Category Archives: General medieval

Women’s history in my alma mater

I sometimes seem to have derived an unjustified reputation from the fact that my very first publication was about a woman.1 That was intentional, once I realised that what was mainly coming out of my second virtual archive trawl was mainly the actions of Abbess Emma of Sant Joan de Ripoll; I figured it would do no harm to be seen as a male historian who realised that women were sometimes important in the Middle Ages. But I didn’t expect it to necessarily become the thing people knew me for, and for some people it is. Thus, the thing I have up on Academia.edu that I got the most requests to upload, before I had done so, is a talk I gave in a Kalamazoo round table long ago, because a friend of mine with an actual track record in gender history thought I might have interesting things to say about women and power.2 Whether I did or not, I’m not sure, but several people wanted to see what they were, which put me in a quandary as literally all I had by way of a ‘talk’ was a sheet and a half of scribbled thoughts with marginal notes from the session crabbed in round the edges. I did, eventually, upload that and got a message back from one of the requesters saying they’d been “hoping for more”, but what was I to do? Admittedly, I have subsequently written more about women, though it’s always the women of Sant Joan de Ripoll, and the story of running my essentially first-wave feminism into the modern discourse which that provoked has already been told; but it’s for reasons like that that I’m always slightly surprised when, occasionally, I get asked to participate in events or projects relating to women’s history.

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

Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39, bearing the hands of most of the women I have ever directly studied

This post is about one of those occasions, then, on 17th June 2019, when the visit to London of Professor Rekha Pande of the University of Hyderabad occasioned a kind of scratch conference at Birkbeck, University of London, entitled ‘Medieval Women: Comparative Perspectives’. It was rather strange, having been back inside my old doctoral institution for the first proper time only a month before to hear Chris Wickham speak, now to be back there to speak myself for the first time. This was, however, being organised by my long-term collaborator and ally, Dr Rebecca Darley, then of that parish, which is why I was asked to join in, and it put me on my toes, because as I say, I really only have one well to draw on for this kind of work. That said, I think everyone involved was drawing from wells quite a long way apart from each other, and this actually made for a really interesting discussion. These were the papers:

  1. Rekha Pande, “Writing a History of Gender in Medieval India”
  2. Sergi Sancho Fibla, “Beyond Literati: instruction, cultural practices and literacy in Southern France nunneries (13-14th c.)”
  3. Jonathan Jarrett, “Nuns, Signatures and Literacy in 10th-Century Catalonia”
  4. Lauren Wainwright, “Piety, Patronage and Personal Agency: Theodora Douka Palaiologina”
  5. Daniel Reynolds, “The Real House-Lives of the Dead Sea Rift: gender and society in Byzantine Palestina, 400-650”
  6. Rebecca Darley, “Male Mediation of Female Holiness in Byzantine Hagiography”
  7. Discussion

You will immediately see from that that what I drew from my well was in fact a version of the paper I ran into trouble publishing, so I’ve already talked about it here and won’t again. But the others were all really interesting, considering issues in which I am interested from source-bases I didn’t or hardly knew. Professor Pande talked about the difficulties of trying to get women’s history considered when both the source base you have and the scholarship with which you’re dealing are made in two mutually reinforcing patriarchal traditions, the Arabo-Islamic and Indo-Persian ones, and her way through them was to focus on the Bhakti movement, a kind of vernacular mysticism drawing on Buddhist and Jain traditions that is detectable in Indian source material from the 7th century onwards, and in which women were often/occasionally highly regarded.3 As with any movement developing over centuries in an area the size of the Indian subcontinent, there were innumerable variations on Bhakti but some of them involved a refusal to set up buildings or temples, meaning that there were no premises from which women could be excluded. In the extremely scanty record of notable Bhakti practitioners, therefore, there are women as well as men, and their lives show some common patterns, and most especially a refusal to be constrained by the domestic requirements of marriage. There were lots of points of comparison with Western material visible here, from lone ascetic travellers like Indian Margery Kempes (but less tearful and more respected), to the acceptable pattern of life for a hagiography and how that might be shaping the record; but that there even was a trope of the suitably-edifying Indian religious woman is telling us something about a space they created for themselves in these societies.

Rajasthani portrait of Meerabai

This is a Rajasthani portrait, date unknown to me, on display at Delhi Haat of Meerabai, a fifteenth-to-sixteenth-century Bhakti practitioner who, starting from a princely family position, has left us more record than most including a temple which she had built. Image by Onef9dayown work, licensed under CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons, whence you can find out more.4

The other papers, being closer to my areas of expertise, I can probably talk about quicker. Dr Sancho was interested in the education and learning of Carthusian nuns over the turn of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and had a range of examples of women patrons of artwork or even inscriptions for churches or nunneries which required a considerable depth of theological education to get, liturgical manuscripts owned and annotated by such women, and so on, which allowed him to conclude that while they might not have access to formal schooling or the universities, at least some such women were getting that level of religious and knowledge and literacy anyway. He has his slides online still, so you can find out more there, but the discussion focused on what modes of transmission of that knowledge we aren’t being shown by the texts which we have. Lauren was studying the wife of Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos, and therefore the empress who returned Greek imperial empressdom to Constantinople; she had got interested in her because the Barber Institute of Fine Arts has a superb example of one of her seals, but it transpired that she was quite politically active—definitely not always the case with Byzantine empresses—including issuing judgements on religious matters and getting Persian geographical works translated into Greek. However, Lauren also had examples of other rulers in the Byzantine sphere putting their queens or empresses to work like this, including Serbia and the Despotate of Epirus, and so raised the possibility that this was actually Nicæa keeping up with its neighbours, rather than Theodora being a single exception.

Lead seal of Empress Theodora Doukaina Palaiologina, struck 1259-1303, Barber Institute of Fine Arts SL0165

Lead seal of Empress Theodora Doukaina Palaiologina, struck 1259-1303, Barber Institute of Fine Arts SL0165

Dan, meanwhile, was up against my sort of problem: a landscape, both social and geographical, about which we can talk mainly through archæology and land transactions, both of which will show you that women were there but rarely very much about what they did. He had some examples of patronesses for buildings and female land ownership (as well as male ownership of female slaves…), and mainly wondered if there was any way through these difficulties. One factor against him that I didn’t have is that Palestine in his kind of period still largely had professional scribes and notaries, so we don’t even have access to women’s signatures as I do. Then Rebecca talked about the one class of women Byzantine writers were usually happy to write about, that is, saints, and the problem, which Professor Pande was also facing, that this inevitably gives us a male view of female holiness and one written for a male audience, not least because only male monasteries have survived in the Orthodox world from the Byzantine period so any female writings have likely been lost. (It’s probably not safe to say anything Byzantine and monastic is lost for sure until we get to the bottom of the archives at Saint Catherine’s Sinai, but the odds aren’t good.) In that writing, then, the two trends we see is that female saints were firstly usually subject to male violence, which was seen as part of the trials they had to endure to attain sanctity, and secondly that they had to get free of both parents and children to live the holy life; only by breaking their social bonds could they be God’s agents.

Mary of Egypt being given a cloak by the monk Zosimos in the desert, as pictured in British Library Yates Thompson MS 3 fo. 287

Mary of Egypt being given a cloak by the monk Zosimos in the desert, as pictured in British Library Yates Thompson MS 3 fo. 287, image from http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=5837, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Not that Mary of Egypt was really a typical Byzantine woman saint, but she was one of the ones famous enough even to be culted in the West, as this shows.

But as I say, it was the discussion that was probably the most fun. Rebecca noted a big difference between women in the West and women in India at the stage of widowhood; in the West that could be women’s most independent stage of life whereas in India it ended their access to resource and prevented them from carrying on with the spiritual life unless they could find other support. There were also sharp differences over virginity and sex, with which the West was obsessed and India not so much, and celebrating the latter rather than the former if it did anything. We also had a profitable discussion over the rôle of individuality: Professor Pande was keen to stress that her Bhakti women were not proto-feminists, in so far as they did not agitate for the emancipation of women but only for themselves and their religious practice, and this led us all to reflect on the historian’s desire to create movements out of the very few individuals, usually very individual, whom we can see. Then we had a long exchange over the social value of literacy in our various spheres, and thus the price of and restrictions on access to it; this turned out to be one of the most variable things of all, depending on what other structures of writing and education existed. One can say that women were rarely taught to write throughout the Middle Ages, for example, but that had different value in a world where basically no-one was so taught outside a small Church group from one where there was a university in almost every major city, from which women were excluded, but which generated an overflow of literate tutors that might still result in broader general, and therefore also female, literacy overall. We could obviously have talked for much longer about this than we had, and though some sketchy plans to create a teaching book out of all of this were probably best let drop, given how many of us didn’t usually do this stuff, I still wonder what it might have looked like. A good day, anyway, to which I’m glad my dubious gender history credentials were able to get me entry!


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 (Oxford 2003), pp. 229–258, DOI: 10.1111/j.0963-9462.2004.00128.x.

2. There were two things in that presentation I’d still quite like to write up, even though it was short, because I’ve kept on thinking with them since having thought of them. One was that we need a word, when we speak of powerful women in the Middle Ages, for something that was unusual and always non-default, but still happened quite a lot, and which society could accept as a reasonable thing to happen that still normally wouldn’t. As it is we’re always forced to discuss each powerful woman as an outlier, and that’s not wrong but it’s also missing the fact that her position was a fairly normal abnormality. The other is that those who minimise women’s political influence in the period tend to point to the men they had to operate with and delegate to, as if to suggest that without men they had no power. Well, fine, but I wouldn’t mind people recognising that this also applied to men in power. Granted, it was much rarer for women to settle anything by armed violence – though there are cases and even times and places where it was more normal – but even kings who were tournament champions and so on had armies and champions of their own, you know? There is something different about the kinds of power men and women could wield, for sure, but the necessity of delegation ain’t it.

