Monthly Archives: November 2011

In Marca Hispanica XXI: the Palace of Saint Stephen, and others

Having confused matters by likening a shrine of one of the earliest English saints to a Catalan church, now I’m going to deepen the confusion with a post about an actual Catalan church. And, furthermore, it’s badly out of sequence because I went to this place on my second trip to Catalonia in January 2009. Only then I didn’t mention it or take any photos (hence the one, only, Wikimedia Commons image for this post) because I didn’t realise it was relevant…

The church of Sant Esteve de Palautordera

The church of Sant Esteve de Palautordera, from Catalan Wikipedia

Well, why on earth not? Look at the ornamentation along the top of the nave there. I gather the tower was rebuilt in 1581 so that shouldn’t necessarily have caught me, but still. And worse, I should have known because I’ve read about it, albeit in the first documents I read relating to this area, not even during my doctorate but during my M. Phil. At that point, though, I had no connection to the place at all and wouldn’t have known the name, which is: Sant Esteve de Palautordera. It is documented as early as 862, in a grant by King Charles the Bald of the Western Franks to Count Sunyer I of Empúries, interesting as it’s a way from his territory as we know it.1 Perhaps because of that, by 908 the church was with Count Guifré II Borrell of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, whose tomb I went to see this time out; and by 911 he had passed it onto the monastery of Sant Cugat del Vallès, whose tower I use as my avatar. So every which way I turn the place is connected to something I’ve already done, and I found this out how? By idly checking the place out in the Catalunya Romànica when writing up the post on Sant Pere de Vilamajor.2 Now of course the church you can see is not the church that was being granted and that presumably dated to my period, this being twelfth-century where it’s older than the rebuild and the original probably being wooden, but nonetheless the site, where I have been only for completely non-historical reasons, is positively loaded with significances I never knew.

There are two further reasons this is embarrassing. The first is the name of the place. You may be aware from my earlier writings here that place-names in Palau- are thought significant by some writers in this area; mostly the fact that the word, which is translatable as ‘palace’, crops up is taken to mean that they were once fiscal estates, and indeed, I found when studying Gurb that one of the largest of these areas, Palau de Voltregà, was almost entirely held by the comital family in the early tenth century and that its alienation to Santa Maria de Ripoll (without which, and their eventual loss of it to Santa Pere de Vic, we wouldn’t know much about it) required the signature of a mysterious judge called Centuri son of Centuri, whose status I examine in that little paper I was suggesting you buy the other day but who seems to have been concerned solely with fiscal properties.3 Now, there is an alternative view espoused by Ramon Martí of the Universitat de Girona that these place-names actually represent Muslim garrison sites from the brief Muslim occupation of Catalonia.4 This, shall we say, has not commanded universal acceptance, and if you follow the first link in this paragraph you will be taken to a paragraph where not only do I not accept it, I bring up an old story about one such place where the ‘Palau’ appears to have been the bishop’s sixteenth-century tithe barn, or so at least is the local story. You know where that place was? That’s right, here. You know when the place-name is first attested? 986.5 The local story is wrong. I should just shut up sometimes.

And the second reason? I found out in the Catalunya Romànica that Sant Esteve has what is apparently a rather fine relief of the Mother of God dating from about the same time as the tower rebuild, but I didn’t see it. (Neither can I find a photo online.) I didn’t see it because I was actually in the church for a service, for reasons to do with my domestic life and not for explanation here, but which were enough to cause minor ructions with the people I was staying with who had to get me down there. So things were already fraught, and I tend to find dropping in on others’ worship embarrassing, as I have none of my own. It doesn’t help when the service is not in a language in which I am comfortable—all the behavioural clues have to be got from movements of the congregation—and accompanied by an invisible guitar rather than anything more high church, which is what my limited Anglican experience tended to be. Organs, you know, which you could supposedly find in the most isolated Catalan churches in the ninth century after all. Anyway, the whole thing was sufficiently trying that I sat at the back and snuck out soon after it was over, and thus never actually went in far enough to realise how old the place or its paintwork were. I should hand back my historical explorer’s badge and my qualifications as a historian of the medieval Church. So okay, now I’ve confessed I feel a bit better, but no less stupid. But it was best that you know.


1. Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya (Barcelona 1926-1955), 2 vols, Particulars XXV, which awards the properties to the local Sunyer after the removal from the Frankish Marquis Hunfrid of Barcelona in 862. Presumably this was not least because if Sunyer hadn’t acted for Charles it seems pretty unlikely that anything could have been done to dispossess Hunfrid.

2. Where Carme Barbany i Gurans and M. Rosa García i Parera, “Sant Esteve de Palautordera” in Antoni Pladevall i Font (ed.), Catalunya Romànica XVIII: el Vallès Occidental, el Vallès Oriental, ed. Maria-Lluïsa Ramos i Martínez (Barcelona 1991), p. 413, give the details used here.

3. For Palau, Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London 2010), pp. 107-108 and refs there; for Centuri, idem, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: organisation of society in the pre-Catalan ‘terra de ningú'” in †Alan Deyermond and Martin Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain : a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London 2010), pp. 97-127 at pp. 104-107, which also discusses Palau briefly.

4. R. Martí, “Palaus o almúnies fiscals a Catalunya i al-Andalus” in Hélène Debax (ed.), Les sociétés méridionales à l’âge féodal : Hommage à Pierre Bonnassie (Toulouse 1999), pp. 63-70.

