Category Archives: General medieval

Seminar CCXLVI: controversies in studying Carolingian coinage

As promised, the Bank Holiday bonus blog post is also about coins. I promise you only very minimal quantities of numismatics in the next post, but for now we’re still in my whirl of monetary study at the beginning of 2017. On 22nd February of that year, I did something that was already becoming a rarity, which was to head down to London to hear someone speak at the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar of the Institute of Historical Research, and as previously mentioned that someone was the Reverend Dr Simon Coupland and his topic was “New Light from Carolingian Coinage”, and this bears on enough things I care about that I wanted to write it up separately in old style.

Obverse of a silver portrait denier of Charlemagne, probably struck at Aachen between 813 and 814, now in the Cabinet des Médailles of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, image from Wikimedia Commons

Here at least is a Charlemagne denier I haven’t pictured before, in the Bibliothèque nationale de France’s Cabinet des Médailles, image by PHGCOM – own work by uploader, photographed at Cabinet des Médailles, Paris, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The reason there is new light to be shone, it turned out, is because the stuff keeps being discovered. Although the Carolingian coinage is still probably smaller in survival than its Merovingian predecessor, and there are still therefore questions about its actual use to settle—we’ll come back to that—the hoards corpus has trebled in size since Dr Coupland began his study of the subject, and weird and wonderful groupings keep turning up, especially in the border areas of the Empire where foreign coin didn’t get reminted at entry. Dr Coupland also has the kind of contacts that means he hears about the single finds that Continental antiquities laws tend otherwise to prevent coming to light. Who knows what has come up even while I haven’t been writing this paper up, indeed?1 So there were a number of big-ticket declarations he felt he could now make, and then some curiosities we have still to resolve.

Among the big-ticket items were things like:

  1. Charlemagne’s monogram coinage is found further from its mints than any preceding Carolingian coinage; whatever it is was that joined up his empire, it meant that his late money travelled further than the early stuff.2
  2. His son Louis the Pious, however, seems to have minted more coin per year than any Carolingian ruler before or after him; the latter fact was because the civil war between his sons seriously damaged the production and circulation of the currency and Charles the Bald’s reset of his coinage in 864 did not fully repair the situation even in the West (though if it had, we might conceivably not know, since coins from after that point are very hard to date).
  3. On the other side of the war of the Carolingian brothers, Emperor Lothar I seems to have lost control of his coinage somewhat: there seem to be a lot of Viking imitations, which may be because he had farmed out his biggest mint, Dorestad in Frisia, to a Viking warlord called Rorik and apparently Rorik’s moneyers didn’t much care what Lothar’s name was. This, however, raises the question whether the Frisian imitations of gold solidi of Louis the Pious are also Viking occupation productions, which against this background suddenly seems likely…3
Anglo-Frisian imitation of a gold solidus of Emperor Louis the Pious found in Aldingbourn area, Sussex, UK, Portable Antiquities Scheme SUSS-2A93DC

Viking-made? An imitation of a gold solidus of Emperor Louis the Pious found in Aldingbourn area , Sussex, UK, 5th May 2019, Portable Antiquities Scheme SUSS-2A93DC, image licensed under CC-BY.

On the scale of smaller curiosities, we had observations like this:

  1. We now know that King Pepin III struck a very small portrait coinage, so that’s pretty much every mainline Carolingian with one now.
  2. On the same subject, we now have 47 examples of Charlemagne’s portrait coinage, and the persistently small number of them against the background of his wider coinage makes the question of what they were for still harder to answer, not least because we now have 362 of Louis the Pious’s; it seems clearer that the son of Charlemagne was keener on circulating his imperial image, so what was Charlemagne doing?4
  3. Hoards from around Dorestad continue to indicate the place’s major rôle as a clearing house for international economic contact even before the Vikings were running it, with not just now five hoards of Pepin III and quite a mixture of other Carolingiana but also now a small hoard of King Eanred of Northumbria…5
  4. Despite that, coins from Venice, which was in some ways outside the actual Empire, actually form as large a part of the single finds distribution as do coins from supposed no. 1 port Dorestad, so the high level of finds recovery from the Netherlands may be bending our picture somewhat.
  5. Two hoards from near the major Carolingian mint of Melle, meanwhile, add considerably to the confusion of what was going on in Aquitaine while it was contested between King Charles the Bald and King Pepin II of Aquitaine, as we now have one hoard each of coins in the name of Charles but with Pepin’s monogram (Dr Coupland’s ‘Poitou-Charente 2014’) and one of coins in the name of Pepin but with Charles’s monogram.6 Is it possible some kind of joint rule is reflected here, or was it just blundering, or mint officials trying to play it safe? Why did they have dies of both to mix up? And so on…
  6. Lastly, of many other snippets I could mention, a hoard of 2000 Temple-type coins of Lothar I from Tzimmingen gives us a robust die sample for the coinage and suggests that, if one accepts the infamous Metcalf multiplier of 10,000 coins usually struck per die, that this would have been a coinage of around 4,000,000 pieces.7 But of course, we should not accept the infamous Metcalf multiplier8

You may get the impression that this paper was substantially composed of numismatic gossip, and you wouldn’t be all wrong about that, but behind all this, especially when one starts dealing with numbers like that, are bigger questions. Long ago now Michael Hendy argued that whereas Roman coinage had been primarily intended for tax and was run in the state interest rather than out of any concern for commerce, something in which he has been much disputed since, by the Carolingian era enabling trade was a primary concern of coin-issuing powers, not least because they didn’t really use coin for anything else, since the imperial tax system was gone and they raised troops on obligations relating to land, not by paying them wages.9 We might, now, have enough additional respect for the Carolingians’ estate management and desire to transport wealth in durable forms around their empire to suspect that they did, in fact, have at least some governmental uses for coin, and Hendy would probably not have denied that, but when we’ve got figures like these, and coins moving so far before then getting lost, as Metcalf managed to argue for the early Anglo-Saxon coinages, it seems like trade must be the bigger part of the answer. That raises its own questions about whether this relatively high-value silver coinage was actually very generally available or whether it was, effectively, a tool of professionals. That goes double when one factors in professional soldiery or banditry that might explain hoards in Viking territories, I suppose, but Dr Coupland would argue for a trading factor there too, and I think Mark Blackburn would have agreed with him.10

Silver denier of Emperor Louis the Pious struck at Venice in 819-822, CNG Coins 407389

Silver denier of Emperor Louis the Pious struck at Venice in 819-822, CNG Coins 407389, ex Coin Galleries sale, 14 November 2000, lot 576

As Rory Naismith raised in questions, the place that doesn’t fit into this picture as one would expect is Italy, part of the Carolingian realms at least down to Rome and sometimes further from 774. While it’s probably not ideal metal detector territory for much of its surface, Italy is nevertheless pretty thoroughly archaeologically surveyed and dug, and yet, as Alessia Rovelli has repeatedly argued, the finds of coins from the Carolingian era are way fewer than from the Roman, Byzantine and even Lombard eras before it.11 She has therefore concluded that the Carolingians didn’t really strike much coin in Italy, and yet beyond the Alps Venice and Milan are major parts of the sample. If those mints were primarily striking for what turned out to be export, it’s hard to argue that this was a coinage for the market, when Italy’s concentration of cities even then should have provided a much more urgent market context than the other side of the Alps. In this respect, at least, this coinage looks like a tax one, a point made on this occasion by Caroline Goodson, in which case why does it look like a trading one inside Frankish territories? For Dr Coupland this was probably something do with the finding circumstances, but an alternative might be that Italy was something of a colonised territory under the Carolingians, from which they extracted wealth that was really only being spent in the heartland, whereafter it spread more normally. But what was Italy doing for money in its own markets if that was so? There is a bigger answer needed here if it is to contain all this evidence, but of course, one has to know what the evidence is. Certainly, the audience of this paper had to ask their questions differently by the end of it from how they would have at the beginning, such was the new evidence presented. As you can tell, I am still thinking with it now, and now, after much delay, so can you!


