(The following was written pretty much entirely in February 2019, when I was reading for a now-stalled project that I hope to reactivate next year. I’ve edited for clarity and added the images and notes but otherwise it’s as it was then.)
I do hope some day to move away from what I think of my destructive mode of scholarship, where what I’m primarily doing is showing what I think people have got wrong. Still, one does find people getting things wrong, and even more occasionally one finds them apparently just inventing things, and when one finds those things it’s maybe important just to make a note. The perpetrator in this instance is also famous for scholarship in the destructive mode, in any case, so I feel they can take it.
Y’see, I’ve been reading Bernard Bachrach’s first Variorum volume of reprinted papers as I work towards revising my article on military service in Catalonia.1 I expected this to be far more egregious in terms of special practice and special pleading than in fact it largely has been, except about Alans, and in that respect it’s a lesson in humility to me; whatever his reputation may now be and the problems of his contributions may still be, there is sound and important scholarship in the Bachrach corpus of the early 1970s.2 Problems began to creep in, however, when he got to the point of being able to rest new work on his old work, at which point the actual sources on which his conclusions rest started to disappear from view and, perhaps inevitably, the occasional slip of memory occurred. And I just found one.
‘Charlemagne’s Cavalry: Myth and Reality’ is a fairly short and densely-referenced article in which Bachrach renewed his attack on a then-partly-established thesis that Charles Martel, Charlemagne’s grand
sonfather [Edit: oops], by taking emergency measures to raise a mounted cavalry arm for his wars against the Muslims, established the foundations of Frankish feudalism. Here Bachrach, who had already written a couple of pieces against this idea, brought his conclusions to a more general stage.3 I’m utterly sympathetic to that as an aim; there’s no point working this stuff out if it never gets to where the people who write textbooks, and thus command the attention of the general audience, notice it. But your practice should be as rigorous there as, in this case, in Speculum, no? So I sat up when, describing early Carolingian campaigns into Spain, Bachrach says on p. 5, “The fortified civitas of Vich (Ausona) was occupied and garrisoned as were the castra of Casserres and Cardona. The latter fell only after a siege.” This is, of course, my patch and if there was evidence that Cardona was held and defended against the Carolingians in that campaign (which happened in 798), I really ought to have seen it. It’s certainly not in the only text I know that describes these fortifications, the anonymous biography of Emperor Louis the Pious whose author we call ‘Astronomer’.4 This matters a little bit because if it existed, it would be pretty much the only evidence going that the Frankish take-over in Catalonia was a conquest imposed from outside, as some have argued, rather than a consensual secession from Muslim rule to Christian as the Carolingian sources, perhaps naturally, paint it.4bis
So what’s the source? Well, the endnote for the paragraph reads: “Bachrach, ‘The Spanish March’, 16, and Bachrach, ‘Aquitaine under the Early Carolingians’, 24, 25-26. J. E. Ruiz Doménce, ‘El Asedio de Barcelona, según Ermoldo el Negro’, Boletín de la Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona, 37 (1978-1979), 149-168, provides nothing from a military point of view.”5 Good to know. But this being a reprint volume, those references to earlier work are really easy to check, and in them there is no reference to that resistance at Cardona; indeed, where referenced in the former he admits, “Contemporary and near contemporary sources tell us nothing of Cardona and Casserres”.6 Neither does the piece by Ruiz Doménec (as he’s actually spelt) have any such information. So where had this come from? Nowhere, I guess. It’s not a big deal, in the overall scheme of his argument, which I still find basically convincing. But we’re not supposed to make stuff up, are we? So I just point it out.
1. Bernard S. Bachrach, Armies and Politics in the Early Medieval West, Collected Studies 405 (Aldershot 1993). If you’ve never met a Variorum volume before, they can be quite confusing: they are a 1980s creation, reprints of articles and essays by a single author, done photographically with the original pagination and mise-en-page preserved intact. Their look and feel thus jumps erratically from chapter to chapter and the only way to cite the works within is by chapter number, as the original page ranges tend to overlap in many places. Occasionally people put new work in them alongside the old, which just complicates matters further. They’re kind of crazy, but if they weren’t so very expensive I’d have many of them.
2. I thought especially highly of Bernard S. Bachrach, “Procopius, Agathias and the Frankish Military” in Speculum Vol. 45 (Cambridge MA 1970), pp. 435–41, DOI: 10.2307/2853502, repr. in idem, Armies and Politics, VIII, and idem, “Charles Martel, Mounted Shock Combat, the Stirrup, and Feudalism” in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History Vol. 7 (New York City NY 1970), pp. 49-75, repr. in idem, Armies and Politics, XII, though perhaps it should be noted that these are both articles whose work is largely to show that others are wrong, at which Professor Bachrach was and remains frighteningly able.
