Monthly Archives: April 2008

Loads of medieval Latin online

Did any of you happen to follow that link that I FWSE‘d up back there to the Latin text of Isidore’s Etymologiae? It goes to the Latin Library at an organisation called the Ad Fontes Academy, which appears to be a Christian school in North Virginia, not even higher education. But this site is huge. It’s not terribly well organised, but the alphabetical drop-down, as well as a raft of Classical authors and an entry for Medieval Latin, includes Alcuin, Ammianus, Aquinas, Augustine, Cassiodorus, Einhard and the Theodosian Code, and that Medieval Latin entry leads to a page whch names many more. And for each author it’s only the obvious big works but that gives you the whole of Augustine’s Confessions and the De Civitate Dei, it gives you (for example) what is I guess the RHC text of Albert of Aachen’s history of the First Crusade (among several other Crusades texts), Einhard’s Vita Karoli, Thegan’s Gesta Hludowici Imperatoris, Nithard, Richer, Magna Carta, the Origo Gentis Langobardorum, Dante’s Monarchy… and more I don’t even recognise. It’s a treasury, and it’s searchable and copiable e-text, whereas the Digital MGH for example is image files precisely so that you can’t just copy and paste chunks out of their copyright publications.

Of course, you have to ask where these texts are coming from, because no copyright is given, and neither is the source edition indicated anywhere. A brief page-by-page of the text here of Einhard’s Vita Karoli and the dMGH version leads me to believe that they are in fact the same, so I guess this voluminous resource has been assembled by OCR’ing venerable copies of the Monumenta, the Recueil des Historiens des Croisades and the like and carefully removing all apparatus, editing marks, signes de renvoi and indeed anything that might let it be traceable. I have to wonder exactly how hard permission for this was sought, and ask if this is really a very moral way to assemble a Christian study library. Nonetheless, is that going to stop me using it? Well, when it’s something I can read through the dMGH, yes. When it’s one of the few volumes of RHC that Gallica have left online at the Bibliothèque Nationale, then again, yes, although if I just want to copy and paste a quote this version may well still be tempting. But there’s loads of stuff here I would not easily find elsewhere, so it’s moral quandary for me when those texts beckon. For those without such qualms, meanwhile, there it is… (Also added to the increasingly confusing list of Resources in my sidebar there.)

In which Robert Darnton appears to have the answers

I mentioned that I had another post brewing featuring a further interview from Maria Lúcia Pallares-Burke’s The New History, and that interview is with French Revolutionist Robert Darnton. I once studied this stuff, as an undergraduate, and I didn’t know the name, which is odd because I recognise a lot of what he seems to have said from lectures; Tim Blanning and he must work in parallel brains. All the same, I’m not going to go hunting his work right now: I did mention a to-read pile half a mile high, as you’ll recall, and I finished that book chapter today and generally Clio is keeping me busy right now.

Robert Darnton

But there are a couple of really heartening perspectives in the interview. Pallares-Burke tailored her questions to her subjects, and edited out the least interesting answers I assume, but there are some running themes that come up in most of the interviews: the importance of women’s history, the balance between empirical work and theory, and so on. Sometimes the interviewees have answers, sometimes they gloomily disclaim the possibility of answering them, but Darnton frequently comes over as just having the answers to everything and making them seem obvious.

The first of these is where he is asked why he has such a passion for history, and his answer really is for me “what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed”:

I find something deeply satisfying about the study of the past, and I don’t know quite what it is. I feel it most when I work in the archives. As the tenor of a life begins to emerge from the manuscripts and I see a story unfold from one document to another, I have the sensation of making contact with the human condition as it was experienced by someone in another world, centuries away from mine. It may be an illusion, and I may get it wrong. I may sound like a romantic. But the archives, in all their concreteness, provide a corrective to romantic interpretations. They keep the historian honest. Unlike literary scholars and philosophers, we must marshal evidence in order to sustain our arguments, and we cannot pull it out of our heads. We extract it from boxes in the archives.

And he goes on with a short defence of the existence of actual facts, but already he’s got my vote there: that is exactly what I do it for, and if I’d paid attention to this when I first read it you’d all have been saved my waffling for several screens trying to say the same thing only worse. You get a glance of someone else’s life for a short space of time: and you know that it was real, that this character you find or envision really did have a life and that you may with some luck and judgement be imagining them correctly, because there was a reality that you might be able to approach. Real people. It is the point.

