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Leeds 2014 Report III: priests, charters and finally Hungarians

The church of Santa Maria de Manresa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

A problem of concavity

Now that I am returned from all my conferences, I have a few very frantic months left as a numismatist before I demit that noble calling so as to return to medieval history of more traditional sorts. In fact, of course, I will not be leaving the coins completely behind me: almost the first thing I will be doing in my new rôle is to give a guest lecture back at the Barber Institute, as part of my own exhibition there, and then I’ll be going to the International Numismatic Congress in Taormina, and I should just be back from that in time to start teaching the aftermath of the end of Roman rule in the West. And in fact, even then, I shall have enough publication projects in hand what with All That Glitters and a couple of other things to do with the Barber’s collections that it may take a while for anyone to notice that coins are not, in fact, what I work on… In that spirit, therefore, here is something like an informal presentation of the problem my paper at Taormina will be addressing, which I do mainly so as to have a first go at posing the problem in text. Basically, my question is: why did Byzantine coins turn concave?

A tray full of pale gold and billon coins of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180) in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B5704-B5735

A tray full of pale gold and billon coins of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180) in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, all concave, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B5704-B5735

It is perfectly reasonable for your first reaction to this question to be “What?”, don’t worry. But this is a thing that happened: from the 1050s onwards, more or less the reign of Michael IV (1034-1041), Byzantine precious metal coinage began to be manufactured with a slight dish-shape that became more and more pronounced, and then spread to the lesser metals too. It also went badly downhill in metal quality, and by the reign of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118) the situation was so bad that despite the massive calls on his empire’s much-reduced resources he reset the coinage in the only way one really can in an international precious-metal economy, by accepting the degradation of the existing coins, reclassifying them and introducing a new, 80%-gold denomination, the hyperperon at the top of the tree.1 The old supposedly-gold nomismata became either electrum (gold-silver alloy) or billon (lightly-silvered copper) ‘trachies’, and this meant that the small change was also now concave, though there was also a flat bronze tetarteron that was used especially in what is now Greece.2 Anyway, I digress. The real question is, why adopt the dished design anyway?

A billon trachy of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, struck at Constantinople in 1092-1118, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B5558

A billon trachy of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, struck at Constantinople in 1092-1118, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B5558

One thing, and really one thing only is sure about this, which is that it was not an easy thing to do. In the first place, the designs on the dies with which the blank coins were struck were carved in such a way as to keep the design correctly proportioned: it looks straight even though it’s bent, something that becomes very evident when you try to photograph them in such a way that they face you but are still clearly concave. Scanning is better for this because the fall of light emphasises shadow, but with adequate lighting the concavity is quite often visually undetectable in conventional photography. So that was cunning artistry, and not least because the dies themselves, we are fairly sure, were made curved, rather than deforming flat coins by striking them.3 In fact, it seems likely that the flat blanks were first struck with blank dies to curve them, and then the resulting curved blanks were struck with two obverse dies, one for each side of the coin’s design, to ensure a good impression all over the coin’s surface.4 This means that the manufacturers were readier to triple the production process complexity than to make dies that fitted each other snugly, apparently, but we can mainly take from this: there must have been a point to all this, but what?

Electrum nomisma histamenon of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, struck at Constantinople in 1081-1092, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B5224

Electrum nomisma histamenon of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, struck at Constantinople in 1081-1092, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B5224

None of the existing ideas seem very satisfactory. They are, roughly:

  1. it made the coins stronger, preventing them snapping;
  2. it made the metal quality of the coins more evident, reassuring people that they were good;
  3. it made the coins stackable in a way that the relatively high-relief flat ones were not;
  4. it brought coins whose low standard had made them much bigger than the older solidi with which they were notionally interchangeable, because gold is denser than anything it might be replaced with, back down to a more acceptable width;
  5. it made the coins better to play tiddly-winks with.5

Now, don’t worry if you’re already laughing at this; I think it is fair to say that thinking about this problem has not been the highest achievement of numismatics as a discipline. But if you’re not quite seeing the problems here, let me set them out for you.

  1. The concavity may make the coins harder to bend, but it makes them far more prone to cracking, because the edges come out so thin, as you see below. And once a coin is cracked, it’s actually in much more danger of snapping; we take a lot of care not to drop these things, in case that fault line should just complete on impact. Yet the practice was maintained for long after that would have been apparent. So, no.
  2. Electrum aspron trachy of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos, struck at Constantinople in 1143-1180, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B5702

    Electrum aspron trachy of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos, struck at Constantinople in 1143-1180, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B5702, nothing a bit of solder wouldn’t fix! (I jest.)


    Billon aspron trachy of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos, struck at Constantinople in 1143-1180, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B5758

    Billon aspron trachy of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos, struck at Constantinople in 1143-1180, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B5758, probably beyond the soldering iron…

  3. The metal quality certainly is more evident, because of those same thin edges, but in that case it would be quite important to maintain that quality. Yet the concave coins went through just the same nosedive of purity again once reformed, and you’d think that even if making them flat again would have been some kind of admission of failure, at least it would have been unclear how badly you’d failed, whereas with the concave coins there’s no hope of concealment.
  4. They just don’t stack, seriously. The manufacture was not regular enough to guarantee anything but the most basic fit. And why on earth would this have been a desirable thing here, when even cultures that use money in strung-together multiples like Chinese cash are still flat? A much better way to do this would have been to cut the designs in lower relief, or just cut them deeper than the surrounding border, so that that became the point of contact between any two coin faces. I find this one actually a silly explanation, sorry.
  5. This seems to me to presuppose a point beyond which coins were just thought too big to use, one which is only obvious if you accept that this practice shows that the Byzantine Empire had passed it. But it had used bigger coins than this before and done nothing similar. So I see no reason to accept this kind of supposed cultural universal, but even if you do, one could have achieved the same result just by making the coins thicker, which would also make them stronger. It would make them harder to strike, in terms of force, but less fragile in manufacture, easier to cut dies for and anyway, brute force was not something any pre-modern state really lacked a supply of.6
  6. In so far as I’m going to take this seriously at all, why would you start with the gold for something that would ordinarily, surely, be played with low-value coins? And why on earth would the emperor care anyway? Still more why would any subsequent emperor not repeal this in the next reform?

