Tag Archives: Philip Grierson

Medieval European Coinage update (Name in the Book Somewhere III)

I have time for only a short post this weekend, but happily, I was just asked a question here that can be answered in such a post, and which also fits into the pattern of alternating what we might call ‘historical’ content with a recounting of my various and dubious scholarly achievements. So, this post, let me bring you up to date with that well-known scholarly series, Medieval European Coinage!

Cambridge University Press leaflet advertising the Medieval European Coinage series

Cambridge University Press leaflet advertising the series

Now even my part in this could be a long story, but at least a short version of the full story is worth telling. It begins with the late Professor Philip Grierson, who somewhere towards the last third of his long career decided it would be a good idea to pubish a monographic series of accounts of the coinage of the European Middle Ages, using his own excellent collection as the illustrative basis. Originally, supposedly, he reckoned to write them all himself, figuring that one every two years would keep him busy till retirement, but predictably, it turned out to be a bigger project than that, and before long he had enlisted co-authors for several of the volumes, then assigned several of them to other people entirely, and eventually it was a whole British Academy-funded project which could afford a small staff. The first actual volume, covering the whole of the continent from the fifth to the tenth century, was co-written by Professor Grierson and his Research Assistant, Mark Blackburn, then freshly poached from the legal profession by the museums world and eventually, of course to be my boss.1

Cover of Philip Grierson and Mark Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage 1: the Earlier Middle Ages (5th-10th centuries) (Cambridge 1986)

Before that time, the team had squeezed out a second volume, co-written by Professor Grierson and Lucia Travaini, and covering Southern Italy from the tenth to fifteenth centuries, but since the first had come out in 1986 and it was now 1998, it was clear that this was all taking longer than initially planned.2 The next volume was supposed to be that on the Iberian Peninsula, and it was because the team needed a copy-editor who knew some peninsular history that I first got into the Fitzwilliam. It’s hard to emphasise now how important that job was for me. Not only did it basically keep me alive during three quite difficult months, but it made me a lot of friends in the department, established in Mark Blackburn’s mind that I could work databases, and thus set me up for what would turn out to be five years’ paid employment, several virtual exhibitions you can still see (and some you can’t), my first numismatic publications and some quite important personal ramifications to boot; I am still reaping the benefit of getting involved with the project, and indeed I still sit on its committee. But when I left the employment of the Fitzwilliam in 2010, the Iberian Peninsula volume was still not yet published, and I have to admit, it was not quite clear then if it would be.

Cover of Miquel Crusafont, Anna Balaguer and Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage 6: The Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013)

Now, that story I’ve told elsewhere and obviously it did emerge, finally, in 2013.3 That was a great achievement, celebrated in two countries indeed, but it left open the question of which volume would emerge next; we had several under work, and obstacles in the way of them all. As with the legendary London bus, however, you wait four years for one and then two turn up at once, or nearly. The volume covering Northern Italy, by William R. Day Junior, Andrea Sacocci and Michael Matzke, which we were already celebrating at Taormina as described, finally left the presses in November 2016, and very shortly afterwards, in April 2017, it was joined by Rory Naismith’s volume on Britain and Ireland 400-1066, covering some ground already covered by the Earlier Middle Ages volume again simply because the finds pattern has changed our understanding of the way money was being used in early medieval Britain so radically in the, well, thirty years since the project had last offered any thoughts on it.4 And I’m happy to celebrate this as in some small way my achievement as in 2008 to 2009 I copy-edited as much of the Northern Italy volume as then existed, and though I’ve no idea how much of my work remains visible in the finished volume—I certainly don’t have the files against which to check—nonetheless, this is something I had a hand in and now it exists where people can use it, so I’m happy.

