Tag Archives: epigraphy

Name in Print XXIX: at long last Casserres

Last post I promised news as well as olds, and here is the first of them. (I’m not saying they’re all publications – but they might be!) You would have to have a really long memory of this blog to remember the beginning of this story, but the goods news (in a way) is that I’ve blogged pretty much every dogged step of the way except the very first one, which took place in 2004, ante bloggum and therefore time immemorial. In summary, with links, the story goes like this:

  1. Your humble author, having had his first ever article accepted very easily, sent another one out hoping for the same, and got a pretty thorough revise-and-resubmit, which, being a student still, he took badly and sat upon for years. The bit that stung particularly was reviewer #1 saying, more or less, “it’s not clear that this author has ever seen any of the original documents”, and this stung because, although I still don’t think it made any difference to the argument, it was true. I therefore fomented a plan to publish something using unpublished material – if only I could find some…
  2. A little later, in 2006, I no longer know how, I discovered that the charters of Sant Pere de Casserres were in fact such an unpublished cache, and my target was set. In 2008 I finally got to see them, and discovered that the sequence of originals only starts in 1006, but also that the earliest ones in that sequence have some decided peculiarities, and that therefore there was a paper here.
  3. I started work on that paper, but it became more complicated when the inestimable Catalunya Romànica explained to me that there also survives an altar slab from the monastery church, which is covered in scratched-on names, which the relevant authors thought were of my period.1 This opened up the possibility of matching the names on the slab, such as they were recorded, to the ones in the charters, which as I thought, only I knew. And I wrote that all up and presented it at the International Medieval Congress in 2009, and decided that I had to go and see the place.
  4. But at this point, the first two complications arose. Firstly, in that 2008 trip to Catalonia I had got my own copies of the volumes of the Catalunya Carolíngia volumes for Osona and Manresa, and by now I was slowly working through them.2 And this exposed to me that, while the original documents for Sant Pere de Casserres did indeed only start in 1006, in the 1980s an 18th-century manuscript containing abstracts of earlier documents from the archive had been found in a Tarragona bookshop, and was now available for consultation in Vic. Lots of the documents were in the Catalunya Carolíngia, but obviously I couldn’t know how many were not without going to see. So I started planning that.
  5. Before I could, though, a second complication solved the first, which was that Irene Llop Jordana published an edition of the Casserres charters, and because it was free to the web I found it.3 In one sense this was great, as it included the 18th-century abstracts and the original material so obviated the immediate need for a trip to Vic; but in another it was very annoying, as firstly I quite like trips to Vic, and secondly and more importantly the whole point of the project, to use unpublished documents, was now removed. As it happened, Dr Llop had not spotted the problems I had with the 1006 charters and did not consider the altar slab, so I still had a paper; but it made it all seem a bit less important.
  6. Nonetheless, by 2011 I was working through Llop’s edition and discovered what was new, and a bit more about the parchments I hadn’t seen because of deciding they were too late. I also made an attempt to see the altar slab, and that was in one way fairly easy as it was and is on display in the Museu Episcopal de Vic, as it then was; but in another way not so much, as gallery lighting isn’t great for epigraphy and they wouldn’t let me see it out of visiting hours.4 They did send me a reference image, which helped a bit, but in the end I got more out of it just by crawling round the thing with a camera hoping a security guard wouldn’t come past, which indeed they did not. Still, not my most fun research moment.
  7. The altar stone of Sant Pere de Casserres, set up in front of a reconstruction of the apse of Sant Martí del Brull, with its original fresco artwork, in the Museu Episcopal de Vic

    The altar stone of Sant Pere de Casserres, set up in front of a reconstruction of the apse of Sant Martí del Brull, with its original fresco artwork, in the Museu Episcopal de Vic, also visible here, but this photo by your author

  8. However, on the same trip I did get to the actual site, by a series of odd outcomes, which helped a lot with understanding the difference between the castle which the documents mention and the church.
  9. Sant Pere de Casserres viewed from the vistor centre

    Sant Pere de Casserres viewed from the vistor centre, photograph also by me

  10. But, almost as soon as I thought I had things under control, a third dose of unexpected evidence arrived – or rather, didn’t. Instead, someone at the 2011 IMC told me it existed and then wouldn’t tell me where. He had his reasons, but it was not what I wanted at that stage. Now, after a bit of work I knew that I could get at the missing evidence in Toledo, which also sounded like a trip worth making, but for various reasons, not least language, it was difficult, and there were easier things to do.
  11. So there things rested for a short while. I gave versions of the paper in Australia and in Exeter, but there was only so far it could go till I untied the knot around the extra charters.
  12. Finally, in 2017, the missing evidence was actually published, again free to the open web, and I therefore fell upon it, only a few months later, and it turned out I hadn’t really needed it, at least for this project. And that’s where we run out of previous blog.
  13. But it was now possible to finish the dratted thing, and in April 2018 I did so. Then, having had a long time to think about it before this point, I got in touch with the editor of Studia Monastica. He was agreeable to seeing the paper, and it turned out, once he’d seen it, agreeable to publishing it. A pause then ensued, for reasons I don’t need to go into, and in February 2020 it was officially accepted. I persuaded the editor without difficulty to delay its publication till after the REF census, for which I was more than fully equipped already, and it thus came out in March 2022. But physical evidence of this only reached me about three weeks ago. And here it is…

Offprint of Jonathan Jarrett, "On Stone and Skin: Inscription of Communities at the Foundation of Sant Pere de Casserres" in Studia Monastica Vol. 63 (2021), pp. 269–302

Offprint of Jonathan Jarrett, "On Stone and Skin: Inscription of Communities at the Foundation of Sant Pere de Casserres" in Studia Monastica Vol. 63 (Barcelona 2021), pp. 269–302

Actual paper offprints! It’s always nice to see somewhere still doing them. Anyone want one? I have lots. I suppose it might help you to make up your mind to have the abstract:

The history of the Benedictine monastery of Sant Pere de Casserres, in modern-day Catalonia, is relatively well-studied, but includes an acceptance that it became a monastery in around 1005 by the agency of Viscountess Ermetruit of Osona. Before that, however, the site had been home to a church, whose congregation and priests are partly recorded in inscriptions preserved on an ancient altar-slab from the site. A critical re-examination of the monastery’s supposed foundational documents, and their comparison with the slab and other surviving charters from the church’s and monastery’s archive, establishes that the conversion from church to monastery was neither quick nor simple, and probably contested by the church’s old congregation. This article performs that re-examination and suggests what the power dynamics and solidarities in the area may have been that could explain the record as we now have it. In so doing, as well as questioning both Ermetruit’s role in and the traditional 1005 date for the monastic conversion of the site, it suggests that recognition by the would-be founders of the congregation’s investment in their traditional place of worship was crucial to the eventual success of the foundation, a situation perhaps repeated in other times and places.

