Monthly Archives: April 2010

Seminary LXIII: that’s not in the canon, is it?

To my disquiet, I find that I am already going to this term’s seminars without having written up all of last term’s yet. In my defence: editors! Kalamazoo! And, to distract you further, this term’s IHR Earlier Middle Ages Seminar schedule is here. However, if you’re still demanding to know where the missing content is, I suppose I’d better tell you about Roy Flechner‘s presentation to that same seminar last term, on 10th March, when he spoke to the title, “What can canon law tell us about the Gregorian mission to Kent?”

Ivory carving of Pope Gregory the Great being inspired by the Holy Spirit, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Ivory carving of Pope Gregory the Great being inspired by the Holy Spirit, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

[Edit: a source I obviously misunderstood Roy's presentation of is pinned down in comments by the elusive Two-Fingered Typist, which has meant fairly coarse editing of some of what follows; I apologise to the other commentators who responded to the initial version. I've enclosed what I've changed in square brackets.]

Roy’s basic pitch was that, since we know that Gregory the Great was a dab hand with the Church canons, he must have taken time to think, when he plotted the mission to the English (in response, [Gregory tells us, to a local request after a failure to get religion from unspecified 'neighbours']) what the legal implications of it would be. Not least, he had a plan to set up twelve new bishoprics, but Britain had had bishops before, indeed apparently still did as St Augustine met with them to famous failure, and so there were sees notionally there that would have to be over-ruled and replaced. Roy pointed out that good precedents existed for this after the end of the Donatist Schism in Africa, where numerous parallel bishoprics and their properties had to be merged. This was regulated by the Council of Carthage in 418, which would certainly have been known to Gregory. Roy also argued that Gregory’s involvement of as many Frankish bishops as possible through letters showed an attempt to proceed in a quasi-conciliar fashion, to provide a better legal backing for the massive abrogation of existing rights (and rites) he was about to order. This he did rather than do what he might have done and declare the British Church heretical for Quartodecimianism; after all, as Roy pointed out, some of the Frankish bishops of the day thought the Irish missionary saint Columbanus was a heretic for this and other reasons, and the two churches seem to have been of one calendar on this.

Portrait of St Augustine from the St Petersburg manuscript of Bede's Ecclesiastical History

Portrait of St Augustine from the St Petersburg manuscript of Bede's Ecclesiastical History (from Wikimedia Commons)

For me this was one of those seminars where I am asked to think about a topic I’ve not really considered deeply before, and then having done so I come away with a very different view from that of the person presenting. I thought there was a substantial elephant in the room here, and it was the Franks. Not only, as Roy admitted, has Ian Wood among others argued that the Franks exercised some kind of hegemony over Southern England at this time, the turn of the fifth to sixth centuries, so that not just the conciliar approach in which many Frankish bishops were involved but also the request from the vicini to assist their ongoing mission in England could be viewed in that context; but most of all, there is the rider of the aforesaid elephant, Bishop Liudhard who is supposed to have come to England with King Æthelberht of Kent’s Frankish wife. Roy didn’t mention him but for me he is a much more plausible explanation of the peculiarities Roy was mentioning. We know [that 'neighbours' of the English had been approached to provide Christianity, or at least we know that Gregory claimed this:] Roy favoured the British, but Bede outright denies this, though it has been suggested that he had to for his scheme of Anglian unity through conversion to work. Furthermore, the closest functioning British sees we know of at this time were Bangor and Carlislethere are arguments to be made for Chester too—none of which are exactly ‘neighbours’ to Kent. Meanwhile, there’s an actual Frankish bishop restoring churches [at Canterbury]! Occam’s Razor… Also, this [could help] explain why Gregory planned the southern metropolitan to be London, not Canterbury; there was already a bishop in Canterbury! [Though, as I was forced to admit in comments, the actual chronology of the sources does seem to stop this idea working.] But Æthelberht seems to have had his own reasons for getting rid of Liudhard; we never hear of him again, Augustine moved in on his see [if see it e'er was] and London is never metropolitan, at least not in ecclesiastical terms. Then Gregory had to rearrange the situation, which may explain why, as Roy also admitted, he didn’t actually follow the template of Carthage in dealing with the British Church; things were already out of his hands, and the British may not have been the problem he had most immediately in mind.

St Martin's Canterbury, the church restored for use by Bishop Liudhard

St Martin's Canterbury, the church restored for use by Bishop Liudhard, from Stephen Bax's booklet on the church

So although I’m glad Roy asked all these questions, I don’t think I agree with him about many of the answers. That said, he’s perfectly right to make us think about Gregory would have thought about this whole venture, and what groundwork he had to arrange to make it happen, and he’s certainly right to stress that this kind of source material has something to contribute to this question. I guess I just have to be different…

The obvious source material for Gregory’s intents on the mission has always been the letters between him and Augustine that Bede incorporated into his Ecclesiastical History, which is in the Internet Medieval Sourcebook as well as in your edition of choice, but Roy added Gregory’s letters into the mix and much of what he had to tell us that wasn’t widely known came from a close reading of them; they are edited in Dag L. Norberg (ed.), S. Gregorii Magni Registrum epistularum (Turnhout 1982). Ian Wood’s arguments are most fully set out in an annoyingly unobtainable pamphlet, his The Merovingian North Sea, Occasional Papers on Medieval Topics 1 (Alingsås 1983), but there is also some coverage in his The Merovingian Kingdoms 450-751 (London 1994).

