Monthly Archives: April 2011

964, 1978, who’s counting? Of monks, canons and new toilets

The New Minster, Winchester

The New Minster, Winchester

Here’s a short one. I learnt a little while back from News for Medievalists that the BBC had something to say about an occasion on 5th March when Winchester Cathedral opened the first new part of its building for 500 years. It is, unexcitingly, basically a toilet block (as up till then the cathedral hadn’t had any toilets, apparently!), but they managed to add some excitement by getting it opened by someone they’d just made an Ecumenical Canon, who is no less than Abbot Étienne of the monastery of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire at Fleury, for which reason the new extension is to be the Fleury Building. ‘How very appropriate a choice of canon, if not of facility,’ I more or less thought and then found that the BBC thought so also but not for the reason I expected:

The link between Winchester Cathedral and the Abbey of Fleury goes back to 1978, when the then Dean of Winchester, Michael Stancliffe, and the Abbot of Fleury decided that the Anglican cathedral and the Benedictine monastery should be united in prayer.

And that’s a bit weird because the connection I’d thought of was that the New Minster at Winchester was reformed by Bishop Æthelwold of that see on his appointment there in 964, and he had been trained… at Fleury.1 This seemed like an obvious thing to mention, but then I wondered if the fact that he’d kicked out the canons, whom he found quite displeasing, and replaced them with monks made it, perhaps, awkward to mention that when making a monk your newest canon. Maybe they wanted those lines to stay blurry, I thought. And that would be interesting from the point of view of the continuing relevance of the medieval past to current institutions, and institutional memory and so on. But in fact the actual press release on Winchester Cathedral’s web-pages is happy to acknowledge the older link, just about:

The Cathedral’s origins are as a Benedictine monastery – Benedict being recognised as the father of Western monasticism – and although the Cathedral is no longer run by monks, Benedict’s values are at the heart of its ethos. The strength of the links between Fleury and Winchester are evident as the Cathedral and the Abbey pray for each other every day as part of the more recent rejuvenation of a relationship which stretches back a millennium. There are also regular exchanges between the two communities – including three trips by the Cathedral choir. It is therefore wholly right that the first of these Honorary Canons should be linked to its earliest origins.

They don’t say what that original relationship actually was, of course, but given what we are told of this episode by contemporary sources…

The king also sent there with the bishop one of his agents, the well-known Wulfstan of Dalham, who used the royal authority to order the canons to choose one of two courses: either to give place to the monks without delay or to take the habit of the monastic order. Stricken with terror, and detesting the monastic life, they left as soon as the monks entered…2

… you can understand why Winchester would have wanted to let this pass unmentioned on a happy day 1047 years later. This is not, I think it’s safe to say, how any of us would want to be fired from what we would presumably have thought of as, well, a permanent job. What about the BBC, though? Did they just miss the word `millennium’ in the press release, or what? Well, who knows. But even if they’re not counting, you can trust the historians to remember.

(Cross-posted at Cliopatria, not that you can currently see it, or that if you could you could say anything there. Cliopatria’s recent upgrade… has not gone well.)


1. The obvious starting point for learning about St Æthelwold is Barbara A. E. Yorke (ed.), Bishop Aethelwold: his career and influence (Woodbridge 1998).

2. Wulfstan [not the same one!], Vita Sancti Æthelwoldi, edd. & transl. Michael Lapidge & Michael Winterbottom as Wulfstan of Winchester: the Life of St Æthelwold, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford 1991), cap. 18, here cit. from Alexander R. Rumble, “The Laity and the Monastic Reform in the Reign of Edgar” in Donald Scragg (ed.), Edgar, King of the English, 959-975 (Woodbridge 2008), pp. 242-251 at p. 242.

Seminar XCI: dealings with the Fatimid Caliphate

It’s nearly the new term and I haven’t finished talking about the last one yet, again, to say nothing of Catalonia. Therefore, we must speed things up here and so I am going, reluctantly, to say basically nothing of Professor David Abulafia‘s presentation to the Late Medieval Europe Seminar in Oxford on the 22nd February 2011, for all that I have a great respect for David and that he is one of the people to whom some blame for this whole thing my research could reasonably be attached.1 I justify this because although the paper was jolly interesting, it was also a précis of a book that you will soon be able to read for yourselves, should you choose.2 So, instead, let me move on a week and talk about Professor Marina Rustow, presenting to the Medieval History Seminar here with the title, “The Fatimid State as Viewed by Medieval Jews”, on the 28th. You have perhaps heard of the Cairo Genizah? If not, this was an amazing cache of manuscripts of all ages, deposited in a synagogue loft in Fustat between the eleventh and nineteenth centuries, which was then slowly opened up to scholarship, and has been so huge that this is still happening. I can’t do any better than quote the web-page of the largest project based on this material by way of deeper explanation:

A genizah is a storage room where copies of respected texts with scribal errors or physical damaged, or unusable documents, are kept until they can be ritually buried. The dark, sealed, room in the arid Egyptian climate contributed to the preservation of the documents, the earliest of which may go back to the eighth and ninth centuries.