The latter, and less inspiring perhaps but still very neat, is where Pallares-Burke poses him the query that she has put to several of the other historians interviewed: when you go to the archives, do you go with no idea of what to look for, and just report on what you find, or do you go with a theory and a set of questions? The one risks finding nothing because of lack of focus, the other risks finding what you looked for and no more. And, well, yes, true to an extent but surely there’s some better conception because look, we do in fact get some history work done. It takes Darnton to add sense and a third way:

I love to do research because you never know what you’ll find when you open an new dossier and start reading… I think that intellectually it’s also invigorating, even though in my manner of describing it it may sound as if the historian’s task is digging a ditch. The reason for its being invigorating is that you go to the archives with conceptions, patterns and hypotheses, having, so to speak, a picture of what the past was like. And then, you find some strange letter that doesn’t correspond to the picture at all. So what is happening is a dialogue between your preconceptions and your general way of envisaging a field, on the one hand, and on the other hand, this raw material that you dig out and that often does not fit into the picture. So, the picture changes and you go back and forth between the specific empirical research and the more general conceptualization.

Again, he is right. Those Casserres parchments I blogged about earlier were my latest case of this: I went expecting to find a vicecomital takeover of a small church and a raft of donations and found instead what seems to be the wholesale adoption of a substantial mother church’s archive by making what French diplomatists would call “copies figurés”, copies meant to look like originals, and getting people to sign the new copies but putting them all onto as few parchments as possible… And I’m still going back and forth between what monastic archives are supposed to do and what this one seems to have done as a result. He has it right, I tell you.

Darnton seems to interview a lot: I found two more, both focusing on the impact of the Internet and Google (and Google Books, in one case), whilst looking for an image of him just now; so if you would like to know more, and since those subjects are hot concerns of both mine and others, you may find these links interesting.

Robert Darnton, interviews with Maria Lúcia Pallares-Burke, Oxford, July 1996 & May & June 1999, ed. Pallares-Burke as “Robert Darnton” in eadem, The New History: confessions and conversations (Cambridge 2002), pp. 158-183, quotes from pp. 162 & 170-171.

Cartulary of Sant Cugat del Vallès now online (data data data!)

Hispanists rejoice! It seems to have been a long while since The Library of Iberian Resources Online was updated, but it recently has been. Wait: you didn’t know about LIbRO? It’s worth knowing about. What it is, is e-texts (and pleasantly laid-out ones, too, not Project Gutenberg style plain text) of important scholarly texts covering the period 500-1500, and it’s not just secondary work but some really useful sources, most obviously until now, for me at least, Scott’s translation of the Visigothic Law, but also a few important chronicles. They have a link offsite to a text of Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies, which would be a glorious thing for many if it were still there. It’s not, but a cursory Google reveals that the whole thing, in Latin of course (I’m not even sure how you could translate an etymological dictionary, even one as packed as that), is in fact still online here. They also link out to a page that, o important thing, turns out to be all the journals of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas online, or at least their most recent issues, which has given my reading list an immediate and guilty start as I discover what’s been in the last two issues of Anuario de Estudios Medievales that Cambridge UL haven’t yet made available. But anyway, LIbRO has been worth a look for some time, and is now even more so as a small shedload of new texts seems to have gone up in the last two months.

The monastery of Sant Cugat del Vallès

For my immediate purposes the most exciting and useful of these is the first two volumes of the cartulary of Sant Cugat del Vallès. I’ve written here before about Sant Cugat and its charters, but to reprise, Sant Cugat’s archive is one of the largest in the area, and although its records only go back to 875 (and are then very patchy till about 940) even though it has claimed to be much older, they are important for two reasons. Firstly, they are from an area which is rich, and much focussed on by the powerful because of being near the capital and the fertile and commercially-useful coast which is also the first line of expansion. Secondly, there is that expansion. In 875X7 King Charles the Bald conceded to Sant Cugat a huge swathe of territory in the far edges of the frontier which at that time was utterly beyond use and contact with authority. Then, over the next hundred years or so, the border of authority inches forward by a process I’ve referred to in the past as “the continuation of Carolingian expansion”, and about which I hope to be writing again soon. And by the 980s, say, Sant Cugat, which has a long memory, are suddenly looking at these lands that they were then given being accessible to them. Now of course, people are living there, people who do not recognise the monastery’s supposed rights, and who even if they did would and do appeal to the Visigothic Law’s thirty-year-rule that says unchallenged tenure for that long is permanent. And the result is loads of hearings in which these frontier people, whom Sant Cugat’s monks either joyfully greet as friends of the saint or dismiss as christiani perversi or worse, depending on how opposed they are, turn up and state their positions. It’s gold for someone like me who wants to find out what existed out on the edge. Also, because Sant Cugat are dealing with so much of this stuff, they get blasé about it. There is for example a place which is now called Sant Boi de Llobregat, a big town. Barcelona cathedral has lands there, given by Count Miró Borrell II’s brother, and so from various other sources do the Barcelona monasteries of Santa Anna and Sant Pere de les Puelles. And so does Sant Cugat, but it’s only from Sant Cugat that we know that the place was actually called Alcala, that is, the Arabic for castle, al-qalat, until quite late, because Sant Cugat see Arabic names and weird half-Christians all the time and don’t see the need to dress it up, whereas the city institutions seem to want to make their properties look, well, proper. So if you are looking for frontier weirdnesses and places where people have made their social structures up out of leftover bits, this is where you’ll find it.

