Tag Archives: Barcelona

The handwriting of an emperor – maybe

Cover of Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la época carolingia

Cover of Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la época carolingia

When I started this blog in December 2006, one of the things I set up straight away was the record of what I’m currently reading in the sidebar. If anyone looked at it, which I’m not sure they do, that could be an embarrassment, as some things tend to take a very long time to move off it, depending on how urgent they are for whatever I’m working on (another category that doesn’t change often enough). Hopefully no work will ever linger there as long as did an exhibition catalogue I’ve mentioned here before, Cataluña en la época carolingia: arte y cultura antes de Románico (siglos IX y X), ed. by Jordi Camps (Barcelona 1999). This is a tremendous book in terms of both size and content: there are forty-nine articles, almost all of which were never directly relevant to whatever paper had to come next. So I read it in very occasional dribs and drabs, and it’s generated several blog posts over the years, but yes, it is years: I’m pretty sure it was on that sidebar when I first created it and I finally reached the actual exhibition catalogue in August 2012, at which point I stubbed several posts to write up when I had time, of which this is the first.

Barcelona, Arxiu Capitular de la Catedral de Barcelona, pergamino 3-3-1

Barcelona, Arxiu Capitular de la Catedral de Barcelona, pergamino 3-3-1

Predictably, the object that provoked me to words was a charter, or at least a letter.1 It was sent to the citizens of Barcelona at some point between 876 and 877 by their monarch, King Charles the Bald of the Western Franks in his last guise as Holy Roman Emperor, and it tells a story and makes a point. The story is simple enough, although it really only starts in the last line: the first few are basically an exchange of pleasantries in which Charles is glad to hear that Barcelona remains in good faith with him and assures its inhabitants that they can also rely on him. Additional colour is added to the proceedings by the fact that their chosen ambassador was a Jew called Judas, a reminder that Barcelona had a Jewish community, that the bishop was in some sense their lord for want of anyone else, and that they were trusted at this time (despite bearing the name of the man the charters of the era repeatedly name “traditor Domini”, ‘betrayer of the Lord’) in a way that they would not be later on, in say the mid-eleventh century.2 That perspective was not available to King Charles, however, and the letter makes this choice of ambassador seem perfectly normal. And then there’s the last line in a different hand in which Charles also sends the men of Barcelona and Bishop Frodoí ten pounds of silver to pay for repairs to his church, which was presumably the actual reason Judas, whom Charles describes as ‘our faithful man’ as if he knew him, had been sent north: Frodói was out of money…

The Roman walls and medieval towers of Barcelona

Since nothing of Bishop Frodoí’s church now survives, here are the Roman walls and medieval towers of Barcelona, the lower parts of which at least he would have known

As to the bigger point, I’ve always seen this document since I first met it in print very early on in my Ph. D. research as an important window on how Barcelona by this time related to the kings. Charles’s writ arguably did not run very far into Catalonia: his coinage reforms of 864 were not carried out there, for example, and it’s not clear that he chose the area’s bishops.3 Nor is there any sign that he was receiving revenue from the area, and although there is no evidence that he was not, at the very least he can’t have been getting money from the coinage or from embassies, because the former would have meant the coinage reforms getting carried out and the latter would have made Judas’s trip north redundant: if you had to pay to get the king’s gift, probably cheaper not to go! You might therefore wonder why Charles greets the men of Barcelona in such glowing terms in the letter, as his personal followers (peculiares), which he does, and the answer would be because at this general time much of Charles’s kingdom was in rebellion against him. Whatever the financial dead loss Barcelona may have represented, the value of having someone from far away, from outside the area where most of his magnates would ever have gone, and especially someone outlandish and non-Frankish such as a poignantly-named hebreus, come and acclaim him as their king, presumably in court where everyone could see, was probably well worth as much silver as Judas could carry away with him in terms of public endorsement for the beleaguered emperor. Silver, after all, was not something Charles was short of; support, rather more so…4

Enlargement of last two lines of Barcelona, Arxiu Capitular de la Catedral, Pergamins 3-3-1

Close-up of the additional last lines, the lower being almost invisible

But this is not the end of the interest of this letter, because the first scholar to really draw attention to it, French savant Joseph Calmette, noticed that the last two lines of the document are in a different handwriting, and appear to be a last-minute addition for which there’s only just room on the scrappy parchment. Calmette therefore thought that we have here Charles the Bald’s actual autograph.5 This did not meet with the approval of Philippe Lauer, however, who pointed out, as well as the previous publications of the document that Calmette had ignored, that the script of the addition is suspiciously like the local documents of tenth-century Barcelona, which might explain what otherwise suggests that Charles attached a note to a bishop on the bottom of a different letter, as if he had no spare parchment; it should rather be seen, Lauer argued, as a bodge by a tenth-century scribe at Santa Eulàlia looking to make up for the loss of a precept of Charles the Bald’s that Barcelona had somehow lost in the meantime.6 (We know of that document from one of Charles’s son Louis the Stammerer that mentions it, so it did exist, and certainly lots of documents did get lost in the 985 sack.7)

Interior of the cloister of Sants Creu & Eulàlia de Barcelona

Courtyard of the current cathedral of Santa Eulàlia de Barcelona, taken more or less from the door of the archive where the letter in question is now kept

Calmette immediately published a riposte, however, pointing out that the addition wouldn’t actually have allowed the later cathedral actually to claim anything and that the script of the addition is hard to date but that it seemed more late-tenth century than the c. 900 Lauer thought correct for the fabrication, proving the futility of the comparison, and that, “l’authenticité du post-scriptum demeure donc certaine à mes yeux”.8 There the matter seems to have rested; Ramon d’Abadal in de Vinyals’s edition of the letter reserved further judgement, Tessier’s edition of Charles the Bald’s documents sided with Lauer, the more recent one of the Barcelona cathedral documents has nothing but bibliography to contribute and other opinions are not argued.9 I’m not quite sure how Calmette thought the script being late helped his case, but on the other hand I also don’t see how Lauer thought the letter could help Barcelona make up for a lost precept of which, in any case, they had a later replacement. Obviously, without a second autograph of Charles the Bald, we’re never going to be able to say for sure, but in any case, as I say, for me that’s not the real point. It’s an intriguing possibility, but there are bigger things going on with this little document.


1. J. Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la época carolingia: arte y cultura antes del romànico (siglos IX y X) (Barcelona 1999), no. 27. For a text the easiest option is now Joseph Calmette, “Une lettre close originale de Charles le Chauve” in Mélanges d’archéologie et d’histoire de l’École française de Rome Vol. 22 (Rome 1902), pp. 135-139, online here, at p. 136; for other editions see n. 9 below.

2. On Jews in Barcelona see David Romano, “Els jueus de Barcelona i Girona fins a la mort de Ramon Borrell (1018)” in Federico Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium internacional sobre els orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), also published as Memorias de le Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), II pp. 123-130.

3. See Miquel Crusafont, “Nou tipus carolingi de Barcelona de Carles el Calb. El diner de Barcelona fins a R. Berenguer I” in II Simposi numismàtic de Barcelona (Barcelona 1980), pp. 47-55.

4. For the political context see Janet L. Nelson, Charles the Bald, The Medieval World 2 (London 1992), pp. 221-264, although she makes no mention of this document, perhaps because it cannot be clearly assigned to a date in her narrative. Note however that on pp. 320-321 Barcelona is not shown within Charles’s kingdom. On Charles’s ability to raise cash, see Philip Grierson, “The Gratia Dei Rex coinage of Charles the Bald” in Margaret Gibson & Nelson (edd.), Charles the Bald: court and kingdom, 2nd edn. (Aldershot 1990), pp. 52-64.

5. Calmette, “Lettre close originale”.

6. P. Lauer, “Lettre close de Charles le Chauve pour les Barcelonais” in Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes Vol. 63 (Paris 1902), pp. 696-699.

7. The later precept is printed as Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica II & III (Barcelona 1926-1952), 2 vols, Barcelona: Eglésia Catedral de Santa Creu II, and also in †Félix Grat, Jacques de Font-Reaulx, †Georges Tessier & Robert-Henri Bautier (edd.), Recueil des actes de Louis II le Bègue, Louis III et Carloman II, rois de France (877-884) (Paris 1978) (non vidi).

