Why do canon law manuscripts have lists of Roman provinces in them?

IMG_20150224_141618The other day I was examining a manuscript of canon law documents and found something quite unexpected — a list of Roman provinces. This was not one of those manuscripts of miscellanea stitched together from different, fragmentary manuscripts. It is an integral whole, put together by a single scriptorium in the eleventh century. It starts with the canons of church councils, and ends with papal decretals (which in contemporary canon law have a universal jurisdiction). So, imagine my surprise when at the end of the church councils I found:

Noticia in prouintia galliarum

The text then lists all of the provinces and civitates of the Gauls in the Later Roman Empire. Then we find:

Nomina omnium prouinciarum

This lists the names of the provinces of the Roman Empire, divided by dioecesis, but missing out Gaul and Hispania — the former because it was already thoroughly described. Some quick e-mails to more experienced colleagues and a bit of searching showed me that the former was the ‘Notitia Galliarum’, the latter the ‘Nomina Provinciarum’ from the Laterculus of Polemius Silvius (mid-5th c.). Both texts were edited by Theodore Mommsen in Chronica Minora Vol 1 back in 1892. Mommsen used this manuscript for the ‘Notitia Galliarum’ but not for Polemius Silvius.

All well and good.

When I looked at Mommsen’s Conspectus Siglorum for these two texts, I observed that a number of familiar shelfmarks were there — Vat. lat. 630, for example, an important ninth-century manuscript of Pseudo-Isidore. In fact, a series of manuscripts of the Carolingian Collectio Dionysio-Hadriana, a collection of canon law documents sent to Charlemagne by Pope Hadrian I in 774, also includes the ‘Notitia Galliarum’. These are manuscripts that I only consulted for Leo’s letters, not being of a mind to consider their other contents.

The question that now strikes me, sitting here this morning, is why did the compilers of canonical collections include these documents — usually the ‘Notitia Galliarum’?

Mommsen argues that this ‘Notitia’ was originally composed between 390 and 413. Some versions, however, have latter emendations, such as ‘hoc est Agustedunum’ following ‘civitas Aeduorum’ (this is what my manuscript has; today ‘Autun’). With these emendations, the text becomes more useful in the Carolingian age; it is in the interest of a Carolingian user of a book to know that the late Roman ‘civitas Agrippinensium’ is ‘Colonia’ (and for a modern reader, ‘Cologne’).

Furthermore, we can see why a detailed list of the major civitates of Gaul and their old Roman provinciae would be helpful to a Carolingian — after all, in the world after 800, were they not living in a revived Roman Empire (most of it in Gaul and Germania)? So this is certainly a useful text. Carolingians are putting it in their useable manuscripts.

And canon law manuscripts are certainly useable and useful. These are books that bishops and others will have used in the daily running of church affairs. No doubt, for most clergy knowing which city was the old metropolis from the Later Roman Empire would be unhelpful. But I can imagine that several Carolingian bishops would have been pleased to know. Especially if they lived in that city.

The Carolingian world was not one where the idea of a separation of church and state existed. The secular authorities were heavily involved in ecclesiastical politics, and the clergy were involved in secular politics. Bishops were often made and unmade by kings. And popes could be involved in the legitimation of one monarch against another in moments of civil war. Kings were wont to bestow privileges upon loyal ecclesiastics — legal privileges, tax benefits, power over monasteries (or, for monasteries, freedom from episcopates).

If you were an ecclesiastic, a compendium of canon law such as the Dionysio-Hadriana would become even more useful if you knew where in the imagined secular order your own civitas stood. Were you a metropolitan? Who was your metropolitan? Was your civitas listed? Was the civitas of an ally or enemy listed? If so, who was his metropolitan? Could you use any of the canons in that book to protect yourself or prosecute your enemies, based upon the organisation of the Roman world (your world) as found in the ‘Notitia Galliarum’?

So perhaps the presence of the ‘Notitia Galliarum’ in canon law manuscripts is not, as it first seemed to me, an aberration. Perhaps, in the end, it makes perfect sense.

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