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Charlemagne’s Survey of the Holy Land

Charlemagne’s Survey of the Holy Land

Wealth, Personnel, and Buildings of a Mediterranean Church between Antiquity and the Middle Ages

Michael McCormick

ISBN 9780884023630

Publication date: 10/17/2011

In Charlemagne’s Survey of the Holy Land, Michael McCormick rehabilitates and reinterprets one of the most neglected and extraordinary sources from Charlemagne’s revival of the Roman empire: the report of a fact-finding mission to the Christian church of the Holy Land. The roll of documents translated and edited in this volume preserves the most detailed statistical portrait before the Domesday Book of the finances, monuments (including exact dimensions), and female and male personnel of any major Christian church.

Setting these documents in the context of economic trends, archaeological evidence, and a comparison of Holy Land churches and monasteries with their contemporaries west and east, this study shows that the Palestinian church was living in decline as its old financial links with Byzantium slackened. In recounting Charlemagne’s move to outflank the Byzantine emperor, McCormick constructs a microhistory of the Frankish king’s ambitions and formidable organizational talents for running an empire.

Supplementing McCormick’s major synthesis, The Origins of the European Economy, this volume will be indispensable reading for anyone interested in medieval rulership and economics, and in the history of the Holy Land, its Christian communities, and its late antique monuments.


  • At its worst, microhistory is merely antiquarian button counting. But at its best, as exemplified here, small things serve as touchstones for studies of wider-ranging significance. McCormick examines the Basel Roll, a ninth-century manuscript relating the information gathered by envoys of Charlemagne, who inquired into the financial needs of churches in and around Jerusalem. The roll preserves three documents that provide personnel numbers and sizes of building roofs in area churches and monasteries, as well as partial annual expenditures for the patriarch of Jerusalem… McCormick shows that the Jerusalem church had shrunk since late antiquity; that contemporary Frankish houses were larger and richer; and that Einhard did not exaggerate Charlemagne’s interest in faraway Christian communities. Among the many strengths of the book is the full-size facsimile of the Basel Roll included as a stand-alone poster.

    —C. J. Chandler, Choice


  • Michael McCormick is Francis Goelet Professor of Medieval History at Harvard University.

Book Details

  • 310 pages
  • 7 x 10 inches
  • Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection