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82. Seal of Michel the Jew


Michel the Jew

Dimensions: 35 mm. Impression.

Location: Augsburg City Archives.

Bibliography: Toepfer, 1866–67, Vol. 1, No. 255; C. Meyer, 1872.

The lower part of this seal is completely destroyed. Though a certain amount of imagination is required, the Latin letters of the name can be seen starting from the right at the top almost directly above the crest of a rooster. To the top left, as is usual, there are signs of the name in Hebrew letters, but they are too obliterated to read. The device of a cock is not uncommon on the seals of medieval German Jews (for other examples, see Nos. 90, 91, 100). It may be noted as well that this symbol appears on coins and seals of ancient Greece and Judaea (see the seal of Yeho’ahaz and the Miletus coin shown here).

Seal of Yeho’ahaz son of the king, 7th century B.C. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, No. 71.66.360.

Greek coin from Miletus, Asia Minor, ca. 500 B.C.

This damaged seal is the last remaining (the other two having fallen off) of three Jewish seals attached to a document from September 7, 1308, still extant and shown here. The document is written in German and is still readable:

We, Michel, Lamp, Juedlin, Joseph of Muelstat, the Mayor, Mans of Biberach and the Jewish Community of Augsburg hereby state to have drawn up an agreement with the Council and Community of Augsburg. To all those who hear or read this letter may it be known that the Council and citizens of the City of Augsburg have sworn to protect and defend the Jews, who in return solemnly swear in all honor and truth to abide by the following stipulations laid down in the agreement:

They [the] Jews promise willingly and gladly to pay five hundred pounds in new Augsburg pfennigs to the Council and Community. Of this sum, three hundred pounds is to be delivered on St. Martin’s Day, and the remaining two hundred on Whitsunday. They agree without further stipulation that in the case of nonpayment by the agreed-upon dates, they will not hold accountable citizens [attempting to collect] from individual Jews and their merchandise. If this money still has not been paid two months after the agreed-upon payment dates, the citizens will have the authority to seize their houses, jewelry and other property of worth, which they may in turn pawn, sell or liquidate. This stipulation holds only insofar as the intrinsic value of the property and the penalties incurred due to nonpayment of the above-mentioned pfennigs [are concerned]. In the event that the money is paid by the agreed-upon dates, there will be no penalty. Should it happen, God forbid, that the Jews have not paid by the appointed dates and the citizens confiscate their houses, jewelry or other property, thereafter pawning or selling them, neither the Jews nor their descendants shall have any further claim thereon.

In witness to these stipulations, Michel, Lamb [sic], and Juedlin have affixed their seals on behalf of themselves, Joseph of Muelstat, the mayor, Mans of Biberach, and also the Community of Jews, all of whom agree, through the affixed seals, since they have no seals of their own, to honor and obey the above agreement.

The letter is given on the 7th of September, 1308.

By the process of elimination, even if the name had been completely illegible, the reader—knowing the seals of Lamb and Juedlin from the previous document—can conclude that No. 82 had to be the seal of Michel. In passing, we may note that the name Michel, as distinguished from Michael, was not unusual among southern German Jews at this period. We know of a Michel of Strasbourg from the middle of the fourteenth century; a very rich Michel from Regensburg is mentioned in documents running from 1411 through 1422; and Michel from Seifriedsberg is also one of the few Jews mentioned in a document dated from 1361 at Augsburg, after the 1348–49 catastrophe.

The 1298 document to which No. 79 is attached, showing the Augsburg Jewish community seal, begins: “We, Benditte, Juedlin his son, Michel, Lambt, Aaron his brother.” The 1307 document, No. 81, begins: “We, Lamp and Judel, the Jews from Augsburg.” This 1308 document states: “We, Michel, Lamp, Juedlin.” We are thus obviously dealing with a small group of families which were the monied oligarchy of Augsburg, a group of Jewish Fuggers and Welsers. The records support this conclusion. Between 1298 and 1337 the names of Benditte, the father of Juedlin, of Juedlin himself, and of Lamb with his son Jacob, appear many times as creditors in documents and also, toward the end of this period, as objects of special assessments by both the city fathers and the emperor—this of course was part of the pattern of special imposts on Jews which eventually destroyed their economic base. In the earlier period, however, they flourished: as mentioned above, in 1304 the duke of Munich acknowledged a debt to Lamb and Juedlin of 3,600 florins.* The enormity of this sum can be appreciated when we note that the total taxes paid to the city by the Jewish community of Augsburg in the year 1329 amounted to 300 florins, and, of course, the Jews paid far more taxes in proportionate terms than did the Christian burghers of the city.

