Tag Archives: Ralph Mathisen

Leeds IMC report for 2015, part 3

A weekend full of reading lists and finishing small things didn’t leave time for blog, but this week I am back on it with the third part of the report from last year’s International Medieval Congress at Leeds. A great deal of this day was connected with the retirement of Professor Ian Wood, the same circumstance which led me to be taking up a post in his absence next year, which left me feeling simultaneously as if it would be tactless of me to be at those sessions and as if it would be rude of me not to. In the end, therefore, I let reverence of the greats and relevance to my interests guide me, and so the day began like this.

1014. The Merovingian Kingdoms: sessions in honour of Ian N. Wood, I

  • Yitzhak Hen, “Introduction”
  • Danuta Shanzer, “Avitus of Vienne: onwards and upwards”
  • Régine Le Jan, “Merovingian Elite in the 7th Century: competitive and cooperative logics”
  • Paul Fouracre, “Town and Country in Merovingian and Early Carolingian Hagiography”
  • Yitzhak Hen, “Response”
  • Beginning of a text of the so-called Law of Gundobad, from Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf. 130 Blank, fo. 150r

    Beginning of a text of the so-called Law of Gundobad, from Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf. 130 Blank, fo. 150r

    Professor Shanzer brought to the feast some findings from the work of the ninth-century bishop Agobard of Lyons, who was one of the very few people to use the work of Professor Shanzer’s and Professor Wood’s shared interest, the sixth-century Bishop Avitus of Vienne. Specifically, he uses a dialogue between Avitus and King Gundobad of Burgundy (473-516), a heretic (as Agobard saw it) for his Arian Christianity, and he uses it as part of an argument against the provisions of Burgundian law still being used in court in his day but it obviously existed, and would be fascinating to rediscover.1 Professor Le Jan used Dado of Rouen’s Life of Eligius to show what happened when seventh-century Frankish court politics booted people out to the provinces, where the oppositions often continued under the cladding of Church disputes.2 Eligius, a ‘Roman’, contended with the local Irish monastic Church supported by the Mayor of the Palace, but unlike some he was a good enough middleman to be able to maintain relations with the Mayor anyway, and Professor Le Jan suggested that people like this who could use friendship to bridge political gaps might be the ones to study to understand why the faction-riven Merovingian kingdoms didn’t just disintegrate in the seventh century. Lastly Paul drew attention to what he saw as a shift in the scenes of action in these very politicised Merovingian saints’ lives, in the early ones of which most significant things happen in towns and it’s when bishops leave the towns that they are vulnerable without their loyal flock, like so many mitred Red Riding Hoods except that the woodcutter is the one to watch out for, but in the later ones of which we move to an inhabitation of the landscape, with foundations in the wilderness, driving off of wild beasts (always male) and rural devils (often female), whether in South-West Germany, West Germany or Frisia.3 Christianity moved out to the countryside in the seventh century, if these texts are to be taken as reflective. I might also note that it apparently starts ignoring bishops in favour of monks, and obviously the phenomena are complex; Paul suggested they were the roots of a colonizing culture, but the old one that the Irish penitential exiles change the face of the early medieval Church could still emerge from this unbeaten, I think.4 Lastly, in his response Professor Hen went back to Professor Shanzer’s paper and noted firstly that Avitus doesn’t seem actually to call Gundobad himself an Arian, whether or not Agobard does, and secondly that unlike with most heretics, the Church almost always responded to Arians with debate, not suppression, which might be worth exploring.

After this, whether from embarrassment or not I don’t know, I reverted to my numismatic background for a session.

