Leeds International Medieval Congress 2016, reflected upon from a distance

Somehow Action Short of a Strike still looks a lot like a really hard week—the contract I’m working to doesn’t have fixed hours—so I find myself blogging very late on a Sunday. Both because of that and because of the topic, I don’t want to write a long post (though when I say that it never works, not least because of parentheses like these…): what can there be to say about a conference three years ago? On the other hand, in so far as this blog is my academic record, I don’t want to miss it out: I was there, I did things I hope will matter, and I was for the first time able to host friends for it at the house then ours in Leeds, so it was a sociable occasion worth remembering. Indeed, I made quite a few new friends at Leeds 2016, looking back, so some sort of record is needed. I’ll restrict it, however, to a list of the papers I went to and limited commentary where I have some memory or good notes, and I’ll put it behind a cut so as not to bore those who think this a touch too obsessional. If I don’t feature your paper, please blame my memory, not your content; it was a long and tiring conference, as it always is. But I will take the last day in a separate post, because it was sort of a conference within a conference for me, for reasons that will become obvious in that other post. So this is 4th to 6th July 2016 in my world, as it unfolded…

Monday 4th July 2016

139. Exploring the Relations between Political Communities in the Atlantic Arc, 5th-11th Centuries

  • Russell Ó Riagáin, “Contact Zones, Kingdoms, and Transculturality: the Northern Atlantic Arc, c. 700–c. 1100″
  • Patrick Gleeson, “Kingdoms in the Irish Sea Region: Developing New Narratives of Interaction”
  • Andy Seaman, “Polities and Kingdoms in Early Medieval Wales: Continuity, Change and Geography”
  • Having evaded the keynote lectures as I tend to do, I enjoyed all these papers and got involved in questions a bit, but the good discussion was provoked by Charles Insley, trying to get into questions that had been raised of the scale of different polities in the Insular world in the very early Middle Ages that interested me because of my reflections on this, with which I think the panellist would largely have disagreed, by trying the criterion of range of operations, which is one that I have also tried out in both insular and Pyrenean worlds to judge notables’ importance by (and I suppose we both get it from Wendy Davies).1 The panellists argued back, however, Andy Seaman pointing out that long-range influence wasn’t restricted to kings and that the resource bases it rested on could differ hugely. I still think it works as a basic criterion but this gave me some new ways to think with it and the result of that was that I wound up hanging round afterwards to enlist Andy into my developing frontiers network, on which more anon. So that was a good start…

212. The Merovingian Kingdoms in Mediterranean Perspective, II: Textual Relations and Relationships in Texts – Reassessing the Evidence

  • Bruno Dumézil, “Private Records of Official Diplomacy? The Franco-Byzantine Letters in the Austrasian Epistolary Collection”
  • Jamie Kreiner, “Merovingian Colors in the Spiritual Meadow
  • Some very close-read textual history here, basically one manuscript each, and audiences deeply interested in them, the sort of panel for which the IMC used to be famous, and still worth seeing, but I have no long-term revelations from it to report by now.

334. A Frontier Society? The Iberian Peninsula

  • Graham Barrett, “Reconstructing Hispania”
  • Janet Sorrentino, “The Muslim Rahmanid State as Frontier for William of Gellone and Bernard of Septimania”
  • Adrián Elias Negro Cortes, “Parías: new approaches to the tributes paid by the Moors to Christian Realms in Medieval Spain”
  • I’d probably have gone to this one anyway, but as it happened they asked me to moderate it, so I was there presenting everyone and then trying to keep them to time (which was no bother as far as my notes reveal). Graham chose to emphasise how for most writers in Latin, even those from it who had left, the word Hispania referred to the Muslim-ruled part of the Iberian Peninsula, which from Oviedo they could talk about going to or leaving. It’s always stimulating to hear him speak. I don’t seem to have notes on the discussion, presumably because I was moderating it, but my dim memory of it that it was lively, not least because the three speakers were using very different material (chronicles, high medieval romances and records of tribute payments) to get at more or less similar questions of who was whom and how people kept that clear. I was happy to have been involved here whether I’d chosen it or not.

Book purchases from the 2016 Leeds IMC

I must have bought books about now, but according to my records I didn’t buy many, and all from the antiquarian stalls. This was the haul for IMC 2016…

Tuesday 5th July 2016

I put in a fuller day on the Tuesday; I had little choice, as I was moderating one of the first sessions of the day…

534. Landscapes of Power in Early Medieval Britain

  • Mateusz Fafinski, “The Roman Infrastructure in Early Medieval Britain as a Governance Resource: transformation and usage”
  • Richard Purkiss, “Who Attended the Anglo-Saxon Hundred?”
  • Matthew Austin, “The Geopolitical Landscape of Pre-Viking England: Great Hall Complexes and their Hinterland”
  • Therron Welstead, “Conquest, Continuation, or Convenience? Norman Castles built on Anglo-Saxon Cemetery Sites: Pontefract and Trowbridge Castles”
  • This was a particular pleasure because one of the presenters was someone I’d taught as an MA student—I won’t say which, but the IMC didn’t know this when they asked me to moderate the session—and there was some exciting new research coming out here for its first outings in several cases; if people want to know more I can go back through notes, but I bet all these people now have their findings where you yourself can find them.2 Annoyingly, again presumably because of moderating, I have no notes on the discussion, which given how many questions I’ve got ready to ask in my notes must have been busy. Oh well…

Then it was up a floor, without even time to get caffeine (that, I remember) to moderate several other people I knew…

635. Trade in the Mediterranean, II: The Later Middle Ages

  • Wei-Sheng Lin, “Divergent Paths, Divergent Needs: Provisions of Trade Privileges between Armenian Cilicia, Venice and Genoa in the Thirteenth Century”
  • James Hill, “Satan’s Smugglers? Reconsidering the Papal Embargo on the Muslim World in the Fourteenth Century”
  • Stephan Köhler, “Among Competition and Cooperation: Marseille, Montpellier, and the Minor Trading Cities”
  • Looking back, I’m not quite sure why I kept getting landed in manels here; we probably should have done something about that… Anyway, here I knew Wei-Sheng Lin from Birmingham, where he’d worked on coins with me, and James who was then a postgraduate at Leeds itself, but I have to say, there was no connection to anything I knew about other than Armenian Cilicia a little bit (which is worth knowing about, as it’s odd). So I learnt a fair bit, not least because all three papers were full of detail, but again can’t say much about what other people thought as I was making them wait their turn to say it, not writing it down!

Obverse of a silver tram of King Levon I of Armenian Cilicia

Obverse of a silver tram of King Levon I of Armenian Cilicia; his name means ‘lion’ and you’ll note his throne is made of lions. The man knew a theme when he had one…


Lunch was, by now, badly needed, and presumably I met up with people then, but there were more friends to see, and this time by choice!

705. Global Byzantium: Transnational relations, 500-1453, III

This was one of a set of panels organised by the Centre of Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies at Birmingham, who had once welcomed me as a member, to publicise their then-forthcoming Byzantine Spring Symposium, so there were various reasons for me to show support, but there were also some good papers:

  • Eunice Maguire, “Cultural Exchange between Byzantium and Egypt: Waves and Footprints”
  • Daniel Reynolds, “A Long-Distance Relationship: The Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Medieval West, 800-1099”
  • Henry Maguire, “Mosaics from Sicily and Venice: Greek Inscriptions, Latin Artists”
  • The first paper was focused on ceramics, spotting little bits of shared artistic repertoire to show connections; the second involved Dan counting embassies from the Patriarch of Jerusalem to other places while under Islamic rule and finding them looking west as much as or even more than to their old masters in Byzantium, largely because the West was by this time, and then increasingly, more interested in Jerusalem than the Byzantines were—as Dan said in questions, the emperors had moved all the saints to Constantinople already…; and the third was Henry Maguire’s usual intriguing and painstaking exegesis of artwork to show that in both the Cappella Palatina at Palermo and San Marco in Venice local artists were trying, and not quite managing, to do Byzantine mosaic work. This was fun of an erudite kind but it was also good to reconnect with the old mothership.

805. Global Byzantium: Transnational Relations, 500-1453, IV

I had less choice about that connection for the following session, however, as I’d been asked to give a response. For those of you who’ve never played this game, it is the most challenging thing a conference like this can throw at you, essentially an extempore paper on the other papers in the session, which may, just may, have been sent to you beforehand. I will not say whether they were in this case, indeed I don’t remember, but if I tell you what they were you’ll see how this happened to me:

  • Maria C. Vrij, “Coins, Conversions and the Crimea: Mint production at Cherson during the Early Ninth Century”
  • Maroula Perisanidi, “Clerical Marriage and the 1054 Schism: its afterlife in the twelfth century”
  • Flavia Vanni, “A Note on the Stucco Decoration of Twelfth-Century Buildings and their (Un)Relations with the Islamic Culture Filtered by the Norman Court of Sicily”
  • Readers here of any duration will remember Maria Vrij, my colleague, collaborator and sort-of-protégée from the Barber Institute, now far from needing protègerie (which is a word now, OK?), and as it happens I currently work with Maroula but of course knew her and Flavia from the Centre, so again a strongly connected session. I didn’t know Cherson’s mint history as well as I should—it was the oddest bit of the Byzantine Empire, really, which Constantine VII makes sound basically like a naptha-mining colony on a planet full of legends—Maroula was and remains in a position to confront Western and Eastern Church attitudes to each other with each other that no-one else can really match; and Flavia really knows her stucco and could tell us Islamic stuff is different from Byzantine; but how would you find anything to say that drew all three papers into dialogue, eh? I chose to focus on the signalling of difference, with Cherson’s weird coins not matching the imperial norms, the wilful self-distinction between East and West and the artistic parting of the ways in terms of stucco being my links, and asked if the question they all had to consider was audience, and I think I got away with it, but it wasn’t easy.

Still, if that wasn’t easy, it was nothing to the last thing I had to do that day, one of those offers you can’t refuse. A long time ago, as an undergraduate and masters student, I was supervised by Professor Rosamond McKitterick—long enough ago that when she began she wasn’t yet professor, even. Because she was now retiring, and I had spoken at such a thing before as you may remember, I wound up being asked to be involved in this…

911. The Carolingians and the Written Word Revisited: A Round Table

    Go on, you try and comment on the work of one of your most influential supervisors in front of her and of a room of her best friends, and just to help, we’ll put your doctoral supervisor next to you on the panel too! I actually haven’t been so scared of presenting since probably the first time I did it. I wasn’t alone, though: I spoke after Katy Cubitt and was followed by Warren Brown, Hans-Werner Goetz, Geoff Koziol, Marios Costambeys, Matthew Innes, Chris Wickham, Walter Pohl and Gerda Heydemann, as well as comments from Rosamond herself. What I actually said, to judge from my preparation notes, was meant to focus on agency in setting charter texts, on which Rosamond’s book that we were celebrating is vital reading, but my notes on my actual speech just say, “(Wow, that was a mess)”, so I’m not sure what it seemed to be about if you were there… Anyway, many others said wiser and kinder things than I managed, and it was heartening to be included but still, I was glad to step off that panel…

After that, there was dinner, and I had to lead people to a restaurant that, still fuddled, I realised three-quarters of the way there I couldn’t find. Thankfully a friend had a smartphone, but on the whole, I don’t think I covered myself in glory that evening, and I spent much of it talking to Geoff Koziol to reassure myself I had a brain, which thankfully worked. It was a good occasion, by the end, but I still look back on it with some trepidation. So it was a long day and I felt like I’d worked pretty hard for it. But two days were yet to come!

Wednesday 6th July 2016

Clearly I still got in for the 9 o’clock session, and this is what I chose.

1012. Murder and Mayhem: Disorder and Violence in Italy, 568-1154, I

  • Christopher Heath, “Morbidity and Murder: Lombard Kingship’s Violent Uncertainties, 568-774”
  • Francesco Borri, “The Hope of Italy: Narratives of Conquest from Charlemagne to Bernard, 774-818”
  • Rob Houghton, “‘I Predict a Riot’: What Were the Parmese Rebelling Against in 1037?”
  • I chose this partly because it’s my period, but also because of the late addition of my old acquaintance Rob Houghton talking about that 1037 rebellion I sometimes mention here as an example of things. I have lots of notes on Mr Heath’s paper too, and the main outcome of his bloody statistics were that no Lombard noble family seems to have seen a plot succeed, so risky was the environment in which the plotted. Violence was more ambiguously weighted in the sources on Carolingians in Italy used by Signor Borri, and Rob put some informative context onto the 1037 rebellion but also emphasised that its sources were all written as part of an ongoing dispute about whether the rebellion and royal reaction were either of them justified, muddying the water. Questions focused especially on the role of the Ostrogothic king Theodoric as a model, someone whose half-legendary deeds both Carolingians and Lombards wanted to emulate and which were, in fact, depicted on a ceiling of the very royal palace of Pavia that, as we have mentioned here before, the citizens burnt in 1037. There’s something satisfactory about that link between the papers.

1111. Carolingian Local Priests, II: Local Manuscripts, Local Knowledge

This was a session coming out of a project that, when it was first bruited, I was sort of offended at not being asked to join, but obviously that just made it more necessary to find out what they were doing, right? And it was this:

  • Charles Mériaux, “What Did a Carolingian Local Priest Know (or not)? Some Reflections on a Letter sent by Rabanus Maurus to the Priest Regimbodus (c. 850)”
  • Monika Wenz, “‘Instruction-Readers for Priests’: Books Exclusively Meant for Educating Carolingian Local Priests?”
  • Carine Van Rhijn, “Prognostic Texts for Local Pastoral Care? The Case of MS El Escorial L.III.8”
  • The point I’ve marked in M. Mériaux’s paper—please don’t judge me, or at least judge me only as a scholar—is about a man who had sex with cows. This was one of a range of problems in his parish on which the priest Regimbold was seeking the advice of Abbot Hraban of Fulda some time before 847, and it’s Hraban’s answer that caught me: he said that while the Bible would suggest that the cows had to be destroyed, representing a serious loss to their owner (not, I guess, the offender), it would be all right instead to sell them to the pagans on the frontier (perhaps for salt, as we know from later).3 The idea of the frontier as a place beyond which you can dump your society’s problems doesn’t begin or end there, of course, but it’s rare to have it so explicit. For M. Mériaux the point was rather that this and the other problems showed that some of the more lurid things we find in penance manuals were probably actually happening, which is also a fair point, but my mind was on frontiers, for reasons you’ll see in a post or two. Carine, meanwhile, was speaking to a very old interest of this blog, forecasting the future in the early Middle Ages using predictive texts (if you see what I mean), listing omens, portents, how to read the weather and things like this; she gave us the forecast for the day, and I forgot to note later on how it had worked out, which was a bit feeble of me, sorry! She argued that this was not, as we might see it, unscientific; it was based on close observation of what were supposed to be patterns that had reproducible effects. It might be bad science, but science it still was, like weather forecasting now or, more relevantly, calculating the date of Easter, something you’d almost have had to be able to do to use some of these texts… I was interested that some of the material in the earlier papers seemed to show that priests’ parishioners had real questions about doctrine, that they themselves wanted to be right about, but there were plenty of other questions too. I wouldn’t have been able to help much with this kind of work, either, so by the end of this session I was both mollified and better educated, an ideal outcome really.

Then lunch, presumably, and then back to the pursuit of friends and acquaintances around what was now my campus…

1212. Political Relations and Territorial Control in Carolingian Italy, 8th-10th Centuries, I

One might be forgiven, on the showing so far, to expect a session with this title to have been all men again, but not so, as witness:

  • Elina Screen, “Lothar I and Louis II: A Successful Carolingian Father-Son Partnership?”
  • Clemens Gantner, “Louis II and Rome: on the Relationship of the Carolingian Emperor of Italy with his Popes Nicholas I and Hadrian II”
  • Igor Santos Salazar, “Framing the Kingdom: the Sees of Parma and Arezzo between Louis II and Berengar (870-924)”
  • So, someone really needs to write something in English about Louis II. Clemens is the only contendor so far, in fact, but that hadn’t happened at this point. I’ve heard so many interesting things presented about this great-grandson of Charlemagne, who ruled Italy pretty well, about the last person to do so almost all together for a good while, who managed to patch a collaboration with Byantium that actually achieved something for both and had an equally amazing wife, but I can’t tell my students about him because there’s nothing to set in the one language they read. Come on, people of this session! You were part of this problem of piqued but frustrated interest I have!

1326. New Approaches to Refugees and Displaced Persons in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, II

Obviously what a session like this really needed was Mark Handley, and they were in fact down by a speaker at one point, but I assume that Mark would not have been available and in any case, they supplied themselves fairly well with the man who now led this line-up…

  • Tom Brown, “The Other Völkerwänderung: Some Thoughts on the Displacement of Roman Refugees in the Early Medieval West”
  • Guido Berndt, “Differing Fates? Roman and Barbarian Refugees and Displaced Persons: Some Case Studies”
  • Philipp von Rummel, “The ‘Migration Period’ and Africa: Questions of Refugees and Migration around the Sahara in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages”
  • Tom’s paper was of course excellent, and as he observed migration was often brought about by states, but I do wish he hadn’t used King Alfonso I of Asturias as an example. The common theme of all three papers, after all, was that modern arguments about migration draw on 19th-century writing about migrations, not how we now understand it, and the trouble is that the 9th-century source on Alfonso I (around in the early 8th) was pulling the same kind of trick.4 Still, this also got me thinking somewhat about borders and border controls and who’s interested in them now, and it may yet come to be seen as another of those moments that made something important coalesce, we’ll see. There was lots else here to learn from, anyway.

