Tag Archives: Benoît-Michel Tock

Redactions of many stages

I finished reading Professor Benoit-Michel Tock‘s book on subscriptions to charters about which I’ve been raving here lately over the month of November 2013, so those posts will shortly cease, but here’s just one more, because in the ninth chapter he hits at an issue that is kind of crucial to how we understand what medieval documents are telling us, the stories they tell about their own creation. I could go on about this for a while, and indeed have before and will again a bit below, but M. le Prof. Tock is briefer than I would be and also more stylish (though I have added emphasis to bring out things that are more ambiguous in English than in the French):

“The question is clearly important, since it concerns, in the most direct manner, the conditions in which the acts were made and, thereby, the links between the act and the judicial action. Is the narrative of the action as it appears in the act sincere? If the act was redacted before the action proper, is it not possible that last-minute changes in the action may not be reflected in the text? Most of all, if the act is prepared before the action, it can play a part in it, either as an act of title or as a symbol of the action.”1

There are lots of ways this can play out, and M. le Prof. Tock goes through most if not all of them, finding all the weird cases where we can see, or occasionally are told, what happened to get the text and names onto a parchment and into an archive. There are more possibilities covered than he mentions in that paragraph: the document may indeed be prepared before the ceremony, and then be signed at the ceremony, or at least have the actors and witnesses mark crosses next to their names, or maybe just touch where the scribe has done it for them or sign the cross in the air above the page. In a few cases, however, it seems that the crosses were put on first and then the entire text written in above them later, presumably once it was back in the recipient’s scriptorium. (And at that rate, something Tock does not consider, who could stop the scribe writing an entirely different version of events?) It has been suggested before, to resolve the paradox of documents which claim that they were placed on an altar to complete the donation, but do so in the past tense as if to indicate that this happened before the document was actually written, that blank sheets might be so deposited and then have the charter written onto them afterwards; Tock’s cases (oddly, as with much of the rest of the book, more from the relatively slight archive of Nouaillé in Poitou than elsewhere2) may be the only evidence of this actually happening I’ve ever seen. He does also raise the rather worrying possibility that once that had been done, at the very bottom of the parchment, since autograph signatures seem to have thought desirable in the ninth century but much less so as time goes and even then not judicially necessary,3 the scribe writing up the fine version of the document on a parchment daubed with out-of-place crosses (“si on ose dire, comme un cheveu dans le soupe…”) might just clip the untidy bottom edge off once he’d written up proper formal versions of the signatures…4) If that possibility makes you as uneasy as it does me, our subjects themselves destroying our evidence of them, you must be a proper charter geek, congratulations!

Lower portion of a donation to the abbey of Saint-Maixent de Poitiers from 1108

Here’s one of Tock’s two examples, ARTEM 780, otherwise known as Niort, Archive Départementale de Deux-Sèvres, H 85, edited as Cédric Giraud, Jean-Baptiste Renault & Benoît-Michel Tock (edd.), Chartes originales antérieures à 1121 conservées en France (Nancy 2010), no. 780, unprinted. It’s a donation to the abbey of Saint-Maixent de Poitiers from 1108.

Portion of a donation of vineyards to St-Junien de Nouaillé of 1091

A much clearer example albeit in a worse image (my fault), Poitiers, Archive Départementale de Vienne, Carton 10, no 126, edited as P. de Monsabert (ed.), Chartes de l’abbaye de Nouaillé : de 678 à 1200, Archives historiques du Poitou, 49 (Poitiers 1936), no. 143, and now Giraud, Renault & Tock, Chartes originales, no. 1291, online here. It’s a donation of vineyards to St-Junien de Nouaillé of 1091. You can see how that bottom half-inch was lucky to survive. What’s it telling anyone after a century? This is a formal document we’re keeping here! Snip snip…

I especially love this stuff, however, because it doesn’t surprise me at all. Round about the same time Tock must have been dealing with the proofs of his book, I was checking over the text of this:

“To take an elaborate but forceful example, let us take the act recording the consecration of Santa Maria de Ripoll’s new church in 977. This was almost certainly composed by the learned Bishop of Girona, also Count of Besalú, Miró Bonfill, and it is partly past tense and partly present. The point at which it changes is after a description of the consecration of the several separate altars, as the assembled prelates seek to impress upon the local counts that the monastery’s possession of its various goods, ‘just as the schedule already prefaced teaches’, are placed beyond secular intervention. From this, and from the slightly different final witness list, it is clear that this change of tense reflects a move from an occasion past to a different, notionally present one. The elaborate and lengthy document thus stands between the two occasions grammatically; recording one as already past, the second, the proclamation of the quasi-royal immunity, unfolds in the text. This part of the text was presumably written before the second gathering; the former, given its detail, was probably composed after the ceremony, as beforehand the final order of events could not have been known. The act as it stands is thus not from either of the ceremonies it describes, or the date which it gives, and it adopts a narrative construction of the ceremony. Especially since consecrations were formal occasions whose rules were laid down, this narrative was under a strong impulse to say the correct thing. Santa Maria’s case, with numerous altars whose different patrons made different collaborations of bishops appropriate, bent this pattern but if events had in fact broken the convention, we cannot expect that this document would record this for us.”

