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.

For whom does ‘theory’ work, and for how long?

Long-time readers of this blog will maybe have noticed that I’ve had a long journey with regards to what the discipline classifies as ‘theory’, which is probably to say, any use of terms outside our evidence to explain it. When I started writing for the Internet I was basically hostile to such approaches, which got me into a certain amount of argument. That argument however, because it was with people I respected and of whose work and findings I could often see the point, and finding some such work that did something useful for me, got me looking for more such work. This also entailed me becoming more ready to admit that, of course, we all carry round interpretative models as a result of our education and that in many ways an explicitly theorised approach may be more intellectually rigorous than one which doesn’t recognise a source for its ideas. (Mine seem largely to be Marx, tempered also with Foucault and Bourdieu, all of which I acquired second-hand but whose effect on my thinking I can’t deny even so.) By now, I am not only ready to admit that there is a lot of useful ‘theoretical’ work out there, even if amid a sea of stuff that serves no purpose other than to badge its producers as belonging to a group, but to complain that we need more theory and even, tentatively, to start trying to work it out.

It was in more or less this case that I had one of several avid conversations early last year on such matters with an archæologist, who would not thank me for naming them. I had at that point just read a piece by Chris Scull which struck me as being an excellent case of the adaptation of theories: it tries to understand the formation of kingdoms in southern Anglo-Saxon England in terms of systems theory, finds that inadequate and modifies it with some ideas on peer-polity interaction to produce a result that seems to me to make sense.1 It is, however, an explicitly processual appproach, which we are of course supposed to be over now, and so I perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised at said archæologist’s reaction, which was basically to tell me the approach was too old to be valid.

Now, perhaps I’m just a historian and thus automatically interested in the idea that knowledge of the past can inform the present but that didn’t seem to me to be a priori true. Surely an idea is an idea is an idea however old it is, and while the context in which it was generated will be important to it a good one might still be transportable. Further argument about this established that said archæologist believed that processual models were to be discarded because they had often been proved to be wrong by later work, which perhaps simply exposes my vulnerability here: since we will, really, never know how kingdoms actually formed in southern England in the sixth century, by finding Scull’s version plausible all I’m really doing is stating a preference in the secure knowledge that it doesn’t matter a damn one way or another. The archæologist’s position here was implicitly founded on the axiom that there is actually a right answer, about which the historical discipline can waver towards the agnostic to say the least, but in this case that right answer is probably beyond recovery, making all guesses much more equivalent in worth. But even if the archæologist here wasn’t doing it, there are others out there who think that novelty is sometimes too important a factor in interpretation.

Now, this is a thing to which medieval historians seem especially vulnerable. I have taught on methods courses where nothing published in the last twenty years was involved except from the literature side. Marx is still a big force on us (and rightly so, in my view; even if we don’t like his answers any more, he asked the right questions). Our anthropologists of resort are still Clifford Geertz and Pierre Bourdieu, where they’re not E. E. Evans-Pritchard or even James Frazer (a situation to which an anthropologist I used to be attached to reacted with the words, “Oh, it makes the Baby Jesus cry!”). And where frontiers come under discussion, the name of Frederick Jackson Turner still gets invoked, bewildering any Americanists we know, they having forgotten the man years ago. We are awfully outmoded. But it is a question at least partly of ‘mode’, in the French sense, I think, not utility, because the reason we keep these tools around is because they are useful to us. The reasons for that use may often be somewhat ugly and political, but one could be cynical and say that so is our work, again whether we realise it or not.

So I suppose this is one of those posts where rather than having opinions of my own, I’m interested in yours. The unnamed archæologist’s critique of Scull’s piece is as close as I’ve so far met to an argument against ‘old’ theory that wasn’t fundamentally about fashion-currency: when its results are found wrong old theory must be deprecated. Fair enough, except that as I say, just because Communism failed and the working-class revolution seems further away than ever doesn’t mean that it’s not important to ask who controls the means of production, does it? Do you feel guilty whenever you cite Bourdieu or Geertz for knowing they’re dead and that you’re ignoring two generations of subsequent work by people presumably as brilliant? Or will those tools still serve, and if so for what? Are our enquiries themselves two generations out of date, and is that a problem if so? What do you think about what you think?


1 C. Scull, “Social Archaeology and Anglo-Saxon Kingdom Origins” in Tania Dickinson & David Griffiths (edd.), The Making of Kingdoms. Papers from the 47th Sachsensymposium, York, September 1996, Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History 10 (Oxford 1999), pp. 17-24.

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.