I’m really quite pleased about this one. It’s my first dalliance with epigraphy, it is the second of what is probably three studies I will eventually have about ways to start a monastery which don’t conform to the normal standard picture, it is clever in places, it has identified me as a scholar to the Montserrat community (which has great potential application), and most of all, as you can see from the above, it was a right pain to do and I did nonetheless do it. Admittedly it damps the old publication statistics a bit, as even if I hadn’t delayed it it would have been two years five months between submission and publication; but since actually the timings work fine for me, I don’t care. I’ve been working on this for years and now it exists.5

Opening page of Offprint of Jonathan Jarrett, "On Stone and Skin: Inscription of Communities at the Foundation of Sant Pere de Casserres" in Studia Monastica Vol. 63 (2021), pp. 269–302

Opening page

For that it exists, by the way, I owe thanks to quite a few people, but especially and more or less in order, the staff of the Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona’s Biblioteca de Reserva, my family in Palautordera who put me up while I did the work in that library, the Arxiu Comarcal d’Osona even though in the end I didn’t visit them, Dr Mark Handley for advice on and references to scratched-up altar slabs, the Museu Episcopal de Vic’s documentation centre, Dr Kathleen Neal and Steven Joyce for comments and encouragement during the low period, Dr Rebecca Darley for making a late draft make the kind of sense that I could submit, and, in the end, Dr Francesc Rodríguez Bernal for providing the last of the evidence. All of you have prevented this being a worse article than it is. Obviously, as it is conventional to say, the faults that remain are my own fault; but this one has needed more help than most and it’s nice to be able to close the story with that acknowledgement.

Signature page of Jonathan Jarrett, "On Stone and Skin: Inscription of Communities at the Foundation of Sant Pere de Casserres" in Studia Monastica Vol. 63 (2021), pp. 269–302

Signature page and acknowledgements

1. Antoni Pladevall Font, Joan-Albert Adell i Gisbert, Xavier Barral i Altet, Enric Bracons i Clapes, Marina Gustà i Martorell, Montserrat Hoja Cejudo, María Gràcia Salvà Picó, Albert Roig i Delofeu, Eduard Carbonell i Esteller, Jordi Vigué i Viñas and Roser Rosell i Gibert, “Sant Pere de Casseres”, in Jordi Vigué (ed.), Catalunya Romànica II: Osona I (Barcelona 1984), pp. 354-391, pp. 382-384 by Bracons, Gustà, Hoja and Gràcia, specifically at p. 384.

2. These being, of course, as what blog post of mine would be complete without a citation of them, 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.

3. Irene Llop Jordana (ed.), Col·lecció diplomàtica de Sant Pere de Casserres, Diplomataris 44-45 (Barcelona 2009), 2 vols.

4. This is ironic, because I was by now already citing an article about the slab whose author also complained that the Museu wouldn’t let him see it; see Pere de Palol, “Las mesas de altar paleocristiana en la Tarraconense” in Ampurias Vol. 20-21 (Barcelona 1958), pp. 81-102 at p. 87.

5. Jonathan Jarrett, “On Stone and Skin: Inscription of Communities at the Foundation of Sant Pere de Casserres” in Studia Monastica Vol. 63 (Barcelona 2021), pp. 269–302.


A Novice Views India, Part III: uncertain Christian pasts

This gallery contains 14 photos.

The last of my photo posts from my 2018 visit to India takes on a smaller task than last time’s monster, although maybe only in terms of available material. The last one was a seventh- and eighth-century CE monumental temple … Continue reading

What to remember from the 2018 International Medieval Congress?

Although I feel that it probably is a sign that I am catching up on my blogged past, I have to admit that I face the fact that the next thing in my blog pile is the International Medieval Congress of three-and-a-half years ago with a certain unwillingness. I mean, I’ve spent much of the last two years either trying to stay off or being told I can’t go onto the campus where it happened, for a start, so there is definitely a sense that this is deep past which doesn’t have so much to do with time as experience. But I’ve done all the rest and the format for them seems pretty well worked out now, and so I will give it a go.

Postcard advertisement for the International Medieval Congress 2018

Postcard advertisement from the IMC website

This was, I am reminded as I fish the programme off the shelf, the 25th International Medieval Congress, and the programme is the fattest of all the ones on that shelf. I can’t actually work out how many sessions there were: it says that there were 392 sessions on the conference theme of Memory, 9 keynote lectures and 394 further sessions, plus 4 lectures, so I think it’s 799, but firstly I’m not sure if that was everything and secondly, that was the programme as initially published, not the result of all the subsequent changes you find in the also-thick booklet of changes when you register. And in any case, however many sessions there are, you still can’t go to more than 17 because that’s how many slots there are in the programme, which is massively parallel, and most delegates won’t manage that because of their feeble needs for food and sleep or because of wisely placing socialising with people you otherwise never see over more direct forms of academic engagement. I do like, however, how this means that it’s probably mathematically possible for more paths through the Congress to exist than there are attendees, since there were this year 2,545 attendees and, if my GCSE maths does not fail me, 1 x 53 x 1 x 54 x 54 x 13 = 2,009,124 possible combinations of sessions just on the Monday not including any of the receptions. How would we know if it got too big? Anyway, this just means that what I have done the last few times, just listing my own path and then offering a few remarks where things still stand out for me, seems like the best approach still, because I can’t give an impression of 2 million plus possible other Congress experiences in one blog post, now can I? So mine is below the cut, day by day with brief commentary on each day to lighten the data dump. As ever, I’m happy to try and answer questions about the papers if people have them, but I will try and stay short unless you do. Here we go! Continue reading


Flying Visit to Montserrat I: Santa Cecília

This gallery contains 21 photos.

There was a time, just a few years ago, when one could, if one wanted, hop on an aeroplane from the north of England to Barcelona at only a few days’ notice for somewhat less money than it cost to … Continue reading

Leeds 2011 report two at last

Sorry! Publication deadlines, as you saw, then admissions interviews (about which I have seriously mixed feelings and may eventually write), then the wedding of a good friend and erstwhile medievalist, at which apart from, y’know, attending the marriage (hic præsens et testis fui!), I learnt a lot about Cassiodorus that will come in useful next term. And then, for various reasons, I’ve wanted to take a good deal of care with this post. But now here it is, my mandated Leeds report, part the two, covering the events of the 12th July 2011.

508. Beyond the Invasion Narrative: the Roman world and its neighbours in late Antiquity, III – Romans and barbarians

Since, as recounted two posts ago, I’d realised on turning up in this strand that not only did it have a set of titles long enough to be a monograph series by some German academy, but also that it was where the excitement was likely to be for its duration, I was back in the Mortain Link Room at nine in the morning to see more. That went as follows:

  • Alex Woolf, “From Civitas to Kingdom? Romanitas in the British provinces and beyond”.
  • Alex here raised with his customary sharpness of perception some important questions, not the least of which is what period were the “sub-Roman” British interested in imitating? The Roman buildings of Roman Britain were largely pre-third-century, for example. Does that mean that if someone was continuing to live like a fifth-century Romano-British noble, we would see him in his material leavings as British not Roman? Was public building and sculpture really the mark of Romanitas for these people, as it has been for some modern scholars? (Was it instead stone monumental inscriptions, basically only preserved from outwith the area of Roman government?) Alex also made the excellent point that the Old English wealh, usually translated as `foreigner’, was however not used of foreigners like the Vikings, the Gaels, Syrians, and so on, and that we might therefore do well to think of it as being linguistic, and applying to Romance-speakers only. How far Romance actually describes the language of lowland post-Roman Britain would be one of those questions where fewer people than usual would follow Alex’s arguments, I suspect, but the difference still wants an explanation.1 Lots to think about here.

