Category Archives: Institutions

Seminar CCXXXVII: East-West links in the ninth-century Mediterranean

I write this while waiting for two captured lectures finally to save my edits and be available for my doubtless-eager students, and this may take a while, so what better way to while away the time than to go back nearly a year—ouch—and report on a seminar from back in Birmingham, on 26th March 2015, when Dr Federico Montinaro spoke to the General Seminar of the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies with the title “The Photian Schism (858-880): towards a cultural history”. Now, I suspect that only the most erudite of my readership will immediately be responding, “Ah yes, the Photian Schism, I know it well”, so perhaps it’s best to start with a basic chronology as Dr Montinaro presented it. The events were:

  • 858: For reasons we didn’t cover, Emperor Michael III deposed Patriarch Ignatius of Constantinople, and replaced him with a layman called Photius; Ignatius went into exile.
  • 867: Patriarch Photius excommunicated Pope Nicholas I, of whom we have spoken here before, over a range of ‘errors of the Latins’ which he found intolerable, as well as the papacy’s interference in the Balkans, which Byzantium considered its ecclesiastical territory.
  • Still 867: Michael III was succeeded by Basil I, who immediately deposed Photius and recalled and reinstated Ignatius.
  • 870: a council was held in Constantinople over the East-West division, attended by representatives from the West (in particular the Greek-speaking historian and scholar Anastasius the Librarian), but didn’t really resolve much.
  • 871: meanwhile, a joint campaign by the Carolingian Emperor Louis II and Basil’s forces in Southern Italy had gone so badly that there was a falling-out there too, in which the legitimacy of Louis’s imperial title was called into question.
  • 877: Patriarch Ignatius died, and perhaps because the West was no longer in his good books, or perhaps because of local pressure, Basil reinstated Photius.
  • 879×80: Pope John VIII, anxious to rebuild bridges, confirmed Rome’s recognition of Photius’s election.

And thus ends the Schism, although by no means the difficulties between the new Western and old Eastern empires and their two patriarchal bishops.1 Now, Dr Montinaro’s quite short paper aimed to convince his audience that the extensive back and forth of embassies, letters, abuse and diplomacy actually brought the West and the East closer together during this period, increasing contact and familiarity at the highest levels. The dispute is certainly one of the few episodes involving both the West and Byzantium which we can usefully study with sources from both sides, not least the Historia Tripartita of the category-defying Anastasius, and if one does so (as Dr Montinaro has) the level of information the two sides had about each other does seem quite high; there were what seem to be quick reactions from one side to domestic controversies going on on the other, and theologians busy in both courts coming up with lists of the other side’s errors or defences of their own practices, all of which must have required some starting knowledge.2 Nor was this traffic all one-way; this is also the sort of time that the Greeks started to use a minuscule book-script such as the Carolingians had invented for Latin, and manuscript preservation in the Greek area also begins to climb in this general period. So Dr Montinaro closed with a plea that we should expect, and look for, more influences between East and West than is usually imagined.

Venice, Biblioteca Marciana, Codex Marcianus Graecus 822

A tenth-century manuscript of the Iliad in Greek minuscule, not to me looking very much like a case of Carolingian influence but the minuscule script itself is the novelty, I understand… This is Venice, Biblioteca Marciana, Codex Marcianus Graecus 822.

That conclusion seems perfectly admirable to me, but some of the steps to it are not things I would personally tread on, because correlation does not equal causation. Certainly, if one compares this situation to the arguments over images of God in the time of Charlemagne and the Isaurian emperors, it is clear that whereas Bishop Theodulf of Orléans, commissioned to write the Carolingian response to that problem, seems not to have had a clear idea of what the Byzantine positions actually were and the Byzantines paid no attention to the Carolingian theology of images at all, by the time of Photius the bandwidth of intellectual communication was clearly much higher.3 But several things then seem to partway explain that: by the 860s, the Carolingians were no longer a new dynasty and had Greek-reading theologians at some of their courts, and in any case, most of the interactions in this scenario were with the Carolingians and the pope in Italy, where contact with Byzantium had been continuous and regular in a way that Charlemagne could not have managed even if he’d wanted to from north of the Alps.4

Patriarch Photios of Constantinople being interrogated by a panel of ecclesiastics, from the Madrid manuscript of the Chronicle of John Skylitzes

Photius himself being interrogated by a panel of ecclesiastics, from the Madrid manuscript of the Chronicle of John Skylitzes via Wikimedia Commons

The background signal of contact, in other words, might well be high enough that the Schism was not even the vehicle of such contact, but actually its result, as the East dealt with enough Latin churchmen that a catalogue of their ‘errors’ could even be collected. I also thought, and said, that what was missing from any explanation was much evidence of the people who actually went and made contact; in the schism Anastasius is almost the only one we can name, but there was clearly much more passing between the two empires than that, and at that rate, once we have to suppose any invisible contact, tying it to the Schism seems like that venerable game of medievalists, pushing two pieces of an incomplete jigsaw even though they don’t really fit because they’re the only ones we have. In other words, I was entertained but not convinced. Still, it would be nice to have all those references in print…


1. The standard work on the schism seems still to be František Dvornik, Le schisme de Photius : histoire et légende (Paris 1950).

