Tag Archives: assemblies

In Marca Hispanica XXXIII: my questions answered

Entrance to the Arxiu i Biblioteca de Vic

The entrance to the Arxiu Capitular i Biblioteca de Vic

Resuming the recounting of my last trip to Catalonia, we left the story at the amazing Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona but finished that day back in Vic, where we had an excellent dinner at la Creperia and then the next day fell to something alarmingly like work. Admittedly, that work started with a visit to the Museu Episcopal de Vic, because you have to, but they don’t like photography and more and more of their collections are online now, even if still not the bits I would like most. But after that, while my companion went a-touristing, I went to an archive like a real historian. This was something of a flying visit, made more effective as ever by the tremendous help of Dr Rafel Ginebra and the great knowledge of Monsignor Miquel dels Sants Gros i Pujol, exemplary archivists if ever such there were. But I had come in with a hit-list of charters intended to answer certain questions, and apart from a very few that were away for conservation, I came out with all the answers I’d wanted. And since some of the relevant questions are ones I’ve raised here, I may as well tell you the answers!

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 547

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 547

For example, I have many times used this document in my work, because it recounts a meeting at Taradell in which two charters were replaced after having been lost, and it does so in terms that sound utterly realistic but actually must derive from a written model.1 (Joan, if you’re reading, this is our testimony for the Vilar de Gaudila…) I’ve written about it so much that it was clear I would at some point need to illustrate it, so this was me making sure I could. But there are two documents deriving from that meeting, and I had always wondered what the relationship between them was. It turns out it’s physical; they’re both written on the same parchment, as you see, and if you click through to a slightly bigger version you’ll see that several of the same witnesses signed both bits autograph. There’s more questions this raises about how the ceremony actually went, but now I have all the evidence there is with which to answer them.

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 649

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 649

Most of what I was doing, however, was hunting scribes. For example, I have become interested in a particular scribe called Joan who wrote charters for Bishop Guisad II of Urgell but only in various areas of Osona, and doesn’t seem to have been linked to the cathedral which actually covered that county, Vic, although it’s there where his documents largely survive.2 Obviously one question that therefore arises is whether all the documents are by the same Joan. Well, there’s one above…3

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 2097

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 2097

… and here’s another and immediately, you see that the simple answer is the correct one; although I did find others by this guy, there is at least one other, the scribe of the above, and one of my new tasks is therefore to go through the list and group the charters according to what I can now see of who is writing them.4 But wait: there is something even more interesting here. Do you remember when I was working through the excellent book of Benoît-Michel Tock about signatures in charters that he had cases where signatures might have been made on and then actually cut off from the formal version of the charter that went into the archive.5 Well, look along that lower margin above there and tell me that isn’t what’s happened here; that mark is the top of someone else’s ruche, isn’t it? We’ll never know whose but it’s educational just to know it could happen.

Arxiu Episcopal de Vic, calaix VIII, núm. 135

Arxiu Episcopal de Vic, calaix VIII, núm. 135

Likewise with scribe-hunting: do you remember me writing about a scribe named Ermemir, based at Santa Eulàlia de Riuprimer, who seemed to have been keeping the charters he wrote in his own church? Here’s one of them.6

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 1302

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 1302

This, on the other hand, is pretty clearly by a different Ermemir, who actually turns up in a small group of his own.7 Now I can separate the two (or, as it may be, more).

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 1300

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 1300

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 1300, verso

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 1300, verso

This is the Riuprimer guy again, but this one has its own interest, because you will observe if you look closely that the actual charter text, the paler ink, sat a few centimetres clear of the left-hand margin. Accordingly, someone very short of parchment later wrote an inventory in the margin (the darker ink). This runs onto the reverse, as well. The edition gives one only the tiniest hint of this; Ordeig just says, “Al marge esquerre i al dors hi ha escrits uns capbreus (s. XI)”.8 I’m sure he’s gone on to edit in its proper place in the eleventh-century series but I don’t have access to that, so can’t answer questions like whether this is the same lands that are being inventoried, and whether this therefore counts as a sort of update, or if this was just random parchment reuse.9 Well, now, in theory I can, if I can only read it. And having a high-resolution photograph makes that a lot easier! Now, one last one.

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 973

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 973

You will probably remember my long long series of posts arguing with Michel Zimmermann, and you may remember that a certain trend in his scholarship emerged as a theme in these posts to the extent that I was very surprised to find him writing towards the end of his massive work about an eleventh-century female scribe, called Alba ‘femina’.10 Unfortunately, I had my doubts about whether that scribe was really writing the charter, because there was clearly another one on the same parchment by a very similar-looking hand. Well, now I have seen the parchment, and the other hand is not in fact the same. You have to look very carefully, they are very similar, but they form their loops differently and, perhaps most clearly, the capital N in their signatures is differently constructed. She may have learnt from him, may even have been working wth him and that be why they wound up writing documents on the same parchment, but I’m now fairly sure she did do her own writing, or at least that he did not do hers. And this is the kind of question you can only answer when you can see the original, or at least get a decent picture of it. So my thanks go again to the Arxiu i Biblioteca de Vic, to Rafel Ginebra and to Miquel dels Sants; I will be back when I have more questions!


1. My writing for now at Jonathan Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis (University of London 2005), online here, pp. 49-53, though actual publication of these thoughts is even now under review. The charters are most recently edited as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 33 & 34.

2. Although as this post makes clear they are not all by the same scribe, if you only have the edition ibid. doc. nos. 668, 670, 674, 675, 837, 840, 849, 863, 896, 899 & 1499 are all contendors for his authorship.

3. Printed as ibid. doc. no. 674.

4. This one printed as ibid. doc. no. 840.

5. B.-M. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle, Atelier de Recherches sur les Textes Médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2006), pp. 392-397.

6. Printed as Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 1792.

7. This one is too late for the Catalunya Carolíngia; it must be printed in Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Diplomatari del Catedral de Vic (segle XI) (Vic 2000-2010), 6 fascicules, but nowhere in Britain has more than the first two volumes of that and I’d have to be in London, Oxford or Cambridge even for those.

8. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, III p. 1292 (doc. no. 1822).

9. Again, this must be edited in Ordeig, Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segle XI), but this one won’t even be in one of the sections that is in the country. I am looking into buying a copy…

10. Michel Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIIe siècles), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, II p. 1250, fig. 4.

Leeds 2014 Report II: the edges of many different empires

Returning to the backlog on reporting what others think about the Middle Ages finds me now at the second day of the International Medieval Congress 2014, on 8th July 2014, and faced with some hard choices between sessions. In the end, I chose this one because I knew one of the people in it, had reviewed the work of another and Wendy Davies was moderating, and this is what I got.

