Monthly Archives: September 2014

Coins of Borrell II?

Reverse of Barcelona diner of Count-Marquis Ramon Borrell of Barcelona, Girona and Osona (992-1018), now in the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, GNC 113672

Reverse of Barcelona diner of Count-Marquis Ramon Borrell of Barcelona, Girona and Osona (992-1018), now in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, GNC 113672

In 2010 I published an article about the coinage of later tenth-century Catalonia that concluded, among other things, that we may not have any.1 You would think this is a thing it was possible to sure about, perhaps, but almost no medieval coins carry a date, so one dates the things by their issuing ruler. Where that’s not clear, neither is the date, and this is far from the only thing about early medieval Catalan coinage that’s not clear…

Transitional diner, probably of Barcelona, struck between 878 and 1018, now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, their CM.345-2001

OK, this is an unusually rough example, but illustrative, I think… Transitional diner, probably of Barcelona, struck between 878 and 1018, now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, their CM.345-2001, actual size 14 mm across

The things of which we can be more or less certain are these.

  1. When the Carolingian kings took over government in the area that is now Catalonia, they had coin struck at their normal standards at four mints, Barcelona, Girona, Castelló d’Empúries and a place identified as RODDA that could be either Roda de Ter or Roses, jury’s out; Roses has won general acceptance but seems a priori an odd choice given it’s no real distance from Castelló d’Empúries.2
  2. In 864 King Charles the Bald of the Western Franks, ruler of the Spanish March as it by then stood, held a council at Pîtres in France which laid down provisions for a coinage reform that seem not to have been followed in Catalonia; no coinage at the new standard is known from Catalan mints and pieces are known which seem to be degenerations of the earlier one.
  3. Count-Marquis Ramon Borrell of Barcelona, Girona and Osona (992-1018) struck a new issue of diners (the Catalan derivation of the Latin denarius that gives us French ‘denier’ and Castilian ‘dinero’, among others) in his own name, which we can therefore date to his reign.
  4. There are also several types of what are known as diners de transició, transitional diners, which must belong somewhere between points 2 and 43.

The transitional diners are characterised by legends that are basically illegible, often being no more than sequences of triangles or circles. They vary a lot in weight and size but are always less than regular Carolingian standards. They all have a small cross in a border on the centre of their obverse, with a junk legend around, but their reverse types vary. There are three known:

  1. a type that is just the obverse repeated with slightly different junk legends (cross type);
  2. a type bearing three circles arranged in a triangle within the central border;
  3. and the type above, with a strange device a bit like a schematised beehive. This is usually held to represent the tomb of Santa Eulàlia in Barcelona, which is handy because it gives us a sort of terminus post quem: Catalonia’s first real local saint’s cult began when her body was relocated by Bishop Frodoí of Barcelona, who ruled 862-890 and who moved her from the floor of Santa Maria del Mar to the cathedral that now bears her name, so if that’s what it is on the coin the coinage must postdate that.3 I am inclined to think it’s a bodge of the Carolingian Temple type myself, but I obviously just like to make things difficult…
Reverse of a Temple-type denier of Louis the Pious, Fitzwilliam Museum PG.112

Reverse of a Temple-type denier of Louis the Pious, Fitzwilliam Museum PG.112

The first substantial work on these coinages was done at the very beginning of the twentieth centuries and concluded little more than the above, but in 1999 Anna Balaguer published her thesis on Catalan medieval coinage, which argued among other things that these coinages were probably all from Barcelona, since the three circles device recurs on Ramon Borrell’s coinage (which is said to be from Barcelona) and the obverse types seem to be kindred.4 After that it became possible to rethink things a bit, not least because in 2005 a whole bunch extra of these transitional coins came onto the market, with a few more following in 2009 in such a way as to make it seem likely that someone had found a hoard and didn’t want to tell people.5 Xavier Sanahuja published an article in 2006 in which he attempted a new description of the transitional coinages using that data and argued that these were the remnants of a single hoard discovered in 1886 but not then fully catalogued. Someone had, he reckoned, been sitting on the rest and now it was coming to the surface, because they’d died or something.6 In 2008 Miquel Crusafont i Sabater took the state of knowledge thus far and produced a synthesis which argued the following things:

  1. the ‘Tomb’ type makes no sense till the tomb was found, but is obviously non-Carolingian, whereas Bishop Frodoí was a Frank and an appointee of Charles the Bald so would surely have struck coin in Charles’s name; the immediately succeeding bishop of Barcelona, Teuderic, therefore makes more sense (890-912?) for the Tomb type’s issuer.
  2. since the three-circles type is carried on in Ramon Borrell’s coinage, it is presumably the last of the three;
  3. the cross type therefore probably belongs between the two, since it can’t really be before or after;
  4. that means that we have three types for three comital reigns, Guifré II Borrell (898-911), Sunyer his brother (911-947) and Borrell II Sunyer’s son (945-993), so it’s easy enough to assign them one each, Tomb type to Guifré Borrell, cross type to Sunyer and circles type to Borrell.7

This has the advantage of simplicity, but involves more or less dismissing Sanahuja’s more cynical argument that since there was nothing in the 1886 hoard that need be dated after 925, all three of the Catalan types should probably therefore be considered to have been in circulation by then, in which case, because no similar hoard has come up from later, we just don’t have any Catalan coin from between 925 and 992×1018. That’s roughly how things stood when I got my 2010 article out, pitching a case I’d been making for a while that the coinage reform, from the diners de transició to the Carolingian-standard diners such as issued by Ramon Borrell, must have taken place under Borrell II, and probably in 981 or 982. That implies there ought to be a reformed coinage of Borrell’s, and we certainly don’t have any of that. I thought that this probably gave the edge to Sanahuja, and thus argued that we probably have no coin of Borrell’s at all.8 This presented a certain slight difficulty in as much as Miquel doesn’t agree with me—in fact, I’m not sure that anyone does—and I was at that point copy-editing him on the subject, but we have agreed to disagree and there it stands.9 Or so it did.

Five circles-type diners de transició, life-size (14 mm) in the centre and enlarged outside, reverse left and obverse right

Five circles-type diners de transició, life-size (14 mm) in the centre and enlarged outside, reverse left and obverse right, from M. Crusafont i Sabater, “Troballes monetàries XXVIII” in Acta Numismàtica Vol. 43 (Barcelona 2013), pp. 249-260 at p. 253

The reason I am now telling you all this, however, is these things above, part of a collection of 12 diners de transició that Miquel has just published, which he had been allowed to photograph and study as they came through the market in Barcelona in the residue of the estate of a collector who had bought them in 2005 from a travelling bric-a-brac salesman.10 There are three Tomb-type diners and one of its halves, an òbol, two cross-type diners and one cross-type òbol (previously unknown) and these five circles-type diners. Miquel argues, cautiously, that this is not the same proportion of types as occurs in Xavier’s virtual hoard of 2006 and so is probably not yet more of the 1886 find making its way onto the market (though I have spoken to Xavier about this and he thinks it totally is, because like any of us he likes his own theory best and this hardly disproves it). But Miquel also has a go at the legends, and that’s very interesting. You’ll see from the above that the reverse legends are hardly more than triangles and wedges, but that the obverse ones seem also to include circles. Xavier also noticed this in 2006 and then argued that the obvious referent was King Eudes of the Western Franks (888-899), ODDO, become OOOO as lettered on the coins, which fits with his suggested early date for the coins. Miquel, however, with a scheme that demands these coins be nearly a century later than late, now ingeniously argues that the referent might be either of Emperor Otto I (936-973) or Otto II (973-997) of the Germans, the former of whom Borrell met in Rome in 970.