  • James Fraser, “Thoughts on the Roman and Native Discoveries of Pictishness”
  • The ogam-inscribed symbol stone at Brands

    The ogam-inscribed symbol stone at Brands

    This paper came very close to my areas of British interest, as you will understand when I say that James started by critiquing the idea that the Picts were a single people for whom a material culture identity might be detected. In this sense, as he observed, the classic volume The Problem of the Picts has itself become the problem.2 Thereafter the paper became more of a historiographical survey of whom it is that the Picts’ identity has mattered to and how, but there were still some similarly live points, such as the observation that the word Brittones and its derivatives, originally Latin, appears to have been borrowed into the insular vernaculars only after a distinction had arisen between Britones and Picti; James can be found on record saying that probably the only difference between these groups was being inside or outside the frontier of the Roman Empire, which makes for linguistic difficulties as we’ve lately been seeing, but whether or not you buy that, he here has something that appears to need an explanation.3 James finally suggested that Pictishness was really a late construct used by state-building kings to meld a nation of disparate groups of peoples only lately differentiated from a generalised British identity, into a political unity opposed to English or Brittonic or indeed maybe Gaelic, stressing `barbarian’ cultural practices that were identifiable as such in Roman terms, like tattooing, like inscribing stones but not with Latin, and like deriving one’s origins from the Scythians, a reference that only makes sense in a Roman cultural complex.

    I found all this pretty powerful, as you might expect from things I’ve said in the past, and asked in questions whom he thought the agents of this new cultural formation might be; he blamed the Church, which I think makes some kind of sense if we can see the Church as a tool of kings in this area. Before that however the session had been completed by…

  • Fraser Hunter, “Breaking Down the Wall: Rome and North Britain in the late Roman period”
  • This was perhaps the least provocative paper of the three but that was not least because it was by far the best-evidenced, and left much less room for debate: Hunter showed simply that Roman luxury goods got beyond the wall into the lowland zone, and that after these goods stopped coming local cultural innovation attempted to make up the gap, which we kind of know, but that inside the walls a similar transition is happening from Roman soldier’s goods, money and gear to stuff that we would recognise as warband material. Rome, while it was active in the North of Britain, created haves and have-nots, but after it went only some of these people’s centres could keep some kind of supremacy going by continuing to import Romanitas. Thus, Dumbarton Rock and Edinburgh kept going, Birdoswald and others failed, and so the new political landscape was formed.

I don’t mind telling you that after this session was over my head was so full of thoughts that I obtained coffee, or at least the best available facsimile, and tried talking to Alex but had to excuse myself because I needed to try and write something down before everything I was thinking escaped; I couldn’t speak even to Alex in case it overwrote what I was struggling to articulate. After twenty-five minutes I had something like the plan of a paper, restating with extra nuance my thoughts about the regionality of the Pictish kingdom, and was able to put it away confident that some day I could write it (as indeed I subsequently have, though much of that first rush has then turned out to be unsustainable). That was the kind of session this had been for me, the kind that could not be fully contained in my head for the explosion of possibilities. “And I’m not even lying.”

608. Beyond the Invasion Narrative: the Roman world and its neighbours in late Antiquity, IV – new narratives in Hispania

Of course I don’t really work on Scotland any more, and if I ever finish that aforesaid paper it will likely be my goodbye to the research area. How convenient for me, then, that Professor Halsall’s excellent contributors also included a number of people interested in the Iberian peninsula!4? They were:

  • Iñaki Martín Viso, “Fragmentation and Thin Polities: dynamics of the post-Roman Duero plateau”
  • The Duero plateau had been an integrated part of Roman Hispania, not rich but with many villas, but the events of the fifth century turned it into a frontier zone between the Sueves and Visigoths, neither of whom really had much governmental presence there, and as such seems to have localised its identity, with seniores loci mentioned by John of Biclaro and perhaps local coinage being issued. Hillforts grew up, though none have yet been dug so the association is kind of hypothetical. The Visigothic kingdom, when it re-established itself here, seems to have done so not least by giving the local élites rights to tax or withdrawing them, but the lack of towns meant that it was never an integrated part of Toledo’s enterprise. This does not however mean, argued Professor Martín, that it was not part of the state, and he argued that we should recognise this as a kind of `soft hegemony’ that might let us think usefully about how the successor states worked in their own terms, with the kings getting the status that kept them in power and the regions getting the autonomy that stopped them from wanting away from kings. We’ve seen something like this idea expressed here before, I think, so I was right down with this.

  • Juan Antonio Quirós Castillo and Alfonso Vigil-Escalera, “The Elephant in the Room: new approaches to early medieval cemeteries in Spain”
  • Pretty much everything I know about burial in Visigothic Spain I read either in Guy Halsall’s Barbarian Migrations or at Historian on the Edge, so I was keen to hear more from two names I have on several reading lists but have never quite got round to reading.5 The two of them, represented by Dr Vigil-Escalera alone, argued that categories like `Roman’ and `barbarian’ won’t cover this kind of evidence, which has urban `barbarians’, rustic `Romans’ and all kinds of other cross-category burials to accommodate, and that the variation could be explained without recourse to foreign populations, even if those were there; the burial evidence in their eyes neither proves nor disproves immigration. The archaeology instead shows a restlessness that is to be expected from a peninsula in political and economic turmoil. Instead of the stereotypes, they detect in the burial evidence a militarised élite interred in lead coffins, a lower grade of burial with few or no grave goods, and nothing visible beneath. Where there are cemeteries that associate with a settlement, 60-95% of graves are furnished, the figure being lower the later the cemetery runs; by the eighth century (but not till then!) grave furnishing had completely stopped. Beyond these generalisations, however, variation in this mortuary landscape was at the community level, not the level of whole `peoples’, and certainly can’t be broken down as `Roman’ vs. `Germanic’. Therefore, they asked, why blame barbarians?

  • Guy Halsall, “Why Do We Need the Barbarians?”
  • In answer to that question came the last paper of the strand by Professor Halsall himself. Perhaps unsurprisingly for those who’ve heard him speak or read him on the Internet, this was the one that really started the war. [Edit: and, indeed, some changes have been made to these paragraphs by request of one of those involved.] The consequences, if not of this actual speech, at least of its subsequent display on the Internet, have been various, unpleasant and generally regrettable, and I don’t want any of them myself. However, I think that what Professor Halsall was doing, which was to demand attention to the way that terms like `barbarians’ and `immigrants’ have been and are now deployed in political discourse, in short, to think who might be listening when we deploy these terms and for what, is something that it’s necessary to discuss. There may be other ways to say what he was saying, though they might be less effective. After all, an old colleague of mine sometimes gloomily observed of his scholarly opponents, “Y’know, you can’t change these guys’ minds, you can only wait until they die,” and obviously that’s not going to do much for public feeling and policy right now, which is where the fight is needed.

