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From the Sources XII: successful crime and vicarious enforcement

Just when you thought it was safe to assume this blog would all be science, numismatics and seminar reports for the foreseeable future, let me surprise you all with something from that corner of tenth-century Europe on which I actually work, or on this occasion actually just about eleventh-century Europe, to wit the year 1003, from which while researching the book I mentioned a while ago (and which, I have to confess, has advanced not at all since then what with endless teaching prep) I found an interesting trial, in the manner of the best scholarship on the area just now. It looks like this!

Barcelona, Biblioteca de Catalunya, pergamins 2079, recto

Barcelona, Biblioteca de Catalunya, pergamins 2079, recto

Now, you can probably see that this is a charter which has suffered somewhat, from damp where it’s been folded, from moth or mouse in several places and from the outright loss of its left-hand lower corner, and therefore the scribal signature, but quite enough remains to identify it as an act of the man I have previously called Ervigi Marc the Wonder Judge, and thanks to the good efforts of Pere Puig i Ustrell I don’t have to try and work out what it says, because I spent part of yesterday in the IHR transcribing his edition of it.1 That is why this has taken a few days to appear, but also means that I can now also offer you this translation:

“Let it fall upon the ears of all the faithful that I, in the name of God Bishop Marc, also judge, came into the county of Manresa in the Vall de Nèspola and heard the petition by which the judge Borrell summoned Olibà, who was the surety of Delà, so that he might present himself in his court and settle everything according to the laws, and he did not want to and in no way did he come there. And afterwards he went into the mountains and in no way either inclined or acquiesced to my orders. And this is the case for which he sought the aforesaid surety in the presence of Baró, Godmar, Sunyer, Baió, Adroer, another Godmar, Gondeví, Adalbert, Guadamir, Salomó, the priest Miró, Tered, Marco and a great many other, namely that Delà proclaimed that the alod of Sant Llorenç was his own free property, that of which Sant Llorenç had had 30 years’ possession in their own right through a charter that the late Count Borrell made to the aforesaid house of Sant Llorenç. And the same Delà has himself worked it for 30 years for the house of Sant Llorenç and given taschas and labour services and special offerings, just as the other men of the selfsame alod hold, give and perform. And the officers of Sant Llorenç distrained him for his excess just like the others of his sort. And afterwards he got away and broke from the power of Sant Llorenç and he set another lord up there and made to attack Borrell the aforesaid officer of Sant Llorenç and managed to kill his mule. On this account was the aforesaid surety laid open.
“Wherefore I in the name of God Marc do consign and hand over the aforesaid alod into the power and lordship of Sant Llorenç and I order the aforesaid surety to compound with another such alod of his own, and all the movable property which be possible to find are to be handed over into the power of the aforesaid Borrell on account of his mule which he should have compounded to him fourfold, for that which the selfsame… and on account of what the late Count Borrell laid down in that same document, who should wish to interfere let compound twofold.
“Therefore I the abovewritten Marc, as I knew this authority to have been heard by him… that the aforesaid Delà gave taschas, and that he made another lord which he was not permitted to do, therefore I have consigned and I do consign, have handed over and do hand over the aforesaid alod into the power and authority of Sant Llorenç, as has been said. And all the movable property into the power of the aforesaid Borrell.
“The recognition and consignment or handover and removal from lordship done on the 2nd Ides of October, […] reign of King Robert.
“Sig+ned Olibà, who made this extraction and consignment and confirmed and asked for it to be confirmed. Sig+ned Baró. Sig+ned Baió. Sig+ned Adroer. […] Sig+ned Guadamir. These same men were witnesses and present in a solemn capacity. Ma+rk of Gondeví. Ma+rk of Adalbert. Ma+rk of Salomó. Ma+rk of Marco. Ma+rk of, again, another Godmar.
“[…]gi, by the grace of God Bishop, also known as Marco, also judge.
“[…] priest and he wrote with scratched-out letters in the third line where it says ‘supra’, SSS, the above-set day and year.”

There’s lots of little cool things about this for the charter geek with which I probably shouldn’t bore you. I will, though, obviously. Had you noticed that the solemn witnesses all sign in the nominative, which I’ve rendered ‘signed X’, whereas the witnesses of the current ceremony sign in the genitive, so, ‘mark of X’? I’ve never seen that so clearly separated before and at first I thought that it was probably something to do with the fact that the second set of signatures are in darker ink. On inspection, though, you can see that actually the ink is darker all the way down the old fold, and the hand looks the same to me so I think that’s just coincidence in the form of moisture damage. Then I note the kind of half-quote of Borrell’s charter by Ervigi Marc, which he had clearly seen, and that needn’t surprise us since not only was at least one of its witnesses present, it also still exists and therefore so can we (below).2 Lastly, also, I feel it’s worth mentioning that although Ervigi was, apparently, a bishop, he wasn’t actually bishop of anywhere: we know who all the bishops of the Catalan sees were at this time. The Church or the count of Barcelona (at this time Ramon Borrell, who did in one charter call himself ‘inspector of bishops’) seem to have decided that Ervigi was just that great and promoted him to bishop without portfolio.3

Barcelona, Biblioteca de Catalunya, pergamins 3766

Borrell’s original grant of the property, Barcelona, Biblioteca de Catalunya, pergamins 3766

More obviously, though, this being just over the line of the year 1000 has escaped Josep María Salrach’s recent excellent book but suddenly exposes to us a judicial mechanism well known from elsewhere in Spain, if not very common, but possibly not previously attested in Catalonia, the surety.4 In case it’s not clear how this worked I’ll break down the narrative of the case in the way I usually do; it’s not actually quite obvious until one does and several important bits are skipped over in the actual text.

