Seminar IV: Annals and Chronicles—Origins and Early Development

One of the most widely produced forms of history in the Middle Ages was the ‘annalistic chronicle’. This is a form of historical writing in which events are simply listed under the name of the year in which they took place. Such works usually provide ample chronological orientation, but they rarely attempt to link events together into an explicit narrative—note the emphasis. Since history as practiced in the modern academic context puts a premium on wide perspectives and a desire to explain and verify, most modern scholars do not regard annalistic chronicles as genuine ‘history’. But these texts cannot be so easily dismissed. One reason why not is that we are indebted to the brief records found in these texts for much of our knowledge of the general narrative of medieval history, even in the case of crucial events such as the coronation of Charlemagne in 800.

These texts have also acquired much importance as a symbol of the ‘otherness’ of the medieval world. They are often cited as evidence in debates about the ‘medieval mentalité’, since their format and a-historical character (in the eyes of many modern observers) seems to provide significant evidence for pre-modern attitudes to causation and time. This view tends to depend, however, doubtful assumptions about how and why these texts were compiled, and other interpretations are possible. In this seminar we will look at a several ‘sub-types’ of annalistic chronicle which speak to these issues.

Topics for Discussion

  1. The nature and organisation of annalistic chronicles.
  2. The ways in which annalistic chronicles are laid out in manuscripts.
  3. The functions of annalistic chronicles.
  4. Theories about the origins of annals: the ‘Easter-table’ argument; the Roman roots of annal-keeping; the Judaeo-Christian roots of medieval annal-keeping.

Manuscripts and Texts for Discussion

  1. Oxford, Merton College, MS 315
  2. Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 173
  3. London, British Library, MSS Cotton Caligula A.XV, fols. 120r–153v + Egerton 3314, fols. 1r–44v
  4. Oxford, St John’s College, MS 17 + London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero C. VII, fols. 80r–84v

Some Other Examples

  • Bede’s Greater Chronicle, trs. F. Wallis in Bede, The Reckoning of Time, Translated Texts for Historians 29 (Liverpool, 1999), pp. 157–237. PN.DM.B35. Bede’s Chronica maiora = Chapter 66 of his De temporum ratione.
  • Bertolini, O. (ed.), ‘Gli “Annales Beneventani”,’ Bullettino dell’ Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medio Evo, 42 (1923), 100–59.
  • Burgess, R. W. (ed. and trs.), The Chronicle of Hydatius and the Consularia Constantinopolitana: Two Contemporary Accounts of the Final Years of the Roman Empire, Oxford Classical Monographs (Oxford, 1993). LVS.
  • Charles-Edwards, T. M. O. (trs), The Chronicle of Ireland, Translated Texts for Historians 44, 2 vols. (Liverpool, 2006). MYBB.
  • Isidore of Seville, Chronica, ed. Theodore Mommsen, MGH Auctores antiquissimi, xi (Berlin, 1894), pp. 424–81; ed. J. Martin, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, vol. 112 (Turnhout, 2003). This chronicle was published in two editions, one ending with the year 615/16, the other with 626. Isidore also incorporated an abbreviated edition of the 626 version in his Etymologiae, V.xxxix.1–42, trs. S. A. Barney, J. A. Beach, O. Berghof and W. J. Lewis, The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 130–3. XJR.I8.
  • Johnstone, H. (ed. and trs.), Annals of Ghent, Nelson’s Medieval Texts (London, 1951). MPVF.Q.
  • Royal Frankish Annals, trs. B. W. Scholz with B. Rogers, Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories (Ann Arbor, MI, 1970), pp. 37–125. MSD.
  • Flodoard of Reims, The Annals of Flodoard of Reims, 919-966, trs. S. Fanning and B. S. Bachrach, Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures 9 (Peterborough, Ontario, 2004).
  • Lampert of Hersfeld, The Annals of Lampert of Hersfeld, trs. I. S. Robinson, Manchester Medieval Sources (Manchester, 2015). MBHF.K.
  • Mac Airt, S., and G. Mac Niocaill (ed.), Annals of Ulster (to A.D. 1131), pt. 1, Text and Translation, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (Dublin, 1983). Not held.
  • McCarthy, T. J. H. (trs.), Chronicles of the Investiture Contest: Frutolf of Michelsberg and his Continuators, Manchester Medieval Sources (Manchester, 2009). MHBF. Written in Bamberg at the end of the eleventh century.
  • MacLean, S. (trs.), History and Politics in Late Carolingian and Ottonian Europe: The Chronicle of Regino of Prüm and Adalbert of Magdeburg, Manchester Medieval Sources (Manchester, 2009). Translates an important universal chronicle composed in about 908 and extended in the mid 960s.
  • Reuter, T. (trs.), Annales Fuldenses: The Annals of Fulda, Manchester Medieval Sources, Ninth-Century Histories 2 (Manchester, 1992). MIEJ. A crucial source for eastern Frankia the latter half of the ninth century.
  • Robinson, I. S. (trs.), Eleventh-Century Germany: The Swabian Chronicles, Manchester Medieval Sources (Manchester, 2008). A translation of the final 54 years of the Chronicle of Herman the Lame (1039–56) and of the continuations by Berthold of Reichenau (1076–79), and Bernold of Constance (1080–1100). MHBF.

