Tag Archives: medieval Latin

Seminar CLI: Spain and Africa’s earliest Romance

Let me make clear straight away, this post is about the Romance languages, not the literary genre. In fact, it is specifically about the birth of Romance in Spain, and with work on that of course comes indelibly associated the name of Professor Roger Wright, and so it will not surprise you to gather that this post is because on 21st November 2012 he was presenting to the Institute of Historical Research’s Earlier Middle Ages Seminar with the title, “African Invaders and Very Old Spanish”.

This paper was, as Roger admitted straight up, based on published work, and it would only be new to us if we hadn’t read enough of his stuff, but nonetheless, since his thinking has in fact moved on since the works for which he is best known, not least because of dogged opposition from certain quarters, it was new to me and the questions suggested I wasn’t the only one.1 The starting premise, dear to my heart, is that Castilian is weird in Romance terms, having many features that other Romance languages don’t, and the basic question was whether this can be put down to influence from Africa.

Haplogroup Distributons in Iberian, North African, and Sephardic Jewish Populations (Adams et al. 2008)

How does one picture a language? Here is another way, then, in which African influence in Spain has been tracked; click through if you missed that post…

Now, the obvious conduit for African influence on Spain is of course the Muslim conquest, but since here we’re talking about Latin usage, unless one accepts Richard Hitchcock’s argument that much of the Muslim army that mounted the 711-714 campaigns that felled the Visigothic kingdom of Spain would have been Berber and North African recruits who, since they couldn’t yet have really learnt Arabic, must have had only Latin as a lingua franca, we need to look further back, and indeed even if Hitchcock is right the influences could still be older. Augustine of Hippo apparently reports being teased for his provincial Latin, and Isidore of Seville, Visigothic knowledge collector par excellence, reckons there are several peculiar things about the African Latin of his day. Several of these symptoms (betacism, the swapping of ‘b’ and ‘v’, much older than the QWERTY keyboard layout as my documents quickly made clear to me) also appear in the Visigothic slates.2 And, when one considers the respective difficulties of travel across the Pyrenees and across the Straits of Gibraltar, without considering modern state boundaries, obviously that makes sense.

Subsequent additions to the Africa of the Roman Empire would have been unlikely to have dented this African Latin, argued Roger: the Vandals, by the time they hit Africa at least and probably from much further back, are unlikely to have been a linguistic unity and their only common language must also have been various versions of Latin; they would have relied on Latin to deal with the locals, anyway.3 The Byzantine reconquest of Africa from the Vandals would also have had the administrative need to work in Latin as indeed it still partly did even at Constantinople; and the Visigoths meanwhile connected Spain and Africa by their grasp on what is now Ceuta (and still part of Spain, often forgotten except by Morocco). Berber languages, hardly an addition but arguably stronger after the loss of Africa as a Roman province, nonetheless seem significant only inland in this period. There is, in any case, no sign of any Berber influence on Spanish (and only one word in Portuguese) and no mention of Berbers (as opposed to the much vaguer Mauri, Moors) in the texts that describe the Muslim conquest such as the Chronicle of 754, which also doesn’t mention interpreters, Roger pointed out.

Section of handout from Roger Wright, &quo;African Invaders and Very Old Spanish&quo;

Professor Wright’s handout where it gives examples of African symptoms in Latin shared by Castilian

Nonetheless, although reconstructing African Latin’s distinctive characteristics is hard, it does seem hard to find them in Spanish Latin before 711. Isidore, as we say, sees a difference; Paul Alvarus of Córdoba, writing c. 860, does not. Betacism is rare before the seventh century, much more common later. Weirdly, and significantly, Arabic in Andalusia, the most heavily-settled area of course, also shows this symptom. Similar things can be said of the distinction between long and short vowels, the African difficulty Augustine describes: Roger pointed at Castilian ‘montes’ and ‘fuentes’, mountains and springs, from Latin ‘montes’ and ‘fontes’ respectively, to show this lack of distinction in action, and another symptom is the lack of a simple past tense in Castilian, where the past can only be formed by using the verb ‘to have’ an a participle. This doesn’t occur in Catalonia in the period of my documents, and modern Catalan retains as does French a preterite, even if neither are usually used in speech; I noticed the compound tense with excitement in the Beaulieu cartulary towards the close of the ninth century just the other day; but this was already settling in in Africa before the conquest, apparently, and now survives in Castilian. And there were a number of other cases of phonetic, syntactic and vocabulary resemblance that cumulatively seemed hard to argue with, though if you’d like to try I give the relevant section of Roger’s excellent handout as a scan above.

Thus, although the gap between say, 600 and 840, is still hard to fill in terms of linguistic development, in Spain it seems reasonably clear that the 711 invasion is one of the branches, with the consequent implication that its armies and settlers were many of them Latin-speaking. The further implications of that had, as I say, already been somewhat explored by Richard Hitchcock in 2007, but as far as I know Professor Hitchcock has never published that, and though what I’ve said here is as far as Roger went it’s still plenty to think about…


1. The obvious works of Roger’s to refer to are his Late Latin and Early Romance in Spain and Carolingian France (Liverpool 1982) or R. Wright (ed.), Latin and the Romance Languages in the Early Middle Ages (London 1991), but by now he might prefer that we checked his A Sociophilological Study of Late Latin (Turnhout 2003) or specifically on this question R. Wright, “Late and Vulgar Latin in Muslim Spain: the African Connection” in Frédérique Biville, Marie-Karine Lhommé & Daniel Vallat (edd.), Latin vulgaire, latin tardif IX : Actes du IXe Colloque International sur le Latin Vulgaire et Tardif, Lyon, 2 – 6 septembre 2009, Collection de la Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée : Série linguistique et philologique 8 (Lyon 2012), pp. 35-54. For opposition, I suppose one would look most obviously to Michel Banniard, Viva voce : communication érite et communication orale du IVe aui IXe siècle en Occident latin (Paris 2002) but more anciently Rosamond McKitterick, “Latin and Romance: an historian’s perspective” in Wright, Latin and the Romance Languages, pp. 130-145 or Michael Richter, The Oral Tradition in the Early Middle Ages (Turnhout 1994).

