Tag Archives: Lay Archives

What happened to Roman municipal archives: an old problem solved?

Every now and then, when I can still find the time to read, I read something really clever. One of my favourite sorts of cleverness, furthermore, is that which takes an old old historiographical problem and finds an elegant and satisfying solution to it, and this post was occasioned by me finding one. The problem is the fate of the Roman municipal archives known as the gesta municipalia and its solver is quite possibly Warren Brown.1

One obviously needs to start by explaining what the gesta were, and this is part of the problem. Where we see them most clearly, in Northern Italy in the sixth century, they seem to have been city tax registers, in which transfers of property had to be noted so that the liability to tax travelled with the owner. If you did this, you got a docket saying that you had, so that no-one could get you for tax evasion. The trouble is firstly that this process is not evidenced very much outside Northern Italy, which raises the prospect that we are seeing something either regional or else the result of Emperor Justinian’s fiddling with documentary practice, but the gesta themselves are evidenced, across quite a lot of Frankish Europe, and the further trouble is that they are almost always attested in formulae, that is, documents abstracted from once-real charters to provide models for future practice.2 This means that it’s possible reasonably to hold opinions right the way from ‘the gesta were all gone by the sixth century at the latest and the formulae are just throwbacks that people copied because they were old but which no-one actually used’ through to ‘the gesta were still going in some places in the Carolingian era’.3

Early woodcut image of Ravenna

Images for this post are really hard to find. No-one seems to have put images of any of the relevant manuscripts online and the one ancient book that has one which is on Google Books is there in a scan for which the operatuve didn’t open the gatefold, so you can only see the left margin. Consequently, here is an early woodcut image of early modern Ravenna, which is where most of the relevant documents survive, you’ll just have to imagine the documents somewhere in it, invisible…

Of late the weight of the argument seems to have fallen into ‘the Church sort of replaced the gesta as a place where you could store documents’, but on the other hand in the Lay Archives book I lauded so much when it came out (and even before I’d read it, though now that I am I’m not changing my mind) Nicholas Everett now pushes the scepticism still further out, to ‘the gesta are not some ancient practice, they were new in the fifth century and died with the tax system, which is why we only functionally see them in Italy where that survived longest’.4 He doesn’t know about my colleague Arkady Hodge’s suggestion that the gesta are attested in Cherson in the Crimea also, but Arkady’s astute observation would not actually make the theory wrong: Cherson too could have held a limited tax system together quite late, and there are all kinds of reasons why it might have had a central institution of record like this, starting with it being a tiny exclave miles away from any other government.5

Ruins of the Byzantine city walls of Cherson

Ruins of the Byzantine city walls of Cherson

So it is debated! I have always felt uncomfortably torn between sides here: I am persuaded that the mentions of the gesta in a formula probably mean something, but if they had survived into the era in which the formulae were being copied, the ninth century, it seems too much to explain away the fact that we have nothing surviving that looks like actual gesta records like those from Italy, and i don’t think churches filled the role because they obviously preserve actual charters, not records that such existed somewhere else. So I wind up uncomfortably believing that there probably were gesta municipalia in Frankish Europe but that our best evidence for them is atypical because of Justinian, and though this sort of works I’d really like a better answer.

The mosaic of Emperor Justinian I and Empress Theodora in San Vitale di Ravenna

It’s all his fault! As with so much else. “Meister von San Vitale in Ravenna 003” by Meister von San Vitale in Ravenna – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

This, however, Warren has now provided! But! he is on record in several places arguing that the Frankish formulae were fairly flexible resources that people copied, and changed, because they were useful, not just out of some antiquarian spirit of editorialisation.6 How can he, therefore, follow Everett’s shattering argument, as he quite literally has to in the book in question? In two ways, it transpires; with a perceptive thesis and a wealth of previously uncollected examples (the latter of which was, of course, what the Lay Archives project was supposed to find). The thesis is the clever bit, and goes roughly like this.

What do people get out of reporting a transaction to the gesta? Obviously, yes, protection against tax liability, but also and as well as that, they get an officially-witnessed documentation of their new property. That is a thing people might want almost as much as the protection against the taxman, and most importantly it is a thing that people plainly continued to want even once (and where) the Roman tax system was inarguably dead.7 There are lots of ways we see that being done: people took their documents to court and got royal confirmations, under Merovingians and Carolingian rulers both; they took them to an ordinary court and had a confirmation issued by the gathering; they even, arguably, set up spurious lawsuits between each other so as to get the verdict publically issued that the recipient did indeed own the land.8 And, in some places where the formulae were known and the practice remembered, they went to a town and got the local bigwigs to fill the rôles of the old Roman curiales and issue something saying they’d seen the transaction documents, and the scribes who were writing this up knew the old formulae and wrote the dockets or records up accordingly. There doesn’t need to have been any surviving central archive: that wasn’t why people still did this. What was important to them was the document they got to take home.

Well, then, you may ask, why don’t we have any? And the answer to that is probably because they took them home! It is odd how few we have, even so, but we do have some, and it’s enough to convince me. The latest one Warren can find is from Prüm in 804, that monastery’s only gift of land from Angers, a city where they had a formula collection and knew about gesta (though, oddly, the Angers formula is not the one this record uses).9 That illustrates a further preservation problem, however; the scribe there copied four separate documents up as if they were one, but the first was a donation charter and really, that’s all you would need for a later cartulary. What good would it do you in the eleventh or twelfth century to copy up how this document had been confirmed by courts that no longer existed? The purpose of copying was no longer to prove possession, but to list and to remember, and for that the original charter was quite sufficient.10 Really, we shouldn’t expect any such documents to survive outside the original, and where would preserve them in the original except the personal archives that we hardly ever still have, the whole problem the Lay Archives project was meant to address?

