Tag Archives: monasticism

How to Defend a Thesis (in two languages)

So, I have been promising this post for weeks, but at the very end of July 2019 I was in Barcelona to examine a doctoral thesis. Although the actual thesis was excellent, and its author now a collaborator of mine, the process was a little arduous, especially because of coming so close on the heels of the International Medieval Congress and then my holiday. But it was also a really good occasion and was the making of some very useful contacts, so it definitely wants writing up. The question is how to do so without running on for ages, because it’s a story of many parts, all worth explaining, and I think the answer is to say relatively little about the content, which those who care about can of course explore themselves, and instead try and tell the story as a process.1


The very first step of the process, then, goes back as far as the spring of 2017, when a young Catalan by the name of Xavier Costa Badia turned up as a visiting doctoral student at the Institute for Medieval Studies at Leeds. He had come not least to work with me, though none of the arrangements had been made with me, but I was having about the worst professional year of my life then or since and we in fact only managed to meet twice. However, that was enough, apparently, to reassure both of us that we knew and loved the subject area and had interests in common. Subsequently, Xavier was drafted in to help edit the proceedings of a conference about the nunnery of Sant Joan de Ripoll, about which as you know I Care A Lot, and it was mainly because of his agitation that I got the invitation to be in that volume which constituted my first-ever Catalan-language publication (which Xavier translated).2 So when, in about the middle of that process, he approached me about being on his doctoral examination panel, I’d already accepted that I was going to have to say yes, and indeed, except for the weight of actual reading involved, I was quite keen to know what he’d written. Anyway, it was sorted out, and then in late spring 2019 the thesis actually arrived.


Now, this should definitely be read as anthropological comparison and not complaint, but, the usual word limit for a UK doctoral thesis is 100,000 words and with a bibliography that usually comes out at around 250 pages of double-spaced 12-point A4. I admit, mine was 308 including an appendix.3 But Xavi’s is 723, and that’s just the volume which now sits weightily on my bookshelves. I say ‘just’ because there was also an electronic component, a CD-R including a further 67 pages of PDF, which go to explain the 6002-fiche database of monastic sites he had compiled to source the actual thesis. So I had a lot of reading to do quite quickly. (I confess, I only sounded the database a little bit, just to see how it had all been done, which was, of course, methodically and as far as I could see, accurately.)

The remains of Santa Cecília d'Altimiris

The remains of Santa Cecília d’Altimiris, perhaps the oldest monastery in what is now Catalonia which survived through to the early Middle Ages and one where I believe the subject of this post has spent some time digging; image from Monestirs.cat, linked through

So as you may gather from that, Xavi’s actual topic was monasticism in early medieval Catalonia, to which he was taking a landscape and archæological approach: this involved first defining what he meant by a monastery, secondly how we can identify them in the record either textual or archæological (not a simple question), thirdly which places were in and which out, and fourthly (longest bit of the first part), where, in topological terms, they all were. Then the second part was case studies, including the twin houses of Ripoll, and then finally conclusions. And I did enjoy reading it, because Xavi’s writing is clear and elegant and of course I learned a great deal, but I was also very relieved when I finally got to the end before I’d had to leave for the airport…

Notes made in preparation for the thesis defence of Xavier Costa Badia

Notes for the defence, with page numbers and cross-references

Notes made for the thesis defence of Xavier Costa Badia

And the reverse side, with something like a plan of my speech, also with page references

So by the end of that, I had a lot of notes of things to talk about, 11 pages of single-spaced 12-point in fact, and obviously, that was too much. And I spent most of the plane journey out distilling that into the questions I thought really were important, and working them into some kind of order, which generated the kind of squirrelly interlace around my notes which you see here and with which you may by now be horrifiedly familiar, but did mean that I arrived more or less prepared.


So I flew out the afternoon before and fetched up in the best place I’ve yet stayed in Barcelona (other than the Residència d’Investigadors, which really needs someone else to pay for up front), which is to say that it was clean, private (in the sense that it had a lockable door to the room, not always something I’ve found) and offered only just enough space to turn round in because of the inclusion of an implausible and just-about-functional en-suite. It was also over a street whose lively night-life echoed through the building only till about two a. m., which is actually pretty mild for Barcelona. I think all the power sockets and light-switches even worked; hopefully I still have a record of where it was somewhere… The result of this was that I arrived at least passably rested at the Universitat de Barcelona the next day, but then had to do the mental climb that is waking up one of my rudimentary foreign languages after a year or two of dormancy. The fact that some of the assembled academics didn’t speak that foreign language (Catalan) made that an uphill struggle, but by the time I actually had to talk, with a few lines worked out ahead of time, I could at least justify in Catalan my lapsing into English for the academic content, something of a relief all told.

So what actually happens at one of these dos is very unlike the UK process, where you just get closeted with your two examiners for an hour or two, they quiz you and you find out somewhere in there whether they think you passed or not. As far as I understand it, it’s basically impossible to proceed this far in the Continental system if the thesis isn’t going to pass; if that were likely, it wouldn’t have been put forward for examination and if you raise objections you’ll embarrass everyone, so, you don’t. (Not a problem with either of the two I’ve so far examined, I should say.) But that doesn’t mean that you can’t give the candidate hell, if you want, and there are between three and six of you to do it, as well – in this case five – before an audience usually including the candidate’s family and best academic friends, the latter of whom you’re terrorising for their turn at the process. Every member of the panel gives their views, and then at the end of it, the candidate has to give a response, for which they have been frantically scribbling notes while everyone speaks, at the same time as trying to protect their ego enough to cope. As you can tell, I don’t fully endorse the extremity of this process, especially since, after you’ve put them through all of this, the candidate has to buy their examiners lunch! (Though it was both good and welcome; but we’ll come to that shortly.)

Anyway, as I say there were five of us: in order of speaking Jordi Bolòs i Masclans, definitely the man you want for expertise on landscape archæology in Catalonia; me, for non-Iberian peninsula perspectives and some relatively keen knowledge of the Ripollès; María Raquel Alonso Álvarez, of the Universidad de Oviedo, representing the rest of the Peninsula (which is actually not that usual, in Catalonia); Marta Sancho, Xavi’s actual supervisor and thus the person who knows several of his sites like no-one else; and Josep María Salrach, who is mentioned on this blog in almost every other post (at least, those about Catalonia), and so probably needs no further introduction. And we said, roughly, that it was excellent and a landmark thesis (everyone agreed); and then…

    1. that the gaps on the map were interesting and that place-names needed closer examination (en Jordi);
    2. that there were almost no typos that I could find, itself remarkable, but that I wasn’t sure how much of the monastic landscape was actually Carolingian rather than local initiative (i. e. top-down royal policy versus bottom-up local piety (or politics4)) and wanted to know how far one could get models out of this area which might be used elsewhere (me, among several other more minor things);
    3. that there were important differences between the late antique or Visigothic phase and the new Islam-contemporary one of Carolingian Catalonia, not least a strange but very evident shortage of nunneries, and that in this respect both Muslim Iberia and incipient Asturias-León seem to have remained late antique (Professor Alonso; this had me wondering if royal control of the fisc was perhaps part of the difference, or so my notes tell me);
    4. that we also needed to think about why people even bcame monks or nuns in this world, as well as where (Professor Sancho; there were lots of jokes in this address which my Catalan wasn’t up to getting, too);
    5. and then there was en Josep.

Now I pause for breath here, because Josep María’s speech was a good bit longer than ours. But of course, it being Josep María Salrach, there was loads of good stuff in there, mostly complimentary but also encouraging us to think about visibility of sites; about how landscape is a phenomenon which only exists when observed because otherwise it’s just how the land is; that the late antique/early medieval difference might be the combination of reform Christianity and a frontier with Islam, which I really wanted more time to think with; that both-gender communities might explain some of the shortage of nuns (and here I respectfully disagree because I think we don’t really see any in Catalonia; Sant Joan just having some attached priests doesn’t count5); that Carolingian monastic ideals might be detected in the area by the copying of monastic rules (and indeed they might but, well, people have looked6); about whether gift and counter-gift was really different from sale in this world (to which I inwardly raised my old objection, that there were different ways of recording both so the choice must have been significant); and that the fact that frontier space could be claimed as part of the fisc wrapped monasteries into power in certain special ways (and here we’re into aprisio, and I’ve said everything I can say about that long ago).7

So as you can tell, I actually had more arguments with Josep María Salrach than I did with Xavier, and that was handy in a way as we then got sat opposite each other at lunch, but before then, after two and a half hours of having his work dissected, Xavi had to respond. He thanked us all for not looking too hard at his classification of monasteries, which was where he thought he was weakest, and then wrangled with each of our points briefly, including answering mine in English. The question several people had asked, none with any better suggestions, was about the county of Cerdanya, which was one of the big gaps on the map, just very few monasteries; it’s upland and mostly had a pastoral economy, but as several people had pointed out, that didn’t stop people founding monasteries anywhere else. And once he’d answered us all, we finally let him off the hook, now as Dr Xavier Costa Badia, and there was a lot of applause and some speeches of thanks and it was all good.


