Tag Archives: courts

Paying the pipe-maker

Here’s a probably-unfinished thought arising from something I read very quickly a while ago, always a good basis for a blog post surely. The thing was a book chapter by C. A. Bayly on the symbolism of cloth in British India and why it could and did never become a simple commodity due to its numerous layers of cultural meaning.1 That bit’s all interesting but the bit that set me thinking was an explanation of the political economy of the Mughal court. All I really know about the Mughal court is its money, for old professional reasons, and so its ideology is strange to me, and may also seem so to you if you are as I am an Occidental capitalist running-dog:

The major institution that mediated between commoditzation and singularization was the office of the king, whether this be construed as the dominant caste brotherhood within the village or the emperor of all India. The duty of the king was to consume the wares of his subjects and to make his court the great engine of redistribution. In this way, the needs of the particularistic local community producing a good could be balanced with the needs of the polity as a whole. The propagation of diversity in patterns of consumption – of cloths, fruits, spices, grains – was the physical manifestation of the King’s classic role as arbiter between the castes. And it was changes in royal consumption, or the consumption of those aspiring to local political dominance, that provided the Indian economy with the dynamism Bouglé thought it lacked.2

The implications of this are quite interesting if you pull them out from a westerly direction. The idea that nobody owes anyone else a living is explicitly contraverted here: in a properly-ordered polity by this scheme, everybody should have a living and so it’s the responsibility of the ruler to provide the demands that people are equipped to supply, by reason of their skills or the natural resources of their communities and so on. There must be a farther edge at which it ceases to apply, a commodity one could produce that even despite the Mughal court’s love of novelties (which Bayly explains as assisting to demonstrate the infinite variety of the emperor’s dominions,3 an argument to which my own of earlier about Charles the Bald and Judas makes me sympathetic) the emperors would find too silly or trivial to establish a demand for, and as them so much more so the local élites (them again). But in its basic form this balanced set-up has a certain logic to it that is neither socialist nor capitalist (though the idea that the state should find employment for people when no-one else can is obviously not unrelated).

A diplomatic guest being received at the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar

A diplomatic guest being received at the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, amid some pretty snazzy fabrics. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Naturally enough, perhaps, I then thought of early medieval courts, which we are also now taught to see as centres of consumption and patronage for craftsmen and merchants.4 This is usually fairly pragmatic: by aggregating to itself the monopoly on the distribution of luxuries and prestige goods, the ruling class make themselves indispensable to those who wish to acquire the kind of status that those goods bring. (That is of course not the only kind of status at these courts, as Bede’s stories about bishops giving away precious-metal gifts to the poor or Columbanus’s harangues of profligate and polygamous Frankish monarchs amply demonstrate.) One gets this status because one can spend it, it’s Bourdieu’s idea of symbolic capital. And even with Bayly’s picture on India that’s not missing: the king gets great status from being able to make gifts, especially in cloth since in that inheres the royal persona, with which the recipient can join for a while.5 But what’s also sticking with me is the idea that the patron is obligated to support the producer. It puts me in mind of the Anglo-Saxon laws that gather the legal protection of merchants to the king, usually assumed to be because no-one else will do it since, as travellers, they lack a nearby source of support from kindred and clientage groups.6 And of course the king needs the merchants, for all the reasons above, and he also needs the craftsmen, and it’s advantageous to him to have some reason to get them to court where he can control what they make for whom.

Wayland the Smith as depicted on the Franks Casket

One craftsman who did not get his due from the royal court, Wayland the Smith as depicted on the Franks Casket

So that system has its own logic and it doesn’t need this social ethic to make it run. But I am, all the same, wondering if it has room for that ethic anyway. Once the king acknowledges that these people are his responsibility in some way, it’s obviously to be expected that they would appeal to him. But had that been the case for longer? If one learnt to make really intricate brooches or whatever, was one not already making one’s support the business of the kind of élites who could get the stuff with which you could work? Is not, then, to learn such a skill to expect élite support? Is a ruler of this period obliged to maintain crafstmen and other sorts of specialist (ritual, military…) not just because he needs them and can use them but because, once they have specialised, he is the only support they have?

Swadeshi khadi cloth

Swadeshi khadi cloth, now available online! (What does that do to its ethics?)

There’s several reasons why this comparison fails in places, I think. Firstly the goldsmiths and whatever don’t easily fit next to Indian weavers, because ultimately (one of the points of Bayly’s article, which is centrally about the swadeshi campaign to revert to home-made cloths in the face of British imports) any household with access to the raw material, which you can grow or raise, could make cloth, albeit not necessarily fine cloth (silk weaving might therefore still work) but not everyone could get enough gold to make a sword pommel. Secondly, Mughal India was socially more articulated and was running at least two competing religions and there were lots more ringfenced zones in its market economy where specialism could flourish than in early medieval Britain, for example, where élite households and big churches were most of it. The idea of being a professional weaver in Anglo-Saxon England is already pretty odd, let alone there being extensive caste prescriptions about their status. There are also places I don’t want to take it, one being that many an early medieval ruler also had similar obligations of protection to Jews, who do not contribute to his prestige and importance in so direct an economic way,7 and the other being the modern parallel invoked by the title, that of the higher education ‘industry’ in which because we can produce something, whose significance is not solely or even basically economic, and wish to continue doing so, we strongly assert (but struggle to demonstrate) the necessity of the goods we can provide to society.8 As with many an anthropological comparison thinking with other people’s assumptions invites us to check our own. But as I say, those would be thoughts for another post and I find the medieval relevance, even if I had to struggle to get it, interesting enough.


1. C. A. Bayly, “The origins of swadeshi (home industry): cloth and Indian society, 1700-1930″ in Arjun A. Appadurai (ed.), The Social Life of Things: commodities in cultural perspective (Cambridge 1986), pp. 285-321.

2. Ibid. p. 298; see also p. 302.

3. Ibid. p. 305.

4. Richard Hodges, “King Arthur’s Britain and the End of the Western Roman Empire” in idem, Goodbye to the Vikings? Re-Reading Early Medieval Archaeology (London 2006), pp. 28-38, provides a punchy system statement; more broadly see Catherine Cubitt (ed.), Court Culture in the Early Middle Ages: the Proceedings of the first Alcuin Conference, Studies in the Early Middle Ages 3 (Turnhout 2003).

