Tag Archives: military history

Y’are caught

(The following was written pretty much entirely in February 2019, when I was reading for a now-stalled project that I hope to reactivate next year. I’ve edited for clarity and added the images and notes but otherwise it’s as it was then.)

I do hope some day to move away from what I think of my destructive mode of scholarship, where what I’m primarily doing is showing what I think people have got wrong. Still, one does find people getting things wrong, and even more occasionally one finds them apparently just inventing things, and when one finds those things it’s maybe important just to make a note. The perpetrator in this instance is also famous for scholarship in the destructive mode, in any case, so I feel they can take it.

Cover of Bernard S. Bachrach, Armies and Politics in the Early Medieval West (Aldershot 1993)

Cover of Bernard S. Bachrach, Armies and Politics in the Early Medieval West (Aldershot 1993)

Y’see, I’ve been reading Bernard Bachrach’s first Variorum volume of reprinted papers as I work towards revising my article on military service in Catalonia.1 I expected this to be far more egregious in terms of special practice and special pleading than in fact it largely has been, except about Alans, and in that respect it’s a lesson in humility to me; whatever his reputation may now be and the problems of his contributions may still be, there is sound and important scholarship in the Bachrach corpus of the early 1970s.2 Problems began to creep in, however, when he got to the point of being able to rest new work on his old work, at which point the actual sources on which his conclusions rest started to disappear from view and, perhaps inevitably, the occasional slip of memory occurred. And I just found one.

‘Charlemagne’s Cavalry: Myth and Reality’ is a fairly short and densely-referenced article in which Bachrach renewed his attack on a then-partly-established thesis that Charles Martel, Charlemagne’s grandsonfather [Edit: oops], by taking emergency measures to raise a mounted cavalry arm for his wars against the Muslims, established the foundations of Frankish feudalism. Here Bachrach, who had already written a couple of pieces against this idea, brought his conclusions to a more general stage.3 I’m utterly sympathetic to that as an aim; there’s no point working this stuff out if it never gets to where the people who write textbooks, and thus command the attention of the general audience, notice it. But your practice should be as rigorous there as, in this case, in Speculum, no? So I sat up when, describing early Carolingian campaigns into Spain, Bachrach says on p. 5, “The fortified civitas of Vich (Ausona) was occupied and garrisoned as were the castra of Casserres and Cardona. The latter fell only after a siege.” This is, of course, my patch and if there was evidence that Cardona was held and defended against the Carolingians in that campaign (which happened in 798), I really ought to have seen it. It’s certainly not in the only text I know that describes these fortifications, the anonymous biography of Emperor Louis the Pious whose author we call ‘Astronomer’.4 This matters a little bit because if it existed, it would be pretty much the only evidence going that the Frankish take-over in Catalonia was a conquest imposed from outside, as some have argued, rather than a consensual secession from Muslim rule to Christian as the Carolingian sources, perhaps naturally, paint it.4bis

The castle of Cardona

The castle of Cardona, tenth-century at platform level, fourteenth-century in most of its visible fabric, and now a quite expensive hotel; but it might still be quite hard to take by siege…

So what’s the source? Well, the endnote for the paragraph reads: “Bachrach, ‘The Spanish March’, 16, and Bachrach, ‘Aquitaine under the Early Carolingians’, 24, 25-26. J. E. Ruiz Doménce, ‘El Asedio de Barcelona, según Ermoldo el Negro’, Boletín de la Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona, 37 (1978-1979), 149-168, provides nothing from a military point of view.”5 Good to know. But this being a reprint volume, those references to earlier work are really easy to check, and in them there is no reference to that resistance at Cardona; indeed, where referenced in the former he admits, “Contemporary and near contemporary sources tell us nothing of Cardona and Casserres”.6 Neither does the piece by Ruiz Doménec (as he’s actually spelt) have any such information. So where had this come from? Nowhere, I guess. It’s not a big deal, in the overall scheme of his argument, which I still find basically convincing. But we’re not supposed to make stuff up, are we? So I just point it out.

1. Bernard S. Bachrach, Armies and Politics in the Early Medieval West, Collected Studies 405 (Aldershot 1993). If you’ve never met a Variorum volume before, they can be quite confusing: they are a 1980s creation, reprints of articles and essays by a single author, done photographically with the original pagination and mise-en-page preserved intact. Their look and feel thus jumps erratically from chapter to chapter and the only way to cite the works within is by chapter number, as the original page ranges tend to overlap in many places. Occasionally people put new work in them alongside the old, which just complicates matters further. They’re kind of crazy, but if they weren’t so very expensive I’d have many of them.

