The Earliest States of Eastern Europe
DG-2013, 439-463

Little forms of big history in medieval manuscripts (some books from South Germany of the ninth–eleventh centuries)

A. I. Sidorov

The paper deals with the content of some South German manuscripts
of the ninth–eleventh centuries and studies the role and the signifi cance of
the so-called minor forms of historical narrative in the historical culture
of the Carolingian society. Not only extended and sophisticated authors’
works but also small texts with simple form and trivial content played an
important role in the formation and the translation of the images of past,
present, and future. Such minor texts included, for example, genealogies,
notes of the Six Ages of the World (de sex aetatibus mundi), minor and
paschal annals. These works often were used as propaganda by courtly
authors. Being short and easy to understand, these texts legitimized the
ruling Carolingian dynasty, created its historical background, eliminated
its rivals from history. Such texts circulated intensively around the empire,
but outside the court they quickly loosed their propagandistic content
which confl icted with the attitudes of local elites. The manuscripts of the
ninth–eleventh centuries show where the ‘limits of possible’ lay and how
this confl ict took place. Copyists, redactors, and readers in the periphery
of the empire were interested more in the chronological schemes of such
texts than in their propagandistic content. These people were interested
more in counting years and fi lling chronological lacunas than in mentioning
or forgetting particular historical fi gures. The codicological context of
such texts helps us to follow their perception by an ‘alien’ audience. One
manuscript easily could contain texts which were ideologically antagonistic,
but which together were able to cover and characterize a long period of
time. The study of South German manuscripts throws a new light on the
problem of the emergence of medieval annalistic writing. The birth of this
genre cannot be adequately explained by means of the evolutionist model
which is widely accepted by modern scholars. Minor and paschal annals
were not predecessors of ‘major’ annals, it is even problematic to regard
them as ‘historical writing’. They had other purposes and were intended,
fi rst of all, for temporal orientation in the Sixth (and the last) of the Ages
of the World. They refl ect a gradual victory of the Christian notion of time
and a growth of eschatological tension in the Carolingian society.

Middle Ages, historical writing, annals, genealogies, Six Ages of the World, codicology, Carolingian empire, Germany, historical culture, monasteries

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