Types of charters 3: sales and exchanges

Posted: Oct. 6, 2014, 3:15 p.m. by Edward Roberts

Continuing our tour of Carolingian charters, today we look briefly at sales and exchanges.

These represent a smaller but still significant proportion of the charters from Charlemagne’s Europe (sales: about 12%; exchanges: roughly 5%). Bishops and abbots did not simply solicit donations from the laity; many sought to enhance their patrimonies through the active buying and trading of estates. A bishop might exchange a property for another belonging to a different church or a layman for the purposes of estate management. Landowners often possessed properties scattered across enormous geographical areas which required having trusted associates on the ground to look after them and ensure that they were not neglected or alienated. It could therefore be prudent to swap properties with other landowners to ease the burden of ensuring that one’s estates were able to be maintained efficiently. Furthermore, families and individuals probably sought to build social and spiritual relationships with particular religious institutions by gaining property which physically bordered the lands of a certain church or monastery (and by extension becoming the neighbour of a particular saint). Some charters portray exchanges or sales as gifts: gift-giving was an important aspect of early medieval social relations, and it encapsulated notions of favour, reciprocity and friendship. In addition, religious houses frequently bought property to increase not only their material revenues, but also their ‘spiritual capital’ – that is, the prestige of their patron saint(s), which could in turn facilitate further patronage and transfers of property in honour of those saints’ cults.

It's also worth noting that, as in the case of property grants, 'property' could also include people: we have many charters which record the buying, selling and exchanging of unfree persons.

Here’s a charter from Lucca, in Tuscany, Italy, concerning a sale by a layman, Sanitulus, of two parts of a vineyard to a priest called Rachiprand:

ChLA 36:1047 (16 July 774)

In the name of God. Our lord Charles, king of the Franks and Lombards, reigning in the first year of his reign when he captured Lombardy, on the 17th of the Kalends of August, in the 12th indiction. I, Sanitulus, son of the late Cicchus, from the place Brancoli, on the present day, by this charter, agree to sell and intend to deliver to you, Rachiprand, the priest of the church of St Mary, situated in Sesto, two portions of my vineyard, which I hold in the place Metiano: one portion has one end in the vineyard of the church of St Mary and the church of St Fridianus, the other end in the thicket of St Mary, and both sides in the vineyard of that church of St Mary; the other portion has both ends and both sides in the vineyard of the above-written church of St Mary. Those aforesaid two portions of the vineyard, just as they have been delimited, I intend to sell to you in [their] entirety, and I have received from you, for those already said portions of the vineyard, the predetermined price of five gold solidi, so they pass from my dominion and I deliver [them] to be in your power. Whence I, the above Sanitulus, together with my heirs, undertake to you, Rachiprand the priest, and your successors, that if we should attempt or seek to take back those aforesaid portions of the vineyard from you [or] we should be unable to defend it for you from every man, I pledge, with my heirs, to compensate you and your successors [with] those already said portions of the vineyard twofold, in a comparable place in valuation with what or what kind they should be then. And I asked Gheipert the cleric to write [this]. Done in Lucca. Sign of the hand of Sanitulus, who asked that this charter be made. Sign of the hand of Pertuald the cleric, son of the late Ferduald the cleric, witness. I, Tassipert the priest, asked by Sanitulus, subscribed as a witness. I, Raculus the priest, asked by Sanitulus, subscribed as a witness. Gheipert the cleric, after delivery, completed and gave [this]. I, Austripert the priest, subscribed.

The agreement in this charter is fairly straightforward. The priest Rachiprand appears to be acting here in a personal capacity (rather than on behalf of the church he served). Note the penalty clause asserting that, if Sanitulus (or any of his successors) goes against the outlined provisions, then Rachiprand should keep the aforesaid vineyard as well as other property deemed to be of equal value to the vineyard (i.e. equal to five solidi, gold coins).

The Basilica of St Fridianus (San Frediano), Lucca, constructed in the twelfth century (source: Wikimedia).

