Increased recognition and research capability

I figure you’ve probably had about enough of me this week, what with the strike posting, so for the regular post of the week I shall keep things short with two bits of good news amid the current woes, and not even backdated like most of my posting. (Well, a little bit, but not as much as usual.)

In the first place, those of you who’ve been tracking me a while may remember that I arrived at Leeds in the post of Lecturer in Early Medieval History and the mission, more or less, of keeping coverage of the years with three digits going in whatever fashion I thought best. Apparently, despite my early difficulties, that has gone all right because on 30th June I was able to accept promotion to Associate Professor in or of [no-one seems sure] Early Medieval History. My core mission remains unchanged, but this does mean that people sending me mail from the US addressed to Professor Jarrett will technically no longer be incorrect! There are also implications for my take-home wage (still not keeping up with inflation of course) that make the 15-page form, 19-page CV and 18-month process (admittedly thrown sideways by Covid-19 like so much else) a bit more worthwhile, but mainly it’s quite nice to have some form of reassurance that actually, I have been doing my job not just well enough but well enough for it actually to be a better job. But actually probably nearly as important for my academic future is this:

Volumes 2 through to 8 of the Catalunya Carolíngia on the blogger's shelf

Yup, that’s a whole lot of uniform-looking books on a shelf all right…

What is that? you say, and I answer, it is the entirety of the Catalunya Carolíngia charter volumes, on my shelf and ready for use and consultation, which is to say that I now own texts of every known charter from Catalonia prior to the year 1000. You must all have seen these volumes in my footnotes, but until very recently they took up less space in my house because not all of them existed yet. It’s been a long project, founded by the lawyer and amateur scholar Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals in the 1920s, which saw the royal charters for Catalonia and the charters of Pallars and Ribagorza published beginning in 1926 and finishing in 1955, and then a long nothing till Ramon Ordeig i Mata published the 1,500-odd documents from Osona and Manresa in 1999. Since then Ordeig seems to have been the magic ingredient, as every subsequent volume except the three covering Barcelona, which came out in 2019 thanks to Ignasi Baiges i Jardí and Pere Puig i Ustrell, has been completed by him, even if it wasn’t started by him, and in 2020 that culminated with volume 8 for Urgell, Cerdanya and Berga.1 The facility this gives my work is hard to explain. It has dramatically slowed work on the book because of having new data, the dangers of which I have described before and which have again come true, but you see, now I have everything there is: almost no future evidence of this kind can be expected to be discovered.2 That means that if I check my notes and the indices to these volumes I can be pretty sure how much something does or does not occur over a corpus of just about 5,000 documents and about 20,000 square miles over two-and-a-bit centuries. It may only be in print, but it’s still a heck of a searchable database, and I intend putting it to work for many years yet. If I ever meet Ramon Ordeig i Mata I will shake his hand gratefully; his work has really made, and continues to make, my research possible.3

1. I won’t cite all the volumes here now, as those who really want to can find the details themselves without trouble, but there is a useful history of the project in Gaspar Feliu, “La Catalunya Carolíngia” in Joandomènec Ros, Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Mercé Morales Montoya, Josep María Salrach Marés, Feliu and Marta Prevosti i Monclús, Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals: sessió en memòria, Semblances bibliogràfiques 97 (Barcelona 2021), pp. 75–89, online here.

2. There probably are more documents in private hands still—indeed, I kind of live in hope of one or two caches that went missing during the Spanish Civil War turning up some day—but it’s probably not many that go back as far as my period of interest, and the project had already been quite good at getting at the ones that do exist. Their advantage was largely having Church connections, rather than government ones, as far as I can see, because a similar government venture did not meet with the same success: see Daniel Piñol Alabart, “Proyecto ARQUIBANC – Digitalizacion de archivos privados catalanes: Una herramienta para la investigacion” in Antonella Ambrosio, Sébastien Barret and Georg Vogeler (edd.), Digital diplomatics: The computer as a tool for the diplomatist?, Beihefte der Archiv für Diplomatik 14 (Köln 2014), pp. 99–108.

3. A lot of other people are owed thanks here too, but especially Josep María Salrach who made it much easier for me to get several of the volumes. I should also note that the intention of the Institut d’Estudis Catalans is actually to turn it into an electronic database too, via Project CatCar, which has already generated a lot of interesting essays about what these documents have to tell us about Catalonia’s past. I’m sure the full electronic version will make a difference when it exists but right now, just wait till you see what I can do with all these indices!

Seminar CCLI: I guess sometimes even Michael Hendy was wrong

Pickets at the University of Leeds, December 2021

Pickets at the University of Leeds on Monday

It’s day three and last of the current UK higher education strikes—and the BBC has a report specifically from Leeds about them, indeed—and so also day three and last-for-now of daily blogging here at A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe. Today’s post is a seminar report. I don’t often do these posts on a single seminar any more, although given how many fewer I go to now than I used to perhaps I could again; but in this case the paper forced me to rebuild some of my structure for how I work on the Byzantine Empire when that happens, and so it seems worth a post by itself.

