Tag Archives: missionaries

The Carolingian Frontier II: groups and identities on all the edges

Putting coins aside for at least one post, I return to the way I spent roughly this time last year, i.  at conferences and in particular at The Carolingian Frontier and its Neighbours, which I started writing about a couple of posts ago. Resuming our tale on the 5th July, had you been in the JCR TV Room of Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge at 9 o’clock in the morning you would have found none other than me, leading off a session with a paper called “‘Completely Detached from the Kingdom of the Franks’? Political Identity in Catalonia in the Very Late Carolingian Era”. As you might expect, I don’t have notes on this,but I can give you the abstract and you can always ask for more.

The very last years of Carolingian rule in the West have been seen as decisive for the separation of the area that is now Catalonia from the larger West Frankish kingdom whence it had its origins as a political entity: between the sack of Barcelona 985 and the succession of King Hugh Capet in 987, the counties of the future Catalonia are held to have come to a collective realisation that they stood alone against the times in which they found themselves. Such a date is very late for the allegiance of any Carolingian periphery to the core, however: of what could such loyalties really consist? This paper explores the various forms of evidence that can be brought to bear on this question and concludes firstly that loyalty was strong enough that it could be exploited politically by counts and kings and their followers, but that its strength was too limited to assist in real crisis, and secondly that it was those crises, in 957 and in 985, that therefore broke the last ties to the Carolingians in Catalonia.

I have yet to work out what to do with this paper, which is more or less the latest instalment of some thoughts I’ve been having since midway through my doctorate, but I’m pretty sure it fitted the conference and hope it set things up well. But from there it was to Central Europe, Brittany, Burgundy and some other fiddly bits that might be either France or Germany depending on when you look, and back to Central Europe again. If I was an outlier, so was everyone! Writing this up, I realise that the crucial issues that joined us all up, for me, were one about group identity, how it was created and why it failed, and what the rôle of the frontier was in that. So if those interest you, read on! The papers broke down like this… Continue reading

Seminar CXCVI: forgetting the Thuringian frontier with Willibald

My seminar reporting backlog now shrinks forwards to 26th February 2014, when Dr John-Henry Clay of Durham, another early medievalist blogger apart from anything else, came to speak to the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research with the title, “St Boniface in Thuringia”. Boniface, born in Wessex as Wynfrið, is a saint who provokes strong reactions at the time and still does now: I remember speaking to one revered academic who had the previous day returned from a three-day conference about Boniface and who, in a shocking breach of their usual total refinement, told me that the conference conclusion had been that “Boniface was a bit of a prat”. But equally there are those who find him fascinating, and Dr Clay has done much with the material preserved about him.1 As a missionary and church-builder Boniface spent a lot of time at the edges of ‘known’ territory, anyway, and what Dr Clay had to tell us about was one of those edges, the duchy of Thuringia.

Map of the territories of Merovingian Francia

A suitably old-fashioned map of the territories of Merovingian Francia, Thuringia being the long vertical strip at upper right. As long as you realise that this is almost completely hypothetical we’ll be fine. “Frankenreich unter den Merowingern” by Johann Gustav Droysen – Allgemeiner Historischer Handatlas. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Most of our information on Boniface as he is conventionally told comes from a Life written for his successor, Archbishop Lul of Mainz, by one Willibald, and he tells us of Boniface’s religious training in Wessex, an early attempt at a mission to pagan Frisia in 716 defeated by resistance from King Radbod and a subsequent papally-backed mission to Thuringia in 719-721. He shows us Boniface going back to Frisia in 721 and then being in Hesse and Saxony in 723-731, after which point he was more and more concerned with the organisation of the Frankish Church as it developed on the eastern edges of Christianity’s range so far and less and less with mission work.2 He died on the mission trail, however, in 754 in Frisia, aged nearly ninety and clearly, from the letters he wrote setting his affairs in order, aware that he could go on little longer and determined to go out a martyr.3 We can thus temper Willibald’s portrayal with the man’s own words here and there and this all gives a fairly consistent picture, but there are hints in it and in other sources that it is definitely not the whole story.4

Illustrations of Boniface baptising pagans, above, and receiving his martyrdom, below, from the eleventh-century Fulda Sacramentary

Illustrations of Boniface baptising pagans, above, and receiving his martyrdom, below, from the eleventh-century Fulda Sacramentary, a prized treasure of the monastery of Fulda which he had founded. “St Boniface – Baptising-Martyrdom – Sacramentary of Fulda – 11Century” by Unknown – Illustration from the Sacramentary of Fulda (Fuldaer Sakramentar), fol. 126 v. See here for more information on the manuscript.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Lots of what is missing is, naturally enough, about Boniface’s opponents. He faces down heretic or just untrained priests and has to fight tooth and nail for their removal and replacement because they are backed by local élites;, and this has been read sensibly enough as a strategy of Frankish colonisation of the local Church with papal support, though as my first paragraph implied and Dr Clay also said, the popes don’t seem to have driven Boniface’s mission so much as support it with judgements and texts as required, when they could find them; Boniface seems to have expected a lot more authority and direction from the papacy than it was used to giving and some of his opponents are also therefore ‘backsliding’ Frankish bishops who didn’t understand why orthodoxy mattered and wouldn’t have looked to the pope for guidance ordinarily.5 But the other figures only just in the picture are the dukes of the Thuringians and the conflict and cultural exchange that was going on between Frankish- and Thuringian-controlled zones behind and outside the ecclesiastical context.