That website, which has digital images of some of the texts too (see below) says there were about 200,000 pieces of manuscript in this Genizah, but Dr Rustow was talking in terms more like half that again. This mass of evidence she handled clearly and comprehensibly throughout: she is an excellent ambassador for a field of study about which most of her audience, perhaps, knew very little. (It’s not safe to gamble on what people don’t know, round here.) Most of the sample, she explained, is as you’d probably expect given its preservation Biblical or Talmudic texts, which are themselves of importance for Jewish theologians, but most of the work I know about has been on the actual documents within the sample, of which there are about 10-15,000. Those best known are the ones from Jewish traders from around the Mediterranean that somehow wound up here, showing a criss-crossing set of links and connections that really make the Sea alive with medieval traffic (of which, after all, the Jews were probably only a part; think of all those supposed Syrians!)3 but Dr Rustow’s particular interest was in the fact that among this stuff there is also a certain amount of Islamic government material: letters to officials, petitions, decrees and memoranda, often having arrived in the Genizah after being recycled and written over for some other purpose.4 The Fatimid chancery of Cairo appears to have written big and with lots of space left over…

New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, E. N. Adler MS 3616 9, recto

New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, E. N. Adler MS 3616 9, recto. Note the widely-spaced lines of Arabic faded or washed out and the new script written in at right angles. If you follow the link you'll see an entire letter was then written on the other side. Whether this is actually a chancery document I have no idea but this is the process Prof. Rustow described

Why this stuff, and indeed the various documents with solely Christian (Melkite and Coptic) and Muslim (Sunni and Shi’a) participants, wound up in a synagogue loft is a problem still currently unsolved, and a lot of the questions that we raised and that Dr Rustow had for us, indeed, were about preservation and documentary cultures in east and west, who keeps what for what reason and so on. Here it seemed to me by the end of the discussion that we had actually brought East and West closer together, that there are odd occasional caches of original documents, from Sinai and Mount Athos to Catalonia via Fustat or Sankt Gallen, that show that with the right luck this stuff can survive and tell us that it probably did in other places too. Once again we have to face up to just having lost an awful lot of stuff. There is an idea, largely the fault of Patrick Geary and not without some foundation, that the West keeps copies of this stuff instead of originals, but there are enough places that have both cartulary and original documents that I think we can doubt whether the disposal of originals was quite as close on the heels of copying them as he seems in places to suggest.5 The same seemed to be true in the East, with a number of the 400-500 documents that Dr Rustow had found to work with in those of the many many archives over which the Genizah material is spread being copies of documents that had previously been copied by the Mamluk régime of thirteenth-century Egypt, meaning that at that point they had survived three centuries and were still thought worth making new ones of. Dr Rustow thought that this suggested that the documents themselves were only of short-term value, but I wonder if that might mainly be true for the régime and whether those actually holding the kind of land or revenue concession that these documents transferred might have had their own copies that they held onto more carefully, but which of course ultimately don’t come down to us because of that. This would match the situation in the West perfectly well, I think, where again people do have documents but only the actual property-holders usually keep them, which ultimately means the Church. In the Islamic zones that non-state archive institution doesn’t really exist, and so we have lost what it might have held, but that doesn’t make what survives in the West typical of what was actually in use.6 Anyway, I could go on in that vein all day and my questions were, as you can imagine, probably a bit too long. Back to the actual point of the paper!

New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, E. N. Adler MS 4009 2

New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, E. N. Adler MS 4009 2v: pen trials

Once they reached the Genizah, however, or rather immediately before, these Fatimid documents appears to have been being kept just as papyrus for pen-trials or as formulae to use in new documents (which is a model I think we have to face in many other places too). There were also a few instances where régime change had apparently led to the previous incumbent’s archives quite literally being thrown out and sold in bulk as second-hand papyrus or paper. What they actually show us, however, is a state apparatus that could be accessed, to a certain extent, by individuals, by means of petitioning. This was an ‘Abbasid innovation, one of the ways in which those high-minded coup-mongers were able to present themselves as being better justified and less tyrannical than the first, Umayyad, caliphs, and acted both as legitimisation and as a check on the state’s officials (much like Charlemagne’s circuits of missi but more centralised, as the Islamic states could manage to be).7 It was presumably much easier to get access to the court machinery of audience with suitable contacts or bribery, of course, but the same was probably true everywhere. Nonetheless, the possibility that a humble person could seek redress from the Caliph himself (which is also littered through The Arabian Nights, you may remember, even though that is kind of the Scriptures of Western Orientalism along with Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra as its New Testament) was a kind of consensus on which the régime could rest. Dr Rustow’s takeaway point was, therefore, that when we actually have evidence for the workings of these supposed Oriental despotisms, we don’t find purely ideological and theocratic justifications of power but a régime that was as interested in giving good justice and being fair, or at least in seeming that way enough to keep its people from revolt as any in the medieval West. In other words, this is no more ‘Oriental despotism’ than the high medieval west is a ‘feudal system'; in both cases there is far too much social theory that lurks around assuming that these two ideal types had more real existence than they did and in both cases that theory needs a sound kick in the paradigms, which it here got. This was a good paper.8


1. Because how, Professor Abulafia used to run an undergraduate paper on Muslim Spain, and taught it to me, and one of the things he set as reading was Eduardo Manzano Moreno, “Christian-Muslim Frontier in al-Andalus: idea and reality” in Dionisius Agius & Richard Hitchcock (edd.), Arab Influence upon Medieval Europe (Reading, IL. 1994), pp. 83-96 and from that I learnt that the Muslim-Christian frontier was full of weird anomalous social groupings and at Masters level resolved to investigate them and well, here we are.

2. It’s called, if I remember, A History of the Mediterranean and covering really quite a timespan.

3. This is classically described in Shelomo Dov Goitein, A Mediterranean Society: the Jewish communities of the world as portrayed in the documents of the Cairo Genizah (Berkeley 1967-1993, repr. 1999, 2000), 6 vols; a single-volume abridgement (Berkeley 2003).

4. This material is partly published—given how scattered the collections are anything more than partial is a major effort—in Geoffrey Khan (ed.), Arabic legal and administrative documents in the Cambridge Genizah Collections (1993), but of course, as I have myself discovered, Cambridge is not the whole world.

