Tag Archives: Blogroll

Blogger meetup, new Cliopatria piece

Leeds International Medieval Congress masthead

I am running things about as close to the line as they can go currently and have no time to organise or write a number of things that I would like to. One thing that must be written is that there needs to be organised the Leeds blogger meet-up, since there seem to be rather a lot of us attending, some from very far away, and it would be a real shame if nothing was done to celebrate this. As the two people who usually wind up proposing this, Magistra and I have conferred and decided that it suits us best—and if we’re organising I think that is allowed to be one of our priorities, don’t you? so glad—to gather bloggers, blog-friendlies and commentators at the Stables pub on the Tuesday evening, say from six till eight, at which point I imagine several of us will want to go and visit the St Andrews reception. So there it is, now you know and we shall hope to see fellow practitioners of this, er, well, practice, there.

[Edit: dagnabbit, bother and drat, it would probably be a good idea to include some identifying information. My academic website has a picture of me on it that is current, which you can see full-size here. There are no known photographs of Magistra, but as she suggests, I’ll probably be making more noise so you’ll see me first anyway.]

Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford

The other thing that needed to be written, or at least reported, is a very small part in the current move of no confidence by English universities against the government’s higher education policies (or rather, their ever-changing suggestions of what a policy might look like that justified the funding cuts they’ve already made), a part already reported in brief by Historian on the Edge. I since wrote about it at Cliopatria and you might like to read it. Meanwhile, see you on the other side of Leeds!

Leeds 2010 report I

Since I’ve already been to one other conference that I’m already opining about on other people’s blogs, and since I there plugged all heck out of this blog (not that this seems to have brought any great slough of visitors) it’s probably time I wrote something about Leeds. This year’s was a good Leeds despite the weather; I’ve said before now that bad weather can ruin Leeds because everyone is crammed inside small overheated rooms and can’t find each other, but although it bucketed down for much of the conference I didn’t find that to be the case this year. I had the impression that there were fewer people there than usual, in fact, although there were as many sessions as far as I can tell so I guess it was non-presenters who decided they couldn’t spare the money this year. Fair enough I suppose, but those who were there had a good time I think.

1. Keynote Lectures 2010

Gerald of Wales's Map of the Atlantic Sea

Gerald of Wales's Map of the Atlantic Sea, c. 1200

The theme of this year’s Leeds was travel and exploration, and I did as usual and basically entirely avoided the theme except for the keynote lectures. These were also about the only point when I didn’t have timetable clashes, too; for some reason the early medieval sessions were unusually conflictual this year, which I think may also reflect that there were an awful lot of them. Anyway. The keynotes were both good, and the first of them was Patrick Gautier-Dalché speaking to the title “Maps, Travel and Exploration in the Middle Ages”. What he was addressing here was the fact that to us, often, a medieval map looks worse than useless, used as we are to measurable scales and Mercator’s Projection. In fact, he argued, although maps were largely representational rather than scientific in the Middle Ages, they were far from useless. Some might be just for looking at, in the old picture worth a thousand words scenario, because a map, even a distorted one, is still a very good way of encoding geographical information.1 Then, they could even be useful for actually getting to places, if you approached them in the right way. The Map of the Atlantic Sea by Gerald of Wales above, M. Gautier-Dalché claimed though if the image above really is it I see no sign of this, is marked up with not just the pilgrimage routes through Western Europe, but the distances between their various stopping points. As long as you could find someone to put you on the road to the next destination, therefore, you would still be able to use the map to budget your provisions and journey time and maybe carry some very basic local information. In cases where precision navigation was a bit more essential, to wit at sea, maps perhaps served as aides-mémoire more than literal graphical information; a reminder of what a certain coastline looked like when you approached it, what the hills round the port are like, and so on. Not much use for doing it first time, but perhaps quite useful for doing it first time in say, ten years. The last example was maps’ use in judicial cases; unlikely, you might think, but apparently Columbus’s maps were produced in court in 1535 to prove that he had actually discovered, and indeed drawn, the coasts of South America. So a map might be a teaching tool, a contemplative resource, a planning aid, a piece of judicial proof, and was above all an interpretation, but Mercator has perhaps spoiled us to their possibilities.

An ancient stitch-and-glue boat hull on display in a restaurant in Zadar, Croatia

An ancient stitch-and-glue boat hull on display in a restaurant in Zadar, Croatia

The second keynote was given by Dionysius Agius, and was entitled, “‘In these Seas Horrors beyond Count Befell [Us]: travel in medieval Islam”. This was less of an argument and more of a tour of the evidence for medieval Islamic travel, which was fine by me as I know very little of it beyond the names of Ibn Battuta and al-Mas’Udi, and it was also accompanied with some fabulous, and indeed very presentist pictures, illustrating continuities of construction technique, goods trafficked, routes and so on, not least the stitched boats of which an older example is shown above. He talked us through the trade routes, both overland and overseas, without leaving much time for detail on any of them, just telling us a good story or two, and you know, this too is a skill, especially for a keynote on a specialised theme before a general audience. I did sort of know, for example, that the ends of trade routes across desert zones (and indeed the middle of them) tend to shift according to where the nomads who run the entry-points to them have currently got their shops set up, but it was as well to be reminded in the same few minutes as having the seasonal cycle of the currents of the Indian Ocean explained, there being a large part of the year when it’s far easier to go one way than the other, which is then reversed for another equally large part. After all, some people were plotting to get goods all the way along both routes. The other thing that I technically knew but which was well linked up here was that, at the period when Islamic ships were breaking out into the Indian Ocean (and indeed further) they were far from the only ships sailing it; indeed, as Professor Agius pointed out, they were sufficiently outsized and outnumbered by Indian and Chinese vessels that sometimes those groups were induced to provide warship escorts to keep away fleets of cannibal pirates (or so the travel narratives earnestly tell us, anyway). Whether the stories of Sindbad the Sailor really have a medieval context may, as we have said here before, be doubted, but Professor Agius happily brought them in anyway to illustrate the sort of stories that were probably told. So, not afraid to indulge in anachronism, and perhaps even Orientalism, but not to a bad purpose I thought and an entertaining lecture to attend.

105. Texts and Identities, I: Merovingian Queens – Narratives and Politics

Fifteenth-century illuminatiion of Queen Clothilde offering prayers to St Martin

Fifteenth-century illumination of Queen Clothilde offering prayers to St Martin

This was where the clashes started. I probably wanted, in retrospect, to go to 104. Popular Politics and Resistance in East and West but I hadn’t fully absorbed what I’d be missing (Robert Moore insisting there was no popular heresy that counts in early medieval Europe, Andrew Marsham saying what were apparently really interesting things about rebellion against the Umayyads and Bernard Gowers, whom I already needed to meet, talking about peasants, which I am very sorry I missed but may at least be able to get a copy of) until I’d run into one of the speakers from 105 and assured her I’d be at her paper. A man of my word, therefore, I was there for the following:

  • Julia Hofmann, “Betrayal or Portrayal? The Depiction of Fredegund and Clovis in Gregory of Tours’ Decem Libri Historiarum V. 39-49″. I mainly attended this so as to have seen Julia Hofmann and Julie Hofmann in the same room, in fact. Here the argument was that whereas Gregory of Tours was usually hopelessly partial in his depictions of Merovingian court politics, which is an obvious problem for working out whether he can be trusted to tells us about them, in this particular bloody and skulduggerous episode of family in-fighting he appears to have loathed both protagonists about equally, which suggests that it may even be a fair depiction. I’m not convinced we’d think the same if it were Liutprand of Cremona, myself, though I do understand the great emotional need not to write off so much of our evidence for the sixth century as Gregory represents.
  • Erin T. Dailey, “Merovingian Polygamy”, a title that drew me in but disappointed rather as it largely concluded that there probably wasn’t really any Merovingian polygamy per se, and did so largely by refusing to nuance the category of concubine, which as a couple of people pointed out to me afterwards needs doing because sometimes concubines’ children become kings. So, while marriage may be an important distinction (and valuable security for the wife, as long as the mother-in-law wasn’t Brunhild) it isn’t a total one, and the fact that there’s only ever one queen at a time doesn’t remove the need to ask how far queens are different. Only twenty minutes, I know, but he was pressed on the matter in questions and didn’t get much further with it.
  • Linda Dohmen, “The Adulterous Queen in Early Frankish Historiography”. Full disclosure requires that I admit that I’ve known Linda for ages and it was her I’d promised to come and see, but I thought this genuinely was a good paper, carefully balanced between spice and analysis. It also did something useful by balancing Gregory of Tours out with other sources covering the same era, in their equally biased ways, the Liber Historiae Francorum and ‘Fredegar’.2 What stories like the classic one about King Chilperic, coming home early to Queen Fredegund fresh out of the bath, catching her unawares with a slap on the rear and she telling off the lover she assumed it was rather than the husband it actually was, illustrate, other than in some ways there’s not much difference between a sixth-century court and a twentieth-century soap opera in terms of plot, is that a lot of people were prepared to get into risky situations for a chance to get with the queen, and not, we presume, simply because Merovingian kings selected irresistible brides Balthild not withstanding,3 but because it was a position of power; queens could bring legitimacy to a pretender or an arriviste, could be grounds for launching a coup or mounting a rebellion and could, also, be vital tokens of continuity when those events were unrolling for other reasons. Here as often happens we need a way to express this sort of position of power often occupied by women in the Middle Ages, power which is not the same as agency, which they often didn’t enjoy (Fredegund as with so much else an exception here), being unfortunate prizes to be contested between men who certainly did, but still incredible focuses of… what? One almost wants to use ancient anthropological terms like tabu, did I not know that modern-day anthropologists of my acquaintance (and indeed modern-day feminists) would probably kick me in the constructs for it. But the word ‘power’ doesn’t really get there, and it’s very hard to discuss without accepting the sources’ language of objectification. So yes, this one is still making me think.

209. Between a Rock and a Hard Place: reassessing politics and culture in the 10th century

Decorated initial showing Pope Gregory VII excommunicating King Henry IV of Germany

Decorated initial showing Pope Gregory VII excommunicating King Henry IV of Germany

My colleague Rory Naismith and I have been at the same conferences several times now, and at Kalamazoo we were somehow scheduled against each other, which has happened before too. This not being the case this time, I told Rory I would go to his session (221. The Anglo-Saxons and Rome, II: routes, coins and manuscripts) and then gathered that one of its speakers had pulled out and that this one was on in the same time-slot… I think I’ve still seen more of his papers than he has of mine but he definitely has the moral high ground for now. However, I struggled to find the session I was going to instead and so arrived in a terribly full room slightly after the beginning of…

  • Theo Riches, “Once Upon an Iron Age: telling the story of the long 10th century between Carolingians and ecclesiastical reform”. Some day I hope Theo will write a follow-up to Tim Reuter’s contribution to the feudal transformation debate; I’ve heard Theo discuss this and his Germanist’s perspectives are really interesting.4 However, he keeps letting some excuse about that not being his actual subject get in the way, and so this was not that paper but instead a likewise interesting one about bishops and ritual. He was picking up on a recent piece of Steffen Patzold‘s about the use of ritual in Ottonian court society, as propounded by Gerd Althoff, which makes the very useful distinction between the rules of the game and manœuvres in the game, and the need to be aware which the evidence is showing us.5 This fits well with my objections to some of the French school of dispute scholarship that emphasies competing norms; sometimes, I like to point out, people are actually abnormal, and this was implicit in Theo’s discussion.6 Theo also wanted us to remember the audience, and that it is not necessarily passive; these rituals may be worked out beforehand, but they are pointless unless they are seen, which means that they are also open to interpretation. Patzold sees a change in bishops’ rôles in these contexts in the 820s, from potestas to ministerium, moving from being in charge of their own subjects to the whole of God’s people, with a consequent distancing from politics in detail. Theo suggested seeing this as move from being a player of the ‘game’ to being an umpire, and that the 820s are the point when episcopal lordship starts to become qualitatively different. This was music to my ears as my very first Leeds paper suggested that bishops in my area were lay lords plus, with extra means of recourse and a few corresponding restrictions, but essentially doing the same things;7 Theo’s take here, and Steffen’s behind it, may give me the means to nuance this. I also really liked Theo’s statement in questions that “Canossa breaks deditio, you can’t use it any more” (deditio being a ritual of simulated self-abasement to demand forgiveness from a ruler for disobeying him). This is one of many ways in which the contest between King Henry IV of Germany and Pope Gregory VII overdrives medieval politics, he’s right, things do break in that contest, and arguably not least the Holy Roman Empire…
  • Steven Robbie, “The Duchy of Alemannia in the Early Tenth Century: an ethnic community?” followed Theo, which is hard enough to do, but Theo speaks quite loudly and Steven speaks quite softly; also, it was after lunch and the room was hot and stuffy. I fear Steven may have lost some of the attention of his audience for what was quite a subtle take on the question of the Stamme, the core ‘ethnic’ territories that are supposed to underlie German duchies in a certain old-fashioned sort of historiography. Steven illustrated that this won’t work for Alemannia, which is reconstructed pretty much as needed in the political circumstances of each age and only maps to later Swabia in fairly transient ways. When all of Alemans, Thuringians and Swabians are supposed to be the same ancestral community, you realise that ethnogenesis is a game that many can play.
  • Simon Williams, “Playing to the Gallery: reinterpreting Liudprand of Cremona’s Antapadosis in its contemporary context”, did indeed play to the gallery in as much while I may some day hear a Liutprand paper in which the speaker does not tell the story everyone’s favourite Italian scandalmonger reports about Queen Guilla hiding a valuable belt where only a woman could, this was not it (and neither, of course, is my report of it). However, he did do some interesting stuff pointing out how quickly Liutprand’s work circulated, well within his lifetime too, so even if he was initially writing for a small audience that wasn’t what he revised for. Simon in fact suggested that the target audience was Bishop Abraham of Freising and perhaps Bishop Dietrich of Metz as well as Bishop Rather of Verona, and that we underestimate Liutprand if we see him as a marginal player. Liutprand writing about you, in other words, was something like being mentioned in Tatler; probably unpleasant and trivial but unfortunately read by people whose good opinion of you may be important some day…

Coffee break next but I find it combines badly with adrenalin, so I didn’t, because next was nothing less than my paper!

301. Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic

  • Jonathan Jarrett, “Caliph, King, or Grandfather: strategies of legitimization on the Spanish March in the reign of Lothar III” is actually one of my better pieces of work, I think, and compares three contemporary Catalan counts’ reactions to what I’m now arguing is a resurgent Carolingian royal self-assertion by King Lothar III. This is kind of part two of my Haskins paper from 2008 and I hope to have them both in process soon so I’ll say no more here unless people are curious enough to ask.
Grant of King Æthelred II to Abingdon Abbey, 993 (Sawyer 876)

Grant of King Æthelred II to Abingdon Abbey, 993 (Sawyer 876)

  • Levi Roach, “The Voice of Æthelred?” explored the group of lengthy royal charters of King Æthelred the Unready in which he apologises for the misdeeds of his youth and makes compensation gifts. Levi was arguing that the imagery employed here is sufficiently consistent, across several archives and many scribes, that these documents must represent an actual statement of sorts by the king, even if he probably didn’t choose the actual written phrasing. Charles Insley, who gave a not dissimilar paper a few years ago,8 was generous enough not to point this out in questions, but Levi rallied to what I think is actually new ground in reaction to a question from Steven Robbie about how long it can possibly take to be sorry; these documents after all span most of a decade. Levi’s response was that the only way it all makes sense is a rather paranoid policy of penitence till the bad stuff stops happening, which after these charters stopped was shifted onto the whole kingdom under the influence of Archbishop Wulfstan; in other words, this court’s response to crisis is to escalate repentance until the handles come off and it all goes to Hell… Which, even if it’s overstated, gives one to wonder how neutral a perspective on things anyone at Æthelred’s court could possibly have maintained… What price groupthink? and so on.
  • David Woodman, “The Rewriting of the Anglo-Saxon Past: a Middle English Rhyming Charter of King Æthelstan and the Beverley Cartulary (BL, MS Additional 61901) in context”, lastly, dealt with a rather lovely piece of Middle English fabrication in which Beverley Minster tried to claim foundation by the selfsame rex totius Britanniae in the fourteenth century. The result looks and reads nothing like an Anglo-Saxon charter, and nor does much of the stuff it’s put into a beautiful cartulary with, but it still won them several cases. David set out exactly who the enemies were in this case, and explained the success of the claim not in terms of the cluelessness of the panel judging but of opposition between the abbey, Archbishop Neville of York and Richard, Second of That Name, Kynge, but one was still left with echoes of the story in the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where the eponymous publication’s lawyers successfully argue that beauty is truth so the prettier story is automatically true, as one would like rather like Æthelstan to have been one of those congenial souls

Now. I want to talk to you, Internet, about the Problems and Possibilities strand and what’s happening with it, but this is long enough already. I’ll do it in a separate post later on. Instead let it be noted that I managed to miss two separate receptions where free wine was available, somehow, mainly to get lightly drunk with such fine upstanding members of the Internet as Another Damned Medievalist and Ealuscerwen, in the same place but not with Gesta, which seems to be the usual way of things, and a few people who have real names, and I went to bed merry and exhausted.

1. Something that all of us who were in Siena and now also commenting at In The Medieval Middle seem to be agreeing on; a conceptual map of that city might be a lot more use than a strictly geographical one.

2. Pronounced, as I once heard Roger Collins say in a paper he was giving on the author in question, “with the inverted commas silent, like the P in Psmith”.

3. In fact, it surprises me that in a session about Merovingian queens not only did Balthild only get a passing mention, but her supposed seal was completely omitted. It’s got to be part of any discussion about how queenship is visualised, hasn’t it, especially since if it is what is claimed, it’s actually a source generated by or at least for the queen. I begin to wonder if there’s a perhaps a case for asking medieval historians to ask themselves, “is there a good reason your paper is entirely text-based?” And I am not just saying this because it’s lewd, I am saying this because I think we were already dancing near the lewd and it would have been a way to let it in without risking sounding as if one actually wanted to talk about sex.

4. Referring to T. Reuter, “Debate: the ‘Feudal Revolution’. III” in Past and Present no. 155 (Oxford 1997), pp. 177-195.

5. Referring here to Gerd Althoff, Spielregeln der Politik im Mittelalter: Kommunikation in Frieden und Fehde (Darmstadt 1997) and S. Patzold, Konflikte im Kloster. Studien zu Auseinandersetzungen in monastischen Gemeinschaften des ottonisch-salischen Reichs, Historische Studien 463 (Husum 2000).

6. See, if you should really want to, my review of Stephen D. White, Feuding and Peacemaking in Eleventh-Century France, Variorum Collected Studies 817 (Aldershot 2005) in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 15 (Oxford 2006), pp. 124-125.

7. J. Jarrett, “Sales, Swindles and Sanctions: Bishop Sal·la of Urgell and the counts of Catalonia”, paper presented in session ‘Telling Laymen What to Do’, International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 21 July 2005, available to you as J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis (University of London 2005), pp. 289-313, online here.

8. His webpages mention a chapter, “Rhetoric and Ritual in Late Anglo-Saxon Charters” in P. Barnwell and M. Mostert (edd.), Medieval Legal Process: Physical, Spoken and Written Performance in the Middle Ages, Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 19 (Brepols 2009), which will probably be worth consulting on this if it’s actually out; a rapid web-search reveals publication dates of 2008, 2009 and ‘in preparation 2008-2009’, but the publishers seem less sanguine. In fact, damn, I need that book even though I heard half the papers…

Links of concern

I don’t want to get unnecessarily doom-saying but there’s been a few seriously worrying ideas for the field propounded on the Interweb just lately. The first I noticed was a post at Livius, a blog I didn’t know before but which I was pointed at by this post at Glossographia, explaining that there is good basis to think that most of the misinformation in history and classics is created not by amateur pseudo-scholars but by we ourselves the experts, talking out of our field. Well, this is something I would have to admit to, and this paragraph gave me the guilt chills:

The second consequence of specialization is that no one is sufficiently trained to teach. For example, it can happen that someone who knows everything about the crisis of the third century, must introduce first-year students to the basic outline of ancient history. Because this teacher cannot know everything about every specialization, it is likely that he will offer an outdated account, say, of the Peloponnesian War. Many books written for the larger audience suffer from the same weakness.

More specifically, however, the author points out that while we hide genuine scholarly work behind pay-walls and everything else is flung on the Internet for free, we can’t be surprised if people read what’s there rather than what’s kept from them. Here I think there is a genuine issue, which lies somewhere between revenue protection and gatekeeping, both of which might be necessary (note the lack of indicative there) but neither of which are exactly noble in a discipline that prides itself on promoting free thought. So I would recommend a read of it.

Secondly, you may have seen the plea from Neville of the eponymous Combate for people to get on board a petition that he plugged here to protect the Asturian area of Carondio from development for wind-farms. Now, I recognise that wind-farms are probably most of what is going to be done about renewable energy for the next few years, more’s the pity, and that they therefore have to go somewhere, but, this is not the place. And I don’t just mean because, as Neville believes, there may be a political agenda slighting non-Roman pre-Asturian remains here; I don’t know about that though if the idea intrigues you, this is largely what Neville is combating. I mean because the country’s courts have already decided this development should not go ahead for reasons of the damage to the historical environment, and this verdict is not being enforced and the building work going ahead anyway. So if you feel like interfering in someone else’s country, you’re unlikely to get a more justifiable cause than this. Also, Neville’s choice of illustration for his post is absolutely bloody perfect. So go have a look: the petition text is in English, if that’s what bothering you.

