Tag Archives: Mark Blackburn

Name in Print XVI

[This was originally posted on 22nd November 2014, when its news was hot off the press, but I’ve now reached that point in my legendary backlog, so I unstick this post to allow it to join the flow in the place it should originally have occupied. Besides, I bet you haven’t all bought the book yet…]

The teaching reading is still swamping me, I’m afraid, what with having so little spare time in which to find the hours for it, but, raising my head briefly, what do I find but that the third of my 2014 outputs has now emerged, taking the form of a paper in this rather handsome-looking volume.

Cover of Rory Naismith, Martin Allen & Elina Screen (edd.), Early Medieval Monetary History: studies in memory of Mark Blackburn

Cover of Rory Naismith, Martin Allen & Elina Screen (edd.), Early Medieval Monetary History: studies in memory of Mark Blackburn

When Mark Blackburn told us at the Fitzwilliam in 2009 that his long-running battle with lymphoma was now in its final stages, many plans emerged from the initial shock and sadness. One of them was this, a volume of essays which we knew, even then, short of a miracle he would not live to see but with which the editors, Rory Naismith, Martin Allen and Elina Screen, along with many others all wanted, nonetheless, to express somehow our personal debts and the great debt of the field of early medieval monetary and economic history to Mark’s vast energy, encouragement and scholarship. Now it exists, and while one obviously wishes he could have seen it, it more than fulfils its task: there are essays here by people in the UK, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and France and by people at all stages of their academic careers inside and outside the Academy (because that last is allowed in numismatics), twenty-five essays in all, covering Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, Viking, Scandinavian, Carolingian, Byzantine and Spanish coinages, and there’s also me.


No, for once I am not just being self-deprecating in my announcement of a publication, I’ve just totted the contents up and I really am the only person in this volume not writing about coins, except in their absence, which is of course my numismatic speciality: instead my paper is about the supposed use of livestock as a currency equivalent in Northern Iberia in the early Middle Ages. I will admit that coins do get mentioned, but only to emphasise their absence. Still, this was a subject I came across during working on Medieval European Coinage 6 for Mark, I ranted about it in his office to his amusement and I think it would have amused him further to see it in print. I’m really pleased to be in this volume. I’ve only got two things forthcoming now, I need to pile more stuff into the queue! Happily there is an article in final revision on my active pile right now

Statistics, for the record: one draft only with two rounds of revisions, that draft submitted November 2012 for a final emergence in print October 2014, just short of two years. This is about average and it was a complex book to assemble considering how various the contributors’ employments and backgrounds are: I’ve changed jobs twice during its preparation and I’m not the only one either!

Full cite: Jonathan Jarrett, “Bovo Soldare: a sacred cow of Spanish economic history re-evaluated” in Rory Naismith, Martin Allen & Elina Screen (edd.), Early Medieval Monetary History: studies in memory of Mark Blackburn (Farnham 2014), pp. 187-204.

Name in prints II & VI part two: where to buy my works

Yesterday, because of various bad travel choices I won’t burden you with, was one of the most exhausting days I’ve had in a long time and today I am surviving only on coffee, for which I must principally thank a learned colleague; also, too many books currently on my reading piles have chapters of over a hundred pages in and only a few can possibly justify this. What all this means is that I have no time to write substance for you today, and instead I’m just going to resort to blatant advertising. Of recent weeks it has become possible to buy more of my work online than was previously the case, so, here’s the details.

Cover of Jonathan Jarrett, Coins in Collections: Care and Use

Cover of Jonathan Jarrett, Coins in Collections: Care and Use

In late September 2009 I published a little booklet on coin collections and the looking-after thereof. This gives me some sadness just now as Mark Blackburn wrote a good third of it and insisted he should not be credited, but, be that as it may, actually a number of people have been after knowing where to buy it. I am happy to tell those people that it is now available postage-free for £7.99 from the Fitzwilliam Museum’s online shop here, and if that link doesn’t work, a search for “Jarrett” in their search box will turn it up. I hope that’s useful and I’m sorry it took so long.

