Prince mirror

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A prince mirror is the name given to admonishing and instructive writings which are addressed to a king, prince ( princeps ) or his son and which explain to him the virtues and duties of a ruler and the principles of correct governance. Most of the prince mirrors date from the Middle Ages and the early modern period , but there were precursors in antiquity and, for example, an independent development in Byzantium .

Antiquity, Late Antiquity and Byzantium

The forerunners from antiquity are the Institutio Cyri Xenophons , the Cypriot speeches ( speech of Nicocles [2.], speech of Nicocles to the Cypriots [3.], and Euagoras [9.]) of Isocrates as well as Seneca's work De clementia and the Calling Pliny the Younger's speech to Emperor Trajan . Essential foundations had already been laid in ancient times by Homer , especially in the Odyssey , and in the classical Greek theory of the state ( Aristotle ), in late antiquity the Institutio Traiani attributed to Plutarch and the writing of Martin von Braga ( Bracara) Formula vitae honestae as an intermediary.

In the Middle Ages , the theocratic viewpoint determined by the Bible and the Church Fathers ( Augustine and Gregory the Great - also Isidore of Seville ) , which saw the origin, normative authority and goal of every rule in God, had a stronger influence than these more secular and secular texts . It found its expression in works that provided essential content and formal elements for the development of the genre: In the Irish script De duodecim abusivis saeculi (so-called pseudo-Cyprian in the 7th century), in spiritual warnings from the Merovingian and early Carolingian times , in Letter texts from contemporaries of Charlemagne ( Cathwulf or Alcuin of York).

In the Byzantine Empire , Fürstenspiegel sui generis developed from its own preconditions . The genus began with Synesios of Cyrene (4th century) in late antiquity , found its first high point in the prince's mirror of Agapetus for Emperor Justinian I († 565) and remained productive in various forms until the 15th century.

Early middle ages

Super Physicam Aristotelis , 1595

In Western Europe, early medieval authors from the Aquitaine region mark the transition to designed and independent works: Smaragd von Saint-Mihiel ( Via regia , around 810–814 for Charlemagne or Charles' son Ludwig the Pious ) and Ermoldus Nigellus (versified mirror, 828 for Ludwig's son Pippin). The distinctive new accentuations that go beyond the strong biblical foundation and general Christian doctrine of virtue (the idea of ​​equality for all, separation between office and person of the ruler, valuation of the anointed ruler as vicarius Christi ) form characteristically further developed elements in the other authors from the Carolingian era Princes mirrors: Jonas von Orléans (829/831), Sedulius Scottus ( Liber de rectoribus Christianis around 855) and Hinkmar von Reims with various works (873, 882) for his King Charles the Bald .

High Middle Ages

In the Roman-German Empire of the High Middle Ages , the genre was initially not cultivated. Here in the late 12th century Gottfried von Viterbo and about half a century later Johannes von Viterbo offer idiosyncratic new forms . With his Speculum regum for Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa's son Heinrich VI. Gottfried combines the somewhat scholastically determined ideal of rex litteratus with strong legitimation of the Staufer dynasty, which is seen in continuity with antiquity and with Charlemagne. The new form of the rain mirror, as offered by the imperial assessor Johannes von Viterbo with his Liber de regimine civitatum for officials ( Podestà ) (1228), is rooted in the social milieu of Italy .

Elements of a secular view of power based on ancient models are found in an even stronger form in English and French authors, in Johannes von Salisbury 's Policraticus, published in 1159, and in Hélinand von Froidmont's exegesis (around 1200). As a reaction to the new perspectives developed by these authors, who did not write princes' mirrors themselves, prince mirrors emerged in the vicinity of the French monarchy, who tried to save tradition: the Eruditio regum et principum by Gilbert von Tournai (1259) and the writing De morali principis institutione des Vincent de Beauvais (around 1264).

Under the influence of Aristotle and the originally Arabic text Secretum secretorum , the genus flourished in scholasticism. Thomas von Aquin († 1274), especially Aegidius Romanus († 1316) with the norm-setting prince mirror De regimine principum for the French heir to the throne Philip the Fair and Engelbert von Admont (around 1300) should be mentioned here.

Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Times

In the late Middle Ages , numerous national mirrors related to their own kingdom emerged in Scandinavia, England, Spain and France. In the empire, the mirror texts were used for rulers of territorial rulers (including Philipp von Leyden from 1355 with his work De cura reipublicae et sorte principantis, which was strongly influenced by constitutional law ).

