Monthly Archives: August 2011

Finally, Kalamazoo 2011 can be told, Part I

Yes, I know, it’s September and I’m dealing with things that happened in May, it bodes badly, but I’m doing the best I can and since there were complaints from venerable parts of the blogosphere that people weren’t doing Kalamazoo write-ups any more I don’t want to let the side of obsessive completism down. So, a few scant days after the last paper I reported on I was, courtesy of the British Academy, in the USA for the 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies, yet, already. I can’t hope, at this remove, even with my notes, to give a very comprehensive summary of what I saw and did, but then I hardly have time so that’s probably OK. I’ll talk about papers for the first three posts and then say something more general after the shorter paper sum-up from the fourth day.

Goldsworth Valley Complex, University of West Michigan

Goldsworth Valley Complex, University of West Michigan

Coming in from Detroit was an easy journey, albeit expensive due to an empty but mendacious change-machine, but it badly mucked things up when I forgot, on arrival in Kalamazoo short of sleep, that I had changed time-zone again. The result was that for the first few hours on Thursday I was running an hour later than everyone else, meaning that I missed breakfast and a meeting and arrived late into…

Session 39. Generational Difference and Medieval Masculinity, I: fathers and sons in the early Middle Ages

This was a shame as it meant I missed most of Paul Kershaw‘s “Louis the Pious, Attila the Hun and the Problem of Filial Honour”, which was quite a lot of what I’d gone to see. My very short notes remind me that he was cunningly reading the Hildebrandslied and the Waltharius against each other for how fathers and sons react to each other in those texts and that it sounded as if it would all have been fun to hear. Oh well, my own silly fault. The other papers were:

  • Mary Dockray-Miller, “Glory and Bastards: Godwin, Tostig, Skuli, and Ketel”, which talked about using foster-families on the North Sea world of the eleventh century as an alternative sort of status to less-than-shining origins of birth, either because that birth kindred was still on its way up or, in the case of Earl Tostig of Northumbria‘s sons, very much on its way down
  • and Allen J. Frantzen, “Fathers, Sons, and Masculinity in the Anglo-Saxon World”. This was an erudite and eloquent but also very political paper, in which Professor Frantzen argued that feminist scholarship had, well, emasculated study of masculinity by constraining it into categories from the battle of the sexes rather than what was actually going on at the time we study, which was a combination of both extremes. I thought that the aim here, to combat or at least recognise assumptions both in our sources and in ourselves that male = power and female = weakness, was laudable, but it was a difficult paper to listen to because of hearing it as a feminist maybe would as well as as a scholar should. I also thought that the Romans should have got a bigger part in defining masculinity since the whole rationality-and-moderation topos, here instanced from Ælfric, surely goes back to them, which raises questions about our assumptions about the sources… but it was one of the richer and more stimulating twenty minutes I’ve spent sitting listening, all the same. He actually has a web-page up, apparently in preparation for the session, which sets his fellow participants reading; you may find this interesting…

So, OK, I must write less about the rest, but this will be tricky as I then stumbled on my subject area, sort of, in:

Session 75. Negotiating Monasticism in the Early Middle Ages, I: claustrum and sæculum

Virtual reconstruction of the Abbey of Lorsch c. 1150 by Robert Mehl

Virtual reconstruction of the Abbey of Lorsch c. 1150 by Robert Mehl

This was the first of a set of sessions arranged by, among others, the very excellent Albrecht Diem, and it was tempting to treat them as one can treat Texts and Identities at Leeds and just sit in familiar territory for as long as the strand ran. I didn’t, but I saw these papers, which were:

  • Hendrik Dey, “Before the Cloister: monasteries and the ‘topography of power’ in late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages”, an account of the arrangement of processional spaces in late Roman cities and early medieval monasteries, finding numerous interesting parallels in the more elaborate (Carolingian) cases like Lorsch, where the monks seem to have done a lot of walking.
  • Hans Hummer, “Family Continuity and Christian Monasticism in late Antique Gaul” was a complex paper questioning work that has seen either family or lordship as the basic structures of early medieval society by showing monasticism as both or neither, determined to escape such structures but made to serve family or political agendas all the same. This also made the point that an early medieval monastery about which we know is, by and large, exceptional; how many passing references have your documents got to communities that we just can’t identify? I know mine has lots, and Hans’s too apparently.
  • Valerie Ramseyer, “Cave Monasteries in Early Medieval Southern Italy and Sicily: centers of isolation or population?” was an eye-opening paper, not least because of the scenery in the presentation, about monasteries, and in fact whole villages, built in cave networks in Southern Italy. A few of these places still function or function again as restaurants or curiosities but the paper argued that they were never, as they have been pitched when they’ve been studied at all, mere refuges or somehow a subaltern choice of habitation but elaborate, and often luxurious dwellings; the ideological assumptions and the elusiveness have left them under-studied, argued Professor Ramseyer, and I was certainly persuaded.
Byzantine-era cave settlement in Canalotto, Sicily

Byzantine-era cave settlement in Canalotto, Sicily

That had all been such fun that I stuck with the thread for:

Session 122. Negotiating Monasticism in the Early Middle Ages, II: status and knowledge

This session had been somewhat demolished, as one speaker (sadly a friend of mine—there was a lot of this this year) had puilled out and the rest reorganised to make a reasonable programme. This actually made the session more interesting than I’d expected, and we got:

  • Matheus Coutinha Figuinha, “Martin of Tours’s Monasticism and the Aristocracy”, which argued, simply and effectively, that Sulpicius Severus, biographer of Saint Martin, was basically making up the nobility of the first monks at Marmoutier in that biography, because he cared a good deal more about such things than Martin apparently did.
  • Julian Hendrix, “Defining Monastic Identity: the Rule of St Benedict and Carolingian Monasticism”, looked at the different ways various commentators used the Regula Benedicti in the Carolingian age and therefore questioned whether complete Benedictinisation was ever the aim. This has been a bit of theme in this scholarly neck of the woods, lately, as further demonstrated by…
  • Albrecht Diem, “Negotiating the Past: reform and conflict in early meieval monasticism”, which pointed out how legendary St Benedict had become by the Carolingian age, that Gregory the Great did not apparently know that Benedict had written a Rule, and that in fact the first person known to associate Benedict of Nursia with the Rule we now claim to be his was Bede; even in the ninth century, in fact, it was feasible for Hygeburc to claim that her subject, St Willibald, had introduced the Benedictine Rule at Benedict’s supposedly own Monte Cassino. Albrecht has been a Benedictosceptic for a while and I’ve heard him say parts of this before but this was a fairly devastating assault.
  • Something I also want to remember from this session is Julian Hendrix saying in question that monastic rules tend to travel together in manuscripts, and adding, “They’re cenobitic in tendency, I guess”, which is the kind of throwaway I wish I came up with more often. It should also probably be observed that of late Albrecht has been putting all kinds of resources about monasticism, bibliographies, databases, lists of bookmarks, online, and that these are all quite useful things to know about if you’re in the field.

By this stage I think I was more or less caught up on the time zones but a drink was very welcome. I have since lost such information as I had recorded about whom I met when—kids, always have backups—so I won’t try and recapture that, but I probably ought to thank Michael Fletcher straight off as he was invaluable throughout the Congress as a willing driver, orchestrator and drinking companion and I’d have had much less fun without his help. So, that covers the first day in some sort of fashion, next there will be yet another post about a Catalan stone with a funerary inscription on it then I’ll return to the report.

