Tag Archives: Romance language

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.

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).

Leeds 2010 Report II

So, Tuesday of Leeds then. I am going to try, though we all know how well this usually works, to keep this shorter than the previous one. I seem to remember that I didn’t sleep very well the Monday night for some reason, but having some years ago discovered that the best way to enjoy Leeds was not to drink as much as I had been doing up till that point (because it was all free, folks),1 I was still on time for breakfast, where the queues weren’t as bad as last year, but still bad enough to make me wonder how on earth this campus copes when it’s got 1,500 students in it instead of 650 medievalists. Thus fortified, I stepped out and my day’s learnings were as follows.

501. Ritual and the Household, I: Anglo-Saxon Settlements

Remains of a sunken-featured building at Shippams Factory, Chichester

Remains of a possibly-Saxon sunken-featured building at Shippams Factory, Chichester

  • Clifford Sofield, “Ritual in Context: patterns of interpretation of ‘placed’ deposits in Anglo-Saxon settlements”, discussed material found out of context in sites of between the fifth and eighth centuries in England, by which he meant, for example, animal bones in foundation trenches, and so on. He had done some fairly heavy graphing of this stuff and found correlations, for example that 122 of his 130 placed deposits of all kinds were from sunken-featured buildings, and usually in the fill from when the structures were demolished. He suggested that this practice marked the end of a building’s ‘life-cycle’. That was interesting all right, and he had other such ideas, but I still would have liked percentages as well as raw figures throughout. How many of the structures he had checked up on were sunken-featured buildings in the first place? Is 122 out of 130 in proportion or not? And so on.
  • Vicky Crewe, “Appropriating the Past: the ‘ritual’ nature of monument reuse in Anglo-Saxon settlements”, tangled with a number of common misperceptions, such as that Anglo-Saxon settlement avoided older burial mounds, whereas pre-kingdoms sites often built on top of the things; that ‘ritual’ practices are unusual rather than every-day, and that fifth- and sixth-century English settlement was egalitarian; it may indeed have been but that’s not how they buried their dead, that’s clearly hierarchical. I would like to know more about the Ph. D. this stuff is presumably part of.
  • Sally Crawford, “Women’s Ritual Spaces in Early Anglo-Saxon Settlements”, for me the winner of the session because of the presenter’s complete comfort with the presentation scenario; she must be an excellent teacher. She was focussing on a tiny area, loom-weights found in the well-known settlement of West Stow, and looking at where they had actually been in buildings; from this she deduced that these were not artefacts related to an individual but to a community and that weaving was therefore a village practice there, not a household one, continuing on the same site through a succession of temporary workshops. This tiny focus thus brought to life people using their living space together in a way that the two prior papers, not less important but more schematic, hadn’t been able to, and there were lots of questions because people felt they had more to contribute I think.

614. Languages in the Early Middle Ages: travel, contact and survival

This one had been a highlight of my planned itinerary, because in the original program Luis Agustín García Moreno had been going to talk about the end of the Gothic language in Spain, and since he is a grand old man of the field I was looking forward to seeing him speak. That said, even in his absence the session was still fascinating. I love listening to linguistics, though I find it awfully dull to read, so this is a good way to make sure I’m faintly aware of lingustic agendas in my stuff. I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t deterred, either; the small room was so full that people like Rosamond McKitterick were sitting on the floor for shortage of seats! These were the papers.

  • David Stifter, “Facts and Factors Concerning the Fate of Gaulish in Late Antiquity”, discussed a pair of ceramic fragments which are not widely recognised to have what may be the latest examples of written Gaulish on them, from a workshop producing commercial stuff in great numbers celebrating Roman victories; apparently in the reign of Hadrian there was still a market for inscribing a design showing the defeated King Decebalus of Dacia in Gaulish. If so, the survival of the language did not in any way prevent an identification with the Empire.
  • A jar bearing the name of Decebalus, last King of the Dacians

