Monthly Archives: February 2022

Seminars CCLIII-CCLVI: Friends and the Famous Speaking at Leeds

There is a lot of unpleasantness going on just now, he says in a classic understatement. I had most of a series of angry posts about the state of the English university done when Russia invaded Ukraine, something I’d barely seen coming and which is starting, as people break out the word ‘nuclear’, to sound a lot like the bad dreams of my Cold War childhood over again. Now it seems a bit selfish to complain about having secure if worsening employment while others are losing their homes and lives. The Ukraine conflict has also got some pretty deep and obvious medievalist resonances, but with fighting going on at this moment, I cannot look at that now. Instead I’m staying safe around the turn of 2018/2019, when because I was not on Action Short of Strike and being threatened with total pay deduction because of it, I was still going to seminars. I cannot get to many seminars down south any more, so it is always important when people come north (or in one of these cases, east), and in normal circumstances I try to be there whoever’s speaking. But for these four I was there because I knew or knew of the people and was glad to have them visiting us, and so they each get a short report despite this having happened three years ago plus, sorry.

Real Royal Protection for the Carolingian Church?

First up, then, and coming from least far was my sort-of-opposite number in Manchester, Dr Ingrid Rembold, who on 28th November 2018 was in Leeds to address our Medieval History Seminar with the title, “Widows, Orphans and the Church: protection and virtue signalling in the Carolingian world”. Here, Ingrid was looking at the three categories of society whom Carolingian Western Europe considered it a royal duty to protect, and asking why and what it actually got them. For the Church we mainly had monasteries to talk about, and she had some good critical things to say about the legal category of ‘royal’ monastery, which I have myself also always struggled to find expressed in the actual sources; and her general argument that these obligations (which the previous royal dynasty don’t seem to have felt anything like as keenly) mainly sprang from the Old Testament and the idea of the Church as the bride of Christ, temporarily ‘widowed’ by His absence from Earth, I thought was new and sounded right.1

The Torhalle of the Lorsch monastery

The Torhalle of Lorsch monastery, supposedly a ‘royal’ house but whatever that means, this is a building through which Carolingian kings almost certainly passed. Image by Kuebi – Armin Kübelbeck – self-made with 36 single shots (Lens: 1:1.8 85 mm; 1:5.6; 1/500s; ISO 100; manual focus and manual exposure) made by stitching with Hugin, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Where there was more disagreement, however, although mainly between me and Fraser McNair, then of this parish, was about what this protection meant and how it was delivered. Ingrid had quite early on argued that Carolingian local power was so reliant on the local powerful that its legislation of this kind could only be exhortatory, without real force except as those locals cared to enforce it, which for her presented the problem that monasteries sometimes sought royal protection against exactly those locals, which makes no sense if they were the ones who would have to deliver it. If, after all, they actually did behave differently because the king told them to, even if he couldn’t coerce them, that is arguably a more powerful king, not less, than if he had to send the boys round. And that does seem to have happened in Catalonia, I will admit, with royal grant after royal grant coming south from kings who could not appoint, remove or direct anyone there; but I have explained how I think that worked, and it’s not universal.2 I just think there was more use of force available to the Carolingian state than Ingrid does, apparently. She fairly asked whether it counts as state power if a local person does it, too, and this was where Fraser and I disagreed. I think the Carolingians mostly could send someone else into a local area with legitimate power to act, if they needed to, because of the three-legged structure of counts, Church and vassals they maintained, whereas Fraser argued that their trick was to recruit the locals into the wider power ideology of ministerium, so that yes, it absolutely did count as state enforcement if a local man did it, as long as he was the right local man.3 I just think that, optimally at least, there were plural right local men, and maybe the lengthy conversations between myself and Joseph Brown in comments on my old posts at the moment are partly about what happened once there was only a singular one in many areas.

Middle-Age spread in the English village

Then, on 4th December, no less a celebrity than Professor Carenza Lewis visited to deliver one of the Institute for Medieval Studies’ open lectures, with the title, “Triumph and Disaster: new archaeological evidence for the turbulent development of rural settlement”. This was showcasing a then-new project of which she was leader, which was seeking to redress the fact that we have a pretty skewed and partial sample of medieval rural settlement in England from archæology, mostly either deserted sites or along a belt from Hampshire to Lincolnshire and then up the Eastern Pennines. To remedy this, her team had been digging dozens and dozens of test pits of a meter square or so in people’s gardens, which was excellent for public engagement as well as data, and what they had mainly discovered was change. Thinly-documented phenomena like the ‘Middle Saxon shuffle’ (a general but not well understood shift of early English villages) showed up well, but the starkest two phenomena were, most of all, desertion of sites after the Black Death, to levels like 40-45% of sites with a concomitant implication of moves into towns as well as, you know, ‘Death’; and, secondly, the long period of high medieval growth before it. Those, perhaps, were not surprises, but they are often assumed from a small sample, so anything that puts such generalisations on firmer footings is probably worthwhile. What was weird to me then and remains so now, however, is that the Roman period, when we suspect settlement in lowland Britain to have been at its densest really until quite recently, showed up very poorly. Professor Lewis didn’t offer an explanation for this, but it made me wonder whether the method was somehow missing an object signature that would be significant. Since Roman ceramics are usually both plentiful and easy to recognise, however, as are Roman coins, I can’t imagine what it would have been! The Saxon period is usually poorer in material remains…4

Making Manuscripts under the Conquistadors

Then, finally ticking over the clock in 2019 and bringing this blog close to only three years behind at last, on 28th January 2019 Dr Claudia Rogers, then of Leeds and as we’ve seen a valued teaching colleague, presented some of her work in a workshop for the Medieval Group under the title of “Encountering Pictorials: a a workshop on sixteenth-century Meso-American manuscripts”. I know that this is not medieval on the usual European clock, but in the first place we have the debate about whether that counts outside Europe – but of course it’s kind of patronising and colonial to assert that, outside Europe, other places were ‘medieval’ for longer, so that’s not my justification here. Instead, I’ll argue that these manuscripts are some of our windows on the pre-Columbian time before, which is medieval on the European clock at least, and also that they’re just really cool.