1143. Conceptualizing Value in Early Medieval Europe

  • Dagfinn Skre, “To Value and To Trade: two sides of the same coin”
  • Alessia Rovelli, “La monnaie comme mesure de la valeur et moyen d’échange dans l’Italie du haut moyen âge”, with “Summary” by Chris Wickham
  • Rory Naismith, “Pecuniary Profanities? Money, Ritual, and Value in the Early Middle Ages”
  • This was probably something I had to go to anyway, wasn’t it? The value systems that support early medieval coinage are increasingly something I worry about, since it is used so differently to modern money that assumptions are too easily transported. Here were three other people worrying about it too. There is a sort of orthodoxy that money came into being as a means to make trade easier; Dr Skre had lately met the work of David Graeber that questions this and suggests that pre-monetary societies work differently, with exchange structured by obligations, not by value; as soon as you have value as an independent concept, as a quantity that can be owed, a line has been crossed that the introduction of money doesn’t alter.5 I’ve been agnostic about this so far but Dr Skre’s looking at the earliest Norwegian lawcodes for compensation tariffs, measured in coin-terms but obviously untradeable (since you can’t pass on someone’s eye, etc.) had me readier to believe it than I had been before. Dr Rovelli looked at late-eighth-century Italy, where a system based on Lombard gold was rapidly (as far as documents mentioning the things indicate) replaced by a system based on Carolingian silver but where, as she explained, finds of Carolingian coinage are really very rare compared to silver of other periods. Of the finds that there are, only Milan’s and Venice’s coinages seem to have travelled very far but even then there’s not much.6 As Chris Wickham put it in summary, this makes it seem like the Carolingian denier was much more a unit of account than anything people actually used. Rory then followed this up by looking at the question of hoards of coins used as ritual deposits, not just in pagan contexts but specifically as Christian alms in the context of the Forum Hoard which he and others have been investigating.7 Obviously these are not a priori economic uses, and Rory matched this with XRF analysis of the contemporary papal silver, whose content is pretty unvarying and often higher than its contemporaries. There’s no sign that stuff given to the Holy See was being melted down to make more coin, therefore, the spheres were kept separate. I have my reservations about XRF for trace elements even when done really well, to which we’ll return in a few posts’ time, but this had been done well and by this time what Rory was suggesting seemed to make sense anyway.

    Silver denaro of Pope Benedict IV with Emperor Louis the Blind, struck in Rome between 901 and 903, NAC Numismatica SpA auction, 18 December 2010

    Silver denaro of Pope Benedict IV with Emperor Louis the Blind, struck in Rome between 901 and 903, NAC Numismatica SpA auction, 18 December 2010, a very special coin not just because of the price it made but because it is also an early medieval rebus. Can anyone see it?

    There was lots of discussion in this session. To my delight this included an orthodox Marxist (Señor de Carvalho Pachá of the previous day) insisting that value was capitalist and that Marx himself showed that Graeber is wrong, to which Dr Skre replied that in his materials value was created by comparison, not production, and when you’re dealing with compensation for offences against the person, that is a strong position I think. I suggested that precious-metal coin was all too high-value for us to talk about monetisation in any market sense anyway and that it must have all been ‘special’ in some way, to which Dr Skre again reasonably replied that coin is a lot lower-value than the masses of bullion people in his research area sometimes stashed or transacted. Morn Capper argued with Rory about whether the Forum Hoard could really be part of the English annual donation to the Holy See known as Peter’s Pence, since there isn’t that much of it from that point of view, and I don’t think this got settled. I then wound up arguing privately with Morn about the use of bronze coin; as she said, it does sometimes happen in Northern Europe, such as eighth-century Northumbria, but as I said it also happens anywhere Byzantine but, importantly, that doesn’t lead to the non-Byzantine areas in contact with those ones seeing low-value coin as solving a trade problem they’ve always had and adopting it straight away. The utility argument for money actually falls over badly when you place it in the early Middle Ages. This is one of the reasons I now contend for the value of the study of this period; it often breaks other people’s general theories quite badly!

So that was all really useful and left me with much to discuss with people over lunch, but for the rest of the day I was called back to the Rupert Beckett Lecture Theatre and the lauding and magnification of Ian Wood. The first of these sessions combined several loyalties, though, and I might have had to go anyway.

1214. Material Culture and Early Medieval History: sessions in honour of Ian N. Wood, III

  • Leslie Brubaker, “The Earliest Images of the Virgin Mary, East and West”
  • Helmut Reimitz, “Between Past and Future: Roman History in the Merovingian Kingdoms”
  • Richard Morris, “Landscape, Archaeology and the Coming of Christianity to Northern England”
  • Alan Thacker, “Response”
  • Leslie, at this point still in my chain of command, detected a difference between the way that the Virgin Mary was depicted in the early Christian world between Rome, where the popes were her biggest champions and between the fifth and eighth centuries settled into depicting her as the Queen of Heaven, in full golden royal attire. Perhaps naturally, in the East the emperors did not do this; Mary appeared enthroned with the Son, yes, but the royal attire stayed firmly on the imperial patrons. Helmut’s paper, despite his title, was more about the use of Roman law in the Merovingian kingdoms, focusing especially on the trial of Bishop Praetextatus by King Chilperic, because Chilperic condemned him according to the canon law of the Roman Church.8 Admittedly, Gregory of Tours claims that the king had added these laws to the canons himself, but the relevant law is in eleven manuscripts of the Theodosian Code and copied into five of the Breviary of Alaric and one of the Salic Law. The Roman past was still in use here, but not always by its self-appointed custodians. Richard Morris, picking up on another strand of Professor Wood’s work, looked at a group of Northumbrian monasteries of which several are only known through archæology, arguing that they were usually on previously-sacred sites but also represent a fair degree of royal initiative to establish Christianity so widely across a landscape so fast.9 The identity of the founders seems to me hard to demonstrate from archæology alone and the group didn’t seem to me to be too unified on a map, but the pagan precursors were well demonstrated. Lastly Alan drew the papers together with the thread of the Empire, one of the papal Marian churches being an imperial foundation in origin and these churches being the inspiration for at least some of the Northumbrian foundations like the (non-royal) Wearmouth-Jarrow. This session also achieved its purpose to an extent in that it provoked Professor Wood to draw further links between the papers, because as Alan had said, his work had enabled the spread of the session and its range of comparison in the first place.