3. If this all sounds interesting, and you can find it, the obvious thing to read would seem to be Rekha Pande, Religious Movements in Medieval India: Bhakti Creation of Alternative Spaces (New Delhi 2005).

4. See also S. M. Pandey and Norman Zide, “Mīrābāī and Her Contributions to the Bhakti Movement” in History of Religions Vol. 5 (Chicago IL 1965), pp. 54–73, I assume with suitable period caution.

Name in Lights XI

It seems to have been rather a while since I last used a subject header in this series, so it might be worth explaining to those who’ve started reading since 2015 (!) that, by long if not necessarily sensible tradition, this is how I report digital-only publications (by analogy with my other self-congratulatory series, Name in Print). From this you will immediately realise that I have one to report, but it’s quite an unusual one, being firstly historiographical and secondly heavily collaborative, and I want to tell you a bit about how it came about. It’s a new piece in the journal History Compass, one of several ‘Compass’ journals started by the publishers Blackwell just before their absorption by John Wiley & Co., which aim to provide rapid article-length introductions to what’s going on the history-writing of particular fields, for people trying to pick them or recover mastery of them for research or teaching purposes. They’re very useful, and quite high-profile, but of course since they are not original research we in the UK system aren’t really encouraged to produce them, except sometimes by our own dire need in teaching.

So I wouldn’t have written this article by myself, probably, but in recent years I have become part of a group of mostly young or mid-career scholars of the history of the early medieval Iberian Peninsula, from several disciplines and countries, imaginatively called Early Medieval Iberia. We have a website and everything! I was originally asked to participate as someone the others knew who worked on Catalonia in the period, but we’ve expanded since then and have genuine cross-border cooperation going on now, which is amazing. The first thing we all did together was a set of sessions at the 2018 International Medieval Congress, far enough back that I’ve actually reported on it here; those papers are now on their way to press as a book, and we have other things afoot, but in between times we have done this article! Its purpose is basically to say to anyone interested, hey: not only are there really a lot of charters from early medieval Iberia, but also now a great proportion of them are published, in good editions, and you can do some really good work with them; some people already have, but the possibilities are now much greater. And we did this, basically, by each sending in a short section on our particular patch, and then Álvaro Carvajal, André Marques and Graham Barrett, especially Álvaro, painstakingly stitching it all together into a single piece and then us all revising it through Google Docs, several times over, and then sending it in. And once we did that, it was accepted pretty much without changes and then typeset and online almost before we’d had time to breathe, and so I can announce it to you! It is Open Access, which was kindly paid for by the Universidad de Salamanca, and the full citation is:

Álvaro Carvajal Castro, André Evangelista Marques, Graham Barrett, Letícia Agúndez San Miguel, Ainoa Castro Correa, Marcos Fernández Ferreiro, Jonathan Jarrett, David Peterson, Rosa Quetglas Munar, José Carlos Sánchez Pardo, Igor Santos Salazar & Guillermo Tomás Faci, “Towards a trans-regional approach to early medieval Iberia” in History Compass Vol. 20 (Chichester 2022), e12743, DOI: 10.1111/hic3.12743.

As a result of this rapid process, the statistics on this one are kind of unbeatable. It went through 12 drafts, says the Google Docs trail, but I contributed to only four of them and that didn’t take me long – I guess it took the three lead writers a bit longer, of course – and we sent it in at the very beginning of February this year and had it accepted before the end of April. If I ever see a publication turnaround faster than this, I’ll be delighted. And meanwhile, I can very much cope with this collaborative mode. Thanks to my co-authors, and especially Álvaro, André and Graham, for making it so easy to be part of something really useful!

Seminar CCLXXI: feudalism beats capitalism for most of history

Chris Wickham setting up for the Eric Hobsbawm Memorial Lecture at Birkbeck, University of London, 14 May 2019

Chris Wickham setting up for the Eric Hobsbawm Memorial Lecture at Birkbeck, University of London, 14 May 2019, photograph by your author

Well, I am back and I made a promise, and so here is the post which was promised, in which as has happened here a few times before I sing Chris Wickham’s praises. This is not musing on the his classic works of the 1980s or even 1990s, however, because this post is reporting on the Eric Hobsbawm Memorial Lecture at Birkbeck, University of London, on 14th May 2019, which was given by Chris and which had the title, “How did Feudalism Work? The Economic Logic of Medieval Societies”. I was there—and it was a little odd to be back in my alma mater as a guest rather than as a student—and I took extensive and enthusiastic notes, but the lecture has since emerged as an article, under a slightly different title, in Past & Present for May 2021.1 So I’ve checked the article against my notes on the lecture, but I think having done so that a report on the lecture gets you the substance of the article without misrepresenting it; so, here goes.

To start with we have (of course) to define what we mean by ‘feudal’. Chris was addressing the term in the strictly Marxist sense, as an economic ‘mode’, in which the productive class, for the Middle Ages the peasantry, have more or less full direction of their own labour, but do not get to keep the proceeds, or at least are subjected to rent, levy, tribute, pre-emption or whatever else one might call it by the governing class, whose lifestyle and endeavours, including of course all government, are made possible by their right or ability to appropriate that peasant surplus. We’re not talking feudalism as in knight service, fiefs and vassals, arbitrary violence and private justice or anything like that, though those things might also have been present in some of the societies concerned, but just the economic relationship between producers and governors.2 Now, for most commentators this is a restrictive system, with no room for growth, because it rests fundamentally on the basis of peasant farming, and that can only be ratcheted up so far and only so much surplus extracted from it before peasants can’t survive; other than extract more from them, the only obvious means of growth for such an economy is to farm more land with more people, and there are usually effective limits on that too. For those same commentators, Marx was right that the game-changing phenomenon was industrialisation, which enabled the development of capitalism, in which the ruling class control the productive class’s labour directly, take all the proceeds and then pay the proletariat thus created for that labour. Marxist dialectic sees the end of the Ancien Régime and the Age of Revolutions as the messy and difficult transition of European society from the ‘feudal’ to the ‘capitalist’ mode, and from aristocratic land-owning ruling classes to bourgeois, commercial ones.

OK, so far, so much Marxism 101. But despite the Middle Ages usually being characterised as ‘feudal’ in this sense, it’s pretty easy to point to things like factory-scale industrial production of textiles in Flanders and Florence, plantation sugar cultivation in Sicily, day-labourers in England and many other places, extensive peasant access to markets and commercial goods, banking and credit and of course the rise of the middle class, a phenomenon which as someone I didn’t know once said at a paper I was at is one of those that seems to have happened in every age that anyone studies, and which then propelled the development of self-governing towns and so on. Quite a lot of this looks capitalistic, even if it really only seems to be visible after 1100, and it has led to angry if sterile debates about whether the profit motive was known in the Middle Ages, how rational an economic actor the medieval peasant was, and so on.3 And, whatever its mysterious cause, the medieval economy did manage a quite substantial amount of growth, punctuated by some dramatic but not total collapses. Probably no-one would disagree that the number of people and average standard of living, if what we mean by that is availability of market goods, was vastly higher in 1450 than in 550 despite the Black Death intervening (though, to be fair, 550 was also a plague period).4 So if this was a feudal economy, how did it contain all that?

Chris Wickham's Eric Hobsbawm Lecture at Birkbeck, University of London, May 2019

To this, a question which Chris himself had raised, his answer was brilliant and simple. Firstly, probably no society ever has been entirely formed around a single Marxian mode of production; we’re only ever talking about the dominant one. England didn’t become instantly capitalist the minute the first factory started operation, and the Middle Ages could accommodate a few textile manufactories without needing reclassifying, because so much more of the overall economy than that, even than Florence, was economically constructed on the ‘feudal’ basis. But the second part of the argument was for me the winner: actually, historically speaking, feudal economies could be very complex, could expand, and could do so quite a lot. Indeed, since the Middle Ages show that they could, by Chris’s argument, the real question is not ‘whether’ but ‘how’, and to that Chris said firstly that evidently, normally, peasants could amass a surplus of their own and were thus consumers and an economic force on the market alongside the lords who had the first claim on their stuff; the proportionally less the lords took, the more peasant action on the market there could be and the more market-based the economy could get. But peasants were not themselves dependent on that access to the market, because they were in control of production; if they didn’t get to keep enough to feed themselves, the whole economy stopped, but if there was difficulty, obviously the first thing peasants would do was look after themselves and withdraw from the wider economy. These capitalist-looking super-phenomena would then shrink or disappear. Because of this basic safety valve in a feudal system, it would never reach conversion point and become capitalist without some other factor developing. Such an economy could be stable, large and complex, even slightly industrialised, and remain feudal.

This didn’t meet much opposition in questions; instead, there was a small slew of people asking ‘do you think such-and-such-a-place fits or doesn’t?’, to which Chris naturally enough said that they all fitted if you looked at it right; someone asking about wage labour, which Chris thought was never very important, since seasonal labourers must still also have fitted into the economy some other way the rest of the year; and Caroline Goodson, suggesting the importance of at least Islamic states as economic drivers, to which Chris argued that as long as it was taxing peasants without telling them how and what to farm, the state was just a big lord in economic terms and his classification was safe. I didn’t get to ask my question in the session, but did get to catch Chris a bit later, and what I wanted to know was, what doesn’t fit into a feudal classification like this? Wouldn’t the whole ancient world, except the very few bits and times of it which really did run on plantation slavery, be ‘feudal’ in these terms? And if so, what did this mean for Chris’s early work, still much cited, on the transition from the ancient to feudal modes in late antiquity?5 And Chris said, yes, it pretty much would, and what this meant was that he’d been wrong. This actually rocked my thought-world a bit, not just because of someone with Chris’s stature disavowing some of his most influential writing but also because I still find ‘The Other Transition’ and ‘Marx, Sherlock Holmes, and Late Roman Commerce’ intellectually compelling and explanatory. But so did I this. It has taken me some effort to prune the old work from my reading lists since then, and I’m still not sure it’s pruned from my own picture of fourth- to eighth-century European and Mediterranean change, despite the pretty major mounting block presented by Chris’s work in between.6 So for me at least, the way I used to understand about a thousand years of European history and indeed focus on about five hundred of them has changed because of this lecture, which is the power a really brilliant bit of work can have. But since the print version is very much the same paper, that is an experience you too can have, and I do recommend it!


