Category Archives: Now working on…

Stock Take VII: research I can’t do

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

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

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

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

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

Not My Fault (I Would If I Could)

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

My Fault (I Haven’t Even Tried)

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

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

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

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

Visiting the dead king at Driffield

We edge towards the end of the backed-up blog material from 2019 by now, which is something of an achievement given where we’ve been, but just now we’re still there and one of the things I was doing in later 2019 was constructing a review of a book for Northern History, a journal that’s edited from my institution and to whose review editor’s plea I’m thus physically vulnerable. It was one of those things I was only just fitted to review, namely this:

Cover of Tony Abramson, Coinage in the Northumbrian landscape and economy, c. 575-c. 867 (British Archaeological Reports (British Series), 641, Oxford, 2018).

Cover of Tony Abramson, Coinage in the Northumbrian landscape and economy, c. 575-c. 867, British Archaeological Reports (British Series), 641 (Oxford 2018).

Of the book as a whole, you can see the actual review, which came out almost immediately after I’d submitted it, in volume 56 over pages 162-165, and here I’ll just say that it was such a work as I couldn’t review properly without begging for more words, which is why that runs over four pages.1 But there were loads of interesting things in there, and this post is about one of them, an analysis of the early medieval coin finds from Driffield in North Yorkshire where I don’t think Abramson quite goes all the way to the end of his logical thread.

Abramson’s method in the book is to characterise sites by their coins profile as compared to the profile of their other material culture. The statistical interpretation he does with this is one of the reasons my review was so long, but Abramson is a man full of curiosity and he tries to resolve individual cases where possible as well as fit things into a bigger pattern. And Driffield is one of a couple of sites which have a particular profile, sites with a known élite status, not very much recovered material culture to match that, and not very many coins but of those coins a surprising proportion either rare or foreign.2 In Driffield’s case the élite status derives from it having been a royal vill of the Northumbrian kings, especially King Aldfrith (685-704 CE), who was there when he died and may be buried in the church there, although the most recent excavator thinks we may not actually have found the vill.3 This implies that what we are actually seeing is the material culture profile of the church site around which the later village coalesced.

Reused tombstone in the exterior wall of Saint Mary's Little Driffield, perhaps Viking-period

Reused tombstone in the exterior wall of Saint Mary’s Little Driffield, perhaps Viking-period; photo by Robert Andrews via Historic England, linked through. I was after a photograph of the memorial to King Aldfrith inside the church but the only one I can find firmly states its copyright

So, in coin terms, that profile includes at least eleven foreign coins, and while most of those are Low Countries sceattas that got all over England, some are southern English, which is less usual, and one is a Lombard tremissis, unusual both for being Italian and gold, not a thing anyone commonly lost in the Yorkshire Wolds. Moreover, several of the local ones are types with fantastic animals on the reverse, occurring by themselves or of what Abramson calls ‘unusual style’, or both, as if they were being selected for the site somehow.4 Overall, the sample of coins at Driffield has well over the average level of rarities.

Lombard pseudo-imperial tremissis in the name of Emperor Maurice Tiberius, perhaps struck at Pavia 582-602, MEC 301-04, found at Driffield

Lombard pseudo-imperial tremissis in the name of Emperor Maurice Tiberius, perhaps struck at Pavia 582-602, MEC 301-04, found at Driffield; Abramson, Coinage in the Northumbrian Landscape, p. 45 fig. 6

So what’s the explanation? As close as Abramson gets is to say, with suitable caution:

“With all the caveats and constraints on interpretation, that this location is so rich in rare coinage, implies that Driffield was a site of special, not merely economic, significance, as would be expected for the final resting place of Aldfrith.”5

Now, to that my initial reaction was, “Would it? He’s not a saint or anything. Considered holier than most kings, yes, but that’s partly because he had the good luck to be around when Bede was and to have been hauled from the monastery at Iona to replace a man Bede deplored (Aldfrith’s half-brother Ecgfrith).6 But he wasn’t a monk, though he may have been a scholar. And besides, have we any sign at all that any Northumbrian king other than Oswald was culted after his death?”

St Alkmund's Sarcophagus, from St Alkmund's Duffield, Derby, now in Derby Museum

St Alkmund’s Sarcophagus, from St Alkmund’s Duffield, Derby, now in Derby Museums; the image is copyright to Derby Museums but use is allowed

But then I remembered this, dear reader, as you also may do if you go back far enough on this blog. What this is fairly solid evidence of the cult after death of a Northumbrian ruler, King Ealhmund; it’s just that because we suspect that cult was set up deliberately by a king of Mercia for political reasons about 150 years later than this, it doesn’t necessarily spring to mind as a comparison. But also, I then remembered, after Aldfrith died the kingdom of Northumbria was riven by civil war, succession struggles and then eventually Vikings (one of whose victims, King Edmund of East Anglia, struck one of the southern coins that has turned up at Driffield, really very late for a Northumbrian site).7 In general, dark times followed him. Was it in fact not possible that at least some people might have looked back to the scholarly Adlfrith as the last Good King?

Obverse of silver penny of King Aldfrith of Northumbria, struck 685-704, found at Driffield, EMC 2006.0119

Obverse of silver penny of King Aldfrith of Northumbria, struck 685-704, found at Driffield, EMC 2006.0119

Reverse of silver penny of King Aldfrith of Northumbria, struck 685-704 CE, found at Driffield, EMC 2006.0119

Reverse of the same coin, with one of the aforesaid fantastic beasts on it

That seems, anyway, to be what Abramson is implying by that last statement quoted: that the weird coins here are actually the consequence of numerous visits to Aldfrith’s grave. If that’s right, though, there are two further implications to be teased out, which I’m not able to do fully here but which seem at least worth indicating. Firstly, this all kind of does mean Aldfrith was being considered as a saint, in the simplest sense of being a soul in Heaven; not much point making an offering at the grave of someone whose ultimate destination means they can’t help you…8 But secondly, the fact that especially rare coins seem to have been selected for this probably needs thinking about. To someone who has the whole picture of the coinage, the implication is almost that so did its average user, that we would have here a bunch of historical collectors who, having saved this unusual specimen from the usual pell-mell of circulation, thought it a fitting gift to the royal maybe-saint. This, when actually set out, seems a bit unlikely, you may agree.

Silver penny struck perhaps at London 730-65 CE, from the Beowulf Collection, CNG sale 76 lot 1848

Silver penny struck perhaps at London 730-65 CE, from the Beowulf Collection, CNG sale 76 lot 1848

But why are those coins so rare? Is it not perhaps easier to read the logic the other way round and say: this is the kind of thing those coins were struck for, they’re rare because they were small-issue, special-purpose coinages that didn’t ordinarily circulate. There are more than a few issues, in this sceatta period of multifariously issued small silver penny coinages, which seem to have some connection with the Church; they have helpful indications like having an named archbishop on the reverse (one of which was found at Driffield) or the legend Monita scorum, as you see above, which we take to be what we’d normally spell and expand as moneta s(an)c(t)orum, ‘money of the saints’. But as our esteemed commentator Rory Naismith, who has studied these coinages, has observed, they are also rare, and they don’t seem to have had much connection with actual church sites.9 He concludes that they’re not evidence for the church as a major driver of the coinage in this period, and I think he’s right.

After this, though, I find myself wondering if their existence instead forms part of a larger pattern of special-issue coinages whose purpose would have been to be used as offerings to holy or significant sites. Should we even see the Church as competing, with its few issues, for space in an iconographic tradition happier with fantastic beasties? Odder suggestions have been made about the art of these coinages!10 But for now I have gone far enough, I think, and probably too far by many standards, so I’ll stop here.

1. Jonathan Jarrett, ‘TONY ABRAMSON, Coinage in the Northumbrian Landscape and Economy, c. 575–867, BAR British Series 841 (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2018. £59.00 xxi + 207 pp., inc. 161 figures, 13 graphs and 10 plates, plus 2 databases and 20 datasets online, ISBN 9781407316536)’ in Northern History Vol. 56 (Abingdon 2019), pp. 162–165, DOI: 10.1080/0078172X.2019.1678288.

2. Tony Abramson, Coinage in the Northumbrian Landscape and Economy, c. 575-c. 867, British Archaeological Reports (British Series) 641 (Oxford 2018), pp. 141-142 and pp. 145-146 figs 118-124; the other site of this type is Garton-on-the-Wolds, covered p. 142 and pp. 146-147 figs 125-128.

3. Chris Loveluck, “The Development of the Anglo-Saxon Landscape, Economy and Society ‘on Driffield’, East Yorkshire, 400‒750 AD” in Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History Vol. 9 (Oxford 1996), pp. 25-48, cited by Abramson, Coinage, p. 141, as ‘Lovelock’ passim though with the author spelt correctly in the Bibliography. Aldfrith’s burial somewhere here is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, however: I find it in Michael Swanton (transl./ed.), The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (London 1996), E sub anno 705 (p. 41), though the location detail is not in the A Manuscript (cf. p. 40).

