Category Archives: Institutions

Bringing Scotland to Oxford: the O’Donnell Lectures for 2013

The medieval history of Britain outwith England is not terribly well covered at Oxford. I got into the habit of saying that by virtue of my appointment there I was now England’s only professional historian of the Picts even though I haven’t worked on them since last century: this was to stupidly forget Dr Meggen Gondek, but it was still far truer than it ought to have been, especially in the largest history department in the world outside Moscow.1 And this is all very mystifying, because every year in Oxford there is a lecture series on just such matters, the O’Donnell Lectures, in 2013 they were on the theme of Early Medieval Scotland, and they were absolutely packed with interested Oxonians, including of course me. This was a half-day event, organised by Professor Thomas Charles-Edwards, and the running order was as follows:

Alex kicked off with a typically controversial paper that opened with a typically controversial statement, which was that the term Celtic Scotland was rubbish: when it was Celtic it wasn’t Scotland and Scots is a dialect of English anyway. He went on from there to argue that in fact the whole concept of national languages is anachronistic for this period and area: while everyone would agree that there must have been many dialects across the area we now call Scotland, what was missing was any acrolect, the ‘official’ or master language of which they formed versions. If there was one of those, after Christianization it would have been Latin, effectively disconnecting the vernaculars from each other. Alex argued for Pictish as essentially being several dialects in a P-Celtic continuum of various sorts of Brittonic that had nothing to bind them together, yet still shared changes due to pressures from Old Irish or Old English that didn’t come from any controlling centre. Some kind of British acrolect seems to be evident by the seventh century that may have been centered on the Severn basin in the fifth, when that was the richest and least affected part of the old Roman province and apparently also generating pennanular brooches, but even that had lost its centre to the Anglo-Saxon culture by the time we can see it in names and texts. There was lots to think about here, and many parallels from elsewhere, but the lack of simple categories is not going to make it easy to work with however accurate it may in fact be.

A Romano-British pennanular brooch now belonging to the Shrewsbury Museums Service

Badge of an acrolect? A Romano-British pennanular brooch now belonging to the Shrewsbury Museums Service

Professor Broun, whom I’d not met before, followed in the noble tradition of G. W. S. Barrow (who I now discover sadly died a few months later, unconnectedly) by looking at the high medieval Scottish kingdom’s structures and wondering how old some of them might be.2 He focused particularly on the officer known as a mormaer, who from a Carolingian perspective looks a lot like a count: he seems to have held a court with a bishop, collected fines, coordinated military service, or at least he seems in the twelfth century to have done such things. This was not part of their family status but it was that status that made them appointable to the rôle, and they could be quite hard to manage without. On the other hand, the kingship provided a centralised aspect to this system that nothing else did, which meant that the king was important to these people as a link to any wider importance. Again, this all looks pretty much like a thinly-resourced Carolingian system and as tenth-century as it is twelfth when you look from across the Channel, but how tenth-, or even eighth- or ninth-century, might it have been here? Well, we have basically no evidence, but we can see firstly that Pictish kings could raise large armies, and secondly that mormaers had rights and lands that were not associated with kindred in an age when almost everything else was, suggesting that these were relics of some older system into which new leading (and presumably Gaelic-speaking) kindreds had moved.

If that was true, then (argued Professor Broun) Pictland would arguably have been more of a state than Scotland for a good while!3 And that is so, I guess, but it means we have a picture of a system running on ‘public’ obligation to rulers who had nothing to offer to their distant subordinates except not drowning them, which shouldn’t be a sustainable model without some kind of pull factor too (which is probably what is marked by the symbol stones, as Professor Broun and I seem to agree,4 but what significance travelled with their masons dammit?) Here, questions mainly raised the possibility that in the phases of either Pictish or, let’s call it Alban kingship that were less successfully centralised mormaers would probably have been able to be kings or at least reguli of their regions, especially (said Alex with good reason5) if that region was Moray, whose ruling line eventually became kings of the whole kit and caboodle. But I still feel as if we are missing a mechanism that attached those regions to the centralising operation: I think that mechanism is the development of what we classify as Pictishness, and I don’t understand how it worked. At least by the end of the day I could be sure that Professor Broun shared this frustration…

The Pictish stones of Inveravon, Speyside

Monuments of membership? The Pictish stones of Inveravon, Speyside (Moray)

Then there was Thomas’s paper, ably if sometimes sceptically read by Richard Sharpe. This was much more agonised about our state of knowledge than the other two. Basically, it argued for a plurality of competing churches in what is now Scotland in the seventh and eighth centuries, Irish, Northumbrian and Pictish, although the sources that tell us this are arguing about things we just can’t see and are overweeningly concerned with purely local matters when they talk about Scotland, all of which sounded very reasonable to me of course, but that then between 800 and 1100 we just know nothing. Even the very few hints of structure or change we have in the exiguous sources are more confusing than helpful: royal involvement in the tenth-century Church is later claimed by Dunkeld and Abernethy among others, but is there anything in this or were they just then competing for the earlier origin myth? By the time our sources speak again, the Celi Dé, an ascetic monastic order who nonetheless tended to run in families, are obviously very important, and the reform movement is busy trying either to stamp them out or co-opt them, but when did they start to become influential, or even start at all? When we see bishops turning up in this area in records of the tenth century, what or whom are they bishops of? We just don’t know. About as far as we can safely get is that the kings of the tenth century back some Church foundations and that the Celi Dé may be part of this.

There is some hope for a better texturing of the local church, too, by better, finer-grained work on place-names, especially hagiotoponyms, place-names based on the names of saints, and names in Kil- and Eccles-, both of which seem to be specific to areas where Old Norse and Old English influence was felt, respectively. But even then it’s not simple, because of how late they are recorded and what their other components are: we wind up with Old English names Gaelicised under Old Norse influence, which is hard to think about. It all suggests that the system was still varied in the ninth and tenth centuries, and that any royal system of big houses (dare we say minsters? the paper did) is bigger dots in a landscape full of other dots of older or newer and different colours. Alas, even after so long working on this stuff, Thomas felt he had much more still to do.

The nineteenth-century church building of Logierait

The nineteenth-century church building of Logierait, probably on top of the medieval church of Laggan Mochaid, attested in 1214 but probably older since two Pictish stones have come up here…

As you can probably even tell, part of the problem we seem to be facing here is that of Scotland as an early medieval entity. The current national division encompasses rather a lot of cultural zones and the divisions between dominant cultures, languages, Church organisation and whatever else were not just shifting throughout the early Middle Ages but did not match up at all. Indeed with the Church structures a distribution map might be the only way to catch it, not anything zonal. When we know that there were, nonetheless, kings of Scots and of Picts who apparently ruled these areas, one is forced to ask how such a disjointed uncharacterised polity could be ruled at all and what stuck it together, and at that point one either does as Professor Broun did and argue for a very very light-weight definition of ‘polity’, or remember that there were also subordinate rulers we hardly see and worry that the whole thing is probably a tombola of variegated and mingling relationships between the powerful that didn’t stay put for two minutes together. Both are in fact possible! But one of the nice things about studying early medieval Scotland right now, as Professor Charles-Edwards pointed out in his introduction, is that the field has advanced as far as it has in the last decade or so—even if what that means is that our ignorance is so much better constructed now—largely because it’s being led by these three people and a few others all of whom talk to each other a lot and get on, without which we wouldn’t have even this much of a coherent picture. There’s a lesson here for the Academy at large, but there were also lots of new things to think about early medieval Scotland! Just, a strange place to be hearing them…


1. Such, at least, had been the claim of Chris Wickham at my induction. But seriously, folks, the Picts and Catalonia before the year 1000! How did I manage to wind up with two specialisms about which no institution in England gives a stuff?

2. Referring mainly to G. W. S. Barrow, The Kingdom of the Scots: Government, Church and Society from the Eleventh to the Fourteenth Century (Edinburgh 1973, 2nd edn. 2003).

3. Cf. Wendy Davies, “States and Non-States in the Celtic World” in Walter Pohl & Veronika Wieser (edd.), Der frühmittelalterliche Staat – europäische Perspektiven, Forschungen zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 16 (Wien 2009), pp. 155-170.

4. Largely, it seems, on the basis of Isabel Henderson, The Picts (Edinburgh 1967) and “Primus inter pares: the St Andrews Sarcophagus and Pictish sculpture” in Sally Foster (ed.), The St Andrews Sarcophagus: a Pictish masterpiece and its international connections (Dublin 1998), pp. 97-167.

5. See Alex Woolf, “The ‘Moray Question’ and the Kingship of Alba in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries” in Scottish Historical Review Vol. 79 (Edinburgh 2000), pp. 145-164, DOI: 10.3366/shr.2000.79.2.145.

Seminar CLXXVI: buying control of Norway

I feel as if I ought to be catching up on backlog with this posting frequency, and yet I remain in May 2013 with the seminar reports, on the 6th of which month the Medieval History Seminar in Oxford was graced by one of my academic friends of longest standing, Dr Elina Screen. Although almost every time I see Elina I badger her for more of her work on Emperor Lothar I, as I know only too well can happen, sometimes numismatics gets in the way of Carolingian studies, and at the time of this seminar Elina had just seen emerge from the presses under her auspices the first of two volumes cataloguing the Anglo-Saxon coins that survive today in Norwegian collections.1 Her paper, “Norway in the Age of Cnut (d. 1035), through the Coinage Evidence”, thus functioned not least as a kind of advertisement for what one can do with such work, once that work shows one what the evidence actually is, and it led to some surprising conclusions.

Pointed Helmet type silver penny of King Cnut of England, struck at London by the moneyer Godric, 1023x1029

Obverse and reverse of Pointed Helmet type silver penny of King Cnut of England, struck at London by the moneyer Godric, 1023×1029

The thing about coinage, you see, and especially Anglo-Saxon coinage in Scandinavia, is that there’s a an awful lot of it. I was fond of telling students that there is more coinage of King Æthelred the Unready in Stockholm than is known in all of England, which I think is true though we can’t be sure as they’ve never managed to count the stuff in Stockholm. Norway isn’t quite so favoured, but nonetheless, Elina’s two volumes catalogue 3,200 actual coins, including some previously unknown types, as well as a myriad of fragments that were surely one of the most grumpily impossible source material any medievalist I know has ever tried to work with. Almost all of this is from hoards, because Norway doesn’t allow metal detecting so the mass of single finds that we have from England or Denmark isn’t available (and it must be said that much of Norway is not exactly detector country). So the question is less what does this all tell us, as the sample is just too large to evaluate in aggregate, but more what are the patterns and oddities? So here some suggestions from the paper.

  • Despite their number, the English coins are a poor second to Islamic dirhams even this far west, and German coins are very close behind the English ones; the English ones have the great advantage, however, that their manufacture can be dated to within about five to ten years because the English coinage was called in and renewed so frequently.
  • Some of the coins found are pierced, as if to be worn as jewellery, but it’s not that many, only 46 in total, and most of those early, so we seem to see Norway getting used to coinage here (it didn’t start striking its own till the reign of Harald Hardrada).
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, the area of Norway closest to England, Rogaland, shows 64% of the English coin finds, but it also shows 59% of all early medieval coin finds, so it is obviously different.
  • Obverse and reverse of a silver penny of King Henry II of Germany struck at Deventer in the modern Netherlands, 1002x1014

    The quantity less known… Obverse and reverse of a silver penny of King Henry II of Germany struck at Deventer in the modern Netherlands, 1002×1014

  • Among the finds in general, the Pointed Helmet type of Cnut (as in the first image above) shows an unusual proportion of die-links. That is, the dies used to strike the coins (hand-cut, and therefore identifiable) recur more frequently in this coinage than in the others, 47% of the finds being ‘linked’ by at least one die to other finds, and specifically 61% of the coins of this type struck at London, which led Elina to suggest that at least one part of this sample was a big batch of coins fresh from the London mint, hardly circulated before they went into the ground.
  • Coins do seem often to have been used as foundational deposits when putting up churches, and there was some discussion in questions of the possibility that this was because, being marked with a cross, they were considered Christian objects, but Elina reckoned that little else in the way that they were treated suggests this and thought that this behaviour was probably more to do with the fact that they were an available form of wealth that could easily be sacrificed.2

While the hints and suggestions about conversion to Christianity that Elina pulled out of this evidence (since that was ongoing in Norway at this period and ought, one feels, to be visible somehow) were thus a bit ephemeral, the concentration of hoards in Rogaland led to an unexpected yet surprisingly sustainable conclusion. We know, you see, from a variety of written sources, that Cnut’s efforts to gain control in Norway involved money, which after taking over England was something he had an awful lot of.3 Elina’s handout has the following bits from the Occasional Verses of the skald Sighvat, for example, apparently relating to the threat Cnut presented to King Olaf Haraldsson (1015-28):4

“The king’s enemies are walking about with open purses
Men offer the heavy metal for the priceless head of the king.
Everyone knows that he who takes gold for the head of his good lord
Has his place in the midst of black Hell.
He deserves such punishment.”

Obverse and reverse of Short Cross penny of King Cnut, 1029x1036, probably struck by Eadred at London

I should probably point out that as far as we know Cnut didn’t strike in gold! This is the obverse and reverse of a silver Short Cross penny of King Cnut, 1029×1036, if I’m reading it right struck by Eadred at London

“The king of England calls out a levy, but we have got a little army and smaller ships.
I do not see our king afraid.
It will be an ugly business if the men of the land let the king be short of men.
Money makes men break their faith.”

An ugly business it was, in the end, as in 1028 Cnut took a fleet to Norway and drove Olaf out, and when Olaf returned in 1030 to retake the kingdom he was killed fighting his own people.5 But how was that achieved? Well, probably with bribery of recalcitrant aristocrats in Rogaland. Not everyone in Norway was keen on the rise of kingship there.6 This could be exploited by Cnut, and we seem to see him do so; he spent more time in Rogaland than anywhere else in the country, of those recipients of bribes the sources let us identify all but one were based here, and the period of such activity matches that of the issue of the Pointed Helmet type, 1023-1029, so it does seem quite likely that the reason we have so much of that issue apparently uncirculated here is because Cnut arrived with sacks of it, some fresh from London, and handed it out. I thought this was pretty clever history, and it is nice to be able to work from such large samples down to a specific action. Not quite a smoking gun, but rather more than 30 pieces of silver


1. Elina Screen, Norwegian Collections, part I: Anglo-Saxon coins to 1016, Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles 65 (Oxford 2013) and Norwegian Collections, part II: Anglo-Saxon and later British coins 1016-1279, Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles 66 (Oxford forthcoming). As for this paper, I believe it’s under revision for publication as Elina was giving a new version of it at Leeds just gone

2. For this kind of aspect Elina relied explicitly on the work of Svein Gullbek, to wit his Pengevesents fremvekst og fall i Norge i middelalderen (København 2009), which I not only haven’t read but, I confess, couldn’t read if I tried.

3. The classic piece on this is D. M. Metcalf, “Can We Believe the Very Large Figure of £72, 000 for the Geld Levied by Cnut in 1018″ in Kenneth Jonsson (ed.), Studies in Late Anglo-Saxon Coinage in memory of Bror Emil Hildebrand (Stockholm 1990), pp. 165-176, since which time it’s become clear that, yes, we can.

4. Taken from Dorothy Whitelock (transl.), English historical Documents I: c. 500-1042, 2nd edn. (London 1979), nos 18.16 & 18.19, my line-breaks (sorry, Sighvat).

5. Elina’s reference here was Timothy Bolton, The Empire of Cnut the Great: conquest and the consolidation of power in Northern Europe in the early eleventh century (Leiden 2009), which I haven’t seen.

6. I imagine the Bolton must cover this, but what I know of that does is Sverre Bagge, “Early State Formation in Scandinavia” in Walter Pohl & Veronika Wieser (edd.), Der Frühmittelalterliche Staat – europäische Perspektiven, Forschungen zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 16 (Wien 2009), pp. 145-154.

