Category Archives: Catalonia

Coins of Borrell II?

Reverse of Barcelona diner of Count-Marquis Ramon Borrell of Barcelona, Girona and Osona (992-1018), now in the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, GNC 113672

Reverse of Barcelona diner of Count-Marquis Ramon Borrell of Barcelona, Girona and Osona (992-1018), now in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, GNC 113672

In 2010 I published an article about the coinage of later tenth-century Catalonia that concluded, among other things, that we may not have any.1 You would think this is a thing it was possible to sure about, perhaps, but almost no medieval coins carry a date, so one dates the things by their issuing ruler. Where that’s not clear, neither is the date, and this is far from the only thing about early medieval Catalan coinage that’s not clear…

Transitional diner, probably of Barcelona, struck between 878 and 1018, now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, their CM.345-2001

OK, this is an unusually rough example, but illustrative, I think… Transitional diner, probably of Barcelona, struck between 878 and 1018, now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, their CM.345-2001, actual size 14 mm across

The things of which we can be more or less certain are these.

  1. When the Carolingian kings took over government in the area that is now Catalonia, they had coin struck at their normal standards at four mints, Barcelona, Girona, Castelló d’Empúries and a place identified as RODDA that could be either Roda de Ter or Roses, jury’s out; Roses has won general acceptance but seems a priori an odd choice given it’s no real distance from Castelló d’Empúries.2
  2. In 864 King Charles the Bald of the Western Franks, ruler of the Spanish March as it by then stood, held a council at Pîtres in France which laid down provisions for a coinage reform that seem not to have been followed in Catalonia; no coinage at the new standard is known from Catalan mints and pieces are known which seem to be degenerations of the earlier one.
  3. Count-Marquis Ramon Borrell of Barcelona, Girona and Osona (992-1018) struck a new issue of diners (the Catalan derivation of the Latin denarius that gives us French ‘denier’ and Castilian ‘dinero’, among others) in his own name, which we can therefore date to his reign.
  4. There are also several types of what are known as diners de transició, transitional diners, which must belong somewhere between points 2 and 4.

The transitional diners are characterised by legends that are basically illegible, often being no more than sequences of triangles or circles. They vary a lot in weight and size but are always less than regular Carolingian standards. They all have a small cross in a border on the centre of their obverse, with a junk legend around, but their reverse types vary. There are three known:

  1. a type that is just the obverse repeated with slightly different junk legends (cross type);
  2. a type bearing three circles arranged in a triangle within the central border;
  3. and the type above, with a strange device a bit like a schematised beehive. This is usually held to represent the tomb of Santa Eulàlia in Barcelona, which is handy because it gives us a sort of terminus post quem: Catalonia’s first real local saint’s cult began when her body was relocated by Bishop Frodoí of Barcelona, who ruled 862-890 and who moved her from the floor of Santa Maria del Mar to the cathedral that now bears her name, so if that’s what it is on the coin the coinage must postdate that.3 I am inclined to think it’s a bodge of the Carolingian Temple type myself, but I obviously just like to make things difficult…
Reverse of a Temple-type denier of Louis the Pious, Fitzwilliam Museum PG.112

Reverse of a Temple-type denier of Louis the Pious, Fitzwilliam Museum PG.112

The first substantial work on these coinages was done at the very beginning of the twentieth centuries and concluded little more than the above, but in 1999 Anna Balaguer published her thesis on Catalan medieval coinage, which argued among other things that these coinages were probably all from Barcelona, since the three circles device recurs on Ramon Borrell’s coinage (which is said to be from Barcelona) and the obverse types seem to be kindred.4 After that it became possible to rethink things a bit, not least because in 2005 a whole bunch extra of these transitional coins came onto the market, with a few more following in 2009 in such a way as to make it seem likely that someone had found a hoard and didn’t want to tell people.5 Xavier Sanahuja published an article in 2006 in which he attempted a new description of the transitional coinages using that data and argued that these were the remnants of a single hoard discovered in 1886 but not then fully catalogued. Someone had, he reckoned, been sitting on the rest and now it was coming to the surface, because they’d died or something.6 In 2008 Miquel Crusafont i Sabater took the state of knowledge thus far and produced a synthesis which argued the following things:

  1. the ‘Tomb’ type makes no sense till the tomb was found, but is obviously non-Carolingian, whereas Bishop Frodoí was a Frank and an appointee of Charles the Bald so would surely have struck coin in Charles’s name; the immediately succeeding bishop of Barcelona, Teuderic, therefore makes more sense (890-912?) for the Tomb type’s issuer.
  2. since the three-circles type is carried on in Ramon Borrell’s coinage, it is presumably the last of the three;
  3. the cross type therefore probably belongs between the two, since it can’t really be before or after;
  4. that means that we have three types for three comital reigns, Guifré II Borrell (898-911), Sunyer his brother (911-947) and Borrell II Sunyer’s son (945-993), so it’s easy enough to assign them one each, Tomb type to Guifré Borrell, cross type to Sunyer and circles type to Borrell.7

This has the advantage of simplicity, but involves more or less dismissing Sanahuja’s more cynical argument that since there was nothing in the 1886 hoard that need be dated after 925, all three of the Catalan types should probably therefore be considered to have been in circulation by then, in which case, because no similar hoard has come up from later, we just don’t have any Catalan coin between 925 and 992×1018. That’s roughly how things stood when I got my 2010 article out, pitching a case I’d been making for a while that the coinage reform, from the diners de transició to the Carolingian-standard diners such as issued by Ramon Borrell, must have taken place under Borrell II, and probably in 981 or 982. That implies there ought to be a reformed coinage of Borrell’s, and we certainly don’t have any of that. I thought that this probably gave the edge to Sanahuja, and thus argued that we probably have no coin of Borrell’s at all.8 This presented a certain slight difficulty in as much as Miquel doesn’t agree with me—in fact, I’m not sure that anyone does—and I was at that point copy-editing him on the subject, but we have agreed to disagree and there it stands.9 Or so it did.

Five circles-type diners de transició, life-size (14 mm) in the centre and enlarged outside, reverse left and obverse right

Five circles-type diners de transició, life-size (14 mm) in the centre and enlarged outside, reverse left and obverse right, from M. Crusafont i Sabater, “Troballes monetàries XXVIII” in Acta Numismàtica Vol. 43 (Barcelona 2013), pp. 249-260 at p. 253

The reason I am now telling you all this, however, is these things above, part of a collection of 12 diners de transició that Miquel has just published, which he had been allowed to photograph and study as they came through the market in Barcelona in the residue of the estate of a collector who had bought them in 2005 from a travelling bric-a-brac salesman.10 There are three Tomb-type diners and one of its halves, an òbol, two cross-type diners and one cross-type òbol (previously unknown) and these five circles-type diners. Miquel argues, cautiously, that this is not the same proportion of types as occurs in Xavier’s virtual hoard of 2006 and so is probably not yet more of the 1886 find making its way onto the market (though I have spoken to Xavier about this and he thinks it totally is, because like any of us he likes his own theory best and this hardly disproves it). But Miquel also has a go at the legends, and that’s very interesting. You’ll see from the above that the reverse legends are hardly more than triangles and wedges, but that the obverse ones seem also to include circles. Xavier also noticed this in 2006 and then argued that the obvious referent was King Eudes of the Western Franks (888-899), ODDO, become OOOO as lettered on the coins, which fits with his suggested early date for the coins. Miquel, however, with a scheme that demands these coins be nearly a century later than late, now ingeniously argues that the referent might be either of Emperor Otto I (936-973) or Otto II (973-997) of the Germans, the former of whom Borrell met in Rome in 970.