4. I should add at this point that one of the great things about this book is that his datasets are all freely available online, so you can if you like click this and get all his files in a ZIP, and find the coins yourself. I was in a hurry this time so didn’t, but I had a good prowl round in the review and the claimed information was always there.

5. Abramson, Coinage, p. 142.

6. For the messy background here see Barbara Yorke, Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England (London 1990), pp. 79-86.

7. Ibid., pp. 86-98.

8. If this makes early medieval piety seem uncomfortably transactional, immerse yourself in either or both of Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom: triumph and diversity, A.D. 200-1000, 2nd edn (Malden MA 2003), pp. 145-165, or Julia M. H. Smith, “Relics: An Evolving Tradition in Latin Christianity” in Cynthia Hahn and Holger A. Klein (eds), Saints and Sacred Matter: The Cult of Relics in Byzantium and Beyond (Washington DC 2015), pp. 41–60, online here, for more fully textured takes on the spirituality of the age as it involved saints.

9. Rory Naismith, “Money of the Saints: Church and Coinage in Early Anglo-Saxon England” in Tony Abramson (ed.), Studies in Early Medieval Coinage 3: Sifting the Evidence (London 2014), pp. 68–121.

10. I think specifically of Anna Gannon, The Iconography of Early Anglo-Saxon Coinage, Sixth to Eighth Centuries (Oxford, 2003), but it should be said that she reads most of these coinages as one way or another referring to Christian imagery, so by some lights her interpretations are less weird than mine just now.


Look over there! A free article!

Ladies and gentlemen, I have been a bit absent of recent days, nay, weeks, and I’m sorry. Even this is just a placeholder, to say that despite Action Short of Strike somehow I don’t seem to have more time but rather the reverse, that this semester was in theory lightly loaded but has still nearly done me in, and that the week before last I had the partial excuse of actually having been out picketing – I’m in that trail above somewhere, but I still don’t have my pension back somehow – and then this week we’ve had no home internet for a lot of the time, which now seems to be fixed – just in time for the work internet to break down, in fact! But I still haven’t actually written you a proper blog post (and I warn you, when I do, it will be gloomy, sorry; events have again taken over my program).

Offprint of Jonathan Jarrett, "Outgrowing the Dark Ages: agrarian productivity in Carolingian Europe re-evaluated" in Agricultural History Review Vol. 67 (Reading 2019), pp. 1-28

But, one small slice of good news first! You may remember I wrote an article a little while back about how all the scholarship that says early medieval crop yields were dismal is unfounded, that the maths on which that assessment rests was always meaninglessly bad but we can do better, and that all this means that founding a medieval progress narrative on technical progress in agriculture just doesn’t work and we need a better reason for any progress narratives we still want for the period? But perhaps you didn’t then immediately snap it up because it was only available behind a paywall? Well, it has emerged, and you can now download it for free by the good graces of the British Agricultural History Society, here:

Click to access 67_1_Jarrett.pdf

So, you know, by all means do that! It is probably still the most important thing I’ve written…

You don’t need the citation, probably, but just in case, it is: Jonathan Jarrett, “Outgrowing the Dark Ages: agrarian productivity in Carolingian Europe re-evaluated” in Agricultural History Review Vol. 67 (Reading 2019), pp. 1–28.

A sixth-century Swedish mass murder mystery

Yesterday and today, dear readers, I have been and am on strike again, because in short none of the promises that were made to stop me and my comrades striking last time have in the end been fulfilled, so we have had to come out again to try and get across that this will keep happening if the people in charge don’t in fact deliver some kind of reasonable attention to their staff’s problems. Indeed, it is not just keeping happening, it is escalating! Last time there were sixty-odd universities; today, and tomorrow and next Wednesday, every university in the UK has picket lines up, we are all out, and not just the academics but also the other two staff unions; the whole show is stopped. Admittedly, so is every school in Scotland, so we’re struggling for attention a bit; but it’s all the same disease, public-sector workers being asked to do more than we can for less than we used to be paid and much less than we deserve for the work we put in. So today that work stops, and you get an extra blog post.

Reconstruction of fifth-century Sandby Borg, Öland, from ‘Viking Murder Mystery’, PAL in Ancient Mysteries (4, London, 15 Dec. 2021) (25 Nov. 2022)

Reconstruction of fifth-century Sandby Borg, Öland, from ‘Viking Murder Mystery’, in Ancient Mysteries, Series 4, episode 2 (London, 15 Dec. 2021), on freeview here

So this is all based on a bit less knowledge than I’d like, and some of that is my own unwillingness to find out more, which I’ll explain. But you might just remember that in November 2019, still a few months before the pandemic deluge, I briefly posted that I was going to be on television. That did happen, in the USA on the Smithsonian Channel, and much much later it seems that it did also come out in the UK on Channel 5, though no-one warned me so I couldn’t tell you. I’m still not sure when it was screened here – IMDB and Channel 5’s own site disagree – and I’ve no idea how many people saw it; all those I dealt with at the relevant company, who were all pleasures to work with, seem to have gone and I can’t get answers from the new ones. The previous incumbents did at least early on send me a video link, but I confess I haven’t ever dared look at it in case I came across like a buffoon (or worse, perhaps, a ‘boffin’), and the link is in my University e-mail which, because of the digital picket, I’m not opening. So I don’t know how much I was in it or what selection of what I said they used. A couple of people have mentioned seeing me on TV, and that must be this, but they couldn’t remember anything much about it, which doesn’t bode well… But I can tell you what it was all about, and that is a story worth telling.

Our location, then, is a place on the Swedish island of Öland, a place called Sandby borg, and the date is, well, that’s a question but let’s say after 425 and before 600 CE, and we can narrow it down in a moment. Sandby borg was not really known about until 2011, when it was first dug by a small Swedish archæological team, and what they found proved quite surprising.1 The place had been a fortress settlement, and whatever it was defending against, it had failed: the place had been breached and ruined, and there were slaughtered bodies aplenty. Some, even, had apparently been placed deliberately across the thresholds of houses before the dwellings were torched. But what had not happened was looting; though smashed, scattered and what-have-you, the material treasures of the site, weapons, ordinary belongings, metalwork, had been left where they fell, and then fires set. And then, apparently, the attackers left and no-one ever came back to it again. It’s really something like the murder and burial of a place. It disappeared under the sands and was left as it had been left at the point of the sack, until found again in “our times”.2

Drone photo of archaeological digging under way at Sandby Borg

Drone photo of the dig under way, from the team’s Facebook site, linked through

Now, you may imagine that at that point the archæologists involved realised that they were sitting on something hot, and the press got involved and so, at some remove or other, did a company called Blink Films who, among many other things, do or did content for series about historical mysteries. Most of what they do is more esoteric, shall we say, than this, but when you have actual mystery any publicity may be good publicity, I guess, and so Blink Films picked this up and went looking for experts. And, because among the finds left to lie unstolen at the site were two Roman solidi of Emperor Valentinian III (r. 425-55), or so it seemed (more on this in a moment), one of the experts they needed was a numismatist, and they found me. So I agreed to be involved, and roped in the Barber Institute, where the now-Curator Dr Maria Vrij very kindly let me and a film crew back into my old workplace and we got out some more such solidi and I tried to sound like an expert about how the ones at Sandby borg might have come there and what it meant that they had.

Gold coin and jewellery uncovered in the Sandby Borg archaeological dig

I did have pictures of the coins, but I seem to have filed them somewhere ‘safe’; instead, here is one of them, and I think it’s the imitation, in its state of discovery (or a plausible reconstruction thereof), again from the team’s Facebook site

Now, at that point I’d had about four days to read up, and that during term, so I did not know all I wanted. But I had already learnt that, firstly, late Roman coins are not uncommon finds north of the Baltic, or indeed in the northern lands beyond the Empire in general, and that they are usually explained as payment for military service, brought home by the successful soldiery.3 I’d also learned, however, that apparently this set up a sufficient demand for such gold coin in at least what’s now Sweden that it became worth making your own, because a good part of the ones which we have are imitations.4 Whether that means that there were was a circulating economy of gold coin in Scandinavia this early, or that people outside the Empire were hiring Geats as soldiers and paying them in knock-off coin when the real stuff ran short, I didn’t have time to consider; but I could say that the likely context of these coins was military service, probably under Rome, and that one of the two finds here was probably an imitation, and I got to wave real ones at the camera and talk about the differences I saw and I hope, I hope, that that’s what’s in the programme. I think I also offered a theory about what had happened to the fort, but at this remove I can’t remember what I knew and what I only found out later, so can’t safely guess what that theory would have been. I can tell you what it is now, though.