Seminar CLXXV: banquets in the ruins at Constantinople

Next in the now-thinning pile of things I went to in Oxford that I still haven’t reported here is when Dr Michael Featherstone gave a paper entitled “The Great Palace of Constantinople: tradition or invention?” to the Late Antique and Byzantine Seminar there on 1st May 2013. This seems to have been an update of a piece Dr Featherstone published in 2006, but it also seems to have been more dependent on the visuals than is good for my recall: my notes refer blithely to buildings with Greek names I can’t reconstruct and hang arguments off sources I didn’t note down, and so this is a fairly shaky account of what was, nonetheless, an interesting paper.1 Given that, it seems best to start with a visual from somewhere else, to wit Wikimedia Commons:

Reconstruction map of the imperial district of Constantinople

Constantinople imperial district” by Cplakidas – Image:Constantinople center.svg. Translated and added more detail. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

There are two important things about this map, which is ultimately drawn from the works of Wolfgang Müller-Wiener and Cyril Mango (or so the Wikimedia Commons page for the original French version says). One is that it is cumulative: you’re looking there at the work of emperors over about six centuries and a great many periods of prosperity or crisis that made architectural display or administrative rehousing seem wise. The second, and perhaps more important thing is that it rests on really very little archæology: large parts of this now lie under the Blue Mosque and not much of the rest has been dug either. So what we are essentially being asked to accept this map from is careful work to reconstruct it from mentions in historical and literary sources, and here most of all Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitos’s De Ceremoniis, ‘On the Ceremonies’, part of that unlucky ruler‘s general attempt to uplift the symbolic state of his imperial government by calling on ancient precedent and tradition wherever he could find it.2 Given how much else that was old or disused he seems to have reactivated, how much of what he says about the palace can we take to have been important to anyone else or true before (or even during) his reign?

The Blue Mosque of Sultan Ahmed in Istanbul

The so-called Blue Mosque of Sultan Ahmed in Istanbul, the biggest single reason why there is relatively little known about the imperial palace complex on top of which it was built, image from Wikimedia Commons

Dr Featherstone took the information of the De Ceremoniis and tried to unweave from it the various sources of information Constantine VII had to write it with and that we have to check it with. Constantine’s sources must have included the standing fabric of his day, of course, but also seem to have included some rather older texts, whose testimony came from times when perhaps more was standing or had not yet been rebuilt, and which may have reported uses that were centuries outdated or even perhaps no longer possible. A particular example seems to be the hall of the 19 Couches (’19 Accubita’ on the map above), in the sixth century the palace complex’s private banqueting hall (with nine couches a side and one in its apse for the emperor) but later relegated to ceremonial use only as the emperors moved their residences down the hill to the south and left the old ‘upper palace’ as a more occasional resort. By the ninth century the 19 Couches was considered to be outside the palace, because the focal point had moved so thoroughly, leaving the old buildings higher up the hill as more or less disused space, although was was remarked in questions, still with guards on the entrances (as we know from Liudprand, not least).3 Constantine VII however re-roofed it (showing what state things were in), found somewhere an account of what had used to go on in it (here we had a mention of a Philotheos, I think probably Philotheos of Selymbria though this would be a much later source for an early source if so…) and started using it for official promotions, despite the fact that as far as we can tell that was not something the building had previously housed. He also restarted chariot racing, revived a bunch of old costumes and so forth; it’s not at all clear that the Constantinople he created had ever existed before all together, however, and it must have had something of the historical film set about it. None of that makes it seem any wiser to use Constantine VII’s works (dare we say, scripts?) as guides to the ancient past…

Ornamental pier supposedly from the Great Palace of Constantinople

It’s not that there is no remnant of the palace complex now… But even this rather excellent pier, apparently now on fairly uncaring display in Istanbul, doesn’t give us a lot to go on. Image from Wikimedia Commons, though the contributor’s suggested attribution to the second century does leave me worried that it is in fact somewhere else entirely…

What we wound up with, therefore, was a picture of a kind of ghost palace, a large set of buildings constructed to earlier political agendas which subsequent ones had found expensive, impractical or irrelevant, in which occasionally spectacles might still be staged, where it was safe to do so, but whose use quickly became exceptional. Given the quality of their building, they presumably mostly stayed up, but things like lighting, access and so on must have been problematic. Dr Featherstone suggested that the worst of the damage and deterioration was probably hidden with hangings, but all of this is a kind of make-do-and-mend that doesn’t seem at all appropriate for the image we are conventionally given (not least by Constantine VII) of the glorious and ever-wealthy Byzantine Empire, especially at its absolute heart here in Constantinople. But one of the things this paper emphasised was that it was probably one of the ways in which Constantine VII was unusual that he had his heart in these old buildings; for most emperors before him, their homes down the hill had been where their heart was, and the actual government was quite possibly somewhere else entirely.

The Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, viewed from the River Thames

The Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, viewed from the River Thames

Writing about this now puts me immediately in mind of the above as the best parallel I have for what this might have been like. Sir Christopher Wren built this place in the late seventeenth century and for a while it was the place that trained up the bearers of Britain’s proud naval tradition etc. but when I first met it years ago, on the way to a rather nice restaurant, it was maintained but disused public space utterly devoid of a function. The creation of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site has now woken it up and stuff is going on there by way of events, conservation, visits, tours and so forth. You can find out lots more about that online, but what you can’t find out about on that official website is anything really at all about what the buildings used to do. It’s no longer relevant: they want people to come and see them because they’re still splendid, not because they were once important. But I remember wandering round the site before it was renewed, with everything dull, grey and locked up behind railings, and saying to my then-companion, “My gods, this is where the empire died and was buried, isn’t it?”

Taking the parallel back to the tenth century, did Constantine VII manage this kind of revamp, in the parts of the complex he decided were reactivable, do you suppose? Or was it, for his audiences, somewhat more like standing in a mausoleum of dead achievements he would never equal and which weren’t really anything to do with the problems of the day? Should we put Constantine VII in the same box as I have put King Charles the Simple of the Western Franks, eager to revive the traditions of his ancestors but not realising that times had changed? Or does Constantine’s dogged progress towards sole rule suggest that he knew a trick his colleagues didn’t? If so, the old palace buildings may have been part of it, but even then perhaps, then you saw them, soon you didn’t…


1. Jeffrey Michael Featherstone, “The Great Palace as Reflected in the De Cerimoniis” in Franz Bauer (ed.), Visualisierungen von Herrschaft. Frühmittelalterliche Residenzen: Gestalt und Zeremoniell. Internationales Kolloquium 3./4. Juni 2004 in Istanbul, Byzas 5 (Istanbul 2006), pp. 47-61; see now also Featherstone, “Der Große Palast von Konstantinopel: Tradition oder Erfindung?” in Byzantinische Zeitschrift Vol. 106 (Amsterdam 2013), pp. 19-38, DOI:10.1515/bz-2013-0003, fairly apparently this paper.

2. Ann Moffatt & Maxene Tall (transl.) Constantine Porphyrogennetos: The Book of Ceremonies, with the Greek edition of the Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae (Bonn, 1829), Byzantina Australiensia 18 (Canberra 2012), 2 vols.

3. Liudprand visited Constantinople for the first time in the reign of Constantine VII and seems to have been exactly the kind of impressive but impressionable foreign audience the emperor wanted, as we can tell from his account in his Antapodosis. I’ve just given references to all Liudprand’s works, so I won’t do that again, but you might like to look at Constanze M.F. Schummer, “Liudprand of Cremona – a diplomat?” in Jonathan Shepard & Simon Franklin (edd.) Byzantine Diplomacy: Papers from the Twenty-fourth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Cambridge, March 1990 (Aldershot 1992), pp. 197-201.

