Category Archives: Anglo-Saxons

Egbert may in fact have been there

As teaching fell upon me like a soaked-through ceiling in October 2019, somehow I came across a news story about a medieval object, and it was the kind of news story that made me stub a blog-post of objection. But, since I knew I would be writing this up at some remove – and look, here we are, removed – I also left myself a note hoping that some better coverage would have emerged, and man, has it ever. So what I thought would be a post about a silly news story, in which experts were coaxed into conjecturing further than I think I would have – though my record’s not great, I know – is now become a post whose main purpose is just to invite you, in the words of William Shatner, to “ponder the mystery.”1 And in the end, I have to conclude that the story may have been right all along. But let me walk you through my steps to this conclusion, because the path is really intriguing.

Flattened and folder silver arm-rings from the Galloway Hoard in the National Museum of Scotland

Flattened and folder silver arm-rings from the Galloway Hoard. Illustrating this post has been more difficult than it could have been because the National Museums of Scotland have a crystal-clear and very restrictive image use policy, which could be paraphrased as ‘pay up or lump it’. Happily, they do appear to have agreed the release of a few images to Wikimedia Commons, where they are free for reuse as long as copyright is stated. Unhappily, this doesn’t include a clear image of the actual bent silver strip with runes on that I was originally caught by, although there’s a good licensed image in the article which first showed it to me. This image, meanwhile, is by National Museums Scotland, copyright to National Museums of Scotland but licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons.

So, in case you’d rather read me than follow that first link, in which case thankyou, I’d better explain the story I first found. It was the first I’d heard of a 2014 find which we were by 2019 calling the Galloway Hoard, which came up on Church land – not, as far as I can see, a church yard, but land belonging to the Church of Scotland, who are indeed in the process of suing the finder – near Balmaghie in Galloway.2 The story doesn’t say much about the actual hoard, but focuses on a silver strip within it, originally part of an arm-ring, which is one of four such in the hoard which bear Old English runes. In this case, they spell the name ‘Ecgbeorht’, Egbert, also pretty solidly Old English. The article is at pains to stress that there were even in 900 English-speaking people in Galloway—”‘it is even possible that these were locals'”—however odd that might seem, and seemed keen to make the person here named not just the owner of the arm-ring but the person or one of the people who had buried the hoard: “a message left by one of the people who may have deposited the Galloway Hoard 1100 years ago.” And that was the point at which I baulked.

A combination of items from the Galloway Hoard, National Museums of Scotland

A combination of various items from the hoard, including two of the flattened arm-rings, a silver brooch, a gold pin in the shape of a bird, two complex glass bears, a disc brooch and some gold wire. Image by National Museums Scotland, copyright of National Museums Scotland, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I still think that, on the basis of that information only, my scepticism was not unreasonable. What was unreasonable was my not looking for more information, and indeed, some might say, not having yet heard of the hoard given my job and so on. But my thinking was thus: point 1, even from the few illustrations in that article it was clear to me that this was a Viking-style hoard, with cut-up silver bullion in it and artefacts from all over the map bundled in together.3 Point 2, Galloway circa 900 was kind of an uncontrolled space whose inhabitants were infamous for banditry and plunder across the whole northern Irish Sea area.4 If, therefore, point 3, there was stuff in this hoard with English connections, it seemed surpassingly likely to me that it had been stolen from somewhere in England and brought here. In that scenario, Egbert was very unlikely to be a local, rather than a victim of the locals on their latest cruise into Northumbria or the Borders-to-be. And that, in very short form, was the post I thought I was going to write.

An assemblage from the Galloway Hoard under inspection by Dr Martin Goldberg in the National Museum of SCotland

An assemblage from the hoard, including most of the ingots and arm-rings, under inspection by a cropped-out Dr Martin Goldberg. Image by National Museums Scotland, copyright of National Museums Scotland, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

But, because of that note, when I sat down to start writing this after a day of computerised monkey-work with reading lists and postgraduate admissions, I did do at least a bit more looking, and the whole thing very rapidly went fractal bloom, if you will: every part of it I poked up opened up into something even more complicated. For a start, the hacksilver bundles were curious. There was among them a rather fine silver pectoral cross which had not been cut up or damaged, for a start.

