Until the late Middle Ages, only few people had access to the written word, and they took advantage of the power of knowledge. Forgeries initiated by aristocrats or church authorities were commonplace in the Middle Ages. Since older notarizations were given higher legal force than younger ones (old law broke young law), the forgeries mostly concerned older legal certificates, and therefore younger documents were also backdated. Estimates assume that in the Middle Ages there were as many forged as genuine documents, council acts, papal decrees, reliquary certificates, annals and chronicles in circulation. Forgery workshops were run for example in the monasteries of Montecassino, Italy, Corvey and Reichenau, Germany, and Le Mans, France.
A prominent example was the so-called “Donation of Constantine” which refers to a forged document dated by scientists to around 800. The Roman Emperor Constantine I. allegedly issued the document in 315/317 and granted by way of donation Pope Silvester I (314-335) and all his successors „until the end of time“, a sovereignty over Rome, Italy, the entire western half of the Roman Empire, and also the entire globe. Since the document was both spiritually and politically effective the Popes were able to establish their supremacy in Christianity and their territorial claims. The forgery was finally debunked by the humanist Lorenzo Valla in the 15th century.