2. I thought especially highly of Bernard S. Bachrach, “Procopius, Agathias and the Frankish Military” in Speculum Vol. 45 (Cambridge MA 1970), pp. 435–41, DOI: 10.2307/2853502, repr. in idem, Armies and Politics, VIII, and idem, “Charles Martel, Mounted Shock Combat, the Stirrup, and Feudalism” in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History Vol. 7 (New York City NY 1970), pp. 49-75, repr. in idem, Armies and Politics, XII, though perhaps it should be noted that these are both articles whose work is largely to show that others are wrong, at which Professor Bachrach was and remains frighteningly able.

3. Idem, “Charlemagne’s Cavalry: Myth and Reality” in Military Affairs Vol. 47 (Washington DC 1983), pp. 181-187; this is derived largely from idem, “Charles Martel”, and idem, “Military Organization in Aquitaine under the Early Carolingians” in American Historical Review Vol. 78 (Washington DC 1973), pp. 11-34, repr. in idem, Armies and Politics, XIII. This latter is more typical Bachrach in that I have to agree with about a third of it, find a third of it quite difficult to agree with but have to think about it, and think one third of it gets meanings out of the sources that aren’t there; but also, and with no discredit to the author rather than the press, it is riddled with typos. The American Historical Association were obviously having a bad year, editorially speaking.

4. ‘Astronomer’, “Vita Hludowici imperatoris”, ed. & transl. Ernst Tremp in Tremp (ed./transl.), Thegan: Die Taten Kaiser Ludwigs. Astronomus: Das Leben Kaiser Ludwigs, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum germanicum in usum scholarum separatim editi LXIV (Hannover 1995), pp. 278-558, online here, cap. 8: “Ordinavit autem illo in tempore in finibus Aquitanorum circumquaque firmissimam tutelam; nam civitatem Ausonam, castrum Cardonam, Castaserram et reliqua oppida olim deserta munivit, habitari fecit et Burello comiti cum congruis auxiliis tuenda commitit“, which I english roughly as: “Moreover, at the same time he [Louis the Pious, then King of Aquitaine] ordered the firmest possible guard placed at the Aquitainian borders and thereabouts, for he fortified the city of Ausona, the castle of Cardona, Casserres [de Berguedà] and other once-deserted hillforts, had them settled and committed them to the protection of Count Borrell [I of Urgell and Cerdanya], with suitable support.”

4bis. For example, cf. Ramon Martí, “Conquistas y capitulaciones campesinas” in Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la época carolingia: arte y cultura antes del románico (siglos IX y X), 16 diciembre 1999 – 27 febrero 2000, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Palau Nacional-Parc de Montjuïc (Barcelona 1999), pp. 59–63, transl. as “Peasant victories and defeats”, ibid. pp. 448-451.

5. Bachrach, “Charlemagne’s Cavalry”, p. 5 n. 24 (p. 16).

6. The former reference is Bernard S. Bachrach, “On the Role of the Jews in the Establishment of the Spanish March (768–814)” in Josep M. Solà-Solé, S. G. Armistead & Joseph H. Silverman, Hispania Judaica: studies in the history, language and literature of the Jews in the Hispanic world, Estudios 2 (Barcelona 1980), 3 vols, I pp. 11-19, and that paper deserves a whole separate post for which I need help with Hebrew and which may therefore take a while; the latter is of course Bachrach, “Aquitaine”. The third one is online here.

Seminar CXCVII: de-emphasising Greece in Byzantine history

Long before I knew what my next job would be, on 13th March 2014, I was persuaded to attend the University of Birmingham’s General Seminar of the Centre of Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies. I have been doing this on and off since then, and naturally more regularly given my new employment, but I think I am still the only person not speaking who attends from outside the Centre, which is slightly odd. I came along because I was told by someone who should know that I’d be interested in this particular paper, however, and so it proved, that paper being one called “Byzantine Greece — Microcosm of Empire? Retrospect and Prospect”, by Dr Archie Dunn.

