Tag Archives: charlemagne

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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Kingship, reform, and the arts in the Early Middle Ages

Louis the Pious, ca. 826

Louis the Pious, ca. 826

I’ve been revising a section of my thesis where I discuss the main driving force behind the Carolingian Renaissance, and thought I’d share some of my findings/thoughts with you. The main driving force, if you were wondering, is correctio — the moral, religious, and legal reform not just of the ruling class but of the entire people. The idea is not Carolingian but Roman.

For examples of the Later Roman Imperial ideal of the princeps providing such reform, the laws in the Theodosian Code (culled from sources dating ca. 312-438) against pagans, heretics, and Jews serve as prime examples of what these emperors thought a good ruler should be up to — such laws are the stick that would promote religious reform, while the tax benefits given to orthodox/catholic clergy are the carrot. Another reflection of the good ruler’s commitment to healthy religious life is the long list of churches built and patronised by the emperors, such as St John’s Lateran and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (by Constantine) or Old St Peter’s Basilica (by his son, Constantius). The Theodosian Code is a tangible example of the secular aspect of correctio, since a ruler’s commitment to justice (iustitia) lies in the everyday as well as the sacred.

Hagia Sophia today

Hagia Sophia today

Justinian (r. 527-565) is one of our clearest examples. In the secular sphere, he sought out clarification and codification of Roman law in the Institutes and the Digest. He also sought to reintegrate the lost western provinces, not only seeking personal glory, but also following a vision that a good ruler should look out for the interests of his citizens — including those under foreign domination. In the ecclesiastical sphere, he rebuilt Hagia Sophia after its destruction during the Nika Riots as one of the greatest architectural achievements in world history. He also attempted to reconcile Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians through various laws and debates and the Second Council of Constantinople (553).

These Late Roman examples are taken up by their ‘barbarian’ successors. It was seen as good kingship not only to promulgate laws and rule by law, but also to strive for the moral and religious correction of the people. In the secular sphere, we get a few different ‘barbarian’ law codes beginning in the fifth century that help to establish rule by law.

Lindisfarne Gospels, opening of Matthew

Lindisfarne Gospels, opening of Matthew

Ecclesiastical reform takes different shapes in these new kingdoms. In Anglo-Saxon lands, it begins in the form of missionary enterprise, as, for example, King Oswald of Deira and Bernicia (Northumbria) inviting St Aidan to evangelise (see Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People 3.3-5). In later years, we see Anglo-Saxon correctio in royal sponsoring of church buildings, church councils, monasteries, and monastic reform. King Alfred the Great sponsored correctio through the translation of ‘essential’ books into English and the training of the clergy in the liturgy.

In Visigothic Spain, St Isidore of Seville (d. 636) says that ‘he who does not correct does not rule’ (Etymologies 9.3.4); the Visigoths took this to heart, visible in the vast number of royally-sponsored church councils — eighteen councils were held in Toledo, seventeen of which come after the Visigothic conquest, the last held ca. 702 (Spain fell to the Muslims in 711).

In the Frankish lands which the Carolingians were to rule, early law codes exist such as the Lex Salica which dates to around the lifetime of Clovis I (r. 481-511), the Merovingian who united the Franks under his rule (through war, treachery, and assassination when necessary) as well as defeating his Arian neighbours and eventually ruling all of Gaul. Gregory of Tours, writing in the 590s, sees Clovis’ conquest of Arian Gaul as driven by Clovis’ religious correctio (see Historiae Francorum 2.37), and when the Burgundian Gundobad converts from Arianism to Catholicism, the bishop of Vienne counsels him not to keep his conversion a secret so that he may publicly encourage his people to religious reform and give them a good example.

However much Merovingians such as Chlotar II (r. 584-629, full power from 597) and Dagobert I (r. 623-629) may have sought correctio, the final decades of the seventh century were a time of cultural decline in Merovingian lands, and the effective power of Merovingian kings to bring about reform was rarely very strong. The results of their inability to produce real correctio in line with these ideals of kingship is visible in the paucity of manuscripts from this period generally as well as the number of reforming councils thought necessary by their successors.

