Monthly Archives: June 2009

Yet to be wrong about Pictland

The problem with having academic interests as catholic as mine is that one ineluctably falls behind the curve of scholarship in those areas in which one’s not actively concentrating. On this occasion, this means that although when my paper on Pictland finally emerged, I knew Alex Woolf had written an article about Fortriu that might completely wreck it, I hadn’t actually found time to read that article.1 I did however obtain a PDF of it to peruse later, and, well, this is how much later it’s turned out to be.

The battle scene on the Pictish Aberlemno stone, often supposed to depict the Battle of Dunnichen

The battle scene on the Pictish Aberlemno stone, often supposed to depict the Battle of Dunnichen

The debate in which this article takes part is a bit specialised so I think a lot of detail would be unhelpful. The sum of it is that Alex looks at the untimely death in battle of King Ecgfrith of Northumbria at the Battle of Nechtanesmere in 685 against the army of his fratruelis King Bruide map Bile of Fortriu, canonically placed at Dunnichen in Angus, and points out that this hardly matches Bede’s description of the place at all. He comes up with a better candidate, in the far North at Dunachton, Invernessshire, but then runs up against the problem that Ecgfrith’s battle was supposed to be in Fortriu. Fortriu, whose name comes from a people whom Ammianus Marcellinus records as Verturiones, and makes one of the two main Pictish peoples along with the Dicalydones or Caledonians, is the only Pictish kingdom other than Orkney (and maybe Atholl) for which we have a name, and it’s conventionally placed in the lowlands. So Alex looks at all the evidence and arguments for that, finds them mostly wanting and where not wanting, at least only one of two or more place-name possibilities. Then he weighs up the arguments for a case that Fortriu was in fact in the North of Scotland, and finds them better, in the sense of more closely contemporary and less contradictory. It does all rather hang by a few whiskers, but this is the nature of scholarship on early medieval Scotland, there is so little evidence that the tiniest fragment has to be made suggestive and relevant. This is one of the reasons I loved the field at the time I worked on it—so much room for the imagination—and also why I was so glad to leave it, since with my stuff in Catalonia I can actually demonstrate things.

Map of the ancient divisions of Scotland, for which as Alex shows there is no real evidence

Map of the ancient divisions of Scotland, for which as Alex shows there is no real evidence

All the same, I had one or two ideas about early Scottish history that I thought were worth something, and so when new work comes out in that field by people I rate, of whom Alex is most definitely one, because my ideas on the field were so few, I get the Fear that I may finally have been proved wrong. Happily, I think this time my case actually works better for Alex’s intervention. I was arguing that in the time of King Áedán mac Gabráin of Dál Riata (Gaelic Scotland before 843), which was probably 574-608, the south of Pictland was firstly partly Gaelic-speaking (which should be obvious because Atholl, which appears happily in the Irish Annals, is a Gaelic name meaning `new Ireland’) and secondly temporarily carved up between Áedán and Bruide map Mailchon, the King of the Picts whom Columba went to try to convert, who had his base at the top of Loch Ness, to provide inheritances for Áedán’s surplus sons, who appear to appear in the Pictish kinglist. I think that actually this is the only way to make any sense of the fact that Áedán appears to have operated over such a huge geographical range, and it also helps explain a few of the names in the kinglist, but other than the internal strength of the argument there’s little enough evidence.2

The inner rampart of Craig Phradraig, supposed by some to be Bruide map Maelchon's stronghold

The inner rampart of Craig Phradraig, supposed by some to be Bruide map Maelchon's stronghold

Now, I didn’t really need Fortriu to be anywhere; the political entity only appears later than my focus, and it was easy enough to argue that it was built out of the fragments that Áedán’s sons left behind by means of resistance to Northumbria orchestrated by increasingly powerful rulers, and to hypothesise a transfer of power from the North to the South for reasons we can’t explain but possibly connected with that nation-building process. But with Alex’s case we don’t have to explain why Bruide was in the North and Fortriu, apparently so important, wasn’t. The South can remain a jumble of bits that Northumbria and the Pictish North were able to hoover up for brief periods and fight over. This works fine for me. So far, I am not yet proven wrong, and in this field, with its special evidential problems, that will do me fine.

1. Alex Woolf, “Dún Nechtain, Fortriu and the Geography of the Picts” in Scottish Historical Review Vol. 85 (Edinburgh 2006), pp. 182-201.