Seminar CLXXIV: debating change around 1066

One of the stranger events I attended while still in Oxford (a category of thing of which I have now told you almost all) was a debate staged at the then-new Ertegun Centre, over the motion: “1066: the most important date in English history?” It was the public-school format, of course, with a speaker for, a speaker against and the option of a reply from each one, but what made it look interesting to attend was that the speaker for was Dr George Garnett, one of my more singular colleagues in the Faculty, and the speaker against was Dr George Molyneaux, repeatedly given first place as lecturer by my pupils on the British History 300-1087 course and also George Garnett’s doctoral pupil. Would the pupil now become the master? and so on.

The manuscript of Greater Domesday

The manuscript of Greater Domesday: the final judgement!

In actual fact, though the debate was not uninteresting, and could probably be said to have been won by George Garnett in as much as he was prepared to throw much more into the rhetoric of the occasion and also had a single point of focus that meant his opponent either had to pick another or be solely negative, the real interest for me and most others there seemed to be the meta-debate of what we as historians would consider significant change and how they could be rated against each other. Both Georges had chosen to rest their cases largely on duration, on changes that endured like cathedrals, language, towns, laws and landholding, and differed primarily on the question of whom these changes affected: in the case for it was everyone, in the case against those changes mentioned in the case for 1066 were dismissed as affecting only the aristocracy. (George Garnett then argued in his reply that if we let Marx set our criteria like that then nothing actually changed in England till the Industrial Revolution anyway.) But many more such arguments arose once the floor was opened. One contention for 1940 was resisted with the idea that only people since 1940 had been affected by it, so that older changes would be more significant by sheer demography of impact. The idea that counter-factuals were a tool for assessing such importance was damned as a trick of Niall Ferguson‘s and defended as being inherent in any historical judgement; and, thankfully, the question was also raised of whether we had enough evidence to make judgements like this anyway and what new evidence could unseat either George’s position. (George Garnett considered his position to be bolstered by so much evidence that evidence of other things couldn’t change it.) Probably this sort of thing could happen nowhere but Oxford, and even its participants questioned its worth as an intellectual exercise, but as a way of provoking conversation about what change actually is it proved unexpectedly stimulating.

Seminar CLXXIII: blended Burgundians

Continuing to fight the backlog, let me tell you all about the time I went to hear Erica Buchberger, now well out of Oxford, present a paper to the After Rome seminar there on 25th April 2013, a paper entitled “Romans, Barbarians and Burgundians in Early Burgundian Law”. Erica’s work at that point was, and probably still is, to clarify what it was that the ethnic terms beloved of early medieval sources actually meant, and on this occasion she was working through the two Burgundian lawcodes, the Lex romana Burgundionum and the Liber constitutionum or Lex Burgundionum, to see what they do with the three terms of her title.

The title-list of a tenth-century copy of the Lex Burgundionum in Paris, Bibliotheèque Nationale de France, MS Latin 10753

The title-list of a tenth-century copy of the Lex Burgundionum in Paris, Bibliotheèque Nationale de France, MS Latin 10753

The short answer seems to have been that these texts don’t much help: while the separation of the two texts seems to indicate a category distinction between Romans in Burgundy and Burgundians, the number of circumstances in which one’s sort of law could be chosen, associated with property or even sold with property makes a rapid nonsense of the idea that these were categories of birth. In fact, almost all the invocations of the ideas of ethnicity come up, in either lawcode, where landed property is concerned. I suppose, as I think from my notes did Erica, that this is because in land, claims of inheritance were more important than they were in everyday cases of affray or disagreement, so that one’s ancestry, from people who perhaps felt and expressed their identity as Roman or Burgundian more sharply as the two groups first interacted, would be more relevant. In that case, as Erica certainly did say, the laws are testifying silently to the ongoing collapse of the distinction, and show us many ways in which they could be crossed or avoided. She also argued that the laws were a tool working towards that combination of peoples, and there I’m less clear what the basis of her argument was: perhaps, though, that the two laws should not be seen as alternatives but as complements, applying Roman and ‘barbarian’ solutions respectively to a population who were increasingly able to see themselves as both. There were lots of questions, but almost all about the details of accommodation or case-law, and what I got from that is that Erica knows her stuff, by now not a surprise. It was good to attend this paper, as it represented the hoped-for outcome of many a piece of research: even though research ineluctably initially reveals that the question is too complex to answer simply, at the end one needs to have some answers that do help us understand better. This, now-Dr Buchberger certainly provided!


The standard editions of the Burgundian laws are the MGH ones, Friedrich Blühme (ed.), “Leges Burgundionum” in Georg Heinrich Pertz (ed.), Monumenta Germaniae Historica inde ab anno Christi quingentesimo usque ad annum millesimum quingentesimum Legum III (Hannover 1863), online here, pp. 497-630, or Ludwig Rudolf de Salis (ed.), Leges Burgundionum, Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Leges Nationum Germanicarum II.1 (Hannover 1892), online here, and there’s a translation of the Lex Burgundionum in Katherine Fischer Drew (transl.), The Burgundian Code: Book of Constitutions or Law of Gundobad; additional enactments (Philadelphia 1972). The Lex Romana Burgundionum isn’t published in translation yet, but I know that a masters student at Kings College London has done a translation, so, who knows… ?

Chasing a fake chronicler: ‘Eutrand’ of Toledo

OK, I’m back! Sorry, there were two conferences and there are still many deadlines, but so many people at Leeds were kind about the blog that I feel under even more compulsion than usual to combat its backlog. I hope to post pretty frequently for the next few months now, as my responsibilities are about to acquire a much more regular shape, which will itself be a post topic shortly. Meanwhile, here’s a post I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. It’s something of a historiographical detective story, and it doesn’t have an ending, because as you will see I had to decide somewhere along the line that it was too much of a sidetrack for me. But it has a clear beginning, and that is with a post of Joan Vilaseca’s in May 2012 at his Cathalaunia blog. For those not up to a bit of Catalan, the post was about the earliest date we could put on the presence the relics Saints Llucia and Martial at Sant Sadurní de Vic, and Joan had just discovered an apparently-unnoticed mention of this in the Chronicon of Liudprand of Cremona.

The frontage of Sant Sadurní de Vic

The frontage, which is all that remains, of Sant Sadurní de Vic, taken from the Carrer de Sant Sadurní by your humble author

You can imagine that this got my attention immediately. There is information about tenth-century Vic in the work of one of the most chatty chroniclers of the early Middle Ages? How had I missed it? So I clicked on the links Joan had helpfully provided and immediately found myself in a world of confusion, which is sadly reflected in the comments I left on that post. For a start, the seventeenth-century edition that Joan was using made the division between its texts very hard to spot.1 (There is no contents page…) So I looked for the extract in the Chronicon, not realising there were other texts in the volume at all, and found myself in something that seemed pretty clearly to be a truncated version of Liudprand’s Antapadosis, and I’ve got that and this bit isn’t there.2 Tracking the reference through the linked edition eventually clarified that the bit that Joan was using came from a text which the editor had called the Fragmenta.3 But there are, canonically, four works attributed to Liudprand: the Antapodosis, a scurrilous and gossipy account of tenth-century Italian and German history as Liudprand had lived through it notionally addressed to Bishop Recemund of Córdoba, whom Liudprand had met at the court of Emperor Otto I of the Germans, Liudprand’s second boss; the Historia Ottonis, a short but detailed account of Otto’s deposition of Pope John XII; the Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana, a bitter and vituperative attempt to excuse the failure of an embassy he’d led for Otto to the Emperor Nicephorus Phocas; and a recently-recognised homily on Easter. So what on earth was this?

