Tag Archives: judicial practice

Law is what you make it: fixing documents in Catalonia in the year 1000 or long before

One of the things that marked Catalonia under Carolingian rule out from the rest of Charlemagne’s Empire was its continuing adherence to and use of the Visigothic Law that had run in the counties on the Franks’ arrival, and of course presumably since long before. We see this in two ways, procedural and textual. That is, people did things that we recognise from the law, such as the elaborate procedure of declaring a dead person’s will before judges or the losing party in a court case issuing a quitclaim or evacuatio disclaiming any right to take the suit up again; or else they invoke the law when doing things, often by specific chapter and verse but as often just as an idea, from which Roger Collins long ago got an article title, “Sicut lex gothorum continet“, ‘as is contained in the Law of the Goths’.1

A Catalan copy of  the Visigothic Law, Abadia de Montserrat MS 1109, from Wikimedia Commons

An actual Catalan copy of the Visigothic Law, Abadia de Montserrat MS 1109, from Wikimedia Commons

A decade ago already, Jeffrey Bowman added to this a sharp analysis of how selective and free-handed that quotation could be, however.2 A particularly common deformation is what is ‘contained in the law of the Goths’ about inheritance. Book IV Title 2 Era 20 says, as Bowman translates it: “Every freeborn man and woman, whether belonging to the nobility or of inferior rank, who has no children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, has the unquestionable right to dispose of his or her estate at will.”3 This is quoted relatively often at the beginning of donations to churches, and sometimes of sales although they tend to invoke other parts of the law, but when it turns up it always turns up with the bit about children and their descendants omitted. Thus what was originally a law that formed part of a block of twenty strictly regulating inheritance so as to prevent property-owners disinheriting their heirs through pious donation (or anything else) winds up being invoked to cover exactly that possibility. Bowman has other examples of this selective quoting, but what he has none of is cases where the people using the law actually write their own provisions into it, and that seems to be what I found towards the end of Catalunya Carolíngia IV.

This should probably have been spotted, in fact, because the document is in a small way famous. It records a gathering at the church of Sant Julià de Manresa (hitherto unrecorded) in March 1000, when in front of the judge Guifré a chap called Odsèn brought three people to swear under oath what had been in nine charters by which he and his wife Sabrosa held property, charters which had recently been lost in a fire. The level of recall is quite surprising, frequently flipping into the narrative person of the actual documents as if actually quoting, and calls to mind an earlier case of similar replacements in which the receipient of the property was said to have got them read out three times at the places involved, although since as I’ve shown that case was using a written model from elsewhere I don’t know quite how we explain what looks like the results of its procedures coming out here, eighty miles west and a a century later.4

There is basically no trace of the church of Sant Julià in Manresa now so the best I can do is tell you roughly where we are for this story...

We actually do have a good few cases of this, however, and it’s clear enough that a procedure existed to handle such losses that it has been given a name by legal scholars, reparatio scripturae.5 It was perfectly legal as far as Guifré was concerned, anyway, as we can tell because he says:

“And after I had heard and seen their numerous testimonies, I the above-said judge looked in the Law of the Goths, in Book VII, Title 5, Era 2, where it says:

‘If indeed they shall have burned in a fire any scripture required by law or stolen and burnt such a scripture, they shall give their professions in the presence of a judge and those professions be confirmed by witnesses, so that the lost or destroyed scriptures may be given force, or if most evidently what the scriptures contained cannot be recalled, then to those whose scriptures they were shall be given licence to prove them by their oath or by testimony’.6

This is, you may think, slightly creative, in as much as what that law seems to have been about is people like the Lombard Pando who famously burnt a document and was then forced to admit by a judge that, “If it had been favourable to me, I would hardly have burnt it”, that is, people who had destroyed their own stuff and needed to be called on it.7 Still, it obviously served Guifré’s purpose as well. Exactly how far Guifré had gone towards fitting the law to the case is however only evident if you actually go and check his citation. For convenience, here’s the translation of S. P. Scott, but the Latin can be checked at the Digtal MGH and he seems to be on the mark here to me:

“If any person should steal, or deface, a document belonging to another, and should afterwards confess, in the presence of the judge, that he had stolen or defaced said document, and this confession should be corroborated by witnesses, said testimony shall have the same force in law as the destroyed or defaced document would have, if it still existed in its integrity. But if the contents of the document cannot be shown with certainty, he who drew it up shall be permitted to prove by his own oath, or by a witness, what said document contained.”8

Now, the differences are partly only in translation: Scott, seeing that the fifth Title of Book VII is called “On Forgers of Documents”, obviously went fully out to make it clear who was to blame for what, and has used ‘confession’ for the word I’ve translated ‘profession’ and so forth; actually the Latin is not so far apart, except that there is no mention of fire in the original. Not one. There is Visigothic Law about stuff that gets lost in fires, but it wouldn’t have helped here and Guifré didn’t quote it. Instead he bolted in some extra phrases to the law, to the very written model he was invoking to justify the outcome of the case, to make sure it applied. (Or the scribe did, this is also possible but doesn’t take away the point, I think, since Guifré is said to have looked it up and found it there.)

Well, you may say, in a saving throw for Y1K Catalan jurisprudence, perhaps there were updated copies of the Law out there that did have this in; perhaps a seventh-century Ur-text established by the best models of German philological editing in the nineteenth century is not the best guide to what people were actually using hundreds of miles from Toledo centuries later. And this is fair enough: what we would really need is, if not Guifré’s own copy of the Book of Judges (for so the Law was called), at least a contemporary one and ideally one from the same judicial milieu. And as it happens we have one of those, copied by Guifré’s occasional colleague Bonhom, my official favourite scribe.9 Even better, there is a recent critical edition of one of them and better still than that, because this is reckoned one of the foundational texts of Catalan law, no less an authority than the Parlament of the Generalitat de Catalunya has stuck it on the open web for free. And this is all very useful, because actually here the Latin is even closer to what Guifré quoted, except that the bit about fire still isn’t there.10

A manuscript of the Liber Iudicum Popularis in the Biblioteca de l'Escorial

A manuscript of the Liber Iudicum Popularis in the Biblioteca de l’Escorial, probably not MS Z.II.2 that we want here but all I can find on the web and probably nicer anyway

It’s hard to see this as forgery in our modern sense, or at least, it is for me. Guifré was not out to defraud anyone here: Odsèn and Sabrosa were in a pickle, they had no problem producing witnesses whose testimony was obviously more or less accurate, no-one seems to have been contesting their right to the lands, and it was Guifré’s job to put the cladding of proper legal process back onto their ownership of it. The law wouldn’t quite cover the case, so he edited it so that it would serve and so that everybody could have what they needed from the meeting. This is very much the model of medieval ‘forgery’ propounded by such luminaries as Christopher Brooke and Giles Constable long ago, where the intent was not necessarily to deceive but to supply evidence that was sincerely believed once to have existed for things everyone knew to be true.11 Here the evidence didn’t exist, but it was needed, so it was supplied. Nothing was lost from this, except perhaps the integrity of the law. But the big point here is that that is our idea of how texts and authorities work, not the medieval one in use here. So often we have to wonder whether ‘the medievals’ thought and reasoned the same way we did. It is useful, therefore, to be able to point at a concrete case and say: this was different, but it was different in a way that we can easily understand, if we choose.


1. Roger Collins, “‘Sicut lex Gothorum continet’: law and charters in ninth- and tenth-century León and Catalonia” in English Historical Review Vol. 100 (London 1985), pp. 489-512, repr. in idem, Law, Culture and Regionalism in Early Medieval Spain, Variorum Collected Studies 356 (Aldershot 1992), V; the milestone name in the Catalan historiography is Aquilino Iglesia Ferreirós, whose classic “La creación del derecho en Cataluña”, in Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español Vol. 47 (Madrid 1977), pp. 99-423, is now revised in his La creación del Derecho: una historia del Derecho español (Barcelona 1988), 3 vols, 2nd edn. (Barcelona 1989-1991), 3 vols; a shorter version of the early medieval part of his scheme is available as “El Derecho en la Cataluña altomedieval” 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 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992) and thus online here, II pp. 27-34.