    UK Prime Minister David Cameron expounding his party's `Big Society` ideology

    Dangerously empty bloviation

    But the issues must not be dropped! Since 2006 I have been on the web proclaiming somewhat casually that when history is used it is almost always misused; glib and untheorised though that was when I wrote it, there is a point there, and it behoves us to keep an eye on what our work may be used for. Some people are more conscious of this than others, as the recent furore over the way that the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK appears to have picked up and run with the Conservative party’s campaign slogan in the last UK national elections shows; but this consciousness is usually with the misusers, and we could do with the same awareness from people who aren’t deliberately selling themselves for political funding (although it should be noted that the AHRC have claimed that they weren’t, without responding in any way to pressure to actually alter their agenda). How then do we fight the misuse of history by those with political agendas? Professor Halsall argued in questions that we have to take the fight to popular sources of information, to publish opinion columns, to get on the Internet, to colonise Wikipedia and not to assume that people can’t handle our sophistication. These seem like worthwhile, if taxing, endeavours that would bring us benefit whatever our politics. If the humanities were any good at coordinating our defence this would already have been encouraged in every faculty across the land, as PR for the industry of academia itself, dammit; instead they have successfully set us against each other and this is the result. Party politics, whether left-wing (do we still have one of those?), centrist or comfortable Conservative’s, really don’t signify here: there is no UK political party interested in funding the humanities. But you’ve read me on this before and you’ll read me on it again, so no more here.

The whole strand had been extremely provocative, as you can tell, and events subsequently revealed that it had perhaps been too much so, but I also think that we need to awaken some kind of social awareness about the uses, misuses, impact and importance of history. Everyone in the field must surely agree that that importance currently needs all the acknowledging, emphasising and directing that it can get. The furore over this presentation has unfortunately hidden these issues, which deserved to continue under discussion and not to become so personal as to be swamped in antagonism and threats. I’ll have more to say about this here—probably not very insightful but one should not stay silent—but for the meantime I can only advise you to keep a close eye on Historian on the Edge, for reflection on the social and moral imperatives of our work, whether you agree with him or not. We’d all like to think our work was socially and morally important, I’m sure, so it seems natural to consider how that might work out, doesn’t it?

717. Between Palatium and Civitas: political and symbolic spaces throughout the Middle Ages

Anyway. That was the final session in Professor Halsall’s strand, and things calmed down somewhat after lunch. Since time is short and the backlog long I’m therefore going to tackle the rest of the day in briefer form. I crossed the campus now to Weetwood Hall and there heard these people speak:

  • Martin Gravel, “Built on Expectation and Remembrance: the visitation of kings as the symbolic recognition of palaces in Carolingian West Francia”
  • Aurélien le Coq, “Contestation, Networks, and Places of Power in Grenoble during the Gregorian Reform: Guigues of Albon’s trajectory”
  • Alexandra Beauchamp, “Royal Court and Capitals of the Crown of Aragon in the XIVth century”
  • Originally scheduled for this session had been Josianne Barbier, doyenne of the Frankish fisc, and given how much her work featured in my reading for that dead-stick Kalamazoo paper of a couple of years back, I’d been rather hoping to meet her. Alas it was not to be, but these papers were also interesting, for especially Martin’s, which wanted to look closer at what kings actually do with their palaces beyond turn up, issue charters (not always them of course) and leave. With a few documents of Charles the Bald and Louis the Stammerer he was able to do this, showing that certain palaces had certain functions and that they weren’t all equivalent. Obvious, perhaps, conceptually, but hard to prove! Martin did so. We subsequently proved to have an almost-inconvenient overlap of interests with regard to the later Carolingians and I’m looking forward to more of his work. Le Coq, meanwhile, I would like to give due honour for using the term “ecclesiamento” to describe the way that Grenoble came to be grouped around the bishop’s properties and interests in his period of study, and Beauchamp’s careful attempt to try and say something about how large the Aragonese court actually was, on a day-to-day basis, from an unpromising source base, was a near-perfect example of how to present a few key interesting things from what was clearly a much larger piece of work.

805. The Archaeology of Early Medieval Fortified Settlements in Different Regions of Europe

I try and go to as much of the relevant archaeological stuff at Leeds as possible, because there’s never very much and I want to encourage it, but also because it’s usually very interesting and full of information I wouldn’t otherwise encounter. This time I was also hoping to see and meet Marco Valenti, who is a name that crops up all over what had then been my recent reading, but in this I was disappointed. What we got was:

  • Neil Christie, “Burhs and Defence: assessing the military status of later Saxon burhs
  • Marco Valenti, “Early Medieval Fortified Settlements in Italy from the 6th to the 10th Centuries”
  • Hajnalka Herold, “Fortified Settlements of the 9th and 10th Centuries in Central Europe”
  • You will be observing that Valenti appears still to have been there, but in fact, his paper was read by Professor Christie, a compromise that was certainly better than no paper but didn’t enable the kind of debate it would have been good to have. In short, Christie himself gave the audience a quick introduction to the fortification programme rolled out by the kings of Wessex in their fight back against the Vikings, and asked how much actual use the fortifications, many of which have come to be towns now and may always have been meant to, were. Christie preferred to see them more as exercises in literally building community, while I might prefer to see them as exercises in power demonstration, like Offa’s Dyke; certainly, Asser seems to show us that the relevant communities didn’t necessarily feel it.6 The Valenti paper, next, concentrated on castles in Tuscany, for a long time supposedly part of a major set of social changes just before or in the eleventh century that we know well round here, but by the kind of survey Valenti has been able to demonstrably a much longer-term phenomenon, starting in the ninth century if not before. There has of course been very little digging of such sites but what has been dug has forced this kind of re-evaluation too (as previously reported here indeed). Lastly Hajnalka, whose work I’d met at Kalamazoo the previous year, reintroduced me and introduced everyone else to her extremely interesting élite settlement at Gars Thunau in Austria, which has in its history a ninth-century building programme that seems to be chronologically, but not otherwise, connected to a sea-change in the development of such sites over a wider area, all of which nonetheless show no archaeological connections with each other. There’s something big here which has yet to be identified, clearly; Dawn Hadley asked what and Hajnalka said that the presence of the Church needs to be looked at, but that it will only explain some sites. Nonetheless, paradigms like Martin Carver‘s of a reaction in stone to such new power groups might well help here.7

Now, after this was the blogger meet-up, which was quite odd in the way it worked out. I was late, I forget why but probably not for any good reason, and the Naked Philologist and Magistra were left to coordinate the initial stages without me even though neither knew each other. By the time I arrived, it was busy but not with people I knew, which was good but unexpected. I can now remember only two of these people, Livejournallers rather than deliberate academic bloggers both, so I won’t name them in case they don’t want their personal lives linked to, but it was a pleasure to meet them and others, and I seem to recall that the gathering went on for a long time. I know that by the time I got to the St Andrews reception they’d run out of wine, but I also remember that this had somehow happened far faster than they’d anticipated so it may still have been quite early. In any case, company remained good and chatter plentiful, as afterwards seemed to have been so for a great deal of the conference, and it had been a stirring day.