  1. We begin, of course, with Count Borrell, who in 973 as we know from the previous charter gave an estate in the Vall de Nèspola to the monastery of Sant Llorenç del Munt, in Terrassa, as part of a general bolstering of monastic commitments to putting the frontier to work with which we’ve seen him busy before. The monastery then put in charge of it this man Delà, who rendered labour services and an annual levy of produce to them that signified their lordshp over him as well as constituting monastery revenue.
  2. Subsequently and presumably much more recently as of 1003, the monastery decided that Delà and a number of their other farm managers were being ‘excessive’ in some way and removed him, indeed, arrested him, presumably with intent to hold him responsible for whatever losses he’d caused them. It must have been at this point that Delà was made to name a surety for his actions, Olibà, a man who would have to make good if Delà failed to. The idea of this is that social obligation of the kind that the surety can exercise is strong enough that rather than offend his supporter in court the guilty party will pay up. As we can see here, this doesn’t always work.
  3. Because, indeed, Delà escaped the monastery’s custody! Neither did he stop there: recognising that his previous bridges were now burnt, he handed the estate and his loyalty over to another lord, which as Ervigi says “he was not permitted to do”, though you’ll note that the lord is never named here and so was presumably someone too well-placed for the monastery to embarrass and also apparently sufficient to keep Delà out of the grip of justice, unfortunately for Olibà…
  4. Sant Llorenç now got one of their enforcers, the judge Borrell, who was a patron of theirs, out onto the case and he must have got close to Delà because Delà apparently attacked him, and managed to kill his mule, which you know, suggests quite a serious assault as well as telling us that Borrell was not quite horse-riding levels of gentry.
  5. So at that point the somewhat ineffective wheels of justice really began to spin, and Borrell called in the surety Olibà to do what he was supposed to do, which Borrell seems to have decided included paying for the mule fourfold. Olibà, however, not liking the look of things and presumably actually having no more suasion over Delà than anyone else, legged it to the mountains and defied both Borrell’s summons and that which Ervigi, called in from Barcelona with extra authority (not least because as bishop, presumably he could excommunicate) then sent next.
  6. Somehow, however, Olibà got caught, because here after all he is being made to sign this document which no-one could classify, though I say that but it’s obviously the scribal hand still. Anyway, that is the point at which all this angry procedure is rolled out against him, Ervigi repeatedly states (as if Olibà could do anything about it!) that the estate should go back to Sant Llorenç and Olibà was actually made to fulfil a charter’s sanction, paying double the amount that someone had tried to steal from the monastery, and also all the movable property in that estate to make up for the missed payments on the mule. And there the matter rested, which is to say not so much that we don’t know if Olibà actually paid up but that I didn’t think to look onwards in the charter edition while I was still in the IHR, sorry, I’m a bad researcher.

There’s lots to think about here, though. In the first place, while he may indeed have been excessive, one can see why Delà and then Olibà tried to run for it or get powerful help; what chance did they have in the court, if it was going to be run by Sant Llorenç’s tame judge? Delà, in particular, was obviously what we once called a desperate man, and was at the point of trial presumably still with his new lord safe from justice. That may then explain why Sant Llorenç actually insisted on the penalty clause in their charter being enacted; they weren’t going to get control of their estate back, so could only grab at Olibà’s instead. One does wonder how much choice Olibà had about being Delà’s surety… As I have many times before observed, it’s tough to be up against The Man in first-millennial Catalonia.

Old monastic buildings of Sant Llorenç del Munt

And in this instance The Man’s House looks like this, though probably didn’t yet in 1003, lots of this being twelfth-century. It’s still pretty imposing though, and must have been then too. I’m not sure whether it would comfort Delà and Olibà to know that it is now “the highest restaurant in the Vallès“. «Sant Llorenç del Munt 2» per MikiponsTreball propi. Disponible sota la llicència CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The trouble with only having one of these cases is that one doesn’t know if it’s something new. You’ll notice that this is not a system of reparation that the charter penalty implies: it should have been the infringer who paid up according to that, with the original and the same again. Neither, as far as I remember, is there any provision for sureties in the Visigothic Law, which duly never gets cited by this famously learned judge. And the fact of the violent self-defence, the adoption of non-legal means of enforcement, the apparent irreducibility of the fugitive criminal and the implication of an untouchable lord keeping him safe could all easily be used as evidence for a so-called ‘feudal anarchy’, were it not about thirty years early for that here by most accepted schemes.5 But we are, remember, on the frontier here, and close to the mountains to boot, and as I have said in many a call for papers and research proposal, that gives people choices they don’t have elsewhere, places to run where The Man actually can’t yet follow you and alternative lords who are comsiderably more alternative than just the count’s cousins in Berguedà (or wherever the mountains that failed to hide Olibà were).

View of the Serra de l'Obac, Barcelona, from Wikimedia Commons

The Serra de l’Obac, which lies between Terrassa and la Nèspola, is an obvious candidate where it is, you know, possible to imagine there being some good hiding-places… By Fugi-bis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

OK, that’s obviously my favourite point but there are others, which make the monastery look even muddier. Note first of all the chronology. Borrell seems to have given Sant Llorenç this alod in 973. Here we are in 1003, therefore, thirty years later, which timespan grants the monastery unassailable legal right which is why they make sure to say that, right? Well, but hang on. Had this situation all blown up, every step there from (2) to (5) happened in the four months since the monastery crossed that line? Or had Delà rather seen that line coming and reckoned his chances of claiming thirty years’ possession were as good as his bosses’, if he made his move now? Worse, did the monastery fear that and boot him and his ‘consimiles’ out before they could claim they’d been in post that long like universities booting out their temporary staff at the four-year limit whereafter they are entitled to permanent contracts? Well, we can’t know, but one thing we can is that someone’s rights had been trodden on, because Borrell’s original grant had included life reservation to two of his followers, a priest Constabile and one Ervigi (presumably no relation?) and his children. So in 973 Sant Llorenç didn’t even own the estate, just the promise of it! Unless they just flat ignored those terms or Constabile and Ervigi and his kids almost immediately died, it’s a very special definition of thirty years that Sant Llorenç were claiming in 1003, therefore, and one that has no good implications either for their management strategies or for the truth of what they were claiming. So Delà and Olibà may have had better reason even than just the tame judge to know there was no point coming to court. The monastery wrote its own charters and it could ignore them too, with the right backers. But as Delà showed, out here that was a game that two could play.


1. P. Puig i Ustrell (ed.), El monestir de Sant Llorenç del Munt sobre Terrassa: Diplomatari dels segles X i XI, Diplomataris 8-10 (Barcelona 1995), 3 vols, doc. no. 110:
Pateant aures fideles qualiter ego in Dei nomine Marcus episcopus qui et iudex accessi in comitatu Minorisa in ualle Nespula et audiui peticionem qua Borrellus iudex apetituit Olibane, qui fuit fideiussorem de Dela, ut in placito suo se presentasset et iuxta leges omnia difinisset, et noluit et extraxit se de ipso placito et non ibi ullo modo accessi. [sic] Et postquam accessit montus et iussionibus meis nullo modo obtempeauit nec adquieuit. Et hec est causa unde apetiuit fidemiussorem supradictum in presencia Baroni, Gondemari, Suniari, Baioni, Adroari, alio Gondemari, Gondeuini, Adalberti, Guadamiri, Salomoni, Mironi sacerdoti, Teredi, Marchoni et alii quamplures, scilicet quale Dela proclamauit alaudem Sancto Laurenti suum esse proprium et franchum, quem Sanctus Laurencius xxxta annos abebat possessum iure proprio per cartam quem condam comes Borrellus fecit ad predicta domum Sancti Laurenti. Et idem ipse Dela per hos supradictos xxxta annos seruiuit illum ad predicta domum Sancti Laurenti et donauit taschas et oblias et eceptiones, sicut ceteri omines de ipsum alaudem tenent, donant et seruiunt. Et distrincxerunt eum ministri Sancti Laurenti pro suo excessu sicut alii sui consimiles. Et postea ille exuasit et disrumpit de potestate Sancti Laurenti et fecit ibi alium senioraticum et fecit assalire ministrum Sancti Laurenti supradictum Borrellum et fecit ei tollere suum mulum. Propter ea fuit apertus istum fideiussorem.
Idcirco ego in De nomine Marcus consigno et contrado predictum alaudem in potestate et dicione Sancti Laurenti et iubeo componere supradicto fideissore aliut tantum alaude de suo, et omnibus mobilibus rebus quod ibi inueni tradidi in potestate predicti Borrelli propter suum mulum quod in quadruplum ei conponere debuerat, eo quod ipse […………..], et in propter quod condam comes Borrellus instituit in isto scriptura, qui hinrumpere uoluerit componat in duplo.
Igitur ego pretextus Marcus, ut agnoui istum directum ei audii [………… quo]d predictum Delanem dedisse tascas, et quia fecit alium seniorem que non licebat ei facere, ideo consignaui et consigno, [….]tradidi ac trado predictum alaudem in potestate et di[rectum Sancti Laurent]i, ut dictum est. Et omnes mobiles res in potestate predicti Borrelli.
Facta recognicione et consignacione uel tradiccione et extradiccione II idus octuber […………… reg]nante Roberto rege.
Sig+num Oliba, qui ista extraccione et consignacione fecit et firmauit et firmare rogaui. Sig+num Barone. Sig+num Baio. Sig+num Adroario. […………….] Sig+num Guadamir. Isti testes et presenciales fuerint. Sig+num Gondeuini. Sig+num Adalberti. Sig+num Salamoni. Sig+num Marchoni. Sig+num item alium Godmar. [……………..]
[……………. Erui]gius Dei gracia episcopus cognomento Marcho qui et iudex.
[………………] sacer et scripsit cum literas fusas in uerso III ubi dicit «supra», SSS die et anno prefixo.