2. Jeffrey 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. 33-55.

3. Karl Zeumer (ed.), Leges Visigothorum, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Leges Nationum Germanicum) I (Hannover 1902, repr. 2005), transl. S. P. Scott as The Visigothic Code (Boston 1922), IV.2.20, quoted with modifications Bowman, Shifting Landmarks, p. 40.

4. The document here is Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 1840; the previous case is ibid., doc. nos 33 & 34, on which see J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis (University of London 2005), online here, pp. 49-53.

5. A term first coined by José Rius Serra, “Reparatio Scriptura” in Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español Vol. 5 (Madrid 1928), pp. 246-253; see now Bowman, Shifting Landmarks, pp. 151-164, pp. 155-156 covering the point I make here but not this case or its special characteristic.

6. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 1840: “Et posquam audivi et vidi sua plurima testimonia supradictus iudex inquisivi in lege gotorum in liber septimus, titulus quintus, ers secunda, ubid dicit: «Si vero alicuo iuri debitam scripturam ad ignem concremaverint aut eandem scripturam substraxisent vel concremasent coram iudicem suas professiones depronant quod professiones ad testibus roboratas, perdiates vel vinciatas scripturas robur obtineant, quod si evidentisime quod scripturas continebant recordare non potuerint, tunc illis quibus scripturas fuerint habeant licentiam comprobare per illorum sacramentum vel per testem».”

7. For details and analysis see Antonio Sennis, “Destroying Documents in the Early Middle Ages” in J. Jarrett & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout 2013), pp. 151-169, the case instanced at p. 151 with reference.

8. Admittedly, the Latin can’t be checked at the dMGH right now, because it seems to be down, but when I first stubbed this post and did the checks for it at the end of July 2012 (argh) it checked out fine then. The translation is from Scott, Visigothic Code, VII.5.2.

9. On him see Bowman, Shifting Landmarks, pp. 84-99.

10. Jesús Alturo i Perucho, Joan Bellès, Josep M. Font Rius, Yolanda García & Anscarí Mundó (edd.), Liber iudicum popularis. Ordenat pel jutge Bonsom de Barcelona (Barcelona 2003), VII.5.2: “Si uero alicuo iuri debitam scripturam subtraxerint aut uiciauerint, eandem scripturam subtraxisse uel uiciasse coram iudice sua professione depronant, qua professio a testibus roborata, perditae uel uiciatae scripturae robor obtineant. Quod si euidentissime quid scriptura continuit recordare non potuerint, tunc ille, cuius scriptura fuit, habeat licentiam comprobare per sacramentum suum aut per testem…”

11. Christopher N. L. Brooke, “Approaches to medieval forgery” in Journal of the Society of Archivists Vol. 3 (London 1968), pp. 377-386, repr. in Brooke, Medieval Church and Society: collected essays (London 1971), pp. 100-120; Giles Constable, “Forgery and Plagiarism in the Middle Ages” in Archiv für Diplomatik Vol. 29 (München 1983), pp. 1-41.

Correction: the men of Gombrèn less confused than I thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sant Pere de Montgrony

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Seminars CXXXV & CXXXVI: characterising some medieval disputants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

More cheese than adultery

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Seminar ketchup: CXVII-CXXI

If I mean to get this blog back up to some reasonable frequency of posting and currency, I have obviously got to do something about the massive backlog of seminars I want or intended to report on, so it’s time for drastic measures. For a start, I’m not even going to cover Rosanna Sornicola‘s presentation, “What the Legal Documents of the Early Middle Ages Can Tell Us About Language: the case of 9th- and 10th-century charters from Southern Italy” at the Institute of Historical Research Earlier Middle Ages Seminar on 25th January, not because it wasn’t interesting but because the indomitable Magistra covered it long ago and the only thing I really wanted to add to her write-up was my side of an argument I had with the speaker afterwards about when ipse starts to serve as a definite article in late Latin, and nobody needs that here, right? (I mean, if you do, ask in comments, but I’m guessing not.) Gorgeous pictures of Naples and a comprehensive handout, though, all respect to the speaker.

Developing towards a Viking Christianity

Birka Smycken

Silver crosses from graves at Birka, from Wikimedia Commons

That then lets me skip forward to the next day when, back in Oxford, Ildar Garipzanov gave the first of two Oliver Smithies Lectures in Balliol College, this one entitled “Christian Identities, Social Status, and Gender in Viking-Age Scandinavia”. This was required of him by a six-month fellowship he had at the college care of a bequest by that same O. Smithies, and which he was using to advance his part in a bigger project entitled, ‘The “Forging” of Christian Identity in the Northern Periphery (c. 820-1200)’. This project, which has already published a couple of essay volumes,1 is seeking to retell the story of the conversion of the Scandinavian regions to Christianity from the point of view of the converted, rather than the more traditional missionary perspective.2 Ildar’s reprise of it contained the worthwhile starting point that medieval Christianity was to a great degree both a social identity and a religious one: one was a member of a Christian population in a way that a pagan religious identity did not involve with paganism, because of Christianity’s articulated hierarchy that joined its members up. Their research, apparently, is tending to confirm an idea that one of the many social theorists mentioned in this paper had noted, that Christianity spread fastest where religious plurality was possible, as thus to profess Christianity allowed one to enhance various existing aspects of one’s identity (so as to get preferential taxation in Eastern markets, for example) without eradicating others. In those circumstances, why not add some Christian ideas and jewellery or whatever to one’s basic presentation? But this becoming a full Christianization was a much slower process. This helps us understand ‘mixed’-religion graves like some of those found at Birka (or these which I’ve just found about thanks to A Stitch In Time, cheers Katrin!) without thinking that the deceased or those burying them must have just got something wrong; rather, they were about showing off riches and ‘Christian’ material culture was one of the fashionable labels in that society. And when churches came to be put up where these burials, among others, were made, it was likely more because that’s where the power was than because that’s where the ‘Christians’ were buried. This was all very interesting stuff, and the theory put to good effect, but I should have begged a bibliography from Ildar because I’d never heard of any of what he cited…

Failures to extend authority in early Islam

Umayyad Caliph 'Abd al-Malik: 'Caliphal Image solidus' or Standing Caliph solidus struck from 74-77 AH. Based on Byzantine numismatic traditions

Obverse of an Umayyad dinar of Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik, showing the Caliph standing with sword, from Wikimedia Commons

Then, on the 31st January and the 2nd February Oxford got two papers by the same man, Andrew Marsham, the first entitled, “God’s Caliph: authority in the Umayyad Caliphate”, which he presented to the Late Antique and Byzantine Seminar, and the second, “Public Execution with Fire in Late Antiquity and Early Islam”, given to the Late Roman Seminar. The former of these was a study of the Islamic ruler’s title ‘Khalifat Allāh’, successor of God, rather than the now-more-conventional succesor of the Prophet. This title seems to appear in usage in 743 and run until the ninth century in various contexts before becoming theologically inadmissible. Dr Marsham explored the possibility of late Antique roots for it, a kind of contesting of importance with the Byzantine emperors or even simply part of an ideological struggle with the ‘community of the faithful’ over whether the Caliph was subject to law or not, but if that’s what it was, initially at least he appears to have lost. The latter was a similar sort of enquiry in a way, trying to work out if there might be effective late Antique precedents for the unusual and controversial occasions in early Islamic history in which people are judicially killed with fire. The interesting suggestion was involved here that these executions were failed rituals, in which someone in power decided that this case merited messing round with some old precedents now tinged with the echo of Hellfire, but which was always felt by the wider community to be too awful to become established. Both of these papers were interesting but I don’t have the kind of background that could evaluate Dr Marsham’s rather tentative conclusions so I just plug some of his work and move on.3

