Category Archives: Catalonia

Stock Take VII: research I can’t do

The industrial relations situation between university employers and employees in the UK is getting increasingly surreal. On Friday, with more strikes called for next week, they were paused because progress in the negotiations had got to a point where some goodwill gesture was required. But because ACAS is involved, these negotiations are confidential. Now part of the University and Colleges Union regards this as capitulation with nothing concrete gained and is protesting against the Union leadership. Presumably at this point I am teaching on Tuesday, but it’s not clear. Meanwhile, I wrote most of this on Thursday, while quite angry, and then thought I’d better defang it after I’d slept, and the result is what you have below.

Between 2007 and 2009, when this blog was very young and had not succeeded in its then-primary purpose of helping me land an academic job, I did occasional reflexive posts on my academic progress and projects, I guess in order to help me understand where I should be focusing my efforts. I think I would now tell that version of myself that I needed to focus on my actual applications and being positive about everything, but some sort of sense that I’m due another evaluation has been settling on me over the last little while, I suppose since the pandemic, when my employers first told us to stop research and focus on what really mattered, i. e. teaching. They never did rescind that instruction, I should say, but it has come up again during the current industrial dispute. Since this runs along with the threat of 100% pay deduction until the teaching has happened as well, despite the progress towards a settlement at national level, it’s clear where we have got to, and that’s here:

Not, I should say, that it seems as if many people in charge have seen that film. So I wondered, in the light of all this, how my research goals have fared and are faring since I started this job, since as you know it hasn’t all worked out. At first, I thought that the best way to do this would be first to see what had happened with the stuff in the last Stock Take post. Now, as it happens, firstly, that post was private, so you can’t see it; and secondly, most of the stuff in there on which I was seriously working came out in 2011-2013, and then a few more fell out in 2019-2021 because I used them to bargain passing my probation. But it didn’t seem worth going through that when they were all reported here. I also looked at my research goals file, which I hadn’t opened since 2019. The sad thing there is that, while I could now add new plans to it, and change some priorities maybe, nothing can be deleted; nothing in there has moved at all since then. And then I looked at what else has come out since 2011 which was not part of any of these plans, and found it to be two book chapters in Catalan, a book review, two numismatic conference papers (one in Chinese) and a numismatic article that I haven’t even mentioned here (must fix that!), all round roughly the same topic, and a collaborative historiographical article, plus one more book chapter currently in press. And I thought, I don’t need to list all these for you again and what would the interest be anyway?

So instead, I thought I would just take the projects which are in some sense on public record, because they have appeared in my sidebar here as things I am actually working on, and just say when they started, what state they’re in and what if any hope of publication they have, because this time, I’m not taking stock of what I ought to be working on; I’m taking stock of what I can’t. This is the stuff there’s no hope of me giving the world until the silly situation the UK academy has got itself into is at least partially resolved. It’s not going to make any minister cry, but it upsets me somewhat. So this is a vent; please forgive, and something more palatable will follow.

In setting this up, of course, even I have to admit that my plans are never completely realistic, and there is stuff in this list I probably haven’t even tried to work on since first mentioning it or presenting it. So I’ve divided this into two categories, and they express how I accept or don’t that unrealism…

Not My Fault (I Would If I Could)

  • Agent of Change: Count Borrell II of Barcelona (945-993) and his Times: well, you’ve heard this story, and this is still my official first priority; but there isn’t any more of it actually written than there was in 2017, there are a lot of documents still to process, as well as the reading which might get it past the reviewers…;
  • “Aizó of Ausona: the identity of the rebel of Roda de Ter, 826”, first written as a blog post in 2009, already, but first properly researched and written up 2014, sent out 2015 and flat-rejected, my first time ever; I still think it’s basically sound, though, so it has had some peer feedback and minor revisions since then but not the final edit to make it ready for somewhere else; it basically exists, and was last revised January 2021, but now needs my new knowledge about the supposed Jewish garrison of Osona built in too;
  • “Critical diplomatic: a tool for analysing medieval societies”, ultimately derived from the first chapter of my thesis of 2005, presented 2009 and sent out in that form, came back wanting major revisions which I then wasn’t equipped to do but now might be, the how-to-use charters several people have asked me to point them to but which doesn’t exist in English;
  • De Administrandis Marcis: The 10th-Century Frontier with Islam seen from Barcelona and Byzantium”, given as a conference paper in 2015, bound for the first Rethinking the Medieval Frontier volume if that ever occurs but ready to go in and of itself, after some minor updates probably;
  • “Documents that Shouldn’t Survive: Preservation from before the Archive in Catalonia and Elsewhere”, first presented as a Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic paper way back when, in 2007 I think, but not used for the resulting volume on the basis that I was only allowed one chapter (which was, I admit, the longest); revised 2011, since then I have been reading for it now and then, mostly of course the volume of which it might also have been part, and did a skeleton redraft in late 2021, but would have to read a bit more to make it go now; probably my second most practical to resuscitate;
  • “Heartland and Frontier from the Perspective of the Banu Qasi, 825-929”, my second Rethinking the Medieval Frontier paper, presented 2016, basically complete, may actually now have a home to go to and of course I can’t do anything to send it there;
  • “Keeping it in the Family? Consanguineous Marriage and the Counts of Barcelona, Reviewed”, arisen out of work on Agent of Change above, more or less a critical review of the early medieval part of Martin Aurell, Les noces du comte : mariage et pouvoir en Catalogne (785-1213), Série histoire ancienne et médiévale 32 (Paris 1995); needs more reading to make it clearer why it needs doing for anyone other than me, and hasn’t been brought together as a piece rather than as bits of a chapter about something else, but I’d still like to;
  • Miles or militia: war-service and castle-guard in tenth-century Catalonia”, first presented 2014; sent out as a probation requirement in 2017, and accepted but subject to revisions it’s never been possible to carry out the research for; this one is very much "not my fault";
  • “Our Men on the March: middle-men and the negotiation of central power in three early medieval contexts”, 2017 Rethinking the Medieval Frontier paper, bound for the second of those volumes if that ever happens, which is at least some distance off for now;
  • “Pictlands: rethinking the composition of the Pictish polity”: based in some sense on this blog-post, exists only as outline notes, and not something I’ve worked on properly for decades, but so much exciting new stuff has been happening in the field lately that I have been reading some of it, in my spare time (really), which makes it the only one of these obviously likely to emerge just now…;1
  • “The ‘Heathrow Hoard’: an emblematic case of antiquities trafficking”, as described here, something I would like to do more with but which derives ultimately from work by someone else whose cooperation I would ideally have and can’t get; exists as their work plus a catalogue by me that really needs checking against the collection, currently impossible.

My Fault (I Haven’t Even Tried)

  • All that Glitters: the Byzantine solidus 307-1092: much blogged here, but not much advanced since then; it would ideally be both an article and a book/catalogue, but it means either coordinating six people or doing it rogue and so far I haven’t mustered strength or permission to do either;
  • “Arabic-named communities in ninth- and tenth-century Asturias and León, at court and at home”, whose story was told here long ago and which hasn’t changed;
  • “Brokedown palaces or Torres dels Moros? Finding the fisc in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, a paper given in summer 2013 and not touched since then;
  • Churchmen and the Church in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010, a sort of holding title for a possible book based on the various papers I gave in 2013 about Montpeità and its priests, filled out with my other thoughts about monastery foundation and church structures in this area as a kind of partner to my first book; I haven’t done anything with this since May 2015;
  • “Identity of Authority in pre-Catalonia around the end of the Carolingian succession”: to be honest, this is a more of a project folder than an actual work, though I would like to do something under this title at some point, perhaps as a book conclusion;
  • “Legends in their own Lifetime? The late Carolingians and Catalonia”, presentation version of “The Continuation of Carolingian Expansion” as mentioned last post, presented 2008, sent out 2010 and has sat ever since that experience bar some updates in 2014; hard to blame anyone else for this;
  • “Neo-Goths, Mozarabs and Kings: chronicles versus charters in tenth-century León”, basically the same as “Arabic-named communities” above;
  • “The Carolingian Succession to the Visigothic Fisc on the Spanish March”, although presented in 2010 also more of a project than a paper and not one I’ve been pursuing.

And so at the end of that, what do we conclude? Well, to me it looks as if, though some things I’d like to do have just been stopped for a long time, I was still generating new work till 2017 or so, still able to generate conference papers on new topics until about 2018, and in numismatics until 2019 somehow, and then everything bogged down and hasn’t got better. I’ve managed to finish a few things already in process, and I can carry on doing that if pressed, but I’m not making more.

It also, of course, looks as ever as if I think I am working on far too many things at once and feel as if I am working on none. But it is frustrating, to have this many things one would like to say, and to find one’s mouth stopped by other duties too far to say them as anything other than Internet asides. I don’t see how even the current crisis can solve this problem of the university sector; but I do wonder how anyone else is still managing.

1. The most obvious things that have changed the picture here is the work of the Northern Picts Project, whose work is mostly collected in Gordon Noble & Nicholas Evans (edd.), The King in the North: The Pictish Realms of Fortriu and Ce. Collected Essays Written as Part of the University of Aberdeen’s Northern Picts Project (Edinburgh 2019), but there’s also Alice E. Blackwell (ed.), Scotland in Early Medieval Europe (Leiden 2019) and quite a few monographs, none of which as far as I can tell from abstracts and descriptions say what I want to say, but I will have to, you know, check.

“He should comment on the fact that their Latin is not very good.”

The industrial relations situation at my employers grows ever more Kafka-esque, to the extent where it’s probably not wise by now for me to make it clear on here whether I have been on strike or not as this post goes up. Therefore, I offer you a pre-written one that I have been keeping against a pressed occasion and a reassurance that, whether or not I am, lots of people are, and that as ever I think that their reasons are good and the employers’ response inadequate where even existent. And with that, let’s move it on to the past and the problems of writing about it.

