Viking ransoms in Galicia: you heard it here first (wrong)

Since there was interest here the last time I posted about eleventh-century Viking activity in the Iberian peninsula, this may be of interest to those people. Those with very long memories may recall what was said that last time: I was tracking down a reference in something I was editing and had gone hunting data on Viking attacks on eleventh-century Galicia and Portugal, of which there is quite a lot. I didn’t find very much of it there, but a commentator trading as Cossue gave us an awful lot more references, all gratefully received, and I had meanwhile found one single interesting one which I made part-subject of a separate post, in which a chap called Amarelo Mestaliz had had to beg support from a local noble lady to buy back his daughters after the Vikings captured them, and in which he then later disinherited them for ingratitude, more or less. It’s fun: have a look. Sadly, it is also wrong, at least in detail. How do I now know this? Well, read on.

Cover of the journal Viking and Medieval Scandinavia

That was all in late 2009 and very early 2010. In June 2012 a post appeared at News for Medievalists (as it then was) that made me sit up. It was a notice of the publication, in Viking and Medieval Scandinavia for 2011, of an article by one Helio Pires of the University of Lisbon called “Money for Freedom: Ransom Paying to Vikings in Western Iberia”.1. Obviously this had a bearing on what we’d discussed, but it was this bit that really caught my eye:

`Pires’ article examines the taking of prisoners and collecting of ransoms by Vikings on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula. He was able to uncover two documents, dating from the first half of the 11th century, where people described the payments they made to Vikings to return family members.

`In the first case, Amarelo Mestaliz writes about how in 1015 a band of “Normans” came up the Douro River, where they looted and took captives for nine months. “There they captured three daughters of mine, Amarelo, and [I] was left poor. The Normans started selling all their captives. Those daughters of Amarelo [were] called Serili, Ermesienda, Faquilo, and I did not have anything to give for them to the Normans.”‘

You have to admit, that sounds a little familiar. Perhaps because this was only a few months after someone had lifted quite a lot of the blog content and I’d had to go after them with threats of legal action, I immediately thought the worst. One of the arguments that’s occasionally raised against blogging one’s research is that people will steal it; though this was hardly my first-line research, all the same I did wonder if this had finally happened. My second, more rational, supposition, was that this was probably our commentator Cossue, in which case I felt that we’d surely deserved a reference, since I’d found the document he was using and he hadn’t. And the original title under which I saved this post as a draft was, “I’m pretty sure we’re due some credit here.”

Picture from the 2008 Viking festival at Catoira, Galicia

Of course, now, they celebrate being attacked and ransomed…

Now, in fact, closer inspection reveals that my suspicions were unfounded, and also that I was probably wrong about some details of the document I blogged. Pires’s article is only short, six pages, and it presents two documents in which Vikings ransoming captives in Galicia are described. The first of them is our one, which he takes from exactly the same source I had used, and the latter is one I’d not found in the Portugaliae Monumenta Historica, the nineteenth-century standard edition of most Portuguese medieval texts.2 Neither of these are exactly unknown, both are printed and cited, but they are cited by Hispanists not Vikings scholars so there was probably still a point in getting this little study out in English. Anyway, it certainly doesn’t borrow anything from the blog that I can detect and it adds a little something to what we were able to put together; someone working on this stuff would profit from it and our discussion both.

Viking hacksilver from the Silverdale Hoard

Less than 15 solidi‘s worth, I’d guess, but the look is maybe about right… Viking hacksilver from the Silverdale Hoard

I also profit from it, mind, as it exposes a misunderstanding. I was startled, you see, by the fact that the News for Medievalists post continues: “The document goes on about how Amarelo received help from a woman named Froila Tructesindiz, who loaned him fifteen silver solidos, which Pires believes was the ransom amount. Two years later, Amarelo repaid Froila after selling some of his goods.” I mean, firstly, Froila a woman’s name? Not in any document I’ve seen. But secondly, you’ll remember that in my reading it was not Froila that had paid Amarelo the money. So I went to the actual article, because News for Medievalists are not always the best reflectors of the state of scholarly knowledge. But Pires is here too:

“As for Amarelo Mestaliz, unable to ransom his daughters for himself, he sought the help of a Lady Lupa, with whom he had agreed several years before to sign over his properties in exchange for assistance, should he need it. Lupa, however, refused to give him the required sum, and so Amarelo turned to another woman for help, a Froila Tructesindiz, who gave him fifteen silver solidos (‘XV solidos argenzdeos’), which can safely be assumed to be the amount of the ransom. The girls were released, and two years later Amarelo sold his goods to the latter lady, a transaction recorded in writing along with the history of the Viking incursion which was its origin.”

