Category Archives: Currently reading…

Can Open Access be done right?

Shortly before I wrote my last post about open access, I was given a copy of a very recent British Academy publication about open-access journals, and you may even remember that I cited it there.1 I had, however, only looked at it briefly then and planned at that stage to write a sequel post using it to look at ways in which open access, which you will hopefully remember I don’t think has yet been developed as a working idea, might be. This is that post, but I can’t promise much by way of optimism…

Front cover of Darley, Reynolds & Wickham, Open Access Journals in Humanities and Social Science

The front cover

The book had an explicit brief from the British Academy, which was to evaluate how far any UK government or quasi-NGO policy on open access as a requirement for funding needed to vary across disciplines and what effect it would have on the UK academy to impose it (or, in the case of Research Councils UK, continue imposing the current one). All of this was more or less intended to settle some of the questions raised by a previous British Academy volume, and this one was explicitly focused on the situation in the UK. Though occasionally it looks across the Atlantic to the place where the results of the Research Assessment Exercise 2008 told the authors UK academics mostly publish when they don’t in the UK, and indeed compares [edit: the publication system] to the old Soviet Union on one occasion (note the third author), the conclusions and the dataset it presents on which those conclusions [edit: rest] only really apply in the country where I write.2 There is an issue there which I’ll come on to but it’s an understandable restriction, and maybe it shows the way evaluations could go elsewhere.3

The other limit of the debate is that one of the main questions is taken as already settled out of court, that being the question of what type of open access we are debating. The last time I wrote about this I was cross about what has come to be called ‘gold’ open access, in which the publisher compensates for their loss of a product to sell by charging the author to publish with them, a charge (APC, article processing charge) that is usually thought will be supplied by the research’s supporting funding. At that point various voices were saying that for humanities research, often done without grants and equally often with very small ones, this was pernicious and would hit poorer institutions and younger students disproportionately. This is a position that the British Academy apparently took to be obvious and of which Research Councils UK has since come to be persuaded, and the result is that that is accepted as a model that only works for the sciences and perhaps only medicine (a position that the figures presented here justify) and that what we are actually studying here is ‘green’ open access, and exactly how to implement it.4 Obviously elsewhere that debate is not so finished, but this again may be something that this work could transmit to such fora.

The way that ‘green’ open access works, or is supposed to work, is that rather than charge the author, the publisher accepts that after a while it will put the work online for free, but it will not do this straight away, so that people who need the information as soon as possible will continue to buy the journal. They may also, when it finally goes online, only put the author’s submitted version online, which will not reflect subsequent changes or, obviously, correct page numbers, so it effectively can’t be cited. (Again, medicine has less of a problem with citing pre-prints, and I suspect that we will see more and more of this in the humanities, but for now it’s part of what gives journal publishers any hope and it has to be said (and is in this book, with figures) that basically almost no-one in the humanities actually puts up pre-print versions on the web anyway, Academia.edu or even personal web-pages not withstanding.5 Even I don’t, because how could you cite it? And so on.)

So with that accepted or assumed, the question becomes how long should the embargo period before the article is released to the world be? This is where the book is doing most of its work. In the first place, they show by an analysis of usage half-lives (a complex formula, given its own appendix, which tells you the median age of the content that made up half a journal’s downloads over a given period, and makes a reasonable index of comparison) that in general, the humanities do happily use content that’s older than medicine, but that actually, so does physics and most of the other sciences; medicine is just out by itself in its need to have the most immediate content straight away (and even there, the half-life figure was about six months on average).6 As they say several times, “the boundary does not lie between STEM (science, technology and medicine) and HSS (humanities and social sciences); rather, it lies between HSS plus Physical Sciences on one side and Medicine on the other”.7 The actual embargo periods being proposed as compulsory for humanities research funded by RCUK seem reasonable to them in the light of this, however, and so that ends there, and they go on to what is perhaps a more interesting set of questions about academic publishing more widely.

This is the point where I think there might actually be the sign of a set of answers emerging, at least for the time being, and it’s interesting. In the first place, they establish by means of a just-about-significant survey that librarians, who it is who actually buy journals, don’t pay any real attention to embargo periods when doing so and thus argue that publishers have nothing to fear from reducing them; and then they go on a two-chapter excursus about how journal publishing can and should be paid for, and this is one of my big questions about all such initiatives as you know so it made me read avidly.8 They don’t really have an answer, but what they show, by the same kind of back-of-the-envelope maths that I was using to disprove the possibility of crowdfunded higher education, is that it must be paid for, that only the smallest of journals can be run with no staff and no print costs and that as soon as one attracts any kind of following it needs an organisation that more or less amounts to a publisher. And since publishers need at the very least to pay for themselves, money has to come into the system somewhere, and whence is more or less an ethical debate depending on whom you think benefits most: the author, the academy or the world? And we might like to think it was the last, really, but the chances of any new tax revenue being put aside to fund open-access publication, as the authors here say, does seem fairly small.9 So we’re stuck in the middle with publishers and the only thing that matters, until that be solved, is how much libraries can afford to pay for journals and what publishers will charge for them. So I like this, obviously, because it more or less justifies my stance that even when the current academic labour of publication is uncosted, we can’t do this for free and have to answer the money question. What that means, in effect, is that whatever one’s ethical stance on open access may be, it is more or less irrelevant until we can come up with a better solution for academic publication than the current one, and that is a bigger problem than even three such sharp writers as these could be expected to solve in a 106-page volume, but it really needs solving.

Not Open Access logo graphic

I will permit myself just one of the various logos the open access movement has scattered across the Internet because I like the double signification of this one, it goes well with the post…

There are also some other important qualifications about coverage and inclusion here. Firstly and most obviously, this whole argument can only apply where publication is online. For the sciences that’s a no-brainer but looking over my own CV, of twenty-six outputs and seven reviews I could count over my career thus far, although six are virtual exhibitions and thus not only basically unimportant for research evaluations but self-evidently online, five of the reviews but only ten of the remaining twenty outputs are online automatically, seven of them behind paywalls, and three more are online because I put them there myself, not having signed any copyright away. My book is partly visible in Google Preview. The rest, ironically including quite a lot of the work about putting things on the Internet, is only available in hard copy, so remains very definitely closed. This is an issue the authors are aware of, substantially expressed as an awareness that electronic publication of actual books has a long way to go before it’s anywhere near general and that for most parts of the humanities, and especially the creative arts, that’s where most or much work goes.10 On the one hand this means that the figures and answers the authors come up with here are truer for psychology than any other HSS subject and affect, say, history, relatively little, but on the other hand means that if the less affected disciplines were suddenly required to make most or all of their research open access their publication plans would have to radically alter and would probably become partly impossible.

The other problem, and one to which the authors are alive in some ways, is that this really is an Anglophone and indeed UK problem. They emphasise that whatever the successes of the open access movement in the USA in creating impressive logos and impassioned stances (I editorialise somewhat), very few US publishers are paying any attention to it. They see this as a sign that what RCUK was proposing could seriously hurt UK academics’ ability to publish abroad.11 I have tended to see it the other way, however, because of naturally looking at Europe. When I started my doctoral work basically no Catalan journal was online; now, almost all of them are, for free, open access. A goodly part of the French academic journal scene is also online via the Persée portal and there are German and Spanish equivalents too. Now it is certainly true that these are sometimes funded by the major state research organisations, because they publish most of the relevant journals; the fact still exists that the relevant state thought it worthwhile to fund that. In Catalonia, in fact, it isn’t even the state, but eighty-nine separate academic or learned institutions from museums and universities through to the Generalitat, which is funding it, but with the Generalitat one among many institutions contributing to it actually getting done. In these countries, someone did put aside tax revenue to present, organise and preserve academic research. Why we can’t, or won’t, do that, and why the justification of it is so much less obvious in the Anglophone world, not just to funders but to practitioners with our platitudinous explanations of the inherent worth of our subjects of study, is also quite an important research question, I’d say, even if not one I expect to see the British Academy funding however the results were published.


1. Rebecca Darley, Daniel Reynolds & Chris Wickham, Open Access Journals in Humanities and Social Science: a British Academy research project (London 2014), and it is of course, as you’d expect, online free and open-access, here.

2. The previous volume was Nigel Vincent & Chris Wickham (edd.), Debating Open Access (London 2013); comparison to the USSR Darley, Reynolds & Wickham, Open Access Journals, p. 85.

