Putrid Water & Wedding Parties

Aistulf became king of the Lombards in 749 CE, following the abdication of the former king, Ratchis, his brother. Aistulf remained king up until his death in December 756. Throughout the course of his reign, he augmented the Lombard laws on two separate occasions, issuing nine clauses on 1 March 750 (Aistulf, Nos 1-9), and a further thirteen clauses in the fifth year of his reign, on 1 March 755 (Aistulf, Nos 10-22.  A further two clauses are also attributed to him, edited by Friedrich Bluhme as Aistulf Capitula Spuria, Nos 23 & 24. The clauses, presumably, reflect the various pressing socio-legal concerns of his day, with some augmenting and updating previous legislation or responded to cases that had been brought to the attention of the royal court as they were not easily resolvable. A content note may be required here, as some of the law clauses mentioned in this post involve violence and killing, abduction and forced marriages, including with young girls.

My focus here today is Aistulf No. 15, issued as part of the second legislative session in 755, which addresses the situation in which a group of ‘perverse men’ [perversi hominis] threw ‘polluted and unclean water’ [aquam sorditam et stercoral] over the wedding party bringing a bride to the wedding (Bluhme, ed., Edictus Langobardorum, 201; Fischer-Drew, trans., The Lombard Laws, 234). In addition to the skin-crawlingly icky contexts – surely something that should be drawn to the attention of Horrible Histories, and reflecting the soap opera of early medieval Lombard life – the broader legal details revealed in the clause are also of interest. This can be seen from the modern English translation of the clause:

It has been made known to us that when a number of men walked along with a wedding party [paranimpha et troctingis] that was taking a bride to her bridegroom certain per- verse men threw down polluted and unclean water upon them.

Since this evil has been committed in several different places, we decree, lest a breach of the peace [scandalum] or homicide occur from this cause, that if any freeman tries to do such a thing, he shall pay 900 solidi as composition, half to the king and half to [the woman’s] mundwald [legal guardian]. If they are men who belong to someone else and they do this thing without their lord’s consent, and if their lord dares to offer oath that the thing was not done at his desire or with his counsel or advice and thus clears himself: the slaves shall be handed over to [the woman’s] mundwald, and he may do with them as it pleases him. In this case their patron shall bear no further blame. But if their lord does not dare so to swear, he shall pay 900 solidi as composition, as read above.

Aistulf, No. 15

(Fischer-Drew, trans., The Lombard Laws, 234-35)

Firstly, the clause begins by noting that ‘It has been made known to us…’ reflecting the situation in which new clauses address some of the specific cases that have been brought before the king, presumably as they could not be resolved by iudices [judges] and other legal officials acting at a local level. This, in turn, reflects the campaign undertaken in the second decade of Liutprand’s legislation, in which resorting to local judgement and custom where the law-book had not yet addressed a given circumstances were actively prohibited. This theme is discussed in the prologues to the legislation of Liutprand’s thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth years (725-27 CE). As an aside it should be noted that this campaign may have been a little too successful, and the prologue to Liutprand’s legislation of the nineteenth year, has a somewhat weary tone as it refers to ‘Our clemency [being] constantly beseeched by the unceasing controversies of the superstitious and vain.’ (Fischer-Drew, trans., The Lombard Laws, 194).

Of particular interest here, though, is the further statement in the clause that, ‘Since this evil has been committed in several different places…’, meaning that this was not an isolated case brought before the royal court. Rather, it seems to have occurred on multiple occasions. Presumably the previous instances had been individually dealt with, until Aistulf and his advisors recognised that it was a more deep-rooted problem. The clause them takes particularly heavy measures to prevent it from occurring again in the future, and outlines the broader reasons for doing so within the logic and structure of honour and the violence of the faida [blood feud].

