Monthly Archives: March 2009

Slates to the south, slates to the north

A 632 sale charter on slate, two fragments

A while ago, a long while ago now, I wrote a post about the fact that in Visigothic Spain some charters were written not on parchment or even papyrus but on slate. I’m still very pleased about that post, in a strange way: I think it’s the first one I did with a sense of who the audience for this blog might be and aimed at them. It kind of set the tone. Anyway. I remind you of or alert you to that because there it says that mostly we have found such documents (or objects?) in the south of Spain and there is some doubt about whether it was just local practice. Still chewing through Barbero & Vigil however I have found a notice that, in the battle between Ramiró I and Nepotian that I mentioned before, one of the reasons that we know that Nepotian was a genuine contender for the throne was that he issued charters. We don’t actually have any of them, but we do have a notice in a later judicial hearing that the defendant held the land by a charter of ‘the lord Nepotian’. In Latin the account goes:

Sic fui ego Rebelio ad Obeto, et pro tessera domni Nepotiani misi ipsos fratres in placito qui erant possessores in ipso loco castello, per saionem Caloratum, et sic expulsabi eos absque alico iudicio, et obtinente pro ipsa presumptione una cum patre meo Montano

Which I read, with my own emphasis, as:

Thus I Rebelio was at Oviedo, and by a tablet of the lord Nepotian I sent to the brothers who were in possession at the selfsame place, Castellar, in court, by the Saió Calorato, and thus I expelled them without any judgement, obtaining [the property] by this presumption along with my father Montano.

Okay, so he swindled the monks (of Santa Maria del Puerto at Santoña, if you must know) out of the castle, but he did so by means of getting the king to send what is basically a writ, by the hand of a royal official, and he calls the writ a tessera, which can only be tile or tablet. I’m not saying that this tile or tablet was necessarily slate, I don’t know what the mountains of Oviedo are rich in, but it’s the same practice isn’t it? Talk about hard copy! I’m quite pleased with this find. I’m sure it’s well-known but I hadn’t seen it before. Doesn’t say much for Nepotian’s impartiality but I suppose he was keen to make friends just then, what with Ramiro already raising an army of Galicians against him. So he sent out the slates, in the north just like in the south. There you are.

(Just as an afterthought, of course it is worth remembering that in some parts of that there peninsula people were writing things on slates a long long time ago…)


The cite is Abilio Barbero & Marcelo Vigil, La Formación del feudalismo en la Península Ibérica, 2nd edn. (Barcelona 1978), p. 322, citing Antonio Floriano Cumbreño (ed.), Diplomática Española del Periodo Astur: estudio de los fuentes documentales del reino de Asturias (718-910) (Oviedo 1949), I p. 319.

New post at Cliopatria: how to deal with excessive postmodernism

Just a notice that after some deliberation I have put something new up at Cliopatria, swinging once more to the attack against useless postmodernist critique of factual knowledge. Readers to whom that school of thought is familiar may be annoyed at how unenlightened I am; regular readers here may be surprised how far towards those former readers I go this time. I’d be pleased if you had a look, anyway.

Bandits and witches in Asturias: what do enemy priests get called, again?

I am, as the sidebar may still report by the time this post actually goes up, still slogging through Barbero and Vigil’s Formación del Feudalismo for the Aprisio paper that is hopefully also not any longer mentioned there. I have expressed myself on how heavy going this book is before, and I am torn between urging that its considerable importance makes it compulsory reading for any scholar of early medieval Christian Spain (and even non-Christian Spain, though there maybe only one chapter), and the unshakeable feeling that, if it was so set, the field would be reduced by about ninety per cent as most people gave up the will to study. That all said, and it’s nice to have it off my chest, I’ve just found something interesting. See this little nugget:

Another notice relevant to the era of Ramiro I makes manifest the great difficulties that this monarch endured in consolidating himself on the throne. These difficulties were of orders both political and, more markedly, social. Ramiro I deployed great energy against all his adversaries, members of the nobility who disputed the throne with him. The Albeldense informs us that this king found himself confronting various latrones whom we may consider as peasants in rebellion, that is to say, something similar to that which took place in the reign of Aurelio, and, combined with them, there were also persecuted wizards who were condemned to the fire; these magicians would have been practitioners of the indigenous non-Christian rites and whose roots are to be sought in the ancient organisation of society.1

In some ways this is typical for Barbero and Vigil—you can already see in my fairly close translation perhaps that this is not the most mellifluous prose ever committed to the page—but in others it is not. Most of this book is very careful much-chewed-over consideration of the evidence, but there are certain preconceptions that they had which meant that occasionally they saw something that fitted and it got straight through without critique. I’m afraid this was one such curveball. Some background first of all.