2. For an edition of the slates, aimed at just this question, see Isabel Velázquez Soriano, Las pizarras visigodas: entre el latín y su disgregación. La lengua hablada en Hispania, siglos VI-VII (Madrid 2004). I observed in questions, largely on the basis of this post at Magistra et Mater I admit, that this also happens in Lombard Italy, to which Roger’s response was to suggest bad spelling and to observe that almost everything that can happen to Latin happens in Italy. Well, OK, but…

3. Here Roger cited Jonathan Conant, Staying Roman: conquest and identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439-700 (Cambridge 2012) and Yitzhak Hen, Roman Barbarians: the royal court and culture in the early medieval West (Basingstoke 2007), neither of which I’ve read but both of which, and perhaps especially teh former of which I had no knowledge before this, I really should.

The rudest tree you ever did see written about

To continue, a lighter note in the knells of Zimmermann critique for once! Just at the close of chapter 6 of his immense Écrire et lire en Catalogne, Michel Zimmermann references as an amusing throwaway a document which I had seen before, but mislaid my reference to, and of which I was delighted to be reminded. The document is an ordinary land-grant, albeit by a count, although it has its own fascinations: among the things granted are ‘waste churches’, for example, which have been made to bear far too much significance in the past1 but which leaves an intriguing tale untold. It may possibly have something to do with the fact that on the boundaries of the property there was a guardia maurisca, if that’s correct a Muslim guard-tower, although we have seen that often when such things are invoked they were actually Carolingian and a tower is a more likely Carolingian than Muslim feature out here.2 But the reason to love the document is that one of the other boundaries is, as the scribe puts it:

On the tip of the higher pine tree, which has a mendacious and malformed name, a name which is however perfectly well-known to everyone, which on account of its deformity we avoid writing… 

Did you get that? The scribe is refusing to tell us what the boundary tree is called because it has a rude name. And that’s why Zimmermann mentions it, and for once tells us where the document can be found.3 But ladies and gentlemen, the story does not end there. That name that could not be uttered, the place where the scribe wouldn’t go? We’re going there. (Here are some preparatory instructions.) Because, not every scribe shared this fine sense of language, you see, and the property is also referred to in a later papal confirmation by Pope John XV, from which we can supply the name.4 Now I know I said there had to be more swearing on this blog but I want to be sure you’re ready for this so I’ve run it through ROT13 in consideration of your tender minds and gentle souls. Those who feel strong enough to decode it should run the following string through this web-page. Ready?

PNSENYVB

Oh, and I also put the Latin in this footnote, oops.5 Now, this is actually more interesting than it might appear, on inspection. I can’t myself see anything up with this word—and okay, if I’m going to discuss it I suppose I have to name it, Cafralio. But if I bend my brain suitably, I can imagine that a scribe who was looking back at an unfamiliar script with closed letters `a’ might somehow read “coprolio” and there I start to see the problem, although it is a problem in Greek.6 So it’s interesting, because whereas the script change in this area and time was generally from Visigothic bookscript (what the palæographers of the area call escritura condal), which has an almost-triangular letter `a’, to Caroline minuscule which has a rounder one, here we appear to have a scribe who didn’t recognise what must be Caroline script. But that itself is a problem for me, because this ought to being done from notes, and I can’t imagine that people made notes in Caroline, it’s a book hand. The notes should be cursive, and any cursive I know of in this area would have had open letters `a’, I think, not that there’s much to go on.7 And there is also the fact that while John XV’s scribes were happy with the name, an earlier and much more contemporary papal Bull from Benedict VI does not feature it.8

Sample of text in escritura condal

Sample of text in escritura condal, reading "& ipsas meas equas ·IIIIor·", from Arxiu Capitular de Vic, Calaix 9, I, no. 50, photograph by me

Sample text in Caroline-influenced escritura condal

Sample text in Caroline-influenced escritura condal, reading "In hac vero audiencia", from Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona, Pergamins C 20; note that the scribe used both forms, differing at the beginning of `audiencia' from the end

So, OK, one option is that there was an earlier document, perhaps written by a Frankish scribe or from one of those flash guys near Barcelona, and Sant Pere de Rodes’s scribe couldn’t read it but thought he could. That seems awkward to me because Caroline is supposed to be legible, that’s the point, and there would be lots of other letters to compare these with in the document which ought to prevent the mistake. Okay, maybe it wasn’t very good Caroline. But the other option is that the first scribe is right about what the name is—and he does say that it’s well-known to everyone—and while they didn’t dare put it in the text they used for Pope Benedict (which was probably this same charter9), they decided later on that they really needed the boundaries of this property (which was much contested) in a papal Bull and so bowdlerised it to Cafralio for the text they took to Rome for John XV. That sounds pretty silly, but it does seem to me less improbable… Or, is there a Latin reading that would make more sense that I’m just too innocent to see?