Gold solidus of Emperor Valentinian III struck at Ravenna 425-455 CE, Barber Institute of Fine Arts LR0540

Both sides of a real gold solidus of Emperor Valentinian III struck at Ravenna 426-430 CE, Barber Institute of Fine Arts LR0540

The important difference between what I knew then and what I came to know, you see, is a book by one Joan Fagerlie called Late Roman and Byzantine Solidi Found in Sweden and Denmark.5 I had started it, I had it with me and I think that’s where I had the idea of imitations from, but at point of filming I’d had no time to do more than open it and check some lists. It was sufficiently interesting, though, that I read all through it and realised that whatever I’d said on camera probably wasn’t wrong but could have been a lot better, because actually Sandby borg, both in its having these coins and in its untimely murder, turns out to have been part of a bigger phenomenon and it’s all, as my inner hippy still sometimes says, pretty heavy, man.6 These are the things I learned from Fagerlie and the other reading I also did:

  1. This coin flow was a long-term affair; even when Fagerlie was writing there were nearly 800 known coins (and of course there are now more), and their dates of issue ranged from 395 to about 600 CE, Theodosius I to Maurice, but with a very sharp falling-off after Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565). After that, indeed, Scandinavia was more or less the same as the rest of Western Europe, which basically stopped seeing imperial coinage in the troubled reigns of Phocas and Heraclius.7 But before that, it had something specific going on.
  2. Fagerlie then did a bunch of very clever deductions from the 726 of the 800-odd coins she had been able to look at. First she observed that the coins largely came from Constantinople, but also from some western mints, suggesting a flow from both halves of the Empire, and secondly she thought that it began under Emperor Leo I (r. 457-474), with anything earlier being stuff picked up from circulation (including lots of Valentinian III). And she noted that this period of maximum flow, from around 461 to about 550, pretty much coincides with when the Ostrogoths were a military quantity in the Roman Empire and then their own, but kind of not their own, kingdom of Italy. So the first clever deduction was that somehow the Ostrogoths were feeding this coin, which they perhaps obtained in tribute or salaries from the Empire, northwards, and that seems hard to dismiss.
  3. Secondly, she worked on distribution and die-links, that is, sets of coins which were struck using the same dies. This corpus is actually busy with die-links, which can only easily be explained by the coins involved having got to the north almost direct from the mint; they must have been shipped, received, paid out again and transported (apparently not through Italy but the Balkans and points north, scatters of incidental finds along the route suggest) and finally redistributed almost without being mixed with anything else. That’s interesting in itself, and tends to confirm the idea that these were state payments of some kind. Furthermore, the die-links start with the coins of Leo I, which also tends to confirm that that was a threshold of some kind and that earlier coin only came there from his time onwards. But this also lets one do something quite serious with distribution, because when you find coins with die-links that are a bit scattered, in this situation you can reasonably hypothesize that they arrived together. But where? And that’s where our stories recombine.
  4. You see, the die-links and distribution together, as Fagerlie saw it, paint a clear pattern of successive, single points of distribution into Scandinavia. The last, where the flow of coinage petered out in the 560s, was Gotland, now more famous for hoards of Islamic silver coin but apparently starting early; but the previous one, up till about 480, was Öland. And everywhere else which was getting these coins, including another island focus, Bornholm in Denmark, which has lots too, was getting them from one then the other of those islands.

Now, there is a lot here, and it’s all known just from the coins, which may explain why I’ve seen so little use of this corpus in more conventional histories. The Ostrogoths were, at least in the sixth century, apparently prone to claiming ancestry in Scandinavia: Jordanes’s Getica, which he wrote around 550 in Constantinople alongside a history of the Romans in order to prove that the two peoples had equally honourable and ancient backgrounds, claims to have this from an earlier history by Cassiodorus which no-one but him seems ever to have seen, and he only for three days; but it doesn’t matter where he had the idea from, it was there to be had.8 Now, these coins obviously don’t prove anything about a deep Gothic prehistory in Sweden; but they do show pretty sharply that there was by the sixth century a strong connection between the political entity of ‘Ostrogoth’ and the place that was by then being claimed as their homeland. And we really don’t know what that connection was, just that it was worth a lot of gold. Military service is a possible, even a likely answer to that question, but only a hypothesis even so.

Jordanes, ‘De origine actibusque Getarum (Fragment)’, Parchment, 1 f., ca. 14.5 x 18.5, Parchment leaf (Fulda, ca 830) (Lausanne, Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire, Ms 398) (, fo 1r

One of the oldest (fragmentary) texts of Jordanes, Lausanne, Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire, Ms 398, fo. 1r, which was probably written at Fulda around 830, itself raising questions I can’t look at here; licensed under CC BY-NC via e-Codices, linked through and here

Secondly, the other end of the connection must have been something quite specific, or perhaps someone quite specific, because apparently the peoples of these islands were the Ostrogoths’ sole agents in the area, and that must have put them in quite a powerful position, since apparently everyone else was having to come to them for this imperial gold coin which was getting everywhere around southern Scandinavia, but getting there only from Öland and then Gotland. There’s a power structure there about which we just know almost nothing, but which is required to explain the coin finds.

Now, there is one more part of this context I’ve not yet mentioned, which is that Sandby borg is not alone in its sudden destruction. In fact, pretty much every coastal fortification of this early period in either Öland or Gotland which has been investigated met a messy end, and even when Fagerlie wrote it was recognised, largely because of the coin find threshold indeed, that this must have happened in the late fifth century in Öland and in the middle-to-late-sixth for Gotland, presumably in some associated fashion each time. The latter of these waves of destruction has been tentatively explained, when at all, in terms of the takeover of the people from whom Sweden takes its name, the Svear, chasing out the Gotlanders from a previously dominant position in eastern Scandinavia, and one could therefore guess at the former wave being how the Gotlanders got that position in the first place, apparently at the expense of the Ölanders.9 In both cases, while I might not now want to endorse these pseudo-legendary peoples’ existence, it’s tempting to see that stranglehold the populations of the two islands apparently had on imperial prestige goods as being too much for their power-hungry dependents to stomach, and episodes like Sandby borg the messy and unpleasant result.

Archaeological investigation under way at Sandby Borg

The investigation under way at Sandby Borg, again from their Facebook site

So at this point, had we learned anything from the Sandby borg dig? If I’d already done my reading when I did that excited piece-to-camera in summer 2019 in the dark of the Barber’s coin room, would I have been saying confidently that this happened all the time, wasn’t unusual, in fact wasn’t even the only such coin find in Sandby or the most important one even if the actual borg hadn’t been found before, and that it told us nothing new? I don’t think so, because firstly, in terms of coin finds the finds here seem to say something different from the hoards; they were both early, separate and one’s an imitation. If Fagerlie was right then they should have arrived here maybe forty years after they were struck; and maybe they did, but I wonder if what we see here is actually the type of place these coins were going all over Scandinavia, perhaps heirlooms from service with a foreign army that it was worth having because it marked you as member of a kind of élite; and if I’m being properly fanciful, maybe the reason they stayed here was because for some reason Sandby borg’s defence included two very old soldiers who, in the end, lost their last battle, but whose status was recognised in death in so far as they got to keep their coin-badges. There have been hoards of Fagerlie’s types found nearby; but these two didn’t get hoarded, they stayed with their owners, and that might be important.

And then secondly, of course, there’s the macabre picture of how one of these settlements, apparently a casualty in a much bigger war, was not just destroyed but almost ritually ended, bodies across thresholds, buildings literally closed by the dead, and everything left where it had fallen, forever, never again to be visited. Or at least that was the plan, it seems. And that’s telling us about something more than a commercial power-grab; it’s telling us something about what that power meant and how it was explained, and if some day we figure that out properly, this site will be part of the explanation. But until then, it may remain at least mostly mystery, even though we apparently know more than many people think about the times in which the mystery was set.

1. The academic publication of these finds, until the full report at least, is Clara Alfsdotter, Ludvig Papmehl-Dufay & Helena Victor, “A Moment Frozen in Time: evidence of a late fifth-century massacre at Sandby borg” in Antiquity Vol. 92 no. 362 (London 2018), pp. 421–436, DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2018.21.

2. Andrew Curry, “Öland, Sweden. Spring, A.D. 480” in Archaeology (Boston MA March/April 2016), online here; “The Sandby borg massacre: Life and death in a 5th-century ringfort” in Current World Archaeology (London 25th July 2019), online here.

3. For the data see Arkadiusz Dymowski, “Roman Imperial Hoards of Denarii from the European Barbaricum” in Journal of Ancient History and Archaeology Vol. 7 Supplement 1 (Bucharest 2020), pp. 193–243; for some interpretation see Svante Fischer and Fernando López Sánchez, “Subsidies for the Roman West? The flow of Constantinopolitan solidi to the Western Empire and Barbaricum” in Opuscula: Annual of the Swedish Institutes at Athens and Rome Vol. 9 (Rome 2016), pp. 249–269.

4. See n. 5 below.

5. Joan M. Fagerlie, Late Roman and Byzantine Solidi Found in Sweden and Denmark, Numismatic Notes and Monographs 157 (New York City NY 1967).

