Monthly Archives: July 2007

Adaptations II

By and large I quite like this whole WordPress thing as a format and system, though I have to overcome my natural historian’s dislike for the fact that it operates in reverse chronological order. But the one thing I have been having trouble with is navigating to old posts. So I decided to have a mess round with the sidebar and lo, there is a widget you add in there and by what we like to call sufficiently advanced technology it invents archives. Took me less long to install it than it would have taken to load the previous ten entries. Hopefully other people will also find it useful…

Stone gothic

Another Damned Medievalist, whom it was great to actually meet the other day, expressed an interest in this, so I thought I’d post it here for general awe and wonderment (awe not…). This is coming out of the Leeds paper, and I was making transparencies of these two images at great speed when I first drafted this, so it’s short. But: you all know what a charter looks like, right? Here’s one from my area, to be precise, from the cathedral of Urgell in the north-west of Catalunya Vella:

Urgell 12, charter of sale from 839 AD

Now, this is an area of Spain that used to be ruled by the Visigoths, who are scholarly-wise famous for their heavy use of written documents, right? So you’d expect the Visigothic charters to be the antecedent of this scruffy parchment. We don’t have very many Visigothic charters, though, and of the seventy-odd we do have, in some form or other, mostly fragmentary, only two are sales. Here’s one:

Visigothic charter of sale from 632, on slate

Yup, it’s on slate. Cheaper than parchment you know… Most of the Visigothic charters we have are, but that’s because most, where most is about fifty-five, come from two caches in the far south of Spain, one of which may have been part of a city archive but one of which is basically a family dossier and goes down to fiddling stuff like weekly cereal allowances for the slaves, and so on. An actual transaction like this is almost unique, and as you can tell we haven’t got all of it. Cheaper, but not as durable… (Full details in Angel Canellas López (ed.), Diplomática Hispano-Visigoda, Publicacións de la Institución Fernando el Cató́líco 730 (Zaragoza 1979), though this image came from Manuel Gómez Moreno (ed.), Documentació́n goda en pizarra: estudio y trascripción, rev. M. Casamar (Madrid 1966).)

Actually the texts aren’t so very far different, though formulaic, but you know, not really the same documentary culture…

N. B. I have real trouble sizing big images on this blog; once one size is in the preview won’t update when you change the file, so these may be all over the place; I hope it looks OK from where you are anyway.

Leeds report II

Now that I’ve sunk back into the medieval blogosphere I gather that I was at the wrong sessions at Leeds, as I have come back entirely unable to snicker about medieval underpants. It bothers me already how many legs this story has found: Carl Pyrdum seems to have collected most of them at Got Medieval but Richard Nokes adds much-needed unreal perspective at the Unlocked Wordhoard. (He goes on to give this blog a plug that has something like quintupled its apparent readership, for which I owe him due thanks!) All the same, although as Matthew Gabriele comments on Carl’s post, it’s nice to see medieval hygiene making it onto the web rather than the lack of it, the story does crazily miss the point of what Dr Mostert will have been saying. I should leap to his defence, but for two things. Firstly, Carl has done so already and likely far better than I would. Secondly, but for Dr Mostert’s taste and discretion, my and my collaborators’ session at Leeds last year would have been called “Who Gives a Sod (and Why?)”, a joke only funny to charter historians, so I find it vindictively amusing that he is now all over the Hypermation Intersoupway for talking about underwear.

International Medieval Congress masthead

Actually, although I don’t think I would have gone to that session anyway, I have to confess to not branching out as much as maybe I should have done this Leeds. I seem to have mainly spent it in Texts and Identities, which is a guaranteed relevant slot for any Carolingianist but I would have liked to see more archaeology and northern British stuff. Regrettably most of the archaeologists I wanted to hear from pulled out—a lot of people pulled out, in fact— and the best-looking British session clashed with one of our strand, so loyalty kept me away, allied with the hope that Alaric, the moderator, will be able to send me copies of the papers. So what did I do? Well, here goes.