So I think it all works, personally. It’s certainly much better than my halfway house answer and I’m very glad to have read it, certainly glad enough to share!

1. W. C. Brown, “The Gesta municipalia and the Public Validation of Documents in Frankish Europe” in idem, Marios Costambeys, Matthew Innes & Adam J. Kosto (edd.), Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 2013), pp. 95-124.

2. The surviving examples are almost all in Ravenna, and edited in Jan-Olof Tjäder (ed.), Die nichtliterarische Papyri Italiens aus der Zeit 445-700 (Lund 1955 and Stockholm 1969), 3 vols, and are now discussed in Nicholas Everett, “Lay Documents and Archives in Early Medieval Spain and Italy, c. 400-700″ in Brown, Costambeys, Innes & Kosto, Documentary Culture, pp. 63-94, with refs; for the Justinian problem see Francesca Macino, “Documenti d’Impero: precedenti di età tardoantica (V-VI sec.)” in Peter Erhart, Karl Heidecker & Bernhard Zeller (edd.), Die Privaturkunden der Karolingerzeit (Zürich 2009), pp. 23-30.

3. I first met this debate in Ian N. Wood, “Disputes in Late Fifth- and Sixth-Century Gaul: some problems” and Paul Fouracre, “‘Placita’ and the Settlement of Disputes in Later Merovingian France”, both in Wendy Davies & idem (edd.), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1986), pp. 7-22 and pp. 23-43 respectively, and I never really thought either side had enough evidence for their case. Scepticism has more recently been raised in Warren C. Brown, “When Documents are Destroyed or Lost: lay people and archives in the early Middle Ages” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 (Oxford 2002), pp. 337-366; Alice Rio, Legal practice and the written word in the early Middle Ages: Frankish formulae, c. 500-1000 (Cambridge 2009) argues for limited continuity and according to Brown at least, Josiane Barbier for rather more in her “‘Dotes’, donations après rapt et donations mutuelles : les transferts patrimoniaux entre époux dans le royaume franc d’après les formules (VIe-XIe s.)” in Régine Le Jan, Laurent Feller & François Bougard (edd.), Dots et douaires dans le haut Moyen Âge. Actes de la table ronde “Morgengabe, dos, tertia … et les autres …” réunie à Lille et Valenciennes les 2, 3 et 4 mars 2000, Collection de l’École française de Rome 357 (Roma 2002), pp.353-388, although in looking that up I find that she has now apparently got more to say in the subject in the form of Barbier, Archives oubliées du haut Moyen Âge : Les gesta municipalia en Gaule franque (VIe-IXe siècle) (Paris 2014), which must have been done without knowledge of Brown, “‘Gesta municipalia'”; I wonder how it compares?

4. The argument for Church replacement is started in Brown, “When Documents Are Destroyed” and made more fully by Rio in Legal Practice and the Written Word, but cf. Everett, “Lay Documents and Archives”.

5. A. Hodge, “When Is a Charter Not a Charter? Documents in Non-Conventional Contexts in Early Medieval Europe” in Jonathan Jarrett & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout 2013), pp. 127-150.

6. Brown, “When Documents are Destroyed”; idem, “Die karolingischen Formelsammlungen – warum existieren sie?” in Erhart, Heidecker & Zeller, Privaturkunden, pp. 95-102; and there are certainly other things of his I haven’t read on similar subjects.

7. As to when that was, well… I can best refer you to Chris Wickham, “The Other Transition: from the ancient to feudalism” in Past and Present no. 103 (Oxford 1984), pp. 3-36, rev. in Wickham, Land and Power: studies in Italian and European social history 400-1200 (Londin 1994), pp. 7-42.

8. Examples of all these in Brown, “‘Gesta municipalia'”, but on the fake trials, Scheinprozesse, see most of all Chris Wickham, “Land Disputes and their Social Framework in Lombard-Carolingian Italy, 700-900” in Davies & Fouracre, Settlement of Disputes, pp. 105-124, rev. in Wickham, Land and Power, pp. 229-256; there is more work to be done finding such cases for sure outside Italy, though see Jonathan Jarrett, “Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 (Oxford 2005 for 2003), pp. 229-258, for at least one.

Preservation not by neglect

Long-term readers will know that one of the things that concerns me in my researches is why we come to have the documents that we have. If we remember that almost all documents of the early Middle Ages that we have survive via Church archives, we have a perpetual issue about whether we have any means to get at what laymen did between themselves by way of property transfer, management and all the other things I talk about, or whether we’re stuck with the Church’s-eye view of the era. In some areas, and Catalonia is perhaps the most important of these cases, we have plenty of documents which are solely lay transactions but still surviving via a Church archive, so the problem is less bad but we could still use knowing who selected the documentation and what else there might have been out there.

Vic, Arxiu Capitular, Calaix 6 no. 554

A genuine lay transaction in a Church archive, Vic, Arxiu Capitular, Calaix 6 no. 554 in which Sabrosa sold some land in Folgueroles to two couples in 915 (edited as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 142).