The wording of these documents indicates that this Jewish community was considered an alien group, despite the fact that several generations of these families had lived continuously at Augsburg. The September 7, 1308, document, as we read, distinguishes the “Jewish Community of Augsburg” from the “Council and Community of Augsburg.” The council and citizens swear to protect and defend the Jews not as fellow-citizens but as a separate body which must pay a large sum of money to buy security, as in the earlier document of 1298 the Jews had to build a fortification wall. Even purchasing protection was no longer good enough when the debts of the burghers became too great, and, as has been pointed out before, the burgomaster of the city himself is reported to have opened the gates in 1348 during the Black Death to permit the mob to kill the Jews and thus extinguish his own debt. This was not a unique episode; both individuals and cities in Germany got rid of their debt to the Jews the same way in this period, as the Cambridge Economic History points out (Van Werveke, 1963).

There are only a few Jewish personal seals from Augsburg, in contrast to nearby Regensburg. The Jews had lived for a longer period in Regensburg, but this is only a partial explanation. The archivist Dr. Friedrich Blendinger states in a letter to the writer that the city archives of Augsburg have survived reasonably intact despite the many wars affecting the area. It is his feeling that all documents brought before the city chancellery had to be sealed by the magistrate of the Reichstadt, and that the need for personal Jewish seals was thus eliminated at an early date, presumably shortly after 1308. Christian Meyer’s 1872 study indicates that, with the possible exception of one document from 1338, all seals appended after the early fourteenth century on documents dealing with Jews belong to official bodies, that is, to the city, church, or emperor. It is possible that seals for the earlier period may still be uncovered at the Vienna state archives, aone of the great treasure troves of medieval seals not yet fully catalogued.

More puzzling is the fact that the 1298 document was made official by a Jewish community seal, but this seal was not used on the document to which No. 82 is attached, involving the Jewish community and dated 1308, only ten years later. Dr. Blendinger conjectured that its use might have been prohibited by the city fathers. A Jewish community seal continued in use in Regensburg, a short distance away, after this date, but the two cities were independent and might have followed different legal codes. We know without question that the 1308 document shows three slits in the parchment for seals, and that the seals of Lamb, Juedlin, and Michel were attached through them. Therefore, the Augsburg Jewish community seal—which had been employed alone, without other personal Jewish seals, ten years earlier despite the fact that the same three rich Jews had pledged to honor that agreement—now was eliminated and the personal seals of the three men substituted. Toward the bottom of the 1308 document, where the parties witness their assent by affixing seals, it is written, “and also the Community of Jews, all of whom agree, through the affixed seals, since they have no seals of their own, to honor and obey the above agreement.” The less affluent members of the Jewish community are thus made partners by this collective statement in the validation of the document.

There can only be a limited number of reasons why the Jewish community seal of 1298 was not reused in 1308. It cannot have been lost in only a decade, and even if it had been, a new one could have easily been made. Perhaps, as Dr. Blendinger suggests, the seal was declared illegal, or perhaps the city fathers preferred the guarantee of the personal stampings from seals owned by the richest Jews to a general, abstract community seal.


Documents from the House, Court and State Archives at Vienna

May 1, 1297. Sealed by Petter son of Moses Halevi. Altschim and Jacob acknowledge receipt of 326 marks from Duke Otto of Bavaria and Stephen von Gastein.

December 4, 1302. Sealed by Petter son of Moses Halevi and by Gaedel (or Jacob) son of Master Petter Halevi. Jacob, Gaedel, Fraudel, etc., release Archbishop Conrad from an obligation of 50 lbs.