Silver pectoral cross recovered from the Galloway Hoard

The cross; it was found wrapped in chain as it is seen here, and has been conserved that way too. Image by National Museums Scotland and copyright to National Museums Scotland, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 viaWikimedia Commons.

Also, one slightly separate bundle comprised four intact arm-rings, bound together with a fifth, twisted into a kind of fastening that bundled up a small wooden box, now decayed, with three tiny bits of gold inside, the bird, an ingot and a ring. And this was interesting not least because the other arm-rings, which had been flattened out, folded and buried with ingots, had been folded in four different ways, and within each group of rings folded in a certain way, one, only, was marked with Old English runes. Ecgbeorht’s name was the only one which seemed to be complete, but the others were ‘Ed’, ‘Til’ and ‘Ber’, all of which could begin Old English names, and in general it seemed possible that all four groups had someone’s name on, which made the repetition of four together with the intact arm-rings look like more than coincidence.

Three gold objects recovered from within a bundle of silver arm-rings in the Galloway Hoard in the National Museum of Scotland

The copyright-free images I can get at don’t include the bundle of arm-rings, though you can see it in the Current Archaeology webpage I just linked, but here are the three bits of gold from within them. Image by JvL on, licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

So by this stage, too much already seemed to have been staged and arranged at this point of deposit for this to be an ordinary hacksilver hoard. But the fractal bloom had not yet finished opening. Beneath all of this, only discovered because of a final sweep with metal-detectors after the archæologists thought they had cleared the site, was a further cache, even more carefully concealed, comprising a silver jar with its lid sealed on, surrounded by the remains of what had been three layers of textile wrapping. This was carefully lifted, taken to a lab, x-rayed and finally – after caution running into years – opened to reveal two ornate silver brooches, several silver strap-ends, several miniature bits of goldwork, two rolled-up balls of dirt peppered through with tiny gold-leaf fragments, and (among still more) two small rock-crystal jars in gold framework. One had been smashed in, perhaps before deposit; but the other, probably Roman in origin before some English goldsmith put it in its frame and equipped it with a spout, bore on the underneath an inscription proclaiming ‘Bishop Hyguald had me made’. The brooches are also helpful for dating, as they are of the fairly late style known as Trewhiddle after a different hoard we once discussed here, which should make them early tenth-century if we accept a stylistic date. But all of this stuff had been very carefully wrapped, placed and arranged to keep it intact. Both jars had been wrapped in silk, then linen, then leather, for example, which we know because it has partially survived. And the silk, when carbon-dated, came out 150-200 years earlier than the stylistic date for the brooches. Just to complete the picture, no-one of that Old English name and Church rank is known from our surviving sources.

Two silver disc brooches from the Galloway Hoard in the National Museum of Scotland

Again, there is no copyright-free image of the jar, which is frustrating because its iconography seems mainly to be Sasanian, or at least post-Sasanian; but the web-page I linked to for it includes an absolutely amazing 3D virtual replica, so go play with that is my advice. There’s also one for the rock-crystal jar. These two brooches are part of the trove that was within along with it. Image by National Museums Scotland and copyright of National Museums Scotland, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The reading of the archæologists and curators, therefore, was that the items in the jar were Church treasure, wrapped in prized Church vestments – not unreasonable – with the dirt balls perhaps being earth or dust from a saint’s shrine or reliquary, flakes of whose gold leaf might have been picked up with the dust – I don’t have a better answer and there are parallels for the practice – and that the jar, once buried with great care and attention, was meant to be protected from discovery by the ‘camouflage’ hoard above it, which would hopefully send any prying excavator away well satisfied without further investigation.5 This was easy for the archæologists to theorise because it had so nearly worked on them; obviously whoever was hiding this stuff didn’t expect metal-detecting, and fair enough.6 And from there it got (more?) fanciful, with the four arm-rings bound together perhaps representing a compact made by the four men named on the silver strips. I mean, yeah, OK, why not? It could be other things too, just a fastening indeed. But it’s certainly not usual and merits some explanation. And it would already seem necessary to admit that, with so much of this kit being identifiably English and apparently buried to be preserved, the names on the arm-rings may indeed be those of people concerned with the deposition, not the original owners, because all of this is matter out of place, including them, so it seems most likely that they moved together and that the preservation purpose was theirs. So maybe, indeed, Egbert was there. But it’s still complicated.

