Category Archives: Carolingians

Leeds 2014 Report III: priests, charters and finally Hungarians

The church of Santa Maria de Manresa

The church of Santa Maria de Manresa, where as I argue below we can probably be fairly sure some local priests were based in the tenth century, even if not in this actual building. “Seu de Manresa” by Josep Renalias – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Sticking determinedly to the reduction of my backlog alongside the notices of what I’m currently up to, here’s the third section of my report on the International Medieval Congress 2014 (or Leeds, to habitués, an ambiguity I am now going to have to get used to disentangling). This covers the Wednesday, 9th July, which was also the day I was presenting. Partly out of grace and mostly out of interest, I spent much of that day in the sessions of the strand in which I was doing that, so there is a heavy concentration here on priests, which was what I had to talk about at that point, but kind of ineluctably I broke out for some charters at some point and, also ineluctably, I was talking about my priests from charters, so this is quite a traditional Jarrett post in a lot of ways, getting down into what people did away from political centres and how we can know about it.

1011. The Clergy in Western Europe, 700-1200, I: education, training and liturgy

  • Carine van Rhijn, “More Than Pastoral Care Alone: local priests and their communities in the Carolingian period”.
  • Bernard Gowers, “Clerical Apprenticeship and Clerical Education, 10th & 11th Centuries”.
  • Helen Gittos, “The Use of English in Medieval Liturgy”.
  • This was about as stimulating an early morning session as they get, and for me especially because of Carine van Rhijn’s paper. She had been going through many manuscripts probably used in Carolingian-period schoolrooms and working out what the people who used them cared about knowing how to do, and the answers were illuminating: calculating the date of Easter, yes, carrying out a correctly-worded Mass, yes, the right dates of saints’ feasts, yes too, but also yes to odd notes of Biblical history, the signs of the Zodiac, ‘Egyptian days of ill omen’, the correct prayers to say before a judicial ordeal but also before a haircut, prayers to say over sick animals or for good harvests… As she said, this was a very broad model of pastoral care, in which people might go to a priest about almost anything, and as Sarah Foot pointed out in discussion, they might also have been going to or previously have been going to other people, of whom such sources would tell us nothing except that this was how the Church competed. Bernard then talked about the different ways in which the training of priests was carried out, distinguishing two overlapping processes, the in-house socialisation of a future priest by living with a senior relative, a kind of life-shadowing apprenticeship, as opposed to a more scholarly style of education in which texts and literary knowledge were the primary focus; some people, like Raoul Glaber, evidently got more of the latter than the former… And lastly Helen Gittos argued that there was much more spoken English in the liturgy of Anglo-Saxon England than our texts and preconceptions would immediately suggest, especially for things like responses from the congregation, though my notes suggest that I was anxious about the lack of evidence from the actual Anglo-Saxon period she had available to demonstrate this. Still, I went for coffee with a great deal to think about.

Now, that thread continued into the next session, but I was presented with the chance to hear three experts talking a problem that bothers me a great deal in my work, that of whether we can deduce from charters issued by kings what those kings wanted to do in the areas concerned, or whether what we mainly learn from this is what recipients of such documents wanted the king to do for them.1 Accordingly I deserted the priests for an hour-and-a-half to go to this:

1124. Empire and Regesta, II: Carolingian diplomas and their recipients as sources for royal acceptance

You see how I couldn’t not. This was the running order:

  • Tobie Walther, “Regesta regni Aquitaniae: recipients and beneficiaries in the diplomas of Pippin I and Pippin II of Aquitaine”.
  • Irmgard Fees, “The Diplomas of Charles the Bald: the problem of lay recipients”.
  • Horst Lößlein, “Royal Diplomas as ‘Performatives’? The Recipients of Diplomas of Charles III the Simple”.
  • Dr Walther had an interesting case study to work with here, because of Aquitaine having been ruled by its own subordinate kings between 817 and 848, if somewhat intermittently towards the end of that, so that questions about attachment and royal policy could have different answers here from elsewhere. The paper didn’t really draw any conclusions, however, and the presentation of the data was hampered by not considering that documents to lay recipients would have survived less well than those to churches; I’m not sure I believe, therefore, that King Pippin I focused his patronage mainly on monasteries, just that that is what we still have evidenced dotted between the numerous forgeries in this area.2 Professor Fees engaged more closely with the question of whether or not we have a clear picture of whom it was got most gifts from kings from such documents, and with Geoffrey Koziol’s new book, by pointing out that even what we have preserves a fragmentary secondary history of laymen getting the gifts they then made to churches, and that we can therefore say what kings gave to churches much more securely than that they gave less to laymen. I would have told you we knew that but it’s always worth having someone put actual data behind these statements.

    The object of desire, a precept of immunity from King Charles the Simple to the canons of Paris, 911

    The object of desire, a precept of immunity from King Charles the Simple to the canons of Paris, 911


    Lastly Herr Lößlein engaged with another part of Geoff’s argument, that the point of issuing such diplomas was partly so that the king could stage a big performance around it. Some of the texts clearly allow for that being possible but others are much more basic and functional, argued Herr Lößlein. From this he more or less reconstructed the argument of Mark Mersiowsky cited above, that Charles the Simple at last (and for Mersiowsky at least, also his predecessors) granted only where people wanted him to grant, rather than in areas where he was trying to intervene; we don’t see how he or anyone established such relationships from royal grants, because those relationships have to have existed first.

