Codex Epistolaris Carolinus

Codex Epistolaris Carolinus – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Cod. Vindob. 449, Jur. Can 83 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)

Cologne (Germany) — 9th century

Invaluable sources on early medieval politics and church history from the court scriptorium of Emperor Charlemagne: The most important documents on the relationship between the Frankish Empire and the Papacy

  1. A collection of letters and an invaluable source on imperial politics and church history commissioned by Charlemagne (742–814)

  2. The text, completed by four scribes, is written in an incredibly consistent Carolingian miniscule

  3. A later and sole surviving copy discovered in the course of inventorying the library's books

Codex Epistolaris Carolinus

Facsimile Copy Available!
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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Codex Epistolaris Carolinus

Charlemagne (742–814) himself was the one who commissioned this special collection of letters: he wanted, as he puts it in the Praefatio, to save from decay and dissolution 99 letters that seven popes had addressed to his grandfather, Mayor of the Palace Charles Martel, his father Pippin the Younger, and himself. Therefore, he ordered them to be copied again, creating a collection of great ecclesiastical as well as secular value. The present edition goes back to a copy of the collection already in book form during the 9th century from the collection of the Archbishop of Cologne Willibert (870–889). The text, completed by four scribes, is written in incredibly consistent Carolingian minuscule, making the most important documents on the relationship between the Frankish Empire and the papacy accessible.

Codex Epistolaris Carolinus

The relationship between church and state is one of the defining features of medieval Europe and touched every aspect of life from peasants and priests to kings and popes. Charlemagne (742–814) commissioned a collection of 99 letters from reigning popes to Carolingian rulers dating between the years 739 and 791 concerning the subject and had them bound into a codex. The resulting manuscript is an invaluable source for researchers of political and church history in the Early Middle Ages and although it is now lost, its contents survive in this precious late-9th century codex, the only extant copy that is preserved in the Austrian National Library.
The letters originate from the popes Gregory III, Zacharias I, Stephen II, Paul I, Stephen III, and Hadrian I as well as two letters from Antipope Constantine II. They correspond to the reigns of the Frankish kings Charles Martel, Pippin the Younger, Carloman, and Charlemagne. He ordered that these letters, many of them in poor condition, be recorded so that the “wisdom of the ancients” would be preserved for posterity. It also reflects a period of religious reform at the Carolingian Court and an attempt to restore orthodoxy in the face of heresy and some questionable decisions made at the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. These letters thus contain religious instruction from the highest authority that was meant to expel all doubt on various subjects, especially the relationship between church and state.

A Collection of Official Documents

Habent sua data libelli – this saying from Terentianus Maurus can be quoted in few manuscripts with as much justification as the Codex Epistolaris Carolinus. According to the introduction (fol. 1r), the collection of these letters was compiled in 791 at the behest of Charlemagne. The copy that has come down to us is no longer the original codex, but the later and only preserved copy according to an already book-like template, but without any chronological order of the pieces.
It contains the most important political and ecclesiastical documents on the history of the relations of the Frankish Empire with the papacy in the second half of the 8th century, from which the turbulent fate of the relationship between pope and emperor with its ups and downs received its direction. This alone proves the enormous historical value of this manuscript, which originates from Cologne, from the possession of Archbishop Willibert (870–889) and was executed by four scribes in a more or less regular Carolingian minuscule.


9th century
Carolingian minuscule Rustic capitals
99 papal letters to Carolingian rulers dating between the years 739 and 791
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Willibert, Archbishop of Cologne (870–889)

Available facsimile editions:
Codex Epistolaris Carolinus – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Cod. Vindob. 449, Jur. Can 83 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1962
Detail Picture

Codex Epistolaris Carolinus

The Fourth Hand

The Codex Carolinus was written by altogether four hands, of which the fourth took over the largest part. This scribe was also responsible for the so-called lemmata, by which are meant the synoptic "headings" in an elegant capitalis rustica. The copied letters were written throughout in a neat Carolingian minuscule, with the fourth hand being particularly even as well as small and rounded. The numbering of the letters in Arabic numerals, usually applied at the level of the initial, are not original and were most likely added by Peter Lambeck, who researched and edited the work in the 17th century. He is also responsible for the modern foliation.

Codex Epistolaris Carolinus – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Cod. Vindob. 449, Jur. Can 83 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)
Single Page

Codex Epistolaris Carolinus

Letter 93: Hadrian I to Charlemagne

Sometime between April 781 and April 783, Pope Hadrian I wrote Charlemagne, who was still king of the Frankish Empire at the time, this short letter, beginning with a initial 'D', to inform him of the Persian invasion of the Byzantine Empire.

At this time, during the reign of Empress Irene, who ruled for her young son Constantine VI, the Byzantine Empire was under constant pressure from the imperial ambitions of the neighboring Persian Empire. Under the premise of establishing peace and cohesion between the Christians of the Eastern and Western Churches, Hadrian I thus supported communication between Byzantium and the Frankish Empire, which eventually resulted in an alliance between Irene and Charlemagne in 787.

Codex Epistolaris Carolinus – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Cod. Vindob. 449, Jur. Can 83 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Codex Epistolaris Carolinus

Binding: Half leather
Commentary: 1 volume (22 pages) by Josef Stummvoll and Franz Unterkircher
Language: German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding. Black and white facsimile presented on larger pages with a white background. Complete study-edition for “continens Romanorum pontificum Gregorii III, Zachariae, Stephani III, Pauli I, Stephani IV, Hadriani I et pseudo-Papae Constantini epistolas nonaginta et novem ad principes et reges Francorum Carolum Martellum, Pippinum et Carolum Magnum”.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €
(under 1,000€)
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