  • First and foremost the keynote by Chris Wickham and Marc Boone; it’s always worth hearing Chris speak and this was a lot better than last year’s keynote
  • then our three sessions, `us’ in this instance being myself, Allan Scott McKinley and Martin Ryan, the original Three Musketeers of the New Diplomatic (as we wish to be entitled on the sign by the pyre on which they burn our many books when it all goes Fahrenheit 451), and this summer’s special guest stars, in no particular order Dr Elina Screen, Mr Alaric Trousdale, Professor Nicholas Brooks, Mr Alexander Ralston, Dr Alice Rio and Dr Charles West, several of whom have already changed bases so click those links while they’re hot
  • book-buying, dinner, drinking and ranting with Morn Capper, who was my boon companion for much of the Congress
  • the next morning a session being run by the first of those Alarics named above (at medieval congresses you get plural Alarics, it’s great), which contained stuff about Anglo-Saxon witches, Valkyries and a sterling performance by Martha Bayless who took the stand with no visual aids, proclaimed in a steady and ironic monotone that she used all paper that she herself was the visual aid, and while barely moving or varying her speech all paper still had us all captivated—I want her speaking coach
  • the second Texts & Identities session
  • a quick bus trip into Headingley to buy some food actually worth eating for dinner
  • the following Texts & Identities one because of an old supervisor and two always-inspiring speakers too, except that this year one of them wasn’t because I could hardly hear him, and Rosamond McKitterick got accused of being subversive by Jinty Nelson
  • yet another T&I session, which I was attending in the hope of picking up work on bishops but from which the speaker most relevant to that had pulled out alas
  • more book-buying and self-catered dinner followed by a small wealth of receptions, even winding up in the Early Medieval Europe one by mistake—I had meant to go, you understand, but had got the idea that it was the next day, and so was slightly disconcerted to find it happening round me—then an attempt at an early night spoilt by new books
  • the next morning’s first T&I as well, because Bernhard Zeller‘s evidence always fascinates me and I wanted to poach him for next year’s session
  • the revived T&I Time Archives thread, mainly to see if it was as much hot air as last year which I’m thankful to say it wasn’t, instead being very interesting but almost unrelated to its session title
  • still more book-buying
  • more of the Time Archives because of a friend presenting and another fascinating character
  • a T&I session on the papacy for very similar reasons
  • another dinner, then a picnic held by Rosamond, at which I met several interesting people, and then the dance, at which I may, may have danced a bit but only under acute peer pressure and mighty personal resolves; also accusations of scandal, absence of same and apparently secret societies
  • somehow messing up my alarm that night so as next morning to all but miss my housemate’s paper in the penultimate T&I session
  • going to two interesting papers in a (non-T&I!) session out of which unfortunately the speaker most relevant to my work had pulled without my knowing
  • and finally off home, after one piece of networking at a publishing stall that inevitably led to a last book being bought

So I was fairly busy. Any questions?

The irony hasn’t stopped yet, indeed; I had a mail when I got back (in fact I had lots, but moving on), and it was from Ashgate Publishing asking whether I wanted this book I’d ordered with them. I mailed them to ask `what book? I’m sure I brought them all home with me!’ but this didn’t stop a duplicate copy of one of the books I bought arriving on Tuesday anyway. I’m sure it’s dead good but I don’t want two of them. Bizarrely, this turns out to be unconnected with the mail, which was about another book they aren’t now going to send me a duplicate of. Funny people. Meanwhile, anyone want a spare copy of Chris Snyder‘s The Britons enough to slip me ten English for it?

Anyway! Too chatty! The following posts will in due course return you calmly into the arms of scholarly academe. Meanwhile, it is nice, as Professor Nokes also says, to remember occasionally that actually this damn discipline has fun in it when you look hard enough.

Sex and medievalists II

A ‘medieval’ lady reading something almost certainly unrelated
I didn’t think I’d ever wind up writing a sequel to this post, which was verging on the ill-advised at the time (I’m not saying from which side of the line, either), but medieval research is a strange and wondrous thing. In that post I said, while observing somewhat carelessly that most work on medieval sexuality seems to be done on homosexuality (pronounced with a Greek particle, yes fine very funny now stop it thankyou): “Work on lesbianism is almost entirely lacking, mostly because so is evidence of course.”

Although I have no special interest in lesbianism, I’m still quite pleased to find I was wrong about this, as the lately-reactivated blog Got Medieval has seen fit to inform us all. If you happen to be intrigued, go see…

This post may have mainly been made for the Livejournal readership, I admit.

Leeds report I

I’m back at work after a very unusual week, most of which oddity has been being surrounded by medievalists on something like a holiday. Some kind of report is necessary, and then two queued-up posts I wrote before I went can relieve the self-gratulatory tedium for you all.

Firstly, the strand that I was part-organising, “Problems and Possibilities in Early Medieval Diplomatic”, went very well. We were given slots that perfectly complemented the huge and important Texts and Identities strand, and that meant the people who would otherwise have chosen the other came to both. We all ran out of handouts, having not expected anything like as many people, and for the rest of the week people were telling me how interested they’d been and in some cases asking to participate in next year’s (which my co-organisers left me to sort out dammit, next year I’m being listed as organiser in that case). So this bodes very well, even if I don’t think my paper as was will make a publication piece without a lot more research (on which I did at least get some useful hints).

The cruel irony of it was, however, that I was talking about– well, I should give the by-now-legendary abstract, shouldn’t I?

