Tag Archives: frontiers

Building states on the Iberian frontier, II: clearing the land

Catalan peasants at work, from the Biblia de Ripoll

Catalan peasants at work, from the Biblia de Ripoll

Continuing as promised, or threatened, the rethink of my picture of frontier development in Catalonia spurred by the recent chapter by Julio Escalona and Francisco Reyes on the same themes in tenth-century Castile… let’s talk about peasants.1 At some level, after all, the expansion of settlement, social structures and government into an unorganised zone requires the basic work of somebody taking tools to the soil, felling unhelpful trees, clearing scrub, putting it to the plough or planting helpful trees and generally turning the land to use. This is implicit in any story of territorial expansion that isn’t simple annexation of territory where someone else has already done that. The question is thus not whether this is happening, but rather who is controlling it. Now, I have worked on this for Catalonia, partly because it’s just inherent in an expanding frontier situation as I say but also because of an early article by Cullen Chandler that I disagreed with and which gave me a fair bit of work to figure out what my alternative picture was (and even longer to publish it).2 This does mean that I could simply direct you to that work but because it’s part of the argument that I’m developing here in reaction to the Escalona & Reyes chapter, it needs to be out where it can be seen. I will reuse some text, though, and the first bit I will reuse is that from my book which attempts to describe how other historians have answered this question of control. Given that what follows is quite a lot of quotation, and that the whole post is plural thousands of words, a cut seems moot here… Continue reading

Building states on the Iberian frontier, I: putting the peasants up front

This is going to be a long and thinky post, and short of illustrations, so let's have something scenic to start with. This is the mountains of Montserrat seen from the Riu Llobregat, the far frontier in my period, an image from Wikimedia Commons

This is going to be a long and thinky post, and short of illustrations, so let’s have something scenic to start with. This is the mountains of Montserrat seen from the Riu Llobregat, the far frontier in my period, an image from Wikimedia Commons

As I sat down to write this I was having trouble thinking something out, and by now my favourite strategy when this happens, assuming that I can’t trap someone at a pub table and thrash it out at them verbally, is to try and write about it. So this is the first of a number of posts messing with questions of agency and, well, credit or blame I suppose, in the creation of medieval society at the Muslim-Christian frontier in medieval Iberia. It comes out of reading a genuinely excellent account of that for Castile in the tenth century (the most important of European centuries, as I’m sure you realise) by Julio Escalona and Francisco Reyes.1 It gets right down into the mechanisms by which lords got themselves into positions of power on the frontier and then used those to make themselves more important wherever else they turned up, creating extensive lordships which would only be converted to intensive ones much later. This is a really clear chapter, informed by a lively and interesting new theoretical base, and is important not just for the tenth century and debates about state formation on frontiers anywhere, but also about the delay in what comes after, the intensification, which of course plays into the feudal transformation debate of which everyone is so tired and so on.2 It really made me think but one thing that it made me think was that it’s only about lords. This has made me write a great deal, and out of general mercy for the audience I put the rest behind a cut, but if you feel up to it I would be very interested in feedback and corrections, not least because I tread on several nationalisms in the course of it and need to know what bits may make people angry… Continue reading

Leeds 2012 Report 2

My notes from last year’s International Medieval Congress seem to be pretty good, but I’m disturbed by how little of what I apparently attended I recall in any detail without them. I suppose this is why we take notes, but looking back through them I can see several of the hares that I’ve been coursing through the last year’s thoughts visible here, and I feel as if I actually ought to be using these posts to acknowledge people whose thoughts I obviously soaked up without the care and attention to whose they were that perhaps I should have taken. Anyway, that is a long preamble to the second post from my backlog that will try and give some account of the research I saw being presented at that conference.

504. Politics of Territory I: perceptions and practices of space in Germany and France (c. 850-c. 1100)

The 10th July started for me with a pair of sessions coming out of a project that Jens Schneider introduced, Territorium, which I think could be sort of categorised as geopolitical philosophy, comparing and checking the ways that French and German scholarships think about the connections of territories to the state. For me the interesting thing here was how people would define their ‘territories’, especially since in the first session we seemed to be especially encouraged to consider where territories ended, that is, frontiers, always and forever an interest of mine. This comes through in my notes, from which I relearn the following.

  • Laurence Leleu, “Space, Territory and Border in Saxony”
    Saxony had been outside the Frankish kingdom at the beginning of Charlemagne’s reign, implying a linear border, then became a marca, a province inside the empire but whose character was special, implying a zone. The speaker thought that this zone’s edges were often conceptual compared to geographical features like the River Elbe, even when it wasn’t the border. Within this zone, there were internal divisions, counties and bishoprics and even peoples (according to Adam of Bremen), but they often had islets and exclaves, so, basically, it was complicated, and the classic difference between line and zone was here largely a difference of scale. I thought the last point was the take-away one, though I was struck by the geography versus theory one too.
  • Miriam Czock, “Representations of Swabia: boundaries, spatial organization and power”
    This paper attempted to apply concepts of space to ask more useful questions about what political identities were available to those who lived after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Swabia is interesting in this game because it’s a territory that defies traditional German historiography by not having a ‘root’ people or leader; Dr Czock argued that people’s connections were to the monastery of St Gallen, the local castle network and the fiscal property in the area. I recognise that I’d be vulnerable to this criticism myself, and perhaps that’s why I think of it, but this seems to me like what we can see from the landholding and trial records rather than what was necessarily most important; at the least, though, it gives us an alternative set of structures to test origin theories with.
  • Albrecht Brendler, “Space of Power in Early Medieval Provence”
    Provence emerged from the expulsion of the Muslim garrison at la Garde-Freinet in 903 in some confusion, explained Herr Brendler: the Muslims had been only one side in a many-faceted civil war and though there was a clear Count of Arles, William I, his territory included two other counties and several bishoprics of areas that had been pagi, but no metropolitan ones; William called himself a Marquis, but of which crown wasn’t completely clear though King Conrad I of Germany claimed it. It theoretically belonged to larger organisations and wasn’t quite one itself yet it emerged as one because its parts weren’t part of anything else. I may, in that last bit, be going beyond what Herr Brendler said but if so that’s because I could basically write the same of Catalonia. This is a very interesting parallel, which I don’t seem from my notes to have appreciated at all at the time.
  • Charles West, “Response”
    Here Charles tried to mix up categories by pointing out that power over space is still carried out by acting on people, so that the people and space distinction may not get us anything useful, but that if it does what we are usually seeing is a monastic concept of space, which may not be the general one, especially since several different concepts of space could operate at once. It’s important not to privilege the one we can most easily see.
  • I tried to argue in questions that the sources’ intent was really the best way to approach such issues of importance, a functionalist approach, which Dr Czock argued would miss larger-scale change. Ryan Lavelle pointed out that in UK terms a project like this would be an archæological one and wondered what mapping via GIS would contribute. I also wondered that, but in a rather more negative way; I couldn’t see what it would contribute that plotting things on paper wouldn’t make just as clear. In general good questions came out of this and I think everyone went away thinking.

This was probably particularly evident in how many of us came straight back after coffee for the second half!

604. Politics of Territory, II: perceptions and practices of space in Southern France (c. 750-c. 1200)

  • Adrien Bayard, “Fortifications and the Organisation of Power in Carolingian Aquitaine”
    This paper looked specifically at fortifications in the campaigns of King Pippin III by which Aquitaine was dragged more or less unwillingly to rejoin the kingdom of the Franks in the second half of the eighth century. Archaeology has shown a huge variety of sites in the area, ‘private refuges’, small hilltop forts, walled villages and big cities, some of which (like Bourges, notice the name) Pippin took by siege. The south was in general a zone of fortresses, even this early, unlike the north where palaces seem to have organised the territories (and Septimania where monasteries were key), and no matter what they were controlling, in terms of territory, service, renders and so on, a hilltop site seems always to have been the basis of lordly power in these zones.
  • Aurélien le Coq, “Reforming Church, Producing Territory: the second birth of the diocese of Die (c. 1000-c. 1200)”
    This paper was interesting in as much as it was chasing a ghost: the bishopric of Die is dissolved, and the extent of its medieval territory is unclear, though it was much larger than the modern province and seems to have included several exclaves. Over the eleventh century, during which time the bishops’ power was on the rise not least because of Bishop Hugh who became the papal legate to France under Pope Gregory VII, the county of Die seems to have sunk underneath the bishopric in people’s minds as the thing that defined the area. The counts wound up lords of only small parts of the area as the bishops profited from their increasingly international connections. (I have to admit that I wasn’t clear how they were profiting, exactly, but something seems to have brought about this change.) This however only lasted until the more powerful counts of Valence succeeded to the county of Die and their tame bishops started muscling in. M. le Coq saw this as an area where bishops were always in charge but which one might vary; I have to admit that again I wonder if ecclesiastical sources would show us enough of comital power to be sure of that, but I haven’t looked at the documents and M. le Coq has.
  • Steffen Patzold, “Some Reflections on Interregional Comparisons: France and Germany”
    Here Professor Patzold laid out some of the problems that arise with comparative projects like this: even though the team had picked peripheries that more or less match and scholars at similar career stages using similar questions, the sources vary considerably over the zones chosen and may still have been leading their conclusions. For example, with mostly non-royal charters in the south of France and far fewer and only royal ones from Saxony, we ineluctably have a middle-range perspective in the former and only a top-down one from the latter. But is the source difference itself a result of difference, or merely accident? On the other hand, because of the difference of languages, things that genuinely were similar between the two zones may be hard to recognise: is a vicarius a minister or were the two offices different across the language divide, and so on…
  • Discussion this time was less fruitful, I felt. People, including me, suggested various extra questions that might be bases for comparison, such as what use people had for the kings (this was me, based on the Königsfern idea that I took from Kalamazoo 2010), who appointed bishops and so on. Wendy Davies stressed that a comparison like this must rest on things that are similar otherwise it’s apples and oranges, but the various project members were keener on pointing out differences or reasons these questions wouldn’t work, and a particular boundary got set up around the project aims, the ideas of territory and space, over which I for one could not see. I realise that there is loads of work on space at the moment but when we’re talking about spaces of power, I agree with what Charles had said: spaces of power are spaces over which authority is claimed, and if no-one recognises it then those claims are empty. I don’t see how these spaces can exist except in the minds of the people in them, and the way we get at that is not by ignoring the dealings of those people in favour of deconceptualised mapping. That wasn’t what any of the speakers had been doing, either, but it seemed to be the platonic idea to which the discussion retreated as more traditional practitioners tried to make their favourite questions help.

Of course, sometimes such questions genuinely aren’t helpful. Even if they might be, they feel as if people are suggesting that if you’d only asked them first, they could have told you how to do your project much better! Nonetheless, this is supposed to be one of the things that presenting your work in public gets you, other ways to think about your problems, and I was quite surprised how reluctant some of the people in this comparative project were to try actual comparison, in their own terms or ours. I hope some day to organise conference sessions that actually demand this of speakers, I think it’s the only way forward in some areas and frontiers is definitely one of them. Well, anyway, then there was lunch and after that I returned very much to my own comfort zone, if I had even yet left it.

