Monthly Archives: December 2009

Bad History to continue (announce and CFP)

There have been a range of good things on the web as usual, but a great number of them have already been accumulated by Judith Weingarten in the latest Carnivalesque! So, instead, let me just follow up on an earlier post by saying, that Bad History series I mentioned is to continue, and it is inviting submissions. I would absolutely love for some of the discerning heavyweight medievalists who sometimes read this little screed here to weigh in on this. I think this is a kind of popular outreach we can all enjoy; I certainly have a candidate myself which I’ll try and put together in the next few days. And, after all, the last time someone did this there was a book in it after a while…

(Hat tips to Cliopatria and archy.)

Fleming’s Normans (and her Danes and her English)

Once finished with ‘pope month’ on the course, we had ‘Normans fortnight’, and I used the opportunity to read Robin Fleming’s Kings and Lords in Conquest England, which I’d wanted to do for, er, well more or less since I first read any of her work as an undergraduate I think, so quite a long time, in none of which time had it ever been quite relevant enough.1 But now I have.

The manuscript of Great Domesday

The manuscript of Great Domesday

In some ways I guess this doesn’t read as innovative as it did when it came out, or at least as the author pitches it, but that would be because she’d blazed the trail of using Domesday Book for really big-scale social history of England and a lot of other people also started doing it once she’d shown them how it could be done. I was very conscious while making notes that there has been an awful lot of work since she wrote, but hadn’t been that much on relevant subjects before: a great deal of what’s in her footnotes was thirty or forty years old even then. Anyway, the elevator pitch of it would be: using Domesday over many areas, we can see that the patterns of lay land-holding were hugely changed between 1066 and 1086, and that only a small part of this can be seen as continuity from an Anglo-Saxon landholder to a new Norman one. Small estates were clumped together by means fair and foul, but big ones were broken up and the result was a much more divided and controllable nobility for William I in 1086 than Edward the Confessor had in 1066, when Harold and his brothers actually held more land than the king, a pattern set up by Cnut’s consolidation of the nobility. That process is discussed in the first part of the book, and one of the things that makes this so interesting is the long comparison 1016 to 1086, albeit mainly studied through the 1086 telescope of Domesday.2 It’s at that end where the real argument lies, and figures like this really knock the difference home:

Proportions of land held by Edward the Confessor and his earls as per Fleming

Proportions of land held by William the Conqueror and his barons, 1086, as per Fleming

The timing of all this is also crucial: she sees a turning point around 1075, when the last English landholders to whom a new Norman landholder can be allowed to succeed are dying out. From there on land has to be acquired by other means, although that was never the only one. This means that a lot of estates had probably assumed the form that Domesday shows them in only very recently in 1086, and that we can fit the acquisition of land into a slow change that also appears in William’s domestic and ecclesiastical politics of initial accommodation hardening into subjection. This is all anchored with masses of detail, I mean masses. She never uses two or three examples when six exist, and this is effective. It sacrifices something on accessibility: the language of English land tenure is somewhat unusual and if you don’t already know what soke is or what berewicks are you will need a dictionary because there’s no help coming here, and no glossary either which might have been a kind gesture. But the upshot of it is all to convince, with the sort of mass of data that only Domesday scholars can really marshal for this period.3

Shires in which the different English magnate families dominated in 1066Spread of landholding of William the Conqueror's baronage by family 1086, as per Fleming

Three things only bug me about the arguments here, and these are three carps in a whole pool of beautiful goldfish, if you see what I mean. You know by now that this is my way of showing I really read the thing, to try and argue with details, right? So. The first thing is, a point she makes several times but which is easily lost sight of, that we are dealing here only with lay land, which is between a third and two-thirds of all land in England perhaps. So although if you’re studying the lay aristocracy we have indeed got 100% of their known assets under consideration, if you were interested in the peasantry then we’re looking at rather less. The second thing is another that she admits but I don’t think she really allows the reader time to see how it might affect the argument: Domesday does not record Anglo-Saxon subtenancies in as much detail as it does Anglo-Norman ones, so the fact that tempus regis willelmi land tenure appears to be split between many people and tempus regis eadwardi rather fewer may not all be the fact that Harold of Wessex and brothers and Leofric of Mercia had most of the country sewn up between them, undeniable though that probably is, but partly that we are not seeing the people over who they were lords. That said, it could be argued against that since Domesday is mainly interested in tenants-in-chief, this doesn’t really affect the upper level and might even militate towards better representation of Anglo-Saxon tenancies whose nature didn’t match the categories that Domesday‘s surveyors were working with. So maybe that doesn’t matter.

Peasants at work on a plough team, from the Luttrell Psalter

Peasants at work on a plough team, from the Luttrell Psalter

The question that really seemed uncovered to me is one that I kept asking, especially during the penultimate chapter which tries to document how much of the new lords’ landholdings were simply stolen or extorted. This is a really interesting chapter, and contains fascinating hints of collusion. What happens, I wanted to ask, having had this conversation with Matthew Innes several times in the past,4 when land changes hands? Do we really envisage the people who had owned it packing up their bags and leaving? Was England, or indeed Europe always full of migrants of purchase like this? Well, sometimes perhaps, especially in my area where they sometimes come to the frontier and start a new life, but more often surely they stay put, they just don’t own the land any more. What is happening with some of these cases is surely primarily a change of revenue flow; someone new gets to take the renders and the people working the land stay the same. A lot of the people we’re dealing with here likely weren’t working the land before, of course, and they may now have to. But all the same I think there is not only a great difference between physically expelling people from their lands and simply taking possession, in terms of title, tax and rights, of it while they stay in place with lessened status. I also think that envisaging the latter rather than the former makes it a lot easier to imagine how this whole process could be carried out without the whole of England essentially becoming wasteland and all the English fugitives.


