Tag Archives: boundaries

Leeds 2014 Report II: the edges of many different empires

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

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

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

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

Aerial view of Middelburg in Walcheren

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

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

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

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

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

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

The track of an ancient herepath near Avebury

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

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

The Porta dos Cavaleiros in Viseu

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

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

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

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

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

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

699. Keynote Lecture 2014

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

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

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

the work of Ibn Khaldūn

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

the Liao Empire

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

Western historiography is famously dogged

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

Naomi’s super project

    , so we will either way know more before long.

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

719. Were the Umayyad Caliphates Empires? I

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

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

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

812. Empire and the Law

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

More curiosities of the Beaulieu cartulary documents

One of the things that can happen with charter collections that interests me most is when we find that an institution has for some reason or other preserved two versions of the same document. My pet case of this is the bequest from the will of Count Guifré II Borrell to the cathedral of Vic in 911: there are two versions of this, with slightly different witness lists but differing most significantly in whether or not the grant includes a third of the revenues from minting in the city.1 Both appear to be more or less contemporary with the grant date, both are single sheets, both are properly signed off, they are diplomatically ‘authentic’ but one of them is obviously not true. If you want to get properly thinky about it, there are scenarios in which which one that was could change: for example, say the count originally intended to make the grant, and a document was drawn up, but he was then persuaded to reconsider and keep the mint for himself and his heirs, so a new one was drawn up. Then, maybe a century later or maybe sooner, the cathedral outs with the first version at some argument with the count and get the rights conceded. Certainly the bishops of Vic struck coin by the eleventh century, but the other version of this grant must only exist because at some point the opposite was preferred.2 So, true, false, then true again, authentic all the time! I think it should be that way round, because otherwise why would the cathedral keep the one in which they got less? But anyway, these cases help illustrate that several versions of a text could exist from the beginning and even be preserved by the same people, which means a bit of rethinking over some of the classical assumptions of diplomatic.

An episcopal diner of Vic, showing Saints Peter and Paul facing each other paired with a man ploughing with an ox right

An episcopal diner of Vic, showing Saints Peter and Paul facing each other paired with a man ploughing with an ox right, probably of the late eleventh century and now in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

The example I’ve come across at Beaulieu is more mundane but also more personal. It is from May 885, when one Ermenric became concerned about the end of the world (in the way that we’ve discussed) and the state of his soul if it did, or at least was made to say so by the scribes who wrote his resulting donation to the monastery of Saint-Pierre de Beaulieu. He was no minor person, Ermenric, holding some of his land by direct gift from King Carloman, and Beaulieu got richer by twenty-four distinct farmsteads, most of whose tenants were named (three being empty), and a castle that was on one of these properties. They also got richer by the slaves, who were mostly not named (unusually for Beaulieu documents) but among whom, it is specified, were to be counted those who had run away, presumably a trick to stop landlords moving their slaves off an estate before it was transferred and then recovering them and redeploying them as their own still.3 Thirteen men witnessed, including some of the men who show up in these documents most often at that time. It was presumably quite the affair.

The abbey of Saint-Pierre de Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne

The abbey of Saint-Pierre de Beaulieu again, presumed setting of the transaction. Par Wester (Travail personnel) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ou CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

I had not, when I first wrote this in January, got my head round how the Beaulieu cartulary is organised; I’m still not sure I have. Foundational and royal documents open it, intermingled, and then the organisation may be vaguely geographical, or there may be other links, perhaps of donor families, that I’m not yet seeing. Either it’s much subtler than I think, anyway, or it fails here because, more than a hundred documents further on, this transaction is copied again with the same date, same donor and same witnesses, and indeed the same properties transferred.4 There is some change, though: one part of the donation that looks like a copyist’s error (a place that turns up twice in different vicairies, but which doesn’t seem to be significant for the organisation of the cartulary) is eliminated, and one of the farmsteads acquires an extra slave. So, just an update because the transaction had taken a while to organise? Or just a bug-fix that didn’t replace its faulty predecessor in the archive? Well, only if it’s quite some bug, because the other change is in the religious payback. The monks are to have an annual feast in memory of the donation and offer up prayers and thanks, and although this is unusually specific it’s not odd, it’s just that in the first version the anniversary is to be Ermenric’s death and in the second it’s his brother’s. And that, I’ve never seen before. I guess that the most upsettingly possible explanation is his brother died while they were sorting the gift out and this was what they could do to look after his soul. The brother isn’t named so I can’t check if such a person disappears from the record about then. But both versions still made it into the archive, apparently in such a way that the later copyists didn’t realise. I wonder if they just had two feasts?

