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13.02.03, Mordek, Zechiel-Eckes, and Glatthaar, eds., Die Admonitio generalis Karls des Großen

13.02.03, Mordek, Zechiel-Eckes, and Glatthaar, eds., Die Admonitio generalis Karls des Großen

The capitularies, or royal laws subdivided into chapters, are one of the most characteristic and famous sources for Frankish history. Issued by the Merovingian and Carolingian regimes, the capitularies provide some of the best evidence we have for the religious, political, social, and cultural history of the early Middle Ages. Any student of the early medieval West must come to grips with these texts. Yet, the capitularies pose profound problems of interpretation. Everything from if they were ever put into practice to what gave them legal force to how they were transmitted and made known has been questioned. Perhaps the only points on which there is clear scholarly consensus are that the capitularies are important and that we still need further clarity on what they mean and how we can best employ them in research.

The debates over the capitularies have been amplified because of the lack of a solid edition on which to depend. The standard edition today is the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Capitularia regum Francorum volumes. The first volume, edited by Alfred Boretius, was published in 1883, and the second, edited by Boretius in conjunction with Viktor Krause, appeared in 1896. [1] The problems with the edition were recognized by scholars immediately. Successive efforts by the Monumenta Germaniae Historica to re-edit the capitularies have come to naught, although new projects are happily now underway. Before his untimely death, Hubert Mordek devoted decades to producing a new edition. While he did not live to complete his labors, the manuscript work which is the essential pre-condition for such a new edition was presented in his massive compendium of capitulary manuscripts. [2] With this survey of the several hundred surviving capitulary manuscripts, Mordek paved the way for future editions and for further research on the capitularies and their manuscript transmission.

The book under review here is the first fruit of Mordek's efforts to re-edit the capitularies. The text edited, the Admonitio generalis, is one of the most significant, most celebrated, and most widely transmitted of all of Charlemagne's capitularies. Issued in 789, it inaugurated a royally directed program of religious reform which was to have deep impact on Carolingian society and it marked the start of a new phase in Charlemagne's approach to rulership. The Admonitio is thus an excellent text with which to begin re- editing the capitularies, because of the complexity of the manuscript transmission, which can help provide a foundation for editing other capitularies, and because of the intrinsic importance of the text itself.

The book is the result of the efforts of three different scholars, namely Hubert Mordek, Klaus Zechiel-Eckes, and Michael Glatthaar. The original genesis of the volume was a conference held in 1989, on the anniversary of the promulgation of the Admonitio, to begin preparing the new edition. Mordek established a base text for the new edition, drawing on the results of this conference. After Mordek's death, Zechiel-Eckes was entrusted with the task of re-editing the capitularies, but he too passed away while still working on the project. In relation to this volume, he had managed to complete most of the scholarly apparatus for the edition of the Admonitio, and to write the section of the introduction addressing the manuscript transmission of the text. When Zechiel-Eckes died leaving the new edition of the Admonitio still unfinished, Michael Glatthaar stepped in, completing the text and introduction, and seeing the book into print. It has now appeared as part of the Fontes iuris germanici antiqui series, and is the first capitulary volume to be published by the Monumenta Germaniae Historica since Boretius and Krause. [3]

The present volume includes a new edition of the Admonitio and a long introduction. The introduction addresses the historical background of the text, the names scholars have given it (while Admonitio generalis has stuck, it is a scholarly invention), the dating, the form and content of the text, Alcuin's role in drafting it, the manuscript transmission, its later use during Charlemagne's reign, previous editions, and key differences between this edition and Boretius'. The introduction is stronger on textual issues than on the historical content. For example, the discussion of some of the unusual language in the preface to the text and its precedents is interesting and helpful. Similarly, the consideration of later use of the Admonitio, focusing not just on direct citation in later texts, but on conceptual borrowings, is well presented. The examination of the manuscript transmission is excellent, and I will return to it below. On the other hand, the analysis of the historical circumstances surrounding the text does not, to my mind, fully account for the significant shift in political practice this capitulary represented. Nonetheless, the introduction provides a sure foundation for the edition to come.

The edition of the text is accompanied by a facing-page German translation. It is followed by a list of manuscripts used, a thorough register of sources, and a word index. The volume ends with nine black and white plates, which helpfully reproduce sample pages from the most important manuscripts. The quality of the edition itself is very high. The Admonitio survives in 36 manuscripts, and is incorporated into several later collections, all of which are carefully surveyed in the introduction. The editors used 20 of the manuscripts for the edition. Their choices for which manuscripts to employ, in order to provide a comprehensive text without inflating the apparatus to the point of illegibility, are cogent and clearly explained. Any editorial work such as this book involves some difficult choices. Indeed, it is one of the particular virtues of this volume that the editors have made the reasoning behind their decisions transparent. For example, most manuscripts of the Admonitio include address statements, indicating for whom the following chapter is intended, such as "to bishops" or "to all." The use of the titles is inconsistent in the manuscripts. I think these address titles are not quite so regular and standardized as the editors suggest, but the reasons for how they are used in the edition are set out clearly (especially 40-44) and the apparatus provides enough information on the variants for readers to make judgments of their own.