1. Chris Wickham, “How did the Feudal Economy Work? the Economic Logic of Medieval Societies” in Past & Present No. 251 (Oxford 2021), pp. 3–40. It probably is worth mentioning that Chris reckons this article a partner to his earlier “Productive Forces and the Economic Logic of the Feudal Mode of Production” in Historical Materialism Vol. 16 (Leiden 2008), pp. 3–22, which I haven’t read, and should therefore mention so that you can.

2. My checkpoint for these distinctions remains Chris Wickham, “Le forme del feudalesimo” in Il Feudalesimo nell’alto Medioevo, Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo 47 (Spoleto 2000), 2 vols, I, pp. 15–51, but there is a quick run-through in Wickham, “How did the Feudal Economy Work?”, pp. 8-10.

3. For the latter, see Cliff T. Bekar and Clyde G. Reed, “Open fields, risk, and land divisibility” in Explorations in Economic History Vol. 40 (Amsterdam 2003), pp. 308–325, ridiculed at the post linked. We might also note the weird branch of this scholarship which sees the Church as the only capitalist force of the Middle Ages, and thus essentially assumes, as do all those who like to bash the corruption and cynicism of the medieval Church, that everyone who believed was actually outside the organisation which mediated belief; for the one see Robert B. Ekelund, Robert D. Tollison, Gary M. Anderson, Robert F. Hébert and Audrey B. Davidson, Sacred Trust: The Medieval Church as an Economic Firm (Oxford 1996) and for the latter Alan Ereira, Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives (London 2005).

4. On the plague of c. 550 see Peter Sarris, “The Justinianic Plague: origins and effects” in Continuity and Change Vol. 17 (Cambridge 2002), pp. 169–182, though just lately a rook of exciting new work on it and its consequences has emerged that I haven’t yet followed up, beginning with Merle Eisenberg and Lee Mordechai, “The Justinianic Plague: an interdisciplinary review” in Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies Vol. 43 (Abingdon 2019), pp. 156–180. We still lack a general economic history of the medieval period that I’d trust: Norman Pounds, An Economic History of Medieval Europe, 2nd edn, (London 1994) is OK in a traditional mould, but that’s kind of it. However, the last time I spoke to Chris Wickham, only a few weeks ago, he referred to an ‘economy book’ that he’d just sent to the press, and I wonder if that will prove to be the thing we need…

5. This work is collected and revised in Chris Wickham, Land and Power: studies in Italian and European social history, 400–1200 (London 1994), but includes especially idem, “The Other Transition: from the Ancient World to Feudalism” in Past & Present No. 103 (Oxford 1984), pp. 3–36, rev. in idem, Land and Power, pp. 7-42, and idem, “Marx, Sherlock Holmes, and Late Roman Commerce” in Journal of Roman Studies Vol. 78 (London 1988), pp. 183–193, rev. in idem, Land and Power, pp. 77-98. Of course John Haldon, a long-ago colleague of Chris, was arguing even then that ancient and medieval states worked in fundamentally the same way in Marxist terms, and wanted rid of both ‘ancient’ and ‘feudal’ modes in favour of a more capacious ‘tributary’ mode: see John Haldon, The State and the Tributary Mode of Production (London 1993).

6. Most obviously Chris Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean 400-800 (Oxford 2005), to which cf. Historical Materialism Vol. 19 no. 1, Symposium on Chris Wickham’s Framing the Early Middle Ages (Leiden 2011).

Surely you’re mistaken II

I am on holiday this week, and so probably have time but have little inclination to write you a long and technical post just now. Happily, student assessment comes to the rescue, or rather did in January to June 2019, over which time I collected, as some form of relief from marking, some more of my then-students’ best and brightest errors of fact, judgement or meaning on the two first-year modules I then taught, a full medieval and a late antique survey. All these students have now long since left our care, hopefully have their degrees and I don’t, in any case, know who they were as they were marked anonymously. I very much doubt they can remember writing these things, if they should ever read this. So I think it’s OK to let them lighten your summer as well. I shall group them and apply commentary where, well, where I think it’s funny…

Not quite thought through

“The impact of Constantine’s Christian implementation can be seen during the fourth and fifth centuries, whereby a widespread depiction of Christian art was displayed. For instance, churches became decorated with images of clear Christian origin and meaning, which conveyed an apparent Christian message.”

I mean, aren’t churches the last place you’d expect a Christian message to appear?

From one answer on the Black Death (that wasn’t really supposed to be about the Black Death):1

“However, the BD [sic] also led to the emergance [sic] of the Middle Class, ending the war for resources as the peasantry lessened and people could afford to feed their family.”

Damn peasants! We’d have so much more food without farmers!

“Many bodies were buried in the same grave but there were also many graves – this was a damage to the rural land and reduced possible crop-growing land therefore reducing the positive effect of the middle class emergance.”

Also dead people! So inconsiderate with the space they take up!

Similar vein, different paper, no way to know if it was the same student:

“… the growth of the bishops was not necessarily the main cause of the cities’ decline…”

But they just eat so much at that stage!

I know what you started with, but I don’t know how this happened to it

From the same answer on the Black Death as above:

“Public health, due to the Black Death, was instantly improved. In a short-term effort, people knew to isolate the sick from the cities and often used catapults to expel them.”

The source here must be an old story that the Mongols, while besieging the Venetian colony of Caffa in the Black Sea, catapulted their dead from the plague into the city. This may even have been true, though the source isn’t great, but it’s not true as it ended up here!2

And lastly…

“Britain was home to key Renaissance figures such as Chaucer and Diptych and also saw the spread of grammar schools across the country.”

But of course it wasn’t till the secondary moderns came along that we could develop thinkers like Triptych or Quadbyke.3 And that’s all, folks!


1. I have discovered, in my years of teaching across several institutions, that if you run a full medieval survey and don’t include assessment questions on the Vikings or the Black Death, you’ll get answers on them anyway. They are apparently the two things even the weakest students are interested enough by to revise.

2. See Mark Wheelis, “Biological Warfare at the 1346 Siege of Caffa” in Emerging Infectious Diseases Vol. 8 (Atlanta GA 2002), pp. 971–975, DOI: 10.3201/eid0809.010536.

3. My colleague who did the Renaissance lecture on this module liked to use Jan Van Eyck’s diptych of the Crucifixion and the Last Judgement, which see here, as an example of Renaissance art not all being from Italy. I hardly need to say that that colleague did not relocate it or Van Eyck to Britain, but even if they had, this student had more that they could add…

Link

Making things official without officials

For my second post for the weekend, I hope you’ll forgive me if I point you at some blogging I already did elsewhere. This, as with so much of my posting, goes back to 2019, when I managed to get a probation-saving article out in the fairly well-regarded journal Social History. Shortly after that had happened, they sent me an invitation to write a blog post about it, to boost its readership, and I probably thought something like, “just done that, mate” and the idea got lost in the flow of ongoing employment. But this year, with so much time working to contract, I’ve actually had time to get my e-mail more under control again, and found the offer at what had become the bottom of my INBOX. And I thought, “if they’re still interested, maybe this would be cool”. And they were, so I did it.

http://socialhistoryblog.com/official-records-without-officials-by-jonathan-jarrett/

It’s about a document, a double document in fact, whose job it was, I quote myself, to “create a social memory of the transaction which might later be called on when needed”. But do go and see how it did it and why that matters… I may not be able to post next week or maybe the week after, so hopefully this is some compensation!

Correction: the voice of the king not heard where I said

I think I can furnish you with two short posts this week, which may make up a little for the slow posting of late, the causes of which I hope at some point also to be able to tell you about (except those parts which could be summarised as ‘new software inflicted on a user-base without notice or testing’, which I shan’t bore you with). That all said, I’m not necessarily happy about having this post to write, because it’s about a mistake; but everybody makes mistakes, except that one colleague everyone has who seems not to, and I’m not him. And of course, this is one advantage of a blog; when you find that you’ve got something wrong in your work, you don’t have to wrangle with the publishers to somehow print or post a correction; you can just write one yourself.1 So here I go.

Cover of volume 1 issue 2 of The Mediæval Journal

Cover of volume 1 issue 2 of The Mediæval Journal

It’s not that big a thing, anyway. In my 2012 article that I’m forever citing but no-one can get hold of, ‘Caliph, King and Grandfather’ in The Mediæval Journal, among many things that I believe to be right I discuss the franchise which Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona gave to the town and inhabitants of frontier Cardona, which he was trying to refound for the third time, in 986, in the immediate aftermath of the sack of Barcelona and thus presumably in the context of establishing better defences.2 And there I say, on. p. 10, firstly that the franchise dates from 987 and secondly that it says it was done ‘through the voice of the king’, per vocem regis, which I use to argue for the effectiveness of royal orders on the March even at this very late date, or perhaps again at this late date. It’s important because Borrell was at this point back in touch with the kings for the first time in roughly thirty-five years, having otherwise tried pretty hard to escape their claims over his office and set up more or less on his own as, if not boss, at least biggest boss, of what’s now Old Catalonia, and that failure to escape is what the article is mostly about.

The castle of Cardona

We seem to be seeing quite a lot of the castle of Cardona in recent posts, but it’s usually worth seeing again

Well, I may be right about the basic point, but I’m wrong about both those details. Firstly, the document dates from 986. I don’t know where I got the idea of a 987 date from except that I was obviously under the impression that Borrell had royal orders; possibly I thought it just needed long enough after the sack for him to have sent an embassy, got one back and then formed a plan of action based on it. But the document actually uses an Incarnation date, which most don’t, and dates in two other systems too, so 23 April 986 is pretty inarguably when it claims.3 And it also doesn’t use the phrase per vocem regis; I was misremembering that from the Vall de Sant Joan hearing of seventy-three years before, where it does occur.4 And this only became clear to me in April 2019 when I got a mail from Professor Adam Kosto gently asking where in the Cardona franchise this phrase was used, because he couldn’t find it… So I sent him a red-faced reply and now, finally, I also admit my error here.