Name in print III

First page of Jarrett, "Currency Change in pre-millennial Catalonia"

Given that this is what I originally envisaged as the purpose of this blog—that is, advertising me and all my doubtless-to-be-numerous works—I ought to have mentioned this sooner, but, I have a paper out at long last (and proofs of another in my INBOX and demands for final revisions of two more so that they can be published before the end of the year…). It’s not my most thrilling work ever, perhaps, since it is about coins, but it is at least about coins from my area and period that we don’t have. Yes, a numismatics paper with no numismatic evidence. It is “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics”, in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London: Royal Numismatic Society [2010 for] 2009), pp. 217-243, and I’m quite pleased about it. I have a limited number of offprints, but more than are spoken for, and I have an electronic proof version which will go on the website in due course—my website is long overdue for an overhaul and I will put it up then. If you would like a copy by one or other of these means, harass me. (One reason that you might be interested is that it contains a printing and a translation of that odd hearing over passing false coinage that I was analysing a while back for evidence of comital retinues. Though, the text is only reprinted. I also plugged this paper in these posts, all of which will now have their respective ping-backs.)

Statistics: presented once, three drafts and two revision stages. Time from first submission to print: 2 years 6 months, though if I’d been marginally quicker with revisions mid-2009 that would have been 1 year 4 months, which is a lot more reasonable. Lessons: give print deadlines absolute priority, but also, stop doing proofs in a hurry or the typoes will plague you evermore.

Help with some Cordoban Latin scuttlebutt?

Of recent days I have been reading Samson of Córdoba’s Apologeticum contra perfidos, which is a lengthy work of ninth-century theology aimed at stemming the increasing control of the Cordoban Church by people who didn’t, as Samson saw it, even really understand the Trinity and were in place largely because of having been suitably unctuous at the Emir’s court.1 He aims to rekindle the wonder and mystery of Trinitarian Christianity in the reader and thus encourage a new generation to take up the torch, but in the course of doing so he goes properly Gildas about the political parachutists, who, he says, have basically turned the Church into a state revenue apparatus to their own benefit. These are the people he wants out, not least because they briefly managed to get him degraded for heresy in a trumped-up trial by wilfully misunderstanding his doctrine about the Trinity (though I actually think that’s fair enough, as he basically says it’s not comprehensible, albeit some respect is due to him for using paired senses of the Latin word ‘comprehensibile‘ in doing this).2

Church of San Lorenzo in Córdoba

The tenth-century Church of San Lorenzo in Córdoba

Why are you reading that, Jonathan, you may be asking, and the answer is that in the course of indicting his enemies, as well as some good scatalogical late-Antique-style slander,3 he tells several stories that reveal some quite important things about the tax system and the way the Emirs were dealing with control of the Church. I’ll talk about that a bit more in a moment, but first I’d like to ask for help with one of these stories. This is about Samuel, Bishop of Granada, the uncle of Samson’s main enemy—who was Bishop Ostegesis of Malaca (more like Hostis Ihesus! puns Samson)4—and I don’t think I can tell exactly what he is being accused of:

In ipso quippe Parascefe die, dum ante parum tempus pro male gestis a pontificali officio fuisset remotus, Iudas Scarioth nouus Cordobam petiit et tonso tenus cute capite Xpm denegans Muzlemitis, quia iam circumcisus erat, facile adesit et ritui eorum post sacerdotium inseruiuit.5

So, okay, a rough translation:

On the day of the Parasceve, indeed, while before—and not for long enough!—he had been far from the pontifical office in pursuit of evil intents, the new Judas Iscariot betook himself to Córdoba and, having cut his hair almost to the skin of his head, denying Christ to the Muslims, since he was already circumcised, easily clung to and afterwards took care of their rite after the priesthood.

I think that’s pretty close to the Latin but what the goshdarn heck it actually means is another question. Is Samson saying that this guy did convert to Islam? or that he pretended to have done so before, and meanwhile operated as something administrative in the Christian Church as a kind of double agent? Whose priesthood? Islam doesn’t have an organised one in the way that this seems to imply, but the (grammatical) antecedent is pretty clearly Muzlemitis (and yes, it is interesting that he uses that word; elsewhere he uses Caldei, but more on that in a moment). If anyone can see through the grammar to work out what Bishop Samuel is actually supposed to have done, I would be grateful for your input.

Manuscript illustration of the judges at the Millennium judging the souls of the martyrs of Córdoba

Manuscript illustration of the judges at the Millennium judging the souls of the martyrs of Córdoba

The world in which Samson operated is quite hard to fathom in a number of ways. I think that he must have been ignoring quite a lot of change. He refers to people taking bribes in solidi, for example, but the coins had long since been dirhams, so that can only have been a unit of account if that.6 It’s clear that the ‘kings of the Ishmælites’ basically nominated to Church offices, as they can be induced to do this by people like Ostegesis and Samuel who are happy to spend their flock’s offerings on holding banquets for the priori domum regiæ, but (perhaps naturally) he has nothing bad to say of these ‘kings’, who are always anonymous and usually plural, though he will name their functionaries, some of whom are called saio muzlemitus.7 All his terminology is Christian, therefore, and much of it Visigothic, even though the offices and officers he describes are not at all. On the other hand, he renders Arabic names more or less cleanly, and was able to do far more than that since, at one point, his enemies decide to move against him (by getting a Christian who is on trial for blaspheming against Muhammad (‘him whom the Chaldæan people cult as a prophet’) to indict Samson and his protector Bishop Valerius of Córdoba, though the ‘kings’ decide to ignore that testimony, which may be why Samson is neutral about them) because he has been employed to translate a letter from ‘the king of Hispania’ to the king of the Franks “ex Caldeo sermone in Latinum eloquium“, and this sign of emiral favour panics them into action.8 Point being, apparently Samson could translate Arabic…