    A jar bearing the name of Decebalus in the more-conventional Latin

  • Roger Wright, “Late and Vulgar Latin in early Muslim Spain: the African connection”, demonstrated with Roger’s usual wealth of reference that the Latin spoken in early Muslim Spain (which, as we’ve discussed here before apropos of a paper of Richard Hitchcock’s that I was surprised not to hear mentioned, would have been substantially the language of the incoming armies, who simply couldn’t have largely learnt Arabic in the time available) was very heavily influenced by African Latin. This involved the nice irony of Isidore of Seville having ticked the Africans of his day off for Latin symptoms that are now characteristic of Castilian Spanish, most obviously betacism (substituting ‘b’ for ‘v’ and vice versa). I liked this one, because it took the less controversial bits of Professor Hitchcock’s paper (which may well have been using Roger’s earlier work) and made them mean something independent.
  • Wolfgang Haubrichs, “Language and Travel in the Early Middle Ages: text and context in the Old High German Pariser Gespräche“, was largely an introduction for those of us who didn’t know them to the selfsame Gespräche. These are a set of useful phrases that appear to have been collected to help someone familiar with fairly Romance Latin cope with the minutiae of managing an estate where Old High German was spoken, and so they deal with the various ways servants can misconduct themselves (sex, food and failing to go to Mass, most largely) and how people identified themselves (by lord, by household, by patria; not, interestingly, by language, though presumably that would already be obvious). I hope the interest of this is obvious, but in case not, let me stress that this text helps prove that the unsavoury French expression “le cul d’un chien dans ton nez” has a very long history (OHG “Undes ars in tine naso”, if that helps). Professor Haubrichs suggested that this text might have arisen out of the close connections between the abbeys of Ferrières and Prüm in the 860s, so that’s how old that phrase might be.

Then there was lunch and I think it was at this point that I first got bitten by the books, having worked out that actually I could afford to buy from Brepols this year. This is a dangerous realisation. Still reeling, I took refuge in diplomatic…

706. Shaping the Page, Forming the Text: material aspects of medieval charters

    Precept of immunity from King Charles the Simple to the canons of Paris, 911 (genuine)

  • Mark Mersiowsky, “The Discerning Eye of the Forger: medieval forgeries as material objects”, saw Professor Mersiowsky, who is now concluding an absolutely huge project on the original charters of early medieval Europe (yes, all of it, he’s seen them all or close to), distinguishing some charters which are meant to actually look like what they are purporting to be, with its flaws, from those that are meant to look like the right sort of thing (I wasn’t sure, and neither were some questioners, that this distinction held up), and a third class where documents of other sorts were the models, such as the way that some forgeries update their model to the current local style so that it looks more like what people recognise as a charter and not some crazy royal thing from centuries past that no-one’s seen before (as demonstrated by the pictures above and below this section, if you like). There wasn’t really time to explore all the ways people used the documents they fabricated in the period but Professor Mersiowsky made it clear that he has a lot to give on this and many related subjects.
  • Claire Lamy, “The Notitiae of Marmoutiers and their Continuations: preparation, shaping, practices (1050-1150)” covered a coherent group of documents from Dominique Barthélemy’s favourite abbey that leave a lot of space on the parchment, far more than was needed for the witness lists or validations that they sometimes never got. Sometimes the space left was so much that another transaction would be put into it, but by and large they weren’t trying to save parchment; the practice remained mostly inexplicable at the end of the paper.
  • Sébastien Barret, “Forms and Shapes: ‘private deeds’ in Cluny (10th-11th centuries)”, should have been a paper that had me champing at the bit given some of the stuff I’ve said here and indeed at Leeds, but he was less concerned with the documents’ contents than their forms, fair enough given the session title, and the interesting thing is that those forms are very plural; Cluny don’t seem to have been working with a clear idea of what a charter needs to look like to be valid in this period. This in turns leads to many different ways of authenticating, and Barret argued that validity is primarily social, which fits with other things we have been told to think about Cluny’s documents.2 This is something I need to think about, because I’ve argued repeatedly that external form of a charter is not what people usually care about so much as what it says; but in my area, there is very much a clear idea of what one looks like, for all that.
  • Schoyen Collection MS 590/49, a sale charter of 965 from Cerdanya

    Schoyen Collection MS 590/49, a sale charter of 965 from Cerdanya; you will observe how it does not resemble Charles the Simple's document much...

