Monthly Archives: January 2007

Page 123 (meme)

Given the nature of this blog, I was amused by the possibilities of the Page 123 meme I stumbled across on passing through the main WordPress site just now. The idea is that you grab the nearest book, turn to page 123, go to the fifth sentence and quote the three following it. Give your author and title and tag three people, because after all, this is a meme, it must propagate. Unfortunately for this particular instance of it, short of choosing people at random off the site, I don’t know three people to tag, because I don’t use this as a social site.

All the same, I had a quick look around, becase I thought the results would be ironically amusing. I mean, consider my Currently Reading list in the sidebar there–they’re all here. In fact it was quite difficult to tell what was nearest, what with several piles all within arm’s length. In fact the nearest is a book of my son’s about cars, but he’s had it a long time and it’s not 123 pages long… So, the actual result is as follows:

“[O]. Original perdut.–A.* Regest del segle XVI: Barcelona, AR (ACA), Monacals d’Hisenda, vol. 860, f. 39, ex O.
“El regest diu així: «Donatió antiga de Oliveda, ab ses afrontations, de algunes pessas de terra dins dita parròquia, les quals afrontan de totas parts ab terras de Sant Pera de Camprodon, feta l’any 4 regnant lo rey Ugone magno».”

Yes, that’s right, the book is Sobrequés et al., Catalunya Carolíngia. Volum V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Empúries i Peralada (Barcelona 2003). I’m here all week.


A romanticised view of a vassal doing homage to his lord, from Project Gutenberg
The I. H. R. saw a lot of lively discussion last night as Charles West attempted to convince us all that what was really happening in the much-debated feudal transformation was an increasing rigidity of definition in the terms that governed social relations. As we wound up agreeing on it in discussion afterwards, in the sources we’re familiar with, by the eleventh and twelfth centuries, although élite relations are still endlessly negotiable, the categories of negotiation are more fixed. There may be endless arguments about what homagium actually means, or whether holding a feodum from someone means you owe him hospitalitas or not, or can dispose of the land’s produce freely. The difference is that now the argument is over the meaning of an agreed term, whereas in the ninth century there was no shared vocabulary for this sort of thing; the churchmen might have one, but their tenants, subjects and oppressors didn’t, or don’t try and use it. Instead you get conflicting norms like those described by Stephen White, or indeed Jeffrey Bowman, where one side is using written proof of transaction and the other is using witnesses to long tenure and they’re not arguing about the same thing at all. Although this discourse does have rules of conduct, even if as some have observed they are not rigid and can be ignored, there are people who know they are there and play outside them in a way that there doesn’t seem to be room for in the later period. Charles doesn’t know why this is any more than I do, but he puts it very clearly.

I count Charles as a collaborator, and we’ve had many fruitful discussions about this before, but yesterday evening was helpful in clarifying where our views diverge, and although I asked what he happily told me he thought was the meanest question that he got, the one that I didn’t get the chance to ask is the one that, for example, Chris Wickham would be asking: how much does this matter, to the population at large to whom these élite negotiations only affect the destination of their surplus? Charles had some pretty good examples of peasants being involved in the processes he described, and the social level he was exposing was one where the peasants were an everyday factor, but even higher up, it’s sometimes too easily forgotten that even in the Middle Ages, political decisions can have social and economic consequences. To pull two examples from the career of my pet ruler, Borrell II (forgive me an link, but as yet there is little better on the web about this man): firstly, in 985 Barcelona was sacked by the Muslim Chief Minister of Córdoba, al-Mansur, and this was a sufficiently severe devastation that charters we have trying to reallocate the property of those who died or were taken prisoner refer to it as “die quod Barcinona interiit”, ‘the day Barcelona died’. One in particular says, in so many words, that the devastation wouldn’t have been as serious if Borrell II hadn’t got everyone in the area to take refuge in the city with all their belongings (including their title deeds…) and then taken his army to the wrong place, so that when the city fell everything was lost with it. Whether he could actually have resisted the full might of al-Mansur’s army is unlikely, although generally his war record was pretty dire, but the scale of the loss, this charter argues, was aggravated by his mistaken trust in the city’s walls.