Map of Byzantine Greece c.900

Byzantine Greece c. 900. By Cplakidas (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Dr Dunn’s basic starting contention was that, at least since its revival as a nation in 1830, modern Greece has been central to Byzantine studies, since its area preserves or generated many of the major narratives and almost all the surviving Byzantine documentary material, and was the location of many of the pioneering digs in Byzantine archæology. It’s just taken places like Turkey who have less interest in claiming some kind of continuity with their Byzantine predecessor longer to decide this stuff might still be interesting, I think, though it is now happening, and a Greek-language academy presumably also helps. Anyway, this presents problems of generalisation, because Greece thus drives the older and still basic synthetic narratives of Byzantine history but wasn’t necessarily typical of the wider empire. So Dr Dunn here attempted, using the archæology that he knows best, to set up a new synthetic model of landscape development in Byzantine Greece and then test it against Thrace to see just how bad this problem is. The basic lynchpins of this picture were cities, castles and churches and their interrelations, so you can probably already see how I would find thinking material in this.

The Angelokastron in Corfu

The Angelokastro in Corfu, about the best copyright-free image of a Greek Byzantine kastron I can find even if well out of area… By Dr.K. (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The synthetic model for Greece went something like this. By the fifth century Greece, once a landscape of cities, still counted a lot of cities in its territorial organisation but far fewer than before and not all of them actually physically instantiated, rather than just being organisational constructs, settlement having moved out to rural settlements like Italian hill-villages (a comparison I thought of about a minute before Dr Dunn invoked it), walled in undressed timber-braced stone, and articulated also by churches separated by 4-10 km distances. Over the sixth to eighth centuries the cities continued to fade but from the seventh century on fortifications arise instead, partly as a reaction to Slav incursions. Those incursions were gathered under more or less willing jurisdiction eventually, however: by the ninth centuries some such notional groups have official seals, for example. These new kastroi, castles, often had bishops, despite the tiny territories thus implied, but even so were not poleis, cities, to the government but choria, villages, even when abandoned cities were close by. They were however centres for military organisation, and however they’d got there were incorporated into systems of government.

Castles at Didymoteicho in Thrace, now Greece

Castles at Didymoteicho, which we do have textual evidence was founded by Justinian I. By Aramgar (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Dr Dunn then compared the situation of Thrace, roughly modern Bulgaria and a bit west into Greece, where a lot of the same factors could apply but somehow, don’t all. Here, though the scattering of new villages and kastroi did occur, it did so without the end of the urban network that had preceded it; the bishops stayed in the old poleis and the kastroi fitted in new places between these. Dr Dunn argued, I think from my notes, that this was an attempt by central govenment to impose a similar system to that that was being managed in Greece over a landscape whose old jurisdictional anchors were still in place, and which couldn’t be ignored—the Thracian cities did revive somewhat over the seventh to ninth centuries—but which weren’t the focus of attention from the state any more. Some of the new fortifications subsequently became towns, however, which prompted me as the then-temporary-Anglo-Saxonist to ask if, as with the fortress-towns of Alfred the Great’s burghal system, they took a long time to do this; sadly, the archæology hasn’t yet been done that would ground that comparison.

Walls of the Byzantine fortress at Komotini, Thrace, now in modern Greece

Walls of the Byzantine fortress at Komotini, Thrace, now in modern Greece. By User:Ggia (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The main points that came out of this paper, then, were firstly and mainly that Greece can’t be taken as typical of Byzantium even if much of our information comes from it, but also a point about scales of comparison. To make a real point when dealing with a state of this size, one’s micro-regions need to be quite large. No one or few of these city districts would tell a typical story; comparing chosen themata across the two provinces would probably miss the general shape of change entirely. That then implies that to compare at this scale you have to look at something that occurs widely enough but thinly enough to be manageable; cities may be too slight, churches is heading for the feasible maximum, house types would be impossible, it seems to me. Other questions did arise, of course. The obvious one, asked by Ruth Macrides, was, well, why is Thrace different, to which the obvious answer seemed to be proximity to Constantinople, leading to better-funded development of both defences and agriculture because the capital needed them both in a way that it didn’t from further-off Greece. Someone I didn’t know asked about agency, whether these new foundations were necessarily top-down, to which the honest answer could only be that we know some are so there is some kind of central effort to do things, but whether other sites are in on the plan, who knows? And Rebecca Darley asked what was organising society at the village level before they started getting churches, and whether they might have replaced an older religious articulation, to which Dr Dunn said that if there was such an older sacred landscape, it is now largely invisible, though a few cases could be adduced. Here again it seems to me that scale of comparison is important. In the previous answer, a few cases were indicative because we know there was some linkage of them together; in this one a few cases were not, because we don’t have that linkage. Such a linkage would have to be some organised pagan Greek priesthood for which there’s no evidence, of course, so that’s probably OK, but looking at it now the argument from silence still sits oddly next to that from information. It would be nicest of all to be able to show this by digging of course, and I’m sure Dr Dunn would be more than happy to start on that given funding! It was certainly clear that he would know where to start or, indeed, carry on looking.