A manuscript drawing of Otto I, sadly only from about 1200, receiving the surrender of King Berengar II of Italy

A manuscript drawing of Otto I, sadly only from about 1200, receiving the surrender of King Berengar II of Italy. “Otto I Manuscriptum Mediolanense c 1200” by Artwork: Creators of the Chronicle of Bishop Otto of Freising; Photo: AndreasPraefckeOwn work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

This would be pretty heavy, as they say. Though various scholars have argued for an increasing awareness of the new Holy Roman Empire in tenth-century Catalonia, it’s only ever rested on that 970 meeting in Rome and another Catalan count running into Otto II at a council there in 979, which is not really any more than coincidence.11 Certainly neither Otto ever seems to have corresponded with the Catalan counts or in any way considered this area part of their kingdom. On the other hand, Borrell spent a lot of his rule looking for new, powerful but distant patrons to compensate for his decreasing wish for contact with the Frankish kings. I think, all the same, that this would be an unparalleled departure for his politics and since his charters on the subject invoke a king called Charles as the origin of his family’s power, it’s that name I’d expect to see on his coins until at least 985 (by which time, if I’m right, the coins would not have looked like these anyway).12 I think that means I don’t buy it, that these legends must refer to Eudes if they refer to anyone (which I’m not sure that they do), that if so Xavier’s early date is still more likely, that in that case he is probably also right that almost everything we have in this line is coming from that one hoard and that we therefore still don’t have coins of Borrell II. But if I’m wrong, I could be staring at a picture of them right now and have some rethinking to do!


1. J. Jarrett, “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London: Royal Numismatic Society 2010 for 2009), pp. 217-243.

2. See now Miquel Crusafont, Anna M. Balaguer & Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a catalogue of the coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013), pp. 68-71.

3. The suggestion was first made by Miquel Crusafont in Numismática de la corona catalano-aragonesa medieval, 785-1516 (Barcelona 1982), p. 31; on the inventio see Joan Cabestany i Fort, “El culte de Santa Eulàlia a la Catedral de Barcelona (s. IX-X)” in Lambard: estudis d’art medieval Vol. 9 (Barcelona 1996), pp. 159-165.

4. Anna M. Balaguer, Història de la moneda dels comtats catalans (Barcelona 1999), pp. 64-67.

5. For the 2005 find see n. 6 below; the 2009 appearances were in Aureo y Calicó Auction 219 (2nd July 2009), Barcelona, lots 138 & 139 and Auction 220, 16th September 2009, Barcelona, lot 398.

6. X. Sanahuja, “La moneda de Barcelona al segle X segins les troballes Espanya-1 i Espanya-2 (925)” in Acta Numismàtica Vol. 36 (Barcelona 2006), pp. 79-113.

7. M. Crusafont i Sabater, “La moneda barcelonina del segle X. Altres novetats comtals”, ibid. vol. 38 (2008), pp. 91-121.

8. See n. 1 above.

9. Crusafont, Balaguer & Grierson, Medieval European Coinage 6, pp. 74-78.

10. M. Crusafont i Sabater, “Troballes monetàries XXVIII” in Acta Numismàtica Vol. 43 (Barcelona 2013), pp. 249-260.

11. The 970 meeting is discussed, along with its evidence, in J. Jarrett, “Archbishop Ató of Osona: false metropolitans on the Marca Hispanica” in Archiv für Diplomatik Vol. 56 (München 2010), pp. 1-41; the 979 one is attested in Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Sebastià Riera i Viader & Manual Rovira i Solà (edd.), Catalunya Carolíngia V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Empúries i Peralada, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica LXI (Barcelona 2003), doc. no. 455.

12. See J. Jarrett, “Caliph, King or Grandfather: strategies of legitimisation on the Spanish March in the reign of Lothar III” in The Mediaeval Journal Vol. 1.2 (Turnhout: Brepols 2012), pp. 1-21, DOI: 10.1484/J.TMJ.1.102535.

Name in Lights X

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 2014 outputs have begun to appear at last! Though thankfully this is already not the last of them, it is the first, a review by me of Josep María Salrach’s new book as you see above for The Medieval Review; it is online here. The final version of this went off at the end of June, it was up some time earlier this month, not too bad; sometimes online publishing actually does live up to its promise for quick delivery. The book, by the way, is rather good, but if you want to know why I think so, well, read the review, it’s open-acccess… Some of the points I make there in a sentence or so will turn up here as worked-up blog posts in due course. Stay tuned also, however, for more publications news!


Full citation: 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.

Redactions of many stages

I finished reading Professor Benoit-Michel Tock‘s book on subscriptions to charters about which I’ve been raving here lately over the month of November 2013, so those posts will shortly cease, but here’s just one more, because in the ninth chapter he hits at an issue that is kind of crucial to how we understand what medieval documents are telling us, the stories they tell about their own creation. I could go on about this for a while, and indeed have before and will again a bit below, but M. le Prof. Tock is briefer than I would be and also more stylish (though I have added emphasis to bring out things that are more ambiguous in English than in the French):

“The question is clearly important, since it concerns, in the most direct manner, the conditions in which the acts were made and, thereby, the links between the act and the judicial action. Is the narrative of the action as it appears in the act sincere? If the act was redacted before the action proper, is it not possible that last-minute changes in the action may not be reflected in the text? Most of all, if the act is prepared before the action, it can play a part in it, either as an act of title or as a symbol of the action.”1

There are lots of ways this can play out, and M. le Prof. Tock goes through most if not all of them, finding all the weird cases where we can see, or occasionally are told, what happened to get the text and names onto a parchment and into an archive. There are more possibilities covered than he mentions in that paragraph: the document may indeed be prepared before the ceremony, and then be signed at the ceremony, or at least have the actors and witnesses mark crosses next to their names, or maybe just touch where the scribe has done it for them or sign the cross in the air above the page. In a few cases, however, it seems that the crosses were put on first and then the entire text written in above them later, presumably once it was back in the recipient’s scriptorium. (And at that rate, something Tock does not consider, who could stop the scribe writing an entirely different version of events?) It has been suggested before, to resolve the paradox of documents which claim that they were placed on an altar to complete the donation, but do so in the past tense as if to indicate that this happened before the document was actually written, that blank sheets might be so deposited and then have the charter written onto them afterwards; Tock’s cases (oddly, as with much of the rest of the book, more from the relatively slight archive of Nouaillé in Poitou than elsewhere2) may be the only evidence of this actually happening I’ve ever seen. He does also raise the rather worrying possibility that once that had been done, at the very bottom of the parchment, since autograph signatures seem to have thought desirable in the ninth century but much less so as time goes and even then not judicially necessary,3 the scribe writing up the fine version of the document on a parchment daubed with out-of-place crosses (“si on ose dire, comme un cheveu dans le soupe…”) might just clip the untidy bottom edge off once he’d written up proper formal versions of the signatures…4) If that possibility makes you as uneasy as it does me, our subjects themselves destroying our evidence of them, you must be a proper charter geek, congratulations!