I found this rather frustrating, overall. When I first read Mersiowsky’s chapter during my doctoral study it seemed like someone clearly stating what should have been obvious, and I would find the various reactions to Geoff’s provocative counter-arguments more enlightening if they showed more awareness that Geoff had in fact been writing against something.3 For my part, it seems clear from Catalonia that people sought royal charters when it was easy or immediately profitable for them to do so. Both Professor Fees and Dr Lößlein noted that the south-west of the kingdom gets a really substantial proportion of their chosen king’s grants at certain times of their reigns, for Charles the Bald in 844 and for Charles the Simple in 899. It seems obvious to me that this is because Charles the Bald spent a good part of 844 besieging Toulouse and everybody from Catalonia realised that there would never be a better chance to meet the king so went off to get their diplomas renewed, and because in 899 Charles the Bald was holding a council to which the Bishop of Girona and Archbishop of Narbonne had both gone, presumably with a sheaf of requests from their peers and clients. That didn’t happen again later, so the charters peak there, but it’s not because of Charles’s preferences. In short, the key factor here was not royal choice but royal accessibility, married with the beneficiaries’ local circumstances. I hope that some day soon we can stop reinventing this wheel… Anyway, then, after lunch, it was showtime. Obviously I had to go my own session, but I probably would have done anyway given the first speaker…

1211. The Clergy in Western Europe, 700-1200, III: local clergy and parish clergy

  • Wendy Davies, “Local Priests, Books and Things in Northern Iberia, 800-1000″.
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “Counting Clergy: the distribution of priestly presence around a 10th-century Catalan town”.
  • Grégory Combalbert, “Did Donations of Churches to Religious Houses Have Consequences for the Parish Clergy? Parish Priests, Ecclesiastical Advowson, and Lay Lords in Normandy, Late 11th-Early 13th Centuries”.
  • Wendy was interesting as ever: she was basically presenting the numbers from the northern Iberian documents she now knows so well on books, books given to churches, books recorded in wills and really any books mentioned at all. From this which she was able to deduce that probably most local churches had a small set (median 4·5…) of liturgical volumes: an antiphonary, a Psalter, a hymnal, an ordinary and the peculiar Iberian phenomenon known as the Liber commicus, not a comic book but a kind of liturgical pick’n’mix (we also see the word as ‘conmixtus’, mixed-together) of the working bits of the Hispanic liturgy, still very much in use in these areas apparently.4 To get anything less immediately practical for a working church you had to go to a bigger monastery, many of which had libraries of tens of volumes. Wendy also noted that an average book seemed to be valued at between 2 or 3 solidi, which I note mainly because as I’ve shown cows also sold for about that price in these areas at this time, and yet almost any book would have meant the slaughter of several animals, perhaps sheep but perhaps cows, so that it almost seems like separating it from its owner and putting words on it involved a considerable depreciation of the value of that animal hide…

    Chart showing the breakdown of priestly activity in the charters from the Manresa area in the tenth century

    One of my slides, showing the breakdown of priestly activity in the charters from the Manresa area in the tenth century. This is why I like dense data…

    I, meanwhile, was presenting something like some preliminary conclusions from my Manresa project about which you’ve heard so many different bits. What I started out doing that project for was to try and work out if we could see the organisation of pastoral care around tenth-cenury Manresa from its unusually rich record of land charters, given how many priests turn up in them. This involved me in wrestling with the fact that almost all of the evidence is from the nearby monastery of Sant Benet de Bages, not from the mother church of Manresa itself, but I think I am able to show that other factors turn up alongside the monastery’s interests, even if priests tend to show up more than any other clergy. This seems to have been because people who wanted charters written preferred priests to do it, though plenty of others also did and therefore could. The monastery’s priests do show up more often than others, but not by much, and the areas with the most monastic property are not necessarily those where most priests are recorded. Using all this I argued that there were two sorts of structure here, an established and very localised priesthood mainly visible on the inwards side of the city, where churches had been going for longer, and then another body of priests who appeared all around the city, including towards the frontier in the east and south-east, where there were at this time rather fewer churches, and who therefore were probably based in the city, in something like a temporary minster system which was expected to move towards local establishment when practical.

    The observable sequence of priests at the church of Castellterç. Sant Fruitós de Bages

    The observable sequence of priests at the church of Castellterç. Sant Fruitós de Bages, from my paper

    I think this was the first time I’ve ever given an academic paper I hadn’t written out beforehand. I usually have a text somewhere, even if I don’t necessarily refer to it, but this time there had been no time and I just had a thickly-commented printout of my slides. I’m not sure it went any the worse for it, but I do wish I had written down something about what questions I got. Anyway, last but not least was Dr Combalbert, who was asking, basically, was giving a local church to a monastery a way to ‘reform’ it, in terms of the standard of life and worldliness of its clergy? His conclusion was that it wasn’t, not least because the new onwers didn’t necessarily get to replace priests in these places; even where they had the right to appoint a new one (which is what the word ‘advowson’ means, in case you were wondering) they had to wait for the old one to die first, and there were very often arrangements in place that, even if they didn’t ensure that the priesthood in the church proceeded in heredity (though they sometimes did), made very sure that the donor or local lord retained his ability to have his voice heard in naming the candidates from whom the monks chose the new priest. Such lords also usually kept most of the income, and if they didn’t, the monasteries very often did anyway. I suppose the priest would never have been used to having it, either way…

Then there was tea and then the final session of the day, which was a man down but the remaining two still justified it for me.

