Category Archives: Carolingians

The Carolingian Frontier I: points south

Last July was a rather busy conference season, possibly even busier than this one is, and the first one of it was that one I plugged here long ago (obviously), The Carolingian Frontier and its Neighbours, which was held at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge from the 4th to the 6th of July. This was organised principally (maybe entirely?) by three postgraduates, and given this—in fact, even not given it— it was a success of a great order as far as I was concerned. I guess that they had some help in securing some really big-hitting speakers but there were also plenty of new voices, not just from Cambridge, as well as, you know, me, wherever I fit onto that continuum. Aside from one failure of the college staff to realise that during a paper was not when to set up the refreshments noisily in the same room, I don’t recall anything going wrong and lots went right, including some of the most avid dicussion I remember at any conference. So, firstly, my congratulations to the organisers, and now I’ll move onto what people were actually saying!

Cover of the programme of the conference "The Carolingian Frontier and its Neighbours", 4th-6th July 2014, Cambridge

Cover of the conference programme

The conference ran from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning (which just about allowed people time to move on to the Leeds International Medieval Congress; we went direct from one to the other with one of the organisers in the back of the car…), with Saturday the only full day. The Friday thus had a sort of micro-unity, which was enhanced by the fact that all four papers were on the Mediterranean edges of the Frankish empire. We arrived late, for reasons I no longer recall, however, so I didn’t get all of the first one, a pity as it provoked a great many questions. What I can report broke down like this.

  1. Lorenzo Bondioli, “A Carolingian frontier? Louis II, Basil I and the Muslims of Bari”.
  2. What I got here was focused on the southern Italian city of Bari, which fell to Muslim forces in 841 and then became a distant target of the campaigns of Emperor Louis II, great-grandson of Charlemagne, for whom beating up on Muslims made an excellent way of justifying pushing the Christian cities between him and the Muslims into his control. There were also Byzantine claims to the area, but both empires could derive importance from squashing the same Muslims so there was a short-lived cooperation in 869, which broke down acrimoniously. Eventually Louis captured Bari with Slav aid instead, in 871.1 He then died in 875, however, leaving it more or less ready for the Byzantines to move in as protection. Signor Bondioli was arguing, I think, that the anti-Muslim campaigning was initially a cover for more local ambitions but became the basic requirement of an imperial claim to power in the area, which both sides could benefit from even as they were beholden to it.

  3. José Miguel Rosselló Esteve & Isabel Busquets Porcel, “The Balearic Islands and the Carolingian Empire: an unknown relationship”
  4. As the title implies, this was a paper with less evidence to put to work. It used to be thought that Byzantine control in the Balearic islands ended in the mid-eighth century, and that the Muslims then took over rather later, but we now have reason to believe (seals, mainly) that an observable flight of settlement from the coast to hilltop fortifications was actually done under the auspices of imperial authority. By 799, however, Christians there were soliciting aid against the Muslims from Charlemagne and Carolingian naval forces began to get involved very soon afterwards. What we don’t as yet have is anything archæological to indicate Carolingian presence on the island, rather than control from outside, the islands’ once-three bishoprics all being replaced by mainland Girona for example. (There is a bigger problem here about identifying a Carolingian archæological signature at all, something I have seen elsewhere in Catalonia.) This fits with the ease that the Muslims retook the islands in 849. It seems rather as if this was a place that wanted to be Carolingian but got nothing from the concession, so, did it count as frontier or not? Come to that, did Bari?

This was but one of many themes that came up in the very busy discussion after this session. Oddly, the answers diverged somewhat: the actual urban centre, Bari, had its Muslim presence reduced by Signor Bondiolo’s comments to a sporadic or vestigial mercenary force, making it essentially just a town with a purely local context except when larger polities gave it more, whereas Drs Rosselló and Busquets were anxious to stress the less populous Balearics’ involvement in their wider political world and the articulation of the fortified environment by such powers, even though they were doing this based on only one of the castles on the islands, because it’s the only one (of three on Mallorca itself) that’s been dug. I don’t have a clear record of which one this was, but I think it must have been the Castell del Rei at Pollença, which as far as I can discover is not the one that produced the seals, which came up at Santueri. You can probably argue that if any fort is producing Byzantine seals so far out it bespeaks a wider involvement, but one could still wish for more evidence; the site could have just been coordinating or gathering revenue via the one local official who still wrote to Constantinople, for example.2 We can see more Byzantine involvement in the Balearics in the archæology and more Carolingian in the texts, and I suppose it’s partly a choice of which to emphasise, but in Bari the same arguments from silence led to very different places. As ever, one model won’t do for such variant areas but it does make one wonder what models people start with when they look at them.

The Castell del Rei at Pollença, Mallorca

The Castell del Rei, a serious enough looking refuge! By Grugerio (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Once the moderators had managed to quell things enough to get some tea down us and we had managed to get some air and were all back in the conference room, we got another suitably border-crossing pairing.

  1. Eduardo Manzano Moreno, “The Carolingians and al-Andalus: an overview”
  2. This was nothing so superficial as an overview but in fact a very trenchant analysis, and my notes on it are full of marginal asterisks of emphasis. Professor Manzano pointed out that the area between the Frankish empire and Muslim Spain was articulated by cities, with local rulers who were at first emplaced or suppressed by a centralising Muslim government whose tax systems and garrisons are evident (he argued) through coins and seals, and which the Carolingians just attacked, without further plans, until the Andalusi government collapsed into civil war in the 740s, when Mayor-then-King Pepin III started to get the idea of actual takeover and to incentivise the local élites to come over to his side. Thereafter the contest was for the loyalty of the city lords, and what happened there is that what had been an incomer Muslim élite was displaced by Islamicised locals using either one of the big states on their borders as a hand up into power. Except in the relatively small area of what is now Catalonia that was held by the Carolingians after 830, the resulting power interests were then able more or less to ignore those powers for a long time thereafter.3 This all made a lot of sense to me, and it would probably work in other areas too.

  3. Sam Ottewille-Soulsby, “‘The Path of Loyalty': Charlemagne and his Muslim allies in Spain”
  4. Sam, one of the organisers, thus had the unenviable task of following one of the masters of the field, but he did so capably by focusing down onto a few particular cases of the kind of interaction Professor Manzano had been discussing, in which lords of cities like Huesca, Pamplona, Barcelona and so on moved between Córdoba and wherever Charlemagne was holding court as each grew more or less able to exert influence in the area, usually gravitating to the stronger but backing away as soon as that meant concessions. In 799, particularly, never mind the famous 778 campaign, Charlemagne had the alliance of the King of Asturias, Barcelona notionally under his lordship, Huesca sending him its keys, Pamplona having freshly thrown out its Muslim governor and a claimant to the Andalusi Emirate hanging round his court… and when Carolingian forces turned up at Pamplona they couldn’t take it and the whole position fell apart. As my notes suggest I thought then too, this is that idea I had long ago of Königsfern; for many a lord in a quasi-independent position, kings and the like are useful resorts but you want them to stay at a distance! This is how the kind of status that Professor Manzano had been drawing out was maintained under pressure, and it is in a way understandable why the two superpowers severally resorted to force to remove such unreliable allies and replace them with still more local ones who actually needed their help to get into power. But we only have to look at the Banū Qāsī to see how that could turn out…

The Catedral de Santa Maria la Real de Pamplona

The Catedral de Santa Maria la Real de Pamplona, not Carolingian-period itself but in a location that would almost certainly have been in use when Charlemagne arrived, and that’s as close as we’re going to get I fear! Image licensed from the Centro Vasco de Arquitectura under Creative Commons.

