Michael Gelting

title.none: Nass, Die Reichschronik (Michael Gelting)

identifier.other: baj9928.0804.013 08.04.13

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Michael Gelting, Danish National Archives / University of Aberdeen,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Nass, Klaus, ed. Die Reichschronik des Annalist Saxo. MGH Scriptores, 37. Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2006. Pp. xxix, 752. $197.00 3-7752-5537-0. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.04.13

Nass, Klaus, ed. Die Reichschronik des Annalist Saxo. MGH Scriptores, 37. Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2006. Pp. xxix, 752. $197.00 3-7752-5537-0. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Michael Gelting
Danish National Archives / University of Aberdeen

This edition of a well-known German chronicle from the mid-twelfth century is likely to be of greater interest to students of the writing of history in the Middle Ages than to historians of medieval Germany. The anonymous chronicle traditionally known by the name of Annalista Saxo, coined by Leibniz at the beginning of the eighteenth century, covers the years from 741 (death of Charles Martel and accession of Pippin the Short as mayor of the palace) to 1139. The latter year was not the original end of the chronicle; the loss of at least two leaves at the end of the single extant manuscript as well as a marginal note from the late thirteenth century suggest that the chronicle originally ended with the year 1142. A few leaves have been lost in the middle of the manuscript, depriving us of the beginning of the entry for 1024 and all of the entries for 1033 and 1034.

The date of the chronicle's writing can be determined fairly precisely. Its main body of text was completed between 1148 and 1152, with marginal notes and additions being added perhaps a few years later. However, not even for the most recent history is it an original source. Throughout, the chronicle is a compilation from other written sources, most of which are still extant. Nevertheless, as a compiler the 'Saxon Annalist' showed extraordinary diligence. Klaus Nass has identified no less than 52 written sources that are echoed in the Annalist's pages, although in a few cases it is impossible to determine whether the author drew upon his source directly or through the intermediary of another chronicle. His use of these sources ranges from a mere sentence or two to the integral reproduction of large chunks of text, Thietmar of Merseburg topping the list by providing 21% of the entire text of the Annalista Saxo.

Hence, the Annalista Saxo's importance as a source of original information about medieval German history is limited to odd bits and pieces of information for which no other source is known now, and especially to those longer passages where the immediate source of his text is no longer extant. This is the case to a large extent for the period after 1125, for which the Annalist based the core of his chronicle upon now lost annals whose contents may be reconstructed approximately from parallel entries in annals and chronicles relying upon these lost texts: the so-called Annals of Paderborn (which F.-J. Schmale has argued for attributing to Corvey) and the Annals of Nienburg (which Klaus Nass himself prefers to attribute to the abbey of Berge in Magdeburg).

On the other hand, the Annalista Saxo's interest as a historiographical compiler is greatly enhanced by the fact that the single extant manuscript is evidently the original text, part of it having even been written on palimpsest leaves that had carried an earlier draft of the chronicle. It is written in the hand of five different scribes, while a sixth hand, called F by Nass, should probably be identified with the chronicle's author performing a thorough revision of the text, including a wholesale rewriting of the account of the years from 1066 to 1081; this rewriting was occasioned by the author having become acquainted, after having completed the bulk of his text, with Bruno of Magdeburg's Saxonicum bellum.

It is this complex textual history which has made a new critical edition of the Annalista Saxo seem desirable. Georg Waitz's 1844 edition in the original series of Scriptores in the MGH was unsatisfactory for several reasons. Waitz produced his collation of the original manuscript, in Paris, with remarkable speed, but at some cost to accuracy; notably, having recognized the first part of the chronicle, up to 906, as being essentially an edited version of Regino of Prum's chronicle, he only checked those parts of the text that did not come from Regino against the manuscript, while otherwise he reproduced the faulty first edition of the Annalista Saxo from the eighteenth century, on occasion checked not against the manuscript, but against the edition of Regino's own text. Moreover, at that early date of the grand MGH project, Waitz was not in a position to identify all of the Annalista Saxo's sources.

The preparation of a new critical edition has been a laborious and time-consuming task. From 1991 to 1995 the editor, Klaus Nass, performed a thorough study of the Annalista Saxo and his sources. The results of his investigations were published in 1996 (Klaus Nass, Die Reichschronik des Annalista Saxo und die sachsische Geschichtsschreibung im 12. Jahrhundert, Hannover: Hahn, 1996 [Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Schriften 41]), and the introduction to the present edition of the chronicle is nothing but a short summary of his findings in that book. In addition to what has already been said above, it should be noted that Nass argues rather decisively against the traditional identification of the Annalist with Abbot Arnold of Berge and Nienburg. The derivative nature of the chronicle does not provide much of a basis for proposing an alternative attribution, although Nass suggests cautiously that it might have been written in Magdeburg.

Nass's thorough groundwork is reflected in this edition. All derived passages are printed in smaller types, with indication in the footnotes of their sources; thus only small parts of the text are actually printed in the ordinary typography that is reserved for passages that are original with the Annalista Saxo (or rather, for which no other source is now known). The critical apparatus consists of palaeographical observations and of important variants from parallel textual traditions. In so far as decipherable, the palimpsest draft version is printed after the corresponding final text of each annual entry. In addition to identifying the Annalist's sources, the footnotes provide identification of persons and place names mentioned in the text.

Nass of course indicates the pages of the original manuscript corresponding to his printed text. Unfortunately he has not seen fit to include the page numbers of Waitz's old MGH SS edition. This will make it slightly cumbersome for users of this edition to locate old references to the Waitz edition--including Nass's own references in his 1996 dissertation.

There is an index of the Annalista Saxo's sources, indicating the years for which each particular source text was drawn upon by the Annalist; and a very full index of names, words, and subjects. While all names in the chronicle are included in this index, words and subjects have only been cited in the index insofar as they are not derived from any known source. Unfortunately, a rapid check revealed several inaccuracies in the page references.

There can be no doubt that Nass's work represents a considerable achievement and a significant improvement compared to Waitz's old edition. For future students of medieval German history, the task of sifting through the Annalista Saxo's information has been made considerably easier, and students of medieval historiographical practice may henceforth profit from the results of Nass's meticulous investigations, as they are reflected both in his 1996 dissertation and in the present edition. Yet one might be excused for wondering whether a cost-benefit analysis of the production process would arrive at a positive result. Fifteen years of scholarship have gone into the elaboration of this edition of a text which to a very large extent reproduces other texts that are well known and well edited. Much of what can be said about the Annalist's approach to his sources--his critical reasoning in resolving their mutual contradictions, his thoroughness in providing correct titles and genealogical information for persons who were insufficiently identified in his sources--has already been well analyzed by Nass himself in his dissertation. There may be more to say about the Annalist's political views as reflected in his handling of his sources than Nass's extremely cautious conclusions in that work. Nevertheless, one wonders how many scholars will really profit from the immense labour and care that have been invested in the production of the present edition. For most purposes, a careful and informed use of the old Waitz edition would probably have been sufficient.

In sum, this is an edition that meets the usual high standards of the MGH; but it is also an edition that belongs in an ideal world where pure erudition has no price.