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122. Seal for the Aschaffenburg [Jewish] Debt

* S’ · OPIDI · ASChAFFENBVRG · AD · DEBITA ·

* Seal of City of Aschaffenburg in Debt Confirmation

Dimensions: 39 mm. Impression.

Location: Frankfort City Archives, Juden Ugb E 44c.

A previously unreported seal in the archives of Frankfort on the Main deals with the confirming of Jewish debts at Aschaffenburg, a town about twenty miles away, down the Main River, whose Jewry in this period was probably dependent on the larger Jewish community at Frankfort.

The seal is stamped in yellow wax. In the field there is a wheel with six spokes. Though the rim of the seal is damaged, the Latin legend bordered by two lines of dots can still be clearly read. The seal hangs from a parchment document, likewise intact, dated June 30, 1342, illustrated here. Despite the difficulty of deciphering certain archaic German words, the meaning can be made out:

I Peder Schertiln [Peter Schertil] from Ostheym [Ostheim] openly admit with this letter my debt to Seckelin from Frankinfurd [Frankfurt], a resident Jew of Aschaffinburg, and to his heirs, of three pound heller in good coinage which is to be paid by next St. Martin’s Day. The guarantors are the citizens Cuntze Lutfriden and Heintzen, the son of Heinrich Rindelbamis, from Aschaffinburg, who also live at Ostheym. If I do not pay the amount on the named date, I or the guarantors will pay every week three hellers per pound until the debt is repaid. And we, Cuntze and Heintze, swear to be reliable guarantors. Whenever the Jews or their deputies request, we shall give them their rights. If we do not do this, they may [enforce this on] us with the help of an officer, as well as their rights to any damage they suffer due to delay in repayment and as long as the Jews still have this letter, I may not free the guarantors from their obligation.

We the guarantors have asked Arnold Spisner, citizen of Aschaffinburg, to seal this letter with the seal that has been given here to the Jews for their debt.

Dated year MCCCXLII of the day after the feast of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul.*

Debt acknowledgment from Aschaffenburg, ]une 30, 1342, sealed by seal of city for Jewish debt. Frankfort City Archives, Juden Ugb E 44c.

There is a note on the reverse of the document in Hebrew, illustrated here. It states: “Peter Schertil, 3 litre, up to Metzil,” that is, to St. Martin’s Day (“3 litre” is the three-pound heller).

The seal has certain unusual aspects. There is no reference to Jews either in the legend or the device, but the document specifically states “daz den juden do selbis gebin ist uber ir schult,” or “that has been given here to the Jews for their debt.” It is odd that the seal in no way explicitly states that it was for a Jewish debt. Judging from the circumstances, one can assume that Christians (whether local burghers, Lombards, or Cahorsins) could not lend money, which was an exclusive Jewish monopoly in Aschaffenburg. We know this to be true elsewhere,* and indeed one of the Swiss documents analyzed earlier, stamped with a Jewish seal (see No. 75), is a plea to the Christian authorities to continue what we might call an exclusive Jewish franchise on moneylending. There were many such communities attractive to the Jews, who, along with their expulsion from entire countries by this time, had been driven out of most of the leading commercial centers by the “papal usurers” and forced to relocate in smaller towns that were beneath the attention of the powerful Italian banking firms.

Reverse of Aschaffenburg debt acknowledgment.

Reverse of aes grave, Rome, 3d century B.C.

It should likewise be noted that though the money was lent by one Jew in what seems at face value to be a strictly private transaction involving a rather small sum, the Christian borrower seems to pledge return of the money to the entire community of Jews, to “the Jews or their deputies”; and that “as long as the Jews still have this letter” the guarantors continue to be bound. We thus observe that what might be called the corporate responsibility of the entire Jewish community in money matters works both ways. When a specific group of Jews takes the responsibility to commit itself to a monetary course of action, all the Jews of that community are held responsible, as we have seen on other documents; conversely, when money is owed to one Jew, all the Jews of the community seem to be guaranteed its return. This accorded with imperial policy, for taxes on the Jews were imposed not upon individuals but on the community as a whole.

