Category Archives: law-books

Revising the Description of Florence, BML, MS Plut. 89 sup 86

I’ve spent a few days this week revising and correcting my description of Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana MS 89 Plut. 86 which I studied and described as part of my FWF Lise-Meitner project (my end of project blogpost from May can be found here). I acknowledged in March when I uploaded the descriptions that they were drafts, reasonably good, I hoped, but that I would polish and replace each in short order, as required. I’d expected that phase to come some throughout the summer, but time, tide and the writing of the next research proposal and monographs wait for no one. Winter is already drawing in and, so far, I’ve only revised one of the manuscripts. The finalised description of the Florence manuscript and the other drafts can be found on the main portal on this website. The other manuscripts will get revised as and when I get the chance. Hopefully most of the others won’t require as much work as this one did!

It’s quite common in research to only publish successful findings, while errors and wrong directions get swept quietly under the rug. Perhaps they get aired with friends, or at a departmental seminar, but they’re rarely made public. It’s also becoming more common to note that this is not actually a good response. On the one hand, it curates an impression of researchers as infallible that can be down-right disheartening if you compare all your own errors with everybody else’s apparent stream of perpetual successes. On the other hand, sharing and talking through some of those mistakes may be useful for others engaged in similar research or for clarifying a methodology if a similar situation is encountered again. So, in the spirit of comradeship and usefulness, here’s an outline list and commentary of some of the errors I made in my original draft description of the Florence manuscript of the Liber Papiensis and how/why I corrected them. Conveniently, by going through the emendations and alterations in the order they appear in the description, I get to leave the biggest to last.

I should also note that, despite the issues, I have been using these descriptions as a working tool. I’m currently in the process of writing the first draft of my chapter on the materiality of the Liber Papiensis manuscripts, and am currently focusing on the various strategies taken to pricking and ruling the quires and producing the ruling grid. Through the process of writing up a prose description, which is a detailed form of analysis in itself, some of the major errors were revealed. Other errors came to light simply from having put nine months between writing them and re-reading them (not to mention over two years from first taking the notes on which the descriptions were based in a fortnight of manuscript handling in Florence in August 2014).

The first error is an invisible one from the outside, and arose from bad data management. Oh, I’ll make excuses about a hard-drive having burnt out, and a laptop having died between then and now, but that’s really no excuse. When I went to try and find the .doc of the description I discovered it was… gone. All I could find was an early draft from 2015, which had only about quarter of the information. Thankfully, I had the pdf from the website, and was able to cut and paste a lot of the information back into a word file, and reformatting most of it wasn’t too bad. Apart from the tables and diagrams in the appendices, those required a bit more effort. I’ll come back to the actual contents of the table of ruling grids in due course.

The next error is an issue of naming.  I raised this in my blog post from May of this year, when the funded period of my postdoc came to an end. From the outset of my project, I’d referred to the collected text of the Lombard Laws and Frankish and Saxon capitularies as the Liber legis langobardorum rather than the alternate title, the Liber Papiensis, by which it is also known. I opted for the former, having read in the scholarship that this was attested in the manuscripts (I don’t have the reference to hand at the moment, unfortunately). Conversely, the name the Liber Papiensis is modern, a convention adopted in the mid-nineteenth century when the laws were edited for volume IV of the Leges series of the Monumenta Germiniae Historica. All very good, except that the manuscript attestation of the Liber legis langobardorum only survives on other versions of the laws, whether the Edictus or the twelfth-century re-systemisation of the Lombarda. As I said, this wasn’t a newly-discovered error of the last week, but a long-standing correction that has been lingering on the to do list for months.

The next error was actually the last I discovered, floating to the surface of that golden-haze moment when I thought the corrections were finalised, I re-made the pdf, sent a copy to the printer and then went to collect it. My eye glanced down to the front page and took in the opening sentence of the manuscript’s summary, which I reproduce here verbatim for your amusement:

“A distinctly decorated manuscript of relatively portable size, with numerous line-drawn initials with foliate and knot-work features and highlighting in red-ink.”

