It’s not just me that’s remarked on the absence of narrative sources from the south-west of Europe around the turn of the year 1000, and for some way either side, but obviously it is something that affects my work a lot.1 It seems paradoxical that in an area that preserves so many thousands of documents the basic political narrative of history in this period is rather difficult to reconstruct, but it is, and it largely has to be done from Arabic sources from further south and from much later, which has a set of problems all of its own.2 But readers here may be aware that I like to point out every now and then that actually the charters themselves often offer small narratives that relate to the bigger picture and show that these events did touch people. The most obvious one of these is the sack of Barcelona in 985, which has been blamed by none other than Michel Zimmermann for actually starting a national historical consciousness in this area, and here he may not be wrong.3 But though Barcelona was the big one, there were other attacks by Muslim forces on Catalonia in the peculiar final storm of activity after which the Caliphate of Córdoba would finally collapse.4
One of these is supposed to have hit the frontier town of Manresa somewhen around the year 1000, but the texts are quite tricky to deal with. Several Arabic sources record an attack by the Muslim leader al-Mansur, who had sacked Barcelona, against the Basque capital at Pamplona, and one says that the army went via Pallars, one of the western counties of Pyrenean Catalonia. Several scholars therefore put the sack of Manresa here too, but the date is not clear: Ibn Idharī, writing around 1312, puts it at 989/990, two anonymous ones (of 1323 and 1344×1489!) at 999/1000 and another (from somewhen before 1118 when we find it quoted) post-1000.5 Then, there were campaigns into the area under al-Mansur’s son ‘Abd al-Malik al-Muzaffar, who succeeded his father in 1002 and who attacked the Barcelona area in 1003, and we have various charters that record people’s deaths in that campaign in areas along the Manresa frontier too.6 That seems to me to have a more substantial documentary trace and to have been more destructive, but this is not when the scholarship seems to think Manresa got hit. And one of the anonymous sources for al-Mansur’s campaign says that al-Muzaffar was also present on it (the latest one), whereas another (the one from only 1323) says he was busy in Africa at the time. Which one of these is confused? Especially if you, like me, don’t have access to these texts in the original, it’s very hard to feel as if you have any extra information here.
At the end of this, though, we are reasonably sure that a Muslim army under al-Mansur went though the area or close by some time between 997 and 1002, but not what that time was, nor how much damage was done, and that another then went through under al-Muzaffar in 1003 which actually had lowland frontier Catalonia as its target, and that for some reason the scholarship places the sack of Manresa in the former bracket, not the latter. It must be said straight away that there’s nothing in the copious documents from the Manresa area pre-1000, mostly preserved via the monastery of Sant Benet de Bages (at least until the Spanish Civil War), to match the records of destruction from Barcelona post-985: the document that talks of ‘the day Barcelona died’, die quod Barcinona interiit, has no parallel here.7 In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to know anything had happened at all: transactions continue at more or less the same rate, and no-one writes about terrible awful losses of documents or whatever. (There is one very interesting replacement of burnt documents from around here from the year 1000 itself, but they say nothing about how the documents were burnt and I’d like to hope that if it had been a ravaging Muslim army they’d have said so, not least because as I’ve argued elsewhere these stories were meant to help with these moments when things had to be renegotiated.8) So I might have begun to wonder whether we really had any evidence at all that Manresa had been sacked. And then I found something while working through the documents in Catalunya Carolíngia IV. That something is a donation to Sant Benet de Bages from 997 which had some quite interesting circumstances. I’ll just translate the key bit, which is the opening narratio:9
In the name of the Lord. I Guiscafred, priest, and Adroer and Gauzfred, who are executors of the late Hugh, by this document of alms make a charter to the monastic house of Saint Benedict, of his own alod, since when the already-said Hugh was going out from the city of Girona and was heading for the battle, he then enjoined upon us that, if he were to die unexpectedly in that same battle, as indeed came to pass, we would undertake to give to the monastic house of Saint Benedict, and so indeed we do, for God and for the remedy of the soul of Hugh…
Now, I wish they told us where this battle was, but this is still a pretty big piece of evidence. It might not appear such without the context; after all, this is a rough time and it may be that men rode out to battle quite often for business entirely their own. But this is something different. Girona is a long way from Manresa, and while this Hugh character is difficult to place in these charters and may have been local to it, the three almsmen (a close translation of the word I’ve rendered above as ‘executors’) are Manresa men through and through, and appear in a great many documents from around Sant Benet.10 So if they too were miles away in Girona at the same time, and they can assume that everyone knows what battle they’re talking about, we can probably safely say that this was a call-out of the armed forces in a time of special need. I would hazard that only a threat from outside would cause this kind of mobilisation, especially if (as the text seems to imply, but what might not be the case) the battle was so close by that no other place-name becomes more relevant. We do have some evidence for such call-outs: in the wake of the sack of Barcelona in 985 there exists at the cathedral of Vic a bequest from the will of someone who had died ‘on the public expedition to defend Barcelona’, and I think we must be looking at another of those public expeditions with this 997 document.11 But the threat that it ought to have been going to meet is not thought to have arrived for another two to five years… Whatever it was got Hugh killed all the same, though, and so whether it means that there was more endemic frontier warfare going on in this period than Cordoban sources usually liked to recall or that the late Arabic sources all have their chronology screwy, I’m not sure, but something was going on in Catalonia in 997 that someone fought and died in, and that is information that we wouldn’t necessarily have if it wasn’t for this one charter. And this, at least, is contemporary…
1. There’s a neat article on this problem by Thomas N. Bisson, “Unheroed Pasts: history and commemoration in South Frankland before the Albigensian Crusade” in Speculum Vol. 65 (Cambridge 1990), pp. 281-308.
