Tag Archives: Carolingian Renaissance

Seminar CVI: Carolingian men of the Word

As you’ll have noticed I make a habit of going to the Earlier Middle Ages seminar at the Institute of Historical Research in London, but I make a special point of it when someone I know from my host institution, wherever it be, is presenting, partly to show support but also because it’s sometimes the only time you get to hear them do their stuff.1 On this occasion, however, my affiliations were confused, because Laura Carlson, despite teaching at Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford, had also at this point just become Past and Present Fellow at the Institute, and it was in that capacity she’d been asked to speak on the 26th October 2011. I guess that insofar as I’m a regular at the seminar and a Carolingianist I’d have been going if she’d been coming from the moon. In fact, if someone from the moon was presenting I’d probably be there regardless of the topic. But, dear reader, I digress! Laura’s title was, “Creating a Christian Language: letter and spirit at the Carolingian court”.

First page of the book of Exodus in the Grandval or Alcuin Bible, British Library MS Additional 10546

First page of the book of Exodus in the Grandval or Alcuin Bible, British Library MS Additional 10546; click through for a fantastic illuminated page from it on the BL's site, but for reasons that will become clear I wanted some text

This was the first time I’d been to the Earlier Middle Ages seminar in exile, in parts of Senate House I’d never been to before, and it was also the first time I’d heard Laura present on the core of her research, so in both ways I got something of a shock. I’ve not had to think this hard to stay up with a paper since that Peter Sarris one of 2010. The experience of Laura’s style is not quite so much like being caught amidst a fifty-minute rockfall, but this was densely-packed stuff. What she was arguing was—assuming my notes were and are up to the job of preserving it, a very topical concern as you will see—that the collection of intellectuals whom Charlemagne kept around his court at the peak period of his reign collectively developed something like a new Christian philosophy of language. The highly international nature of the group partly forced such reflections upon them, but much more so did the reliance of their work, and Latin Christianity at large, on, well, Latin. This court group was, as readers of this blog will know by now, very concerned with the correctness of texts, which is understandable when you’re dealing with the supposed Word of God, and perhaps, if one follows certain arguments, when some of your scholars come from a background where the ruling powers of the day insist that they have a text that is more purely the Word of God, because God speaks in Arabic and the transmission of the Qu’ran is doctrinally understood to be perfect.2 Of course, the Christians were not and are not making any claims about God speaking in Latin, or even the writers of the actual Bible text, so problems of accuracy are inherent to the whole idea of Latin Christianity. But this kind of concern pushed these thinkers, and especially Alcuin as Laura set it forth for us, to worry about deeper issues: can written words in any language actually express the divine accurately? Even if they can, is the human reader actually up to understanding it correctly? And how does information pass from the eye to the inchoate mind anyway? When your understanding of human consciousness doesn’t involve electro-chemistry but does involve the idea of a separable, non-physical soul, this is an issue. The soul contains God and can presumably understand Him perfectly; but the body is not perfect, so if you need the body to partake of the Word, aren’t you in trouble from the get-go?3 And so on.

Now obviously this is partly grammar, because Latin grammar, even though pagan, became a tool that one needed in order to be able to understand both world and Word (since the two do not separate). But it’s also philosophy, because in order to explain how Scripture can save it was necessary to come up with a workable account of man’s ability to perceive God. For Alcuin, as Laura argued it, one important aspect of man’s unique rationality was his ability to perceive the abstract and communicate it; man can, that is, envisage things that are invisible. This is obviously relevant, and blurs the line between philosophy and theology a great deal, which allowed the people thinking about this to use Aristotelian categories, obtained largely via Augustine’s similar reflections, as a basis for breaking down man’s faculties for examination like this. The whole direction of thinking, thus, allowed these guys to reclaim and redirect pagan philosophy to a Christian project. With this work done, Hieronymian worries about being damned as a Ciceronian not a Christian could begin to recede: the explosive potential of Classical thinking for a Christian paradigm is defused and a text-based Christianity finally fully equipped to proceed into medieval Europe.

Hraban Maur presenting his Liber de Sancti Crucis to Archbishop Otgar of Mainz, encouraged by Alcuin: Vienna, Codex Vindobonensis 652

Alcuin, being patronising as usual (from Wikimedia Commons)

As I say, this is harder than I usually like to think, though I did a bit of history of ideas stuff in my undergraduate years and can still do the dance up to a point. One point that looms large from my perspective, though, is what did Charlemagne get from all this? This is a live concern because it’s all too easy to envisage it in terms of the university and very current concerns about research and teaching, not least because Alcuin did teach this stuff: it’s concerns about what language actually does and how the understanding of it works that make dialogic question-and-answer topics like “what a ship is”, answered with “a lodging-house in any place”, anything other than smug and glib.4 This leads to a faintly sour tone in some of the writing on this kind of topic, like a cat playing up to visitors after its family have a child: here’s a patron who understands that governments should fund intellectual endeavour (or a cat) for its own sake, current paymasters please take note, etc. We have to think about it not in terms of our own funding cycles, relevant though it can be made, and more in the terms of Charlemagne’s priorities, which were, really, quite different.5

So, was the main point of having these scholars at court to train up a new generation of civil servant nobles all alive with imperial loyalties, and this stuff was the research he let the scholars do to keep them happy? Or, at the other end, was Charlemagne, whom his biographer pictures eagerly chewing down chunks of Augustine's City of God alongside his more corporeal food at mealtimes, also keen on sorting out and understanding this stuff?6 It was obviously to these scholars’ general interest to show the king as being concerned with these things, as it might encourage other kings to give them a job (a concern raised on this occasion by Susan Reynolds) but on the other hand we have substantial efforts to provide a standard Bible text (see first image) and a corrected liturgy that obviously required this kind of scholarly effort and which, if not as uniformly rolled out as we once thought, still had an effect. And of course there was masses of legislation that partook of this moral agenda of correctio and also comes from this general intellectual ferment, to the extent that scholars now hang arguments about its content off which of these scholars they think wrote it, though this does take us into rather more troubling concerns of who, if anyone, were the readers.7 Given that I work so far away from this court, both in space and time, I am naturally more interested in the reception than the generation of these texts, which were around in my area to be read in some cases, but papers like this remind me firstly that there is still a lot we don’t understand about their generation which may still be possible to work out, secondly that the people doing it were genuinely really clever and that being trapped into thinking of them as religion-constrained Dark Age mystics just isn’t going to help understand the Carolingian Empire and its effects on subsequent European civilisation at all, and thirdly that I think that, whatever my particular intellectual skills may be, they’re not up to doing this kind of work so I’m glad that Laura is.


1. Of course, that support can, as in this instance, be assuring a matter of assuring the speaker beforehand that we would be tallying all their uses of the word ‘epistemological’ to be used in evidence against them. But, you know, supportively.

2. By which I mean, more or less, those arguments set out by Yitzhak Hen in his article, “Charlemagne’s Jihad” in Viator: medieval and Renaissance studies Vol. 37 (Turnhout 2006), pp. 33-51, which really long-term readers may remember I had some issues with.