3. Idem, “Charlemagne’s Cavalry: Myth and Reality” in Military Affairs Vol. 47 (Washington DC 1983), pp. 181-187; this is derived largely from idem, “Charles Martel”, and idem, “Military Organization in Aquitaine under the Early Carolingians” in American Historical Review Vol. 78 (Washington DC 1973), pp. 11-34, repr. in idem, Armies and Politics, XIII. This latter is more typical Bachrach in that I have to agree with about a third of it, find a third of it quite difficult to agree with but have to think about it, and think one third of it gets meanings out of the sources that aren’t there; but also, and with no discredit to the author rather than the press, it is riddled with typos. The American Historical Association were obviously having a bad year, editorially speaking.
4. ‘Astronomer’, “Vita Hludowici imperatoris”, ed. & transl. Ernst Tremp in Tremp (ed./transl.), Thegan: Die Taten Kaiser Ludwigs. Astronomus: Das Leben Kaiser Ludwigs, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum germanicum in usum scholarum separatim editi LXIV (Hannover 1995), pp. 278-558, online here, cap. 8: “Ordinavit autem illo in tempore in finibus Aquitanorum circumquaque firmissimam tutelam; nam civitatem Ausonam, castrum Cardonam, Castaserram et reliqua oppida olim deserta munivit, habitari fecit et Burello comiti cum congruis auxiliis tuenda commitit“, which I english roughly as: “Moreover, at the same time he [Louis the Pious, then King of Aquitaine] ordered the firmest possible guard placed at the Aquitainian borders and thereabouts, for he fortified the city of Ausona, the castle of Cardona, Casserres [de Berguedà] and other once-deserted hillforts, had them settled and committed them to the protection of Count Borrell [I of Urgell and Cerdanya], with suitable support.”
4bis. For example, cf. Ramon Martí, “Conquistas y capitulaciones campesinas” in Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la época carolingia: arte y cultura antes del románico (siglos IX y X), 16 diciembre 1999 – 27 febrero 2000, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Palau Nacional-Parc de Montjuïc (Barcelona 1999), pp. 59–63, transl. as “Peasant victories and defeats”, ibid. pp. 448-451.
5. Bachrach, “Charlemagne’s Cavalry”, p. 5 n. 24 (p. 16).
6. The former reference is Bernard S. Bachrach, “On the Role of the Jews in the Establishment of the Spanish March (768–814)” in Josep M. Solà-Solé, S. G. Armistead & Joseph H. Silverman, Hispania Judaica: studies in the history, language and literature of the Jews in the Hispanic world, Estudios 2 (Barcelona 1980), 3 vols, I pp. 11-19, and that paper deserves a whole separate post for which I need help with Hebrew and which may therefore take a while; the latter is of course Bachrach, “Aquitaine”. The third one is online here.
Bernard Bacharach really is one of the most enigmatic of early medievalists. He manages to be get stuff like this completely wrong time and again and yet he’s neither a crank, nor a fraud nor a dilettante nor a simply sloppy scholar. He’s actually a really intelligent and capable historian, with an impressive grasp of the Latin primary sources and the secondary literature in English, French and German.
But I think you’ve indirectly identified what’s made him go so wrong. Basically, it seems, Bacharach had so much early career success with “Merovingian military organisation” (rightly a classic) and “a history of the Alans”, along with those Variorum articles, in which he managed to pull off the winning combination of rigorous source-critical scholarship with bold, iconoclastic and wide-reaching argument. What happened next, I suppose, I’d that Bachrach decided he needed to keep the momentum going and so started to make his arguments more and more radical to the point that he had push them beyond what the early medieval sources actually say, until by the time “early Carolingian warfare: prelude to empire” got published we arrive at the parallel universe that Guy Halsall calls (BachrachWorld TM).
I don’t really want to speculate too much here, because I may yet run into the man again; I have before, before I was myself of any significance that might have registered on his meters. However, I think my model for what happens here is more like a kind of high-speed version of the thing that Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz, another extremely discriminating, high-output, super-knowledgeable scholar, used to do, whereby if something he’d said had gone unchallenged for long enough, he decided it was established and started building on it. The difference is that Bachrach builds faster, and each new layer of bricks is slightly off kilter somewhere, until the top storey somehow isn’t over the bottom one… Equally, in my reading experience – and this even as early as those Alans articles and Merovingian Military Organisation, which I’d read a while before this – what happens is not that he goes beyond what the sources say; he focuses on a fiercely precise interpretation of what they say, often from a unique and often very odd usage of a key word, to make them mean something that no-one else in the world, including the authors, could have thought they meant. But the word is, usually, in the text. That’s one reason why I picked this instance out; it’s not actually very typical Bachrach to invent stuff.
Y’know what, actually? I just looked at the one other post that I wrote coming out of this book, and I withdraw that defence. You’re right: he typically goes beyond the sources.