Manresa, Arxiu Històric Comarcal, pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, núm. 3

Manresa, Arxiu Històric Comarcal, pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, núm. 3, published as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya carolíngia volum IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, 3 vols, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica 53 (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 1594; I have to admit, I don’t know where I got this image now, but it is a very typical-looking charter and its Latin is very much of its time

In general I have escaped the whole Reviewer #2 thing fairly well, but one or two of my early article submissions got stung thus.1 The quote of the title might take the prize, however: it was the complete totality of the second review I got of an early article that in fact never emerged.2 (The first review was broadly positive; the journal in question sent it out to a third reviewer, who also said it should be published; and so the editor rejected it and didn’t answer any further e-mail. I won’t deal with that journal again.) The reason I tell you this now, however, is that it had when I wrote this just come up again in something I was reading, and I wanted to pause and wonder.

For those that love their Classical Latin, the language of the documents of the eleventh-century Spanish March come as a bit of a shock. Inflection is generally down to three cases only, but the indirect object case can be one of several options; the scribes were fairly evidently normalising to sound, not to spelling. Many of the spellings and indeed words are themselves fairly Romance; and yet it is clear from the odd patches where the actual vernacular turns up that the vernacular was not what they thought they were writing, even if they could probably have read out what they were writing and had people understand it, just as most UK English speakers can probably parse a modern writ but wouldn’t be able to write one.3 But still, that doesn’t explain the way that some scholars apparently think this means that this is all that can be said of them. That reviewer, whoever she or he was, was one; but it was kind of a comfort to find that Pierre Bonnassie, no less, got the same treatment as far back as 1968, at a famous conference in Toulouse whose proceedings are cited to this day.4 Working through this for other reasons, I decided that although I’d long ago read Bonnassie’s contribution elsewhere, I’d still probably profit from reading the discussion, which was printed, and there it is.5 The by-then venerable Robert Boutruche seems to have spent most of every paper’s discussion trying to shoehorn the southern social structures just described to him into a legalistic template of northern feudalism, with a barrage of terminological questions whose answers didn’t leave him any happier.6 He did this to Bonnassie too, briefly, but he had to begin, all the same, with how the documents’ Latin sucked. It’s interesting to see basically the same conversation as I’ve had, as I’ve seen even Wendy Davies having to have, being carried on there, with the same uncertainty about what the more traditional side of the conversation wants out of the discussion. I translate, with my commentary in square brackets, and you can find the actual French here if you want (p. 558):

    BOUTRUCHE: The first document you give here is very curious: bad Latin accompanied with terms in the vernacular.
    BONNASSIE: This is very common in Catalonia.
    BOUTRUCHE: It would have been good to emphasise this and to place it in its temporal context.
    [Why? Why would that have been good?]
    BONNASSIE: The Latin of the Catalans of the eleventh century is terrible. There’s a reason for this, which is tied up with the fact that Catalonia hardly knew the Carolingian Renaissance.
    [No! Why’d you give in, Bonnassie? I suppose you were only a postgrad at this point and he was the old man of the field, but still. Anyway, what you said wasn’t true, as Cullen Chandler has now shown.7]
    JEAN SCHNEIDER [moderating, or trying to]: Never forget, it’s a typical phenomenon: they wrote Latin more grammatically in the countries that didn’t speak a Romance language. Among the Anglo-Saxons and the Germans, they cultivated grammar because they jolly well had to learn it! But in Romance-language countries, one could imagine oneself understanding Latin.
    BOUTRUCHE: Well, here they didn’t know it.
    [What did you want, man, an apology from Bonnassie for studying these documents?]
    SCHNEIDER: Sure, but they could have imagined that they did.
    [No, you too have conceded! Weak! Infirm of purpose! And here the ghost of Jarrett future is ejected from proceedings by the ectoplasmic bouncers.]

From there, anyway, it moves on to whether there were vassals in Bonnassie’s documents or not, as a French lawyer would understand the word, but you see why it perplexes me. I’ve had this too; it’s as if these scholars feel that by making them deal with these documents we’ve tracked dirt over their mental carpet. But of course this isn’t Classical Latin! It was aged by a millennium from when that was new. I imagine Gerbert of Aurillac would have been pretty horrified by Boutruche’s French, too, but that kind of parallel never seems to occur. I suppose that the teaching point is that old one we make to our first-year students: everything is a primary source for something. These traditionalists want to see the Catalan (and indeed other northern Iberian) documents as a source for decline of intellectual standards, and what I want to insist on is that they are a source for what Latin was c. 1100; not better, not worse, but still doing its work after a millennium of evolution. That should be cool, not a reason to reject an article just because it’s about these things. At least that didn’t happen to Bonnassie, on this occasion anyway. But I wonder if he too had his Reviewer #2 story for this reason…

1. As with any of these things, the ‘Reviewer #2’ trend has generated meta-commentary, of which the quickest study if you haven’t heard of this phenomenon before is probably Rachael Pells, “Research intelligence: how to deal with the gruesome reviewer 2” in Times Higher Education (THE) (13 June 2019), online here; but someone actually doing analysis on it concluded that actually, if anyone, Reviewer 3 is the problem one: see David A. M. Peterson, “Dear Reviewer 2: Go F’ Yourself” in Social Science Quarterly Vol. 101 (Oxford 2020), pp. 1648–1652, DOI: 10.1111/ssqu.12824. Well, not for me, so far…

2. I presented the paper in a couple of places, most recently as “The Continuation of Carolingian Expansion: splitting hairs in medieval Catalonia” at the Second Conference of Historians of Medieval Spain and Portugal, Liverpool, 15 September 2003. It was to be sort of a first half to the second half that became Jonathan Jarrett, “Caliph, King, or Grandfather: Strategies of Legitimization on the Spanish March in the Reign of Lothar III” in The Mediaeval Journal Vol. 1 no. 2 (Turnhout 2011), pp. 1–22, DOI: 10.1484/J.TMJ.1.102535, explaining how it was still accurate to call Catalonia Carolingian even in the late tenth century given its apparent group-think on the issue, and it too was generated out of an attempt to answer criticism from snobby reviewers…

3. Of course, we have discussed these issues before, and I still need to engage properly with Roger Wright, Late Latin and Early Romance in Spain and Carolingian France, ARCA Classical and Medieval Texts Papers and Monographs 8 (Liverpool 1982), and his more recent work as well of course, and decide what I think, but for now I think I hold to the idea that Latin and the vernacular were not the same thing in Catalonia by 1050, even if they might have been mutually intelligible still.

4. Pierre Bonnassie, “Les conventions féodales dans la Catalogne du XIe siècle” in Annales du Midi, Colloque sur les structures sociales de l’Aquitaine, du Languedoc et de l’Espagne au premier âge féodal, Vol.80/no. 89 (Toulouse 1968), pp. 529–561, DOI: 10.3406/anami.1968.4455.

5. The discussion is ibid. pp. 551-561; I’d already read the paper as Pierre Bonnassie, “Feudal Conventions in Eleventh-Century Catalonia” in Bonnassie, From Slavery to Feudalism in South-Western Europe, transl. Jean Birrell (Cambridge 1991), pp. 170–194.

6. Bonnassie, “Conventions féodales”, pp. 557-558; also seen in M. De Boüard, “Quelques données archéologiques concernant le premier àge féodal” in Annales du Midi, Colloque sur les structures sociales de l’Aquitaine, du Languedoc et de l’Espagne au premier âge féodal, Vol.80/no. 89 (Toulouse 1968), pp. 383–404, DOI: 10.3406/anami.1968.4450 at pp. 399-401; Hilda Grassotti, “La durée des concessions bénéficiaires en Léon et Castille : les cessions ad tempus“, transl. André Gallego and Pierre Bonnassié [sic], ibid. pp. 421–455 at pp. 448-449; Élisabeth Magnou-Nortier, “Fidélité et féodalité méridionales d’après les serments de fidélité (Xe – début XIIe siècle)”, ibid. pp. 457–484, DOI: 10.3406/anami.1968.4453, at pp. 479-480; José-Maria Lacarra, “« Honores » et « tenencias » en Aragon (XIe siècle)”, transl. Pierre Bonnassie and Y. Bonnassie, ibid., pp 485–528, DOI: 10.3406/anami.1968.4454, at p. 523; and Paul Ourliac, “Le pays de La Selve à la fin du XIIe siècle”, ibid. pp. 581–602, DOI: 10.3406/anami.1968.4457 at p. 595!

7. See, of course, Cullen J. Chandler, Carolingian Catalonia: Politics, Culture, and Identity in an Imperial Province, 778–987, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 111 (Cambridge 2019), the book everyone wanted me to write but me and now done much better than I would have; and I’m not sure I’ve congratulated Cullen on it yet so, if you’re reading this note Cullen, congratulations and I’ll try and give it some proper blog attention in the near future!

Seminar CLXXII: regions, Russia and Robertians

One of the more interesting things I saw in the tail end of 2019 (because yes, sorry, backlog still that far back) was an attempt by three colleagues of mine (two since sadly moved on) to start a new sort of seminar, at least, new for us in History at Leeds. The colleages in question were Dr Jamie Doherty, Dr Fraser McNair and Professor James Harris, and what they wanted to do was build a dialogic seminar on political cultures. They managed one go, on 21st October 2019, and then it stopped, not because it was a bad idea but because, I believe, they had decided to have a second go towards Easter 2020, and you may recollect how the world’s plans for 2020 worked out. By the time it was possible to regroup, not everyone was still in place, and so this one go was all we got, which was a pity, as I’ll try and show.1

The way it worked was pretty simple: two colleagues with expertise in quite different periods lined up with 15-minutes papers about the same theme, as they saw it from their perspective, and then everyone else got to join in too in chaired discussion. The chosen theme was ‘Regionalism’, and in the arbitrarily blue corner, perhaps from his native county, but of course flying colours for the tenth century as seen from mostly the European West, was Fraser, while in the corner that is red with the people’s blood, and tooled up with more knowledge on how Stalin’s USSR worked than some would ever want, there was James.2 In this analogy, Jamie was referee, though the analogy makes this sound much more oppositional than it really was. What it really was was fun, and a way of doing a seminar that really did get a bigger conversation going; my notes record contributions from eight people other than the speakers and about twice as much discussion as papers. I wish all seminars came out like that! So this is how it went, sort of blow-by-blow.