We’re back in May 2018 here, when as part of a project being run through the White Rose University Consortium, of which Leeds is part, called Marginalisation and the Law, there was a public lecture series rotating around the three universities involved. I was, I’m sure, swamped in marking as I usually am in May, and so I might not have come out even for the Leeds ones except that one of them was being given by Peter Sarris. I tend to feel that I have to come out for early papers when they’re laid on—if the Lecturer in Early Medieval History won’t, who will?—but I also tend to feel that when Peter speaks I want to hear it, so on the 17th May I was there (in physical space! Remember doing that?) to hear him talk to the title, “Merchants and Bankers in Byzantium”.

Cover of The Novels of Justinian, translated by David Miller and Peter Sarris

Cover of Peter Sarris (ed.) & David J. D. Miller (transl.), The Novels of Justinian: A Complete Annotated English Translation (Cambridge 2018)

At the time of this paper, you see, Peter was in the throes of translating the laws that the Emperor Justinian I (527-565 CE) issued after his monumental compilation of Roman law, the Codex Justinianus, had been issued.1 Obviously, despite its definitive intent, its issue did not end the requirement for legislation, particularly for an emperor who wanted to change as much as did Justinian I, and so these new laws, known for that novelty as the Novellae or Novels, are a fat volume just by themselves. This put him in that enviable position of temporarily being probably the most expert person in a body of source material in the world, which (as I know from my charters, though there I am only the most expert English-speaker) means that you can basically answer any request for a paper or conference presentation by taking their theme and simply adding ‘… in my particular body of evidence’ and come up with something no-one knew before. And so it was on this occasion.

Peter started by emphasising that for Justinian I legislation was a tool for moral reform of the empire, not (primarily) civil, and so policed what it policed because they were moral failings of the citizenry which not only had bad consequences for others but also prejudiced the standing of the Empire before God. As a result, his Novels did some things that might look to us quite progressive, like protecting wives’ rights to their inheritance and dowry from the claims of a husband’s family, like entitling the disabled to charity and prohibiting their expulsion from families for being disabled, like freeing the orphaned children of slaves and indeed all slaves enslaved in the last decade, like declaring contracts for sexual trafficking void and like banning the ‘production’ of eunuchs in at least some places. On the other hand, Justinian I’s morals were not those of a twenty-first-century liberal either, so the laws also made divorce harder, forbade heretics from access to the courts, prevented Jews, Samaritans and pagans from being able to inherit property, closed brothels throughout the Empire and singled out male homosexuality as a cause of plagues and earthquakes on an Old-Testament Biblical basis. Of course, we might justly ask how far any of this was actually carried out, as opposed to demanded by the state, but it does at least tell us what the régime wished to be declared as its public priorities.

But because Peter is primarily an economic historian, if it hadn’t eventually come around to the economy and tax I would probably have been surprised, and the way we got there was that, while these new laws cracked down on many marginal and questionable occupations, one they largely left alone despite the strong Christian animus against it was moneylending.2 Ceilings were set for permissible interest (such as total interest payable not to be greater than the capital), but on the other hand it was made easier to pursue debtors and bankers were exempted from some laws which would have applied to their creditors. One might well ask why this half-blind eye was being turned, and for Peter the answer was that the state needed the banking sector to keep the tax system working, using loans to cover shortfalls and delays in collection that might otherwise have meant the state couldn’t make its own payments. There are, indeed, places in the Novels where tax priorities overrode the other priorities already mentioned: the Jews of Tyre, the Samaritans of Galilee and the pagans of Haran all got to keep their right to make wills because of the important contributions they made to state income of various kinds. The message for Peter was that even for Justinian I, finance still beat faith as a state priority.

Cover of Michael Hendy's Studies in the Byzantine Monetary Economy c. 300-1450 (Cambridge 1985)

Cover of Michael Hendy’s Studies in the Byzantine Monetary Economy c. 300-1450 (Cambridge 1985)

Now, this might not seem very revolutionary, but actually there was something in this I really had to strain to swallow, and the reason was Michael Hendy. I have written before here about reading the masterwork of my predecessor as Coin Curator at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, and it may be that having slogged through its nearly-800 pages gives you a kind of Stockholm Syndrome where you don’t want to let any of it go, but nevertheless I always found myself fairly persuaded by its explanation of the Byzantine state’s tax priorities as basically being ‘pay the army, pay the civil servants, do what is needed to make that possible and nothing more’, especially as opposed to arguments that the Byzantine coinage was created to facilitate trade which just smell like twentieth-century monetarism.3 But accepting Hendy’s argument implicitly means accepting his premises, and one of those was that there was basically no credit available to the Byzantine state, that this banking sector which Peter was describing was negligible to the point of insignificance.4 This, of course, made Hendy’s models that much simpler: if the coinage was in fact the sole medium of state revenue and expenditure, then while that’s complicated enough to arithmetise at least it is a single domain of hypothesis. Once you let private wealth and credit into the picture, it becomes effectively impossible to guess how much wealth the state could in fact draw on (in so far as it was possible without doing so—but Hendy, of course, thought it just about was).5 So I quizzed Peter about this in discussion, and he said that, while Justinian I did run up some state debt at the very end of his reign which Justin II (565-585 CE) then paid off by somewhat disastrous austerity measures, the actual value of the banking sector to the tax system was in keeping taxpayers afloat, not the state. Now, that raises questions of scale: we’re not there talking a Bank of Byzantium or a national debt, we’re talking a person in a village being able to get a loan from the local money-changer to tide them over till harvest and that being true tens of thousands of times over, perhaps, but the individual sums never being very large.6 When Justinian I did run up state debt, the loans didn’t come from bankers, but from the various trade guilds of Constantinople who were doing it as relief for the consequences of the plague, and that presumably explains why Justin II had to pay them back; the capital city might have stopped working without it. So I think Hendy, were he still around, have said that he was still right and that these small-scale or very-one-off instances didn’t overthrow his basic contention of the inelasticity of Byzantine state finances; but at the same time, I now find those finances a lot easier to imagine for the limited elasticity that Peter’s perspective gives it.

