Tag Archives: Borrell II

Name in Print XXVII

You were promised pictures of Lleida from several years ago, I know, but in week, nay, a month, where there hasn’t been much in academic life to be pleased about, I have unexpected news that I can share, so let me do that first, and if I can set you up with the promised post for later in the week I will. For lo, a few days ago a package arrived at my door that was pretty evidently a book from Catalonia. There was only one of those I had any reason to expect, and so, after the obligatory 24-hour Covid cool-off period, I duly opened it and found within this rather handsome volume…

Cover of Borja de Riquer (ed.), Vides catalanes que han fet història (Barcelona 2020)

Cover of Borja de Riquer (ed.), Vides catalanes que han fet història (Barcelona 2020)

What is inside it are short, four- to six-page, biographies of a hundred-and-twenty significant Catalans, or where no Catalans are available, significant persons with a connection to the area that is now Catalonia. That stretch is clearest in the ancient and medieval periods, where all the women are foreigners except three, one of whom is arguably fictional, and there are only six to start with, but things balance a bit better in the modern and contemporary periods, the latter of which, starting with a birth-date in 1800 and ending with one in 1946, makes up more than half the volume.1 Nonetheless, there are twenty medieval personalities here, and among them we find none other than…

First page of Jonathan Jarrett, ‘El comte marquès Borrell II de Barcelona: arquitecte involuntari de Catalunya?’, trans. Mònica Molera i Jordà, in Borja de Riquer (ed.), Vides catalanes que han fet història (Barcelona 2020), pp. 95–102

First page of Jonathan Jarrett, ‘El comte marquès Borrell II de Barcelona: arquitecte involuntari de Catalunya?’, trans. Mònica Molera i Jordà, ibid. pp. 95–102

Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona, Girona, Osona and Urgell, born (as far as we can guess) in 931 A. D. and thus falling between his grandfather, Count Guifré the Hairy, half-legendary national founder figure, and Borrell’s first cousin once removed, Count Oliba II of Ripoll and Berguedà, later instead Abbot Oliba of Sant Miquel de Cuixà and Santa Maria de Ripoll, among quite a few others, and Bishop of Vic, whose metal likeness has more than once graced this blog. Given how generally Borrell can wind up forgotten in the Catalan historiography, for reasons that this brief biography touches on, indeed, it’s rather nice to see him there. But when Josep María Salrach, no less, is writing on Guifré, and Marc Sureda on Oliba, whom could they get who could contribute anything equally worthwhile on Borrell?

Author's name in Jonathan Jarrett, ‘El comte marquès Borrell II de Barcelona: arquitecte involuntari de Catalunya?’, trans. Mònica Molera i Jordà, in Borja de Riquer (ed.), Vides catalanes que han fet hist&oagrave;ria (Barcelona 2020), pp. 95–102

The guilty party is named, ibid. p. 102!

Well, obviously, I wouldn’t be writing about it if it weren’t me, would I? I am ridiculously delighted by this. Firstly I was asked in quite flattering terms; secondly, I actually got paid for my labours on this, not a small thing; and thirdly, I do think Borrell gets short shrift in the record and I have such clear views on him that I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to do it. Fourthly, I’m one of only three anglophones in the volume, so I feel quite elect. Fifthly, and maddest-sounding I know, during the final stages of the redaction of my doctoral thesis, working against a deadline in somewhat adverse personal circumstances, I actually felt as if I was beginning to hear an image of Borrell in my head shouting at me to get on with making him famous again. This hasn’t recurred, I should assure both you and my employers, but I remember. And although Borrell is a decent part of my first book, as far as I know there are only five copies of that in Catalonia and I sent two of them there.2 Then, as you know, my plans to write a full book on Borrell have had to be shelved for the time being, and unless I could have got it translated I wasn’t sure that would attract any more of an audience in Catalonia. But now, what I would like to say about him has at least been signalled, and translated into stylish Catalan by the good offices (and officers) of Edicions 62, whom I’m also quite pleased to have knowing my name, in a work that really anyone in the country with historical interests might pick up.3 I now feel somewhat as if I have discharged a debt to my chosen subject, by mediating his name for the first time since, really, 1836, to those who would consider themselves his countrymen, and whom he might even have considered such as well.4 So for all those reasons, although it’s only a little thing with no footnotes, I’m really rather proud of this. It will presumably be my last publication of 2020 – there is one more due but not very many days left for it to materialise – but it’s a good way to close a year. In case you should be interested but not sufficiently able in Catalan, I have also stuck an unpaginated English version on my website here. Do have a look if you’re so inclined!

Statistics, meanwhile, look good on this one, even given the year of the plague. There was only one draft, and one stage of revision. The first submission went in in November 2019; I had revisions in April 2020. There were no author proofs, but it looks OK to me, and my changes were in fact implemented; I guess this is what you get for dealing with an actual commercial press rather than a specialist one with a captive market, isn’t it? 13 months between submission and print is actually better than average for me, and there’s no arguing with the result, so I’m happy with it!


1. The women in question are Saint Eulalie (on whose factuality see here, but if real murdered in Barcelona by her countrymen), Empress Galla Placidia (born in Rome, died in Rome, lived in Barcelona during a short-lived marriage by force), Dhuoda (married to a count of Barcelona and mother to a usurper there who probably executed Guifré the Hairy’s father, but probably never went south of the Pyrenees herself), Almodis de la Marche (from la Marche, as you’d expect, resident in Barcelona only from her third marriage on, and also murdered in Barcelona, by a relative from that marriage), and then Elisenda de Montcada and Isabel de Villena, about whose Catalan credentials I have no quibbles, not least because I learnt about them from this very book!

2. Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 147-166.

3. Citation: Jonathan Jarrett, ‘El comte marquès Borrell II de Barcelona: arquitecte involuntari de Catalunya?’, trans. Mònica Molera i Jordà, in Borja de Riquer (ed.), Vides catalanes que han fet història (Barcelona 2020), pp. 95–102.

4. He is covered at length only on Prospero de Bofarull y Mascaró, Los condes de Barcelona vindicados, y cronología y genealogía de los reyes de España considerados como soberanos independientes de su marca (Barcelona 1836), 2 vols, vol. I, online here, pp. 65-71, not that much length really, and in Miquel Coll i Alentorn, ‘Dos comtes de Barcelona germans, Miró i Borrell’ in Marie Grau & Olivier Poisson (edd.), Études Roussillonnaises offertes à Pierre Ponsich : Mélanges d’archéologie, d’histoire et d’histoire de l’art du Roussillon et de la Cerdagne (Perpignan 1987), pp. 145-162 at pp. 147-160, which is wrong in quite a few details. However, I cannot as yet promise to fix all of this any time soon…

Seminar CCXLV: me judging judges in Sheffield

We are living in interesting times, and the last few weeks have been extremely busy for a whole bunch of reasons no-one wanted. I came back off strike, had one day in the office and then had to move all my teaching online, then reinvent it again for different patterns of online delivery as instructions changed, and I was also behind with quite a lot of other things but still on action short of strike, and in general it’s been a complex time and I couldn’t make blogging a priority. So far me and mine are still well, or at least, only ill with things other than the novel coronavirus, and I hope that you can all say as much or better, but please look after yourselves anyway. I did wonder whether it was really important to blog about old stuff already backdated at the moment, but if it’s ever important, I suppose that that hasn’t changed much, and it’s Sunday and I’m not legally allowed to work, so why not, eh?1

So we go back, then, to December 2016, when as you may recall I saw a paper that I’d promised to give becoming less and less possible to write under my workload, grimly ignored that workload for a weekend and wrote anyway, the result being called, “Judging the Judges in the Frankish March of Spain before the Year 1000” and presented at the Medieval and Renaissance Seminar in the University of Sheffield on the 7th of the 12th. I’d been meaning to do something about judges in Borrell II’s Barcelona for many years, it was now part of the work for the book I still thought I was writing, and although I had no time to do the kind of reading in the recent historiography that I’d have liked, really long-term readers may remember that Dr Theo Riches once kindly described me as being different from other historians because I can count, and so I sat down with the Catalunya Carolíngia and my notes and I counted judges until the numbers started telling me things. I will, some day, do something with this work, but at the moment it’s one of a number of things I’ve been told by my management not to pursue, so there seems not much more to do with it than to bank a couple of its conclusions here and hope some day for different instructions.

Signature of the judge Dacó, highlighted on Vic, Arxiu Capitular, calaix 6, núm. 882

Signature of the judge Dacó, highlighted on Vic, Arxiu Capitular, calaix 6, núm. 882, my photo

So what the paper did was firstly to introduce late-Carolingian Catalonia to the audience, and then to introduce within it the concept that the historiography has developed of a super-learned clerical judicial cadre working around tenth- and eleventh-century Barcelona making impartial judgements on the basis of written law, a picture that once caused Roger Collins, no less, to ask, “whether anything better could be found anywhere else in Europe in the earlier Middle Ages?”2 We’re talking people like the man I have often named here as Ervigi Marc the Wonder Judge, who wound up as a bishop without portfolio because of his great importance.3 So far my sole contribution to this scholarship has been a footnote pointing out that these people don’t really appear before the 970s, and wondering, of course, if they might be Count-Marquis Borrell II‘s fault. Jeffrey Bowman‘s work has done something to add variegation to that picture by suggesting that there were other judges not quite so impressively trained, more like the Carolingian (or Lombard) idea of people who know the law whom you get to come and hear disputes rather than professionals, and Josep María Salrach‘s recent book does a lot to show that even the ‘professional’ judges were sometimes fallible or corruptible, as indeed we’ve seen here too.4 There’s also now a good bit of prosopographical work on these super-judges to work out who they were, and I’m not as aware of that as I’d like to be, but by repeating some of that work with the indices of the Catalunya Carolíngia I did work out at least two things that I, at least, hadn’t previously noticed or read, and so I’ll tell you about them.5

Graph of judicial actions over time in Catalan charters pre-1000

Graph of judicial actions over time in Catalan charters pre-1000

So here’s a graph, because we know that works, and also because as Wendy Davies says in her own study of judges a bit west from here, “Firstly numbers.”6 The yellow background trace is the overall number of documents preserved over time, from about 880 up to 1000; it’s missing a lot, because I didn’t then have the Catalunya Carolíngia volumes covering Barcelona, and if I ever return to this adding them will be the first thing to do, but I hope it gives the overall trends, which is to say that we have a better chance of observing anything as time goes on because there’re more documents in which one might find it.7 The purple foreground signal is the number of dispute cases, which as you can see is neither very much of the evidence nor that continuous, at least until it gets late enough. Then the blue signal between the two is the total number of judges active in the documents for that year, counting each individual judge as many times as there are occasions when he appears.