515. On The Fringes of Empire: local and supra-local identities beyond the Carolingian realm, I

    • Frode Iversen, “Impact of Empires: the Scandinavian fringe AD 200-1300”.
    • Letty Ten Harkel, “On the Edge of Empire: early medieval identities on Walcheren (the Netherlands)”.
    • Margarita Fernández Mier, “Peasant Communities and Distant Elites in Early Medieval Asturias”.

As you can see, the unifying thread here was Carolingian periphery, but this didn’t always make it through. Dr Iversen gave a very rapid run-through of significant bits of the settlement history of Norway, and when he began to speak of how urbanisation fitted to a new structure as if he’d described change, I realised I must have missed something. I also struggled with Dr Fernández’s paper, although the sites she was talking about, rural sites whose material culture might tell us something about the links from elite to peasants in early medieval Asturias, were very interesting-looking, but as it turned out known much more from place-names than anything more material. She drew a picture of competing local identities visible in funerary archæology and developing church sites that would be familiar in Anglo-Saxon England, however, and looked worth chasing in more places. Both of these papers had a tendency to argue for connection between sites that seemed to me from their maps to be a good distance from each other, in the former case up to 50 km, however, and I wasn’t sure that either case had been demonstrated.

Aerial view of Middelburg in Walcheren

Middelburg in Walcheren, one of those cases where it could hardly be clearer where the original settlement was and how the church was inside it[Edit: although I am informed by Dr Ten Harkel herself that the church inside the ring is actually the Nieuwekerk, which being twelfth-century is actually the newest of the three at the settlement. The other two were outside the walls, which is in many ways a more ancient way of arranging things…]

Letty Ten Harkel was also arguing for very local identities in her study area, however, and in particular in what has apparently been seen as a chain of associated ringforts along the Netherlands coast that have been blamed placed either in the reign of Emperor Louis the Pious of the Franks (814-840) from texts or the 890s from radio-carbon. The latter is problematic, because by then the area was split between two kingdoms, but Letty argued that there is such variation in size of and finds at these forts that they actually make more sense read as very local lordship centres, erected independently of each other. If there was outside influence, for Letty it was coming from the reviving bishopric of Echternach, not in the era of its Carolingian foundation but in the twelfth century. For me this paper connected most closely to the theme of the session, but only by disputing it!

Nonetheless, my interest was piqued enough to come back for more once caffeinated, as follows.

615. The Fringes of Empire: local and supra-local identities beyond the Carolingian realm, II

    • Alex Langlands, “Empire and Infrastructure: the case of Wessex in the ninth and tenth centuries”.
    • Iñaki Martín Viso, “Local Communities and Kingship South of the Duero, 9th-11th Centuries”.
    • Álvaro Carvahal Castro, “The Astur-Leonese Power and The Localities: changing collective spaces (9th-10th centuries)”.

This session played a lot closer to my usual interests. Dr Langlands was chasing a word, ‘herepath’, literally ‘army-path’ but using a word for army that usually means raiders’ bands, not the army you serve in, and one would think that a path wide enough to carry an army might in fact be a road anyway, so it’s a funny term. Most of the references are in Anglo-Saxon charters, and while Dr Langlands argued convincingly that these paths appear mainly as links between sites rather than routes as such (though now I write that I am no longer seeing the difference) I wasn’t really sure that we could be sure they were anything to do with either roads, bridges or army-service, all of which had come into the argument.

The track of an ancient herepath near Avebury

Wikimedia Commons believes this to be an actual herepath, near Avebury, and who am I to say different? “Herepath Avebury England” by Chris Heaton. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Professor Martín then took us into the almost-unknown territory of the southern Duero valley in the centuries either side of the year 1000. Somewhere in this period, and with setbacks due to the final, red giant phase of Muslim rule in Córdoba, the kings of Asturias-León acquired a dominant control in this area and most of what we have is to figure it out with is archæology. With it, Professor Martín depicted a process by which the king used military service, and his ability to demand it (or possibly to convince local élites to join in with it) to elbow those élites into a position of obligation to him. He tied this to a particular sort of fortress with square towers and sloping walls that seems to be Andalusi workmanship but in a zone that was never under Andalusi control; I myself thought that that was a very unsafe thing to say, but the general proposition could fit round what I think happens in such zones.

The Porta dos Cavaleiros in Viseu

A location of military service in Viseu, one of Dr Martín’s example sites, even if that service would have been a bit later: this is the Porta dos Cavaleiros. “Nt-Viseu-Porta dos Cavaleiros“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Lastly Álvaro, whom in this session I realised I had known while we were both at Oxford but never quite fixed his name in my head, looked for those same local élites a bit closer into the Asturo-Leonese core where we have charters to play with, and found them manifest in assemblies, often as small power groups within likewise small communities, the kind of people who make deals for their communities and so on, who must have existed in these zones before our sources, generated by the making of those kinds of links, show them to us.1

The memorial to the founders of Sant Andreu de Tona on the Turó del Castell de Tona

The memorial to the founders of Sant Andreu de Tona on the Turó del Castell de Tona, one group of ‘local élites’ we can name

I’ve gone into some detail with this because these questions, of why people on the edge of polities decide to join in with them, are meat and drink to me and my frontier interests, and as Charles Insley rightly pointed out in discussion, the crucial questions here are ones of agency: who makes anyone in these situations do stuff? All three speakers offered answers, although Professor Martín’s was mostly a judicious refusal to guess where there was no evidence. Only Álvaro seemed to me to have a clear eye on what sort of people these local élites actually were, however, a problem we’ve discussed before, and I offered the answer I even then had in press and alas still do, to wit that we can at least see them in church consecrations, leading their communities.2 Alas, this is a category of evidence that only exists in Catalonia, so Professor Martín remained obdurate, only suggesting that the fueros of the twelfth century indeed suggest some continuities that we can’t, all the same, prove. He’s right, of course!

Anyway, that was all fun and put me back on some Castilian radars I think, but there wasn’t much time to capitalise on it as there was another lunchtime keynote lecture, and again personal and institutional loyalties drove me to attend, as well as the expectation that it would be very interesting, as indeed it was, which I tried not to spoil by noises of eating my packed lunch again. (I’m glad they dropped this arrangement this year.)