5. Bayly, “Origins”, pp. 297-300.

6. This is actually harder to instance than I expected: none of the cites used by Henry Loyn, Anglo-Saxon England and the Norman Conquest, 2nd edn. (London 1991), pp. 101-103, actually deal with royal protection of traders, rather than what happens to traders who don’t follow procedure, except III Edgar, available in Agnes Jane Robertson (transl.), The Laws of the Kings of England From Edmund to Henry I (Cambridge 1925), and some would tell us that Edgar’s world was a different one (though see the next post!) All the same, I hope this is a defensible thing to say…

7. I’ve not really found anything good on the position of Jews in early medieval society; the literature about Jews tends to get going once society starts persecuting them and they start to appear in their own sources. Before the eleventh century this is hard to find, and the opposite easier. We’ve already seen that Jews were not so mistrusted that they couldn’t be used as envoys to a king, and I can also point you to a charter in which two Jewish landowners (yes) come to Louis the Pious to complain that they can’t get justice at the local mallus; it is Claude Devic & Jean 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 vues des monuments, aug. É. Mabille, E. Barry, E. Roschach, A. Molinier, ed. M. E. Dulaurier (Toulouse 1875, repr. Osnabrück 1973), 12 vols, II, Preuves : chartes et documents, no. 97.

8. Necessity is of course the wrong metric; we should be arguing for desirability, which is why the powers-that-be have stuck us with the former in the form of ‘impact'; we can’t prove it so they don’t have to pay us for it… More on this in due course.

Seminar CXLVI: heroes and gods at Old English courts

My declaration of intent has proved sadly hollow, and what was feared has come to pass: I am more than a year behind with my seminar reports. I live in hope of catching up, but the time to do so is proving hard to find. Nonetheless I plug on, and today I do so with the fact that on the 17th October 2012, the David Wilson Lecture was given to the British Museum and University College London Institute of Archaeology Joint Seminar and the Institute of Historical Research’s Earlier Middle Ages Seminar by Professor Barbara Yorke of Winchester, with the title, “Weland, Woden and Anglo-Saxon Court Culture, c. 600-900″, and it was really interesting.

The earliest manuscript of the Old English Boethius, British Library MS Cotton Otho A vi

The earliest manuscript of the Old English Boethius, British Library MS Cotton Otho A vi: not the easiest read… Image licensed under Creative Commons.

What Professor Yorke was trying to do with this piece was find ways to describe the culture of Anglo-Saxon royal courts once princely burial fades out in the early seventh century, depriving us of our best index of what people in power thought was impressive and culturally significant. With no Sutton Hoo treasures to guide her, she therefore resorted to literature on heroes and their deeds, in which relatively few texts, and not least of them the Old English translation of Bœthius’s Consolation of Philosophy, which is quite a step away from its original, have to do quite a lot of work. That forces one to rely on figures who come up a lot, and there the obvious ones are Woden, probably the head of the Anglo-Saxon pagan pantheon, and Weland, a smith-hero of fable most famously depicted on the Franks Casket as you see here.

Front panel of the Franks Casket, in the British Museum, showing Weland the Smith on the right and the Adoration of the Magi on the left;

Front panel of the Franks Casket, in the British Museum, showing Weland the Smith on the right and the Adoration of the Magi on the left; image from Wikimedia Commons

To categorise Woden as god and Weland as man is probably too simple, however: by the time Bede wrote about Woden, which he was seemingly happy to do, he was no more than a distant ancestor shared by many of the Anglo-Saxon royal families, with a father as well as sons, eheumerised into humanity, whereas Weland, though likewise mortal when he shows up, was a worker in precious metal (at least for the Bœthius writer) whose forge is eternal and who escapes captivity by ascending into the sky in a flying suit he’s made.1 In that last it’s hard to pick what references might be being made: Dædalus, another famous craftsman, is an obvious one but Ascension by a character both human and divine would also have had other resonances in the late ninth or early tenth centuries… The depictions on the Franks Casket throw Weland and other stories we don’t recognise into a sea of references from the Bible, Roman history and Roman myth as if all these things had a message to communicate to the same audience. And the Bœthius author doesn’t stop there, Heracles also turns up with very similar qualities (demi-god, worker in metal, cunning). There’s a particular importance to the word `craft’ here, which has the sense of `crafty’ as much as `craftsman’ in the Old English, if not rather more so. These were all characters who could see cunning and unconventional solutions to problems, be they diverting a river through a mucky stable or penetrating enemy strongholds in disguise, to pick two possible examples. This, along with bravery and fearsomeness, seem very likely to be characteristics people thought important for kings, rulers and nobles to possess throughout this period, but it is definitely nice to be able to show some basis for believing this in evidence of the time.2

Scutchamer Knob, Oxfordshire

Scutchamer Knob, Oxfordshire, also known as Cuckhamsley Hill and behind that, sometime long before, as Cwichelmes Hlaew, `Cwichelm’s Barrow`. Sure, it looks nice enough in daylight… Image from Wikimedia Commons

The other line of argument, a lesser one, that was pursued which might interest readers of this blog was an attempt to link the Old English Bœthius back to the court of King Alfred, in full knowledge of Malcolm Godden’s arguments against this.3 This was only tentative, and really more aimed at getting us to think of Alfred as this sort of king than to categorically refute Godden. After all, consider the Alfred of Asser: an artificer (clocks, ships), a lateral thinker and an organiser (clocks, again, but also fortresses, army rotas), a warrior and, if not ascending to Heaven by his own direct agency at least aiming that way due to suffering and great responsibility piously met.4 This formed part of a larger final point about the continuing sacral flavour of kingship, with such figures’ burials still being `known’ in the Wessex landscape in Alfred’s time (Scutchamer Knob above being a mangled version of an Old English phrase meaning Cwichelm’s Barrow and Wayland’s Smithy, indeed, so-called in the tenth century too, very close to where Alfred fought the battle of Ashdown).5 In part this was a kind of continuity, no doubt, but it was also a symptom of the great inventiveness of the minds generating our sources in borrowing, adapting and modifying motives from almost anywhere to make the men they praised seem as contemporary as they did ancient. It makes me think of chronology-mashing speculative fiction writers like Michael Moorcock, generating figures like Jerry Cornelius who are (often unwitting) members of many different mythologies simultaneously, or indeed the fun that an unjustly-forgotten author called John James had writing the life story of the man he invented to fit behind the Odin (and perhaps also Woden) myths.6 The writers Alfred and his successors could find may not have been as many as he would have wished, but they should probably not be reckoned any less, well, crafty than ours…


1. The Bede reference is in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book I chapter 15, which you can find in your edition of choice or here. For Weland I have much less idea what to cite: this Encyclopedia Britannica article‘s a start…

2. For an argument that fearsomeness may have been very important to early medieval kingship, see Régine Le Jan, “Timor, amicitia, odium: les liens politiques à l’époque mérovingienne” in Walter Pohl & Veronika Wieser (edd.), Der frühmittelalterliche Staat – europäische Perspektiven, Forschungen zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 16 (Wien 2009), pp. 217-226. This, for me, fits quite nicely with Weland’s vengefulness and violence; part of the king’s charisma is that he might just kill you out of hand and no-one could gainsay him. Professor Yorke was arguing that the reading of the Franks Casket that sees it as providing good and bad examples of conduct in the manner of Bede’s History was mistaken, and that they were actually all favourable models including the ultra-violent and genocidal ones, by means of this kind of reasoning.

