Beware of Greeks bearing names

Ruins of the palæochristian basilica at Empúries, one place it seems reasonable to say people came to Catalonia from actual Greece, albeit rather before this building was put up, let alone knocked down... "Paleochristian Basilica - Empúries - 2005-03-27". Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Ruins of the palæochristian basilica at Empúries, one place it seems reasonable to say people came to Catalonia from actual Greece, albeit rather before this building was put up, let alone knocked down… “Paleochristian Basilica – Empúries – 2005-03-27“. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Continuing through Benoît-Michel Tock‘s methodical study of subscriptions to French charters of the seventh to twelfth century, I found an unexpected moment of solidarity.1 It’s not that I don’t expect to share ideas and conclusions with M. le Prof Tock, as we are interested in very similar things, but this bit, well, you will see. He is discussing the appearance of surnames in the charters he is studying, and the first instance is one Urso Grecus, who turns up only in the foundation charter of Cluny, in 910.2 Tock argues that this ‘Greek’ appellation can’t be taken literally, as the name Ursus is no kind of Greek known, so that the surname probably tells us he could read Greek, rather than that he was somehow seen as Greek. But this is a question that can be explored with the Catalan evidence, where there are one or two more such characters, including a judge called Oruç whose name (in Latin, Aurucius) is oddly similar to Ursus but who lived too late to be the same man, including being captured in the sack of Barcelona in 985 and later ransomed.3 Now, Oruç has been taken either to actually have been Greek or perhaps a legally-trained person from Byzantine Italy brought in as part of Borrell II’s judicial reforms, to the best of my knowledge, but the same problem of the non-Greek name arises for him, and it’s not just him.4 At which point, enter one of this blog’s running fascinations:

« En sens inverse, ZIMMERMANN, La connaissance du grec, p. 496–497, confronté dans la Catalogne des environs de l’an mil à un Guitardus grecus, malgré la non hellenité de ce nom, accepte que ce soit un Grec. Il est vrai que la Catalogne était plus perméable que la Touraine aux influences méditerranéennes, et que l’épouse de ce Guitardus portait le nom, bien grec lui, de Polemia. Ne pourrait-on imaginer que ce Guitardus, Franc comme son nom l’indique, ait cherché fortune et trouvé femme en Grèce, d’où le surnom qui lui aurait été attribué ? »5

Which, translated roughly, comes out as:

“In the opposite sense, Zimmermann, ‘La connaissance du grec’, pp. 496-497, faced, in the Catalonia of around the year 1000, with a Guitardus grecus, despite the non-Hellenity of the name, accepts this person as a Greek. It is true that Catalonia was more permeable to Mediterranean influences than was the Touraine, and that this Guitard’s wife bore the name, this one perfectly Greek, of Polemia. Could one not imagine that this Guitardus, a Frank as his name shows, had sought fortune and found a wife in Greece, whence the surname that was attributed to him?”

To which I’d like to say, “yes, yes one can, or at least this one can.” This might even just work for Oruç, too, in as much as his wife Maria’s name is obviously not impossible for Greece.6 Obviously I twitch at saying someone was Frankish because they bore a Frankish name, and there are a number of instances in a Spanish context of people using one or other of a pair of names from alternative language’s name-stocks depending on what company they’re in, and this is probably a bit too simplistic for the melting-pot that Barcelona was becoming. I also wonder a little bit about how wryly to read the juxtaposition of seeking a fortune and finding a wife. Nonetheless, I think that since neither Zimmermann’s or Tock’s reading of these names can be proven (saving the surpassingly unlikely accident of these persons’ graves being identifiably found and their teeth showing their origins when analysed) I’d like to go with the one that involves the romance, just because that would make the period that bit more fun to, as he says, imagine.7

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).

2. Auguste Bernard & Alexandre Bruel (edd.), Recueil des Chartes de l’Abbaye de Cluny (Paris 1876-1903), 7 vols, doc. no. 112, discussed in Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 89-90.

3. He appears in at least: Francesc X. Altés i Aguiló, “El Diplomatari del monestir de Santa Ceília de Montserrat I: anys 900-999” in Studia monastica Vol. 36 (Montserrat 1994), pp. 223-302, doc. no. 96; Cebrià 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. no. 278; Àngel Fabrega i Grau (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona: documents dels anys 844-1260. Volum I: documents dels anys 844-1000, Sèries IV: Fonts Documentals 1 (Barcelona 1995), doc. nos 162, 166, 170, 172 & 220; Gaspar Feliu & Josep María Salrach (edd.), Els Pergamins de l’Arxiu Comtal de Barcelona de Ramon Borrell a Ramon Berenguer I, Diplomataris 18-20 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 37, 46, 50, 60, 88, 91, 97 & 109; 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. 1526; & Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos XVIII (Barcelona 1951), doc. nos 207, 211, 218, 227, 228 & 237.

4. Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une société, Publications de l’Université Toulouse-le Mirail, Sèrie A, 23 & 29 (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols, I pp. 345 figures Oruç as an actual Greek; Philip Banks, “«Greeks» in Early Medieval Barcelona?” in Faventia Vol. 2 (Barcelona 1980), pp. 73-88, online here, last modified 15th November 2006 as of 9th August 2009, suggests that he and the other six such Greci visible in early medieval Catalonia were local-born sons of an otherwise unattested Greek-speaking Sicilian immigration in the earlier tenth century. I have a nasty feeling that the suggestion of a link with Borrell’s judicial reforms, since I am the person who thinks they happened, originated with me, but obviously that wouldn’t explain the others.

5. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, p. 90 n. 26, referencing Michel Zimmermann, “La connaissance du grec en Catalogne du IXe au XIe siècle” in Michel Sot (ed.), Haut Moyen Âge : Culture, éducation et société. Études offertes à Pierre Riché (La Garenne-Colombes 1990), pp. 493-515.

6. Maria appears in Feliu & Salrach, Pergamins, doc. no. 109.

7. On the two-named populations, see Victor Aguilar & Francesco Rodríguez Mediano, “Antroponimia de origen árabe en la documentación leonesa (siglos VIII-XIII)” in El Reino de León en la Alta Edad Media Vol. 6 (León 1994), pp. 497-633.

4 responses to “Beware of Greeks bearing names

  1. A llitle search reveals that you can also find a Grecus side by side with (i suppouse) your Aurucius iudice in the year 996 (Altés i Aguiló, Francesc Xavier : 1994 : “El Diplomatari del monestir de Santa Cecília de Montserrat I- Anys 900-999” : Studia monastica : Vol. 36 (1994) pgs.223-302 D.96.
    And two more individuals named Ursio can be found in (Berguedà, 900) and (Osona 906).

    • Yes, it’s not a very uncommon name: there are about fifteen examples in the indexes of Catalunya Carolíngia IV, just as one measure. Thankyou for the Montserrat reference: I knew there was one but my old Word files had locked up and I couldn’t be bothered waiting for it! Now added.

  2. Pingback: Who witnessed early medieval charters? | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  3. Pingback: Redactions of many stages | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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