Now, naturally enough the main consequences of all this have redounded on Xavier, who got not just his doctorate but a prize and presumably a pay rise on his next gig, and a small rook of publications.8 But this is my blog, so I really mean consequences for me.

Xavier Costa Badia with his doctoral thesis after winning the Premi Sant Jordi de l'Institut d'Estudis Catalans de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica Pròsper de Bofarull d'Història Medieval with it

Xavier himself, with that same doctoral thesis, after winning the Institut d’Estudis Catalans’ Premi Sant Jordi of the Secció Històrico-Arqueològica Pròsper de Bofarull d’Història Medieval with it

So, obviously I got paid for this—or maybe that’s not obvious, in fact, but I did—but there were also a bunch of other reasons this was a good thing. Firstly, and not least, I now have on my shelf a pretty up-to-date directory of monasticism in early medieval Catalonia, which has already proved useful. Secondly, I got a good lunch and a chance to drop in on the Biblioteca de Catalunya out of it, and found somewhere borderline-acceptable to stay and somewhere very good to eat in Barcelona. Thirdly, however, I got a chance to have a long and fairly friendly argument with Josep María Salrach, to the amusement of Marta Sancho, and I hope both of them thought them better of me afterwards; but I’m fairly sure Josep María did, because he brokered my getting the rest of the Catalunya Carolíngia more or less for free, it wasn’t long after this that he asked me to write my second piece of scholarship to be published in Catalan, and he has remained a help whenever I’ve needed to ask ever since. And, fourthly, it has meant that whenever I’ve been asked who the exciting up-and-coming figures in my field are, I’ve been confident in naming Xavi; and as a result of this, the poor lad has got dragged into several collaborations he otherwise might not have, including, mirabile dictu, with Castilians – but that needs separate reportage, and will, I promise, eventually get it. On this occasion, however, much of this was yet to come, but I went home with a good feeling for the future and a sense of many useful connections made. It was definitely worth the panic reading post-holiday. I’m not sure I could do it now, though!

1. Most of Xavier’s work, understandably, is in Catalan, but if you would like a sense of what he does and only read English, there is an early sample in Xavier Costa Badia, “Non-regulated Female Religiosity in the Catalan Counties in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries: A Territorial and Network-Oriented Approach” in Svmma: Revista de cultures medievals Vol. 15 (Barcelona 2020), pp. 35–54. The actual thesis, meanwhile, is Xavier Costa Badia, “Paisatges monàstics: El monacat alt-medieval als comtats catalans (segles IX-X)”, tesi doctoral (Universitat de Barcelona 2019), and there is a presentation of it in Xavier Costa Badia, “Paisajes monásticos. El monacato altomedieval en los condados catalanes (siglos IX-X). Tese de Doutoramento em História apresentada à Universidade de Barcelona (Espanha), Julho de 2019. Orientação das Professoras Blanca Garí e Maria Soler-Sala” in Medievalista no. 28 (Lisboa 1 July 2020), pp. 419–434, DOI: 10.4000/medievalista.3396, which is in Spanish but is at least online and open access.

2. Jonathan Jarrett, “La fundació de Sant Joan en el context de l’establiment dels comtats catalans”, transl. Xavier Costa in Irene Brugués, Costa and Coloma Boada (edd.), El monestir de Sant Joan: Primer cenobi femení dels comtats catalans (887-1017) (Barcelona 2019), pp. 83–107.

3. Not that I imagine you’ve forgotten, but as I’ve mentioned it, that would be Jonathan Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in Late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph.D. thesis (University of London 2005), online here, rev. as Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: Pathways of Power, Studies in History: New Series (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer for the Royal Historical Society, 2010).

4. I’m thinking here largely with the work of Rob Portass, who would have been another brilliant person to have on this panel, and of whose work the most relevant bit would be Robert Portass, “The Contours and Contexts of Public Power in the Tenth-Century Liébana” in Journal of Medieval History Vol. 38 (Abingdon 2012), pp. 389–407, 10.1080/03044181.2012.710551.

5. People have been suggesting it does ever since José Orlandis Rovira, “Los orígenes del monaquismo dúplice en España” in Homenaje a la memoria de Don Juan Moneva y Puyol, Estudios de derecho aragonés (Zaragoza 1954), pp. 235–248, but I still don’t think it’s right; we’ve just got no evidence that Sant Joan’s priests worked out of the nunnery rather than the neighbouring parish church. People use its example to justify other possible cases but it’s actually the most likely of the lot.

6. Admittedly, I’m thinking primarily of Cullen J. Chandler, Carolingian Catalonia: Politics, Culture, and Identity in an Imperial Province, 778–987, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 111 (Cambridge 2019), DOI: 10.1017/9781108565745, which it would have been hard for anyone at this gathering yet to have taken into account, but Anscari M. Mundó, “Regles i observances monàstiques a Catalunya” in Eufèmia Fort i Cogul (ed.), II Col·loqui d’Història del Monaquisme Català, Scriptorium Populeti 7 (Poblet 1972-1974), 2 vols, I pp. 7–24, didn’t come up with much either as I recall.

7. See Jonathan Jarrett, “Settling the Kings’ Lands: Aprisio in Catalonia in Perspective” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 18 (Oxford 2010), pp. 320–342, DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-8847.2010.00301.x, one of several pieces I’ve written I really wanted just to end a dispute and actually haven’t really been heard in it.

8. To name but a few beyond those already cited in n. 1 above, three chapters in that same essay volume cited in n. 2 above; a first appearance in print in Xavier Costa Badia, “Los monasterios nacidos a través de pactos en los condados catalanes del siglo IX: Reflexiones en torno a la pervivencia de un modelo fundacional visigodo en tiempos de la reforma carolingia” in Hortus Artium Medievalium Vol. 23 (Zagreb 2017), pp. 328–335, DOI: 10.1484/J.HAM.5.113724; a historiographical review of his main subject in Xavier Costa Badia, “El monacat als comtats catalans altmedievals: un balanç historiogràfic” in Índice histórico español Vol. 132 (Madrid 2019), pp. 49–78, on Academia.edu here; and now a book I will have to read, Xavier Costa Badia, Poder, religió i territori: una nova mirada als orígines del monacat al Ripollès (segles IX-X), Mvnera 1 (Barcelona 2022).

Vikings in ninth-century Catalonia?

There is a tendency for this blog to become a series of photo posts when my backlog shrinks through each past summer, and I like to break those up with more academic contact even if it means jumping chronology a bit. So, though last post we were with me in Paris in July 2019, we’re now jumping ahead a couple of weeks to once I was back from holiday, at which point my absolute top priority was reading, carefully but speedily, a doctoral thesis in Catalan which I was due to examine at the very beginning of the next month.1 I will talk about that separately, because it was excellent and the now-doctor who wrote it deserves his own post, but there were a couple of things in it that deserved their own commentary and made me stub blog posts to do that thing, and this is the first.

Cloister of Sainte-Marie d'Arles-sur-Tech

Cloister of Sainte-Marie d’Arles-sur-Tech, image by Jordi Domènech, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve mentioned here before that I find it hard to be less than ten years behind with Catalan historiography, and in recent years there has also developed the problem of extensive publication of primary material I also haven’t had time fully to work through yet. Consequently, it’s pretty easy to find stuff I don’t know about, and this reference was such a thing. The text in question is a letter to King Charles the Bald of the Western Franks (r. 840-877) from Abbot Hilperic of Sainte-Marie d’Arles-sur-Tech (remember that place-name of Arles), giving an account of his monastery’s early history by way of explaining how it came to be so short of resource as urgently to need the king’s help.2 Hilperic starts with the founder abbot, naturally enough, and it quickly reaches a point at which I stopped and went, “What?” Here’s a scratch translation of some rather odd Latin.3

“For there came a faithful man of God from the regions of Hispania, Castellano by name, an abbot, who entering by a narrow path found in the waste a miraculous bathing-place, where he built a holy monastery, to which he called and directed a college of many monks worshipping the Highest King, who under the authority of your glorious grandfather Charles, conceded [the latter’s] precept to the same monastery.4 When he was dead, his successor Requesèn arrived, who also placed himself rejoicing into your hands.5 With him passing from the world, there succeeded a certain venerable man [called] Recimir, his brother, an abbot, who likewise once commended himself into [your] glorious hands.6 While he was alive, there was given to us, by the thickening [sic] of the Devil, a multitude of persecuting Northmen, who both staying there for three days and destroying the same monastery, and coming upon us suddenly, we knowing nothing of it, killed several of us. Considering these events of ours, that which had occurred first and foremost because of all our faults and abundant sins, having gathered into one council, we were converted back to the Lord. With us celebrating fasts and holding vigils, and beseeching the Lord Christ, there was revealed by the same Lord to one of our brothers the place there where bodies of the saints were resting, who were called the blessed martyr Quintinus, bishop Hilary, deacon Tibertius. With us gratefully looking forward to their arrival, suddenly our abbot died. With him passing on, there succeeded he who still now is seen to rule us according to the Rule of our Father Benedict, which is now instituted.”