Title page of Josep Rius Serra\'s Cartulario de «Sant Cugat» del Vallés

The only downside is that the fourth, index, volume, which was done by a different editor some thirty years later after the original editor died ‘in post’, is not here. In fact I only know of one place that has it, although quite a few places in the UK have the original three volumes of texts. If and when that goes up it will be a huge help, because simply searching is not very effective. LIbRO’s searchability leaves much to be desired, and even Googling will not usually get you through the various possible spellings of the Romanticising Latin used by the scribes, though it’s a start. But even for the meantime, just having the actual texts that handy will be useful to me again and again. I have no idea whether it might also be to you, but I thought I would enthuse about it anyway.

Actually doing research: "nobles of the palace", Barcelona 990 A. D.

Lately my work has been held up by a single piece of research I’ve been trying to do as quickly as possible for the last chapter of the eventual book (though don’t get over-excited, I’m not revising these things in order and there’s still loads to go). This bit however needed new work and has been a right dog. It’s kind of done now and I thought there would be worse things I could do than say something about it.

I’ve been looking at Borrell II, again, and in particular at whether he had a steady court of followers and dependants, or whether he had to draw a self-standing nobility to him by patronage. The answer is kind of `both and neither’ as you’d expect, but in order to give some concrete examples of this I’ve zeroed in on one particular hearing.1 It’s an interesting and unique hearing in itself, as the matter of it is that an official called Sendred whose title is custos monetae—if he were an organisation he’d be a Currency Watchdog I suppose—appeals one of Barcelona’s moneyers, Guiscafred, for making substandard coin. What we have is not actually the document where he was tried, however, because Bishop Vives of the city immediately sails into action and tries to argue with the count that, because Guiscafred is the bishop’s man, the bishop ought to try him. Now this is of course the right of clerical privilege that got Thomas á Becket killed, but Borrell and Vives, at least as they are recorded by the unusually verbose and hyper-accurate judge Ervigi Marc, whose detail is often really useful in these records, have a civilised exchange about it. Borrell is said to have emphasised that it’s his business to protect the public, and that however much he respects the Church action has to be taken here, and Vives therefore offers the compromise that if Borrell lets him deal with it, he will administer sentence without any further delay. This settlement, not the actual trial, is what the document is intended to record, but it’s already opened up many many cans of worms that tell us loads about how money was being produced, used and checked in the city at a time when other documents tells us its standard was a problem.2

Courtyard of the Palau Comtal de Barcelona, now the Plaça del Rei, as it stands today

But the interest for me, at least today, is that Ervigi Marc (call him Harvey Mark if it helps you) states that this hearing was held in the palace of the count in Barcelona, which although we have reason to believe it had recently been rebuilt is the first mention we have of that building, and he calls the assembled worthies who are hearing the case “nobles of the palace”, nobiles palatii. So my question was, immediately, who are these people and how ‘palatine’ are they?