And sometimes he does both. For example, Guy Halsall in his witty, forensic and rather acerbic review of “early Carolingian warfare”, pointed to a section of the book in which Bachrach discusses cavalry warfare in the time of Pepin of Herstal, Charles Martel and Pepin the Short. Bachrach claims that early Carolingian cavalry were so disciplined and drilled they could alternate between column and wedge formation midway through an attack. But his only source for this is Waltharius, where the poet describes groups of mounted warriors forming acies and cuneus. Even if we leave all questions about the poem’s dating (definitely not early Carolingian) provenance and intended audience at the door, the fact is that even in Classical Latin, let alone Medieval Latin, acies and cuneus are simply synonyms for battle-lines, as any quick search through Lewis and Short will tell you. So there Bachrach basically invented a military technical Latin vocabulary that wasn’t even known to Caesar or Vegetius, let alone the Carolingians.
I imagine that he would contend that actually Vegetius did distinguish, and since as we know every Carolingian and Ottonian military commanded had a copy of De re militari stuffed in their campaign bag at all times, we can assume that they would have too! (I jest, in case passers-by might not realise.)
Charles Martel is Charlemagne’s grandson?
Argh! Fixed. Thankyou…
I may be odd (OK, that’s probably a given) but I always feel good history comes from finding a mistake or omission, playing around with it and often building something interesting and beautiful in the hole. Why people seem to be down on this is beyond me: history is not exactly a naturally-collaborative subject. So I don’t feel you need to be apologetic for doing good history through correcting the errors of others.
I’m not sure I have done or am going to do the beautiful building bit, though; just trying to knock something over. (Admittedly, I am trying to finish an article on the Carolingian rule of Osona, but believe you me, this is not the biggest Bachrach construction I have to dismantle to do that.)
Another Bachrachism which may lie behind the passage you are talking about is his idea that cavalry are not useful for the besieged or beseigers. But the authors of the Amarna Letters knew very well that even five chariots gave a city options which a city with no chariots did not have, and Vauban knew well that if you wanted to take a city the first thing to do was to surprise it with cavalry and cut it off from supplies and reinforcements while your infantry and the great ordinance came up. Most armies have had trouble making a complete cordon around a big strong place, so if you wanted to keep food and ammunition out you needed some mounted troops.
Well, since it’s Bachrach we’re dealing with, he’d assume that Carolingian armies were always large enough to never have trouble encircling any major fortified settlement. Indeed, he insists that all besieging armies in the Carolingian period made counter-valuations encircling the cities they were besieging to defend against relief armies, despite never producing textual or archaeological evidence that this ever happened during the siege of Pavia in 774 or any other Carolingian siege.
I also don’t understand why Bernard Bachrach, Victor David Hanson and a number of other premodern military historians have so much of an anti-cavalry animus. I wonder where it stems from.
I would guess that it comes from the necessary progress narrative that has the horsed knight, and the resource needs of maintaining them in ever greater numbers, drive the feudal transformation. Ergo, before the eleventh century there can’t have been that many. But to be fair to the man, I think if we’re only going as far as does his ‘Charles Martel’ as cited above, I can agree with him. There is some craziness in that article – for example he argues that Charles Martel made grants of land as benefices owing military service but never shows that they did in fact so owe – but I think that the argument that cavalry just don’t really show up in the sources much is well made.
I would have to reread “Charles Martel, The Stirrup, and Feudalism” and some quick searching does not turn up my copy. Possibly it is a photocopy not a scan.
I would help if I could, but the book went back to the library some time ago, alas…
Speaking of the feudal transformation, I did have the pleasure of, five days ago, visiting Cluny and Lournand (including the famous Chateau de Lourdon). I didn’t manage to get to the chapel at Collonge, the true age of which no one knows, and other places mentioned in Bois’ book, because I didn’t want to miss the last bus back to Chalon-sur-Saone where I was staying – I chose to stay there in part because of its proximity to Cluny (could also have picked Macon but went for Chalon-sur-Saone because I’d studied a charter of 938 from there as an undergraduate).
I don’t quite know what Bachrach senior thinks of the feudal revolution and whether or not it happened in the eleventh century. But to my knowledge, he doesn’t see any big military discontinuity taking place around the year 1000. On the contrary, from what I’ve read by him, he sees the whole period from Diocletian to the beginning of the gunpowder era (300 – 1450) as basically being one of extended military continuity, with no decisive ruptures in the fifth century, the eighth century, the eleventh century, the fourteenth century or at any other point over that entire millennium and more. As Bachrach sees it, the rise of the mounted knight never happened, and mounted shock cavalry were only ever a small element in medieval armies and never very effective in combat. As he sees it, the knights simply had a very good PR machine, and chivalry was a load of “nonsense” that existed only in the romance literature. As someone who did their undergraduate thesis on chivalry, in a period when knights and military commanders did indeed read Vegetius and other classical authors (the focus was very much on that kind of thing), I did find his casual and rather old-fashioned dismissal of chivalry in a few glib sentences very aggravating. It also really shows the shortcomings of Bachrach’s way of doing military history – not integrating it into wider social and cultural history.