Until the 1990s there was really only one answer to this anywhere, which is that property involved in those transactions must have subsequently come to the Church and the charters just never sorted; this we can suppose partly because of things like documents that were marked for weeding and never disposed of and also because of the many places where, when such an effort was made to sort the charters, it was so as to make a cartulary that removed the need for the original documents and as a result of which we no longer have them.1 This is what I have called ‘preservation by neglect’. In this formulation, if there is a cartulary there would be no originals and indeed we very rarely have both, even in Catalonia.2 But in areas like Catalonia where the survival of originals is generally high, and people have either supposed much higher production of documents and what Julia Smith has called ‘document-mindedness’ or else much lower losses here than elsewhere, depending on their views of early medieval literacy, it has been easier to form other opinions, such as that somehow Church archives came to preserve dossiers of lay documents that people had initially maintained outside the Church, or that churches and monasteries were actually fulfilling a rôle as archival institutions for their patrons.3 Last year this line of thought culminated in the volume that finally came out of the Lay Archives project, which has added a lot of complexities to the modalities of this but more or less concludes that, yes, people did keep documents at home and all these things could probably have happened to such documents eventually if they happen to have survived.4

Cover of Warren Brown, Marios Costambeys, Matthew Innes & Adam Kosto (edd.), Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 2013)

Cover of Warren Brown, Marios Costambeys, Matthew Innes & Adam Kosto (edd.), Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 2013)

Cover of Josep María Salrach's Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l'any mil (Vic 2013)

Cover of Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil (Vic 2013)

Oblivious to all this as far as can be told (and obviously of the last given the timing), in Catalonia last year Josep María Salrach published a book I’ve now mentioned quite a lot and, as I said in my review of it, he happens all the same to mention things that bear directly on a number of heated debates in the historiography outside Catalonia, of which this is one. Something that we generally lack in this question is any evidence of charters that existed already actually coming to the archive of a church. It can sometimes be deduced that this must have happened, but it’s never usually explicit. But Salrach has a case of it, which he throws in while discussing something slightly different, the process in early medieval Catalonia for replacing lost documents.5 The date is 29th January 879, the place is Sant Esteve d’Estoer in Conflent and the occasion is a large hearing convened by the monks of Sant Andreu d’Eixalada as had been till the previous year, when a devastating flood of the Riu Tet washed their new community away along with its archive.6

Saint-Michel de Cuxa

Saint-Michel de Cuxa, as it now is. By Babsy (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

On their way to re-establishing themselves as Sant Miquel de Cuixà, with what was obviously considerable success, they held a large number of hearings in which they invoked the bit of the Visigothic Law known now as reparatio scripturae, repair of a document, by which one could get a lost document replaced by bringing witnesses to its content to swear a solemn oath, whose record then became your new charter.7 At this one, the monks produced their witnesses, Ató, Guisind, Sió, Quixilà, Espanla, Guisad and Llop, and the first thing to which they swore was a donation by Count Miró I of Conflent and Rosselló, of whom we heard last post but one. What they were recorded as saying is as follows:

“We swear first of all by God, the Omnipotent Father, and by Jesus Christ, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, who is in Trinity the One True God, or also by the relics of Saint Stephen, martyr of Christ, whose basilica is known to be founded in the villa of Estoer, on whose sacrosanct altar we placed these conditions with our hands or touched them together while swearing, that we the already-said witnesses known and well recall in truth, saw with our eyes and heard with our ears and were present in the villa of Escaró when Count Miró commended his documents of purchase and royal precept to Abbot Baró and the monk Protasi, and we saw the selfsame documents reading and re-reading and we know the whole series of those documents.”

And they went on to give abstracts of four charters, usually including the scribes’ name and always the date, and all were in favour not of the monastery but of the count.8 One of them was in fact a transaction in which the monastery-as-was had sold the property in question to him!9 (Another was a court case which his representative Sesnan, whom we met last post but one, actually won.10) Nonetheless, it was Abbot Baró and Protasi who had called for the ceremony and provided the witnesses, and the count was not present, the hearing unusually being chaired only by a group of seven judges.

Saint-Étienne d'Estoher

The modern state of Sant Esteve de’Estoer, now better known as Saint-Étienne d’Estoher, where the hearing was being held

So what do we have here? There’s no clue that any of these properties then went to Eixalada in the five-or-less years since they had been recorded there, nor is that what the document they came away from this hearing with claimed. It looks awfully as if Miró had in fact been using the monastery as an archive and they then felt obligated to replace his lost documents as well as their own. But can there only have been four? Well, probably not because apart from anything else they did not recall and replace the royal precept that they initially mention (which indeed, if they were genuinely reading the texts, may have been beyond them given its chancery script), so there could be several more documents than are actually recalled here.11 That’s a pretty meagre archive all the same, even less than we might have expected. But at least we know why we would have it, if of course it had only survived…

1. Simon D. Keynes, “Royal government and the written word in late Anglo-Saxon England” in Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), The Uses of Literacy in Early Mediaeval Europe (Cambridge 1990), pp. 226-257; Patrick J. Geary, Phantoms of Remembrance: remembering and forgetting in the tenth and eleventh centuries (Princeton 1994).

2. Barcelona, Urgell and Vic cathedrals all have Libri of some status in which some of their documents were copied as well as sheafs of originals, but Girona cathedral and several monasteries (Poblet springs to mind) only have cartularies and some places have lost even those (Elna most obviously).

3. Janet L. Nelson, “Dispute Settlement in Carolingian West Francia” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (edd.), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1986), pp. 46-63 at pp. 53-55, Adam J. Kosto, “Laymen, Clerics and Documentary Practices in the Early Middle Ages: the example of Catalonia” in Speculum Vol. 80 (Cambridge MA 2005), pp. 44-74 and Matthew Innes, “Practices of Property in the Carolingian Empire” in Jennifer R. Davies & Michael McCormick (edd.), The Long Morning of Early Medieval Europe: new directions in early medieval studies (Aldershot 2008), pp. 247-266, for lay dossiers; Warren Brown, “When documents are destroyed or lost: lay people and archives in the early Middle Ages” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 (Oxford 2002), pp. 337-366 at pp. 351-354 for the alternative.

