Tag Archives: liber legis langobardorum

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 🙂


Ferrymen and Fugitives

Legislation relating to the portunarium, or ‘ferryman’, appears four times within the the Edictus, the first of the written barbarian law-codes of the Lombards, promulgated in 643 CE in the name of King Rothari. The clauses on ferrymen run consecutively in the law-code, and are edited as Nos. 265 to 268 in Frederick Bluhme’s mid-nineteenth-century, Monumenta Germaniae Historica edition of the Lombard Edictus and Alfred Boratius’ edition of the eleventh-century version of the texts, the Liber legis langobardorum or Liber Papiensis in the same volume. The arrangement of clauses with related themes so that they are adjacent to each other in the laws is nothing unusual, numerous thematic blocks can be identified. In many cases these groupings also progress thematically from one to the next, or, after taking a step back, can be seen to work as units within a larger theme. The clauses to either side of those dealing with the ferryman illustrate this perfectly.

Rothari clause Nos 253 to 263 address the subject of theft, looking at various social iterations beginning with theft committed by a freeman, and then considering slaves, free women, ‘half-free’ women (that is, aldia), freemen ordering their slaves to steal for them and so forth. The following clause, No. 264, progresses from theft to freemen or slaves apprehended while trying to flee the country. While the person could of course be fleeing for many reasons, the clause specifically notes that, following Katherine Fischer-Drew’s translation of the Lombard laws, that the apprehending ‘judge or other resident’ should ‘keep safe the property which he [the fugitive] carried with him’, and then stresses on two occasions that the ‘properties that he took’ should be returned. While these could easily have been the personal properties of the fugitive, as the clause follows on directly from the discussion on theft, it seems strongly implied that those properties were stolen goods.

The clauses following here, Nos 265 to 276 address fugitives in different ways, including a bond’s man who run from their own lord to another (No. 269) and if that second man refuses to return them (no. 270); if they run to the king’s court (No. 271) or take sanctuary in the church (No. 272); if someone harbours or aids a fleeing bondsman (Nos 274 to 276) or, going back a few clauses in the laws to the focus of this discussion, the culpability and responsibilities of ferrymen who aid, knowingly or otherwise, fugitives (Nos. 265 to 268).

Rothari No. 265 begins the discussion on ferrymen, by allowing a ferryman accused of transporting a fugitive OR thief across a river to clear themselves from guilt with only an oath. Here it is assumed that the ferryman will not offer false oath, and the emphasis is on the ferryman having not known that their passenger was on the run. The specific requirement of ‘oath alone’ emphasises the law overall being on the ferryman’s side and hints at their importance in the travel and communication networks of the Lombard regnum.

Rothari No. 266, however, modifies this to include the situation where the ferryman is in the know and transports a thief fleeing with goods anyway. Here the ferryman becomes treated as an accomplice, must pay composition along with the thief for whatever goods were taken, and in addition must pay a further fee of twenty solidi to the king’s treasury. The fees and compositions due within the Lombard laws vary greatly, sometimes being as small as half a solidi, sometimes rising as high as twelve-hundred solidi. Twenty solidi, however, has been suggested to be the uppermost cut offline between the less and more serious cases, based on the understanding that if a person could not pay the fine, then they became a debt slave until they had worked off what they owed in the lesser cases, but a permanent slave if the value was more than twenty solidi (See Fischer-Drew: 28).

Rothari No. 267 examines the other half of that equation, wherein a ferryman knowingly transports a fugitive slave. Here, in addition to a fee of twenty solidi to the king’s treasury, the ferryman was obliged to search out and capture the fugitive, and then return them (with the property they were carrying, stolen or personal?) to their owner, or else to compensate the owner the value of the slave and said property.

When the fugitive in question is a freeman, however, and the ferryman knowingly transports him, then the stakes increase significantly. Rothari No. 268 states that here the ferryman must either pay a fine equal to his own wergild, or failing that lose his life. The clause, perhaps recognising that a fugitive freeman may be in a better position to put up a struggle than a fugitive slave (better health? better weapons? better training in combat?) and putting greater significance on the social value of a freeman than a slave, points out that even if the ferryman could not hold the fugitive, they should at least have run on ahead proclaiming the guilt so that others could intervene.

To my knowledge, Rothari’s Edictus does not make further comment on one other than a ferryman who knowingly aids a fugitive freeman. No. 276, however, addresses giving shelter or help in the form of directions or provisions, to a fleeing slave. As with No. 267, the person is obliged to hunt down the slave. If they succeed in catching the fugitive, they must return them and pay their owner for the lost labour, and if unable to catch the fugitive they instead repay the value of the slave and the property they had taken with them. In this instance, then, there is no fee made to the royal treasury.

Whenever a specific occupation or social class is addressed in the laws, there is normally a reason. The subtle variations between the laws are revealing when examined closely. That is to say: that a ferryman accomplice to a fugitive slave or thief pays a fee to the royal treasury; that a ferryman can prove that they did not know their passenger was on the run can prove their innocence with an ‘oath alone’; and that in the case of aiding fugitive freemen, only ferryman are addressed in specific detail. The question I am mulling now, then, is what do these laws imply for the social and legal context of Lombard Italy? It is not a question I can answer fully here yet, but I have a few thoughts fermenting.

The ability to move around the kingdom must have been vital, and with the many rivers bisecting the land ferries and their operators must have played a significant role. A fugitive, or any person, might be able to move relatively freely across open land, but when crossing a river they would need a bridge or ferry. The ferryman might be expected to know the goings on of the local area, to recognise well enough if a person was likely to be a fugitive slave. Conversely, for a freeman, clause No. 268 almost implies that the ferryman should be able to recognise that he is now a fugitive, as if some outwardly obvious change would occur between an honest and dishonest freeman.