The Carolingians officially supplanted the Merovingians with Pippin III ‘the Short’ in 751, although they wielded great power since Charles ‘the Hammer’ Martel, who kept the Muslims out of France at the Battle of Tours (or Poitiers) in 732. Pippin and his brother Carloman were the secular sponsors of the evangelistic and reforming action of St Boniface in the 740s when they were still not officially kings — that is, they sought to fulfil ideals of kingly correctio before they had kingly authority.

Harley Golden Gospels, fol. 109r, from Aachen ca. 800-825

Harley Golden Gospels, fol. 109r, from Aachen ca. 800-825

But it is Charlemagne (literally ‘Charles the Great’, r. 768-814, sole ruler from 771, ‘Emperor’ from 800), Pippin the Short’s son, who takes things into high gear for the Carolingians. He sets about correctio in a big way — the secular law, ecclesiastical law, the activities and authority of his own royal representatives, the rights and privileges of monasteries and bishops, the text of the Bible, the text of the liturgy. All of these felt the touch of Charlemagne’s reforming zeal. He got Pope Hadrian I (772-795) to send him copies of canon law books and liturgical books, and the York ecclesiastic Alcuin, whom Charlemagne sponsored on the Continent, is associated with one of the major recensions of the Latin Vulgate Bible. The result is a proliferation of manuscripts of the Bible, canon law, and liturgy, as well as a proliferation of laws, charters, etc, so that everyone could have not only a copy but a correct copy.

Charlemagne’s success, in contrast to the Merovingians, lay in his own long reign of political stability, his own effective power to rule the Frankish lands, and his wealth. Charlemagne’s wars of conquest, especially the destruction of the Ring of the Avars in the 790s and the addition of their entire national treasury to his own, brought in the wealth necessary to fund the various aspects of correctio — an average manuscript can take 700 sheep- or goat-skins. Books are not cheap — and monasteries and cathedrals cost money, as well as the pay for the royal representatives and advisers. Without a vast treasury at his disposal, Charlemagne would not have been able to promote the reforms throughout his kingdom that occurred.

The knock-on effect of correctio, especially when combined with wealth, was the production not only of manuscripts, but of beautiful ones. And not only of manuscripts of the necessary texts for reform, but of classical texts. And not only of old texts, but of new compositions. The funding of the ecclesiastical realm meant the building of beautiful churches and monasteries and reliquaries and other forms of ecclesiastical art.

The Carolingian Renaissance did not die with Charlemagne — over 7,000 Latin manuscripts date to the ninth century. Only 2,000 exist from before then. This grand production was driven by the royal desire to rule well and make his kingdom better, not a dispassionate funding of ‘the arts’. But it did well — many texts that might have been lost were saved. Art and architecture took a new turn that would endure in Europe for a long time to come. All because kings wanted to make the world a better place.

Ozymandias, Charlemagne, and the sands of time

On Sunday, I reread this classic poem of 1818 by Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘Ozymandias’:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

The theme of this poem — or, at least, its general sentiment — is the transitory nature of most human endeavour. You may think yourself a big man or woman in your time, but what are the chances that your memory will live on beyond the next generation?

Rameses II

Initially, I wanted to contest this poem. Ozymandias is no longer a nobody, no longer a cypher in the sand. He is Rameses II, one of the most powerful New Kingdom Pharaohs. His temples and his tomb are known. We know the stories of his reign. He is likely the Pharaoh of the biblical Exodus. Thanks to archaeology and historical linguistics, we can read the stories of Rameses and other powerful men lost in antiquity, whether through text or artefact.

Ozymandias has been rediscovered! Rameses shall live eternal in the memory of humanity!

As I was plotting out this post, however, another memory from Sunday came flooding in. On Sunday morning at church, a friend asked how my week had been. I mentioned the Charlemagne commemorative lecture. He said he did not know who Charlemagne was.

Charlie Who?

Charlemagne is a much bigger figure in the cultural memory of Europe than Ozymandias/Rameses II. He is much more recent. He is European. He did all sorts of stuff. Some European schoolchildren learn about him in their history classes. I have no doubt that he is an important part of First Millennium Studies.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that Edinburgh accountants know who the man is.

And so we come full circle back to Shelley’s poem — the memories of the great are feeble and weak things, even when they have the infrastructure of Europe to help keep them alive.