1318. Visions of Community, III: shadows or empire – 10th- and 11th-century reactions

  • Bernhard Zeller, “Changes in Documentary Practice in the late 9th and early 10th century: the evidence of royal charters – the case of St Gallen”.
  • Maximilian Diesenberger, “Worrying about Hungarians in the Early 10th Century: an exegetical challenge”.
  • Bernhard was telling us a tale of decline, at least in numerical terms: over the period he was looking at, the monastery of St Gallen, which preserves one of our largest caches of original early medieval charters in Europe north of the Pyrenees, did so less and less. Of the documents they did preserve, too, more and more were royal. This was probably partly because as the Carolingian kingdoms broke down the kings most relevant to St Gallen were also closer to it and more reliant on it, but also, it seems, because the monks were getting non-royal charters made less and less. They had the sort of rights over their area by this stage that might have meant they simply didn’t need them, but they never seem to have used charters in court much and a lot of the gifts they received were so hedged about with conditions as not really to convey anything, so Bernhard mainly thought that they just preferred to get grants from the kings now it was so much more possible.

    The entry of the Magyars into the Carpathian basin, from the Chronicum Pictum, 1360

    The entry of the Magyars into the Carpathian basin, from the Chronicum Pictum, 1360

    In a rather different type of assessment of reaction to crisis, Dr Diesenberger took us through some bishops’ letters showing that the tenth century at large was wrestling with how properly to understand the increasingly severe attacks of the Hungarians in terms consonant with everything being ordained by God. Most of all, did these bow-wielding horsemen from the East herald the Apocalypse? The bishops’ letters argue otherwise, but this probably shows that someone else was arguing for. After my year’s teaching this stuff I had by now become pretty clear that there’s always someone out there preaching the Apocalypse, in the Middle Ages and now, and that the question is how many people care, but what Dr Diesenberger also took from it was that the bishops knew that the kings were becoming unable to help: what was really needed was not prayer or penance but a better means of guaranteeing troop numbers, thought Bishop Salomon of Constance for example, but the overall community that could orchestrate such a response was broken, and the Church was the larger whole that remained for people to hang their identity on. This was very interesting indeed, and if Dr Diesenberger had only not said that the Hungarians didn’t attack Western Francia after 926 I’d have had no quarrels at all.5

Anyway, after that there was wine in the sunshine laid on by the city of Leeds, and after that dinner somewhere out of the way seemed like a good way to decompress. That took longer than I expected, and when we got back the dance was under way. Last year the dance had been in the refectory, but apparently people had complained that this made it feel like a school disco so this year it had been moved into the club run by Leeds University Students Union. What this meant, from my consumer’s point of view, was that it was cramped into a far smaller darker dance floor where there was no room to move, that there was only expensive bottled lager or alcopops available to drink, and that it was much louder, and while I like loud music as much or more than the next man, the whole place seemed unpleasantly like a hot dark gladiatorial arena with a nineties soundtrack and nothing made me wish to stay there rather than go to bed. So I did not dance, and was duly mocked for it next day by those who had noted my absence, but I’m still not sure I regret my choice. I was, in any case, in much better shape than I would otherwise have been for the final day, and I’ll tell you about that after another couple of posts on other things!


1. You can probably see immediately how this is an issue for someone studying the area of the Carolingian kingdoms perhaps most durably attached to one in name and yet also most beyond the reach of its kings, as I do, but you can find the problem also expressed for the core in Mark Mersiowsky, “Towards a Reappraisal of Carolingian Sovereign Charters” in Karl Heidecker (ed.), Charters and the Use of the Written Word in Medieval Society, Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 5 (Turnhout 2000), pp. 15-25, to which the field is now avidly contrasting Geoffrey Koziol, The Politics of Memory and Identity in Carolingian Royal Diplomas: the West Frankish kingdom (840-987), Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 19 (Turnhout 2012).

2.. The documents in question are all printed in Léon Levillain (ed.), Receuil des Actes de Pepin I et Pepin II, rois d’Aquitaine (814-848), ed. Maurice Prou (Paris 1926), but Herr Walther argued that one of the documents Levillain had thought was false may not have been while five more he had as genuine probably weren’t.

3. It’s not like Geoff doesn’t cite Mersiowsky (first at Koziol, Politics of Memory, pp. 28 n. 32), but I’ve yet to hear anyone else going round this particular circle do so.