1. Dr Coupland has been trying to keep track of this for a while: see Simon Coupland, “A Checklist of Carolingian Coin Hoards 751-987” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 171 (London 2011), pp. 203–256, on JSTOR here; idem, “A Supplement to the Checklist of Carolingian Coin Hoards, 751-987”, ibid. Vol. 174 (London 2014), pp. 213–222, on JSTOR here; idem, “Seven Recent Carolingian Hoards”, ibid. pp. 317–332, on JSTOR here; idem, “A Hoard of Charles the Bald (840-77) and Pippin II (845-8)”, ibid. Vol. 175 (London 2015), pp. 273–284, and Simon Coupland and Jens Christian Moesgaard, “Carolingian Hoards”, ibid., pp. 267–272, are just the ones I easily have reference to; I suspect there are more…

2. See now Simon Coupland, “The Formation of a European Identity: Revisiting Charlemagne’s Coinage” in Elina Screen and Charles West (eds), Writing the Early Medieval West: studies in honour of Rosamond McKitterick (Cambridge 2018), pp. 213–229.

3. See Simon Coupland, “Recent Finds of Imitation Gold Solidi in the Netherlands” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 176 (London 2016), pp. 261–269.

4. Simon Coupland, “The Portrait Coinage of Charlemagne” in Rory Naismith, Martin Allen and Elina Screen (edd.), Early Medieval Monetary History: Studies in Memory of Mark Blackburn (Farnham 2014), pp. 145–156.

5. For a view predating these recent finds, see Simon Coupland, “Boom and Bust at 9th-century Dorestad” in Annemarieke Willemsen and H. Kik (edd.), Dorestad in an International Framework: New Research on Centres of Trade and Coinage in Carolingian Times (Turnhout 2010), pp. 95–103.

6. This is presumably that covered in Coupland, “A Hoard of Charles the Bald (840-77) and Pippin II (845-8)”, and I guess the other one is in either idem, “A Checklist of Carolingian Coin Hoards” or idem, “A Supplement to the Checklist of Carolingian Coin Hoards”.

7. Metcalf in D. M. Metcalf, “How Large was the Anglo-Saxon Currency?” in Economic History Review 2nd Series Vol. 18 (London 1965), pp. 475-482, on JSTOR here, but for a statistical sanity check of the methods (which basically aren’t sane) see Warren W. Esty, “Estimation of the Size of a Coinage: a Survey and Comparison of Methods” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 146 (London 1986), pp. 185–215, on JSTOR here.

8. See for a final word on this, at least as it should have been, S. E. Buttrey and T. V. Buttrey, “Calculating Ancient Coin Production, Again” in American Journal of Numismatics Vol. 9 (Washington DC 1997), pp. 113–135.

9. Michael F. Hendy, “From Public to Private: The Western Barbarian Coinages as a Mirror of the Disintegration of Late Roman State Structures” in Viator Vol. 19 (Turnhout 1988), pp. 29–78, DOI: 10.1484/J.VIATOR.2.301364.

10. Obviously there are the important methodological cautions of Philip Grierson, “Commerce in the Dark Ages: A Critique of the Evidence” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th Series Vol. 9 (London 1959), pp. 123–140, on JSTOR here, which I do love to cite still, but against it in this context see D. M. Metcalf, “Viking-Age Numismatics 4: The Currency of German and Anglo-Saxon Coins in the Northern Lands” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 148 (London 1998), pp. 345–371, on JSTOR here, and idem, “English Money, Foreign Money: The Circulation of Tremisses and Sceattas in the East Midlands, and the Monetary Role of ‘Productive Sites'” in Tony Abramson (ed.), Studies in Early Medieval Coinage 2: New Perspectives (Woodbridge 2011), pp. 15–48.

11. Alessia Rovelli, “Coins and Trade in Early Medieval Italy” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 17 (Oxford 2009), pp. 45–76.

Things I did not know about coinage in al-Andalus

I owe you all some blog posts! So I hope you don’t mind if they’re mostly about coins, because apparently at the beginning of 2017 I was dealing with coins at pretty much every level. The Roman stuff just discussed was being catalogued while I could still catalogue, but I’d chosen that stuff to catalogue because I needed to know what there was for teaching my late antique survey module. Teaching with coinage on my final-year special subject is harder, because for much of the period of Iberian history it covers there was no, or almost no, coinage being issued in the Latin kingdoms, and I don’t read the Arabic with which I might better understand the Muslim state’s or states’ stuff, and either way the Leeds collection has basically none of it. I did, however, run one class on the economy of al-Andalus, focusing on money and slaves, and for that I wanted to show the students some coins, even if the most they got from it would be that the state had considerable powers of standardisation, that the Islamic standard of coinage was fairly universal and that when the caliphate began it reintroduced gold coinage and that was no coincidence. Those all seemed like worthwhile teaching points…

Gold dinar of Caliph 'Abd al-Raḥmān III al-Nasir struck in al-Andalus in AD 929-930, Tonegawa Collection 6871

Gold dinar of Caliph ‘Abd al-Raḥmān III al-Nasir struck in al-Andalus in AD 929-930, Tonegawa Collection 6871

So I went hunting for a resource to use and remembered the existence of something I had once found, the Tonegawa Collection. If you haven’t met it, this is an increasingly-comprehensive open online and expressly anti-copyright collection of images of and information on coins of al-Andalus; but right now, it was an English-language resource with many pictures and so I leapt at it. Of course, I had actually to look at it first to ensure that this would probably work, and in the course of that I learnt many cool things about Andalusī (i. e. Iberian Muslim) coinage and stubbed this post in which to tell you all of them.

Gold solidus struck in Spania in AD 711-712, Tonegawa Collection 9084

Gold solidus struck in ‘Spania’ in AD 711-712, Tonegawa Collection 9084

Some of these things I knew already, like this one. The Visigothic kingdom that the Muslim forces took over in the Iberian Peninsula in 711 had had a mostly-gold coinage of so-called tremisses, technically one-third of a Roman/Byzantine solidus. Unlike most places where Islam took over a tax system, where it just maintained the existing coinage until the application of a new one had been worked out, here something more studied was done: the new régime struck solidi, which the Visigoths had not for a long time, on the Byzantine weight standard and with halves and thirds like the Byzantines, but of a new design with Latin inscriptions recording the value, country of issue (Hispania) and the Islamic date, and a star on the other side. There were also copper-alloy coins of a less standard kind.1 Conventional wisdom is that this was the application of the system the Muslims had met at Carthage when they took that, but that had been thirty years before, since which time coinage there had been regularised with that of the rest of the Islamic world, and in any case the last solidi from Islamic Carthage were fat globby things quite unlike these in both fabric or design.2

Gold bilingual half-dinar struck in al-Andalus in AD 716-717, Tonegawa Collection 98