2. Ibid. doc. no. 89.

3. For Ervigi, see Josep M. Font i Rius, “L’escola jurídica de Barcelona” in Jesús Alturo i Perucho, Joan Bellès, Font, Yolanda García & Anscari Mund&oac;ute; (edd.), Liber iudicum popularis. Ordenat pel jutge Bonsom de Barcelona, Textos jurídics catalans 23 (Barcelona 2003), pp. 67-100 at pp. 82-87. Ramon Borrell is “inspector episcopiis dante Deo nostræ ditioni pertinentibus” in Petrus de Marca, Marca Hispanica sive Limes Hispanicus, hoc est geographica & historica descriptio cataloniæ, ruscinonis, & circumiacentium populorum, ed. Étienne Baluze (Paris 1688; repr. Barcelona 1972, 1989), ap. CLXXII.

4. There is no mention of sureties in Josep María Salrach, Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil, Referències 55 (Vic 2013), which is of course the book to which I refer; see instead Wendy Davies, “On Suretyship in Tenth-Century Northern Iberia” in Julio Escalona & Andrew Reynolds (edd.), Scale and Scale Change in Early Medieval Europe, The Medieval Countryside 6 (Turnhout 2011), pp. 133-152.

5. Classically written up of course in Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une société, Publications de l’Université Toulouse-le-Mirail 23 & 29 (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols, II pp. 539-574, and followed in Josep Marí Salrach i Marès, El Procés de Feudalització (segles III-XII), Història de Catalunya 2 (Barcelona 1987), pp. 291-324, and see also idem, Justícia i poder, pp. 213-234 for examples from the judicial sphere specifically. He doesn’t use this one, but he obviously could have.

‘Cooked gold’ in tenth-century Barcelona coinage: a likely correction

One of the advantages of doing scholarship on the Internet, insofar as one can, is supposed to be that you can update and correct your work. Those who like this idea seem to believe that one would never put any of one’s projects down and move on, but be happy to update them forever, rendering them forever unreliable as citations, and in general you may guess that I don’t agree that this should be the future.1 All the same, sometimes one does find something that makes one’s work look likely to be wrong and then there seems little point in not using this outlet to make that public. The unlucky victim this time is my article, “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London 2010 for 2009), pp. 217-243, and specifically the bit of it where I discuss a particular usage of the documents from around Barcelona in the late tenth century, prices given in auro cocto, ‘cooked gold’.2 Here’s what I said in the article:

“The use of bullion was becoming more common, and the increasing incidence of qualifications like ‘bono placibile’, and in the case of the foreign mancuses, ‘chocto’, literally ‘cooked’, ‘burnt’, suggest that its standard was frequently a matter of concern.

“The term ‘chocto’ is worth a brief digression. This apparent testing or melting may have been because of a variety in standards of the gold dinars that were reaching Barcelona from various mints in al-Andalus and, probably, beyond. The origin of individual dinars is only specified in later documents, when the bulk of coin in use must have been such that such testing would have been impractical. At this early stage foreign coins may have been converted on arrival into bullion of a known standard. It is hard to read the term ‘chocto’ as referring to anything other than melting; destructive assay methods would hardly have been used on so large a scale and would, in any case, have left no minted coin with which to pay the required price.62 It may therefore be that the coins were being reminted into local versions of the mancus.63 When the supply of Islamic mancuses began to dry up in 1020, a moneyer by the name of Bonhom began to mint local ones that circulated for many years.65 The paucity of finds of imported coin of an earlier period might be explained by such a practice.”


”    63 See A. Oddy, ‘Assaying in Antiquity” in Gold Bulletin 16 (1983), pp. 52-9. I am grateful to Marcus Phillips for bringing this useful paper to my attention.
”    64 On local manufacture of mancuses elewhere see L. Ilisch, “Die imitativen Solidi mancusi. ‘Arabische’ Goldmünzen der Karolingerzeit’ in R. Cunz (ed.), Fundamenta Historiae: Geschichte im Spiegel der Numismatik und ihrer Nachbarwissenschaften. Festschrift für Niklot Kluüßdorf zum 60. Geburtstag am 10. Februar 2004 (Hanover, 2004), pp. 91–106.
”    65 On the mancuses of Bonhom and Eneas, see [Anna M.] Balaguer, Història [de la moneda dels comtats catalans (Barcelona, 1999)], 53-5 and [Miquel Crusafont, Anna M. Balaguer and Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge, 2013), pp. 78-81]….”