Building states on the Iberian frontier, IV: what’s going on

[As with the previous one of these posts, this was first written in February 2013 as part of a single piece of thinking-in-text that has since resulted in an article that should be online for all to see within a few weeks.* That article will represent a more fully-thought-out (and also shorter and better-founded) version of some of the below, but the first thrash-out still seems worth posting.]

In what ought to be the last of these posts, originally inspired by that crucial sense on reading someone else’s work that this is not how you see it, but without the initial ability to articulate what your difference is, I need to try and come to some kind of conclusion about what I think is special about frontier settlement, perhaps in Catalonia and perhaps (I hope) more widely.1 It is a strong feeling of mine that this is not thought about enough, that we have a tendency to pile up case studies about frontier societies without working out what of these cases is common or distinct and in general to talk about these things without theorising from them in a way that might inform others, so, I must put my money where my mouth is mustn’t I? So, OK, let’s start with why anyone opens up a chunk of frontier waste-land at all.

Peasants undertaking land clearance in the Sachsenspiegel

Peasants undertaking land clearance in the Sachsenspiegel

The first and obvious thing that seems safe to infer from this happening is that the people in question want more land. There could of course be a lot of reasons for that; the obvious ones are to do with agricultural or other natural resources, but it also seems to me that if we are talking about a genuine frontier situation, these must essentially be gambles; if you have good information about what a piece of land will bear, be it “this seems the sort of place where olives might grow well” or “there’s gold in them thar hills!” then it’s not really a frontier, or not a classical one; if information is available to you it’s not the unknown.2 So, OK, it’s presumably a general desire for more resource, which would need to be provoked either by a problem with the existing situation at home, food shortage or labour surplus, or by a wish to better one’s situation relative to those at `home’ with whom you continue to interact, i. e. a project to obtain wealth and/or status. That might cause some people conceptual problems unless there be a lord pressuring those people to hand over surplus, of course; I probably don’t need to remind readers here about Chris Wickham’s famous opinion that without oppressive lordship peasants would, “work less and eat more”.3 Nonetheless, we have here seen some time ago that, at least on the frontier of tenth-century Catalonia, people of a fairly ordinary if affluent sort were prepared to spend a lot of money in order to get resources that would make them money, sometimes just a share of those resources rather than any kind of monopoly, in the form of mills, and I think that we don’t have to turn the whole central medieval peasantry into proto-capitalists in order for there to be enough would-be nouveaux riches to staff a slow move out into new territories just over the edge of current jurisdictions.4

That said, these are the reasons of the producers, and one main message of the Escalona and Reyes chapter from my reaction to which I span all of this is that the initiative for such expansion could instead be that of the élite, be those élites `local’ or more seriously-ranged contendors.5 One obvious reason for them might be security. One of the first requirements of some of the big frontier concessions by the Catalan counts is the building of fortifications, as we’ve seen here while I was wrestling with whether such concessions could meaningfully be called feudal or not. This might be seen as just a power-grab, ensuring that whoever lives in these zones be properly dominated by people under obligation to a wider authority, but one ought not to forget that it also and genuinely constituted a means of defence for populations `behind the lines’. This kind of concern was a live one in late-tenth-century Catalonia. We have also seen here how people from all over the principality could be rallied to fight in `public expeditions’ when danger threatened from the Muslim south.6 It is also possible to cite a castellan who had been given one of these concessions by the counts, Amat de Gurb who held a tower called Atonell in the area of the current Santa Perpetua de Gaià (and maybe even that tower, since it is held to be tenth-century and is also triangular), paying the ultimate price in defending it against the raid of al-Mansur in 978; sometimes, the obligations of such a position of dominance had to be fulfilled, whatever the cost.7 This, surely, must also have been the case in Castile, famously described as `a society organised for war’ and subject to attacks from the same Muslim power at this same time.8 The enemy need not, of course, be so foreign; the recipients of the Cardona franchise charter of 986 were encouraged to get themselves land from ‘Christians or pagans’, as long as they could defend it themselves, and going rather farther back, this is one of the things I think Cullen Chandler has right about Charlemagne’s and Lous the Pious’s concessions to immigrants from the south on this same frontier; it created a band of serious yeoman soldiery with ties direct to the king who could be used as some kind of counterweight to an otherwise-dominant autochtonous or gone-native counts at the top levels of delegated power.9

The castle complex of Santa Perpetua de Gaià

I’ll wager that it was a lonelier place to die in 978 than it is now… The castle complex of Santa Perpetua de Gaià, from the website of an architects’ firm who are apparently now restoring it. If that tower could speak, the first thing I’d ask it is just how many rebuilds it remembers…

