Martinus de Dacia

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by Sten Ebbesen

Martin of Denmark (d. 1304), had two careers: one as royal Danish chancellor in the late 1280s and the 1290s, another as master of arts and theology in Paris. His Modi Significandi, a handbook of grammatical theory, was widely used in universities and similar institutions well into the fifteenth century.


Post-medieval sources give Martin’s (Danish: Morten) family name as Mogensen (ROOS 1952, 52). A “Martinus de Rippa” who appears in a Parisian document from 1302 may be identical with Martin of Denmark; if so, he came from the town of Ribe in Jutland (ROOS 1952, 61–65). No source tells about his life before 1288, when he appears as royal Danish chancellor, and with the title of magister, which regularly accompanies his name in later documents. Obituary notices from Roskilde and Paris calls him “magister (or: doctor) in theologia” (ROOS 1952, 47). His preserved works suggest that he taught the arts in the 1270s and possibly as early as the 1260s, so probably he was born between 1240 and 1250, went to Paris as a teen-ager and stayed there for most of the time till the 1280s, studying first the arts and then theology. It does, however, remain possible that he only obtained his theology degree late in life when he returned to Paris after a long service as chancellor to King Erik Menved of Denmark. He probably took over the chancellorship in 1287. In 1290 the king made an unsuccessful attempt to help Martin become bishop of Roskilde. No later than the 1290s he became a canon of Lund and provost of Sleswick; by the time of his death he also held a canonry in Roskilde. He probably owed all his Danish prebends to royal favour. In the 1296–1297 he represented the Danish crown in Rome when the pope was to judge between the king and archbishop John Grand of Lund. He was still (or: again) in Rome in 1299 (DD 2.5.15). In March of that year Boniface VIII issued several letters that Martin had asked for (DD 2.5.16–17 & 19–24), probably in connection with his imminent departure from Rome. In one of these letters he is called “magister Martinus Dacus canonicus Parisiensis cancellarius regis” (DD 2.5.22). It looks as if Martin had had arrangements made so that he could give up the chancellorship and leave Rome for Paris instead of going to Denmark. In 1302 he gave a donation to the chapter of Notre Dame in Paris; in the relevant document he is styled “magister Martinus Dacus, canonicus Parisiensis et sacerdos” (ROOS 1952, 49), and it is stated that he owned a house in the cloister of Notre Dame. He was buried in the Parisian cathedral.


(1) Modi significandi


Cum cuiuslibet artificis principia essentialia suae artis primo et per se intersit considerare, nos igitur grammatica intendentes eius principia essentialia, cuiusmodi sunt modi significandi, scire oportet.


et ideo principia perfectionis praesupponunt principia congruitatis, et ideo perfectio congruitatem praesupponit. Et haec ad praesens de grammatica dicta sufficiant.

  • ROOS, H. 1961: Martini de Dacia Opera (CPhD 2), Copenhagen.
Translation (partial)
  • ROSIER, I. 1983: “Traduction d’un extrait de la syntaxe du traité De modis significandi de Martin de Dacie,” Archives et Documents de la Société d’Histoire et d’Epistémologie des Sciences du Langage 3.


The work is a systematic presentation of a grammatical theory whose central concept was that of modi significandi, modes or ways of signifying. According to this theory, the grammaticality of an utterance depends on there being a proper relationship between the ways the single words signify, whereas it is irrelevant what they signify. So, the ways of signifying are the proper object of grammatical theory. The structure is as follows:

1. Introduction.

2. On the single modes of signifying.

2.1 On the essential, general modes of signifying

2.1.1–8 of the noun, pronoun, verb etc. (the eight parts of speech)

2.2 On the specific modes of signifying

2.2.1–8 of nouns etc. (the eight parts of speech)

3. On construction, grammaticality (congruitas) and perfection.

Medieval reception and transmission

The work became an instant success. The first commentaries were written in Martin’s lifetime, and it was widely read till the mid fifteenth century, especially in Italy. Several commentaries survive; see list in PINBORG 1967, 314–15. In Northern Europe a work by Thomas of Erfurt (written within a few decades after Martin’s) became more popular, but it bears witness to the authoritative status of Martin’s work that Thomas’ became known as “Novi Modi Significandi”. How entrenched Martin’s Modi Significandi became in Italian schools may be gauged from the fact that to Lorenzo Valla it ranked with Alexander of Villadei’s Doctrinale as the foremost representative of scholastic grammar (Epistula ad Serram, from 1440, in BESOMI & REGOLIOSI 1984, 198–201):

Ita ne illi quos nominavi [i.e., various classical authors] (quibus addo Priscianum, Donatum, Servium ceterosque veteres) hanc fecem hominum ferre possent, qui aut de grammatica aut de rhetorica aut de significatione vocabulorum aut de expositione auctorum scriptos libros reliquerunt? Pudet hos nominare: Franciscum Butum, Suncinatem, Everardum, Martinum, qui de modis significandi volumina evomuit, Alexandrum, qui et precepta latina a Prisciano sumens barbaris versibus enuntiavit et de suo multum erroris adiecit, Alanum, Venturinum, Petrum a Vineis, Ugucionem, Catholiconem, Aimonem, Azzonem, Dionysium, Travetum, Benvenutum monachum;

The special importance of Martin and Alexander is obvious from the fact that they are the only ones on whom Valla spends individual invective.

