Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities

Papsturkunden des frühen und hohen Mittelalters

Medium of communication and instrument of power

Over the course of the Middle Ages, papal documents developed into an important medium of communication and are therefore of particular historical interest. These documents have constituted a major focus of historical medieval studies for over 100 years. To a large degree, the research is made possible by a project of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities, which began in 1896 and which has been supported by the Pius-Stiftung since 1931. Recently, the Bund-Länder Commission has allocated further resources, so that papal documents from hitherto mostly unattended areas on Europe’s Eastern and Western borders can be researched.

For a long time, there was only one central institution amidst the political and cultural diversity of Europe in the Middle Ages: the papacy. The pope instructed bishops and other clerics, he appointed judges, granted privileges and validated possessions, solved disputes and corresponded with worldly rulers. This was done by means of documents and letters, which he sent to those concerned. These writings significantly contributed to increasingly securing the supremacy of the papacy.

In the 12th century, their number increased drastically – an indicator for the growing power and centralization of the church. The papal documents influenced the development of writing and the chancellery practices of many European regions. Researching these documents is thereby not only one of the most appealing but also one of the most important fields within medieval studies and European history.

The project “Papal Documents of the Early and High Middle Ages” comprises documents up to the year 1198. The enterprise has until now concentrated on the relations between pope and Christendom in the area of the Holy Roman Empire and its bordering regions (Italy, Germany, France). Roughly 30,000 documents have been preserved.

With the help of the resources allocated by the Bund-Länder Commission, a new orientation in researching papal documents is now possible. Since 2007, the focus has been on investigating papal influence into the “outer regions” of East and West. Many new findings are expected in these peripheries, which also promise new answers to the question of how the popes enforced their universal demands in opposition to political particularism.