at Internet Culturale the digital collection Vox Venetica: Bandi della Repubblica Venezia di secoli 16-17 with more than three thousand legal proclamations from Venice. Even if this is not actually a digital collection, it is useful to point to the project Ecclesiae Venetae of the Venetian Archivio di Stato and other partner institutions with online inventories of the archives of ecclesiastical institutions, with special attention to Italian archives concerning the inquisition. The Archivio di Stato di Venezia has started digitizing thirteenth-century charters in volgare in the project Chartae Vulgares Antiquiores. Bologna is in the Early Modern period a case of a city under the aegis of the papal state. The cardinal-legate reigning Bologna issued many thousands municipal ordinances and decrees for which the Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnasio has made La Raccolta dei Bandi Merlani, a digital collection with publications printed between 1601 and 1796. Nearly 23,000 of some 75,000 items have been digitized. It is perhaps wise to point to the online introduction Il governo di Bologna. Amministratizione comunale dal 1141 al 1945.

In Milan we encounter different terms, gridi and gridari. The Istituto di Teoria e Tecniche dell’Informazione Giuridica, part of the Italian national science foundation Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, has created the collection for Le gride e gli editi dello Stato di Milano (1560-1796). One has to register before you can use these digitized sources. A part of the same ground is covered by the project I gridari del ducato di Milano nel XVIII secolo of the Università degli Studi di Milano. A third project brings you to Gride e Gridari Seicenteschi del Ducato di Milano (1600-1700) with 47 digitized gridari, accessible at the portal Lombardia Beni Culturali, a cultural heritage portal for the region Lombardy. This portal has also a section with nineteenth-century legislation in the field of public law in Lombardy, the Archivio lombardo della legislazione storica (1749-1859). Lombardia Beni Culturali is home to more projects with connections to legal history, for example the Codice diplomatico della Lombardia medievale and registers from the chancery of Francesco I Sforza (1450-1466), but here we leave the field of Early Modern legislation.

On my webpage with digital libraries I have put together a lot of commented links for Italy. I cannot vouch for its completeness, but it would be excessive to repeat here verbatim everything you can find there. The new portal BibVio, Biblioteche virtuali online of the main Italian research libraries, including 46 Italian biblioteche pubbliche statali, deserves mentioning here, however it does not bring an easy overview of their digital presence. I would have loved to write here about Florence, but I can provide you here at least the links to Archivi Storici Toscani, a portal focusing on municipal archives in Tuscany, and the portal Archivi in Toscana, and for archives in Italy the portal of the Direzione generale per gli archivi. A recent digital publication in its digital library using materials pertaining also to Florentine legal history is the volume l carteggio della Signoria fiorentina all’epoca del cancellierato di Carlo Marsuppini (1444-1453) edited by Raffaela Maria Zaccaria (2015) (online, PDF, 4,7 MB). This digital library contains more publications which touch upon both legal and ecclesiastical history. The Archivio di Stato in Florence and its veritable portal to the history of Florence should be both online and in real life a fine starting point to find and use more. Seeing the decree of Innocent XI and the collections digitized in Rome brought me happy memories of my visits to the Biblioteca Casanatense.

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:

  • Vat.lat. 630 pt.1 – Isidorus Mercator, Decretalium collectio
  • Vat.lat. 841, De Regimine Principum, a guide-book for princes, by Giles of Rome (Aegidius Romanus)
  • Vat.lat. 1130, anonymous (John of Paris?) on papal authority
  • Vat.lat. 3978, handbook for the Inquisition
  • Vat.lat. 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
  • Vat.lat. 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)
  • Vat.lat. 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:

  • Barb.lat. 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).
  • Ott.gr. 64, legal synopsis
  • Ott.lat.15, legal texts, compiled by Capuchins
  • Reg.lat. 189, papal register
  • Reg.lat. 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.
  • Urb.lat. 157, Innocent IV, decretals
  • Urb.lat. 158, Azo of Bologna, decretals >> Azo, Summa Codicis and other works
  • Urb.lat. 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.)
  • Urb.lat. 160, Johannes Andreae, Boniface VIII, decretals dealing with marriage and other legal issues >> mainly the Liber Sextus of pope Boniface VIII
  • Urb.lat. 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.

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

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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.