For manuscripts, see ROOS 1961, PINBORG 1967, BURSILL-HALL 1981.

(2) Quaestiones super Artem Veterem

This work consists of (1) questions on Porphyry’s Isagoge, (3) Aristotle’s Categories and (3) Peri hermeneias, (4) the anonymous Liber Sex Principiorum, and (5) Boethius’ De topicis differentiis (known as Topica at the time).

Two colophons in the only known manuscript identify the author as Martin, or Martin of Denmark (item (1): “Expliciunt questiones magistri Martini super librum Porfurii”; item (4): “Et in hoc finiuntur questiones libri Sex Principiorum a magistro Martino Daco disputatas [sic]”). The only real worry is whether the Martin of Denmark in case is identical with the author of the Modi Significandi, for the questions look a little old-fashioned compared to that work. The difference in question structure between 1–3 and 4–5 might suggest different authors, but this is hardly sufficient reason to doubt the testimony of the two colophons, and most likely the editor was right in claiming the whole set (1–5) for Martin. A possible solution is that Martin wrote the questions as a young master of arts in the 1260s, while the Modi Significandi belongs to the late 1270s when he was studying theology, while perhaps still teaching the arts.


The title is the editor’s, but it is an apt title. In the thirteenth century Ars Vetus ecame established as the name of the collection of writings on which we here find questions.


(1): Circa librum Porphyrii quaedam sunt inquirenda. Et quaeratur primo quid sit subiectum libri Porphyrii.

(2): Dubitatur de subiecto libri Praedicamentorum. Et primo utrum ens sit eius subiectum.

(3): Primum oportet constituere et cetera. Quaestio est, utrum enuntiatio est subiectum huius scientiae.

(4): Circa librum Sex principiorum quaedam quaeruntur. Et primo quaeratur utrum logica sit scientia.

(5): Circa librum Topicorum Boethii quaeritur quid sit in <eo> subiectum.


(1): Et hoc modo accidens non est universale et potest praedicari de hoc albo.

(2): Et habendo membra ut manum vel pedem, habemus positionem quandam situs partium in suo toto.

(3): Oppositum patet per auctorem in littera.

(4): Et inducere poteris in multis aliis. Per <hoc> patet solutio ad rationem.

(5): Ad secundum: Illud, in quod resolvitur et cetera, hoc fit duobus modis.


170 printed pages


  • ROOS 1961 (CPhD 2).


(1) contains 25 questions on Porphyry, some well-developed, others very brief. (2) contains 90 questions on the Categories. Of these the first fifty are fairly well-developed while most of the remaining ones consist merely of brief objections against some statement of Aristotle’s and an answer. The edition only numbers questions 1–50, and does not clearly mark off each question in the later part of the work. (3) contains 24 questions on Peri hermeneias, but covers only the first two chapters of that work, and the last question lacks a determination. The length of the questions varies considerably. (4) according to the edition contains 15 well-developed questions on Sex Principia, but actually there are 44 questions, most of them quite small and all but three of them joined in units of 2–7 interwoven questions, each unit starting with a section that contains with the formulation of the question and the rationes principales of each member, and ending with a section that contains the determination (answer) to each question. (5) has a similar structure. The edition only counts two questions, but each has sub-questions – six in qu. 1 and two in qu. 2. The texts end abruptly towards the end of the answer to qu. 2 part I. The last question deals with self-evident propositions, which means that the commentary on Boethius has only got a bit of way into book I of his De topicis differentiis. Whatever the cause of the mutilation of the text, it is not due to damage to the extant manuscript.

Medieval reception and transmission

The text is transmitted in one known manuscript only:

  • Erlangen, Universitätsbibliothek, 213, fols. 102rA–129vB


  • BESOMI, O. & REGOLIOSI, M. 1984: Laurentii Valle Epistole, Padova.
  • BURSILL-HALL, G.L. 1981: A Census of Medieval Latin Grammatical Manuscripts (Grammatica Speculativa 4), Stuttgart – Bad Cannstatt.
  • EBBESEN, S. 2002: Dansk middelalderfilosofi, Copenhagen.
  • PINBORG, J. 1967: Die Entwicklung der Sprachtheorie im Mittelalter (Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Theologie des Mittelalters, Texte und Untersuchungen 42.2), Münster – Copenhagen.
  • ROSIER, I. 1983: La grammaire spéculative des Modistes, Lille.
  • ROOS, H. 1952: Die Modi significandi des Martinus de Dacia (Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Theologie des Mittelalters 37.2), Münster – Copenhagen.
  • ROOS 1961: Martini de Dacia Opera (CPhD 2), Copenhagen.