This is not how I read it, as you may remember. I saw Amarelo as going to Dona Loba and offering to sell her his land and she refusing to take it and getting Froila to advance him the cash, on the understanding that he would pay her (Loba) back when he could. Now, I excuse myself that the text, which is coming to us via a seventeenth-century cartulary copy of a lost original with all the transcription difficulties that likely entailed for the copyist, is difficult. I mean, make sense of it yourself if you can:

…  quanta est mea tiui eu Amarelo illa integra pagata… per annis plures in de illa domna Lupa prolis Aloiti et Guncine pro non uindere nec donare nisi ad illa et illa mici, rouorauit placitum que sic uenere mici aligo uno male in ipsa ereditate aut de alia causa ajutasse me et sacasse me inde sano stantes firmiter de amborum parte in ista actio et in nostra robore per currigula annis.”

Now, OK, here we do seem to have the reference to the pledge made by Loba that she would help Amarelo if, “coming some evil upon me in that inheritance or from any other cause”, as long as he promised to sell it only to her. I hadn’t caught that. All the same, when Loba next appears, it is hard to be sure that it’s as Pires describes:

“… non aueua que dare pro eas a Leodemanes, pro it producto fuit in Argentini ante illa domna Lupa pro uindere ad illa mea ereditate sicut aueua scritura roborata et prendere ibi que misesse ea a Lotmanes pro ipsas meas filias, et illa non quisit, et mos misericordia abuit super me et prosolbiui me per scriptura pro dare illa ubi potuisse, pro tale actio aueruaui com Froila Tructesindiz que li dedise ea per carta et dedi mici que misi pro filias meas, et sacaui eas de captiuitate.”

I will translate this again, as far as I can, without looking at my last attempt:

… I did not have what I should have given for them [the daughters] to the Leodemen, wherefore this was brought up in Argentino before that lady Loba, for [me] to sell to her my inheritance just as I had confirmed in the charter and to acquire there what might be thus sent to the Leodemen for my selfsame daughters, and she did not require this, and she had the custom of mercy upon me and enjoined me by charter to give it where I could, by which reason I agreed with Froila Tructesindiz that I gave it to him by charter and s/he gave to me what I sent for my daughters, and I redeemed them from captivity.

I have to admit that the second time, I come out with Pires’s version, but it’s desperately ambiguous, because word order is more important than inflection in this text and that makes the agents quite unclear. Who actually gives Amarelo the money for the ransom, Loba or Froila? If the former, why is Froila involved? If the latter, what’s Froila’s connection to all this? It might all make sense, and be as Pires suggests, if what’s going on here is that Loba said that in the circumstances Amarelo could sell his land wherever he wanted, and he then did so to Froila and Froila paid him the ransom. That would in turn then make a bit more sense of the subsequent part of the document, where Amarelo disposes of his property to whomever lent him the money—the actual recipient of the property is not named formally, we just have this garbled story—to pay him (or her) back and also in exchange for a pension. Before this happens an assembly goes through his documents, and, “do uobis illa pro dimisione qui mici feci illa domna Lupa”, ‘I give it to you by the demittance that that lady Loba made to me’, could indeed be that he is seeking to establish his freedom from the original pledge, so that he can in fact dispose of the land to Loba. But I can’t help feeling that it would fit equally well if Froila was Lopa’s heir and had now inherited her claim, and a new deal had been cut to get Amarelo his pension. Not very likely, and Pires almost certainly has it right, but it really isn’t easy to tell.

None of this takes away the basic interests of the document, of course, which is that Viking raiding parties here hung about for months while ransoms were negotiated and they apparently conversed enough with the locals while doing that their own name for themselves passed into local language, but I could wish I’d got it right even so. Still: never mind. Here is more work on this interesting subject, but I think there is still something for Jpg or Cossue to write on it if they like. Remember to credit the blog, folks…

1. H. Pires, “Money for Freedom: Ransom Paying to Vikings in Western Iberia” in Viking and Medieval Scandinavia Vol. 7 (Turnhout 2011), pp. 125-130.

