Sometimes I have big learned-looking points I want to make on this blog, and then at other times I just want to jump and down and tell you about something fascinating I’ve found. This is one of those latter times, a document I encountered in the Catalunya Carolíngia most of whose details I never seem to have noticed before, even though it’s very unusual. It also supports the point I’ve felt towards before about the different ways of running the county of Barcelona that Count-Marquis Ramon Borrell thereof (992-1018) was already developing as he picked up bits of its rule during the lifetime of his father Borrell II (945-993), but mainly it’s one of those cases where the regular form of the documents is stretched to fit something quite unusual and one is left wondering what on earth they were trying to accomplish and how odd it was or wasn’t.
We are in the year 996 here and the protagonist is one Gombau. He had come to a deal with a priest called Donadéu and was selling him some stuff.1 The transaction related to an estate in the Vall de Saderra, but the first complication is the nature of what they were actually transacting over, which is best set out in their own terms:
“By this scripture of my sale I sell to you in your and your heirs’ alod, that was your grandfather’s Asner’s and your father’s Galí’s, my selfsame census such as I have there that my lord Ramon, Count and Marquis, sold me, such census as you and your heirs were accustomed to answer for thence and it came to me by my purchase from my above-written lord…”
Census, in the terms of this period, is really any kind of rent or levy taken by a lord from the owner of a property over which he or she is lord, but here I think we are dealing with something that we could respectably call tax, a revenue belonging to the public official personified by the count, and it was for sale. Now, this is not quite new, you may be thinking if you really follow along here: didn’t we, after all, have a few complicated arrangements with two-way sales that effectively bestowed the tax revenue on the landholder? And yes, we did, but there are two differences here: firstly, here they were just straight out selling the revenue (for a ‘best charger’) and secondly the count had previously disposed of it, in a document we don’t have, to someone other than the landholders, which is how come Gombau had it to sell it on to them. The last time I looked at this I observed that, circa 990 at least, the counts of Barcelona could not or would not simply sell tax revenue, but had to come up with elaborate ways round it; a mere six years later we see that there was no longer such a problem with it, which means that it was probably very new.
So all of that is interesting to me, and teeters dangerously close to what we could carelessly call ‘feudalism’.2 But digging deeper we discover that actually it is even more like feudalism, because having sorted out the price Gombau made further specifications and they look very much like someone borrowing ideas:
On this account I thus hand into your power the aforesaid census for your own so that from this same day in future neither you nor any of your successors shall answer any more for any census thence to any count, nor to any vicar, nor to any man, unless your heirs so much to you. And let this above-written alod thus be free without any impediment and without any disturbance, but so much on account of the great attentiveness which I shall make to you and of the benevolence and honour and governance of the above-written alod I shall thus have patrocinium over you, I and one son of mine without any ill intent.
This is a very funny definition of ‘freedom’ that’s developing here, isn’t it? The priest Donadéu was already holding an alod, but while this has been understood as land free of lordship the difference between it not being free of lordship and a private person taking the tax revenue might be hard to spot.3 It was enough to be worth a good warhorse, apparently, but the ongoing cost was that Gombau, giving up that direct and quantifiable form of dominance, picked up a much vaguer but more subjecting one, the old Roman idea of patrocinium, a word I’ve seen in no other Catalan charter. Later documents like this, in so far as there are any like this, would just use the word dominatio, but we can see that they were here feeling out something for which they didn’t have words, because the bits that I’ve put into bold here are all coming from outside the sale formulae: the first bit is riffing off Carolingian royal immunities, by which public officials were excluded from a given territory, and the final clause is coming out of the vernacular, or at least would in later documents such as those we’ve seen here before be reflected in the vernacular, “sin engany” for what is here in Latin, “sine malo ingenio”.4 They didn’t have the formulae ready for what they were doing here, which is essentially a very early homage arrangement.
So what was going on here is at some level a delegation or even a privatisation of public authority, but at another level this is immensely personal. The last time I looked at these concessions, when they were still fiddly, I suggested that the claim to census might itself be fairly new, irregularly enforced and brought out mainly, as I then put it, as kind of “a protection racket, in which the counts picked somebody whose tax liability they were willing to enforce in order to bind them closer into the structure of personal obligations created by these kinds of deals.” By the 1050s, as we’ve seen, those kind of personal obligations were most of how power was being constructed in these areas, in a hierarchy much like the supposed feudal pyramid except far less tidy.5 Here, in 996, we see it already happening, but within the old structures of power that gave the scribe the words he used, words whose use suggests this was new.
What made this worth wording carefully, however, was presumably a lurking sense that in some way this was public revenue. I say this not just because of the repeated invocation of the count, but because of the detail that was actually the first one I noticed when I read this document during my Ph. D. (and clearly subsequently forgot), which is the signature clause by the scribe: he explains himself as he, “who wrote this sale in the See of Vic, and it was confirmed in Barcelona, in the selfsame palace of Count Ramon, in the street, by the order of the above-written Gombau”.
When I first saw this I was mainly interested in the palace, because it was then the earliest mention of it of which I knew (though as you have seen here there is one text that makes it clear that Borrell also had a palace, presumably the same one). But it’s weirder than just that, isn’t it? Gombau didn’t get this deal confirmed in the palace, but outside it, in the street, “in platea”. Neither did the count witness it, though a judge did and he only one of seven clerics who make up the witness list, including Gombau’s brother. Again, there is for me the sense here that there wasn’t a procedure for this, that this was not a common or perhaps entirely legitimate operation, and it needed a kind of public sanction that brought it to the centre of comital government, rather than the solemnity of Vic cathedral, but then didn’t actually involve that governor but a raft of clerics instead.