Seminar CLXXI: Türks and Byzantine strategy

Returning now to my seminar backlog, I find myself reliving my last term in employment at Oxford, and fittingly in many ways, it more or less opened with a paper by Dr Mark Whittow, Byzantinist and generalist both and a man whom I think can cope with being described as a ‘good egg’ and who had on 22nd April 2013 taken convenor’s privilege at the Medieval History Seminar to present a paper called “Worlds in Motion: Byzantium’s Eurasian Policy in the Age of the Türk Empire, 550-630”.

Mark’s essential question was whether the Byzantine state of his period had anything that could be described as a foreign policy towards the area north and east of its great enemy, Persia, and he knew his audience well enough to know that this would mean setting out in some detail what actually happened in the area and, for example, why we were talking about Türks with a diaresis. Specifically, in fact, we were talking about the Gök Türks, a supposedly-ethnic group who emerged as a political quantity in the mid-sixth century in what is now Mongolia as subjects of the Avars (something we know largely from Chinese sources) but in 552 blew up and occupied the Eastern steppes, in 556 destroying the rule of the Hepthalites or White Huns in cooperation with Persia and beginning to move in on trade along the incipient Silk Roads in Sogdia. The Persian link didn’t serve them well, however, and in 568 their western ruler made an approach to the Byzantine Emperor Justin II, leading to a joint attack on Persia in 573 that however went very badly, so that the Türks then gave up on Byzantium and in fact nicked the Crimea off it. (I have to admit, I had not known till this point that Byzantium had ever held the Crimea. I have a lot to learn.)

Sixth-to-eighth-century petroglyphs supposedly showing Gök Türks

This is the best Wikimedia Commons can do me for pictures of Gök Türks, pictures in stone from Mongolia dated to between the sixth and eighth centuries, which is at least about right for our purposes. All the same, I don’t feel this illustrates much…

This was the beginning of the end for a Türk empire that had for a while stretched from Mongolia to Iran. In 581 Persia and China managed to put together simultaneous campaigns that broke up the Türks’ eastern Qaghanate, leaving only the western one. It was however to this that a desperate Emperor Heraclius, he of beards but not badgers as I think we have shown, turned in 624 when no other expedient against the lately-triumphant Persia seemed available. the Türks had already raided Persia in 618, and no other help was to be had, so in 626 Heraclius began attacking Persia from the east, rather than the west, and next year the Türks joined in. (This we have from Nikephoros.) Exactly what contribution this made to the emperor’s following victory and the Persian collapse of 628 is probably still to be worked out but the Türks descended into civil war the next year and that is about the last we see of the Gök Türks as an autonomous polity.

A Byzantine silver plate showing David confronting his brother Eliab, thought to have been made in celebration of Heraclius's victory over Persia, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

A Byzantine silver plate showing David confronting his brother Eliab, thought to have been made in celebration of Heraclius’s victory over Persia, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art but found on Wikimedia Commons

Can all this be counted as a policy, then, asked Mark? Well, in some senses no: it’s not a policy for Eurasia in the way that China had a policy for the steppes, a continuous attempt to consider them as part of their total strategic picture. What it could be seen as is a continuation of attempts to use groups from this area as an outside threat to the Persians, a diplomatic outflanking manœuvre, like the Huns and before them the Sarmatians, the Hephthalites, the Avars, a continuation which meant, even if contact was sporadic and very much to current purposes, maintaining some kind of awareness of who was out there, what languages one needed to deal with them, and what interests they had. This presumably all became a lot more relevant when Persia was strong or active, and that information might not be something emperors carried round in their heads at all times, but the further part of the strategic map was, Mark argued, never quite empty in this period, because one never knew when it would become advisable to use it.

This all raised a goodly number of questions. I asked the obvious and perhaps unfair one about what made up Türk ethnicity, unfair because it’s a question we don’t really have the means to answer. There was also some interest in what role control of the Silk Roads played in the Türk position, which seems to have been something the Türks themselves emphasised but about which again we can say little. There were also questions about how all this looked from other perspectives, not least that of the Türks: what did they want from Byzantium, did they have policies of their own that we can guess at? To this Mark’s answer was that their priorities seemed to be to hold onto access to the Silk Roads and keep the Avars at bay or beyond, though it does seem to me that in that case their involvement with Heraclius was an own goal, as it seems likely to have made the Avars stronger, but perhaps Persia was become too much of a threat, or too rich, to ignore. I wonder about the possibility of a régime in crisis turning to outside victories to bolster its status in what was, if so, obviously an insufficient ploy. But for the most part I was happy to sit back and learn from this paper, which was immensely informative about an area of which I know far less than I should.

