Witnesses and their signatures in byzantine private documents

The present three-year project is intended to further research in the field of Byzantine private documents from the end of the tenth century until the fall of the Empire in 1453. Given the absolute lack of any systematic research in this field, it is necessary to choose some aspect of these documents which is both representative and can be treated in a limited amount of time. For this purpose the signatures of witnesses and the role played by these latter in Byzantine private documents has been chosen, with particular attention to the following points.

Firstly, the number of witnesses is a reliable index for classifying the documents, whereby the norms of Byzantine legal documents can serve as a reference: on the one hand various collections can thus be differentiated from one another and, likewise, compliance - or non-compliance - with legal prescriptions (concerning the number of witnesses present) may be observed in practice.

Further, other questions of detail are to be examined such as the role of the scribe or notary in a legal document (were they or were they not witnesses?), the literacy of witnesses (proper signature or marking with a cross?), or the effects of transcribing documents into cartularies (abbreviation of protocols and eschatocols). After drawing up an initial bibliography, which will of course be added to over the course of the project, the main task during the first two years will be the gathering and - in the case of obsolete or unreliable editions - careful checking of the material (in roughly chronological order).

The results obtained will then be put into a data-base (described in the project application) which, together with the international networking of the project, will insure the reliable systematisation and formal registration (either geographic or by subject matter) of the documents.

In the third year particular studies are to be carried out on the basis of the results obtained, in order to establish what will be the first typology of Byzantine private documents. Legal aspects (rank and function of witnesses), socio-historical questions (relation of those making the documents to the witnesses), economic aspects and the analysis of linguistic habits in Byzantine private documents (levels of style, orthography, etc) will also be the object of particular study in this final phase of the project.


Prof. Dr. Otto KRESTEN
Institut für Byzantinistik und Neogräzistik der Universität Wien
Postgasse 7/1/3
1010 Wien

Mag. Martin Schaller
Institut für Byzanzforschung der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften
Wohllebengasse 12-14
1040 Wien

bewilligt durch den Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung am 8. Mai 2006