Tag Archives: Poland

An awful lot of numismatists in Sicily, II

So, after that bit of numismatic self-congratulation, let me take you back for the last time to September 2015 and the town of Taormina in Sicily, where I was then one of many gathered for the 15th International Numismatic Congress. You’ve seen some of the local antiquities, heard about the first two-and-a-half days of papers and visited a local castle, now it’s time to return to the thick of the academic fray. But first, a party!

Party in the coutryard of the Palazzo dei Duchi di Santo Stefano, Taormina, Sicily

Party in the coutryard of the Palazzo dei Duchi di Santo Stefano

Indeed, the first thing on our calendar after descending from Castelmola and eating was not an academic session but a party put on by the Medieval European Coinage project, to celebrate its resurgence into activity since the previous INC in the form of the publication of the series’ volume on the Iberian Peninsula and the near-completion of that on Northern Italy (which, much though I often doubted it, has in fact now also emerged, something I should probably announce separately too).1 By now you may well not remember that I am a part of that project still, but I am, so I was there to share in the glory. There were speeches, there was a strictly limited quantity of free wine, but mainly there was a superb setting.

Medieval European Coinage authors by the Cambridge University Press stand at a party in the Palazzo dei Duchi di Santo Stefano, Taormina, Sicily

MEC authors Bill Day Jr and Martin Allen looking very relaxed by the Cambridge University Press stand inside the Palazzo

It was a good way to wrap up the day. The next day was the last day of papers, however, and with certain obligations among them, and so for once I was up and ready right at the beginning. Here’s how it all unrolled. Continue reading

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Seminars CXXV & CXXVI: differing data from the East

In the continuing attempt to clear some of my ridiculous blogging backlog before the new academic year starts in the UK, I am sadly going to pass over James Palmer‘s paper at the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar in London in February this year, not because it wasn’t interesting but because Magistra has already covered it, and this brings me back to Oxford. As we saw with the last of these posts, on a Monday when it seems to be required, it’s possible to attend both the Medieval Archaeology Seminar and the Medieval History Seminar here as there’s half an hour’s grace between them, and the 27th of February was such a day, as a remarkably complementary pair of papers were being given across the two. The first was “Between the Carolingian West and the Byzantine East: fortified élite settlements of the 9th and 10th centuries AD in Central Europe”, by Dr Hajnalka Herold and the second was “Dirhams for Slaves: investigating the Slavic slave trade in the tenth century” by Dr Marek Jankowiak.

The hilltop over which stretches the site of the Gars Thunau hillfort complex, on what seems to have been a horrible day when whatever satellite Google gets its pictures from flew by

I first heard Hajnalka speak at the Kalamazoo of 2010, as is duly recorded here indeed, and this meant that some of what she was presenting was not new to me, as in order to set things up she had to talk us quickly through a number of sites which are not exactly household names in the West. (I sympathise with this: it frightens me how few people have any clear idea where Girona is and no-one but me and by now you has heard of Vic or Urgell but at least, bar the latter perhaps, people can usually spell the names from my area once they’ve heard them.) The sites are scattered across a zone shared between what is now Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia and the state of publication and excavation is very various but, starting especially from Gars Thunau in Austria, Hajnalka is trying to fit these various, and variously-sized, power centres into wider frameworks, and as you can tell from the title of her talk is willing to look quite widely to find out what the builders thought they were doing and what kind of position they’d achieved that meant they could do it. The zone lay between empires, Frankish, Byzantine and at times Bulgarian, and any of these might be found pushing their influence into it at a given point in the period. The two former especially competed in the mission field, and had done for some time of course, which makes it particularly tantalising that many of these sites contained churches, in fact in the case of Mikulčice, in Moravia, nine churches, and in Zalavár in Hungary, a huge one which seems to have been of a size and complexity to rival pretty much anything in the West of the time, and a number of smaller ones on neighbouring patches of sandy ground. A Salzburg text called the Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum claims that this was the work of the Archbishops of Salzburg, but it would be nice to know which phases and when, if that’s even true…1 (I note that further south, in Croatia, there is dispute over whether the Aachen-like complex at Zadar was put there in emulation of or in reaction against Carolingian ecclesiastical pressure.2)

Reconstructed ruins of the ninth- or tenth-century church at Zalavár,  Hungary

Reconstructed ruins of the ninth- or tenth-century church at Zalavár, Hungary, from Wikimedia Commons

It’s easy initially to see what unites these complexes: firstly, they’re all fortified settlements and secondly, where there is good dating evidence, they seem to have all got new ramparts at the close of the ninth century. That’s more or less where the similarities end, however: the technologies of building, the size and focality of the complexes and likely, therefore, their apparent purposes all differ site to site. Furthermore, with only archæology to go on (the few written sources here, Conversio included, don’t help very much at all putting together a big picture) it’s hard to guess at who was in charge of any of these places or how they were supported.3 There are aspects that look familiar from the West: all these sites showed evidence of craft manufacture (though glass and precious metal were confined to the biggest ones), of space for Christian worship and for burial (not obviously non-Christian, if there is in fact any such thing archæologically-speaking) and of social stratification. On the other hand, these sites were not emporia, their trade links as so far testified in the material culture were thin and almost incidental, although quite farflung, there’re almost no coins and so forth. (More digging could change this in almost all cases, however.) The links that we do see, however, run both east and west, and this is clearest in the dress hinted at by the burial evidence: broadly, Hajnalka sketched, we’re looking at a set of sites at which the men dressed Frankish and the women dressed Byzantine, high-status persons in both cases of course and not without exceptions. The rank and file (and indeed the slaves who must have been there) are less distinctive. So the big message that Hajnalka had was that, although it is very easy for Westerners to look at a scenario like this (or that at Zadar, as noted above) and see a reaction to the Carolingian and Ottonian Drang nach Osten, in which local élites funnel luxury goods from the pressuring western empire and use that wealth to build up structures against it, when you’re on, and indeed in, the ground at these places the Franks were very far from being the only players for these people’s attention and imitation.4 But there is much more to be done to work out what the people in question were actually up to, in political or other terms, and we can hopefully look to Hajnalka to do some of it!5

Silver dirham of Caliph al-Walid I from Tashkent, struck 713, found in Latvia

Silver dirham of Caliph al-Walid I from Tashkent, struck 713, found in Latvia

The Medieval Archaeology seminar has lately taken to laying on tea and cake afterwards, which is very welcome and made it much more possible to pay attention to Marek Jankowiak after the brief trot to All Soul’s College. My notes indicate that he had an excellent set of visuals to back up his argument, about which sadly I can remember nothing, but those of you who may be setting up to see what must be a related paper at this term’s Institute of Historical Research seminar are in for a treat, at least. Here I can only recreate from my notes alas, and they tell me that what was principally at issue here was the absolutely huge preservation of Islamic silver coinage in Northern Europe. Dr Jankowiak wanted to get us thinking about how they had wound up there and what was moving in exchange. This first entailed a more detailed analysis of the finds than I’ve seen before, noting that particular areas receiving dirhams seem to have blipped in and out of the record at different times (except in Gotland where deposition was pretty continuous), and that the area providing them seems to have shifted from Iran to the Samanid Emirate at Khorasan over the tenth century, with Iraq hardly showing up and Spain not there at all. These were supplemented by imitations of such coins from the Khazar and Bulgar areas, again shifting from one to the other over the tenth century. By a series of rather unlikely calculations, Dr Jankowiak hypothesized that, if 75%-80% of this exchange was being paid for with slaves (a figure whose basis he did not explain) then we might be thinking of an export of 30,000-60,000 human beings over the century, a few hundred every year, but that that would not include exports to the West which, however they were going, were obviously not being paid for in a medium so readily hoarded. Identifying the slaves archæologically, given that they were exported and acculturated, is basically impossible but just because of the numbers involved Dr Jankowiak wound up developing a picture in which entire peoples, small tribes or whatever, were basically hoovered up and fed into this market by their more powerful neighbours, and thus suggested that the reason for the sudden boom in fortification in Central Europe in this era is because those who could be wanted to be on the rich side of this process, not the poor side! He saw in this the origins of settlement nucleation in Poland, especially, and suggested that we should perhaps see the lesser hillforts not so much as fortifications but as slave corrals with garrisons via a chain of which the unfortunate human goods were convoyed eastwards, a system out of whose profits new states might bloodily grow.

