Top ten history books read in the Middle Ages

Even before the advent of the printing press, some historians were more popular than others and scribes inevitably ended up multiplying those works which succeeded in imposing themselves to the monastic communities of the middle ages, eager to record past memory and hand it down to future generations. The success of some works is more discernible than that of others but they created a community of thought that was to influence subsequent centuries and offer models for modern historiography. Here is the list of the most successful top ten historical works that literate people were thought to be acquainted with during the thousand years of the middle ages together with the number of surviving manuscripts across Western Europe, as reckoned by Bernard Guenée.

1. Valerius Maximus, Facta et dicta memorabilia, 419

2. Orosius, Historiae adversum paganos, 245

3. Justinus, Epitome, 200

4. Flavius Josephus, Antiquitates judaicae, 200

5. Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia regum Britanniae, 200

6. Turpinus, Historia Karoli Magni, 170

7. Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica, 164

8. Cassiodorus, Historia tripartita, 138

9. Ranulph Higden, Polychronicon, 118

10. Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum historiale, 100

It is remarkable that the most prominent historian outside the Roman envelope is the Englishman Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose fanciful Historia managed to become one of the most widely read and reproduced historical work of the central and late middle ages, whose themes and motifs appealed to an ever-growing community of monastic and lay readers. A veritable bestseller of the 12th century.

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