8. J. Calmette, “Sur la lettre close de Charles le Chauve aux barcelonais” in Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes Vol. 64 (Paris 1903), pp. 329-334.

9. Abadal, Catalunya Carolíngia II, ap. VIII; †A. Giry, †Maurice Prou & G. Tessier (ed.), Recueil des Actes du Charles II le Chauve, roi de France (Paris 1943-1955), 3 vols, doc. no. 414; Àngel Fabregà i Grau (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona: documents dels anys 844-1260. Volum I: documents dels anys 844-1000, Sèries IV: Fonts Documentals 1 (Barcelona 1995), pp. 187-189; J. L. Nelson, “Literacy in Carolingian Government” in Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), The Uses of Literacy in Early Mediæval Europe (Cambridge 1990), pp. 258-296, repr. in Nelson, The Frankish World 750-900 (London 1996), pp. 1-36 at p. 203 of the original.

In Marca Hispanica XX: actual archive stuff

I expect that you all thought this thread was finished, but no: I have just been waiting, for some time, for the materials for this post to reach me. There will be one more, too, but it’s in the queue. (In the meantime, I have at long last created an index page for all my In marca hispanica posts, now linked off the sidebar in Medieval Tourism Pictures.) So: we left Catalonia last when I was stooging around Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic looking for dead counts, in April of this year. But that had not in fact been my first destination when I got into Barça that day. No, first I went here:

Entrance to the Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón

Your first reaction might justifiably be, what were you doing at a high security prison Jonathan, are the experts in your field that difficult to work with? But in fact, the security is differently aimed here: this building is the bigger, newer part of the Archivo de la Corona de Aragón. (Ordinarily I use Catalan for places and institutions in Catalonia, but there was so little Catalan and so few Catalans herein that I think it’s actually misleading. This place is part of a federal institution now and that seems to get right down into its hiring culture and language of operation.)

Entrance to the Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón

Entrance to the ACA; abandon Catalan all you who enter here...

I was here because the paper that I mentioned a while back that is technically forthcoming only not really, of which I have now had gloomy confirmation from its editor alas, really needs at least one good-quality image, and there are several other documents held here of which, again, I have long wanted a decent facsimile. So, I was after getting some. And in some ways this proved to be very simple, in as much as the Archivo and its staff were very happy to make this possible, in so far as they could understand what I actually wanted and I their instructions about how to get it. (El meu castellano es molt pitjor que el meu català; em disculpeu…) In other ways, much like their digital resource search engine I mentioned a few posts back, it was really pigging complicated. I had already identified the parchments of which I wanted images. There was a form to fill out. That form was then approved by a senior person. Now, he could take the (very small amount of money) they would charge me for this and they would send me a CD-R with the images on. But not straight away. No, first I had to send one of my copies of the form to Madrid, to be approved by the officials of the Biblioteca Nacional there. Then the form would come back to Barcelona, someone would make the images and tell Madrid to send me a formal agreement to sign. Once that was received by Madrid, they would tell Barcelona to send me the CD-R. Six separate stages. All this correspondence and office time must have cost them far more than I actually paid for the facsimiles. But, I got the first part of the form away very shortly after I got back, Madrid responded a month or so later, and then I probably waited a bit longer to answer again because of the exigencies of teaching. It still took rather a long time for the actual images to turn up, however. In fact I was getting rather annoyed and afraid they’d been mislaid.

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39 (reduced-quality version)

But now I don’t mind any more because at the end of last month, a mere six months after I began the process, the images turned up and they are bloody great, as you can see above. So now I can finish this post, and any other gripes I might have had are blown away by the pixel depth and the seamless enlargement I can push these things up to. Look, for example, below at the autograph signature of a certain well-known abbess, which on every facsimile I ever saw of this document before was largely hidden under a huge black patch of discolouration. Now, you can still see the patch: but you can also see the word underneath it. It helps to know it’s got to be “abbatissa“, of course, but you can see where it is. And in order to show you this I have blown it up to something like ten times life size. Trust me on this: you can’t do that with most documentary facsimiles. So I’m pretty pleased with these. I would use the word “fids!” except that I’m not sure any of the readership would recognise it (though we can soon fix that); if there’s any that do, however, that is at least how pleased I am. The wheels of the Archivo de la Corona de Aragón grind exceeding slow and not a little erratic; but look how fine they are…1

Signature of Abbess Emma of Sant Joan de Ripoll

Signature of Abbess Emma of Sant Joan de Ripoll


1. The two parchments are, respectively, Barcelona, Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins, Seniofredo 39 and Wifredo 8, published (the latter with monochrome facsimile) in Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los Siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Madrid 1951), doc. nos 128 & 10 respectively.

In Marca Hispanica XIX: a dead count’s church in the Barri Gòtic

I have two more posts in draft from the April trip to Catalonia after this one, but I’m waiting on materials from other people before I can write them, so after this I shall go back to interspersing my own thoughts with seminar and conference reports, which is after all what many of you come here for. For now, however, I’ll share with you the other fruits of a trip into Barcelona on the last day of the trip. The first time I went to Barcelona, I saw a lot of things but they did not include Sant Pau del Camp, a rather special Romanesque church tucked away right behind the Rambla del Raval. They should have done, as it comes closest of all of Barcelona’s remains other than one doorway in the Palau Comtal to touching my period. The reason, here again, is a funerary stone, but first let’s introduce the place.

Sant Pau del Camp, Barcelona, in scaffolding shroud, from the nearby walkway

Sant Pau del Camp, in scaffolding shroud, from the nearby walkway

You will observe that I didn’t catch it at its best, but happily the entrance redeems the trip there, fittingly enough.

Timpanum and surround of portal at Sant Pau del Camp, Barcelona

Timpanum and surround of portal

When looking more closely at that lintel, too, I at least became suspicious that it doesn’t belong with the building it’s now in; that script is not really late Romanesque, surely, and so on. Also, what is that dedication doing on a church called Sant Pau? (Saint Paul, for the non Catalanolexic among you.) And, indeed, it turns out that some of the ornament here around the portal is basically what’s left of the first church here, which was presumably SS Pere i Pau, Peter being elbowed out in the rebuild after the sack of Barcelona in 985. This may have taken some time, because what’s now standing around the portal is eleventh- or twelfth-century, or so thinks Antoni Pladevall which, on this as on so many other things, will do for me.1

Timpanum at Sant Pau del Camp

Timpanum in close-up

There is also, however, another sign that this site has been in use longer than the building now on it, because just inside the building, in what is apparently a fourteenth-century chapter-house, we find Continue reading

Theodulf, Goths and Garrisons

There are a number of precepts (that is, in this instance, royal charters) from the Carolingian kings of the Franks to the Spanish March of their empire, Catalonia more or less, that are addressed to or refer to people called Goths. They are often paired with ‘Hispani‘, which appears to refer fairly clearly to people who had come from the Muslim-occupied part of the Iberian peninsula, unfailingly named as Hispania in Latin sources from within and without the area.1 That’s simple enough, but who are the Goths?

Romantic depiction of the sack of Rome by Alaric's Gothic army

How some see the sack of Rome in 410 by the Goths. I reckon this is unfair on the Vandals' 455 attempt myself.

By the time that Charles the Bald was praising these people for their loyalty to him during the rebellion of 874-5, there had been a group of people called ‘Goths’ in what we now call Spain for more than four centuries. That is, roughly, sixteen generations, which makes any actual ethnic continuity in a land where the immigrants can never have been more than a tiny minority a challenge to assert or explain, however hard your Traditionskerne might be.2 If it were earlier we might be able to line up those weary opponents, Heather and Halsall, and Peter Heather would presumably tell us that a migrating people really can retain an identity that is more than pure assertion, somehow, and Guy Halsall would probably make a detailed case that might be ultimately brewed down to “for heaven’s sake, they’re an army with a name, that’s all”, but neither of them, I imagine, would want to maintain their irreconcilable views past not just the conversion of the Visigoths to Catholicism in 589, the abolition of the legal distinction between Goths and Romans in the Visigothic kingdom in circa 650, the Muslim conquest of the peninsula in 711 (and of what would become Catalonia in 714), the Frankish move into once-`Gothic’ Septimania in 759 and finally the conquest of Barcelona in 801.3 Even if someone was calling themselves a Goth at that point, it would be a claim with a very different value to claiming membership of Alaric’s warband. Among those differences would be residence versus immigration, difference of ethnicity from the king rather than sharing it with him, use of the Visigothic Law versus a presumably-Roman military discipline, and we could think of more I’m sure. The values of claiming this status had changed, a lot. So, who were they who so claimed?

