Monthly Archives: February 2010

Ancient numismatic irreverence

I have very little time to write just now, and about eight blog posts existing only as titles and skeletons held together with a few sinewy links. In the meantime, you can have this. A couple of things have passed over my scanner at work lately that made me want to tell someone about them, and even though they’re not remotely medieval I fear you, dear readers, are that someone… From the ridiculous to the sublime, first off let me show you this.

Bronze of Smyrna, 75X76 AD, for Emperors Titus and Domitian by Marcus Vettianus Bolanos, Corpus Christi College, Lewis Collection, CM.LS.1381-R

Corpus Christi College, Lewis Collection, CM.LS.1381-R

Bronze of Smyrna, 75X76 AD, for Emperors Titus and Domitian by Marcus Vettianus Bolanos

It’s not terribly pretty now, I know, but this is in fact the single most GLAM ancient coin type there is. To the average numismatic expert, yes, it’s just a piece of bronze small change from Smyrna struck under Vespasian in the name of his sons, in 75-76 AD. But it’s the moneyer that makes the difference, for his name is on the coin, and it was Marcus Vettianus Bolanos. MARC BOLAN. Truly, this guy was the metal guru.

But seriously folks. Here are some more nondescript bits of bronze.

Bronze of Judaea by Pontius Pilate under Tiberius, 29 AD, Corpus Christi College, Lewis Collection, CM.LS.1917-R
Bronze of Judaea by Pontius Pilate under Tiberius, 29 AD, Corpus Christi College, Lewis Collection, CM.LS.1917-R

Corpus Christi College, Lewis Collection, CM.LS.1917-R

Bronze of Judaea by Pontius Pilate under Tiberius, 30 AD, Corpus Christi College, Lewis Collection, CM.LS.1918-R

Corpus Christi College, Lewis Collection, CM.LS.1918-R

Bronze of Judaea by Pontius Pilate under Tiberius, 30 AD, Corpus Christi College, Lewis Collection, CM.LS.1918-R

Now, what these are is coins of two of the types that were issued as your basic small change in Judæa under Pontius Pilate. The upper one’s from 29 AD, the lower from 30 AD, just before a certain Saviour of us all started his ministry, at least as long as one accepts him as historical. These aren’t the thirty pieces of silver, which presumably would have been regular denarii from some of the big mints nearby, but the average bronze small change of the day-to-day. What this means is that, if you’d had a shop in Nazareth, for example, and one of the window-frames had gone rotten, and you’d called in a carpenter to fix it, and Joseph & Son had been nearest or cheapest or whatever, these are the coins with which you’d have paid Jesus for fixing your window. I’m just saying.

(All images copyright the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and not to be reproduced without permission. The actual coins belong to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, who have for some years kindly allowed the Samuel Savage Lewis Collection to be deposited in the Museum.)

Rehabilitating Don Claudio

Don Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz as a young scholar

Don Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz as a young scholar

I have written here before about the particular difficulty presented to the non-Spaniard trying to get a grip on the historiography of early medieval Spain by the existence of the voluminous œuvre of Professor Don Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz. But I’m going to do so again. Let me just remind you: he was from early on a promising analyst of early medieval texts, especially charters which hardly anyone was using at that time; but that time was immediately before the Spanish Civil War, in which Dr Sánchez-Albornoz found himself on the wrong side. Emigrating therefore to Argentina, he worked for another forty-odd years without sight of the original texts and still managed to found a major journal (Cuadernos de Historia de España) and publish a huge number of articles and books, which more or less set a mould for the Spanish historiography of the Middle Ages by emphasising what it was that was special about Spain, and Spanish feudalism in particular.1 Unfortunately he did all this with an absolute poison pen for his opponents, a tame journal in which to publish his attacks, and a low tolerance for disagreement, as well as a strong tendency to migrate his theories from tentative suggestions well-hedged with qualifications through ‘accepted theories’ to ‘things that I have proven’ the longer they remained unopposed. Some time towards the end of this, he became President of the Republic in Exile, in which capacity he outlived his hated Franco (than whom, for many, he was no less nationalist or objectionable) and eventually returned to Spain in 1983, a few years before his eventual death. He received the first parts of a six-volume Festschrift on his ninetieth birthday and there have been several other commemorative volumes since then.2 His legacy looms large, and it is prickly.

