Category Archives: Vikings

Next stop Iceland?

This post is about pre-Viking settlement in the North Atlantic, and here specifically the Faroe Islands. I originally stubbed this in September 2013, when I came across a relevant web report on Melissa Snell’s medieval history blog at About.com, but since that time it seems that they’ve stopped keeping archives over there, so that post is now gone. Actually this is good news, because it forced me to web-search out other reports, and the obvious one, on Nature World News, also includes a link to the actual article behind it all, so now I can write you something informed.1

View from the south-eastern extremity of Sandoy in the Faroe Islands, looking south down the chain

View from the south-eastern extremity of Sandoy in the Faroe Islands, looking south down the chain, and shamelessly plundered from a Faroes tourism site, linked through

The story is that new research proves that the Vikings were not the first colonisers of the Faroes. This, and the fact that this was being published in an geoscience rather than a specifically archæological or historical journal, gave me some faint worries about sensationalisation of research meant to prove other things, as we have seen here many times before, but in this case, as far as I can see, it’s the real deal. The team in question were doing a low-urgency rescue dig on a coastal site in danger of erosion at Á Sondum on the island of Sandoy in 2002 and 2006. The site had been dug once before in 1994 and had then shown a Viking longhouse at the bottom of its occupation sequence (which subsequently went all the way up to the 19th century, always on the same spot, not least, as the article says, because there just aren’t that many sensible places to put settlements on the Faroes).2 This time they located the long-house’s hearth, and then they kept going and found more beneath. It wasn’t much more, just peat ash with carbonised barley grains in it, but this is significant for two reasons: firstly, barley isn’t native to the Faroes, and secondly, peat-burning requires usually months of cutting, stacking and drying, and thus implies prolonged settlement, not just drop-in visits. And they duly had radio-carbon analysis done on the barley grains and got the figures you see below.

Calibration graph and stratigraphical context of the radio-carbon samples from Á Sondum, Sandoy

From Church, Arge, Edwards, Ascough, Bond, Cook, Dockrill, Dougmore, McGovern, Nesbitt & Simpson, “Vikings were not the first colonizers”, p. 230, larger version linked through

There are some things I don’t fully understand about this, mainly because to get these dates they used not individual samples but a combined sample, whose results were mathematically combined using a ‘weighted mean’. Well, weighted how? I feel we should be told more about this.3 Still, unless it was actually weighted outside the sample dates, which would be some strange new definition of ‘mean’ of which I was not previously aware, the results still seem fairly inarguable: two straigraphically separate episodes older than the Viking site by between half a century and three centuries. I feel that a mean critic might be able to handwave away the more recent result, given it was right under the hearth and the dates could just about overlap, but the older one is much harder to get around, which gives one that bit more confidence in the younger one.

A forbidding shoreline in South-Central Iceland

An even more forbidding shoreline in South-Central Iceland, apparently being slowly washed away by glacial outwash, as presented in Albert C. Hine, Jon Boothroyd & Dag Nummedal, “Glacial Outwash Plain Shoreline, South-Central Iceland”, Beach of the Month, Coastal Care 1st August 2013, linked through

So, OK, what does this all mean? Well, most obviously it means that someone was on Sandoy burning peat and scattering its ash on the shoreline well before the Vikings got there (and the study is extremely careful to emphasise that we have no idea who). What our authors are most excited about is that there were, previously, very small signs of pre-Viking occupation in the palaeobotanical record (which is to say, barley pollen had been found before in a hard-to-date but potentially early context4), and that having been able to pin it down with actual digging like this has big implications for other island chains where such out-of-place floral data has turned up but been dismissed. But it also made them think of what it makes me think of, which is an old question about whether anyone got to Iceland before the Vikings. There are stories about this in the texts, firstly bewildering seafaring fantasies like the Irish Navigatio Sanctio Brendani, in which Brendan and his monks find a series of fantastic islands in the Western Ocean while in search of Paradise, which they duly locate and are allowed to stop in for a bit before turning for home to spread the good word.5 Much effort has been spent on pinning actual Atlantic islands into his tale, but, to be cynical again, one might as well try the same exercise with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the islands are equally allegorical in both texts.6 But there is also the Íslendingabók of Ari Thorgillson, ‘The Book of the Icelanders’, in which Ari reports that the first Viking settlers on Iceland found white-clad men they called ‘papar’ there who fled before the Norsemen, leaving behind croziers and bells.7 That looks so like the kind of people St Brendan actually led that it’s usually been assumed these were Irish religious taking the spiritual exile thing unusually seriously. But there is no archæological evidence to show that Ari was doing anything more than making this up by extrapolation from stories about the Western Isles of Scotland or similar. The archæologists here are suitably cautious about fitting these older debates around their findings:

“Who were these earlier settlers, how many of them were there and where did they come from? Were they single ecclesiastical anchorites as described by Dicuil from Ireland, Late Iron Age groups of colonists from Atlantic Scotland or pre-Viking explorers from Scandinavia? Did they continue on to Iceland, or did the Faroes represent a temporary diasporal bottle-neck, requiring later Viking seafaring technology to be able to sail to Iceland and Greenland, and importantly to sail back? To answer these questions, more and better-preserved pre-Viking Faroese archaeological sites need to be identified, excavated and analysed.”8

To that, I would only say that the Vikings’ seafaring technology was perfected well before the Viking disapora started, so that might not be the significant limitation, but the Faroes radio-carbon dates are still very early and the authors’ caution here is absolutely commendable.9 What they do do, however, is establish an excellent idea of where to look for such remains in island contexts, and that gives me hope that Iceland might, indeed, be the next stop, just because it would be fun finally to have some kind of archæology to set against Ari’s stories. I’ll let the authors of the article have the last word, though, because they have bigger things in mind than my antiquarianism, and will myself just finish by saying that I wish all science publications with historical impact could manage it as well as these writers have:

“This detailed examination at the base of coastal erosion archaeological sections was successfully used to identify the first archaeological sites of Mesolithic date in the Western Isles of
Scotland. A similar palynological argument for early human settlement was proposed for the ‘invisible Mesolithic’ of the Western Isles, where small-scale clearance episodes evident in pre-Neolithic pollen sequences, coupled with a rise in microscopic charcoal, led researchers to suggest that hunter-gatherer fire ecology accounted for these disturbances, despite the lack of any Mesolithic archaeological sites in the island chain. In the Faroes and the Western Isles of Scotland, small-scale perturbations in pollen sequences were interpreted as ephemeral human occupation events in periods prior to the orthodox landnám ['land-taking'] events attested by the substantial settlement record of structures, dating to the Viking and Neolithic periods respectively. In both cases, the palaeoecological interpretations were eventually proved to be correct on discovery of ephemeral archaeological remains of pre-landnám date at the base of large coastal erosion archaeological sections and this raises intriguing issues about perturbations in palaeoenvironmental sequences prior to orthodox landnám chronological horizons in other island systems elsewhere in the North Atlantic and across the world, as in the Pacific."10


1. Mike J. Church, Símun V. Arge, Kevin J. Edwards, Philippa L. Ascough, Julie M. Bond, Gordon T. Cook, Steve J. Dockrill, Andrew J. Dugmore, Thomas H. McGovern, Claire Nesbitt, Ian A. Simpson, “The Vikings were not the first colonizers of the Faroe Islands” in Quartnerary Science Reviews Vol. 77 (Amsterdam 2013), pp. 228-232, DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2013.06.011. Assigning author order on that must have taken nearly as long as the project itself…

2. Ibid. pp. 228-230; the previous dig, led by the second author here, seems not to have been published.

3. Rather than tell us about it, they refer to two other studies, P. J. Ashmore, “Radiocarbon dating: avoiding errors by avoiding mixed samples” in Antiquity Vol. 73 (Edinburgh 1999), pp. 124-130, which you’ll notice is a vote against doing this, and Ascough, Cook & Dugmore, “North Atlantic marine 14C reservoir effects: Implications for late-Holocene chronological studies” in Quarternary Geochronology Vol. 4 (Amsterdam 2009), pp. 171-180, DOI: 10.1016/j.quageo.2008.12.002, which presumably isn’t.

4. Here they cite a whole rook of stuff, the most recent of which is K. J. Edwards & D. M. Borthwick, “The pollen content of so-called ‘ancient’ field systems in Suethuroy, Faroe Islands, and the question of cereal cultivation” in S.-A. Bengtson, P. C. Buckland, P. H. Enckell & A. M. Fosaa (edd.), Dorete – Her Book – Being a Tribute to Dorete Bloch and to Faroese Nature, Annales Societatis Scientiarum Færoensis, Supplementum LII (Tørshavn 2010), pp. 96-116.

5. I’m not sure what the preferred edition of the Navigatio is these days but in trying to find out I have found Guy Vincent (ed.), “Navigation de Saint Brendan : texte latin et traduction”, http://www.utqueant.org/net/doc.3.Bren.II.html, last modified 24th October 2005 as of 26th August 2014, which will probably do. There is a good English translation in J. F. Webb (transl.), Lives of the Saints (Harmondsworth 1965), pp. 31-68, repr. in D. H. Farmer (ed./transl.) & Webb (transl.), The Age of Bede (Harmondsworth 1983), pp. 231-267 even though the text is likely from a century after Bede.

6. There are various studies on the Atlantic world implied by the text in John W. De Courcy & David Sheehy (edd.), Atlantic Visions (Dun Laoghaire 2009), which I will admit straight up I have never seen but just now pulled out of a database; any other suggestions?

7. There seems to be an edition of Íslendingabók by Guðni Jónsson online here but I have no idea how good it is; again, any better references would be appreciated. The standard translation, Siân Grønlie (transl.), Íslendingabók; Kristni Saga. The Book of the Icelanders; The Story of the Conversion (London 2006), pp. 3-34, is online here in PDF.

8. Church, Arge, Edwards, Ascough, Bond, Cook, Dockrill, Dugmore, McGovern, Nesbitt & Simpson, “Vikings were not the first colonizers”, p. 231.

9. Jan Bill, “Ships and Seamanship” in Peter Sawyer (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings (Oxford 1997), pp. 182-201.

10. Church, Arge, Edwards, Ascough, Bond, Cook, Dockrill, Dugmore, McGovern, Nesbitt & Simpson, “Vikings were not the first colonizers”, p. 231.

Seminar CLV: an uncertain number of Vikings in a boat (at Ardnamurchan)

As I work through this backlog of seminar reports I do begin to realise that maybe one reason I seemed to get less done in Oxford than I have done since is because I was at seminars all the time… In particular, on this occasion, on the 21st of January 2013, I was at two in immediate succession, in that way that the coincidence of the Medieval Archaeology Seminar and the Medieval History Seminar at Oxford currently makes possible. This post is about the former of them, when Dr Oliver Harris of the University of Leicester came to speak with the title, “Places Past and Present: the Ardnamurchan boat burial”.

The reconstructed ship setting of the Ardnamurchan boat burial, published to Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license by Jon Haylett of A Kilchoan Diary

The reconstructed ship setting of the Ardnamurchan boat burial, published to Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license by Jon Haylett of A Kilchoan Diary

You may have heard about this site, because it was all over the news when it was fresh; the BBC coverage includes a short video showing our speaker in full animation; that may make it clear how much fun this paper was, but it was by no means lacking in care and thought even so. Basically the story is that they were doing a much wider survey of this peninsula on the western coast of Scotland, interested in remains of all periods (and I mean all – they have found Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and early modern stuff here, all within a few kilometres of each other, though no medieval bar what I’m here describing), and identified a low mound that early modern ploughing had respected. Investigation revealed that this was probably because it was full of stones, and once the turf was cleared off them it began, as Dr Harris put it, to look suspiciously like a boat. If there’d been any doubt, the finding of a broken spear and a shield boss helped reassure them there really was something here, and that something, rivets made clear, had been an actual boat that was dragged up the beach, parked on a local rise in the ground, banked with kerb stones and then filled with stuff. That stuff also included a drinking horn whose fittings survived, an axe, a cauldron or hanging bowl with a hammer and tongs in it, a whetstone, a sickle, food, apparently a bag of spare rivets and under it all, perhaps originally down the side of the boat, a sword. (I do wonder in writing this up if the person in question were being marked as a shipwright, but if so obviously a fairly martial one.)

Dr Hannah Cobb posed with the sword from the Ardnamurchan boat burial

One of quite a number of pictures from the same press shoot by Jeff J. Mitchell that one can Google up of Dr Hannah Cobb posed with the sword from the burial

What it could not then be said to have included, however, was a body, though soil analysis may change that (or by now, may have, though I can find nothing newer on it). For now, though, the possibility that there was never a person in the boat remains intriguingly open, and a further possibility (suggested in questions by Lesley Abrams and David Petts in accumulation, on the basis that sickles usually occur in female graves) is that there was more than one, accounting for the multiple significations of the goods, though in that case the chemical action of the soil was unusually aggressive for the area just here. Likewise absent was any scientific dating as yet, but the sword, which had copper and silver interweave decorating the pommel, was enough for Colleen Batey to suggest the first half of the tenth century, and I am as happy with that as I ever am with stylistic dating, given that I am not expert enough to contest it and would rather have some figures out of a computer. I would also like some publication beyond the very short note in Medieval Archaeology for 2012 that seems to be all that has so far resulted, but the Historic Environment Record lists a report apparently submitted as part of a post-excavation budget submission, and maybe that’s where things rest. That would be a shame but hopefully eventually remediable.

Aariel view of the coats around Swordie Bay, Ardnamurchan

The coast around the site, which could you but see also houses a Neolithic chambered tomb and a Bronze Age kerbed cairn as well as the ship burial. The name of the place? Swordle Bay…

The main thing that Dr Harris was keen to stress, anyway, was the landscape into which this then-new monument was being inserted, which could fairly be characterised as funerary: the very stones they built the ship-setting with were robbed from a Neolithic cairn nearby! The wider landscape is also obviously maritime: though this is the only boat-burial so far found on the mainland, it’s really only just the mainland and has a lot more to do with the others on the islands to which the sea links it for users of such boats than the zones inland. The longue durée approach of the project here was good for showing depth in time but breadth in space is also pretty clear for its frame of reference; all the goods seem to be Scandinavian in type or manufacture and there’s no reason to suppose the person was at all local. (There were two teeth, so isotopic analysis may just be possible, but without a skull, who’s to say whose teeth were deposited for what reason?) The diggers presumably knew the coast, picked a very well-used bit of it full of monuments to make their own, built it and then sailed away again, a burial very much in keeping with how Vikings interacted with this coastline and others further south when they lived. There’s a lot more it would be nice to know here but this paper gave us a lot more than was on the web, so it’s nice to be able to distribute it a bit further.


As far as I can discover, so far the only academic publication of the site (a somewhat unfair judgement-by-comparison on the press releases and website, which contain nearly as much information but fewer site photos) is Oliver Harris, Hannah Cobb, Héléna Gray & Phil Richardson, “A Viking at Rest: new discoveries on Ardnamurchan” in Märit Gaimster & Kieran O’Conor with Rory Sherlock (edd.), “Medieval Britain and Ireland – Fieldwork Highlights in 2011″ in Neil Christie (ed.), “Medieval Britain and Ireland 2011″ in Medieval Archaeology Vol. 56 (Leeds 2012), pp. 333-339 of 321-339 of 301-339, DOI: 10.1179/0076609712Z.00000000011.

