Tag Archives: Einhard

Leeds IMC report for 2015, part 1

It’s a bit ridiculous, isn’t it, this backlog, but yet it does reduce, and as a result I am now into the veritable height of the European medievalist’s conference season, the International Medieval Congress at what is now my home base at the University of Leeds. Now, in fact on this first day of the Congress there was a lot of sorting out of that ‘home’ aspect, so I missed the keynote lectures and the first session of papers, but finally arriving during the Monday lunchbreak, I was able to begin the academic day like this:

233. The Early Islamic World, II: Provinces and Frontiers – Syria and the West

  • Corisande Fenwick, “Berbers and Borderlands: frontier society in North Africa”
  • Anna Leone, Marco Nebbia, Ralf Bockmann, Hafed Abdouli, Moftah Haddad and Ahmed Masud, “Changing Landscape in the 8th Century to the 10th Century: the case of the Jebel Nefiya and Tripolitania”
  • Denis Genequand, “Elites in the Countryside: recent research on the Umayyad ‘desert castles’
  • I went to this session partly because of knowing Corisande, partly because of a vague fascination with the Umayyad desert palaces that has occasionally shown itself here and mainly because Corisande had waved the words ‘frontier’ and ‘borderlands’ at us, usually guaranteed to catch my interest. Certainly the area she was looking at challenges our usual ideas of borders, since the vast area of Africa taken over in the Umayyad conquests of the seventh century was so huge as for the presence of the notional occupiers to have to be very sporadic and consequently very concentrated, which leaves a distinct archæological profile marked off by garrison architecture, mosques, a greater range of foodstuffs and, most of all, coins from military pay, and beyond it, really very little presence. For me this paper was problematised by an assumption that Corisande verbalised in questions, that new buildings mean new people; if there were in fact assimilation of local populations into these fortress settlements going on, you could not detect it that way. Still, the extremity of the social division was a point well put.

    Remains of the Christian church at Henchir al-Faouar in Tunisia

    Ironically, the best images I can find from the sites named in this paper are of the Christian church at Henchir al-Faouar in Tunisia


    Of the other two papers, the former was the more peculiar, as only one of the authors had in fact been advertised on the program and she had been unable to come, so the paper was read by Andrew Marsham and had a title that was also different from that advertised. Nonetheless, it was interesting: the team in question have been carrying out a survey of mosques over much of the old province of Tripolitania in what is now Libya and were now proceeding to join this up to a survey of settlements. Oddly, the mosques are not all at the settlements, which tend to cluster on hilltops in defensively-clustered fashion at distances of 5-7 kilometres from each other, whereas the mosques could often be in the wilds between them. Dating all this is the next problem, since some of the settlements began in the fourth or fifth centuries and some are Ottoman, with pretty much everything in between too, so the changing landscape had yet to become visible but the possibilities were considerable.
    The fortified granary of Qasr Kabaw in the Jebel Nafusa

    Also, the architecture is amazing. This is thirteenth-century, apparently, but I don’t care; it is the fortified granary of Qasr Kabaw in the Jebel Nafusa, about which you can read slightly more here


    Lastly Dr Genequand took an overall survey of the various buildings in Syria that have been classed as Umayyad ‘desert palaces’, although he tried to avoid both of the words ‘palace’ and ‘castle’ because the variety between the 38 such sites is such as to make generalisations like that difficult; they are more normally estate centres, with areas around them irrigated for intensive farming and produce collection facilities in the complex, and while some are luxurious, with their own baths and mosque complex and so on, and some are fortified and a few are both, and they seem to have grown and changed over time, they are still probably more like really big desert villas than either palace or castle, if you have to find a single word at all.
    One of the erstwhile dams at Wadi al-Qanatir, the area around the Umayyad 'palace' of Umm al-Walid, in Jordan

    One of the erstwhile dams at Wadi al-Qanatir, the area around the Umayyad ‘palace’ of Umm al-Walid, in Jordan, image from Museum With no Frontiers

Then tea and a chance to see an old colleague kick up some fuss, as follows.

325. Byzantium in Context, II: Environment, Economy and Power – Crisis and Renewal in the Byzantine World

  • Mark Whittow, “Byzantium and Global History: towards a new determinism?”
  • Adam Izdebski, “The Middle Byzantine Revival from an Environmental Perspective: a return to antique models”
  • Johannes Preiser-Kapeller, “Topography, Ecology and (Byzantine) Power un Early Medieval Eastern Anatolia and Armenia, 750-1000”
  • Myrto Veikou, “A Concerted ‘Discourse’: interplay between environment and human agency in the area of Smyrna (modern Izmir) in the 13th century CE”
  • This session had gathered a much bigger crowd than would fit into the tiny room it had been allocated to, which is a lesson about the revival of interest in Byzantium more generally in medieval studies, I think. Mark, coming very visibly from his involvement with the Global Middle Ages project, accordingly set out a manifesto for a new medieval European history in which the continuing Byzantine Empire was the default comparator, not the weird remnant, a sign of what ‘should’ have happened everywhere. This would, he then further defined, need to include the perspective that in the Middle Bzyantine period prosperity became rural rather than urban, a phenomenon that we also see in other places and which Mark bravely suggested might have something to with climate. The obvious point of reference here was Ronnie Ellenblum’s work, which Mark hoped one might be less deterministic than, but mainly I wonder how once you have scaled up to the level of climate one can make any single place central to a hypothesis, however big it was.1 The other papers tried to make such connections more explicit, nonetheless, Dr Izdebski comparing coin circulation and pollen patterns across central Greece (the only place where adequate survey evidence exists, he said) and determining two very similar-looking phases of expansion in the fourth to sixth centuries and the first half of the second millennium, but the coins and the pollen don’t agree about when the latter was and neither make a great deal of sense next to the supposed climate profile. Dr Preiser-Kapeller, meanwhile, ran us very summarily through the history of Armenia from the seventh to tenth centuries and concluded that while the fragile local ecology would impact the two surviving noble houses’ grip on power in the area after the year 1000, up till that point military conquest by Persians and Arabs was a far better explanation of how the area wound up with only two such houses from fourteen than was anything environmental. The point of Ms Veikou’s paper, lastly, was mainly to put the URL of her project before us, a project that as far that URL now shows had by then already wound up and has produced no further publications since it did. So no points from me for that, I’m afraid.

    The tenth-century church of Akdamar Island, in the salt Lake Van in Armenia

    The tenth-century church of Akdamar Island, in the salt Lake Van in Armenia, from which lake Johannes’s climate evidence was largely coming, and fair enough


    I found the three actual papers in this session a paradoxical combination, and this came out in discussion. All three speakers were attracted by the idea that large-scale survey that factored in changes in the ecological sphere alongside more material evidence of human usage could tell us something, but when approached on what had to admit either that the data was not yet collected (as in Cappadocia, where much is visible but very little dated or interpreted, or that when it had been it had made sense only on a regional basis and not compared well with anywhere else or the global pattern (as at Lake Van or Miletus in Greece). The effect was to leave the audience, and indeed one at least of the speakers, much more sceptical that this was a useful approach than they had been when we all entered the room, as if Ellenblum’s book, like the first Velvet Underground album, has made every one of its readers determined to have a go too and then discover that trying to be less erratic and offhand than Lou Reed somehow doesn’t produce better rock and roll. I suppose the real point for us to work on here is the junction between macro-scale and micro-scale pictures; if at a local level one can entirely escape what is apparently the global trend one has to ask what difference the global trend really made to people, a problem that we have of course been seeing with generating concern about the current global ecological situation since, well, as long as I can remember really.

