By Christian Lohmer
Paper given at the International Medieval Congress 2014, University of Leeds
Introduction: Frutolf, a monk of the Benedictine monastery of Michelsberg in Bamberg, wrote five years before his death in 1103 a universal or world chronicle of about 300 folios. In this compilation we can trace more than 70 different sources which in most cases he found in the nearby library of Bamberg Cathedral. This diocese was founded less than a century before by emperor Henry II and its cathedral was endowed with a worthy collection of manuscripts of all kinds of scholarly interest. Besides theological manuscripts Frutolf found a vast collection of historical sources, among them a considerable amount of annals and chronicles. About 40 of them have survived and many more from the 11th century are attributed to be part of the foundation endowment. Frutolf came into contact here with his predecessors as universal historians, first Eusebius in the latin translation of Jerome, then Orosius, Augustin, Isidore of Sevilla and the venerable Bede, in Carolingian times Paulus Diaconus, Freculf of Lisieux, Regino and in his century Hermann of Reichenau – just to mention some of the outstanding compilers of voluminous chronicles.
The genre of universal chronicles had been revived in the 11th century. It offered a new frame for the assessment of political power and their secular or clerical representatives. Yet for centuries no-one in Eastern Franconia accomplished a task like the one undertaken by Frutolf: an extensive compilation of the history of the world since creation to his own times, structured around a complex system of chronological observations.
Older editions of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica have always concentrated on the verification of written sources only. When these had been directly derived from earlier published sources, which are called fontes formales, they were presented in small print or even left out completely. And the titles of the works copied or inserted in the texts to be edited were given in abbreviations without explaining them. In many cases modern scholars have huge problems in unraveling them. Rosamond McKitterick in her magisterial study of “Perceptions of the Past in the Early Middle Ages” quite rightly deplored this purely positivist and minimalist way of investigating and publishing. To understand a medieval historian’s way of thinking one has to make a survey of all the sources available to him and to consider, what he copied and what he left out, how he dealt with the bulk of information, the fontes materiales. These questions have to be kept in mind when considering Frutolf’s achievement.