3. It strikes me now I’ve written that up that there’s some really messy implications for the Eucharist down this road of thinking, and in fact, for the whole question of the Word made Flesh. I suppose this is why we could have hundreds of years of bitter dispute about Christology, isn’t it.

4. This is from Alcuin’s “Disputatio regalis et nobilissimi iuvenis Pippini cum Albino scholastico“, usually known as the Disputatio Pippini because there’s really only so much of Alcuin’s style anyone normal can stomach. It is edited by W. Suchier in L. W. Daly & Suchier (edd.), Altercatio Hadriani Augusti et Epicteti Philosophi, Illinois Studies in Language and Literature 24 (Urbana 1939), pp. 137-143, and translated in full by Gillian Spraggs here. For more information see Martha Bayless, “Alcuin’s Diputatio Pippini and the early medieval riddle tradition” in Guy Halsall (ed.), Humour, History and Politics in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 2002), pp. 157-178. I mean, it’s clever, encouraging, witty and affectionate, but I think it can still be smug and glib besides these other notable qualities, which is kind of how I feel about Alcuin in general, you’ll no doubt have noticed.

5. For a start, I imagine any cats around Charlemagne’s court had to justify their keep in terms of dead rodents, although they probably didn’t have to collect all their kills together and grade their bloody impact every five years.

6. Einhard, Vita Karoli, ed. Oswald Holder-Egger as Einhardi Vita Karoli Magni, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum Germanicum in usum scholarum separatim editi) XXV (Hannover 1911, repr. 1960), transl. David Ganz in idem (transl.), Two Lives of Charlemagne: Einhard and Notker the Stammerer (Harmondsworth 2008), III.24, relevant portion also in the Internet Medieval Sourcebook. More generally on the Carolingian cultural project, try Giles Brown, “Introduction: the Carolingian Renaissance” in Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), Carolingian Culture: Emulation and Innovation (Cambridge 1994), pp. 1-46, and, really, the whole of that volume if you’re interested.

7. Hen’s “Charlemagne’s Jihad” an example, in as much as its argument hinges on the background he imputes to Bishop Theodulf of Orléans; for readership concerns Christina Pössel, “Authors and Recipients of Carolingian Capitularies, 779-829″ in Richard Corradini, Rob Meens, Pössel & Peter Shaw (edd.), Texts and Identities in the Early Middle Ages, Forschungen zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 12, Denkschriften der phil.-hist. Klasse 344 (Wien 2008), pp. 253-274.

Seminars XCVI, XCVII & XCVIII: lectures and learning in Oxford

Returning the story of my academic life to these shores, there is a triennial lecture series here in Oxford established in the name of Elias Avery Lowe, the man behind Codices Latini Antiquiores, which if you’re a certain sort of scholar is a second Bible (and with nearly as many books) and if you’re any other sort of scholar you may never use.1 He was a palæographer, and the lectures are about palæography, and so it was a good sign of, I don’t know, something, that this year they were given by Professor David Ganz. I had hoped to make it to these because David is always erudite and interesting and has often been a great help to me, but I was thwarted in this by various factors of timing and I was only able to get to the second one, “Latin Manuscript Books Before 800, 2: scribes and patrons”, which was given on Monday 16th May. This is to say, as you may have spotted, that it was the day after Kalamazoo ended, and so I was there on the back of a few hours bad sleep on an airliner and a five-hour time-shift, but I was there.

Letter from Jerome to Pope Damasus IV on the correction of the Bible, in Codex Sangallensis 48

Letter from Jerome to Pope Damasus IV on the correction of the Bible, in Codex Sangallensis 48 (via Wikimedia Commons)

The sad result of this is that my notes, while quite entertaining where legible, I think don’t always have much to do with what David was saying, as my subconscious was clearly getting the upper hand of my listening ear at some points. Nonetheless, I feel fairly safe in telling you that David talked about:

  • copyists, starting with the kinds of errors and corrections that we know about because they were faithfully copied over (apparently St Jerome excused himself in one manuscript from fourteen different sorts of scribal error, which is proof if any were needed that pedantry does not bar one from Heaven);
  • about the diffuseness of this sample and the very small number of scribes we have who show up more than once, which shows the vast number of books there must once have been if there was even occasional employment for all these people that we only get one glimpse of (like die-links in numismatics, this, I like it so I hope David actually said it);
  • about the authority for changes, and the respect for manuscript integrity that leads to colophons telling us who copied a manuscript’s exemplar being carried over into the therefore anonymous copies that we have, which happens in four ninth-century manuscripts of things copied by Bœthius whose actual scribes we have no idea about;
  • and about how difficult it was, when only 8% of manuscripts (taking Lowe’s CLA as an inventory) of this period even name scribes, of working out who was employing them. Almost all of those 8% are churchmen, so ‘the Church’ would be a simplistic answer, but as long as one of them is a notary (and Vandalguis (sp?) who wrote our manuscript of the Laws of the Alemans claimed so to be) there must have been other structures.

I am guessing that David will call me out on any errors here, in fact I entreat him so to do as I’m sure there must be some and I don’t want to copy them over…

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, where Professor
Sarah Foot is a lay canon by right of her post

Then two days later a rather different occasion, involving more gowns and gilt and fewer images, when Sarah Foot, who is Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History in these parts, gave her long-delayed inaugural lecture, “Thinking with Christians: doing ecclesiastical history in a secular age”. In checking the date I find that the Theology Faculty evidently recorded this and already have it online as a podcast, so you could listen to it yourself, but what you will get if you do is quite a clever balancing act between the interests of various parts of her audience, the Anglo-Saxonists who know Sarah’s work,2 the theologians and canons who are her new colleagues, and the University’s old hands who will turn out for any event where lots of people will be wearing gowns in public and there will be free wine. Thus there is much about the history of the Chair to which Sarah has now succeeded and the denominational politics of the English Church that have sometimes dictated what the theologians of the University thought were the important things for a church historian to be working on (viz. the origins and basis of their denomination), and about the increasingly social basis of the discipline since the 1970s (in a kaleidoscopic barrage of citation that included Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Robert Moore, Clifford Geertz and Jacques le Goff to name but a few) and the threat she perceived in it that ecclesiastical history per se might become (as with so much else) just a particular flavour of cultural history. Sarah suggested that having had a ‘cultural turn’ now it might be good to have a ‘religious turn’, linking faith and thought as a theme of study. If that sounds like an interesting manifesto, you could go listen to how she argues it.