Page from a Matrícula de Tributos, México City, Biblioteca Nacional de Antropologia, MS 35-52 fo 5r

Page from a Matrícula de Tributos showing just some of the stuff which the Aztecs had previously claimed in tribute every 80 days from their dependencies, México City, Biblioteca Nacional de Antropologia, MS 35-52 fo 5r

They are, however, wickedly complex to interpret. They are mostly on bark-paper, and come in three broad categories, organising knowledge by place (being, roughly, figured maps of significant things, people or events), events (iconographic treatments of single themes in detail, as here the tributes paid at conquest) or, to me most intriguing, by time, these being calendrical, cyclical, year-by-year chronicles with one image only per year to sum up everything in it. Obviously, one of their primary topics is the ‘Qashtilteca’ (‘Castile-people war’), but their reactions to it and involvements with it are quite complicated, and implicated: one group who produced several of these texts, the Tlaxcalans, had been in rebellion against the Aztecs when the Spanish arrived, and gladly accepted help against their overlords from the conquistadores, who, however, then turned on and subjugated their erstwhile allies. Tlaxcalan artist-scribes thus had a lot to explain. Smaller themes of the conquest can be picked up as well; apparently dog attacks on people became a new theme of depiction, for example. And these texts were produced in a world where the Spaniards were the new élite, and some were glossed in Castilian so we know that they were sometimes being explained to the conquerors. Are they therefore colonial or indigenous, collaborative or critical? Complications also arise when you compare these texts with solely-written ones of the same period: they seem to focus on different things, including giving more prominent roles to women. Was that a genre convention, or was one mode of discourse closer to (someone’s) truth than the other? And so on. And then there’s the question of what gets assumed or put back in the restorations that are making these texts increasingly available. Basically, you have to have a 360° critique going on at all times when trying to do history with these. Claudia did not necessarily have answers to these questions then, but even explaining the complexity of her questions was quite a feat, to be honest…5

Exemption by Whatever Means

Lastly for this post, a mere two days later I was back in probably the same room, I don’t remember, to hear then-Dr Levi Roach present to the Medieval History Seminar with the title, “Forging Exemption: Fleury from Abbo to William (997-1072)”. This was a paper dealing with no less fiendish, but much more focused, questions of source critique, revolving around the French monastery of Saint-Bénoît de Fleury (a ‘royal’ monastery in theory, but as we shall see and as Ingrid had already told us, that didn’t necessarily mean much). At the very end of the tenth century, Fleury found itself caught between a new dynasty of kings and their client, Bishop Arnulf of Orléans, Fleury’s local diocesan bishop, both of which were a problem for them (for reasons my notes don’t actually record). As well as Fleury’s own rights, they were in contention over the much bigger issue of who should be the Archbishop of Reims, a long-running fracas I will let someone else try and explain instead of me. For all these reasons, the monks found they needed extra support, and Abbot Abbo (or, I suppose, Abbo Abbot) went to Rome to get it, at that stage not yet a normal thing to do. Pope John XV apparently charged too much, but Pope Gregory V was more amenable and Abbo allegedly came back with a document detailing lots of things bishops could not demand from them.6 The problem is, however, that it’s not confirmed, and there is a nest of associated forgeries for other monasteries, and Levi’s work for about half his paper was to disentangle those from whatever the source of the copy of this document we now have actually was. Those who know my work well will realise that this twitched several of my interests, because only a few years before, I have argued that a count of Barcelona also went to the pope, on this occasion John XIII, to get a privilege which was not in fact awarded, and came back with the unconfirmed documents they’d presumably tried to get him to sign and pretended they were legit; but no-one believed them.7 Both that and the resort to the pope only when the king couldn’t or wouldn’t provide therefore looked quite familiar to me.8 I did raise these questions with Levi, indeed, and he defended his position by saying that when Fleury’s privilege was challenged, which it was, it was challenged on the basis of being unprecedented – quite literally uncanonical – rather than on being faked. To which I say, OK, but that doesn’t actually tell us what was going on. I need to check in on Levi’s subsequent work and find out what he now thinks, I guess! Had I but world enough and time, and did it not look like labour for my bosses when I’m on strike…9

But there you are, four good papers and only a selection of what I attended in November 2018 to January 2019 as well. Some of us clearly do find time to do research, or did! And I’m glad that they then come to Leeds when they have.

1. My picture of what the Carolingians did with monasteries probably relies principally on Matthew Innes, “Kings, Monks and Patrons: political identities and the Abbey of Lorsch” in Régine Le Jan (ed.), La royauté et les élites dans l’Europe carolingienne (début IXe siècle aux environs de 920) (Villeneuve de l’Ascq 1998), pp. 301–324, online here, which I still think is excellent, as I do most of Matthew’s stuff, but may still take that category of ‘royal monastery’ somewhat for granted.

2. Jonathan Jarrett, “Caliph, King, or Grandfather: Strategies of Legitimization on the Spanish March in the Reign of Lothar III” in The Mediaeval Journal Vol. 1 no. 2 (Turnhout 2011), pp. 1–22, DOI: 10.1484/J.TMJ.1.102535.

3. The odd thing is that I think we are both here channelling Matthew again, in the form of Matthew Innes, State and Society in the Early Middle Ages: the Middle Rhine Valley, 400-1000, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 47 (Cambridge 2000), just apparently from different directions.

4. When reporting at this distance, it’s always wise to check if something has actually come out that would represent a more up to date presentation of the same research, and in this case it seems to have, as Carenza Lewis, “A Thousand Years of Change: New Perspectives on Rural Settlement Development from Test Pit Excavations in Eastern England” in Medieval Settlement Research Vol. 35 (Leicester 2020), pp. 26–46.

5. In Claudia’s case the subsequent publication is newer media, John Gallagher, Nandini Das and Claudia Rogers, “New Thinking: First Encounters”, MP3, BBC Radio 3, Arts & Ideas, 23rd October 2019, online here.

