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Land, Language and Memory in Europe 700–1100

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 February 2009

Patrick J. Geary
University of Sussex


Literacy and property have been among the dominant themes of early medieval history for more than a decade. Since the work of Rosamund McKitterick, Janet Nelson and others, contrary to the assumptions of an earlier generation of scholars, scholars have recognised that die written word profoundly influenced die transmission of die past and the control of the present in early medieval Europe. This was true not only in die highest circles of ecclesiastical and royal life, but also at much more humble levels across Europe. If, as Janet Nelson reminds us, even freedmen could still be referred to in die ninth century as ‘cartularii’, literally charter-men, ‘because of the written carta of manumission required by law courts as symbol and proof of liberation’, die written word reached indeed deeply into society.

Oral History, Memory and Written Tradition
Copyright © Royal Historical Society 1999

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1 Versions of this essay were delivered at the meeting of the Illinois Medieval Studies Association in February 1998 and at the Royal Historical Society conference, ‘Oral History, Memory and Tradition’, held at the University of Sussex in March 1998. The author benefited enormously from the discussions with participants at both meetings and wishes to thank in particular Elisabeth van Houts, Simon Keynes and Pongracz Sennyey for their advice and suggestions.

2 Especially McKitterick, Rosamond, The Carolinguins and the Written Word (Cambridge, 1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and McKitterick, Rosamond, ed., The Uses of Literacy in Early Mediaeval Europe (Cambridge, 1990)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Nelson, Janet L., ‘Literacy in Carolingian Government’, in Uses of Literacy, ed. McKitterick, , 262Google Scholar.

4 Davies, Wendy and Fouracre, Paul, eds, Property and Power in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Davies, Wendy and Fouracre, Paul, The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge, 1986)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 An exception to this rule are judgments against serfs claiming freedom. However, this exception may be only apparent, since semi casati were in a sense part of the real property to which they were bound.

7 On Anglo-Saxon Charters the work of Simon Keynes is fundamental. See, in particular, ‘Royal Government and the Written Word in Late Anglo-Saxon England’, in Uses of literacy, ed. McKitterick, , 226–57Google Scholar.

8 On the Hantgemal, see Freed, John, ‘The Counts of Falkenstein: Noble Self-Consciousness in Twelfth-Century Germany’, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 74:6 (Philadelphia, 1984)Google Scholar. On the use of donations for family strategies in Bavaria, see Jahn, Joachim, ‘Tradere ad sanctum. Politische und gesellschaftliche Aspekte der Traditionspraxis in agilolfingischen Bayern’, in Gesellschqftgeschichte. Festschrift für Karl Bosl Zian 80. Geburtstag, 1 (Munich, 1988), 400–16Google Scholar; and, in Alsace, , Hummer, Hans Josef, ‘Monastic Property, Family Continuity and Central Authority in Early Medieval Alsace and Southern Lotharingia’ (PhD dissertation, UCLA, 1997)Google Scholar, chapter two, ‘Family structure and family memory: The Rodoins and the Saargau section of the cartulary of Weissenburg’, 79–105.

9 Geary, Patrick J., Aristocracy in Provence: the Rhone Basin at the Dawn of the Carolinian Age (Stuggart, Philadelphia, 1985), 115–19Google Scholar.

10 Geary, Patrick J., ‘Echanges et relations entre les vivants et les morts dans la société du Haute Moyen Age’, Droit et Cultures, 12 (1986), 317Google Scholar. Translated as ‘Exchanges and Interactions between the Living and the Dead in the Early Middle Ages’, in Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages (Ithaca, 1994), 7792Google Scholar.

11 Schmid, Karl, ‘Welfisches Selbstverstándnis’, in Gebetsgedenken undadliges. Selbstverstándnis im Mittelalter. Ausgewáhlte Beitráge. Festgabe zu seinem sechzigsten Geburtstag (Sigmaringen, 1983), 424–53Google Scholar.

12 Annalista Saxo, MGH SS, 6, 164.

13 McKitterick, Rosamond, ed., The Uses of Literacy, 320–1Google Scholar.

14 Especially Richter, Michael, The Formation of the Medieval West: Studies in the Oral Culture of the Barbarians (Dublin: Fourcourts Press, 1994)Google Scholar, and his The Oral Tradition in the Early Middle Ages, Typologie des Sources du moyen âge occidental, fasc. 71 (Turnhout, 1994)Google Scholar.