Lower portion of a donation to the abbey of Saint-Maixent de Poitiers from 1108

Here’s one of Tock’s two examples, ARTEM 780, otherwise known as Niort, Archive Départementale de Deux-Sèvres, H 85, edited as Cédric Giraud, Jean-Baptiste Renault & Benoît-Michel Tock (edd.), Chartes originales antérieures à 1121 conservées en France (Nancy 2010), no. 780, unprinted. It’s a donation to the abbey of Saint-Maixent de Poitiers from 1108.

Portion of a donation of vineyards to St-Junien de Nouaillé of 1091

A much clearer example albeit in a worse image (my fault), Poitiers, Archive Départementale de Vienne, Carton 10, no 126, edited as P. de Monsabert (ed.), Chartes de l’abbaye de Nouaillé : de 678 à 1200, Archives historiques du Poitou, 49 (Poitiers 1936), no. 143, and now Giraud, Renault & Tock, Chartes originales, no. 1291, online here. It’s a donation of vineyards to St-Junien de Nouaillé of 1091. You can see how that bottom half-inch was lucky to survive. What’s it telling anyone after a century? This is a formal document we’re keeping here! Snip snip…

I especially love this stuff, however, because it doesn’t surprise me at all. Round about the same time Tock must have been dealing with the proofs of his book, I was checking over the text of this:

“To take an elaborate but forceful example, let us take the act recording the consecration of Santa Maria de Ripoll’s new church in 977. This was almost certainly composed by the learned Bishop of Girona, also Count of Besalú, Miró Bonfill, and it is partly past tense and partly present. The point at which it changes is after a description of the consecration of the several separate altars, as the assembled prelates seek to impress upon the local counts that the monastery’s possession of its various goods, ‘just as the schedule already prefaced teaches’, are placed beyond secular intervention. From this, and from the slightly different final witness list, it is clear that this change of tense reflects a move from an occasion past to a different, notionally present one. The elaborate and lengthy document thus stands between the two occasions grammatically; recording one as already past, the second, the proclamation of the quasi-royal immunity, unfolds in the text. This part of the text was presumably written before the second gathering; the former, given its detail, was probably composed after the ceremony, as beforehand the final order of events could not have been known. The act as it stands is thus not from either of the ceremonies it describes, or the date which it gives, and it adopts a narrative construction of the ceremony. Especially since consecrations were formal occasions whose rules were laid down, this narrative was under a strong impulse to say the correct thing. Santa Maria’s case, with numerous altars whose different patrons made different collaborations of bishops appropriate, bent this pattern but if events had in fact broken the convention, we cannot expect that this document would record this for us.”

This is from the first chapter of my doctoral thesis, and it was one of a large number of examples I was collecting, just as does Tock in his chapter, of procedural oddities that force us to question stereotypes about how documents were produced.5 We hit many of the same concerns with our examples. I’m not trying to claim massive cleverness for myself here or anything: firstly, I wouldn’t have got far along these lines without the truly excellent palaeographical analyses of the Sant Joan de Ripoll charter material by its editor, Federico Udina i Martorell, but more basically, as that suggests, these things become unmissable when you’ve just got enough original documents that they are preserved, and this is what Tock found once he had a dataset of 3658 original documents, just as I did with slightly fewer documents more deeply studied.6 Also I have to thank some of my scribes: Tock doesn’t have anyone like the famous judge Bonhom explaining that he wrote a given charter in two stints with two different inks, apparently afraid that someone might therefore think it forged.7 And when you have something like the hearing over the Vall de Sant Joan de les Abadesses, about which I have gone on so often, but where three writing stints at least are basically visible straight away, it’s hard not to come to these conclusions, like it or not.8 I love my source base!

Reduced-quality facsimile of the Vall de Sant Joan hearing charter, Arxiu de la Corona d'Aragó, Pergamins, Cancilleria, Miron 3

Reduced-quality facsimile of the Vall de Sant Joan hearing charter, Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó, Pergamins, Cancilleria, Miron 3, some enhancement applied

But it is possible that this source base means that I can answer one of Tock’s rhetorical questions. Considering the possibility that a charter might be entirely written up beforehand, he asks how a scribe could know who would turn up, and considers this a major problem with the concept. I’m not sure that it is, as that rather depends on anyone else ever noticing the charter didn’t say the right thing or people not being well aware that those people should have been there, even if in fact they weren’t, and that the document ought to say as much: this is, I assume, what explains the occasional Catalan cases where a dead man’s signature is given to emphasise that he consented to the act even if he died before it happened.9 I’m more convinced, however, by the cases where we can see that such information was available beforehand precisely because it turned out to be wrong, and the Vall de Sant Joan hearing is one of those, because both its list of those present for the oath it records and the list of those actually swearing it differ slightly from the names in the signatures. I’ve argued already that this is because the whole thing happened over maybe weeks, and there were probably two ceremonies involved, but it may also be Tock’s suggested pattern: what actually happened was not quite what had been anticipated.

My own copy of my book, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power

Where have you argued this, I hear you ask? Why, in my Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), available from at least some good booksellers!

At the very least, we can see that information was collected beforehand, because as I argue in my book, there are mistakes between the two sets of oath-swearers that would be hard to explain without written exemplars in the process. A woman signing for one hamlet who is called Marcia gets recorded as Imitara in the initial list, not exactly similar in pronunciation you might think, and it’s only when one realises that she’s the second woman called Marcia in that list that one realises one’s probably looking at a mistranscription of “item Marcia”, ‘another Marcia’, perhaps abbreviated in a way that the scribe didn’t recognise because it had been done by someone else. (I hypothesize that at the signature phase of writing, the people who’d written the lists were there to tell him what they said, which implies that he did the initial drafting elsewhere.) When I worked all this out, I felt really very clever indeed—ah me, so long ago now…—but it’s not really my brainpower so much as a really fabulous source and a willingness to tabulate long lists.10 Tock didn’t have the time of scope to do that work here, but his other writing shows that he’s perfectly capable of it; this book was painting a wider picture, is all.11

St Gallen charter of 825, Stiftsarchiv St. Gallen, II 65

I cannot find any pictures of the verso of a St Gallen charter! On the other hand, some of the Vorakte are pretty nearly as fine as the recto versions… so here’s a recto image of one from 825? Stiftsarchiv St. Gallen, II 65.

