Category Archives: numismatics

Liturgy, coins and buried saints in 870s Barcelona: Bishop Frodoí of Barcelona reexamined

I’m sorry as usual about the gap between posts here; my excuse this time, apart from the treadmill of lecture preparation (which is actually teaching me stuff and making me think, as subsequent blog will eventually show), is that this post actually required research, because not least I know that one of the regular readers has written around this topic and I wanted to make sure I knew what they’d said before I charged in. The background to this post is a conversation at the Ecclesiastical History Society conference in 2014, when people were encouraging me to come to next year’s meeting, whose theme was translation. Someone making the point that for the Ecclesiastical History Society that could as well include the ‘translation’ of saints’ relics from one site to another got me thinking about Saint Eulalie of Barcelona, and from there I was tempted to try and intervene in the messy but inescapable historiographical circle that seems to orbit her early medieval cult. In the end, I never did offer the paper, but I did a bit of reading around it and realised all the problems afresh, consulted some of the primary evidence and wanted to express my uncertainty about what people have written. That meant I had to read more of it and now, here we are and I’ve written what’s nearly a paper anyway. But let me explain the problem.

Crypt of Saint Eulalie in cathedral of Santes Creu i Eulàlia de Barcelona

Crypt of Santa Eulalia” by Bernard GagnonOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Saint Eulalie, to whom the cathedral of Barcelona is jointly dedicated and where her remains are held to rest in the very snazzy Gothic sarcophagus above, was supposedly martyred under the auspices of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, as are a great many martyrs whose stories are only known from much later. After suffering various and eventually lethal tortures her body was laid to rest in Santa Maria de les Arenes, which was subsequently rebuilt into the rather lovely Santa Maria del Mar, on which more in a future post. According to the narrative of Eulalie’s own translatio, her remains were hidden in 713 when the city was about to fall to the Muslims, and only recovered at some point before 878 (perhaps 877), when Bishop Frodoí of Barcelona and the visiting Archbishop Sigebod of Narbonne made a determined search which came up with nothing, and then Frodoí made a return visit and was divinely guided to the spot where her body was. She was duly moved to the bishop’s cathedral of Santa Creu, with a certain amount of difficulty eventually overcome, and now the cathedral is Santes Creu i Eulàlia.1 So far so conventional, right?

Interior of the cloister of Santes Creu & Eulàlia de Barcelona

Interior of the cloister of Santes Creu & Eulàlia de Barcelona

Now, the earliest manuscript of the translatio is fourteenth-century, and the ninth and tenth centuries are periods that just don’t generate saints’ lives from Catalonia as far as we know, so it is likely that this was written up rather later than the events, but there is some reason to believe at least the chronology of the story.2 Sigebod and Frodoí were contemporaries and a royal precept for Frodoí of 878 mentions the saint’s remains at the cathedral, the first text to do so.3 Frodoí had been bishop of Barcelona since at least 862 but Sigebod archbishop only since 873 so if that detail’s right the window is actually quite tight. The problem is Frodoí, and the translatio is tied into this problem. Now, if you can find anything to read about Bishop Frodoí of Barcelona (attested 862-890), it will probably say three things:

  1. he was a Frank appointed by Charles the Bald;
  2. that he found the body of Saint Eulalie;
  3. and that he oversaw the change of the liturgy in Barcelona from the old Hispanic rite of worship to the Gallo-Roman one favoured by the Franks.

It will, indeed, usually link all these things: he was appointed to deal with the liturgical independence, so needed to be a Frank, and this was so unpopular that we find him poking round Santa Maria de las Arenes looking for some way to increase his standing and show God’s backing for his plans.4

Diner de transició supposedly of Bishop Teodoric of Barcelona (904-922)

Diner de transició supposedly of Bishop Teodoric of Barcelona (904-922), according at least to Martí Hervera S. L. in 5 July 2011, but they have the supposed tomb the wrong way up and didn’t sell it, so what did they know?

The other thing that whatever you’re reading may also say is that Frodoí was responsible for the beginning of independent minting in Barcelona. This also winds up being connected, because the reason that the particular coin type in question is assigned to him is that it may (or may not) show the tomb of Saint Eulalie.5 There at least we have the coins, and we also have a concession to his see of the right from King Louis II (877-879), though many such concessions exist that we can’t show were ever used.6 But for the first three points, and particularly the first and third, evidence is really very hard to find, and without them the basic interpretation of the second, in its fourteenth-century post facto write-up, becomes very shaky indeed. There is one key piece of evidence that is usually dragged into this, the records of a council at Attigny in 874 at which Frodoí and his see were most of the business dealt with, but if you look at it without these preconceptions it’s not at all clear to me that it supports this case, as I’ll show below.7 Instead, all of the suppositions cling to each other for mutual support but lack a solid footing. I started into this post because I’d just re-read the Attigny record and realised this afresh, but if I want you to believe my scepticism I need to tackle points (1) and (3) first, and I might as well also set out my stall about the coinage as I go.