So, we don’t have a good explanation. In Taormina I will try to propose one that is at least less bad, and that focuses more on the manufacturing process and its changed characteristics. I have a lot to read still, and I don’t want to give away my unique selling point as yet, although I’ve tried it in the classroom a few times by now, so for now I’ll go no further, but I hope I’ve at least intrigued you with the question! And if you have answers you’d like to offer, I promise due credit if I wind up using yours alongside mine in the paper…


1. On the circumstances leading to this reform see most easily Alex Nobes, “The economic and monetary policy of the Byzantine Empire under Alexios I Komnenos” in Rosetta Vol. 11 (Birmingham 2012), pp. 56-71, online here, but you might wish to compare Michael Hendy, Studies in the Byzantine Monetary Economy c. 300-1450 (Cambridge 1985), pp. 513-517 and Alan Harvey, “Financial crisis and the rural economy” in Margaret Mullett & Dion C. Smythe (edd.), Alexios I Komnenos. Papers on the Second Belfast Byzantine International Colloquium, 14-16 April 1989, Belfast Byzantine Texts and Translations 4.1 (Belfast 1996), pp. 167-184.

2. For the actual coins, the best guide is indubitably Philip Grierson, Byzantine Coins (London 1982), pp. 211-228, esp. pp. 223-228.

3. Simon Bendall & David Sellwood, “The method of striking scyphate coins using two obverse dies, in the light of an early thirteenth century hoard” in Numismatic Chronicle 7th Series Vol. 18 (London 1978), pp. 93-104.

4. David Sellwood, “The Production of Flans for Byzantine Trachy Issues” in D. M. Metcalf & Andrew Oddy (edd.), Metallurgy in Numismatics, Royal Numismatic Society Special Publication 13 (London 1980), pp. 174-175.

5. Strength: as well as the article linked, Cécile Morrisson, “La concavité des monnaies byzantines” in Bulletin de le Société française de numismatique Vol. 30 no. 6 (Paris 1975), pp. 786-788, criticising the work of Hendy cited below, for which reason no doubt Hendy not unjustly responded in Studies in the Byzantine Monetary Economy, p. 510 n. 313, “Neither explanation [that of Grierson mentioned below or Morrisson’s] is totally satisfactory by itself, as neither takes full account of the curious inconsistency of its early usage”, and indeed I could show you flat nomismata contemporaneous with the earliest concave ones right here where I write. Indicator of metal quality: Michael F. Hendy, Coinage and Money in the Byzantine Empire 1081-1261, Dumbarton Oaks Studies XII (Washington DC 1969), p. 6; Alfred R. Bellinger & Philip Grierson (edd.), Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and in the Whittemore Collection. Volume Three: Leo III to Nicephorus III 717–1081, by Philip Grierson, Part I: Leo III to Michael III (717–867) (Washington DC 1973), pp. 5-7, to which cf. Morrisson, “Concavité des monnaies byzantines”, p. 787, accepted by Grierson, Byzantine Coins, pp. 197-198. I don’t yet have cites for the stacking or tiddly-winks theories, alas; they are much repeated but never with attribution. For the idea that the flans were now too big and had to be reined in, see Franz Füeg, Corpus of the Nomismata from Basil II to Eudocia 976-1067: corpus from Anastasius II to John I 713-976 with addenda; structure of the issues 976-1067; the concave/convex histamena; contribution to the iconographic and monetary history, ed. Italo Vecchia, transl. H. Thomas Hofmänner (Lancaster PA 2014), pp. 103-124 esp. pp. 122-124.

6. This last point, though obvious, I had to have pointed out to me by Dr Rebecca Darley.

While it’s been quiet I have been reading (and writing)

So I am back from Leeds and there are now two Leeds folders of my notes to blog about in the pile which means that, sadly, I am about a year behind again. How has this occurred? Well, I explained a few posts ago that since January my days have been basically taken up with getting stuff written that might get me hired, one way or another—which of course worked, or something did—and also dealing with a truly heroic level of over-commitment, and that this has basically most days taken me up till midnight and bedtime before getting to any space of time in which I might blog. But I felt like some kind of list of what has passed before me in that time and what it was for might also be explanatory, maybe even provocative of thoughts and comments, and mostly generally make me feel better about the lag. So, this is basically a commented bibliography of my life over the last six months or so and I’ll then carry on attacking the backlog…

Jonathan Jarrett's workspace in Birmingham

The workstation as it currently stands, lacking only your humble scribe

Roughly in order then…

  1. Michel Zimmermann, “El bisbe català durant els segles X-XIII” in idem, En els orígens de Catalunya: emancipació política i afirmació cultural, transl. Antoni Bentué, Llibres a l’abast 248 (Barcelona 1989), pp. 137-165.
  2. This was for my Kalamazoo paper. I had to go to the British Library for the first time in possibly years to get at it, having completely failed to find a copy for sale anywhere; most of it is reprinted but without having access to a copy you can’t know how much, the online presence of it doesn’t get as far as a contents list. If it would help people I can actually say what’s in it, but I made a list, read this one chapter (which is only printed here) in a hurry, and then basically didn’t use it as though it’s quite interesting it has no references, which were deferred to a French version that seems never to have come out…