1. That being, as said in the caption above, Peter Sarris (ed.) & David J. D. Miller (transl.), The Novels of Justinian: A Complete Annotated English Translation (Cambridge 2018). On the legal reforms and the reign more generally, see Caroline Humfress, “Law and Legal Practice in the Age of Justinian” in Michael Maas (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian (Cambridge 2005), pp. 161–184, and the rest of the essays in that volume.

2. Let’s not forget that Peter’s first book was the excellent Peter Sarris, Economy and Society in the Age of Justinian (Cambridge 2006), but for banking specifically (other than Hendy as in n. 4. below) you might have to go back to S. J. B. Barnish, “The Wealth of Julianus Argentarius: Late Antique Banking and the Mediterranean Economy” in Byzantion Vol. 55 (Leuven 1985), pp. 5–38.

3. Hendy’s normal opponent here, deservedly or not, was Cécile Morrisson, of whose work Morrisson and Jean-Pierre Sodini, “The Sixth-Century Economy”, transl. Charles Dibble in Angeliki E. Laiou (ed.), The Economic History of Byzantium from the Seventh through the Fifteenth Century (Washington D.C. 2002), 3 vols, vol. I pp. 171–220, might demonstrate where Hendy’s problems came from but whose more recent “Précis de numismatique byzantine” in Morrisson, Georg-D. Schaaf and Jean-Michel Spieser, Byzance et sa monnaie (IVe‒XVe siècle) : Précis de numismatique par Cécile Morrisson suivi du catalogue de la collection Lampart par Georg-D. Schaaf (Paris 2015), pp. 7–104, would be a fairer reflection of where she now stands, including a good deal of adaptation to Hendy.

4. Michael Hendy, Studies in the Byzantine Monetary Economy c. 300-1450 (Cambridge 1985), pp. 228-253, dealing with state credit under the heading ‘Unavailable Options’, pp. 237-242, and banking more widely pp. 242-253.

5. Ibid. pp. 157-201 are a lengthy attempt at a reconstruction of the Byzantine budget, with pp. 201-253, including the bit on banking, being a kind of annexe on other pockets of wealth in the empire and how they compared, themselves equipped with an annexe on the law on banking in the ninth century. Now that I reflect on this, it is noticeable how in terms of focus Hendy liked to hang out in the third, ninth-to-tenth and twelfth centuries and not many others, so I guess there was always a danger that someone like Peter who basically inhabits the sixth would, if they ever got to grips with its voluminous evidence, be able to drive a short-term truck through Hendy’s century-spanning overview, and maybe this is what has happened.

6. We can most easily see this happening in Egypt, of course, because the massive survival of papyri there gives us access to a level of documentation we just don’t have from elsewhere in the Empire (on which, indeed, see Peter Sarris, “Lay Archives in the Late Antique and Byzantine East: the implications of the documentary papyri” in Warren C. Brown, Marios Costambeys, Matthew Innes and Adam J. Kosto (edd.), Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 2013), pp. 17–35), but we do see it there. An example I lately came across would be in James G. Keenan, “Soldier and Civilian in Byzantine Hermopolis” in Adam Bülow-Jacobsen (ed.), Proceedings of the 20th International Congress of Papyrologists, Copenhagen, 23-29 August, 1992 (Copenhagen, 1994), pp. 444–451 at pp. 448-449, but I’m afraid I didn’t take down the papyrus reference and have given the volume back to the library, sorry.

Seminar CCL: heritage employment for historians

Obviously, if I thought all was well in academic employment in the UK I wouldn’t be on strike right now for the fourth time since I got this job, and it is clear that despite what the vice-chancellors would have the world believe, the number of others who feel that way is growing, not shrinking, each time action is resorted to.

