Busy-day links

Today is a day with no time in it, where the morning goes on training and the afternoon goes on meetings and in the evening I am celebrating someone’s viva, and there’a about half an hour all told to complete daily tasks such as updating the blog. Happily, I have a stash of links saved against just such an eventuality! Let me therefore distract you with things that others have put on the web, with headings!

Discoveries of stuff

Frescoes in underground church at Nevşehir, Turkey

Frescoes in underground church at Nevşehir, Turkey

You would think that Byzantine churches had little in common with London buses, but there is at least this, that as the saying goes, you wait ages for one then two come along at once, one in Turkey for which grand claims are being made (for which link a hat tip to Georgia Michael of the University of Birmingham) and one off Turkey which is just really cool to look at.
Submerged foundations of a Byzantine church in Lake Iznik, Turkey

Submerged foundations of a Byzantine church in Lake Iznik, Turkey

And then there’s an especially shiny hoard of Roman and non-Roman silver from Scotland which people are using to draw conclusions about the Picts in a period before all of us would be comfortable using the word, for which link I owe a tip of that same hat to the Crofter.1
Objects from the Gaulcross Hoard

Objects from the Gaulcross Hoard

Sad News

While writing the long-delayed post on the Bíblia de Danila, I noted briefly that to my sadness John Williams, a scholar of the art of the medieval Iberian peninsula whom I did not know but whose work has been very useful to me, had died; here’s a memorial of the sort he richly deserved.

Interesting Research

We have here a pedigree (as it were) of looking at work on genetics with a critical eye; this new study looks better than usual and I’ll have to give it its own post. The hat is here tipped to James Palmer at Merovingianworld.

Quality medievalism

If you’re going to try to relive the Middle Ages then your soundtrack needs to be right, amirite? Here’s an example of how to do it. Resuming my metaphorical hat, I now tip it to Z the Cold-Hearted Scientist for passing this my way.


A museum in Japan has some old maps. Perhaps not surprising, even if they have obligingly put them on the web? But medieval maps don’t usually work the way we expect, and it turns out that there are eighth-century maps of field systems in here which kind of do. Obviously this is Japan so links to what I do not at all except that here are people using the kind of tools we would use for the kind of jobs that our study population must too have had but for which they used… well, we don’t know. But it’s one in the eye for all those who suggest that representational cartography has to postdate some major Western intellectual development innit? Maybe you don’t care as much as I do about this but Rebecca Darley, who provided me with the link and to whom the hat is now tipped, probably does so I bet there are others too.

Map of the field at Ikarugi, Tonami district, Etchū Province

Map of the field at Ikarugi, Tonami district, Etchū Province

Then, fellow frontiers and charters enthusiast Igor Santos Salazar has let me know about this monumental task on which he has been engaged, a database of the judicial records from medieval Tuscany which is now online. Lavoro erculaneo, Igor!

And lastly in this section, they said it would never happen; several people died in the course of trying to do it; it has been complicated by two world wars, international tension and the Iron Curtain, to say nothing of funding and staffing troubles, but it is done: the charters of Emperor Louis the Pious (814-840) are published at last.2 Here not a tip of the hat but sincere congratulations to Herr Professor Theo Kölzer for making it to the end of such an inauspicious task!

This is cool

Lastly, much more in my regular line, firstly just a really cool Spanish church site, well written up and photographed, for which thanks to José Manuel Serrano Esperanza for introducing it to me, and now to you.

San Zoilo de Cáseda, Navarra

San Zoilo de Cáseda, Navarra

And then last of all, heard of only today, an exhibition opening on Monday at the Yorkshire Museum (in York), entitled Constantius: York’s Forgotten Emperor, curated by an old colleague of mine, Andy Woods, which exhibition has been brought about by the discovery of a huge hoard of Constantius I’s coins that the Museum hopes to acquire. Do have a look!

1. There’s an actual article behind this one, which a quick websearch reveals as Gordon Noble, Martin Goldberg, Alistair McPherson and Oskar Sveinbjarnarson, “(Re)Discovering the Gaulcross Hoard” in Antiquity Vol. 90 (Cambridge 2016), pp. 726-741.