    McNAIR: first let’s try and define a region. Obviously there’s several possible scales, in the Carolingian world (with modern English analogies) pagus (e. g. the Black Country) and county (e. g. Worcestershire), and in the eleventh century lots of the latter become units of a higher level; but because of that confusion, is it maybe better instead to say that a region is a unit that is not the centre to which it relates?
    HARRIS: when I looked at the first Soviet Five-Year Plan, I found the numerous regions the USSR recognised through giving them representation competing for central investment, and not working together to demand a collective voice; the quicker response to the simplest instructions brought the most investment, so the regions effectively encouraged the centre’s resort to dictatorship by promising to do what they were told better than their competitors!

Then the conversation started. The chunks in my notes break up like this:

  1. Communications (Fraser, James, someone I didn’t know then and someone surnamed Morris I now can’t identify): if there were no communications obviously power couldn’t operate but how far are they two-way? Can regions talk back? In Carolingian Europe they came to assemblies to speak and be heard; but over time it was people at the centre who were sent out to the regions and eventually they stopped coming back. In the USSR communications back to the centre were so voluminous that they had to be filtered, but they were also deficient, working through preferred routes only and saying what the centre wanted to hear; that definitely didn’t mean the regions were uncontrolled though!
  2. Jamie asked if political ritual was used as a mask, or protection, for communication in Stalin’s USSR and James confirmed that it absolutely was: the ritual of choice was self-recrimination as a way of getting the right to speak, and approaches to the ‘court’ were made through formulae too. This was James showing that he listened to his medievalist colleagues in the pub, I thought, and I was very pleased by this speaking of our language. Fraser added that regional rituals also existed and that is also worth thinking with, and James stressed that informal communications were obviously hugely important but are mostly unattested, something which struck chords for several of the medievalists present, including me.
  3. Fraser then started looking for levels of unit we might all share; the Spanish Empire’s myriad island dependencies as described by Iona McCleery for us didn’t look good for this, but it seemed for a moment as if bishoprics might be something that was at least recognisable over most of our areas, even if in the USSR they obviously weren’t very important. Fraser pointed out that their arguments for their power rested on a central structure more than a regional one, but this proved to be a division: Fraser’s bishops addressed their faithful using their central significance, but James’s regional representatives used the region as base to talk to the centre, the only Soviet audience worth having. For a long time, following Matthew Innes of course, I’ve understood the Carolingian Empire as working at peak with both of these dynamics at once; but of course that doesn’t mean every part of a political system has to have them both in balance, and I could probably do with thinking more with this as well.
  4. So we then came round to scale, as we so often should; this started with Fraser asking if regions could exist without a centre, as he thought eleventh-century France was such a thing, defined instead by its edges; this, for me, was also the position of Catalonia after the Carolingians, sharing only a language and not being anyone else’s, but itself being only regions with no shared centre, not even Barcelona, and that raised the question of how small a region can be. To that James noted that some representatives on the Soviet Central Committee had a political weight well above their demographic one because of representing large empty areas, so that there the problem was more how big one could be! This, I think, is a Europe versus Eurasia issue, but still quite important.3
  5. The last conversation was one for the modernists, however, being about how industrialisation and the people flows towards cities which it created, and then globalisation and the deindustrialisation it has caused, altered these dynamics by dispersing identities. Sean Fear thought that we have examples of regional identities being rested on globalising flows – I don’t know what he meant now, but I think of the Fair Trade movement as a possible example – while someone else spoke of diasporas as non-geographical regional identities, and was met with the argument that physical proximity still enables cooperation better. Sean’s point may have been cities arising as identities more important than the regional backgrounds of their constitutent members, as he ended with that, and here there would certainly be things medievalists could have added about performing group membership in ways outsiders can learn; but we were out of time…

As you can tell, in retrospect it’s hard to draw much of a continuous thread out of this, and it would have been nice to have the future instalments of the series to see if threads kept emerging and suggested areas of work. What this did show, however, and even in this messy write-up I hope still shows, was that we could actually all talk about the same things wherever and whenever our study areas sat on maps and timelines, without even having to look for similarities enough to make our examples, you know, correlative. We were dancing round being able to have conversations here about historical phenomena in a usefully comparative fashion, and it’s rather a shame we didn’t get to do more of it. It showed the potential for collegial discussion that I described long ago existing even outside of a so-called college, if we’d only had the chance to build on it.

1. Retrospectively, now, it’s hard not to see the pandemic as the point where we in universities all ramped up to being 100% service-delivery personnel, and I don’t personally feel we’ve ever been allowed to step back down to where we were before. Consequently, I can’t now imagine a thing like this happening that wasn’t led by postgraduates or postdoctoral scholars, and indeed even this was one-third the work of one of the latter.

2. James is probably most famous either for his most recent book, James Harris, The Great Fear: Stalin’s Terror of the 1930s (Oxford 2016), or an earlier one he co-wrote, James Harris and Sarah Davies, Stalin’s World: Dictating the Soviet Order (New Haven CT 2014), but the one that was most relevant here was probably his first, James Harris, The Great Urals: Regionalism and the Evolution of the Soviet System (Ithaca NY 1999).

3. Iona McCleery had, indeed, already pointed out the weirdness of calling somewhere like West Africa a ‘region’ simply because your centre of relevance for your own perspective is elsewhere, even though it’s bigger than most countries, when a ‘regional’ saint’s cult might have a reach only of a few towns; as ever, scale is tricky but has to be reckoned with.

How to Defend a Thesis (in two languages)

So, I have been promising this post for weeks, but at the very end of July 2019 I was in Barcelona to examine a doctoral thesis. Although the actual thesis was excellent, and its author now a collaborator of mine, the process was a little arduous, especially because of coming so close on the heels of the International Medieval Congress and then my holiday. But it was also a really good occasion and was the making of some very useful contacts, so it definitely wants writing up. The question is how to do so without running on for ages, because it’s a story of many parts, all worth explaining, and I think the answer is to say relatively little about the content, which those who care about can of course explore themselves, and instead try and tell the story as a process.1


The very first step of the process, then, goes back as far as the spring of 2017, when a young Catalan by the name of Xavier Costa Badia turned up as a visiting doctoral student at the Institute for Medieval Studies at Leeds. He had come not least to work with me, though none of the arrangements had been made with me, but I was having about the worst professional year of my life then or since and we in fact only managed to meet twice. However, that was enough, apparently, to reassure both of us that we knew and loved the subject area and had interests in common. Subsequently, Xavier was drafted in to help edit the proceedings of a conference about the nunnery of Sant Joan de Ripoll, about which as you know I Care A Lot, and it was mainly because of his agitation that I got the invitation to be in that volume which constituted my first-ever Catalan-language publication (which Xavier translated).2 So when, in about the middle of that process, he approached me about being on his doctoral examination panel, I’d already accepted that I was going to have to say yes, and indeed, except for the weight of actual reading involved, I was quite keen to know what he’d written. Anyway, it was sorted out, and then in late spring 2019 the thesis actually arrived.


Now, this should definitely be read as anthropological comparison and not complaint, but, the usual word limit for a UK doctoral thesis is 100,000 words and with a bibliography that usually comes out at around 250 pages of double-spaced 12-point A4. I admit, mine was 308 including an appendix.3 But Xavi’s is 723, and that’s just the volume which now sits weightily on my bookshelves. I say ‘just’ because there was also an electronic component, a CD-R including a further 67 pages of PDF, which go to explain the 6002-fiche database of monastic sites he had compiled to source the actual thesis. So I had a lot of reading to do quite quickly. (I confess, I only sounded the database a little bit, just to see how it had all been done, which was, of course, methodically and as far as I could see, accurately.)

The remains of Santa Cecília d'Altimiris

The remains of Santa Cecília d’Altimiris, perhaps the oldest monastery in what is now Catalonia which survived through to the early Middle Ages and one where I believe the subject of this post has spent some time digging; image from, linked through

So as you may gather from that, Xavi’s actual topic was monasticism in early medieval Catalonia, to which he was taking a landscape and archæological approach: this involved first defining what he meant by a monastery, secondly how we can identify them in the record either textual or archæological (not a simple question), thirdly which places were in and which out, and fourthly (longest bit of the first part), where, in topological terms, they all were. Then the second part was case studies, including the twin houses of Ripoll, and then finally conclusions. And I did enjoy reading it, because Xavi’s writing is clear and elegant and of course I learned a great deal, but I was also very relieved when I finally got to the end before I’d had to leave for the airport…

Notes made in preparation for the thesis defence of Xavier Costa Badia

Notes for the defence, with page numbers and cross-references

Notes made for the thesis defence of Xavier Costa Badia

And the reverse side, with something like a plan of my speech, also with page references

So by the end of that, I had a lot of notes of things to talk about, 11 pages of single-spaced 12-point in fact, and obviously, that was too much. And I spent most of the plane journey out distilling that into the questions I thought really were important, and working them into some kind of order, which generated the kind of squirrelly interlace around my notes which you see here and with which you may by now be horrifiedly familiar, but did mean that I arrived more or less prepared.


