Tag Archives: Gaspar Feliu

In Marca Hispanica XXXI: contacts, changes of plan and a main-street hermitage

I said last post but one that I would clarify my itinerary on last year’s trip to Catalonia, because it wasn’t very simple. This was so for four reasons. Firstly, we were trying to hire a car only for one part of the trip, but not all the things we wanted to drive to were close to each other. Secondly, I had made an effort on this trip actually to meet my few Catalan academic contacts, to whom I almost never give enough notice of my arrival, and that left me with many commitments. And the third and fourth reasons I’ll explain as they arise, because they were not planned. The original plan looked like this:

  1. Day 1. Arrive in Girona by air, pick up car, drive to Sacalm and then to Vic.
  2. Day 2. Three castles in a day!
  3. Day 3. Sant Pere de Casserres and the putative Castell by car, then back to Girona, return car, rail to Barcelona.
  4. Days 4 & 5. Meeting people, tourism and book-buying in Barcelona, finishing with rail back to Vic again.
  5. Day 6. Archive work in Vic and visiting one of the Museu Episcopal and cathedral.
  6. Day 7. Visit the other one, then rail to la Garriga and briefly into the bosom of my family at Palautordera.
  7. Day 8. Early lift to Girona and fly home!

This plan had already come adrift by the time we arrived, however, as my companion had been invited to a job interview on what should have been Day 3. I did my absolute best with plans, but in the end Sant Pere de Casserres had to be given up, again, and instead we decided to return the car early, get my companion to the airport and then I spend the next day or so in Barcelona myself until she could join me. A pity, but a reasonable fix, and it did not prevent us either catching up with the inestimable Professor Gaspar Feliu in Sacalm, which was a real test for my long-silent Catalan, or as you have seen doing the three castles with all the energy we could muster the next day. But the day after that was to Girona and then to Barcelona and then a lone trip back from the airport for me to our fairly dreadful accommodation.1 But the actual point of this post is what happened next, which is that, following directions very carefully, I went out to Bellvitge to meet up with Lleida doctoral student Elisabet Bonilla Sitja. I had met Elisabet when she spent a term in Oxford and we immediately bonded over the Vic charters; she is mining them for evidence on mentalities, which is actually quite possible to do, and I am looking forward to there being more of her stuff to read.2 But right at this point, she wanted to show me a church.

Side view of Santa Maria de Bellvitge

Santa Maria de Bellvitge, in its rather urban setting

This is the Ermita de Santa Maria de Bellvitge, and it is about the oldest building in the locality, by which we mean it’s thirteenth-century but in its current aspect mostly eighteenth-century restoration. Some limited reading for this post establishes that it’s hiding something, however, to wit, an eleventh-century church of a rather larger size that was knocked down to build this one. There were burials of the period found when setting up the park in which the church now sits. The whole settlement is only recorded for the first time in 995, and then only as the regario de Amalviga (I don’t have a direct reference here so the spelling may be off), the name having to go through some changes to get to where it is now. The church under this was thus probably the first one here.3 It’s completely invisible now but even this baroque one is doing a good job of looking utterly out of place in what is otherwise an extremely modern-looking area.

Portal of Santa Maria de Bellvitge

Portal of Santa Maria de Bellvitge, probably the oldest surviving bit

[Edit: We then wandered down the road a way, to l’Hospitalet de Llobregat. L’Hospitalet’s] main claim to fame, I was told, is that the secret treaty which ended the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713 was signed here, and so it was in the building below that Catalonia was delivered to the Spanish Crown after a fairly prolonged attempt to get away. This takes some particularly careful representation in the area’s promotion of its heritage…

The sixteenth-century buildings of L'Harmonia, in Hospitalet de Llobregat

[Edit: L’Harmonia, a sixteenth-century house in l’Hospitalet de Llobregat where Catalonia’s resistance to Spain was supposedly signed away]. Note the dog expressing the local opinion of this institution and its history…

All the other history of Bellvitge is modern, as far as I can see, which means that I must have got a wrong impression of [Edit: Also in l’Hospitalet] was the structure below, which I saw somewhere along the way. I can’t find it on Google Maps, didn’t think to ask Elisabet and have no idea what it is or how old. [Edit: Elisabet now supplies the answer in comments! Thankyou Elisabet!] But I can end a blogpost with an enigma if I like, right? And so I shall, and in the next-but-one return us to Barcelona proper and one building I’d never before managed to get inside.

Mas Can Summaro, in l'Hospitalet de Llobregat, seen through trees

Edit: A rather obscure view of the sixteenth-century Mas Can Summaro, now a public building


1. We do not recommend the Pensión Cortes on the Gran Via de Les Corts Catalanes, and I will not favour it with a link. It is dingy, ageing and there are no locks on the bedroom doors, and the landlady has lengthy and xenophobic directions for how to visit the city which she unloaded on us even though we didn’t need them, or even understand most of them.

2. For now I base my opinion on E. Bonilla Sitja, “Aproximación al estudio de la vida y mentalidad altomedieval: la Plana de Vic, 872-936”, unpublished Master’s thesis (Universitat de Lleida 2011), of which she was kind enough to send me a copy.

3. For detail see Albert López Mullor, “Santa Maria de Bellvitge” in Antoni Pladevall (ed.), Catalunya Romànica XX: el Barcelonès, el Baix Llobregat, el Maresme, ed. María-Lluïsa Ramos i Martínez (Barcelona 1992), pp. 266-267.

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Building states on the Iberian frontier, II: clearing the land

Catalan peasants at work, from the Biblia de Ripoll

Catalan peasants at work, from the Biblia de Ripoll

Continuing as promised, or threatened, the rethink of my picture of frontier development in Catalonia spurred by the recent chapter by Julio Escalona and Francisco Reyes on the same themes in tenth-century Castile… let’s talk about peasants.1 At some level, after all, the expansion of settlement, social structures and government into an unorganised zone requires the basic work of somebody taking tools to the soil, felling unhelpful trees, clearing scrub, putting it to the plough or planting helpful trees and generally turning the land to use. This is implicit in any story of territorial expansion that isn’t simple annexation of territory where someone else has already done that. The question is thus not whether this is happening, but rather who is controlling it. Now, I have worked on this for Catalonia, partly because it’s just inherent in an expanding frontier situation as I say but also because of an early article by Cullen Chandler that I disagreed with and which gave me a fair bit of work to figure out what my alternative picture was (and even longer to publish it).2 This does mean that I could simply direct you to that work but because it’s part of the argument that I’m developing here in reaction to the Escalona & Reyes chapter, it needs to be out where it can be seen. I will reuse some text, though, and the first bit I will reuse is that from my book which attempts to describe how other historians have answered this question of control. Given that what follows is quite a lot of quotation, and that the whole post is plural thousands of words, a cut seems moot here… Continue reading

Peasant group identities: the now-legendary Catalan edge case

Sometimes the best way to realise what you think is to hear or read a view from someone that presents you with difficulties. Once you’ve worked out what the difficulties are, you know more about what you think. (This is like the internal monologue version of the way to get an answer out of Usenet.1) This is another thing that has happened to me as a result of continuing on with Chris Wickham’s Framing the Early Middle Ages.

Cover of Chris Wickham's Framing the Early Middle Ages

Put shortly, ideas of agency are very strong in my work. I’ve worked on authority and power pretty much as long as I’ve been researching but one of the things that comes along with that is the idea that the people who have this property can act in ways that change things. (There are probably good and obvious Freudian reasons for why I have a fascination with the ability to change things, but let’s not go there on this blog. Suffice to say that this is a political fascination now, even if it wasn’t to start with; the state of UK politics has made it incredibly appealing as an idea.) This kind of historical agency is actually not as much of a given as it seems: a deterministic enough view of historical events might make it seem as if it’s hard for even those in power to change the direction of societies sometimes, and various social theories that involve large-scale dialectical processes, most obviously Marxism I suppose, would seem to give humans little choice in their affairs.

My work tends to argue against this. Two books into my hypothetical future career is a proper study of Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona, a man who lived at a time when big social forces seem to have been burgeoning.2 He wasn’t going to change the fact that the economy was booming, that the frontier was being settled, that al-Mansur had turned the Caliphal armies of al-Andalus onto all the principalities of Northern Spain (not with Borrell’s war record, anyway) or a great number of other things, but the ways he chose to meet the demands of his time meant that the lives of the people he ruled worked out slightly differently than they might otherwise have done so (with better-educated judges, for example, and a more trustworthy coinage, or if you prefer a negative emphasis, with far more of their relatives captive in Córdoba and a much greater likelihood of an independently-minded castellan ruling their local roost).3 He was not a typical aristocrat.