4. Idem, Marios Costambeys, Innes & Kosto (edd.), Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 2013); here see esp. eidem, “Conclusion”, pp. 363-376.

5. Salrach, Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil, Referències 55 (Vic 2013), here pp. 194-198.

6. Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: property, proof and dispute in Catalonia around the year 1000 (Ithaca 2004), pp. 152-156; for more detail see Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, “Com neix i creix un gran monestir pirinenc abans de l’any mil: Eixalada-Cuixà” in Analecta Montserratensia Vol. 8 (Montserrat 1955), pp. 125-337, repr. in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i Documents XIII & XIV (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), 2 vols, I pp. 377-484 without documentary appendix.

7. The classic discussion is José Rius Serra, “Reparatio Scriptura” in Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español Vol. 5 (Madrid 1928), pp. 246-253; cf. Bowman, Shifting Landmarks, pp. 151-161, who is sceptical about its possible accuracy.

8. Pierre Ponsich (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia VI: els comtats de Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir i Fenollet, rev. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LXX (Barcelona 2006), 2 vols, doc. no. 121, with the quoted documents indexed separately as nos 82, 84, 86 & 100, here 121: “Iuramus in primis per Deum, patrem omnipotentem, et per Iesum Christum, filium eius, Sanctumque Spiritum, qui est in trinitate unus et verus Deus, sive et per reliquias sancti Stephani, martyris Christi, cuius baselica in villa Astovere fundata esse dinoscitur, supra cuius sacrosancto altare has conditiones manibus nostris continemus vel iurando contangimus, quia nos iamdicti testes scimus et bene in veritate sapemus, oculis nostris vidimus et aures audivimus, et presentes eramus in villa Ascarone cuando comendabat Miro comes ad barone abbate et Protasio monacho suas scripturas emptionis et preceptum regalem, et vidimus ipsas scripturas legentes et relegentes, et cognovimus omnem seriem illarum scripturam.”

9. Ibid. no. 82.

10. Ibid. no. 86.

11. It might, admittedly, be because actually the other documents survived; Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia I: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 2 & 3 or 75 (Barcelona 1926-1952, repr. 2009), I pp. 80-88, thought that the precept must be that that survived into the seventeenth century to be copied and thence edited by him as ibid. Cuixà I, but that text doesn’t mention Miró at all and it’s not clear why he should ever have held it. I think the precept mentioned here was probably Miró’s own.

Name in the Book Somewhere I

[This post cobbled from the sticky one above now that due sequence has been reached in the backlog.]

In November 2012, the first of two chickens that had been out of the hutch for a very long time finally came in to roost. This was a volume with which I have had a complicated relationship, Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages, edited by Warren Brown, Marios Costambeys, Matthew Innes and Adam Kosto (Cambridge 2013). If you dig far enough back in this blog you can find me talking about the Lay Archives Project, of which this volume is the fruit, because I did some database work for Matthew Innes, my then-supervisor, which was supposed to contribute to it. In the end it did not, and this is not the place to tell my side of that story, not least because there are others, but nonetheless, I put work towards this book, it now exists, it’s fantastically interesting if you want to know about how people used and thought about documents in the early Middle Ages (and I assume that if you’re reading this you probably do), and if you look carefully enough, you can find my name in it, and I thank them for that as well as for, you know, actually writing it!

Excellentissima et merito famosissima historica II

RM Monogramme

Back again in the Winstanley Lecture Theatre atop Blue Boar Court in Trinity College, Cambridge, I really regretted the no-caffeine resolve when I just about got to the second day of Rosamond McKitterick’s birthday celebration conference on time. Trinity is a very odd mix of styles internally, and really I think it would be fair to call it an odd mix of styles generally. It is full of odd little contradictions to its general ambience and attitude, and some of them are architectural. But anyway. We were safe away from the street, in fact from pretty much everything, so we settled into our seats and listened to the tributary scholarship.

Opening page of the St Petersburg manuscript of Bedes Historia Ecclesiastica

Opening page of the St Petersburg manuscript of Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica

Session 3. History and Memory

  • Paul Hilliard, “Bede’s Use of History”. A nice clear summation of how Bede’s programme to incorporate the Anglo-Saxons into a universal history of Salvation actually operated, logically.
  • Linda Dohmen, “History and Memory: Angilberga and the court of Louis II”. A close study of the public profile of the wife of the third Holy Roman Emperor, one of the most powerful women of the early Middle Ages, who by the twelfth century, in certain chronicles, a figure of feminine evil, Jezebel-style (and where have we heard that before?). Linda presented some extra material that showed that this discourse was not completely fictional, and found the roots in eighth-century politics that had been twisted into romance, which make it hard to discern whether the stories would have been heard as romance or as history.
  • Rob Meens, “The Rise and Fall of the Carolingians. Regino of Prüm and his conception of the Carolingian Empire”. A useful presentation of one of the Carolingian period’s gloomiest but most informative chroniclers, arguing that Regino saw the Carolingians’ fall as being brought about by their mismanagement of the proper restraint of sex and violence in due deference to Rome that had brought them to power.
  • In questions Matthew Innes made the excellent point that one of the things that the chroniclers dealing with the Vikings do is emphasise the way things have gone topsy-turvy by putting the Vikings in the narrative places of the king; instead of royal itineraries and victories you get pagan ones, and the whole world seems shaken out of joint as a result. I wonder how deliberate this would have to be but it’s very sharply observed. I wish, for various reasons, I could catch up with Matthew more often, he has a point like this for almost every discussion.

Psalter of St-Denis, also known as the Psalter of Charles the Bald, Paris BN Lat. 1152, fo 6v.