There’s a lot one can take from this, but I choose two things: firstly, even when you have thousands of documents to work with, subsets of them can be so tiny that small numbers look more significant than maybe they are. The big spike in 842 is one case that generated lots of documents which were preserved; the 870s/880s peak is a lot of documents and meetings, but almost all coming from the hearings arranged by the monastic community of Sant Andreu d’Eixalada after their place was flooded and they had to reconstitute their holdings, so in some ways a single event.8 Even the spike in the 910s, while it is several events, is one person, Abbess Emma of Sant Joan de Ripoll, suing a succession of people for rights over lands, and when she stopped the sample drops right off again, and only really picks up with the activity of our learned college of judges in the 970s.9 But there is another change over time visible here, all the same, which is that in the early documents there are lots of people called judges (iudices) per ceremony, eight or ten at once quite often, which is why those blue spikes are so high in the 840s, whereas by the 970s one to three is more usual, and one not unusual.

Ruins of Sant Pere d'Eixalada, Catalonia

Not Sant Andreu d’Eixalada, because obviously that was destroyed, but one of the churches the displaced monks claimed, Sant Pere d’Eixalada, or what is now left of it. Photo by Jack maTreball propi, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The other change I’ll point out now, which is only just evident from the graph, is that in the ninth century, you only get people called judges recorded in actual court hearings. There’s a formula that introduces them in the case records, ‘judges who were ordered to judge’, and then a list of people follows.10 But the people who are named there very often don’t use the word iudex or anything like it in their signatures, and they don’t show up with the title outside court. In this respect, the title ‘judge’ is like the title ‘worthy man’ (bonus homo) that also appears in these contexts, and I think it has something do with standing in the court, and so is contextual, not fixed; on this occasion, these people served as judges, with those people recognised as worthy men who could approve a judgement.11 Presumably the judges knew a bit of what the law was understood to be, but they might be a lot more like Frankish scabini than Ervigi Marc, people whose knowledge could be called on for judging but whose usual rôle was not that of judge.12 This changes in 943, when a guy called Sunyer the Judge is seen as a neighbour of some property out at Manresa, but it’s really not till the 970s that we start to see people who sign as judges even when they’re not actually judging, usually because they were being called upon to act as witnesses but sometimes in their own property dealings.13 These people must have had some independent standing as judges even when they were not actually doing it, and people other than them knew they were judges all the time. And, predictably, our special learned judges are in this group, although that group is a lot bigger than just the really flash ones who show up a lot quoting law, as if I ever write this up I will show.

That’s enough for a blog post, except only that I’ll say that I was obviously wrong about Borrell II being responsible for this new class of judge; all the ones I could track seem to have started in Besalú, in fact, and be associated at least for a short while with Count-Bishop Miró Bonfill and his family, though Borrell seems to have managed to poach some of them pretty quickly… I think other people must already have realised that, but I’m not so sure that the other trends above have been spotted before. It shows what even a Saturday spent frantically dumping data into a spreadsheet can produce by way of historical insight, and also that you don’t need a born-digital corpus to do that kind of work. It went well, too, and Sheffield were excellent hosts and I was glad that I had managed to remain a researcher and not pull out despite the difficulties. Still, it’s not ideal, is it? I hope for better.


1. Because it’s not in my contract that I have to, it has to be there if my employers want me to and I’m working to contract.

2. Roger Collins, “‘Sicut lex Gothorum continet’: Law and Charters in Ninth- and Tenth-Century León and Catalonia” in English Historical Review Vol. 100 (Oxford 1985), pp. 489–512 at p. 512.

3. On Ervigi see now Josep Maria Font i Rius, “L’Escola jurídica de Barcelona” in Jesús Alturo, Joan Bellès, Font, Yolanda García & Anscarí M. Mundó (edd.), Liber iudicum popularis, ordenat pel jutge Bonsom de Barcelona, Textos jurídics catalans: Lleis i costums I/1 (Barcelona 2003), pp. 67-100 at pp. 82-87, though I would now be sceptical about the idea of the ‘Barcelona school’ in which he is set.

4. My sally is in Jonathan Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: Organisation of Society in the pre-Catalan ‘Terra de Ningú'” in †Alan Deyermond & Martin J. Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain: A Symposium (London: Queen Mary University of London, 2010), pp. 89–128 at p. 105 n. 6. The other works just mentioned are Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000 (Ithaca NY 2004) and Josep María Salrach, Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil (Vic 2013).

5. The prosopographical work I mean is in Font, “L’Escola jurídica”, and Anscarí M. Mundó, “El jutge Bonsom” in Alturo, Bellès, Font, Garcí & Mundó, Liber iudicum popularis, pp. 101-118.

6. Wendy Davies, “Judges and Judging: truth and justice in northern Iberia on the eve of the millennium” in Journal of Medieval History Vol. 36 (Amsterdam 2010), pp. 193–203 at p. 199.

7. The Barcelona volumes are now out, and I have them, which is a separate and bloggable story by itself, but their citation is Ignasi J. Baiges i Jardí and Pere Puig i Ustrell (edd.), Catalunya carolíngia Volum VII: el comtat de Barcelona, Memòries de la Secció Històrica-Arqueològica 110 (Barcelona 2019), 3 vols.

8. I think there is still no better study of this event than Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, “Com neix i creix un gran monestir pirinenc abans de l’any mil: Eixalada-Cuixà” in Analecta Montserratensia Vol. 8 (Montserrat 1954), pp. 125–337, repr. without the documentary appendix in Abadal, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i documents 13-14 (Barcelona 1969), 2 vols, I, pp. 377–484. Everyone I’ve found who’s written about Cuixà since has just pointed back to it, and not without justification.

9. On this see, of course, Jonathan Jarrett, “Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 (Oxford 2003), pp. 229–258.

10. For example, Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Sebastià Riera i Viader & Manuel Rovirà i Sola (edd), Catalunya carolíngia V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Empúries i Peralada, rev. by Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 61 (Barcelona 2009), 2 vols, I, doc. no. 19: “iudices qui iussi sunt causas audire vel dirimere“, ‘judges who were ordered to hear and determine cases’.

11. On the ‘worthy men’ in this context, a quick reference is Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 35-36 & n. 55.

12. On Carolingian practice I think we can still rely on Janet L. Nelson, “Dispute Settlement in Carolingian West Francia” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (edd.), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1986), pp. 45-63, reprinted in Janet L. Nelson, The Frankish World, 750-900 (London 1996), pp. 51-74. On the Lombard one, I admit that I’m thinking back as far as D. A. Bullough, “Europae Pater: Charlemagne and his achievement in the light of recent scholarship” in English Historical Review Vol. 85 (Oxford 1970), pp. 59–105 at pp. 91-96, but I suppose an update, perhaps in the form of Marios Costambeys, “Disputes and Courts in Lombard and Carolingian Central Italy” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 15 (Oxford 2007), pp. 265–289, would be wise to get.

13. The judge Sunyer turns up actually judging in Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya carolíngia volum IV: Els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 53 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, I, doc. no. 443, but then again just as a neighbour ibid. doc. no. 532.

Chronicle VI: October-December 2016

University and College Union pickets at the University of Leeds

University and College Union pickets at the University of Leeds

Well, just as with the last time I wrote one of these, we are still on strike again, so there is now time to write it. With the trip to Istanbul that immediately preceded the start of term now finally dealt with, it’s time again to look at my life academic as it stood at the current date of my backlog, sadly the end of 2016 but for once I am catching up, and take stock of what was going on and, of course, what of it still merits blogging about! Continue reading

Chronicle V: July-September 2016

Hilary Benn MP addressing pickets at the University of Leeds, 2nd December 2019

Hilary Benn MP addressing pickets at the University of Leeds this morning

Some negotiations are afoot, but the strikes continue, and so I am free to write you more blog. Let’s, as I promised yesterday, look back now to happier times, to wit the summer of 2016, for my next Chronicle post. Admittedly, despite the recent rush, the last one of those three-month slices was a bit more than three months ago, but hopefully this one, covering as it mainly does the summer vacation, will catch things up a bit. So, what did this UK academic do with his summer before he was all unionized and on strike?