Presumably there was then food, as my conference program is pretty much marked up with receptions for the evening so there wouldn’t have been time later. Between the food and the wine, however, came one final academic event for the day.

401. Early Medieval Europe Lecture

    Abbey church of Corbie, from Wikimedia Commons

    The modern state of the abbey church of Corbie, from Wikimedia Commons


    The annual Early Medieval Europe lecture was this year given by none other than Professor Mayke de Jong, speaking with the title “Carolingian Cultures of Dialogue and Debate”, so as you might expect I went. Mayke was speaking about a difficult text on which she has been working for a long time, the Epitaphium Arsenii of Paschasius Radbertus. This is an anonymised critique of the policies of the Carolingian Emperor Louis the Pious written in the form of a dialoguic account of the life of one of his relatives, Abbot Wala of Corbie (as he ended his earthly career).2 Just explaining what it is isn’t simple, therefore, but Mayke is one of three people who have recently written about it, all coming into the field (as she explained) with different historiographical demons to slay.3 The particular one she tackled here was the idea that the early Middle Ages was an era in which there was no public sphere and the ancient tradition of ‘speaking truth to power’ died off, in which rulers were influenced not by the voices of the crowd but a closed circle of advisors. Texts like the Epitaphium show that this is not true, at least if Mayke’s right that its much more polemical second book was intended for an audience beyond the monastery at Corbie where it was written. The whole text rests on the idea that it was not just all right but morally necessary to try to correct the emperor about his mistakes, after all, and that this could be done by this kind of literary device. Mayke had other examples of people rewriting events in literary fashion to put their view across, but it now strikes me after teaching it for a term again that another obvious one of these texts is Einhard’s Vita Karoli, because whatever its date and purpose was it’s certainly using praise of Charlemagne in the reign of his successor to do something. The whole lecture was full of wry wit and sharp observations about the way that people’s intellectual traditions have constructed their opinions, and she was quite right that if we as scholars of the early Middle Ages want to get our field away from the old idea of the Dark Ages we need better to understand why people find it useful to put it there.4 But her final point, that the Carolingian religious sphere was a public one that included laymen, shows how far our categories are crumbling as we better understand what authors like Paschasius were doing with their texts.

And so that wound up the first day of the IMC of 2015, and I will alternate the reports on the remaining three with shorter and more discursive content but I will, by my blogger’s pledge, get it done, and then continue onwards!


1. Ellenblum’s work referred to here is R. Ellenblum, The Collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean: climate change and the decline of the East, 950-1072 (Cambridge 2012), to which at some point I am also going to have to pay attention I suppose. On issues of scale, it always seems worth my citing Julio Escalona, “The Early Middle Ages: a scale-based approach” in idem & Andrew Reynolds (edd.), Scale and Scale Change in the Early Middle Ages: exploring landscape, local society, and the world beyond, The Medieval Countryside 6 (Turnhout 2011), pp. 9-29.

2. It is available in a deprecated but still unique translation for the English-speaker as Allen Cabaniss (trans.), Charlemagne’s Cousins: contemporary lives of Adalard and Wala (Syracuse NY 1967).

3. Referring to M. de Jong, The Penitential State: authority and atonement in the age of Louis the Pious, 814-840 (Cambridge 2010), but also to Courtney M. Booker, Past Convictions: the penance of Louis the Pious and the decline of the Carolingians (Philadelphia PA 2009) and some unnamed work by Steffen Patzold that I don’t know, but which might be (or be referred to in) his “Consensus – Concordia – Unitas: Überlegungen zu einem politisch-religiösen Ideal der Karolingerzeit” in Nikolaus Staubach (ed.), Exemplaris imago: Ideale in Mittelalter und früher Neuzeit, Tradition, Reform, Innovation 15 (Frankfurt 2012), pp. 31-56 (non vidi).

4. Mayke cited, among other things, Ian Wood, The Modern Origins of the Early Middle Ages (Oxford 2013), and I might add, with my original cautions as linked, Kathleen Davis, Periodization and Sovereignty: how ideas of feudalism and secularization govern the politics of time (Philadelphia PA 2006).

What if Widukind was wrong about warfare?

I feel a little bad about returning to David Bachrach’s book Warfare in Tenth-Century Germany with my claws still out after his generous and lengthy responses to my previous critiques. I’m going to do it anyway, of course, but I feel it more necessary than usual to stress to the readership that I use this blog primarily as a platform on which to look clever, and that someone else’s work gives me the chance to do so is not necessarily an indictment of it. Indeed, the first two substantive chapters of Professor Bachrach’s book are possibly the clearest narrative of the politics of the Ottonian realm under Henry I (919-936) and Otto I (936-973) that I’ve read anywhere, militarily-focused or otherwise, and the whole book does the English-reading population of historically-minded people a favour by making the Ottonians more available to us.1 But every year I have a fresh cohort of first-year students who don’t really understand what I mean by critical use of primary sources, and those same first two chapters provide me with some really good object examples.

Monte Cassino, Museo storico, Codex Casinensis 298, showing a contents page from Widukind of Corvey's Sachsengeschichte

A contents page from the oldest manuscript of Widukind of Corvey’s Sachsengeschichte, Monte Cassino, Museo storico, Codex Casinensis 298, here p. 190 (apparently)

The crucial source for much of what Professor Bachrach sets out is the so-called Sachsengeschichte of Widukind of Corvey, written up in 968 and then edited after Otto I’s death in 973, and very lately translated into English by none other than the well-known firm of Bachrach & Bachrach, indeed.2 Widukind was a monk but seems to have been unusually interested in military campaigns, so the first object lesson for my notional students: just because someone is religiously-inclined does not prevent them having good information on secular matters! You have to go further than that and establish, if you can, what bees this particular author has in his or her bonnet about such things. Now, as I say, Widukind is very often the key testimony for Professor Bachrach’s account but the trouble is that sometimes he is flatly contradicted by other sources. Let’s work through an example.

Roman walls built into later structures at Regensburg, Germany

I’m not sure how much of Regensburg’s medieval walls are left but here is some Roman work that obviously must still have been there at the time we’re writing about… Photograph by Lance Longwell

Even by 921 King Henry I was not accepted by all his German subjects, and one particular hold-out was the duchy of Bavaria, then under one Arnulf. Henry had hitherto been occupied trying to arrange peace on his western borders but with that done was able to turn his attention to Bavaria, where Widukind tells us he laid siege to Arnulf at Regensburg and that Arnulf, realising the game was up, surrendered and terms were reached.3 Well, so far so good, but this is only one version of events. The Italian diplomat, gossip-monger and courtier of Otto I, Liudprand of Cremona, writing in the period 958-962, instead records that Henry and Arnulf met with armies on the battlefield but concluded the truce there rather than fight.4 And if that weren’t enough, another text records that Henry invaded Bavaria but was driven out by the forces of an unnamed city, with terms being reached after that.5 Now, I have all these references from Professor Bachrach himself who diligently records them in a footnote, but what he doesn’t give is any reason why we should accept Widukind’s version over the other two. One might meanly suspect that it is because Widukind alone mentions a siege and Professor Bachrach has hung his historiographical hat on the importance of sieges in the warfare of the period, as we have seen.6 I’m sure it is in fact otherwise, but what could we do instead?

