‘We saw with our eyes and heard with our ears…’

I’m sorry for the unintended hiatus here over the last few days. It turns out that a week in which you start teaching a new hitherto-unfamiliar primary text in two volumes and initiate work on two separate projects outside your main job as well as going to three seminars and a football match (but a football match with medievalists, I should insist) just isn’t very compatible with blogging. Who knew? You will, of course, hear about not just the projects but also the primary text and what I read round it at least a little bit, but the post I have been meaning to finish, and now do, is one more about the gift that keeps on giving, Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil.1

Cover of Josep María Salrach's Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l'any mil (Vic 2013)

Cover of Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil (Vic 2013)

The last one of these posts, you may recall, involved the process for replacing lost documents under Visigothic law, reparatio scripturae, as applied in Catalonia. As I said then, the documents that record such events involve quite detailed reprises of documents sometimes from many years before, and this has led to scepticism that such details could in fact have been genuinely present in the old documents, rather than recovered from the contemporary situation and artifically gilded with the antiquity of presumed memory.2 But as with other such questions, while he doesn’t obviously know that it’s being asked, Salrach has an answer to this, at least potentially. Picking up on the Cuixà hearing I quoted last time and the way its witnesses say that they had read and re-read the missing documents when they existed (quite recently), he argues that probably anyone who had charters got them read out to audiences every now and then so that they would be remembered.3

The volumes of Calaixs 6 & 9 of the Arxiu Episcopal de Vic

I don’t have a picture of the actual document so that you can read it, alas, but it is physically within one of these volumes

Now this obviously makes sense in some ways: it would explain the level of recall that Bowman finds implausible, and certainly this is not the only place where witnesses say such a thing, though the usual phrase is less literate, “we saw with our eyes and heard with our ears”. And there is, as you may just recall, one case where this process is actually documented, at the cathedral of Vic in the year 898. There, one Boso himself took an oath as to the content of several charters he’d lost involving land sold him by two couples, Ermoarí and Farelda and Domènec and Guisilda, and then got five witnesses to testify under oath that they had seen this done. And so they duly say:

“We the above-written witnesses know, and well recall in truth, and saw with our eyes and our ears heard, or we were also present at that hour while those two people, by name the late Domènec and his wife Guisilda and Ermoarí and his wife Farelda, were in the county of Osona, in the term of Taradell, in the hamlet of Gaudilà. And thus made the late Domènec a little charter or sale to the man by the name of Boso, of all his heredity which he had in the county of Osona within the limits of the castle of Taradell or in the hamlet of Gaudilà, and Ermoarí with his wife Farelda sold all their lands or a house, all their heredity in Gaudilà’s hamlet to that same Boso. And we witnesses saw the selfsame documents confirmed and impressed with the sign of the man by the name of Domènec and his wife…”

… and it goes on into what I tend to call non-exclusion clauses, in which every sort of property that the estates concerned might have included is named so that nothing can be claimed as omitted.4 But what’s interesting here is where it goes next, which is to what happened to the documents:

“And we witnesses were signatories making marks in the little charter of Ermoarí, and there was recorded there the notary Joan the priest. We witnesses saw the selfsame documents confirmed and corroborated and impressed with the sign of the sellers, Domènec and his wife and of Ermoarí and his wife, and of the audience and of the chancellor just as is inserted above. And we saw the selfsame documents handed over into the power of that same Boso and I the already-said Domènec and his wife and Ermoarí and his wife handed them over of their own spontaneous will into the power of the selfsame Boso. And we witnesses saw and heard the selfsame documents read and re-read one and another and a third time in the hamlet of Gaudilà. And that same Boso had the selfsame lost documents, and it was evident.”

What Salrach of course picks up on is the reference to a repeated reading. Again this makes perfect sense as a way that things could have been done, and as I’ve said elsewhere it’s a real pity that we can’t trust it…5 The reason that we can’t is the notary and the chancellor; these are the only documents in the whole of Carolingian Catalonia as far as I know, and certainly in this county, that mention such officers. Obviously the documents had a scribe, but neither of these is likely to be a title they used. That means that the scribe of these documents, a priest by the name of Ademir, had another model in use from somewhere, and that no procedural detail included in these documents can be proven to come from life rather than the model. And this is the only text we have that mentions this re-reading on site…

