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Istanbul VI: city limits

This gallery contains 11 photos.

The first time I ever had to teach about Byzantium, I think for a lecture on the Crusades in 2009, when I knew almost nothing about it, the iconic image I wanted to use was the land walls of Constantinople, … Continue reading

Metablog XII: A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe now ad-free

I’m hoping for time to get another post up as well as this one this weekend, since this will be short (really), but, the attentive reader may have noticed a small change in the appearance of this here blog over the last week, which is to say that where once there were advertisements there are now (I believe) none. I’d love to say this was out of much-delayed concern for my readers, but actually what happened is that the photos for the last post took me over my free storage limit. At which point, I balanced all, brought all to mind, and so forth, and reasoned that firstly, I really didn’t want the grief of going back through old posts to remove pictures, secondly that that would probably be bad anyway since some of the old posts tend to get much more traffic than my new ones do these days, and thirdly that it would only to be ‘kick the can down the road’, in the phrase that the UK’s recently indecisive politics have made popular, since I don’t plan to stop taking or uploading photos any time soon.

Early modern building to let in Istanbul

Here’s one now! Property to let in Istanbul, just up the hill from the Archaeological Museum, convenient for the trams, and I suspect its own special set of maintenance surprises inside. We did not enquire…

But fourthly and perhaps most important, I have been writing this blog for 13 years and 1 month now; it has got me a few conference invitations, a number of vital references, some academic help here and there, two actual publications at least and an uncountable number of friends and contacts, and in none of that time have I paid its actual hosts anything at all. When thus balanced, that last fact seemed the most out of kilter, especially given my nowadays more-or-less-secure status. So, this is now a paid-for blog, I have twice the storage space so ought not to have to worry about that for another decade, and as a side benefit, you no longer have to put up with advertisements. I hope this is a good thing! Meanwhile, thanks to you, the audience, who make it worth doing!

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Istanbul V: Hidden Gold

This gallery contains 19 photos.

Do you mind if we return to my September 2016 trip to Istanbul for some more photos? I’m hoping you won’t when you see them. This destination was, for me, one of the real mindblowers of the trip, and yet … Continue reading

Burning the Law in Tenth-Century Castile

In today’s post I want to enlist the readership’s help in tracing a factoid. [Edit: and you have helped me find it! Thankyou to Psellos, whose help is now clear in comments. I've left the post as was otherwise, though.] This is something I came across in the book by Eugene Mendonsa I wrote about a few posts ago, which seemed to me most unlikely, and for which I then spent a little effort trying to trace to a source. I failed, but it’s not just my fault; I’ve run into many citational dead ends that shouldn’t be such, and since the effective source seems to be popular tradition, I wondered if anyone out there knows about it? Here is the quote from Mendonsa:1

“Reliance on written documentation to confirm repression was unique to Catalonia in Iberia. For instance, in neighboring Castile, Count Fernán González was so adamant in retaining traditional oral customs that he had all copies of the Liber Iudicum he could find in his country burned in the Cathedral of Burgos.”

As usual with Mendonsa’s book, as I said last time, there is no clear source for this,. The most likely thing in his chapter bibliography looks to be E. N. van Kleffens, Hispanic Law until the end of the Middle Ages, with a note on Continued Validity after the Fifteenth Century of Medieval Hispanic Legislation in Spain, the Americas, Asia, and Africa (Edinburgh 1968), but I don’t have access to that and Hathitrust’s search gives no instances of ‘burn’, so I’m not sure. There are obvious reasons to doubt such a claim, anyway. Here are the ones I could quickly think of:

  1. The Liber Iudicum, otherwise known as the Visigothic Law, was very much still in use in Castile in the thirteenth century, when it was translated by royal order into the text we now know as the Fuero Juzgo, so Fernán González’s Fahrenheit 451 episode couldn’t have been very effective.
  2. Almost anything written later on about things Fernán González did are shot through with legend, but those legends usually include him issuing a fuero of his own for Castile, the point being to separate it from royal legislation, not to reinforce orality.2
  3. The Forum Iudicum would have been older than any oral customs in Castile, since it predated the Muslim conquest of the Visigothic kingdom.
  4. The bishopric of Burgos was only revived in 1075, Castile was a county not a country, and we could go on, but I did this for Mendonsa once already and don’t need to again.

So instead I did some searching, and what I found can be grouped under two headings, writing that you’d think would mention this episode but significantly doesn’t, which is to say pretty much anything I could quickly open that mentions Fernán González in an actual tenth-century context but also works on actual law in medieval Castile, and then very venerable works that do mention this episode but only in passing. (There’s also an unreferenced mention in an almost unconnected Wikipedia article in Spanish whose English version omits it, just to complete the picture.) The most obvious of the first sort of works I’ve already referenced, but first of the second is nothing less than Amerigo Castro’s The Spaniards: An Introduction to their History, part of his side of the long-running polemic with that unfriendly but impressive figure, Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz, about what the real nature of Spanishness was.3 In its English version, on p. 512, Castro was made to say:

“Whether it is based on actual tradition or mere legend, it is a significant fact that those Visigothic laws were burned in Burgos by the Castilians as a sign of protest against the kingdom of León to which they were subject.”

This is exactly the kind of statement that means I tend to prefer Sánchez-Albornoz to Castro despite the former’s own particular problems – “whether it is based on… tradition or… legend, it is a significant fact”! – but the main thing of relevance here is that there is no citation. But it didn’t entirely surprise me when I picked it up again in the work of those two’s mutual senior, Ramón Menéndez Pidal, who in 1943 and 1944 wrote, in the same words both times:4

“Una tradición muy respetable cuenta que, al conseguir su autonomía los castellanos, reunieron todas las copias de ese Fuero Juzgo que pudieron hallar por su tierra y las quemaron en Burgos.”

