Chartae Latinae Antiquiores:
Facsimile-Edition of the Latin Charters prior to the Ninth Century

An Introduction

by Benet Salway



Conception and Purpose

The Chartae Latinae Antiquiores, whose first series is now complete in forty-nine parts (1954-1998) comprising over 1450 entries, are the result of an international collaborative project carried out under the auspices of a series of national academies, including the British Academy, and from 1958 as Project 10b of the Brussels-based Union Académique Internationale, and has been published in lavish partly parchment-bound volumes since its inception by the Urs-Graf Verlag GmbH. Following the model of E. A. Lowe’s Codices Latini Antiquiores or CLA (1934-1971), which registered and described manuscripts of Latin literary works, the original series of Chartae Latinae Antiquiores (conventionally abbreviated ChLA) was devised by Albert Bruckner, of the Universität Basel, and Robert Marichal, of the École Pratique des Hauts Études, Paris, as a research tool principally geared to facilitate the study of Latin palaeography by producing a repertorium of surviving original Latin texts on individual sheets (chartae) dating from before AD 800. The texts found in this format are largely charters in the sense of legal instruments relating to land ownership and other rights, mostly written on parchment, and mostly deriving from Latin Christendom. However, falling within the definition of the corpus are also many Latin documents on papyrus, chiefly from Egypt, including private documents, military, and official records of a variety of types (see especially Parts V-IX and XLI-XLII).

The original editors envisaged the ChLA as the necessary complement to the CLA for the palaeographer, the expert in diplomatic, and the philologist for the purpose of establishing a basis for the further diplomatic and palaeographical examination of the early charters. Accordingly, like CLA, the material is presented as an illustrated catalogue with descriptions (including palaeographical information and notes on date and origin), and photographic reproductions for each entry. However, the nature of the material and the folio (32 x 44 cm) format of the volumes allowed the editors of ChLA, unlike Lowe in CLA (who could only include a small sample illustration beside each codicological description), to provide also a complete photographic record (usually original size), ample bibliography, and a full transcription for each document. As a result the ChLA represent a uniquely rich resource not only for its target audience but for scholars of the early middle ages more generally, especially those interested in legal matters. The usefulness of the resource, also to topographers and anthropologists, is now widely recognised and has inspired its continuation by Guglielmo Cavallo and Giovanna Nicolaj in a second series (ChLA2) covering the further century up to AD 900.


Arrangement of Material

Within the first series of the ChLA, each document is given a unique reference number, running in a continuous sequence from 1 to 1468 across Parts I (Switzerland I) to XLVII (Addenda). Navigation of each entry is facilitated by the consistent format followed thoughout, despite changes in editorial language (English, on the model of Lowe’s CLA, in Parts I to IV, French or Italian thereafter, depending on the editor). However, because the material in ChLA is organised according to the modern repository in which it is preserved and then according to its local catalogue reference, unless the user is already familiar with the contents of a particular library or archive, it can be very time-consuming to locate material of a particular type or date. Although most of the western charters have tended to stay within their original country of origin, there is not the same degree of congruence for the papyri, especially those from Egypt, which are found scattered sporadically through the archives and libraries of western Europe. Even for those researchers primarily interested in documents from a particular region, the presentation of the material does not facilitate rapid consultation. For, although the constituent parts of ChLA are organised into national series that form coherent sequences (only formally expressed from Part V [1975]), this is not easily perceived by the uninitiated user thanks to the austere presentation adopted on the model of CLA, in which the coverage of each part is not indicated on the spine or cover. Whereas the series has been concluded with volumes of Addenda, Corrigenda, and Concordances (Parts XLVII, XLVIII, and XLIX), the index volume along the lines of that provided for CLA, envisaged by the original editors, has not (yet) materialised. The void is now partly filled by the electronic database of entries produced by the publishers in collaboration with the Sankt Gallen Stiftsarchiv and accessible free-of-charge on their website. This essentially comprises the information presented in Concordances I-V of ChLA Part XLIX (that is a concordance of documents by ChLA part, repository, and date), adding as well information on provenance and (for the parchment documents only) scribe, and a broad categorisation by type ('relic label', 'governmental', 'papal', or 'private'). However, this does not provide a comprehensive table of contents describing the nature of each document, even in palaeographical terms.


ChLA and the Projet Volterra

Given these various impediments to easy exploitation of this magnificent printed resource, the Projet Volterra, has established two electronic resources to encourage its greater use. The first is a simple overview of the contents lists of the first series of ChLA that may be printed off as a handy guide. The second, in database form, is a searchable checklist of individual entries that will allow users to browse the contents of a volume as well as search for key terms. For the pilot stage the material held in Great Britain was chosen (chiefly contained in ChLA Parts III and IV), not just because of its local interest but because the material, which includes a wide variety of papyrological documents as well as native charters, represents the range needed to test the database design.

Return to Projet Volterra II

Last edited: RWBS 03/07/2010