Lastly, is it just me or has this guy’s quite compelling argument about what constitutes modernity just unhinged a good chunk of our commnest arguments about the so-called `relevance’ of the Middle Ages to the modern world? I keep telling people we have to concentrate on the interest value itself… This link via Cliopatria, where some day I’m sure I will have something to add once more.

If Dr No can think then, dammit, so can I

Cover of Plow Science

Dr No at Acadamnit had a moment of blogular navel-gazing a short while back and encouraged others to join in, and being as I rather enjoy Acadamnit and also have something of a shortage of material just now, I figured I’d bite and do some trumpeting of this blog’s dubious moments of glory. Not least, I thought I owed Dr No some kind of penance for not realising the above image was their own work. So then, the categories.

  • Most Liked Post (by me)
    This is quite tricky. I enjoy most of my writing, but I think if I have to pick one it would be this one. It was occasioned by the publication, without warning, proofs or any chance to update the content, of what might have been my first paper had the relevant journal not sat on it for literally eight years. And they spelt my name wrong, but a friend pointed out that at least that offered the chance of writing a rebuttal to myself. It seemed like too much fun not to try…
  • Most Liked Post (by readers, based on comments or hits)
    As has been complained about before, hits don’t really tell me what they should, because a couple of things I wrote seem to get clobbered by automated queries and image searches to the extent that I really can’t tell if they’re being read or not, but they far exceed anything else on hit count. It’s a pity, because I was really quite proud of the former of them, it was definitely the sort of writing I’d like to produce more often. After them, top post by hits is my little First Crusaders essay, which is good but not really a blog post, and after that we’re into the porn searches (that link goes to me complaining about it, not an example…). Comments isn’t a perfect metric either, because of course I try to reply to everyone, so I make the numbers myself in part, but since no better metric comes to mind, somewhat to my surprise the most commented post so far is this one.
  • Most Memorable Post
    I think it might, for me at least, be this one. This was the first time I’d really tried to set out my stall as someone who could explain scientific work to historians, and I was really proud of the dialogue that developed, and especially that I was just about humble enough to learn from the kind attempts of the authors of the study in question to educate me about maths. I was fairly pleased with having done as well as I had, and felt like I’d done something actually impressive. I don’t know how true that now is, but it sticks.
  • Post Most Indicative of Your Blog Identity?
    I admit that I’m not sure how this one was meant to be read. I think it’s a “does my real-life identity look big in this?” question, but of course whereas Dr No is secretly hidden in an ivory tower defended with sarcasm, cheerleaders and Tesla coils, I never kept my identity secret in the first place. So I guess it’s the one where my presentation as a serious adult broke down most, and that is pretty obviously this one and will, I hope, ever remain so.
  • Most Humorous Post
    Damn, that’s the same one isn’t it? Well, in that case, have a runner-up. This isn’t even mine, really, and the person who let me borrow it was only quoting a medieval source anyway, but it’s still true dammit.
  • Most Regrettable Post?
    This is, to an extent, still to be settled: one day one of my many rants will come back and bite me, and I have many times pulled something back from the brink, and in one case beyond it, because of thinking how I’d deal with meeting its target after they’d found out I wrote that about them. However, there’s still no problem deciding which one I have dithered over most, and though it remains up now I do often wonder whether I ever should have given this much away about myself, especially given how my life subsequently changed to make it largely irrelevant. If that’s a dead link, I chickened out.
  • Most Misunderstood Post
    That’s probably one of the same ones again, but in terms of one where I genuinely had to work hard to avoid a misunderstanding that would have been regrettable, I guess it’s this one.
  • Most Satisfying to Write Post?
    Oh, this one, no contest. I may burn in Hell for it, but it was such a relief to find I could actually articulate the counter-argument rather than just froth uselessly. Fighting language with language, yeah, etc.
  • Most Likely To Never Be Posted Post?
    Well, there have been a bunch of these, and one of the great advantages of the backlog with which this blog usually runs is that if something seems like a bad idea after a week, it’s probably still not reached the ether so I can delete it. But because I do delete the rejects, I can’t remember what they were. More rants, obviously. However, there is a post you can’t see which has been sitting in my drafts folder since a particularly disillusioned point back in August this year. I was out of material and motivation both, the page view figures were slowly but determinedly declining and I was about to say that the blog was going on hold till I felt like a human being with something to contribute to the world again. Within about a week I had some six drafts part-written because I started reading again and suddenly found stuff out, and within a fortnight one of them had been linked by a big blog in the USA and given this little Corner its highest-ever view figures, so I decided that really, a hiatus wasn’t necessary or even likely, and so it has proven. But that draft is still there, containing all my misgivings about blogging, and I hope it’ll never be wanted.
  • Most Important Post?
    Well, it’s a bit cheeky to suggest that anything here is important, but if I have to pick one then I’m going to pick two, a pair that long-term readers will remember because by this time I actually had an audience: a pair of arguments about what historians are actually for in social terms and how we can meet that need.
  • Most *Adjective of Your Choice* Post?
    Well, there’s a bunch I’d like to draw people’s attention to because they show me being properly academic with actual sources and stuff, so I guess the adjective of my choice is “demonstratively scholarly”, which I realise, yes, is far from being one word, let’s move on. Of such posts here the crown is indubitably this one. That, there, is what I want to do with my life, if anyone will let me.

So there you have it. Now, this may look to you like a meme, but it is not, because there was no tagging involved; I just volunteered out of vanity. I wouldn’t want to stop anyone else picking up the idea but there is absolutely no obligation implied by this post. OK? Though I do have one obligation left to discharge: in the comment where I promised Dr No a response, I also promised them an image, an image which struck me on seeing its source as the perfect summary of their blog: so here it is. If you click through you will doubtless see what I mean…

Contains intelligent and well-chosen profanity

Your guide to Jarrett-spotting at Leeds, and blogger meet-up

Yes! Never mind the usual namby-pamby whining. It has occurred to me that I have said that I will buy drinks for, apologise to, pass references to or generally try and find quite a number of fellow bloggers at the upcoming International Medieval Congress at Leeds. Some of these bloggers are anonymous or pseudonymous, and in one extreme case blogless. In several of these cases I have no idea what they look like and can only guess at gender of presentation. Rather than hit up a load of internet denizens for a/s/l and a photo, therefore, it seems like a better idea to make it clear who I am and then those reading can pick me out of a crowd and/or stay well clear as they see fit.

However, before we get to that, the ever-redoutable Magistra et Mater has suggested that, since between us she and I know of nine bloggers who will be there, some of whom are mutual friends, we should at least try and organise some kind of social, and she has posted to this effect. Plans to do this in some far-off location where anonymity might be protected are however hampered by the fact that the IMC venue is a good few miles from anywhere, that I’m presenting Tuesday morning and that at least one other blogger is running something Tuesday evening, while Monday evening is a bit crowded and Wednesday is the dance. So, one idea, which is open to modification over the next week, is for me to be in the Stables pub at Weetwood, which is likely to offer more privacy than the Bodington bar as well as better beer, from 20:30 on the Tuesday, and those that wish can find me there in whatever name or capacity they choose, and there will be bloggers other than myself but I’m not saying who. And if this isn’t guarantee enough, comment with contact details or a link to some and I’ll transmit you my mobile phone number so that you can double-check if we seem to be missing, or you want to know that we’re not doing shots of something dreadful with your chief rival or whatever. My e-mail can be found on this page (N. B. at Leeds I can only check this one, not any other you may have for me) so that should also work. Come gather!