Site of the fortress of Frauenberg, now Frauenberg bei Sondershausen, in old Thuringia

Site of the fortress of Frauenberg, now Frauenberg bei Sondershausen, in old Thuringia, hard to reach with the Gospel in several ways. My apologies to Dr Clay for getting the wrong Frauenberg first time round! Image by HieRo GlyPhe (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Noting various such omissions and demonstrable errors in Willibald’s account, therefore, Dr Clay brought in data from burial archæology and fortress excavations, or at least, a class of fortresses he sees in the area of which one in HesseThuringia, Frauenberg, has been excavated and diagnosed Frankish by its material culture remains. The picture he got from this was one of a broader Frankicisation of the Thuringian duchy, visible in Frankish burial practices and funerary kit, and, as the reference to local priests above suggests, Christianity, this not least because St Willibrord of Utrecht, with whom Boniface worked in Frisia in 721-723, had run a mission in Thuringia around 714 already, something that Willibald doesn’t mention at all! So as Dr Clay told it what Willibald was doing was to turn a career that had essentially been one of fixing other people’s mission work with intermittent state backing, as part of a larger and ongoing process of Frankish acculturation of a border area, into a sanctified career of personal evangelisation that spearheaded all social change for the better in the area.

There were, I have to say, quite a lot of arguments with this thesis from the audience. I had two, one being that I wasn’t clear if Dr Clay was arguing for immigration from a material culture change—he was arguing for a distinct, Frankish funerary kit in the fortresses, as it turned out, which he therefore saw as military occupation rather than settlement on a broader scale—and the other of which being his diagnostic fortress type, which I could have paralleled quite happily from Pictland and therefore thought needn’t be any more than functional similarity. More excavation might of course show other links, what I would not deny. But there were wider issues about the opposition of Frankish and Thuringian as cultures in the first place, raised not least by Julie Hofmann, by whom the IHR was richer this spring and summer just gone and who knows a thing or two about Thuringia.6 The Thuringian aristocracy was long married into Frankish ones, just like the Bavarian one; whether this was anything more than a political branding exploited as convenient was, for Julie, very much to be doubted. That doesn’t prevent wars arising out of it, of course, as they plainly did, but marrying it to wider shifts in material culture as anything more than fashion, and linking those to other forms of political change is, I tend to think, unprovable.

Kloster Sankt Salvator Fulda

The centre of the cult of Boniface, the monastery of Sankt Salvator Fulda. „Catedral de Fulda“ von Author and original uploader was ThomasSD at de.wikipedia – Originally from de.wikipedia; description page is/was here.. Lizenziert unter Public domain über Wikimedia Commons.

Between these two Alice Taylor had asked what was perhaps the sharpest question, which was to wonder what Willibald’s purpose was in all this: Dr Clay said, and this seemed obviously correct once he’d said it, that the Vita was using the holiness of Boniface’s career to justify and sanctify the kinds of action towards Church reform that his successors for whom the text was written were still struggling to carry out. It is, in other words, a text about the politics of the 750s, not those of the 720s, and probably had little interest in being accurate, rather than partial (in both senses) about the earlier period. This was, to an extent, where we had begun, with the problems with Willibald’s Vita, but by now they looked serious enough that I think several of us were uncomfortable with using the text for a picture of the 720s at all. That time was perhaps not long forgotten when Willibald wrote, but having others remember it was apparently not his concern!


1. J.-H. Clay, In the Shadow of Death: Saint Boniface and the Conversion of Hessia, 721-54, Cultural Encounters in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages 11 (Turnhout 2011).

2. The Life has been much translated, and Willibald, The Life of Saint Boniface, transl. George W. Robinson (Cambridge 1916) seems now to be all over the Internet to purchase, presumably because it is also online at the Internet Archive for free here; the one I am used to setting for students is that in C. H. Talbot (ed./transl.), The Anglo-Saxon missionaries in Germany, being the lives of SS. Willibrord, Boniface, Sturm, Leoba, and Libuin, together with the Hodœporicon of St Willibald and a selection from the correspondence of St Boniface (London 1954, repr. 1981), pp. 25-62, which is reprinted in Thomas F. X. Noble & Thomas Head (edd.), Soldiers of Christ: Saints and Saints’ Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Philadelphia 1995), pp. 107-140, but is also online for free (because copyright-free in the USA) via the Internet Medieval sourcebook here.

3. The letters are translated in Ephraim Emerton (transl.), The Correspondence of Saint Boniface, Records of Civilisation 31 (New York City 1969), but a selection is also in Talbot, Anglo-Saxon Missionaries, pp. 64-149.

4. Cited here was Ian N. Wood, The Missionary Life: Saints and the Evangelisation of Europe 400-1050 (London 2001).

5. This is a perspective that I think I got from Rosamond McKitterick, Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany: personal connections and local influences, Eighth Annual Brixworth Lecture, Vaughan Papers 36 (Leicester 1991), repr. in her The Frankish Kings and Culture in the Early Middle Ages, Variorum Collected Studies 477 (Aldershot 1995), I.

6. And we need her to publish some of what she knows! But in the meantime there is no standard work, at least in English, though there is now John Hines, Janine Fries-Knoblach & Heiko Steuer (edd.), The Baiuvarii and Thuringi: an ethnographic perspective, Studies in historical archaeoethnology 9 (Woodbridge 2014).

Leeds 2013 report part 3

This was the longest day of my attendance at the International Medieval Congress at Leeds last year, not just because of it ending in the dance but because it was the only day of the conference where I went to four sessions before the evening. I guess that for some of you this will be more interesting reading than for others, so, varying the usual pattern, here’s a list of the sessions I went to and their speakers and papers, then a cut and you can follow it up if you like!

