Monthly Archives: February 2014

Who pays with a shoe? Family tensions in a Vic charter

So there should have been some posts at the weekend and there weren’t. Let me make my excuses and then give you something funny I came across to be going on with. I had, while working through Catalunya Carolíngia IV as oft-times described here, come across what seemed to be evidence of an even more complicated love-life for that equally oft-mentioned castellan Unifred Amat than I’d already posted about here, a potential third partner. That was going to be your post, but this week just gone was school half-term, meaning that I had important things to do like standing on steam trains and losing at board games, and somehow I only got to the post on Sunday evening, at which point it became clear that to check the possibility meant putting about forty more charters in my database. Now, it’s not been a good week since for intensive data entry—I have my heaviest ever teaching load this half of this term and not enough was ready for it—but I’ve now got most of it done and what this makes clear is that I was wrong. And, though I rate your tolerances highly, a post solely about inconclusive prosopography didn’t seem like good enough material. But! thankfully for you all, the data entry also threw up something quite odd that I think shows us again how individuals and their preoccupations fight to the surface of even formulaic legal records.

Approach to Folgueroles, near Vic, Catalonia

Images are hard to find for this post. The relevant settlement is gone now, I don’t have a picture of the charter… "It was near here" is about the best I can do! Here, as you can see, is Folgueroles, near Vic

I ought to have a picture of the relevant charter, it was written by a scribe I’m interested in, Ermemir who also wrote the document I showed you a few posts ago. Somehow, though, I missed this one on the last trip to Vic, so will have to go back and catch it some other time, oh well. The occasion is 14th April 1000, and a family has gathered to sell some land in Mata, near Vic, but not all seems to be well.1 For a start, they are not simply described. Usually, when a mother and her children sell land, she is listed first, having the senior interest. Here, however, we have “Eldemar and my sisters Ejó and Ermelda and Guifré and I Anlo their mother”, which if we were to read it straight might suggest that Guifré was a half-sibling. Since, however, their collective father is also referred to later and it turns out in signatures that Guifré is also a cleric, I think it’s just that whoever informed Ermemir when he wrote the Vorakt wasn’t clear. But that seems in character: the details here are obviously tricky, and part of the reason is that Mum is definitely to be excluded from control over this land. When they go into the details of how they hold the land, which one would assume was ultimately from Dad for all of them which should be simple to say, instead we have:

“By this scripture of sale we sell to you 1 piece of land which came to us, to we the above-written siblings from our father and we hold it in our power because our mother relinquished it to us and restituted it into our control and because the time has already come when our mother, in whose tutelage we were, despatched it into our control, just as the law orders, in the presence of judges and worthy men who were there present at the See of Vic, and I Anlo sell to you the tenth itself of the selfsame land…”

This is not quite normal. The way that property in marriage worked here was more or less according to the Visigothic Law. A marriage entailed the wife receiving a tenth of the husband’s property as a marriage gift, although she could not alienate it without his consent while he lived (not what the law says, but evidently true from when wives did sell their land). If she outlived him, however, and there were children, she would get all his property while she lived, so that the children could be maintained, until they reached adulthood when they would get the nine-tenths and she would retain her tenth as her widow’s portion.2 All this has happened here, but as far as I know a court case was not usually involved! Even if they didn’t actually sue her, evidently the children wanted solid witness for the handover, and words like “relinquit nobis et restituit in nostra potestate” suggest some bad feeling about the process to me, especially if all this had to be gone through again when they sold. Don’t believe me? Well, consider the price and how it’s expressed:

“Whatever is within these same bounds thus we sell to you that land in integrity, which we the sellers have taken for our inheritances and we sell for our necessity and our little siblings, so that when they themselves shall come to adulthood they may come with us to a division and take their due part, and they emend to us for the price of this selfsame above-written land, this which we now accept since the aforesaid buyers Miró and Tedvira give us one ounce of cooked gold as a price and one pair of shoes, and we siblings will divide this price equally between us, the little ones along with the greater.”

Oy, complex. There are more siblings, we now learn? They are collectively hard up, and must sell. Is this where the resentment at mother has come from? Because look, she is not getting any of the price for this, hers or not, it will be divided between the siblings. I can’t escape the feeling that there is a lot of ill will here, sharpened by deprivation maybe. But somehow none of this overwhelms what is for me the most incomprehensible feature: how are they going to divide a pair of shoes (“calcias I” is I assume a single pair) between four or more siblings? Why even throw that in? Who, in the words of Austin Powers suitably adapted, pays with shoes? The charter in general may be an excellent example of intra-familial tensions spilling over into a transaction model and distorting it, but the question of the shoes is the one that echoes through the ages for me here…

1. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i de Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 1847.

2. See, in Catalan, Antoni M. Udina i Abelló, La successió testada a la Catalunya altomedieval (Barcelona 1984), or in English, Nathaniel L. Taylor, “Testamentary Publication and Proof and the Afterlife of Ancient Probate Procedure in Carolingian Septimania” in K. Pennington, S. Chodorow & K. H. Kendall (edd.), Proceedings of the Tenth International Congress on Medieval Canon Law (Vatican City 2001), pp. 767-780, online at, last modified 9th December 2006 as of 24th June 2007.

Seminar CLIII: how ‘Great’ Moravia got that way then stopped

One seminar I don’t make it to as often as would be good is the UCL Institute of Archaeology and British Museum Joint Seminar, but on 11th December 2012 I did make it there so as to hear Ivo Štefan speak. This was because Dr Štefan is one of a fairly select band of people working on Eastern Europe in the early Middle Ages who make an effort to get their findings out to English-speaking audience, and given how few of us learn Slavic languages these folk are our gateways to a really very large area. So there was he, speaking with the title, “Great Moravia and its Collapse: early medieval polity on the edge of Carolingian world”, and thus there so was I, and it was a tremendously informative and thoughtful paper.