    East wall of Santa Maria Antiqua, Rome

    East wall of Santa Maria Antiqua, Rome, showing where Leslie’s materials are coming from

Then tea and back to the theatre once more for the papers in this group which, for me at least, had promised the most fun of all.

1314. The Transformation of the Roman World: sessions in honour of Ian N. Wood, IV

  • Ralph Mathisen, “Pacu and his Brother: a Romano-Alamannic family from post-Roman Heidelberg”
  • Chris Wickham, “Information Exchange on the Papal Estates of Sicily, c. 600″
  • Ann Christys, “Was Spain Different in the Eighth Century?”
  • Stuart Airlie, “Response”
  • Detail from a replica of the seventh-century Alemannic scabbard from Gutenstein

    Detail from a replica of the seventh-century Alemannic scabbard from Gutenstein, not showing a great deal of Roman influence but of course also rather later than we’re talking about. Photo by Schristian Bickel – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 2.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3078209


    Professor Mathisen focused on a single monument from the Agri Decumates, an area supposedly utterly lost to Roman control thanks to the Alemans in the third-century crisis; the names on the monument seem to show an Aleman with Roman children and invokes Roman gods but does so in a way that no other monument Professor Mathisen knew does, with a double field across which the text runs in continuous lines. I remember this and it looks weird—sadly I can’t find an image [Edit: but Mark H. can, as witness his comment, thankyou!]—but it’s obviously not a rejection of Rome, and there are apparently plenty of other signs of continuity in this area once one accepts that as possible. Conquest obviously wasn’t simple here. Chris then looked at the letters of Pope Gregory I, and I will probably remember nothing from this conference as warmly as his five-minute précis of the kinds of things Gregory was writing to his distant estate managers on Sicily about (“Give me back the onyx vase I lent you”), but the point was the level of micro-management Gregory was attempting by letter, chasing up cases and missed payments, making appointments, policing rent levels and answering pleas from his people against his own officials. It seems difficult to believe that this could have worked, given his removal from actual events, but he obviously thought it could, and this should perhaps make us think about other people whose letters didn’t happen to be preserved because of being pope.10 Ann Christys then reminded us of the awkwardly large gap we have between the conquest of al-Andalus by Muslim forces in 711 and the first texts that talk about it, from the ninth and tenth centuries; the archæology doesn’t show very much break until then either, but the texts are very uninterested in the Spanish past except as it had led to their conquest, even though it was still the environment in which their co-religionists and even they lived.11 Stuart Airlie, in closing, firstly wished that Bede could have done the response instead of him, secondly wondered why we even still try to divide the medieval from the ancient worlds and thirdly pointed out quite how many different agents we have to envisage in the transformation of the session’s title, working perhaps not as disconnectedly as is often imagined but all in their own local contexts and to purposes that cannot have been very much aligned. Whether the detail can ever be resynthesized is an open question but he encouraged everybody to keep working on it anyway. In discussion, it was Chris’s paper that drew the most questions, not least Professor Wood sagely pointing out that for some reason Gregory doesn’t try to manage his estates in Provence the same way, and Chris pointing out to someone else I didn’t know that tax can’t have been be the supporting infrastructure because it wasn’t to Rome that tax went any more. There was certainly a lot to think about now that we had been presented with a mechanic of governance in such detail.

Now, this was the night of the dance, but as is sadly becoming a tradition I didn’t go; I don’t like the Students Union’s club space in which it is held, or the drink they are willing to supply to help you endure it. I hope I’m not just too old now. I think I reverted instead to an ancient Leeds tradition of drinking beer in the bar with every intent of going along to the dance ‘to look’ until it was late enough that it made no sense to do so. After all, the next day was show-time, as I will report in a couple of posts’ time.