1. Albert Benet i Clarà, “La incursió d’hongaresos a Catalunya l’any 942″ in Quaderns d’Estudis Medievals Vol. 9 (Barcelona 1982), pp. 568-574, uses any indication of a destroyed or abandoned church to map the progress of the Magyar raid into Catalonia and Spain in 942; I’m not sure that’s what they spent all their time doing, myself… See my “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: Organisation of Society in the pre-Catalan ‘Terra de Ningú’” in †Alan Deyermond & Martin Ryan (ed.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London: Queen Mary University of London 2010), pp. 97-127 at pp. 115-119, which also contains my worst academic pun committed to print. SO FAR.

2. I’m sure there is literature on this but it won’t come to mind; the one I’m thinking of is the supposed Torre dels Moros astride the Casserres peninsula, discussed most thoroughly in Antoni Pladevall i Font, Sant Pere de Casserres o la Presència de Cluny a Catalunya (Manlleu 2004), pp. 51-55.

3. M. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (siècles IX-XIII), Mélanges de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, I p. 423 citing Petrus de Marca, Marca Hispanica sive Limes Hispanicus, hoc est geographica & historica descriptio cataloniæ, ruscinonis, & circumiacentium populorum, ed. Étienne Baluze (Paris 1688; repr. Barcelona 1972 & 1989), ap. CXVI, which must by now be reprinted in the Catalunya Carolíngia but I’m not in a position to look that up just now: “In sumitatem de ipso pino altiore qui habet inhonestum atque incompositum nomen, cujus tamen nomen omnibus notissimum est, quem nos propter deformitatem scribere devitamus.”

4. That being de Marca, Marca Hispanica, ap. CXL, which certainly must be better edited in Harald Zimmermann [no relation I believe] (ed.), Papsturkunden 896-1046(Wien 1984), but again I don’t right now have the access to check.

5. “Cafralio”. <looks around nervously>

6. That doesn’t actually prohibit it, however. On this Zimmermann is quite good, as far as I’m any judge: see Écrire et lire, I pp. 297-312. He sees the use of Greek words here mainly as stylistic showing-off by borrowing from word-lists and glossaries, but that would do for this case.

7. The local palæography is covered in M. Josepa Arnall i Juan & Josep M. Pons i Guri, L’escriptura a les terres gironines (Girona 1993), but there just isn’t really any preserved cursive from this era as far as I know, except the odd chancery-like signature.

8. De Marca, Marca Hispanica, ap. CXVII, again presumably better edited in Zimmermann, Papsturkunden, if only I could reach it.

9. That’s how papal documents of this era tended to be done, with a model you brought with you and got copied up in advance: see Hans-Henning Körtum, Zur Päpstliche Urkundensprache im frühen Mittelalter: die päpstlichen Privilegien 896-1046, Beiträge zur Geschichte und Quellenkunde des Mittelalters 17 (Sigmaringen 1995).

Help with some Cordoban Latin scuttlebutt?

Of recent days I have been reading Samson of Córdoba’s Apologeticum contra perfidos, which is a lengthy work of ninth-century theology aimed at stemming the increasing control of the Cordoban Church by people who didn’t, as Samson saw it, even really understand the Trinity and were in place largely because of having been suitably unctuous at the Emir’s court.1 He aims to rekindle the wonder and mystery of Trinitarian Christianity in the reader and thus encourage a new generation to take up the torch, but in the course of doing so he goes properly Gildas about the political parachutists, who, he says, have basically turned the Church into a state revenue apparatus to their own benefit. These are the people he wants out, not least because they briefly managed to get him degraded for heresy in a trumped-up trial by wilfully misunderstanding his doctrine about the Trinity (though I actually think that’s fair enough, as he basically says it’s not comprehensible, albeit some respect is due to him for using paired senses of the Latin word ‘comprehensibile‘ in doing this).2

Church of San Lorenzo in Córdoba

The tenth-century Church of San Lorenzo in Córdoba

Why are you reading that, Jonathan, you may be asking, and the answer is that in the course of indicting his enemies, as well as some good scatalogical late-Antique-style slander,3 he tells several stories that reveal some quite important things about the tax system and the way the Emirs were dealing with control of the Church. I’ll talk about that a bit more in a moment, but first I’d like to ask for help with one of these stories. This is about Samuel, Bishop of Granada, the uncle of Samson’s main enemy—who was Bishop Ostegesis of Malaca (more like Hostis Ihesus! puns Samson)4—and I don’t think I can tell exactly what he is being accused of:

In ipso quippe Parascefe die, dum ante parum tempus pro male gestis a pontificali officio fuisset remotus, Iudas Scarioth nouus Cordobam petiit et tonso tenus cute capite Xpm denegans Muzlemitis, quia iam circumcisus erat, facile adesit et ritui eorum post sacerdotium inseruiuit.5

So, okay, a rough translation:

On the day of the Parasceve, indeed, while before—and not for long enough!—he had been far from the pontifical office in pursuit of evil intents, the new Judas Iscariot betook himself to Córdoba and, having cut his hair almost to the skin of his head, denying Christ to the Muslims, since he was already circumcised, easily clung to and afterwards took care of their rite after the priesthood.