1. Robin Fleming, Kings and Lords in Conquest England, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 15 (Cambridge 1991).

2. In this I think she, as with very many other people in fact, owes a lot to the similar perspective of Pauline Stafford, Unification and Conquest: a political and social history of England in the tenth and eleventh centuries (London 1978) and I don’t know if this is one of those I-internalised-it-so-good-I-forgot-it-wasn’t-mine things I described the other day but I find it very weird that that book isn’t cited or in this one’s bibliography.

3. It ought to be noted, however, that Fleming’s figures above differ quite a lot from the results that Mark Lawson got doing the same sums, or at least attempting to: see his “Edward the Confessor’s England” in James Campbell, Patrick Wormald & Eric John (edd.), The Anglo-Saxons (Harmondsworth 1982), pp. 226-227 at p. 226.

4. You can find Matthew discussing the like in his “Land, Freedom and the Making of the Early Medieval West” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 16 (Cambridge 2006), pp. 39-73.

Holiday AFK, news good and news bad

Right, this blog is about to go on holiday hiatus, but given as I’m writing in real-time for once, I ought to give some news too.

Firstly, I hate it when this happens, but since I advertised it here I now have to unadvertise it: an article I have been touting as forthcoming, my “Arabic-named communities in ninth- and tenth-century Asturias and León, at court and at home” in Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies (London: Taylor-Francis forthcoming), is now not forthcoming in any foreseeable time-frame. An extra reviewer freshly consulted has ruled against it until it can be heavily rebuilt, and I don’t see that time accruing any time soon. So that’s annoying, though arguably my own fault for submitting shaky work (I now see). I’d like to have been told this before making urgent revisions to meet a mid-2009 publication deadline that didn’t in fact apply, but never mind. It joins both the other things that were called ‘forthcoming 2009′ on job applications as things that did not in fact forthcome yet. Huh. Also, my course evaluations—and congratulations to Queen Mary for being the first place I ever taught at which actually gave me some—were full of, er, opportunities for improvement, which I intend to be taking next term, but dealing with these pieces of news on the same day was still a bit disheartening, and renews my background resolve to come up with a Plan C in case, really, I’m just not good enough at this game to ever win it.

On the other hand, what with the Rosamundfestkonferenz, I now have another article in pre-publication limbo, so my actual potential remains about the same, and meanwhile I have had my first interview for quite some time, so presumably I am in some sense doing something academic right, albeit very slowly. I shall take that thought away with me along with a few books and some hold-over presents—that interview came as rather a surprise and during a period in which Cambridge has been ice-bound and travel rather more tedious than usual—and return to you on the 28th inst. Until then the blog will be running on automatic: I shall stick a post up on the 27th, because I have stuff queued up I want to get unqueued, but I shan’t be here to moderate comments or answer things till after that. I hope you all have excellent holidays and that your families are pleasant where you are with them!

I should not always write off journalists’ history. Only sometimes.

I am establishing a bit of a pedigree here for complaining about journalists writing about history without knowing what they’re on about, so it behoves me to recognise when the opposite happens and something genuinely good appears in the paper. After all, one thread of the discussion down a bit about how pseudo-scholarship gets disseminated is incriminating the media working from out-of-date half-remembered university courses (and probably Wikipedia entries written by people doing the same), and I think they do have a power to inform over and above that which we have and which we need to try and inform in turn, or where that’s not possible, embarrass.

King Athelstan, as drawn by Martin Rowson

King Athelstan, as drawn by Martin Rowson

But this is a good one. A few weeks ago, the Guardian, a British left-leaning newspaper that likes to include small booklets on unnewsable themes like 20th-century poets, cycle maintenance, geographical statistics and so on, did a pair on Kings and Queens of Britain. I only saw the first one, but it was lots of fun. The guilty party is one Helen Castor, whose pedigree has “medievalist” stamped all over it and so it’s not surprising to find that I probably walk past her every few weeks, for she is an academic writing for the papers (and this is good) and has been in Cambridge nearly as long as I have and rather more successfully. Anyway, she should take a bow as not only was this booklet chock-full of memorable factoids and soundbites, but they were all but one at least sustainable while still being interesting. She covered from Athelstan, justifying that choice in good historical terms, to Richard III, but she also explained Athelstan with a box on Alfred the Great, and that included the story of the cakes. The mistake, and as I say the only one I noticed, was that she ascribed the story to Asser not William of Malmesbury, which obviously affects how people who can compare years will read it. So that’s an annoyance but it was possible for her to make that mistake because she mentioned Asser, with his approximate dates, and explained who he was and so on. Now, when do you suppose was the last time anyone read about Asser in a newspaper? So on the whole I am full of praise for this endeavour, which shows not only that it can be done, but that it can be done concisely and accurately without losing punch, interest or, importantly, humour. I’m not so sure about Martin Rowson, the cartoonist’s depiction, of the Anglo-Norman kings, who were surely not piggy and fat as he has them. But that’s a small price to pay for the effect of pulling people in with the drawings. It shows Horrible Histories a clean pair of heels, anyway.