1. The text is his Adversus legem Gundobadi, printed in L. van Acker (ed.), Agobardi Lugdunensis opera omnia Corpus Christianorum Continuatio mediaevalis 52 (Leuven 1981), pp. 19-28 (no. 2). As far as I know there’s no translation yet.

2. Here the text is the Vita Eligii episcopi Noviomagensis, ed. by Wilhelm Levison in Bruno Krusch (ed.), Passiones vitaeque sanctorum aevi Merovingici (II), Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum merovingicarum) IV (Hannover 1902), pp. 663-742, transl. JoAnn McNamara in Paul Halsall (ed.), Internet Medieval Sourcebook, http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/eligius.asp, last modified October 1998 as of 1 September 2016.

3. Paul’s examples were the Passio Praeecti, well-known to him of course and full of buildings, the Lives of the Jura Fathers, with the landscape out to get the exiles, Jonas’s Vita Columbani, where the rustics are the saint’s biggest fans, and the Vita Sturmi, Vita Galli and Gesta Abbati Sancti Wandregisili for clearance and colonisation. You can find these respectively as Bruno Krusch (ed.), “Passio Praeiecti episcopi et martyris Arverni”, in Krusch & Wilhelm Levison (edd.), Passiones vitaeque sanctorum aevi Merovingici (III), Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum merovingicarum) V (Hannover 1910), pp. 225-248, transl. in Paul Fouracre & Richad Gerberding (transl.), Late Merovingian France: history and hagiography 640-720 (Manchester 1996), pp. 254-300; François Martine (ed./transl.), Vita patrum jurensium : Vie des Pères du Jura. Introduction, texte critique, lexique, traduction et notes, Sources chrétiennes 142 (Paris 1968), English in Tim Vivian, Kim Vivian, Jeffrey Burton Russell and Charles Cummings (edd./transl.), The Lives of the Jura Fathers: The Life and Rule of the Holy Fathers Romanus, Lupicinus, and Eugendus, Abbots of the Monasteries in the Jura Mountains, with appendices, Avitus of Vienne, Letter XVIII to Viventiolus, and Eucherius of Lyon, The Passion of the Martyrs of Agaune, Saint Maurice and His Companions, and In Praise of the Desert, Cistercian Studies 178 (Kalamazoo 1999) or as Vivian, Vivian & Russell (transl.), Lives of the Jura Fathers (Collegeville MN 2000); Krusch (ed.), “Vitae Columbani abbatus et discipulorumque eius libri duo auctore Iona” in idem (ed.), Passiones vitaeque sanctorum aevi Merovingici (I), Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum merovingicarum) III (Hannover 1902), pp. 1-156 at pp. 64-108, English in Dana C. Munro (transl.). “Life of St Columban, by the Monk Jonas” in Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History Vol. II no. 7 (Philadelphia PA 1895); Eigil, Vita Sancti Sturmi, in Goegr Heinrich Pertz (ed.), Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores in folio) II (Hannover 1829), pp. 365-377, transl. C. H. Talbot in idem, The Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany (London 1954), pp. 181-204, repr. in Thomas F. X. Noble and Thomas Head (edd.), Soldiers of Christ: saints and saints’ lives from late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages (University Park 1995), pp. 165-188; Maud Joynt (ed./transl.), The Life of St Gall (Burnham-on-Sea 1927); and F. Lohier & Jean Laporte (edd.), Gesta sanctorum patrum Fontanellensis coenobii (Rouen 1931), as far as I know no English version.

4. On which see for example Marie-Thérèse Flanagan, “The contribution of Irish missionaries and scholars to medieval Christianity” in Brendan Bradshaw and Dáire Keogh (edd.), Christianity in Ireland: revisiting the story (Blackrock 2002), pp. 30-43 (non vidi).

5. The book of Graeber’s I was told to read, long ago, is his Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (New York City 2001), but it seems that his Debt: the first 5000 years (Brooklyn NY 2011) is now the go-to. On this exact subject, though, compare William Ian Miller, Eye for an Eye (Cambridge 2005), pp. 160-179.

6. This kind of detail of circulation can be got from Clemens Maria Haertle, Karolingische Münzfunde aus dem 9. Jahrhundert (Wien 1997), 2 vols.

7. See already R. Naismith, “Peter’s Pence and Before: Numismatic Links between Anglo-Saxon England and Rome” in Francesca Tinti (ed.), England and Rome in the early Middle Ages: pilgrimage, art, and politics (Turnhout 2014), pp. 217-254.