What on earth, I asked myself, does ‘distinctly decorated’ mean? It reads like one of subjectively vague description of palaeographic hands, when some scribe is described as elegant, dramatic, crowded, untutored or whatever. an expression that means everything (to the describer, perhaps) and nothing (to the bemused reader). I certainly agree with my former self in that the Florence manuscript is relatively more decorated than most of the other surviving copies of the Liber Papiensis dating to the eleventh and early twelfth centuries. (The two volumes of the copy of the Liber Papiensis now held in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan MSS O 53 sup and O 55 sup, are even more decorative than the Florence manuscript, in that there are animalistic and anthropomorphic elements to the initials, and a wider range of coloured inks are also used. Meanwhile, the copy in the British Library, London, MS Add. 5411 has a half-page line-drawing of an enthroned Charlemagne flanked by two dapper retainers at the start of the capitularies. I digress from my subject here, though). But still, what does ‘distinctly decorated’ really mean? The latter part of the sentence covers it I think, as it emphasises the foliate and know work construction of the line-drawn initials used to introduce new clauses. Conveniently, a cleaner opening sentence to the summary description of the manuscript can be produced simply by removing those two offending words, and increasing rather than losing meaning in the process: “A manuscript of relatively portable size, with numerous line-drawn initials with foliate and knot-work features and highlighting in red-ink”.

The main area that needed correcting, however, was the table of ruling grids. As can be seen from the quire diagram (which, apart form having been remade as I couldn’t cut and paste it from my pdf, remains the same), there are only two atypical quires in the manuscript, the first and the last. Quire 1 has a folio added at some later point, while Quire 17 was produced from the outset from five bifolia rather than the more regular four. Apart from that later, additional folio at the start of the manuscript, the scribe made no use of half-sheets (or singletons if you prefer) and every folio is one side of a complete bifolium. Moreover, every ruling grid throughout the manuscript has through-lines that extend through the central spine of the bifolium. As such it can be confirmed that both sides of each bifolium were ruled simultaneously as one large, open sheet. This is not unusual, of course. But my tabulation of the ruling grids described them by folio, effectively treating each half as an independent block. Perhaps that is not painfully problematic, but it jarred with me when I was trying to use the description as raw data to write my section on the pricking and ruling of the manuscript. So, I decided to revise it. And there I found another set of errors.

Examination of the photos of the manuscript available online from the BML revealed that a notable number of the extenders and through-lines I’d recorded by folio back in 2014 didn’t always match the images. Now many of the ruling lines are faint and often difficult to discern, and my notes from the library frequently mentioned this. But comparing the two revealed a much different pattern. My impression before had been that each bifolium had been ruled individually, and where two ruling grids appeared to be roughly the same it was in most cases chance rather than design or an artefact of the scribe’s working practice. Reviewing the data revealed a significantly large number of adjacent bifolia with paired ruling grids, and sometimes where there were still differences between them there was enough evidence to support a strong hunch that the difference was because some lines on one were too faint to notice. It seemed that the regularly (if not exclusively) employed pattern was to rule the bifolia stacked simultaneously in stacked pairs.

Revising that error took the better part of the three days. It was definitely worth it. Moreover, I also uncovered in the process some further evidence that did not quite fit that model: Suggestions of the ruling grid sometimes having been produced in two phases. However, that reaches beyond the requirements of describing the manuscript, and brings me back to the interpretation of how the scribe physically produced the manuscript, a further insight into the material praxis of their book culture. As such undertaking corrections to my previous work, some of which I have been a touch embarrassed to confess to and type up, has brought me full circle to the activity that allowed me to spot the errors in the first place. I’ll save further discussion for the monograph, but suffice to say it’s peeled back another layer of the obfuscating mist that lies between us, looking on in the modern day, and the minutiae of activity of the otherwise unknown scribe who made this delightful and intriguing manuscript of laws, capitularies and related text in the last decades of the eleventh century.


Oh, and I’ve also made multiple back-ups of the revised files 🙂


Hair and Flesh

After giving a lecture on codicology in Stuttgart last month, I got a follow up question sent via the organiser (Dr Anja Thaler) regarding differentiating between the hair-side and flesh side of parchment. Rather than just replying, I thought it would make a good subject for a blog post (especially as the month is almost at an end and I’ve not written one yet). So, without further ado hair and flesh.

Before musing on my own experiences, it may first be useful to outline what I mean by ‘flesh side’ and ‘hair side’. First, though, we need to step back and consider parchment (sometimes called membrane, sometimes vellum if derived from cows or bulls). Parchment is the de-haired skin of an animal (particularly cows, sheep or goats, but hey, go wild), which has been soaked, scraped and most importantly dried under tension. The modern definition that leather is prepared through soaking in tannic acid while parchment is not, do not hold for the medieval period, the defining point is the drying under tension. I digress. Imagine the skin while it is still on the source animal, it has two sides: the side facing out from the animal, which has hairs on it, and the side facing in towards the animal in questions flesh and muscles and bones. Flay that skin in one big piece from the (dead, please!) animal and it still has two sides, the ‘flesh’ side that originally faced inwards and the ‘hair’ side that faced out.