Map of the alleged extent of Great Moravia c. 869

As you can see, expansive claims have been made for the ‘Greatness’ of Great Moravia! Image from Wikimedia Commons

Those who study the Carolingian world may already be aware that one thing about Moravia in the period is that its location, or at least its extent is disputed: the main problem this creates is maybe that it’s not clear to what modern state ‘its’ archaeology pertains, which shouldn’t be an issue but of course is.1 There’s also an issue about how one defines it, of course. Something called Moravia was out there, but maybe not for very long: Frankish sources mention Moravians for the first time in 822, the same year that they last mention the Avars, Dr Štefan told us, and they last mention them in 907 after which Magyars are the order of the day for cross-frontier threats. In the course of that less-than-a-century emerged a proto-state that could take on the Carolingians and then disappear so much that we can now argue about where (and what) it was. Dr Stefan was telling us about the what, which is after all something of a prerequisite for the ‘where’.

Aerial view of the heritage site now at Mikulčice

Aerial view of the heritage site now at Mikulčice

Part of the problem here is that the written sources and the archæology don’t really meet up. The written sources are mostly Frankish annals and the various materials arising out of the jurisdictional disputes provoked by the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius (the better choice for celebration on February 14th!), and are thus very much an outside view; the archæology, when sounded for a core area around western Slovakia and the River Morava which most people can agree must have been ‘in’ Great Moravia, speaks to different connections and for much of the eighth and early ninth century shows almost no social stratification: the Frankish documents thus tell us about élites in this area whom we can’t find. Over the ninth century, however, there seem to have developed the kind of castle-towns that readers here may remember from the work of Hajnalka Herold (whose picture is somewhat different), some of which are very large—Mikulčice was an 80-hectare island-and-mainland complex with at least thirteen churches, to pick the largest—and were presumably sustained somehow from their hinterlands.2 These show a fairly consistent style of rampart-building but are otherwise very variable, and as those churches imply are also centres where the ongoing conversion of the Slavs was made manifest in architecture, though burial continued to be furnished, with warrior goods of Frankish type for men or fine clothing of Byzantine type for women (“men are from Bavaria, women from Byzantium”, as someone I didn’t know put it in questions), and burial also continued in rural cemeteries whose links to the culture are indicated by similar grave-goods.

Gold rings and jewellery found at Mikulčice, now on display in its museum

Gold rings and jewellery found at Mikulčice, now on display in its museum

This presumably all joined up, of course, and it’s in the how that any definition of what sort of polity Great Moravia was must be located. The Franks could name its rulers, and since the polity was undergoing change throughout the time we can see it these men must have been those who could best position themselves aboard those changes as much as anything, and may even be blamed for some of them even if the one we can see intervention in most clearly is Rastislav, who tried to shake off cultural Frankish encroachment through missions from Bavaria by getting a separate mission in from Constantinople in the form of the troublesome script-inventors already mentioned. What those rulers could do is less clear, but it certainly included being able to raise quite large armies with substantial cavalry components, meaning that a network of smaller leaders responded to their call. (Dr Štefan made the intriguing suggestion that the number of churches in the towns might indicate that each leader’s group had its own small area of the town for when they and the rulers were ‘in residence’, which sounds oddly like Notker’s description of Charlemagne’s Aachen at assembly time with nobles’ chalets all round the palace.3)

Reconstruction drawing of the Moravian settlement at Pohansko

Reconstruction drawing of the Moravian settlement at Pohansko, just south-west of Mikulčice

It must have been worth their while to do so, and while booty would be one obvious reason, trade might be another; the towns were market centres shipping slaves up and down the Danube (we have many shackles), as well as amber and other things and bringing the precious metal the area lacks in, for purchase and/or distribution one assumes which is how the material culture by which ‘Moravian’ is and maybe was signified was presumably disseminated. There was even a single ‘market of the Moravians’ that the Frankish sources know about, and they also record render collection points suggesting some basic kind of fiscal apparatus. All this must have been either going up very fast or else somehow leftover from Avar rule to be reactivated, and it must also have been done pretty much in kind: there are no coins in this area at all, suggesting that any that came in were recycled into goods, the manufacture of which is certainly very present in the archæology.

Reconstruction drawing of a 'prince's court' within the Pohansko settlement complex

Reconstruction drawing of a ‘prince’s court’ within the Pohansko settlement complex, from the same site as previous

So what went wrong? Canonically, the Hungarians are the irresistible destructive force on which Western and Eastern scholars alike have blamed the collapse of early medieval states in formation, but in 902 at least the Moravians were beating the Hungarians in battle but still disappear from the record after 907. Nor did the Hungarians occupy the area of Moravia, and while Magyar-style graves are found at Mikulčice there’s not much more. Dr Štefan therefore suggested that the area was already in trouble when the Hungarian attacks started, with parts breaking away cutting back the tribute on which the ruler could call and the new Hungarian presence limiting his ability to get more by warfare, as well as cutting the trade routes to the Mediterranean. This would disable quite a lot of the redistributive machinery that kept a ruler and being and dressing ‘Moravian’ important to his followers, resulting in more and irrecoverable breakaways and in the end a Frankish conquest and a new rival polity rising in Bohemia. As Dr Stefan said, this is all quite Richard Hodges, but none the less plausible for that, I felt.4 Now, a bit of cursory websearching reveals that what we were getting here was a pitch that Dr Štefan has had worked out for a while, in as much as he had more or less published it a year before.5 That always irks me slightly, when I could have read the paper rather than go to it, but of course I hadn’t, and I might still rather have heard it live anyway, so a mission to inform was still appropriate as far as I’m concerned and of course it means that you now know where you might be able to find out more…

