Putting coins aside for at least one post, I return to the way I spent roughly this time last year, i. at conferences and in particular at The Carolingian Frontier and its Neighbours, which I started writing about a couple of posts ago. Resuming our tale on the 5th July, had you been in the JCR TV Room of Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge at 9 o’clock in the morning you would have found none other than me, leading off a session with a paper called “‘Completely Detached from the Kingdom of the Franks’? Political Identity in Catalonia in the Very Late Carolingian Era”. As you might expect, I don’t have notes on this,but I can give you the abstract and you can always ask for more.
The very last years of Carolingian rule in the West have been seen as decisive for the separation of the area that is now Catalonia from the larger West Frankish kingdom whence it had its origins as a political entity: between the sack of Barcelona 985 and the succession of King Hugh Capet in 987, the counties of the future Catalonia are held to have come to a collective realisation that they stood alone against the times in which they found themselves. Such a date is very late for the allegiance of any Carolingian periphery to the core, however: of what could such loyalties really consist? This paper explores the various forms of evidence that can be brought to bear on this question and concludes firstly that loyalty was strong enough that it could be exploited politically by counts and kings and their followers, but that its strength was too limited to assist in real crisis, and secondly that it was those crises, in 957 and in 985, that therefore broke the last ties to the Carolingians in Catalonia.
I have yet to work out what to do with this paper, which is more or less the latest instalment of some thoughts I’ve been having since midway through my doctorate, but I’m pretty sure it fitted the conference and hope it set things up well. But from there it was to Central Europe, Brittany, Burgundy and some other fiddly bits that might be either France or Germany depending on when you look, and back to Central Europe again. If I was an outlier, so was everyone! Writing this up, I realise that the crucial issues that joined us all up, for me, were one about group identity, how it was created and why it failed, and what the rôle of the frontier was in that. So if those interest you, read on! The papers broke down like this…
- Arthur Westwell, “Sundering the West: the Byzantine conception of Western borders and its impact on the mission to Moravia”
This was a fairly clear setting-out of the situation between the Frankish and Byzantine empires as they headed into one of their most significant disputes, that over who got to evangelise the Balkans. What I take from this now is mainly that although we as Carolingianists tend to see the Byzantine Empire as having deliberate policies vis-à-vis the Franks, actually the points of Western power they were interested in affecting were the papacy (whose then-occupants, Nicholas I and Hadrian II, were not necessarily the Carolingian’s favourite pontiffs) and the Slavs, and the Franks only really got onto the radar in as much as they interfered in these spheres that the Byzantines still saw as their patch. I suppose it’s probably arguable that the whole upset over who controlled Cyril and Methodius, the Byzantine missionaries in the area, was for the Franks mainly also about who could tell the pope what to do, but in either case the point is that the two empires worked against each other only via third parties, but that Francia somehow saw this differently.
At the time I felt that although Mr Westwell showed an admirable command of his material, our two papers didn’t play together very well: different centuries, different peoples, different source languages… The discussion, also, was rather divided: no-one asked both of us a question. Looking over my notes, though, it seems to me that a point of contact would have been at the way the past weighed on these polities, and in particular with archbishoprics in abandoned cities, Tarragona for me and Sirmium for Mr Westwell. Both of these got reactivated in our respective periods and both of them caused difficulty because of the subsequent history that by then overlaid them. The counts of Barcelona had to back out of Tarragona in the 960s because the Caliph of Córdoba made them, but they didn’t want it as city, they wanted it as jurisdiction over the bishoprics in their territory which were otherwise under Frankish Narbonne. They next tried moving the dignity to Vic and, as I’ve argued that failed.1 Likewise, as Helmut Reimitz pointed out in discussion, the Byzantines got Pope Hadrian II to reactivate the metropolitan province of Sirmium, which had been abandoned after an Avar sack in 582, in 870, cutting its area out of the sphere of Frankish Salzburg. The Franks then had to oust the Croat prince in charge of the area so as to have jurisdiction over their own missionary zones.2 Both the counts of Barcelona and the Franks had tried to set up new arrangements that favoured the contemporary political situation, but in both cases the fact that things had once been otherwise was something that their opponents could use to prevent those arrangements sticking.
