Parchment in the collections of the Tallinn City Archives

Tiina Kala

Charters and law codices

Over the years, the parchment found in the collections of the Tallinn City Archives has been used for writing very different types of texts. The specific rules related to the use of parchment were rare. The choice of writing material was based on practicality, and only thereafter on the need for prestigiousness, although the two are often related.  Parchment has been used as the writing material in Tallinn or in documents issued for Tallinn from the 13th to the 19th century. The oldest parchment document in the City Archives, and also Estonia’s oldest written record, dates back to 1237 (papal legate Bishop William of Modena’s charter, which confirms the right of the church to donations of real estate, TCA (Tallinn City Archives), f. 230, n. 1-I, s. 2), the newest is from 1870 (the honorary citizen’s certificate issued by the Tallinn Town Council to Aleksander von der Pahlen, TCA, f. 230, n. 12, s. 4a ).

Parchment can be found in the following collections of TCA historical records (f. 230, n. 1-I): [1] the parchment letters of cities (f. 230, n. 1-II), professional and birth certificates (f. 230, n. 1-IIIa) and wills (f. 230, n. 1-IIIb). If the collections of charters as well as professional and birth certificates (n. 1-I and n. 1-IIIa) include both paper and parchment documents, then the two other collections (n. 1-II and 1-IIIb) are all comprised of parchment records. A few 15th-century parchment charters can also be found in the Brotherhood of Black Heads archive (f. 87, n. 1).

Before the art of printing was introduced, parchment was the preferred material for law codices. Of the five copies of the Lübeck Law that have been preserved in the city archives, four (f. 230, n. 1, s. Cm 5, 1257; Cm 6, 1282; Cm 10, 1282 (?), from the early 16th century; and Cm 19, from the mid-14th century) have been written on parchment. Only the newest code, dating from 1511 (Cm 20), was copied in Tallinn onto paper. A copy of the code that includes Middle Low German translations of the Latin privilege charters from the period of the Danish rule (1219/1238–1346) in addition to the Lübeck Law (Cm 19) may also have been copied in Tallinn. At the same time, additions to one of the three 13th-century codices (Cm 10), which may initially have come from Lübeck or Denmark, were made locally in the mid-16th century.

The statutes of the guilds, some of which are written on parchment, can also be treated as types of legal documents (in the collections of the Tallinn magistrate (f. 230), the Great Guild (f. 191) and St. Canute’s Guild (f. 190) archives).  Guild statutes were in use for a long period of time, and additions have been made to them over the decades or even centuries.

Register books

In addition to charters and other important single documents, or ones requiring prestigiousness, parchment was also used for register books, especially when they were intended for long period of use. Parchment record books from the 14th century, which were in use for shorter periods, have also survived. In this case the choice of material may have been influenced by its availability – in the Middle Ages, paper had to be imported into Tallinn, and the possibilities for obtaining it, not to mention the knowledge for making it, were apparently more limited than for parchment. Thus, parchment was used in the oldest Tallinn real estate and pledge registers (f. 230, n. 1, s. Aa 1, 1312–1360) and the oldest town council notebooks (f. 230, n. 1, s. Aa 2, 1333(?) – 1375). Paper became the predominant material used for the town council’s administrative books in the second half of the 14th century and 15th century. Parchment was used mainly for heavily used register books and ones that were kept for long periods of time, primarily the real estate registers (f. 230, n. 1, s. Aa 3, 1382–1518; s. Aa 35b, (1450) 1466–1636; s. Aa 35c, 1490–1805; Aa 35d, 1627–1802; s. Aa 35e, 1732–1807). However, in addition to durability, parchment was also used for volumes requiring a dignified appearance, such as the book (f. 230, n. 1, s. Aa 109) into which all important privileges granted to the City of Tallinn (including the earliest ones dating back to the Danish era) were copied between 1543 and 1827. The price of large volumes became very high. They also weighed a lot and thus, the use of parchment for administrative records started to slowly diminish. In a few cases, the administrative record sheets of parchment were reused on new purpose. Thus, in 1537, Johann Sulstorp, the Secretary of the Tallinn Town Council, reused the parchment record book of the St Mary Guild at Tallinn’s St Olaf’s Church, which had been donated to the guild by the brothers Hermen and Hinrik Drost in 1513. Apparently, the volume had ended up in the hands of the council during the Reformation in the course of the Catholic Church’s assets being confiscated. The pages with the guild’s entries were removed but Sulstorp copied the appellation matters that were sent to Lübeck between 1458 and 1515 into the empty sections (f. 230, n. 1, s. Aa 9a).