8. Described in Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks, transl. Lewis Thorpe (Harmondsworth 1968), V.18; I’m sure you can find the Latin yourselves if you are such as need it.

9. Cited, and for good reason, was Ian N. Wood, “Monasteries and the Geography Of Power in the Age of Bede” in Northern History 45 (2008), pp. 11-26.

10. The letters are translated in John Martyn (transl.), The Letters of Gregory the Great, translated with an introduction and notes (Toronto 2004), 2 vols. There’re lots!

11. See now Nicola Clarke, The Muslim Conquest of Iberia: Medieval Arabic Narratives (Abingdon: Routledge 2012).

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Kalamazoo and Back, IV: in which I am substantially preceded

We apologise for the delay. Trust me, there have been good reasons for this which will be vouchsafed in due course. Anyway, this is about the Saturday of Kalamazoo, in which the weather improved, there was a dance at evening and in which almost everything I went to was from before my period. The result of this is that it has largely been covered by Curt Emanuel, but I’ll add my two penn’orth anyway, because, well, of consistency and self-importance largely I suppose. So then!

Session 409: Early Medieval Europe II

I had been to bed very late the previous night, but somehow found the trick of deep sleep once more. This unfortunately meant that I was late to the first session of the day, largely because I was still dozy and took a stupid route up the hill to where it was. I was however less chagrined about this than I might have been because I heard an earlier version of this paper in a graduate seminar here in Cambridge, and you can be less chagrined about the gappy coverage because as mentioned this one is already written up in detail at Medieval History Geek. It was in fact:

  • Margaret McCarthy, “Louis the Stammerer and the Development of a Kingly Identity”. Margaret’s basic contention, and a soundly-founded one, is that Louis should not be seen as a poor successor to Charles the Bald; starting from a very bad situation that Charles had largely engineered, he was as far as we can now tell doing all the sensible things someone in his position could do to garner support and establish himself as an accepted and legitimate Carolingian ruler, and had he not died so soon he might have gone places. Interestingly, the charters he did have time to issue included some not to places not in his own kingdom; whether this says something about territorial ambitions or about pan-Carolingian status, especially at a time when non-Carolingians were raising their neo-royal heads, is something we can probably never resolve, though.
  • Margaret was followed by Karl Heidecker, who is rarely less than controversial and was here talking to the title, “Carolingian Government and Social Practice: designs of imperial and Christian reform and their consequences in people’s lives”, which was more specifically, firstly, about how far the reform of marriage under the Carolingian kings actually had an effect on the everyday person. He pointed out that the kings themselves did not define marriage, only ruled certain sorts out as illicit; the definition came out of a subsequent process, almost of exegesis, of the legislation and conciliar rulings, by various clerics across the successor kingdoms. Very often cases were decided on a political basis rather than an ideological basis, and in fact the definitions were probably largely created around these troublesome cases where competing agendas meant that normal practice couldn’t be followed. The second part of the paper examined office-holding in Carolingian-conquered Alemannia and pointed out that there are some zones where a ‘regular’ practice of assimilation was followed, some where locals were left in place and some where all vestiges of the local élite were squashed out. This fit perfectly with my picture of variable pathways of power from élite to ground so I was happy to hear it from another area, an area moreover where very similar techniques to mine are being employed by the researchers.
  • Third paper in the session was Justin Lake, speaking to the title “Pompatica scientia in the tenth century”. He was talking about attitudes to learning in the tenth century, which should be bang on my period especially since my particular area in that period is, at its upper levels, keen on Greek and may well have introduced the astrolabe to the west, via a man renowned for his knowledge but also drummed out of every job he held except the last one and later regarded as a Muslim-trained wizard. All the same, in actual historian’s terms I don’t think I’ve much to add to the Medieval History Geek’s coverage for this one so I suggest you go look there.

Session 457. Early Medieval Europe III

(Also covered at Medieval History Geek here.)

  • After lunch, I got to have the particular thrill that is finding someone working on a subject almost but quite one’s own in ways one hadn’t thought of. He was however preceded by none other than Ralph Mathisen, speaking to the title “Desiderius of Cahors and the End of the Ancient World”. This was a light-hearted paper with a serious core; its ostensible purpose was to find a candidate for the last of the Romans, in an intellectual-cultural sense, and justify the choice (which was Desiderius). Of course there’s no way to do this without tackling serious issues of what distinguishes antique from medieval and that was the real point of the paper: Ralph saw in Desiderius and his cronies the last generation of an élite who saw themselves as inheritors of the culture of Virgil, letter-writers and Classicists, who did not however train up a following generation. Of course, the Carolingianists could and did put up arguments for a framing of intellectuals like Einhard (whose letters are really not very different in content) as the same sort of thing, but the absence of a continuity between the 560s and the 780s for this kind of culture of letters does seem to be arguable, albeit necessarily from silence which is the real issue I think. Even Einhard’s letters are something of a lucky survival, alongside Alcuin’s and Theodulf’s poems (which are, indeed, not quite of the same flavour, which is perhaps a good time to remember that unlike those two Einhard was (a) Frankish and (b) a layman…). What else might have been out there that subsequent monastic archives didn’t have a use for?
  • Ralph Mathisen presenting an earlier Kalamazoo paper