A manuscript drawing of Otto I, sadly only from about 1200, receiving the surrender of King Berengar II of Italy

A manuscript drawing of Otto I, sadly only from about 1200, receiving the surrender of King Berengar II of Italy. “Otto I Manuscriptum Mediolanense c 1200” by Artwork: Creators of the Chronicle of Bishop Otto of Freising; Photo: AndreasPraefckeOwn work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

This would be pretty heavy, as they say. Though various scholars have argued for an increasing awareness of the new Holy Roman Empire in tenth-century Catalonia, it’s only ever rested on that 970 meeting in Rome and another Catalan count running into Otto II at a council there in 979, which is not really any more than coincidence.11 [Edit: see comments where Joan Vilaseca causes me to rediscover a third meeting, of Borrell’s sons with Otto III (997-1002), from which a charter may have resulted.]  Certainly neither Otto ever seems to have corresponded with the Catalan counts or in any way considered this area part of their kingdom. On the other hand, Borrell spent a lot of his rule looking for new, powerful but distant patrons to compensate for his decreasing wish for contact with the Frankish kings. I think, all the same, that this would be an unparalleled departure for his politics and since his charters on the subject invoke a king called Charles as the origin of his family’s power, it’s that name I’d expect to see on his coins until at least 985 (by which time, if I’m right, the coins would not have looked like these anyway).12 I think that means I don’t buy it, that these legends must refer to Eudes if they refer to anyone (which I’m not sure that they do), that if so Xavier’s early date is still more likely, that in that case he is probably also right that almost everything we have in this line is coming from that one hoard and that we therefore still don’t have coins of Borrell II. But if I’m wrong, I could be staring at a picture of them right now and have some rethinking to do!

1. J. Jarrett, “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London: Royal Numismatic Society 2010 for 2009), pp. 217-243.

2. See now Miquel Crusafont, Anna M. Balaguer & Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a catalogue of the coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013), pp. 68-71.

3. The suggestion was first made by Miquel Crusafont in Numismática de la corona catalano-aragonesa medieval, 785-1516 (Barcelona 1982), p. 31; on the inventio see Joan Cabestany i Fort, “El culte de Santa Eulàlia a la Catedral de Barcelona (s. IX-X)” in Lambard: estudis d’art medieval Vol. 9 (Barcelona 1996), pp. 159-165.

4. Anna M. Balaguer, Història de la moneda dels comtats catalans (Barcelona 1999), pp. 64-67.

5. For the 2005 find see n. 6 below; the 2009 appearances were in Aureo y Calicó Auction 219 (2nd July 2009), Barcelona, lots 138 & 139 and Auction 220, 16th September 2009, Barcelona, lot 398.

6. X. Sanahuja, “La moneda de Barcelona al segle X segins les troballes Espanya-1 i Espanya-2 (925)” in Acta Numismàtica Vol. 36 (Barcelona 2006), pp. 79-113.

7. M. Crusafont i Sabater, “La moneda barcelonina del segle X. Altres novetats comtals”, ibid. vol. 38 (2008), pp. 91-121.

8. See n. 1 above.

9. Crusafont, Balaguer & Grierson, Medieval European Coinage 6, pp. 74-78.

10. M. Crusafont i Sabater, “Troballes monetàries XXVIII” in Acta Numismàtica Vol. 43 (Barcelona 2013), pp. 249-260.

11. The 970 meeting is discussed, along with its evidence, in J. Jarrett, “Archbishop Ató of Osona: false metropolitans on the Marca Hispanica” in Archiv für Diplomatik Vol. 56 (München 2010), pp. 1-41; the 979 one is attested in Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Sebastià Riera i Viader & Manual Rovira i Solà (edd.), Catalunya Carolíngia V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Empúries i Peralada, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica LXI (Barcelona 2003), doc. no. 455.

12. See J. Jarrett, “Caliph, King or Grandfather: strategies of legitimisation on the Spanish March in the reign of Lothar III” in The Mediaeval Journal Vol. 1.2 (Turnhout: Brepols 2012), pp. 1-21, DOI: 10.1484/J.TMJ.1.102535.

Seminar CLXXXIX: buddy bishops in Bernicia

Returning to the decreasing (yes! actually decreasing!) seminar report backlog takes us up to the 13th November 2013, when I was at the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar of the Institute of Historical Research as part of my grand project of accurately imitating a professional Anglo-Saxonist for the year, and also because I was interested to hear Trevor Morse give a paper entitled “Cuthbert and Wilfrid: parallel lives(?)”. This found us all looking more closely at late seventh-century Northumbrian history than I think anyone has done for a while, in a way I like to encourage everywhere, with as many of the operative personalities in it as possible considered at once.

St Cuthbert's shrine, Durham Cathedral

St Cuthbert’s final final resting place, in Durham Cathedral

The starting position here is the reputation of the two saints of the title, both bishops in the early Northumbrian Church, both much described by Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People and, in Cuthbert’s case, his two Lives of the man, while Wilfrid had a follower called Stephen who wrote up his Life for him.1 If you know this, you will also know that Wilfrid was an extremely controversial figure, expelled from his bishopric three times, an exile hosted at the courts of I think four different kings, with the pagan one of whom he nonetheless organised the conversion of the Isle of Wight; he also rejoices in the title of the Apostle of Sussex. Where Trevor brought us in to the debate was therefore with Walter Goffart’s controversial book The Narrators of Barbarian History which argues of four classic early medieval historical works that they are far more about contemporary politics than the events they purport to recall, and in Bede’s case that one of the big issues hiding in his work is the reconciliation of the various parties in the aftermath of Wilfrid’s divisive career, something that Bede did by developing Cuthbert as an alternative figure of that age suitable for veneration.2 To this, having made it clear at the outset how tricky and partisan the sources are, almost all at that dangerous remove from events where it’s still not possible to be neutral, Trevor wondered what we can learn by taking a closely chronological approach, putting the two men’s careers against each other and asking: were they in fact rivals in life?

The high altar of Ripon Cathedral

With somewhat less certainty, this is probably where Wilfrid finished up, near or under the high altar of Ripon Cathedral, if that stayed in the same place during its later rebuilding. By Andrewrabbott (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons.