All the same, if there is an area of work in a worse state than UK academia for precarious and underpaid employment, it is surely the heritage and museums sector, a sector whose pay is already so poor that people can often only do it as the second job in a household, meaning that the majority of staff in it are female but somehow the majority of management is still male.1 I came from that sector to academia, twice, because of the precareity and low wage; I actually enjoyed the museum work more and might have stayed if there had been any prospect of permanence or progress.2 But I was fortunate enough to work in museums with some private funding, and even then, the job I held at the Fitzwilliam Museum for five years, on a rolling annual contract whose renewal was never certain, does not now exist. I left just in time to see the UK government utterly gut the sector, with national funding briefly being distributed through only four ‘hub’ museums in England, all in the Golden Triangle, before settling on steady money to 14 ‘national’ museums, 13 of which are based wholly or partly in London. Every other museum in England is either privately funded or paid for by the local councils which the same government also progressively defunded under austerity, leaving them surviving on volunteer labour, what grants they can scrounge, or a dripfeed of emergency funding that doesn’t allow the establishment of a stable staff base to carry on any work that gets started. (The situation in Scotland and Wales is a bit different, and I’m not really up to speed with it, so while I realise that this is to continue that Anglo-centric London-focused attitude, I’m not going to talk about the Home Nations in this post. Sorry. Comments that would educate me are very much welcomed, though!)

So, for all these reasons, whenever someone in academic history hits upon the idea that we could increase our graduates’ employment prospects by directing them at the heritage sector, my reaction is more or less this:

Jack Nicholson emphatically saying 'no'

And thus you may imagine that when I learned that, on 14 May 2018, the Medieval Group in the Institute for Medieval Studies here at the University of Leeds were hosting a three-speaker workshop entitled “A Day in the Life of… Heritage Professionals”, I was initially a bit sceptical that we should really be doing this. But it was actually very good, and got a good discussion going, and maybe represents a perspective that is more realistic than the one I’ve just given above, so I thought that I should in fairness present it. Our three speakers were:

I had already met Dr Baxter, because she is the Curator of Archaeology at the city museums, which among other things – many other things – puts her in charge of their coin collection, with which some day I hope to do some work. Her actual speciality is Neolithic stuff, but Leeds Discovery Centre houses 25,000 objects from the far end of then to the current end of now, and 15,000 coins (which does seem to be the magic number for underused coin collections I know about). Some of those objects are in drawers, some in cabinets, some in freezers and some are too big to be in anything except the building, and Dr Baxter is the only archaeologist on staff, so specialisation isn’t really an option. This was one of the questions that came up, about how to cope with such breadth, and Dr Baxter and Dr Tuckley gave different sides of the same answer: you can’t really do your thing any more, but you can acquire a lot of new things!

Interior space at Jorvik Viking Centre

Interior space at Jorvik Viking Centre, photo by the Jorvik Group of which Dr Tuckley is part and published in ‘Review: Jorvik Viking Centre’, Current Archaeology no. 327 (London 2017), linked through

Dr Tuckley, then as now Head of Interpretaton and Engagement at his Trust, was more optimistic perhaps because of having slightly more spare staff resource; he works primarily at the famous Jorvik Viking Centre, and for what he’s doing, which is the most patron-facing aspect of the work, just has more staff than Dr Baxter does for her rôle, I guess. Still, the tale he told of getting to where he was, and getting Jorvik to where it was, twice over, was no less frantic and exhausting to hear. The trust of which he is part also had bases on several different constituencies, with heritage units at Steffield, Nottingham and Glasgow, all staffed by ex-commercial archaeologists. Of course, Sheffield’s is now gone and I don’t know how true any of this now is, but at that stage it sounded like a healthily-diversified portfolio. Of course, you would hope a public-sector body didn’t need a business survival strategy, but that’s not where we are these days.

Restored walls at Pontefract Castle

Restored walls at Pontefract Castle, photo at their site, linked through

Eleanor, meanwhile, was the most directly-connected of the speakers to the IMS, having lately been a doctoral student there, but was now coordinating the volunteer staff at Pontefract Castle, one of our locality’s lesser-known medieval sites but one where an awful lot has been done in recent years by volunteers, including several from the IMS. The scheme had been built from the ground up and at the time of the workshop was 4 roles being filled by 70 people, so coordinating it was itself a full-time job, though I don’t remember if Eleanor was actually being paid full-time. Of course, actually doing stuff with a site tends to draw people in to see, so they were still recruiting volunteers but also finding more stuff which they would ideally be doing. Quite how far this job could have been expanded, I don’t know, but since Eleanor is now a Curatorial Assistant at the Royal Armouries in Leeds I suppose that one might argue that it served at least one purpose, and Pontefract Castle still has its volunteers, so this, like Jorvik, was probably a success story in the making.

So where does this leave my gloomy prognosis about graduate employment in the heritage sector? Eleanor has clearly managed it, Kat was there doing it, and Chris Tuckley, as it turned out, was not only an IMS graduate himself but had two more of them on his staff. Nor is he alone in this: someone who was then one of my research postgraduate advisees has also gone to work in the sector and looks likely to stay there for now. One lesson from this might then be that, if you want a job in the heritage sector, come and do a doctorate at the Institute for Medieval Studies! But it was also, I think, a good and somewhat bracing clarification about what that heritage job would look like, and how what it was not was a chance to continue your research. One question that was asked was what each of the speakers would do with one day of fully-funded unconstrained time, and all the answers were ironic, but only one even featured research. At the moment, academia can still sometimes give you that unconstrained time, though one has to ignore a lot of electronic clamour to keep it that way. But as of 2018, at least, I had reasons to think better of the state of the heritage sector than I had been used to do, so this was worth it for that dose of realism and balance as well as for the interest of the various work the speakers had going on.

