Slates to the south, slates to the north

A 632 sale charter on slate, two fragments

A while ago, a long while ago now, I wrote a post about the fact that in Visigothic Spain some charters were written not on parchment or even papyrus but on slate. I’m still very pleased about that post, in a strange way: I think it’s the first one I did with a sense of who the audience for this blog might be and aimed at them. It kind of set the tone. Anyway. I remind you of or alert you to that because there it says that mostly we have found such documents (or objects?) in the south of Spain and there is some doubt about whether it was just local practice. Still chewing through Barbero & Vigil however I have found a notice that, in the battle between Ramiró I and Nepotian that I mentioned before, one of the reasons that we know that Nepotian was a genuine contender for the throne was that he issued charters. We don’t actually have any of them, but we do have a notice in a later judicial hearing that the defendant held the land by a charter of ‘the lord Nepotian’. In Latin the account goes:

Sic fui ego Rebelio ad Obeto, et pro tessera domni Nepotiani misi ipsos fratres in placito qui erant possessores in ipso loco castello, per saionem Caloratum, et sic expulsabi eos absque alico iudicio, et obtinente pro ipsa presumptione una cum patre meo Montano

Which I read, with my own emphasis, as:

Thus I Rebelio was at Oviedo, and by a tablet of the lord Nepotian I sent to the brothers who were in possession at the selfsame place, Castellar, in court, by the Saió Calorato, and thus I expelled them without any judgement, obtaining [the property] by this presumption along with my father Montano.

Okay, so he swindled the monks (of Santa Maria del Puerto at Santoña, if you must know) out of the castle, but he did so by means of getting the king to send what is basically a writ, by the hand of a royal official, and he calls the writ a tessera, which can only be tile or tablet. I’m not saying that this tile or tablet was necessarily slate, I don’t know what the mountains of Oviedo are rich in, but it’s the same practice isn’t it? Talk about hard copy! I’m quite pleased with this find. I’m sure it’s well-known but I hadn’t seen it before. Doesn’t say much for Nepotian’s impartiality but I suppose he was keen to make friends just then, what with Ramiro already raising an army of Galicians against him. So he sent out the slates, in the north just like in the south. There you are.

(Just as an afterthought, of course it is worth remembering that in some parts of that there peninsula people were writing things on slates a long long time ago…)

The cite is Abilio Barbero & Marcelo Vigil, La Formación del feudalismo en la Península Ibérica, 2nd edn. (Barcelona 1978), p. 322, citing Antonio Floriano Cumbreño (ed.), Diplomática Española del Periodo Astur: estudio de los fuentes documentales del reino de Asturias (718-910) (Oviedo 1949), I p. 319.

4 responses to “Slates to the south, slates to the north

  1. Muy interesante, le felicito una vez mas señor Jarrett.
    El desdichado rey Nepociano era rey legítimo
    según la mayoría de los expertos por su matrimonio con una hembra del linaje de Pelayo. De la misma manera que los monarcas Alfonso I o Silo.
    Besga Marroquín sostiene que es de origen Vascón.
    Se cree que ambos -Nepociano-Ramiro I- coexistieron como reyes durante unos años hasta el desenlace definitivo.

    Existe otra pizarra interesante en Zamora le dejo el enlace.

  2. Pingback: Seminar CX: words in use in the other part of Christian Spain | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  3. In case you are interested, archaeologists discovered a few years ago a slate in the Castro de Pelou, Western Asturias, containing a “tabula censalis”, a list of taxpayers in the area contributing to the sustainment of the local Roman garrison. That’s late 1st century – 2nd century AD. You can download a good brochure on the subject here:

    Click to access 474-villa-valdes-a.-coord.-domvs.-una-casa-romana-en-el-castro-de-chao-samartin.pdf

    Also, this fascinating reference to the document produced by “Lord Nepotian” must be one of the very few independent instances in which Uvieu actually is featured as a functioning capital with actual political power.

    • That is true, I suppose, at least for the period before Ramiro I’s and Alfonso II’s building programs, and they don’t show the capital reaching any further out than its immediate environment. It just goes to show, as so often, that charters are the sources one really needs…

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