Later tenth-century manuscript page of Liutprand's Antapodosis now in Münich

Later tenth-century manuscript page of Liutprand’s Antapodosis, now Münich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 6338, image from Wikimedia Commons

There are several ways this could be resolved, although none of them are conclusive. I think that the anonymous Fragmentum de Arnulfo duce Bavarie can probably be ignored; its purpose was to glorify Arnulf, so it had no interest in recording his defeat, but more importantly its version offers no explanation for Arnulf actually making terms, which he evidently did as Henry went away and Arnulf was willing to fight alongside him on the eastern frontier in later years.7 Liudprand is harder to dismiss, however; he was writing earlier than Widukind and with access to Otto I’s court and anyone there who might have had memories of these campaigns, and his obvious interest in praising the Ottonians (as compared to his previous employer, King Berengar II of Italy) still didn’t lead him to give Henry a decisive victory as did Widukind.8 In some senses both are telling the same essential story: Henry brought an army and Arnulf decided it wasn’t worth fighting. The difference is that Liudprand thought that was best set in the field and Widukind saw it at the city walls, and at least implies the fighting which Liudprand denies. We don’t know why but it is possible that Widukind was making a literary choice, in which case Professor Bachrach has a problem to deal with.

Reconstruction drawing of the Slavic fortress at Brandenburg

Reconstruction drawing of the Slavic fortress at Brandenburg

Can we get any other angles on Widukind’s historiographical preferences? Yes, we can. In 928 Henry I was busy dealing with the various Slav groups on his eastern border. First among these, because they had raided his territory a few years before and because they stood in the way of any major campaign in the middle Elbe region, were a group called the Hevelli who were centred at what is now Brandenburg, where they had a fortress.9 Professor Bachrach’s account is clear and concise, so let’s use that:

“Widukind, who is our best source for this war, makes clear that Henry’s campaign against the Hevelli involved several subsidiary military operations before the urbs at Brandenburg itself was captured. He stressed that the German forces wore out the Slavs in numerous battles (multis preliis fatigans) over a lengthy period.93 It was only after he had sufficiently isolated Brandenburg that Henry deployed his army in a close siege of the fortress. Widukind draws attention to the fact that by the time Henry actually began direct operations against the Hevelli princely seat, the coldest part of the winter had arrived. As a result, the army was forced to camp on ice (castris super glaciem positis).94 Ultimately, Henry captured Brandenburg by storm, after besieging the stronghold for some time.95

“93 Widukind, Res gestae, I.35.
“94 Widukind, Res gestae, I.35. In describing the siege and capture of Brandenburg, Widukind alludes to Cicero’s speech against Lucius Calpurnius Piso. Cicero, In Pisonem, 17 reads, “exercitus nostri interitus ferro, fame, frigore, pestilentia.” Here, Cicero was listing the causes for the casualties suffered by Piso’s troops when he served as governor of Macedonia. Widukind paraphrases here listing only hunger, arms (literally iron), and cold as the causes for the casualties suffered by the defenders of Brandenburg.
“95 Widukind, Res gestae, I.35.”

There’s quite a lot that can be read between the lines here, it seems to me. One is Henry’s determination in pursuing the campaign, which may well be what Widukind wanted to illustrate: the king presumably hadn’t meant to be campaigning still in the dead of winter, which would have been nearly as difficult for his troops as for the defenders and was an occasional cause of mutiny in the Byzantine world.10 It looks rather as if siege was his last resort after trying to beat the enemy decisively in the field had failed several times. Even then, he seems to have waited before risking an assault. Presumably at each stage he hoped for a surrender that the Hevelli weren’t willing to offer. That, at least, seems as fair a reading as one that makes it all strategic wearing down of the enemy; who would have planned to make their army camp on ice? (Though that does suggest that perhaps the fortress was unreachable previously because of surrounding water—as indeed above though the Ottonian forces presumably didn’t camp on the moat—in which case Henry probably didn’t start out meaning to besiege it.)

Portrait bust of M. Tullius Cicero

Marcus Tullius Cicero, no less

But you saw the footnote, right? Object lesson number two for the notional students: always glance at the footnotes. Perhaps more important than the campaign’s duration is the unexpected presence of this guy in the text, this of course being Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman orator and politican of the first century B. C., and with him arrives a possibility unsettling for someone wanting to read Widukind straight here, to wit that he had a written model in mind for how this situation should be described that was nothing to do with what had happened. For most history undergraduates in the UK I guess that this methodological problem is first opened up to them when briefly studying Charlemagne, because they will be set to read Einhard’s Life of Charles and if their teacher’s any good, will then be faced with the fact that Einhard borrowed almost all of his description of Charlemagne from Suetonius’s Twelve Cæsars, in order to make Charlemagne truly the image of his Roman imperial predecessors.11

Portrait denarius of Charlemagne as Emperor (812x814)

Silver denier of Charlemagne, struck at an uncertain mint in 812-814, Künker sale 205 (March 12 and 13, 2012), lot 1405, now in a private collection

Silver denarius of Emperor Vespasian struck at Rome in 69-71, Beast Coins Z2844

Silver denarius of Emperor Vespasian struck at Rome in 69-71, Beast Coins Z2844

The good ones will then work out, of course, that if Einhard was picking descriptions from twelve different emperors to describe one, the best reason for him to select the bits he did was probably because they actually fitted Charlemagne—it’s like my bit about formulae mentioning dovecotes in charters, most probably used because the property in question actually had a dovecote. Maybe the same thing was happening here, so that Widukind had a historical story to tell and saw how perfectly the Cicero quote could fit it. We can hope so, especially since there seems to be no other lifting from Cicero in the story. But one does have at least to think about it. Now, I’m sure that Professor Bachrach has thought about all these questions, for the very simple reason that he’s put the evidence that provokes them in his own footnotes! But I wish he’d had space also to explain how he resolved them in favour of Widukind’s accuracy each time.


1. David Bachrach, Warfare in Tenth-Century Germany (Woodbridge 2012, repr. 2014), pp. 14-69.

2. Widukind, Res gestae Saxonicae, ed. & (German) transl. Albert Bauer & Reinhold Rau as “Die Sachsengeschichte des Widukind von Korvei” in Bauer & Rau (edd.), Quellen zur Geschichte der sächsischen Kaiserzeit (Fontes ad historiam aevi Saxonici illustrandam), Ausgewählte Quellen zur deutschen Geschichte des Mittelalters 8 (Darmstadt 1971), pp. 1-183, (English) transl. Bernard S. Bachrach & David Bachrach as Widukind of Corvey, Deeds of the Saxons, translated with an introduction and notes (Washington DC 2014).

3. Widukind, Res gestae, I.27; Bachrach, Warfare in Tenth-Century Germany, pp. 20-21, citing Widukind at p. 20 n. 38.

4. Liudprand of Cremona, Antapodosis, ed. Paolo Chiesa in Chiesa (ed.), Liudprandi Cremonensis Opera omnia: Antapodosis, Homelia paschalis; Historia Ottonis; Relatio de legatione Constantinopolitana, Corpus Christianorum: Continuatio Medievalis 156 (Turnhout 1998), pp. 1-150, transl. in F. A. Wright (transl.), The Works of Liudprand of Cremona (London 1930), pp. 27-212, II.21, cit. by Bachrach, Warfare in Tenth-Century Germany, p. 20 n. 38.

5. Fragmentum de Arnulfo Bavariae, ed. Philipp Jaffé in Jaffé (ed.), “Annales et notae S. Emmerami Ratisbonensis et Weltenburgenses” in Georg Heinrich Pertz (ed.), Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores in folio) XVII (Hannover 1861, repr. 1990), p. 570 of pp. 567-576, cit. by Bachrach, Warfare in Tenth-Century Germany, p. 20 n. 38.

6. Thus also ibid. p. 22 where Adalbert of Magdeburg, who describes a siege at Metz in 923, is preferred over Flodoard of Reims who describes a different sort of campaign by the German king. They both make it look as if their preferred king won, of course, and maybe there’s something going on where Flodoard focuses on the invading king as a general force of unjust destruction and Adalbert has him single-mindedly focused on the target, Bishop Wigeric of Metz, who had attacked a royal estate. That’s only my speculation, though, and doesn’t settle the question.