Title page of the 1635 edition of works attributed to Liudprand by Tamaio de Vargas

Title page of the 1635 edition of Liudprand’s spuria that started this trouble, details visible or in notes below

It wants saying at this point that it is really perfectly fair for someone coming new to this stuff to take it for real. Joan had the best reason of all to take them seriously, to wit, that he was following up a citation from a book chapter by Manuel Riu i Riu, whose work was not the sort of place where one usually found forgeries cited.4 And after all, it’s just not normal to find a seventeenth-century book of 427 pages in Latin with all the special typefaces and so on and it actually be completely false. The thing looks serious. Even if the suspicion arose, though, you would have a hard time checking it. None of the standard editions or translations of Liudprand I knew so much as mention any dubious or pseudonymous writings, by which I mean the standard (and web-accessible) editions of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Wright’s famous translation or Squatriti’s new one that includes the homily.5 Even the brand-new edition by Chiesa, which I only got hold of later, only mentions them in passing once as “le opere spurie”, without further explanation, and in fact refers to the Chronicon once beforehand as if it might be a genuine work, just misattributed.6 I even spoke to two people in Oxford who’ve published on Liudprand, and they’d never heard of these texts. And web-searches only brought up the various seventeenth-century printings of these texts without contexts, and brought me back to where I’d started. So it seemed that there was really very little help to be had here beyond going back to the text and trying to figure it out.

Frontispiece of Higuera & Ramírez's edition of all the claimed works of Liudprand of Cremona

Frontispiece of the 1640 Antwerp edition of our problem texts

I couldn’t get very far with the Google Books version; there are times when a physical edition is still just easier to page through, and those times are when you don’t know what you’re looking for. But where was I going to find a dodgy seventeenth-century edition of Liudprand of Cremona in actual paper? And the answer turned out to be: where I worked, because the Upper Library of the Queen’s College Oxford has quite a lot of seventeenth- to nineteenth-century antiquarian works they apparently bought in a rush with a bequest and among them was a slightly later Antwerp printing of the relevant text.7 Once I’d got the thing open before me, I first noted that this edition contained, as well as all the three ‘regular’ works, the Chronicon, a Historia de rebus suo tempore in Europa gestis, a De adversariis, a Liber de vitis romanorum pontificum and the Fragmenta, that is History of Events in Europe in His Time, On Enemies, Book of the Vices of the Roman Pontiffs and Fragments. It’s quite full. The extra ones do admittedly sound like things that Liudprand might have written, but it didn’t take very long with the Chronicon to be sure that that, at least, could not be his. For example: its second entry states that in AD 607 Muhammad began to preach ‘his error’ in Spain and was booted out by the Archbishop of Toledo; only in 619, therefore, did he translate the said error into ‘books in the Arabic language’. Charlemagne, already mentioned as a saint in the prolegomena, is recorded visiting Toledo in 781 (although the era date given corresponds to 771) in order to marry Galiana, the Christian daughter (converted, of course, by an archbishop of Toledo, a title that perhaps we should mention they did not yet use) of a King Galafrid of Toledo, Muslim despite his name. I guess that I don’t need to point out that Charlemagne never came further south into Spain than Saragossa. In 799, King Alfonso the Chaste of Asturias and Count Roland and a bunch of Frankish nobles all go on campaign together; Roland, of course, had died in 778 at Roncesvalles and probably never met Alfonso. The best one is earlier, sub anno 690 where it says that there are ten languages spoken in the Iberian Peninsula, and lists them as “Hispanica, Cantabrica, Græca, Latina, Arabica, Chaldæica, Huriano, Celtiberico, Galicano et Catalaunica”.8 It’s hard to know what’s wrongest here, but it’s all pretty crazy and not something anyone could have thought in the tenth century. In fact it’s hard to think of a time when someone could have thought it!

The Upper Library of the Queen's College, Oxford

The Upper Library of the Queen’s College, Oxford

All this therefore raised the question of what the text is actually supposed to be, and that’s also fun. The text starts with a letter from Bishop ‘Tractemund of Elvira’, apparently meaning the real Liudprand’s real correspondent Recemund of Córdoba, telling Eutrand (as it spells him) that Tractemund has received the Antapodosis and the De rebus gestis, but he has very few other books in Elvira because the Muslims have destroyed so much and he gathers that at Eutrand’s new home in Fulda there may be a copy of the Chronicon of Maximus and Dexter. Luidprand (so spelt) then replies in a letter that follows in the edition, saying yes, as it happens they do have a copy of the Chronicon. Since it only went as far as 612, however, what he’s actually sending is his own supplement from 606 to 960, including lots of stuff about their mutual acquaintances in Spain, because, you see, these letters also make clear that Eutrand is supposed to have spent some considerable time as a subdeacon in Toledo, only going to Pavia to become a deacon later and then getting out to Germany sharply afterwards. It would be marvellous if any of it were true, but it can’t be: Liudprand’s career is well-enough documented that we can see there isn’t a gap that size in it, nor any suggestion of such a thing in the Antapadosis, written, you will remember, for a Spanish recipient. But the editor, one Jeronimo Román de la Higuera, spends some time justifying this, and in limited support, the person they get to introduce the volume says that Higuera and his colleague extracted the manuscript from Fulda’s library (something that the editors themselves do not mention, even when arguing for the authenticity of the text).9 But the notes, which are supplied by one Lorenzo Ramírez de Prado, are said to come from the Tamaio de Vargas edition, and it’s all extremely tangled.

It seems, however, that it is Higuera who was the problem. I did not know till I looked into this, but Higuera was one of the most notorious forgers of perhaps the entire early modern era. He is credited with so many faked texts, all more or less to the greater glory of his native Toledo, that some of his defenders (for as a prominent Jesuit he has had some) have attempted the rather weak argument that it seems impossible for one man to have forged so much, so it can’t all have been him at which rate is any of it?10 And there is something in this, because although several of the texts in the 1640 edition don’t occur in the 1635 one, the Adversaria first turning up in the younger printing, for example, the De Vitiis apparently first surfaces in an edition by itself in 1602.11 And anyway, what about Tamaio? And the answer to that turns out to be that Higuera’s stuff was being banned in Spain as forgeries even in the 1630s, which is why none of this stuff was printed there, and Tamaio seems to have been more or less a conduit for Higuera in getting it out.12 And what was it that got Higuera into trouble? Nothing other than the Chronicon omnimodae historiae of Flavius Lucius Dexter, first known from an edition by Francisco Bivar in Lyons in 1627 but apparently something in which Higuera was neck-deep anyway.13 So it does almost all keep going back to the one man.

Title page of the source edition of the <em>Chronicon Dextri</em>

Title page of the source edition of the Chronicon Dextri

Now, you will deduce from this that I eventually found some literature about this problem. In fact, the obvious thing that I should have done straight away but only thought of later was to look in the Patrologia Latina, because Migne seems to have been the last person before Chiesa to admit these texts existed. He printed the Chronicon, but he followed it with an absolutely stinging rebuttal of its authenticity by Nicolás Antonio Hispalensi from a text called the Bibliotheca Vetus Hispana, in which the author calls Higuera every kind of fraud and denounces his errors about various saints and historical figures, all of whom by some erudite confusion or in some cases, as with Charlemagne, by brass-faced error, wind up with an origin in or some connection to Toledo, in cataloguic style.14 And then, more solidly and thoroughly, there is an 1868 work by Jesús Godoy de Alcántara that sets it all into a history of seventeenth-century forgery and which is also now online, and since then some other useful bits have been written that I have eventually also found.15

All the same, it seems to me that there is still work to be done here. For a start, not all of this rubbish came directly out of Higuera’s head. Godoy identifies some sources here and there: the story of Charlemagne and Galafrid is a part of the Charlemagne legend, for example, and is a lot older than Higuera, however great it may have seemed for his purposes. But there’s a lot more that could be done, especially with the Notae that Tamaio provided to the Chronicon, which include a good few inscriptions and other texts he thought relevant entire. It would be nice at least to rule out the idea that he or Higuera had source texts that might in some cases have been from somewhere near the period they purported to recall. But what? One wants to sit down with as many of the texts as one can and slowly go through working out what the layers of accretion are, checking phrases in the Pat. Lat. to see where they’ve been lifted from and generally working out a bit more about what is clearly Higuera, what Tamaio and so on, and what is less obviously explained. And this was, of course, the point at which I shook myself, said to myself, “this is not your research. This is a dissertation topic for someone else” and dropped it. And so one reason for putting all this up here, I suppose, is in case anyone happens to want what looks like a fun thesis topic… But the main reason is that because this stuff answers to a web-search now and most of the limited scholarship is in Spanish and doesn’t, there’s every reason for someone encountering this stuff as it comes up with your search terms, not necessarily near any of the overtly crazy bits, to assume it’s genuine. So there really ought to be something out there and easy to search up saying that it’s not… Hopefully this will do!