However, for you to find me in the bar or wherever, you need to recognise me. Of course there have been pictures of me on the blog before, but as two carefully-chosen examples illustrate, the configuration of my hair varies over time so current information seems wise. Here, then, are four of the versions of the Jarrett most likely to be observed at Leeds this year, modulo a suit or similar in place of the Bevis Frond t-shirt:

'I'm sorry, I don't believe I know you.'

'Ah! sorry, I was afraid you might be a crazy person from the Internet.'

'Well, I for one would question that reading of the text...'

'Are you caffeine? If not, please step aside.'

I think that covers all the major possibilities, and may indeed save you most of the bother of actually conversing with me! Otherwise, perhaps see you shortly…

Things on the web

A few miscellaneous things of note…

  • It’s nice to see someone else reading Brigitte Bedos-Rezak, particularly when it’s about ways to tackle Duby’s picture of the family. She seems to have managed to work seals in again, but then it’s been my experience that she sees more social history in sigillography than almost anyone who does it… From Nat Taylor’s Genealogist’s Sketchbook.
  • I have been working unusually hard lately. In one particular ten-day period I got to submission state three different papers, a pamphlet and a book and nearly alienated a dear friend by being completely socially inaccessible. In this process, however, these two reactions to the peer review process and how to play it amused me greatly… From Edge of the West, which doesn’t feature on my blogroll because is not medieval, but of which I have learnt through Cliopatria, and from Acadamnit, which isn’t medieval either but is very funny, as long as your inner child still allows you to enjoy copious and voluble obscenity deployed as rhetoric anyway.
  • More medievally, OMG secret Crusader tunnels under Malta! I expect Dan Brown to be visiting soon and have my crossbowmen standing by. From Archaeology in Europe.
  • And finally, less medievally though the originators thought otherwise, William the Conqueror’s time-travelling phrasebook, reported in a few places, has now been properly exploded by the one and only Carl Pyrdum. Good.

Recent finds in soil and sea, from the heart of the Empire and well beyond its borders

Since my own work this brief ‘holiday’ has so far been mostly revising stuff I wrote long ago, rather than finding out new stuff, I’m sticking to observations culled from the Internet this post. I think almost all of them came from either News for Medievalists or the Heroic Age blog, so thanks to both those fine institutions for these links that I went and followed.

In the first place, of interest to no-one but me most likely, I have discovered a Catalan archaeology blog, ArqueoCat, which has duly been blogrolled, though nothing there has been posted since I did this. Its focus seems to be mainly prehistoric, and of course it’s written in Catalan (there is a translator for webpages offered by the Catalan government but its results are, er, erratic) but I have hopes for it and I also have the relevant language skills. If you have those, I’ve also just happened across a Catalan blog dealing in medieval romances and chivalry, Eixa altra Edat Mitjana, whose author is apparently reading this, so hullo! I warn the general readership, it is about as work-safe as Got Medieval, and phrases like “butttrumpet” may be necessary. As we’ve observed before, the Middle Ages weren’t a particularly clean-minded era.

For those of you reading mainly in English, I had Kirsten Ataoguz’s Early Medieval Art blog down in the resources section, but discovered I was never checking it, and have therefore put it with the other blogs where it probably rightfully belongs, and have simultaneously discovered, I think through someone’s notice at the Unlocked Wordhoard (how do people expect Prof. Nokes actually to read all those darn blogs? I lose too much time on the ones I follow already) Medieval Ecclesiastical Art, which is a bit late for me academia-wise but has the signal advantage of telling me about places I might actually visit, because I in turn have the signal advantage of being in Europe of course, though some of our political parties here might prefer to think otherwise.

That kind of leads us to archaeology, and recently the hot archaeology appears to be in Rome where they are claiming to have found the underground retreat where the Emperor Caligula was murdered. I am pretty dubious about this. I mean, even I have fallen prey to the whole let’s-associate-a-written-source-with-our-recent-find syndrome, it’s natural enough, but in the case I blogged about here, the source was rather more solid than Suetonius’s Vita Cæsarum and the archaeology rather clearer. This new case could be all wrong: let’s remember that the Roman digs are being led by someone who was trying to tell us he’d found genuine evidence for Romulus and Remus only a few years ago. Their level of interpretation comes across too much, in English-language media at least, as “it looks so close it must be true! what do you mean, dating evidence?” and I worry. There’s some further reports that I haven’t seen (no YouTube at work, no inclination to switch off the Black Sabbath at home—after all, heavy metal’s a legitimate subject of scholarly inquiry now) here on News for Medievalists, which I guess are covering the same stuff. However, that’s all Classical so I don’t have to worry more than I choose to. Much more interesting to me, and not sensational for them so rather less likely to be over-/misreported, is this story that they’ve found evidence for ‘Dark Age’ habitation apparently in the Classical catacombs, people living among the ancient dead. A certain amount of sensationalism has crept in with a claim that these people “must” have been runaway slaves or persecuted Christians living in hiding, but I wonder (and I’m not the first). The Roman catacombs elsewhere in the city, and some of those in Milan, have turned up much more complicated scenarios than this, including anti-Christian graffiti, so I hope more investigation goes on here as it would be a window into a period of Rome about which I don’t think we know as much as we’d like.

The site of the tomb complex uncovered in Rome (follow link for credits)

Then from the other end of Empire, I discover that Martin Carver isn’t the only one with a Pictish-period monastery in Scotland to play with, although Inchmarnock, where digging has recently been concluded, is on the opposite coast to Portmahomack, where meanwhile the digging and finds continue, which must be almost irritating for them now that they have the Visitors’ Centre up and running and have to rearrange the display every time something new that’s old comes up. Inchmarnock isn’t quite so productive a site, or so Pictish but, as has been said here before the Picts were on Skye, though we only see them as they Gaelicise, so the dating could be crucial for such a definition. Unfortunately for the Pictish nation enthusiasts, what’s come up so far is mainly slates, and those used for writing in Ogham, which makes an Irish connection most likely. But writing on slates is always interesting anyway, my first really popular post here was about that very phenomenon, and the parallel intrigues me especially as the report suggests that the slates suggest people learning Ogham, which would be inordinately important for the literacy scholars, some of whom, of course, taught me to pay attention to this stuff. If writing was being taught, I suppose it is likely that what they’re finding is from a monastery, and we know that there was eventually one there. All the same, it’s not as conclusive as Portmahomack’s all-male cemetery, but I see that this hasn’t stopped the dig leader writing a book about it which I guess I shall now have to read, some day in my mythical free time.

Well outside the Empire in one direction, because I already mentioned Inuit cultures here once I now feel they’re sort of part of the remit even though I know nothing about them. Partly it’s because it’s useful to keep a vague notion of what else is going on where in the world during the Middle Ages just so that one doesn’t get too fixed to a European idea of progress and development. So, late Antique Alaska: we have new evidence. Constantine was founding a new Rome and these people really didn’t care, but we know more about them than we did a few weeks ago.