Those concessions did also create dependents, of course, and that can’t be ignored even if the master rapidly became unable to reach or protect his followers.10 Each time Count Borrell II handed over a castle to one of his men, or to a monastery, the securing of surplus from agricultural workers in its vicinity must have been assumed to come with; several (perhaps all) of these castles had nearby units of land called beneficia which probably had this function, and it is not so close to the end of the tenth century when we start to find these being called fiefs, or at least feva, though cases where this word is equated with fiscum do mean that so early we should probably see this as the portion of notionally-public land attached to the castle from which its upkeep and support were to be provided.11 The progress of these allotments and the dues they could command towards becoming wider accumulations of seigneurial rights and abuses that we could lump under the general heading of ‘the ban’ if we loved Marc Bloch enough to brave Susan Reynolds’s unhappiness with our terms, is something that doesn’t need to be covered here; I will say only that Gaspar Feliu’s twenty-five-year-old plaint that Pierre Bonnassie’s work on this needed replacement after standing for more than a decade still wants an answer, which may even be because Bonnassie’s picture was basically right.12 Something probably must be, after all, pace Paul Edward Dutton’s gloomy prognosis that as medieval historians, “the best we can hope for is to be wrong in new ways.”13

In any case, that frontier settlement by élites must have involved the obligation of people there to support those élites with food or service is pretty basically evident, and while we can see it with the Hispani‘s passage to subjection in the ninth century or tenth- and eleventh-century complanters putting in their work for two on the agricultural margins, we must suppose it in all cases, in varying and changing degrees of formality and structure. We might see this as a simple equation of subjects with power, or we might see a more sophisticated and, I have to grudgingly admit, Foucauldian, attempt to turn activity in these regions into a general recognition of a right to act in the name of power here. This would be the “notion of popular collective subjection” that Escalona and Reyes invoke in their picture of these processes, but while it certainly must have been one of the results of such activity I’m not sure that their study gives us much insight into how it had been created, whereas I hope that the one I’m developing here may.14 With that said, I’m not sure that my élites were conscious of this result of their activities in these areas, because it seems to me that if your aim is to create a recognised space for ‘state’ power by intervening in otherwise ungoverned territories, you don’t hand it out to a dependent as soon as you’ve met with any success. So I might wonder whether this isn’t more cause than effect, at least this early and here. Anyway, this would be an issue for another study and perhaps even another student.

Castell de Llordà, Isona, Catalunya

The current state of the Castell de Llordà (image from Viquipèdia), a castle donated to the Church pretty much as soon as Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona, Girona, Osona and Urgell had got it up and running

So, we have a range of conceptual possibilities for how frontier settlement might be going on, and who might be getting something from it and what, but the question then becomes the more complex, how can we recognise these possibilities in the surviving record on any more than a one-off basis provided by the occasional super-informative document? Can we build anything from this box of possibilities that will survive the shaking of ‘not invented here’? To my mind the best way to do this kind of work is not to try and provide a universal answer or even a universal list of answers, but instead to provide a deeper set of questions, the sort of structure of inquiry that might eventually become material for a flow-chart with possible solutions and formulations at the bottom. Such questions might be: what are the points around which each area is organised? Does it in fact have a castle, as did my case study at Gurb, or an old fort no longer used except by the Church as at l’Esquerda not so far away and about which you’ve read so much here, or indeed a church and nothing more as at one of my favourite, because documented only in archæology, cases, Santa Margarida de Martorell?15 Sometimes, and perhaps more often in other areas, and of them especially Castile where the ‘aldea’ operated in this kind of way if I understand it right, the organising point would actually be a settlement, the village proper and the rights it collectively claimed, and some places would have had none of these things and only the vaguest of unities.16 My favourite case here is the villa of Montells, near Vic and spread out enough to have an upper and a lower portion as well as places that could be described as between those halves, but no apparent church or fortification due to a plethora of others nearby or because the whole place really only counted fourteen people or whatever; I could do more with the documents from here than I have.17 Again, here there is some clarity for Catalonia about what the situation would become—the name of the principality does after all derive from the word for `castellan’—but less about how things were before, when the move into the frontier zones was nevertheless happening.18 Even later, of course, the places that were being brought into control did not arrive under control in this definitive form; that was the result, not the cause.19

That is one important thing that we could attempt to distinguish cases by, not least because unlike many of the things we might look for, this could be archæologically detectable in settlement patterns, assuming a useful ceramic sequence ever comes within reach.20 Questions that we can probably only hope to resolve by even finer interpretation of the documents would be about the processes that were going on that might be controlled and who controlled them. There are a lot of these, once one starts to break it down: any of land clearance, grouping and linking of settlement, defence, worship, the settlement of disputes and representation to other groups or higher authority could be in different hands, some or all of the same hands or under no control at all. There are probably more categories I haven’t yet thought of. But when we have so many variables in play, a clear narrative in which some group, be it bold pioneer peasants, comitally-organised aristocracies or ‘local élites’, was actually creating territory, may well be over-simplistic. Probably each group only controlled some of these aspects and a truly domineering élite would need to have appreciated and been able to interfere conclusively in each of them; this will not always have been the case, and perhaps not even often, all of which would have left some recourses open to the communities control of whom was at issue.21

Sant Andreu de Gurb viewed from the castle hilltop

Sant Andreu de Gurb viewed from the castle hilltop; which of these was dominating whom, eh?

Once again we seem to be up against the plausible word limit and to have reached a temporary conclusion. That might even have been the big point I have that others can take away to their own frontiers. These are, however, conclusions about lordship and settlement generally, and I’d actually promised them for locally. Reasoning down from a model rather than up from practice is unusual for me, but I do still have some stuff I want to say to reattach this question to what lordship could actually do in these frontier situations where institutions are in formation, specifically in Catalonia, and briefly glance at Castile again with those things in mind, but this looks like far enough for a post and I feel as if I have got over the hump with struggling to express my point of view on the still-excellent chapter that rattled my personal cage on this question. Hopefully it’s not been too dull for you! But if so or if not, one more yet a-coming.


* J. Jarrett, “Engaging Élites: counts, capital and frontier communities in the ninth and tenth centuries, in Catalonia and elsewhere” in Networks and Neighbours Vol. 2.2 (Leeds forthcoming).

1. Julio Escalona & Francisco Reyes, “Scale Change on the Border: the county of Castile in the tenth century” in Escalona & Andrew Reynolds (edd.), Scale and Scale Change in the Early Middle Ages, The Medieval Countryside 6 (Turnhout 2011), pp. 153-183, DOI:10.1484/M.TMC-EB.3.4772.

2. E. g. Nora Berend, “Medievalists and the notion of the frontier” in Medieval History Journal Vol. 2 (1999), pp. 55–72, DOI:10.1177/097194589900200104 or David Abulafia, “Introduction: seven kinds of ambiguity” in idem & Nora Berend (edd.), Medieval Frontiers: concepts and practices (Aldershot 2002), pp. 1-34.

3. Chris Wickham, “Problems of Comparing Rural Societies in Early Medieval Western Europe” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th Series Vol. 2 (Cambridge 1992), pp. 221-246, rev. in idem, Land and Power: studies in Italian and European social history, 400-1200 (London 1994), pp. 201-226, at p. 224 of the reprint.

4. See Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalona 880-1010: pathways of power, pp. 92-93, though don’t use what I say there to try and get across the Riu Ter….

5. Escalona & Reyes, “Scale Change on the Border”, pp. 164-173; cf. my review of that volume in Historia Agraria: revista de agricultura e historia rural Vol. 59 (Valencia 2013), pp. 193-197 at p. 194.

6. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològico LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 1771; Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX i X), ed. R. Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), doc. no. 524.

7. Emilio Morera Llauradó, Tarragona Cristiana: historia del arzobispado de Tarragona y de territoria de su província (Cataluña Nueva) (Tarragona 1897-1899), 2 vols, repr. as Publicaciones del Instituto de Estudios Tarraconenses «Ramón Berenguer IV» 9, 13 & 31 (Tarragona 1954-1959), 3 vols, reprinted again (Tarragona 1981-2001), 5 vols, ap. IV.

8. Elena Lourie, “A Society Organized for War: Medieval Spain” in Past and Present 35 (1966), pp. 54-76, DOI:10.1093/past/35.1.54, repr. in eadem, Crusade and Colonisation: Muslims, Christians and Jews in medieval Aragon, Variorum Collected Studies 317 (Aldershot 1990), I, and in John France (ed.), Medieval warfare: 1000-1300 (Aldershot 2006), pp. 339-362; James F. Powers, A Society Organized for War: the Iberian municipal militias in the Central Middle Ages (Berkeley 1988), online here; for al-Mansur’s campaigns see Miquel d’Epalza, “Descabdellament polític i militar dels musulmans a terres catalanes (segles VIII-IX)” in F. Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium Internacional sobre els Orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), also published as Memorias de la Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), I pp. 49-80, online here.