King William I, as depicted by Martin Rowson

King William I, as depicted by Martin Rowson

But then, something else rises to the top. This seems to have caught the blogular imagination but it made me choke on my ever-ready supply of bile (black bile, of course). Some jokers have built themselves a ‘Pictish throne’, I’m sorry, I quote, “a throne built to a design used by the ancient Picts“. Unfortunately these jokers are the National Museum of Scotland. I’m not sure whether it’s the fault of the reporting that it implies that we have a ‘design’ for such a thing as used by the ‘ancient Picts’, or if they got that from the museum’s press release, of which, to judge from the accompanying illustration, reproduced below, there seems to have been one. Now, I mean, look. Once you’re out of the headline the BBC report does clarify:

The seat was created by master furniture maker Adrian McCurdy who drew inspiration from stone carvings.

And the actual NMoS press page is a lot more circumspect, so I might blame the journalists overall. But the key word there is inspiration, because we’re talking about a very few carvings. I can’t immediately find out which stones have such a depiction on it but firstly, and most obviously, from a stone carving you can only guess what material the original object was in: it might have been stone! Secondly, but not much less important, we only have guesses as to what the Pictish stones actually depict in their mise-en-scènes; whatever source Mr McCurdy used may have been depicting, for example, an Old Testament king of Israel, for all we know, or a contemporary king depicted as one, and so on. So there’s really no foundation for this beyond “we made something a bit like what’s on the stone”. I wonder whose spin it is that makes it more here.

Supposedly Pictish throne replica on display at the National Museum of Scotland

"And I suppose now you're queen, is that it?"

(Also, for more on a similar theme see this from Karen Larsdatter at Medieval Material Culture, if you like.)

Seminary LVI: what use a Carolingian chronicle?

Before I disappeared once more into unseminary occlusion, I made it to one at least of the Institute of Historical Research’s Earlier Middle Ages Seminars, not least because the speaker was Dr Simon MacLean of the University of St Andrews, long-time acquaintance of yer humble blogger and someone who will expect to see his paper mentioned here… Also, because of the subject, though mainly because I didn’t have to write a lecture for the next week. The subject was, “Recycling the Franks in 12th-Century England: Regino of Prum and the Monks of Durham”, and since Simon has been raising interest in Regino for some time, to the extent of recently translating his Chronicon into English, I wanted to hear what he was going to say.

Durham Cathedral by Mel Harland

Durham Cathedral, photographed from the river by Mel Harland

As the title suggests, the paper was more about twelfth-century Durham than anything Regino would have recognised, and needed a lot of setting up in terms of the contemporary politics, which were, on the grand scale (and usefully, since I’d been reading up on it for teaching at the time) the Investiture Contest and the aftermath of the marytrdom of Thomas à Becket. Durham, facing Scotland as it did and endowed with plenipotentiary powers which led its incumbent to be called the Prince-Bishop and the associated county a palatinate one, was a see over which royal control was very tight and the incumbent was frequently absent. It was also very often in dispute with its own cathedral chapter, and the special place of the bishop in the kingdom made it easy for the monks of the cathedral to obtain papal judgements against him when they came into dispute. Since Henry II was for a large part of his reign in breach with Rome, it is not a small thing that the monks of one his major sees were regularly going there to get judgements against their own bishop, and it shows you how the big agendas were pulled on by and pulled in smaller disputes and polarised them (as with family, chariot racing factions, Christianity at the adoption stage, and many other grand themes).

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 139, fo. 17r

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 139, fo. 17r, where the excerpt of Regino's Chronicon starts

Somewhere in all this the monks amassed a historical compilation, apparently put together out of several lesser parchment pamphlets, themselves all compiled for separate purposes. The result now survives in one lump as Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 139, which of course means that it’s online if you’re in the right places, but Simon was interested in the first pamphlet component, which contains a load of Durham-centric texts and an abstract of Regino’s Chronicon. This looks extremely out of place among its insular companion pieces, but Simon argued, with painstaking analysis lying behind his argument, that it had been selected carefully to make a point, and one of the reasons that we can believe this is that the manuscript of Regino that was being used is still at Durham where you can, apparently see that the text is marked up for excerpting in just the places it was done in CCCC 139. (Not sure if I have this right: the MGH suggests that the antecessor of CCCC 139 is (now) British Library MS Arundel 390 and mentions no Durham MS, but I think that’s what Simon said. The Durham MS collections are not catalogued online yet, sadly.) Regino’s original purpose was, says Simon and I don’t doubt him, to write a dynastic history of the Carolingians charting their rise and fall, but he was also very interested in their relations with Rome, and indeed saw that as crucial to the explanation of that rise and fall. (He is, for example, one of the best sources we have on Nicholas I, who as I keep telling you keeps coming up. Simon made this point without my having to question him, too, and I hadn’t stuck any of my rants about the neglect of the man up here yet.) The monks of Durham didn’t really care too much about the Carolingians, but they certainly cared about kings being deferential to popes, and that’s what they went through this text for, there being plenty to find. They included other things too, and what the agenda was there other than interest Simon admitted he could not yet tell, but where there was something that made that point it was included, and where there was something that went against that particular grain, it was not. All seemed plausible enough to me. That’s what Carolingian history was good for to some twelfth-century English monks, it would seem.