5. Originally in P. J. Geary, Phantoms of Remembrance: remembering and forgetting in the tenth and eleventh centuries (Princeton 1985) though Professor Geary has been as enthusiastic as anyone about modifying and refining his suggestions there in conference volumes such as Olivier Guyotjeannin, Laurent Morelle and Michel Parisse (edd.), Les Cartulaires. Actes de la Table Ronde organisée par l’École Nationale des Chartes et le G. D. R. 121 du C. N. R. S. (Paris, 5-7 décembre 1991), Mémoires et Documents de l’École des Chartes 39 (Paris 1993).

6. See for the West, of course, Warren Brown, “When Documents Are Destroyed or Lost: lay people and archives in the early Middle Ages” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 (Oxford 2002), pp. 337-366 and Alice Rio, “Freedom and Unfreedom in Early Medieval Francia: the evidence of the legal formulae” in Past and Present no. 193 (Oxford 2006), pp. 7-40.

7. If you don’t know your Umayyads from your ‘Abbasids, the starting point probably has to be Hugh Kennedy, The Age of the Prophet and the Caliphates: The Islamic Near East from the 6th to the 11th Century, 2nd edn. (London 2004). If, instead, it’s the mention of missi that has you in a mither, Matthew Innes, “Charlemagne’s Government” in Joanna Story (ed.), Charlemagne: Empire and Society (Manchester 2005), pp. 71-89 might be the magic.

8. I realise that I do default to this position a bit too readily, even now, but I persist in thinking that it is a reasonable and rational check on theories of human society supposedly based in history to say, “it was not like that at the times and in the places when you claim it was, so I do not think your theory is valid, however lovely it may feel”. How are we ever going to understand human if we don’t actually know what it’s like and what it has done?

What would a late-Carolingian bishop read? The will of Riculf of Elna

One of the awkward things about working on Catalonia is that not many people immediately know where it is, and it’s hard to explain, not least because it wasn’t a unit in the period that I’m interested in but a bunch of loosely-associated counties, some of which later became parts of other things. Such union as there was was sort of expressed in who came to Church councils in Barcelona, and there there was a kind of core of always-included bishops and a scattering of more peripheral ones (including the ephemeral per-county ones that occasionally got created). But one of those core areas was definitely the bishopric of Elna, which is now in France (Elne) in its county of Roussillon (Cat. Rosselló) but was usually ruled from Empúries which is now in Spain. It must be included, but it isn’t where Catalunya now is. I’m too used to reading about the place as Elna not to spell it ‘en català’ (as I will below), but that’s not what they speak there now. And so on.

I don’t think that its being on the north side of the Pyrenees makes Roussillon distinctly more Frankish and less Gothic, since it was still in Gothic Septimania and so on, but there are some differences there that I can’t yet put my finger on, as I have always worked further out on the frontier and it may just in any case that documentary survival back here is poorer. Elna’s cartulary was lost in the early part of the twentieth century, though there is a sort-of-edition of it, and other major ecclesiastical centres of the area, most obviously the fantastic half-ruin of Sant Pere de Rodes, have suffered even worse.1 So rather than the fairly thick picture we get in certain areas of the frontier, about which I have written, what one gets from Roussillon tends to be snapshots.2 But they’re often exceptionally interesting snapshots, and this is one such.

Southern belltower of Santa Eulàlia d'Elna

Southern belltower of Santa Eulàlia d'Elna, from Wikimedia Commons

If we ever wrote the book I’ve suggested before now about Interesting Bishops of the Tenth Century, I don’t think Riculf I of Elna (885-915) would make it in. This might be not least because half of his episcopate belonged to the ninth century, but it’s also because we don’t know a great deal about him. For the most part his documentary trace shows him pursuing his cathedral’s rights in its property, getting defences of that property from the kings.3 (It is concessions of rights over Hispani to the bishops of Elna that principally show that the Frankish kings gave up on trying to protect such ‘king’s freemen’ after, say, 865.4) This is not really a fair picture of him, we might suspect; the lack of early narrative material from Catalonia largely dooms almost all its historical figures to this kind of picture as landowners only, because land records are the only ones we have. He does seem to have been strenuous in that line, but at the very end of his life there is a clear hint that he could have been seen in other lights too, and this is a bequest from his will to his cathedral.5

Ornament from the cloister of Elna cathedral

The treasures of the cathedral of Elna that I can easily find images of are all architectural and too late to relate to Riculf at all, but some of them so gorgeous as not to be missed, like this bit of ornament from the cathedral cloister

We don’t have all of this, even in its current state, but it was a big old bequest, and by no means all of it is land, although a lot is and it includes mills suggesting that he had no problem with monopolising control of his city’s food supply. Quite a lot of it, also, is what we can happily call treasure, including a lot of ecclesiastical vestments some of which, I noted with joy when I first read this text, actually had bells on, and a lot of precious metalwork (chalices and patens but also other stuff). But, most interestingly I think, and here my McKitterickian training is going to show big-time, it also includes a 28-volume library. This is not a small individual collection by any standards, and represented a substantial investment in parchment and, presumably given the rest of his stuff, ornament. Of course we can’t automatically assume he read everything he owned—this blogger is emphatically no stranger to the aspirational book purchase—but he did at least choose to own them, and some of them are really unusual and interesting choices. Mostly when books turn up in wills here they were liturgical works, either books of the Bible (most common of all) or service books or ordines, and very occasionally some Patristics. Riculf was a different kind of reader. His bequest (which may not have been everything he owned) contained very little liturgical stuff (and the cathedral presumably had its operational requirement of that already) but did number the following:

  • several collections of exegesis and Patristic material, in which the author most represented appears to be Gregory the Great
  • a copy of Augustine’s Contra Hæreses
  • two other texts by Augustine on Genesis
  • a “Rabanum“, presumably a collection of Hraban Maur‘s stuff, though if a single text I wonder about the De institutione clericorum or the Martyrology (probably more likely) given the other stuff below
  • a “Smaragdum“, and again one wonders what (and indeed which Smaragdus)
  • two books of canons, unspecified
  • two books of prayers (or orationes anyway)
  • a ‘best martyrology’ (better than Hraban’s? There are copies of Ado’s Martyrology at Vic and Girona that appear to have been imported with Carolingian rule in the area, it’s possible that Elna had one too, but if so it probably wouldn’t have been Riculf’s property)
  • several books of the Bible including a Song of Solomon
  • two lawbooks, one ‘Roman’ and one ‘Gothic’, the latter presumably being the Forum Iudicum but who knows about the other?
  • and then, most interestingly of all, a series of apparently loose-bound stuff, quaderni, that look like working manuals:

  • two quires on consecrating churches
  • two quires on visiting the sick
  • one on ecclesiastical ordinations
  • and one ‘Medicinal’

There are loads of interesting things about this I could point out, but let me just say one or two of them before making my take-away point, and you can say the rest yourselves if you like. Firstly, Riculf was at least a bit current with the scholarship of his day: Hraban was his teacher’s generation (whoever that teacher might have been! And wouldn’t I like to know?) and not that long dead, and Smaragdus (as long as it was the Carolingian-era one) at least within a long living memory. There are older scholars here but he was not afraid to get new work (though Hraban’s careful avoidance of obvious novelty might have been the safest choice of new work possible). Secondly, he seems to have had views about these texts that imply quality judgements: a ‘best’ martyrology, note. Best for what? Presumably selection of saints, if only we knew which saints he was interested in, but it’s not blind respect for the written word. And thirdly there are the working texts, that show two things. Firstly, that he was seemingly genuinely concerned about the pastoral work of his job, including not just visiting the sick like a good Christian but also, perhaps, trying to treat them (the Medicinal), and also getting more churches up and running and training priests to minister in them. This is what we don’t get from the land-grants: ‘Yes, I will determinedly reduce your independence if you have cleared woodland in space that I consider belongs to the cathedral until you have to admit you owe me renders, tithes and first-fruits, BUT, if you break your leg growing them, I will ALSO turn up and try and splint it for you in your jerry-built hut while your concerned wife stands by, and if there are a lot of people here I will eventually build you a church to go to for Mass, too’. Secondly, it is clear that when he needed to do something one of Riculf’s responses was to get written instructions on how, and in a form that he might carry with him on circuit, too.

Manuscript illumination of Gregory the Great giving a copy of one of his works to Bishop Leander of Seville

Manuscript illumination of Gregory the Great giving a copy of one of his works to Bishop Leander of Seville; I don't know the manuscript and it's the Moralia in Iob not the Cura Pastoralis, but hey, picture!

All of which takes me to the big point, which is: this man was a Carolingian Renaissance prelate. He not only had lots of books, and some by noted scholars of the Carolingian courts, but a lot of the books he had were instructions and authorities: canons, laws, even the martryology (or martyrologies) and of course the quires. When in doubt, he consulted texts, and he apparently had good sources of them even though one at least had been written only a generation or two before and in Germany. He was, therefore, connected in a range of ways to the wider intellectual world, and that connection partly drove a sense of responsibility in his office (want to bet one of the Gregory texts was the Cura pastoralis?) which he bolstered with yet more words. Now, other bishops of Riculf’s era and area had more conventional libraries, though even those have their practical aspects.6 He may have been the last of his kind for a while, and the generation of a century on were getting their books from all kinds of places including, we might note, Córdoba.7 All the same, texts like this, and the priests’ examinations that Carine van Rhijn has found in the Netherlands, and other such ephemera of a working, if patchy, organisation, make me want some kind of equivalent to the famous XKCD t-shirt about Science. It wouldn’t be quite as defiant, but some slogan like, “The Carolingian Renaissance! It worked! here and there” is definitely what I have in mind.


1. The cartulary edition, such as it is, is Raymond de Lacvivier (ed.), “Inventaire sommaire des documents copiés dans le « cartulaire de l’église d’Elne » par Fossa” in Ruscino: Revue d’histoire et d’archéologie du Roussillon et des autres pays catalans Vol. 3 (Perpignan 1913), repr. separatim (Prades 1914). Most of the documents are now in the Catalunya Carolíngia of course but not all, because that’s not finished yet, and otherwise such full texts as there are are scattered over about five or six older editions that I don’t have space or will to detail here; ask if you need more.

2. When I say ‘I have written’, I mean of course the book, which I don’t seem to have plugged for several posts now so it must be about time. The most detailed picture of frontier society I give in it is probably the section of Gurb, J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (London 2010), pp. 100-128.

3. The documents I know of in which he appears, not quite the same list as that of Joan Vilaseca’s linked above, are, in publication order: Pierre de Marca, Marca Hispanica sive Limes Hispanicus, hoc est geographica & historica descriptio cataloniæ, ruscinonis, & circumiacentium populorum, ed. Étienne Baluze (Paris 1688; Barcelona 1972; 1989), ap. LVIII; Claude 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 âvues des monuments, rev. E. Mabille, E. Barry, E. Roschach & Auguste Molinier & ed. M. E. Dulaurier, Vol. V (Toulouse 1875; Osnabrück 1973), Preuves : chartes et diplômes 28, 32, 40 & 42 & Preuves : Catalogues et Inventaires Elna XXI, XXII, XXVI, XXIX, XXX, XXXIV, XXXV & XXXIX; Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica II & III (Barcelona 1926-1952), Elna III & IV & Particulars XXI; J. Morera Sabater, “Un conato de secesión eclesiástica en la marca hispánica en el siglo IX” in Anales del Instituto de Estudios Gerundenses Vol. 15 (Girona 1962), pp. 293-315, ap. I; Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Els documents, dels segles IX i X, conservats a l’Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis històrics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 2 (Montserrat 1979), pp. 78-143, doc. no. 35; and Eduard Junyent i Subira (ed.), El Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic, segles IX i X, ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), doc. no. 62. Almost all of these will by now be printed in Pierre Ponsich (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia VI: Els comtats de Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir i Fenollet, ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la secció històrico-arqueològica LXX (Barcelona 2006), but I just haven’t yet had time to inventory that’s contents, and now it’s Easter and the libraries are shut so you’ll have to make do.