9. Antoni Galera i Pedrosa (ed.), Diplomatari de la vila de Cardona, anys 966–1276: Arxiu Parroquial de Sant Miquel i Sant Vicenç de Cardona, Arxiu Abacial de Cardona, Arxiu Históric de Cardona, Arxius Patrimonials de les masies Garriga de Bergus, Pala de Coma i Pinell, Col·leció Diplomataris 15 (Barcelona 1998), doc. no. 7; Victor Farias, “Guerra, llibertat i igualitarisme a la frontera” in Borja de Riquer i Permanyer (ed.) Història política, societat i cultura dels Països Catalans 2: la formació de la societat feudal, segles VI-XII, ed. Josep María Salrach i Marés (Barcelona 1998, repr. 2001), pp. 112-113; Cullen Chandler, “Between Court and Counts: Carolingian Catalonia and the aprisio grant, 778-897″ in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 (Oxford 2002), pp. 19-44, DOI:10.1111/1468-0254.00099. Of course, I do disagree with him that Charles the Bald continued with this tactic (and I am not the first), or that this has anything significant to do with the justification of landholding by claim of its clearance known as aprisio, but you can read about that elsewhere (J. Jarrett, “Settling the kings’ lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective” in Early Medieval Europe Vol.18 (Oxford 2010), pp. 320-342, DOI:10.1111/j.1471-8847.2010.00301.x).

10. Jarrett, “Settling the kings’ lands”, pp. 328-330, cf. P. Imbart de la Tour, “Les colonies agricoles et l’occupation des terres désertes à l’époque
carolingienne” in A. Picard (ed.), Mélanges Paul Fabre : Études d’histoire du moyen âge (Paris, 1902), pp. 146–171 at pp. 162-169; cf. Chandler, “Between Court and Counts”.

11. Beneficia in e. g. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. nos 63, 241, 245, 277, 343, 405, 417 & 767; see Manuel Riu, “Hipòtesi entorn dels orígens del feudalisme a Catalunya” in Quaderns d’Estudis Medievals Vol. 2 no. 4 (Barcelona 1981), pp. 195-208 at pp. 203-204, or indeed Marc Bloch, “Histoire d’un mot” in Annales d’Histoire Sociale Vol. 1 (Paris 1939), pp. 187-190.

12. S. Reynolds, Fiefs and Vassals: the medieval evidence reinterpreted (Oxford 1994); G. Feliu, “Societat i econòmia” in Udina, Symposium internacional, I pp. 81-115, online here, at p. 115, referring of course to Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une société, Publications de l’Université Toulouse-le Mirail, Sèrie A, 23 & 29 (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols.

13. Paul Edward Dutton in discussion of idem “Voice over Writing in Eriugena”, paper presented in session ‘The Boundaries of Free Speech, II: silencing the voice, restraining the pen’, International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 15th July 2009.

14. Escalona & Reyes, “Scale Change on the Border”, p. 171.

15. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 100-128, 81-99 & 44 respectively, and refs there.

16. E. g. Ignacio Álvarez Borge, “El proceso de transformación de las comunidades de aldea: una aproximación al estudio de la formación del feudalismo en Castilla (siglos X y XI)” in Studia Historica: historia medieval Vol. 5 (Salamanca 1987), pp. 145–160, online here; cf. Julio Escalona, “De ‘señores y campesinos’ a ‘poderes feudales y comunidades’. Elementos para definir la articulación entre territorio y clases sociales en la alta Edad Media castellana” in Álvarez (ed.), Comunidades locales y poderes feudales en la Edad Media, Biblioteca de Investigación 27 ([Logroño] 2001), pp. 117–155 or Jordi Bolòs, “La formación del hábitat medieval en Cataluña: Aldeas, espacios aldeanos y vías de comunicación’ in Studia Historica: historia medieval Vol. 31 (2013), pp. 151–180, online here.

17. And so could you! They are Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. nos 350, 509, 559, 653, 661, 784, 968, 1075, 1130, 1136, 1144, 1258, 1264, 1303, 1315, 1324, 1341, 1347, 1367, 1460, 1462, 1588, 1715, 1724, 1730, 1788 & 1792.

18. Bonnassie, Catalogne.

19. J. Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: organisation of society in the pre-Catalan ‘terra de ningú'” in †Alan Deyermond & Martin Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London: Queen Mary University of London 2010), pp. 97-127.