The thing is, I’m totally with him on shock cavalry not being a major feature of Carolingian warfare. The evidence really just isn’t there. And I also believe that the emergence of knighthood is a post-Carolingian phenomenon. I’ve read the articles arguing for Carolingian origins of knighthood by Karl Leyser and Janet Nelson and very fine bits of scholarship they are too, but all they really demonstrate is that martial identity reinforced through ritual and symbolism with religious connotations was important to the Carolingian aristocracy – they don’t really show the emergence of knights as a social group that Duby’s Maconnais milites 200 years later could have seen eye to eye with. And they don’t at any point discuss the prominence of mounted shock cavalry in ninth century warfare. And then there’s Dominique Barthelemy, but lets not talk about him here. So in my view, Bachrach was on the money with that article about Charles Martel, the stirrup and feudalism, but then he decided to push the idea a bit too far by trying to debunk the mounted knight altogether.
My grasp on the senior Bachrach view of the feudal transformation is basically lacking, but to find it I would look at his work on Fulk Nerra. There must be some ultra-continuity there: one of his articles calls Fulk ‘the Neo-Roman consul’ in its title, after all. But my impression, all the same, is that he thinks at least the mid-eleventh century was differently arranged in terms of top-level authority, in France anyway, and that must have an effect on what armies could be mobilised by whom. Why he thinks that occurred, whether it’s ‘feudal’ afterwards by his lights or what scale it all was, let alone how much of it was focused on cavalry, are all currently closed books to me. However, I have to hand his “The Milites and the Millennium” in Haskins Society Journal Vol. 6 (Woodbridge 1994), pp. 85–95, and a glance at that suggests that the trick is performed by simply and silently dropping the level of central power that maintains the Roman continuity a step down the hierarchy; the absence of the kings thus doesn’t matter too much, and neither does the way military service was actually organised as long as the people doing it are roughly the same. Still, those eleven pages aren’t really about the question we’re asking and I don’t know how fair these guesses are.
The anti-cavalry thing is English nationalism beginning in the 16th century and reinforced by orient-stereotypes, the memory of the Peninsular War (“Oman, Sir Charles”), the Crimean War (“thin red line”), and the Kaiserian War (“memory” not history) and by 20th century class warfare. But it is true that in many parts of Europe, the rich men who brought horses to war did not necessarily fight from them, for a variety of good reasons.
Where Charles the Great’s armies fell on the “people in arms” to “landlords and their cronies” spectrum is beyond my competence.
And mine! My article, if and when I ever finish it, will only be about little old Catalonia. But as a sub-Carolingian polity running on Carolingian rules in some ways, that may still be relevant.
And infinitely beyond mine as well – I’ve only started thinking about this problem and scratching the surface of the historiography in the last 9 months, and for the moment early medieval military history is really just a hobby for me – there’s a small chance that it might become something more, so watch this space.
For the moment I’ve just constructed a five-fold typology of premodern military organisation which goes thus.
1. No military organisation: societies which are too small scale and lacking in complexity to have any organised military at all and be capable of sustaining large scale or long term armed conflict. This characterisation may or may not raise the hackles of anthropologists who study hunter-gatherer societies, but since none of the societies that medievalists (western or otherwise) conventionally study come under this category, we need not split hairs over it.
2. The social model: this model essentially goes for societies that either come in Chris Wickham’s weak state category or are at the more complex and stratified end of the spectrum of stateless societies (we’re essentially talking large scale pastoral nomad or agriculturalist tribal groupings here). In this model, warfare is largely conducted either by a hereditary warrior class, the retinues and clients of a chieftain/ lord or any other kind of local bigwig or a complex mixture of the two. A public power may be responsible for co-ordinating local warrior aristocracies/ military followings into something bigger, but the key here is that the “state” cannot independently raise any armed forces – it has to rely on the co-operation of established chieftains and aristocrats and their military followings/ patronage networks. Though it can be the case, this model need not necessarily imply that warfare is an exclusively elite activity – networks of military patronage and clientage can reach quite far down into the free population, especially in tribal societies, and some of a lord’s military followers may even be unfree. Most pre-Roman Iron Age European societies would fit into this category, as would all early medieval societies in the areas that had never known Roman rule, steppe nomad confederacies, good many high medieval western societies after well, you know, the feudal revolution and late Heian and Kamakura Japan after its equivalent process. Whether the Carolingians (or indeed the later Merovingians, Anglo-Saxons or Ottonians) fit into this, is however debatable. Timothy Reuter and Matthew Innes would argue that they do, but their views on Carolingian military organisation have been strongly criticised. Halsall kind of sits on the fence here, but ultimately he rejects the idea of Carolingian military organisation as static and unchanging and does see the Carolingian kings as experimenting with alternatives to this model.