2. Not least John Scot, Eriugena, Greek-literate and writing on such issues for King Charles the Bald in the 860s, as Dr Montinaro pointed out.

Seminar CCXXXVI: a few steps closer to Flodoard

Trying to get back on the horse while I’m still in sight of it, here is a report on a seminar I was at on 25th March 2015, which was when Dr Ed Roberts, then of KCL and now of the University of the Basque Country, presented to the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research with the title, “The Composition, Structure and Audience of Flodoard’s Annals“. Flodoard of Reims was that rarest of things, a historian of the tenth century, so you’d think I’d know a bit about him, but in actual fact because his Annals finish in 966 and don’t mention Catalonia at all, and his massive History of the Church of Reims is understandably even more local, it’s just never been urgent.1 The result was that I learnt a lot from this, although predictably perhaps, a lot of what I learnt is what we don’t know about the Annals and their author.

One of the manuscripts of Flodoard's Annals, Biblioteca di Vaticano MS Reg. Lat. 633, fo. 42v

One of the manuscripts of Flodoard’s Annals, Biblioteca di Vaticano MS Reg. Lat. 633, fo. 42v, from the site of a French project that was in 2011 going to do what Ed is now starting towards

The things we do know, from Flodoard’s own works or those of his successor as Reims’s historian, Richer, can be reasonably quickly set out: Flodoard was born in 893 or 894, was in school at Reims cathedral between 900 and 922, was bounced out of the chapter in 925 for refusing to support the election of Archbishop Hugh (then 5 years old), went to Rome in 936 and was recalled in 937 by Archbishop Artold. Artold had been put in place of Hugh because of the age thing, but Hugh had strong supporters which was how that had happened in the first place and in 940 Artold was deposed and Hugh resumed his throne, at which point Flodoard was arrested. His position between then and 946, when Hugh was again deposed and Artold restored, is quite unclear, but some of it seems to have been at the court of King Otto I of the Germans, who was brought in with the pope and King Louis IV of the Franks to settle the rights to the see definitively in 948. After that Flodoard returned to his chapter, wrote the History of the Church of Reims and retired in 963. He seems to have started the Annals long before that, however, in 923 probably, and carried on adding yearly entries until his death in 966, so it was a lifetime project carried on through a quite turbulent life by the standards of a comfortably-placed medieval cleric.2

The seal of the cathedral of Reims

The seal of the cathedral of Reims, showing a building perhaps more like the one Flodoard knew than the current one. By G. Garitan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

These then are the things we know but there is also quite a lot which we don’t, and the obvious ones are why he wrote the Annals and who his audience was supposed to be (or even actually was). In a career like that one can see how axes could need grinding, and some of these are evident in the History, but the Annals are much more neutral, or perhaps better, more careful. Their author is hardly present in them, and six out of the seven manuscripts remove most of what biographical detail there was in the first version, as well as adding a short continuation for 976-978. Ed suggested that the very longevity of the project made it likely that Flodoard did not, in fact, know who his audience would be which was precisely why he was being so careful, which makes sense but is a little frustrating. In discussion both Alice Rio and Susan Reynolds raised the possibility that Flodoard wrote mainly for the love of doing so, which I think shows you what we were all getting from Ed’s study, a sense that this author about whom we mostly knew very little was on the cusp of being detectable as a personality in his work, but still at this point just over the threshold. There’s not much to compare him to, very little way therefore to check what he was including or leaving out, but I think that Ed did manage to convince us that there was still probably something more to be got from him, so I hope we get to see what it is that Ed finds out can be found!


1. The stock edition of the Annals is still, I believe, Philippe Lauer (ed.), Les Annales de Flodoard, publiées d’après les manuscrits, avec une introduction et des notes (Paris 1905), online here, but there is now also Steven Fanning & Bernard S. Bachrach (transl.), The Annals of Flodoard of Reims, 919-966, Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Culture IX (Toronto 2008). As for the rest, there is Flodoard von Reims, Historia Remensis Ecclesiae, ed. Martina Stratmann, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores in folio) XXXVI (Hannover 1998), online here, and there my knowledge runs out but I’m not sure there’s much more.

