Station: [315] Saxony State Archive

Knowledge is power and written knowledge outlives generations. So it will come as no surprise to know that territorial princes collected and documented increasing amounts of information about the land and its people from the Late Middle Ages onwards. At the same time they used writing as an instrument of power with which they broadcast commands and decrees throughout the land.

From the 16th century the pace of the bureaucratisation process in Saxony moved faster than anywhere else, often almost certainly to the displeasure of the subjects. More literature not only meant less authoritative despotism, but also better planning and organisation.

The first chancelleries were established in as early as the 13th century and literate clerics issued documents and administered the knowledge of sovereign rights and revenue. The director of a chancellery, the chancellor, became the lord’s most important political advisor. At the end of the 15th century central authorities formed that developed from the royal council and the chancellery. Together with local administrative bodies they provided a comprehensive administration of the Wettin territories. Thus, chancelleries became a seat of power. 

From the 14th century onwards the chancellery organised and recorded its knowledge in ministerial books. Dates, facts and procedures were brought together and administered in registers. Rent-rolls, chartularies, transcriptions, tenure books and invoices were new forms of business documentation, and they covered the comprehensive rights and revenue of a dominion.

On the basis of this new written form, what were known as Minsterial Books were established during the 16th century, which contained the administration for everything that had to be controlled, collected or administered within the respective ministry. 

60.000 documents, 100 miles of shelving full of records and 70.000 maps document 1000 years of Saxonian history. Almost in passing, they also document the growing bureaucratisation and control of personal life. So the question is: were the seeds of the modern surveillance state sown in the early modern territorial state?

Due to their high light & temperature sensitivity, the displayed originals can only be presented for a limited period of time.