However, his domination of the field more or less ended with the alternative gospel preached in the seventies by Abilio Barbero and Marcelo Vigil, about which you have also heard much more here than you ever really wanted I suspect. Their ultra-socio-economical and deeply continuist version of Spain is slowly now disappearing from vogue in the shadow of a newly-developing ultra-European and acknowledgedly diverse Spain which will, I suspect, also be rebranded in the next generation. And of course different practitioners align themselves with different parts of this development and those in the new waves regard the old ones as superseded even though the arguments rumble on behind them, without necessarily having been settled. And obviously things can fall through that gap.

Don Claudio about to hold forth

Don Claudio about to hold forth

One of those things, argues an article by Juan José Larrea I read in the Bonnassie Festschrift, is that Sánchez-Albornoz was actually a really skilled historian.3 Granted, he had huge interpretative paradigms founded on very little except prejudice, which have made him very awkward to engage with for the last twenty years, but when he took a text apart, he saw what was in it and explained it clearly and with copious demonstration, and indeed due caution. (Although he would then refer to his interpretation as proven and definitive for the rest of his life, of course.) Larrea’s example is based on a small-scale peasant uprising at a Galician village called, in the text, villa Matanza, which appears to be in la Sequenda between Astorga and Braga. Here, in 1046, in apparent protest at being given into the lordship of the bishop of Astorga by the king, the community killed a royal judicial officer. Larrea points out that the king did not enforce anything like the full weight of the (Visigiothic) law, but merely ordered the leaders expropriated and imprisoned and (of course) enforced the transfer. Larrea notes that this is a sign of the times because two centuries before, the zone the place was in had actually been settled under a guarantee of liberty from King Ordoño I. And Sánchez-Albornoz was the first to really draw attention to this, and none of his opponents have been able to get round that:

Car, en fait, Sánchez Albornoz ne fut pas seulement le chantre de la liberté des pionniers castillans. Il s’intéressa presque autant à la perte de la liberté qu’à son éclosion. Le resultat en fut une monographie volumineuse, rigoureuse et documentée.14 Encore qu’écrit dans un style qui n’est plus, si l’on nous permet ce propos banal, à la mode chez les médiévistes, « Homines mandationis y iuniores » est un texte passionant qui put – et peut encore – ouvrir tout un champ de recherche. Mais « Homines mandationis… » eut la disgrâce de paraître à un mauvais moment pour son auteur, car les premiers jalons de renouveau historiographique des années 1970-1980 venaient d’être posés par J.A. García de Cortázar et par A. Barbero et M. Vigil. Non seulement les nouveaux courants frappèrent d’anathème des notions comme celles de pouvoir public et d’impôt15, mais Sánchez-Albornoz était censé représenter au plus haut degré le passé institutionaliste avec lequel le discours rénovateur voulait rompre radicalement. On ne trouvera ni la référence bibliographique, ni les thèses de « Homines mandationis… » dans les synthèses importantes des dernières travaux considérés décisifs dans l’historiographie récente qui, tout en adressant des critiques acérées à Sánchez Albornoz, se voient obligés de reprendre des idées forces de « Homines mandationis… » quelques pages plus tard16. Pareil paradoxe trahit à nos yeux les limites des alternatives qui on été proposées.


14 C. Sánchez Albornoz, « Homines mandationis y iuniores », Cuadernos de Historia de España, t.53-54, 1971, p. 7-235. Aussi dans: Viejos y nuevos [estudios de las Instituciones medievales españolas, Madrid], t. 1, 21976, p. 365-577.
15 Seuls des médiévistes galiciens ont utilisé dans les dernières années de telles notions sans état d’âme.
16 Par exemple, J. M. Mínguez, « Ruptura social e implantación del feudalismo en el Noroeste peninsular (siglos VIII-X) », Studia Historica, t. 3, no 2, 1985, p. 8 et 29-31.

I guess that Larrea, of whose work I could easily become a fan at this rate, is basically saying “don’t throw the baby out with the revisionist bathwater”, though I admit that it does read more as if he’s saying that the revisionists are all charlatans who haven’t read the sources properly and that the old nationalist should be rehabilitated.4 But what I take away from it is that it might, despite the evil frame of mind in which some of it was written, still be all right to enjoy reading Don Claudio’s writing because of the skill with which he read his material, years before he wrote most of what he did about it. I shall never like him, and some of his current wave of defenders are not people with whom I want to be associated, but ignoring him is no good, as Larrea again says: both he and his supplanters were clever men (and in a few cases the supplanters clever women, though that has been much more a thing of the generation trained by his supplanters) and we can use it all.

Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz returning to Spain for the second and last time in 1983

Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz returning to Spain for the second and last time in 1983


1. Some English-language guidance to the development of this particular consensus is given in the opening pages of Richard Fletcher’s “Reconquest and Crusade in Spain c.1050-1150″ in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th Series Vol. 37 (London 1987), pp. 31-47, reprinted in Thomas Madden (ed.), The Crusades: essential readings (Oxford 2004), pp. 51-68. There are about twenty articles from elsewhere about how important Sánchez-Albornoz’s work was and you can hit up Regesta Imperii’s OPAC for them same as I did, they’re too many to list. Sánchez-Albornoz’s key works in this stream (among many others which are documented here) would, I guess, be En torno a los orígenes del feudalismo (Mendoza 1942, repr. Buenos Aires 1974-1979), 3 vols; España, un enigma histórico (Buenos Aires 1957, 10th edn. Barcelona 1985), 2 vols; Despoblación y repoblación en el Valle del Duero (Buenos Aires 1966); Orígenes de la nación española. Estudios críticos sobre la Historia del reino de Asturias (Oviedo 1972-1975, repr. Madrid 1975), 3 vols, abridged most recently (Gijon 1989); and Viejos y nuevos estudios sobre las instituciones medievales españolas (Madrid 1976-1980, repr. 1983), 3 vols. I should make clear straight away that I’ve read far far less of his stuff than all this, though. He also got to make a final statement in the name of his old master in as much as he wrote one of the volumes of the Historia de España Menéndez Pidal, El reino asturleonés (722-1037). Sociedad, Economía, Gobierno, Cultura y Vida, Historia de España Menéndez Pidal VII: la España Cristiana 1 (Madrid 1980). Say what you like about the man, he was never idle.

2. J. L. Romero (ed.), Homenaje al Profesor Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz (Buenos Aires 1964); María del Carmen Carlé (ed.), Estudios en homenajes a Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz a sus noventa años, Anexos de Cuadernos de Historia de España (Buenos Aires 1983-1986, Avila 1990), 6 vols; Miguel Ángel Ladero Quesada (ed.), Estudios en memoria del profesor D. Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz, En la España medieval Vol. 5 (Madrid 1986), 2 vols; Reyna Pastor de Tognery (ed.), Sánchez Albornoz a debate: Homenaje de la Universidad de Valladolid con motivo de su centenario (Valladolid 1993); II Estudios de frontera. Actividad y vida en la frontera. En memoria de Don Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz. Alcalá la Real, 1997 (Jáen 1998); J. Pérez & M. Aduina (edd.), Les origines de la féodalité : hommage à Claudio Sánchez Albornoz. Actes du colloque international tenu à la Maison des Pays Ibériques les 22 et 23 octobre 1993 (Madrid 2000). Maybe we’ve now reached a stopping point but I wouldn’t like to bet on it.

3. J. J. Larrea, “Villa Matanza” in Hélène Débax (ed.), Les sociétés méridionales à l’âge féodal (l’Espagne, Italie et sud de France Xe-XIIIe s.). Hommage à Pierre Bonnassie, Méridiennes 8 (Toulouse 1999), pp. 223-228.

4. Ibid., pp. 227-228, quote p. 227.

Just one long ordeal?

Very busy here at the moment, and little time to finish blog posts. I did at least write something over on Cliopatria, responding to a recent article in the Boston Globe about the supposed effectiveness of trial by ordeal in the Middle Ages. It doesn’t seem to have attracted much of an audience there: perhaps you’d like to go and read it?

Knight Landing Ships!

Okay, so, that’s all very depressing, makes you wonder why on earth you’d be a medievalist no doubt. Well, here’s one reason. While updating myself on the Fourth Crusade by reading Jonathan Phillips‘s excellent The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, I found something I never knew before. Stupidly I gave the book back to Cambridge UL before transcribing the relevant section, and the way the UL works, it won’t be back on the shelf yet. However, I find someone who clearly read the same book writing an article on Historynet.com which basically repeats the relevant text:

To complete their side of the bargain, the Venetians closed their entire commercial operations for a year — a demonstration of the massive effort required to build and equip a fleet of such a size. The ships were of three basic types: troop carriers, horse transports, and battle galleys…. The horse transports had specially designed slings to carry their precious cargo; once the ship drew close to shore, a door below the waterline could be opened to allow a fully armed and mounted knight to charge directly into battle — rather like a modern landing craft disgorging a tank.

