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the auxiliary (or specialized) historical discipline that studies the form and content of official acts. Diplomatics first developed as a method of determining the authenticity of documents, often overlapping with such specialized disciplines as paleography, chronology, and genealogy.

A kind of verification of the authenticity of documents (practical diplomatics) existed as early as the Middle Ages. In the 14th and 15th centuries, scientific diplomatics developed, which continued to overlap with practical diplomatics until the 19th century. Questioning the authenticity of documents, which was applied to only a few manuscripts from the 14th to the 16th century, became a general approach in the study of ancient acts in the 17th century. The scholarly criteria for the evaluation of the authenticity of acts were worked out in the 17th century by J. Mabillon, the founder of diplomatics as a historical discipline. In the 19th and 20th centuries the great mass of documentary material began to be systematized and studied. Gradually, specialized subdivisions of diplomatics emerged: the diplomatics of imperial and royal charters, of papal charters, and of private acts. (The last of these subdivisions has developed particularly since the end of the 19th century.)

In most countries the object of contemporary diplomatics is the documentary source material dating from earliest times to the end of the 18th century, with the greatest emphasis on the early Middle Ages. However, in addition to medieval European acts, ancient Oriental, classical, Byzantine, and medieval Oriental documents are studied.

Bourgeois diplomatics is chiefly concerned with a description of the external characteristics of official acts. The study of their contents—the so-called hermeneutica of texts—is not officially part of its task. The Marxist study of source materials, on the other hand, studies both the form and the content of acts, viewing diplomatics as a part of the general critical study of source materials. Considering official acts to be the most important sources for the history of social and economic relations and foreign and internal policy, Marxist diplomatics subordinates the study of form to the study of content.

In Russia, practical diplomatics appeared around the 14th century, with the spread of the practice of granting charters. Scientific diplomatics developed at the end of the 18th century in the historical works of V. V. Krestinin and M. M. Shcherbatov. Interest in the discipline increased at the beginning of the 19th century, partly in connection with the loss by the dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry) of its caste privileges and its desire to affirm these privileges on the basis of acts from earlier times.

However, diplomatics developed in Russia chiefly as a result of the general improvement in historical scholarship and in the specialized disciplines in particular. In 1819, S. G. Salarev gave a short survey of the different forms of Russian charters. By the mid-19th century, specialized subdivisions began to appear in Russian diplomatics, dealing with various types of public and legal acts, including treaties with Byzantium, iarlyki (charters) of the Tatar khans, and charters and mandates. These developments were reflected in the works of N. A. Lavrovskii, V. V. Sokol’skii, V. I. Sergeevich, and D. Ia. Samokvasov. The work of D. Meichik, which synthesized the results of the study of 14th- and 15th-century charters, was published in 1883. Private acts began to be intensively studied in the 20th century. Another summary of the study of charters was published by S. A. Shumakov in 1917.

The theory of diplomatics, however, was not very well developed in the 19th century. At the turn of the century, courses in diplomatics were taught at the Moscow and St. Petersburg archaeological institutes by N. N. Ardashev and N. P. Likhachev, respectively. A. S. Lappo-Danilevskii’s Essay on the Diplomatics of Russian Private Acts (1920) was a very significant work that introduced certain categories from the general study of source materials into diplomatics, although it dealt with the question rather formally and failed to link the development of legal formulas to changes in social relationships. Lappo-Danilevskii thus established a school of Russian diplomatics of private acts, whose better representatives, adopting a Marxist position, actively contributed to the development of Soviet diplomatics (S. N. Valk, A. I. Andreev, and A. A. Shilov).

Soviet diplomatics puts the analysis of official acts at the service of historical research. The question of the origin of public legal documents is resolved in a new way—that is, the concrete political reasons for the appearance of such documents are established. This approach is typical of the works of P. P. Smirnov, I. I. Smirnov, and A. A. Zimin. In the monograph Russian Feudal Archives of the 14th and 15th Centuries (parts 1-2, 1948-51), L. V. Cherepnin applied the concrete historical method to all 14th- and 15th-century official acts. Ancient Russian private acts have also been intensively researched by M. N. Tikhomirov and S. N. Valk; E. I. Kamentseva, S. M. Kashtanov, and V. M. Paneiakh are among those who have studied 16th- and 17th-century documents.


Vvedenskii, A. A. Lektsii po dokumental’nomu istochnikovedeniiu istorii SSSR. Kiev, 1963.
Kopanev, A. I. “Sovetskaia diplomatika.” Vspomogatel’nye istoricheskie distsipliny, vol. 1. Leningrad, 1968.
Kashtanov, S. M. Ocherki russkoi diplomatiki. Moscow, 1970. (Bibliography, pp. 486-89.)
Giry, A. Manuel de diplomatique. Paris, 1925.


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