Explicit feliciter

Bernhard Zeller

December 1, 2018 | Bernhard Zeller | HI Research Blog |

Completion of the facsimile-edition of the 9th-century charters from St Gall within the framework of the Chartae Latinae Antiquiores

More than 800 early medieval charters dating from before 1000 have been preserved up to the present day in the archive of the abbey of St Gall. This is an extraordinary – north of the Alps, even unique – collection of original charters. By far the majority of the charters preserved relate to the early medieval abbey. Apart from roughly 80 Carolingian imperial charters, the documents are so-called “private” charters that record legal transactions such as gifts, sales, swaps and leases, and sometimes chronicle (ownership) disputes between the abbey and local landowners.
The charters from St Gall provide material to tackle a variety of questions. They offer invaluable information on the legal, economic and social history of a large part of Switzerland, southern Germany and western Austria. They can also help elucidate the social and daily life of the early Middle Ages, providing glimpses of individual circumstances, modes of conduct and mentalities, while also assisting in the reconstruction of social groups and networks. Furthermore, the precise dating of the charters makes them particularly useful for philological investigation.
Above all, however, the fact that the charters are original is of particular importance for the cultural and auxiliary historical sciences: they provide invaluable insights into the development of scripts in the early Middle Ages, the spread of literacy in Alemannia and Raetia (which also provides clues to nearby regions, such as Bavaria) and questions relating to the practice of recording legal and economic transactions in charters, i.e. concerning the reasons for which they were written, their later uses and their conservation.

A new edition of the charters from St Gall was an oft-expressed research desideratum. Up to now, the majority of the St Gall charters were to be found in the trustworthy, but long outdated edition of Hermann Wartmann from the 1860s. Since the 1950s, researchers have had the benefit of two volumes of the renowned Chartae Latinae Antiquiores (ChLA) (edited under the auspices of the Austrian and several other European Academies), in which the charters of St Gall up to 800 are edited to modern standards and made available in facsimile.
On account of the extension of this international edition to include the 9th century and on the basis of preparatory work conducted over the last decade, the roughly 600 St Gall charters from the 9th century have also been made accessible in 12 further volumes of the ChLA. The editorial work was undertaken in close cooperation between the Institute for Medieval Research (Bernhard Zeller), the archive of the abbey of St Gall (Peter Erhart) and the University of Groningen (Karl Heidecker).
In spring 2018, the latest volume of the series was presented within the context of the International Congress “Atti privati e pratiche documentarie nel lungo X secolo” at the Austrian Historical Institute in Rome. Volume 111 (“Restschweiz”) contains roughly 50 documents, which are today kept in several archives and libraries within modern Switzerland, including the library of the abbey St Gall and, especially, the episcopal archives of Chur and the state archives in Zürich.
With this volume, the long-term process of editing the 9th-century St Gall charters at the Institute for Medieval Research has come to a happy end (a supplemental volume with 9th-century copies of 8th-century charters is already completed, but will not be published until 2020). This endpoint of the editorial work is, at the same time, a starting point. The new facsimile-edition provides the crucial framework for any further research on the St Gall material. Also, the new (text-)edition of the St Gall charters in the so-called Chartularium Sangallensis is in large part based on the edition of the ChLA.
My habilitation treatise, “Diplomatische Studien zu den St. Galler Privaturkunden des frühen Mittelalters (ca. 720-980)” (accepted in October 2018), offers a first comprehensive diplomatistic analysis of this charter-corpus. It will be published as an “Ergänzungsband” of the “Mitteilungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung”.

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