Gold bilingual half-dinar struck in al-Andalus in AD 716-717, Tonegawa Collection 98

Next, five years later, came coins closer to Islamic dinar weights, with both Latin and Arabic inscriptions as you see above, and then five years after that regular Islamic dinars, then soon after that gold ceased to be issued and it was only silver dirhams and copper-alloy fulūs till the new Caliphate in 929 (see the first illustration). Whatever was going on here involved some deliberate decisions about how this was going to work and perhaps some early sense that this was going to be a new province of a different kind to the other Islamic possessions. There’s a story from the later Arabic sources that the first delegate governor of al-Andalus, ‘Abd al-Azīz, son of the governor of Ifrīqīyya who had conquered the peninsula, married the widow of the last Visigothic king and started looking as if he would set up as the new one, so that his men murdered him for his pretensions; I wonder if this coinage is showing us the same thing, a potential breakway régime which thought it was too far from Damascus to be stopped and in the end proved to be wrong.3

Silver dirham of Emir Hisham I struck in al-Andalus in AD 802-803, Tonegawa 187x1

Silver dirham of Emir Hisham I struck in al-Andalus in AD 802-803, Tonegawa 187×1

Likewise, it’s interesting to me that throughout the history of the rule of some kind of the first, Umayyad, ruling dynasty of Islam in the peninsula, the mint named on the precious-metal coinage was almost never more specific than the whole province, first Hispania then al-Andalus, as if any minting place was the same given the uniformity of control.4 Given how shaky Umayyad control often was here, that might have been quite an important thing to assert: coinage of Toledo or wherever would have been politically contentious when the city rebelled, as it often did, but while all the coinage was from ‘al-Andalus’, even when the governors or emirs controlled relatively little of that space, at least their money would not make that obvious. It’s frustrating not knowing where they were made, of course, but there was probably a point to it.

Copper-alloy coin of one Ibn Qāsī struck at an uncertain mint and date, Tonegawa Collection 10

Copper-alloy coin of one Ibn Qāsī struck at an uncertain mint and date, Tonegawa Collection 10. The Arabic which identifies the issue apparently more or less renders as ‘Son of Cassius/Qāsī’ and ‘Conquest’, which is fascinating if so, but obviously isn’t all the script on the coin so if anyone feels like decoding the rest for me I would be in their debt and would footnote their assistance in subsequent publication…

Now this much I already knew, largely because of long ago having copy-edited the volume I’ve been citing for it all. But the Tonegawa Collection showed me lots of new things. For example, I dimly knew that Islamic law considers only precious-metal coinage to be the business of the state, so that base-metal small change can effectively be provided privately.5 It could, though, also be provided at intermediate level, such as by city or March governors, and that’s how come the above is a coin of the infamous Banū Qāsī, the frontier warlords about whom at this point I’d only a year before written the first English-language synthesis longer than a paragraph.6 Was that just necessity, at one of the periods when they held the big city of Zaragoza, to keep the markets and tax systems running, or was the chance to issue even base-metal coin part of how they tried to embed themselves into the area before anyone could come along and push them out of it again? I hadn’t realised that the coinage could be a source here, because no-one who works on them mentions it, but now when I finally revise that paper, I can.

Copper-alloy fals overstruck in al-Andalus at an uncertain date on a nummus of Emperor Maximian, Tonegawa Collection IIF

Copper-alloy fals overstruck in al-Andalus at an uncertain date on a nummus of Emperor Maximian, Tonegawa Collection IIF

I could go on for a while, but I’ll keep it to just these two further things. This is a copper-alloy fals, and I can’t tell you anything really about who issued it or when—though if anyone reading can make anything of the legend I would love to know—but I can tell you that it didn’t start this way, as this has been struck straight onto a Roman nummus of Emperor Maximian (285-305, 307-308 and 310). Coins like this have been the seed of a long (friendly) argument between me and Eduardo Manzano Moreno, who has indeed now published his side of the dispute (on which more in a couple of posts). I maintain, backed by now considerable finds evidence, that there were Visigothic base-metal coinages struck in the Peninsula; he maintains that coins like these show that the circulating medium of small change was actually reused or still-used Roman coins.7 I thought that unlikely, but there are, as this demonstrates, coins that make him at least part right. They don’t make me wrong about the Visigothic stuff, though! Nonetheless, what this is is a coin that, even if not continuously, had been in use for at least 429 years when this happened to it, perhaps rather more, and which presumably then went to be used some more before someone helpfully lost it or hoarded it. You can see why I was sceptical, but as it’s true it is, as Neil would have said, pretty heavy, man.

Double-pierced silver dirham of 'Abd al-Rahman III al-Nasir struck in al-Andalus in AD 930–31, Tonegawa Collection 3b

Double-pierced silver dirham of ‘Abd al-Rahman III al-Nasir struck in al-Andalus in AD 930–31, Tonegawa Collection 3b

Lastly, as any of you who have worked closely with me and my numismatic buddies will know, we think piercing of coins is really interesting.8 Apart from anything else, it tells us that despite the presumably-fixed value of the coin in precious metal, it was still worth more for someone to bore some of that metal out of it and hang it on a string or whatever than to maintain that. You can sometimes tell a lot by how a coin is pierced; if it was hung on a string, for example, what face would be the right way up? Which way through was the hole pushed? Does that match? If there are two holes, it was probably going to be stitched to fabric; how does that change our picture? Here, we seem to have both: the damage at the edge seems to be where a single piercing caused the edge to crack off, and then someone put two holes through it more centrally. Or perhaps those things happened the other way round, who knows? So had this coin been crossing some kind of culture divide, was this change of use, or had it just fallen off whatever it was attached to and someone decided to make sure? We can’t answer these questions, of course, at least not normally, but their answers would make up individual object biographies in which the coin interacted with its different and equally individual users, and this coin apparently did more obvious interaction than many.9 I wonder what?

Anyway. That is enough numismatic effusion for now, especially given that the next post will contain more. Imagine how much worse it would be if I could read these things…


1. My guide here is of course Miquel Crusafont, Anna M. Balaguer and Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a catalogue of the coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 6: The Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013), pp. 54-61.

2. See Philip Grierson, Byzantine Coins (London 1982), pp. 147-148.

3. On the story and its background see Roger Collins, The Arab Conquest of Spain 710–797 (Oxford 1989), pp. 37-38.

4. Crusafont, Balaguer & Grierson, Medieval European Coinage 6, p. 59. The exception is the period 947-961, when the coins of ‘Abd al-Raḥmān III were issued from his palace at Madinat al-Zahra’, outside Córdoba.

5. See Stefan Heidemann, “Numismatics” in Chase F. Robinson (ed.), The New Cambridge History of Islam: Volume 1: The Formation of the Islamic World, Sixth to Eleventh Centuries (Cambridge 2010), pp. 648–663 at pp. 649-651.

6. Jonathan Jarrett, “Heartland and Frontier from the Perspective of the Banū Qasī, 842-907”, unpublished paper presented at the International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 9th July 2015; it does, alas, remain unpublished, but I can also offer you Jonathan Jarrett, “Before the Reconquista: frontier relations in medieval Iberia 718 to 1031” in Javier Muñoz-Basols, Laura Lonsdale and Manuel Delgado (edd.), The Routledge Companion to Iberian Studies (London 2017), pp. 27–40 at pp. 28-29, assuming of course that you cannot access the much more comprehensive Jesús Lorenzo Jiménez, La dawla de los Banū Qasī: origen, auge y caída de una dinastía muladí en la frontera superior de al-Andalus, Estudios Árabes e Islámicos: Monografias 17 (Madrid 2010).