So, the whole thing does read as if he is trying to hide the political situation from his readers, or else somehow doesn’t think it very relevant. The problem he sees with the Church is corrupt and ill-educated priests and bishops, not the fundamental fact that it is in the power of Muslims. The Muslims are tolerable; they’re not really interested, but they’re amenable to reason as well as bribery, and the only really bad thing they do is subject the Church as a whole to tribute, but they only do that (as Samson tells it) because Servandus, Ostegesis’s right-hand man, turns over several Christians to the authorities for hiding things on which they should have paid regular tax under altars in the city’s churches, whereafter the authorities punish the whole Church.9 Again, somehow he blames the Christians, not the state. On the other hand, it’s what, era 901 he says so 863 AD, the Muslims have been in power in Spain for a hundred and fifty years and they’re only now putting the Cordoban Church under special taxation, as well as apparently being accessible to anyone even claiming to be a bishop and hiring hardline Trinitarian theologians to do secretarial work, so this attitude may be fair enough. All this makes it a very interesting source for the doublethink involved in being on the underside of al-Andalus’s well-known convivencia, but that doublethink is hard to see through. One can’t help seeing Samson as an ostrich with his head in the sand, however viciously he pecks at all the other ostrich’s feet.

1. Samsonis apologeticum contra perfidos, ed. Joan Gil in I. Gil (ed.), Corpvs Scriptorvm Mvzarabicorvm Vol. II, Manuales y Anejos de «Emerita» XXVIII (Madrid 1973), pp. 505-658.

2. Samson, Apologeticus I.9.

3. For example, he goes into unpleasantly gruesome detail about a struggle to remove the foreskin of Ostegesis’s octogenarian apostate father, driven to convert when arrested for non-payment of taxes (Apologeticum, II Præf. cap. 3). This is, I presume, damnation by association, as Samson puts some store by lineage, but there’s plenty of allegations of sexual impropriety too. I don’t like this kind of writing much, though I recognise it’s in a good Roman tradition; it seems so mean-spirited, condemning the accuser as much as the accused, and to diminish the force of the main accusations. On the other hand, I wrote much of this post while listening to the Dead Kennedies’ Plastic Surgery Disasters, which is, after all, an erudite, scathing and often scatalogical attack on people prostituting themselves to a corrupt and uncaring power structure, and which I enjoy thoroughly, so really, where’s that moral high ground I had a minute ago?

4. Samson, Apologeticus II Præf. cap. 2.

5. Ibid., II Pr. 4.

6. Ibid., II Pr. 2 & 8.

7. Ibid., II Pr. 8.

8. Ibid., II Pr. 9, inc. “illum quem gens Caldea profetam colunt“.

9. Ibid., II Pr. 5.

Seminary LXII: from these hilltops we can see for centuries

Here is a much-delayed seminar report for you. On 9th March, already, Damián Fernández of NYU came to speak to the Cambridge Byzantine Seminar. Since his topic was “Hilltop Settlement and Economic Change in Late-Antique Northern Iberia”, which isn’t Byzantine at all, it’s not entirely clear to me why that was, but it was of obvious interest to me (you’ve heard me mention hilltops here before, right?) and there are people in Cambridge I only see at the Byzantine seminar, so I happened along.

The basic question Fernández was setting out to answer came out of a couple of quotes from Hydatius’s Chronicle, of which one goes like this:

The Sueves under King Hermeric pillaged the central areas of Gallæcia, but when some of their men were slaughtered and others captured by the people who remained in possession of the more secure fortified sites [castella tutiora], they restored the peace treaty.1

The question that comes out of this is, what exactly were these castella? This treads lightly into some very tangled questions, about the degree of Romanisation in the north of Spain—Fernández thinks that recent work that has found seals, ceramics, buildings, walls to towns and so on demonstrates that it was more considerable than hard-line ethno-continuity theories would accept, but I know there are those reading who would say that this is what the authorities of the area want archæologists to find.2 However, what Fernández was mainly attacking was a historiography in which the period after the arrival of the barbarians in Spain and before the eventual attempted extension of the consolidated Visigothic kingdom into the north is a time in which all that the locals could do was, quite literally, run to the hills. As Fernández pointed out, however, a lot of the hilltop forts they supposedly found seem to have been there under the Romans, Gijón for example being a third- or fourth-century foundation (which was still going for the Muslims to try and run Asturias from when they arrived, of course). Some are more ancient than that, even, but are refurbished during the Roman period (castro ventosa, seen below). I suppose the question then becomes, is that Roman occupation or local resistance to the Romans? It’s all very well to say that Roman material culture indicates this area was part of the Empire, but we know from the Scots and German borders that the peoples on the outside of the limes are very often keen buyers of Roman gear, and even happy to join the army (and serve in far-away places) without that necessarily meaning that they’re now cives romani.3

Current state of Castro Ventosa, near Bierzo

Current state of Castro Ventosa, near Bierzo

Fernández’s answer to this was that this sort of question can’t be addressed from the archæology. The material culture doesn’t differ between areas that may have been outside the frontier and areas everyone is sure were in it; it’s not ethnicity, it’s just poverty. Okay, fair point, but we still don’t know what was going on. One thing that was going on, however, was wall-building, in the third century right through to the early fifth, not because of any particular threat but because walls are a prestigious thing to have round your late Roman settlement. They associate not with decline, but with wealth. He suggested therefore that fortified hilltop settlement (and indeed fortified lowland settlement, of which there is also lots contemporaneously) was not an aberration caused by military, economic or demographic crises but the new mode of settlement for the period, a cultural shift not a strategic one. He saw a state-driven change in the settlement network caused by, well, fashion as much as economy, though that too. This seemed somewhat circular to me, the state encouraging change in settlement morphology because lots of people have changed the morphology of their settlements because the state… I wanted to know whether these sites have rôles as burial centres, as my pet ones from later certainly do, but this didn’t appear to work here: apparently some do and some don’t, and almost none have churches. I don’t think I’d expect churches, actually, I think those would be more local until later, so this didn’t really get me anything.