Naszacowice hillfort, Southern Poland, from the air

Naszacowice hillfort, Southern Poland, from the air, rebuilt 989 after destruction by fire of unknown previous date

At that point, of course, these two papers came directly into conflict. For example, in Dr Jankowiak’s Southern Poland, apparently, many of the forts (and there are many there, but of course only a few have been dug well enough to provide dating evidence) show destruction layers. Is this because Poland was developing a central power that had to suppress these places? In that case, one might equally expect the Polish forts to be refuges, something that Dr Jankowiak ruled out due to the very small number of finds there that suggests to him only temporary occupation. But, many of these sites were dug (when they have been) a long time ago and it’s debatable what would have been found in such excavations and whether occupation, rather than just ‘artefacts’, would have been recognised. Anyway, the point of refuges surely is that they’re only temporarily occupied. And so on. These are issues I’ve brought out myself, but plenty of other people also had objections, about the neglected contribution of the fur trade (better seen in animal bone evidence further east than here, according to Dr Jankowiak), about the effects on prices of this influx of money that likely make a constant figure for the tenth-century slave economy problematic and (of course) about the hypothetical mathematics, it wasn’t even me for once. I did, however, ask about the hoards in Scandinavia, to wit: why on earth is there deposition on such a scale here without retrieval? Because if you have a hoard, one thing you can say for sure is that the owner didn’t come back for it. Was Scandinavia then even less stable than Central Europe’s slave-grounds? Dr Jankowiak thought that the hoards might be sort of treasure banks that were accessed on a small scale only, an increasingly fashionable idea, but if so, what the finds evidence seems to be showing us is an Eastern Scandinavian economy that brought in a great deal of coin but seems then to have considerable difficulty doing anything with it, which must make it worth rethinking whether this was in fact about getting rich. So there was a lot of debate. All the same, there is this much that cannot be gainsaid here: we know there was a slave trade, some of this money that we have found must have been paid for slaves, the changes in its deposition probably do reflect a variation in the availability of goods that Islamic merchants would pay for and so there’s a certain horrible plausibility about some of the mechanisms Dr Jankowiak laid out here, even if not whether the forts are part of those mechanisms or not. With that much accepted, if I can bring George Bernard Shaw back in again, we may just be haggling over how much was involved…


1. This intriguing but allusive text was edited by Herwig Wolfram as Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum: das Weissbuch der Salzburger Kirche über die erfolgreiche Mission in Karantanien und Pannonien (Wien 1979) and he seems to have spent a long time since then trying to figure it out, resulting in idem, Salzburg, Bayern, Österreich: die Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum und die Quellen ihrer Zeit, Mitteilungen des Instituts Österreichs für Geschichtsforschung Ergänzungsband 31 (Wien 1995). This is not my area and I’m not going to pretend to have read either of these (I’ve seen quotes from the former), but they exist should you want to.

2. Here I know what I know from Miljenko Jurkovic and Ante Milosevic, “Split. Croatas y Carolingias: arte y arquitectura en Croacia en la alta edad media” in Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña Carolingia: arte y cultura antes del Románico (siglos IX y X) (Barcelona 1999), pp. 165-170, transl. as “Split. Croats and Carolingians: art and architecture in the early Middle Ages”, ibid. pp. 501-504.

3. One possibility, which I understand from Hajnalka may indeed be feasible at some of these sites, could be the kind of analysis of animal bone that Leslie Alcock was able to get done at the very early medieval Welsh site of Dinas Powys, and which showed that the cattle they were getting there were all young animals, not the spread of ages or mostly mature beasts that you’d get from a natural herd, thus showing that the occupiers of the site were probably receiving tribute: see his Dinas Powys: An Iron Age, Dark Age and Early Medieval Settlement in Glamorgan (Cardiff 1963), reprised and updated in his Economy, Society and Warfare among the Britons and Saxons (Cardiff 1987), pp. 5-150 where the animal bones are discussed pp. 67-82.

4. For a round-up of the post-Carolingian view of this general area see Matthew Innes, “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.

5. And indeed since this paper took place she has done, in the form of “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, DOI: 10.1179/0076609712Z.0000000003. I’m not quite clear if this is actually out yet: the journal’s website says the current issue is Vol. 57 (2013) but only gives indices for up to Vol. 55 (2011). In either case I must thank Hajnalka for sending me a preprint version ahead of publication.

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.

“Lives I did not lead”: Aleksander Gieysztor

I’m not exactly familiar with his work, but I’ve certainly got him in various reading lists and know who he was, roughly: a Polish historian of medieval Europe more interested than some in talking to Western European historians, with a particular bent towards socio-economic stuff and archaeology. I didn’t know he’d died in 1999 (along with too many others!), but I might have surmised that he was pretty old by now. And there it might have rested, had I not ‘inherited’ from the books that Philip Grierson left to my department the proceedings of the 47th Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, Spoleto. If you haven’t encountered this august institution, it’s a series of big conferences that have run at Spoleto’s Italian Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages (you see) since the mid-1950s. They’re always themed, but somehow there is a particular group of historians who are likely to have been there any given year, and a variety of friends and colleagues who turn up less regularly. It’s a kind of club to be in, I guess. Anyway, the 47th one was entitled Il Feudalesimo nell’Alto Medioevo and has a lot of people important to my work in it, so I guess you’ll likely hear more about it from me as I go through it and as my rather weak Italian wakes up to the challenge. Right now, though, that isn’t the point.