1. The classic discussion of the term `wealh‘ is M. Faull, “The semantic development of Old English wealh” in Leeds Studies in English Vol. 8 (Leeds 1975), pp. 20-37; Alex’s take on such matters can currently mostly be found in his “Apartheid and Economics in Anglo-Saxon England” in Nick Higham (ed.), Britons in Anglo-Saxon England (Woodbridge 2007), pp. 115-129, online here, last modified 18th October 2007 as of 10th December 2011, though for the linguistics he largely rests here on Peter Schrijver, “What Britons Spoke Around 400”, ibid. pp. 165-171.

2. Frederick T. Wainwright (ed.), The Problem of the Picts (Edinburgh 1955).

3. James Fraser, From Caledonia to Pictland: Scotland to 785, New Edinburgh History of Scotland 1 (Edinburgh 2007), pp. 44-49.

4. I probably don’t need to explain the range of circumlocutions I use here to avoid the word `Spain’, or indeed that the paper titles do, but suffice to say that if this seems clumsy to you, the modern country’s name really doesn’t cover what we’re trying to include here.

5. G. Halsall, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568, Cambridge Medieval Textbooks (Cambridge 2007), pp. 296-300 & 338-346, but I should add at least J. A. Quirós Castillo and A. Vigil-Escalera Guirado, “Networks of peasant villages between Toledo and Velegia Alabense, North-western Spain (V-X centuries)” in Archeologia Medievale Vol. 33 (Firenze 2006), pp. 79-130 and now Quirós, “Early medieval landscapes in north-west Spain: local powers and communities, fifth-tenth centuries” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 19 (Oxford 2011), pp. 285-311.

6. Asser, Life of King Alfred, transl. Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge in eidem (transl.), Alfred the Great: Asser’s Life of King Alfred and other contemporary sources (London 1983), cap. 91:

For by gently instructing, cajoling, urging, commanding, and (in the end, when his patience was exhausted) by sharply chastising those who were disobedient and by despising popular stupidity and stubbornness in every way, he carefully and cleverly exploited and converted his bishops and ealdormen and nobles, and his thegns most dear to him, and reeves as well… to his own will and to the general advantage of the whole realm. But if, during the course of these royal admonitions, the commands were not fulfilled because of the people’s laziness, or else (having been begun too late in a time of necessity) were not finished in time to be of use to those working on them (I am speaking here of fortifications commanded by the king which have not yet [c. 883] been begun, or else, having been begun late in the day, have not yet been brought to completion) and enemy forces burst in by land or by sea (or, as frequently happens, by both!) then those who had opposed the royal commands were humiliated in meaningless repentance by being reduced to virtual extinction.

This passage doesn’t make me like Asser or Alfred any better, actually.

7. As in for example M. Carver, Sutton Hoo: burial ground of kings (London 1998), esp. pp. 52-93.

Revenge served stone cold? The Santa Maria de Roses inscription

For a brief flickering moment, back to the research. Trying to make things play with the altar slab from Sant Pere de Casserres and all its names has meant following up a lot of similar lumps of marble (and in one case wood) in the hope that they will tell me more about what people were scribbling on altars where and when. In this, advice from Mark Handley has been invaluable and I’d like to thank him for that. An answer of sorts has emerged, and will be in the paper some day when, but for the meantime one of these examples presents a probably insoluble query. But these days, that just means it presents a blog-post, right? So here it is.

The church of Santa Maria de Ciutadella, previously the abbey church of Santa Maria de Roses (from Rosespèdia)

The church of Santa Maria de Ciutadella, previously the abbey church of Santa Maria de Roses (from Rosespèdia)

There is not so much left these days of the monastery of Santa Maria de Roses (although Rosespèdia, the excellent community Wiki from which I borrow the above image demonstrates that the church will still hold a concert). It was probably never that huge, although it lasted a long time, till 1592. We first find it mentioned for sure in 944, when it was being handed into the middle of a clanging dispute over the monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes (not Roses).1 Roses was allotted to Rodes (stay with me) but that didn’t help much as Rodes was itself being claimed by Sant Esteve de Banyoles. It was another four years before all the relevant counts could be brought to agreement and Rodes was allowed to be independent.2 But by 960 Santa Maria de Roses was a monastery in its own right (the 944 document calls it a cella) and so it thereafter stayed, Sant Pere de Rodes not withstanding.

Map of the Catalan counties c.950, by Philip Judge and Jonathan Jarrett

Map of the Catalan counties c.950, by Philip Judge and myself, from the book

But this isn’t yet complicated enough. It’s complicated because of where all these places are. Sant Pere de Rodes—which is one of the most gorgeous ruins in Catalonia— was then in the county of Empúries, ruled by one Count Gauzfred along with Rosselló (now Roussillon, in modern France). But Sant Esteve de Banyoles is in Girona, which was ruled in 944 by Count-Marquis Sunyer of Barcelona, Girona and Osona. By the time of the final settlement Sunyer had retired to the monastery of Notre Dame de la Grasse, far to the north in Carcassonne, and his rôle had been taken over by the probably-teenaged Borrell II (natch) and his brother Miró, though Miró, even younger, appears to have played no part in this affair and Sunyer, monk or not, still appears as one of the negotiators in the 948 document. So the dispute between the monasteries is also one about whether the counts of Girona get a dependent church deep in Gauzfred’s territory or not. Where is Santa Maria de Roses in all this, you may ask, and you may then understand Gauzfred’s concern better if you know that Roses is just along the sea-shore from Empúries, Gauzfred’s capital, which the church overlooks. This was presumably not property that he wanted going to someone whom the counts next door could boss around.