Arabic manuscript recording the Pact of Tudmir, by which Murcia was incorporated into al-Andalus

Arabic manuscript recording the Pact of Tudmir, by which Murcia was incorporated into al-Andalus and the Goths left their own law

One suggestion might be that they were the people who lived by the Visigothic Law, a kind of personality-of-the-law argument in reverse, but that fails to explain the differentiation from Hispani, who presumably also did that as the Muslims had protected the Christians’ law in their various pacts of settlement.4 The traditional answer has been that the Goths were the resident, as opposed to immigrant, population of Barcelona and its environs, but this is substantially powered by neo-Gothic agendas imagined into the sources by twentieth-century historians, I feel; there was a lot of interest in managing to claim a Gothic inheritance, and it gets used to explain far too many things.5 There must be a lot of people not covered by that, and why it was sensible or advantageous for the Carolingians to stress what could be seen as a rival identity even as late as Charles the Bald is hard to explain. (And let’s remember that to the Muslims, these guys were all al-Franja, the Franks.) But it keeps turning up: in 759, the Chronicle of Moissac says, it was the ‘Goths’ who expelled the Muslims from Narbonne for the Franks, in 801 it was the ‘Goths’ and the Franks who retook Barcelona according to the Life of Emperor Louis by the Astronomer, in 827 it is the ‘Goths’ who have to be pacified in the rebellion of Aizó and apparently, in 844 and 874, it was ‘Goths’ whom instructions of Charles the Bald to Barcelona would reach.6

Cathedral of SS Just & Pastor, Narbonne

Cathedral of SS Just & Pastor, Narbonne; the other kind of Gothic (from Wikimedia Commons)

One suggestion to this dilemma came from the famous scholar of Spanish monasticism, Jesus Lalinde Abadia, who came up with the following ingenious idea: the first Gothic settlers were based on fiscal land from which they drew renders as federate soldiers, he said, but these grants, once for service, presumably became hereditary before very long. If those lots were somehow kept in being, and somehow continued to be associated with military service, he argued, then they would conceivably be the lands of the Goths, and someone who held them, who would presumably do so by a claimed hereditary descent, would then be a ‘Goth’, albeit more by reason of occupation and dwelling place than actual biology.7 He backed this up by pointing out that the term only crops up referring to groups in cities, basically at Narbonne, Girona and Barcelona, and suggested that what we actually have here is the city garrisons. It’s as if, for Londoners and those who’ve visited the Tower of London, `Beefeater‘ was an ethnicity, or had been mistaken for one, or perhaps more contemporaneously, as if the Varangian Guard in Constantinople claimed to all be from Sweden.8

Yeomen Warders at the Tower of London

Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London in ancient tribal costume. It's a little known fact that the E II R legend actually stands for "East of the Rhine", the middle two minims symbolising a bridge.

Let’s go back to Narbonne for a moment, though. Passing through there at an uncertain date early in the ninth century while operating as a missus dominici for Emperor Louis the Pious, Bishop Theodulf of Orléans penned a few lines on the place, and he was a Goth himself (whatever he meant by that) and so ought to have been informed. He does not, however, say that Narbonne was a Gothic city, it’s more complicated than that. Here it is:

Mox sedes, Narbona, tuas urbemque decoram

Tangimus, occurrit quo mihi læta cohors

Reliquiae Getici populi, simul Hespera turba,

Me consanguineo fit duce læta sibi

I won’t try and translate his verse as a whole—there are other people who do that better than I can—but the key phrase is “cohors reliquiae Getici populi”, ‘a band of the remnant of the Gothic people’.9 That is, pace the nationalists, not a regional identity, no blanket coverage of the inhabitants of an ancient Gothic territory; clearly, not everyone in Narbonne is a Goth, what with that `Hesperian crowd’ also milling around. It might easily be read as the garrison, however, especially as cohors is a military term. But Theodulf seems to be claiming kinship with these people, and he was not a military man. I don’t see how this can be read as anything other than an ethnic, read descent, community, whether claimed or somehow real, and whether or not it’s confined to a band of soldiers. Given all this, I can’t now take either `professional’ or `descent community’ reading by themselves; they must be assumed together. We might here picture the sort of British upper-class member who will tell you that his or her family came over with the Conqueror. That’s even more generations involved, and I think it now fairly ridiculous to care about, but these `Goths’ were in positions of power, and kings addressed them: even if we now think it really very unlikely that they could genuinely have been and have any basis to think of themselves as descendants of Alaric’s warband – “my family came over the mountains with Euric, you know” – we probably shouldn’t assume that it was a silly thing to claim in those days. Maybe, ultimately, the upper class here was as nutty about descent as ours are. We don’t have to believe them to believe they believed it.

Post scriptum: matters of barbarians have become an Internet hot topic these last few days following Guy Halsall’s challenge to battle that you can read here. There are reasons I don’t want to speak to that debate that you can all probably work out, but if I were to follow the suggestion of Steve Muhlberger in response to it and say, “what did these people need the barbarians for?”, I think I would say this is not about barbarians. Theodulf was proud to own to belonging among these people and I don’t think he saw himself as a barbarian. I think it’s more about an identity that has the venerability of age and a Classical heritage to it, however paradoxical that may seem to those who think Goths = 410. I might suggest that for the people in this period the way they escaped that category is by seeing conversion as a redemption from barbarism as well as paganism, but that would be much more hypothetical; Isidore of Seville seems to lean that way but he was not, dammit, spokesman for the whole early Middle Ages. So as close as I’m going to get to that debate right now is that I might suggest that by this time, Theodulf didn’t need the barbarians; he needed the Goths and those weren’t the same thing for him. But this is the ninth century, and the game had clearly long changed by then.


1. The Frankish royal documents to Catalonia were all edited by Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals in his Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya (Barcelona 1926-1952), and the ones that mention Goths are Arles III (Louis the Stammerer, 878), Particulars XXI (Charles the Bald, 854), XXII (Charles the Bald, X858) & XXIII (Charles the Bald, 858), Sant Julià del Munt I (Charles the Bald, 866, to some Goths and Basques who’ve just founded a monastery) & app. V (Charles the Bald, 844, but probably using a text of Charlemagne’s as model) & VII (Charles the Bald, 874). The apparent genesis of this usage in Charles the Bald’s time should be nuanced by the fact that very few documents from his predecessors survive, though many are known to have existed. On the other hand, it possibly is significant for what I’m about to argue that when addressing the citizens of Barcelona direct in 877 (ibid., ap. VIII) Charles didn’t use these terms. On the usage of Hispania for Muslim Spain, see most sanely Ann Christys, “The Transformation of Hispania after 711″ in Hans-Werner Goetz, Jorg Jarnut & Walter Pohl (edd.), Regna and Gentes. The Relationship between Late Antique and Early Medieval Peoples and Kingdoms in the Transformation of the Roman World, Transformation of the Roman World 13 (London 2003), pp. 219-241.

2. The idea of Traditionskerne goes back to Reinhard Wenskus, Stammesbildung und Verfassung. Das Werden der frühmittelalterliche Gentes (Köln 1961), cit. G. Halsall, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568, Cambridge Medieval Textbooks (Cambridge 2007), p. 14 n. 26.

3. Peter Heather’s arguments are easiest to find with reference to the Goths in Heather, The Goths (Oxford 1996), unsurprisingly; for Guy, see Barbarian Migrations, esp. pp. 189-194 but also passim.

4. The pact of Tudmir for Murcia is translated as “The Treaty of Tudmir” in Barbara Rosenwein (ed.), Reading the Middle Ages: Sources from Europe, Byzantium, and the Islamic World (Peterborough ON 2006), p. 92. On it see Roger Collins, The Arab Conquest of Spain, 711-797 (Oxford 1989), pp. 39-41.

5. Observe the contest for the Gothic legacy between Castile and Catalonia in L. Suárez Fernández, “León y Catalunya: paralelismos y divergencias” and Federico Udina i Martorell, “El llegat i la consciència romano-gòtica. El nom d’hispània”, both in Udina (ed.), Symposium Internacional sobre els Orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991, 1992), also published as Memorias de le Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols. 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), II pp. 141-157 & 171-200 respectively; cf. Christys, “Transformation”, or Peter Linehan, History and Historians of Medieval Spain (Oxford 1993) for detached perspectives.