The next session gelled rather better, it being constructed thus:
- Caroline Brett, “The Breton March: contested frontier or power vacuum”
- Fraser McNair, “Bretons, Vikings and the Question of Ethnicity on the Tenth-Century Breton Frontier”
Here, Dr Brett was arguing that pictures of the Franks’ relations with Brittany that see them as steady and stable are missing the fact that the region was essentially beyond contact for much of the period 630 to 750, and that whatever the Carolingians might have said about renewing old authority when they moved in after that time, they came as conquerors and were unable to stay, not least because their conquest changed so little. She argued that Brittany therefore wasn’t a ‘real’ frontier, because no serious attempts were ever made to make it Frankish. The Frankish pressure did however work to create a Breton identity, partly because the Franks wanted leaders whom they could control but also just out of resistance.3 Fraser then took that process into the tenth century, for Brittany a period of recovery from really destabilising Viking attack, and argued that while we are probably wrong to see anyone deliberately working to establish a unifying ‘Breton’ identity, which neither texts nor material culture consistently distinguish, there may have come to be an oppositional identity as ‘Northmen’, for people who couldn’t get in on the local power games, a “loser’s identity” as he put it but one that couldn’t be contested.
Because Fraser had talked about a ship burial at Île-de-Groix, which is unique on the Continent but also only just thereon, I wound up bringing in Ardnamurchan in discussion, similarly ‘unique’ and offshore, and pairing this with the word ‘liðsman’, ship-man, to argue that perhaps Viking identity was territorial with respect to the sea, rather than any particular piece of land, but I’m not sure if anyone bought it.4 Anther question was about the Breton language, not preserved in writing until the late Middle Ages, meaning that the Church was always ‘Roman’ or otherwise foreign in our period. Joachim Henning and Jens Christian Moesgaard got into an obdurate argument about whether one tenth-century (Anglo-Viking) coin was enough to make the ringfort of Camp de Péran a Viking stronghold or not, to which Fraser wisely pointed out that the Île-de-Groix burial contained shield bosses of a type the archæologists call Frankish but that we can be fairly sure that’s not what the burial party were out to communicate… There were divisions briefly opened up here about how far ethnicity exists in archæological terms which we would come back to both later and the next day.5
But meanwhile, there was lunch and then we got away from the coast for a bit!
- Grégrory Girard, “Burgundy and the Carolingians: reconquer, reorganise, integrate and conserve”
- Wojciech Fałkowski, “Neustria: competing influences, persistent traditions and ongoing rivalries”
With this session we moved into the internal frontiers of the Carolingian empire, places that can only be considered frontiers because of the splits of jurisdiction within it but which were thus all the more hotly contested. M. Girard took us through the history of Burgundy’s incorporation into the Frankish polity, arguing that it was not really so incorporated, rather than just being joined up, until the time of Charles Martel (ruled 718-742), at which point much that had been long established in terms of organisation was destroyed and replaced, and the following century before it broke away and split was in dealing with that. This all seemed to me to fit nicely with the Matthew Innes model of Carolingian conquest we’ve looked at here before, at least, but discussion made it clear that this was work in its early stages. Professor Fałkowski, meanwhile, argued that the Frankish principality of Neustria, covering roughly from the Loire to the Seine, offered as much of an identity in its day as the polities we had been invoking that still exist now, not least because the amount of royal property there made it somewhat of an indivisible kernel of the West Frankish kingdom as it developed. Borders between kingdoms eventually overcut its edges, but lesser divisions like bishoprics and pagi that also wound up so split were long-lasting signs of a once-greater unity. This all seemed possible to me but didn’t tell me very much about frontiers except that they are multi-scalar, which is always worth remembering. Fraser focused on the county of Vermandois, one such unit that almost became its own separate border principality for a while, and Professor Fałkowski admitted that it was exceptionally ready to disconnect from the larger identity.6 In general, I felt we might learn more from the exceptions to this theory than the conformity, which is still worth doing of course!
Then, after much needed tea, we returned to a frontier with which no-one could argue, the Eastern March, with all its rather bloody and unfortunate subsequent historical baggage.
- Ingrid Rembold, “The Saxon Wars and the Obodrites”
- Ivo Štefan, “Charlemagne and ‘Wild East’: transformation of Slavic world in Carolingian period”
Of course, the Carolingian period was not necessarily less bloody for these areas, as the late Christopher Lee sonorously reminded us and as Ms Rembold now set out, arguing for a change in the way the Carolingians saw Saxony pre- and post-785×792 because of conversion being officially carried out in that time; before, the Saxons were pagans who could be genocidally slaughtered, afterwards the war had to be won by deportation, because the enemy were now recalcitrant members of the greater Christian people. The other big change about then was that the later period involved the Slavic group known as the Obodrites, about whom we know much less than would be ideal because they seem to have been a vital point around which the new frontier politics revolved, vital but vulnerable allies, threats to whom had to divert Carolingian resources because of the possible consequences of their failure. (I’m now thinking of Italy’s relationship to Germany in the Second World War.) Given this and what Ms Rembold argued, surely correctly, was the overtly religious character of the campaigns against Saxony, it suddenly seems weird to me that there was so little Carolingian effort to convert the Obodrites; I had thought there was none, and Dr Štefan said as much too, but Daniel Melleno had to remind us all that there was one mission sent from Hamburg-Bremen, even if it had no real effect. Anyway!