6. This must be Maurice Prou and Alexandre Vidier (edd.), Recueil des chartes de l’abbaye de Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, Documents publiés par la Société archéologique du Gâtinais 5-6 (Paris 1907-1912), 2 vols, online here and here, I, doc. no. LXXI.

7. Jonathan Jarrett, “Archbishop Ató of Osona: False Metropolitans on the Marca Hispanica” in Archiv für Diplomatik Vol. 56 (München 2010), pp. 1–42.

8. I can’t take any credit for noticing people from the Catalan counties heading for Rome like they’d used to head to the king; that observation goes back as far as Ramon d’Abadal, Com Catalunya s’obri al món mil anys enrera, Episodis de la història 3 (Barcelona 1960).

9. It’s at least easy enough to find out that is, because Levi has since been all over the web about a book he’s published, Levi Roach, Forgery and Memory at the End of the First Millennium (Princeton NJ 2021), DOI: 10.1515/9780691217871, where pp. 113-152 look very much like a version of this paper.

Mistakes about Catalan viscounts

(In October 2018, somehow, I seem to have managed to claw back some reading time; I think this may have been the point at which I decided to read for research on the train to and from work on the grounds that at least that way I was reading something. One of the things I picked was a French volume about viscounts, which was germane to what I then thought I was working on, and it occasioned me to stub several posts for the blog. The following one, though, I originally wrote in one go on 17th October, apparently mainly out of outrage. I’ve now defanged it somewhat and post it in the spirit of 2022 as far as I can, rather than that of 2018.)

This is a post of reflection, prompted by my having read a piece of someone else’s work that made me cross. Long-term readers will remember this happening more in my younger days; I said some angry things in print or indeed here, feelings were hurt, and I now try not to do the destructive-mode thing for the most part. After all, it’s not as if my own work is magically free of all error. But sometimes, what gets me is that I can see how it could have been done better because I know the stuff too, and this is one of those cases.

The piece that prompts this is a short chapter about the viscounts of Cerdanya.1 I have been learning a lot about viscounts lately. I began looking for stuff about the viscounts of Narbonne, because a cousin of Borrell II, with whom he may have grown up, married into their family. (We know this because she left something in her will to him and his brother.2) But the book in which that chapter lay contained studies of many another area’s viscounts, and also the reflection that actually it was only fringe areas of France that developed semi-independent viscounts, really, mainly from the very late tenth century until the twelfth, when either the Albigensian Crusade or the Plantagenets rather shook them out of their trees.3 And among these things are two articles by French scholars on Catalan viscounts, one by Dr Élisabeth Bille.

Now, my reason to care is that there is a chapter in my book which has a section on the viscounts of Conflent, and despite the title of Dr Bille’s chapter, that is effectively who it is about: the two families conjoined in the mid-11th century and she doesn’t trace the Cerdanya side back before that, while the viscount of Cerdanya whom she does mention, Unifred, discussed below, is problematic. My chapter was based on a larger part of my thesis, but my thesis was finished in 2005, didn’t go online till 2007, this book came out in 2008 and seems to have been based on a conference that must have happened earlier, and I only submitted the text of my actual book to the press in 2008… So neither of us could have known about the other’s work, and indeed I only find hers now.4 But of course we’re working off the same sources, so ideally our work would find the same things. This is not what has happened. My quibbles, enumerated, are these.

  1. In passing, Bille refers to Count Ermengol I of Osona dying in battle in one of several engagements with his cousins the counts of Cerdanya, in 942.5 This has been said by several people, but there’s no actual basis for it; a twelfth-century text from the place where he was buried says he died at Baltarga, and people have deduced that it should have been a fight with Cerdanya because that’s where the place is, but firstly no other source says this, secondly that source doesn’t say whom he was fighting and thirdly for that reason someone else has argued that he died defending his country from Hungarian raiders, which also could have happened but for which there is no more proof.6 So while this doesn’t really affect the overall conclusion much it made me suspect that trouble lay ahead.
  2. It becomes clear where when Viscount Unifred of Cerdanya first turns up. This man is very little attested, but he appears between 913 and 928 as a fidelis of Count Miró II of Cerdanya; then the next (and last) mention we have of him is in 954, when the Counts of Cerdanya and Besalú, Miró’s sons, wrote to King Louis IV asking for permission to seize Unifred’s property because he had rebelled against them.7 For Bille this shows that the counts could still depose viscounts at this stage and disinherit their heirs, but for me it shows the absolute opposite: not only did they need royal permission, leading to them contacting a king for the first time in their or their father’s lives that we know of, but also given that this was forty years after Unifred’s first adult appearance, he was almost certainly dead by now. And, as it turns out, his children actually did inherit a decent chunk of his property.8 Bille knows the charter that shows that, but doesn’t read it my way, or know of other Catalan work that did.9 In fact, she doesn’t use much current Catalan work on Catalonia at all. And this does all matter, because her overall argument is that viscounts changed from being biddable subordinates of the count to territorially-entrenched independents over the eleventh century, whereas I’d say Unifred shows that they were already independents in the tenth and had probably always been, so the change must be otherwise described.9bis
  3. A further example of this is Viscount Bernat of Conflent, Unifred’s grandson as it happens, though Bille does not know this. He ruled Conflent between 971 and 1001, in which as far as Bille is concerned the viscounts were still the counts’ assistants. Actually, as she must know, having read the same documents I have, Bernat never appeared with a count in his lifetime. He must have known them – he even shared care of a castle with Borrell II at one point – but he ran things entirely separately from them as far as we can see, something which was made much more possible by the fact that first his brother then his son were successive bishops of Urgell, meaning that the family had someone else who could represent them to the counts.10 As it is, Bille mentions Bernat once and moves on without discussion of either his ancestry or how his career sits at complete variance to her discussion. She moves onto Bernat Sunifred of Cerdanya, from the next century, so quickly that it’s easy to think that the two were the same man.11
  4. Another part of Bille’s argument is that the viscounts did not have assigned property or territories before about the mid-11th century; for her, they were essentially floating officers of the count. How they were maintained she never discusses, but to support her basic contention she says that none of her viscounts are named as viscounts of a particular place or territory before 1050.12 To which I say, Bernat of Conflent was so named at the consecration of the new church of Sant Miquel de Cuixà in 974, and the reason clearly is that two viscounts called Bernat were present so had to be distinguished, this one and one of Cerdanya (the latter, as far as we can tell, not a descendant of Unifred).13 It could be done, therefore; it just didn’t normally need to be said. Everyone at the time knew who the viscount was, after all. Now, when one goes and looks at the references Bille provides here (which is not easy, as they’re given on CD-ROM!14), she doesn’t know that document; but actually, she knows three others I didn’t in which viscounts of this family are named with territories prior to 1035!15 Yet in the chapter body she says that never happened, even though her reference is three cases where it did!
  5. Lastly and less importantly, Bille notes that this family managed to dominate the bishopric of Urgell for fifty years or so, till Bishop Ermengol, Bernat’s son, progressed himself to sainthood by falling off a bridge in 1035.16 After Bishop Eribau, who succeeded him, the counts managed to corner that see for themselves.17 Well, fair enough actually, except that unbeknownst to her Eribau was also a member of the same family, if not the exact same branch of it. Again, if she knew the relevant Catalan work she’d have known that.18

Now, with all that on one side of the balance, on the other I do understand how this sort of thing can happen. After all, if I go back and look at my thesis now I cringe in places at what I didn’t know and thought I did, and while this article was published four years after Dr Bille’s thesis it was presumably written much closer to it.19 If I were guessing what had happened here, it’s that by the time the editors got proofs back to her, she had perhaps found this extra stuff but they would only let her make changes to the digital section, not the print text, so correcting the references was all she could do. It’s also just hard to be up to date with literature in a country not your own. I’m always massively behind with the Catalan scholarship, because it’s so hard for me to find out what is being published and then get hold of it; the tricks I can perform in a UK environment of being present at enough events and conferences that I hear from active people and can use what they tell me to learn what I need to be aware of, I can’t do somewhere I don’t live (insert: as you can tell, a pre-Covid-19 perspective here). One winds up patching one’s ignorance with Google, and in 2005 that didn’t work as well as it does now. I’m acutely conscious of this just now because I am currently trying to work out how to do revisions on an article I unwisely wrote out of my normal area. Predictably, it has come back with reviewers’ comments indicating my ignorance, and setting me reading I will have to go to Cambridge, London and ideally Barcelona to do, because some of it isn’t available in the UK at all.20 In term-time, that is very difficult, and I will probably have cut some corners to answer these critiques by the time this post goes up.20bis Given that when that article comes out, someone could probably be just as cross about it, perhaps I should just recognise that sometimes this happens to people, forgive it and move on.

Except that… My mistakes have got caught by peer review; that is what’s supposed to happen. Bille’s got published. Moreover, however it happened, she ignores, sidelines or just plain misreads several documents that damage her argument seriously. Peer reviewers ought to have caught that—I would have caught it, even in 2006—but I don’t see how she cannot have known that the evidence conflicted with her argument. We’re supposed to do this right, after all; even if historians don’t believe we can actually know what happened, we have to be as careful as possible in trying to find out and as honest as possible about what we find. Without that, we have no claim to being experts, as opposed to opinion columnists, and without expertise there’s no justification for the profession at all. So I still think this needs pointing out. Probably it’s partly that it’s stuff I have written about, and therefore want to believe I got right, and she doesn’t agree. But I also think this shouldn’t have been published without being checked and fixed. So, this is the check. I cannot find any sign that Dr Bille has continued in the profession, so I guess that there will not be a fix; but at least if someone else is using the chapter, they can now see the problems too.

1. Élisabeth Bille, “Des vicomtes dans le comté de Cerdagne : du fidèle du comte au seigneur féodal (IXe-XIIe) siècle” in Hélène Débax (ed.), Vicomtes et vicomtés dans l’Occident médiéval (Toulouse 2008), pp. 143–155.

2. Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic: segles IX-X, ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Documents 1 (Vic 1980-1996), 5 fascicles, doc. no. 346. The two brothers are the only distant kin or nobility mentioned, and it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to suppose that this implies some special memory of them from before she was packed off to Narbonne; such memories wpuld have to be childhood ones, when they would have been even younger than her. One could make a more realpolitikal argument that she was maintaining links with the counts beyond her neighbours, but if so this is the only one she tried doing like this, and I think that suggests that the personal link was determinative.

3. Hélène Débax, “Des vice-comtes aux vicomtes, des vicomtes aux vicomtés : Introduction” in eadem, Vicomtes et vicomtés, pp. 7–19; for shaking from trees, see Mireille Mousnier, “Vicomtes de Gimois et de Terride : une difficile polarisation”, ibid., pp. 87–102, and Jeanne-Marie Fritz, “Marsan et Tursan : deux vicomtés Gasconnes”, ibid., pp. 115–127.

4. The relevant bits of mine are Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History New Series (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 133-141, developed from Jonathan Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia” (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of London, London, 2005), online here, pp. 219-221.

5. Bille, “Vicomtes dans le comté de Cerdagne”, pp. 144-145, referring to plural “heurts” between the kingroups; only one is known, and that was with Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona. On it, see for now Josep Maria Salrach i Marès, “Política i moral: els comtes de Cerdanya-Besalú i la comunitat de monges benedictines de Sant Joan (segles IX-XI)” in Irene Brugués, Xavier Costa and Coloma Boada (eds), El monestir de Sant Joan: Primer cenobi femení dels comtats catalans (887-1017) (Barcelona 2019), pp. 225–257 at pp. 229-231, developing earlier work of Salrach’s which could have been available to Bille.

6. Salrach, “Política i moral”, p. 228; Albert Benet i Clarà, “La batalla de Balltarga. Epíleg de la incursió d’hongaresos a Catalunya l’any 942” in Quaderns d’Estudis Medievals no. 9 (Barcelona 1983), pp. 639–640. The source is the Gesta Comitum Barcionensium, now best edited in Stefano Maria Cingolani (ed.), Les Gesta Comitum Barchinonensium (versió primitiva), la Brevis Historia i altres textos de Ripoll, Monuments d’Història de la Corona d’Aragó 4 (València 2012), pp. 9-160 at VI.2: “Ermengaudus vero frater eius, apud Baltargam bello interfectus, sine filio obiit.” And that’s all it says, in this single mention two hundred years later! So you’d think that as an idea it would have failed already, but since writing this post’s first version I have found Oliver Vergés Pons, “La batalla de Baltarga en el joc de la política comtal del segle X: la mort d’Ermengol d’Osona i la successió del comtat d’Urgell” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 48 (Barcelona 2018), pp. 901–923, online here, which returns to the Barcelona-Cerdanya theory and needs examination separately. The shortest version of my protest would be that none of the contemporary sources for his death mention the battle, but they do mention illness, and I think the battle was fictitious.

7. With Miró in Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya carolíngia Volum IV: Els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica 53 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 119; overseeing Miró’s will in Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya carolíngia Volum 8: Els comtats d’Urgell, Cerdanya i Berga, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica 111 (Barcelona 2020), 2 vols, doc. no. 229 (but published elsewhere as long ago as 1838); having his lands confiscated in Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya carolíngia volum II: Els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 2-3 (Barcelona 1926-1952), 2 vols, Particulars XL.

8. Pere Ponsich (ed.), Catalunya carolíngia volum VI: Els comtats de Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir i Fenollet, rev. by Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció Històrica-Arqueològica 70, (Barcelona 2006), 2 vols, doc. no. 490, first published in 1981; for the prosopography the relevant work needed here is Manuel Rovira i Solà, “Noves dades sobre els vescomtes d’Osona-Cardona” in Ausa Vol. 9 no. 98 (Osona 1981), pp. 249–260, online here.

9. Bille, “Vicomtes dans le comté de Cerdagne”, Annexe no. 43. On the complications of following up references in this volume, see n. 14 below.

9bis. In Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 144-147, indeed, I suggested that titles like ‘viscount’, ‘vicar’ and the like might indicate rewards issued to powerful independents for engagement with the comital power structure, rather than any actual office and responsibility, and I still think that was true in some cases, but one of the other posts I stub wrestles with this question separately.

10. Ibid., pp. 136-141.

11. Bille, “Vicomtes dans le comté de Cerdagne”, pp. 149-150.

12. Ibid. p. 154.

13. Ordeig, Catalunya carolíngia 8, doc. no. 718, first published in 1979; Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, p. 135 n. 31.

14. I do, sort of, understand why some supporting material for academic work is best viewed online. There are things that won’t fit on a page’s format, interactive datasets that can’t be rendered in print, images that need to be in colour or scaled in ways that the print book didn’t allow for, and all these might, just, justify the peculiar awkwardness of needing a computer to read your print book usefully. But this is just a PDF, effectively another 220 pages of the book, and while I see how they might have been expensive to add, in the first place not so many computers even have CD-ROM drives any more, especially not laptops, so you may not even be able to read this book on your own computer, and in the second place a lot of it is just footnotes that any normal press process would expect in academic work anyway. It’s hard to see why they didn’t just publish it digital-only, given how awkward this mish-mash of technologies is…

15. Bille, “Vicomtes dans le comté de Cerdagne”, Annexe p. 133 n. 21.

16. On Bishop Ermengol, the beginning of whose career we have documented here in the past, see for now Jeffrey A. Bowman, “The Bishop Builds a Bridge: Sanctity and Power in the Medieval Pyrenees” in Catholic Historical Review Vol. 88 (Washington DC 2002), pp. 1–16.

17. Bille, “Vicomtes dans le comté de Cerdagne”, pp. 150-151

18. Rovira, “Noves dades”.

19. My worst mistake in that was picked up in the viva, thankfully, and didn’t get to the version of record. There is a charter I’ve mentioned here before, in which a frontierswoman bequeaths some stuff to her deacon son, including what seem to be revenues from border-raiding. The Latin terms for these are ‘praedis et peccoribus’, and I had trouble translating the second term. William Whitaker’s invaluable Words program came up with the fairly hypothetical ‘little sins’, deriving it from ‘peccata’, and I ran with that and developed an argument that the scribe was imposing his moral view of this raiding onto the charter even though the transactors presumably thought it was cool. One of my markers pointed out, though, that ‘peccores’ would be a perfectly normal Latin word for ‘pigs’. That whole argument came out of the thesis as soon as I could bear to look at it again…

20. You may ask why I don’t inter-library loan it all. The answer is threefold: firstly, it would cost me ten pounds an item that I can’t charge to expenses, an ongoing argument; secondly, inter-library loan from Spain is really erratic and can take months to turn up if it comes at all; thirdly, it’s term-time, so if something does turn up quickly, and is restricted to the Library, and I also have marking due, I simply won’t be able to open it before it’s due back. Thus, I wind up taking the much more expensive option of going where it is at a time I choose, not least because that, I can charge to expenses without argument. But I’d rather be at home a few more weekends than this will all permit me, and of course, it shouldn’t be necessary to work in my own time to fulfil the requirements of a paid job, right? It just always, always is in academia. (Note: this whole note was written in 2018, but it does help explain why people might by now be frustrated enough to strike.)

20bis. Actually, in 2022, I haven’t, because I couldn’t get permission from work to go to the relevant library enough. I will finish the article when my managers care to make it possible for me to do so. Again, this is why we’re on strike.


A really good way to display coins (in Ankara)

This must be a short post today, as I’m trying to write something substantial about the UK’s higher education situation that will then appear here, but happily there is something short I did want to share with you all. Those who’ve been following this blog and my career for a while will remember that I have done some time in museums’ coin collections, and mounted an exhibition or two. As a result, I’ve come up against – and even published on – the two perennial problems of the numismatic curator, to wit, firstly our most common piece of feedback, “they’re very small, aren’t they?” and secondly, the fact that coins have two faces and in a normal exhibition case you can only show one. My usual solution has been photographic enlargements that include the face that’s downwards in the case, but there are certainly more effective – and expensive – ways to do it.1 There is also the problem that you can’t usually display very much of a coin collection without saturating everyone’s interest well beyond any normal point. And, as a result of the British Academy Writing Workshops I mentioned three posts back taking me to Ankara, I saw a new solution to all these problems (new at least to me) and was quite impressed.

On the second of those trips, having run through some of the major tourist destinations already, we found ourselves outside an establishment called the Erimtan Arkeoloji ve Sanat Müzesi (Erimtan Archaeology and Arts Museum) and went in to have a look. That link above will take you to the photos of someone else who did that thing, for I took none apparently, but they’re worth a look not just for the space but because of the coin displays. The collection is actually stored, at least in part, in the museum hall itself, in vertical glass panels mounted on runners. If you pull one out at a time, you can see the coins from both sides, from pretty much as close as you could get handling them. The lighting is also such that you can actually see details without the other objects in the display hall suffering from exposure. It’s brilliant, and must have cost a bomb. But then, almost everything that’s in here turns out to have been one person’s collection, and the buildings themselves are leased from the Turkish government, so I’m guessing that money is a problem they (at least then) faced less than some other museums do. Still: if I ever find myself advising a museum with a numismatic collection they want to store and display in a safe and useful fashion for the foreseeable future, I’ll have this in mind!

1. Jonathan Jarrett, Coins in Collections: care and use. A Guide to Best Practice by the COINS Project (Cambridge 2009), pp. 19-24.

From Kilwa to Australia, almost certainly not direct

By way of a medievalist break from all the strike woe, some time ago now I stubbed a note to talk about a rather surprising coin find. Since this means dealing with this blog’s most controversial subject ever, medieval knowledge of Australasia, I tread with care, but I also discover that not only have several others trod there before me, but one of them was Dr Beachcombing, once proudly included on the blogroll here, so it’s probably going to be OK. These are (some of) the controversial objects.

Copper-alloy fals of Sulaiman ibn al-Hasan struck at Kilwa Kiwisani 1294-1308

Copper-alloy fals of Sulaiman ibn al-Hasan struck at Kilwa Kiwisani 1294-1308, found on Wessel Island, Australia, 1944. Image released to the press by the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney on August 22, 2013, here reproduced from AFP, “How 900-year-old African coins found in Australia may finally solve the mystery of who arrived Down Under first” in Daily Mail, Science & Technology Section, 22nd August 2013, online here, but visible on the Powerhouse Museum’s site with better captioning here

Copper-alloy fals of Sulaiman ibn al-Hasan struck at Kilwa 1294-1308

Another fals of Sulaiman ibn al-Hasan from the Wessel Island find, reproduced this time from Ian McIntosh, “Life and Death on the Wessel Islands: The Case of Australia’s Mysterious African Coin Cache” in Australian Folklore no. 27 (Riga 2012), pp. 9–26, online here, at p. 14

These were found in 1944, in the Wessel Islands, which lie off Australia’s Arnhem Land, in its north-east, about 400 km south of Indonesian Papua (which becomes important). They were not then examined until 1979, and it’s possible, just possible, that another has been found on another island about 100 km away since then.1 But when they were examined, they caused a minor stir because they were struck in a place I’ve written about here before, the Sultanate of Kilwa in modern-day Tanzania, somewhere between 1150 and 1330.2 Now, Kilwan copper coins are by no means rare and they’re not really valuable, but context is everything: they are common in and around Kilwa, obviously, and are otherwise found in Zimbabwe now and then, and Oman once or twice (itself a thing to explain, but Kilwan gold coin, which seems to have been the international coinage of the Sultanate, is only found in Arabia so that some of the small stuff should have gone there too is actually one of the least weird hypotheses about these coins).3 Otherwise, they didn’t travel, and that they turn up so very far out of that orbit takes some explaining.

The Wessel Islands are the long thin offshore strand at top right of this map, at least as it loads for me

Now, the person who pointed me at the story in 2018 is very interested in global contacts in the Middle Ages and was, I think, rather hoping that someone who knew the coins might tell a story from them that would serve that. Alas for that person, I cannot, and the person who has mainly investigated the find, an anthropologist by the name of Ian S. McIntosh, has not wanted to either. This didn’t stop journalists trying to drum up excitement about possible medieval contact with Australia, of course, and even McIntosh is interested in, “a more accurate portrayal of Australian history that is currently allowed in textbooks,” suggesting that he would not mind a radical new finding.4 Nonetheless, he is not (or was not in 2012 and 2013, when for some reason his work hit the news) wedded to any particular theory; in fact he has five hypotheses for how the coins might have got there and of them, the idea of medieval contact between Kilwa and Australia is the least likely.5

Ruins of Kilwa Kiwisani, Tanzania

Ruins of Kilwa Kiwisani, reproduced from Teo Kermeliotis, “Ancient African coins that could change history of Australia” in CNN, Inside Africa Section, 27th June 2013, online here

Now it is worth saying that it is not impossible, albeit there is no evidence, given that there was a ninth-century dhow wrecked off Sumatra and an established Islamic presence in Indonesia by 1400, that at some medieval point a Kilwa trading ship did wind up way way off course and make contact with what is, after all, a really big land mass (even if the Wessel Islands are a very small offshore part of it).6 But that is almost certainly not the story these coins tell, for two reasons. Firstly, there is a much better window after 1505, when the Portuguese sacked Kilwa, and 1514-15 when they set up in Timor in Indonesia, thus opening up a definite route between Kilwa and Indonesia that was in use by Islamic traders until the nineteenth century.7 Secondly, and much more importantly, the coins were found with a number of Dutch duits struck from 1690 to 1784.