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

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

Now Chris is quite big on the historical importance of aristocrats (“I am not fond of aristocrats, but one does not have to like them to recognize their importance”, he has written4) but they do tend to appear in his work as a homogenous class, all interested similarly in being and staying wealthy and powerful by whatever means necessary. This is hard to argue with, because people who weren’t so interested didn’t stay in that position versus people who did. Nice, considerate, light-handed aristocrats are hard to evidence. There was Gerald of Aurillac, of course, but if even half of what Odo of Cluny records about this lay saint is true to life, he was so very odd that he represents nothing except the possibilities of acting abnormally (though that is a real iceberg of a point, with huge hidden depths, to which I continually gravitate). I think, however, that Borrell II shows that there is more to aristocratic action than simply a single class ambition; some aristocrats worked to their ends differently from others, and indeed against each other.5

The fact that the third book I’d like to write next would make this point more fully probably has probably arisen in part from the increasing amount of debate I’ve had with Chris over the years. As a result of it, I would like to stress more that people’s differences had historically significant results. Chris knows this, too, of course, as his comparisons of different sorts of landowner in Framing, especially the Apions in the Oxyrynchos region of Egypt versus the slightly later Dioskoros of Aphroditō, makes clear, but to him, it seems to me from reading, they are important because they represent examples of a wider phenomenon, and therefore their differences exemplify disparity in scale of wealth and in their political times, whereas I am much more interested in the ways in which aristocrats deviated from pattern by choice.6 (This of course makes Chris much more able to write 820-page-long syntheses of the development of the entire Western world for four hundred years than I will ever be; he may be more able to do this than anyone, after all. But I persist in the belief that individual agency needs its part in historical explanation too, however much it may vie with generalisation.)

Catalan peasants at work, from the Biblia de Ripoll

Catalan peasants at work, from the Biblia de Ripoll

All this, albeit less worked out, is an argument I have actually had with Chris, and as you may have noticed from the above I’ve more or less agreed to differ. But what about peasants? This is what has brought it freshly to mind. You would think, initially, that with peasants such generalisations are much more justifiable. Firstly, there were vastly more early medieval peasants than early medieval aristocrats, so the individual dissenter from a phenomenon stands out much less and is statistically less significant. Also, the peasant just has less agency than the aristocrat. How many people’s lives can a peasant affect, without (or even with) going on a homebrew-induced billhook killing spree? Not as many as even the most minor person with power, one might argue, and this is probably true. And yet it seems to me that – perhaps precisely because it matters less to grand arguments? – Chris gives a lot more space to peasant choices than he does to aristocratic ones. In the section of the book where he constructs a fictional Anglo-Saxon village society (‘Malling’), to make up for the lack of adequate records from a single place that can balance his case studies from elsewhere, the rise of one patron family and the fall of another, more established one, are explained solely in terms of their political choices and ability.7 Of course these are not real instances, but that doesn’t make their theoretical importance the less striking. And of course, behind them are a raft of choices about which patron family to associate with on the part of their followers.

You can see, I’m sure, how that scales up easily to aristocrats, and quite a lot of the explanations of the way politics worked in the Carolingian Empire with which I’m most comfortable rely on the aristocrats themselves needing help in getting potential followers to make such choices.8 But there are other ways in which peasant decisions make political differences, even short of revolt, and this is especially clear with Catalonia, or any other society with an open frontier. Now is not the time to get into a massive debate with the ghost of Pierre Bonnassie and the thankfully very-much-alive Gaspar Feliu i Montfort about exactly how true the former’s picture of Catalonia as a zone of mainly-independent free peasants, presumably governing their own labour in much the way that Chris suggests was more possible in his period than later,9 but it is important to note that the reason for that contention, however true it may be, is usually that there was an open frontier, where authority was thin, settlement encouraged (as we shall see in two posts’ time) and opportunity available to make a fresh start. While that remained true, it has been argued (and not just by Bonnassie10), the Catalan peasant could never be entirely oppressed, because he or she might always escape. Such settlement, after all, clearly did happen, even if Gaspar Feliu thinks that it was mainly driven by lords even so.11 It is of course a large-scale social phenomenon, sure, but it is made of a whole patchwork of individual decisions. This is not just because I’m sure (and have written) that not every settler had upped sticks far away, bought all the livestock they could afford and moved on out hoping to make a new life far away—I think many of them were much more local, often ‘field-next-door’ local12—but because whatever was going on here and whatever choices were being made, they obviously weren’t made by the peasantry as a class. If the whole peasantry had wanted to move to the frontier the interior would have become denuded of labour. This didn’t happen, so some people obviously chose to stay put and take it. We could argue about different economic circumstances, but again it would be hard to show that local societies lost a whole socio-economic layer of themselves, and I think I’ve shown that such choices could vary widely even within families out here.13 (I doubt that’s exclusive to ‘out here’ but ‘out here’ is where I can show it.) Such choices, furthermore, varied a lot in methods: save up, sell up, or get support? If so from whom? Does making a new independent start preclude doing so under new lordship? and so on.

Land for sale in Vallfogona del Ripollès

Land awaiting settlement in a Catalan valley, 2011

So this is the edge case, where a class fragments and a general answer has to take into account a lot of individuals making very difficult choices (and some rich proprietors making rather easier ones, of course). But from this edge I can see the space for more such people. I don’t want to accuse myself of being specially ‘open’, ‘inclusive’ or ‘individualist’ here. (After all, what can be more individualist than arguing that almost every other Marxist is wrong?) But I am made freshly conscious by Chris’s magisterial treatment of whole societies in their entire layers, however varied the layers may have been and however much societies differed between each other, that my historiography does not build from class down but from individuals up, and does so because I still want the individuals to be the ones who make the differences.


1. I realise that those old enough to even know what Usenet is/was won’t need the explanation, but the method probably has a more Hellenistic name given how Socratic it almost seems: it is, of course, to ask a question that presupposes something wrong or gets its facts wrong, on the basis that you are more likely to provoke a reaction from someone who can put you right if they can also tell you you’re wrong. On Usenet, classically, this worked far better than simply asking for help.

2. There weirdly isn’t one yet, beyond the standard nineteenth-century reference, Prosper de Bofarull y de Mascaró, Los condes de Barcelona vindicados, y cronología y genealogía de los reyes de España considerados como soberanos independientes de su marca (Barcelona 1836, repr. 1990), I pp. 139-196, though there is also Miquel Coll i Alentorn, “Dos comtes de Barcelona germans, Miró i Borrell” in Marie Grau & Olivier Poisson (edd.), Études roussillonnaises offertes à Pierre Ponsich. Mélanges d’archéologie, d’histoire et d’histoire de l’art du Roussillon et de la Cerdagne (Perpignan 1987), pp. 145-162, but that isn’t very much. There is also a certain amount of stuff by Michel Zimmermann, which is as ever very clever and, I think, also wrong in detail. Till I get the book together, thus, I can best refer you to Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (London 2010), pp. 141-166.

3. On all this the best guide remains Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une société (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols, though cf. Gaspar Feliu i Montfort, “Societat i econòmia” 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. 81-115. Specifically, on al-Mansur you could now see Philippe Sénac, Al-Mansûr : le fleau de l’an mil (Paris 2006), on the judges Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000, Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past (Ithaca 2004), pp. 81-99 and on the coinage J. Jarrett, “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London 2009), pp. 217-243; on the 985 sack of Barcelona you should now see G. Feliu, La Presa de Barcelona per Almansor: història i mitificació. Discurs de recepció de Gaspar Feliu i Montfort com a membre numerari de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica, llegit el dia 12 de desembre de 2007 (Barcelona 2007), online here in PDF, last modified 15 September 2008 as of 3 November 2008. On feudalism, well, give me time

4. Chris Wickham, “Rethinking the Structure of the Early Medieval Economy” in Jennifer Davis & Michael McCormick, The Long Morning of Medieval Europe: new directions in early medieval studies (Aldershot 2008), pp. 19-31, quote at p. 30.

5. I’ve already essayed something along these lines in what I hope will be my next-but-one paper, 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 forthcoming), pp. 000-00, but it could obviously be done more broadly than that.

6. C. Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean 400-800 (Oxford 2005), pp. 242-250 & 411-419.

7. Ibid., pp. 428-434.

8. That comfort comes most obviously from Matthew Innes, State and Society in the Early Middle Ages: the middle Rhine valley 400-1000, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 47 (Cambridge 2000).