The Renaissance humanism brought forth new levels. With the emphasis on pedagogy , history and antiquity, Petrarch (1383) pointed the way. The mirrors came back in touch with the ( Habsburg ) monarchy of the empire . Well-known examples from the pen of Enea Silvio Piccolomini are his treatise for Duke Sigmund (1443) and “De liberorum educatione” (the so-called “Ladislaustraktat”) (1450). The Alsatian humanist Jakob Wimpfeling wrote three treatises: "Philippica" for the later Prince-Bishop Philipp von der Pfalz (1498) and "Agatharchia" for his brother Palatine Ludwig V (1498) and "Carmen heroicum hecatosticon" for Duke Eberhard im Bart (1495 ).

With his Institutio principis christiani, published in 1516, Erasmus von Rotterdam offered the climax that unites the classical and the Christian. At the same time Niccolò Machiavelli created with his work Il principe (1513, published 1532) the counterpart to the Christian ideal of the ruler under natural law. It evoked great counter-writings from both Reformation and Counter-Reformation authors ( Innocent Gentillet 1576 or Pedro de Ribadeneira 1595). While Machiavelli had made the idea of raison d'etat dominate, it was initially hardly represented in the numerous texts of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries in the empire determined by denominations . Reinhard Lorich (1537) and Jakob Omphal (1550) combined traditional rulers' virtues with new legal administration . Melchior von Ossa ( Political Testament 1555/1556), Georg Engelhard von Löhneysen ( Aulico-politica 1622/1624) and Veit Ludwig von Seckendorff ( Teutscher Fürstenstaat 1656) form this perspective.


The high point of the prince mirror was reached in the 17th century. At the beginning of the 18th century theologians tried to incorporate a Christian doctrine of cleverness. The chapter On the Christian Cleverness of Kings, Princes and Regents in the etiquette of the Curieuse Affecten-Spiegel by Johann Gottfried Gregorii (alias Melissantes) from 1715 is regarded as a prince mirror created on a moral theological basis .

An interesting special case of the prince mirrors is the dispute between Crown Prince Friedrich of Prussia and Principe Machiavellis. The Antimachiavel was written in 1739/1740 (ended February 1, 1740) and published by Voltaire in September and October 1740 in two editions in The Hague . At that time (since May 31, 1740) the author was king in Prussia . The Antimachiavel can be read as a prince's mirror in itself, i.e. as a collection of reflections on future government activities. It is precisely for this reason that it is interesting to compare these theoretical statements with the later administration of Frederick the Great.

A famous ironization of the genre, which is no longer considered viable, was Christoph Martin Wieland's novel Der goldene Spiegel , or the kings of Scheschian. A true story from 1772.

Many of the questions and topics raised in the Fürstenspiegel are still topical and of interest to political scientists and active politicians.

Islamic prince mirror

The literary genre of Nasīhatnāme ( Ottoman نصيحت نامه İA Naṣīḥat-nāme , German 'Fürstenspiegel' ) has a long tradition in the literature of the Islamic world. The Islamic prince mirrors deal primarily with the question of order and disorder in government and society. The ruler is seen as the embodiment of justice, and as its guarantor towards the subjects. The idea of ​​the “circle of justice” contains the idea that the ruler's justice ensures the well-being of the subjects; this in turn consolidates and strengthens the rule. If the “circle of justice” breaks, society can no longer function properly. An early Arab prince mirror, the 10th century the Umayyad resulting -Hof, so-called popular government letter ( Risala FIS SIASA al-,āmmīya ' ; the main part of the pseudoaristotelischen font Secretum Secretorum ) is known Islamic Fürstenspiegel are, for example. Siyasatnama the Seljuk vizier Nizam al -Mulk (1018-1092), the Kitâb al-Ishâra of al-Imam al-Hadrami or the Naṣīḥat al-salāṭīn of the Ottoman writer Gelibolulu Mustafa Alî (1541–1600).