The material used for letter writing was determined primarily by the availability and price of the material. Also chance certainly played a role. In the case of correspondence, one can generally notice the same tendencies that apply to other texts without any specific legal weight or requiring long-term applicability or use: in the 14th century, parchment predominated; paper was increasingly used during the 15th century and become the predominant material for correspondence by the 16th century. The exception is the correspondence with Lübeck (f. 230, n. 1, s. BB 40 I–XVII, 1400–1799). The letters sent to Tallinn from Lübeck continue to be written on parchment in the 16th century. The reasons for this are apparently based on the traditions of legal correspondence. Namely, a large part of the correspondence between Tallinn and Lübeck is comprised of appellations by burghers of Tallinn and other legal issues that Tallinn, as a town where Lübeck Law applied, referred to its mother city and received answers therefrom. In a letter, probably written in May of 1370, the Lübeck Town Council asks the Tallinn Town Council to henceforth write their letters exclusively on parchment, and this principle was adhered to thereafter, at least from the Lübeck side. Although, during the Middle Ages, as a rule, the appeals from the towns were heard orally by the Lübeck Town Council, exceptions were usually made for the more distant town, including Tallinn, and therefore, the legal correspondence between the town councils of Tallinn and Lübeck was very voluminous.

Manuscript books on parchment in Tallinn City Archives’ collections (i. e. books which did not developed in the course of the town’s administration) have ended up in the possession of the town council, and therefore its archive, under various circumstances (most likely, mostly during the seizure of the assets of the Catholic Church during the Reformation) (TCA, f. 230, n. 1, s. Cm 2, Cm 3, Cm 4, Cm 7, Cm 8, Cm 21). Most of these probably belonged to the Dominican Friary in Tallinn, which the town council disbanded in January of 1525. Only a breviary that dates from the early 16th century (Cm 21) was probably originally in private hands. Of the remaining volumes, four (Cm 2, Cm 3, Cm 7, Cm 8) are comprised of sermons, and instructions on the art of preaching (Cm 8) or other texts relevant to the composition of sermons (Cm 3, final section). However, one contains instructions for celebrating the Mass (Ordo Missae) and a treatise on the seven sacraments (Cm 4). The manuscripts originate from 13th and 14th century France or Germany; and one may have been copied by an English scribe (Cm 3, fol. 257r–272v, De oculo tractatus).

A wider selection of medieval texts has survived as fragments used for binding administrative records. Although the parchment books and fragments of theological, juridical or liturgical content make up only a small part of the parchment texts compared to the administrative records, they are an extremely important resource for learning about Estonian medieval literary culture and spiritual life.

Reused fragments of parchment manuscripts can be found in the binding materials of about a hundred volumes of administrative and other archival records (paper prints are used much more frequently than parchment manuscripts for binding filler material). Often more than fragment of one manuscripts can be found in one binding, while in some cases, fragments from one and the same manuscript have been used for several bindings (e.g. biblical manuscripts from the 13th century in the minutes of council meetings, TCA, f. 230, manuscript fragments removed from the binding covers of s. BO 27 I n. 1, s. Ab 29, 30, 31, 37, 38, 40, 41, 46 and s. Ab 49 and now organised as separate archival items). Using decorative pages of liturgical books to wrap covers was especially widespread after the Reformation. Most of these reused manuscripts had originally been large in format, thereby providing useful binding material. However, there are also examples of small-scale parchment manuscripts being used to make pocket-sized bindings (e.g. in the binding of Cm 20). It should be mentioned that the parchment books listed above that have been preserved in their entirety (Cm) are all small in format and less suitable to be used for binding material that large choir books. It is possible that this is what helped them to survive.

The documents in the Tallinn City Archives, including the parchment documents, form the basis for numerous research studies and editions. The most significant stages in the history of studying of parchment documents and their cataloguing is described below. Historical interest in the older documents of Estonia and Latvia started to develop in the mid-18th century. In the early 19th century, the local noble corporations (Ritterschaften) started to finance the research and copying of historical sources in the Baltic Sea Governorates. The legal historian Friedrich Georg von Bunge (1802–1897, Tallinn Town Council syndic 1843–1856, as of 1844, burgomaster) initiated the research and publishing of the oldest parchment documents in the Tallinn archives, when he began to organize the historical archives in the town hall in 1843. Bunge’s extremely extensive editorial work was focused on the council’s archives. In the first  six volumes of historical records from Livonia, Estonia and Courland (Liv-, Est- und Curländisches Urkundenbuch) edited by Bunge, the material related to Tallinn comprises about a third of the total, but many documents from the council archives have also been published in subsequent volumes of the Urkundenbuch. The oldest parchment Lübeck Law codices (Cm 5 and Cm 6) were edited for the first time in Fr. G. von Bunge’s publication Quellen des Revaler Stadtrechts. Theodor Schiemann, Tallinn’s first city archivist, was appointed on 1 October 1883 (O.S.) and thereafter, the records of the town council were already more extensively organised and described. In 1896, a catalogue of the Tallinn City Archives compiled by Gotthard von Hansen, the town archivist at the time, was published. It also included the summaries of the charters in the town archive. A reworked edition of the catalogue edited by Otto Greiffenhagen, the town archivist, was published between 1924 and 1926; its third section includes 360 (TCA, f. 230, n. 1-I, s. 1–360) charter summaries edited by Paul Johansen. The most precise overview of parchment documents in the Tallinn City Archives is available from TCA database (can be used onsite in the City Archives).