9. Bonnassie: esp. his Catalogne, II pp. 781-829, handily translated by Jean Birrell as “The Noble and the Ignoble: a new nobility and a new servitude in Catalonia at the end of the eleventh century” in Bonnassie, From Slavery to Feudalism in South-Western Europe (Cambridge 1991), pp. 196-242; Feliu in his “La pagesia catalana abans de la feudalització” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 26 (Barcelona 1994), pp. 19-41 (no, seriously, do, this is a really important article); Chris, classically in “Problems of comparing rural societies in early medieval western Europe” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 2 (London 1992), pp. 221-246, rev. in his Land and power: studies in Italian and European social history, 400-1200 (London 1994), pp. 201-226.

10. E. g. also by Josep María Salrach i Marés in El procés de feudalització (segles III–XII), Història de Catalunya 2 (Barcelona 1987) and Paul Freedman in The Origins of Peasant Servitude in Catalonia, Cambridge Iberian and Latin American Studies (Cambridge 1991).

11. Feliu, “Societat i econòmia” & “Pagesia”, and the various works (which include the latter at pp. 93-110) in his first collected papers, La llarga nit feudal: Mil anys de pugna entre senyors i pagesos (València 2010).

12. J. Jarrett, “Settling the Kings’ Lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 18 (Oxford 2010), pp. 320-342.

13. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 57-66.

How to take over your area, as seen by Barbero & Vigil

I have already here often argued with or been scornful of Barbero and Vigil’s book La Formación del feudalismo en la Península Ibérica. This has mainly been because of the way their seventy-page chapters swallowed my life for a while there and I don’t want to give the impression that their reputation as scholars was entirely or even mainly faulty: that would be wrong and unfair. By way of an example, and almost the last post coming from the book, I want to mention a guy called Bagauda. That’s interesting in itself, but he was far too well-off to have been interested in rebelling against Imperial rule. Between 914 and 932 in 21 surviving transactions he and his wife Faquilo got hold of an awful lot of property by purchases, getting themselves adopted as heirs, by donations whose reasons we don’t know, and so on. This property then wound up at the monastery of San Toribio de Liébana in Cantabria. The documents seem to have come with and so we have a nice chunky lay archive there about him and his doings.1

Panoramic view of Santo Toribio de Liébana, Cantabria, from Wikimedia Commons

Panoramic view of Santo Toribio de Liébana, Cantabria, from Wikimedia Commons

When Barbero and Vigil wrote Bagauda and Faquilo had been studied, but only in the kind of patrimonial way that such a case might be done; here are some people who got rich, here’s where they had land and how they got it, also what happened to it, sort of thing. Barbero and Vigil however wanted an example of a layman amassing a stranglehold on local power by property acquisition, and therefore sifted more carefully.2 And in the end they found it, good evidence that the people who sold this land became dependents of Bagauda and his wife, their tenants, maybe even their serfs. Now this is, if you stop and think, almost obvious; unless the people move off their land when they sell it, they must only be selling the revenues and thus lose control of those themselves. This was Matthew Innes’s suggestion to me; I matched it, eventually, with evidence from the other end, that we can identify this level of proprietor as such because his or her name comes up as neighbour over a wide area. But he or she can’t be farming these lands him- or herself, not all of them, or living there, which means that there are people who are whom the charters don’t name, who don’t rate a mention.3 And I eventually found that Gaspar Feliu had figured this out a few years before as well.4

Medieval peasants at work

It’s obvious in theory, maybe, but hard to prove in practice. People who sell such land usually disappear from the record, they don’t helpfully turn up as ‘so-and-so now serf of so-and-so’. That they do so disappear is suggestive in itself, perhaps, but there could be lots of reasons. But Barbero and Vigil turned up the evidence we need. One vineyard that Bagauda got he got as compensation in a court case, from Toribio son of Florence and Teudilla, “for that he hid in his house his brother who stole those three cows, one of Egerio, and another of Flaçenço, and a third of Suinito… “.5 Now, why does Bagauda get the compensation if they weren’t his cows, you ask? Well, three of the people who sold land to Bagauda were called Egerio, Flaçenço and Munita.6 Not a perfect match but as the saying nearly goes, ‘two out of three and a strong possibility of scribal error explaining the third ain’t bad’. So the answer to the question would seem to be, because Bagauda is The Man and in particular these guys are now his men because they sold him the land the cows were on and themselves with it. Even if the documents don’t say it, we know that’s what it may have meant and here we can see what that meant in practice.


1. The archive is edited as L. Sánchez Belda (ed.), Cartulario de Santo Toribio de Liébana (Madrid 1948).

2. The earlier work Margarita B. Pontieri, “Una familia de propietarios rurales en la Liébana del siglo X” in Cuadernos de Historia de España Vol. 43-44 (Buenos Aires 1966), pp. 113-144, cited by Abilio Barbero & Marcelo Vigil, La formación del feudalismo en la Península Ibérica, 2nd edn. (Barcelona 1978), p. 377 n. 48, their discussion ibid. pp. 377-380.

3. Matthew Innes, “Land, freedom and the making of the early medieval west” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th series Vol. 16 (Cambridge 2006), pp. 39-73; Jonathan Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis, University of London 2005, pp. 163-164, taken up in greater detail in idem, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (London forthcoming), Chapter 1.

4. Gaspar Feliu, “La pagesia catalana abans de la feudalització” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 26 no. 1 (Barcelona 1996), pp. 19-41, with English summary p. 41 and French résumé p. 40.

5. Sánchez, Cartulario, doc. no. 41, quoted by Barbero & Vigil, Formación, p. 378 n. 49.

6. Sánchez, Cartulario, doc. nos 21, 25 & 36, noted by Barbero & Vigil, Formación, p. 379.

Rustici ad libertatem! or, things I’d like to discuss with Ramon Martí

I’m sorry it’s been so long. There was the Vienna trip, which will make for a couple of posts, and then there were just other things that needed doing before spending quality time with the Internet. On the upside, activity should now be fairly intense for a while, as I’ve been reading a range of stuff that’s caused me to bluster, think and start drafting posts. First of these, then, follows.

Ramon Martí i Castelló is Titular Professor of Medieval History at the Universitat Autonòma de Barcelona, and is a name I come across quite frequently. I’ve corresponded with him once or twice and he’s always been drily helpful, but I’ve so far really only met him in print. This is always stimulating, but frequently makes me wonder if someone changed the consensus take on Catalan medieval history while I was out. Anglo-Saxonists might feel the same way about Eric John, and I’m sure there are others in everybody’s field; it’s all sustainable, but it’s very different from what most people argue… I’ve recently hit it again, in an article of his from 1999 called “Conquistas y capitulaciones campesinas”. There is a translation in the relevant volume later on, under the title “Peasant victories and defeats”, which just isn’t as snappy.1

Peasants at work, from the Bíblia de Ripoll

Peasants at work, from the Bíblia de Ripoll

I could go on at great length about this short article, because it leaves so much unexplained; this is why I’d like to talk to Prof. Martí about it, once my Catalan is better. But there’s value in trying to get out the reasons it gives me problems, in case they’re not much good. So, let me try and explain. His paper is a contribution to a lengthy debate about slavery and serfdom in Catalonia. The canonical view is probably Pierre Bonnassie’s, which as with most of his work makes better sense for Catalonia than anywhere else (like Marx with Russia).2 Bonnassie argued, firstly, that under the Visigothic kings of Spain slavery was still economically important, even if Roman-style fundi of dormitoried labourers working the owner’s fields (what Marx would have called the Ancient Mode of production) were probably rare compared to servi casati, ‘hutted’ slave families living on the plot of land they worked. (This refinement owes as much to Josep María Salrach as it does to Bonnassie really,3 and fits better into what the neo-Marxists now call the Tributary Mode of production.) Secondly he argued that due to slow but growing Christianization, which made it harder to pretend that these men and women who shared a church with you and got the same sacraments weren’t really human beings, due to the diminution of supply of slaves due to warfare as the kings slowly brought the whole peninsula under control, and due to political and economic collapse, that system was falling apart by the end of the Visigothic era, as the increasingly ridiculous legislation against fugitive slaves shows. Thirdly he argued that in the early independent Christian areas, the open frontier offered a zone of opportunity to which fugitives could go to make a new life and where the new power structures would support their rights, which as soon as that territory was opened up by the Carolingian take-over (in Catalonia—other processes along the northern coast obviously) meant that a slave system back in the mountains (where large-scale demesne farming didn’t really work anyway) was unmaintainable, so for a short period there is a society here in which peasant dependence is minimal, and almost all of them are free smallholders who can bear arms and owe neither rent nor labour to anyone, except what everyone owes to the public power by way of military service and tax. And (fifthly) as the economy booms in the late tenth and early eleventh century and the rich get richer, and then suddenly public power collapses, the increasingly oppressed peasantry is rapidly forced into subjection to the new lords and becomes the tied serfs that have to wait till the fifteenth century for its violent revolution. All this can be summed up as the “d’une servitude à un autre” argument.4