7. Eduardo Manzano Moreno and Alberto Canto, “The Value of Wealth: Coins and Coinage in Iberian Early Medieval Documents” in †Simon Barton and Robert Portass (edd.), Beyond the Reconquista: New Directions in the History of Medieval Iberia (711-1085) In Honour of Simon Barton, The Medieval and Early Modern Iberian World 76 (Leiden 2020), pp. 169–197. In my defence I cite Ruth Pliego, “The Circulation of Copper Coins in the Iberian Peninsula during the Visigothic Period: new approaches” in Journal of Archaeological Numismatics Vol. 5/6 (Madrid 2015), pp. 125–160, for my copy of which I must thank the author.

8. On coin piercing see Rebecca Darley, “Money, Art and Representation: the powerful and pragmatic faces of medieval coinage” in Rory Naismith (ed.), A Cultural History of Money in the Medieval Age, Cultural History of Money 2 (London 2019), pp. 99–124 at pp. 119-121.

9. You probably don’t need a reference for the idea of object biographies but if you want one, here are two, Arjun Appadurai, “Introduction: commodities and the politics of value” in idem (ed.), The Social Life of Things: commodities in cultural perspective (Cambridge 1986), pp. 3-63, and Karin Dannehl, “Object Biographies: from production to consumption” in Karen Harvey (ed.), History and Material Culture: a student’s guide to approaching alternative sources (London 2009), pp. 123–138.

Rites de passage: judging a doctorate for the first time

As said last post, as 2017, when the world was quite different, rolled around, I began the year by examining my first doctorate. Pretty much as soon as the public transport started working again, in fact, I was on my way to Cambridge. Now, in fact, the thesis was fine; I’ve not yet been placed in the position of examining a thesis that wasn’t more or less OK, thankfully, and if and when I am I doubt I’ll write about it here.1 When I say it was fine, I mean our biggest objection as examiners was that there was more in it about elephants than was strictly speaking required by the topic, but I want to reflect on the actual process a bit, just because it is a set of rituals not shared everywhere and merits reflection.

Sam Ottewill-Soulsby speaking to the Medieval History Seminar, University of Cambridge

Sam Ottewill-Soulsby, discoursing on ‘”Useless Peace”: Carolingian-Umayyad Diplomacy, 810-820’, for the University of Cambridge in 2014; click through to find it as a podcast…

In the first place, my involvement in this was very much being stepped back into old networks. The person being examined was Samuel Ottewill-Soulsby, seen above, whom I had met at seminars at the Institute of Historical Research and who had also helped put on a conference three years before at which I presented. I was co-examining with someone I’d known for much longer, Dr Marios Costambeys, of the University of Liverpool but who, because of holding his doctorate from Cambridge, allowed to function as internal examiner there. Meanwhile I was the external, who has the easier job (as I now know): all the external has to do is read the thesis, write a report, sit in a room with the candidate for a couple of hours talking about their thesis, decide the judgement with the internal examiner, inform the candidate and then write up actions for the candidate if necessary, and then hand the rest over to the internal examiner for dealing with, take one’s honorarium and go home. Given the timing, I was reading Sam’s thesis over the Christmas holiday and New Year, but I have had worse tasks to take away to relatives to pore over while everyone else is celebrating the change of the calendar, and this task got much easier once it became clear that the thesis was going to be perfectly possible to pass.

Hall Court, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, from Wikimedia Commons

Hall Court, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, photograph by Ardfernown work, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, naturally enough we had arguments and quibbles here and there. Sam’s topic was ‘Carolingian Diplomacy with the Islamic World’, which necessitated at least some examination of early medieval elephants in order to understand what would, at the time, have been understood by it when Caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd, of Arabian Nights fame, sent Charlemagne a lone bull elephant whose name was Abul ‘Abbas, this being a historical thing that actually happened between the real historical persons of those names in the late ninth century.2 It just, maybe, didn’t need quite as much about elephants as Sam had put in. We advised him to cut that back and pour out his elephantine concerns in a separate article.3 I was interested in deconstructing a distinction Sam was making between diplomacy of necessity (intended to produce an outcome between the two parties) and diplomacy of prestige (intended to impress and make you look splendid but not necessarily to change anything), on the grounds that some embassies could do both; as Sam pointed out, the other option is deliberate disengagement, which can also be pursued for different reasons. Marios was interested in what Sam thought he was adding to our overall picture of the Carolingian world, to which Sam’s answer was that Charlemagne and his court were much more capable of handling contradictions in their attitudes and philosophy than our own tradition of analysis by logic and categories makes easy for us to understand; that seemed to me and still seems to me a big point, which if we could grasp properly would help us understand these worlds better. In general, to whatever we asked, Sam had good answers, which is roughly what is supposed to happen in this exercise, and we were able to pass his thesis with only a few recommended corrections, which he completed in pretty short order and thereafter, once the University bureaucracy had processed Marios’s acknowledgement of that fact, he was and is entitled to call himself Dr Ottewill-Soulsby, and richly and rightly deserved too.

The School of History, University College London

The School of History, University College London

Still, it is strange to reflect upon. In 2006, in a room in University College London, I went through this same process as examinee, with quite a similar outcome (and I then got on a train to Brighton to see Clutch play with Stinking Lizaveta in support, got more than a little drunk and finally collapsed happily in what I then thought was the best company in the world, and it was really a very good day in my life).4 Then I went back to working in a museum for nearly five years, at last got an academic job, briefly went back into museums and then got my job at Leeds, and that last, along with having got through the process myself, now qualified me to judge whether someone else should be allowed to set out on this somewhat shaky bridge into academia, if they want to. My having some knowledge of Sam’s field was obviously also important, but it’s not the only qualification required. Consider also that, if they’ve done it right, the person being examined knows a lot more about the topic than the persons examining do; part of the job of the viva is almost to make sure of that. At the same time, it is ‘only’ an examination of a piece of written work done for a degree qualification, not a golden key to academic employment or anything. The fact that this process is the only summative assessment of a multi-year project means that the sunk costs and aspirations in it are huge but don’t change what it actually is. But nonetheless, it can mean somebody’s world. I’m very glad that the first one I was asked to do was possible to pass so uncontentiously. Thanks, Sam; you were not the only one performing a rite de passage in that room, and you made it a lot easier for both of us than it might have been…


1. I’m now up to four, because that’s what this blog’s backlog looks like. Each will be told a little of in its due season, though, because all their respective victors deserve their time on the podium.

2. On which, apart of course from Samuel Ottewill-Soulsby, “Carolingian Diplomacy with the Islamic World” (Ph.D. thesis, Cambridge University, 2017), pp. 83-92, you could profitably see Leslie Brubaker, “The Elephant and the Ark: Cultural and Material Interchange across the Mediterranean in the Eighth and Ninth Centuries” in Dumbarton Oaks Papers Vol. 58 (Washington DC 2004), pp. 175–195, or more broadly Paul Edward Dutton, Charlemagne’s Mustache and Other Cultural Clusters of a Dark Age (New York City 2004), pp. 43-68.