From the sources VII: to demilitarise and populate

I can’t quite believe I haven’t yet posted this charter, as it’s important for a whole bunch of things, but as I noticed a few posts ago I haven’t, so here it is. This is a document from 973 that is unusually informative about the processes of settling a frontier, defending a frontier principality, about the rôle of the Church and counts in those things, and it also joins up with a couple of previous posts because as well as the inevitable Borrell II, it also features his mysterious kinsman Guifré whom I’ve mentioned here before and additionally a person who may or may not have been self-identifying as a Goth, in the late tenth century, which has also been a recent discussion here. So, here it is in translation; I’ll stick the Latin in first footnote again.1 It’s long, but it’s so full of stuff that it’s worthwhile, honest.

In the name of God. I Borrell, Count and Marquis and also Guifré, my kinsman, we together as one, under an inviolable faith in God and his sacred confidence, have chosen to make this donation to the Lord God and his holy martyr Saturninus, whose house is sited in the county of Urgell, not far distant from its selfsame see of Holy Mary next to the river, and so we do. For we give, willing of heart, to the aforementioned monastery, and to Abbot Ameli and the brothers dwelling with you or those who shall be hereafter, churches that were founded in ancient time and endowed with holy altars in the furthest outermost limits of the marches, in the place called Castell de Llordà or in the city of Isona, which was destroyed by the Saracens, and the churches… which were built in their confines or which shall have had to be built in the future. Of which, the first church is called Sant Sadurní, in its castle of Llordà. Another is called Santa Maria in the selfsame city of Isona, which was destroyed. Another Sant Vicenç which was a monastery in the centre of the already-said town, next to the spring which they call Clarà.

Portal from the belltower into the now-missing nave at Sant Sadurní del Castell de Llordà

Sant Sadurní del Castell de Llordà seems to have been a fairly accomplished building, though as you can tell by the sunlight around the edges of this Viquipèdia view of the doorway between the belltower and the nave, not so much of the latter now stands

These aforesaid churches we do concede and give to the aforementioned monastery with their praises and possessions and the sum of their acquisitions with their tithes and first-fruits or offerings of the faithful living and dead in integrity; and we do concede the tithes of our dominical workings, present and future, to Holy Mary in whole. We have arranged similarly for the plots of the selfsame scouts and guards who have guarded the selfsame castle, and we bestow upon the selfsame already-said churches that which we have… [the bounds follow].

Whatever these same bounds include, thus we do concede to the monastery of Sant Sadurní aforementioned or to the abbots, to the monks present and future, so that they may make perprisiones wheresoever they may wish or may be able to far and wide through all places, build churches in the waste solitudes, make endowments in all the places; and let them spread labourers everywhere who shall reduce the selfsame wastes to cultivation and let them live in the selfsame endowments and there let them acquire and let them buy from the selfsame possessors whatever God shall have given to those people and shall have been possible for them. And the selfsame tithes which shall go forth from those selfsame perprisiones which they may have made there or will make in future, or from their acquisitions, we do concede and give all of them to the precious martyr Saturninus and from our right into his we do hand over possession, with the entrances and exits of the properties too. Again, we accord to the already-said monks that they may make aprisiones on the selfsame riverbank of the Noguera, in the place which they call Calzina, in the selfsame plain before the rock of Pugentoso, in the place which they call Calzina and before the rock of Petra and the selfsame water which descends from the selfsame mountains, ten plots in one year and ten in the next; and let them build a church in honour of Holy Mary and let the selfsame church have the tithes and first-fruits and offerings of Perafita itself and as far as the river Noguera and as far as the river Covet and over the selfsame mountains of Calzina. Let this however be under our hand and fidelity and those of our sons and let the assembled things which pertain or ought to pertain to the monastery serve under our defence and governance for all time.

Church of Santa Maria de Covet, Pallars Jussà

The monks may or not have put in a church of Holy Mary as requested; either way, there's a twelfth-century one there now... (Image from Wikimedia Commons))

The charter of this donation made in the city of Barcelona on the 3rd Kalends of August, in the 19th year of the rule of King Lothar. If anyone against this donation should have wished to disrupt it, let him not avail in so doing but let him compound twofold and accept a portion with Datan and Abiron.

Signed Borrell, Count [and] Marquis. Guisad, Bishop, subscribed. Guifré subscribed. Fruià, chief-priest, subscribed. Sig+ned Marcoald. Sig+ned Guadall, chief of the Goths. Sig+ned Arnau. Sig+ned Senter.

Bonfill, priest, who wrote this as requested.

So, OK, my temporary pupils, some talking points here:

  1. This area had obviously been in the wars—one wonders how long ago Isona (the old Iberian city of Æso) had been destroyed by the Saracens—but equally there were people out there, which we can tell not just because there was no problem at all giving the boundaries, even if, unusually, they name no other landholders at all.
  2. That would probably be because Borrell actually claimed to own all the land in the area and the people there are his direct subject peasants, which is something that we very rarely actually see but which, some would argue, and by some I mean Gaspar Feliu, we should be expecting much more widely.2 Here, at least, the count helpfully informs us that he has dominicaturas, presumably demesne farms, out in this extremis ultimas finium marchas. So, had he moved the farmers all in as some would believe, or were they there already?3
  3. Castell de Llordà, Isona, Catalunya

    The current state of the Castell de Llordà (much later as it stands; image from Viquipèdia)

  4. Whatever their situation was—and remained, since the count only conceded the tithe off those dominicaturas, which you might think he hardly had a right to anyway—he was also getting shot of a castle and the “scouts and guards who guarded” it, who seem to have been supporting themselves by agriculture, but it looks as if Borrell provided the starting capital and as if they may not yet have been paying their way, an expenditure that was now passed onto the monastery.
  5. The monastery also got a to-do list a mile long: take in land and clear it, put churches on it, establish estates and find labourers for them, set up markets where those labourers can get their wherewithal (because not many merchants were likely to be coming this way, I suppose—on the other hand it may have been because of the obvious advantages to the monks of running the Company Store) in exchange for produce.
  6. For this the monastery got the workers’ tithes, and presumably whatever profit they made from the markets, but it’s not clear that they were the landlords, at least not to me. If not, the monastery was basically acting as a contracted developer here, which was presumably something they thought would be worthwhile somehow.
  7. The monks did get to make their own clearances too, in fact they were required to, putting at least ten fields into cultivation each year for the next two years (if I’ve properly understood that), and also to put a church up for them, which the count remained the landlord for, because as this document makes implicitly evident and others of his state, he claimed fiscal rights over all wasteland and despite the population that seems to have been in this area, this area is being counted as waste for these `accounting’ purposes.4

So there’s that, and this is all very informative about exactly how the whole process of rolling out organised settlement might work, but there’s also some points that aren’t about process and play more to my particular and peculiar interests. You may by now know the word aprisio, which is used here to describe the clearances the monks may make in their own right, but note that it contrasts with the word Borrell or his scribe used for the ones the monks might make in order to settle labourers, perprisio. This appears to be an actual Latin recognition of the difference that Gaspar Feliu (again) has seen between private and lordly clearance; the monastery will be clearing for others, as agent, and that means they don’t get the full alodial rights that supposedly accrued to those who cleared land unless other arrangements were made. As keen readers of my stuff will know, I think that these rules were essentially only being finalised at this late stage, in other words that Borrell was here floating new terms that his father’s generation would not have understood, but this is where he was doing it, in the palace at Barcelona with two bishops who also owned frontier properties and his mysterious kinsman, whose concern with frontier matters seems to have meant that he must be involved.5