6. Those that know me may be wanting at this point to suggest that the hippy is not in fact inner, and I who am currently sitting in a stripy woollen jumper that would fit in fine on the pampas and listening to Os Mutantes’s debut album would, I admit, have few arguments against that position. But it is pretty heavy, all the same.
7. See Cécile Morrisson, “Byzantine Coins in Early Medieval Britain: a Byzantinist’s assessment” in Rory Naismith, Elina Screen and Martin Allen (edd.), Early Medieval Monetary History: studies in memory of Mark Blackburn (London 2014), pp. 207–242.

8. If you want to read it, the oldest translation is helpfully online, as Jordanes, “The Origin and Deeds of the Goths”, transl. Charles Christopher Mierow in Texts for Ancient History Courses, 22nd April 1997, online here; for (competing) study of him and his project, try Lieve van Hoof and Peter van Nuffelen, “The Historiography of Crisis: Jordanes, Cassiodorus and Justinian in mid-sixth-century Constantinople” in Journal of Roman Studies Vol. 107 (London 2017), pp. 275–300, DOI: 10.1017/S0075435817000284 or Robert Kasperski, “Jordanes versus Procopius of Caesarea: Considerations Concerning a Certain Historiographic Debate on How to Solve ‘the Problem of the Goths'” in Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies Vol. 49 (Berkeley CA 2018), pp. 1–23, DOI: 10.1484/J.VIATOR.5.116872. For the kind of work which you’d think would love this stuff, but doesn’t use it, see Herwig Wolfram, “Origo et religio: Ethnic traditions and literature in early medieval texts” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 3 (Oxford 1994), pp. 19–38, reprinted in Thomas F. X. Noble (ed.), From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Rewriting Histories 22 (London 2006), pp. 70–90; but against it, see Walter Goffart, “Does the Distant Past Impinge on the Invasion Age Germans?” in Andrew Gillett (ed.), On Barbarian Identity: critical approaches to ethnicity in the early Middle Ages (Turnhout 2002), pp. 21–37, also reprinted Noble, From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, pp. 91–109.

9. For the wider background see Bjørn Myhre, “The Iron Age” in Knut Helle (ed.), The Cambridge History of Scandinavia, volume I: Prehistory to 1250 (Cambridge 2003), pp. 60–93; the end of the Gotland system is passed through on p. 84, but for specifics I had to go back to Alfsdotter, Papmehl-Dufay & Victor, “A Moment Frozen in Time”.

Name in Lights XI

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

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

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

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

A penance, a picture and a question

I owe you a post from last week, but I am still on holiday just now, and I didn’t think when packing to bring the notes that would source the next real post (or even a record of what it is, though I think it’s about Chris Wickham redefining what we should mean by feudalism).1 The next thing that I have written up would probably be a professional liability to publish, so I won’t; but I should put something up.2 So what should it be?

Well, here’s an idea I won’t use. Years ago, the erstwhile blogger Carl Pyrdum of Got Medieval invented a sort of blog post called a Google Penance, in which one atoned for occasions when people found your blog via search terms that made clear they were really very much looking for something else, by posting something at least slightly related.3 The challenge, of course, was to keep it clean, and that wasn’t always easy. I’ve just checked my stats, and find that I’m in the middle of such a bad search moment; the hits on my recent post ‘Name in Print XXX: the other parcel from China‘ have lately gone through the roof. On due inspection this seems to be because it’s been circulating via social networks in Pakistan, as well as to other places from there, and that the reason for that is that something or someone was searchng for ‘China XXX’ or variants thereof and that is what started coming back. A hidden danger of Roman numerals for you all to consider! But other than suggesting some reading about Chinese knowledge of Roman science, I can’t think of anything safe to say that would answer that search query in some respect, so let’s move on.4

Nestorian priests in a procession on Palm Sunday, in a seventh- or eighth-century wall painting from a Nestorian church in Qocho, China

‘Nestorian’ priests in a procession on Palm Sunday, in a seventh- or eighth-century wall painting from a ‘Nestorian’ church in Qocho, China, by DaderotOwn work, CC0, Link, with snigger quotes all to be explained below

Then I thought, hey, if I can’t write a proper post from the point in 2019 when the blog’s backlogged to, maybe I have an image I downloaded then which is worth a post. Over lockdown I sorted out my image files, so this was an easy question to answer: I basically wasn’t downloading academic images in early 2019, and the only ones I did already went into a post here, the above being one of them. This is, I suppose, a picture of people in China, which is at least part of what my websearchers were after, so maybe it is the required penance, but it’s not really a post.

So instead here’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask for literally years. I only realised a few months ago that I’d accidentally deleted the stub I’d left to remind myself to do so. Since then I’ve been trying to remember, and this seems like the occasion. Shortly before I started this blog, as part of the same attempt to give myself an academic presence quicker than publication could, I put up a personal website. Some of you may have looked at it; it’s usually no more than a few months out of date. Now, one of its sections is a list of academic works I have notes on. I suppose that I thought it might be useful for people assembling bibliographies, but mainly of course it was supposed to demonstrate that I was doing the academic study thing and knew some stuff. And I have maintained it, in my normal obsessive-compulsive fashion, because it became part of my note-taking routine: copy up useful references, index item in my bibliography file, add it to website, and now make entry in Zotero. But in the sixteen years I’ve had that site up, no-one has ever been in contact with me about those notes pages, and I don’t have access to logs at that level so contact is the only way I could know if anyone was using them. And they are work to maintain, which quite possibly I have never really needed to do. So I just thought I’d ask you, my captive audience: have you ever used those pages, are they, you know, any use to you or anyone? Would you miss them if they, you know, went away? Just asking…

1. If I’m right, it’s a report on an early presentation of what became Chris Wickham, “How did the Feudal Economy Work? the Economic Logic of Medieval Societies” in Past & Present no. 251 (Oxford 2021), pp. 3–40, which is a game-changing piece of thinking.

2. It arose when a then-promising undergraduate asked me about academic careers, and I gave them the usual warning speech and then said, out of some sense that the case required it, that I would log my next week’s work for them so that they could see what the job involved. Having done so, in a period of quite bad industrial relations, I decided I couldn’t let the student have it, in case someone publicised it and I got into trouble. Industrial relations are now arguably worse, and I think there are better things I can do with such a log than stick it here. Plus which, it’s probably not actually very interesting reading!

3. Carl’s now-inaccessible blog was proudly but not unjustly described by him at a conference years back as ‘kind of a big deal’, and although it was easier then to be one he was leading the pack. Some reflection in Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “Blogging the Middle Ages”, in Brantley L. Bryant, Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog (New York City NY 2010), pp. 29–42, which was actually also my first print citation…

4. If you do want this, try Matthew P. Canepa, “Distant Displays of Power: Understanding Cross-Cultural Interaction among the Elites of Rome, Sasanian Iran and Sui–Tang China”, ed. by Canepa in Ars Orientalis Vol. 38, Theorizing Cross-Cultural Interaction among the Ancient and Early Medieval Mediterranean, Near East and Asia (Washington DC 2010), pp. 121–154, and Krisztina Hoppál, “The Roman Empire According to the Ancient Chinese Sources” in Acta Antiqua no. 51 (Budapest 2011), pp. 263–306, DOI: 10.1556/AAnt.51.2011.3-4.5.

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

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

Cover of volume 1 issue 2 of The Mediæval Journal

Cover of volume 1 issue 2 of The Mediæval Journal

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

The castle of Cardona

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

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

Photographic reproduction of the Cardona franchise of 987

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Y’are caught

(The following was written pretty much entirely in February 2019, when I was reading for a now-stalled project that I hope to reactivate next year. I’ve edited for clarity and added the images and notes but otherwise it’s as it was then.)

I do hope some day to move away from what I think of my destructive mode of scholarship, where what I’m primarily doing is showing what I think people have got wrong. Still, one does find people getting things wrong, and even more occasionally one finds them apparently just inventing things, and when one finds those things it’s maybe important just to make a note. The perpetrator in this instance is also famous for scholarship in the destructive mode, in any case, so I feel they can take it.

Cover of Bernard S. Bachrach, Armies and Politics in the Early Medieval West (Aldershot 1993)

Cover of Bernard S. Bachrach, Armies and Politics in the Early Medieval West (Aldershot 1993)

Y’see, I’ve been reading Bernard Bachrach’s first Variorum volume of reprinted papers as I work towards revising my article on military service in Catalonia.1 I expected this to be far more egregious in terms of special practice and special pleading than in fact it largely has been, except about Alans, and in that respect it’s a lesson in humility to me; whatever his reputation may now be and the problems of his contributions may still be, there is sound and important scholarship in the Bachrach corpus of the early 1970s.2 Problems began to creep in, however, when he got to the point of being able to rest new work on his old work, at which point the actual sources on which his conclusions rest started to disappear from view and, perhaps inevitably, the occasional slip of memory occurred. And I just found one.