Restitution for this crime is set in the clause at the distinctly high price of 900 solidi. In a previous blogpost I gathered together many of the clauses from the Edictus Rothari in which composition of this value was set. It is, for instance, equal to the composition due for committing morth [murder], that is the ‘secret’ killing of a freeman or enslaved man or woman, in which some attempt was made to disguise the identity of the killer(s) and/or victim. It can be further contrasted with the openly admitted and public killing of another person, in which for an enslaved man or woman the value would be between sixteen and fifty solidi, depending on their specific duties and degree of training (Rothari, Nos 130-36). While Rothari does not give specific values for the ‘widrigild’ or ‘praetium’ [wergild, worth], of a freeman, in 724 Liutprand had set the values at 150 solidi for if he was without landless or 300 solidi if he was landed (Liutprand, No. 62). The nefariousness of murder is particularly apparent in the relative differences in composition required to offset the insult to honour, and to stop further revenge-violence from ensuing. Free women, it will be noted, are not included in this discussion. The reason firstly being that the open killing of a free woman or girl had already been set at 1200 solidi, (Rothari Nos 200-01), with no specific distinction being made for murder. As the general value for a secretive murder would have been lower than for an open killing, the reasons for excluding freewomen from the clause on morth seem apparent.

Other clauses addressing crimes committed against free women do, however, include a 900 solidi fine, including Rothari No. 26 for ‘wegworin’ that is (forcefully?) blocking the road against her; Rothari No. 186 abducting a woman and taking her unwillingly to wife; or Rothari No. 191, abducting a woman who is already betrothed. Liutprand, No. 12 had also set a fine of 900 solidi for betrothing or marrying a girl under the age of twelve. In this, then, the values given in Aistulf No. 15 for tipping filthy water over a wedding party, accord with attacks on women and injuries to their honour (or, rather, through them that of their mundwald [legal guardian] per Lombard legal norms which did not allow women legal competency). The composition due, however, was to be split into two portions, half paid to the woman’s mundwald, the other half going to the royal fisc. With half the money going to the royal coffers, the clause establishes that this assault is not just a private matter against the woman and her guardian, but also against the Lombard regnum and rulers. This also echoes the practice where an underage girl is married or betrothed, within again half the composition going to the royal fisc. In Liutprand, No. 31 (723 CE) the earlier law on abducting women was augmented so that half of the composition would again go to the royal treasury. At the very least, the setup gave legal officials working on the behalf of the throne a strong motivation to pursue these manner of cases, and conversely removed any incentive for the families involved to decide to just let the events slide.

The composition of 900 solidi is usually only due when the perpetrator is a freeman. In the case of an enslaved person or people having thrown the putrid water at the bride, then the clause stipulates instead that their dominus [lord, enslaver] should swear oath that the crime was not committed at his bidding. Here the clause introduces a conditional argument for the outcome. Should the dominus be willing to swear that oath, then he is absolved of guilt and responsibility, and the perpetrators are instead to be handed over to the woman’s mundwald [legal guardian]. As ownership of the enslaved people has changed, this effectively would allow physical punishment or killing in retribution without perpetuating the faida or incurring further composition for the revenge. Should the dominus be unwilling to swear oath that he was not involved, then nor more mention is made of the enslaved people, and the dominus becomes fully responsible as if he had thrown the putrid water over the bridal party himself.


Boxed Ears or a General Slap?

This is more of a short musing post, which is more a matter of raising possibilities in comparative speculation, rather than providing any solid conclusions.  The focus is a clause in the Edictus Rothari of 643 CE that I just stumbled across in passing which snagged my interest: No. 44. A content warning for the entire post may be of use here as the clauses discussed more broadly here focus on various trauma, including beatings and, particularly, injuries to, and the severing of, ears. The specific clause, per Katherine Fischer-Drew’s translation reads as follows:

He who hits another man with his fist shall pay him three solidi as composition. He who strikes another on the ear shall pay six solidi.

Fischer-Drew, Trans. The Lombard Laws, p. 61

It’s a relatively simple seeming clause, that sets a blow to the ear [alapas] at double the value of any other punch. The value given for the ordinary punch, in fact, reiterates the value given in the preceding clause, where one punch is valued at three solidi, two punches at six solidi, three at nine solidi, and four or more at twelve solidi (Edictus Rothari, No. 43).