Viking ransoms in Galicia: you heard it here first (wrong)

Since there was interest here the last time I posted about eleventh-century Viking activity in the Iberian peninsula, this may be of interest to those people. Those with very long memories may recall what was said that last time: I was tracking down a reference in something I was editing and had gone hunting data on Viking attacks on eleventh-century Galicia and Portugal, of which there is quite a lot. I didn’t find very much of it there, but a commentator trading as Cossue gave us an awful lot more references, all gratefully received, and I had meanwhile found one single interesting one which I made part-subject of a separate post, in which a chap called Amarelo Mestaliz had had to beg support from a local noble lady to buy back his daughters after the Vikings captured them, and in which he then later disinherited them for ingratitude, more or less. It’s fun: have a look. Sadly, it is also wrong, at least in detail. How do I now know this? Well, read on.

Cover of the journal Viking and Medieval Scandinavia

That was all in late 2009 and very early 2010. In June 2012 a post appeared at News for Medievalists (as it then was) that made me sit up. It was a notice of the publication, in Viking and Medieval Scandinavia for 2011, of an article by one Helio Pires of the University of Lisbon called “Money for Freedom: Ransom Paying to Vikings in Western Iberia”.1. Obviously this had a bearing on what we’d discussed, but it was this bit that really caught my eye:

`Pires’ article examines the taking of prisoners and collecting of ransoms by Vikings on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula. He was able to uncover two documents, dating from the first half of the 11th century, where people described the payments they made to Vikings to return family members.

`In the first case, Amarelo Mestaliz writes about how in 1015 a band of “Normans” came up the Douro River, where they looted and took captives for nine months. “There they captured three daughters of mine, Amarelo, and [I] was left poor. The Normans started selling all their captives. Those daughters of Amarelo [were] called Serili, Ermesienda, Faquilo, and I did not have anything to give for them to the Normans.”‘

You have to admit, that sounds a little familiar. Perhaps because this was only a few months after someone had lifted quite a lot of the blog content and I’d had to go after them with threats of legal action, I immediately thought the worst. One of the arguments that’s occasionally raised against blogging one’s research is that people will steal it; though this was hardly my first-line research, all the same I did wonder if this had finally happened. My second, more rational, supposition, was that this was probably our commentator Cossue, in which case I felt that we’d surely deserved a reference, since I’d found the document he was using and he hadn’t. And the original title under which I saved this post as a draft was, “I’m pretty sure we’re due some credit here.”

Picture from the 2008 Viking festival at Catoira, Galicia

Of course, now, they celebrate being attacked and ransomed…

Now, in fact, closer inspection reveals that my suspicions were unfounded, and also that I was probably wrong about some details of the document I blogged. Pires’s article is only short, six pages, and it presents two documents in which Vikings ransoming captives in Galicia are described. The first of them is our one, which he takes from exactly the same source I had used, and the latter is one I’d not found in the Portugaliae Monumenta Historica, the nineteenth-century standard edition of most Portuguese medieval texts.2 Neither of these are exactly unknown, both are printed and cited, but they are cited by Hispanists not Vikings scholars so there was probably still a point in getting this little study out in English. Anyway, it certainly doesn’t borrow anything from the blog that I can detect and it adds a little something to what we were able to put together; someone working on this stuff would profit from it and our discussion both.

Viking hacksilver from the Silverdale Hoard

Less than 15 solidi‘s worth, I’d guess, but the look is maybe about right… Viking hacksilver from the Silverdale Hoard

I also profit from it, mind, as it exposes a misunderstanding. I was startled, you see, by the fact that the News for Medievalists post continues: “The document goes on about how Amarelo received help from a woman named Froila Tructesindiz, who loaned him fifteen silver solidos, which Pires believes was the ransom amount. Two years later, Amarelo repaid Froila after selling some of his goods.” I mean, firstly, Froila a woman’s name? Not in any document I’ve seen. But secondly, you’ll remember that in my reading it was not Froila that had paid Amarelo the money. So I went to the actual article, because News for Medievalists are not always the best reflectors of the state of scholarly knowledge. But Pires is here too:

“As for Amarelo Mestaliz, unable to ransom his daughters for himself, he sought the help of a Lady Lupa, with whom he had agreed several years before to sign over his properties in exchange for assistance, should he need it. Lupa, however, refused to give him the required sum, and so Amarelo turned to another woman for help, a Froila Tructesindiz, who gave him fifteen silver solidos (‘XV solidos argenzdeos’), which can safely be assumed to be the amount of the ransom. The girls were released, and two years later Amarelo sold his goods to the latter lady, a transaction recorded in writing along with the history of the Viking incursion which was its origin.”

This is not how I read it, as you may remember. I saw Amarelo as going to Dona Loba and offering to sell her his land and she refusing to take it and getting Froila to advance him the cash, on the understanding that he would pay her (Loba) back when he could. Now, I excuse myself that the text, which is coming to us via a seventeenth-century cartulary copy of a lost original with all the transcription difficulties that likely entailed for the copyist, is difficult. I mean, make sense of it yourself if you can:

…  quanta est mea tiui eu Amarelo illa integra pagata… per annis plures in de illa domna Lupa prolis Aloiti et Guncine pro non uindere nec donare nisi ad illa et illa mici, rouorauit placitum que sic uenere mici aligo uno male in ipsa ereditate aut de alia causa ajutasse me et sacasse me inde sano stantes firmiter de amborum parte in ista actio et in nostra robore per currigula annis.”

Now, OK, here we do seem to have the reference to the pledge made by Loba that she would help Amarelo if, “coming some evil upon me in that inheritance or from any other cause”, as long as he promised to sell it only to her. I hadn’t caught that. All the same, when Loba next appears, it is hard to be sure that it’s as Pires describes:

“… non aueua que dare pro eas a Leodemanes, pro it producto fuit in Argentini ante illa domna Lupa pro uindere ad illa mea ereditate sicut aueua scritura roborata et prendere ibi que misesse ea a Lotmanes pro ipsas meas filias, et illa non quisit, et mos misericordia abuit super me et prosolbiui me per scriptura pro dare illa ubi potuisse, pro tale actio aueruaui com Froila Tructesindiz que li dedise ea per carta et dedi mici que misi pro filias meas, et sacaui eas de captiuitate.”

I will translate this again, as far as I can, without looking at my last attempt:

… I did not have what I should have given for them [the daughters] to the Leodemen, wherefore this was brought up in Argentino before that lady Loba, for [me] to sell to her my inheritance just as I had confirmed in the charter and to acquire there what might be thus sent to the Leodemen for my selfsame daughters, and she did not require this, and she had the custom of mercy upon me and enjoined me by charter to give it where I could, by which reason I agreed with Froila Tructesindiz that I gave it to him by charter and s/he gave to me what I sent for my daughters, and I redeemed them from captivity.

I have to admit that the second time, I come out with Pires’s version, but it’s desperately ambiguous, because word order is more important than inflection in this text and that makes the agents quite unclear. Who actually gives Amarelo the money for the ransom, Loba or Froila? If the former, why is Froila involved? If the latter, what’s Froila’s connection to all this? It might all make sense, and be as Pires suggests, if what’s going on here is that Loba said that in the circumstances Amarelo could sell his land wherever he wanted, and he then did so to Froila and Froila paid him the ransom. That would in turn then make a bit more sense of the subsequent part of the document, where Amarelo disposes of his property to whomever lent him the money—the actual recipient of the property is not named formally, we just have this garbled story—to pay him (or her) back and also in exchange for a pension. Before this happens an assembly goes through his documents, and, “do uobis illa pro dimisione qui mici feci illa domna Lupa”, ‘I give it to you by the demittance that that lady Loba made to me’, could indeed be that he is seeking to establish his freedom from the original pledge, so that he can in fact dispose of the land to Loba. But I can’t help feeling that it would fit equally well if Froila was Lopa’s heir and had now inherited her claim, and a new deal had been cut to get Amarelo his pension. Not very likely, and Pires almost certainly has it right, but it really isn’t easy to tell.