Photographic reproduction of the Cardona franchise of 987

I forget where I saw this, now – perhaps the Museu de la Història de la Ciutat de Barcelona? – but it’s not the real thing, it’s a photograph (which I photographed). But it does depict the Cardona franchise… Big version linked through!

Now, this matters if, as Adam was, you were looking for that particular phrase, but when I say it isn’t that big an error, I mean it because what the franchise actually says in its introduction about the king is:

“… and by order, obedient to the great authority of our King Louis, son of King Lothar, in the first year of his reign…”4

which is, firstly, still another means of dating, and secondly pretty inarguably a reference to royal orders. So I think my point holds up. But Adam was still right to question my quote; I did get my charters mixed up. To be fair, they’re both huge, it’s a lot of words. But yeah, my bad. Hopefully no-one else has needed to rest an argument on this assertion…

Low-quality facsimile of the charter of the Vall de Sant Joan hearing

Low-quality facsimile of the charter of the Vall de Sant Joan hearing, Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 32


1. That said, I do intend to mention this post to the journal editors, in case they feel like they need to do something with it. Really, a correction needs to be visible at point of access to the original. It should be an interesting experiment!

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

3. The Cardona franchise is most recently printed in Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya carolíngia Volum 8: Els comtats d’Urgell, Cerdanya i Berga, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica 111 (Barcelona 2020), 2 vols, doc. no. 738, where it is dated as follows: “Regnante in perpetuum Domino nostro Ihesu Christo, sexta etate mundi, in sexto miliario seculi, era millesima vigesima quarta, anno trabea Incarnationis Domini nostri Ihesu Christi DCCCCLXXXVI, Resurrectionis dominice nobis celebranda est II nonas aprilis…” That should have been enough, really!

4. I almost feel bad for citing this document here yet again, but, it is best printed as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya carolíngia volum IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica 53 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 119.

4. Ordeig, Catalunya carolíngia 8, doc. no. 738: …”et sub iusione magno imperio nostro Ludovico rege obediente, filio Lutarii regi, anno I eo regnante…“.

Rulers who weren’t kings, discussed at Leeds

I have as usual to apologise for a gap in posting. I mentioned the Covid-19; then I was on holiday; and then I was late with a chapter submission that I finished, on overtime, yesterday. Much of this post was written before that all started piling up, but I’ve only today had time to finish it. I was originally going to give you another source translation for the first time in ages, but it turns out that even though I translated the relevant thing fresh in 2019, two other people had already done it even then and I somehow missed that at the time. Oh well, never mind, because that progresses my backlog into April of that year, when I had the honour of giving my second ever keynote address (and, it must be said, so far my last). This was kindly arranged by my then-colleague Dr Fraser McNair, who had put together a conference called Non-Royal Rulership in the Earlier Medieval West, c. 600-1200. To be fair, though, I was only one of three keynote speakers, so well-connected is Fraser. As ever, I can’t give a full account of a two-day conference at a three-year remove, but I can give you the premise, the list of speakers and some thoughts which, I promise, will not just be about my paper. I’ll put the abstract and running order above the cut, but the rest can go below one so that if it doesn’t interest you, you few who actually read this on the website can more easily scroll to things that do. So here we are!

Between the breakdown of Roman rule and the sweeping legal and administrative changes of the later twelfth century, western Europe saw many types of rulers. The precise nature of their title and authority changed: dukes, counts, rectores, gastalds, ealdormen… These rulers were ubiquituous and diverse, but despite the variation between them, they all shared a neeed to conceptualise, to justify, and to exercise their rule without access to the ideological and governmental resources of kingship. This conference will explore the political practices of non-royal ruler across the earlier medieval period, in order to understand how the ambiguities of a position of rule that was not kingship were resolved in their varuous inflections.

And in order to do that thing, Fraser got hold of this glittering line-up (and me):

8th April 2019

Keynote 1

    Vito Loré, “How Many Lombard Kingdoms? The Duchies of Benevento and Spoleto in the Eighth Century”

The Terminology of Non-Royal Rule

  • Russell Ó Ríagáin, “A King by Any Other Name Would Rule the Same? A Relational and Diachronic Examination of the Terminology of Authority in Medieval Ireland”
  • Emily Ward, “Quasi interrex? Boy Kings and the Terminology of Non-Royal ‘Rule’, 1056-c. 1200″
  • Andrea Mariani, “Portugal Before the Kingdom: A Study of the Count of Portucale’s Titles and their Political Legitimation (9th-12th Centuries)”

Lay and Ecclesiastical Non-Royal Rulership

  • Mary Blanchard, “Equal but Separate? The Offices of Bishop and Ealdorman in Late Anglo-Saxon England”
  • James Doherty, “The Righteous Brothers: Bishop Philip of Châlons, Count Hugh of Troyes and Cultural Capital on the Stage of Crusade”
  • George Luff, “Princes of the Church: The Emergence of Ecclesiastical Rulership in the Early Medieval West”

Keynote 2

    Fiona Edmonds, “Regional Rulership: Northern Britain in its Insular Context, 600-1100”

9th April 2019

Analysing Non-Royal Power Relations

  • Sverrir Jakobsson, “Non-Royal Rulers in Twelfth-Century Iceland”
  • Mariña Bermúdez Beloso, “Non-Royal Rulership in North-Western Iberia: Who (Were They), what (Were Their Functions), Over Which (Territories did They Rule), How (to Study Them), and Other Questions for the Sources”
  • Alberto Spataro, “Rule by Law? Judicial and Political Hegemony of Milan in the Regnum Italiae (11th-12th Centuries)”

Keynote 3

    Jonathan Jarrett, “Counts Where It Counts: Spheres of Comital Action in the Tenth-Century West Frankish Periphery”

Non-Royal Rulers in the Middle

  • Daniel Schumacher, “Count Reginar: Duke, missus dominicus, and Rebel”
  • Fraser McNair, “An Anglo-Saxon Strand in Legitimizing the Counts of Flanders”
  • Jamie Smith, “‘Friends in Other Places’: The Diplomacy of Early Tostig of Northumbria, 1055-1066”

Symbolic Communication and Non-Royal Rule

  • Guilia Zornetta, “Benevento Before and After the Fall of the Lombard Kingdom: From Ducatus to Principatus
  • Rodrigo Hernández Hernández, “Justice, Peace and Virtue: The Mercy of Diego Gelmirez as a Discursive Element to Consolidate his Rulership in the Historia Compostelana
  • Anna Gehler-Rachůnek, “Strategies of Political Communication: the Papacy and the West around 600”

Continue reading

A Jewish garrison town in Carolingian Catalonia?

Please forgive a gap in posting. On the 4th started the biggest conference in a medievalist’s calendar, and I was running sessions on the first day; 29th and 30th also had a different conference in them, and a family house-move needing my driving fell between the two events. The week before that had been the finalists’ marking deadline, so I’d got very little ready for either conference till then, and by the third day of the conference this week I felt ill and, when tested, turned out to have caught Covid-19. Since then I’ve mainly been asleep, sweating feverishly or otherwise useless in our spare room. So it’s not been full of blogging opportunities. But all this time I have been trying, now and then, to finish this for you, refreshed over many weeks now from an old draft. The title of the post is a conscious riff off Arthur Zuckerman’s infamous and, erm, let’s say ‘disputed’ book A Jewish Princedom in Feudal France, but I am actually reacting here to a reaction to it, published in 1980, by Bernard Bachrach of whom we were lately talking.1 I write here because although I can deconstruct Bachrach’s paper and see many things wrong with it as argument, I can’t actually dismiss it all out of hand without better access to the evidence than I have, and that frustrates me. So when I read it in 2019, I wrote the beginnings of this to try and work it out. Since then I made the effort to get hold of some important extra evidence that allowed me to write the closing section, and now at last I inflict it all upon you.

Spine of Arthur Zuckerman's A Jewish Princedom in Feudal France, 768-900 (New York City NY: Columbia University Press 1973)

Spine of Arthur Zuckerman’s A Jewish Princedom in Feudal France, 768-900 (New York City NY: Columbia University Press 1973), image by Dranoel26own work, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons, because this is a work which has its own Wikipedia page

So, for those unaware of it, Zuckerman’s book is a tour de force of medievalist imagination from 1965, in which some fourteenth-century references to a ‘king of the Jews’ in Narbonne are built up, with the aid of anything that could possibly be used as evidence even when it’s really not, into a concession agreed by Charlemagne and the Caliph of Baghdad to establish an autonomous Ashkenazi principality on Narbonne that was eventually shut down by various interests colluding with the pope in 900. Everything in the area gets wrapped into this theory, to the extent of the line of Saint Guilhem being figured as Jewish because of the reported size of one of their noses (says Bachrach, anyway).2 The most generous reviews of this book thought it might, just, have shown that the Jewish ‘king’ of Narbonne was a real dignity, of rather uncertain nature, in what certainly was a city with a big Jewish community in it.3 Bachrach didn’t even accept that much, but in this chapter he performs a clever move and, using the credibility gained from the fact that he is critical of Zuckerman, proposes a different understanding of Jewish presence in the Midi that has nearly as many problems, even if it’s less ambitious. The logic is quite complex, however, and needs expounding (and exploding) step by step. It goes like this:

  1. Among the considerable evidence for a Jewish presence in Narbonne, we find in the Visigothic-period Historia Wambae a reference to the Jews of that city expelling the local authorities in support of the rebellion of Duke Paul of the Tarraconensis in 673. For Bachrach, that shows they could muster armed force. Admittedly, that rebellion was unsuccessful, but though the Jews were expelled they were subsequently allowed to return.4
  2. When King Pippin III of the Franks took Narbonne in 759, the populace were induced to surrender by a guarantee that they would be allowed to retain their own law. Bachrach argues that this concession would have thus reinforced the Jews in their local position.5
  3. A letter of a Pope Stephen is recorded complaining to Archbishop Aribert of Narbonne about all the concessions Pippin and then Charlemagne made to the Jews in Narbonne and saying that Aribert needs to roll them back as soon as he can. Since there is no other record of this archbishop, or anyone of that rank in the see of Narbonne until the tenth century, this has usually been taken to be a forgery; Zuckerman, indeed, connected it to the end of his ‘princedom’ in 900. Bachrach rehearses these arguments, agrees the letter probably can’t be accepted, but somehow it remains in his argument as support for a Carolingian generosity to Narbonne’s Jews.6
  4. Since we have militarised Jews at Narbonne in 673 (at least per Bachrach) and an assurance that in 759 the Jewish importance in Narbonne would have been protected (per Bachrach), we can now introduce a third element, the service of all free men in the Carolingian army that is demanded by various Carolingian capitularies. From that we can, or at least Bachrach can, conclude that the still-militarised Jews of Narbonne would have been among the troops subsequently deployed in campaigns on the Spanish March.7
  5. In one of these campaigns, in 798, as readers of this blog will know, the old fortresses of Casserres de Berguedà, Ausona and Cardona were reactivated by a Count Borrell. Ausona is the odd one out here as it had been a city, as it would again become. However, Bachrach observes, by 900 (recte 906), the newly emplaced bishop of Osona could complain that there were no Christians in his diocese, and there is also apparently a Hebrew responsum from a rabbi in the Middle East to an Iberian-peninsula contact of his of c. 850 saying that there are ‘no gentiles’ in Ausona. The explanation is of course obvious, to Bachrach: no gentiles, no Christians, because the town had been settled by the Jews of Narbonne as a regular Carolingian garrison.8

Now, you can probably tell already that I don’t buy this. I’m not against the idea of Jewish settlement in the Spanish March, at all: it explains a few place-names, like Judaigues in Besalú where the comital family of Barcelona later had land.9 Moreover, there is fairly solid evidence of Jewish landholding in the south of France in this period, including someone Jewish whose lands had been encroached upon appealing directly to Emperor Louis the Pious and having his case upheld, as well as the various rather earlier or later evidence for a Jewish presence in Narbonne, in Barcelona and in Girona.10 My credulity runs out, however, before being able to accept a Jewish military garrison town that no source describes as such.

View over Barcelona looking towards Montjuïc

The most obvious place-name mentioning Jews on the Spanish March is however probably the crown of Barcelona, Montjuïc! Image by Fabio Alessandro Locatiown work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Basic lack of positive evidence isn’t the only issue here, either. Every one of those steps above has its own problems, which I should set out.

  1. The Historia Wambae, of course, reports the suppression of autonomy at Narbonne, and says nothing about the terms on which the Jews were allowed to return; one might imagine that it was not swords in hand, although Bachrach just waves at the lack of evidence for Wamba having cared about Jews very much and assumes he’d have been cool with that.11 But also, importantly, the Historia was written by documented polemical anti-Semite Bishop Julian of Toledo, and so it’s not a given that these Jewish actions are even historical, rather than a way to blacken the name of the rebel Paul with people whom Julian would have seen as distasteful and unholy associates. Blaming the Jews for the fall of cities is a good strong tradition in this era, after all.12 So to get from that to an organised Jewish political faction in the city, with regularised military capacity, is what you might call an over-reading of this source. What Bachrach suggests is not impossible, but it’s a long way from being what the source says and there are reasons to mistrust what the source says on such matters. This will be a repeated theme in what follows…
  2. Next, whatever position the Jews held in Narbonne in 673 then needs to have been preserved eighty-six years until the Frankish conquest, and of course that period also contains the Muslim conquest of the city in 721 or so. It is likely that that materially improved the situation of the Jews in the city, but it is, I’d have thought, extremely unlikely that they would have been allowed to continue to bear arms, if that was actually something they had been doing!13 Bachrach simply doesn’t mention the Muslim conquest, which gets him round that particular problem, but doesn’t do anything to remove it.
  3. If, nonetheless, we somehow still wind up at 759 and the Carolingian capture of Narbonne with a powerful Jewish faction in the city with an old right to bear arms, the Visigothic Law that it seems reasonably safe to say that King Pippin III guaranteed at Narbonne in 759 actually pretty much denies Jews any civil rights whatsoever, in an accumulation of legislation from the final years of the Visigothic kingdom that has attracted a lot of scholarly attention.14 It may be easy enough to imagine that those laws were never enacted or had been repealed—Jews are still attested in these territories, after all, however thinly—but to guarantee or restore them and the old Jewish privileges they deny at the same time would take a level of double-think we don’t usually attribute to the Carolingians. It’s certainly not inherent in what the sources actually say, and in any case it requires an assumption of prior continuity that is hard to credit given the likely disruptions to it which Bachrach doesn’t mention.
  4. The council record of 906 in which Bishop Idalguer of Vic says there are no Christians in his diocese is clearly inaccurate; we have land-charters from people in his diocese going back to 880, and in fact we have Christian burials from the city that probably belong to this period.15 It is also, however, spurious as it stands, having been inserted into a record of 788! This becomes more comprehensible when one realises that the plea is made as part of an attempt to be rid of a levy up till then paid by the new bishopric to the metropolitan of Narbonne. What Idalguer was supposed to be saying, in other words, was, “I don’t get enough tithe to afford this.” A certain amount of exaggeration is therefore easy to understand. Less easy to understand is how he wouldn’t mention that his episcopal city was a Jewish military colony, however; I feel that also might have made a good part of such a case. Arguments from silence are always more difficult, but this is really quite a loud silence. The record does talk about the difficulties the area had faced because of ‘the infestation of pagans’, but that, pace Bachrach and Zuckerman both, seems much more likely to refer to the Muslim conquests, in the same basically fictive way that other tenth-century sources from this are wont to do when seeking to justify a land claim.16 These were educated Christian clergy to whom Jews cannot have been unfamiliar (though if they were, it wouldn’t do much for Bachrach’s argument that there was a town of them right next door). Christianity has been dealing with the Jewish religion since its birth out of it, and churchmen knew that Jews were not pagans, whereas Muslims remained in a rhetorical and intellectual space where that could still be alleged.16bis
  5. Last of all, but important, another thing that Bachrach doesn’t mention, like the Muslim conquest of Narbonne, is the 826–827 rebellion on the March under the mysterious Aizó, which took Ausona out of Carolingian control. We don’t in fact know that that control was ever regained, at least before the area was brought back under the authority of Count Guifré the Hairy of Urgell and Barcelona in the 870s; it has been suggested that the town was completely deserted and it has been suggested that it became a Muslim fortress allowing a series of raids into the Frankish interior that seem to have stopped in the 850s.17 Either of these cases might be a pretty good explanation for why a Hebrew letter of 850 might say there were no gentiles there, but Bachrach’s arguments rely on continuity, a long long continuity right the way from Narbonne 673 to Ausona 906, so unsurprisingly, as with the Muslim conquest of Narbonne, he doesn’t mention this rebellion. Frighteningly, Zuckerman’s case actually fits better here, as he saw a reimposition of Jewish rule in this area c. 852 under ‘Abbasid pressure on the Carolingians, but that would wreck Bachrach’s argument, so he ignores it and in this case, that’s probably fair enough!18

So at the end of this, we have a very long chain of over-read sources, which, if every one is accepted, can indeed be lashed together in some dreadful Heath-Robinson fashion that allows one to bridge the gap between 673 and 906, but whose lashings are rotten at every join, and which has to reach over some really quite serious discontinuities that Bachrach ignores. It’s perhaps not completely surprising that I only lately discovered this paper because I’ve only ever seen one citation of it despite working on the county that grew up around reoccupied Ausona; there really is no reason to take this theory seriously, and people mostly haven’t.

Cathedral of Sant Pere de vic seen from the Riu Gurri

The cathedral of Sant Pere de Vic, seen from the Riu Gurri, photo by Enfo (own work), licensed under [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

And yet, there is apparently this rabbinic letter… The letter is the one piece of this puzzle I can’t point at and show Bachrach doing bad history with it, simply because I can’t read Hebrew. There are so many things that could be wrong with it: its date, the identification of the place-name it uses, its basic authenticity… but if it is what Bachrach says it is then I can’t ignore it. So I reluctantly picked up Zuckerman and, actually, he gave a lot more information. Firstly, we learn the name of the relevant rabbi, Natronai Gaon of Sura. He was based in Qayrawān in what is now Tunisia, and was consulted on several occasions between 853 and 868 by Jews in what Zuckerman insisted on rendering as Ispamia, and one of his letters of advice went to, “the town Ausona (Al-Osona) bordering on Barcelona County”.19 Zuckerman explained that hitherto this had been rendered as Lucena by scholars of Natronai’s letters, but preferred Osona because of the other evidence Bachrach would later repeat. One thing that Bachrach does not repeat, however, is that the letter also advises the Jews of the town not to buy cattle, fish or flour if the market day falls on a Jewish holiday, which tells us pretty clearly that the Jews were not organising the market or it presumably wouldn’t ever have done that thing.

Arthur J. Zuckerman, A Jewish Princedom in Feudal France, 768-900 (New York City NY 1965), p. 318

Arthur J. Zuckerman, A Jewish Princedom in Feudal France, 768-900 (New York City NY 1965), p. 318 and nn. 5-6…

Arthur J. Zuckerman, A Jewish Princedom in Feudal France, 768-900 (New York City NY 1965), p. 319

… and p. 319 & nn. 6-8.