1. The best figures I can find for this are four to eight years old, in Equality and diversity within the arts and cultural sector in England: evidence and literature review, by Andy Parkinson and by Jamie Buttrick, Final Report (Newcastle-upon-Tyne 2017), online here, so it’s possible things have now changed, but with the pandemic as a factor, we might gloomily guess which way: see Megan Frederickson, “COVID-19’s gendered impact on academic productivity”, preprint in GitHub, 2020, online here, being the broadest-ranging study I’ve seen so far; all the published ones are hard-science-specific.

2. I didn’t necessarily realise this until my last day at the Fitzwilliam, actually, when, searching for something to say at my leaving do, I found myself saying that I’d never regretted having to come into work there. As far as I could remember, it was true. I’m not ragging on academia specifically when I say that I’ve not got that from any other job before or since.


My first keynote address was about frontiers (of course)

As warned, this is a slight post, which I hope to make up for tomorrow. Its slightness is because after the previous post from my academic life of the past, I looked at what was next and discovered it was something which, for professional reasons, I’d already written about, and what that was a postgraduate conference that happened in May 2018 entitled Boundaries and Frontiers in the Middle Ages, at the University of Nottingham.

Masthead image from the conference Boundaries and Frontiers in the Middle Ages, May 2018

Cover image of the conference materials, apparently a colourised version of a woodcut of the city of Constantinople from the 1494 Nuremberg Chronicle; thanks to Gary Vellenzer for the attribution!

Now, you may reasonably ask why I was interested in a postgraduate conference, being rather far in years from that status by now, and indeed, I usually avoid them since I assume that they are in some sense supposed to be safe space where scary senior academics don’t turn up and frighten people. (As a phenomenon, they rather postdate my own postgraduate studies, but even then I figured that if one had to pay for a conference, one should at least pay to meet people who could help you up, so I stuck to the full-strength ones.) But in this case I’m very glad I did go, and the reasons I was interested were threefold. Firstly, frontiers, obviously. Secondly, one of the organisers was now-Dr Marco Panato, who had spoken in my own frontiers conference but a month before. And thirdly, they’d asked me to deliver the keynote…

Now, as you can deduce, I had never been asked to be a keynote speaker before, and I have to say, they made the experience an extremely good one. But! I did already write about this, by way of generating material for the Rethinking the Medieval Frontier blog back in 2018 itself. So if this interests you, you can go and read more about what was said there. Here is the link:

Further conferring on frontiers

And just so that you have some reason, I’ll give the running order of the other papers below. And then I’ll leave you to make your own decisions and be back again tomorrow with a report on a day-workshop we did at Leeds about working in the heritage sector. So tune in again then!

Faith-Based Boundaries

  • Esther Lewis, ‘The Parish, Suburb and City: A Discussion of Boundaries in the Pious Lives of Fifteenth-Century Bristolians’
  • Tim McManus, ‘The Disgusting Languedoc: Boundaries of the Mind and the Revival of Heresy in the 12th Century’
  • Virgina Ghelarducci, ‘Behind That Wall: Jewish Communities and Ambiguities of Neighbourliness in Medieval Spain’

Occupational Boundaries

  • Mark Robinson, ‘Men of Blood: The Church’s Textual Response to Mercenary Violence, 1179-1215’
  • Christopher Booth, ‘Physician, Apothecary, Surgeon or Quack? The Medieval Roots of Professional Boundaries in Later Medieval Practice’

Dividing and Connecting Polities

  • Alessandro Carabia, ‘Living in a Frontier Region in Late Sixth Century Byzantine Italy’
  • Callum Watson, ‘Crossing the Boundary Between Scottish and English in Barbour’s Bruce
  • Carl Dixon, ‘The Teeth of the Taurus: Understanding the Frontiers of Asia Minor, c.650-950’
  • Alex M. Feldman, ‘Bullion, Barter and Borders in the Rus’ Coinless Period, 11-14th c.’

“Real” Boundaries

  • Christopher Tinmouth, ‘Frontiers of Faith: The Impact of the Insular British Frontier upon the Identity of Furness Abbey’
  • Harry Wilkinson, ‘Between Day and Night in Anglo-Saxon England’
  • Robin Alexander Shields, ‘The Epirote Frontier – the Republic of Venice and Carlo II Tocco’
  • Katherine Rich, ‘High Paths, Poetic Feet: Walking the Boundaries in Saga Verse’

Conceptual Boundaries

  • James Aitcheson, ‘Dreams Come True: Predicting the Future in Late Anglo-Saxon England’
  • Julia O’Connell, ‘Emotional Boundaries in Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess’
  • Markus Eldegard Mindrebø, ‘Boundaries of Female Agency in the Ynglinga Saga

Yes, folks, it’s come around again. The promises of negotiation and concessions that ended the last round of strikes in the UK higher education sector all came to nothing and meanwhile our pay has dropped still further against inflation and our pensions continue to grow in contribution and to shrink (now by a full third) in likely payback, so we have no resort left but further, and probably harder, industrial action. None of us want to be on strike; we would rather be left to do the jobs we do well, with some guarantee that that won’t turn out to be our worst long-term decision ever, but right now the only way to such a future seems to be through dispute and resistance, and so here we are (again), for three days this week and then working to contract till more strike action next year, all in the hope of getting something actually to change.