Soaking the skin in water, perhaps with some appropriate plant materials added to make a dilute solution of tannic acid or some quicklime, helps loosen the hairs. Scraping the hair side of the parchment helps remove the loosened hairs. More thorough scraping removes the physical structures of the follicles themselves and helps to thin the parchment. Scraping the other side of the skin is also beneficial, any fat left clinging to the flesh side can be removed. Ideally, after its been stretched and dried (and scraped some more during this process) the skin will end up smooth and thin, without too much distinction between the two sides. The practice of pouncing, that is applying finely powdered chalk to the surface, is not always employed, but when it does it makes for a smoother writing surface and causes the hue of the parchment to become paler and more homogenous. Which can add further complications to the job of identifying which side is which.



This is a manuscript I’ve not yet had the pleasure of looking at in person: Madid, Biblioteca Nacionale MS 413 (I chose it because the images are freely available and hosted by the library on a creative commons license). It’s a tenth- or early eleventh-century century copy of the Lombard laws originally produced in southern Italy, an overview of the manuscript can be found here. The image here shows an opening with the hair side of two facing folios (30v and 31r). The parchment, from the photo at least, seems relatively pale, but look in the right hand margin of the folio on the right, and a clear area of follicle patterning can be seen. Contrast that with the next opening (fols 31v and 32r), and the relative paleness of the flesh side (even in photo) becomes apparent.



When I first began doing my own manuscript research in the second year of my PhD, I remember sometimes struggling with identifying which side of a folio was the hair side, which the flesh. For every folio where it was instantly apparent, there were others which caused me to scratch my head in confusion. It got easier with time and practice, most things do of course. Knowing that, as a general rule the flesh side tends to be paler and whiter in hue helps, especially when the more starkly coloured hair side has not been pounced, is a useful hint.

During my doctoral research I gathered some useful secondary resources on the subject, and can highly recommend both Robin Reed’s Ancient Skins, Parchments and Leathers and Christopher Clarkson’s ‘Rediscovering Parchment’ (full bibliographical details at the bottom of this post). The majority of the information in this post (and in my brain on the subject) has been assimilated from these. It’s worth noting some of the distinctive points:

  • Parchment from kid skin tends to be white on the flesh side and grey on the hair side with older goats often having grey-black regions on the hair-side.
  • Parchment from lamb skin tends to be yellow on both sides, while sheep skin tends to have a paler flesh side, and
  • Parchment/vellum from calf skin tends to be creamier in colour, but again with a darker colour on the hair side for mature animals.


Reed notes that distinguishing between goat and sheep can be almost impossible (even with living animals, and includes a cute photo to prove it), while Clarkson suggests that goats differ and can often be distinguished from sheep or calf on account of having softer and more flexible texture.

Both also note that older animals tend to have more established networks of veins and arteries, the presence of which can sometimes be seen or felt in the texture of the parchment even if remaining iron in the blood has not reacted with tannic acid to leave a dark stain in the shape of the vein. Which apparently can happen, although I have not yet seen it in person. Similarly, older animals are more likely to have suffered injuries and scar tissue or (vastly) stretched holes from tick bites, etc., can frequently be spotted on the surface.

Sometimes the hair side of the folio would have been so well scraped that details such as follicle patterns and bits of skin colouring are not really apparent on the surface. Sometimes later damage, abrasion and the such like to the flesh side can have darkened it so much it looks like hair side. Sometimes the parchment has been laterally split to make two sheets, one of which has a hair side and an ‘inside’, as it were, the other a flesh side and an ‘inside’. I’ve not seen this in any manuscripts I’ve studied myself, as it is a later practice not yet developed or employed in the tenth to twelfth century law-books that my research focuses on. It’s a detail worth remembering though, especially as Reed comments that many extra thin parchments assumed to have been produced from uterine vellum (that is parchment produced from calf foetuses) has probably actually been produced as a split skin instead.

Needless to say, in my early days in the archives (still less than a decade ago) I frequently confused hair and flesh, or spent what felt like hours pondering a folio, flipping back and forth. Sometimes I’d just put a question and come back to it. (Hands in the air honesty, it still happens sometimes). On more than one occasion I’d spend ages pondering my way through quire, finally decide on some tricky instances and step back to look at a quire diagram – that gave the same face of two halves of a single bifolium hair on one part, flesh on the other. It happens in recording, but clearly not in the manuscript. The bifolium though sometimes provides an easy solution, if one half is tricky to the point of frustration and the other has a nice, diagnostic feature such as a patch of follicles then the information can just be transferred across the quire. Tricks of knowing where else you can (should) look become a part of the working repertoire alongside an ever attuning eye and holes in the memory that let you slowly forget the difficulties you once had.