Useful Reading

  • Allen, M. I., ‘The Chronicle of Claudius of Turin’, in A. C. Murray (ed.), After Rome’s Fall: Narrators and Sources of Early Medieval History: Essays Presented to Walter Goffart (Toronto, 1998), pp. 289–319. Claudius was an early ninth-century thinker with similar concerns to Bede. Useful for the purposes of comparison. MBR7.
  • Bassett, P. M., ‘The Use of History in the Chronicon of Isidore of Seville’, History and Theory, 15 (1976), 278–92. JSTOR. Also available at Academic Search Premier.
  • Bately, J. M., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Texts and Textual Relationships, Reading Medieval Studies: Monograph 3 (Reading, 1991).
  • Bredehoft, T. A., Textual Histories: Readings in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Toronto, 2001).
  • Brett, M., ‘The Annals of Bermondsey, Southwark and Merton’, in D. Abulafia, M. Franklin and M. Rubin (eds), Church and City, 1000–1500: Essays in Honour of Christopher Brooke (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 279–310.
  • Burgess, R. W., Studies in Eusebian and post-Eusebian Chronography (Stuttgart, 1999).
  • Burgess, R. W., ‘Another Look at the Newly-Discovered “Leipzig World Chronicle”’, Archiv für Papyrusforschung, 58 (2012), 16–25.
  • Burgess, R. W., ‘Jerome Explained: An Introduction to his Chronicle and a Guide to its Use’, Ancient History Bulletin, 16 (2002), 1–32.
  • Burgess, R. W., and M. Kulikowski (eds), Mosaics of Time: The Latin Chronicle Traditions from the First Century BC to the Sixth Century AD, A Historical Introduction to the Chronicle Genre from its Origins to the High Middle Ages 1 | Studies in the Early Middle Ages 33 (Turnhout, 2013).
  • Burgess, R. W., The Chronicle of Hydatius (Oxford, 1993).
  • Cassiodorus, Institutions of Divine and Secular Learning; On the Soul, trs. J. W. Halporn, Translated Texts for Historians 42 (Liverpool, 2004). In Institutions, i.17 (pp. 149–51), Cassiodorus explores the difference between ‘histories’ and ‘chronicles’.
  • Croke, B., ‘The Origins of the Christian World Chronicle’, in B. Croke and A. M. Emmet (ed.), History and Historians in Late Antiquity (Sydney, 1983), pp. 116–31. XDS.
  • Croke, B., Count Marcellinus and his Chronicle (Oxford, 2001).
  • Dale, S., A. W. Lewin, and D. J. Osheim (eds), Chronicling History: Chroniclers and Historians in Medieval and Renaissance Italy (University Park, PA, 2008). MFP.I. Includes several essays about civic chronicles, an important sub-category among annalistic texts: E. Coleman, ‘Lombard City Annals and the Social and Cultural History of Northern Italy’ (pp. 1–27); J. Dotson, ‘The Genoese Civic Annals: Caffaro and His Continuators’ (pp. 55–85); A. W. Lewin, ‘Salimbene de Adam and the Franciscan Chronicle’ (pp. 87–112); P. Clarke, ‘The Villani Chronicles’ (pp. 113–43); D. J. Osheim, ‘Chronicles and Civic Life in Giovanni Sercambi’s Lucca’ (pp. 145–69); S. Dale, ‘Fourteenth-Century Lombard Chronicles’ (pp. 171–95); J. Melville-Jones, ‘Venetian History and Patrician Chroniclers’ (pp. 197–221).
  • de Hartmann, C. C., ‘The Textual Transmission of the Mozarabic Chronicle of 754’, Early Medieval Europe, 8 (2003), 13–29. Wiley Interscience.
  • Deliyannis, D. M. (ed.), Historiography in the Middle Ages (Leiden, 2002). L43.B. A general survey by a team of authors, which includes one article which is particularly relevant to the present session: that is, M. I. Allen, ‘Universal History 300–1000: Origins and Western Developments’ (pp. 17–42). This volume is, however, rather misleading in so far as it groups medieval histories according a series of categories which have little basis in the thinking and practices of the people who wrote them.