‘Charlemagne’s Cavalry: Myth and Reality’ is a fairly short and densely-referenced article in which Bachrach renewed his attack on a then-partly-established thesis that Charles Martel, Charlemagne’s grandsonfather [Edit: oops], by taking emergency measures to raise a mounted cavalry arm for his wars against the Muslims, established the foundations of Frankish feudalism. Here Bachrach, who had already written a couple of pieces against this idea, brought his conclusions to a more general stage.3 I’m utterly sympathetic to that as an aim; there’s no point working this stuff out if it never gets to where the people who write textbooks, and thus command the attention of the general audience, notice it. But your practice should be as rigorous there as, in this case, in Speculum, no? So I sat up when, describing early Carolingian campaigns into Spain, Bachrach says on p. 5, “The fortified civitas of Vich (Ausona) was occupied and garrisoned as were the castra of Casserres and Cardona. The latter fell only after a siege.” This is, of course, my patch and if there was evidence that Cardona was held and defended against the Carolingians in that campaign (which happened in 798), I really ought to have seen it. It’s certainly not in the only text I know that describes these fortifications, the anonymous biography of Emperor Louis the Pious whose author we call ‘Astronomer’.4 This matters a little bit because if it existed, it would be pretty much the only evidence going that the Frankish take-over in Catalonia was a conquest imposed from outside, as some have argued, rather than a consensual secession from Muslim rule to Christian as the Carolingian sources, perhaps naturally, paint it.4bis

The castle of Cardona

The castle of Cardona, tenth-century at platform level, fourteenth-century in most of its visible fabric, and now a quite expensive hotel; but it might still be quite hard to take by siege…

So what’s the source? Well, the endnote for the paragraph reads: “Bachrach, ‘The Spanish March’, 16, and Bachrach, ‘Aquitaine under the Early Carolingians’, 24, 25-26. J. E. Ruiz Doménce, ‘El Asedio de Barcelona, según Ermoldo el Negro’, Boletín de la Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona, 37 (1978-1979), 149-168, provides nothing from a military point of view.”5 Good to know. But this being a reprint volume, those references to earlier work are really easy to check, and in them there is no reference to that resistance at Cardona; indeed, where referenced in the former he admits, “Contemporary and near contemporary sources tell us nothing of Cardona and Casserres”.6 Neither does the piece by Ruiz Doménec (as he’s actually spelt) have any such information. So where had this come from? Nowhere, I guess. It’s not a big deal, in the overall scheme of his argument, which I still find basically convincing. But we’re not supposed to make stuff up, are we? So I just point it out.

1. Bernard S. Bachrach, Armies and Politics in the Early Medieval West, Collected Studies 405 (Aldershot 1993). If you’ve never met a Variorum volume before, they can be quite confusing: they are a 1980s creation, reprints of articles and essays by a single author, done photographically with the original pagination and mise-en-page preserved intact. Their look and feel thus jumps erratically from chapter to chapter and the only way to cite the works within is by chapter number, as the original page ranges tend to overlap in many places. Occasionally people put new work in them alongside the old, which just complicates matters further. They’re kind of crazy, but if they weren’t so very expensive I’d have many of them.

2. I thought especially highly of Bernard S. Bachrach, “Procopius, Agathias and the Frankish Military” in Speculum Vol. 45 (Cambridge MA 1970), pp. 435–41, DOI: 10.2307/2853502, repr. in idem, Armies and Politics, VIII, and idem, “Charles Martel, Mounted Shock Combat, the Stirrup, and Feudalism” in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History Vol. 7 (New York City NY 1970), pp. 49-75, repr. in idem, Armies and Politics, XII, though perhaps it should be noted that these are both articles whose work is largely to show that others are wrong, at which Professor Bachrach was and remains frighteningly able.

3. Idem, “Charlemagne’s Cavalry: Myth and Reality” in Military Affairs Vol. 47 (Washington DC 1983), pp. 181-187; this is derived largely from idem, “Charles Martel”, and idem, “Military Organization in Aquitaine under the Early Carolingians” in American Historical Review Vol. 78 (Washington DC 1973), pp. 11-34, repr. in idem, Armies and Politics, XIII. This latter is more typical Bachrach in that I have to agree with about a third of it, find a third of it quite difficult to agree with but have to think about it, and think one third of it gets meanings out of the sources that aren’t there; but also, and with no discredit to the author rather than the press, it is riddled with typos. The American Historical Association were obviously having a bad year, editorially speaking.

4. ‘Astronomer’, “Vita Hludowici imperatoris”, ed. & transl. Ernst Tremp in Tremp (ed./transl.), Thegan: Die Taten Kaiser Ludwigs. Astronomus: Das Leben Kaiser Ludwigs, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum germanicum in usum scholarum separatim editi LXIV (Hannover 1995), pp. 278-558, online here, cap. 8: “Ordinavit autem illo in tempore in finibus Aquitanorum circumquaque firmissimam tutelam; nam civitatem Ausonam, castrum Cardonam, Castaserram et reliqua oppida olim deserta munivit, habitari fecit et Burello comiti cum congruis auxiliis tuenda commitit“, which I english roughly as: “Moreover, at the same time he [Louis the Pious, then King of Aquitaine] ordered the firmest possible guard placed at the Aquitainian borders and thereabouts, for he fortified the city of Ausona, the castle of Cardona, Casserres [de Berguedà] and other once-deserted hillforts, had them settled and committed them to the protection of Count Borrell [I of Urgell and Cerdanya], with suitable support.”

4bis. For example, cf. Ramon Martí, “Conquistas y capitulaciones campesinas” in Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la época carolingia: arte y cultura antes del románico (siglos IX y X), 16 diciembre 1999 – 27 febrero 2000, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Palau Nacional-Parc de Montjuïc (Barcelona 1999), pp. 59–63, transl. as “Peasant victories and defeats”, ibid. pp. 448-451.

5. Bachrach, “Charlemagne’s Cavalry”, p. 5 n. 24 (p. 16).

6. The former reference is Bernard S. Bachrach, “On the Role of the Jews in the Establishment of the Spanish March (768–814)” in Josep M. Solà-Solé, S. G. Armistead & Joseph H. Silverman, Hispania Judaica: studies in the history, language and literature of the Jews in the Hispanic world, Estudios 2 (Barcelona 1980), 3 vols, I pp. 11-19, and that paper deserves a whole separate post for which I need help with Hebrew and which may therefore take a while; the latter is of course Bachrach, “Aquitaine”. The third one is online here.

Name in Print XXIX: at long last Casserres

Last post I promised news as well as olds, and here is the first of them. (I’m not saying they’re all publications – but they might be!) You would have to have a really long memory of this blog to remember the beginning of this story, but the goods news (in a way) is that I’ve blogged pretty much every dogged step of the way except the very first one, which took place in 2004, ante bloggum and therefore time immemorial. In summary, with links, the story goes like this:

  1. Your humble author, having had his first ever article accepted very easily, sent another one out hoping for the same, and got a pretty thorough revise-and-resubmit, which, being a student still, he took badly and sat upon for years. The bit that stung particularly was reviewer #1 saying, more or less, “it’s not clear that this author has ever seen any of the original documents”, and this stung because, although I still don’t think it made any difference to the argument, it was true. I therefore fomented a plan to publish something using unpublished material – if only I could find some…
  2. A little later, in 2006, I no longer know how, I discovered that the charters of Sant Pere de Casserres were in fact such an unpublished cache, and my target was set. In 2008 I finally got to see them, and discovered that the sequence of originals only starts in 1006, but also that the earliest ones in that sequence have some decided peculiarities, and that therefore there was a paper here.
  3. I started work on that paper, but it became more complicated when the inestimable Catalunya Romànica explained to me that there also survives an altar slab from the monastery church, which is covered in scratched-on names, which the relevant authors thought were of my period.1 This opened up the possibility of matching the names on the slab, such as they were recorded, to the ones in the charters, which as I thought, only I knew. And I wrote that all up and presented it at the International Medieval Congress in 2009, and decided that I had to go and see the place.
  4. But at this point, the first two complications arose. Firstly, in that 2008 trip to Catalonia I had got my own copies of the volumes of the Catalunya Carolíngia volumes for Osona and Manresa, and by now I was slowly working through them.2 And this exposed to me that, while the original documents for Sant Pere de Casserres did indeed only start in 1006, in the 1980s an 18th-century manuscript containing abstracts of earlier documents from the archive had been found in a Tarragona bookshop, and was now available for consultation in Vic. Lots of the documents were in the Catalunya Carolíngia, but obviously I couldn’t know how many were not without going to see. So I started planning that.
  5. Before I could, though, a second complication solved the first, which was that Irene Llop Jordana published an edition of the Casserres charters, and because it was free to the web I found it.3 In one sense this was great, as it included the 18th-century abstracts and the original material so obviated the immediate need for a trip to Vic; but in another it was very annoying, as firstly I quite like trips to Vic, and secondly and more importantly the whole point of the project, to use unpublished documents, was now removed. As it happened, Dr Llop had not spotted the problems I had with the 1006 charters and did not consider the altar slab, so I still had a paper; but it made it all seem a bit less important.
  6. Nonetheless, by 2011 I was working through Llop’s edition and discovered what was new, and a bit more about the parchments I hadn’t seen because of deciding they were too late. I also made an attempt to see the altar slab, and that was in one way fairly easy as it was and is on display in the Museu Episcopal de Vic, as it then was; but in another way not so much, as gallery lighting isn’t great for epigraphy and they wouldn’t let me see it out of visiting hours.4 They did send me a reference image, which helped a bit, but in the end I got more out of it just by crawling round the thing with a camera hoping a security guard wouldn’t come past, which indeed they did not. Still, not my most fun research moment.
  7. The altar stone of Sant Pere de Casserres, set up in front of a reconstruction of the apse of Sant Martí del Brull, with its original fresco artwork, in the Museu Episcopal de Vic