1. When I briefly learnt about this stuff, uselessly long ago, almost the only work in English was A P. Vlasto, The Entry of the Slavs into Christendom (Cambridge 1970), still not worthless but as you can see from the title kind of chronologically limited. The argument over the location of Moravia was subsequently started by I. Boba, Moravia’s History Reconsidered: a reinterpretation of medieval sources (The Hague 1971) and has been brought up to date in English by Charles R. Bowlus, Franks, Moravians, and Magyars: the struggle for the Middle Danube 788-907 (Philadelphia 1995). There’s a useful round-up of that and the German literature to be found in Matthew Innes, “Review Article. Franks and Slavs c. 700-1000: the problem of European expansion before the millennium” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 6 (Oxford 1997), pp. 201-216, of which Matthew kindly gave me an offprint a long time ago. There is now also Jiří Macháček, “Disputes over Great Moravia: chiefdom or state? the Morava or the Tisza River?” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 17 (Oxford 2009), pp. 248-267 and Maddalena Betti, The Making of Christian Moravia (858-882): Papal Power and Political Reality (Leiden 2013), though I haven’t yet seen this latter and can’t tell you anything about it that the web doesn’t. Dr Stefan is obviously of the Morava River school of thought.

2. I’ve plugged it before and I will plug it again: have a look at Hajnalka Herold, “Fortified Settlements of the 9th and 10th Centuries AD in Central Europe: Structure, Function and Symbolism” in Medieval Archaeology Vol. 56 (Leeds 2012), pp. 60-84.

3. Notker, Gesta Karoli, printed as Notker der Stammler, Taten Kaiser Karls des Großen, ed. Hans Haefele, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum germanicum in usum scholarum separatim editi) Nova series 12 (Hannover 1959, repr. 1980), translated now in David Ganz (transl.), Einhard and Notker the Stammerer: Two Lives of Charlemagne (Harmondsworth 2009), I. 30; for more on Aachen and its layout see Janet L. Nelson, “Aachen as a Place of Power” in Frans Theuws & Mayke de Jong with Carine van Rhijn (edd.), Topographies of Power in the Early Middle Ages, Transformation of the Roman World 6 (Leiden 2001), pp. 217-241.

4. Referring to Richard Hodges, Dark Age Economics: the origins of towns and trade A. D. 600-1000 (London 1982, 2nd edn. 1989).

5. I. Štefan, “Great Moravia, Statehood and Archaeology: the ‘decline and fall’ of one early medieval polity” in Jiří Macháček & Šimon Ungerman (edd.), Frühgeschichteliche Zentralorte in Mitteleuropa: Internationale Konferenz und Kolleg der Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung zum 50. Jahrestag des Beginns archäologischer Ausgrabungen in Pohansko bei Břeclav, 5.–9.10.2009, Břeclav, Tschechische Republik, Studien zur Archäologie Europas 14 (Bonn 2011), pp. 333-354.

Three-pointed sales and the limits of comital power

While I was slogging through the documents in Catalunya Carolíngia IV I became aware that I was seeing a particular thing again and again, that being apparent deals in which a property was sold to one party and then immediately sold on to another. The first set-up like this that I met, and I’m now thinking perhaps the oddest, was the repeated sales of the castle of Carcolzes, which I mentioned here a long time ago. There, Count-Marquis Borrell II borrowed half of the Osona frontier castle of Clarà from Bishop Sal·la of Urgell, pledging the Urgell one of Carcolzes to the bishop in exchange, and then wouldn’t give Clarà back. Sal·la plainly didn’t want Carcolzes for keeps (er, no pun intended), and he complains about it at great length in a document in which he sold it to his sacristan Bonhom for 500 solidi‘s worth of produce. Bonhom doesn’t seem to have liked it either, though, and sold it on to Viscount Guillem of Urgell, which we know because the next year we find Guillem selling it back to Bishop Sal·la for an equivalent price, whereafter Sal·la gave up and gave it to the cathedral of Urgell for his archdeacon nephew to hold as castellan.1

The remains of Castellnou de Carcolzes

The remains of Castellnou de Carcolzes, image from Wikimedia Commons. I suppose the fact that there had to be a new castle shows that the problems were irremediable…

In that case it seems more or less obvious what’s going on, to wit that the bishop got swindled and that there was something really wrong about Carcolzes that became apparent to each of its holders, though never so much as to make them accept a lower price. But the other case we’ve seen here, in which Borrell II (again) sold a substantial deal of land at el Buc in Manresa for 200 solidi to his wealthy follower and castellan Unifred Amat, who then the next day promptly sold it to someone called Guifré, with Borrell witnessing, it was obviously designed to wind up that way in the first place, and I speculated at length as to exactly what configuration of power would explain it.2 Now, I have three more cases that may make things a bit clearer.

The Castell de Gotmar at Callús, from Wikimedia Commons

The Castell de Gotmar at Callús, again from Wikimedia Commons

The first of these is basically the same set-up as the previous: Borrell II’s son Ramon Borrell, acting for his father in Osona in the last year of Borrell’s life, 992, sells an alod called Castellet to a priest by the name of Miró Marcuç for 100 solidi and Miró next day sells it on to Abbot Arnulf of Santa Maria de Ripoll. Arnulf witnessed the first transaction and the same scribe wrote both.3 Here, if I had nothing else, I’d think that for one reason or another Miró needed a big favour from Arnulf and used his apparent connection to the count to get it, though one would ideally still like to know what it was about Castellet that made it better than anything Miró already owned (which was a fair bit).4 The other two cases begin to suggest an answer to that dilemma, and thus to what may have been going on in the case at el Buc too.