Psalm 23 in the St Hubert Bible, one of the manuscripts of Theodulf of Orléans's corrected text of the Bible (British Library MS Additional 24142)

Psalm 23 in the St Hubert Bible, one of the manuscripts of Theodulf of Orléans's corrected text of the Bible (British Library MS Additional 24142)

After that, to my shock, I seem not to have been to any kind of academic public speaking for a week and a half. Perhaps I was full up, or perhaps (more likely) teaching and deadlines collaborated to keep me from it. Either way, I resumed with Laura Carlson’s presentation of a paper called “An Encyclopedic Theology: Theodulf of Orléans and the Carolingian Wiki-Bible” to the Oxford Medieval Seminar on the 30th May. I don’t want to say too much about this, because I notice that Ms Carlson has what looks like a related paper coming up at the Institute of Historical Research and so to do so might constitute spoilers. Broadly, however, she was drawing out the difference between two different Bible-editing projects running simultaneously at the high point of the Carolingian Renaissance, Alcuin‘s single authoritative text as found in the Tours Bibles, and Theodulf’s comparative version, which drew as she sees it on a considerable range of texts, Italian and Anglo-Saxon themselves drawing on Greek, Vulgate, Cassiodorian and Irish traditions, and tried to incorporate the useful bits of all of them, as well as occasional Hebrew readings, slices of Patristic theological commentary, Visigothic Law and Spanish spellings (because, as we have discussed, Theodulf thought he was a Goth). Now, whether all this justified the title “Wiki-Bible” or not would be a vexed question (`citation needed’!) but it does go to show once more that the idea that the entire mission of the Carolingian intellectual court was standardisation needs questioning. Not least because, as Ms Carlson pointed out in questions, neither Alcuin or Theodulf ever cited their own versions of the Bible when doing other sorts of study!


1. E. A. Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores: a palaeographical guide to Latin ms. prior to the 9th century (1934-1971), 12 vols, with various subsequent addenda by others. Lowe’s lesser work is largely assembled in a very handsome two-volume collection, Palaeographical Papers, ed. Ludwig Bieler (Oxford 1972). I’m assuming that David Ganz’s publications need no introduction here but if you didn’t realise quite how voluminous they are then this list on the Regesta Imperii OPAC will give you an idea. More than can easily go in a footnote!

2. Very lately added to with her Æthelstan, the first King of England (New Haven 2011) but perhaps so far more famous for her work on female religious, such as Veiled Women: the Disappearance of Nuns from Anglo-Saxon England (Aldershot 2000), 2 vols, or on the development of the idea of England, classically in “The making of ‘Angelcynn‘: English identity before the Norman Conquest” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 6 (Cambridge 1996), pp. 25-50, repr. in Roy M. Liuzza (ed.), Old English literature: critical essays (New Haven 2002), pp. 51-78, as well as of course much more here also.

What would a late-Carolingian bishop read? The will of Riculf of Elna

One of the awkward things about working on Catalonia is that not many people immediately know where it is, and it’s hard to explain, not least because it wasn’t a unit in the period that I’m interested in but a bunch of loosely-associated counties, some of which later became parts of other things. Such union as there was was sort of expressed in who came to Church councils in Barcelona, and there there was a kind of core of always-included bishops and a scattering of more peripheral ones (including the ephemeral per-county ones that occasionally got created). But one of those core areas was definitely the bishopric of Elna, which is now in France (Elne) in its county of Roussillon (Cat. Rosselló) but was usually ruled from Empúries which is now in Spain. It must be included, but it isn’t where Catalunya now is. I’m too used to reading about the place as Elna not to spell it ‘en català’ (as I will below), but that’s not what they speak there now. And so on.

I don’t think that its being on the north side of the Pyrenees makes Roussillon distinctly more Frankish and less Gothic, since it was still in Gothic Septimania and so on, but there are some differences there that I can’t yet put my finger on, as I have always worked further out on the frontier and it may just in any case that documentary survival back here is poorer. Elna’s cartulary was lost in the early part of the twentieth century, though there is a sort-of-edition of it, and other major ecclesiastical centres of the area, most obviously the fantastic half-ruin of Sant Pere de Rodes, have suffered even worse.1 So rather than the fairly thick picture we get in certain areas of the frontier, about which I have written, what one gets from Roussillon tends to be snapshots.2 But they’re often exceptionally interesting snapshots, and this is one such.

Southern belltower of Santa Eulàlia d'Elna

Southern belltower of Santa Eulàlia d'Elna, from Wikimedia Commons

If we ever wrote the book I’ve suggested before now about Interesting Bishops of the Tenth Century, I don’t think Riculf I of Elna (885-915) would make it in. This might be not least because half of his episcopate belonged to the ninth century, but it’s also because we don’t know a great deal about him. For the most part his documentary trace shows him pursuing his cathedral’s rights in its property, getting defences of that property from the kings.3 (It is concessions of rights over Hispani to the bishops of Elna that principally show that the Frankish kings gave up on trying to protect such ‘king’s freemen’ after, say, 865.4) This is not really a fair picture of him, we might suspect; the lack of early narrative material from Catalonia largely dooms almost all its historical figures to this kind of picture as landowners only, because land records are the only ones we have. He does seem to have been strenuous in that line, but at the very end of his life there is a clear hint that he could have been seen in other lights too, and this is a bequest from his will to his cathedral.5

Ornament from the cloister of Elna cathedral

The treasures of the cathedral of Elna that I can easily find images of are all architectural and too late to relate to Riculf at all, but some of them so gorgeous as not to be missed, like this bit of ornament from the cathedral cloister

We don’t have all of this, even in its current state, but it was a big old bequest, and by no means all of it is land, although a lot is and it includes mills suggesting that he had no problem with monopolising control of his city’s food supply. Quite a lot of it, also, is what we can happily call treasure, including a lot of ecclesiastical vestments some of which, I noted with joy when I first read this text, actually had bells on, and a lot of precious metalwork (chalices and patens but also other stuff). But, most interestingly I think, and here my McKitterickian training is going to show big-time, it also includes a 28-volume library. This is not a small individual collection by any standards, and represented a substantial investment in parchment and, presumably given the rest of his stuff, ornament. Of course we can’t automatically assume he read everything he owned—this blogger is emphatically no stranger to the aspirational book purchase—but he did at least choose to own them, and some of them are really unusual and interesting choices. Mostly when books turn up in wills here they were liturgical works, either books of the Bible (most common of all) or service books or ordines, and very occasionally some Patristics. Riculf was a different kind of reader. His bequest (which may not have been everything he owned) contained very little liturgical stuff (and the cathedral presumably had its operational requirement of that already) but did number the following:

  • several collections of exegesis and Patristic material, in which the author most represented appears to be Gregory the Great
  • a copy of Augustine’s Contra Hæreses
  • two other texts by Augustine on Genesis
  • a “Rabanum“, presumably a collection of Hraban Maur‘s stuff, though if a single text I wonder about the De institutione clericorum or the Martyrology (probably more likely) given the other stuff below
  • a “Smaragdum“, and again one wonders what (and indeed which Smaragdus)
  • two books of canons, unspecified
  • two books of prayers (or orationes anyway)
  • a ‘best martyrology’ (better than Hraban’s? There are copies of Ado’s Martyrology at Vic and Girona that appear to have been imported with Carolingian rule in the area, it’s possible that Elna had one too, but if so it probably wouldn’t have been Riculf’s property)
  • several books of the Bible including a Song of Solomon
  • two lawbooks, one ‘Roman’ and one ‘Gothic’, the latter presumably being the Forum Iudicum but who knows about the other?
  • and then, most interestingly of all, a series of apparently loose-bound stuff, quaderni, that look like working manuals:

  • two quires on consecrating churches
  • two quires on visiting the sick
  • one on ecclesiastical ordinations
  • and one ‘Medicinal’