805. Texts and Identies, VII: modes of identification, IV

Hraban Maur presenting his Liber de Sancti Crucis to Archbishop Otgar of Mainz, encouraged by Alcuin: Vienna, Codex Vindobonensis 652

Hraban Maur presenting his Liber de Sancti Crucis to Archbishop Otgar of Mainz, encouraged by Alcuin: Vienna, Codex Vindobonensis 652

I confess that I had been keeping away from Texts and Identities thus far, not out of strategy as sometimes in the past but simply because many of the paper titles looked like postmodern junk. (And you know, I’m more tolerant of that than I used to be, but really.) This one however I chanced because Stuart Airlie was responding and one’s Leeds is not complete without seeing him perform at least once. The actual papers to which he responded outshone their session title, too, and were as follows.

  • Marianne Pollheimer, “Grammars: preaching communities – of sheep and men in the 9th century”, was an extended commentary on a metaphor of Hraban Maur‘s dividing humanity into the sheep and the wolves and asking just what he thought was good about sheep anyway and where the shepherd fits into it all; most obviously he is the preacher, guiding and protecting the flock, but how far up did that metaphor work? Bishops and kings naturally featured, and the whole thing turned into a question of how Hraban or someone reading him would have compared this idea to his world at large.
  • Helmut Reimitz, “Compilation and Convergence: the transformation of the ethnic repertory in Carolingian Europe”, was perhaps a little familiar but this time covered more peoples and more sources; it was worth hearing again to be reminded how important ‘the people of the Franks’ were to Charlemagne’s self-presentation, at least as seen in the Annales regni francorum in its earliest version, and how shortlived that unified ethnic self-perception turned out to be.
  • There were then questions, in which Professor Reimitz got a chance to explain how Frankishness could be class-based, religious, judicial or simply ethnic and how in each of these categories a given person might think of themselves as something else, even though Frankish in whichever was most immediately relevant for the source.

    Once the initial flurry was done Dr Airlie stepped up to take turns with Ian Wood in summarising and responding to the whole subthread, most of which of course I’d missed: Dr Airlie emphasised that the field has changed a lot in twenty years, that the big questions are now irrelevant and subtleties are in, that we are now Elvis Costello not Ozzy Osbourne (to which I say, speak for yourself mate, I’m Hawkwind).3 Professor Wood in turn pointed out how rooted in the war, and not mentioning it, the historiography they were celebrating the retirement of had been, and how ethnicity had been so hijacked between 1914-45 that it had ceased to be a topic anyone could look at. He could have gone further with this, in fact, as one of the problems I think people who work on historical DNA have got is that they appear to be resurrecting ideas of race that we had managed, politically, more or less to bury in the welter of scholarship, that indeed Professor Reimitz had just exemplified, showing how fluid ethnicity was in the early Middle Ages. The DNA guys look dangerously to some people, I think, as if they want descent to explain everything, and it’s partly because of that, though also partly because of how much easier to follow it is, that strontium isotope analysis is becoming so much more important.

    Dr Airlie also argued for the rethinking of Rome and the abandonment of the term ‘Byzantine’, although since he was using it again next day he may only have been flying a kite with the latter. Wood’s closing point was that we are now looking at all kinds of texts, which is great, but that we consequently forget that really, the overridingly most important, most reproduced and most read in the early Middle Ages was the Bible, which is largely missing from traditional scholarship where it should be centred. As Airlie then responded, the most important identity for anyone in this period who owned it was still ‘Christian’. (I would probably contend for ‘patronus‘, ‘paterfamilias‘ or indeed ‘man’ myself, but you know, if that had been important people would have written it down more, right? Right?)

Anyway, that was that for the day, and then I think it was this evening that Another Damned Medievalist insisted on buying me dinner for various reasons, for which I must thank her, and we sat outside the Stables pub getting spattered on by the weather until a table inside became free and then a convivial gathering formed. Things got a lot more confusing once I’d made it back to Bodington, but that’s not your problem and it wasn’t really a problem for me either. The night ended in good spirits and the next day will follow in due course.