Teaching

Well, you’d think teaching stopped over the summer, and of course it mostly does in as much as the undergraduates go home for a bit, but in actual fact as I look through the old diary it is obvious how one never quite gets clear. I got through July with only one Ph. D. supervision, for the visiting Chinese student I’ve mentioned, and in August I saw him again, for the last time, plus one of my postgraduate mentees, but I also spent an hour and a half in an empty classroom recording a canned lecture for our first-year medieval survey module I was taking over, so I was obviously also doing teaching planning. Then in September, as well as a meeting with a different postgraduate mentee, I did a taster lecture for prospective undergraduates, had various meetings to coordinate the upcoming year’s teaching and then in the last week of September of course normal undergraduate teaching began again, with me running three modules, including that whole-cohort survey and my all-new two-semester Special Subject, which had needed an immense amount of translation doing for it, and on the last day of that week I also had to do a transfer interview for one of our doctoral candidates. All of this, course, needed preparation previously. So, given that, I’m not sure I actually took that much time off from teaching in the summer. I certainly did have some actual time off, and I will show you photographs from it as well, but there was no point when teaching was all finished and could be put away. One of my lessons from that summer was that I needed to construct one of those, and I’ve been trying and failing ever since…

Other Efforts

Well, actually quite a lot of this time was spent house-hunting, for reasons I won’t go into, but I was also now starting that coin cataloguing project with an undergraduate that I’ve mentioned here before, which also meant a meeting every few weeks, and also some larger coordination with Special Collections about the further development of work on the coin collection, which at this point I was still also slowly inventorying for an afternoon a week when I could. So coins were definitely a feature of these three months. By September I was also undergoing training, because one of the things in the year ahead of me was my eventually-successful application for Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, not a simple process at first. But here things were fairly light, which is how it should probably be during an academic summer.

Other People’s Research

Obviously, summer also means no seminars, but on the other hand, also obviously to those of us in the circuit, July also opens with Leeds’s own International Medieval Congress, so I definitely saw some other people talk. It was also my first one as staff, and I suppose that even after three years’ delay that may still make it worth blogging separately. That was actually my only conference that summer, however, so even here things were lighter than they might have been.

My Own Research

All the which, therefore, would lead you to suppose that I must mostly have been doing research. And sure, while the look of my diary is mainly house-hunting and (believe it or not) a holiday, there are also a lot of blanks which must have been so filled. I was presenting at the IMC in my Rethinking the Medieval Frontier strand, but of course that was (almost) done by the time July started. I must have been reading for ‘Outgrowing the Dark Ages’, because I had drafts of it done in June and October that this time must have made the difference between, and I also turned round a new version of my old piece ‘A Likely Story’, then as now still on its way to publication. Closer examination however reveals that what I was probably doing most of was trying to work out how many of Borrell II‘s relatives I could track down. (The answer, should you be interested, was 66 whom he could actually have met, not including relatives by marriage, whom I probably should have included, but, well, if the book ever emerges you’ll see there were reasons not to bother.) This involved getting deep into the early work of Martin Aurell, whom you may just know proposed long ago that the ninth- and early-tenth-century comital family of Catalonia was seriously and incestuously interbred.1 Let us suffice here to say that on closer examination of the sources I disagree, and that as long-term readers may remember there were just a lot of women called Adelaide in that area at that time, some of whom are not in fact the same as each other. By the end of the summer I was sure that this now needed to be a separate article, but I was not yet in a position to extract it, and I have to admit, have got little closer since then (though I did at least finish Aurell’s book, some two years later). So that was apparently where the rest of the summer went. Looking at that, I shouldn’t feel bad, really; I redrafted one piece for publication and did some serious work on an article and a book, which ought to be good enough for three months. Nonetheless, my life would have been easier in the following year if it had been more.

Whitby harbour and Whitby Abbey seen from the North Yorkshire Moors Railway service into the town

Whitby harbour and Whitby Abbey seen from the North Yorkshire Moor Railway service into the town, and about as close as I got to anything medieval on this trip, but sometimes that’s OK

What does this all tell us, then? Firstly, I guess, looking back, I was tired and fraught, but that was largely the stress of having to move house again, and my partner bore most of that weight. Even that was not all bad – I got a much better sense of West Yorkshire from going looking at many places – but also, I suspect I was still probably working full days most of these weeks, at least those where I was not actually on leave (and then sometimes in North Yorkshire, as above). I just don’t seem to have finished the summer with that much to show for it, and I think that has to be down to the lack of actual downtime and the need to have new teaching ready for the coming year. In fact, I wasn’t really ready, but I didn’t know that then.


1. Specifically, Martí Aurell i Cardona, “Jalons pour une enquête sur les stratégies matrimoniales des Comtes Catalans” in Frederic Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium Internacional sobre els orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), 2 vols, I pp. 281–364, online here; Martin Aurell, Les noces du comte : mariage et pouvoir en Catalogne (785-1213), Histoire ancienne et médiévale 32 (Paris 1995); and idem, “Pouvoir et parenté des comtes de la Marche Hispanique (801-911)” in Régine Le Jan (ed.), La royauté et les élites dans l’Europe carolingienne (début IXe siècle aux environs de 920) (Villeneuve de l’Ascq 1998), pp. 467–480.

Is it him or is it me? Accuracy, disciplinary expectations and Borrell II

University and College Union pickets dispersing at the Parkinson Building, University of Leeds, 29th November 2019

University and College Union pickets dispersing at the Parkinson Building, University of Leeds, 29th November 2019

I know I’ve made this point by now, but because I, like many other UK academics, am still on strike today, you can have another blog post, because if I were working I could not do this and would have to squeeze time out of Sunday to blog instead. This is another thing I first wrote in mid-2016, when I still had time to read, and as you will see it promises further instalments. In fact, I never wrote those, because the experience I describe below did not improve, but I think it still raises some questions that are worth thinking about, not least, “what should I have been reading instead?” Anyway, here it is, in the unaltered voice of 2016.

Cover of Eugene Mendonsa, Scripting Domination in Medieval Catalonia: an anthropological view (Durham NC 2008)

Cover of Eugene Mendonsa, Scripting Domination in Medieval Catalonia: an anthropological view (Durham NC 2008)

I have read pretty much what there is to read on Count Borrell II of Barcelona by now, as anyone who has hung around this blog for a while would expect, but I have been trying while writing the story of his life to patch any gaps even so. Into this window of opportunity has wandered a book I first heard of when it must have been very new, The Scripting of Domination in Medieval Catalonia: an anthropological view, by Eugene L. Mendonsa.1 The preface to this was free on the web in 2009 or so, and I showed it to my anthropologist of resort to ask whether it seemed sensible to them. After all, I repeatedly talk down medieval historians for using outdated anthropology and ignoring newer stuff; if an anthropologist has written a book about exactly my study area and period, I should not be ignoring it! My referee thought that from what she could tell it seemed OK, and so eventually I found a copy at a price I didn’t mind, bought it and started reading it. This post was occasioned, as it will seem by the time it gets through the backlog to go up, by my reaction to the first substantive chapter.

It would be mean to say that the first chapter makes me wish I’d not spent the money, but it is surprising to me in a number of ways that are probably justifiable without being mean. The book sets out in the preface explicitly to use anthropological thinking to understand how élites in medieval Catalonia kept themselves that way by the social and symbolic structures they created to impose and to justify domination. You can see why this sounds exactly like something I need in my toolkit. However, to go about this the author does a really extensive recapitulation of the political and social history of the area of Catalonia, skimming the Roman, Visigothic and Carolingian periods and getting down to detail in the comital era and proceeding on to the civil wars of the fifteenth century, in three lengthy chapters. In the first chapter at least, no anthropology is cited at all, and while there is analysis along with the narrative it’s derived fairly straightforwardly from historians’ work. I can’t see from a quick skip ahead that this changes much in the subsequent two chapters either, and these three historical ones are together 165 pages of a 226-page book, all in.

So in some sense this is exactly what I wish people would now do, which is use the medieval period as material for new historical anthropology. On another level, however, it is not how we normally do history at all. Some of that is a matter of presentation. There are no footnotes or endnotes, for example, just a list of references at the end of each chapter. That might be OK, and all the things I’d expect to see there in English are there although far far fewer in Catalan or Castilian. However, the text is peppered with quotations, and there’s no way to link these quotations to the works in the reference lists. I’m pretty sure that’s not standard academic practice in any discipline.

Also, lots of it is just factually wrong. Some of that is by virtue of not knowing the disciplinary conventions, I admit, and some of it is because our author likes to come up with snappy phrases for things that might make handy shorthands to a lay audience while looking very odd to medievalists; he refers to ‘Sword Power’ a lot to mean rule by force, for example, which is dramatic to the point of oddness but not wrong in a factual sense. But there is factual error too. The bit that made me choke most was to see the phrase, “Charlemagne’s other son, Bernard of Septimania”; I have no idea what you have to read to get that impression but I very much doubt it was in any of the works in the reference list.2 But when he gets to the sack of 985, our author disappears into a fog of error:

The disaster hit during the reign of Count Ramon Borrell (948-992). Most of the inhabitants were either killed or enslaved. The count fled into the Pyrenees.

The failure of the Francian kings to help the count of Barcelona fight off the advance on the Marca Hispanica of Emir Al-Mansur caused the count to turn to the powerful Cluny Monastery for political support and then to become a vassal of the Holy See.