The Palais de Charlemagne at Attigny

Lacking a more relevant image. I searched for the palace of Attigny and it turns out firstly that something survives called that, and secondly it was built in the sixteenth century but looks weirdly like whoever built it knew the Lorsch Torhalle. Doesn’t it? I guess, with no knowledge, that this is a rebuild of a palace gatehouse from before people could remember… “Palais de Charlemagne d’Attigny” by Adri08Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

So, was he Frankish? The only evidence for this that is ever adduced is his name, which is basically unparalleled in Catalonia. “On devine dejà par son nom qu’il était originaire d’une région germanique de l’empire”, wrote Anscarí Mundó without citation in 1971, for example.8 This is a dangerous thing to say from a local context; it may not look like a local name, sure, but that doesn’t tell you where it is from. But these days, we can check this thanks to the Nomen et Gens project. As it happens, they lump the name in under Chrodoin and have no cases of it spelt with an initial F. They have 65 cases of it spelt otherwise, but almost all of them are from Wissembourg, only two not and those two are someone acting as a scribe for a royal charter at the same sort of time, end of the seventh and beginning of the eighth centuries. The Wissembourg occurrences also feature a number of scribal appearances as notarius and so on, and so there is at least a starting possibility that these are in fact all the same guy.9 Even if not, it’s obviously not a common name anywhere as far as we can tell except maybe the modern Saarland two centuries before our bishop comes to notice, and he spells and pronounces it differently. So I’m calling suspicion on that conclusion; we obviously can’t say where Frodoí was from, we can’t even say where his name was from but if we could that wouldn’t prove anything, and while he did have dealings with Charles the Bald and his son Louis the Stammerer, so might any bishop of their kingdom have during the messy civil war of the era, in which Barcelona, famously (at least for old readers here) and unlike more ‘Germanic’ areas closer to the court, stayed loyal to the kings. So while I don’t say that Frodoí wasn’t a Frankish reformer, the evidence is weak apart unless we allow the liturgical change to be part of it.

Then, because I want to do the liturgy last, the coinage. This is pinned to Frodoí by the so-called tomb of Saint Eulalie—but if that’s what that symbol really is it would also work for any bishop of Barcelona after him (like Teodoric above). King Charles the Bald (840-877) had reformed the coinage of the West in 864 and this seems not to have been carried out in Catalonia, suggesting to some that they were already doing their own thing, but that still doesn’t mean that they had to start their own at the reform date; perhaps they just weren’t minting at Barcelona in 864 and when they resumed, perhaps in the 890s, Charles’s specifications were a dead letter.10 So the reasons to suppose they’re Frodoí’s are basically his association with Saint Eulalie, which his successors would have shared, and that assuming that that is what that coin shows, and that otherwise Barcelona would have had no coin in production, which is just horror vacui. Furthermore, if these coins are Frodoí’s, it messes somewhat with point 1, because they show him ignoring royal instructions rather than carrying them out despite opposition, and this from a man who would visit the Carolingian court at least twice more thereafter. So I do think, on balance, that they are more likely to be later.11

Crypt of Santa Eulàlia de Barcelona

A different shot of the crypt, this one chosen because you can just see the supposed original tomb in it, because it is stashed at the back of the crypt, here just visible between the pillars of the Gothic one in which the saint now resides. the crypt is kept locked and this is as good a camera angle as one can get on it, I know having tried. It’s really frustrating. This photo is by vinpet942 on Panoramio and used under their Creative Commons license.

So the translatio and the liturgical change are the crucial diad that anchors the rest of this, and you’ve seen what the evidence for the translatio is: a fourteenth-century copy of a text maybe little earlier (since it regards the cult as well established) which has some details in it that look right but could have come from the 878 charter. It’s not implausible but it’s not a lot and it certainly doesn’t mention liturgical reform. So what’s the evidence for that? Well, all too often it is just that Frodoí was a Frankish royal appointment and therefore must have danced to the conformist tunes of the Carolingian cultural project, but as we’ve seen the evidence for that is non-existent, if those coins are his he seems to have been willing to ignore royal legislation when it suited him and anyway we no longer believe so fervently in uniformity as a goal of the Carolingian project anyway.12 One other thing that has been linked is an apparent rebuild of part of the old cathedral of Barcelona at around this time, but although that could be significant it is also circular: the evidence for dating the works to Frodoí’s rule is that we ‘know’ he was instrumental in changing the liturgy, so we can’t really then use the cathedral works as proof that he did so!13 Is there nothing better? And to this, those who know this area will probably already be saying: of course there is, there’s the synod of Attigny in 874! And indeed there is, so let’s have a look at it. It survives as a capitulary, so it’s already conveniently in sections which can be summarised.14