3. Statist model number one: This could essentially be called the citizens’ militia/ levy of free subjects model. Under this model, the state is able to directly call upon its citizens/ subjects to fight in its armies as a public duty equivalent to taxation, being summoned to the law courts etc Depending on its geopolitical situation, it may be able to do the same with the free male populations of allied, vassal or tributary states as well. Which citizens/ free subjects are called up to serve will typically depend on age/ stage in the lifecycle, property qualifications or some combination thereof. Armies will be at least to some degree supplied and remunerated by the state, even if soldiers will typically be unpaid and required to bring their own equipment, and they will be mobilised and led into battle by officers appointed by the state. The Bronze Age Near East, the Classical Greek city states, Republican Rome, Han China, Japan in the pre and early Heian period and northern and central Italy in the period 1100 to 1350 would definitely fit into this category. Historians have endlessly debated whether the Anglo-Saxon fyrd fitted into this model or the one just discussed above, and from what I gather the post-Warren Hollister, Eric John and Richard Abels consensus is that it basically depended on time, place and context. For the Carolingians its even more unclear. Walter Goffart would argue that the Carolingian military squarely fits that model, but it depends entirely on whether you can project Charlemagne’s military legislation on to the pre-800 period (most historians would disagree), and how successful you think it was which essentially becomes a debate about the effectiveness of the Carolingian state generally and whether early medieval royal legislation was ever more than a load of hot air (Patrick Wormald, you are sadly missed). I was quite attracted to this model for Carolingian military organisation for a long time, but now I’m less sure.
4. Statist model 2: Under this model, a rich state with abundant cash and sophisticated mechanisms of taxation or public finance is able to farm out military service from the citizen population armies of foreign mercenaries. Whether these mercenary armies are simply disbanded after an individual campaign, or maintained for longer periods of time, really does depend on where and when we’re talking about. The Carthaginian Empire and the Italian city-states in the age of the grand condottieri (post-1350) would definitely fit into this category, and I’m sure there’s some other examples I haven’t thought of. But no one would try and argue the Carolingians fitted into this category, given that the early medieval economy was at best patchily monetised and references to mercenaries in the eighth and ninth century sources are vanishingly few.
5. Statist model 3: the state, after achieving a critical mass of power/ a firm consensus among the political community is able to develop a permanent, paid, professional, centrally supplied and equipped standing army. This can either consist of men recruited from amongst one’s own free subjects or, as per the Islamic model, foreign slaves. Macedon under Philip II and Alexander the Great, the Hellenistic successor kingdoms, Rome post-Marian reforms, the early Arab Caliphates, Fatimid Egypt, Song China, the Mamluks, the Ottomans post-1360, the Lancastrian Empire under Henry V and Henry VI, France after 1445, Hungary under Matthias Corvinus etc (at this point we’re in the medieval-early modern borderlands) all fit into this category. However, I don’t think anyone, even Bachrach senior at his most gung-ho, would argue the Carolingian military fitted this model at any point.
Chapters 4.4 and 4.5 of my PhD thesis (and of the book which it became) might be relevant to your project http://diglib.uibk.ac.at/urn:nbn:at:at-ubi:1-30064 It seems like kings often switch between paying soldiers in silver and paying them in kind and giving them rights to land (or requiring everyone with enough land to be a soldier) as circumstances change.
Yes, the distinction between landed versus movably-paid soldiery is possibly also a modal one, given the differences it makes to deployment possibilities…
That’s of course a helpful distinction for looking at the evolution of the East Roman military over the course of the sixth to twelfth centuries. It also helps for the militaries of the western kingdoms in the immediate post-Roman period (c.450 – 600), which were basically standing armies all except they were given grants of land/ collected their pay at source (depending which way you read Cassiodorus or the Lex Burgundionum) and were still mobilised and supplied by the state’s officers. After 600 there’s definitely been a shift to either statist model one or the social model, or something between the two.
The test question here would then seem to be whether I’m right that it does affect what one can do with those troops. How far could Theodoric deploy his Goths from their lands? My impression is, as far as he needed to, without much argument. I’m not sure the same is true for the Burgundians, who never seem to have made war on anyone after their settlement but each other, except to keep people out of Burgundy. Now is that a scale difference, or a source difference, or a modal one or what?
Could be any of those. I’d personally say that sources definitely matter. the Burgundians don’t have any historians, and Frankish chroniclers portray them as massively inferior fighters who could be easily persuaded to sue for peace, contrasted the aggressive and formidable Franks. Scale must factor in as well – Theodoric’s kingdom was a lot bigger and wealthier than that of the Gibichungs in Burgundy. But at the same time, it might well have been modal – tertiae in the Ostrogothic kingdom need not be the same as tertiae in the Burgundian kingdom, and in the latter they may have been closer to giving soldiers allotments of land than just cutting out the middleman and allowing the soldier to collect his pay at source, which is how it probably worked the former.