So I flew out the afternoon before and fetched up in the best place I’ve yet stayed in Barcelona (other than the Residència d’Investigadors, which really needs someone else to pay for up front), which is to say that it was clean, private (in the sense that it had a lockable door to the room, not always something I’ve found) and offered only just enough space to turn round in because of the inclusion of an implausible and just-about-functional en-suite. It was also over a street whose lively night-life echoed through the building only till about two a. m., which is actually pretty mild for Barcelona. I think all the power sockets and light-switches even worked; hopefully I still have a record of where it was somewhere… The result of this was that I arrived at least passably rested at the Universitat de Barcelona the next day, but then had to do the mental climb that is waking up one of my rudimentary foreign languages after a year or two of dormancy. The fact that some of the assembled academics didn’t speak that foreign language (Catalan) made that an uphill struggle, but by the time I actually had to talk, with a few lines worked out ahead of time, I could at least justify in Catalan my lapsing into English for the academic content, something of a relief all told.

So what actually happens at one of these dos is very unlike the UK process, where you just get closeted with your two examiners for an hour or two, they quiz you and you find out somewhere in there whether they think you passed or not. As far as I understand it, it’s basically impossible to proceed this far in the Continental system if the thesis isn’t going to pass; if that were likely, it wouldn’t have been put forward for examination and if you raise objections you’ll embarrass everyone, so, you don’t. (Not a problem with either of the two I’ve so far examined, I should say.) But that doesn’t mean that you can’t give the candidate hell, if you want, and there are between three and six of you to do it, as well – in this case five – before an audience usually including the candidate’s family and best academic friends, the latter of whom you’re terrorising for their turn at the process. Every member of the panel gives their views, and then at the end of it, the candidate has to give a response, for which they have been frantically scribbling notes while everyone speaks, at the same time as trying to protect their ego enough to cope. As you can tell, I don’t fully endorse the extremity of this process, especially since, after you’ve put them through all of this, the candidate has to buy their examiners lunch! (Though it was both good and welcome; but we’ll come to that shortly.)

Anyway, as I say there were five of us: in order of speaking Jordi Bolòs i Masclans, definitely the man you want for expertise on landscape archæology in Catalonia; me, for non-Iberian peninsula perspectives and some relatively keen knowledge of the Ripollès; María Raquel Alonso Álvarez, of the Universidad de Oviedo, representing the rest of the Peninsula (which is actually not that usual, in Catalonia); Marta Sancho, Xavi’s actual supervisor and thus the person who knows several of his sites like no-one else; and Josep María Salrach, who is mentioned on this blog in almost every other post (at least, those about Catalonia), and so probably needs no further introduction. And we said, roughly, that it was excellent and a landmark thesis (everyone agreed); and then…

    1. that the gaps on the map were interesting and that place-names needed closer examination (en Jordi);
    2. that there were almost no typos that I could find, itself remarkable, but that I wasn’t sure how much of the monastic landscape was actually Carolingian rather than local initiative (i. e. top-down royal policy versus bottom-up local piety (or politics4)) and wanted to know how far one could get models out of this area which might be used elsewhere (me, among several other more minor things);
    3. that there were important differences between the late antique or Visigothic phase and the new Islam-contemporary one of Carolingian Catalonia, not least a strange but very evident shortage of nunneries, and that in this respect both Muslim Iberia and incipient Asturias-León seem to have remained late antique (Professor Alonso; this had me wondering if royal control of the fisc was perhaps part of the difference, or so my notes tell me);
    4. that we also needed to think about why people even bcame monks or nuns in this world, as well as where (Professor Sancho; there were lots of jokes in this address which my Catalan wasn’t up to getting, too);
    5. and then there was en Josep.

Now I pause for breath here, because Josep María’s speech was a good bit longer than ours. But of course, it being Josep María Salrach, there was loads of good stuff in there, mostly complimentary but also encouraging us to think about visibility of sites; about how landscape is a phenomenon which only exists when observed because otherwise it’s just how the land is; that the late antique/early medieval difference might be the combination of reform Christianity and a frontier with Islam, which I really wanted more time to think with; that both-gender communities might explain some of the shortage of nuns (and here I respectfully disagree because I think we don’t really see any in Catalonia; Sant Joan just having some attached priests doesn’t count5); that Carolingian monastic ideals might be detected in the area by the copying of monastic rules (and indeed they might but, well, people have looked6); about whether gift and counter-gift was really different from sale in this world (to which I inwardly raised my old objection, that there were different ways of recording both so the choice must have been significant); and that the fact that frontier space could be claimed as part of the fisc wrapped monasteries into power in certain special ways (and here we’re into aprisio, and I’ve said everything I can say about that long ago).7

So as you can tell, I actually had more arguments with Josep María Salrach than I did with Xavier, and that was handy in a way as we then got sat opposite each other at lunch, but before then, after two and a half hours of having his work dissected, Xavi had to respond. He thanked us all for not looking too hard at his classification of monasteries, which was where he thought he was weakest, and then wrangled with each of our points briefly, including answering mine in English. The question several people had asked, none with any better suggestions, was about the county of Cerdanya, which was one of the big gaps on the map, just very few monasteries; it’s upland and mostly had a pastoral economy, but as several people had pointed out, that didn’t stop people founding monasteries anywhere else. And once he’d answered us all, we finally let him off the hook, now as Dr Xavier Costa Badia, and there was a lot of applause and some speeches of thanks and it was all good.


Now, naturally enough the main consequences of all this have redounded on Xavier, who got not just his doctorate but a prize and presumably a pay rise on his next gig, and a small rook of publications.8 But this is my blog, so I really mean consequences for me.

Xavier Costa Badia with his doctoral thesis after winning the Premi Sant Jordi de l'Institut d'Estudis Catalans de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica Pròsper de Bofarull d'Història Medieval with it

Xavier himself, with that same doctoral thesis, after winning the Institut d’Estudis Catalans’ Premi Sant Jordi of the Secció Històrico-Arqueològica Pròsper de Bofarull d’Història Medieval with it

So, obviously I got paid for this—or maybe that’s not obvious, in fact, but I did—but there were also a bunch of other reasons this was a good thing. Firstly, and not least, I now have on my shelf a pretty up-to-date directory of monasticism in early medieval Catalonia, which has already proved useful. Secondly, I got a good lunch and a chance to drop in on the Biblioteca de Catalunya out of it, and found somewhere borderline-acceptable to stay and somewhere very good to eat in Barcelona. Thirdly, however, I got a chance to have a long and fairly friendly argument with Josep María Salrach, to the amusement of Marta Sancho, and I hope both of them thought them better of me afterwards; but I’m fairly sure Josep María did, because he brokered my getting the rest of the Catalunya Carolíngia more or less for free, it wasn’t long after this that he asked me to write my second piece of scholarship to be published in Catalan, and he has remained a help whenever I’ve needed to ask ever since. And, fourthly, it has meant that whenever I’ve been asked who the exciting up-and-coming figures in my field are, I’ve been confident in naming Xavi; and as a result of this, the poor lad has got dragged into several collaborations he otherwise might not have, including, mirabile dictu, with Castilians – but that needs separate reportage, and will, I promise, eventually get it. On this occasion, however, much of this was yet to come, but I went home with a good feeling for the future and a sense of many useful connections made. It was definitely worth the panic reading post-holiday. I’m not sure I could do it now, though!

1. Most of Xavier’s work, understandably, is in Catalan, but if you would like a sense of what he does and only read English, there is an early sample in Xavier Costa Badia, “Non-regulated Female Religiosity in the Catalan Counties in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries: A Territorial and Network-Oriented Approach” in Svmma: Revista de cultures medievals Vol. 15 (Barcelona 2020), pp. 35–54. The actual thesis, meanwhile, is Xavier Costa Badia, “Paisatges monàstics: El monacat alt-medieval als comtats catalans (segles IX-X)”, tesi doctoral (Universitat de Barcelona 2019), and there is a presentation of it in Xavier Costa Badia, “Paisajes monásticos. El monacato altomedieval en los condados catalanes (siglos IX-X). Tese de Doutoramento em História apresentada à Universidade de Barcelona (Espanha), Julho de 2019. Orientação das Professoras Blanca Garí e Maria Soler-Sala” in Medievalista no. 28 (Lisboa 1 July 2020), pp. 419–434, DOI: 10.4000/medievalista.3396, which is in Spanish but is at least online and open access.

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

3. Not that I imagine you’ve forgotten, but as I’ve mentioned it, that would be Jonathan Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in Late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph.D. thesis (University of London 2005), online here, rev. as Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: Pathways of Power, Studies in History: New Series (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer for the Royal Historical Society, 2010).

4. I’m thinking here largely with the work of Rob Portass, who would have been another brilliant person to have on this panel, and of whose work the most relevant bit would be Robert Portass, “The Contours and Contexts of Public Power in the Tenth-Century Liébana” in Journal of Medieval History Vol. 38 (Abingdon 2012), pp. 389–407, 10.1080/03044181.2012.710551.

5. People have been suggesting it does ever since José Orlandis Rovira, “Los orígenes del monaquismo dúplice en España” in Homenaje a la memoria de Don Juan Moneva y Puyol, Estudios de derecho aragonés (Zaragoza 1954), pp. 235–248, but I still don’t think it’s right; we’ve just got no evidence that Sant Joan’s priests worked out of the nunnery rather than the neighbouring parish church. People use its example to justify other possible cases but it’s actually the most likely of the lot.

6. Admittedly, I’m thinking primarily of Cullen J. Chandler, Carolingian Catalonia: Politics, Culture, and Identity in an Imperial Province, 778–987, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 111 (Cambridge 2019), DOI: 10.1017/9781108565745, which it would have been hard for anyone at this gathering yet to have taken into account, but Anscari M. Mundó, “Regles i observances monàstiques a Catalunya” in Eufèmia Fort i Cogul (ed.), II Col·loqui d’Història del Monaquisme Català, Scriptorium Populeti 7 (Poblet 1972-1974), 2 vols, I pp. 7–24, didn’t come up with much either as I recall.

7. See Jonathan Jarrett, “Settling the Kings’ Lands: Aprisio in Catalonia in Perspective” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 18 (Oxford 2010), pp. 320–342, DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-8847.2010.00301.x, one of several pieces I’ve written I really wanted just to end a dispute and actually haven’t really been heard in it.

8. To name but a few beyond those already cited in n. 1 above, three chapters in that same essay volume cited in n. 2 above; a first appearance in print in Xavier Costa Badia, “Los monasterios nacidos a través de pactos en los condados catalanes del siglo IX: Reflexiones en torno a la pervivencia de un modelo fundacional visigodo en tiempos de la reforma carolingia” in Hortus Artium Medievalium Vol. 23 (Zagreb 2017), pp. 328–335, DOI: 10.1484/J.HAM.5.113724; a historiographical review of his main subject in Xavier Costa Badia, “El monacat als comtats catalans altmedievals: un balanç historiogràfic” in Índice histórico español Vol. 132 (Madrid 2019), pp. 49–78, on here; and now a book I will have to read, Xavier Costa Badia, Poder, religió i territori: una nova mirada als orígines del monacat al Ripollès (segles IX-X), Mvnera 1 (Barcelona 2022).

Revisiting Sant Pau del Camp

I promised something more academic than holiday photos for this week, but my first option, a post about the probably-legendary Battle of Baltarga at which Count Ermengol I of Osona, elder brother of Borrell II, was supposed by some three hundred and fifty years later to have died, will not work. You can tell even from that how it was meant to go, but in order to do it properly I’d first have to read a recent article on the subject and then find a way to consult all three volumes of Ramon Ordeig i Mata’s recent Diplomatari del Monestir de Ripoll, which as far as I can see you can only do in Catalonia, and the result would be a proper article.1 Since that article is probably necessary for me to write in order that I don’t have to cover it in the book, it then becomes work someone is paying me for, which I don’t do at weekends any more, and thus I cannot blog it. It’s a funny situation into which we unionised UK academics have got ourselves…

Interior of the Biblioteca de Catalunya, Barcelona

Interior of the Biblioteca de Catalunya, Barcelona (from Spanish Wikipedia)

But the reasons I’d had the idea in the first place was because of reading that thesis I mentioned which I was examining in 2019.2 I will, as promised, write about that in short order, but not today. Instead, today I want to say something about another academic thing I did on that trip. In fact, there were two of those things: firstly, I used as much time as I could on reading things I can only get at in Catalonia, evidently a theme for this post, in the Biblioteca de Catalunya, my favourite research library of all so far and a place to which, of course, given subsequent events, I’ve not since been able to go back.3 But I did pop out to have a look around during its lunch hours, and the nearest and best thing for a medievalist to look at nearby the Biblioteca de Catalunya, other than than the erstwhile medieval hospital in which the Biblioteca is itself housed, is the erstwhile monastery of Sant Pau del Camp.

Sant Pau del Camp in Barcelona

A Wikimedia Commons image of the building, which unlike every time I’ve been there they managed to find not covered by repair works; image by TenOfAllTrades, licensed CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons as I said

It had been a few years since I was last there, and actually a few things had changed. They had a new entry facility set up—the previous time, it had just been a woman at a table in the doorway—and working disabled access, loos and so on, and they had also got a new set of leaflets. Unfortunately for them, in a tiny way, since my previous visit I’d also done slightly more research into the place, and so I have expert-level quibbles with the interpretation, which I hope just about make a blog-post. This is the relevant text from the English-language leaflet I picked up that day (found after about ten minutes’ burrowing in my personal archives…), all typos authentic:

Front page of English-language leaflet from Sant Pau del Camp, Barcelona

Front page of the leaflet, large version linked

“It is not known exactly when the monastery was built. Unfortunately there is no document to confirm this. The archaeological excavations left uncovered some remains of buildings that could be dated between 8th and 10th centuries. The discovery in 1596 of the tombstone of Wifred II (911), Count of Barcelona, outside the monastery, has led some historians to attribute him the foundation of the monastery.

Inner content of English-language leaflet from Sant Pau del Camp, Barcelona

Inner pages

“Due to the archaeological investigations in the area, have also been found som graves from the Romano-Christian era (4th-5th centuries). There are also visigothic carvings in the principal door to the churuch that could reveal that a former church existed here at that period (5th8th centuries). All this evidence proves that Sant Pau del Camp is one of the most ancient Christian sites in Barcelona. It was built far from the city walls, between the walled city and the hill of Montjuic -hence its name, Saint Paul-in-the-fields.
Back of English-language leaflet from Sant Pau del Camp, Barcelona

And the back

“In 985 the monastery was destroyed during the Almanzor attack against Barcelona. The rebuilding was slow; the church is mentioned several times during the XIth century. At the beginning of the XIIth century the nobleman Geribert Guitard and his wife Rotlendis restored the monastery. In 1117 the foundation was placed under the protection of the Bishop of Barcelona. The Benedictine community was never too large; it oscillated between three and five monks.”

Now, let us set aside the fact that a monastery of three to five monks is uncanonical and technically, it must if that was so have been a cell of some larger community. (Let us also set aside, if we can, the joyful image of a Benedictine community oscillating between teams of three and five monks like some unbalanced monastic Blind Man’s Buff.) Let us also ignore the easy slip from the chronology of the building and its purpose to that of the site in a grab for extra antiquity; what person billing their site wouldn’t try it? But there is stuff here that merits at least a quiet alternative putting.

You see, it was news to me from my previous research on this place, if we can call it that, that there had ever been any archaeology done here, and in Catalonia, these days, even the unpublished reports from archaeological interventions are usually on the web. I couldn’t find them all, but I found two, one of which reports on most, I hope even all, of the foregoing work.4 And so what I would write of this place’s history from that would look more like this…

The earliest signs of occupation in the immediate area are Neolithic and Late Bronze Age, but settlement seems to have coalesced only in the third century CE, when a Roman villa, whose proportions have not yet been established, was set up here. Before that, we might assume this was open or waste land for most of the prehistoric and ancient period, though by then within sight of the walled city of Barcino. The villa seems to have been shortlived; by the late fourth or early fifth centuries CE it had been replaced by one or more burial grounds; this context has been struck by every dig that’s happened at the site, as far as I can tell, but because they have been disparate, we don’t know if all the burial grounds were one. If they were, it was a decent size. The religion of burial is not evident, but the Roman Empire was by then mostly Christianized and it seems unlikely that a new burial ground for pagans would have been established at that time.

Timpanum and surround of portal at Sant Pau del Camp, Barcelona

Timpanum and surround of portal at Sant Pau del Camp, taken by me on my previous visit

At some point after this, the area was partly flattened as the foundations for a new structure. Only one end of this structure has been recovered, but it seems to have been an apse, i.e. the semi-circular end to an early church or basilica, and with that and the funerary context of the site beforehand it seems reasonable to assume that a church is what was built here, not least because such a building would provide a home for the supposedly-Visigothic tympanum that now sits above the portal and seems, as I said the last time I visited, to indicate a dedication to both Peter and Paul, not just Paul. But dating it is hard. The oldest datable artefact found at the site so far has been a fragment of a type of Late Roman amphora which was not imported after the mid-sixth century, which was stuck in the foundation layer, suggesting that the foundation of the building must date from after that point; and the horizon in the other direction is the rebuilding of the place into what is mostly its current form in the early twelfth century.5 However, the view of various people the archaeologists consulted on the structure as it could be perceived from what had been found was that it belonged to a point in the seventh to ninth centuries.6 Now, on the one hand that amphora fragment could go equally back to the late fifth century , but on the other hand it’s probably disturbed matter from one of the graves and gives us really no idea of how much later than its deposition that disturbance might have taken place; it could have been centuries later. The tympanum probably belongs closer to the early end of the sixth-to-twelfth-century gap rather than the late one, but that’s an art-historical judgement, not an empirical one, and as with it and the tombstone of Guifré II Borrell, we don’t know that it started its life here rather than arriving on the site later because something or several things nearby were being demolished. I can’t see any hint in the reports of the leaflet’s buildings “between 8th and 10th centuries” unless they are actually this apse, which implies that the anonymous redactors of the leaflet either think there were two phases of the church’s building, one early for the tympanum and one later for the apse – though they don’t say that – or that there were two churches here; or, they’re trying to have it both ways. The reports both seem clear that the archaeologists themselves found nothing certainly datable between the sixth and twelfth or thirteenth centuries. Otherwise, we have nothing archaeological to go on but the current standing fabric.

Light and darkness inside Sant Pau del Camp

Light and darkness inside Sant Pau del Camp, photograph by me on my previous visit

So, the path of least resistance here, though it is more than part guesswork, would seem indeed to be that there was a villa which fell into disuse or was perhaps even given over to the local church, as was happening at about the same time with Barcelona’s first cathedral site, and turned into a burial ground. There was, most likely, some wooden chapel or oratory there, but no sign of it remains. At some point after the late fifth century, however, probably quite a bit after but probably before the Muslim occupation in 711, someone decided a better church was needed and built one, partly by flattening the existing cemetery site. If the tympanum does come from that church, it may have been quite fancy, but still fairly small. And we could probably stretch as far as suggesting that it was still there, maybe even reasonably new, in 911 for Guifré II Borrell to be buried in it, but we really can’t be sure.

On the other hand, what there is no sign of at all is the supposed destruction of the place in 985, even though that’s in every secondary reference to the site I can immediately bring to bear, including, for what it’s worth, Wikipedia.7 There’s no archaeological destruction layer, and there’s no reference in any of the sources for the attack to Sant Pau having been one of the targets.8 If there are eleventh-century references to it as being in a state of ruination—and I don’t have the means to check between 1000 and 1079 here, unfortunately—I don’t know of them. But neither, I might point out, did Paul Freedman when in 1993 he studied a papal privilege to the place from 1165 on the basis of all the then-available secondary literature; the best he can cite is a reference to works (opera) at the site in 1035.9 The place’s own documentation doesn’t survive, so it’s hard to say more, but it doesn’t seem as if anyone medieval that we can still access ever said this place was destroyed by the Muslims. If it really was a sixth-century church, or even an eighth-century one, it might not surprise if at age 300-500 it needed some light opera. And then, from about 1101 onwards, a couple called Guitard and Rotlendis started pouring real resource into the site, definitely involving a thorough rebuild, and in the end set it up as a monastery.10 And that, plus a thirteenth-century cloister, is what we have.

I guess the assumption here among historians has been that, as an extra-mural site like the monastery of Sant Cugat, Sant Pau del Camp must have been in the way when al-Mansur’s army arrived in 985, and since a nunnery inside the city was certainly destroyed, how could this one have escaped? But at that stage it was only an old church, and in any case it’s no longer clear that Sant Cugat was destroyed in the attack either, rather than claiming to have been much later in order to explain why it didn’t have certain documents any more.11 At which rate, why would this much smaller place have been? So I think we might reasonably delete that sentence from this leaflet, and the idea from the historiography. But I’d still recommend the visit…

Lobed arcades in the cloister of Sant Pau del Camp

Lobed arcades in the cloister, photograph by me on the previous visit

1. Specifically, I need to read Oliver Vergés Pons, “La batalla de Baltarga en el joc de la política comtal del segle X: la mort d’Ermengol d’Osona i la successió del comtat d’Urgell” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 48 (Barcelona 2018), pp. 901–923, and at least consult Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Diplomatari del Monestir de Ripoll, Estudis Històrics: Diplomataris, 8-10 (Vic 2015-2018), 3 vols, and those definitely make that paid-for work.

2. Xavier Costa Badia, “Paisatges monàstics: El monacat alt-medieval als comtats catalans (segles IX-X)” (Tesi doctoral, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, 2019).

3. Specifically, I was reading Antoni Pladevall, Tona: mil cent anys dʾhistòria, LʾEntorn 16 (Vic 1990), and Albert Benet i Clarà, Història de Manresa, dels orígens al segle XI (Manresa 1985), neither of which you find in the average UK library, or actually any at all.

4. Albert Bacaria, Emília Pagès & Ferran Puig, “Excavacions arqueològiques a l’entorn del monestir de Sant Pau del Camp” in Tribuna d’Arqueologia 1989-1990 (Barcelona 1991), online here, pp. 149–151; “Memòria de la intervenció arqueològica al C/ Sant Pau 99, Horts de Sant Pau del Camp” by Oriol Achón Casas & Andrea Lages Tonet, Memòria d’excavació (Barcelona 2010), online here. Previously I’d been going on Antoni Pladevall & Francesc Català Roca, El Monestirs Catalans, 4th edn. (Barcelona 1978), pp. 204-207. Achón and Lages, “Memòria”, pp. 17-22, provide most of the information for what follows, but the villa, specifically, is covered in Bacaria, Pagès & Puig, “Excavacions arqueològiques”, pp. 149-150.

5. Achón & Lages, “Memòria”, pp. 56-57; the amphora type, for those who care, was Keay 62B.

6. Bacaria, Pagès & Puig, “Excavacions arqueològiques”, p. 150; Achón & Lages, “Memòria”, pp. 57-59 & nn. 10-11 & p. 78-81.

7. Pladevall & Català, Monestirs catalans, p. 204; and Paul Freedman, “A Privilege of Pope Alexander III for Sant Pau del Camp (Barcelona)” in Archivium Historiae Pontificiae Vol. 31 (Rome 1993), pp. 255–263 at pp. 255 & 257, which is what Wikipedia cites. Achón & Lages, “Memòria”, p. 14, is much less sure, associating the sack only with the lack of documents for the place.

8. Gaspar Feliu i Montfort, La presa de Barcelona per Almansor: història i mitificació. Discurs de recepció de Gaspar Feliu i Montfort com a membre numerari de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica, llegit el dia 12 de desembre de 2007 (Barcelona 2007), lays out all the sources for the event and takes a suitably critical view of some of them. But none of them mention Sant Pau del Camp.

9. Freedman, “Privilege of Pope Alexander III”, p. 257, citing Philip Banks, “The Topography of Barcelona and its Urban Context in Eastern Catalonia from the Third to the Twelfth Centuries” (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, 1981), which is online here, in 5 vols and we want vol. II, p. 528. That sends you to his notes, vol. III pp. 1361-1362, where you find that he is borrowing three citations from Jordi Vigué, El monestir romànic de Sant Pau del Camp (Barcelona 1974), “with a historical section by A. Pladevall” (p. 1361), and Pladevall apparently, at p. 20, cites three documents from Josep Mas, Antigüetat d’algunes esglesies del Bisbat de Barcelona, Notes historiques del Bisbat de Barcelona 13-14 (Barcelona 1921), 2 vols, vol. I. That is online here, and at its pp. 167-168, not clear in Banks’s citation, you finally get the source references. Phew! But Banks, “Topography of Barcelona”, p. 1361, believes that at least one of them is actually about the monastery of Sant Pau del Maresme, so that leaves one reference in 986 and one in 1048 and that’s it until the rebuild. Now, the 986 one at least I can get at, in Ignasi J. Baiges i Jardí & Pere Puig i Ustrell (edd.), Catalunya carolíngia Volum VII: el comtat de Barcelona, Memòries de la Secció Històrica-Arqueològica 110 (Barcelona 2019), 3 vols, doc. no. 859 where it is now printed, and that just refers to the ‘house of Saint Paul’, domus Sancti Pauli, with no indication at all that it was ruined or anything; but it’s a boundary clause, so you wouldn’t necessarily expect that detail. Still, it’s negative evidence where there’s no positive evidence…
But Mas doesn’t mention the 1035 document. For that we have to go back up to Freedman’s citation of Banks, “Topography of Barcelona”, p. 528, and he there (or rather at vol. III p. 1362 n. 79) cites a table in his own vol. IV. Strike a light! But ibid. vol. IV p. 1988 gets you that table and a reference to Montserrat, Arxiu Monàstic, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, no. 1360. Now it’s possible I even own an image of that, but if I do it’s on microfilm (remember this story?) so I can’t check. But even so, as Banks cites it it’s just a gift of five mancuses ad opera, to pay for works, which presumably implies a working community there who could receive and spend that money. In short, still no positive evidence, and if it were there, I think one of these fine scholars would have quoted it…

10. Pladevall, Monestirs catalans, seeing the couple’s gifts from 1117 onwards as a response to a possible but undocumented sack of the place by Almoravid armies in 1114 – for heavens’ sakes, sometimes buildings just get old, it doesn’t always have to be hostile Muslims! –; Freedman, “Privilege of Alexander III”, pp. 257-259, using a different piece of Banks’s I’m not now going to track down to show activity renewing at the site before 1114. Banks, “Topography”, vol. II pp. 528-529, however points out that those two were not the only donors, because another couple’s donation of cash was actually inscribed over the tympanum, so you only know about it if you go and look! (I didn’t work out that’s what it was; I’m a bad epigrapher.)

11. Gaspar Feliu, “Al-Mansur, Barcelona i Sant Cugat” in Acta Historica et Archæologica Mediævalia Vol. 3 (Barcelona 1982), pp. 49–54.

Vikings in ninth-century Catalonia?

There is a tendency for this blog to become a series of photo posts when my backlog shrinks through each past summer, and I like to break those up with more academic contact even if it means jumping chronology a bit. So, though last post we were with me in Paris in July 2019, we’re now jumping ahead a couple of weeks to once I was back from holiday, at which point my absolute top priority was reading, carefully but speedily, a doctoral thesis in Catalan which I was due to examine at the very beginning of the next month.1 I will talk about that separately, because it was excellent and the now-doctor who wrote it deserves his own post, but there were a couple of things in it that deserved their own commentary and made me stub blog posts to do that thing, and this is the first.

Cloister of Sainte-Marie d'Arles-sur-Tech

Cloister of Sainte-Marie d’Arles-sur-Tech, image by Jordi Domènech, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve mentioned here before that I find it hard to be less than ten years behind with Catalan historiography, and in recent years there has also developed the problem of extensive publication of primary material I also haven’t had time fully to work through yet. Consequently, it’s pretty easy to find stuff I don’t know about, and this reference was such a thing. The text in question is a letter to King Charles the Bald of the Western Franks (r. 840-877) from Abbot Hilperic of Sainte-Marie d’Arles-sur-Tech (remember that place-name of Arles), giving an account of his monastery’s early history by way of explaining how it came to be so short of resource as urgently to need the king’s help.2 Hilperic starts with the founder abbot, naturally enough, and it quickly reaches a point at which I stopped and went, “What?” Here’s a scratch translation of some rather odd Latin.3

“For there came a faithful man of God from the regions of Hispania, Castellano by name, an abbot, who entering by a narrow path found in the waste a miraculous bathing-place, where he built a holy monastery, to which he called and directed a college of many monks worshipping the Highest King, who under the authority of your glorious grandfather Charles, conceded [the latter’s] precept to the same monastery.4 When he was dead, his successor Requesèn arrived, who also placed himself rejoicing into your hands.5 With him passing from the world, there succeeded a certain venerable man [called] Recimir, his brother, an abbot, who likewise once commended himself into [your] glorious hands.6 While he was alive, there was given to us, by the thickening [sic] of the Devil, a multitude of persecuting Northmen, who both staying there for three days and destroying the same monastery, and coming upon us suddenly, we knowing nothing of it, killed several of us. Considering these events of ours, that which had occurred first and foremost because of all our faults and abundant sins, having gathered into one council, we were converted back to the Lord. With us celebrating fasts and holding vigils, and beseeching the Lord Christ, there was revealed by the same Lord to one of our brothers the place there where bodies of the saints were resting, who were called the blessed martyr Quintinus, bishop Hilary, deacon Tibertius. With us gratefully looking forward to their arrival, suddenly our abbot died. With him passing on, there succeeded he who still now is seen to rule us according to the Rule of our Father Benedict, which is now instituted.”

