Letters of Alcuin and Other Documents

Letters of Alcuin and Other Documents – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Cod. Vindob. 795 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)

Before 800

An insight into the life and work of probably the greatest scholar of the Carolingian Renaissance: the collection of writings and letters of the close confidant of Emperor Charlemagne, compiled while still alive

  1. This Gothic manuscript compiles important correspondence and other writings from Alcuin (ca. 735–804)

  2. Compiled during his lifetime, perhaps by no one less than his pupil Arn, Archbishop of Salzburg (ca. 750–821)

  3. No manuscript with runes has received so much attention as this Viennese codex, and for good reason

Letters of Alcuin and Other Documents

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Letters of Alcuin and Other Documents

Arno (ca. 740–821) led an eventful life in eventful times: a native of Isengau in Bavaria, he was an abbot in Flanders before becoming Bishop of Salzburg in 785. He became a friend and confidant of Charlemagne (748–814) and his great scholar Alcuin (c. 735–804). How close a bond he was able to forge with these protagonists is shown by Arno's presence at Charlemagne's imperial coronation in Rome in 800 and, even before that, by his journey there in 797 on Charlemagne's behalf: there he was able to obtain the elevation of Salzburg to an archbishopric and was tasked with missionizing Carinthia and Pannonia. Alcuin subsequently advised him not to impose the usual tithe on the new territories, whereupon Arno introduced the so-called Slavic tithe, which demanded fewer dues. Thus, the collection of letters and writings of Alcuin, probably compiled by Arno, gives an extraordinary insight into the heart of the Frankish Empire.

Letters of Alcuin and Other Documents

Described by Einhard (ca. 775–840) as “the most learned man anywhere to be found”, Alcuin (ca. 735–804) was arguably the most important scholar of the Carolingian Renaissance. The individual parts of this codex consist of his correspondence with Archbishop Arno (ca. 740–821), who was travelling from Rome to Francia where he would meet with Alcuin and Charlemagne (748–814) during the year 798; the last letter was written at the end of January 799. The manuscript is a compilation in the truest sense of the word and is of the greatest value for historians, theologians, and philologists. Other texts in the manuscript include two Gothic alphabets, Anglo-Saxon runes, and more. There is evidence of the hands of numerous scribes who often took turns in mid-sentence. This compilation is the most important source for details of Alcuin’s life and is thus represents a precious, irreplaceable historical record.

A True Compilation

The content of the codex is not very coherent, which indicates that they were selected according to the personal interests of Archbishop Arno. Although a date of origin during the 9th or even the 10th century has also been theorized, the manuscript was probably created in the scriptorium of the Saint-Amand Monastery in French Flanders ca. 799. Aside from containing the voluminous correspondence between Alcuin and Arno, it also includes: Alcuin’s commentary on the Epistle to the Romans; an orthographic treatise; a Greek alphabet and Syllabogram; a chart of the Roman numerals; Anglo-Saxon runes also known as the “futhorc”; an excerpt from Genesis in the Gothic Bible; a cryptogram; two Gothic alphabets – one in the original arrangement and one partly arranged like a Latin alphabet with the names of the letters and translations into Latin and Old High German as well as notes on the proper pronunciation and spelling in the Gothic language.

Plans for Rebuilding Rome

Two texts not written by Alcuin concerning the topography of the city of Rome are also included in the codex: Notitia ecclesiarium urbis Romae or “Notice of the Church of the City of Rome” and De locis sanctis martyrum quae sunt foris civitatis Romae or “The Locks of the Holy Martyrs Outside the City of Rome”. They appear to be particularly focused on its shrines and are accompanied by correspondence between Arno and Alcuin about the possibility of rebuilding of a monastery. As such, this manuscript also represents a desire during the Early Middle Ages to restore Rome to its former glory and position of political authority. In fact, Emperor Otto III moved his capital to Rome at the end of the 10th century, revived the elaborate customs and ceremonies of the ancient Romans as well as the city’s administration, and even took to wearing purple dyed togas.

Alcuin and the Carolingian Renaissance

Born in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria, Alcuin of York already had an established reputation for brilliance when he was invited by Charlemagne to be the master scholar and teacher at the Frankish court in Aachen in 782. He spent the next eight years personally instructing Charlemagne and his sons while also establishing a reputation as the foremost mind and chief architect of the Carolingian Renaissance. Many of the most important intellectuals of the period were his pupils. One of his greatest achievements was the perfection of Carolingian minuscule, which he established as a standardized, easily legible script across Western and Central Europe. Alcuin was also the author of numerous theological, dogmatic, philosophical, mathematical, logical, and grammatical treatises as well as numerous poems.

Semi-Retirement in Tours

Alcuin grew weary of his court duties as he entered his 60s and was appointed Abbot of Marmoutier Abbey near Tours, France by Charlemagne in 796 on the condition that he should make himself available to the King if needed. There he spent the rest of his life largely overseeing the implementation of Carolingian minuscule in the abbey’s scriptorium before he died on May 19th, 804 and was buried in the Basilica of St. Martin, Tours. His epitaph reads:
Dust, worms, and ashes now ...
Alcuin my name, wisdom I always loved,
Pray, reader, for my soul.


Alternative Titles
Die Alkuin-Briefe und andere Traktate
Before 800
Previous Owners
Archbishop Arn of Salzburg (after 740–821)

Available facsimile editions:
Letters of Alcuin and Other Documents – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Cod. Vindob. 795 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1969
Facsimile Editions

#1 Die Alkuin-Briefe und andere Traktate

Binding: White cardboard with a brown leather spine
Commentary: 1 volume (44 pages) by 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.
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