2. On the troubles of the project up to 1990 see Peter Johanek, “Probleme einer zukünftigen Edition der Urkunden Ludwigs der Frommen” in Roger Collins & Peter Godman (edd.), Charlemagne’s Heir: new perspectives on the reign of Louis the Pious (Oxford 1990), pp. 409-424.

20 responses to “Busy-day links

  1. Splendid omnibus! You should do this more often!

  2. There is also that map of Nippur on clay from the middle of the second millennium BCE, and the marble scale map of Rome from sometime around the 1th century CE. There seems to be a website on the former and how it relates to the Nippur-of-archaeology

  3. The paper about Moslem burials in France prompts a question. How did Moslems ensure that their burials, and doubtless other things, pointed at Mecca? Ditto for Christians at Jerusalem?

    To do that you’d need to know both your latitude compared to your target city (easy-peasy) and your longitude. But until the age of good chronometers sailors found the latter hard to get with much accuracy. Does anyone know what methods were used? Were there perhaps methods that worked well from a fixed spot but that would be of little use to seamen?

    • The honest answer is that I don’t know. On the other hand, if these burials in Nîmes really were facing actual south-east, that’s not a very precise awareness of the direction of Mecca, which is a lot closer to east than that… That said, even for us it would depend on what projection we were using how that would map!

  4. The whole point of the Mercator projection is that its bearings are true, isn’t it? That’s why its areas are false.

  5. It’s the one to use for bearings, though.

  6. I’ll note that the map of the field from Japan isn’t an abstract gridding system: land was surveyed and allotted at the time using the jōri (条理) system, and so those were “parcels” on the ground, as it were. (And there probably were inconvenient geographical features other than rivers—which were an important source of irrigation for paddy fields, which these were—in the mapped area.) The 8th century still had what appear to be honest attempts to maintain the state-distribution model, where households were given an amount of paddy field to work (for the state, of course) based on their size (with proportions for the elderly, female, and juvenile members as well). The redistribution was largely abandoned not long after, but as this not quite my area, I’m a little fuzzy on the details. (Although I’m having to review my training on the history of land use right now for other reasons.)

    If you look at maps of the estate (shōen 荘園) era from a few hundred years later, the “grids” are gone, because the standardized “parcel” system is no longer the bases. Estates and individuals have rights to a certain amount of land, measured (indeed) in units (which are becoming less standardized nationally), but as these units are no longer themselves primary—the things which are being distributed and redistributed, and therefore having in a way an independent existence—they are no longer mapped, as it were. (Instead, I’ve seen “ownership” or “use type” marked by color on at least one example. Again, not quite my area, despite the need for recent review, but I’ve done some reading with people whose area it is. But it is work on this sort of area that has those of us working on pre-modern Japan reading more on medieval Europe, which leads to reading these sorts of blogs, which explains in some ways this comment.)

    • Wow, I had no idea about this. I don’t know where in medieval Europe you’d find parallels for that kind of level of state distribution of land. It’s the idea of a standard allowance that makes it seem strange, I think; Western medieval society was more or less happy with differentiation at all levels most usually. Even where you get large-scale fiscal land takeovers, I wouldn’t expect them to be handed out equally. Or have I misunderstood you, and there is a standard unit of measurement of which someone might be given or accumulate several or many?

      • It’s definitely a Chinese-style imperial policy. All-Under-Heaven belongs to the ruler, who then distributes the land to his subjects (and he is then to continue this equitable distribution as a sign of his sagely benevolence and impartiality). As situations change (and eventually the changing of situations becomes longer, from once every so many years, to when the individual dies, to generations of a family), this system fades away—some places faster than others.

        I’ll take a quick review of the relevant law codes for the system, since I may be misunderstanding your question. One adult male received 2 tan of paddy-field, one adult woman received two thirds of that, slaves of the royal family also received two thirds, and secular slaves received one third. Some areas might have less land to distribute, but no agriculturalist/commoner/farmer was to received more than 2 tan.