Secondly, and more relevantly both to last night’s seminar and my upcoming one in the Department, around 981 Catalonia starts to see a major change in the kind of money it uses. Up till then almost all charters reckon prices in solidi, which is an old value standard based on a Roman coin but which is actually equivalent to twelve of the deniers that they actually use (see my previous post about the Departmental seminar for a picture). After 981, all kinds of units creep in, weights of gold especially but also something called a pesa which seems to be weighed bullion. Now the coinage is notionally in control of the counts, though possibly mostly provided by their bishops; if there’s change here, even if it’s importing foreign coin (mancuses also start being used, which is Spanish Muslim currency), then something has happened at the top level that alters, by commission or omission, the symbols of rulership that the everyday person carries round in his purse, sees every week perhaps, and relies on to get what he wants when the merchants come round to the village, or he goes to the city to find them. This kind of thing affects people’s lives at the grassroots.

It is merely that I wonder whether the changes that Charles is talking about, although they are significant, really make this kind of difference. Does a peasant care that his lords are now discussing homage and servitium as if these things had an agreed meaning (which everyone was most anxious to impress upon Charles that they didn’t) when a century or two before they might have talked only in terms of the particular case because the words simply weren’t common enough to argue over? Possibly not, except in as much as he would probably like to to keep the old lack of vocabulary so that he can cite long-hold custom as to how much he actually turns over from his harvests. But he cares about the new prosperity, the change of money (is it as good? Possibly better, but who will accept it? and so on) or the Muslim attacks. Even if we manage to describe what’s happening in élite relations, firstly we still have to account for it, and then we have to fit it into this far huger set of disconnected changes that are happening at the same time and try and suggest how the chain of cause and effect I’ve been describing was in play where they met. These are the sort of questions we need to be asking about any kind of social change, even now.

Name in print

Early Medieval Europe cover
It’s with some relief, after something of a drought in the zone, that I can let you know about more of my words in print, even if it’s only a review… for now. This is another way of saying that the latest issue of Early Medieval Europe is out, and I’m in it. So, it seems, are about half a dozen people that I’ve worked with in one way or another, and it’s a little worrying to think that so far my publications are all within this, well, network, but plans are as ever afoot to change this even as I type, and when they come to something, of course, this will be the second or third place to hear, after the publishers and myself…

Late Antique numismatic digression

I fully realise that this is neither tenth-century nor even medieval, but it’s in front of me and could be useful to have on the web. At the moment I’m trawling through a part of the Fitzwilliam Museum‘s Roman Imperial collection that has no documentation. We don’t know when it arrived in the Museum, or potentially in the University Library before that, but we’re getting round to cataloguing it now, at least. Almost all of this portion of it is coins of Claudius II (and mostly in rotten condition).

Among all this, we think we may have discovered a new type from Antioch. Adi Popescu is pretty sure it’s genuine, and it’s not in RIC.1 So I thought it would do no harm to stick up images of it and see if any classical numismatists or coin-collectors out there have seen one like it.

CM.RI.1793-R reverse, Genius standing left with patera and cornucopia

As you can see the coin is pretty much worn flat, and these possibly aren’t the best images I ever made, but hopefully it’s clear that the reverse type is Genius with patera and cornucopia. RIC 229.207 is closest, but wants a mint-mark in the exergue that even these images clearly show is lacking. And in any case, nothing in Antioch’s series bears the left-facing bust, which I’m not even sure is really Claudius. However, RIC is old, and though it’s also not in the publication of the Cunetio hoard,2 that’s not surprising given that it’s an Antioch issue and Cunetio is Mildenhall, in England. For similar reasons our collection, splendid though it obviously is, doesn’t really favour the Roman East, so I figured I’d harness the connective power of the web. Do leave a comment if this is familiar.

1. H. Mattingly & E. Sydenham (edd.), The Roman Imperial Coinage Vol. V Pt 1, ed. P. H. Webb (London: Spink 1927).

2. E. Besly & R. Bland, The Cunetio treasure: Roman coinage of the third century A. D. (London: British Museum 1983).


Yesterday and today have both had seminars in, and given that next week’s IHR seminar has Sheffield’s newest star, my Leeds collaborator and general genial genius Charles West speaking, I guess next week will have at least one also. Yesterday’s was the IHR again, Richard Sharpe speaking under the title “King Harold’s Daughter” and drawing together a myriad of tiny evidential fragments to make something entirely new and disagree with Richard Southern in almost the same breath, and today’s was Ros Faith visiting us in Coins & Medals to talk on “Lincolnshire Liquidity before the Conquest”, which turned out to be a setting of a problem for we alleged numismatists (I deny it, myself), that basically being, in Domesday Book Lincolnshire is paying lots of cash renders; where’s its wealth coming from and why can’t we show it with the coins evidence? Our conclusions were various but gave her some possibilities to work with.