The ‘Three Orders’ in China, if China it were

Then the next week, on the 6th February, I made sure to come to the Medieval History Seminar because Naomi Standen was speaking. I know little to nothing about China but some of what I have read on it has been by Professor Standen and besides, I wanted to know what on earth a paper with a title like “Politics, Piety and Pots: shared repertoires across Continental Asia in the 7th to 12th centuries” would actually be.4 Really interesting, was the answer: fed up with divisions and mappings of medieval China that attempt to plot political groupings, ethnic divisions (most especially Han Chinese, very hard to define historically), agriculture and religious populations, all of which break down in various ways when examined closely, Professor Standen had elected to try and take a horizontal approach (and you know how I love that) and analyse this supposed unit socially. Taking a defined geographical expanse in which the climate was roughly similar, and thus leaving aside the far south-east, she started with leadership, differentiating a chieftain-style leadership of fictive ‘peoples’ from the more official one found in towns where society was multi-functional enough that influence could be had in other ways, but stressing that in the right places and at the right times officials could run tribes or chieftains towns and that some nomad groups notionally within the Empire had no leaders at all. Polities thus being dismissed as too structurally flexible to constitute differentiable zones, she moved onto religion, plotting a McCormick-like network of Buddhist contacts and travellers which though connected was not uniform and stretched as far as India and Japan and survived imperial collapses more or less safely.5

Map of China under the Liao dynasty

A traditional perspective

The political structuration being too granular and the religious one too variously-shaded and extensive, she lastly tried to look at the peasantry by means of ceramics, and although this suffers from the fact that the ceramic sequence is so poorly-studied here that there’s no real chronology of the stuff between 200 and 1200, that is also because a remarkably uniform grey ware was in use right across her ‘Continental zone’, and while other ceramic styles of higher quality came and went in certain areas, especially where the Silk Road reached, this at least did look like a kind of cultural unity, albeit one in which the ruling élites were very probably completely uninterested. Of course, that unity was not we think of as China or any ethnic group’s supposed territory, but the point of this paper was roughly to assert that nothing was, and it was really well done. (And yet of course the idea of a China was incredibly powerful throughout the period and beyond: Chris Wickham described it as a “continuity of potential disintegration” in questions, which struck me as being just right at the time.) But what I mainly loved about this paper, I admit, apart from being so well led into a field about which I know so little, was seeing the Three Orders in another context, because, as I pointed out to Professor Standen afterwards, that was what her three categories of analysis were, Those Who Fight, Those Who Pray and Those Who Work. She said she hadn’t done this consciously but it’s one of several things lately that have made me wonder why it is medieval historians don’t export theory rather than import it. This was a tenth-century set of categories doing useful analytical work still, was this; Adalbero of Laon would have been proud…

And finally women in men’s clothing

Lastly in this batch, on the 7th February I had the chance to hear Judith Bennett speak to the Europe in the Later Middle Ages Seminar, and I did so, partly because of the numerous people who’ve told me I could learn from her, but also because her title was “Early, Erotic, and Alien: cross-dressing in late medieval London”. This was work that Professor Bennett had done with one Shannon McSheffrey, of whom I’m afraid I know no more than this web-page offers, and it analysed 13 cases of persons brought before the courts in London between 1450 and 1547 for offences that included dressing in the clothes of the opposite gender. Only one of these was a man, and only two of the women appear to have actually been trying to pass as men, so the question opens up straight away, what was going on and was it a particular thing that can be described as a unity? This involved some foreign comparisons – for some reason Florence recorded a lot more of this than most places, albeit in the fourteenth century – but it also meant excluding things like saintly women trying to escape their biological sex and, well, ‘man up’, and also the kind of inversion beloved of festivals and so on. Aside from one fascinating case of two women who shared a bed, one of whom dressed male (because they felt one of them had to?), most of the cases that went before court appeared to be have aimed to titillate or disturb men, being displays at parties or in brothels and so on, and so some erotic charge was presumably involved,6 in which case it might fall into a rather wider category of queer dressing, cross-class, cross-profession, cross-age (maidens as matrons or vice versa). Another common factor, however, was that many of the women were foreigners, and this raised questions of whether being rootless or indeed without protection might allow or compel such reinvention of one’s presentation. For the London judiciary, all these cases were sexual misconduct, but Professor Bennett showed the range of possibilities that might lie behind such choices, from fear right the way through to fun (and not necessarily the fun of others only). From an early medievalist’s point of view it’s frustrating to discover that even when we’re dealing with sources that come as close as it’s reasonable to expect to actually being interviews with the people concerned, we still have to guess what was in their heads, of course, but there was more to this paper than just entertainment. As Andrew Marsham had also argued about executions by fire, these very unusual occurrences can be used to show up what was thought to be usual in better relief, and the odd thing here was that the courts saw a pattern where we, with much scantier and less detailed evidence than they had, can’t.


1. Those being Garipzanov (ed.), Historical Narratives and Christian Identity on a European Periphery: Early History Writing in Northern, East-Central, and Eastern Europe (c.1070–1200) (Turnhout 2011) and Ildar Garipzanov & Oleksiy Tolochko (edd.), Early Christianity on the Way from the Varangians to the Greeks: Christian Identities, Social Networks (Kyiv 2011).

2. I had to choose that phrase very carefully. If his ghost will forgive the association with it, I suppose the traditional perspective would ultimately be that of Adam of Bremen in his History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, transl. of choice being that of Francis J. Tschan (New York City 1959, repr. with intro. and notes by Timothy Reuter 2002).

3. Such as A. Marsham, Rituals of Islamic Monarchy: accession and succession in the first Muslim empire (Edinburgh 2009) and specifically for his second topic, “Public Execution in the Umayyad Period: early Islamic punitive practice and its late Antique context” in Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies Vol. 11 (Edinburgh 2011), pp. 101-136.

4. What I’ve read is Naomi Standen, “(Re)Constructing the Frontiers of Tenth-Century North China” in Daniel Power & Standen (edd.), Frontiers in Question: Eurasian borderlands, 700-1700 (London 1999), pp. 55-79, but what I probably should read had I but world enough and time is Standen, Unbounded Loyalty: frontier crossings in Liao China (Honolulu 2007) or eadem, “The Five Dynasties” in Denis Twitchett & Paul Jakov Smith (edd.), The Cambridge history of China, Volume 5, Part 1: The Sung dynasty and its precursors, 907-1279 (Cambridge 2009), pp. 38-132.

5. Referring to Michael McCormick, The Origins of the European Economy (Cambridge 2001).

6. I wanted to include here a salacious example, but I notice at the last minute that Professor Bennett’s hand-out has a request not to cite or quote it without permission and I haven’t thought to get same, so you’ll have to do without it, sorry.

Three-quarters brilliance: l’affaire Zimmermann, part III

Cover of Michel Zimmermann's Écrire et lire en Catalogne

Because of the various things to do with the production of charters that are currently on my plate to do, it has become necessary to finish getting to grips with Michel Zimmermann’s immense thèse d’état, about which I have already griped.1 Let me say once again that although it drives me nuts it is, honestly, deeply brilliant, full of insight and is written by someone who more than almost anyone, if not actually anyone (Anscari Mundó might perhaps challenge) knows the great bulk of the Catalan charter material, which gives him the ability to say some genuinely well-founded things about literacy and practice. And he does! It is merely that they are punctuated by things that are not well-founded, and even I can easily show this. It makes me afraid to recommend the book to anyone for fear of what they may take on trust (and indeed afraid of what I’m assuming is OK).

Let me exemplify. Chapter 3 is about the development of the notariate in Catalonia and what there was before there was one.2 What there was, Zimmermann shows, is a world where basically anyone who could write might occasionally be invited to do a charter, which they probably did by reference to whatever other charters someone might have locally since there’s no evidence of formularies till later and yet (as we lately saw) the practice is fairly clearly-defined; there must have been a mechanism of continuity here somewhere.3 Over the tenth and eleventh centuries, however, production of documents specialised, so that fewer and fewer people were making more and more documents. Also, fewer and fewer of them were priests, whereas in the ninth century almost all of them were. (Lay scribes, who are really hard to prove because clerics don’t always use their titles here, seem to have stayed steady at between 6% and 10%, ninth to thirteenth centuries.4) Increasingly, these people became attached to institutions, or scribal work was increasingly done by people who were so attached; but some of them were attached only loosely, so it may well have been recruitment of good scribes on a loose retainer (inevitably, by then, a fief; Zimmermann gives several really neat little case studies of this, which fully demonstrate his wry perception of individuality5). By the thirteenth century, this was, more or less a notariate, but it had only really become fully professionalised in Barcelona, there were still other people writing documents and it’s not a simple transition. You see, this is good stuff, and amply demonstrated.

