BSR Online Lecture: The early medieval manuscript dissemination of the Liber pontificalis and its implications

WEDNESDAY 11 NOVEMBER, 18.00-19.30

Rosamond McKitterick (Cambridge; BSR)

This event will take place via Zoom and requires advance registration. Please click here to reserve your place.

The Liber pontificalis is distinctive history of the early medieval papacy from St Peter to Pope Stephen V at the end of the ninth century, in the form of serial biography. It was first compiled in the early decades of the sixth century and then continued, in batches or sometimes Life by Life, over the next three hundred years. In many respects it is an infuriatingly selective text, often telegraphic in style, but nevertheless full of powerful claims about papal authority and the championing of orthodoxy, the apostolic succession, the papal contributions to the organisation of the church and the liturgy, the history of the early church and martyrs of Rome, and of the papacy as an institution. The surviving manuscripts have the potential to tell us a great deal about the transmission and reception of the text and how it came to be in a position to influence perceptions of Rome and the history and authority of the popes in the early middle ages. The earliest manuscripts of the Liber pontificalis dating from the sixth to tenth centuries, however, raise far more questions than they resolve about the audience for this text. This lecture, therefore, will explore both the most obvious certainties and uncertainties about this fascinating book, and the oddities of the manuscript transmission, which are inextricably entwined with questions about the production, distribution, reception and function of this fascinating text.

Rosamond McKitterick received the degrees of MA, PhD, and Litt.D. from the University of Cambridge and also studied for a year (1974-5) at the University of Munich. She held various research and teaching appointments in the University of Cambridge from 1974-1999, and was the 1937 Professor of Medieval History in the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of History from 1999 until her retirement in 2016. She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the Royal Society of Arts, Manufacturing and Commerce, and the Society of Antiquaries and the Society of Antiquaries, and is a Korrespondierendes Mitglied of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica and of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, a Corresponding Fellow of the medieval Academy of America, Associé correspondant étranger of the Societé Nationale des Antiquaires de France and was elected a member of the Academia Europea in 2012. In 2010 she was awarded the International Dr A.H. Heiniken Prize in History by the Royal Dutch Academy.

She has been Chair of the Faculty of Archaeology, History and Letters of the British School at Rome since 2013. She has presented many conference papers and lectures at universities in Britain, Continental Europe, North America and Australia and has published to date 29 books and edited books and 171 articles and chapters in books, the most recent of which is her monograph Rome and the invention of the papacy: the Liber pontificalis (Cambridge, 2020)

Her primary interest is in a people’s (re)construction, knowledge and use of the past and the early medieval manuscript evidence for the role of the written word and books in the exertion of cultural influence. Her current work within the field of the early medieval history of Italy and the Frankish realms focusses on the degree to which a people’s knowledge and use of the past is an important formative element of political and cultural identity, as well as a means of articulating it.