It seems likely that I’ll never entirely stop trying to keep up with English medieval studies, even though it seems passing likely that such efforts could be better placed elsewhere. Oh well: other plans continue apace at the moment, and when they come to something this will be almost the first place that it’s reported.

More paper commitments

Reverse of a transitional denier of the county of Barcelona in the Fitzwilliam Museum (CM.345-2000)
Though of what I have promised this is probably the least significant, I have just agreed to admit that I will be speaking at the Departmental Seminar of the Department of Coins and Medals in the Fitzwilliam Museum during Easter term here in Cambridge, on “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics”, the general idea being that c. 980 the kind of money being used in Catalonia seems to have taken the kind of leap that sauté potatoes do in the pan and come back down utterly rearranged. Not the world’s greatest analogy, I realise, and so far the only numismatists consulted ignored the theory completely, which is why I’m taking advantage of working in the middle of a bunch more. All the same, there it is.

Charlemagne’s ‘Jihad’

Charlemagne inflicting baptism on defeated Saxons (from Project Gutenberg)
I have before me the current issue of Viator, and I confess that it has annoyed me. Not just because of the frequent typoes, which this volume’s articles seem particularly stricken by, though those do betray a need for what an acquaintance of mine termed ‘better-quality pedantry’ among both writers and copy-editors. No, the particular thing that’s got to me is Yitzhak Hen’s article, which is entitled simply “Charlemagne’s Jihad”.1 After discussing it with my housemate, between myself and whom the Cambridge University Library’s copy of this volume has probably spent more time here than in the UL, I’ve pinned down several things I object to about it and thought they could go here for the time being. (Hyperlinks to texts or references throughout, mostly from the Internet Medieval Sourcebook; I know it’s not exactly translation at the cutting edge but it’s easy to use and will do to illustrate).

The article is mainly a well-supported and well-argued reassessment of Charlemagne’s policies in the conquest of the Saxons, and it contends that the forced conversion measures envisaged in the Capitulare de Partibus Saxoniae were in fact no more than a short-lived aberration of policy against a background of aggressive but non-coercive mission work. I have no problem with this, or with the redating of the Capitulare to c. 792 that it entails; that all seems to me fairly plausible, and I like both the reasoning and the use of evidence to support it.

The problems start when Dr Hen offers a source for the aberration in the form of the influence of Theodulf of Orléans on its drafting. That’s not implausible, but he blames Theodulf for the forced conversion ethic on the grounds of his familiarity with Muslim Spain, where he was after all born and raised, and therefore with the ethic of jihad. He cites numerous works of Middle Eastern scholarship on the theory of jihad in Islam, and also draws textual parallels between the Capitulare and the so-called ‘Covenant of ‘Umar’, a document purporting to come from c. 640 which regulated in a newly fundamentalist way the rights of Christians and Jews living under a Muslim government, including things like distinctive clothing, that churches higher than mosques were to be demolished, that there were to be no repairs to religious buildings and no new ones built and so on. Hen also cites Islamic jurisprudence as support on all this, while admitting in a footnote that it’s exceedingly unlikely that that kind of work had yet made it to the West (p. 46 & n. 83). The only actual primary source cited in this section is a piece of the work of a little-known Baghdadi historian, Ibn Habib, that uses the actual term “jihad” only of the 711 invasion, and that from a man who was probably writing in the 840s of a hundred and thirty years earlier and a few hundred miles west. Other work apparently unknown to Hen has stressed by contrast that actually, the jihad ethic really isn’t testified to in Spain until the arrival of the Almoravids.2

Another thing that Hen doesn’t seem to know, or at least admit, is that the era of the floruit of Ibn Habib is actually a good time to be seeing such rhetoric in the Middle East, because since 847 the ruler in Baghdad had been Caliph al-Mutawakkil, who was much hotter on this kind of discrimination than his predecessors. And Hen certainly doesn’t admit that that’s the point at which the ‘Covenant of ‘Umar’ is first evidenced in text, though he does admit (p. 46) that we have no idea when it really comes from, whilst also expressing a belief that its provisions must have been plain knowledge to all in both East and West and, apparently, that Theodulf could parallel its provisions in ‘his’ capitulary (pp. 48-9). A study from more than a decade ago tried to link this text and the contemporary Baghdad persecution to the martyrs of Córdoba and concluded that there was no real way it could have been known or influential then, and those episodes were a full fifty years after this capitulary’s latest possible date.3 Next, I myself don’t find the fact that the legislation involves a ten per cent annual render from those converted a convincing parallel with the Muslim jizya or poll tax for two reasons: firstly, though Hen contends otherwise, the jizya was usually an eleventh,4 and secondly, the idea of a one-tenth render on those who profess Christianity payable to the Church is not that radical in Carolingian Francia, or indeed anywhere since, where it is usually called tithe.