Statue of Ramiro I of Asturias outside the Palau Reial in Madrid

Statue of Ramiro I of Asturias outside the Palau Reial in Madrid, photo by the author

Ramiro I was King of Asturias between 842 and 850. Some sources say he was son of Bermudo I (789-791) but Barbero and Vigil show good reasons to be suspicious about such claims in the Chronicle of Alfonso III, which is among other things very concerned to show a good long ancestry for its namesake monarch and seems to have pedigrees that no other source retains.2 Also, he lived a long time before succeeding if he was born during Bermudo’s reign, and since Bermudo allegedly abdicated because he was persuaded that his having entered the diaconate a long time before barred him from royal power, it is perhaps less likely that he was having kids after abdicating. So anyway, whoever he was, Ramiro was not unopposed, and he first had to defeat a rival king called Nepotian, supposedly a relative of Alfonso II (791-842) whom they were battling to succeed. Had Ramiro not won, I imagine it would now be clear that Nepotian was the closer kin and therefore rightful heir, but Ramiro defeated and killed him and so it’s Ramiro who got written into the succession. Not that things got easier for him: two years later Vikings made one of their few descents on Spain, though Ramiro was tough enough for them, and in 846 the Muslims captured the southernwards city of León, though it is a very long way from clear that Ramiro actually controlled that area despite Alfonso III’s chronicle’s claims, which are a lot more to do with the fact that he did.3 Anyway, Ramiro was unable to laugh that one off and it stayed lost to Asturias for some time.

Santa Maria del Naranco, near Oviedo, previously the royal palace of Asturias, probably built for Ramiro I

Santa Maria del Naranco, near Oviedo, previously the royal palace of Asturias, probably built for Ramiro I, image from Wikimedia Commons


Now most of my cynicism about the sources here is straight out of Barbero and Vigil, so you can tell I get on all right with that, but when it looks as if the sources might support some assertions about long continuity and ancient indigenous custom, which was kind of their deus ex machina for Asturian peculiarity, such careful sifting of evidence seems to have gone out of the window and we get things like the paragraph above, where to read it you would think that Ramiro’s opponents raised the earth and woods against him in the forms of their inhabitants. It’s like what the Telmarines must have thought when Narnia came back to life, isn’t it? So, what does the source actually say? Here’s a translation, with the Latin in the footnote:

Ramiro reigned seven. He was a rod of justice. He tore out the eyes of bandits. To wizards he put an end by fire. And the tyrants ranged against him, with amazing speed he overthrew and exterminated. Firstly he overcame Nepotian at the Bridge of Cornellana and thus came to the throne. At the same time the Northmen first came to Asturias. Afterwards of the same Nepotian along with a certain tyrant Aldroito, he blinded the eyes of both of them, and, the victor, killed the proud Piniolo. At Liño he built a church and a palace vaulted with wonderful artistry. There he passed away from this world and rests buried in Oviedo. On the day of the Kalends of February in the Era 888.4

So, er hang on, where’s this unified rural opposition again? I had Nepotian all drawn up with an army of dwarves and hags already, and that just looks like a fairly generic statement of harsh justice meted fairly to me. At the very most it’s a “no-one could kick King Ramiro’s behind! No sir! He kicked theirs! And how!” level of panegyric, not a detailed analysis of his opposition. Unlike in the slave revolt under Aurelio that Barbero and Vigil reference, I don’t see any sign here that there was any genuine peasant uprising in this note; I’m sure Asturias had enough badlands, most notably to the southern edge through which traders might be going to and from Muslim Spain, to keep a fair few bandits going. I don’t think banditry always has to indicate peasant reactions to oppressive rule, I see it more as a reaction to opportunity to make it rich quickly and run away safely, and a border land like there certainly had that.

But what about the wizards? Well, two possibilities spring to mind. Firstly, as Yves Bonnaz whose edition of the Chronicle of Albelda I’m translating there points out in his commentary, regulations against witches and wizards is a good old Visigothic tradition from when the Christianization of Spain was a lot more shaky, and if you’re writing up a good old-fashioned just king in the ninth century, that template probably appeals enough that you invoke it. In that case the chronicler is just trying to say “he enforced law like the kings of old (and thwarted all the causes of social ill mentioned in their laws as I will now list)”. In fact he may be upping the ante, as the Visigoths ‘only’ prescribed 100 lashes and scalping for wizards. Tough times call for tough justice!

Memorial stone from the church of Santianes de Pravia, capital of Asturias during the reign of Ramiro (note the <em>interlace</em>)

Memorial stone from the church of Santianes de Pravia, capital of Asturias during the reign of Ramiro (note the interlace)

But the other possibility involves taking the threat slightly more seriously, and this the kings of the time appear to have done. In 856 King Ordoño I issued a charter to the monastery of San Julián de Samos giving them power to punish “blood-letters, bandits that have fled from the monastery and magicians” (“samguimistios, latrones refugas monasterii, magicos”—’blood-letters’ probably isn’t what that first word means but I can’t do any better with it, can you? and if you can, what about those bandits fleeing from the monastery?)5 The fact that this mission is given to a monastery shows how worldly Church power can get but also associates the missions of moral and spiritual order. We are, as Bonnaz points out (and here he has got some Barbero and Vigil on him I think), in an area where pagan practice was probably still widespread: “Crimes, vols, fuite d’esclaves sans doute, pratique de la magie ne sont-ils pas des phénomènes liés à l’instabilité persistante de ce pays?” he asks,6 because of course as we now see demon-worshippers spring up wherever political order gets a bit wobbly don’t they? Or maybe not. I think this tells us more about Dr Bonnaz and his politics than about early medieval Galicia, to be honest. So what this made me think of was, again, the seminar the other day by Celia Chazelle and her suggestion that priests who were a bit ‘local’ in their liturgical practice might be regarded as magicians by strait-laced reformers. I wasn’t too sure about that, but if you’re asking me what a monk calls or a king called priests who were in political opposition to him, and who probably entreated God against you in ways that might well have appealed to local superstitions, well, ‘magician’ or ‘wizard’ would be one answer I could accept, especially given Dr Chazelle’s various instances of the use of the Christian mystery in charms and spells by apparently sincere believers. So maybe this is what we’re looking at. Or maybe it just is staff-bearing wizards standing on mountain tops after all, but I thought that was a more modern idea…