I love chronological approaches anyway, but I did feel that this one was particularly revelatory. If, for example, one abstracts Cuthbert’s career from the various praiseworthy contexts in which his hagiographers paint him and try and put together a bald career summary, one of the things that becomes clear which certainly I hadn’t realised is that Cuthbert got booted out of office or fired upwards almost as much as Wilfrid did, driven out of Wilfrid’s foundation of Ripon with the then-Abbot Eata after Wilfrid’s move the Lindisfarne, moved to Lindisfarne from his subsequent appointment as Prior of Melrose after Wilfrid’s first restoration as bishop but retiring from there very soon afterwards, returning to the political fore as Wilfrid’s star began to rise again after his second deposition, then becoming Bishop of Hexham then swapping (with Eata) to be Bishop of Lindisfarne and dying before Wilfrid could get expelled again, whereafter Lindisfarne apparently nearly dissolved and there was a big argument over where Cuthbert’s body should go.3 It suddenly got hard to see him as a figure of peace with all this put together, and it also looked much more as if his spells in the sun coincided with Wilfrid’s than the way the Lives are built would lead you to spot.

“For I know that, although I seemed contemptible to some while I lived, yet, after my death, you will see what I was and how my teaching is not to be despised.”

This is not something a successful peacemaker needs to say on his deathbed, even less something a hagiographer should need to say of such a person thirty years later... Nonetheless, they are the words Bede gave Cuthbert in his Prose Life, c. 39.

That then raises the issue of what on earth was so divisive about him, and there Trevor’s answer was that one of the things the various Lives do say about Cuthbert, usually as praise but in this light now looking different, was that he was a champion of a fairly strict monastic lifestyle; when he ran into trouble with his various communities, this is how his hagiographers explain it, Bede indeed making this out as a trait going back to his youth when even training for war as a child he would outdo, outrun, out-strive his contemporaries. If you wanted to, then, you could see Cuthbert’s career as a long series of annoying people by over-achievement, but Trevor framed it mainly in terms of Roman and Benedictine observance. In that framework Cuthbert, despite his roots in the ‘Irish’ Church of early Christian Northumbria (roots that Wilfrid of course shared), appeared as a more Romanising figure than was found useful by his subsequent biographers.

The tomb of St Bede the Venerable in Durham Cathedral

As long as tombs is the theme… this is where the mind that we’re substantially seeing all this through finished up, the tomb of St Bede the Venerable, also in Durham Cathedral

At the end, I was still a bit unclear as exactly how sincere Trevor thought the reform agenda had been (though setting it out involved a description of a whole group of Northumbrian churchmen as ‘Whitby grads’, which I enjoyed). Bede seems to want Cuthbert to have been just a bit too ascetic for his charges to cope with; his earlier hagiographer (who Trevor suggested might have been the eventual Prior of Lindisfarne Æthelbalda Ripon priest then Lindisfarne hermit by the name of Oiðilwald, in the right places at the right times) seems to have wanted him as a Benedictine figure, but which of these, if either, was the ‘safe’ historiographical position by which someone writing up this somewhat explosive career might defuse it? Was ‘reform’ more a matter of factional competition than anything really about how to be a good monk? Still, having reason to believe we can see even that far back through the mess of writing that tangles up the history of the Northumbrian Church was further than any of us might have expected to get with such well-studied material, and even if some of the connections are still difficult to understand, Trevor managed to use them to explain things anyway, no mean achievement.

1. Almost all the materials in play here were at one point or another edited, translated or both by Bertram Colgrave, and in most cases his versions remain the standard ones: B. Colgrave (ed./transl.), The Life of Bishop Wilfrid by Eddius Stephanus (Cambridge 1927); idem (ed./transl.), Two Lives of St. Cuthbert. A Life by an Anonymous Monk of Lindisfarne and Bede’s Prose Life (Cambridge 1940, 2nd edn. 1985); idem & R. A. B. Mynors (edd./transl.), Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Oxford 1969); Colgrave (ed./transl.), The Earliest Life of Gregory the Great, by an Anonymous Monk of Whitby (Cambridge 1985). Bede also wrote a Verse Life that is only translated in a forthcoming volume of Bede’s Latin poetry by Michael Lapidge, and we also had several other bits of Northumbrian hagiography in play, all of which you can find in D. H. Farmer (ed.) & J. F. Webb (transl.), The Age of Bede (London 1983).

2. Walter Goffart, The Narrators of Barbarian History (A. D. 550–850): Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon (London 1988), pp. 235–328.

3. One interesting sidetrack here that I prolonged in questions is how Bede describes the difficulty at Lindisfarne after Cuthbert’s death in the Verse Life. Trevor’s handout has it thus:

“The insistent north wind, trusting in its snowy weaponry, strikes the Lindisfarne monastic buidlings on all sides with such spiteful blast, that the noble progeny of our brothers was hanging by the precarious thread of events, and would choose to abandon the site rather than undergo these extremes of danger.”

This all sounds weirdly like Vikings avant la lettre. Bede kept the storm metaphor in the Prose Life but dropped the reference to the north, but that actually makes a lot of sense at the time he was writing the verse life because of the resurgent threat of the Picts, so some people present wondered if that, rather than internal trouble, could be what was threatening the island monastery. Trevor agreed that Melrose and Abercorn, two of the Northumbrian Church’s now-Scottish outposts, were in trouble at this time, and that led me in turn to remember that some of Bede’s informants on Pictland were clerics exiled from there at this point in time. If they had found refuge at Lindisfarne, that might have changed the balance of opinions there quite suddenly and sharply, but unlike the Pictish military threat, it wouldn’t have been so much of an issue by the time Bede was writing his Prose Life in the early 720s…

Redactions of many stages

I finished reading Professor Benoit-Michel Tock‘s book on subscriptions to charters about which I’ve been raving here lately over the month of November 2013, so those posts will shortly cease, but here’s just one more, because in the ninth chapter he hits at an issue that is kind of crucial to how we understand what medieval documents are telling us, the stories they tell about their own creation. I could go on about this for a while, and indeed have before and will again a bit below, but M. le Prof. Tock is briefer than I would be and also more stylish (though I have added emphasis to bring out things that are more ambiguous in English than in the French):

“The question is clearly important, since it concerns, in the most direct manner, the conditions in which the acts were made and, thereby, the links between the act and the judicial action. Is the narrative of the action as it appears in the act sincere? If the act was redacted before the action proper, is it not possible that last-minute changes in the action may not be reflected in the text? Most of all, if the act is prepared before the action, it can play a part in it, either as an act of title or as a symbol of the action.”1