Now, Zuckerman’s notes are not clear (as you see above). They are anchored to strange places in the text, too, making it less than easy to see what note is supposed to cover what assertions. But it seems that we’re dealing here with pp. 318-319 nn. 6-8, in which as you see he prints what I suppose is some of the relevant Hebrew and various references, including to one German translation. That, thankfully, is on the web, and from that I can render the German as follows (badly):20

“Non-Jews often bring in oxen and rams from outside the city on Sunday and Friday, and from time to time the market day falls on a Jewish holiday; should one then buy from the non-Jews? – We decide: One should not buy on a holiday, and not fish or flour either. – And what you have asked: ‘On what ground?’ – Answer: Because Lucena is a Jewish town and has a very great number of Israelites – may the Eternal, the God of our Fathers, multiply them!21 – There are there almost no non-Jewish inhabitants, so surely the objects for sale are brought chiefly for the use of the Israelites; if non-Jews sometimes also find themselves there on market day, surely their numbers are vanishingly small against the majority Israelite population. Were this even in Córdoba, where the seat of government is, but where the Israelites are in the majority over the Arabs, there would be fear that the Israelites would be attracted to market more than would otherwise be done; how much more in a city like Lucena!”

Now, from this lots of things arise. Firstly we see that the German translators, Winter and Wünsche, assumed that the place concerned was Lucena, but we’ve already seen how Zuckerman headed that off, and I have to say that if he was right about the Hebrew, of which of course I’m no judge, then Osona seems more likely. Let’s assume it is for now, but that doesn’t end the questions by any means. Winter and Wünsche also did not offer much help in finding this text; they reference only Warnheim’s edition, as given by Zuckerman in the notes above, and say nothing about where we have this letter, from when, what its transmission is and so on.22 Now, all of that stuff could be really quite crucial in the interpretation of this letter; did its copyist likely have an idea what it was really about, and if not, what might he or she have corrected it to? Further inspection reveals that Warnheim’s edition is actually in Hebrew, with a German subtitle, and that Zuckerman’s helpful transliteration of its main title is not what’s actually on the title page – and neither is Winter and Wünsche’s, so even finding it may be beyond me, let alone reading it. I don’t suppose anyone else is able to help here? Manchester apparently have a copy…

All the same, if the text in question is what either of these writers say it is, i. e. a letter from a near-contemporary well-informed about Andalusi matters, I have at least to consider it. But even from the German, some important things emerge which neither Bachrach cares nor Zuckerman cared to mention (though the former Zuckerman at least implied).

  1. It’s clear that wherever this town was, the Jews were a majority there, a substantial one indeed, but not the only people present. At least, the market provision makes it seem otherwise, and Winter and Wünsch translated the Hebrew that Zuckerman renders, “Al-Osona is a Jewish place without gentiles” with an all-important qualifier, “gar”. The line that both Bachrach and Zuckerman also quote, “there are no gentiles in Osona”, is not actually in this source, and Zuckerman’s notes, once gleaned, say it’s “perhaps by the same author” (p. 319 n. 6) but cites it from a different edition with no further details.23 Again, help getting at this would be lovely!
  2. Much more important, though, is the reference to Córdoba, because that shows that Rabbi Natronai Gaon believed this place ‘al-Usuna’ to be in al-Andalus, under Muslim rule. He must have done, because that was the government whose seat Córdoba was! And that changes the picture rather.

Wherefrom follows a rethink. Around 850 is actually a bad time to see Vic as having been in Carolingian hands, as already discussed; it had certainly been in pro-Muslim ones only 24 years before and is not recorded in Christian ones again till 885 (though late 870s is likely).24 And while we can ignore some of the Christian reports that Jews let enemies into Christian cities, so much more easy to bear than Christians actually having lost them, we maybe need to consider Arabic reports that sometimes local Jews were put in charge of recently conquered towns; the Egyptian historian Ibn al-Athir says that the conquering general Mūsa ibn Nusair did this in Seville, for example.25 What if Vic was such a place? That is, maybe when the Muslim army arrived in 827 they took the place over, but installed a Jewish colony there rather than settle it themselves. Then Vic would indeed be a Jewish garrison town, but for the Muslims, or, probably more likely, a Jewish town with a Muslim garrison. That might be what this source is actually reporting!

Now, I would want a lot of those vital details about source transmission and indeed identity in hand before I started seriously proposing that last thing. But both Bachrach and, before him, Zuckerman just left these details out because they didn’t fit their respective wild hypotheses. I hope I’ve shown that Bachrach’s hypothesis has to be discarded whatever the results of this enquiry should be; but there could be an almost equally surprising alternative to their ideas derived from the same sources, and more easily I’d say, which neither of them for some reason wanted to discover. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it, about the preoccupations which drive our enquiries…


1. Arthur J. Zuckerman, A Jewish Princedom in Feudal France, 768-900 (New York City NY 1965, repr. 1972); 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 (edd.), 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, repr. in Bernard S. Bachrach, Armies and Politics in the Early Medieval West, Collected Studies 405 (Aldershot 1993), chapter XV, online here from the reprint.

2. On inspection, this is less racist and more crazy than Bachrach, “Role of the Jews”, p. 12, makes it sound; Zuckerman notes the name Naso given to Bernard of Septimania as a pseudonym by Paschasius Radbertus, in his polemical diatribe the Epitaphium Arsenii (Zuckerman, Jewish Princedom, p. 263), which Calmette explained as being a reference to a big nose, but which Zuckerman in fact sees as the ancestral title Nasi born by his alleged Jewish princes. Even in his critique of others, therefore, Bachrach doesn’t really represent what his source says accurately.

3. Nahon Gérard, “Arthur J. ZUCKERMAN, A Jewish Princedom in Feudal France, 768-900” in Annales : Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations Vol. 30 (Paris 1975), pp. 363-364; for the wider background at Narbonne see with more safety Jean Régné, Étude sur la condition des juifs de Narbonne du Ve au XIVe siècle (Narbonne 1912), one of several secondary sources that Bachrach uses rather than cite actual evidence for Jewish presence. After the discoveries of the previous note, one may justly wonder whether checking these would actually back up his points at all or if these citations would also turn out to be misread.

4. Bachrach, “Role of the Jews”, p. 14, citing two chapters of Régné and himself, “A Reassessment of Visigothic Jewish Policy 589-711” in American Historical Review Vol. 78 (Washington DC 1973), pp. 11-34, repr. in idem, Armies and Politics, chapter XI, pp. 26-27, rather than the actual source, Hist. Wamb. c. 5 (he says there). This is now available as Joaquim Martínez Pizarro, The Story of Wamba: Julian of Toledo’s Historia Wambae regis (Washington DC 2005), on JSTOR here.

5. Bachrach, “Role of the Jews”, pp. 13-14; the source is the Annals of Aniane, which are printed in Claude Devic and Jean Vaissete, Histoire Générale de Languedoc avec les Notes et les Pièces Justificatives, ed. by Edouard Dulaurier, édition accompagnée de dissertations et actes nouvelles, contenant le recueil des inscriptions de la province antiques et du moyen âge, des planches, cartes géographiques et des vues des monuments (Toulouse 1875), 16 vols, vol. II, online here, col. 7.

6. Jacques-Paul Migne (ed.), Anastasii Abbatis, sanctæ Romanæ ecclesiæ Presbyteri et Bibliothecarii, opera omnia: editio præ aliis omnibus insignis, ad fidem manuscriptorum codicum et juxta probatissimas editiones expressa, Blancsini nempe Romano-Vaticanam, quod Librum Pontificalem, Mabillonii, Cardinalis Maii, etc., etc. Accedunt Stephani V, Formosi, Stephani VI, Romani, Pontificum Romanorum; Erchemberti Cassinensis monachi, Angilberti Corbeiensis abbatis, S. Tutilonis Sangallensis monachi, Grimlaici presbyteri, Wolfardi presbyteri Hasenrietani, Anamodi Ratisbonensis subdiaconi, Scripta vel scriptorum fragmenta quæ exstant. Tomum claudit Appendix ad Sæculum IX, Patrologia cursus completus series latina CXXIX (Paris 1879), 3 vols, vol. I, online here, col. 857; Bachrach discusses this and its problems over “Role of the Jews”, pp. 12-13 n. 6, in which he both accepts and rejects the arguments for a tenth-century date before using it as straightforward evidence for Pippin’s granting of land to Jews p. 14 n. 9.

7. Bachrach, “Role of the Jews”, p. 16, “The count of Narbonne, whose military contingent surely had a substantial proportion of Jewish allodial landholders among its members…”, with n. 16 there providing cites only for Jewish military service three centuries before or five centuries after, both in other countries.

8. For the refortification see ‘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; for the council of complaint, see Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memoòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 53 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, vol. I no. 75; for the letter, see below.

9. Judaigues occurs in Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Sebastià Riera i Viader and Manuel Rovira i Solà (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, doc. nos 312 & 523 at least, and I think at least one more, but can’t check right now given my situation.

10. Jewish landholders appealing to Emperor Louis the Pious in Devic & Vaissete, Histoire Générale de Languedoc, II, Preuves: chartes et diplômes, no. 97; for wider context see David Romano, “Els jueus de Barcelona i Girona fins a la mort de Ramon Borrell (1018)” in Federico Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium Internacional sobre els Orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), 2 vols, vol. II , pp. 123–30, online here.

11. Bachrach, “Visigothic Policy”, p. 27, with only secondary references.

12. On Julian see Abdón Moreno García and Raúl Pozas Garza, “Una controversía judeo-cristiana del s. VII: Julián de Toledo” in Helmantica Vol. 53 nos 161–162 (Seville 2002), pp. 249–69, online here, and on Visigothic anti-Judaism more widely Rachel L. Stocking, “Early Medieval Christian Identity and Anti-Judaism: The Case of the Visigothic Kingdom” in Religion Compass Vol. 2 (Oxford 2008), pp. 642–658, DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2008.00087.x; for the trope of Jews causing the fall of Christian cities to invaders, see among many other instances Janet L. Nelson (transl.), The Annals of St-Bertin, Ninth-Century Histories 1 (Manchester 1991), s. a. 852.