Chapels in the southern transept of Sawley Abbey church

Chapels in the southern transept of Sawley Abbey church

I accept all this, but I would still like to know—not that I know how we find out—more about the audience of the manuscript. Simon said that within a few years of its compilation and binding it seems to have been passed on to the new Cistercian foundation of Sawley Abbey, whose ex libris is visible under UV. Why that might be was hard to understand, given it was so Durham-centric in contents, and Sawley’s a long way from Durham, but Simon said that it did seem to have been connected to the contemporary Bishop Hugh de Puiset. That, to me at least, raised the intriguing (and unverifiable) possibility that the audience, in the end, had been the bishop, for whom many of the texts in the book could have been seen as exempla, and he hadn’t liked it, and had decided to piously get rid of it as far from his rebellious monks as he could easily manage… I like it as a theory, anyway!

‘Ex Libris’ at Cambridge University Library by night

Completely off-topic! One day a little while back when I was feeling unsually despondent, I also happened across what appears to be a completely false report that Cambridge University Library is seeking commercial sponsorship, now removed from the Guardian‘s website. This reminded me of something I’d been meaning to do for ages, ever since the UL’s car-park re-emerged from the mysterious building works that had shrouded it for several months. When it had re-emerged, it had done so with a new cycle lane across the front of the building, and a pillar system keeping the cars back from it. The pillars are really cool.

Ex Libris, by Harry Gray

It wasn’t until I read a story in the local newspaper that I realised this was not just a bright idea from inside the UL, but a ‘new public artwork’. There are fourteen of the pillars and the central four, which bear the title (“Ex Libris”), rotate, so that you can line them all up and read it.

One of the central pillars of Harry Gray's Ex Libris

One of the central pillars of Harry Gray's Ex Libris

Well, possibly a bit pretentious but still rather handsome, I thought, and resolved to photograph it for the library fans reading. Unfortunately, I then let the summer slip away—I just don’t normally take a camera to the library, what can I say—meaning that by the time I got round to this as described above, I was no longer in a position to get to the library in daylight. Well, I don’t think this has necessarily spoiled anything… Continue reading

Seminary LV: rural élites in the Byzantine and Umayyad Middle East

This academic year I have been teaching on Tuesdays, when the Cambridge Late Antique, Byzantine and Early Medieval Seminar runs, looking after a child Tuesday evenings when the London Society for Medieval Studies meets, and writing lectures for the next Tuesday on Wednesdays, when the Institute of Historical Research Earlier Middle Ages seminar is held. And then during London’s reading week I was laid out with a stomach complaint. So I hadn’t been to any seminars at all this term until 16 November, a Monday, when Arietta Papaconstantinou of the University of Oxford spoke to the Cambridge Byzantine Seminar to the title, ‘Identifying Rural Elites in Egypt and Southern Palestine from Justinian to the Umayyads’. I was late, because it starts at five and I have, you know, a job, but I was there, so, a report.

Fragment of a private letter in Coptic on papyrus of the sixth or seventh century

Fragment of a private letter in Coptic on papyrus of the sixth or seventh century

Dr Papaconstantinou is studying the transition from Byzantine to Arab rule in economic and social terms rather than the political ones in which it is most studied. She had a lot of material, almost all of which was complicated and needed conditions attached to it. She was trying to compare textual and archæological evidence, but the various sorts of evidence rarely coincide and when it does it’s for snapshots only: one site dug, but there’s no textual record of it; there is hagiography, but no documents; there are papyri, but they all came out of a house which is part of a site that seems to have flourished fifty years later than the documents; one only really gets papyri in Egypt, but that’s where there is the least archæology, and so on. Even with papyri, we are not talking determined property archives as with western monastic charters (except in a few likewise monastic cases) but everyday administrative documents like the Visigothic slates only on the stuff to hand, lists of dues, of names. (Dr Papaconstantinou said that there is much that could be done with tax records, but I got the idea that she would like someone else to do it.)

Abu Serga Coptic Church, Fustat

Abu Serga Coptic Church, Fustat, allegedly eighth-century though much refurbished

With those reservations, her approximate picture was of considerable local continuity. Where the Umayyads took over, which was everywhere in her zone, as far as we can tell local élites remained largely unaffected, still using Greek titles (even where they spoke Coptic or Syriac) and referring to `imperial’ law long after the Greek emperors had lost any relevance. Rich get richer, poor get poorer, but I think that there’s no documentary corpus where we don’t by definition see accumulation over time, so I don’t know that that isn’t a constant; it certainly always seems to be going on. It’s only in the late eighth century that Islam begins to make itself evident in terms of personal names and new offices; until then all that happens is that the local élites report to new governors. However, against that she also spoke of a change towards involvement in the Church, because the secular promotion prospects that would once have carried those local élites out to wider influence were now closed down, as was military service. So the Church actually does better for a while because of the Islamic takeover, because it becomes the area of competition for Christian status that’s still open.