Now I expose my ignorance, at least of the small avalanche of scholarship that’s recently come from the likes of Bjornlie, Lafferty and Arnold, when I say: interesting – why do you think that last thing about the Ostrogoths? And how do you think pay was made? They were striking coin all right, in all three metals indeed, but I don’t think there was that much of it. But on the other hand (future blog post here) a lot of what they did strike was going to Scandinavia, presumably as military pay, so perhaps there was enough to pay troops after all. Is that the difference you’re seeing or is there something in the laws I’ve not seen?
Also, as an ancient historian I see the Roman army of the Principate as sui generis and the great break from the armies of earlier ancient kingdoms. The armies of the Seleukids, Ptolemies, Achaemenids, and Sargonids are all exploring similar kinds of solution-space where you can’t raise enough silver to pay most of your army year-round so they have to have something else to support them when they are not in the field. My understanding is that after the Crisis of the Third Century Roman soldiers go back to having a lot of their pay be in kind against products made in Caesar’s fabricae or collected by Caesar’s taxmen.
I am not well read on that last question, but my sense is that the army had always been supplied with kit and food from central resources, and that the main change was between a system in which the soldiers’ pay was small, but supplies were all found for them, or one in which their pay was meant to cover the outlay on kit and supplies which they now had to buy themselves. I think that shift might have occurred more often than just as part of the theoretical move from Principate to Dominate or Empire to Tetrarchy or whatever.
I like this, but there’s no such categorisation of really anything that can’t stand a bit of poking at and dismantling. Thus, I note for one thing that by this typology the Roman Empire moved slowly between Statist Model 3 and Statist Model 2 over the course of the third to fifth centuries and then, in the east at least, back again for a while, which suggests that mixed-mode examples have to be considered. For another thing, I think there’s quite a difference in operable scale and expandibility within the Social Model depending on whether it is a hereditary warrior class or open recruitment that sources those retinues. It would be, for example, the difference between the Samurai, or indeed the chivalric West in some models, and the Mongols, and I think that’s a sufficiently explanatory difference that it might be a modal difference, suggesting two Social Models. But of course if there are mixed modes this may be in trouble as a categorisation anyway. One might say that we’re really after predominant modes, as with Chris Wickham’s new feudal economics, but the Roman Empire must have spent a while balanced quite evenly between two…
I like your critiques. Part of the reason why I developed these categorisations was to then think about where they blur, where one becomes the other, how two of them can coexist etc. Like most ideal types, they’re massive abstractions that aren’t meant to fit anywhere perfectly but are nonetheless good to think with in that they enable you to know what you’re looking for and facilitate comparisons across time, space and differing historiographies – Chris Wickham would say as much.
I’d agree with you that the social model is really two, and there its interesting to consider where one becomes the other. Because knights and samurai were not defined, hereditary classes to start off with. That is, of course, unless you’re Dominique Barthelemy, who believes that knights were noble all along and that the idea that the warrior aristocracy recruited any outsiders before the late thirteenth century is pure modern wishful thinking. Not to mention that there was no single model of knighthood for the whole Latin Europe – German ministeriales and the urban knights of Italy and Castile being particularly salient here.
I suppose that the methodological question which then follows and would make this a theory if it could be answered is, what difference did it make, normally, for society to adopt one or other of these approximate modes? That may be an unfairly big question for a blog comment, though. Maybe it’s better to observe that, if I ever do get the relevant article written, it will argue that, in your terms here, I’ll be arguing that late/post-Carolingian Catalonia was running a non-hereditary social model alongside a statist model one, but crucially—because otherwise it does look a bit Merovingian as per Bachrach—both on a tiny scale and from quite high up the social structure. So if even a society like that is mixed-mode, I’m not sure what the categorisation is getting me yet…
I think there are various different factors that can lead you from one to the other. Economic and administrative ones are fairly obvious – you can’t develop statist model two or three without a monetised economy and robust systems of taxation/ land redistribution. We know that the Hellenistic world and Republican Rome by the time of the Marian reforms had these things. Likewise East Rome and the Caliphate were able to keep standing armies going through the seventh century and beyond, unlike the Merovingians, because they kept taxing. What enables them to keep taxing is obviously the key question. Is it entirely down to material, structural and institutional factors, or is something else at play? And then at the other end you have the question of why it takes so long for late medieval western states to develop standing armies. Theoretically, England, France, Castile and Aragon all could have developed them in the thirteenth century, given their robust agrarian and commercial economies and increasingly sophisticated central bureaucracies. But ultimately a combination of institutional factors, political willpower and the interests and self-image of the nobility combine to prevent this kind of thing from happening until the fifteenth century and even then not everywhere. After the Hundred Years’ War, nothing like a national standing army exists in England until Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army in the 1640s, and at the end of the 1690s William of Orange has to fight pretty hard with parliament to allow him to keep a peacetime standing army after the War of the League of Augsburg ended in 1697. The idea of standing armies as a symbol of tyranny and inferior to a well-equipped middle class citizens militia is something you find a lot of in early modern Atlantic political culture.
