School of Historical Studies

Carolingian Polyptyques

The Brevium Exempla

Introduction: This document was assembled in its current form in the last fourteen years of the reign of Charlemagne, or very early in the reign of his son, Louis the Pious, and survives in a contemporary manuscript. The manuscript itself is incomplete, and its title is a convenient decription given by editors to identify it as imperfect: Brevium exempla ad describendas res ecclesiasticas et fiscales.

It describes three different sets of landholdings. The first belongs to the bishopric of Augsburg, which has a concluding fragment from an unknown villa, and then a full description of the monastery of St. Michael at Staffelsee, on the island called Worth. The second, similar in form to the great ninth century polyptychs of Francia, is an account of benefactions made to the monastery at Wissembourg in Alsace, as well as a list of persons holding precarial tenure and benefices from the abbey. This can be compared with the Wissembourg monastery's own polyptyque from c. 818-819. Its finishing sentence ‘et sic cetera de talibus rebus breviare debes’ has led scholars to assert that it was intended as a model. The third is a model survey of five royal estates in northern France contributing to the maintenance of the king and his servants. The first four of these follow the pattern for rural holdings suggested by the Capitulare de Villis, while the fifth relates to a wine bearing district, possibly Triel (in modern day département Yvelines, Île-de-France).

Manuscript: The extant copy of the Brevium Exempla survives in Wolfenbüttel, Cod. Guelf. 254 Helmst. (fols 9r-12r) which dates to c. 800. It immediately precedes the Capitulare de Villis.

Edition: A. Boretius, ed. Capitularia regum Francorum I, MGH Legum Sectio II (Hanover 1883), no. 128, pp. 250-256.

Translation: H.R. Loyn and J. Percival, The Reign of Charlemagne. Documents on Carolingian Government and Administration Documents of Medieval History 2 (London 1975) pp. 98-105.


UPDATED:January 2008
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