Uncertain Origins: comparing the earliest documentary culture in Carolingian Catalonia

The Carolingian conquest of Catalonia was some fifty years old in most areas before the documents that now survive from the area were produced, but these earliest charters show a remarkable consistency of wording and formula across the whole of the Marca Hispanica that requires explanation. In this paper I explored the usual suggestions of Visigothic origins, and found them only satisfactory for testaments (which were closely governed by the Visigothic Law still in this area), and Carolingian importation, but by concentrating analytically on a few formulae showed that underlying the Catalan documents is an almost-uniform model which cannot as yet be parallelled from any other area. The paper concluded by inviting suggestions for further research or parallels.

The two formulae I’d particularly focused on—bear with me, non-diplomatists, it’s probably funny even to you—were the opening, or invocatio, which in Catalan charters but almost nowhere else is “In nomine Dei” and no more, and the beginning of the penalty clause, or sanctio, in which is detailed what will happen to anyone who infringes the document. In Catalonia this almost always began, “Quod si aliquis…”, `for if anyone…’ whereas everywhere else in the Empire it’s “Si quis…”, `if someone’. I maintained stoutly that this was not to be found anywhere in Europe other than here, and no-one disagreed.

The next session was blessed with a very interesting paper that Allan McKinley had talked Nicholas Brooks into giving, on knight’s fees in Anglo-Saxon England, of which of course there are conventionally supposed to be none. In disproving this, Professor Brooks handed out a transcript of a writ of King Cnut (est. 1016). I think only Allan noticed that its penalty clause started in “Quod si…”, but I certainly didn’t till he showed me, and Professor Brooks had circulated this handout by e-mail days before too. Otherwise it’s nothing like the documents that I was talking about but still: me and my big mouth, or something.

Otherwise, lots of interesting stuff (but minus points to the person who came up with the session title “Saints in the City”, I’m sure that wasn’t coincidence, and they haven’t let any of our jokes through after all), a great deal of drinking I confess and very much late-night talking with both collaborators and friends, and Professor McKitterick seeing me dancing, which I may live to regret but I hope not (to regret it, that is). Also a vast number of cheap books purchased which some day I may have time to read. But basically a success, I think. After that and then a remarkably disassociative weekend, it’s been quite strange coming back to work…


International Medieval Congress masthead

I shall be offline pretty much for this week, and maybe beyond, depending on how soon I catch up with the load after Leeds is been and gone, as well as some unpleasant family business. At least I’m on very early tomorrow (argh) so I shall be able to relax after that. Maybe see some readers there, who knows. But for now, as I say, Away From Keyboard.

Feudal transformations III

Bishop Ermengol of Urgell mistrusting a lay magnate doing homage to him, from the Liber Feudorum Maior

Victor Farias thinks the Catalan counts hold their power by an alliance with the small independent peasantry against the power-grabbing interests of the nobles who wish to subject them.1 Now a natural response is, but the counts are power-hungry nobles too, why aren’t they also subjecting the peasants? But he has an answer.

He says that the counts are pro-peasantry because as long as those peasants remain independent, they owe public services which go to the counts, but not other lords. And he says this falls apart, if I read him right, because counts retain the co-operation of the aristocrats by farming out public territories which tend to become hereditary, thus removing those subjects from the counts, and because military technology and technique improves so as to place the independent peasantry out of reach of effective self-defence. Another interesting thing about this theory, too, is that it makes the counts’ power partly dependent on the same equilibrium of open-frontier opportunity counteracting seigneurial subjection that is supposed to keep the peasants here independent for so long.2 (Though mainly the counts’ power is dependent on being hugely rich, I think, and on knocking down any nobles who start to get close to their level or nobbling their sons into service.3)

I don’t think he’s right, and I suspect a lot of this was in Bonnassie but spread out so thick that I didn’t get it quite so clearly.4 But this, again, is a much better feudal transformation than Poly & Bournazel’s. I still don’t think there really was a single process acting here with new things in it, but that’s another story and one I really have to write up in a paper some time.5

Matthew told me ages ago I’d worked out the feudal transformation, I very occasionally inch closer to thinking I know what he was talking about.

1. V. Farias, “Alous i dominis” in B. de Riquer i Permanyer (ed.), Història Política, Societat i Cultura dels Països Catalans volum 2: la formació de la societat feudal, segles VI-XII, ed. J. M. Salrach i Marès (Barcelona 1998), pp. 102-105, 107-111 & 113-116.
2. P. Freedman, The Origins of Peasant Servitude in Catalonia, Cambridge Iberian and Latin American Studies (Cambridge 1991).
3. J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia” (Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 2005), pp. 228-237, discusses the emblematic case of the vicar Sal·la of Bages and Count-Marquis Borrell II.
4. P. Bonnassie, La Catalogne du Milieu du Xe à la Fin du XIe Siècle: croissance et mutations d’une société (Toulouse 1975, 1976), 2 vols.
5. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power”, pp. 254-262, presents a preliminary version.