Fake Facts

The Privilegium Maius and its history


Among the Privilegium maius documents this one is unique: differently than the other five this is genuine. This document, not the individual forged manuscripts, was presented to the emperor for confirmation. Duke Rudolf IV did not have the forgeries made for his own self-assurance alone, but also to have them confirmed by his father-in-law, Emperor Charles IV (1316–78), with the aim of enhancing their authenticity.

Rudolf IV requested a number of ecclesiastic notables to give their Vidimus to these documents, i.e. the bishops and abbots attested to the genuineness of the copies of the documents by affixing their seals. Cleverly Rudolf not only had the forgeries but also four authentic documents confirmed. In this way the forged diplomas are elegantly integrated into a factual chronology. As the texts of all eleven documents are reproduced in their entirety the Vidimus is of extraordinary dimensions, measuring almost one square metre.

+ -

Visible light image

Raking light image

Ultraviolet image

Infrared reflectography

X-ray radiography

The papal nuncio Aegidius, bishop of Vicenza, Gottfried, Bishop of Passau, Abbot Eberhard of Rheinau am Zellersee, and Abbot Lampert of Gengenbach confirm to Duke Rudolf IV of Austria deeds concerning privileges of the House of Austria (Vidimus).

Vienna, 11 July 1360
Parchment, four seals on red and green silk cords
Vienna, Austrian State Archives, Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, AUR 1360 VII 11

A photograph taken under raking light, that is lighting the object from the side at a very flat angle, can clearly reveal different topographic effects.

On the Vidimus too it is principally prominent creases and folds in the parchment that are visible. The script near the folds and creases has been markedly reduced as a result of mechanical exposure.

The use of ultraviolet (UV) light induces some materials, including many organic media, to manifest a differently coloured and characteristic fluorescence. UV radiation may also be completely obliterated by absorption. This may provide preliminary information about materials and divergent compositions of material. Indications of changes and the condition of object surfaces, for example, subsequent alterations and damage, often show up more clearly in photographic images taken under ultraviolet light.

Applying ultraviolet light rulings made for the text can be seen at several places, as well as brown discolorations of limited extent and stains left by dripped ink.

The technique of infrared reflectography (IRR) allows a more profound insight into the structure of objects. For the study of documents in particular IRR allows conclusions to be drawn about the inks used. The two most commonly employed types of ink, iron gall and carbon-based (soot) ink, differ clearly when exposed to infrared radiation.

On the right margin of the parchment knife marks left in the process of removing the skin are visible. The thinly applied ink, which under visible light appears brownish, disappears almost entirely applying IRR, indicating the use of iron gall ink. The rulings for the text, which are sporadically visible when exposed to ultraviolet light, are also to be seen by IRR.

When X-rays penetrate objects they are absorbed differently depending on the object’s thickness and the presence of heavy elements before being projected onto x-ray sensitive film.

The x-ray radiographic image of the extraordinarily large calfskin parchment shows clearly anatomical structures of the animal hide, as well as knife marks around the right margin remaining from the process of removing the skin. The text written in iron gall ink stands out plainly, as do rulings for the text. The rulings may have been drawn with a lead stylus, which would explain the high absorption of x-rays.