        This principle died out under the need to reclaim or expand agricultural land (most of what is called “newly opened land” was actually reclaimed), and individuals who worked new land were allowed to keep all or a portion of the reclaimed land until their death (which was then extended to the death of their children, etc. over time). The members of the court bureaucracy were assigned “income-fields” sometimes, but this was rights to the produce of particular designated fields—not actually “land ownership” per se (for example, they would not receive necessarily non-rice produce from the same area). Eventually that developed into corporate estates, which were again production based. But then rights-holders started demanding more of dry-field and craft produce (although even the earliest taxation system involved cloth production); this was resisted by local residents, but eventually the lord of the land also became its owner, in the way a European would have understood it (if I understand European land-ownership correctly, although I’m basing a lot on Changes in the Land which is a good deal later than medieval).

        I’m not sure this is a very clear explanation, so please ask me any questions or clarifications (I do need to review this material for some writing on the relationships between individuals and distant regions with regards to communication, and so I’ve begun that already).

        • That’s all fascinating, thankyou. Am I being too deterministic to wonder if this focus on equitability, maxima and minima—which is what seems weird to me from a context with a more-or-less open frontier in terms of land availability—has a basis in the limits to the land available in the Japanese islands? The subsidiary questions that then arise are: how did the emperor get into such total control of land allotment, since most of this land must have had occupants throughout the process, and for how long had this been the case at the time of these maps?

          Land ownership in the West is more of a problem than one might think, because the kind of rights which you describe as being typical above have arguably been back-projected into the Middle Ages from our own day, whereas in the early Middle Ages at least—and arguably long afterwards—landed property looks a lot more like rights to revenues, not title to the land itself, though once you own the right to most of the revenue and the right to move the people who work it or to prevent them moving, the difference between that and our scale of ownership is very hard to spot… If I were offering one thing to read about this—which I’m sure you don’t need from me, but in case anyone else is reading—it would be Matthew Innes, “Land, Freedom and the Making of the Early Medieval West” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 16 (Cambridge 2006), pp. 39-73, which digs a spade right into this question and heaves.

      • Not early medieval western paralels seems to exist, that’s for sure. Maybe roman centuries could be a better match? After all, it seems logical to think that it takes a unified power to establsih and mantain such coordenated land usage systems.

        • I did initially think of the tertiae given to barbarian settlers of the fifth century, but I don’t think there’s any indication that they were equally divided. If one goes back to the mass transplantations of peoples in the third and fourth centuries, however, then yes, I’d expect something like a plot for each family… I don’t know how much we know about this, though. The third and fourth centuries are oddly poor for closely-contemporary textual evidence, but Herodian is the sort of historian who might mention this if it happened in his limited area…

  7. In Oliver Rackham’s History of the Countryside my (patchy) memory is that he alludes a couple of times to English prehistoric field systems with a layout that implies a powerful government able to allocate land over sizeable areas.

    If the house weren’t in uproar, I’d dig out the details for you.

    • ‘Celtic’ strip lynchets are words that I associate with this line of argument, though from C. C. Taylor not Oliver Rackham. There’s a case to answer, certainly, given the scale of some of the systems visible in the higher parts of farmable England. I don’t actually know where this argument has gone since the late-eighties publications where I met it, though…

  8. Uproar abated. In his second edition (Oliver Rackham’s Illustrated History of the Countryside) he identifies planned ancient fields:

    (i) Land’s End peninsula (Bronze Age)

    (ii) Dartmoor (Bronze Age)

    (iii) “The Saints” in NE Suffolk (pre-Roman)

    (iv) Planned grid of fields occupying about one quarter of Essex (probably Iron Age)

    (v) Ceide Fields (Ireland), Neolithic, preserved under blanket peat.

    He assumes that lots of other planned systems have been lost under subsequent cultivation.

    • Interesting! Thankyou. I no longer have my notes on Christopher Taylor, “Strip lynchets” in Antiquity Vol. 40 (London 1966), pp. 277-284, but to be honest his Village and Farmstead: A History of Rural Settlement in England (London 1983) probably has more examples in it anyway. I never got round to reading that when I should have, alas…

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