2. That source was, in case you don’t want to click through, Rui Pinto de Azevedo (ed.), “A expediçâo de Almançor a Santiago de Compostela em 997, e a de piratas normandos à Galiza em 1015–16” in Revista Portuguesa de História Vol. 14 (Coimbra 1973), pp. 73–93.

20 responses to “Viking ransoms in Galicia: you heard it here first (wrong)

  1. Just a detail, you can find women called Froila in C9-10th Midi (mostly as Froilone), not sure about C11th Galicia…

    • Yes, but Froilone, not Froilane, that’s the point. The examples I’ve met have left me believing it’s one of these names like Quixilà/Quixol, Livilà/Livol or Fruià/Fruio where the male form has the `a’ and the female would have an `o’. Am I wrong?

      • Don’t know, vocal usage use to be very dependent on localization and I am not versed on early medieval galician names. The Froil root is germanic and the -one -ane endings sometimes seems to be interchangeable (two detected examples in my dataset, one Adla, one Liuva).
        A look at the Repertori d’Antropònims Catalans (RAC) shows also a femenine Fruile, and especifically, Cixila and Cixilo exists both in both genders, so it would not be an strict rule. A deeper problem is to define what’s a ‘name’; for example, the RAC consider Quixilà/Quixol to be diferent names, but not Fruià/Fruio…
        But on the other hand, you arer right, Fruja, Liwila and other similar names seems to follow this pattern, and in the very few galaic documents of my set, Fruila is only masculine, and its a name with a strong local influence, a C9-10th galician bishop/saint.

        But those are all C9-10th examples of single names, not C11th compounds. I guess a C11th antroponimic galician compilation is in order? In any case, in my limited experience with medieval names I would not put too much confidence on gender detection based on a single vocal out of the root, local usage and noise in the text transmission process use to vary far more than that.

        • Well, OK. I mean, I’m not opposed to the other party here also being a woman. But I think that assumption is based on the exact point of grammar—the presence of the word `ea’—that might also mean Loba is still involved. And given almost every other inflected word in that document seems to be shortened or miscopied, I wouldn’t want to put too much weight on it!

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  3. Rules re spelling and the gender of names are made to be broken. My favourite examples are Venus and Agricola.

    I’m also never overly convinced by an argument that requires early medieval people to have been retentive about the niceties of formal spelling rules. When names like Boethius get spelled Bohetyus in originals, it does make you wonder. I also once collected more than 60 variant spellings of the word “vixit” from an (admittedly large) sample of inscritpions. They had much better reason tan us to say “life’s too short”.

  4. peregrinacultural

    It has been a great delight to follow the arguments about who paid what to Amarelo. I am using this occasion to tell you that is has been very interesting and instructive to follow your blog. I am neither a medievalist nor a historian in the strict sense, I am an art historian with a real fondness for the Middle Ages, though my specialty is Modern European Art. At some point I had to tell you that I enjoy following your musings and your research. Nowadays I work offering support material to teachers and students in the equivalent to middle and high schools in Brazil: history, art and western cultural history in general. Reading your blog reminds me that in a future life I would like to come back as a medievalist. Good work!

  5. Hi there, long time since I last posted.
    If you are really interested in Viking raids in the kingdom of Leon, maybe these two links are of interest to you:
    First, queen Velasquita of Asturias and Felix Agelazi (1028 A.D): The man was an Asturian noble, apparently from Cabo Peñas (somewhere between Luanco, Candas, Gozon), who gained the enmity of the king Alfonso V. Velasquita then arranged it so that the man could escape to some safe haven… in the boats of the norsemen: “(..) et tenente ila villa in suo iure uenit ili a Felix iram de Rex donno Adefonso, et exibit de terra et fuit ad alias terras in barcas de Lordemanos (..)”

    Second, also early in the XIth century, there is this amazing story about the civil war ongoing. Some Basque mercenaries hired by the king got themselves entrenched in this fortress near Lugo, and they would raid and loot the land, so Galician counts gathered an army, including a party of “Lordomani”, and defeated these evil Basques. The documents were copied in “España Sagrada” and are available on line

    Apparently there is this theory that Danes actually had some permanent settlement in our side of the Bay of Biscay.

    I would be very happy if anything of this was unknown to you.
    You still didn`t write anything about the Bible of Danila!

    • Oh dear, no more did I… but how can I resist this demand? :-) I’ll put something in the queue and hope by then to have read enough that I have a worthwhile opinion. Meanwhile, thankyou for these extra details: the one of hiring the Vikings for local military purposes makes complete sense compared to what goes on everywhere else but does, as you say, seem to imply a more established presence than the kidnapping stories necessarily imply, as well as once again some form of common language. And no, I did not know either of them!