There are plenty of questions that arise: did all these sales of tax revenue involve the kind of recognition of patronage that Gombau here got made explicit, but which a count might not need to have because of already having it? Is the reason this arrangement was so undefined and fudged from bits precisely that everyone was clear that this was in some sense acting like the count, and therefore conscious that public power had a particular sphere still that private persons shouldn’t really have? Or is it instead more important that the count himself had disposed of these rights to Gombau in the first place (and that Borrell, evidently, had not)? Without being able to work out more of what was actually happening here (and why Vic cathedral wound up with the charter) I can’t answer these questions, but I ask them feverishly anyway, believe me I do.
1. The document survives in the original and is printed in Eduard Junyent i Subirà; (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX-X), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), 5 fascs, doc. no. 594, where I first met it without apparently reading it properly, and in Ordeig (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 53 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 1712, where I apparently still had to read it three times before noticcing all of the things mentioned here. Given that and the weight I place on words here it seems worth giving a text myself:
“In Dei nomine. Ego Gondebaldus vinditor sum tibi Donadeo presbitero, emptore. Per hanc scriptura vindicionis mee vindo tibi in ipsum tuum alode et de eredes, qui fuit de Asenario avio tuo et de Galindone patre tuo, ipsum meum censum qualem ibidem abeo que mihi vendidit senior meus Raimundus comes et marchio, talem censum qual tu et eres tui exinde solvere solebas et advenit mihi per mea empcione de suprascripto seniori meo, et est hec omnia in comitatu Ossona, in kastrum Torilione, in valle Sedero vel in eius termines. Qui afrontat hec omnia: de orientis in ipsa Guardia, et de meridie in ipso pugo ultra flumine Tecer que dicunt Cergoso, et de occiduo in ipso grado de Seder, et de circii in ipsa gugularia de Boscatello. Quantum in istas afrontaciones includunt sic vindo tibi suprascriptum censum ab integrum, qualem senior meus suprascriptus comes ibi abuit et mihi vendidit, totum vindo tibi ab integre propter tuum kavallum obtimum, quod tu mihi donasti in precio et mihi placuit et manibus meis recepii, et est manifestum. Propetera sic trado in tua potestate suprascriptum censum ad tuum proprium ut de isto die in antea neque tu neque ullus de succesoribus tuis iam amplius exinde nullum censum persolvatis ad nullum comitem, neque ad ullum vicarium, neque ad ullum ominem, nisi tantum eredes tuis ad te. Et sic fiat liber suprascriptus alodes sine ullo inpedimento et sine ulla inquietudine, set tantum propter magnam diligenciam quod ego faciam ad te et bonitatem et onorem et gubernacionem de suprascripto alode sic abeam super te patrocinium ego et unus filius meus sine malo ingenio. Quod si ego Gondebaldus qui recepit de te Donadeo presbitero suprascripto precio aut filius meus qui de te aut successores tuos de suprascripto censo aliquid inquietaverit, non hoc vale vindicare set componat tibi omnem suprascriptum alode in duplo cum sua melioracione, et in antea ista scriptura vindicione firma permaneat modo vel omnique tempore.
“Facta ista scriptura vindicione XVIII kalendas februarii, anno VIII regnante Ugo rege.
“Sig+num Gondebaldo, qui ista vindicione fecit et firmavi et firmare rogavi. Dacho sacer et iudex sub SSS. S+ Sentelle presbiter. S+ Holiba levita SSS. S+ Agigane sacer. Erigane sacer de Terraca. Sentelle presbiter de Barchonina. Oliba levita, frater Gondebaldo.
“Francus sacer, qui ista vindicione scripsit in sede Vico et fuit firma in Barchinona, in ipso palacio de Raimundo comite, in platea, per iussione de suprascripto Gondebaldo, et sub SSS. die et anno quod supra.”
The bold bits are autograph signatures.
2. At this point I cite Susan Renyolds, Fiefs and Vassals: the medieval evidence reinterpreted (Oxford 1994), and duly note that what we have here includes neither a fief nor a vassal and that probably I should find a better word, if only anyone would recognise by it what I meant any more readily.
3. See Gaspar Feliu, “La pagesia catalana abans de la feudalització” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 26 (Barcelona 1994), pp. 19-41, for a powerful argument that alodial property was never free in the way that historians of the period have often imagined.
4. On these documents see of course Adam J. Kosto, Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: power, order and the written word, 1000-1200, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 51 (Cambridge 2001).
5. Ibid. but also Pierre Bonnassie, “Les conventions féodales dans la Catalogne du XIe siècle” in Annales du Midi Vol. 80 (Toulouse 1968), pp. 529-550, repr. in Structures sociales de l’Aquitaine, du Languedoc et de l’Espagne au premier âge f&eacuute;odal : Colloque International de Toulouse, Mars 1968 (Paris 1969), pp. 187-219, transl. Jean Birrell as “Feudal Conventions in Eleventh-Century Catalonia” in Bonnassie, From Slavery to Feudalism in South-Western Europe, transl. J. Birrell (Cambridge 1991), pp. 170-194, for the case before, and Michel Zimmermann, “Aux origines de Catalogne féodale : les serments non datés du règne de Ramon Berenguer Ier” in Jaume Portella i Comas (ed.), La Formació i expansió del feudalisme català : actes del col·loqui organitzat pel Col·legi Universitari de Girona (8-11 de gener de 1985). Homenatge a Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Estudi General 5-6 (Girona 1986), pp. 109-151, with English summary p. 557, French online here, for important nuance.