‘Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional 413’, in Biblioteca Legum: A Database on Secular Carolingian Law Texts, ed. by Karl Ubl < [Accessed 28 July 2016]

Clarkson, Christopher, ‘Rediscovering Parchment: The Nature of the Beast’, in Conservation and Preservation in Small Libraries, ed. by Nicholas Hadgraft and Katherine Swift (Cambridge: Parker Library, 1994), pp. 75-96

Reed, R., Ancient Skins, Parchment and Leathers (London: Academic, 1973)

End of project, but research continues

On the last day of April 2016 the funding for my current research project came to an end (an Austrian FWF Lise-Meitner international mobility postdoctoral fellowship, project No. M1698-G21 entitled Lombard Law-Books in the Long-Eleventh Century). The project has been a marvelous experience, during which time I’ve discovered lots of new things, answered or refined many of the research questions I began with, and opened up a whole bunch of further questions. One major, and a I hope useful, output of the project has been to produce detailed descriptions of each of the main manuscripts investigated in this project and to make them freely available to the public. At the moment they are in polished draft condition, and final versions should hopefully be uploaded throughout the course of the summer. If you have any comments on them, please do contact me! The portal page can be found here.

In all, I would say that this has been an ideal outcome for a research project. Needless to say, there is still more to be done before and work progresses steadily. The main things on the current agenda are to continue writing the monograph from the project and finalise and submit a couple of articles that are pulling together. I’ll also be presenting some of the research findings at the International Medieval Congress at Leeds this year (am looking forward to seeing you if you’re there too!), and all while laying the foundations for the next research project.

But rather than talking about what comes next, I thought I would take a moment to review the case studies that I proposed at the start of the project, and how they evolved throughout. Originally I envisaged four case-studies in all, some of them more loosely connected than others, but all building on each other. I began by building on the research findings of my preliminary study in which I argued on codicological grounds that one manuscript of the Liber Papiensis, Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek MS Cod. 471 had originally been produced as two separate volumes that were then bound together into a single codex. I was also able to demonstrate that it was the scribe of the second volume of the manuscript who reworked both parts into a united book. As one of the fundamental defining features of the Liber Papiensis is its unity, and the Vienna manuscript was first produced some three-quarters of a century after the Liber Papiensis was first redacted, this raised some interesting questions.

The first case study then sought to expand the focus from the Vienna manuscript to investigate the other six surviving manuscripts of the Liber Papiensis, produced between the second quarter of the eleventh century and the first quarter of the twelfth. The research demonstrated that five of the manuscripts in all were most likely or definitely produced originally as two volumes, while only one was conclusively produced as a single manuscript from the outset, Padua, Biblioteca del Seminario Vescoville, MS 528. Interestingly, and I would argue significantly, this was also the last of the manuscripts which was produced. The other manuscript, Venice, Biblioteca Marciana, MS 2751, is now only a fragment of 44 folios from what would have been the first part, which prohibits codicological investigation of how the two parts related. This is, to say the least a little frustrating, not least because as the second youngest of the manuscripts its production date of ca 1100 CE falls into the gap between when the last confirmed manuscript of the Liber Papiensis that was produced in two parts (Florence, Biblioteca Medicia Laurenziana, MS Plut. 89 sup 86, CA 1080-1100) and the Padua manuscript, of ca 1100-1125. Such is life. Regardless of the difficulties, this case-study, the findings of which throw into question all previous assumptions about the Liber Papiensis and the book culture of the Lombardist scholars in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries, took a central role in the project, and spawned a follow up research query as to how the scribes and readers envisaged and used the book. In response to this, the focus of the other case-studies shifted to various extents.

The second case study, if I am to be honest, is probably the one which suffered the most from the revision of research objectives in light of the ongoing findings of the project. Originally I proposed a comparative study of the Vienna manuscript and its sister, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, as they were not only near contemporaries from the third quarter of the eleventh century, but also shared two scribes. One of these scribes was identified in an earlier study by the palaeographer Antonio Ciaralli, to be a notary named Iohannis, who was active in the vicinity of Pavia in the 1070s, and who produced a charter witnessing the sale of a vineyard. The case study initially intended to focus then on the book culture at Pavia in the period. However, beyond the charter written by Iohannis there is too little evidence to explicitly tie the two law-books to Pavia. Rather than remaining a narrow study of the book culture of just two of the manuscripts, the scope of the study expanded to include them all, but in a more abstract, north Italian setting. Looking back over the original proposal, and thinking back over the progress of the research this outcome seems to have been inevitable, and to have been hinted at from the outset. The joy of hindsight! Much still remains to be done in this area, although I can already see the threads coalescing as I progress through the first draft of the monograph and work on a couple of articles.

