Georg Vogeler

title.none: Weiß, Rechnungswesen und Buchhaltung (Georg Vogeler)

identifier.other: baj9928.0504.009 05.04.09

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Georg Vogeler , Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Weiß, Stefan. Rechnungswesen und Buchhaltung des Avignoneser Papsttums (1316-1378): Eine Quellenkunde. Series: MGH Hilfsmittel, vol. 20. Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2003. Pp. xxv, 254. $36.00 (hb). ISBN: 0-7752-1127-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.04.09

Weiß, Stefan. Rechnungswesen und Buchhaltung des Avignoneser Papsttums (1316-1378): Eine Quellenkunde. Series: MGH Hilfsmittel, vol. 20. Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2003. Pp. xxv, 254. $36.00 (hb). ISBN: 0-7752-1127-6.

Reviewed by:

Georg Vogeler
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen

IntroductionOne could say that Stefan Weiß has already written his book (Weiss, Stefan, Die Versorgung des päpstlichen Hofes in Avignon mit Lebensmitteln (1316-1378): Studien zur Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte eines mittelalterlichen Hofes (The Supply of food to the papal court in Avignon (1316-1378): Studies on the social and economic history of a medieval court), Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2002. ISBN: 3050036400, Pp. 717, reviewed by Melitta Adamson TMR 03.02.31.) The text he presents now was originally drafted as an introduction to his first book, but only parts of it were published there. Although the original approach becomes evident in some places, the text can also be read as a study of accounting at the papal court in Avignon in its own right. By providing not only a chronologically structured analysis of the accounts books that still exist today but also a systematic list (from 202 onwards) the volume makes it possible to get specific information on the individual manuscripts and their significance for curial accounting. Weiß studies the general ledgers, i.e. the central accounts books of the papal chamber in Avignon between 1316 and 1378, which contain expenses and revenue of the papal court. He begins with a description of the current status of research on the topic, including a cautious criticism of the editing activities of the Görres-Gesellschaft (Vatikanische Quellen zur Geschichte der päpstlichen Hof- und Finanzverwaltung 1316-1378 (Vatican sources on the history of the papal court and fiscal administration 1316-1378), ed. by the Görres-Gesellschaft, Paderborn: Schönigh, 1910-1972), and in the first main section of his work continues with a description of the general ledgers from John XXII to Gregory XI, going through the material pope after pope, year after year, volume after volume. Obviously it is not an easy task to review such a descriptive text. I shall try to provide a more systematic overview.

External appearanceThe few accounts from the period between Boniface VIII and John XXII that still exist are chronological lists of expenses and revenue in separate small books. With John XXII the ledgers change considerably: in addition to the chronological volumes ledgers with a subject-based structure appear more and more frequently, containing the totals of the different categories and yearly sums. While the chronological volumes are written on thin paper in upright format (30x15cm) in a more casual manner, the systematic volumes are bigger--they grow over time from 30x20-23cm up to 40x30cm--and more elaborately designed. Using the leaf numbers of the volumes and other codicological information Weiß shows that the systematic volumes were created with a specific structure before the scribes categorised the individual accounting entries. Unfortunately, he does not supply any images of the manuscripts.

Organisation of fiscal administrationAs illustrated in the accounts, the organisation of the papal fiscal administration in Avignon was as follows: the apostolic chamber was headed by two people, the Camerarius and the Thesaurarius, the Camerarius being mainly responsible for the financial transactions and the Thesaurarius overseeing the financial assets, i.e. the papal treasure. As early as the beginning of the 14th century, however, the Camerarius also took over political responsibilities, which were extended during the course of the century, so that fiscal administration became a subdepartment of the chamber and the Thesaurarius took on more and more financial responsibilities. A large amount of clerics reported to the Camerarius and the Thesaurarius, but--as Weiß shows again and again--they did not mainly deal with writing. The writing was done by scribes working for the chamber on a long-term basis. They often followed the high-ranking officials or the clerics when these were posted elsewhere, which indicates that they were probably recruited from among the friends and familia of the officials.

The position of written records in the administrative processesWeiß believes that the most important criterion for the study of the existing archival records is the relation of the volumes to each other. Regarding the creation of the general ledgers, he arrives at the following conclusion: everyday payments were noted down on slips of paper (cedulae) or in small books. Papal purchasers compiled preliminary lists ("waste books") in order to calculate their advance disbursements and expenses. Similar methods of accounting applied to the income side: papal collectors used their own books to verify their accounts before the chamber. For the rendering of accounts of the apostolic chamber all these notes then were at irregular intervals transferred to the general ledgers in chronological and systematic order, the systematic ledger being by far the most comprehensive one and the basis for the chronological entries. A member of the chamber calculated the totals of the individual categories, pages, revenues and expenses. Another member audited the finished systematic ledger. He wrote approbata comments next to entries and totals. The chamber officials made additional copies of the first ledger, one of them usually also having the approbata notes meaning that it had been checked. Two members of the chamber were responsible for the audits over a period of several years.

Weiß' conclusions are the result of a systematic analysis of the textual tradition. He is always looking for the "autograph," i.e. the audited fair copy that summarised the notes taken by purchasers and collectors. This was the basis for additional copies made by the chamber officials for other purposes. Using paleographic and codicological analyses he mostly succeeds in identifying such an "autograph," since all other ledgers show clear signs of the copying process. The question whether the "autograph" has a greater significance as a source than the other copies, however, would still have to be discussed.