699. Keynote Lecture 2014

    • Naomi Standen, “A Forgotten Eurasian Empire: the Liao dynasty, 907-1125”.
The Fugong Temple Pagoda, built in 1056 by Emperor Daozong of Liao

The Fugong Temple Pagoda, built in 1056 by Emperor Daozong of Liao. By Gisling (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

      Naomi introduced what was for many people an unfamiliar area by setting up the familiar dichotomy of civilisation versus nomads, a way of classifying society probably familiar to most people in the West from

the work of Ibn Khaldūn

      but very common in Chinese sources too, especially when the Mongols are at issue. On one side, bureaucracy, tax, education, cities, a professional class and so on, on the other personal hierarchy, tribute and plunder, and a life for which warriors trained in the saddle, you know the deal. Naomi then pitched her subject area of the moment,

the Liao Empire

      , as a third way that breaks this dichotomy, using archæology wherever possible to vie with the impression of the Liao given by Chinese writers who were determined to put them, and their cities too, in the nomads box. But they didn’t fit either, Naomi argued: they had a structured élite but it was maintained by family succession, they had a trade network which we can see in ceramics finds along routeways but no sign that the state tapped it, the empire was stable and not expansionist and held to long treaties with inner China, the citizens were called nomads but lived in cities, and people in the empire invested hugely in religious patronage. It also comprised more than two hundred ‘peoples’ as the Chinese geographers counted it but made no legal distinction between them. It had not borrowed all this from central China or been civilised by contact, or so Naomi claimed; it was a different sort of empire. I’m sure that some might contend with this or find it idealistic but the thought experiment of substituting a trinary for one of the binaries with which

Western historiography is famously dogged

      is probably worthwhile even so, and the detail is meanwhile still coming together as the pottery series and the architectural history of the zone get worked out by

Naomi’s super project

    , so we will either way know more before long.

Thus refreshed both physically and mentally, I headed some of the way back west.

719. Were the Umayyad Caliphates Empires? I

    • Andrew Marsham, “In What Respects Was the Umayyad Empire an Empire?”
    • Harry Munt, “The Umayyad Imperial Rationale and Hijazi Cities”.
    • Hannah-Lena Hagemann, “Rulers and Rebels: Kharijite Islamic resistance to Umayyad authority in early Islamic historiography”.

This was an interesting and tightly-focused session, even if again about the category of ’empire’ as much as the actual materials of the presenter’s study. Dr Marsham invoked the work of Michael Mann (which I should know better3) and used its categories to argue that the early Islamic caliphate, with its emphasis on dynastic succession, its religious qualities attached to state office, its structured hierarchy of that office and its tax system, was as much an empire as the late Roman one it replaced, which given the inheritance perhaps shouldn’t be surprising but still often is. The other two papers focused on opposition to the Umayyad Caliphs, but from two different sources, in the case of Dr Munt from the cities in the Hijaz area of modern Saudi Arabia and most notably Medina, whose ruling class never aimed at separation from the state but frequently rebelled to achieve better inclusion in it. In the case of Dr Hagemann, however, the rebellion came from the Kharijites, a sect of early Islam who declared, according largely to their opponents, that there were no legitimate successors to the Prophet and therefore rejected all attempts at command in his name; she pointed out that even some of those enemies still used them, in pleasingly Roman style, as a foil for criticism of the Umayyad régime where those writers felt it had gone so far wrong as almost to justify the reaction of the supposed ‘heretics’. It all gelled very nicely and in discussion I witnessed, for the only time I can remember, someone successfully defend their point against a question about the economy from Hugh Kennedy, no small achievement.

This was all grand, therefore, but I sorely needed caffeine by now, and hunting in the bookfair, always dangerous, found myself deep in conversation with Julio Escalona about the need to get Castilian and Catalan scholars around the same table. Thus it was that I was late for the next session, nothing to do with books honest…

812. Empire and the Law

    • Vicky Melechson, “From Piety to the Death Penalty: new capital crimes in the Carolingian Empire”.
    • Graham Barrett, “Legislation and its Afterlife in Early Medieval Europe”.
    • Sharon Fischlowitz, “Laws of an Empire: after the Romans, what were the leges barbarorum?”

So I was late for the start of Ms Melechson’s paper but caught her point quickly, it being that while the Romans really only imposed the death penalty for crimes against the emperor, and the various barbarian laws attempted to divert people from vengeance for murder to compensation payments, nonetheless the influence of the Old Testament in the way the Carolingian kings presented themselves made capital punishment an appropriately Biblical step for increasingly many things. There are arguments one could have with several parts of that but the basic argument seemed well-founded. I got rather less out of Dr Fischlowitz’s paper, which was given largely from the perspective of teaching modern law using the ‘barbarian’ laws as examples. It sounded as if she was having great fun doing it but the paper nonetheless really only told us what she found the most striking bits of late Roman and Frankish law.

Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS Latin 4404, fo. 2v

The opening of the text of a manuscript of the Breviary of Alaric, one of the earliest ‘barbarian’ collections of Roman law (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS Latin 4404, fo. 2v)

But it was all worthwhile for Graham’s paper, which was him absolutely on form: he was arguing that although we know and read late Roman and early medieval law as codes, big books of more or less organised and collected legislation, it could almost never have been used like that, especially not the huge late Roman codices. It was also hardly ever issued like that: the late Roman codes explicitly compile decisions, largely reactive rather than proactive, fragmented and disparate, from centuries apart by many different emperors, the Visigothic Law does some of the same work and citations like this also appear in the Salic and Burgundian laws. What this means is that capitulary legislation like that of the Carolingians would actually have been the primary form of law, and the codes we think of as definitive only its secondary collection, which could have very little to do with law as it would have been used, as dockets and loose gatherings of relevant edicts, rescripts and proclamations. This was one of those papers that seemed to make everything very obvious which before had not been, and I hope as with almost all of Graham’s work that we get to see it in print before very long. It provoked a lot of discussion, also, with Paul Hyams wisely pointing out that law that got written relates only to the problems that couldn’t be solved more locally, and is therefore always outstanding. There was also some discussion about law that gets made as part of a treaty process, to which Dr Fischlowitz offered the Lex Romana Burgundionum, intended to regulate the relations of the Romans of what is now Burgundy to the newly-arrived military group after whom it got named, and I proffered the Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum, after which, probably wisely, the moderator drew the session quickly to a close.

Again I can’t remember how the evening went, but the day had been pretty full and this post is certainly full enough, so I shall leave it here for now and pick up after a couple of smaller posts that don’t take me days to write. I’m sure you’re already looking forward to it…


1. On such groups see now Robert Portass, “Rethinking the ‘small worlds’ of tenth-century Galicia” in Studia Historica: Historia Medieval Vol. 31 (Salamanca 2013), pp. 83-103, online here.