4. See J. Jarrett, “Settling the Kings’ Lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 18 (Oxford 2010), pp. 320-342 esp. pp. 328-330, there citing esp. Aymat Catafau, “Les Hispani et l’aprision en Roussillon et Vallespir” in Frontières 2 (Perpignan 1992), pp. 7-20, which talks especially about Riculf’s area and actions.

5. Devic & Vaissete, Histoire générale de Languedoc V, Preuves : chartes et diplomômes no. 42. Again, it’s presumably in Ponsich, but currently I can’t get at that, for which reason you are also going to have to make do with my notes and not the actual text. I imagine that by the time someone wants to check with me about that I’ll be able to verify again.

6. I’ve written about this here before, as linked there, but if you wanted a real scholarly take, there is Antoni Pladevall i Font, “Entorn de l’estada de Gerbert a Catalunya (967-970): l’existència de biblioteques privades perdudes” in Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer (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. 651-661, with French résumé pp. 661-662, Provençal résumé p. 662 & English abstract p. 663.

7. As long as you’ve managed to get the book anyway, you could then see on this J. Cassinet, “Gerbert et l’introduction de la numération décimale arabo-indienne en Occident chrétien: le liber abaci” in Ollich, Actes del Congrès Internacional Gerbert d’Orlhac, pp. 725-726, or else Miquel del Sants Gros i Pujol, “Els textos d’ensenyament en l’escola catedràlia de Vic al segle XI” in Federico Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium Internacional sobre els Orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), II pp. 19-26.

Seminar XC: Normans? in Africa?

Still another Oxford seminar here, and one that I could maybe skip over because it has already been blogged by the estimable Gesta, but which I don’t want to let slip by because it was really cool. Alex Metcalfe, who has come at medieval studies via the unusual route of study in law (I think!) and in Arabic, is one of the very few people currently in field who are interested in getting Western and Eastern sources to answer the same questions at the same time, and this led him to be at the Oxford Medieval History Seminar on 21st February 2011 presenting to the title, “The Norman Conquest (and Loss) of Africa”.

Ruins at Mahdiyya, Tunisia

Ruins at Mahdiyya, Tunisia

It may be news to you—it was to me— that the Normans had any conquests in Africa, but in fact the link between their Sicilian territories and the Muslim province of Ifriqiyya (very roughly modern Tunisia) long predated the Norman presence in Italy, that being whence Sicily was conquered by the Muslims, and so once the Fatimid Caliphate moved out of Ifriqiyya to Cairo in 960 the area was left slightly open, the ruling families on either side of the very short distance between Tunisa and Sicily having fallen out of alliance and so forth. The other background, said Alex, was persistent crop failure in Ifriqiyya leading to an economic dependence on Sicilian grain and a shift to pastoralism, wrecking the Zirid rulers’ tax-base and leaving their cities in trouble. All of the which left the area looking like low-hanging fruit for the Norman kingdom of Roger II (1101-54). And who doesn’t want a doorway onto the Saharan gold trade, after all? In 1142 things got sufficiently bad in Ifriqiyya that the Zirid Amir Hassan signed himself over to Roger as a vassal and so the Norman troops went in to ‘secure the régime’. Alex drew a difference between the situation in Sicily where local élites had largely been left in place by the Normans and this one, where local leaders were reinvested with their properties as Norman fiefs, making their situation now very different. The Normans also charged for the renewal of documents (though the documents that survive had frequently not actually been update, just endorsed) and installed Genoese and Pisan merchants. Because of this sort of thing, and because of the rising presence of the Almohads as an alternative to these Christian overlords, the area was not quiet under Norman rule, and in 1156 a whole bunch of revolts broke out, coinciding with similar ones back in Sicily, and the Normans lost everything but the citadel of Mahdiyya, wrought reprisals on the population there who called the Almohads in and that was about it. One of the aftermaths may have been the beginning of the breakdown of the fabled convivencia and toleration of the Norman Sicilian kingdom, with new measures being taken to subjugate the Muslim population who were presumably now seen as a security risk. Or those attitudes may already have been hardening, but this little-known tale is certainly part of the large story, while it also caused Ifriqiyya to slip beyond the notional frontier and Sicily to drop back to a fairly marginal status on the edge of Europe, even though the distance between the zones remains so tiny.

Map of the Central Mediterranean in the Middle Ages, by Alex Metcalf

Alex's map of the Central Mediterranean; do not adjust your screen

Chris Wickham asked why Alex thought the Normans had not managed to hold this area, where local structures of society had surely been ruined to the point where resistance to the Norman conquest ought to have been harder than the resistance that there largely isn’t in Sicily. Alex put this down to the new presence of the Almohads not giving the Normans time to bed down, and to their neglect to pursue the kind of wealth creation they had nurtured in Sicily (however much that had been for their own ends). Palermo remained centre of this new province, rather than giving it back something to hold on to, so the population had no real incentive to hold off from joining the brave new Almohad world, not least because their jurists were somewhat divided over whether one should even remain living under Christian rule if alternatives existed. In Sicily the Normans managed to combine offers of advantage, overwhelming force and tolerance to good effect, and in Ifriqiyya none of these remained available for very long. All very interesting and the questions of policy failures versus circumstances remain to be worked over a bit more yet, I think.

