RHS Lecture — ‘Charting Authority after Empire: Documentary Culture and Political Legitimacy in Post-Carolingian Europe’

14 February 2024

‘Charting Authority after Empire: Documentary Culture and Political Legitimacy in Post-Carolingian Europe’



Levi Roach (Exeter)

RHS Lecture
held on 1 February 2024
at Mary Ward House, London, and online





Listen to the Lecture


Research over the past three decades has transformed our understanding western Europe in the years between the late ninth and early eleventh centuries. It was in this period that recognisable kingdoms of France, Germany, England and (to an extent) Italy were born; it was also in this period that many of the dynasties which would shape the future of the European mainland were established. Above all, it was in these years that the Carolingian dynasty which had ruled much of western Europe since the mid-eighth century was decisively eclipsed.

But while elements of these transitions are now well understood, models of change continue to be constructed primarily within the context of national master narratives: the weak origins of France, the precocity of urban associations in Italy, the fateful experiments with empire in Germany. Truly comparative work, though growing in volume, continues to represent the exception. This is unfortunate, since many of the shifts observable clearly spanned what Heinrich Fichtenau memorably called ‘the sometime Carolingian Empire’ (das einstige Karolingerreich), a massive region encompassing France, Germany, the Low Countries, Switzerland, Austria and Northern Italy.

In this lecture, Levi Roach uses the charters issued by rulers of these regions as a window into the processes whereby new dynasties and kingdoms established themselves on the basis of existing traditions. In doing so, he focuses on a remarkable set of shared changes in the layout and appearance in these documents, which reveal much about the nature and significance of these transitions.

Speaker Biography

Levi Roach studied at the universities of Cambridge and Heidelberg, earning his PhD at the former in 2011. Since 2012, he has lectured at the University of Exeter, where he is presently Associate Professor (Reader) of Medieval History and Deputy Head of the newly constituted Department of Archaeology and History (and Head of Discipline for History within this). His research interests lie in the political and religious history of western Europe in the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries, often from a comparative perspective.

Levi has published three research monographs, Kingship and Consent in Anglo-Saxon England (CUP, 2013), Æthelred ‘the Unready’ (Longman-History Today Prize 2017; Labarge Prize 2017); and (Yale UP, 2016) and Forgery and Memory at the End of the First Millennium (Princeton University Press, 2021). He has also recently published a popular history of the Normans (Princeton UP, 2021). He is presently at the early stages of preparing a new edition of the royal charters of the rulers of East Francia/Germany from the years 911 to 1002 for the Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Munich).