3. It should be remembered, though, that a great deal of the starter data here came from the UK’s Research Assessment Exercise 2008, without which the book probably couldn’t have been written, and certainly, without that or an equivalent, any country trying this will need to do much much more data collection. Of course, even that data was six years out of date by the time this book was published, and this is a fast-moving field, but since the Research Excellence Framework was only then being completed and has only just been counted, what could they do?

4. Darley, Reynolds & Wickham, Open Access Journals, pp. 16-20.

5. Ibid., pp. 71-74.

6. Ibid., pp. 49-66.

7. Ibid., pp. 8, 61 & 92.

8. Ibid., pp. 67-87.

9. Ibid., p. 84: “a frankly unlikely scenario”.

10. Ibid., pp. 24-32.

11. Ibid., pp. 33-35 & 36-48.

Quick! To the palace!

Sometimes I have big learned-looking points I want to make on this blog, and then at other times I just want to jump and down and tell you about something fascinating I’ve found. This is one of those latter times, a document I encountered in the Catalunya Carolíngia most of whose details I never seem to have noticed before, even though it’s very unusual. It also supports the point I’ve felt towards before about the different ways of running the county of Barcelona that Count-Marquis Ramon Borrell thereof (992-1018) was already developing as he picked up bits of its rule during the lifetime of his father Borrell II (945-993), but mainly it’s one of those cases where the regular form of the documents is stretched to fit something quite unusual and one is left wondering what on earth they were trying to accomplish and how odd it was or wasn’t.

The Santuari del Mare de Déu d'Espona de Saderra

Espona de Saderra, probably not involved in today’s documentary excitement but as close as I can get copyright-free

We are in the year 996 here and the protagonist is one Gombau. He had come to a deal with a priest called Donadéu and was selling him some stuff.1 The transaction related to an estate in the Vall de Saderra, but the first complication is the nature of what they were actually transacting over, which is best set out in their own terms:

“By this scripture of my sale I sell to you in your and your heirs’ alod, that was your grandfather’s Asner’s and your father’s Galí’s, my selfsame census such as I have there that my lord Ramon, Count and Marquis, sold me, such census as you and your heirs were accustomed to answer for thence and it came to me by my purchase from my above-written lord…”

Census, in the terms of this period, is really any kind of rent or levy taken by a lord from the owner of a property over which he or she is lord, but here I think we are dealing with something that we could respectably call tax, a revenue belonging to the public official personified by the count, and it was for sale. Now, this is not quite new, you may be thinking if you really follow along here: didn’t we, after all, have a few complicated arrangements with two-way sales that effectively bestowed the tax revenue on the landholder? And yes, we did, but there are two differences here: firstly, here they were just straight out selling the revenue (for a ‘best charger’) and secondly the count had previously disposed of it, in a document we don’t have, to someone other than the landholders, which is how come Gombau had it to sell it on to them. The last time I looked at this I observed that, circa 990 at least, the counts of Barcelona could not or would not simply sell tax revenue, but had to come up with elaborate ways round it; a mere six years later we see that there was no longer such a problem with it, which means that it was probably very new.

So all of that is interesting to me, and teeters dangerously close to what we could carelessly call ‘feudalism’.2 But digging deeper we discover that actually it is even more like feudalism, because having sorted out the price Gombau made further specifications and they look very much like someone borrowing ideas:

On this account I thus hand into your power the aforesaid census for your own so that from this same day in future neither you nor any of your successors shall answer any more for any census thence to any count, nor to any vicar, nor to any man, unless your heirs so much to you. And let this above-written alod thus be free without any impediment and without any disturbance, but so much on account of the great attentiveness which I shall make to you and of the benevolence and honour and governance of the above-written alod I shall thus have patrocinium over you, I and one son of mine without any ill intent.

This is a very funny definition of ‘freedom’ that’s developing here, isn’t it? The priest Donadéu was already holding an alod, but while this has been understood as land free of lordship the difference between it not being free of lordship and a private person taking the tax revenue might be hard to spot.3 It was enough to be worth a good warhorse, apparently, but the ongoing cost was that Gombau, giving up that direct and quantifiable form of dominance, picked up a much vaguer but more subjecting one, the old Roman idea of patrocinium, a word I’ve seen in no other Catalan charter. Later documents like this, in so far as there are any like this, would just use the word dominatio, but we can see that they were here feeling out something for which they didn’t have words, because the bits that I’ve put into bold here are all coming from outside the sale formulae: the first bit is riffing off Carolingian royal immunities, by which public officials were excluded from a given territory, and the final clause is coming out of the vernacular, or at least would in later documents such as those we’ve seen here before be reflected in the vernacular, “sin engany” for what is here in Latin, “sine malo ingenio”.4 They didn’t have the formulae ready for what they were doing here, which is essentially a very early homage arrangement.

A homage ceremony illustrated in the Catalan Liber Feudorum Maior

Time therefore for the obligatory picture of an act of homage from the Liber Feudorum Maior, which for all that it was a twelfth-century compilation does contain documents from this far back. From Wikimedia Commons.

So what was going on here is at some level a delegation or even a privatisation of public authority, but at another level this is immensely personal. The last time I looked at these concessions, when they were still fiddly, I suggested that the claim to census might itself be fairly new, irregularly enforced and brought out mainly, as I then put it, as kind of “a protection racket, in which the counts picked somebody whose tax liability they were willing to enforce in order to bind them closer into the structure of personal obligations created by these kinds of deals.” By the 1050s, as we’ve seen, those kind of personal obligations were most of how power was being constructed in these areas, in a hierarchy much like the supposed feudal pyramid except far less tidy.5 Here, in 996, we see it already happening, but within the old structures of power that gave the scribe the words he used, words whose use suggests this was new.

What made this worth wording carefully, however, was presumably a lurking sense that in some way this was public revenue. I say this not just because of the repeated invocation of the count, but because of the detail that was actually the first one I noticed when I read this document during my Ph. D. (and clearly subsequently forgot), which is the signature clause by the scribe: he explains himself as he, “who wrote this sale in the See of Vic, and it was confirmed in Barcelona, in the selfsame palace of Count Ramon, in the street, by the order of the above-written Gombau”.

The erstwhile comital palace of Barcelona

The erstwhile comital palace of Barcelona, fourteenth-century as it stands but with one or two tenth- and eleventh-century bits in it… It’s in that courtyard, even though it wasn’t then there, that I imagine this scenario happening. “Plaça del Rei 2074102277” by Carquinyol from Badalona, Catalunya, upload by HerrickBarcelona – Plaça del Rei. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

When I first saw this I was mainly interested in the palace, because it was then the earliest mention of it of which I knew (though as you have seen here there is one text that makes it clear that Borrell also had a palace, presumably the same one). But it’s weirder than just that, isn’t it? Gombau didn’t get this deal confirmed in the palace, but outside it, in the street, “in platea”. Neither did the count witness it, though a judge did and he only one of seven clerics who make up the witness list, including Gombau’s brother. Again, there is for me the sense here that there wasn’t a procedure for this, that this was not a common or perhaps entirely legitimate operation, and it needed a kind of public sanction that brought it to the centre of comital government, rather than the solemnity of Vic cathedral, but then didn’t actually involve that governor but a raft of clerics instead.

There are plenty of questions that arise: did all these sales of tax revenue involve the kind of recognition of patronage that Gombau here got made explicit, but which a count might not need to have because of already having it? Is the reason this arrangement was so undefined and fudged from bits precisely that everyone was clear that this was in some sense acting like the count, and therefore conscious that public power had a particular sphere still that private persons shouldn’t really have? Or is it instead more important that the count himself had disposed of these rights to Gombau in the first place (and that Borrell, evidently, had not)? Without being able to work out more of what was actually happening here (and why Vic cathedral wound up with the charter) I can’t answer these questions, but I ask them feverishly anyway, believe me I do.