There's only a certain amount of land use going on here even now

But lastly, what about the other notable witness, Guallus princeps cotorum, here rendered as `Chief of the Goths’? Well, if Jesus Lalinde had been right about `Goth’ by now essentially meaning someone living on land that made them liable to military service in the city garrison of Barcelona, this would fit pretty nicely wouldn’t it?6 Guallus would be the head of the garrison. Unfortunately, this charter is only a copy, not an original. The original, if that’s what it is, comes as you’d expect from Sant Sadurní de Tavèrnoles, who were getting all this stuff to make and do.7 And that version refers to Guallus not as princeps cotorum, which our editor here, Federico Udina i Martorell, ever the neo-Gothicist, read as a variant spelling of gotorum, but princeps coquorum, `Prince of the Cooks’.8 Udina’s text, indeed, has also been read as `princeps cocorum‘, a variant spelling of the same thing. `C’ and `t’ look a lot alike in this script, and Udina’s modification wasn’t stupid, but all the same, if it’s wrong, that might give Guallus rather a different place in the palace hierarchy, though apparently still one grand enough to flaunt in a charter signature. He doesn’t turn up again, so there’s no way to be sure.9 Obviously the original would be nice to have just to settle this, but I’d also love to know whether he could write. And also, how he cooked, of course…


1. Barcelona, Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó, Cancilleria, Borrell II, no. 7, ed. Federico Udina i Martorell in his El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Madrid 1951), no. 174*:

In nomine Domini. Ego Borrellus, comes et marchio seu Guifredus, consanguineus meus, nos simul in unum, sub inviolabile Dei fide eiusque sacra confidencia, hanc donacionem Domino Deo eligimus facere santoque suo martiri Saturnino, qui est situs in comitatu Orgellitense, non longe distante ab eiusdem sedem Sancte Marie iusta amne, sicuti et facimus. Donamus namque, pronto animo, ad coenobium prelibata et ad Amelio abbate et fratribus tibi comorantibus vel qui post ea futuri erant ecclesias, qui ab antico tempore erant fundatas et sacris altaribus titulatis in extremis ultimas finium marchas in locum vocitato caustrum Lordano vel in civitate Isauna, que est destructa a sarracenis et ecclesias que ibi sunt, scilicet, in castro Lordano vel in civitate iamdicta quam in earum confinia vel in eorum omnia pertinencia qui infra sunt constructas vel ad future erant construendas. Quarum prima in eius castro Lordano sancti Saturnini est nuncupata Ecclesia. Alia sancte Marie est nuncupata in ipsa civitate de Isona, que est destructa. Alia sancti Vincencii qui fuit Monasterium in caput iamdicte ville, iustam fontem que dicunt Clara.
His prefatas ecclesias concedimus et donamus ad prelibatum cenobium cum eorum laudibus et possessionibus ac universis adquisicionibus cum illorum decimis et primiciis seu oblaciones fidelium vivorum et defunctorum ab integre; et de nostras dominicas laboraciones presentes et futuras ipsas decimas concedimus ad ipsam ecclesiam sancte Marie integriter. Similiter facimus et de laboraciones de ipsos spiculatores ac custos qui custodiunt ipsum castrum ponimus ad ipsas ecclesias iamdictas que incoamus a parte orientis in sumitate de ipsa rocha que vocant Dronb et sic vadit per sumitatem de ipsa serra usque in collo de Tolo et sic descendit per istam aquam qui discurrit ante Tolo et pervadit usque in Procerafita et ascendit per ipsum rivum de Abilio usque in collum de Abilia et usque in collum de Spina.
Quantum iste affinitates includunt, sic concedimus ad monasterium sancti Saturnini prelibato vel ad abbates, ad monachos presentes et futuri, ut faciant per presiones ubicumque voluerint nec potuerint longe lateque per universorum loca, hermis solitudinis edificent ecclesias, faciant munificenciis in congruis locis et obducant laboratores qui ipsas heremitates reducant ad culturam et in ipsis munificenciis habitent et adquirant ibi et emant de ipsis possessoribus quantum illis Deus dederit et possibile eis fuerit. Et de ipsis per prisionibus qui tam ibidem factas habent vel future facture sunt, seu de acquisicionibus eorum ipsas decimas que inde exierint, concedimus et donamus ea omnia ad preciosum martirem Saturninum et de nostro iure in eius contrahimus possessionem, simul cum exiis et regresiis eorum. Iterum damus monachi iamdicti ut faciant aprisiones ad ipsam ripam de Noguera, in locum que vocant Calzina, in ipso plano ante podium de Pugentoso, in locum que vocant Calzina et ante podium de Petra et ipsam aquam qui descendit de ipsis montibus decem pariatas ad uno anno in decem ad alio et construant ecclesiam in honore sante Marie et ipsam ecclesia abeat decimas et primicias et oblaciones de ipsa Perafita et usque ad flumen Nogaria et usque in flumine Gaveto et super ipsos montes de Calcina. Hoc tamen sit sub manu et fidelitate nostra filiorumque nostrorum et cuncta que ad Monasterium pertinent vel pertinere debent sub defensione et gubernacione nostra servetur per cuncta tempora.
Facta huius [carta] donacionis in Barchinona civitate die iii. kalendas augusti, anno xviiii. regnante Leutario rege. Si quis contra hanc karta donacionis voluerit disrumpere non hoc valeat facere sed componant in duplo et cum Data et Abiron porcionem accipiat.
Signum Borrellus, comes marchio. Wisadus, episcopus, SS. Wifredus, SS. Frugifer, presul, SS. Sig+num Marchoaldus. Sig+num Guadallus, princeps cotorum. Sign+num Arnaldus. Sig+num Senterius.
Bonifilius, presbiter, qui hoc rogateus scripsit.

2. J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London 2010), pp. 117-118 for comital claims to wasteland and pp. 154-155 for direct lordship over peasants; cf. G. Feliu, “La pagesia catalana abans de la feudalització” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 26 (Barcelona 1994), pp. 19-41, repr. in idem, La llarga nit feudal: Mil anys de pugna entre senyors i pagesos (València 2010), pp. 93-110.

3. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 15-17, gives some account of the differing models that have been suggested for frontier settlement; J. Jarrett, “Settling the Kings’ Lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 18 (Oxford 2010), pp. 320-342, has some worked-out examples and engages more critically with the historiography on the issue.

4. A more obvious example of this happening can be found in J. Rius Serra (ed.), Cartulario de «Sant Cugat» del Vallés (Barcelona 1946), II no. 464, which I discussed in an earlier post here.

5. Referring to Feliu, “Pagesia”, and also his “Societat i econòmia” in Federico Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium internacional sobre els orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), also published as Memorias de la Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), I pp. 81-115. On the peculiar rôle of Guifré on the frontier, see my earlier post here and references there.