20. E. g. Philippe Araguas, “Muro, castro, roca… Peuplement rural et fortifications aux confins de la Catalogne et de l’Aragon pré-romans” in Philippe Sénac (ed.), De la Tarraconaise à la Marche Supérieure d’al-Andalus : les habitats ruraux (IVe-XIe siècle). Desde la Tarraconense a la Marca Superior de al-Andalus: los asentamientos rurales (siglos IV-XI), Méridiennes : Études Médiévales Ibériques 2 (Toulouse 2006), pp. 211-222, and Benoît Cursente, “Conclusion”, ibid. pp. 231-235 vs Eduard Riu-Barrera, “La cerámica del Mediterraneo noroccidental en los siglos VIII-IX: Cataluña, el país valenciano y las Baleares entre el imperio carolingio y al-Andalus” in Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la época carolingia: arte y cultura antes del Románico (siglos IX y X) (Barcelona 1999), pp. 259-263.

22. Susan Reynolds, Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe, 900-1300 (Oxford 1984, 2nd edn. 1999), is the go-to for solidarities in medieval communities; cf. however for this area Thomas N. Bisson, Tormented Voices: Power, Crisis, and Humanity in Rural Catalonia, 1140-1200 (Cambridge 1998).

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.

Building states on the Iberian frontier, III: who’s a lord and who’s not?

[The below post was originally written in February 2013, more or less in one go. I've been holding off on posting it partly because it was in the queue, but also because it and the next one in the series have subsequently come to form the basis of an article which will be published, online and open access, within a fortnight or so.* Now that it's been through review and editing, there seems to be no harm in letting the original out, with the proviso that this was very much a first stab at the ideas involved and that the actual article is much better-founded and more worked-out.]

Statue of Count Fernán González of Castile, in the Sala de los Reyes, Alcázar de Segovia

We can be fairly sure this man was a lord… Statue of Count Fernán Gionzález of Castile, in the Sala de los Reyes, Alcázar de Segovia

A long time has separated this post from its two predecessors, because of an especially frantic holiday followed by an unprecedentedly heavy term made still the more heavy by the pressure to apply for roughly one job every week. Recovering what was supposed to be involved in this series of posts really needed a few clear hours to sit, read and think while sucking down Earl Grey and these have been hard to find. Having just had a couple, and spent part of them once again skimming the chapter by Julio Escalona and Francisco Reyes that first set me off and then part scribbling squirrely illegible process diagrams till I felt fairly sure of being able to hold on to what they meant, I am ready to resume.1 The first post in the series, you may even recall, was about the historiographical traditions of Castile and Catalonia and how the latter was probably ineluctably more likely to feature peasant agency in its account of the expansion of Christian territorial organisation into the frontier zone between the principality and al-Andalus. The second explored the options available to peasants for taking part in such processes, largely from my own work, because what originally set me off on this was that Escalona and Reyes leave little room for peasant initiative in their picture. “Castilian expansion must be seen as a conscious move by a limited number of aristocrats,” they say.2 There is, of course, always the possibility that Catalonia is weird (or, as suggested here before now, that Castile is) and that by starting from there I am just more likely to find peasant agency for real as well as in the historiography. This is hard to refute, but we can at least compare like with like when it comes to the other end of the metaphorical gun barrel of political power, at which stand that limited number of aristocrats. Just who are these people and what did they do?

Process diagram

You see, I wasn’t kidding about the process diagrams…

This is one of the questions on which the Escalona and Reyes chapter is really really good. It gives numerous examples of aristocrats at work and assesses them against each other. The first approximation answer would be, I think, anyone socially lesser than the king and greater than a member of a local élite, and that latter point certainly needs some elaboration but hopefully it can stand for a moment. (I’m not entirely clear whether secular status is a requirement of their definition of aristocracy. They seem to think of these people being able to find dependent priests, but of course that could also be said of bishops and abbots… but let’s let that drop for now too.) Within that range, of course, there is room for immense variation. They point out the counts, of whom several seem to have vied in a ‘Race for the Duero’ in the late tenth century and then died, men with widespread territories that they were spreading wider and court connections that gave them a way into places (more on that, too, in a minute).3 Beneath this titled level they distinguish people by ‘scale’, mapping properties and comparing the geographical range of their scatter. In this respect they’re doing with Julio’s preferred toolkit the same kind of thing as Wendy Davies did for Brittany with range of travel and I did with comital Catalonia using a terminology of layers and reach which is in many ways just new local cladding for Wendy’s model; the point is that aristocratic status comes in many different strengths, and we all find geographical distance a useful way to ‘scale’ it.4 These aristocrats held land or rights in many places, even if they may have had a focus, and one of the interesting things that Escalona and Reyes suggest is that by expanding southwards they could transcend that focus by decreasing their reliance on it, while at the same time using its resources to ensure they could exercise power that could bring in new territories.