  1. Bishop Frodoí reports that a Cordoban priest called Tirs has set up shop in a church, within the Barcelona city walls but without episcopal authorisation, and managed to appropriate two parts of the city’s tithe from the congregation he’s attracted; here are a whole bunch of canon law citations and cites from the laws of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious about how this is wrong (which actually comprise two-thirds of the document); since it’s a long way and dangerous to bring these people from the March (even though Frodoí had made it, but moving on), King Charles delegates dealing with this to his marquis in the area.
  2. Frodoí also demands that he should get back the ministry of the castle of Terrassa, which ‘by the insolence of the priest’ (presumably still Tirs) has been acquired by ‘the faction of Baió’; there are several council rulings about why that’s wrong too.
  3. Lastly, Frodoí also reports that a Goth called Madeix has taken over the church of Sant Esteve in Barcelona and turned it over to the ‘conversation of rustics’ and another Goth called Requesèn has grabbed the field of Santa Eulàlia, and both of them claim they have these things by royal precepts; the king thus being implicated, he sends missi to investigate this and they are to send a report to the court; if it turns out that these Goths do in fact hold by royal grant, then those grants are to be sealed and sent back to the king too, and examined according to the law so that he can see how they lied to get them and cancel it.

And that’s it. Now, do you see anything about liturgy in there? I mean, it is clear that Frodoí has problems; large parts of his congregation would rather go and listen to some fly-by-night from the south, who seems to be able to reorganise ecclesiastical property at whim, while Frodoí’s church’s property is being nibbled at by people who seem at least to have royal connections, but, even if I put the full text in here you’d see nothing about liturgy.

Now, it may be that liturgy is implied: it has been correctly observed that a priest from Córdoba at this time would be trained in the Hispanic rite still, and maybe this is why he had such an attraction to Frodoí’s flock, but if so in this lengthy complaint about all the things he was doing wrong, it never comes up; instead, his independent operation in the face of the diocesan bishop’s authority is the be-all and end-all of the ruling, some of which is actually supported from Visigothic councils! The other hidden factor that may be here is that Terrassa had once had a bishopric of its own, at Egara, swallowed into Barcelona by the Frankish reorganisation. This gives some context as to how a priest could set up there, presumably in the late antique complex of Sant Pere, Santa Maria and Sant Miquel de Terrassa below, and defy a bishop; but Tirs was working inside Barcelona, where it seems decently obvious Frodoí had almost no power, so while it’s likely that that’s in there somewhere, it’s not clear how.

What we can safely say from this document, then, is that in 874, very few people in Barcelona were willing to listen to their bishop, and were entertaining alternatives; it may be that that is because he was forcing upon them an unpopular but apparently somewhat delayed change of liturgy, but if so that isn’t what he asks for help with; it may because he was a foreigner, and ‘Goths’ do seem to be part of the problem, but Tirs was presumably hardly less so and you know what I think Goths are here anyway.15

Panoramic view of the three churches of Egara at Terrassa.

Panoramic view of the three churches of Egara at Terrassa. “Egara. Conjunt episcopal” by Oliver-BonjochOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

So, really, you have already to believe that liturgy was an issue for Frodoí’s episcopate before you can see it here. So what is the basis for believing that there was a Carolingian attack on the Hispanic liturgy? Good question, to which the answer is basically that that liturgy goes away. There is no legislation against it as such, and in fact really no texts that mention it other than booklists. Now, from those, you can do something: the late Anscarí Mundó long ago argued, from the manuscripts he knew so well but cited so rarely, that the window of change is 785xc. 1000. He thought it was probably early in that window, by reason of it being unlikely that any imported personnel would know or use the Hispanic liturgy, so that with the steady replacement of local priests by immigrant ones or ones trained by the cathedrals of immigrant bishops, the Hispanic liturgy would be less and less used, and he listed the immigrant bishops and observed a near-total dropout of evidence for the copying of texts of the Hispanic liturgy over the ninth century.16