This was a sticky bit when I wrote it and looking back now the problems are even more evident. Poor-standard coins should have been more concerning once there were more of them, so why would the people of Barcelona have adopted an expensive reminting process before that point but then abandoned it? I provided an answer to this but I don’t like it, and the fact that the Bonhom mancuses survive but my notional earlier ones don’t could be just coincidence—and this whole article was after all about coins we probably don’t have—but it doesn’t make the theory any more likely. Still, in the light of what I knew it seemed like a workable answer. But then, on New Year’s Eve 2014 (because I know how to have a good time) I was reading up on the scientific study of Byzantine gold coinage for the All That Glitters project, and I found Robert Halleux getting all Greek and quoting a papyrus that contains ancient instructions for the testing of gold, in French translation which I translate as follows:

“If you want to purify gold, melt it anew or heat it, and if it is pure it keeps the same colour after being put in the fire, pure like a piece of money. If it appears more white, it contains silver; if it appears ruddier and harder, it contains copper and tin; if it is black, but pliable, it contains lead.”3

Not content with that, Halleux then quotes a [Edit: thanks to Gary for the corrected source here]letterthe Natural History of Pliny the Younger as well: “aurique experimentum ignis et, ut simili colore rubeat ignescatque et ipsum”, which is an oddly-cut quote that makes me think M. Halleux’s Latin was perhaps not so smart as his Greek in 1985. His citation certainly wasn’t, as I can find no sign of this text in Pliny, but Part of it, however, appears to mean, “gold tested in flames, both so that it shines and burns with the same colour and…”.4 Whatever M. Halleux was actually quoting, This just seems much more likely to be what is going on in my documents, testing by fire in a non-destructive way rather than actually remelting. In that case, however, it seems much less likely that the coins would have been restruck, so the Bonhom mancuses probably were the first local ones made in Barcelona.

Gold mancus of Count-Marquis Ramon Berenguer I of Barcelona (1035-76)

The Bonhom mancuses are themselves vanishingly rare, however, and there seem to be no pictures of them on the web, so, here’s a slightly later Barcelona mancus struck under Count-Marquis Ramon Berenguer I of Barcelona (1035-76), from a Cayón sale of 2009

Admittedly we still have no more sign of the actual Andalusi mancuses in the area than we do my hypothetical ones, but at least we know that the Andalusi ones did exist and that the Barcelona documents were reacting to coins we have from elsewhere.5 I don’t think it does anything serious to my overall argument in my article, either, but this alternative reading of the ‘cooked gold’ in those documents is good reason to scotch what was always one of my weaker suggestions. So let it be noted, I disavow my old idea, and I now think that that ‘cooking’ was no more than a light flame-grilling to see what colour the coin turned.


1. Compare David Parry, “Burn the Boats/Books” and Jo Guldi, “Reinventing the Academic Journal”, both in Daniel J. Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt (edd.), Hacking the Academy: new approaches to scholarship and teaching from the digotal humanities (Ann Arbor 2013), pp. 15-18 and 19-24, both fixed texts of what were originally online presentations archived here, with Alex Sayf Cummings and Jonathan Jarrett, “Only Typing? Informal Writing, Blogging, and the Academy” in Kristen Nawrotzki & Jack Dougherty (edd.), Writing History in the Digital Age (Ann Arbor 2013), pp. 246-258.

2. J. Jarrett, “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London 2010 for 2009), pp. 217-243 at pp. 234-235.

3. R. Halleux, “Méthodes d’essay et d’affinage des alliages aurifères dans l’Antiquité et au moyen âge” in Cécile Morrisson, Claude Brenot, Jean-Pierre Callu, Jean-Noël Barrandon, Jacques Poirier & Halleux, L’or monnayé I : purification et altérations de Rome à Byzance, Cahiers Ernest Babelon 2 (Paris 1985), pp. 39-77 at p. 40:
“Si vous voulez purifier l’or, fondez à nouveau ou chauffez, et s’il est pur il garde la même couleur après la mise au feu, pur comme une pièce de monnaie. S’il paraît plus blanc, il contient d’argent ; s’il paraît plus rude et plus dur, il contient du cuivre et de l’étain ; s’il est noir, mais mou, il contient du plomb.”

The text of reference here is Halleux’s own, R. Halleux (ed.), Papyrus de Leyden, papyrus de Stockholm : fragments de recettes. Texte établi et traduction (Paris 1981), within which the bit here cited is Papyrus Leyden X 43, but it ought also to be locatable in Earle Radcliffe Carey (trans.), “The Leyden papyrus X: an English translation with brief notes” in Journal of Chemical Education Vol. 3 (New York City 1926), pp. 1149-1166.

4. Halleux, “Méthodes d’essay”, p. 40, citing Pliny, Natural History XXXIII 59, which you can see for yourself with a slightly more comprehensible text here.

5. On the absence of actual mancuses in finds from Catalonia, see Miquel Barceló, “L’or d’al-Andalus circulant als comtats Catalans entre 967 i 1100: un or vist o no vist?” in J. M.Gurt & A. M. Balaguer (edd.), Symposium Numismatico de Barcelona I (Barcelona 1979), pp. 313-327; on the chronology of the documentary mentions see Pierre Bonnassie, “Nouveautés linguistiques et mutations économico-sociales dans la Catalogne des IXe-XIe siècles” in Michel Banniard (ed.), Langages et Peuples d’Europe : cristallisation des identités romanes et germanique. Colloque International organisé par le Centre d’Art et Civilisation Médiévale de Conques et l’Université de Toulouse-le-Mirail (Toulouse-Conques, juillet 1997), Méridiennes 5 (Toulouse 2002), pp. 47-66.

This post was written with the aid of The Bevis Frond’s White Numbers (Woronzow 2014), which has made it much more pleasant to pull together.

All That Glitters, Experiment 2

Somehow my posts about me and my work—and that may not be what you’re here for but, you know, I like it—have got behind my seminar reports in such a way that they’re into February 2015 and I’m still in December 2014. Let me resolve some of that disparity by giving you a short report on the second day of experiments in the collaborative project I’m in for analysing Byzantine gold coinage by X-ray fluorescence, which was 14th December. (If you need background I announced this project ages ago here and dealt with some of our starting questions and the first day’s experiment here.)

Cover of J. O. Jeppson, The Second Experiment

Our results have so far not been this dramatic, but then, I’m guessing that our first experiment wasn’t quite as adventurous as this must have been

To recap, we had established that if our experiments were to tell us anything much about elements other than gold, silver, copper and maybe one or two other pre-determined elements, we were going to need not the energy-dispersive machinery we’d been using on the first day but the bigger, more expensive and, most importantly, immobile wavelength-dispersive machinery in the Department of Chemistry in the University of Birmingham, a machine called the S8 TIGER. I am only just able to describe the difference between these two analytic methods: in so far as I can, it’s to do with what is being used to pick up the energy given off by the things you’re bombarding with x-rays. The WD machinery includes crystal collimators that are sensitive to certain wavelenths of that energy, which therefore get picked up better, where the ED machines, which measure only in terms of intensity of signal, simply wouldn’t see such things among the massive gold return, as we had surmised. The WD machine also scans its samples in a vacuum, which eliminates interference from the air.

Bruker S8 TIGER XRF analyser open for business

The mouth of the TIGER yawning wide, with five sample cups waiting and one under analysis

On the other hand there are also problems with the WD machinery that don’t exist with the ED kit. For us the first of those was simply access; it’s nothing to do with the actual machinery except in so far as it’s immovable, but because we had to take the coins to the kit rather than vice versa, that meant arranging transport and insurance even on campus, and the transport repeatedly went wrong, which cut into our experimental time a lot. But, also, the ED kit works with narrow beams focussed on points; the WD machine scans its samples in masks such as the one below, of which the two sizes relevant to us were 5 mm and 8 mm, and those were therefore the only area sizes that we could analyse. Importantly, this also precluded examining coins at their edges or over piercings, because the sample has to fill the exposed area completely. This also highlights a problem with both ED and WD methods: non-homogeneity. If for some reason your coin had an odd tiny lump of platinum on its surface, say, the ED machinery would either miss it (in which case you’d never know) or find it and report a massive platinum signal (which would be misleading for the coin’s overall composition). The WD machinery, however, would factor it into the average, so that you wouldn’t necessarily realise that it was a coherent inclusion rather than a component of the main alloy. So there was plenty to worry about even if the machine worked perfectly.

Emperor Heraclius just visible on one of his solidi of Constantinople loaded behind an 8 mm mask for analysis in the Bruker S8 TIGER

Emperor Heraclius just visible on one of his solidi of Constantinople loaded behind an 8 mm mask for analysis

Anyway, we had our goals clear for this test. The first was to get our hands on the machinery and find out what the operational considerations in any further planning were, the results of which you sort of see in the musings above. Here I have to acknowledge the tremendous help and general goodwill of Dr Jackie Deans, official keeper of the TIGER, and Dr Adrian Wright, who had first let us involve the Department of Chemistry in the project and had helpful things to say whenever he dropped in. Our second priority was to run the same ten coins around which we’d built our first experiment on the S8 TIGER and see how the results differed from those on the ED kit. And as it turned out, our third one was to determine how we wanted to use the S8 TIGER, because as Jackie explained to us, it could analyse at three levels, a 2-minute cycle that would probably get us no more data than the ED machinery had, an 8-minute one which should do the job, and an 18-minute one which was the very most data it could gather. Adding 10 minutes to each analysis was obviously going to limit the number of coins we could actually analyse in any given timeframe, so we really rather needed to know whether or not it was worthwhile.

Gold solidus of Empress Eirini at Constantinople set up for analysis in a Bruker S8 TIGER XRF analyser

The rather different visage in gold of the Empress Eirini, likewise cruelly cut down to 8 mm of glaring royalty

And so what did we find? Well, this machine certainly had more to tell us. We were now getting returns in terms of many elements, at concentrations of down to parts per thousand or even less. This ineluctably meant a decrease in gold concentration reported, because there was now simply more data to fit into the percentages, but the overall picture of lots of gold, not much silver and less copper was still very apparent in the reported figures. What we hadn’t expected, and had now to deal with, was that copper wasn’t usually the third most detected element, and sometimes silver not the second: instead, we were seeing lots of calcium, silicon and sometimes aluminium beating them out. It seemed a priori unlikely that these were original metallic components of the coins in these quantities. That in turn implied that these elements had got into, or much more likely onto, the coins since striking, be that from use, preservation or anything else that might have happened to them. But, whatever they were, they also seemed to be more consistently detected on the long cycle than the medium-length one, meaning that we were going to need to use the long analysis to have any chance of consistent findings. So now we had two difficult questions to answer in setting up Experiment 3: firstly, what could we get done with less than half the scans that we might have hoped to do in any given day of experiments, but secondly, when we did, could we determine whether these results were merely contamination or do anything about that if they were? And these were things which we attempted to address in the New Year, so I’ll stop here for now.

All That Glitters, Experiment 1

Almost the last academic thing I did last year before breaking for Christmas was the first two sessions of a project that is now nearly finished, All That Glitters, announced here so long ago. It was so long ago that it might be worth reintroducing. Basically, by great happenstance one of my predecessors in taking care of the coin collection at the Barber Institute had run into two people at a conference who were presenting about the ability of the X-ray fluorescence (XRF) equipment their company, Bruker Industries Ltd., produced to do metal analyses. That predecessor, Rebecca Darley, also knew Robert Bracey at the British Museum, who had done work with XRF on the coinage of the Kushan Empire, and now I was in charge of the Barber’s coins. None of us are archæometallurgists and our knowledge of archæology and numismatics didn’t necessarily combine with the metals analysis expertise upon which we could call so as to somehow make a composite archæometallurgist out of us all, but Robert could borrow the British Museum’s handheld XRF scanner, Bruker had a new machine they wanted to test against real problems, the Barber is on the same campus as several much larger and more expensive machines also supplied by Bruker some of whose host departments proved happy to let us use them and to tell us about them; a project seemed obviously to exist in potentio and our task was to work out how to make it tell us something useful.

Bruker Industries Tracer IV handheld XRF analysis system

I’m not sure if this is the exact machine we were using but its resemblance to a phaser seems impressively reminiscent

It’s too early to say whether we achieved that, pending actual publication of our results and conclusions which we are even now working on writing up, but right from the beginning it was clear to us that before we could have any historical conclusions we would have to have methodological ones. This is because there are so many potential problems with XRF analysis, problems which not all publications using it consider, and when they do, consider most often for silver alloys rather than the high-purity gold we would be testing, that the first priority had to be not to find things out, but rather to find out what we could find out.1 Accordingly, our pilot experiments were designed to evaluate the machinery more than the coinage, and we started on the 3rd December 2014 when Robert brought the British Museum’s handheld scanner up from the British Museum, along with its calibration standard, and Mike Dobby and Colin Slater from Bruker brought in their new M1ORA energy-dispersive scanner and we put some coins through their x-rays.

A gold solidus of Emperor Anastasius I struck at Constantinople (in the Eta <i>officina</i>) between 492 and 507, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B0005

The first coin to go under, a gold solidus of Emperor Anastasius I struck at Constantinople (in the Eta officina) between 492 and 507, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B0005

We had chosen a test set of ten coins running from Anastasius I (491-518) to Constantine VI (785-797), with two coins for each ruler from the same mint and if possible, the same workshop of the mint (if that’s what officinae were), hoping that whatever results we might obtain would thus be internally secure against outlier coins from a bad day at the mint or similar.2 All of those got zapped on both sides with both handheld and the microwave-like M1ORA. Both of these use a spot beam, but with the M1ORA it’s possible to target it precisely, so we aimed for flat surfaces wherever possible.