This is from the first chapter of my doctoral thesis, and it was one of a large number of examples I was collecting, just as does Tock in his chapter, of procedural oddities that force us to question stereotypes about how documents were produced.5 We hit many of the same concerns with our examples. I’m not trying to claim massive cleverness for myself here or anything: firstly, I wouldn’t have got far along these lines without the truly excellent palaeographical analyses of the Sant Joan de Ripoll charter material by its editor, Federico Udina i Martorell, but more basically, as that suggests, these things become unmissable when you’ve just got enough original documents that they are preserved, and this is what Tock found once he had a dataset of 3658 original documents, just as I did with slightly fewer documents more deeply studied.6 Also I have to thank some of my scribes: Tock doesn’t have anyone like the famous judge Bonhom explaining that he wrote a given charter in two stints with two different inks, apparently afraid that someone might therefore think it forged.7 And when you have something like the hearing over the Vall de Sant Joan de les Abadesses, about which I have gone on so often, but where three writing stints at least are basically visible straight away, it’s hard not to come to these conclusions, like it or not.8 I love my source base!

Reduced-quality facsimile of the Vall de Sant Joan hearing charter, Arxiu de la Corona d'Aragó, Pergamins, Cancilleria, Miron 3

Reduced-quality facsimile of the Vall de Sant Joan hearing charter, Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó, Pergamins, Cancilleria, Miron 3, some enhancement applied

But it is possible that this source base means that I can answer one of Tock’s rhetorical questions. Considering the possibility that a charter might be entirely written up beforehand, he asks how a scribe could know who would turn up, and considers this a major problem with the concept. I’m not sure that it is, as that rather depends on anyone else ever noticing the charter didn’t say the right thing or people not being well aware that those people should have been there, even if in fact they weren’t, and that the document ought to say as much: this is, I assume, what explains the occasional Catalan cases where a dead man’s signature is given to emphasise that he consented to the act even if he died before it happened.9 I’m more convinced, however, by the cases where we can see that such information was available beforehand precisely because it turned out to be wrong, and the Vall de Sant Joan hearing is one of those, because both its list of those present for the oath it records and the list of those actually swearing it differ slightly from the names in the signatures. I’ve argued already that this is because the whole thing happened over maybe weeks, and there were probably two ceremonies involved, but it may also be Tock’s suggested pattern: what actually happened was not quite what had been anticipated.

My own copy of my book, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power

Where have you argued this, I hear you ask? Why, in my Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), available from at least some good booksellers!

At the very least, we can see that information was collected beforehand, because as I argue in my book, there are mistakes between the two sets of oath-swearers that would be hard to explain without written exemplars in the process. A woman signing for one hamlet who is called Marcia gets recorded as Imitara in the initial list, not exactly similar in pronunciation you might think, and it’s only when one realises that she’s the second woman called Marcia in that list that one realises one’s probably looking at a mistranscription of “item Marcia”, ‘another Marcia’, perhaps abbreviated in a way that the scribe didn’t recognise because it had been done by someone else. (I hypothesize that at the signature phase of writing, the people who’d written the lists were there to tell him what they said, which implies that he did the initial drafting elsewhere.) When I worked all this out, I felt really very clever indeed—ah me, so long ago now…—but it’s not really my brainpower so much as a really fabulous source and a willingness to tabulate long lists.10 Tock didn’t have the time of scope to do that work here, but his other writing shows that he’s perfectly capable of it; this book was painting a wider picture, is all.11

St Gallen charter of 825, Stiftsarchiv St. Gallen, II 65

I cannot find any pictures of the verso of a St Gallen charter! On the other hand, some of the Vorakte are pretty nearly as fine as the recto versions… so here’s a recto image of one from 825? Stiftsarchiv St. Gallen, II 65.

Nonetheless, the conclusion, that charter scribes worked from notes, is not present in Tock’s suggestions here, despite other evidence that could be brought into play like the apparent dorsal drafts versions made on the backs of eventual charters at St Gallen in Switzerland (which fall outside Tock’s sample and weren’t then digitised and studied as they now are), and I think it probably explains a lot of the difficulties he sees with the conclusions to which the documents force him.12 They didn’t get things wrong that often because the information was being recorded elsewhere; the cases we have where things have gone wrong, as with Sant Joan or Sant Pere de Casserres or any of the others so dear to me, are where something so special or rushed was being done that it couldn’t be gone back on or was too much effort to consider rewriting. So we’re trying to reconstruct the process of charter redaction from its mistakes; not impossible, but challenging, and worth saying explicitly!


1. B.-M. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle, Atelier de Recherches sur les Textes Médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2006), pp. 369-412, quote pp. 369-370:
“La question est évidemment importante, puisqu’elle concerne, de la manière la plus directe, les conditions d’élaboration des actes, et par là, les liens entre l’acte et l’action juridique. Le récit de l’action tel qu’il figure dans l’acte est-il sincère ? Si l’acte a été rédigé avant l’action elle-même, n’est-il pas possible que des changements intervenus en dernière minute dans l’action ne soient pas reflétés dans le texte ? Surtout, si l’acte est préparé avant l’action, il peut jouer un rôle au course de celle-ci, soit comme acte dispositif, soit comme symbole de l’action.”

2. First printed as P. de Monsabert (ed.), Chartes de l’abbaye de Nouaillé : de 678 à 1200, Archives historiques du Poitou, 49 (Poitiers 1936)

3. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 193-223, esp. pp. 221-223.

4. Ibid. pp. 392-397, quote at p. 394.

5. J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished doctoral thesis (University of London 2005), online here, pp. 35-36, some day probably to be repeated in the paper for which I was reading Tock’s book…

6. Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Barcelona 1951).