The positioning of the clause in the law-code more broadly is the first point of interest. With the specific focus on the ear in No. 44, it feels like it should be part of the injury tariffs, which for wounds inflicted on freemen run from Nos 46-74, and as discussed previously, list a wide range of injuries to specific body parts. (For a fuller discussion of these across the early medieval law-codes, see Lisi Oliver’s The Body Legal in Barbarian Law). The intervening clause (No 45), serves as a general introduction to the tariffs, outlining that the compositions given in the list below must be paid accordingly, and that thereafter the faida [feud] should end. As such, the separation of the blow to the ear form the specific injury tariffs seems to be a deliberate strategy by the law-givers when they organised the law-code. Moreover, the ear appears twice more in the main injury tariffs, with Edictus Rothari, No. 53 setting composition at a quarter of the victim’s praetium [the amount to be paid should they be killed] if the ear is severed fully. A few clauses later, Edictus Rothari,  No. 56 outlines a fine of sixteen solidi as composition, if a person strikes and wounds the victims ear. Perhaps, then, we simply have three clauses, haphazardly arranged in the law-code, with increasing composition for increasing severity of the damage inflicted.

The positioning of this clause before the introductory clause for the tariffs, however, emphasises that it is not part of the injury tariffs as a whole. Instead, it forms the final clause of a short cluster on the beating of a freeman (Nos 41-44). The main organisational strategy here, then, could simply be that the wounds in the beatings cluster are inflicted by bare hand, while those in the tariffs are for more significant wounds that might be inflicted with weapons and result in lasting damage. Perhaps, then, the blow to the ear in question is just part of a fist-based drubbing.

The clauses on the beating of a freeman address a number of possibilities. In Edictus Rothari, No. 41 the beating is premeditated (but not under royal instruction) and the victim is assumed to be standing about or walking along unprepared. The assault is described as being turpiter [disgraceful, shameless], and as an assault on honour the composition is calculated at half their praetium [worth]. The next clause increases the composition to two-thirds his praetium, if he is tied up in the process. It is worth noting that the Edictus Rothari does not give specific values for the praetium of a freeman, but an approximate scale can be inferred from Liutprand, No. 62, issued in 724 CE, in which a freeman who is not a landholder is set at 150 solidi, while one who has land at 300 solidi. Assuming these values were even close to those used eighty odd years earlier, then the severity of the crime and composition can be clearly seen, especially when contrasted to the values given in the next clause, of three solidi per blow up to a maximum of four blows and twelve solidi.

So how does the doubling of the composition for a blow to the ear fit into this? Is the ear being considered as a more delicate part of the body which might be damaged internally from a blow form a fist, even if no visible wound remains? I find myself wondering if the issue is in the translation. The Latin of the law-code in fact uses ‘alapas’ for the blow in question, which can mean boxing the ears, but may more broadly be translated as a slap in general.

It seems to me unlikely that an openhanded slap could do more physical damage than a punch thrown by the same person, as the open hand would surely dissipate the force somewhat. So the doubling of the composition from three solidi to six for the blow seems to me unlikely to be corresponding to that. I assume, instead, that the act of slapping itself is being taken as a form of insult, where the assailant is more concerned with damage to their victim’s honour and standing than they are with actually causing lasting physical harm. But if that is the case, then the increased values given for insult to honour are still exceedingly low compared to those for the deliberately premeditated assaults considered in the nearby clauses (or the twelve or twenty solidi for verbal insults made in the heat of the moment, per Edictus Rothari, Nos 381 and 198, respectively). Nor is their any moralising in the clause. If the focus is not specifically the ear here, then perhaps a slap amongst Lombards is just a (very) petty insult, with a little more compensation due, but not drawing further comment?

CFP Housebreaking & Breach of Courtyard in Medieval Law and Legal Cultures

Another short update, with a call for papers for a collection to be edited by myself, (provisionally) entitled: Housebreaking and Breach of Courtyard in Medieval Law and Legal Cultures. A pdf of the file can be downloaded here.


