Tag Archives: Moravia

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

Seminar CLIII: how ‘Great’ Moravia got that way then stopped

One seminar I don’t make it to as often as would be good is the UCL Institute of Archaeology and British Museum Joint Seminar, but on 11th December 2012 I did make it there so as to hear Ivo Štefan speak. This was because Dr Štefan is one of a fairly select band of people working on Eastern Europe in the early Middle Ages who make an effort to get their findings out to English-speaking audience, and given how few of us learn Slavic languages these folk are our gateways to a really very large area. So there was he, speaking with the title, “Great Moravia and its Collapse: early medieval polity on the edge of Carolingian world”, and thus there so was I, and it was a tremendously informative and thoughtful paper.

Map of the alleged extent of Great Moravia c. 869

As you can see, expansive claims have been made for the ‘Greatness’ of Great Moravia! Image from Wikimedia Commons

Those who study the Carolingian world may already be aware that one thing about Moravia in the period is that its location, or at least its extent is disputed: the main problem this creates is maybe that it’s not clear to what modern state ‘its’ archaeology pertains, which shouldn’t be an issue but of course is.1 There’s also an issue about how one defines it, of course. Something called Moravia was out there, but maybe not for very long: Frankish sources mention Moravians for the first time in 822, the same year that they last mention the Avars, Dr Štefan told us, and they last mention them in 907 after which Magyars are the order of the day for cross-frontier threats. In the course of that less-than-a-century emerged a proto-state that could take on the Carolingians and then disappear so much that we can now argue about where (and what) it was. Dr Stefan was telling us about the what, which is after all something of a prerequisite for the ‘where’.

Aerial view of the heritage site now at Mikulčice

Aerial view of the heritage site now at Mikulčice

Part of the problem here is that the written sources and the archæology don’t really meet up. The written sources are mostly Frankish annals and the various materials arising out of the jurisdictional disputes provoked by the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius (the better choice for celebration on February 14th!), and are thus very much an outside view; the archæology, when sounded for a core area around western Slovakia and the River Morava which most people can agree must have been ‘in’ Great Moravia, speaks to different connections and for much of the eighth and early ninth century shows almost no social stratification: the Frankish documents thus tell us about élites in this area whom we can’t find. Over the ninth century, however, there seem to have developed the kind of castle-towns that readers here may remember from the work of Hajnalka Herold (whose picture is somewhat different), some of which are very large—Mikulčice was an 80-hectare island-and-mainland complex with at least thirteen churches, to pick the largest—and were presumably sustained somehow from their hinterlands.2 These show a fairly consistent style of rampart-building but are otherwise very variable, and as those churches imply are also centres where the ongoing conversion of the Slavs was made manifest in architecture, though burial continued to be furnished, with warrior goods of Frankish type for men or fine clothing of Byzantine type for women (“men are from Bavaria, women from Byzantium”, as someone I didn’t know put it in questions), and burial also continued in rural cemeteries whose links to the culture are indicated by similar grave-goods.

Gold rings and jewellery found at Mikulčice, now on display in its museum

Gold rings and jewellery found at Mikulčice, now on display in its museum

This presumably all joined up, of course, and it’s in the how that any definition of what sort of polity Great Moravia was must be located. The Franks could name its rulers, and since the polity was undergoing change throughout the time we can see it these men must have been those who could best position themselves aboard those changes as much as anything, and may even be blamed for some of them even if the one we can see intervention in most clearly is Rastislav, who tried to shake off cultural Frankish encroachment through missions from Bavaria by getting a separate mission in from Constantinople in the form of the troublesome script-inventors already mentioned. What those rulers could do is less clear, but it certainly included being able to raise quite large armies with substantial cavalry components, meaning that a network of smaller leaders responded to their call. (Dr Štefan made the intriguing suggestion that the number of churches in the towns might indicate that each leader’s group had its own small area of the town for when they and the rulers were ‘in residence’, which sounds oddly like Notker’s description of Charlemagne’s Aachen at assembly time with nobles’ chalets all round the palace.3)

Reconstruction drawing of the Moravian settlement at Pohansko

Reconstruction drawing of the Moravian settlement at Pohansko, just south-west of Mikulčice

It must have been worth their while to do so, and while booty would be one obvious reason, trade might be another; the towns were market centres shipping slaves up and down the Danube (we have many shackles), as well as amber and other things and bringing the precious metal the area lacks in, for purchase and/or distribution one assumes which is how the material culture by which ‘Moravian’ is and maybe was signified was presumably disseminated. There was even a single ‘market of the Moravians’ that the Frankish sources know about, and they also record render collection points suggesting some basic kind of fiscal apparatus. All this must have been either going up very fast or else somehow leftover from Avar rule to be reactivated, and it must also have been done pretty much in kind: there are no coins in this area at all, suggesting that any that came in were recycled into goods, the manufacture of which is certainly very present in the archæology.