Al-Mansur died in 1002 and the threat passed. Nevertheless, ties to the Franks had been effectively severed and Count Borrell looked more to Rome during the remainder of his reign…”3

I’ll just knock these out:

  • Ramon Borrell ruled 990-1018.
  • We now think that casualties at Barcelona were serious but far from total, and that parts of the city defences were not even taken, but I’m not sure it’s fair to expect Professor Mendonsa to know that even if it was first suggested in 1982.4
  • Borrell II (945-993), who actually met this attack, did not as far as we know flee to the Pyrenees, though any record about what he did is some years later and only says that he fought al-Mansur’s army, lost and failed to defend the city.5
  • Al-Mansur was not an emir.
  • Neither Borrell nor Ramon Borrell his son had any contact with Cluny, but when the counts of Barcelona did it did not bring them political support in any material fashion.6
  • I’m pretty sure no count of Barcelona was ever a vassal of the Holy See; was that even a thing that happened before Gregory VII?7
  • Borrell did go to Rome, but in 970, well before the attack of 985; that actually seems to have put him personally back in touch with the kings of the Franks.8

The real pedant in me also wants to point out that Borrell II ruled from 945 to 993, but that might again be unfair; most books you could find that even mention him don’t realise that the date of his death has been corrected in local scholarship, and fewer still date from his documented first use of the comital title rather than the death of his father.9 However, since Professor Mendonsa also gives his dates as as 954-992 later on, when he talks of him issuing the first known charter in Catalonia (he means franchise charter, which is almost OK) and then has him in a genealogical table as “Ramon Borrell II, 966-992”, the date apparently because of his brother Miró dying in 966 but the rest hard to explain, it’s really not just lack of currency with local scholarship that’s the problem here.10 The big question is going to be: can an argument emerge, in the twenty-seven pages of the book dedicated so to doing, that still works when the historical foundation it’s set upon is so full of holes? How much about events does one have to know to be able correctly to diagnose social processes? If Professor Mendonsa does in fact have insights that seem good to me, will they be in any way safe to use, given not least that a historian going back to this book from my citation will likely be just as horrified by these errors as I am? These are questions which I suppose I can only answer by finishing the book, and I will, but I’m not sure, all the same, that this is a fair reflection of what anthropological approaches could do with this material…


1. Eugene L. Mendonsa, The Scripting of Domination in Medieval Catalonia: an anthropological view (Durham NC 2008).

2. Ibid. p. 9.

3. Ibid. pp. 10-11.

4. Gaspar Feliu, “Al-Mansur, Barcelona i Sant Cugat” in Acta Historica et Archaeologica Mediaevalia Vol. 3 (Barcelona 1982), pp. 49–54, online here; more broadly, Feliu, La presa de Barcelona per Almansor: història i mitificació. Discurs de recepció de Gaspar Feliu i Montfort com a membre numerari de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica, llegit el dia 12 de desembre de 2007 (Barcelona 2007).

5. Feliu, Presa, pp. 18-19.

6. The obvious place to go when Professor Mendonsa was researching this might still have been the various papers on Cluny in Spain collected in Charles Julian Bishko, Spanish and Portuguese monastic history, 600 – 1300 (London 1984) or even, if one were inclined to look at local literature first, Anscari M. Mundó, “Moissac, Cluny et les mouvements monastiques de l’est des Pyrénées du Xe au XIIe siècle” in Annales du Midi Vol. 63 (Toulouse 1963), pp. 551-573, online here, but given recent comments on the blog I can hardly fail also to mention Lucy K. Pick, “Rethinking Cluny in Spain” in Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies Vol. 5 (Abingdon 2013), pp. 1–17, DOI: 10.1080/17546559.2012.758443 or indeed Karen Stöber, “Cluny in Catalonia”, ibid. Vol. 9 (2017), pp. 241–260, DOI: 10.1080/17546559.2017.1292426. Professor Mendonsa, of course, couldn’t have used these latter two.

7. Ian S. Robinson, “Gregory VII and the Soldiers of Christ”, History Vol. 58 (London 1973), pp. 169-192.

8. Jonathan Jarrett, “Caliph, King, or Grandfather: Strategies of Legitimization on the Spanish March in the Reign of Lothar III” in The Mediaeval Journal Vol. 1 no. 2 (Turnhout 2011), pp. 1–22, DOI: 10.1484/J.TMJ.1.102535, again obviously not available when Professor Mendonsa wrote, but it’s not as if I was using unknown evidence.

9. Cebrià Baraut, “La data i el lloc de la mort del comte Borrell II de Barcelona-Urgell” in Urgellia Vol. 10 (Montserrat 1990), pp. 469–472.

10. Mendonsa, Scripting of Domination, pp. 15 & 21.

This makes things more complicated

It’s day 3 of the UK academic staff strikes, and we are very much still on it. Let me remind you again of my presence in the teach-out at the Quaker Meeting House on Woodhouse Lane tomorrow, details here, and then pick up yet another post I meant to have time to finish years ago but only now have! This one is about Tarragona.

University and College Union pickets on the steps of the Parkinson Building, University of Leeds

University and College Union pickets on the steps of the Parkinson Building, University of Leeds, this very day

If you fly into Catalonia nowadays, Tarragona’s airport (Reus) is one of your three options. I’ve never yet used it, because it’s further away from the bits of Catalonia I work on than the other two by some way, and that may itself tell you that in the ninth to eleventh centuries it wasn’t really part of the world I study. Even though it had been a metropolitan bishopric and the centre of a frequently restless province during the time of the Visigoths, we know very little about the city after the Muslim invasion of 711, and the general best guess has been that it was more or less deserted. I’m sure that there is more to know, and Lawrence McCrank has made it his life’s study to know it and may any day publish work that means what I say below is just wrong, but as far as I know our data for early medieval Tarragona after Islam are more or less these:1

  • At some point between 804 and 806 the city was besieged and briefly taken by the Frankish armies of King Louis the Pious of Aquitaine, but then abandoned again, presumably because it either wasn’t strategically useful or because it was indefensible.2
  • In 941/42 ‘Frankish’ forces recaptured the city, which must have been the work of Marquis Sunyer of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, very busy on the frontier around this time.3
  • In 956 Abbot Cesari of Montserrat, at the prompting of ‘his princes’, went to León and was consecrated Archbishop of Tarragona, but found that his theoretical suffragan bishops wouldn’t respect his appointment when he returned. He carried on using the title till the end of his life in 981, but with no chance ever of being recognised in it, especially after…4
  • In 966, after an attack on the frontier by the forces of the relatively new Caliph al-Hakam II of Córdoba, Count-Marquises Borrell and Miró of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, returned a number of frontier fortresses to Muslim control, which seem to have included Tarragona.5
  • In 970, while on an embassy to Rome, Borrell II tried to get the metropolitan dignity of Tarragona transferred to a city he actually did control, Vic, prompting an epistolary howl of protest from Abbot, I mean Archbishop, Cesari.6
  • After that, we know basically nothing until serious attempts started being made in the 1090s to raise troops for a campaign to recapture the city, which finally succeeded in 1117, with its archbishopric having been optimistically restored some years before. After that it was just about held onto for some time until reaching greater security in the late twelfth century.7

But, unless I’ve missed something, that’s about what we know. I have assumed a good few things about it in my mental picture of my counts’ world: that it was effectively ruinous, making it hard to defend without massive clearance; that it was effectively deserted; that anyone holding land out there did so without reference to Barcelona; and that, despite probably not having any actual governor or anything, it was notionally Islamic at least 720-809, 809-941 and 966-1117. I have tended to explain the apparent Muslim inconsistency over whether it was worth defending through matters of local control: for much of the 950s the Upper March of the Caliphate was in the control of the Tujībid lineage based in Zaragoza, who had replaced the infamous Bānu Qāsī as local warlords a few years before, and the Tujībids were in rebellion for much of that time too, so I’ve always assumed that the Frankish conquests initially looked like good news in Córdoba, deligitimising and weakening the rebel lords, until such time as Córdoba itself ruled there again, which is why Barcelona then caught the caliphal attention in the 960s and had to withdraw.8 Tarragona itself, however, doesn’t seem to have been the prize for the Muslims. Wikipedia currently says “It was an important border city of the Caliphate of Córdoba between 750 and 1013”, but I have never thought we have any basis to say that. But then I came across this, and things became more complicated…

Alabaster arch with Arabic ornament and inscriptions, Tarragona, Museu Diocesà, Col·lecció àrabe, no. 1

Alabaster arch with Arabic ornament and inscriptions, Tarragona, Museu Diocesà, Col·lecció àrabe, no. 1

I learnt of this from a rather good little blog post by one Marcelo del Campo, but I really should have known about it already, as I had in fact read about it a long time before and, evidently, forgotten.9 The reason this arch is a big deal, despite being quite small, is that its inscription proclaims it to have been commissioned by ‘Abd al-Rahmān III al-Nāsir, the first Caliph in al-Andalus, in the year 960. The implication of that would be that actually, the counts of Barcelona did not control Tarragona in the 950s as I have thought, or else that they were chased out earlier than I thought, and also that the city was important enough to have some really fancy stonework from the Caliph himself. All of that would be quite a change, but it’s harder evidence than my guesswork and so I would have to accept it. But thankfully for my peace of mind, there’s a way out.

Gate of Ya'far at the palace of Madinat al-Zahra', near Córdoba

Gate of Ja’far at the palace of Madinat al-Zahra’, near Córdoba, image by Wwal – Own work, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Note that Ja’far, one of al-Hakam II’s ministers, is also named on the Tarragona arch.

You see, as Señor del Campo rightly points out, there’s no way to know that this arch was actually in Tarragona when it was first put up. We just know that it was incorporated into the cloister of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century cathedral. It would be the only sign of ‘Abd al-Rahmān III being interested in places this far out, especially after he stopped campaigning in person in 939, and it seems a lot more like the kind of architecture that survives from his palace outside Córdoba at Madinat al-Zahrā’, such as you see above, than anything else we have from Tarragona.10 And, not to put too fine a point on it, the Catalans helped sack Córdoba in 1010, with several bishops being present, and plenty of stuff remained for later bishops to nick later on too, including the archbishops of Tarragona once there finally were some of those again. And now that I look, the Diocesan Museum itself now attributes this piece to Madinat al-Zahrā’. So thankfully for me, my story of Tarragona probably remains intact, until Professor McCrank’s book comes out, at least. But it had me worried for a moment! And so you have today’s blog post.


1. There is probably also more information than this in Emilio Morera Llauradó, Tarragona Cristiana: Historia del Arzobispado de Tarragona y del territorio de su provincia (Cataluña la Nueva) (Tarragona 1897-1899), 2 vols, but I didn’t spend as much time with the only copy I’ve ever seen as I should have done, sorry…

2. Astronomer, Life of Emperor Louis, printed as ‘Vita Hludowici Imperatoris’ in Ernst Tremp (ed.), Thegan, Die Taten Kaser Ludwigs (Gesta Hludowici Imperatoris). Astronomus, Das Leben Kaiser Ludwigs (Vita Hludowici Imperatoris) (Hannover 1995), pp. 279–555, online here, cap. 29 (pp. 320-323).