Cover of Deyermond & Ryan, Early medieval Spain: a symposium

Cover of Deyermond & Ryan, Early medieval Spain: a symposium

Then more recently and more on my actual topic of study, in late 2010 a volume I’d been awaiting eagerly came out, that being no. 63 of the Queen Mary University of London series Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar. This too is tinged with sadness in as much as it bears the name of another dead scholar we have good reason to miss, but, it is a thing of joy in itself, containing as well as myself waxing lyrical about the weirdnesses of the uncontrolled frontier beyond early medieval Catalonia, Jinty Nelson wisely setting early medieval Spain in a European context (which is very rarely done), Ralph Penny asking how many languages early medieval Iberia had, Wendy Davies being sage and clear about counter-gifts and Rose Walker making sense of some of the manuscripts of Beatus’s Commentary on the Apocalypse, as well as much more, of which quite a lot by Andrew Fear. I think it is a jolly useful little volume and it will set you back a mere £16·15. Further details and a purchase link can be found here. So there you have it, commercial over and I will return in the next day or two with more thoroughly academic content.

Mark Blackburn

This, this was not the kind of funerary inscription I meant but as with the last time I had to bump a post for this reason, the reason cannot be brooked. Mark Blackburn, Keeper of Coins and Medals at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Fellow of Gonville & Caius College Cambridge and half-a-dozen other rôles and dignities, also my erstwhile boss, died of cancer on Thursday morning, this 1st of September. To some this is going to be a nasty shock; others closer will know that Mark had had a running battle with melanoma for the last twenty-two years, and that two years ago when the latest lump appeared on his skin the doctors examined him, found more and told him that he probably had only a year to live. Mark, with the help of the tremendous oncology department at Addenbrookes Hospital whose research case he willingly became, went on to stretch that prediction by 100%, which is about right: Mark was a 100% kind of guy. In the intervening time he was awarded several prizes and medals, saw a volume of his collected papers and two of the department’s outstanding publications to press and was still available to write references, answer e-mail and so on as far as his circumstances would permit. Meanwhile, almost the first thing he did when he got the terminal prognosis was to go on holiday with his children. This will surprise no-one who knew him and will hopefully give those who didn’t some idea what he was like.

Mark Blackburn receiving a cake bearing the cover of his new volume of collected essays

Mark Blackburn receiving a cake bearing the cover of his new volume of collected essays; my apologies to my erstwhile colleague Rory Naismith, whom I've rudely disembodied, but I wanted Mark to get centre stage here. The bow tie was customary.

I think this is the worst news, personally, I’ve ever put on the blog, but when I justify that by saying that Mark was a mentor and teacher to me, an involved and trusting boss, a ready source of academic help and advice and a patron without who I could not have generated the career profile I have or indeed got the job I now have, for which he cheerfully wrote me a reference, I am keenly aware that I can think of four or five people straight away who could say as much, perhaps twice that again with a bit more thought and that there must be many many more I don’t know about; there are probably a hundred people with as much reason to grieve that he’s dead as I have, because he was genial, helpful and supportive to so many people. Compared to many of them, not least his family who were so important to him, I’m distant and though obviously I’m upset it’s not going to slow me down or prevent me driving on with the projects I was doing for him which will still, dammit, be done. It had become clear in recent weeks that he wouldn’t see them completed and I was already expecting the phone-call when finally it came, as I think were most of those in the Department and close by, but the projects were important for more reasons than his involvement and we will get them done for him and for those he intended them to be for.

He was mostly unconscious in his last few days, apparently, but did rouse enough to assent to having some tea when asked, the day before he died. On getting it, too, he managed to get it understood that he wanted a different, better, tea, and that (“Dimbula“) was pretty much his last intelligible word. Now, there are an awful lot of things one could have learnt from Mark, and not just about numismatics although there were few people indeed from whom you could have learnt so much about coins so easily as from Mark. He was a colossus of productivity, even if one didn’t always see that when one only knew about parts of what he was working on; there was so much that only he knew about it all. But he was also a great example of how to enjoy yourself; he had friends right round the globe from collaborations and research trips, he’d been to a great many places and while I worked with him I was many times impressed by how much guiltless fun this top academic managed to get out of his holidays, his job, meeting people, eating and drinking and of course his research; he really did make the absolute most of his life, though I know he would have been pretty happy to make more of it also. So, though his scholarship will stand unsurpassed for a good long time and it’s a crying shame there won’t be more of it, even those who are not bothered with coins can learn a few things from Mark, lessons to take to heart, and the ones I’m trying to take are: (i) do what’s important, do it now and don’t fret about the rest while you’re doing it; (ii) make sure and enjoy what life gives you, especially if you made it yourself, and (iii) if all else fails, demand really high-quality tea in your final hours. I salute you, Mark, you were one of a kind and one of the best, and you fought on for longer than anyone should have to against an adversary who couldn’t stop you having fun.