Hat tip to Modern Medieval there, and oh look it’s the footnotes…


1. Abilio Barbero & Marcelo Vigil, La Formación del feudalismo en la Península Ibérica, 2nd edn. (Barcelona 1978), pp. 262-263, translation mine.

2. Ibid., pp. 300-302 and several points thereafter. See also Amancio Isla, “Monarchy and Neogothicism in the Astur Kingdom, 711-910″ in Francia Vol. 26 (Sigmaringen 1999), pp. 41-56.

3. Barbero & Vigil, Formación, pp. 279-285.

4. Y. Bonnaz (ed./transl.), “Chronique d’Albelda” in idem, Chroniques Asturiennes (fin IXe siècle) (Paris 1987), pp. 10-30 with commentary 67-104, cap. 45. Latin, following Bonnaz’s collation: “Ranimirus regnauit <annis> septem. Virga iustitiae fuit. Latrones oculos euellendo abstulit. Magicis per ignem finem imposuit. Sibique tyrannos mira celeritate subuertit atque exterminauit. Prius Nepotianum ad pontem Narceiae superauit et sic regnum accepit. Eo tempore Nordomanni primi in Asturias uenerunt. Postea idem Nepotianum pariter cum quodam Aldroito tyranno, oculos amborum eiecit, superbumque Piniolum uictor interfecit. In locum Ligno ecclesiasm et palatia arte fornicea mira construxit. Ibique a sæculo recessit et Oueto tumulo requiescit. Sub die kalendas februarias era DCCCLXXXVIII.”

5. Antonio C. Floriano Cumbreño (ed.), Diplomática Española del Periodo Astur: estudio de los fuentes documentales del reino de Asturias (718-910) (Oviedo 1949), I p. 271 as cited by Bonnaz, Chroniques, Alb. 45 comm. n. 2.

6. Ibid.

Seminary XLIV: sieges and trebuchets, east to west

Sketch of a traction trebuchet recreated from a wall painting in the palace of Piandjikent, Transoxania

Sketch of a traction trebuchet recreated from a wall painting in the palace of Piandjikent, Transoxania

I’ve been missing too many seminars lately, including Mayke de Jong, may she forgive me, at CLANS simply because I was snowed under at work and forgot to leave in a sensible time to make it. However, I did make a point of getting to somewhere I haven’t been before, the Cambridge Byzantine Seminar, on 9th March, and I did so largely with this blog in mind as the presenter, Leif Petersen, was talking about “Siege warfare in the seventh century” and emphasising in particular the spread of the traction trebuchet, and I know how popular trebuchets are as a subject among the readership…

The actual paper was somewhat disappointing, although the visuals were a great compensation. (They would have been still more of one if somehow I hadn’t been the only person in the room who could work the computer. Why do people ask for Powerpoint and write the presentations if they then don’t know how to actually present them?) It came over as something of a long list of sieges, which Mr Petersen was easily able to convince us were numerous; I wasn’t aware we thought otherwise, as any reading of the materials I’m familiar with makes most military action a question of retreat to or building of fortresses. In between the lists were assertions of long continuity as per Bernard Bachrach, who was or is Mr Petersen’s advisor and was acknowledged as such several times. (This is probably why Guy Halsall’s recent book was never mentioned.1) The argument was therefore that because the Romans could do this orchestration of elaborate campaigns with heavy machinery, and could get this stuff built, we should not assume that the successor states could not, especially and obviously the Byzantine Empire but also the Western states. The people who knew how to build such things were at work in other places, as architects, house-builders, tradesmen in cities and so on, and the people to man them were available because when they’re under threat, he said. I suppose I can cope with this where there are cities, and Petersen argued quite convincingly that it’s not that this disappears between, say, the clear involvement of the locals in urban defence in Gregory of Tours, who kept the pauperes back from a royal levy in 576 because he wanted to keep them defending his city (along with the iuvenes of the cathedral of whom more in a moment), and the utterly bald write-ups of ‘Fredegar’, but merely that ‘Fredegar’ barely writes anything about almost everything, as can be told by looking at what ‘he’ leaves behind of Gregory where ‘he’ epitomises him. And this knowledge does show up, when kings want truly impressive things built, especially even later, they know whom to call on. It’s simply that because these experts didn’t do handy things like leave copies of Vitruvius covered in glosses lying around monasteries for us, we don’t know how. Some day in the future I’d really like to research this question of the transmission of technical knowledge. Petersen’s work will probably be part of the evidence then, but I’d like him to finish before I hear it again, and one of the things I’d like him to include is areas where there aren’t many or any cities, which, by coincidence, are those whose heroic literatures about pitched battles (like the Gododdin) are most famous, to me at least.