727. Producing, Keeping, and Reusing Documents: charters and cartularies from Northern Iberia, 9th-12th Century

  • Wendy Davies, “Keeping Charters Before Cartularies”
    Quite a lot of this paper was a summary of the patterns of the survival of the charter evidence from Northern Spain prior to 1000, and as such quite familiar to me. The points that did stand out for me were that enough charters were updated that it is clear that they could usually be got at; that they seem to have been stored in church treasuries quite often, but that that the marks that most bear on the dorses suggest some record of the records; and that laymen clearly kept documents too, as we have so many lay ones that survive to us even if through Church archives, so they presumably dealt with the same dilemmas of storage albeit on a smaller scale, unless the layman in question chose to keep them at a church.1
  • Leticia Agúndez San Miguel, “A Monastic Power in Reconstruction: the versatility of the past and the present time in the Becerro Gótico of Sahagún”
    It was quite strange to hear anyone other than Wendy talk about Sahagún, in fact, but this was a quite detailed codicological treatment of the monastery’s earliest cartulary, which the speaker thought had been put together as part of a project to get King Alfonso VI to confirm and add to the monastery’s property at a time when the Bishop of León and the Cluniac congregation were moving in on the old monastery’s area. This meant inventing a number of royal documents, but after a while the real ones they apparently did have got added in anyway, once the immediate need was past. Almost everything that got put in the cartulary was put there defensively, though, was the general conclusion, which is not how I have come to see some of my target archive’s early cartularies I must admit. I may have to rethink.
  • David Peterson, “The Becerro Gótico of San Millán: the reconstruction of a lost cartulary”
    This was a detective-work paper, trying to piece together from an archive loaded with forgeries and a later cartulary what was in the earliest cartulary which is now lost. It seems to have been available to a couple of historians shortly after the monastery was dissolved in 1835, but ‘seems’ is the operative word. From what can be reconstructed, it seems that the later cartulary was heavily selective, containing only two-thirds as many documents in rather nicer copies. The picture of the lost one that emerges is of a book that was compiled as sort of quire-length dossiers of documents bound together and then continuing to expand, some onto extra sheets, some into the next quire. The new cartulary rearranged much of this at the top level, the order of the dossiers, to serve in a dispute with Calahorra, and some of the initial quires of the Becerro Gótico also had their origins in disputes, this seems to be more and more what we find behind cartulary compilation these days, which may also explain why their arrangements sometimes don’t make much sense to us; firstly, we would probably have had to be there, but secondly, their production was probably often quite urgent and may have cut some corners… This was a very suggestive paper despite its micro-study premises, which is in many ways my favourite sort of paper and the kind I like to write myself, so I am suitably envious!
  • Discussion here was good, but perhaps only if you’re a charter geek; especially worth considering, though, was the role of script change in the compilation of these things. The two Becerros Goticos there above are so called because they were in Visigothic minuscule, which is, shall we say, an acquired faculty; at San Millán the replacement is called the Becerro Galecana, from its Frankish-style script. These things must also have affected the use of original documents, and the sources themselves tend to stress such issues when cartularies explain themselves at all, but we keep finding reasons the task was finally undertaken to be more immediate.2 There’s a tension here to work out with future cases.

Powered by tea, I now did something I’ve never before tried at Leeds, which was to start a timeslot in one session and dash to another after the paper I wanted to hear. I try not to do this, because it’s rude to the organisers and the speakers whom one ignores in the first session and not exactly helpful to the second session, but sometimes one is just caught between senses of obligation and the proximity of the sessions makes it possible, and when the first session also has one of its speakers drop out, the temptation just gets too much. It seems best to combine the reports because they were experienced as one block, so, here goes.

808. Political Rupture in the Early Middle Ages & 809. Cultural Memory, III: Inclusion and Exclusion (i)

  • Geoffrey Koziol, “Principles Know No Law: justifying insurgency after the Carolingians – Boso, Robert of Neustria, and the Saxons”
    It was a definite bonus of last year’s Leeds that Geoff Koziol was present, enlivening many a discussion and one of the people out there most energetically interested in the late- and post-Carolingian era where my own work resides. At the time I write this I very lately finished properly reading his first book and I really enjoyed it, not something I would say of every history book I read.3 Reactions to this paper exist that are less enthusiastic, however, and although its general suggestion, worked through rebellions against kings of 879, 923 and 1073, that those raising rebellion rarely actually addressed or raised specifics in their propaganda but instead asserted big moral imperatives, was reasonable, there was room for counter-examples or arguments that like and like had not been compared here. Nonetheless, the comparative range and conceptual power was as engaging as Geoff’s stuff usually is and I was glad I’d heard it, even if I promptly ran away…
  • Clemens Gantner, “The Popes and their Frankish Others in the 8th Century”
    The timing worked out just right and I got to hear all of this paper, which was looking at the extent to which the diplomatic contacts between popes and Franks of this period indicated that the popes saw Franks as a gens, and therefore not the same group as themselves. The Franks were evidently easier to define than the Byzantines (obviously not Romans any more, but not ‘Greeks’ till the ninth century) or the Muslims (many many ethnonyms), not least as they worked the ‘gentile’ concept quite hard themselves at times, but anyway, the eighth-century popes seem to have never reckoned the Franks as other than foreigners.
  • Mayke de Jong, “The Temptations of a Foreign Past: the early medieval West and alterity”
    I don’t like the word `alterity’, as is well-established, so it was nice to find that neither does Professor de Jong, though I don’t like it mainly because `otherness’ would plainly do; Prof. de Jong was arguing for its removal from our work as a theme on higher grounds, though, that it makes the period seem strange, foreign, easy to dismiss and incomprehensible. As Prof. de Jong observed, assuming we don’t rule out the idea that things change for the better completely, there must be a worse `before’ and a better `after’ when this happens, but this is no reason to let other people stick this onto us.4 Likewise, any effort to define ourselves involves defining what we are not but for Prof. de Jong, it’s important for early medievalists to throw bridges across the ensuing gap and storm it, resetting connections that others might prefer to ignore.5
  • The most interesting question here was one that Clemens had to face, of whether there was in fact a neutral way to talk of another political unit’s people in this period. Clemens thought that the fact that the way the popes conceptualised Franks was not the same as the way in which they did other Others made his conclusions valid, but Walter Pohl floated the much more unsettling answer that if a way of describing a group was neutral this would probably not be clear to us now!

I suppose that as Paul Edward Dutton said at a different conference, “The best we can hope for is to be wrong in new ways”, which still sounds like a lot of fun to me.


1. Since this paper was given, of course, these issues are now given what is really the full treatment in Warren C. Brown, Marios Costambeys, Matthew Innes & Adam J. Kosto (edd.), Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 2013), the long-awaited publication of work from the Lay Archives Project for which I was once a data monkey. I will write more on that in due course, when I’ve actually read the volume, which is not yet though it is one of the very very few academic books I bought as soon as it came out at full price. (Quite why, I’m not sure, given I will very shortly be able to buy it cheaper at Leeds and haven’t used it yet, but obviously I meant to.) Anyway, leaving that aside, even before that volume emerged one could find related concerns being raised in Warren Brown, “When Documents Are Destroyed or Lost: lay people and archives in the early Middle Ages” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 (Oxford 2002), pp. 337-366 and Adam J. Kosto, “Laymen, Clerics and Documentary Practices in the Early Middle Ages: the example of Catalonia” in Speculum Vol. 80 (Cambridge MA 2005), pp. 44-74, and it’s obviously no accident that they were in the Lay Archives Project too.

2. The text of standard resort here is of course Patrick J. Geary, Phantoms of Remembrance: memory and oblivion at the end of the first millennium (Princeton 1994), which is still excellent, but although it will be a long time before its general case doesn’t stand up, exceptions to it do keep emerging. One can get some other perspectives from Olivier Guyotjeannin, Laurent Morelle & Michel Parisse (edd.), Les Cartulaires : Actes de la Table Ronde organisée par l’École Nationale des Chartes et le G. D. R. 121 du C. N. R. S. (Paris, 5-7 décembre 1991), Mémoires et Documents de l’École des Chartes 39 (Paris 1993) and Adam J. Kosto & Anders Winroth (edd.), Charters, Cartularies and Archives: the preservation and transmission of documents in the medieval west. Proceedings of a Colloquium of the Commission Internationale de Diplomatique (Princeton and New York, 16-18 September 1999), Papers in Mediaeval Studies 17 (Toronto 2002).

3. G. Koziol, Begging Pardon and Favor: ritual and political order in early medieval France (Ithaca 1992).

4. This is well set-out in Kathleen Davis, Periodization and Sovereignty: how ideas of feudalism and secularization govern the politics of time, The Middle Ages (Philadelphia 2008), which I cite much more than my mean review of it would make one think I would, though I stand by that in as much as this issue is well set-out several times over…

5. And in fact I read, only a day before writing this, another attack on the same issue by no less than Jinty Nelson, that being Janet L. Nelson, “Liturgy or Law: misconceived alternatives?” in Stephen Baxter, Catherine E. Karkov, Nelson & David Pelteret, Early Medieval Studies in Memory of Patrick Wormald, Studies in Early Medieval Britain (Farnham 2009), pp. 433-447, who argues that both sides of the line lose something by not crossing it.

Seminars CXXXIII & CXXXIV: more early medieval edges

Aha! At last I have the information I needed, and so this post that was meant to be ready a fortnight ago can go up. In the words of a man in a dressing gown, “I seem to be having tremendous trouble with my lifestyle”… The last term was the busiest I’ve had, the teaching not the heaviest but it’s been fighting for space with an attempt at a social life and a long long list of job applications, for lo, I am running out of time and many people are hiring. More on that as and when it becomes public, but the main effect has been that I have hardly been at home with a few hours to spare for what feels like weeks, and since this is a necessary condition for getting blog written, you haven’t been seeing much of me. However, the other night I had a dream about taking part in some research seminar with half the In the Medieval Middle crowd, in which we lost five minutes to Jeffrey Cohen and Karl Steel agonising over whether they could still use the word `object’ without defining their terms first, so I suppose that this is some kind of warning from the subconscious about blog blockage and therefore the other day I took advantage of having an hour or so in London before a seminar during which the British Library was unable to serve up their wi-fi Internet registration page for me to register on to write the first half of this post. And I’m glad to be posting it at last as not only is this incredibly late but it also deals with the work of some very interesting people.