Statist model one is often fostered in political systems based on a participatory political culture i.e. Classical Greece in the hoplite era, Republican Rome, communal Italy etc. At the same time it can form in political cultures that aren’t very participatory and don’t have that kind of ethic of civic militarism i.e. Old and Middle Kingdom Egypt, Assyria pre-Tiglath Pilesar III, Han China, Heian Japan etc. I think another thing that sustains these systems of the first statist type is when either there is a looming external threat, or the citizen/ peasant soldiers get a stake in the system not just through the other rights they hold as freemen but also the prospect of winning booty, land or slaves through imperial expansion. Like the Heian system of peasant conscription failed after the Ainu became confined to the far north of Honshu and Hokkaido, and the possibility of Tang military aggression evaporated, leading to the rise of the armed retinues that would become the samurai. Its very tempting to make parallels between this and the Carolingian case.
In terms of how you evolve from the more open variant of the social model to the more closed one, I guess that would depend on the relative wealth and power of landed aristocracies in that society and to what extent the warrior elites perceive themselves as a closed hereditary caste or not. Military technology and the cost of military equipment also matters i.e. knighthood was a good deal less exclusive in 1120, when all you needed was a mail hauberk, an iron open-face helmet, a sword, a lance and a shield, than it was in 1420 when you needed to be kitted out in a full suit of articulated plate covering you from head to toe that cost the equivalent of a Ferrari or an SUV. Of course, there are other factors at play and monocausal explanations never do.
This is all great and I’m enjoying it, as well as being duly impressed by the breadth of the knowledge you can bring to it. But I still have to ask the thousand-dollar question, which is, what is the application of this model? I’m temporarily satisfied that you can fit many things into it; but does it have any predictive or transportable power? For example, you say it’s tempting to compare Heian and Carolingian system failures; but why? Do we learn any more about either from the exercise? Are there places we can apply this template where it might supply possibilities we couldn’t already have arrived at? Because if so, then you have a theory!
As for which of the models I described I think the Carolingians fit in, for the moment I’d say it depends where and when in the Carolingian era we’re in. As my latest blogpost on the Edict of Pitres touches on, Charles the Bald was clearly trying to make statist model one work in the West Frankish kingdom, but whether his brother Louis was trying to use the same in East Francia we can be much less certain, because Similarly we can’t be certain if Charles’ grandfather, Charlemagne, for the first three quarters of his reign at least, or his great-great grandfather, Charles Martel, had the same model. The problem is, of course, that all Carolingian military legislation is post-800 in date, and after 840 its overwhelmingly from west of the Rhine.
And at the end of the day, what model of military organisation you see the Carolingians as having depends on how you view the wider problem of what exactly is the Carolingian state and how does it really work i.e. Matthew Innes’ view on Carolingian military organisation is consistent with how he views the Carolingian state generally, as operating on the basis of patronage networks, whereas for Jean Durliat, Elisabeth Magnou-Nortier, Walter Goffart and Bernard Bachrach its consistent with their contention that Rome never really fell.
That is fair; and Innes’s view has a lot to do with Reuter’s one before it. I suppose that one answer is that he doesn’t come far enough forward in time to make it clear, but I wonder where you see Halsall on that diagram…
Halsall is very difficult to classify. On the one hand, he’s very critical of Matthew Innes position that the armies that fought Charlemagne’s wars were raised through aristocratic patronage networks, and tears to shreds his reading of the Ripwin case in the Lorsch charters. And contra Innes, he doesn’t see the haribannus as having evolved into a seigneurial due/ army tax, instead arguing that the late Merovingians and early Carolingians still insisted on their right to collect it as a fine for all free allodial landholders who didn’t show up to the host, thus making statist model 1 still theoretically there. At the same time, he’s also insistent that Goffart, Magnou-Nortier and Bachrach are wrong as well, and that we can’t project ninth century Carolingian military legislation back into the pre-800 period. So I think he sees recruitment as being more open than Innes or Reuter would see it, but not conscription either. And of course, Halsall thinks that a general levy of the free male population was never feasible anyway, on the grounds of his pessimistic view of the early medieval rural economy, which of course ultimately comes from the problematic work of Duby and Fossier. I wonder if your “Outgrowing the Dark Ages” article would challenge his view that an army of 20,000 men or more would be like dropping an atom bomb on the early medieval countryside. I’d also point out that agriculture third century BC Roman Italy can’t have been more advanced than eighth century Francia and government taxation was only levied at about 1% of a free citizen’s real wealth, yet ancient historians like Walter Scheidel (whose “Escape from Rome” I’m enjoying at the moment) have no problem suggesting that the mid-Republican Romans were able to levy armies of up to 225,000 men for the Punic Wars, but now I’m sounding like a Bachrach.