    There are some surprising things to be found on W. Mich's image server if you dig. Here is Ralph Mathisen himself presenting a Kalamazoo paper from I think 2008

  • Second up was Graham Barrett (I get this name wrong because of other Barretts more local to me, but have checked it against his handout), who was talking to the title “Literacy, Law and Libido in Early Medieval Spain”. Now, though you might assume that this would be a paper based on Visigothic law and Councils, actually it was a charter paper: Graham was focussing on 30 cases of prosecution for adultery that survive in the archives of non-Catalan Northern Spain from 954-1081. These are preserved because, despite the law that they cite prescribing penance for the crime, they impose fines, which are paid in land that then becomes some preserving institutions. Certain rulers seem to take advantage of the fact that the Visigothic Law saw adultery as a public crime, which could therefore be prosecuted by anyone, not just the other spouse, to extract lands from those unable to keep continent. As you can see Graham is working some very similar veins to mine here, which I hadn’t realised at all when last we’d met, so I was not only extremely interested but rather glad he’d omitted Catalonia, where however we have nothing of the kind that I’ve yet seen.1
  • Last paper in the session was by David Dry, and was entitled, “Episcopal inheritance: replicating power in the Merovingian Gaul”; it was largely a treatment of episcopal election and the interests that governed it in the Merovingian period, primarily from the work of Gregory of Tours because that’s so much of what here is. Particulaly emphasised was the amount of trouble the bishops could make for a king, and the high status they enjoyed, which we somehow have to reconcile with the need they had for royal patronage. I should make more of Merovingian bishops in this way than I do because they illustrate so clearly the power that being a negotiator that both sides need can accrue for a person; Dry brought this out nicely.

A certain amount of confused wandering around the Fetzer building trying to find coffee and get back for the next session left me eventually deciding that the latter would have to take precedence and I snuck in through the introductory remarks of the convenor of…

520. Beyond Bede II: later Anglo-Saxon England

    A Kalamazoo session in a room in the Fetzer Center

    I'm pretty sure this is the same room or one functionally equivalent, but it's probably also from 2008


    I am something of a fan of Saint Bede, as the keen reader here may have noticed, and although I have no research contribution to make about Anglo-Saxon England I like to keep my mind in with it, as it were, so for this and other reasons I’d stopped in here to hear what turned out to be two papers about almost exactly the same material, Alice Olson presenting to the title “The Legacy of Bede in the Anglo-Saxon homilies” and Helen Foxhall Forbes to that of “Bede and Goscelin”, with a response by Allen Frantzen. Alice was interested in proving Æfric’s use of Bede by picking on a more or less unique piece of material that he borrows, the fourfold vision of Hell set out in a homily of his known as the vision of Dryhthelm. She mentioned some other possible sources and some theological complications of it but thought that the case for derivation was fairly obvious. Helen then set out the schema in detail, artfully reprising a Powerpoint presentation she’d not been able to use because of an absence of a projector solely with whiteboard markers, and showed how Bede’s version of this is unique, although he has two variants of it: before the Judgement the division is between Heaven, where the saints are already with God; Paradise, a sort of anteroom where those who will be saved at the last Judgement but were not quite express Heaven-goers await; Purgatory, where those sinners who can be saved are punished before their upward passage to Paradise, and Hell where the utterly damned are confined for eternity with no hope of escape. At the Judgement, however, he sees the Perfect, who will judge, the Good, who will be judged and admitted to Heaven, the Wicked, who will be dismissed to hell, and the unbaptised and apostates who receive no judgement. It is this latter bit that is the other sources Alice had mentioned, but the previous interim is all Bede’s own. So these two papers wound up complementing each other rather well, though I think both speakers would have changed their material somewhat if they’d known how close they were working. Frantzen’s response stressed the position of Bede with respect to heresy, which as Bede saw it was in the past, leaving him free to originate interpretation; Frantzen wisely asked whether Æfric would have approved of this schema of Bede’s, which is at the least unusual, if it had been in another writer less revered. He and the convener also reminded us that it is very unusual for theological work of Bede’s to enjoy this kind of reuse; although his impact was huge in historical terms, the other works circulate much less and the homilies hardly at all, at least not under his name. This would all doubtless be a bit abstruse for the general listener, but I think that even that listener would have been temporarily enthralled by a scheme of damnation that you can draw on a board; the power of the visual aid was made very clear by this. I enjoyed the session a lot.