  • Anton, Hans Hubert : Fürstenspiegel and ruling ethos in the Carolingian era (Bonn historical research 32), Bonn 1968
  • Anton, Hans Hubert: Fürstenspiegel of the early and high Middle Ages (selected sources on German history of the Middle Ages - Freiherr-vom-Stein-Gedächtnisausgabe 45), Darmstadt 2006, ISBN 978-3-534-14348-1 ; ISBN 3-534-14348-5
  • Berges, Wilhelm : The prince mirrors of the high and late Middle Ages (MGH-Schriften 2), Leipzig 1938 (Ndr.)
  • De Benedictis, Angela (Ed.): Specula principum (Ius commune. Publications of the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History - Special Issues - Studies on European Legal History 117), Frankfurt a. M. 1999, ISBN 3-465-03009-5 ; ISSN  0175-6532
  • Blum, Wilhelm (transl.): Byzantinische Fürstenspiegel ( Library of Greek Literature 14). Stuttgart 1981. ISBN 3-7772-8132-8
  • Eberhardt, Otto: Via regia. The Fürstenspiegel Smaragds von St. Mihiel and its literary genre (Münstersche Mittelalter-Schriften 28), Munich 1977, ISBN 3-7705-1244-8
  • Hadot, Pierre : Art. Fürstenspiegel , in: Reallexikon für Antike und Christianentum , Vol. 8, 1972, Sp. 555–632.
  • Klinkenberg, Hans Martin : About Carolingian prince mirrors , in: History in science and teaching ; Vol. 7, 1956.
  • Kleineke, Wilhelm: English princes mirror from the Policraticus Johanns von Salisbury to the Basilicon Doron of King Jacob I (Studies in English Philology 90), Göttingen 1937.
  • Mühleisen, Hans-Otto / Philipp, Michael / Stammen, Theo (eds.): Fürstenspiegel der Early Neuzeit (Library of German State Thought 6), Frankfurt a. M./Leipzig 1997, ISBN 3-458-16701-3
  • Mühleisen, Hans-Otto / Stammen, Theo (Hrsg.): Political virtue theory and government art. Studies on the prince mirror of the early modern period , Tübingen 1990, ISBN 3-484-16502-2
  • Peil, Dietmar: Emblematic prince mirrors in the 17th and 18th centuries: Saavedra - Le Moyne - Wilhelm , in: Frühmedievalliche Studien. Yearbook of the Institute for Early Medieval Research at the University of Münster 20, 1986, pp. 54–92.
  • Prinzing, Günter : Byzantinische Fürstenspiegel , in: Kindlers Literatur Lexikon . 3. Edition. Vol. 5 (2009) 812-813.
  • Prinzing, Günter: Observations on "integrated" prince mirrors of the Byzantines , in: Yearbook of Austrian Byzantine Studies 38 (1988), pp. 1–31.
  • Schulte, J. Manuel: Speculum Regis. Studies on Fürstenspiegel literature in Greco-Roman antiquity (Ancient Culture and History 3), Münster / Hamburg / London 2001, ISBN 3-8258-5249-0
  • Singer, Bruno: The prince mirrors in Germany in the age of humanism and the Reformation (Humanist Library: Series 1, Abhandlungen 34), Munich 1981, ISBN 3-7705-1782-2

Web links


  1. See Hermann Strasburger: On the ancient ideal of society (Treatises of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences, Philosophical-Historical Class 1976, 4), Heidelberg 1976.
  2. ^ Singer: Fürstenspiegel in Germany. 1981, p. 63ff. and 75ff.
  3. Miloš Vec: Ceremonial Studies in the Princely State. Frankfurt am Main 1998, p. 364.
  4. Melissantes: Curieuser AFFECTen-Spiegel. Or exquisite cases and strange maxims to investigate the minds of people, and then to behave carefully and cautiously. Frankfurt, Leipzig [and Arnstadt] 1715, pp. 245-354. Bavarian State Library, Munich .
  5. Linda C. Darling: Revenue-Raising and Legitimacy: Tax Collection and Finance Administration in the Ottoman Empire, 1560-1660 (Ottoman Empire and Its Heritage) . Brill Academic Publishers, Leiden, ISBN 978-90-04-10289-7 , pp. 283-4 .
  6. ^ Bernhard D. Haage, Wolfgang Wegner: 'Secretum secretorum'. 'Kitāb as-Siyāsa fī tadbīr ar-riyasa al-ma'ruf bi-Sirrd-asrār' ('The book of politics for governance' […]). In: Werner E. Gerabek , Bernhard D. Haage, Gundolf Keil , Wolfgang Wegner (eds.): Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, ISBN 3-11-015714-4 , p. 1314.
  7. Mohamed Salem Ideidbi, (2011). Traité de politique ou Conseils pour la conduite du pouvoir d'al-Imam al-Hadrami. ISBN 9782705338510 .
  8. Gelibolulu Mustafa Alî: Naṣīḥat al-salāṭīn. Mustafā Ali's Counsel for sultans of 1581. 2 vols. Edited, translated and edited by Andreas Tietze. Verl. D. Austrian Akad. D. Wiss, Vienna 1979, ISBN 978-3-7001-0518-3 .