7. Anscari Manuel Mundó i Marcet, “El jutge Bonsom de Barcelona, cal·lígraf i copista del 979 al 1024″ in Emma Condello & Guiseppe De Gregorio (edd.), Scribi e colofoni: Le sottoscrizioni di copisti dalle origini all’avvento della stampa. Atti del seminario di Erice/X Colloquio del Comité international de paléographie latine (23-28 ottobre 1993), Biblioteca del «Centro per il collegamento degli studi medievali e umanistici in Umbria» 14 (Spoleto 1995) pp. 269-288; Jeffrey A. Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000 (Ithaca 2004), pp. 84-99. The charter in question is the sacramental testament of Bishop Vives of Barcelona, printed as Àngel Fabrega 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. no. 265, and it’s huge, so the two-stint thing is understandable. Given it’s Bonhom I’m just faintly surprised he didn’t also tell us what he had for lunch in between times.

8. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 37-38, which took a lot longer figuring out than those two paragraphs give away…

9. An example of this is Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 1380, which is also a rule-breaker in so far as it’s the only private transaction I know that still threatens its infringers with a portion in Hell with Judas. Cf. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 194-197: such concerns do not apparently manifest themselves in the French documents.

10. See n. 8 above.

11. For example, B.-M. Tock, “Auteur ou impétrant ? Réflexions sur les chartes des évêques d’Arras au XIIe siècle” in Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes Vol. 149 (Paris 1991), pp. 215-248, to name but one of many.

12. Albert Bruckner, Die Vorakte der älteren St. Galler Urkunden, Urkundenbuch der Abtei Sanct Gallen Ergänzungsheft 1 (St. Gallen 1931); see now Bernhard Zeller, “Writing Charters as a Public Activity: The Example of the Carolingian Charters of St Gall” in Marco Mostert & Paul Barnwell (edd.), Medieval Legal Process: physical, spoken and written performance in the Middle Ages, Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 22 (Turhnout 2011), pp. 27-37.

Who witnessed early medieval charters?

This apparently simple question has been bugging me a long time, and it was in the hope of answering it that I originally bought the book of Benoit-Michel Tock mentioned a post or two ago. Having got to the chapters where he addresses this question directly, I was delighted to find this:

Quels sont les tiers qui souscrivent des actes du Haut Moyen Age ? Il ne s’agit pas d’établir ici un index de ces actes, ni de constituer un Bottin Mondain. Souvent d’ailleurs, les indications des actes sont elliptiques, et nécessitent l’intervention de nombreuses hypothèses pour arriver à un esquisse de solution…. La question, c’est de savoir si les tiers sont des proches de l’auteur et/ou du disposant, s’ils sont au contraire des proches du bénéficiaire, s’ils sont neutres, et choisis précisements parce qu’ils ne sont proches d’aucune des parties en présence, ou enfin (mais cela ne les empêche pas d’appartenir à une des catégories ci-dessus) s’ils sont détenteurs d’une certaine autorité et souscrivent précisement parce qu’on leur demande de garantir la transaction par la force de leur autorité.

And this is, in fact, exactly the question, but it’s a question hardly anyone asks.1 For those of you not Francolexic enough to get all that, it translates more or less as:

What are the witnesses who subscribe the acts of the early Middle Ages? We are not concerned here to establish an index of these acts, or to construct a Bottin Mondain. Often, moreover, the indications of the acts are not direct, and require the construction of numerous hypotheses to come to the outline of a solution…. The question is to know if the third parties are contacts of the actor and/or person disposing of property, if on the contrary they are contacts of the beneficiary, if they are neutrals, chosen precisely because they are close to neither of the parties present, or finally (what does not prevent them also falling into one of the categories above) if they are holders of some authority and subscribe exactly because someone asks them to guarantee the transaction by the force of that authority.

I’m interested in his answers here because I think that I used absolutely all of these possibilities in my analyses of the Catalan frontier documentation in my Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, and if there’s a general French pattern I need to consider a fair few things again before I could just decide that Catalonia is weird.2 So, what does he detect? In brief, that we move from persons close to the actors of the document to those close to the beneficiary in the mid-eleventh century, and that outside authorities are pulled on occasionally throughout. None of this is total and it rests on a relatively small number of witnesses who declare some kind of connection to other parties, but the move of emphasis is visible to him. It also ties in reasonably nicely with Stephen White’s study of the laudatio parentorum, the consent to a property transfer by the actor’s kinsfolk expressed in their signatures, which he sees as arising and then dying out towards the end of Tock’s period divide here.3 So, this must be taken seriously, and where does it leave me who has suggested quite happily that some documents were witnessed by whoever was at the cathedral or palace that day on completely different business?4

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, no. 1297

A gift by the Archpriest Ermemir to Riculf, caput scolae of the cathedral of Vic (Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, no. 1297: here I think it;’s probably safe to say the three clerical witnesses who sign autograph were around the cathedral, but how carefully selected were they?

Well, firstly, the great strength of Tock’s book is that it is founded on a big sample, the 3,631 original documents from before 1121 in French archives that went into the ARTEM database at Nancy, still locked in there when this book was written but now online, which means that ‘real soon now’ we’ll be able to see all the things he could see. Because this sample is the whole of France, though, it is diffuse, with clumps in some obvious places like Cluny and Marmoutier but usually very few per place per year. (By contrast, I read about that many documents for my Ph. D. research, but they came from a two-hundred year period, not a six-hundred year one, and a total of about ten archives all within a few hundred miles of each other.) He can do really impressive things with this sample, with validity not available to most previous researchers, but he can’t chase witnesses in their local context in the way that I can, constructing that Bottin Mondain… And secondly, of course, that would be years and years of micro-study; in a deliberately wide-ranging book that level of localisation just isn’t practical in the space.