Here is a charter of exchange from the cartulary of Mondsee, in Upper Austria, between the archbishop of Salzburg and the abbot of Mondsee:

Mondsee no. 7 (11 April 799)

Each man is seen to diminish nothing from his [property, when] each receives something in exchange.Therefore it was agreed between the venerable man Arn, archbishop of the monastery of Salzburg, where the lord and saint Rupert, confessor of Christ, rests in body, and the venerable man Hunric, abbot of the monastery of Mondsee, which was built in honour of St Michael, that where a suitable and advantageous thing might take place concerning their things, they ought to take advantage [of it] for themselves, which they did in this way: therefore Arn, the venerable bishop of Salzburg, gave for the purpose of exchange with the same aforesaid Abbot Hunric to the patrimony of St Michael in the place called Strasswalchen, [specifically] the church there in its entirety, which had been devoted to the service of St Peter and St Rupert. And similarly, in another place called Strass, near the same place [i.e. Strasswalchen], he gave 170 iugera of land, just as he was said to be able to hold by law, so that it might serve that very place [i.e. St Michael’s at Mondsee] by perpetual right. And against this, the aforesaid Abbot Hunric was seen to give back in exchange to the aforesaid Archbishop Arn, to the service of St Peter and St Rupert, [property] in the place called Halsbach, with everything pertaining to it in integrity, which the venerable man Count Wasagrim had been seen to have given to the aforesaid church of St Michael at Mondsee. And, in an equal manner, [Hunric gave] in another place called Langkampfen, which the religious men Tato and Rupert, sons of William, had given to the same place [i.e. St Michael’s at Mondsee]. Therefore they asked for two written charters of exchange to be made for themselves for the confirmation of this single order, so that, in the same way each received the exchanged things from the other, let each of them have, hold and possess for the use of his control of his church, or [if] he wishes to do anything henceforth, let him have unimpeded power in everything. And if either of them or their successors might wish to alter anything concerning these exchanges, he should lose that same thing which he received in the exchange, and what he demands back will not be granted, but let the present exchanges remain firm between them and their successors for all eternity. Done in both the public monastery of Salzburg and at Mondsee, on the 3rd of the Ides of April, in the 7th indiction, in the 32nd year of the reign of our lord the most glorious king Charles. There were many witnesses for both parts.

Arn's title here is somewhat oddly given as 'archbishop of the monastery of Salzburg' because at this time the monastery of St Peter in Salzburg was under the direct control of the archbishop (so Arn was also abbot of St Peter's). Note that the document is explicit about the agreement being mutually beneficial to Arn and Hunric (though exactly why it's a good deal for both parties is not stated). Like the sale above, it offers a similar penalty clause which states that if either of the parties (or their successors) breaks the agreement or challenges it, he will lose what he initially received in the exchange and be left with nothing (i.e. the other party will possess the properties on both sides of the deal).


Folio from a ninth-century homilary (collection of homilies, or commentaries on scripture) produced in Mondsee (source: Wikimedia).

In our database, you'll be able to browse or search for sales and exchanges just as you would for any other transaction type: for instance, you could look up all sales of unfree individuals, all exchanges involving female parties, all purchases by monasteries of land in Bavaria, all transactions involving vineyards, or all sales found in the cartulary of Wissembourg.


W. Davies and P. Fouracre (eds), The Languages of Gift in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge, 2010).

P. Depreux, ‘The development of charters confirming exchange by the royal administration (eighth-tenth centuries)’, in K. Heidecker (ed.), Charters and the Use of the Written Word in Medieval Society (Turnhout, 2000), pp. 43-62.

I. Fees and P. Depreux (eds), Tauschgeschäft und Tauschurkunde vom 8. bis zum 12. Jahrhundert. / L’acte d’echange, du VIIIe au XIIe siècle (Cologne, 2013) – contains chapters in French, German and English.

B. Rosenwein, To Be the Neighbor of St Peter: The Social Meaning of Cluny’s Property, 909-1049 (Ithaca, NY, 1989).