3. Malcolm Godden, “Did King Alfred Write Anything?” in Medium Ævum Vol. 76 (Oxford 2007), pp. 1-23; cf. Janet Bately, “Did King Alfred Actually Translate Anything: the Integrity of the Alfredian Canon Revisited” in Medium Ævum 78 (2009), pp. 189–215.

4. Asser, De rebus gestis Alfredi regis, most easily accessible in Simon Keynes & Michael Lapidge (transl.), Alfred the Great: Asser’s ‘Life of King Alfred’ and other contemporary sources (London 1983). It is probably off-colour to wonder how many days’ agony in the privy (Asser, c. 74) might have been reckoned to equal three days’ hanging in a tree, or indeed one hanging on a cross, but you have to admit this kind of lecture makes the comparison seem less originally horrible. Not that we know what was actually wrong with Alfred, of course: see Paul Kershaw, “Illness, power and prayer in Asser’s Life of King Alfred” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 10 (Oxford 2001), pp. 201-224.

5. For really illuminating discussion of this kind of thing, including these two cases, see Margaret Gelling, Signposts to the Past: place-names and the history of England (London 1978, repr. 1979), pp. 154-161.

6. With Moorcock it’s just hard to know where to start, he’s written so much and so much of it really quite similarly generic from when he was cranking out a novel every month or so in the sixties. I think his most enjoyably reference-messy one that I’ve read is The Condition of Muzak (London 1977) but you do have to have read about twenty of his other books before the play with the recurrent characters and storylines seems impressive rather than perverse and obscure, I suspect. As for James, the book in question is Votan (London 1966), which is bloody marvellous (both marvellous and bloody) and was succeeded by the hardly-less splendid Not For All the Gold in Ireland (London 1968) which takes the same character stamping unawarely through the world of Celtic myth too.

Correction: the men of Gombrèn less confused than I thought

Long-term readers may be able to think back to the end of 2009, when I was jubilating over having got decent facsimiles of a few of the charters of Sant Joan de les Abadesses about which I’d had questions. I wrote about one of them then, a hearing in which Abbess Fredeburga of Sant Joan got several people (and apparently fewer than had been anticipated by the scribe) to swear to her nunnery’s long possession of the castle of Mogrony and its term.1 You may even recall that I was previously dubious about this document because the people who swore were given any kind of context in the signatures at the end of the document, and that on seeing the facsimile I was able to conclude that that was because the whole occasion had apparently been confusing and the scribe had made a mess of the document, leaving out various important details that he’d had to fudge back in later. With me so far? Because having now properly incorporated the actual text of the document into my files, I see that I’ve missed a crucial detail, which actually rather alters my idea of what was going on.

Arxiu de l'Abadia de Sant Joan de les Abadesses, volum de pergamins dels segles X-XI, fol. ???

Arxiu de l’Abadia de Sant Joan de les Abadesses, volum de pergamins dels segles X-XI, significant bit the long and crowded signature near bottom right

The crucial thing is the position of the men of Gombrèn, or as the settlement appears in the document, “Gomesindo morto”, dead Gomesèn, presumably a settlement founded by someone of that name some time before.2 Something I hadn’t previously taken fully on board is that this place was within the castle term of Mogrony, although I’d assumed something of the sort as otherwise why would you get those people to swear? But it was, anyway. What I hadn’t previously paid proper attention to is the exact wording of the clause that identifies these men in the signatures. One of them signs for all, a fellow called Admir, and his signature clause is as follows, exactly as in the original save the decoding of the graphical Signum and the filling-out of the abbreviations:

[Signum] Admiro·quimandatarius·fuid[e]ipsoshominesdegomesindo·etsacram[en]to
| superiusconprehenso recepi·p[ro]pterea me exvacuo in istoiuditio deipsu[m]alaude[m] | quiinfraconstitutosterminesestq[uod]superiusresonant

Which, translated as closely as I can get, comes out as:

[Signed] Admir, who was the representative of the men of Gomesèn and received the oath included above, on account of which I quit my claim in this court to the selfsame alod which lies within the assigned boundaries that resound above.

And this is kind of crucial. I’d somehow only ever got as far as the first clause, that he was the representative of the men of Gombrèn, never to the following section. What this means, of course, is that this is not the supporting witness; this is the opposition. The men of Gombrèn had presumably attempted to claim some kind of autonomy from Sant Joan de Ripoll (as it then was), and the abbess had therefore followed her predecessor Emma’s very good example and come to court with witnesses prepared to swear that Emma’s father, none other than Count Guifré the Hairy as you may already know well, had assigned the castle term of Mogrony to the nunnery. That in turn would seem to imply that the Gombrèn men had attempted to claim, not that they were not in the term or that they alone didn’t owe whatever it was to the nunnery, but that the whole term was not the nunnery’s property. (I don’t know who the castellan of Mogrony was at this point, no-one does, but I bet he wasn’t unhappy with this idea; all the same, it evidently wasn’t he who fronted the resistance.3)

Sant Pere de Montgrony

Sant Pere de Montgrony, centre of the point of contention in its slightly more modern form of both building and spelling, from Wikimedia Commons

Now, the sad thing about all this is that Admir and his cronies were probably right. As I said in the earlier post, everything that connects Mogrony (or Montgrony, as it now is) to Sant Joan in its earliest documents either doesn’t exist any more but is reported secondhand in antiquarian works, or else does exist and is patently interpolated.4 The nuns had obviously had, at some point, to fake their claim to this castle. And it’s interesting that Abbess Fredeburga didn’t bring documents to this court, but witnesses to long tenure, 50 years indeed which would have qualified as unchallengeable under the Visigothic Law that ran here still. A scholar who’s recently looked at that usage, Jeffrey Bowman, sees this as the kind of defence that unlettered peasants use against wily churchmen, and although I think that it’s often more knowingly legal than that, nonetheless, it’s certainly not the defence one would expect a nunnery with a good archive to use.5 Where are their charters? I suspect the answer is, not faked yet. However, she found her witnesses, though it may not be surprising that there were apparently fewer than they’d hoped, and the court found for her, and that’s the end of the story for Gombrèn. As I have oft-times remarked here, it’s tough to be up against The Man in late-Carolingian Catalonia, and this is true even when The Man’s a woman (and the Carolingians are about to run out; this all occurred in 987).

We are here; Gombrèn shows up just south of Mogrony if you zoom in one step

None of this in any way forgives the scribe, the usually super-competent Wonder Judge Ervigi Marc, for his numerous blunders. Why is the most important part of the document, the quit-claim that actually prevents the case being raised again, relegated to the very bottom right-hand corner in tiny script? It shouldn’t even technically be on this document: Roger Collins would tell us that for a trial under Visigothic Law there ought to be three documents preserved, the description of the case, the oath of the witnesses, and the quit-claim of the losing party.6 There’s very little incentive to preserve all three of these if you’re the winner, so we usually only have one or two, but here parts two and three were combined, and in a hurry too. Nul points, Ervigi Marc. And all my previous points about the bodges of vital information also still stand, except the linkage of this signature to the confusion over who was swearing, because the people swearing were not the men of Gombrèn; I got that wrong. So I thought I should own up to as much, and now I have.