    1030. Digital Pleasures, IV: scholarly editions, data formats, data exploitation

  • Francesco Stella, “Database versus Encoding: which methods for which results?”
  • Jean-Baptiste Camps, “Detecting Contaminations in a Textual Tradition: computer versus traditional methods”
  • Alexey Lavrentev, “Interactions, corpus, apprentissages, répresentations”
  • 1107. ‘Foul Hordes’: the migration of ideas and people in Pictland and beyond

  • Oisin Plumb, “Go West Young Urguist: assessing the Pictish presence in Ireland”
  • Tasha Gefreh, “Foul Iconography”
  • Bethan Morris, “Reading the Stones: literacy, symbols, and monumentality in Pictland and beyond”
  • 1207. Peripheral Territories in Early Medieval Europe, 9th-11th Centuries

  • Katharina Winckler, “Competing Bishops and Territories in the Eastern Alps”
  • Jens Schneider, “Celtic Tradition and Frankish Narratives in 9th-Century Brittany”
  • Claire Lamy, “Dealing with the Margins: the monks of Marmoutier and the classification of their possessions (11th c.)”
  • 1310. Texts and Identities, IV: violence, legitimacy, and identity during the transformation of the Roman world

  • Glenn McDorman, “Military Violence and Political Legitimacy in the Burgundian Civil War”
  • Adrastos Omissi, “Hamstrung Horses? Timothy Barnes, Constantine’s Legendary Flight to his Father, and the Legitimacy of his procalamation as Emperor in 306”
  • Michael Burrows, “Lower-Class Illegitimate Violence in the late Roman West”

If any of that piques your interest, then read on! If not, hang about till next post and we’ll talk larger-scale Insular funerary sculpture instead. Continue reading

At last, Kalamazoo 2011… Part II

Recent events are of course discouraging, but if I could take another lesson from Mark Blackburn it could easily be not to abandon a project just because it is hideously, hideously backlogged, and so here we go back on the Horse of Delayed Reportage. Some musing on the issue has led me to believe that on the first evening of Kalamazoo just gone, I went to the Early Medievalists’ Dinner. I won’t do this again, I think; it seems to be a do where old friends go to see each other, and not to meet new people, and since the old friends I have at Kalamazoo I regularly ‘see’ on the Internet, this was not a useful function for me. I suspect I would have done better getting slightly bent at the wine hours or indeed sleeping. However, sleep I did and on the 13th May rose on time for breakfast and the blogger meet-up, which was smaller than last year’s but more genial, and out of which great plans arose. I think it was also the longest I’ve managed to talk with any of the people there except Another Damned Medievalist, especially the Medieval History Geek and Notorious, Ph. D., which was good as they are both people I’m sure I could talk to for longer if longer there were. In fact, as you can read at his, for the first two sessions of the day the former of those two was actually in the same room as me, and his reports are good, but of course there were mostly other people talking. Anyway, despite Mugshots having lost some of their tea-fu since last year,1 I was after all this much better set up than the previous day for the morning sessions, which in my conference experience went as follows:

Session 201. Cyril and Methodius: new research on the Cyrillo-Methodian mission and its aftermath

I have a soft spot for Saints Cyril and Methodius, partly because of their (Latin) feast-day I admit, which is very handily placed for the chronically single, but also because very few people in this world get to originate alphabets even if those alphabets are misnamed. Be that as it may, here I also learnt some things, from these papers:

  • Maddalena Betti, “The Rise of Sancta ecclesia marabensis: the missionary letters of Pope John VIII (872-882)”, trying to take these documents from the first pope really to take an interest in the Balkans to get at his world-view and the concessions he was forced to make to political interests at home and on the frontier. A savvy man with a difficult job; this was very interesting.
  • Roland Marti, “… quasi in signum unitatis ecclesiae: east and west in the Cyrillo-Methodian heritage”, reminding us that although modern politics have made Catholic versus Orthodox into a battle of East and West and assimilated Cyril and Methodius into the former, the real context of their times was both East and West fighting over, and with, the Middle, which may explain the surprising success of their Third, Slavonic, Way; it didn’t mean that either side had won. Marti also pointed out how much the Slavonic liturgy borrowed from both sides, but this was presumably obscure to the people arguing…
  • Page from a Glagolithic breviary, c. 1225 (British Museum MS Add. 31951, fo. 1)

    Page from a Glagolithic breviary, c. 1225 (British Museum MS Add. 31951, fo. 1)

  • David Kalhous, “Interpreting Holy Men: Cyril and Methodius as saints in the earliest tradition and in the later Bohemian hagiography (ninth to fourteenth centuries)”, which was essentially a paper about reception and use of the hagiography of the two saints that I seem to have run out of attention for.
  • The questions here involved Florin Curta asking what evidence we have for the abandonment of the alphabet Cyril actually came up with, Glagolitic, which has puzzled me too in the past given that it persisted in Croatia till the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Martin helpfully told us there is none: all guesses as to when it went out of use are only that. And yet I feel that the manuscripts in St Catherine’s Sinai may have more to tell us here yet…

Then lunch, which I don’t remember at all, and back to it.

Session 255. The Archaeology of Early Medieval Europe: hoarding

For a brief moment in 2010 I was known for having thoughts about hoards, so I thought this might help me think more about them.

Avar buckle in Szeged Museum believed to depict the Tree of Life

And those Avars did have some shiny treasures (this one's in Szeged Museum, or was)

  • First up was Marcin Wołoszyn with “Avars, Scandinavians, Slavs, and Byzantine Coins: hoard and hoarding in east-central Europe between the sixth and eight centuries” was an attempt at a comparison over some very disparate modern political areas which was thus consciously hampered by national differences in detection, reporting and publication, but which concluded that Byzantine tribute payments to the Bulgars until 626 are very visible in coin finds (as distinct to Danegeld in Scandinavian ones, interestingly—there’s a point for Mark) but that most such finds are grave-goods, not hoards, which instead are common in Sweden where the bulk of preservation is later. This raised questions about what the Avars did with incoming coin if they didn’t bury it; reminted as their own issues? If so where are they? Converted into treasure then looted by Charlemagne’s troops from the Avar Ring? No answers here but before he started we didn’t even have the question.
  • Bartlomiej Szymon Szmoniewksi,3 “Hoards from the Forest and Forest-Steppe Regions of Ukraine: Pandora’s box in the archaeology of the early medieval Eastern Europe”, reporting on a slow move away from identifying particular kinds of ornament found in this area with particular tribes, but not one sufficient to stop a kind of glorification of ancestors going on with the publication of this material (and I will take a risk and say that if you follow David Beard’s Archaeology in Europe, many of the reports of Thracian finds in Bulgaria to which he links seem to sing of this even though some years ago digs there would have been all about the Slavs, so, have things really improved?)
  • Florin Curta, “Trade or Taxes? Hoards of Iron Implements and Weapons in Ninth-Century Moravia”, a tightly-packed and speedily-delivered paper with an obvious big question: why did people bury hoards of tools, keys, scrap-iron and so on in the zone of old Moravia (as far as that can be guessed…)? There is lots of this stuff, and also huge hoards of ingots (into the thousands); why? Votive deposits? Tax? (If so, why still buried?) Mercantile currency storage? There are distinct types of ingots, restricted to certain zones, and some that ran interregionally; some are just long bars, some are axe-shaped. Professor Curta reckoned, and fair enough, that these items were being put to various uses and that design for one use did not preclude use for another, but it looks like there is more to do and he intends to start with analysis of the metal to see what the traffic flow from production to deposition is like. It’ll be interesting to hear!
  • In questions Professor Curta also wisely counselled the use of a third comparison zone to add to the two he’d had (essentially Poland and Moravia), as Croatia (again) does things its own way, and denied my suggestion that the objects could actually be serving as currency as they did in Chur (which apparently he had mentioned but I missed), feeling that the distribution is too polarised for it to be commercial. So, I might think, is that of coin finds in Scandinavia, on a statistical scale, but as we have already said, commercial it still seems largely to have been… deposition isn’t use. He knows the evidence better than I do, though, and I would read about this eagerly even if I have to admit I’m wrong.

Lastly for this day, I parted ways with my fellow blogger and followed my lately-acquired reviewing interest even further east, with:

Session 320. Gendered Borders and Boundaries

Here I was really just here for the first paper, but the others also proved very interesting, which is always a happy result of stepping out of one’s area.

  • Arnold Lelis, “Gendered Myth-Making on the Pagan Frontier: Peter Dusburg and the Demise of the Galindians”. The Galindians were a Prussian tribe who, according to one of our earliest sources for the area, were gone when the Germans arrived because they had cut the breasts off their women-folk to bring down the population (no, I don’t know either), and that those women had then in vengeance led a neighbouring tribe against their men who’d wiped them out. So, there’s obviously a gendered subtext here, but which one do you pick? What the heck was going on with this story was the subject of the paper: it ideologically clears a wilderness for settlement, and clears it of some fairly ungodly people, but who was Peter actually seeing as villain and who as victim here, men or women? This question involved Amazons (fairly obviously different), medieval images of lactation and removal of saints’ breasts, inevitable Freud and speculation on Salvation and it was all really quite learned if also, ineluctably, impossible to resolve.
  • Nancy Ross, “Gender, Journeys, and gammadia at Ravenna”, was one of those papers you can almost only do with visual materials, where someone points out a well-known thing and then goes, “And here it is again in a surprising but very explanatory context” and all you can do is agree. (Some people do do this with text but it is easier, at least, with pictures.) Here the well-known thing was indecipherable letters that appear on martyrs’ robes in early mural depictions of them, the so-called gammadia. These occur especially in the paintings of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo di Ravenna, which unusually features as many women saints as male ones, facing each other across the nave on a mutual procession towards a now-lost end-point, presumably Christ (see image below). This is one of only three sites where women are given gammadia and Ross argued that here, at least, it is a mark of honour for virginity, as very few of the men bear the marks (and those young ones or known virgins) but almost all the women do. Once she’d said this it was difficult to see how it could mean anything else, here, but this sadly doesn’t work so well in other contexts… More to do, but a stunning church, which always helps.
  • Rebeca Castellanos, “Gendering the Moorish Invasion: the legends of the locked palace and the rape of Count Julia’s daughter”. You might have expected that I’d have gone for this too, but I know the stories—if you don’t, this is a fairly early topos about the fall of Visigothic Spain to the Muslims, that King Roderick was a bad king who raped one of his subjects’ daughters and unfortunately he ran the African coastal province so could let the Muslims in for revenge, and also that there was this mysterious locked palace in Toledo that no-one before Roderick had opened and he opened it to find only a chest containing a prediction of the loss of his kingdom. Like the worst chain letter ever in reverse, basically. Castellanos was concentrating on the lack of agency ascribed to the woman and it was an intelligent paper, but, I have just finished reading a clutch of Anglo-Saxon documents where the women aren’t even named in their marriage agreements,4 I guess unthinking misogyny doesn’t surprise me in this era’s literature.
  • Esther Liberman-Cuenca, “Telling Stories, Creating Memories: narratives, gender, and customary law in late medieval Colchester”, pulled together a quite detailed picture of [edit: male] community relations in fifteenth-century Colchester from the voluminous notaries’ recordstown custumaries that survive there; these include a number of judicial privileges that were claimed to go back to the Conquest or time immemorial but of which, inevitably, we have few if any earlier signs. Lots of [edit: male] status hung on character and oaths, though, so in some respects we could certainly find earlier similarities. [I seem to have made unhelpfully institutional notes on this and missed the gender angle, supplied by Ms Liberman-Cuenca in a comment below; thankyou!]
  • I think the first two of these papers got me more excited than the latter two because they involved things I didn’t already know; the fact that the latter two did less of this probably shouldn’t diminish their importance and both were certainly clear and carefully-thought.