Nonetheless, the conclusion, that charter scribes worked from notes, is not present in Tock’s suggestions here, despite other evidence that could be brought into play like the apparent dorsal drafts versions made on the backs of eventual charters at St Gallen in Switzerland (which fall outside Tock’s sample and weren’t then digitised and studied as they now are), and I think it probably explains a lot of the difficulties he sees with the conclusions to which the documents force him.12 They didn’t get things wrong that often because the information was being recorded elsewhere; the cases we have where things have gone wrong, as with Sant Joan or Sant Pere de Casserres or any of the others so dear to me, are where something so special or rushed was being done that it couldn’t be gone back on or was too much effort to consider rewriting. So we’re trying to reconstruct the process of charter redaction from its mistakes; not impossible, but challenging, and worth saying explicitly!


1. B.-M. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle, Atelier de Recherches sur les Textes Médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2006), pp. 369-412, quote pp. 369-370:
“La question est évidemment importante, puisqu’elle concerne, de la manière la plus directe, les conditions d’élaboration des actes, et par là, les liens entre l’acte et l’action juridique. Le récit de l’action tel qu’il figure dans l’acte est-il sincère ? Si l’acte a été rédigé avant l’action elle-même, n’est-il pas possible que des changements intervenus en dernière minute dans l’action ne soient pas reflétés dans le texte ? Surtout, si l’acte est préparé avant l’action, il peut jouer un rôle au course de celle-ci, soit comme acte dispositif, soit comme symbole de l’action.”

2. First printed as P. de Monsabert (ed.), Chartes de l’abbaye de Nouaillé : de 678 à 1200, Archives historiques du Poitou, 49 (Poitiers 1936)

3. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 193-223, esp. pp. 221-223.

4. Ibid. pp. 392-397, quote at p. 394.

5. J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished doctoral thesis (University of London 2005), online here, pp. 35-36, some day probably to be repeated in the paper for which I was reading Tock’s book…

6. Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Barcelona 1951).

7. Anscari Manuel Mundó i Marcet, “El jutge Bonsom de Barcelona, cal·lígraf i copista del 979 al 1024″ in Emma Condello & Guiseppe De Gregorio (edd.), Scribi e colofoni: Le sottoscrizioni di copisti dalle origini all’avvento della stampa. Atti del seminario di Erice/X Colloquio del Comité international de paléographie latine (23-28 ottobre 1993), Biblioteca del «Centro per il collegamento degli studi medievali e umanistici in Umbria» 14 (Spoleto 1995) pp. 269-288; Jeffrey A. Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000 (Ithaca 2004), pp. 84-99. The charter in question is the sacramental testament of Bishop Vives of Barcelona, printed as Àngel Fabrega i Grau (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona: documents dels anys 844-1260. Volum I: documents dels anys 844-1000, Fonts Documentals 1 (Barcelona 1995), doc. no. 265, and it’s huge, so the two-stint thing is understandable. Given it’s Bonhom I’m just faintly surprised he didn’t also tell us what he had for lunch in between times.

8. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 37-38, which took a lot longer figuring out than those two paragraphs give away…

9. An example of this is 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. no. 1380, which is also a rule-breaker in so far as it’s the only private transaction I know that still threatens its infringers with a portion in Hell with Judas. Cf. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 194-197: such concerns do not apparently manifest themselves in the French documents.

10. See n. 8 above.

11. For example, B.-M. Tock, “Auteur ou impétrant ? Réflexions sur les chartes des évêques d’Arras au XIIe siècle” in Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes Vol. 149 (Paris 1991), pp. 215-248, to name but one of many.

12. Albert Bruckner, Die Vorakte der älteren St. Galler Urkunden, Urkundenbuch der Abtei Sanct Gallen Ergänzungsheft 1 (St. Gallen 1931); see now Bernhard Zeller, “Writing Charters as a Public Activity: The Example of the Carolingian Charters of St Gall” in Marco Mostert & Paul Barnwell (edd.), Medieval Legal Process: physical, spoken and written performance in the Middle Ages, Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 22 (Turhnout 2011), pp. 27-37.

Who witnessed early medieval charters?

This apparently simple question has been bugging me a long time, and it was in the hope of answering it that I originally bought the book of Benoit-Michel Tock mentioned a post or two ago. Having got to the chapters where he addresses this question directly, I was delighted to find this:

Quels sont les tiers qui souscrivent des actes du Haut Moyen Age ? Il ne s’agit pas d’établir ici un index de ces actes, ni de constituer un Bottin Mondain. Souvent d’ailleurs, les indications des actes sont elliptiques, et nécessitent l’intervention de nombreuses hypothèses pour arriver à un esquisse de solution…. La question, c’est de savoir si les tiers sont des proches de l’auteur et/ou du disposant, s’ils sont au contraire des proches du bénéficiaire, s’ils sont neutres, et choisis précisements parce qu’ils ne sont proches d’aucune des parties en présence, ou enfin (mais cela ne les empêche pas d’appartenir à une des catégories ci-dessus) s’ils sont détenteurs d’une certaine autorité et souscrivent précisement parce qu’on leur demande de garantir la transaction par la force de leur autorité.

And this is, in fact, exactly the question, but it’s a question hardly anyone asks.1 For those of you not Francolexic enough to get all that, it translates more or less as:

What are the witnesses who subscribe the acts of the early Middle Ages? We are not concerned here to establish an index of these acts, or to construct a Bottin Mondain. Often, moreover, the indications of the acts are not direct, and require the construction of numerous hypotheses to come to the outline of a solution…. The question is to know if the third parties are contacts of the actor and/or person disposing of property, if on the contrary they are contacts of the beneficiary, if they are neutrals, chosen precisely because they are close to neither of the parties present, or finally (what does not prevent them also falling into one of the categories above) if they are holders of some authority and subscribe exactly because someone asks them to guarantee the transaction by the force of that authority.

I’m interested in his answers here because I think that I used absolutely all of these possibilities in my analyses of the Catalan frontier documentation in my Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, and if there’s a general French pattern I need to consider a fair few things again before I could just decide that Catalonia is weird.2 So, what does he detect? In brief, that we move from persons close to the actors of the document to those close to the beneficiary in the mid-eleventh century, and that outside authorities are pulled on occasionally throughout. None of this is total and it rests on a relatively small number of witnesses who declare some kind of connection to other parties, but the move of emphasis is visible to him. It also ties in reasonably nicely with Stephen White’s study of the laudatio parentorum, the consent to a property transfer by the actor’s kinsfolk expressed in their signatures, which he sees as arising and then dying out towards the end of Tock’s period divide here.3 So, this must be taken seriously, and where does it leave me who has suggested quite happily that some documents were witnessed by whoever was at the cathedral or palace that day on completely different business?4

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, no. 1297

A gift by the Archpriest Ermemir to Riculf, caput scolae of the cathedral of Vic (Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, no. 1297: here I think it;’s probably safe to say the three clerical witnesses who sign autograph were around the cathedral, but how carefully selected were they?