Remains of the walls of the ancient fortification at Viladonga

Remains of the walls of the ancient fortification at Viladonga

So, okay, there were a lot of small things here, and some quite big things, where I think alternative theses might be arguable or even preferable, but what I did like about this paper was his overall argument that these castella need to be seen not as crisis symptoms but as part of the same growth that is, at the same time that many of them are being refurbished (or even built, like Muelas below), causing the sprouting of new villas in the lowlands from third right through to sixth and in some cases seventh centuries. (Visigothic Spain was, after all, not apparently short of wealth.) Where the land is good for large-scale agrarian agriculture, you get villas; where it’s better for pastoralism and living on hilltops, you get castella—it’s environmental not military. That makes a lot of sense to me. The other important thing that he stressed is that, unlike the situation with hillforts like Dinas Powys in Britain, these are not aristocratic centres.4 There’s no evidence of resource redistribution, of patronage of craftsmen or of accumulation or special treatment of food animals (such as Alcock found at Dinas Powys); they’re just where people live, villages with walls. That’s so in the south, anyway; in the far north we know (from the slates!) that rents were collected at these places. Here a situation where control over transhumance routes is a source of power becomes more likely, even if the material culture, as said, is no different.

The (fifth-century) settlement of Muelas del Pan, near Zamora

The (fifth-century) settlement of Muelas del Pan, near Zamora

So, plenty to chew on, and much that I thought other scholars would have disagreed with, not necessarily correctly but they would have. But my last paragraph of notes reads:

Settlements are a decision taken by social actors: response to soc.-econ. change by e. g. state, moving to a more dynamic organisation of a local kind under a hands-off barbarian k’dom; aristocracies, intensifying local and decentralised econ. Good places to put walls!

and I hope that shows that this is a guy with some big and powerfully explanatory ideas, which I’m sure I’ll meet again and which perhaps the readership might also find useful.

1. R. W. Burgess (ed./transl.), The Chronicle of Hydatius and the Consularia Constantinopolitana (Oxford 1993), Hydatius cap. 81 rev. D. Fernández.

2. The most relevant reference that the handouts provide seems to be Carmen Fernández-Ochoa [& Ángel Morillo], “Walls in the Urban Landscape of Late Roman Spain: Defense and Imperial Strategy” in Kim Bowes & Michael Kulikowski (edd.), Hispania in Late Antiquity: current perspectives, The Medieval and Early Modern Iberian World 24 (Leiden 2005), pp. 208-340, but Dra Fernández-Ochoa’s webpages would seem to be a good place to find more. That does of course rely on the assumption that she is not, contrary to what some people think, involved in the suppression of pre-Roman evidence from these areas so as to promote, “un pasado romano hipertrofiado por cuestiones políticas”. If you are concerned by that possibility you probably ought to follow the link; I’m not in any position to judge from here.

3. If you want an actual academic reference here rather than links to other blogs, no matter how authoritative they be, I offer you Karl Hauck, “Der Missionsauftrag Christi und das Kaisertum Ludwigs des Frommen” in Peter Godman & Roger Collins (edd.), Charlemagne’s Heir: new perspectives on the reign of Louis the Pious (Oxford 1990), pp. 275-296, which manages with startling ease to be more relevant to this question than you would imagine from its title.

4. I’ve given all these references before, but because it was a dig worth reading, I’ll do so again: Leslie Alcock, Dinas Powys (Cardiff 1963), rev. in idem, Economy, Society and Warfare among the Britons and Saxons (Cardiff 1987); see also idem, Kings & Warriors, Craftsmen & Priests in Northern Britain AD 550-850 (Edinburgh 2003), pp. 209-210.

Book bit bullets III

I expected that the end of teaching would free up some time, but somehow before Kalamazoo I still have to finalise a paper for print, write another one for Kalamazoo itself, fend off my book’s editor with answers to a range of queries, apply for twoa jobs and stay employed in the current one. So content may be a bit thin here for a while. For the moment, therefore, I offer the tried and trusted bullets inspired by recent reading!

  • I had not realised it from his later work on charters, but Hartmut Atsma when young appears to have been the German David Dumville, in as much as almost every section of a large part of his thesis printed in Francia for 1983 ends with a quick round-up of the ways other scholars, especially Friedrich Prinz, were wrong, specifically about the evidence for the early Church in Auxerre. “Es zeigt sich also, daß der von F. Prinz und R. Borius abgenommene kausale Nexus zwischen der Beeinflussung des Germanus durch das lerinensische Mönchtum und seiner Klostergründung nicht in einen plausibilen und durch die Quellen begründbaren chronologische Zusammenhang zu stellen ist.” So there!1
  • Also in that volume, apart from the edition of the Vita sancti Marcelli I mentioned last post and the excellent Jane Martindale article I actually got the volume out for, is a lengthy article by Hans-Werner Goetz about the ideology of the investiture controversy.2 Meanwhile, in a different book that I had out for an excellent article by Jinty Nelson, I find another paper by Hans-Werner Goetz.3 The former is about fifty pages of elaborate German in a style I’ve mentioned here before, in which sentences take up four or five lines of print and contain eight clauses and at least four compound nouns I’ve never seen before; the latter is English, clear and only slightly literary, and is fourteen pages including tables, albeit that is on the long side for the volume. I’m not entirely sure there aren’t two Hans-Werner Goetzes (Goetzen?) who write in one language each.
  • While I was still teaching I had to deliver a lecture on art and architecture, about which I had a rough idea due to how much I’ve wound up reading about Romanesque churches, but where some orientation seemed like a good idea, and so I fished out of the library the only likely-looking thing, Art of the Middle Ages by Janetta Rebold Benton.4 While this was up in the Currently reading… sidebar section there I had it linked to a fairly negative review by Joanna F. Ziegler, which describes it as, “a quite staid reiteration of the voluminous, but uninspiring, factual minutiae that has permeated the genre”.5 And, well, yes, it’s not deathless prose and does tend to take one or two exemplary objects or sites per trend, briefly explain them and then list all their siblings. But I’m still thinking about getting a copy, because what that tendency makes it is a volume to look things up in when you already know the basics. Inspiring read? No. Handbook with which to hit up Wikimedia Commons for high-class imagery? Absolutely. Its own plates are also rather lovely. And the final chapter on art in everyday life nearly makes up for the high-culture architectural concentration of much of the middle.
  • And, lastly, I have a well-documented tendency on this blog towards protochronism. You may all remember the thirteenth-century notary called Catto whose authentication mark was a dog, well, this is from 906 and Vic:
    Scribal signature from Junyent, Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic segles IX i X, no. 37, by Teudila