The emblem on the seal has a complex background. The use of a wheel on various seals, coats of arms, and coins of the Middle Ages is based on Christian symbolism, though the wheel as a motif appears on Greek and Etruscan coins from long before the advent of Christianity; a third-century Etruscan coin is shown here for comparison. A clue to the meaning of the wheel is found in the tide currus ecclesiae* for high church officials of Mainz. This tide is an allusion to the wheels written of in Ezekiel 1: 15:—“Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces.” In later Christian commentaries the four creatures carrying the wheels are identified with the four Evangelists. In the case of this seal, where a wheel within a wheel is shown, the biblical allusion is carried even further, following Ezekiel 1:16: “The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl; and they four had one likeness; and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.” Actually, No. 122 takes its device directly from the coat of arms of the archbishops of Mainz, whose summer residence was at Aschaffenburg. The seal, of course, was created by the Christian authorities for use in the matter of Jewish debt.


*Since this Catholic holy day is on June 29 each year, the date of the document is assumed to be June 30.

*When Engelbert II (1261–1274), archbishop of Cologne, renewed the old privileges of the Jews of the diocese, and had them engraved on a stone kept in the cathedral, one express provision was that Cahorsins or any other Christians who by moneylending might hurt the business of the Jews were forbidden to settle in Cologne. Aschaffenburg was less than 150 miles from Cologne.

*Currus in classical Latin usage is a wheeled vehicle like a chariot or triumphal car. Ecclesiae of course refers to the Roman Catholic church hierarchy at Mainz.

*Since this Catholic holy day is on June 29 each year, the date of the document is assumed to be June 30.

*When Engelbert II (1261–1274), archbishop of Cologne, renewed the old privileges of the Jews of the diocese, and had them engraved on a stone kept in the cathedral, one express provision was that Cahorsins or any other Christians who by moneylending might hurt the business of the Jews were forbidden to settle in Cologne. Aschaffenburg was less than 150 miles from Cologne.

*Currus in classical Latin usage is a wheeled vehicle like a chariot or triumphal car. Ecclesiae of course refers to the Roman Catholic church hierarchy at Mainz.

Dated year MCCCXLII of the day after the feast of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul.*

The seal has certain unusual aspects. There is no reference to Jews either in the legend or the device, but the document specifically states “daz den juden do selbis gebin ist uber ir schult,” or “that has been given here to the Jews for their debt.” It is odd that the seal in no way explicitly states that it was for a Jewish debt. Judging from the circumstances, one can assume that Christians (whether local burghers, Lombards, or Cahorsins) could not lend money, which was an exclusive Jewish monopoly in Aschaffenburg. We know this to be true elsewhere,* and indeed one of the Swiss documents analyzed earlier, stamped with a Jewish seal (see No. 75), is a plea to the Christian authorities to continue what we might call an exclusive Jewish franchise on moneylending. There were many such communities attractive to the Jews, who, along with their expulsion from entire countries by this time, had been driven out of most of the leading commercial centers by the “papal usurers” and forced to relocate in smaller towns that were beneath the attention of the powerful Italian banking firms.

The emblem on the seal has a complex background. The use of a wheel on various seals, coats of arms, and coins of the Middle Ages is based on Christian symbolism, though the wheel as a motif appears on Greek and Etruscan coins from long before the advent of Christianity; a third-century Etruscan coin is shown here for comparison. A clue to the meaning of the wheel is found in the tide currus ecclesiae* for high church officials of Mainz. This tide is an allusion to the wheels written of in Ezekiel 1: 15:—“Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces.” In later Christian commentaries the four creatures carrying the wheels are identified with the four Evangelists. In the case of this seal, where a wheel within a wheel is shown, the biblical allusion is carried even further, following Ezekiel 1:16: “The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl; and they four had one likeness; and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.” Actually, No. 122 takes its device directly from the coat of arms of the archbishops of Mainz, whose summer residence was at Aschaffenburg. The seal, of course, was created by the Christian authorities for use in the matter of Jewish debt.

Next Chapter

123. Seal of Abraham

Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344859
MARC Record
OCLC
1055142843
Pages
234-236
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-SA
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