Morn Capper and others at work on the Birmingham Museum display of the Staffordshire Hoard

The first time I met the woman on the left, you know, Alice Rio and I wound up agreeing to support her candidacy as pope. True story…

First of these is none other than your humble correspondent’s excellent friend and sympathiser, Dr Morn Capper, now of the University of Leicester but at the time of which I write here of the British Museum and Birmingham Museum. There, indeed, she had been working on an exhibition until very close to the point at which she came to the Institute of Historical Research on 21st March 2012 to address the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar there with a paper called, “Rethinking Thought and Action Under the Mercian Hegemony: responses to Mercian supremacy, 650-850″. Fans of the history of the kingdom of Offa and his dubiously-related pre- and postdecessors will notice that that’s quite a long span of Anglo-Saxon history and the amount Morn tries to fit into her picture is also extremely widely-spread; hers is a holistic take on Anglo-Saxon history for which all sorts of evidence are relevant and have to be understood together. For me, who had heard Morn on some of these subjects before, therefore, this was a chance to get something like a uniting thread joining up the many many conversations we’ve had about particular sites or phenomena, but for others it may have been less immediately clear why all the things Morn was addressing were part of the same question. That question was, more or less, how did the Mercian kings make their rule stick in areas that weren’t Mercia, but since the answer to that could quite properly involve violence and public execution, town planning, East Anglian pottery, regional deployment of royal titles,1 religious patronage, saltpans, post-facto dynastic pacts expressed in genealogies and burial sites, individual negotiations with regional potentates and national manipulation of Church and coinage, all of which were in here somewhere except the saltpans, it’s easy enough to see how it could get busy.2 I think that the real clue to the import of this seminar was the extremely busy discussion afterwards, on which I have nearly as many notes as I do on most presentations, and in which Morn made it clear to all that she could have included a lot more, especially on the archæology; there was a lengthy conversation about marking border crossings with execution cemeteries, for example, which is one way of sending a message: “You are now entering Mercia. BE CAREFUL.” When her thesis can be reduced and streamlined into a book, it won’t just be me thinking I need to read it, I reckon.3

A silver penny of King Offa

As has been remarked before, this was a man whose hairstyles should obviously explained by direct control of the coinage, for amusement value if no more

Now it must be pointed out that the redoutable Magistra also wrote a post on this paper, much closer to the time and with a far better title, and it does an excellent job of codifying the separate parts of the argument. Rather than try and do my own summary, therefore, it seems best to me to mention a few of the stand-out points, such as:

  • that assessing Mercia as a political power is all the more tricky because we never see it static, in our evidence it is always expanding or collapsing so the way it actually worked (or failed to) doesn’t stay the same;
  • that Æthebald of Mercia starts appearing with titles referring to Britain at more or less the same time as the Archbishop of Canterbury stops doing so, and that the latter may be the one that impinged on scribes’ minds more;
  • that Guthlac’s monastery at Crowland was well-positioned to knit together Mercian, Middle Anglian and East Anglian sympathies in the surrounding communities on the Wash and that Æthelbald’s various visits there should probably be seen in this light, that of an appropriate way to approach the élites of these areas, much as respectful treatment of the royal mausoleum at Repton appears to have been such a way in Mercia itself to express consciousness of previous interests;
  • that, of course, the regions all had their own interests in cooperating with Mercian power which had to be taken into account before the kings could carry out any overall royal policy;
  • and that among these must be considered the kings of Essex, who survived as a lineage at least into the ninth century and perhaps even the Viking era, and who were never entirely removed from their seats of power, at least once having conceded Middlesex and London entirely to Mercian interests.

You will see from this, if combined with Magistra’s write-up which gives you much more of a structure, that if there was a problem with this paper it was to work out whether the main thread or the asides were more important. Having all this stuff thrown into the mix thus gives us some idea of the incredibly complex set of concerns, not just material and political but also symbolic and even ritual, that we seem now to expect early medieval kings to have tried to manage, and done like this it seems like an awful lot; theories like that of Jennifer Davis about Charlemagne, that his reign was so full that it can hardly have been more than a continual reaction to emergent crises, seem more plausible.4 In Morn’s thinking, I think, the Mercian kings were in their various ways trying to make something new and more controlled out of their situations, but the first thing we need to understand, if we’re to understand why their success was so variable and why it has sustained so much scholarship of different views, apart from the simple fact that the sources are few and unclear, is that what they were trying to cope with really wasn’t simple at all.

The memorial column of Khan Omurtag in the Church of 40 Martyrs at Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

The memorial column of Khan Omurtag in the Church of 40 Martyrs at Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

Then, the next week in the same building (sadly no longer always guaranteed at the IHR seminars), the 28th March, we had the unusual chance to hear Professor Florin Curta of the University of Florida giving a paper called, “In Line with Omurtag and Alfred: linear frontiers in the ninth century”. This was, in some ways, one of those papers that shouldn’t be necessary but has become so because of trapdooring, as one of the many many things that sensible reputable scholars who just haven’t looked far enough back have argued were only first created in the eleventh or twelfth century, along with the individual, windmills, universities and professional guilds to name but a few, is the linear frontier. Before that, it has seriously been argued, frontiers were zones, because cartography and state apparatuses weren’t yet developed enough to do more, and hadn’t been since Roman times.5 Here, Florin took two examples where this is patently and clearly untrue, from the ninth century: firstly, a frontier set between the Bulgar Khanate and the Byzantine Empire in 816, which he convincingly argued on the basis of the treaty terms must have been forced on the Bulgars by the Byzantines despite recent military trends in the other direction, seeing for example no sense in victorious Bulgars restricting their own trade with the Empire; and the so-called Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum in which King Alfred the Great selflessly agreed a line of jurisdiction between him and the most willing of the Viking leaders who’d fought him in 878 and lost that came nowhere near Alfred’s own kingdom.6 I don’t mean to say that Alfred only got ‘great’ by bargaining away other peoples’ territory, but it certainly helped. Anyway, the precise political details are not the point so much as that when they needed to, all of these leaders could very easily set a line between two territories that needed rules governing who could cross it, why and in what conditions, all of which implies some ability to say when it had been crossed, what in turn requires it to be definable. In the Bulgarian case, too, parts of it have been dug, the most significant portion apparently being the Evkescia Dyke (say my notes, but Google seems convinced no such thing exists, I must have spelt it wrong), so there’s not really a problem here showing that early medieval rulers could set lines when they wanted to, and there’s no wider conceptual problem with this idea really sustainable either because, after all, we have a lot of documents that set land boundaries, they’re called charters…7

Tenth-century manuscript depiction of Bulgars slaughtering Byzantine 'martyrs'

Tenth-century manuscript depiction of Bulgars slaughtering Byzantine ‘martyrs’, in the Menologion of Emperor Basil II, Vatican MS Gr. 1613, here obtained from Wikimedia Commons

This paper, and the reminder that Florin is the editor of the most recent in a very long series of volumes in which medievalists get together and compare their frontiers with people from inside and outside the field, in fact set me off on some powerful reflecting on such questions, as it seems to me that, as I subsequently put it in a status update on Academia.edu, there is no theory on frontiers that the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem doesn’t break. Certainly we need a lot more work, and possibly to stop borrowing other people’s theories intended one way or another to reflect on different aspects of the USA and to start coming up with our own, before medieval frontiers can really be talked about as if we understand, rather than assume, how they worked.8 Not all of them were lines, this is basically self-evident to anyone who’s looked at any marcher zone ever, and that there could be gaps between rival jurisdictions oughtn’t to surprise us either. But to say that early medieval people just couldn’t set and keep marked and working a line on the ground when it suited them is something we can hopefully see an end to thanks to this kind of demonstration.


1. On which before too long you will be able to see Morn D. T. Capper, “Titles and Troubles: conceptions of royal authority in eighth- and ninth-century Mercian charters” in Jonathan Jarrett & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout forthcoming).

2. The saltpans is sort of the special idea of John Maddicott: see his “London and Droitwich, c. 650-750: trade, industry and the rise of Mercia” in Anglo-Saxon England Vol. 34 (Cambridge 2005), pp. 7-58.

3. Morn D. T. Capper, “Contested Loyalties: Regional and National Identities in the Midland Kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England, c.700 – c.900″ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Sheffield, 2008). I’ve got to acknowledge Morn’s feedback on an early version of this post, as well, as otherwise I might have made some characteristic mistakes by trying to explain her work from months-old notes.

4. I think this particular point of view is still forthcoming – I heard it at the Kalamazoo paper described at the link – but some flavour of her take on the reign can be got from J. Davis, “A Pattern of Power: Charlemagne’s Delegation of Judicial Responsibilities” in eadem & Michel McCormick (edd.), The Long Morning of Medieval Europe: new directions in early medieval studies (Aldershot 2008), pp. 235-246, on which see here.

5. This historiography is described with more respect than perhaps it deserves in Nora Berend, “Medievalists and the notion of the frontier” in The Medieval History Journal Vol. 2 (Los Angeles 1999), pp. 55-72.

6. On the former one can see little else in English but F. Curta, Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250 (Cambridge 2006), pp. 154-159. On the latter, I like David N. Dumville, “The Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum” in his Wessex and England from Alfred to Edgar: six essays on political, ecclesiastical and cultural revival (Woodbridge 1992), pp. 1-27.

7. In England, at least, the person who has made this evidence most their own is indubitably Della Hooke, whose “Early medieval estate and settlement patterns: the documentary evidence” in Michael Aston, David Austin & Christopher Dyer (edd.), The Rural Settlements of Medieval England. Studies dedicated to Maurice Beresford and John Hurst (Oxford 1989), pp. 9-30 might be the best introduction to her methods.

8. I could list a lot of conference volumes on this theme but let’s pick just three, Daniel Power & Naomi Standen (edd.), Frontiers in Question: Eurasian borderlands 700-1700 (Basingstoke 1999), David Abulafia & Nora Berend (edd.), Medieval frontiers: concepts and practices (Aldershot 2002) and of course Florin Curta (ed.), Borders, barriers, and ethnogenesis: frontiers in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Turnhout 2005).

From the sources VII: to demilitarise and populate

I can’t quite believe I haven’t yet posted this charter, as it’s important for a whole bunch of things, but as I noticed a few posts ago I haven’t, so here it is. This is a document from 973 that is unusually informative about the processes of settling a frontier, defending a frontier principality, about the rôle of the Church and counts in those things, and it also joins up with a couple of previous posts because as well as the inevitable Borrell II, it also features his mysterious kinsman Guifré whom I’ve mentioned here before and additionally a person who may or may not have been self-identifying as a Goth, in the late tenth century, which has also been a recent discussion here. So, here it is in translation; I’ll stick the Latin in first footnote again.1 It’s long, but it’s so full of stuff that it’s worthwhile, honest.