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, Calaix 6, núm. 2090

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, Calaix 6, núm. 2090

There is also more contentious stuff that is worth thinking hard about. A lot of people occur in these documents with the title sacer. I have always taken this to mean `priest’, that is, as a form of sacerdos, and I take some comfort in the fact that Ramon Ordeig does so too in the Catalunya Carolíngia, but Zimmermann rightly points out that the word doesn’t actually mean that, but just `consecrated’, and wonders if it may actually refer to those in monastic communities who have yet to take their vows.6 His reason for doing this is that sees their frequency in signatures rise along with monachi, monks, while presbiteri, really certainly priests, drop off. I don’t, myself, think that pattern is repeated in the sample as a whole, rather than just in who’s writing, but I haven’t done the numbers (which would be huge). In any case, plenty of people can be found who use both sacer and presbiter of themselves and indeed some sacri who were also monachi, so I just don’t think it works.7 I’m also pretty sure sacri occur in contexts that are unlikely to feature any monks, though I haven’t happened to come across those in the same way since starting this post, so I am dubious for several reasons about Zimmermann then merrily counting these guys among the monastic scribes henceforth, but his basis for saying it is at least clear. If he’s wrong, too, then why the heck is the word sacer apparently driving out presbiter; are we watching Gregorianism sink in at some level here? Because that would be really interesting. It has also forced me to stop and take a look at an assumption about words, so on the whole this is good even if I don’t agree.

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39 (reduced-quality version)

So why, why, does he also say things like this? “À la fin du Xe siècle, un juge souscrit tous les actes du comte Borrell – il les souscrit SSS, c’est-à-dire qu’il est davantage qu’un témoin.”8 Let’s leave aside the argument about whether using a ruche means you’re granting legal confirmation rather than just witnessing, because I’m not sure there’s a difference but if there is one I can’t see it in, for example, the document above.9 Let’s just get straight to Borrell II. Did he really have all his acts signed by judges? And the answer is, of course, no, not even a bit. All Zimmermann’s examples postdate 985, so just staying within those final eight years of the count’s forty-eight in power, I can find thirteen documents he issued with no judges attested.10 Now, OK, easy for me, I have a database and so on, but Zimmermann has also seen several of these documents at least so I simply don’t understand where he’s coming from with this assertion. It’s not as if Borrell never had judges witness his documents, it’s not much less frequent than him not doing so, but I don’t think one can deduce from that that this is how they were authenticated; I just think it shows that there were often judges at Borrell’s court, which is, you know, not surprising.11 And this, of course, makes the fact that Zimmermann draws this out to conclude that if people wanted their transactions legally authenticated, they made sure there was a judge present, very problematic, as does the vast wash of documents with no judge present that were still somehow worth keeping.12 But if a reader didn’t know these documents, that reader would believe him. How does this fit with the good stuff? I still don’t get it.


1. M. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols.

2. Ibid., I pp. 113-170.

3. On the use of formularies here see for now ibid., I pp. 246-284, although this seems to attribute an almost retrospective importance to the Formulary of Ripoll, edited by Zimmermann in his “Un formulaire du Xème siècle conservé à Ripoll” in Faventia Vol. 4 (Barcelona 1982), pp. 25-86, online here, although it can be dated fairly tightly to 977; I cover this in what should become J. Jarrett, “Uncertain origins: comparing the earliest documentary culture in Carolingian Catalonia” in Jarrett & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic: charter critique and history from charters (forthcoming), but until then the dating argument at least is covered in Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished doctoral thesis (Birkbeck College, University of London, 2005), online here, pp. 63-68.

4. On lay scribes and indeed others you can also see Jesus Alturó i Perucho, “Le statut du scripteur en Catalogne (XIIe-XIIIe siècles)” in Marie-Claude Hubert, E. Poulle & Marc Smith (edd.), Le statut du scripteur au Moyen Âge. Actes du XIIe Colloque Scientifique du Comité Internationale de Paléographie Latine (Cluny, 17-20 Juillet 1998), Matériaux pour l’Histoire publiées par l’École des Chartes 2 (Paris 2000), pp. 41-55.

5. Thus, at Écrire at lire, I pp. 157-159, Zimmermann treats the comital notary Ponç d’Osor, who was a canon of the cathedral of Barcelona but also held substantial private property and notes that over the two hundred-odd documents in which he appears we see him not just acquire some of this property but also get into boundary disputes with his neighbours, one of whom later seems to have taken over his job when he dies. Before that, too, Zimmermann notes with a certain mordant sympathy that this man who had written so much finished up as one of those who had to have someone else sign his will for him because he was too ill. Poor sod. But you see my point: someone who notices this sort of thing in the documents should be a friend in all my assessments!

6. Ibid., I pp. 119-121.

7. For example, in Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 1255, the main actor is one Esperandéu sacer, but he signs as presbiter; in ibid., no. 1281 is carried out by one Adroer sacer et monachus; and there’s a pair of priests who hung round Sant Benet de Bages called Badeleu and Baldemar who get both sacer and presbiter used of them pretty indiscriminately and appear in many transactions; I don’t have a definitive list yet, as I’ve only noted these instances whilst working through Ordeig for other reasons – I haven’t had to work to refute this idea.

8. Zimmermann, Érire et lire, I p. 145.

9. Zimmermann makes that argument, somewhat breezily, ibid., I pp. 140-144, whilst observing a good deal of variation and change over time that I think prevent the argument floating. I also think it’s circular and that if you don’t start with the assumption that the subscripsit ruche has a specific significance, the documents don’t themselves demonstrate it. But there is at least evidence, even if its reading remains open. The document, meanwhile, is edited as Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 645.

10. They are, in order: Àngel Fàbrega i Grau (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona: documents dels anys 844-1260. Volum I: documents dels anys 844-1000, Fonts Documentals 1 (Barcelona 1995), doc. no. 160 (986); Josep Rius (ed.), Cartulario de «Sant Cugat» del Vallés Vol. I (Barcelona 1945), doc. no. 190 (986); Fàbrega, Diplomatari, doc. no. 168 (986); Ordeig, Catalunya Carolínga IV, doc. nos 1524 & 1525 (987); Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari del Catedral de Vic (segles IX i X) (Vic 1980-1996), doc. no. 537 (987); Fabregà, Diplomatari, doc. no. 187 (988); Lluís To i Figueras, El Monestir de Santa Maria de Cervià i la Pagesia: una anàlisi local del canvi feudal. Diplomatari segles X-XII (Barcelona 1991), doc. no. 1 (989; this may have been `improved’, but I don’t see why you’d downgrade the witnesses if you were doing that); Rius, Cartulario, doc. no. 239 (989); Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los Siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Madrid 1951), doc. no. 225 (990); Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 1596 (990; a bit unfair, this one, as it only survives in regesta, which firstly means it’s abbreviated and secondly means it’s out of Zimmermann’s remit, but since its witness list is recorded I’m including it); Fabregà, Diplomatari, doc. no. 240 (993); and C. Baraut (ed.), “Els documents, dels anys 981-1010, de l’Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell” in Urgellia Vol. 3 (Montserrat 1980), pp. 7-166, ap. 232 (which is Borrell’s flipping will). Zimmermann cites three of these editions (Junyent, Rius and Udina) and one of the relevant documentary series (one of those behind Fabregà) in this chapter alone.

11. On judges around Borrell’s court, see first Jeffrey 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. 81-99, then Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-101: pathways of power, Studies in History (London 2010), p. 133.

12. So, for example, in Junyent, Diplomatari, I counted 10 judges who appear in a total of 29 documents; I probably missed a few but there are 628 documents in the collection, and almost all of these guys turn up in the last ten years (see previous note). There is a complication in that we know Guifré Vicar of la Néspola, who appears ibid., doc. nos 557, 603 & 634, was a judge (so attested in Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 1825) but he is never given the title in any documents from his lifetime. Nonetheless, how many can there be like him? 599?

Even the Bishop of Girona doesn’t always win

[This was mostly drafted offline on a train from London to Leeds on the 10th of July.]