Well, firstly, the great strength of Tock’s book is that it is founded on a big sample, the 3,631 original documents from before 1121 in French archives that went into the ARTEM database at Nancy, still locked in there when this book was written but now online, which means that ‘real soon now’ we’ll be able to see all the things he could see. Because this sample is the whole of France, though, it is diffuse, with clumps in some obvious places like Cluny and Marmoutier but usually very few per place per year. (By contrast, I read about that many documents for my Ph. D. research, but they came from a two-hundred year period, not a six-hundred year one, and a total of about ten archives all within a few hundred miles of each other.) He can do really impressive things with this sample, with validity not available to most previous researchers, but he can’t chase witnesses in their local context in the way that I can, constructing that Bottin Mondain… And secondly, of course, that would be years and years of micro-study; in a deliberately wide-ranging book that level of localisation just isn’t practical in the space.

Stafford, William Salt Library, 84/5/41

On the other hand, whether any of this lot even needed to be present we will never know for sure, but the names still had to be chosen… This is King Æthelred the Unready granting 8 hides in various places to his thegn Morcar in 1009, Stafford, William Salt Library, 84/5/41, Sawyer 922

So part of our difference here is likely just to be sample density; I have more people repeatedly turning up than he can find and can locate them and identify them more reliably even when they don’t say who they are. On the other hand, implicit in that is a whole vast mass of arguments from silence which the very occasional mention of family ties, and the difficulty resolving those that do get mentioned, should warn me may be false. Not all of them are: I think the analysis of the ‘nobles of the palace’ of Borrell II I did here and in my book shows that sometimes it really is just whoever was there, but when ‘there’ is a session of the comital court maybe a wide spread is not so surprising and I still need better ways to argue against the trend he sees than sheer evidential one-up-manship.5 Still: it’s better than, “well, my study area is just different….”


1. B.-M. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle), Atelier de Recherches sur les Textes Médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2005), quote at p. 244. Other work that does ask who witnesses are and why they’re there is limited, but notable examples would be Wendy Davies, Small Worlds: the village community in early medieval Brittany (London 1988), pp. 109-128, and Ross Balzaretti, “The Politics of Property in Ninth-Century Milan: familial motives and monastic strategies in the village of Inzago” in Mélanges de l’École de France : moyen âge Vol. 111 (Rome 1999), pp. 747-770, online here, with résumé p. 980.

2. J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 143-144, not as substantial a discussion as I should have given it.

3. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 244-254; Stephen D. White, Custom, Kinship, and Gifts to Saints. The Laudatio Parentum in Western France, 1050-1150 (Chapel Hill 1988).

4. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, p. 104.

5. Ibid., pp. 161-164.

Beware of Greeks bearing names

Ruins of the palæochristian basilica at Empúries, one place it seems reasonable to say people came to Catalonia from actual Greece, albeit rather before this building was put up, let alone knocked down... "Paleochristian Basilica - Empúries - 2005-03-27". Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Ruins of the palæochristian basilica at Empúries, one place it seems reasonable to say people came to Catalonia from actual Greece, albeit rather before this building was put up, let alone knocked down… “Paleochristian Basilica – Empúries – 2005-03-27“. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Continuing through Benoît-Michel Tock‘s methodical study of subscriptions to French charters of the seventh to twelfth century, I found an unexpected moment of solidarity.1 It’s not that I don’t expect to share ideas and conclusions with M. le Prof Tock, as we are interested in very similar things, but this bit, well, you will see. He is discussing the appearance of surnames in the charters he is studying, and the first instance is one Urso Grecus, who turns up only in the foundation charter of Cluny, in 910.2 Tock argues that this ‘Greek’ appellation can’t be taken literally, as the name Ursus is no kind of Greek known, so that the surname probably tells us he could read Greek, rather than that he was somehow seen as Greek. But this is a question that can be explored with the Catalan evidence, where there are one or two more such characters, including a judge called Oruç whose name (in Latin, Aurucius) is oddly similar to Ursus but who lived too late to be the same man, including being captured in the sack of Barcelona in 985 and later ransomed.3 Now, Oruç has been taken either to actually have been Greek or perhaps a legally-trained person from Byzantine Italy brought in as part of Borrell II’s judicial reforms, to the best of my knowledge, but the same problem of the non-Greek name arises for him, and it’s not just him.4 At which point, enter one of this blog’s running fascinations:

« En sens inverse, ZIMMERMANN, La connaissance du grec, p. 496–497, confronté dans la Catalogne des environs de l’an mil à un Guitardus grecus, malgré la non hellenité de ce nom, accepte que ce soit un Grec. Il est vrai que la Catalogne était plus perméable que la Touraine aux influences méditerranéennes, et que l’épouse de ce Guitardus portait le nom, bien grec lui, de Polemia. Ne pourrait-on imaginer que ce Guitardus, Franc comme son nom l’indique, ait cherché fortune et trouvé femme en Grèce, d’où le surnom qui lui aurait été attribué ? »5

Which, translated roughly, comes out as:

“In the opposite sense, Zimmermann, ‘La connaissance du grec’, pp. 496-497, faced, in the Catalonia of around the year 1000, with a Guitardus grecus, despite the non-Hellenity of the name, accepts this person as a Greek. It is true that Catalonia was more permeable to Mediterranean influences than was the Touraine, and that this Guitard’s wife bore the name, this one perfectly Greek, of Polemia. Could one not imagine that this Guitardus, a Frank as his name shows, had sought fortune and found a wife in Greece, whence the surname that was attributed to him?”

To which I’d like to say, “yes, yes one can, or at least this one can.” This might even just work for Oruç, too, in as much as his wife Maria’s name is obviously not impossible for Greece.6 Obviously I twitch at saying someone was Frankish because they bore a Frankish name, and there are a number of instances in a Spanish context of people using one or other of a pair of names from alternative language’s name-stocks depending on what company they’re in, and this is probably a bit too simplistic for the melting-pot that Barcelona was becoming. I also wonder a little bit about how wryly to read the juxtaposition of seeking a fortune and finding a wife. Nonetheless, I think that since neither Zimmermann’s or Tock’s reading of these names can be proven (saving the surpassingly unlikely accident of these persons’ graves being identifiably found and their teeth showing their origins when analysed) I’d like to go with the one that involves the romance, just because that would make the period that bit more fun to, as he says, imagine.7


1. B.-M. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle), Atelier de Recherches sur les Textes Médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2005).

2. Auguste Bernard & Alexandre Bruel (edd.), Recueil des Chartes de l’Abbaye de Cluny (Paris 1876-1903), 7 vols, doc. no. 112, discussed in Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 89-90.

3. He appears in at least: Francesc X. Altés i Aguiló, “El Diplomatari del monestir de Santa Ceília de Montserrat I: anys 900-999″ in Studia monastica Vol. 36 (Montserrat 1994), pp. 223-302, doc. no. 96; Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Els documents, dels anys 981-1010, de l’Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis històrics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 3 (Montserrat 1980), pp. 7-166, doc. no. 278; Àngel Fabrega i Grau (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona: documents dels anys 844-1260. Volum I: documents dels anys 844-1000, Sèries IV: Fonts Documentals 1 (Barcelona 1995), doc. nos 162, 166, 170, 172 & 220; Gaspar Feliu & Josep María Salrach (edd.), Els Pergamins de l’Arxiu Comtal de Barcelona de Ramon Borrell a Ramon Berenguer I, Diplomataris 18-20 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 37, 46, 50, 60, 88, 91, 97 & 109; 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. no. 1526; & Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos XVIII (Barcelona 1951), doc. nos 207, 211, 218, 227, 228 & 237.

4. Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une société, Publications de l’Université Toulouse-le Mirail, Sèrie A, 23 & 29 (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols, I pp. 345 figures Oruç as an actual Greek; Philip Banks, “«Greeks» in Early Medieval Barcelona?” in Faventia Vol. 2 (Barcelona 1980), pp. 73-88, online here, last modified 15th November 2006 as of 9th August 2009, suggests that he and the other six such Greci visible in early medieval Catalonia were local-born sons of an otherwise unattested Greek-speaking Sicilian immigration in the earlier tenth century. I have a nasty feeling that the suggestion of a link with Borrell’s judicial reforms, since I am the person who thinks they happened, originated with me, but obviously that wouldn’t explain the others.

5. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, p. 90 n. 26, referencing Michel Zimmermann, “La connaissance du grec en Catalogne du IXe au XIe siècle” in Michel Sot (ed.), Haut Moyen Âge : Culture, éducation et société. Études offertes à Pierre Riché (La Garenne-Colombes 1990), pp. 493-515.

6. Maria appears in Feliu & Salrach, Pergamins, doc. no. 109.

7. On the two-named populations, see Victor Aguilar & Francesco Rodríguez Mediano, “Antroponimia de origen árabe en la documentación leonesa (siglos VIII-XIII)” in El Reino de León en la Alta Edad Media Vol. 6 (León 1994), pp. 497-633.

Name in Print XIII & XIV and Lights VIII & IX: the problems are also possibilities

[This was originally posted on 26th January 2014 and stuck to the front page, but now I've reached the point in my backlog where it would originally have fallen, I'm releasing it to float free in the stream where future readers might expect it. Don't laugh, chronology is important to historians...]

Even though this too is after the fact, it definitely deserves to be announced before I crunch through the relevant backlog. You first heard about it in September 2011, writing it in time for the deadline provoked me even to blank verse in December 2011, I actually told you what it was later that month; in March 2012 it was signalled that the revisions had been sent off; by the time we were dealing with proofs I was well into blog slough; but since October 2013 the world has been richer by a rather snazzy blue volume with my name on it, along with my co-editor Allan Scott McKinley’s, and this volume is called Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters. It is the eventual publication of some of the highlights of the Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic sessions that Allan, myself and Martin Ryan ran at the International Medieval Congress at Leeds between 2006 and 2011, and it is rather good if I do say so myself.

Cover of Jonathan Jarrett & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout: Brepols 2013)

Cover of Jonathan Jarrett & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout: Brepols 2013)

If you are wealthy, you can buy it as a good old-fashioned stack of bound pieces of paper between board covers here, or you can if you choose buy it in electronic segments here. Each chapter has its own bibliography so they stand alone quite nicely, though obviously, since we wrote them with sight of each other’s copy and often actually hearing each others’ thoughts at Leeds, and because as editors Allan and I knocked authors’ heads together virtually when they were addressing the same concerns, they stand better together. And who are these highly-esteemed authors, you may ask? And I answer with a list of contents as follows:

  • Jonathan Jarrett, “Introduction: problems and possibilities of early medieval charters”
    Written by me to an agenda thrashed out between myself, Allan, Martin in the early stages and Professor Pauline Stafford, one of the series editors, in the later ones, this tries to sum up where we currently are in early medieval charter studies and what this book is doing in them that’s new. I give you an extract below because I’m pleased with it both as prose and as publicity.
  • Martin Ryan, “‘Charters in Plenty, if Only They Were Good for Anything': the problem of bookland and folkland in pre-Viking England”
    Martin here tackles one of the most tangled problems in Anglo-Saxon history with clarity and balance; at the end he hasn’t solved it but it’s much much clearer what the problem actually is, and I was setting this to students as soon as it was physically possible for them to get it. Martin also deserves praise for turning in a damn-near-perfect text. Neither Allan nor I could think of anything to change in it.
  • Allan Scott McKinley, “Strategies of Alienating Land to the Church in Eighth-Century Alsace”
    The charters of early Wissembourg have been mined by many a historian looking for party alignments in the great struggle between noble families for domination of the palaces of the Frankish kings that would eventually end in the triumph of the family who would become the Carolingians. Allan, with characteristic panache, shows that this is probably wrong since the Wissembourg donors’ activities make more sense in local, family contexts. He also wins the contest for longest footnote in the book.
  • Erik Niblaeus, “Cistercian Charters and the Import of a Political Culture into Medieval Sweden”
    Erik joined in the sessions with the brief of showing something of how a society that was new to charter use picked up and incorporated them into its political operations, and he does so with great clarity whilst also finding time to give a few nationalist myths a reasonable roughing-up on the way. I learnt a lot from this one.
  • Charles West, “Meaning and Context: Moringus the lay scribe and charter formulation in late Carolingian Burgundy”
    Charles carries out a classic micro-study here, getting from ‘why does one village in tenth-century Burgundy have a layman writing its charters?’ to ‘why and how are documents changing across Europe in the run-up to the year 1000?’, and makes some very sharp suggestions about how the two join up. He also got his favourite charter onto the cover, so read this to find out why it’s important!
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “Comparing the Earliest Documentary Culture in Carolingian Catalonia”
    I think this is actually my most rigorous piece of work ever. It has tables and pie-charts (though on those see below the cut), it uses numbers, it has a big dataset and lots of electronic analysis. What it shows, I think, is that the Carolingians didn’t change the way that documents were written when they took over Catalonia, but that the local bishops probably did in order to come up with something definitively local that was then spread through cathedral-based training and local placement of local priests. That might seem a lot to believe but that’s why I had to do it properly! Editor’s privilege: this is by far the longest chapter in the volume, but I think it’s important. Of course, I would…
  • Arkady Hodge, “When is Charter Not a Charter? Documents in Non-Conventional Contexts in Early Medieval Europe”
    Arkady definitely wins the prize for widest scope here: this chapter runs from Ireland to the Crimea via Canterbury and Bavaria, and what it finds in all these places is charters recorded in Gospel Books or other such contexts. He wisely asks: if this supposedly unusual preservation is so widespread, perhaps it’s… usual?
  • Antonio Sennis, “Destroying Documents in the Early Middle Ages”
    This one we were lucky to be able to include, a paper from before our sessions ran for which Antonio had not found a home. In it he asks why people would even destroy documents, and concludes that there are lots of reasons and far from all of them fraudulent or tactical, but all of which merit thinking about.
  • Charles Insley, “Looking for Charters that Aren’t There: lost Anglo-Saxon charters and archival footprints”
    Coming out of his work for the publication of the Anglo-Saxon charters of Exeter, Charles is faced with a lot of what diplomatists call deperdita, lost documents that are however attested in other documents, and does some very clever work to make something of the patterns of what does and doesn’t exist in his material. This one also probably has the most jokes of any of the papers, though Arkady is also in contention.
  • Shigeto Kikuchi, “Representations of Monarchical ‘Highness’ in Carolingian Royal Charters”
    If you’ve seen the texts of many early medieval royal charters you’ll have observed that the kings are no less splendid in their titles than our remaining European monarchs are now: majesty, highness, sublimeness, and so on scatter their documents. Shigeto however spots habits in these uses that seem to actually tie up to deliberate strategies of presentation and differentiation between the various Carolingian rulers, which not only may help to spot when something is off about a text but also gives us a potential window on the actual kings’ decisions on how to present themselves.
  • Morn Capper, “Titles and Troubles: conceptions of Mercian royal authority in eighth- and ninth-century charters”
    Contrariwise, in a thoroughly contextualised assessment of the titles used for Mercian rulers in their diplomas during the period when Mercia was both a political force and issued charters, Morn shows that what we have here is not necessarily the kings’ choices of self-presentation, but, maybe more interestingly, the recipients’ or their scribes’, and it’s very revealing.
  • Elina Screen, “Lothar I in Italy, 834–40: charters and authority”
  • Alaric Trousdale, “The Charter Evidence for the Reign of King Edmund (939–46)
    Despite their different centuries and countries of interest, these two papers are doing very similar things, which is one very familiar to me from Catalonia: looking at an area and time where there is almost no wider political narrative material available to historians and reconstructing events and power politics from the charter evidence, and both come up with new ideas about what was going on at their chosen monarchs’ courts at their chosen times as a result.
  • Julie Hofmann, “Changes in Patronage at Fulda: a re-evaluation”
    Julie here presents probably the most tech.-heavy paper, but it gives her extra chops: she goes about what would be an analysis of who gives what where quite similar to Allan’s except that having a database of the voluminous material from Fulda lets her seek precise answers to important questions like that necessary classic, “what are the women doing?” This not only offers some answers to that question but also explores the difficulties in gendering this kind of evidence and what it gets one to do so.