Mark Blackburn showing Queen Elizabeth II around the coins displays in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Mark Blackburn showing Queen Elizabeth II around the coins displays in the Fitzwilliam Museum

(I have funeral details if anyone reading needs them and hasn’t got them; e-mail me quickly if so. It will be a full church.)

Some of my teachers on the Internet

Here is a light-weight diversion while I wrestle with a lecture. By various routes I’ve happened upon some of my old teachers in Cambridge strutting their scholarly stuff on the Internet and thought I’d direct your attention to them. Dr Catherine Hills, famous in certain circles as the person who’s probably excavated more Anglo-Saxon graves than anyone and whose recent book Origins of the English is well worth a look, lectured me in Anglo-Saxon Archaeology during my M. Phil. in Medieval History at Cambridge, and has always been ready with news and help since then when I’ve had the pleasure of running into her. Here she can be seen talking about a dig in her actual college, Newnham, and although it is something of a puff piece about how brilliant a Cambridge education is, nonetheless there she is being herself and unproblematically getting teenage girls to clear a metre and a half depth of soil in order to uncover Roman remains.

And then, more purely scholarly, my old boss, patron and fount of information and help, Dr Mark Blackburn, who also taught me during that M. Phil. as well as by knowledge, publication and example for the time I spent at the Fitzwilliam, managed to get onto the BBC to talk about Anglo-Saxon coinage (and an Elizabethan medal), and there aren’t many people who could do so interestingly enough to make that worth recommending. Here Mark demonstrates that he can. Long may he so continue! It’s an article with supporting audio, so I can’t embed it here, but do go look and listen.

Then, lastly, one of the people I owe most to, Professor Rosamond McKitterick, was awarded a Heineken Prize last year and was therefore hauled onto Youtube, as it were, to talk about her research. And it’s still there, er, here:

The setting is somewhat incongruous but the erudition is real and somewhat better-founded. I, for my part, will have a couple more short Oxford seminar notes then a Cliopatria media-medieval-misuse post, and then I want to ask you guys for some teaching suggestions, but I am not, at the moment, going to guess when I manage this. Keep an eye out…

Lost in citation II: slaughtering sacred cows

For a variety of reasons, only one of which is my imminent departure, my department is currently in full-on publication frenzy. The boss has calculated that, if we include our personal work, the department is trying to send nine books to various presses by the end of the calendar year. One of these, Derek Chick’s corpus of the coins of King Offa, is already with the press; my magnum opus will be finally with the printers soon after mid-October, hopefully still available for Christmas :-) and that leaves me only three which remain my job for a short while longer. Of one of these will I speak. I shan’t say which one, though it will I guess be kind of obvious; that’s not the same, however, as making it web-searchable… It involves, once again, the ghost of Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz, so you may want to tune out now…

Gold solidus of Emperor Louis the Pious (814-40), Fitzwilliam Museum, PG.8162 (Grierson Collection)

Gold solidus of Emperor Louis the Pious (814-40), Fitzwilliam Museum, PG.8162 (Grierson Collection)

In this text, the question is covered of what was used as a medium of exchange in Asturias and León before there was coin being struck there. There have been a range of theories about this, and a fairly recent article by Wendy Davies that is characteristically thorough covers most of the options.1 She detects several regions of practice, some using metal-based standards and possibly, in León, actual metal proto-currency, but others using several value referents, including livestock:2

… there are some very clear regional differences: before 930, price in Sahagún texts was usually expressed in terms of clothing or farm produce, especially animals, which were sometimes given a valuation in silver solidi but more often not; and it was once expressed as a silver vessel.20 Thereafter, price was often expressed in terms of solidi until the 970s, when this mode of expression came to predominate. Although the number of cases is smaller, Cardeña transactions more often used solidi to express price before 930, as they did from the 960s, but frequently used produce and objects in the 930s and 940s. Half of all tenth-century cases also had a valuation in solidi attached; records of Cardeña sales were more likely to use the concept of the solidus than records from the other collections, at any point in the tenth century.21 Celanova transactions, on the other hand, used metal concepts only rarely and they never predominated in this period. The contrasts between the three are therefore stark: western Celanova essentially non-metal-based; eastern Cardeña more metal-based than not; and central Sahagún changing its practice across the century….