I try and restrict my use of this term, but: dude! Why did no-one ever tell me the Fourth Crusade had Knight Landing Ships before? (And, research reveals, so did the Byzantines, as early as 960, so it’s on topic!) Seriously, you reenactment types, you should get on this, that’s a spectacle I’d cross the Atlantic for all right. And you might not have to do all the work yourselves: fruitless Googling for images turns up a guy who’s trying to make a film about the Fourth Crusade and has already started building a 23 ft model of one of these vessels to use in it, of which this seems to be the skeleton:

Ribs and keel of a model Venetian ship for the film Blackernae

Ribs and keel of a model Venetian ship for the film Blackernae

This is not the only reason to be a medievalist in this. There is also the fact that someone has done some work on this, and in particular the question of whether or not the door (or ‘horse-port’—y’see, what’s not to love about this?) was really below the waterline. Do we imagine these things beaching? It seems that we have to, or disbelieve Joinville. But dammit: I am in a field where people struggle to work out how people eight hundred years ago landed fully armed knights onto beaches from ships. If you don’t think that’s cool, er, what are you doing reading this?


Jonathan Phillips, The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constaninople (London 2004), which compares startlingly to his Defenders of the Holy Land, 1119-1187 (Oxford 1996) because, where that is dense and detailed and learned, this, while not lacking the learning, is nonetheless a page-turner. He has of course a great story to tell, but I knew how it ended already and I still stayed up late to finish the book. Seriously engaging writing style, and as I say, one much changed from the earlier book, which is still very useful. The detailed work on the ships that I found, meanwhile, is Lillian Ray Martin, “Horse and cargo handling on Medieval Mediterranean ships” in International Journal of Nautical Archaeology Vol. 31 (Oxford 2001), pp. 237-241, and has a few very fuzzy illustrations that weren’t worth breaking the copyright to reproduce here but might be better in hard copy.

The KCL situation

Several people have asked me to write something about the situation at King’s College London. And indeed, it may seem strange that I haven’t so far joined in what has become one of the most widespread campaigns I have seen in my short span as a medievalist blogger. The cause of this alarm and outrage is that KCL is proposing to axe, among other staff to whom we’ll come in a moment, the English-speaking world’s only Chair of Palæography, that is, the study of ancient writing, the discipline which underlies any work done with manuscripts from a time before typescript (and after, where Gothic Black Letter is concerned, I might add). It is pretty important. Without training in palæography the original sources of this period basically become inaccessible, and work on OCR of such texts and so on has only increased this importance in recent years. And the incumbent Professor, David Ganz, has been a stalwart in the rôle as it was envisioned, giving advice to all and sundry (including me), whether they were at KCL or not, involving himself in new media projects and digital technology and also, publishing like a mad thing. By any normal UK academic assessment, based on research output and even this new and nebulous quality ‘impact’, David should be a shoo-in. But KCL are not assessing on this basis: they are severely short of income, and are assessing on the basis of the revenue the post brings in, in terms of research students, grants and class sizes. And in those terms, David’s post is one of many under serious threat.

King's College London from within

King's College London from within

The first thing that has spelled me from writing, apart from incredible busyness, is that I didn’t think I had anything to add to the immense coverage already out there. (I’ve tried to collect this at the end: so far I know of seventeen posts but I expect there are more.) There is a Facebook group; there is an online petition. Many letters have been written (and I made sure mine was in the post before publishing this). What am I going to add to all that? Secondly, it’s a bit awkward, because not only is David a friend and confidant (to whom indeed I currently owe a pint), there are other people I know well under threat in this situation, and it may be that not all of them can be saved. It’s also awkward because I used to work, briefly, at KCL’s Department of History, who were really nice to me, and so if I critique their decisions I am turning ungratefully on a former employer. (In what follows I am clinging to the idea that though the Department of History hired me, the decisions at issue here have all been taken at a much higher level. I hope History Department members and indeed future employers will bear that in mind if they read this.)