Bruker Industries M1ORA XRF analyser at work in the Coin Study Room of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham

The M1ORA at work in the Barber’s Coin Study Room, with team members in eager attendance

The initial results of this made the handheld device look like much the poorer sibling, as its readings were extremely variable. Robert worked out, however, that this was related to how much of its expected sample it had been able to observe—this in turn probably down to surface relief but already we were into unknowns—and when the figures were all normalised to a notional 100% of sample they came out much more like what the M1ORA was seeing. The M1ORA was able to dump its readings straight into a laptop equipped with suitable software, and did this levelling-up in that software, so made things immediately clearer for us by automating that step, solely an issue of configuration but we still needed to be aware of it. I keep stressing variables and difficulties because I don’t want to imply that we were getting actual true results, but that said, once they were both talking to us in the same framework the message of the machines was pretty consistent: all these coins were being analysed as very high-purity gold, 97% or more, which is astonishingly high for any pre-modern metallurgy. However, other than silver and copper, which occurred in about the proportions one would expect (i. e. not very much and even less), the only other element that was consistently detectable was iron. That was in part a factor of what we had asked Mike and Colin to make the machinery look for but if you have to do that at all, there is obviously a restriction inherent in your question-setting…

A gold dinar of Sindh imitating a Persian dinar of Shah Shapur II (309-379), struck at an unknown mint and date, Barber Institute of Fine Arts S0073

So then for something rather different, a gold dinar of Sindh imitating a Persian dinar of Shah Shapur II (309-379), struck at an unknown mint and date, Barber Institute of Fine Arts S0073

The very high fineness was sort of what we might have expected, anyway, as it is roughly what earlier analyses of Byzantine gold coins by a number of methods have suggested.3 It still made me uncomfortable for its lack of variety, however, and so since we had run-time left in the day I started hauling other things out of the cabinets. These included two Persian gold dinars, of Shahs Shapur II (309-379) and Varhran IV (388-399), and the above piece which is pretending to be something like the former, as well as an Arab-Byzantine solidus from Carthage and some more Byzantine pieces. Mainly I just wanted to be sure that the machinery actually would report lower gold finenesses, and so it duly did, with the Persian pieces both lower (but not by the same amount) and the Sindh piece even less fine (which, to be honest, was already apparent in its colour, but that was why I’d chosen it). The Byzantine stuff, and the coins imitating that, remained high in the machinery’s estimation.

A gold solidus of the second reign of Emperor Justinian II, struck at Constantinople between 705 and 711, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4464

Another part of the starting sample, a gold solidus of the second reign of Emperor Justinian II, struck at Constantinople between 705 and 711, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4464

This bit was fairly unsystematic sampling, but it did give us some reason to believe that the machinery was observing something consistent with our expectations, and which therefore fitted into existing understandings of the early Byzantine gold coinage. That is circular, though, obviously! This and the likely effect on the readings of differences between the surface of the coins and their cores, because of both manufacturing factors and subsequent environmental exposure, meant that we weren’t willing (and still aren’t) to say that these figures are actually how fine those coins were. We also weren’t seeing a range of trace elements which we had expected on the basis of older work, and which might have suggested things about changes in metal supply and treatment that would potentially be historical evidence.4 So, while these machines might serve other people’s purposes, we ourselves were going to need some bigger kit. And that would be Experiment 2, about which I shall write in a couple of posts’ time. In the meantime, however, here is some shiny metallic blogging for the Christmas season and I wish you all a happy holiday!


1. Part of our problem was that so much of the literature about these problems was old enough to relate, potentially, only to a much more primitive incarnation of the technique. Nonetheless, Michael F. Hendy & J. A. Charles, “The Production Techniques, Silver Content and Circulation History of the Twelfth-Century Byzantine Silver Trachy” in Archaeometry Vol. 12 (Oxford 1970), pp. 13-21, William A. Oddy, “The Analysis of Gold Coins—A Comparison of Results Obtained by Non-Destructive Methods”, ibid. Vol. 14 (1972), pp. 109-117 and J. Tate, “Some Problems in Analysing Museum Material by Nondestructive Surface Sensitive Techniques” in Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Part B Vol. 14 (Amsterdam 1986), pp. 20-23, all suggest that differences should be observable between surfaces and cores of coins and between methods that measure only the surface and those that measure total composition, and L. Beck, S. Bosonnet, S. Réveillon, D. Eliot & F. Pilon, “Silver surface enrichment of silver–copper alloys: a limitation for the analysis of ancient silver coins by surface techniques”, ibid. Part B Vol. 226 (2004), pp. 153-162, DOI: 10.1016/j.nimb.2004.06.044 and Vasiliki Kantarelou, Francisco José Ager, Despoina Eugenidou, Francisca Chaves, Alexandros Andreou, Elena Kontou, Niki Katsikosta, Miguel Angel Respaldiza, Patrizia Serafin, Dimosthenis Sokaras, Charalambos Zarkadas, Kyriaki Polikreti & Andreas Germanos Karydas, “X-ray Fluorescence analytical criteria to assess the fineness of ancient silver coins: application on Ptolemaic coinage” in Spectrochimica Acta Part B Vol. 66 (Amsterdam 2011), pp. 681-690, DOI: 10.1016/j.sab.2011.08.001, give some explanations of why that should be so. (I have to thank Dr Eleanor Blakelock for some of these and several other useful references.) All of these except Oddy and Tate were working with silver alloyed with base metal, however, and so another of the problems we have is in knowing how far the same applies to gold and if it does, whether if alloyed with base metals only or also with noble metals such as we expected to see. And the mess only gets worse from there…

2. Barber Institute of Fine Arts B0005 & B0006 (Anastasius I, Constantinople, officinae Eta and Iota), B2761 & B2762 (Heraclius, Constantinople, both officina Eta), B4384 & B4385 (first reign of Justinian II, Constantinople, former marked Theta), B4464 & B4465 (second reign of Justinian II, Constantinople, no control marks), B4598 & B4599 (Constantine VI and Eirini, Constantinople, no control marks).

3. Those earlier analyses being principally those gathered and conducted in Cécile Morrisson, Jean-Noël Barrandon & Jacques Poirier, “La monnaie d’or byzantine à Constantinople : purification et modes d’altérations (491-1354)” in Morrisson, Claude Brenot, Jean-Pierre Callu, Barrandon, Poirier & Robert Halleux, L’or monnayé I : purification et altérations de Rome à Byzance, Cahiers Ernest Babelon 2 (Paris 1985), pp. 113-187.

4. The kind of conclusions, indeed, that were coming out of ibid. and another study there, Jean-Pierre Callu, Claude Brenot, Jean-Noël Barrandon and Jacques Poirier, ‘”Aureus obryziacus”‘, ibid. pp. 81-111, albeit with a rather more variable sample of evidence!

Link

Entrevista a mi en Català

The seminar reports are catching up but reports on my other activity seem still to be mired in busy busy November 2014. At the very end of that month, I had the unusual honour of being interviewed for a Catalan history news website, a sort of recognition I’m very flattered to receive although I wish I could have given them a better photograph. Should you be interested, it’s here:

I should probably post the English, shouldn’t I? But I am writing this on a train to Birmingham to x-ray more coins and time and wi-fi are both scant, so I’ll wait to see if anyone wants it. Meanwhile, speaking of Birmingham, even while posting was sparse here I was still cropping up in other places on the Internet, not least the blog of the Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages, as follows:

And then lastly, though I will write properly about All That Glitters soon I promise, even as Cross Country Trains carry me towards the next session, here is a snapshot about one of those we already did:

I have never been so twitterfied! Anyway, with that I must get back to what I am doing now, but here at least is some record of what I have been doing that you didn’t have before!

Gallery

Images from Montserrat!

This gallery contains 8 photos.