Copper duit of the Dutch East India Company struck at Gelderland in 1690

Copper duit of the Dutch East India Company struck at Gelderland in 1690, found in the Wessel Islands in 1944 and now Sydney, Powerhouse Museum, N21359-1, image from “Ancient Coins in ArnhemLand” in Past Masters, online here

So at this point we can start to spin hypotheses. First, the coins were actually deposited all together. In that case they’d pretty much have to have been gathered together by an eighteenth-century Dutch trader, probably buying sea cucumber which was apparently a big export of the area then. Why he’d have paid in these is less clear; perhaps they might have been given as talismans to the Yolngu people of the islands.8 However, this does also involve explaining why such a Dutchman should have had, but then got rid of, some 600-year-old fulūs from Kilwa, as well as why his own small change went back a century. Apparently Dutch trade networks encompassed the Swahili coast and the Wessel Islands (which do after all lie off a bit of Australia with a Netherlands place-name), so it’s not impossible, but we might at least want to consider alternatives, especially since the coins, while hardly fresh, don’t really look like they’d been circulating for six centuries. The hypothesis that the coins were gathered separately, however, involves them being collected in the Islands. The advantage of this is that they don’t all have to have arrived there at the same time; the disadvantage is that it means someone thought they were worth keeping and then someone else did and then someone else did, combining Kilwa coins with Dutch ones at some point, but eventually nonetheless someone thought that rather than keep them any more they should all be buried. Also, we then have several separate acquisition moments to hypothesize, including possibly Muslim traders from Makassar as well as later Dutchmen, and Occam’s Razor would therefore favour the later deposition. And after that, the hypotheses only get more complex. The one of these that the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, where these coins now reside, appears to be that the coins are all individual losses and found together ‘over a period of time’; this doesn’t appear to be how any of the other reports of their discovery have it and I don’t know whether they have information the web doesn’t, but if it’s so I’d still rather think of it as a single hoard found in parts, just because there is so much more to explain if it wasn’t.9

Jensen Bay on Djinjan Island, Australia

Jensen Bay on Djinjan Island, Australia, a possible find-site for the hoard, image from “Ancient Coins in ArnhemLand” again

Now, Professor McIntosh himself has some ingenious possible explanations of the deposition of this hoard, which rest on really good local knowledge of the islands and the Yolngu’s own stories. I’m not qualified to judge them, and they’re on the open web, so I’d invite you to go and have a look yourself; at least one of the possibilities involves shipwreck, plague, taboo and, again, sea cucumbers, which is a pretty rare combination I’d say.10 But the message I’d take from it as medievalist is that there is no explanation of the Kilwa coins in that hoard that doesn’t involve something pretty unlikely having happened. A Dutchman with a pocketful of medieval fulūs is unlikely; a multi-generation coin collection in the Wessel Islands seems unlikely to me as well, though I don’t know the area or people at all so could be very wrong; a succession of drop-offs of very very few low-value coins with no precious metal content, which were not then either melted down or pierced for use as ornaments, also seems like a lot of unlikelihoods; and you might therefore argue that a Kilwa ship fetching up in the Wessel Islands in some disastrous fashion isn’t any more unlikely. But to that I would say, firstly, that that still involves explaining why they wound up buried along with the Dutch coins, and moves the necessary six centuries of circulation and conservation into the Wessel Islands, a bit of a bigger ask. Secondly, the medieval deposition theory has the weakness that there is literally no other evidence to support it, whereas all the other hypotheses, however stretched, can be attached to things which we do know to have happened. And this is why I couldn’t give my colleague the story they may have wanted. But whatever the story of these coins actually was, which Professor McIntosh may yet discover I suppose, it must have been a pretty wild one! And with that thought I leave it to you.

1. Kylie Stevenson, “‘It could change everything’: coin found off northern Australia may be from pre-1400 Africa” in The Guardian 11th May 2019, online here; it is quite important to mention that at the end of some heavy lab work, the coin remained unidentified!

2. These dates come from “Collection of coins, photograph and documentation” in Powerhouse Collection, online here, whose precise identifications of the coins suggest that they have got more information than the 2013 publications on which this post mainly relies.

3. For the numismatics of Kilwa you still have to see G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville, “Numismatic Evidence for Chronology at Kilwa” in Numismatic Chronicle 7th Series Vol. 18 (London 1978), pp. 191–196, but cf. now Jeffrey Fleisher and Stephanie Wynne-Jones, “Kilwa-type coins from Songo Mnara, Tanzania: New Finds and Chronological Implications” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 170 (London 2010), pp. 494–506.

4. See Ian McIntosh, “Life and Death on the Wessel Islands: The Case of Australia’s Mysterious African Coin Cache” in Australian Folklore no. 27 (Riga 2012), pp. 9–26, which is my main source for this post. The quote is however from Teo Kermeliotis, “Ancient African coins that could change history of Australia” in CNN, Inside Africa Section, 27th June 2013, online here. McIntosh also has another relevant article, “The Ancient African Coins of Arnhem Land” in Australasian Science May 2014 (Melbourne 2014), pp. 19-21, online here, but I only found this as I was compiling these notes so haven’t incorporated it. It is available with a wealth of other relevant documentation from “Ancient Coins in ArnhemLand” in Past Masters, online here.

5. “Five separate hypotheses” in Kermeliotis, “Ancient African Coins”, just before an expedition to find out more; “a whole series of hypotheses” in AFP, “How 900-year-old African coins found in Australia may finally solve the mystery of who arrived Down Under first” in Daily Mail, Science & Technology Section, 22nd August 2013, online here, after the expedition, which I think must have been that documented in “Ancient Coins in ArnhemLand”. McIntosh, “Life and Death”, isn’t quite so methodical in its arrangement as to number its overlapping hypotheses.

6. Though as McIntosh points out, ibid. p. 10, they are kind of a “catching mitt” for anything being carried through that stretch of sea. For the dhow see Michael Flecker, “A ninth-century AD Arab or Indian shipwreck in Indonesia: first evidence for direct trade with China” in World Archaeology Vol. 33 (Abingdon 2001), pp. 335–354, and for late medieval Indonesia Barbara Watson Andaya and Leonard Y. Andaya, A History of Early Modern Southeast Asia, 1400-1830 (Cambridge 2015), pp. 82-129.