And then it was the evening, and at this point I confess that I briefly ran out of up. I had food in my room to finish so I retired there and nearly didn’t go out again. Eventually, however, I recovered myself and somewhat grimly set out for the dance knowing that I’d regret not going more than I would going, and this was quite right. I don’t know that the dance is better than Leeds’s, now, though that’s only because Leeds’s has got a lot better in the last two years and because good heavens the beer at Kalamazoo’s dance is expensive, but it has a far better space to be in and the music ranges slightly more widely. This suits me because my music taste is largely (like myself) at the fringes of a dancefloor, and at Leeds just gone, despite the encouragement of Stuart Airlie, there was only really one song that got me properly,2 whereas at Kalamazoo there were three, and the last of them was the Sex Pistols which I can’t imagine ever being played at Leeds. I suspect a more heavily Anglophone constituency probably partly explains this but it could just be that all British discoes are firmly stuck in the nineties and imagine their entire attendance is hen parties. I may possibly over-generalise.

Simon Trafford at the Saturday dance at Kalamazoo in some year past

Headbanging! This man wasn't there so I had to step in

Anyway, I went, I drank lightly, I was dragged onto the floor by three different charming women,3 I threw my hair around and then I quit while I was ahead and went home to bed. In this, I admit, I was disobeying the dictum given me in the very early hours of that morning by Elizabeth MacMahon as we wended our briefly coincidental ways to our separate abodes, so it’s probably now time that was told. I’d complained of being short of sleep, and she wisely responded:

Sleep? There is no sleep. This is the
Bataan death march of scholarly fun!

Even with that statement ringing in my ears, however, I was still presenting early next morning and then flying across the Atlantic, so I disobeyed orders and went and slept, but with a much better day behind me than I’d expected a few hours previously.


1. He thus joins Eduardo Manzano Moreno and of course Wendy Davies as people who could obviously have done my project and probably faster if they’d been minded to and to whom I am therefore grateful for leaving me space. The difference so far is that Manzano’s two English articles actually started me on the whole project and Wendy’s Small Worlds showed me how I was going to do it; I rather imagine, though, that Graham will start similar fires under people in a few years.

2. ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order, since you ask.

3. All members of the group of women with whom I am most popular, which is, those who are already happily attached to someone else…

Leeds report 2: Tuesday 8th

All hail WordPress, because whatever bug was causing my Firefox to die at the `write post’ window appears to have been vanquished. I also discover that I forgot to mention, in the last report, renewing my acquaintance with Gesta, whom I knew from a long time ago but whose real-life name I’d managed to forget knowing in that time—given when it was I bet I didn’t hear it properly the first time and was too bashful to ask again. Anyway, I worked it out, and she has her own Leeds report up already, much shorter and probably far more interesting than mine, so go have a look.

So anyway, Leeds, Tuesday 8th July, yours truly wakes with a thick head but makes it to breakfast anyway, what does he do next? Well, with a bitter headache that was apparently turning his face white and making him look as if he wanted to kill someone, he chairs the third and last of the Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic sessions. This one didn’t gel as well as the other two, which is not to say that the papers were any less good: Matthew Hammond, talking about ceremonial acts in early Scottish charters, got many questions from an audience he’d clearly partly drawn, and Morn Capper and Elina Screen also had some interest, Morn especially in fact as I heard people talking about her paper separately from the session discussion through the rest of the day; she was talking about how Mercian royal titles in charters seem only to vary when other people, who are producing the charters, aren’t sure about their new expanded status. Elina by contrast was talking about the political self-conceptualisation of the Italian rule of Emperor Lothar I, and so it was hard to find questions that included all three. I got one that Wendy Davies said she was meaning to ask herself, but thereafter it was kind of three separate crowds rather than a discussion. Still good, though, especially as the other sessions had been much more pure diplomatic and this was more like what historians want to use charters for only done properly.