In due gratitude to the Bavarian State Library…

Logo of Recensio.net

Ordinarily, when someone mails me to ask me to put something they do on my blog—which does happen—I delete that thing on sight. This is partly dislike of spam, and much more likely it is a self-protecting assumption that if it’s of interest to me I can find it out by myself. Obviously that is frequently wrong, and this is one such case. It is also the case that I very frequently make use of the suitor’s resources and have posted about them here before, so this one I will let through. Jonathan, what are you talking about, goes up the exasperated cry no doubt. Well, the afore-mentioned Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, who have brought us a wealth of digitised medieval texts in their original parchment and ink forms and who also, you know, host the digital Monumenta Germania Historica, have put a new site up called Recensio.net that aims to:

create a Europe-wide, multi-language platform for reviews of historical literature

with a highly searchable OPAC-based interface mediating (open) access to several major journals’ reviews, as well as encouraging user-generated content in response to materials submitted to the site for ‘presentation’. This is interesting, because they are deliberately eroding the difference between what they call “»classical«” reviews (I suspect they may want to defriend that particular faux ami) and, well, internet reviews like those on Amazon or the greater united blogosphere. Various bloggers, including literature scholars and archæologists and, I suppose, I, have pondered how we might take academic work to the Internet for instant response, critique and a more genuinely democratic peer review. Well, here is someone providing a gateway that will not sit in ghetto where only the same people will read it but where the scholarly work that is being generated anyway will rub shoulders with the wider contributing public’s thoughts. I don’t think this can be a bad thing, and presumably neither do the German Historical Institute Paris (DHIP), the Institute for European History (IEG) Mainz or the German Research Foundation (DFG), who are funding it or doing it too. Already a search for items covering the European Middle Ages brings back nearly 300 items, and though really quite a lot are in the Slavic languages and thus closed to me, there is other interesting stuff there too and you may not have my particular linguistic or chronological blind spots—there is much much more there that is not medieval. Why not have a look? If you’re like me, you owe these guys a few minutes for all those they’ve saved you…

Seminars LXXXVI-LXXXIX: four for the price of one

(Written offline between approximately Andorra and the Isle of Wight, courtesy of British Airways, 12/04/11)

Front Court, All Soul's College

Front Court, All Soul's College (the Medieval History Seminar is up the last staircase on the right)

By the time I can post this I’ll be back, and with loads to write, but of course I already had loads to write so something must be done. By a happy coincidence, however, the next few seminars I wanted to write up, all Oxford ones, were one where I had less than usual to say, in each case for a different reason, so I’m going to rattle through them quickly, without prejudice to the speakers I hope, and then move on to the more recent matters.

Fourteenth-century illustration of Einhard writing

Fourteenth-century illustration of Einhard writing, from Wikimedia Commons

In the first of these cases, when none other than Steffen Patzold spoke to the Oxford Medieval History Seminar on the 14th February 2011, the reason I have little to say is that his paper was all around one core point, argued elegantly and persuasively, but which is if he is right bad news for Carolingianists. His title, belying this rake in the grass with its innocuousness, was “Einhard’s First Readers”, and what he was doing was studying early reception of the most famous work of the eponymous biographer of Charlemagne, the Vita Karoli. By early I mean really early, in one case contemporary; the two readers he looked at were Lupus of Ferrières and Walahfrid Strabo, the former of whom corresponded with Einhard, including flattering him about the biography in order to wheedle books out of him.1 Walahfrid, too late to have known Einhard himself, wrote a shiny new preface for the Vita emphasising how reliable Einhard’s testimony was since he had known the emperor himself, and so on. Lupus on the other hand paid little attention to the contents but lauded the Ciceronian style, including completing a quotation of Cicero that Einhard had used in the Vita in his letter of self-introduction.

The current state of the church at Seligenstadt founded by Einhard

The current state of the church at Seligenstadt founded by Einhard, image from Wikimedia Commons

Steffen’s contention was, basically, that Lupus understood what Einhard had intended better than did Walahfrid, that the Vita, which is as Steffen showed heavily larded with Ciceronian references, was mainly intended to demonstrate Einhard’s skill with Latin, perhaps by way of engineering a renewal of his importance at court. Steffen even argued that from what the scholars of the time knew of Cicero, especially that he had written his Tusculan Disputations when similarly removed from court on the Classical equivalent of garden leave, Einhard would have probably felt keenly similar to Cicero (and, we established in questions, would not have known about the great rhetor’s rather unpleasant end). It all added up very neatly. The reason that this is bad news for Carolingianists, who have been trying to date the Vita by reference to its contents and their potential contemporary allusions for many years now (a debate I have even seen conducted in filk) is that it makes it likely that the actual content of Einhard’s Vita Karoli is similarly bent to a rhetorical end first and foremost, with the actual historical accuracy we have all hoped for possibly rather less important. In other words, it may just sound good, and never mind the facts. Walahfrid, of course, tells us otherwise, but if Steffen’s right Walahfrid must have been wrong, which is not something one often gets to say.