I think that’s pretty close to the Latin but what the goshdarn heck it actually means is another question. Is Samson saying that this guy did convert to Islam? or that he pretended to have done so before, and meanwhile operated as something administrative in the Christian Church as a kind of double agent? Whose priesthood? Islam doesn’t have an organised one in the way that this seems to imply, but the (grammatical) antecedent is pretty clearly Muzlemitis (and yes, it is interesting that he uses that word; elsewhere he uses Caldei, but more on that in a moment). If anyone can see through the grammar to work out what Bishop Samuel is actually supposed to have done, I would be grateful for your input.

Manuscript illustration of the judges at the Millennium judging the souls of the martyrs of Córdoba

Manuscript illustration of the judges at the Millennium judging the souls of the martyrs of Córdoba

The world in which Samson operated is quite hard to fathom in a number of ways. I think that he must have been ignoring quite a lot of change. He refers to people taking bribes in solidi, for example, but the coins had long since been dirhams, so that can only have been a unit of account if that.6 It’s clear that the ‘kings of the Ishmælites’ basically nominated to Church offices, as they can be induced to do this by people like Ostegesis and Samuel who are happy to spend their flock’s offerings on holding banquets for the priori domum regiæ, but (perhaps naturally) he has nothing bad to say of these ‘kings’, who are always anonymous and usually plural, though he will name their functionaries, some of whom are called saio muzlemitus.7 All his terminology is Christian, therefore, and much of it Visigothic, even though the offices and officers he describes are not at all. On the other hand, he renders Arabic names more or less cleanly, and was able to do far more than that since, at one point, his enemies decide to move against him (by getting a Christian who is on trial for blaspheming against Muhammad (‘him whom the Chaldæan people cult as a prophet’) to indict Samson and his protector Bishop Valerius of Córdoba, though the ‘kings’ decide to ignore that testimony, which may be why Samson is neutral about them) because he has been employed to translate a letter from ‘the king of Hispania’ to the king of the Franks “ex Caldeo sermone in Latinum eloquium“, and this sign of emiral favour panics them into action.8 Point being, apparently Samson could translate Arabic…

So, the whole thing does read as if he is trying to hide the political situation from his readers, or else somehow doesn’t think it very relevant. The problem he sees with the Church is corrupt and ill-educated priests and bishops, not the fundamental fact that it is in the power of Muslims. The Muslims are tolerable; they’re not really interested, but they’re amenable to reason as well as bribery, and the only really bad thing they do is subject the Church as a whole to tribute, but they only do that (as Samson tells it) because Servandus, Ostegesis’s right-hand man, turns over several Christians to the authorities for hiding things on which they should have paid regular tax under altars in the city’s churches, whereafter the authorities punish the whole Church.9 Again, somehow he blames the Christians, not the state. On the other hand, it’s what, era 901 he says so 863 AD, the Muslims have been in power in Spain for a hundred and fifty years and they’re only now putting the Cordoban Church under special taxation, as well as apparently being accessible to anyone even claiming to be a bishop and hiring hardline Trinitarian theologians to do secretarial work, so this attitude may be fair enough. All this makes it a very interesting source for the doublethink involved in being on the underside of al-Andalus’s well-known convivencia, but that doublethink is hard to see through. One can’t help seeing Samson as an ostrich with his head in the sand, however viciously he pecks at all the other ostrich’s feet.


1. Samsonis apologeticum contra perfidos, ed. Joan Gil in I. Gil (ed.), Corpvs Scriptorvm Mvzarabicorvm Vol. II, Manuales y Anejos de «Emerita» XXVIII (Madrid 1973), pp. 505-658.

2. Samson, Apologeticus I.9.

3. For example, he goes into unpleasantly gruesome detail about a struggle to remove the foreskin of Ostegesis’s octogenarian apostate father, driven to convert when arrested for non-payment of taxes (Apologeticum, II Præf. cap. 3). This is, I presume, damnation by association, as Samson puts some store by lineage, but there’s plenty of allegations of sexual impropriety too. I don’t like this kind of writing much, though I recognise it’s in a good Roman tradition; it seems so mean-spirited, condemning the accuser as much as the accused, and to diminish the force of the main accusations. On the other hand, I wrote much of this post while listening to the Dead Kennedies’ Plastic Surgery Disasters, which is, after all, an erudite, scathing and often scatalogical attack on people prostituting themselves to a corrupt and uncaring power structure, and which I enjoy thoroughly, so really, where’s that moral high ground I had a minute ago?

4. Samson, Apologeticus II Præf. cap. 2.

5. Ibid., II Pr. 4.

6. Ibid., II Pr. 2 & 8.

7. Ibid., II Pr. 8.

8. Ibid., II Pr. 9, inc. “illum quem gens Caldea profetam colunt“.

9. Ibid., II Pr. 5.

From the sources IV: following up the simonists and Vikings

Right! The year has started and it’s time to take up many screens with tight discussion of medieval Latin sources again! Two of the posts in this series have occasioned or involved questions and shortly before Christmas I finally found time, with all the essays marked and no further preparation to do for the last class of last semester, to get into a library and look up the answers. So without further ado here they are.

What’s the Latin for simony?