A dining scene from the Luttrell Psalter

The only plausibly related image I can search up is from the Luttrell Psalter, so wrong country and century but at least it has monks in it? London, British Library Additional MS 42130

The other curiosity is a boundary issue. (As so many things are…) There is an odd contrast to my Catalan documents here in the matter of roads on property boundaries. Actually giving property boundaries (or at least, leaving them in documents that are copied into the cartulary) is unusual here, but roads do turn up, they’re just always ‘public’ ones. That does happen in Catalonia but there’s lots of other sorts; here, not so much.5 This is not the odd thing. The odd thing is that when these public roads turn up, they are overridingly often on the fourth boundary of the proprties concerned. Impressionistic you say, so have some numbers: in the 74 ninth-century documents as Deloche dated them, only 12 actually give boundaries at all. These give bounds for total 29 properties, though, so it’s a slightly better sample than that implies. Of those 29, 8 don’t have bounds on a public road at all (which is to say that nearly 3 times as many do). Of the 21 that are actually evidential for my point, then, 16 have such a road on their fourth boundary. Admittedly, 5 also have one on their third boundary (and 4 of these are in the same donation, so le Vert must have been quite the spaghetti junction) but I’m not sure that weakens the point, and 1 of the non-compliants has a road on its third boundary but doesn’t have any more, so if I said `last’ boundary instead it would conform. The remaining 3 have roads on first and second, on first (of three) and on third boundary respectively.6 I think 16 or 17 out of 21 counts as a trend.

Roman and Romanesque bridge over the River Ter at Roda de Ter

The Roman and Romanesque bridge that carries the old strata francisca over the River Ter at Roda de Ter, about the one image I have which I can be sure shows a medieval street

So, as they say, what’s up with that? An outside possibility: we’re looking at wine country here, is it actually possible that most of these properties are just on the same side of whatever valley they’re in, to catch the sun appropriately? I find this implausible: I reckon the marginal lands should be in use too by the 880s, and anyway it’s not all vines (though I will confess that a lot of it is). So if not that, what? The most obvious thing would seem to be that they are actually counting the bounds by starting in such a place as to finish with the road. In Catalonia the bounds are, as we’ve discussed, usually done east-south-west-north around the compass; here, however, it must be subjective, and that leads one to wonder if they’re even necessarily sequential. If I’d met this first, of course, I’d think Catalonia weird for its cardinal points every time but as it is, this implied practice seems weirdly fluid and hard to plot with. What do you folks think, assuming anyone’s read to the end of another post about charter bounds?


1. Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX-X), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), 5 fascicles, doc. no. 55.

2. Miquel Crusafont, Anna M. Balaguer & Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a catalogue of the coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013), pp. 82-83.

3. Maximin Deloche (ed.), Cartulaire de l’Abbaye de Beaulieu (en Limousin) (Paris 1859), doc. no. LV, my emphasis: “De mancipiis vero ad ipsam curtem pertinentibus sive intermanentibus, fugam lapsis, et unde aliunde transgressi sunt, cedo, pro remedio animæ me&ealig; ad monasterium quod vocatur Belluslocus, ubi Gairulfus abbas præesse videtur custos, ipsam mancipia in integrum….”

4. Deloche, Beaulieu, doc. no. CLXVI.

5. Jordi Bolòs i Masclans, “Aportacions al coneixement de les vies de communicació” in Federico Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium Internacional sobre els orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), also published as Memorias de le Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), I pp. 409-436.

6. The 12 documents are Deloche, Beaulieu, doc. nos XX, XLV, LII, LIV, LXIII, CXXXIII, CLII, CLIII, CLVII, CLVIII and CLXXVII, which might look like a cluster towards the end but in chronological order would be XX, CLXXXIII, LIV, CLIII, XLV, CLVIII, CLII, CLXXVII, LXIII, LII, CXXXIII & CLVII, so actually not so much. Of these LXIII is the one with all the roads; the rest, you could look up yourself if you wished

Charter-hacking I: if every property is square…

Some while ago now the estimable Cullen Chandler asked me something in comments here about the possibilities of mapping the different plots in `our’ charters together to learn something about tenure density, this being one of the very few things he hadn’t then so far tried with them.1 I had, and found it unsatisfactory for a bunch of reasons, most of which I gave in those comments, but since we’ve subsequently had conversations here about how exactly people thought about boundaries between their lands in this place and period, and shown how in some cases those boundaries do allow properties at least to be located, I thought that one of the two cases in the latest set of charters I’ve processed where I tried this would serve to demonstrate why this is, and isn’t, a useful thing to do, using an example from Pla de Fals, as the transactors would call it if they were speaking Catalan now, in Rajadell in Manresa.

Not much prospect of locating that on the ground now... Also a really good example of why you shouldn't use Google Maps as a road map!

Almost all the transaction charters from tenth-century Catalonia deal with land, and almost all of those give boundaries for that land. Those boundaries are expressed in terms of what the property lies next to. Sometimes this is a geographical feature like a river or a rock, but more usually it’s someone else’s land. It’s almost always four boundaries given, and though schemes differ for how those are described, as discussed here before, usually they are compass directions, starting in the east. The charter boundaries I expect therefore run, “et afrontat ipsa terra de orientis in vinea de Enegone, de meridie in vinea de Ricolfo, de occidente in vinea de Berane, de circi in in vinea de Ricolfo”, to pick a non-random [Edit: hypothetical] example. So, OK, it does look as if you ought to be able to play jigsaw with this kind of information, doesn’t it? If you share the usual assumption of the sources that all properties have four sides with one thing each on them, it looks even more so.

Unfortunately, on the rare occasions where we have measurements of plots of land, they are usually long rectangles, and OK, that only changes the game so much, but the possibility of disjointed bounds obviously arises. To make matters worse, you can’t assume you have all the charters, and in any case people might move or die without making any, so the names of the persons there in one document could all change by the time of the next, whereafter the property would be unrecognisable to us.2 So it’s only when you have lots of plots in the same document that you get a snapshot large enough to say anything from. The document I just quoted is one of those, a donation to Santa Cecília de Montserrat of 10 quarteradas of land in five plots.3 There’s trouble already, of course, as while the term quarterada might imply a square allotment (but probably doesn’t), if they’re in pairs then we must be dealing with rectangles even so. But never mind that! Just for the sake of the thing, let’s assume that all these plots are squares of the same size. What does that get us? Well, here is the information, schematically:

falssktc

Click through for full-size version

Now, feel free to print this off and cut them out and try and arrange them or whatever, but some things will be apparent. Firstly, plot 1 must be separate from the rest, those neighbours don’t recur. Secondly, plot 5 cannot adjoin any of the others, once you work it out: Isarn would have to crop up again and he doesn’t. (This could be fudged with rectangular plots, but who’s to say whether they should be lengthened north-south or east-west? Let’s not.) In fact, I can only get three of these five onto a continuous layout, as follows:

falscomb

Now, this is not, perhaps, analytically useless. What it tells us apart from anything else, is that at the bare minimum this neighbour Riculf, who is in fact probably one of the sellers but here holding separately from them, has three separate plots of land and another of heath (because his edge of plot 5 doesn’t join up to any on the sketch), and so he’s clearly more important than the other three transactors, which fits with him being named first. Berà, too, must have at least two; if the plots are all equal in size (IF) there’s no way he can have fewer. Ennegó, on the other hand, despite showing up as a neighbour twice, could plausibly just have the one plot. But of course the plots probably aren’t equal in size, and even if they are, we have two more here that won’t join up and that means that there are others between them that we just aren’t seeing, any of which could belong to any of these people. And in fact, of course, there’s nothing that means any of these plots have to join up, or that they must do so in the most economical way. But even if they did, Riculf might have had only these four plots, but Ennegó might have twenty! Just, not right here. This method cannot disprove that. In fact, it can’t disprove much, and neither can it prove anything really. I still keep trying it, occasionally, because such records do have this tempting jigsaw-like solvability, but every time I do the results really ought to put me off doing it again…


1. Cullen gives an extremely good round-up of what can be done with these documents as “Land and Social Networks in the Carolingian Spanish March” in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History, Third Series Vol. 6 (Brooklyn 2009), pp. 1-33.

2. And if you think about it, that tells you that these documents were not expected to be relevant for terribly long. But, of course, after thirty years you’d be able to appeal to a different defence anyway!

3. The document in question is Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i de Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 1593, and its full boundaries run like this:

“Et est hec omnia in comitatum Minorisa, in castro Agello, qui vokant Plano de de [sic in orig.] Falcos, et afrontant ipsa I petia de vinea: de oriente et de meridie in vinea de Eldomar et de hocciduo in vinea de Sancta Cecilia et de circi in termine Falchos. Et ipsa alia pecia afrontat: de oriente in vinea de Wiskafredo et de meridie et de hocciduo in vinea de Richulfo et de circi in vinea Ennego. Et alia pecia afrontat: de oriente in vinea Ennego et de meridie in vinea de Richulfo et de occiduo in vinea de Bera et de circi in vinea Sancta Maria. Et alia pecia afrontat: de oriente in vinea de Richulfo et de meridie in ermo de Richulfo et de hocciduo in vinea de Bera et de circi in vinea de Richulfo. Et alia pecia afrontat: de oriente et de meridie in vinea Isarno et de hocciduo similiter et de circi in vinea de Richulfo.”

Where on Google Earth, reverse home edition

I don’t know if you’ve run across the game Where on Google Earth. This is a thing that occasionally crosses the archæological blogs that I read, and the way it works is that the previous winner posts an image captured from Google Earth of an archæological site, whose identity readers are then invited to guess. As with I Spy, the person who guesses correctly gets to set the next challenge. Having met it, I was put sharply in mind of it a while back when still working through the charters in volume 4 of the Catalunya Carolíngia.1 As readers of such things will be aware, when geographical boundaries are used in a charter to describe and locate the land being transferred – that is, mountains, rivers and so on, things that don’t move or perish unlike say, the ‘homesteads of Oliba’ – sometimes those bounds are so specific that it is tempting to try and place them on a map, and the existence of Google Maps makes it exceedingly easy to give into this temptation.2 This can sometimes lead to moments of great serendipity: in one particular case, when searching for a farm in Avinyó, I had narrowed it down to this.3

And then I flipped from map to satellite view, as you too can do above, and behold! There was a flipping farm dead centre of the screen. This was less likely than it seems now, as at the time I did this the buildings were not marked on the map view. Of course it’s unlikely to be the same site, but it was fun to have happen all the same, and I would rather like to ask the owner of that farm about pottery fragments that may turn up in their fields… However, let me try another one for you, this being that mill I mentioned a little while back that had another mill on its boundary.4 That may not help us much, but since the mill was on an island in the middle of the Riu Cardener, one might be forgiven for having a hope. Actually, it’s not a good hope, because rivers tend to be very hard to track in satellite view here because of tree cover and also tend to be marked only as lines in map view. But an island big enough to put a mill on, how many can there be? Admittedly, if for example it was the Riu Ter I was dealing with here, things like the subsequent flooding of one of its valleys for use as a reservoir would mean that the photos would not tell us much about the ancient geography, but that could never happen twice…

Ah. Bother. I’m sure it’s beautiful, of course. But actually, this is a long long way north of where our case must have been, in the old county of Manresa. And, lo, follow the Cardener down far enough and we get to the city of Manresa itself, and there, there are islands in the river. Even here, though, there are weirs and it’s hard to tell how big anything was before humans started really intervening here. There were probably islands in different places and the entire course of the river must have been badly bent by all the canalisation around the city. The place we’re looking for must be here somewhere, between Cardona and the confluence with the Riu Llobregat, but that’s a long trek (and as it now lies, definitely in the ‘extreme’ range to navigate given the weirs and rapids). I’m going to pick this one, but there’s no way to know for sure unless someone were to want to get across there next time they’re in Manresa and kick the grass up a bit… I might have a go myself. Still: till then, there’s a kind of Schrödinger’s Mill here, and until the waveform is collapsed, we can imagine…

Not the most rigorous piece of research-based blogging I’ve ever done, this, but hopefully a bit of fun.


1. As usual, this is Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 53 (Barcelona 1999), documents from the which I reference as CC4 plus their number in what follows.

