Documents of the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Age

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The documents of the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Era are central sources for historical studies until the creation of comprehensive written documentation of the administration ( files ) in the first half of the 15th century . The special science , located among the historical auxiliary sciences that deals with these and other documents, is diplomatics . The documents provide information about political activities, about the law, about the constitution or economic life. Many documents have been lost over the centuries, so that the few documents that have survived in the original are examined and interpreted particularly thoroughly and scientifically published in the text genre of the document book .

In historical studies, a document from this period, i.e. approximately from the 3rd / 4th From the 19th century to the 18th century, a form of written record that changes according to time and person, which provides evidence of events of a legal nature (definition based on Harry Bresslau , Handbuch der Urkundenlehre ).

Certificate with seal from 1638

Notarization process

The following persons (groups) are associated with each certificate:

  • the issuer, who does not have to be the author of the text;
  • the author / writer (dictator) and the writer ( notary );
  • the recipient, who need not be the same as the addressee and the beneficiary of the document.

It can be assumed that the majority of the documents were only issued at the instigation of the recipient. This petitioner turned to the document issuer (ruler, city, court, aristocrat) - often with the support of a person close to the issuer ( intervener ), who advised on the legal issue and commissioned certain responsible persons in his vicinity to issue the document. This notarial office is called a chancellery ; the similarity of the characteristics of all documents issued from the same office in a certain period of time is called office-like . The text of a document is called a dictation (from the Latin dictare = to conceive), so the author is called a dictator. The dictator does not have to be the same as the writer.

Forms of transmission

The copy of a document that was handed over to the recipient by order or with the permission of the exhibitor is called the original (=  autograph , in the older legal doctrine also: Authenticum ). The drafting of the text of a certificate is called a concept . Other handwritten texts of documents that cannot be regarded as originals or concepts within the meaning of this definition are referred to as copies and their value is graded. (Whether certified copies can be considered originals is controversial. They are usually referred to as secondary pieces .)

A document from the Middle Ages and the early modern period can be used as an original, as a concept (then possibly with corrections, deletions, etc. that are important for research), as a copy or transcript or as an entry in a register ( e.g. in copy books , cartularia , traditional books ) or in greatest stroke of luck in all these forms.

Documents that have not been received, the content of which is known from other sources (historical works or documents issued later), are called Deperdita .

Types of documents

One can roughly distinguish the following documents from the Middle Ages and the early modern period (the boundaries are fluid):

1. Public documents issued by a sovereign authority:

2. Private documents , d. H. Documents from non-sovereign powers, e.g. B .:

  • Monastery documents
  • Documents from nobles without their own sovereign rights
  • City documents

According to the legal content of the documents, the following variants can be distinguished:

1. Business documents / dispositive documents:

2. Evidence / declaratory documents:

Documents can contain all kinds of objects from medieval and early modern legal life. Important types of documents are: Loyalty deeds , deed of gift, deed of foundation, purchase contracts, awards of immunity, awards of city rights, etc.

Credibility / means of authentication

In Central Europe, the documents of the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Era have been given credibility by the seal since the 12th century . In southern Europe, on the other hand, the signature of a public notary was the primary means of authentication. The handwritten signature has been a common means of authentication in documents of the popes , in documents of the Merovingian kings and in documents of rulers since the 15th century.

A large number of forged documents have come down to us from the Middle Ages , but these are often largely based on valid documents. Diplomatics is particularly dedicated to the identification of forged documents and the real and fake text components they contain (so-called discrimen veri ac falsi ). However, document criticism was already practiced in the Middle Ages.

Document formulas

To ensure credibility, documents - especially in the Middle Ages - were also tied to fixed forms (document formulas) (from ahd. Document , actually 'testimony, knowledge, signs').

An imperial charter had the following structure:

I. (Incoming) protocol :

  1. Invocatio (invocation of God as a sign ( Chrismon ) or as a text, e.g. " In nomine sanctae et individuae trinitatis ... ")
  2. Initulation (mostly with a devotional formula ; naming the exhibitor, e.g. " Cvnradus dei gracia romanorum rex secvndus ")
  3. Inscriptio (name of the recipient, often with a greeting ; only occurs in letters and papal documents)

II. Context (= core of the document; thus brings the actual content)

  1. Arenga (rhetorical justification for the following main text)
  2. Promulgatio : ( "about declaration of intention to the receiver notum sit ... , also known as") Publicatio or Notificatio designated
  3. Narratio (narration of the facts, the legal basis for the notarized events)
  4. Dispositio (actual legal act )
  5. Sanctio or Poen formula (threat of punishment if the dispositio is violated , often high fine)
  6. Corroboratio (authentication, seal announcement or order, list or series of witnesses)

III. Escha protocol or final protocol

  1. Subscriptio with signum line (signatures, (ruler's) monogram , scriptum formula). This also includes the recognition line ( recognition mark ) of the Chancellor on behalf of the Arch Chancellor (for documents for German recipients the Imperial Arch Chancellor , the Archbishop of Mainz ; in Italy the Arch Chancellor for Italy, the Archbishop of Cologne ; for the Burgundian part of the Empire, the Archbishop of Trier ).
    In the papal privileges there are the signatures of the Pope and the cardinals, framed by Benevalete and the so-called Rota with the motto of the Pope concerned.
  2. Dating according to the year, indiction, years of rulership and other specific office customs, with location and date
  3. Apprecatio (final blessing)


The documents of the German kings and emperors have been issued as part of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica (MGH) since the 19th century in the Diplomata series (abbreviated as MGH-DD).


  • Harry Bresslau (Vol. 1–2), Hans Schulze (Vol. 3): Handbook of document teaching for Germany and Italy. 3 volumes. 2nd Edition. de Gruyter, Berlin et al. 1912–1960 (4th edition, unchanged photomechanical reprint of the 2nd edition, vol. 1–2. Veit, Leipzig 1968–1969).
  • Hans-Werner Goetz : Proseminar History: Middle Ages. 3rd revised edition. Ulmer, Stuttgart 2006 (UTB 1719 History), ISBN 3-8252-1719-1 .
  • Josef Hartmann : Certificates. In: Friedrich Beck / Eckart Henning (ed.): The archival sources. With an introduction to the historical auxiliary sciences. 5th expanded and updated edition. Cologne / Weimar / Vienna 2012, pp. 25–54.
  • Oswald Redlich : The private documents of the Middle Ages. 2nd Edition. Oldenbourg, Munich 1969 (reprint of the Munich and Berlin 1910 edition) and Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1967.
  • Thomas Vogtherr : Certificate apprenticeship. Hahn, Hannover 2008 (Hahnsche historical auxiliary sciences, Vol. 3), ISBN 978-3-7752-6133-3 .

Web links

Commons : Charters  - collection of images, videos and audio files