Methodologically this is a lot of what I do, a kind of poor man’s prosopography, but there are problems, mainly the lack, except in the case of the august scribe, of surnames. So someone is present called Sunifred: you wouldn’t believe how common a name this was at the time, and there’s just no way to say which of the other Sunifreds who turn up with the count or the bishop are when they’re not closely associated with some land where they turn up consistently. Likewise people called Miró. But with some of the group we can do better. There are for example two people called Guitard. This makes it almost vanishingly unlikely that one of them is not Guitard de Mura, a minor noble who makes it good by getting concessions of castles from both count and bishop of Barcelona beginning at about this time; he will surely have been there when the two came into dispute in his home city. That leaves the question of who the other one is, and there’s a guy who turns up witnessing for the monastery of Sant Cugat for areas all over the general Barcelona area (which Guitard de Mura does not, as his lands are all further away or actually in the city, as far as we can tell) who is at least a possible.3 There are several other names that leap out at me from Borrell’s other documents; it is at least a good chance that the attenders called Bonnuç & Seniol are the men of that name who sporadically and separately witness Borrell’s documents all over the frontier territories, here with the boss on this occasion. A deacon called Arnulf who seems to have otherwise only appeared in or around Girona also turns up only with the count, and was therefore perhaps a tame and apparently portable chaplain, which makes it likely that some Girona contingent was there, so that the Gauzfred who is present is probably the Vicar of Girona we know from later documents. And the judges are Borrell’s men too, of course, and one deacon present, Adalbert, seems to be a judge in training who only gets the full title in later appearances. Another Recosind appears to be a city landholder who deals occasionally with Borrell. Likewise, there is present a Marcuç who seems to crop up in city contexts and maybe also occasionally witness for the nearby monastery of Sant Cugat del Vallès. But it’s not just Borrell’s men: one person called Sesnan, I can’t find in Borrell’s documents, but one such is in a fair few of Bishop Vives’s, and seems to be someone the bishop gives land at the end of his life, perhaps as a reward for years of service. You’d expect there to be a few of the bishop’s men present, after all, given that one of them is the accused. And the bishop’s palace is actually right next door, possibly even adjoining the comital palace, so ‘nobles of the palace’ could be a bit relaxed as a term?

But there are also a bunch of people who just don’t recur. The names are sometimes so odd that I would think it was a garbled copy, except that it’s an original and Ervigi Marc is firstly easy to recognise by his signature and secondly not a man to make that kind of mistake. It does however mean that you can be sure, when someone is called Falcuç, and is a deacon, that he is not seen elsewhere, because all of the documents from Osona, Manresa, Girona, Besalú, or the archives of the cathedral of Barcelona, the counts themselves (though that is patchy this early) or that of Sant Cugat (though there there is a later monk of the same name at least) are well indexed and he does not occur. This guy is a one-off appearance, and there are a few others like him too. What kind of ‘nobles of the palace’ can these be who are never seen there, or anywhere else either? Not nobles at all, surely.

So my initial conclusion is that, unfortunately, Ervigi is talking a regular gathering of incidental petitioners up big because big people are involved. Actually the assembled are there for a whole bunch of reasons, and some of them are probably ordinary citizens just come along for the ceremony or to plead their own cases. Someone wanted a good crowd for this one, hauled them all in, and Ervigi lets style get ahead of fine status gradations. But it’s still a good little exercise in who might be there when the count holds court, and shows quite nicely that the body is always changing because many of the count’s men all have lives of their own and turn up either when he needs them or they need him but not by default, which is more or less what the rest of the discussion into which this chunk will go has been showing as well. So I would say that’s what it shows of course, at least it’s consistent with that. But if anyone would prefer to offer a different view I’m open to it…

1. A. Fabregà i Grau (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona: documents dels anys 844-1260. Volum I: documents dels anys 844-1000, Fonts Documentals 1 (Barcelona 1995), doc. no. 201.

2. On which you will some day be able to see J. Jarrett, “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 168 (London forthcoming).

3. I’m not giving the detailed cites for these people’s occurrences, it would swamp the page and you don’t really need it. Or, if you do, you can wait till the book comes out :-) But at least you can now access the Sant Cugat documents online. That’s such good news, in fact, that it will make for a post by itself…

This month I have partly been reading…

While I tinker with horrible legacy Word files listing people who turn up in various Catalan charters on the one hand, do my actual job by way of finishing images of unofficial 18th-century token coins on the other, and assimilate various other things that we’re not talking about here any more, I also find time for a bit of reading. I have to, because over the last year and a bit, I have amassed a ridiculous to-read pile. It started with my starting to clear house and thus becoming a member of various give-away groups on the Internets—and some of them were giving away books. It continued with my finally redeeming the prize I won from Blackwells for my EME paper (which they would give me only in the form of their books, but that’s OK, they have a few.) Then I went to Leeds, and for the first time did so with a salary, and the bookfairs of the International Medieval Congress are dangerous to a young man in such a condition, who must inevitably be in want of a library. And finally I was allowed to take home quite a lot from the shelves of the about-to-be-vacated office of the person at KCL whose courses I was teaching last year, I mean, really quite a lot. My to-read pile is now arguably larger than my entire other book holdings, and I have a teaching library of some standard, most of which I haven’t actually read…