Students and staff on the steps of the University of Leeds's Parkinson Building, 1st December 2021

Students and staff on the steps of the University of Leeds’s Parkinson Building this morning, as reported by the BBC (linked through)

What this means for me is that firstly I have to stop work on my main project—strike during study leave is especially perverse, I think—and secondly that I am freed up to attend to some of the obligations which my obligations to my employers usually prevent. But one of them can be the blog, so what this means for you, my fortunate(?) readership, is that my digital picket is, if I can manage it, going to look like a blog-post for each day of the strike, not counting this post. I will admit that today’s is going be a slight one, because I need to get my physical and metaphorical house in order today, but still, whether you are also on strike with me or merely watching from the sidelines, at least you’ll have something to read!


Flying Visit to Montserrat, III: Manresa by night

This gallery contains 17 photos.

The last of these photo posts from my rush April 2018 trip to Catalonia covers the evening of the day covered in the previous one. With the later part of the day still free after my climb nearly to the … Continue reading


Flying Visit to Montserrat II: the place itself

This gallery contains 16 photos.

As you may recall from the last post, in late April 2018 I was very briefly at the Catalan mountain shrine site of Montserrat, which is one of the places I wish everyone could see at least once; I think … Continue reading


Flying Visit to Montserrat I: Santa Cecília

This gallery contains 21 photos.

There was a time, just a few years ago, when one could, if one wanted, hop on an aeroplane from the north of England to Barcelona at only a few days’ notice for somewhat less money than it cost to … Continue reading


Different sorts of rulers on the edges

View over the Universitat de Girona

View over the Universitat de Girona taken earlier today by your author

Hullo again! I actually write this from a hotel in Girona, where I was kindly invited to give a guest lecture, because when I would ordinarily write the week’s post I’ll be travelling back by the dubious offices of Ryanair, so things are going on to which, let’s be optimistic, I will some day soon catch up. Right now, however, the post I promised you was about the culmination, for now, in 2018, of my network project for ‘rethinking the medieval frontier’. Now, I was more or less set last week for the need this week to write up a report on that conference, and then while writing last week’s, I was reminded as I linked to the project blog that I actually already did so, there rather than here, within literal months of the conference actually happening. So the first point of this post is to point you at that account, which is here:

Report on 1st Conference

There are photos and everything, and also links to others’ reports should you (rightly) think that something I put on a project blog might seek to emphasise the positive out of all proportion. But what, of course, that post has fairly little of, except in phrasing, is me, and what, as I have often said is the point of a blog except to give the Internet more of yourself? So secondarily in this post I want to talk a bit more about where my paper came from, where it was and is intended to lead, and why, in fact, I was even reading up on ‘Abd al-Rahmān ibn Marwān al-Ŷillīqī. Since that is kind of gratuitous, though hopefully interesting, I’ll stick it behind a cut even though it’s not very long, and encourage you to go read about other interesting people and their thoughts via that link first. Continue reading

An(other) peculiar choice of local hero

The blog backlog seems to be moving quite rapidly through 2018 now; there is a grave danger of currency some year soon… But right now you find my memory of my life academic in late March 2018, facing the reality that, because of that grant I had got the previous year to get people together to talk about frontiers, I was now going to have to come up with a paper to give in a few weeks at a conference in front of those people. I will write (again) about that conference, in which there were much more interesting papers than mine, shortly, but by way of a run-up I want first to write about a peculiarity of local historical memory about a little-known figure of the Muslim régime in the Iberian Peninsula (or to use its snappier Arabic name, al-Andalus), a guy known to us as ‘Abd al-Rahmān ibn Marwān al-Ŷillīqī.

Modern bust of Mūsā ibn Mūsā in Tudela

Modern bust of Mūsā ibn Mūsā Ibn Qāsi in Tudela, by Arenillas (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

To do this I want to start somewhere we’ve been before, Tudela in the time of the nearly-legendary frontier warlord Mūsā ibn Mūsā. You may remember (or may quickly surmise from the old blog post I just linked there) that this man was said in a Christian chronicle of his era to have called himself ‘the third king of Hispania‘, which for me raised the questions, firstly, who’s number 2, and secondly, why does no Muslim source say this?1 But more important than my answers to those questions (which, after all, are in that post) is the fact that at Tudela Mūsā is now a feature of public memorialization, as ‘el Rey de l’Ebro’, King of the Ebro Valley, presumably because he is the only person who ever ruled as a successful independent from Tudela, so is ‘theirs’ in some way despite having repeatedly conquered or been awarded the place from his actual base at Arnedo. And it transpires that that is not the only such story, except that this one has maybe even shakier a basis.