2. It might well be more academically rigorous to check them out in the series of excellent historical atlases by Jordi Bolòs i Masclans and Victor Hurtado, under the series title Atles dels comtats de Catalunya carolíngia, of course. In fact it definitely is, but you can’t zoom in on buildings from the sky that way or, occasionally, get street view…

3. This being CC4 1446, where the searcher is guided by the fact that the Riu d’Oló bounded two sides and a ridge ran along the third; the estate had several solaria, dovecotes and mills so must have stretched out a bit between those boundaries. This seems like the only plausible spot, being in that bend of the river.

4. CC4 1411.

On boundaries

Aerial view of bocage in Normandy

Some modern Norman boundaries

A post by the inimitable Gesta at On Boundaries had me wanting to go, hey, hey look at my stuff in the way that I do, and that seemed best done over here.1 Specifically, among lots of other interesting things about the recent Norman Edge symposium, “Local boundaries and national frontiers of the Norman World”, that they’d just been to, they reported on a paper by Ewan Johnson, which seems to have been called “Land boundaries and cultural contact in Southern Italy”, and which talked about boundary clauses in charters. Aside from the matter of what language they’re in, which has fascinated people like Patrick Geary, there isn’t actually that much work ‘On Boundaries’ in this context that I’m aware of.2 Gesta will probably now set me a reading list, and fair enough, I need it. Before they can, however, I just want to say, I have thought about this for my material, and not come up with much. Let me tell you how it goes.

Almost all of the charter material I use concerns land, and it is usually concerned to delineate that land. There’s a small number of schema by which this is done, right across Catalonia. The one that’s commonest in my area is to describe it by compass points, thus, here, from a donation to the cathedral of Sant Pere de Vic from 930:3

Et afrontat ipsa vinea de parte orientis in strata qui pergit ubique, et de meridie in torrente, et de occiduo in vinea de nos donatores, et de circii similiter in vinea de nos donatores.

The which, translated roughly, goes:

And this vine is bounded from the eastern side on the street that goes to everywhere, and from the south on a torrent, and from the west on the vine of us the donors, and on the bit around similarly on the vine of us donors.

The first thing I get from these clauses is a sense of landscape, therefore. These people appear to be in the wilds: there is a castle nearby, we learn from elsewhere in the document, but there are no other people but them on these lands, and there’s only one road and it leads out. This could be misleading, of course; if they’re only giving one tiny corner of a larger estate they may still be small fish in a big pond who’ve just installed St Peter in their garden, in a way.4 It’s very rare for these documents to give lengths of the sides, so we don’t know how much vineyard was actually involved here. But it’s obviously not heavily subdivided landscape; in other areas you wind up with roads on every side, for example, whereas with some where the bounds are just forest or rock you get the idea that they’re your actual pioneers(-oh).5 So it’s not much like this, with its lots of plots:

Vines in the foothills of the Penedès, Catalonia

Vines in the foothills of the Penedès, Catalonia

On the other hand, it’s also obviously formulaic. Almost every charter in the cathedral archive is like this, but not every plot of land can have been square and arranged with its sides north-south-east-west. Sometimes, indeed, you get the same feature turning up on two (or even more) boundaries, indicating that topography didn’t fit the form, but the form is still adhered to, here at least.6

It’s the ‘here at least’ bit that interests me. That’s how it’s done at Vic; but, for example, in a sale to Abbess Emma of Sant Joan de les Abadesses of land in Vallfogona that leaps off the page of Catalunya Carolíngia IV.1 at me, we get this instead:7

… afrontat ipsa casa cum curte et orto de I parte in torrentem discurrentem et de alia parte in strada publica et de tercia parte in terra Reinulfo et de IIII parte afrontat in terra de te iamdicta emtrice.

Or:

… the selfsame house with courtyard and garden is bounded, on one side on the flowing torrent and from another side on the public street and from a third side on the land of Reinulf and from a fourth side on the land of you the already-said buyer.