1. The document is now best edited in Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueollògica LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 1526.

2. For a suggestion of the founder’s identity, see Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power, Royal Historical Society Studies in History (Woodbridge 2010), p. 61, which unfortunately contains a typo but nothing that makes anything unclear.

3. Manuel Anglada i Bayès, Antoni Pladevall i Font, Maria Lluisa Cases, Joan-Albert Adell i Gisbert, Rafael Bastardas i Parera, E. Bargallo i Claves & Jordi Vigué i Viñas, ‘Sant Pere de Mogrony’ in Pladevall (ed.), Catalunya Romànica X: el Ripollès (Barcelona 1987), pp. 110-117. I have long-held views on Mogrony’s early control but they turn out to probably be wrong as well, look for more on that in the near future.

4. Jonathan Jarrett, “Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 (Oxford 2003), pp. 229-258 at pp. 235-241.

5. Jeffrey A. Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: property, proof, and dispute in Catalonia around the year 1000, Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past (Ithaca 2004), pp. 47-51.

6. Roger Collins, “Visigothic Law and Regional Diversity in Disputes in Early Medieval Spain” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (edd.), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1986), pp. 85-104, repr. in Collins, Law, Culture and Regionalism in Early Medieval Spain, Variorum Collected Studies 356 (Aldershot 1992), XVI.

Seminars CXXXV & CXXXVI: characterising some medieval disputants

The need to catch up on the seminar reports is still fairly urgent, so I must do my now-usual filtering of what is in the pile. Out, with reluctance because it was good but with reassurance because as so often Magistra has already covered it, goes the second Clerical Cosmos conference in Oxford, but do go have a look at Magistra’s reports if the subtitle, “Ecclesiastical power, culture and society, c. 900 to c. 1075″, sounds like it should hit your interests. That at last takes me into the Easter term of 2013, and that term was greeted in Oxford by a paper by Mark Whittow to the Medieval History Seminar on the 23rd April entitled, “Territorial Lordship and Regional Power in the Age of Gregorian Reform: Matilda of Canossa and the Matildine lands”.

Countess Matilda of Canossa, enthroned with attendants, manuscript portrait from the Vita Mathildis by Donizone

Countess Matilda of Canossa, enthroned with attendants, manuscript portrait from the Vita Mathildis by Donizone (who may be the cleric at her right)

This paper did the audience the good service of recapitulating Matilda’s career, something it’s quite hard to get in one place from literature outside Italy despite its importance in the politics of Germany and Italy (and especially both) in the time of the eleventh-century dispute of Holy Roman Empire and Papacy, and assessing her landed holdings.1 Out of this came several observations, one being that little enough of her focus was actually in her marquisate of Tuscany, where competition for power was perhaps not one-sided enough, and another being that while she is often represented as a champion of public office because she held one, her armies were formed of vassals based in castles even if the emperor had approved the grant of the castles. In other words, she was pretty much as feudo-vassalitic in operation as the Dukes of Aquitaine, even if she was more closely involved with a persistent and intermittently-powerful royalty than they were. Nonetheless, there was a difference in the discourse of power Matilda used, with artwork and manuscripts presenting her as imperially-descended and legitimate and traditional in a way the Meridional princes wouldn’t have used unless they went for Roman roots, as Christian Lauranson-Rosaz would argue they did in the Auvergne.2 That, at least, would have worked to undermine the claims of a royalty that drew its ancestry back to fairly recent, and certainly post-Roman, times, but Matilda was competing for the same grounds of legitimacy as her German royal opponents (and sometimes allies). So this was all very interesting and fitted Matilda into a different framework than the one where English-language historians usually meet her, but the thing that sticks with me is something that I had to raise in questions, that the pictures we have of her do, yes, twice show her on a throne, but they also consistently show her dwarfed by it, compared to her noble antecessors shown on the same throne in the same manuscript. The author of that manuscript knew the lady personally; it was hard not to conclude that the artist did too, and what he or she knew was that their patron was pretty small.3 This obviously didn’t make her any the less considerable, if so!

15th-century manuscript depiction of the Court of Common Pleas, London

15th-century manuscript depiction of the Court of Common Pleas, London

Then the very next day the Medieval Church and Culture Seminar was lucky enough, as we were told at fulsome length, to be host to Professor Paul Hyams, who spoke with the title, “Disputes and How to Avoid Them: charters and custom in England during the long 12th century”.4 This appealed to me, predictably perhaps, as it was a paper about what the charters aren’t telling us, the trouble that a dispute settlement charter averts or that preceded its issue but which its scribe thought it impolitic to recount, at least from more than one side. It dealt with the invisible threshold of wealth beyond which written records were even available, specifically, and whether we can see serfdom in medieval England as early as it may start. I wouldn’t like to say that it concluded that we could, but the plea to consider what else was going on around the documents we have – the meetings, to and fro voyages of negotiation, the feast and the talk at dinner when a transaction was concluded, all of which probably explain a lot more about how a given transaction unfolded than does its surviving record – is a plea always worth hearing, especially when loaded with this many interesting examples.


1. The core text here is a Vita Mathildis by one Donizone of Canossa, whence we get the charming picture, the text most recently edited and translated (into Italian; I’m fairly sure there’s no English translation) by Paolo Golinelli as Vita di Matilde di Canossa (Milano 2008); the secondary work that Mark cited included Golinelli (ed.), I poteri dei Canossa da Reggio Emilia all’Europa. Atti del convegno internazionale di studi (Reggio Emilia – Carpineti, 29-31 ottobre 1992) (Bologna 1994), especially Guiseppe Sergi’s “I poteri di Canossa: poteri delegati, poteri feudali, poteri signorili”, pp. 29-39, and Sergi, I confini del potere: Marche e signorie fra due regni medievali (Torino 1995); on the dispute between empire and papacy in which Matilda became so involved, I like Ute-Renate Blumenthal’s The Investiture Controversy: Church and monarchy from the ninth to the twelfth century (Philadelphia 1988).

2. For example, C. Lauranson-Rosaz, “La romanité du midi de l’an mil (le point sur les sociétés méridionales)” in Robert Delort (ed.), La France de l’An Mil, Points-Histoires H130 (Paris 1990), pp. 49-74, rev. as “La romanité du midi de l’an mil : le point sur les sociétés méridionales” in Xavier Barral i Altet, Dominique Iogna-Prat, Anscari Mundó, Josep María Salrach & Michel Zimmermann (edd.), Catalunya i França Meridional a l’Entorn de l’Any Mil: la Catalogne et la France méridionale autour de l’an mil. Colloque International D. N. R. S.[sic]/Generalitat de Catalunya « Hugues Capet 987-1987. La France de l’An Mil », Barcelona 2 — 5 juliol 1987, Actes de Congresos 2 (Barcelona 1991), pp. 45-58.