November 8, 1338. The Jewess Seld, her husband, Isaac, and their son Jekel have sealed for them this document with the seal of Jacob of Ful, who most probably was not Jewish. The family agrees on what part of the Jewish tax they should pay.*

Documents from the Bavarian Main State Archives at Munich

January 6, 1338. Sealed by Aferlein (Efferlein). A Christian party renounces all claims to a farm he sold to Efferlein and which Efferlein has just resold.

January 21, 1338. Sealed by Nachman son of Jacob, father of Efferlein. Nachman of Munich promises to become a citizen of Regensburg and regulate his tax assessment with the local Jews.

June 8, 1356. Sealed with the seal of the Jewish Community of Regensburg. Chändlein, a Jewish widow of Regensburg, with Joseph, Chalman, etc., her business associates, agrees to assess new city residents the taxes they should pay.

March 3, 1374. Sealed with the seal of the Community of Regensburg, a variant of the above seal. Abraham of Rax, Mändel, Josepff, Gnendel, Davitt, Veivel, Mändel of Lantzhut, Jüdel, Dovias, and Meuschel agree, despite their attempt to leave the city, to stay for the next twelve years and to depend upon the protection of the city alone and not on that of the duke or emperor.

July 17, 1384. Sealed by Gnendel and Chalman, a father and son.

July 22, 1384. Sealed by Saadia.

July 22, 1384. Sealed by Veivel, originally from Nuremberg.

August 22, 1384. Sealed by Meir Hesse, who came to Regensburg from Würzburg in 1381.

In the above group of documents, the wealthiest Jews are compelled to bind themselves by oath not to leave Regensburg, for which surety they are required to deposit with the authorities their jewels and other articles of value (the goods were confiscated anyway).

March 10, 1391. Sealed by Petter son of Moses, as guarantor for Gnendel.

March 17, 1391. Sealed by David.

March 17, 1391. Sealed by Disslob (Disslaba) and Saadia, a wife and husband. This is the same Saadia who sealed the July 22, 1384, document, but the legend on this new seal is now in Hebrew.

March 17, 1391. Sealed by Disslob (Disslaba) and Saadia with the same seals as above.

June 2, 1391. Sealed by David.

June 26, 1391. Sealed by Disslob (Disslaba).

July 13, 1391. Sealed by David, as guarantor for Jacob, his father-in-law.

The above group of seals witness tumultuous events. King Wenceslaus of Germany had made great efforts in the years before 1391 to squeeze money from the Jews of Regensburg, resisted by the patricians of the free city because of the loss of revenue to them. The king, forcing the issue, seized Regensburg merchandise in other cities, compelling the city to yield. These documents reveal both the forced legal extortion of money from rich Jews and subsequent alleviatory agreements on the part of the municipal authorities, who feared the spoliation was so great that all the rich Jews would leave.

March 29, 1398. Sealed by Disslaba and Saadia. The wife and husband have different Hebrew legends on their new seals.

March 29, 1398. Sealed by Disslaba alone.

The rich Jews had begun to flee Regensburg, transferring their capital elsewhere. Husband and wife, and then wife separately, are compelled to swear that they will adjudicate all disputes in the city and not according to ducal pronouncements (i.e., they may not take advantage of the conflict between the city of Regensburg and the Bavarian duke by fleeing to the jurisdiction of the latter).

Regensburg in the late medieval period was a far more important city than Munich, which now outshines it as the Bavarian capital. Indeed, it has been called by historians the leading commercial city of Germany in the latter part of the fourteenth century. Lying on a bend of the Danube River, it was linked both by water and land with Venice to the south, with Vienna and Prague to the east, and with the Rhineland to the west. The account books of Matthäus and Wilhelm Runtinger (1383–1407), a Regensburg partnership whose records have survived, indicate that their business extended from Venice, Austria, and Bohemia in the east to Frankfort on the Main and the Low Countries in the west. Vienna in particular, the transshipment point to eastern Europe, had close business connections with Regensburg, and the earliest seals of Jews from the city are from documents in the Viennese archives. In the latter part of the fourteenth century the Jews of Vienna—and especially the famed ducal favorite David Steuss—appear with those of Regensburg in financial partnerships such as the one which rescued the Regensburg bishopric from economic collapse in 1377. As has been noted, the decadence of Regensburg, starting around 1400, was associated with severe Jewish persecutions; the Jews were finally expelled in 1519.