In the name of God. I Borrell, Count and Marquis and also Guifré, my kinsman, we together as one, under an inviolable faith in God and his sacred confidence, have chosen to make this donation to the Lord God and his holy martyr Saturninus, whose house is sited in the county of Urgell, not far distant from its selfsame see of Holy Mary next to the river, and so we do. For we give, willing of heart, to the aforementioned monastery, and to Abbot Ameli and the brothers dwelling with you or those who shall be hereafter, churches that were founded in ancient time and endowed with holy altars in the furthest outermost limits of the marches, in the place called Castell de Llordà or in the city of Isona, which was destroyed by the Saracens, and the churches… which were built in their confines or which shall have had to be built in the future. Of which, the first church is called Sant Sadurní, in its castle of Llordà. Another is called Santa Maria in the selfsame city of Isona, which was destroyed. Another Sant Vicenç which was a monastery in the centre of the already-said town, next to the spring which they call Clarà.

Portal from the belltower into the now-missing nave at Sant Sadurní del Castell de Llordà

Sant Sadurní del Castell de Llordà seems to have been a fairly accomplished building, though as you can tell by the sunlight around the edges of this Viquipèdia view of the doorway between the belltower and the nave, not so much of the latter now stands

These aforesaid churches we do concede and give to the aforementioned monastery with their praises and possessions and the sum of their acquisitions with their tithes and first-fruits or offerings of the faithful living and dead in integrity; and we do concede the tithes of our dominical workings, present and future, to Holy Mary in whole. We have arranged similarly for the plots of the selfsame scouts and guards who have guarded the selfsame castle, and we bestow upon the selfsame already-said churches that which we have… [the bounds follow].

Whatever these same bounds include, thus we do concede to the monastery of Sant Sadurní aforementioned or to the abbots, to the monks present and future, so that they may make perprisiones wheresoever they may wish or may be able to far and wide through all places, build churches in the waste solitudes, make endowments in all the places; and let them spread labourers everywhere who shall reduce the selfsame wastes to cultivation and let them live in the selfsame endowments and there let them acquire and let them buy from the selfsame possessors whatever God shall have given to those people and shall have been possible for them. And the selfsame tithes which shall go forth from those selfsame perprisiones which they may have made there or will make in future, or from their acquisitions, we do concede and give all of them to the precious martyr Saturninus and from our right into his we do hand over possession, with the entrances and exits of the properties too. Again, we accord to the already-said monks that they may make aprisiones on the selfsame riverbank of the Noguera, in the place which they call Calzina, in the selfsame plain before the rock of Pugentoso, in the place which they call Calzina and before the rock of Petra and the selfsame water which descends from the selfsame mountains, ten plots in one year and ten in the next; and let them build a church in honour of Holy Mary and let the selfsame church have the tithes and first-fruits and offerings of Perafita itself and as far as the river Noguera and as far as the river Covet and over the selfsame mountains of Calzina. Let this however be under our hand and fidelity and those of our sons and let the assembled things which pertain or ought to pertain to the monastery serve under our defence and governance for all time.

Church of Santa Maria de Covet, Pallars Jussà

The monks may or not have put in a church of Holy Mary as requested; either way, there's a twelfth-century one there now... (Image from Wikimedia Commons))

The charter of this donation made in the city of Barcelona on the 3rd Kalends of August, in the 19th year of the rule of King Lothar. If anyone against this donation should have wished to disrupt it, let him not avail in so doing but let him compound twofold and accept a portion with Datan and Abiron.

Signed Borrell, Count [and] Marquis. Guisad, Bishop, subscribed. Guifré subscribed. Fruià, chief-priest, subscribed. Sig+ned Marcoald. Sig+ned Guadall, chief of the Goths. Sig+ned Arnau. Sig+ned Senter.

Bonfill, priest, who wrote this as requested.

So, OK, my temporary pupils, some talking points here:

  1. This area had obviously been in the wars—one wonders how long ago Isona (the old Iberian city of Æso) had been destroyed by the Saracens—but equally there were people out there, which we can tell not just because there was no problem at all giving the boundaries, even if, unusually, they name no other landholders at all.
  2. That would probably be because Borrell actually claimed to own all the land in the area and the people there are his direct subject peasants, which is something that we very rarely actually see but which, some would argue, and by some I mean Gaspar Feliu, we should be expecting much more widely.2 Here, at least, the count helpfully informs us that he has dominicaturas, presumably demesne farms, out in this extremis ultimas finium marchas. So, had he moved the farmers all in as some would believe, or were they there already?3
  3. Castell de Llordà, Isona, Catalunya

    The current state of the Castell de Llordà (much later as it stands; image from Viquipèdia)

  4. Whatever their situation was—and remained, since the count only conceded the tithe off those dominicaturas, which you might think he hardly had a right to anyway—he was also getting shot of a castle and the “scouts and guards who guarded” it, who seem to have been supporting themselves by agriculture, but it looks as if Borrell provided the starting capital and as if they may not yet have been paying their way, an expenditure that was now passed onto the monastery.
  5. The monastery also got a to-do list a mile long: take in land and clear it, put churches on it, establish estates and find labourers for them, set up markets where those labourers can get their wherewithal (because not many merchants were likely to be coming this way, I suppose—on the other hand it may have been because of the obvious advantages to the monks of running the Company Store) in exchange for produce.
  6. For this the monastery got the workers’ tithes, and presumably whatever profit they made from the markets, but it’s not clear that they were the landlords, at least not to me. If not, the monastery was basically acting as a contracted developer here, which was presumably something they thought would be worthwhile somehow.
  7. The monks did get to make their own clearances too, in fact they were required to, putting at least ten fields into cultivation each year for the next two years (if I’ve properly understood that), and also to put a church up for them, which the count remained the landlord for, because as this document makes implicitly evident and others of his state, he claimed fiscal rights over all wasteland and despite the population that seems to have been in this area, this area is being counted as waste for these `accounting’ purposes.4

So there’s that, and this is all very informative about exactly how the whole process of rolling out organised settlement might work, but there’s also some points that aren’t about process and play more to my particular and peculiar interests. You may by now know the word aprisio, which is used here to describe the clearances the monks may make in their own right, but note that it contrasts with the word Borrell or his scribe used for the ones the monks might make in order to settle labourers, perprisio. This appears to be an actual Latin recognition of the difference that Gaspar Feliu (again) has seen between private and lordly clearance; the monastery will be clearing for others, as agent, and that means they don’t get the full alodial rights that supposedly accrued to those who cleared land unless other arrangements were made. As keen readers of my stuff will know, I think that these rules were essentially only being finalised at this late stage, in other words that Borrell was here floating new terms that his father’s generation would not have understood, but this is where he was doing it, in the palace at Barcelona with two bishops who also owned frontier properties and his mysterious kinsman, whose concern with frontier matters seems to have meant that he must be involved.5

There's only a certain amount of land use going on here even now

But lastly, what about the other notable witness, Guallus princeps cotorum, here rendered as `Chief of the Goths’? Well, if Jesus Lalinde had been right about `Goth’ by now essentially meaning someone living on land that made them liable to military service in the city garrison of Barcelona, this would fit pretty nicely wouldn’t it?6 Guallus would be the head of the garrison. Unfortunately, this charter is only a copy, not an original. The original, if that’s what it is, comes as you’d expect from Sant Sadurní de Tavèrnoles, who were getting all this stuff to make and do.7 And that version refers to Guallus not as princeps cotorum, which our editor here, Federico Udina i Martorell, ever the neo-Gothicist, read as a variant spelling of gotorum, but princeps coquorum, `Prince of the Cooks’.8 Udina’s text, indeed, has also been read as `princeps cocorum‘, a variant spelling of the same thing. `C’ and `t’ look a lot alike in this script, and Udina’s modification wasn’t stupid, but all the same, if it’s wrong, that might give Guallus rather a different place in the palace hierarchy, though apparently still one grand enough to flaunt in a charter signature. He doesn’t turn up again, so there’s no way to be sure.9 Obviously the original would be nice to have just to settle this, but I’d also love to know whether he could write. And also, how he cooked, of course…


1. Barcelona, Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó, Cancilleria, Borrell II, no. 7, ed. Federico Udina i Martorell in his El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Madrid 1951), no. 174*:

In nomine Domini. Ego Borrellus, comes et marchio seu Guifredus, consanguineus meus, nos simul in unum, sub inviolabile Dei fide eiusque sacra confidencia, hanc donacionem Domino Deo eligimus facere santoque suo martiri Saturnino, qui est situs in comitatu Orgellitense, non longe distante ab eiusdem sedem Sancte Marie iusta amne, sicuti et facimus. Donamus namque, pronto animo, ad coenobium prelibata et ad Amelio abbate et fratribus tibi comorantibus vel qui post ea futuri erant ecclesias, qui ab antico tempore erant fundatas et sacris altaribus titulatis in extremis ultimas finium marchas in locum vocitato caustrum Lordano vel in civitate Isauna, que est destructa a sarracenis et ecclesias que ibi sunt, scilicet, in castro Lordano vel in civitate iamdicta quam in earum confinia vel in eorum omnia pertinencia qui infra sunt constructas vel ad future erant construendas. Quarum prima in eius castro Lordano sancti Saturnini est nuncupata Ecclesia. Alia sancte Marie est nuncupata in ipsa civitate de Isona, que est destructa. Alia sancti Vincencii qui fuit Monasterium in caput iamdicte ville, iustam fontem que dicunt Clara.
His prefatas ecclesias concedimus et donamus ad prelibatum cenobium cum eorum laudibus et possessionibus ac universis adquisicionibus cum illorum decimis et primiciis seu oblaciones fidelium vivorum et defunctorum ab integre; et de nostras dominicas laboraciones presentes et futuras ipsas decimas concedimus ad ipsam ecclesiam sancte Marie integriter. Similiter facimus et de laboraciones de ipsos spiculatores ac custos qui custodiunt ipsum castrum ponimus ad ipsas ecclesias iamdictas que incoamus a parte orientis in sumitate de ipsa rocha que vocant Dronb et sic vadit per sumitatem de ipsa serra usque in collo de Tolo et sic descendit per istam aquam qui discurrit ante Tolo et pervadit usque in Procerafita et ascendit per ipsum rivum de Abilio usque in collum de Abilia et usque in collum de Spina.
Quantum iste affinitates includunt, sic concedimus ad monasterium sancti Saturnini prelibato vel ad abbates, ad monachos presentes et futuri, ut faciant per presiones ubicumque voluerint nec potuerint longe lateque per universorum loca, hermis solitudinis edificent ecclesias, faciant munificenciis in congruis locis et obducant laboratores qui ipsas heremitates reducant ad culturam et in ipsis munificenciis habitent et adquirant ibi et emant de ipsis possessoribus quantum illis Deus dederit et possibile eis fuerit. Et de ipsis per prisionibus qui tam ibidem factas habent vel future facture sunt, seu de acquisicionibus eorum ipsas decimas que inde exierint, concedimus et donamus ea omnia ad preciosum martirem Saturninum et de nostro iure in eius contrahimus possessionem, simul cum exiis et regresiis eorum. Iterum damus monachi iamdicti ut faciant aprisiones ad ipsam ripam de Noguera, in locum que vocant Calzina, in ipso plano ante podium de Pugentoso, in locum que vocant Calzina et ante podium de Petra et ipsam aquam qui descendit de ipsis montibus decem pariatas ad uno anno in decem ad alio et construant ecclesiam in honore sante Marie et ipsam ecclesia abeat decimas et primicias et oblaciones de ipsa Perafita et usque ad flumen Nogaria et usque in flumine Gaveto et super ipsos montes de Calcina. Hoc tamen sit sub manu et fidelitate nostra filiorumque nostrorum et cuncta que ad Monasterium pertinent vel pertinere debent sub defensione et gubernacione nostra servetur per cuncta tempora.
Facta huius [carta] donacionis in Barchinona civitate die iii. kalendas augusti, anno xviiii. regnante Leutario rege. Si quis contra hanc karta donacionis voluerit disrumpere non hoc valeat facere sed componant in duplo et cum Data et Abiron porcionem accipiat.
Signum Borrellus, comes marchio. Wisadus, episcopus, SS. Wifredus, SS. Frugifer, presul, SS. Sig+num Marchoaldus. Sig+num Guadallus, princeps cotorum. Sign+num Arnaldus. Sig+num Senterius.
Bonifilius, presbiter, qui hoc rogateus scripsit.