3. The manuscript is Vatican City, Biblioteca vaticana, MS 4922, and is edited in facsimile as Donizone di Canossa, La vita di Matilde di Canossa: Codice Vaticano latino 4922, ed. Golinelli, Codices e Vaticanis selecti 62 (Milano 1984). A few more bits of it are online here.

4. This was work deriving from a project to follow up P. Hyams, Rancor and reconciliation in medieval England (Ithaca 2003), and I guess we can expect it to start some disputes as well as settle some…

Improbable arguments in ninth-century Girona

While I was working up the Leeds paper I had to spend some quality time with the documents of Carolingian-era Girona for the first time. I’ve avoided Girona for two reasons: firstly, and most importantly, when I began my Ph. D. it was only just fully in print and those volumes weren’t in libraries I could easily access, whereas since 2003 everything from the area between 817 and 1000 has been collected handily in two volumes of the Catalunya Carolíngia.1 From the fact that these two volumes encompass four counties’ material, as opposed to the two counties in three thicker volumes I usually work from for Osona and Manresa,2 you’ll maybe already have guessed reason two, that there really isn’t very much compared to the frontier areas, which is then reason three, I wanted a frontier, and Girona has never been one except for a brief period in its existence, 785 to 801, when it was number one Carolingian base for further campaigns into Spain. The city has arguably never been that important again, which may explain its weird fascination with Charlemagne, a ruler who never went there and none of whose documents it preserves.3

Storefront of the Llibreria Carlemany, Girona

Storefront of the Llibreria Carlemany, Girona; click-through and examine their logo if you care to...

There is also the factor that what I do has become increasingly focussed on having original documents. This is partly because it’s much easier to tell whether they’ve been messed about with subsequently (or indeed not—sometimes they’re just weird, and you can’t tell in a copy which was true), but it’s also because copying tends to be selective and so you only get certain things. Now, at Urgell, at Vic, and at a few places outside Spain, St Gallen for example, the fact that there was a cartulary later compiled doesn’t mean that the relevant archive got rid of their originals; but this does seem to have happened a lot elsewhere, and sadly Girona is one such case. From the state of the transcriptions, it is easy to think that this might be because they were already becoming hard to read, not just in terms of script though garbling does show that this was a problem, but also in terms of words being missed out, I presume because of fading. Anyway, the preservation is selective: whereas elsewhere in Catalonia and in Spain I would usually expect a tenth-century archive to be say, forty per cent sales, thirty-five per cent donations, fifteen per cent other stuff (wills, hearings, royal precepts, papal Bulls, letters, oddities), at Girona we basically only have precepts, Bulls and hearings.4 But the hearings, as we’ve seen here before, are often kind of fun.

Graph of documentary preservation from the county of Girona 785-884, by Jonathan Jarrett

Graph of documentary preservation from the county of Girona 785-884, by me, from my Leeds handout, more intelligible at full size and so linked

These too can be selective, of course. Have a look at this for the confusion of recording only what’s necessary:

In the judgement of Viscounts Ermido and Radulf and also in the presence of Otger and Guntard, vassals of the venerable Count Unifred, and also the judges who were ordered to judge, Ansulf, Bello, Nifrid, Guinguís, Floridi, Trasmir and Adulf, judges, and the other men who were there in that same placitum with those same men.

There came Lleo and he accused Bishop Godmar, saying that that same aforesaid bishop unjustly stole from me houses and vines and lands and courtyards that are in the villa of Fonteta, in Girona territory, that my father Estable cleared from the waste like the other Hispani, wherefore I made my claim before the lord King Charles so that, if it were so, he might through his letter order for us that the aforesaid bishop should return the aforesaid aprisio to me, if he were to approve. And while the aforesaid bishop, rereading, heard this letter, he sent his spokesman who might respond reasonably in his words in this case. Then I Lleo summoned that same mandatory of the aforesaid bishop, Esperandéu by name, because Bishop Godmar, whose rights he represented, stole my houses and courtyards and vines and lands that are in the villa of Fonteta or in its term, which I was holding by the aprisio of my father or I myself cleared, so that same aforesaid chief-priest did, unjustly and against the law.

Then the above-said viscounts and judges interrogated that same above-said mandatory of the above-said chief-priest as to what he had to answer in this case. That man however said in his responses that he had his possession by legal edicts from that same Lleo, which that same Lleo had made before the above-said judges, that as for those lands for which the above-said chief-priest and his mandatory had previously appealed him, which are in the above-said villa, another man had cleared those houses from the wasteland and not him or his father, but whatever his father had or held in benefice in the selfsame villa or in its term, he had this from the late Count Gaucelm.

Sant Feliu de Girona

Sant Feliu de Girona, the ultimate beneficiary here, is one of the oldest church sites in the city, but the current building is fourteenth-century. Still rather good though.

And while Esperandéu was presenting that profession in the court, that I Lleo had made and confirmed with my hands without any force, and it was found to be legally written, then I Lleo claimed before the above-named persons that Esperandéu brought this profession to be re-read by force, and that he made the claim of that same Lleo by force. I Lleo responded to myself and I said that in truth I had never been able to have [the properties].

Then they ordered my profession thereof to be written of the things which I Lleo have professed, and thus I make my profession that in all things the selfsame profession that I gave which that same Esperandéu showed in your presence here to be re-read in my voice, it is true about those selfsame things written there in all aspects and legally recorded, and I have confirmed with my hand, and neither today nor in any court can I prove that I made it under duress, but it is true thus just as is here recorded and the bishop did not take them from me unjustly by his same above-written mandatory already said, but the most venerable Charles, most pious king, for the love of God bestowed them upon Saint Felix, martyr of Christ, by his most just precept, which I have remembered, and so I profess.

Profession made on the 11th day of the Kalends of February, in the 10th [recte twentieth?] year of the rule of King Charles.

Signed Lleo, who made this profession. Signed Estable. Signed Guistril·la. Signed Receat. Signed Ansefred.
Signed Lleo, who made this profession.

You see immediately the problem with the copying.5 Did Lleo also happen to be a scribe, and so sign off both as author and scribe? Or has the copyist just skipped a line and copied the same signature twice? Is there really a woman witnessing (not impossible—it’s never impossible—but unusual) or could the scribe just not read the name that he’s rendered as Guistril·la? Is the date right? If it’s not, then we can identify the count whose vassals are turning up; if it is we have an otherwise unknown Count of Girona to deal with, assuming of course that the name is copied right…6

A page from the Cartoral de Carlemany of the Arxiu Diocesà de Girona

A page from the actual manuscript, the Cartoral de Carlemany of the Arxiu Diocesà de Girona

Also, of course, there is the bigger problem with just what the heck was going on? Here is the chronology of what Lleo seems to have asserted:

  1. Estable, father of Lleo, cleared some lands at Fonteta.
  2. Lleo also cleared some of the lands, presumably after inheriting.
  3. Bishop Godmar unjustly moved in on those lands, presumably expropriating Lleo.
  4. Lleo therefore went north to seek out King Charles the Bald, from whom he apparently got a letter ordering the bishop to do whatever was right.
  5. The bishop temporised by sending his man Esperandéu somewhere—to the royal court? to this trial?—to plead against Lleo.
  6. Lleo therefore makes this plea in the court right now.

