Stefanie Hamm: Die Chronik des Richard von San Germano. Zwischen Regnum und Region (= Bibliothek des Deutschen Historischen Instituts in Rom; Bd. 142), Berlin: de Gruyter 2022, X + 691 S., 10 Abb., ISBN 978-3-11-077129-9, EUR 159,95
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The chronicle of Richard of S. Germano is undoubtedly the most important narrative source for the history of southern Italy during the reign of Frederick II. It is, therefore, surprising that until now it has received relatively little attention from scholars. One reason for this is perhaps that Richard's chronicle exists in two different versions, both of which survive in only one manuscript. While the longer, and later, version [B], from Cod. Cas. 507, a thirteenth-century manuscript that may be the author's own copy, has been known, and published, several times, since the seventeenth century, the earlier and briefer version [A] was first published, from a fifteenth-century manuscript at Bologna (Biblioteca comunale, MS. A 144), by Augusto Gaudenzi in 1888. A parallel text edition of these two versions, not without some careless errors, was then published by Carlo Alberto Garufi in 1938. Stephanie Hamm has now provided a comprehensive analysis, comparing and contrasting these two versions, and explaining the context and reasons for their composition. She also gives a fuller picture of the author's life, as revealed by documentary evidence, than that provided by Garufi and other previous students of the chronicle. Richard's activity as a notary at S. Germano is revealed by sixteen charters that he wrote between 1186 and 1229, and four others in which he was listed as a witness. The last of these latter documents came in 1232, and Richard, who must then already have been in his sixties, may have ceased to work as a notary soon after that date. But he can be found in the fragmentary register of Emperor Frederick still active in 1240, involved in financial transactions and conveying money for the imperial treasury, although Dr Hamm maintains, in contrast to previous scholars, that there is no evidence that Richard ever held any formal office within the emperor's administration. He died on 7th May, probably in 1244, soon after the second version of his chronicle ended.
The real importance of this book comes with the conclusions about the date and purpose of the two chronicles. The first (version A) was commissioned by Stephen (I), Abbot of Montecassino (1215-27), after 1220. Here Hamm slightly contradicts herself, suggesting in the conclusions that this was in the early 1220s, whereas elsewhere she implies that this version was written in one go around 1226. In the surviving, and later, manuscript it appears to be incomplete, and it may be that originally it concluded with the death of Abbot Stephen. This version began in 1208, the first event that was mentioned was the visit of Innocent III to Montecassino in that year, which was also the year in which Stephen, the later abbot, became camerarius of the monastery. Hamm argues that this was not a conventional monastery chronicle, and if it had been intended to be one why was its composition entrusted to a layman rather than to one of the monks? While it may have been intended, in part, to justify the policy of Abbot Stephen and his immediate predecessors, it was also a record of the legal and financial position of the abbey and of its role as a territorial lord in the new situation of the kingdom of Sicily, with the revival of royal authority after Frederick's return from Germany in 1220. To that end Richard included within his chronicle some twenty-eight documents quoted verbatim, mainly either papal or from Frederick himself. These included such important texts as the Assizes of Capua and Messina (December 1220 and May 1221). Such legal texts were of obvious interest to a notary, as well as of relevance to the abbey under the new régime. By contrast, nothing was included about the spiritual life of the abbey. The focus was very much on events within the Terra di Lavoro and Molise, although Richard did include notices about the Crusade - both the Las Navas de Tolosa campaign in Spain and the Fifth Crusade to Egypt.
Dr Hamm suggests that Richard decided, or was instructed, to compile the revised and expanded version of his chronicle [B] due to the events of 1229-30 when a papal army invaded the regno while Frederick himself was in the Holy Land. Montecassino's loyalty during these troubled months had been equivocal, and while outwardly Frederick forgave the abbey he no longer trusted or favoured it. This second chronicle was commenced around 1234. Richard added an earlier section, describing events from the last years of King William II, which not just he but the royal administration used as a yardstick for good government and normality, before the disputed succession and internal conflicts after 1189. He then considerably pruned his earlier chronicle, omitting all but three of the documents there quoted. (Two of those he did include were connected with the preparations for the Fifth Crusade). He gave a very detailed, almost month by month, account of the period from 1226 up to the peace of July 1230, emphasising the loyalty of both the abbey and the town of S. Germano to the emperor, and how reluctantly they had submitted to the papal army. This section was strongly imperialist - Frederick's troops back from the Holy Land were referred to as the Crusaders, the papal forces only as 'the army of the keys'. The account after 1230, which was eventually continued to 1243, paid considerable attention to both Frederick's legislation and taxation, again quoting a number of documents verbatim, including substantial extracts from the Liber Augustalis, book III, but, as Dr Hamm emphasises, nearly all of these had a direct impact on the Terra Sancti Benedicti. While it has sometimes been suggested that version A of the chronicle was a monastic chronicle, while version B was more of a general history of the regno, our author does not agree. Version A was not a conventional monastic chronicle, while version B still focussed very much on the Terra Sancti Benedicti and the Terra di Lavoro more generally, and was intended to justify and defend the abbey of Montecassino, and discuss the burdens laid upon its lands. The intention behind each of these two versions was thus still similar.
Based on very close reading of the two versions of the chronicle, this analysis is undoubtedly convincing, and Dr Hamm gives us a much fuller picture of the chronicler and his milieu, and of how and why he worked, than we have hitherto possessed. This is, however, a very long book, in which the author tends to elaborate her argument more than is absolutely necessary and discusses even minor issues at length, and one suspects that few will read it from cover to cover. One might legitimately ask whether the same conclusions might not have been derived, and adequately proven, from a study of perhaps half its length.
Graham A. Loud