2. J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London 2010), pp. 117-118 for comital claims to wasteland and pp. 154-155 for direct lordship over peasants; cf. G. Feliu, “La pagesia catalana abans de la feudalització” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 26 (Barcelona 1994), pp. 19-41, repr. in idem, La llarga nit feudal: Mil anys de pugna entre senyors i pagesos (València 2010), pp. 93-110.

3. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 15-17, gives some account of the differing models that have been suggested for frontier settlement; J. Jarrett, “Settling the Kings’ Lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 18 (Oxford 2010), pp. 320-342, has some worked-out examples and engages more critically with the historiography on the issue.

4. A more obvious example of this happening can be found in J. Rius Serra (ed.), Cartulario de «Sant Cugat» del Vallés (Barcelona 1946), II no. 464, which I discussed in an earlier post here.

5. Referring to Feliu, “Pagesia”, and also his “Societat i econòmia” in Federico Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium internacional sobre els orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), also published as Memorias de la Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), I pp. 81-115. On the peculiar rôle of Guifré on the frontier, see my earlier post here and references there.

One question I haven’t reopened here is why, if what is happening here is something that was so common in later eras, the count used a charter of donation rather than an actual contract to do it with. One may argue that those documents have yet to be developed, and that the change is only in the documents, and here I might be more inclined to buy that than I was last time I raised that argument, because firstly this must have been going on in many forms for many centuries, and secondly because such contracts are almost unknown this early; there are pacts of complantation and so on (explained here) but not actual deeds of obligation or whatever. I suspect that in this case at least, the answer is that the count liked the idea of couching this in a way that means the monks would have to pray for him for getting all this work to do.

6. J. Lalinde Abadia, “Godos, hispanos y hostolenses en la órbita del rey de los Francos” in Udina, Symposium Internacional II, pp. 35-74.

7. Printed in Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Diplomatari del monestir de Tavèrnoles (segles IX-XIII)” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis històrics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 12 (Montserrat 1995), pp. 7-414, doc. no. 23. The doubt over it being an original isn’t serious, but it seems to have been used, along with Manuel Riu i Riu, “Diplomatari del monestir de Sant Llorenç de Morunys (971-1613)” in Urgellia Vol. 4 (1981), pp. 187-259, no. 1, to create at least Baraut, “Tavèrnoles”, doc. no. 21 and Petrus de Marca, Marca Hispanica sive Limes Hispanicus, hoc est geographica & historica descriptio cataloniæ, ruscinonis, & circumiacentium populorum, ed. É. Baluze (Paris 1688; repr. Barcelona 1972 & 1989), ap. CXV, ostensibly a copy of a copy of this document found in Urgell, which might even be the Tavèrnoles original but if so got `improved’ somewhere along the transmission. That forgers have had their hands on it doesn’t, however, seem to me to prejudice the original itself. It’s also from the Tavèrnoles version that I get the form of Guallus’s name, since as you can see Udina’s text renders him as Guadall. That would be a much more common name, which is partly why I reject it; I want this guy to be odd in as many ways as possible…

8. I discussed this in Rulers and Ruled, pp. 158-159, where I pointed out and will do again here, that a princeps coquorum, one Gunzo, is (unambiguously) recorded by the poet Ermold the Black in his praise poem on Emperor Louis the Pious, In honorem Hludowici, ed. Ernst Dümmler in idem (ed.), Poetae latini ævi carolini II, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Poetae) IV, p. 71. I can’t show that the two can be connected, but if there was a copy of Dhuoda’s Manual for William in Barcelona perhaps there was also a copy of In honorem Hludowici somewhere that someone had read and mentioned one day to Guallus…

That Bonnassie story in full, or, psst! wanna buy a tower?

The monastery of Sant Cugat del Vallès

I said I would tell you Pierre Bonnassie’s story that I used, with caution, in the Oxford seminar paper just gone, and so I will. It’s about a man called Hisnabert and a tower scam. No, not a pyramid scam: read on. Here’s how Bonnassie put it, in my own rough translation.1 He was writing of the wild lands beyond the organised frontier, and said:

This extreme march was really a terra incognita, except to a few specialists. How can one not, in dealing with this, cite the enormous mistake committed in 1012 by the monks of Sant Cugat concerning their territory of Calders? At that date, a certain Hisnabert, pretending to be descended from a very noble line, presented himself to them and claimed that he had, with great effort and at great expense, installed his household, his peasants and livestock there, cleared the territory there and built a tower fifteen cubits in height. The monks, taking him at his word, saw in him ‘an envoy of God and of Saint Cucuphat’ and conceded the domain to him under very advantageous conditions. It would only be five years later, in 1017, that they discovered the imposture (nothing had been done and Calders was in the same state ‘of desert and of solitude’ as in the past!) and they delayed no longer in getting the donation anulled by the judges of the count, Ramon Borrell.

Zing! How could this come about, you may ask, and there the answer is a bit more complex. Sant Cugat is one of the older monasteries in Catalonia: it later claimed to have been founded by Charlemagne (of course) but at the very least it was operational by the 850s, and in 878 it obtained a precept from King Louis II, the Stammerer as he is known to us, confirming all its properties.2 This was, shall we say, aimed at the future, in as much as it included a huge swathe of frontier land at that point well beyond any organised control.3 But, by the approach of the year 1000 that had changed; continuous creeping frontier clearance had advanced the line of organised settlement well into these “extreme furthest ultimate marches” and Sant Cugat was now facing the possibility of being able to claim its rights in these lands, for which reason in 982 it had had them freshly royally confirmed so as to deal with any possibility of people claiming reversion under the Visigothic thirty-year rule and so on.4 The territory was still far from them and difficult to control, of course, so this was why someone like Hisnabert would have seemed so heaven-sent to them; a powerful man who could perhaps reduce some of it to order and get them something out of it. (And if he couldn’t, of course, well, nothing much lost, something that Bonnassie’s version chooses not to consider.)

A tower in Calders, Barcelona

A tower in Calders (probably not the right one but not far off the right height)

But is this really what was happening? If so, it seems very odd that we get to hear about it. That the story was written down once in the grant to Hisnabert is probably explicable: this was an unusual situation and probably demurring voices were raised at the monastery, so the story functions here as a kind of insurance, saying why this odd thing made sense to do. But why do we have it? Once the old grant had been proved worthless, would you keep the original? and would you then, as Sant Cugat did, copy it up later into your cartulary? Okay, maybe their copying endeavour was that attention-less and their archiving that shoddy, but it’s a problem, enough of one to make the original text worth hunting down, and happily for us all, Josep Rius Serra’s edition of Sant Cugat’s cartulary is online. So, what does that say? Well, this is a long document, by the should-be-legendary super-scribe, Bonhom.5 It begins with an account of the capture of Barcelona by Louis the Pious that brought these lands into royal control, the fact that they then remained unused,

because of the incursion and persistent siege by a multitude of the depraved and most savage Ishmaelite race with their troops which raised battles and raids without intermission against the fortifications and castles of the Christians which were founded in the marches of the aforesaid Barcelona

all of which made it a bit unsafe, if you see what he means, and so for more than thirty years, do you see what he did there (and Bonhom is a judge, his own copy of the Visigothic law survives, we know he knew what that implied) it was left for pasturing beasts and nothing more.6 He then sets out the bounds of the property, and there’s quite a lot. But, he adds, after many years of this ceaseless plunder and demolition by the Muslims, Ramon Borrell and his brother Count Ermengol (the First of Urgell) raided through to Córdoba itself, guided by the Hand of God, and:

they put all the Saracens and Berbers to flight, with the help of God, and the king of the Muslims [Mucelemiticum], who had fled to them, they placed in the royal seat at Córdoba. Then God gave tranquillity unto the Christians, and they went out and walked everywhere around the aforesaid Marches [presumably thereby setting boundaries...] and they built many fortifications and castles which had once been destroyed by the aforesaid power of the pagans.

And, you see, this is why I don’t mind so much that there are no chronicles from this area so early, because that’s most of one for 1010 right there. There’s even truth behind the Biblical triumphalism: it seems that a number of frontier fortresses were demolished as part of the peace terms between Borrell II (because he had to come into this somewhere) and his brother Miró III and the Caliph al-Hakam II after he came to power in 961, so these places would have been vacant for most people’s memory by this time.7 And this is the context into which Hisnabert arrives, after a full page of the printed edition gone on historical preamble. Bonhom goes on:

Meanwhile there came forth a certain noble man, Hisnabert, of the nobler sort of origin, who predestined by God and Saint Cucuphat had taken over much of the aforesaid place and sought it from us to live in, he having come there with all his household… [and the rest as in Bonnassie]. For this place, heavy experience tells, was placed in great terror and trembling, so that anyone who should live there from day to day would not escape being himself often subject to danger on account of his or others’ possessions or money. On account of which it pleased us [Abbot Guitard of Sant Cugat, in whose voice the document is phrased] and all the congregation of monks subject to the aforesaid martyr, with the consent of the lord Count Ramon, his wife Countess Ermessenda acquiescing, Borrell Bishop of Osona assenting, Pere Bishop of Girona and Ermengol Bishop of Urgell agreeing, we unanimously with good heart and prompt will give and concede the aforesaid town and its church of Santa Oliva with the money or offerings of first fruits or other gifts of the faithful, and of these tithes we dedicate two whole parts [presumably of three]… to you the aforesaid Hisnabert.