2. Most of this was coming from the work of Michel Sot, Un historien et son église : Flodoard de Reims (Paris 1993), which is more or less what Ed now has to replace…

Seminar CCXXXV: putting Archbishop Chrodegang in his place

Again, rather than alternate I’ll follow a seminar report with a seminar report, partly because at this point in the notional sequence I was lamenting dead entertainers but mainly because of the sixty pages of Italian already mentioned. It only advances the seminar backlog by one day, however, since on 18th March 2015 I was apparently back in London again, to see a then-fellow-citizen of the Midlands 3 Cities University Partnership do his stuff at the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research. He was (and is) Stephen Ling and his paper was called “Regulating the Life of the Clergy between Chrodegang’s Rule and the Council of Aachen, c. 750-816″.

Reliquary of Saint Chrodegang in Metz cathedral

Contemporary pictures, or indeed any pictures, of Chrodegang are quite hard to find, which in itself tells us something about how important he was to the Carolingians, but to my surprise one Paul Budde has provided the Internet with a picture that is in some sense of the actual man, in as much as his mortal remains are supposedly in this casket in Metz cathedral!

Now you can be forgiven for never having heard of Archbishop Chrodegang of Metz—it’s OK, really—but in a certain part of the historiography of the Carolingian Empire, and specifically of its longest-lived impact, the Carolingian Renaissance, he has a great importance as a forerunner, a man with the vision to see what needed doing before the opportunity really existed to do it. What he thought needed doing, it is said, was a general tightening-up of discipline and standards in the Frankish Church, and especially of the lifestyle of cathedral priests, or canons (students: note spelling), and to this end he wrote a Rule for their lives which involved having no individual property as such, living off stipends paid from a common purse, as well as more basically necessary things like priests not carrying weapons in church and so on. All of this he was doing in the 740s and 750s when he was effectively number one churchman in the Frankish kingdoms, but its full impact didn’t really come around until the 780s and 790s when Charlemagne’s international brains trust developed very similar agendas that went even further and found Chrodegang’s Rule exactly the sort of thing they needed. So, at least, the conventional wisdom goes.1

London, British Library Additional MS 34652, fo. 3r.

One reason for this conventional wisdom in English-language scholarship may not least be that the Rule was later picked up in England; here is an eleventh-century translation of it, London, British Library Additional MS 34652, fo. 3r, although that is the only leaf of it in the manuscript!

Well, of course, every now and then these things need checking. Mr Ling has been doing this, looking firstly into what can be verified of Chrodegang’s importance in the church of his days and secondly into the uptake, use and impact of his Rule, and it’s not looking as good as the archbishop might have hoped. It is only possible to verify his attendance at two of the five big councils he supposedly convened to sort out the Church, and he was not by any means the sole player at these events; Abbot Fulrad of St-Denis and Angilramn, Chrodegang’s successor at Metz, were not only also big names but lasted into the Carolingian period, so had a more direct influence on what was done then, both indeed being heads of the court chapel in their day. As for the Rule, well, firstly there are only four manuscripts of it surviving, two of which, significantly, were added to by Angilramn. More importantly, though, it is quoted only rarely, and most of the instances that Stephen had gathered were from Metz, which you might indeed expect but isn’t exactly widespread impact. It’s not that Chrodegang wasn’t known to the Carolingian reformers: Theodulf Bishop of Orléans used it in laying down rules for his diocese’s clergy and a council of 813 refers to the Rule direct, although it then goes on to apply part of it to parish clergy rather than canons. But it was not the only source of authority, with Isidore of Seville and Saint Jerome coming in much more often, and at times the Carolingian legislation flatly contradicted what Chrodegang had laid down. Compare these two, Chrodegang’s Rule and the Council of Frankfurt in 794 respectively:

“If we cannot bring ourselves to renounce everything, we should confine ourselves to keeping only the income from our property, and ensure that, whether we like it or not, our property descends to our not to our earthly heirs and relations, but to the Church.”2

“The relatives or heirs of a bishop should in no circumstances inherit after his death any property which was acquired by him after he was consecrated bishop… rather, it should go in full to his church. Such property as he had before then shall, unless he make a gift from it to the Church, pass to his heirs and relatives.”3

OK, it is true that the two don’t expressly contradict: a bishop, let alone a canon, could make a donation such as Chrodegang recommends and still be within the ruling of the Council, but the Council also allows for him doing exactly the opposite, as long as it’s not with anything that could be considered Church property. And this is kind of the way it goes with Chrodegang’s Rule: it’s a model way of being, but other ways are usually considered preferable. I’ve given only one of Stephen’s numerous examples, and I found the case basically convincing. It’s not so much that Chrodegang didn’t show the way: it’s more that, when someone has cut a cart-track through woodland and then forty years later the local authority widens, levels and grades it and puts tarmac down you can’t really trace the original route in any detail…