This all makes sense to me, and it is also roughly how I think charter formulae were changed, but where I differ from Mundó is in how much compulsion I think was involved and how total this replacement was. Booklists of course tend to be in the wills of people who had lots of stuff, and it’s at the lower levels that I think we see more interesting things. For example, do you remember my writing about Bishop Nantigis of Urgell and the non-heretical priest Adeudat, who in 901 had an ordo toletanum, a Toledan priest’s service-book, to give to his church at Guils de Cantó? It’s among a bunch of other service books which would probably have been Latin rite, but nonetheless he passed it on and Bishop Nantigis didn’t stop him doing so.17 This far out, having a priest who was able to carry out the ministry at all was probably more important than exactly which service they used. Probably in most cathedrals or old mother churches there would have been a copy, probably increasingly battered and hard to replace, for the rare occasions when the priests from there officiated at such places. And that’s in the early tenth century, pace Mundó.

Part of a leaf from a Hispanic-rite breviary from fourteenth-century Toledo, Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, MS 10110, fo 2r

Part of a leaf from a Hispanic-rite breviary from fourteenth-century Toledo, Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, MS 10110, fo 2r, borrowed from Ainoa Castro Correa, “Codex of the month (IX): Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, ms 10110″. Littera Visigothica (October 2015), with thanks

So, if in fact there wasn’t an effective Carolingian campaign to stamp out the Hispanic liturgy, but a slow and opportunistic replacement of it instead, where does this leave Bishop Frodoí? Not obviously Frankish; not visibly any kind of reformer; extremely unpopular for a time at least in his episcopal city and with only grudging support from local secular authority; backed to the hilt, nonetheless, by the king whose orders some numismatists would have us believe he ignored; and held later, but not in contemporary evidence, to be the finder of Saint Eulalie’s relics. And that might well still be true, or at least I don’t think there’s any obvious reason to disbelieve it and plenty of signs that needed whatever support he could get; but I think any attempt to bring liturgical reform into the reasons he was disliked is just basically unfounded! And that means that everything that is founded on that belief is also in trouble…

1. The stock reference for all this is Ángel Fabrega Grau, Santa Eulalia de Barcelona: revisión de una problema histórico (Roma 1958), online here, which prints the source text pp. 151-155; the revised date of 877 is suggested in Joan Vilaseca Corbera, “Sant Vicenç i Santa Eulàlia, la cristianització del culte a Apol·lo i la política internacional carolíngia de la segona meitat del segle IX” in idem, Recerques sobre l’Alta Edat Mitjana Catalana (II) (Terrassa 2013), pp. 1-95 at pp. 64-65, and he certainly shows that it can’t easily have been 878. I should also mention that I owe my copy of this work to the generosity of the author; thankyou Joan, it has made me think!

2. Fabrega used Archivo de la Catedral de Barcelona, MSS 104, 105 & 108 which are early-fourteenth to early fifteenth-century in his estimation.

3. That precept printed as Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 2 & 3 (Barcelona 1926-1952), 2 vols, Barcelona: Esglésie Catedral de Santa Creu II.

4. I think this must come from Fabrega, but I first met it in Miquel Crusafont i Sabater, “La moneda barcelonina del segle X. Altres novetats comtals” in Acta Numismàtica Vol. 38 (Barcelona 2008), pp. 91-121 at pp. 94-95, without citation, which is how I’ve usually met it since, as e. g. in J.-F. Cabestany, “El culte de Santa Eulàlia a la Catedral de Barcelona (S. IX-X)” in Lambard: estudis d’art medieval Vol. 9 (Barcelona 1996-1997), pp. 159-165, online here, last modified 8th February 2007 as of 20th June 2009, where the only relevant citation is to Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, Els primers comtes catalans, Biografies catalanes: sèrie històrica 1 (Barcelona 1958, repr. 1980), which doesn’t in fact support the claims.

5. Crusafont, “Moneda barcelonina”, p. 96, again without citation; Miquel Crusafont, Anna M. Balaguer and Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambrdge 2013), p. 73, however says the first publication of the idea is Miquel Crusafont i Sabater, Numismàtica de la Corona Catalano-Aragonesa medieval (785-1516) (Madrid 1982), p. 31; cf. Joaquim Botet y Sisó, Les monedes catalanes (Barcelona 1908-1911), 3 vols, I p. 189, Xavier Sanahuja i Anguera, “La moneda de Barcelona al segle X segons les troballes Epsanya-1 i Espanya-2 (925)” in Acta Numismàtica Vol. 36 (Barcelona 2006), pp. 79-113 at p. 94 and Jonathan Jarrett, “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London: Royal Numismatic Society 2010 for 2009), pp. 217-243 at p. 220, all of which argue that a modification of the Carolingian ‘temple’ reverse type seems more likely.