    The altar stone of Sant Pere de Casserres, set up in front of a reconstruction of the apse of Sant Martí del Brull, with its original fresco artwork, in the Museu Episcopal de Vic, also visible here, but this photo by your author

  8. However, on the same trip I did get to the actual site, by a series of odd outcomes, which helped a lot with understanding the difference between the castle which the documents mention and the church.
  9. Sant Pere de Casserres viewed from the vistor centre

    Sant Pere de Casserres viewed from the vistor centre, photograph also by me

  10. But, almost as soon as I thought I had things under control, a third dose of unexpected evidence arrived – or rather, didn’t. Instead, someone at the 2011 IMC told me it existed and then wouldn’t tell me where. He had his reasons, but it was not what I wanted at that stage. Now, after a bit of work I knew that I could get at the missing evidence in Toledo, which also sounded like a trip worth making, but for various reasons, not least language, it was difficult, and there were easier things to do.
  11. So there things rested for a short while. I gave versions of the paper in Australia and in Exeter, but there was only so far it could go till I untied the knot around the extra charters.
  12. Finally, in 2017, the missing evidence was actually published, again free to the open web, and I therefore fell upon it, only a few months later, and it turned out I hadn’t really needed it, at least for this project. And that’s where we run out of previous blog.
  13. But it was now possible to finish the dratted thing, and in April 2018 I did so. Then, having had a long time to think about it before this point, I got in touch with the editor of Studia Monastica. He was agreeable to seeing the paper, and it turned out, once he’d seen it, agreeable to publishing it. A pause then ensued, for reasons I don’t need to go into, and in February 2020 it was officially accepted. I persuaded the editor without difficulty to delay its publication till after the REF census, for which I was more than fully equipped already, and it thus came out in March 2022. But physical evidence of this only reached me about three weeks ago. And here it is…

Offprint of Jonathan Jarrett, "On Stone and Skin: Inscription of Communities at the Foundation of Sant Pere de Casserres" in Studia Monastica Vol. 63 (2021), pp. 269–302

Offprint of Jonathan Jarrett, "On Stone and Skin: Inscription of Communities at the Foundation of Sant Pere de Casserres" in Studia Monastica Vol. 63 (Barcelona 2021), pp. 269–302

Actual paper offprints! It’s always nice to see somewhere still doing them. Anyone want one? I have lots. I suppose it might help you to make up your mind to have the abstract:

The history of the Benedictine monastery of Sant Pere de Casserres, in modern-day Catalonia, is relatively well-studied, but includes an acceptance that it became a monastery in around 1005 by the agency of Viscountess Ermetruit of Osona. Before that, however, the site had been home to a church, whose congregation and priests are partly recorded in inscriptions preserved on an ancient altar-slab from the site. A critical re-examination of the monastery’s supposed foundational documents, and their comparison with the slab and other surviving charters from the church’s and monastery’s archive, establishes that the conversion from church to monastery was neither quick nor simple, and probably contested by the church’s old congregation. This article performs that re-examination and suggests what the power dynamics and solidarities in the area may have been that could explain the record as we now have it. In so doing, as well as questioning both Ermetruit’s role in and the traditional 1005 date for the monastic conversion of the site, it suggests that recognition by the would-be founders of the congregation’s investment in their traditional place of worship was crucial to the eventual success of the foundation, a situation perhaps repeated in other times and places.

I’m really quite pleased about this one. It’s my first dalliance with epigraphy, it is the second of what is probably three studies I will eventually have about ways to start a monastery which don’t conform to the normal standard picture, it is clever in places, it has identified me as a scholar to the Montserrat community (which has great potential application), and most of all, as you can see from the above, it was a right pain to do and I did nonetheless do it. Admittedly it damps the old publication statistics a bit, as even if I hadn’t delayed it it would have been two years five months between submission and publication; but since actually the timings work fine for me, I don’t care. I’ve been working on this for years and now it exists.5

Opening page of Offprint of Jonathan Jarrett, "On Stone and Skin: Inscription of Communities at the Foundation of Sant Pere de Casserres" in Studia Monastica Vol. 63 (2021), pp. 269–302

Opening page

For that it exists, by the way, I owe thanks to quite a few people, but especially and more or less in order, the staff of the Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona’s Biblioteca de Reserva, my family in Palautordera who put me up while I did the work in that library, the Arxiu Comarcal d’Osona even though in the end I didn’t visit them, Dr Mark Handley for advice on and references to scratched-up altar slabs, the Museu Episcopal de Vic’s documentation centre, Dr Kathleen Neal and Steven Joyce for comments and encouragement during the low period, Dr Rebecca Darley for making a late draft make the kind of sense that I could submit, and, in the end, Dr Francesc Rodríguez Bernal for providing the last of the evidence. All of you have prevented this being a worse article than it is. Obviously, as it is conventional to say, the faults that remain are my own fault; but this one has needed more help than most and it’s nice to be able to close the story with that acknowledgement.

Signature page of Jonathan Jarrett, "On Stone and Skin: Inscription of Communities at the Foundation of Sant Pere de Casserres" in Studia Monastica Vol. 63 (2021), pp. 269–302

Signature page and acknowledgements

1. Antoni Pladevall Font, Joan-Albert Adell i Gisbert, Xavier Barral i Altet, Enric Bracons i Clapes, Marina Gustà i Martorell, Montserrat Hoja Cejudo, María Gràcia Salvà Picó, Albert Roig i Delofeu, Eduard Carbonell i Esteller, Jordi Vigué i Viñas and Roser Rosell i Gibert, “Sant Pere de Casseres”, in Jordi Vigué (ed.), Catalunya Romànica II: Osona I (Barcelona 1984), pp. 354-391, pp. 382-384 by Bracons, Gustà, Hoja and Gràcia, specifically at p. 384.

2. These being, of course, as what blog post of mine would be complete without a citation of them, 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.

3. Irene Llop Jordana (ed.), Col·lecció diplomàtica de Sant Pere de Casserres, Diplomataris 44-45 (Barcelona 2009), 2 vols.

4. This is ironic, because I was by now already citing an article about the slab whose author also complained that the Museu wouldn’t let him see it; see Pere de Palol, “Las mesas de altar paleocristiana en la Tarraconense” in Ampurias Vol. 20-21 (Barcelona 1958), pp. 81-102 at p. 87.

5. Jonathan Jarrett, “On Stone and Skin: Inscription of Communities at the Foundation of Sant Pere de Casserres” in Studia Monastica Vol. 63 (Barcelona 2021), pp. 269–302.

Murder of a factoid about Mallorca

My backlogged blog chronology is getting a bit out of step here, as I find this in my drafts folder from November 2018 referring to an unusual luxury I’d been able to permit myself that summer, which was a trip to Cambridge University Library. I was privileged enough to do most of my undergraduate and doctoral work out of that library (even though my doctorate’s from London) and there are still times when it’s invaluable to get there, for the simple reason that unlike most big research libraries a good proportion of its stock is on open shelves. The speed factor this adds to checking references is hard to exaggerate; when ordinarily you might have to wait an hour or two for your books to arrive, being able to go straight to not just the things you already knew you needed, but also then the things which they reveal you also need to check, which otherwise might normally mean a second trip at some future point, is invaluable. I was at that point up against a tight deadline to finish my article “Nests of Pirates” and, among other things, I was able to check the thing I want to tell you about now, and because of the open shelves track it to its root rather than just the next layer down. It’s about the Islamic conquest of Mallorca, I think by the definition offered some time ago by frequent commentator dearieme it counts as a ‘factoid’, and I think I killed it.1

The Balearic Islands had a rough Late Antiquity.2 Taking part fairly fully, as far as patchy archaeological evidence and a few textual anecdata can so far reveal, in both the third-century crisis (during which Mallorca’s then-capital, Pollentia, burned down) and then the general shrinkage of economy and settlement suffered by the western half of the Roman Empire over the fifth century, they fell in the course of that century into the maritime empire of the Vandal kings of Carthage, where they remained until returned to imperial control during the Byzantine conquest of that kingdom. They then remained under at least some kind of Byzantine obedience into the eighth century, to judge by seals found at the hilltop fort of Santueri in Mallorca, and perhaps even later, but that’s where the trouble begins, because the terminus post quem non is of course Islamic conquest, and we don’t really know when that happened.3

Wall of the castle site at Santueri, Mallorca

Wall of the castle site at Santueri, Mallorca

Now, first of all some important preconditions. There are five major islands in the Balearic archipelago, as you see above, in descending order of size Mallorca, Minorca, Ibiza, Formentera and Cabrera, of which Ibiza and Formentera sit apart as part of a separate group called the Pityuses, all over an area of about 150 square miles. There is much more evidence about what happened to Mallorca than any of the others; indeed, archaeologically and documentarily, we don’t actually have any proof so far identified that Cabrera, Formentara, Ibiza or even Menorca were actually occupied between the seventh (or for Menorca, eighth) and tenth centuries (mid-ninth for Menorca, as we’ll see), though it’s probably more likely that they were than they weren’t.4 Nonetheless, people who write about this area always seem to do so as if what happened in one island can be generalised to all the others, apparently believing that because they are governed as a unit now, and have been since, well, mumble mumble mumble, they must always have behaved as one. But it ain’t necessarily so.