Stafford, William Salt Library, 84/5/41

On the other hand, whether any of this lot even needed to be present we will never know for sure, but the names still had to be chosen… This is King Æthelred the Unready granting 8 hides in various places to his thegn Morcar in 1009, Stafford, William Salt Library, 84/5/41, Sawyer 922

So part of our difference here is likely just to be sample density; I have more people repeatedly turning up than he can find and can locate them and identify them more reliably even when they don’t say who they are. On the other hand, implicit in that is a whole vast mass of arguments from silence which the very occasional mention of family ties, and the difficulty resolving those that do get mentioned, should warn me may be false. Not all of them are: I think the analysis of the ‘nobles of the palace’ of Borrell II I did here and in my book shows that sometimes it really is just whoever was there, but when ‘there’ is a session of the comital court maybe a wide spread is not so surprising and I still need better ways to argue against the trend he sees than sheer evidential one-up-manship.5 Still: it’s better than, “well, my study area is just different….”


1. B.-M. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle), Atelier de Recherches sur les Textes Médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2005), quote at p. 244. Other work that does ask who witnesses are and why they’re there is limited, but notable examples would be Wendy Davies, Small Worlds: the village community in early medieval Brittany (London 1988), pp. 109-128, and Ross Balzaretti, “The Politics of Property in Ninth-Century Milan: familial motives and monastic strategies in the village of Inzago” in Mélanges de l’École de France : moyen âge Vol. 111 (Rome 1999), pp. 747-770, online here, with résumé p. 980.

2. J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 143-144, not as substantial a discussion as I should have given it.

3. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 244-254; Stephen D. White, Custom, Kinship, and Gifts to Saints. The Laudatio Parentum in Western France, 1050-1150 (Chapel Hill 1988).

4. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, p. 104.

5. Ibid., pp. 161-164.

Beware of Greeks bearing names

Ruins of the palæochristian basilica at Empúries, one place it seems reasonable to say people came to Catalonia from actual Greece, albeit rather before this building was put up, let alone knocked down... "Paleochristian Basilica - Empúries - 2005-03-27". Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Ruins of the palæochristian basilica at Empúries, one place it seems reasonable to say people came to Catalonia from actual Greece, albeit rather before this building was put up, let alone knocked down… “Paleochristian Basilica – Empúries – 2005-03-27“. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Continuing through Benoît-Michel Tock‘s methodical study of subscriptions to French charters of the seventh to twelfth century, I found an unexpected moment of solidarity.1 It’s not that I don’t expect to share ideas and conclusions with M. le Prof Tock, as we are interested in very similar things, but this bit, well, you will see. He is discussing the appearance of surnames in the charters he is studying, and the first instance is one Urso Grecus, who turns up only in the foundation charter of Cluny, in 910.2 Tock argues that this ‘Greek’ appellation can’t be taken literally, as the name Ursus is no kind of Greek known, so that the surname probably tells us he could read Greek, rather than that he was somehow seen as Greek. But this is a question that can be explored with the Catalan evidence, where there are one or two more such characters, including a judge called Oruç whose name (in Latin, Aurucius) is oddly similar to Ursus but who lived too late to be the same man, including being captured in the sack of Barcelona in 985 and later ransomed.3 Now, Oruç has been taken either to actually have been Greek or perhaps a legally-trained person from Byzantine Italy brought in as part of Borrell II’s judicial reforms, to the best of my knowledge, but the same problem of the non-Greek name arises for him, and it’s not just him.4 At which point, enter one of this blog’s running fascinations:

« En sens inverse, ZIMMERMANN, La connaissance du grec, p. 496–497, confronté dans la Catalogne des environs de l’an mil à un Guitardus grecus, malgré la non hellenité de ce nom, accepte que ce soit un Grec. Il est vrai que la Catalogne était plus perméable que la Touraine aux influences méditerranéennes, et que l’épouse de ce Guitardus portait le nom, bien grec lui, de Polemia. Ne pourrait-on imaginer que ce Guitardus, Franc comme son nom l’indique, ait cherché fortune et trouvé femme en Grèce, d’où le surnom qui lui aurait été attribué ? »5

Which, translated roughly, comes out as:

“In the opposite sense, Zimmermann, ‘La connaissance du grec’, pp. 496-497, faced, in the Catalonia of around the year 1000, with a Guitardus grecus, despite the non-Hellenity of the name, accepts this person as a Greek. It is true that Catalonia was more permeable to Mediterranean influences than was the Touraine, and that this Guitard’s wife bore the name, this one perfectly Greek, of Polemia. Could one not imagine that this Guitardus, a Frank as his name shows, had sought fortune and found a wife in Greece, whence the surname that was attributed to him?”

To which I’d like to say, “yes, yes one can, or at least this one can.” This might even just work for Oruç, too, in as much as his wife Maria’s name is obviously not impossible for Greece.6 Obviously I twitch at saying someone was Frankish because they bore a Frankish name, and there are a number of instances in a Spanish context of people using one or other of a pair of names from alternative language’s name-stocks depending on what company they’re in, and this is probably a bit too simplistic for the melting-pot that Barcelona was becoming. I also wonder a little bit about how wryly to read the juxtaposition of seeking a fortune and finding a wife. Nonetheless, I think that since neither Zimmermann’s or Tock’s reading of these names can be proven (saving the surpassingly unlikely accident of these persons’ graves being identifiably found and their teeth showing their origins when analysed) I’d like to go with the one that involves the romance, just because that would make the period that bit more fun to, as he says, imagine.7


1. B.-M. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle), Atelier de Recherches sur les Textes Médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2005).

2. Auguste Bernard & Alexandre Bruel (edd.), Recueil des Chartes de l’Abbaye de Cluny (Paris 1876-1903), 7 vols, doc. no. 112, discussed in Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 89-90.