  3. Lutger Körntgen & Dominik Waßerhoven (edd.), Patterns of Episcopal Power: bishops in tenth- and eleventh-century Western Europe. Strukturen bischöflicher Herrschaft im westlichen Europa des 10. und 11. Jahrhunderts, Prinz-Albert-Forschungen 6 (Baden 2011).
  4. Also for the Kalamazoo paper, which as you may be beginning to guess was about bishops, and much more useful, especially for the Englishing of a seminal German paper by Timothy Reuter.1

  5. The first 95 pages of Albert Benet i Clarà, Història de Manresa dels orígens al segle XI (Manresa 1985).
  6. This largely because for reasons that will sort of get blogged about, I had a spare day in Barcelona which I largely spent in the Biblioteca de Catalunya. I have been needing to get at this for a long time, even before I started working on priests around Manresa but especially since then, and I can really only do so in Catalonia. It turns out to be about eight hundred pages, though, so I will need a few more visits…

  7. The introduction of Antoni Pladevall i Font, Tona: mil cent anys d’història, L’entorn 16 (Tona 1990).
  8. For much the same reasons of opportunity, to break up the solidity of the Benet volume and because I’ve repeatedly cited it as a thing I know exists and I felt that I needed to see what it actually says in case this was a bad idea. I only had time for the introduction, though, so the jury is out till next visit.

  9. Jeffrey A. Bowman, “The Bishop Builds a Bridge: sanctity and power in medieval Pyrenees” in Catholic Historical Review Vol. 88 (Washington DC 2002), pp. 1-16, DOI: 110.1353/cat.2002.0006.
  10. I should have read this years ago too, given how I like St Ermengol as an example case, but now I did so as to get it clear for the Kalamazoo paper, and in fact it turned out to be one of the pieces of scholarship around which I oriented the paper, so that was good to have done.

  11. Cécile Morrisson, C. Brendt, J.-P. Callu, J.-N. Barrandon, J. Poirier & R. Halleux, L’or monnayé 1 : Purification et altérations de Rome à Byzance, Cahiers Ernest-Babelon 2 (Paris 1985).
  12. For work, really, and specifically the All That Glitters project, and for that very educational; there will be blog posts about this in due course…

  13. John S. Ott & Anna Trumbore Jones (edd.), The Bishop Reformed: studies of episcopal power and culture in the Central Middle Ages (Aldershot 2007).
  14. Another volume of studies about bishops, and this one very useful; there were many case studies in here which I thought paralleled what I wanted to say, and it turned up a lot in the Kalamazoo paper’s footnotes.

  15. Sean Gilsdorf (ed.), The Bishop: power and piety at the first millennium, Neue Aspekte der europäischen Mittelalterforschung 4 (Münster 2004).
  16. And another, and in some ways the most useful to think with; it also exposed that even Timothy Reuter was not above publishing roughly the same thoughts twice, however…2

  17. David S. Bachrach, Warfare in Tenth-Century Germany (Woodbridge 2012).
  18. Read very rapidly, but avidly, for a paper I was giving in Oxford the week after Kalamazoo, a repeat offence I’m afraid, but I had a lot of reactions to this book (some of which, I will admit, were incredulous) and I will definitely be writing about this here as well as in the final version of that paper.

  19. Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Administrando Imperii, ed. Gyula Moravcsik & transl. Romilly J. H. Jenkins, 2nd edn., Dumbarton Oaks Texts 1 (Washington DC 1967).
  20. For the recent Leeds paper, and a fascinating read as well as being my first real brush with Byzantine source material; there will also be blog posts about this!

  21. Mark Handley, Dying on Foreign Shores: travel and mobility in the late-antique West, Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series 86 (Portsmouth RI 2011).
  22. Ths I was reading largely because it kept coming up in a project bid I was part of, about which there will be further blogging if it comes off at least, and I kept telling people how important it was on the basis of the paper I saw Mark give once when he was writing it, and felt I had better make sure. But it turns out it’s brilliant, so I was reassured. I’m not just saying this because he may be reading, I haven’t actively enjoyed a work of scholarship this much for ages. I have one post stubbed coming out of this which will engage with a tiny part of it, but meanwhile I can only say that not only is it required reading for anyone working on travel in late Antiquity, it’s also a good read. Enjoy the footnotes…

  23. Romilly J. H. Jenkins (ed.), Constantine Porphyrogenitus: De Administrando Imperii. A Commentary, 2nd edn. (Washington DC 2012).
  24. Given the speed at which I was having to amass knowledge about the De Adminstrando Imperii, the fact that there existed a commentary volume was a godsend, even if it is by now fifty years old in its original form. I saw it while I was at Dumbarton Oaks (about which also future blog) and then made sure to read it, and without it the Leeds paper could not have existed. It was also illuminating about why the work on the De Adminstrando I’ve read is so unbothered about the obviously questionable state of the text, and I will certainly blog about that in due course too.

  25. And lastly, bits of Jonathan Shepard (ed.), The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire (Cambridge 2008).
  26. This lastly just to get some kind of sense of where Byzantine scholarship on these areas has gone since Ostrogorsky and the edition of the De Adminstrando, and for that also vital, but it gives me less to say that wasn’t actually in the Leeds paper except that I wish Armenia and eastern Turkey were currently safer to visit.3

So that not only wraps up a list, but tells you quite a lot about what I’ve been doing and what you can expect here as, I hope, I reduce the backlog. Meanwhile, any questions? And thanks as ever for reading.


1. Timothy Reuter, “Ein Europa der Bischöfe. Das Zeitalter Burchards von Worms”, in Wilfried Hartmann (ed.), Bischof Burchard von Worms 1000-1025, Quellen und Abhandlungen zur mittelrheinischen Kirchengeschichte 100 (Mainz 2000), pp. 1-28, transl. Dominik Waßerhoven as “A Europe of Bishops. The Age of Wulfstan of York and Burchard of Worms” in Lutger Körntgen & Waßerhoven (edd.), Patterns of Episcopal Power: bishops in tenth- and eleventh-century Western Europe. Strukturen bischöflicher Herrschaft im westlichen Europa des 10. und 11. Jahrhunderts, Prinz-Albert-Forschungen 6 (Baden 2011), pp. 17-38.

2. Reuter, “Bishops, rites of passage, and the symbolism of state in pre- Gregorian Europe”, in Sean Gilsdorf (ed.), The Bishop: power and piety at the first millennium, Neue Aspekte der europäischen Mittelalterforschung 4 (Münster 2004), pp. 23-36, which has maybe a three-quarters overlap with “A Europe of Bishops”.

3. George Ostrogorsky, Geschichte des byzantinischen Staates, Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft XII.1.2 (München 1940), transl. Joan Hussey as History of the Byzantine State (Oxford 1956), 2nd English edn. from 3rd German edn. (Oxford 1968) and then reprinted four times by the date of the copy I bought a few days ago, and as that implies still very much the standard reference.

The complex thrill of uncut pages

Once, during the latter stages of my Ph. D. work, I went to the Cambridge University Library only to find that someone had borrowed the borrowable copy of volume 5 of the Histoire Générale de Languedoc in its revised edition and not returned it. I know, I know, happens to you all the time, right? They continued not to return it subsequently, anyway, and while these days such a difficulty is rendered negligible by the fact that the thing is online now, then it was quite the difficulty, at least for me right then. Cambridge UL however had a second copy, accessible only via the Rare Books Room, so I went there and requested it, and when it came up its pages were uncut; in the course of the UL’s ownership of the Acton Collection within which it resided, and of course since its actual printing in 1872, no-one had wanted to read this book albeit, apart from Lord Acton who had no excuse except his other 59,999 books, probably not least because of the other copy that you didn’t have to order up not then being missing. So I sat there for an hour unable to work on it while someone behind the desk slowly and carefully went through every folio with a paper knife, and I felt like an awful vandal. Why am I telling you all this? Because of this, dear readers!

A copy of Federico Udina Martorell's El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Barcelona 1951)

My own copy of Federico Udina Martorell’s El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Barcelona 1951).

This was an ABE moment brought on by one of my book plans. I had told someone that the only reason I couldn’t start on one of these books was that I probaby needed to own the actual standard edition of the Sant Joan de Ripoll charters, then one evening I wondered how much that would cost to buy, and whoops, ABE and it arrived with me a few weeks later. And yup, look. It was uncut too.

Splayed pages of an uncut copy of Federico Udina Martorell's El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Barcelona 1951)

My reaction this was quite complex. In the first place, there was vexation. Now, apart from anything else, I needed a paper knife, and using the book would be laborious even then unless I too wanted to spend that solid hour carefully going slit… slit… slit…. In the second place, I felt quite powerfully that this would be spoiling it. You can’t put a book back like that, after all; as before, it seems weirdly like vandalism even though the manufacturers and indeed authors always meant this to happen and you can’t use the book without doing it.

Federico Udina Martorell's El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Barcelona 1951)

Those rough uneven edges will never be the same!

But lurking behind that is a deeper question. This book was published in 1951, and at that point or soon after, presumably, someone decided they needed a copy, but then never opened it. Perhaps, indeed, there has been more than one owner of this volume before me who never quite got round to actually using it. They’ve left me no clues. But who would buy a volume of Catalan charters with all their supporting palæographical and chronological difficulties studied, the perfect entry to the study of these documents, yet, already, and then never open it? What historian was working on this stuff and then got diverted? Why did it never get used? The book itself has become a source for an abortive endeavour of study about which, never having been marked, it can tell us nothing further, and it’s just that little bit maddening…

Settling the sins of your father: when counts lost in court

Work pressure continues to damage my great resolve to reduce backlog here, but here is a thought I first had in June of this year when dealing with Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder (it was a very fruitful read for me), that perhaps addresses that question of why we sometimes see the counts of Barcelona of the tenth century lose court cases in documents that they then preserved, which we lately debated, and which has just come up again in the work I am just about managing to do.1

Cover of Josep María Salrach's Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l'any mil (Vic 2013)

Cover of Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil (Vic 2013)

You see, of late I have trying to get a decent detailed chronology of the reign of Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona, Girona, Osona and Urgell (945/947-993) worked out. This is something you would think I had but apparently not quite enough; some interesting things are occurring to me just by realising that, oh, those two things happen sequentially, and so forth. But it has also reminded me of the details of two things that happened when he died: firstly, a number of people made bequests or donations for his soul, usually of lands or properties that they had originally got from him.2 Then, after a while, we start to hear about the opposite, people who lost land or property to him. The first of these is Bishop Sal·la of Urgell, in a curious case I discussed here long long ago, but after a few years more follow, indicating that Borrell was not always scrupulous about how he obtained property that he felt he needed. There are six of these cases all told, where despite land having been given somewhere it wound up back in the count’s hands.3 In three of these cases people had gone to law against Borrell for the properties and their right been admitted but somehow the counts never quite handed it back. Once Borrell was dead, these things could be pursued, although one of these cases comes up in 1021, so it took a long while all to work out.4 I feel this nuances Salrach’s point about the counts needing to lose some cases to make it clear to people that that could happen; losing might not cost them very much given that they were their own enforcement…

The ruins of the castle after which Castellfollit del Boix, location of the property Borrell had grabbed back, is named. By Elmoianes (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-es], via Wikimedia Commons.

The ruins of the castle after which Castellfollit del Boix, location of the property Borrell had grabbed back, is named. By Elmoianes (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-es], via Wikimedia Commons.

