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22.03.21 McKitterick et al. (trans.), Codex Epistolaris Carolinus

22.03.21 McKitterick et al. (trans.), Codex Epistolaris Carolinus

The Codex epistolaris Carolinus (hereafter CeC) is a collection of ninety-nine papal letters sent by Popes Gregory III, Zachary, Stephen II, Paul I, Constantine II, Stephen III and Hadrian I to Charles Martel, Pippin III, Carloman and Charlemagne, and Charlemagne alone. Every serious student of the early Middle Ages has encountered these letters and I suspect that every teacher has wished to have an English translation. The volume under review presents excellent translations (Letters 1-11 by Richard Pollard and 12-99 by Richard Price) accompanied by helpful notes, a substantial introduction, an Appendix listing all papal and Frankish envoys named in the letters, a Concordance of this volume and Wilhelm Gundlach’s MGH edition, a Glossary, three maps, a long and near-exhaustive bibliography, and an Index that is full enough to be really valuable. Given its core text and all these resources and tools, this book will be immensely useful for years to come. But its usefulness will be severely compromised by its titanic price.

CeC survives in a single manuscript: Vienna ÖNB 449. Paleographical evidence suggests that the manuscript was prepared in the second half of the ninth century, most likely at Cologne given the size and rather square shape of the manuscript and its text block. It is possible that Hildebald, Charlemagne’s archchaplain (from 791) and the archbishop of Cologne (until his death in 818), might have brought the original manuscript to his city. The manuscript has a small ex libris saying that the book belonged to Archbishop Willibert of Cologne, who presided over that see from 870 to 899. The manuscript was used by Flaccius Illyricus in the early sixteenth century and later in that century was acquired by Kaspar von Niedbruck for the royal library in Vienna. The Vienna librarian Sebastian Tengnagel (active 1608-1636) scribbled notes and classicizing corrections on the manuscript. The Latin text has been edited several times, notably by Peter Lambeck (1628-80), Ludovico Antonio Muratori (1672-1750), Caetano Cenni (1760: printed in PL 98: 9-438), and Philipp Jaffé (1819-70). The most commonly used edition is that of Wilhelm Gundlach published in 1892 for the MGH (Epistolae Merovingici et Karolini Aevi1, pp. 269-653). Unfortunately, Gundlach never saw the Vienna manuscript. He worked from existing editions and put some questions to Michael Tangl. Gundlach’s edition came in for criticism shortly after its appearance. In 1962 Franz Unterkircher published in Vienna a fine facsimile which those responsible for this volume consulted from time to time. It may be consulted at A new Latin edition is a prime desideratum.

What we have in CeC is a ninth-century copy of a manuscript prepared at the court of Charlemagne in or about 791. The Preface, which is almost certainly original and not a product of the surviving manuscript, says that Charlemagne ordered the preparation of a collection of letters to him and his predecessors from the popes and de imperio. That phrase has always been read to indicate “from the empire,” that is Byzantium, but in this volume it is translated as “concerning imperial rule.” That seems to me an awkward stretch of the Latin, but given the fact that not a single imperial letter survives alongside the ninety-nine papal letters I have to admit that reading de imperio as “from the empire” is also a stretch. Most of the letters were accompanied by lemmata that are often themselves interesting commentaries on the letters. The Preface says Charlemagne ordered the collection to be made because the existing letters were in a poor state of preservation. They will have been written on papyrus. It seems possible that they had been conserved at St.-Denis. Achim Thomas Hack, in his magisterial Codex Epistolaris Carolinus: Päpstliche Epistolographie im 8. Jahrhundert, 2 vols., Päpste und Papsttum 35 (Stuttgart, 2006), thinks the collection may have been made at St. Emmeram in Regensburg. Letter 21a (= Gundlach 15) survives only as a lemma, a fact that points to the problems that Charlemagne signaled.

After some general introductory remarks by McKitterick and van Espelo, the latter takes up “Compilation and Contexts.” She makes many interesting and helpful remarks. Why 791? She points to the Admonitio Generalis, reformatio in general, II Nicaea and the Opus Caroli Regis contra Synodum, plus Adoptionism. Based on my own work, and on the contents of many of the letters, I would add the territorial settlements arranged between Charlemagne and Hadrian in 781 and 787/8. She notes too that the letters make occasional use of the Liber Diurnus which, in my view, adds a bit to the discussion around the surviving manuscripts of the Liber Diurnus. That is, granted that none of the surviving manuscripts of the Liber Diurnus constitutes the formula book of the papal government, nevertheless the formulas in those manuscripts do possess evidentiary power for the formulae that were used in papal Rome. Her major contribution lies in her discussion of the Lemmata. No one has ever looked at them so closely or with such insight. She also prepares the reader for the main themes that will recur in the letters.

In the next section, Pollard and Price comment on the Latin of the letters. Wisely, they rely on the manuscript itself and not on the editions of, say, Jaffé and Gundlach, who adopted some of the “corrections” introduced by Tengnagel. I will note just a few of their comments. The letters rarely use prose rhythm but did so often enough to make it clear that there were persons in Rome who could do so. Johannes Fried argued that the Constitutum Constantini (The Donation of Constantine) was written in Francia in the ninth century. Not so, say our scholars. The Latin of the CC parallels that of the CeC. Pollard expands and improves upon an article of mine about the use of the Bible in CeC.

In the final introductory section, McKitterick provides a clear and concise history of Frankish dealings with Italy in the eighth century. Readers who come to these letters without a broad historical background will find these pages enlightening.

The letters themselves must be read to be appreciated. The two rather tentative letters of Gregory III initiate the political relationship between the Franks and the popes even if Charles Martel did not agree to come to Gregory’s aid. The one letter of Zachary replies to Pippin’s request for guidance on a wide array of ecclesiastical affairs. The six letters of Stephen II (752-57) are precious evidence for the inception of the Franko-papal alliance and the “Donation of Pippin,” that is, the foundation of the First Papal State (called by this writer “The Republic of St. Peter”). The 32 often agitated letters of Paul I (757-68) reveal the pope’s uncertainty about Pippin’s ability, or willingness, to return to Italy to make the Lombards honor their promises and concessions. The two letters of the unfortunate Constantine II (767-68) reveal his pitiful attempt to secure Frankish support after political strife in Rome had elevated him to Peter’s throne. Interestingly, the Frankish editors of CeC placed these two letters last of all, perhaps suggesting some concerns about this pope’s legitimacy. Five letters of Stephen III reveal just how tangled the political and diplomatic situation had become, and how violent. Then 46 of the 49 letters of Hadrian reveal the working relationship between a pope and a Frankish king. Hadrian’s other three letters were addressed to Spain in connection with the Adoptionist controversy. A huge range of subjects came up for civil and collaborative discussion. Reading these letters gives one a keen insight into Einhard’s remark that when Hadrian died (in 795) Charlemagne “wept as though he had lost a brother or a deeply cherished son.” The letters should be read along with Raymond Davis’s translation of the Liber Pontificalis.

I will conclude with two comments that are not really criticisms. First, the translators regularly translate saccellarius as “treasurer” (nos. 8. 51, 59, 68, 72; and Glossary p. 467). Actually, the sacellarius was the paymaster. The arcarius was the treasurer. Second, the editors and translators (I assume some teamwork) insert with each letter a range of possible dates according to the arguments of several scholars. For CeC 93 (= Gundlach 74) one proposed date is 780. This cannot be. After Charlemagne visited Rome at Easter in 781 when Hadrian baptized Carloman, who was renamed Pippin, the pope always addressed him as compater. Letter 93 does not do this, so the other proposed dates, April 781-April 783, must be right.