Dr Štefan took us deeper into the ninth century, a point at which as he said we suddenly start to have information about many Slav groups whose birth has therefore been seen around this time but whose distinctions or whose unifying charactertistics are very hard to establish. I would now note how, for Emperor Constantine VII writing his De Administrando Imperii in the 950s, the various ‘Slav’ peoples of the Balkans included not just immigrants but long-resident local populations of quite other origins, including what he considered to be Romans; their supposed ‘ethnicity’ was to him a matter of current political grouping, not language or origins.7 I will write more about this, but Dr Štefan may have sown the idea for me as I see from my notes that he was saying just the same thing about the historical picture more generally. The groups we do see are very short-lived and fluid, however, some arriving into the record only in the aftermath of the Carolingian destruction of the Avars and others disappearing from the record with the deaths of certain leaders, making the Carolingians ‘brands’ for them look much more like political parties than ancestral peoples. Traffic with these zones was sort of controlled, but it was controlled not at any kind of border but at portui far into uncontrolled territory.8 Their own centres were the kind of big fortresses I learnt about from the work of Hajnalka Herold, but in increasingly splendid development that may be the result of Carolingian contact but that I suspect Hajnalka would argue could as easily be reacting to Byzantium.9
The Carolingians were at least trying to have that kind of effect, though, largely as part of a longer tradition of claims to such influence located in Bavaria even before the Carolingians took over there. In general this paper did a really good job of teasing out many active strands of contact and development without being either vague or over-positivist. I also note that it supports what I’m going to argue at Leeds next week, that for the early medieval frontier nothing was more crucial than choosing a subordinate leader you could trust and then letting him or her get on with his own plans, and how difficult that could sometimes be. This was a long paper, which also tried to fit the short-lived Moravian princedom into this picture as a kind of empire in imitation of the Carolingians, trying to do what they did with these border groups to assemble its own hegemony. Here, though, as we had seen in Brittany and in other places too, the result was that reaction to the Carolingians produced much the same result as Carolingian intervention in the long run, a new set of units with more-or-less contructed identities that now had an internal structure which would sustain them after the Carolingian wave had ebbed. I should really think harder about how Catalonia conforms to this or doesn’t, given that I don’t see Catalonia as having been colonised in the same way as I do the East. My perspectives here are probably anachronistic…
The discussion asked several of the kind of questions I’ve heard Hajnalka and Dr Štefan answer about their material before, but I was prompted to ask what, in either case, counted as conversion to Christianity in our sources. Of course, the answers were very different, because Ms Rembold’s material is basically textual and Dr Štefan’s basically archæological, but she immediately said that the thing that her sources are concerned is baptism, and little more, whereas his index is mainly churches, which occur in profusion in the power centres but hardly at all outside them, suggesting that conversion was more or less confined to parts of the élites.
And then, after quite an intense day, it was dinnertime, but there was an awful lot to think about here, much of which as you can see I am still working with a year later. Interesting spaces to think into seem to be the difference between active and reactive development in frontier zones, and how similar their effects can be, whether there is something obvious about state formation here that we could in fact take back into supposedly ‘central’ areas (as the idea of Neustria as a frontier principality would allow, if it could be sustained) and, of course, how we measure this when evidence is so various and so differently tricky of interpretation. Identity of a group didn’t ought to be proven either by someone outside asserting it or by people within using particular goods—I stand by the noble Levi 501s (or 618s for preference, if you happen to know my size) as proof that this kind of evidence cannot be used to assert something as simple as political membership—and yet both of these are a kind of index of perception, contemporary or modern, that illustrates the possibility of distinction.10 Our modern wish to allow groups to decide their own identity here vies, I think, with the fact that even now and certainly not long ago, that prerogative was often assumed by others, not least as part of stating what those others wished not to be. We don’t want that to count as identity formation, at least in the current UK academy, but we might need to find ways of accepting that others’ wish to do so did have an effect, even if we don’t like it. Calling someone an Obodrite, or a Croat or whatever, obviously doesn’t make them one, but if you repeatedly send ambassadors to the ‘Croats’ and appoint people who can speak for such a group and equip them to govern, it may not matter in all respects whether such a group inherently exists or not. And here again, the comparison with Catalonia produces different results but perhaps only at first: the Carolingians created something here but the identity has come much later, and yet its long period of suppression from Madrid probably did (and I know some would argue, does) much to solidify what the identity now means to its claimants. As I say, I’m still thinking with all this stuff. I hope it also gets you thinking!
