Tag Archives: maps


Busy-day links

Today is a day with no time in it, where the morning goes on training and the afternoon goes on meetings and in the evening I am celebrating someone’s viva, and there’a about half an hour all told to complete daily tasks such as updating the blog. Happily, I have a stash of links saved against just such an eventuality! Let me therefore distract you with things that others have put on the web, with headings!

Discoveries of stuff

Frescoes in underground church at Nevşehir, Turkey

Frescoes in underground church at Nevşehir, Turkey

You would think that Byzantine churches had little in common with London buses, but there is at least this, that as the saying goes, you wait ages for one then two come along at once, one in Turkey for which grand claims are being made (for which link a hat tip to Georgia Michael of the University of Birmingham) and one off Turkey which is just really cool to look at.
Submerged foundations of a Byzantine church in Lake Iznik, Turkey

Submerged foundations of a Byzantine church in Lake Iznik, Turkey

And then there’s an especially shiny hoard of Roman and non-Roman silver from Scotland which people are using to draw conclusions about the Picts in a period before all of us would be comfortable using the word, for which link I owe a tip of that same hat to the Crofter.1
Objects from the Gaulcross Hoard

Objects from the Gaulcross Hoard

Sad News

While writing the long-delayed post on the Bíblia de Danila, I noted briefly that to my sadness John Williams, a scholar of the art of the medieval Iberian peninsula whom I did not know but whose work has been very useful to me, had died; here’s a memorial of the sort he richly deserved.

Interesting Research

We have here a pedigree (as it were) of looking at work on genetics with a critical eye; this new study looks better than usual and I’ll have to give it its own post. The hat is here tipped to James Palmer at Merovingianworld.

Quality medievalism

If you’re going to try to relive the Middle Ages then your soundtrack needs to be right, amirite? Here’s an example of how to do it. Resuming my metaphorical hat, I now tip it to Z the Cold-Hearted Scientist for passing this my way.


A museum in Japan has some old maps. Perhaps not surprising, even if they have obligingly put them on the web? But medieval maps don’t usually work the way we expect, and it turns out that there are eighth-century maps of field systems in here which kind of do. Obviously this is Japan so links to what I do not at all except that here are people using the kind of tools we would use for the kind of jobs that our study population must too have had but for which they used… well, we don’t know. But it’s one in the eye for all those who suggest that representational cartography has to postdate some major Western intellectual development innit? Maybe you don’t care as much as I do about this but Rebecca Darley, who provided me with the link and to whom the hat is now tipped, probably does so I bet there are others too.

Map of the field at Ikarugi, Tonami district, Etchū Province

Map of the field at Ikarugi, Tonami district, Etchū Province

Then, fellow frontiers and charters enthusiast Igor Santos Salazar has let me know about this monumental task on which he has been engaged, a database of the judicial records from medieval Tuscany which is now online. Lavoro erculaneo, Igor!

And lastly in this section, they said it would never happen; several people died in the course of trying to do it; it has been complicated by two world wars, international tension and the Iron Curtain, to say nothing of funding and staffing troubles, but it is done: the charters of Emperor Louis the Pious (814-840) are published at last.2 Here not a tip of the hat but sincere congratulations to Herr Professor Theo Kölzer for making it to the end of such an inauspicious task!

This is cool

Lastly, much more in my regular line, firstly just a really cool Spanish church site, well written up and photographed, for which thanks to José Manuel Serrano Esperanza for introducing it to me, and now to you.

San Zoilo de Cáseda, Navarra

San Zoilo de Cáseda, Navarra

And then last of all, heard of only today, an exhibition opening on Monday at the Yorkshire Museum (in York), entitled Constantius: York’s Forgotten Emperor, curated by an old colleague of mine, Andy Woods, which exhibition has been brought about by the discovery of a huge hoard of Constantius I’s coins that the Museum hopes to acquire. Do have a look!