3. It must be said that no elephantine article has yet come forth, but what has is Samuel Ottewill-Soulsby, “The Camels of Charles the Bald” in Medieval Encounters Vol. 25 (Leiden 2019), pp. 263–292, if that’s any use to you instead…

4. The matter of that day then being Jonathan Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia” (Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 2005), online here, as well of course as Clutch, Robot Hive / Exodus (DRT Entertainment 2005) and Stinking Lizaveta, Caught Between Worlds (At A Loss 2004), among others of their works.

Name in Print XXV: un treball nou sobre l’Abadessa Emma i el comte Guifré el Pelós

This post was delayed by the time it took my copies of my previous publication to arrive, because my obsessive sense of chronology demanded that I do them in the order they came out. But even at the time I posted my last publication news there was already another in the queue, and in fact had been since December 2019—that different world, when there was no global pandemic and people were still hoping Britain would somehow stay in the European Union—when, from that very international bloc and specifically from Barcelona, this arrived in my hands.

Cover of Irene Brugués, Coloma Boada & Xavier Costa (edd.), El Monestir de Sant Joan: Primer cenobi femení dels comtats catalans (887-1017) (Barcelona 2019)

Cover of Irene Brugués, Coloma Boada & Xavier Costa (edd.), El Monestir de Sant Joan: Primer cenobi femení dels comtats catalans (887-1017) (Barcelona 2019). You may recognise the cover image…

The significant name for me in this story is the third one on that cover, that of Xavier Costa, who will enter our backlogged story next post but, in the short version, was at Leeds for a term in early 2017 and thus found out (more) about my work. Then, in October of that year there was a conference at Sant Joan de les Abadesses, a town that bears its name because of the nunnery that was established there by Count Guifré the Hairy, and about which I wrote my first ever article and a decent part of my first book.1 I found out about this a little while later, when one of the participants got in touch asking for a copy of what would become my Traditio article, and I was sorry not to have been invited—there was no budget for international travel, I later found out—but was intrigued to know that new work was being done on the abbey.2 But although I had not been able to go to the conference, Xavier being one of the editors meant that I did get invited to contribute to the resulting book, which meant an awful lot to me as it was almost my first recognition from the Catalan academy. At first, being given carte blanche, I offered something that turned out to be almost exactly what Xavier had been intending to write, but when that became clear I instead offered to take over a chapter about the establishment of the nunnery for which they had no author assigned.

Now, this was not as easy as it might have been. You might think I could just have reprised my older work, but in the first place there was newer work to take into account, in the second place I’d changed my mind about some of the issues and most of all, this meant writing about Guifré the Hairy and his establishment of power in Osona, a subject on which I had previously written probably a paragraph at most and that not very well thought out.3 It’s not as simple as it seems, because as far as we can tell no-one had given Guifré rights over the county of Osona, which had been out of Carolingian control for fifty years when he succeeded to Barcelona, and why communities there should have engaged with him is not actually clear if you don’t start from the position that a nation was there waiting to be formed. This is, though, the same problem to which I devoted a tangled series of blog posts a few years back, which then turned into an article that was nearly lost, and that meant that I did myself now have a theory about how he might have done this, which to my delight seemed to fit.4 And with that realised, suddenly this became much easier to write…

Title page of Jonathan Jarrett, "La fundació de Sant Joan en el context de l'establiment dels comtats catalans", in Brugués, Boada & Costa, El monestir de Sant Joan, pp. 83-107

Title page of Jonathan Jarrett, ‘La fundació de Sant Joan en el context de l’establiment dels comtats catalans’, in Brugués, Boada & Costa, El monestir de Sant Joan, pp. 83-107

I got to write it in English, thankfully, but thanks again to the good offices of Xavier Costa it has been published in really quite stylish Catalan, which is another first for me.5 I got to see one or two of the other chapters in draft, so could take account of them, but with others there are inevitable differences of opinion and interpretation. Well, that is the nature of scholarship and I hope that even though I have not met all of my fellow contributors we will still be able to talk about those differences some day in the future, maybe even back at Sant Joan. Until then, here is a volume that is the state of our understanding about the place and its importance in the formative period of Catalan history, in which I’m very proud to appear, alongside some expert company. Thankyou Xavier, the other editors and the Abadia de Montserrat!


1. Jonathan Jarrett, “Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 (2004 for 2003), pp. 229–258, DOI: 10.1111/j.0963-9462.2004.00128.x; idem, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: Pathways of Power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 23-72.

2. That article, in case you had forgotten, being Jarrett, “Nuns, Signatures, and Literacy in late-Carolingian Catalonia” in Traditio Vol. 74 (Cambridge 2019), pp. 125–152, DOI: 10.1017/tdo.2019.7.

3. The newer work mainly being Antoni Pladevall, “El monestir de Sant Joan, del cenobi benedictí femení a canònica clerical” in Marta Crispi and Miriam Montraveta (edd.), El monestir de Sant Joan de les Abadesses (Sant Joan de les Abadesses 2012), pp. 18–37 and Martí Aurell i Cardona, “Emma, primera abadessa de Sant Joan de les Abadesses”, ibid., pp. 38–45, neither of which had noticed Jarrett, “Power over Past and Future”, but also Manuel Riu, “Església i poder comtal al territori d’Urgell: Guifré el Pilós i la reorganització de la Vall de Lord” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 29 (Barcelona 1999), pp. 875–898, online here, and Ramon Ordeig i Mata, “Cel·les monàstiques vinculades a Guifré el Pelós i a la seva obra repobladora (vers 871-897)”, edd. S. Claramunt and A. Riera, in Acta Historica et Archaeologica Mediaevalia Vol. 22 (Barcelona 2001), pp. 89–119, online here, both of which I’d shamefully missed in my own earlier work because, I know it’s hard to believe, but back then most journals weren’t online! Current issues of Catalan stuff were really hard to get in the UK even in 2007, when my book manuscript was sent off. Doubtless Drs Pladevall and Aurell could say something similar about my stuff.

4. That article being Jonathan Jarrett, “Engaging Élites: counts, capital and frontier communities in the ninth and tenth centuries, in Catalonia and elsewhere” in Networks and Neighbours Vol. 2 (2014), pp. 202–230, online here.

5. Citation therefore being Jonathan Jarrett, “La fundació de Sant Joan en el context de l’establiment dels comtats catalans” in Irene Brugués, Coloma Boada and Xavier Costa (edd.), El monestir de Sant Joan: Primer cenobi femen&icute; dels comtats catalans (887-1017) (Barcelona 2019), pp. 83–107.

I found this coin, 4: a Hungarian enigma

Marking jail continued further into the Easter vacation than it was supposed to and will resume tomorrow, but despite an intensive program of sleeping and eating between those sentences, I have found this time to write you a very quick blog post. And as so often when I need a quick post, this one is about a coin, another of the ones from the University of Leeds collection that I was using for teaching and had thus photographed, as you can now see below.