1. The document survives in the original and is printed in Eduard Junyent i Subirà; (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX-X), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), 5 fascs, doc. no. 594, where I first met it without apparently reading it properly, and in Ordeig (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 53 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 1712, where I apparently still had to read it three times before noticcing all of the things mentioned here. Given that and the weight I place on words here it seems worth giving a text myself:
“In Dei nomine. Ego Gondebaldus vinditor sum tibi Donadeo presbitero, emptore. Per hanc scriptura vindicionis mee vindo tibi in ipsum tuum alode et de eredes, qui fuit de Asenario avio tuo et de Galindone patre tuo, ipsum meum censum qualem ibidem abeo que mihi vendidit senior meus Raimundus comes et marchio, talem censum qual tu et eres tui exinde solvere solebas et advenit mihi per mea empcione de suprascripto seniori meo, et est hec omnia in comitatu Ossona, in kastrum Torilione, in valle Sedero vel in eius termines. Qui afrontat hec omnia: de orientis in ipsa Guardia, et de meridie in ipso pugo ultra flumine Tecer que dicunt Cergoso, et de occiduo in ipso grado de Seder, et de circii in ipsa gugularia de Boscatello. Quantum in istas afrontaciones includunt sic vindo tibi suprascriptum censum ab integrum, qualem senior meus suprascriptus comes ibi abuit et mihi vendidit, totum vindo tibi ab integre propter tuum kavallum obtimum, quod tu mihi donasti in precio et mihi placuit et manibus meis recepii, et est manifestum. Propetera sic trado in tua potestate suprascriptum censum ad tuum proprium ut de isto die in antea neque tu neque ullus de succesoribus tuis iam amplius exinde nullum censum persolvatis ad nullum comitem, neque ad ullum vicarium, neque ad ullum ominem, nisi tantum eredes tuis ad te. Et sic fiat liber suprascriptus alodes sine ullo inpedimento et sine ulla inquietudine, set tantum propter magnam diligenciam quod ego faciam ad te et bonitatem et onorem et gubernacionem de suprascripto alode sic abeam super te patrocinium ego et unus filius meus sine malo ingenio. Quod si ego Gondebaldus qui recepit de te Donadeo presbitero suprascripto precio aut filius meus qui de te aut successores tuos de suprascripto censo aliquid inquietaverit, non hoc vale vindicare set componat tibi omnem suprascriptum alode in duplo cum sua melioracione, et in antea ista scriptura vindicione firma permaneat modo vel omnique tempore.
“Facta ista scriptura vindicione XVIII kalendas februarii, anno VIII regnante Ugo rege.
“Sig+num Gondebaldo, qui ista vindicione fecit et firmavi et firmare rogavi. Dacho sacer et iudex sub SSS. S+ Sentelle presbiter. S+ Holiba levita SSS. S+ Agigane sacer. Erigane sacer de Terraca. Sentelle presbiter de Barchonina. Oliba levita, frater Gondebaldo.
“Francus sacer, qui ista vindicione scripsit in sede Vico et fuit firma in Barchinona, in ipso palacio de Raimundo comite, in platea, per iussione de suprascripto Gondebaldo, et sub SSS. die et anno quod supra.”

The bold bits are autograph signatures.

2. At this point I cite Susan Renyolds, Fiefs and Vassals: the medieval evidence reinterpreted (Oxford 1994), and duly note that what we have here includes neither a fief nor a vassal and that probably I should find a better word, if only anyone would recognise by it what I meant any more readily.

3. See Gaspar Feliu, “La pagesia catalana abans de la feudalització” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 26 (Barcelona 1994), pp. 19-41, for a powerful argument that alodial property was never free in the way that historians of the period have often imagined.

4. On these documents see of course Adam J. Kosto, Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: power, order and the written word, 1000-1200, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 51 (Cambridge 2001).

5. Ibid. but also Pierre Bonnassie, “Les conventions féodales dans la Catalogne du XIe siècle” in Annales du Midi Vol. 80 (Toulouse 1968), pp. 529-550, repr. in Structures sociales de l’Aquitaine, du Languedoc et de l’Espagne au premier âge f&eacuute;odal : Colloque International de Toulouse, Mars 1968 (Paris 1969), pp. 187-219, transl. Jean Birrell as “Feudal Conventions in Eleventh-Century Catalonia” in Bonnassie, From Slavery to Feudalism in South-Western Europe, transl. J. Birrell (Cambridge 1991), pp. 170-194, for the case before, and Michel Zimmermann, “Aux origines de Catalogne féodale : les serments non datés du règne de Ramon Berenguer Ier” in Jaume 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 5-6 (Girona 1986), pp. 109-151, with English summary p. 557, French online here, for important nuance.

‘We saw with our eyes and heard with our ears…’

I’m sorry for the unintended hiatus here over the last few days. It turns out that a week in which you start teaching a new hitherto-unfamiliar primary text in two volumes and initiate work on two separate projects outside your main job as well as going to three seminars and a football match (but a football match with medievalists, I should insist) just isn’t very compatible with blogging. Who knew? You will, of course, hear about not just the projects but also the primary text and what I read round it at least a little bit, but the post I have been meaning to finish, and now do, is one more about the gift that keeps on giving, Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil.1

Cover of Josep María Salrach's Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l'any mil (Vic 2013)

Cover of Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil (Vic 2013)

The last one of these posts, you may recall, involved the process for replacing lost documents under Visigothic law, reparatio scripturae, as applied in Catalonia. As I said then, the documents that record such events involve quite detailed reprises of documents sometimes from many years before, and this has led to scepticism that such details could in fact have been genuinely present in the old documents, rather than recovered from the contemporary situation and artifically gilded with the antiquity of presumed memory.2 But as with other such questions, while he doesn’t obviously know that it’s being asked, Salrach has an answer to this, at least potentially. Picking up on the Cuixà hearing I quoted last time and the way its witnesses say that they had read and re-read the missing documents when they existed (quite recently), he argues that probably anyone who had charters got them read out to audiences every now and then so that they would be remembered.3

The volumes of Calaixs 6 & 9 of the Arxiu Episcopal de Vic

I don’t have a picture of the actual document so that you can read it, alas, but it is physically within one of these volumes

Now this obviously makes sense in some ways: it would explain the level of recall that Bowman finds implausible, and certainly this is not the only place where witnesses say such a thing, though the usual phrase is less literate, “we saw with our eyes and heard with our ears”. And there is, as you may just recall, one case where this process is actually documented, at the cathedral of Vic in the year 898. There, one Boso himself took an oath as to the content of several charters he’d lost involving land sold him by two couples, Ermoarí and Farelda and Domènec and Guisilda, and then got five witnesses to testify under oath that they had seen this done. And so they duly say:

“We the above-written witnesses know, and well recall in truth, and saw with our eyes and our ears heard, or we were also present at that hour while those two people, by name the late Domènec and his wife Guisilda and Ermoarí and his wife Farelda, were in the county of Osona, in the term of Taradell, in the hamlet of Gaudilà. And thus made the late Domènec a little charter or sale to the man by the name of Boso, of all his heredity which he had in the county of Osona within the limits of the castle of Taradell or in the hamlet of Gaudilà, and Ermoarí with his wife Farelda sold all their lands or a house, all their heredity in Gaudilà’s hamlet to that same Boso. And we witnesses saw the selfsame documents confirmed and impressed with the sign of the man by the name of Domènec and his wife…”

… and it goes on into what I tend to call non-exclusion clauses, in which every sort of property that the estates concerned might have included is named so that nothing can be claimed as omitted.4 But what’s interesting here is where it goes next, which is to what happened to the documents:

“And we witnesses were signatories making marks in the little charter of Ermoarí, and there was recorded there the notary Joan the priest. We witnesses saw the selfsame documents confirmed and corroborated and impressed with the sign of the sellers, Domènec and his wife and of Ermoarí and his wife, and of the audience and of the chancellor just as is inserted above. And we saw the selfsame documents handed over into the power of that same Boso and I the already-said Domènec and his wife and Ermoarí and his wife handed them over of their own spontaneous will into the power of the selfsame Boso. And we witnesses saw and heard the selfsame documents read and re-read one and another and a third time in the hamlet of Gaudilà. And that same Boso had the selfsame lost documents, and it was evident.”

What Salrach of course picks up on is the reference to a repeated reading. Again this makes perfect sense as a way that things could have been done, and as I’ve said elsewhere it’s a real pity that we can’t trust it…5 The reason that we can’t is the notary and the chancellor; these are the only documents in the whole of Carolingian Catalonia as far as I know, and certainly in this county, that mention such officers. Obviously the documents had a scribe, but neither of these is likely to be a title they used. That means that the scribe of these documents, a priest by the name of Ademir, had another model in use from somewhere, and that no procedural detail included in these documents can be proven to come from life rather than the model. And this is the only text we have that mentions this re-reading on site…

Cathedral of Sant Pere de vic seen from the Riu Gurri

The cathedral of Sant Pere de Vic, from the Riu Gurri, where with a rather different and presumably smaller building on site this all took place. By Enfo (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Of course this doesn’t take away Salrach’s point. If the recall (which sometimes goes well beyond the likely: we have the name of one of the Muslim governors operating in Catalonia before the Muslim conquest from one of the Cuixà document replacements, whose forty-year-old original had apparently recorded a century of tenure history!6) is to be accepted, it needs explaining; here is a perfectly good explanation, even if it probably isn’t what actually happened here. So when would this hypothetical reading have taken place? There is a contention made by people who work on monastic cartularies that these, functioning as memorials of donors, would have been read out on solemn occasions in the monastery, such as particular feast days, and the same could just about be true of secular churches, if they picked a day when a good crowd would be there.7 But should we imagine similar opportunities being taken in the lay world? There would be no fixed points of the calendar outwith the liturgy for the lay population, so the occasion would have to be generated, either by the agricultural year or by one-off events, which it seems odd to picture being co-opted for this purpose. Everyone’s here for the wedding or whatever, let’s quickly get the charters out and run through ‘em? And who could run through formulaic Latin documents for such an audience anyway? There is, most likely, an evidentially silent practice of public land-speaking here that these procedures imply, but do not prove. The case is not made by Salrach, but it seems to me that the combination of these various cases does make it stronger. I would have liked more from him on this!