6. For the concession see n. 3 above; for unused minting concessions in the area see Jarrett, “Currency change”, pp. 224-225.

7. The Attigny record is printed in Abadal, Catalunya Carolíngia 2, ap. VII, among other places.

8. A. M. Mundó, “Les changements liturgiques en Septimanie et en Catalogne pendant la période préromane” in Cahiers de Saint-Michel de Cuxa Vol. 2 (Codalet 1971), pp. 29-42 at p. 38.

9. It doesn’t seem to be possible to link to a search in Nomen et Gens, but it’s easy enough to run; I searched for ‘Frod%’ without quotes. The Wissembourg Chrodoin occurs or Chrodoins occur in Karl Glöckner and Ludwig Anton Doll (edd.), Traditiones Wizenburgenses: die Urkunden des Klosters Weissenburg (661-864) (Darmstadt 1979), doc. nos 36, 45, 46, 169, 186, 194-196, 202, 213, 218, 224-227, 232, 239, 244, 247, 256, 257, 261 & 265 and Theo Kölzer (ed.), Die Urkunden der Merowinger, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Diplomata regum Francorum e stirpe Merovingica) I (Hannover 2001), 2 vols, doc. no. 1. What d’you reckon, Alan?

10. Compare Miquel Crusafont, “Nou tipus carolingi de Barcelona de Carles el Calb: el diner de Barcelona fins a R. Berenguer I” in II Simposi numismatic de Barcelona (Barcelona 1980), pp. 47-55 to Simon Coupland, “The early coinage of Charles the Bald” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 151 (London 1991), pp. 121-158, reprinted in Coupland, Carolingian coinage and the Vikings: studies on power and trade in the 9th century, Variorum Collected Studies 847 (Aldershot 2007), IX, at p. 126; it’s not very often Simon Coupland’s missed a coin, but on this occasion…

11. In this respect I now differ from Jarrett, “Currency Change”, pp. 219-220.

12. See Stuart Airlie, “The Cunning of Institutions” in Jennifer R. Davis & Michael McCormick (edd.), The Long Morning of Medieval Europe: new directions in early medieval studies (Aldershot 2008), pp. 267-271.

13. Cabestany, “El culte de Santa Eulàlia”, tries the logic I argue against here.

14. See n. 7 above.

15. I follow Jesus Lalinde Abadia, “Godos, hispanos y hostolenses en la órbita del rey de los Francos” in Federico Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium internacional sobre els orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), 2 vols, also published as Memorias de le Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991-1992), II pp. 35-74, online here.

16. Mundó, “Changements liturgiques”.

17. Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Les actes de consagracions d’esglesies del bisbat d’Urgell (segles IX-XII)” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis històrics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 1 (Montserrat 1978), pp. 11-182, doc. no. 14.


Parting Shots: two Michaels and a Leo

This gallery contains 6 photos.

For once I don’t feel the need to apologise for the lapse in posting here: moving house (including buying a house), starting a new job, learning my way around a new university and city, attending many many meetings, doing the … Continue reading


Crusaders and money, seen in a different way

This gallery contains 10 photos.

This strategy I have adopted of putting the current content up top and the backlog below is getting somewhat top-heavy, but there is just one more thing to announce, and then I expect actually to start letting some of these … Continue reading

A prophetless coinage

I stubbed this post quite soon after starting at the Barber Institute with no intent more serious than to post a picture of a marvellous coin and enthuse about it. And I hope you can see why!

Gold solidus of Emperor Heraclius and his two sons, struck in Constantinople between 638 and 641, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B2912

Gold solidus of Emperor Heraclius and his two sons, struck in Constantinople between 638 and 641, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B2912

This is, as the caption says, a solidus of Heraclius with his two sons, whom we usually know as Heraclius Constantine and Heraclonas but whose given names were both Constantine, and the former of whom subsequently reigned briefly as Constantine III (641). There is lots to say about this coin type, which was novel in many ways: there is for example no legend identifying the emperors, only a monogram of Heraclius’s name on the reverse to the left of the cross, which will be important in a moment; it is making a strong point because the Church opposed the legitimacy of Heraclonas, who was Heraclius’s son by Empress Martina who was also Heraclius’s niece; and one could go on. But I mainly wanted to post it because they look so much like a poster for a superhero movie; one can almost see the cloaks billowing in the studio wind. (My original title for the post was Emperors Assemble…) I am not the only person who’s put these online, but who cares? But then very recently, while looking up stuff for a different project, I found a web-page discussing an Arabic imitation of this coin type which had a couple of things badly wrong with it, and a bigger point emerged.

Gold dinar struck in Syria between 639 and 705, Barber Institute of Fine Arts A-B30.

Gold dinar struck by an unknown authority in Syria between, well, who knows? 639 and 705 would be probably-safe outside guesses. Barber Institute of Fine Arts A-B30.

You can immediately see both the similarities and differences. The Latin legend is replaced by Arabic, and the Arabic reads, for those who can, ‘bism Allah la ilaha illa Allah wahdahu Muhammad rasul Allah’ [Edit: corrected, it turns out I cannot], ‘In the name of God, there is no god but God, Muhammad is the prophet of God’. The monogram goes, being replaced perhaps by the beginning of the Bism Allah in Latin letters. All crosses are replaced by pellets, so that the three figures now look oddly as if they’re holding walking canes and the cross-on-steps becomes a pole-on-steps. But it’s plainly the same type underneath it, I’m sure you’ll agree.

All of this is something that can be seen on copper coins of similar types which are presumed to come from the same period, normally guessed at between the 670s and 695 or so, in which latter year Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik seems to have begun a reform of the disparate coinages of his realm which would unite them into one system of coins with no pictures, only script, running over Arabia and Persia alike. Before then, however, and in some places also after then, coins like this that echoed, imitated and adapted previous types, both Byzantine and Persian, had been the working currency. Few of those were gold, however, and few of these ones are known; the web article I linked to above says that all the known ones are in the British Museum. Well, one of them is in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts—in fact, it and I have both spent much of the week in the School of Chemistry with an XRF machine, but let that pass—and that is the first mistake I wanted to correct.

The second, though, is that the article suggests, following a Flickr site called Taboo Numismatics to which it links, that the Arab-Byzantine type (as these adaptive coinages are canonically called) actually depicts the Prophet Muhammad. Now, one can see the argument: there is a bearded figure on it and the reverse legend names the Prophet, albeit in terms that might equally just be a profession of faith. Still, the name is there and the picture is there, and the fact that they’re not on the same face is a problem but one that also exists for the Heraclius coin.

There is also the problem that Islam is supposed to abhor images of people, of course, and as we know of recent years to be especially keen that the Prophet not be depicted. This has not always been so, however, and indeed the point of the first site that I linked to is explicitly that, that many medieval images of Muhammad from Islamic contexts are known. There are also coins for which this case would be much stronger, which take a new image of a standing figure in a headdress, carrying a broad sword, and place the legend ‘Muhammad rasul Allah’ around him. The type also exists naming ‘Abd al-Malik, and the ‘Muhammad’ version of it seems only to have been struck in Palestine, but we don’t know how they relate; it’s usual to assume that ‘Abd al-Malik introduced the design and that for some reason Palestine only struck it anonymously, but it seems equally possible to me that Palestine did actually strike a coin showing the Prophet and that ‘Abd al-Malik borrowed the design for his halfway-house pre-reform coinage. The Barber does have some of these coins, but I’m chary of putting images of them on the web right now: you can see one that was sold in 2013 here, and here’s one of the ‘Abd al-Malik ones.

Copper fals of 'Abd al-Malik, Commander of the Faithful, struck at Manbij between 680 and 696, Barber Institute of Fine Arts A-B36

Copper fals of ‘Abd al-Malik, Commander of the Faithful, struck at Manbij between 680 and 696, Barber Institute of Fine Arts A-B36

If there is to be a search for early Islamic coins showing Muhammad, therefore, it’s with the ‘Standing Caliph’ types of Palestine that it must start. The Three Standing Figures gold dinars won’t really work for it. Yes, there is the legend, but there are also many points against. In the first place, the portraiture is so exact a copy of the coins of Heraclius, right down to the barbs of the moustache, that it is clear that one of those coins was before the engraver. They would, indeed, have been fairly frequent among gold coins in the area and so the resemblance would have been noticeable more widely. What message could this be meant to send if that coin were showing Muhammad? That he had somehow been Heraclius? It seems unlikely. But even then, there are three figures: who are the others? The site I started with makes a spirited attempt to explain them as Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, at Heraclius’s right and Aisha, Muhammad’s wife, at his left, but this also won’t really work; that site has the advantage (for these purposes) of a fairly poor image that allows him to maintain that the right-most figure is veiled, but our own won’t easily allow that. It seems very much simpler to say: they’re not supposed to be anyone, but they are supposed to look like what the figures on those gold coins the people of the area knew looked like, with suitable adaptations to point out that something new was in fact going on. There is gold of the Standing Caliph type, too, naming ‘Abd al-Malik, so this presumably didn’t last very long, but in any case. I’m pretty sure that what I’ve just put online is not a picture of Muhammad!