I couldn’t attempt to footnote this paper given the state of my knowledge, but two major references which might be good places to start were Thomas Barfield, The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China, 221 BC to AD 1757 (Oxford 1999) and James Howard-Johnston, Witnesses to a World Crisis: Historians and Histories of the Middle East in the Seventh Century (Oxford 2010).

Dates and battles: the sack of Manresa, maybe-997

It’s not just me that’s remarked on the absence of narrative sources from the south-west of Europe around the turn of the year 1000, and for some way either side, but obviously it is something that affects my work a lot.1 It seems paradoxical that in an area that preserves so many thousands of documents the basic political narrative of history in this period is rather difficult to reconstruct, but it is, and it largely has to be done from Arabic sources from further south and from much later, which has a set of problems all of its own.2 But readers here may be aware that I like to point out every now and then that actually the charters themselves often offer small narratives that relate to the bigger picture and show that these events did touch people. The most obvious one of these is the sack of Barcelona in 985, which has been blamed by none other than Michel Zimmermann for actually starting a national historical consciousness in this area, and here he may not be wrong.3 But though Barcelona was the big one, there were other attacks by Muslim forces on Catalonia in the peculiar final storm of activity after which the Caliphate of Córdoba would finally collapse.4

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

Map of the Catalan counties c.950, by Philip Judge and myself, Manresa low down in the middle

One of these is supposed to have hit the frontier town of Manresa somewhen around the year 1000, but the texts are quite tricky to deal with. Several Arabic sources record an attack by the Muslim leader al-Mansur, who had sacked Barcelona, against the Basque capital at Pamplona, and one says that the army went via Pallars, one of the western counties of Pyrenean Catalonia. Several scholars therefore put the sack of Manresa here too, but the date is not clear: Ibn Idharī, writing around 1312, puts it at 989/990, two anonymous ones (of 1323 and 1344×1489!) at 999/1000 and another (from somewhen before 1118 when we find it quoted) post-1000.5 Then, there were campaigns into the area under al-Mansur’s son ‘Abd al-Malik al-Muzaffar, who succeeded his father in 1002 and who attacked the Barcelona area in 1003, and we have various charters that record people’s deaths in that campaign in areas along the Manresa frontier too.6 That seems to me to have a more substantial documentary trace and to have been more destructive, but this is not when the scholarship seems to think Manresa got hit. And one of the anonymous sources for al-Mansur’s campaign says that al-Muzaffar was also present on it (the latest one), whereas another (the one from only 1323) says he was busy in Africa at the time. Which one of these is confused? Especially if you, like me, don’t have access to these texts in the original, it’s very hard to feel as if you have any extra information here.

Romanesque bridge across Riu Llobregat at Manresa

The trouble with illustrating posts about destruction is that the evidence has usually been rebuilt… Here is Manresa’s lovely, but rather late, Romanesque bridge

At the end of this, though, we are reasonably sure that a Muslim army under al-Mansur went though the area or close by some time between 997 and 1002, but not what that time was, nor how much damage was done, and that another then went through under al-Muzaffar in 1003 which actually had lowland frontier Catalonia as its target, and that for some reason the scholarship places the sack of Manresa in the former bracket, not the latter. It must be said straight away that there’s nothing in the copious documents from the Manresa area pre-1000, mostly preserved via the monastery of Sant Benet de Bages (at least until the Spanish Civil War), to match the records of destruction from Barcelona post-985: the document that talks of ‘the day Barcelona died’, die quod Barcinona interiit, has no parallel here.7 In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to know anything had happened at all: transactions continue at more or less the same rate, and no-one writes about terrible awful losses of documents or whatever. (There is one very interesting replacement of burnt documents from around here from the year 1000 itself, but they say nothing about how the documents were burnt and I’d like to hope that if it had been a ravaging Muslim army they’d have said so, not least because as I’ve argued elsewhere these stories were meant to help with these moments when things had to be renegotiated.8) So I might have begun to wonder whether we really had any evidence at all that Manresa had been sacked. And then I found something while working through the documents in Catalunya Carolíngia IV. That something is a donation to Sant Benet de Bages from 997 which had some quite interesting circumstances. I’ll just translate the key bit, which is the opening narratio:9