Now because as we know Life Gets in the Way, even before all that lot arrived I had books in the pile from 2006. That was clearly getting silly, and so I pulled open a hole in my schedule and found more idle reading time. The main rule is `no notes, just read’, because I’d almost forgotten how to read for fun. So even though a lot of the pile is academic, I’m trying to read it for leisure. And recently that has led me to the following two books, Robin Lane Fox’s The Classical World: an epic history from Homer to Hadrian (Harmondsworth: Penguin 2005) and Pierre Bauduin (ed.), Les fondations scandinaves en Occident et les débuts du duché de Normandie : Colloque de Cerisy-la-Salle (25-29 septembre 2002) (Caen: CRAHM 2005). The latter I’m still getting through, though interesting stuff already, but the former I can speak on now.

Cover of Robin Lane Fox's The Classical World

The Fox book was deliberately aimed at the popular market, I’m sure, and I’m not sure I’d like to meet the author given what he seems to think that market wants, but there is no question that as a work of narrative history it’s a tour de force. (Even Peter Heather thinks so, if you don’t believe me.) The conceit of the book, which is that it’s a history to explain Hadrian’s world to him, gets a little annoying, but nonetheless in six hundred pages you get from pre-Classical Greece to late Classical Rome and finish with some sense of how it ties together. (Not that history does always do that, of course, but moving on.) The front cover, as has been mentioned, manages to call this epic three times, once in the title and twice in the review quotes, but really it’s not, it’s better done than that. We have relatively little narrative detail for Ancient Greece, and rather more for Middle Rome; correspondingly, the Greek sections of the book have more chapters about society and lifestyle (always including sex; classicists are allowed to do this, medievalists not, as we have observed) and the Roman ones fewer. The pace therefore varies rather, and sometimes, as with Alexander the Great most of all, it is too short: the boy emperor is dealt with in about twenty pages and leaves very little explained (though now we know more anyway). Fox clearly also thought this was unjust as I see he has now published a full-length work on Alexander alone, so I admire his restraint.

Only one thing irks me about the book, really, aside from the author’s delight in smut, which is at least being true to his sources. That thing is one that the ‘epic’ review quote denies, by saying that Fox tells the story “without moralising”. Yeah right. We are repeatedly told how great Athenian democracy was, slavery not withstanding, and contemporary moral perspectives are given on most of the lead characters. Fox likes rogues, dislikes prudes and those who disdain others for failings they possess, and tells us his views quite forthrightly. One can only assume that the quoted reviewer missed this simply because he agreed. Fox doesn’t do this by way of approval or censure, mind, just pointing out the difference, but I still notice it every time. It shouldn’t hinder you from reading an excellent book, though you will find it hard to follow up the references (these are sparing but effective) as he uses some system of short titles for the primary sources that isn’t expanded anywhere! argh. It is not perhaps an introduction for scholars; but for what happened in what order and who such and such a person was, and where in the story they all fit, not at all bad, not at all bad.

Life Gets in the Way II

I’m back, but even after the advertised lull I have little to say here right now. I’m reading some interesting stuff, and I could talk about that some; I have another post I mean to write reacting again to an interview in Pallares-Burke’s The New History; and I was planning to revive the blog’s oldest purpose and advertise what I’m doing in a kind of ‘my projects right now are…’ round-up, though that was supposed to come with a web-page revamp that shows no signs of imminence. At least some of these will actually happen, but I’m afraid that the past week has served a quantity of personal life disaster up, of the order of ‘drink a lot of gin and brood on the point of it all until blessed sleep descends’, and I’m just really not feeling the enthusiasm necessary to try and enthuse you in turn. Ironically, in this time Clio has been pretty good to me and several things look like making print at once in a rush at the end of the year, but, as I say, not feeling it right now. I do apologise for this melancholia; as I am burying myself in work by way of distraction, I imagine I’ll have something to spark some writing for you fairly soon.

In the meantime, have fun with the changing sidebar and if you have any relevant questions (about my subject, that is; personal life will never be exposed in more detail than this on this blog) feel free to demand answers as that will at least get me writing here…

Added in Passing VII: AFK and seminar schedule

At long last I’ve run out of pre-drafted content, and I’m now packing for a weekend away that is going to keep me from the keyboard at least until Monday in any case. I’ll try and have something interesting for when I get back, but in the meantime it’s probably worth saying that the upcoming term’s schedule of the Earlier Middle Ages seminar at the Institute of Historical Research is now online. Not much for me there, but I have a lot to be doing in any case.

For now, however, I must leave you quiet for a few days.