The most accessible study of the Arab-Byzantine coinage is Clive Foss, Arab-Byzantine Coins: an introduction, with a catalogue of he Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Dumbarton Oaks Publications 12 (Washington DC 2008), which does discuss the Muhammad problem. Note that Tony Goodwin, “The Arab-Byzantine coinage of jund Filastin – a potential historical source” in Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies Vol. 28 (Leeds 2004), pp. 1-12, also argues that the Standing Caliph coinage of Palestine is earlier than ‘Abd al-Malik’s. To Tony Goodwin also goes the honour of publishing the Barber’s dinar, along with some others from this part of the collection, as “Some Interesting Arab-Byzantine Coins from the Barber Institute Collection” in Numismatic Circular Vol. 111 no. 4 (London 2003), pp. 196-198. It remains for me and my collaborators to get any more of them out there…


The Empress, her Son, her General and his Heir

This gallery contains 15 photos.

Another day, another upload of Barber Institute coins to the web! This one is only small, 27 coins, and these comprise the coins of the notorious Empress Eirini, with her son Constantine VI (780-797) and then without (797-802), and those … Continue reading

Faith and Fortune is back, in Exeter

Masthead of exhibition Faith and Fortune: visualising the divine in Byzantine and Islamic Coinage, at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, 8 November 2013 to 30 November 2014

Masthead of exhibition Faith and Fortune: visualising the divine in Byzantine and Islamic Coinage, now on show again, at the Street Gallery, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter

If you remember me mentioning Faith and Fortune: visualising the divine on Byzantine and early Islamic coinage, the rather excellent coin exhibition at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts which preceded my current one, and thought it sounded fun but did not in fact manage to go to it, you may be pleased to know that there is now a second chance! By a happy series of coincidences the fine people in charge of the Street Gallery at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter got to hear about it and decided they would like to host it, and so in April we packed the boards up and sent them down with supporting materials and one of the original curators, Dr Rebecca Darley, in tow to give an introductory lecture. It has been open since 25th May (sorry) and will be until 19th December 2015, so there is plenty of time to go and see it still! I present the exhibition information:

Faith and Fortune is the first exhibition in several years that draws exclusively from the in-house collections of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. The principal chronological focus of the exhibition spans the years A.D. 300-750 but includes later 13th-century Turkmen material. The exhibition has been the focus of a presentation at the British Museum and has received positive reviews from specialists in medieval history, the Middle East and numismatics. It focuses on these particular themes and the current scholarly and research interest in Late Antiquity. The over-arching theme of the exhibition concentrates on the use of Late Antique coinage as a platform for the promotion of the respective political and religious ideals of the Byzantine, Umayyad and Sasanian Empires. This focus serves as a springboard for the exhibition to explore divergent attitudes among Byzantine, Sasanian and early Islamic societies regarding the representation of divine figures or religious subjects. The exhibition is curated by Rebecca Darley (4th-7th century Byzantine and imitation coinage) and Daniel Reynolds (7th-8th century Arab-Byzantine and early Islamic coinage) and the expertise of the Coin Collections Assistants Maria Vrij (7th-9th century Byzantine coinage and iconography) and Ali Miynat (Turkmen coinage).

Display of the exhibition Faith and Fortune: visualising the divine on Byzantine and early Islamic Coinage, at the Street Gallery, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter

The display in situ at the Street Gallery

This image was a bit peculiar to receive, because I’ve been there: two of the conferences I’ve been to at Exeter have been held in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies and I clearly remember not being able to afford to buy Richard Hitchcock’s books in that gallery space. Nonetheless, it is a good space for actual displays too! You will observe that there are no display cases, so we were not able to send the actual coins along with the boards; instead they have been replaced with life-size photographic reproductions that get the points across nearly as well. I must also acknowledge the help of Rebecca Darley of the Bilderfahrzeuge Project at the Warburg Institute, University of London, Evelina Kuvykovaite of the University of Warwick and Jane Clark and the team at the Street Gallery for making it all so easy for us collectively to set this up; it was remarkably easy to do, and hopefully worth it for many visitors!