None of this takes away the basic interests of the document, of course, which is that Viking raiding parties here hung about for months while ransoms were negotiated and they apparently conversed enough with the locals while doing that their own name for themselves passed into local language, but I could wish I’d got it right even so. Still: never mind. Here is more work on this interesting subject, but I think there is still something for Jpg or Cossue to write on it if they like. Remember to credit the blog, folks…


1. H. Pires, “Money for Freedom: Ransom Paying to Vikings in Western Iberia” in Viking and Medieval Scandinavia Vol. 7 (Turnhout 2011), pp. 125-130.

2. That source was, in case you don’t want to click through, Rui Pinto de Azevedo (ed.), “A expediçâo de Almançor a Santiago de Compostela em 997, e a de piratas normandos à Galiza em 1015–16″ in Revista Portuguesa de História Vol. 14 (Coimbra 1973), pp. 73–93.

Seminars CXLVII-CXLIX: Chroniclers, Kilwa and Vikings In Normandy

With the usual apologies for backlog taken as read, today’s first post under the new new dispensation should get me slightly more caught up with seminar reports; people keep saying how even the old ones are interesting, and it comforts me to have them done, so, here you go.

Opening of John of Worcester's Chronicon ex Chronicis, from I think Cambridge Corpus Christi College MS 157

Opening of John of Worcester’s Chronicon ex Chronicis, from I think Cambridge Corpus Christi College MS 157

First of these was a local speaker, Emily Winkler, a doctoral student working on the image of kingship in Anglo-Norman chronicles. Consequently, her paper, which she gave at the Medieval History Seminar on 22nd October 2012, was entitled “Kings and Conquest in Anglo-Norman Historiography”, and dealt with how two chroniclers in particular, William of Malmesbury and John of Worcester, both with a strong sense of English identity but working under a régime defined very strongly as Norman, worked towards trying to explain the Danish and Norman conquests of England in a way that left the English some creditable place in the new orders of things. She did this by focussing particularly on Kings Æthelred II, ‘the Unready’, and Harold II, that is, the ones who lost their kingdoms: in both cases, as she argued and as her substantial handout shows, William goes for undermining the skill and character of the English king, thus saving the people themselves from responsibility for God’s subsequent decision against them, whereas John was too proud of the English and their history to accept such a Providential outcome and emphasises ill luck or impossible odds instead, while making the kings heroic and noble, even Æthelred (for which he has to fabricate a reasonable amount). This provoked a lively discussion which centred most of all on the contrast of these texts with the far more negative contemporary portrayals of the English people’s culpability and treachery in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. There are reasons why that source is that way, of course, but the contrast is still noticeable and Emily suggested that one major factor in the difference is that the Anglo-Norman chroniclers, whether they liked it or not, had grown up amid a kingship that was famedly powerful and effective even when opposed by its people, and that consequently they just had less conceptual space for the rôle of a people to affect the fate of its kings at all…

Fals of Sultan Sulaiman ibn Hasan of Kilwa struck at Kilwa Kisiwani c. 1331 CE

Fals of Sultan Sulaiman ibn Hasan of Kilwa struck at Kilwa Kisiwani c. 1331 CE—maybe

The next week, an old sidetrack of this blog was revived when Dr Stephanie Wynne-Jones came to talk to the Medieval Archaeology Seminar on 29th October 2012 about her work on the East African sultanate of Kilwa. My extremely limited knowledge of Kilwa is nothing to do with my medieval study, though I do think most medievalists should at least have heard of the place, but the result of fixing the catalogue entries of some of the relevant coins back at the Fitzwilliam Museum, which was also when I first met Dr Wynne-Jones. She has subsequently published a study of Kilwa coinages that raises a lot of interesting problems, but here she was dealing with the other material she’s got from digs there, under the title, “A Material Culture: exploring urbanism and trade in medieval Swahili world”.1 I won’t try and summarise this beyond saying that the amount of standing ruins (largely built of imported coral) at Kilwa Kisiwani gives Stephanie a good basis for working out how houses looked when they were in use, and what she was talking about here was the way in which shifts in available or desired goods could be seen in house decoration and the material culture of the city-dwellers. There were lots of questions here and some day I must type up my notes on them, but today is not that day. It was, however, very informative and interesting, and nice for me to get some sense of what the bigger picture was in which the coins I’d dealt with belonged.

Map of the density of Scandinavian place-names in the duchy of Normandy

Map of the density of Scandinavian place-names in the duchy of Normandy

The last paper to be covered in this batch was by another inhabitant of the Dreaming Spires, Dr Lesley Abrams, who spoke to the Medieval History Seminar on 5th November 2012 under the simple title, “Early Normandy”. This was mainly an excursus of the problems of knowing anything very much about that principality: the narrative sources are brief to the extreme, telling developingly-less believable stories about the treaty between King Charles the Simple and Rollo the Ganger that established the duchy but not giving us a text of it or recounting its provisions, and the archæology is basically missing. This is not just because it hasn’t been looked for, though that is a factor, but also because, unlike areas like East Anglia or Kiev, the Norse presence in Normandy doesn’t seem to have retained its material culture habits but rapidly to have adopted local ones. We do however have a certain amount of name-change to work with, both of settlements and of people, so it’s not that they were all terribly ashamed of their origins or anything. This is part of a larger complex of situations in which, as we learn it better, we see that the Viking impact was different in every area they went to, and this Lesley has studied in a recent article.2 Making Normandy fit into this picture much before the year 1000 is difficult, however, especially as one may suspect that interest in the duchy’s history and that of its dukes was then a new thing being milked for legitimacy (which would not be without parallels at other parts of the post-Carolingian periphery of course). What we can see, however, suggests low levels of settlement by traders and farmers, and that the Norse were by no means the only ones moving in: Breton and Gaelic influences are also evident on the place-name maps when people look for them. These kinds of subtleties are hard to detect given the evidence, but the subsequent ducal historiography was sufficiently successful that not many people have yet tried! Anyway, I am sufficiently far behind that this paper is now published, so if I have piqued your interest, please see the references below, and next I shall return to more Iberian pastures (though Vikings will continue to be involved). Stay tuned!


1. For the coins, see Jeffrey B. Fleisher & S. Wynne-Jones, “Kilwa-type coins from Songo Mnara, Tanzania: New Finds and Chronological Implications” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 170 (London 2010), pp. 494-506, and now (what I haven’t), S. Wynne-Jones & J. Fleisher, “Kilwa-type coins from Songo Mnara, Tanzania: New Finds and Chronological Implications” in Cambridge Archaeological Journal Vol. 22 (Cambridge 2012), pp. 19-36; I see from Stephanie’s publication pages at York that not only has she written an absolute shed-load of other things about these and related issues, but what looks like the book of it is on its way out as S. Wynne-Jones, A Material Culture: consumption and practice on the pre-colonial coast of East Africa (Oxford forthcoming), so that should excite anyone whom this post has excited about Kilwa still further!

2. That being L. Abrams, “Diaspora and Identity in the Viking Age” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 20 (Oxford 2012), pp. 17-38, DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0254.2011.00333.x; now see also the rather relevant L. Abrams, “Early Normandy” in Anglo-Norman Studies Vol. 35 (Woodbridge 2013), pp. 45-64!