Questions here were also busy. I asked about the language of such deal-making; of course we don’t know, but I think it is worth asking whether these Arabicized élites spoke a language that Charlemagne’s court could understand, because I think it helps determine whether they seem like the Other or not. Rebecca Darley raised scepticims about the conclusions Professor Manzano was drawing from the coin evidence, and once he’d explained himself I was sceptical too, I’m afraid; much rested on the non-existence of Visgothic copper coinage, which is a given in some parts of the scholarly literature even though it’s been disproved at least three times.4 The seals are still fun, though. And the last question, from someone I didn’t know, was perhaps the most important if again unanswerable. Sam had mentioned that the Carolingian sources refer to some people as custodes Hispanici limitis, ‘guards of the Spanish frontier’. What were they guarding? Lines of defence, points of entry, tax districts? We just don’t know how this government defined the places where they ran out, but by now this gathering seemed a pretty good one in which to start thinking about it!5


This post was again constructed with the aid of Kava Kava, Maui, which turns out to have been a good purchase.

1. I’m lifting the background detail so far from R. J. H. Jenkins (ed.), Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Administrando Imperii: a Commentary (London 1962, repr. Washington DC 2012), pp. 101-106, because it’s what is to hand and I missed the bit where Dr Bondioli doubtless explained it all… I may therefore be slightly out of date.

2. Drs Rosselló and Busquets referenced the Taktika of Emperor Leo VI (now available as George T. Dennis (ed./transl.), The Taktika of Leo VI, Dumbarton Oaks Texts 12 (Washington DC 2010)) by way of explaining what Byzantine policy with regard to fortresses would have been, and OK, but what I’ve just described would fit perfectly well into Leo’s son’s De Administrando Imperii (available as Constantine Porpyhrogenitus, De Administrando Imperii, ed. Gyula Moravcsik & transl. Romilly J. H. Jenkins, 2nd edn. (London 1962, repr. Washington DC 1967 and as Dumbarton Oaks Texts 1 Washington DC 1993)), for all that that’s later, so I think this is also plausibly sourced.

3. All of this reminds that I still badly need to read Eduardo Manzano Moreno, Conquistadores, emires y califas: los Omeyas y la formación de al-Andalus (Barcelona 2006), as it’ll obviously be great.

4. In Xavier Barral i Altet, La circulation des monnaies suèves et visigothiques : contribution à l’histoire économique du royaume visigot, Beihefte der Francia 4 (München 1976); Philip Grierson & Mark Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage, with a catalogue of the coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 1: the Early Middle Ages (5th–10th centuries) (Cambridge 1986) and Miquel Crusafont i Sabater, Sistema monetario visigodo: cobre y oro (Barcelona 1994).

5. We actually have a much better idea of such matters for al-Andalus, largely thanks to Professor Manzano; see his La Frontera de al-Andalus en época de los Omeyas, Biblioteca de Historia 9 (Madrid 1991) and “Christian-Muslim Frontier in al-Andalus: idea and reality” in Dionisius Agius & Richard Hitchcock (edd.), Arab Influence upon Medieval Europe (Reading IL 1994), pp. 83-96.

Seminar CLVII: unmistakable greatness in a hidden place

Let’s not talk here about the hiatus, then; it won’t surprise those of you who know me that I have a place to do that scheduled slightly further down the list anyway… Instead, straight back on the horse with a much-delayed seminar report from 4th June 2014 (because dammit I am a year behind again and determined not to stay that way), when I was present in the Institute of Historical Research because none other than Professor David Ganz was presenting to the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar, with a paper called “Charlemagne in the Margin: a new Carolingian text about Karolus Magnus”.

An illustration showing Æneas, hero of the eponymous Æneid, from a fifth-century manuscript of it now in the Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Cod. Vat. lat. 3225

An illustration showing Æneas, hero of the eponymous Æneid, from a fifth-century manuscript of it now in the Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Cod. Vat. lat. 3225.

The margin in question was an extra-large one left around a text of the works of Virgil that was made at the monastery of Saint-Amand in the modern Netherlands in the late-ninth century, that is, in the full flood of the so-called Carolingian Renaissance.1 In that prolific endeavour of cultural uplift, Virgil assumed a much larger rôle than one might expect the premier poet of pagan Rome would have in this thoroughly Christian endeavour. But not only were the scholars of the early Middle Ages quite conflicted about their inner love affair with the Latin Classics (at least at the top level; I don’t suppose people who liked The Golden Ass were quite as bothered as Saint Jerome2), Virgil’s was acknowledged to be about the best Latin that had ever veen written, and a very different sort of Latin to the Bible, the other main introduction to the written word. We are before textbooks here; the scholars of this age learnt their Latin the hard way, by starting at the top.3

Bibliothèque Municipale, MS 407, fo .151v

And now, the manuscript, and indeed the very page, in question, thanks to the Bibliothèque Nationale’s Gallica! The actual manuscript is Valenciennes, Bibliothèque Municipale, MS 407, now fully online (click through). The bit we’re after is in the box at the right opposite the line that starts “Agm. agens clausus…”

Probably not so many people learnt their way through the whole thing, but we have, said David, forty ninth-century manuscripts of the Æneid and almost all of them were made to be glossed, that is, to have notes, references, clarification and so forth added in the margins. These usually came from a Christian commentator of the fourth century by the name of Marius Servius Honoratus, and his gloss travelled so closely with most manuscripts that bits of it could get copied into the main text by mistake, in some cases.4 In this case, however, there is more, since as an expert palæographer David was able to say that only the Servian gloss was added by the scribes of the original text, but that several other glossators then went through parts or all of the manuscript adding their thoughts, and in this case those seem to have been particularly interested in comparing pagan and Christian religious practices. Mostly this was fairly neutral, using the Romans as an anthropological light on the Christianity of the manuscript’s era although at one point, apparently, a glossator uses a sermon of Saint Augustine which we no longer have to critique Virgil. And, on the reverse of folio 151, in Æneid Book VII, a character by the name of Clausus is explained with the words, “Sicut de magno Karolo data est comparatio: Nam adeo uultuosus erat ut non expediret interrogari ab eo qui eum numque viderat quis Karolus esset.” A very rough translation of that might be, “Comparison may justly be made to Charles the Great: for he was so terrible of aspect that there was no need for anyone who had ever seen him to ask which one was Charles.” This is interesting not least because it seems to be based on something that Charlemagne’s second biographer, Notker the Stammerer, also bases a story on, in which a Frankish exile in beseiged Pavia repeatedly tells the King of the Lombards that he will know when he sees Charlemagne, but it’s probably also the earliest reference to Charlemagne as ‘Charles the Great’.5 As David said, he was epic already…

Cover of Christopher Lee's Charlemagne: by the sword and the cross

Perhaps, however, not yet this epic. Rest in peace, Mr Lee

This is a unique and early usage of Charlemagne’s later byname, in a rather out-of-the-way place, so in questions the topic that mainly concerned people was who it was that thought this and how many people would ever have noticed. Was this a teaching text, which many a student would have worked with, or someone’s private annotated version? Was this a private thought or a schoolroom lesson? It is, after all, only one of several sets of glosses, as you can see above, so it is at least partly a question of which glossator preceded which. At the time of address, even David’s master palæography could not determine that, and with several scribes clearly working at around the same time in the same place it would probably only be guesswork if anyone were to attempt it. At least, however, the manuscript shows how for its users Virgil was not just a dead pagan poet, but a source of insight into their own, Christian, times worth going back to again and again.