Martí’s version is much starker. As I first read it, I thought he was genuinely suggesting that the peasants took up arms to free themselves in the wake of the social disorder caused by the Carolingian takeover, which he sees as much more aggressive than, well, the sources do, albeit that they are all Frankish sources.5 In fact it’s not quite that amazing, but it’s not exactly canonical. In fact he suggests that the Visigothic kings’ measures were more effective in preserving slavery than Bonnassie thinks, mainly because they were in a powerful position and it seems hard to explain why they shouldn’t have been able to do this.5bis He argues that the Muslim takeover in any case arrested any decline, and froze Christian society’s development for some years, so where lords could hold their position they could continue to own slaves, even though slaves might find better lives working for the state on taken-over fiscal estates. And then he argues that because of resistance to the Carolingian takeover, and the Carolingian readiness to overturn social structures, converting the old fundi to benefices whose owners were often shuffled, and to support the establishment of immigrant and other armed yeoman households independently populating the frontier for its defence, this is the period in which it was possible for the slave system to break down, and that remaining slaves would have taken full advantage of the social breakdown to escape to new situations and become independents. By the time the charter evidence really gets going, in the late ninth or early tenth centuries, everyone can agree that slavery is so rarely seen that it seems basically to be domestic, and that there are an awful lot of free peasants. Martí is basically saying, this all happened in the century or so of effective Carolingian rule when our sources hardly exist and the Carolingians were prepared to endorse, establish and defend a new social order breaking out of the old one.

The Carolingian host on the march (though not on the March)

The Carolingian host on the march (though not on the March)

It’s difficult to argue with this, in as much as it’s possible in the absence of evidence to argue almost anything. And certainly others have argued that slavery persists much later than Bonnassie thought, Paul Freedman believing in the freedom effect of the frontier but thinking that there was probably always more dependence and slavery than the sources, which are obviously generated by landholders, would ever show, and Gaspar Feliu generally arguing that the lords never really lose that much control, and that it’s the way servitude is defined and exploited that changes, not its existence.6 All the same, the amount of peasant initiative and their ability to overcome a previously-rigid structure of oppression once the state behind it doesn’t want to hold it up, is very different in this account from Bonnassie’s, Freedman’s, Feliu’s or anyone’s really. It’s not fully explained here either, referring the reader to other works of his which are much harder to track down, though I’ll give it a go. How to get a grip on this and assess on what it is that my disinclination to accept it is based?

I don’t actually have a realised alternative argument, it must be said, except that on the whole I’m somewhere between Bonnassie and Feliu; I think that there probably was a lot of oppression of peasants by powerful people but on the whole, there was more smallholding liberty in the Carolingian period as documented (as opposed to the bit we can’t see) than before and after. I’ve explained why I think this elsewhere, but Martí’s argument isn’t on this continuum. I think that the differences in argument arise from differing accounts of two particular things, or at least my differences with this do. (This ignores our considerable difference over the extent to which the pre-Catalans were complicit in the Carolingian takeover; I think his version is militantly nationalist almost to the point of delusion, but it doesn’t actually alter his argument if it wasn’t like that.) The first of these is the definition of slavery, or servitude, and the second is the róle we give to the ‘public power’, the ‘state’ or whatever you want to call the government of the day.

Commemorative plaque at Santa Maria dAmer in Catalonia, recording the 1485 agreement between the peasant rising known as the Remences and their lords by King Ferdinand the Catholic of Aragó, Count of Barcelona

Commemorative plaque at Santa Maria d'Amer in Catalonia, recording the 1485 agreement between the peasant rising known as the Remences and their lords by King Ferdinand the Catholic of Aragó, Count of Barcelona

Martí has taken a very stark definition of slavery, which could be nuanced a great deal. Me, I think there is a difference between free, serf and slave which must have been very hard to draw in individual cases, but which can be expressed (and is best seen) in land transfers: a free man sells the land, a serf is sold with it but not without it, and a slave can be sold with no land involved. What this doesn’t really cover is the tenant, whom Professor Feliu has rightly warned me was surely the most common person we never see. He could be free and still included in a land sale, though he might well consent or witness without being specified as such I suspect.7 But Martí again isn’t on that continuum, so I can leave that problem of mine aside, for the moment. Bonnassie argued that by the ninth century, there was really little visible difference between the slave, who lived with his family on a plot of land and was subject to various duties, renders and levies to his owner, and the poor peasant who technically owned some land but had had to commend himself to a lord, did labour for him, paid him various renders and so on. They worked in the same fields, worshipped in the same church, and generally lived the same lives. This distance was not unbridgeable, and even in the Visigothic period there are complicated laws about marriages that cross it.

The argument more or less ignores domestic slavery, which is obviously more oppressive, has various implications that still draw me a great deal of web-search interest, and which clearly continued, but since we are like good post-Marxists focussing on the means of production here, let those unfortunates step back into the shadows. Martí repeatedly argues for the Carolingian conversion of fundi, big-estate farms of the Ancient type, into benefices, which means that he is thinking in terms of concentrated agricultural slavery. It’s true that the Visigothic Law does seem to be trying to save that, and that the Muslim polity further south did take over big estates bodily and run them with only semi-free labour, and therefore might have done here too; that is, if fundi lasted till 718 the Muslims might have maintained them as fiscal estates and that slavery might therefore have continued there, though whether we’re really looking at barracks of men and women in chains fed from a communal kitchen like US plantations are sometimes imagined rather than outhoused families farming strips and notionally owned is more dubious; there really just isn’t evidence for the former after the Forum Iudicum, and that, being normative not documentary, is a world of interpretative difficulties. I would need to chase up the other papers of Martí’s before I knew why he thinks this is defensible, but at the moment it doesn’t seem right to me, and I prefer Bonnassie’s take on it.

King Sisebut of the Visigoths, as depicted on a gold tremiss of his reign (image from Wikimedia Commons)

King Sisebut of the Visigoths, as depicted on a gold tremiss of his reign (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Then there’s the fisc. Until the late-ninth century almost all the charters we have from Catalonia are either royal precepts or dispute settlements that royal missi or counts heard in Carolingian-style courts (albeit with Visigothic-style judges and saiones). One of these, from 832, is a case where a count tries (and fails) to claim a man as a servus fiscalis, which Martí claims as proof that the counts still held big estates of the fisc for which slave agriculture was appropriate. Wrapped up in this is the question: what happened to the lands which belonged to the Visigothic state? We know that it was separate from the land the kings themselves owned, because some chronicles of those kings criticise King Sisebut for mixing the two up.8 And my charters are full of land that is called fiscs, and occasional unspecified ‘benefices’ which seem to be held by officials.9 But are these two the same thing? Were the royal lands partly taken over by the Muslims, and then the walis of Barcelona, and then its counts for the Carolingian kings? Or is it just that all abandoned land is swallowed up into the fisc during the Carolingian takeover? Could the title to its supposed slave cultivators have been maintained through all that in either case? Martí says yes, until the Carolingians turn up at least; Bonnassie said it was gone before they arrived. (Feliu says it hardly matters what you call it, there are big landowners who have tied dependants at all points.) The problems are made worse because we can’t assume that everything the later counts hold or dispose of is fiscal land, even though at times Bonnassie did; like the earlier kings, they have lands of their own.10 Here I don’t have an answer; I know I don’t think there was slave agriculture of any kind really, and that serfdom was as yet unformalised even if, especially in Barcelona county rather than Osona, there were big estates farmed as demesne which must have looked like serfdom did later once definitions were clearer. But as to how much there was a survival of public landholding that the Carolingians might have messed up, I couldn’t tell you. Boundaries are remembered that are that old; but that’s not the same thing as what dues whatever’s in them is supposed to pay and to whom, which is essentially what the difference is and breaks down when there is, for example, no king any more.11

I don’t seem to think the same things about these important building blocks of the argument about what happened between late Antiquity and the medieval period, what Chris Wickham has called ‘the Other Transition”, in Catalonia, as does Martí.12 He certainly knows more about it than I do, though whether that explains how he thinks of it is another question. I do wonder for example whether, since the different ways Gaspar Feliu and I seem to see things is at least partly a factor of the fact that I know Osona best and he knows Barcelona, where estates are bigger and seigneurial power larger, better, it may not be the case that Professor Martí, who is best centered in Girona, is seeing a regional situation in this old area that was never frontier that genuinely did differ from the two frontier counties.13 And I think there is some pretty basic difficulty with what Martí is proposing at the level of continuity, because it requires a very great deal of continuity through all the disturbances of the seven and eighth centuries, rebellion, secession, invasion and resistance, take-over and foreign occupation, which is then able to just collapse into severe and violent discontinuity as soon as the magic Carolingians turn up and take a more hands-off approach. I think the obvious period for discontinuity is during the Muslim occupation myself, when the supervision of the area by the state is basically military garrisons in a few places and the isolated places can now remake things their own way. But what mainly intrigues me about this is that from such quite fine differences over some important basics we can pile up deductions, conditioned by those different views, until we are so far apart that almost all we can do is throw things at each other’s preconceptions, because our two takes on the same evidence essentially don’t meet at several points.


