Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Moving Immovables

Patrician Houses and Familiy Identity in Late Medieval Nuremberg

Karin Czaja

Part of the research project “Gender, choice of names, and marriage. On the construction of social identity in late medieval urban society”


In family history, it is by now widely accepted that not the exact number of ancestors and descendants, but rather family conciousness is constitutive for the definition of kinship in the Middle Ages. The key questions are which position the individual held within the system "family" and secondly, to which degree ancestors had a legitimating function. Family identities can be studied in particular in the context of systemic rupture. The most important rupture point is death; last wills are thus a prime source for the study of family conciousness. Material possessions, not only the knowledge of one's ancestors, shaped family identities; thus, the transmission of property has a central function in negocitating family relations and loyalities. Focussing on late medieval Nuremberg, my PhD project aims to study in detail how the transfer of property within patrician families shaped their respective family conciousness. Special attention will be given to the transmission of houses: Did city houses play a similar role for patrician family identities as did ancestral seats for the nobility?

The sources for my study are charters relating to property transfer, i.e. acts of last will, marriage contracts and inheritance contracts. In addition to searching for single charters surviving in the original form, chartularies (Kopialbücher) can be used to study large numbers of documents relating to single families. The Rieter family, for example, had several chartularies made, several of which are primarily concerned with charters concerning the transfer of property. These books date from the fifteenth century, when the family was steadily ascending to the upper echelon of society. From the extant testaments and inheritance contracts one can see how over 120 years family identity was closely related to a house which can indeed be seen as an ancestral seat of the Rieter family. The first chartulary, set up around about 1445, contains not only transcriptions of charters but also several folios of notes on the familiy history. The legal documents are thus supplemented by material which at first sight at least seems to be of much more subjective nature. The question presenting itself is what the relation between both kinds of material was and how its compilation in one chartulary contributed to what Simon Teuscher has called family-'relationship management'. It is to be expected that similar sources are extant for Nuremberg families, which I will draw on in a comparative approach.

In addition to these written sources, I will employ family endowments (partly still extant today); not unlike houses, they are visible material expressions of family identities, at the same time representing the family in the urban space and shaping its internal values and structures.



Gabriela Signori,Karin Czaja (ed.): Häuser, Namen, Identitäten. Beiträge zur spätmittelalterlichen und frühneuzeitlichen Stadtgeschichte, Konstanz: UVK, 2009. (Spätmittelalterstudien 1)


Christof Rolker und Gabriela Signori (ed.): Konkurrierende Zugehörigkeit(en). Praktiken der Namengebung im europäischen Vergleich, Konstanz: UVK, 2011. (Spätmittelalterstudien 2)

Konkurrierende Zugehörigkeiten. Mittelalterliche Praktiken der Namengebung im europäischen Vergleich
Vortrag im Rahmen der Clustertagung, Juli 2010, Ittingen
Gabriela Signori, Christof Rolker, Karin Czaja, Lilach Assaf
lectures, presentation (both in German)