Supposing Theodulf nonetheless to be au fait with the prescriptions of the Suria on the ‘people of the book’, Hen says that the adoption of forced conversion of the Saxons represents a brief patch when Theodulf had effective control of religious policy and that it was cancelled pretty much as soon as Alcuin could write to the Emperor and let him know it had difficult theological implications (p. 50).

Now, I have no particular affection for Theodulf, who does not come across in his writings as a pleasant man, but this theory involves supposing firstly that he had lived under a régime of forced conversion in Spain, for which there is no evidence; secondly that he knew the texts behind this, which would involve at least parts of the Qu’ran, which no-one has ever spotted and which would be very unusual in a Christian Andalusi teenager,5 and allegedly the ‘Covenant of ‘Umar’, which is pretty much disproved by Lapiedra’s article cited below; that he further approved of the methods that the Muslims were using on his Spanish coreligionists (except that they weren’t); and that no-one else at court thought there was a problem with imitating the Muslims either.

In fact there are far closer parallels for forced conversion policies, all directed at the Jews of course. Hen mentions the policies of King Sisebut of the Visigoths but assures us that they were deprecated by Isidore of Seville, whom he poses as Theodulf’s first port of call for guidance (p. 47: “Theodulf knew all that.”) He completely fails to mention however the subsequent Visigothic anti-Jewish legislation (although he references work on it (p. 47 n. 88), which could be called misrepresenting his sources), or Byzantine policies of the same sort under Heraclius which, Tom Kitchen kindly informs me, were to an extent also briefly promulgated by King Dagobert in Francia under Byzantine influence. One doesn’t need Theodulf to explain the use of those precedents however…

So there isn’t really any evidence offered to support Hen’s theory at all, possibly because there is none to offer. Nonetheless, he winds up saying as follows: “one should not ask whether Theodulf could have known the Muslim notion of jihad or the dhimmi restrictions prescribed by the Pact of ‘Umar. After all, he grew up in a place where these restrictions were commonly known and perhaps implemented.” He has of course not proved any of this. He goes on: “… we must assume that he had a fair amount of knowledge about the Muslims of al-Andalus, their religion and their civilisation. Those who argue otherwise will need to prove their point, and not vice versa.”

Now this is not how we do peer-reviewed history, I thought; I have penalised students for making up theories for which there’s no evidence and I’m sure Dr Hen must have also. However, since the rest of the article is good I understand how this has got into print. All the same, until he can show:

  • any evidence elsewhere of Theodulf knowing and using any Muslim text, even the Qu’ran
  • knowledge of the Covenant of ‘Umar in al-Andalus at a time when Theodulf could have heard of this, even from afar
  • any general currency of ideas of jihad in al-Andalus in Theodulf’s or indeed Charlemagne’s time
  • any good reason to favour this derivation of the Capitulare‘s provisions over the far closer ones from Visigothic and even Frankish legislation

… I think Dr Hen may have to wait a while for the theory to be considered so serious that it needs refuting…

1. Y. Hen, “Charlemagne’s Jihad” in Viator: medieval and Renaissance studies Vol. 37 (Turnhout 2006), pp. 33-51.

2. E. Manzano Moreno, “Christian-Muslim Frontier in al-Andalus: idea and reality” in Arab Influence upon Medieval Europe, edited by D. Agius & R. Hitchcock (Reading IL 1994), pp. 83-96.

3. E. Lapiedra Gutiérrez, “Los martíres de Córdoba y la política anticristiana contemporánea en Oriente” in al-Qantara: revista de estudios árabes Vol. 15 (Madrid 1994), pp. 453-463 with Spanish résumé p. 453 and English abstract p. 463.

4. For full discussion of what a frontier city like Theodulf’s Zaragoza might have paid by way of taxes, see E. Manzano Moreno, La Frontera de al-Andalus en Época de los Omeyas, Bibliotheca de Historia 9 (Madrid 1991), pp. 304-310, focussing on mostly-Christian Toledo.

5. Andalusi Christian knowledge of the Qu’ran is discussed by N. Daniel, “Spanish Christian sources of information about Islam (ninth to thirteenth centuries)” in al-Qantara 15 (1994), pp. 365-84. Hen reports having consulted Ann Christys, but does not cite her book Christians in al-Andalus 711-1000 (Abingdon 2002); it is worth the inspection for those interested in questions like this.