The Medieval Review 13.06.21

Opll, Ferdinand . Die Regesten des Kaiserreiches unter Friedrich I, 1152 (1122)-1190, Fascicle 4: 1181-1190. Regesta Imperii. Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 2011. Pp. liv, 345. 95.00 EUR. ISBN: 978-3-205-78683-2. . .

Reviewed by:

Jonathan R. Lyon
University of Chicago
jlyon@uchicago.edu

The Regesta Imperii, a project with roots stretching back to the nineteenth century, is one of the great endeavors of medieval German scholarship. Its aim is to provide an inventory of all known archival and historiographical sources for the German kings and emperors from the Carolingians to Emperor Maximilian I. The work under review here is the fourth of five fascicles designed to provide a complete, up-to-date register of sources for Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa. The first fascicle, covering the earliest years of Barbarossa's life to the year 1158, appeared more than thirty years ago in 1980. This fourth fascicle completes the register, but Ferdinand Opll soon intends to publish a fifth with the bibliography, indices and a concordance. Since much of Opll's other published work concerns this emperor (including his excellent biography of Frederick I, first published in 1990), the book under review here comprises only one small piece of the editor's career-long engagement with the source material for Barbarossa's life and reign.

This fascicle covers the years 1181 to 1190, the same years covered by the final volume of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica (MGH) edition of Barbarossa's charters, which was published in 1990. One gets a sense of the differences between that volume of edited charters and this register of sources simply by comparing the numbers of texts discussed in the two books. There are approximately 225 authentic imperial charters in the MGH volume for the period 1181–1190, while the register includes summaries of all those charters as well as an additional 650+ entries drawn from other types of source material. Combined, the four fascicles of Opll's register include more than 2,000 additional source entries beyond those appearing in the volumes containing Frederick's charters.

Opll's introduction to this fascicle is brief but includes a variety of useful background information. He begins by outlining the history of the register-project from its origins to the present. He then turns to a statistical consideration of the source material compiled in the four fascicles. Two charts, one organized by year and the other by number of register entries, provide insight into the changing number of sources for Barbarossa over the course of his reign. While one must be cautious with such statistics, since it is impossible to know how many sources have been lost, these charts are nevertheless intriguing. For example, they reveal that the four years with the highest number of register entries all fall between 1159 and 1167, the period of the most intense struggle between the emperor and the Italian communes. In contrast, with the exception of the year 1189 when Barbarossa was preparing to embark on the Third Crusade, the years covered in this fourth fascicle include only average or below-average numbers of entries. One of the thinnest years of his entire reign in terms of extant source material is 1182, when--Opll speculates--the emperor may have slowed his pace in order to rest and recover from the long years of his dramatic conflict with Henry the Lion.

Opll also provides an overview of his sources in this Introduction. He breaks these down into four categories. The first includes all known authentic, lost and forged charters issued in Barbarossa's name--as well as those of his second wife, Beatrice of Burgundy. The second category includes all available reports in chronicles and other narrative sources concerning governmental matters directly connected to the ruler. The third includes the charters issued by imperial legates. And the fourth category includes references to Barbarossa and governmental matters in charters produced outside the royal/imperial sphere. As Opll acknowledges, there are other types of sources that are not included in his register--most notably manuscript illuminations, coins and archeological evidence. While Opll obviously had to draw the line somewhere, this emphasis on written evidence is important to note. Hopefully, a comparable register, containing descriptions of the other types of surviving evidence from Barbarossa's long reign, will someday be available.

Following the Introduction comes thirty-five pages, including more than 200 entries, comprised of additions to the first three fascicles of the register. The vast majority of these additions are either updated references to secondary sources or references to newer text editions. Twenty-three, however, are new entries describing primary sources unknown to Opll at the time of the initial publication of those fascicles. While this is not an enormous number of new sources, they are evidence that this register is part of an ongoing process of collecting evidence for Barbarossa. Indeed, as Opll notes, scholars are still finding charters that are not included in the MGH editions or that were thought lost at the time of those volumes' publication.

After these additions come the entries for the years 1181–1190. They follow the standard format for entries in the volumes of the Regesta Imperii: date and place with a brief description of the event; followed by the reference to the primary source on which the entry is based; a list of all known editions of that primary source; and finally the editor's comments as well as references to pertinent secondary literature. Under the year 1189, before the emperor's departure on crusade, Opll--in keeping with the format used in the MGH edition of Barbarossa's charters--includes all undated sources from the whole of the emperor's reign. This means the year 1189 contains a deceptively high number of entries, but there is no simple way to solve this problem of registering undated sources.

As Opll states in his Introduction, "Foundational work and research, as represented by text editions and also by registers, offer in the first place an aid, which puts research in the position to tread new paths through the more efficient use of existing sources" (xvi). This is an apt description of the scholarly significance of the work under review here. The 3000+ entries in the register are not intended to function as a biography comparable to Knut Görich's 700-page Friedrich Barbarossa, which was also published in 2011. This is not a synthesis but rather a detailed overview of the extant source material, one that can be mined to ask a variety of questions. The nature of the work thus makes it difficult to write a traditional review, since Opll's aim here is not to present explicit arguments. In any work of this sort, there are of course implicit arguments being made--through the criteria for selecting sources, through the arrangement of those sources, and through the ways they are summarized. Regardless, Opll stays true to the conventions of this genre, and his is a work of immense value to anyone interested in the reign of Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa. We therefore are indebted to him for dedicating so much of his academic career to this project. We also are indebted to the Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur Mainz for providing such an excellent on-line edition of all four fascicles for Barbarossa's reign at www.regesta-imperii.de.