Modern-day Ullà, Empúries, Catalunya

Modern-day Ullà, Empúries, Catalunya

The Bishop of Girona doesn’t always win. I know that by now, you might have reason to think otherwise. This was, after all, the place in Catalonia that took the most trouble to ensure that it had up-to-date royal charters for all its properties at all times and persistently brought them forward in court to others’ detriment; this we have seen.1 But of course it’s what we would see, because as I mentioned last time but one, Girona does seem to actually have sorted through what documents it wanted copied up, so even if it did have documents in which it lost its cases, it probably got rid of them after a while, and it is more likely that those cases only gave documents to the winners who were, it’s more or less safe to guess, not going subsequently to donate their property to the cathedral thus getting their documents archived. So we’d have to be extremely lucky to see anything other than resounding victories in their cartularies, no? Well, lucky us: look at this.2

When in God’s name the illustrious man Teuter, bishop of the See of Girona, was staying in the village of Ports, which is in Empúries territory, along with the illustrious men Delà and Sunyer, counts, in the public court for the hearing of many cases and the definition of right and just judgements, and also in the presence of Viscount Petroni and the judges who were ordered to judge or determine the cases, that is, Ferriol, Undilà, Godmar, Teudard, Manuel, Frugell, Lentio and Roderic, Ardovast the saio, Esperandéu, Hostal, also Junià, Trastildo, Benet, Ferriol, Blanderic, Eldegot, Guifré, Eripio, Esclúa, Untril·la, Comparat, Lleopard, Daniel, Undiscle, Armentary, Miró, Petroni, Adalà, Fluiter, Galí, Castí, Agelà, Adilo, Sendred, Perell, Truiter, Salomó, Lleo, Elanç, Pasqual, Revell, Segobran and the other priests, clerics, a great multitude of lay and other worthy men who were there present.

The grammar in this next paragraph is completely out to lunch as copied, so I’ve emended freely towards what the sense appears to be.

Thus there came into their presence the Archpriest Estremir, who is the mandatory of the abovesaid bishop, and he said, «Hear me, because that there Andreu’s houses, courts, orchards and fruit-trees and lands that are in the term of the villa of Ullà, which is in Empúries territory, those ought to be the aforesaid bishop’s on account of the claim of Santa Maria and Sant Feliu, which are sited in Girona and next to the selfsame city, by a precept of the lord king, which those men made of the aforementioned Santa Maria and Sant Feliu for their own. That Andreu holds them unjustly as an aprisio as part of the villa that is called Quarto, which they call Bellcaire. That same Andreu holds them unjustly and against the law.»
Then the aforesaid counts, bishops, viscounts and judges demanded of the aforesaid Andreu what he said to this. That man then said in his responses: «Because those houses, courts, fruit orchards and lands aforesaid which that same priest Estremir, who is mandatory of the aforesaid bishop, demands, I do not hold them unjustly but I hold them legally, by aprisio and by a precept of the king and as part of the aforesaid villa of Bellcaire, just as the other Hispani do».

There now follows a long paragraph in which the whole court slogs out to this place, details one of their number to measure the land in question and then divide it in half, and they give the measurements in great detail including specifying how long the perch they’re using as a unit is (8½ feet, since you ask). But we don’t need that much detail here, really. On with the rest of the text!

And then the already-said bishop, counts, and judges ordained that within those villae of Ullà and Quarto, which is called Bellcaire, they would set up five fixed stones as landmarks or boundaries, and so indeed they did. And the already-said Andreu received the half of those perches nearest the well on the northern side and Archpriest Estremir similarly the other half nearest the villa Ullà on the southern side.
And then it was agreed between the aforesaid bishop and the already-said Andreu that each one of them would hold as far as those fixed stones as a division of those villae, so that whoever [meaning `both'?] might judge and defend and securely possess forever in peaceful fashion.
Then it was set down that each one of them should have a notice from this about the selfsame aforesaid properties, signed and confirmed, just as it is, and let each one of them rejoice to see his justice in our court.
Notice given the 16th day of the Kalends of June, in the third year that King Louis was dead.
+Riquer, archpriest, SSS. +Guiscafred, archpriest, SSS. + Pere, priest, SSS. Reccared, priest, SSS. Teudegild, priest, SSS.

This document is quite important. The cathedral gets something out of it, and the boundaries set will have prevented Andreu or his family ever taking any more out of the cathedral’s land, so it’s understandable that Santa Maria kept it. All the same, this obviously wasn’t the result they were after, and thus what it shows us is, firstly that Girona wasn’t the only entity in the area who could get royal charters for their lands – it would seem that in this respect Louis the Stammerer was more sympathetic to those willing to come to his court than his father had been, and furthermore possibly keeping better track of what had been given out since he also awarded a precept to Girona cathedral that doesn’t cover this land3 – and that people still thought it was worth having one; secondly, that those people were right as even though Girona cathedral was often able to sway cases with such evidence as we’ve seen, it would seem to have been the evidence, not the cathedral, that impressed the court in this case. And thirdly of course it shows us that, since therefore the kind of claims that people have been known to make that the Church always won trials because it was literate and made the records don’t work here, we are probably missing an unguessable amount of material where the cathedral’s case didn’t come off. You win some, you lose some, as they say; but if they didn’t win, we’ve lost it. This does not mean it wasn’t there. That is all.4


1. It’s taken me until a few weeks ago, would you believe, to wonder if this regular replacement of documents at Girona might be to do with the Visigothic law’s `thirty-year rule’, which was a kind of statute of limitations that prevented claims on land or property being pursued after thirty, or fifty, lands (and it’s unclear in the surviving texts which interval would apply to what, as they just say, `thirty or fifty’: the chapter and verse, or rather, book and title, is to be found in Karl Zeumer (ed.), Leges Visigothorum, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Leges Nationum Germanicum) I (Hannover 1902, repr. 2005), transl. S. P. Scott as The Visigothic Code, 2nd edn. (Boston 1922), Book X Title II. However, even if that was what was going on, Girona got two precepts for their stuff from Charles the Fat alone, who didn’t exactly last thirty years, so even if I had thought it before now it still wouldn’t have worked. There are even more of these documents than people realise, and were once more: the standard edition, R. d’Abadal i de Vinyals, Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-arqueològica 2 & 3 (Barcelona 1926-1952), 2 vols, where see Girona I-IX, is now supplemented by S. Sobrequés i Vidal, S. Riera i Viader, M. Rovira i Solà, (edd.) Catalunya Carolíngia V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Empúries i Peralada, rev. R. Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la secció històrico-arqueològica 61 (Barcelona 2003), 2 vols, doc. nos 56, 70, 73 & 78. Ibid. doc. no. 288 also makes clear, as we’ve seen, that the cathedral at one point had a precept from King Louis IV as well, though this has not survived.

2. Sobrequés et al., Catalunya Carolíngia V, doc. no. 53, the latest of five editions of which the one that most people could get at would be Giovanni-Domenico Mansi (ed.), Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio Vol. XVIII (Venetia 1773), ap. CXVIII. The difficult paragraph of reported speech goes like this: “Sic in eorum presentia veniens Stremirus archipresbiter, mandatarius, qui est de suporadicto episcopo, et dixit: «Iubete me audire cum isto presente Andreo domos, curtes, ortos et pomiferos et terras qui sunt infra termines de villa Uliano, qui est in territorio Impuritano, illas debent esse supradicto episcopo pro partibus ipsa causa de Sancta Maria et Sancto Felice, quod sita est in Gerunda vel iusta ipsa civitate, per preceptum dompni regis, quod illi fecerunt ad iamdicta Sancta Maria et Sancto Felici ad proprio. Iste Andreas eas retinet ad aprisione pro partibus de villa que dicitur Quartu, que vocant Bedenga. Iste Andreas eos retinet iniuxte et contra lege»“.

3. It is Abadal, Catalunya Carolíngia II, Girona IV, though it must be admitted that guessing whether it covered these properties or not is tricky since the thing doesn’t survive, and its text is only to be guessed at from later Girona charters that reference it. Abadal also indexed the deperditum held by Andreu as ibid., Particulars XXVII, where he attributed it to Charles the Bald. I don’t see how we know that, and it seems more likely to me that this was from Louis, since Charles was by and large not much of a friend to the Hispani: see J. Jarrett, “Settling the Kings’ Lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 18 (Oxford 2010), pp. 320-342.