There are loads of interesting things about this I could point out, but let me just say one or two of them before making my take-away point, and you can say the rest yourselves if you like. Firstly, Riculf was at least a bit current with the scholarship of his day: Hraban was his teacher’s generation (whoever that teacher might have been! And wouldn’t I like to know?) and not that long dead, and Smaragdus (as long as it was the Carolingian-era one) at least within a long living memory. There are older scholars here but he was not afraid to get new work (though Hraban’s careful avoidance of obvious novelty might have been the safest choice of new work possible). Secondly, he seems to have had views about these texts that imply quality judgements: a ‘best’ martyrology, note. Best for what? Presumably selection of saints, if only we knew which saints he was interested in, but it’s not blind respect for the written word. And thirdly there are the working texts, that show two things. Firstly, that he was seemingly genuinely concerned about the pastoral work of his job, including not just visiting the sick like a good Christian but also, perhaps, trying to treat them (the Medicinal), and also getting more churches up and running and training priests to minister in them. This is what we don’t get from the land-grants: ‘Yes, I will determinedly reduce your independence if you have cleared woodland in space that I consider belongs to the cathedral until you have to admit you owe me renders, tithes and first-fruits, BUT, if you break your leg growing them, I will ALSO turn up and try and splint it for you in your jerry-built hut while your concerned wife stands by, and if there are a lot of people here I will eventually build you a church to go to for Mass, too’. Secondly, it is clear that when he needed to do something one of Riculf’s responses was to get written instructions on how, and in a form that he might carry with him on circuit, too.

Manuscript illumination of Gregory the Great giving a copy of one of his works to Bishop Leander of Seville

Manuscript illumination of Gregory the Great giving a copy of one of his works to Bishop Leander of Seville; I don't know the manuscript and it's the Moralia in Iob not the Cura Pastoralis, but hey, picture!

All of which takes me to the big point, which is: this man was a Carolingian Renaissance prelate. He not only had lots of books, and some by noted scholars of the Carolingian courts, but a lot of the books he had were instructions and authorities: canons, laws, even the martryology (or martyrologies) and of course the quires. When in doubt, he consulted texts, and he apparently had good sources of them even though one at least had been written only a generation or two before and in Germany. He was, therefore, connected in a range of ways to the wider intellectual world, and that connection partly drove a sense of responsibility in his office (want to bet one of the Gregory texts was the Cura pastoralis?) which he bolstered with yet more words. Now, other bishops of Riculf’s era and area had more conventional libraries, though even those have their practical aspects.6 He may have been the last of his kind for a while, and the generation of a century on were getting their books from all kinds of places including, we might note, Córdoba.7 All the same, texts like this, and the priests’ examinations that Carine van Rhijn has found in the Netherlands, and other such ephemera of a working, if patchy, organisation, make me want some kind of equivalent to the famous XKCD t-shirt about Science. It wouldn’t be quite as defiant, but some slogan like, “The Carolingian Renaissance! It worked! here and there” is definitely what I have in mind.


1. The cartulary edition, such as it is, is Raymond de Lacvivier (ed.), “Inventaire sommaire des documents copiés dans le « cartulaire de l’église d’Elne » par Fossa” in Ruscino: Revue d’histoire et d’archéologie du Roussillon et des autres pays catalans Vol. 3 (Perpignan 1913), repr. separatim (Prades 1914). Most of the documents are now in the Catalunya Carolíngia of course but not all, because that’s not finished yet, and otherwise such full texts as there are are scattered over about five or six older editions that I don’t have space or will to detail here; ask if you need more.

2. When I say ‘I have written’, I mean of course the book, which I don’t seem to have plugged for several posts now so it must be about time. The most detailed picture of frontier society I give in it is probably the section of Gurb, J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (London 2010), pp. 100-128.

3. The documents I know of in which he appears, not quite the same list as that of Joan Vilaseca’s linked above, are, in publication order: Pierre de Marca, Marca Hispanica sive Limes Hispanicus, hoc est geographica & historica descriptio cataloniæ, ruscinonis, & circumiacentium populorum, ed. Étienne Baluze (Paris 1688; Barcelona 1972; 1989), ap. LVIII; Claude Devic & J. Vaissete, Histoire Générale de Languedoc avec les Notes et les Pièces Justificatives. Édition accompagnée de dissertations et actes nouvelles, contenant le recueil des inscriptions de la province antiques et du moyen âge, des planches, des cartes géographiques et des âvues des monuments, rev. E. Mabille, E. Barry, E. Roschach & Auguste Molinier & ed. M. E. Dulaurier, Vol. V (Toulouse 1875; Osnabrück 1973), Preuves : chartes et diplômes 28, 32, 40 & 42 & Preuves : Catalogues et Inventaires Elna XXI, XXII, XXVI, XXIX, XXX, XXXIV, XXXV & XXXIX; 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), Elna III & IV & Particulars XXI; J. Morera Sabater, “Un conato de secesión eclesiástica en la marca hispánica en el siglo IX” in Anales del Instituto de Estudios Gerundenses Vol. 15 (Girona 1962), pp. 293-315, ap. I; Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Els documents, dels segles IX i X, conservats a 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. 2 (Montserrat 1979), pp. 78-143, doc. no. 35; and Eduard Junyent i Subira (ed.), El Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic, segles IX i X, ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), doc. no. 62. Almost all of these will by now be printed in Pierre Ponsich (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia VI: Els comtats de Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir i Fenollet, ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la secció històrico-arqueològica LXX (Barcelona 2006), but I just haven’t yet had time to inventory that’s contents, and now it’s Easter and the libraries are shut so you’ll have to make do.

4. See J. Jarrett, “Settling the Kings’ Lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 18 (Oxford 2010), pp. 320-342 esp. pp. 328-330, there citing esp. Aymat Catafau, “Les Hispani et l’aprision en Roussillon et Vallespir” in Frontières 2 (Perpignan 1992), pp. 7-20, which talks especially about Riculf’s area and actions.

5. Devic & Vaissete, Histoire générale de Languedoc V, Preuves : chartes et diplomômes no. 42. Again, it’s presumably in Ponsich, but currently I can’t get at that, for which reason you are also going to have to make do with my notes and not the actual text. I imagine that by the time someone wants to check with me about that I’ll be able to verify again.

6. I’ve written about this here before, as linked there, but if you wanted a real scholarly take, there is Antoni Pladevall i Font, “Entorn de l’estada de Gerbert a Catalunya (967-970): l’existència de biblioteques privades perdudes” in Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer (ed.), Actes del Congrès Internacional Gerbert d’Orlhac i el seu Temps: Catalunya i Europa a la Fi del 1r Mil·lenni, Vic-Ripoll, 10-13 de Novembre de 1999 (Vic 1999), pp. 651-661, with French résumé pp. 661-662, Provençal résumé p. 662 & English abstract p. 663.