But the situation is very bad, and I can maybe reach places that don’t usually hear about such things, at least, such things in the medieval sphere, but where, alas, matters like this are sadly familiar. I’m not going to try and explain how important palæography is: others have done that already and better than I will, not least Mary Beard who commands a far wider audience. The subject is, after all, important enough that it is taught in many other places and although I respect his work immensely and have been keen to enlist his help when I have needed it, I was never a student of Professor Ganz’s. This is, in part, the problem he faces: the way he has filled this post very much fits the original vision in which it was created, as a help to the classicists, medievalists and even early modernists worldwide. His own students are a tiny fraction of his impact, but they are the only fraction that KCL now wishes to measure. It’s only KCL’s changing the rules like this that could ever have led to the suggestion that his post is of marginal importance. So, what’s behind the KCL rule change is what I’m talking about here.

A C7th list of rents from St Martin de Tours, Schoyen Collection, MS 570

Here, by way of illustration, is a manuscript that you probably can't read without help

The huge effort on the Internet is already reaching the stage of self-congratulation, which is dangerous: we haven’t achieved anything yet. More cynical voices are arguing that Facebook is all very well, and as David himself has observed it would be rather nice if the newest technology of communication came to the rescue of one of the oldest, but really what the people in charge will be watching is old-fashioned letters. One of the first things I wanted to find out, indeed, was who the people in charge were, to ask how come palæography had been selected first, what the timetable was for the other posts under threat and who’d decided who went first, who chooses who stays and whether (call me a cynic) there are any administrative job cuts planned. I rang the Head of Division in KCL Human Resources who deals with Humanities repeatedly over three working days, but never got through to more than her answering machine. However, the pressure of questions that I assume KCL have also been receiving from others has paid off in some way, because they have put the original internal document about the process online, and in order to make sure it stays that way I have grabbed a copy and it is up here. And from this we get some of the answers and realise that, oh lor’, it’s far worse than we thought. Continue reading

Dead scholars’ books

Ann Johnston was a friend of my current department, a sporadic visitor whom we were always pleased to see and a deeply engaged and scholarly numismatist whose interest was the more easterly Greek coinages. As I have most of this week been cataloguing Indo-Greek stuff, lettered in both Greek and Kharosthi and as likely to show Zeus on the reverse as Shiva, I know why she found this stuff interesting. Dogged in her final years by repeated health problems, she was finally hospitalised by an untreatable cancer shortly before Christmas, and lived until January 4th, a fortnight past the doctors’ forecast. Numismatists are hard to kill.* Before dying she had received dozens of tributes from friends and pupils trying to make sure that she knew how much she had helped them in their lives and study, and I hope that when she died she could do so sure that her time had not been wasted. But it was a cruel way to go.

And now her books have been brought into the department, those not already claimed by those closer than us, and we are invited to pick and choose. I should have little shame about this, given the number of books once owned by dead men that crowd my bookshelves, and the more that must be so, unknown to me, bought from the literary undertakers we call second-hand bookshops. But it’s different, and uglier, when it’s someone you knew and liked. She would urge me to take this volume of the Cambridge Ancient History, and probably be childishly flattered that I, whom she knew well was not a numismatist and not ancient in my interests, would grab a couple of her numerous offprints to remember her by. But the fact that I can imagine her doing that urging doesn’t alter the fact that I’m getting these because she’s dead, and I suppose I’m hoping that paying tribute to her publically like this will ease my conscience as the volumes go into my rucksack. Sorry, Ann. I hope it’s easier now.


* Good conscience compels me to admit that this should probably be refined to, “well-paid professionals in the West profit from high standards of healthcare”, but all the same, this is a discipline where very old men continue to make important contributions for much longer than one might expect. Women, perhaps less often, but then female numismatists are less usual to start with.

Bones in Bristol: conference report

There is something a bit strange about this age of the Internet. I went to a half-day conference in Bristol the other day, which I knew about merely because Larry Swain had posted about it to the Heroic Age blog (thankyou Larry!) That is, I heard about this event a little way across the UK from me because a guy in the USA posted something to a blog, hosted in California, for a journal which is hosted in Newfoundland, about some bones found in Germany. (I guess you will have seen at least one of the announces that made it to the press that same morning, but if you didn’t, Melissa Snell collected several reports at her About.com blog. See also this more extensive consideration by Michelle of Heavenfield.) The conference was called “Princess Eadgyth of Wessex and her World”, and it was about a recent find of some bones in a grave marked with that name in Magdeburg Cathedral.