3. He appears in at least: Francesc X. Altés i Aguiló, “El Diplomatari del monestir de Santa Ceília de Montserrat I: anys 900-999″ in Studia monastica Vol. 36 (Montserrat 1994), pp. 223-302, doc. no. 96; Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Els documents, dels anys 981-1010, de l’Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis històrics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 3 (Montserrat 1980), pp. 7-166, doc. no. 278; Àngel Fabrega 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), doc. nos 162, 166, 170, 172 & 220; Gaspar Feliu & Josep María Salrach (edd.), Els Pergamins de l’Arxiu Comtal de Barcelona de Ramon Borrell a Ramon Berenguer I, Diplomataris 18-20 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 37, 46, 50, 60, 88, 91, 97 & 109; Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 1526; & Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos XVIII (Barcelona 1951), doc. nos 207, 211, 218, 227, 228 & 237.

4. Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une société, Publications de l’Université Toulouse-le Mirail, Sèrie A, 23 & 29 (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols, I pp. 345 figures Oruç as an actual Greek; Philip Banks, “«Greeks» in Early Medieval Barcelona?” in Faventia Vol. 2 (Barcelona 1980), pp. 73-88, online here, last modified 15th November 2006 as of 9th August 2009, suggests that he and the other six such Greci visible in early medieval Catalonia were local-born sons of an otherwise unattested Greek-speaking Sicilian immigration in the earlier tenth century. I have a nasty feeling that the suggestion of a link with Borrell’s judicial reforms, since I am the person who thinks they happened, originated with me, but obviously that wouldn’t explain the others.

5. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, p. 90 n. 26, referencing Michel Zimmermann, “La connaissance du grec en Catalogne du IXe au XIe siècle” in Michel Sot (ed.), Haut Moyen Âge : Culture, éducation et société. Études offertes à Pierre Riché (La Garenne-Colombes 1990), pp. 493-515.

6. Maria appears in Feliu & Salrach, Pergamins, doc. no. 109.

7. On the two-named populations, see Victor Aguilar & Francesco Rodríguez Mediano, “Antroponimia de origen árabe en la documentación leonesa (siglos VIII-XIII)” in El Reino de León en la Alta Edad Media Vol. 6 (León 1994), pp. 497-633.

Some more of that critical diplomatic

The first Leeds conference I went to was in 2005, and although I was not exactly in the money at that stage (not least because of having only been involved at very short notice to fill a gap in an acquaintance’s session) I did allow myself to buy one or two books. By now I know very clearly to avoid Brepols‘s stall unless I’m feeling very rich, their books simply can’t be afforded by normal people, but on this occasion I bought two, one because it was surprisingly cheap and one because it was brand-new and clearly vital to what I was working on. This latter was Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle) by Benoît-Michel Tock.1

Cover of Benoît-Michel Tock's <Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle)

Cover of Benoît-Michel Tock’s Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle)

So, OK, let us not discuss how I was only reading this obviously vital book after owning it for more than eight years, after even meeting the author and in the meantime writing what I think is a pretty good round-up of current study in diplomatic; the answer would be something inadequate like, ‘the article I need it for has always needed so much more work than my others that it keeps getting put down the list compared to things I can finish sooner’.2 I did it in late 2013, and I could tell straight away that I had been right that it was vital, even if only giving me a good basis for things I already thought, and so you will be hearing more about it here for a little bit. For now, I’ll just give you a short extract so you can see why it caught me. M. le Prof. Tock wisely begins his book with a short round-up of issues backed up with a rather longer section of discussed examples, talking not just about the signatures on the documents but their diplomatic as a whole. In the case of his earliest example, though, an 848 donation to the cathedral of Rodez, these two overlap, as witness.3 I translate:

“The order in which the signatures were applied is not clear. The four autograph subscriptions constitute a sort of group in the middle of the signa: this is doubtless not by chance, and without doubt they were emplaced together. Was there a blank space left for them in the middle of the signa? No, because the signa at the end of the line are well adapted to them. Were they written before the signa? No, because they themselves are well adapted to the signa at the beginning of the line. In fact, the last line of signa runs very close to the penultimate one, doubtless so as not to impinge too much on the scribal signature. One must therefore deduce that the scribe wrote his own signature first, then that of the actor (the reverse also being possible) and those of Fréderic and Sigsimond. He then left the pen to the four autograph signatories, and took it back to insert, where he could, the six signa that were left for him to write. Why were Fréderic and Sigsimond entitled to this favourable treatment? Was the aim aesthetic, or was it perhaps because they were playing a particular rôle in the transaction (were they heirs of Allibert [the donor], for example?)? We do not know.”

Rodez, Archives Départementales d'Aveyron, 3 G 300 no. 1 R 162

This is the charter in question, Rodez, Archives Départementales d’Aveyron, 3 G 300 no. 1 R 162. M. le Prof. Tock benefitted in his research from the massive ARTEM database of all French-held charters from before 1121, which went online a few years ago, but inspection reveals that they have yet to add in the images that were the root of the whole thing, so this is scanned from Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, p. 26, ill. no. 2, because the text is only fully comprehensible with it in sight.

“It is probable that the scribe wrote the actor’s subscription at the same time as the text of the act, and added those of Fréderic and Sigsimond to it at the time of the donation ceremony. This is at least what is suggested by the line spacing – normal before Allibert’s subscription, larger afterwards – and this corresponds to what one would imagine: the scribe obviously knew that the donor would be present at the donation (how could it be done otherwise?) but could not foresee what other persons would be present.”

This is very much the kind of reading of documents I think is important, and every now and then I try it here. It’s one of the reasons that working with original documents is so rewarding: from such tiny details one can get at the actual nuts and bolts of how people made these texts that we rely on and what the procedures of creating them may have been. I find this an unusually clear explanation of what the visual clues are that tell us such things, though, and am now very much looking forward to finally reading the rest of the book.