So, OK, the question that arises is what these various populations thought a solidus was and what it was worth, and that’s where we come in. This certain work I’m copy-editing said, until quite recently, as follows:3

It has to be remembered that when there are no coins in circulation, the use of units of account is possible only on condition that a verifiable value referent exists. In the case of Galicia this referent was the ox, and logically that has to be taken to mean an ox of average stature, neither extraordinarily strong nor particularly thin. This could be modulated by a practice whereby more or less than the stated value changed hands if the ox that was actually given in payment was especially excellent or manifestly deficient. Some authors (Gautier Dalché, 1969a, pp. 49-50; Sáez, 1946, pp. 5-6) have failed to grasp this mechanism of fixing prices by equating a value of account with physical goods (an ox, a modio (measure) of grain, a sheep, etc.). On the other hand, Mínguez, 1979, p. 43, n. 5, accepts that an average value served as a reference. He admits that there could occasionally be some upwards or downwards variation in prices, but from a fixed referent.

You see here that we are in good old regula magistri territory here, and so I thought it would be best to cite some actual evidence for the practices we’re talking about here, not least because I’m not sure I believe in any value standard where an ox could be worth the same as a sheep. Would you believe, the evidence turns out to be harder to find than you might expect? I mean, there are some fabulous prices: “a chestnut-coloured cow, a quilted and lined linen cloak, 12 cheeses, and this price in the place of 4 gold solidi and 1 tremiss”, but this just doesn’t help at all because (a) the authors quote it wrong, reading ‘IIIIor’ as ‘4 or’ not as a short-form of ‘quattuor’, whereas there is really no gold referred to, (b) in the manuscript there are seventeen spaces after the word for ‘cheeses’ so the price is probably incomplete (and was perhaps never actually fulfilled) and (c) there are of course no gold solidi for them to be talking about, Louis the Pious’s above being unknown in this area and the only coin of that denomination that has been minted in the West for more than a century.4 Of course, arguing from silence with Spanish coin finds is a dangerous game but it’s a problem.5 So what about them there magistri? The authors cite three works that tried to address this very problem by collecting references to prices in León, Galicia and Portugal in this period. Surely exactly what’s needed! Well—you know what’s coming—no.

The most up-to-date of these references was the first blow from Don Claudio, a paper from the Spoleto conference of 1960. However, that only actually refers back to an earlier article of his for the data—yup, we’ve played this game before—and it also makes it clear that the equivalence of a sheep to a solidus is being made via the grain measure known as a modius; that is, we see that a modius can be worth a solidus and that a sheep can be worth a modius, and therefore…6 And OK, that is logical, but it still gives us a chain at whose ends we can have supposedly equivalent sheep and cows and I don’t reckon this much. Also, Sánchez-Albornoz thought these were probably sometimes being paid in leftover Roman silver coin, which numismatists and historians since him have found frankly implausible.7 Next up would be the Portuguese contribution, which was published in Don Claudio’s own journal, and that has a long list of equivalencies, but only one mentions a sheep with an equivalence to something else, and that’s a modius. Only halfway there I’m afraid. It’s slightly better for cows, but their value (where it can be clearly averaged to a single cow, which is very rarely) is usually around the two-solidus mark and sometimes rather higher. The lowest it gets is one-and-a-half.8 And then there’s a study on Galician Celanova, and that messes things up further by having two sheep that were worth four modios (which the author suggests may be because the modios were of barley not wheat, thus unhinging any hope of using his own evidence that way because of course this is never specified) and eight sheep elsewhere that were worth twelve solidi.9 And these two and Sánchez-Albornoz’s paper all refer to an earlier paper of his, and that refers you back to almost his first paper of all from 1928.10 How anyone who doesn’t have access to an incredible research library is supposed to follow this up is beyond me.