2. Few better statements of this line of thought are available for Spain than Álvaro’s own “Superar la frontera: mecanismos de integración territorial entre el Cea y el Pisuerga en el siglo X” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 42 (Madrid 2012), pp. 601-628, DOI: 10.3989/aem.2012.42.2.08, but I hope soon to be adding to it in “Engaging Élites: Counts, Capital and Frontier Communities in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries, in Catalonia and Elsewhere” in Networks and Neighbours Vol. 2 (Leeds forthcoming for 2014), pp. 202-230, preprint online here.

3. Presumably most obviously M. Mann, The Sources of Social Power Volume 1: a History of Power from the Beginning to AD 1760 (Cambridge 1986)? I wonder if this will supply something I found myself in want of in a dissertation supervision a few weeks ago, too, a cite for the conceptual differentiation of ‘intensive’ and ‘extensive’ lordship. If anyone reading happens to have one handy, however, I’d be glad of it!

‘We saw with our eyes and heard with our ears…’

I’m sorry for the unintended hiatus here over the last few days. It turns out that a week in which you start teaching a new hitherto-unfamiliar primary text in two volumes and initiate work on two separate projects outside your main job as well as going to three seminars and a football match (but a football match with medievalists, I should insist) just isn’t very compatible with blogging. Who knew? You will, of course, hear about not just the projects but also the primary text and what I read round it at least a little bit, but the post I have been meaning to finish, and now do, is one more about the gift that keeps on giving, Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil.1

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

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

The last one of these posts, you may recall, involved the process for replacing lost documents under Visigothic law, reparatio scripturae, as applied in Catalonia. As I said then, the documents that record such events involve quite detailed reprises of documents sometimes from many years before, and this has led to scepticism that such details could in fact have been genuinely present in the old documents, rather than recovered from the contemporary situation and artifically gilded with the antiquity of presumed memory.2 But as with other such questions, while he doesn’t obviously know that it’s being asked, Salrach has an answer to this, at least potentially. Picking up on the Cuixà hearing I quoted last time and the way its witnesses say that they had read and re-read the missing documents when they existed (quite recently), he argues that probably anyone who had charters got them read out to audiences every now and then so that they would be remembered.3

The volumes of Calaixs 6 & 9 of the Arxiu Episcopal de Vic

I don’t have a picture of the actual document so that you can read it, alas, but it is physically within one of these volumes

Now this obviously makes sense in some ways: it would explain the level of recall that Bowman finds implausible, and certainly this is not the only place where witnesses say such a thing, though the usual phrase is less literate, “we saw with our eyes and heard with our ears”. And there is, as you may just recall, one case where this process is actually documented, at the cathedral of Vic in the year 898. There, one Boso himself took an oath as to the content of several charters he’d lost involving land sold him by two couples, Ermoarí and Farelda and Domènec and Guisilda, and then got five witnesses to testify under oath that they had seen this done. And so they duly say:

“We the above-written witnesses know, and well recall in truth, and saw with our eyes and our ears heard, or we were also present at that hour while those two people, by name the late Domènec and his wife Guisilda and Ermoarí and his wife Farelda, were in the county of Osona, in the term of Taradell, in the hamlet of Gaudilà. And thus made the late Domènec a little charter or sale to the man by the name of Boso, of all his heredity which he had in the county of Osona within the limits of the castle of Taradell or in the hamlet of Gaudilà, and Ermoarí with his wife Farelda sold all their lands or a house, all their heredity in Gaudilà’s hamlet to that same Boso. And we witnesses saw the selfsame documents confirmed and impressed with the sign of the man by the name of Domènec and his wife…”

… and it goes on into what I tend to call non-exclusion clauses, in which every sort of property that the estates concerned might have included is named so that nothing can be claimed as omitted.4 But what’s interesting here is where it goes next, which is to what happened to the documents:

“And we witnesses were signatories making marks in the little charter of Ermoarí, and there was recorded there the notary Joan the priest. We witnesses saw the selfsame documents confirmed and corroborated and impressed with the sign of the sellers, Domènec and his wife and of Ermoarí and his wife, and of the audience and of the chancellor just as is inserted above. And we saw the selfsame documents handed over into the power of that same Boso and I the already-said Domènec and his wife and Ermoarí and his wife handed them over of their own spontaneous will into the power of the selfsame Boso. And we witnesses saw and heard the selfsame documents read and re-read one and another and a third time in the hamlet of Gaudilà. And that same Boso had the selfsame lost documents, and it was evident.”

What Salrach of course picks up on is the reference to a repeated reading. Again this makes perfect sense as a way that things could have been done, and as I’ve said elsewhere it’s a real pity that we can’t trust it…5 The reason that we can’t is the notary and the chancellor; these are the only documents in the whole of Carolingian Catalonia as far as I know, and certainly in this county, that mention such officers. Obviously the documents had a scribe, but neither of these is likely to be a title they used. That means that the scribe of these documents, a priest by the name of Ademir, had another model in use from somewhere, and that no procedural detail included in these documents can be proven to come from life rather than the model. And this is the only text we have that mentions this re-reading on site…

Cathedral of Sant Pere de vic seen from the Riu Gurri

The cathedral of Sant Pere de Vic, from the Riu Gurri, where with a rather different and presumably smaller building on site this all took place. By Enfo (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Of course this doesn’t take away Salrach’s point. If the recall (which sometimes goes well beyond the likely: we have the name of one of the Muslim governors operating in Catalonia before the Muslim conquest from one of the Cuixà document replacements, whose forty-year-old original had apparently recorded a century of tenure history!6) is to be accepted, it needs explaining; here is a perfectly good explanation, even if it probably isn’t what actually happened here. So when would this hypothetical reading have taken place? There is a contention made by people who work on monastic cartularies that these, functioning as memorials of donors, would have been read out on solemn occasions in the monastery, such as particular feast days, and the same could just about be true of secular churches, if they picked a day when a good crowd would be there.7 But should we imagine similar opportunities being taken in the lay world? There would be no fixed points of the calendar outwith the liturgy for the lay population, so the occasion would have to be generated, either by the agricultural year or by one-off events, which it seems odd to picture being co-opted for this purpose. Everyone’s here for the wedding or whatever, let’s quickly get the charters out and run through ’em? And who could run through formulaic Latin documents for such an audience anyway? There is, most likely, an evidentially silent practice of public land-speaking here that these procedures imply, but do not prove. The case is not made by Salrach, but it seems to me that the combination of these various cases does make it stronger. I would have liked more from him on this!


1. J. M. Salrach, Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil, Referències 55 (Vic 2013).

2. Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: property, proof and dispute in Catalonia around the year 1000 (Ithaca 2004), pp. 151-161.