1. B.-M. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle), Atelier de Recherches sur les Textes Médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2005).

2. That round-up being J. Jarrett, “Introduction” in Jarrett & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout 2013), pp. 1-18, DOI: 10.1484/M.IMR-EB.1.101674..

3. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 25-29, quote all on p. 29. The charter is printed in Antoine Bonal (ed.), Histoire des évêques de Rodez (Rodez 1935), 1 vol. only published, pp. 500-501, but of course now it’s online as Acte n°3958 in Cédric Giraud, Jean-Baptiste Renault et Benoît-Michel Tock (edd.), Chartes originales antérieures à 1121 conservées en France (Nancy 2010), http://www.cn-telma.fr/originaux/charte3958/, last modified 3rd February 2014 as of 14th September 2014.

Conferring in Naples, II: papers in the p. m.

Sala Conferenze in the Palazzo degli Uffici, Università degli Studi Federico II, Naples

Sala Conferenze in the Palazzo degli Uffici, Università degli Studi Federico II, Naples

The reason I had all the time I had to go sight-seeing in Naples was that the conference I was at didn’t start till the somewhat advanced hour of three o’clock the same afternoon. It then ran on till after eight, mind, but if you’re used to Mediterranean time-keeping that’s actually perfectly sensible. Anyway, I arrived slightly early, things started slightly later so I had the chance to catch up on old acquaintance here and there before the papers commenced. The venue for the first two days was the newer, less splendid part of the Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II in the Palazzo degli Uffici, but on the other hand it was one of the most technically well-equipped conference centres I’ve been lucky enough to present in, full PA and three projection screens, etc. One thing to its detriment was that the designers seemed to have expected people to be using all three screens at once; everyone who was on only one found, I think, that the detail of their slides was hard to see at the size it finished up at. This may be another way of saying that all digital diplomatists pack their slides too full.

Frontage of the Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II

The old building's kind of nice too, mind, and much easier to find

Anyway, there was an opening address that I understood only a third of (the third that was in French) and then there were some sessions. I’m conscious that much of the below is a bit technical, combining as it does computers and diplomatic, neither of them fields averse to labelling things with their own new words, so feel free to tune in next post if you’d rather. I’m guessing, though, that there are some people who would like to hear about it so I’m not skimping what’s necessary to make it meaningful for them. (Abstracts of all the papers are online, too, from this page which also has links to all our slides, so I’ll link the abstracts from the titles. Almost like being there!)

Linguistical Statistics

  • Nicolas Perreaux, “From Accumulation to Exploitation? Experiments and Proposals for Indexing and for the Use of Diplomatics Databases“, opened up with a dilemma that we would keep coming back to again and again through the conference: there are now some really impressive digital corpora of charters online or otherwise available, about 150,000 documents at the time of presentation, with which some incredible work ought to be possible, and very few projects actually exploiting them.1 He suggested that it might be because it still all needs sorting out and indexing, but really wanted to tell us about the testing of traditional diplomatic categories of document that he’d done in trying to work out if this could be done automatically. Basically, by lexical analysis as he did it, looking for distinct groups of words, only notitiae and episcopal acta are typologically distinct.2 Even this, he thought, was a start in separating things out, but I thought that actually he’d shown that the categories themselves are pretty much bunk. This fits with a documented tendency of mine to ignore work coming from the German Rechtschule however, and it’s hard to say which of us is thinking more progressively here. The advantage of it as a technique is that it’s interested in what the sources themselves emphasise, rather than looking for what we think they meant, but in that case I think we should be ready to define new categories. But then would anyone outside the digital field ever use the stuff? He ended, however, with another big point, which I’ve noted as: “There is no perfect software: what questions do you have?” This, also, many people would pick up, and I thought this paper was a marvellous choice for an opener as it really turned out to encapsulate some of the conference’s agenda.
  • I’ve gone on in detail about this one, because I resonated with a lot of it as you can tell (both in and out of phase), but I must be briefer with the rest.

  • Olivier Canteaut & Frédéric Glorieux, “Essai de classificiation automatique des actes royaux français (XIVe-XVe siècles)“, was as you can see related, and trying to get at the chancery practice revealed by a 13,000 document sample without being swamped by it. Their first problem was how much Latin inflection messes up searches for word groupings; their results were much better with French-language documents. This is going to have to be dealt with: surely we can come up with a Latin parser that rolls words back to their stems for these purposes? But it’s a bit of an overhead. They were instead going to come back round by assessing institutional culture and then matching the phenomena there to linguistic data, but again this seems to me to be giving up and using external models rather than letting the data speak for itself. Some useful issues highlighted all the same, however!
  • Michael Gervers & Gelila Tilahun, “Statistical Methods for Dating Collections of Medieval Documents“, was talking about the DEEDS project at the University of Toronto. I’ve heard a lot of flak for this project from outside so it was interesting to get a view from inside on what it was actually doing, of which however this was only a tiny part. Basically, DEEDS have the problem that most of their documents aren’t dated, so they were using linguistic analysis to see if they could do a sort of linguistical palæography and date them by language use.3 Here again the key turned out to be very small word-groups, ‘shingles’ as they were calling them, and with an analysis based on two-word shingles deployed on a test set with known dates they were able to get a mean error in dating down as small as nine years, although in some periods when documents were fewer the results were a lot less certain. Still far better than `undated’ however! Professor Gervers was happy to admit that the method still needed work but that it works at all was fun to see.
  • The session was split over a coffee break, which was the first time I came across an important regional phenomenon. I am told that the further south you go in Italy, the smaller and stronger ‘a coffee’ gets. The next day on the way to the conference I was introduced to Neapolitan coffee as served in street kiosks and well, yes, it’s about four thimblefuls of espresso for which you pay a Euro twenty, but you don’t need more that soon. My then-companion described it as “punctuation for the day”, which I loved. However, a lot of people at this conference were from a lot further north and expected larger servings. It went quickly. I had two little plastic mugs and then found myself a bit shaky (and as I type this up I’m off caffeine briefly so now I shiver with envy of my autumn self). But I was in no danger of nodding off!