One question I haven’t reopened here is why, if what is happening here is something that was so common in later eras, the count used a charter of donation rather than an actual contract to do it with. One may argue that those documents have yet to be developed, and that the change is only in the documents, and here I might be more inclined to buy that than I was last time I raised that argument, because firstly this must have been going on in many forms for many centuries, and secondly because such contracts are almost unknown this early; there are pacts of complantation and so on (explained here) but not actual deeds of obligation or whatever. I suspect that in this case at least, the answer is that the count liked the idea of couching this in a way that means the monks would have to pray for him for getting all this work to do.

6. J. Lalinde Abadia, “Godos, hispanos y hostolenses en la órbita del rey de los Francos” in Udina, Symposium Internacional II, pp. 35-74.

7. Printed in Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Diplomatari del monestir de Tavèrnoles (segles IX-XIII)” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis històrics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 12 (Montserrat 1995), pp. 7-414, doc. no. 23. The doubt over it being an original isn’t serious, but it seems to have been used, along with Manuel Riu i Riu, “Diplomatari del monestir de Sant Llorenç de Morunys (971-1613)” in Urgellia Vol. 4 (1981), pp. 187-259, no. 1, to create at least Baraut, “Tavèrnoles”, doc. no. 21 and Petrus de Marca, Marca Hispanica sive Limes Hispanicus, hoc est geographica & historica descriptio cataloniæ, ruscinonis, & circumiacentium populorum, ed. É. Baluze (Paris 1688; repr. Barcelona 1972 & 1989), ap. CXV, ostensibly a copy of a copy of this document found in Urgell, which might even be the Tavèrnoles original but if so got `improved’ somewhere along the transmission. That forgers have had their hands on it doesn’t, however, seem to me to prejudice the original itself. It’s also from the Tavèrnoles version that I get the form of Guallus’s name, since as you can see Udina’s text renders him as Guadall. That would be a much more common name, which is partly why I reject it; I want this guy to be odd in as many ways as possible…

8. I discussed this in Rulers and Ruled, pp. 158-159, where I pointed out and will do again here, that a princeps coquorum, one Gunzo, is (unambiguously) recorded by the poet Ermold the Black in his praise poem on Emperor Louis the Pious, In honorem Hludowici, ed. Ernst Dümmler in idem (ed.), Poetae latini ævi carolini II, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Poetae) IV, p. 71. I can’t show that the two can be connected, but if there was a copy of Dhuoda’s Manual for William in Barcelona perhaps there was also a copy of In honorem Hludowici somewhere that someone had read and mentioned one day to Guallus…

Seminar XCV: control of assembly spaces in Anglo-Saxon England

Because Easter was so late this year, everyone’s term more or less started at the same time with a crunch, school and all the universities together. This also meant that I had only a fortnight of university term before being able, just about, to light out for Kalamazoo, and in that fortnight both the Oxford Medieval Seminar and the Earlier Middle Ages seminar at the Institute of Historical Research had a skip week for various reasons. Two days before I flew the Atlantic, however, Andrew Reynolds of UCL’s Institute of Archaeology came to address the Oxford one on the subject of “Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Anglo-Saxon Assembly Sites”, which was coming out of the big ‘Landscapes of Governance’ project he and various others are currently engaged in.

Landscapes of Governance project mastheadLandscapes of Governance project masthead

On this occasion, the subject was mainly hundreds. For those not deeply embedded in English history, the hundred was until the nineteenth century or so a subdivision of the county or shire into which England is apportioned. It used to have a court and so on and various civic responsibilities devolved to it until quite late, which means that we have decent maps of where the final ones were and so on. There are two things generally accepted about hundreds: the first is that the laws of the English kings don’t really start to talk about them until the early- to mid-tenth century, which fits well into a narrative we have about the increasing organisation of government by the kings in that period leading to James Campbell’s maximum state and so on, and the second is that the sites on which these hundreds are centred often appear to be very old, in terms of their names, position on boundaries and very occasionally their archaeology (though that last is known mainly where the sites are at older burial mounds).1 The hundred meeting sites are mainly in the countryside, not in towns, and those that are urban may well predate the towns in question, which they generally stand outside anyway. So, it will not take a genius brain to spot that these two things conflict: are hundreds ancient and popular or are they late and organised by the state? This was roughly what Andrew’s team, using archaeology, place-names, mapping, topography, local history and really anything they can get up to and including sonography, had been working towards here, looking at both the sites and their districts and trying to get everything in play at once.2

Burial grounds of the Bronze Age to Anglo-Saxon periods at Saltwood, Kent

Burial grounds of the Bronze Age to Anglo-Saxon periods at Saltwood, Kent

Now, of course when you map lots of different things together you get correlations, whether you like them or not, and the problem is knowing what’s real and what’s just coincidence.3 Sometimes the associations are really dense and probably genuine: the classic case that Andrew gave, and which I’ve seen him use before, is a place called Saltwood which was in the way of the recently-built Channel Tunnel Rail Link and about which we therefore have some idea. Here, there were four early cemeteries, of which three were centred on mounds, and each of which spanned a full social range in terms of gender and wealth, suggesting that they served distinct communities. The wood between them all however became the centre of a hundred here, and between the cemetery evidence and the governance evidence we can show, from cooking pits dug into the cemetery areas, that people were meeting here occasionally throughout the period of the seventh to the twelfth centuries, that is, from shortly after the cemeteries cease in use till well out of the Anglo-Saxon period. It’s difficult to avoid the idea that a hundred coalesced here around an ancient assembly site that arose at a point of confluence between four neighbouring communities.

It would be nice if this could be generalised out from, but predictably there is huge variation. Patterns do emerge but they are of low-end significance and there is obviously no one-site-fits-all solution. About 10% of hundred sites (which had never before been mapped for all England! but were here being counted from four target territories only) are at mounds, but very few of these mounds appear to have been ancient burial sites—11 of the 12 dug as of 1986 were been empty. 9% seem to have been at famously ancient trees, 7·5% at river crossings, but it’s not much. Andrew noted that very few of their place-names speak of kings or reeves or courts but many speak of the people, of ceorls or folc.

Troston Mount, near Honington, Suffolk

Troston Mount, near Honington, Suffolk, which is supposed to be a Bronze Age burial mound and came to be the meeting site for Bradmere hundred, or so says Megalithic.co.uk whence I borrowed the image

In discussion the questions that came up trying to refine this were, well, mine were about burial, which as you know I keep seeing associated with power in my area, and there there is a correlation of sorts, though again far from universal. Chris Wickham and Mark Whittow both also asked questions about durability, and whether any of these sites might be only attempts or short-lived, to which Andrew wisely observed that we can’t tell in most cases, but it seems to me that the ones we can find, we can find because they existed long enough (as something) to become well-known. I also thought that the way the two historiographies can be reconciled is to see the kings trying to take over control of and impose new rôles on an older system of gathering and local arbitration or celebration, but that doesn’t explain where the sites and the practices came from in the first place. Avoiding Volk aus der Maschine answers like ‘Germanic tradition’, we still have a picture of non-urban social complexity, of chieftains versus states, and of what Andrew called dispersed complexity here, and although it’s very far from uniform as I say, it does seem to me as if top-down system creation might explain nearly as much as spontaneous coagulation in some of these cases.