Cologne, Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cod. Bodmer 68, f. 6v

The replacement! The opening of a manuscript copy of the Aachen Rule for Canons of 816, it being Cologne, Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cod. Bodmer 68, f. 6v

Indeed, looking back at it with ten months to reflect, I can see how perhaps Chrodegang’s lack of impact shouldn’t be surprising. The Carolingian reformers liked antiquity in their authority, and Chrodegang was a figure of living memory (indeed, died only two years before Charlemagne’s succession), one who had, furthermore, become a figure of importance under the notional kingship of the last Merovingian, Childeric III, whom Charlemagne’s father had deposed. It would thus have been awkward for the new régime to admit that, even with the help of the noble Mayor of the Palace and eventual replacement king, Pippin III, good things had been done then, rather than everything needing fixing.4 This is perhaps why rather than contesting the basic thesis, except for Jinty Nelson pointing out that a council of 791 comes a lot closer to Chrodegangian positions than the more definitive Frankfurt three years later, most of the questions revolved around canons, and whether they were at all usual or well-defined in the age that Chrodegang was legislating for. Was, in short, the reason this Rule mostly got used at Metz because that was one of the few places that had the relevant institution defined? Certainly, the eventual Institute of Canons laid down by Emperor Louis the Pious’s council of Aachen in 816 not only allowed for a lot of variety but closed even more down. In my metaphor of above, that was the tarmac, which just like many a modern road turned out to need continual patching and maintenance and probably went further than the old track. People working on that project did at least know the track had been there; but they also had other ideas.


1. Classically this position is developed in J. Michael Wallace-Hadrill, The Frankish Church (Oxford 1983), but there is now a much more detailed attempt in Michael Claussen, The Reform of the Frankish Church: Chrodegang of Metz and the Regula canonicorum in the Eighth Century (Cambridge 2004). [Edit: I should also have remembered to add to this the obvious starting point, Julia Barrow, “Chrodegang, his rule and its successors” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 14 (Oxford 2006), pp. 201-212, DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0254.2006.00180.x.]

2. I take this from Mr Ling’s handout, which tells me that he took it from Jerome Bertram (transl.), The Chrodegang Rules: the rules for the common life of the secular clergy from the eighth and ninth centuries. Critical Texts with Translations and Commentary (Aldershot 2005), p. 78.

3. Again from the handout but this time from Henry Loyn & John Percival (edd./transl.), The Reign of Charlemagne: documents on Carolingian government and administration, Documents of Medieval History 2 (London 1975), pp. 61-62.

4. See Paul Fouracre, “The Long Shadow of the Merovingians” in Joanna Story (ed.), Charlemagne: Empire and Society (Manchester 2005), pp. 5-21.

Aside

Probably only one person reads my blog so closely as to notice this, but the backlog has actually advanced to the point where the ‘sticky’ posts on the front page that I have been using to hold current events and … Continue reading

Seminar CCXXXII: technical change in Byzantine history-writing

Now it’s time for the third seminar in three days of February 2015, in the vague hope that I can be out of the month in my backlog before February 2016 rolls around! On Thursday 26th February, therefore, I was back in Birmingham and went to the General Seminar of the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies as was then my wont, where Dr Staffan Wahlgren was speaking with the title, “From Theophanes to Psellos: transformations of Byzantine historiography”. This was a paper that he had come to because of translating the tenth-century chronicle of a chap known as Symeon the Logothete and wanting to know, basically, how odd it was or wasn’t.1 So he had set it next to the better-known chronicles of Michael Psellos, Michael Attaleiates and John Skylitzes, more or less spanning the eleventh century, and also the rather less well-known one of Peter of Alexandria (c. 900), as well as other bits and pieces as they came up, and had looked for things that were common to or changed over this period in the actual ways that these historians used the Greek language to write history.2