  • Els de Paermentier, “Diplomatica Belgica. Analysing medieval charter texts (dictamen) through a quantitative approach: the case of Flanders and Hainaut (1191-1244)“, was trying something more directed than simple significance-fishing, deliberately looking for ways to recognise documents that were made by the comital chanceries of her two target counties from those that the recipients drafted and just got signed off. She was more or less able to do this, and thus establish that the chancery sometimes issues documents on behalf of relatives of the counts and lesser comital officials as well as just the counts. She also noticed that between 1200 and 1225 the chanceries also stood out for their modifications of phrases that everyone used into their own special versions, which I thought was quite interesting as the assumption is usually that documentary forms are set top-down, but of course over as short a period as that certain individuals could be entirely to blame. I actually don’t think that upsets the point…
  • Robin Sutherland-Harris, “Applications of the DEEDS database to Somerset Charters: dating, diplomatics, and historical context“, was a paper by another member of the DEEDS team but showing the way forward by effectively having used DEEDS as a test set for undigitised records she was using for her own project, which were likewise broadly undated (“thirteenth-century”, sort of level). The things that Robin said that most caught my ear was a mention of a word only two of her charters use for the action of enclosing land, ‘perprisere‘; that is a word I know and was surprised to see here.4 Since her sample was 45 documents, however, it also seemed to me that any changes she is picking up must be personal choices, and she was kind enough to agree that that would be a next step.
  • Timo Korkiakangas, “Challenges for the Linguistic Annotation of an Early Medieval Charter Corpus“, was an analysis of the charters from eighth- and ninth-century Tuscany, and was looking for software that would automate an analysis he was doing of variation from formulae, trying to sort willing alteration from mistakes. So far he had not found such software though he had tested a few! This was I think a good thing for the conference, because it caught again this mismatch between tools and historical enquiry that we had already come up against in the first paper.

Key Note

    The closing presentation of the evening was given by Benoît-Michel Tock, under the title, “Digital Diplomatics, Magic Diplomatics”. This was essentially a retrospective from a man who has seen almost all of this stuff happen, having been involved for a long time with the ARTEM project that eventually went online via TELMA, putting all French original charters from before 1121 on the web. So he knows, and could also tell us that the copies are about to follow the originals up. The problem, of course, is in using these resources together: not all are full-text, different standards of mark-up have been used,5 and of course not everything is very relevant to everything else anyway. Little problems like the fact that many projects only digitise the faces of their charters make certain projects no more possible.6 Even something as basic as lists of what material there is and ideally, where it’s been written about) is often lacking, although weirdly (my point not his) this is where Anglo-Saxon diplomatic began the process, even though its sample is so much smaller. (Perhaps because of that!) There was, too, the very salient and often bitter point that it is both more interesting to do and easier to fund new projects than the maintenance of old ones, something anyone who has worked on an old database which people actually use knows all too well. Also, and this I thought was notable in a very digital conference, he pled for the continuation of publication of printed editions of charter material, arguing that anyone who has worked with eighteenth- or nineteenth-century editions knows that they are far from useless and that they will outlast many a format change and institutional bankruptcy. As long, of course, as we don’t ‘kill all the libraries‘… I think, quite frankly, we should be seeing print now primarily as a stable archive format, which is something we really do not have in the digital world, and so entirely agreed with this point, hence my emphasis here.

And then there was a very excellent dinner, in which I met some very cool people (despite the geekiness of the subject, there were a lot of cool people here), got to tell my father’s story about a friend of his who turned off a god’s electricity and so on, and it was all very good. Nonetheless, when I get to the second day’s report, it’s going to have to be briefer isn’t it? Sorry about that…


1. To name only some of the resources that he did (i. e. those I knew well enough to note): the numerous databases hanging off TELMA : traitement électronique des manuscrits et des archives, MŌM: Europe’s virtual documents online (a. k. a. Monasterium.net), the various online publications of the Fundació Noguera (on which more here), DEEDS as above and Chartae Burgundiae Medii Ævi (already lauded here).

2. If by some chance you don’t understand these terms but would like to, I’m afraid there is little of use online or (non-exclusive) in English (though it’s possible that there is stuff of use online not in English: anybody know some?) and you should probably start with either Olivier Guyotjeannin, Benoît-Michel Tock and Michel Pycke, Diplomatique Médiévale, L’Atelier du Médiéviste 2 (Turnhout 1993) or now Reinhard Härtel, Notarielle und kirchliche Urkunden im frühen und hohen Mittelalter, Historische Hilfswissenschaften (Wien 2011), whichever you’re more linguistically comfortable with, though note that Härtel does not cover royal documents; he gives plentiful reference to those who do. If you are stuck with only English there’s a short piece that by now really needs replacing in the form of Leonard E. Boyle, “Diplomatics” in James M. Powell (ed.), Medieval Studies (Syracuse 1976), pp. 82-113, and that at least is online (as far as I can see completely and free of thumbs) via Google Books.

3. And having heard this paper I must really now get round to reading my copy of the presumably related Michael Gervers (ed.), Dating Undated Medieval Charters (Woodbridge 2000), which was something of an aspirational purchase I-won’t-say-how-long ago.