Ruins of the late antique Christian basilica in Illa del Rei, off Menorca

Ruins of the late antique Christian basilica in Illa del Rei, its own separate islet off Menorca, by Pytxyown work, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

So what we’re actually able to discuss is the Islamic conquest of Mallorca, not the Balearics, and we just have to live with that. Now, currently the archaeology can really only tell us that at some point people started using Islamic-style ceramics and burying like Muslims, not when or why.5 For when or why the answers must for now come from texts. The terminus ante quem this time is 933 CE, by which time there was an Andalusī (i e. from al-Andalus, Muslim Iberia) fleet using Mallorca as a base for raiding Christian Francia, according at least to the chronicler Ibn Ḥayyān, who had access to some of the caliphal archives of Córdoba somehow and thus had reason to know.6 So the conquest was before that, but when? Excitingly, there are four different dates recorded, all in different sources, none of which seem to know the others’ stories. For dramatic reasons it’s most fun for me to go through them from latest date to earliest, which means that the first entrant is fourteenth-century CE polymath, bureaucrat, lawyer and underrated sociologist, but questionable historian, Abū Zayd ‘Abd ar-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn Khaldūn.

Bust of Ibn Khaldun at Casbah de Bejaia, Algeria

Bust of Ibn Khaldun at Casbah de Bejaia, Algeria, image by Reda Kerbushown work, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Ibn Khaldūn, who had excellent sources for the most part, including Ibn Ḥayyān, but notoriously scrambled them in his own work, offers the latest date for the conquest, placing it in 902/903 and explaining it as the result of an Andalusī pilgrim to the East having been stranded in the islands for a while and having thus learned their weak spots, and then offering to lead a conquest of them for the Emir of Córdoba, which succeeded.7 Opinions vary among the people who know this report as to whether the islands could possibly still have been Byzantine at so late a stage, or had been assimilated into the Carolingian sphere after an appeal to Charlemagne for help against pirates in 798, which was answered.8 That appeal is documented in the Carolingian court chronicle, the Royal Frankish Annals, but only in its early version, not its revision of 829, as if by then it was no longer a working claim. So if the Balearics did swing Carolingian, it may not have lasted long.9 Nonetheless, after 903, says Ibn Khaldūn, they were Islamic territory.

Approach to Puig d'Alaró, Mallorca

Approach to Puig d’Alaró, Mallorca

But! The twelfth-century Granadan geographer Muḥammad ibn Abi Bakr al-Zuhri has a different story. According to him, the conquest took place in the reign of “Muḥammad, son of the fifth Emir of al-Andalus”, and although it was mostly successful, the “Rūm” held out in one particular fort, Ḥisn Alarūn, almost certainly modern Alaró seen above, for a further eight years and five months before finally running out of supplies and surrendering.10 So for him Mallorca was definitely still Byzantine territory, but when? Muḥammad I ruled 852-886 CE, but the trouble is that he was the fifth Emir, and his son was called al-Mundhir (r. 886-888 CE). Professor Juan Signes Codoñer has suggested that the peculiar way in which the ruler is identified might be explained if the name of Muhammad’s father ‘Abd al-Raḥmān II had dropped out, supposing a correct text saying “Muḥammad son of [‘Abd al-Raḥmān], the fifth Emir…” and that looks like a good solution to me, but it’s still a 30-year window.11 Also, al-Zuhri said that he had heard this story told, not that it was a matter of record, and while he was nearer in time to the events than was Ibn Khaldūn, that distance was still four hundred years, so it’s not the best evidence.

But! Maybe we need neither of these, because the somewhat later Marrakech historian Abū al-ʽAbbās Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn ʽIḏārī has a different report again. He, frustratingly, doesn’t tell us when the conquest actually was, but notes that in 848/849, none other than ‘Abd al-Raḥmān II sent a punitive naval expedition against Mallorca because its inhabitants had “broken their pact” and were harassing Islamic shipping in their waters. Some kind of blockade seems to have been imposed and next year Mallorca and Menorca both sent envoys begging for the renewal of the pact, though Ibn ʽIḏārī doesn’t say that they got it.12 Nonetheless, as far as he was concerned, subjection of the islands to Islam, even if not conquest by it, had happened by then.

Romantic modern depiction of Ibn al-Qutiya

Modern depiction of Ibn al-Qutiya

Now it’s possible to reconcile that with either, but not both, of the previous two, and maybe even the Royal Frankish Annals, by saying that the Balearics, or at least Mallorca, had maybe been under a pact to the Muslim rulers in the Peninsula for some time but not actually conquered by them – this was also the case with Basque Pamplona, so it wouldn’t be unprecedented – and had perhaps flirted with a Carolingian alternative before being brought back into line by ‘Abd al-Raḥmān II.13 But! Now we reach the meat. Our earliest source for the conquest also gives the earliest date, or at least so it seems. If you look in the work of Juan Signes which I already mentioned, or that of Josep Amengual i Batle on which it often rests, you will find a report there that the tenth-century Sevillano lawyer and historian Muḥammad Ibn ʿUmar Ibn al-Qūṭiyya dated the conquest of the islands to 707/708 CE, when ‘Abd al-Malik, son of the then-governor of Muslim North Africa, Mūsā bin Nuṣayr, mounted a naval raid on Mallorca and Menorca and captured the “kings” (mulūk) who ruled there and sent them off to Damascus.14 I grant you that’s not quite the same as actual conquest, and it might even have led to the kind of pact subsequently reported by Ibn ʽIḏārī, but it is still quite surprising, not least because it’s a full four years before the actual conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, which Mūsā carried out in 711-712 CE. Now, that may just be presentism talking and it might have made more sense, before their permanent attachment (so far) to governments in the Peninsula in the thirteenth century, to see the islands as prone to African dependency, as under the Vandals and Byzantines, and not Iberian rule. But, this is also our factoid.

You see, when I first saw this report, in Signes I think, I was immediately struck by two things. One was how early it was, as I just said; but the other was that I really ought to have known about it because I own an English translation of Ibn al-Qūṭiyya’s History of the Conquest of al-Andalus.15 I’m not saying I’ve ever sat down and read it all through and made notes, but I have gone into it quite a lot for gobbets for my Special Subject at Leeds, and if I’d seen this bit I would have grabbed it because of what it implies about the conquest of the Peninsula following on naval raiding rather than being a spontaneous event.16 So I went and got my copy off the shelf, and this bit isn’t there.

Well, how odd, I thought. It seemed unlikely that Professor Signes had just made this up, so I looked up his reference, which was as I might have expected to the old Castilian translation of Ibn al-Qūṭiyya by Julián Ribera. And that was online then, so it was pretty easy to check that too and find that it’s not there either.17 But he gave a reference also to Josep Amengual’s two-volume history of the late Antique Balearics, and it was that which I arrived in Cambridge needing to check. And from that it became clear that the reference in question is in the Ribera volume after all.18 So for a moment it looked as if either David James had missed it out of his English translation, or it wasn’t in the manuscript of Ibn al-Qūṭiyya that he’d used. BUT! Not so! There are actually two texts translated in that volume of Ribera’s, Ibn al-Qūṭiyya and a similar history under the name of Abū Muhammad Abd-Allāh ibn Muslim ibn Qutayba, and our factoid is in the latter, not the former. Well, at least I now had the source. And in some ways it should be a better source, because although based in Iraq, Ibn Qutayba was writing even earlier than Ibn al-Qūṭiyya and brings the gap between source and event, otherwise so large in this saga, down to a mere 150-odd years.


Shamefully, I knew nothing about this Ibn Qutayba, so I did some rapid research. That told me that Reinhart Dozy had written about this very text in the 1880s.19 And this is the great virtue of the Cambridge UL: having found this out, within ten minutes I could sit down again with Dozy’s work before me, and it gave me pause. Dozy had spent some time with this Ahādith al-Imāma wa’l-siyāsa of Ibn Qutayba and in the end concluded that it was actually nothing of the kind, partly because no such work seemed to be attributed to that author by medieval biographers, partly because it claims to have had the Mallorca report from eye-witnesses but it had supposedly happened 134 years before, and mainly because there is a reference in it to Maroc, a city not founded until 1062 CE, difficult for a ninth-century CE author to have added. Dozy’s conclusion was that the whole thing is an Andalusī “romancing” of the work of Abū Marwān ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Ḥabīb, with some extra Iberian material from who knows where, and that its unique content – of which the notice with which we’re concerned is part – is late eleventh-century at the earliest and probably without earlier basis. So, let’s stack all this up.