There are lots of ways this can play out, and M. le Prof. Tock goes through most if not all of them, finding all the weird cases where we can see, or occasionally are told, what happened to get the text and names onto a parchment and into an archive. There are more possibilities covered than he mentions in that paragraph: the document may indeed be prepared before the ceremony, and then be signed at the ceremony, or at least have the actors and witnesses mark crosses next to their names, or maybe just touch where the scribe has done it for them or sign the cross in the air above the page. In a few cases, however, it seems that the crosses were put on first and then the entire text written in above them later, presumably once it was back in the recipient’s scriptorium. (And at that rate, something Tock does not consider, who could stop the scribe writing an entirely different version of events?) It has been suggested before, to resolve the paradox of documents which claim that they were placed on an altar to complete the donation, but do so in the past tense as if to indicate that this happened before the document was actually written, that blank sheets might be so deposited and then have the charter written onto them afterwards; Tock’s cases (oddly, as with much of the rest of the book, more from the relatively slight archive of Nouaillé in Poitou than elsewhere2) may be the only evidence of this actually happening I’ve ever seen. He does also raise the rather worrying possibility that once that had been done, at the very bottom of the parchment, since autograph signatures seem to have thought desirable in the ninth century but much less so as time goes and even then not judicially necessary,3 the scribe writing up the fine version of the document on a parchment daubed with out-of-place crosses (“si on ose dire, comme un cheveu dans le soupe…”) might just clip the untidy bottom edge off once he’d written up proper formal versions of the signatures…4) If that possibility makes you as uneasy as it does me, our subjects themselves destroying our evidence of them, you must be a proper charter geek, congratulations!

Lower portion of a donation to the abbey of Saint-Maixent de Poitiers from 1108

Here’s one of Tock’s two examples, ARTEM 780, otherwise known as Niort, Archive Départementale de Deux-Sèvres, H 85, edited as Cédric Giraud, Jean-Baptiste Renault & Benoît-Michel Tock (edd.), Chartes originales antérieures à 1121 conservées en France (Nancy 2010), no. 780, unprinted. It’s a donation to the abbey of Saint-Maixent de Poitiers from 1108.

Portion of a donation of vineyards to St-Junien de Nouaillé of 1091

A much clearer example albeit in a worse image (my fault), Poitiers, Archive Départementale de Vienne, Carton 10, no 126, edited as P. de Monsabert (ed.), Chartes de l’abbaye de Nouaillé : de 678 à 1200, Archives historiques du Poitou, 49 (Poitiers 1936), no. 143, and now Giraud, Renault & Tock, Chartes originales, no. 1291, online here. It’s a donation of vineyards to St-Junien de Nouaillé of 1091. You can see how that bottom half-inch was lucky to survive. What’s it telling anyone after a century? This is a formal document we’re keeping here! Snip snip…

I especially love this stuff, however, because it doesn’t surprise me at all. Round about the same time Tock must have been dealing with the proofs of his book, I was checking over the text of this:

“To take an elaborate but forceful example, let us take the act recording the consecration of Santa Maria de Ripoll’s new church in 977. This was almost certainly composed by the learned Bishop of Girona, also Count of Besalú, Miró Bonfill, and it is partly past tense and partly present. The point at which it changes is after a description of the consecration of the several separate altars, as the assembled prelates seek to impress upon the local counts that the monastery’s possession of its various goods, ‘just as the schedule already prefaced teaches’, are placed beyond secular intervention. From this, and from the slightly different final witness list, it is clear that this change of tense reflects a move from an occasion past to a different, notionally present one. The elaborate and lengthy document thus stands between the two occasions grammatically; recording one as already past, the second, the proclamation of the quasi-royal immunity, unfolds in the text. This part of the text was presumably written before the second gathering; the former, given its detail, was probably composed after the ceremony, as beforehand the final order of events could not have been known. The act as it stands is thus not from either of the ceremonies it describes, or the date which it gives, and it adopts a narrative construction of the ceremony. Especially since consecrations were formal occasions whose rules were laid down, this narrative was under a strong impulse to say the correct thing. Santa Maria’s case, with numerous altars whose different patrons made different collaborations of bishops appropriate, bent this pattern but if events had in fact broken the convention, we cannot expect that this document would record this for us.”

This is from the first chapter of my doctoral thesis, and it was one of a large number of examples I was collecting, just as does Tock in his chapter, of procedural oddities that force us to question stereotypes about how documents were produced.5 We hit many of the same concerns with our examples. I’m not trying to claim massive cleverness for myself here or anything: firstly, I wouldn’t have got far along these lines without the truly excellent palaeographical analyses of the Sant Joan de Ripoll charter material by its editor, Federico Udina i Martorell, but more basically, as that suggests, these things become unmissable when you’ve just got enough original documents that they are preserved, and this is what Tock found once he had a dataset of 3658 original documents, just as I did with slightly fewer documents more deeply studied.6 Also I have to thank some of my scribes: Tock doesn’t have anyone like the famous judge Bonhom explaining that he wrote a given charter in two stints with two different inks, apparently afraid that someone might therefore think it forged.7 And when you have something like the hearing over the Vall de Sant Joan de les Abadesses, about which I have gone on so often, but where three writing stints at least are basically visible straight away, it’s hard not to come to these conclusions, like it or not.8 I love my source base!

Reduced-quality facsimile of the Vall de Sant Joan hearing charter, Arxiu de la Corona d'Aragó, Pergamins, Cancilleria, Miron 3

Reduced-quality facsimile of the Vall de Sant Joan hearing charter, Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó, Pergamins, Cancilleria, Miron 3, some enhancement applied

But it is possible that this source base means that I can answer one of Tock’s rhetorical questions. Considering the possibility that a charter might be entirely written up beforehand, he asks how a scribe could know who would turn up, and considers this a major problem with the concept. I’m not sure that it is, as that rather depends on anyone else ever noticing the charter didn’t say the right thing or people not being well aware that those people should have been there, even if in fact they weren’t, and that the document ought to say as much: this is, I assume, what explains the occasional Catalan cases where a dead man’s signature is given to emphasise that he consented to the act even if he died before it happened.9 I’m more convinced, however, by the cases where we can see that such information was available beforehand precisely because it turned out to be wrong, and the Vall de Sant Joan hearing is one of those, because both its list of those present for the oath it records and the list of those actually swearing it differ slightly from the names in the signatures. I’ve argued already that this is because the whole thing happened over maybe weeks, and there were probably two ceremonies involved, but it may also be Tock’s suggested pattern: what actually happened was not quite what had been anticipated.

My own copy of my book, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power

Where have you argued this, I hear you ask? Why, in my Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), available from at least some good booksellers!

At the very least, we can see that information was collected beforehand, because as I argue in my book, there are mistakes between the two sets of oath-swearers that would be hard to explain without written exemplars in the process. A woman signing for one hamlet who is called Marcia gets recorded as Imitara in the initial list, not exactly similar in pronunciation you might think, and it’s only when one realises that she’s the second woman called Marcia in that list that one realises one’s probably looking at a mistranscription of “item Marcia”, ‘another Marcia’, perhaps abbreviated in a way that the scribe didn’t recognise because it had been done by someone else. (I hypothesize that at the signature phase of writing, the people who’d written the lists were there to tell him what they said, which implies that he did the initial drafting elsewhere.) When I worked all this out, I felt really very clever indeed—ah me, so long ago now…—but it’s not really my brainpower so much as a really fabulous source and a willingness to tabulate long lists.10 Tock didn’t have the time of scope to do that work here, but his other writing shows that he’s perfectly capable of it; this book was painting a wider picture, is all.11

St Gallen charter of 825, Stiftsarchiv St. Gallen, II 65

I cannot find any pictures of the verso of a St Gallen charter! On the other hand, some of the Vorakte are pretty nearly as fine as the recto versions… so here’s a recto image of one from 825? Stiftsarchiv St. Gallen, II 65.