"A bird bone... grooved for snapping out thin blanks that would be ground down and eyed into sewing needles"

'A bird bone... grooved for snapping out thin blanks that would be ground down and eyed into sewing needles'

And lastly, and maybe most importantly of all I find this story about a sunken Arab dhow, from its cargo datable to after 826 A. D., that has been found, still mostly preserved on the seafloor with a fabulous cargo. The important thing is not so much the cargo, however, as the location, which is off Sumatra. Then the cargo becomes important, because it’s basically gold treasure and really really fine Tang dynasty pottery of the highest grades, as well as 40,000 china bowls—which are now the oldest known actual ‘china’ in the world—packed in beansprouts… Who knows what this stuff was doing on one badly-lost dhow, which seems to have come to grief on the reefs of the Gaspar Strait, but it illustrates really high-value commercial links between (probably) Iraq, via Basra and on into the cAbbasid Caliphate, and Tang dynasty China, well before we have much evidence of such contact. Also, bulk long-distance trade too: even Chris Wickham would have trouble writing off 40,000 bowls as marginal luxury traffic… So I hope for much more on this in future months.

If that isn’t enough to keep you clicking, and in some cases boggling at how little some Romance languages can change over six hundred years, well, I don’t know what would be but I look forward to seeing it…

Whole lot of blogging out there

I try and keep this blog mostly on the actual Middle Ages and writing about it, and not get drawn into too much conversation between bloggers about blogs. The times that a particular British TV critic would go on about how much he hated TV about TV, in phrases I won’t use here but which could be paraphrased mostly using words starting with ‘self-‘, have influenced me greatly here. All the same, there are times when ya gotta. First of these is that Gabriele Campbell of the Lost Fort has nominated me for an award that I’m not sure what to do with or whence it comes. It seems to just be a meme but still, somewhere I’m sure someone is counting the times the little design they created appears somewhere and generally monitoring us like aliens monitoring us from ABOVE MAN I’M TELLING YOU!!1!eleventy-one! etc. Lemme make with the tinfoil hat already!

I’d be inclined to ignore this, but Gabriele’s nominated me for something before and I ignored it then too, and then, even while this was in draft, Another Damned Medievalist nominated me for the same award! Also, more pertinently, I’m temporarily short of content, so OK, I’ll bite. But I’m not going to tag ten others as the meme wants. I hate being tagged myself unless it really gives me something to play with. What I will do, which is subtly not the same thing, is try and explain why I think ten of the blogs I read are worth the reading.

  • It would be somewhat rude, of course, not to start with Gabriele, who is one of a number of historical fiction writers running a blog to test ideas and connect with her peers. These are blogs that by and large I avoid. The reason I don’t avoid Gabriele’s is partly because of the sense of humour, but mainly because when she writes about somewhere she’s usually been there and taken brilliant photoes. Honestly, there are more shots and explanations of European castles at The Lost Fort than on several castle tourist sites, and the photoes are far better.
  • Another fiction writer whom I make an exception for is Carla Nayland. A quantity of the blog is local photography and there’s a recipe every month, some of which look damn tasty but not medieval. However, she does her research: there’s as likely to be a post untangling matters of the Anglo-Saxon calendar or disambiguating two Pictish kings as there is either of those, and if you don’t know Insular early medieval history or its debates particularly well you will find a clever and easily-fathomable introduction to several at Carla’s blog. So if you had been ignoring it because of its averred fictionality, let me assure you that that’s misleading.
  • Now let’s talk the ones that I turn to hoping for a smile to be raised. You are all reading Jennifer Lynn Jordan’s Per Omnia Sæcula aren’t you? I can’t see why you wouldn’t be. Irreverent perhaps—well, no, definitely, in as much as paper cartoon puppets of Charlemagne can hardly be reverent—but erudite, passionate and you never know exactly what’s going to crop up.
  • Much more certain for what will turn up, in as much as there is a tag cloud in which the words “Angelina Jolie” and “boobs” turn up quite large (though the latter not as large as another tag, “not boobs”), is Carl Pyrdum’s Got Medieval; despite what I’ve just said Carl deploys considerable learning about the Middle Ages, often based on close readings of manuscripts that are carefully illustrated in his posts, in the great purpose of having fun, and also of using large numbers of amusing footnotes. Also, there are but few places out there where an author publically disclaims everything he’s written, and this is one.
  • Sticking with the reading for enjoyment, two very different approaches to an Anglo-Saxon academy come from Professor Michael Drout and she who trades as The Naked Philologist. From Drout’s Wormtalk and Slugspeak we get justifiably infrequent but always learned posts which take complicated things, be they Old English verse and its manuscripts or academic management, and make them comprehensible to the outsider in a sensitive way. I don’t feel involved in many of the things that Professor Drout does, but I’m always interested in reading them.
  • On the other hand, la Philologiste is more likely to come up with carefully-crafted cartoon icons and humourous retellings of hagiography than give lengthy state-of-the-field discourses (though there have been some of them as well). What can I say? At some level, the enthusiasm and the love of the subject matter are not dissimilar, and they mean I’m always glad to see her avatar in WordPress’s blog surfer (as well as faintly envious of an undergraduate already deep in manuscript work).
  • There is a little cluster of three, which there are many good reasons to read, but which I follow because what they write is likely to touch my own research, and there aren’t very many people who do this, and still fewer on the Internet. Best known to the readership because of being so well-established, I suspect, is Another Damned Medievalist whose Blogenspiel was one of the first medievalist blogs of which I was aware and gave me the consciousness that people were doing this and that it could be done in conjunction with a job. Second, because I know the writer in real life and because our interests overlap considerably, but also because the questions she asks of our material are very different from mine, is Magistra et Mater, whose likewise long-established blog I took rather longer to happen on. Third and newest, but providing me a series of interesting perspectives on how my material looks from later, if you see, is Clio’s Disciple, whom I may have frightened by mentioning here (though I imagine it’s good for no more than a couple of hits, all the same).
  • That seems to be nine. So let me last mention The Rebel Letter, which is not something I might be expected to like. I don’t think that the author and I would get on in person, we have very different backgrounds and interests and a great deal of the blog is personal life which I don’t really consider it this blog’s job to bring forward. However, she writes really well and often enough that is writing about, if not medieval texts (though sometimes) the academic life, its travails and costs and its occasional fierce joys, that I have no compunction not only in linking it but following it as if it were the most relevant thing in the world.

This omits a few obvious suspects: again, I assume everyone is already reading some, like The Unlocked Wordhoard and Geoffrey Chaucer (TM) Hath an Extreme Blog: Go England! It Ys Rad!, as it’s currently trading. Also, I think it’s vital to keep up with David Beard’s Archaeology in Europe, but I only mentioned that a few posts ago and no-one seemed interested; more fools you then, that’s where the new source material’s going to be reported. But this’ll do for now.

* * *

Now then. You’ll perhaps have noticed that significantly absent from the blogroll is In the Medieval Middle, which is because I don’t read it. My occasional ventures there when Richard Scott Nokes cherry-picks a good bit have left me thinking I don’t really want to: at its worst I find it irrelevant, self-gratulatory and insubstantial, and at its best mainly poetic rather than useful, to me at least. In general terms, it just doesn’t have much to do with what I want to study, which is not to deny its worth for others working in a more literary and less historical vein. However, because I’ve been known to say so much in public fora, I thought it was worth making it clear that I am nothing at all to do with this. This, a new rival blog enjoying the title In the Medieval Muddle, is a far worse waste of effort, or at least it is so far. I wouldn’t deny the importance and potential use of their mission, but the combative tone, the inherently destructive critique with no positive readings to balance it, and the incessant sniping at particular people means that it reads like a very bitter and over-elaborate grudge match that I would have no part of even if it were offered. I shan’t even comment there, tempting though it has already been; I am on neither side. I’ll explain why.

