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For the research and observation of historical earthquakes different types of archives may be important:
- local archives, such as town or city archives;
- archives of churches and monasteries;
- archives of aristocratic dominions.
All of them give us frequently very detailed, local information on damage in a certain area.
The advantage of this material is the fact that it is frequently written by eye-witnesses and can bring very sophisticated information on damage to buildings. For example calculations and accounts for the repair of churches, houses and palaces frequently exist; in chronicles of parishes or monasteries we frequently find detailed information on minor events, which did not cause any damage to buildings, or on earthquakes, which had their epicentre far away from the area the archive collected material about - which is important for any information about "felt/non felt".
The disadvantage is that these archives are frequently in disorder, historians can find information only by either studying nearly the entire archive or by chance. Another handicap is that the information is very locally restricted. Eye-witnesses are mainly priests and monks, not the "intellectuals" of this period; they are therefore based on their education and intellectual status, not very interested in fine observations of earthquake-events: they are more interested in damages than anything else.
But there is also another type of archives in Europe, the central repositories. One of the most outstanding central archives, comparable to the Vatican Archive in Rome or the Venetian State-Archive for the time-window, in which reports from all over Europe are available as a result of the diplomatic activities of these powers in former times is the Haus-, Hof-, und Staatsarchiv in Wien (the archive of the House in the sense of the Habsburg dynasty, the court and the state of the Habsburg monarchy). Parallel to this archive, the "Handschriftensammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek" (the manuscript section of the Austrian National Library) cannot be neglected and should therefore be mentioned.
Further on, I will discuss briefly the value of aristocratic family archives for the research on historical earthquakes. These private family archives constitute a kind of archives in Austria and Bohemia which have been nearly completely neglected by historians up to now, except for local studies.
A great part of the archive-material in these two kinds of archives, for the period which interests us here, was written by aristocrats or bureaucrats. Both had, in contrast to clergymen in the first half of the 18th century, a very secular education and very different interests, so the phenomenon which psychologists call "selective attention" is different and more adequate to our own scientific interests.
The Habsburg monarchy in the period we are considering is one of the most powerful countries in Europe. Habsburgs ruled Central Europe: the so- called "hereditary countries" - more or less Austria of today, but including also parts of Italy and Yugoslavia of today; in addition since 1526 Bohemia (the western part of Czechoslovakia of today) and since 1526 a small western part (since 1699 the whole territory) of the Kingdom of Hungary (including parts of Yugoslavia, Rumania and Slovakia).
A second branch of the Habsburg family ruled since the beginning of the 16th century in Spain and in all of the territories belonging to Spain. When this branch of the family died out in 1700, the territory of the central-European Habsburg monarchy increased enormously. After the 1714 Spanish sucession-war the Spanish heritage was divided: the former Spanish Netherlands (Belgium and Luxemburg) and parts of Italy (Lombardy, for a short time also Sicily, Parma, Piacenza etc.) were ruled by the Austrian branch of the Habsburg family.
The administration of territories always results in documents in the archives. And the further away from the centre of the Habsburg monarchy, which was obviously the court in Vienna, these territories were, the more documents were produced, as more reports about the situation in these newly acquainted territories were sent to Vienna. So the Viennese central archive of the Habsburg family, today the Österreichisches Staatsarchiv (Austrian state-archive), contains a lot of documents also for these parts of Europe.
The institution "Österreichisches Staatsarchiv" is divided in different departments: the most important, generally speaking, is the already mentioned Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, which was founded in 1749 by the ruler Maria Theresa, with the intention of collecting and centralising all important documents necessary to govern the country. Therefore mainly internal political and foreign political files are preserved in the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv; within these reports and documents there are also lots of non-political information concerning different events, but also unintended, "hidden" information for example on weather-conditions. It is therefore highly probable that we could find also reports on historical earthquakes in the materials of the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv.