1. The edition Joan was using was Thomas Tamaio de Vargas (ed.), Luitprandi, sive Eutrandi e subdiacono toletano, & Ticinensi diacono episcopi cremonensis, Berengario II. Italiae Regi a Secretis, pro Othone I. Germ. Imp. ad Pont. M. & ad Imp. CP. legati Chronicon ad Tractemundum Illiberitanum in Hispania episcopum, a multis hactenus desideratum, nunc editam (Mantua 1635), online here.

2. I’m not quite sure how I did this, as I must have stumbled into the De rebus gestis discussed below, which is indeed nothing but a truncated version of the Antapodosis but is not printed in Tamaio, Chronicon, but in Jeronimo de la Higuera & Lorenzo Ramírez de Prado (edd.), Luitprandi Subdiaconi Toletani Ticinensis Diaconi tandem Cremonensis Episcopi Opera quae extant: Chronicon et aduersaria nunc primum in lucem exeunt (Antwerp 1640), which is online here.

3. This is printed in both the above editions, but it’s still not simple to cite: neither have contents pages, and they paginate each work separately. It occupies the last fifty pages bar index of the Tamaio edition. Tamaio introduces it with a title page saying that it is “Luitprando sive Eutrando hactenus attributa”, ‘until now attributed to Liudprand or Eutrand’, but by the actual text that caution has been forgotten and the reason to question the attribution is never given. The text itself is a strange bundle of 270 separate little items, some large and some no more than “In Hispania habuit Carolus Martellus multos amicos, ut apud Cantabros, & Astures.” (‘Charles Martel had lots of friends in Spain, just as he did among the Cantabrians, and the Asturians too.’ (no. 252)) Only about half are dated, and they’re arranged in seemingly indeterminate order, a few being related by theme but not all of those on one theme being gathered together. It’s a bewildering text, though the bit quoted suffices to show that it too knows more modern names than it should to be what Tamaio claimed.

4. M. Riu i Riu, “Consideraciones en torno del Cronicon Luitprandi” in Luisa D’Arienzo (ed.), Sardegna, Mediterraneo e Atlantico tra medioevo ed età moderna: studi storici in memoria di Alberto Boscolo (Roma 1993), 3 vols, II, pp. 23-29. Riu’s reference was Tamaio, Chronicon. He was a canny man but not always alert to forgery: there’s a few things in his “Diplomatari del monestir de Sant Llorenç de Morunys (971-1613)” in Urgellia Vol. 4 (Montserrat 1981), pp. 187-259, that I’m very reluctant to accept. This is such an obvious case once you read it, though, and here discussed in a memorial volume, that I’m inclined to wonder if he might have been perpetrating a joke that would have made the deceased friend or colleague laugh…

5. There are three MGH editions, Georg Heinrich Pertz (ed.), Monumenta Germaniae Historica inde ab anno Christi quingentesimo usque ad annum millesimum, Scriptorum Vol. III (Hannover 1839), pp. 264-363 (online here); Ernst Dümmler (ed.), Liudprandi episcopi cremonensis opera omnia, in usum scholarum ex Monumentis Germaniae Historicis recusa (Hannover 1877), which is now on sale all over the web in knock-off reprints from the PDF but also in the Internet Archive here, whence presumably the reprints’ source PDF; and Joseph Becker, Die Werke Liudprands von Cremona, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum germanicum in usum scholarum separatim editi 41 (Hannover 1915), online here. The two translations here referred to are F. A. Wright (transl.), The Works of Liudprand of Cremona (New York City 1930) and Paolo Squatriti (transl.), The Complete Works of Liudprand of Cremona (Washington DC 2007). None of these mention any spuria where I can find it.

6. Paolo Chiesa (ed.), Liudprandi Cremonensis Opera Omnia, Corpus Christianorum: Continuatio Medievalis 156 (Turnhout 1998), pp. xli & xxxviii & n. 31, where: “Il riferimento è al Chronicon ad Tractemundum di Eutrando, subdiacono di Toledo, confuso con Liutprando nell’editio princeps di quest’opera.” and a reference to the following mention.

7. None other than Higuera & Ramírez, Luitprandi Opera, in fact.

8. These cites, however, come from Tamaio, Chronicon, s. aa., simply because that was the link I opened first when finishing this post off.

9. Higuera & Ramírez, Luitprandi Opera, pp. xxviii-xxix (where they are more concerned to establish that it’s perfectly to be expected that this text would contain chunks of Pseudo-Turpin) & xlii-xlv (justifying Liudprand’s Spanish sojourn from Julian Perez’s Chronicon, printed as Iuliani Petri Archipresbyteri S. Iustae Chronicon cum eiusdem adversariis et De eremeteriis Hispaniae brevis descriptio atque ab eodem variorum carminum collectio, ex Bibliotheca olivarensi (Paris 1628), online here; there is no editor stated as such, but not only is the dedication by Lorenzo Ramírez de Prado, the copy digitised by Google is even signed by him in the flyleaves. That is, they justified their fabrications of a continuation of a false chronicle they’d already published by reference to another false chronicle that they had already published! It’s amazing. It’s only in Eric Puteano, “De Luidprandi… nova editione… Iudicium….”, in Higuera & Ramírez, Luidprandi Opera, pp. xxii-xxiv, where the claim about the manuscript is made. But cf. n. 14 below!

10. See Georges Cirot, “Documents sur le faussaire Higuera” in Bulletin hispanique Vol. 8 (Bordeaux 1906), pp. 87-95, online here; I owe this reference to Joan Vilaseca.

11. Luitprandi Ticinensis Diaconi Opusculum de vitis Romanorum Pontificium. Item Albonis Florianensis Abbatis Epitome de vitis eorundem ex Anastasii Bibliothecarij Historiae excerpta. Vtrumq: ex pervetustis Mss. Codd. membraneis descriptum, et nunc primum typis procusum (Mainz 1602), online here, pp. 1-118. Again, no editor is specified, although someone has written into the copy digitised by Google an attribution to one Jean Busée. It seems hard a priori to connect this to Higuera. The notice of this printing I got from Chiesa, Liudprandi Opera, p. xli.

12. See Jesús Godoy de Alcántara, Historia crítica de los falsos cronicones (Madrid 1868), online here, pp. 221-251.

13. Francisco Bivar (ed.), Fl. Lucii Dextri Barcinonensis, Viri Clarissimi, Orientalis Imperii Præfecti Prætorio, & D. Hieronymo amicissimi, Chronicon Omnimodæ Historiæ (Lyon 1627); see Godoy, Historia crítica, pp. 129-179.

14. Jean-Paul Migne (ed.), Ratherii Veronensis episcopi opera omnia, juxta editionem Veronensem, anno 1765, curantibus Petro et Hieronymo fratribus Balleriniis, presbyteribus Veronensis, datam, ad prelum revocata, accedunt Liutprandi Cremonensis necnon Folquini S. Bertino monacho, Gunzonis diaconis Novariensis, Richard abbati Floriacensis, Adalberti Metensis scholastici, Scripta vel Scriptorum fragmenta quae exstant, Patrologiae cursus completus series latina 136 (Paris 1853), cols 937-1180, in which cols 937B-966B reprint Nicolás Antonio Hispalensi, Bibliotheca Hispana Vetus, sive Hispani Scriptores qui ab Octaviani Augusto ævo ad annum Christi MD. floruerunt, ed. José Saenz de Aguirre (Roma 1693-1696), 2 vols, I, VI.16, and cols 965C-1133 reprint the Chronicon from Higuera & Ramírez, Luidprandi Opera, but attributing it by confusion to a non-existent Antwerp 1640 printing of Julius Reuber (ed.), Veterum scriptorum, qui caesarum et imperatorum germanicorum res per aliquot secula gestas, literis mandarunt, collectio (Frankfurt 1584), which actually contains the Antapodosis, and preceding it, cols 965C-968B, with a preface of Higuera’s which appears in neither edition! This also claims (col. 965C) that the text was “ex libro Gothico ex bibliotheca Fuldensi detracto, Wormatiamque allato” (cf. n. 9 above); Godoy, Historia crítica, pp. 200-202, notes that Higuera’s claims of a busy correspondence between Spain and Fulda were somewhat quashed by Fulda’s denying the existence of his purported manuscripts, so I suppose that’s what had happened here. Godoy then goes on in n. 1 to point out that there is actually evidence for early medieval travel between Fulda and Spain that Higuera didn’t know about, a smug feat he repeated many times in this work. Returning to Migne, Ratheri opera omnia, lastly cols 1133A-1180D reprint the Adversaria from Higuera & Ramírez, Luidprandi Opera.