Readers who’ve been here a little while may remember that since about 2012 I have been mounting a sporadic attempt to quantify and locate the various members of the clergy attested in the tenth- and early-eleventh-century documents from around the … Continue reading

Lost in translation III: transmission of sources for China and Aragón

I have mentioned recently that at something like this time last year I was for the first time teaching early medieval China to a number of unsuspecting first-years at Birmingham. We were approaching the topic via a primary set-text, which was the Records of the Western Regions by the Buddhist pilgrim traveller Xuanzang, active in the early seventh century.1 The setting and circumstance of the text is fascinating: driven by political circumstances into which the text does not go, although a later biographer of its author does, our man Xuanzang headed east from the T’ang Empire, determined to reach India and bathe in the metaphorical springs of pure untranslated (and thus textually correct) Buddhism.2 What now looks like the simplest route, south-westwards through what is now (again) Burma, did not make sense to him (and anyone who’s read war memoirs from Burma may be inclined to agree—even without people trying to stop you, something of which he probably wasn’t entirely free, the environment and its various predatory and parasitical lifeforms might manage it3) and instead he went the long way round, across the northern foothills of the Himalayas and then down through what are now Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Map of the travels of the seventh-century Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang

A handy map by someone else; I’m out to make a point, but if you are just interested by the story, click through this for a more balanced view…

The text we have records each leg of the journey, often making it clear that what we easily call the Silk Routes were sometimes no kinds of route at all; once the only hints they have that they’re on the right general lines are the dry skeletons by the wayside, and avalanche or hostile weather caused, our writer explains, by malevolent dragons, offended by red clothes (among other things), is a perpetual danger in the early stages of the journey.4 Once beyond the routes southwards up into Tibet, however, there were more cities and communities and things calm somewhat; the fact that our fugitive must by then have been beyond the reach of the Chinese government may also have helped…

A fourteenth-century Japanese depiction of seventh-century Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang

A fourteenth-century Japanese depiction of our featured pilgrim, apparently: “Xuanzang w“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

At this point the text becomes considerably less dramatic and, depending on your perspective, either more or less interesting. For each little city-state it gives the distance and direction from the previous one, some idea of its population size, what its system of government is, what family its native language is from and a sort of statistical count of the state of Buddhism there in terms of how many monasteries and stupas there are there, how many are active, how many people serve them, and whether any particular stories adhere either to the city or the shrines.5 And then we move on. It’s a kind of religious Domesday of the western Silk Routes, or perhaps more like the supposed Carolingian survey of the Holy Land.6 So the interest level depends on whether you like having that kind of data recorded in something like a steady format or whether that bores you. You can guess that my students and I divided pretty neatly on this! But we did get quite a lot out of other issues, largely using the matrix for text analysis that was published on Dead Voles a long time ago, but also hitting at one big issue that is the actual subject of this post, which is that this whole text is not what Xuanzang wrote.

The Chahabil stupa in Nepal

I’m not sure this is one of the stupas Xuanzang saw, partly because my notes on the text aren’t good enough but also because it seems to have been many times rebuilt since its alleged third-century BC origins, but it’s much too cool not to include; it is the Chahabil stupa in Nepal. “Chabahil.stupa” by User:China_CrisisOwn work. Licensed under GFDL via Commons.

This is true at several levels, and they’re mostly self-evident which is why it is strange that I found it so often ignored in the scholarship we were using (which is, admittedly, basically either about Buddhism in China or the Silk Routes and therefore data-mining, but even in data-mining the context matters).6 To work back from the very first step: obviously, we were not reading this in Chinese but in a nineteenth-century English translation, which led to complications in two directions, firstly things that the translator Samuel Beal didn’t think needed translation (such as units for distance—a li seems to be about one-sixth of a mile, I worked out); and secondly things that he did, but which it might have been useful to be able to check (like, for example, ‘king’ or ‘stupa’—always the same word, or was he smoothing out what could have been significant variation?). Secondly, we are dealing here with a write-up of his travels that Xuanzang apparently wrote up in 646 on the request of the T’ang Emperor Taizong, but it was edited by his disciple Bianji and opens with a prologue by one Zhang Yue, declaring to Taizong how worthy Xuanzang is as a source of information, so it had been through one and maybe two careful if friendly editors before it got to the ruler (and of course, we don’t know whether it was then censored before being allowed out into circulation).7

Illustration by Yen Li-Pen of Emperor Taizong granting an audience to Ludongzan the ambassador of Tibet in 641

Here he is again, Emperor Taizong giving an audience to Ludongzan the ambassador of Tibet in 641. Yen Li-pen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

What this means is that editing and selection may have been going on at many stages: between approval by the emperor’s court and the creation of any of the actual manuscripts (leaving aside their own individual copying histories), before presentation to the emperor by Bianji and by Xuanzang as he compiled a final text of his notes from twenty years before, when he had apparently been fleeing Taizong’s officers; no wonder that the text as we have it says nothing deep about his reasons for travelling! We therefore don’t know whether Xuanzang’s notes and memories, and his interests, went beyond this methodical cataloguing of Buddhist survival, although in his doing of that an apocalyptic framework of overall decline does become sufficiently apparent that I believe that was one of the things on his mind, the imminent Destruction of the Law.8 But thirdly and perhaps most importantly, Bianji also tells us that Xuanzang had translated this text. From what? I presume that, since he was a Buddhist pilgrim travelling internationally, he was probably actually writing in Sanskrit, but in that case there’s another set of difficulties at that end of the writing process too! So it really is a very long and tangly set of steps from what a much younger Xuangzang had seen on his travels to what we have, as follows:

  1. from what he saw to what he, a foreigner, understood of it;
  2. from what he understood to what he thought worth writing down, probably in Sanskrit;
  3. from his earlier records, reviewed twenty years later, to what he could still read, understand or remember, and thought worth presenting to the Emperor;
  4. from that selection to what could be clearly expressed in Chinese, perhaps only a thin filter but there;
  5. from what Xuanzang then sent or had left to Bianji to what Bianji thought could be usefully presented to the emperor;
  6. from what Bianji then sent to Zhang Yue;
  7. what went to Emperor Taizong after Zhang Yue had seen it;
  8. what was considered worthy of keeping on official record thereafter;
  9. and then an uncountable number of steps from that archetype to the manuscripts we now have, followed by, for me
  10. the final filter of Beal’s translation.

Enough to slow us down before drawing hasty conclusions!

Map of the Upper March of Muslim Spain as laid out in the Ornament of Records of al-'Udrī

Map of the Upper March of Muslim Spain as laid out in the Ornament of Records of al-‘Udrī

Now, all of this struck particular chords with me because I had met something very much like it in my actual research quite shortly before as I finally got to grips with one of the principal Arabic sources for my corner of Europe, the Tarsi al-ajbar wa-tanwi al-atar wa-l-bustan, or Ornament of Records of Abu al-Abbas Ahmad ibn ‘Umar al-‘Udrī, an eleventh-century geographer and scholar of Almeria.