There are also other departments, which occasionally may give us information, but are - according to my knowledge of the materials - less important; e.g. the "Allgemeines Verwaltungsarchiv" (which means archive of general administration), the "Hofkammerarchiv" (which is the archive for the financial operations of the Habsburg monarchy) and the "Kriegsarchiv" (army and military archive).
I would like now to give a list of possible archive materials taken from the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv which could contain information on historical earthquakes. A few general remarks which certainly repeat the observations of anyone who ever tried to study historical earthquakes in archive materials are necessary.
- There is normally no file called "historical earthquakes". If by way of exception there is one (occasionally in monasteries there are files like "Überschwemmungen, Brände und Erdbeben", which means floods, fires and earthquakes), the information on historical earthquakes offered in these files is very disappointing.
- The main contents of the files in the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv are concentrated on political affairs, any information on historical earthquakes is only accidental. So all the documents have to be carefully deciphered and studied and - if the historian is lucky - he may find one single piece of information within a lot of different documents he studied. A list of dates of historical earthquakes, which could be easily compiled out of other sources, would be helpful to avoid too much inefficient work; but this method obviously contains the risk of missing information on minor events, which may not be in the compiled list.
- Going through the enormous mass of documents in the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv would be relatively easy to organise. There is a special three years course, well known under European historians, existing in the "Institut für österreichische Geschichtsforschung". The graduates of this program are young and extremely well-trained historians, who would be able to do the work. But of course an analysis of the sources of the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv would cost a great deal of money, and nobody can guarantee for a good output as long as no one studies the material itself. The results of the research of historical earthquakes is not only dependent on the historiographical methods and the ability of the historians, but it is unfortunately mainly a question of the amount of information contained in the sources historians examine.
- Methodologically I would like to propose to start with a sample of materials (two or three years of each type of reports as a sort of case-study for each territory) choosing the sample according to the dates of historical earthquakes. This method would show if the reports contain enough and useful information and it would give an impression of the quality of this information. So, similar to a test drilling for oil, with this method one would be better able to decide which are the best departments (Archivbestände) of the archive for finding solid information. These prosperous types of sources which one finds in this first attempt can be studied systematically as a serial source. This idea of studying serial sources which exist for long periods of history is by the way more and more used by historians for their specific research on actual historical problems too.
There are two different kinds of sources in the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv. Subjects of the first type are the countries ruled by the Habsburg family, whereas the second type concerns non-Habsburg ruled countries in which ambassadors of the Emperor in Vienna resided and from which they sent detailed reports to Vienna practically several times a week.
Sources for Habsburg ruled countries
The Habsburg ruled countries are for our period a great part of Europe: Central Europe, Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, parts of Northern and Southern Italy, Spain, Belgium and Luxemburg. Out of practical reasons, I will concentrate here on the sources concerning EC-countries of today, these are Italy, Spain, Belgium and Luxemburg.
When the Austrian Habsburgs took over in the so-called Spanish Netherland (Belgium and Luxemburg) they established an administration of their own, whose archives are at least partly in the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv and form there the "Abteilung Belgien" (department of Belgium), which is structured in a very complicated manner. Some parts of the former archive material on the Austrian Netherlands had to be delivered to the independent country Belgium in 1856-1875, so in some cases completion in Den Haag, Luxemburg, Lille and Nancy will be necessary to make up for the defects of the Viennese materials. These Viennese materials concern the period from 1713 to 1794. This collection contains also older documents, or at least copies of older documents, as 1739 Emperor Karl VI gave order to his sister Maria Elisabeth, who was governor in the Netherlands, to make copies "de tous les documents et lettrages" concerning the Austrian Netherlands. These activities were only partly successful, for in the 1740-1748 Austrian succession-war the Netherlands were again the scene of war and the archive-work was interrupted.
