The Medieval Review 16.02.05

Tanneberger, Tobias. Vom Paradies über Troja nach Brabant: Die "Genealogia principum Tungro-Brabantinorum" zwischen Fiktion und Akzeptanz . Vita Curialis: Form und Wandel höfischer Herrschaft, Band 3. Münster: Lit Verlag, 2012. pp. 217. €24.90 (hardback). ISBN: 978-3-643-11978-0 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Pieter Mannaerts
Muziekcentrum De Bijloke, Ghent

Tobias Tanneberger's book Vom Paradies über Troja nach Brabant, published as the third volume in the series Vita curialis: Form und Wandel höfischer Herrschaft, offers a study and a partial publication of a fifteenth-century genealogy of the Brabantine dukes, tracing back their roots to the beginning of times. This Genealogia principum Tungro-Brabantinorum was written between 1476 and the first quarter of the sixteenth century and is preserved in Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Vat. Reg. Lat. 947, the text's only source.

Tanneberger's book is well-researched and well-organized, and has the merit of making a virtually unknown text accessible to a wider readership for the first time. Quotations from the genealogy are given in Latin, those from the Alder excellenste cronyke van Brabant in Middle Dutch (99); both remain untranslated. It may seem surprising to be presented with quotations from Aristotle in English (85) and from both Saint Augustine and Stephen Hawking in German (87-88, 74). These are minor concerns, however. [1]

Tanneberger organizes his book in eight chapters and a number of appendices. After an introductory first chapter, chapters 2 and 3 contain a codicological description and interpretation of the manuscript, which has never been studied before; only one description was published in 1987. Tanneberger distinguishes five principal scribes--the first three cannot be dated securely, the fourth to 1483-1504, the fifth after 1506--as well as four glossators (16-26).

Codicological evidence and a study of watermarks lead Tanneberger to the conclusion that the manuscript was produced in the duchy of Brabant. More specifically, entries added by the fourth scribe point to Brussels as the place of origin, referring to the city's statutes and privileges, and to a thunderstorm there on 26 May 1513 (29, 35).

The manuscript was one of the more than 2,300 books that formed the library of Christina of Sweden, which was incorporated into the Vatican library after her death in 1689 by Pope Alexander VIII; Tanneberger's study reveals a restoration of the codex at the Vatican between 1689 and 1693 (34). Regrettably, it remains unknown how it came into Christina's possession in or before 1656. An Antverpiensis librarius inventoried the book in 1656, adding the title Anonymi Chronicon ab initio mundi ad annum Christi 1478 et nativitatem Philippe Archiducis Austrichi Maximiliani Romanorum Regis filii primogeniti (16).

In chapters 4 to 6, Tanneberger discusses the contents, sources, and principal purpose of the genealogy, i.e., providing a legitimation for the reign of Philip the Fair and his mother Mary of Burgundy. He divides it in five sections, expressing his surprise that the text does not open with a prologue but immediately with two sections presenting the Biblical story from Adam and Eve to Javan (39). The genealogist equals Javan to the Archadius in Boccaccio's Genealogia deorum gentilium; Abraham is given a similar connecting position. Because Boccaccio's genealogy was the very first book to be printed in Leuven (in 1472-1473), Tanneberger concludes that this date must be the genealogy's terminus post quem.

The subsequent episodes of western antiquity are presented as the logical consequence of the biblical narrative, leading from Greece and Rome to the destruction of Troy. To this series of city foundations and destructions are added the invention of the kythara, the lyra, the alphabet, and the name for the Latin language (41). In passing, Tanneberger also informs the reader about the text's two-column presentation: the principal line of the genealogy is found in the left column, while secondary information, such as a number of chronological coincidencies or a partial continuation of the biblical narrative during the Greek-Roman episode, is given in the right (40).

The fourth episode leads from the fall of Troy to the Pippinid dynasty. Tanneberger identifies sources such as the Annales of Jacques de Guyse, the Gesta Treverorum and the Chronica Brabantiae of Willem van Berchen (43). This part is crucial to the genealogist's strategy, because it connects the dramatis personae of antiquity to the kings and later dukes of Tongeren and Brabant, thanks to a privilege granted by Julius Caesar and a connection to the Braebonic dynasty (42). Again, city foundations and territorial politics organize the landscape. A brief history of Rome is traced in parallel to the Cambrian and Tungrian generations, with particular attention to foundations near the northern borders of the Burgundian area, such as Reims, Tournai, and Cambrai. The account of the Romans in power remains very limited, except when there is a clear connection to the history of Tongeren and Brabant. A case in point is the importance accorded to Octavianus, better known as Rome's first emperor Augustus, after whom the city of Tongeren was called Octavia; it was also his initiative to destroy a part of the via regia in order to build a bridge over the river Meuse (47). The account of the first bishops of Tongeren, Cologne, Metz, and Trier appearing immediately after Augustus in the first century CE, is probably based on sources such as bishop lists.