1. J. M. Salrach, Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil, Referències 55 (Vic 2013).

2. Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: property, proof and dispute in Catalonia around the year 1000 (Ithaca 2004), pp. 151-161.

3. Salrach, Justícia i poder, p. 195, referring to Pierre Ponsich (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia VI: els comtats de Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir i Fenollet, rev. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LXX (Barcelona 2006), 2 vols, doc. no. 121.

4. The two documents from the hearing are edited as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 33 & 34, the latter here quoted in my translation. The cataloguic property listings are discussed by Michel Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, I pp. 208-217.

5. J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis (University of London 2005), online here, pp. 49-53.

6. Salrach, Justícia i poder, 195, without further reference, but the document is Ponsich, Catalunya Carolíngia VI, doc. no. 120, with the actual content here referred to printed as its own entry as no. 23.

7. Patrick Geary, “Entre gestion et gesta” in Olivier Guyotjeannin, Laurent Morelle & Michel Parisse (edd.), Les Cartulaires : Actes de la Table Ronde organisée par l’École Nationale des Chartes et le G. D. R. 121 du C. N. R. S. (Paris, 5-7 décembre 1991), Mémoires et Documents de l’École des Chartes 39 (Paris 1993), pp. 13-26; see also Geary, “Land, Language and Memory in Europe 700-1100″ in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 9 (Cambridge 1999), pp. 169-184.

Preservation not by neglect

Long-term readers will know that one of the things that concerns me in my researches is why we come to have the documents that we have. If we remember that almost all documents of the early Middle Ages that we have survive via Church archives, we have a perpetual issue about whether we have any means to get at what laymen did between themselves by way of property transfer, management and all the other things I talk about, or whether we’re stuck with the Church’s-eye view of the era. In some areas, and Catalonia is perhaps the most important of these cases, we have plenty of documents which are solely lay transactions but still surviving via a Church archive, so the problem is less bad but we could still use knowing who selected the documentation and what else there might have been out there.

Vic, Arxiu Capitular, Calaix 6 no. 554

A genuine lay transaction in a Church archive, Vic, Arxiu Capitular, Calaix 6 no. 554 in which Sabrosa sold some land in Folgueroles to two couples in 915 (edited as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 142).

Until the 1990s there was really only one answer to this anywhere, which is that property involved in those transactions must have subsequently come to the Church and the charters just never sorted; this we can suppose partly because of things like documents that were marked for weeding and never disposed of and also because of the many places where, when such an effort was made to sort the charters, it was so as to make a cartulary that removed the need for the original documents and as a result of which we no longer have them.1 This is what I have called ‘preservation by neglect’. In this formulation, if there is a cartulary there would be no originals and indeed we very rarely have both, even in Catalonia.2 But in areas like Catalonia where the survival of originals is generally high, and people have either supposed much higher production of documents and what Julia Smith has called ‘document-mindedness’ or else much lower losses here than elsewhere, depending on their views of early medieval literacy, it has been easier to form other opinions, such as that somehow Church archives came to preserve dossiers of lay documents that people had initially maintained outside the Church, or that churches and monasteries were actually fulfilling a rôle as archival institutions for their patrons.3 Last year this line of thought culminated in the volume that finally came out of the Lay Archives project, which has added a lot of complexities to the modalities of this but more or less concludes that, yes, people did keep documents at home and all these things could probably have happened to such documents eventually if they happen to have survived.4

Cover of Warren Brown, Marios Costambeys, Matthew Innes & Adam Kosto (edd.), Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 2013)

Cover of Warren Brown, Marios Costambeys, Matthew Innes & Adam Kosto (edd.), Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 2013)

Cover of Josep María Salrach's Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l'any mil (Vic 2013)

Cover of Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil (Vic 2013)

Oblivious to all this as far as can be told (and obviously of the last given the timing), in Catalonia last year Josep María Salrach published a book I’ve now mentioned quite a lot and, as I said in my review of it, he happens all the same to mention things that bear directly on a number of heated debates in the historiography outside Catalonia, of which this is one. Something that we generally lack in this question is any evidence of charters that existed already actually coming to the archive of a church. It can sometimes be deduced that this must have happened, but it’s never usually explicit. But Salrach has a case of it, which he throws in while discussing something slightly different, the process in early medieval Catalonia for replacing lost documents.5 The date is 29th January 879, the place is Sant Esteve d’Estoer in Conflent and the occasion is a large hearing convened by the monks of Sant Andreu d’Eixalada as had been till the previous year, when a devastating flood of the Riu Tet washed their new community away along with its archive.6

Saint-Michel de Cuxa

Saint-Michel de Cuxa, as it now is. By Babsy (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

On their way to re-establishing themselves as Sant Miquel de Cuixà, with what was obviously considerable success, they held a large number of hearings in which they invoked the bit of the Visigothic Law known now as reparatio scripturae, repair of a document, by which one could get a lost document replaced by bringing witnesses to its content to swear a solemn oath, whose record then became your new charter.7 At this one, the monks produced their witnesses, Ató, Guisind, Sió, Quixilà, Espanla, Guisad and Llop, and the first thing to which they swore was a donation by Count Miró I of Conflent and Rosselló, of whom we heard last post but one. What they were recorded as saying is as follows:

“We swear first of all by God, the Omnipotent Father, and by Jesus Christ, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, who is in Trinity the One True God, or also by the relics of Saint Stephen, martyr of Christ, whose basilica is known to be founded in the villa of Estoer, on whose sacrosanct altar we placed these conditions with our hands or touched them together while swearing, that we the already-said witnesses known and well recall in truth, saw with our eyes and heard with our ears and were present in the villa of Escaró when Count Miró commended his documents of purchase and royal precept to Abbot Baró and the monk Protasi, and we saw the selfsame documents reading and re-reading and we know the whole series of those documents.”

And they went on to give abstracts of four charters, usually including the scribes’ name and always the date, and all were in favour not of the monastery but of the count.8 One of them was in fact a transaction in which the monastery-as-was had sold the property in question to him!9 (Another was a court case which his representative Sesnan, whom we met last post but one, actually won.10) Nonetheless, it was Abbot Baró and Protasi who had called for the ceremony and provided the witnesses, and the count was not present, the hearing unusually being chaired only by a group of seven judges.

Saint-Étienne d'Estoher

The modern state of Sant Esteve de’Estoer, now better known as Saint-Étienne d’Estoher, where the hearing was being held

So what do we have here? There’s no clue that any of these properties then went to Eixalada in the five-or-less years since they had been recorded there, nor is that what the document they came away from this hearing with claimed. It looks awfully as if Miró had in fact been using the monastery as an archive and they then felt obligated to replace his lost documents as well as their own. But can there only have been four? Well, probably not because apart from anything else they did not recall and replace the royal precept that they initially mention (which indeed, if they were genuinely reading the texts, may have been beyond them given its chancery script), so there could be several more documents than are actually recalled here.11 That’s a pretty meagre archive all the same, even less than we might have expected. But at least we know why we would have it, if of course it had only survived…


1. Simon D. Keynes, “Royal government and the written word in late Anglo-Saxon England” in Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), The Uses of Literacy in Early Mediaeval Europe (Cambridge 1990), pp. 226-257; Patrick J. Geary, Phantoms of Remembrance: remembering and forgetting in the tenth and eleventh centuries (Princeton 1994).

2. Barcelona, Urgell and Vic cathedrals all have Libri of some status in which some of their documents were copied as well as sheafs of originals, but Girona cathedral and several monasteries (Poblet springs to mind) only have cartularies and some places have lost even those (Elna most obviously).