15 Stock, Brian, Listening for the Text: On the Uses of the Past (Philadelphia, 1996), 56Google Scholar.

16 Peter Koch, Distanz im Dictamen. Zur Schriftlichkeit und Pragmatik mittelalterlicher Brief – und Redemodelle in Italian. Freiburg (maschinenschriftl. Habil. arbeit), 94. Cited by Schaefer, Ursula, Vokalität. Altenglische Dichtung zwichen Mündlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit (Tübingen, 1987), 17Google Scholar. n. 24; Oesterreicher, Wulf, ‘Verschriftung und Verschriftlichung im Kontexte medialer und konzeptioneller Schriftlichkeit’, in Schaefer, Ursula, ed., Schriftlichkeit im frühen Mittelalter (Tübingen, 1993), 267–92Google Scholar.

17 Bäuml, Franz, ‘Medieval Texts and the Two Theories of Oral-Formulaic Composition: A Proposal for a Third Theory’, New Literary History, 16 (19841985), 43CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Cited by Schaeffer, , Vokalität, 115–16Google Scholar, n. 49.

18 See especially Schaeffer, Vokalität, passim.

19 Vaissete, Cl. Devic et J., Histoire générate de Languedoc avec des notes et les pièces justjftcatives, 15 vols in 17 (Toulouse, 18721892), V, 222Google Scholar. See Geary, Patrick J., ‘Oblivion between Orality and Textuality in the Tenth Century’, in Althoff, Gerd, Fried, Johannes, and Geary, Patrick J., eds, Imagination, Ritual, Memory, Historiography: Concepts of the Past (Cambridge: in press)Google Scholar.

20 Wenzel, Horst, Hören und Sehen, Schrift und Bild: Kultur und Gedächtnis im Mittelalter (Munich, 1995)Google Scholar.

21 This is true not only of ordinary disputes and judgments but even, or perhaps especially, of royal decrees. As Simon Keynes writes, ‘As regards tenth – and eleventh-century legislation, what counted was the king's oral pronouncement of the law, and many of the extant written texts were more in the nature of “minutes of what was orally decreed, rather than statute law in their own right”.’ ‘Royal Government and the Written Word’, in Uses of Literacy, ed. McKitterick, , 228Google Scholar, quoting Wormald, Patrick, ‘Lex Scripta and Verbum Regis: legislation and Germanic kingship, from Euric to Cnut’, Early Medieval hip, ed. Sawyer, P. H. and Wood, I. N. (Leeds, 1977), 105–38Google Scholar.

22 Codex Falkensteinensis: die Rechtsaufzeichnungen der Grqfen von Falkenstein, ed. Noichl, Elisabeth, Quellen und Erörterungen zur bayerischen Geschichte, n.s., 29 (Munich, 1978)Google Scholar, no. 183, 163–4.

23 See Freed, John B. and Geary, Patrick J., ‘Literacy and Violence in Twelfth-Century Bavaria: the “Murder letter” of Count Siboto IV’, Viator, 25 (1994): 115–29Google Scholar.

24 Keynes, Simon, ‘Royal Government and the Written Word’ in Uses of Literacy, ed. McKitterick, , 225–57Google Scholar. See, in particular, his description of two versions of the boundaries appearing in a treaty between Alfred and Guthrum, 233–4. As he explains, the treaty is ‘ostensibly a record of oral agreements made between the two parties and confirmed on a particular day by the swearing of oaths’. On the wider literature concerning Anglo-Saxon boundary clauses, see, in addition, for an earlier survey, Brooks, Nicholas, ‘Anglo-Saxon charters: the work of the last twenty years’, Anglo-Saxon England, 3 (1974), 211–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. 223–4; and Biggam, C. P., ‘Sociolinguistic aspects of Old English colour lexemes’, Anglo-Saxon England, 24 (1995), 5165CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

25 Rabuck, Mark, ‘The Imagined Boundary: Borders and Frontiers in Anglo-Saxon England’ (PhD dissertation, Yale University, 1995)Google Scholar, chapter 6, ‘Dis sin pe land gemaere … Vernacular Boundary Clauses’, 149–65.

