Creeping up on the Roman Provincial
Around the year 1200, the court of the Roman pope produced a list of all the bishops - and hence of all the cities - in the Christian world. For the next three centuries this text was copied and updated by kings, priests, lawyers and academics across Europe. The numerous surviving manuscripts of this text - the so-called 'Roman provincial' - have received some attention from scholars, but the sheer number of manuscripts has meant that any attempt to catalogue and study them en masse is all but destined to failure. This article suggests a different approach: that the most interesting feature of the different provincial manuscripts is their differences; the ways in which different copyists changed the ecclesiastical and political geography of Europe to meet their own preferences and expectations. Political geographers and modern historians have long been aware of ‘contested cartographies’ and battles over borders on maps; by studying the Roman provincial we can apply such lenses to the medieval world too. Thirteenth century kings were quite as aware as we are that maps and lists constitute, rather than just describe, political realities.