Roman books and the papal library in the Early Middle Ages


THE GORDON RUSHFORTH LECTURE ON MEDIEVAL ROME (the first in what will be an annual lecture series)

Rosamond McKitterick (Cambridge)

This event will be in English.

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Many books from Rome reached Francia, the Iberian peninsula and the British Isles in the early middle ages. Papal letters to the Frankish rulers accompanied gifts of books to King Pippin III and his son Charlemagne, and visitors to Rome, such as the Northumbrian Benedict Biscop, took books home. Yet one of the peculiarities of the surviving evidence is that so few original Roman manuscripts or fragments from before the late eighth century, as distinct from copies made outside Rome, have been identified. Most of the earliest manuscript witnesses to the works of classical and late antique authors, Roman liturgy, ordines, canon law, papal letters and decretals, papal sermons, doctrinal and exegetical works, papal history, Roman martyr narratives, and Roman legendaries cannot be identified as Roman. A further major obstacle for any assessment of Roman, let alone papal, book production in the early middle ages, is the lack of secure recognition of Roman script by modern scholars. References to a papal library in the early middle ages are also notably meagre, and it is not until the middle of the ninth century that any papal official is described as a bibliothecarius. There are nevertheless many disparate pieces of evidence that may shed further light on the availability of particular texts in Rome. This lecture therefore will investigate how much may be discovered about early medieval Roman books, whether in Latin or Greek, how much can be reconstructed of the probable contents of the papal library between the late sixth and the early ninth century, and Rome’s role in the dissemination of knowledge in the early middle ages.

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.