The developmentAccounting procedures, however, are not static. A change is normally brought about by a new pope, because the accounts are closed with the change of the incumbent and thus accounts for parts of the year are rendered. But Weiß shows that it was not so much a new pope but rather the arrival of a new Camerarius and Thesaurarius that changed the form of the accounts. From 1326 onwards the chamber officials in addition to the approbata notes of the audit wrote a q next to individual entries to show that a receipt--the original receipt or a receipt in a register of receipts--had been available for the corresponding entry during the audit. In other areas during the pontificate of John XXII some marks of the auditing process disappear: by the end of his pontificate: the page totals, for instance, are only rarely used.

In his analytical studies Weiß shows that papal accounts were tailored to the needs of the two top officials in the fiscal administration. He believes they used them to keep a better overview and for their financial planning. The receipt notes, however, provide clues to another function, which Weiß--surprisingly--does not really consider: the function of the ledgers as written records of the auditing process. This may be due to the fact that only after Benedict XII came into office in 1334 the accounts are actually closed, i.e. revenue and expenditure are set off against each other and the corresponding surplus or deficit is calculated. Only after 1336 we also find charters containing a formal approval of the accounts based on parchment or paper scrolls containing the totals of the accounting entries and the annual final account.

In an excursus (197-199) Weiß suggests similarities between papal accounting and early records of double-entry bookkeeping in Italy. In his excursus he himself lists a number of crucial differences. If each entry is not actually booked twice (one time on the debit and one time on the credit side), however, one should be very careful about using the term "double-entry bookkeeping."

There are no records of chronological accounting under John XXII, but its significance clearly increases after 1339, which is proven by the records we have from that date onwards. Under Clement VI (1342-1352) the external appearance of the chronological books becomes more similar to the appearance of the systematical ones. The contemporary term "manualia" shows that they became objects of everyday use, while the systematic ledgers or "libri magni" were increasingly seen as valuable objects to be safely stored in bookcases. Under Clement V (1305-1314) we find records proving that charters are based on the information provided by the ledgers, meaning that these books were considered a particularly credible source.

In the second year of the pontificate of Clement VI (1343/44) more and more accounts are kept: Weiß finds records of accounting based on a period of four months, starting a development that in the third year of the pontificate of Innocent VI (1354/1355) leads to monthly accounting. Under Innocent VI (1352-1362) the chronological ledger seems to replace the systematical ledger as the basis for everyday work. In 1361 annual accounting is given up, the systematic ledgers are done by external contracted scribes, and under Gregory IX (1370-1378) the series of systematic ledgers completely stops. The chronological volumes contain accounts that are as comprehensive as those of the systematic ones; they contain the total amounts and the closing of accounts.

IncompletenessWeiß quite rightly points out that the ledgers would have to be considered incomplete if one assumed that they were intended to be complete accounts of all papal revenue and expenditure. As was usual in the Middle Ages, the apostolic chamber only had accounts of the revenue and expenditure of the chamber itself. Payments outside the chamber only appear in the accounts presented to the chamber by purchasers or collectors, if at all. But in the form of orders to pay a certain sum to be drawn on the revenue of external officials they actually can be part of the financial activities of the Curia itself. Such "missing" expenses are offset by "not real" revenue: the accounts of the chamber list revenue from the treasure, i.e. nothing else but repostings from reserves. Such payments occur particularly frequently under Clement VI, who uses up the considerable savings of his predecessors for his building activities and wars. Other popes were unable to replenish the treasure in the years after his pontificate.

TerminologyThe terminology used by Stefan Weiß is somewhat problematic: he insists on using the term "Bilanz" ("balance sheet"), which quite incorrectly suggests the current business administration meaning of the term (cf. 66 note 214), instead of using terms closer to the sources like "Rechnungsabschluß" ("closing of accounts"). He calls the thin format also used for preliminary ledgers "Kladdenformat" (waste book format), although the term "Schmalfolio" (thin folio) (admittedly also not completely accurate) is already well established and widely used. He is not happy with the term "original" used in diplomatics arguing correctly that it cannot be used for internal administrative texts such as accounts, because the text never leaves the administration offices and it is therefore unnecessary to make any distinction between a legally binding version outside the chancery and the preliminary versions within. However "Autograph," the term he uses instead, suggests totally false associations of "authorship," although he is well aware of the fact that the ledgers are the result of the joint work of several people. "Reinschrift" ("First fair copy") would probably be a more appropriate term. These terminological imprecisions, however, do not make it more difficult in any way to understand what he means.

ConclusionsStefan Weiß' work is a comprehensive list of the still existing accounts of the popes in Avignon and a thorough analysis of the sources, which not only uses the traditional means of paleography and internal analysis but also modern tools of codicological research, and tries to reconstruct how the individual items were created and used in the chancery. Although the text does not consider the written records of the papal fiscal administration within the broader context of the history of written documents, accounting, administrative procedures, financial organisation, etc., it does provide a sound basis for doing so. Maybe Stefan Weiß left this for his third book.