Michael Psellos, here shown with his pupil the emperor Michael VII Doukas

The one of those guys of whom it is easiest to find an illustration—which would please him mightily, I suspect—Michael Psellos, here shown with his pupil the emperor Michael VII Doukas. “Michael Psellos” by Unknown/Άγνωστος – Codex 234, f. 245a, Mount Athos, Pantokrator Monastery/ Κώδ. 234, φ. 254α, Άγιον Όρος, Μονή Παντοκράτορος. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Dr Wahlgren had separated three sorts of variation, whole-culture shifts in the way that language was used, deliberate distinction of learned writing from other uses of the language at that same cultural level and variation that was actually the individual writer’s choice, and he gave us an example of each. Now, I have basically no more Greek than a coin inscription can hold, so in what follows I can only be guided by my notes, but they tell me that we were told that one of the things that differentiates ancient Greek from modern Greek is that anciently it had a dative case, for indirect objects and things acted upon by various prepositions, and now it doesn’t, just a subject, [Edit: an object] and a possessive case. This was a long change, as you can apparently find the dative missing in second-century papyri but still being used in speech in the eighteenth century, but all of the texts that Dr Wahlgren had looked at retained it, at least for location of things though not so much for direction, at but not towards. So that was a whole-culture thing, the historians somewhere in a larger process of change. Then Dr Wahlgren looked at emphatic particles (and here we are beyond my understanding, I can see what these must be but I’ve no idea what they look like): these apparently come back in in a big way in thirteenth-century historical writing where they had been absent or moribund before, which shows the deliberate archaicisation of the learned languages. And lastly he looked at narrative structure and the general constraints of genre upon form and discovered that although the older Chronographia of Theophanes was a force upon them all in different ways, they all had their own variations upon it, although his home case, Symeon, was still more episodic than the others.

Modern Russian icon of St Symeon Metaphrastes

It’s not that there are no illustrations of Symeon, it’s just that they’re all modern icons, because he also wrote a huge collection of saints’ lives, the Menologion, which the Orthodox Church later decided was sufficient to put him among their number… SimeonMetaphrastes

I report all this mainly because it struck me as a slightly strange combination of traditional and modern techniques. Obviously this kind of work is not per se new, that’s how we have some kind of framework into which to fit these chroniclers’ use of the dative. On the other hand we would probably now expect a work such as this to be done with lexomics and corpus analysis, but Dr Wahlgren didn’t mention a computer once and of course you don’t actually need one if you’re willing just to sit down with the texts and a pad of paper for tallies and similar. There remains the question of how to interpret it all, however, and in discussion it was particularly the issue of constraints of genre that came up. Ruth Macrides, who knows her chroniclers, thought that what we might otherwise call the content of the form could be crucial here, accounting both for the sort of language generally used and the individual variation: Theophanes had written a Chronographia, so structured everything with time, Psellos used that title too but frequently followed an episodic trail in the style of Classical ‘historia’, while Skylitzes wrote a Synopsis, and what seems like individual variation between these texts could be therefore something much more structuredly literary and cultural.3 Dr Wahlgren argued that this kind of analysis would be one way to see if those categories really exist, but when you have writers deliberately trying to look old-fashioned it’s obvious that such forces did apply, even if not to all equally. The argument was, shall we say, not settled on this occasion. But this kind of work is still a set of tools we have available to use.


1. He has already edited this, as S. Wahlgren (ed.), Symeonis magistri et logothetae chronicon (Berlin 2006), though of course despite the Latinised title it is in Greek; a few tiny excerpts are already trans. Paul Stephenson online here.

2. The first three of these are all available in translation, Michael Psellos, Chronographia, transl. E. R. A. Sewter (London 1953) and online here, Michael Attaleiates, The History, transl. Anthony Kaldellis & Dimitris Krallis (Washington DC 2012) and John Skylitzes, A Synopsis of Byzantine History 811-1057, transl. John Wortley (Oxford 2010). For Peter we are not so lucky: there is, apparently, Z. G. Samodurova (ed.), “Хроника Петра Александрийского” in Византийский Временник New Series Vol. 18 (Leningrad 1961), pp. 150–197 for the Greek, and after that you’re kind of stuck. On all of these guys you can see Warren T. Treadgold, The Middle Byzantine Historians (London 2013), though you should be warned that Dr Wahlgren said that one of the reasons he had started the project was that book, which he felt needed correction. Treadgold also corrects Wahlgren, Symeonis chronicon, at Treadgold, Middle Byzantine Historians, p. 110 n. 108 and other places, so it’s all quite reciprocal. You can now see some of what we heard in Wahlgren, “Past and Present in Mid-Byzantine Chronicles: Change in Narrative Technique and the Transmission of Knowledge” in Mari Isaoho (ed.), Past and Present in Medieval Chronicles, Collegium 17 (Helsinki 2015), online here, pp. 34-42.

3. I imagine that the best proof of Ruth’s knowledge is R. Macrides, “The Historian in the History” in Costas N. Constantinides, Nikolaos M. Panagiotakes, Elizabeth Jeffreys & Athanasios D. Angelou (edd.), Philellen: studies in honour of Robert Browning, Biblioteca dell’Istituto ellenico di studi bizantini e postbizantini di Venezia 17 (Venice 1996), pp. 205-224, but as I’ve observed before, good luck getting hold of it. Theophanes is a bit easier, being translated most recently as Cyril Mango & R. Scott (transl.), The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor (Oxford 1997), though the Continuations with which our guys here worked are not so easy to get.