1. Ramon Martí, “Conquistas y capitulaciones campesinas” in Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la época carolingia: arte y cutura antes del románico (siglos IX y X) (Madrid 1999), pp. 59-63, transl. as “Peasant victories and defeats”, ibid. pp. 448-451.

2. Most easily accessible in Pierre Bonnassie, “Survie et extinction du régime esclavagiste dans l’occident du haut moyen âge (IV-XI s.)” in Cahiers de Civilisation Médiévale Vol. 28 (Poitiers 1985), pp. 307-343, transl. J. Birrell as “The Survival and Extinction of the System of Slavery in the Early Medieval West, fourth to eleventh centuries” in Bonnassie, From Slavery to Feudalism in South-Western Europe (Cambridge 1991), pp. 1-59.

3. Josep Maria Salrach, El Procés de Feudalització, Història de Catalunya 2 (Barcelona 1987), pp. 93-109; Salrach has since written what is probably a very important book precisely on this question, La formación del campesinado en el oriente antiguo y medieval: anàlisis de los cambios en las condiciones de trabajo desde la Roma clásica al feudalismo (Barcelona 1997), which I haven’t yet read; clearly time to fix that.

4. The phrase is Bonnassie’s, translated by Jean Birrell as “From one Servitude to Another: the peasantry of the Frankish kingdom at the time of Hugh Capet and Robert the Pious (987-1031)” in Bonnassie, From Slavery to Feudalism, pp. 288-313; rev. from orig. French as “D’une servitude à l’autre: les paysans du royaume” in R. Delort (ed.), La France de l’An Mil, Points-Histoires H130 (Paris 1990), pp. 125-141.

5. In particular, though the Royal Frankish Annals are plainly hiding some complexity when they baldly say that Girona handed itself over to Charlemagne in 785, the whole area between there and Urgell seems to be in Carolingian hands very soon after, and this just isn’t something a single campaign that isn’t even mentioned in the annals could conceivably have done. I just find the Catalan-cooperation version far easier to understand. Cite for the Annals in the previous post but one. Meanwhile, one of the first things that made me baulk at this paper was his adduction of the Hispanus John as evidence that the Barcelona area was one of lawless warbands at this time. John (or Juan, or Jean—what language do you use for a man who came from who knows where in Spain, fought around Barcelona before the place really spoke Catalan and settled in what’s now France?) is discussed in José Enrique Ruiz Domenec, “Un «pauper» rico en la Cataluña carolingia a fines del siglo VIII” in Boletín de la Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vol. 36 (Barcelona 1975-1976), pp. 5-14, and Susan Reynolds, Fiefs and Vassals: the medieval evidence reinterpreted (Oxford 1994), pp. 106-110; he was no peasant, but trailed round a small force of armed men who later became his dependants when he scored two big estates from Charlemagne and Louis the Pious. They were probably his dependants before that, too. The fact that he was out there in no way shows that there were peasant warbands on the rampage as the Carolingians arrived.

5bis. There is this basic problem here for anyone studying Visigothic Spain: how, if it was so strong, did it collapse? Or, if it was so weak, how did it survive so long and act so powerful? Peter Linehan points out people struggling with this in his History and the Historians of Medieval Spain (Oxford 1993), but doesn’t have a solution, and no-one really does.

6. Paul Freedman, The Origins of Peasant Servitude in Catalonia, Cambridge Iberian and Latin American Studies (Cambridge 1991), pp. 1-68; Gaspar Feliu, “La pagesia catalana abans de la feudalització” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 26 (Barcelona 1994), pp. 19-41, and “Feudalisme: llibertat i servitud” in Miguel Barceló, Gaspar Feliu, A. Furió, M. Miquel & J. Sobrequés, El Feudalisme Comptat i Debatut. Formació i Expansió del Feudalisme Català (Valencia 2003), pp. 45-70. Professor Feliu kindly sent me offprints of both these papers, for which I thank him.

7. Feliu, “Pagesia catalana”; I’d reached some of the way along this path before I received that article, as can be seen in my “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of London 2005, pp. 160-167.

8. Questions of the Visigothic fisc most recently discussed (I think) in Santiago Castellanos, “The Political Nature of Taxation in Visigothic Spain” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 (Oxford 2004), pp. 201-228.

9. Jarrett, “Pathways”, pp. 188 & 194, mentions two of these apparently fiscal allotments; it’s hard to say what will make the final cut just now but as it currently stands two more are added in idem, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London forthcoming).

10. Bonnassie made a table of alienations of the fisc by the counts of Barcelona in his La Catalogne du Milieu du Xe à la Fin du XIe Siècle: croissance et mutations d’une société (Toulouse 1975-1976) 2 vols, I pp. 145-148, but one of them was a sale of lands that the counts had only bought a few years previously and which had passed to the seller there from a village founder who had developed it (Jarrett, “Pathways”, p. 195 n. 166). If that was fisc, so was anything the counts owned in any way at all, and there needn’t be anything ancient about it.

11. On continuity of boundaries see Jordi Bolòs i Masclans, “Paisatge, poblament i societat a Catalunya entorn de l’any 1000” in Imma Ollich i Castanyer (ed.), Actes del Congrés Internacional Gerbert d’Orlhac i el seu Temps: Catalunya i Europa a la Fi del 1r Mil·lenni, Vic-Ripoll, 10-13 de Novembre de 1999 (Vic 1999), pp. 254-283, with English abstract pp. 285-286.

12. Chris Wickham, “The Other Transition: from the ancient to feudalism” in Past and Present no. 103 (Oxford 1984), pp. 3-36; rev. in idem, Land and Power: studies in Italian and European social history, 400-1200 (London 1994), pp. 7-42.

13. Jarrett, “Pathways”, is essentially centered on Osona and the Ripollès immediately to the north, though it also touches Urgell and Rulers and Ruled will make more of the latter evidence even as it spreads the range in Osona. Feliu’s key article on Barcelona, derived in turn from his thesis, is “El condado de Barcelona en los siglos IX y X: organización territorial y económico-social” in Cuadernos de Historia Económica de Cataluña Vol. 7 (Barcelona 1972), pp. 9-31. Martí’s works meanwhile include the definitive collection of the charter material from the Cathedral of Girona, Col·lecció Diplomàtica de la Seu de Girona (817-1100), Diplomataris 18 (Barcelona 1997), although it was still not he who published that material for the Catalunya Carolíngia series, which oddly never cites his edition. I imagine some disagreement behind this.

In Marca Hispanica IX: actual charter scholarship

This is the last one of the Catalonia trip edits, so from here on it’ll be back to the more mundane writing and stolen graphics… So I thought I’d give you some hardcore diplomatic work as well as a pretty picture, by way of demonstrating that I wasn’t just being a tourist.