  1. Some time after 1062 CE, someone decided to write a history of Muslim Iberia, which they based on an earlier work but to which they added some of their own material, including our notice about a 707/708 Muslim attack on Mallorca, and put the whole thing out under a respectable, plausible, but false name. Well, goodness knows they weren’t the last to do that, but then what?
  2. In the 1870s, Reinhart Dozy, having got curious about this, went into it and discovered the forgery, and wrote the discovery up as one of about a dozen unconnected little studies in one of his less well-known works. Not many people seem to have noticed.
  3. Juan Ribera had noticed, but for reasons that aren’t entirely clear thought that an earlier thought of Pascual de Gayangos that maybe this was more of Ibn al-Qūṭiyya still deserved to be taken seriously enough that the known text of Ibn al-Qūṭiyya and this one should be translated together, and so he did that.
  4. Several people, including Josep Amengual, presumably searching quite rapidly for all references to Mallorca they could find, then found this one, but apparently did not realise that it was not actually within Ibn al-Qūṭiyya’s text.
  5. Signes then presumably got the cite from Amengual, and repeated it even though he doesn’t seem to have been able to find it himself. And that paper, unlike Amengual’s book, went online and thus other people started to ‘know’ this thing as well. But unfortunately, it’s a dud…

Now, of course, this does not leave us with any kind of definitive answer. As I said in my article, you can even just about have it all: it could be that there was a 707/708 raid which sent the poor Mallorcan mulūk off to Syria, possibly even resulting in a pact to the then-governor of Ifrīqiya, which the islands then, finding that not keeping them safe, repudiated in favour of an approach to the Carolingians that didn’t last long, then went independent and possibly piratical for a bit before being reigned back in by ‘Abd al-Raḥmān II, but were not finally conquered till either the 850s-880s or 902/903.20 Or maybe those two dates are even for different islands in the archipelago and both true! It would be a bit weird that not one of our writers seems to have known other stories if they were all true, but they’re not actually incompatible, and even if the 707/708 story is from three hundred years later, that’s still closer to the supposed facts than Ibn Khaldūn or Ibn ʽIḏārī. But what that story is not is the work of Ibn al-Qūṭiyya. And that is a dead factoid, thankyou very much.

1. What that means, of course, is that if you’ve read Jonathan Jarrett, “Nests of Pirates? ‘Islandness’ in the Balearic Islands and la-Garde-Freinet” in al-Masāq: Islam and the Medieval Mediterranean Vol. 31 (Abingdon 2019), pp. 196–222, DOI: 10.1080/09503110.2019.1600101, at pp. 199-209 and esp. 206-209, none of what follows is going to be new to you, sorry. But given firewalls and time, I’m betting that mostly you haven’t, and I can forgive you.

2. Covered ibid. pp. 198-212, but see also Luca Zavagno, “‘Going to the Extremes’: The Balearics and Cyprus in the Early Medieval Byzantine Insular System” in al-Masāq: Islam and the Medieval Mediterranean Vol. 31 (Abingdon 2019), pp. 140–157, and Miguel Ángel Cau Ontiveros and Catalina Mas Florit, “The Early Byzantine Period in the Balearic Islands” in Demetrios Michaelides, Philippa Pergola and Enrico Zanini (eds), The Insular System of the Early Byzantine Mediterranean: Archaeology and History, British Archaeological Reports International Series 2523 (Oxford 2013), pp. 31–45.

3. On the Santueri seals see Juan Nadal Cañellas, “Las bulas de plomo bizantinas del Castillo de Santueri” in Bolletí de la Societat Arqueològica Lul·liana Vol. 72 (La Palma 2006), pp. 325–340; they are the only part of the evidence from an extensive archæological dig that has been made public.

4. Jarrett, “Nests of Pirates”, pp. 199-204.

5. This is changing as radiocarbon dating begins to make a difference, as witness Miguel Ángel Cau Ontiveros, M. Van Strondyck, M. Boudin, C. Mas Florit, J. S. Mestres, F. Cardona, E. Chávez-Álvarez & M. Orfila, “Christians in a Muslim World? Radiocarbon dating of the cemetery overlaying the forum of Pollentia (Mallorca, Balearic Islands)” in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences Vol. 9 (Cham 2017), pp. 1529–1538, DOI: 10.1007/s12520-016-0325-0, but as the title notes they had found Christian burials, not Islamic ones. The real problem is non-differentiation of pre- and post-conquest coarse-ware ceramics, which absent Islamic fine-wares makes it very hard to tell when a site stopped being used. Once this changes, it will probably no longer be viable to hypothesize non-occupation of any of the islands.

6. Dolors Bramon (ed.), De quan érem o no musulmans: textos del 713 al 1010. Continuació de l’obra de J. M. Millàs i Vallicrosa, Jaume Caresmar 13 (Vic 2000), &section;374; Jarrett, “Nests of Pirates”, p. 207.

7. Juan Signes Codoñer, “Bizancio y las Islas Baleares en los siglos VIII y IX” in Rafael Durán Tapia (ed.), Mallorca y Bizancio (Palma de Mallorca 2005), pp. 45–99 at pp. 84-85; Jarrett, “Nests of Pirates”, pp. 208-209. The opinion of Ibn Khaldūn is mine, not Signes’s!

8. Basically, the Byzantinists see it as Byzantine till the last possible moment (as witness Signes), the Islamicists see it conquered as early as possible, and the Catalans see it as taken over by the Carolingians and thus effectively gathered into the future Catalonia with some unfortunate Islamic interludes that however serve to justify Aragonese ‘reconquest’. There are, admittedly, exceptions to this in every group except the Byzantinists.

9. Jarrett, “Nests of Pirates”, pp. 205-206; the text is in English in Bernhard Walter Scholz and Barbara Rogers (edd.), Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories, Ann Arbor Paperback 186 (Ann Arbor 1972), online here, pp. 1-128, s a. 798.

10. Jarrett, “Nests of Pirates”, p. 208.

11. Signes, “Bizancio y las Islas Baleares”, p. 85.

12. Jarrett, “Nests of Pirates”, p. 208, accessible to me from Ibn Idari, Historias de al-Andalus, transl. Francisco Fernández González (n. p. n. d.), pp. 81-82.

13. On the situation of Pamplona see Juan José Larrea & Jesús Lorenzo, “Barbarians of Dâr al-Islâm: The Upper March of al-Andalus and the Pyrenees in the Eighth and Ninth Centuries” in Guido Vannini & Michele Nucciotti (edd.), La Transgiordania nei secoli XII-XIII e le ‘frontiere’ del Mediterraneo medievale. Trans-Jordan in the 12th and 13th Centuries and the ‘Frontiers’ of the Medieval Mediterranean, British Archaeological Reports (International Series) 2386 (Oxford 2012), pp. 277–288.

14. Signes, “Bizancio y las Islas Baleares”, pp. 46-54; Josep Amengual i Batle, Els orígens del cristianisme a les Balears i el seu desenvolupament fins a l’època musulmana, Els Trebals i els dies 36 & 37 (Palma de Mallorca 1991), 2 vols, vol. I pp. 441-453; there are other people I could cite, as well, but these notes are crowded enough and anyway I do at Jarrett, “Nests of Pirates”, p. 207 n. 64.

15. Muḥammad ibn ʻUmar Ibn al-Qūṭīyah, Early Islamic Spain: the history of Ibn al-Qutiya, transl. David James (London 2011).

16. I have, in fact, sat down and read all of it, while in bed in Venice in fact, and it has many excellent stories in it one of which will be a future blog post; but I don’t have notes. Anyway, while I’m trailing future blog posts we might note that if this thing were in there it would not be the only evidence for early raiding preceding the invasion of Iberia, as I will later disclose, and that was why I didn’t initially think anything need be wrong with the idea.

17. Signes, “Bizancio y las Islas Baleares”, p. 93 n. 5, cites Julián Ribera (ed./transl.), Historia de la Conquista de España de Abenalcotía el Cordobés, seguida de fragmentos históricos de Abencotaiba, etc., Colección de obras arábigas de historia y geografía que publica el Real Academia de Historia 2 (Madrid 1926), online here as of 10th July 2016 but sadly no longer, but he gives no page reference, I suspect because he could not find the passage in question either.

18. Amengual, Orígens del cristianisme, vol. I pp. 442-443, citing Ribera, Historia de la Conquista de España, p. 122, which is correct.

19. R. Dozy, Recherches sur l’histoire et littérature de l’Espagne pendant le moyen âge, 3ème ed. (Paris 1881), 2 vols, vol. I, online here, pp. 21-40.

20. Jarrett, “Nests of Pirates”, p. 210.