And though there’s about as much again after that, it’s all upwards from there, including the fleeing of demons from the area and the subsequent discovery of twelve more saintly bodies, of whom the writer only bothers to name two (Abundus and Grisantus). I guess the point is made by then that this is a
holy community, albeit completely on its uppers. And this is held to have been what provoked Charles the Bald’s surviving precept to Hilperic, whose text we have.7

Now, it has straight away to be admitted that there is actually a plausible context into which this story could fit. You may already have noted that given where Vallespir actually is, more or less stretching north-west up the Tech valley from where Saint-Marie is there, any supposed Viking attack would have had either to have landed on the northern Atlantic coast of the Peninsula and then marched pretty much along the Pyrenees, or else made it through the Straits of Gibraltar and attacked from the eastern coast. That latter might sound pretty implausible but actually at least one group did it, and they were there over the course of 858 to 861, so within our window between the two charters and in the time of Abbot Hilperic of Santa Maria. (But Santa Maria of where? Ssh, we’re coming to that.) Admittedly, they are said in the main and contemporary Frankish source, the Annals of Saint-Bertin, written at the time by a bishop of Peninsular origin, Prudentius of Troyes, only to have raided the south coast of what is now France, and almost all the Arabic sources that also cover this, themselves distressingly late, to have come there from the Balearic Islands, and gone on to Italy; if they’d hit actually-Iberian targets once through the Straits I might have expected one source at least to mention it.8 Or perhaps I should say two sources, because one, the Mamlūk encyclopaedist Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad bin ʿAbd al-Wahhāb al-Nuwayrī, supposedly records that the same Vikings went as far as Pamplona, in the heart of the Basque country, and captured and ransomed its ‘Frankish lord’, García, for 90,000 dinars. The Moroccan polymath Ibn Khaldūn, likewise apparently, later repeated this story and reduced the ransom to 70,000 dinars, but I don’t think this is any reason to suppose an independent tradition given how rotten Ibn Khaldūn’s attention to detail was. One scholar who made this detail available to Westerners quite early on, Jón Stefánsson, for some reason decided that the Viking force could only have done this from the Atlantic coast; but if we add this attack on a Pyrenean monastery (and Prudentius does say they attacked monasteries on their way to the Camargue, if not that they were not nearby) then these could be considered to confirm each other.9 It’s a bit odd that Prudentius didn’t record the rather embarrassing capture of the ruler of the ex-Frankish client principality of Pamplona, but that’s at best an argument from silence.10 At the very least, we can easily see why a younger Xavier Costa, faced with a report of a Viking sack of a Catalan monastery which would have to have happened between 844 and 867, chose the date 858-860 at which to place it.

Unfortunately, this turns out to be one of those structures which collapses when you put weight on it. Costa is not the first person to note this document, and I am not the first person to have doubts about it, as indeed his citation reflects.11 Here are some reasons to have doubts, then.

  1. The preservation context for this document is lousy. We have no medieval text of it at all. Its earliest text comes from a 1591 study by a guy called Miquel Llot of the cult of Saints Abdon and Sennen, two Persian Christians supposedly killed in Roman games in the third century. Their bodies are claimed to have wound up in all of Soissons, Florence, Rome and Murcia, but also Santa Maria d’Arles, and I assume that Llot was delighted to find some source that might explain how a saint of roughly the right name was found in this area completely unconnected to their passion narrative. Of course, it isn’t the right name, but that is arguably not the document’s fault, rather than Llot’s, who saw in it the story he wanted to tell rather than the one it did. However, all we know about the document is what he says, and apparently he says he found it nailed to a pillar in the Church when he visited Arles.12 It’s not all the detail we might wish, though I suppose we should be glad he gave us the text.
  2. Now, you might justly say, well, that’s all well and good: the letter would have gone to Charles the Bald but maybe come back with the charter he issued, then been preserved as the house’s own sort of account of its history. In any case the bit about the Vikings isn’t actually critical to the narrative of finding the relics, so while we might justly wonder how it was that fifteen saintly bodies, including one of a bishop of Poitiers otherwise widely considered to be buried, y’know, at Poitiers, at Saint-Hilaire indeed, were just lying around nearby and how much work this monastery was having to do to justify its relic collection, that doesn’t actually speak against the idea of a Viking attack. To which I say, sure, and thankyou, imaginary reader, for being such an erudite critic; but I’m not finished.

  3. There is no mention of such an attack in the most obvious place you would expect it, King Charles the Bald’s precept that is supposed to have been a response to this letter. Admittedly our text of this is not preserved quite as one would wish either; we first know of it from a fourteenth-century copy. But it’s pretty consistent with Charles’s other documents without plainly being a copy of any of them, so there’s some reason to believe in an actual document that people could still see in 1340, and while it does mention a mission from Abbot Hilperic and a plea of poverty, it mentions neither Vikings nor, more interestingly, any of these fifteen saints whose bodies had supposedly been found since Charles had last issued Arles a precept only as many years before.13 And again it’s an argument from silence but you’d think these events were remarkable enough to find some kind of mention; Charles being such a man as would join in a saint’s translation when he came across one even though it meant delaying fighting a civil war, I’d imagine him seeing the gain in associating himself quickly with this effective miracle.14 But he didn’t, which suggests to me that whatever Hilperic did tell him didn’t include this story.
  4. On the other hand, there is a very well-studied phenomenon of monasteries in the south of France going to later kings and saying that their current state of deprivation goes back to the time of Viking attacks, and invoking Carolingian grants made to fix that whose terms had not been respected, which they then entreated the current king to repair. This has been studied most of all by Amy Remensnyder, and Costa does cite this work, but he doesn’t seem to have let it make him suspicious.15 But that’s my secret power: I’m always suspicious.
Hulk Always Angry Secret Avengers GIF

And you may say, OK, Jonathan, but there’s also the Pamplona raid, so it seems to be corroborated that there was a Viking force in the area. Isn’t it easier to say that there was a known raid to which the monastery attached their story of relic-finding, for all the reasons Remensnyder points out and which indeed you have echoed in your dealings with accounts of the sack of Barcelona, that invoking this known context of shared affliction might make the people the writers were addressing more sympathetic?16 Maybe this just actually happened, the Viking bit anyway. But I’m still not finished.

The world-famous O RLY owl macro

Let’s take a quick look into that Pamplona raid first. Stefánsson, who reports it to us, did not read Arabic; his sources, in so far as he gives them, were secondary work and especially and foremost the multi-volume work of Reinhard Dozy, “the chief source of this paper, since the Dutch professor prints, the Arabic text and a translation in French of the Arabic records quoted”.17 And if you go to the French edition of Dozy, which is easy enough to do, the 858-861 raid is not there, at all, with or without the bit about Pamplona.18 So what had happened? Well, I draw the line at tracking down all of Stefánsson’s unreferenced secondary sources for an afternoon’s blog post—it’s evening already!—but I can offer a guess.19 Another Arabic source that described the episode is the Book of the Incredible Histories of the Kings of al-Andalus and the Maghrib by the Marrakesh historian Ibn Idharī. He doesn’t mention a Viking attack on Pamplona – but he does follow the account immediately with a Muslim raid on the area the next year, in which García’s son Fortún was captured and ransomed.20 It doesn’t give the ransom amount, so there is still some other source in the mix, which may even be al-Nuwayrī, at which I can’t get. But I bet that some combination of errors with these materials had combined the two stories in whatever Stefánsson was reading.