    Scribal signature from Junyent, Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic segles IX i X, no. 37, by Teudila

    It’s not actually an authentication mark, just an elaboration for fun of a signum which began, long before, as a triple S with a double abbreviation bar drawn through it, meaning S[ub]s[crip]s[i], ‘I have signed’, but it is, nonetheless, a critter. And as you go through the Vic material you can find weirder and weirder ones, rabbits, chickens and some unidentifiable things we had probably best call zoomorphs, as well as artistic pen-drawn initials full of interlace. I don’t think these things are consistent per scribe, I think they’re just whimsy, but I wouldn’t like to rule out someone doing a study of them and proving me wrong.6

1. H. Atsma, “Klöster und Mönchtum im Bistum Auxerre bis zum Ende des 6. Jahrhunderts” in Francia: Forschungen zur westeuropäischen Geschichte Vol. 11 (Sigmaringen 1983), pp. 1-96, quote from pp. 54-55.

2. Referring to, respectively, François Dolbeaux, “La vie en prose de Saint Marcel, Évêque de Die : Histoire du texte et édition critique”, ibid. pp. 97-130; J. Martindale, “The Kingdom of Aquitaine and the Dissolution of the Carolingian Fisc”, ibid pp. 131-189; and H.-W. Goetz, “Kirschenschutz, Rechtswahrung und Reform. Zu den Zielen um zum Wesen der frühen Gottesfriedensbewegung in Frankreich”, ibid. pp. 193-239.

3. Respectively J. L. Nelson, “Gender and Genre in Women Historians of the Early Middle Ages” in J.-P. Genet (ed.), L’historiographie médiévale en Europe : actes du colloque organisé par la Fondation européenne de la science au Centre de recherches historiques et juridiques de l’Université de Paris I du 29 mars au 1er avril 1989 (Paris 1991), pp. 149-163, and H.-W. Goetz, “On the Universality of Universal History”, ibid. pp. 247-261.

4. J. Rebold Benton, Art in the Middle Ages, World of Art (London 2002).

5. Joanna E. Ziegler, review of ibid. in The Historian Vol. 66 (Tampa 2004), pp. 179-180, quote from p. 179.

6. Miquel Sants Gros i Pujol, “Làmines” in Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic, segles IX i X, ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-96), làm. 22. Anyone wanting to work on this stuff probably ought to start with Rafael Conde Delgado de Molina and Josep Trenchs Odena, “Signos personales en las suscripciones altomedievales catalanas” in Peter Rück (ed.), Graphische Symbole in mittelalterlichen Urkunden. Beiträge zur diplomatischen Semiotik, Historische Hilfswissenschaften 3 (Sigmaringen 1986), pp. 443-452, which I have to admit I haven’t. Maybe in July.

And today’s tasteless hagiographical miracle is…

The Porte de Saint-Marcel, Die, Drome, France

The Porte de Saint-Marcel, Die, Drome, France

Burgundian royalty, right, they didn’t worry about the proprieties so much. I have lately met in the Vita of Saint Marcel of Die a story which, because of the lengthy and elaborate post-Roman Latin, I shall not give in translation.1 Instead, I shall paraphrase. Queen Carathena of the Burgundians has proudly built a new basilica to Saint Michael Archangel in Lyons, and gathers ecclesiastics from all round to dedicate it. Bishop Marcel, renowned holy man, miracle athlete and of course good friends with the queen, figures that this is an ideal time to ask her to ask her husband King Gundobad if something can’t be done about the tedious royal services the city of Die has to render to the Burgundian ruler. Gundobad, however, is unmoved by the queen’s entreaties, or even the bishop’s own ‘familiar’ address on the subject,2 but so as not to appear unbending on the subject, gives the bishop a small manse on his route back home so that he has somewhere to stay en route.3 While Marcel is staying at his consolation prize, one of the queen’s favourite slave-girls is possessed by a demon,4 and rages wild in a sleep from which she cannot be woken. But wait! Marcel appears to the queen in a vision and promises the queen that he will heal the girl, and makes as if to mop her limbs with his clothing. When the queen herself awakes, she hies off to the house where Marcel had stayed in Lyons, hoping that some fragment of his clothing has been left behind. Triumphant, she comes away with a handkerchief with which she has wiped up some sputum the holy man of God had hawked onto the wall, “not made in the filth of drunkenness but in the most worldly chewing of fasting”, and lets it soak in water with which she then washes the girl’s nose and mouth. Once suitable entreaties are offered up to God, she soon recovers.5 When this news is passed to the king, of course he realises the true holiness of Marcel and grants him the tribute exemption he’d originally been after, after which the girl mends enough to eat. A miracle!