For me, the key aspect is something the write-ups I have so far found don’t say, which hangs on the idea of the camouflage deposit.7 If that’s right – and the different character of the deposits do seem to suggest it – then several things follow.

  1. The depositors were afraid that this hoard would be found; they thought people would come looking and locate it. That suggests either that they were being silly enough to bury it in an obvious place, or that they thought people would come looking so soon that the disturbance of the earth would still be obvious, i. e. that whoever would come was very close behind them; but not so close that they needed to panic and just stuff the treasure in a hole. They had time to plan.
  2. On the other hand, they were obviously not under observation, except by each other, because they expected the trick to work; so whoever was pursuing them didn’t know all of what they had to hide, only that there was something. Ergo, whoever was pursuing them were not the original owners of the treasure.
  3. Also, more speculatively but also more ugly, the depositors presumably didn’t expect everyone to survive. If they were certain of escape, they wouldn’t have buried anything. If they could have been sure any one of them could get clear, they could have given it to him and then held the pursuers off, created a false trail or something. But this strategem means, I think, that they had decided to split up and that no one person could be sure of keeping the goods safe. And in the end, presumably none of them made it…

But the inscribed arm-rings and the intact ones bound together were buried deep too; they were not meant to be found except by the people who put them there. So the hope, however faulty it proved to be, must have been that they would get back to it, and the binding perhaps symbolised agreement that only all four were entitled to claim it, or something like that? I mean, they must have hoped to recover it, the care taken over the deposition of the Church treasure suggests a strong desire to conserve it. But then what were the three, not four, gold objects in the arm-ring bundle to do with it?

To that, I add the following. Knowing that this was the ‘Galloway’ hoard, when an unexplained English bishop came up I thought of the sometime Anglian see at Whithorn, supposed shrine of Saint Ninian and Northumbrian colonising outpost in the lands of the Strathclyde Welsh and perhaps Scots.8 But putting things on a map makes it clear that it’s not exactly ‘far’ Galloway; the location is halfway back to Dumfries. If these people had come from Whithorn they had come some way north and a long way east, and inland. This perhaps means that the sea was barred to them, but it may also mean that their destination – if we assume that they were indeed in transit – was inland. The nearest bishopric in the other direction from the site would have been Hexham, just off Hadrian’s Wall. But, to the best of our knowledge, neither of those sees had had had bishops since early in the ninth century, though that is not a simple thing to claim since, after about that time, our only good narrative source for Church history in the English north for a while is Symeon of Durham’s History of the Church of Durham. This, as you’d expect, is primarily about the claims of Durham and among the claims it lays, as part of its narrative of the exiled wanderings of the monks of Lindisfarne (who would eventually end up at Durham, you see), are some to lands around Whithorn and Hexham.9 What I’m saying is, if there had been bishops at those sees in the early tenth century, I wouldn’t expect Symeon to want to tell us.

Saint Cuthbert's tomb in Durham Cathedral

The landowner as Symeon saw it, or at least his present earthly location; this is Saint Cuthbert’s tomb in Durham Cathedral. Photo taken by J.&nbs;B. A. Hamilton in Durham Cathedral, 11 September 2010, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

On the other hand… if one were writing the historical novel that this story clearly could source, I might note that Simeon also says that there was a team of seven monks given special care of the shrine of St Cuthbert which the exiles were carrying around with them. But, by the time of a story he tells of them trying to take ship for Ireland, getting miraculously swamped and only just making it back to shore, and therefore deciding Cuthbert didn’t want to go, that seven was down to four, because the others had ‘dropped off’.10 And as it turns out, because Symeon returns to the story so that those four are miraculously able to recover a gold-bound Gospel book which the sea claimed during the attempt, the attempt was made from Whithorn. Four exilic Englishmen, again, hanging out with a dead bishop at Whithorn. (Unfortunately, their names don’t match, though one is called Edmund.11) Furthermore, a bishop of Lindisfarne, Eardulf, died during this exilic progress, in 899. He was succeeded by Cutheard, under whom the monks found temporary refuge at Chester-le-Street.12 Obviously a stylistic dating of metalwork to around 900 doesn’t mean your date has to actually be the year 900; but if you were trying to put an unknown bishop in this area into a sequence, as it happens there’s room for a schism and disagreement exactly then… But that seems like two plots for a novel already, which suggests that I should stop. I might even want to try writing one of them myself! But assuming that you yourself don’t, still: ponder the mystery…

