About Charters: Une Europe des chartes

Charters are one of the most widespread cultural legacies of medieval Europe. They are found in hundreds of thousands, probably millions, and are present in almost every archive in the world. Because they constituted a fundamental memorial support for the institutions or individuals who produced or received them, they were often kept until modern times by the institutions responsible for them – most often ecclesiastical. Sometimes destroyed during the 16th-18th centuries, they were nevertheless generally preserved by archivists and carefully examined by historians, who found in them a fundamental doorway for the study of medieval society as early as the 17th century.

Charters constitute essential material for understanding the evolution of the medieval system, both material and ideal, its written practices, but also its thinking and the tensions that run through it. By making it possible to interrogate a very large number of charters simultaneously, the aim is to study the chronology of the phenomena, but also their geography and their impact. The global consultation of the corpus also allows the comparison of chancery and scriptoria practices on a very large scale, making it possible to observe circulations well beyond regional or national borders.

Conservation and Edition

Published en masse in the 19th and 20th centuries, in regional or national collections, the charters are indeed a monument for historians. Digitised in the context of more or less extensive scientific programmes from the 1960s onwards, they were often grouped together in corpuses isolated from each other until the 2000s. Since 2009, the corpus of the Cartae Europae Medii Aevi (CEMA) has aimed to bring them together in a single set, both for conservation and for the interrogation of the files.

While our initial objective was primarily to produce a dataset for our data mining experiments, it soon became apparent that it would be desirable to disseminate this collection to a wider audience. In this perspective, in addition to the consultation of the proceedings on the present website, we would like to eventually propose a dataset, in agreement with our partners. It will make it possible to establish a ground truth for statistical and linguistic surveys on charters on a European scale. However, such a project would obviously not be possible without the previous programmes which, as early as the 1960s, chose to convert these documents into computer format. As the saying goes, the CEMA are nani gigantum humeris insidentes.

Digitizing Charters

The corpus thus counts today more than 270,000 documents, corresponding to about 80 million words. Most of the texts are in Latin, but some are also found in vernacular languages – from Old French to Norwegian, Middle High German and Hispanic languages. Our aim is to provide a site where all historians can simultaneously find these invaluable resources for the study of Europe’s past, facilitating regional as well as national comparisons.

It should also be noted that charters, like all medieval documents, are fully in the public domain under European law. The authors of these texts have been dead for more than 70 years. A diplomatic edition, because it consists primarily of a transcription of the document, does not generate copyright on the text. The digitisation of this cultural heritage and its availability to the widest possible public (scientific or not) seems under these conditions not only possible but also desirable.

It is this digitisation that finally makes possible the statistical analyses that historians have been hoping for for decades, even centuries.

Learn more about the CEMA

  • Nicolas Perreaux, Possibilities, Challenges and Limits of a European Charters Corpus (Cartae Europae Medii Aevi – CEMA), 2021, read preprint version online.
  • Nicolas Perreaux, L’écriture du monde. Dynamique, perception, catégorisation du mundus au Moyen Âge (VIIe-XIIIe siècles). Recherches à partir des bases de données numérisées, Phd @ Université de Bourgogne, Dijon, 2014, 1512 pp. Read online.
  • Nicolas Perreaux, « L’écriture du monde (I). Les chartes et les édifices comme vecteurs de la dynamique sociale dans l’Europe médiévale (VIIe-milieu du XIVe siècle) », BUCEMA (Bulletin du Centre d’études médiévales d’Auxerre), vol. 19.2, janvier 2016,
  • Nicolas Perreaux, « L’écriture du monde (II). L’écriture comme facteur de régionalisation et de spiritualisation du mundus : études lexicales et sémantiques », BUCEMA (Bulletin du Centre d’études médiévales d’Auxerre), vol. 20.1, 2016,