3. Al-Mas’Ūdī, The Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems, translated into Catalan in Dolors Bramon (ed.), De quan érem o no musulmans: textos del 713 al 1010. Continuació de l’obra de J. M. Millàs i Vallicrosa, Biblioteca Jaume Caresmar 13 (Vic 2000), §411 (pp. 305-306).

4. Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic: segles IX-X, Documents 1 (Vic 1980-1996), no. 404, on the chronology of which see Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, “L’abat Cesari, fundador de Santa Cecília de Montserrat i pretès arquebisbe de Tarragona. La falsa buttla de Santa Cecília” in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i Documents 13-14 (Barcelona 1969), 2 vols, II, pp. 25–55.

5. Ibn Khaldūn, History of the Berbers, transl. in Bramon, Érem o no musulmans, §424 (pp. 316-317).

6. Junyent, Diplomatari de Vic, doc. no. 405, with Cesari’s howl being no. 404; on this episode, see Jonathan Jarrett, “Archbishop Ató of Osona: False Metropolitans on the Marca Hispanica” in Archiv für Diplomatik Vol. 56 (M¨nchen 2010), pp. 1–42.

7. See Paul Freedman, The Diocese of Vic: tradition and regeneration in medieval Catalonia (New Brunswick N.J. 1983), online here, pp. 29-37, or Lawrence J. McCrank, “Medieval Tarragona: reconquest and restoration” in Butlleti Arqueològic de la Reial Societat Arqueològica Tarraconense Vol. 19/20 (Tarragona 1997/98), pp. 219-230.

8. On these events, hard to reconstruct, see Hugh Kennedy, Muslim Spain and Portugal: a political history of al-Andalus (London 1996), pp. 92-94 & 102.

9. It is described, and indeed translated and painstakingly drawn on a fold-out plate, in Prospero de Bofarull y Mascaró, Los condes de Barcelona vindicados, y cronología y genealogía de los reyes de España considerados como soberanos independientes de su marca (Barcelona 1836-1838), 2 vols, I (online here), pp. 171-175, which I would have said I’ve read.

10. See Maribel Fierro, ʿAbd al-Rahman III: the first Cordoban caliph (Oxford 2005), pp. 53-78, for context, with pp. 109-116 on Madinat al-Zahrā. On Ja’far, see Kennedy, Muslim Spain and Portugal, pp. 101-102.

Leeds IMC Report for 2015, part 4 and final

The last of these posts, though not the last of the 2015 conference reporting I fear, sees me up bright and early on the 9th July 2015. Why? Well, partly so as not to miss breakfast but also because as you may recall, the previous day had almost all been sessions in honour of Ian Wood to mark his retirement. In fact those sessions continued all the rest of the conference, but for reasons that will shortly become clear, I could only go to the first one, and that meant going to hear one of my undergraduate teachers for whom I long ago developed a practice of being good and prompt. What am I talking about? Witness!

1514. The Early Medieval Church: history and hagiography – sessions in honour of Ian Wood, V

  • Rosamond McKitterick, “Reflections on the Manuscript Transmission of Eusebius-Rufinus, Historia ecclesiastica in the Early Middle Ages”
  • Barbara Rosenwein, “Feeling Saints in Gregory of Tours”
  • Wendy Davies, “Unpicking the Early Strands of Becerro Gallicano of San Millán de Cogolla: the monasteries of old Castile”
  • Thomas F. X. Noble, “Response”
  • As a line-up of people whose work has influenced me this is hard to beat. Rosamond, furthermore, opened all our eyes, I think, by picking up on something that I at least knew but knew very little about, that Eusebius’s famous History of the Church, written in Greek around 312-24, was largely known to the West only in the form of the Latin translation of Rufinus, who made it in 401, he says as a distraction from the depradations of the Goths! Rosamond pointed out that he did not leave Eusebius’s text alone, but combined much of the last two books and added two more of his own, and this involved inserting the Nicene Creed, no less, where Eusebius’s report of the Council of Nicæa had only had the council canons. And this was basically the West’s most stable source for the Creed that is the centrepost of Christian worship. Rosamond had counted ten versions in circulation by the Carolingian era, but Rufinus’s was the most common. You can see why some people felt like a reform was needed, can’t you? Professor Rosenwein, meanwhile, reminded us that despite technically being in Heaven and above such concerns, saints as conceived in the Middle Ages still got angry and upset, lamenting and so forth, in much the ways that their followers on Earth did but for better reasons and with better outcomes; they were to an extent emotional guides for the faithful on how to use one’s feelings for the good. This paper was hampered somewhat by relying solely on Gregory, who may well have had his own emotional spectrum (I would centre it on crotchety entitlement, myself), and in questions Albrecht Diem mischeviously raised the prospect that Gregory had two or more different ideals of sanctity in which case, as Professor Rosenwein said in answer, all generalisation would become impossible. Lastly Wendy, taking advantage of the brand new digital version of the Aragonese monastery of San Millán’s oldest surviving cartulary, had dug into it to detect an initial compilation of geographically-focused dossiers, of which one, but only one, went much back before 1000, that dealing with one valley whose materials were, unlike the rest, not in standard diplomatic form; she characterised this as the diplomatic of breakdown, when the practice of charter-writing continued but no authority was left to require how. This is quite powerful as a tool for me and I need to go and look at those charters, not least because I have observed the same myself at Leire and Obarra without thinking about what it meant.1

Sam Ottewill-Soulsby, none other, closed that session by remarking that the frontier had its own characteristics that were worth seeing from a frontier perspective; little did he know how much of a choir he was speaking to… You see, the reason I couldn’t come to any more of the sessions for Ian Wood, be they never so luminaried, was that my own sessions got going after coffee this day. They were but two, and I could have wished they weren’t so late in the conference since the audience dropped with each one as people went home, but they were still fun and they went like this.

1630. Rethinking the Medieval Frontier, I: beyond the Reconquista

  • Álvaro Carvajal Castro, “A Kingdom with no Frontier: on the political identity of the Astur-Leonese monarchy, 9th-11th centuries”
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “De administrandis marcis: the 10th-century frontier with Islam seen from Barcelona and Byantium”
  • Rodrigo García-Velasco, “Place, Fringe, Society or Process? Rulers and Ruled at the Iberian Frontier through the evidence of the fueros and cartas de población, c. 1050-1150″
  • Remains of the church of San Benito de Sahagún, on the site of the earlier monastery

    Remains of the church of San Benito de Sahagún, on the site of the earlier monastery. Photo by Davidh820Trabajo propio, CC BY-SA 3.0 es, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21717489


    All three of us entered this session with historiographical beasts to slay, I think. For Álvaro it was the frontier itself: he focused on the Tierra de Campos around the monastery of Sahagún and noted that after it was notionally fully incorporated into the kingdom of Asturias at the end of the ninth century, with royal donations indicating a considerable scale of property in the general area, the kings could still effectively lose control to local strongmen after a while, and the monastery had first to become the kings’ chosen strongman and then, after a further while, to give up on the kings and focus on the counts of Castile for support. This was less a frontier zone than just an ineffectively-governed one (though I might still argue for that as a frontier space, like mountains2). This theme that frontier politics were maybe just like politics elsewhere came up a lot in discussion, and it was fellow contributor Nicholas Paul who drew us back on track by reminding us that what made it different was the possibility of and for warfare, and Rob Portass had already raised this possibility by reminding us that Sahagún suffered sacking by the armies of al-Mansur in the late tenth century, enough as we know to detach many an area from its notional protectors!
    Rodrigo’s chosen beast, which has withstood a lot of slaying so far, was the Reconquista. Despite doing the particularly difficult thing of giving a first paper before one’s old supervisor (I taught Rodrigo in Oxford, which was why I had gathered him into this effort), he made an eloquent and even impassioned attempt to use the five-hundred-plus local law codes known as fueros to argue for a fragmented, discontinuous and locally-negotiated process of incorporation of new territories into the Navarrese and Aragonese crowns, a process which military presence and the award of these codes only began, rather than concluding. The results remained at the mercy of local strongmen and contrary offers (meaning, for example, that Tudela, Rodrigo’s particular focus, actually switched from Aragón to Navarre after a while) for a long time after the supposed frontier had moved beyond them. This of course meant that the very processes that Rodrigo here thought defined the frontier were those which Álvaro had used to refute such a definition for Sahagún, so it is perhaps no wonder that the discussion was agnostic about whether we were really looking at a distinct phenomenon, but trying to put some definitional flesh on the skeletal concept of ‘frontier’ was what we were all doing there so that was OK by me.
    Archivo Municipal de Tudela, Pergamins A.0002.3

    One manuscript of the fuero of Tudela, Archivo Municipal de Tudela, Pergamins A.0002.3 I think, due to be published by Rodrigo García-Velasco whose image this is


    Speaking of me, I was of course the middle one here, and my beast was incomparability. Despite the apparent incongruities of culture, size, resource and agency I was determined to put my year of necessary Byzantinism to use here, which was where all the digging into Constantine VII‘s De Administrando Imperii had come from. Looking at Constantine VII and Borrell II of Barcelona, of course, who just about overlapped but who in the former case were writing of an earlier time, I gave due attention to the disparities but then argued that both leaders seemed to realise that their best strategy for asserting themselves beyond the borders of what they securely controlled was to locate and enlist a subordinate in whom they could really trust and then let them have their head. Borrell laid more conditions down on some of his chosen subordinates (some of whom, like those of the kings of Asturias, were monasteries) and arguably got less out of them, but the attraction and retention of somebody who could actually achieve things for you was apparently worth the price of their working for themselves. This is the kind of ‘rule’ I want this frontiers project to derive and test; how well has this worked when people have done it and are there context-specific factors that explain that? And so on. This was by way of a first try at what I want this project to be.
    Castell de Llordà, Isona, Catalunya

    The current state of the Castell de Llordà (image from Viquipèdia), populated for Borrell II by a monastic subsidiary

But, necessarily, such a project cannot be all about the Iberian Peninsula even if that’s where my personal networks are strongest. So there was lunch, and various people fading away and finally, the determined hold-out cohort reconvened for the last session of both conference and strand, as follows.