Violation of the boundaries of house and home appear in various forms across medieval laws and regulatory texts produced and used throughout, broadly, the first millennium CE. Such transgression might be overt or covert, whether performed as an act of violence, to commit theft, or similar. The person crossing the boundary might be caught in the act or identified later. The boundary might be transgressed entirely by the person, or group, or only partially in that a person remains outside while throwing a projectile weapon across the boundary, or sending an associate across in their place. Crossing at night may have different implications than during the day. Legal norms on the crossing of the boundary, then, imagine the significance of place, and imputation of intention, and may be violent, subversive, or imagined. The focus here centres the boundary in the argument, and examines how laws and law-givers frame this as both an event and a crime.

The wording of these clauses provides insight into pragmatic legal approaches and the legal imagination of the law-givers and their concepts of personal property and the transgression of the individual, as well as reflecting on the norms of an idealised society. The often selective focus of (early) medieval laws on these subjects vary by law-code, area and period, which can both complicate and reward a comparative analysis while revealing the extent and nature of local and regional practices. The collection hopes for a broad geographical focus, extending across the medieval worlds of Afro-Eurasia.

Contributions, therefore, are sought investigating this multi-faceted theme in the history and archaeology of medieval law and legal cultures across the first millennium within a broad range of theoretical and disciplinary frameworks, ranging from dogmatic and comparative legal studies, on the one hand, through to linguistics and literary approaches to the law, on the other.

  • Abstracts of 250-500 words and a short biographical note should be sent to thomas.gobbitt@assoc.oeaw.ac.at, in English, by Sunday 26 April 2020.
  • Submission of accepted chapters, of 7,000-10,000 words including footnotes, are provisionally anticipated for late summer 2021.





Books of Law in the Very Long Tenth Century

A very short note here, just to say that the Books of Law in the Very Long Tenth Century workshop took place last week, on Thursday the 5th and Friday the 6th September here in the Institute for Medieval Research at the Austrian Academy of the Sciences, in Vienna. Here’s the poster with which it was advertised, with an image of the replacement folios in the Lombard law-book, Vercelli, Biblioteca Capitolare, MS 188. As that manuscript originally dates to the mid-eighth century, and the additional folios are from the first decades of the ninth at the latest, it pushes the definition of ‘very long tenth century’ further than any of the contributors did! Although having said that, we comfortably spread from the ninth through into the eleventh, and happily considered cross-overs and developments across that expense.  Centuries, like periodisation as a whole, are tricky, and better left as guidelines than rules.


The conference was, I think I can honestly say, a great success, and we had ten very thoughtful and engaging papers, all of which shone light onto obscure corners of legal history, book cultures and the overlap thereof; some of which have re-written major parts of the field and will open new and re-open some old debates. Hopefully these will come to light and the public eye in the near future, and the next step for the workshop will be for me to assemble and submit a book proposal to a suitable academic publisher, while the contributors turn their already engaging and rigourous papers into final chapters. Watch this space for further information.

Once again, thank you to all the contributors for making this small but focused workshop such a great success!


CFP: Books of Law in the (Very) Long Tenth Century

All has been quiet on this blog for too long, for which I do apologise!

However, I am returning with a call for papers for a workshop on the subject of: Books of Law in the (Very) Long Tenth Century to be held in Vienna on the 05-06 September 2019.

A pdf of the call can be found here, and the full text follows:

Books of Law in the (Very) Long Tenth Century

Manuscripts containing various regulatory and normative texts were produced, emended, augmented and used across the early medieval period, with a ‘long’ tenth century. Many of the legal texts – from law-codes and canon collections, to capitularies, formularies and cartularies – were first drafted in preceding centuries, but continued to be copied, updated and re-written in response to the contemporary needs and understandings of their scribes and readers throughout the tenth century and beyond. Each manuscript witness therefore comprises a unique attestation of the legal and/or normative contexts, made immediate through text, paratext and mise-en-page, revealing the development of law, legal literacies and the legal imagination through the adaptation of the technology of the book.

This workshop therefore proposes a manuscript-led approach to law-books and normative collections, positioned at the intersection of the disciplines of the History of Law and the History of the Book. Contributions might consider the specific contexts of an individual legal manuscript, comparative studies of multiple manuscript witnesses of a single law-text or of laws within the contexts of legal pluralism, comparative analysis of approaches taken to different laws and legal texts at a local level, or within/between regions. Specific directions of enquiry might address how the law-books were produced or were developed over time, how scribes in the long-tenth century adapted and updated the laws, evidence for readership, manuscript-led analysis of legal literacies (both pragmatic or ideological) and cultures, intertextual readings, textual communities, and so forth.

Please send proposed titles, abstracts of ca. 250 words, and a short bibliographical note to thomas.gobbitt@assoc.oeaw.ac.at, by Sunday 31 March 2019. The conference forms part of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) research project, Lombard Law-books and Book Culture, ca. 850-1025 (P-29968). An edited collection of the proceedings and related contributions considering Books of Law in the First Millennium more broadly will be submitted for consideration to the (peer-reviewed) Medieval Worlds journal of the Institute for Medieval Research of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

On Quire Diagrams

I’ve just spent a couple of hours reflecting on my model and methods for producing quire diagrams, trying to work out a way to incorporate a little bit more specific information into them. It seems to me that this could be of use, so I’ve added it here in case it is of interest to anybody. This is very much a work in progress as, as will rapidly be seen, I’m as much throwing out ideas as they arise as proposing a complete system, and this post is ‘more of a question than a comment’, as it were. Any thoughts will of course be greatly appreciated!

There are a lot of different ways in which the collation of a given quire can be represented in a diagram. Some of the varieties are simply aesthetic. The method that I’ve used over the last several years is shown in Figure 1. This represents a regular quire of eight folios formed from four bifolia arrange according to the Rule of Gregory. Technically, this is a diagram of Quire 2 of Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS Lat. 9656 – a copy of the Liber Papiensis dating to the third-quarter of the eleventh century – although the collation here is so regular it could have come from many other manuscripts.


Figure 1: Paris, MS Lat. 9656, Quire 2 (fols 9-16)

The diagram is relatively straight forward, I think. It has one box per folio, with the number of the folio given in a large font in the centre at the top of the box and an ‘h’ and ‘f’ in the lower corners to signal which side of the folio is the hair-side of the parchment and which the flesh. (I’ve not yet had the pleasure of working with a laterally split piece of parchment, but imagine that if/when I do I will then use an ‘s’ to show the split side). The series of bracketed lines underneath, of course, represent the spine of the quire and show which folios are connected as bifolia (in this case all), and can also be adapted to show half-sheets and so forth. Figure 2 shows the final quire from the same manuscript (Quire 15), which now comprises three bifolia and a half-sheet, as the final folio has since been lost


Figure 2: Paris, MS Lat. 9656, Quire 15 (fols 109-115)

The ‘blocky’ approach I’ve used may be slightly ungainly, but on the one hand I find it takes less space than employing a series of stacked ‘v’ shapes while conveying the same information, and on the other hand, it is very easy to create using the ubiquitous table tool in word processing software. As an aside, having had some formatting issues when submitting quire diagrams for publication, I tend to use a screen-shot of the diagram rather than the original tabulated form.

My uncritical impression of other quire diagrams that I’ve seen over the years is that including the hair-side and the flesh-side is not the norm, but I’ve found it to be rather useful – especially when a quire turns up that has one or more folios disrupting the overall pattern. I made the decision to include information on the hair-side and flesh-side directly on the quire diagrams at some point during my PhD (2006-2010), and apart from the odd troublesome, well-scraped and heavily abraded folio where it was near impossible to determine which side was which by look or feel, have not regretted it yet!