13. Norman Roth, “Dhimma: Jews and Muslims in the Early Medieval Period” in Ian Richard Netton (ed.), Studies in Honour of Clifford Edmund Bosworth (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 2 vols, vol. I, pp. 238–266, on Academia.edu here.

14. S. P. Scott (transl.), The Visigothic Code (Forum Judicum), translated from the Original Latin, and Edited (Boston MA 1910), online here, XII.ii.3-18 & iii.1 & 3-28; for discussion, as well as the works in n. 12 above see Bat-Sheva Albert, “Les communautés juives vues à travers la législation royale et ecclésiastique visigothique et franque” in John Victor Tolan, Nicholas De Lange, Laurence Foschia & Capucine Nemo-Pekelman (edd.), Jews in Early Christian Law: Byzantium and the Latin West, 6th‒11th centuries, Religion and Law in Medieval Christian and Muslim Societies 2 (Turnhout 2014), pp. 179–193, online here.

15. Christians in Osona before 906 in any of Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia 4, doc. nos 1-74, really; for the burials see Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer, “Dos exemples d’arqueologia medieval al nucli urbà de Vic: la casa de la Plaça de Dom Miquel i la necròpolis del Cloquer” in Ausa Vol. 10 nos 102–104 (Vic 1982), pp. 375–385, online here, and Joan Casas Blasi, Anna Gómez Bach, Raquel Masó Giralt, Imma Mestres Santacreu & Montserrat de Rocafiguera Espona, “Ciutat de Vic: darreres intervencions i línies de recerca” in I Jornades d’Arqueologia de la Catalunya Central: Actes. Homenatge a Miquel Cura, Publicacions d’Arqueologia i Paleontologia 14 (Barcelona 2012), pp. 220–224, online here.

16. The Church history background is set out in Élie Griffe, Histoire religieuse des anciens pays de l’Aude (Paris 1933), 1 vol completed, online here, pp. 246-250; even now this is a tremendously perceptive and thorough book and I wish he’d finished the rest. Bachrach cites it, “Role of the Jews”, p. 17 n. 22, because it establishes a 906 date for the council text, but otherwise ignores what Griffe says was going on. For the trope of Muslims as pagans here, see Jonathan Jarrett, “Caliph, King, or Grandfather: Strategies of Legitimization on the Spanish March in the Reign of Lothar III” in The Mediaeval Journal Vol. 1 no. 2 (Turnhout 2011), pp. 1–22, DOI: 10.1484/J.TMJ.1.102535, at pp. 15-16; cf. Bachrach, “Role of the Jews”, p. 17 and Zuckerman, Jewish Princedom, p. 319.

16bis. On Christianity and Judaism, an interesting range of perspectives is to be found in Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed (edd.), The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis MN 2007) , though goodness knows there are others. For Muslims as pagans, see John Victor Tolan, Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination (New York City NY 2002), pp. 105-134.

17. Imma Ollich i Castanyer, “Roda: l’Esquerda. La ciudad carolingia” 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 Montjuíc (Barcelona 1999), pp. 84–88, transl. as “Roda: l’Esquerda. The Carolingian Town” ibid. pp. 461-463; cf. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Els orígens històrics de Vic (segles VIII-X), Osona a la butxaca 1 (Vic 1981), online here, pp. 22-26.

18. Zuckerman, Jewish Princedom, pp. 316-319.

19. Ibid., ‘Ispamia’ p. 317 and thereafter, quote p. 318.

20. Jakob Winter and August Wünsche (edd.), Die jüdische Litteratur seit Abschluss des Kanons: eine prosaische und poetische Anthologie mit biographischen und litterargeschichtlichen Einleitungen (Trier 1894-1896), 3 vols, vol II, online here, pp. 23-24.

21. Identified by Winter and Wünsche as quotation of 5 Moses 1, 11.

22. Winter’s and Wünsche’s background information covers the author (vol. II pp. 22-23) without references, but of the actual text offered they say only, “Aus „Kebuzat Chachamim‟, Wien 1861, S. 110”, which from Zuckerman and Google it’s possible to decode as W. Warnheim (ed.), קבוצת חכמים: כולל דברי מדע פרי עשתנות חכמים שונים: Wissenschaftliche Aufsätze in hebräischtalmudischer Sprache (Wien 1861), p. 110, but as I say, that doesn’t get me personally much further.

23. As you can see above, Zuckerman, Jewish Princedom, p. 319 n. 6, gives this source as “J. Müller, Teshubhot geoné mizrah uma`arabe, no. 26, p. 9a”, but websearch for that string or variants produces nothing, so I guess that the actual title is again in Hebrew, and he transliterated it into Roman, an operation I cannot reverse.

24. The first possible evidence that the city’s church was up and running again comes with Archpriest Godmar, soon to become the first bishop, who turns up in Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia 4, doc. no. 2, but we don’t know for sure that he was Archpriest of Vic; that association only becomes clear when he occurs as bishop ibid. doc. 7, in 885. Eduard Junyent, who first edited these documents, thought that the handwriting of the main scribe who worked with Godmar when he was archpriest, Athanagild, suggests that both had been brought in from Narbonne, which is a priori likely and would help make sense of the see’s later special subjection to the metropolitan one.

25. Accessible to me as Ibn el-Athir, Annales du Maghreb et de l’Espagne, transl. Edmond Fagnan (Alger 1901), which is no longer online whence I got it, sadly, but where the relevant bit is on p. 47.

Seminars CCLXIX & CCLXX: From opposite ends of the Mediterranean

I’ve just had a look through my seminar notes from March 2019 and decided that two still bear the telling. As ever, it is good of those who still read here to bear with my efforts to reduce the backlog in the face of the fact that things continue to occur meanwhile… But back then when my backlog is, at the beginning of the month I was present on the 4th when Professor John Moreland addressed Leeds’s Institute for Medieval Studies Medieval Group with the title, “Sheffield Castle: archives, excavations, and augmented reality, 1927-2018”, and then I was around again on the 27th when Dr Helen Birkett addressed the IMS Medieval History Seminar with the title, “News, Current Events, History: The Preservation of News Texts from 1187/8”. I’ve got no way to tie these together except that they were in the same month in the same university and I saw them both, but why should we need more, eh?

Poster for seminar by John Moreland at the University of Leeds

Seminar poster by Thomas Smith

So to begin with Professor Moreland’s paper, I have to admit that I did not previously know that Sheffield had had a castle. But there was one, and a recent bequest had enabled the University’s then-untroubled archaeology department to start a partnership up with the contract organisation Wessex Archaeology (who for reasons unexplained have an office in Sheffield) and the university’s department of Computer Science, to go over the work that had been done on it and try to synthesize the results of old and new digs. The castle has been dug quite a lot, apparently, being located, under what was between the 1960s and very recently the city market, by an amateur archaeologist in the 1920s and then dug for a decade, with some more work on its perimeter in the 1950s and new work just beginning at the date of this paper. The paper was as much about why what had been done had been done as what it actually was, but the basic story was that some kind of castle was probably put here in the 12th century by one William de Loyelote, built up rather with a gatehouse after license was given to crenellate in 1258, and then possibly burnt in a sack of the city of 1266 by a man really genuinely called John De Eville. There was some rebuilding thereafter and it was still a going concern in the 16th century, and indeed in the English Civil War though perhaps not going enough as it fell to siege in 1644 and 1646 and was slighted in 1649-1650.

Archaeological digging at the site of Sheffield Castle in the 1920s, 1930s or 1950s

Archaeological digging at the site of Sheffield Castle in the 1920s, 1930s or 1950s – sadly, Sheffield’s website doesn’t say which

The question that now arises is what bits of this actually survive. The 1920s-30s digs found lots, and some of that was photographed in situ, very luckily for such old archaeology, but that archaeologist, Leslie Armstrong, tended to date what he found from known history, such as the 1266 burning, so that various wooden structures showing destruction by fire he considered to be pre-1266 and everything above them to have been the 13th-17th-century building, which Professor Moreland though would likely prove wrong given the relative depths of stratification. In that case, this fire must have happened earlier and the 1266 sack of the city may not have hurt the castle at all. Another point of difference was over the material that Armstrong considered to have been ‘Saxon’, an alleged cruck-built building in the central courtyard and some of the material culture. Professor Moreland, however, thought that there was no pre-Conquest material at all, and that Armstrong was just after pushing his native city’s origins back to when it could be ‘Germanic’ rather than ‘French’, this mattering rather more in the atmosphere of the 1930s, though not always that way round… The oldest remains Professor Moreland had been able to date were late 11th-century, at which point there seems to have been a Norman motte with maybe a wooden gatehouse. But by this stage he had five minutes left to talk, so we didn’t get all the details of that I might have wanted, and the promised ‘augmented reality’ ironically never materialised, then or now. However, you can find out more! Wessex Archaeology have a good web-page on the digs, including their 602-page site report which, I admit, I didn’t read for this post (or at all), and a video by Professor Moreland explaining what the augmented reality stuff would have been like.1 Also, not very long after this paper, there emerged a book, so it is certainly possible for you to learn more.2

Dr Birkett’s paper was a very different sort of thing, not just because it completed within the time allowed but also because it was a proper old-fashioned text-mining medievalist study, which as I only now find out, had already been published at the point when she gave it to us.3 The object of the search was to find out how people in the West found out about the recapture of Jerusalem by the forces of Islam, under the famous Saladin, in 1187. We know that it created enough of a furore that eventually King Richard I of England, King Philip II Augustus of France and Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa all went out to try and get it back – but how did the news actually get to their royal ears?

