School of Historical Studies

Carolingian Polyptyques

The Capitulare de Villis

Introduction: This document dates to the end of the eighth century and survives in a manuscript of near contemporary date. It describes, in an idealised form, the management of royal estates. It thus differs from the other polyptyques on this website in describing royal rather than monastic estates. It is particularly important because it stands at the start of the tradition of polyptyque writing in Carolingian Francia, and for that reason has been argued by some scholars to be an exemplar (or model) which was to be mirrored at other estates.

The terminology and types of plant listed suggest that it describes estates in Aquitaine (i.e. western France, south of the Loire) which in the late eighth century was ruled by Charlemagne's son Louis, later the Emperor Louis the Pious. Whether the text was created under Louis' instruction or his father's is not known.

Manuscript: The extant copy of the Capitulare de Villis survives in Wolfenbüttel, Cod. Guelf. 254 Helmst. (fols 12v-16r) which dates to c. 800. Intriguingly, the Capitulary is paired in this manuscript with the only extant copy of letters from Pope Leo III to Charlemagne (fols. 1r-9v). The tall, thin format of the manuscript is also interesting, and may suggest that it was intended to be easily portable.

Edition: A. Boretius, ed. Capitularia regum Francorum I, MGH Legum Sectio II (Hanover 1883), no. 32, pp. 82-91.

Translations: H.R. Loyn and J. Percival, The Reign of Charlemagne. Documents on Carolingian Government and Administration Documents of Medieval History 2 (London 1975) pp. 64-73.


UPDATED:January 2008
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