Remembering the Martyrs

The Manuscripts of the Martryrology of Usuard

Supervisory Team: Prof. Alice Rio (King’s), Dr Edward Roberts (Kent)

Based at: King’s

KOM Theme: C – Systems of Knowledge, with links to B – Embodied Knowledge

In the early Middle Ages, martyrologies were a popular way to connect historical and geographical knowledge across time and space, from the universal to the local. The martyrology compiled by Usuard, a monk of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, in the 860s was by far the biggest success story, becoming one of the most widely read and copied Carolingian texts of the Middle Ages. It contained information on over two thousand martyrs, from Old Testament prophets to very recent ninth-century figures, spanning the known world, from Asia to Ireland. Encompassing history, hagiography and geography, Usuard’s martyrology attests to a broader Carolingian preoccupation with the ordering of time and space within a Christian historical framework. While Usuard’s sources and working methods have been well studied, research on the reception of his work remains limited. Consequently, martyrologies, despite their widespread prevalence in manuscripts, have figured little in recent scholarship on historiography and hagiography between the ninth and twelfth centuries.

This project seeks to understand the popularity, use and adaptation of Usuard’s martyrology through a study of its reception in pre-1200 continental manuscripts. Martyrologies have recently received attention in British and Irish contexts, but their study on the continent remains comparatively neglected. The significance of martyrologies lies in their malleability: later copyists usually added their own entries to and/or excerpted only parts of a base text. This project thus contributes to growing interest in how individuals and communities inserted and situated themselves within wider geographical and temporal frames of reference. It also aims to plug martyrologies into renewed scholarly discussion about the changing forms of history and hagiography in the central Middle Ages. The successful candidate will assemble an appropriately defined corpus of Usuard manuscripts to answer such questions as: how was Usuard’s work excerpted, revised and augmented by later readers? Why, among so many early medieval martyrological productions, did Usuard’s text become so popular? What do reworkings of Usuard’s work suggest about the purposes and audiences of martyrologies, as well as the changing historical and geographical horizons of Europeans in the ninth to twelfth centuries?

The project requires an MA or MPhil in Medieval History or Medieval Studies, ideally including Latin and palaeography / manuscript studies to Master’s level, and reading proficiency in one modern foreign language (preferably French) OR a willingness to develop this through the support of the Knowledge Orders training fund.