Psalter of St-Denis, also known as the Psalter of Charles the Bald, Paris BN Lat. 1152, fo 6v.

Session 4. Res italica karolina

  • Richard Pollard, “Carolingian Connexions: Reichenau and Nonantola. A new manuscript fragment of Hatto’s Visio wettini“. Seriously complex manuscript stuff trying to work out how the two different versions of this rather odd and surprisingly contemporary text about Charlemagne in Purgatory actually relate to each other, and in the process thickening the links we already knew between these two Carolingian mega-monasteries.
  • Clemens Gantner, “The Lombard Recension of the Liber pontificalis Life of Stephen II”. Posited that a part of the LP‘s assembly of papal biographies might have been sanitised of its ethnic abuse and general anti-Lombard rhetoric for the eighth-century political situation in which Lombard support started to seem desirable to the popes, again demonstrated by painstaking manuscript work. This one met with sceptical questions but Clemens was equal to them with the evidence.
  • Frances Parton, “Louis the Pious, Lothar and Gregory IV: why was the Pope at the Field of Lies?” By means of a very thorough run-through of the texts, Frances showed that there is considerable uncertainty about Pope Gregory IV’s purpose in coming from Rome to assist Emperor Louis the Pious’s sons in deposing their father, and concluded that while Gregory had seen an opportunity to restore the papal status as arbiter of the Frankish monarchy Lothar had had much smaller ideas for him and kept him from having any such rôle. This also met some tough questions, almost as many of which were answered by Charles West as were asked, if not the other way about, but one thing that was made clear to us all is that Nithard, and possibly other writers of the time, were definitely thinking of the papal approval of Pippin III’s kingship in 751 when they wrote up the doings of 833.

Then there was a really quite nice lunch, and then back to battle/s!

Sarcophagus and crypt of St-Bénigne de Dijon

Sarcophagus and crypt of St-Bénigne de Dijon

Session 5. Trouble and Trouble-Makers

  • Charles West, “Possessing Power. Unauthorised miracles and Dijon, c. 842″. Keen observers may recognise this title—I certainly lost no time in taxing Charles about it because I’m nice like that—but this was actually a markedly different paper, albeit about the same miraculous episode, largely because Charles had now been able to consult the manuscript that sources it and found it to be probably contemporary and rather out of place in its binding; though a later cover appeared to have been made for it out of a redundant notarial instrument, the actual libellus that tells of the strange events at Dijon in 842 may well be the very one that Bishop Theobald of Langres received from Archbishop Amilo of Lyons and therefore presumably travelled as a letter between the two. The other new emphasis was on the parish structures which Amilo apparently thought, even in 842, should be absorbing these people’s religious energy and piety, rather than crazy cult sites with politically-charged ownership issues. For one small text there’s a huge amount of potential here, I envy Charles the find.
  • James Palmer, “Apocalypticism, Computus and the Crisis of 809″. A series of well-aimed kicks at the idea that there was a widespread belief in the years leading up to 800 that that was going to be year 6000 anno mundi and therefore the end of everything, largely as expressed by Richard Landes. James’s position basically is that there is no conspiracy but there are a lot of people really interested in time and how you reckon it. In making this stand, however, he also dismantled in passing a number of the pro-millennial arguments which was a joy to hear. The significance of 809 is that in that year computistical experts were consulted by Charlemagne and his ecclesiastics on the age of the world, according to a council record, but that came on the back of two years’ famine and a defeat by the Slavs so the date may not have been the big issue. I think we all finished this paper remaining comfortably convinced that 800 was a Carolingian high point, not a year everyone spent waiting for the sky to fall on their heads.
  • These darn summaries are getting longer as I warm up. Let’s see if I can keep this under control.

  • Elina Screen, “Adalhard the Seneschal: troublemaker?” As one of the really important nobles of the time of the war between Louis the Pious’s sons, Adalhard has been seen as a kind of destabilising kingmaker figure. Here Elina argued the opposite, that as a kind of ‘shuttle diplomat’ he was frequently one of the few forces holding the fragile confederacy of brother monarchs together, largely because he had so very much to lose if it broke. She rightly pointed out in the course of this that an awful lot of the terminology we use to describe the politics of the mid-ninth century is straight from the Cold War: summit meetings, shuttle diplomats, and so on. I’m not sure what that does for our perspectives, because it does look like that in the sources…

At this point, what should have been the closing remarks were shunted forwards to allow the relevant speaker to make a plane connection, so we were next treated to:

  • Mayke de Jong, “Rosamond McKitterick and the Frankish Church”.
  • This was more of a personal tribute than an academic one, but one of the things Mayke noted is that in a climate of scepticism Rosamond’s early work always took religion seriously and that this is a great strength. And this is true, but more widely, one of Rosamond’s greatest strengths of character is that she takes people, generally, seriously. The fact that one of the most notable professors with whom I’ve ever had contact listens to my ideas and thoughts as if they might be interesting and insightful has helped me wrestle down the imposter syndrome more often than I can tell you, and I’m sure I can’t be the only one. This is one thing I didn’t manage to say in my personal thanks to her so I’ll put it here.

By now people were already gently and quietly making their farewells. People had come from Scotland, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA and Israel, as well as many points of England, and there were planes and trains necessary to catch. Pity, because the last session was just as interesting as any of the others.

