Monday, November 03, 2008

Hot off the Latin press

This post won't necessarily be meaningful unless you happen to read French and/or you're interested in medieval Latin. In general, I have no idea whatsoever of the identity of the individuals who read this blog... except for friends who have identified themselves explicitly in their comments, and others with whom I communicate regularly by email. So I don't know whether or not there are many potential readers—or even any potential readers—of the present post.

Here's a rapid résumé of the story. My ten-acre property, Gamone, is located in the commune of Choranche, in a region known as the Royans, which was a principality back in the Middle Ages. That's to say, the inhabitants were under the allegiance of a feudal lord whose troops protected constantly the land and the people... in return, of course, for a proportion of their annual produce. Here in the Royans, the incumbent lord was the Baron de Sassenage, who resided in a splendid castle named La Bâtie... of which all that remains today is a grassy mound and a few small blocks of limestone.

Well, during the period from 1351 to 1356, the lord hired a notary to produce a written survey of the lands he controlled here in the Royans. Now, that was a long time ago. In the middle of the 14th century, the Plantagenet monarch Edward III was still ruling over England. The execution of Joan of Arc was three-quarters of a century in the future. America would not be discovered for another 130 years.

The lord's survey concerned six communes: Choranche, Pont-en-Royans, Châtelus, Echevis, Rencurel and Saint-Laurent-en-Royans. [Click here to see a modern map showing the six villages.]

The notary penned the results of his surveys in Latin, on rolls of sheep-skin parchment. Amazingly, those documents still exist today, in a readable state. Moreover, they've been scanned, and I have a copy of the image files of the 59 "pages" (folios) of the survey... referred to in French as terriers. In other words, on the screen of my computer, I can observe the way in which my property at Gamone was described six and a half centuries ago. Not surprisingly, though, only a handful of talented and experienced medieval scholars are capable of reading these ancient documents, and translating them into modern language.

With this translation and publication goal in mind, I'm in the process of creating an association to take up this challenge. The first concrete step is the development of a French-language web site [display] that presents the parchments. For the moment, with a few friends, I'm meeting up with various individuals (politicians, scholars, etc) who might be prepared to participate in this interesting project. Naturally, I'll keep my blog readers informed of progress in this domain.

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