1. I should probably make it clear that that song is not in any way about hoards or archæology. In fact, being William Shatner, it’s only questionably a song rather than a recital. But there he is anyway! Meanwhile, I should also say that there is no academic publication as such that I can find about the Galloway Hoard, which is the subject of this post. There is a museum book which I haven’t yet got, Martin Goldberg and Mary Davis, The Galloway Hoard: Viking-Age Treasure (Edinburgh 2021), but otherwise I’ve been restricted to magazine-level stuff I can find online. This includes stuff by the actual conservators of the objects, such as Martin Goldberg, “Unwrapping the Galloway Hoard: secrets of a Viking Age collection from south-west Scotland” in Current Archaeology no. 376 (London 27 May 2021), pp. 20–27, and stuff deeply informed by their press releases, such as and especially Jason Urbanus, “Secrets of Scotland’s Viking Age Hoard” in Archaeology Vol. 75 no. 3 (Boston MA June 2022), pp. 22–29, so it’s still very useful, but because all that can be linked – and I have – I haven’t cited these for a lot of what follows, and they aren’t always my source. My source is always linked, however.

2. Why are they suing, you may ask, and the link does explain somewhat, but the case was still in progress as of late 2022, so it’s all still sub judice; see Mark Macaskill, “Friendship is biggest casualty in battle for Viking gold” in The Sunday Times (London 25 September 2022), Scotland, p. 5, quite the mess of a story…

3. See “The Silver Hoards of the Vikings” in National Museum of Denmark, online here, for short, or James Graham-Campbell, ‘“Silver Economies” and the Ninth-Century Background’ in James Graham-Campbell, Søren M. Sindbæk and Gareth Williams (edd.), Silver Economies, Monetisation and Society in Scandinavia, AD 800 – 1100: Studies Dedicated to Mark Blackburn (Aarhus 2011), pp. 29–39, for more detail.

4. For the background here see Alex Woolf, From Pictland to Alba, 789– 1070, New Edinburgh History of Scotland 2 (Edinburgh 2007), esp. pp. 122-144.

5. Sources for this supposition are linked, but as to the balls of dirt, as well as the old post linked see for parallels Julia M. H. Smith, “Relics: An Evolving Tradition in Latin Christianity” in Cynthia Hahn and Holger A. Klein (edd.), Saints and Sacred Matter: The Cult of Relics in Byzantium and Beyond (Washington DC 2015), pp. 41–60, online here. The classic case of people raiding dust from a saint’s shrine is Bede’s report of the practice at the shrine of Saint Chad, which you can find in his Ecclesiastical History in your preferred version at Book IV Chapter 3; if you have no preferred version, I used Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, edd. Judith McClure and Roger Collins, trans. Bertram Colgrave (Oxford 1990).

6. And they clearly didn’t expect dowsing either, just to make that point.

7. Which itself I got from Urbanus, “Secrets”.

8. On which see now most importantly Thomas Owen Clancy, “The Real St Ninian” in Innes Review Vol. 52 (Edinburgh 2001), pp. 1–28, and James E. Fraser, “Northumbrian Whithorn and the Making of St Ninian”, idem Vol. 53 (2002), pp. 40–59.

9. The Historical Works of Simeon of Durham, trans. Joseph Stevenson, Church Historians of England 3.2 (London 1853), online here, pp. 621-791, here esp. capp. XXV-XXXI.

10. Ibid., cap. XXVII.

11. Ibid.. The others were, supposedly, Hunred, Stitheard and Franco. But what if Cuthbert wasn’t the only bishop who got a cadre of four men to carry his body to safety, eh?

12. There must be something more up to date than this now, but what I know that tries to get sense out of Simeon’s story, itself scarcely disinterested scholarship, is C. F. Battiscombe, “Introduction” in idem (ed.), The Relics of Saint Cuthbert (Oxford 1956), pp. 1–114. Woolf, Pictland, threads Simeon through a wider narrative.