Seminar CCXXX: digitising a text, one-to-many style

Interrupting my perorations on the state of the Academy with another backlogged seminar report turns out still not to get us very far from computers and the open access agenda. This is because there is at Birmingham a man by the name of Aengus Ward, whom I had clocked as a quantity quite early on in my time there on the grounds that he apparently worked on Spain. He was somehow accidentally elusive, however, and it wasn’t until 24th February 2015 that I finally tracked him down at the Research Seminar of the Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages, speaking under the title “Digital Editing and the Estoria de Espanna: of XML and crowd-sourcing.”

King Alfonso X of Castile-León, from a manuscript of the Estoria de Espanna

The project’s masthead image is hard to beat, so I’ll just, er, borrow it…. Here is King Alfonso X of Castile-León in all his lion-checkered glory, from a manuscript of the Estoria de Espanna

I will freely admit that I had almost no idea what the Estoria de Espanna was before this seminar: a historical text, obviously, and after my period but still medieval. With the precision of great familiarity, Dr Ward filled in the rest: it is a chronicle that was begun as part of a big courtly learning project by King Alfonso X of Castile (1252-1284), frustrated would-have-been Holy Roman Emperor and canonically known as ‘the Wise’, though not wise enough to avoid being deposed by his son as also happened to fellow scholar-king Alfonso III of Asturias (886-910), a lesson I never get tired of pointing out. It covers the Iberian Peninsula from the supposed time of Hercules to that of Fernando III, Alfonso’s father, and there are forty or more manuscripts of it now surviving, including some translated into the Latin, the original being in Romance. Anyway, the crucial word in all of those may be ‘begun’, because ‘finished’ never really occurred: there was a ‘primitiva’ recension, compiled in 1270, but amended in 1274, then a ‘critica’, revised by Alfonso in prison in 1282, and then his son Sancho IV oversaw an ‘amplificada’ in 1289, with quite a lot of revisions to recent history at each stage. Also, we don’t actually have a full text of the ‘primitiva’. So what in fact do you edit if you are editing the Estoria?

Madrid, Biblioteca de l'Escorial, Y 1 2

One of the manuscripts of the Estoria that the team is using, Madrid, Biblioteca de l’Escorial, Y 1 2. See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

For its first editor hitherto, Ramón Menéndez Pidal, the answer was to produce a synthetic version, emended to whatever he thought was most likely to have been Alfonso’s considered intent – at least so we assume, since his edition apparently makes very little of the actual editing process.1 And, as long as you’re editing on paper, there’s not a lot better you can do, though you could be more explicit about it. But with computers, XML mark-up and a four-year grant from the AHRC, you can hope for rather better. The project is doing (by now, indeed, has done) full transcriptions of five manuscripts, of various versions including one of the translations, and are marking up what’s different, added, removed, spelled differently and so on in an XML system called Textual Communities (hmm… seems familiar…2). In the end (late in what is now this year) it will eventually be possible to enable many-way comparisons between different versions and different versions of versions, setting text next to image with the words linked at an underlying level, comparing images or texts of the different manuscripts, a ‘recension’ view of each manuscript’s text and a synoptic edition, plus a tentative reconstruction of the full ‘primitiva’, all fully searchable and open to the web. Such is the plan.

But what of the crowd-sourcing? Well, that was one of the surprises of the project, in fact. If I have this right, the students who were working on the mark-up had people who wanted also to try their hand at it, out of sheer geeky enthusiasm for old stuff I think (which is what we all trade on, after all), and so worked out at least the logistics of actually allowing version-controlled mark-up editing over the web. Then the project put in for extra money to develop this, got it and suddenly found that they had what turned out to be a dozen or so extra staff to train and manage, all without actually seeing them, which changed some of their jobs quite a lot. I make it sound as if there was no benefit, mainly because as a coin curator I always felt that a volunteer who was available for less than a term was as much of my time lost training as gained not cataloguing, but obviously once the Estoria team were through that hoop this was a valuable extra source of labour and one of the mmajor reasons they’re looking to finish on time, as well as being a valuable demonstration of that elusive quality ‘impact’, not least as one of their transcribers subsequently went back to university to do a Masters in palaeography and diplomatic!3 And as Dr Ward said in questions, they do proof-read each others’ transcriptions already, so there isn’t actually that much extra work once the volunteers know what they’re doing.