There is actually a lot one could say about this besides “ewww” and snark in the footnotes: the rôle of the bishop as his city’s representative to a quite distant king; the effective powerlessness of the bishop in the face of a royal refusal; the power of the whim of the queen in ecclesiastical society as the Church marshals itself for survival in the new régime; and of course, the fact that making potions out of people’s bodily leftovers is possibly not the whitest of magics if viewed in the brilliant light of modern or even Hincmarian orthodoxy, even if it is for a benign purpose (because, after all, a saint’s mucus could hardly serve any other purpose now could it? Right!…) And the actual edition adds even more layers, as the text appears to come from a manuscript that once belonged to a sixteenth-century forger who disappeared in mysterious circumstances, and so the whole thing may not be quite kosher (leaving aside questions of whether saint-spittle is halal, I mean). So lots to say. But I have, as ever, masses to do, and no time to do it in, so I just offer the anecdote for your commentary should you have any…

1. Paraphrasing from a scratch translation of the text in François Dolbeaux, “La vie en prose de Saint Marcel, Évêque de Die : Histoire du texte et édition critique” in Francia: Forschungen zur westeuropäischen Geschichte Vol. 11 (Sigmaringen 1983), pp. 97-130, cap. 9.

2. Even in the Latin this reads as if the bishop patronised the king rigid about the importance of being nice to bishops from good senatorial family. One can understand how Gundobad wasn’t persuaded.

3. I. e. “tell you what, here’s something to help you on your way home…”

4. This seems to happen a lot where Marcel goes. It’s like inviting Miss Marple to a weekend at your country house, they ought to know the dangers of associating with him…

5. Whether from the possession or the treatment isn’t actually clear in the Latin.

Wow! Free charters!

One of the nice things about Catalonia as a study area is that they have that provincial thing of pride in the ‘monuments’ of their local history on a national scale. There aren’t very many chronicles from as early as I work, indeed ‘none’ would be a fair summary, so the history has to be done from smaller texts. And the scholars of the area have risen to that challenge. Thus, an awful lot of the copious documentary material from my area and period of study is in print, and without that fact I could never have done my thesis. In 2001 Adam Kosto and Paul Freedman put a bibliography of this material online, but so much more has come out since then. There are two particularly important series for my line of work. More important, but as yet lacking crucial volumes, is the Catalunya Carolíngia, which aims to get all the documentary material from the old Catalan counties from before 1000 into print. This has been going since 1926 but in recent years has been given a real shot in the arm by the tireless work of Ramon Ordeig i Mata, who has in some measure or another seen seven of the current twelve volumes to press since 1998. Then, there is the Diplomataris series by the Fundació Noguera, which is instead working archive by archive, and currently stands at forty-four projects. Between these two there isn’t much not covered, which makes my life a lot simpler (and the bits that aren’t covered that much more tantalising).

Cover of Josep Baucells et al., Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona (segle XI), vol. I

The Catalunya Carolíngia did however rather start with the fringe, the almost-in-Aragón counties of Pallars and Ribagorça and then the frontier ones of Osona and Manresa… The heartland was effectively missing until Girona was covered in 2003, and the volumes for Barcelona, which is naturally where a vast proportion of the material comes from, are still in process. The Fundació Noguera has however stepped up to this gap, covering the comital archive in 1998 (up to Ramon Berenguer III; when I last saw Professor Gaspar Feliu he told me that the next set of volumes is well-advanced) and a variety of the smaller ecclesiastical archives before and after. The Arxiu Capitular, in the cathedral, which is arguably the second most important if not the first, had meanwhile set out on its own with a first volume covering the ninth and tenth centuries in 1995, but more recently appears to have decided that this was not the way to go and has arranged that subsequent publication of its documents should be done via the Fundació Noguera. Consequently, the five volumes covering the eleventh century, edited by Josep Baucells i Reig with a wide range of assistance, came out in 2006 under their auspices, and now, I am informed by a post at Joaquim Graupera’s Maresme Medieval about the Fundació, they are available online for free as PDFs. And they’re not the only ones! The new volume covering Sant Joan that I mentioned here is there too, so is Jordi Bolòs’s for Serrateix and a number of others that may interest you (you know who `you’ are). I don’t know what their business model is here but I hope it continues, as this sort of generosity deserves to be rewarded!

Seminary LXI: notables of the field and their Renaissances

Dave Brock of Hawkwind playing at the Cambridge Junction, December 2009

So, the last post recorded a paper that I was pleased to have made the time to hear. The same is less easy to say of this one. How can I put it? I like old rock bands. Now you can divide old rock bands into four groups, if you obsess enough about such things: those who despite having been going more or less continuously for years are still inventive and productive (Gong, most obviously for me; Hawkwind, to a lesser extent); those who have been going more or less continuously for a long time doing the same thing over and over (Status Quo, ZZ Top) among whom a subset have lost, to death, personality conflicts or reality, their creative cores and should stop for the sake of their once-good name (I will name only Thin Lizzy here, in either of their current touring incarnations). Then there are those who have lately reformed, and either can still cut it (Electric Prunes, Omnia Opera) or who really can’t but presumably needed the money (Blue Cheer…). Every time I risk a gig by some such venerable name, I wonder which of these it’s going to be, but one has to go because there may never be another chance (and every gig is unique anyway).1

Professor Jack Goody lecturing to the American University in Beirut

Professor Jack Goody lecturing to the American University in Beirut

I am less used to applying this scheme to academics, not least because they very rarely return to the field after time off, but it was in my mind after this paper, which was on the same day as the previous one. Long-memoried readers will recall, perhaps, that early in the life of this blog I blogged a book of interviews with various notables of the so-called New History.2 One of the interviewees was anthropologist and social historian Jack Goody, whom I had already noticed has recently put a new book out called Renaissances: the one or the many?,3 and another was Peter Burke, so when I discovered that Professor Goody, who has a local emeritus chair but is nonetheless rarely in these parts, was speaking about his new book at CRASSH and that Professor Burke was responding, I thought it would be interesting to go and see what that was like.