4. Well, nearly. I just wanted to add that it also shows that, while there is unusually much to be got of Girona’s royal documents just in themselves, precisely because the bishops took such trouble to get them updated in what appear to be real terms – see R. Martí, “La integració a l’«alou feudal» de la Seu de Girona de les terres beneficiades pel «règim dels hispans». Els Casos de Bàscara i Ullà, segles IX-XI” in J. Portella i Comas (ed.), La Formació i Expansió del Feudalisme Català: actes del col·loqui organitzat pel Col·legi Universitari de Girona (8-11 de gener de 1985). Homenatge a Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Estudi General: revista del Col·legi Universitari de Girona, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona Nos. 5-6 (Girona 1986), pp. 49-63 with English summary p. 556, and indeed some day I hope, a publication based on J. Jarrett, “Legends in Their Own Lifetime? The Late Carolingians and Catalonia”, paper presented in session ‘Legends of the Carolingians’, Haskins Society Conference, Georgetown University, 7th November 2008 – the real gain is still to be made by seeing how those documents were actually used, as here. If there’s basis to argue with me about the Frankish kings giving up on their tame settlers out here, as I claim happened in my “Settling the Kings’ Lands” as above, then it’s this document, though you would still have to deal with the Martí paper already mentioned which is pretty categorical about the process.

Improbable arguments in ninth-century Girona

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

Storefront of the Llibreria Carlemany, Girona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sant Feliu de Girona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Somewhat vainly crossposted at Cliopatria.)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seminar LXXXIV: going to law in post-Visigothic Spain

On the 2nd February I had a great quandary. In London, at the Institute of Historical Research, the estimable Rosemary Morris was presenting what I understand was an excellent paper featuring charters and shouty peasants; you’d think I’d have been there. But at the same time in Oxford, which is after all where I live now, Graham Barrett was presenting to the Oxford Medieval Church and Culture Seminar about surprisingly similar matters, and his charters and peasants were Spanish not Byzantine. Because of this ability to actually read the documents in question, and the matter of the train fare and late night, and also because Graham is one of two or three people who I’m perpetually glad aren’t working on Catalonia, because if they were I’d have nothing left to say, I opted in the end to stay in town for his paper. It is possible that Professor Morris’s paper will be covered by someone else, and I’ll mention it if that happens; I certainly hope it will. But Graham’s paper was entitled “Visigothic Law after the Visigoths” and it was certainly jolly interesting. It was also rather a while ago, but Graham said afterwards that he was disappointed to see that I wasn’t podcasting it live to the web, so I feel that a slight delay is only just revenge for his taking the mickey…

Title page of a 1058 León codex including a copy of the Liber Iudicorum

Title page of a 1058 León codex including a copy of the Liber Iudicorum, from the Biblioteca Digital Hispanica, seriously would you look at this manuscript isn't it great?

If you don’t know, and why would you etc., after the Muslims toppled the Visigothic kingdom in what is now Spain over the period 711-714, both the parts of it now under Muslim dominion and those not continued to use the lawcode of the Visigothic kings, the Forum Iudicum, Forum of the Judges or Book of Judges (as mentioned just the other day in fact) to regulate their affairs, at least the Christian populations did. This applies as much to Catalonia, and indeed the old Visigothic province in Gaul, Septimania, as it does to Aragón, Castile, León and Asturias (ironically, in the latter case, given how much time it had spent fending off the Visigothic kings when they were around), and argh 25 years ago already now Roger Collins wrote a neat article about this for the English Historical Review which is still an excellent place to start with this stuff.1 (There’s also a bucketload of work in Castilian and Catalan of course, which I don’t know as well as I know I should.2) Since then there has been some work on these matters for Catalonia, but rather less in English than one might wish, and Graham is now moving in to close that gap.3 The Visigothic Code, as it’s also known (and as it’s online in translation), remains important because it is a a weird mixture of the archaic, four- to six-hundred year old rulings being cited in courts, and the current: in Castile and León we have eighteen manuscripts of the code dating to before the twelfth century, mostly from shortly before then, because it was still being copied. These copies are not all complete, and all vary in details, selecting what is useful and adapting accordingly. A detailed comparison of the manuscripts therefore gives a kind of index into what people in any given area were worried about coming up in court, at least it does if we can plausibly locate the manuscripts’ place of use (and Wendy Davies, present, suggested that trying to map usage and citation of the Code around the known manuscripts would be informative, which indeed it would).

A Leonese royal charter of 860

A Leonese royal charter of 860; it doesn't cite the Law, but I haven't got an image of one that does I'm afraid

It’s not just the copies of the law itself that tell us about its use, though, it is cited in dozens of charters, often actually cited with book, title and chapter, and very often these citations are correct. This is impressive, but it’s perhaps more interesting when they’re wrong, or the relevant law doesn’t even exist; here we are presumably seeing a mis-learnt citation or a strong belief that something is such old custom that it just gosh-durn must be in the law; but in the latter case, it’s that it’s in the law that they feel will validate it, not that it’s old custom. (It’s possible, of course, that these citations are intentionally false, since not many people are actually going to be in a position to look this stuff up and in any given assembly the people who are are probably writing the charter…) Not all these uses are even identified, however, which goes to show that to some extent the law genuinely had shaped the way some things were done, or at least the words in which those things were written about. (Graham’s handout has a number of examples of this choice of an otherwise unparalleled phrase to talk about, for example, adultery or homicide.4) These words, Graham hazarded, were probably not usually passing from person to person in the context of full copies of the Code, but just single sheets of the most useful cites perhaps, tucked into a folder of example charters and scraps of formulary that the average scribe might have had to work from, rather than anything as grand as a book. That copying without context could explain a lot of the apparent deviations, though again one would expect practice to dictate which way they deviated.

Folio 64r of the 1058 Leonese copy of the Liber Iudicorum

Folio 64r of the 1058 Leonese copy of the Liber Iudicorum, showing Book IV Title 2 law 20

It has to be said that sometimes, when the laws were invoked, they were deliberately bent or mutilated. I think Graham used this example too, but I can’t pin it down in my notes so I’ll import it from Catalonia: there is a particular law in the code (IV.2.20, as shown above), which protects the rights of the heirs of a property-owner, as follows:

Every freeborn man and woman, whether belonging to the nobility, or of inferior rank, who has no children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, has the unquestionable right to dispose of his or her estate at will; nor can any arrangement that either may make, be set aside by any relatives of theirs….

This turns up a lot in donation charters, but when it does, crucially, pretty much everything between ‘whether’ and ‘great-grandchildren’ inclusive is usually left out, so that it becomes a law guaranteeing the right of unrestricted alienation of property when its framer (the glorious Flavius Chindasuinthus, King, no less, as you see above in red) had intended precisely the opposite. Not everyone citing the Code knew this, most likely, but some certainly did because they’d copied it themselves.5 Here we’re nudging at questions about authority and written norms and what you could do with them in the Middle Ages that have troubled many of us and will trouble many more, but the kind of work that Graham is doing here certainly add to the detail we can try and answer such questions from.

Title page of a 1600 edition of the Castilian version of the Book of Judges

Title page of a 1600 edition of the Castilian version of the Book of Judges, from Wikimedia Commons

The way that Graham wound up framing the way these texts were used, then, was as a point of departure. Often, the law would be invoked to set a penalty for a certain thing, but then the document in question records that with that out in the open, a compromise was then reached that was more agreeable to all parties. (Of course, there is a preservation factor operating here, because one of the compromises we see most often was to give some land instead of paying an impossible fine or becoming a slave—those of you who have heard Wendy Davies speak on such matters, or indeed Graham himself in Kalamazoo last year, will recall this practice no doubt—and charters in which land was transferred are tremendously more likely to survive than those in which fines were paid, because land remains relevant long after a person’s criminal reputation or lack of one has disappeared into generational memory loss. On the other hand, we don’t have very many charters at all in which someone sells land to raise money to pay a fine, at least not in which they tell us that’s what they were doing, and precious few where they are actually enslaved (although I could find you one in which such a person was then freed, which may be more likely to be preserved since he would need it to prove he could alienate property legally and that, in turn, would lead to it being preserved with the property charters, etc.6) so it may yet be that the compromise was much more common than the actual sentence being imposed. If I remember rightly, Graham said he knew of one document only out of the thousands surviving (albeit that only hundreds are court cases) where a sentence seems to have actually been carried out as in the law. Even there, I might caution, we’re still just assuming, as other cases where verdicts were subsequently abandoned show. In either case, the law is the framework that the parties start with, but even though the verdict is pronounced by judges, as in the Code, and carried out by an official called the saió just as in the Code, it is very rarely with the Code that people finished. It shaped their world, yes, but they made their own shapes out of it. Authority may not be the word we want: due process may be. The Code determined what was due about the process, and the actual hearing hopefully determined what was fair and equitable. It’s not a bad model for law in a society where enforcement is hard to find.