4. As Wendy duly pointed out, this is very like what Michel Zimmermann found doing the same sort of enquiry for Catalonia, despite the supposed Frankish influence there, but he finds a lectionary much more common than the ordinary and increasingly replacing the commicus: M. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècles), Biblioteca de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, I, pp. 523-607, here esp. pp. 523-525. There’s a subtle but quite large point hidden in this about exactly how much difference the Carolingian takeover in Catalonia actually made to how people worshipped there, and I haven’t done enough on it, but what I have done with charters would fit with this in suggesting that it was a slow percolation of change rather than a top-down imposition, probably done by introducing new training methods at certain centres. Of course, that would only get at the people being trained by what Bernard Gowers had earlier separated as ‘education’, not those who learned by ‘apprenticeship’, so change would be slower in areas where structures like those delineated by Dr Combalbert in Normandy were stronger. I didn’t see these links between the sessions’ papers this clearly at the time so it’s a benefit to me to write them up, thankfully…

5. I find while checking references just now that there is a very neat, paragraphs-long summary of this correspondence in Karl Leyser, “Ritual, Ceremony and Gesture: the case of Ottonian Germany”, in Leyser, Communications and Power in medieval Europe: the Carolingian and Ottonian centuries, ed. Timothy Reuter (London 1994), pp. 189-213 at pp. 192-194. As for my gripe, it is mainly that there is good evidence for a Hungarian attack that made it all the way to Spain in 942, but also one on Provence in 937, and while the former is only known through Arabic sources that I can at least understand Latinist historians not knowing about, the latter is not. References for anyone working on the Hungarians who does not wish me to point this out to them in seminar questions would include: G. Fasoli, “Points de vue sur les incursions hongroises en Europe au Xe siècle” in Cahiers de Civilisation Médiévale Vol. 2 (Toulouse 1959), pp. 17-36; Josep Millàs Vallicrosa, “Sobre las incursiones húngaras en la Cataluña condal” in Homenaje a Johannes Vincke para el 11 de Mayo 1962. Festschrift für Johannes Vincke zum 11. Mai 1962 (Madrid 1962-1964), 2 vols, I, pp. 73-80; with great care, Albert Benet i Clarà, “La incursió d’hongaresos a Catalunya l’any 942″ in Quaderns d’Estudis Medievals Vol. 3 (Barcelona 1981), pp. 568-573 and “La batalla de Balltarga. Epilèg a la incursió d’hungaresos a Catalunya” in Quaderns d’Estudis Medievals Vol. 4 (Barcelona 1982), pp. 639-640; and Jonathan Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: Organisation of Society in the pre-Catalan ‘Terra de Ningú'” in †Alan Deyermond & Martin Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London 2010), pp. 97-127 at pp. 115-119, which collects these references.

Leeds 2014 Report II: the edges of many different empires

Returning to the backlog on reporting what others think about the Middle Ages finds me now at the second day of the International Medieval Congress 2014, on 8th July 2014, and faced with some hard choices between sessions. In the end, I chose this one because I knew one of the people in it, had reviewed the work of another and Wendy Davies was moderating, and this is what I got.

515. On The Fringes of Empire: local and supra-local identities beyond the Carolingian realm, I

  • Frode Iversen, “Impact of Empires: the Scandinavian fringe AD 200-1300″.
  • Letty Ten Harkel, “On the Edge of Empire: early medieval identities on Walcheren (the Netherlands)”.
  • Margarita Fernández Mier, “Peasant Communities and Distant Elites in Early Medieval Asturias”.
  • As you can see, the unifying thread here was Carolingian periphery, but this didn’t always make it through. Dr Iversen gave a very rapid run-through of significant bits of the settlement history of Norway, and when he began to speak of how urbanisation fitted to a new structure as if he’d described change, I realised I must have missed something. I also struggled with Dr Fernández’s paper, although the sites she was talking about, rural sites whose material culture might tell us something about the links from elite to peasants in early medieval Asturias, were very interesting-looking, but as it turned out known much more from place-names than anything more material. She drew a picture of competing local identities visible in funerary archæology and developing church sites that would be familiar in Anglo-Saxon England, however, and looked worth chasing in more places. Both of these papers had a tendency to argue for connection between sites that seemed to me from their maps to be a good distance from each other, in the former case up to 50 km, however, and I wasn’t sure that either case had been demonstrated.

    Aerial view of Middelburg in Walcheren

    Middelburg in Walcheren, one of those cases where it could hardly be clearer where the original settlement was and how the church was inside it…

    Letty Ten Harkel was also arguing for very local identities in her study area, however, and in particular in what has apparently been seen as a chain of associated ringforts along the Netherlands coast that have been blamed placed either in the reign of Emperor Louis the Pious of the Franks (814-840) from texts or the 890s from radio-carbon. The latter is problematic, because by then the area was split between two kingdoms, but Letty argued that there is such variation in size of and finds at these forts that they actually make more sense read as very local lordship centres, erected independently of each other. If there was outside influence, for Letty it was coming from the reviving bishopric of Echternach, not in the era of its Carolingian foundation but in the twelfth century. For me this paper connected most closely to the theme of the session, but only by disputing it!

Nonetheless, my interest was piqued enough to come back for more once caffeinated, as follows.