The reason for the long Jewish presence (over five hundred years in duration, and at times representing 10 percent of the total population), ending in expulsion much later than similar expulsions in the general area, was political as well as mercantile. Though Regensburg was a free city, it was dependent in many ways upon the Bavarian dukes and was under the authority of the Holy Roman Empire as well. The Jews survived and prospered because of the conflicts among the city council, the ducal authority, and the emperor. The municipality of Regensburg, jealous of its rights as a free city, often supported the Jews in order to protect itself against the encroachments of the outside authorities. This patrician protection thus enabled the Jews to escape the Rindfleisch and Armleder massacres, as well as the pogroms at the time of the Black Death. The impotence of the city council in the fifteenth century, when Regensburg became subordinate to the dukes of Bavaria, is said to be the reason for the loss of Jewish status. The underlying factor, however, seems to have been the city’s commercial decline, though other reasons have been offered. Salo W. Baron, for example, stresses the religious aspect: “Apart from changing economic factors, and the anti-Jewish clamor of the craft guilds anxious to seize the reins of municipal administration, it was the growth of religious fanaticism . . . which accounted for the new antagonisms” (1965–67, 9:233).

The documents with Jewish seals almost all date from the latter part of the fourteenth century. As a result of Jewish persecutions of 1337 and 1348–49 (the Black Death), rich Jews looked for a safe haven, and it was the policy of the Regensburg municipality at its apex of commercial glory to encourage their entry for a financial consideration. The influx of wealthy Jews and the consequent increase of trade and litigation is reflected in the wealth of documents still extant. This period was also characterized by an augmentation of city power at the expense of the anti-Semitic Bavarian dukes, a situation which reversed itself in the next century.

We know quite a bit about these developments from the documents which bear Jewish seals or are related to them. For example, the rich Gnendel, whose son Chalman continued his business activities, was induced to take up residence in Regensburg at this time, and the Bavarian duke Stephen complained he had been “insulted” by this action, which permitted a rich subject to escape his exactions. Gnendel was a member of the banking syndicate, with other Jews and Christians, which saved the Regensburg bishopric from financial collapse in 1377. In 1390 the municipality remitted three thousand florins which had been extorted from him, on condition that he remain in the city. When he died in 1391 and his widow departed, three of her four houses were expropriated. His son Chalman met with even greater misfortune: thirteen thousand florins were extorted from him, and as a result, in 1398 his wife Hamel attempted to flee the city. It should be emphasized that not all these exactions were instigated by the city patriciate; many were caused by ducal and imperial pressures that forced the city to adopt extortionate methods.

The Golden Age of Regensburg Jewry lasted only half a century, approximately from 1340 to 1390. The cupidity of Wenceslaus, the German king (1361–1419), was aroused, and the city was compelled to yield to his unremitting demands for revenue. In 1374 the Jewish community, among whose representatives were Gnendel, David, and Veivel, pledged themselves to remain in the city for twelve years; this was one episode in the conflict between the king and the municipality over Jewish revenues. Then again in 1384 the wealthiest Jews, namely Gnendel, his son Chalman, Veivel, Meir Hesse (who had been persuaded to come to the city from Würzburg in 1381), and Saadia (whose financial activities were carried on with his wife Disslaba) were forced to bind themselves by oath not to leave Regensburg, depositing as security their jewels and other articles of value. In 1389 Gnendel, Saadia, and David, as representatives of the Jewish community, acted as bondsmen in a dispute between the city council and King Wenceslaus. In 1390 Saadia complained that even his household silver had been taken from him by excessive taxation, and in 1398 he attempted flight. Of the wealthy group it would seem that only Veivel, whose financial operations around 1360 were the most extensive in Regensburg, continued to prosper; his widow, Veivelin, and sons maintained the business, and we know that in 1405 his widow made a loan to the Duchess Margarete of Bavaria.