The other thing that became clear is that Petersen thinks of medieval warfare, or at least early medieval warfare, as a much more ‘total’ affair than the Hundred Years’ War’s élite chevauchées might make us think if that was all we knew. He sees states with the relics of a professional army, where most people, even the peasants, will in times of crisis pile into the cities and turn up at the garrison where they’re handing out the pole-arms, with a smith or five busily making more. This works a lot better in siege situations, of course, and I thought that élite-only warfare looked a lot more likely in actual pitched battle contexts, though I’m quite prepared to acknowledge that those were probably very unusual and, obviously, quite small.

In the end we have to debate, in this virtual sphere, just how many men-at-arms there could be in the early Middle Ages. Petersen was drawing distinctions between semi-professionals who owed military service through the fisc to its leaders, between the personal retinues and so on of large-scale landowners (even in Byzantium, where the emperors realised that banning them in the late Empire had failed and tried instead to demand state service from them), that including ecclesiastic landowners like Gregory of Tours (here his iuvenes again, you see) and between the general peasantry who will turn to on the walls of their local civitas once they’ve run there. But are those peasants really handy warriors? How formidable is a force of men who spend most of their time doing something else? The trouble is that the evidence of later periods, of trained pikemen, of the English laws about longbow practice, gets at historians of medieval warfare because it’s probably what got them into this. It can’t usually be the early medieval stuff because the sources have so very little of it and a lot of what there is is champions in literature impugning each others’ morals and then hacking lumps off each other in brief alternation. Few fields can be so dangerously populated with transported assumptions and we have so little from this period to check those assumptions against. It is not just me who thinks that there is a serious need for a more critical appraisal of the sources for early medieval warfare. I don’t think this paper was it.

The Roman walls and medieval towers of Barcelona

The Roman walls and medieval towers of Barcelona

I mean, I will accept peasants manning city walls in time of siege, but it sticks in my craw. In 985 the armies of the Caliphate of Córdoba sacked Barcelona (although it has been recently argued that the citadel and some of the walls never fell, only the city interior2) and various petulant charters record the processes that people went through to try and restore their claims to lands whose titles had been lost in the sack. One complains that Count Borrell II, in what would not be his finest hour, ordered the locals of the area to take refuge in the city where Viscount Udalard was coordinating the defence and take all their valuables too, while he came round the flank of the enemy force with an army that in the event doesn’t seem to have ever engaged the Muslims. (The guy records this because among the valuables he took in under these orders were, he claimed, all his land charters.)3 If you’ve seen Barcelona’s walls even as they stand today, you might think it was fair enough to expect it never to fall, after all it took the Franks eight months.4 But as recorded, the 985 response seems to me panicky and ad hoc, and the fact that it wasn’t adequate is a kind of proof that though Udalard gave his best (he was taken prisoner and returned only three years later, what suggests he was probably down with the people rather than in the citadel), this kind of resistance wasn’t something the people really knew how to do. So was 985 just too late? Is the reason that Barcelona had hardly ever fallen before that because in centuries past everyone had been better trained? Or is it more that Borrell fumbled it, al-Mansur’s armies were experienced and hardcore, and God was feeling more like Allah than Yahweh that day? (Of course the Jews get blamed later—don’t they always?—but since they were allowed to transact quite happily in the following decades and the texts blaming them are much later, I don’t think anyone was saying that at the time.5) Behind all this idea of lost expertise there seems to lurk a very very old-fashioned narrative that belongs to Gibbon, really, about how those damn kids barbarians spoilt our Empire, and I can’t help feeling suspicious when evidence that it is true is paraded quickly and superficially.

I seem to have forgotten to mention trebuchets much. The deal appeared basically to be that there are four of five mentions of them from this early and they come from all over. I didn’t think that really went anywhere, whereas as you can tell I was concerned by where the rest of it was going…


1. Referring to Guy Halsall, Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West (London 2003), as opposed, you see, to Bernard S. Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare: prelude to Empire (Philadelphia 2001), which it very much is, opposed that is, as any old habitué of Mediev-L will know well.

2. Gaspar Feliu i Montfort, La Presa de Barcelona per Almansor: història i mitificació. Discurs de recepció de Gaspar Feliu i Montfort com a membre numerari de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica, llegit el dia 12 de desembre de 2007 (Barcelona 2007), online at http://www.iecat.net/butlleti/pdf/116_butlleti_feliu.pdf. Have a go and see if you can manage academic Catalan: it’s easier than you think and Prof. Feliu is very much worth reading.

3. P. de Marca, Marca Hispanica sive Limes Hispanicus, hoc est geographica & historica descriptio cataloniae, ruscinonis, & circumiacentium populorum, ed. É. Baluze (Paris 1688; repr. Barcelona 1972, 1989), ap. CXXXIV.