Transcription mark-up of a page of one of the manuscripts of Alfonso X's Estoria de Espanna

Oh, and maybe you’re wondering about the spelling ‘Espanna’? Confused by that double ‘n’ where now we would expect an ‘ñ’? Don’t worry, so were the scribes…

In general, while I have no particular stake in this project, it seems like one of the better ones of these jobs I’ve encountered. It seems set to produce its planned result on time, they’ve actually built several extra components into it without prejudicing that, and the ways that they want to present the manuscript and the ways they’ve incorporated outside and amateur interest and built that up into full-blown participation and passing expertise all look like things that you could call best practice. They even have a regularly-updated and interesting project blog! Of course, the real test will be the website, because without that there is nothing except promises, but I came away from this feeling that those promises really did have promise. I look forward to finding out if I was right!


1. Alfonso X el sabio, La crónica general de España que mandó componer el rey Alfonso el Sabio, ed. Ramón Menéndez Pidal (Madrid 1916).

2. Brian Stock, The Implications of Literacy: written language and models of interpretation in the eleventh and twelfth centuries (Princeton 1983).

3. Obviously not in the UK, where as long ago discussed such study has become far too marginal to have an actual degree course for it.

Seminar CCXXIX: complex identities in the later Roman Empire

So where am I now with the backlog in seminar reports? Later February 2015, it seems, so about eleven months behind still alas, but despite the disjuncture between this and the stuff of my own on which I have also been reporting, this post gels quite nicely with the previous one, as several of the same questions of what was maintained that was Roman when Roman rule ended in the West are covered in it. The occasion on this, er, occasion, was Simon Esmonde Cleary‘s inaugural lecture as Professor of Roman Archaeology in the University of Birmingham. Professor Esmonde Cleary’s is a name I knew of old by this point but I had never heard him speak or knowingly met him, and the title seemed to promise a fun lecture: it was “A Funny Thing Didn’t Happen on the Way to the Forum: archaeology and the refashioning of the late Roman West”. Now, in some ways I don’t need to say anything here because the lecture, which was indeed one of the better hours I’ve spent in a lecture theatre, was quickly put online, so if you have a spare hour you can in fact just experience it yourself nearly as well, and arguably should especially if you like your humour wry and British.

But, maybe you don’t have an hour, maybe you read this at work and can’t put sound on, maybe in fact you want to know what I thought about it beyond that it was good, so perhaps a brief post won’t hurt. The lecture trod quite a neat line between making statements soothing to ruffled interdepartmental feathers within the University, which is probably evident even to the outside listener, and making points that emphasised the necessity of comparative and interdisciplinary understandings of historical periods for the most meaningful conclusions about them, as well as Professor Esmonde Cleary’s unusual familiarity with the materials of those understandings. On this occasion those conclusions centred especially on the political import of material culture and on the complexity of personal and political identities, and the interest of the later Empire in ensuring and maintaining that complexity to its own advantage, particularly where that complex enveloped civil, military, Roman and ‘barbarian’ aspects. Professor Esmonde Cleary did this largely through a series of particular episodes and sites that helped make his points, and I will just pick three that spoke particularly to me. These are Séviac, in what I think of as Aquitaine, South-Western France to the modern reader, Saint-Bertrand de Comminges, not far away, and Lankhills in Hampshire in England.

The Gallo-Roman site of Séviac as it currently is, seen from the air

The Gallo-Roman site of Séviac as it currently is, seen from the air

Séviac is a villa complex, with rather impressive mosaics and a bathhouse, and most of the complex is fourth-century.1 This itself is not too unusual, especially in that part of the world (and, as Professor Esmonde Cleary pointed out, in Southern Britain) but it is evoking, and enabling, a very particular form of Roman élite life in which essentially civilian affluence is expressed by having a country residence with agricultural revenue in which you spent money on displaying your familiarity with Classical culture such as the scenes in the mosaics, even though by the time this was all being put up, much of the ruling class of the Empire had had a military background, including many of the emperors who nonetheless spent their time in the provinces in such buildings and whose own buildings this one was mimicking. There is nothing military here. At Séviac it was still important to display one’s training in Romanitas in its essentially literary and civilian aspects, even in the era of the Tetrarchy and the spread of Christianity.

The cathedral of Saint-Bertrand de Comminges in the distance, with the Romanesque church of Saint-Just de Valcabrère in the foreground

The cathedral of Saint-Bertrand de Comminges in the distance, with the Romanesque church of Saint-Just de Valcabrère in the foreground

Saint-Bertrand de Comminges, I will admit, my heart leapt a little bit to see just because of the Romanesque church, which is one of my signs of home turf, but it is also a fascinatingly complex site. At the core of it is a tall cathedral, as you can see, which is also Romanesque with Gothic additions (apparently, says Wikipedia, actually put there by someone called Bertrand de Goth, which is kind of hard to beat), but it sits in the middle of a walled town and those walls are, at base, fifth-century, which is unusually late for the Western Empire and speaks instead to the military side of things.2 There was also, however, a Roman villa outside at what is now Valcabrère, much of whose stonework went into that there church of Saint-Just. The Roman walls were also topped up a couple of times in the Middle Ages. This is the other sort of Roman continuity, where adaptation is very close to scavenging, and one with which I’m much more familiar.