26 Rabuck, ibid., 150–1.

27 DKar I, 162, no. 116. For a detailed discussion and edition of this diploma, see Stengel, Edmund E., Urkundenbuch des Klosters Fulda, 1 (Marburg, 1958), 140–7Google Scholar.

28 Vollrath, , Rechtexte, 329Google Scholar.

29 Ed. von Steinmeyer, Elias, Die Kleineren althochdeutschen Sprachdenkmdler (Berlin, 1916), XII, 62–3Google Scholar; and by Stengel, , Urkundenbuch des Klosters Fulda, 1 (Marburg, 1958)Google Scholar, no. 83, 151–4. See Bostock, J. Knight, A Handbook on Old High German Literature (Oxford, 1976), 113–14Google Scholar; Geuenich, Dieter, ‘Zur althochdeutscher Literatur aus Fulda’, Von der Klosterbibliothek zur Landesbibliothek: Beiträge zum zweihundert-jährigen Bestehen der Hessischen Landesbibliothek Fulda, ed. Brall, Artur (Stuttgart, 1978), 114–15Google Scholar. One should note that the majority of Continental boundary descriptions concern much larger territories than those of Anglo-Saxon charters and might be considered more political treaties than ordinary land delimittions. However, the charter evidence discussed below suggests that while full descriptions survive in such cases, the vernacular phrases in charters suggest a similar process lay behind them as well.

30 Ed. von Steinmeyer, , Kleineren althochdeutschen Sprachdenkmäler, XXIV, 115–17Google Scholar. See Bostick, , Handbook, 11415Google Scholar.

31 Marcuuart, Diz sageta, Nanduuin, , Helitberaht, , Fredthant, , Heio, , Unuuan, , Fridurih, , Reginberaht, , Ortuuin, , Gozuuin, , Iuto, , Liutberaht, , Baso, , Berahtolf, , Ruotberaht, , Sigifrid, , Reginuuart, , Folcberaht, . Ed. von Steinmeyer, , Kleineren althochdeutschen Sprachdenkmäler, 116Google Scholar.

32 The procedure by which the boundaries were established is explained in the text:

In nomine domini nostri Ihesu Christi. Notum sit omnibus sanctae dei ecclesiae fidelibus, qualiter Eburhardus missus domni nostri Karoli excellentissimi regis cum omnibus obtimatibus et senibus istius prouinciae in occidentali parte fluuii nomine Moin marcham Vuirziburgarensium iuste discernendo et ius iurantibus illis subter scriptis optimatibus et senibus circumduxit.

Incipientes igitur in loco, qui dicitus Ôtuuinesbrunno, danan in daz haganina sol, danan in Herostat in den uuidenen seo, danan in mittan Nottenlôh, danan in Scelenhoue. Isit sunt, qui in his locis suprascriptis circumduxerund et iuramento firmauerunt: Zótan, Ephfo, Lantold, sigiuuin, runzolf, Diotmar, Ártumar, Eburraat, Hiltuuin, Eburkar, Germunt, Arberaht, Folcger, Theotger, Theodolt.

The second section continues:

Incipiebant uero in eodem loco alii testes perire et circumducere. Id est fon demo Scelenhouge in Hibiscesbiunta, danan in das Ruotgises houc, danan anan Amarland, danan in Moruhhesstein, danan after dero clingun unzan Christesbrunnon. hucusque preibant et circumducebant et iuramento firmabant, qui subter nominiti sunt: hoc est Batolf, gerfrid, Haduger, Lanto, Marcuuart, Vodalmaar, Adalbrabt, Utto, Hatto, Saraman, Hunger, Vuigbald, Aato., Eggihart, Strangolf, Haamo, Francho, Enistriit, Gerhart, Gatto, Hiltiberaht, Ruotberaht, Hanno, Nantger, Hunband, Rihholf, Ramftger.

Ed. von Steinmeyer, , Kleineren althochdeutschen Sprachdenkmäler, 115Google Scholar.