There then follows a long precision of the terms under which he holds, which are basically that his family may inherit it but that neither he nor they may bestow this property or its proceeds anywhere other than Sant Cugat, that Sant Cugat will still be able to pasture their animals there and they retain rights of access and can remove him if necessary. And the abbot and fifteen monks sign along with six untitled laymen and the count and countess. So okay, let me just pull out some things there:

  1. If Hisnabert is actually a fraudster, it’s not just the monks and abbot he’s fooling here; he’s also fooled the count and countess and every bishop in Catalonia, some of whom know this area as only frontier landgrabbers could (that’s Saint Ermengol to you);8
  2. the specification of the property’s bounds calls it Santa Oliva, “as it was called in antiquity”; I don’t quite know if they’re anticipating him restoring the church, they don’t say so explicitly, but they do appear to anticipate it rendering tithe (or rather money: denaria not decima), which in turn implies a reasonable population base and it’s hard not to imagine the church is already up and running;
  3. it seems to be implied that Sant Cugat’s contact with this area has been, and will remain, running herds of animals through it; at that rate, they ought to be passing through the area probably twice a year if not more, and should also have known there was no tower if tower there wasn’t, not just far quicker than five years later but even before this was being granted, which is also implied by the gravis experientia of its vulnerability that they report; it all reads as if this was familiar territory to them, even if still wild.

All of which then makes me want to look at the five-years-later charter, also available online.9 And, lo, it is a bit complicated, but basically what happens here is that a woman called Adelaide comes to court at Barcelona, on behalf of her infant son by her late husband Guillem del Castell Sant Martí, whose father Galí had cleared some frontier territory at Calders, and she says Sant Cugat are moving in on her land and what’s the count going to do about it? So the abbot rocks up with his papal privilege and royal precepts and so forth and sets them all down, but the array of judges present, including Ponç Bonfill Marc, Son of Ervigi Marc the Wonder Judge, look them over and find there’s nothing in them covering this property. Red faces for Sant Cugat’s men! But it’s no better for Adelaide, who also can’t prove any right to the land. “On which account,” intones young Ponç, “it was judged in the same court to be better and more true that this land should be princely land just like the other spaces of waste land,” or to put it another way, the count gets to swipe it. It seems to be at this point that the abbot produced the grant to Hisnabert, or Isimbert as Ponç prefers to spell it, which is the first point at which it becomes clear we’re talking about the same property or properties, but the judges decided that since Sant Cugat had held no right to the land, they could not rightfully have granted it to Hisnabert. The count, however, so careless about his property, decided that probably Sant Cugat should have it after all, now, and granted it there anyway, aww, whereafter,

since it is necessary to build castles and fortifications in the waste marches and in solitary places against the attacks of the pagans, and since Isimbert himself did not develop this land, which instead remains a waste and solitude, the above-noted Guitard, abbot, and his monastic brothers were advised and ordered, on the instruction of Countess Ermessenda and by her son Count Berengar, and by the men written below, that they should seek out such a man as would build and develop this waste land in the service of God and Sant Cugat, just as they should require, and they give it to that man by this precarial charter of donation for management together.

By this stage I’ve already lost track of just whom Hisnabert even would have ripped off: Galí and son, the monks, the count? But what is clear is that no-one is here saying he wasn’t a nobleman or had lied or whatever, or that there was no tower. That would have been at Santa Oliva, presumably; the land here is at Calders, and the problem seems to be that he hadn’t developed that, in other words, that his tenure had resulted in insufficient value added. The count, or rather the countess—this case, despite its date of 1017, seems to have dragged on past Roman Borrell’s death in 1018, take note—weren’t happy with that, but the implication seems pretty strong that if the monastery had not been told to do otherwise, they’d have given the lands straight back into Hisnabert’s hands. Instead, the document as we have it has the whole hearing copied out merely as a precursor to the new grant to one Bonet Bernat. And then, right at the end, in a fit of afterthought worthy of his learned father, Ponç adds, along with his own signature and that of the other judges, this codocil:

we the judges who edited this, and by the ordination of our competence gave a term to the waste land at Torre, the tower that Isimbert made in the lands of Sant Cugat by the ordination of the above-noted donation that Abbot Guitard made to that Isimbert, and we reserved all the lands brought under cultivation, and all the buildings and workings that are in the circuit of the already-said tower to that term. The rest however, we ordain just as is written here. Signed Ponç, also known as Bonfill, cleric and judge, who have written these things….

And that, I think, changes everything. Because look, a tower! It was there all along! And cleared lands and buildings and stuff! Hisnabert had done his stuff! Instead, what seems to have happened is that Adelaide’s suit, far from the only one that Sant Cugat’s efforts to make its privileges and precepts count in these lands kicked off, had started an enquiry no-one wanted, not even her at the end, leading to Ramon Borrell being able to assert fiscal control of the area and thus retaining the ability to direct it, via Sant Cugat. That this is so, even though the terms on which it was given back to the monastery grant them full right, is clear from Ermessenda’s later order to change its manager; Bonet Bernat was presumably one of her people she wanted in instead. Or, indeed, maybe Hisnabert just hadn’t done enough. But either way, Sant Cugat weren’t, to their credit, about to turf him and his familia out on their collective ear; his tower was quietly secured as its own term by the judges, quite possibly once the countess (not a woman it was wise to cross) had left, and left “the rest… just as is written here”. So for once, a happy ending, except for Adelaide and her little son Bernat (wait, Bernat? but no, there are probably a dozen Bernats here, it probably isn’t the son being put in charge alas) at least.

Charter of Sant Cugat del Vallès

A charter of Sant Cugat (not the right one, but probably about the right height...)

Those of you who were at the paper will maybe notice that this isn’t quite how I told the story there: instead, I suggested that the monastery had dispossessed Hisnabert for some reason, and had kept the charter to be able to prove their own title to it and the terms under which they could do that, whereas actually it seems that they probably kept it because they still had him there on the land. I would have to confess that I seem to have relied too heavily on notes and didn’t myself then notice the codocil in the second document, which does rather alter the picture. Still, I take some small solace in the fact that apparently Bonnassie didn’t either and he had it in print for thirty-five years before anyone spotted a problem…


1. P. Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une société (Toulouse 1975, 1976), I p. 127.

2. R. d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolíngis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica II & III (Barcelona 1926-1952), Sant Cugat del Vallès I.

3. Not that this area was completely anarchic! I have got so fed up of waiting for my paper on this to come out that it is very tempting just to stick the proof PDF on the web somewhere, but for now, I still hope that you will one day be able to see: J. Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: Organisation of Society in the pre-Catalan ‘Terra de Ningú’” in †Alan Deyermond & Martin Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London forthcoming), pp. 83-109, now heading for its fourth third anniversary in process.

4. On the thirty-year rule you can at least see my work, in this case, Jonathan Jarrett, “Settling the King’s Lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 18 (Oxford 2010), pp. 320-342 at pp. 325-327.

5. The document is edited as J. Rius Serra (ed.), Cartulario de «Sant Cugat» del Vallés (Barcelona 1946), doc. no. 449.

6. On Bonhom, meanwhile, see 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. 84-92, where his copy of the Forum Iudicum is briefly described and where references to it are given.

7. See Jonathan Jarrett, “Archbishop Ató of Osona. False metropolitans on the Marca Hispanica” in Archiv für Diplomatik Vol. 56 (München forthcoming), pp. 1-42 at pp. 14-15 with references to the Catalan scholarship.

8. On whom see Jeffrey A. Bowman, “The Bishop Builds a Bridge: Sanctity and Power in the Medieval Pyrenees” in Catholic Historical Review Vol. 88 (Washington DC 2002), pp. 1-16.

9. Rius, Cartulario II, doc. no. 464. This one’s brilliant.

Name in print IV: the new Early Medieval Europe has me in it twice

This is the first part of the important news I’ve not been getting round to posting, and this bit already broken at Medieval History Geek. In fact, had I not checked in out of curiosity, Curt’s notice that the new issue of Early Medieval Europe was online would have been the first I’d heard of it myself; their mail didn’t arrive till rather later. That’s how cutting-edge he is folks! You will hear it there first, at least sometimes. And now today my single author’s copy has arrived in the post, so it is genuinely ‘out there’.

So yus. We have here two instances of me in my negative scholarly mode, in the first place a paper I’ve mentioned here a fair few times as it developed or waited but which was started by my reaction to an earlier EME paper by Cullen Chandler, on a procedure of land settlement from our mutual corner of medieval Europe which had a unique name, aprisio.1 This seems to come from the same root as aprehendere, means something like ‘taking over’ and if you read the article you’ll see that I have doubts as to whether it ever bore the legal significance that it’s often been given. Here’s the abstract:

Important aspects of social history can sometimes be lost in legalisms. A long debate, recently continued in EME, has studied the right of aprisio claimed by those who took over wasteland on the frontier of the future Catalonia. This paper argues that previous treatments of the term have conflated many separate factors and misunderstood what aprisio actually was in practice. When studied at ground level it seems that, despite the role given to immigrant settlers by historians, landholders by aprisio need not have been newcomers, but locals using new rules for otherwise normal land clearances.

After I’ve cleared the previous scholarship on the word and the phenomenon out of the way to my satisfaction, I do therefore get onto some more constructive consideration of how frontier settlement might have worked and how the various models fit with the actual evidence of practice. I think that that is the paper’s actual importance, but you could be forgiven for reading it as mainly a hatchet job on the older work, and in that it is true, ’tis pity, that Cullen’s paper gets the most blows with the axe, not least because it’s closest of course. Medieval History Geek has given Cullen a kind of right of reply with a post about it and if you want to see how we argue, there are a few comments there showing it in action. Here I just want to say, I first wrote this in 2003. It’s been through various stages of refinement as I referenced more and more previous scholarship in it, incorporated feedback, eased the critique and added more alternative views, but it was still in the print queue three months before I first met Cullen. At that first meeting I warned him this was coming, because I didn’t want us to become friendly and then him find out the hard way I’d only finished throwing daggers at his back a few months previously. I’m afraid I stand by every word, and I think they’re good words and am happy to have them being read, but it’s still kind of regrettable it’s taken this long, not least because the new paper of his that this one shares the issue with demonstrates perfectly well that he is a scholar to be taken seriously and learnt from.2

It’s also regrettable to an extent that this comes out at the same time as my review of Kathleen Davis’s book Periodization and Sovereignty: how ideas of feudalism and secularization govern the politics of time (Philadelphia 2008). I have not been kind about this book, which I think is two article-length ideas, one of which was already out, blown up to book-length by massive and unhelpful repetition and free use of ‘the language that locks others out‘, and which had no business going to an early medievalist journal. So I was thorough, so that someone could hopefully tell if they needed to read it despite my dislike, but my writing is unavoidably negative here as well. These two things were begun four years apart and have emerged together only by coincidence, but the effect on me is that I now want to reassure people that I can write nice things about people’s scholarship, honest.3

Statistics: the article presented once in 2005; three drafts, one revision stage. Time from first submission to print: two years six months, slowed at least in part by strategical favouring of things that at the time I thought would come out sooner. I guess we probably could have shaved six months off that if I’d put it first. Also, unless their printers are somehow mistaken, it would apparently cost me £750.00 to have any offprints at all and I can’t have fewer than fifty, which is taking the mickey I think, as is their copyright agreement. On the other hand I will say this: there were almost no errors in proof at all, and that was a wonderful surprise, as indeed was the publication… As for the review, one draft one revision, time from first submission to print one year one month, and there were no proofs of this to check but it looks fine now.