Gold mancus of King Offa of Mercia, imitating an Arabian issue of 774

Gold mancus of King Offa of Mercia, imitating an Arabian issue of 774, from Wikimedia Commons

Then, on 16th February, Vivien Prigent addressed the Oxford Byzantine History Seminar to the title, “The Myth of the Mancus and The Origins of the European Economy“. Here he was addressing a very old numismatic dispute about what, exactly, the coins that the sources of the European eighth to tenth centuries call mancusi actually were. They occur first of all in Italy, and were plainly gold and apparently Eastern in some sense but within those brackets many possibilities exist: Byzantine solidi, Muslim dinars, and so on, In 1959 Philip Grierson published an article called “The Myth of the Mancus” that tried to settle this, which he subsequently had to admit was wrong, arguing that the word should be understood to mean ‘defective’ and that they were just low-weight solidi; others subsequently argued that in fact the word derived from the Arabic ‘manqush’, ‘engraved’, and that it referred to dinars struck by the Caliphate after the reform of the Islamic coinage that stopped the use of figural representation on the coins.2 There are to my mind a bunch of reasons that looks convincing: that coins that would fit the explanation exist and have been found in the right places, that this is what King Offa of Mercia apparently strikes at about the time that the term is first seen in England (seen above), and the negative argument that the standard coin in Europe at the time was called denarius in Latin so that the term ‘dinar’ would have been effectively indistinguishable by ear for many – they would have had to have another name and we do have Arabic sources calling these things ‘dinara manqushi’ (forgive dodgy Arabic, or indeed correct it if you like), albeit not till later on.

Imitative gold mancus of Barcelona struck by Bonhom after 1018

Imitative gold mancus of Barcelona struck by Bonhom after 1018

Vivien however argued that everyone has been wrong, and that the metrology and the early Italian instances can only really be explained by reference to Sicilian-minted Byzantine solidi. This certainly does seem to fit the Italian finds evidence, and at least fits the (Italian) metrology better than full-weight dinars, but to my mind still has two problems. One is that he was arguing his weights of coins by taking a mid-point between an ideal weight and a mean weight of finds; coins are of course almost always found worn and so the real mint weight is a matter of assumption, but the ideal standard is thus itself derived from the surviving specimens so this is only slightly more rigorous than the kind of `rounding up’ I have decried in this game before. The other obvious problem is that the term ‘mancus‘ is much more widely used than the distribution of the Sicilian coins, not least in Catalonia where it certainly does refer to dinars, something that we know because in 1018 a Barcelona Jew called Bonhom was contracted to produce them locally and some of his signed coins exist (pictured above).3 If, therefore, Vivien is to be right, and on his own ground he looks convincing, it means that we have to assume that the word quickly got out of Italy, where it meant something quite specific, and then was almost immediately used to mean pretty much any foreign gold coin, everywhere except Italy. That might be arguable (and indeed Vivien argued it), but, nonetheless, in other contexts there is no similar alternative to the dinar theory and fairly incontrovertible evidence for it (some of which I’ve given above). There are ways in which Vivien’s more complicated answer might be more realistic, and we can probably all think of a historian who would caution us against assuming that words always mean the same thing, but Occam’s Razor vibrates like an electro-magnet when brought near this theory even so and I for one am tempted to cut.

19th-century portrait of Bishop Severus of Antioch

19th-century portrait of Bishop Severus of Antioch, from Wikimedia Commons

The very next day I then went to a paper at the Oxford Late Roman Seminar, by one Simon Ford to the title, “Take Us To Your Leader': the mechanics of ecclesiastical authority in the exilic Monophysite Church (AD 518-638)”. I confess that I did this under a misapprehension brought on by ignorance: I’ve got more and more interested in the Christian sects that began to leave the Byzantine Empire in the era after the Council of Chalcedon after teaching them this term gone, and I understood `exilic’ to mean groups outside the Empire whereas Mr Ford was actually talking about the disenfranchised Church inside the Empire. That’s one reason I have little to say, the other is that the presenter was painfully nervous and had to basically restart every sentence at least once. The effect of this was that as the end of his hour approached he had only got halfway through his text, which had probably seemed a completely reasonable length in front of the mirror, and had to skip to the end missing what seemed as if it was the interesting bit, in which rather than plotting the decline in the status of the kind of patrons that the clergy of the Monophysite Church were able to attract after 518, when they were ruled against (as evidenced basically in the letters of Bishop Severus of Antioch, who seems to be Mr Ford’s main subject), he would have talked about the way that this counter-intuitively forced the exilic Church into the arms of the Emperor, as no lesser patrons remained who might help. The Byzantine double-think involved here, where the clerics of a sect whom you, as Emperor, have removed from office are still important men whose dignity you respect and whose protection you order when necessary, would have been very interesting to hear more about, and it was a pity the paper wound up the way it did.

Foundations of a hall in the royal palace site at Jelling, Denmark

Foundations of a hall in the royal palace site at Jelling, Denmark

Then last in this batch, I arrived late by reason of idiocy to the Medieval Archaeology Seminar on 21st February when Anne Pedersen was presenting to the title “New Discoveries at the Royal Site of Jelling, Denmark”, a site that she has more information on than is yet published and which I wish I’d been sharp enough to hear more about. By the end of the paper I’d managed to gather a picture of a diamond-shaped walled palace complex with one, maybe two entrances, neither on the obvious approach road, with a massive ship-setting of stones from point to point of the diamond. My natural inclination is to be sceptical about monumental alignments but this one is hard to ignore. Jelling fits into a hierarchy of similar sites in Denmark, and is predictably at the top (in a 1-2-3 size ratio with Trelleborg and Aggersborg). It also experienced conversion, as its famous rune-stone (there’s a 3D visualisation behind that link) more or less informs us: Dr Pedersen was not able to end the speculation about what might have happened to King Harald Bluetooth’s illustrious forebears who should, presumably, be in the site’s burial mounds but aren’t—one is empty, one emptied—but the church is hardly central and exactly how the site was articulated and how people moved through it may be the next thing to start trying to work out so as to solve questions like these. Whatever the answer is, it can be unusually short-term; the fixtures at all three of these sites appear never to have been repaired or replaced, we’re looking at a single generation in which power was expressed through a new form of building that then apparently became redundant. While they were up and running, though, there were people there: Dr Pedersen had emphasised the almost total absence of finds in the palace precinct, and as Rosamund Faith pointed out in questions, this must imply management of the site, unless no-one ever came there. So there’s lots still to work out, even after lots of digging.