4. Josep M. Salrach i Marés, El Procés de Formació Nacional de Catalunya (segles VIII-IX). 1: El Domini Carolingi, Llibres a l’Abast 136 (Barcelona 1978), pp. 14-24.

5. For example, Josep M. Salrach & Gaspar Feliu (edd.), Els Pergamins de l’Arxiu Comtal de Barcelona de Ramon Borrell a Ramon Berenguer I, Diplomataris 18-20 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 46, which has all kinds of interesting features but most importantly here, as with several others of the same time, an endorsement in Hebrew on the back and a Jewish transactor, albeit represented by a Christian. For more on the issues hanging round that you can see David Romano, “Els jueus de Barcelona i Girona fins a la mort de Ramon Borrell (1018)” in Federico Udina i Martorell, (ed.), Symposium Internacional sobre els Orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), also published as Memorias de le Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols. 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), II pp. 123-130.

What are all you Český Krumlov people finding here?

The readership figures, such as WordPress stats can give me, have been very healthy lately. This ought to be encouraging but actually it isn’t, because a strange thing is happening that I do not understand. A while ago I wrote a post about state-developed ethnicities that you may remember, and loaded it with a picture of Český Krumlov, a city in Bohemia that Phil Paine remembered with joy and I was quite pleased with it, I think it’s one of my better posts. Well, it got the response and then went quiet as these things do and I moved on.

Then, right at the end of January, a series of what seem to be variously-phrased image searches for Český Krumlov, and after a short while, text searches too. January 29th, 24 hits; next day, 34; 41, 26, 41, 53, 37, 34 and it has just gone on, about 40 hits a day coming from what seems to be the same searches over and over again. It’s a noticeable portion of my total page views, and it’s still going. And it turns out that the image I borrowed from somewhere (linked through as is my practice) is making that post first hit for the place on Google Image search. That, while wrong, is explicable. But it keeps on!

Other things that I have written that have taken off go off bang! and then tail off over a few days, as the meme gets circulated, everybody that it finds and their friends, click, go `huh’ and fewer and fewer pass it on. Some things you can tell have answered some particular class’s reading and ten or twenty people will hit it over a few days and then that goes away. Links from the Unlocked Wordhoard and Muhlberger’s Early History, though they are much appreciated because they represent a kind of peer review, net me single figures for a day or two, usually. Not much gets a prolonged period of attention except for the few things that respond to search queries that never get old. But this one appears to be steady income. Why are people still searching for this? I’ve mentioned a lot of towns on here, and many of them have fewer images online than Krumlov which seems quite well-photographed. But these other towns don’t have forty-plus people per day looking for images of them. Is there some kind of civic loyalty test there that involves being able to identify it from the air? What? None of the circa 280 people a month who are seeing this post have commented, even in Czech. Are any of you reading this? I must know! Speak up, won’t you?

Three sorts of priest, part I: the promised evidence for priests and their books on the Spanish March

It’s a new series! Albeit a short one. This starts from where I promised, a little while back as a reaction to some of Celia Chazelle’s suggestions about the probable lack of training and book-learning of some priests in the farflung parts of Carolingian-era Europe, some evidence to the contrary. My particular corner of Europe is fairly farflung, after all, and almost all the textual evidence from it is land charters, so you could be forgiven for thinking it was difficult to say much about pastoral care. And it is, especially liturgy, most of our evidence for the liturgy comes from the kingdoms next door where the Carolingian Renaissance wasn’t carried out, and if one’s interested in liturgy, which I’m not really (post about that upcoming somewhen, too), then this must be quite annoying as this ought to be a locus classicus for testing the Carolingian cultural effect, and it won’t let one look.1

In fact, where one can say something to the point of Professor Chazelle’s conjectures, it’s not because of the Carolingians but because of the Visigoths. It is laid down in the Visigothic Code, the Forum Iudicum yet, already, by the ‘glorious Flavius Reccensvinthus, king’, as follows:

As soon as a bishop has been consecrated, he shall straightway proceed to make an inventory of the property of his church in the presence of five freeborn witnesses; and to this inventory the said witnesses shall affix their signatures. After the death of a bishop, and as soon as his successor has been consecrated, the latter shall require a second inventory of the church property to be made; and if it should appear that said property had, in any way, been diminished, then the heirs of said bishop, or those to whom his estate was bequeathed by will, shall make up the deficiency.2

I don’t suppose this was actually done everywhere, but it was done at least twice at Vic d’Osona.3 And, because books are very expensive when you’re killing a sheep for every eight pages or so, they are listed too. So, circa. 970, after the murder of Bishop Ató (not Archbishop, no matter what you may have heard), Fruià his successor appears to have done this and the books are inventoried too, after their papal and royal precepts. The interesting thing is that the books weren’t at the cathedral, in some cases. Fruià himself had a volume of canones on loan, and a woman called Riquilda had a copy of Kings, so there’s an interesting thing for other reasons. More relevantly for the post, there were several small clusters out at other churches. At Castellar, far out at the west end of Manresa in Segarra, out in the wilds, someone had an antiphonary, a lectionary and a missal. Valldaneu, which I can’t place, had an antiphonary and a missal, and out at Artés in Manresa, there was an antiphonary, a missal and a volume of dispositos (any ideas? I’m guessing a penitential). This is interesting because that’s most of what you’d want as a mass priest; I’d expect a Psalter, too, and I’m surprised that none are mentioned, but maybe the priests had their own.