5. So say Barbany & Garcí, “Sant Esteve de Palautordera”, though I’m not sure of the basis: Abadal, Catalunya Carolíngia II, Sant Cugat del Vallès III, does mention the place, as “Vitdameniam, que vocant Palatium, in valle Dordaria”, but goes on to mention several other villages in the valley and I’m not sure it isn’t just repeating the earlier concession to Sunyer, which seems to me to be just as close to making the link of the names, i. e. not very. There’s no missing that it’s the right place, however; the church is named further on, along with its still-sister up the road, Santa Maria. But Santa Maria would be another post.

Leeds 2011 Report 0(ii): back via Lastingham

[Written offline on a train between Oxford and London 17/11/2011]

The excursion with which I preceded Leeds didn’t just go to Whitby, but called at Lastingham on the way back, which has a lesser but roughly contemporary significance as being a church founded by one of the earliest bishops of the English, Cedd of the East Saxons. That does raise the question of why he had a base in Northumbria here, but Cedd does seem to be a bit like a minor Wilfrid; he picked up land in several kingdoms, founded monasteries here and there and was at the Synod of Whitby in 663 deciding the fate of the Church of which he was a member, though unlike Wilfrid he died of plague in 664 so couldn’t create problems for Archbishop Theodore‘s grand attempt to make the English Church make sense from 673 onwards.

Church of St Mary, Lastingham, seen from the east, downhill

Church of St Mary, Lastingham, seen from the east, downhill

Cedd’s church is not what is now here, but what is here is almost as interesting if, like myself, you are a paid-up member of Team Romanesque. But for the dismal-looking sky, you could be forgiven for thinking I’d slipped a Catalan church in by mistake, couldn’t you? Round apse? Three-aisle layout? There are even double-arched windows in the tower, though they are trefoil arches rather than what you’d find in my area of study. The point is, anyway, this is an unusually Continental-looking piece of Romanesque building even if much about it is also typically English.

North-west corner and tower of St Mary's Lastingham

North-west corner and tower of St Mary's Lastingham

Once you get inside, too, the Romanesque impression continues: it’s rather delicately done here in fact but it does also do the thing that Romanesque does so well, of looking much more massive than it really should do given the space there is.

Nave and chancel of St Mary's Lastingham, with vaulting and internal Gothic arches

Nave and chancel of St Mary's Lastingham, with vaulting and internal Gothic arches

I include the people here more or less for scale, to support my point about constrained massivity, but you can also see here that we have Gothic arches inside; the whole building seems to have had something of a refit after a while and so here, arguably, we have the best of both worlds and indications that a reasonable amount of wealth was being spent here every now and then.

Carved stone in the crypt of St Mart's Lastingham, showing two serpents intertwined

Carved stone in the crypt of St Mart's Lastingham, showing two serpents intertwined

Carved stone in the crypt of St Mary's Lastingham

Another carved stone in the crypt

One of the pillar bases supporting the vault in the crypt of St Mary's Lastingham

One of the pillar bases supporting the vault in the crypt

But beneath, beneath there are signs that recall that this was not the first church here. The crypt, as well as a vault that seems to have been lowered at some point, as the corners of the room (which I couldn’t get a good picture of) show, contains quite a bit of the oldest stone-work. This may include the four columns that hold up the vault; Glynn Coppack‘s view, which he generously admitted was not the only one, was that if there is any Saxon fabric in the building it is the bases of these columns, which seem to be capitals that have been turned upside-down. (Again, hard to photograph well in the light, sorry.)

A cross slab reused as a door lintel in St Mary's Lastingham

Cross slab reused as a door lintel

But of course this still wouldn’t be Cedd’s church, which is very unlikely to have been stone anyway. Still, there are bits, here and there, that may not be that much younger. I had to have this one pointed out to me:

And yes, that is a tombstone recycled as a lintel. But also, in a tiny room off the crypt, which appears to be a blinded stairwell that doesn’t make sense any more with the upper floor, there are these, which if anything appear to me to be cross-fragments.

Cross-bases and other stone fragments from inside the blind stairwell in the crypt of St Mary's Lastingham Stone fragments stored in the blind stairwell of the crypt at St Mary's Lastingham

This reminds me of nothing so much as a picture used by John Blair in a 1988 article of the church of Bakewell in Derbyshire, where the cross fragments have actually been recycled into the walls. Here, apparently, they had less use for them and just dumped them in a corner, or more likely in a heap, whence the few remaining bits were eventually dumped in this corner come some later building works, because by then they were of antiquarian interest. And indeed, they still are, though as yet they have not had much study. The whole place is worth a look, then, not least because it’s a rather nice building, especially inside, but also because more than many a church, this one has a good few questions whose answers it has not, yet, given up.

Altar in the crypt of St Mary's Lastingham

Altar in the crypt, where the mysteries should presumably be focussed


There were a few bits and pieces for sale here, as one might expect, and so I picked up Ian Wood’s Lastingham in its Sacred Landscapes, Lastingham Lecture 5 (Lastingham 2008), which is where most of my actual facts that weren’t vouchsafed by Dr Coppack have come from here. The Blair article mentioned is J. Blair, “Minster Churches in the Landscape” in Della Hooke (ed.), Anglo-Saxon Settlements (Oxford 1988), pp. 35-58, where pl. VII on p. 53 pretty much replicates the photograph linked in the main text.

On reading more Richard Hodges

Cover of Richard Hodges's Goodbye to the Vikings?

Cover of Richard Hodges's Goodbye to the Vikings?