  • Deliyannis, D. M., ‘Year-Dates in the Early Middle Ages’, in C. Humphrey and W. M. Ormrod (eds), Time in the Medieval World (Rochester, NY, 2001), pp. 5–22. LFC.
  • Dumville, D. N., ‘What is a Chronicle?’, in E. Kooper (ed.), The Medieval Chronicle II: Proceedings of the Second International Conference on the Medieval Chronicle Drieberger/Utrecht, 16–21 July 1999, Costerus n.s. 144 (Amsterdam, 2002), pp. 1–27. PAH can supply copies.
  • Dunphy, G. R., et al. (eds), Encyclopaedia of the Medieval Chronicle, 2 vols. (Leiden, 2010). See esp. the general articles on subjects such as annals, chronicles, world chronicles, layout, and so on.
  • Feeney, D., Caesar’s Calendar: Ancient Time and the Beginnings of History (Berkeley, CA, 2007).
  • Foot, S., ‘Finding the Meaning of the Form: Narrative in Annals and Chronicles’, in N. Partner (ed.), Writing Medieval History (London, 2005), pp. 88–108. MB7. Thought-provokng, but inaccurate and wrong.
  • Gantner, C., R. McKitterick, and S. Meeder (eds), The Resources of the Past in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge, 2015).
  • Guy, B., G. Henley, O. W. Jones, R. Thomas (eds), The Chronicles of Medieval Wales and the March: New Contexts, Studies, and Texts, Medieval Texts and Cultures of Northern Europe 31 (Turnhout, 2019). On order.
  • Hay, D., Annalists and Historians: Western Historiography from the Eighth to the Eighteenth Centuries (London, 1977). A useful, but dated introduction. L43.
  • Hayward, P. A., (ed.), The Winchcombe and Coventry Chronicles: Hitherto Unnoticed Witnesses to the Work of John of Worcester, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 373, 2 vols. (Tempe, AZ, 2010), esp. chp. 1. MVB.
  • Jones, C. W., Saints’ Lives and Chronicles in Early England (Ithaca, NY, 1947). Old but still fundamental.
  • Kleist, A. J., ‘The Influence of Bede’s De temporum ratione on Ælfric’s Understanding of Time’, in G. Jaritz and G. Moreno-Riano (eds), Time and Eternity: The Medieval Discourse (Turnhout, 2003), pp. 81–97. AHG.
  • Kupfer, M., A. S. Cohen, J. H. Chajes (eds), The Visualization of Knowledge in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, Studies in the Visual Cultures of the Middle Ages 16 (Turnhout, 2019). Speaks to an important background topic, essential for understanding annalistic chronicles.
  • Landes, R., ‘Lest the Millennium Be Fulfilled: Apocalyptic Expectations and the Pattern of Western Chronography, 100–800 C.E.’, in W. Verbeke, C. Verhelst and A. Welkenhuysen (eds), The Use and Abuse of Eschatology in the Middle Ages, Medievalia Lovaniensia I/Studia XV (Louvain, 1988), pp. 137–209.
  • Livesey, S. J., Science in the Monastery: Texts, Manuscripts and Learning at Saint-Bertin, Bibliologia 55 (Turnhout, 2020). Useful background.
  • Macrobius, The Disputatio Chori et Praetextati: The Roman Calendar for Beginners, ed. and trs. L. Holford-Strevens, Studia Traditionis Theologiae 32 (Turnhout, 2019). An early fifth-century guidebook that had a wide circulation in the early medieval West.
  • Markus, R. A., ‘Chronicle and Theology: Prosper of Aquitaine’, in C. Holdsworth and T. P. Wiseman (ed.), The Inheritance of Historiography 350–900, Exeter Studies in History 12 (Exeter, 1986), pp. 31–43. L43.
  • McKitterick, R., ‘Political ideology in Carolingian Historiography’, in M. Innes and Y. Hen (eds), The Uses of the Past in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 162–74. Available online at MyLibrary.
  • McKitterick, R., History and Memory in the Carolingian World (Cambridge, 2004). MSD.
  • McKitterick, R., Perceptions of the Past in the Early Middle Ages (Notre Dame, IN, 2006). MC.B.