This post has been written to the rather odd succession of Acidoravideo Mothers Temple’s Acid Mothers Temple Festival vol. 7 and Radiohead’s OK Computer, and I’m not sure what that may have done for it.
1. Jonathan Jarrett, “Archbishop Ató of Osona: false metropolitans on the Marca Hispanica” in Archiv für Diplomatik Vol. 56 (München 2010), pp. 1-41.
2. Apart from my notes on Helmut’s question, I’m here going on Romilly J. H. Jenkins & Francis Dvornik, “Cc. 29/1–53, 217–295; 30–36” in Jenkins (ed.), Constantine Porphyrogenitus: De Administrando Imperii. A Commentary (London 1962, repr. Washington DC 2012), pp. 93-142, whose information is getting into everything I do just now but which I should really refresh from something else…
3. I get this, and Dr Brett invoked it from, Julia M. H. Smith, Province and Empire: Brittany under the Carolingians, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 18 (Cambridge 1992).
4. Île-de-Groix was dug decades ago, but has lately been reviewed and reinterpreted in L. Tarrou, “La sépulture à bateau viking de l’île de Groix” in Les Vikings en France, Dossiers d’Archéologie no. 277 (Dijon 2002), pp. 72-79.
5. See J.-P. Nicolardot, “Le camp de Péran”, ibid. pp. 60-69, and more broadly Florin Curta, “Medieval Archaeology and Ethnicity: Where are We?” in History Compass Vol. 9 (Oxford 2011), pp. 537-548, DOI: 10.1111/j.1478-0542.2011.00787.x, which is extremely illustrative.
6. There’s not really a lot you can read in English about the ‘era of Vermandois’ except Rosamond McKitterick, The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians (London 1983), pp. 305-339, so Fraser is probably in the right place! The work of Matthew Innes referred to here, meanwhile, is his “Property, Politics and the Problem of the Carolingian State” in Walter Pohl & Veronika Wieser (edd.), Der frühmittelalterliche Staat – europäische Perspektiven, Forschungen zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 16 (Wien 2009), pp. 299-313.
7. Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Administrando Imperii, ed. Gyula Moravcsik & transl. Romilly J. H. Jenkins (Budapest 1949, repr. Washington DC 1967 & 2012), online here for now, cc. 29-36, esp. 33 on the Zachloumi and 35 on the Dioclea.
8. Years ago I came across Franç-Louis Ganshof, “Note sur l’« Inquisitio de theloneis Raffelstettensis »” in Le Moyen Âge 72 (Bruxelles 1966), pp. 197-224. I don’t know what I was actually looking for but it’s stuck with me and is exactly the example I need for this sort of thing, and I worry that it may in fact be the only one…
9. See Hajnalka Herold, “Fortified Settlements of the 9th and 10th Centuries AD in Central Europe: Structure, Function and Symbolism” in Medieval Archaeology Vol. 56 (Leeds 2012), pp. 60-84, DOI: 10.1179/0076609712Z.0000000003, or I. Štefan, “Great Moravia, Statehood and Archaeology: the ‘decline and fall’ of one early medieval polity” in Jiří Macháček & Šimon Ungerman (edd.), Frühgeschichteliche Zentralorte in Mitteleuropa: Internationale Konferenz und Kolleg der Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung zum 50. Jahrestag des Beginns archäologischer Ausgrabungen in Pohansko bei Břeclav, 5.–9.10.2009, Břeclav, Tschechische Republik, Studien zur Archäologie Europas 14 (Bonn 2011), pp. 333-354.
10. There’s such an immense literature one could cite here, and so much of it mired uselessly in its own assumptions, but as well as Curta, “Medieval Archaeology and Ethnicity”, see most obviously Walter Pohl & Helmut Reimitz (edd.), Strategies of Distinction: the construction of ethnic communities, 300-800, Transformation of the Roman World 2 (Leiden 1998), and perhaps most importantly to my way of thinking, Heinrich Härke, “Invisible Britons, Gallo-Romans and Russians: perspectives on culture change” in Nick Higham (ed.), Britons in Anglo-Saxon England, Publications of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies 7 (Woodbridge 2007), pp. 57-67.