Material Text Cultures

The Transfer of Knowledge from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. The Conditions and Effects of Enduring Textualisation Taking the Example of Lorsch Abbey


former staff members

Teilprojektleiter Prof. Dr. Stefan Weinfurter
akademische Mitarbeiterin Dr. Julia Becker
akademischer Mitarbeiter Prof. Dr. Tino Licht
akademische Mitarbeiterin Dr. Natalie Maag
akademische Mitarbeiterin Dr. Kirsten Wallenwein




In the west of Europe an attempt was made during the Carolingian dynasty to link up with Antiquity in the fields of education and science. With a few exceptions, all that has survived of Antique and Late Antique literature is that which could and had to be handed down during this period. The change in medium to the parchment codex greatly facilitated this transfer: the European community of sciences and humanities was based on the synthesis of antique educational traditions and early mediaeval scripturality in the Carolingian monasteries. Of the libraries in the Carolingian Empire, the library at Lorsch Abbey most clearly maintained the impulse to recapture the Antique and Late Antique legacy. The aim of the project is to describe the transfer of this legacy by reference to the manuscripts that have been handed down at Lorsch.

This process involves numerous aspects. On the one had it is concerned with the medium of the script. The Carolingian minuscule that developed from older miniscule texts presents a convincing synthesis of an economic writing system and legibility. Apart from this main script, the Carolingians reconstructed the historical scripts and used these to emphasise text. A Carolingian manuscript was recognisable by its correct use of these scripts to signalise structure and convey meaning. Of no less importance was the use of endurable “material”. An important factor in the change to parchment was that papyrus did not guarantee the desired durability under the climatic conditions of Central and Northern Europe. The ninth century marked the conclusion of the practice begun in late Antiquity of ‘transcribing’ from papyrus rolls to parchment codices. With parchment ,“knowledge” could now be set down for the centuries to come. This sub-project aims to study how the development was received at Lorsch in script and material, and how it was fostered. In what way did this determine the organisation and presentation of knowledge in the manuscripts?

This brings us to the central question about the nature of our choice. Lorsch was rather like a Carolingian “central library”. The writings collected there – including parts of the disbanded court libraries of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious – constituted an ideal inventory which can be reconstructed in full from the ninth century library catalogues. At the heart of book religion are the commentaries on the Holy Scriptures, meaning that the ideal central library had to contain a complete set of Bible editions, Bible commentaries and theological reference works to the standards as during the period of the Latin Fathers. Secular traditions took second place, and primarily included authors of the liberal arts, and then authors who had been transmitted on account of the encyclopaedic character of their writings or their stylistic merit. In all of these instances one can observe thanks to the Lorsch manuscripts what quality of handwriting was involved and what degree of interpretation was included through the commentaries and the structure given to the texts, as well as how the texts were received, excerpted, and annotated. This allows the ideal manner for using the artefacts to be reconstructed. Also amenable to reconstruction is the organisation of the Lorsch library, which tells us a lot about the creation, structuring and communication of knowledge. The arrangement, division and categorisation of the books – this, too, is an artefact in the sense of the methodology devised for this project. Exploring the anthropological dimensions of a historical library is not feasible for any epoch prior to the Carolingian, and has never previously been conducted in this way. For which reason the current project must above all address the following questions: What texts were placed or bound together? Where were gaps perceived and deliberately filled? What had thus to be acquired in order that the “central character” of the abbey library could be ensured?

The perspective of this post-doc project (Dr Julia Becker) will be extended during the first phase by an additional project that will be supported by rectorate funds, but has been aligned with the CRC in content. This additional project is divided into two dissertation projects, the one dedicated to “Early Written Culture in the Area of Lake Constance. Investigations into the Alemanic Miniscule” (researcher Natalie Maag), while the other documents and explores the entries for the proofing done in  late Antique–Early Mediaeval scriptures in a “Corpus subscriptionum” (researcher Kirsten Tobler).

Project A04 was jointly initiated by Prof. Dr. Weinfurter (History Department) and Dr. Tino Licht (History Department. Section for Mediaeval Latin). The department has an outstanding library for Mediaeval Latin and the possibility for intensive training and supervision in palaeography, for which Dr. Tino Licht is responsible in the sub-project.


The sub-project is working in collaboration with Dr. Hermann Schefers, director of the Museumszentrum Lorsch, and the administration of the Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Hessen.


Subprojects of the 3rd Funding Period

A01 A02 A03 A05 A06 A08 A09 A10 A11 A12 B01 B04 B09 B10 B13 B14 B15 C05 C07 C08 C09 C10 INF Ö2 Z



Completed Subprojects

A01 A03 A04 B02 B03 B06 B07 B11 B12 C01 C02 C03 C04 C06 IGK Ö1



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