3. Janet L. Nelson, “Dispute Settlement in Carolingian West Francia” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (edd.), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1986), pp. 46-63 at pp. 53-55, Adam J. Kosto, “Laymen, Clerics and Documentary Practices in the Early Middle Ages: the example of Catalonia” in Speculum Vol. 80 (Cambridge MA 2005), pp. 44-74 and Matthew Innes, “Practices of Property in the Carolingian Empire” in Jennifer R. Davies & Michael McCormick (edd.), The Long Morning of Early Medieval Europe: new directions in early medieval studies (Aldershot 2008), pp. 247-266, for lay dossiers; Warren Brown, “When documents are destroyed or lost: lay people and archives in the early Middle Ages” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 (Oxford 2002), pp. 337-366 at pp. 351-354 for the alternative.

4. Idem, Marios Costambeys, Innes & Kosto (edd.), Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 2013); here see esp. eidem, “Conclusion”, pp. 363-376.

5. Salrach, Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil, Referències 55 (Vic 2013), here pp. 194-198.

6. Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: property, proof and dispute in Catalonia around the year 1000 (Ithaca 2004), pp. 152-156; for more detail see Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, “Com neix i creix un gran monestir pirinenc abans de l’any mil: Eixalada-Cuixà” in Analecta Montserratensia Vol. 8 (Montserrat 1955), pp. 125-337, repr. in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i Documents XIII & XIV (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), 2 vols, I pp. 377-484 without documentary appendix.

7. The classic discussion is José Rius Serra, “Reparatio Scriptura” in Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español Vol. 5 (Madrid 1928), pp. 246-253; cf. Bowman, Shifting Landmarks, pp. 151-161, who is sceptical about its possible accuracy.

8. Pierre Ponsich (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia VI: els comtats de Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir i Fenollet, rev. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LXX (Barcelona 2006), 2 vols, doc. no. 121, with the quoted documents indexed separately as nos 82, 84, 86 & 100, here 121: “Iuramus in primis per Deum, patrem omnipotentem, et per Iesum Christum, filium eius, Sanctumque Spiritum, qui est in trinitate unus et verus Deus, sive et per reliquias sancti Stephani, martyris Christi, cuius baselica in villa Astovere fundata esse dinoscitur, supra cuius sacrosancto altare has conditiones manibus nostris continemus vel iurando contangimus, quia nos iamdicti testes scimus et bene in veritate sapemus, oculis nostris vidimus et aures audivimus, et presentes eramus in villa Ascarone cuando comendabat Miro comes ad barone abbate et Protasio monacho suas scripturas emptionis et preceptum regalem, et vidimus ipsas scripturas legentes et relegentes, et cognovimus omnem seriem illarum scripturam.”

9. Ibid. no. 82.

10. Ibid. no. 86.

11. It might, admittedly, be because actually the other documents survived; Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia I: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 2 & 3 or 75 (Barcelona 1926-1952, repr. 2009), I pp. 80-88, thought that the precept must be that that survived into the seventeenth century to be copied and thence edited by him as ibid. Cuixà I, but that text doesn’t mention Miró at all and it’s not clear why he should ever have held it. I think the precept mentioned here was probably Miró’s own.

From the Sources X: the most interesting document in the judicial administration of Carolingian Catalonia

Such is the claim that Josep María Salrach makes of the document below, and Senyor Professor Salrach does not say such things without basis so I thought I could do no better than put it before you!1 The matter is a hearing of 25th March 874, held before Count Miró I of Conflent, brother of Guifré the Hairy, though this is before either of them hit the sovereign big-time with their appointment to more counties in 878. Instead, what we have here is the working of a just-still-Carolingian judicial apparatus, and it goes like this.2

“In the court of Count Miró and the judges who were ordered to hear, determine and rightly judge the cases, that is, Langovard, Bera, Odolpall, Dodó, Esteve, Fulgenci and Guintioc, judges, on in the presence of many other worthy men, the priest Kandià, Rautfred, Cesari, Goltred, Mauregat, Sentred, Ennegó, Sesgut, Daneu, Llop, the Saió Enelari, everyone who was seated in that court, there came a man, Sesnan by name, the representative of Count Miró, and he said: ‘Hear me, how that same Llorenç, that he ought to be a fiscal slave from the descent of his parents and grandparents, with his brothers and kinsmen, and they did service to the lord Count Sunifred, father of my lord by voice of whom my lord ordered me his representative to enquire.’
“Then the abovesaid judges said to Llorenç, who was summoned on behalf of himself and his kinsmen: ‘What do you answer to this?’ And he said in response: ‘I ought not to be a fiscal slave, and neither should my kinsmen, by descent from our grandfathers or grandmothers in the paternal or maternal lines, since I and my kinsmen, just as it says in the Law of the Goths, for 30 or fifty years have stayed in the houses in which we who are present among you were born without any blandishment or servile yoke, in the villa of Canavelles, with no count or judge summoning us.’

Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin, 151 J 50, fo. 1r., a fragment of the Visigothic Law

Here is a completely non-Catalan copy of the Law, a fragment from Lorsch now in Straßburg, but it is at least ninth-century and secondly dealing with enslavement (V.4.x), so that’s not bad is it? For full reference to the text see n. 4 below. The MS is Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin, 151 J 50, fo. 1r.

“We the judges indeed said to the representative Sesnan: ‘Can you present witnesses or documents or any index of truth by which you may prove that this same Llorenç, his brothers or his kinsmen ought to be fiscal slaves to your lord, and that they have been subjected to service within those legitimate years that the response mentioned?’ And he said: ‘I have no other proof than that I found in an inventory of my lord that his father assigned to him the woman Ludínia who was related to this kindred whom I prosecute.’
“We the judges indeed said to Llorenç: ‘How did that same Ludínia, who was your grandfather’s sister, come to be in that inventory if she was not a fiscal slave?’ And Llorenç responded: ‘I don’t know why it says that, but I do know one thing, that she was not a slave subject to service; but if servile condition isn’t carried from someone in the kindred to which I am connected to their children, then the servile condition doesn’t apply to their children.’

Madrid, Biblioteca de la Real Academia de Historia, Cod. 34, fo. 43r

And here is the exact bit of the Law that is about to be quoted, V.7.viii, from a late-ninth or early-tenth-century copy now in the Real Academia de Historia in Madrid, to which I can now link you because PARES have finally enabled stable URLs! It is Biblioteca de la Real Academia de Historia, Cod. 34, fo. 43r.

“So we searched in the Law of the Goths where it says: ‘If anyone wishes to bring a free person into slavery, let him demonstrate by what rule the slave came to him. And if a slave should claim himself to be a free person, and shows to the selfsame person proof of his freedom in the same way’, and the rest which follows.
“Wherefore we asked that same Llorenç if he might be able to produce such witnesses as the law says, that he or his kinsmen ought to answer for nothing to the fisc. He said: ‘I can’. He introduced four legitimate witnesses without any crime, that is, Guitsèn, Adaulf, Belès and Viatari, who swore by a solemn oath just as is written there. Then we the abovesaid judges said to Sesnan: ‘Can you produce more or better witnesses, or name a crime that prohibits testimony in the law, today or later?’ And that man said in his answers: ‘I can produce neither witnesses nor documents nor any index of truth whereby I may defame those same witnesses, or to subject those same persons to service neither in those same three hearings nor at any other time, today or hereafter. I thus, by the interrogation of the judges and in the presence of worthy men do recognise and quit my claim in the villa of Vernet, in the church of Sant Sadurní, and recognise that I have received the oaths which those same witnesses made truly by the order of my lord, and those things that I have done rightly and truly I do recognise and evacuate in the judgement of you or the presence of those written above.’

A Catalan copy of the Visigothic Law, Abadia de Montserrat MS 1109, from Wikimedia Commons

Lastly let’s just bring out that Catalan copy of the Law one more time… Abadia de Montserrat ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


“Recognition or evacuation made on the 8th Kalends of April, in the 34th year of the reign of King Charles.
“Sig+nature of Sesnan, representative of the lord count Miró for fiscal cases needing answering, who have made this recognition or evacuation and handed [it] over [to] witnesses for confirming. Miró. Guintioc. […]
“Protasi, conversus if God should be his companion, who have written this document of recognition or evacuation on both the day and year as above.”