1730. Rethinking the Medieval Frontier, II: Eastern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean

  • Jakub Kabala, “Concepts of the Border in Early Medieval Central Europe”
  • Luca Zavagno, “Islands – Not the Last Frontier: Insular Models in the Early Medieval Byzantine Mediterranean, ca. 650-ca. 850
  • Nicholas Paul, “The Lord’s Tournament Ground: the performance of nobility in Crusader Outremer”
  • I was sorry about the small audience for this session, not just because I’d invited these people to speak from far away in all cases and could in the end offer them only a few hearers, but also because there were three quite different and testing conceptions of frontier space in operation, the discussion such as it was was very thought-provoking and I just wish there could have been more people in it. Kuba was dealing with early medieval ecclesiastical language for borders, which, unsurprisingly, was Biblical, coming from Exodus and Proverbs. While these were usually interpreted in commentaries as describing the boundaries of correct belief, beyond which only heretics would go, Kuba had many examples of churchmen invoking them to complain of more basically territorial infractions, Carolingian clerics writing of Brittany and Thuringia, Methodius of Bavarian infiltration of the province of Moravia, and so on. Clearly the Church had a sense of bounded space here, even if a Biblically-phrased one. Predictably, I therefore asked in questions how that space was bounded, given that it didn’t need to be politically controlled or defended and frequently wasn’t, and Kuba wisely said that the key question was who ordained its clerics.

    Fresco illustration from San Clemente di Roma, showing the apostles of the Slavs, Saints Cyril and Methodius, before the pope

    Fresco illustration from San Clemente di Roma, showing the apostles of the Slavs, Saints Cyril and Methodius, before the pope. By anonymous artistUnknown, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2303590


    This got me thinking. It is that nodal concept of territory with which early medievalists now like to play instead of lines on a map, and it could be represented almost fractally, as each individual cleric answering or not answering the claimant authority himself had a congregation composed of villages or even households who might go to him but might instead go to the priest next-door. In some sense, at this lowest level, if you could go back there and ask people which fields and streams were in which farm and so on you could build a map up from these tiny tiles, as indeed people did for the term of Santa Maria de Manresa in 978 in a way that Jordi Bolòs hs since mapped (my example not Kuba’s obviously), but it would be sort of missing the point: the resource demarcated by such lines was the hearts and minds of those behind them, not the stuff up to the edge.3 If such a person crossed that line to go and visit someone, and then died, would the priest he ordinarily confessed to still get to claim him for burial? Somehow these questions did not come to me at the time, and I don’t know if they could be answered, but I think I will probably be asking them of Kuba when next we meet…4
    The Byzantine-built castle of Saint Hilarion, Girne, Northern Cyprus

    The Byzantine-built castle of Saint Hilarion, Girne, Northern Cyprus. By Richard – originally posted to Flickr as Saint Hilarion Castle, Girne, Northern Cyprus, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7030408


    Luca, meanwhile, had and has a manifesto. A decent part of the Byzantine Empire was made up of large islands: if you count Sicily, Cyprus, Crete, Malta and the Balearics together you are looking at quite a lot of land-mass, yet they are almost always considered peripheral to the mainland’s interests, Sicily sometimes excepted. Luca argued instead that these are a third sort of space to range between the plains of the landward empire and the mess of islands that is the Ægean, places to which the sea is very important but which can function autonomously. They are also more than fortresses and defences, often being trade hubs and even—and this is the bit that catches me particularly—becoming sort of betweennesses once technically lost to the empire, with connections still visible in the form of ceramics, seals and coins after their conquest by or loss to opposing or local powers. Cyprus, indeed, was subject to something like a formal power-sharing agreement between the Empire and the Caliphate during the seventh century, and it’s persistently difficult to say whether it was really in the Empire or not thereafter; its officials used Byzantine titles and honours, but we’ve seen how that can work… Much of what seems problematic here stops being so if we start to see Luca’s islands as frontiers in the Islamic sense, as thughr, that is as passages from one space to another rather than barriers between them, and maybe that’s where we take it next.
    Manuscript illumination of Richard the Lionheart jousting with Saladin

    Manuscript illumination of Richard the Lionheart jousting with Saladin (N. B. this never actually happened)


    Similar reflections on a between-space came finally from Professor Paul, who pitched us a picture of Crusader Outremer as its visitors seem to have seen it by the twelfth century, not as a warzone but really more as a holiday camp where you came from the West to get your chivalry good and bronzed. An analysis of chronicles and literature both was behind this, from which emerged a picture of the lords of the Crusader kingdoms as the ultimate hosts and arbiters of chivalric conduct, rich and homed in exotic spaces where, yes, you might go fight Muslims but you might equally fight each other or hey, go hunting lions with trained cheetahs and go back home with a whole cluster of prestige stories whose attainment, rather than expanding Christendom, was really the point in going.6 Presumably not very many Crusaders’ journey was really like this but it was the story people wanted told, and for the audience raised questions about whether anyone saw this as the frontier of Christianity that we now see in it. Professor Paul’s answer was that the frontier became less visible the closer to it you got, and he linked this back to Kuba’s mission grounds with, I now suppose, that same sense of the reductive optic by which you could keep going down a level and define the boundary slightly differently each time you zoomed in. Of course, in Crusader Jerusalem there would be about five cross-cutting ways in which you could define it, which was exactly why I had been so keen to get a Crusader specialist in on this whole thing. Professor Paul did not disappoint.

So that was the end, and accordingly those of us still left went with one accord to the bar, and I can’t remember what eventually made us leave it but we must have done, because I have stuff to report from elsewhere on the next day as well. But to that, we will come next post! [Edit: I forgot the ending… !] Finally, to end with, proof that I will go on needing more shelves and more reading time as long as I keep going to this conference…

Books bought at the 2015 International Medieval Congress, Leeds

The book haul from 2015, assembled shortly after my return to Birmingham


1. In Jonathan Jarrett, “Comparing the Earliest Documentary Culture in Carolingian Catalonia” in idem & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout 2013), pp. 89-128, DOI: 10.1484/M.IMR-EB.1.101679.

2. I’m thinking here mainly of Chris Wickham, The Mountains and the City: the Tuscan Appennines in the early middle ages (Oxford 1988), esp. pp. 357-365.

3. The Bull is printed in Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 1245, and how long it seems since I’ve cited that work! I must have been teaching… The mapping is done in Jordi Bolòs & Victor Hurtado, Atles dels comtat de Manresa (798-993) (Barcelona 2004), p. 53.

4. The question about burial rights mainly occurs to me because they were significant in the demarcation of early English parishes: see John Blair, The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society (Oxford 2005), pp. 433-471 with particular disputes at pp. 450 & 463.

Kalamazoo 2015, Part 3

Continuing the press through my reporting backlog, we now reach the third day of the 2015 International Congress on Medieval Studies, or as it’s otherwise known, Kalamazoo, 16th May 2015. Time is as ever short and the subject matter ageing, so I shall try and just do my brief list-and-comment format and I’m happy to provide more if they tweak people’s interest. But this is what I saw and some of what I thought…

Early Medieval Europe III

Obviously not one I could miss, given the participants:

  • Eric J. Goldberg, “The Hunting Death of King Carloman II (884)”
  • Cullen J. Chandler, “Nationalism and the Late Carolingian March”
  • Phyllis Jestice, “When Duchesses Were Dukes: female dukes and the rhetoric of power in tenth-century Germany
  • Professor Goldberg made a good attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of King Carloman II, who did indeed get himself killed in a boar-hunt thereby wrecking Western Francia’s chance of Carolingian security, but who had also received the text of advice we know as the De Ordine Palatii from Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims and the acts of whose single council speak in moralising terms of reform and a return to old law in a way that suggests he had taken it to heart, and intended to rule like the right sort of king had the boar not won in one of the court’s fairly essential mutual displays of valour; it might justly be noted, as did Professor Goldberg, that the hunt was happening on a royal estate freshly recovered from the Vikings. As usual, it turns out not to be simple. Cullen made a fresh attempt at explaining the details of Count-Marquis Borrell II‘s undesired escape from Frankish over-rule in the years 985-987 without the national determinism that the standard Catalan scholarship has attached to those events, painting Borrell’s position as one of local legitimacy via multiple fidelities to powerful rulers rather than independència; I might not quite agree, preferring to see something like a serial monogamous Königsfern (to use Cullen’s own concept), but there’s no doubt that nationalism distorts all our perspectives.1 Lastly Professor Jestice looked at three German noblewomen, Judith Duchess of Burgundy, Beatrice Duchess of Upper Lotharingia and Hedwig Duchess of Swabia, over the 960s to 980s, during which time all of them were in various ways in charge of their duchies in the absence of an adult male ruler, and who were all addressed as dux, ‘duke’ as we translate it, in the masculine, in that time, and were awarded charters and held courts like the rulers in whose places we usually consider them to have stood. As Professor Jestice said, it’s a lot easier just to say that they exercised power in their own right, isn’t it? After all, when Duke Dietrich of Lotharingia threw his mother out of power, the pope imposed a penance on him, so you have to wonder if their categories were where we expect them to be. Questions here were mainly about the gendering of the language, and whether it actually has significance, but the point is surely that we can’t mark a clear difference between these women and their male counterparts, so should maybe stop doing it.