33 Die Traditional des Hochstiftes Freising, ed. Bitterauf, Theodor, Quellen und Erörterungen zur bayerischen und Deutschen Geschichte, n.f., 4 (Munich, 1905)Google Scholar, no. 166a, 162: ‘id est Kaozesheim, Chuningesheid et Chriechesstat cum omni confino supradicto ad loco qui dicitur Sampinsaolla usque ad Cozesheim et exinde tendit in iusu iuxta rivolum usque ad magnum rubum quod vulgo dicitir nidar pi deru lahhun z.a deru mihilun eihi, deinde per locas terminatas, id est in longitudine andanga Caozeslahhun usque ad Caozesprunnun, similiter et in ilia silva quae pertinet ad Uuemodinga’.

34 ‘Haec sunt nomina eorum, qui audierunt rationem istam et cauallicauerunt iilam commarcam et fuerunt in ista pireisa.’ Throughout, the charter emphasises what has been heard as in the testimony of two episcopal witnesses: ‘Tune dixit Rodolt et Betto [the episcopal huntsman and episcopal vicar]: “nos audemus hoc dicere et confirmare, etiam si fuerit coram domno imperatore, quod ista omnis commarca, sicut hunc eundem episcopum Baturicum circumducentes consignauimus, debet consistere cum omni iustitia ad sanctum Petrum et sanctum Emmerammum in traditione ducum, qui istam patriam possiderunt.”’ Die Traditional des Hochstifts Regensburg vnd des Klosters s. Emmeram, ed. Widemann, Josef, Quellen und Erörterungen zur bayerischen Geschichte, n.f., 8 (Munich, 1943)Google Scholar, no. 16, 16.

35 Kelly, Susan, ‘Anglo-Saxon Lay Society and the Written Word’, in Uses of Literacy, ed. McKitterick, , 56Google Scholar.

36 Ibid., 56–7.

37 The same practice of providing boundaries in the vernacular appears in the earliest Hungarian royal charters. The foundation charter of the Benedictine Abbey at Tihany, written in 1055, reads, for example, ‘Adhuc autem est locus Mortis dictus, cuius incipit terminus a Sarfeu eri iturea, hinc Ohut cutarea, inde ad holmodi rea, postea Gnir uuege holmodia rea et exinde Mortis uuasara kuta rea as postea Nogu azahfeherea, inde ad Sastelic et Feheruuaru rea meneh hodu utu rea, post haec Petre zenaxa hel rea.’ GyörfTy, György, Diplomata Hungariae Antiquissima (Budapest, 1992), 150Google Scholar. Since the individual responsible for this diploma of King Stephen is most likely ‘Herebert C’, who had been active in the German imperial chancellery, one can assume that this practice, and probably the type of vernacular inquest that produced such vernacular boundary descriptions, were introduced from the west. I am grateful to Professors Pongracz Sennyey and Janos Bak for bringing the Hungarian material to my attention.

38 The process was probably similar in the preparation of Anglo-Saxon charters. Two such original documents containing only boundary descriptions have survived and a number of others have been preserved in post-Conquest cartularies. These were probably the drafts prepared by the sheriff immediately after the riding of the bounds and eventually would have been incorporated into the charter. Normally, these preliminary drafts would not have been needed after the completion of the charter and thus need not have been preserved. Communication from Simon Keynes.

39 Placitum of Capua, March 960. Inguanez, D. M., ed., I placiti cassinesi del secolo X con periodi in volgare (La Badia di Montecassino, 1934), 18Google Scholar. The other formulae are very similar: Placitum of Sessa, March 963: ‘sao ceo kelle terre per kelle fini que tebe monstrai pergoaldi foro que ki contene, et trenta anni le possette.’ 22; First placitum of Teano, July 963: ‘Kella terra per kelle fini qi bobe mostrai sancte marie et trenta anni la posset parte sancte marie.’ 26; Second placitum of Teano, October 963: ‘sao ceo kelle terre per kelle fini que tebe mostrai, trenta anni le possette parte sancte marie.’ 29.

40 See the discussion in Migliorini, Bruno, Storia delta Langua ltaliana (Florence, 1978), 93–6Google Scholar.

41 Brooks, , ‘Anglo-Saxon charters’, 223Google Scholar.

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