Reassembled fragments of the dedicatory inscription from Santa Maria de Roses

Reassembled fragments of the dedicatory inscription from Santa Maria de Roses

All this makes this thing, which was recovered from the site in 1937 and is now in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya’s premises in Sant Pere Galligants in Girona, rather hard to explain.3 The inscription transliterates, expands and translates more or less as follows (Latin in the footnote):

The famous Count Sunyer, choosing celibacy and spurning life for the love of Christ, trading perishable things for an eternal body, for his burial ordered the church to be repaired from the foundations by his wife and sons. They, studiously following the precepts, managed to fulfil them, instituting a suitable worthy man for the ministry of Christ, Argibadus, namely, a priest and perfector of these works. By order therefore of the spirit of Prince Sunyer, I who am called Argibadus finished this work.4

Right, so, what? When this was put up, apparently the church needed repairs; there is no sign that it was monastic or that it belonged to someone else. These ought all to be good reasons to make this an early early record, from before its acquisition by Sant Pere de Rodes, and you might think that it naming Count Sunyer makes that a problem. In fact, however, though Sunyer of Barcelona seems to have made the name unpopular, it had previously been a common one among the counts of Empúries: Gauzfred had a short-lived brother of the name, his grandfather of the name had ruled fifty years in Empúries (something this family seem to have been good at was living for ages, little Sunyer aside) and supposedly forced Guifré the Hairy into acknowledging King Odo by putting up rival episcopal candidates with Odo’s consent, and his father, also Sunyer, had waged naval war on al-Andalus and been killed by Bernard of Septimania’s son William, who had by then ceased listening to his mother.5 It’s a proud lineage. The only wrinkle is the obvious implication of the inscription that the relevant Sunyer became a monk, which is not recorded of any of these Sunyers, only the one of Barcelona.6 But if he had been, as he had, Count of Barcelona, why was he not buried in his own territories, or more relevantly, at la Grasse, where he presumably died?

If you zoom in on the centre, the monastery site is flagged, but note Castelló d'Empúries just down the coast (and ignore the modern marina development between the two)

Well, the easiest solution seems to be that one of the counts of Empúries had a late and otherwise unattested conversion, really, doesn’t it? Not only is, in my fairly untutored opinion, this stone’s script earlier than Sunyer of Barcelona (compare his elder brother’s stone from 911, which might be nearer the mark), but there is the problem of the intermittent and intermittently subject monastic cell to explain otherwise and I simply cannot imagine Gauzfred allowing his principal rival to be buried over-looking him and his city.7 And it is very clear that Gauzfred controlled the whole site by 976, if not well before, and was claiming to have repopulated it from scratch after it was desolated by the pagans, which is chronologically very unlikely and which this stone more or less proves false, but which indicates a fair degree of control.8 But might it also indicate an alternative story that needed to be squashed? There was after all a dispute over this house that involved all our parties. Could our one known monastic Sunyer actually have managed to be buried in his rival’s back yard, by way of having the last word after being forced to back down? I can’t, quite, credit it, but the sheer petty commitment to superiority it implies is quite impressive to imagine even if it can’t be true.

1. That document printed in Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica II & III (Barcelona 1926-1952), 2 vols, Sant Pere de Rodes I.

2. Ibid., Sant Pere de Rodes II.

3. I learnt about this from P. de Palol Salellas, “Una lápida medieval de Santa Maria de Rosas” in Analecta Sacra Tarraconensia Vol. 19 (Barcelona 1946), pp. 273-278, but in the web-searching for this post also came across the more recent Hug Palou i Miquel, “El temple de Santa Maria de Roses. Noves aportacions als primers documents” in Annals de l’Institut d’Estudis Empordanesos Vol. 24 (Empúries 1991), pp. 32-53; both of these include a facsimile and a transcription of the slab, and it’s the latter’s image I’ve borrowed here. The latter paper is online through Revistes d’ACcès Obert, here. In attempting to find this paper just now, moreover, I also found J.—M. Nolla, “Roses a l’antiguitat tardana. El cementiri de Santa Maria”, ibid. Vol. 30 (1997), pp. 107-146, which reveals that here as in so many places there was a late antique burial ground here before there was a church, but I haven’t yet had time to soak this one up.


5. The ecclesiastical controversies covered to a good extent in J. Morera Sabater, “Un conato de secesión eclesiástica en la marca hispánica en el siglo IX” in Anales del Instituto de Estudios Gerundenses Vol. 15 (Girona 1962), pp. 293-315 and now J. Jarrett, “Archbishop Ató of Osona: false metropolitans on the Marca Hispanica” in Archiv für Diplomatik Vol. 56 (München 2010), pp. 1-41 at pp. 9-12; for Sunyer II’s naval career you would probably need to go back to Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, Els primers comtes catalans, Biografies Catalanes: sèrie històrica 1 (Barcelona 1958; 1980). The genealogies of all this lot are more or less sorted out by Martin Aurell, “Jalons pour une enquête sur les stratégies matrimoniales des comtes catalans (IXe-XIe s.)” 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. 281-364.

6. In Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los Siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Madrid 1951), doc. no. 148, about which you have heard before, as well as in a welter of forged la Grasse documents that are much too tricky to go into here. It should however be noted that it is only those documents which tell us where Sunyer became a monk.

7. I’m pleased to see that the same has also apparently occurred to our quasi-resident sage of the databases, Joan Vilaseca, whose Cathalaunia.org page for this inscription tentatively suggests a redating after 913, after Antoni Cobos Fajardo, Joaquim Tremoleda Trilla and Salvador Vega Ferrer, L’Epigrafia medieval dels comtats gironins (Girona 2009-2010) (non vidi) who suggest 909; as Joan says, Count Sunyer II was active till at least 913 so this cannot easily be right.

8. In Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Sebastià Riera i Viader & Manuel Rovira i Solà (edd.), Catalunya Carolíngia V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Empúries i Peralada, ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica LXI (Barcelona 2003), 2 vols, doc. no. 434, on which see J. Jarrett, “Caliph, King or Grandfather: strategies of legitimisation on the Spanish March in the reign of Lothar III” in The Mediaeval Journal Vol. 1 (Turnhout: Brepols forthcoming).

In Marca Hispanica XVIII: more stone than parchment II (Sant Pere de Vilamajor)

For the last few days of the April trip to Catalonia I was no longer in Vic but staying in the bosom of part of my family, who now live about halfway between Barcelona and Girona and up a bit. This meant less gadding about historical sites and more time reading, writing and running about with two of the only dogs I’m prepared to say nice things about. Nonetheless, my estimable half-sister did agree to take me over to one particular place I’ve been interested in for a while, Sant Pere de Vilamajor.

The church of Sant Pere in Vilamajor

The church of Sant Pere in Vilamajor

Sant Pere is interesting because it’s one of a small but important group of sites which are archæologically datable to well before we first see them in documents. The best one of these in purely chronological terms is a place called Santa Margarida de Martorell, which pops up in documents in the twelfth century but which when dug proved to have been built in the fifth, and moreover repeatedly rebuilt in the undocumented period.1 Sant Pere de Vilamajor is less pronounced than that but it’s much easier to grasp, because here the evidence is epigraphic: the first documentation of the place is via the monastery of Sant Cugat del Vallès in 936, but there is a funerary monument for a priest called Orila which dates itself to 872, so a full generation before somewhere else got interested in recording it.2 I wanted to get a decent picture of the stone, and was a bit concerned that we might not be able to get in to see it. In actual fact, that wasn’t a problem, because when the place was rebuilt they built the stone into an exterior facing. Here it is.

