A remarkable story appeared in numerous press accounts in 2005 that a large collection of heretofore unknown letters and other documents from Emperor Frederick II (1212-1250) and his son Conrad IV (1250-1254) had been discovered. It is significant when just a single new charter or document from the thirteenth century is identified by scholars. So the news of this collection, which was discovered in 2004 in the course of a thorough review of the 1000 medieval manuscripts in the University of Innsbruck library, brought with it an extraordinary degree of justifiable excitement. The volume under review represents the culmination of a decade of editorial work on this collection by Josef Riedmann, emeritus professor of history at the University of Innsbruck, and has the potential to deepen in significant ways current understanding of the Staufen government of Sicily and southern Italy.
In the introduction to this volume Riedmann offers a detailed discussion of the codex (Innsbruck University Library, MS 400) in which the Staufen letter collection appears, the scholarly treatment of this manuscript, an examination of the contents of the letter collection, a consideration of the potential models for this collection, the causa scribendi, its dating, and potential authors of the collection. As it turns out, the letter collection was identified at least once before 2004, when Gottfried Klapeer undertook an edition of the first text in the codex in which the Staufen letters were included, the so-called Constitutio Romana. In a footnote in an article published in the Mitteilungen des Instituts für Östereichische Geschichtsforschung in 1914, Klapeer mentioned the existence of a group of Staufen letters. However, Klapeer soon thereafter was mobilized for military service in the First World War and was severely wounded. After the war, Klapeer became a school teacher and gave up an academic career, never returning to the manuscript or commenting again on the letters. His footnote was not subsequently pursued by any other scholars before Riedmann. In fact, the codex as a whole largely has been ignored by scholars, as Riedmann observes that neither the text of Priscian’sInstitutes nor the Summa dictaminum of Ludolf of Hildesheim, both of which appear in Innsbruck MS 400, are mentioned in the respective modern editions of these works.
Based on his analysis of the hands used in Innsbruck MS 400 as a whole, Riedmann dates the codex to the period ca.1250 - ca.1280. The terminus post quem for the Staufen letter collection is determined by its content, with almost all of the letters dating from the last years of Frederick II’s reign and the four years of Conrad IV’s reign. Based on his analysis of the hands, Riedmann argues that the letter collection likely was produced in the period ca. 1270 - ca.1280.
In light of the multiple hands that can be identified in the letter collection, Riedmann argues that its program likely was conceived in a community, and probably a monastic community. Because the first letter is a forgery of Charlemagne, Riedmann suggests that collection likely was produced in an imperial house. Moreover, because the letter attributed to Charlemagne is focused on the obligations of various ecclesiastical institutions to provide support for the emperor’s journey to Rome, Riedmann considers it likely that the monastery in which the collection was produced also had obligations for servitium regis to the imperial Romfahrt.
In considering the potential models for this collection, Riedmann suggests two possibilities. He notes that that there are important similarities between the collection in Innsbruck MS 400 and the famous letter collection associated with Peter of Vinea (1190-1249), who served as secretary and chancellor under Frederick II. Forty of the documents from Vinea’s text also appear in this Staufen letter collection. In addition, several of the documents in Innsbruck MS 400 as a whole can be traced to the letter collection of the monk Transmundus, a member of the papal curia in the late 12th century, who also composed a letter collection at the monastery of Clairvaux c. 1200.
The content of this collection, in Riedmann’s view, came largely from the chancery offices of Frederick II and Conrad IV. He observes that there are important parallels between the Innsbruck documents and the chancery register of Frederick II from 1239-1240, which was destroyed by the German occupation forces in 1943. In this context, Riedmann also notes the suggestion by Hans Martin Schaller in his investigation of the letter collection of Peter of Vinea, that the clerks of the chancery may also have maintained a kind of formulary, which provided model documents of the most common types that they produced.
However, Riedmann also argues that the collection found in Innsbruck was not copied directly from chancery records, but rather that there was at least one intermediate step. He observes that the individuals who copied the documents included in Innsbruck manuscript 400 were not familiar with the affairs of southern Italy, which are the main focus of these Staufen texts. They made errors with regard to particular names, and did not know the identities of major figures in Conrad IV’s administration, who appear by title in the letters. Nevertheless, despite this remove from the original chancery records, Riedmann indicates that the documents in this collection are reliable reproductions of chancery documents and refer to real rather than fictive events.
The collection as a whole can be divided into several elements. One section deals with the ongoing struggle between the empire and papacy. Another section is focused largely on administrative matters in Sicily and to a lesser extent the kingdom of southern Italy. Letters to popes and rulers with important political content are copied almost in their entirety, while administrative documents were reproduced with fewer details.
The five papal letters in this collection are already known, but three of the documents in the Innsbruck collection name otherwise unknown recipients of the letters. A total of about fifty documents in the collection were issued in Frederick II’s name, of which only 21 were previously known at all in any form. The collection includes 27 documents from Frederick II’s reign which are not otherwise attested. The largest group of documents in the collection, comprising about 120 texts, were issued during Conrad II’s reign. Only a tenth of these were previously known and published and another tenth were known but with different recipients than those noted in this collection. About 100 documents from Conrad IV’s reign are unique to this collection and are published here for the first time. These documents represent an enormous increase over the 70 letters, commands, and charters that were previously known for Conrad IV’s reign from Italy and Southern Italy.
The new letters from Conrad provide an important opportunity to expand our understanding of Staufen rule to a considerable extent with regard to financial administration, control over church assets, and the structure of royal administration. To give just one example, letters 71-77 deal with the siege of Naples by Conrad IV in the autumn of 1253, and give important insights regarding the mobilization of military forces, the logistical operations of the Staufen government, and the constellation of political and diplomatic relationships developed by Conrad in the context of his capture of this important fortress city.
Following the edited documents, the volume is provided with a concordance of the texts in the Innsbruck collection with those identified in the Regesta Imperii and the collection of Peter of Vinea, as well as the reverse, so that letters and other documents already known to scholars can be compared with the texts edited in this volume. In addition, Riedmann included three useful indices of names, places, and initial words of the letters. In sum, this is a well-executed edition of an exceptionally important collection of letters and administrative documents that expand our knowledge of Staufen rule in Sicily and Southern Italy. Every serious research library should purchase this text, which will be of value not only to specialist researchers, but also to a broad audience of historians and advanced graduate students.