Case-studies three and four were closely related from the outset. Each proposed to study the mise-en-page of a section of the Liber Papiensis, the one examining the laws of Liutprand, the other the capitularies of Charlemagne. In practice, this expanded, to become a structured analysis of the mise-en-page of the entirety of each manuscript. One part of this focused on the peritext, and the way in which additions, glosses and diagrams were connected to the main text, which in turn fed into the second case-study. The second part of this focused on the construction of hierarchy for sub-clauses, and the treatment of prologues for the laws of individual kings and emperors. This latter part of the study allowed developments in the mise-en-page across the manuscripts to provide independent confirmation of the codicological arguments for the Liber Papinesis as being, throughout most of the eleventh century, a book of two volumes.

In all, then, the project has been a success, but also one which has developed organically and reflexively throughout its duration. One such point has been my transition from using the term Liber legis langobardorum to the Liber Papiensis instead. Originally, I rejected the latter term as it was only the name by which the laws were edited under in the 19th century edition published by the Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Leges IV). Conversely, a few asides in the scholarship noted that some of the manuscripts were entitled as the Liber legis langobardorum which, as the attested medieval title, made it seem a far more appropriate name to use. However, on examination of the manuscripts, it was revealed that this latter title was only ever used for manuscript witnesses of other versions of the text, for instance in the twelfth-century version of the (so-called?) Lombarda redaction, now held at Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale Brancatina, MS I. B. 12 (note that, in the MGH discussion of manuscripts, this is given the wrong (or previous?) shelf-mark of MS II. B. 28 – Leges IV, p. lxi)

I am still pursuing and refining the implications of a lot of the project’s findings but wish to conclude with one general but important point. The use of the term ‘the long-eleventh century’. This was originally used as a short hand means of fitting the temporal focus of the project (which extended from the late tenth century to the early twelfth century) into a 60-character limit, including spaces. The term, however, received some flak from various quarters, including one of the anonymous reviewers of the project. As the project has progressed however, the inevitable conclusion has been reached that the eleventh century must be considered long. It does not matter that the following twelfth century may also be considered long, and it is certainly not an implication of that that the eleventh century must by needs be short. This period was one in which great changes happened, but changes which evolved from the previous.

Overall, the fact that extending the eleventh century to be a ‘long’ one has received such emotive (and sometimes vitriolic) responses, suggests to me that there is something worthwhile to be considered there. Something which people, perhaps, do not want to face. Significant changes did occur in that time, and they developed through continuous agency form the materials that came before, and rejecting a narrative that can incorporate that is to reject the agency of people in the eleventh century. Likewise, it seems to me little more than an attempt to cling on to the outdated and repeatedly disproven notion that the twelfth century was a time of revolution, in which ideas and approaches sprung from an intellectual vacuum. The book cultures of the eleventh century, along with countless other things, emphasise that enforcing a strict line in the periodization between the early and high middle ages is naïve, disingenuous and ahistorical.

Legal Pluralism and the Transformation of the Carolingian World

I had the pleasure of attending a work-shop/conference at the end of January on The Transformation of the Carolingian World. The workshop marked the impending end of the SCIRE research project of the Institute for Medieval Research, Vienna, but was used to outline and explore themes for the next major project that the Institute will hopefully hold. While some research in advanced stages was presented, many of the presentations focused on areas to explore within the scope of the new project, and the methodological and theoretical considerations that might underpin it. Although I am based in the Institute, it is not a project that I am formally associated with (yet). Throughout the conference, however, I felt multiple moments of belonging as the presentations and discussion repeatedly resonated with my own work and interests. Early medieval law played a recurrent role in the workshop: notably a paper from Karl Ubl outlining the manuscript contexts of the Lex Salica in the tenth and eleventh centuries, then a key note lecture on legal pluralism by Stefan Esders followed by a three-paper session on legal pluralism with contributions from François Bougard, Charles West and Helmut Reimitz. I will return to legal pluralism and my own research directions shortly. First, however, I want to note some discussion that arose surrounding the title of this new, proposed project.