What interests me is the way that Borrell’s heirs handled these cases, however. This is quite different between his two sons, Ramon who succeeded him in Barcelona, Girona and Osona and Ermengol who did so in Urgell. Ramon Borrell is another of Salrach’s rulers who didn’t mind correcting himself, as we’ve seen, but he was also very happy to correct his father: we’ve seen before the case where Sant Benet de Bages took Ajó, widow of the judge Guifré, Vicar of la Néspola, to court for land that had been given to Sant Benet at its endowment (Sant Benet being a foundation of Ajó’s daddy, which also complicates things). Borrell had grabbed the land back and bestowed it upon Guifré by charter, and though Ajó had that charter Ramon Borrell’s court decided that Sant Benet’s title was better and awarded the land to the monastery.5 Last time I discussed this it was because that didn’t work, and a second hearing let her have it for life under rent to the monastery, but that hearing did not take place before a count.6 Ramon was happy to admit that his father had done wrong. Ermengol was also happy to do this but for a different reason: the two cases of this in his charters both involve fairly substantial payments by the unlucky defendant for their rights: in 1007, for example, Ermengol’s fidelis Sunyer gave him five denarii and a horse so that Ermengol would remit to him an alod in Solsona for part of which Sunyer had already taken Borrell to court and won, for all the good it apparently did him.7 Ermengol, who is also the best-documented recipient of a payment for simony I know, seems mainly to have offered justice at a price. Two years later, indeed, Ermengol made his will and there gave back to Santa Maria d’Urgell the villa of Tuixén which Borrell had bequeathed to the cathedral in his will, so the two brothers obviously learnt different things from their father’s examples…8

The village of Tuixén

The selfsame villa of Tuixént, as it is now spelt. By Jordi Picart (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

What all this makes me think of is the efforts that Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious, the second Holy Roman Emperor, made to demonstrate that his succession in 814 meant a change of régime: most of Charlemagbne’s courtiers were chased out, all Louis’s sisters put into nunneries and some of his male relatives tonsured too, and (we are told, though it was obviously not wholly true) all of Charlemagne’s charters called in and replaced. There was also a set of judicial enquiries set in train to clear up hanging cases like those we just looked at where justice had not in fact been done.9 One of the Catalan counts in fact did the charter replacement too, or so we are told, and again the survival makes this look unlikely but the fact that it was said is impressive.10 I guess that there was some important political capital to be made when a long-lived ruler died in reaching out to the people who had become his enemies and whom he had excluded from access to central power; by calling Daddy’s decisions into question you could tell those people that the situation was up for renegotiation and hope to bring them on board without necessarily having to go quite as far as did Louis in getting rid of the old guard.

Maquette in the abbey church of Corbie of the abbey church of Corbie (1810)

Mind you, there were worse places to wind up than where two of Louis’s cousins did, the abbey of Corbie, here delightfully represented by a maquette of the modern church as in 1810 inside the modern church as of this century. By Paulparis2010 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

This model is quite easy to find once you start looking, and I suspect it explains quite a few of Salrach’s cases where the counts let themselves be seen to lose; it was not they who lost, but the grip of their father. And if you think back to the Vallformosa case we discussed a few posts ago and have such trouble explaining, you’ll notice that the same thing is going on there: Borrell was pursuing rights that his father had claimed, exactly thirty years after his father had died when it cannot, legally, have had a chance of working out because of the legal limit on unpursued claims in the local law. Was the point to show that his father’s claims were not always just? I think, in this case, probably not, because Borrell had been willing to outright say as much when it must have counted a good deal more, just after his succession; but the tools he was using could be put to that purpose, and his sons were good learners.11 There is stuff I still have to work out here but I do think that dealing with succession to the successful, and perhaps still more to the unsuccessful (which is arguably more how Borrell was seen, after the sack of Barcelona in 98512) is part of what was going on with these cases of comital defeat.


1. J. M. Salrach, Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil, Referències 55 (Vic 2013), pp. 109-118.

2. For example, Argemir and Major giving land they had from him at Castelltallat to Sant Benet de Bages in 995 (Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 1705, or no less than Count Bernat Tallaferro of Besalú and his wife Tota giving with the church of Santa Maria de Merlès, built on land he got from Borrell, to Santa Maria de Ripoll in 997 (Petrus de Marca, Marca Hispanica sive Limes Hispanicus, hoc est geographica & historica descriptio cataloniae, ruscinonis, & circumiacentium populorum, ed. Étienne Baluze (Paris 1688; repr. Barcelona 1972, 1989), ap. CXLV.

3. In order, Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Els documents, dels anys 981-1010, de l’Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis hist&orave;rics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 3 (Montserrat 1980), pp. 7-166, doc. no. 239; Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. nos 1840 & 1864; Baraut, “Documents, dels anys 981-1010″, doc. no. 286; Baraut (ed.), “Diplomatari del monestir de Sant Sadurní de Tavèrnoles (segles IX-XIII)” in Urgellia Vol. 12 (1995), pp. 7-414, doc. no. 35; José Rius Serra (ed.), Cartulario de «Sant Cugat» del Vallés Vol. II (Barcelona 1946), doc. no. 454; Gaspar Feliu & Salrach (edd.), Els Pergamins de l’Arxiu Comtal de Barcelona de Ramon Borrell a Ramon Berenguer I, Diplomataris 18-20 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 154.

4. The law cases are Baraut, “Tavèrnoles”, no. 35, Rius, Sant Cugat doc. no. 454 and Feliu & Salrach, Pergamins, doc. no. 154, the last being the 1021 one.

5. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 1840.

