Category Archives: Catalonia

‘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 IX: 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).

Seminar CXLII: fewer soldiers than you think

The seminar report backlog now reaches this year! And, fittingly, or because I am too ready to say yes to things, the first seminar I attended in 2014 was one that I was giving, before the Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages in Birmingham on 20th January with the title Miles or militia: war-service and castle-guard in tenth-century Catalonia”. The seminar was only publicised the same day, so I was lucky to get an audience at all, but there were some and I’d like to thank those who came mainly because it was me, since what I do only really crosses the research interests of two people in Birmingham, neither of whom could attend. Anyway: my basic thesis was that there were not many soldiers in tenth-century Catalonia.

A battle scene from the Biblia de Ripoll

I know I over-use this but it is at least more or less contemporary, a depiction of the armies of Israel from the tenth-century Bíblia de Ripoll. I hope, though, that no-one would try using the number of troops an artist can squeeze onto a full-page drawing as indicative of the actual scale of military service in his area…

If you know the field a bit this may strike you as strange.* In the classic feudal transformation argument this was then an area of quite extensive public military service whose use of force is rapidly privatised in the course of the events of 1020-1050. But before that, in 1010 and 1013, the Catalan army’s raiding Córdoba. To which I say, yes, indeed, there are undeniable references to three ‘public expeditions’—but only three, one of those is the 1010 raid and I discovered the third one a few years ago. Other than that it’s the attempt to defend Barcelona in 985, which of course failed. The few references to military action otherwise—and they are very few—are or could be to very small forces, sometimes extremely few like Oliba’s band of pig-rustlers we mentioned here a few posts back. The only reason you’d suppose, if you came to this evidence for the first time, that there was a lot of military action here is because it’s a frontier and there just must have been, or because it’s a Carolingian polity and we know that the Carolingians demanded large-scale military service and we even have legislation exempting people here from it, which is at least negative evidence, or because you just think that early medieval polities fielded large armies. I don’t want to deny any of those things, but the tenth century was not the high Carolingian era here, and the evidence you would want to prove that such things continued (or, in fact, had ever been demanded) here is very thin, and this in an area that is as we know not short of evidence, even if not really for this.

eleventh-century sword found near Schleswig

It’s surprisingly hard to find an image of an early medeval sword when you want one, and when you do it’s always a Viking one. This is a late eleventh-century one found near Schleswig. For the Museu d’Art Nacional de Catalunya’s Cataluña Carolíngia exhibition of 1999 they had to borrow one from Paderborn. I don’t mean to try and use that fact as part of the argument but nonetheless I think swords were not common here before 1000.

By way of exploring this further, I then acted like the Anglo-Saxonist I was supposed to be in that rôle and went through wills looking for weapons. Who, if anyone, held the sword in early medieval Catalonia? And the answer seemed to be, again, that while the part of evidentiary silence is always hard to assess, very few people can be shown owning swords, and they were all top-rank castellans or churchmen, these often providing their dependents with weaponry in their wills but not usually swords, of which even they had at most two. Lances and hauberks show up a little bit more often, but not much, and still in the hands of people who also bequeathed quite substantial estates. (Though one of the bishops, Guisad II of Urgell, bequeathed a spata ignea and if anyone has any ideas what that might have been, I’d love to hear them…)

Your humble correspondent, standing in the doorway of the Castell de Tona in 2007

Your humble correspondent, standing in the doorway of the Castell de Tona in 2007. I am not a big man, and that is really not a big ‘castle’.

Lastly I looked at fortifications, because this is after all a country probably named after castellans, and there are certainly a few of those. But, especially if you’re looking for the few that remain from the tenth century, they are firstly not very big, and secondly usually extremely far up sharply pointy hills. If you remember my efforts to climb up to Gurb, you may also remember my wondering how its owners could ever have got horses up there. But if they had, there’d have been hardly any room in which to stable them. And with no horses it would take you two hours or so to reach even the nearest settlement, and far longer the nearest road. Gurb was not placed to control a routeway. I think all of these places were probably more watch-towers and refuges than any kind of offensive base. So where does this all lead us? I give you the conclusion:

This would obviously change. Bonnassie’s picture of an eleventh century busy with cabalarii selling horses and weapons is well-evidenced and helps explain how there could emerge from the sack of Barcelona a polity capable of raiding Córdoba in opposition to Castilian troops and the best armies left to al-Andalus. There is very little evidence of the class of mounted knightly warriors who would make this possible before the year 1000, however; neither is there really any evidence of the relict militarised peasantry supposed to precede it, nor even normative reasons to expect one beyond the 840s. In between these two points we seem, as far as the evidence can carry us, to have a much less militarised society. This in turn implies that the rise of violence and feudalised warfare was indeed sudden and thorough, that the transformation was in this respect real. It was perhaps the new possibilities created by the collapse of the caliphate that made this large-scale militarisation possible, and it may be that by equipping to exploit them the counts gave power to a dynamic they could not, eventually, control. But whether this be so or not, it was not a tenth-century development. Frontier or not, tenth-century Catalonia briefly became a military backwater, or so the evidence and its lack suggest. Military service was possibly still general but extremely occasional, and might often have amounted to no more than a few days’ standing guard on a fighting top high above any potential action. The more normally beweaponed whom we can see seem more like thugs and their bosses, dependants rather than honourable servicemen, but even these are few. This is not what we have been taught to expect from this area and time, but what we have been taught to expect seems not in fact to have very much foundation in the actual surviving evidence, inappropriate though that evidence perhaps be for such questions. The conclusions that can be based on the evidence here, therefore, deserve testing against other areas whence the models that fail here were derived.


* Since this is intended for publication, and even now inches towards submission, I won’t give full references here, but rest assured I do have them and some day soon I hope you can enjoy them…

More curiosities of the Beaulieu cartulary documents

One of the things that can happen with charter collections that interests me most is when we find that an institution has for some reason or other preserved two versions of the same document. My pet case of this is the bequest from the will of Count Guifré II Borrell to the cathedral of Vic in 911: there are two versions of this, with slightly different witness lists but differing most significantly in whether or not the grant includes a third of the revenues from minting in the city.1 Both appear to be more or less contemporary with the grant date, both are single sheets, both are properly signed off, they are diplomatically ‘authentic’ but one of them is obviously not true. If you want to get properly thinky about it, there are scenarios in which which one that was could change: for example, say the count originally intended to make the grant, and a document was drawn up, but he was then persuaded to reconsider and keep the mint for himself and his heirs, so a new one was drawn up. Then, maybe a century later or maybe sooner, the cathedral outs with the first version at some argument with the count and get the rights conceded. Certainly the bishops of Vic struck coin by the eleventh century, but the other version of this grant must only exist because at some point the opposite was preferred.2 So, true, false, then true again, authentic all the time! I think it should be that way round, because otherwise why would the cathedral keep the one in which they got less? But anyway, these cases help illustrate that several versions of a text could exist from the beginning and even be preserved by the same people, which means a bit of rethinking over some of the classical assumptions of diplomatic.

An episcopal diner of Vic, showing Saints Peter and Paul facing each other paired with a man ploughing with an ox right

An episcopal diner of Vic, showing Saints Peter and Paul facing each other paired with a man ploughing with an ox right, probably of the late eleventh century and now in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

The example I’ve come across at Beaulieu is more mundane but also more personal. It is from May 885, when one Ermenric became concerned about the end of the world (in the way that we’ve discussed) and the state of his soul if it did, or at least was made to say so by the scribes who wrote his resulting donation to the monastery of Saint-Pierre de Beaulieu. He was no minor person, Ermenric, holding some of his land by direct gift from King Carloman, and Beaulieu got richer by twenty-four distinct farmsteads, most of whose tenants were named (three being empty), and a castle that was on one of these properties. They also got richer by the slaves, who were mostly not named (unusually for Beaulieu documents) but among whom, it is specified, were to be counted those who had run away, presumably a trick to stop landlords moving their slaves off an estate before it was transferred and then recovering them and redeploying them as their own still.3 Thirteen men witnessed, including some of the men who show up in these documents most often at that time. It was presumably quite the affair.

The abbey of Saint-Pierre de Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne

The abbey of Saint-Pierre de Beaulieu again, presumed setting of the transaction. Par Wester (Travail personnel) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ou CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

I had not, when I first wrote this in January, got my head round how the Beaulieu cartulary is organised; I’m still not sure I have. Foundational and royal documents open it, intermingled, and then the organisation may be vaguely geographical, or there may be other links, perhaps of donor families, that I’m not yet seeing. Either it’s much subtler than I think, anyway, or it fails here because, more than a hundred documents further on, this transaction is copied again with the same date, same donor and same witnesses, and indeed the same properties transferred.4 There is some change, though: one part of the donation that looks like a copyist’s error (a place that turns up twice in different vicairies, but which doesn’t seem to be significant for the organisation of the cartulary) is eliminated, and one of the farmsteads acquires an extra slave. So, just an update because the transaction had taken a while to organise? Or just a bug-fix that didn’t replace its faulty predecessor in the archive? Well, only if it’s quite some bug, because the other change is in the religious payback. The monks are to have an annual feast in memory of the donation and offer up prayers and thanks, and although this is unusually specific it’s not odd, it’s just that in the first version the anniversary is to be Ermenric’s death and in the second it’s his brother’s. And that, I’ve never seen before. I guess that the most upsettingly possible explanation is his brother died while they were sorting the gift out and this was what they could do to look after his soul. The brother isn’t named so I can’t check if such a person disappears from the record about then. But both versions still made it into the archive, apparently in such a way that the later copyists didn’t realise. I wonder if they just had two feasts?