Church and defensive tower of Sainte-Marie d'Arles-sur-Tech

One of the forms of defence adopted by Sainte-Marie d’Arles in later centuries; as it turns out, we’re probably dealing with another one. Image by BaldiriTreball propi, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

So for these reasons I think it is unlikely that there actually was a Viking attack on Pamplona in 861 which only two fourteenth-century Arabic sources record for us. Without that, there is rather less reason to believe in an 858-860 sack of a monastery that goes unmentioned in the monastic community’s own next royal charter. But you can then reasonably ask, why was the story worth making up for someone at some point before 1561? And there Remensnyder, as I say, offers an answer, of a trial of faith by fire for which the monks were spiritually, but sadly not economically, rewarded (your majesty). And there’s also these fourteen saints they apparently had in their church, from some quite unlikely places, who needed some kind of back-story. But there might also be more, because of this problem of whether we’re talking about Santa Maria de Vallespir or Santa Maria d’Arles. Costa picks this problem up and notes that while most of the historiography treats these as the same place, actually they must have been some distance from each other.21 Our story, indeed, seems to show knowledge of this in its rather odd narrative order, in which the monastery is apparently destroyed before the monks find out about the raid and get killed. If we’re actually dealing with two sites of the same community, that problem can be made to go away.

12th-century copy of a precept of King Charles the Bald for Sant Medir

This isn’t the right charter, but it gives you some idea of what these things usually look like as we have them. It is a 12th-century copy of a precept of King Charles the Bald for Sant Medir, now in the Arxiu Comarcal de la Selva

However, it may also have been a problem for the community. The precept issued by Charlemagne, to which our story refers, is lost, but it is referred to (and known from) a subsequent one that our story here doesn’t mention of Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious, which he gave to the first abbot, Castellano, in 820, and which we have in 17th-century copies made for Étienne Baluze.22 This is how we know that Castellano was Abbot of a Santa Maria at Vallespir. So where did Arles get into this? Well, the church there, of Sant Pere, is one of the properties confirmed to Castellano by Louis’s precept, ecclesiam Sancti Petri in Arulas. However, Charles the Bald’s subsequent charter, of 844, is to Abbot Hilperic at Santa Maria of Arles, which he goes on to say that Castellano built in Vallespir; the church of Arles is no longer mentioned, though otherwise the same properties are mentioned, including a church of Sant Quintí which may explain why his relics were among those the monks later claimed to have.23 By the time of the 869 charter this was sorted out and Hilperic was Abbot of Arles, and the monastery he is said to rule wasn’t further located; but the natural way to read this would be that Hilperic, as Abbot of Arles, had jumped over the head of the abbot in Vallespir and claimed the whole community’s territories from the new, and very beleaguered, king. This might also explain why Charles is said, in our story, previously to have received the commendation of two other abbots in what, given he only succeeded in 840, must have been less than four years. That seems like a viciously rapid succession if only one house was involved; but if there was some dispute between two, we might see something like this repeated race north to the king to get approved, a race which Hilperic ultimately won by coming last. It also helps explain why Recimir, who succeeded his brother Requesèn as abbot, was apparently already an abbot, and maybe that in fact was the takeover. But after that, an abbot of Arles might need some kind of account that explained why he now claimed all these lands which his own royal precepts apparently awarded to Vallespir. What might a good explanation be? Maybe Vikings destroyed the other monastery! And then whatever sins any of either congregation might have committed you can tell were repented away, because then all these relics became apparent to us! And maybe this is the story we have.

This is not a finished suggestion, of course. I’m not sure when I think this story would date from, but it seems that it would have to be pretty close to the events, given that it seems to be reflected in royal charters almost straight away. But I could alternatively suggest that it was only once the local history of the house was no longer remembered that the transition from Vallespir to Arles needed explaining. Likewise, Occam’s Razor might suggest, with some kind of disaster apparently afflicting a monastery not that many miles away from a known site of Viking raiding, that that disaster being a Viking raid is actually the simplest answer. Of course, that reasoning might also have occurred to someone later. Either way, I don’t think Costa was wrong to pass over this in fairly simple fashion, especially given the available space he had to cover this unique occurrence that didn’t much contribute to his overall arguments. But isn’t it fun to see what you find when you turn over these stones?

1. Xavier Costa Badia, “Paisatges monàstics: El monacat alt-medieval als comtats catalans (segles IX-X)” (unpublished doctoral thesis, Universitat de Barcelona, 2019).

2. Pere Ponsich (ed.), Catalunya carolíngia volum VI: Els comtats de Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir i Fenollet, Memòries de la Secció Històrica-Arqueològica, 70, 2 vols (Barcelona 2006), doc. no. 61, discussed by Costa, ‘Paisatges monàstics’, pp. 249-251.

3. Ponsich, Catalunya carolíngia VI, doc. no. 61:

“… Quia veniens vir Dei fidelis ex pertibus Hispaniae, nomine Castellanus, abbas, qui ingressus per angustam semitam, invenit in eremo mirabilia balnea, ubi aedficiavit sancta coenobia, in quo vocavit atque advertit multorum monachorum collegia Regi superno famulantia; qui sub auctoritate avi vestri gloriosi Caroli, eius preceptum in eodem monasterio concessit. Defuncto eo, successor eius adfuit Ressendus abbas, qui et in manibus vestri se glorianter tradidit. Migrante illo a saeculo, successit quidam vir venerabilis Recimirus, frater eius, abbas, qui et ipse similiter in gloriosis manibus se hactenus commendavit. Illo vivente, data est nobis, crassante diabolo, multitudo persequentium Normanorum, qui et tridium ibi manentes, et idem coenobium destruentes, et subito super nos irruentes, nihil nobis percipientibus, occiderunt aliquos de nostris. Haec nobis considerantibus, eo quod pro supereminenti omni nostro delicto et abundanti peccato evenissent, collecti in uno concilio, conversi sumus ad Dominum. Ieiunia nobis celebrantibus et vigilias facientibus, atque Christo Domino deprecantibus, revelatum est ab eodem Domino uni de fratribus nostris, eo quod ibi corpora sanctorum requiescerent, qui et vocantur beatus Quintinus martyr, Hilarius episcopus, Tiburtius levita. Eorum adventum gratulanter expectantibus, subito obiit abbas noster. Illo migrante, successit is qui et modo secundum regulam patris nostri Benedicti nos regere videtur, qui et modo consistit….”

4. This document, which does not survive, is indexed and discussed as Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, Catalunya carolíngia II: els preceptes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològico 2 & 3, 2 vols (Barcelona 1926-1955, repr. in facsimile 2007), Arles I.

5. This one we have, and it is printed as Abadal, Catalunya carolíngia II, Arles III.

6. This one, however, does not survive, and neither does Charles the Bald mention it in his subsequent document (see n. 7 below).

7. Abadal, Catalunya carolíngia II, Arles IV.

8. The relevant sources are probably all collected in Ann Christys, Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean, Studies in Early Medieval History (London 2015), but I haven’t access to it to check; it may well be that everything I say here is pre-empted there. Without it, I’m using Jón Stefánsson, “The Vikings in Spain, from Arabic (Moorish) and Spanish Sources” in Saga Book of the Viking Club Vol. 6 (London 1908-1909), online here, pp. 31–46, where pp. 40-42 cover this voyage. Of course, his references can mostly be updated a bit, and in any case he doesn’t consider the Frankish sources, so you also need to know about Janet L. Nelson (transl.), The Annals of Saint-Bertin, Ninth-Century Sources 1 (Manchester 1991), and Janet L. Nelson, “The Annals of St. Bertin” in Margaret T. Gibson and Janet L. Nelson (edd.), Charles the Bald: Court and Kingdom. Papers based on a Colloquium held in London in April 1979, British Archaeological Reports (International Series) 101 (Oxford 1981), pp. 15–36, reprinted in Janet L. Nelson, Politics and Ritual in Early Medieval Europe, History 42 (London 1986), pp. 173–194, and in Margaret T. Gibson and Janet L. Nelson (eds), Charles the Bald: court and kingdom, 2nd edn. (Aldershot 1990), pp. 23–40, on the author(s).

9. Stefánsson, “The Vikings in Spain”, p. 41, where also n. 1: “They could only get to Pampelona from the Bay of Biscay.”

10. Pamplona’s rulers had submitted to the Carolingians somewhere around the 790s, but were independent again by 820, and before long clients of the Emirs of Córdoba instead, at least as far as Córdoba were concerned; see Juan José Larrea and Jesús Lorenzo, “Barbarians of Dâr al-Islâm: The Upper March of al-Andalus and the Pyrenees in the Eighth and Ninth Centuries” in Guido Vannini and Michele Nucciotti (edd.), La Transgiordania nei secoli XII-XIII e le ‘frontiere’ del Mediterraneo medievale. Trans-Jordan in the 12th and 13th Centuries and the ‘Frontiers’ of the Medieval Mediterranean, British Archaeological Reports (International Series) 2386 (Oxford 2012), pp. 277–288.