Reconstruction drawing of a 'prince's court' within the Pohansko settlement complex

Reconstruction drawing of a ‘prince’s court’ within the Pohansko settlement complex, from the same site as previous

So what went wrong? Canonically, the Hungarians are the irresistible destructive force on which Western and Eastern scholars alike have blamed the collapse of early medieval states in formation, but in 902 at least the Moravians were beating the Hungarians in battle but still disappear from the record after 907. Nor did the Hungarians occupy the area of Moravia, and while Magyar-style graves are found at Mikulčice there’s not much more. Dr Štefan therefore suggested that the area was already in trouble when the Hungarian attacks started, with parts breaking away cutting back the tribute on which the ruler could call and the new Hungarian presence limiting his ability to get more by warfare, as well as cutting the trade routes to the Mediterranean. This would disable quite a lot of the redistributive machinery that kept a ruler and being and dressing ‘Moravian’ important to his followers, resulting in more and irrecoverable breakaways and in the end a Frankish conquest and a new rival polity rising in Bohemia. As Dr Stefan said, this is all quite Richard Hodges, but none the less plausible for that, I felt.4 Now, a bit of cursory websearching reveals that what we were getting here was a pitch that Dr Štefan has had worked out for a while, in as much as he had more or less published it a year before.5 That always irks me slightly, when I could have read the paper rather than go to it, but of course I hadn’t, and I might still rather have heard it live anyway, so a mission to inform was still appropriate as far as I’m concerned and of course it means that you now know where you might be able to find out more…

1. When I briefly learnt about this stuff, uselessly long ago, almost the only work in English was A P. Vlasto, The Entry of the Slavs into Christendom (Cambridge 1970), still not worthless but as you can see from the title kind of chronologically limited. The argument over the location of Moravia was subsequently started by I. Boba, Moravia’s History Reconsidered: a reinterpretation of medieval sources (The Hague 1971) and has been brought up to date in English by Charles R. Bowlus, Franks, Moravians, and Magyars: the struggle for the Middle Danube 788-907 (Philadelphia 1995). There’s a useful round-up of that and the German literature to be found in Matthew Innes, “Review Article. Franks and Slavs c. 700-1000: the problem of European expansion before the millennium” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 6 (Oxford 1997), pp. 201-216, of which Matthew kindly gave me an offprint a long time ago. There is now also Jiří Macháček, “Disputes over Great Moravia: chiefdom or state? the Morava or the Tisza River?” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 17 (Oxford 2009), pp. 248-267 and Maddalena Betti, The Making of Christian Moravia (858-882): Papal Power and Political Reality (Leiden 2013), though I haven’t yet seen this latter and can’t tell you anything about it that the web doesn’t. Dr Stefan is obviously of the Morava River school of thought.

2. I’ve plugged it before and I will plug it again: have a look at Hajnalka Herold, “Fortified Settlements of the 9th and 10th Centuries AD in Central Europe: Structure, Function and Symbolism” in Medieval Archaeology Vol. 56 (Leeds 2012), pp. 60-84.

3. Notker, Gesta Karoli, printed as Notker der Stammler, Taten Kaiser Karls des Großen, ed. Hans Haefele, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum germanicum in usum scholarum separatim editi) Nova series 12 (Hannover 1959, repr. 1980), translated now in David Ganz (transl.), Einhard and Notker the Stammerer: Two Lives of Charlemagne (Harmondsworth 2009), I. 30; for more on Aachen and its layout see Janet L. Nelson, “Aachen as a Place of Power” in Frans Theuws & Mayke de Jong with Carine van Rhijn (edd.), Topographies of Power in the Early Middle Ages, Transformation of the Roman World 6 (Leiden 2001), pp. 217-241.

4. Referring to Richard Hodges, Dark Age Economics: the origins of towns and trade A. D. 600-1000 (London 1982, 2nd edn. 1989).

5. I. Štefan, “Great Moravia, Statehood and Archaeology: the ‘decline and fall’ of one early medieval polity” in Jiří Macháček & Šimon Ungerman (edd.), Frühgeschichteliche Zentralorte in Mitteleuropa: Internationale Konferenz und Kolleg der Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung zum 50. Jahrestag des Beginns archäologischer Ausgrabungen in Pohansko bei Břeclav, 5.–9.10.2009, Břeclav, Tschechische Republik, Studien zur Archäologie Europas 14 (Bonn 2011), pp. 333-354.

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.