Roman tuba or military trumpet

Roman tuba or military trumpet

Session 6. Taxes, Trumpets and Texts

  • David Pratt, “Taxation and Origins of the Manor in England”. While this paper was not an exception to the statement I just made, because Dr Pratt’s erudition is considerable, I have friends who are a lot more sceptical about the solidity of the terms that litter Anglo-Saxon economic history for the sorts of land that were recognised in law than this, and there was also a somewhat apocalyptic rôle for knight service which didn’t seem to have heard Nicholas Brooks’s new evidence about the date of its introduction. So I’ll forebear from further comment except to say that really, the Institute of Historical Research Earlier Middle Ages Seminars are worth attending if you can, but almost all the Cambridge people only go if they’re speaking. I think exposure to Sally Harvey’s and Professor Brooks’s papers would have made this one a different shape.
  • Jesse Billett, “Theuto’s Trumpet: the cantor in the Carolingian Renaissance”. A very unusual paper, as papers on chant usually are, not least because they are usually given by people who aren’t afraid to actually sing their subject, Dr Billett being no exception. Here he focused on one particular mention of a cantor with a trumpet in Ermold the Black‘s In honorem Hludowici and concluded that the usage was probably metaphorical, associating the poem’s military victories, which both mention real trumpets, with the spiritual one of the baptism of the Danish royal Harald Klak in 826.
  • Matthew Innes, “The Carolingians and the Archival World: charters and their preservation in the ninth-century Mâconnais—and beyond”. I actually can’t say too much about this one because it was a Lay Archives paper, and I have caused trouble before by talking too much about the Lay Archives project. You can see from his title that my work overlaps with Matthew’s here and this is something that I think we would have wished to avoid, had better communication been possible. Suffice to say that half the paper was stuff I knew nothing about and was fascinating, and of the remaining fifty per cent half is not yet agreed between us… But Matthew’s stuff is as I say always fascinating so wherever this one actually comes out it will be worth the read. (The papers should be printed; but I believe this one may be spoken for already.)

Final questions were fewer, largely because there weren’t many people left to ask them. The closing remarks were given by Walter Pohl, who made the excellent point that while the gathering had been advertised as a Festschrift, that obviously didn’t make a lot of sense to a German-speaker and he proposed instead calling it a Schriftfest, which we all thought worked a lot better. He also emphasised that the sort of open comparison of perspectives in friendship that we’d been able to do these two days was the best way to advance scholarship, and replete with that assurance, we all went our separate ways. I’m very glad to have been able to be part of all this. As long as I’m still in Cambridge it’s nice to be able to join in sometimes, and this was very good to join in with.

I left my heart phone charger in St Andrews (1 of 3)

Right! I’m really back now. And I used up all my buffer while I was away so had to actually write stuff. To help me with this, the world broke my catch-up lie-in with two early morning doorbells, the second of which woke me from a dream about how I’d forgotten to get up in time and had lost the whole day and not fed the child yet (the child gets his own breakfast quite happily but my subconscious is not satisfied with dull facts), and this left me deeply confused about what time it actually was. I could wish I’d been feeling cleverer when I wrote this, because there are agendas to be considered in the reportage. Quite apart from the basic complications of saying things about others in public, one person I’ve met wanted not to be reported without seeing it first, which is quite understandable but not my usual practice, and it will be difficult to write anything at all without endangering other bloggers’ anonymities. So if any of the below is incoherent all that’s why. Anyway. I think I have about eight posts I have to write. This is the first, and is about a conference I went to in St Andrews. Before I got very far trying to write this up short it became clear that it wouldn’t stay that way, so instead of one Leviathan this is the first of three posts, one for each day with the last half-day also having a round-up and the shout-outs. Okay!

View of St Andrews from St Rules Tower, by Joel Afferty

View of St Andrews from St Rule's Tower, by Joel Afferty

St Andrews is one of my favourite towns, to visit at least; I might find it a bit slow to live there, but I keep hoping to try anyway. I have friends there, some of the people in the profession I would consider friends even if they weren’t colleagues and some others not in the profession, and I always find stuff there to make me think. This time the stuff mainly came from a conference organised by two postgraduates under the name of Monasteries and Secular Authorities in the pre-Millennial Medieval World, and it must be said that they did an awesome job. Maps, programme, equipment, accommodation and free-flowing socialisation all just seemed to unroll without any major problems, and these guys could surely be making better money as PAs somewhere, though I hope that they don’t take it. The whole programme was full of good stuff. You can read it at that link so I won’t replicate it here but just remark on a few of the papers that really made me think.

Aerial view of the Irish monastic site of Clonmacnoise

Aerial view of the Irish monastic site of Clonmacnoise

The first session was on the existence or not of the town in early medieval Ireland. It is widely argued that there was nothing in Ireland that scholars of other areas would recognise as a town until the Vikings fortified Dublin, and the debate isn’t even about that, really. The question is whether, until then, monasteries fulfil a similar function as centres of population, production and exchange. It seems to me that this is essentially subjective. A Roman villa could fit that description. Is Clonmacnoise up there any bigger than a Roman villa site? How large does a place like that have to get before it stops just being a farm with a religious function and perhaps some legal jurisdiction? This is a semantic field really and I prefer to deal in the archaeology of what was there, which is why I prefer the approach Martin Carver et al. have taken with Portmahomack in Scotland where such questions have essentially been secondary. Anyway. There’s some useful introduction at the link under that image if you want to know more. Charles Doherty argued that the important churches of Armagh and Kildare had political jurisdictions by virtue of being associated with kings and particular kingdoms from early on, but they eventually had to settle for essentially spiritual jurisdictions as politics left them behind. Against this Colmán Etchingham argued that a lot of the evidence for non-agricultural activity, especially assemblies, at these places is based on faulty equivalences between modern Irish and Old Irish terms that have shifted their meaning. Agreement was not general with either speaker, but these two have apparently been sparring for a long time and were able to disagree like gentlemen and be friendly to all, which is exemplary. It did make me think, however, that by their criteria any of my subject monasteries are towns, which makes no sense in a landscape with cities in it such as I have. I just don’t think it makes any more sense in a landscape where the cities are missing; there’s just a sort of social articulation that doesn’t happen in Ireland till later, though it’s worth saying that Dr Etchingham thought that the paper I mainly have this idea from was all kinds of wrong.