Visualisation of political range of various figures of tenth-century Osona

I struggle to represent these ideas about political range visually… This was from a job presentation in 2011, and obviously wasn’t enough by itself!

Now, in what they write that last part is not actually explicit. If one asks how these aristocrats used their muscle to get recognised as authority in these new territories, which were to a degree already locally-organised (what degree being obscure and presumably highly variable),5 the closest one gets to an explicit statement is (emphasis mine):

“The southern local communities were seemingly subjected by methods not too different from their northern counterparts [sic]: a general notion of collective political subjection enabled leading aristocrats to exercise a sort of subsidiary authority on community resources, as well as to obtain specific pieces of property….”6

I immediately baulk at this. The picture is supposed to be that the counts rock up with a warband in tow and say, “Hi, I’m the count!” and the community says, “What? We don’t have one of those,” and he says, “Yes you do, it’s me; king’s honour!” and they say, “What do you want?” and he says, “Well, you know, counts get pasture rights and hospitality, military service, all that jazz” and they say, “Like fun you do”, or a vernacular equivalent, he reminds them about the warband, some kind of compromise is reached where they admit he’s the count and has rights and he goes away? Some of these people operate out of hillforts. In any case, what does the aristocrat who is not a count, and thus cannot reasonably claim rights on behalf of the king or the old notions of public authority do? Claim to be representing the counts? How far down the scale can this plausibly devolve? I’m reluctant to adopt this as a general picture. And indeed, Escalona and Reyes have other possibilities in play, as further on they consider a bottom-up model:

“One obvious possibility was that local elites seized the occasion and reinforced their local dominance over their communities. However, the context was also open for local elites to try to supersede their community contexts and join the lesser ranks of the emergent Castile-wide aristocracy.”7

And here, again, arise these local elites. They do a lot of work for the scholars in this volume, and it’s never really worked out who they are, but their participation appears to be crucial, so more needs to be said. Elsewhere, at the earliest stage of this process, as said in a previous post, the word `chieftains’ seems to be appropriate for these people, which gives us something.8 At this end of the chapter, we learn that Escalona and Reyes see these people as free, as capable of military service, perhaps with horses, but also as people who can be under obligation to do that and to build and maintain castles. They may also be capable of and interested in raising churches, though other agencies are possible for that, including, “the collective initiative of local communities; individual decisions from some of their leading members”. Since they go on immediately to say, “However, the role of local elites has been relatively overlooked,” it would seem that those leading members are not members of these local elites.9 You see why I find these people hard to pin down. I suppose that we are talking headmen, clan chiefs, ancestral lords of hillforts, local judges, and so on, but exactly what ways these people need to be subject to public responsibilities that the counts and aristocrats can enforce and how far they are themselves in charge is something of a sliding scale here, even in any given case.

The memorial to the founders of Sant Andreu de Tona on the Turó del Castell de Tona

The memorial to the founders of Sant Andreu de Tona on the Turó del Castell de Tona

Now, I think I know exactly who is meant here, in at least one case, albeit a Catalan one. I have before now written both here and elsewhere about a man called Centuri, a personal name apparently derived from a Roman military rank (centurius) or perhaps a post-Roman community representative (centenarius, centenus), which is surely to say, a local headman.10 We see this man once, in 887, when he was among a number of people from a hilltop settlement (no fort, but a guard-tower, and possibly a late Roman burial ground too) called Tona, in Osona, who sent to the local bishop to get their new church consecrated. Tona is pretty close to Vic, whence this bishop, Jordi, came, but for all that there’s no further documented contact between the area and Vic for another forty years.11 Centuri seems to have been one of the major locals here: he was providing a good chunk of the endowment of the church, and his son Albaro was to be the priest of it. Nonetheless, he was not alone, several other citizens of the villa also made gifts and some twenty of them witnessed the document (assuming, what is not at all certain, that this was actually written up at Tona and that those present were thus the new congregation and not, as it might otherwise be, the day’s crowd of gawpers at Vic cathedral). Now, I am happy with looking at this man as the sort of local élite member that Escalona and Reyes need for their picture. I imagine that they could find many who occupied that role, even if not many exactly like him, as one of the points I was making when writing about Centuri was the imaginativeness and isolation with which some such local communities appear to have individualised their self-expression.