The last three days of my trip were spent commuting into Barcelona, rather than touring, you see. There was actually a bit of city-walking as I made an attempt to track down Professor Feliu in person, and that took me past the gardens of the Palau Reial and past a good deal of modern and impressive office architecture, but I didn’t have time to look at anything very much. I will say this, in case you ever find yourself trying to find a street address in Barcelona: the blocks may contain seven or eight different shops, offices or even houses each; or they may contain a single giant hotel. They are still numbered at a notional two numbers per block, and various crazinesses with “-bis” and so on are sometimes used to separate addresses but basically it’s impossible to count doorways to see how far you have to walk, or to tell when you’ve found your address unless it wears a name. Yes, I did have to walk some way. But once I’d got back into town (Professor Feliu in the end came and found me in town, for which I must thank him—we had a good chat, although it had to be in French) I got myself to the Biblioteca de Reserva in the old University building. I have to say, even with a Cambridge background, this building is quite impressive. It wasn’t so much the age of the buildings, or even its splendour though a big hallway with status of Isidore of Seville, King Alfonso X the Wise and other Spanish or Classical intellectual luminaries staring down from either side, will stick in my mind. It mainly struck me because it was so cool and quiet and lush, and full of plants and trees. For example, when I stepped out of the library to take a break, this was the scene that greeted me:

Western courtyard of the Universitat de Barcelona old building, from the first floor gallery

You see, I can cope with this as a study environment. So, what was I actually doing? Well, I mentioned above that I had some plans to work on the charters of Sant Pere de Casserres, and they are in the Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona. The staff there were very helpful, though more cautious than those at Vic; I had to surrender my passport and could only see a few at once. There turned out to be just enough from before my self-imposed date threshold to establish that it was a good point to choose as after that the diplomatic changed sharply, and although at the time of writing I haven’t had time to do any detailed analysis of the contents, I already know that there’s enough material here for two papers and one of them will serve for Leeds 2009. (If only I had my 2008 paper so well advanced…) So that was pretty encouraging.

Now, let me show you how a charter scholar does his work :-) Firstly, have a charter:

Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona, Pergamins, C (Sant Pere de Casserres) núm 20

This is Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona, Pergamins C (Sant Pere de Casseres) núm 20, and there is a full-size higher-resolution version under the image here if you want to study it closely. So the first thing to do is scribble some description, but as you can see it I’ll spare you. Note however that this one’s especially good for the range of scripts; all these people seem to have signed for real and they none of them show the same hand, which is interesting, because so much of the writing we have is in formal scripts, it’s fascinating to me that that isn’t what people use when they sign their names. Are they going up a register so as to stand out? Or are they reverting to their ‘usual’ hand? I don’t know.

Next question is, what does it actually say? And if you want to do this properly, you have to transcribe it. So, off the file created on the laptop I’d borrowed specially for this purpose, I give you the diplomatic transcription:

In dei om~ptis N~ne SciaNT [NT in ligature] o~nis d~m credentes quia mot? e~ placit: in sede uico Int~ cenobio Sci~ petri / kastru~ serres & Vutardo tarauellense de alaude q~d conda~ Reimu~d? drog? relinq~d ad p~fata / cenobii. Dicens p~phat? Vutard? q~d facere non potuit quia karta pr~ inde fecit ad socru~ suu~ olibane de cha/praria, In hac uero audiencia fuit brenar~d? uicescomes qui cum Reinardo abb~e sua~ exibuit leg / testimonia ante Wifredo iudice quia quando [change of pen here] ipsa karta fuit facta q~d Vuitard? ostendebat Reimu~d? prephat? / auctor demenserat & alienat? a sensa?, & ideo ego Vufred? iudex p~ condicionib? editis recepit ipsos testes & confirmo ipso / alaude in potestate sci~ petri & potestati de reimu~d? ut ab hodierno die in antea eu~ habeaNT [NT in ligature] que~ ad modu~ / at ordinauit p~phat? Reimu~d?. Condiciones uero que p~tin~ & ad Negocii reseruate ut conditeruNT [NT in ligature] in ipsa cenobio. Et si quis hoc disru~pere [..] libra~ auri p~soluat & hec consignacio firma p~maneat, Est aut~ ia~dictus / alaudes in ipso angulo ant~nunio , & suNT [NT in ligature] domos & t~ras & uineas & molinos cu~ t~minas & p~tinenciis & exios ut / ios. Kartam uero qui ostensa[.] i~ placito fuit in~ne olibane caprariense euacuata fuit & p~ma~sit / p~missu~ e~ cu~ testib? qui in condicionib? resonaNT [NT in ligature]. Facta deficione .iii. id~ marcii, anno, XXXIIIJ / rei~ Radb~to rege. *Guifredus l~ta q~ & iudex q~ cu~ guitardo recep~ / testes & sub SS
/
*hECFREdVS GRACIA DEI AbbA SS *SUNIARIVS m~cho SSS / *VUIlielmus X
//
SSS P&r? l~, Rogat? scripsit, & sub scripsit X die & anno q~d supra

A few conventions there may need explaining. It’s supposed to be what’s on the document, exactly, unless it’s in brackets. Square brackets are my comments, angle brackets hypothetical readings. Slashes, tildes and asterisks are my exceptions to the exactness—the first are line breaks and the second are a representation of the marks of abbreviation, all of them alike, which is sloppy I know but forgive me a limited typeface. The asterisks indicate a signature not written by the main scribe. The question marks are one abbreviation mark I have preserved as is, that is, they’re not actually interrogation points but a mark meaning -us has been omitted. So there’s your transcription, and you may be able to trace this on the document (and if you think I’ve got it wrong I’m happy to be corrected). Now what does it actually mean? With the advantage of having read quite a lot of Catalan charters, I can fill in the gaps, but this is still a story in itself. If I just skip to translating, it goes:

In the name of omnipotent God. Let all believers in God know that there was held a hearing in the See of Vic between the monastery of Saint Peter of Casserres & Guitard of Taradell over the alod that the late Ramon Drog left to the aforementioned monastery, Guitard saying that he could not do that since he made a charter of it to his cousin Oliba of Chapraria. In this audience, indeed, was Viscount Bermon, who along with Abbot Reinard displayed his testimony before Guifré the judge that when this charter that Guitard was showing was made, the author, the aforementioned Ramon, had become demented and was out of his mind. And therefore I Guifré the judge, through sworn oaths, received the witnesses themselves and I confirm the selfsame alod in the power of Saint Peter and the power of Ramon so that from this day into the future they may have it just as the aforementioned Ramon ordered. In fact, reserve you the oaths that pertain to the business so that they can be archived in the monastery. And if anyone [should come] to disrupt this, let him pay a pound of gold and let this verdict remain firm. The alod itself is moreover in l’Angle in Antuniano, and there are houses and lands and vines and mills with their bounds and appurtenances and exits and entrances. Meanwhile the charter that was shown in the hearing in the name of Oliba of Capraria was disavowed, and the promise of that remains with the witnesses who are recorded in the oaths. Definition made the 3rd Ides of March, in the 34th year of the rule of King Robert. Guifré, deacon and also judge, who with Guitard received the witnesses and signed below.

Hecfred by the grace of God Abbot signed. Sunyer, monk, signed. Guillem X.

Signed and subscribed Pere the deacon wrote and subscribed X the day and year as recorded above.

All right, I haven’t finished thinking about this document yet, but let me call out some points for you.

  1. Firstly, though I’ve translated fairly loosely in a couple of places there, this is very strongly styled. The drop into not just direct speech, but a direct imperative (“reseruate”, ‘reserve you’), is really unusual. Whoever wrote the text that this is derived from (see 4 below…) was apparently working from dictation more or less, and Guifré apparently wanted to wash his hands of it post haste: he ties up various loose ends as he thinks and gives instructions as if it were a memo, not a solemn court judgement.
  2. His dismissal of the case and the details of it might be explained because, for example, it was well known to all parties that Ramon Drog had indeed gone a bit doolally in his last months and quite possibly sold his lands several times over, and the question was going to be whether Guitard of Taradell could put this over on the judge. Guifré, working out that he’s been had, gives Guitard short shrift and basically banks everything with the monastery, including the warning that the witnesses will remember him admitting the charter to Oliba was useless. It’s a fairly weak claim anyway, that the land can’t be the monastery’s because it’s someone else’s when that someone else isn’t the plaintiff, but the defence isn’t so hot either is it, “oh well he was mad, your honour, mad he was, oh yes, well known it is how mad he was honest”. But the people saying this are the local viscount and the abbot of the monastery so there’s little hope for Guitard really. Once the monastery had convinced Bermon to show up, and his mother had founded the place so they have a connection, Guifré was really just filling in the blanks. It’s tough to be up against The Man in early eleventh-century Catalonia.
  3. Nonetheless, a few things here don’t add up. We don’t have the oaths of the witnesses; normally they would indeed be on a separate document, but it’s not here even though it was supposed to be kept in the monastery. Nor do we have any record of the gift to the monastery; Ramon made a charter to someone else, but the monastery have to rely on witnesses and heavy local enforcement, as well as claiming their donor later went mad. Where are these documents they should have, both before and after the hearing? You have to wonder whether it’s all entirely kosher, or if in fact this might be a Scheinprozess, a fake hearing intended to produce a document that proves property when other proof is lacking. And if they don’t have the oaths either, maybe it’s an entire fake, a document that records a hearing that never really happened.
  4. Because, you see, the document isn’t an original. But it has the signatures on it, I hear you say, how can it not be original? Well, yes, signatures. And look, one of them’s the abbot. Not the abbot named in the text, but a subsequent one. Unless one of the four (which is very few, and two of them at least are members of the monastery) witnesses was an abbot from elsewhere, this was written up and signed later on, and Pere seems to write other documents for Casserres which are basically copies of older charters to which they apparently refer. I haven’t worked this out yet, but there are incontrovertible examples.