7. As long as you’ve managed to get the book anyway, you could then see on this J. Cassinet, “Gerbert et l’introduction de la numération décimale arabo-indienne en Occident chrétien: le liber abaci” in Ollich, Actes del Congrès Internacional Gerbert d’Orlhac, pp. 725-726, or else Miquel del Sants Gros i Pujol, “Els textos d’ensenyament en l’escola catedràlia de Vic al segle XI” in Federico Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium Internacional sobre els Orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), II pp. 19-26.

Carnivalesque

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and anyone who prefers not to align themselves with such categories, welcome! Welcome one and all to the August 2010 edition of Carnivalesque, every thinkin’ antiquarian’s choice of historical blog carnival, today with its ancient and medieval showin’. Yer host finds hisself somewhat in the Victorian mode as he sets about the confection of this display of learnin’, so fetch yerself some seats and prepare for stories of Discovery! strange Curiosities! lively Controversies! and Instances of Scholarly Resource and Sagacity! the like of which ye’ve never seen before, or at least, so I shall claim. And pride of place—wait a minute there, madam, please—pride of place goes to the two of you who submitted posts for the carnival, you can sit at the front in this pair of carven thrones I brought back from Niger on me grand tour, dontcherknow. And indeed, before I start, let me congratulate one of ‘em doubly by sayin’, I’m never sure whether or not to include prehistoric matter in Carnivalesque, but on this occasion Judith Weingarten has saved me the bother by hostin’ the renowned Anthropology Carnival, Four Stone Hearth, over at Zenobia: Empress of the East, and by Jove, there’s a fair deal of medieval and ancient stuff there too, I declare, so if after the extravaganza below you find yerself unsated, get thee thither I tell you! So then!

Discovery!

George Scott in Burma

George Scott, explorer, administrator, photographer and introducer of football to Burma, who is completely unrelated to this blog but who will be the unofficial voice of this post all the same

Startin’, as a proper Victorian explorer should, in the bowels of a pyramid in the Nile Delta, what are these strange words inscribed at the end of an apparently dead-ended tunnel? Heather Pringle at the Last Word on Nothing quite literally has the inside information.

Back in old Albion, however, everything has been comin’ up Roman, be it literally thousands of silver coins in Frome as described here at Antiquarian’s Attic, or what may be the old home of the unfortunate fella who is best known to history as Emperor Pertinax (reigned 193 to, er, 193), described via Archaeology in Europe.1

Oddly, however, the medieval discovery of the month, in yer humble host’s still more humble imagination, comes not from Europe at all but from that lot over the water who gave us Benjamin Franklin and the Dukes of Hazzard, and who also, it would seem, preserve microfilms of otherwise-lost medieval Bibles, almost unbeknownst even to themselves. Whoever tells you there are no more medieval sources to be discovered, I tell you sir, that cad is a charlatan and a bounder, and furthermore wrong to boot. That somewhat controversial couple at Medievalists.net are still the only ones with the story, here.

Curiosities!

International exhibition watercolour by Joseph Nash

Watercolour of the International Exhibition, London 1862, by Joseph Nash

Now, let’s turn our minds to the divertin’ and unusual. Back to the Romans again. You may never have wondered how on earth those cunning fellows went about keeping the legions on the Rhine fed, but Gabriele Campbell has, and characteristically has pictures of the boats used to do it, over at the Lost Fort. Then, if you prefer your history to be about the ladies as much or more than the gentlemen, you may wish to give an eye to to a rather surprisin’ instance of a Sassanian royal lady trying to be both: Queen Bōrān, King of Kings, whose story is told by Judith Weingarten once again at Zenobia: Empress of the East! Next, no medieval carnival is complete without those dastardly yet colourful Vikings. After all, they were responsible for the end of Pictland dontcherknow, or at least so Tim Clarkson argues at Senchus. But what on earth were they up to with these strange stones in their graves? Melissa Snell, About.com Guide to Medieval History, has some answers.

Now, it is said that politics makes strange bedfellows, but sometimes it’s dangerous even to leave the bed: the lately-rebloggified Richard Scott Nokes at the Unlocked Wordhoard has some surprises from the great unwritten book of Muslim political strategies that may make us all look askance at our family members, as long as our family happens to be a powerful one in twelfth-century Syria anyway. Which is, of course, not to say that politics was exactly safe at the same sort of time in the West, as the Headsman at Executed Today illustrates with a post on the dangers of speaking your mind during the Hundred Years War. Then, more peaceful but far less effective, a poignant tale of failed diplomacy when the nearly-last Byzantine Emperor visited the England of Henry IV is told by Tom Sawford at Byzantine Blog. Finally in this section, possibly early modern really but far too curious for a Victorian explorer not to pick up and take home on dubious terms, had you ever wondered what Henry VIII’s religion was like before England went Protestant? A recent acquisition by the British Library makes his younger piety look look positively medieval, and is described by that controversial couple again, this time at Early Modern England.

Controversies!

Uncle Wattleberry bounding and plunging, from the Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay

Antipodean scholarly disagreement circa 1918

Now, it is the nature of scholarship for men and women of strong opinions to demur from one another. Sometimes this is the product of earnest and well-founded differences of view, and sometimes, we fear, it is a battle of those who know somethin’ about a subject versus those who care to know nothin’ about it but wish to speak out anyway. Without specifyin’ which is which, may I humbly draw your attention to the worthy writings of the followin':

Halfpenny token of the Society for the Suppression of the Slave Trade, late eighteenth century; Fitzwilliam Museum CM.TR.1442-R, part of the Trinity College Collection

Halfpenny token of the Society for the Suppression of the Slave Trade, late eighteenth century; Fitzwilliam Museum CM.TR.1442-R, part of the Trinity College Collection

On some matters of controversy, however, it doesn’t behove an Englishman to comment, still less one posing temporarily as a Victorian imperialist: we refer of course to the decision, bitterly protested in certain quarters, by the Medieval Academy of America not to move their annual meeting from Arizona despite its recent anti-immigration bills. On this a great deal has been written and I would refer you especially to posts in the following places:

Enough to make a chap glad to be living in the past, were the past only any less troubled of course, which I think we can safely say, given much of the above, it wasn’t. However, the task of discerning its nature becomes ever easier, or do I mean more complex, thanks to endeavours like those we shall now unfold!

Instances of Resource and Sagacity!

The Mariner in How the Whale Got His Throat, by Rudyard Kipling, as the protagonists meet

A fellow of famously-infinite resource and sagacity, about to meet a spot of bother

We note, for example, the availability of a new database of Ancient Greek epigraphic epigrams, greeted sardonically by Roger Pearse at his eponymous weblog (with a tip of the solar topee to Muhlberger’s World History).

Likewise sardonic is the take of relative newcomer but prolific bloggist Dr Beachcombing on recent research into the causes of death at Pompeii. Obvious, a chap might think, what with that volcano next door, but it is surprising how few medicos have stood around volcanic eruptions checking on how people die and so the Pompeii finds are actually advancing pathology. Is this mere quackery? Read Dr B and discern!

Similarly ingenious efforts with the dead have allowed some scientist wallahs in Bristol to determine the identity of a body in a royal Englishwoman’s grave in Magdeburg Cathedral, and Michelle of Heavenfield reckons up the score.