There are fewer issues here, but some obvious ones immediately recur: firstly, I don’t read Arabic, so was accessing this through a Castilian translation of the parts of the text that referred to the March of Zaragoza, exactly what I needed but not much of a clue either to al-‘Udrī’s technical terminology or to his larger purpose in assembling the text as a whole.9 There is in fact no full manuscript of this text and until 1965 it was unknown even in the parts we have except where quoted by other historians; the manuscript we do have, now in Egypt, has been claimed as an autograph second edition of the initial version of the text but is apparently incomplete even so, and details are hard to get, for me, because the edition of that fragment is in Arabic, and none of the Castilian authors who have used it say much about the manuscript preservation.10 Also, of course, it’s derivative; sometimes the author tells us he’s quoting the earlier work of Ahmad al-Rāzī, and sometimes it’s other authors, not always flagged as quotes. He probably does add more of his own but given the state of preservation of any of these texts it’s hard to be sure!

The Monasterio de San Benito de Talavera

One part of the Upper March that al-‘Udrī might have recognised, albeit with horror, the tenth-century castle at Talavera de la Reina with the later monastery of San Benito built pretty thorougly onto it. By Dixflips (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

More importantly, however, there seems to be with this as with Xuanzang a further step away from our original that is so immediate and obvious that none of the historiography stops to consider it. I’m conscious that here I can only work from Fernando de la Granja’s translation, and he himself was working from a photocopy of the manuscript made for him by its editor long before that edition had come out, none of this perfect for textual transmission, but the very first words of the translated text as de la Granja gives it are: “Dijo Ahmad ibn ‘Umar: …”, “Ahmad ibn ‘Umar said: …” In other words, unless our author talks about himself in the third person and the past, what we have here is already a report, a write-up and possibly even a summary of what al-‘Udri actually wrote; if that manuscript is (or was) an autograph, it was not al-‘Udri’s autograph but that of someone working with his text. In which case, what we have is surely only a selection, quite possibly added to by our anonymous editor working with who knows what other material and potentially using al-‘Udri’s name to add to the plausibility of what might be quite a different work with a very different agenda. We’ve no way of knowing, other than maybe lexical analysis of this text against other known works of his. But no-one’s done that, or even raised the issue, as far as I have yet found.11 I certainly can’t do anything about it myself, but I need to use this text so I do wish that someone else already had! I feel as if I shouldn’t need to be trying to lead scholarship through the same elementary hoops of text transmission that I was setting before my first-year students last year… Am I missing something out there, does anyone know?


1. Xuanzang, Da Tang Xiyu Ki, transl. Samuel Beal as Si-yu-ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World, translated from the Chinese of Hiuen Tsiang (A.D. 629) (London 1884), 2 vols, online here and here, last modified 20th December 2011 as of 8th November 2014.

2. The biography is Hiuli, Da Tang Ci’en si sanzang fashi zhuan, which doesn’t seem to be in English translation but is summarised by various secondary works, including most obviously Sally Hovey Wriggins, The Silk Road journey with Xuanzang, 2nd edn. (Boulder PA 2004), on whose and others perspectives see now Max Deeg, ‘”Show Me the Land Where the Buddha Dwelled”: Xuanzang’s “Record of the Western Regions” (Xiyu ji): A Misunderstood Text?’ in China Report Vol. 48 (Los Angeles 2012), pp. 89-113, DOI: 10.1177/000944551104800205. On the Silk Routes more generally there are a wealth of books and I would cautiously recommend Valerie Hanson, The Silk Road: a new history (Oxford 2012) as the most scholarly I’ve met, while still reserving the right to be sceptical about the whole concept, even more so after reading Xuanzang indeed!

3. I get my perspective here from the excellent if grim George MacDonald Fraser, Quartered Safe Out Here: A Recollection of the War in Burma (London 1993).

4. Xuanzang, Xiyu Ki, transl. Beal, I, pp. 25 for hostile weather caused by dragons & 32 for the bones in the waste.

5. For example, a short one, the place that is now Aksu (ibid., I p. 24):

“The kingdom of Poh-luh-kia is about 600 li from east to west, and 300 li or so from north to south. The chief town is 5 or 6 li in circuit. With regard to the soil, climate, character of the people, the customs, and laws of [literary] composition, these are the same as in the country of K’iu-chi. The [spoken] language differs however a little. It produces a fine sort of cotton and hair-cloth, which are highly valued by bordering countries. There are some ten sanghârâmas here; the number of priests and followers is about one thousand. These follow the teaching of the ‘Little Vehicle,’ and belong to the school of the Sarvâstivâdas (Shwo-yih-tsai-yu-po).”

6. The former well-known to you I guess, the latter most recently treated in Michael McCormick, Charlemagne’s Survey of the Holy Land: wealth, personnel, and buildings of a Mediterranean Church between Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Washington DC 2011).

6bis. Examples I actually read of this: Stanley Weinstein, “Imperial patronage in the formation of T’ang Buddhism”, in Arthur F. Wright & Denis Twitchett (edd.), Perspectives on the T’ang (New Haven 1973), pp. 265-306; Erik Zürcher, “Buddhism and education in T’ang times” in W. Theodore de Bary & John W. Chaffee (edd.), Neo-Confucian education: the formative stage (Berkeley 1989), pp. 19-56; and of course, Jerry Bentley, Old World Encounters: cross-cultural contacts and exchanges in pre-modern times (Oxford 1993), pp. 29-66.

7. See n. 2 above.

8. E. g. Xuanzang, Xiyu Ki, transl. Beale, I, p. 53:

“Sanakavâsa was the disciple of Ananda. In a former existence he had given the priests garments made of the Sanaka plant, on the conclusion of the rainy season. By the force of this meritorious action during 500 successive births he wore only this (kind of) garment, and at his last birth he was born with it. As his body increased so his robe grew larger, until the time when he was converted by Ananda and left his home (i. e., became an ascetic). Then his robe changed into a religious garment; and when he was fully ordained it again changed into a Sanghâti, composed of nine pieces. When he was about to arrive at Nirvana he entered into the condition of Samâdhi, bordering on complete extinction, and by the force of his vow in attaining wisdom (he arrived at the knowledge) that this kashâya garment would last till the bequeathed law (testament) of Sâkya (was established), and after the destruction of this law then his garment also would perish. At the present time it is a little fading, for faith also is small at this time!”

9. Fernando de la Granja (transl.), “La marca superior en la obra de al-‘Udrī” in Estudios de la Edad Media de la Corona de Aragón Vol. 8 (Zaragoza 1967), pp. 447-545, online here.

10. My limited detail here comes from the equally limited detail of Luis Molina García, “Los dos versiones de la Geografía de al-‘Udrī” in al-Qantara Vol. 3 (Madrid 1982), pp. 249-260 at p. 250.

11. Molina, ibid., certainly cites the text as if it’s actually al-‘Udrī’s words throughout, using just the same phrase as does de la Granja’s translation for it!