Seventh-century well exposed by excavations at Fustat, Egypt

Seventh-century well exposed by excavations at Fustat, Egypt

Most of this stuff, which interested me most, came out in questions: it seems in retrospect as if most of the actual paper was spent just laying the ground for the questions by explaining the milieu and the difficulties of the evidence. One thing that did come up again and again however was the difficulty of defining rural and urban. Dr Papaconstantinou’s main contention was that wealth and trade in the towns of her zone becomes primarily agricultural, with industry basically focussing on processing agricultural produce, rather than manufacturing ceramics or metalwork, for example. Does that stop these towns being urban? Some villages retain an administrative function even though they’re far smaller than others that become trading places but have none. The whole situation is full of edge cases. Central settlements remain foci of the community, but wealth becomes basically agricultural. I see the problem of definition here, of course, but the idea of there being towns or villages that work like that, that are places where people come for any reason other than worship, come to by default as part of their social involvement, is right off my area’s map, where you go to the city to go to court and otherwise only if you’re rich and have lots to sell. Peter Sarris compared fifth-century Gaul as a model where Church towns take over from a rurally-funded urban secular élite but this zone seemed to be functioning on a much smaller scale to me; there are only a few big cities in this area (Fustat, Jerusalem, Alexandria) and lots of small towns or big villages. So I suppose this was one of those unusual Byzantine seminars where it was the area rather than scholarship that seemed alien, whereas it is too often the other way round, where one feels that one would recognise much of this but for the scholarly language of the field. Dr Papaconstantinou therefore ought to be encouraged to keep explaining this stuff outside her field as I learnt a lot quite easily from this seminar. I have no idea how new it was to the experts, but it was new to me which is what I was after.

From the sources III: Sampiro on the not the eleventh-century Vikings

We all know that Vikings are the coolest thing in the Middle Ages, or at least, my teaching career thus far has repeatedly made this point about audience interest and others have told me they find similarly. Also, there’s the media attention they draw, which we’ve discussed here in the past and which Magistra had such an interesting take on, though now I look at it again I wonder about timing; Vikings have been news longer than that, I think. Anyway, I shouldn’t have been surprised when mentioning Vikings in Spain drew comment and a fistful of references from the indefatigable Neville Resiste and the unexpected Judith Jesch. And if you look back at that piece you’ll see I promised to check out the original source and to try and synthesise something about the state of knowledge, mostly for Jonathan Grove who, being local, was able to seek me out and interrogate me for knowledge in person.

I may yet manage this, but it is currently seeming more than a bit ambitious. Once there are four papers and a source on the reading list that starts to seem like a new project, and I have enough to work on already. But I will at least get the source out there, or at least one source, as there seem to be others. That source is the Leonese chronicler Sampiro, possibly the Bishop of Astorga of that name (fl. 1034/5) but possibly someone else. This is a continuation of the Chronicle of Alfonso III, and like that text manages to stop prematurely; Alfonso (if it was him, which I think is still arguable myself) gets to his own father but says nothing of his own reign, and Sampiro only got to 982. So we’re not looking at eleventh-century attacks in that source, and I guess that was my misreading of Fletcher. Therefore, I suppose that the first thing to do is get the Fletcher text and then go from there:

By Alfonso III’s day we do seem to be in an age when the Vikings were stifling such sea-borne communications as still existed. We know of raids on the Galician coast in 844 and 858; there may have been others of which we know nothing. Alfonso III was sufficiently worried by the threat of Viking attack to establish fortified strong points near his coastline, as other rulers were doing elsewhere. Perhaps the ‘heathen men’ against whom he fought (as his charters proudly tell us) were not always Muslims. The next big raid that we hear of occurred in 968: bishop Sisnando of Compostela was killed, the monastery of Curtis was sacked, and panicky measures were ordered for the defence of the inland town of Lugo.52 At some point early in the eleventh century Tuy was sacked; its bishopric remained vacant for the next half-century. A pathetic piece of family history recorded in a Portuguese charter of 1018 lifts for a moment the curtain which normally obscures the more humble human consequences of the Viking raids, Amarelo Mestáliz was forced to raise money on the security of his land in order to ransom his daughters who had been captured by the Vikings in 1015.53 Bishop Cresconio of Compostela (c. 1036-66) repulsed a Viking descent and built the fortress intended to protect the approach to the town of Compostela from the Atlantic which may still be seen by the water’s edge at Torres del Oeste. A charter of 1086 refers to this or another raid in the Nendos district.54


52. Sampiro, Cronica, in J. Pérez de Urbel, Sampiro, su crónica y la monarquía leonesa en el siglo X (Madrid, 1952), at pp. 340-1; Cronicon Iriense, ed. M. R. García Alvarez, Memorial Histórico Español 50 (1963), pp. 1-240, c. 11; Sobrado Cart. I, no. 137; AHN cód. 1043B, fo. 38v.

53. Printed and discussed by R. Pinto de Azevedo, ‘A expedição de Almanzor a Santiago de Compostela em 997, e a de piratas normandos a Galiza em 1015-16′, Revista Portuguesa da História 14 (1974), 73-93. It may have been in the course of this raid, which lasted nine months, that Tuy was sacked.