Cover of William R. Day Jr, Andrea Sacocci and Michael Matzke, Medieval European Coinage 12: Northern Italy (I) (Cambridge 2017)

So that is where we are, but where are we about to be? Well, obviously, given our pedigree, absolutely the last thing I should do is offer any predictions, and indeed I might seriously offend some of our authors if I were to guess here who will publish next! What I can do is tell you what is currently under work. The volumes actively under work are those on Germany, by Peter Ilisch, on the Low Countries, by Philip Grierson, Peter Spufford, Serge Boffa and now Marcus Phillips and Sue Tyler-Smith, on the British Isles 1066-1279, by Martin Allen, on ‘the Nordic Countries’ by Jørgen Steen Jensen and Elina Screen, on Central and Eastern Europe, by Boris Paskiewicz, and on the Latin East and Crusader States, by Julian Baker, Richard Kelleher and Robert Kool. Other volumes are also under work, but I think it is probably OK to say that they are currently moving more slowly. It will also probably not have escaped the keenly numismatic audience that the Low Countries volumes have also lost two of their authors and gained some others, and indeed when the first of them (Philip) died it was still being conceived of as only one volume, so a lot has happened there but it has not necessarily advanced that much closer to its finish line. I honestly wouldn’t like to guess which of these is closest to the finish line, but if I were to predict anything at all, it would be that although we can’t hope to maintain the current one-volume-a-year output, it should not be, say, 2021 before another volume has emerged, and by then again quite probably two. I’m just not sure which or when…


1. Philip Grierson and Mark Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 1: the Earlier Middle Ages (5th-10th centuries) (Cambridge 1986).

2. Philip Grierson and Lucia Travaini, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 14: Southern Italy (Cambridge 1998).

3. Miquel Crusafont, Anna Balaguer and Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013).

4. William R. Day Jr, Andrea Sacocci and Michael Matzke, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 12: Northern Italy (Cambridge 2016); Rory Naismith, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 8: Britain and Ireland, c. 400-1066 (Cambridge 2017).

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Dead scholars’ books II

This gallery contains 4 photos.

In very late August 2014 I found myself the recipient of a slightly morbid parcel of books that had once been in the library of Professor Nicholas Brooks. His academic library was sold off via Amazon to raise money for … Continue reading

Name in the Book Somewhere II

[This is a repost of a piece of one of the sticky news posts above, now unstuck and free to assume in its rightful place in the chronological scheme. I repost this bit because I have just got to the point in the backlog where it would originally have occurred and it still seems worth celebrating! There are some light edits to supply larger context.]

In May 2013, there was also a rather large chicken finally come home to roost, to wit Miquel Crusafont i Sabater, Anna M. Balaguer & Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013). There’s no secret here about the labour I’ve poured into this; it was in fact the thing I subsisted on after finishing the Lay Archives work previously referred to, and it was mostly wrapped up and ready to go in 2006 when I got the full-time job at the Fitzwilliam that would, in the end, keep me going for four and a half years. When explaining to people some of the reasons why the volume still then took seven years to appear, I have taken to starting with, “Well, the two surviving authors…” Death, life-threatening illness and then death, divorce, pregnancy, unannounced changes of contact details, unemployment and over-employment (especially this last) have all played their part in delaying the work of the various parties involved, even to the very last minute—a launch party had to be cancelled because of the aforementioned illness, but unbeknownst to authors or editors the book was already on sale anyway—and I think the most amazing thing is that all parties involved have always been reasonable and pleasant to deal with, whatever the new problem was that had arisen. Anyway, it exists, and this is a great comfort to me, as not only do I actually have my name over two small parts of it (well, one small one and the Bibliography, which I think I contributed about a tenth of) but at some point or other in my role as copy-editor and then series editor I’ve probably changed or moved almost every word in it. It’s not my work, but it has been one of my labours, for sure.