Again, there is an awful lot here to play with. I like especially the representation of direct speech that, it becomes clear, can’t be, because they talk in formulae and refer to things that haven’t been reported, like the exact nature of Ludínia’s relationship to Sesnan. I also note that here both sides, both the state representative and the undowntrodden peasant, cite the Law of the Goths, and the judges know that the peasant’s cite is justified. As I have said, people generally do seem to have known about the thirty-year rule. I am also fascinated by the suggestion that Count Miró I had an officer whose business was the pursuit of fiscal claims, though the complex phrasing that Protasi (who was at this stage in the business of drumming up support for a monastery at Sant Andreu d’Eixalada that would not end well, and was a serious person about the public sphere) seems to have loved may be making as much of that title as it does of his own (which is, I should make clear, very hard to translate, so I may be glossing what is actually incoherence). And of course, the count has an inventory! But as we have seen before (when talking of later, but so what?) it’s not a very good inventory; the claim hadn’t been pursued for years and the only data the count had went back a generation and was inherited, rather than compiled, by the current administration. As I said a couple of posts ago, just because the Carolingian and post-Carolingian state had ambitions to systematic record doesn’t mean that they were necessarily very good at it.

Saint-Saturnin de Vernet-les-Bains

And finally the actual location of the hearing, in its modern guise, Sant Sadurní de Vernet or as you would now find it in an atlas, It seems an impressive enough place to hold court! Saint-Saturnin de Vernet-les-Bains. By Baptiste Autin (Own work (Baptiste Autin)) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

For Salrach, what is most interesting here is the back and forth about service, servitium, which seems to be what defines slavery in practical terms here.3 There are several definitions floating around the case, it seems to me: the comital claim hinges on an argument by descent, and Salrach says that the relationship is found insufficiently close because of slavery not transmitting through the maternal line so that doesn’t work. They don’t actually say that, though, even though they could have because it too is in the Law of the Goths.4 And what they looked up in the Law doesn’t seem to relate either to that or what they did next, perhaps because although both sides were trying such arguments everyone knew that the thirty-year rule probably made them irrelevant anyway. The deciding factor was whether or not Llorenç’s kinsmen did servitium to the count in that time; they had people to say they hadn’t and Sesnan had nothing but the descent claim from a woman whose presence in a list of slaves wasn’t explicable. As I say, the comital archive wasn’t up to the job it was being asked to perform here.

From all this, anyway, and several other mentions of servitium, Salrach builds up a picture of the development of the obligations of the general populace to the count, seeing it as being a form of servitium generalised to all subjects of the public power (which the Vall de Sant Joan hearing qualifies as army service and the ‘lesser royal service’) and a more specialised, demeaning one that is what was at issue here.5 I’m not sure I would go as far as he does with this but it’s about the only attempt to work out what the counts could actually demand from their subjects that’s not based essentially on a template of Carolingian government assumed still to be running, so for me it still has great value as an idea to work with. Nonetheless, he’s right that this is a very interesting document, and it’s the hints, the drama of court and the attempts by people to swing old law in their directions in various ways and with various unexpected sorts of proof that make it interesting for me as much as the big point that Salrach believes it helps make.


1. J. M. Salrach, Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil, Referències 55 (Vic 2013), p. 128: “Aquest és, segurament, el document més interessant dels que coneixem de l’administració de justícia a la Catalunya Carolíngia.”

2. Pierre Ponsich (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia VI: els comtats de Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir i Fenollet, rev. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueolòico LXX (Barcelona 2006), 2 vols, doc. no. 81: “In iuditio Mirone comite seu iudices qui iussi sunt causa audire, dirimere vel recte iudicare, id est, Langobardus, Bera, Odolpaldus, Dodo, Stephanus, Fulgentius et Guintiocus, iudicum, vel in presentia aliorum multorum bonorum hominum, Kandiani presbiteri, Rautefredi, Cesari, Gultredi, Maurecati, Sentredi, Enneconi, Siseguti, Danieli, Lupon, Enalario saione, omnes qui in ipso iuditio residebant, veniens homo nomine Sesenandus, mandatarius Mirone comite, et dixit: «Audite me cum isto Laurentio qualiter servus fiscalis debet esse ex nascendo de parentes de abios suos, cum fratres vel parentes suos, et servicium fecerent domno Suniefredo comite, genitore seniore meo, ad parte fisclai per preceptum quod precellentissimus rex Carulus fceit domno Suniefredo comite, cuius voce me mandatarium mandat inquirere senior meus».
“Tunc supradicti iudices dixerunt Laurentio, qui est inquietatus pro se et parentes suos: «Qui ad hec respondis?» Et ille in suis responsis dixit: «Non debeo esse servus fiscalis, nec parentes mei ex nascendo de bisabios vel visabias ex paterno vel ex materno, qui ego et parentes mei, sicut lex Gothorum continet, per XXXa vel quinquaginta annis in domois in qua nati sumus inter presentes instetimus absque blandimento vel iugo servitutis in villa CAnabellas, nullo comite vel iuduce nos inquietante.»
“Nos vero iudices Sesenando mandatario diximus: «Potes habere tests aut scripturas aut ullum indicium veritatisunde probare possis isto Laurentio, fratres vel parentes suosu, ut servi fiscale seniori tuo debent esse, ut infra istos legitimos annos quod responsum dedit servituti fuissent?» Et ille dixit: «Non habeo alia probatione nisi inveni in breve senioris mei quod pater suus ei dimisit femina Ludinia qui fuit parentes istius parentele quem ego persequor».
“Nos vero iudices diximus Laurentio: «Unde advenit ista femina Ludinia in isto breve, qui fuit soror abie tue si ancilla fiscalis non fuit?» Et Laurentius respondit: «Nescio quomodo hic resonat, set unum scio, quod ancilla inclinata in servitio non fuit; sed si aliunde ad filios suos conditio servilis non avenit, de parentes quod mihi coniuncta est, non pertinent ad filios suos servilis conditio».
Nos autem perquisimus in lege Gotorum ubi dicunt: «Si quis ingenuum ad servitium addicere voluerit, ipse doceat quo ordine ei servus advenerit. Et si servus ingenuum se esse dixerit, et ipsi simili modo ingenuitatis sue firmam ostendant probationem», et cetera que secuntur.
“Proinde diximus adisto Laurentio si potuisset tales habere testes sicut lex continet ut nullum ex fisco persolvere debeat ille aut parentes sui. Ille dixit: «Possum». Introduxit legitimos quattuor testes absque ullo crimine, id est, Guitesindo, Ataulfo, Beles et Biatarius, qui iuraverunt a serie conditione sicut ibidem insertum est. Tunc nos supradicti iudices Sesennando diximus: «Potes alios habere testes ampliores aut meliores, aut crimen quod in lege vetitum est testificandi dicere hodie aut postmodum?» Et ille in suis responsis dixit: «Non possum habere testes nec scripturas nec ullum indicium veritatis unde istos testes diffamiare possim, aut istos ad servitium inclinare neque isto trinos placitos nec ulloque tempore et hodie et deinceps. Sic me recognosco vel exvacuo ab interrogatione udiucm et presentia bonorum hominum in villa Verneto, in ecclesia Sancti Saturnini, et ut sacramenta fecerunt isti testes veraciter recepi per iussionem senioris mei, et ea qui feci recete et veraciter me recognosco vel excvacuo in vestrorum iuditio vel suprascriptorum presentia».
“Facta recognitione vel exvacuatione sub die VIII kalendas aprili, anno XXXIIII regnante Karolo rege.
“Sig+num Sesenandi, mandatario domno Mirone comite ad causas fiscalis requirendas, qui hanc recognitione vel exvacuatione feci et testes tradidi ad roborandum. Miro. Guintiocus. […]
“Protasius, si Deus comes fuerit, conversus, qui hanc scriptura recognitionis vel exvacuationis iussus scripsi et die et annon quo supra.”


3. Salrach, Justícia i poder, pp. 126-134; see my very brief discussion in J. Jarrett, review of Josep María Salrach, Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil (Vic 2013) in The Medieval Review 14.09.16, online at http://hdl.handle.net/2022/18731, last modified 15 September 2014 as of 27 September 2014.

4. Karl Zeumer (ed.), Leges Visigothorum, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Leges Nationum Germanicum) I (Hannover 1902, repr. 2005), transl. S. P. Scott as The Visigothic Code (Boston 1922), online here, II.2.iii, which also invokes the thirty-year rule for getting out of such an inheritance if a slave happened to have one.

5. Salrach also attacks this question with different cases, including the Vall de Sant Joan hearing, in Justícia i poder, pp. 87-90, 110-112 & 242-243 (conclusions).