54. HC, p. 15, Jubia Cart., no. ix.1

So, actually the eleventh-century stuff all appears to be in the Portuguese article by Pinto, which leaves the question of his source or sources unclear. However, I said I would get the Sampiro reference and dammit, I have, and I’m going to put it here even if it doesn’t answer the question. There are two versions of the chronicle, one from each of its two manuscript families, and both have a whole bundle of complex problems, but just because it’s not tied up to the arch-forger Bishop Pelayo of Oviedo I’m using the version incorporated into the Historia Silense. There’s not that much difference between the texts—Pérez edited them in parallel so it’s easy to see—but the Pelagian recension does have some extra explanatory nouns, making it clearer who people are and so on. On the other hand, that means that the Silense is shorter, so! First the text, then a rough translation. Sampiro deals with the death of King Sancho [the Fat] and then continues:

Era MV. Sancio defuncto, filius eius Ramirus habens a nativitate annos quinque suscepit regnum patris sui, continens se cum consilio amite sue domne Geluire [Pelayo adds: regine], deuote Deo ac prudentissime, habuit pacem cum sarracenis, et corpus sancti Pelagii ex eis recepit, et cum religiosis episcopis in ciuitate Legionensi tumulauit. Anno secundo regni sui, centum classes normanorum cum rege suo nomine Gunderedo, ingresse sunt urbes Gallecie, et strages multas facientes in giro sancti Iacobi, episcopum loci illius gladio peremerunt nomine Sisinandum ac totam Galleciam depredauerunt, usquequo peruenerunt ad Pirineos montes Ezebrarii. Tercio uero anno, remeantibus illis ad propria, Deus, quem occulta non latent retribuit ultionem. Sicut enim illi plebem christianam in captiuitatem miserunt, et multos gladio interfecerunt, ita et illi priusquam a finibus Gallecie exirent, multa mala perpessi sunt.

Comes namque Guillelmus Sancionis, in nomine Domini et honori sancti Iacobi, cuius terram devastauerunt, exiuit cum exercitu magno obuiam illis, et cepit preliari cum illis. Dedit illi Domninus uictoriam, et omnem gentem ipsam simul cum rege suo gladio interfecit, atque classes eorum igne cremauit. Diuina adiutus clemencia

And in translation, very roughly and probably with many errors:

Era 1015 [AD 977]. Sancho having died, his son Ramiro, being five years old, succeeded to the kingdom of his father, securing himself with the counsel of his aunt, the lady Elvira, a deo vota and most prudently made peace with the Saracens, and received the body of the holy Pelagius from them, and with the religious bishops buried it in the city of León. In the second year of his reign [so, 978-979?] a hundred ships of the Northmen [lit. fleets, but I'm taking it to be metonymic here] with their king, Gundered by name, entered the cities of Galicia, and made many slaughters in the circuit of Santiago, they killed the bishop of that place, Sisnando by name, by the sword and devastated all Galicia, up until the point when they arrived at the Pyrenean mountains of ‘Ezebrario’ [?]. In [his] third year indeed, when they returned to their own, God, from whom they did not lie hidden, wrought revenge. For just as they dispatched the Christian people into captivity, and killed many with the sword, just so before they could leave the limits of Galicia, they endured many ills to the full.

For the count Guillermo Sanchez, in the name of God and for the honour of Saint James, whose land they devastated, came out with a great army against those men, and began to battle with them. God gave that man the victory, and he killed all of that same people with their king with the sword, and burnt their fleets with fire, aided by divine clemency.2

And then we get on into a merry little vignette about how the counts don’t like their eight-year-old king once he’s twenty, so raise another king against him, against whom he is fighting when he dies of sickness the next year.

So, the first thing I notice here is that Sampiro is a lousy stylist and apparently doesn’t know the pluperfect, but secondly that this is not really providential history, or else that association between the translation of Pelagius’s relics is very oddly associated with Viking onslaught. Pelagius was an odd and controversial martyr, but I think this is more likely just to be clumsy editing than to be a subtle hint that that cult was offensive to God, since it’s God who comes and ends the attack through the Santiago-loyal count. I’d like to know where that place-name is, since if they reached the Pyrenees they really ought to feature in more sources I know about. But that’s all I have for the moment. Hopefully of some interest…


1. Richard A. Fletcher, Saint James’s Catapult: The Life and Times of Diego Gelmírez of Santiago de Compostela (Oxford 1984), p. 23.

2. Justo Pérez de Urbel, Sampiro, su crónica y la monarquia leonesa en el siglo X, Estudios 26 (Madrid 1952), cap. 28.

Fourth harvest in medieval Catalonia?

Things that I should know: according to Deirdre Larkin at the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the people who runs the marvellous blog there on their medieval garden, in Spain and Portugal the acorns of the holm oak, which are sweeter than regular acorns, are still sometimes used to make meal for bread, and presumably have been for a long long time. Given that a lot of the scenery in my much-beloved subject area looks like this…

Scenery around the hills south-west of Sant Hilari Sacalm

Scenery around the hills south-west of Sant Hilari Sacalm

… which is basically holm oaks and the little local pines, that’s probably not a bad extra source of food in times of poor harvest or poor lords.

The reasons I should know this are twofold: firstly, you know, I’ve been there a bit and have family and friends who live there. Secondly, one of the most interesting articles I ever read about early medieval Catalonia, and by extension about medieval life generally, was one that I’ve talked about before by a man called Peter Reynolds who did reconstructive medieval farming, about what else than the main cereal crops there was that grew which medieval people could have eaten, what he called the ‘third harvest’. He was pretty cynical about lords and renders, and figured that almost all the wheat and oats that the average peasant could grow, in his autumn and spring harvests respectively, would go to the lords as renders, for human and for horse feed respectively. I think that probably they did get to eat wheat bread usually and oaten bread in the slack times, even if I’m sure that they did have to give a lot of it up. But Reynolds really came into his own pointing out how many other plants that grow in hedges and so on were known to early modern peasants, especially a thing called Fat Hen or goosefoot, which grows leaves that are not unlike cabbage and seeds that can be ground for a reasonable bread, but many others too, and would presumably have been known to their forebears too.

