Tag Archives: Callús

Three-pointed sales and the limits of comital power

While I was slogging through the documents in Catalunya Carolíngia IV I became aware that I was seeing a particular thing again and again, that being apparent deals in which a property was sold to one party and then immediately sold on to another. The first set-up like this that I met, and I’m now thinking perhaps the oddest, was the repeated sales of the castle of Carcolzes, which I mentioned here a long time ago. There, Count-Marquis Borrell II borrowed half of the Osona frontier castle of Clarà from Bishop Sal·la of Urgell, pledging the Urgell one of Carcolzes to the bishop in exchange, and then wouldn’t give Clarà back. Sal·la plainly didn’t want Carcolzes for keeps (er, no pun intended), and he complains about it at great length in a document in which he sold it to his sacristan Bonhom for 500 solidi‘s worth of produce. Bonhom doesn’t seem to have liked it either, though, and sold it on to Viscount Guillem of Urgell, which we know because the next year we find Guillem selling it back to Bishop Sal·la for an equivalent price, whereafter Sal·la gave up and gave it to the cathedral of Urgell for his archdeacon nephew to hold as castellan.1

The remains of Castellnou de Carcolzes

The remains of Castellnou de Carcolzes, image from Wikimedia Commons. I suppose the fact that there had to be a new castle shows that the problems were irremediable…

In that case it seems more or less obvious what’s going on, to wit that the bishop got swindled and that there was something really wrong about Carcolzes that became apparent to each of its holders, though never so much as to make them accept a lower price. But the other case we’ve seen here, in which Borrell II (again) sold a substantial deal of land at el Buc in Manresa for 200 solidi to his wealthy follower and castellan Unifred Amat, who then the next day promptly sold it to someone called Guifré, with Borrell witnessing, it was obviously designed to wind up that way in the first place, and I speculated at length as to exactly what configuration of power would explain it.2 Now, I have three more cases that may make things a bit clearer.

The Castell de Gotmar at Callús, from Wikimedia Commons

The Castell de Gotmar at Callús, again from Wikimedia Commons

The first of these is basically the same set-up as the previous: Borrell II’s son Ramon Borrell, acting for his father in Osona in the last year of Borrell’s life, 992, sells an alod called Castellet to a priest by the name of Miró Marcuç for 100 solidi and Miró next day sells it on to Abbot Arnulf of Santa Maria de Ripoll. Arnulf witnessed the first transaction and the same scribe wrote both.3 Here, if I had nothing else, I’d think that for one reason or another Miró needed a big favour from Arnulf and used his apparent connection to the count to get it, though one would ideally still like to know what it was about Castellet that made it better than anything Miró already owned (which was a fair bit).4 The other two cases begin to suggest an answer to that dilemma, and thus to what may have been going on in the case at el Buc too.

The Castell d'Òdena, image from Wikimedia Commons

The Castell d’Òdena, image once more from Wikimedia Commons

Back a bit to 989 and some familiar participants. We are now at the castle of Òdena, founded by none other than Unifred Amat with his daddy Sal·la, and it is two more persons of the latter name who are dealing here, the first being an Òdena-based Sal·la who was clearly connected to the family to which Unifred belongs but whose relation to them is never stated and the second being the bishop (who was Unifred’s first cousin).5 On 10th May the first Sal·la sold the second Sal·la a substantial alod that he had “from my parents or from purchase or from aprisio“, for which the bishop paid him 2 pesatas in goods, probably equivalent to 480 solidi.6 Then, on 12th May, Count-Marquis Borrell II and his son Ramon Borrell, tous les deux, sold it back to the first Sal·la and his wife for two pesadas in goods as before, helpfully explaining that the bishop had sold it to them (presumably on the 11th).7 Why on earth go through all this in three days? The answer seems to be in the only difference between the two property descriptions: the counts sell the estate “sine ulla inquietudine vel sine ullo censu vel sine ulla funccione”, ‘without any disturbance or any rent or any service’, more or less, in other words tax-free. And this is also what happens in the other case, on 16th April 990, where a priest called Sunifred gives Ramon Borrell an estate in Sant Llorenç and gets it back the same day at the price of 100 solidi, but accompanied by “censum vel functionem qui exinde exiebat vel exire debebat”, ‘the render or service that used to come or should have come from it’.8 This case gives us some extra, as not only was it obviously worth 100 solidi for Sunifred to have those dues lifted off the estate, but we also have his purchase of the estate the previous year, and then he paid a pesa in goods, probably about 240 solidi‘s worth.9 So Ramon Borrell was not getting the estate’s worth in this deal: it really was a sale of tax revenue done in a rather roundabout way.