Nonetheless, the conclusion, that charter scribes worked from notes, is not present in Tock’s suggestions here, despite other evidence that could be brought into play like the apparent dorsal drafts versions made on the backs of eventual charters at St Gallen in Switzerland (which fall outside Tock’s sample and weren’t then digitised and studied as they now are), and I think it probably explains a lot of the difficulties he sees with the conclusions to which the documents force him.12 They didn’t get things wrong that often because the information was being recorded elsewhere; the cases we have where things have gone wrong, as with Sant Joan or Sant Pere de Casserres or any of the others so dear to me, are where something so special or rushed was being done that it couldn’t be gone back on or was too much effort to consider rewriting. So we’re trying to reconstruct the process of charter redaction from its mistakes; not impossible, but challenging, and worth saying explicitly!

1. B.-M. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle, Atelier de Recherches sur les Textes Médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2006), pp. 369-412, quote pp. 369-370:
“La question est évidemment importante, puisqu’elle concerne, de la manière la plus directe, les conditions d’élaboration des actes, et par là, les liens entre l’acte et l’action juridique. Le récit de l’action tel qu’il figure dans l’acte est-il sincère ? Si l’acte a été rédigé avant l’action elle-même, n’est-il pas possible que des changements intervenus en dernière minute dans l’action ne soient pas reflétés dans le texte ? Surtout, si l’acte est préparé avant l’action, il peut jouer un rôle au course de celle-ci, soit comme acte dispositif, soit comme symbole de l’action.”

2. First printed as P. de Monsabert (ed.), Chartes de l’abbaye de Nouaillé : de 678 à 1200, Archives historiques du Poitou, 49 (Poitiers 1936)

3. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 193-223, esp. pp. 221-223.

4. Ibid. pp. 392-397, quote at p. 394.

5. J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished doctoral thesis (University of London 2005), online here, pp. 35-36, some day probably to be repeated in the paper for which I was reading Tock’s book…

6. Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Barcelona 1951).

7. Anscari Manuel Mundó i Marcet, “El jutge Bonsom de Barcelona, cal·lígraf i copista del 979 al 1024” in Emma Condello & Guiseppe De Gregorio (edd.), Scribi e colofoni: Le sottoscrizioni di copisti dalle origini all’avvento della stampa. Atti del seminario di Erice/X Colloquio del Comité international de paléographie latine (23-28 ottobre 1993), Biblioteca del «Centro per il collegamento degli studi medievali e umanistici in Umbria» 14 (Spoleto 1995) pp. 269-288; Jeffrey A. Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000 (Ithaca 2004), pp. 84-99. The charter in question is the sacramental testament of Bishop Vives of Barcelona, printed as Àngel Fabrega i Grau (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona: documents dels anys 844-1260. Volum I: documents dels anys 844-1000, Fonts Documentals 1 (Barcelona 1995), doc. no. 265, and it’s huge, so the two-stint thing is understandable. Given it’s Bonhom I’m just faintly surprised he didn’t also tell us what he had for lunch in between times.

8. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 37-38, which took a lot longer figuring out than those two paragraphs give away…

9. An example of this is 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. 1380, which is also a rule-breaker in so far as it’s the only private transaction I know that still threatens its infringers with a portion in Hell with Judas. Cf. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 194-197: such concerns do not apparently manifest themselves in the French documents.

10. See n. 8 above.

11. For example, B.-M. Tock, “Auteur ou impétrant ? Réflexions sur les chartes des évêques d’Arras au XIIe siècle” in Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes Vol. 149 (Paris 1991), pp. 215-248, to name but one of many.

12. Albert Bruckner, Die Vorakte der älteren St. Galler Urkunden, Urkundenbuch der Abtei Sanct Gallen Ergänzungsheft 1 (St. Gallen 1931); see now Bernhard Zeller, “Writing Charters as a Public Activity: The Example of the Carolingian Charters of St Gall” in Marco Mostert & Paul Barnwell (edd.), Medieval Legal Process: physical, spoken and written performance in the Middle Ages, Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 22 (Turhnout 2011), pp. 27-37.

Seminar CLXXXVIII: between Offa and Irene, Cœnwulf and Charlemagne

As mentioned a couple of posts ago, on 2nd November last year I was in a little Northamptonshire town called Brixworth, crowded into its rather splendid church of All Saints with about a hundred other medievalists and interested parties for the annual Brixworth Lecture. Attendance at this was mandatory for me for two reasons, firstly that Birmingham were that year employing me largely to impersonate an Anglo-Saxonist and it would therefore have seemed odd for me not to go, and secondly and perhaps more importantly that the lecture was being given by one of our own, Professor Leslie Brubaker. So there I was, thanks to the good offices of Rebecca Darley in driving us there, and thus I got to hear Professor Brubaker speak to the title, “Byzantium at Brixworth”.

All Saints Brixworth

Wikimedia Commons has a better image than any of the ones I took. This is by Alan Simkins [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I do wonder what Professor Brubaker’s reaction was when this was first suggested to her, as one thing that students of either side of the divide represented here can say with reasonable confidence is that there were almost no links between Britain and Byzantium after the sixth century. On the other hand, the ones best-documented are probably artistic ones, so, ask an art historian? In any case, Professor Brubaker’s task was made slightly easier by the very recent publication of the new site report for Brixworth, which she thus ran through very quickly setting up quite how much of what we were in was Saxon and what wasn’t. The church seems to have been quite a project: big enough as it stands now, it was bigger when new by virtue of having aisles that have since been removed, which were crowded with side chapels. It was built on a repeating module of 9 m2, with the fourth one being the apse over the crypt, suggesting a relic deposition as its focus. Some of the stone was Roman spolia, too, but not from the nearby villa site but all the way from Leicester, indicating some fairly long-range patronage.1 Since the date now proposed for the church is c. 800, even Professor Brubaker could not resist the temptation to suggest that an obvious patron would be King Offa of Mercia (757-796). I feel this is unfair on King Cœnwulf (796-821), who repaired a lot of Offa’s damage and was also what we might call ‘kind of a big deal’ (albeit not a Byzantine scale, I admit) but gets largely ignored because he wasn’t as bloodthirsty or earthmoving as his predecessor.2 This also got raised by none other than Nicholas Brooks in questions, however, and Professor Brubaker was able rightly to say that even if it wasn’t Offa her argument would still hold up, so, I should tell you her argument.