7. Bachrach, Warfare in Tenth-Century Germany, pp. 29-30.

8. On Liudprand’s agenda, see Karl Leyser, “Ends and Means in Liudprand of Cremona” in James Howard-Johnston (ed.), Byzantium and the West c. 850 – c. 1200: proceedings of the XVIII Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Oxford 30. March – 1. April 1984, Byzantinische Forschungen 13 (Amsterdam 1988), pp. 119-143, repr. in Leyser, Communications and Power in the Middle Ages, ed. Timothy Reuter (London 1994), 2 vols, I, pp. 125-142, but in searching out that reference I find also the very relevant-looking Antoni Grabowski, “‘Duel’ between Henry I and Arnulf of Bavaria according to Liudprand of Cremona” in Roman Czaja, Eduard Mühle & Andrzej Radziminski (edd.), Konfliktbewältigung und Friedensstiftung im Mittelalter (Torún 2012), pp. 387-400, which I have not seen but seems worth mentioning.

9. Bachrach, Warfare in Tenth-Century Germany, pp. 27-28, quote below on p. 28.

10. As under Maurice in 592: see Andrew Louth, “Justinian and his Legacy (500-600)” in Jonathan Shepard (ed.), The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire (Cambridge 2007), pp. 99-129 at p. 127.

11. See Matthew Innes, “The classical tradition in the Carolingian Renaissance: ninth-century encounters with Suetonius” in International Journal of the Classical Tradition Vol. 3 (New Brunswick 1997), pp. 265-282.

Seminars LXXXVI-LXXXIX: four for the price of one

(Written offline between approximately Andorra and the Isle of Wight, courtesy of British Airways, 12/04/11)

Front Court, All Soul's College

Front Court, All Soul's College (the Medieval History Seminar is up the last staircase on the right)

By the time I can post this I’ll be back, and with loads to write, but of course I already had loads to write so something must be done. By a happy coincidence, however, the next few seminars I wanted to write up, all Oxford ones, were one where I had less than usual to say, in each case for a different reason, so I’m going to rattle through them quickly, without prejudice to the speakers I hope, and then move on to the more recent matters.

Fourteenth-century illustration of Einhard writing

Fourteenth-century illustration of Einhard writing, from Wikimedia Commons

In the first of these cases, when none other than Steffen Patzold spoke to the Oxford Medieval History Seminar on the 14th February 2011, the reason I have little to say is that his paper was all around one core point, argued elegantly and persuasively, but which is if he is right bad news for Carolingianists. His title, belying this rake in the grass with its innocuousness, was “Einhard’s First Readers”, and what he was doing was studying early reception of the most famous work of the eponymous biographer of Charlemagne, the Vita Karoli. By early I mean really early, in one case contemporary; the two readers he looked at were Lupus of Ferrières and Walahfrid Strabo, the former of whom corresponded with Einhard, including flattering him about the biography in order to wheedle books out of him.1 Walahfrid, too late to have known Einhard himself, wrote a shiny new preface for the Vita emphasising how reliable Einhard’s testimony was since he had known the emperor himself, and so on. Lupus on the other hand paid little attention to the contents but lauded the Ciceronian style, including completing a quotation of Cicero that Einhard had used in the Vita in his letter of self-introduction.

The current state of the church at Seligenstadt founded by Einhard

The current state of the church at Seligenstadt founded by Einhard, image from Wikimedia Commons

Steffen’s contention was, basically, that Lupus understood what Einhard had intended better than did Walahfrid, that the Vita, which is as Steffen showed heavily larded with Ciceronian references, was mainly intended to demonstrate Einhard’s skill with Latin, perhaps by way of engineering a renewal of his importance at court. Steffen even argued that from what the scholars of the time knew of Cicero, especially that he had written his Tusculan Disputations when similarly removed from court on the Classical equivalent of garden leave, Einhard would have probably felt keenly similar to Cicero (and, we established in questions, would not have known about the great rhetor’s rather unpleasant end). It all added up very neatly. The reason that this is bad news for Carolingianists, who have been trying to date the Vita by reference to its contents and their potential contemporary allusions for many years now (a debate I have even seen conducted in filk) is that it makes it likely that the actual content of Einhard’s Vita Karoli is similarly bent to a rhetorical end first and foremost, with the actual historical accuracy we have all hoped for possibly rather less important. In other words, it may just sound good, and never mind the facts. Walahfrid, of course, tells us otherwise, but if Steffen’s right Walahfrid must have been wrong, which is not something one often gets to say.

Gold mancus of King Offa of Mercia, imitating an Arabian issue of 774

Gold mancus of King Offa of Mercia, imitating an Arabian issue of 774, from Wikimedia Commons

Then, on 16th February, Vivien Prigent addressed the Oxford Byzantine History Seminar to the title, “The Myth of the Mancus and The Origins of the European Economy“. Here he was addressing a very old numismatic dispute about what, exactly, the coins that the sources of the European eighth to tenth centuries call mancusi actually were. They occur first of all in Italy, and were plainly gold and apparently Eastern in some sense but within those brackets many possibilities exist: Byzantine solidi, Muslim dinars, and so on, In 1959 Philip Grierson published an article called “The Myth of the Mancus” that tried to settle this, which he subsequently had to admit was wrong, arguing that the word should be understood to mean ‘defective’ and that they were just low-weight solidi; others subsequently argued that in fact the word derived from the Arabic ‘manqush’, ‘engraved’, and that it referred to dinars struck by the Caliphate after the reform of the Islamic coinage that stopped the use of figural representation on the coins.2 There are to my mind a bunch of reasons that looks convincing: that coins that would fit the explanation exist and have been found in the right places, that this is what King Offa of Mercia apparently strikes at about the time that the term is first seen in England (seen above), and the negative argument that the standard coin in Europe at the time was called denarius in Latin so that the term ‘dinar’ would have been effectively indistinguishable by ear for many – they would have had to have another name and we do have Arabic sources calling these things ‘dinara manqushi’ (forgive dodgy Arabic, or indeed correct it if you like), albeit not till later on.

Imitative gold mancus of Barcelona struck by Bonhom after 1018

Imitative gold mancus of Barcelona struck by Bonhom after 1018

Vivien however argued that everyone has been wrong, and that the metrology and the early Italian instances can only really be explained by reference to Sicilian-minted Byzantine solidi. This certainly does seem to fit the Italian finds evidence, and at least fits the (Italian) metrology better than full-weight dinars, but to my mind still has two problems. One is that he was arguing his weights of coins by taking a mid-point between an ideal weight and a mean weight of finds; coins are of course almost always found worn and so the real mint weight is a matter of assumption, but the ideal standard is thus itself derived from the surviving specimens so this is only slightly more rigorous than the kind of `rounding up’ I have decried in this game before. The other obvious problem is that the term ‘mancus‘ is much more widely used than the distribution of the Sicilian coins, not least in Catalonia where it certainly does refer to dinars, something that we know because in 1018 a Barcelona Jew called Bonhom was contracted to produce them locally and some of his signed coins exist (pictured above).3 If, therefore, Vivien is to be right, and on his own ground he looks convincing, it means that we have to assume that the word quickly got out of Italy, where it meant something quite specific, and then was almost immediately used to mean pretty much any foreign gold coin, everywhere except Italy. That might be arguable (and indeed Vivien argued it), but, nonetheless, in other contexts there is no similar alternative to the dinar theory and fairly incontrovertible evidence for it (some of which I’ve given above). There are ways in which Vivien’s more complicated answer might be more realistic, and we can probably all think of a historian who would caution us against assuming that words always mean the same thing, but Occam’s Razor vibrates like an electro-magnet when brought near this theory even so and I for one am tempted to cut.