Those curious about such matters will probably also want to know how things stand with the rest of the series, and to that I can say from the inside, with suitable caution, that volume 12, which covers Northern Italy and is by Andrea Saccocci, Michael Matzke and William Day Jr, is scheduled to be next and is in its final stages now, and that volume 10, on Scandinavia, by Jørgen Steen Jensen, has been making reliable and steady progress for years and will also soon be finished, we hope, after which it becomes a contest between Britain and the Low Countries to be next. What’s the timescale, you no doubt ask, and fair enough, but you understand that in 2006, there was no way, it was quite frankly impossible to conceive that MEC 6 was seven years away from publication. What could possibly go that far wrong? If I had not lived and worked through those seven years, I would now say: there is no way the next volume can be more than a year away. But I did, so I won’t, because if I do it probably can… [And that paragraph, sadly, I didn’t have to edit at all…]

Leeds 2011 report 1, with bonus apology

I have to start by saying sorry for the long silence here. It’s no shortage of stuff to say, but shortage of time to write. The end of term has been more punishing than it should be, as we gear up for admissions interviews next week as well as trying to get reports done and send everyone off with revision instructions. I drafted this with only one essay left to mark this term and one tutorial to give on it, these now done with great relief and now there’s nothing but hect for a few days and then wondering why nothing is organised for the holiday. (Actually something is, but not all the way.) And as you may have gathered, there’s a paper I’m supposed to have written by now and just had to beg an extension on, albeit from myself and collaborators. Obviously things could be worse; but squeezing in those visits to the library to collect the data I need has resulted in a great many small-hours bedtimes and the pressing need, every time I get as far as the blog editor window, to admit that there just isn’t time today. And this took several goes, too, but it’s done. I am still reporting on Leeds, a mere four months ago, and dammit, I may be briefer than usual but I will do it. So herewith the first day.

The Stables pub, Weetwood Hall, University of Leeds

The Stables pub, location of the occasional pint during the Congress

Actually I think I ought to start with the previous evening, when I arrived back from Lastingham and very shortly afterwards actually met she who is the Naked Philologist, who was more clothed and less immediately philological than advertised but still a splendid person and one whom it has been great to get to know then and subsequently. She was entirely surrounded by fellow female research students, and when I broke away from this gathering, to go find food or something, I got accused by a senior male colleague at the next table of departing “my harem”. My harem? My harem? Damn heteronormativity everywhere. Anyway; not very academic but it got the drinking started in good order and the academia followed next day. As to that, I skipped on the keynote lecture, which I’d already heard a version of one half of when Robin Fleming gave it at the Institute of Historical Research in London, and in the other half of which I wasn’t for some reason very interested (not sure why, as Sam Cohn is always interesting), but if you are, Magistra was there and wrote a blog post about it. Thus, the day started with this.

108. Small Worlds, Wide Horizons: local powers in the early Middle Ages

If there was a theme to this Leeds for me, other than always being among friends new and old, which I was and which was great, it was “sessions that felt like part of the Texts and Identities strand but weren’t”. Instead, this session was the extension, I think, of a conversation between Carine van Rhijn, Wendy Davies and myself at Leeds in 2009 about probably actually having the material to say something about local priests and their role in organising their communities in our respective areas. This was not that work, but it was in the same vein, and the people who were participating had all been in Texts and Identities at some point I think, though two also in my charters sessions of yore, so obviously I had to be there. The running order was:

  • Steffen Patzold, “Priests and Local Power Brokers, 8th-9th Centuries”
  • Bernhard Zeller, “Of the Lives of Centenarii and Related Local Powers in Early Medieval Alemannia, 8th-9th Centuries”
  • Wendy Davies, “How Local was the Power of the Saio in Northern Iberia around 1000?”

This was all really interesting regional comparisons. Steffen had several pieces of evidence that appeared to show Bavarian and Italian cases of local communities effectively appointing their priests, and used this to vary the picture of the sorts of priests we could have found in Carolingian localities, appointed by people, princes or several kinds of power in between. Bernhard was looking at a layer of local officials in the St Gallen charters he knows so well who have titles like “centenarius”, “vicarius” and “centurius”, which as you’ll understand from last post interested me considerably. The last he only sees around Zürich, and they seem to be quite junior, whereas vicars were more serious contenders than anything less than the counts; Bernhard figured that these guys’ small range probably suggested they belonged to localities rather than being put there by the counts. This is not much like what I see but then where I see any of these terms but vicarius it’s where there aren’t really counts, and when they’re about to be the last ones using the word, so this may give me some idea of what an early Carolingian local administration looks like before you take its lid off and bake it for a century or so. Wendy, meanwhile, who as usual explicitly excepted Catalonia from her remarks, was looking at the closest early medieval Spain had to policemen, though a more accurate simile might be court bailiffs; she found saiones working for all sorts of judicial officials, from kings downwards, far from the Gothic origins of the title as armed followers, and all over the north of Spain, confined to areas of no more than 40km2, or at least, not appearing outside those areas using their title. This gave me a lot of context for my own limited observations about saiones in Vallfogona.1 All of this was right up my street, down my alley and in my grills, as it were, so I thought I’d started well.

221. Gift-Giving: gift-giving and objects

I then followed a sense of obligation; I used to work with Rory Naismith, and have somehow never managed to catch one of his papers at Leeds, so now that he was on alongside Stuart Airlie I wasn’t going to miss it. Here, however, Magistra has beaten me to the blogging (not hard) so I shall save some catch-up time by referring you to her post again. The running order, though, was:

  • Irene Barbiera, “Offering Brooches to the Dead: the changing gendered value of a gift between Antiquity and the early Middle Ages”
  • Rory Naismith, “Making the World Go Round? Coinage and Gift in Early Medieval England and Francia (c. 675-900)”
  • Stuart Airlie, “The Star Cloak of Henry II”

The only thing I’ll add to what Magistra says is that I was pleased to see Rory finding a way to respectfully step round Philip Grierson’s venerable article, “Commerce in the Dark Ages”, that I love so much, without losing its essential point, which was that coins are not enough to prove trading links because they can travel in other ways too.2 Now, as Rory pointed out, we have incredible amounts more finds evidence than Grierson did in 1959, so we have to give more space to trade than he did but that doesn’t mean he isn’t right about the alternatives. Rory then went on to note various coinages and references to coinage that make more sense viewed as gifts than as currency. With the other two papers I think I have nothing to say that Magistra didn’t already so I’ll move on.

308. Beyond the Invasion Narrative: the Roman World and its Neighbours in late Antiquity, II – Changing Minds?

This strand looked, from the outside, like another Texts and Identities strand under new colours, though somehow including Guy Halsall, but a closer look revealed that something more challenging was going on; Guy had organised a strand with some real heavy-hitters on to ask serious and sometimes dangerous questions about how we as historians should deal with the supposed barbarian invasions that have for so long been supposed to bring about the end of the Roman Empire in the West, given the loads of work there has been suggesting that this is too simple, or even outright wrong. So either way it was a must-see, and in the first one I made it to I saw this.

  • Walter Pohl, “Ethnicity and its Discontents”
  • This paper was substantially a pained but wry self-defence against what Professor Pohl felt was misrepresentation of his work by Walter Goffart in a recent publication, and misunderstanding of it in exactly the opposite direction by Marco Valenti; he therefore disclaimed belief in stable ethnic groups, the shared common cores of élite traditions proposed by Reinhard Wenskus, the culturally-constructed imaginary communities that extreme dissolutionists hold to (which Professor Pohl would accept if it were allowed that they can be actively created by people), and groups with no self-identification. Instead he argued for groups of persons that felt and acted with common interests, however recently-created, entry to which was to an extent governed by an in-group and recognised by out-groups, as a necessary basis for a self-identification. I understand how this concept is misunderstood; it kinds of slips from one’s hands when you try to press it to explain historical events, but that isn’t, I think, what Professor Pohl holds it for; he holds it as a working account of ethnicity. That is quite an important thing to have, if we can get one…

  • Tommaso Leso, “Shifting Identities and Marriage in Ostrogothic Italy”
  • This drew out the various categories of marriage choice for the women of the Ostrogothic royal family and went through them in detail. This was one of those ones where if you want to know about it, you want to know more than I can tell you, but if it matters and you can’t get in touch with Signor Leso I’m happy to type out my notes in an e-mail.