1. I should say, I don’t think this is increasing maturity, I put it down entirely to the ceasing of the Utrecht Medieval Studies department’s receptions and my consequent lack of Jenever intake.

2. Here thinking most obviously of Barbara Rosenwein’s classic, To be the Neighbor of St Peter: the social meaning of Cluny’s property, 909-1049 (Ithaca 1989).

3.Turns out, I am…

In praise of the Liber sanctae fidis

I am of course primarily a charter geek, but it’s hard to form much attachment to individual charters. If I had to I’d pick the one that Adam Kosto opens his 2005 Speculum article with, because not only is it nuts, the fact that it still exists is nuts.1 But more on that another time, maybe. The point is that they’re small, so you can’t form much of an attachment to the author or the characters unless they also appear in other charters, so you don’t then get to have a favourite source so much as a favourite scribe.2 What then is my favourite source? Well, teaching reminded me of a very likely contender, so I’ll tell you about it.

View of the rooftops of Conques, SW France

View of the rooftops of Conques, SW France

In 1013 a chap called Bernard of Angers made a pilgrimage to a place in the Languedoc called Conques, which he’d been hearing a lot about at Chartres, in whose famous school he was studying. He was determined to find out the truth of these stories, which marks him out as that most unusual of things, a medieval sceptic. And, when he arrived in the Languedoc, and first met its peculiar love of reliquary statues that were carried around like trophies on special occasions, his reactions were everything John Calvin could have wanted:

I also thought this practice seemed perverse and most contrary to Christian law when for the first time I examined the statute of Saint Gerald [presumably of Aurillac] placed above the altar, gloriously fashioned out of the purest gold and the most precious stones…. And soon, smiling at my companion, Bernier—to my shame—I burst forth in Latin with this opinion:
“Brother, what do you think of this idol? Would Jupiter or Mars consider himself unworthy of such a statue?”
Bernier had already been guided in forming his judgement, so he mocked the statue ingeniously enough, and beneath his praise lay disparagement. And not at all undeservedly, for where the cult of the only high and true God must be practised correctly it seems an impious crime and an absurdity that a plaster or wooden and bronze statue is made, unless it is the crucifix of our Lord…. This incorrect practice has such influence in the places I mentioned earlier [Auvergne, Rouergue and the Toulousain] that, if I had said anything openly then against Saint Gerald’s image, I would probably have been punished as if I had committed a great crime.3

Despite this sceptical attitude, Bernard soon came to make at least one exception to his principles on this account, and he was persuaded to by a twelve-year-old girl with a childish love of jewellery. The specially odd thing about that is that she had been dead for about 600 years and her remains were in one of those statues, she being of course Saint Faith, Sainte Foi or her name in whatever other language you may wish to name her in. And this is the statue.

Reliquary statue of Sainte Foi de Conques

Reliquary statue of Sainte Foi de Conques

Bernard had reason to be dubious, because the saint hadn’t been resident at Conques that long: she was martyred at Agen at the beginning of the fourth century, and her relics had rested there quite peacefully until the monks of Conques, which was a daughter house of a monastery at Figeac and seems to have lacked a saint of its own, stole them in 866. This action more or less had to be, could only be, justified by miracles indicating that the saint was happily channelling God’s will in her new home, but the profusion of these seems to have been enough to set Bernard’s mind a-twitch. After a few months at Conques, however, he was not only convinced, he decided to write them all up, something in which the monks appear to have been happy to entertain him, and the saint also since she carried out a miracle while he was there which he rushed to see (though it is sketchy as all get-out, I tell you, as he never saw the supposedly-blind girl before she was supposedly healed and didn’t know how bad her sight was before).4 Some time later, he came back and wrote up some more, and then there were two separate additions of further miracles by some of the monks, presumably after Bernard was no longer available. Sainte-Foi de Conques was a big pilgrimage church on the route to Santiago de Compostela so the throughput of potential curables was quite high. Like many of the churches on those routes, quite a lot of investment had been put into Conques to make it worth diverting to see, and it still is.