615. The Fringes of Empire: local and supra-local identities beyond the Carolingian realm, II

  • Alex Langlands, “Empire and Infrastructure: the case of Wessex in the ninth and tenth centuries”.
  • Iñnaki Martín Viso, “Local Communities and Kingship South of the Duero, 9th-11th Centuries”.
  • Álvaro Carvahal Castro, “The Astur-Leonese Power and The Localities: changing collective spaces (9th-10th centuries)”.
  • This session played a lot closer to my usual interests. Dr Langlands was chasing a word, ‘herepath’, literally ‘army-path’ but using a word for army that usually means raiders’ bands, not the army you serve in, and one would think that a path wide enough to carry an army might in fact be a road anyway, so it’s a funny term. Most of the references are in Anglo-Saxon charters, and while Dr Langlands argued convincingly that these paths appear mainly as links between sites rather than routes as such (though now I write that I am no longer seeing the difference) I wasn’t really sure that we could be sure they were anything to do with either roads, bridges or army-service, all of which had come into the argument.

    The track of an ancient herepath near Avebury

    Wikimedia Commons believes this to be an actual herepath, near Avebury, and who am I to say different? “Herepath Avebury England” by Chris Heaton. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

    Professor Martín then took us into the almost-unknown territory of the southern Duero valley in the centuries either side of the year 1000. Somewhere in this period, and with setbacks due to the final, red giant phase of Muslim rule in Córdoba, the kings of Asturias-León acquired a dominant control in this area and most of what we have is to figure it out with is archæology. With it, Professor Martín depicted a process by which the king used military service, and his ability to demand it (or possibly to convince local élites to join in with it) to elbow those élites into a position of obligation to him. He tied this to a particular sort of fortress with square towers and sloping walls that seems to be Andalusi workmanship but in a zone that was never under Andalusi control; I myself thought that that was a very unsafe thing to say, but the general proposition could fit round what I think happens in such zones.

    The Porta dos Cavaleiros in Viseu

    A location of military service in Viseu, one of Dr Mart&iacute’n’s example sites, even if that service would have been a bit later: this is the Porta dos Cavaleiros. “Nt-Viseu-Porta dos Cavaleiros“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

    Lastly Álvaro, whom in this session I realised I had known while we were both at Oxford but never quite fixed his name in my head, looked for those same local élites a bit closer into the Asturo-Leonese core where we have charters to play with, and found them manifest in assemblies, often as small power groups within likewise small communities, the kind of people who make deals for their communities and so on, who must have existed in these zones before our sources, generated by the making of those kinds of links, show them to us.1

    The memorial to the founders of Sant Andreu de Tona on the Turó del Castell de Tona

    The memorial to the founders of Sant Andreu de Tona on the Turó del Castell de Tona, one group of ‘local élites’ we can name

    I’ve gone into some detail with this because these questions, of why people on the edge of polities decide to join in with them, are meat and drink to me and my frontier interests, and as Charles Insley rightly pointed out in discussion, the crucial questions here are ones of agency: who makes anyone in these situations do stuff? All three speakers offered answers, although Professor Martín’s was mostly a judicious refusal to guess where there was no evidence. Only Álvaro seemed to me to have a clear eye on what sort of people these local élites actually were, however, a problem we’ve discussed before, and I offered the answer I even then had in press and alas still do, to wit that we can at least see them in church consecrations, leading their communities.2 Alas, this is a category of evidence that only exists in Catalonia, so Professor Martín remained obdurate, only suggesting that the fueros of the twelfth century indeed suggest some continuities that we can’t, all the same, prove. He’s right, of course!

Anyway, that was all fun and put me back on some Castilian radars I think, but there wasn’t much time to capitalise on it as there was another lunchtime keynote lecture, and again personal and institutional loyalties drove me to attend, as well as the expectation that it would be very interesting, as indeed it was, which I tried not to spoil by noises of eating my packed lunch again. (I’m glad they dropped this arrangement this year.)

699. Keynote Lecture 2014

  • Naomi Standen, “A Forgotten Eurasian Empire: the Liao dynasty, 907-1125″.
  • The Fugong Temple Pagoda, built in 1056 by Emperor Daozong of Liao

    The Fugong Temple Pagoda, built in 1056 by Emperor Daozong of Liao. By Gisling (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.


    Naomi introduced what was for many people an unfamiliar area by setting up the familiar dichotomy of civilisation versus nomads, a way of classifying society probably familiar to most people in the West from the work of Ibn Khaldūn but very common in Chinese sources too, especially when the Mongols are at issue. On one side, bureacracy, tax, education, cities, a professional class and so on, on the other personal hierarchy, tribute and plunder, and a life for which warriors trained in the saddle, you know the deal. Naomi then pitched her subject area of the moment, the Liao Empire, as a third way that breaks this dichotomy, using archæology wherever possible to vie with the impression of the Liao given by Chinese writers who were determined to put them, and their cities too, in the nomads box. But they didn’t fit either, Naomi argued: they had a structured élite but it was maintained by family succession, they had a trade network which we can see in ceramics finds along routeways but no sign that the state tapped it, the empire was stable and not expansionist and held to long treaties with inner China, the citizens were called nomads but lived in cities, and people in the empire invested hugely in religious patronage. It also comprised more than two hundred ‘peoples’ as the Chinese geographers counted it but made no legal distinction between them. It had not borrowed all this from central China or been civilised by contact, or so Naomi claimed; it was a different sort of empire. I’m sure that some might contend with this or find it idealistic but the thought experiment of substituting a trinary for one of the binaries with which Western historiography is famously dogged is probably worthwhile even so, and the detail is meanwhile still coming together as the pottery series and the architectural history of the zone get worked out by Naomi’s super project, so we will either way know more before long.