Visiting the dead king at Driffield

We edge towards the end of the backed-up blog material from 2019 by now, which is something of an achievement given where we’ve been, but just now we’re still there and one of the things I was doing in later 2019 was constructing a review of a book for Northern History, a journal that’s edited from my institution and to whose review editor’s plea I’m thus physically vulnerable. It was one of those things I was only just fitted to review, namely this:

Cover of Tony Abramson, Coinage in the Northumbrian landscape and economy, c. 575-c. 867 (British Archaeological Reports (British Series), 641, Oxford, 2018).

Cover of Tony Abramson, Coinage in the Northumbrian landscape and economy, c. 575-c. 867, British Archaeological Reports (British Series), 641 (Oxford 2018).

Of the book as a whole, you can see the actual review, which came out almost immediately after I’d submitted it, in volume 56 over pages 162-165, and here I’ll just say that it was such a work as I couldn’t review properly without begging for more words, which is why that runs over four pages.1 But there were loads of interesting things in there, and this post is about one of them, an analysis of the early medieval coin finds from Driffield in North Yorkshire where I don’t think Abramson quite goes all the way to the end of his logical thread.

Abramson’s method in the book is to characterise sites by their coins profile as compared to the profile of their other material culture. The statistical interpretation he does with this is one of the reasons my review was so long, but Abramson is a man full of curiosity and he tries to resolve individual cases where possible as well as fit things into a bigger pattern. And Driffield is one of a couple of sites which have a particular profile, sites with a known élite status, not very much recovered material culture to match that, and not very many coins but of those coins a surprising proportion either rare or foreign.2 In Driffield’s case the élite status derives from it having been a royal vill of the Northumbrian kings, especially King Aldfrith (685-704 CE), who was there when he died and may be buried in the church there, although the most recent excavator thinks we may not actually have found the vill.3 This implies that what we are actually seeing is the material culture profile of the church site around which the later village coalesced.

Reused tombstone in the exterior wall of Saint Mary's Little Driffield, perhaps Viking-period

Reused tombstone in the exterior wall of Saint Mary’s Little Driffield, perhaps Viking-period; photo by Robert Andrews via Historic England, linked through. I was after a photograph of the memorial to King Aldfrith inside the church but the only one I can find firmly states its copyright

So, in coin terms, that profile includes at least eleven foreign coins, and while most of those are Low Countries sceattas that got all over England, some are southern English, which is less usual, and one is a Lombard tremissis, unusual both for being Italian and gold, not a thing anyone commonly lost in the Yorkshire Wolds. Moreover, several of the local ones are types with fantastic animals on the reverse, occurring by themselves or of what Abramson calls ‘unusual style’, or both, as if they were being selected for the site somehow.4 Overall, the sample of coins at Driffield has well over the average level of rarities.

Lombard pseudo-imperial tremissis in the name of Emperor Maurice Tiberius, perhaps struck at Pavia 582-602, MEC 301-04, found at Driffield

Lombard pseudo-imperial tremissis in the name of Emperor Maurice Tiberius, perhaps struck at Pavia 582-602, MEC 301-04, found at Driffield; Abramson, Coinage in the Northumbrian Landscape, p. 45 fig. 6

So what’s the explanation? As close as Abramson gets is to say, with suitable caution:

“With all the caveats and constraints on interpretation, that this location is so rich in rare coinage, implies that Driffield was a site of special, not merely economic, significance, as would be expected for the final resting place of Aldfrith.”5

Now, to that my initial reaction was, “Would it? He’s not a saint or anything. Considered holier than most kings, yes, but that’s partly because he had the good luck to be around when Bede was and to have been hauled from the monastery at Iona to replace a man Bede deplored (Aldfrith’s half-brother Ecgfrith).6 But he wasn’t a monk, though he may have been a scholar. And besides, have we any sign at all that any Northumbrian king other than Oswald was culted after his death?”

St Alkmund's Sarcophagus, from St Alkmund's Duffield, Derby, now in Derby Museum

St Alkmund’s Sarcophagus, from St Alkmund’s Duffield, Derby, now in Derby Museums; the image is copyright to Derby Museums but use is allowed

But then I remembered this, dear reader, as you also may do if you go back far enough on this blog. What this is fairly solid evidence of the cult after death of a Northumbrian ruler, King Ealhmund; it’s just that because we suspect that cult was set up deliberately by a king of Mercia for political reasons about 150 years later than this, it doesn’t necessarily spring to mind as a comparison. But also, I then remembered, after Aldfrith died the kingdom of Northumbria was riven by civil war, succession struggles and then eventually Vikings (one of whose victims, King Edmund of East Anglia, struck one of the southern coins that has turned up at Driffield, really very late for a Northumbrian site).7 In general, dark times followed him. Was it in fact not possible that at least some people might have looked back to the scholarly Adlfrith as the last Good King?