The Castell d'Òdena, image from Wikimedia Commons

The Castell d’Òdena, image once more from Wikimedia Commons

Back a bit to 989 and some familiar participants. We are now at the castle of Òdena, founded by none other than Unifred Amat with his daddy Sal·la, and it is two more persons of the latter name who are dealing here, the first being an Òdena-based Sal·la who was clearly connected to the family to which Unifred belongs but whose relation to them is never stated and the second being the bishop (who was Unifred’s first cousin).5 On 10th May the first Sal·la sold the second Sal·la a substantial alod that he had “from my parents or from purchase or from aprisio“, for which the bishop paid him 2 pesatas in goods, probably equivalent to 480 solidi.6 Then, on 12th May, Count-Marquis Borrell II and his son Ramon Borrell, tous les deux, sold it back to the first Sal·la and his wife for two pesadas in goods as before, helpfully explaining that the bishop had sold it to them (presumably on the 11th).7 Why on earth go through all this in three days? The answer seems to be in the only difference between the two property descriptions: the counts sell the estate “sine ulla inquietudine vel sine ullo censu vel sine ulla funccione”, ‘without any disturbance or any rent or any service’, more or less, in other words tax-free. And this is also what happens in the other case, on 16th April 990, where a priest called Sunifred gives Ramon Borrell an estate in Sant Llorenç and gets it back the same day at the price of 100 solidi, but accompanied by “censum vel functionem qui exinde exiebat vel exire debebat”, ‘the render or service that used to come or should have come from it’.8 This case gives us some extra, as not only was it obviously worth 100 solidi for Sunifred to have those dues lifted off the estate, but we also have his purchase of the estate the previous year, and then he paid a pesa in goods, probably about 240 solidi‘s worth.9 So Ramon Borrell was not getting the estate’s worth in this deal: it really was a sale of tax revenue done in a rather roundabout way.

Castell de Sant Llorenç del Munt, Osona

Castell de Sant Llorenç del Munt, Osona

Might this then be what’s going on in the other cases? With Carcolzes, I think it cannot be; the castle went through fiscal hands twice and the people who should have had the advantage of that still got rid of it. In the other two cases, however, it’s more possible. Granted, the documents don’t say that the lands were sold tax-free, but on the other hand we don’t have any indication that they weren’t the counts’ to start with, and it might be that comital land didn’t pay tax (though that would raise more questions). I do think it’s significant that all these deals involve the same limited set of participants, Borrell, Ramon Borrell or Bishop Sal·la, and that they all take place so close together, all within three years of each other bar the case with Unifred Amat. (Carcolzes is trickier, as what we have is Sal·la giving up, rather than the original pledge, but to take him at his word he seems to have held the place for two Pentecosts and more before giving up on getting his own castle back, and he did that in 993, so this could still be in that group.)

The Castell de Clarà

The one that got away: Castell de Clarà, though when Bernat and Borrell had to share it I guess there was more than this!

Whether these are all the same thing or not, though, it tells us something interesting about the power the counts of this age could claim. Firstly, it tells us that they could actually demand enough revenue from privately-held land that it was worth paying quite a lot to be rid of those obligations, though I have my suspicions that the actual demanding of those obligations was fairly new and that if played right this could be less of a general system and more of a protection racket, in which the counts picked somebody whose tax liability they were willing to enforce in order to bind them closer into the structure of personal obligations created by these kinds of deals.10 But it also tells us about limits. The counts of Barcelona circa 990 would not, or could not, simply sell tax revenue; elaborate structures of transaction had to be mounted within which that was done. Later on there would be no problem with this, or even with making a personal obligation out of it: that’s what the money fief’s for, right?11 (Likewise, at Carcolzes, Borrell could apparently not simply compulsorily purchase a half-share of Clarà but had to extort it, though that may have more to do with the fact that the owner of the other half, Sal·la’s brother Viscount Bernat of Conflent, was not under his direct control.12) But at this stage they didn’t have the tools for it; while Borrell II was alive, at least, what would later be done with arrangements in fief had to be cloaked in traditional formulae. The question I have yet to answer is whether this is because what they are doing was actually new (which other things Bishop Sal·la did might support) or because Borrell was especially keen on making his governmentalist power-grabbing look old-fashioned and traditional (which other things he did would support).13 A further question is whether this was happening a lot more widely but is undetectable when we only have one of the documents in the chain. Plenty to do! But here’s one way I’m working this stuff out.

1. C. Baraut (ed.), “Els documents, dels anys 981-1010, de l’Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis històrics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 3 (Montserrat 1980), pp. 7-166, doc. nos 239 & 243.

2. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 678-680.

3. Ibid., doc. nos 1635 & 1636.

4. I identify him in ibid., doc. nos 1189, 1364, 1391, 1411, 1537, 1538, 1539, 1592, 1602, 1609, 1620, 1635, 1636, 1734, 1747, 1768 & 1789, in all but two of which (1592 and 1636 as above) he was buying land, mostly in Castell Gotmar and often from the same people, which makes me wonder if we see a large family here consolidating as per Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 112-114.

5. The kindred relations here are worked out by Manuel Rovira, “Noves dades sobre els vescomtes d’Osona-Cardona” in Ausa Vol. 9 no. 98 (Vic 1981), pp. 249-260.

6. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 1556.