The title of this new project is still provisional, and was repeatedly raised and discussed by participants and audience members alike. One problem raised with the ‘transformation’ aspect of the title, especially in relation to the ‘Carolingian world’, was the way in which it appeared to exclude research in areas that were never controlled by the Frankish hegemony. While it was emphasised that this was not the intention of the project, and it was hoped that the project would be wide-reaching, worries that researchers on, for example Visigothic Spain, Anglo-Saxon England or ninth and tenth-century Scandinavia might pre-emptively exclude themselves from participating before even realising their input was vital. One proposed response to this conundrum was to make the title The Impact of the Carolingian World instead.

Unfortunately, I had, and still have, my own problems with the use of the word ‘impact’ here. The impact of the Carolingians on the tenth and eleventh centuries, suggests to me that the agency of the developed being explored lay primarily with what the Carolingians themselves had done. The Carolingian world seems portrayed as a meteor, striking into the tenth and eleventh centuries, and scattering the people there. As a title, it removes the agency of the people in the tenth and eleventh centuries, suggesting that they were nothing more than the passive recipients of unchangeable events which had been predetermined in the eighth and ninth centuries. This implication of ‘impact’ stands at odds with what the organisers of the project repeatedly outlined as the intended focus of study, and was likewise contradicted by every presentation and research proposal. Always the focus returned to the ways in which people in the tenth and eleventh century looked back on the Carolingian inheritance, and then adapted, updated and appropriated it to suit their own immediate ends and historical contexts. As such, I hope that the term ‘impact’ will not be adopted by the project, although quite what term might be used instead I cannot say!

Stefan Esder’s keynote lecture focused primarily on Burchard of Worms  and his compilation of a major Canon Law collection around the turn of the tenth century, and Worms as a well-documented case-study for a detailed analysis of legal pluralism. The legal pluralism explored by Esders was very much the interplay of secular and ecclesiastical laws in the same area, and this theme seemed to me to be echoed to varying degrees in the other presentations that followed in the panel. My own research where it has begun to edge towards legal pluralism, has focused on the multiple use of barbarian laws across the Carolingian Empire and in the centuries following, as exemplified in the production of books containing copies of two or more barbarian law-codes. With a weather eye on future projects, I began assembling a few months back a research proposal relating to manuscripts containing a copy of the Lombard laws augmented with one or more other barbarian law-codes. The first manuscript that I considered for this list was, naturally, Paris, Bibliothèque, MS Lat. 9656 – one of the copies of the Liber Papiensis or Liber legis langobardorum which my current project focuses on, dating to the third-quarter of the eleventh century and containing in its final folios part of the prologue to the Lex Baivariorum (fol. 109r) and the Lex Salica Karolina (fols 109r-115v). Exploring further, I identified another five earlier manuscripts dating from the third-quarter of the ninth century through to the second quarter of the twelfth century, and, with the possible exception of one, having all been produced in northern Italy.

I feel that this corpus is suggestive of an important thread in the later development of the Lombard laws and hope to return to it in the future. For now, I include below the spiel on legal pluralism that I drafted for the project, to study and contextualise the following six manuscripts:

  • Wolfenbuettel, Herzog Augustus Bibliothek, MS Cod. Guelf. 130, produced in northern Italy in the third-quarter of the ninth century. Lombard, Ripuarian, Salic, Alamanic and Bavarian laws.
  • Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS Lat. 4614, produced in Northern Italy in the tenth century. Lombard, Alamanic and Bavarian law-codes.
  • Modena, Biblioteca Capitolare, MS O. I. 2, produced at the end of the tenth century in northern Italy. Liber legum (Servatus Lupus’ ninth-century systemisation of the Lombard, Bavarian, Salic, Ripuarian and Alamanic laws).
  • Gotha, Forschungs- und Landesbibliothek, MS Memb. I. 84, produced in the tenth or early eleventh century, in either northern Italy or Mainz. Liber legum.
  • Paris, Bibliothè Nationale de France, MS Lat. 9656, produced in northern Italy (possibly Pavia or Verona) in the third-quarter of the eleventh century. The Liber Papiensis, prologue to the Bavarian laws, and the Salic laws.
  • Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, MS Lat. 3519, produced in northern Italy in the second quarter of the twelfth century. The earliest phase of Lombard law (the Edictus Rothari), and the Bavarian laws.