Theo asked, apropos of the Catalan simony agreement I posted, for the Latin text because the journal in which it’s published is hard to get hold of. Well, it will be out before long in the Catalunya Carolíngia, but since it is, I suppose, unlikely that you will all be racing down the IEC to get your copy on that day, perhaps there’s still an argument for this, and in any case, I’d quite like a digital text of the Latin too, so if I’m typing it up anyway

Iuro ego Ermengaude comes, filius [quod fuit] Borrello comite et filio quod fuit Letg[gardis] con[iuge], ut de ista ora in antea infra [proximos .X.m] dies quod Sallane episcopo, filius quod fuit Isarnus et filius quod fuit Rranlane, me Ermengaude supra scripto commonuerit, per nomine de isto sacramento, quod ipso episcopato de comitatum Urgello Sedis Vicco donare faciam ad Ermengaude, filio Bernardo vicecomite et filio Wisila vicecomitissa, ego Ermengaude comite donare faciam ad isto Ermengaude, filius Bernardus, et vesticione ad illum faciam. Et de ista ora in antea ego Ermengaude comite supra scripto non decebre isto Ermengaude, filio Bernardus vicecomite supra scripto, de ipso episcopato de Sancta Maria Sedis Vico quod est in Urgello. Et si Sallane episcopo ordinare voluerit suo nopoto [sic] Ermengaude supra scripto in sua vita, ego Ermengaude comite supra scripto adiutor illi ero ad ordinare ipso Ermengaude, filio Bernardus supra scripto, sine sua decepcione de ipso Ermengaude, filio Bernardus supra scripto et filio Wisila, si Sallane episcopo aut Bernardus fratri sup aut aliquis ex parentibus vel amicis de isto Ermengaude clericus supra scripto donare mihi faciant pessas .C., aut pessatas valibiles, aut pigdus valibiles de pessas .CC. pro ipsas pessas .C., quod donare mihi faciant infra dies .LX. quod isto Ermengaude, filio Bernardus supra scripto, fuerit ordinatus, et mihi donaverunt pigdus valibiles de pessas .CC. pro alias pessas .CL. quod mihi donent post obitum Sallane episcopo supra scripto, infra medium annum ipsa medietate et ad alium medium in alia medietate. Et si Sallane episcopo non fecerit ordinare ipso Ermengaude suo nepoto upra scripto in sua vita de Sallana episcopo, et ego Ermengaudes comite vivus fuerit, et ipso Ermengaude, filio Bernardus supra scripto, vivus fuerit, ego Ermengaude comite supra scripto ordinare illum faciam, si facere potuero, si Ermengaude clerico supra scripto donare mihi voluerit aut aliquis ex parentibus vel amicis suis donare mihi voluerint et donaverint ipsas pessas aut pessatas aut ipso pigdus supra scriptus. Et ego Ermengaude comite supra scripto non faciam nullam disturbio ad ipso Ermengaude clerico supra scripto de ipsa sua ordinacione de ipso episcopato de Urgello, neque nullum malum ingenium, nec ego nec ullus omines nec nullas feminas per meum consilium neque per nulla mea absencione. Et ego Ermengaude comite supra scripto adiutor ero ad isto Ermengaude, filio Wisila supra scripta, ipso episcopato de Urgello a tenere et abere sicut Sallane odie tenet, contra omnes omines aut feminas quod eum tollere voluerint aut tulerint, sine sua deceptione de Ermengaude clerico supra scripto post obitum Sallane episcopo supra scripto aut in diebus suis, si Sallane episcopo ad illum dimiserit aut quantum ad ille donaverit de ipso episcopato, si Ermengaude, filio Bernardus vicecomite, frater Sallane, et filio Wisila vicecomitissa, filia quod fuit de Seniofredus de Luciano, mihi voluerit facere fidantias et fidelitatem super altare dedicatum, vel super reliquias, et fecerit unde ego Ermengaude comite firmiter fidare possem in illum.

(Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell, pergamins no. 163, as ed. by Cebrià Baraut in ““Els documents, dels anys 981-1010, de l’Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell” in Urgellia Vol. 3 (Montserrat 1980), pp. 7-166, doc. no. 276 at pp. 106-107.)

I’ve already talked enough about this but I do like (i) the way the vernacular nearly makes it through at ‘decebre’, which would be just there in later vernacular promises of the same sort (see the Kosto reference from before), (ii) the way the scribe doesn’t give a damn about the case of his nouns but conjugates the future perfect with scrupulous care and (iii) the fact that when Count Ermengol stresses that he needs a pledge of faith from the future bishop all the future bishop’s family connections are listed, presumably to illustrate the sort of family involved and explain why the count needs this person sworn to him.

OK, that’s one.

Vikings in Portugal

The second follow-up is apropos of the post in which I included a chunk of Sampiro’s Chronicum that failed to document Viking attacks on the north of Iberia in the eleventh century. Since I posted that, a learned commentator has supplied many more such references than I realised existed, but not the one that was in the Richard Fletcher reference I was originally following up. He cited “R. Pinto de Azevedo, ‘A expedição de Almanzor a Santiago de Compostela em 997, e a de piratas normandos a Galiza em 1015-16′, Revista Portuguesa da História 14 (1974), 73-93″, and this I have now gone and got. It turns out to be a short piece presenting two documents from the seventeenth-century cartulary of a monastery called San Salvador de Moreira, documents which appear to have been made there but whose originals are lost and which somehow didn’t get edited in the Portugaliae Monumenta Historica when that was done. One refers to an attack by al-Mansur on the area concerned, which is probably to be pinned to 997, and the other to, well you’ll see. (Of course, that’s not what the transactors thought was important about the record, but you know, times change.) This document was not known to any of the other people who’d worked on these raids at the time that Pinto wrote, but he gives references to them and since that was the original point of query, so shall I: they are L. Saavedra Machado, “Expedições Normandas no Ocidente da Hispania” in Boletim do Instituto Alemão Vol. 3 (Coimbra 1930), pp. 44-65, and Reinhard Dozy, Recherches sur l’histoire et la littérature en Espagne pendant le Moyen Âge (probably the 2nd edn. of Leiden 1849, though it doesn’t say), II p. 302 where there starts a chapter called “Les Normands en Espagne”. Dozy was using a source called the Chronica Gothorum but that would be another post (if anyone wants).