1. Still best approached, I think, via Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), Carolingian Culture: emulation and innovation (Cambridge 1994); for wrangles over the term Renaissance here see John J. Contreni, “The Carolingian Renaissance” in Warren Treadgold (ed.), Renaissances before the Renaissance: cultural revivals of late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Stanford 1984), pp. 59-74.

2. I was lately reading Apuleius while off-air, in fact, in the rather ancient Penguin translation, Lucius Apuleius, The Transformations of Lucius, otherwise known as The Golden Ass, transl. Robert Graves (Harmondsworth 1950) anyway; if you know it you’ll likely agree that refinement and high culture are not its main subjects. As for Jerome, his fear of being too Ciceronian resulted in visions of angels beating him up for it, which is probably more severe than most!

3. On education and its methods the entry point is still Pierre Riché, Education and culture in the Barbarian West, sixth through eighth centuries, transl. John J. Contreni (Philadelphia 1976); see also Contreni, “The Pursuit of Knowledge in Carolingian Europe” in Richard E. Sullivan (ed.), The Gentle Voices of Teachers: aspects of learning in the Carolingian age (Columbus 1995), pp. 106-141.

4. See Don Fowler, “The Virgil Commentary of Servius” in Charles Martindale (ed.), The Cambridge Comnpanion to Virgil (Cambridge 1997), pp. 73-78, doi: 10.1017/CCOL0521495393.005.

5. Notker, Gesta Karoli, transl. of course in David Ganz (transl.), Two Lives of Charlemagne: Einhard and Notker the Stammerer (London 2008), pp. 45-116, II.17.

The Carolingian (back-up) plan for world domination

It’s a long time now since I did my doctorate. Nonetheless, I recognise a huge debt in my work even now to that of my supervisor, Matthew Innes—I am prone to saying that Rosamond McKitterick gave me my study area, Matthew gave me questions to ask about it and Wendy Davies gave me the techniques to answer them (though Wendy never taught me as such), but actually Matthew gave me quite a few of the answers too—and when I come across more of his work it’s always good news. This happened again a few months ago, as I slowly worked my way through a chunky volume from Vienna on the early medieval state in which he features.1 In this chapter, he does nothing less than propose a general characteristic of Carolingian conquest, and I think it’s great and plausible but that it doesn’t work for Catalonia. From this follow some wider musings, as you may imagine.

Map of Frankish conquests under Pepin and Charlemagne

This post involves talking about Alemannia, and it’s really difficult to find a map that shows that. It’s more or less the little segment of this one marked "536" just above Italy.

Matthew starts his chapter with the tightest summary yet of his idea of how early medieval polities operated, one of the things that I have adopted wholeheartedly from him, that for distant rulers to get anything done in the regions they controlled they had to establish relationships with local agents who could do those things from a direct landed power-base, and make sure that they would do so by means of negotiation and incentives.2 Looking specifically at Alemannia, roughly modern far south-western Germany and part of the modern Switzerland, through the lens of Notker’s Gesta Karoli, a text that takes some careful reading to be used as a source for politics but one that Matthew knows very well, he argues that what Carolingian take-over looked like is a moment of weakness in a region’s autonomous government, a Carolingian intervention by force majeure involving expropriation on a substantial scale by the Carolingians’ initial agents, and then the development of a structure of government and judicial process dividing power between more people, including the locals, during which a lot of the property that was initially expropriated dribbles slowly back into local hands via gifts, court cases, benefices and so forth.3 In other word, it worked because they toppled local government, stole a lot of stuff and then offered people a way to get their stuff back that endorsed the Carolingian position at the top. As Jinty Nelson once memorably said, “They weren’t nice people, you know.”

Aerial view of the monastery of Sankt Gallen in its modern state

This is not really Sankt Gallen as Notker would have recognised it, but it’s still quite impressive. By Hansueli Krapf (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

I find this very persuasive. It certainly seems to work for Alemannia (where Matthew is mostly following Michael Borgolte here), it probably works for Italy, I think also Bavaria and, in an extreme kind of way, probably also for Saxony, though it might be less property and more recognition as free people.4 It doesn’t, however, seem to me to work for Catalonia, which raises the question of why not.5 In the first place, a crucial difference: parts of what is now Catalonia first came under Carolingian government, as you may recall, because the men of Girona opted to side with the Franks in 785.6 Cerdanya and Urgell seem to have done something similar and were under Carolingian rule by 793, when a Muslim army came to punish them for it, and after that the extent of control was slowly pushed out by military means until 809, when the hope of further gains seems to have been dropped by King Louis the Pious of Aquitaine (as he then was).7 But the initial secession is represented by the Frankish sources as self-determined, and there’s little enough to make any case against that with.

Map of the Carolingian Marca Hispanica

Here’s another handy map, this one of the whole Marca Hispanica as the Carolingians established it. By Modifications author: Tonipares (Adapted and translated from [1]) [Copyrighted free use or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

I have tried looking for such things, I should say, but I have pretty much failed. The ‘Goths’ here, like the ones of Narbonne, got to keep their own law; there are only two cases known to me where Frankish royal officials intervened in judicial process. For a while, at least, local counts remained in charge too, though quite possibly feathering their own nests from so doing. The administration does seem to have had a shake-up, but things like the writing of documents, for example, were still done by local standards afterwards. Even learned culture seems to have remained primarily Visigothic at first, though here I think there may be room for a different reading of the evidence.8 The Carolingians didn’t even impose the Roman rite over the Hispanic liturgy until probably much later. The two biggest changes were the abrogation of two of the area’s bishoprics, both probably inactive, and the establishment of those misunderstood semi-independent migrants, the Hispani, hither and yon with consequent complications for what was probably otherwise a mechanism for military service that would also have seemed like a severe change and which the counts were well-placed to exploit to their advantage.9 It seems as if an awful lot of the strong-arm measures required elsewhere were not necessary here. Why not?

A battle scene from the Biblia de Ripoll

A depiction of the armies of Israel from the tenth-century Bíblia de Ripoll. This is used much too often as an illustration of tenth-century warfare but I don’t have a better one so I shall be just as bad…

Well, the reprisal attack of 793 shows one good reason: those living in this area must have seen the need of protection in a fairly real way. Bavaria and Saxony’s far frontiers were largely within their capacity to manage, though Denmark might explain Saxony’s rapid assimilation in the same way as al-Andalus could here. Italy is a bit more complex, because its southern duchies remained a kind of barrier between the bit the Carolingians ruled and the notional enemy, and in any case that enemy could be any one of several. All the same, there was a job for government to do in Catalonia, and also there wasn’t much central control there anyway; while Barcelona and Girona themselves usually shared a Muslim ruling family as far as we can tell, those rulers’ position vis-à-vis cities further south and west was continually variable, and how far those centres’ power reached into the Pyrenees may legitimately be doubted.10

Roman walls at Saragossa

The walls that helped turn Charlemagne back… Roman walls at Saragossa. By own work (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

But the other factor, which brings me perhaps closer again to Matthew’s argument, is that I think the Carolingians had tried the strategy he describes in the 770s and it had failed. The local agents would have been the al-‘Arabi family of Barcelona, but also no doubt some new Frankish brooms to keep them in order, and they would have ridden into local power on the back of the local leaders’ wish to separate from the Emirate; the establishment of Frankish defences would have meant a supporting allotment of land, and it could all have unrolled much as it had in Bavaria (taking that story from Duke Odilo, rather than just Tassilo), except of course that the local leaders changed their mind, formed ranks and had big old Roman cities to do this from.11 Result, Roncesvalles, more or less. So after that something else had to be done instead, and what they came up with was accommodation first, strong-arming second. But I think that Matthew might be right that the other way round had, till then, been the way that worked for the Carolingians.


1. M. Innes, “Property, Politics and the Problem of the Carolingian State” in Walter Pohl & Veronika Wieser (edd.), Der frühmittelalterliche Staat – europäische Perspektiven, Forschungen zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 16 (Wien 2009), pp. 299-313.

2. A formulation worked out in M. 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), followed by me in J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), and now stated almost equally tightly in Jarrett, “Engaging Élites: Counts, Capital and Frontier Communities in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries, in Catalonia and Elsewhere” in Networks and Neighbours Vol. 2 (forthcoming), pp. 211-261, which is a pupil’s work in many ways.

3. M. Innes, “Memory, orality and literacy in an early medieval society” in Past and Present no. 158 (Oxford 1998), pp. 3-36, doi: 10.1093/past/158.1.3.

4. M. Borgolte, Geschichte der Grafschaften Alemanniens in fränkischer Zeit (Sigmaringen 1984); Elina Screen, “Lothar I in Italy, 834-40: Charters and Authority” in J. Jarrett & A. S. McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout 2013), pp. 231-252, doi: 10.1484/M.IMR-EB.1.101685; Stuart Airlie, “Narratives of Triumph and Rituals of Submission: Charlemagne’s mastery of Bavaria” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 9 (Cambridge 1999), pp. 93-119, doi: 10.2307/3679394 and Warren C. Brown, Unjust Seizure: conflict, interest and authority in an early medieval society, Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past 2 (Ithaca 2001), for Bavaria; there isn’t really a good study for Saxony that I know of, perhaps because anyone who does it has to face up to the ugly fact that intermittent genocide actually worked out pretty well for Charlemagne for creating loyalty to his family…

5. It would probably work for Ramon Martí, given his “Conquistas y capitulaciones campesinas” in Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la época carolingia: arte y cultura antes del románico (siglos IX y X) (Barcelona 1999), pp. 59-63, transl. as “Peasant victories and defeats”, ibid. pp. 448-451, but as you may remember I can’t find it in me to agree there.

6. Chronicon Moissiacense, printed in Georg Heinrich Pertz (ed.)., Monumenta Germaniae Historica Scriptorum Tomus I (Hannover 1829), pp. 280-313, s. a. 785: “Eodem anno Gerundenses homines Gerundam civitatem Carlo regi tradiderunt.”

7. Josep María Salrach i Marés, El procés de formació nacional de Catalunya (segles VIII-IX), Llibres a l’Abast 136-137 (Barcelona 1978), 2 vols is still the best guide here.

8. I’m finishing this post away from my library, so this is harder to substantiate than I’d like, but… judicial intervention in Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Sebastià Riera i Viader & Manuel Rovira i Solà, (edd.) Catalunya Carolíngia V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Empúries i Peralada, ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la secció històrico-arqueològica 61 (Barcelona 2003), 2 vols, doc. no. 7 and there is another case in Pierre Ponsich (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia VI: els comtats de Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir i Fenollet, ed. Ordeig, Memòries LXX (Barcelona 2006) but I don’t have that reference handy, sorry; the counts and their origins are discussed in Salrach, Formació, I pp. 39-46; the changes in documentary practice are studied in Jonathan Jarrett, “Comparing the Earliest Documentary Culture in Carolingian Catalonia” in Jarrett & McKinley, Problems and Possibilities, pp. 89-126, doi: 10.1484/M.IMR-EB.1.101679; and on learned culture, see Michel Zimmermann, Écire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, II pp. 619-831.

9. On the Church reorganisation see e. g. Manuel Riu i Riu, “La organización eclesiástica” in José María Jover Zamora (ed.), Historia de España Menéndez Pidal, tomo VII: la España cristiana de los siglos VIII al XI, volumen II. Los nucleos pirenaicos (718-1035): Navarra, Aragón, Cataluña, ed. Riu (Madrid 1999), pp. 613-648. On military service, wait for my article on the subject, but meanwhile compare Cullen J. Chandler, “Between court and counts: Carolingian Catalonia and the aprisio grant, 778-897″ in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 No. 1 (Oxford 2002) pp. 19-44, doi: 10.1111/1468-0254.00099 and Jonathan Jarrett, “Settling the Kings’ Lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective”, ibid. 18 (2010), pp. 320-342, doi: 10.1111/j.1471-8847.2010.00301.x.

10. Here again Ramón Martí would disagree: see his “Palaus o almúnies fiscals a Catalunya i al-Andalus” in Hélène Débax (ed.), Les sociétés méridionales à l’âge féodal (l’Espagne, Italie et sud de France Xe-XIIIe s.) : hommage à Pierre Bonnassie, Méridiennes 8 (Toulouse 1999), pp. 63-69, for an argument for a much more thoroughly-spread Muslim presence; cf. e. g. Eduardo Manzano Moreno, “Christian-Muslim Frontier in al-Andalus: idea and reality” in Dionisius Agius & Richard Hitchcock (edd.), Arab Influence upon Medieval Europe (Reading, IL. 1994), pp. 83-96.

11. For now the best resort here is the work of Philippe Sénac, for example his “Charlemagne et al-Andalus (768 – 814)” in idem (ed.), Aquitaine—Espagne (VIIIe – XIIIe siècle), Civilisation médiévale 12 (Poitiers 2001), pp. 1-18, but look for new thoughts from Samuel Ottewill-Soulsby, currently doing his doctorate at Cambridge.

Seminar CLII: the modern decline of Charlemagne

My progress through my ridiculous seminar report backlog now picks up in the summer of this year with none other than old acquaintance and collaborator Charles West, who on 6th May 2014 found himself in Birmingham addressing a new seminar of the Institute of German Studies, the Not the First World War Centenary Seminar, which was concentrating on alternative anniversaries to the one that we aren’t allowed to miss this year. Therefore Charles was brought in to address us on the topic, “Charlemagne and the Future of the European Past”. Now, as it happens, of recent years Charles has ventured onto the Internet himself along with a cadre of colleagues from Sheffield who contribute to their History Matters blog, which I recommend, and thus it is that you don’t have to take my word for it what Charles thinks about this issue, because he had already written something about it here. So I’ll be brief here and refer you over there if you want to debate things.

A perfectly-arranged photograph by Andreas Herrmann of the statue of Charlemagne outside the Rathaus in Aachen

A perfectly-arranged photograph by Andreas Herrmann of the statue of Charlemagne outside the Rathaus in Aachen

The short and essential pitch of what Charles had to say is that Europe used to be a lot more fussed about Charlemagne as a figure of importance than it has now become. Whereas he was the point of origin for the Holy Roman Empire and the man whose achievement in bringing a swathe of Occidental territory under one rule both Napoleon and Hitler expressed an intent to beat, and even after the war still the figurehead of various prizes and speeches intended to foster European unity, this has fallen off of late. In this, the 12th centenary of his death, which has sparked a number of exhibitions and celebrations around the Continent, that at Aachen was expecting only a third as many people as attended a similar exhibition at Paderborn in 1999 (and I’ve no idea how many it in fact got).

Poster for the triple exhibition at Aachen, Karlder Grosse: Macht, Kunst, Schätze

Poster for the triple exhibition at Aachen

Charles put this down to two related things: in the first place, the early European Union was surprisingly close in extent to the territories ruled by Charlemagne (including the British Isles obviously attached but clinging to ideas of sovereignty anyway); Spain, Portugal and Greece kind of sneaked in, Scandinavia in general has some explaining to do but the lines east and south were otherwise close, whereas now that we count Eastern Europe in full and the Baltic States and are dithering over Turkey, the old model no longer fits even slightly. This larger Europe also has no collective history together: this group of countries have never been a unit, even Rome never ruled them all, so appeals to our great common history and its unifying figureheads (of whom, after all, there are few enough if that’s your aim) cease to have anything like as much traction. The whole paper thus served as another reminder that whatever we think we’re doing as historians, our work is put to use by people with political agendas that determine why people are interested, and when those agendas don’t need our work they instead put it out to grass. Charles concluded that the best way we can proceed is to tell the story we have and let it find its own audience, but of course we would also usually like it to find financial support and, well, there has ever been the rub…

From the Sources X: the most interesting document in the judicial administration of Carolingian Catalonia

Such is the claim that Josep María Salrach makes of the document below, and Senyor Professor Salrach does not say such things without basis so I thought I could do no better than put it before you!1 The matter is a hearing of 25th March 874, held before Count Miró I of Conflent, brother of Guifré the Hairy, though this is before either of them hit the sovereign big-time with their appointment to more counties in 878. Instead, what we have here is the working of a just-still-Carolingian judicial apparatus, and it goes like this.2

“In the court of Count Miró and the judges who were ordered to hear, determine and rightly judge the cases, that is, Langovard, Bera, Odolpall, Dodó, Esteve, Fulgenci and Guintioc, judges, on in the presence of many other worthy men, the priest Kandià, Rautfred, Cesari, Goltred, Mauregat, Sentred, Ennegó, Sesgut, Daneu, Llop, the Saió Enelari, everyone who was seated in that court, there came a man, Sesnan by name, the representative of Count Miró, and he said: ‘Hear me, how that same Llorenç, that he ought to be a fiscal slave from the descent of his parents and grandparents, with his brothers and kinsmen, and they did service to the lord Count Sunifred, father of my lord by voice of whom my lord ordered me his representative to enquire.’
“Then the abovesaid judges said to Llorenç, who was summoned on behalf of himself and his kinsmen: ‘What do you answer to this?’ And he said in response: ‘I ought not to be a fiscal slave, and neither should my kinsmen, by descent from our grandfathers or grandmothers in the paternal or maternal lines, since I and my kinsmen, just as it says in the Law of the Goths, for 30 or fifty years have stayed in the houses in which we who are present among you were born without any blandishment or servile yoke, in the villa of Canavelles, with no count or judge summoning us.’

Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin, 151 J 50, fo. 1r., a fragment of the Visigothic Law

Here is a completely non-Catalan copy of the Law, a fragment from Lorsch now in Straßburg, but it is at least ninth-century and secondly dealing with enslavement (V.4.x), so that’s not bad is it? For full reference to the text see n. 4 below. The MS is Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin, 151 J 50, fo. 1r.

“We the judges indeed said to the representative Sesnan: ‘Can you present witnesses or documents or any index of truth by which you may prove that this same Llorenç, his brothers or his kinsmen ought to be fiscal slaves to your lord, and that they have been subjected to service within those legitimate years that the response mentioned?’ And he said: ‘I have no other proof than that I found in an inventory of my lord that his father assigned to him the woman Ludínia who was related to this kindred whom I prosecute.’
“We the judges indeed said to Llorenç: ‘How did that same Ludínia, who was your grandfather’s sister, come to be in that inventory if she was not a fiscal slave?’ And Llorenç responded: ‘I don’t know why it says that, but I do know one thing, that she was not a slave subject to service; but if servile condition isn’t carried from someone in the kindred to which I am connected to their children, then the servile condition doesn’t apply to their children.’

Madrid, Biblioteca de la Real Academia de Historia, Cod. 34, fo. 43r

And here is the exact bit of the Law that is about to be quoted, V.7.viii, from a late-ninth or early-tenth-century copy now in the Real Academia de Historia in Madrid, to which I can now link you because PARES have finally enabled stable URLs! It is Biblioteca de la Real Academia de Historia, Cod. 34, fo. 43r.

“So we searched in the Law of the Goths where it says: ‘If anyone wishes to bring a free person into slavery, let him demonstrate by what rule the slave came to him. And if a slave should claim himself to be a free person, and shows to the selfsame person proof of his freedom in the same way’, and the rest which follows.
“Wherefore we asked that same Llorenç if he might be able to produce such witnesses as the law says, that he or his kinsmen ought to answer for nothing to the fisc. He said: ‘I can’. He introduced four legitimate witnesses without any crime, that is, Guitsèn, Adaulf, Belès and Viatari, who swore by a solemn oath just as is written there. Then we the abovesaid judges said to Sesnan: ‘Can you produce more or better witnesses, or name a crime that prohibits testimony in the law, today or later?’ And that man said in his answers: ‘I can produce neither witnesses nor documents nor any index of truth whereby I may defame those same witnesses, or to subject those same persons to service neither in those same three hearings nor at any other time, today or hereafter. I thus, by the interrogation of the judges and in the presence of worthy men do recognise and quit my claim in the villa of Vernet, in the church of Sant Sadurní, and recognise that I have received the oaths which those same witnesses made truly by the order of my lord, and those things that I have done rightly and truly I do recognise and evacuate in the judgement of you or the presence of those written above.’

A Catalan copy of the Visigothic Law, Abadia de Montserrat MS 1109, from Wikimedia Commons

Lastly let’s just bring out that Catalan copy of the Law one more time… Abadia de Montserrat ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


“Recognition or evacuation made on the 8th Kalends of April, in the 34th year of the reign of King Charles.
“Sig+nature of Sesnan, representative of the lord count Miró for fiscal cases needing answering, who have made this recognition or evacuation and handed [it] over [to] witnesses for confirming. Miró. Guintioc. […]
“Protasi, conversus if God should be his companion, who have written this document of recognition or evacuation on both the day and year as above.”

Again, there is an awful lot here to play with. I like especially the representation of direct speech that, it becomes clear, can’t be, because they talk in formulae and refer to things that haven’t been reported, like the exact nature of Ludínia’s relationship to Sesnan. I also note that here both sides, both the state representative and the undowntrodden peasant, cite the Law of the Goths, and the judges know that the peasant’s cite is justified. As I have said, people generally do seem to have known about the thirty-year rule. I am also fascinated by the suggestion that Count Miró I had an officer whose business was the pursuit of fiscal claims, though the complex phrasing that Protasi (who was at this stage in the business of drumming up support for a monastery at Sant Andreu d’Eixalada that would not end well, and was a serious person about the public sphere) seems to have loved may be making as much of that title as it does of his own (which is, I should make clear, very hard to translate, so I may be glossing what is actually incoherence). And of course, the count has an inventory! But as we have seen before (when talking of later, but so what?) it’s not a very good inventory; the claim hadn’t been pursued for years and the only data the count had went back a generation and was inherited, rather than compiled, by the current administration. As I said a couple of posts ago, just because the Carolingian and post-Carolingian state had ambitions to systematic record doesn’t mean that they were necessarily very good at it.