Panoramic view of the parade of female saints in the mural at Sant' Apollinare Nuovo di Ravenna

Panoramic view of the parade of female saints in the mural at Sant' Apollinare Nuovo di Ravenna, from Wikimedia Commons

And thereafter we were off the leash again, and this time on the town. Michael Fletcher was determined that he needed to buy me beer and I wasn’t strong enough (or indeed at all likely) to argue, so I wound up at a certain pizza place with him and Richard Scott Nokes (with whom I was able to talk more this year, I’m happy to say, though as an exhibitor he was kind of a sitting target) and various other non-blogging but good people. But these days I don’t get wrecked at conferences because it makes the next day so hard so we were back quite quick scrounging wine off publishers and I think it was Early Medieval Europe served me my last drink of the night. All praise to them, therefore, and this will resume after the post I meant to post last time. Y’know, assuming no-one else dies. Please don’t.


1. “This is gonna be really hot, d’you want me to put some ice in it?”

2. I have no idea what this huge historical site is doing under that domain name but there are, as far as I can see, no links out from it to the main domain so, dammit, I’m linking to it.

3. I’m not sure that I have the spelling correct here, if not and you know better do say and I’ll amend.

4. For example, Dorothy Whitelock (transl.), English Historical Documents I: c. 500-1042, 2nd edn. (London 1979), doc. nos 128 & 130.

Kalamazoo and Back, III: bloggers, bishops, Bavaria and bastions*

Right, here we go again. I still hadn’t really mastered the trick of adequate sleep by Friday morning, but I had realised the previous day that the first thing I had to do that day, which was make it to the blogger meet-up, was actually in the same building as my room and also the nearest source of caffeine, and so I figured that this was the best of all available plans and headed up there. And, as previously recorded, they actually make tea at Mug Shots, so within about five minutes of arriving at the blogger meet-up I was something quite like my normal self, which is just as well given the number of people I had to take in. There are lots of us! I think that present were all of Another Damned Medievalist, Clio’s Disciple, Dame Eleanor Hull, Mary Kate Hurley, the Medieval History Geek, Steve Muhlberger, Notorious, Ph. D., the Heptarchy Herald, the Rebel Lettriste, Professor Richard Scott Nokes, both Vaulting and Vellum, Thomas Elrod, Heu Mihi and Meg of Xoom, and that may not be all. Plus which there were other bloggers lurking in the conference who did not make it, so there was really nowhere safe to hide. Many of these fine people I had not met before, some of them alas I still haven’t, it was that full, and all of them it was good to see. I wrote the name of my blog on the reverse of my nametag and then had to explain it to people whenever the wind flipped it over, but I don’t care. (Not least because at Kalamazoo no-one thought keeping an academic blog was a weird thing to do, or if they did they hid it well.) But it couldn’t last forever as someone had unthinkingly scheduled a conference around us, and so off I trotted feeling much the better for the tea and sympathy.

The counter of Mug Shots Coffeehouse, Western Michigan University

Session 189. Bishops and the Papacy, 900-1100

Scribblings in my programme indicate that I was in two minds about whether to come to this, even though a friend was organising, partly because of a competing session and partly because one of the speakers had dropped out, but I’m glad I decided as I did.

  • This was not least because the first speaker was Anna Trumbore Jones, whose name for some reason I keep spelling differently so I hope I have it right here. I’ve very much liked what I’ve met of Dr Jones’s work, particularly a very sane attempt to use a local case-study with some actual evidence in to try and assess the turbid question of Viking violence in Viator a few years back,1 and I feel that she and I are in some ways engaged in the same pursuit, trying to make South-Western Europe’s copious evidence contribute to the bigger questions of European medieval history in the long tenth century. Her paper title, “The Power of an Absent Pope: privileges, forgery, and papal authority, 877-1050”, also chimed well with some work I’ve lately been finishing off about forging papal documents in this area and so we had a lot to talk about afterwards.2 Here she was tangling with a standard narrative of papal power in the South of France, that it is secured by patronising monasteries to give the pope leverage to dominate the bishops. She showed that firstly bishops were often involved in securing these monasteries’ privileges, that (as we know when we look, I think) that papal exemption of a monastery rarely actually excludes a bishop from it in practice unless it was specifically aimed at him, because most houses need a continuing relationship with their bishop even if he can’t tithe them, and that although the idea of the papacy obviously had power because people went to the effort of forging papal documents, they had far rather do that later on than have obtained them from the pope himself. Actually getting a document from the pope might entail one in links to him that would be politically awkward, and a forgery would probably work just as well for whatever the purpose of these documents was anyway. I think we, collectively, are still a bit unclear about what that purpose really is, and the same goes for royal immunities beyond the area of plausible enforcement, but all this was meat and drink to me when reckoning with these questions and it was great to see someone else asking them, in English.
  • The second paper in the session was by John Ott, who was speaking to the title, “Band of Brothers: episcopal solidarities and the limits of papal intervention in Northern France around 1100”. I have less to say here because it’s further from my period, but anyone who’s taught papal reform may have realised that in Northern France it doesn’t get a grip because the bishops tend to band together and claim papal authority doesn’t apply to them in various complicated ways: this was a case-study of that defiance and the network of acquaintance, friendship and tolerance of dubious canonicity that made it possible, based around the election to the bishopric of Beauvais in 1099. It emphasised, among other things, that a bishop didn’t have to have been squeaky-clean in his own past to be a reformer, that reformers mostly would compromise, and that there was a strong middle road here which could be described as “reform on our own terms in our own time” that I think we could find a lot more of even in the Gregorian period if we looked for it in those terms. (It’s worth remembering in that light that for a lot of the Italian bishoprics, the pope is their metropolitan and part of precisely this sort of local acquaintance network.3 Archbishop Manasses of Rheims here and Pope Leo IX fifty years before are not necessarily playing different games in their bailiwicks simply because the latter is pope and also has a wider political position.)
  • There being no third paper meant lots of questions, but mainly for Ott, so I was quite pleased to be able to reassure Dr Jones of my attention to her paper too.