2. All the evidence for this argument is set out in the paper, Jonathan Jarrett, “The Political Range of Áedán mac Gabráin, King of Dál Riata” in Pictish Arts Society Journal Vol. 17 (Brechin 2008), pp. 3-24, definitive version online here, with bibliography here, both last modified 7 September 2007 as of 23 June 2009.

More on wizards in Asturias

Line drawing of the inscription from King Fáfilas tomb at Santa Cruz de Cangas

Line drawing of the inscription from King Fáfila's tomb at Santa Cruz de Cangas

This is another ‘lest old themes be forgot’ post, referring back to one I wrote a while ago about a surprising reference to paganism in ninth-century Asturias. At that point Neville of the eponymous Combate linked in the blogroll showed up to explain that there was other evidence for this, not least an inscription recovered from the mausoleum in which is buried Fáfila, son of Don Pelayo the founder of the royal line of Asturias-León, and second king of Asturias, which records that the church in which he was buried was originally consecrated by a—well, shaman? The Latin is vates—called Asterio. (I feel he should have been called Getafíx, or at least Panorámix, but I guess the mason hadn’t yet heard of the series.) I realise your Spanish may not be up to this, but Neville has now written a full post of his own on the ‘mage Asterio’ and his milieu, which includes photographs of the stone and a full transcription, as well as a link to a scholarly publication of it. The importance of this is that in my post I asked whether someone whom a hostile chronicle called a magus might not, as had then lately been suggested by Celia Chazelle, have thought of himself as a priest. Asterio would appear to tell us otherwise, which means a bit of a rethink for me and perhaps for others. It’s a hundred years before the king I was writing about, but those who warned me not to underestimate residual pagan practices may have been more correct than I was. Sometimes a magical practitioner is just a magical practitioner…

The church of Santa Cruz de Cangas, whence the stone and where the tomb, from Wikimedia Commons

The church of Santa Cruz de Cangas, whence the stone and where the tomb, from Wikimedia Commons

Hmm. Now that I go back over the comments of that post I see that I mentioned an idea for a future post which I’d since completely forgotten. I must pick that one up for you all. So, at least one more to come hey?

Seminary LIV: excellent Spanish charter workshop in Oxford

View of Balliol College, Oxford, from the sky

View of Balliol College, Oxford, from the sky

Given the length of the previous post I will try to keep this one brief and not froth too much, but it is very rare to get to talk specialised shop with so many interested people as I did the other day. There are in the University of Oxford a variety of lively postgraduate seminars, including six, count them, six medieval ones—I’m told good things especially of the mainline Medieval History one—and among them is one called Approaches to Medieval Spain. This runs at a time when I could never plausibly attend, but the last one in the term was sufficiently important that I took time off and travelled over in the sunshine to see what happened. Wendy Davies had organised it, you see, and the title was “The Language of Iberian Charters of the Tenth Century”. So the result was that as well as a range of people I didn’t know we got (in order only of their speaking) Wendy, Roger Wright, Alice Rio, Bryan Ward-Perkins, Adam Kosto, David Howlett, me, Chris Wickham and Michael Clanchy, all dealing with the question of how to read and what significances to take from the language of these documents.

Now, you may be wondering what it is about the language of these documents that is worth this many clever people’s attention, and the answer may lie partly in the fact that one of the questions we were asking is, “what language are they in fact in?” Let me give you a bit of transcript:

Zipriano, qui est mandatore de domna Goldregodo et adabatissa, et Belito et Kalendo, suas pesonas, et per sagionem Froilla. Gongnobimus nos in ueritatem quem aramus terra ic, Busti Gogiti, de testamento de Sancta Marina et de abatissa, de domna Goldregodo, per insapienia…1

Which translates as, more or less:

To Cipriano, who is the representative of the lady and Abbess Goldregoda, both Velito and Kalendo, her men, by means of the Saió Froila. We do acknowledge in truth that we sowed this land, Busto Gogiti, which belongs to the testament of Santa Marina and to the Abbess, the lady Goldregoda, through ignorance…

Now, you may be saying, “if you can translate it, Jon, you must know what language it is” or even, “it’s Latin, Jon, wake up”. But is it? Cicero would barely have recognised this. The agreement and use of cases is all over the place, spelling is already quite Spanish, and some words seem misspelt in the direction of a Romance pronunciation. Is this in fact just what written legal Romance looks like, using a lot of grand old words that they spell old style even though they don’t pronounce them that way (as with the Old French terms in modern heraldry, or the Anglo-Latin terms that lawyers still like today)? And if so, can we get at the spoken language through these documents? Did they think they were speaking Latin, or something different? How different was the written language to the spoken, and why was it kept so if it was? And who trained the people who wrote it, and what with?