The actual text of the edition is not markedly different than that found in Boretius, although the greatly expanded apparatus is tremendously useful both for locating manuscript variants and for identifying citations of sources. Boretius' apparatus was not only limited, but often incorrect. The greatest advantage of the new text found here is therefore the much expanded sense of the variants it provides and the process of citation it reveals. There are of course some divergences from the old edition, however. The most noticeable is probably the difference in the numbering of chapters. The new edition treats chapter 60 of the Boretius edition as a transitional paragraph and does not number it. Mordek, Zechiel-Eckes, and Glatthaar also turn chapters 68 and 69 in the Boretius edition into a single chapter 67 (these changes in numbering are explained on 155-157). Additionally, the new edition includes the dating clause sometimes found in the manuscripts, but printed by Boretius as the beginning of the next capitulary in his edition, the Duplex legationis edictum, [4] rather than as the end of the Admonitio (Glatthaar discusses this choice, and the problems concerning it, in the introduction, 20- 25). Thirdly, there are some divergences, as noted above, in the use of the address titles attached to the chapters. The other textual emendations in the new edition are useful, such as the addition of a clause dropped in the first edition (chapter 69 in the new edition, chapter 71 in Boretius), or the reading aqua pictile rather than Boretius' acupictile (chapter 79 in the new edition, 81 in Boretius, and discussion of the emendation in the introduction, 46- 47). On the whole, however, the changes made, while faithful to the manuscripts, do not seriously transform our understanding of the text.

The main contribution to scholarship made by this new edition is thus not a radically revised text of the Admonitio, but a far clearer sense of the manuscript transmission, represented both by the full apparatus and by Zechiel-Eckes' discussion of the manuscript transmission in the introduction. Zechiel-Eckes' interpretation of the manuscript transmission is original, compelling, and significant for how we understand the promulgation and diffusion of capitularies. Zechiel-Eckes demonstrates that already by the late eighth or early ninth century there were multiple independent strands of transmission of the Admonitio, all of which ultimately depend on the version announced at Aachen. It is one of the most notable features of the transmission of capitularies that they were copied locally; there was no central control over the diffusion of capitularies. In the case of the Admonitio, Zechiel-Eckes's analysis suggests that despite the local copying of the capitulary, there was a version emanating from the center which shaped the local reception of the text and that these local copies were on the whole quite faithful to that court model, both in terms of content and layout. The Admonitio traveled as a coherent text, often separate from other capitularies, and kept its unity when it was incorporated into manuscripts throughout the empire. This is the clearest account yet produced of how we get from a text announced at court to the surviving manuscripts.

Zechiel-Eckes attributes this method of diffusion to the special status of the Admonitio and to its inclusion in many kinds of manuscripts (legal, religious, etc.), which he claims is atypical for a capitulary. I suspect that this model of diffusion is actually quite common, for Charlemagne's capitularies at least. The range of possible manuscript contexts for capitularies certainly is standard for Charlemagne's capitularies. Even if Zechiel-Eckes chose not to expand his arguments beyond the Admonitio, we can build on his model of how there could be central shaping of locally-copied texts to help us better understand the transmission of other capitularies. To account for the multiple early strands of transmission, Zechiel-Eckes suggests that the missi (royal overseers) mentioned in the prologue to the capitulary and in other capitularies of that year made copies to bring to local regions. This is undoubtedly correct as a method of copying the text. But it need not have been only missi who did the copying. Assuming solely missatical participation creates too limited a view of how information was communicated in Charlemagne's realm. Missi certainly played a role, but lots of people likely participated in bringing knowledge of the Admonitio to the regions of Charlemagne's empire. Regardless of how different from other capitularies one considers the Admonitio's manuscript transmission to be or how much emphasis one puts on missatical transmission of capitularies, Zechiel-Eckes' evaluation of how the Admonitio was made known offers an essential contribution to our understanding of capitulary manuscripts. The new edition of the Admonitio generalis is a work of high quality, entirely in keeping with the standard one expects of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica. It will be the necessary starting point for all future work on the Admonitio itself as well as the manuscript transmission of capitularies. The book also serves as a fitting memorial to the late, and lamented, Hubert Mordek and Klaus Zechiel-Eckes.



1. Alfred Boretius, ed. Capitularia regum Francorum. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Leges sectio 2, vol. 1. Hanover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1883; Alfred Boretius and Viktor Krause, eds. Capitularia regum Francorum. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Leges sectio 2, vol. 2. Hanover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1896.

2. Hubert Mordek. Bibliotheca capitularium regum Francorum manuscripta: Überlieferung und Traditionszusammenhang der fränkischen Herrschererlasse. Monumenta Germaniae Historica Hilfsmittel 15. Munich: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1995.

3. Leaving aside the excellent edition of Ansegisus' collection of capitularies: Gerhard Schmitz, ed. Die Kapitulariensammlung des Ansegis. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Leges sectio 2, nova series 1. Hanover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1996.

4. Duplex legationis edictum, MGH Capit. 1, p. 62.