Leeds 2012 Report 4 and Final

This last post on the International Medieval Congress of 2012 is a bit more ‘last post’ than usual, because it also involves saying goodbye to the place where all the previous instances of ‘Leeds’ had taken place, the Bodington Campus of the University of Leeds. There were plenty of drawbacks to this place, and even to its more modern partner across the playing fields, Weetwood Hall; the number of sessions in these buildings I’ve been sat on the floor for because there wasn’t room for them anywhere larger, the trek across the fields that got significantly less pleasant in the rain, the vulnerability of socialisation to the weather generally, indeed… and I won’t miss the food even a bit. On the other hand, one accepts that an event of that size is constrained by that, and on the upside, as I’ve often observed, with good weather, you could within ten minutes more or less reliably locate anyone you wanted to see as they would either be at the pub or sprawled on the same lawn as most of the rest of European medieval studies, and that was immensely valuable. It will be very interesting to see how the new version goes. Meanwhile, rather than eulogising Bodington any further, I’ll merely point out that [c] of The Pen, the Brush and the Needle already did a post about it, so if you miss it you can direct yourself thither.

Bodington Hall, University of Leeds, viewed across some ponies, 2012

Bodington Hall exemplifying its somewhat troublesome fit among the local landscape, and also more or less defying any pretence of actually being, you know, in Leeds

Change was already afoot in 2012, though, and I don’t just mean the myriad of goodbye events, though I think it something of an indictment of the IMC spirit of fun that it had taken them this long to put on jousting. (I missed most of the actual jousting and only saw the riders repeatedly knocking over a quintain which they’d not been allowed enough flat ground to set up stably.) No, I mean the creeping extension of the conference length. It used to be that the last day of the conference finished at lunch, but thus year just gone it crept out into one afternoon session and now this year there will be two, so it’ll finish at six. I imagine that those last sessions will be very poorly attended due to everyone with much distance to travel having disappeared, and in that respect, though I am not exactly happy about being first on the morning after the dance again (twice at Kalamazoo and three times in a row at Leeds now) I can certainly see how things could be worse. Anyway, last year I doggedly went to to sessions till the end, here are some of the details. I will be brief-ish, because apart from anything else I have yet to pack for this year’s Leeds and head off to it, but you’ll see how I wanted this done first…

1525. Construction and Continuity of Episcopal Identities in the Alpine and Rhineland Regions, c. 400-800

  • Christine Davison, “The Authority of Bishops and the Cults of the Saints in Late Antique Trier”
    Certainly it’s safe to say that I knew a lot more about late antique Trier and its bishops at the end of this paper than at the beginning but one of the things I now knew was how little we know, if you see what I mean. There was some brave hypothesising to fill the gaps.
  • Chantal Bielmann, “Bishops and the Cults of Saints in Alpine Switzerland: the cases of St Peter (Geneva) and St Lucius (Chur), c. 300-800″
    I will confess that it was the the prospect of two papers together on Chur that had lured me to this sessions; Chur is one of those areas I nearly could have worked on, ever since Matthew Innes pointed me at the Carolingian-period episcopal estate survey we have from there and I came back all excited about bishops taking tax in iron and so on.1 Also, it has my kind of scenery. With all that said, however, I never did really work on it, so I take the chance to learn from those who have when I get it. That said, this paper taught me more about Geneva than Chur, and the obvious common factor appeared to be the bishops’ care to control access to and veneration the saints in their cathedrals, which Ms Bielmann used the architectural history lucidly to explicate.
  • Helena Carr, “A Briton Abroad? St Lucius of Chur and the Moulding of a Diocesan Patron”
    This was certainly the most fascinating of the papers for me, though, because it had such an excellent premise. In Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People we are told that a King Lucius of the Britons sent to Rome for missionaries in A. D. 156, which is a fiction Bede acquired from the Roman Liber Pontificalis. This Lucius was nonetheless later culted as the patron saint of Chur, which for those of you less oddly-educated than me is in the south of the Alps, just south of Liechtenstein. You may at this point, if you so choose, allow yourself a large-scale, “Huh?” Basically, after that it probably didn’t matter what Dr Carr said to explain this state of affairs, the existence of it was interesting enough, but she had been looking: the cult at Chur seems to start in the eighth century, when it replaced one of Andrew, and to be focused on a local saint from the Prättigau relocated into the city. And what was the Latin name of that area? Bretanga, a mere lenitive slip away from Britannia… By the late eighth century the nearby monastery of St Gallen (whose monks knew their Bede) had this worked up into a full-scale Vita of a king who gave up rule to become a missionary. Dr Carr wondered if this ex-royal saint might be being focused on to rival the reputation of the erstwhile Burgundian king Sigismund at nearby centres, but another factor might have been the pilgrim traffic across the Alps, which included as we know an increasing number of Anglo-Saxons; did it also include Britons, or would the English have thought this part of their heritage by now, as Bede obviously sort of did?2
  • Sadly there wasn’t much time to debate any of this, but I certainly now felt it had been worth getting up on time, even if coffee did also seem a great desideratum. (And Bodington’s supposed coffee is another thing I shan’t miss, actually.)

1609. Apocalypticism and Prognostication in the Early and High Medieval West, II: Around the Year 1000

It was probably ineluctable that I go to this, except inasmuch as I obviously chose to, but you know what I mean. Year 1000, Gerbert of Aurillac and our esteemed commentator Levi Roach, how was I to do otherwise?

  • George David House, “Uncovering the Gregorian Eschatological Rhetoric in Gerbert of Aurillac’s Letter 57″
    Mr House was here trying to argue that the thinking of Gerbert of Aurillac, eventual Pope Sylvester II having been fired upwards from every job he’d previously had but known to me mainly because of his Catalan training, was more influenced by Gregory the Great than by St Augustine. It could not be said that I have a dog in this fight but nonetheless I did think that the language on which Mr House placed emphasis could just as well be read as reaction to a general crisis rather than any particular belief-set about the end of the world. I suppose the question is what came to Gerbert’s mind when he contemplated general crisis, but I think that getting into Gerbert’s head, especially in his letters which are often written for an audience other than the recipient, is going to be a tough job.
  • Joanna Thornborough, “The Whore of the Apocalypse and Kaiserkritik around the Year 1000″
    The Biblical figure of Jezebel was widely used as a figure for criticising queens in the Middle Ages, as is well studied,3 but she also has an appearance as the Whore of Babylon in Revelations, or at least it was clear to the age’s commentators that the two were the same. Ms Thornborough took us through three texts that make great play of this theme, and suggested that they all one way or another link back to a greater policing of powerful women’s roles at the Ottonian court, using Apocalyptic imagery already in play as part of the wider monastic reform movement.
  • Levi Roach, “New Approaches to an Old Problem: Otto III and the End of Time”
    Apart from being a paper whose title clearly should have been the other way round for maximum drama—I mean, come on, isn’t Otto III and the End of Time a film waiting to be made?—this was Levi’s usual high standard of erudition, looking through Emperor Otto III’s charters for some way to choose between the maximalist and minimalist views of how preoccupied his court were with the thought of the impending Apocalypse. There seems no way to deny the idea was around: Otto was crowned in a robe ornamented with depictions of the Apocalypse in the year 999, after all, moved his court to Rome and allegedly planned to retire to Jerusalem in the year 1000! I have to note that this is supported much less obviously from the charters than the records of Otto’s reign by others, though. The question then becomes whether Otto himself thought the world was about to end, or whether he was just playing on other people’s fears that it might do so, and perhaps more interestingly as Levi asked, if he did believe it was about to end, did he think he could do anything about that? I suspect we will never know but it is a worthwhile reminder that the stakes of power were arguably somewhat higher in a world brought up to believe that their own actions were part of a much large framework of events, in which someone in a position like an emperor’s might be playing a vital rôle but one for which the script was less than clear…

1723. The Viking Winter-Camp at Torksey, Lincolnshire, II

Last but not least, back to the archæology. You may not know that in recent years quite a lot of work has been done on the camp where a Viking force seems to have wintered in 871-872, a site that has become apparent only because of the incredible amount of metalwork that detectorists have pulled out of it, but I was well aware because a decent collection of those finds now resides in the Fitzwilliam Museum and more arrived when I was still there. So I went to find out more…