6. Ibid. doc. no. 1864.

7. Baraut, “Tavèrnoles”, doc. no. 35.

8. Baraut, “Documents”, doc. no. 300. Even then, Ermengol I still forgot to actually get the bequest carried out and Bishop Ermengol (no relation) had to take Ermengol I’s son Ermengol II (obviously more related) to court for it in Baraut (ed.), “Els documents, dels anys 1010-1035, de l’Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell” in Urgellia Vol. 4 (Montserrat 1981), pp. 7-186, doc. no. 528. Nor was that the first time the comital family had grabbed back Tuixén just after it had been given away; I’m not quite sure why they kept letting it go…

9. Recorded in Thegan, Gesta Hludowici imperatoris, ed. E. Tremp in idem (ed.), Thegan, Die Taten Kaiser Ludwigs (Gesta Hludowici imperatoris). Astronomus, Das Leben Kaiser Ludwigs (Vita Hludowici imperatoris), Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum germanicum in usum scholarum separatim editi) LXIV (Hannover 1995), online here, last modified 8 November 2004 as of 30 May 2008, pp. 167-277 with commentary pp. 1-52, cap. X.

10. Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, S. Riera i Viader & Manuel Rovira i Solà (edd.), Catalunya Carolíngia V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Empúries i Peralada, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LXI (Barcelona 2005), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, 2 vols, doc. no. 288.

11. That more extreme case is the appointment of a replacement for his father Sunyer’s nominee as abbess of Sant Joan de Ripoll, recounted in Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 645.

12. Gaspar Feliu, 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), online here, last modified 15 September 2008 as of 3 November 2008.

Announcing All That Glitters

Starting work at the Barber Institute in August meant learning to work in and outside of office hours again, and I’m still rebalancing my routine. It has also meant an even longer to-do list, not least since I am also still doing some teaching for History at Birmingham on my spare day. There are long and difficult jobs connected with the electronic catalogue of the coins and the numismatic library, as well as more immediate ones connected with the next exhibition. But it has also meant a bunch of exciting new research projects! In some ways this should have been expected, and indeed I came into the job with one particular problem I wanted to use the coin collection to address, which I’ll tell you about when I’m slightly further along. But in the meantime, we are about to start something quite big and I wanted to announce it. The project name is “All that Glitters: the Byzantine solidus 307-1092″, and it aims to carry out non-destructive scientific testing of the metal composition of the Byzantine gold coinage over that period, up to 300 coins in all depending on results.

A gold solidus of Emperor Anastasius (491-518) struck in Constantinople, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B0031

A gold solidus of Emperor Anastasius (491-518) struck in Constantinople, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B0031

The reason this has got so ambitious is that word ‘we’, because this is essentially the brainchild of Rebecca Darley, one of the curators of the current coin exhibition at the Barber as you may remember and now part of the Bilderfahrzeuge project based at the Warburg Institute in London. Rebecca is an energising collaborator who does not think small and has thus gathered me, as the man with the coins and the wider medieval background, and Robert Bracey of the British Museum, as a man with an X-ray flourescence spectrometer and experience using it on the money of ancient empires, into a suddenly-active attempt involving Birmingham University’s School of Chemistry and Bruker Industries Ltd., who make XRF machinery among many other things, to deepen the basis of Byzantine monetary history (and with that, it’s probably not too much to say, the monetary history of the early Middle Ages as a whole). Here is our synopsis, with some edits for context:

“The Byzantine Empire, which evolved from the eastern Roman Empire, issued coinage continuously for more than a thousand years. The gold solidus, a coin of 4·5 g and a notional 95-97% purity, was the backbone of this system from the reign of Emperor Constantine I (306-37) to the eleventh century, though it was debased steadily from the tenth century until its replacement in a coinage reform in 1092. Before that time, the reputation of the solidus was near-legendary and it has remained so in scholarship.” In fact, however, we have limited evidence as to the precise purity or composition of the early coinage prior to debasement.
Earlier metallurgical studies of Byzantine gold coinages concentrated mainly on the later period, and used the most sophisticated equipment available in the 1980s and 1990s. Recent developments in X-Ray Flourescence technology, in which Bruker Industries Ltd. have been at the forefront, now make it possible to evaluate non-destructively the composition of metal alloys with far greater sensitivity to a range of trace elements, and the ability to quantify very small changes in the proportions of different metals in an alloy and in detecting and identifying even minute quantities of trace elements. “These newly developed techniques have not, however, been applied to Byzantine gold coinage and the time is therefore ripe for a project which could not only offer new data on the Byzantine monetary economy but also explore the possibilities of XRF testing, and set standards of analysis for other currencies and precious-metal objects.
“The Barber Institute of Fine Arts contains the most important collection of Byzantine coins in Europe and its greatest strength is in the coinage of the sixth to eighth centuries. It is currently unpublished, though cataloguing is in progress, and it has never been subject to any metallurgic analysis. It therefore offers an entirely new source of data for a detailed examination of the gold coinage that underpinned the Byzantine economy. In light of increasing recognition by historians that the numerous crises experienced by the Empire were survived only because of the sophistication and resilience of the imperial monetary and taxation system (Haldon, 1990; Wickham, 2005; Brubaker and Haldon, 2011), this study has immediate relevance not just to the Middle Ages but also to wider questions about the impact of monetary stability on political balance.”

You see that we have plans, and as of last week, we now have permission from the Henry Barber Trust, who own the collections of the Barber Institute, to carry on and do Science! with their coins. At this point we’re still in meetings-and-planning stages but before the end of the year we will in fact be zapping solidi with X-rays and trying to get money from people to do so on a rather larger scale. We should be presenting preliminary results from the first phase of work as early as January. It’s all moving rather fast! Anyway. One of our pledges is to keep the world updated via our various blogs, but I rather thought you might be interested anyway. Now, when those results come in, you’ll have some idea of what they might lead to…


The references above decode as John Haldon, Byzantium in the Seventh Century (Cambridge 1990); Chris Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean 400-800 (Oxford 2005); and Leslie Brubaker & John Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era c. 680-850: a history (Cambridge 2011). To those I should add the essential starting point for the scientific study of Byzantine coinage till now, Cécile Morrisson, C. Brenot, J. N. Barrandon, J. P. Callu, J. Poirier & R. Halleux, L’or monnayé I : Purification et altérations de Rome à Byzance (Paris 1985).