Ruins of the medieval abbey of St-Guenolé de Landévennec, Brittany, from Wikimedia Commons

Ruins of the medieval abbey of St-Guenolé de Landévennec, Brittany, from Wikimedia Commons

In the second session Roy Flechner introduced us to the questions around Irish kings who were clerics, clerics who fought in war, monasteries that went to war against each other and in general a rather different attitude to war and its combination with the life spiritual than we usually think of even for the Middle Ages. Then David Dumville gave a paper about the monastery at Landévennec in Britanny. I suppose many people know that I have old personal issues with Professor Dumville but this was he at his best, sharply discriminating with the evidence and imaginative with its solutions, as well as crystal clear in delivery. Landévennec is important because so much that we know about early medieval Brittany comes from the abbey of Redon, which is right on the border with Francia and very much a colonising enterprise, whereas Landévennec is right on the western coast in the Celtic-speaking zone. Unfortunately it also got trashed by the Vikings several times, its monks became fugitives and the documentation from it is basically missing, so it also contrasts with Redon by mainly being an archæological site. Professor Dumville looked dubiously at the precept that the monastery later claimed to have got from Louis the Pious via an abbot whose name appears merely to be Breton for `good monk’, and which has been used to argue that Louis put Brittany under Benedictine observance, his doubt largely because it’s simply unproven that the Carolingians ever controlled that far into Brittany. He suggested that any such success was instead driven from the bishopric of Tours, and that the best division to make in Brittany might not be Frankish/Celtic, native/incomer, or whatever, but pro- or anti-Tours. I think that has something going for it but obviously the fact that sometimes there were dukes or kings opposing the Carolingian kings needs to be in there too, though we don’t really know how much they controlled either.1 The other thing that came up in this paper was the fact that there is, despite the social dislocation that they caused, very little Viking settlement evidenced in Brittany, except right up in the north-east near Coutances. This caught my ear because Coutances is very near Bayeux, where we were discussing Viking settlement only a short while ago, and Alex Woolf later informed me that the Norse names in that area are in fact predominantly Hiberno-Norse, suggesting that the invaders came from Ireland. This may be where the Benjamin Hudson theory one commentator on the previous post mentioned is coming from.

The tomb of St Columbanus at Bobbio

The tomb of St Columbanus at Bobbio

The third session opened what was going to become something of a theme of the conference, the monastic family of houses left scattered across Europe by Saint Columbanus. Opening the theme was Sarah Tatum, who argued that the Vita Sadalbergae, ostensibly the saint’s life of the foundress of Langres and Laon, should really be seen as a piece of writing intended to stress their connection to the Columban familia, as opposed to the foundress’s own family who only get the endeavour into trouble. I have to say that I thought she made her point pretty convincingly. The other paper in that session was given by Alex O’Hara, who was looking at conflict between Columbanus’s house at Bobbio and local aristocracy in the tenth century (which is, as I’ve said to many people these two weeks, where it’s at). Here the interest for me came in the questions when Federico Marazzi suggested that the real deal here might not have been the landownership exactly, but who had the lordship of lands that had been public within the monastery’s endowment. As the royal ability to control the fisc waned, that is, this might have come up for competition in a way that it hadn’t before. This of course entails knowing more about the fisc… but I think there’s something in it, even if only one case of many. Damn, that makes this a feudal transformation post

St Gall illustration of Notker the Stammerer, from Wikimedia Commons

St Gall illustration of Notker the Stammerer, from Wikimedia Commons

The last two papers were perhaps the most challenging for me specifically. They were given by two of the people involved in the Lay Archives Project, of which I have oft-times spoke, and first up was Warren Brown who was emphasising again what he has said before, that the formula or model documents that we have lurking about in various early medieval collections tell us about a much wider range of things than those documents that usually survive, which are naturally enough usually about land (because that, too, survives longer than most other goods).2 The formulae preserve all kinds of unusual operations a scribe might have to record, but it is often argued that they are relics of an age when document use was different. One set that’s definitely not, as Warren was here emphasising, was that written up by Notker Balbulus, the Stammerer, monk of St Gall and biographer of Charlemagne, d. c. 912, which Warren therefore used to explore how lay people were using documents in Notker’s time.

One of the things that came out of this, among much else that might be of interest to few, was that one of the things Notker thought his pupils might need was a document whereby an old or infirm person made a donation in exchange for his upkeep for life, not to a monastery or cathedral necessarily (which are of course the ones we have) but to a layman. This is one of the things which, counter-intuitively, the Lay Archives project has repeatedly come up against, that really when we can see laymen using documents, they do just the same things as ecclesiastics do with them, albeit here saving body rather than soul.3

The reformed church of Wynau, Switzerland, once St Mauritz, proprietary church of the Bechburg family, eleventh- or twelfth-century

The reformed church of Wynau, Switzerland, once St Mauritz, proprietary church of the Bechburg family, eleventh- or twelfth-century

The second paper in that session was given by Hans Hummer, who was looking at monasteries as centres of lordship. The interesting thing there for me was his pointing out that really, though churches do not die in usual circumstances and are indeed not vulnerable to the divisions of inheritance, you still don’t necessarily want to try and shunt all your family lands into a church you control so as to keep them together, as has been suggested people did, because churches are vulnerable to other authorities, kings, bishops, reformers, and so on. You never wholly own a church, because it has a place in some wider hierarchy that’s outside your control. (Unless, as in the Catalan case, the bishops are all your cousins…) Because there is a body of work that contends that Merovingian- and Carolingian-period nobility, among others, did just this, the counter-perspective was useful.4 I wouldn’t like to guess which is more predominant but I like to have people considering alternatives.