11. Costa, “Paisatges monàstics”, p. 250 and n. 602, citing Aymat Catafau, “À propos des origines de l’abbaye Sainte-Marie d’Arles-sur-Tech”, Bulletin de l’Association Archéologique des Pyrénées Orientales Vol. 15 (Perpignan 2000), pp. 76-81, Catafau, “Cuixà, Arles de Tec i Sant Martí del Canigó: el paper de l’aristocràcia nordcatalana en les fundaciones monàstiques del segle VIII al segle XI” in Lluís To & Jordi Galofré (edd.), Monestirs i territori: 1200 anniversari de la fundació de Sant Esteve de Banyoles (Banyoles 2013), pp. 79-88, and Amy G. Remensnyder, Remembering Kings Past: monastic foundation legends in medieval southern France (Ithaca NY 1995), pp. 42-84. I haven’t read either of the Catafau pieces, though I’m very honoured to be following in his sceptical footsteps if I am; to Remensnyder, meanwhile, we will come shortly.

12. Ponsich, Catalunya carolíngia VI, vol. I, p. 123, including reference to the four times it’s previously been edited.

13. See n. 7 above.

14. This story is from Nithard’s Histories, III.2, accessible as Bernard Scholz with Barbara Rogers (transl.), Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories (Ann Arbor MI 1970), pp. 129–174 and 199–211, online here, where see pp. 157-158.

15. See n. 11 above.

16. Remensnyder, Remembering Kings Past, more or less passim; Jonathan Jarrett, “A Likely Story: Purpose in Narratives from Charters of the Early Medieval Pyrenees” in †Simon Barton and Robert Portass (edd.), Beyond the Reconquista: New Directions in the History of Medieval Iberia (711–1085). In Honour of Simon Barton (Leiden 2020), pp. 123–142 at pp. 127-128.

17. Stefánsson, “The Vikings in Spain”, p. 46.

18. Reinhard Dozy, Histoire des Musulmans d’Espagne jusqu’à la conquête de l’Andalousie par les Almoravides (711-1110), 4 vols (Leyde 1861); vol. II (online here). Admittedly, Stefánsson specifies the 3rd edn., which I can’t immediately access.

19. Stefánsson, “The Vikings in Spain”, p. 46, adds to his mention of Dozy the following: “Werlauff, Mooyer, Professor Steenstrup and Fabricius have written on this subject. The two last-named have used Dozy’s work and some of the Spanish Chronicles.” Working these out looked like more work than I wanted to do today, sorry.

20. I access this through Aben-Adharí de Marruecos, Historias de Al-Ándalus, transl. Francisco Fernández González (Granada 1860), online here, repr. as Ibn Idari, Historias de Al-Ándalus, transl. Francisco Fernández González (n. p. n d.), where see pp. 88-89.

21. Costa, “Paisatges monàstics”, p. 249 n. 599.

22. Abadal, Catalunya carolíngia II, Arles II.

23. See n. 6 above.

Name in Print XXIX: at long last Casserres

Last post I promised news as well as olds, and here is the first of them. (I’m not saying they’re all publications – but they might be!) You would have to have a really long memory of this blog to remember the beginning of this story, but the goods news (in a way) is that I’ve blogged pretty much every dogged step of the way except the very first one, which took place in 2004, ante bloggum and therefore time immemorial. In summary, with links, the story goes like this:

  1. Your humble author, having had his first ever article accepted very easily, sent another one out hoping for the same, and got a pretty thorough revise-and-resubmit, which, being a student still, he took badly and sat upon for years. The bit that stung particularly was reviewer #1 saying, more or less, “it’s not clear that this author has ever seen any of the original documents”, and this stung because, although I still don’t think it made any difference to the argument, it was true. I therefore fomented a plan to publish something using unpublished material – if only I could find some…
  2. A little later, in 2006, I no longer know how, I discovered that the charters of Sant Pere de Casserres were in fact such an unpublished cache, and my target was set. In 2008 I finally got to see them, and discovered that the sequence of originals only starts in 1006, but also that the earliest ones in that sequence have some decided peculiarities, and that therefore there was a paper here.
  3. I started work on that paper, but it became more complicated when the inestimable Catalunya Romànica explained to me that there also survives an altar slab from the monastery church, which is covered in scratched-on names, which the relevant authors thought were of my period.1 This opened up the possibility of matching the names on the slab, such as they were recorded, to the ones in the charters, which as I thought, only I knew. And I wrote that all up and presented it at the International Medieval Congress in 2009, and decided that I had to go and see the place.
  4. But at this point, the first two complications arose. Firstly, in that 2008 trip to Catalonia I had got my own copies of the volumes of the Catalunya Carolíngia volumes for Osona and Manresa, and by now I was slowly working through them.2 And this exposed to me that, while the original documents for Sant Pere de Casserres did indeed only start in 1006, in the 1980s an 18th-century manuscript containing abstracts of earlier documents from the archive had been found in a Tarragona bookshop, and was now available for consultation in Vic. Lots of the documents were in the Catalunya Carolíngia, but obviously I couldn’t know how many were not without going to see. So I started planning that.
  5. Before I could, though, a second complication solved the first, which was that Irene Llop Jordana published an edition of the Casserres charters, and because it was free to the web I found it.3 In one sense this was great, as it included the 18th-century abstracts and the original material so obviated the immediate need for a trip to Vic; but in another it was very annoying, as firstly I quite like trips to Vic, and secondly and more importantly the whole point of the project, to use unpublished documents, was now removed. As it happened, Dr Llop had not spotted the problems I had with the 1006 charters and did not consider the altar slab, so I still had a paper; but it made it all seem a bit less important.
  6. Nonetheless, by 2011 I was working through Llop’s edition and discovered what was new, and a bit more about the parchments I hadn’t seen because of deciding they were too late. I also made an attempt to see the altar slab, and that was in one way fairly easy as it was and is on display in the Museu Episcopal de Vic, as it then was; but in another way not so much, as gallery lighting isn’t great for epigraphy and they wouldn’t let me see it out of visiting hours.4 They did send me a reference image, which helped a bit, but in the end I got more out of it just by crawling round the thing with a camera hoping a security guard wouldn’t come past, which indeed they did not. Still, not my most fun research moment.
  7. The altar stone of Sant Pere de Casserres, set up in front of a reconstruction of the apse of Sant Martí del Brull, with its original fresco artwork, in the Museu Episcopal de Vic

    The altar stone of Sant Pere de Casserres, set up in front of a reconstruction of the apse of Sant Martí del Brull, with its original fresco artwork, in the Museu Episcopal de Vic, also visible here, but this photo by your author

  8. However, on the same trip I did get to the actual site, by a series of odd outcomes, which helped a lot with understanding the difference between the castle which the documents mention and the church.
  9. Sant Pere de Casserres viewed from the vistor centre

    Sant Pere de Casserres viewed from the vistor centre, photograph also by me

  10. But, almost as soon as I thought I had things under control, a third dose of unexpected evidence arrived – or rather, didn’t. Instead, someone at the 2011 IMC told me it existed and then wouldn’t tell me where. He had his reasons, but it was not what I wanted at that stage. Now, after a bit of work I knew that I could get at the missing evidence in Toledo, which also sounded like a trip worth making, but for various reasons, not least language, it was difficult, and there were easier things to do.
  11. So there things rested for a short while. I gave versions of the paper in Australia and in Exeter, but there was only so far it could go till I untied the knot around the extra charters.
  12. Finally, in 2017, the missing evidence was actually published, again free to the open web, and I therefore fell upon it, only a few months later, and it turned out I hadn’t really needed it, at least for this project. And that’s where we run out of previous blog.
  13. But it was now possible to finish the dratted thing, and in April 2018 I did so. Then, having had a long time to think about it before this point, I got in touch with the editor of Studia Monastica. He was agreeable to seeing the paper, and it turned out, once he’d seen it, agreeable to publishing it. A pause then ensued, for reasons I don’t need to go into, and in February 2020 it was officially accepted. I persuaded the editor without difficulty to delay its publication till after the REF census, for which I was more than fully equipped already, and it thus came out in March 2022. But physical evidence of this only reached me about three weeks ago. And here it is…

Offprint of Jonathan Jarrett, "On Stone and Skin: Inscription of Communities at the Foundation of Sant Pere de Casserres" in Studia Monastica Vol. 63 (2021), pp. 269–302

Offprint of Jonathan Jarrett, "On Stone and Skin: Inscription of Communities at the Foundation of Sant Pere de Casserres" in Studia Monastica Vol. 63 (Barcelona 2021), pp. 269–302

Actual paper offprints! It’s always nice to see somewhere still doing them. Anyone want one? I have lots. I suppose it might help you to make up your mind to have the abstract:

The history of the Benedictine monastery of Sant Pere de Casserres, in modern-day Catalonia, is relatively well-studied, but includes an acceptance that it became a monastery in around 1005 by the agency of Viscountess Ermetruit of Osona. Before that, however, the site had been home to a church, whose congregation and priests are partly recorded in inscriptions preserved on an ancient altar-slab from the site. A critical re-examination of the monastery’s supposed foundational documents, and their comparison with the slab and other surviving charters from the church’s and monastery’s archive, establishes that the conversion from church to monastery was neither quick nor simple, and probably contested by the church’s old congregation. This article performs that re-examination and suggests what the power dynamics and solidarities in the area may have been that could explain the record as we now have it. In so doing, as well as questioning both Ermetruit’s role in and the traditional 1005 date for the monastic conversion of the site, it suggests that recognition by the would-be founders of the congregation’s investment in their traditional place of worship was crucial to the eventual success of the foundation, a situation perhaps repeated in other times and places.

I’m really quite pleased about this one. It’s my first dalliance with epigraphy, it is the second of what is probably three studies I will eventually have about ways to start a monastery which don’t conform to the normal standard picture, it is clever in places, it has identified me as a scholar to the Montserrat community (which has great potential application), and most of all, as you can see from the above, it was a right pain to do and I did nonetheless do it. Admittedly it damps the old publication statistics a bit, as even if I hadn’t delayed it it would have been two years five months between submission and publication; but since actually the timings work fine for me, I don’t care. I’ve been working on this for years and now it exists.5

Opening page of Offprint of Jonathan Jarrett, "On Stone and Skin: Inscription of Communities at the Foundation of Sant Pere de Casserres" in Studia Monastica Vol. 63 (2021), pp. 269–302

Opening page

For that it exists, by the way, I owe thanks to quite a few people, but especially and more or less in order, the staff of the Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona’s Biblioteca de Reserva, my family in Palautordera who put me up while I did the work in that library, the Arxiu Comarcal d’Osona even though in the end I didn’t visit them, Dr Mark Handley for advice on and references to scratched-up altar slabs, the Museu Episcopal de Vic’s documentation centre, Dr Kathleen Neal and Steven Joyce for comments and encouragement during the low period, Dr Rebecca Darley for making a late draft make the kind of sense that I could submit, and, in the end, Dr Francesc Rodríguez Bernal for providing the last of the evidence. All of you have prevented this being a worse article than it is. Obviously, as it is conventional to say, the faults that remain are my own fault; but this one has needed more help than most and it’s nice to be able to close the story with that acknowledgement.

Signature page of Jonathan Jarrett, "On Stone and Skin: Inscription of Communities at the Foundation of Sant Pere de Casserres" in Studia Monastica Vol. 63 (2021), pp. 269–302

Signature page and acknowledgements

1. Antoni Pladevall Font, Joan-Albert Adell i Gisbert, Xavier Barral i Altet, Enric Bracons i Clapes, Marina Gustà i Martorell, Montserrat Hoja Cejudo, María Gràcia Salvà Picó, Albert Roig i Delofeu, Eduard Carbonell i Esteller, Jordi Vigué i Viñas and Roser Rosell i Gibert, “Sant Pere de Casseres”, in Jordi Vigué (ed.), Catalunya Romànica II: Osona I (Barcelona 1984), pp. 354-391, pp. 382-384 by Bracons, Gustà, Hoja and Gràcia, specifically at p. 384.

2. These being, of course, as what blog post of mine would be complete without a citation of them, Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols.

3. Irene Llop Jordana (ed.), Col·lecció diplomàtica de Sant Pere de Casserres, Diplomataris 44-45 (Barcelona 2009), 2 vols.

4. This is ironic, because I was by now already citing an article about the slab whose author also complained that the Museu wouldn’t let him see it; see Pere de Palol, “Las mesas de altar paleocristiana en la Tarraconense” in Ampurias Vol. 20-21 (Barcelona 1958), pp. 81-102 at p. 87.

5. Jonathan Jarrett, “On Stone and Skin: Inscription of Communities at the Foundation of Sant Pere de Casserres” in Studia Monastica Vol. 63 (Barcelona 2021), pp. 269–302.


A Further Bit of Istanbul

This gallery contains 12 photos.

I have to apologise for an unannounced three-week hiatus here. The simple explanation is that teaching restarted, I’m afraid, but there were also a couple of very full weekends, one of which did itself generate some medievalist photography which some … Continue reading


Flying Visit to Montserrat II: the place itself

This gallery contains 16 photos.

As you may recall from the last post, in late April 2018 I was very briefly at the Catalan mountain shrine site of Montserrat, which is one of the places I wish everyone could see at least once; I think … Continue reading


Flying Visit to Montserrat I: Santa Cecília

This gallery contains 21 photos.

There was a time, just a few years ago, when one could, if one wanted, hop on an aeroplane from the north of England to Barcelona at only a few days’ notice for somewhat less money than it cost to … Continue reading

The Three Orders’ Houses: a model on the ground

Somehow I was out doing things yesterday and forgot to write a blog post, sorry, but for once I do have time in the week, so I will make it up now.

The yard at Embsay station on 27th June 2021

What your blogger was looking at yesterday instead of his computer

Here is something about as delayed as even my various crazy backlogs can make something. This was prompted by reading something in the British Library in 2012, back when we could do that thing, and in my notes on it I even then made a note to blog about it; but I didn’t in the end process those notes until late 2017. At that point I laid down a stub to complete later, and now, four years on, here we go. All of this is ironic, because in 2012 I was for once reading something pretty new from Catalonia, an intriguing piece of settlement archaeology discussion by the medieval archaeologist to whom perhaps I owe the most favours in the world, Professora Imma Ollich i Castanyer, about the Catalan monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes.1

Monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes

Sant Pere de Rodes from its most impressive side, which is to say, the one that’s mostly there; image by Pixel – own work, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Now, that is an inaccurate over-simplification that I should immediately correct. The article, like much of Professor Ollich’s work, is mostly about my favourite study area, the comarc of Osona, and it is a fairly major argument with a basic paradigm of the social history of the tenth and eleventh centuries. This holds that, however you like to explain it, rural settlement in Catalonia was mostly dispersed and only loosely territorialised in the tenth century but by the end of the eleventh had nucleated into reasonably-defined villages. The favourite explanation hitherto has been feudalism, of course, working either through violence compelling people to group together for safety or through aggressive lordship pressing people together to intensify their farming, around either churches or castles depending on the agency, and no, neither of those are completely logical chains of events as I’ve laid them out but for some people they make sense, even now the proponents of those ideas are dead.2 This process is usually referred to as incastellamento, as coined by Pierre Toubert who first observed it in Lazio, is not yet dead and has in recent years suggested that he was probably partly wrong, or encellulement, as coined by Robert Fossier so as to get away from a dependence on castles, and it has been very widely played with, debated, contested and challenged, at least outside Catalonia.3

But this is the scenario on which Professor Ollich’s observations land like a series of well-mannered munitions. She argues that, once you have a decent picture of this area’s, and therefore quite possibly any nearby area’s, settlement patterns, it’s way more diverse than just dispersed or nucleated. She winds up developing a typology that has seven categories, including settlements around churches, settlements around castles, settlements with both (like Tona, where I have of course been and been photographed) and settlements around neither, the first three of which can be split into ones where the settlement predated the supposed focal point or points and ones where it didn’t. Only two or three of these seven types conform to the dominant paradigm, so even if it turns out still to have been numerically dominant, which Professor Ollich doesn’t think it was in Osona, that paradigm at least needs to give up some room to alternatives. It’s one of those arguments that makes such clear sense that once you’ve read it it’s hard to go back, and is a welcome attempt to provide something in place of the theory one’s out to demolish.