Obverse of silver penny of King Aldfrith of Northumbria, struck 685-704, found at Driffield, EMC 2006.0119

Obverse of silver penny of King Aldfrith of Northumbria, struck 685-704, found at Driffield, EMC 2006.0119

Reverse of silver penny of King Aldfrith of Northumbria, struck 685-704 CE, found at Driffield, EMC 2006.0119

Reverse of the same coin, with one of the aforesaid fantastic beasts on it

That seems, anyway, to be what Abramson is implying by that last statement quoted: that the weird coins here are actually the consequence of numerous visits to Aldfrith’s grave. If that’s right, though, there are two further implications to be teased out, which I’m not able to do fully here but which seem at least worth indicating. Firstly, this all kind of does mean Aldfrith was being considered as a saint, in the simplest sense of being a soul in Heaven; not much point making an offering at the grave of someone whose ultimate destination means they can’t help you…8 But secondly, the fact that especially rare coins seem to have been selected for this probably needs thinking about. To someone who has the whole picture of the coinage, the implication is almost that so did its average user, that we would have here a bunch of historical collectors who, having saved this unusual specimen from the usual pell-mell of circulation, thought it a fitting gift to the royal maybe-saint. This, when actually set out, seems a bit unlikely, you may agree.

Silver penny struck perhaps at London 730-65 CE, from the Beowulf Collection, CNG sale 76 lot 1848

Silver penny struck perhaps at London 730-65 CE, from the Beowulf Collection, CNG sale 76 lot 1848

But why are those coins so rare? Is it not perhaps easier to read the logic the other way round and say: this is the kind of thing those coins were struck for, they’re rare because they were small-issue, special-purpose coinages that didn’t ordinarily circulate. There are more than a few issues, in this sceatta period of multifariously issued small silver penny coinages, which seem to have some connection with the Church; they have helpful indications like having an named archbishop on the reverse (one of which was found at Driffield) or the legend Monita scorum, as you see above, which we take to be what we’d normally spell and expand as moneta s(an)c(t)orum, ‘money of the saints’. But as our esteemed commentator Rory Naismith, who has studied these coinages, has observed, they are also rare, and they don’t seem to have had much connection with actual church sites.9 He concludes that they’re not evidence for the church as a major driver of the coinage in this period, and I think he’s right.

After this, though, I find myself wondering if their existence instead forms part of a larger pattern of special-issue coinages whose purpose would have been to be used as offerings to holy or significant sites. Should we even see the Church as competing, with its few issues, for space in an iconographic tradition happier with fantastic beasties? Odder suggestions have been made about the art of these coinages!10 But for now I have gone far enough, I think, and probably too far by many standards, so I’ll stop here.

1. Jonathan Jarrett, ‘TONY ABRAMSON, Coinage in the Northumbrian Landscape and Economy, c. 575–867, BAR British Series 841 (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2018. £59.00 xxi + 207 pp., inc. 161 figures, 13 graphs and 10 plates, plus 2 databases and 20 datasets online, ISBN 9781407316536)’ in Northern History Vol. 56 (Abingdon 2019), pp. 162–165, DOI: 10.1080/0078172X.2019.1678288.

2. Tony Abramson, Coinage in the Northumbrian Landscape and Economy, c. 575-c. 867, British Archaeological Reports (British Series) 641 (Oxford 2018), pp. 141-142 and pp. 145-146 figs 118-124; the other site of this type is Garton-on-the-Wolds, covered p. 142 and pp. 146-147 figs 125-128.

3. Chris Loveluck, “The Development of the Anglo-Saxon Landscape, Economy and Society ‘on Driffield’, East Yorkshire, 400‒750 AD” in Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History Vol. 9 (Oxford 1996), pp. 25-48, cited by Abramson, Coinage, p. 141, as ‘Lovelock’ passim though with the author spelt correctly in the Bibliography. Aldfrith’s burial somewhere here is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, however: I find it in Michael Swanton (transl./ed.), The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (London 1996), E sub anno 705 (p. 41), though the location detail is not in the A Manuscript (cf. p. 40).