Managing without an archive in c. 1000 Barcelona

There’s a story I’m fond of and that I’ve told you here before, in which a woman came to the court of Marquis Ramon Borrell of Barcelona in 1005 claiming that the monks of Sant Cugat del Vallès were moving in on her land.1 There’s all kinds of strange things going on in the background of this case, and I do urge you to read the older post, but the bit that interests me on this occasion is the basis on which the plaintiff lost her land, which is that Ramon Borrell and his tame judge decided that the land was in fact the count’s, by virtue of having recently been wasteland, “just as other waste lands belong to the right of the prince”.2 It’s a pretty mean claim given that most people got to hold onto lands they’d cleared, and if the monastery hadn’t also had a claim I doubt very much this bit of casuistry would have been perpetrated upon her. When I’ve looked at this case before, therefore, I’ve either seen it as an instance of the importance of back-story in this legal environment when one was fixing a verdict, or else as an instance of the fact that these rights the counts were claiming over waste lands were not in fact regular and were probably therefore new, which bears heavily on the theory that this was an ancient and long-respected right of the public power.3 Y’see, it’s a very rich case. But what I want to focus on today is the appearance that the document gives that the count didn’t realise, until the problem arose, that this could be claimed as his land. Up till now I have always figured this was simple exigency, that ordinarily he’d never have pressed such a claim unless it was of immediate political use, and I would still think that if what I was reading when I wrote this hadn’t just presented me with another case.4

Cover of Josep María Salrach's Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l'any mil (Vic 2013)

Cover of Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil (Vic 2013), which is what I had in fact been reading when this post got written

This one’s from 1013, and it’s Ramon Borrell again, at court with his good lady wife when a delegation arrived from a placee called Villalba near Cardedeu, complaining that the count had some time ago been persuaded by one Rigoald to sell him a meadow next-door to Villalba in what the document has the count call “an innocent and unreflexive manner”, and that Rigoald and his wife and son had started making encroachments into the villagers’ common land.5 Rigoald now being dead, the villagers dared at last come to the count, and he and Countess Ermessenda apparently called the widow and son, Quixol and Ramon, to court, had their charter examined and found it, “made in a fraudulent and deceptive manner, alien to right and to all justice.” Therefore the charter was destroyed in court, and Quixol and Ramon fined thirty sheep, which by a coincidence is exactly what the villagers gave the count in gratitude for the justice he had done them.

Chapel of SS Corneli & Cebrià de Cardedéu

It turns out in searching that Cardedéu has a rather nice Romanesque chapel sitting in its midst, so although I can’t make any direct connection between it and the post I think it will do for illustration anyway don’t you? I’m so glad. By Miquel vico (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s hard to see how anyone but the count and countess won here. Quixol and Ramon presumably felt they were secure enough with their charter, even if they had maybe overstepped its bounds; instead they lost all title to their lands, and what happened to them is not clear, and they lost thirty sheep as well, while the villagers had to pay the same just to get what they had argued was rightfully theirs. What good sixty sheep did the count and countess of Barcelona is less easy to see, but it is reasonably clear, as Josep María Salrach says in his discussion of this case, that Ramon Borrell got a considerable height of moral high ground, defending the loyal peasantry against oppressors even when those oppressors were in fact himself, correctly broadcasting an adherence to right over advantage, even if that right was best paid for. I’m more interested in the thread that seems to me to tie these two cases together, however, which is that Ramon Borrell apparently had only the sketchiest idea of what property he actually controlled.

Arxiu Fidel Fita d'Arenys de Mar, Mas Gelat de Santa Susanna, Mas Bellvehí de Vidreres 91.0.1

This isn’t from the comital archive, but it is a charter of Ramon Borrell, with Ermessenda, Arxiu Fidel Fita d’Arenys de Mar, Mas Gelat de Santa Susanna, Mas Bellvehí de Vidreres, 91.0.1 of 1001. Their signatures, done by the scribe I think, are dead centre of the last full line of text.

In some senses this may not surprise anyone who’s spent much time with the documents from this area, because one of the noticeable things about them is the scale of comital property, which is, tiny and widespread. It is at least arguable that the counts held some really big estates and, because they kept them, we have no transaction evidence in which to see them—there’s a huge complex at Palau de Gurb that we only ever see because it was slowly and reluctantly given to Santa Maria de Ripoll, but it would never have got there had it not originally been part of a comital son’s entry-gift, for example6—but they certainly also held an immense variety of tiny stuff. There’s almost no castle term in which some comital property doesn’t show up, even if it’s just a couple of meadows or similar, and of course they presumably considered the actual castles theirs in some way, too, but that’s not what I mean. Keeping track of this mess of busy little farms and smallholdings would have been beyond most administrations, and yet on the other hand the reason we know about this land is because people near it knew it was the counts’ and said so when called on to detail property boundaries. We know here not to underestimate the ability of tenth-century lords to take inventories and make lists, I think, so there seems little question that the counts could, just about, have known what they owned. So why does Ramon Borrell seem not to have?

Arxiu de la Corona d'Aragó, Cancilleria, Pergamins Ramon Borrell 2

This, on the other hand, is from the comital archive, is in fact Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó, Cancilleria, Pergamins Ramon Borrell 2, but is nothing to do with the counts and doesn’t feature the man under whom it’s indexed! Funny old world, archives.

Well, there is one fairly obvious excuse in the form of the sack of Barcelona by a Muslim army in 985.7 Lots of documents got lost in that, and because preservation from the Barcelona comital archive is so patchy for the early period, it has been assumed that the counts were among the losers that day.8 I’ve always struggled with this, however, because while it is patchy it is very far from non-existent, so either they didn’t lose it all, or some of the documents that later came to the archive were held elsewhere in 985 despite being about comital property, in which case we’re already looking at a rather less centralised administration than the kind of property tracking we’re looking for might have needed.9

Besides, it’s not just Ramon Borrell who seems to have had this problem: a remarkable case from the reign of his father Borrell II, which Salrach also explores, shows the same issues coming up. This is a hearing from a place in Manresa called Vallformosa, in 977 so that the “day Barcelona died” can’t yet have affected things.10 Borrell was presiding over this court, which makes it all the more surprising what happened: his agent summoned the men of Vallformosa (some of whom were women, but fairly few, so probably the communty’s heads of houses) and claimed that their land was comital property because it had been so in the times of Borrell’s father Count Sunyer. The villagers however claimed that no claim had been made on them for more than thirty years, which under the Visigothic Law was the limit of any outstanding property claims, and so the lands were now theirs whatever the past situation might have been. The judge asked Borrell’s man Bonhom if he had any evidence to refute this, he had none, and so he had to make a quitclaim in front of his boss admitting the collapse of the comital claim, and that document then went into the comital archive.

Sant Salvador de Servitge de Vallformosa

Sant Salvador de Servitge de Vallformosa, which though much modified is possibly the oldest building standing in the village as far as websearching can tell me. Photograph by Antonio Mora Vergés.

Speculation about this has tended to go two ways, and Salrach covers both of them.11 Firstly, it can be seen as proof that the counts could lose, and that they did not have the will or resources always to force a verdict in their favour against determined opposition. Point against this view: why would you have the trail? Bonhom must have known he had no evidence to present, yet he sued the villagers anyway. It would have looked better for his side not to bother. Thus, a second point of view has been that the comital side must have intended to lose, the point being to establish publically the villagers’ rights; that is, that this was what is known in the scholarship of Italy and Germany as a Scheinprozess, a show trial. Point against this view: why must the count lose to do this? Why could he not just grant them a franchise or immunity? These documents were made by others, and indeed by Borrell himself before long, so this seems a very odd way to do it.

So I wonder if in fact they did all know what the outcome must be, or whether in fact no-one was really sure whether Vallformosa’s inhabitants would be able to raise a group of oath-swearers or that Bonhom would not be able to until too close to the trial to call it off. I wonder if, in fact, a trial like this was how both sides settled a question of ownership that beforehand they could not answer. A point for this idea, unlikely though it may seem, and a point against both the other two theories, is that the Vallformosa and Villalba documents survive in the comital archive. What I have called ‘Winner’s preservation’ here before ought to militate against this: why would the counts be keeping records of what they had not been able to claim? These documents ought to have gone to the villagers, so that they could be produced if the matter was ever raised again. The fact that what we have is the counts’ copies suggests to me an archive that barely existed, that was being assembled by chancing this kind of case and filing the results so that if, in the future, someone in Barcelona went, “That place Vallformosa, up north-west of Manresa, that’s ours isn’t it? Bishop says it’s not his…” someone checking would then be able to say, “Ah. No.”