I did my undergraduate and my Masters degrees at Cambridge, and then by a series of accidents ended up doing my Ph. D. at London. I will usually defend Oxbridge against stereotypical charges of élitism: it does want to be, and tries hard to be in ways that people ignore, an élite that anyone good enough can join, though given how slowly its recruitment base changes, I can understand the point of view that doesn’t want to be part of it. I do get upset by people who tell me they didn’t apply “because they don’t take people like me”, though. Rubbish: I knew some. They had more ambitious teachers, perhaps, parents with bigger aspirations, more support, but none of this means that Oxbridge wasn’t interested in recruiting the best brains it could get wherever they’d been trained. Of course, they also want to select people who’ll do well and not hate it, which is much more like gatekeeping though not necessarily sinister in motives. Actually, inside the system there is quite justifiable paranoia about what this perception of bias may do to their funding some day; it’s in their interest in many ways to change it, which means changing whatever reality lies behind it too, but it’s slow doing. (This is all fresh in my mind because of a recent article about it in the British Guardian newspaper, which you can find discussed here where you’ll realise you’ve just read my comment.)

All the same, Oxbridge does remain, for the moment, altogether too upper-middle-class, rich and isolated from social distress. This can only be changed by changing its population, which is rather Catch-22; in order to attract people from a broader social base, it needs more of them. And sometimes, it is not very attractive to these people. Sometimes, indeed, it is downright stupid and ridiculous and does itself no favours. One of the reasons I was glad to get out to London, once those accidents had occurred, was the far easier dialogue between ‘rival’ scholars that I met, for example, at the Institute of Historical Research. Quite a lot of them were ex-Oxbridge or on their way back, but they didn’t feud. And this struck me as pleasantly strange, because the first and only time I went to a graduate seminar during my Masters (poor, I know, but read on and also understand that I had a great deal on my plate that year outside the degree), I’d seen Oxbridge at its worst. I won’t name the names, but an eminent professor who was convening the seminar that day, was heartily disliked by another eminent professor. The latter turned up late and bustled in, interrupting proceedings, whereupon the following exchange genuinely took place:

Eminence 2: Hullo everybody, sorry I’m late, you weren’t starting without me were you?

Eminence 1: Now [Eminence 1], we wouldn’t dream of starting without you.

Eminence 2 cocks hand to ear: Did someone say something? No? Well anyway.

At this point I realised I was seeing two grown men who supposedly represented the intellectual peak of my intended profession unwittingly reenacting the Mary Whitehouse Experience. Eminence 2 is an authority on his subject whom no-one can ignore even now; and here he was playing playground “I can’t hear you” games. Yessir: welcome to adulthood. Oh no, that would be somewhere else. London was never like this; there were in fact feuds but they were conducted by means of the antagonists just avoiding each other and getting on in public, you know, like adults. Back in Cambridge, it was much too often History Today done live.

So, anonymous blogger at In The Medieval Muddle, you see this:

That’s you, that is. And alas, you are in stalwart, noble and respected company.

Adaptations III: search form, recent comments

As you’ve probably noticed I’ve done some messing around with the sidebar layout in recent days. In the first place, mainly for my own convenience, there’s now a search box at the top; I was Googling my own blog so much that it was stupid. It seems to work. Not for my own convenience, though, is the recent comments feature. This I installed because I was finding it so useful a feature at Magistra’s place, enabling me to see at a glance whether there’d been any discussion of things I’d already seen and perhaps contributed to. As far as I can tell from the stats people do seem to be following discussion like this here too, but I’m only guessing, and it does annoy me as a presence, because I’m in the habit of having the blogroll there to check down over the course of a day. Of course, it’s only a page further away, not even a click, but all the same I preferred it the old way. But if the recent comments feature is to be there, that’s the only place it makes sense to have it. So I invite feedback: is it interesting and useful to you? Because if not, I might manage without it.

All praise to WordPress however for having these things so simple to install, though; a simple drag-and-drop and a complex and impressive functionality Just Works. It’s pretty good here.

Blogroll policy, and some more archaeological experiments

I appear, over the nearly-two years this blog has been running, to have developed a blogroll policy. Given that, it seemed like a good idea to explain it, especially as I’ve just pruned it and I suppose the prunees might be wondering why. Basically it comes to the two things this blog is, at its core, intended to be, which is (a) academic and (b) advertising. Then there is also the idea that what I link to reflects my judgement in some way, so that in combination, I want the blogroll to show that I know that there are other medievalist bloggers out there trying to communicate their field to the general public. What this all means is that I want what I link to to be current, academically-inclined and more-or-less medieval. In practical terms, I seem to have wound up defining these criteria as “updated within the last quarter”, “having academic content on the front page” and “medieval, well, all right, ancient is also cool and archaeology is relevant almost without period”. Now I think that everyone I have linked to here satisfies those criteria, even if in a few cases I have linked to their categories so as to filter out non-relevant material. On the other hand, I’ve just removed The Punch Die, not because its focus is ancient and numismatic but simply because it hasn’t been updated in a quarter, and one highly erudite medieval blog currently featured on the blogroll was for a while removed because its entire front page was then squeeing about dogs, and I didn’t think that anyone following that link would think I was trying to tell them anything very useful about the medieval blogosphere. And I by and large don’t link to Livejournals, because they function rather differently as social networking and even where their content is largely medieval it’s often drowned by life, love and the pursuit of drunkehappiness. (I don’t link to the Medieval Studies community LJ for a different reason, which is that it’s locked to LJ users only; open it up to OpenID so I can comment some of the places I’ve been mentioned, and I’ll reconsider. Huh.)

This is not, please understand, a quality judgement! All of these exceptions have stuff in I like to read and think is well-written. I was glad when Highly Eccentric hived off her academic thought to The Naked Philologist, but precisely because I was already reading and enjoying Atol is Þin Unseon and was forever in a quandary about whether to link it. I’d love to link to several blogs that spark up about once a year, I’ll mention Westmynstre Blues and Recent Finds in particular, but it makes it look as if I’m not paying attention to my own site. And even the squeeing about dogs was well-written, though I freely admit that dogs are not a great interest of mine. So please, if you find yourself excluded, don’t think of it as snobbery, but mission focus. Or, of course, should your case be appropriate, bloody well update :-)

Now for those of you not following my blogroll, and why the heck should you after all, you may just be missing out. In particular David Beard is doing sterling work keeping us abreast of what I’d call Recent Finds had that name not gone, with his posts to Archaeology in Europe, and it’s about one of those I want to write for the rest of this post.