432. Money in the Middle Ages

Another obviously-required choice, with later ramifications I couldn’t have anticipated.

  • Andrei Gândilâ, “Modern Money in a Pre-Modern Economy: Fiduciary Coinage in Early Byzantium”
  • Lee Mordechai, “East Roman Imperial Spending and the Eleventh-Century Crisis”
  • Lisa Wolverton, “War, Politics, and the Flow of Cash on the German-Czech-Polish Frontier”
  • Andrei opened up a question I have since pursued with him in other places (thanks not least to Lee, it’s all very circular), which is, how was Byzantine small change valued? From Anastasius (491-518) until the mid-ninth century Byzantine copper-alloy coinage usually carried a face value, which related to the gold coinage in which tax and military salaries were paid in ways we are occasionally told about, but its size didn’t just vary widely, with old 20-nummi pieces sometimes being bigger than newer 40-nummi ones, but was occasionally increased or restored, while old Roman and Byzantine bronze coins continued to run alongside this stuff in circulation at values we don’t understand.2 It seems obvious that the state could set the value of these coinages in ways that look very modern, but the supporting economic framework is largely invisible to us as yet. Lee, meanwhile, retold the economic history of the eleventh-century Byzantine empire, which is as he observed often graphed by means of tracking gold fineness, but could instead be seen as a series of policy reversals by very short-lived emperors that only Alexios I Komnenos, hero of that particular narrative, even had time to address in a way that had a chance of lasting.3 Lastly Professor Wolverton pointed at how often money was involved in the making and breaking of relations across her chosen frontier and argued that more should be done with this by historians, with which I am certainly not going to argue, although discussion made it seem as if the first problem is going to be the numbers provided by her sources.

Then coffee, much needed, and to the next building for…

472. Rethinking Medieval Maps

  • Rebecca Darley, “Eating the Edge of the World in Book Eleven of the Christian Topography
  • Thomas Franke, “Exceeding Expectations: appeasement and subversion in the Catalan Atlas (1375)”
  • Chet Van Duzer, “A Neglected Type of Mappamundi and its Re-Imaging in the Mare Historiarum (BnF MS Lat. 4995, fo. 26v)”
  • Anne Derbes, “Rethinking Maps in Late Medieval Italy: Giusto de’ Menabodi’s Creation of the World in the Baptistery of Padua”
  • Most of this session was somewhat late for me, though not uninteresting, but as keen readers will know Rebecca Darley’s research just about meets mine at Byzantium. She was here arguing in general that, in the early Middle Ages, maps were not tools to be used to find things but ways of imaging space that could not actually be experienced, and used the sixth-century Alexandrian text known as the Christian Topography as an example. It argues in ten books for a flat world the shape of the Tabernacle but then apparently adding an eleventh using quite different source materials to describe the voyage by sea to India and Sri Lanka, with details of the animals from there that the author had seen or indeed eaten. The thing is that the book’s earlier maps don’t show India or Sri Lanka at all, and the cited animals and foods make it seem that the author wasn’t at all clear where they really were; they were not abstract enough to be mapped, but could be directly experienced. QED!

    The world map from the Christian Topography of Cosmas

    The world map from the Christian Topography of Cosmas. “WorldMapCosmasIndicopleustes” by Cosmas Indicopleustes, 6th century – “Les Sciences au Moyen-Age”, “Pour la Science”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.


    Then Mr Franke introduced us, or at least me, to the Catalan Atlas, a world map made by a Jewish artist for King Peter III or Aragón in 1375 which, according to Mr Franke, encodes in its numerous labels of sacred and indeed Apocalyptic locations and portrayals of their associated persons a message that Antichrist will look like the real Christ and that Jews will not be associated with him.
    An eight-page montage of the Catalan Atlas in its Paris manuscript

    An eight-page montage of the Catalan Atlas in its Paris manuscript, by Abraham Cresques – Bibliothèque Nationale de Fance, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41309380


    Mr Van Duzer, for his part, introduced us to another map-as-conceptual-diagram, not the well-known T-O map but a sort of V-in-a-box that shows the different destinations of the sons of Noah about the continents as per the Bible, developed and more less forgotten in the seventh century but revived in his fourteenth-century example manuscript as a vertical projection of a curved Earth, all of which together is more or less unparalleled.
    Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Lat 4915, fo. 26v

    Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Lat 4915, fo. 26v, showing the division of the world between the races


    Lastly Professor Derbes described a world map that can be found in the sixteenth-century baptistery of Padua built by the Carrara family as part of a larger effort of showing off the learning and artistry which they could command. As with much of the session, all I could do with this was nod and enjoy the pictures but the pictures were all pretty good.

And that was it for the third day of papers. Once again, I didn’t do any of the evening sessions but instead hunted dinner in Kalamazoo proper, which the waiter told us was among other things the first home of the Gibson Les Paul guitar. This also means I missed the dance, which is becoming something of a worrying conference trend and perhaps something I should combat, at Kalamazoo at least, but by now I needed the rest, and so this day also wound down.


1. Until Cullen has this in print, one can see Paul Freedman making some of the same points more gently (because of being in Barcelona to do it) in his ‘Symbolic implications of the events of 985-988’ in Federico Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium internacional sobre els orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-IX), 2 vols (Barcelona 1991-1992), also published as Memorias de la Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols 23-24 (Barcelona 1991-1992), I pp. 117-129, online here.

2. The current state of the art on this question is more or less one article, Cécile Morrisson, “La monnaie fiduciaire à Byzance ou ‘Vraie monnaie’, ‘monnaie fiduciaire’ et ‘fausse monnaie’ à Byzance” in Bulletin de la Société Française de Numismatique Vol. 34 (Paris 1979), pp. 612-616.

From the Sources XII: successful crime and vicarious enforcement

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

Barcelona, Biblioteca de Catalunya, pergamins 2079, recto

Barcelona, Biblioteca de Catalunya, pergamins 2079, recto

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

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

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

Barcelona, Biblioteca de Catalunya, pergamins 3766

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

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

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

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

Old monastic buildings of Sant Llorenç del Munt

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

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

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

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

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


1. P. Puig i Ustrell (ed.), El monestir de Sant Llorenç del Munt sobre Terrassa: Diplomatari dels segles X i XI, Diplomataris 8-10 (Barcelona 1995), 3 vols, doc. no. 110:

Pateant aures fideles qualiter ego in Dei nomine Marcus episcopus qui et iudex accessi in comitatu Minorisa in ualle Nespula et audiui peticionem qua Borrellus iudex apetituit Olibane, qui fuit fideiussorem de Dela, ut in placito suo se presentasset et iuxta leges omnia difinisset, et noluit et extraxit se de ipso placito et non ibi ullo modo accessi. [sic] Et postquam accessit montus et iussionibus meis nullo modo obtempeauit nec adquieuit. Et hec est causa unde apetiuit fidemiussorem supradictum in presencia Baroni, Gondemari, Suniari, Baioni, Adroari, alio Gondemari, Gondeuini, Adalberti, Guadamiri, Salomoni, Mironi sacerdoti, Teredi, Marchoni et alii quamplures, scilicet quale Dela proclamauit alaudem Sancto Laurenti suum esse proprium et franchum, quem Sanctus Laurencius xxxta annos abebat possessum iure proprio per cartam quem condam comes Borrellus fecit ad predicta domum Sancti Laurenti. Et idem ipse Dela per hos supradictos xxxta annos seruiuit illum ad predicta domum Sancti Laurenti et donauit taschas et oblias et eceptiones, sicut ceteri omines de ipsum alaudem tenent, donant et seruiunt. Et distrincxerunt eum ministri Sancti Laurenti pro suo excessu sicut alii sui consimiles. Et postea ille exuasit et disrumpit de potestate Sancti Laurenti et fecit ibi alium senioraticum et fecit assalire ministrum Sancti Laurenti supradictum Borrellum et fecit ei tollere suum mulum. Propter ea fuit apertus istum fideiussorem.
Idcirco ego in De nomine Marcus consigno et contrado predictum alaudem in potestate et dicione Sancti Laurenti et iubeo componere supradicto fideissore aliut tantum alaude de suo, et omnibus mobilibus rebus quod ibi inueni tradidi in potestate predicti Borrelli propter suum mulum quod in quadruplum ei conponere debuerat, eo quod ipse […………..], et in propter quod condam comes Borrellus instituit in isto scriptura, qui hinrumpere uoluerit componat in duplo.
Igitur ego pretextus Marcus, ut agnoui istum directum ei audii [………… quo]d predictum Delanem dedisse tascas, et quia fecit alium seniorem que non licebat ei facere, ideo consignaui et consigno, [….]tradidi ac trado predictum alaudem in potestate et di[rectum Sancti Laurent]i, ut dictum est. Et omnes mobiles res in potestate predicti Borrelli.
Facta recognicione et consignacione uel tradiccione et extradiccione II idus octuber […………… reg]nante Roberto rege.
Sig+num Oliba, qui ista extraccione et consignacione fecit et firmauit et firmare rogaui. Sig+num Barone. Sig+num Baio. Sig+num Adroario. […………….] Sig+num Guadamir. Isti testes et presenciales fuerint. Sig+num Gondeuini. Sig+num Adalberti. Sig+num Salamoni. Sig+num Marchoni. Sig+num item alium Godmar. [……………..]
[……………. Erui]gius Dei gracia episcopus cognomento Marcho qui et iudex.
[………………] sacer et scripsit cum literas fusas in uerso III ubi dicit «supra», SSS die et anno prefixo.