What I am debating at the moment, is a clear way to incorporate more information about the quire formation, specifically it’s pricking and ruling, into the diagram. The main pieces of information that I want to add are which side of the parchment was the pricking made from for each folio, which side was the ruling made from (assuming it is in hard-point, that is scored into the parchment with the back of a knife or similar tool), and is the ruling grid cut directly or is it the imprint of another grid from within the quire? If a quire has two or more ruling grids cut into it, how might this be simply represented?

Turning attention back to Paris, MS Lat. 9656, the specific information for Quire 2 may be summarised as:

  • All the pricking is made from the verso of the quire, with the same shape for the column of prick-marks throughout. (This means that all folios must have been pricked simultaneously, with the quire closed and laying face down on the table).
  • All folios are ruled from the hair-side of the parchment.
  • The bifolia comprising fols 9:16 and 11:14 are ruled for 42 long-lines in a single column with double vertical bounding lines at the inner and outer edges, and
    • The ruling grid on fols 11:14 is a direct imprint of that on fols 9:16, indicating that the two bifolia were ruled simultaneously with fols 9:16 on top and fols 11:14 underneath.
  • The bifolia comprising fols 10:15 and the centrefold fols 12:13 have a different ruling grid, with 40 long-lines per page, again arranged in a single column with double vertical bounding lines at the inner and outer edges, and
    • The ruling grid on fols 10:15 is a direct imprint of that on fols 12:13, again indicating that they must have been ruled as a stacked pair.

The current plan that I have for representing this additional information is to add two additional lines into the boxes representing the folios. I’ve experimented with a few positioning of these, and found that having the line for the pricking above that for the ‘h’/’f’ and having the line for the ruling information below works rather well. Having both above or below makes the diagram feel crowded and unbalanced. In addition to being an aesthetic point, this also impacts on the diagrams legibility and therefore its overall convenience and ease of use. I’m currently using a dagger symbol ‘†’ to mark which side of the parchment the pricking has been made from – in the case of Paris, MS Lat. 9656 Quire 2, that is from the verso on each folio, so as can be seen in Figure 3, these symbols have been added to the right-hand side of the box, immediately above the ‘h’ or ‘f’ indicator, depending on the folio in question.


Figure 3: Paris, MS Lat. 9656, Quire 2 (fols 9-16) with pricking and ruling summary

In the case of the ruling information, it does not seem possible to include every piece of information here. I have opted to use arrow symbols, again put in the area of the box reflecting the side of the parchment from which it has been made. As the arrows are directional, it seemed useful to make them point in the direction that the ruling goes as well, although this is repeating information which can already be deduced form their location on the diagram. I am currently using a double arrow to indicate where the ruling was cut directly into the parchment, ◄◄, and a single arrow for if it is an imprint, ◄. To indicate that there are two different ruling grids in play, I have added numbers before the arrows. The same could be done with the pricking if necessary, as may be seen in Figure 4, which uses this system to incorporate the pricking and ruling information of Quire 15.


Figure 4: Paris, MS Lat. 9656, Quire 15 (fols 109-115) with pricking and ruling summary

Quire 15, as can hopefully be read from this diagram, has been pricked in two sets, the first four folios from their rectos, and the last three from their versos. It would appear then that, unlike Quire 2, this one was pricked open and face down on the table. As afar as I can tell, the ruling was performed on the entire stack simultaneously, with the outer folio (probably originally a bifolium) being the one which was cut, and the others then being imprints. (This is a preliminary observation, however, and it may be that two sets of ruling lines have been cut – I need to return to the archive and double check this at some point…). As all are ruled from the hair-side, the parchment must have been re-arranged after the pricking had been added but before being ruled (so that the hair-side was facing up in all instances). After this, the parchment must have been re-ordered once more to re-introduce the rule of Gregory in the alignment of hair-side of parchment to hair-side and flesh-side to flesh, across each of the quire’s openings.

There are obviously still teething issues with this method for incorporating more information into the quire diagrams. The ruling of the grids by bifolia does not seem to me to be overly apparent, and I wonder if changing the numbering to ‘1a’ and ‘1b’ for the grids would clarify that, so it can be seen that these are two halves of one larger ruling grid, and not simply two iterations of the same half. That would increase the amount of text in the box, however, and I am wary of making the diagrams more crowded than they already are. Likewise, if each separate grid were given its own continuous number throughout a given manuscript, then the box could become very crowded. As such, I think it is more convenient to begin the numbering again for each quire, but that then might be taken to imply that the ruling grid in different quires was literally identical.