King Vermudo II of León and Galicia, as depicted in the 12th-century Libro de las Estampas

King Vermudo II of León and Galicia, as depicted in the 12th-century Libro de las Estampas, from Wikimedia Commons

The other thing that interested me especially was a coda in which Graham returned to a throwaway remark with which he’d begun about a note in the Chronicle of Sampiro that records that King Vermudo II of León (985-999) confirmed the ‘Laws of King Wamba’ at some point during his reign. Wamba’s contribution to the Code was very small, and where it occurs lengthy and pompous and making me think more of Patrick Wormald’s warnings about what kings really wanted out of legislation (i. e. to look like real royalty, rather than to improve the affairs of the realm) than almost anything else in the thing, but he was certainly the last king to add to it and therefore the final version was in some sense his; it must be the Code referred to here.7 If so, that’s really interesting because it’s at almost exactly that time that over in Barcelona a certain count called Borrell II whom you’ve heard me mention before started recruiting a new cadre of highly-trained judges to run his courts, one of whom indeed copied a text of the Forum Iudicum that we still have. Why did both of these Iberian potentates at either end of the peninsula decide to revive this juristic form of status-building? For Vermudo, of course, the claim was implicitly to stand in succession to Wamba, as the Code itself says that only the prince may issue laws. To issue the old laws therefore made him a king in that same old style. For Borrell, it was more subtle I suspect: as with much of his policy, his new stress on law and the Code emphasised that his authority stood on ancient foundations that no-one now in power had the authority to deny. The Code was older than the caliphs of Córdoba to whom he sometimes pledged allegiance, older than the Carolingians who’d installed his grandfather, and certainly older than those upstarts in León whom he may once, all the same, have got to consecrate him an anti-Carolingian archbishop.8 I’m pretty sure about all the ways in which, for Borrell, the Code was old. But after hearing Graham’s paper I know that I also need to pay some more attention to the ways in which it was also being made anew.


1. R. Collins, “‘Sicut lex Gothorum continet‘: law and charters in ninth- and tenth-century León and Catalonia” in English Historical Review Vol. 100 (London 1985), pp. 489-512; you could also see his “Visigothic Law and Regional Diversity in Disputes in Early Medieval Spain” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (edd.), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1986), pp. 85-104; both are reprinted in Collins, Law, Culture and Regionalism in Early Medieval Spain, Variorium Collected Studies 356 (Aldershot 1992), V & VI respectively.

2. The things I can most obviously think of are all by Aquilino Iglesia Ferreirós, specifically his “La creación del derecho en Cataluña” in Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español Vol. 47 (Madrid 1977), pp. 99-424 and more recently La Creación del derecho: una historia de la formación de un derecho estatal español : manual (Barcelona 1992) and (I gather from Dialnet) Max Turull, Aquilino Iglesia Ferreirós, Oriol Oleart Piquet, Mònica González Fernández, Historia del derecho español (Barcelona 2001).

3. For Catalonia, I can go no further without mentioning the excellent Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000, Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past (Ithaca 2004), of which pp. 33-55 cover this stuff.

4. And since there has so far been no late Latin in this post at all, let me take one of his examples here: the Law says, “If a freeborn woman mixes herself up in adultery with her own slave or freedman, or else wishes to have him as her husband, and she is convicted of this by clear proof, she should be put to death”, “Si ingenua mulier servo suo vel proprio liberto se in adulterio miscuerit aut forsitan eum maritum habere voluerit et ex hoc manigesta probatione convincitur occidatur”, text from Karl Zeumer (ed.), Leges Visigothorum, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Leges Nationum Germanicum) I (Hannover 1902, repr. 2005), transl. S. P. Scott as The Visigothic Code (Boston 1922), Book III Chapter 2 Title 2, emphasis Barrett’s. Then, we find in a charter preserved by the nunnery of Sobrado from 858 the confession, “I mixed myself up in adultery with the slave of Hermegildo named Ataulfo”, Commiscui me in adulterio cum servo Hermegildi nomine Ataulfo”, ed. P. Loscertales & G. de Valdeavellano in their (edd.) Tumbos del Monasterio de Sobrado de los Monjes (Madrid 1976), doc. no. 75, emphasis and transl. Barrett. Note, of course that firstly, that was not the woman’s slave but someone else’s, and secondly, that she was not put to death as the law prescribes. More on that below…

5. Here I run shamelessly off the back of Bowman, Shifting Landmarks, pp. 39-43. One of the people we know knew this stuff was my official favourite scribe, the judge Bonhom (or Bonsom, often, in the literature), whom Bowman discusses ibid. 84-99 along with his fellows. We know Bonhom knew it because we still have his own, heavily-glossed, copy of the Law, it being Biblioteca del Monasterio del Escorial, MS z.II.2, and recently fully edited as Jesús Alturo i Perucho, Joan Bellès, Josep M. Font Rius, Yolanda García & Anscarí Mundó (edd.), Liber iudicum popularis. Ordenat pel jutge Bonsom de Barcelona (Barcelona 2003). And, now that I look at Graham’s handout more closely, I see he has an example of just this kind of misuse of the same clause from Emilio Sáez (ed.), Colección documental de la Catedral de León (775-1230), vol. I (775-952), Fuentes y estudios de historia leonesa 41 (León 1987), doc. no. 256.

6. In fact, I will: it’s Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX i X), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), doc. no. 161, also ed. in Ordeig (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i de Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 392, in which a priest called Nectar buys someone out of penal slavery enjoined upon him for homicide. The relevance of this example is that the priest, whose name was Nectar, yet, already, says in the document that one sentenced to slavery cannot redeem himself, which looks like a legal citation but is actually not in the Law.

7. The chronicle reference is J. Pérez de Urbel, Sampiro: su crónica y la monarquía leonesa en el siglo X (Madrid 1968), cap. 30, Silense redaction, and when I invoke Patrick Wormald I mean his “Lex Scripta and Verbum Regis: legislation and Germanic kingship, from Euric to Cnut” in Peter Sawyer & Ian Wood, (edd.) Early Medieval Kingship (Leeds 1977), pp. 105-138.

8. On Borrell’s management of the past I hope you will soon be able to see J. Jarrett, “Caliph, King or Grandfather: strategies of legitimisation on the Spanish March in the reign of Lothar III” in The Mediaeval Journal Vol. 1 (Turnhout forthcoming); on the archbishop, meanwhile, see idem, “Archbishop Ató of Osona: false metropolitans on the Marca Hispanica” in Archiv für Diplomatik Vol. 56 (München 2010), pp. 1-41 at pp. 13-16, and refs there.

Seminar LXXXII: tiny laws and constraining categories

The lecture that had swallowed me is done and so I can tackle some backlog. In order to make some ground I’m going to reluctantly skip over two Oxford papers I went to about which, for one reason or another, I just don’t have anything useful to say,1 and skip straight on to Tom Faulkner presenting at the Institute of Historical Research Earlier Middle Ages Seminar on 26th January 2011, with the title “Peoples and Legal Practice in the Carolingian Minor Law-Codes”. Now, I dithered about skipping this one too, not because it wasn’t fascinating, but because again Magistra et Mater has got in ahead of me and covered it excellently already. But there remain a point or two that it’s still worth drawing out. You may want to read her post first, though, because she’s done a better job of explaining what the paper was actually about than I’m going to have time to do.