Burial under excavation in the late Roman cemetery at Lankhills, Winchester

Burial under excavation in the late Roman cemetery at Lankhills, Winchester

Lankhills increased that sense of familiarity still further. Although the late Roman cemetery there seems to have ceased being used by about 400 A. D., so that it’s hard to call it early medieval, still the occasional burial goods and the questions that have been asked about the site (which was the first one on which Professor Esmonde Cleary had dug, as a teenager) all seemed very familiar to me from my years teaching Anglo-Saxon history and archæology in Oxford. This was not least because when the site was first dug, art-historical comparisons of the grave-goods found in some of the grave led the then-excavator to hypothesize that he had found barbarian recruits into the Roman army from around Pannonia, settling in the area as the Empire that had paid them left the area.3 This was more or less plausible given understandings of that period at the time and seemed to fit the goods, but now it is possible to check that assumption by means of isotopic analysis of the skeletons. What this has revealed is that a quarter of the test sample put to examination seemed to have grown up somewhere other than the locality, but that some of the notional ‘Pannonians’ as suggested by their kit were locals whereas others were not, while three of them came from much further south, one possibly Africa (and he, helpfully, did have some African-provenance stuff with him too, just to emphasise that sometimes this actually happens even when no-one else is doing it), while on the other hand many other non-locals, including women, did not have their origins signalled by such grave-goods at all.4 This sets up all kinds of interesting possibilities about local group identities and second-generation immigrants but it also makes Guy Halsall‘s suggestion that certain army units had brandings which had nothing to do with their recruits’ origins seem as justifiable an explanation here.5

A selection of late Roman military belt buckles

A selection of late Roman military belt buckles, which one imagines that soldiers did not usually get to choose themselves…

So at the end of this round-up you can see how many things came up here that I have thought with before but with new evidence that these were good things with which to think: identity displayed but not necessarily as a deliberate statement or single entity, attempts indeed probably to look like someone different from whom you’d started by deliberate deployment of material culture, and a state apparatus for which the ability to acculturate, to erase signs and habits of origin in favour of its own traditions of education and behaviour had always been important, but over a period of centuries, failed it. All of this and jokes too! This is why you should watch the lecture, really…


1. Obviously, Professor Esmonde Cleary was not stopping to do footnotes, but mostly it has been easy for me to find the works he was using, not least as they were often his own. On Séviac, however, I have drawn a near-blank; its museum is obviously a good place to find out lots about the site, but further publication of its finds is very difficult to search up. An initial report of the first digs there is R. Métivier, “Fouilles des ruines gallo-romaines de Séviac, près Montréal” in Bulletin de la Société archéologique du Gers Vol. 14 (Auch 1913), online here, pp. 146-149, but it’s not what you could call comprehensive. Besides which, the site was gone over for a decade starting in the 1980s (the museum pages tell one) and one feels that should have resulted in some publication, but all I can find is R. Monturet & H. Rivière, Les Thermes sud de la villa gallo-romaine de Seviac (Paris 1986) and some suggestion that there is coverage in Catherine Balmelle, Les demeures aristocratiques d’Aquitaine : Société et culture de l’Antiquité tardive dans le Sud-Ouest de la Gaule, Mémoires 5 (Bordeaux 2001).

2. Here, however, it seems clear that the work you want is A. Simon Esmonde Cleary & Jason Wood, Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges III : Le rempart de l’Antiquité tardive de la Ville Haute (Bordeaux 2006).

3. G. Clarke, Pre-Roman and Roman Winchester. Part II: The Roman Cemetery at Lankhills, Winchester Studies 3 (Oxford 1979), pp. 377-398.

4. H. Eckardt, C. Chenery, P. Booth, J. A. Evans, A. Lamb & G. Müldner, “Oxygen and strontium isotope evidence for mobility in Roman Winchester” in Journal of Archaeological Science Vol. 36 (Amsterdam 2009), pp. 2816-2825, DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2009.09.010; see also Paul Booth, Andrew Simmonds, Angela Boyle, Sharon Clough, H. E. M. Cool & Daniel Poore, “The late Roman cemetery at Lankhills, Winchester: Excavations 2000-2005”, unpublished project report (Oxford Archaeology 2010), online here.

5. G. Halsall, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568 (Cambridge 2007), pp. 101-110.