I don’t think there’s a chapter here that isn’t important in its field, and there are several that I’m proud to think may be important over several. Most importantly, any one of them can probably tell you something extra about your own field. As I put it in the closing paragraph of the introduction:

“The eclectic selection of papers is therefore part of the point: all of these studies can inform, and have informed, several or all of the others. This justifies the hope that readers of this volume will come to it because of something they need to read for their own purposes, but discover before putting it back on the shelf that there are other things that interest them which will also help them think over their material and its uses. We also hope, therefore, that even if some of the possibilities we present cause problems, the problems will also be possibilities.”

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Feudal Transformations XIX: change before the year 1000

Cover of Guy Bois's Transformation of the Year 1000

Just after arriving in Birmingham, I finished reading Guy Bois’s provocative book The Transformation of the Year 1000 and was actually quite impressed; it represents a far better saving throw for the transformation theory than I’d anticipated.1 Seeing a problem with packing almost all the change required by the theory of Duby and Fossier and the like into a few decades shortly after 1000, Bois comes up with a quite complex paradigm of change in which he manages to have both slow change and a ‘revolution’ at the end of it.

Teaching diagram of the Feudal Transformation, by me

Go on, one more time won’t hurt

This he does basically by saying that what we have in the tenth century is the final slow settling into ruins of the ancient state, with public government and justice, towns driven by a parasitic state apparatus administering those systems, and slave agriculture. This had been increasingly unsustainable as time went on and efforts like the Carolingian reforms to prop it up with new structures (and here’s the subtlety) actually accelerated its collapse by making more possible locally-concentrated power at the same time as a coincidentally burgeoning economy made that economically viable. Inside the old structure of society, therefore, new bases of importance and power were emerging centred on the market and on local territorial domination, all of which in fact made it harder to maintain the older bases of power as a monopoly. The revolution came when, with the end of the Carolingian state and withdrawal into the Île de France of its Capetian successor (because this is a paradigm about France, don’t think otherwise), the exterior structure of public power finally collapsed into dust, ceased to operate as a brake on the forces of social change, and what was left standing was this incubitic set of new power bases, now free to grow, around which the opportunistic (and here most of all the monks of St-Pierre de Cluny) coordinated their operations. And thus feudalism.2

Supposed denier of Charles Martel, Marseilles, probably 737X43

Supposed denier of Charles Martel, Marseilles, probably 737X43

Silver denier of King Charles the Bald (840-77) struck at Blois 864x77, Fitzwilliam Museum CM.QC.5360-R, of the Queens College Collection
Silver denier of King Charles the Bald (840-77) struck at Blois 864x77, Fitzwilliam Museum CM.QC.5360-R, of the Queens College Collection

Silver denier of King Charles the Bald (840-77) struck at Blois 864×77, Fitzwilliam Museum CM.QC.5360-R, of the Queens College Collection

Silver denier of Count Hervé III de Donzy (1160-94)

Billon denier of Count Hervé III de Donzy (1160-94)

Billon denier of Count Hervé III de Donzy (1160-94)

Who even knows what they thought that monogram meant three hundred years later? Evidence of high medieval numismatists, as with so many other things, is easiest to find in Spain…

The first bit about this that caught my critical imagination is the idea that those who were interested in patching up the ancient state actually undermined it; that is, the Carolingians in trying to make things better actually make things worse. Bois exemplifies this using the monetary system, which is probably why it caught my attention. In brief, the Roman system of gold and silver coins struggled on till the sixth century, whereafter the gold coinage was debased until it more or less ceased to exist, in the course of which it was struck by hundreds and hundreds of semi-private issuers all over Francia. After this the whole system atrophied and a desultory and poor silver coinage of a very various standard was all the money there was. The Carolingians, faced with a mono-metallic system, reformed it several times until there were a restricted number of royally-controlled mints striking a more-or-less good coinage but only in silver. This was lower-value, thus more accessible, so that greater monetisation resulted than had been so for a while, enabling market exchange and the collection of revenues in coin at new levels. And that meant that when the royal hands came off the tiller in the early tenth century that resource was available to the new local powers, who start minting their own silver coin in profusion (here again, nost least the monks of Cluny).3 I think there are problems with this as an actual account of the history of the coinage – that local minting in silver takes much longer to start happening than Bois’s chronology of change implies, suggesting that it is a result of market growth not a cause, for one thing; for another, Cluny got a royal license to strike coin, and it was otherwise outside any useful royal jurisdiction so one could read that as an increase in royal power and it’s certainly hard to see it as the opposite – but it’s an excellent illustration of Bois’s more general model of damaging attempts to preserve a dying social system.4

Exterior view of the transept of the abbey church of St-Pierre de Cluny, from Wikimedia Commons