1. I believe it to be be true that the first datable mention of hundreds in an Anglo-Saxon law-code is in what’s cited as III Edmund, of 939, but there’s an undated thing called the Hundred Ordinance which appears to share text with that law, though which way round the borrowing was is another question. Both are translated in Agnes Jane Robertson (trans.), The Laws of the Kings of England from Edmund to Henry I (Cambridge 1925; repr. 2009). For the `maximum state’ argument see James Campbell, “The Late Anglo-Saxon State: a maximum view” in Proceedings of the British Academy Vol. 87 (London 1994), pp. 39-65, repr. in his The Anglo-Saxon State (London 2000), pp. 1-30. Literature actually on the hundred system is harder to find, largely because talking about means coping with an incredible amount of local history publication in out-of-the-way places; I still find Helen Cam, “Manerium cum Hundredo: the hundred and the hundred manor” in English Historical Review Vol. 47 (London 1932), pp. 353-76, repr. in eadem, Liberties & Communities in Medieval England (Cambridge 1944; repr. London 1963), pp. 64-90, a good thing to start with but there must, surely, be something newer, and in an ideal world it’d be by Chris Lewis. Regesta Imperii shows nothing obviously synthetic, however, though I note with pleasure that the article on “Hundreds” in Michael Lapidge, John Blair, Simon Keynes and David Scragg (edd.), The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford 1999), pp. 243-244, is by Sean Miller.

2. And by sonography we mean, basically, one of the team standing on the relevant sites and shouting to see how well he could be heard, something for which Andrew told us this person had nearly been arrested several times by now.

3. My cite of reference for this is, as ever, Mary Chester-Kadwell, Early Anglo-Saxon Communities in the Landscape of Norfolk: Cemeteries and Metal-Detector Finds in Context, British Archaeological Reports (British Series) 481 (Oxford 2009).

Peasant group identities: the now-legendary Catalan edge case

Sometimes the best way to realise what you think is to hear or read a view from someone that presents you with difficulties. Once you’ve worked out what the difficulties are, you know more about what you think. (This is like the internal monologue version of the way to get an answer out of Usenet.1) This is another thing that has happened to me as a result of continuing on with Chris Wickham’s Framing the Early Middle Ages.

Cover of Chris Wickham's Framing the Early Middle Ages

Put shortly, ideas of agency are very strong in my work. I’ve worked on authority and power pretty much as long as I’ve been researching but one of the things that comes along with that is the idea that the people who have this property can act in ways that change things. (There are probably good and obvious Freudian reasons for why I have a fascination with the ability to change things, but let’s not go there on this blog. Suffice to say that this is a political fascination now, even if it wasn’t to start with; the state of UK politics has made it incredibly appealing as an idea.) This kind of historical agency is actually not as much of a given as it seems: a deterministic enough view of historical events might make it seem as if it’s hard for even those in power to change the direction of societies sometimes, and various social theories that involve large-scale dialectical processes, most obviously Marxism I suppose, would seem to give humans little choice in their affairs.

My work tends to argue against this. Two books into my hypothetical future career is a proper study of Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona, a man who lived at a time when big social forces seem to have been burgeoning.2 He wasn’t going to change the fact that the economy was booming, that the frontier was being settled, that al-Mansur had turned the Caliphal armies of al-Andalus onto all the principalities of Northern Spain (not with Borrell’s war record, anyway) or a great number of other things, but the ways he chose to meet the demands of his time meant that the lives of the people he ruled worked out slightly differently than they might otherwise have done so (with better-educated judges, for example, and a more trustworthy coinage, or if you prefer a negative emphasis, with far more of their relatives captive in Córdoba and a much greater likelihood of an independently-minded castellan ruling their local roost).3 He was not a typical aristocrat.

Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona, Girona, Osona (945-993) and Urgell (947-993), as pictured in the Rotlle genealògic del Monestir de Poblet, c. 1400

Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona, Girona, Osona (945-993) and Urgell (947-993), as pictured in the Rotlle genealògic del Monestir de Poblet, c. 1400, ironically therefore as a typical aristocrat (from Wikimedia Commons)

Now Chris is quite big on the historical importance of aristocrats (“I am not fond of aristocrats, but one does not have to like them to recognize their importance”, he has written4) but they do tend to appear in his work as a homogenous class, all interested similarly in being and staying wealthy and powerful by whatever means necessary. This is hard to argue with, because people who weren’t so interested didn’t stay in that position versus people who did. Nice, considerate, light-handed aristocrats are hard to evidence. There was Gerald of Aurillac, of course, but if even half of what Odo of Cluny records about this lay saint is true to life, he was so very odd that he represents nothing except the possibilities of acting abnormally (though that is a real iceberg of a point, with huge hidden depths, to which I continually gravitate). I think, however, that Borrell II shows that there is more to aristocratic action than simply a single class ambition; some aristocrats worked to their ends differently from others, and indeed against each other.5

The fact that the third book I’d like to write next would make this point more fully probably has probably arisen in part from the increasing amount of debate I’ve had with Chris over the years. As a result of it, I would like to stress more that people’s differences had historically significant results. Chris knows this, too, of course, as his comparisons of different sorts of landowner in Framing, especially the Apions in the Oxyrynchos region of Egypt versus the slightly later Dioskoros of Aphroditō, makes clear, but to him, it seems to me from reading, they are important because they represent examples of a wider phenomenon, and therefore their differences exemplify disparity in scale of wealth and in their political times, whereas I am much more interested in the ways in which aristocrats deviated from pattern by choice.6 (This of course makes Chris much more able to write 820-page-long syntheses of the development of the entire Western world for four hundred years than I will ever be; he may be more able to do this than anyone, after all. But I persist in the belief that individual agency needs its part in historical explanation too, however much it may vie with generalisation.)

Catalan peasants at work, from the Biblia de Ripoll

Catalan peasants at work, from the Biblia de Ripoll

All this, albeit less worked out, is an argument I have actually had with Chris, and as you may have noticed from the above I’ve more or less agreed to differ. But what about peasants? This is what has brought it freshly to mind. You would think, initially, that with peasants such generalisations are much more justifiable. Firstly, there were vastly more early medieval peasants than early medieval aristocrats, so the individual dissenter from a phenomenon stands out much less and is statistically less significant. Also, the peasant just has less agency than the aristocrat. How many people’s lives can a peasant affect, without (or even with) going on a homebrew-induced billhook killing spree? Not as many as even the most minor person with power, one might argue, and this is probably true. And yet it seems to me that – perhaps precisely because it matters less to grand arguments? – Chris gives a lot more space to peasant choices than he does to aristocratic ones. In the section of the book where he constructs a fictional Anglo-Saxon village society (‘Malling’), to make up for the lack of adequate records from a single place that can balance his case studies from elsewhere, the rise of one patron family and the fall of another, more established one, are explained solely in terms of their political choices and ability.7 Of course these are not real instances, but that doesn’t make their theoretical importance the less striking. And of course, behind them are a raft of choices about which patron family to associate with on the part of their followers.