Whereupon Esperandéu apparently produced a document by Lleo himself disclaiming any rights to the property, admitting that his father had never cleared it – though he held some land in the area that was from Count Gaucelm (brother of Bernard of Septimania should that interest you) – and nor had he. Lleo next claimed (though the wording is extremely strange!) that this document was got from him under duress and then immediately (as the document has it) contradicted himself and admitted that his claim is fraudulent. So this is full of questions: what evidence did Lleo take to court? How did he ever think he could get away with this trial? Why did he give up? Was it the royal precept the document just happens to mention at the end? Was anyone actually taking Lleo seriously enough for that to be needed? And, the necessary alternative, may he actually have been stitched up? We have seen, repeatedly, that it is tough to be up against the Man in early medieval Catalonia. It may just be that Lleo had in fact made the first profession under some sort of duress, and then was duressed into making this one too. It doesn’t look that way, admittedly, but it wouldn’t, would it?

The thing is, we will never know because it wasn’t thought important. There would have been another document, in which the actual proceedings of the trial were recorded, the different sides’s statements, any proof that Lleo could bring (like a letter from the king for example).7 Because that document existed, Lleo’s eventual profession and quit-claim, which is what we have, didn’t need to record those details; we only get the ones it was important that Lleo himself said (such as that he had made the first document without any force and then claimed otherwise). On the other hand, when Girona’s copyists got busy in the thirteenth century, if the trial record still existed, they didn’t need it: this one names the property and makes it quite clear who lost the case and who got the land and where their claim came from (the royal precept mentioned right at the end, which the cathedral presumably brought in evidence, and which is still known, though it must have been younger than Lleo’s father’s time, again raising the possibility that there was more to Lleo’s claim than he was allowed to admit).8 So the old one would have been one long document at least that they could not bother with, if they could even read it. It was probably binned with a sigh of relief, or put aside to be turned into book-bindings. And that’s the way a lot of our source material has probably gone. Sobering, isn’t it?

(Somewhat vainly crossposted at Cliopatria.)


1. Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Sebastià Riera i Viader & Manuel Rovira i Solà (edd.), Catalunya Carolíngia V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Empúries i Peralada, ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica LXI (Barcelona 2003), 2 vols.

2. So, roughly 1200 documents in the above for four counties (I don’t have it easily available to check, but of that order), as opposed to 1850 in R. Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memoòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, covering only two counties and neither with their own counts.

3. The main source of documents for Girona is the Arxiu Diocesà’s Cartoral de Carlemany (see image towards the end), which contains no document featuring that ruler. It is edited by José María Marqués i Planguma as Cartoral, dit de Carlemany, del Bisbe de Girona (segles IX-XIV), Diplomataris 1-2 (Barcelona 1993).

4. I haven’t actually done the brute maths here I confess, these percentages are just estimates, but Wendy Davies did the numbers for León in her Acts of Giving: Individual, Community, and Church in Tenth-Century Christian Spain (Oxford 2007), pp. 22-26 and they are comparable.

5. Sobrequés, Riera & Rovira, Catalunya Carolíngia V, doc. no. 30.

6. Ibid., pp. 83-84 for discussion of the dating and suggestions about the count.

7. For judicial procedure and the records we could expect in this area see Roger Collins, “‘Sicut lex Gothorum continet‘: law and charters in ninth- and tenth-century León and Catalonia” in English Historical Review Vol. 100 (London 1985), pp. 489-512, repr. in idem, Law, Culture and Regionalism in Early Medieval Spain, Variorum Collected Studies 356 (Aldershot 1992), V.

8. The precept would be that edited by Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals in Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 2 & 3 (Barcelona 1926-1955) as Girona II, of 834.

Leeds 2010 Report III

The amount of time I have for this is quite small, so this post may be subject to the law of diminishing returns as I try and compress a day at a busy conference into rather fewer lines than I have been doing up till now. On the other hand, I said that last time. So, Wednesday. I woke up extremely confused for non-academic reasons and eventually got myself together to head over to Weetwood for some really small-scale stuff.

1003. Landscape and Settlement in Early Medieval England: using the evidence of minor names

This session was mainly about getting down into not just place-names but field names to try and dig down into really old toponymy in various areas of England.

Map of field names circa 1601 in Old Marston, Oxfordshire

None of these field names, recorded c. 1601 in Old Marston, Oxfordshire, were harmed in the course of this session

  • Simon Draper, “Minor Names as Evidence for the Roman to Medieval Transition”, focussing on Wiltshire about which he has a book out, argued that it’s fairly easy to demonstrate Roman site survival into the Romano-British and Saxon periods, and among sites where this has been demonstrated those with names containing the elements ‘wic’ and ‘chester’ feature strongly, as we might expect, and thus encouraged us to look at them suspiciously. I raised awkward points about whether it would not in fact be unusual for an Anglo-Saxon site to be on virgin ground, given how densely the land was settled under the Romans, and Dr Draper conceded there was a point there, but his technique was still fairly demonstrably valid, as far as it went.
  • Susan Oosthuizen, “Early Medieval Land Use and its Wider Context”, was working on areas local to my current home, which made it especially interesting to me; she thought that areas of pastoral agriculture could be differentiated from those where arable farming had been carried out from the names for the fields that survived, and these names matched the geology and flood area of those lands quite well. So another proof of concept, but perhaps questionable how much it told us that wasn’t obvious; I suppose the point is that we can check things haven’t changed and that the landscape isn’t misleading like this.
  • Chris Lewis, “Field Names as Evidence for Dispersed Settlement: an example from East Sussex”, was why I was really there, because Chris is always interesting whether he’s working at tiny scale or national, largely because he is capable of both. Here he was also trying to prove a concept, which was what can we do with this sort of evidence in areas where there is almost no other, and picked an area of the South Downs about which this is the case to try it with, the villages of Medehurst and Heberden, the latter of which is the older name, meaning ‘Hygeburgh’s swine pasture’, but which appears to have been a dependent of the older which looks like a hundred meeting site even though it’s not attested till 1120. From this he teased out strings of history of dispersal and agglomeration of bits of settlements like a slightly tentative conjurer, all very hypothetical but certainly a valid demonstration of his exercise.