Screenshot from my Catalan comital charters database

Screenshot from my Catalan comital charters database

Coffee helped with the head and I had a choice next session. I opted to stay in the same building, which also let me visit and wince at prices on the Brepols stall, and I then went to “New Work in Digital Medieval Studies“. This turned out to have been the right decision. In it, Arianna Ciula spoke of using computerised recognition to do palaeographic analysis, which seemed a tool that was so far very useful for a known corpus but which still had some work to be done before anyone could easily deploy it either to recognise scribes, rather than periodize script which was her interest, or use it on a new corpus without almost as long `teaching’ it conventions. All the same it was very interesting. Then Georg Vogeler spoke impassionedly about an attempt to get as many charters as possible onto the web—he was aiming for all of them, pointing out that the rate of increase over the last five years made this apparently realisable in the mid-range future—so as to compare usefully across many corpora, and complained about how little cooperation there was between diplomatists of different areas. Since my collaborators and I had been saying something very similar the previous day, this struck a big chord, and I talked with him afterwards about doing something about it. I’ll blog more about that in the next post; a lot more could very easily be done than is but it’s easy to change that. And finally Dorothy Carr Porter talked about using a 3D scanner to read old papyrus rolls without unrolling them and generally had us impressed at her budget and hardware and wondering what we could use it for. Here again, I know that the technology lacks as yet: papyrus is easier to see `through’ than parchment, codices less so than rolls, and though one would love to be able to read palimpsested text by scanning the tech isn’t yet there; I nearly got to work with the tech that isn’t yet there so I know something about this. It is on the way though, and in the meantime there’s still lots to be done with this, especially if we combined the papers: hi-tech scanning, webifying it then analysing scripts on the web images, for example, would make it nearly possible to automate scribal analysis on pretty much any text being digitised anywhere if people all cooperated… But as was mentioned by several people, “the deans don’t like that idea”. It seems a real pity that that attitude is apparently so frequent, and this sort of thing is really what the sadly moribund Arts and Humanities Data Service ought to have been doing, as I’ve said before.

Galla Placidia as depicted on a gold solidus of Valentinian

Galla Placidia as depicted on a gold solidus of Valentinian

After lunch I perhaps made a mistake, because rather than as I might have done going to see my boss orchestrate numismatists or some stuff about Carolingian-era Eastern Europe I opted instead to go and see friends, and this kind of failed because one of them had broken a foot and thus wasn’t present. However, I did get a fabulous paper by Ralph Mathisen asking whether the Roman emperors really meant it when they apparently outlawed marriage between Romans and barbarians in the fourth century (his answer: only for a certain class of militarily-occupied barbarian or their womenfolk; a related paper on barbarians and citizenship is here), and Jamie Wood unquestionably knows a lot about Isidore of Seville.

The Vale of York hoard

The Vale of York hoard

Finally, I did after tea cave into the numismatic urge, mainly because someone had persuaded the British Museum to finally tell us what was in the Harrogate hoard, now to be known as the Vale of York hoard because of not really coming from that near Harrogate. The answer turns out to be 617 coins, about half of them being Athelstan Two-Line type, but some of the rest being previously unknown Viking types that reverse a small part of the chronology of the mint of Viking York. Small fry to you maybe but coinage chronology is the best early medieval dating evidence there is, it’s important that we keep trying to get it righter. We got one paper about the other artefacts in the hoard (because the cup it was all in is a fairly impressive silver thing in and of itself) and one about the coinage from Barry Ager and Gareth Williams respectively, and Megan Gooch set the scene first of all.

After that I got back to the other half of the site quickly as I could, then raced back again (as far as the conference buses made that possible) and just squeezed into Patrick Geary‘s Medieval Academy lecture, which was quite impressive, not least for the number of languages he had on screen (including Icelandic and Arabic—I can’t quite believe any non-natives speak both, and if they do, I doubt he’s one), but which also illustrated quite nicely Magistra’s point about the difference between `interesting’ and `important’: it was quite interesting to see that the reform movement around the eleventh-century Papacy did use a lot of language suggestive of an attitude that wanted to exclude the ignorant from Latin learning in case they messed it up, but since it was rather harder to find them actually stating this or forming policy round it in a conscious way, it wasn’t yet important. Once, as might not be too hard, it could be shown that these attitudes conform with what they actually did say out loud, it might be an interesting psychological twist, but really, Henry IV and Gregory VII already has enough such twists to make a spring out of. We’ll see if he does anything with this I guess.

There were a few receptions on that evening, though we badly missed our friends from Utrecht, sadly not very evident this year and certainly not offering vast amounts of cheese and Jenever, but given how ropey I’d felt for much of the day I made a sincere but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to get an early night, and rose something like better shape for the Wednesday.