By this stage the sun had come out and the prospect of eating lunch in it in the shades of Kalamazoo’s precipitously forested campus meant that as far I was concerned this day was now going pretty well. I think this was also the point at which I hit the book exhibit, with thrift and determination not to come away with anything I didn’t actually have a use for. Now, as is well documented That Never Works, but I didn’t spend too much and, as someone observed later in a conversation about this with me, I have passed some kind of level here beyond which I now mainly buy books I have already read, and know I need, rather than books I feel I should read but subsequently don’t for years. But this time my purchases, which included being introduced to Olivia Remie Constable just as I was buying her book, which was nice, mainly seemed like sound choices and none too heavy, either. The next session maintained my bonhomie….

Session 285. The Carolingians and their Neighbors

    I think this session managed to run in parallel with one of similar focus, as quite a few people I might have expected to be there weren’t, but it was a good one.

  • First up was Isabelle Lachat, speaking to the title, “Charlemagne’s Foreign Policy and the Manufacturing of Empire”, which was some detailed riffing on Stuart Airlie’s paper about Duke Tassilo of Bavaria,4 pointing out how he and Charlemagne were using very parallel strategies of legitimisation including sponsoring of missions to the pagans on their Eastern frontiers, and that among the other gains that Charlemagne made from his eventual conquest of Bavaria was Tassilo’s ideological ideas bank that Lachat thought he could be shown appropriating. This, sadly, attracted less attention in questions than an unsustainable idea of Carl Hammer’s about the identity of Tassilo’s wife, but never mind.5
  • Third paper, but so closely associated with this topic-wise that I want to take it out of order, was Jonathan Couser, my session organiser indeed, talking about, “Clergy and the Laity on the Eastern Marches”, in which he argued that the Bavarian and eventually Carolingian missions in the East proceeded in phases, with rotating staffs of clergy from Salzburg who neither made nor wanted local recruits while new monastic foundations took the heat in the very far borders, then a new episcopal policy under Charlemagne driving missions from several new bishoprics, and lastly a monastic phase led principally from the East, the missions of Cyril and Methodius, the only saints really worth celebrating on February 14th, which operated in competition with the Carolingian strategy not just politically and linguistically but also institutionally. There was a lot of material in this paper and it went very fast, but it made a few things quite a lot clearer for me.
  • Distribution map of the so-called Ulfberht sword-blades in Europe

    Distribution map of the so-called Ulfberht sword-blades in Europe, from Stalsberg's article cit. n. 7

  • Between the two, and less fast because less comfortable with English, something she heroically overcame, was Anne J. Stalsberg, asking, “Did the Carolingians Export Swords to their Pagan Neighbors during the Viking Age (ninth-tenth centuries)?” You’d think that the answer was a fairly obvious ‘no, duh, why would they do that?’ but actually the find patterns of the so-called Ulfberht swords, of which Dr Stalsberg is building a corpus, rather seem to suggest otherwise, since the maker’s name is held to be Frankish but the swords occur thickly all over Scandinavia and rather more sparsely over a very thin but wide range inside the Carolingian Empire. She therefore questioned the amount of state control over such things, and asked for help about the inscriptions on the swords, some of which bear legend +ULFBER+HT, with the cross breaking the name as shown, what would appear to be nonsensical punctuation. If anyone has anything to add, I have her contact details, because I stopped afterwards to suggest coin legends might give parallels and wound up with a copy of a paper she’d recently published about the swords and a fervent wish that I would get in touch if I found anything out.6 I think she may in fact have got more out of the session than some of her audience, whom I think may have been hoping for more pictures of swords and fewer distribution maps, but this is how we learn, people, and I thought it was good.

The last session of the day for me turned out to mean not moving very far, but between the two I caught up with some further people whom I’d known were there somewhere but hadn’t yet found, gulped down some emergency coffee and then resumed the trench warfare with the following…

Session 346. The Archaeology of Early Medieval Europe II. Early Medieval Hillforts in Central Europe: strongholds or central places?