7. McIntosh, “Life and Death”, pp. 13-14.

8. Ibid., pp. 15-16, citing the diaries of one Matthew Flinders; the relevant extract is online here thanks to “Ancient Coins in ArnhemLand” again.

9. “Collection of coins”.

10. McIntosh, “Life and Death”, pp. 21-23.

Seminar CCLII: the Westminster insider

Given that I am on strike, you may be wondering where the promised blogging that usually happens here during the UK university sector’s repeated and lengthening industrial action is. Ha! Little do you know that I have spent the last two days crafting 8,000 words of prose on the UK higher education situation, which was originally intended to be three posts here and is probably actually eight. I’m still undecided as to whether to write it all up for here, or to try and fling it somewhere else as an op-ed, or of course both, short version elsewhere and full version with footnotes here. It could still happen! But meanwhile I thought you might like something more academic, while still political, to chew on, and that takes me back to just before the Ankara trip just mentioned, to early November 2018, when for reasons I would not have forecast a few months before, I was in the Houses of Parliament.

George Frederick Watts, Alfred Inciting the Saxons to Prevent the Landing of the Danes, Westminster, Parliamentary Art Collection

George Frederick Watts, ‘Alfred Inciting the Saxons to Prevent the Landing of the Danes’, 1846, Westminster, Parliamentary Art Collection

The reasons for this are Aristotelian in complexity of causation. The material cause was of course that I had gone there, through quite the myriad of security checks and into the room (whose name I have sadly forgotten) where the above painting hangs. The formal cause was Professor Simon Keynes, who was delivering a lecture there, and the final cause was that lecture, entitled, “Edward the Confessor, Westminster Abbey – and the Cult of King Alfred the Great”. But the efficient cause was the unpredictable element, it being the election to Parliament some months earlier of Alex Burghart, sometime research worker and still-frequent commentator on matters early medieval because of having done a Ph.D. on Mercia back in the day. Once inside the House, while clearly also busy with quite a range of other things, which have led to him becoming the country’s Minister for Skills, no less, he seems to have lost no time in arranging what was supposed to be a series of lectures on the history of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, for which there is apparently a small endowment. (The lectures have continued, but thanks to the pandemic, a bit discontinuously.) And so he decided to start with the founder of the building, and that’s what Simon was there to do.

Charter of King Æthelred II of England for Abingdon Abbey

A charter of King Æthelred II the Unready for Abingdon Abbey, signed by Wulfsige Abbot of Westminster, London, British Library, MS Cotton Augustus II 38 recto

Westminster Abbey was founded by King Edward the Confessor, or so the regular version goes. But as Simon’s painstaking (but not painful) exposition of the documentary evidence went to show, while not everything that has been written giving the place a greater antiquity can be trusted, there is a clear reference to the abbey already in a 993 document of Edward’s predecessor-bar-three, Æthelred the Unready, which you see above, and possibly even an older one from 986. There is also a burial of circa 1000 in a reused Roman sarcophagus that was recovered when the Houses of Parliament were built, and in questions Alex pointed out that according to Edward’s charters the abbey apparently held most of the old trading settlement as endowment, which Tim Tatton-Brown pointed out meant that it must have postdated the establishment of the new port so could not be much earlier than Æthelred anyway. Edward’s contribution was presumably therefore a rebuild and reestablishment on new rules, which can be seen in the architecture and his own charters, as well as in the Bayeux Tapestry (see below); the association with Edward is not in doubt, only exactly what its nature was. However, as Simon concluded, while Edward is much commemorated in Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, which in the 1840s replaced the old Westminster Palace after a disastrous fire, commemorate him very little; there is just one statue. Instead, when they go back before the Conquest they tend to commemorate Alfred the Great, as above. Victorian England wanted heroic fighters, not peaceful saints, in their legislature’s decoration!

Scene from the Bayeux Tapestry showing Edward the Confessor's corpse being carried to rest in Westminster Abbey

Scene from the Bayeux Tapestry showing Edward the Confessor’s corpse being carried to rest in Westminster Abbey, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The thing is, by then that was not surprising. To get to the lecture, once through the security, the select but quite large party had had all to pass through the Royal Gallery in Westminster Hall, which is hung with quite amazing frescoes of great moments in British history, as selected by that same Victorian agenda. These involve, as you might expect, quite a lot of conquering, some missionary conversions (including of the English themselves, but then later other peoples around the British Empire) and many victorious battles. The wider architecture of Westminster Hall is also quite amazing. I have borrowed the below picture from a travel blog that has many more, and it gives you the idea but believe me, you want to see the rest too, so do click through.

The octagonal Central Gallery in the Houses of Parliament

The octagonal Central Gallery in the Houses of Parliament, where the Commons and Lords meet

It was amazing to see it all, though much of it is open to the public at the right times, so it’s not as much of a privilege as I might make it seem. (Drinks afterwards in the Pugin Room and talking to Michael Wood for the first time in a decade or so, that was a privilege, I will admit that.) But it does also make me reflect. This is the working space of the people who decide the fate and direction of the country, and with them affect those of others. Given that’s their daily commute (for those that go into the House daily, I suppose) and the site of what in other places would be the water-cooler or kitchen conversations, I couldn’t but remember how separated from the real world three years teaching in an Oxford college made me, and wonder what working in Westminster’s actual buildings does for the sense of normal human life enjoyed by our legislators. I don’t see how one could maintain humility without a struggle. The jeering you see on Parliamentary TV presumably hasn’t that much to do with this environment – I imagine its architects were hoping for more ennobling effects than that – but the environment can’t make anything seem more, rather than less, real. There’s probably a serious role for these lectures just by way of establishing that we do have means and tools for deciding what reality is, or at least was!


A Further Bit of Istanbul

This gallery contains 12 photos.

I have to apologise for an unannounced three-week hiatus here. The simple explanation is that teaching restarted, I’m afraid, but there were also a couple of very full weekends, one of which did itself generate some medievalist photography which some … Continue reading