All this scholarship does us little good if no-one is readin’, of course, and so we can all be grateful for the blog of the so-called Medieval History Geek, who often seems to do nothin’ but! Here he begins to digest the most recent issue of Early Medieval Europe and ponders the question of how many great ladies of Carolingian Europe might have been able to read and write.

Almost lastly, it always does us good to reflect on how we go about our scholarship, and I might therefore point the finger of note at m’colleague Magistra et Mater, who has been wondering whether the current vogue for crowd-sourcing is ever likely to help the strugglin’ medievalist, and at Bavardess, who has been thrown bodily into a field of which she knew little, the oral history of her countrymen, and found some peculiar parallels of methodology; both of these are reflective but worthwhile readin’.

And finally, though our work is largely private, the real success is to get the government behind your work of course. The question is, who puts the government behind you? One answer is the United Nations, and very recently they have announced this year’s additions to the list of World Heritage sites, as well as some deletions, sad to tell; Dis Manibus has the full run-down at Votum Solvit, including not a little ancient and medieval both, and a whole range of places to consider for the next grand tour, though this time I must take those dem’ marbles out of my baggage before I pass through Customs, what?3 So, I hope you’ve had a diverting read, and you can find out where the next edition, modern style, will be at the usual address. And with that it only remains to say, pip pip!


1. I realise that though Archaeology in Europe is immensely useful, it is only repeating others’ content, but this blog has an old affection for Emperor Pertinax and I couldn’t let it go unsatisfied.

2. And, as you may have seen, the proposed mosque is not the silliest or most redundant thing anyone’s been proposing to build in the area… (h/t to Edge of the American West).

3. Didn’t bring any chalk, either, so I couldn’t get a game in any case.

Seminary LXVI: chopping up Augustine with David Ganz

I have been buried in conference writing and too busy to write much else lately, for which I apologise. Let me now, at least, get the last of the queued-up reports on other people’s papers done before I descend into the maelstrom of Leeds and the write-ups that will require… This paper was David Ganz‘s appearance at the last Earlier Middle Ages seminar at the Institute of Historical Research for the academic year, on the 26th May (yes, that was a while ago, you’re right, sorry) and his title was: “Chopping up Augustine: reading and fragmenting in the early Middle Ages”.

St Augustine refuting a heretic, New York, Morgan Pierpont Library, MS 92b (a C13th Book of Hours), fo. 112r

St Augustine refuting a heretic, New York, Morgan Pierpont Library, MS 92b (a C13th Book of Hours), fo. 112r

What David was asking about was the practice of reading by excerpting, compilation of authors’ most pithy remarks into effectively new works, without regard to the context that we (rightly) think of as crucial to understanding the source. Many a medieval user of these texts was, however, less concerned with understanding Augustine (or whomever) and more concerned with understanding the greater Truth they were all studying, and therefore most interested in the points where the writer they were using seemed to have got closest to it or was most helpful in breaking it open. The result is a vast number of manuscripts of such ‘best of’ compilations: the Liber scintillarum of Defensor of Ligugé, for example, is known in some 350 manuscripts (not a typo), which is surely more than almost any single original Patristic or medieval work. “Here you have what you want to find”, says Defensor in the preface (albeit this is only preserved in manuscripts of the eleventh-century and later, so may not be his), and it seems to have been an accurate assessment. This is, then, a widespread practice, but is relatively unstudied largely because we don’t work like that nowadays. David had a long array of early modern and Renaissance sages (none of whom, I confess, I had ever heard of before) who defended this style of ‘broken learning’ because it provoked enquiry more easily, but it’s still not how we usually play the game of scholarship now.1

Defensor of Ligugé, Liber Scintillarum (Book of Sparks), London, British Library, Royal MS 7 C.iv, fo. 62v

Defensor of Ligugé, Liber Scintillarum (Book of Sparks) in a C11th1 copy, London, British Library, Royal MS 7 C.iv, fo. 62v

Augustine was naturally a popular target for this approach, though not the most popular: Defensor used half again as much by Gregory the Great and twice as much as that from Isidore of Seville, whose style of work rather lends itself to excerpting I guess. Defensor was rigorous about naming his sources, and the oldest manuscripts (C8th2) have flashy rubrication indicating where the excerpted author changes (see below), but later excerpters, many of whom used Defensor, were less bothered about this. The truth was the thing, not exactly which authority it came from. Peregrinus, writing c. 780, does name his sources and they include not just Augustine, Gregory, Isidore and other Fathers but also Virgil and even Pelagius! Defensor tells us that he was selecting deliberately for the simple (which would, I’d have thought, exclude more Augustine than it admits…) so that the reader could take away the nugget of truth and meditate on it. That’s the purpose of works like these, another thing that we don’t do so much any more perhaps: to provide a kernel for prolonged and sustained reflection. That may of course be because this type of reading would exist most happily in a monastic context, and that’s not where scholarship largely takes place now. Even when we get to take time off and think, and how rare that is, we’re not thinking about just one paragraph. In this respect, I think personally, vive la différence, but the fact that this is how many of our authors are trained is probably something to bear in mind.

Hraban Maur presenting his Liber de Sancti Crucis to Archbishop Otgar of Mainz, encouraged by Alcuin: Vienna, Codex Vindobonensis 652

Hraban Maur presenting his Liber de Sancti Crucis to Archbishop Otgar of Mainz, encouraged by Alcuin: Vienna, Codex Vindobonensis 652

One last point was possibly the most interesting to me: the manuscript survival of this material is quite early, and all the texts that refer to the practice of excerpting and contemplation like this are also early. David therefore wondered if it might not have been principally a Merovingian practice, and whether that in turn might explain the relative rarity of the copying of entire books that early. It is usually assumed that the Carolingian Renaissance mainly represented an increase in quantity of intellectual endeavour, because there was more patronage being put behind it; David however showed here at least one reason to suspect a change in the quality of that endeavour too, which is something that could mean a lot more when it’s fully worked out. However, there are a lot of grey areas around this, and for a lot of them, as David said in questions, the only ethical response is, “We don’t have the evidence, and sometimes we have the integrity to say so.”


1. There may be a teaching point here: how would it work to take four or five scholars on a debated subject, take a paragraph from each and/or from the sources under debate, hand them to students as a worksheet and say, “how can these people all be talking about the same thing? Discuss”? This is even sort of the model I begin my forthcoming paper on aprisio with, though it was nothing like as conscious as that. It might be worth trying, rather than immediately giving them the full articles or books to read.