Thus refreshed both physically and mentally, I headed some of the way back west.

719. Were the Umayyad Caliphates Empires? I

  • Andrew Marsham, “In What Respects Was the Umayyad Empire an Empire?”
  • Harry Munt, “The Umayyad Imperial Rationale and Hijazi Cities”.
  • Hannah-Lena Hagemann, “Rulers and Rebels: Kharijite Islamic resistance to Umayyad authority in early Islamic historiography”.
  • This was an interesting and tightly-focused session, even if again about the category of ’empire’ as much as the actual materials of the presenter’s study. Dr Marsham invoked the work of Michael Mann (which I should know better3) and used its categories to argue that the early Islamic caliphate, with its emphasis on dynastic succession, its religious qualities attached to state office, its structured hierarchy of that office and its tax system, was as much an empire as the late Roman one it replaced, which given the inheritance perhaps shouldn’t be surprising but still often is. The other two papers focused on opposition to the Umayyad Caliphs, but from two different sources, in the case of Dr Munt from the cities in the Hijaz area of modern Saudi Arabia and most notably Medina, whose ruling class never aimed at separation from the state but frequently rebelled to achieve better inclusion in it. In the case of Dr Hagemann, however, the rebellion came from the Kharijites, a sect of early Islam who declared, according largely to their opponents, that there were no legitimate successors to the Prophet and therefore rejected all attempts at command in his name; she pointed out that even some of those enemies still used them, in pleasingly Roman style, as a foil for criticism of the Umayyad reégime where those writers felt it had gone so far wrong as almost to justify the reaction of the supposed ‘heretics’. It all gelled very nicely and in discussion I witnessed, for the only time I can remember, someone successfully defend their point against a question about the economy from Hugh Kennedy, no small achievement.

This was all grand, therefore, but I sorely needed caffeine by now, and hunting in the bookfair, always dangerous, found myself deep in conversation with Julio Escalona about the need to get Castilian and Catalan scholars around the same table. Thus it was that I was late for the next session, nothing to do with books honest…

812. Empire and the Law

  • Vicky Melechson, “From Piety to the Death Penalty: new capital crimes in the Carolingian Empire”.
  • Graham Barrett, “Legislation and its Afterlife in Early Medieval Europe”.
  • Sharon Fischlowitz, “Laws of an Empire: after the Romans, what were the leges barbarorum?”
  • So I was late for the start of Ms Melechson’s paper but caught her point quickly, it being that while the Romans really only imposed the death penalty for crimes against the emperor, and the various barbarian laws attempted to divert people from vengeance for murder to compensation payments, nonetheless the influence of the Old Testament in the way the Carolingian kings presented themselves made capital punishment an appropriately Biblical step for increasingly many things. There are arguments one could have with several parts of that but the basic argument seemed well-founded. I got rather less out of Dr Fischlowitz’s paper, which was given largely from the perspective of teaching modern law using the ‘barbarian’ laws as examples. It sounded as if she was having great fun doing it but the paper nonetheless really only told us what she found the most striking bits of late Roman and Frankish law.

    Breviarium Alarici [Bréviaire d'Alaric].

    The opening of the Theodosian Code in the Breviary of Alaric, ironically one of its principal manuscript sources, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS Latin 4404, fo. 14v, from Gallica

    But it was all worthwhile for Graham’s paper, which was him absolutely on form: he was arguing that although we know and read late Roman and early medieval law as codes, big books of more or less organised and collected legislation, it could almost never have been used like that, especially not the huge late Roman codices. It was also hardly ever issued like that: the late Roman codes explicitly compile decisions, largely reactive rather than proactive, fragmented and disparate, from centuries apart by many different emperors, the Visigothic Law does some of the same work and citations like this also appear in the Salic and Burgundian laws. What this means is that capitulary legislation like that of the Carolingians would actually have the primary form of law, and the codes we think of as definitive only its secondary collection, which could have very little to do with law as it would have been used, as dockets and loose gatherings of relevant edicts, rescripts and proclamations. This was one of those papers that seemed to make everything very obvious which before had not been, and I hope as with almost all of Graham’s work that we get to see it in print before very long. It provoked a lot of discussion, also, with Paul Hyams wisely pointing out that law that got written relates only to the problems that couldn’t be solved more locally, and is therefore always outstanding. There was also some discussion about law that gets made as part of a treaty process, to which Dr Fischlowitz offered the Lex Romana Burgundionum, intended to regulate the relations of the Romans of what is now Burgundy to the newly-arrived military group after whom it got named, and I proffered the Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum, after which, probably wisely, the moderator drew the session quickly to a close.