This was the sort of thing that we were discussing. The way that the day worked was that Wendy had assembled a cache of particularly good example charters, and she gave a short introduction, then Roger spoke briefly about the language, whereafter we discussed them all together in order.2 Roger’s take is roughly the second given above, that this is what Romance looks like written down, though there was disagreement with this, including some from me on the basis of the Catalan feudal oaths that Adam has studied so well which contain what seems to be actual spoken language transcribed and which looks very different.3 Roger did admit that although he would call this Romance the writers would have called it Latin, and probably would their spoken language as well. So there’s room for a lot of debate over terms here but a more useful approach is to just treat it as one language in long-term flux and study the changes more closely.

I won’t attempt to replicate the following discussion, but some points that have been asterisked in my notes are:

  • some of the changes to Latin we noticed were regular usage in the Visigothic period, so by the time of our documents already 300 years old or more;
  • one or two of the documents showed signs of spoken language’s influence, including in one case an apparent speech defect, that implied very strongly that they’d been written at dictation by someone who didn’t know the written language very well, implying some odd edge cases or perhaps specialisations in documentary literacy; we can never have too much proof of this;
  • people might well have deliberately added in obscure Latinisms for effect; Roger’s stock phrase was, “not ignorance, but educated ingenuity misapplied”
  • scribes did do things differently just for fun, they were not robots in a wider regulating system of literacy;
  • and that working on this sort of thing gets a lot harder when editors don’t indicate where they’ve expanded abbreviations.

If any of that gets you thinking, feel free to discuss below. It has me, but I intend to write about it where people can hold it in their hands, hopefully before too very long.

1.J. A. Fernández Flórez & M. Herrero de la Fuente (edd.), Colección Documental de Otero de las Dueñas, doc. no. 43.

2. The documents in question being, if you want to have a go yourself, José María Mínguez Fernández (ed.), Colección Diplomática del Monastero de Sahagún (857-1300) I: siglos IX y X, Coleccion Fuentes y Estudios de Historia Leonesa (León 1976), doc. 151; José Miguel Andrade Cernadas (ed.), O Tombo de Celanova: estudio introductorio, edición e índices (ss. IX-XII) (Santiago de Compostela 1995), 2 vols, doc. no. 221; Emilio Sáez & Carlos Sáez (edd.), Colección documental del Archivo de la Catedral de León (775-1230) Vol. II (953-985) Coleccion Fuentes y Estudios de Historia Leonesa 42 (León 1987), doc. 442; Mínguez, Sahagún, doc. 329; Sáez & Sáez, León docs 310, 388 & 448; Mínguez, Sahagún doc. 205; Fernández & Herrero, Otero doc. 43 as above; and Alexandre Herculano de Carvalho & Joachim Jose de Silva Mendes Leal (edd.), Portugaliae Monumenta Historica, a sæculo octavo post Christum usque ad quintumdecimum, I: Diplomata et chartae, fasc. 1. Ante sæculum XII exaratae et ad origines antiquitatesque potugaliae utcumque spectantes (Lisboa 1856), doc. CLXIII (though we had a newer transcript for this one supplied by Roger).

3. For Roger’s case in detail you would be well-advised to consult his Late Latin and Early Romance in Spain and Carolingian France, ARCA, Classical and Medieval Texts, Papers and Monographs 8 (Liverpool 1982); Adam’s work referred to is Adam J. Kosto, Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: Power, Order, and the Written Word 1000-1200 (Cambridge 2001).