1867-drawn ground plan of All Saints Brixworth

Here is a handy plan showing the original layout, apparently from C. F. Watkins, The Basilica and the Basilican Church of Brixworth (1867) so probably to be taken with some caution but, illustrative. “Original Brixworth Plan“. Original uploader was Simon Webb at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by using CommonsHelper. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

She proceeded essentially by taking a Byzantinist’s view of the church, marking out what seemed familiar or strange, and then wondering how that might be explained. Among the strange were the marks at the door, which she thought might be connected with the liturgy of baptism in which the family waited there to be admitted and the disconnection of the west-work from the rest of the building’s operations (I confess that I don’t now remember what was said to describe this); among the familiar, the crypt and choir as a focus on a relic deposition and the reuse of Roman material. All of this was backed up with images of sites in the Byzantine world which provided good support for the contentions. In a special category, though, were things that would have been familiar some time before the church was built but that would then have looked odd to any contemporary Byzantine visitor. These were the long-nave plan with side chapels, the current Byzantine fashion by 800 having been for a cross-and-square layout, and, especially, the apparent lack of decoration: it seems that Brixworth ran to a tiled floor, maybe, but that otherwise the walls were as plain as they now are.

Interior of All Saints Brixworth

A good photo of the current state of the interior taken by Frank Burns, whose site duly linked through; he gives no copyright notice so I hope attribution will do because it’s a much better picture than any others I could dig up…

The reason that is a live issue, of course, is that between about 750 and 787 the Byzantine empire was in something of a pother about decorative religious imagery, and perhaps no-one is more expert on this than Professor Brubaker.3 This makes me almost afraid to summarise but the big point is that by 800, for the Byzantines, this was over, and painting and colour and so forth were back in. The message seems to have taken a while to reach England though, as the question was still being settled at the Council of Chelsea in 816 (under, we might note, Cœnwulf). So there is a case to be made that Brixworth was responding to Byzantine fashions in art, but if so, it was doing so rather late.

The characteristic triple arch feature at the west of the nave in All Saints Brixworth

Very blurry picture of the characteristic triple arch feature at the west of the nave

The probable reason for that is the route cannot easily have been direct. While there are Byzantine parallels for many of the Brixworth features, there are a much more collected set of them in the form of Charlemagne’s chapel in Aachen. Here, especially, we find the triple-arched separation between nave and west-work that I photographed so badly, in which the patron monarch may have sat and watched his congregation but from which, the tower not then being present, he could also have addressed his people outside the building. (That sounds familiar…) But the inspirations at Aachen, while Byzantine, were largely old Byzantine, in the form of Justinian I’s San Vitale di Ravenna. Justinian, at least, also got imitated in England: there was an Alma Sophia in York modelled after Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, though we know very little about it.4 What we are seeing at Brixworth may reflect this second-hand Justinianism, therefore (although, as Professor Brubaker pointed out, what Charlemagne may have been more interested in imitating was King Theodoric of the Ostrogoths, Dietrich of song and story). If so, its ideological response to the current worries over imagery may even be more up-to-date than some of its models. I felt that the case for everything reacting at some remove to Byzantium was maybe a little over-stated here—the Anglo-Saxons presumably didn’t miss the Carolingian end of the worry over images, for example, and Professor Brubaker’s suggestion that the new Caroline minuscule script reflected a recent shift to minuscule in the East seemed to me to miss out all the myriad Western pre-Caroline minuscules that it more or less replaced5—but as a reminder that there was, all the same, a very big empire whose issues resounded westwards in the form of ideas and their expression in art at the other end of the Anglo-Saxons’ world this was salutary and enlightening.

1. This is all apparently in David Parsons & Diana Sutherland, The Anglo-Saxon Church of All Saints, Brixworth, Northamptonshire: Survey, Excavation and Analysis, 1972-2010 (Oxford 2013).

2. For now the best neutral coverage of Cœnwulf is probably Morn Capper, “Contested Loyalties: Regional and National Identities in the Midland Kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England, c.700 – c.900″, unpublished doctoral thesis (University of Sheffield 2008), pp. 345-413.

3. See Leslie Brubaker & John Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era, c.680–850: a history (Cambridge 2011)!

4. It’s described in a poem by Alcuin, translated by Peter Godman as The Bishops, Kings, and Saints of York (Oxford 1983).

5. See Thomas F. X. Noble, Images, Iconoclasm, and the Carolingians (Philadelphia 2009) and David Ganz, “The Preconditions for Caroline Minuscule” in Viator Vol. 18 (Turnhout 1987), pp. 23–43, respectively.

I built a resources page

But you already have one of those, you may say, and indeed a whole ragbag of links on the sidebar here that you should really organise so that people may know why they could be useful. All true, but this one I built for my previous job, for the Birmingham graduate course Research Skills in Medieval Studies which I then convened, and since I no longer have access to the virtual learning environment where it resides, I thought almost as soon as I created it that it would be worth stashing the code and later copying it here also. I’ve stripped out the institutional-only bits and updated a bit of text, replaced dead links and so on. Hopefully you may find it interesting or useful…


Digital Resources

Sources of data

Object databases

Images and Maps

As far as images goes, one obvious resource that avoids problems with copyright restrictions is Wikimedia Commons, from which Wikipedia’s images all come; most of these are licensed for re-use and the metadata is usually helpful. The museum catalogues above, especially the British Museum and the Walters, also provide images of many significant objects and manuscripts. (We also deal with dedicated manuscript resources below.) Other image resources on the open web of interest to medievalists include the REALonline image server (whose sophisticated search however requires a certain amount of German), the Web Gallery of Art, and the site of Genevra Kornbluth, a medievalist art historian and photographer who is slowly digitising her photo collection.

For maps, the most obvious resource, being worldwide, sophisticated and free, is Google Earth, but of course this is not historical information. The University of Edinburgh runs a historical map archive as part of its much larger Edina service which covers the UK. Further afield can be at least partly covered by the various historical maps offered by the commercial concern Euratlas.


One of the most exciting applications of digital resources for medievalists has been the sudden and still-expanding accessibility of our original source material, manuscript books and single-sheets, in digital form. The following are only a few of what is now too substantial a set of initiatives of which to keep track. It is by now always worth seeing if the manuscript you need has been digitised by its owners. (As an example, the Vatican project listed below was brought to the editor’s attention by a friend while he was actually in the act of writing this bit of the webpage.)

Full-Text Databases

There are an ever-growing number of these. The one you will probably be most used to is Google Books, but Google’s adherence to US copyright law makes its availability outside the USA vexingly partial.

  • The most important alternative, because publicly-funded and more fully available although still largely composed of old texts, is the Internet Archive, which includes as well as texts a vast archive of music and the Wayback Machine, an attempt to archive the actual Internet.
  • The Bibliothèque nationale de France has a similar server mounted at its Gallica site, which makes its copyright-free collections fully available.
  • Another such server is to be found courtesy of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, the Münchener Digitalisierungszentrum, which also makes available the periodicals published by the Sigmaringen publishing house and the Staatsbibliothek’s manuscript collections.
  • The Internet Medieval Sourcebook is a venerable but still invaluable collection of primary sources in translation.
  • It forms part of one of the oldest medievalist sites on the Internet, the Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies. This is a collection of material largely intended for teaching, mostly now some years old, but with some nuggets buried in it.