7. Ibid., doc. no. 1557.

8. Ibid., doc. nos 1578 & 1579.

9. Ibid., doc. no. 1559.

10. Ideas about what comital power could demand here are very strongly based around templates from elsewhere and less around local evidence. The best such schematic treatment is probably still Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, “La institució comtal carolíngia en la pre-Catalunya del segle IX” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 1 (Barcelona 1964), pp. 29-75, repr. in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i Documents XIII & XIV (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), I pp. 181-226.

11. Best described in Marc Bloch, La Société féodale (Paris 1939), 2 vols, transl. L. A. Manyon as Feudal Society (Chicago 1961), 2 vols, I pp. 173-175 of the translation.

12. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 136-141.

13. Sal·la for example issued lands in benefice with the prescription that its holders might seek no other lord and was the first ruler in his area to grant land by convenientia, the term that would later be used of grants in fief; see Jonathan Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis (University of London 2005), online at, last modified 24th March 2011 as of 15th February 2014, pp. 305-307, and Adam J. Kosto, Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: power, order and the written word, 1000-1200, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 51 (Cambridge 2001), pp. 54-59; for Borrell’s initiatives, see Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 141-166.

Name in Lights VI

[N. B. This post is a chunk of the sticky one above, cobbled into a separate one now that its due place in my backlog has been reached.]

So, in December 2012, a short piece of mine that I mentioned here a while back emerged, a reflective piece on blogging called “Views, Comments and Statistics: Gauging and Engaging the Audience of Medievalist Blogging”, which came out in Literature Compass of all places, something which becomes more comprehensible when you see that it is part of a whole special issue called E-medieval: Teaching, Research, and the Net, with numerous very familiar figures in it… It is, as ever, an honour to appear in such august company for the few who can get at the journal, which has included Brandon Hawk of Modern Medieval, where he long ago reviewed the issue, so if you can’t read the article, you can at least read that! (Full citation, though: Jonathan Jarrett, “Views, Comments and Statistics: Gauging and Engaging the Audience of Medievalist Blogging”, Literature Compass Vol. 9 Issue 12 (Oxford 2012), pp. 991-995, DOI: 10.1111/lic3.12016.)

Seminar CLII: Thames Valley oddity over several centuries

Oxford Archaeology, frequently in the news for some new exciting dig or other, are not actually anything to do with the University of Oxford, but while I was at the latter it was repeatedly evident that both parties saw the advantage in talking to each other anyway, and this was again manifest on 26th November 2012 when OA’s Senior Project Manager, Paul Booth, came to speak to the Medieval Archaeology Seminar with the title, “‘Roman’ and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Settlements and Burials at Horcott, Gloucestershire – Continuities and Discontinuities on the Thames Valley Gravels”.

Digging by Oxford Archaeology in progress at Horcott, Gloucestershire

Digging by Oxford Archaeology in progress at Horcott

Horcott is an exciting site for two reasons, the first being that although it’s been fairly extensively dug it wasn’t a major place, so it gets us unusually close to the level of the everyday population, maybe not as exciting as yet another princely burial but in some ways a lot more use. The other reason it’s exciting is that it has a substantial Iron Age phase, clear signs of Roman-period occupation and then also Anglo-Saxon features, which raises the ever-intriguing possibility of continuity between the Roman and post-Roman uses of the site. It is also a vexing site for two reasons, however. The first, a looming factor over everything I say that follows and some of what I’ve already said, is that the site has long been quarried for gravel and lots of the surrounding archaeology has therefore gone. With many a site (I suppose Flixborough is the one with hottest debate around it, and Sutton Hoo perhaps the most obvious uncontested example) there is the possibility that if one just dug a bit further in one direction one would get details that seriously change how the site should be interpreted; if that was the case here, we’ll never know, as any potential palaces, princes, churches, etc. have long been dispersed as roadstone and so on.

Iron Age and probably other post-holes marked out during excavation at Horcott, Gloucestershire

Iron Age and probably other post-holes marked out during the Horcott dig

The second vexation though is that when you have a site where continuity might exist you really have to think about what would prove that. Simply showing structures with finds evidence from different periods isn’t enough: abandoned ruins can be fixed up by newcomers. Even old field boundaries may remain to be reused: here, there are Iron Age divisions still detectable in the gravels but other features of that era have been over-written by subsequent buildings. There is also the possibility that in fact there was continuity, but because the slowly-reidentifying population was shifting its building location every few generations and because social and religious practice was changing, you can’t tell it’s a continuity in the archæology because when they come back into view their material culture profile is changed. All these difficulties were rehearsed by Dr Booth before he let us at the actual evidence, so we were warned.

Foundations of a Roman farmhouse at Horcott, Gloucestershire

Foundations of the Roman farmhouse

So, in brief, what they have is an Iron Age landscape showing quite a lot of buildings (or at least a lot of postholes, much confused by later building), enclosures and trackways, and then what may be best summarised as a small Roman farm, centred around a solidy-built but small house (three rooms along a corridor). This began in one of the Iron Age enclosures in the mid-second century and seems to have been out of use by the end of the fourth century, but from about the middle of the third century a cemetery had started to develop across the stream from the farm and that went on after the farm buildings were out of use. The Anglo-Saxon settlement is scattered over much of the site, distinguished not least by overwriting earlier things but also by building type (dug-out, ‘sunken-featured’ buildings with four timber ‘halls’ of uncertain but unimpressive size) and material goods, pottery, bone and craft debris that speak of late fifth- and early sixth-century dates. None of this, you see, establishes continuity: the site is obviously still an attractive location but nothing is really staying in use. Except, as it turns out, the cemetery.