1. There’s an actual article behind this one, which a quick websearch reveals as Gordon Noble, Martin Goldberg, Alistair McPherson and Oskar Sveinbjarnarson, “(Re)Discovering the Gaulcross Hoard” in Antiquity Vol. 90 (Cambridge 2016), pp. 726-741.

2. On the troubles of the project up to 1990 see Peter Johanek, “Probleme einer zukünftigen Edition der Urkunden Ludwigs der Frommen” in Roger Collins & Peter Godman (edd.), Charlemagne’s Heir: new perspectives on the reign of Louis the Pious (Oxford 1990), pp. 409-424.

Charter-hacking I: if every property is square…

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

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

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

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


Click through for full-size version

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


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

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

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

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

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

Picture = 1000 words, map = at least 250*

This has taken quite a bit of work:

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

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

Most of the maps for the upcoming book were done for me by a contact of my editor, although I had to finish them off in Photoshop because he didn’t know Catalan and struggled with accents and so on. This one however he had trouble with and I had to do it myself. I had wanted to include an eight hundred meter contour line which would make the Castell de Gurb really stick out from its surroundings as it does if you’re there, but though Google Earth includes such contour lines it only does so at certain zooms and I found it much too hard to apply data points that close to something this much smaller-scale, which in any case is already using all the shades of grey that a printing process can sensibly discriminate. The abandonment of that aim however has meant that I was able to include far more range, including getting Sant Joan de les Abadesses and Vic onto the same map, meaning that this map essentially details the core study area of the book and will be useful to me again and again. And, as I’m sure you may know, but people who do it will be happy to tell you lots more, the actual working out where things are in relation to each other can constitute a kind of historical revelation in itself, though not so much as going there and seeing of course. Explaining why it’s so interesting how Corcó fits into the landscape as it does and that there’s no castle at its centre would be a very abstruse digression, but trust me it matters and if you read the eventual book you’ll see why. And the fact that some places (Taradell for example) are very decentralised—the label covers the castle and both churches—whereas others (Orsal, Tona, Roda) are basically confined to a hill and its shadow is something that probably actually contains the seeds for future work.

We are, for reference, talking about here:

(Did I tell you all I have a contract now, by the way? I don’t believe I did. I have a contract for the book.)

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to you to explain roughly how I did it. There are thankfully decent historical maps of this area, as a commentator here has pointed out, but none of their maps had everything on that I wanted to include: heights, castles and churches, mainly. So I (I admit) scanned several of those maps and then manipulated them in Photoshop, at 50% opacity so they could all be seen through each other, till they were the same scale, largely by lining up the complicated river patterns. Interesting to note that they didn’t all agree about where the rivers went… Anyway. What I should then have done is about half of what I did, which was print the resulting mess out, put a transparency sheet over it, and then simply trace on that with a Sharpie ™ all the lines I wanted to use, and distinctive marks for the castle locations. I actually should have done the contours and rivers and points on three separate overlays, because what I did afterwards was to use imaging tools to fill in all the areas in appropriate shades of grey and this would have been far easier if I’d done it before I put in the rivers. Anyway, I scanned the transparency at high resolution on our best scanner at work, which has gear to do transparencies, and then filled in the greys in software, and with that done then added, by reference to a different map from any of my sources, the cities, the castles and then the churches, and then labelled everything. That was actually the most frustrating part of the process, because again my sources were the wrong scale and I had to keep flipping pages and finding I’d put wrong labels on things which then had to have the colour replaced around them and so on, in software so ‘heavily featured’ that the foreground/background values it requires for adding shading, shapes and text are all different. But after, I suppose, four or five hours’ work total, which had, given my life, to be spread over two weeks, the result is as you see above, except at 600 dpi, much large and in TIFF format. And, you know, I drew it, which for the kid who was useless at art and can only draw anything in profile or one quarter rotated and then only if it’s square, is a small achievement. Granted, I have fortunate access to a very high-end scanner in a workplace where people don’t mind me occasionally using their tech to my own fiendish purposes, but there is behind this a basic process that most if not all of you can probably manage if you ever need to. And you may find it helps.

* because if you’ve done it right a map should admit far less exegesis…