The series of Tallinn City Archives publications includes several edited town council parchment register books – real estate and rental books Aa 1 and Aa 3, as well as the notebook Aa 2. The best edition of the Canute Guild’s oldest statutes written on parchment has been published in the catalogue of the Canute Guild archive.

Scholarly interest in the manuscript books with religious content in the Tallinn Council archives arose in the late 19th century, when Franz Koehler, the Director of the Tallinn Cathedral School, studied three of them (Cm 3, Cm 4, Cm 8). A catalogue of the manuscript books with in the council archives was published in 2007.

  1. In the spring-summer of 1944, a large part of the oldest archival documents in the City Archives, including the collections of charters, was removed from Tallinn by the German occupation forces in the course of evacuating German cultural property.  However, the archive employees were able to keep some of the documents intended for evacuation in Estonia. The Tallinn City Archives recovered its assets from Germany in the autumn of 1990.
    For more, see Lea Kõiv. „Tallinna Linnaarhiiv 1941–1944“. – Ex archivo civitatis. Tallinna Linnaarhiivi ajaloost (Tallinna Linnaarhiivi Toimetised 12). Koost. Lea Kõiv. Tallinn, 2008.
  2. See Tiina Kala. „Das Geschriebene und das Mündliche: das lübische Recht und die alltägliche Rechtspflege im mittelalterlichen Reval“. – Hansisches und hansestädtisches Recht, hrsg. v. Albrecht Cordes (Hansische Studien XVII). Trier, 2008.
  3. The text has survived as a copy that dates back to the period between 1375 and 1377 (TCA, f. 230, n. 1-I, s. 382). For more, see: Tapio Salminen. Obscure Hands – Trusted Men. Textualization, the Office of the City Scribe and the Written Management of Information and Communication of the Council of Reval (Tallinn) before 1460. Tampere, 2016:
  4. For more information, see: Meelis Friedenthal. Tallinna Linnaarhiivi Tractatus moralis de oculo (Dissertationes theologicae universitatis Tartuensis 13). Tartu, 2008; Richard Newhauser, Tiina Kala, Meelis Friedenthal. ‘The Work of an English Scribe in a Manuscript in Estonia’. – Scriptorium 62 (2008).
  5. See Tiina Kala. „Friedrich Georg von Bunge editeerimistöö ja Tallinna raearhiiv “. – Ex archivo civitatis.
  6. Liv-, Est- und Kurländisches Urkundenbuch nebst Regesten, Bd. I–VI. Hrsg. v. Friedrich Georg von Bunge. Reval, Riga, 1853–1873; Bd. VII–XII. Hrsg. v. Hermann Hildebrand, Philipp Schwartz, Leonid Arbusow, August von Bulmerincq. Riga, Moskau, 1881–1910; zweite Abteilung, Bd. I–III. Hrsg. v. Leonid Arbusow. Riga, Moskau, 1900–1914; Bd. 13–14. Bearb. von Christian Gahlbeck, Madlena Mahling, Klaus Neitmann, Matthias Thumser. Köln, Weimar, Wien, 2018, 2020
  7. Die Qullen des Revaler Stadtrechts. Hrsg. v. Friedrich Georg von Bunge, Bd. I–II. Dorpat, 1842–1847.
  8. Katalog des Revaler Stadtarchivs. Hrsg. v. Gotthard von Hansen. Reval, 1896.
  9. G. Hansen’i Tallinna linna arhiiwi kataloog. Teine, ümbertöötatud ja täiendatud wäljaanne, korraldanud linna arhiwaar O. Greiffenhagen. I.–III. jagu / Katalog des Revaler Stadtarchivs von Stadtarchivar G. Hansen. Zweite, umgearbeitete und vermehrte Auflage, herausgegeben von Stadtarchivar O. Greiffenhagen. I.–III. Abteilung. Reval, 1924, 1926.
  10. Das älteste Wittschopbuch der Stadt Reval (1312–1360). Hrsg. v. L. Arbusow. Reval, 1888.
  11. Tallinna pärgamentne rendiseraamat 1382–1518 / Das Revaler Pergament Rentenbuch 1382–1518. Hrsg. v. Artur Plaesterer (Tallinna linnaarhiivi väljaanded / Publikationen aus dem Revaler Stadtarchiv 5). Tallinn, 1930.
  12. Tallinna märkmeteraamatud 1333–1374 / Libri de diversis articulis 1333–1374. Hrsg. v. Paul Johansen (Tallinna linnaarhiivi väljaanded / Publikationen aus dem Stadtarchiv Tallinn 8). Tallinn, 1935.
  13. Tallinna Linnaarhiivi kataloog IV. Kanuti gildi arhiiv / Katalog des Stadtarchivs Tallinn IV. Archiv der St. Kanutigilde. Koost. / zusammengestellt von Aleksander Margus. Tallinn, 1938, S. LXX–LXXXIV.
  14. Franz Koehler. Ehstländische Klosterlectüre. Ein Beitrag zur Kenntniss der Pflege des geistigen Lebens in Ehstland im Mittelalter. Reval, 1892.