For our purpose probably the "Repertorium DD. Registraturen der deutsch-habsburgischen Regierungsbehörden 1713-1794" (which means Repertory DD. Registration of the Austrian-Habsburg administration) will be the most interesting. This Repertorium DD. contains the correspondence between the "Secrétairie de Cour" and later the "Secrétairie d'état pour la négotiation de Flandre" and the "Secrétairie pour la correspondence intime allemande réunis" with the Spanish state secretary ("Secretaria de estado y de despacho universal") in Vienna under Don Ramon de Vilana Perlas Marques de Rialp and similar correspondence of the governor of the Netherlands or the general-governor of the Netherlands (this was for a long time the famous Prince Eugene de Savoy). Since 1717 some of the agenda of different offices had been centralised in Vienna and the establishment of a "Conseil suprême des Pays-Bas" was the result.
The correspondence between Bruxelles/Brussels and Vienna is the main content of the Repertorium DD. The letters are in different languages: French, Spanish and Italian and since 1733 mainly German.
Some other sources, which also form part of this Repertorium DD., may in some details complete this correspondence between Bruxelles/Brussels and Vienna; there is also diplomatic correspondence between Bruxelles/Brussels and the Austrian ambassador in Paris, the Austrian ambassador in London and the Austrian ambassador in the Northern independent Netherlands and similarly fragments of correspondence with Sweden and Roma/Rome. Altogether there are some 100 files of material concerning Belgium. These files are called in the Austrian archive terminology "Faszikel", or in English "fascicle", which is a box about 50 by 30 by 15 centimetres containing the papers, normally about a thousand pages per fascicle. I will use the term fascicle for it, and this explanation can give you some idea about the amount of paper that has to be studied.
Concerning Spain and Italy, the quantity of material for our period is not much smaller compared to that concerning the Austrian Netherlands. The documents of two administrative bodies are of importance in this respect: the "Consejo de Espana", for all the provinces from the Spanish heritage were first administered by this Spanish Council; then since 1736 "il Consiglio d'Italia", which was replaced later on - in 1757 - by the "Dipartimento d'Italia" of the State Cancellery.
The documents of the Spanish Council concern besides Spain itself: Napoli/Naples, Sicilia/Sicily and Milano/Milan (which means Lombardy) in the period 1714-1736, the material of the Italian Council continues from 1736 to the Fifties. Altogether this material comprises some dozen fascicles.
But there is another group of documents, which is simply called "Lombardei" (Lombardy) and which contains the correspondences of the governors and other offices like "magistrato ordinario" and "magistrato straordinario" etc. from 1707 on.
Similar material is available for Mantua, mainly correspondence of the governors from 1710 to 1743; for Naples again mainly correspondence of the Vice-King from 1707 to 1734; for Sicily from 1719 to 1734; for Modena from 1742 to 1753 and for Parma and Piacenza from 1738 to 1745.
Altogether again some 100 fascicles to be looked through. Supplementary maybe the information contained in the small (only 6 boxes) department "Plenipotenz in Italien" can be useful.
Compared to the territory ruled by the pope or that belonging to the Republic of Venice the dimension of the Habsburg monarchy was enormous. This is the reason why the material of the internal administration of the Habsburg monarchy is so rich and gives information for so many different parts of Europe.
Documents from diplomatic representatives of the Habsburg monarchy
The type of material Vienna shares with Rome or Venice, London or Paris is the rich diplomatic correspondence. Similar to the reports of the nuncios (Nuntiaturberichte) of the Vatican archives and the "Dispacci" (Dispatches) and "relazioni finali" (final reports) of the Venetian ambassadors in the State archives in Venice - by the way all the Venetian Dispacci-material is in a copy of 231 volumes in the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv in Vienna too - , the dense network of reports from Imperial ambassadors in different parts of Europe is preserved in the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv in Vienna. The Habsburg monarchy in this period was one of the super powers in Europe. The ruler of Austria, who was also king of Hungary and Bohemia and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, was a very powerful man in the political scene of Europe in the early 18th century. Nobody - except perhaps the King of France (Louis XIV and his followers) - could match his outstanding position. But this position as one of the dominating dynasties around 1700 was also in a crisis and had to be defended against the aspirations of France for hegemonial power in Europe. So the Habsburg monarchy in this period was permanently involved in wars, and wars always mean extraordinary diplomatic activities. So the density of reports from different courts, where besides resident ambassadors special envoys were sent, is numerous.