1. Jonathan Jarrett, “Settling the King’s Lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 18 (Oxford forthcoming), pp. 320-342, provoked by Cullen J. Chandler, “Between court and counts: Carolingian Catalonia and the aprisio grant, 778-897″, ibid. 11 (2002), pp. 19-44.

2 Chandler, “Barcelona BC 569 and a Carolingian programme on the virtues”, ibid. 18 (2010), pp. 265-291.

3. I have been taken to task for being too self-deprecating about my publications here, and this is probably fair: after all, EME’s a top-rated journal and I am, I am really pleased to be in it again. But it is the devil of publishing in the humanities that things take so long to come out that they have become awkward by the time they emerge, and this is a particularly sharp example of that.

Book bit bullets IV

There being little time for anything else, it’s time for another post of short reflections on reading; I’ve been travelling a lot lately so there has been time on trains for reading to be done. And I’ve come across quite a few interesting things, so here’s the traditional bullets.

Sveti Donata u Zadru

Sveti Donata u Zadru with accompanying Romanesque belltower

  • This is a round church in Croatia, Sveti Donata u Zadru, or San Donato de Zadar if you’re Italian—thankyou Phil for the Serbo-Croat version in comments—which I recently learnt actually predates Charlemagne’s chapel at Aachen, but resembles it so closely because basically as soon as the Croats learnt about the one at Aachen they seem to have remodelled this one to look more like that. This was part of an article that successfully set out the weird disconnection of the enthusiastic imitation of Carolingian court culture and architecture by a ruling élite which was otherwise deeply embedded, and indeed partly legitimised, by its political resistance to the Carolingians…1
  • Secondly, I am at last reading Mayke de Jong’s In Samuel’s Image and I just wanted to say, anyone who has met and talked to Mayke will be able to hear
    her at full strength in her preface; rarely have I seen a personality so clearly rendered in print. Also, of course, the book is really interesting and I’m glad I was given an excuse to make it urgent.2
  • I took it to Kalamazoo and back and never quite got round to reading it, but now I have finally read Cullen Chandler’s 2009 piece in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History.3 Detailed comment would be out of place here but it was a really strange experience to see someone else using so many of the examples I know well, and often to a different purpose. It was rather like going to a meeting or similar and finding that the person you’re meeting know half your friends via an entirely different route. Meanwhile, the article as a whole gives me plenty to think about, mostly in the area of why I tend to favour economic over social explanations of transaction and whether I should rebalance that, and on the other hand, when Cullen gets to read my book, he is going to wonder whether I somehow sneaked an advance peek at his paper and then used all his references, because we really have picked up on quite a lot of the same people…
  • As well as my ridiculous to-read pile (pile? nay, bookcase…) I also keep a computer folder of PDFs that looked interesting. I’m less far behind with these than I am with the books, and so just caught up with something that T’anta Wawa shoved in my direction when I first started talking interdisciplinarity with them, an article called “Facing the State, Facing the World” by Michael F. Brown, which is about Amazonian peoples and how their self-identification has changed through their dealings with their various ruling states.4 The amount of stuff that rings out to me from this about identity formation on my tenth-century borders is so huge that I am basically going to pounce on TW as soon as their thesis is finished and brandish plans for a joint paper at them, in which I pontificate and they rein me in. There is plenty of this conversation to have. You may also find the paper interesting…
  • In an ideal world I would have managed to read all of Wolfgang Metz’s Karolingische Reichsgut before I had to give my Kalamazoo paper, or indeed before I finalised the text of “Settling the Kings’ Lands”, but at that point the world was not ideal in that way. He was asking a lot of questions I’ve always wondered about, to do with just how the Carolingians ran their lands and kingdoms, and one of the things he’s principally concerned with towards the end of the book is whether the nobility are given fiscal lands as part of their office, and how much and where, or whether their family lands are more important. Almost in the closing pages he suggests particularly that the Carolingian kings kept the nobility out of their biggest estates, the palace complexes like Ingelheim and Frankfurt, and that the counts of these palaces, while they seem in some cases to have had land associated with their office, had it at dispersed estates in the neighbourhood, rather than actually being in a position to live off the palace lands proper.5 This makes me wonder just how far the Carolingians were aware of the origins of their own rulership and the danger of over-mighty nobles in their lands. It should also serve to remind us of course that what of the fisc the Carolingians gave away is not half as important as what they retained, especially since in charter evidence we only really see the former and the latter remains a kind of fiscal dark matter which, in the case of places like Frankfurt at least, retained considerable gravitational pull.
  • Lastly, we have spoken here before of the erudite scholar and gentleman, Professor Gaspar Feliu i Montfort, and his slightly pessimistic view of the welfare of the peasantry in Catalonia’s feudal period. He deserves a lot more readership than he gets, especially among anyone working on the peasantry. I have also, I hope, mentioned his considerable generosity with time and photocopies, I’d have found the field far harder to work without his ready help, and now he has a new book out, a volume of collected papers including some stuff that’s new to me and which I shall have to get through urgently.6 Happily, and kindly, he has made this much easier by sending me a copy, for which I owe him many thanks—I hope I can reciprocate soon—and this makes me very pleased. It must be said though that he is almost in danger of stereotyping himself as the peasant pessimist, because not only does this collect most of the material in which he makes such arguments, but also the volume bears a title that could hardly be bettered in that line, La llarga nit feudal. Mil anys de conflicte entre senyors i pagesos, or for those reading only in English, The Long Feudal Night: a thousand years of conflict between lords and peasants. I assure you that he is a lot more cheerful in person than this makes him sound…
  • Cover of Gaspar Feliu's new book, La llarga nit feudal

    Cover of Gaspar Feliu's new book, La llarga nit feudal


    1. I learnt about this from M. Jurkovic & A. Milosevic, “Split. Croatas y Carolingias: arte y arquitectura en Croacia en la alta edad media” in Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña Carolingia: arte y arquitecture antes del románico (siglos IX y X) (Barcelona 1999), pp. 165-170, transl. as “Split. Croats and Carolingians: art and architecture in the early Middle Ages”, ibid. pp. 501-504.

    2. M. de Jong, In Samuel’s Image: child oblation in the early medieval west, Brill’s Studies in Intellectual History 12 (Leiden 1996).

    3. C. J. Chandler, “Land and Social Networks in the Carolingian Spanish March” in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History 3rd Series Vol. 6 (Brooklyn 2009), pp. 19-44.

    4. M. F. Brown, “Facing the State, Facing the World: Amazonia’s native leaders and the new politics of identity” in L’Homme : revue française d’anthropologie Vol. 33, nos 126-128 (Paris 1993), pp. 307-326, online via Persée here.

    5. W. Metz, Das karolingische Reichsgut: eine verfassungs- und verwaltungsgeschichtliche Untersuchung (Berlin 1960), pp. 187-195.

    6. G. Feliu, La llarga nit feudal: mil anys de conflicte entre senyors i pagesos (Valencia 2010).

Guifré consangineus Borrelli comite

The Castell de Llordà, Vall d'Aran, the centre of the old term of Isona

The Castell de Llordà Vall d'Aran, the centre of the old term of Isona

I’m coming to realise that in some ways the best thing for this blog’s content, other than commentary on other people’s research which always feels a little parasitical, is the footnotes that don’t make it. You know what I mean? The word limit is tight, there’s this thing you’ve tried to dispatch in a paragraph, you’re pleased with its erudition but it doesn’t ultimately have much to do with your argument. So it gets cut every time and you never actually get it in print. (Not that the stuff that stays in ever yes let’s leave that shall we right.) But they’re perfect for blog posts. So here’s one about a man called Guifré. Or maybe Gauzfred.

Gauzfred, or maybe Guifré, and far from alone in my period and area in bearing either name, was a relation of Count Borrell II of Barcelona, Girona, Osona and Urgell (945/7-993), which is how I know about him. Exactly what relation he was, however, is not clear. He turns up in documents only four or five times, which is more than some nobles get, but still isn’t really enough. Let me break them down for you:

  1. In 973 he appears with Borrell in two fascinating charters whereby the deserted city of Isona, where Borrell had been maintaining garrisons and a small rural population to support them, was handed over to the monastery of Sant Sadurni de Tavèrnoles with instructions that they should populate the area. There’s masses more that could be said about this operation and as it is another footnote that didn’t make it I may well blog it separately. For now, however, note that our man appears here as Guifré, consanguineus Borrelli, kinsman of Borrell.1
  2. The next one is the dubious case; in a document of 981 through which land was sold just outside the city of Vic in the centre of Osona (not Isona), at a place called les Planes, a Count Guifré is named as neighbour. This is difficult because there was living at the time a Guifré who would later be Count of Cerdanya, and his brother Oliba was already entitled count by this time even though their father, Marquis Oliba Cabreta of Cerdanya, was still living. This is a family where the comital dignity was always shared between all brothers so if one of that generation were a count by 981, it’s not impossible firstly that little Guifré were and secondly that he had land in the thriving city of Vic where the family was well connected, even though it be in someone else’s actual county. Otherwise, however, we have to believe that this was Borrell’s kinsman because of how he goes on to appear.2
  3. In 987 there was a very large gathering about the frontier city of Cardona, which is probably also worth a blog post but has at least had lots written about it already. At it, Borrell attempted to refound the city for the third time in his family’s history, and gave the inhabitants substantial judicial privileges and amnesty to any fugitives who made it there. He also made Viscount Ermemir of Osona their defence commander and patron, and did various other things organising their independent operation. Guifré, or rather Gauzfred was there to see it done, and attested as Gocefredus comes et frater Borrelli, Gauzfred, count and brother of Borrell. Guifré of Cerdanya was Borrell’s second cousin once removed, and besides the name is different this once, so this is definitely not meant to be him and far more likely to be the mysterious kinsman with frontier interests.3
  4. Later that same year the same Viscount Ermemir is said to have made a present of some of his properties in that area to the new monastery of Santa Maria de Serrateix, which, confusingly, the family of Guifré of Cerdanya had recently founded and about which we will shortly hear more in The Case of the Disappearing Abbot. This document is what they call ‘dead dodgy’ as it attributes the foundation, which was within living memory by a count still in power, Oliba Cabreta no less, to his grandfather Guifré the Hairy, already halfway to legend in this area but not a plausible figure for the job in 987. It’s possible however that that’s all that’s been changed in this copy, and whether that be so or not there appears as witness Gauzfred, frater comitis Borrelli, brother of count Borrell, without a noble title of his own.4

There may be more in documents whose editions I haven’t yet got at, Solsona especially given the focus of these involvements, but I would like to think he’d have been spotted by the aristocracy-hungry antiquarians of yore. So, let’s briefly gather that: a kinsman of Borrell’s who can later be described as a brother—but then why not call him that in the first place? At first not a count—there are some titles that don’t always get mentioned when individuals are doing business but that’s not one—but later a count in good standing, and then finally, when not with Borrell but witnessing a donation to the ‘other’ family’s house, not a count again. Almost always concerned with lands on the far frontier, but the only sign of his own land is back at Osona, which hasn’t been on the frontier for a century.