6. G. H. Pertz (ed.), “Chronicon Moissacense…” in idem (ed.), Monumenta Germaniae Historica…  (Scriptores in folio) I (Hannover 1826), pp. 280-313, s. a. 759; ‘Astronomer’, “Vita Hludowici imperatoris“, ed. & transl. Ernst Tremp in Tremp (ed./transl.), Thegan: Die Taten Kaiser Ludwigs. Astronomus: Das Leben Kaiser Ludwigs, Monumenta Germaniae Historica…  (Scriptores rerum germanicum in usum scholarum separatim editi LXIV (Hannover 1995), pp. 278-558, at cap. 13; Annales Regni Francorum, ed. F. Kurze in idem (ed.), Annales regni francorum inde ab a. 741 usque ad a. 829. Qui dicuntur Annales laurissenses maiores et Einhardi, MGH SRG VI (Hannover 1895), s. aa. 826, 827; and Abadal, Cataluna Carolíngia II, app. V & VII as above.

7. Jesus Lalinde Abadia, “Godos, hispanos y hostolenses en la órbita del rey de los Francos” in Udina, Symposium Internacional II, pp. 35-74.

8. For the Varangians you can now, I discover, see Raffaele d’Amato, The Varangian Guard, 988 – 1453, Men at Arms (Oxford 2010). I haven’t seen this but I’ve used other things from the series and they’re often surprisingly good considering they’re essentially non-academic in desired audience.

9. Theodulf of Orléans, “Versus contra iudices”, ed. Ernst Dümmler in idem (ed.), Poetae latini ævi karolini Vol. I, Monumenta Germaniae Historica…  (Poetae latini medii ævi) I (Berlin 1881), pp. 493-517 at p. 497.

Kalamazoo and Back, II: ritual, chronicles and arm-wrestling

Resuming the Kalamazoo blogging, then, as mentioned before, there was no kettle, and before that in reverse order, there had been geese, an electrical storm and a small hours arrival in a room which we will not discuss further. Result, really not much sleep, and there was no kettle. Therefore to become at all coherent for the day I had to negotiate the canteen uncaffeinated, and no sooner had I uncertainly done so than a voice I didn’t know hailed me by name. This turned out to be Michael who writes the Heptarchy Herald, and he was not like I’d imagined him at all (though if I had stopped and thought back over one of his comments, I might have had a better idea). He amiably put up with me while I diluted the blood in my caffeine-stream enough to talk with joined-up words, and then we headed off to sessions.

Session 4. Carolingian Studies: Secular Culture I

(Also covered by the Medieval History Geek here.)

  • Obviously, having travelled thousands of miles to a strange country filled with people I’d never met, the first thing I did was go to hear an old friend. But Christina Pössel is always thought-provoking. Here, her paper, “Was there such a thing as Carolingian secular ritual: comparing oranges and apples in order to learn something about fruit”, was aimed at tackling the problem in ritual studies (which she tends to prove are still interesting) that circulate round the fact that rituals are usually directed at the supernatural, which pretty much excludes them from secularity. She wound up arguing that non-supernatural rituals did exist, and that several may be in the Salic Law; she also, more controversially, suggested that they might be almost as new as the writing of the code, as they give a large rôle to kings despite supposedly harking from an era when there supposedly weren’t kings in the same way. In particular, a ritual for breaking your kin ties and their rights to inherit your property makes the fisc your heir, which could hardly be the case before there was a fisc… Her general pitch was that these were ways of generating a memorable spectacle that no-one could later easily deny knowledge of, and that makes sense to me and fits with some work of Jinty Nelson’s (which Christina namechecked) about the Franks getting children to witness transactions so that their memory, which should be beaten into them if necessary, would persist in subsequent decades.1
  • Paul Kershaw then presented a paper about a particular one of the poems of Theodulf of Orléans, in fact just a few lines of it (also singled out by Paul Dutton in his reader of such things2) in which Theodulf mocks an oversize courtier by the name of Wibod (and Curt Emanuel has posted Paul’s translation if you’re curious). Paul’s paper, “Membrosus heros: Theodulf, Wibod, and Carolingian categories of secular identity”, went deep into questions of physical versus intellectual and how far our sources let us see the rough side of the court culture, but also put some much-needed context to Wibod himself. This was a paper where the questions actually wound up considerably altering the slant of the presentation, as Paul had left me with the familiar impression that Theodulf was basically being malicious from a safe distance whereas several questioners seemed to think that the joke wouldn’t work unless Theodulf and Wibod were already old sparring partners and Wibod understood the jibe, which lets Wibod a lot further into the court culture than we might otherwise have thought.
  • Lastly in the session, Professor Lynda Coon presented a paper called “Lay Bodies” in which she described the kind of access the lay population had to the imaginary monastery laid out in the St Gall Plan, which was not just extremely schematised (as is everything else in that plan, and some of schemed in much older lists as I had recently been discovering3) but also complete with built-in hierarchy, one side of the church for nobles and friends and one for the plebs4), although still only a sixth of the whole floor plan with lay access at all. This, interestingly, didn’t apply in the crypt where monks and pilgrims might mingle almost ineluctably. Lots to think about with boundaries of secular and religious space here, especially since the scheme of saints’ chapels got more and more male and monastic the further into the church you would have gone if it existed (that last being the fundamental problem with this source of course: I helped by suggesting that recent archæological work at San Vincenzo al Volturno suggests that that site might have been built a lot closer to the ideal than was St Gall).

Then there was lunch, by which point I had located the estimable Another Damned Medievalist, or rather she me, and so I was able to let her take over my social calendar for the day, which was just as well given my disorientation. Over lunch we spotted and accosted Mary Kate Hurley and she of the Rebel Letter, one of whom I knew was charming and about the other of whom I was proved right to suspect similarly, and I avoided the book exhibit until more rational. After that, it was back to Carolingia!

Session 59. Carolingian Studies: Secular Culture II

(This one also covered by the Medieval History Geek here.)

  • The second of these sessions was led off by Jennifer Davis, whom I turned out to remember from her time in Cambridge unbeknownst to me, and she was talking to the title “The Court of Charlemagne: lay aspects in the aula renovata“. Here again we met the problem of largely ecclesiastical sources for a project, the Carolingian court, that was also or even more meant to involve the lay population, and she negotiated those problems to suggest especially that the assignment of persons to tasks was probably done by their particular skills and connections more than by any office or rank they might hold, and also that quite a lot of Charlemagne’s reign was spent reacting to crises so that a fully-developed and implemented policy is probably too much to expect anyway. Obvious, you may think, but often someone first needs to say these things before they seem that way.
  • Cullen Chandler is of course my officially-appointed nemesis or arch-rival or something, though this has been a lot more difficult to maintain since we were actually introduced and got on OK. He was presenting to the title, “Königsnähe and Rebellion in the Ninth Century”, and suggested that the long string of rebellions on the Spanish march by Frankish marquises could not be seen as a struggle for Königsnähe but as a means of forcing the king to open negotiations around which power might be rearranged in this or other areas. I wasn’t really aware that people had seen it the former way, because as usual my perspectives are formed from the local scholarship where sometimes a more global perspective would be useful. The Catalan historiography isn’t interested so much in vindicating the marquises, since out of their forfeitures comes the success of the local dynasty, but it is pretty clear that Barcelona is not somewhere one runs to to get people’s attention, but because it’s a long way away and damned difficult to reduce.5 It’s not at Barcelona that Charles the Bald finally catches Bernard of Septimania, after all, but his notional home capital of Toulouse… But anyone else who is pointing out that interesting things happen in this area that affect the rest of Carolingian history is fundamentally OK with me and that was certainly happening here. There is more I could say about a particular theme of Cullen’s and one or two other papers, too, but I’ll come back to that separately.
  • The Roman walls and medieval towers of Barcelona

  • Lastly, and heroically defeating transport difficulties to be there at all, came Helmut Reimitz, speaking on “Ethnicity, Identity, and Difference: the future for lay people in the Carolingian Empire”. There were some very interesting takes from the social sciences on what constitutes an identity deployed here: the most cynical, but also useful, was one from a chap called Hall to the effect that identity is a cover story to assert continuity during an episode of change,6 but Helmut pointed out that over time this cover story also changes, noting it especially in the fact that when Charles the Bald gets a kingdom of Alemannia in the fateful divisio of 829, it’s not an Alemannia with any historical or ethnic basis, but one with which, nonetheless, Walahfrid Strabo goes on strongly to identify. Interesting stuff, and Helmut pulled it out to an Empire-wide successful formulation of the Frankish identity as Christianity-plus-membership-of-the-Frankish-polity, wherever its constitutents had come from. I think it might be interesting, in a full version of this paper, to look at some areas where this identity doesn’t triumph, for example, northern Italy or, indeed, the Spanish March though there things are a lot more complex. But I would say that wouldn’t I? This was a good paper and that’s what matters.