Lately, or at least, as I first wrote this post it was lately, I have been chomping through Richard Hodges’s Goodbye to the Vikings?, which is a reprint volume containing ten of the controversial archæologist’s more recent papers and a couple of new bits.1 I was doing this because someone had asked me, in the then-continuing absence of Hodges’s update of his 1982 book Dark Age Economics, the one that made his name, whether there was anything relevant in this volume, and there is in fact an essay reprinted from W. A. van Es’s Festschrift called “Dark Age Economics Revisited”.2 Having skimmed that I thought I’d probably better read the book while I had it out of the library and having done that, I thought I might give some kind of account of it here.

I have been something of a fan of Hodges’s work, which I put down partly to its genuine quality—Dark Age Economics is legendarily impenetrable in parts but the other parts gave me a completely different view of the development of early medieval Western Europe than I could have got from anywhere else, and you’ve seen me praise his The Anglo-Saxon Achievement here before, even though I understand that it is not well-thought of3—but my adulation was doubtless also down to the way he habitually pitches his work. Only reading this volume has made this advertising strategy fully visible to me. Firstly, the reader is told that historians now have to give way to archæologists to fully understand the early medieval period, because texts have all these problems and there are only so many of them, whereas archæology on the other hand is always producing new stuff. Secondly, Hodges and his friends are the sole merchants of this new learning; it’s not that everyone else is stupid or blinkered, it’s just that the sites Hodges chooses to be interested in or is excavating are presented as the most exciting, significant and revolutionary ones there are. And, fair enough, Hamwic and San Vincenzo al Volturno really have changed our ideas about early medieval material culture and its interconnections. I’m less convinced about the revolutionary potential of Butrint, its big significance appears to be more or less ‘sites in Albania surprisingly like sites elsewhere on Balkan coast despite Albanian exceptionalism’.4 But, never mind that; the point is that the revolution is always happening right now, because of this new site, even though when you go back to Hodges’s earliest work you realise that this has now been his line for thirty years.

This kind of presentation, pursued with relentless energy and a considerable writing productivity, is a big part of what makes Hodges’s work exciting.5 It may therefore have been a mistake to combine so many papers that pitch this line from so many different eras in the one book, as one starts to wonder why the revolution hasn’t yet happened. It must not be 1998 yet! and so on. We have a mission statement of an introduction, revised heavily from a piece in Archaeology magazine, which is then reprised in the conclusion (new in the volume); its agendas are also picked up in a chapter on Pirenne, and somewhat in the van Es tribute piece. More England-focussed pieces reprise the themes of The Anglo-Saxon Achievement, and one paper on Butrint (or, more interestingly, on the politics of Albanian archæology) stands rather alone. There is also a solid seventy pages pulled out of various publications on San Vincenzo al Volturno, and these are perhaps the most valuable because they have been very well-chosen to give an overall view of the site and its significance, and also present some change in its evaluation over time.6 It may be significant that Hodges says in his introduction that these are the pieces he hasn’t revised.7 This also means that you can see the spin developing, mind, as we move from the presentation of the place that he published as A Dark Age Pompeii (because of the site’s rapid destruction and abandonment in 881 after a Saracen attack) to a more nuanced one incorporating a durée plus longue that chooses explicitly not to see the site as a Pompeii-like snapshot.8 The reader doesn’t get this shift in thinking in order, but one can see it happening. Only very rarely, however, does Hodges reflect on his own views; even in “Dark Age Economics Revisited” this is kept to a minimum compared to lining up more data in pursuit of the original study’s aims. So it always looks new and exciting.

The volume mainly impressed me with style, then, but that shouldn’t be taken to diminish the quality of the actual data or analysis, just the way it’s presented. Actually you can learn a lot from this volume, even if you might learn less if you’ve already read The Anglo-Saxon Achievement or (especially) Towns and Trade in the Age of Charlemagne.9 Sometimes, however, just sometimes, the presentation has got on top of the sense. So with a paper called “Charlemagne’s Elephant”, which is quite fun in its way, using the elephant as a synecdoche of the long-range trade routes of Charlemagne’s era, and especially with the title article, “Goodbye to the Vikings?”, originally only two pages in History Today, which expands one of the other piece’s ideas.10 The core idea will look familiar to anyone who’s followed either Guy Halsall’s take on the fall of the Roman Empire or me telling you about that here; just as Guy argues that the fall of the Empire caused the barbarian invasions and not vice versa, so here Hodges argues that it was the collapse of the trade and patronage networks of Charlemagne’s era as the Carolingian Empire broke up that created the massive Scandinavian attacks of the First Viking Age. The problem with this as pitched by Hodges, however, is twofold. Firstly, of course, it falls victim to the Grierson Objection, that not all goods move by trade.11 This looks particularly obvious when Hodges pauses to marvel at how the towns of the English Danelaw, created out of almost nothing, could start and sustain a good silver coinage where Northumbria itself had only had copper coins before the Vikings arrive. Leaving aside that that copper coinage is now being seen as a sign of commercialisation, I tell you, the words Danegeld or tribute do not feature here; it’s all trade.12 No matter how important long-distance trade may or may not have been, there is something missing here.

Then of course there’s the chronology. It is certainly true that the bulk of the Viking attacks occurred in the second half of the ninth century and thereafter, and possibly even truer that the break-up of the Danish state has something to do with the collapse of its neighbour (which had been piling wealth into its various factions for a while) even if that process is obscure to us. But since the attacks began well before Charlemagne was even Emperor, it’s obviously not the whole answer, and then Timothy Reuter’s explanations based on richness and military over-stretch return to play and look very much as if they would explain both phases of activity.13 So: at the very least, I don’t think we can “say goodbye to the Vikings as we have known them”, if by that Hodges means forget that they appropriated wealth by many means and especially violence as well as trade.14 But also, although there is loads of good stuff here, the same things are made so much of so repeatedly that I am now much less anxious to read Dark Age Economics: a new audit than I was before it came out, because I suspect it will tell me rather less than I’d hoped, and this was not the result I expected from reading this volume.