But although I’d got through all of this day so far with a free choice of what to see, the day wasn’t over and my freedom was. Usually I stay clear of evening sessions at the IMC, because of exhaustion and invitations to sociability, but this time I’d been organised by friends, and the (extremely interesting) result was…

1401. Trespassing (Imagined) Borders: from a Peripheral to a Global Gaze in Medieval Studies – a Round Table Discussion

    This was the work of Verena Krebs, and whole friendship networks were visible in the attendance: speakers were Verena, Rebecca Darley (moderating), Fraser McNair (who had put me on at a conference before and would wind up working with me at Leeds), Alexandra Cuffel, Adam Knobler, me, Daniel Reynolds again, Felicitas Schmieder, Jakub Kabala (of whom we will hear more, but you remember him), Adam Simmons (leading a one-man charge for Nubia at the IMC) and three other members of the audience whose names I never got; it was a busy session, and we all had to be brief; we gave our area of interest and period and then tried to frame it in terms of centre and periphery. I thought it more interesting to ask where the centres of our worlds were, which might have been an easier question to answer, but it turned out not to be. Kuba made the point that’s stuck with me, though, that most peripheries have more than one centre to look to or competing for them; that again was the frontier talking, I think, and to it we will return.

But not this post! This is definitely enough for one post. Just a reflection is needed to wrap it up. The theme of the Congress was Food, Feast and Famine. As you can probably see from the above, I more or less avoided any part of that in what I chose to see or what was chosen for me, but a much stronger theme for me, stronger than ever before at the IMC, was loyalties. I went to things and had agreed to be in things because of loyalties to old teachers, old and new colleagues, old and new employers, and many friends, as well as sometimes my all-too-numerous subject areas. The programme at the IMC is sufficiently packed that one only makes such choices at the cost of failing to see other friends or connections, too, but still; at the end of this write-up I see myself as having been very well connected indeed that conference, as well as more than a bit overloaded. I did not go to the dance, partly because I don’t like the new venue at all, but mainly because I’m not sure I could have stood up any longer and, as I shall soon report, I had a big day the next day too…


1. Ultimately from Wendy Davies, Small Worlds: the village community in early medieval Brittany (London 1988), pp.

2. For example, Mateusz Fafinski, “On the Road Again – Das Nachleben der römischen Infrastruktur” in Der Antike Welt Vol. 6 (Berlin 2017), pp. 49-57; Richard Purkiss, “Early royal rights in the Liberty of St Edmund”, Anglo-Norman Studies Vol. 41 (Woodbridge 2019), pp. 155-173; Matthew Austin, “Anglo-Saxon ‘Great Hall Complexes’: Elite Residences and Landscapes of Power in Early England, c. AD 550-700” (Ph.D. thesis, University of Reading 2017); and Therron Welstead, “Norman Castles Built on Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries: Pontefract Castle and Trowbridge Castle” in K. O’Conor, A.-M. Flambard Héricher & P. Ettel (edd.), Château Gaillard 28 : l’environnement du château (Turnhout 2018), for which I can’t find page numbers but which is obviously this actual paper.

3. I actually have a reference for this text, if you should want one: it can be found in Ernst Dümmler, Karl Hampe et al. (edd.), Epistolae Karolini aevi (III), Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Epistolae in quarto) V (Berlin: Weidmann, 1898-1899), pp. 490-499 at pp. 498-499, online here.

4. See Julio Escalona, “Family Memories: Inventing Alfonso I of Asturias” in Isabel Alfonso Antón, Hugh Kennedy & Julio Escalona (edd.), Building Legitimacy: Political Discourses and Forms of Legitimacy in Medieval Societies, The Medieval Mediterranean 53 (Leiden 2004), pp. 223–262.

2 responses to “Leeds International Medieval Congress 2016, reflected upon from a distance

  1. Pingback: Frontiers Day at the 2016 International Medieval Congress | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  2. Pingback: Globalizing Byzantium from Birmingham | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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