Sant Andreu de Tona and the Castell de Tona

Sant Andreu de Tona and the Castell de Tona, as made a tiny bit more famous by my book

But, despite its importance, that isn’t the thing that I thought, nine years ago, I should blog about. That was Professor Ollich’s final example, which is, as promised, Sant Pere de Rodes, out in coastal Empúries way to the north-east. She picks on Sant Pere because it gives her several of her types of settlement in close proximity and shows how an obvious focal point doesn’t necessarily do what the paradigm expects to settlement development. The monastery was first here, and its tangled history is more than we can go into here; suffice to say that there is an argument about whether, as its documents claim, it was founded in a wasteland location or if it was deliberately sited on Roman remains instead, and of course it could probably be both and curious treasures have allegedly been found there that might provide more esoteric explanations and we could go on. But right now I shan’t; you just need to know that in the ninth century someone started a monastery there, in the tenth century some of the local counts decided to make it their pet monastery and by the eleventh century it was, as they say ‘kind of a big deal’.4 But it didn’t ever pull a village round itself. Instead, a village that was almost certainly related grew up somewhere quite close by, at Santa Creu. It was then fortified in the eleventh century, so looks like an independent effort, but its major market and lord must still have been the monastery. Furthermore, there was also a local castle, eventually, at Verders, and that had its own church so could in theory also have gone it alone. But because they were all here they perhaps prevented each other from becoming the major force in the locality. The Google Map below sows them in relation to each other. In the end, the monastery, the oldest, was also the longest lasting, but then it was also way rich, at least for a while, so perhaps that isn’t surprising.

Now, apart from the neat demonstration that the basic model just isn’t complex enough to handle the actual variation of human activity, and the encouraging thought that nonetheless we might still be able to build an adequate one (this is a big mantra of mine these days), the obvious thing that struck me here is that it’s a settlement archaeology demonstration of that old eleventh-century trope about medieval society being divided into three orders, those who fight, those who work and those who pray. Because, look, here’s where they all lived: a castle, a village and a monastery! It should have been the perfect arrangement, at least for someone like Adalbero of Laon. As it is, I imagine they actually disputed with each other like cats and dogs, and that our records would (if Sant Pere’s charters hadn’t mostly been lost) show that the Church mostly won even if it actually didn’t, but the point is, here they all are, almost as if it was real. That is very definitely not the theory Professor Ollich set out to address, and I don’t mean to make any claim that my observation actually, you know, means anything, but once I’d thought it I had to say it, even if I do so nine years (and one day) late…

1. Imma Ollich i Castanyer, “Arqueologia de la Catalunya feudal i prefeudal: Poblament i territori. El model teòric de la Comarca d’Osona” in Jordi Bolòs (ed.), La caracterització del paisatge històric, Territori i societat: el paisatge històric. Història, arqueologia, documentació 5 (Lleida 2010), pp. 399–465.

2. The most obvious progenitors of this idea locally would be Manuel Riu, “Hipòtesi entorn dels orígens del feudalisme a Catalunya” in Quaderns d’Estudis Medievals Vol. 2 (Barcelona 1981), pp. 195–208, and, of course, Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : Croissance et mutations d’une société, Publications de l’Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail, Sèrie A, 23 & 29 (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols. A fairly recent acceptance of it can be found in Juan Antonio Quirós Castillo, “Early and High Medieval ‘Incastellamento’ in Northern Iberia: Fortified Settlements in the Basque Country and Upper Ebro Valley (9th–12th Centuries)” in Neil Christie and Hajnalka Herold (edd.), Fortified Settlements in Early Medieval Europe: defended communities of the 8th-10th centuries (Oxford 2016), pp. 192–204.

3. Some later takes on the idea, led indeed by Toubert, in Miguel Barceló and Pierre Toubert (edd.), L’incastellamento: actes des recontres de Gérone (26-27 novembre 1992) et de Rome (5-7 mai 1994), Collection de l’École française de Rome 241 (Rome 1998); Toubert’s most recent re-evaluation in “L’incastellamento: Problèmes de définition et d’actualisation du concept” in Sandra Pujadas i Mitjà (ed.), Actes del Congrés Els Castells Medievals a la Mediterrània Nord-Occidental celebrat a Arbúcies, els dies 5, 6, i 7 de març de 2003 (La Gabella 2003), pp. 21–35. For Fossier still doing his thing, see Robert Fossier, “The Rural Economy and Demographic Growth” in David Luscombe and Jonathan Riley-Smith (edd.), The New Cambridge Medieval History, volume IV, c. 1024–c. 1198 (Cambridge 2004), 2 vols, I, pp. 11–46. More recent demolition efforts in †Riccardo Francovich, “The Beginnings of Hilltop Villages in Early Medieval Tuscany” in Jennifer R. Davis and Michael McCormick (edd.), The long morning of medieval Europe: new directions in early medieval studies (Aldershot 2008), pp. 55–82.

4. For the monastery’s early history, at least, see Montserrat Mataró i Pladelasala and Eduard Riu-Barrera, “Sant Pere de Rodes: un monasterio condal en la periferia del extinguido imperio carolingia (siglos X y XI)” 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. 236–242, transl. as “Sant Pere de Rodes: a large monastery under the countship on the edge of the Carolingian empire (10th – 11th centuries)”, ibid., pp. 536-539.

Historians to remember

It is a distressing habit that seems to be developing on this blog where it is deaths that bring me out of a hiatus. Of course, there would be no such habit if there were no hiatuses, but the times are not good for that. Maybe that will get more explanation next post, whenever I can do that, but in the meantime, I shouldn’t go the whole holiday and post nothing, even if what must be posted is kind of awful. It is also delayed: this has been on my deck since February, when news of one significant death reached me and the person who’d told me then let me know about the five other major medievalists the reaper had claimed the previous month, and there were such among them that I knew I would have to write something next post instead of whatever I had planned. And finally, here we are.

My rules for giving someone an obituary on this blog are not very worked out. In general it is because, whether I knew them or not, their work has touched mine somehow or been the foundation of something I’ve done. In this, I persist in the blog’s basically self-serving purpose that it’s all about me somehow, I suppose, but to be fair, if I reported on deaths even of people I didn’t have much connection with, firstly it’d become a pretty grim blog and secondly I’d hardly be able to say much of use about them. Thus it is that I will not be saying more here about the late Jean-Marie Martin, leading expert on the society of the Italian area of Apulia on its journey from Byzantine through Lombard, Arab and Norman rules, or Jean Richard, eminent historian of the Crusades, than those notices, except to observe that apparently Richard, whose work I’ve put on many a reading list without myself giving it the attention it surely deserved, was only two weeks short of his hundredth birthday, and to provide links under their names to places where you can read more.1

Giles Constable, photographed by Randall Hagadorn

Giles Constable, photographed by Randall Hagadorn for Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Study

Then come two about whom I have more to say, but still did not know. Firstly, Giles Constable, 91 at his death, and by that stage he had been Professor of Medieval History at Harvard and Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Study, serving between times as Director of the Dumbarton Oaks Library and Research Collection in Washington DC, despite having been born in London. His was so productive a career it would hard to sum it up, and sufficiently long that I currently work with a doctoral grand-pupil of his. Wikipedia currently singles out his work on the key Benedictine reform abbey of Cluny, which I wrote about here long ago, on its abbot Peter the Venerable, a major figure in European theology and religious and intellectual life, and on twelfth-century thought in general, and certainly when making reading lists on Cluny or the twelfth-century Renaissance, I have always made sure as recent a dose of Constable as I could find was in there. That’s mostly because of reading bits of his work as an undergraduate myself, and finding that it carefully and clearly opened window after window on my understanding of the world he described.2 But what I still mainly cite him for is a short and brilliant article that did a similar thing for my understanding of the motivation of medieval monastic forgers, and sometimes for his work on monasteries’ claims to Church tithes, both of which are in that category of things which people still cite from decades ago because no-one has written a better thing on the subject.3 He seems to still have been working up to about 2016, at which point he’d have been 85 or so; may we all hope for so much…

Ronnie Ellenblum

Ronnie Ellenblum, from his Academia.edu page, which of course, does not record his death

Not active for as long, because only 68 when struck by a fatal heart attack, was Professor Ronnie Ellenblum. A more controversial figure, whom again I never met, every one of Ellenblum’s books seemed to upset a consensus, on how involved Frankish settlers were in the landscapes of the Holy Land where the Crusades brought some of them, on how much those Crusaders were willing to learn from their Muslim opponents in terms of fortifications and strategy (rather than the other way round), and more recently and noticeably, on the power of climate change to tip societies’ survivability over the edge.4 All of this, as you can probably tell, was born out of a deep acquaintance and close contact with the land in his native Israel. He also taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which by itself put him beyond some people’s pales. I did not know about that issue when, as was recorded here, I read a short piece of his that was effectively the entire impetus of my Rethinking the Medieval Frontier project, but that was, in a more direct way than usual, his fault; from my wrangling with that book chapter came all the conversations that brought the agenda for that project into being.5 If I had ever met him, I’d have thanked him for that, as well as being embarrassed about how little the project yet had to show for itself; now I will never be able to.