3. Salrach, Justícia i poder, p. 195, referring to Pierre Ponsich (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia VI: els comtats de Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir i Fenollet, rev. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LXX (Barcelona 2006), 2 vols, doc. no. 121.

4. The two documents from the hearing are edited as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 33 & 34, the latter here quoted in my translation. The cataloguic property listings are discussed by Michel Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, I pp. 208-217.

5. J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis (University of London 2005), online here, pp. 49-53.

6. Salrach, Justícia i poder, 195, without further reference, but the document is Ponsich, Catalunya Carolíngia VI, doc. no. 120, with the actual content here referred to printed as its own entry as no. 23.

7. Patrick Geary, “Entre gestion et gesta” in Olivier Guyotjeannin, Laurent Morelle & Michel Parisse (edd.), Les Cartulaires : Actes de la Table Ronde organisée par l’École Nationale des Chartes et le G. D. R. 121 du C. N. R. S. (Paris, 5-7 décembre 1991), Mémoires et Documents de l’École des Chartes 39 (Paris 1993), pp. 13-26; see also Geary, “Land, Language and Memory in Europe 700-1100” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 9 (Cambridge 1999), pp. 169-184.

Another Prince of Cooks!

This post reaches a long way back, and not just because I stubbed it to write up in July 2012. Some of you may remember when I posted my so-far-last From the Sources post in August 2011 that the relevant charter contained, as well as all kinds of interesting details about managing frontier settlement, a signature by a figure identified as a ‘prince of cooks’, “princeps coquorum”, whose name was apparently Guallus.1 Another editor, working with a copy of the document that spells the name “Guadallus princeps cocorum”, presumably defective, prefers to read “princeps cotorum”, which he sees as a version of “princeps gotorum”, ‘prince of the Goths’, but I think it is safe to say that our conclusion was that this is special pleading.2 Although it dealt with territory, as it put it, “in the extreme far limits of the marches”, the transaction is said to have been done in Barcelona, and two counts and two bishops were there, presumably therefore at the palace, so a head cook somehow getting in on the witness list didn’t seem an impossible thing to happen just the once.3 Except now I know it happened twice.

Centro solar de Odeillo Font-Romeu-Odeillo-Via 7270790

Centro solar de OdeilloMinube.com. So, at any rate, says the site I borrowed this picture from, which is that of a slightly different means of contact with the heavens than the church that was here in my period, the Solar Research Centre of Odeillo… This is the location of the property concerned in today’s key charter, apparently.4

In July 2012 as part of the final work for my “Comparing the Earliest Documentary Culture in Catalonia”, I went very quickly through the earliest documents in the edition of the charters of the monastery of Sant Sadurní de Tavèrnoles, which as it happens is where the charter mentioned above is from.5 And, what do you know, in a donation there in the year 815 by Count Fredol of Toulouse of a church he’d built in honour of SS Cristòfor & Hilari de Segremorta, among the again quite grand witnesses there with the count at Llívia, is a “Rainallus princeps coquorum”.6

One big problem with piecing together connections here is that both of these documents are known to use only from a cartulary of the thirteenth century. Not only does this mean that we don’t have the originals, but it also means that the copyist of one document had probably also seen the other. If the title was in one and a similar title was in the other (though what?) it could have got amended, or indeed (a point in limited favour of Udina’s ‘prince of the Goths’) if the scribe had trouble with Visigothic script he may have amended to this in both cases from something else, and a c-t confusion is very possible in that case. But there’s also problems with contamination from other sources. One that surprised me when I started web-searching just now is that such a person is supposed, in the Book of Jeremiah yet already, to have destroyed Jerusalem in the service of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and Gregory the Great spent quite a while explaining how this was about fleshly desire overwhelming the holy and so on, a pity given that the current view seems to be that the texts of the Bible that have “princeps militiae” here are probably the better ones and that a mistranslation through the Greek seems to be behind the variation.7 Now an Urgell scribe of either 815 or 973 could easily have read either Jeremiah or Gregory’s Moralia, and in fact the latter is probably more likely given the evidence we have from library catalogues, but it’s still not really a positive association, is it?8 Not the kind of person you would want endorsing your pious donation. So I’m not inclined to buy this however obvious it looks in terms of source.

Picture of interior designer and cookery book writer Valentina Cirasola wearing a hat marked "dux coquorum", roughly "head cook", borrowed from her website

Dukes aren’t what they used to be… and whoever is selling these hats is not doing so online. Where else do they think they’ll find really geeky cooks?

You may remember last time, though, that I did know of one other case of this phrase where a head cook was actually meant. Now actually there are loads, once you start digging, although they are almost all Roman or eleventh-century, but there is one in particular, to a chap called Gunzo who was given this title by the poet Ermold the Black while he was singing the praises of King Louis the Pious of Aquitaine (781-814), by then Holy Roman Emperor (814-840) but here appearing much more as the conqueror of Barcelona (801) and hero of other Catalan-side endeavours.9 I couldn’t see how that made sense as a possible source for a charter of 973, but it’s much less of a leap to wonder about an association to one of 815…

So, what would be needed to make this work? To start with, we have to make a fairly basic assumption: Louis did have a cook called Gunzo and this title was used of him. If we can accept that, the following things become possible:

  1. Count Fredol of Toulouse and Bishop Possedoni of Urgell, both involved in the 815 charter and both people who had attended Louis’s court—the grant is made for the benefit of Louis’s soul and he is spoken of in terms brimming with expressed devotion—would probably have known of and perhaps even been fed by Gunzo;
  2. Fredol, in setting up his own court in Cerdanya (because the charter describes him as ‘in session at my city of Llívia’, “sedente me in civitate mea Livia”), might have wished to imitate this regal affectation and thus entitled his own chief cook, Rainall;10
  3. Rainall got to witness this donation, which was maybe even done over dinner with Bishop Possedoni one evening;
  4. a hundred and fifty-eight years later, Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona, Girona, Osona and Urgell made a big grant to the same monastery, and he did so again at a meeting (or perhaps dinner) with two of his bishops (including Guisad II, Possedoni’s many-times-successor at Urgell, as it happens) and a cook, Guadall, was also present and got to witness;
  5. a scribe at Sant Sadurní de Tavèrnoles, needing to write up quite the largest grant they’d had from a count for a while, then went back through the other big grants they had and found the 815 charter, and, thinking this a grand thing to repeat, stuck this title on Guadall, who otherwise might have been recorded by name only,
  6. and thus we have our charter.