You can see, I’m sure, how that scales up easily to aristocrats, and quite a lot of the explanations of the way politics worked in the Carolingian Empire with which I’m most comfortable rely on the aristocrats themselves needing help in getting potential followers to make such choices.8 But there are other ways in which peasant decisions make political differences, even short of revolt, and this is especially clear with Catalonia, or any other society with an open frontier. Now is not the time to get into a massive debate with the ghost of Pierre Bonnassie and the thankfully very-much-alive Gaspar Feliu i Montfort about exactly how true the former’s picture of Catalonia as a zone of mainly-independent free peasants, presumably governing their own labour in much the way that Chris suggests was more possible in his period than later,9 but it is important to note that the reason for that contention, however true it may be, is usually that there was an open frontier, where authority was thin, settlement encouraged (as we shall see in two posts’ time) and opportunity available to make a fresh start. While that remained true, it has been argued (and not just by Bonnassie10), the Catalan peasant could never be entirely oppressed, because he or she might always escape. Such settlement, after all, clearly did happen, even if Gaspar Feliu thinks that it was mainly driven by lords even so.11 It is of course a large-scale social phenomenon, sure, but it is made of a whole patchwork of individual decisions. This is not just because I’m sure (and have written) that not every settler had upped sticks far away, bought all the livestock they could afford and moved on out hoping to make a new life far away—I think many of them were much more local, often ‘field-next-door’ local12—but because whatever was going on here and whatever choices were being made, they obviously weren’t made by the peasantry as a class. If the whole peasantry had wanted to move to the frontier the interior would have become denuded of labour. This didn’t happen, so some people obviously chose to stay put and take it. We could argue about different economic circumstances, but again it would be hard to show that local societies lost a whole socio-economic layer of themselves, and I think I’ve shown that such choices could vary widely even within families out here.13 (I doubt that’s exclusive to ‘out here’ but ‘out here’ is where I can show it.) Such choices, furthermore, varied a lot in methods: save up, sell up, or get support? If so from whom? Does making a new independent start preclude doing so under new lordship? and so on.

Land for sale in Vallfogona del Ripollès

Land awaiting settlement in a Catalan valley, 2011

So this is the edge case, where a class fragments and a general answer has to take into account a lot of individuals making very difficult choices (and some rich proprietors making rather easier ones, of course). But from this edge I can see the space for more such people. I don’t want to accuse myself of being specially ‘open’, ‘inclusive’ or ‘individualist’ here. (After all, what can be more individualist than arguing that almost every other Marxist is wrong?) But I am made freshly conscious by Chris’s magisterial treatment of whole societies in their entire layers, however varied the layers may have been and however much societies differed between each other, that my historiography does not build from class down but from individuals up, and does so because I still want the individuals to be the ones who make the differences.


1. I realise that those old enough to even know what Usenet is/was won’t need the explanation, but the method probably has a more Hellenistic name given how Socratic it almost seems: it is, of course, to ask a question that presupposes something wrong or gets its facts wrong, on the basis that you are more likely to provoke a reaction from someone who can put you right if they can also tell you you’re wrong. On Usenet, classically, this worked far better than simply asking for help.

2. There weirdly isn’t one yet, beyond the standard nineteenth-century reference, Prosper de Bofarull y de Mascaró, Los condes de Barcelona vindicados, y cronología y genealogía de los reyes de España considerados como soberanos independientes de su marca (Barcelona 1836, repr. 1990), I pp. 139-196, though there is also Miquel Coll i Alentorn, “Dos comtes de Barcelona germans, Miró i Borrell” in Marie Grau & Olivier Poisson (edd.), Études roussillonnaises offertes à Pierre Ponsich. Mélanges d’archéologie, d’histoire et d’histoire de l’art du Roussillon et de la Cerdagne (Perpignan 1987), pp. 145-162, but that isn’t very much. There is also a certain amount of stuff by Michel Zimmermann, which is as ever very clever and, I think, also wrong in detail. Till I get the book together, thus, I can best refer you to Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (London 2010), pp. 141-166.

3. On all this the best guide remains Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une société (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols, though cf. Gaspar Feliu i Montfort, “Societat i econòmia” in Federico Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium internacional sobre els orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), also published as Memorias de le Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), I pp. 81-115. Specifically, on al-Mansur you could now see Philippe Sénac, Al-Mansûr : le fleau de l’an mil (Paris 2006), on the judges Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000, Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past (Ithaca 2004), pp. 81-99 and on the coinage J. Jarrett, “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London 2009), pp. 217-243; on the 985 sack of Barcelona you should now see G. Feliu, La Presa de Barcelona per Almansor: història i mitificació. Discurs de recepció de Gaspar Feliu i Montfort com a membre numerari de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica, llegit el dia 12 de desembre de 2007 (Barcelona 2007), online here in PDF, last modified 15 September 2008 as of 3 November 2008. On feudalism, well, give me time

4. Chris Wickham, “Rethinking the Structure of the Early Medieval Economy” in Jennifer Davis & Michael McCormick, The Long Morning of Medieval Europe: new directions in early medieval studies (Aldershot 2008), pp. 19-31, quote at p. 30.

5. I’ve already essayed something along these lines in what I hope will be my next-but-one paper, J. Jarrett, “Caliph, King or Grandfather: strategies of legitimisation on the Spanish March in the reign of Lothar III” in The Mediaeval Journal Vol. 1 (Turnhout forthcoming), pp. 000-00, but it could obviously be done more broadly than that.

6. C. Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean 400-800 (Oxford 2005), pp. 242-250 & 411-419.

7. Ibid., pp. 428-434.

8. That comfort comes most obviously from Matthew Innes, State and Society in the Early Middle Ages: the middle Rhine valley 400-1000, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 47 (Cambridge 2000).

9. Bonnassie: esp. his Catalogne, II pp. 781-829, handily translated by Jean Birrell as “The Noble and the Ignoble: a new nobility and a new servitude in Catalonia at the end of the eleventh century” in Bonnassie, From Slavery to Feudalism in South-Western Europe (Cambridge 1991), pp. 196-242; Feliu in his “La pagesia catalana abans de la feudalització” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 26 (Barcelona 1994), pp. 19-41 (no, seriously, do, this is a really important article); Chris, classically in “Problems of comparing rural societies in early medieval western Europe” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 2 (London 1992), pp. 221-246, rev. in his Land and power: studies in Italian and European social history, 400-1200 (London 1994), pp. 201-226.

10. E. g. also by Josep María Salrach i Marés in El procés de feudalització (segles III–XII), Història de Catalunya 2 (Barcelona 1987) and Paul Freedman in The Origins of Peasant Servitude in Catalonia, Cambridge Iberian and Latin American Studies (Cambridge 1991).

11. Feliu, “Societat i econòmia” & “Pagesia”, and the various works (which include the latter at pp. 93-110) in his first collected papers, La llarga nit feudal: Mil anys de pugna entre senyors i pagesos (València 2010).

12. J. Jarrett, “Settling the Kings’ Lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 18 (Oxford 2010), pp. 320-342.

13. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 57-66.

In Marca Hispanica XIX: a dead count’s church in the Barri Gòtic

I have two more posts in draft from the April trip to Catalonia after this one, but I’m waiting on materials from other people before I can write them, so after this I shall go back to interspersing my own thoughts with seminar and conference reports, which is after all what many of you come here for. For now, however, I’ll share with you the other fruits of a trip into Barcelona on the last day of the trip. The first time I went to Barcelona, I saw a lot of things but they did not include Sant Pau del Camp, a rather special Romanesque church tucked away right behind the Rambla del Raval. They should have done, as it comes closest of all of Barcelona’s remains other than one doorway in the Palau Comtal to touching my period. The reason, here again, is a funerary stone, but first let’s introduce the place.