Early 'Abbasid manuscript

Early 'Abbasid manuscript

Professor Goody had, he told us, been in a quandary about this paper. He didn’t really want to just give a talk about the book, so had written another, then been persuaded that people probably wanted to hear about the book so glumly opted for the original after all, which he had then left at home, leaving him only some notes for the other one and his own considerable learning to produce an actual talk more or less on the fly. This he did while sucking on something, cough sweets or similar, throughout, so that it was often rather hard to tell what he was saying even once he had made up his mind. The basic argument, I think, was that the term ‘Renaissance’ involves an awareness of what is past so that it can be revived (however faulty that awareness might be), and that this involves records and therefore literacy, which is one of Professor Goody’s oldest concerns. An interesting sidetrack here took us off to China, where as he observed a pictographic script has allowed an empire of many languages to remain united for centuries, for various values of unity, because even when its inhabitants can’t understand each other speaking they can write their speech down in the same script. It’s a point, though not one germane to the title. Oral societies, he argued, have perpetually to reimagine their past whereas literate ones are constrained by what is recorded, especially if it’s Holy Writ (though it seems to me that even Holy Writ is reinterpreted for each generation). With that given, he produced several examples of societies in which an effloresence of learning comes out of a recovery of old ideas: Sung China with Confucianism, ‘Abbasid Islam with its incorporation of the Classics, or even nineteenth-century Bengal with Sanskrit and Vedic literature (so he argued). The crucial element, he finished by arguing, is the openness of religion to innovation in the respective societies; it can enforce stasis in order to protect the status quo, or in the right frame of reform and renewal it can encourage progress by similarly advocating a return to the roots. The true benchmark of such a renaissance, therefore, is not literary output but scientific progress. (The technology of communication is also a factor—for example, the ‘Abbasid revolution was made far easier by access to paper, so much cheaper than parchment—but less significantly.)

Peter Burke lecturing in 2009

Peter Burke lecturing in 2009

It is possible that I do Professor Goody an injustice with this summary, because he was as I say quite hard to hear properly. I am conscious that I may have filled in gaps in my understanding of his argument myself, so I’m not going to critique, merely report with that caution. Professor Burke, as a friend of Goody’s but one not afraid to argue with him, picked two things to react to: firstly, that Burckhardt’s picture of the Italian Renaissance, which Goody had mentioned, is now deprecated in favour of a continuity from Middle Ages to Industrial Revolution in the context of which the Renaissance has to be placed, and that it is no longer regarded as the single such group of changes even in the Western European context; but secondly, that he felt nonetheless that it was still exceptional in terms of scale, the number of people involved (or, I thought, known to have been involved) and range of disciplines and skills active exceeding those other European ones and even the non-European ones discussed by Goody. This is, he argued, why it remains the great comparator and the concept which is exported to other cultures to be tested against their conceptions of cultural change.

I shall not finish the rock band analogy I’ve started here. Professor Goody is indubitably a rock star in his discipline, and has provoked a great many discussions and arguments, as well as written, as Burke pointed out, on an incredible range of topics. If he genuinely were a seventies rock band I’d be damn impressed he had a new album out at all, and I’d have gone to the gig whatever it was likely to be like, just to say I’d seen him. It’s just that, as I say, the metrics by which I measure those performances are not ones I usually expect to be reminded of in this sphere.

Jethro Tull live in 1998

1. Except, arguably, those by Status Quo. I don’t mean to demean this; they know exactly what their fans want and they provide.

2. Maria Lucía Pallares-Burke (ed.), The New History: confessions and conversations (Cambridge 2004).

3. J. Goody, Renaissances: the one or the many? (Cambridge 2010).

Seminary LX: sneaking in to hear Richard Hodges

I need to write something substantive, but I have very very little time at the moment; three papers need finishing before Kalamazoo, and all need reading (which is the hardest thing to find time for, paradoxically). All the same, I am badly behind with reports on things I’ve been to. So, let me renew the seminar reports with something that was actually part of a conference, an event entitled “Crisis, What Crisis? The ‘Long’ Ninth Century” organised at the McDonald Institute in Cambridge. The organisation here, and I hope a colleague of mine who was involved in it will forgive me for saying this, was peculiar. Pick a room with space for only forty people in it, do not advertise except by word of mouth and e-mail, only the most minimal internet presence, just in case anyone might, you know, turn up… and then put on this programme:

    8th-9th March 2010


  • 9.45-10.15 James Barrett “Introduction”
  • 10.15-11.00 Richard Hodges “Charlemagne minus Mohammed”
  • 11.00-11.30 Tea/coffee

  • 11.30-12.15 Nora Berend “The concept of Christendom: A product of crisis?”
  • 12.15-13.00 Søren Sindbæk “Routes for crisis? Early medieval networks and ninth-century ‘relinking’”
  • 13.00-14.00 Lunch

  • 14.00-14.45 Dagfinn Skre “The origins of Kaupang’s settlers and traders in the ninth century”
  • 14.45-15.30 Mark Blackburn “Were the Vikings a drain or a stimulus to the ninth-century monetary economy?”
  • 15.30-16.00 Tea/coffee

  • 16.00-16.45 Vaughan Grimes “Isotope analysis and the Norse ‘crisis’: Reconstructing climate, diet and human migration events in the ninth century”
    16.45-17.15 DISCUSSION