In the name of the Lord. I Guiscafred, priest, and Adroer and Gauzfred, who are executors of the late Hugh, by this document of alms make a charter to the monastic house of Saint Benedict, of his own alod, since when the already-said Hugh was going out from the city of Girona and was heading for the battle, he then enjoined upon us that, if he were to die unexpectedly in that same battle, as indeed came to pass, we would undertake to give to the monastic house of Saint Benedict, and so indeed we do, for God and for the remedy of the soul of Hugh…

Now, I wish they told us where this battle was, but this is still a pretty big piece of evidence. It might not appear such without the context; after all, this is a rough time and it may be that men rode out to battle quite often for business entirely their own. But this is something different. Girona is a long way from Manresa, and while this Hugh character is difficult to place in these charters and may have been local to it, the three almsmen (a close translation of the word I’ve rendered above as ‘executors’) are Manresa men through and through, and appear in a great many documents from around Sant Benet.10 So if they too were miles away in Girona at the same time, and they can assume that everyone knows what battle they’re talking about, we can probably safely say that this was a call-out of the armed forces in a time of special need. I would hazard that only a threat from outside would cause this kind of mobilisation, especially if (as the text seems to imply, but what might not be the case) the battle was so close by that no other place-name becomes more relevant. We do have some evidence for such call-outs: in the wake of the sack of Barcelona in 985 there exists at the cathedral of Vic a bequest from the will of someone who had died ‘on the public expedition to defend Barcelona’, and I think we must be looking at another of those public expeditions with this 997 document.11 But the threat that it ought to have been going to meet is not thought to have arrived for another two to five years… Whatever it was got Hugh killed all the same, though, and so whether it means that there was more endemic frontier warfare going on in this period than Cordoban sources usually liked to recall or that the late Arabic sources all have their chronology screwy, I’m not sure, but something was going on in Catalonia in 997 that someone fought and died in, and that is information that we wouldn’t necessarily have if it wasn’t for this one charter. And this, at least, is contemporary…

1. There’s a neat article on this problem by Thomas N. Bisson, “Unheroed Pasts: history and commemoration in South Frankland before the Albigensian Crusade” in Speculum Vol. 65 (Cambridge 1990), pp. 281-308.

2. For Spain this probably best discussed by Eduardo Manzano Moreno, La Frontera de al-Andalus en Época de los Omeyas, Biblioteca de Historia 9 (Madrid 1991), pp. 13-20, but Anglophones can also profit from Ann Christys, “Christian-Muslim Frontiers in Early Medieval Spain” in Bulletin of International Medieval Research Vol. 5 (Leeds 1999), pp. 1-19 at pp. 11-13. There is a much wider debate about the historical utility of late medieval Arabic sources for the early Middle Ages, which is maybe best accessed via F. .M. Donner, Narratives of Islamic origins: the beginnings of Islamic historical writing, Studies in late antiquity and early Islam 14 (Princeton 1998).

3. M. Zimmermann, “La prise de Barcelone par al-Mansûr et la naissance de l’historiographie catalane” in L’Historiographie en Occident du Ve au XVe siècle : Actes du Congrès de la Société des Historiens Médiévistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur, Tours, 10-12 juin 1977, Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l’Ouest Vol. 87 (Rennes 1980), pp. 191-218, doi: 10.3406/shmes.1977.1300.

4. Peter C. Scales, The Fall of the Caliphate of Córdoba: Berbers and Andalusis in conflict (Leiden 1994), offers the most considered narrative, though his interpretations have been contested.

5. Dolors Bramon (transl.) De quan érem o no musulmans: textos del 713 al 1000. Continuació de l’obra de J. M. Millàs i Vallicrosa (Vic 2000), pp. 341-342, using the al-Bayān al-mughrib of Ibn Idharī, the Mafāhir al-Barbar (1323) and the Dhikr bilād al-Andalus (1344×1489), and citing a poem of Ibn Darrāg al-Qastallī, whose work she gives no date to but which was used in the Al-Dahīra fi Mahāsin ahli ‘l’asr of Ibn Bassām, who wrote around 1118 and tells us he was using the work of contemporaries (thus A. R. Nykll, Hispano-Arabic Poetry and its Relations with the Old Provençal Troubadours (Baltimore 1946), pp. 219-220). Historians placing the sack here are numerous and cited by Bramon, Musulmans, p. 342 n. 310, but include Albert Benet i Clarà, whose other work using such reconstructed dating I have had, well, problems with; see J. Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: Organisation of Society in the pre-Catalan ‘Terra de Ningú'” in †Alan Deyermond & Martin Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London: Queen Mary University of London 2010), pp. 97-127 at pp. 115-119.

