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121. Seals of Natan and Six Other Jews

Dimensions: unknown.

Location: unknown.

The Bavarian Main State Archives holds copies of four documents that also give a revealing picture of Jewish-Christian relations in the mid-fourteenth century. Known collectively as Kaiser-Ludwig-Select (KLS) Class 616a–d,* they are copies made by a priest from Kreuznach and stamped Vidimus, i.e., “we have seen,” indicating that the scribe certifies having seen the originals, now lost. Kreuznach is a town southwest of Mainz near the Rhine, so that though these documents are located in Bavaria, they are appropriately considered with the seals from the Rhineland.

The first document is dated May 17, 1336. Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian at Frankfort grants to Count Johann von Sponheim, a nobleman of Kreuznach, sixty Jewish families from and around Kreuznach as a reward for services rendered. It should be understood that this is a full feudal grant of chattel, modified only by custom then prevailing.

The second document is dated March 1, 1338. Natan, his wife and his children attest that they owe Count Johann von Sponheim seven thousand pounds heller, to be paid in specified installments; further clauses about the liability of individual family members are added, as well as the threat of possible imprisonment for debt.

The third document is also dated March 1, 1338. Here we encounter the curious statement that Natan, his wife, and his children waive all claim to the seven thousand pounds heller that they owed Count Johann von Sponheim and to everything else that the Count took from Natan and his son Salikman, specifically household effects, wine, jewels, and money. It is added that whoever acts against this waiver will be banished.

On the back of the copyist’s parchment is appended a note dated April 22, 1339. In it Raugraf Conrad declares that he can no longer legally hold the Jews Salikman and Palte, the sons of Natan, with whom his nephew Count Johann von Sponheim was in conflict, even if this violates the agreements he made with his nephew.

These documents seem so confusing that Dr. Wild, the archivist of the Bavarian Main State Archives, concluded his letter to the writer enclosing this information with the apologetic notation, “The contents of the documents b.–d. [the second through fourth documents] appear rather muddled, yet the wording of the texts allows no other interpretation.” The records indicate that Natan sealed both 616b and 616c. Since we are dealing with copies and not the original documents, there is of course no impress of seals.

The facts seem to indicate that Count Johann von Sponheim got hold of a chattel grant of Jews from Emperor Ludwig and squeezed them as hard as he could. Among them was Natan, probably the richest of the group. The count forced Natan and his family to agree to pay him a large sum, and on the same day Natan accepted a forced grant to the count of all his valuables. This is a kind of legal extortion whereby Natan was made to disgorge all his property. Apparently Natan died shortly thereafter, or may even have been killed by the count, who then attempted to move against Salikman and Palte, Natan’s sons. For whatever reason (more probably the result of a bribe rather than an act of compassion, which was a rare quality in those days), the count’s uncle released the sons from any remaining legal liability despite his promise to back up his nephew in the matter. Such types of legal despoliation were to become very common a decade later, during the period of the Black Death, when Jews were often forced to relinquish all their money and property in exchange for their lives or those of their children.

It is very unfortunate that there exist only certified copies of these four documents rather than the actual sealed instruments. According to Dr. Wild, the originals of KLS 616b and c were sealed not only by Natan but by six other Jews as well. KLS 616b clearly states that along with Natan, the Jews Crissant, Abram, Calman, David, Jacob, and Bynherre witnessed and sealed (one Jew, Liebirman, witnessed but did not seal), as well as two Christian knights, two scribes of the count, and a representative of the city of Kreuznach. This information is so startling that the writer asked Dr. Wild whether the other Jews were not merely witnesses. He responded:

The wording of Vidimus KLS makes it clear that together with Natan all the persons listed as witnesses (both Jews and Christians) appeared also as sealers with the exception of Liebirman. About the latter it says expressly: “… and I, Master Liebirman, since I have no seal, confess along with the other sealers that everything stated is true.” Accordingly there can be no doubt that all the other persons sealed the original document. The same holds true for KLS 616 No. c, which says about the persons in question: “… that they have sealed this letter.”

Apparently Count Johann von Sponheim combed the area to drag in every prominent Jew to witness and seal these documents in order to give them irreproachable legality. It is significant that he could find, among sixty Jewish families from and around Kreuznach, a rather small town, seven Jews with seals.

The overwhelming mass of private documents from the Middle Ages involving business matters have been lost; those which remain were preserved either by accident or because they involved members of the nobility or ecclesiastics, who maintained careful records. This writer maintains that Jewish seals must have been relatively common, particularly in the fourteenth century, in certain parts of the Holy Roman Empire. Because the documents to which they were appended had no community value, and were thus discarded or destroyed, scholars have assumed that such Jewish seals are rare. The evidence here seems to indicate otherwise, and this position, it may be added, is shared by Zvi Avneri, who has repeatedly stated that the number of medieval seals he uncovered were only a fraction of those in use at the time.


*Emperor Louis IV (Kaiser Ludwig) was Holy Roman Emperor from 1328 to 1346, as well as duke of Upper Bavaria.

Raugraf was a name given to several generations of counts from the Emichonen family at Altenbaum Castle in the valley of the Alsenz.

*Emperor Louis IV (Kaiser Ludwig) was Holy Roman Emperor from 1328 to 1346, as well as duke of Upper Bavaria.

Raugraf was a name given to several generations of counts from the Emichonen family at Altenbaum Castle in the valley of the Alsenz.

The Bavarian Main State Archives holds copies of four documents that also give a revealing picture of Jewish-Christian relations in the mid-fourteenth century. Known collectively as Kaiser-Ludwig-Select (KLS) Class 616a–d,* they are copies made by a priest from Kreuznach and stamped Vidimus, i.e., “we have seen,” indicating that the scribe certifies having seen the originals, now lost. Kreuznach is a town southwest of Mainz near the Rhine, so that though these documents are located in Bavaria, they are appropriately considered with the seals from the Rhineland.

On the back of the copyist’s parchment is appended a note dated April 22, 1339. In it Raugraf Conrad declares that he can no longer legally hold the Jews Salikman and Palte, the sons of Natan, with whom his nephew Count Johann von Sponheim was in conflict, even if this violates the agreements he made with his nephew.

Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344859
MARC Record
OCLC
1055142843
Pages
232-232
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-SA
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