Session 129. Accessing the Medieval in Nottingham II

  • Refreshed by further coffee, I now struck out, because there was developing a danger here that I do what can be done at Leeds with the Texts and Identities sessions and listen to nothing outside my own field of study; there was enough Carolingiana all conference that I thought breaking out would be a good plan. Instead, I went to a session some way off in an incredibly huge lecture theatre that I didn’t then realise I’d be presenting in two days later, where sadly Dayanna Knight was no longer going to talk about “Cultural Contact in the Norse North Atlantic AD 800-1500″, which I’d thought might hit some of this blog’s less common interests, but John Quanrud was still there and presenting on what I thought was a title full of potential, “Annals, Scribes and Kings: revisiting the origins of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle”, and which did not disappoint, either. His pitch was basically that there has been quite a lot of work on the possibility of precursor texts to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as supposedly assembled somewhere near King Alfred c. 892, by Janet Bately and Frank Stenton especially, but that they were all working in different directions.7 Quanrud’s paper brought them all into line, or at least a number of them, and demonstrated that there is a particular point around 878 when all of the models seem to emphasise a discontinuity in the texts. He proposed that the solution to this was that there were two precursor texts, an annalistic compilation from which most of the bald annals come and a dynastic propaganda text covering the sons of Egbert, 825-878 basically, which he supposed was done for circulation when Alfred was on his uppers in the marshes that autumn and which may have helped motivate support for the king against the Danes. I was less convinced by the stylistic arguments that these two were distinct than I was by the argument that this was the best way to resolve the apparent oddities of focus by region and person that the earlier work was picking up on. But whether you credit it or not, it just goes to show that there is no such thing as a worked-out source…
  • Follow that, you may think, but Malte Ringer did a reasonable job with, “Heathendom in the Laws of Medieval Norway”, which took a very sober and careful view of what the Old Norse laws actually say about paganism, wisely refused to entertain any of the extreme interpretations that have been placed on this material, and separated a number of different senses of the word ‘heathen’ in them that don’t want to be confused for each other, ‘unbaptised’, ‘idolatrous’, ‘inclusive of anyone who might not be Christian’, ‘unchristian’ in the sense of needing to be excluded from Christian society by reason of ill conduct, and ‘foreign non-Christian’. It sounds like a dry paper but it wasn’t; maybe I just have a high tolerance for social philology or maybe it was just that Malte is a good speaker who prizes accuracy enough to be interesting about it; I thought the latter, myself.
  • I would have liked the third paper too, but these two were worth coming across the site for.

Of course there were more papers in the evening, but at that point I let society overwhelm me. First there were wine hours (and was it perhaps then that I met Michelle of Heavenfield? I did this at some point that day) and secondly there was an excellent early medievalists’ dinner arranged consummately by Deborah Deliyannis. I didn’t perhaps meet as many new people as I should have but I got to introduce separate sets of friends to each other and talk Tom Waits and that’s a definite success as far as I’m concerned. Then there was, after a while of getting there, entry into the élite circles of the blogosphere in as much as there was an after-party for the launch of the book of Geoffrey Chaucer’s blog. This has been reported elsewhere, of course, with claims of arm-wrestling and generally decadent comportment, but who are you going to believe on a matter of fact over interpretation, me or Jeffrey Cohen? Don’t answer that… Instead, let me merely say that In the Medieval Middle stock a mean beer fridge, that Eileen Joy has some impressively strong students, [edit: that it was delightful at this point to meet Adrienne Odasso of Lost in Transcription, whose fame had reached me long before and who was quite frightened to discover this—she should have been in this post from the beginning, I apologise—] and that just because I’ve met Brantley Bryant doesn’t mean I have to stop referring to the Chaucer blogger as Chaucer does it? It was fun. Thankyou guys.

Quote of this day of the conference, a toss-up between the following:

  1. “Of course! Literature is left-handed!” (Eileen Joy)
  2. “A corner of tenth-century whoop-ass!” (Brantley Bryant)

I invite judgements in comments! Of course, some might have said that I needed an early night. I think I did say this, in fact, but it was obviously wrong.


1. I think this is Janet L. Nelson, “Gender, Memory and Social Power. Elisabeth van Houts, Memory and Gender in Medieval Europe 900-1200 (Macmillan, London, 1999). Lynda Garland, Byzantine Empresses: women and power in Byzantium AD 527-1204 (Routledge, London, 1999)” in Pauline Stafford and A. B. Muller-Bakker (edd.), Gendering the Middle Ages, Gender and History Vol. 12 Pt. 3 (Oxford 2000), pp. 531-771; repr. separatim (Oxford 2001), pp. 722-734.

2. Paul Edward Dutton (ed./transl.), Carolingian Civilization: a reader, Readings in Medieval Civilization and Cultures 1, 2nd edn. (Peterborough ON 2004), p. 106.

3. I need to mail this to Professor Coon, in fact, and ‘this’ is: Wolfgang Metz, Das karolingische Reichsgut: eine verfassungs- und verwaltungsgeschichtliche Untersuchung (Berlin 1960), pp. 26-45, which is ostensibly about the Brevium exempla but also uses the St Gall Plan as one of the texts that he shows were using late antique plant lists to source their supposedly contemporary lists of crops and garden patches.

4. I remember being very surprised when I first discovered this word was singular. Now I surprise other people with the fact.

5. For this reason I still think the best and clearest account of the politics in southern France during the second half of the ninth century that I know comes from Josep María Salrach i Marés, El Procés de Formació Nacional de Catalunya (segles VIII-IX). 1: El Domini Carolingi, Llibres a l’Abast 136 (Barcelona 1978), pp. 91-127, because he places the rebel magnates in both their regional and central contexts rather than just the latter.

6. Apparently Stuart Hall, “Ethnicity: identity and difference” in Radical America Vol. 23 (Somerville 1989), pp. 9-20.

7. Quanrud’s excellent handout allows me to list these as especially: Janet M. Bately, “The Compilation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 60 B.C. to A.D. 890: vocabulary as evidence” in Proceedings of the British Academy Vol. 64 (London 1978), pp. 93-129; R. Hogdkin, A History of the Anglo-Saxons (Oxford 1935); and Frank Merry Stenton, “The South-Western Element in the Old English Chronicle” in A. G. Little & F. M. Powicke (edd.), Essays in Medieval History presented to T. F. Tout (Manchester 1925), pp. 15-24, repr. in Stenton, Preparatory to Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Doris Stenton (Oxford 1970), pp. 106-115.

Wow! Free charters!

One of the nice things about Catalonia as a study area is that they have that provincial thing of pride in the ‘monuments’ of their local history on a national scale. There aren’t very many chronicles from as early as I work, indeed ‘none’ would be a fair summary, so the history has to be done from smaller texts. And the scholars of the area have risen to that challenge. Thus, an awful lot of the copious documentary material from my area and period of study is in print, and without that fact I could never have done my thesis. In 2001 Adam Kosto and Paul Freedman put a bibliography of this material online, but so much more has come out since then. There are two particularly important series for my line of work. More important, but as yet lacking crucial volumes, is the Catalunya Carolíngia, which aims to get all the documentary material from the old Catalan counties from before 1000 into print. This has been going since 1926 but in recent years has been given a real shot in the arm by the tireless work of Ramon Ordeig i Mata, who has in some measure or another seen seven of the current twelve volumes to press since 1998. Then, there is the Diplomataris series by the Fundació Noguera, which is instead working archive by archive, and currently stands at forty-four projects. Between these two there isn’t much not covered, which makes my life a lot simpler (and the bits that aren’t covered that much more tantalising).