Excavation of an Anglo-Saxon sunken-featured building at Horcott, Gloucestershire

Excavation of a sunken-featured building, paused for photo-op

The cemetery is the interesting bit. There were 59 late-Roman burials, more men than women, mostly older people and no children, largely oriented north-south and buried with knives and no other goods (which is all normal for the period).1 A full quarter of these burials were somehow ‘deviant’, however: ten of the men were buried face-down and on the edges of the enclosure (because it is enclosed), but four older women were buried, decapitated, in the very centre, and there were three other decapitations as well. The radio-carbon dates of this group came out between 350 CE and 560 CE and the whole group was disposed close to a division ditch. Then there was a later group, radio-carbon dates between 640 and 780, buried east-west in a different part of the enclosure, comprised of three adult females and otherwise entirely children (I didn’t write down the numbers, annoyingly, sorry). Of these children two were buried prone.

'Deviant' burial from the late Roman cemetery at Horcott, Gloucestershire

‘Deviant’ burial from the late Roman cemetery

Initially it’s hard to see this as continuity: the burial populations are quite different and they’re buried in pretty different ways, but the intriguing thing is that firstly they are in the same enclosure, even if separated, and secondly both groups are unusual for their eras, the former because of the number of deviant burials, suggesting some marginal group here gathered for burial, and the latter because of the absence of men. Although nearby Fairford might, it was generally agreed in questions, have been where the Anglo-Saxon men were buried, that still leaves the population here as being selected for some reason or other, and put to rest in a place where a previous selective population had been buried. What remained here and what was known about it that marked the site out for this kind of use after probably a century of disuse? Since the whole area (as John Blair pointed out in questions) was only really seeing Anglo-Saxon material culture from the beginning of the seventh century, it’s maybe not surprising that settlement of that era looks that way and settlement before doesn’t really show up, as Romano-British settlement is characteristically difficult to find archæologically, but while nothing else links the phases of this site together in an obvious way, this common marginality of burial population suggests that despite that we might be missing something that was durable here in a way that we would struggle to get from material remains alone.2

Saxon pottery from settlement excavation at Horcott, Gloucestershire

Saxon pottery from the settlement site

1. Although I haven’t read it myself, I believe the go-to on Late Roman burial is R. Philpott, Burial Practices in Roman Britain: a survey of grave treatment and furnishing A. D. 43-410, British Archaeological Reports (British Series) 219 (Oxford 1991).

2. The question of the invisible Britons is taken up and debated from a wide range of perspectives in Nick Higham (ed.), Britons in Anglo-Saxon England, Publications of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies 7 (Woodbridge 2007). There doesn’t seem as yet to be any publication of Horcott so it will clearly be something for interested persons to look forward to!

We have lost Nicholas Brooks

Heavy news reached me in mail this morning, followed by several more mails and finally a flurry of SMSs as the world of early medieval studies in Britain reacted to news of the kind no-one wishes to arise. The news was, as you may already have heard, that Professor Nicholas Brooks died yesterday in hospital after his long illness suddenly took a turn for the worse. If you hadn’t heard, I’m sorry to be the messenger but this kind of news is never one to postpone.


I last saw Nicholas only two weeks ago, when he was one of the very few people to come out for a paper I was giving at extremely short notice; he had one of his characteristic questions that wasn’t really a question so much as a request for a justification of an assumption I hadn’t spotted lying behind my interpretation of the evidence, and it was as welcome as those can get. Afterwards he, I and Allan McKinley talked about the relief Nicholas could feel in getting the edition of the Christ Church Canterbury Anglo-Saxon charters out at last; I hadn’t even thought about factors like mortality weighing on his mind, he showed no sign of a weight on his mind at all. He looked and sounded no iller than he had done for years, and this morning’s news came as a really unpleasant surprise.

I first met Nicholas because of Allan, in fact, who had roped him into our first Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic session in 2007. He was of course the perfect gent and gave us an early version of his paper on knight service under Cnut which came out in 2011; I was sorry not to have been allowed to include it in our book but very happy to be able to start citing it.1 It was towards the end of what will presumably have been a fifty-year publication career, and it was careful, detailed, almost undeniably-argued work resetting a small part of the field. At the other end of that career is a 1964 paper on the forts of the Burghal Hidage which is still cited and perhaps most of all a 1971 one on military obligations in Mercia that is still the starting point for most work on the development of royal government in Anglo-Saxon England.2 His 1971 work was still as solid and important as his 2011 work and both had reset the debates into which they’d interjected, and we could note several other milestones in that time of equal importance. Of whom else can we say such things? This is a loss that we shall feel badly. And also, you know, he was a really nice man. Allan and I, among others, were able to lift a glass in his memory this evening at the next instalment of that same seminar, but there’ll need to be more.

1. Nicholas Brooks, “The Archbishopric of Canterbury and the So-called Introduction of Knight-Service into England” in Anglo-Norman Studies Vol. 34 (Woodbridge 2011), pp. 41-62.

2. Idem, “The unidentified forts of the Burghal Hidage” in Medieval Archaeology Vol. 8 (London 1964), pp. 74-90, repr. in idem, Communities and Warfare, 700-1400 (London 2000), pp. 91-113; idem, “The development of military obligations in eighth- and ninth-century England” in Peter Clemoes & Kathleen Hughes (edd.), England Before the Conquest: studies in primary sources presented to Dorothy Whitelock (Cambridge 1971), pp. 69-84, repr. in David A. E. Pelteret (ed.), Anglo-Saxon History: basic readings, Garland Reference Library of the Humanities 2108 (New York City 2000), pp. 83-105 and in Brooks, Communities and Warfare, pp. 32-47. Something like a full assessment of Nicholas’s work as it then stood can be found in Julia Barrow, “Introduction: Myth, Rulership, Church and Charters in the Work of Nicholas Brooks” in Barrow & Andrew Wareham (edd.), Myth, Rulership, Church and Charters: essays in honour of Nicholas Brooks (Aldershot 2008), pp. 1-10.