Many more could be added. There are also specific groups of texts of interest to medievalists that are now available in digital, and searchable, form. These include the Acta Sanctorum and the Patrologia Latina, both published by ProQuest, though these are subscription-only. The Monumenta Germaniae Historica, however, is online for free and now fully searchable.

A particular group of sites can be mentioned that collect periodical literature. These are all European, where the whole open-access question (see below) has largely been solved with state money as if there was no problem there.

  • Persée is the French one of these portals, collecting most French academic journals.
  • In Germany we have DigiZeitschriften, which does the same job there.
  • In Spain the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas maintain the latest five years of all their journals on the web for free.
  • In Catalonia (que no es Espanya!) almost all journals in current publication are available through Revistes amb ACcès Obert.

Data Archives

A cautionary tale is offered by the Arts and Humanities Data Service, whose surviving web presence is located here. The AHDS was set up by the Arts and Humanities Research Board (now Council) to ensure archiving of the digital outputs of researxch done under its auspices. An important part of this endeavour was permanence and ongoing attention to making data available in current formats, all requiring a continuing investment. Unfortunately for those goals, funding for the initiative was cancelled in 2008, after which its contents, frozen, were kept available by the Joint Information Services Committee (JISC), now a private company known only as Jisc. The only part of the old AHDS that still receives and archives information is the Archaeology Data Service, which is however an invaluable and highly searchable resource that contains, among other things, copies of all ‘grey literature’ from archaeological investigations done with state funding in England.

Other archives of scholarly data or source information (beyond manuscript archives, detailed above) include the National Archives at Kew, the French site ARCHIM, the Spanish one PARES and the wider-spread Europeana.

Bibliographical Databases

One of the most obvious ways in which digital resources assist historians of all stamps is in locating the work of other historians. Some tools like Google Scholar are pluridiscplinary, but the medievalist is favoured with several specialist databases.

  • The most well-known of these is the International Medieval Bibliography, published by Brepols. Until 1996 this was a print serial, then made available (and searchable) on CD-ROM, but now it exists only online through the Brepolis portal, again accessible only via subscription.
  • Much of the IMB’s content is, however, also available along with monographs (which the IMB does not index) via the OPAC server of the Regesta Imperii project at Mainz. This is a truly invaluable resource.
  • For those whose interests are focused on the British Isles, the Royal Historical Society maintains a similar but locally more comprehensive Bibliography of British and Irish History that can be found here.
  • Lastly (of more that could be named) the site Magazine Stacks aims to index most scholarly journals important in medieval studies.

Structured Data

Making data searchable by any means than free text, which is less and less useful the larger a sample gets, requires some form of structuring. All the catalogues and databases above obviously have some structure, but this section notes some resources that aim to give you processed information resulting from scholarly work, not the raw texts from which that work could be done. Many more of these tools exist than can be listed here, and creative web-searching is to be encouraged.

  • The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England gives biographical and source information on every identifiable person recorded in Anglo-Saxon source materials, and now also those in Domesday Book too.
  • Many other prosopographies exist: one that can be compared is People of Medieval Scotland 1093-1214, but it is worth searching for more.
  • Nomen et Gens is a similar project atbthe University of Tübingen that collects information covering the early medieval Frabkish kingdoms as part of a study of ethnicities.
  • Cathalaunia is proof that worthwhile projects of this kind can be done by one person, if that person has coding chops and a lot of spare time…
  • French-speaking areas have been especially forward-looking in the digitisation of medieval documentary materials. TELMA and Chartae Burgundiae Medii Ævi are two such databases that between them collect a good proportion of the early and high medieval charter evidence of modern France, the former among many other collections.
  • In England the Electronic Sawyer and various other resources available through the Kemble website offer similar possibilities for the much scanter Anglo-Saxon charter material.
  • As with the manuscript projects, the number of such initiatives now threatens to become untrackable; the editor could link to similar endeavours going on in Italy, Serbia, Russia and Germany with no trouble. MÕM ( aims to unite these different projects into a single searchable database covering all medieval European charter evidence, and has not yet given up with 250,000-plus documents incorporated.
  • A perhaps unique way of accessing such information is offered by the site Regnum Francorum Online, which uses historical maps as a front-end for an index of prosopographical, bibliographical and archaeological information on the Frankish kingdoms of the early Middle Ages. This is hard to use but immensely informative when it can be made to work.
  • Another map-based project with more limited but no less impressive aims is ORBIS, based at Stanford University, which runs journey-planning software on a database built around the Roman road network!
  • Information from coins lends itself particularly well to this sort of treatment. The Early Medieval Corpus at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge collects all information published on coins from the British Isles of the period 380-1180, including both museum collections (the Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles) and archaeological finds (the EMC proper). (Full disclosure: Dr Jarrett used to maintain this.)

Digital interpretations of data

3D reconstructions

There are increasing numbers of these on the web. Some particularly illustrative ones are this amateur one of Ryd Abbey near Flensburg in Germany done in Blender 3D, which makes the construction stages of the model very clear or this one of the early Anglo-Saxon royal vill at Yeavering which is very true to the site. The one that perhaps most fully illustrates the potential of the medium, albeit not a medieval one, is this video showcasing a reconstructed seventeenth-century London on the eve of the Great Fire.


  • We’ve already mentioned Blender 3D, a free 3D imaging programme; there are also Microsoft Photosynth, a cloud-based application requiring Windows, and the app Autodesk 123D
  • For graphical representations of complex data, the current popular choice seems to be Gephi, which can be found here.
  • All the above software is free and usually open-source.

The Digital Humanities debate

There is a recent and heated debate about whether digital humanities is its own field or merely a way of approaching questions belonging to other humanities disciplines. One way to answer this has been to suggest that the discipline or sub-discipline is concerned with ‘big data’, accumulations of information so huge that only computerised analysis can produce results from them; a counter-attack has been that such work has so far done little beyond assembling its data. One scholar who discusses such matters accessibly is Scott Kleinman, whose blog is here; another is Jack Dougherty, whose blog is here.

Such issues have also resulted in publications, however, as scholars try to acquire digital ‘chops’ to increase the relevance and possibility of their studies and computer specialists get interested in humanities questions their techniques may be able to approach. Very few of these latter studies are conducted with the cooperation of experts in the relevant subjects, which limits their usefulness. Within the humanities, however, positions range from the extreme one that the new digital era necessarily brings with it an entirely new set of models for scholarly practice – this is most stridently set out in the edited volume Hacking the Academy, which is online for free here – to the Luddite one that the whole field is only a fad that frequently offers no more than expensive ways to check what we already ‘knew’. A middle position, that digital resources vastly increase the ease and potential of our research, seems most reasonable to us, with the added potential that if humanities scholars acquire enough of an understanding of such fields they will in fact be able to take the lead in directing such endeavours toward genuinely new outcomes.