It’s not, I should say, that there is any doubt that al-Ŷillīqī (or indeed Mūsā) actually existed; they are both reasonably attested. Neither is it that al-Ŷillīqī wasn’t an interesting and indicative character; that was indeed why I was looking at him. His story is substantially told in the Ta’rikh iftitāḥ al-Andalus (History of the Conquest of al-Andalus) of Muḥammad Ibn ʿUmar Ibn al-Qūṭiyya, which is now well-translated into English.2 It goes basically like this: he was the son of the governor of Mérida, from an originally-Christian family who had converted to Islam (which is probably why the likewise-descended Ibn al-Qūṭiyya, ‘son of the Gothic woman’, was interested in his story), and for reasons we know not (possibly not being allowed himself to become governor of Mérida?) rebelled against the Cordoban government of al-Andalus in 868.3 This coincided with a rebellion by another descendant of converts about whom we know much less, a guy called Sa’dūn ibn Fatḥ al-Surunbāqī, and the two of them teamed up and got help from the Christian north, at this time dominated by the aggressive and successful King Alfonso III of Asturias, as Ibn al-Qūṭiyya puts it, “causing huge disturbances throughout Islam, which would take too long to relate.” It was this connection to the Christian north, known in al-Andalus as Ŷillīyya from the same root that gives us modern Galicia, that got al-Ŷillīqī the by-name by which history now recalls him.

Anyway, this escalated, because the emir Muḥammad I sent his son with an army against the rebels, and the rebels won and captured the army’s commander, whom they gave to Alfonso III to ransom. This elevated al-Ŷillīqī’s standing on the frontier to the point where he was basically untouachable, and the terrible two began raiding much deeper into Cordoban territory. Muḥammad, apparently recognising that the situation could not be recovered, now entered negotiations, and Ibn al-Qūṭiyya’s report of this is so great that I’ll just quote it.

“Now, when the emir had become sorely tired of Ibn Marwān, he sent an intermediary to him, who said, ‘Listen! We are tired of you and you of us, so make known your plans.’ He replied, ‘My plan is to have al-Basharnal [San Cristobal], to build it up, extend it and populate it. I will pay allegiance, but will make no tribute nor abeyance, nor will you make any prohibitions.’ This place, al-Basharnal, is opposite Baṭalyaws [Badajoz], with the river [the Guadiana] between. It was agreed that Badajoz should be fortified as far as the river, to protect the party of Islam, according to the conditions.”

So with that matters were temporarily arranged. The province was at least notionally no longer in rebellion and the frontier of al-Andalus technically extended to its edge, even if Córdoba had no real power there; one would like to know whether al-Ŷillīqī would have fought in the emiral army if Muḥammad I had summoned him, as Mūsā ibn Mūsā did when the Vikings came a generation before, but as far as we know this never came up. Nonetheless, the situation was embarrassing, and eventually the ransomed army commander, a guy named Hāshim, persuaded Muḥammad to let him have another go (with a different one of the emir’s sons in tow this time). They must have moved quite slowly, however, because apparently news of their move north reached al-Ŷillīqī in plenty of time for him to send a letter to Córdoba, which Ibn al-Qūṭiyya summarises as follows:

“‘I have heard that Hāshim is on his way west. I have no doubt that he is intent on revenge, now that I am staying in a secure fort. Well, by God! if he comes past Niebla, I will put Badajoz to the torch! Then I will return to my previous tactics with you.'”

The army must have stayed in Niebla for some time, because on receipt of this letter Muḥammad I was apparently able to send orders to it to halt, and Badajoz was not burned on this occasion. It’s all a fascinating story for my purposes, and I’ll talk about the conclusions I draw from it in the next post, but as far as either Ibn al-Qūṭiyya or any other writer is concerned that’s where the story ends. We know of two sons of al-Ŷillīqī and some descendant was in rebellion against ‘Abd al-Raḥmān III (912-961 CE) in Ibn al-Qūṭiyya’s own time, so the family probably stayed in charge in the area till at least then, but this is not part of any coherent account of anything except ‘Abd al-Raḥmān III.4 But it’s not where local memory of the man ended, or at least it has been revived, because look!

Statue of Ibn Marwān al-Ŷillīqī as founder of Badajoz, by Estanislao García, Badajoz, 2003

Statue of Ibn Marwān al-Ŷillīqī as founder of Badajoz, by Estanislao García, Badajoz, 2003; image by Gianni86Trabajo propio, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This was put up in Badajoz in 2003, and is the work of one Estanislao García. You can’t see the plaque on this public-domain image, but there are several very good copyright ones on another site here and they make it clear that the Wikimedia caption is actually what is on the plaque, in both Spanish and Arabic, “Ibn Marwán, fundador de Badajoz, año 875 / 261 AH” (Ibn Marwān, founder of Badajoz, 875 CE or 261 Hijri).