Saint-Saturnin de Vernet-les-Bains

And finally the actual location of the hearing, in its modern guise, Sant Sadurní de Vernet or as you would now find it in an atlas, It seems an impressive enough place to hold court! Saint-Saturnin de Vernet-les-Bains. By Baptiste Autin (Own work (Baptiste Autin)) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

For Salrach, what is most interesting here is the back and forth about service, servitium, which seems to be what defines slavery in practical terms here.3 There are several definitions floating around the case, it seems to me: the comital claim hinges on an argument by descent, and Salrach says that the relationship is found insufficiently close because of slavery not transmitting through the maternal line so that doesn’t work. They don’t actually say that, though, even though they could have because it too is in the Law of the Goths.4 And what they looked up in the Law doesn’t seem to relate either to that or what they did next, perhaps because although both sides were trying such arguments everyone knew that the thirty-year rule probably made them irrelevant anyway. The deciding factor was whether or not Llorenç’s kinsmen did servitium to the count in that time; they had people to say they hadn’t and Sesnan had nothing but the descent claim from a woman whose presence in a list of slaves wasn’t explicable. As I say, the comital archive wasn’t up to the job it was being asked to perform here.

From all this, anyway, and several other mentions of servitium, Salrach builds up a picture of the development of the obligations of the general populace to the count, seeing it as being a form of servitium generalised to all subjects of the public power (which the Vall de Sant Joan hearing qualifies as army service and the ‘lesser royal service’) and a more specialised, demeaning one that is what was at issue here.5 I’m not sure I would go as far as he does with this but it’s about the only attempt to work out what the counts could actually demand from their subjects that’s not based essentially on a template of Carolingian government assumed still to be running, so for me it still has great value as an idea to work with. Nonetheless, he’s right that this is a very interesting document, and it’s the hints, the drama of court and the attempts by people to swing old law in their directions in various ways and with various unexpected sorts of proof that make it interesting for me as much as the big point that Salrach believes it helps make.


1. J. M. Salrach, Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil, Referències 55 (Vic 2013), p. 128: “Aquest és, segurament, el document més interessant dels que coneixem de l’administració de justícia a la Catalunya Carolíngia.”

2. Pierre Ponsich (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia VI: els comtats de Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir i Fenollet, rev. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueolòico LXX (Barcelona 2006), 2 vols, doc. no. 81: “In iuditio Mirone comite seu iudices qui iussi sunt causa audire, dirimere vel recte iudicare, id est, Langobardus, Bera, Odolpaldus, Dodo, Stephanus, Fulgentius et Guintiocus, iudicum, vel in presentia aliorum multorum bonorum hominum, Kandiani presbiteri, Rautefredi, Cesari, Gultredi, Maurecati, Sentredi, Enneconi, Siseguti, Danieli, Lupon, Enalario saione, omnes qui in ipso iuditio residebant, veniens homo nomine Sesenandus, mandatarius Mirone comite, et dixit: «Audite me cum isto Laurentio qualiter servus fiscalis debet esse ex nascendo de parentes de abios suos, cum fratres vel parentes suos, et servicium fecerent domno Suniefredo comite, genitore seniore meo, ad parte fisclai per preceptum quod precellentissimus rex Carulus fceit domno Suniefredo comite, cuius voce me mandatarium mandat inquirere senior meus».
“Tunc supradicti iudices dixerunt Laurentio, qui est inquietatus pro se et parentes suos: «Qui ad hec respondis?» Et ille in suis responsis dixit: «Non debeo esse servus fiscalis, nec parentes mei ex nascendo de bisabios vel visabias ex paterno vel ex materno, qui ego et parentes mei, sicut lex Gothorum continet, per XXXa vel quinquaginta annis in domois in qua nati sumus inter presentes instetimus absque blandimento vel iugo servitutis in villa CAnabellas, nullo comite vel iuduce nos inquietante.»
“Nos vero iudices Sesenando mandatario diximus: «Potes habere tests aut scripturas aut ullum indicium veritatisunde probare possis isto Laurentio, fratres vel parentes suosu, ut servi fiscale seniori tuo debent esse, ut infra istos legitimos annos quod responsum dedit servituti fuissent?» Et ille dixit: «Non habeo alia probatione nisi inveni in breve senioris mei quod pater suus ei dimisit femina Ludinia qui fuit parentes istius parentele quem ego persequor».
“Nos vero iudices diximus Laurentio: «Unde advenit ista femina Ludinia in isto breve, qui fuit soror abie tue si ancilla fiscalis non fuit?» Et Laurentius respondit: «Nescio quomodo hic resonat, set unum scio, quod ancilla inclinata in servitio non fuit; sed si aliunde ad filios suos conditio servilis non avenit, de parentes quod mihi coniuncta est, non pertinent ad filios suos servilis conditio».
Nos autem perquisimus in lege Gotorum ubi dicunt: «Si quis ingenuum ad servitium addicere voluerit, ipse doceat quo ordine ei servus advenerit. Et si servus ingenuum se esse dixerit, et ipsi simili modo ingenuitatis sue firmam ostendant probationem», et cetera que secuntur.
“Proinde diximus adisto Laurentio si potuisset tales habere testes sicut lex continet ut nullum ex fisco persolvere debeat ille aut parentes sui. Ille dixit: «Possum». Introduxit legitimos quattuor testes absque ullo crimine, id est, Guitesindo, Ataulfo, Beles et Biatarius, qui iuraverunt a serie conditione sicut ibidem insertum est. Tunc nos supradicti iudices Sesennando diximus: «Potes alios habere testes ampliores aut meliores, aut crimen quod in lege vetitum est testificandi dicere hodie aut postmodum?» Et ille in suis responsis dixit: «Non possum habere testes nec scripturas nec ullum indicium veritatis unde istos testes diffamiare possim, aut istos ad servitium inclinare neque isto trinos placitos nec ulloque tempore et hodie et deinceps. Sic me recognosco vel exvacuo ab interrogatione udiucm et presentia bonorum hominum in villa Verneto, in ecclesia Sancti Saturnini, et ut sacramenta fecerunt isti testes veraciter recepi per iussionem senioris mei, et ea qui feci recete et veraciter me recognosco vel excvacuo in vestrorum iuditio vel suprascriptorum presentia».
“Facta recognitione vel exvacuatione sub die VIII kalendas aprili, anno XXXIIII regnante Karolo rege.
“Sig+num Sesenandi, mandatario domno Mirone comite ad causas fiscalis requirendas, qui hanc recognitione vel exvacuatione feci et testes tradidi ad roborandum. Miro. Guintiocus. […]
“Protasius, si Deus comes fuerit, conversus, qui hanc scriptura recognitionis vel exvacuationis iussus scripsi et die et annon quo supra.”


3. Salrach, Justícia i poder, pp. 126-134; see my very brief discussion in J. Jarrett, review of Josep María Salrach, Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil (Vic 2013) in The Medieval Review 14.09.16, online at http://hdl.handle.net/2022/18731, last modified 15 September 2014 as of 27 September 2014.

4. Karl Zeumer (ed.), Leges Visigothorum, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Leges Nationum Germanicum) I (Hannover 1902, repr. 2005), transl. S. P. Scott as The Visigothic Code (Boston 1922), online here, II.2.iii, which also invokes the thirty-year rule for getting out of such an inheritance if a slave happened to have one.

5. Salrach also attacks this question with different cases, including the Vall de Sant Joan hearing, in Justícia i poder, pp. 87-90, 110-112 & 242-243 (conclusions).