Typanum of the church of Sainte-Foy de Conques

Typanum of the church of Sainte-Foy de Conques

So why is this a great source, what makes it any better than the average collection of miracles? Well, a bunch of things, starting with the author.5 Bernard is exactly the guide we need into these cults, because he himself starts from a direction we recognise, that of not believing it (though he was plainly a devout and indeed reformist Christian). By the end he has not only drunk the Communion wine, but is actually the saint’s propagandist; all the same, he retains the outsider’s view of what’s strange and funny that we usually have to assume we’ve lost because the insider doesn’t see it like that. Of course, he travels with his own set of dogmatic and social assumptions, but they are ones that we have a reasonable handle on because of Chartres’s educational system producing quite a number of characterful writers. This means that we get a fascinating and useful account of an area where things were not necessarily like elsewhere in France, full of new castellans, prominent noblewomen and lively saints’ cults. It’s probably no wonder that I first met this source in the writings of Pierre Bonnassie.6

Secondly, it’s funny. Saint Faith seems to have had something of a local reputation for liking a laugh, indeed. In a bizarre picture of what was probably a Peace council to which the reliquary statues of various saints had been brought, Bernard makes it seem like a many-way football match in which his team is first to score when he writes as follows:

The most reverend Arnald, Bishop of Rodez, had convened a synod that was limited to the parishes of his diocese. To this synod the bodies of the saints were conveyed in reliquary boxes or in golden images by various communities of monks or canons. The ranks of saints were arranged in tents and pavilions in the meadow of Saint Felix, which is about a mile from Rodez….

A boy, blind and lame, deaf and mute from birth, had been carried there by his parents and placed close beneath the image [of Saint Faith], which been given an elevated and honourable position. After he had been left about an hour, he merited divine medicine. When he had received the grace of a complete cure, the boy stood up speaking, hearing, seeing, and even walking around happily, for he was no longer lame. And when the common people responded to such an amazing event with uproarious joy, the important people at the council, who were seated together a little farther off, began to ask each other: “Why are those people shouting?”

Countess Bertha replied, “Why else should it be, unless Saint Faith is playing her jokes as usual?”

Then all of them were flooded with both wonder and joy because of the exquisite miracle. They called together the whole assembly to praise God, recalling frequently and with very great pleasures what the respectable lady had said—that Saint Faith was joking.7

Part of the fun here is lost to us, in that Bertha is quoted using a peasant word, joca, for the saint’s jokes, and this seems to have been some of the cause of delight, but of course the main part of the story here, beyond the cure itself, is that Faith’s fame is so widespread and her actions so frequent that when there is a popular clammer, the nobility’s natural assumption, even miles from Conques, is that Faith’s acting up. And she does seem to, and not always completely benevolently. Her main line in miracles as told by Bernard is cures of the sick, yes, but she also quite likes trinkets and jewellery. And if you had one she wanted, she would get it:

A young man called William, a native of Auvergne, was worried about a distressing situation and filled with unbearable anxiety, so he vowed to Saint Faith his best ring, which was set with a brilliant green jasper. Things turned out for him better than he had hoped in the matter, so William went to Conques because he was concerned to fulfil the vow he owed. But when he had approached the sacred majesty, William brought out and presented three gold coins, for he calculated that he should be able to redeem the promised gift with one that was larger even though it was different. When he was already about six miles from Conques on his return journey, William suddenly felt drowsy, so he stretched out on the ground and fell asleep for a little while. He soon awakened, but he didn’t see his ring, which until then he had worn on his finger. Then he searched his companions thoroughly and very closely but he didn’t find it anywhere, and he looked in his own clothing, and found nothing. He even proceeded to untie his belt once more, thinking that chance it might have slipped through an inner fold of his clothing, but there was nothing. What, then, should he do? Downcast and filled with confusion he turned his mount back toward Conques. He returned very quickly to the saint and prostrated himself at the foot of her image. There, in a tearful voice, he complained bitterly about the loss of his ring in this way:

“Oh Saint Faith, why have you taken my ring from me? Give it back to me, I implore you, and be satisfied with receiving the ring as a gift. I will give it to you and won’t think it lost, but rather safe. I have sinned, I confess, I have sinned before God and before you, but, Lady, do not look to my transgression but to the customary compassion of your kindness. Do not cast me, a sinner, into sadness, but forgive and make a gift return with joy.”