4. I should add at this point that one of the great things about this book is that his datasets are all freely available online, so you can if you like click this and get all his files in a ZIP, and find the coins yourself. I was in a hurry this time so didn’t, but I had a good prowl round in the review and the claimed information was always there.

5. Abramson, Coinage, p. 142.

6. For the messy background here see Barbara Yorke, Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England (London 1990), pp. 79-86.

7. Ibid., pp. 86-98.

8. If this makes early medieval piety seem uncomfortably transactional, immerse yourself in either or both of Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom: triumph and diversity, A.D. 200-1000, 2nd edn (Malden MA 2003), pp. 145-165, or Julia M. H. Smith, “Relics: An Evolving Tradition in Latin Christianity” in Cynthia Hahn and Holger A. Klein (eds), Saints and Sacred Matter: The Cult of Relics in Byzantium and Beyond (Washington DC 2015), pp. 41–60, online here, for more fully textured takes on the spirituality of the age as it involved saints.

9. Rory Naismith, “Money of the Saints: Church and Coinage in Early Anglo-Saxon England” in Tony Abramson (ed.), Studies in Early Medieval Coinage 3: Sifting the Evidence (London 2014), pp. 68–121.

10. I think specifically of Anna Gannon, The Iconography of Early Anglo-Saxon Coinage, Sixth to Eighth Centuries (Oxford, 2003), but it should be said that she reads most of these coinages as one way or another referring to Christian imagery, so by some lights her interpretations are less weird than mine just now.


Unexpected early English sculpture

This gallery contains 11 photos.

Here’s something slightly lighter of tone for the holiday period, which I will then follow, honestly, with the Barcelona thesis examination I’ve been mentioning for so long, just so that we can move on. But right now, here’s something I … Continue reading

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

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

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

Real Royal Protection for the Carolingian Church?

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

The Torhalle of the Lorsch monastery

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

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

Middle-Age spread in the English village

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

Making Manuscripts under the Conquistadors

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

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

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

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

Exemption by Whatever Means

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seminar CCLII: the Westminster insider

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

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

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

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

Charter of King Æthelred II of England for Abingdon Abbey

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

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

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

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

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

The octagonal Central Gallery in the Houses of Parliament

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

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

What to remember from the 2018 International Medieval Congress?

Although I feel that it probably is a sign that I am catching up on my blogged past, I have to admit that I face the fact that the next thing in my blog pile is the International Medieval Congress of three-and-a-half years ago with a certain unwillingness. I mean, I’ve spent much of the last two years either trying to stay off or being told I can’t go onto the campus where it happened, for a start, so there is definitely a sense that this is deep past which doesn’t have so much to do with time as experience. But I’ve done all the rest and the format for them seems pretty well worked out now, and so I will give it a go.

Postcard advertisement for the International Medieval Congress 2018

Postcard advertisement from the IMC website

This was, I am reminded as I fish the programme off the shelf, the 25th International Medieval Congress, and the programme is the fattest of all the ones on that shelf. I can’t actually work out how many sessions there were: it says that there were 392 sessions on the conference theme of Memory, 9 keynote lectures and 394 further sessions, plus 4 lectures, so I think it’s 799, but firstly I’m not sure if that was everything and secondly, that was the programme as initially published, not the result of all the subsequent changes you find in the also-thick booklet of changes when you register. And in any case, however many sessions there are, you still can’t go to more than 17 because that’s how many slots there are in the programme, which is massively parallel, and most delegates won’t manage that because of their feeble needs for food and sleep or because of wisely placing socialising with people you otherwise never see over more direct forms of academic engagement. I do like, however, how this means that it’s probably mathematically possible for more paths through the Congress to exist than there are attendees, since there were this year 2,545 attendees and, if my GCSE maths does not fail me, 1 x 53 x 1 x 54 x 54 x 13 = 2,009,124 possible combinations of sessions just on the Monday not including any of the receptions. How would we know if it got too big? Anyway, this just means that what I have done the last few times, just listing my own path and then offering a few remarks where things still stand out for me, seems like the best approach still, because I can’t give an impression of 2 million plus possible other Congress experiences in one blog post, now can I? So mine is below the cut, day by day with brief commentary on each day to lighten the data dump. As ever, I’m happy to try and answer questions about the papers if people have them, but I will try and stay short unless you do. Here we go! Continue reading


Taking in York Minster

This gallery contains 16 photos.