And though there’s about as much again after that, it’s all upwards from there, including the fleeing of demons from the area and the subsequent discovery of twelve more saintly bodies, of whom the writer only bothers to name two (Abundus and Grisantus). I guess the point is made by then that this is a
holy community, albeit completely on its uppers. And this is held to have been what provoked Charles the Bald’s surviving precept to Hilperic, whose text we have.7

Now, it has straight away to be admitted that there is actually a plausible context into which this story could fit. You may already have noted that given where Vallespir actually is, more or less stretching north-west up the Tech valley from where Saint-Marie is there, any supposed Viking attack would have had either to have landed on the northern Atlantic coast of the Peninsula and then marched pretty much along the Pyrenees, or else made it through the Straits of Gibraltar and attacked from the eastern coast. That latter might sound pretty implausible but actually at least one group did it, and they were there over the course of 858 to 861, so within our window between the two charters and in the time of Abbot Hilperic of Santa Maria. (But Santa Maria of where? Ssh, we’re coming to that.) Admittedly, they are said in the main and contemporary Frankish source, the Annals of Saint-Bertin, written at the time by a bishop of Peninsular origin, Prudentius of Troyes, only to have raided the south coast of what is now France, and almost all the Arabic sources that also cover this, themselves distressingly late, to have come there from the Balearic Islands, and gone on to Italy; if they’d hit actually-Iberian targets once through the Straits I might have expected one source at least to mention it.8 Or perhaps I should say two sources, because one, the Mamlūk encyclopaedist Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad bin ʿAbd al-Wahhāb al-Nuwayrī, supposedly records that the same Vikings went as far as Pamplona, in the heart of the Basque country, and captured and ransomed its ‘Frankish lord’, García, for 90,000 dinars. The Moroccan polymath Ibn Khaldūn, likewise apparently, later repeated this story and reduced the ransom to 70,000 dinars, but I don’t think this is any reason to suppose an independent tradition given how rotten Ibn Khaldūn’s attention to detail was. One scholar who made this detail available to Westerners quite early on, Jón Stefánsson, for some reason decided that the Viking force could only have done this from the Atlantic coast; but if we add this attack on a Pyrenean monastery (and Prudentius does say they attacked monasteries on their way to the Camargue, if not that they were not nearby) then these could be considered to confirm each other.9 It’s a bit odd that Prudentius didn’t record the rather embarrassing capture of the ruler of the ex-Frankish client principality of Pamplona, but that’s at best an argument from silence.10 At the very least, we can easily see why a younger Xavier Costa, faced with a report of a Viking sack of a Catalan monastery which would have to have happened between 844 and 867, chose the date 858-860 at which to place it.

Unfortunately, this turns out to be one of those structures which collapses when you put weight on it. Costa is not the first person to note this document, and I am not the first person to have doubts about it, as indeed his citation reflects.11 Here are some reasons to have doubts, then.

  1. The preservation context for this document is lousy. We have no medieval text of it at all. Its earliest text comes from a 1591 study by a guy called Miquel Llot of the cult of Saints Abdon and Sennen, two Persian Christians supposedly killed in Roman games in the third century. Their bodies are claimed to have wound up in all of Soissons, Florence, Rome and Murcia, but also Santa Maria d’Arles, and I assume that Llot was delighted to find some source that might explain how a saint of roughly the right name was found in this area completely unconnected to their passion narrative. Of course, it isn’t the right name, but that is arguably not the document’s fault, rather than Llot’s, who saw in it the story he wanted to tell rather than the one it did. However, all we know about the document is what he says, and apparently he says he found it nailed to a pillar in the Church when he visited Arles.12 It’s not all the detail we might wish, though I suppose we should be glad he gave us the text.
  2. Now, you might justly say, well, that’s all well and good: the letter would have gone to Charles the Bald but maybe come back with the charter he issued, then been preserved as the house’s own sort of account of its history. In any case the bit about the Vikings isn’t actually critical to the narrative of finding the relics, so while we might justly wonder how it was that fifteen saintly bodies, including one of a bishop of Poitiers otherwise widely considered to be buried, y’know, at Poitiers, at Saint-Hilaire indeed, were just lying around nearby and how much work this monastery was having to do to justify its relic collection, that doesn’t actually speak against the idea of a Viking attack. To which I say, sure, and thankyou, imaginary reader, for being such an erudite critic; but I’m not finished.

  3. There is no mention of such an attack in the most obvious place you would expect it, King Charles the Bald’s precept that is supposed to have been a response to this letter. Admittedly our text of this is not preserved quite as one would wish either; we first know of it from a fourteenth-century copy. But it’s pretty consistent with Charles’s other documents without plainly being a copy of any of them, so there’s some reason to believe in an actual document that people could still see in 1340, and while it does mention a mission from Abbot Hilperic and a plea of poverty, it mentions neither Vikings nor, more interestingly, any of these fifteen saints whose bodies had supposedly been found since Charles had last issued Arles a precept only as many years before.13 And again it’s an argument from silence but you’d think these events were remarkable enough to find some kind of mention; Charles being such a man as would join in a saint’s translation when he came across one even though it meant delaying fighting a civil war, I’d imagine him seeing the gain in associating himself quickly with this effective miracle.14 But he didn’t, which suggests to me that whatever Hilperic did tell him didn’t include this story.
  4. On the other hand, there is a very well-studied phenomenon of monasteries in the south of France going to later kings and saying that their current state of deprivation goes back to the time of Viking attacks, and invoking Carolingian grants made to fix that whose terms had not been respected, which they then entreated the current king to repair. This has been studied most of all by Amy Remensnyder, and Costa does cite this work, but he doesn’t seem to have let it make him suspicious.15 But that’s my secret power: I’m always suspicious.
Hulk Always Angry Secret Avengers GIF

And you may say, OK, Jonathan, but there’s also the Pamplona raid, so it seems to be corroborated that there was a Viking force in the area. Isn’t it easier to say that there was a known raid to which the monastery attached their story of relic-finding, for all the reasons Remensnyder points out and which indeed you have echoed in your dealings with accounts of the sack of Barcelona, that invoking this known context of shared affliction might make the people the writers were addressing more sympathetic?16 Maybe this just actually happened, the Viking bit anyway. But I’m still not finished.

The world-famous O RLY owl macro

Let’s take a quick look into that Pamplona raid first. Stefánsson, who reports it to us, did not read Arabic; his sources, in so far as he gives them, were secondary work and especially and foremost the multi-volume work of Reinhard Dozy, “the chief source of this paper, since the Dutch professor prints, the Arabic text and a translation in French of the Arabic records quoted”.17 And if you go to the French edition of Dozy, which is easy enough to do, the 858-861 raid is not there, at all, with or without the bit about Pamplona.18 So what had happened? Well, I draw the line at tracking down all of Stefánsson’s unreferenced secondary sources for an afternoon’s blog post—it’s evening already!—but I can offer a guess.19 Another Arabic source that described the episode is the Book of the Incredible Histories of the Kings of al-Andalus and the Maghrib by the Marrakesh historian Ibn Idharī. He doesn’t mention a Viking attack on Pamplona – but he does follow the account immediately with a Muslim raid on the area the next year, in which García’s son Fortún was captured and ransomed.20 It doesn’t give the ransom amount, so there is still some other source in the mix, which may even be al-Nuwayrī, at which I can’t get. But I bet that some combination of errors with these materials had combined the two stories in whatever Stefánsson was reading.

Church and defensive tower of Sainte-Marie d'Arles-sur-Tech

One of the forms of defence adopted by Sainte-Marie d’Arles in later centuries; as it turns out, we’re probably dealing with another one. Image by BaldiriTreball propi, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

So for these reasons I think it is unlikely that there actually was a Viking attack on Pamplona in 861 which only two fourteenth-century Arabic sources record for us. Without that, there is rather less reason to believe in an 858-860 sack of a monastery that goes unmentioned in the monastic community’s own next royal charter. But you can then reasonably ask, why was the story worth making up for someone at some point before 1561? And there Remensnyder, as I say, offers an answer, of a trial of faith by fire for which the monks were spiritually, but sadly not economically, rewarded (your majesty). And there’s also these fourteen saints they apparently had in their church, from some quite unlikely places, who needed some kind of back-story. But there might also be more, because of this problem of whether we’re talking about Santa Maria de Vallespir or Santa Maria d’Arles. Costa picks this problem up and notes that while most of the historiography treats these as the same place, actually they must have been some distance from each other.21 Our story, indeed, seems to show knowledge of this in its rather odd narrative order, in which the monastery is apparently destroyed before the monks find out about the raid and get killed. If we’re actually dealing with two sites of the same community, that problem can be made to go away.

12th-century copy of a precept of King Charles the Bald for Sant Medir

This isn’t the right charter, but it gives you some idea of what these things usually look like as we have them. It is a 12th-century copy of a precept of King Charles the Bald for Sant Medir, now in the Arxiu Comarcal de la Selva

However, it may also have been a problem for the community. The precept issued by Charlemagne, to which our story refers, is lost, but it is referred to (and known from) a subsequent one that our story here doesn’t mention of Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious, which he gave to the first abbot, Castellano, in 820, and which we have in 17th-century copies made for Étienne Baluze.22 This is how we know that Castellano was Abbot of a Santa Maria at Vallespir. So where did Arles get into this? Well, the church there, of Sant Pere, is one of the properties confirmed to Castellano by Louis’s precept, ecclesiam Sancti Petri in Arulas. However, Charles the Bald’s subsequent charter, of 844, is to Abbot Hilperic at Santa Maria of Arles, which he goes on to say that Castellano built in Vallespir; the church of Arles is no longer mentioned, though otherwise the same properties are mentioned, including a church of Sant Quintí which may explain why his relics were among those the monks later claimed to have.23 By the time of the 869 charter this was sorted out and Hilperic was Abbot of Arles, and the monastery he is said to rule wasn’t further located; but the natural way to read this would be that Hilperic, as Abbot of Arles, had jumped over the head of the abbot in Vallespir and claimed the whole community’s territories from the new, and very beleaguered, king. This might also explain why Charles is said, in our story, previously to have received the commendation of two other abbots in what, given he only succeeded in 840, must have been less than four years. That seems like a viciously rapid succession if only one house was involved; but if there was some dispute between two, we might see something like this repeated race north to the king to get approved, a race which Hilperic ultimately won by coming last. It also helps explain why Recimir, who succeeded his brother Requesèn as abbot, was apparently already an abbot, and maybe that in fact was the takeover. But after that, an abbot of Arles might need some kind of account that explained why he now claimed all these lands which his own royal precepts apparently awarded to Vallespir. What might a good explanation be? Maybe Vikings destroyed the other monastery! And then whatever sins any of either congregation might have committed you can tell were repented away, because then all these relics became apparent to us! And maybe this is the story we have.