1. R. Hodges, Goodbye to the Vikings? Re-reading Early Medieval Archaeology (London 2006).

2. R. Hodges, Dark Age Economics: the origins of towns and trade A. D. 600-1000 (London 1982, 2nd ed. 1989); idem, “Dark Age Economics Revisited” in H. Sarfati, W. J.  Verwers & P. J. Woltering (edd.), Discussion with the Past: archaeological studies presented to W.A. van Es (Zwolle 1999), pp. 227-232; repr. in Hodges, Goodbye to the Vikings?, pp. 63-71.

3. If you would like a less favourable view of that book, there is Nicholas Brooks’s review in Speculum Vol. 68 (Cambridge 1993), pp. 170-172, which lambasts Hodges for “factual errors and misleading inferences that pervade the whole book” (p. 172), and concludes (ibid.):

It is good for historians and archaeologists to be provoked into rethinking the fundamental development of early English society, but this book is a missed opportunity. Unfortunately, many of his assertive conjectures will attract blind support. Had he indulged his penchant for the latest anthropological theories at the start, had he administered our dose of “commoditisation” before the last chapter, we could have been sure that only reviewers would have struggled with the whole book!

I deduce from the opening satire of Hodges’s stand against élite-driven text-based history (much like mine above) that the writer of the The Early History of the Church of Canterbury (Leicester 1984) felt himself implicated in the critique, but that closing paragraph tells you quite a lot about both book and reviewer.

4. Although the article here about Butrint, Hodges & W. Bowden, “Balkan Ghosts? Nationalism and the Question of Rural Continuity in Albania” in Neil Christie (ed.), Landscapes of Change: rural evolution in late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages (Aldershot 2004), pp. 195-222, repr. in Hodges, Goodbye to the Vikings?, pp. 39-62, is interesting precisely because it tackles the historiography of that exceptionalism and does quite a lot to set the Albanian finds in context.

5. There are of course other things that are exciting about Hodges’s work too, and they might include, for example: a genuinely large-scale perspective with many comparanda; a theory-informed view of the economy, even of this period, as a system with rules that can be understood; an eye for the ordinary person in the record; and a good choice of illustrative anecdote. But the polemical prose certainly has to come in there too.

6. In order referred to, with reprint pages in brackets: R. Hodges, “The Not-So-Dark Ages” in Archaeology Vol. 51 no. 5 (Long Island City 1998), pp. 61-65, rev. as “Introduction: new light on the Dark Ages” (1-18); idem, “Pirenne and the Question of Demand in the Sixth Century” in W. Bowden & R. Hodges (edd.), The Sixth Century: production, distribution and demand, The Transformation of the Roman World 3 (Leiden 2003), pp. 3-14 (rev. 19-27); idem, “Dark Age EconomicsRevisited”; idem, “King Arthur’s Britain and the End of the Western Roman Empire” (new 28-38); idem, “Society, Power and the First English Revolution” in Il Secolo di Ferro: mito e realtà del secolo X, Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo Vol. 38 (Spoleto 1991), pp. 125-157 (rev. 163-175); Hodges & Bowden, “Balkan Ghosts”; Hodges, “San Vincenzo al Volturno and the Plan of St. Gall” in R. Hodges (ed.), San Vincenzo al Volturno 2: the 1980-86 excavations, part II (London 1995), pp. 153-175 (80-116); Hodges, “Beyond Feudalism: monasteries and their management in the eighth and ninth centuries” in I longobardi dei ducati di Spoleto e Benevento: atti del XVI Congresso internazionale di studi sull’alto Medioevo, Spoleto, 20-23 ottobre 2002, Benevento 24-27 ottobre 2002 (Spoleto 2003), pp. 1077-1098 (141-156); Hodges, “The Ninth-Century Collective Workshop at San Vincenzo al Volturno” in J. Emerick (ed.), Archaeology in Architecture: essays in honour of Cecil Lee Striker (Mainz 2005), pp. 75-87 (117-140).

7. He says, p. viii:

Some essays have been either partially rewritten or modified for this book; others, such as those relating to the ongoing excavations at San Vincenzo al Volturno (Italy), are unaltered. Even where the essays have been altered, I have not attempted to provide amplified bibliographies. To do this would belie the purpose of the book as impressionable sketches about general historical themes.

This leaves it fairly unclear what has been messed with how much, though all but the San Vincenzo chapters do have updated references.

8. R. Hodges, A Dark Age Pompeii: San Vincenzo al Volturno (London 1990); cf. idem, “San Vincenzo al Volturno and the Plan of St Gall” from five years later where he says, “The essence of modern archaeology is not what has been termed the ‘Pompeii premise’ – the prospect of finding a place fossilised from one moment in time (Binford 1981) – but the reverse, the opportunity to record how a place has evolved through time” (pp. 80-81 of the reprint, citing L. R. Binford, “Behavioural Archaeology and the ‘Pompeii Premise'” in Journal of Anthropological Research Vol. 37 (1981), pp. 195-208).