    This one has been covered better than I think I would by the Medieval History Geek, so I’ll start by directing you there. For the record however, the papers were:

  • Jiří Macháček, “Great Moravian Central Places and their Practical Function, Social Significance, and Symbolic Meaning”, focussing especially on Pohansko and Staré Mĕsto
  • Hajnalka Herold, “Early Medieval (Ninth to Tenth Centuries AD) Fortified Settlements in Central Europe”, focussing mainly on Gars-Thunau
  • and

  • Sławomir Moździoch, “Early Medieval Strongholds in Poland as Centers of Power in the Light of Recent Archaeological Research”, which covered a wider range of sites and came up with a rather different picture of state-driven castle-building that sounded weirdly familiar…

And then evening fell, and whereas the previous evening I had left my social calendar largely in the hands of ADM, today it fell to Michael of the Heptarchy Herald to see me right, because he had already kindly invited me to join what I gather is a traditional party to a local pizza joint called Bilbo’s, which I gladly did, as did Scott Nokes though again we wound up sort of across the gathering from each other and couldn’t really exchange more than greetings. I get the feeling it could have been a more raucous night than it was if I’d been drinking more heavily and I hope I didn’t slow everyone else down. The food was good, though, very fresh, and the beer likewise actually, and the company greatly enjoyed: thankyou guys (and gals). The quote of the day from this report therefore is uncontestedly:

Friday night at Bilbo’s, Saturday morning in Mordor!

which was the battle cry of Cédric Briand as we set off and which he said he would be proud to have associated with his name on the Internet. There you go, M’sieu!

That was by no means the end of the evening, however, as we had broken from the trenchers mainly to get back for the Early Medieval Europe reception. It took me a long time to find this, and it should technically have been finished by the time I got there, but it wasn’t, even slightly, and I met many useful people (one of whom was the one, who shall remain nameless, who had downloaded my thesis and said, unguardedly, that it was much better than they’d expected given my blog…) and exchanged ideas and gossip until chucking out time. But once back at the Valley I found there were still drinkers a-socialising and so rather than give up entirely, I joined them for a short while too. I think it was at this point that Theo Riches said perhaps the nicest thing I ever heard him say about me while introducing me to a colleague, which was, “but Jon is rare among historians, because Jon can count“. I was very flattered by this and would like to say, by way of gratitude, that I have now forgiven him for the year he was telling people at Leeds that I was a bigamist.7 So there!

Finally, a wander back to my own building saw me fall briefly into step with a person by the name of Elizabeth MacMahon, who is now enshrined in my mind as a sort of Quotational Fairy-Godsister, arriving at impressionable moments to deliver sardonically-memorable one-liners and then disappearing into the ether. (Yes, I was drunk on all of these occasions, I expect she has a normal physical existence really.) In our brief conversation she summed up the whole conference in one of these that had me reeling with admiration (yes, again, may have already been reeling slightly). But we’ve already had the winning quotation for this day so I shall use the lateness of the evening at that point to hold it over for the Saturday, which I will write when I am back from seeing some people about a job. Another short post will precede. Until then!


* The usual meaningless points for anyone placing the song reference, which I couldn’t help but incorporate once it had come to mind. It is related to New Hampshire…

1. A. Trumbore Jones, “Pitying the Desolation of Such a Place: Rebuilding religious houses and constructing memory in Aquitaine in the wake of the Viking incursions” in Viator Vol. 37 (Berkeley 2006), pp. 85-102.

2. Jonathan Jarrett, “Archbishop Ató of Osona: False Metropolitans on the Marca Hispanica” in Archiv für Diplomatik Vol. 56 (München forthcoming).

3. I pull this point more or less straight out of Jochen Johrendt, Papsttum und Landeskirchen im Spiegel der päpstlichen Urkunden, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Studien und Texte) 33 (Hannover 2004).

4. S. Airlie, “Narratives of Triumph and Rituals of Submission: Charlemagne’s mastery of Bavaria” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 9 (Cambridge 1999), pp. 93-119.

5. Presumably in Carl Hammer, From Ducatus to Regnum. Ruling Bavaria under the Merovingians and Early Carolingians (Turnhout 2007) (non vidi), the suggestion apparently being that the Lombard wife whom Charlemagne repudiated was then parcelled off to become the Lombard princess who marries Tassilo; Lachat asked, and perhaps Hammer does too, what if the princess had been pregnant when repudiated, but subsequently had to admit that the chronology of Tassilo’s marriage doesn’t really permit these options. I think she just threw it out there for a laugh and then had to deal with everyone’s ears pricking up for scandal.

6. It is Anne Stalsberg, “Herstellung und Verbreitung der Vlfberht-Schwertklingen: eine Neubewertung” in Zeitschrift für Archäologie des Mittelalters Vol. 36 (Bonn 2008), pp. 89-118, though the map above is from what seems to be an English version transl. as “The Ulfberht sword blades: a reevaluation”, separately paginated, online here.

7. I am not now, have never been and do not anticipate being married even once, just for the record there, and I’m sure that this was mostly understood.

Seminary XXXVIII: complications in the conversion of Bavaria

The Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research wound up for this term with a visitor from afar, Maximilian Diesenberger of the Österreichische Akademie für Wissenschaften in Vienna, which I showed you pictures of a while back. They seem to recruit some fiercely bright people there, and Max was shown no exception by this, and of course has enough in print that no-one would have thought otherwise; I just mean to start by saying that this was a good paper, very carefully considered, full of interesting suggestions and all well in touch with the evidence. The title was “Christianizing Bavaria in the reign of Charlemagne”, so, back in funds, of course I was there.