The diplomatic reports from all over Europe constitute another most important source for historians generally and hopefully for those trying to trace historical earthquakes, though this material has never been systematically examined for this purpose.
These diplomatic reports are written by secular intellectuals, who know how to collect information and how to observe things: therefore, they are an excellent type of source. Many of the aristocrats of this period - and only members of the aristocratic class became ambassadors in the time of absolutistic rule in Europe, which based its power on aristocratic forces - had a very high education, and many of them were also influenced by the ideas of enlightened philosophers. We know that this influenced their interests a lot, nature and science were attractive to them and all extraordinary events in nature automatically interested them. Naturally the diplomatic reports contain mainly information about political affairs - this is what they are written for - but also different "news" are reported.
There are three main series of diplomatic correspondence, mainly reports from different countries in the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv:
1. The "Diplomatische Korrespondenz" (diplomatic correspondence), which is the archive of the former "Staatskanzlei" (state chancellery), a sort of a foreign office of the old Habsburg monarchy. Diplomatic correspondence out of our period exists from Bavaria 1672-1849 (279 fascicles), Frankfurt 1711-1848 (91 fascicles), Hamburg 1703-1860 (49 fascicles), Prussia 1671-1848 (244 fascicles) and Regensburg 1663-1808 (232 fascicles), Saxony 1671-1848 (110 fascicles) and another 300 fascicles for different places in the Reich.
As supplementary sources for the same purpose could be used the reports from the Imperial "Prinzipalkommission" in Regensburg, where the diet of the Holy Roman Empire met, they exist from 1662-1806 (182 fascicles) and the reports from the Austrian Embassy on this diet in Regensburg from 1663-1805 (6 fascicles).
The number of fascicles concerning the period of our time is more than 500.
2. The "Staatenabteilung" (so called state department) which selected and collected files from the "Staatskanzlei" (state chancellery) and the "Reichshofkanzlei" (Imperial court chancellery) both responsible for the Habsburg monarchy's foreign politics.
Here again we find represented different German countries like reports from Bavaria, especially when Bavaria was administered by the Emperor from 1704 to 1715, reports from Brandenburg, from Brunswig, Cologne, Lorraine, Moguntia, Palatium, Saxony and Württemberg. But in this "Staatenabteilung" also the material from Austria's diplomatic relations to all the major European countries is collected.
Nearly all these files are chronologically ordered. They are separated into:
- instructions (which are unimportant for our purpose);
- the frequent, sometimes even daily reports from the ambassadors;
- an undefined group of papers called "Varia", which often turns out to be a sort of gold mine for historians, who are looking for non-diplomatic information;
- frequently also some fascicles of printed materials, which can include newspapers on events such as earthquakes.
Tab. 1 indicates which material of this kind exists, for which countries and the time-window it covers.
Other parts of Italy are treated in the department called "Italien, diplomatische Korrespondenz" (Italy diplomatic correspondence), where - besides Rome (papal state) and Venice - files on Genova, Lucca, Malta, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Sardinia and Tuscany exist.
There is also a department of the archive called "Italien, kleine Staaten" (Italy, small countries), which holds rich material on Asti, Ferrara, Lucca, Milano, Mantova, Monferrat, Parma, Piacenza and Savoy. There are also four fascicles of written newspapers from Italy but, unfortunately for our purpose, mainly of the 16th century.
Some small fascicles contain even material on places like North Africa (from 1732 on) or Bosnia Hercegovina (starting even in 1660), there is also a certain amount of reports from Switzerland, Graubünden as well as from other countries.
3. When the Holy Roman Empire ended in 1806, the so-called "Mainzer Erzkanzlerarchiv", which is the former archive of the archbishop and Elector of Moguntia, who was the arch-chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire, came to Vienna and was incorporated to the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv. These Electors of Moguntia had an extensive correspondence with ambassadors in different places in Europe too, which again provides some dozens fascicles with potential information on historical earthquakes.