9. R. Hodges, The Anglo-Saxon Achievement: archaeology and the beginnings of English society (London 1989), as rev. by Brooks, ref. n. 2 above; Hodges, Towns and Trade in the Age of Charlemagne (London 2000).

10. Hodges, “Charlemagne’s Elephant” in History Today Vol. 50 (London 2000), pp. 21-27, and “Goodbye to the Vikings?”, ibid. 54 (London 2004), pp. 29-30, repr. in idem, Goodbye to the Vikings?, pp. 72-79 & 157-162.

11. P. Grierson, “Commerce in the Dark Ages: a critique of the evidence” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th Series Vol. 9 (London 1959), pp. 123-40, repr. in idem, Dark Age Numismatics, Variorum Collected Studies 96 (London 1979), II.

12. Hodges, “Goodbye to the Vikings”, pp. 159-160 of the reprint:

Worse still, Northumbrian coins of the central decades of this period – the so-called stycas – contained pitiful measures of silver in their otherwise copper-rich contents (Hodges 1989: 162). How, we should be asking, did the Danish kings of Jorvik suddenly find the silver to replace the devalued Northumbrian currency with a silver-rich coinage meeting international standards?

He goes on to look for, but not explicitly to find, the explanation in the levels of monetisation demonstrated by the so-called ‘productive sites’, on which see Tim Pestell & Katharina Ulmschneider (edd.), Markets in Early Medieval Europe: trading and ‘productive’ sites, 650-850 (Macclesfield 2003), in this case especially Mark Blackburn, “‘Productive’ Sites and the Pattern of Coin Loss in England, 600-1180″, pp. 20-36 there. Cf. also D. M. Metcalf, “The Monetary Economy of Ninth-Century England South of the Humber: a topographical analysis” in Mark Blackburn & David Dumville (edd.), Kings, Currencies and Alliances: history and coinage of southern England in the ninth century (Cambridge 1998), pp. 167-198.

13. T. Reuter, “Plunder and Tribute in the Carolingian Empire” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th Series Vol. 35 (London 1985), pp. 75-94, repr. in †Reuter, Medieval polities and modern mentalities, ed. Janet Nelson (Cambridge 2006), pp. 231-250.

14. Hodges, “Goodbye to the Vikings”, p. 162 of the reprint.

Leeds 2011 Report part 0(i): pictures of Whitby

Skyline showing the ruins of Whitby Abbey from the carpark

Skyline showing the ruins of Whitby Abbey from the carpark

Has everyone else finished their Leeds reports yet? Must be time for me to start then! Leeds, in this instance, being for those new to the blog where each year the principal European conference on medieval studies is held, the International Medieval Congress. I have been going for many years and intend to continue to for a while yet, though this coming year taking less active a role. Anyway. I had an excellent Leeds this year but it started early, because for once I had time to go on one of the excursions that are arranged as part of the conference, which was to Whitby. I’d been to Whitby before for a friend’s wedding during the Goth Weekend, and that was, shall we say, not as medieval as it sounds except that as I recall I spent most of the weekend in our room minding my infant son and reading Pauline Stafford’s Unification and Conquest as teaching preparation. In particular, I never got a proper look round the Abbey.

North transept of Whitby Abbey

North transept of Whitby Abbey

As you can see, I fixed that. The abbey is largely thirteenth-century and largely ruined, though more of it stood than now does until 1914, when a German cruiser squadron bombarding the East Coast managed to put this hole in a wall.

Missing sections of wall at Whitby Abbey, removed by German bombardment in 1914

Once were walls...

Not totally clear what they were aiming at, but that’s what they got, apparently. These and other details were supplied by our excellent guide, Glynn Coppack, and we had plenty of time to wander around and appreciate details by ourselves. I took loads of pictures, and can’t share them all, but there are some I took with particular people or facets in mind, so I’ll put them below the cut, along with one snapped by and kindly shared by the estimable Kathleen Neal, international medievalist extraordinaire, famed dancer and warmly regarded by all who know her, who had booked on the same trip by coincidence and who afforded me that vital asset for tourism, someone to point cool stuff out to. There was plenty… Continue reading

Picts in many places, if ‘Picts’ is the word

Is it? That’s the question. I’ve been bothered by this question for a long time, as you know if you’ve been reading a while. We talk of the Picts as a people but much suggests that they were many peoples. That’s hardly surprising, given the way that kingdoms in England and Ireland were forming at the same time, but I’m never sure that it gets into the historiography enough, or that we make the material culture a big enough part of the differentiation. And since I got into this job I’ve been meaning to use it to make me write something—I have in fact written a first draft, if a piece of writing you do to direct the research rather than one that you in the light of it counts as a draft rather than a policy document—trying to make those concerns into a coherent argument.

Distribution map of brochs, forts and souterrains in Scotland, from Martin Carver's Surviving in Symbols: a visit to the Pictish nation (1995), p. 12

Distribution map of brochs, forts and souterrains in Scotland, from Martin Carver's Surviving in Symbols: a visit to the Pictish nation (1995), p. 12