Charter-hacking II, From the Sources VIII, Feudal Transformations XVII: scribes who take us through the mutation documentaire

When I set this post up as a stub at the end of June 2012 – yup – it was while I was still working steadily through the three thick volumes of Catalunya Carolíngia IV, and I read a document and decided it was my new favourite charter. This happens quite a lot if you’re me—I think my current favourite charter is Beaulieu LXXI, for reasons I may some day get to—but this one played into the continual problem people working on the supposed changes around 1000 have, or indeed anyone working on change may have if their evidence base grows hugely at a certain point in their period: how do you tell that the changes you are seeing are not simply the result of having enough evidence to catch them at last?

The three volumes of the Catalunya Carolíngia covering Osona and Manresa

Shortage of evidence is not really a problem I have

This is of course nothing other than the ‘mutation documentaire’ argued by Dominique Barthélemy in opposition to those who see a ‘mutation féodale’, a feudal transformation around or soon after the year 1000, and it’s especially problematic for Catalonia where the evidence only really begins in the 830s and gets much denser from 940 onwards. This is far from the first time I’ve brought this up here, and I’m not the first to try and find counters either; we’ve seen Brigitte Bedos-Rezak’s take here and I could also, as ever, mention Pierre Bonnassie’s use of numismatic evidence to show that the charters of Catalonia do in fact reflect known changes very quickly.1 I’ve since tried testing for actual change between documents that cover the same sort of things, but we still come up against the problem that change on the documents might be provoked by factors other than changes in actual social practice, even if that would probably also do it… This document enables another attack, however, as we’ll see. I translate from the Latin given in the footnote:2

“In the name of the Lord. I Ermemir am seller to you Adroer, buyer. By this document of my sale I sell to you my selfsame alod that I bought from Déudat and that was the late Atilà’s, that is, houses with a courtyard and gardens and cultivated and waste land as well as a vineyard with its trees, which came to me through purchase or whatever voice, and it is in the county of Manresa, in the castle [term] of Avinyó, in the villa that they call [that]. And all these things inserted above bound: from the east on the torrent that runs there and from the south on the farmstead or on the fief and from the west on the road that goes to various places and from the north on the vineyard of me the seller. Whatever is included within those same four bounds thus I sell you, the selfsame alod that is described above, for the price of 20 solidi in equivalent goods, and it is manifest. Over the which aforesaid alod that I sell you, indeed, I hand from my right to yours dominion and power to do whatever you may want. For if I the seller or any other man who should come to disrupt this same charter, let him not avail in vindicating this but let him compound the selfsame houses with the courtyard and the land with the vineyard and the selfsame trees twofold with all their improvements, and in future let this charter of sale remain firm and stable now and for all time.
“This same charter of sale done the ninth Kalends of May, in the second year that King Louis, son of Lothar, was dead, and King Hugh ought to reign.
“Ermemir S[ub]S[cribe]S, who asked for this same charter of sale to be written and the witnesses to confirm. Mark of Odó. Signed Atilà. Signed Bonfill.
“Oruç, priest, who wrote this same charter of sale and S[ub]S[cribe]S on the day and year as above.”

So, OK, what is so special about this, you may be asking, it looks like a regular enough document? And that’s part of its charm: Oruç clearly knew how a charter should go and stuck to the formulae as far as possible, but in some places it wouldn’t quite work and he had to adapt. The most obvious of these is the dating clause. It’s 989 and there are no more Carolingian kings; Catalonia is famous for its preference for these, to the extent that at this same period one or two scribes went so far as date their documents by Duke Charles of Lorraine, Louis’s uncle who never actually succeeded him, but here we seem to have a scribe or even a transactor who thinks this ridiculous, a lone voice of pro-Capetian opposition.3 There’s no way that’s formulaic pressure, or even a political agenda for the area laid down from on high: this can only be, as with the other dating clause variations at this time, a contemporary reaction to change.

Castell d'Avinyó landscape

Castell d’Avinyó as it now is. I guess it was busier then? From Wikimedia Commons

Once you start looking for those traces of shifting practice, there are more here. The important one for my current work is the reference to a fief on the southern boundary. I know that’s a loaded word, but bear with me. There are in fact quite a few charters from Osona and Manresa, and maybe further afield, that have a benefice, beneficium, on their boundaries. That’s another word with a lot of possible meanings, but there’s three things about it I notice when it turns up: firstly, the word almost never occurs in any other context, so it’s not as it sometimes is elsewhere a catch-all for almost any property, goods or landholding. Secondly, there’s only ever one of these things per charter, and it’s tempting because of that to say it’s always the same one per area and that there is only one. Thirdly, it never, ever, belongs to anyone, whereas usually all the other tenures given as bounds have named owners. (With our example of the day we’re in the wilds and most of the other sides are natural features, but see here if you want.) What I take this to mean is that this land is a benefice, that is, a revocable holding given by a lord to a subordinate, whoever holds it, and that therefore it probably associates with an office. From there it’s but a short jump to saying: this is the allotment of land that supports the local castle, and this is a jump I have made relatively happily before now.4