So quite a lot going on there. Next, try this!

Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona, Pergamins, C (Sant Pere de Casserres) 3

No okay, only kidding. But you can imagine how my heart sank when I saw it. In fact, though, it’s fascinating, at least to me. There are five separate transactions written up here, and one, the third, has autograph signatures, albeit only two and them both clerics. The trouble is, it postdates the first one on the parchment, but this huge parchment was clearly set up to take that big transaction, not the tiny one, which seems to have been fitted round and so must have been written up from something else after the date of both of them. That in turn means that they either used new witnesses, or the two clerics were both still around to sign again. So much for autograph signatures as a proof of originality!

And meanwhile, what are they actually doing? The first transaction is so huge because it has 40 donors and vendors (they’re all called both) and deals with 23 pieces of land. It must have been a huge occasion! Except that, having given all the boundaries ,when the scribe gets to the bit where he should record the prices paid for these lands, he gives up and writes instead, “p[ro]p[te]r p[re]cio sic inclos[um] in ipsas scripturas resonat”, ‘because of the price that is recorded in the selfsame charters thus included’. In other words, he’s making a big narrative out of lots of charters, this isn’t one huge occasion, it’s a story combining 23 separate transactions for the sake of a permanent record. One might have guessed this from the crossings-out that imply fairly clearly that the scribe has lost his place or the plan of how to deal with a source text in front of him, but then he goes and admits it for us. This is supposed to be a very material foundation legend built as a kind of pancarta and then they add four more transactions that had happened already as well onto it like they were making a huge one-sheet cartulary (which is basically what a pancarta is, in case you were wondering; the web seems to have no useful definition). No wonder they abbreviate so heavily! But what I haven’t figured out is who it is doing this. There was a church at Casserres before the monastery, and this document doesn’t mention monastery or monks in any of its parts. All these transactions are dated to before the monastery was established, but we’ve already seen that that doesn’t mean much. And there’s four separate scribes with clearly different hands and another two clerics in the signatures. What parish church has five working priests and extra staff? There’s another just across the way at Sant Pere de Roda with a similar number, and they even own land around this church, so what on earth’s going on? They can’t both be mother churches so close to each other!

I haven’t worked it out yet, but because I now have this stuff under my belt, I reckon I probably will. Just, maybe not right now…

And all right, I’ve finished now, I’m back in the UK even virtually now, back to the books and the blogs. I hope I haven’t driven you all off…

The Nature of Landed Property in the Middle Ages II: Gaspar Feliu redux

You have probably had the experience where you have a paper or similar that hangs about for ages never quite finished. And if you’re disciplined, you finally set a point where it is done, you reach that point and you grit your teeth, format it and submit. And, likely as not, you then find something that makes it look dangerously lopsided, irrelevant or worst of all, derivative. I have recently been saved from this by the skin of my teeth, because I (perhaps foolishly) let a paper slip in between the final edit and the formatting. The paper is one of the offprints I was so kindly sent by Professor Gaspar Feliu, and it’s called “La Pagesia catalan abans de la feudalització”, ‘The Catalan peasantry before feudalization”.1 There is even a summary in English, except that… well: let me just quote it.

The possibility of get land through the aprisio during the Reconquest has helped to spread the idea that aprisio made it possible the birth of a stratum of free peasant ownwer (alodial) and it allowed for a time of relative well-being between the ancient slavery and the feudal submission. This article argues that most of the pre-feudal peasantry was slave or subject to various degrees of serfdom and that the imposition of feudalism could not make worse the previous status.

You see, I worry that this is how it reads when I send letters in Catalan… and ‘feudal submission’ sounds like a particularly vicious wrestling finale. But anyway: it may not always be clear from my blog, especially since many historians of power appear to forget the people over whom power was actually exercised, but that’s really pretty darn relevant to my work, and I ought to have realised how important such a paper was likely to be.2 I hadn’t, and I put this partly down to the ‘ten-year wall’ I’ve written about here before, but also because for reasons I don’t fully understand, Professor Feliu’s views are not usually widely cited even though his expertise is recognised.3

Professor Gaspar Feliu i Montfort

This paper gives some hints as to why this might be, though, because by way of setting up he discusses the views of several other scholars, not least Pierre Bonnassie, who for the last thirty years of his lifetime utterly dominated the field because of his monograph La Catalogne. Though it is as old as I am, that is still the main work on the feudalization of Catalonia, and the numerous ones of Josep María Salrach, who is the main other contendor and also mentioned here, are hard to separate in philosophical terms; Salrach’s picture is subtly different, as I’ve discussed here, but pinning that down at a textbook level would be very hard.4 Also mentioned with respect by Feliu is the only Anglophone scholar who has lately made a dent on early Catalan history, Paul Freedman, whose main book he quotes parts of by way of illustration.5 And, having carefully and respectfully set out these scholars’ views, he says, as I translate: “It must be said before going any further that the discrepancies are only ones of detail, and that my heterodox proposals should not be taken as any reflection on the high scientific esteem which I think is merited by each and every one of the teachers and colleagues mentioned above.”6 So you can tell that the stuff is about to hit the ventilator, right there.

Medieval peasants at work

The reason that it concerns me most obviously is that the paper I’m trying to finish is exactly and wholly about aprisio, which is a word that is used in the documents of my period about properties that have been cleared from wasteland and occupied by settlers. It seems to come from the Latin word for `taking’, but its exact significance is problematic, and I appear to disagree with almost everyone who’s written on it (some more than others). For more detail, well, you can wait till the paper comes out, it’s taken me long enough that I’m not going to spill it all here. I’m afraid that I also have to disagree respectfully with Professor Feliu about aprisio, but why, in this respect, should he be different? There has to be something I have an original view about, after all. He does have separately-arrived-at similarities to several parts of my view, which I must duly cite, but there is a good distance on aprisio between us which I hope can remain friendly. All that matters less than it might, though, because what Professor Feliu is doing here is talking about the same thing that made me resort to the blog the last time I read something of his, a very important reinterpretation of the way we think about medieval property.

It’s rather odd that we should need that, because we (well, I) talk about medieval landholders all the time, and sometimes I slip and say ‘landowners’ or even ‘landlords’ as if they were all the same thing and it doesn’t seem to matter. But perhaps it should, because under these words are very different concepts. Let us imagine a Catalan farmer of the tenth century called Duran (because that always amuses me as a name, sorry). Here he is:

Catalan peasants at work, from the Biblia de Ripoll

Now as you can see Duran (and his mate, probably his brother, whom I’ll name Sunifred because as they’re supposed to be Catalan peasants, the chance of neither of them being called Sunifred seems small) are yer actual peasants, in as much as they work the land rather than getting others to do so for them. But do they own the land they work? Well. From this obviously, we can’t tell. Could we tell from a charter that mentioned them? Well, again. If they’re selling it, or if they’re giving it away then yes, for now; but if they’re only witnessing we’ve no idea though they probably have land somewhere. If they’re the neighbours, it’s a bit harder to settle this question. In actual fact, both Professor Feliu and I would agree that in the Catalan material, you don’t see them as neighbours if they’re tenants.

We know this because certain people turn up widely: not just the nobles, or at least the people with titles, but people we can identify again and again because of their wives, their parents or family, or, more sketchily, because of the people they work with in transactions. These people turn up in most big archives, because of being people who had connections with the religious house whose archive it was. My pet one’s a guy called Adalbert of Taradell, whose wife was called Guisla and whose sister Ovímia eventually seems to sell him most of the family inheritance. But he buys a lot, and then makes some of it over to his local cathedral in his will and the parchments he’s accumulated seem to go with it, which is how we know any of this.7 So there’s Adalbert, and he turns up over a fairly wide area. When I worked this out I reckoned that he had at least twenty different estates, mostly small but some not, in four or five settlements over, say, a sixty-mile range. Now there is no way, obviously, even if he didn’t have them all at the same time, that he’s farming all of these himself. It can’t even be a family operation, because the rest of the family have other lands that we see separately, so the problem just multiplies when you bring them into it.

None of this is surprising, perhaps, but stay with me and let me draw the obvious conclusion: that means that someone else is working those lands, and we are never told their names. Adalbert is the neighbour even when he can’t actually have been living in all these places. The people there are documentarily invisible. Professor Feliu thinks there are a lot of these people over the various landowners’ estates, Bonnassie thought they were few, I am somewhere in between.