Again I can’t remember how the evening went, but the day had been pretty full and this post is certainly full enough, so I shall leave it here for now and pick up after a couple of smaller posts that don’t take me days to write. I’m sure you’re already looking forward to it…


1. On such groups see now Robert Portass, “Rethinking the ‘small worlds’ of tenth-century Galicia” in Studia Historica: Historia Medieval Vol. 31 (Salamanca 2013), pp. 83-103, online here.

2. Few better statements of this line of thought are available for Spain than Álvaro’s own “Superar la frontera: mecanismos de integración territorial entre el Cea y el Pisuerga en el siglo X” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 42 (Madrid 2012), pp. 601-628, DOI: 10.3989/aem.2012.42.2.08, but I hope soon to be adding to it in “Engaging Élites: Counts, Capital and Frontier Communities in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries, in Catalonia and Elsewhere” in Networks and Neighbours Vol. 2 (Leeds forthcoming for 2014), pp. 202-230, preprint online here.

3. Presumably most obviously M. Mann, The Sources of Social Power Volume 1: a History of Power from the Beginning to AD 1760 (Cambridge 1986)? I wonder if this will supply something I found myself in want of in a dissertation supervision a few weeks ago, too, a cite for the conceptual differentiation of ‘intensive’ and ‘extensive’ lordship. If anyone reading happens to have one handy, however, I’d be glad of it!

The Carolingian Frontier III: points north and east

Picking up the now-legendary backlog once more we find me still in Cambridge in early July 2014 for the third day of the Carolingian Frontier and its Neighbours conference already described. This was the morning only, and so there were only four papers, in two pairs as follows.

  • Robert Smith, “Hedeby after Ansgar: the continued contacts with Carolingian Christianity in the border emporia of Hedeby”.
  • As you can see we started in Denmark, and indeed we were not wholly to leave it for the rest of the day. We started in Hedeby, founded by an aggressive transplantation of traders from the Baltic seaport of Reric by King Godefrid of Denmark in 808, and the last paper would come back to it. Mr Smith’s paper was however about how deep the impact of the Carolingian mission to Denmark in the 820s and 840s-850s was, and in fact there is thin evidence for continuing Christianity in the town into the 880s and beyond. It’s always hard to assert religion from material culture, especially when one’s main evidence is burials because the dead don’t bury themselves, but one surprising piece of evidence is a pair of church-bells that have been recovered from the harbour, one cracked as if the other might have been its replacement. I’m not sure how we date them, mind…

    The unbroken church bell recovered from Hedeby harbour

    The unbroken church bell recovered from Hedeby harbour, dated by the website where I found it (linked through) to 850, but seriously, how?

    Mr Smith’s point was that conversion did not bring any kind of political control, but that cultural exchange and mixing happened all the same. This raised the question of whether we were in fact on a frontier here or just at a port, but I think it’s probably arguable that a port of entry is a frontier of sorts… There were also arguments about whether coin finds necessarily demonstrate trade, which of course they do not, but that took us into the next paper.

  • Jens Christian Moesgaard, “Carolingian coins in Denmark: commerce and prestige”.
  • For Dr Moesgaard, his initial scepticism about that question had now somewhat reluctantly turned to acceptance; for him sites like Hausmarken, which has so far thrown up twenty single-finds of Louis the Pious deniers, are approaching the inarguable, so we have to accept that there was trade between Denmark and the Carolingian Empire coming through the Danish emporia, but he also noted that it very much died off in the 840s, and coin finds then become rarer as well as more international (and also less: Hedeby and Ribe start minting their own in the later ninth century, and Ribe seems never to have kept Carolingian coins so as to deposit them). That doesn’t however mean that all Carolingian coin finds are relics of trade, not least because as the discussion drew out, they seem often to have been recovered from relatively wealthy dwellings and also treated differently, being very rarely cut, unlike Islamic dirhams. That might be because they were largely arriving earlier, or it might be, well… Many possibilities remain but here there is at least the chance of a continuing increase in evidence to make patterns clearer.

Then there was coffee and then we resumed with what turned out to be quite the longest haul of the conference.

  • Joachim Henning, “The Fortified Carolingian Border Line with the Slavs along the Elbe and Saale: military defense and cultural exchange”.
  • I am quite conflicted about this paper, because it was extremely interesting and you can see how it would be vital comparative data for some of my interests, but on the other hand it was also twenty minutes longer than it was supposed to have been. It also raised some quite important questions that somehow never got asked, onto which I will come. We were introduced to a series of problems that have dogged the interpretation of fortress archæology on the German-Slavic border of the Carolingian Empire as was which modern archæological techniques, especially scientific dating, are beginning to solve. One has been even finding very many Slavic fortresses, which as we were told began to unstick once it was realised that they were probably small and earthen-ramparted rather than being big stone structures. The second has then been dating them, but with enough animal bone and radio-carbon tests that is also now being done and the problem is now that there are almost none to be dated before about 900. This apparent sudden fortress boom could be a reaction to campaigning by the Ottonians, as some would indeed have it, but raises some questions about what this frontier was like before then which are now harder to answer.1

    The Weinberg at Hohenwarthe

    The Weinberg at Hohenwarthe, where the fortress dug by Professor Henning has now gone under the Autobahn, if I understand the German article linked through correctly. Photo by Sigrun Tausche.