Leeds report 3 (Wednesday 15th July)

By Wednesday I’d managed to get my alarm going again (“have you tried switching it off and switching it on again?”) and thus set out in relatively good order for the following excellent session, albeit conforming to type by opting for Texts and Identities:

1006. Texts and Identities, VIII: Carolingian priests in action

  • Carine van Rhijn, “Local Priests, Local Manuscripts: Correctio in action”
  • Marco Stoffella, “Carolingian Reform and Local Priests in Early Medieval Tuscany”
  • Bernhard Zeller, “Local Priests in Early Medieval Alemannia: the Charter Evidence”
  • Attentive readers will see here a theme that has interested me both in and of itself and because of the cool things Wendy Davies keeps finding in the kingdoms next door, that of what priests actually did for their communities in the early Middle Ages and how they got the wherewithal, both material and intellectual, to do it. Carine had found some texts that appeared to be lists of exam questions for `priest inspectors’, preserved perhaps as revision aids, ranging from the simply administrative to the tangly Trinitarian; her area is very much the Carolingian heartland, so if you were going to see this anywhere it might be there, but it was still fascinating. Marco was looking at the process of Carolingian takeover in Lombardy, where a network of baptismal churches of mostly private origins was gathered up by rich bishops in the name of hierarchy. Bernhard, who is one of ‘my people’, meanwhile, was looking at the education and employment of the clerics visible in the St Gall evidence, and had some interesting observations about script regions that opened up questions of education outside schools, presumably by forebears.

An original St Gallen transaction charter of 786

An original St Gallen transaction charter of 786

I think I will come to look back on this session as the start of a big thing. Wendy Davies and I were talking avidly with Carine and Bernhard for some time afterwards because we felt that, together, we probably had enough evidence (in terms of documents in local priests’ hands over time) to say some genuinely useful things about where these people got their training, what the structures of priestly education were and how they changed. This is a question, in other words, that we may genuinely be able to answer, and I hope some collaboration comes of it. This is one important thing the big conferences can do for one.

Now, next, I probably should have gone to the session in which our occasional commentator Theo was speaking, and looking back at it now I’m not quite sure why that didn’t leap out at me as a necessity given that and the other contents. Sorry Theo! Instead I dithered and finally decided that what I needed more than anything was a rest, so went back to the flat and flopped with a novel for half an hour before going and prowling the book stalls. I bought far too much that I will take years to get round to reading—this is almost pathological and makes me feel guilty every time I see the books so I should stop it—but I also found time that I hadn’t thought I would have to meet up with my publisher and settle a few outstanding questions, and furthermore felt vastly less stressed for not trying to run across campus and keep up with someone else’s thought for a few hours. I possibly should have found the time to do this earlier and not missed Theo’s session but I’m not sure what I would have dropped to do this. Anyway, after lunch, things resumed with a small spot of hero-worship.

1210. The Boundaries of Free Speech, II: silencing the voice, restraining the pen

  • Paul Edward Dutton, “Voice over Writing in Eriugena”
  • Professor Dutton is a hero of mine in a small way, partly for his Carolingian Civilization reader which manages to make a vast range of sources not just accessible but interesting, and partly for the enthusiasm and amusement with which he writes; this was very much in evidence as he in turn dealt with one of his heroes, and perhaps the only Carolingian intellectual I’d like to drink with, John the Scot or Eriugena, asking why, given that he seems to have believed that truth was diminished by writing it down rather than speaking it, he wrote so much. The conclusion was, more or less paradoxically, to stop them relying on a written truth: as Stuart Airlie observed, “Tell Derrida et al. it’s all been done!” I find Eriugena pleasantly modern in this respect, and it’s largely due to Professor Dutton that I ever bothered. Have a go yourself!

    Modern cartoon of William of Malmesburys story about John the Scot and Charles the Bald

    Modern cartoon of William of Malmesbury's story about John the Scot and Charles the Bald

  • Irene van Renswoude, “‘Writings speak after one’s death when the writer is silent': on the danger of publication”
  • An almost inaudible study of psychological and logical reasons why Rather of Verona didn’t dare write more than he did, and that for a very small an audience without whom, however, he couldn’t do.

  • Michael Clanchy, “The Right to Speak Out by Publishing: Abelard and his Master, Anselm of Laon”
  • Michael has, as he said, been talking about Abelard for many years now, and I’m always happy to hear him do it more; he’s a very friendly speaker, both with the audience and with the material, and makes for a very human humanism. Here the main question was why did Abelard publish so much, with such frequently awful consequences, compared to a master who was widely renowned but published one book, if that, which he denied? The quest for fame rather than students was the provisional answer, which sounds obvious if you know Abelard’s writings but Michael can always give one more depth of understanding of these texts and didn’t fail. The discussion that followed was also really lively and interesting, though I confess I remember it mainly for Stuart Airlie suggesting that we read the sources of the Carolingian Renaissance with a closer eye for what they’re not saying: “Big party, Aachen, tonight; don’t tell Theodulf!”

For the last sessions of the day I went back to Texts and Identities for the one paper by a friend I managed to catch the whole conference that I hadn’t squeezed out of them myself.

1306. Texts and Identities, XI: religious alterity and textual control

  • Clemens Gantner, “Quae enim societas luci ad tenebras: the papal charge of heresy against others in the 8th and 9th centuries”
  • A close reading of papal writings about their Arian and Iconoclast opponents shows how very rarely direct assertions of heresy were made from Rome but how frequently the power of insinuation and implication left that impression on the reader.

  • Rob Meens, “Thunder over Lyons: Agobard, the tempestarii, and Christianity”
  • There is a lovely cache of material about rural belief in the letters of Bishop Agobard of Lyons. They include, perhaps most infamously, a report of some locals who believed that weather magicians whom they called tempestarii could be employed to bring storms onto the crops of others or keep them off one’s own, an operation that they were held to perform by means of communication with people in flying ships who lifted away the destroyed crops unless paid not to attack them. That is, the tempestarii were not themselves the stormbringers, but had friends who were, and who apparently operated out of aircraft. This, as you may imagine, has been beloved of UFO conspiracy nuts for a very long time. Now Rob brought a critical eye to it and asked whether these tempestarii were, as they have often been seen, pagan cultists or whether they were Christians who claimed to have some special extra knowledge; Agobard envisages them making confession, which necessitates some rethinking of categories. I had to ask whether Agobard could afford to exclude anyone or whether he had to open his category of Christian out to include them. It seems more likely, though, that Agobard just wasn’t thinking in terms of Christian vs. pagan at all and therefore probably neither should we.1

  • Charles West, “Possessing Power: unauthorised miracles at Dijon, c. 842″
  • Crypt of St-Bénigne de Dijon

    Crypt of St-Bénigne de Dijon

    Lastly came Charles, ever bright and interesting with his material, which was in this case a very odd miracle episode in which a saint’s crypt full of people, who may have all been women, were confined inside by invisible forces that buffeted them to the ground if they tried to leave; we know of this from a letter from the local bishop to another asking for advice on how to get them out, so it’s pretty far removed from hagiography. Nonetheless, Charles showed that the account draws quite heavily on Agobard, again, and he took a very careful inventory of the power interests involved and what we could read between the lines of the text. Fascinating, and our speculations were almost certainly more fun than whatever the real situation may turn out to have been alas, but this makes for a good paper.

So that was a good wind-up for the day, and then various factors combined to leave me eating at Weetwood with Another Damned Medievalist and the In The Middle crowd in a rough repeat of the meet-up of the day before. Mary Kate Hurley was amusingly dismayed to hear I might dodge the dance, and when I did in fact turn up insisted I actually dance, which I felt a lot better for doing, though fundamentally the muscles didn’t remember how it go till `Blue Monday’ came over the rattly PA. I had fun anyway, and the music was a lot better than last year.