  • 9.45-10.30 Jesse Byock “Vikings and Iceland in the ninth century: Crisis, what crisis?”
  • 10.30-11.15 Stephen Driscoll “The archaeology of the Scottish political landscape: Viking age transformations
  • 11.15-11.45 Tea/coffee

  • 11.45-12.30 Máire Ní Mhaonaigh “A cultural crisis? The nature of learning in Ireland’s Viking Age”
  • 12.30-13.15 Rosamond McKitterick “Representations of crisis in ninth-century Frankia”
  • 13.15-14.00 Lunch

  • 14.00-14.45 Gareth Williams “Without the Vikings we would have no Anglo-Saxons: Discuss”
  • 14.45-15.30 Gabor Thomas “Brightness in a time of dark: Metalwork from Anglo-Saxon England in the ninth century”
  • 15.30-16.00 Tea/coffee

  • 16.00-16.30 John Hines “The ninth-century Viking raids and the kingdom of Wessex: A cloud with a silver lining”
  • 16.30-17.15 Andrew Reynolds “Measuring the indigenous response to external threat: Defining Wessex in the Viking Age”

I mean, had places not been so limited I would have taken two days off work to go, but they were, and I was slow to ask, so I didn’t get to do that. (Magistra et mater did, or at least did rather more effectively than did I, and has been reporting in what is so far two parts.) However, I did take the chance to sneak in for one paper, because although I’ve written about him here, I’ve never before heard Richard Hodges speak, and he’s been quite important for my thinking. So I begged my way in and the seats didn’t quite fill up so I didn’t feel bad about denying properly registered people their chance to hear. So with all that clear, what was being said?

Ongoing excavations at San Vincenzo al Volturno

Ongoing excavations at San Vincenzo al Volturno

Well, it is probably simplest for me to summarise Magistra’s report and then add my own few penn’orth. We took a tour of European development via the sites Richard has mainly worked on, which might cause one to worry about sampling, but Hodges’s big thing has always been to make his sites part of something much larger, and he’s had some splendid sites to do it with. So we started with emporia, right back to Dark Age Economics, and Hodges’s current feeling that these proto-urban trading settlements are already in decline before the Viking Age, though the North Sea networks into which they fit are apparently doing well enough for Scandinavian sites like Kaupang and Hedeby to be building in the ninth century, even though at points west this settlement form was over by the mid-eighth. They also appear to hang on in the Adriatic, however, where Hodges speaks from the authority of San Vincenzo al Volturno in Italy, pictured above where a monastic settlement into which massive Carolingian patronage is briefly poured and which acquires a substantial rural hinterland naturally becomes a local entrepôt, and Butrint in Albania, where urban decay was fairly pronounced between the sixth and ninth century but which then picks up a bit. This is a different local network, and the local variations are significant, but not enough to wipe out the similarity; yes, in the North Sea there are Vikings, but in the Adriatic a good few sites are wiped out in Saracen raids in 881, which is part of why Venice gets a head start thereafter. In general, as Magistra has it:

Overall, Hodges was arguing for two phases of trade. At the start of the ninth century there’s trade of prestige goods – including Chinese jade found at San Vincenzo. By the end of the ninth there’s been a shift away from this small-scale presige [sic] trading to larger scale trade and the beginnings of real sustainability. This was also reflected in more stratified buildings in C9 AS England, the multiplication of Frankish silos (for grain storage) and the development of fortified small manors in Italy. Hodges saw this large-scale economy developing from the 840s onwards and powered by the Vikings and Arabs.

Well, this all works pretty well for me, because the idea that there is a low-level economic solidification in the ninth century prior to the taxi run for the later take-off in the tenth century, fits with what I see in my material, an intensification of settlement and exchange, so you might expect me to quarrel with little except a bizarre defence Hodges made of hedge fund managers as being necessary for the economy like the Vikings, which I have all kinds of problems with which needn’t be explored here. And I did like his warning that archæology shouldn’t be expected to show negatives: we have very little evidence of activity in Venice in this period, but we know full well from other sources it was getting going.1 I also rather like his assessment of the size of the population at San Vincenzo by how many beds you could physically have fitted into the dormitory. I mean, the monks probably slept on the floor if they were proper reformed Benedictines, but the number is probably about right (110 maximum, which is considerably below some estimates, including that of the abbey’s own chronicle—I suspect lay brothers of some early kind were being included here). And a pointed question about the slave trade elicited Hodges’s opinion that it was marginal until the end of the ninth century, except in the East where both Byzantium and the Caliphate increase demand for slaves hugely as they stabilise; he willingly admitted that Michael McCormick sees things very differently here, but as we have recently discussed, indeed, neither texts nor archæology are particularly good for demonstrating slavery. So, on the whole a well-grounded, if opinionated, tour of a pretty large part of the European economic sphere in a fairly short time, and with some suitably impressive pictures and factoids to remember. I found this one useful and snuck back out with a feeling that I’d used my time wisely.

The currently-standing parts of the sixth-century basilica at Butrint

The currently-standing parts of the sixth-century basilica at Butrint

1. Something I know quite well, from when a particular Cambridge archæologist set me to do a seminar presentation on it during my M. Phil., and then had to admit after I came back to them, panicked, four days later with no data, that they couldn’t find any published archæology on it either, now that they came to look.

Note to self: Francia is online

I’m sure I have noticed this before and forgotten, so I write it here so that I don’t forget again. The premier fat journal of French-based German-intensity historical exposition, almost always with significant early medieval content, is online from vol. 1 (1973) to vol. 33 (2006) care of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München, who also bring us the digital Monumenta Germaniae Historica and a variety of other sources. All praise to them, and will I please remember this now.