One tiny problem with this is how the second scribe would know Guadall was a cook, of course, and that gets easier to solve if the dinner or meeting was actually at Urgell, not Barcelona, so that the scribe might more easily have actually been present, and for what it’s worth the extremely unusual specification of location is only in the dodgy copy of the 973 charter, not Tavèrnoles’s own.11 But since the Bishop of Urgell was involved, I don’t really see any problem with that knowledge passing from Barcelona to Tavèrnoles along with whatever notes sourced the charter if the grant was in fact done in the lowlands. The very fact that the charter was at Tavèrnoles shows information went from palace to monastery, after all. As with so many of these thorny and not very significant problems, although there are lots of hypothetical steps in this solution I’m not sure any other is more elegant. And this one, if it could be accepted, would colour in a little bit of the otherwise very blank picture about how business was actually done between the powerful and influential in this period. If that was, in fact, sometimes over a meal, with servants in attendance but also trusted enough sometimes to help with things, I’m not unhappy about that at all.


1. Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Diplomatari del monestir de Tavèrnoles (segles IX-XIII)” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis històrics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 12 (Montserrat 1995), pp. 7-414, doc. no. 23.

2. Federico Udina i Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Madrid 1951), no. 174*.

3. Ibid.: “… in extremis ultimas finium marchas….” & “Facta huius donacionis in Barchinona civitate”.

4. I have this snippet of information from a desperate websearch to try and find the modern version of the place-name used in the charter cited at n. 6 below, which brought me against José María Gilera, “Junto a un monasterio del siglo IX se edifica un centro de investigación solar” in La Vanguardía Española, 7th August 1966, p. 30, which also records, on the basis of a paper by Miguel Oliva Prat that must be in the volume II Curso Internacional de Cultura romànica, del 10 al 30 de julio 1966, Puigcerdà: Memoria (Barcelona 1966), which I can’t get here, that the initial layout planning revealed some Romanesque stonework, a few metres of wall and some opus spicatum, that were considered too ephemeral to preserve, and so presumably got dug up and chucked away along with anything else that might have been there. Argh!

5. See n. 1 above. My work referred to here is J. Jarrett, “Comparing the Earliest Documentary Culture in Carolingian Catalonia” in Jarrett & A. Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout 2013), pp. 89-126, DOI:10.1484/M.IMR-EB.1.101679.

6. Baraut, “Tavèrnoles”, doc. no. 4, though since I don’t have access to that in Birmingham I’m here using Jaime Villanueva, Viage Literario a las Iglesias de España, tomo X: Viage a Urgel (Valencia 1821), ap. V.

7. So apparently Massimo Manca, “Nabuzardan princeps coquorum: Una lezione vulgata oltre la Vulgata” in Quaderni del Dipartimento di Filologia Linguistica e Tradizione Classica (Torino) Vol. 13 (Torino 1999), pp. 491-498, though I’m not sure I’ve understood what little Google will give me of that correctly.

8. I am, admittedly, getting this through a web version of the Patrologia Latina text of the Sententiae of Taion of Saragossa (where IV.23) rather than Gregory’s actual work, but since that’s almost certainly the version anyone in Catalonia would have read, maybe that’s OK! On the access to this text in the area see Michel Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, II pp. 739-747. Annoying for what I argue here, by 1040 at least Tavèrnoles did have a copy of this (ibid. pp. 746, 747) but I still don’t think it’s the source here because why on earth would you do that?

9. Ermold the Black, In honorem Hludowici, ed. Ernst Dümmler in idem (ed.), Poetae latini ævi carolini II, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Poetae) IV, p. 71; there is now a translation of this poem in Thomas F. X. Noble (trans.), Charlemagne and Louis the Pious: Lives by Einhard, Notker, Ermoldus, Thegan, and the Astronomer (Philadelphia 2009).

10. The Counts of Toulouse do seem to have treated at least some of their transpyrenean domains as quasi-independent princedoms, but Fredol is beyond that area here. On that, though, see Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, Dels Vigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicoó, Estudis i Documents XIII & XIV (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), 2 vols. I pp. 241-260.

11. See nn. 2 & 3 above.

Seminar XCV: control of assembly spaces in Anglo-Saxon England

Because Easter was so late this year, everyone’s term more or less started at the same time with a crunch, school and all the universities together. This also meant that I had only a fortnight of university term before being able, just about, to light out for Kalamazoo, and in that fortnight both the Oxford Medieval Seminar and the Earlier Middle Ages seminar at the Institute of Historical Research had a skip week for various reasons. Two days before I flew the Atlantic, however, Andrew Reynolds of UCL’s Institute of Archaeology came to address the Oxford one on the subject of “Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Anglo-Saxon Assembly Sites”, which was coming out of the big ‘Landscapes of Governance’ project he and various others are currently engaged in.

Landscapes of Governance project mastheadLandscapes of Governance project masthead

On this occasion, the subject was mainly hundreds. For those not deeply embedded in English history, the hundred was until the nineteenth century or so a subdivision of the county or shire into which England is apportioned. It used to have a court and so on and various civic responsibilities devolved to it until quite late, which means that we have decent maps of where the final ones were and so on. There are two things generally accepted about hundreds: the first is that the laws of the English kings don’t really start to talk about them until the early- to mid-tenth century, which fits well into a narrative we have about the increasing organisation of government by the kings in that period leading to James Campbell’s maximum state and so on, and the second is that the sites on which these hundreds are centred often appear to be very old, in terms of their names, position on boundaries and very occasionally their archaeology (though that last is known mainly where the sites are at older burial mounds).1 The hundred meeting sites are mainly in the countryside, not in towns, and those that are urban may well predate the towns in question, which they generally stand outside anyway. So, it will not take a genius brain to spot that these two things conflict: are hundreds ancient and popular or are they late and organised by the state? This was roughly what Andrew’s team, using archaeology, place-names, mapping, topography, local history and really anything they can get up to and including sonography, had been working towards here, looking at both the sites and their districts and trying to get everything in play at once.2

Burial grounds of the Bronze Age to Anglo-Saxon periods at Saltwood, Kent

Burial grounds of the Bronze Age to Anglo-Saxon periods at Saltwood, Kent

Now, of course when you map lots of different things together you get correlations, whether you like them or not, and the problem is knowing what’s real and what’s just coincidence.3 Sometimes the associations are really dense and probably genuine: the classic case that Andrew gave, and which I’ve seen him use before, is a place called Saltwood which was in the way of the recently-built Channel Tunnel Rail Link and about which we therefore have some idea. Here, there were four early cemeteries, of which three were centred on mounds, and each of which spanned a full social range in terms of gender and wealth, suggesting that they served distinct communities. The wood between them all however became the centre of a hundred here, and between the cemetery evidence and the governance evidence we can show, from cooking pits dug into the cemetery areas, that people were meeting here occasionally throughout the period of the seventh to the twelfth centuries, that is, from shortly after the cemeteries cease in use till well out of the Anglo-Saxon period. It’s difficult to avoid the idea that a hundred coalesced here around an ancient assembly site that arose at a point of confluence between four neighbouring communities.