I shall keep reflecting on this, and see where it goes.


Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, MS 413

Madrid Biblioteca Nacional

Main entrance to the Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid


Over the last two months I’ve been on a number of manuscript viewing, research trips, in Modena, Vercelli, the Vatican, Paris and now Madrid. Undertaking manuscript viewings is definitely one of the more exciting and rewarding parts of being a codicologist, even though a few days with a manuscript (and ongoing work with photographs, ideally) can result in months or years of analysis, writing up and musing. In this post, I want to outline some first thoughts on Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, MS 413, which I spent a day with earlier this week. My main focus here will be on some features of the pricking and ruling strategies employed in the manuscript, as these caught my interest, and revealed an approach I’ve not personally seen before. Before turning to the pricking and ruling, though, it may first be useful to say a bit about the manuscript itself.

Madrid, MS 413 is a tenth-century copy of the Lombard laws produced in Southern Italy, probably in Benevento or Salerno. In addition to the usual collection of laws, from Rothari’s Edictus of 643 CE through to the additions of Aistulph in 750 CE, it also includes some of the Lombard legislation from after the Carolingian conquest of northern Italy, with a rubric and illumination for Arechis followed by the prologue and laws for Adelchis. I did make some mention of this manuscript in a previous post, discussing the hair-side and flesh-side of parchments, but that was before I had seen the manuscript in person, and was primarily because the photos of it on the Biblioteca Nacional website were on a CC license. On that note of CC manuscript images, here’s fols 156v and 157r, with the end of the laws of Aistulph, the illumination of Arechis, and the start of Adelchis’ prologue – a triple ‘A’ spread!



Madrid, MS 413, fols 156v & 157r

It is a lovely manuscript (aren’t they all?!) of reasonably portable size, with 162 folios measuring some 259 mm x 169 mm. However, it does seem to have been trimmed quite significantly during binding, so may originally have been a bit larger. An ownership mark, in the name of the Jurist Marino Freccia, and dated to 1534 is trimmed from the upper margin of fol. 2v, which provides a convenient terminus post quem for when the trimming and binding must have occurred. within the manuscript itself, a lot of the outer faces of quires are relatively more abraded than the folios within the quires, which may even suggest that the ‘book’ was instead used as a pile of unbound quires for a while. This is just idle speculation at the moment, though, and I need to ruminate on it a bit more. But it is far from an uncommon approach.

The manuscript, then, has some intriguing codicological features that need to be considered. I spent Monday examining it and taking notes in the National Library, and have somehow managed to write up a draft catalogue description of it for my Manuscripts of the Lombard Laws page, already. (Or the PDF of the first draft of the description can now be downloaded directly from here, if you are interested). Just as with my previous project, I shall be uploading the draft descriptions of all the manuscripts I work with onto that page of my website, and have slowly started adding in other manuscripts that I’m not working with (yet), to try and make it a complete resource. Hopefully, the descriptions may be of use to somebody, and of course any feedback or comments are greatly welcome.

As I was going through the manuscript, it quickly became apparent that the prick-marks – that is, the small holes used to guide the positioning of the ruling grid for laying out the mise-en-page of the manuscript – only had an erratic survival. Sometimes there would be a couple of folios in a row with prick-marks, only for half a dozen to pass without any sign at all. Taking a step back and considering their positions in relation to the collation of the quires, it on became apparent that the prick-marks where only surviving on the outer bifolium of any given quire.