I quite like this stuff but it’s arguable that I don’t learn very much from it, I just like seeing the little picture drawn out by people who care. The big picture remains the one that offers the chance of making big connections, though, so after much-needed coffee I admitted necessity and went and rejoined the Texts and Identities sessions, which had now stopped talking about Modes of Identity and started talking about Louis the Pious, a subject on which they have been fruitful for many years now. Additionally, now the Hludowicus project have all got themselves t-shirts, identifying them with notable figures of the era in football-player style. I approve of this, mainly. I see that no-one has got Bernard of Septimania, which is tempting, but Mayke de Jong has the Judith shirt (of course) and that makes the ultimate Barcelona-based Carolingian bad boy an awkward choice. Anyway, I’m not part of the group, so let me talk about people who are.

1105. Texts and Identities, VIII: government, mobility, and communication in the Carolingian Empire under Louis the Pious (814-840), I

  • Stefan Esders, “Missi and Inquisition Procedure under Louis the Pious: a new style of government”. I should make clear here for web-searchers that this is not inquisition like Monty Python and Torquemada, this is inquisition in the sense of inquest: Stefan was talking about the representatives of the court, missi, who were sent out to settle cases by holding inquiries. Stefan saw these as the hands and ears of the general initiative of correctio that formed so much of Louis’s royal policy, although he stressed that they only dealt with cases where ‘public’, that is royal, property or persons were involved, not often enough realised I think; monasteries and churches were allowed to conduct their own such proceedings. There is a particular flurry of these enquiries in 829, though they had been running since the beginning of the reign and never clearing their own backlog of cases. His main point was the sheer disruption that all these suits, enquiries and threats to office-holders would have caused; it could not have aided the smooth running of the empire to question all its operators like this, and so Stefan asked what kind of crisis Louis and court thought they were in that it might actually be better to do this. Not for the first time, parallels between the way people are thinking about Louis the Pious and Æthelred the Unready were unavoidable for anyone who’d been at both this and my session, I think.
  • Martin Gravel, “From Theory to Practice: top-down governnance and long-distance communications in Louis the Pious’s ordinatio of 825″ added to this by tracing the manuscript context of the so-called Programmatic Capitulary and including the second half of it that isn’t very programmatic, usually separated, what are cc. 25-28 if you care about such things, seeing the whole thing as a set of instructions for the operation of the Empire’s system of long-distance reporting, pragmatic as well as programmatic. I thought this was perfectly convincing, though I don’t know the text half as well as some so other views would be interesting.
  • Philippe Depreux, “Videte ut nullam negligentiam habeatis: reception of the King’s missi, tractoria and the Carolingian sense of proportion for hospitality of travelling agents”, took this a stage closer to the ground by looking at how much the royal agents of this sort were allowed to demand by way of hospitality from the king’s subjects when about their business. He stressed that while such provisions go back to Marculf’s Formulary, and therefore this was a seventh-century mechanism, it was being used much more heavily by the Carolingians, and so Louis the Pious was engaged in an ongoing effort to restrict the opportunities within the rules for venality and thus for corruption.
  • Whether this all actually worked would be a project for another time of course: it was stressed in question that though we have a lot of orders for how this was supposed to be done we have very few documents showing it being carried out, though Mark Mersiowsky predictably knew of a few. I offered to explore the early Girona documents for this question for them next year but was rebuffed with polite confusion; I might still do it for Kalamazoo. Rosamond McKitterick made the last, excellent but somewhat acerbic point, that Charlemagne and Louis both wanted people to be able to reach them to complain of malpractice,1 but that the officials those people had to go through were not necessarily so keen, especially the ones in the local positions who were likely to wind up ‘corrected’.

Obverse of gold solidus of Emperor Louis the Pious (814-40), Fitzwilliam Museum, Grierson Collection, PG.8162

Obverse of gold solidus of Emperor Louis the Pious (814-40), Fitzwilliam Museum, Grierson Collection, PG.8162

This then continued after lunch, with a slightly less administrative and more ideological bent.

1205. Texts and Identities, IX: government, mobility, and communication in the Carolingian Empire under Louis the Pious (814-840), II

    Here we had hoped to see Steffen Patzold, who had been so thoroughly invoked two days previously, but though we must have said his name five times, he was still unable to attend so instead things went like this…

  • Jens Schneider, “Louis the Pious on the Road”, which was an old-fashioned attempt to map Louis’s itinerary. This has of course been done, and big problems since found with the technique because we are no longer half so sure that the charters that are issued in king’s names with places of issue on them necessarily indicate any presence of the king, even if the dates are to do with the grant rather than whatever occasion, maybe weeks later, that the document was actually drawn up. Jens elected at the outset to ignore these problems, and so I thought it wasn’t surprising that he found that charter issue locations didn’t look the same as the spread of recorded assembly locations. He wound up with a further methodological problem, in as much as we don’t know how far the king was able to set these locations or how far they were guided by events: I was minded of Jennifer Davis’s argument at Kalamazoo that most of Charlemagne’s so-called policy was a reaction to immediate and present crisis. So as you can probably tell I thought that any charter historian would find big problems with this and so it may not surprise the attentive reader that Mark Mersiowsky stood up in questions and basically tore the method to pieces, allowing as a saving throw the fact that the documents still allowed us to show a connection between king and subject. Stuart Airlie, who was moderating, said he was cancelling his subscription to Archiv für Diplomatik forthwith, which would be a pity if he meant it as I’m in the next one. Anyway…
  • Between these questions and that paper was a rather calmer one, Eric Goldberg, “Hludowicus venator“, which asked what we should take from the unusual attention that is paid to Louis the Pious’s hunting in the sources. It’s not that Charlemagne, who built a huge deer park around his palace and so on, was immune to the thrill of the case, but the chronicles and biographies that cover Louis’s reign do largely pay a lot of attention to his hunts. It has been suggested that this was a way to engage a military élite who were having to come to terms with the fact that there would be no more big conquests, a means of continuing to supply victory, albeit on a smaller scale. Eric balanced the sources that make so much of this with others that don’t (Nithard and Thegan for example) and suggested that though it was plainly only one strategy out of many for leading an imperial-style court lifestyle, it might well be one in which Louis was a greater success than his father.
  • Because we’d only had two papers, Dr Airlie as moderator gave us an improvised “Response” to fill some of the time, reminding us that the court authors and even the legislators of the Carolingian era were often aware of each other’s work, and that while Aachen might well not be the be-all and end-all of Carolingian power, as it sometimes seems, it is still a pretty big deal, a centre of tension and above all suspicion. (Dr Airlie’s vision of ninth-century politics is often darker than many others’.) However, he also said, people were not just passive consumers of Aachen: the audience who beheld it also thought about it and interpreted it to their needs, and they evidently did interpret it as the key centre even though perhaps, in realpolitikal terms, it wasn’t. This seems like a good point, though somehow cheating in a way I can’t pin down.