15. Godoy, Historia crítica; Cirot, “Documents”; Antonio Yelo Templado, “El Cronicón del Pseudo-Dextro: proceso de redacción” in Anales de la Universidad de Murcia: Letras Vol. 43 (Murcia 1984-1985), pp. 103-121, online here; Mercedes García-Arenal & Fernando Rodríguez Mediano, The Orient in Spain: converted Muslims, the forged lead books of Granada, and the rise of Orientalism (Leiden 2009), pp. 195-224.

Gallery

Flat out for Sutton Hoo

This gallery contains 14 photos.

The Easter holiday was short in the UK last year, but this didn’t stop some of us making good use of it, and for me this included, somewhat to my surprise, an Anglo-Saxonist roadtrip. This excellent idea was one of … Continue reading

Seminar CLXX: Jarrett in Australia

At the end of March 2013 I did something I hadn’t done for many years, which was take a short holiday. You know, an actual vacation, in which I didn’t take any reading (except for the journey, obviously) or plan to go to any medieval sites. I ensured this latter by going to Australia, although there were also other reasons for this and in general one could mark this as part of the turn-around of my life that seems, in retrospect, to have started about this time. I had a lovely time, really liked the country and hope to go again, but this is not a matter for academic blogging, you will immediately see. But I told the estimable Kathleen Neal I was coming to her country, figuring I should try and visit if possible, and her response was: “Great! Do you want to give a seminar?” I should have known there’d be no escape…

Poster for my appearance at the Monash/Melbourne seminar

A sign of the kind of effort Kath makes for her friends! Poster for my appearance at her seminar

But seriously folks! Obviously I can refuse Kath nothing, long-time commentator here and networker everywhere as she has been for me as for many others, but also it was rather flattering to be asked. I wanted to try out the latest version of my paper about Sant Pere de Casserres, so I readied it under the title “On Stone and Skin: inscription of a community at a Catalan monastery around 1000″, as you see above, and was pleased with it. I assumed no-one would turn up, mind, given that it was out of term and Kath had arranged me as an attraction for two separate universities, as it says there “a special seminar jointly hosted by the Monash Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies and The University of Melbourne“. Actually I got about forty-five people coming to hear and see and I’ve rarely been made to feel more welcome. The fact that being on the Internet gives me some strange kind of celebrity value outside Europe will always surprise me—it doesn’t here, I tell you—but it was great fun, I owe all those who came great thanks for being such great hosts, in some cases (Steve) at the cost even of personal injury, and some day I will in fact get the paper finished and into print, I promise…

Mine hosts, at the Old Arts Building, Melbourne University

Mine hosts, at the Old Arts Building, Melbourne University

Carolingian things afoot in Cambridge

Reverse of a silver denier of Charlemagne struck at Dorestad now on display in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Reverse of a silver denier of Charlemagne struck at Dorestad now on display in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

May I just break the backlog-filling for a second to bring your attention to two things happening in Cambridge relating to no-one less than Charles the Great, King of the Franks, King of the Lombards, Patrician of the Romans and finally Holy Roman Emperor, already? You know the one. The first of these, because it’s already happening, though I’ve yet to see it, is an exhibition at my old place of work, the Fitzwilliam Museum, called Building an Empire: Money, trade and power in the age of Charlemagne. As you can see from that web-page, “A selection of the finest medieval coins from the Fitzwilliam Museum’s own collection (Frankish, Anglo-Saxon, Viking, Byzantine and Islamic) will be on show to illustrate the complex political, economic and cultural ties of the period.” The Fitzwilliam has a really pretty good selection of such things, so it should be worth a look. Furthermore, if you were to go over the weekend of the 4th-6th July, you could combine it with this:

Cover of the programme of the conference "The Carolingian Frontier and its Neighbours", 4th-6th July 2014, Cambridge

Cover of the programme of the conference “The Carolingian Frontier and its Neighbours”, 4th-6th July 2014, Cambridge

“While recent scholarship has done much to illuminate early medieval frontiers, the relationship between the Carolingian frontier and its neighbouring societies has yet to be the focus of sustained, comparative discussion. This conference aims to initiate a dialogue between scholars of the Carolingian frontier and those of the societies it bordered, and in so doing to reach a better understanding of the nature and extent of contacts in frontier regions and the various manners in which these contacts – not to mention frontier regions themselves – were conceptualized. Moreover, it will explore the interplay between various types of contact – whether military, political, economic, social, or religious – and the various ways in which these contacts could underpin, or undermine, existing relationships, both between the local societies themselves and between political centres.”

So it says here. Now, this is obviously pretty close to my interests, and so it may not surprise you completely that I am in fact speaking at it, with the title, “‘Completely detached from the kingdom of the Franks’? Political identity in Catalonia in the very late Carolingian era”. But that’s very first thing on Saturday morning, I shan’t be offended if you miss it. Do, however, come for the other speakers, who include people not just from far abroad (Granada, Madrid, Lyon, Warsaw, Prague, Copenhagen, Frankfurt and Berkeley) but also Oxford, would you believe, as well as a clutch of local stars, including the organisers, Fraser McNair, Ingrid Rembold and Sam Ottewill-Soulsby (and maybe others?), who are bright sparks all and keen to get the word out to people. I was convinced to come by, well, mainly my own certainty that I needed to be in on something like this but also because also presenting is Eduardo Manzano Moreno, whose fault my work partly is, and I want to hear what he has to say. But it all looks very good, and so if you’re interested, as the programme says, “Places are limited! Please return a completed registration form with payment early to avoid disappointment.”

Oh, and by the way, fittingly enough, this is post no. 800 on the blog. I did not do this deliberately…

Seminar CLXVIII: managing chaos in early Wessex

As we have often seen already here while dealing with my seminar report backlog, Spring 2013 was apparently a time in which, whether I wanted to or not, I could not get away from people talking about Anglo-Saxon England. Mostly this was in Oxford but even London got in on the act on 6th March 2013, when James Lloyd, then finishing his Ph. D. in Cambridge, came to the Institute of Historical Research’s Earlier Middle Ages Seminar to talk to the title, “Local Government in Wessex before the Hundred”.

Map of Anglo-Saxon Wessex c.900

Wikimedia Commons turns out to have this quite neat map of Wessex circa 900 available, and I struggled to think of illustrations for this post, so, here you are!

You can perhaps already see how this linked up for me with a lot of things I’d been picking up while in Oxford. There had been lots in my world about the organisation of territory and space in Anglo-Saxon England coming into my mental mill for grinding, but John Blair’s Ford Lectures had focused much more on the area of Mercia than on Wessex, because that was where the bulk of the archæological evidence is to be found, and George Molyneaux’s powerful argument that the structures of the Anglo-Saxon state formed up most obviously in the tenth century raised the question of what had gone before, which Andrew Reynolds’s work on assembly sites had sharpened rather than answered. Mr Lloyd’s work thus not only promised at least some kind of thought about the spaces left out in that assemblage of others’ work but also played to my own interests in what happens in these spaces before, after or between jurisdictions where people had some kind of scope to build their communities as they found made sense in their particular circumstances. All that said, the principal problem with such work is that by its very nature it wants to know about areas outside the procedures of government that usually lead to records surviving. This is essentially why the original plan for my thesis wound up being an article and my thesis wound up being about communities responding to authority rather than the creation of those communities: that’s where the evidence was.1 So, OK, enough about me, how did Mr Lloyd approach it all?