  • Roland Steinacher, “Response”
  • In the absence of one of the originally-planned papers, Herr Steinacher gave a response, and observed that political correctness makes the necessary argument difficult to have here; these things still really matter to people, and some writers are selling to those people without due care for the facts or opinions of their peers. He named names but I won’t, not here; he was far from the last to do so in these sessions, and I’ll say more about that in the second day’s report.

It’s hard for me to take a position in these debates that are about both the field and the people in it, especially on the open Internet, but you may deduce something if you choose from the fact that now I knew where the action was I stayed in these sessions till they ran out. More on this, therefore, as soon as I can. Presumably I did something in the evening; I remember that whatever it was kept me away from the Early Medieval Europe reception until all their wine had run out, so it must have been good, and probably involved good people and average alcohol. If you were one of the people, I’m sorry four months have blurred you out of my memory of the day but trust me, I remember you out of context…


1. J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London 2010), pp. 42-43.

2. P. Grierson, “Commerce in the Dark Ages: a critique of the evidence” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th Series Vol. 9 (London 1959), pp. 123-40, repr. in idem, Dark Age Numismatics, Collected Studies 96 (Aldershot 1979), II.

3. Here my notes suggest he named Guy, but I don’t think this can be right!

A library with pedigrees

A package came for me the other day that turned out to be a copy of Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals’s Els Primers Comtes Catalans, which is pretty much the starting book for what I work on, an attempt to sort the national myths from the actual evidence for early Catalonia. I’d browsed for it on ABE Books on a whim and found a copy for sale in the UK. I was so pleased to score it—and it’s a nice copy too, dust-jacket has one chip and that’s all, tight, VG+, yes I did use to work in the trade since you ask—that I never thought to wonder why there was a copy for sale in the UK.

Cover of Ramon d'Abadal i de Vinyals's Els Primers Comtes Catalans

Cover of Ramon d'Abadal i de Vinyals's Els Primers Comtes Catalans

The last two trips I’ve made to Exeter have been for conferences, I mentioned one here and the other one was before the blog, and on both occasions Professor Richard Hitchcock has been selling no-longer-wanted parts of his library, as I guess he settles down to working only on what he intends to continue with. I’ve never had the money to buy the few things he was offering that touched my period, much to my chagrin. So it’s kind of amusing to find his signature in the flyleaf of my new book.

I can add this to the few volumes of Philip Grierson‘s, the couple of presents from Rosamond McKitterick and Matthew Innes and the long ton of Jinty Nelson’s cast-offs that make up a good chunk of my library. Mind you, this is not the most extreme case I know of: Matthew still has a copy of Braunfels’s Karl der Große Bd I. that he got from Rosamond, who’d been given it by Philip (who was in it). I really need to have books to give to these people to link the ends of this loop up, sadly not possible to Philip but otherwise it would be neat. I wonder if any of what I amass will be of worth to my students in the inevitable end, and if any of it will have passed to me by such means like these. How many generations can we pass books through?

A Jarrett bookcase

A Jarrett bookcase

Hero worship: “Commerce in the Dark Ages”

Or, I can just write about the Middle Ages and its historians of course.

One of the papers I have always remembered reading after I first came across it, unlike so many which I’ve subsequently re-read, made notes on and gone to my notes catalogue to find I’d read before years ago, was one of Philip Grierson‘s, “Commerce in the Dark Ages” (which is available through JSTOR for those with access from that link).1 At the time it struck me as one of the clearest, most common-sensical pieces of historiography I’d ever read, and not that much has challenged it since then (though the sense of understanding you get when reading someone who really does get his or her material is still wonderful).

Philip Grierson at work in the Coin Room for which he paid, at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge

When I, through various routes, wound up copy-editing Medieval European Coinage 6, one of the exciting things about that was that I would thus be working on one of Professor Grierson’s projects. Also, as I rapidly discovered that he was somewhat less well these days (as in, less well at 95 than he had been at 90, when he was still producing scholarly work, and than at 80 when he’d still been beating undergraduates at squash) one of my hopes was that we’d be able to cheer him by seeing another of the volumes of this long series to press before too long. In the end, in fact, there wasn’t that much time: he was already too ill to come into the Department, and I wound up checking the last few footnotes and references from his personal library with him not there because he’d been installed in a nursing home for what would be the last two months of his life. I never actually got to meet him. (And the book still isn’t out, but that’s another story.)