Managing without an archive in c. 1000 Barcelona

There’s a story I’m fond of and that I’ve told you here before, in which a woman came to the court of Marquis Ramon Borrell of Barcelona in 1005 claiming that the monks of Sant Cugat del Vallès were moving in on her land.1 There’s all kinds of strange things going on in the background of this case, and I do urge you to read the older post, but the bit that interests me on this occasion is the basis on which the plaintiff lost her land, which is that Ramon Borrell and his tame judge decided that the land was in fact the count’s, by virtue of having recently been wasteland, “just as other waste lands belong to the right of the prince”.2 It’s a pretty mean claim given that most people got to hold onto lands they’d cleared, and if the monastery hadn’t also had a claim I doubt very much this bit of casuistry would have been perpetrated upon her. When I’ve looked at this case before, therefore, I’ve either seen it as an instance of the importance of back-story in this legal environment when one was fixing a verdict, or else as an instance of the fact that these rights the counts were claiming over waste lands were not in fact regular and were probably therefore new, which bears heavily on the theory that this was an ancient and long-respected right of the public power.3 Y’see, it’s a very rich case. But what I want to focus on today is the appearance that the document gives that the count didn’t realise, until the problem arose, that this could be claimed as his land. Up till now I have always figured this was simple exigency, that ordinarily he’d never have pressed such a claim unless it was of immediate political use, and I would still think that if what I was reading when I wrote this hadn’t just presented me with another case.4

Cover of Josep María Salrach's Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l'any mil (Vic 2013)

Cover of Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil (Vic 2013), which is what I had in fact been reading when this post got written

This one’s from 1013, and it’s Ramon Borrell again, at court with his good lady wife when a delegation arrived from a placee called Villalba near Cardedeu, complaining that the count had some time ago been persuaded by one Rigoald to sell him a meadow next-door to Villalba in what the document has the count call “an innocent and unreflexive manner”, and that Rigoald and his wife and son had started making encroachments into the villagers’ common land.5 Rigoald now being dead, the villagers dared at last come to the count, and he and Countess Ermessenda apparently called the widow and son, Quixol and Ramon, to court, had their charter examined and found it, “made in a fraudulent and deceptive manner, alien to right and to all justice.” Therefore the charter was destroyed in court, and Quixol and Ramon fined thirty sheep, which by a coincidence is exactly what the villagers gave the count in gratitude for the justice he had done them.

Chapel of SS Corneli & Cebrià de Cardedéu

It turns out in searching that Cardedéu has a rather nice Romanesque chapel sitting in its midst, so although I can’t make any direct connection between it and the post I think it will do for illustration anyway don’t you? I’m so glad. By Miquel vico (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s hard to see how anyone but the count and countess won here. Quixol and Ramon presumably felt they were secure enough with their charter, even if they had maybe overstepped its bounds; instead they lost all title to their lands, and what happened to them is not clear, and they lost thirty sheep as well, while the villagers had to pay the same just to get what they had argued was rightfully theirs. What good sixty sheep did the count and countess of Barcelona is less easy to see, but it is reasonably clear, as Josep María Salrach says in his discussion of this case, that Ramon Borrell got a considerable height of moral high ground, defending the loyal peasantry against oppressors even when those oppressors were in fact himself, correctly broadcasting an adherence to right over advantage, even if that right was best paid for. I’m more interested in the thread that seems to me to tie these two cases together, however, which is that Ramon Borrell apparently had only the sketchiest idea of what property he actually controlled.

Arxiu Fidel Fita d'Arenys de Mar, Mas Gelat de Santa Susanna, Mas Bellvehí de Vidreres 91.0.1

This isn’t from the comital archive, but it is a charter of Ramon Borrell, with Ermessenda, Arxiu Fidel Fita d’Arenys de Mar, Mas Gelat de Santa Susanna, Mas Bellvehí de Vidreres, 91.0.1 of 1001. Their signatures, done by the scribe I think, are dead centre of the last full line of text.

In some senses this may not surprise anyone who’s spent much time with the documents from this area, because one of the noticeable things about them is the scale of comital property, which is, tiny and widespread. It is at least arguable that the counts held some really big estates and, because they kept them, we have no transaction evidence in which to see them—there’s a huge complex at Palau de Gurb that we only ever see because it was slowly and reluctantly given to Santa Maria de Ripoll, but it would never have got there had it not originally been part of a comital son’s entry-gift, for example6—but they certainly also held an immense variety of tiny stuff. There’s almost no castle term in which some comital property doesn’t show up, even if it’s just a couple of meadows or similar, and of course they presumably considered the actual castles theirs in some way, too, but that’s not what I mean. Keeping track of this mess of busy little farms and smallholdings would have been beyond most administrations, and yet on the other hand the reason we know about this land is because people near it knew it was the counts’ and said so when called on to detail property boundaries. We know here not to underestimate the ability of tenth-century lords to take inventories and make lists, I think, so there seems little question that the counts could, just about, have known what they owned. So why does Ramon Borrell seem not to have?

Arxiu de la Corona d'Aragó, Cancilleria, Pergamins Ramon Borrell 2

This, on the other hand, is from the comital archive, is in fact Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó, Cancilleria, Pergamins Ramon Borrell 2, but is nothing to do with the counts and doesn’t feature the man under whom it’s indexed! Funny old world, archives.