6. Bramon, Musulmans, pp. 343-348 citing Benet, El procés d’indepèndencia de Catalunya (897-989) (Barcelona 1988), quite a lot but also José Rius Serra (ed.), Cartulario de «Sant Cugat» del Vallés Vol. II (Barcelona 1946), online here, last modified 11th March 2008 as of 25th March 2013, doc. no. 381, which is the will of one Odesèn dead at Castellolí at the right time.

7. An expression found in Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos XVIII (Madrid 1951), doc. nos 212 & 232.

8. The document in question is printed as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològico LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. [hereafter CC4] 1840; see on its production Rius, “Reparatio Scriptura” in Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español Vol. 5 (Madrid 1928), pp. 246-253; my discussion is in “A Likely Story: narratives in charter material from early medieval Catalonia”, paper presented to the Medieval History Seminar, University of Oxford, 18th October 2010, which I have hopes will make an article some day soon.

9. CC4 1771: “In nomine Domini. Ego Giscafredus sacer et Adroarius et Gocifredus, qui sumus manumissores de condam Ugoni, per ista scriptura elemosinaria facimus carta ad domum Sancti Benedicti cenobii de alaudem suum proprium, quia quando exiebat iamdicto Ugoni de civitate Gerunde et pergebat ad ipsum prelium, tunc iniuncxit nobis quia si in histum prelium ipsum repentine mortuus fuisset, sicuti et fuit, donare fecissemus ad domum Sancti Benedicti cenobii, sicut et facimus, propter Deum et remedium anima de Ugoni…”

10. The problems noted here before about titles dog all these identifications, but I think it is plausible to see Guiscafred in at least CC4 1537, 1538, 1622, 1631, 1680, 1686, 1688, 1714, 1780bis, 1791, 1809, 1835 & 1839, Adroer (especially problematic!) in CC4 1030, 1129, 1202, 1204, 1287, 1345, 1352, 1372, 1436, 1444, 1465, 1488, 1545, 1553, 1555, 1583, 1609, 1615, 1625, 1658, 1678, 1679, 1713, 1765 & 1815 (of which 1436, 1488, 1553, 1555, 1609, 1658, 1679, 1713 & this document are my additions to a list compiled by Adam Kosto in his “Laymen, Clerics and Documentary Practices in the Early Middle Ages: the example of Catalonia” in Speculum Vol. 80 (Cambridge MA 2005), pp. 44-74 at p. 61 n. 69) and Gauzfred, the most ephemeral, also in CC4 1727.

11. Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX i X) (Vic 1980-1996), doc. no. 524.

From the sources V: Bede’s letter to Egbert

Apropos of putting together a lecture on medieval monasticism I was reminded of something that has before struck me as surprising, that there is not very obviously a translation online of Bede’s letter to Bishop Egbert of York. If you only know Bede by the fairly serene and edificatory Ecclesiastical History (though that is, you should be aware, only a fraction of his work) you might be surprised by the realist and angry moraliser that seems to have written this text, and it’s a really useful source for things that can get deformed in a convert Church, and, therefore, for what those who later wished to reform might be upset about. It’s quite odd that it’s not on dozens of sites already. Now, it’s in the Collins & McClure translation of the Ecclesiastical History as an appendix, and when you search the web for the text that’s what you get, lots of places trying to sell you the book. Many people have probably met it there, but it’s not online, at least not wholly, and the fact that that translation is very much in copyright (and also the fact that Professor Collins lives on his publishing revenue so I’ve no wish to diminish it) means I don’t want to snag that. Instead, after a bit of digging around for older editions, I discovered that the translation, and indeed the edition should you want it, of J. A. Giles is in the Internet Archive (which is, let’s remember, your open-access Google Books alternative, which many people think we need). But, it’s a quality old book with explanatory notes in the margins and repeated headwords and so on, and these things have badly confused the Internet Archive’s OCR (though the PDF versions are fine). In any case, it’s not coming up very high in the searches, so I’ve grabbed the translation of the letter and cleaned it up for HTML, and I post it below the cut.1 It’s not exactly modern English (words like ‘Israelitish’ and ‘laics’ may delight me more than you) but it’s there and gives you the idea.