1. My abiding impression of reading Lupus’s letters (in the translation of Graydon W. Regenos as The Letters of Lupus of Ferrières (The Hague 1966)) is that this was the key motive behind all of Lupus’s letters, and that his correspondence can be divided into three phases, (early) you’re so great and I hear you have a copy of [x] I’d like to borrow, (middle) your copy of [x] is quite safe with me and will soon be sent back, honest, and (late) wah no-one will lend me books why is the world so cruel? I may do him the injustice of rapid reading though, it was a while ago I formed this impression. I assume that you know Einhard’s work, but in case not the translation of resort is now that of David Ganz, Two Lives of Charlemagne: Einhard and Notker the Stammerer (London 2008), replacing the older one of the same title by Lewis Thorpe (Harmondsworth 1969, repr. 1984 and often thereafter). The still older one of Samuel Turner is online in the Internet Medieval Sourcebook here.

2. Philip Grierson, “Carolingian Europe and the Arabs: the myth of the mancus” in Revue Belge de Philologie et d’Histoire vol. 31 (Bruxelles 1954), pp. 1059-1074; repr. in idem, Dark Age Numismatics: selected studies, Variorum Collected Studies 96 (London 1979), III with important addenda. Cf. among others Anna M. Balaguer, “Parias and Myth of the Mancus” in Mario Gomes Marques & D. Michael Metcalf (edd.), Problems of Medieval Coinage in the Iberian Area, 3: a symposium held by the Sociedade Numismática Scalabitana and the Instituto de Sintra on 4-8 October, 1988 (Santarém 1988), pp. 499-543.

3 On these and other imitative mancusi see now Lutz Ilisch, “Die imitativen Solidi mancusi. `Arabische’ Goldmünzen der Karolingerzeit” in Reinhard Cunz (ed.), Fundamenta Historiae: Geschichte im Spiegel der Numismatik und ihrer Nachbarwissenschaften. Festschrift für Niklot Klüßendorf zum 60. Geburtstag am 10. Februar 2004 (Hannover 2004), pp. 91-106, a reference for which I must thank Dr Marcus Phillips.

In delight at reading Andy Orchard for the first time

(Written offline on the bus to Heathrow, 04/04/11 13:29.)

Sankt Gallen MS 904, fo. 112v, upper margin

The Old Irish text of the poem on the Vikings in the St Gall Priscian quoted below

When I was an undergraduate at Cambridge I was friends with a lot of people in the Department of Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic (plus ça change) and this means that some of them were taught by Andy Orchard, now Provost and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College and Professor of English and Medieval Studies in the University of Toronto. I never was, being a historian, and because his interests are more linguistic I have somehow managed to miss out on reading any of his stuff until now. I have been robbing myself. Observe this:

The Sankt Gallen manuscript of Priscian also contains some of the earliest surviving vernacular Irish verse to have survived in a contemporary (or near-contemporary) witness. One such famed marginal poem was evidently composed with the Viking threat in mind:

Bitter is the wind tonight
It ruffles the deep sea’s grizzled locks
I do not fear a crossing of the clear waves
By a band of greedy warriors from Scandinavia

But if, as has been suggested, these lines were written in the manuscript not in Ireland itself but by one of the Irish peregrini on the Continent, they nonetheless reflect the extent to which these peregrini may have carried their learning and literature with them, as likely in their memories as on the written page. In another well-known marginal poem, again preserved in a Continental manuscript, an Irish scholar celebrates his cat, who, significantly, carries a Welsh name (Pangur): Wales would have been on a commonly used route to the Continent for many Irishmen. Bizarrely enough, at least three other marginal Irish jottings in later manuscripts mention cats that have gone astray, so offering an endearing sidelight on the home life of at least some Irish scribes. The Sankt Gallen manuscript also contains a rueful comment on Priscian’s assertion that ‘Virgil was a mighty poet’ (Magnus poeta Virgilius fuit); someone has added in Irish, ‘and he isn’t easy, either’. Elsewhere in the margins of the same manuscript the word latheirt is written twice, once in ogham; since the word in question elsewhere seems to gloss the Latin word crapula (‘drunkenness’, ‘hangover’), one wonders in what state the scribe must have been who wrote the original Irish.1

You see? Note not only the significance he gets out of the name of the cat, meaningful trivia there, but also that he uses the relative pronoun ‘who’ for it, not ‘which’. Elsewhere he suggests that the weird Hiberno-Latin text called the Hisperica famina would, if one wanted to know what sort of text it was, have its title best translated as ‘Latinacious speakifications’, which I am amazed is not a blog already.2 Back in Cambridge I was told that Professor Orchard’s supervisions were often held in the pub, something I don’t think we can do now even in Oxbridge; be that as it may, however, I think it is fairly clear that learning from him must be great fun.


1. Andy Orchard, “Latin and the vernacular languages: the creation of a bilingual textual culture” in Thomas Charles-Edwards (ed.), After Rome (Oxford 2003), pp. 191-219 at pp. 204-205. The St Gall MS is online now, of course, linked through the image, but if you try sourcing the actual poem within the manuscript via websearch it’s so rarely fully referenced that you have to wonder whether everyone isn’t just quoting the MGH text. By means of this exciting site that has done a digital edition of all the glosses in the text, I can tell you that it is Sankt Gallen MS 904, fo. 112v, but I’d have taken a long time to find it otherwise.

2. Orchard, “Latin and the vernacular”, p. 202.