Churches in Artés, Manresa, seen from above, from Wikimedia Commons

Churches in Artés, Manresa, seen from above, from Wikimedia Commons

Also, these are development areas: Vic got hold of Artés only in 938, when 50-odd people from there were made to swear to the bishop’s lordship.4 We don’t even securely know of a church out there before the eleventh-century Santa Maria; you can see from the picture that it’s a bit busier now, but here we can see that Vic had a kind of mission station out there, and one at Castellar too. Part of the development that the cathedral was putting into these areas was supplying the textual necessities for cult. It may well be that they didn’t intend these books to stay there, were hoping that the new churches’ resources would eventually permit them to buy their own copies, but for then, the cathedral’s chosen hot-spots were getting their start-up costs met centrally. Likewise, one of Vic’s richest priests, a guy called Guifré Brunicard, had borrowed a lectionary; I rather suspect that he, too, was spreading the good word in some of the places he’d managed to buy and which, via his two nephews, the cathedral would eventually also come to own.5

This still doesn’t tell you what the priests in question knew, where they’d been taught (though as Ató was a learned man and one of the teachers of Gerbert of Rheims, a cathedral school doesn’t seem a difficult thing to envision) or what liturgy they used, what hymns they sang, and how fierce they were about superstition, or whatever; it doesn’t tell us, either, how Christian or not their `flocks’ were; but it does show that someone in these wild areas was interested to ensure that people got the law and Mass right.6 Obviously this is not a typical area, but where is? And obviously also, this is not the whole of the March: this is three or four places in two counties with hundreds of churches, so there must be other possibilities. Part 2 and part 3 will try and explore some of those, but this is enough for now, and the post I originally wanted to write.


1. On this replacement the chapter and verse (no pun intended) is now Rose Walker, The change from the Mozarabic to the Roman liturgy in Spain at the end of the eleventh century (London 1995); Rose is also one of the few people who can interest me in this stuff, but I still haven’t read it I’m afraid.

2. Karl Zeumer (ed.), Leges Visigothorum, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Leges Nationum Germanicum) I (Hannover 1902, repr. 2005), transl. S. P. Scott as The Visigothic Code (Boston 1922), Book V Chapter 1 Title II.

3. Eduard Junyent (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic, segles IX-X, ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), doc. nos 303 & 413, following discussion of 413 which is also illus. ibid. làmina 92.

4. Ibid., doc. no. 182. On Vic’s development and its management of its lands, you can of course see Paul H. Freedman, The Diocese of Vic: tradition and regeneration in medieval Catalonia (New Brunswick 1983); online at http://libro.uca.edu/vic/vic.htm, last modified 16th August 2000 as of 22nd November 2003.

5. His will, made before departure on pilgrimage from which, seemingly, he did not return, is Junyent, Diplomatari, doc. no. 479.

6. On Ató and his tuition of Gerbert, one can see firstly Ramon Ordeig i Mata, “Ató, bisbe i arquebisbe de Vic (957-971), antic arxiprest-ardiaca de Girona” in Studia Vicensia Vol. 1 (Vic 1989), pp. 61-97, and secondly J. M. Masnou, “L’escola de la catedral de Vic al segle XI” in Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer (ed.), Actes del Congrés Internacional Gerbert d’Orlhac i el seu Temps: Catalunya i Europa a la Fi del 1r Mil·lenni, Vic-Ripoll, 10-13 de Novembre de 1999 (Vic 1999), pp. 621-633.

Things on the web

A few miscellaneous things of note…

  • It’s nice to see someone else reading Brigitte Bedos-Rezak, particularly when it’s about ways to tackle Duby’s picture of the family. She seems to have managed to work seals in again, but then it’s been my experience that she sees more social history in sigillography than almost anyone who does it… From Nat Taylor’s Genealogist’s Sketchbook.
  • I have been working unusually hard lately. In one particular ten-day period I got to submission state three different papers, a pamphlet and a book and nearly alienated a dear friend by being completely socially inaccessible. In this process, however, these two reactions to the peer review process and how to play it amused me greatly… From Edge of the West, which doesn’t feature on my blogroll because is not medieval, but of which I have learnt through Cliopatria, and from Acadamnit, which isn’t medieval either but is very funny, as long as your inner child still allows you to enjoy copious and voluble obscenity deployed as rhetoric anyway.
  • More medievally, OMG secret Crusader tunnels under Malta! I expect Dan Brown to be visiting soon and have my crossbowmen standing by. From Archaeology in Europe.
  • And finally, less medievally though the originators thought otherwise, William the Conqueror’s time-travelling phrasebook, reported in a few places, has now been properly exploded by the one and only Carl Pyrdum. Good.