The charter that Pinto adds to this mix starts like this:

Non est enim duuio sed pleris manet in ueritate eo quod ego Amarcio Mestalis sedente fuit in coniungio eum uxore sua Adileoua sine quoliue escritura dedit ipso Amarelo precio de suo peguliar que solo abuit, et ganauit ereditates et miscuit eas ad illa sua que abuit de suo aboligo ubi ipsa Adileoua aligo nom dedit et as comparamus alias ereditates nos ambos et misquimis illas ad eriditate de Adioleoua et separauimus illas unas de alias per firmitates factas que abea Adileoua illas que mesturamus ad illa sua sicut comparamus ea de suo tribu et aber, Amarelo illas que solo comparauit et illas que comparauit cum sua mulier, et sunt ipsas comparationes de tribu de Amarelo, isto abuisse Amarelo, sicut et fecemus usque ad obitum de Adileoua. Post sua morte per anis plures tenuerunt suos filios sua ereditate quanta superius resona, et quanta est mea tiui eu Amarelo illa integra pagata sine calumnia de filius de Adileoua, per annis plures in de illa domna Lupa prolis Aloiti et Guncine pro non uindere nec donare nisi ad illa et illa mici, rouorauit placitum que sic uenere mici aligo uno male in ipsa ereditate aut de alia causa ajutasse me et sacasse me inde sano stantes firmiter de amborum parte in ista actio et in nostra robore per currigula annis.

(Archivo Universitaria da Coimbra, do maç 194 of the Convento de Santa Cruz de Coimbra, fo. 200r & v., ed. Pinto, “A expedição de Almanzor”, pp. 91-93.)

The story really starts in the next bit but I think I ought to try and set it up. It’s not easy to understand, at least for me, this is very much on the way to being Galician or Portuguese already and it might in many cases be easier to read it that way. As far as I can work out, a chap called Amarelo Mestaliz who had a wife called Adileuva with whom he bought lands from both their families that they amalgamated and then redivided and of which he passed some onto their heirs after Adlieuva died, now promises his entire remaining share to a noblewoman called Loba Aloitiz, on condition that they can only sell or give it to each other thereafter, because of the help and succour she gave him or for other reasons I can’t make out in the Latin. OK, so what was this help? Here’s where the story really starts.

In Era M L iija mense Iulio ingressi fuerunt filius et neptis Lotnimis multis in Doiro, predans et captiuans de Doiro in Aue per viiije menses. Ibi captiuarunt tres filias de me ipso Amarelo et remansi mesquino, pasarunt Leodemanes illos catiuos a uindere totos, ipsas filias de Amarelo nomine Serili Ermesenda Faquilo, et non aueua que dare pro eas a Leodemanes, pro it [for proinde?] producto fuit in Argentini ante illa domna Lupa pro uindere ad illa mea ereditate sicut aueua scritura roborata et prendere ibi que misesse ea a Lotmanes pro ipsas meas filias, et illa non quisit, et mos misericordia abuit super me et prosolbiui me per scriptura pro dare illa ubi potuisse, pro tale actio aueruaui com Froila Tructesindiz que li dedise ea per carta et dedi mici que misi pro filias meas, et sacaui eas de captiuitate.

This is worth at least trying to translate:

In the Era 1053 [1015 AD] in the month of July there arrived many sons and grandsons of Leudeman on the Douro, preying and capturing from the Douro to the Ave for nine months. There they captured three daughters of me Amarelo and I remained behind weakened, the Leudemen carried off all those captives for to sell, those daughters of Amarelo by name Serila, Ermesenda and Faquilo, and I had nothing to give the Leudemen for them, so then this was brought up in Argentino before the lady Loba, to sell to her my heredity just as I had it by confirmed scripture and to take there what might be given by her to the Leudemen for my selfsame daughters, and that woman did not accept it, and behaved mercifully towards me and I promised by scripture to pay her for it when I was able, for which action I agreed with Froila Tructesindiz that I would give her by charter what he gave [it must be, even though that isn't what it says] to me that I sent for my daughters, and I ransomed them from captivity.

This is marvellous isn’t it? The Vikings (for whom I’d never seen this name before, though the extracts supplied by Cossue all use it; anyone know its origin?) are there for a while, and while they’re there they’re open for business. It’s apparently possible to approach the Viking camp and broker a price for three young Galician girls on behalf of their father. Who do you suppose are the go-betweens? And it’s just such a marvellous picture of Loba, too, gently refusing to take his living off him for an errand of mercy. She deserves to be remembered. Exactly what the position of Froila is, other than Loba’s agent for some reason, isn’t clear to me, but he will come back.