Inventing the Visgothic legal ordeal in Catalonia

The backlog in my posting is awful [he wrote in May], but there is obviously something in the period of delay that matches the rhythms of my scholarship: I keep finding that I stubbed posts to blog which I come to just as the thing they were about again comes up in my study. Perhaps this will be another, as I found in reading Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil that he touches on the issue I blogged about a while ago, that of judges in tenth-century Catalonia fabricating legal precedent for their decisions, and also on a much older post of mine elsewhere about the judicial ordeal, with a case that combines the two things. So obviously it’s necessary to follow those posts up with this one, and presumably by the time this goes up I shall have come up against the idea again! [As it happens, not this time; I have obviously caught up too much! But read on…]

Trial by the ordeal of hot water

The site I grabbed this from gave no source, so neither can I, but though wilfully Classicising it’s still a picture of the ordeal by hot water in ‘olden tyme’ and I can’t find another…

The case is interesting, which is why I blogged it before: it’s the only case of a judicial ordeal recorded in Catalonia before the year 1000, says Salrach, and this is true although the next one is from that year so it’s only just true.1 Never mind. There’s also an excellent clear report of it in Jeffrey Bowman’s book on Catalan justice around the year 1000, which as far as I can see Salrach did not use, which I paraphrase here.2 The events are in 988: one Sentemir was brought to court by the abbey of Sant Cugat del Vallès, who claimed that he had destroyed his brother’s will from which they should have had a large estate; they produced a witness to the will, but Sentemir refused to admit that he ever saw it and finally offered to go to the ordeal to prove his innocence. He chose the ordeal of hot water, in which the litgant plunged his arm full-length into a boiling cauldron and then the extent of his injuries and whether they were healing was assessed by a panel three days later. As Bowman points out, following Stephen White, the thing about ordeals is that the designed outcome almost never occurred as they’re recorded: here, the scribe says that Sentemir had intended to keep himself safe by incantantions and curses, but in fact as soon as his arm got near the cauldron his hand burst into flames, and he confessed. The court condemned him to penal servitude but the bishop let him off, though of course he lost the estate.

Now there’s a range of ways this is interesting: was Sentemir really attempting magic? Was that instead an accusation that one might slander someone with in this period? Either’s interesting. There is also the question of what we are supposed to think actually happened. The last time I blogged this trial, I wondered if Sentemir might have been trying something like coating his arm in pitch or similar to protect it against the boiling, and just caught the cauldron fire, but obviously we’ll never be able to tell from this. But for our immediate purposes the interesting question is why they went to the ordeal at all. It is commonly assumed that this was just something that happened in the early Middle Ages but as I said, this is the first one we have from Catalonia, and Catalonia’s principal source of jurisprudence, the Visigothic Liber Iudicum, Book of Judges, doesn’t mention the ordeal of hot water (or really any others except to outlaw them). So where did the idea come from?

A Catalan copy of the Visigothic Law, Abadia de Montserrat MS 1109, from Wikimedia Commons

An actual Catalan copy of the Visigothic Law, Abadia de Montserrat MS 1109. By Abadia de Montserrat [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Well, you may remember that in the previous post where I was talking about judges customising their precedents there came up a tenth-century copy of a version of the Liber Iudicum called the Liber Iudicum Popularis, one of two made by one of the judges of the era, a chap called Bonhom about whom I’ve often written, and whose copy is now online in scholarly edition.3 As it turns out, his version of the Liber Iudicum does contain a procedure for the ordeal of hot water, still claiming of course to be the legislation of the Visigothic princes of three hundred years before. And who do you suppose was the judge and scribe at Sentemir’s trial? Who else but Bonhom! So we have another adaptation of the letter of the law to the needs of the day, and one that works out in decidedly suspicious circumstances.

Nonetheless, it seems unlikely that Bonhom just invented the idea in whole cloth, or how on earth would he have convinced Sentemir to do it? As Bowman points out, there’s no sense in the charter that there was dispute about this. That’s perhaps not surprising since Bonhom wrote the document, but this was a man who tells us in his documents when he was sleepy in case it looks odd, so I’d expect more words rather than fewer if there was a problem. Even if it was not usual this was apparently an idea that was known to people. But whence had it come? There’s a famous trial by battle involving Bera I, Count of Barcelona, accused of treason, which the biography of the Emperor Louis the Pious by the anonymous known as ‘Astronomer’ says was done because both parties were Goths, and people have argued that since the Gothic Law has nothing of this, it was really a Frankish idea that got carried into Catalan judicial practice.4 Salrach raises the idea instead that the ordeal was in fact the ‘popular’ practice that Bonhom’s law’s adapted title suggests, excluded from proper practice by the Visigothic kings but locally maintained or innovated and so added in to Bonhom’s text because he knew it was sometimes done. Hey, maybe Sentemir had introduced him to the idea in 988! (Salrach doesn’t suggest that, but as usual, on a blog I can push these things further than I would in print.) That in turn implies that we really ought to look closely at the Liber Iudicum Popularis to find out what had needed changing since the seventh century; it may not all have been invented as needed, even if some of it probably was. This is the kind of thing I read to learn, after all.


1. Josep María Salrach, Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil, Referències 55 (Vic 2013), pp. 37-38.

2. Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: property, proof and dispute around the year 1000 (Ithaca 2004), pp. 119-140, and here esp. pp. 122-124; Stephen D. White, “Proposing the Ordeal and Avoiding It: strategy and power in Western French litigation, 1050-1110″ in Thomas N. Bisson (ed.), Cultures of Power: lordship, states and process in twelfth-century Europe (Philadelphia 1995), pp. 89-123, repr. in White, Feuding and Peace-Making in Eleventh Century France, Variorum Collected Studies 817 (Aldershot 2005), VII.

3. Jesús Alturo i Perucho, Joan Bellès, Josep M. Font Rius, Yolanda García & Anscari Mundó (edd.), Liber iudicum popularis. Ordenat pel jutge Bonsom de Barcelona (Barcelona 2003), VI.1.3.

4. Ernst Tremp (ed.), Thegan, Die Taten Kaser Ludwigs (Gesta Hludowici Imperatoris). Astronomus, Das Leben Kaiser Ludwigs (Vita Hludowici Imperatoris), Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatim editi LXIV (Hannover 1995), Astronomus cap. 32; A. Iglesia, El proceso del Conde Bera y el problema de las ordalías (Madrid 1980).

Seminar CXLVI: forgetting the Thuringian frontier with Willibald

My seminar reporting backlog now shrinks forwards to 26th February 2014, when Dr John-Henry Clay of Durham, another early medievalist blogger apart from anything else, came to speak to the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research with the title, “St Boniface in Thuringia”. Boniface, born in Wessex as Wynfrið, is a saint who provokes strong reactions at the time and still does now: I remember speaking to one revered academic who had the previous day returned from a three-day conference about Boniface and who, in a shocking breach of their usual total refinement, told me that the conference conclusion had been that “Boniface was a bit of a prat”. But equally there are those who find him fascinating, and Dr Clay has done much with the material preserved about him.1 As a missionary and church-builder Boniface spent a lot of time at the edges of ‘known’ territory, anyway, and what Dr Clay had to tell us about was one of those edges, the duchy of Thuringia.