However, again, the abiding memory is going to be a remark by Stuart Airlie, who was resplendent in a t-shirt reading “I Conquered the Avars and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt” among other things, and who was also giving it some on the dancefloor, but who paused briefly to be introduced to me because of this here blog, which he told me, in between flattering people and attacks of Terpsichorean enthusiasm, was an exercise in control, and suggested I was trying to control too many things with it. Now, I accept that a conversation in that forum is not to be taken entirely seriously but I’ve been trying to puzzle out what he meant ever since. The blog was of course created to try and control something, which was and is my online academic footprint, and indeed my academic footprint full stop until actual publication finally burst from the infinitely tapered pipeline, but I don’t know that it’s been very successful; the audience is big but dropping, I don’t get any extra interviews because of it and though many people seem to like it I don’t think it really sells me the way I’d intended, because I talk too much about other people, or indeed just too much. It’s made me some useful contacts but these are things that make my academic profile broader, not deeper. So I don’t know. Either way, power hunger is not, to me, a great part of my make-up or presentation and I’m slightly worried that someone whose gaze is as penetrating as Dr Airlie’s sees it under the surface of my writing. So I went to bed with many a muse on this, and as you can tell am still musing…


1. I expect you’d like some bibliography on this, or at least that somebody eventually would, and to them I say, aided by Prof Meens’s excellent handout, start with the text, which is online here in Latin and partially translated (of course) in Paul Dutton (ed.), Carolingian Civilization: a reader, 1st edn. (Peterborough ON 1993), pp. 189-191; then for scholarship one must apparently start with Monica Blöcker, “Wetterzauber: Zu einem Glaubenskomplex des frühen Mittelalters” in Francia Vol. 9 (Sigmaringen 1981), pp. 117-131; go on to Paul Dutton, “Thunder and hail over the Carolingian countryside” in idem, Charlemagne’s Mustache and Other Cultural Clusters of a Dark Age (New York 2004), pp. 169-188, and finish with the latest word by Jean Jolivet, “Agobard de Lyon et les faiseurs de pluie” in M. Chazan & G. Dahan (edd.), La méthode critique au Moyen Âge, Bibliothèque d’histoire du Moyen Âge 3 (Turnhout 2006), pp. 15-25. Presumably Rob is also working on publication about this and supporting websearches also revealed as forthcoming Mark Gregory Pegg, “Agobard of Lyon, tempestarii, and magic in early medieval Europe” in W. Wunderlich (ed.), Medieval Myths: Magicians, Seducers and Rogues (Kontanz forthcoming). Wow, and people tell me my website picture makes me look like a vampire…

Seminary XXVII: educating Atto

Steffen Patzold is someone I mainly know from running into him with Theo Riches at Leeds, but his papers are, as Jinty Nelson said when introducing him at the Institute of Historical Research Earlier Middle Ages Seminar on 14 May, always worth hearing, and knowing this I had made sure that I was there.

He was speaking to the title, “Educating the clergy: rural priests and their knowledge in Carolingian Francia”, and his basic case was that, although it was certainly patchy and variable, actually we can see genuine results of the programmes of the Emperors Charlemagne and Louis the Pious to improve standards of education among the clergy of their time, the basic aim of the so-called Carolingian Renaissance. His arguments were based on various manuscripts that seem to contain teaching texts for priests that had been laid out by capitulary legislation; that is, if he’s right, these texts might constitute a further fragment of otherwise terribly rare evidence that the Carolingians’ prolific legislation was ever actually enacted. This has previously been missed because of people studying these texts only from codicological or transmission angles, he suggested, but it obviously has quite far-reaching significance for assessments of what the emperors could achieve and what they actually did.1

Medieval lecturer addressing students

That said, as ever it was the detail that got me. He began the paper with a single example, which despite its difficult manuscript background looks pretty illustrative. But it also illustrates the realities of life in the period and is not without its unfortunate humour, so I thought it was worth giving here too. It’s a letter that appears to be addressed to Louis the Pious, and it’s from a guy called Atto.

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Louis the great emperor. To your authority, my lord, I would not dare speak so, but I seek your sanctity out of my great necessity. I Atto am so unworthy a priest and by my birth your slave. Now I seek your sanctity, that you may deign to turn your consolation to my sinful self, because I have no other refuge, unless it be you, where the whole people has refuge.

The cleric Frotwin has one church in the county of Erchanger. Then Frotwin placed me to sing in that church; and over all things I might have half of the dues of that tithe. In such a way I served thus at that church a year and a half, for which I received nothing there of which we had this agreement. Afterwards I asked that man for my part of that tithe. And he blazed up exceedingly with fury in his heart against me; and he came by night upon me with his kinsmen Alberic and Gebhard and Wolfram; thus they beat me, until they had all but released the life in my body. I, most wretched wretch, sought the mercy of God and Saint Remedius, and reclaimed [my rights] through your name. And those men said, neither saints nor any man should release me from their hands. Afterwards they dragged me to the altar of Saint Remedius and they made me swear constancy at that church. And they made me swear another oath, that I might not for all my days appeal to your piety or to your missus, so that they might do me justice. Then I sought my justice of them, but found the least possible. Now I fear for my ordination, I fear what those men do not. On account of this, I beseech your sanctity, so that my justice may achieve value. For I can find neither justice nor mercy at their hands, except through your mercy; and for the redemption of the soul of your father, whose slave I was before.2

Poor Atto! Browbeaten into preaching in someone else’s living for free and then actually beaten when he demands his pay! But he’s done well, you notice, not just a freed slave but a priest, and one apparently quite able to survive for a year and a half despite that lack of income, though he may of course have been on his uppers the whole time. And he writes, he doesn’t go to court as a fugitive. So, though the first time his house needed a bit of extra fortification it seems, he’s sitting tight. But he wants his money, so he pulls on old connections and hopes the appeal to Dad will convince Louis that he remembers him. Who knows if it worked? But it’s a good little story, and that’s what this blog would like to be about, sometimes.


1. Best immediate introduction to the idea of the Carolingian Renaissance is probably John J. Contreni, “The Carolingian Renaissance: education and literary culture” in Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History II: c. 700-c. 900 (Cambridge 1995), pp. 709-757. For the problems with capitularies and their effects, see now Christina Pössel, “Authors and Recipients of Carolingian Capitularies, 779-829″ in Richard Corradini, Rob Meens, Christina Pössel & Peter Shaw (edd.), Texts and Identities in the Early Middle Ages, Forschungen zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 12, Denkschriften der phil.-hist. Klasse 344 (Wien 2008), pp. 253-274.

2. The Latin text is edited as “Epistola Variorum 25” in Ernst Dümmler (ed.), Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Epistolarum tomus V, Ævi Karolini III (Berlin 1899), pp. 339-340. The translation is my own, and as you can tell the rather broken syntax and odd phrasings have given me some trouble. Atto was clearly an educated man who knew how a letter like this should go; but this didn’t make him a natural at Latin! All the same, he could sing Mass and compose letters to an emperor, I can translate him fairly easily, he would have managed.