At the very beginning of the period covered by the last post, April 2017, I had a relative visiting and so decided to do one of the obvious bits of Yorkshire touristing I had not yet done, which is to … Continue reading

Chronicle VI: October-December 2016

University and College Union pickets at the University of Leeds

University and College Union pickets at the University of Leeds

Well, just as with the last time I wrote one of these, we are still on strike again, so there is now time to write it. With the trip to Istanbul that immediately preceded the start of term now finally dealt with, it’s time again to look at my life academic as it stood at the current date of my backlog, sadly the end of 2016 but for once I am catching up, and take stock of what was going on and, of course, what of it still merits blogging about! Continue reading

Name in Print(?) XXIII

Sorry about the skipped week; marking got the better of me and family also arose, and while I couldn’t say I’ve yet got the better of the marking, this week I have no family commitments and have already worked to the limits of the Working Time Directive as befits the Action Short of Strike which I am currently undertaking, the upshot of all of which is that I have blogging time. I’ll try and manage two posts, partly to catch up but mainly because this one will only be short, and it is another publication notice!

Cover of a recent issue of the journal Northern History

Cover of a recent issue of the journal Northern History

I have been holding off on announcing this because I have been hoping to have a physical copy to flash before you, but I’m not, it turns out, entitled to any more than a PDF, as was the case with my last publication, and there is more in this queue, so I have stopped waiting. It is annoying that we are now in a world where we not only don’t get paid for what we publish, but actually have to buy it, but that is probably a reflection for another post. The people who have this time been so good as to publish me are a journal I hadn’t really expected to get into, Northern History, on pages 162 to 165 of whose combined first and second issue of volume 56 for 2019 you will find me reviewing Tony Abramson’s Coinage in the Northumbrian Landscape and Economy, c. 575-c. 867, British Archaeological Reports (British Series) 641 (Oxford 2018).

Now, actually, when you know a bit more of the background, it is a bit less surprising to find me, a specialist in Catalan frontier politics of the centuries either side of A. D. 1000, in this journal of British history reviewing a work on Anglo-Saxon coinage of two to four centuries earlier. Firstly, I do have very limited form in this area; but secondly, Northern History is actually edited in my department. So what actually happened here is that a colleague with no-one obvious on whom to foist this task cornered me on the way down the corridor and called in a favour, and then a graduate student whose project I’d helped with pursued me for the copy until, getting on for a year late, I finally handed it in, and here we are. Also, I know the author of the book slightly, not least because he has also taught in my department, and I could go on. Now, as it happens, it was a hard review to write, because the book is masterly and maddening more or less in equal measure, much of which could be put down to the copy-editing, or lack of it, from Archaeopress, and that’s how come my review wound up taking up three-plus pages, but there’s no question that Tony Abramson knows a lot about the coinage. If you need to know what he knows, then you need the book and its associated datasets; if you need to know what he thinks about it, then my review may allow you to decide whether you need the book; but given I will apparently have to buy that review myself in order ever to hold it in my hand, I don’t feel too bad in suggesting that so must you if you want to know more!

Statistics, with a slightly different spin this time. I was asked to take this on in August 2018, but couldn’t clear time to read the book until May 2019; it then took me four months to do that, because of having reading time only on the train into and out of work. With that done, I had a text off to the editors almost immediately, and it was in proof a mere six days later, and out for download in its finished form eleven days after that! So I really can’t argue with that speed of publication, or really ever expect to beat it! And presumably the print version followed hard upon that, too, but I’ll have to let you know about that if ever I see one…

Full citation: Jonathan Jarrett, “TONY ABRAMSON, Coinage in the Northumbrian Landscape and Economy, c. 575–867, BAR British Series 841 (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2018. £59.00 xxi + 207 pp., inc. 161 figures, 13 graphs and 10 plates, plus 2 databases and 20 datasets online, ISBN 9781407316536)” in Northern History Vol. 56 (Abingdon 2019), pp. 162–165, DOI: 10.1080/0078172X.2019.1678288.