Erratic survival of the prick-marks is nothing new, of course, especially for a manuscript which has been heavily trimmed, such as Madrid, MS 413. The possibility has to be entertained that this survival pattern was an artefact of the trimming process. Consider, four bifolia of effectively equal dimensions arranged in a quire. When the quire is closed along its folded spine, the outer edge of each bifolium protrudes a little further than the edges of the bifolium outside it. The central bifolium, then, sticks out the most, while the outermost when the least. When the manuscript is trimmed, presumably, the person doing the trimming still wants to keep as much of the folio size as possible, and allowing a little leeway for straightening the edges in the process, that outermost bifolium would form the lowest common denominator for the trimming, and the protruding bits of the inner bifolia would be the ones to get the chop. As such, the inner bifolia would have a greater chance of losing their prick-marks relative to the outer bifolium. And in some of the quires, the surviving prick-marks are so close to the very edge of the parchment, that this could be a compelling interpretation.

Except, there are a number of quires where the prick-marks are at 10-15 mm from the edge. And the same pattern can still be seen. There is no way, then, that the presence of prick-marks only on the outer bifolium can be an artefact of their survival, and instead it would appear that this is a direct reflection of the production practice. Pricking of quires, at least as I have normally encountered it, is usually performed on the whole quire simultaneously as a closed booklet. Using the tip of a knife, an awl or something similarly sharp, small and pointy, the person assembling the quire then stabs the whole pile at once. In this way, the same pattern is present on every folio, and moreover is mirrored across the openings of any two adjacent folios. Examination of the prick-marks on the parchment can often directly confirm this, with the shape of the hole showing that the blade came from the same direction for each. In Madrid, MS 413 the prick marks on the first and last folios of each quire are always from the recto. This means that, again, the bifolium was closed along the central fold of its spine when it was pricked, but that the inner bifolia (three in most cases) must have been removed at that point.

Having the prick marks on every single bifolium, means that each bifolium can be individually ruled. Having the prick marks only on the outer bifolium means that they cannot. Examination of the ruling grid of Madrid, MS 413 reveals that the ruling lines have in fact only been cut into the outer bifolium with the pricking. This was done with the bifolium spread open and lying face down, as can be confirmed from the ruled lines being cut from the recto on the first folio of each quire, and from the verso of the last folio. As this bifolium was, by this point, reunited with the other bifolia of the quire and was stacked on top of them, the imprint of the ruling grid was then transferred through the entire group at once. This can again be confirmed by examining the materials of each quire, where it can be seen that each imprint is fainter than the one before, with the lines on the central bifolium often being so faint as to be almost imperceptible.

Removing the outer bifolium of each quire to prick it, then reassembling the quire once more, is hardly the easiest way of creating the layout. It introduces additional steps, rather than removing them, so it would seem that laziness/efficiency was probably not the motivating factor. The actual reason is something which evades me, and at the moment I am throwing out ideas and mulling over them. did the scribe have a weak hand, and found that pricking through a stack of eight folios was a little too much effort, while two was manageable? If that was so, this must have been something they knew before beginning the book project, rather than discovered as they went along, as the lack of prick-marks in the inner bifolia of quires is present (or absent, even) from the start. Did the scribe in fact prick a stack of bifolia, but then separate that stack and redistribute them one per quire? On the one hand, this would ensure the identical pricking and ruling patterns across much more of the manuscript, and in Madrid, MS 413 the grids are rather consistent. That effect can also be achieved by using the pricking pattern from a previous quire as a guide for the next, although that sometimes leaves at least a few tell-tale signs where a hole has been re-cut. From what I saw, that was not present in this case, although already I am thinking I may need to go back for another viewing to double check that. If you have seen a pricking pattern like the one I’ve described here, and/or have any thoughts, please do leave a comment or send me a message. For me it’s very much a novelty, but I doubt that it is completely unique!

The work on Madrid, MS 413 then, is really still in its early stages – as is the work with all the other manuscripts on this project. I still have three more of the nine from this project to go and see in person, but the research in archives phase is well under way. For the Madrid manuscript it is nice to be reflecting on it, while still in the same city (my flight back to Vienna is later today). There is a lot to ruminate on, for which this intriguing pattern with the pricking is but the first, the ruling grid in the final quire is another intriguing oddity for instance. But that is a subject for another time.