As a nexus point in the transport routes of the kingdom, the actions of the ferryman are of importance to the kingdom as a whole. It may be for this reason that the twenty solidi fine for aiding a thief or fugitive slave goes to the king, not to their owner, that willingly, or at least knowingly, aiding them was an action against the king and the broader interests of society as a whole, as much as it was opposing the financial and labour interests of the slave in question’s owner. Returning to clause No. 265, the broader interests of society and infrastructure can again be seen where the fugitive or thief is unknowingly assisted, and the law falls very much in favour of the ferryman. Clearing themselves of guilt by ‘oath alone’ resonates with significance, and here the implications seem more obvious. The laws balance private interests with societal good: if ferrymen were worried that for every person of unknown or even apparently good-standing they let cross, they might later find themselves having to pay a fee, try and track them down and then return them or their value to their owner, would they take any passengers at all?

Edictus Langobardorum’, ed. by Frederick Bluhme; ‘Liber Papiensis’, ed. by Alfred Boratius, in Legum, iv, ed. by Georg Heinrich Pertz (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: 1868)

The Lombard Laws, ed. and trans. by Katherine Fischer-Drew (University of Pennsylvania Press: 1973)

On Ruling grids

Having just spent a month and a half travelling around France and Northern Italy looking at some of the manuscripts of the Liber legis langobardorum for my research project, I am now back in the office and writing up copious amounts of notes. One of the main things I have to be working on is the descriptions of the ruling grids, as used by the scribes to lay out the page and position the main text-block, decorative initials, glosses in the margins and the such like.

I’ve previously found analysis of these to be highly informative when considering the general ways in which a given manuscript was physically produced, and long hours spent considering the minutae of exactly which lines are extended to the outer edge of the folio or across the centrefold of the bifolium often prove to be worthwhile. Even if at the time, barely perceptible scratched lines, damaged parchment and dozens upon dozens of folios can cause the eyes to cross and the attention to wander.

At the moment I am writing up the details for Padua, Biblioteca del Seminario Vescoville, MS DXXVIII, one of the latest copies of the Liber legis langobardorum dating to the first quarter of the twelfth century. It is a plain manuscript overall, written in a single column with simple, pen-drawn initials for each clause offset from the text-block in the left margin, made in what appears to be the same ink as used for copying the text itself. There are glosses copied in the outer margin of many of the folios (they appear to be in the same hand as the main text-block, but detailed palaeographic analysis is currently a little further down my to do list), and running headings in the upper margin of each folio, recto and verso.

Here and now, however, it is the ruling grid that has my attention. My focus in this post is to consider the methodology of describing and analysing these, the implications for the production of the book (skirted around here somewhat, but nonetheless present) must wait for a fuller article on the manuscript itself. A summary glance at the data could easily be used to say that only two grids are used: Grid A has 38 long lines to the column and is used on the vast majority of the folios, while Grid B has only 37 lines and is used only on folios 31-33 and 60-61.

Looking at which of the long lines the scribe chose to extend to the outer margins of the page and into the centrefold (close analysis shows that here the ‘through lines’ do not actually go through, but instead stop just shy. Each folio was ruled individually, not as an open bifolium), gives a more detailed picture. Between variations in extension of the first two to four lines, the last one to three lines, and any of none to three lines around the middle of the page (between lines 16 and 23), a much larger range of ruling grids appear. three for type B, and at least 24 for type A.

In fact, there may be more than 24 of type A, as there are some subtle variations on the given theme, usually where only one line is apparently missing from one side of the grid. As the lines are often faint and difficult to discern, I have given the grid the benefit of the doubt and labelled these variants with an additional code e.g. Grid AD2 or AD3, rather than giving them a whole new code to themselves. If the variants are included, a further eight ruling grids can be added to the total – making for thirty-two of type A (38 lines) and thirty-five in all. A sizeable number for a manuscript of only eighty-three folios, averaging at one for every 2.4 folios.

In all those grids, the duplicates are generally adjacent. Despite the overall similarity of the grids, there are surprisingly few repeats of exactly the same pattern. Grid AP first appears on fols 46-49 and again on fols 6-67, while Grid AF appears on fols. 14-15 and 22-24, then perhaps in a variant form (AF2, which includes line 36 as a ‘throughline’, but not as an extender) on fols 76-79.

My initial instincts are to draw a diagram to summarise each one, and it is an approach I have used in the past on other manuscripts (both the collection of Anglo-Saxon laws in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 383 on which my doctoral project was based, and on the copy of the Liber legis lagobardorum in Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek MS 471, that formed the foundation for my current postdoctoral research project). It may still prove to be a useful tool here, but the variations in the ruling grids are subtle and I am not sure how much information the reader might glean from comparing to ostensibly similar grids. Take for example grids AA and AB below, where the only variation is that mid-lines 18-20 are extended in AA, and 19-21 in AB.

Ruling Grid AA (fols 2-5)

Ruling Grid AB (fols 2-5)

Instead, I have focused on tabulating the information, a PDF of the draft file can be found here. This provides a very dense appendix to an article or manuscript description, which is nonetheless far more approachable than the initial extended table of page-by-page data, painstakingly gathered in the library direct from the manuscript. Editing the data into this tabulated form is as much a process of analysis as presentation, and as actively constructed data (is there any other kind?) belays interesting suggestions on how the manuscript was produced. As such, there is a balance between the density of the information provided and its usability.

I wonder (idly, not as a challenge!) how many people will check the tabulated data in detail, preferring instead to refer to the key points that I draw attention to. This, then, like any research, is a case of forming, analysing and curating data. And as such, I will keep sifting through it partly to see what patterns and suggestions fall out for myself, but also to see if better ways can be found to present it.