2. Ibid. doc. no. 89.

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

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

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

I seem to be writing another book

Not right now, I admit; right now I am doggedly trying to clear any research time at all between the marking, lecture preparation, training and rewriting a long-running module of my predecessor’s to cope with the kind of limits of digitisation I was writing about here the other day, and when I get that time there’s a review, an article and a final version of a conference paper that need sending off first, but nonetheless, since November last year I have been contracted to produce my next monograph and it’s about time I mentioned it here. It will (probably) be called Managing Change: Borrell II of Barcelona (945-993) and his times and I’m due to send the final manuscript to Palgrave MacMillan at the end of June 2016. I thought I should say something about why I think it’s worth writing, how I got it to contract stage and what will be in it, so here goes.

Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona, Girona, Osona (945-993) and Urgell (947-993), as pictured in the Rotlle genealògic del Monestir de Poblet, c. 1400

Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona, Girona, Osona (945-993) and Urgell (947-993), as pictured in the Rotlle genealògic del Monestir de Poblet, c. 1400 (from Wikimedia Commons)

At one level this book is getting written because of professional necessity, but at another one it’s because its seeds have been kicking round my head for years, the unwritten extension of one of the chapters of my doctoral thesis.1 You all know I have many thoughts about Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona (and also Girona, Osona and Urgell). At the latter stages of my write-up process I was as far down my rabbit hole as to occasionally imagine a small avatar of him in my head shouting ineffectually at me to get on with it. I’ve been wanting to get this written ever since then but other things have kept seeming like more immediately useful ideas. Then, a few months after I’d started making a decent attempt to bring the blog up to date by blogging every morning, as I have described before:

“then Christmas happened and in that time someone heard me saying that if I was going to get another job after this one I probably needed to heed one academic’s advice and get myself a second book. That someone pointed out that I had been going on about the one I’d write for ages, and would probably be both happier and more successful if I actually got on with it, and they were right, of course, but really the only time I could free up for that was the time I was using for blogging.”

So with that grimly accepted there arose the question of what to write. I envisaged, and still envisage, this book as a semi-biographical study, because there is basically almost nothing written specifically about Borrell even in Catalan, so it seemed important to get the basics down, but then there would be thematic chapters picking up on the various aspects of his rule I think make interesting points of comparison.2 It seemed clear that I should start with the biographical part, to get that in order and also to demonstrate to a reader that there was a story here that could be told, but that meant getting the evidence into a state of arrangement I’d never yet managed. I have a database with all Borrell’s charters atomised in it, but there’s more that could be done, and once I’d done it I was surprised how much narrative evidence also had to be slotted in, either from Richer of Reims or from Arabic sources and all very bitty but still more than I’d realised and quite informative, to which one could add Gerbert’s letters and so on. I arranged all these into a conspectus of datable or near-datable nuggets of information, and by the end of it there were 218 different incidents of Borrell’s career on record, much more than we have for most tenth- or eleventh-century persons even at élite level.

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39

Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39 (reduced-quality version), with Borrell’s alleged signature lower centre

Moreover, the very effort of getting them in order made coincidences and significances apparent that I’d never noticed before; two or three things happening in Manresa suddenly at the same time, an absence of appearance in Osona until much later than I’d realised, a gap in the evidence for Girona that I’d already noticed and tentatively blamed on Count-Bishop Miró Bonfill of Besalú and Girona actually being more endemic, and so on. I think the most obvious of these was that Borrell got married in the immediate aftermath of his brother, Miró III Count-Marquis of Barcelona (they shared) dying in 966, even though he was probably thirty-five already by then (and there’s no sign that Miró was married either). I’m still puzzling over that lack of attention to the succession, but in any case, it’s clear that plans then changed. So that sort of thing emerged from the close attention to chronology and made this feel a lot like research.

But the biography can be written, so I wrote it, and then after also spending some time making a list of all Borrell’s relatives documentable alive during his lifetime because keeping them straight in my head was proving impossible—and there’s sixty-four of them, which is also a fairly unusual source-base I think, though I doubt he knew even half of them himself—I also had stubs of three other chapters, one of which, on the conceptualisation of comital power, I dressed up for presentation and tentatively sent off to Palgrave with the biographical chapter, the conspectus and a proper actual proposal. I find it hard to say why I decided so quickly on Palgrave: they make nice-looking books, they shift copies and I want this book to make some sales, their academic standards are high enough to be credible, they don’t have the ugly copyright agreements of some companies, but one could say the same of other publishers. So far it has been a good choice, though; they acknowledged, sent out for review very quickly and the reviewer’s comments were, well… it would be fair to say that the reviewer saw in my proposal the potential for a whole other book, one which I’d like to write but it would take me years. I may yet, but I managed to convince Palgrave that with enough deliberate comparison built in, this book would do as a necessary stepping stone to the great new synthetic history of power and government in tenth-century Europe.3

I actually do think, though, that if such a book is to be written—and I think we need one, I do think the tenth century is a crucial period of formation in the mess of post-Roman Europe, in which the dust from the Carolingians’ attempt to renew Rome one last time settles in definitive ways that are hugely diverse because of the chaotic state of post-imperial disunification, and that if we can understand the tenth century better we will understand everything that follows from it better as a result—Borrell’s reign is an excellent place to start. Consider: he lived at the very end of the Carolingian rule of which he was the notional servant, and which he initially tried his best to ignore without actually disclaiming it.4 Big things were afoot; the Carolingians were finishing, the Ottonians were running into trouble, the Caliphate of al-Andalus was entering its dangerous red giant phase whose early end no-one could have foreseen, elsewhere in Europe the Vikings were back; everywhere or almost everywhere structures of government, finance, and even religion were in flux and proving unequal to the strains of the times. He was, indeed, caught up in and possibly held back the governmental privatisation process that we sometimes call the ‘feudal transformation’. All these things worked out different in Catalonia because of what Borrell did, the not-so-great man (because I don’t necessarily see him as a success) atop the big waves of historical change trying as best he could to make sure he and his family and (to a lesser degree, but a real one) his people came out of the curve more or less as they’d started or better. And we have more than two hundred documents of him busy at these things. Of course, as I admit up front in the book, that is to say that we know what he was doing on some of less than one half percent of the days he was alive, but that’s still surprisingly much for the tenth century. Something can be done here, and I’m now contracted to do it.

Political map of Europe circa 1000

Not a perfect map—is there such a thing?—but it makes the point: things with names we still have are on this map but they are not yet what and where we expect them

So at the moment, this is the way the chapter plan looks.

  1. Preface and Introduction
  2. Why the book needs to be written, the lack of a decent study of him and the outdated mistakes about his rule that still circulate, the above justification and how I’m proceeding

  3. Biography
  4. A chronological narrative of his life and career marking its big changes

  5. Ancestry, Rivals and Descendants
  6. His family and the ways in which they impinged on his life

  7. The Opening World
  8. His contacts abroad in an era when Catalonia was freshly expanding them5

  9. Money and the Economy
  10. Covering the fisc and the currency reform for which I’ve argued6

  11. Managing Manpower
  12. Reprising my doctoral work here slightly, the ways in which Borrell deployed patronage and upon whom

  13. Piety and Patronage
  14. A prince over the Church or a pawn of his bishops? A little from column A, a little from column B…

  15. Administration and Reform
  16. Principally with respect to the law and judges, since that’s what we can see, but also land management

  17. Theories of Rule
  18. How the counts and others who held power here thought of that and how it was expressed

  19. Conclusion
  20. I think I’ll have a better idea what this will be once I’ve written the rest!

I’m happy to talk about it more in comments, and equally happy in a strange kind of way to be nagged to get on with it; I’d like to be sure there’s an audience, after all. It will get done either way, though, and some day you’ll be able to buy it. Whether it’ll still look like this then, only the next year or so will tell, however!


1. Jonathan Jarrett, ‘Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia’, unpublished doctoral thesis (University of London 2005), pp. 221-253, rev. as J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 141-166.

2. The basic reference is still Prosper de Bofarull, Los Condes de Barcelona vindicados, y cronología y genealogía de los Reyes de España considerados como soberianos independientes de su Marca (Barcelona 1836, repr. 1990), 2 vols, I, online here, last modified 23 July 2008 as of 14 January 2015, pp. 64-81; to it, as far as I know, the only specific studies of Borrell that can be added are Miquel Coll i Alentorn, “Dos comtes de Barcelona germans, Miró i Borrell” in Marie Grau & Olivier Poisson (edd.), Études Roussillonnaises offertes à Pierre Ponsich : Mélanges d’archéologie, d’histoire et d’histoire de l’art du Roussillon et de la Cerdagne (Perpignan 1987), pp. 145-162; Cebrià Baraut, “La data i el lloc de la mort del comte Borrell II de Barcelona-Urgell” in Urgellia Vol. 10 (Montserrat 1990), pp. 469-472; and Michel Zimmermann, “Hugues Capet et Borrell: Á propos de l’«indépendance» de la Catalogne” in Xavier Barral i Altet, Dominique Iogna-Prat, Anscari M. Mundó, Josep María Salrach & Zimmermann (edd.), Catalunya i França Meridional al’Entorn de l’Any Mil: la Catalogne et la France méridionale autour de l’an mil. Colloque International D. N. R. S. [sic]/Generalitat de Catalunya «Hugues Capet 987-1987. La France de l’An Mil», Barcelona 2 – 5 juliol 1987, Actes de Congresos 2 (Barcelona 1991), pp. 59-64, which is not a whole lot of pages despite the length of the footnote.

3. I don’t know who this reviewer was but I have an idea. If they know who they were, and happen to be reading, once this is out I want to talk to you about the next one sir or madam…

4. See J. Jarrett, “Caliph, King or Grandfather: strategies of legitimization on the Spanish March in the reign of Lothar III” in The Mediaeval Journal Vol. 1.2 (Turnhout 2012 for 2011), pp. 1-22.

5. Here still basically following Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, Com Catalunya s’obrí al món mil anys enrera, Episodis de l’història 3 (Barcelona 1960, repr. 1987).

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