Obverse of copper-alloy dirhem of King Bela III of Hungary, Leeds, Brotherton Library, Thackray Collection, CC-TH-MED-HUN-1

Obverse of copper-alloy dirhem of King Bela III of Hungary, Leeds, Brotherton Library, Thackray Collection, CC-TH-MED-HUN-1

Reverse of copper-alloy dirhem of King Bela III of Hungary, Leeds, Brotherton Library, Thackray Collection, CC-TH-MED-HUN-1

Reverse of the same coin

Now, I have taught with this thing for several years, because I have a small teaching set I use for the university’s MA in Medieval History which display cultural identification of some kind, and these include a few which are apparently signalling ‘wrong’, such as Crusader dirhem imitations or Islamic coins with figural imagery. This would appear to be one of the former, at first glance, in as much as it appears to display Arabic but it’s only pseudo-Arabic, but the problem is firstly that a dirham should be silver and this is copper-alloy, and secondly that these coins are found nowhere near the Holy Land but instead in Hungary, a Christian kingdom more or less from the year 1000 until 1946.1 So why do we get these Islamic imitation coins? When I first put this coin in a teaching set I thought I dimly knew the answer, and then when I tried explaining it realised that I really didn’t. So I thought I should find out the answer and make a post of it, but it turns out that the answer is somewhat uncertain…2

Manuscript illumination showing King Bela III of Hungary

Manuscript illumination showing King Bela III of Hungary, from the 14th-century
Chronicon Pictum, image by unknown authorhttp://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3f/IV_Istvan_III_Bela_Imre_KK.jpg, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Firstly, because the text is all only pseudo-Arabic and doesn’t actually mean anything, attributing them is difficult. We tentatively assume that, because they occur in finds with pseudo-Byzantine copper-alloy coins (as seen below) in the name of King Bela III of Hungary (1172-1196, as seen above), and because otherwise no medieval Hungarian ruler seems to have issued copper-alloy coins, that these are probably also his. I knew one of the pseudo-Byzantine coins from the Barber Institute Collection, and that’s why this one seemed familiar to me when I first met it in Leeds. The pseudo-Byzantine type could be sort of explained by Bela having passed some time in exile at the court of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos as a youth.3 I grant you that that doesn’t wholly explain why you’d decide you needed copper small change that looked Byzantine, but it at least explained where he’d got the idea from. It doesn’t really explain pseudo-Islamic coinage at all, though, and that’s roughly where the words dried in my throat in that first class.

Concave copper-alloy coin of King Bela III of Hungary, Ars Coin Wien, VCoins SKU: B42

Concave copper-alloy coin of King Bela III of Hungary, Ars Coin Wien, VCoins SKU: B42

Now, there was a Muslim population in Hungary of this period, and when these coins were first identified the suggestion apparently was that these were struck for them.4 There are Iberian-peninsula parallels for this but some of those coins, the Castilian morabitinos of Toledo, carry correct Arabic proclaiming King Alfonso VI and Christianity, and the others only have pseudo-Arabic but are gold, trying literally to cash in on the use of Islamic coin already circulating in the Christian kingdoms.5 This here, however, is neither an attempt to broadcast to an Islamic (or at least Arabic-reading) population nor an attempt to break into a market of Islamic coin use, not least because as far as we can tell from finds Islamic coins proper were not used in Hungary.6 Weirdly, this one’s antetype does seem to be Iberian-peninsular, which just complicates matters further.7

So the question is not solved. The work from which I glean a lot of this information suggests that Bela III found his kingdom in need of small change, for which it had no local prototypes, and had copper-alloy coins designed that imitated the two prestige denominations of the day, the Byzantine nomisma and the Islamic dirham, but even though this does seem to have happened, the reason why is still not very obvious.8 But they exist, and they confuse people, so now that I am happier that my ignorance at least accurately replicates the state of the field, I expect I shall go on putting it in front of students and saying, ‘Hungarian! How do we explain that?’ Maybe one of them will come up with an answer!


1. When I was reading up on Hungary very fast for the Inheriting Rome exhibition, I used Miklós Molnár, A Concise History of Hungary, transl. Anna Magyar (Cambridge 2001), and found it very useful, but I’m no kind of expert.

2. Most of the substantive information about these coins in this post comes from Péter Tamás Nagy, “Islamic Art and Artefacts in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Hungary”, unpublished M. A. thesis (Central European University 2015) online here, pp. 33-41.

3. Molnár, Concise History, p. 31.

4. Nagy, “Islamic Art and Artefacts”, pp. 37-38, where this idea is also refuted. On the Muslims in Hungary see Nora Berend, At the Gate of Christendom: Jews, Muslims, and ‘Pagans’ in Medieval Hungary, c. 1000-c. 1300 (Cambridge 2001), DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511523106.

5. Miquel Crusafont, Anna M. Balaguer and Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013), pp. 24-28 for an outline.

6. Nagy, “Islamic Art and Artefacts”, p. 40.

7. Ibid., pp. 35-36.

8. Ibid., pp. 38-40.

Name in Print XXIV: women writing in tenth-century Catalonia

I have been waiting to be able to post this for some months, and now thanks to the good offices of Cambridge University Press and the continuing operation of the Royal Mail even in lockdown—about which I am genuinely thankful and also slightly remorseful, not that anyone should be catching anything from me at this time—I can. In September of last year I got an article out that I have been hoping to see in print for a very long time, and about a week ago I finally got my own copy, so now it’s time to announce it here!

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39

Remeber this charter? Surely you must. It is, of course, Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39

Our subject is a piece of work with a very long history indeed, pretty much all of which has been recorded on this blog. In 2007 I first recorded some frustration with a scholarly view that nuns in Catalonia couldn’t write, because I knew full well two charters that they signed autograph, showing that they could at least write their own names.1 One of these was the above, where actually you have at least four and maybe more nuns doing so, along with signatures for some of them by the scribe as if he didn’t expect them to do so.2 The palaeography of this document, which at that stage I knew only from a bad colour scan I made from the Catalunya Romànica, is actually really tricky, but at some point before late 2009 I had realised that the fact that they all signed in different hands meant that they had not been taught to write at Sant Joan, and so presumably already knew how to write, more or less, when they arrived.3 In other words, this document proves lay female literacy in certain circles of tenth-century Catalonia. By early September 2009 I was trying to work out what those circles were, using prosopography, and then I got to stand up in front of one of my old supervisors and explain my first results. So far so good, and this is where the complications started…

Initially, it was proposed to publish the proceedings of that conference as a celebratory volume for that aforesaid supervisor, but the person who bravely took on the editing was not then in a safe position of employment, and they spent longer in the precariate than is good for one and had to concentrate on other things. It took a little while for that to become clear, but around 2013 it did, and then I was looking for a new home for what I thought was quite a good piece. In mid-2015, already, Magistra et Mater alerted me to a relevant-looking call for papers for an edited volume on women in the Iberian Peninsula, and so I brought the paper up to date, having by then caught up with Michel Zimmermann’s work on the subject and thought a bit harder about the gender angle due to the excellent company I had been keeping, and sent off an abstract in November of that year.4

Initially this seemed to go well. I was invited to send in a full version, which I duly did in May 2017—in the middle of this the prospective publisher had been swallowed up by a bigger fish, so the delay wasn’t the editors’ fault, it’s just the kind of thing that happens to my publications… That was accepted, as I understood it anyway, but I then got into a tangle with the editorial panel over female agency, which they wanted emphasised. I felt that Sant Joan, which was shut down by papal decree in 1017 after an all-male embassy of relatives of the then-abbess went to Rome and told his Holiness that the nuns were ‘parricides and whores of Venus’, and then chucked them out onto pension estates and established a bishopric for a male relative on the patrimony instead, was a really bad place to look for that and preferred my old first-wave interpretation, that it was tough to be up against the Man in circa 1000 Catalonia.5 I sent in a revised version in May 2017, got feedback, and then sent another in January 2018 which I hoped was an acceptable compromise, pointing out that the nuns had most agency when they acted alone but that was also when they had the least power. To that, I quickly got back a decision that shifts in the theme of the volume meant that my chapter was no longer going to fit. So it was orphaned again.