Culture crunch: more casualties

Charter of sale by Miró and Ego of land at Espinosa, 1031, Berkeley, Bancroft Library, UCB 120:01

Charter of sale by Miró and Ego of land at Espinosa, 1031, Berkeley, Bancroft Library, UCB 120:01

Oh dear. Do you, by any chance, use the Digital Scriptorium at Columbia University? I haven’t, really, because not very many of my target manuscripts are in the USA, and the ones that are, the Gili Collection at Harvard, aren’t contained in this resource. I don’t know why not as the relevant library, the Houghton, is part of the venture. There is, anyway, within the DS one Catalan land charter, pictured above, but it’s from 1031 and I have long enforced a cut-off date in my work of 1030 because that’s a full generation after the point I really want to stop and the material is just unhandleable by one person because of its volume thereafter. So I myself don’t make good use of this resource, but it has an exemplary search function and I can imagine it being very useful to people not so chauvinistically early or Iberian as myself. Anyway, I am told that its funding is not to be renewed, so at some point fairly soon that hotlinked image is going to disappear because the website will go. I find this a bit shocking – how much money does it take to keep a website up, even if it’s not being updated? but apparently this is what’s threatened.

So far I’ve felt fairly safe from the recession, but despite being three thousand miles from me and centuries too late, it’s a bit too close to [Alt] [Home]…


That Espinosa charter has set me off on a curiosity now. There are two places called Espinosa, and there’s nothing I can see in that charter to indicate which is concerned. One is close to Sant Joan de les Abadesses, but largely outside their purview so I don’t know it well (it’s mentioned in I think one of their early charters as site of one of several estates in a donation). The other’s really interesting, though, and I would be fascinated to see that anyone has something from there close to my period. Even in 1031 it was pretty much just inside the edge of ‘Christian civilisation ™’: it’s in Tarragona (Vallespinosa on that map, because the actual village is basically three streets now and the valley nearby is what gets marked), which is so frontier that, apart from tenth-century episodes no-one but me cares about because they didn’t last, it wasn’t reconquered till the twelfth century. It’s actually over the edge. This doesn’t however mean that it was out of touch: one of the oldest documents in the comital archive of Barcelona is a sale from 887 to none other than Count Guifré the Hairy of land out there (and it is the distant one, because the document specifies a county, albeit that it’s Manresa), land that I cannot really imagine how he could exploit, it being so far from his other domains. But that part of the world was real no-man’s land back then and if the people out there wanted to wander up to Barcelona to deal with the count, then they just did. Who cares about this supposed frontier? So if this charter was from there that would be fascinating. But given the great detail it goes into about dues from the lands, numbers of wethers and so on, I suspect it’s from somewhere that had been under lordship a bit longer than that. ANYWAY. This sort of thing is obviously why its home shouldn’t disappear, isn’t it…

This man has got the idea

Every now and then there is a need for an article or paper that states a lot of stuff that we sort of already knew. Often there is new evidence involved, but even if there wasn’t, sometimes it’s just really useful to have many people’s work concentrated. It’s also really handy to set for students. If I were teaching medieval frontiers or property or territory, for example, I would set this:

One could live according to the customs of a province without coming under the jurisdiction of its prince. Every person knew what the border of his property was and what belonged to his neighbour. But such a property could have been divided between two or more rulers. The owner of the property knew to whom he was obliged to pay taxes and offer gifts on religious holidays, who would try him if he committed a heinous offence and who would try him if he committed a lesser offence. In the event of war, he usually knew where danger lay and on whose side he should be in order to fulfil his auxilium duties. But all these spheres did not necessarily overlap.

I don’t think you’ll find that in a clearer paragraph anywhere.1 Lots of people have said it before, but rarely if ever all together like that. And it actually helps, it helps me a lot because it’s a fairly complete bunch of things that someone in some kind of power could have expected to demand, from various subjects, and which of them are ‘public’ and which ‘private’ would be very hard to call. If a count has rights of high justice and military service over a settlement’s inhabitants, but has installed a castellan who takes the immediate revenues and has the rights of low justice, and can also demand limited public service, who is the public representative? What about if the castellan stops letting the count into the castle on demand? What if it’s not a castellan but the count just sets someone to whom he owes a favour up on revenues from an estate, as the Carolingian kings did with so many followers? Is that person getting public revenues or have they been privatised? More importantly, does it help to think in these terms? I find that, actually, it doesn’t. And the bundle of that paragraph is basically why.


1. Ronnie Ellenblum, “Were there borders and borderlines in the Middle Ages? The example of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem” in David Abulafia & Nora Berend (edd.), Medieval Frontiers: concepts and practices (Aldershot 2002), pp. 105-118. The whole volume is really pretty good, it seems to me; I may reluctantly have to spend money on it.

Seminary XLIII: double jeopardy for the Anglo-Saxon soul

It seems that neither I or the redoubtable Magistra et Mater can keep up with London seminar blogging, but at least we’re tesselating: she has a post up about the George Garnett paper at the party for Patrick Wormald’s Festschrift on 30th January that I didn’t get to, and it’s worth a read as usual.