  • Dawn Hadley, “Burial Practices in Viking-Age Torksey”
    This paper reported on four cemeteries, all of which as far as my notes reveal turned out to be later than the Viking occupation, even though one of them sounded suspiciously like a battle-grave, or at least a catastrophe one. That one, however, was being dated from pottery alone, so there’s at least room to check there. Nonetheless, actual pre-Viking Torksey stands largely unrevealed apart from a few kilns so far, not least because so far everywhere they’ve put a spade they’ve hit a tenth- or eleventh-century cemetery!
  • Hannah Brown, “Surveying the Landscape of the Viking Winter-Camp”
    Here, on the other hand, the geophysics gave quite a lot of scope to imagine underlying structures and settlement, and also fairly clear evidence of a sectional ditch around the camp with holes outside, presumably not part of the fortification but perhaps clay pits? That in itself reveals the problems with this method: you can see there’s something there but putting a date on it will take excavation, which weirdly—and there was probably a reason for this explained but I haven’t recorded it—has not yet been done at the actual camp.
  • Søren Sindbæk, “Ring-Fenced Vikings: Scandinavian army camps and defensive tactics from Torksey to Trelleborg”
    In the absence of actual evidence, one approach then becomes to look elsewhere and see what we might expect, and Dr Sindbæk did this in fine style, taking us through Aggersborg and Trelleborg and emphasising that the very short lifespans of both indicate that they were a response to some kind of crisis, rather than part of a sustained fortification programme like the Anglo-Saxon one of which Torksey eventually became part. Torksey would have likely been even more ephemeral, though, lacking the organised and impressive buildings of the two Danish sites, so exactly what might have been there is still something of a mystery.

And thus it ends, folks, and it’s time for me to pack and head off to this year’s (though I’m scheduling this post to appear rather after I’ve done that, I should say). This year’s conference is, please note, a week earlier than last year’s, so I haven’t quite fallen a year behind. Let’s see if I get to this year’s one sooner!


1. Seriously, folks, tax in iron. The peasants got to keep most of what they’d mined, though, which in turn means they must have been selling it, because you can’t eat iron can you? It’s all quite important. Details in E. Meyer-Marthaler & F. Perret (edd.), “Das Urbar des Reichsgutes in Churrätien (9. Jht)” in eidem (edd.), Bündner Urkundenbuch. I. Band: 390-1199 (Chur 1965), pp. 373-393.

2. As far as I can see this hasn’t yet made it to publication, but those whose institutions have paid their blood-tax to ProQuest could examine Dr Carr’s thesis, “Sanctity and religious culture amongst the Alpine passes: a study of aspects of patrocinia, liturgy and scriptoria in Early Medieval Churraetia, 400-850 AD” (Ph. D. thesis, University of York, 2006), http://search.proquest.com/dissertations/docview/304950122/135BF34EDEE6AF485BA/239, where doubtless more such nuggets reside.

3. See Janet L. Nelson, “Queens as Jezebels: Brunhild and Balthild in Merovingian history” in D. Baker (ed.), Medieval Women: essays dedicated and presented to Rosalind M. T. Hill, Studies in Church History Subsidia 1 (Oxford 1978), pp. 31-78, repr. in Nelson, Politics and Ritual in Early Mediaeval Europe (London 1986), pp. 1-48 & in Lester K. Little & Barbara H. Rosenwein (edd.), Debating the Middle Ages: issues and readings (Oxford 1998), pp. 219-253.

Leeds 2012 Report 3

Part of me would like to see what I can only really call the abuse for the previous one of these posts as a challenge, and try and make it even duller, but part of me would also have to admit that it could have probably been more exciting, and the rest of me is somewhere between amused and grateful at the extra traffic the link has brought me. None of these feelings are strong enough to overcome my wish to clear my backlog, though, so here’s another one. Please, however, don’t miss the notice of this year’s IMC blogger’s meet-up that I posted just beforehand.

Reims Bibliothèque municipale Ms. 385, fo. 1

Images relevant to Hincmar of Rheims are difficult to find, as I’ve said before, but this has to be the one for this blog, the first page of a manuscript he once owned that includes the various writings used to refute the heretic Bishop Felix of Urgell. Proof that Hincmar cared about Catalonia! It is Reims, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 385.

The third day of the International Medieval Congress 2012 was of course the day of Hincmar of Rheims, and there was no way I was going to get through the whole day without getting sucked in. In fact all the sessions in that strand I went to had people on the floor because the seats were all full, which was kind of usual for sessions on the early Middle Ages in that building but still a good sign for the study of this most verbose of Carolingian churchmen. Magistra has already covered the sessions, however, as might be expected, and so I don’t actually plan to do more with them than say firstly how much fun they were, and secondly that I actually felt rather kindlier disposed to Hincmar afterwards than before, as I now had a better sense of the various pressures he was under as he worked to produce the answers his masters and he wanted. It became a plausible case to me that where Hincmar had views, he more or less stuck to them in his writings, and that where we find him inconsistent were the areas where he didn’t really know what the answer was, and was prepared (in the literal sense) to provide the one that was temporarily politically expedient while he found his way. None of this exempts him at all from the charge of being a two-faced self-important schemer, but at least he seems a more human one now. Anyway, that gives you most of what I might have said about the papers, but I will at least list the ones I went to and tag for their authors and remind you that further details of what they all said can be had at Magistra’s place.

1009. Hincmar’s 9th Century, I: the History of Hincmar

  • Jinty Nelson, “The Bearing of Hincmar’s Life on his Historical Writing”
  • Marie-Celine Isaia, “Hagiography and Rules: Hincmar and his Vita S. Remigii
  • Letha Böhringer, “Hero or Villain? Master Narratives of Hincmar in the 19th or 20th Centuries”
  • This was where my day began, and though each paper was interesting, the last of these seemed to get the most discussion, I think because it touched on what even the non-Hincmarians in the audience do because of discussing historians’ over-involvement and over-identification with their material. There’s a continual tension here of course; we are encouraged to make our work ‘relevant’ and of course we do it in the first place because it means something to us; even if objectivity were possible, it’s not clear that it would make very exciting reading. That doesn’t remove the problem of our subjectivity, however, and I guess all we can do is make it clear why we are interested up front.

From there, however, I went back to ground, if you see what I mean, and if you don’t you soon will.