Castell de Sant Llorenç del Munt, Osona

Castell de Sant Llorenç del Munt, Osona

Might this then be what’s going on in the other cases? With Carcolzes, I think it cannot be; the castle went through fiscal hands twice and the people who should have had the advantage of that still got rid of it. In the other two cases, however, it’s more possible. Granted, the documents don’t say that the lands were sold tax-free, but on the other hand we don’t have any indication that they weren’t the counts’ to start with, and it might be that comital land didn’t pay tax (though that would raise more questions). I do think it’s significant that all these deals involve the same limited set of participants, Borrell, Ramon Borrell or Bishop Sal·la, and that they all take place so close together, all within three years of each other bar the case with Unifred Amat. (Carcolzes is trickier, as what we have is Sal·la giving up, rather than the original pledge, but to take him at his word he seems to have held the place for two Pentecosts and more before giving up on getting his own castle back, and he did that in 993, so this could still be in that group.)

The Castell de Clarà

The one that got away: Castell de Clarà, though when Bernat and Borrell had to share it I guess there was more than this!

Whether these are all the same thing or not, though, it tells us something interesting about the power the counts of this age could claim. Firstly, it tells us that they could actually demand enough revenue from privately-held land that it was worth paying quite a lot to be rid of those obligations, though I have my suspicions that the actual demanding of those obligations was fairly new and that if played right this could be less of a general system and more of a protection racket, in which the counts picked somebody whose tax liability they were willing to enforce in order to bind them closer into the structure of personal obligations created by these kinds of deals.10 But it also tells us about limits. The counts of Barcelona circa 990 would not, or could not, simply sell tax revenue; elaborate structures of transaction had to be mounted within which that was done. Later on there would be no problem with this, or even with making a personal obligation out of it: that’s what the money fief’s for, right?11 (Likewise, at Carcolzes, Borrell could apparently not simply compulsorily purchase a half-share of Clarà but had to extort it, though that may have more to do with the fact that the owner of the other half, Sal·la’s brother Viscount Bernat of Conflent, was not under his direct control.12) But at this stage they didn’t have the tools for it; while Borrell II was alive, at least, what would later be done with arrangements in fief had to be cloaked in traditional formulae. The question I have yet to answer is whether this is because what they are doing was actually new (which other things Bishop Sal·la did might support) or because Borrell was especially keen on making his governmentalist power-grabbing look old-fashioned and traditional (which other things he did would support).13 A further question is whether this was happening a lot more widely but is undetectable when we only have one of the documents in the chain. Plenty to do! But here’s one way I’m working this stuff out.


1. C. 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. nos 239 & 243.

2. 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. nos 678-680.

3. Ibid., doc. nos 1635 & 1636.

4. I identify him in ibid., doc. nos 1189, 1364, 1391, 1411, 1537, 1538, 1539, 1592, 1602, 1609, 1620, 1635, 1636, 1734, 1747, 1768 & 1789, in all but two of which (1592 and 1636 as above) he was buying land, mostly in Castell Gotmar and often from the same people, which makes me wonder if we see a large family here consolidating as per Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 112-114.

5. The kindred relations here are worked out by Manuel Rovira, “Noves dades sobre els vescomtes d’Osona-Cardona” in Ausa Vol. 9 no. 98 (Vic 1981), pp. 249-260.

6. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 1556.

7. Ibid., doc. no. 1557.

8. Ibid., doc. nos 1578 & 1579.

9. Ibid., doc. no. 1559.

10. Ideas about what comital power could demand here are very strongly based around templates from elsewhere and less around local evidence. The best such schematic treatment is probably still Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, “La institució comtal carolíngia en la pre-Catalunya del segle IX” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 1 (Barcelona 1964), pp. 29-75, repr. in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i Documents XIII & XIV (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), I pp. 181-226.

11. Best described in Marc Bloch, La Société féodale (Paris 1939), 2 vols, transl. L. A. Manyon as Feudal Society (Chicago 1961), 2 vols, I pp. 173-175 of the translation.

12. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 136-141.

13. Sal·la for example issued lands in benefice with the prescription that its holders might seek no other lord and was the first ruler in his area to grant land by convenientia, the term that would later be used of grants in fief; see Jonathan Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis (University of London 2005), online at http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~jjarrett/thesis.html, last modified 24th March 2011 as of 15th February 2014, pp. 305-307, and Adam J. Kosto, Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: power, order and the written word, 1000-1200, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 51 (Cambridge 2001), pp. 54-59; for Borrell’s initiatives, see Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 141-166.

On the economics of tenth-century mills

Every now and then I write a post for this blog that is probably really a paper. Occasionally this is deliberate, because I’m having trouble working something out and I try and explain it to an imagined audience. All of those posts are still in the queue, which is now so long that the paper may be finished before they are… but this one, like one or two others, I started writing merely to get something off my chest that I hoped might be interesting and then by the end it’s nearly three thousand words and has enough footnotes for a centipede. Were it not that a lot of these posts start as me trying to show someone wrong about something, it’d be a great way to carry out scholarship. But maybe that doesn’t stop it being a viable paper, and it’s been some time since I wrote about my actual research area, so, hey: let’s ask a Marxist question about mills in early medieval Catalonia! That question is, of course: who controls the means of production? There is an accepted answer about this and I’m not sure it’s quite right. Interest piqued? The rest is behind the cut below. If not, here is that really cool mill location I wrote about before once more, why not look at that instead?

Building set into a riverine waterfall at Marfà, Castellcir

Building set into a riverine waterfall at Marfà, Castellcir

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