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23.10.16 Hacke, Die Boten der Nationen der Universität von Paris im Mittelalter

23.10.16 Hacke, Die Boten der Nationen der Universität von Paris im Mittelalter

This book is the result of a dissertation begun under the late Prof. Rudolf Hiestand at the University of Dusseldorf in the late 1990s and completed in 2015. The author has also contributed a number of articles since 2005 that compare the development of university messengers (nuntii, Boten) with those in other institutions in the late Middle Ages or explore connections of university messengers with the spread of Humanism. The author researched this topic at the Vatican Archives and in Paris, especially in the archives of the Sorbonne, and has made excellent use of the primary sources and secondary literature.

Before examining the structure and content of the book, it is important to distinguish two types of nuntii at the University of Paris and other universities in the medieval period. The nuntii discussed in this book were messengers who travelled between Paris and other parts of Europe carrying letters, packages, books, or simply news from Parisian masters and scholars belonging to one of the nations in the faculty of arts to parents, patrons, friends, or to ecclesiastical or secular officials. They also travelled back to Paris with letters, money from parents or patrons, news, or the results of negotiations on behalf of the Parisian scholars. They were trusted persons, middlemen between the masters and scholars in one of the four nations (French, Picard, Norman, and English-German) and those to whom they were sent.

The other meaning of nuntius was a senior regent master in a nation or faculty at the University of Paris who was chosen to represent the nation or faculty in negotiations with an outside body. This could be a matter of litigation that concerned a nation or persons within it, or to transport an important document to an outside agency, such as a roll of supplications for benefices to be presented to the pope. Contact with the royal or papal court that such service included often benefitted the master personally in the form of receiving an expectation of an income-producing benefice or office, or simply connections that could prove useful in the future. This book is not concerned with these nuntii or university ambassadors, although they did on occasion perform additional tasks similar to those of ordinary messengers, a point to which I will return.

Because the sources on ordinary messengers at the University of Paris are slim for the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, this study concerns messengers in the fifteenth century, on which the evidence is abundant. This is a topic that, surprisingly, has received very little scholarly attention, even though it was mentioned by Hastings Rashdall in his The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages. [1]

After a brief introduction, explanation of terminology, and review of sources, the main part of the book is divided into three extensive chapters. The first is on the history of messengers of the nations at the University of Paris, the development from messengers independently hired by scholars to messengers as an official university office, and the integration of this institution within the rest of the university. Messengers might or might not be students, but they were employed by the nation or by masters and students in the nation. What began as an ad hoc arrangement became an official position by the fifteenth century.

The second and longest chapter examines the nature of the office of messenger, length of service, the privileges enjoyed by messengers, and the number and names of messengers in the fifteenth century. This section is filled with extensive prosopographical information on individual messengers, their hometown or the diocese from which they came, and the regions where they were active. The most useful messengers were those who knew well the territory to which they were sent, including individuals in those territories. And just as members in a nation came from specific dioceses, messengers became diocese-specific or might be active in several dioceses in a small region.

The third chapter places university messengers in the context of the history of avenues of communication in the late Middle Ages. It emphasizes the importance of regional knowledge and connections of messengers with those employing them or with those to whom they were sent. It also examines the types of things transported, such as letters, packages, and money.

The book concludes with appendices on the messengers of the four nations, a bibliography of primary sources and secondary literature, and indices, both of persons (medieval and modern) and place names.

This book is a major contribution to our knowledge of an important feature of the University of Paris in the fifteenth century. It opens up a dimension of the daily life of late medieval scholars that has seldom been explored, and it has done so in considerable detail. As such, it should be of particular interest to those working on the social history of fifteenth-century France.

That said, it would not have been out of place to have included the diplomatic nuntii or ambassadors (i.e., masters) of the fourteenth century, inasmuch as they also carried petitions and messages from their colleagues when travelling on university business to various parts of France and other parts of Europe. There is extensive information on these nuntii in the Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis and the Proctors’ registers of the English-German nation (Auctarium Chartularii Universitatis Parisiensis, vol. I), including their names and biographical information, how they were chosen, where they were sent, how long they stayed, how they communicated with the university or a nation, and what benefits they received while serving in this capacity.

On the other hand, the extensive prosopographical information on individual messengers in the fifteenth century is welcome and comes from a particularly important time in the life of the University of Paris, including the growth of Humanism, the development of printing and the circulation of books, and the effects of the latter stages of the Hundred Years War. Although most were not enrolled as students in the university, their biographical information should be included in the database for the University of Paris that is presently underway.



1. Hastings Rashdall, The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1895); rev. ed. F. M. Powicke and A. B. Emden, vol. I (Oxford, 1936), 420-421.