With the fifth and sixths sections, the genealogy finds itself on secure historical grounds--which is why Tanneberger decides not to expand on it in great detail. The fifth describes the Pippinid and Carolingian dynasties, the sixth the Brabantine rule from the early eleventh-century countess of Brussels Gerbergha to the death of Charles the Bold in 1477. Sources identified by Tanneberger include the Alder excellenste Cronyke van Brabant and, in the additions of the second scribe, Werner Rolevinck's world history Fasciculus Temporum (95).

How did medieval readers use such a genealogy? In chapter 5, Tanneberger argues that the text was intended rather as an encyclopaedic collection than as a text for linear reading. Furthermore, he points out that it might have been an accompanying volume to a projected genealogy in another medium, such as a rotulus, a tapestry, or frescoes. Such a larger project would be compatible with the great interest of the Burgundian dukes in self-representational historiography (54). A court commission for a genalogy would indeed result in a Latin text, the language of most of the official chronicles.

The principal arguments of the genealogy point to its raison d'être: the specific fitness and legitimacy of Philip the Fair for his position as duke of Brabant. Tanneberger demonstrates how Philip's dynasty had been able to guarantee a stable rule in the area and how the "inherent force" of the Brabonic dynasty to organize the Brabantine space is presented as an act of creation, comprising the expansion of the territory and the foundation of new cities, rather than as the conquest of land. In Philip's contact with the urban elites, Tanneberger states, such a legitimation strategy was an important asset (56), together with the claim to legitimacy of his mother, Mary of Burgundy.

In chapter 6, Tanneberger argues that such a strategy was necessary to weaken the competing claims of both Maximilian of Habsburg and Louis XI of France. The author attempts to demonstrate how the pride of place dedicated to Eve at the outset of the text seems to underscore the importance of women in the genealogy (already stated at 58-60), even though the men in the principal (left) column are singled out by being encircled twice, while their wives' names are given in one circle or not at all. Moreover, only two couples are represented as equals: John the Fearless with Margaret of Burgundy, duchess of Bavaria, and Maximilian of Habsburg with Mary of Burgundy (60).

In chapters 7 and 8, Tanneberger sets out to examine the techniques used to make the genealogy's claims plausible to its readers. These techniques include the mutual integration of various chronologies, taking recourse to recognized authorities, establishing continuity over the centuries, and using etymology as a means of explanation and legitimation, in order to achieve a "meaningful integration of the new history into the cosmos of already existing histories" (75). At the beginning of chapter 7, Tanneberger proposes Stephen Hawking's and Leonard Mlodinow's book The Grand Design (2010) as a model for the analysis of the genealogy's construction of plausibility. The input with which this paradigm is constructed derives from lived experience of recent rulers, available historiography, and the author's (religious) Weltwissen. But no sooner has Tanneberger announced his intention (73-74) or his discussion diverts into other directions, and aside from three very brief footnote references (88, 94, 97), he only returns to it twenty-seven pages later, two pages before the end of the book. The boundaries of the genealogy's plausibility, Tannenberg adds before concluding chapter 8, are to be found in sixteenth-century genealogies that react to the arguments set out in the Genealogia principum Tungro-Brabantinorum, such as Jean Le Maire de Belges and Jean de Brusthem, who adopted the Tungrian-Brabantine line in their works (98).

The appendices, which amount to nearly half of the book's pages, contain a partial edition of the most important sections of the text, in a mostly diplomatic transcription. Seven reproductions, lists of abbreviations and sources, a good bibliography, and useful registers complete the book.



1. Other linguistic concerns are formulated by Georg Scheibelreiter, see his review in the Mitteilungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung 122 (2014): 487-488;

Copyright (c) 2016 Pieter Mannaerts

Give Now

ISSN: 1096-746X | Administrator Login