Illumination of a demon at the mouth of Hell, from an allegedly Anglo-Saxon manuscript of the Wonders of the East in the British Library

Illumination of a demon at the mouth of Hell, from an allegedly Anglo-Saxon manuscript of the Wonders of the East in the British Library

Meanwhile, I can tell you, as has been much requested though mainly by Theo, about what we think the Anglo-Saxons thought about Purgatory, after Helen Foxhall Forbes, apparently one of a line of academic achievers, presented a paper at the IHR Earlier Middle Ages Seminar entitled, “Gone but not Forgotten: Anglo-Saxon charters, Purgatory and Commemoration of the Dead” on 18th February. I should have met Mrs Forbes before, as we appear to have been sharing a university for three years, but Cambridge doesn’t really work like that and so I’d met her for the first time in London the week before. It became clear then that she was going to have a good deal to say next week, and indeed it was a very sourceful paper we got. She started with a story from Bede about a brother at Wearmouth-Jarrow, who lived “an ignoble life” and refused to reform, but was kept on because he was such a good carpenter. He seems to have had something like a stroke, and while incapacitated saw Hell opening up for him, and recovered just long enough to tell the other brothers he knew he was doomed, and then died again having refused the last rites as pointless. They buried him “in the furthest parts of the monastery”, “no-one dared to offer masses or to sing psalms for him or even to pray for him”, and Bede doesn’t give his name (Historia Ecclesiastica, V.14). The thing is that that of course implies that those things would normally have been done, and Bede has other stories that imply the same thing, the prisoner whose fetters are repeatedly sprung by his priestly brother’s masses for his presumed-freed soul and so on (IV.22).

Ruins of St Paul's Jarrow as they stand today (hidden grave of ungodly carpenter not shown)

Ruins of St Paul's Jarrow as they stand today (hidden grave of ungodly carpenter not shown)

Then come the charters. It is not a lot of news perhaps that Anglo-Saxon charters, like charters in most of Europe, are often made to churches with the rider that the church in question must arrange prayers for the donor’s soul. Sometimes it’s just a grant for the health of one’s soul generally, and my stuff is very usually phrased like that too, “pro remedio animae meae”, but there are a good few cases of more elaborate specifications of Masses and Psalters to be sung and so on. There has occasionally been an attempt to link these with penances, as if one could count up one’s sin and then work it off with enough masses etc., but Mrs Forbes showed fairly convincingly that there was no agreement about the `value’ of a mass in these terms and argued that every such grant must have been extensively negotiated between donor and recipient institution. After all, not every church is Cluny and an onerous prayer obligation, or a specially-installed priest, might take more resources than the bequest allowed if a careful guard wasn’t kept on these things. Mrs Forbes argued, on what is accepted lines for Continental scholars following the work of Barbara Rosenwein and indeed my erstwhile supervisor Matthew Innes, that what really matters is the establishment of a relationship between donor and church, a relationship that may even be more important in life than in death, though people did genuinely want to sort out burial and post-mortem care of the soul too, I’m pretty sure. The relationship is supposed to reach into Heaven too, though, because these donations are phrased as gifts to the saints to whom the churches are dedicated, and this is a genuine idea not just some fancy phrasing; a gift to St-Pierre de Cluny or St Augustine’s Canterbury are supposed to connect you to the saint himself, beyond the veil. This is how we believe the cult of saints worked, after all; as I say, this bit struck me as something that we’ve known for ages but apparently it has not yet really made it through to Anglo-Saxon studies.

The will of the thegn Wulfgar, Sawyer 1533, British Library Cotton Charter viii.16 B

The will of the thegn Wulfgar, Sawyer 1533, British Library Cotton Charter viii.16 B

The mind-bending bit came next, however, because it is much harder to work out what official doctrine on Purgatory was in the Anglo-Saxon Church, in so far as one could have a single ‘official line’ in such an organisation. This is because the theological sources are not interested in it; their topic in that direction, Bede excepted though he has enough to say about it too, is the Last Judgement. But there are a couple of other ‘visions of Hell’, one also in Bede and, er, three others? Mrs Forbes could name them when asked—as she was—but I’ve forgotten. And these have a lake of fire or similar from which souls can hope to escape, though there is also the two Places where they will finally wind up. There is the Last Judgement obviously, but there is also this idea of an intermediate stage, sufferings that can be alleviated in the now, matching with visions of angels and demons fighting for the souls of the departed (an idea which turns up in both Bede and Adomnán’s Vita Columbae, though of course Bede knew a good many people trained in that tradition and had met Adomnán himself). So we have this idea of a double judgement, one at death, which can be eased if it goes the wrong way, but also the Final one which is God’s decision and is beyond human influence. The two of them are for some reason talked about almost separately, and from the theological material you wouldn’t really know anyone considered the first one rather than just the Ultimate one, but all those masses have to be for something, right? What Mrs Forbes was arguing was basically that, that the charters show that lay people and even ordinary churchmen were afraid of Purgatory and would take great steps to be released from it, because it wasn’t the sort of thing about which one could ever be sure.

There were lots of questions. It is simultaneously the greatest and the scariest thing about the IHR seminars that you can have what could be an encouraging chat or a verbal smack-down from the leading lights of the field, even though you’re only a humble postgrad. But if you have something interesting to say people remember you. In this instance many of the questions were being asked of other questioners because the ideas had got everyone interested, so I think Mrs Forbes will probably be remembered in the seminar’s own notional Liber Vitae with approval.