One very recent book that explores the new possibilities of the ‘digital age’ for historians is Writing History in the Digital Age, edited by Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty, which is also online for free here and was itself experimental in construction, being edited openly online with comments from both solicited and unsolicited reviewers. A recent issue of the journal Literature Compass entitled ‘E-medieval: teaching, research and the ‘net’, even looks at such issues with a lens firmly on medieval studies. (Full disclosure: Dr Jarrett got into both these volumes, but the other essays are very good.)


That volume contains an essay written in entirely digital collaboration by Dr Jarrett on the scholarly value of blogging, which is something about which he has views. As this implies, he has a long-running academic blog, A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe, which links to many other worthy medievalist blogs and a range of further resources. You may like it.

And lastly and perhaps most importantly, even if the comic PHD: Piled Higher and Deeper doesn’t seem relevant at this stage of your studies, it will!


Brixworth Church at day’s end

This gallery contains 7 photos.

On Saturday 2nd November last year, for reasons that will probably be obvious to Anglo-Saxonists—in fact if you’re a UK-based Anglo-Saxonist you probably saw me there—I was at Brixworth in Northamptonshire, where people were generally gathered from across the field … Continue reading

Who witnessed early medieval charters?

This apparently simple question has been bugging me a long time, and it was in the hope of answering it that I originally bought the book of Benoit-Michel Tock mentioned a post or two ago. Having got to the chapters where he addresses this question directly, I was delighted to find this:

Quels sont les tiers qui souscrivent des actes du Haut Moyen Age ? Il ne s’agit pas d’établir ici un index de ces actes, ni de constituer un Bottin Mondain. Souvent d’ailleurs, les indications des actes sont elliptiques, et nécessitent l’intervention de nombreuses hypothèses pour arriver à un esquisse de solution…. La question, c’est de savoir si les tiers sont des proches de l’auteur et/ou du disposant, s’ils sont au contraire des proches du bénéficiaire, s’ils sont neutres, et choisis précisements parce qu’ils ne sont proches d’aucune des parties en présence, ou enfin (mais cela ne les empêche pas d’appartenir à une des catégories ci-dessus) s’ils sont détenteurs d’une certaine autorité et souscrivent précisement parce qu’on leur demande de garantir la transaction par la force de leur autorité.

And this is, in fact, exactly the question, but it’s a question hardly anyone asks.1 For those of you not Francolexic enough to get all that, it translates more or less as:

What are the witnesses who subscribe the acts of the early Middle Ages? We are not concerned here to establish an index of these acts, or to construct a Bottin Mondain. Often, moreover, the indications of the acts are not direct, and require the construction of numerous hypotheses to come to the outline of a solution…. The question is to know if the third parties are contacts of the actor and/or person disposing of property, if on the contrary they are contacts of the beneficiary, if they are neutrals, chosen precisely because they are close to neither of the parties present, or finally (what does not prevent them also falling into one of the categories above) if they are holders of some authority and subscribe exactly because someone asks them to guarantee the transaction by the force of that authority.

I’m interested in his answers here because I think that I used absolutely all of these possibilities in my analyses of the Catalan frontier documentation in my Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, and if there’s a general French pattern I need to consider a fair few things again before I could just decide that Catalonia is weird.2 So, what does he detect? In brief, that we move from persons close to the actors of the document to those close to the beneficiary in the mid-eleventh century, and that outside authorities are pulled on occasionally throughout. None of this is total and it rests on a relatively small number of witnesses who declare some kind of connection to other parties, but the move of emphasis is visible to him. It also ties in reasonably nicely with Stephen White’s study of the laudatio parentorum, the consent to a property transfer by the actor’s kinsfolk expressed in their signatures, which he sees as arising and then dying out towards the end of Tock’s period divide here.3 So, this must be taken seriously, and where does it leave me who has suggested quite happily that some documents were witnessed by whoever was at the cathedral or palace that day on completely different business?4

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, no. 1297

A gift by the Archpriest Ermemir to Riculf, caput scolae of the cathedral of Vic (Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, no. 1297: here I think it;’s probably safe to say the three clerical witnesses who sign autograph were around the cathedral, but how carefully selected were they?

Well, firstly, the great strength of Tock’s book is that it is founded on a big sample, the 3,631 original documents from before 1121 in French archives that went into the ARTEM database at Nancy, still locked in there when this book was written but now online, which means that ‘real soon now’ we’ll be able to see all the things he could see. Because this sample is the whole of France, though, it is diffuse, with clumps in some obvious places like Cluny and Marmoutier but usually very few per place per year. (By contrast, I read about that many documents for my Ph. D. research, but they came from a two-hundred year period, not a six-hundred year one, and a total of about ten archives all within a few hundred miles of each other.) He can do really impressive things with this sample, with validity not available to most previous researchers, but he can’t chase witnesses in their local context in the way that I can, constructing that Bottin Mondain… And secondly, of course, that would be years and years of micro-study; in a deliberately wide-ranging book that level of localisation just isn’t practical in the space.

Stafford, William Salt Library, 84/5/41

On the other hand, whether any of this lot even needed to be present we will never know for sure, but the names still had to be chosen… This is King Æthelred the Unready granting 8 hides in various places to his thegn Morcar in 1009, Stafford, William Salt Library, 84/5/41, Sawyer 922

So part of our difference here is likely just to be sample density; I have more people repeatedly turning up than he can find and can locate them and identify them more reliably even when they don’t say who they are. On the other hand, implicit in that is a whole vast mass of arguments from silence which the very occasional mention of family ties, and the difficulty resolving those that do get mentioned, should warn me may be false. Not all of them are: I think the analysis of the ‘nobles of the palace’ of Borrell II I did here and in my book shows that sometimes it really is just whoever was there, but when ‘there’ is a session of the comital court maybe a wide spread is not so surprising and I still need better ways to argue against the trend he sees than sheer evidential one-up-manship.5 Still: it’s better than, “well, my study area is just different….”

1. B.-M. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle), Atelier de Recherches sur les Textes Médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2005), quote at p. 244. Other work that does ask who witnesses are and why they’re there is limited, but notable examples would be Wendy Davies, Small Worlds: the village community in early medieval Brittany (London 1988), pp. 109-128, and Ross Balzaretti, “The Politics of Property in Ninth-Century Milan: familial motives and monastic strategies in the village of Inzago” in Mélanges de l’École de France : moyen âge Vol. 111 (Rome 1999), pp. 747-770, online here, with résumé p. 980.

2. J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 143-144, not as substantial a discussion as I should have given it.

3. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 244-254; Stephen D. White, Custom, Kinship, and Gifts to Saints. The Laudatio Parentum in Western France, 1050-1150 (Chapel Hill 1988).

4. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, p. 104.

5. Ibid., pp. 161-164.