Opening of a 793 copy of the Lex Salica

Opening of a 793 copy of the Lex Salica, says the originating website

In 802 a couple of Carolingian sources record that Charlemagne had all the ‘laws of the nations’ in his empire written down and thus fixed.2 And we have a number of texts of such laws, the most obvious one being the Law of the Salian Franks or Salic Law, but also the Laws of the Burgundians, Laws of the Lombards, Laws of the Bavarians, and so on (and of course the Law of the Goths, which is different, not least because it’s actually called the Forum of the Judges—that is, it’s not ethnic in its presentation).3 Some of these things had been out there for a long time but that endeavour of 802 probably has a lot to do with the state of the current texts, Goths aside, not least because recent work by such as Christina Pössel is emphasising how new some of the apparently ‘ancient’ practices in the Salic Law might have been. But if so, there are some weirdnesses to tackle. There had been no independent Burgundian kingdom for nearly three hundred years by this time. Who called themselves a Burgundian any more and on what could that claim rest? And similar problems arise for texts Tom was talking about, not least the Ripuarian Franks, a group who appear in basically no sources other than this law. Ripuaria as an area does occasionally get mentioned, but it’s a pagus, not a regnum, a district not a kingdom. Tom argued that really, it might be little more than the territory of the see of Cologne. But this lawcode of a basically illusory people is one of the more copied ones of the group, perhaps just because it had useful stuff which could be raided for means with which to make decisions in the very (very!) few cases where we have reasons to suppose such lawcodes were actually used, rather than just stored up as tokens of nationality.

Map showing probable location of Amor

Map showing probable location of Amor

Such dilemmas get even more pronged when dealing with a text called the Ewa ad Amorem. This is a very different sort of law text, though it has been associated with this big endeavour: Tom laid it out for us and it seems pretty clearly like a set of rules being agreed in a community for how they’re going to handle various affairs, like land sales and thefts. It seems to relate to a little place in Frisia called Amor, and it is extensively referential to other codes (which is nice, because, as Tom had pointed out, Lex ribuaria actually quotes modified Salic law quite a lot too) and peoples, so that you get frankly unhelpful statements like: “… about ecclesiastical affairs and about the servants of God who serve there, we have the same, as the Franks have.” Which Franks? Salic, Ribuarian or real? And so on. Although Levi Roach found parallels in Anglo-Saxon laws (some of which are actually usually called treaties) and someone else in Venetian treaties with foreign powers, the whole thing put me in mind of nothing so much as Spanish fueros, which were civil law codes constructed for new towns in the frontier zones, by the locals in agreement with the king. The counts of Catalonia do the same sort of thing sometimes, too. A central authority and its rights are recognised, but the actual day-to-day stuff is left local, and the implication there is that that’s because they’re rather on their own and central help and involvement will be hard to come by. In that last respect, though, Ewa ad Amorem is different; it’s clear from a reading that this code has become necessary precisely because king’s officers, counts and so on have been in the area a lot and there are problems making this mesh with the local way of doing things, not least because until this was written probably there was limited agreement on what that way was. So, though Tom didn’t really make much of this point, this little code is more interesting to me than the big ones because it seems to have the same sort of ad hoc necessity as some of the capitularies, and may show us how being on the more-or-less-willingly receiving end of Carolingian administrative reform worked out in practice.

A folio of the Capitulare de Villis, from Wikimedia Commons

A folio of the Capitulare de Villis, from Wikimedia Commons

More could be done with this, but only if we spread the categories we have for Carolingian law more thoroughly away from the binary of codes and capitularies (or proscriptive and responsive, ethnic and royal, regional and central… always with the diads, as Susan Reynolds has observed, when triads (or arrays!) might be more helpful) into something a bit more slippery. As Susan herself said, it’s not that there are no categories that work for this: all these things are sets of rules, of some sort, but putting them into a particular ‘sort’ has often distorted our subsequent thinking about them. And we have the same problem with a lot of other categories in this area: the capitularies themselves are so-called solely because they are arranged in headings, capitula (chapters, capitals…). They cover an immense range of topics, however, and are in form anything from minutes of meetings or even agendas for meetings that maybe didn’t happen through case-law being worked out into general knowledge to grand-scale moral state-of-the-empire preaching addresses.4 Not even the process is the same here and a different word or words for some of them might help us think. And even I could adjust: `charter’ is a good catch-all for the documents I want to study but only with exactly the right definition.5 But my category covers sales, donations, wills, securities, homage agreements, pledges, manumissions and basically most stuff, and people have put a lot of work into worrying if these things all work the same way and much of it has made useful distinctions.6 So Tom deserves all credit for making what could have been a dry and technical field accessible an of lively interest to an audience many of whom specialise in other things, but he has also given me some useful tools with which to try and enlarge my own, er, toolbox. (Pity he didn’t give me some new metaphors too, right?)


1. Mark Williams, “Stormy Weather: divine women and the figure of sin in Aided Muirchertaig meic Erca“, Oxford Celtic Seminar, 20th January 2011, was as engaging and entertaining as Mark always is, where I’ve seen: he tells good stories about good stories. But aside from the fact that it is a good story, I really wouldn’t know what to say about the paper: it was all new to me. I probably can’t spell most of it, even. And Richard Allen, “Life before Lanfranc: the careers of three archbishops of Rouen, 942-1054/5″, Oxford Medieval History Seminar, 24th January 2011, was an expansion of the earlier paper of Richard’s I reported on last year and I don’t think I can think of anything extra to say this time round.

2. Specifically Einhard’s Vita Karoli and the Annals of Lorsch, the former of which is edited in the MGH and thus online here and more accessibly to the Anglolexic, at the cost of some appreciation of how cunning his Latin is I am told, and more on that later, by Lewis Thorpe in his Two Lives of Charlemagne: Einhard and Notker the Stammerer (Harmondsworth 1969, many reprints), and the latter edited by Ernst Katz in Georgius Heinricus Pertz (ed.), Monumenta Germaniae Historica inde ab anno Christi quingentesimo usque ad annum millesimum et quingentesimum: Scriptores tomus I (Hannover 1839), pp. 19-39, and mostly translated by P. D. King in his Charlemagne: translated sources (Lancaster 1987), pp. 137-145.

3. As well as the snippets from the Internet Medieval Sourcebook I’ve linked to above, most of these texts exist in some kind of translation, thus I know of: Katherine Fischer Drew (transl.), The Laws of the Salian Franks (Philadelphia 1991) and eadem (transl.), The Lombard Laws (Philadelphia 1996), though I also know that I somewhere read a review of the former by Patrick Wormald (in English Historical Review or Speculum I think, something I could hit by accident on JSTOR anyway) in which he said, roughly, “well, we’ve been needing a decent translation of the Salic Law for a long time and guess what, we still do”. Not a man to mince his words, dear Mr Wormald. There’s also Theodore John Rivers (transl.), The Laws of the Salian and Ripuarian Franks (New York City 1986), which I guess didn’t meet his exacting taste either. Still plenty more to do though. For the Goths, there’s S. P. Scott (transl.), The Visigothic Code (New York City 1910, 2nd. edn. 1922), online here. The Latin of all these texts and more is edited in the various volumes of the MGH’s Leges series. On how the Visigothic Law survives in this period, you can see Roger Collins, “‘Sicut lex Gothorum continet‘: law and charters in ninth- and tenth-century León and Catalonia” in English Historical Review Vol. 100 (London 1985), pp. 489-512, & idem, “Visigothic Law and Regional Diversity in Disputes in Early Medieval Spain” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (eds), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1986), pp. 85-104, both of which are reprinted in R. Collins, Law, Culture and Regionalism in Early Medieval Spain, Variorum Collected Studies 356 (Aldershot 1992), V & VI respectively, but now also 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. 33-55.

4. Best now approached via Rosamond McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written word (Cambridge 1989), pp. 23-37, and now Christina Pössel, “Authors and Recipients of Carolingian Capitularies, 779-829″ in Richard Corradini, Rob Meens, Pössel & Peter Shaw (edd.), Texts and Identities in the Early Middle Ages, Forschungen zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 12, Denkschriften der phil.-hist. Klasse 344 (Wien 2008), pp. 253-274.

5. And that definition is: “A document constructed as if for public reference, by which one party affirms the rights of another”, for which if you like you can quote J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph.D. thesis (University of London 2005), p. 27. I think it’s the only one that works.

6. Not least of course Wendy Davies, Acts of Giving: Individual, Community, and Church in Tenth-Century Christian Spain (Oxford 2007), which deliberately covers only one sort of document and is really interesting about it.