Aleksander Gieysztor, 1983

The first thing in the volume is nothing to do with the theme, though, being a memorial speech by Karol Modzelewski, one of Aleksander Gieysztor’s students. It tries to explain, not what Gieysztor’s work was about (because Gieysztor came to Spoleto enough that it could be assumed people would know), but the background that meant he was such a big deal for Polish scholarship (and now has an entire academy named after him). Modzelewski paints him as a unique figure of mediation, between the East where he always lived and the Western scholars with whom he worked so often; between a romantic-legendary Polish school of history for whom a self-determining nation was born in the ninth century in resistance to the Ottonian German overlords, and a positivist school more interested in what qualities the nation had that caused it to become and function as a unit, an organism, rather than the human political aspiration of the older school; and between the native Polish scholarship and the Communist authority that suspected nationalism, independence of thought and collaboration with the West. Modzelewski in fact recounts being himself hauled up before the Warsaw University authorities in 1968 for being too dangerously revisionist, and Gieysztor working hard to make sure that the inevitable disciplinary action didn’t actually stop him stepping back into a career after a suitable interval (and you can find notes on the episode being taught here).

This is a scholarly environment which is thankfully alien to me, but Modzelewski evokes the paranoia and anger of the patriotic young in 1968, and also the ‘safe space’ in which Gieysztor and others like Tadeusz Manteuffel had striven to contain Polish intellectual independence by working on something well removed from contemporary political dilemmas in the form of medieval history. Gieysztor’s scholarship had always been focussed on the Middle Ages but in the 1950s he’d soon realised that that was a place that could be defended as irrelevant and therefore able to think more freely. It’s all relative, but it’s slightly disconcerting to read, and find it plausible, that medievalists were thus quite likely to be revolutionaries compared to other disciplines that weren’t so carefully watched by the authorities.

War ruins in Poland, 1945

So how did Gieysztor get away with this patron position where he could move and talk to everyone with respect and without (much) suspicion? Well, that’s where it completely leaves my personal map. He had been head of the Propaganda Bureau of the Warsaw resistance movement during the German occupation. And that was after being an artillery commander during the 1939 attempt to repel the German invasion. He’d been in Warsaw the whole war except for a short spell in a German camp in 1945, had seen the population partly massacred by the Germans (while Russian troops sat idle across the river), had generally been in the patriotic thick of it and had, therefore, inexhaustible credit with the Polish authorities. He (and Manteuffel, who had also been a Resistance commander) had war honours in resisting fascism that no-one could dispute, and he was careful enough to respect the forms of the new régime as far as was needed to make sure that the things he thought were important about Poland and its self-knowledge could somehow be preserved from complete dilution or suppression.

I don’t know how far Modzelewski’s adulation is justified, because he was obviously close to the man and memorial speeches are no time to stint praise, but as lives go it’s one that I simply can’t imagine. My father, who served in three invasions during the Second World War claiming throughout (or later claiming that he then claimed… ) to be a pacifist recruited by mistake, might have understood it all right, but because of people like him or like Gieysztor I’ve been saved from having to face that kind of horror and compromise. It just strikes me that when I meet old historians, or read their work, I never think too deeply about background; I recognise some idealistic preconceptions maybe, but it just doesn’t strike me that they might have been formed in war, with one’s homeland shot and bombed to ruins about one, one’s colleagues and friends arrested and shot, and one’s principles wrecked on the barrel of a gun. How does one write medieval history after all that? But all these guys who saw this stuff, if they lived they had to do something more normal afterwards. These histories are lurking in the backgrounds of a lot of what I read, I suspect, and even now, of people I meet, and if the world stays the shape it is, I guess we will still be seeing war-formed historians for a while. I don’t really understand how one assimilates experience like that into one’s intellectual formation, but I’m pretty glad I haven’t had to learn.


Karol Modzelewski, “Ricordo di Aleksander Gieysztor (1916-1999)” in Il Feudalesimo nell’Alto Medioevo (8-12 aprile 1999), Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo Vol. 47 (Spoleto 2000), pp. 1-14.