Cover of Traditio volume 74 for 2019

Cover of Traditio, volume 74 for 2019

Now, at this stage, for reasons I won’t go into, it was very important for me to get some more quality publications into play. So, I cast around for possible alternative homes and lit upon the venerable periodical Traditio, where long ago I had been encouraged to send something else that, as it turned out, wasn’t ready. I like to try to cross these misses off when I can, and I had not given up on Traditio. So I took a careful look at their editorial board, added suitable references to relevant work, revised again with the previous rejection comments at least partly accommodated, and sent it off again the very next month. This meant working during strike, but not on anything I was supposed to be doing, so I thought I could justify it. And when Traditio‘s review timetable rolled around to it in April 2019—about which they were explicit from the start, and 100% accurate—they accepted it, almost as was, which was the kind of good news I badly needed at that time.

First page of Jonathan Jarrett, "Nuns, Signatures, and Literacy in late-Carolingian Catalonia" in Traditio Vol. 74 (Cambridge 2019), pp. 125–152

First page of Jonathan Jarrett, “Nuns, Signatures, and Literacy in late-Carolingian Catalonia” in Traditio Vol. 74 (Cambridge 2019), pp. 125–152, DOI: 10.1017/tdo.2019.7

And so, after a series of copy-editing back-and-forths with a keen and competent Fordham graduate student over June to August 2019, and then finally proofs in late September 2019, in very late September 2019 it went online, and I was assured that print copies were winging their way to me.6 Now at last I have them and so the world can know, if you hadn’t seen it already, that it exists. I’m rather pleased with it, too; I always thought it was a clever piece of work, though I say it as shouldn’t, and I think it has found a suitable home. (It has also been an exemplary editorial experience, for which I am very thankful.) If you want to see it, I have an access link I can share with a small number of people (which means signing up to Cambridge Core), or there may be other means of sharing we can work out; just let me know! But, basically, ta-da! Article. I thank you…


1. I was then kicking against M. Zimmermann, “Langue et lexicographie : l’apport des actes catalans” in O. Guyotjeannin, L. Morelle & M. Parisse (edd.), “Pratiques de l’écrit documentaire au XIe siècle” in Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes Vol. 155 (Paris 1997), pp. 185-205, the start of a grand tradition of disagreeing with that learned man’s work.

2. Your editions of reference for this charter would be Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: Estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Barcelona 1951), doc. no. 128, or 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. 645.

3. The scan came from Antoni Pladevall i Font, Núria Peíris i Pujolar, Joan-Albert Adell i Gisbert, Xavier Barral i Altet, R. Bastardes i Parera and Rosa M. Martín i Ros, “Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Antoni Pladevall (ed.), Catalunya Rom&aagrave;nica X: el Ripollès (Barcelona 1987), pp. 354–410 at p. 364, where Udina’s text is also reprinted. After a while, however, I was able to get a much better facsimile out of the Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, whose shelfmark for it is Barcelona, Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Sunifred 39, and which they kindly let me publish, for which many thanks.

4. Zimmermann’s work here referred to being M. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols.

5. By this stage, because I thought it had been accepted, I had cited it in a few places as forthcoming in this volume, so if you really want to do some cyber-stalking you can probably find out the volume’s notional details, but I shan’t name it here, because it’s not yet out, could still change, isn’t mine to cite any more and, frankly, as things have turned out they probably did me a favour by rejecting it, as well as making it a better article, so ingratitude seems misplaced.

6. Citation therefore: Jonathan Jarrett, “Nuns, Signatures, and Literacy in late-Carolingian Catalonia” in Traditio Vol. 74 (Cambridge 2019), pp. 125–152, DOI: 10.1017/tdo.2019.7.

Seminar CCXLV: me judging judges in Sheffield

We are living in interesting times, and the last few weeks have been extremely busy for a whole bunch of reasons no-one wanted. I came back off strike, had one day in the office and then had to move all my teaching online, then reinvent it again for different patterns of online delivery as instructions changed, and I was also behind with quite a lot of other things but still on action short of strike, and in general it’s been a complex time and I couldn’t make blogging a priority. So far me and mine are still well, or at least, only ill with things other than the novel coronavirus, and I hope that you can all say as much or better, but please look after yourselves anyway. I did wonder whether it was really important to blog about old stuff already backdated at the moment, but if it’s ever important, I suppose that that hasn’t changed much, and it’s Sunday and I’m not legally allowed to work, so why not, eh?1

So we go back, then, to December 2016, when as you may recall I saw a paper that I’d promised to give becoming less and less possible to write under my workload, grimly ignored that workload for a weekend and wrote anyway, the result being called, “Judging the Judges in the Frankish March of Spain before the Year 1000” and presented at the Medieval and Renaissance Seminar in the University of Sheffield on the 7th of the 12th. I’d been meaning to do something about judges in Borrell II’s Barcelona for many years, it was now part of the work for the book I still thought I was writing, and although I had no time to do the kind of reading in the recent historiography that I’d have liked, really long-term readers may remember that Dr Theo Riches once kindly described me as being different from other historians because I can count, and so I sat down with the Catalunya Carolíngia and my notes and I counted judges until the numbers started telling me things. I will, some day, do something with this work, but at the moment it’s one of a number of things I’ve been told by my management not to pursue, so there seems not much more to do with it than to bank a couple of its conclusions here and hope some day for different instructions.

Signature of the judge Dacó, highlighted on Vic, Arxiu Capitular, calaix 6, núm. 882

Signature of the judge Dacó, highlighted on Vic, Arxiu Capitular, calaix 6, núm. 882, my photo

So what the paper did was firstly to introduce late-Carolingian Catalonia to the audience, and then to introduce within it the concept that the historiography has developed of a super-learned clerical judicial cadre working around tenth- and eleventh-century Barcelona making impartial judgements on the basis of written law, a picture that once caused Roger Collins, no less, to ask, “whether anything better could be found anywhere else in Europe in the earlier Middle Ages?”2 We’re talking people like the man I have often named here as Ervigi Marc the Wonder Judge, who wound up as a bishop without portfolio because of his great importance.3 So far my sole contribution to this scholarship has been a footnote pointing out that these people don’t really appear before the 970s, and wondering, of course, if they might be Count-Marquis Borrell II‘s fault. Jeffrey Bowman‘s work has done something to add variegation to that picture by suggesting that there were other judges not quite so impressively trained, more like the Carolingian (or Lombard) idea of people who know the law whom you get to come and hear disputes rather than professionals, and Josep María Salrach‘s recent book does a lot to show that even the ‘professional’ judges were sometimes fallible or corruptible, as indeed we’ve seen here too.4 There’s also now a good bit of prosopographical work on these super-judges to work out who they were, and I’m not as aware of that as I’d like to be, but by repeating some of that work with the indices of the Catalunya Carolíngia I did work out at least two things that I, at least, hadn’t previously noticed or read, and so I’ll tell you about them.5

Graph of judicial actions over time in Catalan charters pre-1000

Graph of judicial actions over time in Catalan charters pre-1000

So here’s a graph, because we know that works, and also because as Wendy Davies says in her own study of judges a bit west from here, “Firstly numbers.”6 The yellow background trace is the overall number of documents preserved over time, from about 880 up to 1000; it’s missing a lot, because I didn’t then have the Catalunya Carolíngia volumes covering Barcelona, and if I ever return to this adding them will be the first thing to do, but I hope it gives the overall trends, which is to say that we have a better chance of observing anything as time goes on because there’re more documents in which one might find it.7 The purple foreground signal is the number of dispute cases, which as you can see is neither very much of the evidence nor that continuous, at least until it gets late enough. Then the blue signal between the two is the total number of judges active in the documents for that year, counting each individual judge as many times as there are occasions when he appears.