It would be nice if this could be generalised out from, but predictably there is huge variation. Patterns do emerge but they are of low-end significance and there is obviously no one-site-fits-all solution. About 10% of hundred sites (which had never before been mapped for all England! but were here being counted from four target territories only) are at mounds, but very few of these mounds appear to have been ancient burial sites—11 of the 12 dug as of 1986 were been empty. 9% seem to have been at famously ancient trees, 7·5% at river crossings, but it’s not much. Andrew noted that very few of their place-names speak of kings or reeves or courts but many speak of the people, of ceorls or folc.

Troston Mount, near Honington, Suffolk

Troston Mount, near Honington, Suffolk, which is supposed to be a Bronze Age burial mound and came to be the meeting site for Bradmere hundred, or so says Megalithic.co.uk whence I borrowed the image

In discussion the questions that came up trying to refine this were, well, mine were about burial, which as you know I keep seeing associated with power in my area, and there there is a correlation of sorts, though again far from universal. Chris Wickham and Mark Whittow both also asked questions about durability, and whether any of these sites might be only attempts or short-lived, to which Andrew wisely observed that we can’t tell in most cases, but it seems to me that the ones we can find, we can find because they existed long enough (as something) to become well-known. I also thought that the way the two historiographies can be reconciled is to see the kings trying to take over control of and impose new rôles on an older system of gathering and local arbitration or celebration, but that doesn’t explain where the sites and the practices came from in the first place. Avoiding Volk aus der Maschine answers like ‘Germanic tradition’, we still have a picture of non-urban social complexity, of chieftains versus states, and of what Andrew called dispersed complexity here, and although it’s very far from uniform as I say, it does seem to me as if top-down system creation might explain nearly as much as spontaneous coagulation in some of these cases.


1. I believe it to be be true that the first datable mention of hundreds in an Anglo-Saxon law-code is in what’s cited as III Edmund, of 939, but there’s an undated thing called the Hundred Ordinance which appears to share text with that law, though which way round the borrowing was is another question. Both are translated in Agnes Jane Robertson (trans.), The Laws of the Kings of England from Edmund to Henry I (Cambridge 1925; repr. 2009). For the `maximum state’ argument see James Campbell, “The Late Anglo-Saxon State: a maximum view” in Proceedings of the British Academy Vol. 87 (London 1994), pp. 39-65, repr. in his The Anglo-Saxon State (London 2000), pp. 1-30. Literature actually on the hundred system is harder to find, largely because talking about means coping with an incredible amount of local history publication in out-of-the-way places; I still find Helen Cam, “Manerium cum Hundredo: the hundred and the hundred manor” in English Historical Review Vol. 47 (London 1932), pp. 353-76, repr. in eadem, Liberties & Communities in Medieval England (Cambridge 1944; repr. London 1963), pp. 64-90, a good thing to start with but there must, surely, be something newer, and in an ideal world it’d be by Chris Lewis. Regesta Imperii shows nothing obviously synthetic, however, though I note with pleasure that the article on “Hundreds” in Michael Lapidge, John Blair, Simon Keynes and David Scragg (edd.), The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford 1999), pp. 243-244, is by Sean Miller.

2. And by sonography we mean, basically, one of the team standing on the relevant sites and shouting to see how well he could be heard, something for which Andrew told us this person had nearly been arrested several times by now.

3. My cite of reference for this is, as ever, Mary Chester-Kadwell, Early Anglo-Saxon Communities in the Landscape of Norfolk: Cemeteries and Metal-Detector Finds in Context, British Archaeological Reports (British Series) 481 (Oxford 2009).

Seminary XLVII: building Kent out of hundreds

Running behind with this as with much else, it would seem: on 29th April the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research renewed for this term with a paper by Andrew Reynolds, of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, entitled, “Assembly Sites and the Emergence of Supra-local Communities in Early Kent”, and I was there. I know of Dr Reynolds mainly as a convenor of the Institute of Archaeology’s own seminars, to which I wish I could make it more often, but his own work is also really interesting and he has a new book out entitled Anglo-Saxon Deviant Burial Customs which looks to be full of interesting stuff especially if you’ve shared my own passing interest in that sort of thing. Here, however, he was trying to look at how the kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England might have come to be, by looking for local unities in the archæological record (defined broadly and including place-names, field names and so on) and trying to distinguish differences and development.

Gold, silver and garnet composite disc brooch, probably early seventh century, found in grave at Saltwood, Kent

Gold, silver and garnet composite disc brooch, probably early seventh century, found in grave at Saltwood, Kent

In particular, he was trying to look for assembly sites, not so much the big royal ones but the steps down from there, and most especially the old English territorial units known as hundred. These are well-recorded in Domesday Book, but of course that leaves one wondering how much older than Domesday Book they are. In fact, very few even of those that can be located have been dug, but the recent building of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link through Kent has laid bare a completely arbitrary trench of archæological potential through one of the key areas for the development of royalty in England, whereas we normally get to investigate only dispersed sites known to be of interest for some reason. Of course, that trench might have passed through nothing of moment, but in fact, and in particular, at a place called Saltwood it went through a complex of cemeteries, which Dr Reynolds believed represented four different communities, three of whom were burying with various levels of deliberate layout around Late Bronze Age barrows and one who apparently got there too late to have a barrow and had to have the fourth quarter. The site is at what appears to be a crossroads of old trackways (one of which was on the line of digging and produced fill with ceramics of this early date in it). The point of all this for the thesis is that the local hundred meeting site was at Heane Wood, all very close by, and the apparent focus of multiple communities burying here is very suggestive when linked to that later focus here of the whole region. Need more of a link? The cemetery sites are full of short-term cooking pits of the late seventh through to twelfth centuries, pretty much when the burial sequence stops onwards. These pits were not in long-term use and there’s no evidence for structures, so it looks as if people were coming here, eating and then going away again.

This is obviously a bit complex. There are shades here (no pun intended) of the meals with the dead ruled against in church canons from the Continent studied by Nancy Caciola, and it’s hard to say whether the fact that the cemeteries were apparently remembered linked to the fact of the nearby meeting place with any certainty. I would wonder (and asked) whether it wasn’t equally possible that they weren’t remembered as burial sites of these people’s ancestors, but just as sites with obviously visible barrows, which might have had a much older significance more or less reinvented by those gathering. But if one removes the burial link then obviously you need another reason why people gather here, and the hundred provides an obvious one. Then you have to ask if the burial comes first (because of the crossroads?) and the hundred sets up here because there are already gatherings there, or if the burial is put here because even in the sixth century this is where four communities territories meet? The causation is really all up for grabs. But it’s interesting, isn’t it?