2. For Spain this probably best discussed by Eduardo Manzano Moreno, La Frontera de al-Andalus en Época de los Omeyas, Biblioteca de Historia 9 (Madrid 1991), pp. 13-20, but Anglophones can also profit from Ann Christys, “Christian-Muslim Frontiers in Early Medieval Spain” in Bulletin of International Medieval Research Vol. 5 (Leeds 1999), pp. 1-19 at pp. 11-13. There is a much wider debate about the historical utility of late medieval Arabic sources for the early Middle Ages, which is maybe best accessed via F. .M. Donner, Narratives of Islamic origins: the beginnings of Islamic historical writing, Studies in late antiquity and early Islam 14 (Princeton 1998).
3. M. Zimmermann, “La prise de Barcelone par al-Mansûr et la naissance de l’historiographie catalane” in L’Historiographie en Occident du Ve au XVe siècle : Actes du Congrès de la Société des Historiens Médiévistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur, Tours, 10-12 juin 1977, Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l’Ouest Vol. 87 (Rennes 1980), pp. 191-218, doi: 10.3406/shmes.1977.1300.
4. Peter C. Scales, The Fall of the Caliphate of Córdoba: Berbers and Andalusis in conflict (Leiden 1994), offers the most considered narrative, though his interpretations have been contested.
5. Dolors Bramon (transl.) De quan érem o no musulmans: textos del 713 al 1000. Continuació de l’obra de J. M. Millàs i Vallicrosa (Vic 2000), pp. 341-342, using the al-Bayān al-mughrib of Ibn Idharī, the Mafāhir al-Barbar (1323) and the Dhikr bilād al-Andalus (1344×1489), and citing a poem of Ibn Darrāg al-Qastallī, whose work she gives no date to but which was used in the Al-Dahīra fi Mahāsin ahli ‘l’asr of Ibn Bassām, who wrote around 1118 and tells us he was using the work of contemporaries (thus A. R. Nykll, Hispano-Arabic Poetry and its Relations with the Old Provençal Troubadours (Baltimore 1946), pp. 219-220). Historians placing the sack here are numerous and cited by Bramon, Musulmans, p. 342 n. 310, but include Albert Benet i Clarà, whose other work using such reconstructed dating I have had, well, problems with; see J. Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: Organisation of Society in the pre-Catalan ‘Terra de Ningú'” in †Alan Deyermond & Martin Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London: Queen Mary University of London 2010), pp. 97-127 at pp. 115-119.
6. Bramon, Musulmans, pp. 343-348 citing Benet, El procés d’indepèndencia de Catalunya (897-989) (Barcelona 1988), quite a lot but also José Rius Serra (ed.), Cartulario de «Sant Cugat» del Vallés Vol. II (Barcelona 1946), online here, last modified 11th March 2008 as of 25th March 2013, doc. no. 381, which is the will of one Odesèn dead at Castellolí at the right time.
7. An expression found in Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos XVIII (Madrid 1951), doc. nos 212 & 232.
8. The document in question is printed as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològico LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. [hereafter CC4] 1840; see on its production Rius, “Reparatio Scriptura” in Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español Vol. 5 (Madrid 1928), pp. 246-253; my discussion is in “A Likely Story: narratives in charter material from early medieval Catalonia”, paper presented to the Medieval History Seminar, University of Oxford, 18th October 2010, which I have hopes will make an article some day soon.
9. CC4 1771: “In nomine Domini. Ego Giscafredus sacer et Adroarius et Gocifredus, qui sumus manumissores de condam Ugoni, per ista scriptura elemosinaria facimus carta ad domum Sancti Benedicti cenobii de alaudem suum proprium, quia quando exiebat iamdicto Ugoni de civitate Gerunde et pergebat ad ipsum prelium, tunc iniuncxit nobis quia si in histum prelium ipsum repentine mortuus fuisset, sicuti et fuit, donare fecissemus ad domum Sancti Benedicti cenobii, sicut et facimus, propter Deum et remedium anima de Ugoni…”
10. The problems noted here before about titles dog all these identifications, but I think it is plausible to see Guiscafred in at least CC4 1537, 1538, 1622, 1631, 1680, 1686, 1688, 1714, 1780bis, 1791, 1809, 1835 & 1839, Adroer (especially problematic!) in CC4 1030, 1129, 1202, 1204, 1287, 1345, 1352, 1372, 1436, 1444, 1465, 1488, 1545, 1553, 1555, 1583, 1609, 1615, 1625, 1658, 1678, 1679, 1713, 1765 & 1815 (of which 1436, 1488, 1553, 1555, 1609, 1658, 1679, 1713 & this document are my additions to a list compiled by Adam Kosto in his “Laymen, Clerics and Documentary Practices in the Early Middle Ages: the example of Catalonia” in Speculum Vol. 80 (Cambridge MA 2005), pp. 44-74 at p. 61 n. 69) and Gauzfred, the most ephemeral, also in CC4 1727.
11. Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX i X) (Vic 1980-1996), doc. no. 524.