Tag Archives: Barcelona

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In Marca Hispanica XXVII: a bigger castle than usual

This gallery contains 7 photos.

On my third day in Barcelona in December 2013, I had started with big plans to sit in the Biblioteca de Catalunya all day and read stuff by Albert Benet i Clarà I can’t get in the UK, but was … Continue reading

In Marca Hispanica XXV: la meva primera adreça publica en català

I wrote a few posts ago of having been able actually to talk to fellow scholar of the tenth-century Catalan coinage Xavier Sanahuja, and that is because over 4th-6th December 2013 I was very briefly in Barcelona, and my backlog has now got up to that point so I should tell you about it. The occasion was a very numismatic one, a launch party for two works. The first of these was the then-latest volume of the periodical Acta Numismàtica that I was just showing you pictures from, but the second was a rather weightier work, Medieval European Coinage 6, with a catalogue of the coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 6: the Iberian Peninsula, by Miquel Crusafont, Anna Balaguer & Philip Grierson, at which point you may see where I came in.1 The occasion was put on (and the accommodation for myself and the other UK participant, Dr Elina Screen, general editor of the series, generously paid for) by the Societat Catalana d’Estudis Numismàtics, who publish the Acta, and it was a really nice occasion, but somewhat challenging because it involved me giving a speech. I thought that it would look pretty weak if I, the scholar of Catalonia, speaking in the Institut d’Estudis Catalans, already, didn’t do so in Catalan, but my Catalan isn’t very good.

Miquel Crusafont i Sabater, Anna M. Balaguer & Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013)

Cover of Miquel Crusafont i Sabater, Anna M. Balaguer & Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013)

There is a story I tell about my learning Catalan. I’ve never actually been taught either Catalan or Castilian (i el meu castellano és molt pitjor, cosa que no creu cap català!) When I first came up with an idea to work on this area, I was a Master’s student, and I took my idea to Professor Rosamond McKitterick, who was more or less in charge of me at that point. She told me to take it to Dr Peter Linehan and ask him if it was viable, and he said, if I recall, “Yes, I suppose so, if you can read Catalan. Can you?” And I replied, “I don’t know, but I’ll go and find out.” I went and looked through the first two things on the reading list he’d given me, one of them being Abadal’s Primers comtes catalans as I recall, and the other some earlier work of Abadal’s, and I found that what with several years of both Latin and French I could manage, with a dictionary to hand somewhere. When I came to write up the relevant essay, in fact, I realised that the second Abadal piece had actually been in Castilian, but by then it was too late!2

Joan gili's Catalan Grammar, 2nd edn.

As you can see, my guide to good Catalan was extremely second-hand… This is the second edition, it’s now in its nineteenth!

Anyway, I managed, and realised that Rosamond had been right that no-one else in the UK was using this brilliant mass of evidence, and here I still am, except when I’m doing something else. This does not equate to a speaking knowledge of a language, however! In fact, I made a bit more of an attempt to learn by means of picking up a copy of Joan Gili’s Catalan Grammar when it passed through the hands of the booksellers who then employed me, and that and a Routledge dictionary have held me together. Every trip out to Catalonia I make my grasp of the spoken language gets a bit better, too, but it’s still not good, and the fact that I learnt it from a grammar written in the 1940s means that people marvel at my last-century mannerisms while I don’t get half the colloquialisms, especially the periphrastic past tense using anar, which is really common but which Gili obviously didn’t like and mentions only in a footnote.3

Sala d'adreça in the Institut d'Estudis Catalans

It looks less of a challenge in this state than it did when it was full of learned Catalan scholars

So on this occasion I cheated. I didn’t mean to! I wrote a speech, in actual Catalan as far as I could, and passed it to Xavier to correct, and got back what was basically a rewrite, saying what I’d wanted to say but in almost none of my chosen words, and it was so close to the time by then that I just delivered that. I delivered it among the great and the good, though, as Joan Vilaseca has recorded: the occasion was led off by Professor Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, no less, and Xavier, Elina and the surviving authors also both spoke, as well as the President of the Institut and the head of the Consulat Britànic a Barcelona. But I did OK, I think, and I had to speak Catalan for real afterwards as almost everyone I’ve corresponded with in Barcelona was there, most notably Professor Gaspar Feliu i Montfort, to whom I owe a great deal of help, and of course Joan Vilaseca, loyal fellow of this blog and major contributor to the effort of making resources for studying Catalonia available online via Cathalaunia.org. I hadn’t expected to meet Joan—as he says in his report, he had heard about the occasion only that day—and it was great to meet him and put a face to the comments; thankyou, Joan, for coming out for it! And then there was an excellent dinner and late-night gin-and-tonic with numismatists in a cellar bar, making the whole endeavour seem much more underground and gritty than one usually expects, which is where we were discussing hoard provenance of transitional diners, because we know how to have a good time… But a good time it was, and it also gave me about twenty kilos of books to take back to Cambridge or Oxford and a day and a half in Catalonia to do something with, about the latter of which I’ll tell you post after next!


1. Full cite, because I’m still proud of it, Miquel Crusafont, Anna M. Balaguer & Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage 6, with a catalogue of the coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013). This won’t be Philip’s last work, either, not bad for a man who died aged 96 eight years ago!

2. Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, Els primers comtes catalans, Biogràfies catalsn; serie històrica 1 (Barcelona 1958, repr. 1980), still not a bad place to start, in fact, and probably idem, “El dominio carolingio en la Marca penínsular hispánica. Siglos IX y X” in Cuadernos de Historia. Anexos de la Revista «Hispania» Vol. 2 (Madrid 1968), pp. 38-49, transl. as “El domini carolíngi a la Marca Hispanica (segles IX i X)” in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó which is why it’s worth mentioning in this post you see, Estudis i Documents 13 & 14 (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), 2 vols, I, pp. 139-152.

3. Joan Gili, Introductory Catalan Grammar, with a brief outline of the language and literature, a selection from Catalan writers, and a vocabulary (Oxford 1943, 2nd edn. 1952, many more since), periphrastic future dismissed at p. 50 of the 2nd edn. n. 1, “very often in use”. That’s exactly the problem!

Coins of Borrell II?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. When the Carolingian kings took over government in the area that is now Catalonia, they had coin struck at their normal standards at four mints, Barcelona, Girona, Castelló d’Empúries and a place identified as RODDA that could be either Roda de Ter or Roses, jury’s out; Roses has won general acceptance but seems a priori an odd choice given it’s no real distance from Castelló d’Empúries.2
  2. In 864 King Charles the Bald of the Western Franks, ruler of the Spanish March as it by then stood, held a council at Pîtres in France which laid down provisions for a coinage reform that seem not to have been followed in Catalonia; no coinage at the new standard is known from Catalan mints and pieces are known which seem to be degenerations of the earlier one.
  3. Count-Marquis Ramon Borrell of Barcelona, Girona and Osona (992-1018) struck a new issue of diners (the Catalan derivation of the Latin denarius that gives us French ‘denier’ and Castilian ‘dinero’, among others) in his own name, which we can therefore date to his reign.
  4. There are also several types of what are known as diners de transició, transitional diners, which must belong somewhere between points 2 and 43.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This would be pretty heavy, as they say. Though various scholars have argued for an increasing awareness of the new Holy Roman Empire in tenth-century Catalonia, it’s only ever rested on that 970 meeting in Rome and another Catalan count running into Otto II at a council there in 979, which is not really any more than coincidence.11 [Edit: see comments where Joan Vilaseca causes me to rediscover a third meeting, of Borrell’s sons with Otto III (997-1002), from which a charter may have resulted.]  Certainly neither Otto ever seems to have corresponded with the Catalan counts or in any way considered this area part of their kingdom. On the other hand, Borrell spent a lot of his rule looking for new, powerful but distant patrons to compensate for his decreasing wish for contact with the Frankish kings. I think, all the same, that this would be an unparalleled departure for his politics and since his charters on the subject invoke a king called Charles as the origin of his family’s power, it’s that name I’d expect to see on his coins until at least 985 (by which time, if I’m right, the coins would not have looked like these anyway).12 I think that means I don’t buy it, that these legends must refer to Eudes if they refer to anyone (which I’m not sure that they do), that if so Xavier’s early date is still more likely, that in that case he is probably also right that almost everything we have in this line is coming from that one hoard and that we therefore still don’t have coins of Borrell II. But if I’m wrong, I could be staring at a picture of them right now and have some rethinking to do!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. See n. 1 above.

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

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

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

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

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In Marca Hispanica XXIII: a walk across Barcelona

This gallery contains 13 photos.

The camera never lies, as well we know, and in this particular instance it seems to know better than me as despite my account of two posts ago it seems rather as if I went from the Biblioteca de Catalunya … Continue reading

In Marca Hispanica XXII: how hard can it be to get at an actual charter?

Not all of the apparently many things I did in May of last year were in Oxford, however much it might seem that way. I actually managed to squeeze a short research trip to Catalonia in between teaching as well! Because of the short time available, this had to be very targetted, and the strategic priority was the project on priests around Manresa, bits of which have already turned up here. In May 2013 I was set to give two papers on this project in the next two months, and you may remember that while it had become clear that I was going to need access to the original documents to do it properly, so that signatures could be compared, I was not going to be able to get this out of the abbey of Montserrat, where most of Sant Benet de Bages‘s parchments have wound up. So instead, I had to try and get pictures of all the rest, or at least, all the rest where scribes about whom I was suspicious might occur. That actually seemed fairly feasible in a two-day trip, but it meant starting with this place, about which you have heard my reservations before.