A copy by T. King of a 1519 painting by Lambert Barnard of King Cædwalla of Wessex making a land-grant to Bishop Wilfrid in 662

A copy by T. King of a 1519 painting by Lambert Barnard of King Cædwalla of Wessex making a land-grant to Bishop Wilfrid in 662, from Wikimedia Commons; as a charter historian I think you should regard this as a dramatisation…

It’s probably best to work backwards and start with Mr Lloyd’s conclusion, which was that Wessex in the late seventh century, “is not a system, it is managed chaos now under overhaul” (my notes rather than his words). At that point was beginning, as he saw it, a process of depressing and downgrading local jurisdictions vis-à-vis the king that would, by means of making royal reference integral to their operation, slowly make them into things that could be treated as groups of similar size and rôles, like hundreds, shires, courts and so forth. This process, begun by King Cædwalla’s defeat of many of the other rulers of the south of England, would be continued by King Ine and later by Alfred and perhaps between times by others of whose work we have less trace, but before that looking for the fundamental structures of West Saxon society is a fool’s endeavour, there were probably nearly as many as there were communities. This is how Mr Lloyd thought we can best explain the fact that in sources before Cædwalla and Ine Wessex appears to us as a territory with many kings or sub-kings whose various jurisdictions and origins can only sketchily be brought into relation to each other; those origins and jurisdictions did not in fact relate, but by the warlike actions of an unusually successful line of kings (with Church backing, not much mentioned not least because Mr Lloyd was looking at the period beforehand, but I think it must be part of that hardly-visible process) people who had been kings were brought to admit they were, for now, sub-kings and part of something larger, and thus slowly a kingdom began to form.2 But what about before?

The text of the genealogy of the kings of the West Saxons as recorded in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 183, fo. 67r

The text of the genealogy of the kings of the West Saxons as recorded in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 183, fo. 67r: probably not the whole story of power in Wessex

Well, Mr Lloyd certainly attempted to describe the prior situation, but making sense of chaos gets all the harder when your conclusion is that actually, there was no single sense to make of it. What one could do is to impose some kind of artificial classification which at least shows us how we might begin to explain such variety. Thus, one source of authority, jurisdiction or just local definition might be blocs of territory that had somehow held together from before, Glanville Jones’s multiple estates or Hector Chadwick’s royal estates which acquired dependent territories with which to feed their (very small-scale) kings, but the latter runs into problems quite quickly if one believes that such groupings would have been inherited: we can easily imagine them thus ceasing to be royal, if royal status was in any way marked out from nobility by such rights to demand, and then what would hold them together? At which point, one winds up imagining that such units might have been in fairly continuous creation and fragmentation as a local ‘big man’ managed to establish claims on their components and then lost his grip or died—although perhaps still being reckoned a ‘king’ by whatever records underlie the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for this period while he was on top of things—or else that Jones was right and that community adherence long pre-existed the authorities that periodically acquired control of such groups.3 Or, as it might well be in different places, both!

Troston Mount, nr Honington, Suffolk

Troston Mount, near Honington, Suffolk, the old meeting site for Bradmere hundred

The other major category of articulation would however be jurisdiction rather than territory, here again covering a variety of forms. Even if they were not centres of hundreds as they became, we know that there were local meeting sites in the countryside and that people met at them for centuries before hundreds were settled on some of them: Andrew Reynolds’s example of Saltwood is still a good one.4 Presumably, people knew to what site they should go to get a judgement, to find a judge, to carry out a sale with the kind of witness that would prevent it being questioned later. Who would those judges have been, and how were they supported? The Old English word scir helps emphasise the ambiguity here: the root of our modern ‘shire’, when referring to an eleventh-century earl it carries clear senses of geographical territory within which that earl administered top-level justice and called out the army, but at its root it means merely ‘office’, ‘charge’ or similar, and has no necessary relation to any given unit or person. Someone who held a scir could, etymologically, have easily been elected by a folk-moot as a kind of speaker as nominated by a king to represent him in the community. And of course the cunning king would want to turn the former into the latter. In this respect, ealdorman, gerefa and sub-king become almpst inseparable concepts: without the later hierarchy within which we read these titles, they could be words for the same people viewed from different perspectives or distances.5 And of course all this is made harder for us to grasp because at the very outset we have sources that were created not within these small units of either land or people or followings or any two or all three, but at a level where many such units could be seen as part of a larger grouping called the West Saxons (or the Gewisse or both), so that the systematisation has already started before we even have words recorded for any of these things.

Map of the hundreds of Dorset as of 1834, from Wikimedia Commons

Map of the hundreds of Dorset as of 1834, from Wikimedia Commons

This all provoked discussion of course, not least a wry comment from Susan Reynolds that she rather thought she remembered writing a book about such processes once upon a time,6 but also a debate around the important question of military service, raised by Stephen Baxter. Cædwalla and others can start to surmount this variety because they could call on men to fight for them: how come? Mr Lloyd felt that there was little sign that such authorities were not ad hoc things grown out of personal house-troops, and someone I didn’t know suggested that such things might be larger and more organised at the edges of territories compared to the centre, which not only fits with the anthropological idea of borderlands and many many a Roman coup by a victorious frontier general but also, if you stop and think about it, the way Mercia came out of almost nowhere in the early seventh century.7 Susan Reynolds also made the sharp point that authority over people and authority over territory are obviously hard to separate when people are settled, and that the only time where the separation might be clear is when populations were moving, so that again by the time we can see communities it’s already too late. Issues like these make it clear that figuring this stuff out is probably doomed to slow if any progress, but it remains so fascinating for people like me and, clearly, Mr Lloyd, that we are probably also doomed to go on trying.


1. The article, J. Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: Organisation of Society in the pre-Catalan ‘Terra de Ningú’” in †A. Deyermond & M. Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London 2010), pp. 97-127; the thesis, Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished doctoral thesis, University of London 2005, online here, rev. as idem, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), available for purchase here, but you all knew that, right? Sorry.

2. The obvious starting point here now seems to me to be Barbara Yorke, Wessex in the Early Middle Ages (Leicester 1995); Mr Lloyd’s handout references D. P. Kirby, “Problems of Early West Saxon history” in English Historical Review Vol. 80 (Oxford 1965), pp. 10-29, as fundamental, and it also reminds me of the annal for 626 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in which a campaign by King Edwin into Wessex “slew five West Saxon kings, none of whom was the West Saxon king, Cynegils” (Lloyd’s paraphrase). There might be a number of ways to explain that but none of them will likely work without change both before and after…

3. G. R. J. Jones, “Multiple Estates and Early Settlement” in P. H. Sawyer (ed.), English Medieval Settlement (London 1979), pp. 9-34, and Mr Lloyd’s handout also alerts me to Jones, “Multiple estates perceived” in Journal of Historical Geography Vol. 11 (London 1985), pp. 352-363; Hector Munro Chadwick, Studies on Anglo-Saxon Institutions (Cambridge 1905).

4. Stuart Brookes & A. Reynolds, “The Origins of Political Order and the Anglo-Saxon State” in Archaeology International Vol. 13 (London 2012), pp. 84-93, DOI: 10.5334/ai.1312.

5. My go-to work on this kind of thing nonetheless remains Alan Thacker, “Some Terms for Noblemen in Anglo-Saxon England, c. 650-900″ in Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History Vol. 2 (Oxford 1981), pp. 201-237.

6. That book of course being S. Reynolds, Kingdoms and communities in Western Europe, 900-1300 (Oxford 1984, 2nd edn. 1997).

7. Though here cf. Morn D. T. Capper, “Contested Loyalties: Regional and National Identities in the Midland Kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England, c.700 – c.900″, unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Sheffield, 2008, pp. 26-34.