While William was constantly repeating these and other similar pleas, he looked to the side. Marvellous to report! but believable to the faithful, he saw his ring lying on the pavement. Immediately he snatched it up and returned it to the holy virgin, rejoicing greatly, and those who were standing there marvelled at the sight, for they saw Saint Faith’s power even in trivial matters.8

You’ll notice that she presumably also kept the money… And the reason her statue is quite so over the top is that when a gift like this was made, of jewellery, it was added to the reliquary, which is why the truly sharp-eyed will see that the left leg of her chair is adorned with, among other things, a nineteenth-century cameo. But this is the sort of personality that comes through, a kind of mostly-benevolent magpie poltergeist with a strong sense of entitlement and a weak sense of property combined with a compassionate care for the sick. And at this point, if you’re teaching this, you can remind the students that she was after all only a little girl, twelve says the literature, which fits with that relatively nicely, and you can probably get them to talk a little bit about how the saint’s character comes through in the stories. And then at some point you can pass some remark calculated to make them realise that, modern cynics though they may be, somewhere along here, about when they started taking seriously the character of a four-hundred-years-dead child as shown in the supposed supernatural events reported by her supposedly credulous and self-interested publicity merchants, they took the blue pill and briefly joined the saint’s cult, in as much as they believe in her enough to impute characteristics to her. Then, of course, they will likely shake themselves mentally and dismiss it all as fabrication and rationalise it, but for a little while they were travelling with Bernard, in his mindset of an initially-sceptical but finally-enthralled enquirer from outside, and that’s a teaching moment worth many lesser ones. I don’t know how many other sources there might be that can do this, but I am very fond of this one.


1. Referring to Adam J. Kosto, “Laymen, Clerics and Documentary Practices in the Early Middle Ages: the example of Catalonia” in Speculum Vol. 80 (Cambridge MA 2005), pp. 44-74, and Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX i X), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-96), doc. no. 549 of 990, in which one Ramio guarantees one Juli that he, Ramio, will not prosecute him, Juli, for all the bread and wine he stole from Ramio when they lived together. How this comes to be of any relevance at all to a cathedral archive is beyond my imagining, and Adam’s too, though it might, as I’ve had suggested to me, have had relevance for John Boswell.

2. My favourite scribe would undoubtedly be the judge Bonhom of Barcelona, who was not only legible, but learned, verbose, conscientious and inclined to over-share, so that he, for example, apologises in one signature for the document being a bit wonky because he was sleepy when he wrote it, or explains in another case that he wrote it on two occasions in two different inks. This is really useful to me, even though he was presumably only trying to prevent people suspecting his charters were fake. That, of course, tells us that people were checking such things… For more on Bonhom, see Jeffrey A. Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000, Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past (Ithaca 2004), pp. 84-92.

3. The Latin text of one of the versions of the text—it seems to have circulated as booklets, which weren’t always assembled in the same order, which is just one more reason why it’s such a rich source—was printed in Auguste Bouillet (ed.), Liber miraculorum sanctae Fidis, Collection des textes pour servir à l’étude et à l’enseignement de l’histoire 21 (Paris 1897), but I’m here using the translation of Pamela Sheingorn (transl.) with Robert A. Clark (transl.), The Book of Sainte Foy (Philadelphia 1994), which adds various other materials and is much more than just a convenient Englishing. There this extract is cap. I.13. I’ve taken the liberty of converting her spellings to UK English, just because I find it hard not to auto-correct that, and also of leaving Saint Faith’s name in normalised English because otherwise it’s the only one that isn’t.