Funerary stone of the priest Orila at Sant Pere de Vilamajor


Simply translated, that is: “Here lies the priest Orila. He lived 80 years. He died in the Era 911.” The dating is in the Hispanic era, which runs from 38 BCE, so his obit was 872 CE. 80’s a pretty good run. So that was that question answered, though who he was and what he was doing here of course can’t be answered because he died before the documents start, and as far as I know no actual grave has ever been found here that might go that far back, in fact I don’t think the church has been dug. I wish they would dig it, though, because architecturally it is really confusing. For a start, you see that classically Romanesque tower, known here as the Torre Roja for obvious reasons?

Torre Roja at Sant Pere de Vilamajor Continue reading


Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and anyone who prefers not to align themselves with such categories, welcome! Welcome one and all to the August 2010 edition of Carnivalesque, every thinkin’ antiquarian’s choice of historical blog carnival, today with its ancient and medieval showin’. Yer host finds hisself somewhat in the Victorian mode as he sets about the confection of this display of learnin’, so fetch yerself some seats and prepare for stories of Discovery! strange Curiosities! lively Controversies! and Instances of Scholarly Resource and Sagacity! the like of which ye’ve never seen before, or at least, so I shall claim. And pride of place—wait a minute there, madam, please—pride of place goes to the two of you who submitted posts for the carnival, you can sit at the front in this pair of carven thrones I brought back from Niger on me grand tour, dontcherknow. And indeed, before I start, let me congratulate one of ’em doubly by sayin’, I’m never sure whether or not to include prehistoric matter in Carnivalesque, but on this occasion Judith Weingarten has saved me the bother by hostin’ the renowned Anthropology Carnival, Four Stone Hearth, over at Zenobia: Empress of the East, and by Jove, there’s a fair deal of medieval and ancient stuff there too, I declare, so if after the extravaganza below you find yerself unsated, get thee thither I tell you! So then!


George Scott in Burma

George Scott, explorer, administrator, photographer and introducer of football to Burma, who is completely unrelated to this blog but who will be the unofficial voice of this post all the same

Startin’, as a proper Victorian explorer should, in the bowels of a pyramid in the Nile Delta, what are these strange words inscribed at the end of an apparently dead-ended tunnel? Heather Pringle at the Last Word on Nothing quite literally has the inside information.

Back in old Albion, however, everything has been comin’ up Roman, be it literally thousands of silver coins in Frome as described here at Antiquarian’s Attic, or what may be the old home of the unfortunate fella who is best known to history as Emperor Pertinax (reigned 193 to, er, 193), described via Archaeology in Europe.1

Oddly, however, the medieval discovery of the month, in yer humble host’s still more humble imagination, comes not from Europe at all but from that lot over the water who gave us Benjamin Franklin and the Dukes of Hazzard, and who also, it would seem, preserve microfilms of otherwise-lost medieval Bibles, almost unbeknownst even to themselves. Whoever tells you there are no more medieval sources to be discovered, I tell you sir, that cad is a charlatan and a bounder, and furthermore wrong to boot. That somewhat controversial couple at Medievalists.net are still the only ones with the story, here.


International exhibition watercolour by Joseph Nash

Watercolour of the International Exhibition, London 1862, by Joseph Nash

Now, let’s turn our minds to the divertin’ and unusual. Back to the Romans again. You may never have wondered how on earth those cunning fellows went about keeping the legions on the Rhine fed, but Gabriele Campbell has, and characteristically has pictures of the boats used to do it, over at the Lost Fort. Then, if you prefer your history to be about the ladies as much or more than the gentlemen, you may wish to give an eye to to a rather surprisin’ instance of a Sassanian royal lady trying to be both: Queen Bōrān, King of Kings, whose story is told by Judith Weingarten once again at Zenobia: Empress of the East! Next, no medieval carnival is complete without those dastardly yet colourful Vikings. After all, they were responsible for the end of Pictland dontcherknow, or at least so Tim Clarkson argues at Senchus. But what on earth were they up to with these strange stones in their graves? Melissa Snell, About.com Guide to Medieval History, has some answers.

Now, it is said that politics makes strange bedfellows, but sometimes it’s dangerous even to leave the bed: the lately-rebloggified Richard Scott Nokes at the Unlocked Wordhoard has some surprises from the great unwritten book of Muslim political strategies that may make us all look askance at our family members, as long as our family happens to be a powerful one in twelfth-century Syria anyway. Which is, of course, not to say that politics was exactly safe at the same sort of time in the West, as the Headsman at Executed Today illustrates with a post on the dangers of speaking your mind during the Hundred Years War. Then, more peaceful but far less effective, a poignant tale of failed diplomacy when the nearly-last Byzantine Emperor visited the England of Henry IV is told by Tom Sawford at Byzantine Blog. Finally in this section, possibly early modern really but far too curious for a Victorian explorer not to pick up and take home on dubious terms, had you ever wondered what Henry VIII’s religion was like before England went Protestant? A recent acquisition by the British Library makes his younger piety look look positively medieval, and is described by that controversial couple again, this time at Early Modern England.


Uncle Wattleberry bounding and plunging, from the Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay

Antipodean scholarly disagreement circa 1918

Now, it is the nature of scholarship for men and women of strong opinions to demur from one another. Sometimes this is the product of earnest and well-founded differences of view, and sometimes, we fear, it is a battle of those who know somethin’ about a subject versus those who care to know nothin’ about it but wish to speak out anyway. Without specifyin’ which is which, may I humbly draw your attention to the worthy writings of the followin’:

Halfpenny token of the Society for the Suppression of the Slave Trade, late eighteenth century; Fitzwilliam Museum CM.TR.1442-R, part of the Trinity College Collection

Halfpenny token of the Society for the Suppression of the Slave Trade, late eighteenth century; Fitzwilliam Museum CM.TR.1442-R, part of the Trinity College Collection

On some matters of controversy, however, it doesn’t behove an Englishman to comment, still less one posing temporarily as a Victorian imperialist: we refer of course to the decision, bitterly protested in certain quarters, by the Medieval Academy of America not to move their annual meeting from Arizona despite its recent anti-immigration bills. On this a great deal has been written and I would refer you especially to posts in the following places:

Enough to make a chap glad to be living in the past, were the past only any less troubled of course, which I think we can safely say, given much of the above, it wasn’t. However, the task of discerning its nature becomes ever easier, or do I mean more complex, thanks to endeavours like those we shall now unfold!

Instances of Resource and Sagacity!

The Mariner in How the Whale Got His Throat, by Rudyard Kipling, as the protagonists meet

A fellow of famously-infinite resource and sagacity, about to meet a spot of bother

We note, for example, the availability of a new database of Ancient Greek epigraphic epigrams, greeted sardonically by Roger Pearse at his eponymous weblog (with a tip of the solar topee to Muhlberger’s World History).

Likewise sardonic is the take of relative newcomer but prolific bloggist Dr Beachcombing on recent research into the causes of death at Pompeii. Obvious, a chap might think, what with that volcano next door, but it is surprising how few medicos have stood around volcanic eruptions checking on how people die and so the Pompeii finds are actually advancing pathology. Is this mere quackery? Read Dr B and discern!