The `ancient division of Kent

The `ancient' division of Kent

Then in the last part of the paper, Dr Reynolds observed that in East Kent (whence come as we know the Men of Kent) the hundreds are much smaller and messier than in West Kent (whence come the Kentish Men), where moreover they often tend to centre on places with royal associations. He suggested that this shows something about the antiquity of and responsibility for the system in each area, such as that for example kingship may have arisen in the East and then hundreded the West, although I had to suggest that if two different communities had arisen at the same time in each area, and just done things differently, it might also look like this. Again, causation, especially since we have good reason to believe that the Franks were involved in early state formation in Kent. But which side? and so on. A lot of useful discussion arose, in any case, and I plugged Morn Capper’s work (which was actually relevant to a point about execution cemeteries on borders) and we came up with useful formulations such as “power by controlled violence” (which is like Weber you can actually use, isn’t it?) and in general it was what these gatherings are supposed to be. Thought you might like to know.


Reference is made here to, firstly, Nancy Caciola, “Wraiths, Revenants and Ritual in Medieval Culture” in Past and Present no. 152 (Oxford 1996), pp. 3-45, online here so you’ve no excuse for not reading this fascinating paper; for the Frankish involvement in Kent, most obviously Ian N. Wood, The Merovingian North Sea (Alingsås 1990); and lastly Morn Capper, “Contesting loyalties: regional and national identities in the midland kingdoms of England, c. 700-c. 1050″, unpublished Ph. D. thesis, University of Sheffield, 2008.

Feudal Transformations XI: Chris Wickham takes still another (at)tack

The last time I could get into London for a short while was Monday 17th November, and I dithered over it but eventually went because the occasion was the Institute of Historical Research‘s Creighton Lecture, which Jinty Nelson told the attendees was, they liked to think, the most important lecture in history in the UK, and more to the point, speaking was Chris Wickham, to the topic, “The Culture of the Public: assembly politics and the ‘feudal revolution'”. Conrad Leyser had the week before asked rhetorically if anyone still thought the feudal transformation was an interesting topic, and I realise this sits ill with my posting record but I half wanted to agree with him that it isn’t. The trouble is that although it has become somewhat tedious even to me, we still haven’t solved it. Something does happen to Europe in the centuries either side of 1000, and we don’t seem to be able to agree on how much, what, or what importance it has. Yet, as I’ve argued, there must be an effect of the collapse of such a superstructure as the Carolingian Empire. What is it, and why is it so hard to pin down? The answer to the latter question of course lies in local diversity, but the former we haven’t yet got.

The Great Hall in King's College London, arrayed for another occasion

The Great Hall in King's College London, arrayed for another occasion

Once having settled in a rather under-populated Great Hall at King’s College London (the IHR doesn’t have enough space for this large a gathering, though it might have been able to cope with the numbers who actually turned up), I was not a little pleased to find Chris saying very similar things, but he has a new way into it, or at least perhaps a more profitable one than my various attempts have so far been. Observing that something that changes that almost all parties agree upon is the state of balance between public and private authority, he was looking at the main forum for expression of such things, the assembly. Referencing a particularly lucid article of Timothy Reuter’s, which explains the whole idea of assembly politics in the Middle Ages in a way that we’re very happy to point students at but mostly have to disagree with from our own material (reminds me of GCSE), Chris started from his recent work on Rome to ask in more detail what changes in assembly politics over this period and whether it helps us explain anything.1

Ruins of the Roman forum as they stand today

Ruins of the Roman forum as they stand today

His key points were, roughly, that the ideal of an assembly of free men giving you as ruler legitimacy in your actions is always important, and that throughout the Middle Ages someone doing something can add legitimacy to their action by arranging that it happens in public before witnesses.2 Despite this, large-scale public assemblies stop.3 Local courts remain roughly the same, but the top stratum of the social stratification is lost. (You see the similarity to my earlier pitch.) The new assemblies of, for example, counts and their followers, don’t have the same function of placing actions in public, because they are closed; the ‘public’ are disenfranchised and it doesn’t seem to matter, although in Rome at least some of the ‘closed’ gatherings get so big that they arguably include most of the political actors, and for Italy generally the commune is just such an organisation, of all those with power if not the whole public. They don’t do public judgements, but there are other ways of involving a (more restricted) public; they do political debate, the rather more repressive old Roman Empire had used processions and spectacles for the same kind of public access to the powerful, and of course bishops continue to use such tactics throughout the Middle Ages when they need to take some action onto a higher level, the best examples being the councils behind the Peace of God. So there are many ways to deploy a public gathering in the pursuit of the reinforcement, or indeed the destabilisation, of power.

A depiction of the Council of Clermont from the <em>Livre des Passages d'Outre-mer</em> of <i>c. </i>1490, in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, here found on answers.com

A depiction of the Council of Clermont from the Livre des Passages d'Outre-mer of c. 1490, in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, here found on answers.com

His conclusion was however that the most effective assemblies are regular ones. An assembly that someone knows is going to happen gives them stability. They can bring the case then, so they don’t need to ravage your lands now; they will be able to protest, albeit in a stage-managed fashion, so violent action now is both less legitimate and less necessary. On the other hand, ad hoc assemblies show weakness, and are often disrupted or produce unexpected results (“Dieu le veult! Dieu le veult!“) With observations like this, and more work on how assemblies are used both by their organisers and participants, we might have another wedge with which to open up this topic over which we continue unwillingly to trip.


1. Timothy Reuter, “Assembly Politics in Western Europe from the Eighth Century to the Twelfth” in Peter Linehan & Janet Nelson (edd.), The Medieval World (London 2000), pp. 432-450; Chris Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, 400-1200 (London forthcoming).

2. As often happens, it seems, I am already reading about this somewhere else, in an article that I’ll come back to next post, Isabel Alfonso, “Judicial Rhetoric and Political Legitimation in Medieval León-Castile”, transl. Carolina Carl in Alfonso, Hugh Kennedy & Julio Escalona (edd.), Building Legitimacy: political discourses and forms of legitimation in medieval societies, The Medieval Mediterranean: peoples, economies and cultures, 400-1500, 53 (Leiden 2004), pp. 51-87.

3. Chris here referenced a book I now apparently have to read which I only recently discovered, Thomas Bisson, The Crisis of the Twelfth Century: Power, Lordship, and the Origins of European Government (Princeton 2008).