  6. Hi. Cossue here :-)

    Not me ;-P As you described me sometime, I’m rather a “learned reather” (and a blogger) than a scholar, although I’m finally publishing something (I’m the author of the second paper here, about Medieval pre-Latin river names around the city of Lugo, in Galicia).

    In the case I ever decide to publish about Vikings, I let you know, and I would of course cite this blog: I’m rather sure that I would get mad if I found someone taking my blog and publishing as their own investigations any of my petty researches, don’t giving any kind of credit.

    PS: There’s a 17th-18th century resume of a now half destroyed document dated in the era 1004 that reveals the existence of a “ciudad de los loclimanos” (sic) in the southern bank of the Ulla river, just in front of the old Iria Flavia (cf. ISBN 84-8138-597-2, p. 151). So, yes, they definitely passed some time ashore!

  7. There have been some interesting developments on this issue: apparently the 6th season of “Vikings” will include one episode which will take place in Galicia, apparently… and Scottish archaeologists will dig in search of the first “Longphort” of viking origin to be located this side of the pond.
    Also, next to this same location, archaeologists seem to have found remains of some early medieval attack, including fire and massacre, on a local monastery

    • How interesting! I mean, when they say in the first article that the longphort was “moi común en Irlanda” I splutter a bit; it was only a few years ago we found number three… But still, it’s interesting, especially the supposed motte-and-bailey castle. I know of an example of those from a Catalan context that cannot readily have anything much to do with Vikings, liðsmen or Normans, and will be very interested to see if any dating evidence comes up here. Even in the second article, they seem to be hoping for radio-carbon dates but meanwhile assuming that a burnt church means pagan attack. Again, Ireland would suggest that this need not be the case! Thankyou for the new information with which to think!

      • You said raiders in Éire were not necessarily vikings. Were you referring to fianna / dibergaig warbands?
        There is a good chance that it was Muslim pirates, from their stronghold in Lisbon, the ones who raided the island of Coelleira. For all I know, they were a much worse scourge than vikings, until Lisbon fell into Christian hands.
        Incidentally, Islla da Coelleira is in fact, San Miguel da Coelleira, and Manuel Gago posted a beautiful entry in his blog about the four islands which bear the name of the archangel, along the Atlantic coast of Europe: Skellig Michael in Éire, Saint-Michel between Brittany and Normandy, Saint Michael´s Mount in Cornwall and San Miguel da Coelleira in Galicia. And the four of them held medieval monasteries.

        • In Ireland there is a reasonable history of church communities going to war on each other until the tenth century, as well as various Irish secular warrior powers, but the English and probably Scots and Welsh also offer possibilities at different times.

          That post has some lovely photographs in it, and it’s peculiar how much like Irish or Scots houses the ruins on the Galician island are, though not like the unusual buildings on the Irish one. I suppose that beyond a certain level as long as a house is square, made of stone and has a pitched roof it’s going to look similar to others that are, but still, there is a sense of shared country which that post evokes very successfully.

  8. Incidentally, what is your take on the “Femfog” (ie Allen Frantzen) controversy? I hope you don`t find it an inappropiate question, but I have been thinking about you since I first heard of it.

    • Oh lord. I had not heard of it. He was saying things like this in public even in 2011, however, before he retired, so I’m partly a little surprised that people are surprised. It’s rather as if it was OK until he put it on the web and people noticed and then the medieval academy in the USA had to be seen collectively to disown him. Why not when he was telling them such things to their faces?

      So I suppose my reaction is among the commentators out there who see this as part of a trajectory already obvious. For my part, though, he’s retired, he’s famously strange—I was at one conference session at which he was supposed to be speaking but didn’t because he was taking part in a boxing match instead—and his website is rubbish. I’m not quite sure why we’re making such a fuss about this now. I suppose that I’ve never felt myself to be part of Frantzen’s field and the little work of his I’ve read I then thought was quite peculiar (though I have now read more of that sort of work that makes me realise that, speaking relatively of US studies in Old English, I was wrong, for every ‘Bede and Bawdy Bale’ there’s also a ‘Bede’s Blush’) so it’s easier for me to ignore him than those who know him and his work well. But the only reason to make a fuss about this is if it exposes problems in the discipline, and if it does, then this ex-professor is surely no longer a useful target.

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