As commerce became straitened because of a change of trade routes after the discovery of the Americas and the shift of commerce to the Atlantic countries, the Jews were the first to suffer. The Christian nobility and merchants, who could now borrow money from the Italian “papal usurers,” discovered that Jewish moneylending was iniquitous. Religious animosity was aroused by Duke William of Bavaria, and popular preachers began to attack the Jews. The craft guilds, in a bitter struggle for political power with the patricians, echoed the sentiments of the religious bigots. A severe epidemic aggravated the problem in the fifteenth century, by which time only a few Jews could still purchase sufficient protection from the city to prosper. For all intents and purposes, the community was impoverished by the middle of the fifteenth century, over half a century before the expulsion.

The decline of Regensburg Jewry is reflected in the use of Jewish seals. Until a few years before 1400 Jews—not only in Regensburg but in certain other urban centers of Bavaria as well—had the right to authenticate documents with seals. After this date, Regensburg Jews were required to apply to authorized Christian officials in order to validate documents. The combination of King Wenceslaus’ spoliations, heavy taxes imposed by the city during the wars of the Swabian Confederation, and the advent of Christian moneylenders wiped out the capital resources of the Jews after 1400. In fact, a reverse process had begun: rich Jews once enticed to Regensburg began to move away freely or by stealth to new centers of commercial activity like Straubing, Passau, and Mainz (Mayence). The seals shown in the following pages thus derive from earlier times.

Certain general considerations may be added. The seals attached to documents served as a full contractual guarantee, and, unlike the custom in other areas, the signatures in Hebrew were not appended at the bottom of the documents. The documents themselves were in German, not Latin. The seals were engraved in Hebrew or German, one party having a seal in each of the languages; in two cases the parties had seals with varying Hebrew inscriptions, engraved at different periods. Orthography was casual, and the names are spelled in the documents in alternative forms, v and f, d and t, s and z, and y and i being interchangeable, with diminutives sometimes added: Gnendel, Gnendl, or Gnendlein; Veivel, Feivel, or Feyfel; David, Davit, or Davitt; Mairhess, Meir Hess, or Mair Hezz; Chalman or Chalmon; Disslob, Disslaba, Tisslaba, or Tysslaba; Sadia, Sadya, Sadian, or Sadyon. The official Jewish community seal itself comes in two versions, though the design variations are slight. Decorative symbols are the coupled crescent moon and star, used throughout the Jewish world as a seal device at the time; rosettes, roses, and floral designs, likewise common; large five-pointed and six-pointed stars; a cock and a bird (birds also appear on Jewish seals elsewhere). The aesthetic quality of these seals is high, indicating a superior level of culture, and the state of preservation of some of the impressions, from which modern copies can be made, is amazingly good.

Perhaps the most surprising feature of certain Regensburg seals is the use, in imitation of contemporary Christian seals, of crosses at the starting point of the inscription and between words, though the practice was limited to seals inscribed in German. Some distortions of this pre-eminent Christian symbol are apparent in certain cases, but the crosses are without blemish or alteration on others. Though merely a decorative feature, it is difficult to understand how the Regensburg rabbis could condone such a practice. In any event, this is an indication of the extraordinary level of cultural assimilation of some members of the Regensburg community.

*Raphael Straus, the historian of the Jewries of Regensburg and Augsburg, translates money references as florins despite the fact that the original documents give pfennigs or marks.

*There is a question, discussed later, as to whether this document comes from Regensburg in Bavaria or Radkersburg in Styria.

*Raphael Straus, the historian of the Jewries of Regensburg and Augsburg, translates money references as florins despite the fact that the original documents give pfennigs or marks.

*There is a question, discussed later, as to whether this document comes from Regensburg in Bavaria or Radkersburg in Styria.

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