ossamenta: Tanner from Medieval manuscript (Vitgarvare (Nürnberg 12brüderstiftung))
... would probably not smell sweet at all, but nevermind that.

One of my continuous "pulling my hair out-frustrations" regarding the essay writing has been trying to find out when tanners emerge as a separate craft. According to Ælfric's Colloquy, from the 10th century, tanners not only made the leather, but also made shoes, belts, harnesses etc. Interestingly, the translator in the pdf linked above uses the word "tanner", where the original has "sceowyrhta" (shoemaker). The town law of Visby (on Gotland, present day Sweden), from 1332-1335) has a section on fees for craftsmen in order to practice their craft. Tanners are mentioned specifically, which has lead to interpretation of this as evidence for a tanners' guild. This would be quite interesting, since the earliest guild charters for tanners in Sweden and Denmark are from the 1630s.

Archaeological evidence for this shift to specialisation is scant: so far I've only heard of one site in Novgorod, which contained waste from both tanning and shoemaking, until the 12-13th centuries, when layers of animal hair and ashes disappear, suggesting that the site was now only occupied by specialised shoemakers, and that tanning occurred elsewhere (Hald 1972).

What we do have instead are written sources (not many, admittedly). Bynames could be used as craft signifiers, and hopefully we can also attach an address to that person. Well, we have to have a broad definition of "address" here. A street name if we're lucky, otherwise a parish. And coming back to the subject line: names. Specifically craft signifying bynames. Already in 1150, a Johannes coriarius witnessed a grant of land in York. Coriarius is usually translated as tanner*, except in one British dictionary, where it also is translated as currier**. Currier is the word used by Lisa Liddy, when discussing leatherworkers in Medieval York (Liddy 2003). This is rather problematic. As a currier is a specialist within the tanning craft, this would suggest that the York leather industry was highly specialised during the 12th century. As comparison, in Sweden, curriers (lädertågare) only occur in Stockholm during the 17th century. I wonder why the person writing the dictionary included currier when no other dictionary does? Other problematic definitions include pellifex/skinner, who sometimes is a whittawyer, sometimes a furrier, and sometimes a tanner.

Of course, these definitions are only properly valid for the high Middle Ages, and may have changed slightly since the Viking Age/Early Middle Ages, which is what I'm writing about. How will we ever know? Extrapolating backwards is tricky, as there are thousands of things that may have changed, most of which never occur to us when we try to set the likely variables.



*: Niermeyer's Medieval Latin dictionary (2002), Mittellateinisch Wörterbuch (1999), Woordenboek van het middeleeuws latijn van de noordelijke Nederlanden (1981). Coriarius is absent from the Danish Medieval Latin dictionary. I have not been able to find a dictionary for Medieval Latin from Swedish sources, though.
**: Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British sources (1981)



Hald, M. (1972) Primitive shoes. An archaeological-ethnological study based upon shoe finds from the Jutland peninsula. Danmarks Nationalmuseum, Köpenhamn, ISBN: 87-480-7282-6.

Liddy, L. (2003) ”Current documentary knowledge”, i Mould, Q., Carlisle, I. & Cameron, E. Leather and leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York. The archaeology of York: The small finds: 17/16. York Archaeological Trust and The Council for British Archaeology. ISBN: 1-902771-36-2. pp. 3222-3226.

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