Cover of Josep Baucells et al., Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona (segle XI), vol. I

The Catalunya Carolíngia did however rather start with the fringe, the almost-in-Aragón counties of Pallars and Ribagorça and then the frontier ones of Osona and Manresa… The heartland was effectively missing until Girona was covered in 2003, and the volumes for Barcelona, which is naturally where a vast proportion of the material comes from, are still in process. The Fundació Noguera has however stepped up to this gap, covering the comital archive in 1998 (up to Ramon Berenguer III; when I last saw Professor Gaspar Feliu he told me that the next set of volumes is well-advanced) and a variety of the smaller ecclesiastical archives before and after. The Arxiu Capitular, in the cathedral, which is arguably the second most important if not the first, had meanwhile set out on its own with a first volume covering the ninth and tenth centuries in 1995, but more recently appears to have decided that this was not the way to go and has arranged that subsequent publication of its documents should be done via the Fundació Noguera. Consequently, the five volumes covering the eleventh century, edited by Josep Baucells i Reig with a wide range of assistance, came out in 2006 under their auspices, and now, I am informed by a post at Joaquim Graupera’s Maresme Medieval about the Fundació, they are available online for free as PDFs. And they’re not the only ones! The new volume covering Sant Joan that I mentioned here is there too, so is Jordi Bolòs’s for Serrateix and a number of others that may interest you (you know who `you’ are). I don’t know what their business model is here but I hope it continues, as this sort of generosity deserves to be rewarded!

Coins in unexpected places, 2: sale of the century

The Department of Coins & Medals in the Fitzwilliam Museum has the largest collection of numismatic auction catalogues and fixed-price lists in the world, something of which Professor Ted Buttrey, who maintains it, is justly proud. We partly amass this by exchanges of duplicates with other institutions, but also we get them sent from the houses themselves, not least because we sometimes bid for things for the collection, though this often entails raising money from elsewhere because the actual departmental budget for purchases is very small. Such a catalogue recently arrived from the Alde auction house in France, advertising the sale of the collection of one Bernard Chwartz, of whom I never before heard. And, oh, man.

Supposed denier of Charles Martel, Marseilles, probably 737X43

Supposed denier of Charles Martel, Marseilles, probably 737X43

I don’t think we’ll be able to get this, be our medieval collection never so unrivalled. This little piece of rather crude silver is commanding a starting price of 10,000 Euros, because it is claimed to be a coin of Charles Martel, the grandfather of Charlemagne after whom the Carolingian line is actually named. There are almost no coins known in the names of the Mayors of the Palace, that being the office that the Carolingians held under the Merovingian Kings of the Franks who descended from Clovis, before Pepin III took over in 751. (There may be two coins of the Carolingian rival Ebroin.) The kings issued coins but informally, in a way, in as much as the names on them were moneyer and mint, not the kings.1 But if any of the Mayors did issue coins, it would probably be Charles Martel, in as much as he ruled for some time without an actual king, and so a certain amount of aggrandising is probably to be expected. There are also apparently coins attributed to him known from Provence, so the Marseilles attribution that Pierre Crinon has here made makes sense.2 All the same, whether this is really what Alde are claiming it is, and Chwartz presumably thought it was, I’m not at all sure. It’s as with the mancus of King Cœnwulf of Mercia the other year, there’s just so little to compare it with that there’s no way to be sure till more turn up. It’s not all that’s of note in this collection, though: there are also two coins of Pepin III after his elevation, which are rare as hen’s teeth, a huge variety of Merovingian stuff including many old gold tremisses struck in the names of the Byzantine emperors, a little Lombard material, several bits of really early Charlemagne, a portrait coin of Lothar I from Aachen (which is astonishingly rare), coins also of all other Carolingian successors of Louis the Pious in the west including Louis the German but also the very last ones, some non-Carolingians too like Odo and Raoul, quite a lot of later French ‘feudal’ stuff and a Frisian imitation of a solidus of Louis the Pious, which I show below just to get some gold on the page. But there’s an awful lot more, and it’s all in lovely condition. (It’s also largely Southern French mints, which is interesting to me.) If Philip Grierson were still alive, he’d be down the front of this auction in person, trying to fill gaps in our collection with all the saved money he still had.

Frisian imitation of a gold solidus of Louis the Pious, probably 830X50

Frisian imitation of a gold solidus of Louis the Pious, probably 830X50

Less spectacular are two pieces that have come up in the most recent catalogue from the Barcelona auction house of Aureo, but again, if Philip were still alive, I’d be hounding him to buy them for us. A while ago I wrote a paper observing that, though we have none of the coinage of late-tenth-century Barcelona, it’s possible to say quite a lot about what it was like and how it was managed from the charters. This is the most numismatic thing I have ever written, and I think it’s sustainable and interesting, and it currently awaits a final revision before publication at the end of the year.3 It may be just as well it’s awaiting, because obviously the one thing that could really distress my argument is someone actually finding some of the relevant coin. This hasn’t happened, thankfully, but what has come up for sale are two pieces of the Barcelona mint from, probably, fifty or sixty years earlier.

Two deniers of the ninth- or tenth-century Barcelona mint for sale from Aureo, Barcelona

Two deniers of the ninth- or tenth-century Barcelona mint for sale from Aureo, Barcelona

They are at least of known types, though the cataloguer for Aureo has chosen to ignore this in pursuit of making their ancestry more glorious.4 So the 1,600 Euro price for the diner of Ramon Borrell is probably unjustified, as we know what his coins looked like and this isn’t it. What really tickles me is how Aureo cite an authority for this and then admit that their authority says it’s something else. Is this really likely to work? They’re rare even as what they really are though—there’s about forty of these coins known, in three types, of which the Museum has one and these are the other two, dammit—and I certainly couldn’t tell you for sure that none of them were Borrell II’s. All the same, this is not the problem. The problem is that they cite, in their attribution of these coins, a brand-new article on the tenth-century coinage of Barcelona that I haven’t read.5 This is going to have to change very quickly, but although the Department and Cambridge UL are both subscribed to the relevant journal we haven’t received 2007’s issue yet, let alone 2008’s. Happily for me, at least, I see that one of the other contributors is an old contact, so I can probably get onto this fairly quickly. But, dammit, this is why we have subscriptions, and of course now it may be that what I want to say is no longer viable… I shall be slightly on tenterhooks till I find out.


1. The book I automatically check for this sort of thing, Philip Grierson & Mark A. S. Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage, with a catalogue of the coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 1: the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 1986), where see pp. 138-49, is a bit old now, but I’m pretty sure that if this had been modified I’d have heard about it in the classes my boss gives in the room where I work

2. Grierson & Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage 1, pp. 146-49. The catalogue cites, instead, Maurice Prou, Catalogue des monnaies mérovingiennes de la Bibliothèque nationale (Paris 1892), nos 119-21, probably because there are illustrations there whereas we don’t have any.

3. Jonathan Jarrett, “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economic” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London 2009), subject to this all coming out right…

4 Until a few days ago I’d have said the latest work on these coins, which Aureo have ignored, was Xavier Sanahuja Anguera, “La Moneda de Barcelona al segle X segons les troballes Espanya-1 i Espanya-2 (925)” in Acta Numismàtica Vol. 36 (Barcelona 2006), pp. 79-113, which also gives a corpus, but, read on…

5. Miquel Crusafont i Sabater, “La Moneda barcelonina del segle X: altres novetats comtals”, ibid. 38 (2008), pp. 91-121.