Legal Pluralism in Lombard Law-Books

Legal pluralism, the concurrent use of multiple laws or legal systems within a geographically defined territory (Davies, 2010: 805-27), was central to the legal culture of the Carolingian empire. At an assembly held early in the ninth century Charlemagne made explicit the ‘personality of law’ as the legal norm for the peoples within the Carolingian empire, whereby a person was expected both to know and to be accountable to the specific laws of the ethnic gentes with which they identified (for a nuanced discussion of this event in relation to the legal culture and texts, see Faulkner, 2013: 444-45). Those gentes in whose name a law-code had not already been written were instructed to draft and emend one as inappropriate. Although Northern Italy had come under Carolingian control following its conquest in 775 CE, the Lombards had already produced an extensive collection of laws, beginning with the Edictus Rothari, in 643 CE, and continued to be expanded and augmented through until King Aistulf’s last piece of legislation in 755 CE. Lombard law continued to be used in Carolingian Italy, and, although separate to this study, dukes in the unconquered south of Italy continued to promulgate law as Lombard rulers.

For those peoples who did not already have a law-code of their own, the Lex Salica (507-11 CE) served as a model for the later codifications of the law under Carolingian influence, as it had previously for the laws of the Alamans (early seventh century) and the Bavarians (ca 745 CE). Rather than Salic legal content being (directly) imposed on the new law-codes, local custom was retained and a variety of differing penalties can be seen across the law-codes for similar crimes, such as the injury tariffs which are characteristic of Germanic law (see Wormald, 2003; Oliver, 2011). While far from universally accepted, Patrick Wormald has argued for a relatively weak legal literacy in early medieval Europe. He proposed that rather than being used as legislation, the laws were primarily vehicles for royal ideology and that the differences in tariffs outlined in the laws functioned as markers, used for constructing ethnic identities between groups within the empire and identifying to which a person belonged (1977; 2003). In contrast to this view, Rosamond McKitterick, in particular, has argued for a much stronger legal literacy, combined with a role for written codifications of law that extended far beyond their symbolic value as emblems of royal ideology (1980; 1989; 1994a). Likewise, the underlying features common to the barbarian laws indicate the existence of what Marurizio Lupoi has argued was effectively an early medieval common law, shared across Western Europe (2000; 2007).

While the direct connection between legal cases and written law-books is not clear from the manuscript evidence in Carolingian legal culture, with no direct quote of law surviving in a recorded case, books of law nevertheless must have played a significant role as well over 150 manuscripts containing secular legal texts survive (Faulkner, 2013; McKitterick, 1994b). The ninth-century in particular saw the production of law books of multiple law-codes of the leges barbarorum from across the Frankish realms, with thirteen extant manuscripts which were produced in the leges scriptorium, first associated with Emperor Louis the Pious, and emphasising the overall scale of law-book production there (McKitterick, 1994a; McKitterick, 1994b). These manuscripts variously containing copies of the laws of the Franks, Burgundians, Alemans and Bavarians as well as capitulary collections, Roman law, and other related texts. Most interestingly, however, none of these ninth-century manuscripts include a copy of the Lombard laws, despite the legal pluralism of the Carolingian hegemony and northern Italy having been incorporated into the Empire for well over a quarter of a century when the earliest of these leges scriptorium manuscripts was produced.

However, at broadly the same time that scribes in the leges scriptorium were producing law-books, Servatus Lupus (ca. 805-62 CE), Abbot of Ferrière, was also working within a framework of legal pluralism. He arranged Frankish capitularies chronologically by the rulers who promulgated them; a systemisation which Patrick Wormald notes differed from the practice usually seen in manuscripts of the ninth century (1999: 33). Lupus also undertook the systemisation of various other Germanic law-codes that were in use within the Carolingian empire, including those of the Lombards, along with the codes of the Salic and Ripuarian Franks, Bavarians and Alamans, in a text known as the Liber legum. Lupus’ innovation in ordering the capitularies by promulgator remains as a feature in the later copies of the Lombard legislation. However, beyond two manuscript witnesses of the Liber legum produced in the tenth and eleventh centuries on which this study in part focuses, his systemisation does not appear to have served as a direct exemplar for the later surviving manuscripts of the Lombard laws or its later redactions. Nevertheless, Lupus’ systemisation of the leges barbarorum can be seen as the first steps in over three centuries of legal studies focusing on the Lombard laws.