Similarly ingenious efforts with the dead have allowed some scientist wallahs in Bristol to determine the identity of a body in a royal Englishwoman’s grave in Magdeburg Cathedral, and Michelle of Heavenfield reckons up the score.

All this scholarship does us little good if no-one is readin’, of course, and so we can all be grateful for the blog of the so-called Medieval History Geek, who often seems to do nothin’ but! Here he begins to digest the most recent issue of Early Medieval Europe and ponders the question of how many great ladies of Carolingian Europe might have been able to read and write.

Almost lastly, it always does us good to reflect on how we go about our scholarship, and I might therefore point the finger of note at m’colleague Magistra et Mater, who has been wondering whether the current vogue for crowd-sourcing is ever likely to help the strugglin’ medievalist, and at Bavardess, who has been thrown bodily into a field of which she knew little, the oral history of her countrymen, and found some peculiar parallels of methodology; both of these are reflective but worthwhile readin’.

And finally, though our work is largely private, the real success is to get the government behind your work of course. The question is, who puts the government behind you? One answer is the United Nations, and very recently they have announced this year’s additions to the list of World Heritage sites, as well as some deletions, sad to tell; Dis Manibus has the full run-down at Votum Solvit, including not a little ancient and medieval both, and a whole range of places to consider for the next grand tour, though this time I must take those dem’ marbles out of my baggage before I pass through Customs, what?3 So, I hope you’ve had a diverting read, and you can find out where the next edition, modern style, will be at the usual address. And with that it only remains to say, pip pip!

1. I realise that though Archaeology in Europe is immensely useful, it is only repeating others’ content, but this blog has an old affection for Emperor Pertinax and I couldn’t let it go unsatisfied.

2. And, as you may have seen, the proposed mosque is not the silliest or most redundant thing anyone’s been proposing to build in the area… (h/t to Edge of the American West).

3. Didn’t bring any chalk, either, so I couldn’t get a game in any case.

Can I see it in the daylight? New visualisation technology

[I’m sorry for the blank few days: there was some marking, I was ill, then there was a man wanting something written fast, then another, then a lecture to plan and write and oh yeah, paid work too. However, I am briefly caught up with blogs and this one has already had to be updated once in its draft state, so, have ye at it and more will shortly follow…]

Obviously, with my main job, I do a lot of squinting at inscriptions. We love digital images because they can be enlarged but the problem with them is that you’re stuck with the same image and lighting unless you redo it. The surfaces are always revealed or shadowed in the same way per image, even if you rotate it. So often as not the first thing I do when trying to read a coin is to take it over to the window of our room and look at it under natural light, turning and tipping it to catch different angles. You can’t do that artificially. Until now.

One of the Aramaic tablets from the Persepolis Fort Archive

One of the Aramaic tablets from the Persepolis Fort Archive

A new technique called Polynomial Texture Mapping that’s been pioneered at the Oriental Institute of the University of Southern California is being used there to examine an under-exploited cache of Aramaic tablets from about 500 B. C. E., found at the Persian fortress of Persepolis in 1933. They’re using a variety of techniques to look at these things, including UV and IR imaging, and learning a great deal, as you can see in this article on the University of Chicago website to which I was directed by this post at Michelle Moran’s History Buff, but I was most struck by the possibilities of this scanning technique, which they are justly proud of:

The Polynomial Texture Mapping apparatus looks a bit like a small astronomical observatory, with a cylindrical based topped by a hemispherical dome. The camera takes a set of 32 pictures of each side of the tablet, with each shot lit with a different combination of 32 lights set in the dome. After post-processing, the PTM software application knits these images to allow a viewer sitting at a computer to manipulate the apparent direction, angle and intensity of the light on the object, and to introduce various effects to help with visualization of the surface.

“This means that the scholar isn’t completely dependent on the photographer for what he sees anymore,” said Bruce Zuckerman, Director of the West Semitic Research Project and its online presence, InscriptiFact. “The scholar can pull up an image on the screen and relight an object exactly as he wants to see it. He can look at different parts of the image with different lighting, to cast light and shadow across even the faintest, shallowest marks of a stylus or pen on the surface, and across every detail of a seal impression.”

I mean, obviously, if one’s actually got the object, there will still be some things you can best do by human eye, but if you haven’t, this might reduce that set of things to a very small number. I guess the files would be huge and the software rare, but I hope they try and tackle that as well as using it to deepen readings of things on site, however important that may be. This is a tool to make sources more accessible as well as everything else, if they want. And it looks as if they do:

By 2010, the collaborating teams expect to have high-quality images of 5,000 to 6,000 Persepolis tablets and fragments, and to supplement these with conventional digital images of another 7,000 to 8,000 tablets and fragments. The images will be distributed online as they are processed, along with cataloging and editorial information.

“Thanks to electronic media, we don’t have to cut the parts of the archive up and distribute the pieces among academic specialties,” said Stolper. “We can combine the work of specialists in a way that lets us see the archive as it really was, in its original complexity, as one big thing with many distinct parts.”

Bravo you guys! Vindolanda tablets next? Tablettes Albertini? Visigothic slates? Come on, you know you want to…

Addendum: Michelle also now links to this article in the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate talking about a few of the actual things that have been learnt by applying this technique to obscure inscriptions. Some of it sounds marvellous material…

More on wizards in Asturias

Line drawing of the inscription from King Fáfilas tomb at Santa Cruz de Cangas

Line drawing of the inscription from King Fáfila's tomb at Santa Cruz de Cangas

This is another ‘lest old themes be forgot’ post, referring back to one I wrote a while ago about a surprising reference to paganism in ninth-century Asturias. At that point Neville of the eponymous Combate linked in the blogroll showed up to explain that there was other evidence for this, not least an inscription recovered from the mausoleum in which is buried Fáfila, son of Don Pelayo the founder of the royal line of Asturias-León, and second king of Asturias, which records that the church in which he was buried was originally consecrated by a—well, shaman? The Latin is vates—called Asterio. (I feel he should have been called Getafíx, or at least Panorámix, but I guess the mason hadn’t yet heard of the series.) I realise your Spanish may not be up to this, but Neville has now written a full post of his own on the ‘mage Asterio’ and his milieu, which includes photographs of the stone and a full transcription, as well as a link to a scholarly publication of it. The importance of this is that in my post I asked whether someone whom a hostile chronicle called a magus might not, as had then lately been suggested by Celia Chazelle, have thought of himself as a priest. Asterio would appear to tell us otherwise, which means a bit of a rethink for me and perhaps for others. It’s a hundred years before the king I was writing about, but those who warned me not to underestimate residual pagan practices may have been more correct than I was. Sometimes a magical practitioner is just a magical practitioner…

The church of Santa Cruz de Cangas, whence the stone and where the tomb, from Wikimedia Commons

The church of Santa Cruz de Cangas, whence the stone and where the tomb, from Wikimedia Commons

Hmm. Now that I go back over the comments of that post I see that I mentioned an idea for a future post which I’d since completely forgotten. I must pick that one up for you all. So, at least one more to come hey?