Tag Archives: pope hadrian i

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.

Thoughts on Rome’s Senate and Senate House in the 7th Century

This past Thursday, Christopher Smith, Director of the British School at Rome, led a very informative and interesting tour of the imperial fori, the Forum, and the Palatine, with a walk along the Circus Maximus to the Forum Boarium at the end. I now have some idea of the Forum and how it all works together, as well as its history. Given that the Roman Forum is a mish-mash of ruinous stone and brick from various different eras, it is no easy feat to sort this place out. Indeed, I may be kidding myself.


Until it was decided in the 19th century that the Forum would better serve the world uncovered and exposed, it was lined with churches, several of them former ancient Roman buildings converted to new uses in the course of the Middle Ages. Such converted buildings include this temple to Antoninus Pius (d. AD 161) and his wife Faustina; note how high up the Baroque door is — evidence of the changing topography of the City (all photos my own):

IMG_5423Another is this mausoleum from c. AD 307, built by the Emperor Maxentius for his son:

IMG_5428It was converted into the Church of Sts Cosmas and Damian by Pope Felix IV (pope 526-530) and includes these wonderful 6th-century mosaics:

IMG_5407Temples are less frequently converted into churches than non-religious buildings; thus, the Temple to Antoninus Pius was not converted into a church until the 7th century at the earliest; its existence as San Lorenzo in Miranda is not confirmed until the 11th. The Pantheon, for example, was not converted into a church until the late 500s.

One building in the Forum that was not converted into a church until the 600s is the Curia, Rome’s Senate House; it’s the one on the right:

IMG_5421It would have been clad in marble in ancient days, as evidenced by the holes for such activity. The Curia was not converted into a church until the episcopate of Pope Honorius I (pope 625-638). None of its ecclesiastical garb survives due to the archaeological interventions of the early 20th century. These strike me as largely wrongheaded, because the Curia looks neither as it did in antiquity, nor as it did as a mediaeval church.

Thankfully, some of the 8th-century frescoes (painted at order of Pope Hadrian I (pope, 772-95) were preserved and can be seen today in the museum of Cripta Balbi:

13918555508_09bdb66c07_oAnyway, I’m sure you’re finding all of this very fascinating, but are wondering if I have a point amidst it all.

I do. Fear not.

The Curia, you see, could not be converted into a church while it was still in use for its secular purpose. That is, there had to be no more Senate before a pope could turn its meeting house into a diaconia. When does the Senate end, though? That’s the ongoing problem. We have, for example, the famous quotation from Gregory the Great (pope, 590-604):

For where is the senate? where any longer a people? The bones are wasted, the flesh consumed; all pride of secular dignities is perished out of it. The whole composition is sodden. Yet every day the sword, every day innumerable sorrows press upon us, the poor remaining remnant. (Homilies on Ezekiel, 2.6.22),

Years later, however, that same Gregory would join with this non-existent Senate to welcome the adventus of the imperial image. So not quite gone yet! Nevertheless, the Senate of Rome would definitively vanish by the days of Honorius in the second quarter of the 600s. It was an institution that was over 1100 years old, a body of men involved in lawmaking, personal prestige, taxation, and all that is involved in the running of civic affairs, born some time in the Regal Period (before 509ish BC) — an age from which vague tales — myths and legends incontrovertibly mingled with truths — are all that survive.

And it slowly petered out and died. But we don’t know when.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Endnote: I wonder if that final imperial intervention in the Forum, the pillar of Phocas (eastern emperor 602-10) has anything to tell us in this tale of Rome’s movement to the secular periphery?