Poster for seminar by Helen Birkett at the University of Leeds

Poster again by Thomas Smith

Obviously, the answer was probably letters, but what I hadn’t expected was firstly that we would have any such letters surviving, and secondly where they turn up. These were surprises because actually, there are 13, but none are actual autographs by people of 1187; instead, such texts were later copied into chronicles and histories, or just copied; we have some loose copies which got used as bindings, and one rather mystifying copy of a letter from Patriarch Heraclius of Jerusalem (the Latin patriarch, despite his name) that now survives in the Arxiu Parroquial of Cardona, of which town we heard only a couple of posts ago so you know it’s in Catalonia. In fact two such letters made it to Catalonia, but it doesn’t seem to have raised the same response as other places… But from the image I was pretty sure it was a local copy – I know the scripts! – so there was a kind of response even so.

But that is a whole book’s worth of study and for someone else. Better questions to ask might be, as did Alan Murray, of course present, whether multiple copies of such letters were being sent, or whether one was sent and then copied for dissemination, and Dr Birkett thought the latter. There is a particular one by a Templar called Terricas (apparently) which exists in more copies than any other, and Dr Birkett thought that the actual man’s journey westwards to seek help could be tracked. I don’t, myself, see why that precludes him fetching up in, say, Genoa, and then writing his letter and having copies sent hither and thither; but of course, I haven’t seen it, and either solution does explain why what we have is not the original letters, and reminds us that in this era (and to be honest, our one too) a letter only arrives because someone or a chain of someones physically brings it; that process also attracted questions, but answers are hard to provide. Dr Birkett herself was more interested in why these texts were still being copied up long after they were ‘news’, because outside the chronicle texts the preservation rarely seems to have been part of a plan; their homes were often blank folios in manuscripts made for other purposes. It is possible that, since Jerusalem was never recaptured (unless we count Emperor Frederick II’s attempt, which because the Church judged him to be a bad guy we seem never to do), this was ‘news’ that never got old. But the samples are very small, and I was myself wary of any generalisation of plotting trends of 2-4 manuscripts. But the questions are still interesting to ask, and maybe there are more answers to be found.

That will have to do you for this week. Next post will be some more current news and then I have an old musing that never before got written up about the role of the blog in/as scholarship, so please stay tuned for those, and if that’s not enough I hope to have more critique of a certain historian of early medieval military matters ready to go after that, surely therefore something for all tastes. Stay well and safe till then!


1. It is Sheffield Castle, Sheffield, South Yorkshire: Final Archaeological Evaluation Report, by Ashley Tuck, 201540.05 (Sheffield 2020), online here.

2. John Moreland, Dawn Hadley and Ashley Tuck, Sheffield Castle: Archaeology, Archives, Regeneration, 1927–2018 (York 2020), online here.

3. Helen Birkett, “News in the Middle Ages: News, Communications, and the Launch of the Third Crusade in 1187–1188” in Viator Vol. 49 (Turnhout 2018), pp. 23–61, DOI: 10.1484/J.VIATOR.5.119573.

Name in Print XXX: the other parcel from China

A short bonus post for the celebratory weekend, celebrating, well, me again I’m afraid, plus ça change… You remember a few posts ago I wrote about receiving a fairly unexpected Chinese translation of one of my conference papers in the post? If you do remember, one of the reasons it was unexpected was that while I heard nothing about its progress into print, I had heard lots about the progress of another conference paper I’d given in China some time before, in a story I have already told. Well, a few weeks ago that one also arrived with me.

Cover of Sven Günther, Li Qiang, Lin Ying and Claudia Sode (edd.), From Constantinople to Chang’an: Byzantine Gold Coins in the World of Late Antiquity. Papers Read at the International Conference in Changchun, China, 23‒26 June 2017, Supplements to the Journal of Ancient Civilizations 8 (Changchun 2021)

Cover of Sven Günther, Li Qiang, Lin Ying and Claudia Sode (edd.), From Constantinople to Chang’an: Byzantine Gold Coins in the World of Late Antiquity. Papers Read at the International Conference in Changchun, China, 23‒26 June 2017, Supplements to the Journal of Ancient Civilizations 8 (Changchun 2021)

Although it’s not as much of a shock as the previous one was, this too has wound up looking rather different from what I’d expected. The original plan was for the papers we’d all presented in Changchun to emerge as a special issue of the Journal of Ancient Civilizations which is edited in the Institute for the History of Ancient Civilizations that had hosted us.

Covers of Cover of Sven Günther, Li Qiang, Lin Ying and Claudia Sode (edd.), From Constantinople to Chang’an: Byzantine Gold Coins in the World of Late Antiquity. Papers Read at the International Conference in Changchun, China, 23‒26 June 2017, Supplements to the Journal of Ancient Civilizations 8 (Changchun 2021) and Journal of Ancient Civilizations 32/1 (Changchun 2017)

The same volume next to vol. 32/1 of the Journal of Ancient Civilizations, like large child with small parent

The actual year of appearance, however, was originally to be 2020, which unhappily coincided with that pandemic of which you may have heard tell, and of course that fell on China first. So everything there became difficult, and not just for that reason. In any case, the perpetual shuffling of this special issue was messing up the journal timetable, it was also a lot more material than they usually publish in an issue, and there is also a series of supplements to the journal. So, at some point very late on in the process, it became clear to me that that is what would be happening with ours, that the covers would be red and cloth not blue and paper, and this is what I now have.

Opening page of Jonathan Jarrett, "Coinage in the Western World at the End of the Roman Empire and After: Tradition, Imitation and Innovation" in Sven Günther, Li Qiang, Lin Ying and Claudia Sode (edd.), From Constantinople to Chang’an: Byzantine Gold Coins in the World of Late Antiquity, Supplements to the Journal of Ancient Civilizations 8 (Changchun 2021), pp. 31–74

Opening page of Jonathan Jarrett, "Coinage in the Western World at the End of the Roman Empire and After: Tradition, Imitation and Innovation" in Günther, Qiang, Lin and Sode, Constantinople to Chang’an, pp. 31–74

Now, this doesn’t necessarily make the paper more accessible; the book is more expensive than the journal would be and even if your library has a subscription to the JAC – which some do, don’t be like that nowthey probably don’t get the supplements. And yet I do want people to be getting hold of this, because the paper I wrote I wrote fully intending it to be nothing less than an up-to-date, thought-provoking, student-accessible and copiously-illustrated guide to what happened to coinage in the various zones of the Roman Empire over the period about 400 to 700 CE which I could set to my own students (and you could set to yours!). It checks in on the coinage at the turn of the years 400, 500, 600 and 700, observes changes descriptively, and then addresses major issues like continuity and imitation, and there are seventy-odd illustrations, for which I laid out an entire year’s research expenses, in order to create the for-now-definitive one-stop article-length introduction to coinage in the late and post-Roman worlds. Mad, they called me, mad, I who have created numismatics! And so on. But dammit, it is rather good.1

Figures 49–60 of Jonathan Jarrett, "Coinage in the Western World at the End of the Roman Empire and After: Tradition, Imitation and Innovation" in Sven Günther, Li Qiang, Lin Ying & Claudia Sode (edd.), From Constantinople to Chang’an: Byzantine Gold Coins in the World of Late Antiquity, Supplements to the Journal of Ancient Civilizations 8 (Changchun 2021), pp. 31–74 at pp. 70–71

Figures 49–60 of Jarrett, "Coinage in the Western World", pp. 70–71

So, if this sounds like a thing you would want to read, or to make others read that you might educate them, and you have an institutional budget to support you, please try and get hold of the book; I am far from the only interesting thing in there, especially if you care about Byzantine (or Sasanian) coinage out of place, and IHAC does good work, including supporting foreign scholars and encouraging East-West dialogue, in an area of China far from Beijing or Shanghai.2 If you just have spare cash and like well-made books of interesting content, consider buying it too maybe, because the country which invented paper does make pretty nice books (and this is one). But if you don’t have the money and feel you might still benefit from my dubious expertise here, you can also find the article in a reduced-quality version on my Academia.edu page, with IHAC’s permission, so do feel free to enjoy that instead (or as well!). I’m pretty pleased with it and hope you will be too.


1. Full citation, as per, is Jonathan Jarrett, “Coinage in the Western World at the End of the Roman Empire and After: Tradition, Imitation and Innovation” in Sven Günther, Li Qiang, Lin Ying and Claudia Sode (edd.), From Constantinople to Chang’an: Byzantine Gold Coins in the World of Late Antiquity, Supplements to the Journal of Ancient Civilizations 8 (Changchun 2021), pp. 31–74. Of that, a slightly frightening pp. 52-61 is bibliography and pp. 62-74 are figures, so it’s not as frightening a read as that makes it sound. I owe tremendous thanks to many people for making images available, but especially Maria Vrij at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham, whence came most of them, and to the British Museum, CGB Monnaies, the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Harvard College and Ruth Pliego for not charging for their images.

2. Admittedly, right now I admit I can’t find any way that you can buy it, but hopefully that situation will ease and if people want it I can try and find out how that can be done in present circumstances; leave a comment or send me mail and I’ll do what I can. Meanwhile, other tempting highlights might be Pagona Papadopoulou, “The Gold of the Emperor: Imitations of Byzantine Gold Coins in the Mediterranean (5th-7th Centuries), pp. 1–30, Rebecca Darley, “Byzantine Gold Coins and Peninsular India’s Late Antiquity”, pp. 135–169, Li Qiang, “Trends and Dynamics in the Study of Byzantine Coins and their Imitations Unearthed in China: 2007‒2017”, pp. 193‒206, Guo Yunyan, “Classification of Byzantine Gold Coins and Imitations Found in China”, pp. 207‒240, Lkhagvasuren Erdenebold, “East-West Relations and Nomads: a Short Introduction to the Tomb of Shoroon Bumbagar, Bayannuur Soum, Mongolia”, pp. 241–257 for those Sasanian finds, or Brigitte Borell, “Coins from Western Lands Found in Southeast Asia”, pp. 277–314.