  • Miller, M., ‘The Chronological Structure of the Sixth Age in the Rawlinson Fragment of the “Irish World Chronicle”‘, Celtica, 22 (1991), 79–83.
  • Morris, J., ‘The Chronicle of Eusebius: Irish Fragments’, Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, University of London, 19 (1972), 80–93: shows that there existed, in the seventh and eighth centuries, both in Ireland and in Britain, a full Latin translation of Eusebius’ Chronicon different from any now extant.
  • Mosshammer, A. A., The Chronicle of Eusebius and Greek Chronographic Tradition (Lewisburg, PA, 1979).
  • Mosshammer, A. A., The Easter Computus and the Origins of the Christian Era (Oxford, 2008).
  • Muhlberger, S., The Fifth-Century Chronicles: Prosper, Hydatius and the Gallic Chronicler of 452 (Leeds, 1990). LVS.I.
  • Nothaft, C. P. E., Dating the Passion: The Life of Jesus and the Emergence of Scientific Chronology (200–1600) (Leiden, 2012).
  • Nothaft, C. P. E., ‘An Eleventh-Century Chronologer at Work: Marianus Scottus and the Quest for the Missing Twenty-Two Years’, Speculum, 88 (2013), 457–82.. Available at University of Chicago Press. Evaluates Marianus’s methods for recovering the ‘twenty-two years’ that had, in his view, dropped out the correct chronology of the Sixth Age of the World.
  • Palmer, J., ‘Calculating Time and the End of Time in the Carolingian World, c.740–820’, English Historical Review, 126 (2011), 1307–31. Journals L6. Argues, in opposition to Landes, that ‘chronological systems such as AD-dating were adapted and discussed—at length—for their relevance to paschal reckonings, not apocalypticism’.
  • Poole, R. L. Chronicles and Annals. A Brief Outline of their Origin and Growth (Oxford, 1926). A pioneering essay whose picture of how chronicles evolved out of annals has been enormously influential.
  • Reeves, K. B., Visions of Unity after the Visigoths: Early Iberian Latin Chronicles and the Mediterranean World, Cursor Mundi, vol. 26 (Turnhout, 2016).
  • Rosenberg, D., and A. Grafton, Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline (New York, 2010). Available at Ebook Central. Full of brilliant illustrations. Weak on the Middle Ages itself, but useful for thinking about the afterlife of the annalistic chronicle.
  • Rozier, C., ‘Contextualizing the Past at Durham Cathedral Priory, c. 1090–1130: Uses ofHistory in the Annals of Durham, Dean and Chapter Library, MS Hunter 100’, The Haskins Society Journal, 25 (2013), 107–23. Available at JSTOR.
  • Story, J., ‘The Frankish Annals of Lindisfarne and Kent’, Anglo-Saxon England, 34 (2005), 59–109. MVC. Cambridge Journals Online.
  • Verbist, P., Duelling with the Past: Medieval Authors and the Problem of the Christian Era (c.990–1135), Studies in the Early Middle Ages 21 (Turnhout, 2009). MBO.
  • Worm, A., ‘England’s Place within Salvation History: An Extended Version of Peter of Poitiers’ Compendium historiae in London, British Library, Cotton MS Faustina B VII’, in L. Cleaver and A. Worm (eds), Writing History in the Anglo-Norman World: Manuscripts, Makers and Readers, c.1066–1250, Writing History in the Middle Ages (Woodbridge, 2018), pp. 29–52. Available online at Ebook Central.

Other Media

Given by Professor Jeffrey Hamburger, the 2022 Panizzi Lectures were on the important and closely related topic of the place and role of diagrams in medieval thought. They can be viewed online at the British Library website:

  1. Maps of the Mind: Diagrams Medieval and Modern;
  2. The Codex in the Classroom: Practical Dimensions of Medieval Diagrams;
  3. Poetry, Play, Persuasion: The Diagrammatic Imagination in Medieval Art and Thought.

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