L\'Esquerda, Roda de Ter, Osona, Catalonia

L'Esquerda, Roda de Ter, Osona, Catalonia

You may just have heard of Dr Peter Reynolds, who died in 2001 but had until then been in charge of the thirty-year research project at Butser Ancient Farm, which is a site founded to farm and build as the Pre-Roman Celts and Romans did, with authentic crops and methods, by way of finding out how that worked, how much the original farmers knew about what they were doing, and of course try and rediscover some of what they knew that we don’t.1 What you may not know is that he was also part of a project doing similar reconstructive work for the medieval period in Catalonia, which is of course how I know about it though even then only by the sketchiest of chances.2 And I was reminded of this by a recent post by David Beard, you see, and thus find out (because his link leads to the whole paper, which is in English) that this work has carried on since 2001, in one of the most interesting sites in Catalonia, l’Esquerda.3

L’Esquerda’s principally notable for being a Carolingian refortification of a Celtic oppidum that time basically forgot as the frontier moved outwards. Most of the existing building is twelfth-century but a burial sequence goes back to the Carolingian era, and there seems to be a reference in Astronomer’s Life of Louis the Pious to orders that would have seen it rebuilt.4 That’s by the by, however, as what they’ve been doing that’s described here is, Reynolds-style, constructing a replica of a granary that was found on the site some time ago. This has told them a lot about the storage capacity and techniques of the building, but the real meat of the project, and the bit that got Reynolds involved, was an attempt to recreate the agronomic range of the medieval site using the seed remains in the granary as a guide. This is essentially what the paper that David has linked to is about, and it’s all good stuff and tells us lots about what grew and what didn’t, and in particular suggests that the miserable cereal yields we are often told to think of medieval agriculture as producing are in fact so miserable as to be difficult to replicate without deliberately screwing it up, which medieval folk presumably weren’t doing, so we should probably call those sources into question (as has indeed been done).5

Chenopodium album, or Fat Hen

But I’m more pleased about the work it reminded me of, which was in a way more interesting although based on a very old-fashioned idea of the relationships between lord and peasant in medieval times. It is pretty clear from various sources that where in Catalonia wheat could be grown, it was. It was Reynolds’s contention that the lords would have taken most of this as tax, and certainly that wheaten bread or porridge couldn’t have been the peasant diet very much of the year. The same also applied to the second, spring, harvest of barley or millet, much of which would have gone for fodder. What did the peasants eat once all this was gone? And Reynolds’s article that I remembered was about this ‘third harvest’, the unlikely crops we no longer think about except at really fancy bakeries like spelt or the above-pictured vegetable and grain-source, Fat Hen or white goosefoot, which as well as having edible cabbage-like leaves also has seeds out of which a passable bread flour can be ground.6 He pointed out that this stuff and other food sources like it grow wild, in the places between cultivation, and that though we might not consider it as food, a starving peasant who knew his plants, as most of them would have done surely, certainly would. The upshot is that the state of the medieval peasant, even in hard times, may not have been as hard as we sometimes think, his diet more varied and seasonal, and less of his ill-being down to lordly exaction than it might be because there were some things lords didn’t exact. The ideology of the paper was a little questionable, to say the least, but the food science was fascinating. So yes: I recommend knowing what peasants ate and here is some good evidence. I don’t know if they have a medieval bakery at the l’Esquerda visitor centre (needs Flash, this one, but a good site) selling you Fat Hen bread but if they did (and I hope to go some time in the coming year) I would totally buy and eat some in Dr Reynolds’s honour.

1. Peter J. Reynolds, Iron Age Farm: the Butser Experiment (London 1979) (non vidi).

2. I found idem & Christine E. Shaw, “The third harvest of the first millennium A. D. in the Plana de Vic” in Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer (ed.), Actes del Congrés Internacional Gerbert d’Orlhac i el seu Temps: Catalunya i Europa a la Fi del 1r Mil·lenni, Vic-Ripoll, 10-13 de Novembre de 1999 (Vic 1999), pp. 339-351 with Catalan résumé p. 339, French résumé pp. 351-352, & Provencal résumé & English abstract p. 352. This volume is not easy to find: in fact, if you do, I’ll buy it from you! I’ve been to Vic to look (among other things). But it wasn’t Reynolds’s paper I’d inter-library-loaned it from Madrid for…

3. Carmen Cubero i Corpas, Imma Ollich i Castanyer, Montserrat de Rocafiguera i Espona & Maria Ocaña i Subirana, “From the granary to the field; archaeobotany and experimental archaeology at l’Esquerda (Catalonia, Spain)” in Vegetation History and Archaeobotany Vol. 17 (New York 2008), pp. 85-92, online at http://www.springerlink.com/content/j418g4qt35038806/fulltext.html, last modified 19 June 2008 as of 15 July 2008.

4. There’s a wealth of Catalan work about l’Esquerda, mostly from the team of Imma Ollich who has been leading the excavations there for a good many years now. I think the most thorough thing is Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer & Montserrat Rocafiguera i Espona, L’Esquerda: 2500 anys d’història, 25 anys de recerca (Roda de Ter 2001), which i’m still trying to get hold of, but there’s loads more, and Prof. Ollich is available in English on the subject too, in the translation of her “Roda: l’Esquerda. La ciudad carolingia” in Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la Época Carolingia, pp. 84-88 as “Roda: l’Esquerda. The Carolingian Town”, ibid. pp. 461-463. Now, honestly, I’ll not often say this, but you should buy that volume. It’s an exhibition catalogue, and so it’s full of gorgeous illustrations: all the articles, which cover a good swathe of Carolingian Europe and England even if it focuses on Catalonia, are translated into English from the original Spanish and feature genuine notables (Pierre Riché is the first to spring to mind but that gives you the idea). Plus which, my copy, which I got from Oxbow Books where it is still on sale, albeit at rather more than I paid for it, came in shrink-wrap with a ticket for the exhibition in, which I rather liked even if I don’t have the time machine that would let me make use of it. It’s genuinely worth having for any early medievalist. Anyway. If, instead, you would prefer current English-language scholarship on l’Esquerda, may I ask you to wait a short while and then avail yourself of J. Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: organisation of society in the pre-Catalan ‘terra de ningú'” in A. Deyermond & M. Ryan (eds), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London forthcoming), or indeed J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London forthcoming), both of which have something to say about the area, among lots more.

The refortification reference is Astronomer, Vita Hludowici Imperatoris, ed. E. Tremp in idem (ed.), Thegan: Gesta Hludowici Imperatoris. Die Taten Kaiser Ludwigs. Astronomus: Vita Hludowici Imperatoris. Das Leben Kaiser Ludwigs, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum Germanicum in usum scholarum separatim editi) LXIV (Hannover 1995), online at http://www.dmgh.de/dmghband.html?bsbbandname=00000712, last modified 8 November 2004 as of 10 November 2007, pp. 278-558 with introduction pp. 53-153, cap. 8: “… ciuitatem Ausonam, castrum Cardonam, Castaserram, et reliqua oppida olim deserta, munivit…. Now, it’s an oppidum desertum once again… Apart from the archaeologists and tourists!

5. Often hard to know what to cite on this: I would work from Norman Pounds, An Economic History of Medieval Europe, 2nd edn. (London 1994) which is solid but thorough and gives you some references that weren’t in the first edition. Much more readable is Georges Duby, The Early Growth of the European Economy: warriors and peasants from the seventh to the twelfth century, transl. Howard Clarke (London 1974), but very of its time and quite possibly where Reynolds got his ideological stances mentioned below. Pp. 25-27 of Duby’s book give the minimum figures and their sources, but as Pounds and many others have observed, it seems very unlikely that medieval agriculture could have fed so many on so little surplus. Reynolds’s most focused work on this was “Medieval cereal yields in Catalonia and England. An empirical challenge” in Acta Medievalia Vol. 18 (Barcelona 1998), pp. 495–509.

6. Reynolds & Shaw, “The Third Harvest”, an unpaginated text of which is online here, last modified 20 February 2008 as of 15 July 2008.