Thin cows grazing

Some cows will sell for more than other cows at market

So with the 1928 paper, at last, we reach port. Here are 266 price equivalencies from the early eighth century to well after 1000, meaning that another factor that we simply can’t calculate for is inflation. We can tell it’s a factor because he cites a Celanova reference in which four cows are worth forty solidi from 1001. In 796, however, the other articles all said, there was a cow worth one solidus; but it turns out that when you actually check the real document’s text it’s actually two separate prices, a cow and a solidus.11 What there is quite a lot of is boves soldades, which it is assumed are cows worth a solidus. It’s not clear to me that that’s what it means at all, however, I could equally argue that soldadis is derived from solidus the adjective, solid, worthy, especially as this is also the period in which people start referring to their liege followers as homines solidi, which I don’t think means they are people worth a solidus. (Slaves usually go for much more than that.) And, furthermore, the prices are off still: Castile shows us a bovis soldadis worth two modios and a goat worth one, and Celanova often talks about ovelias modalias, which by analogy ought to be sheep worth a modius.12 The prices, if they suggest anything at all overall, may suggest that an average cow was worth roughly twice what an average sheep was, but we’re still talking median not mean and it’s still not matching neatly to any currency equivalent. These animals vary in worth and that’s all there is to it.

Catedral de Le&ooacute;n

The Catedral de León, still home of the eponymous Archivo

So, even if I could find the two documents that Sánchez-Albornoz cited as proof that a sheep could be worth a solidus too, documents from 1001 and 1008 that pay 100 sheep or 100 modii, or 100 modii or 100 solidi, I might still be inclined to dismiss them as singletons. But since a hundred of anything ought to average out quality variations a bit, it’s still worth investigating, of course. Sadly, however, these are the only documents Sánchez-Albornoz cited from the Archivo del Obispo de León, as opposed to the Archivo de la Catedral. You might think these two would be the same things, but apparently not. The latter has been edited, for a start, and these documents aren’t there.13 So, where are they? You’ll notice that if you search on Google for ‘”Archivo del Obispo de León”‘ the only hits are from Don Claudio’s work. I can’t find any other reference to this archive. Complete-looking lists like this one don’t mention it. I realise not everything is on the web, but it’s also not mentioned in the edition of the cathedral’s documents. I do not know if it was a separate thing (which happened at Barcelona, so quite plausible14) or what. Maybe it got destroyed or dispersed during the Civil War. I presume Don Claudio didn’t actually make it up! But it’s not apparently there now and its documents’ shelf-marks can’t be traced. So there’s basically no proof of this solidus sheep at all, and the cow looks pretty weak also (otherwise it’d be worth more, oh ho ho). This, by itself, cannot constitute evidence of social practice over three very different economic zones over a century and a half of considerable economic change. This bit has therefore been removed from the text and I hope that in the long run our authors will agree that was for the best. As to the actual situation, perhaps it’s best to leave Wendy the last word there:15

Different valuation systems clearly meant different things to different people in northern Spain in the tenth century. All those considered here were notional units of account – mental constructs…. In some parts – near Celanova and Sahagún especially – they related to active systems of commercial exchange; in others – near Cardeña – the systems belonged to the world of writing and had less to do with buying and selling. The Atlantic systems were distinctive, but not wholly cut off: they certainly indicate thriving exchange economies, with some commercial aspects – the very existence of valuations makes this a sale culture. The systems of the meseta were even more obviously thriving, more commercial, as also more urban and less characteristically rural, and already by the late tenth century were beginning to be related to the wider economic networks of Spain and of the world beyond. Their relationship to the economic mainstream of western Europe obviously cannot be assessed in respect of the tenth century alone and needs a forward look into the eleventh, but the fact that transaction practice was already changing in mid-tenth century is an important signal of wider
and deeper change.

Slaughtering the sacred cows of Iberian numismatics one at a time, Jarrett, out.