Cathedral of Sant Pere de vic seen from the Riu Gurri

The cathedral of Sant Pere de Vic, from the Riu Gurri, where with a rather different and presumably smaller building on site this all took place. By Enfo (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Of course this doesn’t take away Salrach’s point. If the recall (which sometimes goes well beyond the likely: we have the name of one of the Muslim governors operating in Catalonia before the Muslim conquest from one of the Cuixà document replacements, whose forty-year-old original had apparently recorded a century of tenure history!6) is to be accepted, it needs explaining; here is a perfectly good explanation, even if it probably isn’t what actually happened here. So when would this hypothetical reading have taken place? There is a contention made by people who work on monastic cartularies that these, functioning as memorials of donors, would have been read out on solemn occasions in the monastery, such as particular feast days, and the same could just about be true of secular churches, if they picked a day when a good crowd would be there.7 But should we imagine similar opportunities being taken in the lay world? There would be no fixed points of the calendar outwith the liturgy for the lay population, so the occasion would have to be generated, either by the agricultural year or by one-off events, which it seems odd to picture being co-opted for this purpose. Everyone’s here for the wedding or whatever, let’s quickly get the charters out and run through ’em? And who could run through formulaic Latin documents for such an audience anyway? There is, most likely, an evidentially silent practice of public land-speaking here that these procedures imply, but do not prove. The case is not made by Salrach, but it seems to me that the combination of these various cases does make it stronger. I would have liked more from him on this!

1. J. M. Salrach, Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil, Referències 55 (Vic 2013).

2. Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: property, proof and dispute in Catalonia around the year 1000 (Ithaca 2004), pp. 151-161.

3. Salrach, Justícia i poder, p. 195, referring to Pierre Ponsich (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia VI: els comtats de Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir i Fenollet, rev. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LXX (Barcelona 2006), 2 vols, doc. no. 121.

4. The two documents from the hearing are edited as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 33 & 34, the latter here quoted in my translation. The cataloguic property listings are discussed by Michel Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, I pp. 208-217.

5. J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis (University of London 2005), online here, pp. 49-53.

6. Salrach, Justícia i poder, 195, without further reference, but the document is Ponsich, Catalunya Carolíngia VI, doc. no. 120, with the actual content here referred to printed as its own entry as no. 23.

7. Patrick Geary, “Entre gestion et gesta” in Olivier Guyotjeannin, Laurent Morelle & Michel Parisse (edd.), Les Cartulaires : Actes de la Table Ronde organisée par l’École Nationale des Chartes et le G. D. R. 121 du C. N. R. S. (Paris, 5-7 décembre 1991), Mémoires et Documents de l’École des Chartes 39 (Paris 1993), pp. 13-26; see also Geary, “Land, Language and Memory in Europe 700-1100” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 9 (Cambridge 1999), pp. 169-184.

4 responses to “‘We saw with our eyes and heard with our ears…’

  1. Some comments.
    1) In this time frame there’s another cancellarius, in Nimes, and some other more in Vienne/Lyon/Burgundy (along with some other notarius), so, those documents are certainly quite unique but it could be just a case of an scarcity of evidence.
    2) I don’t buy the notion defended by Salrach that memorizing of documents was a document preservation methodology. The mention to reading and re-reading are only needed because written words were suppoused to depend on ‘real’ or ‘live’ spoken words, void of effect or ‘reality’ without spoken utterances, and also as a witness agreement procedure, not for mnemothecnic reasons. I just don’t buy the notion of thousands of illiterate document’s owners, keeping in their houses parchments that they don’t understand at all.

    • Well, I don’t mean to imply that there are no so-called chancellors or notaries anywhere in this period: we could just start in Rome and move north… But even Nîmes is a long way from Vic, and Burgundy uses a different law entirely. I think that might be significant, given that the Visigothic law doesn’t mention notaries. I don’t think whatever model was in use here was local.

      As for memorising documents, there is an argument we could have about literacy with people who think differently to you, and I think you and I would be on the same side, but this point of Salrach’s is maybe not part of that argument. I don’t think that he is implying, or that the documents imply, that the owners of the charters couldn’t read them, merely that they got them read out in public so that the most people possible remembered them. The performance may even have been better for establishing a memory than would passing charters round to be read have been, it would certainly have been quicker and we’re also not very sure that many people learnt to read silently in this period anyway, so there might not even have been much difference between the two situations.

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