Book Production and Practices of Annotation in the East Frankish Realm (ca. 830-900)

Senior Postdoc-Programme Elise-Richter (FWF) | Project V811-G

At the beginning of the ninth century CE the Carolingian Empire encompassed large parts of what is now Western Europe. As early as the 830s, however, a process of political fragmentation began which led to the creation of the West, the Middle and the East Frankish Kingdom. These developed into independent units, despite formally remaining part of the Empire until 888.

The project "Margins at the Centre" focuses on the East Frankish Kingdom and examines whether the process leading to political independence also entailed a new self-consciousness in the cultural sphere, i.e. whether East Frankish scholars developed their own approaches, especially with regard to the study of Latin and the Bible. These were the two disciplines which were most thoroughly addressed in the Middle Ages. The Bible, which circulated in Latin in Western Europe, was the point of reference for moral, social, political and spiritual life. Therefore, it formed the main subject of scholarly interest in this period. Command of Latin was essential to understand the Bible's text, its message, and the numerous explanations written by Christian exegetes over the centuries. While Latin in its medieval forms was still spoken in many regions of the Carolingian Empire, it was a foreign language in the East Frankish Kingdom. Here it had to be learnt from scratch by studying grammar.

With all this being considered, the main questions addressed by the project are: Did East Frankish scholars teach Latin differently from their contemporary fellows because of the different linguistic setting of their audiences? Did they find a particular way to communicate the contents of the Bible to their students and to those members of the lay elite who could read and understand Latin? Did they take into account possible difficulties of their East Frankish public when writing down their explanations of Latin grammar and the Bible? The existence of a peculiar East Frankish approach to Latin and the Bible has so far been asserted by relying on the study of the contemporary glosses and literary output in Old High German. The far more numerous and extensive interpretations in Latin, however, have rarely been investigated in order to verify and substantiate such a statement.

The project "Margins at the Centre" will focus for the first time on the Latin explanations, which Carolingian scholars added in the margins and between the lines of a corpus of contemporary manuscripts. More specifically, the project will deal with: (a) the glosses which East Frankish scholars attached to the Ars grammatica of the late antique grammarian Priscian; (b) the commented editions of the Bible produced in Carolingian Europe and, with particular frequency in the East Frankish Kingdom. The latter are manuscripts in which both the text of the Bible and a rich corpus of appropriate explanations at its side are exhibited on each page (see figure). Commented editions of the Bible from the Carolingian period are regarded as the direct - so far insufficiently researched - model for the later development of the Glossa Ordinaria.

The investigation will begin in the monasteries of St. Gall and Wissembourg during the time of Grimald's abbacy (ca. 833-872). It will initially concentrate on annotated manuscripts of both the Bible and of Priscian's Ars Grammatica, some of them in fragmentary form. In a further step, contemporary books of the same format, which were produced both within and outside the East Frankish Kingdom, will be compared.

The provisional list of manuscripts which will be taken into account comprises:

  • Augsburg, Archiv des Bistums, HS 6
  • Camaldoli, Arch., s.n. + Oslo, Schøyen Coll., 620
  • Dillingen, Studienbibliothek Fragm. 25 + Oslo, Schøyen Collection, 74
  • Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Ashb. 54
  • Frankfurt, Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek, Barth. 32
  • Göttweig, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. 30
  • Ivrea, Biblioteca Capitolare, LXXIX (28)
  • Laon, Bibliothèque Municipale, Ms. 14
  • München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 29315/3 + Regensburg, Bischöfliche Zentralbibliothek, Fragm. IV.2.1 + Praha, Národní galerie, Inv. Nr. K 7314
  • Orléans, Bibliothèque Municipale, Ms. 48
  • St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod.  27
  • St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod.  41
  • St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. 50
  • St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. 1395, p. 440-441
  • Troyes, Bibliothèque Municipale, Ms. 615
  • Vercelli, Biblioteca Capitolare, LXII (2)
  • Vercelli, Biblioteca Capitolare, CXLIX (136)
  • Wien, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 1239
  • Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, 26 Weiss.
  • Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, 32 Weiss.
  • Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, 33 Weiss.
  • Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, 36 Weiss.
  • Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, 47 Weiss.
  • Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, 50 Weiss. (Priscians Ars Grammatica)
  • Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, 59 Weiss.
  • Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, Ms. C 49 (Priscians Ars Grammatica)
  • Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, Ms. C 129
  • Zürich, Staatsarchiv, W3.19.XII              

The analysis of all these manuscripts will enable me to identify the content and sources of their numerous Latin marginalia as well as to trace both the pedagogical priorities of the scholars who penned them and the needs of their target audience. As a result, it will be possible to verify whether East Frankish teachers developed their own approach to Latin grammar and the Bible. In particular, the glosses on Priscian's Ars will show which were the key topics of Latin teaching in East Francia and the criteria according to which scholars switched between Latin and Old High German in their annotations. Furthermore, the study of the commented editions of the Bible will provide a first overview of the use of this book format in the Carolingian period, significantly before it began to become particularly widespread in the 11th century and after.

The glosses on Priscian, which are contained in the manuscript Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, 50 Weiss., will be digitally edited in cooperation with the Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities and Cultural Heritage (ACDH-CH) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and gradually made available online. The cooperation with the "St Gall Priscian Glosses" ( and "Corpus Grammaticorum Latinorum" ( Projects as well as with the "Network for the Studying of Glossing" ( will grant significant progress in the research of Priscian reception in early medieval Europe.

The project "Margins at the Centre" collaborates with the Anonymous Knowledge Network.

I will present the results of my research project in a monograph.

Funding period:
4 years (1.1.2021-31.12.2024)

Project Leader:
Cinzia Grifoni

Project-related output

Project-related events:

International Conference
23-24 May 2022

Keynote Series