Goosefoot, or fat hen, growing in the wild

Goosefoot, or fat hen, growing in the wild

I had just become aware of the whole ‘weapons of the weak‘ school of thought about lord and peasant relations at that point, and was quite taken with the extra independence in the face of a dogmatic oppression this gave my poor pre-Catalans, even if I didn’t agree that these alternatives probably made up most of the actual diet. I guess only phytolith analysis and so on would settle this, and it’s sadly now too late for Dr Reynolds to care. But, now I have a copy of this article in PDF, I can say: it’s right there in his text, along with the sweet chestnut that I do remember him mentioning it. Just didn’t stick for some reason. I should have known this because I’ve read it before. Dammit, brain.


Referring here to Peter J. Reynolds & Christine E. Shaw, “The third harvest of the first millennium A. D. in the Plana de Vic” in Immaculada Ollich (ed.), Actes del Congrès 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. 339-351 with English abstract p. 352, esp. pp. 345-346; it’s online unpaginated here, from where also much more about Dr Reynolds’s work in both Catalonia and England.

From the sources II: the men of Gombrèn and Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Outside of the cloister of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Outside of the cloister of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

A little while ago I managed to get in touch with the current archivist of Sant Joan de les Abadesses, Joan Ferrer i Godoy, who has been really helpful, and is also fresh from the achievement of publishing all the monastery’s documents from 995 to 1273 as part of the excellent Diplomataris series by the Fundació Noguera; two of you at least may find this information useful.1 One of the ways in which he has been helpful is that he’s sent me images of the two documents I most wanted to look at there, thus potentially saving me a trip (though I may go again anyway, when I go). Almost all of Sant Joan’s early archive is now in the Arxiu de la Corona de Aragó in Barcelona, but a very few pieces remain at Sant Joan, and that meant that when Federico Udina i Martorell published the early series as part of a programme of the ACA’s he did four documents from transcripts in Barcelona rather than the originals.2 Two of these are both quite important documents to me (and the other two are interesting forgeries): the former is the partner to the huge hearing over the Vall de Sant Joan that I’ve talked about so much before, in which the count’s representative admitted that he’d lost the case, and I may talk about that here later on. Today however I want to introduce you to the other one, a hearing about which I’ve been suspicious for a long time.

Arxiu de l'Abadia de Sant Joan de les Abadesses, volum de pergamins dels segles X-XII, fo. 35

Arxiu de l'Abadia de Sant Joan de les Abadesses, volum de pergamins dels segles X-XII, fo. 35 (full-size image linked behind)

Here it is. What this is is a hearing from 987 in which Abbess Fredeburga, most mysterious of the abbesses of Sant Joan, called a bunch of people together in court before Marquis Oliba Cabreta of Besalú and had them testify that the monastery had owned the castle of Mogrony since the time of Abbess Emma, and swore to what its territory was as well.3 Now, this was almost certainly not true; Sant Joan’s documents from Emma’s time that mention Mogrony are all interpolated, apparently to establish this very same fact, and of course Emma herself was no stranger to the sworn oath to complete fiction as a judicial tactic, having used it on Oliba’s father her brother in that same huge hearing I already mentioned.4 What this means is that anything from Sant Joan that mentions Mogrony is automatically dubious, and close reading of this charter in Udina’s edition made me no more comfortable about it:

  1. first of all, the people swearing the oath are not identified until the very end, in that little paragraph by a signature at the bottom right there, where they are identified as the men of one village, Gombrèn.5 Now, this is the nearest settlement to the castle so fair enough but I did wonder why no-one had thought to mention who they were till then, as you’d think that was a fairly important part of their value as witnesses.
  2. Secondly, I wondered why the Incredible Wonder Judge Ervigi Marc was scribing, as he had nothing in particular to do with Sant Joan, never appears in its other documents, and was first and foremost a man of the counts of Barcelona, not Oliba Cabreta. Judges did travel, certainly, but this is out of his area and it’s still odd.6
  3. And that got odder with each of the witnesses I checked. None of Oliba’s usual men are here, though one guy, Florenci, at least appears with no-one else; instead, almost every witness I could identify had good pedigree as a follower of his cousin Borrell II of Barcelona, Ervigi’s main employer, not of Oliba.7

So at this point my thought was that this document, which has been used to argue some pretty dubious stuff, was itself probably pretty dubious. I suspected that a hearing had been made up and the witness list borrowed from a charter of Borrell’s, though against that I did have to admit that no matching charter of Borrell’s seems to have survived. Later reflection showed me that that wouldn’t work, because they’re all named in the opening lines too—modulo the apparent correction in line 3 where ‘radulfo’ is added over a scraped patch, he not being in the witnesses—so if it was made up it was done in one go. Some of the witnesses are big men and at least one, Tassio, really did appear with many counts, so he’s not surprising.8 The others are still weird though. Obviously sight of the original was the only thing that might get me any further, and now, here we are. So, what difference does this make?