Sculpture of Emperor Otto the Great and his queen Eadgyth in Magdeburg Cathedral

Sculpture of Emperor Otto the Great and his queen Eadgyth in Magdeburg Cathedral (Wikimedia Commons)

It’s actually very hard to know what I can say about this, because the paper that actually presented on the subject of the find included a lot of information that was presented as `not for the press’ (though there was a small BBC team there, one of whom I’m pretty sure was someone I went to college with). It will eventually be released at a press conference later this year when various tests have allowed them to be certain of a few more things. So I have to avoid saying anything that isn’t already out there, for which reason I shall borrow part of what the BBC were already told:

Remains of one of the earliest members of the English royal family may have been unearthed in a German cathedral, a Bristol University research team says.

They believe a near-complete female skeleton, aged 30 to 40, found wrapped in silk in a lead coffin in Magdeburg Cathedral is that of Queen Eadgyth.

The granddaughter of Alfred the Great, she married Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor, in 929. She died 17 years later, at 36.

The team aims to prove her identity by tracing isotopes in her bones.

Professor Mark Horton, of Bristol’s department of archaeology and anthropology, said: “We know that Saxon royalty moved around quite a lot, and we hope to match the isotope results with known locations around Wessex and Mercia, where she could have spent her childhood.

“If we can prove this truly is Eadgyth, this will be one of the most exciting historical discoveries in recent years.”

Their preliminary findings are to be announced later at a conference at the university.

And that’s what happened and I was there and now I can’t tell you what extra stuff they had—indeed, the BBC already seems to have most of what I thought was under wraps, but the few bits I’m sure weren’t for release were really cool. So watch some suitable space for their final formal announcement. Obviously, they need the isotope analysis that Bristol are now doing before they can announce anything completely definitive, but there will be a lot to talk about whichever way the strontium inclines. Meanwhile, if you want more commentary on it you can enjoy this Yahoo News report in which someone manages to get Simon Keynes to admit the justice of a comparison to Princess Diana.

Textile fragments from the grave of the woman who may have been Queen Eadgyth

Textile fragments from the grave of the woman who may have been Queen Eadgyth

So, instead the baldest of reports. There was an introduction by Professor Mark Horton, and then a lengthy explanation of the finds and what was being done with them by Professor Harald Meller of the Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte Halle, which he plugged extensively in the course of the talk and which does seem like a really interesting institution with some innovative ways of dealing with the prehistoric. He is the head of the local archæological bureau, so all of this has metaphorically landed on his desk. He is a big fan of hugely collaborative projects; they already have about forty different experts involved on this, but he wants more and asked us to mention it to any art historians or, especially, medieval textile specialists who might be interested. I realise that there are some reading who have such interests, though they may not feel that they have this level of expertise, but I mention it in case you know people who should know. I can supply contact details to any commentators.

The sarcophagus from Magdeburg Cathedral that bears the name of Queen Eadgyth

The sarcophagus from Magdeburg Cathedral that bears the name of Queen Eadgyth

Anyway, that was the most exciting bit. But there were also three other papers, setting the finds and their supposed identity into their wider, and local, context:

  • Sarah Foot, speaking to the title of “Eadgyth and the West Saxon Royal Family”, who had apparently thought that her biography of King Æthelstan (Eadgyth’s half-brother) was finished till she heard the previous paper, gave us a brand-new reconstruction of Eadgyth’s family and their place in European politics;
  • Michael Hare and Caroline Heighway spoke about “The Cult of St Oswald and the Minster of St Oswald’s, Gloucester”, because Eadgyth seems (according to Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim, by whom Simon Keynes was forced to liken Eadgyth to Diana) to have been a big fan of Oswald and claimed descent from him, something that Professor Foot’s paper rejected though I don’t see how we can know, given how little we know of Eadgyth’s maternal ancestry; the site, anyway, was dug in the 1980s and reached its peak of popularity at exactly Eadgyth’s time;
  • and Michael Hare alone presenting about “Anglo-Saxon Berkeley – history and topography”, which had to be cut lots because the other papers had overrun, but which was still an inspiring demonstration of how much a determined effort can get out of even Saxon-period evidence for a site and its use with several juicy disputes over the property and propriety of this sometime nunnery to observe.

