Medieval Trier

Trier – Medieval Town in a Crisis

Curious find of long lost register of loans and rents from 1347 to 1405 has created the opportunity for a detailed “reconstruction” of the material and social fabric of Late Medieval Trier

The manuscript with the register from Trier 1347 - 1405. From: Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Bonn, Hs. S 1571
The manuscript with the register from Trier 1347 – 1405. From: Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Bonn, Hs. S 1571

In 1918 an antiquarian bookseller in Munich sold a Trier register of 2300 loans and rents and annuities taken out from 1347 to 1405 (Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Bonn, Hs. S 1571). The register was picked up by a library in Bonn and recently rediscovered by a historian from Trier. Currently, a team is editing and studying the text in detail to get an intimate picture of daily life.

The text records a multitude of contracts whereby ordinary people rented out or pawned their property, thus demonstrating a vast number of networks among ordinary citizens, clerics and nobles in and around the town in the 14th century. Fascinating is how the medieval people of Trier organised the market for land and properties. By comparing the newfound register of rents with the other records and city accounts from the same period, a unique opportunity to reconstruct the society of late medieval Trier has been revealed. The central question is how the crisis following the pest in 1349 played out amongst the citizens.

Town in Crisis

More specifically, the register makes it possible to get a detailed understanding of how the city financed the religious socio-topographical landscape (churches, convents, guilds and other institutions) in a profound crisis marked by plague, famines and other crises. Another fascinating topic is the study of the viticultural tradition of the city located directly in the Mosel region. During the High Middle Ages, between 1100–1300, religious institutions in the city played a significant role in the expansion of the vineyards, and wine was exported as far as Scandinavia and the British Isles. 

Following this period of growth, the register demonstrates how the vineyards came to yield approximately 50% or even less of their former output after 1348. But the records also uncover how this led to the introduction of new sorts of grapes, which were more resilient towards the deteriorating climatic conditions. Finally, the crisis led to the creation of a specific new technology: the use of sulphuric acid to prevent the growth of bacteria and wild yeasts. One discovery made from the register is how specialists rented cellars where they worked as professional “sulphurers” tending to the quality of the wine. This new technology had already been introduced in the 1340s and represented a significant technological invention. Finally, a third theme is represented by the consequences of the plague in 1349 on the property market. Not least, we learn how the Jewish population suffered a series of devastating pogroms.

The results of the study are going to be presented through digital cartography. Yet another form of presentation is a series of videos detailing aspects of medieval Trier, making it the perfect next stop for your medieval travels in Europe. The videos are presented in both German and English.


Trier – Stadt in der Krise

The project is being financed by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung and directed by Prof. Dr. Lukas Clemens


Episode 1 – The rediscovery of the register

Episode 2 – The importance of the financial organization in late Medieval trier for the development of the religious landscape

Episode 3 – The Jews in Trier before and after the plague and the pogroms in the 1349 – 50.

Episode 4 – The impact of the plague as witnessed by the decline of the property market in 1349.

Episode 5 – The development of the wine-production in the Mosel district caused by the deterioration of the climate in the 14th century.


Geschichte der Stadt Trier.
By Gabriele Clemens and Lukas Clemens:
C.H. Beck 2007


View of Trier in the 15th century. Printed and colored in the workshop of Anton Koberger.



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