As ever, my Castilian isn’t my strongest language, but I make that more or less:

“A very respectable tradition records that, in order to secure their autonomy, the Castilians gathered all the copies of this Fuero Juzgo that could be found in their land and burnt them in Burgos.”

Pretty much a match! So I guess that, while Menéndez Pidal wasn’t Mendonsa’s source, he was probably quoted by whatever that source actually was. But what was Menéndez Pidal’s source? “Una tradición muy respetable”, without reference, isn’t a lot to go on, and Menéndez Pidal is as far back I can trace it. So, over to you folks: does anyone else know this tradition, and if so, where it might have started?


1. Eugene L. Mendonsa, The Scripting of Domination in Medieval Catalonia: an anthropological view (Durham, NC, 2008), p. 130.

2. Two fairly modern examples: Michael P. McGlynn, “The Seven Laws of Fernán González: Castile’s Tenth-Century Legislative Beginnings” in Confluencia Vol. 25 (Greely 2009), pp. 93–100, where it would have been relevant almost anywhere, and María Angustias Alba Bueno and Manuel Rodríguez García, “La muerte en el Fuero Juzgo y tipos de enterramientos en el Reino Visigodo de Toledo” in Estudios sobre patrimonio, cultura y ciencias medievales Vol. 18 (Granada 2016), pp. 81–106, online here, where p. 82 runs quickly through the afterlife of the code with no mention of this.

3. Amerigo Castro, The Spaniards: an introduction to their history, transl. Willard F. King & Selma Margaretten (Berkeley, CA, 1971), translation of his España en su historia or La realidad histórica de España as it became in later editions. On the debate between him and Sáanchez-Albornoz a still-useful guide is Jocelyn N. Hillgarth, “Spanish Historiography and Iberian Reality” in History and Theory Vol. 24 (Oxford 1985), pp. 23-43.

4. Ramón Menéndez Pidal, “La Castilla de Fernán González” in Boletín de la Commisión Provincial de Monumentos de Burgos Vol. 22 (Burgos 1943), pp. 237-254, online here, at p. 242, and idem, “Caracter originario de Castilla” in Revista de estudios políticos Vol. 13-14 (Madrid 1944), pp. 383-408, online here, at p. 390, as I say in more or less the same words; I guess when you’re effectively writing for a Fascist dictator about how his province of birth was historically destined to provide the future rulers of Spain, you maybe cut a few editorial corners in favour of speed of production…

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Istanbul IV: still waters run deep

This gallery contains 8 photos.

This week’s dose of 2016 Constantinopolitan tourism features an unlikely attraction, the structure known as the basilica cistern. This is nothing more than a Byzantine cistern installed under the Emperor Justinian I to help ensure the city’s continued water supply … Continue reading

Surely you’re mistaken I

Happy 2020 to all my readers! By way of light relief from my old holiday pictures, here is something I’ve had in store until it was safe to use, another small stash of ‘classic’ student answers to questions of great weight, from years back. There’s one superstar here, but the supporting cast also contributed a great deal. I didn’t check who these students were until after I’d marked these things and by now I have no idea; they will, however, all have safely graduated by now, hopefully after having left this period behind for one they were happier in. Enjoy!

I know what they meant, but…

“With the emergence of Mohammed, Islam exploded in popularity and in influence.”

It had been struggling before, I seem to recall…

“Constantius was an Aryan emperor and when he came to power he attempted to make Aryan the official religion of the Empire.”

There’s probably no safe joke to make about this.

Latin with unexpected results

The fourth century as seen by Goscinny

“[Constantine’s conversion] led to the edict of Milan in AD 313 in which Constantine and Licentius legalised Christianity and other religions.”

Unintended satire

“Firstly, Emperors of the time were considered as ‘Profitis Maximus’ which means ‘the head of religion’.”

Just not sure what happened here

“Justinian took succession of North Africa in the Vanadic War as well as moving out the Frankish and Swedish.”

Reference to a hitherto undocumented migrant crisis?

And most difficult of all, Christianity

Several important contributions by that unknown guest star, to whom both word choice and understanding Christianity seem to have been more challenging than perhaps they realised.

Word choice is important

“The infamous Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, still one of the most famous religious buildings to this day…”

I think you can only have one of those adjectives, sorry.

Religion is confusing

“During the thirteenth century the Pope wanted the masses to believe in the all-powerful superior civil leader God….”

Previously someone less all-powerful had been in charge so the popes were less clear about their wishes, I guess.

“The Greek church had laws for the archbishoprics, bishoprics and the intermediate class, their laws were directed at everybody and everyone was on the same level. Each person was an equal. Compared to the Latin church which was very top heavy, mainly aimed at archbishoprics and bishoprics and that was it.”

Besides which, with all those bishoprics on trial the courts were very full anyway.

“Which ended up spuring on Greek nationalism to such an extent that there was no going back, so in Constantinople they tried to get Hagia Sophia on the throne.”

Perhaps in the form of one of those models emperors carry around in mosaics? Otherwise I’m not sure how this happened either…

Anyway, I try to keep glorious moments like these when they occur; they make the marking easier… Hopefully these have either been a diversion, or, if you’re a student, a warning, and either way may it start off a happy New Year for you and me both!

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Istanbul III: finding words about Hagia Sophia

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Returning, while I’m on leave for the vacation, to the blogging backlog brings us back again to Istanbul and to a building already mentioned, the archetypal Byzantine one indeed, except in as much as there was nothing else to equal … Continue reading