Cyril Mango at the American School at Athens

Cyril Mango at the American School at Athens

Then we reach the ones I did in fact know, at least a bit. The death whose news sparked off the exchange I reported above was that of the one I knew less well, Professor Cyril Mango. I met him twice, I think, at the Medieval History Seminar at All Soul’s College Oxford both times, and when I say met, I mean sat at a table while he talked, or while his wife Marlia Mundell Mango talked for him because, even then, he was very ill. Farflung Byzantinist colleagues would ask me if Cyril Mango was still alive when they were in contact with me for completely other reasons, so widely known was this, but the news was important because he truly was a ‘giant in the field‘, who had been responsible perhaps more than any other single scholar—and there really weren’t many in this competition when he began—for bringing the history and culture of the Byzantine Empire into a wider Anglophone awareness. This was not because he was a populariser, though I don’t think he had any shame about writing for a public, but because despite being extremely learned in his subject matter he remained able to communicate it to outsiders whilst still being recognised by insiders. The result was that, if someone in the UK owned one book not by John Julius Norwich about Byzantium, Mango was probably either the author or a contributor, but also that if one went on to study Byzantium, he was in all the experts’ references too.6 The field has been oddly quiet about his departure from it, perhaps because it had been expected for so long, and I’m sure there are people from his 92-year-long life who could give him a better write-up than I can—indeed, several already have—but for now I hope this does him at least some justice.

[The only pictures of Professor Michael Clanchy I can find which show him as I remember him are attached to things written by his daughter about his death, which was apparently preceded very narrowly by his wife’s, and they’re painful reading and I would feel bad stealing the pictures. The obituaries linked below have pictures of him in happier times.]

And then lastly, and for me saddest because I knew him best, there was Michael Clanchy. Since he worked mostly in the same kind of fields as Giles Constable, and especially on the intellectual ferment around the creation of the first university in Paris and one of that ferment’s principal products, the philosopher, theologian and leading candidate for history’s worst boyfriend Peter Abelard, you might wonder why I knew Michael Clanchy at all, and then be surprised at how many papers of his, including one (before the blog) which was both his inaugural and retirement lecture, I’d been to. But, investigating, you would quickly then discover that that lecture was given at the Institute of Historical Research in London, one of my academic homes, and although he really only tuned in the eleventh century in terms of his own work, he was a regular at the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar, because he found everything interesting as far as I can see. Consequently, because kindness returns kindness, people used to go to his stuff as well, but this was also because he made it all so interesting. His biography of Abelard may still be the only work that manages to make the man interesting personally as well as significant intellectually, as well as at least halfway comprehensible to the non-expert, not least because as its title suggests it is about far more than just Abelard.7 But as far as I know, excellent though that book is, especially if accompanied by his revision of the Penguin translation of Abelard’s and Héloïse’s letters, it only had the one edition, unlike the one that most people had heard of Michael Clanchy for, From Memory to Written Record, which argued for a fundamental shift in the way people used and stored information over the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and in which by the third edition, under pressure from those who knew England before the Conquest better than after (and better than he did), he was beginning to extend that thinking backwards into a new way of thinking about how writing was being used then that I’m not sure anyone has really picked up.8 And there’s an article of Michael’s from 1970, even, that still gets cited, another of those things that are just too good to replace.9 But it is his kindness for which he might deserve to be remembered best. I don’t know how many conversations I had with him in the IHR tea-room in which he not just professed but maintained an interest in what I did, even once or twice asking very junior me for advice on early medieval archives, none of which, since he could never teach me and our periods barely even met at the edges, he needed to do. I will of course remember him for his work, but I will also remember those conversations and be thankful for him. I can picture him trying bashfully to shrug off the praise, and of course, again, I shan’t ever get to deliver it, but also again, I hope this is something.

I need to rethink what I am doing with this blog, again, since the backlog and the available time obviously don’t work together. I will try and do some of that rethinking for the next post, but even if that doesn’t sound thrilling, at least it more or less must be more cheerful than this one. Thanks for still reading and I hope to write more soon.

1. For Martin, the work for which he was famous beyond Apulia was probably his first book, which made that area well-known to a wider audience, J.-M. Martin, La Pouille du VIe au XIIe siècle, Collection de l’École française de Rome 179 (Rome 1993), but I confess, it is one of those I know I ought to have read, and actually what I know him for most is his contribution to Pierre Bonnassie’s Festschrift, “Quelques réflexions sur l’évolution des droits banaux en Italie méridionale (XIe-XIIIe siècle)” in Hélène Débax (ed.), Les sociétés méridionales à l’âge féodal (l’Espagne, Italie et sud de France Xe-XIIIe s.). Hommage à Pierre Bonnassie, Méridiennes 8 (Toulouse 1999), pp. 339–344. Richard is easily most famous for The Crusades, c. 1071–c. 1291, transl. Jean Birrell (Cambridge 1999), one of the only textbook histories of the Crusades that gets beyond the Fourth one.

2. Embarrassingly, I now can’t work out what work it was that I was then reading; I apparently didn’t make notes on it, and several of the obvious things came out too late. It could, just about, have been, G. Constable, Three Studies in Medieval Religious and Social Thought: The Interpretation of Mary and Martha; The Ideal of the Imitation of Christ; The Orders of Society (Cambridge 1995), then very new, and may more likely have been idem, “Renewal and Reform in Religious Life: Concepts and Realities” in Robert L. Benson (ed.), Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century(Cambridge MA 1982), pp. 37–67, but one could also mention Constable, The Reformation of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge 1996) or idem, The Abbey of Cluny: A Collection of Essays to Mark the Eleventh-Hundredth Anniversary of its Foundation, Abhandlungen Vita Regularis: Ordnungen und Deutungen religiosen Lebens im Mittelalter, 43 (Münster 2010), as only two. For me especially, there’s also the quite out-of-area Constable, “Frontiers in the Middle Ages” in O. Merisalo (ed.), Frontiers in the Middle Ages, Textes et études du Moyen Âge 35 (Turnhout 2006), pp. 3–28.

3. Constable, “Forgery and Plagiarism in the Middle Ages” in Archiv für Diplomatik Vol. 39 (München 1983), pp. 1–41; idem, Monastic Tithes from their Origins to the Twelfth Century, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 2nd Series 10 (Cambridge 1964).

4. Respectively, Ellenblum, Frankish Rural Settlement in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Cambridge 2003); idem, Crusader Castles and Modern Histories (Cambridge 2007) and idem, The Collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean: Climate Change and the Decline of the East, 950–1072 (Cambridge 2012).

5. Ronnie Ellenblum, “Were there Borders and Borderlines in the Middle Ages? The Example of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem” in David Abulafia and Nora Berend (edd.), Medieval Frontiers: concepts and practices (Aldershot 2002), pp. 105–118.

6. While it doesn’t cover his whole œuvre by any means, I guess one has to mention Mango, Byzantium: The Empire of New Rome (New York City, NY, 1980), idem, Le développement urbain de Constantinople, IVe-VIIe siècles, Travaux et Mémoires du Centre de recherche d’histoire et civilisation de Byzance, Collège de France, Monographies, 2, 2nd edn (Paris 2004) and idem (ed.), The Oxford History of Byzantium (Oxford 2002). Even that omits a number of critical source translations and a vital textual anthology of sources for Byzantine art, idem (ed.), The Art of Byzantine Empire (New York City NY 1972), and I could go on.

7. M. T. Clanchy, Abelard: a medieval life (Oxford 1999).

8. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record: England, 1066-1307, 3rd edn (Chichester 2013); one should probably also mention his England and its Rulers, 1066–1307, 3rd edn (Oxford 2006).

9. Clanchy, “Remembering the Past and the Good Old Law” in History Vol. 55 (London 1970), pp. 165–176.

Chronicle VI: October-December 2016

University and College Union pickets at the University of Leeds

University and College Union pickets at the University of Leeds

Well, just as with the last time I wrote one of these, we are still on strike again, so there is now time to write it. With the trip to Istanbul that immediately preceded the start of term now finally dealt with, it’s time again to look at my life academic as it stood at the current date of my backlog, sadly the end of 2016 but for once I am catching up, and take stock of what was going on and, of course, what of it still merits blogging about! Continue reading


Marking is over for the season, and suddenly a whole fleet of tiny toy boats that had been submerged by its extent bob back to the surface of my academic bathtub, or something. (I’m sorry, I’m not actually completely well … Continue reading