Sant Pau del Camp, Barcelona, in scaffolding shroud, from the nearby walkway

Sant Pau del Camp, in scaffolding shroud, from the nearby walkway

You will observe that I didn’t catch it at its best, but happily the entrance redeems the trip there, fittingly enough.

Timpanum and surround of portal at Sant Pau del Camp, Barcelona

Timpanum and surround of portal

When looking more closely at that lintel, too, I at least became suspicious that it doesn’t belong with the building it’s now in; that script is not really late Romanesque, surely, and so on. Also, what is that dedication doing on a church called Sant Pau? (Saint Paul, for the non Catalanolexic among you.) And, indeed, it turns out that some of the ornament here around the portal is basically what’s left of the first church here, which was presumably SS Pere i Pau, Peter being elbowed out in the rebuild after the sack of Barcelona in 985. This may have taken some time, because what’s now standing around the portal is eleventh- or twelfth-century, or so thinks Antoni Pladevall which, on this as on so many other things, will do for me.1

Timpanum at Sant Pau del Camp

Timpanum in close-up

There is also, however, another sign that this site has been in use longer than the building now on it, because just inside the building, in what is apparently a fourteenth-century chapter-house, we find Continue reading

Michael Richter, RIP

There are some posts it’s worth putting ahead of the queue. I can be amazingly behind the times sometimes: I’ve only just learnt, via News for Medievalists, that Professor Michael Richter died in May. To be fair, this delay in reportage is not News for Medievalists’ fault, as they’re merely pointing to a story in The Irish Times that has also only lately appeared. But even if it’s not news it’s still a real shame. I only met Professor Richter the once, in St Andrews in 2003, where he gave a very courteous ear to my third-ever conference presentation and suggested two useful avenues of enquiry for the paper that eventually became my “Archbishop Ató”. He also revealed himself at the conference dinner to be a man with a richly mischievous sense of humour, which made those parts of his work I’d met much easier to understand; though no-one could question his rigour or application to the source materials, he was also, I thought, having a lot of fun seeing how far he could push them and what he could get away with. He seemed to be enjoying his life far too much to have died only a few years later; I just hope he didn’t have to stop enjoying it before he lost it. His will be a regretted absence.

In Marca Hispanica XVIII: more stone than parchment II (Sant Pere de Vilamajor)

For the last few days of the April trip to Catalonia I was no longer in Vic but staying in the bosom of part of my family, who now live about halfway between Barcelona and Girona and up a bit. This meant less gadding about historical sites and more time reading, writing and running about with two of the only dogs I’m prepared to say nice things about. Nonetheless, my estimable half-sister did agree to take me over to one particular place I’ve been interested in for a while, Sant Pere de Vilamajor.

The church of Sant Pere in Vilamajor

The church of Sant Pere in Vilamajor

Sant Pere is interesting because it’s one of a small but important group of sites which are archæologically datable to well before we first see them in documents. The best one of these in purely chronological terms is a place called Santa Margarida de Martorell, which pops up in documents in the twelfth century but which when dug proved to have been built in the fifth, and moreover repeatedly rebuilt in the undocumented period.1 Sant Pere de Vilamajor is less pronounced than that but it’s much easier to grasp, because here the evidence is epigraphic: the first documentation of the place is via the monastery of Sant Cugat del Vallès in 936, but there is a funerary monument for a priest called Orila which dates itself to 872, so a full generation before somewhere else got interested in recording it.2 I wanted to get a decent picture of the stone, and was a bit concerned that we might not be able to get in to see it. In actual fact, that wasn’t a problem, because when the place was rebuilt they built the stone into an exterior facing. Here it is.

Funerary stone of the priest Orila at Sant Pere de Vilamajor

+HIC REQUI|ESCIT ORILA PresBiteR | UIXIT ANnoS LXXX | OBIIT ERA DCCCC | XI

Simply translated, that is: “Here lies the priest Orila. He lived 80 years. He died in the Era 911.” The dating is in the Hispanic era, which runs from 38 BCE, so his obit was 872 CE. 80′s a pretty good run. So that was that question answered, though who he was and what he was doing here of course can’t be answered because he died before the documents start, and as far as I know no actual grave has ever been found here that might go that far back, in fact I don’t think the church has been dug. I wish they would dig it, though, because architecturally it is really confusing. For a start, you see that classically Romanesque tower, known here as the Torre Roja for obvious reasons?

Torre Roja at Sant Pere de Vilamajor Continue reading

From the sources VI: a longer more complicated piece of swearing

You know what? There isn’t enough swearing on this blog. I know we just had some the other day (week, month…) but it was short and a bit weird, you know. I think you deserve better. Also, more to the point, I think my future students on that Feudal Transformation course deserve better, so when I was getting that previous one I also transcribed another Catalan feudal oath that is more typical in its length and its content. I’ll give a translation below and put the text in the footnote. Once again, vernacular words and phrases are emboldened, but it’s hard to draw the lines in some cases; we have `vernacular’ words with Latin inflections here… There’s also some weird play with singular and plural here that I think may betray a model text that only covered one person, so I’ve stuck to the text in that respect even where it seems to make no sense (huge singular count-countess Gestalt!) and otherwise tried to make the oddities of the text appear in the translation.

I, Ermemir of Castelltallat, son of the late woman Bellúcia, swear that from this same hour I will in future be faithful to my lord Ramon, Count of Barcelona, and his wife Elisabet, Countess, without fraud or evil intent and without any deception and without trickery. And I the above-written Ermemir from this hour will not do you Ramon or Elisabet already said out of their life nor their members that they have on their body, nor their cities or city, nor of their bishoprics or bishopric, nor of their counties or lands, nor of their fortresses or castles, nor of their rocks or peaks, managed estates or wild lands, nor of their honour that they have in al-Andalus, nor of the selfsame parish of Castelltallat, nor of the lordship that the count ought to have there.

The hilltop, castle, church and observatory of Castelltallat, Manresa, Catalonia

Of course tall hills are good for more than just castles but I think Ermemir would be a bit surprised by what his home is now used for (image from Wikimedia Commons)

And I, the above-written Ermemir, will be faithful over all those same things to Ramon and Elisabet the above-written, and will not do them out of them, nor offer them any harm, and I will be their help against any gathered men or man, women or woman, who might wish to attack them or do so. And of this aid I will not deceive them and I will help them without any trickery except [where it concerns] the viscount of Cardona himself, the sons of the late lord Folc, my lord.