I use a cut because it goes on for a bit and maybe some of you don’t immediately feel an interest. For those who want more reason to read it, I offer you one of those coincidences that blogging seems to make more frequent, I mean obvious. Having just loaded the bit in Bede’s letter about how these darn false monasteries are sapping the kingdom’s military strength into the week’s handout, I turned to a book I was reading for something else entirely, but by coincidence the relevant paper was also about early monasticism, this time in Bética in Spain under the ægis of Fructuosus of Braga. And the author I was reading, José Orlandis, notes that Fructuosus’s hagiographer claims that Fructuosus converted some many people in Bética to the monastic life, “that the duces of the army were given over to fear that the crowds of monks forming were so formidable, that there was a consequent danger to military recruitment —non esset qui in expeditione publica profisceretur.”4

For Orlandis, this was an example of the hagiographer’s style, “tal vez hiperbólico”, but if you’ve looked under the cut you’ll see that Bede thought it was a genuine concern. I know Bede used Isidore but I don’t know of any sign that he knew of the Vita Sancti Fructuosi—others reading may know better of course— and in any case it seems an odd thing for him to have done, to invoke a literary allusion in a letter which purports to be about an immediate political problem. If Egbert knew this wasn’t really some kind of issue the rest of the advice would be weakened by it. So I tend to think that Bede might confirm this issue in Bética, rather than derive from it. It’s interesting either way, though, isn’t it? Well, I think so anyway. It seems to suggest a very small military group in these kingdoms, and that they might be as tempted by a monastic lifestyle as a military one. I’m reminded of the bit in Gesta Tancredi where Ralph of Caen depicts Tancred, before hearing about the First Crusade, as being faced with only these two alternatives. How old is that choice, do you reckon? Perhaps, as with many things, not just new after the year 1000… ? (Here: that doesn’t seem to be online, either. I’m sure I’ve seen that online. Well, maybe that’s next then… )

I should also say that, because this series is in danger of being lost in the wash of the blog, I’ve started another index page for these posts where I transcribe source material, and you can see it listed at the top I hope. Anyway, here is the actual source for this one: Continue reading

Knight Landing Ships!

Okay, so, that’s all very depressing, makes you wonder why on earth you’d be a medievalist no doubt. Well, here’s one reason. While updating myself on the Fourth Crusade by reading Jonathan Phillips‘s excellent The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, I found something I never knew before. Stupidly I gave the book back to Cambridge UL before transcribing the relevant section, and the way the UL works, it won’t be back on the shelf yet. However, I find someone who clearly read the same book writing an article on Historynet.com which basically repeats the relevant text:

To complete their side of the bargain, the Venetians closed their entire commercial operations for a year — a demonstration of the massive effort required to build and equip a fleet of such a size. The ships were of three basic types: troop carriers, horse transports, and battle galleys…. The horse transports had specially designed slings to carry their precious cargo; once the ship drew close to shore, a door below the waterline could be opened to allow a fully armed and mounted knight to charge directly into battle — rather like a modern landing craft disgorging a tank.

I try and restrict my use of this term, but: dude! Why did no-one ever tell me the Fourth Crusade had Knight Landing Ships before? (And, research reveals, so did the Byzantines, as early as 960, so it’s on topic!) Seriously, you reenactment types, you should get on this, that’s a spectacle I’d cross the Atlantic for all right. And you might not have to do all the work yourselves: fruitless Googling for images turns up a guy who’s trying to make a film about the Fourth Crusade and has already started building a 23 ft model of one of these vessels to use in it, of which this seems to be the skeleton:

Ribs and keel of a model Venetian ship for the film Blackernae

Ribs and keel of a model Venetian ship for the film Blackernae

This is not the only reason to be a medievalist in this. There is also the fact that someone has done some work on this, and in particular the question of whether or not the door (or ‘horse-port’—y’see, what’s not to love about this?) was really below the waterline. Do we imagine these things beaching? It seems that we have to, or disbelieve Joinville. But dammit: I am in a field where people struggle to work out how people eight hundred years ago landed fully armed knights onto beaches from ships. If you don’t think that’s cool, er, what are you doing reading this?

Jonathan Phillips, The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constaninople (London 2004), which compares startlingly to his Defenders of the Holy Land, 1119-1187 (Oxford 1996) because, where that is dense and detailed and learned, this, while not lacking the learning, is nonetheless a page-turner. He has of course a great story to tell, but I knew how it ended already and I still stayed up late to finish the book. Seriously engaging writing style, and as I say, one much changed from the earlier book, which is still very useful. The detailed work on the ships that I found, meanwhile, is Lillian Ray Martin, “Horse and cargo handling on Medieval Mediterranean ships” in International Journal of Nautical Archaeology Vol. 31 (Oxford 2001), pp. 237-241, and has a few very fuzzy illustrations that weren’t worth breaking the copyright to reproduce here but might be better in hard copy.