This is not a finished suggestion, of course. I’m not sure when I think this story would date from, but it seems that it would have to be pretty close to the events, given that it seems to be reflected in royal charters almost straight away. But I could alternatively suggest that it was only once the local history of the house was no longer remembered that the transition from Vallespir to Arles needed explaining. Likewise, Occam’s Razor might suggest, with some kind of disaster apparently afflicting a monastery not that many miles away from a known site of Viking raiding, that that disaster being a Viking raid is actually the simplest answer. Of course, that reasoning might also have occurred to someone later. Either way, I don’t think Costa was wrong to pass over this in fairly simple fashion, especially given the available space he had to cover this unique occurrence that didn’t much contribute to his overall arguments. But isn’t it fun to see what you find when you turn over these stones?

1. Xavier Costa Badia, “Paisatges monàstics: El monacat alt-medieval als comtats catalans (segles IX-X)” (unpublished doctoral thesis, Universitat de Barcelona, 2019).

2. Pere Ponsich (ed.), Catalunya carolíngia volum VI: Els comtats de Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir i Fenollet, Memòries de la Secció Històrica-Arqueològica, 70, 2 vols (Barcelona 2006), doc. no. 61, discussed by Costa, ‘Paisatges monàstics’, pp. 249-251.

3. Ponsich, Catalunya carolíngia VI, doc. no. 61:

“… Quia veniens vir Dei fidelis ex pertibus Hispaniae, nomine Castellanus, abbas, qui ingressus per angustam semitam, invenit in eremo mirabilia balnea, ubi aedficiavit sancta coenobia, in quo vocavit atque advertit multorum monachorum collegia Regi superno famulantia; qui sub auctoritate avi vestri gloriosi Caroli, eius preceptum in eodem monasterio concessit. Defuncto eo, successor eius adfuit Ressendus abbas, qui et in manibus vestri se glorianter tradidit. Migrante illo a saeculo, successit quidam vir venerabilis Recimirus, frater eius, abbas, qui et ipse similiter in gloriosis manibus se hactenus commendavit. Illo vivente, data est nobis, crassante diabolo, multitudo persequentium Normanorum, qui et tridium ibi manentes, et idem coenobium destruentes, et subito super nos irruentes, nihil nobis percipientibus, occiderunt aliquos de nostris. Haec nobis considerantibus, eo quod pro supereminenti omni nostro delicto et abundanti peccato evenissent, collecti in uno concilio, conversi sumus ad Dominum. Ieiunia nobis celebrantibus et vigilias facientibus, atque Christo Domino deprecantibus, revelatum est ab eodem Domino uni de fratribus nostris, eo quod ibi corpora sanctorum requiescerent, qui et vocantur beatus Quintinus martyr, Hilarius episcopus, Tiburtius levita. Eorum adventum gratulanter expectantibus, subito obiit abbas noster. Illo migrante, successit is qui et modo secundum regulam patris nostri Benedicti nos regere videtur, qui et modo consistit….”

4. This document, which does not survive, is indexed and discussed as Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, Catalunya carolíngia II: els preceptes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològico 2 & 3, 2 vols (Barcelona 1926-1955, repr. in facsimile 2007), Arles I.

5. This one we have, and it is printed as Abadal, Catalunya carolíngia II, Arles III.

6. This one, however, does not survive, and neither does Charles the Bald mention it in his subsequent document (see n. 7 below).

7. Abadal, Catalunya carolíngia II, Arles IV.

8. The relevant sources are probably all collected in Ann Christys, Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean, Studies in Early Medieval History (London 2015), but I haven’t access to it to check; it may well be that everything I say here is pre-empted there. Without it, I’m using Jón Stefánsson, “The Vikings in Spain, from Arabic (Moorish) and Spanish Sources” in Saga Book of the Viking Club Vol. 6 (London 1908-1909), online here, pp. 31–46, where pp. 40-42 cover this voyage. Of course, his references can mostly be updated a bit, and in any case he doesn’t consider the Frankish sources, so you also need to know about Janet L. Nelson (transl.), The Annals of Saint-Bertin, Ninth-Century Sources 1 (Manchester 1991), and Janet L. Nelson, “The Annals of St. Bertin” in Margaret T. Gibson and Janet L. Nelson (edd.), Charles the Bald: Court and Kingdom. Papers based on a Colloquium held in London in April 1979, British Archaeological Reports (International Series) 101 (Oxford 1981), pp. 15–36, reprinted in Janet L. Nelson, Politics and Ritual in Early Medieval Europe, History 42 (London 1986), pp. 173–194, and in Margaret T. Gibson and Janet L. Nelson (eds), Charles the Bald: court and kingdom, 2nd edn. (Aldershot 1990), pp. 23–40, on the author(s).

9. Stefánsson, “The Vikings in Spain”, p. 41, where also n. 1: “They could only get to Pampelona from the Bay of Biscay.”

10. Pamplona’s rulers had submitted to the Carolingians somewhere around the 790s, but were independent again by 820, and before long clients of the Emirs of Córdoba instead, at least as far as Córdoba were concerned; see Juan José Larrea and Jesús Lorenzo, “Barbarians of Dâr al-Islâm: The Upper March of al-Andalus and the Pyrenees in the Eighth and Ninth Centuries” in Guido Vannini and Michele Nucciotti (edd.), La Transgiordania nei secoli XII-XIII e le ‘frontiere’ del Mediterraneo medievale. Trans-Jordan in the 12th and 13th Centuries and the ‘Frontiers’ of the Medieval Mediterranean, British Archaeological Reports (International Series) 2386 (Oxford 2012), pp. 277–288.

11. Costa, “Paisatges monàstics”, p. 250 and n. 602, citing Aymat Catafau, “À propos des origines de l’abbaye Sainte-Marie d’Arles-sur-Tech”, Bulletin de l’Association Archéologique des Pyrénées Orientales Vol. 15 (Perpignan 2000), pp. 76-81, Catafau, “Cuixà, Arles de Tec i Sant Martí del Canigó: el paper de l’aristocràcia nordcatalana en les fundaciones monàstiques del segle VIII al segle XI” in Lluís To & Jordi Galofré (edd.), Monestirs i territori: 1200 anniversari de la fundació de Sant Esteve de Banyoles (Banyoles 2013), pp. 79-88, and Amy G. Remensnyder, Remembering Kings Past: monastic foundation legends in medieval southern France (Ithaca NY 1995), pp. 42-84. I haven’t read either of the Catafau pieces, though I’m very honoured to be following in his sceptical footsteps if I am; to Remensnyder, meanwhile, we will come shortly.

12. Ponsich, Catalunya carolíngia VI, vol. I, p. 123, including reference to the four times it’s previously been edited.

13. See n. 7 above.

14. This story is from Nithard’s Histories, III.2, accessible as Bernard Scholz with Barbara Rogers (transl.), Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories (Ann Arbor MI 1970), pp. 129–174 and 199–211, online here, where see pp. 157-158.

15. See n. 11 above.

16. Remensnyder, Remembering Kings Past, more or less passim; Jonathan Jarrett, “A Likely Story: Purpose in Narratives from Charters of the Early Medieval Pyrenees” in †Simon Barton and Robert Portass (edd.), Beyond the Reconquista: New Directions in the History of Medieval Iberia (711–1085). In Honour of Simon Barton (Leiden 2020), pp. 123–142 at pp. 127-128.

17. Stefánsson, “The Vikings in Spain”, p. 46.

18. Reinhard Dozy, Histoire des Musulmans d’Espagne jusqu’à la conquête de l’Andalousie par les Almoravides (711-1110), 4 vols (Leyde 1861); vol. II (online here). Admittedly, Stefánsson specifies the 3rd edn., which I can’t immediately access.

19. Stefánsson, “The Vikings in Spain”, p. 46, adds to his mention of Dozy the following: “Werlauff, Mooyer, Professor Steenstrup and Fabricius have written on this subject. The two last-named have used Dozy’s work and some of the Spanish Chronicles.” Working these out looked like more work than I wanted to do today, sorry.

20. I access this through Aben-Adharí de Marruecos, Historias de Al-Ándalus, transl. Francisco Fernández González (Granada 1860), online here, repr. as Ibn Idari, Historias de Al-Ándalus, transl. Francisco Fernández González (n. p. n d.), where see pp. 88-89.

21. Costa, “Paisatges monàstics”, p. 249 n. 599.

22. Abadal, Catalunya carolíngia II, Arles II.

23. See n. 6 above.

Name in Lights XI

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

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

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

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


Making things official without officials

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

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

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

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

Cover of volume 1 issue 2 of The Mediæval Journal

Cover of volume 1 issue 2 of The Mediæval Journal

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

The castle of Cardona

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

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

Photographic reproduction of the Cardona franchise of 987

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rulers who weren’t kings, discussed at Leeds

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

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

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

8th April 2019

Keynote 1

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

The Terminology of Non-Royal Rule

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

Lay and Ecclesiastical Non-Royal Rulership

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

Keynote 2

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

9th April 2019

Analysing Non-Royal Power Relations

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

Keynote 3

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

Non-Royal Rulers in the Middle

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

Symbolic Communication and Non-Royal Rule

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

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