It’s usually four sides at Sant Joan, too, but they’re not compass-linked, and when necessity drives they’ll go up to five or even six sides, and quite often drop to three.8 This looks as if it reveals more about the land, as well as illustrating that we’re in a more developed zone here: the public street is probably the Camí de Vallfogona which joins up the local area to the strata francisca from Narbonne to Zaragoza and beyond, and the nunnery’s just over the next ridge.9 In fact, if you look at this…

Aerial view of the Vall de Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Aerial view of the Vall de Sant Joan de les Abadesses

… we’re about four or five miles off to the left, and that vague cluster of buildings just visible in the middle distance is where Abbess Emma had her pad. Now this too is another formula, though as I say they do seem to make it work harder here.10 The thing that intrigues me, as a charter scholar, is that they differ at all, because in other respects the documents are formulaically pretty close and so, indeed, is the whole March.11 But these two houses, which are not far from each other, have different institutional practices in the recording of boundaries. (The very few documents recorded in any detail from Santa Maria de Ripoll suggest that they also used this scheme.12) The only formulary we have from this area doesn’t even get as far as boundary clauses, it’s really only interested in how you start documents off.13 So I have no real idea how this stuff is being taught to the scribes except that it’s presumably in-house (and this is why I have, reluctantly, to persist with Michel Zimmermann’s book and obtain various others).14 But in case it also intrigues anyone else, even potentially Gesta or Ewan, I stick it out there.


1. At least, I couldn’t imitate them, and I’ve never heard of it being done…

2. For example, P. J. Geary, “Land, Language and Memory in Europe 700-1100” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 9 (Cambridge 1999), pp. 169-184. Now, if you like frustration, try pinning down some of the Languedoc references from that article. I found one, not where he says it is. Anyway.

3. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i de Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueolòlogica LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. [hereafter CC4] 367.

4. I unpack that idea at greater length in J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London forthcoming), pp. 122-125, and that is the first time I have ever been able to cite a page reference from this book that now has them, rooooaaaarrrrr!

5. For example, CC4 473, a sale of land in Montpeità whose bounds are given as: “… terra qui est a Monte Pectano afronta: de oriente in roca et de meridie in serra et de occiduo similiter de circi similiter in serra“. I figure it’s not lowland fields here.

6. For example, CC4 561, where the bounds are: “de parte orientis in vinea Auria, de meridie in terra Richila, de occiduo in terra Endaleco, de circi in vinea Auria vel suos eres“, which is one of quite a number of documents out in these once-pioneer areas where the principal landholders appear to be widowed mothers.

7. CC4 229.

8. If this really interests you, I give references and a few examples in J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis (University of London 2005), online here, pp. 67-68.

9. I talk about Vallfogona and its social make-up, and indeed the Camí, in great detail in Rulers and Ruled, pp. 30-49 (roar again!), but if you can’t wait that long or want expertise on roads, the Camí is discussed by Jordi Bolòs i Masclans, “Camí de Vallfogona” in Antoni Pladevall (ed.), Catalunya Romànica X: el Ripollès, ed. J. Vigué i Viñas (Barcelona 1987), pp. 449-450.

10. The other thing we see, occasionally, and especially where large properties are at issue it seems, is bounds that are continuous, as if they’d been walked out (which they may of course have been) such as CC4 513, where one property is bounded as follows: “de ipsa casa vel de ipso orto qui fuit de fratri meo Walafonso usque in ipsa strada que discurrit ante domum Sancti Andree apostoli usque in ipsa karreira“. The biggest of these is unquestionably E. Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX i X), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), doc. no. 445, which sets it out for the whole bishopric of Osona. That goes on for a bit.

11. See J. Jarrett, “Uncertain Origins: Comparing the Earliest Documentary Culture in Carolingian Catalonia”, paper presented in session ‘Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic, I: Formulas and Realities – Did Charters Reflect Real Life?’, International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 9 July 2007, hopefully to appear in the volume of essays we’re putting together from the sessions.

12. For example, CC4 603.

13. It is published as Michel Zimmermann (ed.), “Un formulaire du Xème siècle conservé à Ripoll” in Faventia Vol. 4 no. 2 (Barcelona 1982), pp. 25-86, online here. It is, in any case, from later than any of the documents I’m talking about here: see Jarrett, “Pathways of Power”, pp. 63-68.

14. Not least Peter Erhart, Karl Heidecker & Bernhard Zeller (edd.), Die Privaturkunden der Karolingerzeit (Zürich 2009), he says in paltry declaration of intent. (PDF flyer including contents here.)