This keeps getting harder. Firstly, as I delay, people like Nick Evans, James Fraser and Alex Woolf close down the angles, so that my point gets smaller and smaller (and more like the few bits of my first Picts paper I still stand by, which means there’s little point in saying them again). Secondly, people like Alex Woolf—in fact, exactly like Alex Woolf, with whom I had the good fortune to discuss this at Leeds and then again here just a few days ago when he presented here, both of which I will record eventually—keep coming up with things that just make me think I’m wrong, or at least that I have to think some more. It may turn out that I actually don’t have anything useful to say. And then thirdly, there’s the actual evidence, brought freshly before me by teaching as well as research. A lot of the distribution maps that were crucial in the original ‘Pictland should be plural’ post of 2008 just don’t make the case I originally thought they should. Partly this is because a lot of the symptoms of cultural production are clustered where there’s agriculturally-useful lowland, which shouldn’t really surprise anyone. But also it’s because more stuff keeps turning up, and that was originally the point of this post when I began it as a stub in July. The thing is that as with most of my links posts, by the time I finally write it up there’s about twice as much as I’d originally expected, but with Pictish archaeology you’d not expect that so much. Even so:


1. On the Beast, you can find sage musings and collected references in Craig Cessford, “Pictish Art and the Sea” in The Heroic Age Vol. 8 (2005), http://www.heroicage.org/issues/8/cessford.html, last modified 27 July 2005 as of 10 November 2011, §§9-16, though I personally hold out for it being the Loch Ness monster as any right-thinking person would, what with the impeccable contemporary literary evidence for Nessie in the period

2. J. Fraser, From Caledonia to Pictland: Scotland to 795, The New Edinburgh History of Scotland 1 (Edinburgh 2009), pp. 94-111.

3. Mind you, if that there wall is part of a curved structure it must have been HUGE. There’s no more curvature visible in that picture to me than I might expect as a lens artefact. I can see why it’s the broch that’s getting all the attention.

711 and All That (conference report)

Still months and months behind but by now more amused than regretful at my own dislocation from the present, I now bring you a report on a thing that happened in Oxford on 17th June this year, which was a mini-conference in the Institute of Archaeology entitled 711: reassessing the Arab conquest of Spain in its 1300th year. The organiser, Javier Martínez, who deserves all credit for organising this and letting me slip in having registered late, pointed out that to the best of his knowledge this was the only commemoration of that event worldwide, which seems rather strange, as we were all largely of the opinion that it was quite important. (Was he right? Surely not. Aha, here’s one for starters.) But, who were ‘we’, or rather, ‘they’, since I was only heckling? Well, here’s the program.

711: reassessing the Arab conquest of Spain in its 1300th anniversary year

Friday 17 June 2011
Lecture Room, Institute of Archaeology (36 Beaumont Street)

  • Eduardo Manzano Moreno, “The Arab conquest of Spain”
  • Nicola Clarke, “Caliphs and Conquerors: images of the Marwanids in the Islamic conquest of Spain”
  • Laura Carlson, “Negotiating the Borderlands: Frankish-Iberian relations in the wake of 711″
  • Graham Barrett, “Latin Letters under Arab Rule”
  • Javier Martínez, “Changing Urban Monumentality: Visigoths vs. Umayyads”
  • Erica Buchberger, “Gothic Identity before and after 711″
  • Rob Portass, “Galicia before and after 711″
  • Chris Wickham, “Economy and Trade after 711″
  • Eduardo Manzano Moreno, “Response”
  • Javier Martínez, “Conclusions”

You would have to know the Oxford Hispanist establishment (though we do actually have one!) to know, but what we have here, small and perfectly formed which is just as well given that the Lecture Room in Beaumont Street is small and somewhat oppressive is basically two superstars bracketing a party of local research students. Now, some of these guys probably will themselves be superstars in due course and I already have to keep a close eye on Graham Barrett in case he ever starts wondering about Catalonia (local running joke, sorry), but I will confess that I had largely come to see Eduardo Manzano Moreno. He is one of the long string of people who set me to doing, directly or indirectly, what I now do. I know I’ve blamed a lot of people for this but one of them, David Abulafia, set me two of Professor Manzano’s articles when I was studying under him, and then I liked them so much that I came up with a Catalonia-focussed mini-project while studying under another of these people, Rosamond McKitterick, and that became the core of my doctoral proposal, so there you are. The two articles plus his first book more or less said everything you could usefully say at that time about the Christian-Muslim frontier, and I quickly found there was little to add to them, but it started me off.1 So I’ve always wanted to meet him, and apart from the fact that he insists all his old work is rubbish and outdated—which as you can see doesn’t stop me citing it—it was an absolute pleasure. He broke down the questions of 711 into a set of issues, which were roughly as follows:

  1. The Arab conquest of Spain is not the weird one—we have lots of parallels where a rapid military assault knocks over a failing political order, including the Arab conquests in the Middle East—but it’s not like the immediately-preceding Arab conquest of Africa, where resistance is stiffer and collapse much slower.
  2. Although later stories of it make it a chance venture that got really really lucky, it plainly wasn’t: the attacks were coordinated, they had mints set up striking hybrid coin within weeks, governors appointed and generally an infrastructure plan was ready to roll.
  3. The armies of conquest were organised on tribal lines but they were not established thus, other things like lineages or territories were more important. (Here he clashed explicitly with Pierre Guichard‘s work on this, and there was a lot of scepticism about this point in questions.2)
  4. The conquest is usually seen as ‘pactual’, but the pacts have two very different outcomes: some local aristocracies are integrated into an Arabic one, but others are left in place for a while, until the ninth-century rebellions that effectively end their limited independence. Al-Andalus was not, in other words, a unified hierarchical polity until surprisingly long after its formation.
  5. Relatedly, that is when most of the writing about the conquest comes from, when its results were being remodelled. That shouldn’t surprise us, really, but it is something that is often not thought about.
  6. The continuity versus rupture debate is impossible to answer from a position equipped with hindsight; we need to think instead about when change comes and how people react in the circumstances of the day, not as if someone was working towards a goal of a new caliphate already in 715. 711 is the biggest of many points of change that eventually lead to that point.