The absence of the Lombard laws in the ninth-century law-books of the leges scriptorium taken alongisde Lupus’ systemisation suggest (at least) two parallel paths in the development of the legal culture of the personality of law in the Carolingian period. While the leges scriptorium appears not have valued the Lombard laws, Lupus dedicated relatively more attention to thm and the Salic laws than to any of the other of the leges barbarorum, with Wormald describing these as the only laws which were ‘thoroughly overhauled’ by him (1999: 34-35). These two threads appear to have merged by the end of the ninth century, at least in northern Italy where the Lombard laws were still in use, and continuing well into the twelfth-century. The production of manuscripts of the Lombard legilsation within a frame work of secular legal pluralism, then had a long tradition in the later transmission of the laws, continuing through the incorporation of Carolingian Italy into the Holy Roman Empire under Otto I in 962 CE, and the razing of the palace in Pavia in 1024 CE during a revolt by the local inhabitants, from which point onwards Chris Wickham argues, Italy hardly existed as a state (1981: 168). Despite, or perhaps because, of this law-books continued to be produced and the laws were studied and used. New redactions of the Lombard laws were produced and developed, in a thriving culture of legal scholarship (Gobbitt, 2014; Radding, 1997; Radding and Ciaralli, 2007: 67-92).

The role of Lombard law-books augmented with other barbarian law-codes throughout this period and before, legal pluralism and the appropriation of the Carolingian world, then clearly mark significant threads the development of Lombard law and of Lombardist legal studies in particular. A manuscript-led study of the complicated material and historical contexts of these six surviving law-books produced across a period of some two and a half centuries will undoubtedly be informative and rewarding.


Davies, Margaret, ‘Legal Pluralism’, in The Oxford Handbook of Empirical Legal Research, ed. by Peter Cane and Herbert M. Kritzer (Oxford, 2010)

Faulkner, Thomas, ‘Carolingian Kings and the Leges Barbarorum’, in Early Medieval Law in Context, ed. by Jenny Benham, Historical Research 86 (2013), 443-64

Gobbitt, Thom, ‘Materiality, stratigraphy and artefact biography: codicological features of a late-eleventh-century manuscript of the Lombard laws’, Studia Neophilologica 86 (2014), 48-67

Lupoi, Maurizio, The Origins of the European Legal Order (Cambridge, 2000)

Lupoi, Maurizio, ‘A European Common Law before Bologna’, in Law Before Gratian: Law in Western Europe c. 500-1100, ed. by Per Andersen, Mia Münster-Swendsen and Helle Vogt (Copenhagen, 2007), pp. 1-20

McKitterick, Rosamond, ‘Some Carolingian Law Books and their Function’, in Authority and Power. Studies on Mediaeval Law and Government presented to Walter Ullmann on his 70th birthday, ed. by Peter Linehan and Brian Tierney (Cambridge, 1980), pp. 13-27

McKitterick, Rosamond, Carolingians and the Written Word (Cambridge, 1989)

McKitterick, Rosamond, ‘Script and Book Production’, in Carolingian Culture: Emulation and Innovation, ed. by McKitterick (Cambridge: University Press, 1994a), pp. 221-47

McKitterick, Rosamond, ‘Some Carolingian Lawbooks and their Function’, in Books, Scribes and Learning in the Frankish Kingdoms, 6th – 9th Centuries, ed. by McKitterick (Aldershot, 1994b), pp. 13-27

Oliver, Lisi, The Body Legal in Barbarian Law (Toronto, 2011)

Radding, Charles, M., ‘Petre te appellat Martinus. Eleventh-century judicial procedure as seen through the glosses of Walcausus’, in La Giustizia nell’Alto medioevo II (secoli IX-XI), XLIVa Settimana di Studio sull’Alto Medioevo, Spoleto, 11-17 aprile 1996 (Spoleto, 1997), 827-61

Radding, Charles, M. and Antonio Ciaralli, The Corpus Iuris Civilis in the Middle Ages: Manuscripts and Transmission from the Sixth Century to the Juristic Revival (Leiden, 2007), pp. 67-92

Wickham, Chris, Early Medieval Italy: Central Power and Local Society 400-1000 (Michigan, 1981)

Wormald, Patrick, ‘Lex scripta and verbum regis: legislation and Germanic kingship from Euric to Cnut’, in Early Medieval Kingship, ed. by Peter H. Sawyer and Ian N. Wood (Leeds, 1977), pp. 105-38

Wormald, Patrick, The Making of English Law From King Alfred to the Twelfth Century, vol. 1: Legislation and its Limits (Oxford, 1999)

Wormald, Patrick, ‘The leges barbarorum: law and ethnicity in the medieval west’, in Regna and Gentes: The Relationship Between Late Antiquity and Early Medieval Peoples and Kingdoms in the Transformation of the Roman World, ed. by Hans-Werner Goetz, Jörg Jamut and Walter Pohl (Leiden: Brill, 2003), pp. 21-55