Map of the territories of Merovingian Francia

A suitably old-fashioned map of the territories of Merovingian Francia, Thuringia being the long vertical strip at upper right. As long as you realise that this is almost completely hypothetical we’ll be fine. “Frankenreich unter den Merowingern” by Johann Gustav Droysen – Allgemeiner Historischer Handatlas. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Most of our information on Boniface as he is conventionally told comes from a Life written for his successor, Archbishop Lul of Mainz, by one Willibald, and he tells us of Boniface’s religious training in Wessex, an early attempt at a mission to pagan Frisia in 716 defeated by resistance from King Radbod and a subsequent papally-backed mission to Thuringia in 719-721. He shows us Boniface going back to Frisia in 721 and then being in Hesse and Saxony in 723-731, after which point he was more and more concerned with the organisation of the Frankish Church as it developed on the eastern edges of Christianity’s range so far and less and less with mission work.2 He died on the mission trail, however, in 754 in Frisia, aged nearly ninety and clearly, from the letters he wrote setting his affairs in order, aware that he could go on little longer and determined to go out a martyr.3 We can thus temper Willibald’s portrayal with the man’s own words here and there and this all gives a fairly consistent picture, but there are hints in it and in other sources that it is definitely not the whole story.4

Illustrations of Boniface baptising pagans, above, and receiving his martyrdom, below, from the eleventh-century Fulda Sacramentary

Illustrations of Boniface baptising pagans, above, and receiving his martyrdom, below, from the eleventh-century Fulda Sacramentary, a prized treasure of the monastery of Fulda which he had founded. “St Boniface – Baptising-Martyrdom – Sacramentary of Fulda – 11Century” by Unknown – Illustration from the Sacramentary of Fulda (Fuldaer Sakramentar), fol. 126 v. See here for more information on the manuscript.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Lots of what is missing is, naturally enough, about Boniface’s opponents. He faces down heretic or just untrained priests and has to fight tooth and nail for their removal and replacement because they are backed by local élites;, and this has been read sensibly enough as a strategy of Frankish colonisation of the local Church with papal support, though as my first paragraph implied and Dr Clay also said, the popes don’t seem to have driven Boniface’s mission so much as support it with judgements and texts as required, when they could find them; Boniface seems to have expected a lot more authority and direction from the papacy than it was used to giving and some of his opponents are also therefore ‘backsliding’ Frankish bishops who didn’t understand why orthodoxy mattered and wouldn’t have looked to the pope for guidance ordinarily.5 But the other figures only just in the picture are the dukes of the Thuringians and the conflict and cultural exchange that was going on between Frankish- and Thuringian-controlled zones behind and outside the ecclesiastical context.

Site of the fortress of Frauenberg, now Frauenberg bei Sondershausen, in old Thuringia

Site of the fortress of Frauenberg, now Frauenberg bei Sondershausen, in old Thuringia, hard to reach with the Gospel in several ways. My apologies to Dr Clay for getting the wrong Frauenberg first time round! Image by HieRo GlyPhe (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Noting various such omissions and demonstrable errors in Willibald’s account, therefore, Dr Clay brought in data from burial archæology and fortress excavations, or at least, a class of fortresses he sees in the area of which one in HesseThuringia, Frauenberg, has been excavated and diagnosed Frankish by its material culture remains. The picture he got from this was one of a broader Frankicisation of the Thuringian duchy, visible in Frankish burial practices and funerary kit, and, as the reference to local priests above suggests, Christianity, this not least because St Willibrord of Utrecht, with whom Boniface worked in Frisia in 721-723, had run a mission in Thuringia around 714 already, something that Willibald doesn’t mention at all! So as Dr Clay told it what Willibald was doing was to turn a career that had essentially been one of fixing other people’s mission work with intermittent state backing, as part of a larger and ongoing process of Frankish acculturation of a border area, into a sanctified career of personal evangelisation that spearheaded all social change for the better in the area.

There were, I have to say, quite a lot of arguments with this thesis from the audience. I had two, one being that I wasn’t clear if Dr Clay was arguing for immigration from a material culture change—he was arguing for a distinct, Frankish funerary kit in the fortresses, as it turned out, which he therefore saw as military occupation rather than settlement on a broader scale—and the other of which being his diagnostic fortress type, which I could have paralleled quite happily from Pictland and therefore thought needn’t be any more than functional similarity. More excavation might of course show other links, what I would not deny. But there were wider issues about the opposition of Frankish and Thuringian as cultures in the first place, raised not least by Julie Hofmann, by whom the IHR was richer this spring and summer just gone and who knows a thing or two about Thuringia.6 The Thuringian aristocracy was long married into Frankish ones, just like the Bavarian one; whether this was anything more than a political branding exploited as convenient was, for Julie, very much to be doubted. That doesn’t prevent wars arising out of it, of course, as they plainly did, but marrying it to wider shifts in material culture as anything more than fashion, and linking those to other forms of political change is, I tend to think, unprovable.

Kloster Sankt Salvator Fulda

The centre of the cult of Boniface, the monastery of Sankt Salvator Fulda. „Catedral de Fulda“ von Author and original uploader was ThomasSD at de.wikipedia – Originally from de.wikipedia; description page is/was here.. Lizenziert unter Public domain über Wikimedia Commons.

Between these two Alice Taylor had asked what was perhaps the sharpest question, which was to wonder what Willibald’s purpose was in all this: Dr Clay said, and this seemed obviously correct once he’d said it, that the Vita was using the holiness of Boniface’s career to justify and sanctify the kinds of action towards Church reform that his successors for whom the text was written were still struggling to carry out. It is, in other words, a text about the politics of the 750s, not those of the 720s, and probably had little interest in being accurate, rather than partial (in both senses) about the earlier period. This was, to an extent, where we had begun, with the problems with Willibald’s Vita, but by now they looked serious enough that I think several of us were uncomfortable with using the text for a picture of the 720s at all. That time was perhaps not long forgotten when Willibald wrote, but having others remember it was apparently not his concern!


1. J.-H. Clay, In the Shadow of Death: Saint Boniface and the Conversion of Hessia, 721-54, Cultural Encounters in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages 11 (Turnhout 2011).

2. The Life has been much translated, and Willibald, The Life of Saint Boniface, transl. George W. Robinson (Cambridge 1916) seems now to be all over the Internet to purchase, presumably because it is also online at the Internet Archive for free here; the one I am used to setting for students is that in C. H. Talbot (ed./transl.), The Anglo-Saxon missionaries in Germany, being the lives of SS. Willibrord, Boniface, Sturm, Leoba, and Libuin, together with the Hodœporicon of St Willibald and a selection from the correspondence of St Boniface (London 1954, repr. 1981), pp. 25-62, which is reprinted in Thomas F. X. Noble & Thomas Head (edd.), Soldiers of Christ: Saints and Saints’ Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Philadelphia 1995), pp. 107-140, but is also online for free (because copyright-free in the USA) via the Internet Medieval sourcebook here.

3. The letters are translated in Ephraim Emerton (transl.), The Correspondence of Saint Boniface, Records of Civilisation 31 (New York City 1969), but a selection is also in Talbot, Anglo-Saxon Missionaries, pp. 64-149.

4. Cited here was Ian N. Wood, The Missionary Life: Saints and the Evangelisation of Europe 400-1050 (London 2001).

5. This is a perspective that I think I got from Rosamond McKitterick, Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany: personal connections and local influences, Eighth Annual Brixworth Lecture, Vaughan Papers 36 (Leicester 1991), repr. in her The Frankish Kings and Culture in the Early Middle Ages, Variorum Collected Studies 477 (Aldershot 1995), I.

6. And we need her to publish some of what she knows! But in the meantime there is no standard work, at least in English, though there is now John Hines, Janine Fries-Knoblach & Heiko Steuer (edd.), The Baiuvarii and Thuringi: an ethnographic perspective, Studies in historical archaeoethnology 9 (Woodbridge 2014).