An array of interesting links

I tend to store up interesting links against a day when I have no content to post, but the backlog situation has meant that not only does that never occur any more but that the links themselves get very old. I thought it was about time to clear some out! I had so many that categories seem necessary, even. So let me humbly suggest that you may wish to click to learn more about the following:

    Things from out of the ground

    A Celtic disc brooch looted by Vikings and now in the British Museum

    A Celtic disc brooch looted by Vikings and now in the British Museum, see below

  1. In no particular order, a previously-undiscovered Viking fortress, at Vallø in Denmark, located in mid-2014 by laser imaging and ground-penetrating radar;
  2. I have been known, in my cynical past, to say that the best way to hide an archæological discovery you wish to keep secret is to give it to the British Museum, due to their cataloguing backlog, but I was not wholly serious obviously, whereas this is a bit ridiculous (but has that brooch in it);
  3. further stuff has also been found, as is now de rigeur for all credible archæology in the UK, under a car-park, in Haddenham in Cambridgeshire where they hit what seems to have been a small sixth-century Anglo-Saxon cemetery during development work in February 2014;
  4. some eighth- to -tenth-century bodies found stuffed in a well Entrains-sur-Nohain in Burgundy provoke the writer of that post to several equally hypothetical Carolingian-history explanations
  5. an Iron Age hillfort at Broxmouth in East Lothian, Scotaland (just), has revealed what seems to be evidence of fifth-century BC steel-making;
  6. and there has been an array of hoards discovered that need their own subsection:
    A silver lidded vessel of Carolingian date recovered in a hoard from Dumfries in 2014

    A silver lidded vessel of Carolingian date recovered in a hoard from Dumfries described below

    1. a hoard of Viking silver loot, including what was once a really nice Carolingian lidded ewer or similar, found near Dumfries in south-west Scotland in late 2014;
    2. “one of the largest Roman coin hoards ever discovered in Britain”, 22,000 or so third-century coins found in Devon in November 2013 but only breaking into the news in September last year; I think Georgia Michael told me about this one so hat tip to her;
    3. and although 5,000 coins suddenly seems like not so big a deal, nonetheless, for the Anglo-Saxon period it is; I’m pretty sure this find nearly doubles the amount of King Cnut’s coinage known to exist in the UK, for example, and this one I definitely do owe to Georgia so off that hat comes once again;
    4. Posed photograph of some gold dinars from a hoard found off the coast of Israal

      I would not let someone do this with a gold find even before it had been catalogued, myself, but I am not the Israel Antiquities Authority, in whose care this hoard of Fatimid gold dinars ended up (see left)

    5. and two thousand is hardly trying, but firstly these ones were gold and secondly they were off the coast of Israel, dating to the reigns of the tenth- and eleventh-century Fatimid caliphs Al-Ḥākim and Al-Ẓāhir, and possibly coming from a sunken tax shipment, which I bet has caused a lot more diving since the news came out and which news I owe, once more, to Georgia Michael, who must have got the idea that I like coins or something…

    Things afoot in the research world (including those parts of it that blog)

  7. A new(-ish) project running out of Oxford to map all the various hillforts of the British Isles, presumably including that of Broxmouth above…
  8. … out of which project came the following endeavours from my native land, with lots to read if hillforts are of interest to you;
  9. a thorough and useful set of suggestions about what was wrong with the UK’s Research Excellence Framework exercise, not including its terrible name but with many other good points, from the self-appointed but persuasive Council for the Defence of British Universities (and here I owe a tip of the hat to Professor Naomi Standen);
  10. more light-heartedly, here is a reason for scribal errors that I had never considered, and still rather wish I hadn’t given some of the suggested remedies;
  11. a suggestion from a doctoral researcher at Sheffield that the current male fashion for extreme facial hair has medieval precedents, and plenty of modern ones too (a tip of the hat here to one of the Australian Medievalists);
  12. Things from out of the archive

    Fragments of a mid-seventh-century manuscript of the Qu'ran in the Mingana Collection, Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham

    Fragments of a mid-seventh-century manuscript of the Qu’ran in the Mingana Collection, Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham, see below

  13. Some extra fragments of illustration from the Catalan comital cartulary known as the Liber Feudorum Maior have been rediscovered!
  14. Following our theme of materials for the study of Anglo-Saxon England feared forever lost to scholarship, you may not necessarily be aware that after much deliberation about what to do with it, Professors Stephen Baxter and John Hudson have published the unfinished second volume of Patrick Wormald’s The Making of English Law on the Early English Laws website as Patrick Wormald, Papers Preparatory to the Making of English Law, vol. II, for which many people may be very grateful;
  15. the Vatican Library’s digitisation project has a new website and a much more searchable catalogue, though it does admittedly appear to be broken just now;
  16. and, to end with something at least that is very new and exciting, we have a lot of people coming to the Barber Institute just now because they have not read far enough down this story to realise that the very very early Qu’ran manuscript it describes is not yet on display here, but it is still extremely exciting!