But if Duran and Sunifred do in fact own their land, that doesn’t mean they keep all their crops. No sir or madam, this is the middle ages and every man must have his lord; King Æthelstan said so, it must be true.8 Or something. At the very least, unless they have secured an immunity somehow as some people did, they probably have to help keep the local fortress in order for the count, mend bridges, and put up messengers for the night and lend them beasts if necessary, and in theory they also have to give a tenth of their crops, the first fruits and various other offerings to the local priest, who then gives some of it to the bishop and so on. How far that latter bit works is more troublesome, but anyway. They may also, depending on how humble they are, also have to pay cens to a lord, which can be anything from a token amount, couple of chickens and some wax yearly or whatever, to substantial takes from their income depending on how they got that way and to whom. They may have to pay quite a lot in produce if they’re actually farming someone else’s land in the expectation of owning some of it as an eventual reward, a system called complantation that the pre-Catalan land-developers are quite keen on. And beneath that level, they’re tenants, because they’re basically renting the land.9

I remember when all this were fields… oh ‘ang on.

Now this is kind of schematised and a bit simplistic, but it does. Or does it? Professor Feliu thinks maybe not. Having set out the orthodoxy for Catalonia, with lots of small peasant owners, like Duran and Sunifred, doing their public works, massing up with their pikes and daggers when needed to defend the land, and perhaps paying their tithe but otherwise basically untroubled by lords, he goes into the attack (again, I translate):

I do not deny that there existed peasant cultivator-owners, but that this was the situation of the majority of the peasantry and, with still more emphasis, that they owned the greater part of the land, especially alodial land [i. e. land which was held free of rent or cens]. The properties of ecclesiastical institutions were omnipresent, the wills of magnates show multiple possessions, many in far-away places, and acts of exchange and sale and the boundaries of properties frequently repeat the same names, implying a full accompaniment of rentier-owners.

He goes on to claim that there is an important confusion between peasants appearing as landowners and them being alodists, render-free landowners, which isn’t the same thing at all as he has set out.10 And in a lot of ways this is the same dichotomy that I was originally spurred to write about his stuff for, because thirty-five years ago a young not-even-Dr Feliu was as I recorded saying that this is basically because the sources lie and we can’t trust them.11 And as you can find me saying, that seems wrong to me and I don’t agree either with Matthew Innes that really all ownership is only of renders and no-one actually owns the land.12 I said then that really ownership is the right to take revenues from a place, and so is tied to the land, but Professor Feliu has carefully messed this up for me. I’m sure he would concede this is important, but he would I think also point out that people ‘own’ and dispose of land, and the revenues from land, from which they also pay someone else renders of produce or even money.

So do the cultivators and the rent-takers both own it? Feliu would say, I gather, that ownership is multivalent and that the lord could dispose of the revenues in the same way as the peasant could dispose of the land, and that the exact balance between them over who gets what is impossible to second-guess without more detail. Which, I guess, we all knew, but his point is that we should expect that balance to be a lot worse, even in Catalonia, for the cultivator than it is usually expected to be. Well, yes, OK, I can come some of the way towards that, although it’s hard to tell from this article whether he thinks that things were so bad before feudalization that that made little difference or whether they were bad, and now got worse; the conclusion on p. 40 sits magisterially on the fence, while flicking scholarly rubber bands at Bonnassie, Freedman and Salrach for their optimism. And fair enough, some might say, but really, I am still stuck about property. Who does own these properties? Whose land is it? Can we say, in terms that mean anything to us? It is necessary for me to try and sort this out, somehow, or I shall be continually aware that some of the terms I use most frequently are fundamentally undefined.

Graph of the Blogosphere

So OK, this is where you come in. This is the blogosphere, right, and we’ve all presumably seen several posts in various places, even in ‘real’ media, talking about the instant feedback and review of the whole interactive Web 2.0 thing is doing for writing. I mean, just FWSE‘ing « blogosphere collaborative writing » brought me this perfectly good example second hit, and there’s a more relevant take on it at Old English in NYC, which probably means that it’s been covered forty times already at In the Middle, with which I confess I don’t keep up.13 So maybe we can get us some of that here. I know that many of you reading are broader-brush political history or literature types, but equally I know that there are people reading who dig their own charter-based corners or have other good reasons to be thinking about ownership and power and tax in their material. How does all this sound compared to your areas? Can you talk about ownership without uncertainty, and if so, what does it mean to your area of study? Feel free to offer comments, suggestions and so on. And if we come up with anything good, firstly I’ll put a permanent link to this post in the sidebar so it’s easy to keep contributing to, and secondly if we try and write something comparative or even collaborative, I hereby put my hand on my heart and say I’ll acknowledge anyone as co-author whom a majority of other contributors think should be so named. Complex but fair I hope. I’ve no idea whether we will get anything out of this, but I feel like giving it a try. Come mix brains!


1. Gaspar Feliu, “La pagesia catalana abans de la feudalització” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 26 no. 1 (Barcelona 1996), pp. 19-41, with English summary p. 41 and French résumé p. 40.

2. An honourable exception here to Professor Thomas Bisson, whose Tormented Voices: power, crisis and humanity in rural Catalonia, 1140-1200 (Cambridge MA 1998) gives the peasantry and its suffering full strength, but this focus is also the one that leads him to stress the rôle of violence in the so-called ‘feudal transformation’ and then a posse of early medievalists to try and give his theory a kicking in Past and Present (nos 142, 152 & 155 all told, detailed references too lengthy here but mostly given on this page and partly online through FindArticles).

3. So for example he gave a ‘state of the question’ paper in a huge conference celebrating the millennium of Catalan national existence, published as G. Feliu i Montfort, “Societat i económia” in F. Udina i Martorell, Symposium Internacional sobre els Orígens de Catalunya (Barcelona 1992-1993), 2 vols, I pp. 81-115, which surely makes him an authority, yet no-one seems to agree with him when he suggests that really, the lords orchestrated most border settlement, ibid. pp. 89-92.

4. P. Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du IXe siècle à la fin du XIe siècle: croissance et mutations d’une société (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols; his scholarship accessible to Anglophones through the translations of parts of this work in Lester K. Little & Barbara H. Rosenwein (edd.), Debating the Middle Ages: issues and readings (Oxford 1998), pp. 114-133 or along with much else of relevance in Bonnassie, From Slavery to Feudalism in South-Western Europe, transl. J. Birrell (Cambridge 1991). No easy route for J. M. Salrach, whose key work is El Procés de feudalització, segles III-XII, História de Catalunya 2 (Barcelona 1987).

5. Paul H. Freedman, The Origins of Peasant Servitude in Catalonia, Cambridge Iberian and Latin American Studies (Cambridge 1991)

6. Feliu, “La pagesia”, pp. 23-24.

7. Studied for now in J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of London 2005, pp. 184-188.

8. In the lawcode II Æthelstan, translated in F. L. Attenborough, The Laws of the Earliest English Kings (Cambridge 1922, repr. New York City 1963), at cap. 2.

9. Ironically, the place I have found this most clearly set out for Catalonia is again in early work by Professor Feliu, a résumé of his doctoral thesis printed as a separatum by the University of Barcelona, which he kindly sent me with this same article: G. Feliu Montfort, La Formación del dominio territorial de la Sede de Barcelona (800-1010): resumen de la tesis presentada para aspirar al grado de doctor en filosofia y letras (Barcelona 1975), but for Catalonia you could find it in more regular print in J. M. Font i Rius, “La comunitat local o veïnal” in Udina, Symposium Internacional, I pp. 491-576, and for everywhere else, try Chris Wickham, “Rural Society in Carolingian Europe” in Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History Vol. II: c. 700-c. 900 (Cambridge 1995), pp. 510-552.

10. Feliu, “La pagesia”, p. 24.

11. G. Feliu Montfort, “El condado de Barcelona en los siglos IX y X: organización territorial y económico-social” in Cuadernos de Historia Económica de Cataluña Vol. 7 (Barcelona 1972), pp. 9-31.

12. Referring once more to Matthew J. Innes, “Practices of Property in the Carolingian Empire” in Jennifer Davies & Michael McCormick (edd.), The Long Morning of Medieval Europe: new directions in early medieval studies (Aldershot forthcoming2008), pp. 247-267, which is easy for me because he let me have an offprint in 2005; it may well have changed a bit since then however.

13. I’m afraid I find the whole FWSE thing too amusing to easily let go of, for some reason.