Now, for reasons that are probably obvious, this historian here finds these choices a bit peculiar. Let’s never mind that there is basically no date for any of al-Ŷillīqī’s actions after 868; the date they’ve chosen is indicative and might not even be wrong. I’m more puzzled by the choice of this figure at all and the rôle they’ve given him. Firstly, I guess it’s evident from the story as reported above that Badajoz already existed when al-Ŷillīqī first became a problem there, and indeed as you’d expect the archaeology supports that. This city website admits that but still argues that the city can be considered al-Ŷillīqī’s foundation, and attributes to him walls that were built around the city in 878; but we’ve seen from Ibn al-Qūṭiyya that those walls were most likely put up against him, “to protect the party of Islam.”5 The place that al-Ŷillīqī founded, or at least built up, was San Cristobal, which is now all gone as far as I can tell, and he did that primarily so as to be able to threaten the good people of Badajoz if state power looked like coming anywhere near him.

Yet the descendants of those good people have still paid for a statue of this man, who would have cheerfully burned their city and ancestors, and decided he should be the crucial figure of their local history. Part of me would like to know what the consultation and decision process, and indeed the available education about the city’s past, were that lay behind the commissioning of that statue; and part of me fears that the answers would give me unto despair for the usefulness of the historical profession. And I suppose the reply from a patriotic citizen might be, “if you can’t give us anything better but can only take away the one documented early mention of our town, you can get out of town yourself,” and I would understand that to a point. And I suppose it’s even possible from what Ibn al-Qūṭiyya says about it that San Cristobal is now in Badajoz, which now extends over both banks of the Guadiana, and so that in that sense there would be a part of the city which he founded. But even if so, he did that by turning the other half into his hostages, and I can’t help feeling that should make a difference to his memory!6

1. Yves Bonnaz (ed./transl.), Chroniques Asturiennes (fin IXe siècle) (Paris 1987), Chronique d’Alphonse III s. a. 850. On the family and their position on the frontier see now Jesús Lorenzo Jiménez, La dawla de los Banū Qasī: origen, auge y caída de una dinastía muladí en la frontera superior de al-Andalus, Estudios Árabes e Islámicos: Monografías 17 (Madrid 2010).

2. Muḥammad ibn ʻUmar Ibn al-Qūṭīyah, Early Islamic Spain: the history of Ibn al-Qutiya, transl. David James (London 2011), where see pp. 118-119.

3. Not all of these details are in the text; Ibn al-Qūṭīyah, History, p. 127 n. 38 supplies them from Maria Isabel Fierro, “Familias en el Ta’rīj Iftitāḥ al-Andalus de Ibn al-Qūṭīyya” in Estudios Onomástico-Biográficos de al-Andalus vol. IV (Granada 1990), pp. 41-70, citing no. 67 & nn. 79-80, which I have not seen myself.

4. For the sons see ibid.; for the subsequent rebellion, Ibn al-Qūṭīyah, History, p. 140. The rebel lost this time, and that probably was the end of the family’s story.

5. See n. 2 above for the quote; “Historia”, Ajuntamiento de Badajoz, online here, says:

“La ciudad de Badajoz puede considerarse de fundación musulmana, a pesar de que las excavaciones realizadas en la Alcazaba, demuestran que ya en época prehistórica, en el calcolítico concretamente, existió un considerable núcleo de población. Esta población perdura en epoca protohistórica, pero no parece que existiera núcleo urbano durante el dominio romano de la península, aunque sí abundantes “villas” en sus proximidades.
“Tampoco ha quedado ninguna edificación visigoda, pero sabemos que debió tener cierta importancia este momento histórico a juzgar por la cantidad de restos encontrados como pilastras de mármol, capiteles, etc…
“Con los musulmanes, la ciudad adquiere notable importancia, siendo por dos veces capital de un reino independiente: la primera vez en tiempo del Valí Ibn Marwan (868) quien contruye las primeras murallas de adobe y tapial en el 878 y posteriormente al formarse los reinos de taifas y derrumbarse el califato cordobés en los primeros años del siglo XI.”

The key phrase here is pretty clearly “capital de un reino independiente”, capital of an independent kingdom, but to call Ibn Marwan walī, governor, or to accuse him of establishing that thing from that basis is surely to miss the context of his actions…

6. I should admit at this point that there is some relevant scholarship I haven’t been able to access, to wit, Christophe Picard, “La fondation de Badajoz par Abd al-Rahman Ibn Yunus al-Jalliki” in Revue des études islamiques Vol. 49 (Paris 1981), pp. 215–230, which nowhere I can easily reach has. I promise to check it before I try actually publishing anything involving al-Ŷillīqī, but it’s odd that Picard doesn’t even apparently agree about the guy’s filiation. Santiago Feijoo Martínez & Miguel Alba Calzado, “La decadencia de Mérida en el siglo IX” in Juan Zozaya Stabel-Hansen & Guillermo S. Kurtz Schaefer (edd.), Estudios sobre el Reino Aftasí, Bataliús 3 (Badajoz 2014), pp. 93–110, meanwhile, argue (p. 110) that the big event for Badajoz was the translocation of a decent part of the population of Mérida there in 875, for which they give no source; but if it happened, it was presumably another part of the state defence against al-Ŷillīqī, since we don’t think he controlled Mérida…