Rebel without a pension: the mystery of Aizó

On the way to a really great meeting in Oxford a few days ago, about which I’ll write separately, I took with me Jordi Camps’s Cataluña en la época carolingia and re-read a couple of articles in it by Immaculada Ollich that I’d skimmed for book purposes a while before but not, apparently, fully absorbed. Both of them heavily featured this one figure who seemed good material for a blog post, a man who threw back Carolingian rule in part of Spain for nearly sixty years, or so it is said, and about whom we know almost nothing. So I thought I’d do an exposé in the style of Carla Nayland or Judith Weingarten, complete with headings. But over the several days of on-and-off construction it’s turned into a four-thousand word monster (I am having real trouble typing that instead of `monastery’ these days you know) which closely resembles genuine scholarship and I thought perhaps it belonged behind a cut. I’d be delighted if you can find the time to read it but if not, don’t worry, there’ll be time later for other things. Continue reading

Archaeology, peasants, women: links from the fringes

I have little of my own to add just now—the Leeds paper is taking my attention but you’ve heard what I have to say about that stuff here before—so let me instead draw your attention to a few interesting archæogical reports and other things of interest on the web this day that I write.


Peasants and women

It’s approximately 15 years now since I studied the Peasants’ Revolt in any detail, and at first I thought a recent post by Bavardess was merely a worthwhile little reminder about the sequence of events. Actually, having done that, it goes much deeper into the scholarship by asking a very simple and damning question: the sources for the Peasants’ Revolt are full of women, where are they in the scholarship? And, well, I was slightly knocked back because I know that in the sources I got, they didn’t really appear and while I’m used to the idea that history teaching is gendered this is still pretty fierce. So I recommend a read of Bavardess’s post to rebalance yourself if you were taught similarly.

It’s odd that this comes at the same time that a vocal female reaction is making itself heard on parts of the web I pass near to a recent article by Patricia Cohen in the New York Times about the disappearance of ‘traditional’ history courses in the USA. It did cross my mind that I have seen such material termed ‘boy history’ in the past, and Claire Potter at Tenured Radical picks up the opposite end of the stick, shows that the first end is on fire and in your face and suggests that such laments and worries are principally caused by men on the defensive at a slightly greater incidence of women among the faculty. The figures she gives suggest that this defensiveness is, to say the least, well into no-man’s land and that the entrenchments of the establishment are still pretty safe for now. (Though it might have made her case stronger if, er, she’d read the figures that the target article presents…)

1381, 2009, who’s counting? Some men writing history are still scared of women with agency. This is one of those continuities between medieval and modern I wouldn’t mind disappearing. (And that’s intransitive, not transitive.) I suppose that a positive change is to be seen in the fact that now some women are also angrily defensive about such fears making rumour or even policy, but in words quoted about something else entirely by Maximilian Forte at Open Anthropology at the same sort of time, “it is clear that non ah we ent arrive as yet“.

Name in print II lights pixels

For a while now I’ve been lamenting how slowly stuff that I’ve actually written, finished and sent off takes to appear. I’m happy now to say that Larry Swain and the rest of the team at The Heroic Age have won the race to be my next imprimatur, or whatever the online equivalent be, since their new Issue 12, which Larry announces with relief and glee here, among other places, has a piece by me in it entitled, “Digitizing Numismatics: getting the Fitzwilliam Museum’s coins to the world-wide web“, which is basically a short paper explaining what my job is and why you, as medievalists, should care about what I do. If you know nothing about numismatics and are bewildered every time I mention a coin’s obverse, hopefully this will explain matters for you. And there are many shiny pictures, including of Alfred’s monogram and Nero’s chins.

There’s loads of other interesting stuff in there too, which I’ve hardly yet had time to read. It’s not without amusement that I find myself sharing a journal issue with Cullen Chandler, as some will appreciate, but his review of scholarship on the Carolingian regions, while obviously limited in spread by the works he was reviewing, is a remarkable attempt to summarise a whole field in a webpage. (And I’m not just saying that because he cites me.) The other articles all look good too, but you hopefully won’t blame me if I emphasise the one that concerns me most :-) So yes: I have something more out, and you can read it right now if you like. So do, er, nine other people, and the Heroic Age now steps one volume closer to one that I’ve promised to orchestrate, so I need to get onto marshalling some contributors! Happily, Leeds is just round the corner… argh &c. See you in a bit…

Notice to LJ users – OpenID broken

I know that some people have this blog’s OpenID listed as a friend on Livejournal so that I can read their friends-locked entries and comment there. Well, not any more I can’t, because WordPress have wisely made their login server secure. Although the actual address of the blog remains, its admin ID is now This, I have just found, appears to break the OpenID link to LJ. I can login as that address but it isn’t the one you have friended so I can no longer see your private posts. I don’t know if you can do anything about it but I thought you ought to know.

All other readers, apologies for the post for an audience of very few. At least a little more regular content will arrive very soon.