And I, the above-written Ermemir, within the first 30 days that I shall know that the above-written Count Ramon be dead, if I shall have survived him, I will swear a similar oath to and hold it from the selfsame son to whom Ramon the already-said shall have left the selfsame city of Barcelona, like the one I’ve sworn to them, to the already-said Ramon and the already-said Elisabet. Just as has been written above, thus I the afore-said Ermemir hold it and for it serve the aforesaid Count Ramon and the already-said Elisabet without deceiving them, except whatever the above-written Count Ramon and Elisabet, the above-written countess, shall forgive me through the grace of their generous hearts, without compulsion. So help me God and these same relics of the saints.1

You may ask what makes this one more typical than the last one.2 Answers might be, firstly, that there was a castle involved, and that some of the rights protected specifically refer to the counts; later on this would become a formalised clause granting access and indeed reversion on demand. Secondly, there was another lord, the viscount of Cardona (apparently at this time uncertain, which probably dates the oath to 1040, when Folc I (1019-1040) had very briefly been succeeded by his brother Eribau Bishop of Urgell (bishop 1035-1040) who then died on pilgrimage to Jerusalem).3 It may be in the Bible that no man can serve two masters, but two was relatively unambitious for a Catalan castellan where the layers of infeudation could get a lot deeper than this.4 It does also mean that what was going on here is that Ramon Berenguer I, the Elder, (1035-1076) was gazumping another lord by bribing his client, but that is basically how Ramon Berenguer overcame the Feudal Transformation and it’s interesting to see him doing it this early in his reign; if this does date from 1040, he was sixteen or seventeen at this point and hadn’t yet proclaimed his majority. In this case, the viscount retained the ultimate call on Ermemir’s loyalty; when Ramon Berenguer was older and less opposed, he no longer accepted such second-place status, another thing that makes this look early. Thirdly, there’s an arrangement for the succession; that hold over the viscount of Cardona might not have been a good one, but it was meant to endure, although for some reason the count seems to have been more prepared for his own death than that of Ermemir (who may, of course, have been little older). The whole thing looks a bit more as if one could find the institutional basis of a governing class in it than the previous all-female one (though right at this time female government was all too accepted as far as as Ramon Berenguer was concerned, in the shape of his implacable grandmother and regent, Countess Ermessenda of Girona (993-1057), so I don’t mean to imply that the two women’s agreement was less effective than the men’s one here).5

Count-Marquis Ramon Berenguer I and his third wife Almodis de la Marche buying the county of Cerdanya

Count-Marquis Ramon Berenguer I and his third wife Almodis de la Marche buying the county of Cerdanya, as shown in the Liber Feudorum Maior (image from Wikimedia Commons)

There are, you see, a great many things that have been called `feudal’ without any good basis or thought or agreement about what the word might actually mean; but as long as we’re able usefully to call anything feudal, I think that agreements like this, involving, you know, a fief, held under conditions of loyalty and service with reversion between generations, are probably one such thing. And this is what that looks like.


1. The text is Barcelona, Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó, Pergamins sin fecha, Ramón Berenguer I, n.o 69 dupl, as edited by Francesco Miquel Rosell in his (ed.), Liber feudorum maior: cartulario real que se conserva al Archivo de la Corona de Aragón. Reconstitución y edició (Barcelona 1945), vol. I doc. no. 205:

Iuro ego Ermemirus de castro Talatus, filis qui fuit de Belucia, femina, quod de ista hora in antea fidelis ero ad Raimundum, comitem Barchinonensem, seniorem meum, et ad Elisabeth, comitissa, coniugem suam, sine fraude et malo ingenio et sine ulla decepcione et sine engam. Et ego Ermemirus suprascriptus de ista hora in antea no dezebre Raimundus nec Elisabeth iam dictos de illorum vita nec de illorum membris que in corpus illorum se tenent, nec de illorum civitates vel civitatem, nec de illorum episcopatos vel episcopatu, nec de illorum comitatibus vel terris, nec de illorum castris vel castellis, nec de illorum rochas vel puios, condirectos vel eremos, nec de illorum honore quod habent de Ispania, nec de ipsa parrochia de Castel Talad, nec de ipsa domnegadura que comes ibi habere debet. Et ego, Ermemirus suprascriptus, de ista omnia suprascripta fidelis ero ad Raimundum et ad Elisabeth surascriptos, et nu’ls en dedebre, ni mal nu’ls en menare; et adiutor contra cunctos homines aut hominem, feminas aut feminam, qui eis tollere voluerint aut voluerit, tulerit aut tulerint. Et de ipso adiutorio nu’ls engannare et sine engan lur en aiudare, exceptus ipse vicecomite de Carduna, qui fuit de ipsos filios domno Fulchoni, seniori meo. Et ego, Ermemirus suprascriptis, infra ipsos primos XXX dies quod ego sciero quod iam dictus Raimundus comes mortuus fuerit, si ego eum supervixero, ad ipsum filium cui iam dictus Raimundus dimiserit ipsam civitatem de Barchinona tale sacramentum l’en iurare e l’en tenre, qualem ad iam dictum Raimundum et ad iam dicta Elisabeth iurad lur en’e. Sicut superius scriptum est, si o tenre et o atendre ego Ermemirus suprascriptus ad prescriptum Raimundum comitem et ad Elisabeth iam dictam sine illorum engan, exceptus quantum me suprascriptus Raimundus comes et Elisabeth, comitissa suprascripta, me absolvran per illorum gradientes animos per grad, sine forcia. Sic me adiuvet Deus et istarum sanctarum reliquiarum.

It must also be edited in Gaspar Feliu i Montfort & Josep María Salrach (edd.), Els Pergamins de l’Arxiu Comtal de Barcelona de Ramon Borrell a Ramon Berenguer I, Diplomataris 18-20 (Barcelona 1999), but I haven’t had time to check there. Getting Spanish books out of the Bodleian’s fetching system is something of a lottery alas; will it take a day, or a week? Will it happen at all? No-one knows. 75% of cases it turns up on time. That still makes one in four library days a bloody annoyance though. Cambridge spoiled me in this respect.

2. On these texts and their variations and significance, as I said last time, the go-to reference is now Adam J. Kosto, Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: power, order, and the written word, 1000-1200 (Cambridge 2001), plus if you can get it Michel Zimmermann, “Aux origines de Catalogne féodale : les serments non datés du règne de Ramon Berenguer Ier” in J. Portella i Comas (ed.), La Formació i expansió del feudalisme català: actes del col·loqui organitzat pel Col·legi Universitari de Girona (8-11 de gener de 1985). Homenatge a Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Estudi General: revista del Col·legi Universitari de Girona, Universitat Autonòma de Barcelona nos. 5-6 (Girona 1986), pp. 109-151, with English summary p. 557.

3. On this family I would ordinarily reference Manuel Rovira i Solà, “Noves dades sobre els vescomtes d’Osona-Cardona” in Ausa Vol. 9 no. 98 (Vic 1981), pp. 249-260, not least because it’s online for free here, but I now own (though have yet to read) Francesc Rodríguez Bernal, Els vescomtes de Cardona al segle XII: una història a travers dels seus testaments (Lleida 2009), which I expect will tell me rather more.

4. The best schematised discussion is, I think, still in Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une société (Toulouse 1975-1976), vol. II pp. 596-608, with diagrams that make the conventional feudal pyramid look just a touch idealised.

5. I am perpetually drawn two ways on Ermessenda: on the one hand, clearly she was awesome and when her actual husband was alive seems to have been his perfect partner, you really couldn’t say which of the two was dominant or in charge, but on the other hand her refusal to let go of that status once he was dead was a major contributing cause to decades of civil war, death and social collapse. She is studied in Antoni Pladevall, Ermessenda de Carcassona, Girona i Osona. Esbós biogràfic en el mil·lenari del seu naixement (Barcelona 1975), and the period as a whole in any of Kosto, Making Agreements, Bonnassie, Catalogne or Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Els Grans Comtes de Barcelona, Biografies catalans: serie històrica 2 (Barcelona 1961). There must be more up-to-date work on her but I haven’t met it yet.