A dining scene from the Luttrell Psalter

The only plausibly related image I can search up is from the Luttrell Psalter, so wrong country and century but at least it has monks in it? London, British Library Additional MS 42130

The other curiosity is a boundary issue. (As so many things are…) There is an odd contrast to my Catalan documents here in the matter of roads on property boundaries. Actually giving property boundaries (or at least, leaving them in documents that are copied into the cartulary) is unusual here, but roads do turn up, they’re just always ‘public’ ones. That does happen in Catalonia but there’s lots of other sorts; here, not so much.5 This is not the odd thing. The odd thing is that when these public roads turn up, they are overridingly often on the fourth boundary of the proprties concerned. Impressionistic you say, so have some numbers: in the 74 ninth-century documents as Deloche dated them, only 12 actually give boundaries at all. These give bounds for total 29 properties, though, so it’s a slightly better sample than that implies. Of those 29, 8 don’t have bounds on a public road at all (which is to say that nearly 3 times as many do). Of the 21 that are actually evidential for my point, then, 16 have such a road on their fourth boundary. Admittedly, 5 also have one on their third boundary (and 4 of these are in the same donation, so le Vert must have been quite the spaghetti junction) but I’m not sure that weakens the point, and 1 of the non-compliants has a road on its third boundary but doesn’t have any more, so if I said `last’ boundary instead it would conform. The remaining 3 have roads on first and second, on first (of three) and on third boundary respectively.6 I think 16 or 17 out of 21 counts as a trend.

Roman and Romanesque bridge over the River Ter at Roda de Ter

The Roman and Romanesque bridge that carries the old strata francisca over the River Ter at Roda de Ter, about the one image I have which I can be sure shows a medieval street

So, as they say, what’s up with that? An outside possibility: we’re looking at wine country here, is it actually possible that most of these properties are just on the same side of whatever valley they’re in, to catch the sun appropriately? I find this implausible: I reckon the marginal lands should be in use too by the 880s, and anyway it’s not all vines (though I will confess that a lot of it is). So if not that, what? The most obvious thing would seem to be that they are actually counting the bounds by starting in such a place as to finish with the road. In Catalonia the bounds are, as we’ve discussed, usually done east-south-west-north around the compass; here, however, it must be subjective, and that leads one to wonder if they’re even necessarily sequential. If I’d met this first, of course, I’d think Catalonia weird for its cardinal points every time but as it is, this implied practice seems weirdly fluid and hard to plot with. What do you folks think, assuming anyone’s read to the end of another post about charter bounds?


1. Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX-X), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), 5 fascicles, doc. no. 55.

2. Miquel Crusafont, Anna M. Balaguer & Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a catalogue of the coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013), pp. 82-83.

3. Maximin Deloche (ed.), Cartulaire de l’Abbaye de Beaulieu (en Limousin) (Paris 1859), doc. no. LV, my emphasis: “De mancipiis vero ad ipsam curtem pertinentibus sive intermanentibus, fugam lapsis, et unde aliunde transgressi sunt, cedo, pro remedio animæ me&ealig; ad monasterium quod vocatur Belluslocus, ubi Gairulfus abbas præesse videtur custos, ipsam mancipia in integrum….”

4. Deloche, Beaulieu, doc. no. CLXVI.

5. Jordi Bolòs i Masclans, “Aportacions al coneixement de les vies de communicació” in Federico Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium Internacional sobre els orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), also published as Memorias de le Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), I pp. 409-436.

6. The 12 documents are Deloche, Beaulieu, doc. nos XX, XLV, LII, LIV, LXIII, CXXXIII, CLII, CLIII, CLVII, CLVIII and CLXXVII, which might look like a cluster towards the end but in chronological order would be XX, CLXXXIII, LIV, CLIII, XLV, CLVIII, CLII, CLXXVII, LXIII, LII, CXXXIII & CLVII, so actually not so much. Of these LXIII is the one with all the roads; the rest, you could look up yourself if you wished