Because, unfortunately, Amarelo’s troubles didn’t end there. At the end of the same year, he became too ill and infirm to look after himself, “per malos annos” as the scribe has him put it, ‘through bad times’, and so he sold his remaining lands to his daughters instead, divided between them to be taken when he died, on condition that they would look after him, clothe him and feed him till then. But they treated him badly, he felt, so, he called a big meeting, and there presumably browbeat his slack daughters out of their entitlement. Instead, he now gives everything he has left, including what he has loaned out to others, to Dona Loba again in settlement of the debt he owes her, which is only now quantified as 15 solidi, getting in return a bed, some bedclothes and an ox, and upkeep for life. The daughters were at the meeting and confirmed this so presumably the rest of the meeting or their own guilty consciences were enough to persuade them to settle for their own inheritances. And once again, Dona Loba is being much nicer than she needs to be; the lands might easily be worth 15 solidi, though they equally might not, but the ox and the goods take a chunk out of that and even if he doesn’t look like living much longer, another dependent is a further drain on any gain she might get from an estate which must be pretty much all sold anyway.

And that’s what we have. Which is, if you ask me, a pretty good story, albeit of a life we can all be glad we didn’t have, showing a community patron might work in the best of ways, and it’s also interesting evidence for Vikings and what effect they can have on a community, these raiders who then sell what they’ve looted back to you. (I don’t suppose the daughters’ lives were exactly full of joy at this time either, I should point out.)

There is the little question of whether we can believe it. It is only found in a seventeenth-century cartulary copy, but they clearly didn’t make it as they’ve mangled its Latin so badly, so it must at least have been older than that. Nonetheless, the fact that it actually uses Portugal as a place-name this early is a bit worrying. Pinto however pointed out that it fits with other notices of Viking activity, more or less, specifically a 1014 raid led, Scandinavian sources apparently tell us, by Olaf Haraldsson, that must presumably have hung around a while. The transactor, poor Amarelo, appears in other earlier documents, so that he should be an old and infirm man by 1015-6 is about right; and on the whole it seems to be plausible, if not necessarily exact in every word. However, you may remember that when I first introduced this it was to try and work out what the evidence was that Tuy was sacked by Vikings at this time. Pinto sheds a little light on this too, while comparing Viking raids that this one might have been, because he notes that Dozy reckons that the 1014 raid was responsible for that, so that’s presumably where the idea comes from (and before that from episcopal lists with gaps, if I understand Fletcher right). Here, I think we should let Pinto have the last word:

Confesso-me, porém, insuficientemente documentado para emitir opinião segura sobre a invasão normanda deste territorio.


The rest of the charter’s Latin, since I’ve copied everything but this, may as well go in here too:

Dum uenimus ad anno pleno integro cadiuit ego Amarelo in mesquinitate et in infirmitate per annos malos et non aueua in meo iure pan nec aligo genere causa que aprestamo ominis est per que uiuere fecissime a meas filias carta que partissent mea ereditate in tercios post mea morte pro que eram de singulos matres et pro it dedissent mici uictum et uestitum et seruissent in mea uita, et non abuerunt unde, et deleisciarunt me mal in me infirmitate. Dum tale uidi, feci concilio ante Tructesindo Guimiriz, Gardalia Branderiz, Ordonio Brandiliz, Guntigio, Salamiro, Cendon, Ascaldo, Gaudila, Amarelo Cendoniz, Queta, Rodorigo Gardaliz, ipsa Sesili, ipsa Ermesenda, ipsa Faquilo, Elduira et Petro Aderiquiz et crepantauit ad illas cartas et scripturas. Obinde nomine ego Amarelo Mostalis placui mici pacis uoluntas nullo para meto ditate, de duas partes de ipsa ereditate do uobis inde duas partes integras, tam de parentela quam etiam de comparentela per terminos uigus et locis antiguis omni rem que a prestamo ominis est et ibi potueris inuenire, et do uobis illa pro dimisione qui mici feci illa domna Lupa, est ipsa hereditate in uilla Vilabredi subtus Castro de Boue urbio Portugal pro que accepi de uos uno lenzo et camisa antimana uno boue et in uita mea abeatis de me cura quantum potueritis. Isto mici placuit et illos XV solidos argenzdeos que iam de uos pressi pro in illa captiuitate et inde contra uos non remansi, ita deodie de iure meo sede abrasa et in uestro tradita. Aueatis uos et posteritas uestras in seculum seculi. Siquis tamen minime quod fieri non credo aliquis omo uenerit uel uenero contra anc cartula inrumpendo et tiui illa deuindigare uel octorgare noluero paie a uobis ipsa ereditate dublata et perenne auituro. Notum die iij nonas Aprile Era M L VI. Amarelo mano mea rouoraui +. Ic presentes Gardalia, Queta, Petro, Pelagio, Ordonio, Guntigio, Aluito, Salamiro, Ermesenda, Sesili, Faquilo, Elduira confirmo +. Petro Gardalis, Godisareo presbiter, Froila, Vermudo, Gundila notuit.

Seminary LIV: excellent Spanish charter workshop in Oxford

View of Balliol College, Oxford, from the sky

View of Balliol College, Oxford, from the sky

Given the length of the previous post I will try to keep this one brief and not froth too much, but it is very rare to get to talk specialised shop with so many interested people as I did the other day. There are in the University of Oxford a variety of lively postgraduate seminars, including six, count them, six medieval ones—I’m told good things especially of the mainline Medieval History one—and among them is one called Approaches to Medieval Spain. This runs at a time when I could never plausibly attend, but the last one in the term was sufficiently important that I took time off and travelled over in the sunshine to see what happened. Wendy Davies had organised it, you see, and the title was “The Language of Iberian Charters of the Tenth Century”. So the result was that as well as a range of people I didn’t know we got (in order only of their speaking) Wendy, Roger Wright, Alice Rio, Bryan Ward-Perkins, Adam Kosto, David Howlett, me, Chris Wickham and Michael Clanchy, all dealing with the question of how to read and what significances to take from the language of these documents.