Barcelona, Biblioteca de Catalunya, Arxiu, pergamin núm. 9135 (2-VIII-2)

The original act of consecration of Sant Andreu de Tona, Barcelona, Biblioteca de Catalunya, Arxiu, pergamin núm. 9135 (2-VIII-2)

Nonetheless, two big questions arise out of it. The first of these, which Escalona and Reyes more or less answer, is what would such people get out of involvement with the aristocrats? They also say that the sources to assess what the balance between top-down and bottom-up initiative was in such cases basically doesn’t exist, and I wonder if that can really be true given how Wendy Davies manages to find such people interacting with San Pedro de Cardeña in this area; perhaps Escalona and Reyes’s scale just doesn’t come down small enough.12 I am, myself, inclined to see the two as inseparable; if the counts couldn’t find willing collaborators wanting such opportunities they’d have to enforce their position by recruiting someone else to apply local armed pressure whenever they wanted something, and given the fact that Escalona and Reyes quite convincingly see these power-grabs as being carried out competitively, that could quickly wind up serving someone else better. There is a subsidiary question, of course, which is in exactly what way are these local élites not aristocrats, if on that smaller scale, and maybe that would help collapse this problem of devolved ability to exact ‘collective political subjection’ somewhat, even if it means seeing something perhaps worryingly like the sort of clannic authority envisaged by Barbero and Vigil for them.13 But ignoring that one, the more important question I want to ask is, over whom do the local élites have power? Who is helping them build these churches, maintain their castles, and comes with them when they go fighting? Who pays attention to their judgements? And what are they doing in this grand frontier endeavour? Because this post is already 2000 words, perhaps this means I should stop the unrolling of the thoughts there for now. But we haven’t got to the bottom of this. What we are approaching here is a need to separate out the things of which authority over such a community might be composed, and ask who has them and on what basis. Then, and perhaps only then, can we start to ask how someone coming in from outside can change that, and whether such changes necessarily need such intervention to occur. So, there will be another one now. Stay curious!


* J. Jarrett, “Engaging Élites: counts, capital and frontier communities in the ninth and tenth centuries, in Catalonia and elsewhere”, Networks and Neighbours Vol. 2.2 (Leeds forthcoming).

1. Julio Escalona & Francisco Reyes, “Scale Change on the Border: the county of Castile in the tenth century” in Escalona & Andrew Reynolds (edd.), Scale and Scale Change in the Early Middle Ages, The Medieval Countryside 6 (Turnhout 2011), pp. 153-183, DOI:10.1484/M.TMC-EB.3.4772.

2. Ibid. p. 164.

3. Ibid. pp. 168-173 and see also p. 157 Map 15.

4. Ibid. 165-168 and Map 16, e. g. 167-168: “Overall Avitus seems to have held property over an area of about 90 x 75 km…. This may well represent a maximum scale for this area and period.” Cf. Escalona, “The Early Middle Ages: a scale-based approach”, ibid. pp. 9-29, and idem, “Mapping Scale Change: Hierarchization and Fission in Castilian Rural Communities during the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries” in Wendy Davies, Guy Halsall & Andrew Reynolds (edd.), People and Space in the Early Middle Ages 300-1300, Studies in the Early Middle Ages 15 (Turnhout 2006), pp. 143-166, DOI:10.1484/M.SEM-EB.3.3751; cf. also Davies, Small Worlds: the village community in early medieval Brittany (London 1988), pp. 105-133; J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), passim.

5. Escalona & Reyes, “Scale Change on the Border”, pp. 161-162; cf. Margarita Fernández Mier, “Changing Scales of Local Power in the Early Medieval Iberian North-West”, in Escalona & Reynolds, Scale and Scale Change, pp. 87-117, DOI:10.1484/M.TMC-EB.3.4769; Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi“.

6. Escalona and Reyes, “Scale Change on the Border”, p. 171.

7. Ibid. p. 175.

8. Ibid. p. 165.

9. Ibid. p. 178.

10. Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi“, pp. 105-108.

11. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 9; cf. doc. no. 78.

12. Escalona and Reyes, “Scale Change on the Border”, p. 175; cf. Wendy Davies, Acts of Giving: individual, community, and Church in tenth-century Christian Spain (Oxford 2007), pp. 106-108, and Davies, “On Suretyship in Tenth-Century Northern Iberia” in Escalona & Reynolds, Scale and Scale Change, pp. 133-152, DOI:10.1484/M.TMC-EB.3.4771.

13. A. Barbero & M. Vigil, “Sobre los orígenes sociales de la Reconquista: cantábros y vascones desde fines del impero romano hasta la invasión musulmana” in Boletín de le Real Academia de Historia Vol. 156 (Madrid 1965), pp. 271-339.

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… ?