By the later afternoon, I was flagging. I’d been up too late the night before, it had been three fairly intense days, and caffeine was becoming vital. Also, the rain impeded use of the silver machine, which is the only way I can explain why I was late to the next session, which was a pity. It was this one.

1302. Medieval Monuments as Technologies of Remembrance, II

Bet Giorgis church, Lalibela, Ethiopia

Bet Giorgis church, Lalibela, Ethiopia

  • So I came in in the opening minutes of Niall Finneran, “Subterranean Memories: rock-cutting Ethiopian churches as commemorative practice”, which meant that although I got to enjoy the pictures, which were fabulous, I didn’t get the paradigm he was setting up that he then spent the part of the paper which I saw contesting. We were talking about churches actually carved from the living rock, hollowed out chunks of cliff or cave, so it was easy to have fabulous pictures. I got to hear about the Axumite culture, which carved its churches so carefully that they look like wood, and had subterranean tombs in their centres just like the pagan shrines they replaced, and the slower process in which the same change-over happened in rural areas, so that Axumite features were still being replicated a millennium later 400-500 miles way. This sounded pretty amazing and then I thought, wait, what about a religion that likes its places of worship with a long hall, let’s call it a nave, crossed by another one with a place for a choir beyond the cross… how far could that spread? But the proof of the continuity of ideas is still worth something, especially when some of these buildings are in such inaccessible places. Who’s the audience? Someone who can replicate it, apparently…
  • Second paper was Meggen Gondek, “Revealing the Pictish Stones: carving ritual, memories, actions and materials”, which was why I’d chosen this one: Dr Gondek’s stuff is always very engaging and deeply thought-out. I was very glad to hear her say that the Picts weren’t one group, as you might expect, and tried to encourage her towards saying that the stones were an élite means of self-identification in questions; she wouldn’t, but did admit that the stones define the region, at the same time saying wisely that their use might not be uniform. The most interesting part of the paper was where she outlined a small group of supposedly Pictish stones which are in fact reused prehistoric standing stones, Pictishly carved, spread over the whole Pictish symbol zone. Whether this was an adoption or an erasure of the previous heritage, given that these things are displaced and arguably disfigured, however, is a lot more tricky to say. If you thought you might say, pairs of these stones in which only one is recarved, like Nether Corskie below, might then still mess up your theory. She instead chose to argue that the process of carving may be the important thing, which we are left trying to read from its results as if they were the thing the act had been focussed on, when in fact it may not have been. You see what I mean when I say her work thinks deeply…
  • The two standing stones at Nether Corskie

    The two standing stones at Nether Corskie, one of which shows Pictish symbols still in the wet

  • Last up was Howard Williams, “Technologies and Transformations in Anglo-Saxon Architecture”, which was exactly the sort of theory-driven paper that might get certain blog acquaintances’ backs up were they not friends of the speaker, but which was focussing on temporary structures, buildings for example that went on top of funeral pyres, built only to be burnt, and in that to be compared to funeral boats or the pyres themselves. Again the focus was on process: we get to see a body, a burial, and the stuff that is buried with the body, and so that’s what we think is important, but we don’t get to see, as it might be, the three or four days that the elaborate room burial is left open to be viewed by visiting relatives; by the time it’s filled in, Williams argued, its purpose might well be over, so intuiting things about belief from its durable contents might be trickier than we’ve so far imagined. The other end of this scale, of course, is the re-use of much older structures, forts, burial mounds, and so on. All this has something to do with memory, but the nature of that memory may be very little like what we think it was; it certainly wouldn’t have to be actually remembered or in any way correct to have a working effect among its holders. The ultimate point of the paper as Professor Williams pitched it was to remember that architecture is built for many more reasons than just settlement, but what I was mainly left with was the urgent need to actually conceptualise the process of burial when dealing with graves. Burial’s always kind of been the archæological focus I don’t have, though, so others may have heard different parts of this rich paper more loudly.

Now this evening was the dance. I actually nearly didn’t go, so tired was I, but I recognised from long experience that giving into that urge is a sure-fire way to feel wretched and friendless so instead I went, drank enough beer to loosen my legs and gave it some. There were enough people who wouldn’t normally dance dancing that I didn’t feel I could really claim it wasn’t my thing, after all. But some mention needs to be made of Kathleen Neal, who if there were prizes being given for enthusiasm ought to have won one, I don’t think she stopped dancing all night and this was no small reason for my also doing such as I did. This is supposed to be a point in the proceedings when you can let your hair down (in my case quite literally) and have fun, after all, it has a cathartic function, and while it’s never going to let me lose it like something where they play the music I actually own would, it’s so much better to join in than to be snotty and aloof. I went back to my room long after I’d meant to leave, reasonably happy with the state of things and much more relaxed than I had been when I got up. Now this entry has been brought to you by Amon Düül II’s Phallus Dei and Country Joe McDonald and The Fish’s Electric Music for the Mind and Body, so don’t worry that I’m losing my élitism, but I can put it down for occasions such as this, and just as well really.


1. Would you like an example? Here’s a good example because of the extra complications about how people might not have wanted the plaintiffs to reach the emperor. One occasion in 839 sees Louis the Pious make a restitution to a trio of fellows whom the Abbot of Notre Dame de la Grasse brought all the way north and east to Frankfurt, modulo my concerns about the truth of such information, where they told the emperor a sorry tale of oppression by evil men, at what comes over as very great length. The thing that makes this especially interesting is that the three men, whose names were Gaudiocus, Jacob and Vivacius, were Jews, and moreover Jewish farmers or at least, rural landholders. Presumably they were also clients of the abbey of la Grasse or they wouldn’t have got that kind of representation, so although Louis or Louis’s scribe find some good Biblical cites for not being les nice to non-Christians than to Christians, there’s really no obvious way in which these men aren’t part of the usual network of patronage and landholding in their area. People are conscious there’s an ethnic, or at least a religious, difference, but with the right intermediary they get their hearing and the verdict is just what you’d expect, albeit with a lingering impression that Louis might have given them anything just to get the lead guy to shut up: his speech is reported for some time

I guess this is in E. Magnou-Nortier & A. M. Magnou (edd), Recueil des Chartes de l’Abbaye de la Grasse Tome I 779-1119, Collection des documents inédits sur l’histoire de France : section d’histoire médiévale et de philologie, Série in 8vo 24 (Paris 1996), but I know it from the rather older Claude Devic & Jean 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 vues des monuments, aug. E. Mabille, E. Barry, E. Roschach & A. Molinier, ed. M. E. Dulaurier, Vol. II (Toulouse 1875, repr. Osnabrück 1973), Preuves : chartes et documents, no. 97.

Just one long ordeal?

Very busy here at the moment, and little time to finish blog posts. I did at least write something over on Cliopatria, responding to a recent article in the Boston Globe about the supposed effectiveness of trial by ordeal in the Middle Ages. It doesn’t seem to have attracted much of an audience there: perhaps you’d like to go and read it?