There’s a lot one can take from this, but I choose two things: firstly, even when you have thousands of documents to work with, subsets of them can be so tiny that small numbers look more significant than maybe they are. The big spike in 842 is one case that generated lots of documents which were preserved; the 870s/880s peak is a lot of documents and meetings, but almost all coming from the hearings arranged by the monastic community of Sant Andreu d’Eixalada after their place was flooded and they had to reconstitute their holdings, so in some ways a single event.8 Even the spike in the 910s, while it is several events, is one person, Abbess Emma of Sant Joan de Ripoll, suing a succession of people for rights over lands, and when she stopped the sample drops right off again, and only really picks up with the activity of our learned college of judges in the 970s.9 But there is another change over time visible here, all the same, which is that in the early documents there are lots of people called judges (iudices) per ceremony, eight or ten at once quite often, which is why those blue spikes are so high in the 840s, whereas by the 970s one to three is more usual, and one not unusual.

Ruins of Sant Pere d'Eixalada, Catalonia

Not Sant Andreu d’Eixalada, because obviously that was destroyed, but one of the churches the displaced monks claimed, Sant Pere d’Eixalada, or what is now left of it. Photo by Jack maTreball propi, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The other change I’ll point out now, which is only just evident from the graph, is that in the ninth century, you only get people called judges recorded in actual court hearings. There’s a formula that introduces them in the case records, ‘judges who were ordered to judge’, and then a list of people follows.10 But the people who are named there very often don’t use the word iudex or anything like it in their signatures, and they don’t show up with the title outside court. In this respect, the title ‘judge’ is like the title ‘worthy man’ (bonus homo) that also appears in these contexts, and I think it has something do with standing in the court, and so is contextual, not fixed; on this occasion, these people served as judges, with those people recognised as worthy men who could approve a judgement.11 Presumably the judges knew a bit of what the law was understood to be, but they might be a lot more like Frankish scabini than Ervigi Marc, people whose knowledge could be called on for judging but whose usual rôle was not that of judge.12 This changes in 943, when a guy called Sunyer the Judge is seen as a neighbour of some property out at Manresa, but it’s really not till the 970s that we start to see people who sign as judges even when they’re not actually judging, usually because they were being called upon to act as witnesses but sometimes in their own property dealings.13 These people must have had some independent standing as judges even when they were not actually doing it, and people other than them knew they were judges all the time. And, predictably, our special learned judges are in this group, although that group is a lot bigger than just the really flash ones who show up a lot quoting law, as if I ever write this up I will show.

That’s enough for a blog post, except only that I’ll say that I was obviously wrong about Borrell II being responsible for this new class of judge; all the ones I could track seem to have started in Besalú, in fact, and be associated at least for a short while with Count-Bishop Miró Bonfill and his family, though Borrell seems to have managed to poach some of them pretty quickly… I think other people must already have realised that, but I’m not so sure that the other trends above have been spotted before. It shows what even a Saturday spent frantically dumping data into a spreadsheet can produce by way of historical insight, and also that you don’t need a born-digital corpus to do that kind of work. It went well, too, and Sheffield were excellent hosts and I was glad that I had managed to remain a researcher and not pull out despite the difficulties. Still, it’s not ideal, is it? I hope for better.


1. Because it’s not in my contract that I have to, it has to be there if my employers want me to and I’m working to contract.

2. Roger Collins, “‘Sicut lex Gothorum continet’: Law and Charters in Ninth- and Tenth-Century León and Catalonia” in English Historical Review Vol. 100 (Oxford 1985), pp. 489–512 at p. 512.

3. On Ervigi see now Josep Maria Font i Rius, “L’Escola jurídica de Barcelona” in Jesús Alturo, Joan Bellès, Font, Yolanda García & Anscarí M. Mundó (edd.), Liber iudicum popularis, ordenat pel jutge Bonsom de Barcelona, Textos jurídics catalans: Lleis i costums I/1 (Barcelona 2003), pp. 67-100 at pp. 82-87, though I would now be sceptical about the idea of the ‘Barcelona school’ in which he is set.

4. My sally is in Jonathan Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: Organisation of Society in the pre-Catalan ‘Terra de Ningú'” in †Alan Deyermond & Martin J. Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain: A Symposium (London: Queen Mary University of London, 2010), pp. 89–128 at p. 105 n. 6. The other works just mentioned are Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000 (Ithaca NY 2004) and Josep María Salrach, Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil (Vic 2013).

5. The prosopographical work I mean is in Font, “L’Escola jurídica”, and Anscarí M. Mundó, “El jutge Bonsom” in Alturo, Bellès, Font, Garcí & Mundó, Liber iudicum popularis, pp. 101-118.

6. Wendy Davies, “Judges and Judging: truth and justice in northern Iberia on the eve of the millennium” in Journal of Medieval History Vol. 36 (Amsterdam 2010), pp. 193–203 at p. 199.

7. The Barcelona volumes are now out, and I have them, which is a separate and bloggable story by itself, but their citation is Ignasi J. Baiges i Jardí and Pere Puig i Ustrell (edd.), Catalunya carolíngia Volum VII: el comtat de Barcelona, Memòries de la Secció Històrica-Arqueològica 110 (Barcelona 2019), 3 vols.

8. I think there is still no better study of this event than Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, “Com neix i creix un gran monestir pirinenc abans de l’any mil: Eixalada-Cuixà” in Analecta Montserratensia Vol. 8 (Montserrat 1954), pp. 125–337, repr. without the documentary appendix in Abadal, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i documents 13-14 (Barcelona 1969), 2 vols, I, pp. 377–484. Everyone I’ve found who’s written about Cuixà since has just pointed back to it, and not without justification.

9. On this see, of course, Jonathan Jarrett, “Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 (Oxford 2003), pp. 229–258.

10. For example, Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Sebastià Riera i Viader & Manuel Rovirà i Sola (edd), Catalunya carolíngia V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Empúries i Peralada, rev. by Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 61 (Barcelona 2009), 2 vols, I, doc. no. 19: “iudices qui iussi sunt causas audire vel dirimere“, ‘judges who were ordered to hear and determine cases’.

11. On the ‘worthy men’ in this context, a quick reference is Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 35-36 & n. 55.

12. On Carolingian practice I think we can still rely on Janet L. Nelson, “Dispute Settlement in Carolingian West Francia” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (edd.), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1986), pp. 45-63, reprinted in Janet L. Nelson, The Frankish World, 750-900 (London 1996), pp. 51-74. On the Lombard one, I admit that I’m thinking back as far as D. A. Bullough, “Europae Pater: Charlemagne and his achievement in the light of recent scholarship” in English Historical Review Vol. 85 (Oxford 1970), pp. 59–105 at pp. 91-96, but I suppose an update, perhaps in the form of Marios Costambeys, “Disputes and Courts in Lombard and Carolingian Central Italy” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 15 (Oxford 2007), pp. 265–289, would be wise to get.

13. The judge Sunyer turns up actually judging 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, I, doc. no. 443, but then again just as a neighbour ibid. doc. no. 532.