The papers were given a closing review by Thomas Owen Clancy, who was erudite as ever, and then we dispersed to various locations for dinner that, St Andrews being the size it is, all wound up being the same one. I got drinking with Anglo-Saxonists, which can be dangerous, but lived to tell the tale and here I have been telling it. More will follow…

1. The top-down version of this story is told, as Professor Dumville graciously conceded, about as well as it can be told in Julia Smith’s Province and Empire: Brittany under the Carolingians, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 18 (Cambridge 1992).

2. Warren has said this where others can read him in Warren Brown, “When documents are destroyed or lost: lay people and archives in the early Middle Ages” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 (Oxford 2002), pp. 337-366.

3. See for Catalonia this case put in Adam J. Kosto, “Laymen, Clerics and Documentary Practices in the Early Middle Ages: the example of Catalonia” in Speculum Vol. 80 (Cambridge MA 2005), pp. 44-74.

4. The place I was most convinced by the original argument was Régine le Jan, “Convents, Violence and Competition for Power in Seventh-Century Francia”, transl. Jinty Nelson in Mayke de Jong & Franz Theuws with Carine van Rijn (edd.), Topographies of Power in the Early Middle Ages, The Transformation of the Roman World 6 (Leiden 2001), pp. 243-269, where the case is argued specifically for nunneries, but I was told at this very same conference by the estimable and charmingly irreverent Sarah Tatum that her thesis has thrown up a number of problems with le Jan’s examples, so that while the theory itself remains plausible actual evidence of it happening is somewhat lacking.

What is the point of charters, II: some conceptual pondering

Every now and then I bring up a particular enigma about the early medieval documents at Freising, which I went through very rapidly for the Lay Archives project but is otherwise not my area. There are quite a lot of charters at Freising, and they come to us from a very early cartulary about whose compilation we know more than usual because the scribe, Cosroh, was quite gabby. The last time I mentioned it Clemens Radl popped up like a kind of beneficial Internet spirit and pointed out that the whole thing is in facsimile and edition online, so here, have a sample:1

Page 342 of Cosroh's Codex, from the Bayerische Staatsbibliotek

Page 342 of Cosroh's Codex, from the Bayerische Staatsbibliotek

The enigma is this. There are in this codex about 1000 documents, of which some 14 (before 900 at least) are court hearings. All these hearings call on witnesses only and never bring written evidence. So what on earth are the charters being written for if they’re never to be used?

I’ve previously mentioned the solution of Brigitte Bedos-Rezak, who emphasises the authentication function of gathering everyone together to see it done, at which point the creation of the document becomes a part of the ceremony but its content needn’t necessarily be important. I’m sure that’s true, where there is such a ceremony, but it doesn’t seem quite to work to me because people do go to trouble over the contents sometimes, even if not so much at Freising where the documents are quite often only short notitiae.2 I’ve usually covered this gap with an idea that they were being used for internal reference at the cathedral, which the early copying into a cartulary might support, although for Patrick Geary there are other issues about the control of memory that might have more to do with it.3 I think we can have both, and I wonder if his ascribed motives could ever be conscious. Does it matter if they’re not? I don’t know. Anyway.

The outside of Reading Abbey cartulary

The outside of Reading Abbey cartulary

Something I’ve just read, an article by Isabel Alfonso about legitimisation (not the word her translator uses, you understand… ) of royal power through court judgements in eleventh- and twelfth-century León has got me at least one step further on. Discussing the charters in which those judgements are preserved, she envisages their being read out as a concluding part of the assembly, describing the documents as “vehicles for the communication of the means whereby those decisions had been made, and the social networks that had been activated in the process”.4 I like this better, because it suggests that there is more meaning implied by a charter than is actually in it, the links between the people that my work is about reconstructing but which also explain who is invested in such-and-such a judgement sticking and who is thereby connected to the lucky monstery or cathedral, and of course the king. It’s that connection and mutual self-reinforcement that is the subject of Alfonso’s paper, but the idea that there might be other fora for reading these documents than just in court may get me out of my conceptual bind.

All the same. There’s no evidence for charters in León actually being read out anywhere except as part of a judicial process. So we are having to make stuff up to fill this gap. And so I’m still not happy with it. But until I come across something better maybe this will do.

1. The edition is Theodor Bitterauf (ed.), Die Traditionen des Hochstifts Freising (Aalen 1905-1909, repr. 1967), 2 vols.

2. Brigitte Bedos-Rezak, “Diplomatic Sources and Medieval Documentary Practices. An Essay in Interpretative Methodology” in John van Engen (ed.), The Past and Future of Medieval Studies (Notre Dame 1994), pp. 313-343.

3. Patrick J. Geary, Phantoms of Remembrance: remembering and forgetting in the tenth and eleventh centuries (Princeton 1985).

4. Isabel Alfonso, “Judicial Rhetoric and Political Legitimation in Medieval León-Castile”, transl. Carolina Carl in Alfonso, Hugh Kennedy & Julio Escalona (edd.), Building Legitimacy: political discourses and forms of legitimation in medieval societies, The Medieval Mediterranean: peoples, economies and cultures, 400-1500, 53 (Leiden 2004), pp. 51-87, quote at p. 54.