Monthly Archives: March 2015


Obviously there are deaths all over and many much less expected or peaceful than these, but nonetheless, with Terry Pratchett yesterday and Daevid Allen this morning, to the latter of whom I still owed a hug as well as years … Continue reading

Announcing Inheriting Rome

Publicity image for Inheriting Rome: the imperial legacy in coinage and culture, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, 27 February 2015 – 24 January 2016

Inheriting Rome: the imperial legacy in coinage and culture
Barber Institute of Fine Arts, 27 February 2015 – 24 January 2016
Coin Gallery

One of the very many things that have been keeping me from updating this blog as I would wish over recent months is now done, and can and should be announced. It is nothing less than the new exhibition in the Coin Gallery at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, curated by none other than yours truly. It’s entitled Inheriting Rome: the imperial legacy in coinage and culture and I’m really very pleased with it. The designer has taken my ideas and content and made it into a feast for the eyes as well as the brain but people have also been telling me that it is clear and interesting and makes them think and all those things that one wants to hear when one has done this much work to put objects, text and images together for the delectation of the general public. The Barber’s current What’s On leaflet has this to encourage you to come and see:

Look at one of the coins you’re carrying today: you’ll see the Queen’s portrait facing right and Latin script around the royal head. It seems our coins have looked this way forever, and that’s nearly true. But why? This exhibition uses money to explore and question our deep-seated familiarity with the Roman Empire’s imagery. Britain is not the only nation, empire or state to channel ancient Rome in this way: the Barber’s excellent collection of coins from the Byzantine Empire – as well examples from Hungary, Georgia and Armenia – illustrate both the problems and possibilities of being genuine heirs of Rome. Attempting to uncover the political uses of Rome’s legacy, this exhibition encourages the visitor to ponder why we are so often told of the empire’s importance – and whose interests such imagery serves.

A little UK-centric in retrospect, but then I don’t think we send the leaflet out any further than that… You can see that I was and am out to make a point, anyway, but really, come for how great it all looks and stay for the interpretation. It’s open until the 24th January 2016, and there are gallery tours on the third Sunday of most months as well as a number of gallery talks by myself, of which you can find details on the Barber’s website at those links. Do come and see!

Entrance to the Coin Gallery, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, showing the banners for Inheritance of Rome

Entrance to the gallery

Meanwhile, I have to thank Robert Wenley, Chezzy Brownen and John van Boolen for making it clearer and better in various ways or in John’s case actually helping install it, as well as crawling in roof-spaces to try and fix broken lights, and most of all Selina Goodfellow of Blind Mice Design for making it into something everyone wants to look at. I’ll have as much credit as is going, you know, but these people deserve theirs too. Thanks to all and you, readers, come and see what we did!

Backdrops at the end of the coin gallery of Inheriting Rome

Backdrops at the end of the gallery

(Right. So that just leaves a website rewrite, children’s activities, auditing the collection, checking the library and uploading the entire set of catalogues onto the University of Birmingham’s website, ON WHICH MORE SHORTLY, as well as zapping things with X-rays for purposes of Science! What’ll I do tomorrow?)

The English and Hungarian coins in the exhibition Inheriting Rome

The English and Hungarian coins in the exhibition, in full splendour

Sometimes justice really was blind

I work on the Catalan tenth century not least because, while the amount of evidence I have to work with is huge, if I ever step across the line into the eleventh century there’s just so much more that I would never get through it all. Much less of the material from after 1000 is published, too, though that is now improving. For my Ph. D., however, I set a cut-off date at 1030, figuring that a generation’s space after 1000 would let most of the threads I wanted to follow find their ends, and this lets some fun things sneak in that a study of the tenth century only would miss.

Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona, Pergamins, C (Sant Pere de Casserres) núm 20

Like this, for example, about which I wrote a long time ago. It is Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona, Pergamins, C (Sant Pere de Casserres) núm 20

I think this must be the only reason Josep María Salrach’s study of justice in Catalonia doesn’t mention what I had, when I drafted this, just found in the appendices of Michel Zimmermann’s Écrire et lire en Catalogne, of which I was then in the final pages.1 Zimmermann is interested in the early part of that book in people who get documents signed with clauses explaining why they couldn’t write themselves, and his Annexe IV is a long list of all the examples he’d found.2 Usually the reason given is illness, sometimes people stress that they can read even if they can’t write, and very rarely is it just ‘I can’t’, though despite all of this most signatures, in all documents, are done by the scribe, and it’s almost only ecclesiastics who sign for themselves. There’s an odd case, however, a judge named Guillem who, in Zimmermann’s list, always has his signature done with the same clause:3

“Ego Guillermus judex qui huius edictionis tactu necessitate oculorum signoque impressionis corroboro.”

This is quite tricky to translate, not least because it’s possible that where he used ‘necessitas’ he meant or was riffing on ‘cecitas’, which would be ‘blindness’, much more common in these formulae. And it clearly is a formula here, it is repeated for him pretty much word-for-word over a 28-year period and all that changes is the spelling of his name (Willielmus in the first document), despite a myriad of different scribes, so he must have known this clause and dictated it to the scribes. It’s something like:

“I, the judge Guillem, corroborate, by reason of necessity of the eyes, by touching this edict and with a mark of impression.”

It’s not clear to me for this wording whether he was meant to be holding a pen or not, or just to have put his finger to where his signature had been written for him, but in the only one of these documents of which I have a picture, his is the last witness signature and while it is clearly in the scribal hand, as you’d expect, it is followed, as you can see below, by a cross, set crookedly to the line of writing.4 I’d like to think that’s his mark. He presumably would have remembered how it went even if he couldn’t see what he was doing any more, and I do wonder if the odd word choice should be taken to imply that he didn’t think he was blind as such, just, I don’t know, long-sighted or something. He certainly didn’t let it stop him judging for another twenty years! And, as the post title implies, his would have been closer to blind justice than the area sometimes managed…

Partial facsimile of a 986 document from the Arxiu Capitular de Vic

Black-and-white facsimile of part of a charter of Guillem’s, his signature being the last line and a bit of the body text

1. J. M. Salrach, Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil, Referències 55 (Vic 2013); Michel Zimmermann, Érire et lire en Catalogne (siècles IX-XIII), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols.

2. Ibid., I pp. 81-83 & II pp. 1107-1111.

3. There’s the question of whether he appears before his eye problem developed and signed for himself then, and there is a judge Guillem in Cebrià Baraut (ed.), ‘Els documents, dels anys 981-1010, de l’Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell’ in Urgellia Vol. 3 (Montserrat 1980), pp. 7-166, doc. no. 252 & Antoni M. Udina i Abelló, La Successió testada a la Catalunya medieval, Textos i Documents 5 (Barcelona 1984), ap. 26, but of course to prove it’s the same guy, you’d need, well, his signature… And there is a judge Guillem working at this same time who could still write, so who knows really. The documents in which Zimmermann finds him professing inability so to do run from 986 to 1015, and were then printed as: Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX i X), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), 5 fascicules, doc. no. 524; Petrus de Marca, Marca Hispanica sive Limes Hispanicus, hoc est geographica & historica descriptio cataloniæ, ruscinonis, & circumiacentium populorum, ed. Étienne Baluze (Paris 1688; repr. Barcelona 1972, 1989), ap. CLXXIII; Francesc Monsalvatje y Fossas (ed.), Colección Diplomática del Condado de Besalú, Noticias Históricas XI-XIII, XV & XIX (Olot 1901-1909), 5 vols, ap. DLXXIII; & Jaime Villaneuva, Viage Literario a las Iglesias de España tomo XIII: viage á Gerona (Madrid 1850) app. XX & XXII.

4. Miquel dels Sants Gros i Pujol, ‘Lámines’ in Junyent, Diplomatari, pp. 681-808, no. 108 (doc. no. 524).