Very recently I had cause to pick up the first of his volumes of collected papers, Dark Age Numismatics, for another paper, and was reminded afresh of the existence of “Commerce in the Dark Ages” because it immediately precedes the one I needed in the volume. So I read it again, and then I decided I needed to encourage you to.

It is basically a warning to people who use coin evidence and other goods ‘out of their place’ as evidence for trade, and I can summarise the whole attack of the paper in one extract:

The most recent work on the economic life of the Dark Ages… takes it for granted that trade, and trade alone, was responsible for the distribution of goods and coins in the centuries with which [it] deals.

Such a view is altogether too narrow, and prejudges too many issues. There are other means whereby goods can pass from hand to hand, means which must have played a more conspicuous part in the society of the Dark Ages than they would in more settled and advanced periods. They can be characterized most briefly as ‘theft’ and ‘gift’, using ‘theft’ to include all unilateral transfers of property which take place involuntarily—plunder in war would be the commonest type—and ‘gift’ to cover all those which take place with the free consent of the donor. Somewhere between the two would be a varied series of payments, such as ransoms, compensations, and fines, while such payments as dowries, the wages of mercenaries, property carried to and fro by political exiles, would all form part of the picture.

He went on to give an amplitude of examples of such alternative forms of transfer, and finished by reckoning that really for a lot of the Dark Ages2 those forms were a good deal more important than trade.

Now since he wrote Peter Sawyer’s work on the Vikings has led to a fairly large-scale revision of the way those particular ‘alternative exchangers’ did their work, and the whole raider/trader controversy has opened up around them, and this sort of evidence is key, if only because such vast amounts of English coin is known from eleventh-century Scandinavia as to require explanation in one or other terms. Meanwhile there is some argument over the importance of long-distance trade in the European economy as a whole,3 but that debate is at least half-aware of Philip’s article. In the Viking studies world, however, the tendency to play down the violence and plunder has reached a level where this kind of caution can be forgotten, and this is wrong. Myself I lean towards the idea that the Vikings are best understood as unrestrained capitalists with political ambitions, trying to amass the capital with which to mount hostile takeover bids, whether those be of a homestead in Norway or of a freshly-carved kingdom in England or Francia. But even if you violently (or non-violently!) disagree with me, if you’re working on this stuff you have, please, to have an answer to Philip ready one way or the other. Okay? Thankyou. Here endeth the lesson.


1. P. Grierson, “Commerce in the Dark Ages: a critique of the evidence” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th Series Vol. 9 (London 1959), pp. 123-140, repr. in idem, Dark Age Numismatics, Variorum Collected Studies 96 (London 1979), II.

2. I’ve been laughed at for using that phrase, but relatively speaking we do have far less knowledge of the centuries it describes than those around, and I have no problem with it as such. The joke about “ended with the discovery of the candle/lightbulb/etc.” does get a bit tired though.

3. Referring to Michael McCormick’s Origins of the European Economy: communications and commerce A. D. 300-900 (Cambridge 2003), which sees such structures as fundamental to the development of the later economic orientations of Europe, and Chris Wickham’s Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean 400-800 (Oxford 2006), which argues among a great many other things that such trade was always only marginal in the period and of no long-term effect beyond the aristocratic level. With that one might argue (and I have, with him indeed) that effects on the people who represent society’s controlling interests are not to be discounted, and with McCormick’s thesis there are a whole range of arguments (mostly expressed in a debate with him in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 no. 3 (Oxford 2005), pp. 259-324, linked up above). Wickham has read and cites Dark Age Numismatics however, and McCormick may though I have no copy to hand to check. They are at least aware.