Fifteenth-century woodcut of the martyrdom of St Emmeram, from Wikimedia Commons

Fifteenth-century woodcut of the martyrdom of St Emmeram, from Wikimedia Commons

Max was mainly working with sermon literature, of which there is a surprising amount from here, and other sorts of episcopal ephemera, inventories, brevia, scraps; he seemed to have had some dæmon finding useful manuscripts for him, though the main one he referred to was this one, Wien, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Codex 420, which that library catalogue explains contains various saint’s lives and hagiographical writing. Using as his conceptual framework the idea that conversion is in some ways an ordering of space, Max explored what these sources could tell us about how the process and task of conversion was seen. I can’t attempt to convey everything he brought out, but some things are worth emphasising. Many of the saints’ lives, for example, especially that of poor Emmeram above, exist in plural versions. This means that we can compare the oldest Vita Emmerami with the later ones, and note that he like other saints of the Bavarian age of conversion never used to get beyond the River Enns, but after Charlemagne’s defeat of the Avars and the first moves into Pannonia from Salzburg, new versions of the Vitae are constructed that send the missionary saints into those areas too, to try and claim the territory by story-telling. This was the kind of thing Max was doing.

Other good chunky bits were these suggestions:

  • Those saints don’t initially get much further than the Enns because, although the west of Bavaria is converted early on, late-Roman sub-Roman sort of period, the east is arguably not really touched until the 700s, the era of these saints, and may well not be terribly Christianized as the Carolingians rise to power
  • This suggests that the dukes of Bavaria, despite their Carolingian connections, were very deeply identified with the new religion and its apostles – Duke Tassilo founded more monasteries in Bavaria than the Carolingians did en bloc, for example. (A weird comparison arises in my mind between the Agilolfing dukes and the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt, arriving as questionable foreign impositions and ending their days as cornerstones of their nation’s identity as a new foreign power rolled over them… )
  • The Carolingians have to rearrange space to free themselves of this legacy, as well as the historiography;1 so rather than maintain the Bavarian metropolitanate at Regensburg where the Agilolfings had it, they start a new one at Salzburg. But the Agilolfings had probably moved it to Regensburg from Augsburg, to place it in their new eastern conversion zone, and Augsburg can be detected playing with texts that seem to remember this, bitterly.
  • Once the churches get into them, the old Avar territories are briefly zones completely free for the imagination. The few charters we have for land there (and there are some, at Freising predictably… ) give boundaries on things like ‘pagan graveyards’, it’s a land of legends and no-one knows what’s going on there at first. Annoyingly, of course, we still don’t. I compared it in questions to Pictland, in as much as it’s an area that we identify by a political over-rule seen by outsiders but which seems from material evidence to have been populated by many distinct groups who perhaps wouldn’t have seen themselves as a single group. I need to do more reading about the Avars.

One particular tension that Max brought out at length was between two approaches that we might epitomise as the Alcuin approach and the Arn approach, referring to Charlemagne’s leading scholar and the first new metropolitan bishop of Salzburg respectively. Alcuin thought, famously, that mission work should be accomplished by persuasion, humility, and not imposing tithe too early. Arn, who unlike Alcuin actually had to do some such work, however preferred a heavy institutional approach, and many of the writings Max was talking about are basically stories showing how important it is to give land to the Church so as to be saved. Now it is very very easy to take a modern anti-clerical view of this and say, with some reputable scholars and also with Terry Jones (who is a disreputable scholar, but scholar nonetheless), that this is just a profit motive and that no-one cares about the souls if they can get the lands.2 But in a hostile territory, whose conversion efforts are the more enduring, hey? The lone and charismatic missionary who, Hewald-like, wanders into pagan lands and stands up against their unholy customs with only the force of his preaching? (Max emphasised that many of these texts express an conviction that the biggest thing that made conversion effective or not was the quality of the preaching.) Or the place which gets land, whose men are always there because they live among you expressing their religion as well-defended power and wealth, who offer not a charismatic example but a comfortable one? How much of a mission can you run without a church? How can you have a church without upkeep? How do you therefore sustain a conversion effort without tithe? The harsh institutional extortion so lamented by Alcuin may have implanted the faith rather more durably… and the guarantee of treasure in Heaven may sound more plausible from someone who’s already got this world’s wealth when Apostolic poverty is still a new idea to you.

Baroque refurbishment of the medieval basilica of St Emmerams, Regensburg, from Wikimedia Commons

Baroque refurbishment of the medieval basilica of St Emmeram's, Regensburg, from Wikimedia Commons


1. If the Carolingian takeover of Bavaria is an interesting topic to you, you’ve probably already read both Stuart Airlie, “Narratives of Triumph and Rituals of Submission: Charlemagne’s mastery of Bavaria” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 9 (Cambridge 1999), pp. 93-119, and Warren Brown, Unjust Seizure: conflict, interest and authority in an early medieval society, Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past 2 (Ithaca 2001), but if you haven’t, they’re both really good.

2. For example, Jack Goody, The Development of the Family and Marriage in Europe (Cambridge 1988); Robert Burton Ekelund, Robert D. Tollison, Robert F. Hebert, Gary M. Anderson & Audrey B. Davidson, Sacred Trust: the medieval Church as an economic firm (New York 1996); cf. Lester K. Little, Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy (Cornell 1983). As for Terry Jones, I’m mainly thinking of his TV series Medieval Lives, which aired when I was first teaching and was what my students would bring in reports of to taunt me with, but his book Chaucer’s Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary (London 1980) is a genuine scholarly contribution, whether you agree with it or not, and if you would rather doubt that the ex-Python could have a terribly sophisticated view of the Middle Ages, you could have a look at this interview on News for Medievalists and tell me if you still think he’s a charlatan. I don’t. Provocative and annoying, yes, but from knowledge.