1105. Christian Burial: rites and realities

  • Adrián Maldonado, “Iron Age Christianity: early medieval monastic burial in Scotland”
    The title of this paper hit straight at a problem with some of the scholarship on early medieval northern Britain and Ireland, both of which zones are often said to have Iron Age characteristics; the problem is of course that these zones were substantially Christian for much of the early Middle Ages, which doesn’t just change the implied thought-world but also brings a considerable change in the material culture of the areas and what their inhabitants thought of as display and splendour. Burial, where that display was often made manifest in grave-goods that a typical Christian pattern wouldn’t have involved, as it’s usually theorised, illustrates this problem especially sharply. Goods are rare in Scotland, in fact, but Dr Maldonado ran through some of the things that scientific chronology does for other old ideas about change in burial coinciding with Christianization: coincide it does, but not cleanly, with the shift to inhumation rather than cremation afoot well beforehand, and extended supine east-west burial likewise. Some things did change in the sample Dr Maldonado had, however: most interestingly, the sites he had to work tended to only include male burial till c. 650, at about which point some burials (and only some) also seem to have been given markers. Wooden coffins, some, weirdly, padlocked, also arrive in the record over the seventh century. This applies to the Isle of May and to Inchmarnock, both of which are known to have housed monasteries, and of course a similar burial population at Portmahomack was used to clinch the identification of that site as another monastery, but at Whithorn no such pattern was clear. Even in the earlier phases of those other sites, though, `pattern’ would be too strong a word, variation in location, position and even orientation was common, and so he invoked the work of Howard Williams to wonder if the early cosmology here was a sort of mirror of the ascetic idea of managing without the body as much as possible, so that physical remains were judged unimportant compared to the state of one’s soul. As he put it, “Christianity was being invented here”. I did like this paper, as you can probably tell by the coverage I’ve given it, and I enjoyed a chat with Dr Maldonado afterwards, but it was not alone in raising these issues.
  • Courtney Buchanan, “Furnished Burials in Christian Cemeteries: pagan, Christian, or something else?”
    This paper dealt with so-called ‘Viking’ burials in the Christian cemeteries of England in the wake of the Danish settlements, and concluded that they only involved the very top tiers of society, usually featured weaponry and more or less coincided with the distribution of so-called ‘hogback’ monuments, which is also to say, only at the edges of Viking polities. The speaker tentatively theorised this as a means of expressing a new identity in what they called a ‘third space’,1 but I wonder whether the older idea isn’t still viable here, that people whose identity or value system is under threat or erosion by, for example, being on a frontier against other more coherent and better-established identities, wouldn’t seek ways to emphasise their belonging to one side or other in ways that wouldn’t be necessary at the centre of such a zone.2
  • Anne Paton, “Leprosy and Hagiography in Medieval Ireland”
    This paper got the most attention of the three, perhaps understandably given its subject matter. It had a simple aim, a pathfinder survey of archæological evidence for leprosy in medieval Ireland compared to the way it turns up in literary sources, where it usually seems more like psoriasis or chicken-pox, the latter because highly infectious but the former because primarily a disease of the skin with quite drawn-out development of symptoms. The rather grim observation that lepers’ bodies, which can be identified by the damage the disease does to bones, do generally turn up most often in leper cemeteries but are far from all of the bodies there, was only made slightly more comforting by the suggestion that if diagnosis was good enough it might have caught them before the disease got bad enough to leave traces. If so, though, it suggests that something else killed the sufferers pretty sharpish once they got to the hospital. However, as it transpired, very little of this can be made to apply to Ireland, where only two known medieval leper graves have so far been identified, both very late. If this suggests anything, it suggests that lepers in an earlier period were not isolated, and that infection from them was therefore not feared, but only more data will make things any clearer.

Then after that and after lunch, which was slightly more of a challenge than it might have been after such a session, it was back to Hincmar and so I will once again be brief.

1209. Hincmar’s 9th Century, III: Hincmar and Frankish Rulers

  • Elina Screen, “An Unfortunate Necessity? Hincmar’s Relationship with Lothar I (843-55)”
    The thing I took from this with most interest was that even Lothar, so often represented as the villain of the Carolingian civil wars of the 840s, could worry about the possibility of things happening to him and his kingdom because of God’s disfavour. I wish Elina would finish her book on the man, it is badly needed.3
  • Clémentine Bernard-Valette, “‘We are between the hammer and the anvil’: Hincmar of Rheims and West Frankish Bishops in Front of Louis, King of Germany, 875″
    What do you do the second time your king’s brother comes to invade your kingdom? Less than you could first time, apparently, if you’re Hincmar…
  • Margaret McCarthy, “Hincmar’s Influence during Louis the Stammerer’s Reign”
    In fact, just generally the 870s were a bit of a downward slide for the old bishop’s influence, it seems, though as Margaret said in questions, it is always possible that he was deliberately stepping back a bit as he was, you know, quite old.
  • If so, however, it was not necessarily down to a waning of his powers, as one of the reasons he is usually supposed still to have been hungry for power is his manual on palace government that followed a few years later, which seems to have his ideal job description in it, and as Pauline Stafford observed in discussion his work in the crisis of 875 promulgates doctrines and thinking that could be seen as the roots of the Peace of God as well as theorising consent to kingship, with the seal of ancient authority on each of his innovations. What panic and urgency can bring out of the tired intellectual, hey? Perhaps that’s how our whole enterprise survives…

1309. Hincmar’s 9th Century, IV: Hincmar and socio-political culture

  • Sylvie Joye, “Family Order and Kingship According to Hincmar”
  • Rachel Stone, “Hincmar and the Nun: Carolingian gender order at the Synod of Douzy, 874″
    This was promoted to us on the basis of featuring a topless nun, which, by implication, it indeed did, but I find that what I’ve marked in my notes rather than that is the quote, “Patriarchy doesn’t need to be coherent to be effective”, which is altogether too true not to be put on the Internet.
  • Christine Kleinjung, “‘To Fight with Words’: the case of Hincmar of Laon in the Annals of St-Bertin
    An obvious point, but worth making again because rarely do we see it so clearly: in Hincmar’s jurisdictional battle as metropolitan of Rheims with his nephew of the same name, bishop of Laon, since our only detailed source is the former’s own account, we don’t have the full story. This is presumably not just that Hincmar didn’t want to broadcast the truth, even if he could perceive it impartially which seems unlikely as suggested above, but also that, since he was largely writing the Annals in question for himself by this stage, he didn’t need to; he already knew, so we don’t.
  • Charles West, “Extremely Good Advice: Hincmar’s view of the parish and its priests”
    As will perhaps be clear the ways that priests got involved in their local communities and how other people used them to reach those communities is a keen interest of mine just now, and Charles did what I would do in his shoes by way of getting at some of those issues, took a well-documented microcosm and built up from it, as Hincmar laid down an ancient past and Patristic authority for a parish that in this case was probably of very recent creation, even if he didn’t know that.
  • This turned into an argument in questions between Charles, myself and Geoff Koziol about whether places and communities got put in a parish or might instead have opted into one of a range of available ones, which is part of a wider question about whether territories and jurisdictions were geographically coherent or not in this period, but it also showed that tendency that Hincmar’s thought seems to have had, which is to reimagine the rule on a case-by-case basis. And again, in this sphere too he may not have needed to be coherent to be effective, indeed it’s easy to see how an adaptable way of thinking would work better in local reorganisation when existing local organisations could be so various. Systematization may not always be the answer! Who said Hincmar had nothing to teach us? Well: none of the presenters in this strand, that’s for sure…

However, my Leeds day didn’t end there: against my habit, I went to one of the evening round-tables, and various things will probably explain why when I describe it.

1403. The Staffordshire Hoard: interpretation and display – a Round Table discussion

    In theory this was a Round Table, but actually what happened was a series of people gave short talks and there there wasn’t very much time for questions, so how not to call it a regular session in a much larger room isn’t very clear. The people were Leslie Webster, who explained how the research project had been set up, none of other than Morn Capper explaining what the public contact with the Hoard and the displays had been like, what questions they had and how happily similar those questions seemed to be to what the archæologists want to know—how is it being looked after, what’s in it, who put it there and why, and so on. She also observed a number of interesting but disconnected things: the tools needed to make the Hoard items must have been flipping tiny, many of the objects are quite worn, and more significantly, it is about the furthest north-west of any Anglo-Saxon treasure so far found, so there’s a great any ways it has to be thought of as an outlier. Then Dr Webster spoke again, wondering about ways we might think round the obvious paradox of the hoard, a few apparently religious items among a mass of wargear-fittings, and in the course of this identified the famous lettered strip as part of a cross decoration on something like a house-shrine, which was news to me. They also have a mystery item which she tentatively identified as a fitting from an episcopal headdress modelled on a Jewish high-priest’s depicted in a Wearmouth-Jarrow manuscript, which raises even more interesting questions. Then lastly Alex Woolf spoke, professing ignorance (and also penury) and as usual coming up with gems of insight anyway, seeing the Hoard as a craftsman’s store (including pointing out that it was deposited near Hammerwich…), doubting that it could ever have been deposited secretly, and wondering if the decoration, which is of a loosely-coherent style despite the various ages of the bits, might have been an identifiable branding that had to be taken off things their owner intended to give to someone else. All of that merits consideration, some of it fits with the ideas I myself find more plausible about the hoard, and after it there wasn’t very much time left for discussion…

And then I must have made it to the dance, because I remember talking to people animatedly afterwards, but apparently I didn’t do myself too much damage because my notes for the next morning’s sessions start coherently. So that would be another and final post, which will follow shortly! Feel free to rate this one for tedium in comments…


1. The name checked here was Honi Bhabha, unknown to me at that point but whose The Location of Culture (Abingdon 2004) I should apparently read!