4. Ibid. I.9.

5. Well, here, starting in fact with the fact that apparently the people at large in Aurillac didn’t understand spoken Latin by 1013. Take that, Patrick Geary! But of course we wouldn’t know that without Bernard having been happy to write about himself and his doubts in this way.

6. P. Bonnassie, “Les descriptions des forteresses dans le Livre des Miracles de Sainte-Foy de Conques” in Mélanges d’Archéologie et d’Histoire Médiévale en l’Honneur du Doyen Michel du Boüard, Mémoires et Documents publiés par la Société de l’École des Chartes 27 (Geneva 1982), pp. 17-26, transl. J. Birrell as “Descriptions of Fortresses in the Book of Miracles of Sainte-Foy of Conques” in Bonnassie, From Slavery to Feudalism in South-Western Europe, transl. J. Birrell (Cambridge 1991), pp. 132-148.

7. Sheingorn, Book of Sainte Foy, cap. I. 28.

8. Ibid., I.21.

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).

Two seminars, two cities, part 2: Seminary XLI for added Wendy Davies

Miniature from the Codex Goticus Legionensis (c. 960) showing priests toasting each other

Miniature from the Codex Goticus Legionensis (c. 960) showing priests toasting each other

As just mentioned, from having tried arguing with Peter Heather about DNA evidence (and discovering that I was under-read) I went back to work and then hoofed it for London as soon as the Museum shut so as to hear Wendy Davies telling the London Society of Medieval Studies her answer to the question, “What Can We Say About Local Priests in Northern Spain before the Year 1000?” I was actually slightly late because of the afore-mentioned transport troubles but I got most of it. If you’ve read Acts of Giving since I told you to (come on, come on) you will know some of what she can do with the charter evidence on this subject, but because this was new work, it went beyond what you can find there.1 And since it will be coming out, and indeed first be developed at Leeds I believe, as I have reason to, I don’t want to say too much. I will however mention a few bits and pieces, as I usually do.

A lot of the scribes in the León and area evidence are seen enough times that we know they worked for big people, the cathedral of León itself, the kings, or the big monasteries whose archives give us all this information. However, when a certain priest only turns up in one archive writing transactions that relate to one area, especially when that area is way up in the Cantabrian mountains miles from Sahagún (as it might be—okay, this was one of her examples) then you can be fairly safe in saying firstly that this guy was the local priest and secondly that the local priest wrote charters for people. It’s much harder to see him doing anything else, but Wendy did draw out some evidence. They got thanks gifts for teaching and preaching, so they did do that, though we don’t know how much or what; they dealt with burial. We have surviving liturgical works and vessels, but putting them in a local context is frequently very sketchy. The local ones seem to be rich for their villages but not on a kingdom scale, though priests that rich do turn up, including one Vincentio at León who is the only person Wendy has ever seen in a contemporary medieval source described as “dives”, rich, rather than great, powerful or some similar term, and he gets called it by the Queen, too, or her scribe at least, so that was interesting.

Another thing that came up was orthography. The spelling of charters tends to vary a lot from Classical norms, and one of the things we’d like to know is how much this reflects the spoken language. In Catalonia it all looks quite plausibly like Romance influence until about the 1020s when suddenly we have feudal oaths that preserve actual spoken Romance and it turns out to be a whole different order of thing.2 Here Wendy also weakened such hopes by pointing out that some scribes will vary spelling even between documents, or spell witness’s names in two different ways, and so on. I have seen this from my texts before but never thought of making it make a wider point; as ever I bow to her on this sort of deduction.

There were lots of questions and a great deal more that I could say, but firstly time is short, and secondly I would like at least some of you to come and hear Wendy’s account of this work at Leeds and so I’ll leave it there. There will be more Wendy Davies posts very soon (though I’ll stop before too long, I promise) so this is probably enough to be going on with.


1. Wendy Davies, Acts of Giving: individual, community and church in tenth-century Christian Spain (Oxford 2007), pp. 36-65.

2. On which you should read Adam Kosto, Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: Power, Order, and the Written Word 1000-1200 (Cambridge 2000).