  1. It actually is an original, or close to, which in and of itself chucks a load of possibilities out of the window. It’s one bit of parchment written in contemporary script and there are autograph signatures on it, so we have to accept that there was some kind of hearing or meeting at or close to the date it gives.
  2. On the other hand the men of Gombrèn are still, as we say in the trade, ‘well dodgy’. Observe that long long horizontal stroke in the centre of the page; that’s the list of people who swore, evidently running short. What that means is that Ervigi (who certainly wrote the main part of the document, the scribal signature right at the bottom is the same precise Caroline hand as the first few lines I’m sure) didn’t know who was swearing when he wrote this, left a gap and then there weren’t enough oath-takers to fill it. So, prior redaction to a set of facts not then fully known.

So what I now think is this, as a first guess. Gombrèn was in Oliba Cabreta’s territory by now, so it had to be before him that this case was heard, or at least it would be best if it were. I still don’t understand what Fredeburga, about whose connections we know little, was up to that Oliba’s court was apparently packed with Barcelona nobles (and we certainly don’t have to assume there was no-one else there; the panels for these things are chosen for relevance and can be subsets of the court9), but apparently she’d brought people with her. Ervigi accordingly wrote this document up first, leaving out the names of those taking the oath because it doesn’t seem to have been clear who they would be, and the witnesses because they would need to follow the list of those swearing.

Once it was finally agreed who was taking the oath, and perhaps even once it had been taken, he added them in, two or three fewer than he’d allowed for, in bigger letters to try and fill the gap (I’m pretty sure that is the same hand, all the letter forms look the same as the smaller script to me) and finished the document by adding the witnesses’ names, letting the clerics and one or two who at least don’t say they’re clerics write their own in a few places. Among them however was the man in charge of the men from Gombrèn, Miró (as ever one of about a dozen otherwise-unknown Miros involved), and at this point Ervigi seems to have realised that as well as not initially naming the oath-takers, he’d never explained who they were. So that information was squeezed into the signature he wrote for Miró (perhaps at the same time he realised he’d also missed out a boundary clause and added it between lines seven and eight). Also, there seems to have been some doubt about whether a record botched this badly would be legal, because another signature added at this point is the one at the middle of the penultimate line, ‘S+ bonutius cl[ericu]s doctusqu[e] lege qui ha[s] conditione[s] roboraui’, ‘signed Bonnuç, cleric and learned in law, who have confirmed this oath’. Except that that still looks like Ervigi’s hand to me so I wonder how learned this cleric was, in fact, that he didn’t sign himself. Anyway, there’s almost no other instance of a specifically legal approval like that from this era, and I think it’s significant.

Finally, and perhaps shamefacedly, Ervigi signed off at the very bottom, admitting to, ‘rasas ac emendatas atq[ue] sup[er]positas in u[e]r[s]o III· & uiii· ac nono ac…’ and I can’t even read it, ‘erasures and corrections and superscripts in the third line and the eighth and the ninth and…’ Poor sod. No backspace on parchment.

Sant Pere de Montgrony with the old castle's rock behind it

Sant Pere de Montgrony with the old castle's rock behind it

So it is an odd occasion. Fredeburga may not have known that what she was contending wasn’t true, that depends when the interpolations to Emma’s documents were made, but she may have had trouble sorting out the oath-swearers because of dissent on the matter. She also seems to have had trouble getting Oliba’s own following to pay attention, and Borrell may have been behind the panel who did attend, intending to unsettle his elder cousin. There’s many lurking pieces of politics behind this hearing that may explain its oddity. But the main reason it looks dodgy is no malicious or fraudulent purpose, but that the problems getting people to swear seem to have led the unfortunate scribe to make a complete hash of it. Never attribute to malice what can be satisfactorily explained by incompetence, eh?

(Edit: now cross-posted to Cliopatria.)


1. Joan Ferrer i Godoy (ed.), Diplomatari del monestir de Sant Joan de les Abadesses (995-1273) (Barcelona 2009).

2. Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas: Escuela de Estudios Medievales, Textos XVIII, Publicaciones de la Sección de Barcelona no. 15 (Madrid 1951), ap. II, docs A-D.

3. Udina, Archivo Condal, ap. II D, now edited from the original as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i de Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 1526. On Fredeburga see Esteve Albert, Les Abadesses de Sant Joan, Episodis de la història 69 (Barcelona 1968).

4. Mogrony: J. Jarrett, “Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 (Oxford 2003), pp. 229-258 at pp. 235-241; the hearing is edited in Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 38 or Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV doc. no. 119; the former has palæographical notes par excellence but the latter has the correct date… Discussion, Jarrett, “Power over Past and Future”, pp. 241-248.

5. The Latin makes clear that the origin of the modern placename is ‘Gomesindo morto’, ‘dead Gomesèn’, whoever he may have been. For a suggestion, see J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis (University of London 2005), p. 141 & n. 268.

6. For judges in general and Ervigi Marc in particular, see Jeffrey A. Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000, Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past (Ithaca 2004), pp. 81-99.

7. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power”, p. 249 n. 155.

8. Ibid., pp. 229-230.

9. For example C. Devic & J. Vaissete, Histoire Générale de Languedoc avec les Notes et les Pièces Justificatives. Édition accompagnée de dissertations et actes nouvelles, contenant le recueil des inscriptions de la province antiques et du moyen âge, des planches, des cartes géographiques et des vues des monuments, rev. E. Mabille, E. Barry, E. Roschach & A. Molinier & ed. M. E. Dulaurier, Vol. V (Toulouse 1875, repr. Osnabrück 1973), Preuves: Chartes et Documents nos 193 & 194, are two hearings from the same day and town by the same judge, but the witnesses differ per case.