Attendance wasn’t huge and the hospitality was well-intentioned but slightly inadequate. Mainly it was strange to be in Bristol again, a town where I used to have family, and know no-one present except Professor Foot, but it was still cool to be in on the inside of secret tenth-century knowledge, however minor, and to meet some new people in the field, and with a bit of luck I didn’t look too weird despite being over-dressed, from Cambridge and a Hispanist charter specialist at a conference about Anglo-Saxon and German archæology…

Book bit bullets II: one of these is not about a book

Once again there is no time for substance, though there will be something with a bit more body to it shortly. So, in short order:

  • An article of Pierre Toubert‘s in the Bonnassie Festschrift has in it the interesting point that one of the things a scholarly model achieves (he is talking about incastellamento but the same would be true of any model) is to cause people in the field all to talk about the same thing for a while, which is otherwise quite hard to do.1 I like this point.
  • Why, oh, why was I not notified that the Cambridge Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic Department is now running a blog, to which not just Professor Simon Keynes but two occasional commenters here are contributing? Well, you’re blog-rolled now guys so expect at least three more visitors!
  • And, why is there so little work on the Third Crusade compared to the others? Dr Helen Nicholson was able to say that there was no comprehensive history of the Third Crusade in 1997, and things don’t seem to have changed much since then.2 The First, which I admit I think is the most interesting, has about twenty monographic treatments, the Fourth at least four and even the Second at least one volume of essays, and I mean from my lifetime, which is still my usual criterion for recent work, albeit a criterion due for replacement.3 The Third, nothing. Biographies of Richard the Lionheart, yes, of Saladin also yes, studies of the castles, battles, literature of the period, the military orders who fought in it, yes, but no simple history or even a conference volume on the Crusade itself. I realise that the Crusade is but a part of far wider web of things at this point, not least because I’m setting up to teach it, but it’s a jolly big part. How can this omission persist?

1. P. Toubert, “L’Incastellamento aujourd’hui : Quelques réflexions en marge de deux colloques” in Miquel Barcelo & Toubert (edd.), L’incastellamento : Actes des recontres de Gerone (26-27 novembre 1992) et de Rome (5-7 mai 1994), Collection de l’École française de Rome 241 (Rome 1999), pp. xi-xviii, also printed as “L’incastellamento, mode d’emploi”, in Hélène Débax (ed.), Les sociétés méridionales à l’âge féodal (Espagne, Italie et sud de la France Xe-XIIIe s.) : Hommage à Pierre Bonnassie, Méridiennes 8 (Toulouse 1999), pp. 119-124.

2. Helen J. Nicholson (ed./transl.), Chronicle of the Third Crusade: a translation of the Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi, Crusade Texts in Translation 3 (Aldershot 1997), p. 396: “At the time of writing there is no full-length study of the Third Crusade…”

3. Cherry-picking, but… First: Jonathan Riley-Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading (London 1986), John France, Victory in the East: a military history of the First Crusade (Cambridge 1994), Susan Edgington, The First Crusade (London 1996), Jonathan Phillips (ed.), The First Crusade: origins and impact (Manchester 1997), Thomas Asbridge, The First Crusade: a new history (London 2004); Second, Jonathan Phillips & Martin Hoch (edd.), The Second Crusade: scope and consequences (Manchester 2001); Fourth, Donald E. Queller & Thomas F. Madden, The Fourth Crusade: the conquest of Constantinople, 2nd edn. (Philadelphia 1997); Michael Angold, The Fourth Crusade: event and context (Harlow 2003), Jonathan Phillips, The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople (London 2005), Thomas F. Madden (ed.), The Fourth Crusade: event, aftermath and perceptions (Aldershot 2008). Third, I can find James Reston, Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade (New York City 2001), which seems as if it would leave out everyone else, and David Charles Nicolle, The Third Crusade 1191: Richard the Lionheart, Saladin and the struggle for Jerusalem, Campaign 161 (Oxford 2006), which is only 96 pages and only does 1191 in detail. It is aimed at military history enthusiasts and although its account is actually pretty good and based on solid reading and an unusual knowledge of the actual sites, and far far better than one might expect, it still leaves me mainly wishing I still had that Usborne book with the board game of the Battle of Arsuf in it. I feel sure the field could bear more, you know?