Tag Archives: cheese

More cheese than adultery

A page from the thirteenth-century Tumbo of the monastery of Sobrado de los Monges, Galicia

A page from the thirteenth-century Tumbo of the monastery of Sobrado de los Monges, Galicia, preservation context of today’s featured charter and sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Happy New Year! I’m afraid my seminar reports are still queued awaiting certain vital feedback before the next one can go up, so instead here’s something I’ve had ready to write for ages. The subject header is, perhaps sadly for our societies, not a phrase one hears often, but happily for you my readers, it is completely appropriate to the subject of this post. That subject is a charter that I read while pulling together a comparative section for my chapter in the volume Allan Scott McKinley and I are editing from the Leeds conference sessions we used to run, now in press.1 The chapter has a substantial section setting pre-Catalan documentary phraseology against that used in its contemporary Asturias-León. This, of course, takes me into the territory inhabited by the expertise of Wendy Davies and Graham Barrett, and in fact I’d heard Graham talk about this charter at Kalamazoo some time ago and then again more locally and recently, as it forms one of a group of documents that tell us that certain counts of the Leonese court took it upon themselves to start bringing public suits against adulterers, adulterers who then often had to pay off the quite unpayable fines by giving lands to the counts. Kalamazoo papers are short, and one has to be selective about what one includes, and that is the only reason I can imagine why Graham would not have told this story himself then—and he may have done in his thesis, even now nearing completion—but, there is more than he told and that more is substantially CHEESE. What do I mean? Well, read this translation.2 It’s a bit rough, because the original is not the smoothest, and I’ve only modernised a few of the names where I’m sure what modern forms would be, but you’ll get the idea.

In the name of the Lord. I, Letasia, am infamous to many, indeed it is most well-known to many people that I mixed myself up in adultery with a slave of Hermenegildo, Ataulfo by name, who was holding a tenement of his, and we ate four cows of the animals there and sixty cheeses in secret and they led me before the judge, namely Bishop Froarengo. And the selfsame judge decided that I should pay for those same cows and cheeses twofold, and I was to make over eight acceptable cows and a hundred and twenty cheeses, the which judgement left me well-pleased. On this account it has pleased me, Letasia, for all of this crime which I have professed before the selfsame judge, and thus I pay to you Hermenegildo the whole inheritance I have in the villa where my father Cristobal or my grandparents Abolino, Deodatis and Violicus lived, in the territory of Tamara, that is, land, fruit-trees and all kinds of fruits, meadows, pastures, water-meadows, waters with all buildings or whatever is for the use of men. Thus, so that from this day and time today it be erased from my right and handed over and conceded to your right and you may have power fully in God’s name. If, however, any man, what I do not believe shall be brought about, should come against this my act to disrupt it, let him pay you two pounds of gold, and you have it in perpetuity. This little charter of payment or agreement made the 8th Kalends of September, Era 896. Letasia, in this testamentary or judicial scripture, have made the sign of my hand. Sisibert, witness. Savarigo, witness. Assiulfo, witness. Daco, witness. Ebregulfo, witness. Mirello, witness. Ostouredo, witness. Quirico, witness. Ermorico, witness.

I mean, I grant you there are all kinds of interesting implications of language and social practice here. It’s more or less built out of formulary phrases without much attempt to get them joined up into sense, but obviously they have been chosen for the job even so. Letasia’s husband is not mentioned; one might expect him to be, really, if there were one, which suggests that there wasn’t, but the crime is still adultery. Nonetheless, she was not actually required to compensate for the adultery, which was presumably not considered worth punishing; it would have been hard to argue, perhaps, that it had cost Hermenegildo anything except a few hours of his slave’s labour (ahem) but for the, well, inconspicuous consumption of four head of cattle and sixty cheeses. I mean, how long was this going on? It’s not a one-off, is it, and even a four-off involves enough cheese per person that they would have been pretty easy to catch. Letasia may indeed have been pleased by the judgement, as she could according to the Visigothic Law that still ran here have been put to death or enslaved herself, although not to Hermenegildo but to her own heirs.3 Nonetheless, though she had got away lightly, she had eaten more than she cared to pay back four times over, which gives us some idea how much of a hit Hermenegildo had been able to take without, apparently, noticing. In other words, we’re looking here at lifestyles of the rich and infamous in ninth-century Galicia, and those lifestyles on this occasion included a certain amount of sexual impropriety and some seriously big amounts of cheese. We have proof!


1. To my current understanding this can be cited as J. Jarrett, “Comparing the Earliest Documentary Culture in Carolingian Catalonia” in Jarrett & A. S. McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout forthcoming).

2. I’m quoting this from Antonio Cumbreño Floriano (ed.), Diplomática española del periodo Astur. Estudio de las fuentes documentales del Reino de Asturias (718-910), 2 vols (Oviedo 1949), doc. no. 68, but it has been more recently edited in Pilar Loscertales de Valdeavellano (ed.), Tumbos de Monasterio de Sobrado de los Monjes, 2 vols (Madrid 1976), doc. no. 75. The text as Floriano gave it is: “In Dei nomine. Ego Letasia manifesta quidem sum multis, set et multis manet notissimum, eo quod commiscui me in adulterio cum servo Hermenegildi, nomine Ataulfo, qui eius bustum tenebat, et comedimus de ipsis animalis IIIIor vaccas Lxa caseos furtim et adduxerunt me ante iudicem nomine Froarengum episcopum. Et ipse iudex iudicavit ut parierem ipsas vaccas et ipsos caseos in duplum, et facerem octo vaccas placibiles, et centum viginti caseos, quod Iudicum bene mihi complacuit. Ob inde placuit mihi Letasia, ut pro omni ipso furto, quod ante ipsum iudicem manifestavi, pariarem tibi Hermenegildo omnem meam hereditatem integram quam habeo in villa ubi pater meus Christovalus habitavit sive tionis mei Abolinus, Deodatis et Violicus habitaverunt, in territorio tamarense, id est, terras, pumares et omnia genera pomorum, pratis, pascuis, paludibus, aquas cum omnibus edificiis vel quicquid ad prestitum hominis est. Ita ut de hodie die et tempore de meo iure abrasa et tuo iuri sit tradita atque concessa et plenam in Dei nomine habeas potestatem. Si quis tamen homo, quod fieri non credo contra hunc meum factum ad irrumpendum venerit pariat tibi auri libras duas, et tibi perpetim habituram. Facta cartula pariationis vel placiti viiio Kalendas Septembris, era DCCCa LXXXX VIa. Letasia in hac scriptura testamenti vel placiti manu mea signum feci (signum). Sisibertus testis (signum). Savarigus testis (signum). Assiulfus testis (signum). Daco testis (Signum). Ebregulfus testis (signum). Mirellus testis (signum). Ostouredus testis (signum). Quiricus testis (signum). Ermoricus testis (signum).”

3. That said, Letasia’s case, as an apparently-freeborn woman with no husband messing with somebody else’s slave but clearly at her will and with no intent to marry him, is hard to find an exact ruling for in the Law. The closest fit, whence I get the enslavement idea, seems to be Karl Zeumer (ed.), Leges Visigothorum, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Leges Nationum Germanicum) I (Hannover 1902, repr. 2005), online here, transl. S. P. Scott as The Visigothic Code, 2nd edn. (Boston 1922), online here, Book III Title IV cap. xiv.