Well, there is one fairly obvious excuse in the form of the sack of Barcelona by a Muslim army in 985.7 Lots of documents got lost in that, and because preservation from the Barcelona comital archive is so patchy for the early period, it has been assumed that the counts were among the losers that day.8 I’ve always struggled with this, however, because while it is patchy it is very far from non-existent, so either they didn’t lose it all, or some of the documents that later came to the archive were held elsewhere in 985 despite being about comital property, in which case we’re already looking at a rather less centralised administration than the kind of property tracking we’re looking for might have needed.9

Besides, it’s not just Ramon Borrell who seems to have had this problem: a remarkable case from the reign of his father Borrell II, which Salrach also explores, shows the same issues coming up. This is a hearing from a place in Manresa called Vallformosa, in 977 so that the “day Barcelona died” can’t yet have affected things.10 Borrell was presiding over this court, which makes it all the more surprising what happened: his agent summoned the men of Vallformosa (some of whom were women, but fairly few, so probably the communty’s heads of houses) and claimed that their land was comital property because it had been so in the times of Borrell’s father Count Sunyer. The villagers however claimed that no claim had been made on them for more than thirty years, which under the Visigothic Law was the limit of any outstanding property claims, and so the lands were now theirs whatever the past situation might have been. The judge asked Borrell’s man Bonhom if he had any evidence to refute this, he had none, and so he had to make a quitclaim in front of his boss admitting the collapse of the comital claim, and that document then went into the comital archive.

Sant Salvador de Servitge de Vallformosa

Sant Salvador de Servitge de Vallformosa, which though much modified is possibly the oldest building standing in the village as far as websearching can tell me. Photograph by Antonio Mora Vergés.

Speculation about this has tended to go two ways, and Salrach covers both of them.11 Firstly, it can be seen as proof that the counts could lose, and that they did not have the will or resources always to force a verdict in their favour against determined opposition. Point against this view: why would you have the trail? Bonhom must have known he had no evidence to present, yet he sued the villagers anyway. It would have looked better for his side not to bother. Thus, a second point of view has been that the comital side must have intended to lose, the point being to establish publically the villagers’ rights; that is, that this was what is known in the scholarship of Italy and Germany as a Scheinprozess, a show trial. Point against this view: why must the count lose to do this? Why could he not just grant them a franchise or immunity? These documents were made by others, and indeed by Borrell himself before long, so this seems a very odd way to do it.

So I wonder if in fact they did all know what the outcome must be, or whether in fact no-one was really sure whether Vallformosa’s inhabitants would be able to raise a group of oath-swearers or that Bonhom would not be able to until too close to the trial to call it off. I wonder if, in fact, a trial like this was how both sides settled a question of ownership that beforehand they could not answer. A point for this idea, unlikely though it may seem, and a point against both the other two theories, is that the Vallformosa and Villalba documents survive in the comital archive. What I have called ‘Winner’s preservation’ here before ought to militate against this: why would the counts be keeping records of what they had not been able to claim? These documents ought to have gone to the villagers, so that they could be produced if the matter was ever raised again. The fact that what we have is the counts’ copies suggests to me an archive that barely existed, that was being assembled by chancing this kind of case and filing the results so that if, in the future, someone in Barcelona went, “That place Vallformosa, up north-west of Manresa, that’s ours isn’t it? Bishop says it’s not his…” someone checking would then be able to say, “Ah. No.”

ACA Cancilleria Pergamins Borrell II 63

I seem not to have images of anything from the comital archive from before the sack of 985 that doesn’t hail from Sant Joan de les Abadesses, whose stuff got added in later. There are some, all the same, but this is ACA Cancilleria Pergamins Borrell II 63, a Barcelona sale of 992 that, again, doesn’t feature the count and presumably arrived in the comital archive for some other reason

I admit that there is a nastier possibility, that the counts might lose the case but claim the right to keep the record, far away in Barcelona where no-one from Vallformosa could easily get at it. I would have to admit the possibility of that: but a comital administration with that kind of plan surely wouldn’t be as confused about its rights as it in fact seems to have been. I don’t want to let go of my older idea that Borrell and his son were actually trying to push for new rights under old legal cladding, and that what they attempted to get was sometimes unobtainable precisely because no-one had asked before. (This chapter of Salrach’s book is really good at adding texture to this idea, for a start.) However, I do now think that we probably ought to realise that a governmentalising apparatus with all kinds of strategies for power still doesn’t have to have been very good at them or well-equipped to carry them out…


1. J. Rius Serra (ed.), Cartulario de «Sant Cugat» del Vallés vol. II (Barcelona 1946), online here, doc. no. 464.

2. Ibid.: “Propterea iudicatum est in ipso iudicio melius et verius esse hec terra iuris principalis, sicut et cetera spacia heremarum terrarum…”.

3. J. Jarrett, “A Likely Story: narratives in charter material from early medieval Catalonia”, paper presented to the Medieval History Seminar, University of Oxford, 18th October 2010; idem, “Settling the King’s 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.

4. Josep María Salrach, Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil, Refeències 55 (Vic 2013), here pp. 114-118.

5. Gaspar Feliu i Montfort and Josep María Salrach (edd.), Els pergamins de l’arxiu comtal de Barcelona de Ramon Borrell a Ramon Berenguer I: estudi i edició, Diplomataris 18-20 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 105. I’m working off Salrach’s account cited in the previous note here, which only quotes the document in Catalan translation, but he did edit the thing so I’m guessing it’s OK.

6. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 419 & 420, show the dissection of the Palau de Gurb estate.

7. On which see Gaspar Feliu, 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), online here, last modified 15 September 2008 as of 3 November 2008.

8. Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos XVIII (Barcelona 1951), pp. xxxii-xxxiv.

9. Ibid., doc. nos 9, 12, etc.

10. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 1229 (or Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 181, because it too is in the comital archive of before).

11. Salrach, Justícia i poder, pp. 109-111.