Geschriebene Zeitungen (handwritten newspapers)
Generally speaking a type of source is very important for the period of early modern history: news and information in handwritten "newspapers", which we can find in archives. There exist 10 fascicles of "Geschriebene Zeitungen" (handwritten newspapers) from 1553 to 1783 in the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, but also in the "Handschriftensammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek" (the manuscript section of the Austrian National Library) there are a lot of manuscripts in which handwritten newspapers are collected. Unfortunately for the given time-window no collection comparable to the Fugger-newsletters exists (Fugger-Zeitungen, 1568-1605).
These 27 volumes of reports from all over Europe between 1568 an 1605 had for example the best (which means most qualified) information on the historical earthquake of 1590 (Gutdeutsch et al., 1987).
There is a catalogue in Latin for this manuscript section of the Austrian National Library, which has an index, but - according to my opinion and experience - it will nevertheless be necessary to go through the catalogue title by title, otherwise important information could be easily neglected.
Also for the printed newspapers, which are of a similar importance as sources for events like earthquakes, Vienna provides two main libraries. The Austrian National Library, which is the former library of the Emperor, is a large, centralistic collection of old books. It includes also the library of Prince Eugene de Savoy, who was not only commander-of-chief of the Austrian army in the period of our time, but also scholarly extremely interested, especially in science! So many important books on early science out of his collection are today in the Austrian National Library. The second important library is the University Library, which is the former Jesuit library, for up to 1773 the Viennese university was a Jesuit-run university.
The reports of ambassadors frequently copy different handwritten "newspapers" or send some newspapers they received from other places as an enclosure.
All the important aristocratic families in the Habsburg Empire had their archives. The main reason was that within the economic and social system of early modern Europe (called the manorial system = Grundherrschaft) these families held power and governed like monarchs, but of course in comparatively small territories. The documents of this administration and the private correspondence of the aristocrats and different other types of sources are collected in these family-archives. In Austria still many of them are privately owned - which is not always an advantage for the archive-material, for many families have their archives but cannot afford an archivist to keep the archive in order. On the other hand some main archives of important families were given as a deposit to the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv and historians who ask for a license to use them, which is normally granted without any difficulties, will find them quite well preserved and the archive-material ordered.
But the majority of the most important families had the centre of their dominions in Bohemia up to 1918, and also the archives were there and remained there, after 1947 the communist system confiscated these archives and today these former private aristocratic archives are state-run. The advantage for historians is that we find these archives in optimal condition. The inventaries are in Czech language, but the sources themselves are mainly German, French, Italian, and partly Latin. The language problem - frequently German speaking historians are afraid of the Czech inventary and Czech speaking historians are not able to read the early modern German documents - have prevented much use being made of these archives up to now.
For our purpose of tracing historical earthquakes on the one hand, local "news" in the economic records (like calculations for the repair of buildings etc.) is important, but on the other hand the mass of letters we can find in these archives provides us with information. Two types of letters, different from the material of the central archives such as the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, can be found in these aristocratic archives:
- letters from administrators to the aristocrats, reporting minutiously about all events in the dominions of the aristocratic lord;
- sorts of private letters from aristocrats to members of their family or private letters between different aristocrats.
Both types of sources are full of information on non-political questions and do not only report events out of the perspectives of eye-witnesses, but also collect and copy reports from other parts of Europe in cases where the original information is probably lost.
So I can imagine that an intensive study of some selected family archives, which is again searching for one grain of information in heaps of paper (not to say looking for a pin in a haystack) could produce excellent information on historical earthquakes.
Fugger-Zeitungen, 1568-1605. Österreichische Nationalbibliotek, Wien, 8949-8975.
Gutdeutsch, R., Hammerl, Ch., Mayer, I. und Vocelka, K., 1987. Erdbeben als historisches Ereignis. Die Reconstruktion des Bebens von 1590 in Niederösterreich. Berlin-Heidelberg.
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