19th-century portrait of Bishop Severus of Antioch

19th-century portrait of Bishop Severus of Antioch, from Wikimedia Commons

The very next day I then went to a paper at the Oxford Late Roman Seminar, by one Simon Ford to the title, “Take Us To Your Leader’: the mechanics of ecclesiastical authority in the exilic Monophysite Church (AD 518-638)”. I confess that I did this under a misapprehension brought on by ignorance: I’ve got more and more interested in the Christian sects that began to leave the Byzantine Empire in the era after the Council of Chalcedon after teaching them this term gone, and I understood `exilic’ to mean groups outside the Empire whereas Mr Ford was actually talking about the disenfranchised Church inside the Empire. That’s one reason I have little to say, the other is that the presenter was painfully nervous and had to basically restart every sentence at least once. The effect of this was that as the end of his hour approached he had only got halfway through his text, which had probably seemed a completely reasonable length in front of the mirror, and had to skip to the end missing what seemed as if it was the interesting bit, in which rather than plotting the decline in the status of the kind of patrons that the clergy of the Monophysite Church were able to attract after 518, when they were ruled against (as evidenced basically in the letters of Bishop Severus of Antioch, who seems to be Mr Ford’s main subject), he would have talked about the way that this counter-intuitively forced the exilic Church into the arms of the Emperor, as no lesser patrons remained who might help. The Byzantine double-think involved here, where the clerics of a sect whom you, as Emperor, have removed from office are still important men whose dignity you respect and whose protection you order when necessary, would have been very interesting to hear more about, and it was a pity the paper wound up the way it did.

Foundations of a hall in the royal palace site at Jelling, Denmark

Foundations of a hall in the royal palace site at Jelling, Denmark

Then last in this batch, I arrived late by reason of idiocy to the Medieval Archaeology Seminar on 21st February when Anne Pedersen was presenting to the title “New Discoveries at the Royal Site of Jelling, Denmark”, a site that she has more information on than is yet published and which I wish I’d been sharp enough to hear more about. By the end of the paper I’d managed to gather a picture of a diamond-shaped walled palace complex with one, maybe two entrances, neither on the obvious approach road, with a massive ship-setting of stones from point to point of the diamond. My natural inclination is to be sceptical about monumental alignments but this one is hard to ignore. Jelling fits into a hierarchy of similar sites in Denmark, and is predictably at the top (in a 1-2-3 size ratio with Trelleborg and Aggersborg). It also experienced conversion, as its famous rune-stone (there’s a 3D visualisation behind that link) more or less informs us: Dr Pedersen was not able to end the speculation about what might have happened to King Harald Bluetooth’s illustrious forebears who should, presumably, be in the site’s burial mounds but aren’t—one is empty, one emptied—but the church is hardly central and exactly how the site was articulated and how people moved through it may be the next thing to start trying to work out so as to solve questions like these. Whatever the answer is, it can be unusually short-term; the fixtures at all three of these sites appear never to have been repaired or replaced, we’re looking at a single generation in which power was expressed through a new form of building that then apparently became redundant. While they were up and running, though, there were people there: Dr Pedersen had emphasised the almost total absence of finds in the palace precinct, and as Rosamund Faith pointed out in questions, this must imply management of the site, unless no-one ever came there. So there’s lots still to work out, even after lots of digging.


1. My abiding impression of reading Lupus’s letters (in the translation of Graydon W. Regenos as The Letters of Lupus of Ferrières (The Hague 1966)) is that this was the key motive behind all of Lupus’s letters, and that his correspondence can be divided into three phases, (early) you’re so great and I hear you have a copy of [x] I’d like to borrow, (middle) your copy of [x] is quite safe with me and will soon be sent back, honest, and (late) wah no-one will lend me books why is the world so cruel? I may do him the injustice of rapid reading though, it was a while ago I formed this impression. I assume that you know Einhard’s work, but in case not the translation of resort is now that of David Ganz, Two Lives of Charlemagne: Einhard and Notker the Stammerer (London 2008), replacing the older one of the same title by Lewis Thorpe (Harmondsworth 1969, repr. 1984 and often thereafter). The still older one of Samuel Turner is online in the Internet Medieval Sourcebook here.

2. Philip Grierson, “Carolingian Europe and the Arabs: the myth of the mancus” in Revue Belge de Philologie et d’Histoire vol. 31 (Bruxelles 1954), pp. 1059-1074; repr. in idem, Dark Age Numismatics: selected studies, Variorum Collected Studies 96 (London 1979), III with important addenda. Cf. among others Anna M. Balaguer, “Parias and Myth of the Mancus” in Mario Gomes Marques & D. Michael Metcalf (edd.), Problems of Medieval Coinage in the Iberian Area, 3: a symposium held by the Sociedade Numismática Scalabitana and the Instituto de Sintra on 4-8 October, 1988 (Santarém 1988), pp. 499-543.

3 On these and other imitative mancusi see now Lutz Ilisch, “Die imitativen Solidi mancusi. `Arabische’ Goldmünzen der Karolingerzeit” in Reinhard Cunz (ed.), Fundamenta Historiae: Geschichte im Spiegel der Numismatik und ihrer Nachbarwissenschaften. Festschrift für Niklot Klüßendorf zum 60. Geburtstag am 10. Februar 2004 (Hannover 2004), pp. 91-106, a reference for which I must thank Dr Marcus Phillips.

Kalamazoo and Back, IV: in which I am substantially preceded

We apologise for the delay. Trust me, there have been good reasons for this which will be vouchsafed in due course. Anyway, this is about the Saturday of Kalamazoo, in which the weather improved, there was a dance at evening and in which almost everything I went to was from before my period. The result of this is that it has largely been covered by Curt Emanuel, but I’ll add my two penn’orth anyway, because, well, of consistency and self-importance largely I suppose. So then!

Session 409: Early Medieval Europe II

I had been to bed very late the previous night, but somehow found the trick of deep sleep once more. This unfortunately meant that I was late to the first session of the day, largely because I was still dozy and took a stupid route up the hill to where it was. I was however less chagrined about this than I might have been because I heard an earlier version of this paper in a graduate seminar here in Cambridge, and you can be less chagrined about the gappy coverage because as mentioned this one is already written up in detail at Medieval History Geek. It was in fact:

  • Margaret McCarthy, “Louis the Stammerer and the Development of a Kingly Identity”. Margaret’s basic contention, and a soundly-founded one, is that Louis should not be seen as a poor successor to Charles the Bald; starting from a very bad situation that Charles had largely engineered, he was as far as we can now tell doing all the sensible things someone in his position could do to garner support and establish himself as an accepted and legitimate Carolingian ruler, and had he not died so soon he might have gone places. Interestingly, the charters he did have time to issue included some not to places not in his own kingdom; whether this says something about territorial ambitions or about pan-Carolingian status, especially at a time when non-Carolingians were raising their neo-royal heads, is something we can probably never resolve, though.
  • Margaret was followed by Karl Heidecker, who is rarely less than controversial and was here talking to the title, “Carolingian Government and Social Practice: designs of imperial and Christian reform and their consequences in people’s lives”, which was more specifically, firstly, about how far the reform of marriage under the Carolingian kings actually had an effect on the everyday person. He pointed out that the kings themselves did not define marriage, only ruled certain sorts out as illicit; the definition came out of a subsequent process, almost of exegesis, of the legislation and conciliar rulings, by various clerics across the successor kingdoms. Very often cases were decided on a political basis rather than an ideological basis, and in fact the definitions were probably largely created around these troublesome cases where competing agendas meant that normal practice couldn’t be followed. The second part of the paper examined office-holding in Carolingian-conquered Alemannia and pointed out that there are some zones where a ‘regular’ practice of assimilation was followed, some where locals were left in place and some where all vestiges of the local élite were squashed out. This fit perfectly with my picture of variable pathways of power from élite to ground so I was happy to hear it from another area, an area moreover where very similar techniques to mine are being employed by the researchers.
  • Third paper in the session was Justin Lake, speaking to the title “Pompatica scientia in the tenth century”. He was talking about attitudes to learning in the tenth century, which should be bang on my period especially since my particular area in that period is, at its upper levels, keen on Greek and may well have introduced the astrolabe to the west, via a man renowned for his knowledge but also drummed out of every job he held except the last one and later regarded as a Muslim-trained wizard. All the same, in actual historian’s terms I don’t think I’ve much to add to the Medieval History Geek’s coverage for this one so I suggest you go look there.

Session 457. Early Medieval Europe III

(Also covered at Medieval History Geek here.)

  • After lunch, I got to have the particular thrill that is finding someone working on a subject almost but quite one’s own in ways one hadn’t thought of. He was however preceded by none other than Ralph Mathisen, speaking to the title “Desiderius of Cahors and the End of the Ancient World”. This was a light-hearted paper with a serious core; its ostensible purpose was to find a candidate for the last of the Romans, in an intellectual-cultural sense, and justify the choice (which was Desiderius). Of course there’s no way to do this without tackling serious issues of what distinguishes antique from medieval and that was the real point of the paper: Ralph saw in Desiderius and his cronies the last generation of an élite who saw themselves as inheritors of the culture of Virgil, letter-writers and Classicists, who did not however train up a following generation. Of course, the Carolingianists could and did put up arguments for a framing of intellectuals like Einhard (whose letters are really not very different in content) as the same sort of thing, but the absence of a continuity between the 560s and the 780s for this kind of culture of letters does seem to be arguable, albeit necessarily from silence which is the real issue I think. Even Einhard’s letters are something of a lucky survival, alongside Alcuin’s and Theodulf’s poems (which are, indeed, not quite of the same flavour, which is perhaps a good time to remember that unlike those two Einhard was (a) Frankish and (b) a layman…). What else might have been out there that subsequent monastic archives didn’t have a use for?
  • Ralph Mathisen presenting an earlier Kalamazoo paper

    There are some surprising things to be found on W. Mich's image server if you dig. Here is Ralph Mathisen himself presenting a Kalamazoo paper from I think 2008

  • Second up was Graham Barrett (I get this name wrong because of other Barretts more local to me, but have checked it against his handout), who was talking to the title “Literacy, Law and Libido in Early Medieval Spain”. Now, though you might assume that this would be a paper based on Visigothic law and Councils, actually it was a charter paper: Graham was focussing on 30 cases of prosecution for adultery that survive in the archives of non-Catalan Northern Spain from 954-1081. These are preserved because, despite the law that they cite prescribing penance for the crime, they impose fines, which are paid in land that then becomes some preserving institutions. Certain rulers seem to take advantage of the fact that the Visigothic Law saw adultery as a public crime, which could therefore be prosecuted by anyone, not just the other spouse, to extract lands from those unable to keep continent. As you can see Graham is working some very similar veins to mine here, which I hadn’t realised at all when last we’d met, so I was not only extremely interested but rather glad he’d omitted Catalonia, where however we have nothing of the kind that I’ve yet seen.1
  • Last paper in the session was by David Dry, and was entitled, “Episcopal inheritance: replicating power in the Merovingian Gaul”; it was largely a treatment of episcopal election and the interests that governed it in the Merovingian period, primarily from the work of Gregory of Tours because that’s so much of what here is. Particulaly emphasised was the amount of trouble the bishops could make for a king, and the high status they enjoyed, which we somehow have to reconcile with the need they had for royal patronage. I should make more of Merovingian bishops in this way than I do because they illustrate so clearly the power that being a negotiator that both sides need can accrue for a person; Dry brought this out nicely.

A certain amount of confused wandering around the Fetzer building trying to find coffee and get back for the next session left me eventually deciding that the latter would have to take precedence and I snuck in through the introductory remarks of the convenor of…

520. Beyond Bede II: later Anglo-Saxon England

    A Kalamazoo session in a room in the Fetzer Center

    I'm pretty sure this is the same room or one functionally equivalent, but it's probably also from 2008


    I am something of a fan of Saint Bede, as the keen reader here may have noticed, and although I have no research contribution to make about Anglo-Saxon England I like to keep my mind in with it, as it were, so for this and other reasons I’d stopped in here to hear what turned out to be two papers about almost exactly the same material, Alice Olson presenting to the title “The Legacy of Bede in the Anglo-Saxon homilies” and Helen Foxhall Forbes to that of “Bede and Goscelin”, with a response by Allen Frantzen. Alice was interested in proving Æfric’s use of Bede by picking on a more or less unique piece of material that he borrows, the fourfold vision of Hell set out in a homily of his known as the vision of Dryhthelm. She mentioned some other possible sources and some theological complications of it but thought that the case for derivation was fairly obvious. Helen then set out the schema in detail, artfully reprising a Powerpoint presentation she’d not been able to use because of an absence of a projector solely with whiteboard markers, and showed how Bede’s version of this is unique, although he has two variants of it: before the Judgement the division is between Heaven, where the saints are already with God; Paradise, a sort of anteroom where those who will be saved at the last Judgement but were not quite express Heaven-goers await; Purgatory, where those sinners who can be saved are punished before their upward passage to Paradise, and Hell where the utterly damned are confined for eternity with no hope of escape. At the Judgement, however, he sees the Perfect, who will judge, the Good, who will be judged and admitted to Heaven, the Wicked, who will be dismissed to hell, and the unbaptised and apostates who receive no judgement. It is this latter bit that is the other sources Alice had mentioned, but the previous interim is all Bede’s own. So these two papers wound up complementing each other rather well, though I think both speakers would have changed their material somewhat if they’d known how close they were working. Frantzen’s response stressed the position of Bede with respect to heresy, which as Bede saw it was in the past, leaving him free to originate interpretation; Frantzen wisely asked whether Æfric would have approved of this schema of Bede’s, which is at the least unusual, if it had been in another writer less revered. He and the convener also reminded us that it is very unusual for theological work of Bede’s to enjoy this kind of reuse; although his impact was huge in historical terms, the other works circulate much less and the homilies hardly at all, at least not under his name. This would all doubtless be a bit abstruse for the general listener, but I think that even that listener would have been temporarily enthralled by a scheme of damnation that you can draw on a board; the power of the visual aid was made very clear by this. I enjoyed the session a lot.

And then it was the evening, and at this point I confess that I briefly ran out of up. I had food in my room to finish so I retired there and nearly didn’t go out again. Eventually, however, I recovered myself and somewhat grimly set out for the dance knowing that I’d regret not going more than I would going, and this was quite right. I don’t know that the dance is better than Leeds’s, now, though that’s only because Leeds’s has got a lot better in the last two years and because good heavens the beer at Kalamazoo’s dance is expensive, but it has a far better space to be in and the music ranges slightly more widely. This suits me because my music taste is largely (like myself) at the fringes of a dancefloor, and at Leeds just gone, despite the encouragement of Stuart Airlie, there was only really one song that got me properly,2 whereas at Kalamazoo there were three, and the last of them was the Sex Pistols which I can’t imagine ever being played at Leeds. I suspect a more heavily Anglophone constituency probably partly explains this but it could just be that all British discoes are firmly stuck in the nineties and imagine their entire attendance is hen parties. I may possibly over-generalise.

Simon Trafford at the Saturday dance at Kalamazoo in some year past

Headbanging! This man wasn't there so I had to step in

Anyway, I went, I drank lightly, I was dragged onto the floor by three different charming women,3 I threw my hair around and then I quit while I was ahead and went home to bed. In this, I admit, I was disobeying the dictum given me in the very early hours of that morning by Elizabeth MacMahon as we wended our briefly coincidental ways to our separate abodes, so it’s probably now time that was told. I’d complained of being short of sleep, and she wisely responded:

Sleep? There is no sleep. This is the
Bataan death march of scholarly fun!

Even with that statement ringing in my ears, however, I was still presenting early next morning and then flying across the Atlantic, so I disobeyed orders and went and slept, but with a much better day behind me than I’d expected a few hours previously.


1. He thus joins Eduardo Manzano Moreno and of course Wendy Davies as people who could obviously have done my project and probably faster if they’d been minded to and to whom I am therefore grateful for leaving me space. The difference so far is that Manzano’s two English articles actually started me on the whole project and Wendy’s Small Worlds showed me how I was going to do it; I rather imagine, though, that Graham will start similar fires under people in a few years.

2. ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order, since you ask.

3. All members of the group of women with whom I am most popular, which is, those who are already happily attached to someone else…

I should have read this the moment I bought it, VIII

9780754662549

All right, last one of this series as I finally reach the end, blog-wise, of Jennifer Davis’s and Michael McCormick’s The Long Morning of Medieval Europe. The last section, two articles and a commentary paper, is entitled ‘The Intellectuality of Early Medieval Art’. It’s led, apart from the McCormick introduction, by the redoutable Mayke de Jong pondering the structure of the upper reaches, quite literally, of Charlemagne’s palace at Aachen, the solarium that so many of that family seem to have had problems with in times of evil auspice (as recently mentioned by Magistra et mater).1 Mayke perhaps works too hard to imbue the royal balcony, where few are allowed and from which everyone else can be seen, in Notker‘s Panopticon-style depiction, with symbolic significance, but the political significance of access to the king’s private counsels and the visibility of that access is very sharply drawn out, along with the way Einhard makes it clear in his Translatio Marcellini et Petri that he enjoyed such access. Thomas Noble quibbles about the architectural details in the response paper but is basically in agreement.2

The cathedral of Aachen as it stands today

The cathedral of Aachen as it stands today

I have to question the importance that both place on the term solarium itself though. Mayke spends a few pages demonstrating that the term is used almost, if not actually, exclusively of buildings that the king might be in, palaces and royal vills and so forth, and Noble compares usages in Rome and concludes, “Perhaps solarium was not a common word”.3 This may well be true for the central Carolingian zone and the ninth century, I certainly wouldn’t want to try and prove otherwise, but on the other hand, it takes me only two or three minutes to find this, from rural Catalonia in 921:

In nomine Domini. Ego Atto et uxor sua Virgilia, que vocant Druda, vinditore sumus tibi Amblardo et uxor tue Eldregodo, emtores. Per hanc scriptura vindicionis nostre vindimus vobis terras cultas et incultas, vineas edificatas vel ad edificare, regos et subreganeis, nostro proprio, qui nobis advenit per nostro comparacione quod nos emimus de te ipso emtore vel iamdicta uxori tue. Et sunt ipsas terras cultas et incultas, vineas edifikatas vel ad edificare, regos et subreganeis in comitatum Ausona, in valle Ausore vel infra ipsos termines. Sic nos vobis hoc vindimus hec omnia quod nos de vos comparavimus in predicta valle Ausore vel infra ipsos termines, exceptus ipsos domos vel ipsos solario cum curtes et ortos et terras et vineas et cultum et incultum, qui fuerunt     de condam Geirardo, quod vos ipsos comparastis de condam Geirardo vel de filios vel filias suas, vel de eredes illarum…

Yes, OK, sorry, perhaps too much Latin, sorry, I got carried away.4 (The superscript addition and the gap are in the original, the emphasis is not.) Rendered into breezy English though, a curious tale emerges:

In the name of the Lord. I Ató and his wife Virgilia, whom they call Druda, are seller to you Amblard and your wife Eldregoda, buyers. By this our scripture of sale of do we sell to you cultivated and uncultivated lands, vineyards constructed or to be constructed, streams and pools, our own, which came to us through our purchase that we bought from you the selfsame buyer or your already-said wife. And these cultivated and uncultivated lands, constructed and to-be-constructed vineyards, streams and pools are in the county of Osona, in the Vall d’Osor or within its term. Thus we sell this to you, all these things that we purchased from you in the aforesaid Vall d’Osor or within its terms, except those houses and that solar with courtyards and barns and lands and vines both cultivated and uncultivated, which were       of the late Gerard, which you yourselves bought from the late Gerard or his sons or daughters, or [his daughters’] heirs…

So, OK, it pains me but let’s leave aside the question of why Ató and Virgilia, I mean Druda, are selling back this land that they bought from these same guys, less what sounds like a plum and well-developed little farmstead that had belonged to another guy before that. Mainly I am willing to leave it because I don’t have the index volume of the relevant charter collection to hand so I can’t look any of these people up easily. The point is that Gerard’s old farmstead has a solar, as I usually translate it, an upper storey partly open to the sun; balcony might do but we’re talking a whole floor here, I think. This is not an uncommon thing; it’s uncommon enough that I had to search a bit, and you could, given how rattly and distorted the Latin of this document is, agreements all over the place, orthography varying and so on, argue that this is just a formula. Certainly the word is unusual, but on the other hand it is clear that these things are cut about to fit the circumstances of the document’s issuing. What I mean is, most transaction charters in this area don’t mention houses with solars. When they do, the most obvious reason is, it seems to me, is that there is one, not that the scribe that day has a model charter or a formula which covered that. If that was the case I’d expect a range of other gear that sometimes turns up too, dovecotes, winepresses, sheds, meadows. The fact that these things are not here but a house with a solar is, for me, best explained if they were actually selling a house with a solar. So I think Ató and Virgilia’s house had one, and so did a few other places.5

Map of central Osona and the Ripollès, Catalunya, <i>c. </i>950

Map of central Osona and the Ripollès, Catalunya, c. 950

Now, Osor is not an area full of palaces. It’s a bit up in the mountains: on the map there, if you can see Sant Llorenç near the middle bottom right, the Vall d’Osor is the next river valley south-east. So it’s probably two days’ walk to Vic, less if you don’t mind crossing some 800 m-high mountain ridges but it must be 35 km if you stick to the valleys. It’s a decent day’s walk down to the Ter too, and the Ter bends so much upriver that rowing wouldn’t get you anywhere any faster unless you had to cross anyway. Osor seems to have been well-settled at this point, there’s no new land being taken in even if it’s not all being used, but it’s some way off being top-rank.6 There are a couple of reasons to suppose that these are well-to-do people, though, not least because they get 50 solidi for the land they sell back, which gives us a sort of ballpark figure for the worth of what they keep, in as much as the way they’ve described things only makes much sense if the lands that they retain are enveloped within what they sell, so it must be smaller. 50 solidi is a fair bit of money by local standards, but it’s an order of magnitude smaller than what places that get called palaces go for out here.7 The other sign of status is that Ató apparently signs the document himself, which implies a certain amount of leisured education, though around here it’s perhaps not all that far out of the ordinary. Anyway, there really isn’t any prospect of the king or probably even the count turning up at Gerard’s old house. And this is a big one; I could find you other (less interesting) examples that are worth lots less.8