Entrance to the Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón

This is of course the Archivo de la Corona de Aragón. Despite its outward appearance, the ACA is actually quite a nice place to work. They have all the printed editions you might require, it is quiet, there are sufficient terminals to access all the digital resources and there are quite a lot of those, largely excellent, at which you can only get on the premises. There is also lots of desk space, but I don’t know why because the one thing they won’t let you do here is look at original documents. Sit with you and work through a useless microfilm, yes, talk you through the slightly arcane file structure of the digitised documents (based on the equally arcane eighteenth-century archival one, to be fair), but fetch up an actual parchment and put it in front of you, NO. (I subsequently discovered that they do in fact have to write to Madrid for permission to do this, so it’s not something you can achieve in a day at all.1) So I knew already that an order for reproductions was as good as I was going to manage, an order that was unlikely to be fulfilled in time, but which would hopefully stand me in good stead later. And they had actually simplified the process for doing this—there were now only four steps and none of them had to be approved in Madrid!—so I ordered digital reproductions of one charter from the Cancilleria, five from the Monacals d’Hisenda from Santa Cecília de Montserrat and, with some reluctance, one hundred from the Monacals holdings for Sant Benet de Bages, which was apparently the smallest subdivision of that collection one could order. I should have figured out why, but alas…

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Monacals d'Hisenda, Pergamins de Santa Cecília de Montserrat, no. 6 recto

Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón, Monacals d’Hisenda, Pergamins de Santa Cecília de Montserrat, no. 6 recto, reduced from the much large image actually supplied to me. Here I was after Sunyer, whose signature you can probably distinguish at the bottom.

So, inevitably, these turned up way after the papers were given, but they did turn up, in an odd-shaped package that turned out to contain a CD-R and a roll of microfilm. The latter was why one could only order a hundred Sant Benet documents at once; the ACA are not, apparently, going to digitise whole microfilms for you on demand. But since I’d chosen and paid for digital images, this was extremely annoying; I was now going to have to digitise them myself, at my own expense. It damped considerably my delight at how good the digital ones they had been able to send me had been (and indeed always are, it seems). And worse was to come.

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Monacals, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, no. 16 recto

Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón, Monacals, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, no. 16 recto, enhanced by me in software and shrunk for web

I’m pretty sure that on my original order form I’d ordered reels 1 & 2 from the collection (not realising that was what I was doing). The confirmation form that is part of the process however listed reels 1 & 8, and I didn’t stop to wonder why. Once I got the film onto a reader at Birmingham, however (because that’s how long this took, though on the other hand it turned out that the library here had just bought some software for digitising microfilm which they were keen to have tested) I found out: I had fifty documents from 1000 to about 1011, and then fifty more from the mid-twelfth century, all very useful I’m sure but sadly not to me. And while some of the relevant ones are like the above, unfortunately rather more are like the below:

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Monacals, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages no. 7 recto

Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón, Monacals, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages no. 7 recto, after enhancement in software

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Monacals, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages no. 20 recto

Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages no. 20 recto, likewise after enhancement. The verso image here I just couldn’t distinguish to enhance, I’m still not sure the charter’s actually in it.

I haven’t seen the like of this for a while, because I’ve forgotten what badly-developed films look like. In the room where I was doing the digitisation, which suffers from too much daylight for imaging work, as said in the caption, I couldn’t tell in a couple of cases whether there was a charter in the photograph at all. But this is the official state of access to these documents. There are also several numbers missing in the sequence and two documents photographed twice. I don’t really feel that I got my money’s worth out of this, and it doesn’t seem that ACA did when they paid for the original photography. At least this may constitute an argument that gets me access to the originals next time I try…

Inside one of the reading rooms at the Biblioteca de Catalunya, once upon a time the fifteenth-century Hospital de Santa Creu

Inside one of the reading rooms at the Biblioteca de Catalunya, once upon a time the fifteenth-century Hospital de Santa Creu

But folks, it doesn’t have to be like this, as I found even that same day (because since they wouldn’t let me actually see anything, I was done at the ACA quite quickly). So I trekked across town (photos will follow) and got myself to this place, the Biblioteca de Catalunya, which I’d never used before, and it became probably my second-favourite research library within the hour. It was no trouble at all to get a reader’s card, a five-year one even, and then it was equally unproblematic to identify and order up the five documents I wanted to see. And there they were, within half an hour, in plastic folders on my desk. And after I’d been looking for about five minutes, the desk attendant whom I’d asked about photography came back to tell me that actually these documents were all on the website, if that would make things simpler for me?

Biblioteca de Catalunya, Pergamins 2201 recto

Biblioteca de Catalunya, Pergamins 2201 recto, shrunk for the web

The website’s lovely, too, another obvious point of comparison. The ACA has a portion of a larger state site, and the only means of electronic contact is a form that doesn’t work. The BC not only has all kinds of social media enabled but also a crowd-sourced transcription initiative.2 One could be forgiven for thinking they actually wanted people to use their collections. And it is a lovely place to sit and read, indeed, and I hope to do so more in the future. But the contrast between it and the ACA could really not be more sharply drawn!


1. The person who told me this also suggested that one would need to sacrifice a black goat under a full moon for this to achieve any actual result, but obviously I’d guessed that already. (This is sarcasm, by the way.) The more canonical strategy for Spanish archives beloved of English investigators, to wit, buying the archivist lunch until he decides you’re OK (this is not sarcasm, it’s well tried and tested), won’t work at the ACA because its staff is too large and rotates, and in any case my Castilian’s not up to it…

2. They currently have up requiring transcription an unedited, unpublished tenth- and eleventh-century charter collection from the Priorat d’Organyà, and I tell you, it is very very hard not to procrastinate with that…

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.