While I was reading Catalunya Carolíngia IV, I became aware that new words that seem to be doing this same job start to occur towards the end of the tenth century, two of which are the ones we have here, aragal and fevum. The former is tricky: in Castilian documents it seems to mean `stream’ or ‘watercourse’, but Niermeyer gives it as a variant of areale and makes it basically a farm or a piece of land where a farm will be put.5 My sense is that the estate meaning is what we have here, but in any case here the scribe himself isn’t sure it’s right, apparently; it may be a fief. That presents other problems because of other documents doing just this dance not between fief and aragal but between fief and fisc, but that’s exactly why it seems to me that this is the allotment of the local castle, the benefice as was.6 But apparently no longer! Again, formulaic pressure should keep it the same here, but with everything else pretty much stuck in the usual register, ‘my right to yours’, ‘dominion and power to do whatever you may wish’, and so on, this word has to change, because apparently something is going on that means it’s not like a benefice any more. One might suspect that that something is a recognition of hereditary tenure, or maybe a reclassfication or restressing of fiscal rights by the count, and the fact that those two seem like trends in opposite directions isn’t exactly helpful, but this does seem to me a case where the scribe is genuinely having to change his words with the times.

Scribal signture of Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, no. 242, by Jonathan Jarrett

The signature of at least an Ermemir, in a different document, Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, no. 242, photo by your humble author

There is more I could say about this charter. The tenure history is unusually informative, for a start, and that itself raises the possibility that either the scribe or the transactor were unusually talkative (though that again evidences a willingness to bend formulae to practice). Also, I suspect that this Ermemir who makes the sale, and possibly Adroer to whom he sells, could be found elsewhere signing as priests in that manner I described a while back. Alas, I still don’t have a way into the Montserrat archive where this document resides, so although Ermemir signs this document autograph so that it ought to be possible to compare with the relevant priest as above, I still can’t. But we have plenty to talk about already, no?

1. For Barthélemy’s position I suppose the quickest consultation is D. Barthélemy, “The Year 1000 without abrupt or radical transformation” in Lester K. Little & Barbara H. Rosenwein (edd.), Debating the Middle Ages: issues and readings (Oxford 1998), pp. 134-147, extracted and translated from Barthélemy’s La société dans le comté de Vendôme de l’an mil au XIVe siècle (Paris 1993), pp. 333-334, 349-361 & 363-364. Also referred to here: Brigitte Bedos-Rezak, “Diplomatic Sources and Medieval Documentary Practices: an essay in interpretative methodology” in John van Engen (ed.), The Past and Future of Medieval Studies (Notre Dame 1994), pp. 313-343, and Pierre Bonnassie, “Nouveautés linguistiques et mutations économico-sociales dans la Catalogne des IXe-XIe siècles” in Michel Banniard (ed.), Langages et peuples d’Europe : cristallisation des identités romanes et germanique. Colloque International organisé par le Centre d’Art et Civilisation Médiévale de Conques et l’Université de Toulouse-le-Mirail (Toulouse-Conques, juillet 1997), Méridiennes 5 (Toulouse 2002), pp. 47-66.

2. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 1555: “In nomine Domini. Ego Ermemirus vinditor sum tibi Adrovario, emtore. Per hanc scriptura vindicionis mee vindo tibi ipsum meum aulode que ego emi de Dodadus et qui fuit de Atilanii condam, id est casas cum curte et ortos et terra culta vel erma simul cum vinea vel cum arboribus, qui mihi advenit de comparacione vel per quacumque voce, et est in comitatum Minorissa, in castrum Avignone, ad ipso villare quem dicunt. Et afronta ec omnia superius inserta: de oriente in torente qui inde discurit et de meridie in ipso aragal vel in ipso feo et de occiduo in via qui pergit in diversa loca et de circii in vinea de me vinditore. Quantum infra istas IIIIor afrontaciones includunt sic vindo tibi ipso aulode quod superius resonat, totum ab integrum, cum exio vel regresio suo, in propter precium solidos XX in rem valentem, et est manifestum. Quem vero predicto ipso aulode que tibi vido de me iuro in tuo trado dominio et potestatem ad facere omnia que volueris. Quod si ego vinditor aut ullusque homo qui contra anc ista carta vindicione pro inrumpendum venerit non oc valeat vindicare set componat ipsas casas cum curte et orto et terra cum vinea vel cum ipsos arbores in duplo cum omnem suam immelioracione, et in antea ista carta vindicione firma et stabilis permaneat modo vel omnique tempore.
“Facta ista carta vindicione VIIII kalendas madii, anno II quod obiit Leudevicii regi, filium Leutarii, et debet regnare Ugone rex.
“Ermemirus SSS., qui ista carta vindicione rogavi scribere et testes firmare. Sig+num Eudone. Sig+num Adila. Sig+num Bonefilio.
“Aurucius presbiter, qui ista carta vindicione scripsit et SSS. die et anno quod supra.”

3. On these tendencies see Anscari M. Mundó, “La datació de documents pel rei Robert (996-1031) a Catalunya”, in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 4 (Barcelona 1967), pp. 13-34.

4. In J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), p. 84, where an example is given.

5. Jan Frederik Niermeyer (ed.), Mediae Latinitatis Lexicon Minus. Lexique latin médiéval–français/anglais. A Medieval Latin–French/English Dictionary (Leiden 1976), p. 59.

6. Locally, see Manuel Riu, “Hipòtesi entorn dels orígens del feudalisme a Catalunya” in Quaderns d’Estudis Medievals Vol. 2 no. 4 (Barcelona 1981), pp. 195-208 at pp. 203-204, but the usage is more widespread than that and was thus noticed a long time ago by none other than Marc Bloch, in e. g. “Histoire d’un mot” in Annales d’Histoire Sociale Vol. 1 (Paris 1939), pp. 187-190.