View down the Vall d'Osor, viewed from the source of the river of the same name, from the Catalan Wikipedia

View down the Vall d'Osor, viewed from the source of the river of the same name, from the Catalan Wikipedia

So, well, I don’t want to be over simple but I think there may be two things going on here that decrease the significance of Mayke’s royal balconies: firstly, as ever, we’ve just got more data out here and that means more odd stuff turns up, whereas in the north big estates are much more common per charter survival because the little stuff hasn’t made it down to us. Secondly, well, weather, quite frankly. I’m sure they have some lovely summers around the Meuse and Aachen, in fact Gabriele at the Lost Fort will doubtless have pictures of half the relevant areas in blazing German sunshine, but you still might not build for it in the same way as you do nicely south of the Pyrenees. I think we can expect to see more solars in Catalonia than in Francia because there was just that much more sun, to be honest. This doesn’t diminish the significance of Mayke’s points about access to the king and the articulation of power in architecture at all, of course; but it does warn us about arguments that include silence. There is so much dark matter in statistical use of medieval documents, because we never know what we might have if the preservation had been kinder.

(Edit: extensive argument with me in the comments below reveals that several people think I’m being anachronistic here and that what tenth-century Catalans are calling solaria has nothing to do with what the word meant in ninth-century Aachen. I still think plural uses, however far across Western Europe they are from each other, indicates a word that could mean more than just ‘palace balcony’ and don’t think the word itself carries Mayke’s symbolic significance, but I must admit that opinion is generally against me here so you should consider that I may just be being hidebound here.)

München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, MS Clm 14000, the so-called Codex Aureus

München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, MS Clm 14000, the so-called Codex Aureus

Anyway. The second paper in this section is a lavishly-illustrated one (though colour would have made such a difference here, especially as it features in the argument in places; the above manuscript’s cover makes Kessler’s plate 2, and it may be clearer in grey-scale, but, well…) by Herbert Kessler about depictions of Christ in the Carolingian period.9 This was a sticky issue, as you may be aware, because of the response to the Byzantine controversy over the use of icons in worship. The problem is the Biblical prohibition on idols, of course; is a picture of God, even in human form, really even slightly holy, or is it a graven image that distracts the worshipper from the real divinity that can only be experienced in the mind and the soul? Christ was after all a man, and one can depict that, but can one depict the God that that man also was, or is to draw Christ actually to deny one of his natures? One of the great merits of this paper is that it actually provides a reasonably accessible way into these debates for the laymen by marrying up text and image and showing how the images try to get round the problem or confront it, individual artists making informed choices of presentation such as leaving some of Christ out of the picture, vanishing out of the top of the frame at Ascension as below (the manuscript that sources Kessler’s plate 7, but even this tiny image is more fun to look at than the greyscale) and so on. Not only does one get a sense of craftsmen at work on something highly intellectual, rather than just colouring nicely as medieval art sometimes gets presented, but one also sees how these images were taking positions in a debate of the day and, not least important, genuinely concerned with Salvation and how best to help someone towards it rather than hinder them.

Rouen, Bibliothèque municipale, MS Y6, fol. 81v.

Rouen, Bibliothèque municipale, MS Y6, fol. 81v.

This therefore supplements the somewhat less successful section on religious practice earlier in the book and winds the volume up, after Noble’s few adjustments, very nicely.10 My initial bedazzlement with the volume has worn off slightly after this much detailed analysis and reviewing, but really, it’s still a very worthwhile volume. It’s also physically nice: the paper is gloss and heavy, the binding tough but good-looking and the dust-jacket is glossy and thick too. The illustrations, where they exist, are good (though, yes, greyscale) and there are, as far as I noticed, almost no typoes. There are fully 18 pages of index, whereas with most edited volumes there wouldn’t be any, suggesting that the publishers or the editors recognised that it will have reference value as well as reading value. Furthermore, though some of the papers are not quite there and some areas are definitely less covered than others, it really is a pretty all-round state-of-the-question assemblage of work on Carolingian Europe and so, I continue to recommend its purchase to those who might want such a thing.


1. Michael McCormick, “The Intellectuality of Early Medieval Art” in Jennifer Davis & idem (edd.), The Long Morning of Early Medieval Europe: new directions in early medieval studies (Aldershot 2008), pp. 275-276; Mayke de Jong, “Charlemagne’s Balcony: The Solarium in Ninth-Century Narratives”, ibid. pp. 277-289.

2. Thomas F. X. Noble, “Matter and Meaning in the Carolingian World”, ibid. pp. 321-326 at pp. 321-324.

3. De Jong, “Charlemagne’s Balcony”, pp. 282-284; Noble, “Matter and Meaning”, pp. 321-322.

4. Text from 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, I doc. no. 232.

5. For example, Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, I doc. no. 214, “… vindimus tibi casas cum curtes et ortos, cum solos et superpositos et terras cultes et incultes, nostras proprias…“. But, you say, a solum is not the same thing as a solarium! Check it in the new online Lewis & Short, man! To which I say, firstly, du Cange says you’re wrong, at least sometimes: Charles du Fresne du Cange & D. A. Carpenter, Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis, ed. G. A. L. Henschel, re-ed. L. Favre (Paris 1886), p. 523, “SOLUM, ut supra Solarium, Locus idoneus solarium ædificando”, and secondly, well, that’s why my first example had “solarium” instead innit.

6. This sort of assessment is much easier for owning Jordi Bolòs & Victor Hurtado (edd.), Atles del comtat d’Osona (785-993) (Barcelona 2001); the map on pp. 44-45 is most useful here.

7. For example, in Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV I doc. 419 Bishop Radulf of Urgell and his son Oliba sell an estate at a place called Palau to the bishop’s brother Count-Marquis Sunyer of Barcelona, Girona and Osona and that goes for 1000 solidi. This isn’t going to have been a royal palace, but given that Abbess Emma also has land next-door it is clearly comital family land, and that and the name suggest strongly that this was a fiscal estate, a big hall and its demesne or similar. For the suggestion that place-names in Palau (‘palaciolo‘ or similar) refer to such establishments, see in this case A. Benet i Clarà & A. Pladevall i Font in Pladevall, J. Sarri i Vilageliu, Benet & D. Arumí i Gómez, “Santa Maria de Palau” in J. Vigué (ed.), Catalunya Romànica II: Osona I, ed. J. Vigué (Barcelona 1984), pp. 230-235 at pp. 230-231, and more generally Ramon Martí, “Del fundus a la parrochia. Transformaciones del pobliamento rural en Cataluña durante la transición medieval” in Philippe Sénac (ed.), De la Tarraconnaise à la Marche Supérieure d’al-Andalus : les habitats ruraux (IVe-XIe siècle). Desde la Tarraconense a la Marca Superior de al-Andalus: los asentamientos rurales (siglos IV-XI), Méridiennes : Études Médiévales Ibériques 2 (Toulouse 2006), pp. 145-166, citing Martí, “Palaus o almúnies fiscals a Catalunya i al-Andalus” in Hélène Debax (ed.), Les sociétés méridionales à l’âge féodal : Hommage à Pierre Bonnassie (Toulouse 1999), pp. 63-70.

8. For example, that mentioned in n. 5 above went for only 15 solidi and the solos are only part of the estate there.

9. Herbert Kessler, “Image and Object: Christ’s Dual Nature and the Crisis of Early Medieval Art” in Davis & McCormick, Long Morning, pp. 290-319.

10. Noble, “Matter and Meaning”, pp. 324-326.