Exterior view of the transept of the abbey church of St-Pierre de Cluny. “Cluny Transept exterior” by RTPeat / Richard Peathttp://flickr.com/photos/rtpeat/1086420685/. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The problem I have with arguments like this that run, ‘O well they tried, poor dears, but the whole thing was doomed, quite hopeless, they were spitting in the rain’ about the Carolingians, which in some ways go back to Louis Halphen and his contemporaries, is that they benefit from the fact that the Carolingian Empire’s fall is there to be explained. Most of us would not, however, put this down to critical internal systems failure, but to a prolonged civil war more or less due to the royal family’s inability to stick to an equable division of power followed by a long series of assaults by raiders for north and east further destabilising transregional solidarities.5 A counter-factual approach that could accurately remove the effects of the Viking attacks and, if not eliminate the Brüderkrieg at least make it more like the equivalent, and very long-lived, Merovingian system in which the important thing was not so much the periodic war as that that war was always between rival Merovingians, perhaps by predicating a reasonable supply of healthy male heirs, would quite possibly entirely vindicate the Carolingian reform efforts, which after all did at least at first make them much stronger kings.6 An analysis that relies on an absence of competent legitimate operators of a system isn’t really assessing the viability of the system itself. Likewise, Bois’s argument is proven by the eventual collapse of the ancient state, but there’s a species of teleology involved when he says that the Carolingians’ own measures worked against their interests, which forces him to define the things they did that endured as part of the new world, if only because they survived. Given the collapse was to happen, there’s no successful innovation that Bois’s theory would actually credit to the Carolingians except ones that they abandoned.

Sant Andreu de Tona and the Castell de Tona

Now, let’s take it to the March! Sant Andreu de Tona and the Castell de Tona, as made a tiny bit more famous by my book

This is all the more paradoxical because the same problem exists in reverse with Catalonia and the scholarship of the feudal transformation. As Bonnassie famously argued, Catalonia (where a strong and (I would argue) even strengthening public power was maintained up till very late, there was then a political vacuum caused by a double minority in the rule of Barcelona forcing other motors of power to pick up the slack and after a short civil war the public power recovered only by adopting these other motors and abandoning its old ones) is an almost perfect archetype of the feudal transformation, but because it so clearly revolves around the power vacuum of 1018-1035 and before that the public power seemed to be riding the serpent of progress really pretty well, people don’t like it as a general model.7 There’s also the problem that this was the only area of Latin Europe with much of a gold coinage, because of raiding and trade with al-Andalus.8 But Bois’s argument also revolves around a dramatic state collapse at the same time as an economic take-off. Is this somehow not the same?

Gold mancus of Count-Marquis Ramon Berenguer I of Barcelona (1035-76)

Sticking with the metaphor, this is a gold mancus of Count-Marquis Ramon Berenguer I of Barcelona (1035-76), by way of illustrating that at least some things were not quite the same in Catalonia

Bois was of course writing a micro-study of Burgundy, not Catalonia, and it’s the anti-transformation lobby who have preferred to ignore Catalonia’s apparently indissoluble example of the phenomenon.9 All the same there is a problem here because Bois’s model doesn’t work for Catalonia. Firstly, it’s very unclear how much Carolingian reform was in fact applied here: the local law was left running, the final currency reform of 864 was never enacted here, the intellectual culture arguably stayed fairly Visigothic and the counts operated as independents from a very early stage. Secondly, as said, public power here did not atrophy: the counts, despite various troubles, remained militarily effective and towards the end of the period, fuelled no doubt by the various reveues of the frontiers, were even overhauling and improving the apparatus of state power and their control of it. Only when that effort was slackened did stuff go wrong. It is hard not to see Borrell II’s and his son’s creation of numerous castle-holding dependants as the seeds of their own undoing, but it’s not undoing but lack of doing that let them grow.10

Castell de Llordà, Isona, Catalunya

The current state of the Castell de Llordà (image from Viquipèdia), where as you have read some of that castle-ceding was done

Perhaps this doesn’t matter, but if you have a feudal transformation in one area and an explanation for it, but another one in a different area whose relevance you have to dismiss because its explanation is clearly different, this is kind of like ignoring that your theory has been falsified. Of course there are factors in CataloniaBurgundy’s changes of that era that Catalonia did not share, so the problem exists both ways, but this suggests to me that the problematic has been placed at the wrong level. If you accept both then feudal transformation becomes only one way that states of a certain kind might respond to the end of effective state governance in an ‘ancient’ or ‘public’ mould. After three years of teaching this subject to graduates, I came to conclude that the correct question to ask about the phenomenon it assumes is not, “Why is all of Europe going through a social crisis c. 1000?”, which is fairly easy to disprove premise by premise and then ignore, but “Why do so many and various polities of the post-Carolingian world finish up so similar in social articulation and governance despite their different situations and paces of change?” This turns it less into a question of modes of production or public versus private than into one of cultural transfer and the appropriation of ideas between governments, which is maybe not as exciting, but might have a lot more application to other situations.


1. G. Bois, La mutation de l’an mil (Paris 1989), transl. Jean Birrell as The Transformation of the Year 1000: the village of Lournand from Antiquity to feudalism (Manchester 1992).

2. Ibid., pp. 161-167.

3. Ibid., pp. 165-166.

4. Philip Grierson, “Coinage in the feudal era” in Il feudalesimo nell’alto medioevo, Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’alto Medioevo 47 (Spoleto 2000), pp. 949-959.

5. See François-Louis Ganshof, “L’échec de Charlemagne” in Comptes rendus de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres Vol. 91 (Paris 1947), pp. 248-254, transl. as “Charlemagne’s Failure” in idem, The Carolingians and the Frankish monarchy: studies in Carolingian history (London 1971), pp. 256-260, taken up by e. g. Heinrich Fichtenau, Das karolingische Imperium. Soziale und geistige Problematik eines Grossreiches (Zürich 1949), transl. Peter Munz as The Carolingian Empire (New York City 1954), Louis Halphen, Charlemagne et l’Empire Carolingien (Paris 1968), transl. as Charlemagne and the Carolingian Empire (Amsterdam 1977).

6. Ian N. Wood, “Kings, Kingdoms and Consent” in Peter H. Sawyer & Wood (edd.), Early Medieval Kingship (Leeds 1977), pp. 6-29.

7. Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une société, Publications de l’Université Toulouse-le Mirail, Sèrie A, 23 & 29 (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols, as ever; cf. 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).

8. Anna M. Balaguer, “Parias and Myth of the Mancus” in Mario Gomes Marques & D. Michael Metcalf (edd.), Problems of Medieval Coinage in the Iberian Area, 3: a symposium held by the Sociedade Numismática Scalabitana and the Instituto de Sintra on 4-8 October, 1988 (Santarém 1988), pp. 499-543; J. Jarrett, “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London 2009), pp. 217-243.

9. Dominique Barthélemy, “La mutation féodale a-t-elle eu lieu? (Note critique)” in Annales : Économies, sociétés, civilisations Vol. 47 (Paris 1992), pp. 767-777, where see p. 773 n. 17; the whole article later repr. as “Note critique” in idem, La mutation féodale a-t-elle eu lieu? Servage et chevalerie dans la France des Xe et XIe siècles (Paris 1997).

10. J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010).