Seminary XLIV: sieges and trebuchets, east to west

Sketch of a traction trebuchet recreated from a wall painting in the palace of Piandjikent, Transoxania

Sketch of a traction trebuchet recreated from a wall painting in the palace of Piandjikent, Transoxania

I’ve been missing too many seminars lately, including Mayke de Jong, may she forgive me, at CLANS simply because I was snowed under at work and forgot to leave in a sensible time to make it. However, I did make a point of getting to somewhere I haven’t been before, the Cambridge Byzantine Seminar, on 9th March, and I did so largely with this blog in mind as the presenter, Leif Petersen, was talking about “Siege warfare in the seventh century” and emphasising in particular the spread of the traction trebuchet, and I know how popular trebuchets are as a subject among the readership…

The actual paper was somewhat disappointing, although the visuals were a great compensation. (They would have been still more of one if somehow I hadn’t been the only person in the room who could work the computer. Why do people ask for Powerpoint and write the presentations if they then don’t know how to actually present them?) It came over as something of a long list of sieges, which Mr Petersen was easily able to convince us were numerous; I wasn’t aware we thought otherwise, as any reading of the materials I’m familiar with makes most military action a question of retreat to or building of fortresses. In between the lists were assertions of long continuity as per Bernard Bachrach, who was or is Mr Petersen’s advisor and was acknowledged as such several times. (This is probably why Guy Halsall’s recent book was never mentioned.1) The argument was therefore that because the Romans could do this orchestration of elaborate campaigns with heavy machinery, and could get this stuff built, we should not assume that the successor states could not, especially and obviously the Byzantine Empire but also the Western states. The people who knew how to build such things were at work in other places, as architects, house-builders, tradesmen in cities and so on, and the people to man them were available because when they’re under threat, he said. I suppose I can cope with this where there are cities, and Petersen argued quite convincingly that it’s not that this disappears between, say, the clear involvement of the locals in urban defence in Gregory of Tours, who kept the pauperes back from a royal levy in 576 because he wanted to keep them defending his city (along with the iuvenes of the cathedral of whom more in a moment), and the utterly bald write-ups of ‘Fredegar’, but merely that ‘Fredegar’ barely writes anything about almost everything, as can be told by looking at what ‘he’ leaves behind of Gregory where ‘he’ epitomises him. And this knowledge does show up, when kings want truly impressive things built, especially even later, they know whom to call on. It’s simply that because these experts didn’t do handy things like leave copies of Vitruvius covered in glosses lying around monasteries for us, we don’t know how. Some day in the future I’d really like to research this question of the transmission of technical knowledge. Petersen’s work will probably be part of the evidence then, but I’d like him to finish before I hear it again, and one of the things I’d like him to include is areas where there aren’t many or any cities, which, by coincidence, are those whose heroic literatures about pitched battles (like the Gododdin) are most famous, to me at least.

The other thing that became clear is that Petersen thinks of medieval warfare, or at least early medieval warfare, as a much more ‘total’ affair than the Hundred Years’ War’s élite chevauchées might make us think if that was all we knew. He sees states with the relics of a professional army, where most people, even the peasants, will in times of crisis pile into the cities and turn up at the garrison where they’re handing out the pole-arms, with a smith or five busily making more. This works a lot better in siege situations, of course, and I thought that élite-only warfare looked a lot more likely in actual pitched battle contexts, though I’m quite prepared to acknowledge that those were probably very unusual and, obviously, quite small.

In the end we have to debate, in this virtual sphere, just how many men-at-arms there could be in the early Middle Ages. Petersen was drawing distinctions between semi-professionals who owed military service through the fisc to its leaders, between the personal retinues and so on of large-scale landowners (even in Byzantium, where the emperors realised that banning them in the late Empire had failed and tried instead to demand state service from them), that including ecclesiastic landowners like Gregory of Tours (here his iuvenes again, you see) and between the general peasantry who will turn to on the walls of their local civitas once they’ve run there. But are those peasants really handy warriors? How formidable is a force of men who spend most of their time doing something else? The trouble is that the evidence of later periods, of trained pikemen, of the English laws about longbow practice, gets at historians of medieval warfare because it’s probably what got them into this. It can’t usually be the early medieval stuff because the sources have so very little of it and a lot of what there is is champions in literature impugning each others’ morals and then hacking lumps off each other in brief alternation. Few fields can be so dangerously populated with transported assumptions and we have so little from this period to check those assumptions against. It is not just me who thinks that there is a serious need for a more critical appraisal of the sources for early medieval warfare. I don’t think this paper was it.

The Roman walls and medieval towers of Barcelona

The Roman walls and medieval towers of Barcelona

I mean, I will accept peasants manning city walls in time of siege, but it sticks in my craw. In 985 the armies of the Caliphate of Córdoba sacked Barcelona (although it has been recently argued that the citadel and some of the walls never fell, only the city interior2) and various petulant charters record the processes that people went through to try and restore their claims to lands whose titles had been lost in the sack. One complains that Count Borrell II, in what would not be his finest hour, ordered the locals of the area to take refuge in the city where Viscount Udalard was coordinating the defence and take all their valuables too, while he came round the flank of the enemy force with an army that in the event doesn’t seem to have ever engaged the Muslims. (The guy records this because among the valuables he took in under these orders were, he claimed, all his land charters.)3 If you’ve seen Barcelona’s walls even as they stand today, you might think it was fair enough to expect it never to fall, after all it took the Franks eight months.4 But as recorded, the 985 response seems to me panicky and ad hoc, and the fact that it wasn’t adequate is a kind of proof that though Udalard gave his best (he was taken prisoner and returned only three years later, what suggests he was probably down with the people rather than in the citadel), this kind of resistance wasn’t something the people really knew how to do. So was 985 just too late? Is the reason that Barcelona had hardly ever fallen before that because in centuries past everyone had been better trained? Or is it more that Borrell fumbled it, al-Mansur’s armies were experienced and hardcore, and God was feeling more like Allah than Yahweh that day? (Of course the Jews get blamed later—don’t they always?—but since they were allowed to transact quite happily in the following decades and the texts blaming them are much later, I don’t think anyone was saying that at the time.5) Behind all this idea of lost expertise there seems to lurk a very very old-fashioned narrative that belongs to Gibbon, really, about how those damn kids barbarians spoilt our Empire, and I can’t help feeling suspicious when evidence that it is true is paraded quickly and superficially.

I seem to have forgotten to mention trebuchets much. The deal appeared basically to be that there are four of five mentions of them from this early and they come from all over. I didn’t think that really went anywhere, whereas as you can tell I was concerned by where the rest of it was going…


1. Referring to Guy Halsall, Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West (London 2003), as opposed, you see, to Bernard S. Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare: prelude to Empire (Philadelphia 2001), which it very much is, opposed that is, as any old habitué of Mediev-L will know well.

2. Gaspar Feliu i Montfort, La Presa de Barcelona per Almansor: història i mitificació. Discurs de recepció de Gaspar Feliu i Montfort com a membre numerari de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica, llegit el dia 12 de desembre de 2007 (Barcelona 2007), online at http://www.iecat.net/butlleti/pdf/116_butlleti_feliu.pdf. Have a go and see if you can manage academic Catalan: it’s easier than you think and Prof. Feliu is very much worth reading.

3. P. de Marca, Marca Hispanica sive Limes Hispanicus, hoc est geographica & historica descriptio cataloniae, ruscinonis, & circumiacentium populorum, ed. É. Baluze (Paris 1688; repr. Barcelona 1972, 1989), ap. CXXXIV.

4. Josep M. Salrach i Marés, El Procés de Formació Nacional de Catalunya (segles VIII-IX). 1: El Domini Carolingi, Llibres a l’Abast 136 (Barcelona 1978), pp. 14-24.

5. For example, Josep M. Salrach & Gaspar Feliu (edd.), Els Pergamins de l’Arxiu Comtal de Barcelona de Ramon Borrell a Ramon Berenguer I, Diplomataris 18-20 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 46, which has all kinds of interesting features but most importantly here, as with several others of the same time, an endorsement in Hebrew on the back and a Jewish transactor, albeit represented by a Christian. For more on the issues hanging round that you can see David Romano, “Els jueus de Barcelona i Girona fins a la mort de Ramon Borrell (1018)” in Federico Udina i Martorell, (ed.), Symposium Internacional sobre els Orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), also published as Memorias de le Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols. 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), II pp. 123-130.