    Professor Henning did have some suggestions, however, including that Hohenwarthe, upriver from Magdeburg in Saxony, may be one such early Slav fortress in some sense. It was raised during Frankish campaigns of 806 according to the Chronicle of Moissac but according to the finds evidence is much older, going back to the second century. Other such fortresses built by others and thus hard to identify as Slavic typologically can be added to such a list: Professor Henning named Höhbeck and Potzlow, where there was also a battle grave including men, women and children, some killed with what seemed to be Viking arrowheads. All of this would indicate how dangerous an area and how many players there might be in it (and the next paper would also work to this effect), if I was only sure that identifying the users of a site by a culture remained viable now that archæology accepts that material culture was a choice made from what was available for many reasons that don’t have to be to do with ethnicity, and that doing so by the shape of buildings (since Professor Henning was ruling some sites out of being Slavic, whatever that would actually mean, because they were “too rectangular”) can survive in a context in which fortified settlements were being reused by forces other those that had built them, and could very easily change hands in quite short timeframes. As it was, while I’m intrigued by the empirical quality of this data—there’s lots of it, it’s been very well recovered and thoroughly analysed—this paper made me more, not less, suspicious that we cannot, in fact, say who was in any of these sites without resorting to textual evidence that we already had…

  • Daniel Melleno, “Between Borders: the place of the Slavs in the northern politics of the Danes and Frabks in the ninth century”.
  • In the little time that was left him, Dr Melleno then took us succintly through the various testimonies of the narrative sources for the groups we think of as Slavic who were part of the political contest between the two kingdoms of Franks and Danes in the long ninth century. His basic contention was that the Obodrites, a difficult group to pin down as we have discussed, were the most successful of several such groups in profiting from Carolingian support as a buffer state to get into a position where they were actually coherent and united enough as a polity to start interacting with the Carolingians, and indeed the Danes, on their own terms. Unfortunately for them, this left them much more obvious targets than the Franks once the Danish kingdom descended into Frankish-backed civil war in the 820s and they more or less ceased to be that coherent polity in the subsequent warfare. My only complaint about this paper was that it took everything in any source used as absolutely straightforward, and I did wonder what might have come out of trying to read the Carolingian presentation of these groups as either faithful or faithless allies as a product of the annalists’ political stances, rather than the Obodrites’.

Still, it was reasonable to close with a reminder that we had almost all, coins, Christianity and trade not withstanding, seen the Carolingian frontier as a warzone first and foremost. Dr Melleno was right to end with the famous line from Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne: “have a Frank for a friend, not for a neighbour”!2


1. This is a conclusion warmly adopted by, for example, David S. Bachrach, Warfare in Tenth-Century Germany (Woodbridge 2012), where see pp. 24 & 151.

2. Einhard, Vita Karoli, ed. Oswald Holder-Egger as Einhardi Vita Karoli Magni, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum Germanicum in usum scholarum separatim editi) XXV (Hannover 1911, repr. 1960), online here, transl. David Ganz in idem (transl.), Two Lives of Charlemagne: Einhard and Notker the Stammerer (Harmondsworth 2008), pp. 17-44, cap. 16.

The Carolingian Frontier II: groups and identities on all the edges

Putting coins aside for at least one post, I return to the way I spent roughly this time last year, i.  at conferences and in particular at The Carolingian Frontier and its Neighbours, which I started writing about a couple of posts ago. Resuming our tale on the 5th July, had you been in the JCR TV Room of Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge at 9 o’clock in the morning you would have found none other than me, leading off a session with a paper called “‘Completely Detached from the Kingdom of the Franks’? Political Identity in Catalonia in the Very Late Carolingian Era”. As you might expect, I don’t have notes on this,but I can give you the abstract and you can always ask for more.

The very last years of Carolingian rule in the West have been seen as decisive for the separation of the area that is now Catalonia from the larger West Frankish kingdom whence it had its origins as a political entity: between the sack of Barcelona 985 and the succession of King Hugh Capet in 987, the counties of the future Catalonia are held to have come to a collective realisation that they stood alone against the times in which they found themselves. Such a date is very late for the allegiance of any Carolingian periphery to the core, however: of what could such loyalties really consist? This paper explores the various forms of evidence that can be brought to bear on this question and concludes firstly that loyalty was strong enough that it could be exploited politically by counts and kings and their followers, but that its strength was too limited to assist in real crisis, and secondly that it was those crises, in 957 and in 985, that therefore broke the last ties to the Carolingians in Catalonia.

I have yet to work out what to do with this paper, which is more or less the latest instalment of some thoughts I’ve been having since midway through my doctorate, but I’m pretty sure it fitted the conference and hope it set things up well. But from there it was to Central Europe, Brittany, Burgundy and some other fiddly bits that might be either France or Germany depending on when you look, and back to Central Europe again. If I was an outlier, so was everyone! Writing this up, I realise that the crucial issues that joined us all up, for me, were one about group identity, how it was created and why it failed, and what the rôle of the frontier was in that. So if those interest you, read on! The papers broke down like this… Continue reading

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.