This was an odd presentation in as much as it seemed to be an attempt to start six separate arguments rather than substantiate one. In fact, that’s exactly what it was, and Chris Wickham joined in happily at the end, with various hecklers asking ‘stimulating’ questions when agreement seemed too near. Between the two, however, we had Nicola Clarke, picking up in a way on point five of Manzano’s paper with reference to the way that the portrayal of the actual conquerors, Mūsā ibn Nusayr and Tarīq ibn Zayīd, changed in historical writing from the quasi-independents they probably were to loyal or disloyal servants of the Umayyad Caliphs, in sources of course written under Umayyad rule in Spain. We had Laura Carlson, flying some tentative kites about diplomatic contacts between Carolingians and Arab rulers in Spain, and reminding us that from an eighth-century Frankish perspective the Arabs were not the only problem people on that border, and that the centre was not necessarily the point they need to negotiate with.3 We had Graham Barrett, being as interesting as ever and this time about the few bits of evidence for Latin document-writing under Arab rule, all three of them, two of which relate to Catalonia so obviously I had to discourage him in questions, but I didn’t know about the third, which is from Portugal.4 And we had Javier Martínez taking a brief moment in the spotlight, or at least the projector glare, talking about the change from polis to madina, as Hugh Kennedy put it long ago, as perpetrated upon the Visigothic attempt to shore up Roman building traditions and even spread them between the fifth and eighth centuries, seeing between the two sets of projects a difference in audiences, from the civic public to the governing élites; this was a very subtle paper and full of impressive illustration that actually made up part of the argument.5 Then we got Erica Buchberger, talking about the political value of the Gothic ethnicity in Spain and arguing more or less that, despite the name of the chronicler Ibn al-Qutīya (`son of the Gothic woman’), politically it was the Visigoths that killed Gothicness and that only where Toledo had had least impact, i. e. the far north, did this seem like what the identity of the fallen kingdom had been. And we got Rob Portass, addressing the supposed isolation of Galicia and arguing that it was in fact more isolated from its neighbours by both geography and politics than from the old and new centres of power further south, but that the Arabs didn’t really ever try to integrate it because the perceived worth of doing so was so low.


Transitional dinar of the al-Andalus mint, 716x717, Fitzwilliam Museum, PG.13217 (Philip Grierson Collection), obverse Transitional dinar of the al-Andalus mint, 716x717, Fitzwilliam Museum, PG.13217 (Philip Grierson Collection), reverse

Transitional dinar of the al-Andalus mint, 716x717, Fitzwilliam Museum, PG.13217 (Philip Grierson Collection), with Arabic obverse and Latin reverse

And then there was Chris Wickham, who talked about ceramic distributions and where the gaps in our knowledge of economic change in this period are: in so doing he argued as strongly as he does in Framing of the Early Middle Ages for an Iberian peninsula broken into regions where things happen almost disconnectedly, so that the far north could carry on making and using fine pottery long after the economy along the west coast of what’s now Spain had broken down to the most basic regional level, that the area where the Muslims centred their government was somehow better connected to Mediterranean trade even when they did so and revived complexity quicker but didn’t necessarily spread this till much later, and various other things.6 In the course of this he offhandedly denied that al-Andalus had a functioning tax system, however, and here he met some opposition, not least from Professor Manzano but from others too; the position eventually reached was that tax, too, was probably regional and may only have worked in the west. (I have notes here that paraphrase the argument as, “WICKHAM: It’s not much of a tax system. MANZANO: Yes it is!” We were nearly at that level, but all good-humouredly, it was good fun to watch.) In his response Professor Manzano repeatedly stressed that it was the ninth century that we needed to watch, when cities that had collapsed revived (though not all of the same ones!), when tax is spread more thoroughly, when rule is tightened and enclaves closed down. 711 is only the start of a long process, and we jump to the parts of Andalusi history that we can see clearly much too easily; in fact, as Javier Martínez said in summing up, despite its reputation as a polity of tolerance, enlightenment and scholarship, al-Andalus emerges almost fully-formed from something quite like a Dark Age as far as our knowledge is concerned, and that Dark Age includes 711 and its aftermath, rather than ending with it.7


1. E. Manzano Moreno, “Christian-Muslim Frontier in al-Andalus: idea and reality” in Dionisius Agius & Richard Hitchcock (edd.), Arab Influence upon Medieval Europe (Reading 1994), pp. 83-96; Manzano, La frontera de al-Andalus en época de los Omeyas, Biblioteca de Historia 9 (Madrid 1991); idem, “The Creation of a Medieval Frontier: Islam and Christianity in the Iberian Peninsula, eighth to twelfth centuries” in Daniel Power and Naomi Standen (edd.), Frontiers in Question: Eurasian borderlands, 700-1700 (London 1999), pp. 32-52. The extensive coverage and erudition of those didn’t stop me adding my “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: Organisation of Society in the pre-Catalan ‘Terra de Ningú'” in †A. Deyermond & M. Ryan (ed.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London: Queen Mary University of London 2010), pp. 97-127, of course, and if I could squeeze in there may yet be more room, but I cannot at the moment see where it is.

2. Guichard’s work most famously encapsulated in his Al-Andalus: estructura antropológica de una sociedad islámica en Occidente, Archivum 53 (Barcelona 1976), transl. as Structures sociales « orientales » et « occidentales » dans l’Espagne musulmane (Paris 1977), but he has kept busy since then.