Been to Barcelona (In Marca Hispanica X)

The portal of Santa Maria del Mar, Barcelona

The portal of Santa Maria del Mar, Barcelona

I was planning a study trip and it didn’t really work out that way. There was going to be some basic difficulty because of not having the chauffeuse I had last trip, and because of the country largely being shut for a national holiday, but I had done my research on the web and technically it should have been possible to get places. However, the day I was really meaning to get going places, we woke up to this view:

snowed_in1_shrunk

And given as I was staying some way up a hill, that pretty much ruled any distant tourism out, as even if we could have got out, it was pretty unlikely we’d be doing any hill-climbing that didn’t involve off-road vehicles. However, as we had one of those, and a mountain nearby taller than Ben Nevis, we did at least see how far we could get…

snow_on_the_hill3_shrunk

In the end I was forced to, you know, actually have a holiday. And though I did at least get into Barcelona, it wasn’t really for study purposes, but to visit some museums. Now, that was actually pretty good, bexcause I’d been told to go to the Museu d’Història de Catalunya, and now that I have I can say, firstly it is huge, secondly if you ever wondered where that national separatist sentiment I’ve talked about here before was getting its grudges from, well, it’s all here. Currently Catalonia is about as independent of Spain as Wales is of the UK: it has its own national assembly and preferential use of the native language on its signs, a rather healthier state of the native language indeed, but unlike for example, Scotland, doesn’t have its own laws (which is a bit poor given that Charlemagne let it keep them). On the other hand it does have its own police force, and various controls over education that Scotland has but Wales doesn’t, so as with so many things it’s not a linear progression. Anyway, the basic situation is that although this time they’ve been autonomous for longer than ever before, this is approximately the fourth try and that’s not even counting the period I know about when the area was never one political unit because of having plural counts. Also, they have much older occasions in mind than me or probably you when they use phrases like “the Great War” (1793-96) or “September 11st” (1714, when the city was sacked by the armies of Philip V after a thirteen-months siege). Anyway, I understand much better now, and as they had a few charters in facsimile as part of the displays, now so do I.

Old photo of the Barcelona convent of Sant Pere de les Puelles

Old photo of the Barcelona convent of Sant Pere de les Puelles

In fact, I know that at least one reader will be interested to know that there was a temporary exhibition on the nunnery of Sant Pere de les Puelles. It had more pictures of the current nuns than of the old monastery, and although it had a genuine lump of cloister too, it was generally quite badly set up, difficult to navigate and without much real thread. All the same, it was there, and gave me joy on two academic counts. Firstly, the list of abbesses they had there included Filmera, daughter of the Vicar Sal·la (and sister of Unifred, whose love life I once speculated on here), whom I recently told someone probably shouldn’t be put in the list because it was only my hypothesis. Well, it seems that someone else has done that maths too so now I think she can be counted, and this pleases me.

1176 copy of the 945 foundation charter of Sant Pere de les Puelles

1176 copy of the 945 foundation charter of Sant Pere de les Puelles

Also, they had a picture of the 945 foundation charter, which although it only exists in an 1169 transcript, from who knows what copy given that the whole place and its archive were supposedly razed in 985 (so though we don’t know when poor Filmera died, we can guess. Though, you know, maybe she discovered a new life as some rich Muslim noble’s new favourite wife, who can say? On the whole though, I suspect her end was not a pleasant one), is still nice to see. Accordingly, for the one or two for whom such things matter, there’s a full-size version of this sneaky facsimile-facsimile under the version here. I’m afraid it’s not very legible, but maybe it’s nice to have.

Replica of Ictineo II, first successful submarine

Replica of Ictineo II, first successful submarine

And lastly, we also went to the Museu Marítim. Barcelona of course has a very proud maritime heritage, but I hadn’t realised that it included the original of this thing, which rejoices in the name Ictineo II. What is it, you ask? It’s a steam-powered wooden submarine, I answer. It successfully navigated the Barcelona harbour and won its inventor a prize in 1862, and is considered the first genuinely sea-going submarine. Next time you want to know who invented the submarine, ask a Catalan… His name was Narcis Monturiol i Estarriol, and he was a nutter, but apparently a successful one in this respect at least. I realise that this isn’t at all medieval but it’s pretty damn steampunk and that means it attracts at least part of the same readership, right?

Anyway, I plan to return in better weather and do the castles thing properly. To do this, though, I really need a tame driver (I don’t drive, because I’ve lived all my adult life in Cambridge where no vehicle wider than three feet is really at all practical and until recently it hasn’t seemed necessary to change this) and a laptop. I don’t know which of these things will be easier to get, given current finances. I’m open to all offers of course :-) But for now, this is what I have, and proper academic blogging with live response and so on will now resume.

Frontier communes in tenth-century Barcelona

The Leeds paper is going well, but the supporting materials are still under way; the week ahead is being a right pig to organise; and I have to be slept and sane before I try and herd medieval bloggers, and at this time in my life `slept’ and `sane’ appear to conflict with each other badly. Anyway, I once more have no fresh content, so I’ve just done a brisk run through one of the charter files I keep looking for something to tell you about. And as it happens what I’ve come up with chimes nicely with The Naked Philologist demanding more female medieval interest figures in her blogging, and posts elsewhere about nuns indeed; so it’s time for female monasticism!

In early medieval Spain, there were few nunneries, far fewer than there were monasteries. In Catalonia, in particular, there were only three by 1000, possibly four, and all of those comital foundations which probably had strong requirements for entry (by which I mean, substantial land grants). The oldest was Sant Joan de les Abadesses, so dear to my heart, but even that had only been founded in 885; before that, then, what did Spanish women with religious urges do?

The answer lies in a Latin phrase, deo dicata, ‘dedicated to God’ (feminine), and it’s a practice going back to the sixth century if not before. I mean, you could draw it back to Cæsaria of Arles and her private convent if you wanted. Basically, imagine that you are a widow of independent means. You may well therefore need to stop people trying to make you remarry so as to reclaim your land, or you may just genuinely want to live la vida apostólica, or indeed both. So you go to the local bishop, if you’re doing it by the book anyway, and you agree that a certain portion of your estate will be set aside from secular jurisdiction under his protection, and there you live, with a priest visiting regularly to check on you, or indeed being resident if you’re that rich, simply and piously, praying a lot but not under any particular Rule or anything; these terms get worked out in each individual case.

The river Llobregat passing through Monistrol de Montserrat

Sometimes you could do this in a town house, and not really lose much by way of society; sometimes, for whatever reason, you might have had to go further afield. The charter I picked up on is one in the Arxiu Capitular de Barcelona, in which one such deo dicata, Aurúcia, gets a chunk of land for such religious purposes from none other than Count-Marquis Borrell II (which is of course why I know). It’s right out on the frontier, on the Riu de Llobregat (which is far enough out even in the late tenth century) and another of the boundaries is “ipsa limite”, ‘the frontier itself’ (though I’m never sure exactly what that means; it turns up in Girona too, which was never on the frontier). And, interestingly, she wasn’t alone; another deo dicata had land next door, and her husband is referred to, ‘the judge Odesèn who is now a monk’. Odesèn turns up enough previously that we know they had some land between them; but if all these snippets should be combined, near the end of their lives they seem to have all decided to sort out their souls and go and live like farmers (possibly quite rich farmers, for sure) in the wilderness. This was 986, not even a year after the sack of Barcelona by Muslim troops who must have come very close by this area (and the land is at a place called Torre, indicating a local fortification), so it’s not a location I necessarily would have chosen! but good on ‘em all the same. It sounds idyllic. Of course you could only really have the idyll if you could afford to be idle, but Aurúcia was plainly very rich; we also have her will, what makes this clear. But here she is living, or attempting to live, a genuinely good life. It’s funny what you find in charters.

Edit: I suppose there are worse things to typo than `love’ for `live’, but I still wish I wouldn’t.


The charter in question is edited as Àngel Fabregà i Grau (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona: documents dels anys 844-1260. Volum I: documents dels anys 844-1000, Fonts Documentals 1 (Barcelona 1995), doc. 160, and Aurúcia’s will is doc. 220 there. On female monasticism and deo votae, what I know about is basically in Spanish languages, specifically Montserrat Cabré i Pairet, “«Deodicatae» y «Deovotae». La regulación de la religiosidad femenina en los condados catalanes, siglos IX-XI” in A. Muñoz Fernández (ed.), Las Mujeres en el Cristianismo Medieval: imágenes, teóricas y cauces de actuación religiosa, Colección Laya 5 (Madrid 1989), pp. 169-182 or Cabré, “El monaquisme femení” in Borja de Riquer i Permanyer (ed.), Història Política, Societat i Cultura dels Països Catalans volum 2: la formació de la societat feudal, segles VI-XII, ed. J. M. Salrach i Marés (Barcelona 1998, repr. 2001), pp. 174-175. You can however now at least have a look in Wendy Davies, Acts of Giving: Individual, Community, and Church in Tenth-Century Christian Spain (Oxford 2007), pp. 164-188, and I’m sure there must be generic treatments you have closer to hand.