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A litterae (from Latin letter) refers to simpler forms of documents (see also the related diplomatic term mandate ). In the Middle Ages, the term was also used for pure letters of notification ( letter ).

Papal deeds

Innocent IV legacy for Cardinal Bishop Odo von Tusculum , July 19, 1248. Littera cum filo canapis

Litterae (also litterae apostolicae ) represent a collective term for all papal documents in the Middle Ages. In addition to privileges, they are among the most important and most common papal documents of the Middle Ages and continue the simple letter form. Modern scientific terminology, however, only includes the type of litterae cum filo canapis and litterae cum serico .


The Litterae are simple in their outer shape. All of the text was written in a single block of scripture. The only means of authentication was a lead seal.

The letters are written on parchment, but in contrast to the privileges, the pieces of parchment are usually of a smaller format. The lettering was done in landscape format.

The protocol includes the initiation in the form of N. episcopus servus servorum dei . This is followed by the address in the dative, which lists up to three individuals, a group of people or all Christian believers and the greeting , which either contains the wording salutem et apostolicam benedictionem or, if the addressee is excommunicated or non-Christian, a warning to convert contain. After the context comes the escha protocol . This consists of only a small dating, consisting of an introductory Dat is followed by location, date to the Roman calendar and the pontificate year. In Rome the neighboring church is usually given, but Lateran does not mention Rome . Since Eugene IV (1431), the year of incarnation is also given in letters and a word, with the beginning of the year being March 25th. The date of the day has also been written out since 1431 and is no longer given in numerals.

A lead bull , which was not announced in the form of the Litterae because of the lack of a corroboratio , is attached as a seal with the help of silk thread or a hemp cord.

Outward distinction

This results in the different types of litterae, which correspond to a different legal content and a different graphic design of the document. If a tuft of red-yellow silk threads is attached, it is litterae cum serico . If a hemp thread is attached, one speaks of litterae cum filo canapis

The litterae cum serico are graphically more complex than the litterae cum filo canapis . The following table shows the individual differences.

feature litterae cum serico litterae cum filo canapis
initial split or decorated with a floral pattern blackened
the following letters of the Pope's name highlighted by elongata or blackened Gothic capital letters normal minuscule writing
s- from servus and servorum pulled twice as high as a normal s in the 1st line no specialty
first letter of the address blackened Gothic capitals Letter enlarged, but with thin lines
First letter of the context blackened Gothic capitals blackened Gothic capitals
Abbreviation of st and ct decorated connecting line and stretched ligature simple straight connecting line and tight ligature

Differentiation in content

Innocent IV confirms the Bishop and Chapter of Riga the boundaries established by the papal legate William of Modena , Lyon, July 14, 1246; littera cum serico

Initially, popes used Litterae for administrative and judicial purposes, e.g. B. to issue an order. That is why they can usually be referred to as mandates . In the 12th century, however, its use was extended to the granting of permanent rights.

The litterae cum serico usually form the so-called litterae de gratia . They give the addressee a legal title, either an old right is confirmed or conferred on him, a benefit is granted to him or the Pope makes a decision in his favor. They are also called tituli because they confer legal titles or indulgentiae because they contain a papal grace. These letters can be recognized by these or similar phrases in the Dispositio : auctoritate presentium indulgemus or auctoritate presentium inhibemus , auctoritate apostolica confirmamus , concedimus auctoritate presentium facultatem . This is followed by the sanctio with the comminatio in an almost unchanged formulation: Nulli ergo omnino hominum liceat hanc paginam nostre concessionis infringere vel ei ausu temerario contraire. Si quis autem hoc attemptare presumpserit, indignationem omnipotentis dei et beatorum Petri et Pauli apostolorum eius se noverit incursurum.

The litterae cum filo canapis are mostly the so-called litterae iustitiae . They are used for administrative purposes. You issue an order, prohibition or judgment to the recipient. Technically they are also called mandata . The disposito usually contains the following phrase: per apostolica scripta mandamus or per apostolica scripta precipiendo mandamus . Sanctio and Comminatio are missing.

Litterae of the emperors and kings

The litterae of the emperors and kings are documents that can be divided into documents and letters according to their content and destination.


Since the 4th century, the form of the letter has been used for the documents of the Roman emperor, although the appearance of small-format documents can be observed since the 12th century. These are more informal than the solemn diplomas : there is no invocatio ; the Elongata limited in the first row on the Kaiser or royal name, and the eschatocol absent except for a small dating. These documents are becoming more and more popular, and two types of documents are developed, the litterae patentes and the litterae clausae .

The litterae patentes have been the predominant document type since the 13th century, which can also be divided into two forms. The so-called charter with a hanging seal made of green wax and the litterae patentes sealed with a yellow wax seal , which mainly occur in administrative areas.

The litterae clausae are private and official letters that were sent locked. They are folded and tied or closed and sealed with the help of a cord or a strip of parchment through holes and incisions in the parchment. However, these litterae clausae also occur in the papal chancellery.


Letters were used for both political and private writing. They are sometimes difficult to distinguish from mandates because they end with an order or a request. Letters are nowhere near as solemn in their presentation as diplomas . First of all, the letters are not very different from the private letters. They are small-format and written in simple book font and the form is greatly reduced.


  • A. Birnstiel, D. Schweizer: Not just silk or hemp! The development of the external characteristics of the genus Litterae in the 12th century. In: Irmgard Fees , Andreas Hedwig, Francesco Roberg (ed.): Papal documents of the early and high Middle Ages. External characteristics - conservation - restoration. Eudora-Verlag, Leipzig 2011, ISBN 978-3-938533-27-7 .
  • Thomas Frenz: Papal Litterae. In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages. Volume 5, Col. 2022/23.
  • Thomas Frenz: Papal documents of the Middle Ages and modern times. Steiner, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-515-07788-X .
  • A. Gawlik : Litterae of emperors and kings. In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages. Volume 5, Col. 2023/24.
  • L. Schmitz- Kallenberg : Papal documents. In: A. Meister (Hrsg.): Urkundenlehre 1 and 2. 1913.
  • L. Wächter: Litterae apostolicae. In: Lexicon for Church and Theology. Volume 6, Col. 969.