3. It is very strange that really very little has been published on this since F. W. Buckler’s Harun al-Rashid and Charles the Great (Cambridge MA 1931), but because he is an old friend I must at least mention Thomas Kitchen’s “The Muslim World in Western European Diplomacy from the Rise of Islam to the death of Louis the Pious” (unpublished M. Phil. thesis, Faculty of History, University of Cambridge 2004), which last I heard was still under review somewhere or other but which is the kind of careful work we would want done on this.

4. Both the Catalan ones, oddly, have been discussed separately by Roger Collins, one in his “Visigothic Law and Regional Diversity in Disputes in Early Medieval Spain” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (edd.), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1986), pp. 85-104, repr. in idem, Law, Culture and Regionalism in Early Medieval Spain, Variorum Collected Studies 356 (Aldershot 1992), VI, with text and translation in the original (and maybe in the reprint), and the other in his “Literacy and the Laity in Early Medieval Spain” in Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), The Uses of Literacy in Early Mediaeval Europe (Cambridge 1990), pp. 109-133, repr. in Collins, Law, Culture and Regionalism, XVI, with facsimile in the original if I remember correctly.

5. The Kennedy article his “From Polis to Madina: urban change in late Antique and Early Islamic Syria” in Past and Present no. 106 (Oxford 1985), pp. 3-27, repr. in Colin Chant & David Goodman (edd.), Pre-Industrial Cities and Technology (London 1999), pp. 94-98 and in Kennedy, The Byzantine and early Islamic Near East, Variorum Collected Studies 860 (Aldershot 2006), I.

6. Chris Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800 (Oxford 2005), pp. 488-495, 656-665 & 741-758.

7. And then we all went to the pub and gossiped nineteen to the dozen, but none of that needs reporting here really. Encouraging, though!

In Marca Hispanica XX: actual archive stuff

I expect that you all thought this thread was finished, but no: I have just been waiting, for some time, for the materials for this post to reach me. There will be one more, too, but it’s in the queue. (In the meantime, I have at long last created an index page for all my In marca hispanica posts, now linked off the sidebar in Medieval Tourism Pictures.) So: we left Catalonia last when I was stooging around Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic looking for dead counts, in April of this year. But that had not in fact been my first destination when I got into Barça that day. No, first I went here:

Entrance to the Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón

Your first reaction might justifiably be, what were you doing at a high security prison Jonathan, are the experts in your field that difficult to work with? But in fact, the security is differently aimed here: this building is the bigger, newer part of the Archivo de la Corona de Aragón. (Ordinarily I use Catalan for places and institutions in Catalonia, but there was so little Catalan and so few Catalans herein that I think it’s actually misleading. This place is part of a federal institution now and that seems to get right down into its hiring culture and language of operation.)

Entrance to the Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón

Entrance to the ACA; abandon Catalan all you who enter here...

I was here because the paper that I mentioned a while back that is technically forthcoming only not really, of which I have now had gloomy confirmation from its editor alas, really needs at least one good-quality image, and there are several other documents held here of which, again, I have long wanted a decent facsimile. So, I was after getting some. And in some ways this proved to be very simple, in as much as the Archivo and its staff were very happy to make this possible, in so far as they could understand what I actually wanted and I their instructions about how to get it. (El meu castellano es molt pitjor que el meu català; em disculpeu…) In other ways, much like their digital resource search engine I mentioned a few posts back, it was really pigging complicated. I had already identified the parchments of which I wanted images. There was a form to fill out. That form was then approved by a senior person. Now, he could take the (very small amount of money) they would charge me for this and they would send me a CD-R with the images on. But not straight away. No, first I had to send one of my copies of the form to Madrid, to be approved by the officials of the Biblioteca Nacional there. Then the form would come back to Barcelona, someone would make the images and tell Madrid to send me a formal agreement to sign. Once that was received by Madrid, they would tell Barcelona to send me the CD-R. Six separate stages. All this correspondence and office time must have cost them far more than I actually paid for the facsimiles. But, I got the first part of the form away very shortly after I got back, Madrid responded a month or so later, and then I probably waited a bit longer to answer again because of the exigencies of teaching. It still took rather a long time for the actual images to turn up, however. In fact I was getting rather annoyed and afraid they’d been mislaid.

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39 (reduced-quality version)

But now I don’t mind any more because at the end of last month, a mere six months after I began the process, the images turned up and they are bloody great, as you can see above. So now I can finish this post, and any other gripes I might have had are blown away by the pixel depth and the seamless enlargement I can push these things up to. Look, for example, below at the autograph signature of a certain well-known abbess, which on every facsimile I ever saw of this document before was largely hidden under a huge black patch of discolouration. Now, you can still see the patch: but you can also see the word underneath it. It helps to know it’s got to be “abbatissa“, of course, but you can see where it is. And in order to show you this I have blown it up to something like ten times life size. Trust me on this: you can’t do that with most documentary facsimiles. So I’m pretty pleased with these. I would use the word “fids!” except that I’m not sure any of the readership would recognise it (though we can soon fix that); if there’s any that do, however, that is at least how pleased I am. The wheels of the Archivo de la Corona de Aragón grind exceeding slow and not a little erratic; but look how fine they are…1

Signature of Abbess Emma of Sant Joan de Ripoll

Signature of Abbess Emma of Sant Joan de Ripoll


1. The two parchments are, respectively, Barcelona, Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins, Seniofredo 39 and Wifredo 8, published (the latter with monochrome facsimile) in Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los Siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Madrid 1951), doc. nos 128 & 10 respectively.