The Parador de Cardona, 14th-century castle in a 9th-century precinct and now a hotel!

The Parador de Cardona, 14th-century castle in a 9th-century precinct and now a hotel!

The evaluation of these traces is difficult because these documents of course have authors. Some of their content is dictated by the formulae that legally valid, or maybe socially adequate, documents, ought to follow, but less than you might think. For example, there is no formula for the Cardona franchise, because there just isn’t another occasion like it: it has a short narrative, a privilege unrivalled by anything else in the area’s history and so many special provisions that it bends out of any standard shape. It was clearly also a major occasion and the scribe may have been inclined to record it in high register, giving people dignity and standing they didn’t normally own to (though he didn’t call Borrell dux, which sometimes happens on such occasions).5 And lastly it survives only as a copy, so whatever agendas it was drafted with have probaby also gone through more or less conscious corrections by the copyist. That’s the sort of problem I mean. The scribe who (originally) wrote the Serrateix donation presumably worked for the abbey, which was a family house for the family of Besalú-Cerdanya, not Guifré consanguineus‘s, so would they have recognised any half-title he might get in circumstances like the Cardona one? If they did, did the eventual copyist who added in the Guifré the Hairy reference recognise it, and might he have taken out this other Count Guifré’s title anyway, and even maybe chosen the name Gauzfred instead, to stop him confusing things and making it look even more anachronistic? And then what did his neighbours in Osona call him and is that the only really normal record?

Then, who might he in fact be? Borrell had two known brothers, Ermengol Count of Osona who first appears in 942 and seems to have been dead in 945 when Borrell first appears as count donating for his late brother’s soul, and Miró, who after the retirement of their father Sunyer in 947 succeeds alongside Borrell to the counties of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, but who seems from his will and Borrell’s almost non-appearance there till then to have been really concentrated on Barcelona alone.6 Both these are mentioned in other family wills and so on, but Gauzfred is not. He is not to be prayed for in either of Miró’s or Borrell’s bequests, or mentioned in Sunyer’s or his second wife Riquilda’s donations either. But Sunyer had a previous wife, Eimilda, whom we hardly see except in her marriage pact, which isn’t dated as it survives but from the presence of an older Viscount Ermemir of Osona we can date to before 917.7 There are no children recorded from that marriage and we don’t see very much trace of her, but Szabolcs de Vajay has argued that a woman called Guinilda who turns up in the nobility of southern France ought to be identified as a daughter of this marriage, and if there was one…8 And it is clear at least that Gauzfred’s family relationship to Borrell is troublesome to describe, as well as being strongly implied by the record that Sunyer’s second wife got her sons into the succession and managed to more or less wipe out the record of poor Eimilda and her children if there were any.

The monastery of Santa Maria de Serrateix as it now stands

The monastery of Santa Maria de Serrateix as it now stands

So since I first discovered this guy in the records, my feeling has been that he was a son of Sunyer, either by Eimilda or by some other relationship not recorded, who was shunted out of any claim he might have had to the succession by Sunyer’s second marriage and the grooming of those children for the various counties in Sunyer’s hands. However, like those mysterious priests of a while back there were apparently some things for which dealing with this awkward relative were necessary, and with brother Miró safely dead and the need to organise the far frontier whither Gauzfred seems to have been banished, at least professionally, Borrell seems to me to have found him a róle as a coordinator and overseer of the various agencies, monasteries, bishops and viscounts, he had running settlement projects in these rather wild areas.

So I like to think of Gauzfred as a greying warlord, quite possibly based in Isona, a man who had never got to be count, to whom Borrell made an offer of status that he couldn’t refuse in exchange for cooperation in those northern frontier zones and who at last took a place in the state for a short while. But he must have been old when he did so. Count Ermengol was apparently old enough to fight in 942, so at least 14 and probably older. That means that Sunyer was married to Riquilda by 927 latest and I would rather say at most 925. If Gauzfred was born to Eimilda the previous year, 924, he would have been 49 by the time his rehabilitation appears to us, and then 64 by the time of his last appearance; and given that Sunyer and Eimilda were married by 917 at least he could clearly have been a lot older. All the same it heartens me, to see in these documents not just the fascinating machinations of frontier government, and the righteous-aggressive process of bringing it into touch with a dominant centre, but also the 40-year-old magnate Borrell reaching out the hand of friendship to his ten-year-or-more-senior family black sheep, and it apparently being accepted after so long quite literally in the wilderness. I hope that Gauzfred was able to die happy with his lot.


1. Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Diplomatari del monestir de Tavèrnoles (segles IX-XIII)” in Urgellia Vol. 12 (Montserrat 1995), pp. 7-414, doc. nos 23 & 24, the former also edited from a different copy as Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 17, Publicaciones de la Sección de Barcelona 15 (Madrid 1951), doc. no. 174.

2. Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX i X), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), 5 fascs, doc. no. 491. On little Count Oliba of Ripoll and his even littler brother Guifré, and indeed their martial then monastic father, see Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, L’Abat Oliba, Bisbe de Vic, i la seva època (Barcelona 1948; 2nd edn. 1948; 3rd edn. 1962), 3rd edn. repr. as “L’Abat Oliba i la seva època” in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i Documents 13-14 (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), II pp. 141-277.

3. Now edited by Antoni Galera i Pedrosa (ed.), Diplomatari de la vila de Cardona, anys 966-1276: Arxiu Parroquial de Sant Miquel i Sant Vicenç de Cardona, Arxiu Abacial de Cardona, Arxiu Històric de Cardona, Arxius Patrimonials de les masies Garriga de Bergus, Pala de Coma i Pinell, Diplomataris 15 (Barcelona 1998), doc. no. 7, but the older edition of Jaime Villanueva, Viage Literario a las Iglesias de España tomo VIII: viage á las iglesias de Vique y Solsona (Valencia 1821), ap. XXX, is still useful because of the commentary. More up to date work on this document and its contents from Victor Farias, “Guerra, llibertat i igualitarisme a la frontera” in B. Riquer i de Permanyer (ed.), Historia Política, Societat i Cultura dels Països Catalans volum 2: la formació de la societat feudal, segles VI-XII, ed. Josep María Salrach i Marès (Barcelona 1998, repr. 2001), pp. 112-113.

4. Villanueva, Viage Literario VIII, doc. XXVII. This must also be edited in Jordi Bolòs i Masclans (ed.), Diplomatari del monestir de Santa Maria de Serrateix (segles X-XV), Diplomataris 42 (Barcelona 2006), but I haven’t found time to get at that yet; it would be interesting to see what Prof. Bolòs thinks of our man Gauzfred. These two volumes are also where all the other evidence for early Serrateix and its foundation come from so I must check it before writing up the Disappearing Abbot.

5. I have argued that there is no authentic charter calling Borrell dux except a huge and grandiloquent donation to Sant Cugat del Vallès and the consecration of Sant Benet de Bages, the former written up by the equally verbose scribe and judge Bonhom, edited by J. Rius (ed.), Cartulario de «Sant Cugat» del Vallés vol. I (Barcelona 1945), doc. no. 217, and the latter not by Bonhom but equally over-the-top, ed. Albert Benet i Clarà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Ciutat de Manresa (segles IX-XI), Diplomataris 6 (Barcelona 1994), doc. no. 92; see Jonathan Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis, University of London 2005, pp. 64-66. On Bonhom, who is a fabulous generator of source material, see 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. 84-92.

6. On the evidence for the family, see Prosper de Bofarull y Mascaró, Los Condes de Barcelona Vindicados, y Cronología y Genealogía de los Reyes de España considerados como Soberianos Independientes de su Marca (Barcelona 1836, repr. 1990), vol. I online at http://www.archive.org/details/loscondesdebarce01bofauoft, last modified 10 Jul. 2008 as of 15 Jan. 2009, I pp. 64-81. I argue for the grooming of a son for each county in J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London forthcoming).

7. Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 9.

8. I can’t find the de Vajay reference now, for some reason, but I think I must have got it from Martin Aurell, “Jalons pour une enquête sur les stratégies matrimoniales des comtes catalans (IXe-XIe s.)” in Federico Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium internacional sobre els orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), also published as Memorias de le Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols. 33 & 34 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), I pp. 281-364.

This man has got the idea

Every now and then there is a need for an article or paper that states a lot of stuff that we sort of already knew. Often there is new evidence involved, but even if there wasn’t, sometimes it’s just really useful to have many people’s work concentrated. It’s also really handy to set for students. If I were teaching medieval frontiers or property or territory, for example, I would set this:

One could live according to the customs of a province without coming under the jurisdiction of its prince. Every person knew what the border of his property was and what belonged to his neighbour. But such a property could have been divided between two or more rulers. The owner of the property knew to whom he was obliged to pay taxes and offer gifts on religious holidays, who would try him if he committed a heinous offence and who would try him if he committed a lesser offence. In the event of war, he usually knew where danger lay and on whose side he should be in order to fulfil his auxilium duties. But all these spheres did not necessarily overlap.

I don’t think you’ll find that in a clearer paragraph anywhere.1 Lots of people have said it before, but rarely if ever all together like that. And it actually helps, it helps me a lot because it’s a fairly complete bunch of things that someone in some kind of power could have expected to demand, from various subjects, and which of them are ‘public’ and which ‘private’ would be very hard to call. If a count has rights of high justice and military service over a settlement’s inhabitants, but has installed a castellan who takes the immediate revenues and has the rights of low justice, and can also demand limited public service, who is the public representative? What about if the castellan stops letting the count into the castle on demand? What if it’s not a castellan but the count just sets someone to whom he owes a favour up on revenues from an estate, as the Carolingian kings did with so many followers? Is that person getting public revenues or have they been privatised? More importantly, does it help to think in these terms? I find that, actually, it doesn’t. And the bundle of that paragraph is basically why.


1. Ronnie Ellenblum, “Were there borders and borderlines in the Middle Ages? The example of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem” in David Abulafia & Nora Berend (edd.), Medieval Frontiers: concepts and practices (Aldershot 2002), pp. 105-118. The whole volume is really pretty good, it seems to me; I may reluctantly have to spend money on it.