4. See J. Jarrett, “Settling the Kings’ Lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 18 (Oxford 2010), pp. 320-342 at pp. 335-336.

5. There were some jokes made in the papers the next day about the number of different Encoding Initiatives there seem to be in our worlds, all spinning off the Text Encoding Initiative, a project that was begun to develop an International Standard for the digital encoding of texts, but it was an odd truth that the Charters Encoding Initiative, started because TEI didn’t then quite supply the mark-up it was felt charters needed, was not in use by any of the people presenting at this conference, almost all of whom had opted to use TEI instead so as to increase interoperability with other projects.

6. I think that the first team to break the mould here were probably the guys publishing the facsimile editions of the St Gallen material, which very often has preliminary versions drafted on the dorse of its charters, but they may have just been the first ones I noticed: Peter Erhart (ed.), Chartae Latinae Antiquiores (2) 100: Switzerland 3 (Zürich 2006), Erhart & Bernhard Zeller with Karl Heidecker (edd.), … 101: Switzerland 4 (2008), Erhart, Zeller & Heidecker, … 102: Switzerland 5 (2009), eidem (edd.), … 103: Switzerland 6 (2010) and eidem (edd.), … 104: Switzerland 7 (2011), with vol 105, Switzerland 8, to follow. But of course this is neither online nor open-access.

Thanksgiving for Internet treasures

There is no doubt that this employment thing has cut into my blogging. I am badly behind with what I would like to write here: I have nine post stubs and six seminars I’d like to say something about here, and we’re almost out of year. So to try and clear backlog I’m going to lump proto-posts together and keep them short, and this is the first, in which I acknowledge two people for supplying links to things I’ve been wanting to be online for ages and which you may also enjoy.

With thanks to an ex-student

I have been after this quote for ages. I suspect that I met it somewhere in Rosamond McKitterick’s collected papers but foolishly imagined that I’d remember it rather than making a note. Now I have come across it while looking for something else entirely in the Livejournal of an ex-student who would probably rather not be identified, as the LJ itself does not identify them, so I shall have to hope they will be satisfied with this level of recognition.

O beatissime lector, lava manus tuas et sic librum adprehende leniter folia turna, longe a littera digito pone. Quia qui nescit scribere, putat hoc esse nullum laborem. O quam gravis est scriptura! Oculos gravat, renes frangit, simul et omnia membra contristat! Tria digita scribunt, totus corpus laborat. Quia sicut nauta desiderat uenire ad proprium portum, ita scriptor ad ultimum uersum.

The scribe then goes to explain that the illustrious Count Aumohenus ordered him to write this text, which is a copy of the Burgundian laws, and that is also really interesting, but it’s the quote I wanted not the context for all that.1 Returning to my informant’s words:

Roughly translated: O most fortunate reader, wash your hands and thus take hold of the book, turn the pages carefully, keep your hand far from the page! Those who don’t know how to write think it is easy. O how hard it is to write: your eyes are burdened, your kidneys break, and all of your limbs get discouraged. Three fingers do the writing, but your whole body works. Just as a sailor wishes to arrive at his home port, so does a scribe long for the last line.

I’d like to dedicate this to all of my current students who are facing Collections exams at the beginning of next term and hope it may ease your writers’ cramp. But then the second thing arrived! And this is, perhaps, weightier.

And with thanks to Alice Rio and ARTEM

Charter from before 1121

"Charte antérieure à l'année 1121", they say

You probably have to be a real charter geek to have heard of the ARTEM project, but it was considerable. Based at the University of Nancy,2 a team spent a long time building a database of all the surviving original medieval charters in France dating from before the year 1121. This is a fair few, even though it’s not, you know, Spain. They had both scans and transcriptions, all kinds of searchable stuff and generated not a little interesting scholarship about the documents they now knew better than anyone else (till Mark Mersiowsky came along). But you had to go to Nancy to use it, which meant that the dissemination of this data was, shall we say, restricted. Now, at last, the ever-estimable Alice Rio informs me that at least the texts are now online in full, here. I haven’t yet had time to properly explore what this means; at the very least, however, I expect to be a considerable help when I finally get round to reading my shelf-bound copy of Benoît-Michel Tock’s Scribes et souscripteurs in pursuit of my long-stalled ultimate paper on charters, probably shortly before finding that between Michel Zimmermann and Mark Mersiowksy‘s massive works since emerged I have nothing left to say.3 Which would, in some ways, be a relief, but being able to check in with the texts that Tock, who was part of the ARTEM team, will have cited will make that book a lot more enlightening than it might have been otherwise. Who knows what lurks therein to be found by the person with a particular enquiry? Maybe that person is you! If so, now you know where to enquire. And for now that must be all.


1. Georgius Heinricus Pertz (ed.), Monumenta Germaniae Historica inde ab anno Christi quingentesimo usque ad annum millesimum et quingentesimum: Legum tomus III (Hannover 1863), pp. 588-589.

2. Where confusingly, since this project finished, they have reused the acronym ARTEM for something else entirely, unless I have got completely the wrong end of some or other stick.

3. Referring respectively to: the full version of the thing I gave as “Fixing documents in late-Carolingian Catalonia” in the first-ever Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic session at Leeds, ‘Clods, Altars, Donors and Records: Reading Narratives and Emotions in Early Medieval Charters’, International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 11th July 2006, which is likely to remain in progress a lot longer alas; to M. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols; and Mark Mersiowsky, Die Urkunde in der Karolingerzeit. Originale, Urkundenpraxis und politische Kommunikation, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Schriften) 60 (Hannover forthcoming).