I suppose, as he sees it, a version of the social model has been in existence since whatever point in the first half of the seventh century they stop saying “the men of civitas x or y” and start saying scarae or saiones, at which point the sub-Roman system that has features of statist model 1 and statist model 3 terminates de facto if not quite de jure. The Carolingians successfully harness it, using the developments in land tenure (precaria and beneficia) that have emerged around 700 and the monastic patronage networks that have proliferated over the course of the seventh century. Expansionist wars between 719 and 803 mean that there’s plenty of land and other prizes to go around for aspiring warriors. But after imperial expansion ends, the system runs into problems and so the Carolingians have to try experimenting with all kinds of things in order to wean themselves off these aristocratic patronage networks, which are becoming increasingly unreliable. Halsall sees Charlemagne in his last years, Louis the Pious and Charles the Bald as trying to implement statist model 1 through military legislation calling for the well-off free peasants to serve in the host based on property assessments, and the less well-off work on roads, bridges and fortresses and perform guard duty on the borders. Meanwhile, East Frankish Carolingians like Charles the Fat try to raise armies entirely through the bishops and abbots (a forerunner to the Ottonian system), a sort of cross between the social model and statist model 3. But ultimately, Halsall is quite downbeat on these experiments, and sees Western Europe in 900 as being on course to entering the age of knights and castles, where the social model prevails.
And of course, Halsall might have problems with my use of the term statist, since he’s now of the opinion that Western European kingdoms in the seventh to tenth centuries cannot be called states.
That seems reasonably fair to me (and the comparison with Scheidel – who seems to me to be the new face of over-quantitative world systems history for the Empire but is driving, and generating, some very interesting work with which, at the very least, it’s profitable to disagree – is also useful). It also looks a lot like part of a lit. review for a book. Are you keeping copies of these comments to assemble into something?
As for what the value of these models are, I guess its difficult to know definitively until they’ve been tested, and that unfortunately will not happen for a long time. Kind of what I went to get at is why do changes in military organisation happen. Is it because of structural factors i.e. the transition from the ancient mode of production/ the ancient state to the feudal mode as a potential explanation for why you might get from statist model 1/ 3 to the social mode, that take place over a long period of time and are outside anyone’s control. Or is it down to more contingent political and cultural factors. If its the former, then that can only be demonstrated if its done comparatively. As we’ve seen with the feudal transformation, arguing for structural inevitability is no good if you’re only focusing on one specific region (from greater France as per Poly and Bournazel down to a handful of Burgundian villages as per Bois) – its basically like locking yourself in a glasshouse and shouting from the inside. And this is reinforced by historiographical concepts developed for very specific regions that cannot easily be transplanted elsewhere – since you’re a Hispanist, I know you’re more than aware of the problems this can create. Whereas if we compare closely with other regions that arguably do share structural factors but have little or nothing to do with them in terms of cultural or political inheritances i.e. Heian Japan with Carolingian Francia, we can maybe see if structural factors are indeed behind it. Or even if they aren’t, we can see how elite warrior cultures can emerge in societies with very different civilisational heritage, or how unconnected political contingencies can lead two different societies from one very similar mode to another very similar mode over a shared timeframe (strange parallels). As someone like Chris Wickham would say, the comparative approach is really the closest history gets to being a science, in that we can potentially falsify our own hypotheses. However, in that light, if the Carolingian Francia and Heian Japan comparison was going to work, I’d also need to think of a control region as well, one that manages to keep statist model one going, otherwise I’d be accused of deliberately choosing two examples on the grounds they’d fit the hypothesis.
Indeed, and you don’t learn much by simply accumulating examples of how something does work unless it actually does work everywhere, of which there ain’t much. This is exactly what I was getting at, though, the transition from observation and description to theorisation and prediction. It’s on my mind because yesterday I was plugging my half-dormant project Rethinking the Medieval Frontier at the International Medieval Congress, and am freshly reminded of that old promise to do something similarly generative, a promise that as yet I haven’t fulfilled (though I maybe found a way to do away with the idea of Reconquista…).
Finally, as for the Ostrogoths, I think that their system was statist model 3 because they preserved the infrastructure of the late Roman state more than anyone else, and because their military was a lot more mobile than the Burgundian one – militarily intervening in Provence, Spain, Sicily and Africa – which would have been harder to do if soldiers had to return to their farms for harvest. Of course that pay need not have always been in coin, as taxation in kind was a thing in the later Roman Empire, but as you say given that Ostrogothic coins have been found in Scandinavia, they probably did have enough money to pay for a standing army.
All good points, with which I will now have to think. Thankyou!
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