2. My pet cite here is Gloria Anzáldua, Borderlands: the new mestiza (San Francisco 1987) but this again is something I know rather than have read, and the time I have spent flicking through it has led me to wonder what else there might be that did the same work in a way I could borrow more easily. Any suggestions welcomed!

3. Should you be unable to wait, however, I can at least promise you E. Screen, “Lothar I in Italy, 834-40: charters and authority”, in Jonathan Jarrett & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout in press), rather sooner!

Gold and fool’s gold strained from the web

Ordinarily I do links-posts when I have little other content to post, and I save up links against that day so that I’m sure I shall have something interesting to show you all. The way this goes wrong, of course, is the current situation where I have forty-odd posts that I hope will be interesting existing in some state, and also a whole bunch of saved-up links getting increasingly out of date. So, let me clear some decks with some commented things for you to look at and then resume more autocthonous programming.

Digital Treasure

  • Page 185 of the Cartulaire Générale de CíteauxFirst and foremost in this, periodically an update arrives in my INBOX from the Chartae Burgundiae Medii Ævi project of which I’ve made mention here before, the guys who finally indexed the Cluny charters for the greater good of the world. Though they have fewer big goals now their progress is still considerable and ongoing, and more and more stuff is coming online. For me the most exciting thing in the recent batches is the cartularies of Dijon and Pérrecy, now online as facsimiles both of the manuscripts and of the edition, but for many others, I’m guessing that the star attraction will be the General Cartulary of Cîteaux, and indeed its other cartularies too. All of this, as far as I can see, is also included in the searchable database that was the starting point of the whole project. Really, one just wishes Burgundy had been bigger (though of course `one’ is not the first to do that…)
  • Newly-cleaned sword pommel from the Staffordshire HoardMore locally, although it’s almost old news now, conservation efforts on the Staffordshire Hoard are still continuing and new information about it keeps becoming available. One of the good things about that project is how keen they have been to keep the non-academic population in on the loop, and in this day and age of course that involves social media. An example of this, featuring some pictures that were new when I stored the link, and are still shiny, can be found here along with the input of one of this blog’s more important supporting characters, on whose work more soon.

Physical treasure: notable finds

  • Saxon woman cow buried at Anglo-Saxon Oakington cemeteryObviously we can’t have a Staffordshire hoard every year, it’s not like we’re in Gotland or something, but this was pretty good anyway, a burial from the Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Oakington in which the remains found were an apparently-wealthy woman and a cow, a weird anti-pairing to the warrior-and-horse combo with which we’re more familiar from Sutton Hoo and Lakenheath. Worth a look even if bodies aren’t your thing; as for me, I have to build this lady into a lecture now…
  • Monastery of BenedkitbeuernThen, across the Channel, and in fact really quite a lot further, about as far as possible really. But we start across the Channel, at the monastery of Benediktbeuern, where in the fifteenth century a rather fancy Bible was made, in four volumes. This we know because it is now in Auckland, New Zealand, where recently investigations have revealed at least eight strips from a much older Bible, from the time of Charlemagne (whom the story calls “the French and German emperor” – better than choosing just one I suppose?), that were reused as binding material. The survival of ancient manuscript material as linings and joints for newer ones is not unusual, but the distance of travel involved here rather is; as the Waikato University researcher who found them is quoted as saying, “these little pieces of manuscript have travelled further than any other piece of Carolingian manuscript as far as we know”. Slightly amazing!
  • Portrait denarius of Charlemagne as Emperor (812x814)Nonetheless, in some ways more amazing is another find from the era of Charlemagne, although this, a portrait denarius of Charlemagne from an unidentified mint and dating from the short space of his reign in which he was acknowledged as Emperor by his counterpart in Constantinople (812-814), is a find made a long time ago; it’s amazing because in March it sold for 160,000 euros, making it one of the highest-price medieval coins ever sold.1 (The estimate had been a mere 30,000…) We all know, of course, that very little if anything is worth more than Charlemagne but evidence of this is usually harder to quantify!
  • I got the first of these from Antiquarian’s Attic and the latter two from News for Medievalists, so hats duly tipped to them.

Finds more controversial

Site of the prehistoric temple at Ranheim, NorwayThere were two stories I wanted to comment on in this kind of category, but I don’t think I’m quite up to doing more with this one, which isn’t medieval in the slightest, than to say, can you imagine how this knowledge would have been used 150 years ago? We have, after all, seen on this blog the kinds of fight that can break out over who was where first… So, more interesting and relevant perhaps is news of the discovery of a pagan temple site at Ranheim in Norway, with a sequence of dates running from a fire pit in the lowest layer whose charcoal radio-carbonned to the fourth or fifth centuries BCE and a last-used date of 895×990 AD, after which the building was apparently carefully dismantled, pulled down and levelled, thus explaining the remarkable preservation. Now, this is an amazing site if that’s all correct, but the story has been presented in a very odd way. Admittedly, I have sourced this information from a site called Free Thought Nation (by way of Archaeology in Europe), so it’s perhaps unsurprising that it is down on Christianity, but it’s the way it’s down, which it supports with alleged quotes from the excavator, that surprises me: they read the site as having been dismantled and levelled to hide it from the forces of Christianization at loose in Norway at the time, probably prior to the faithful emigrating to more tolerant pastures like Iceland. Why, though, should we not suppose that the temple was taken down as part of Christianization? Because it’s not violent enough, or something? More probably, I suppose, because it was not subsequently re-used for a Christian site of worship, implying that no population needing one remained, but it’s still a bit odd, as is the effort the article goes into to establish that this religion, whatever it was, predated Christianity, but does not demonstrate any settlement nearby. So okay, pre-Christian religion, yes! How does that help? and whom?

Links involving me

More humbly and mundanely, there are two things I could point you at that reflect on my various endeavours, though only one of these involves Vikings I’m afraid.

  • The one that doesn’t is that I lately updated my personal academic webpages, so if you want to be up-to-date with my publications list (on which more here too before long), to see which of my various projects I’m admitting to working on currently or simply to get the latest on my hair, they’re here. Now I just have to get all my institutional ones similar…
  • Dunnyneil Island, Strangford Lough, Ireland, from the airAnd secondly, and more excitingly, back in May I got an e-mail from someone at BBC Ireland asking for comment on the excavations at Dunnyneil Island in Strangford Lough. This is only the second time I’ve been asked to be a media mouth, and the first time I didn’t realise how tight the timescale was and so missed out; this time I answered mail with unparalleled alacrity and as much help as I could be. I was, however, fully expecting this to be cut about, abbreviated and misused and I was completely wrong: quite a lot of what I wrote is now part of this story by Laura Burns, and all the quotes from me, modulo typos, are actually what I sent her. I’m rather pleased with it, and I wish all medievalist journalism was as good. You may like to have a look.

And finally…

Also, for those with problems with Oxford (including simply not being here), there’s this, which the Naked Philologist sent me and which I offer without comment…


1. In this dating I follow the view of Simon Coupland, and before him Philip Grierson, that Charlemagne only began to issue these coins once recognised as emperor by the eastern one (see S. Coupland, “Charlemagne’s Coinage: ideology and economy” in Joanna Story (ed.), Charlemagne: Empire and Society (Manchester 2005), pp. 211-229, repr. in Coupland, Carolingian Coinage and the Vikings: studies on power and trade in the 9th century, Variorum Collected Studies 847 (Aldershot 2006), I, but the auction house in question, Künker’s, have used a more cautious/less precise date.