Now, you may be wondering what it is about the language of these documents that is worth this many clever people’s attention, and the answer may lie partly in the fact that one of the questions we were asking is, “what language are they in fact in?” Let me give you a bit of transcript:

Zipriano, qui est mandatore de domna Goldregodo et adabatissa, et Belito et Kalendo, suas pesonas, et per sagionem Froilla. Gongnobimus nos in ueritatem quem aramus terra ic, Busti Gogiti, de testamento de Sancta Marina et de abatissa, de domna Goldregodo, per insapienia…1

Which translates as, more or less:

To Cipriano, who is the representative of the lady and Abbess Goldregoda, both Velito and Kalendo, her men, by means of the Saió Froila. We do acknowledge in truth that we sowed this land, Busto Gogiti, which belongs to the testament of Santa Marina and to the Abbess, the lady Goldregoda, through ignorance…

Now, you may be saying, “if you can translate it, Jon, you must know what language it is” or even, “it’s Latin, Jon, wake up”. But is it? Cicero would barely have recognised this. The agreement and use of cases is all over the place, spelling is already quite Spanish, and some words seem misspelt in the direction of a Romance pronunciation. Is this in fact just what written legal Romance looks like, using a lot of grand old words that they spell old style even though they don’t pronounce them that way (as with the Old French terms in modern heraldry, or the Anglo-Latin terms that lawyers still like today)? And if so, can we get at the spoken language through these documents? Did they think they were speaking Latin, or something different? How different was the written language to the spoken, and why was it kept so if it was? And who trained the people who wrote it, and what with?

This was the sort of thing that we were discussing. The way that the day worked was that Wendy had assembled a cache of particularly good example charters, and she gave a short introduction, then Roger spoke briefly about the language, whereafter we discussed them all together in order.2 Roger’s take is roughly the second given above, that this is what Romance looks like written down, though there was disagreement with this, including some from me on the basis of the Catalan feudal oaths that Adam has studied so well which contain what seems to be actual spoken language transcribed and which looks very different.3 Roger did admit that although he would call this Romance the writers would have called it Latin, and probably would their spoken language as well. So there’s room for a lot of debate over terms here but a more useful approach is to just treat it as one language in long-term flux and study the changes more closely.

I won’t attempt to replicate the following discussion, but some points that have been asterisked in my notes are:

  • some of the changes to Latin we noticed were regular usage in the Visigothic period, so by the time of our documents already 300 years old or more;
  • one or two of the documents showed signs of spoken language’s influence, including in one case an apparent speech defect, that implied very strongly that they’d been written at dictation by someone who didn’t know the written language very well, implying some odd edge cases or perhaps specialisations in documentary literacy; we can never have too much proof of this;
  • people might well have deliberately added in obscure Latinisms for effect; Roger’s stock phrase was, “not ignorance, but educated ingenuity misapplied”
  • scribes did do things differently just for fun, they were not robots in a wider regulating system of literacy;
  • and that working on this sort of thing gets a lot harder when editors don’t indicate where they’ve expanded abbreviations.

If any of that gets you thinking, feel free to discuss below. It has me, but I intend to write about it where people can hold it in their hands, hopefully before too very long.


1.J. A. Fernández Flórez & M. Herrero de la Fuente (edd.), Colección Documental de Otero de las Dueñas, doc. no. 43.

2. The documents in question being, if you want to have a go yourself, José María Mínguez Fernández (ed.), Colección Diplomática del Monastero de Sahagún (857-1300) I: siglos IX y X, Coleccion Fuentes y Estudios de Historia Leonesa (León 1976), doc. 151; José Miguel Andrade Cernadas (ed.), O Tombo de Celanova: estudio introductorio, edición e índices (ss. IX-XII) (Santiago de Compostela 1995), 2 vols, doc. no. 221; Emilio Sáez & Carlos Sáez (edd.), Colección documental del Archivo de la Catedral de León (775-1230) Vol. II (953-985) Coleccion Fuentes y Estudios de Historia Leonesa 42 (León 1987), doc. 442; Mínguez, Sahagún, doc. 329; Sáez & Sáez, León docs 310, 388 & 448; Mínguez, Sahagún doc. 205; Fernández & Herrero, Otero doc. 43 as above; and Alexandre Herculano de Carvalho & Joachim Jose de Silva Mendes Leal (edd.), Portugaliae Monumenta Historica, a sæculo octavo post Christum usque ad quintumdecimum, I: Diplomata et chartae, fasc. 1. Ante sæculum XII exaratae et ad origines antiquitatesque potugaliae utcumque spectantes (Lisboa 1856), doc. CLXIII (though we had a newer transcript for this one supplied by Roger).

3. For Roger’s case in detail you would be well-advised to consult his Late Latin and Early Romance in Spain and Carolingian France, ARCA, Classical and Medieval Texts, Papers and Monographs 8 (Liverpool 1982); Adam’s work referred to is Adam J. Kosto, Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: Power, Order, and the Written Word 1000-1200 (Cambridge 2001).