1. W. Davies, “Sale, price and valuation in Galicia and Castile-Leon in the tenth century” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 (Oxford 2002), pp. 149-174. Not only is this thorough about saying what the evidence says, it also sets out how much evidence there is and how it’s distributed over time. There are graphs of charter survival. That’s what I call thorough.

2. Ibid., pp. 157-158.

3. I shan’t give a citation for this, partly because of the nod towards discretion already mentioned, partly because I gather that the one of the authors who had their name on it may actually have let the other write it, and largely because this text is not going to survive so even if you knew what the finished book was you still wouldn’t find this there.
4. Actual text P. Loscertales & G. de Valdeavellano (edd.), Tumbos del Monasterio de Sobrado de los Monjes (Madrid 1976), doc. no. 18: “Precio, id est bove colore marceno, manto laneo vilado et chomacio, kaseos XII [                 ], et est ipso precio in aderato solidos IIIIor et I tremese”. On the absence of gold solidi in the West, which went back to the Visigothic kingdom at least, see Mark Blackburn, “Gold in England during the ‘Age of Silver’ (eighth-eleventh centuries)” in James Graham-Campbell & Gareth Williams (edd.), Silver Economy in the Viking Age (Walnut Creek 2007), pp. 55-98. On the Visigothic coinage the new work of resort is Ruth Pliego Vázquez, La Moneda Visigótica (Sevilla 2009).

5. Jonathan Jarrett, “Digitizing Numismatics: Getting the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Coins to the World-Wide Web” in The Heroic Age Vol. 12, online at http://www.heroicage.org/issues/12/foruma.php, last modified 12th June 2009, §5.

6. C. Sánchez-Albornoz, “Moneda de cambio y moneda de cuenta en el reino asturleonés” in Moneta e scambio nell’alto medioevo, Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo Vol. 8 (Spoleto 1960), pp. 171-202 at p. 183.

7. References to the debate in Davies, “Sale and valuation”, pp. 161-164.

8. P. Laguzzi, “El precio de la vida en Portugal durante los siglos X-XI” in Cuadernos de Historia de España Vol. 5 (Buenos Aires 1946), pp. 143-147.

9. Ernesto Sáez, “Nuevos datos sobre la costa de la vida en Galicia durante la Alta Edad Media” in Anuario de Historia del Derecho España Vol. 17 (Madrid 1946), pp. 870-885.

10. Sánchez-Albornoz, “El precio de la vida en el reino astur-leonés hace mil años” in Logos: Revista de la Faculted de Filosofia y Letras, Buenos Aires Vol. 3 (Buenos Aires 1945), pp. 245-264, repr. in idem, Estudios sobre las instituciones medievales españolas (Mexico City 1965), pp. 369-410, citing idem, “La primitiva organización monetaria de León y Castilla” in Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español 5 (1928), pp. 301-345, repr. in idem, Estudios sobre las instituciones medievales, pp. 441-482.

11. L. Sánchez Belda (ed.), Cartulario de Santo Toribio de Liébana (Madrid 1948), doc. no. 67.

12. Homines solidi: Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutation d’une société (Toulouse, 1975-1976), II pp. 743-746. Bove soldado worth two modii: Loscertales & Valdeavellano, Tumbo de Sobrado, no. 29. Goat worth one modius: J. A. Fernández Flórez (ed.), Colección diplomática del monasterio de Sahagún (857-1300) (León 1987-1993), doc. no. 357. Oveliae modaliae: J. M. Andrade Cernadas (ed.), O Tombo de Celanova: estudio introductorio, edición e índices (ss. IX-XII), Fontes Documentais para a Historia de Galicia (Santiago de Compostela 1995), doc. nos 340 & 403.

13. They ought, if they were going to be there at all, to be in José María Fernández Caton (ed.), Colección Documental del Archivo de la Catedral de León, III: 986-1031, Fuentes de le Historia Leonesa 55 (Leó 1995), but they ain’t.

14. As with many cathedral and monasteries, in the high Middle Ages the bishop’s property at Barcelona was administered separately from the cathedral’s proper, which was held by the chapter: unlike most of them, this separation still persists today meaning that there are two parallel editions of the early cathedral’s documents divided according to which half of the operation wound with the lands concerned!

15. Davies, “Sales, prices and valuation”, pp. 173-174.