ACA Cancilleria Pergamins Borrell II 63

I seem not to have images of anything from the comital archive from before the sack of 985 that doesn’t hail from Sant Joan de les Abadesses, whose stuff got added in later. There are some, all the same, but this is ACA Cancilleria Pergamins Borrell II 63, a Barcelona sale of 992 that, again, doesn’t feature the count and presumably arrived in the comital archive for some other reason

I admit that there is a nastier possibility, that the counts might lose the case but claim the right to keep the record, far away in Barcelona where no-one from Vallformosa could easily get at it. I would have to admit the possibility of that: but a comital administration with that kind of plan surely wouldn’t be as confused about its rights as it in fact seems to have been. I don’t want to let go of my older idea that Borrell and his son were actually trying to push for new rights under old legal cladding, and that what they attempted to get was sometimes unobtainable precisely because no-one had asked before. (This chapter of Salrach’s book is really good at adding texture to this idea, for a start.) However, I do now think that we probably ought to realise that a governmentalising apparatus with all kinds of strategies for power still doesn’t have to have been very good at them or well-equipped to carry them out…


1. J. Rius Serra (ed.), Cartulario de «Sant Cugat» del Vallés vol. II (Barcelona 1946), online here, doc. no. 464.

2. Ibid.: “Propterea iudicatum est in ipso iudicio melius et verius esse hec terra iuris principalis, sicut et cetera spacia heremarum terrarum…”.

3. J. Jarrett, “A Likely Story: narratives in charter material from early medieval Catalonia”, paper presented to the Medieval History Seminar, University of Oxford, 18th October 2010; idem, “Settling the King’s Lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 18 (Oxford 2010), pp. 320-342, DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-8847.2010.00301.x.

4. Josep María Salrach, Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil, Refeències 55 (Vic 2013), here pp. 114-118.

5. Gaspar Feliu i Montfort and Josep María Salrach (edd.), Els pergamins de l’arxiu comtal de Barcelona de Ramon Borrell a Ramon Berenguer I: estudi i edició, Diplomataris 18-20 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 105. I’m working off Salrach’s account cited in the previous note here, which only quotes the document in Catalan translation, but he did edit the thing so I’m guessing it’s OK.

6. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 419 & 420, show the dissection of the Palau de Gurb estate.

7. On which see Gaspar 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, last modified 15 September 2008 as of 3 November 2008.

8. Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos XVIII (Barcelona 1951), pp. xxxii-xxxiv.

9. Ibid., doc. nos 9, 12, etc.

10. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 1229 (or Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 181, because it too is in the comital archive of before).

11. Salrach, Justícia i poder, pp. 109-111.

Inventing the Visgothic legal ordeal in Catalonia

The backlog in my posting is awful [he wrote in May], but there is obviously something in the period of delay that matches the rhythms of my scholarship: I keep finding that I stubbed posts to blog which I come to just as the thing they were about again comes up in my study. Perhaps this will be another, as I found in reading Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil that he touches on the issue I blogged about a while ago, that of judges in tenth-century Catalonia fabricating legal precedent for their decisions, and also on a much older post of mine elsewhere about the judicial ordeal, with a case that combines the two things. So obviously it’s necessary to follow those posts up with this one, and presumably by the time this goes up I shall have come up against the idea again! [As it happens, not this time; I have obviously caught up too much! But read on…]

Trial by the ordeal of hot water

The site I grabbed this from gave no source, so neither can I, but though wilfully Classicising it’s still a picture of the ordeal by hot water in ‘olden tyme’ and I can’t find another…

The case is interesting, which is why I blogged it before: it’s the only case of a judicial ordeal recorded in Catalonia before the year 1000, says Salrach, and this is true although the next one is from that year so it’s only just true.1 Never mind. There’s also an excellent clear report of it in Jeffrey Bowman’s book on Catalan justice around the year 1000, which as far as I can see Salrach did not use, which I paraphrase here.2 The events are in 988: one Sentemir was brought to court by the abbey of Sant Cugat del Vallès, who claimed that he had destroyed his brother’s will from which they should have had a large estate; they produced a witness to the will, but Sentemir refused to admit that he ever saw it and finally offered to go to the ordeal to prove his innocence. He chose the ordeal of hot water, in which the litgant plunged his arm full-length into a boiling cauldron and then the extent of his injuries and whether they were healing was assessed by a panel three days later. As Bowman points out, following Stephen White, the thing about ordeals is that the designed outcome almost never occurred as they’re recorded: here, the scribe says that Sentemir had intended to keep himself safe by incantantions and curses, but in fact as soon as his arm got near the cauldron his hand burst into flames, and he confessed. The court condemned him to penal servitude but the bishop let him off, though of course he lost the estate.

Now there’s a range of ways this is interesting: was Sentemir really attempting magic? Was that instead an accusation that one might slander someone with in this period? Either’s interesting. There is also the question of what we are supposed to think actually happened. The last time I blogged this trial, I wondered if Sentemir might have been trying something like coating his arm in pitch or similar to protect it against the boiling, and just caught the cauldron fire, but obviously we’ll never be able to tell from this. But for our immediate purposes the interesting question is why they went to the ordeal at all. It is commonly assumed that this was just something that happened in the early Middle Ages but as I said, this is the first one we have from Catalonia, and Catalonia’s principal source of jurisprudence, the Visigothic Liber Iudicum, Book of Judges, doesn’t mention the ordeal of hot water (or really any others except to outlaw them). So where did the idea come from?

A Catalan copy of the Visigothic Law, Abadia de Montserrat MS 1109, from Wikimedia Commons

An actual Catalan copy of the Visigothic Law, Abadia de Montserrat MS 1109. By Abadia de Montserrat [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Well, you may remember that in the previous post where I was talking about judges customising their precedents there came up a tenth-century copy of a version of the Liber Iudicum called the Liber Iudicum Popularis, one of two made by one of the judges of the era, a chap called Bonhom about whom I’ve often written, and whose copy is now online in scholarly edition.3 As it turns out, his version of the Liber Iudicum does contain a procedure for the ordeal of hot water, still claiming of course to be the legislation of the Visigothic princes of three hundred years before. And who do you suppose was the judge and scribe at Sentemir’s trial? Who else but Bonhom! So we have another adaptation of the letter of the law to the needs of the day, and one that works out in decidedly suspicious circumstances.

Nonetheless, it seems unlikely that Bonhom just invented the idea in whole cloth, or how on earth would he have convinced Sentemir to do it? As Bowman points out, there’s no sense in the charter that there was dispute about this. That’s perhaps not surprising since Bonhom wrote the document, but this was a man who tells us in his documents when he was sleepy in case it looks odd, so I’d expect more words rather than fewer if there was a problem. Even if it was not usual this was apparently an idea that was known to people. But whence had it come? There’s a famous trial by battle involving Bera I, Count of Barcelona, accused of treason, which the biography of the Emperor Louis the Pious by the anonymous known as ‘Astronomer’ says was done because both parties were Goths, and people have argued that since the Gothic Law has nothing of this, it was really a Frankish idea that got carried into Catalan judicial practice.4 Salrach raises the idea instead that the ordeal was in fact the ‘popular’ practice that Bonhom’s law’s adapted title suggests, excluded from proper practice by the Visigothic kings but locally maintained or innovated and so added in to Bonhom’s text because he knew it was sometimes done. Hey, maybe Sentemir had introduced him to the idea in 988! (Salrach doesn’t suggest that, but as usual, on a blog I can push these things further than I would in print.) That in turn implies that we really ought to look closely at the Liber Iudicum Popularis to find out what had needed changing since the seventh century; it may not all have been invented as needed, even if some of it probably was. This is the kind of thing I read to learn, after all.


1. Josep María Salrach, Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil, Referències 55 (Vic 2013), pp. 37-38.

2. Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: property, proof and dispute around the year 1000 (Ithaca 2004), pp. 119-140, and here esp. pp. 122-124; Stephen D. White, “Proposing the Ordeal and Avoiding It: strategy and power in Western French litigation, 1050-1110″ in Thomas N. Bisson (ed.), Cultures of Power: lordship, states and process in twelfth-century Europe (Philadelphia 1995), pp. 89-123, repr. in White, Feuding and Peace-Making in Eleventh Century France, Variorum Collected Studies 817 (Aldershot 2005), VII.

3. Jesús Alturo i Perucho, Joan Bellès, Josep M. Font Rius, Yolanda García & Anscari Mundó (edd.), Liber iudicum popularis. Ordenat pel jutge Bonsom de Barcelona (Barcelona 2003), VI.1.3.

4. Ernst Tremp (ed.), Thegan, Die Taten Kaser Ludwigs (Gesta Hludowici Imperatoris). Astronomus, Das Leben Kaiser Ludwigs (Vita Hludowici Imperatoris), Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatim editi LXIV (Hannover 1995), Astronomus cap. 32; A. Iglesia, El proceso del Conde Bera y el problema de las ordalías (Madrid 1980).