Some months ago now, in trumpeting a recent publication, I mentioned that I already had another one out, and if you noticed that, you may have wondered why I didn’t subsequently go on to trumpet that too. Don’t worry, this isn’t one of my too-typical stories of disaster; it’s just that I was waiting for a print copy to photograph by way of authenticated proof. Well, months went by and I gently enquired and it turns out I don’t get one, just fifty free e-prints that I can distribute to people. This is the new age, I guess, but it means there is no longer any reason to hold back on announcing it, so here goes!
Over the last couple of years I have had two major goals with my publications. The first and most immediate of these was to survive my probation in my current post; the second was to start getting my work into journals that didn’t have the word ‘medieval’ in their titles, partly so that non-medievalists learnt that I exist and partly to reassure myself that my work had some wider interest. And in an article in issue 3 of volume 44 of the well-regarded journal Social History I have managed to help my way along towards both of those goals. It’s entitled “Ceremony, charters and social memory: property transfer ritual in early medieval Catalonia”.1
This comes ultimately from the unpublished methodological chapter that opens my doctoral thesis, but picks up one small aspect of that and expands it, that being that whereas we can tell a certain amount about how charters were written and created as objects in the early Middle Ages from the documents themselves, and something about how they were subsequently stored and used from the archives via which they have survived, we know really very little about the crucial stage in the process of a transaction in which what was in the document was made known to people.2 And yet we do know that it was, usually, because we have witnesses later recalling bits of the ceremony or documents, and predictably, we have this especially in the early Middle Ages’s number one documentary databank, Catalonia. There, indeed, we have a recognised genre of documents called reparationes scripturae, ‘documentary repairs’, I guess, in which the contents of a lost document were sworn to by qualified witnesses and their written and witnessed oath then constituted a replacement for the lost charter. There’s even some old Visigothic law about this, which was quoted in some of the documents we have, if (typically) in a distorted form as needed by the situation, but weirdly, even though the documents are from quite scattered locations and times, there’s some set phrases that recur which suggest that there was a legal ceremonial behind this, of which the law makes no mention.3 More importantly, and what the article is really about, there are signs in some of the documents that there were also organised ceremonies to commit the contents of these documents to local memory, so that if witnesses were ever needed they could indeed be recalled.4
So, I argue that this is one of those places the Early Middle Ages often throws at us where literacy and orality don’t separate but rather work as a whole: the documents we have record the result of oral memory being used to shore up a documentary record, but there was also a whole oral process of community ‘archiving’ of knowledge going on here whose presumption was that social memory was a better archive than documents. I also argue that this fits into a trend others have noticed in which old Roman archiving practises were adapted, as the needs that had created them disappeared in the fifth and sixth centuries, to serve new needs that they answered, in part, with their respectability as processes even though they were technically redundant, something that when you stop and think is still all round us, things that people do even though they have no real effect that still mean something because of when they did.5 This is a really good example of that not being a stupid, decadent, habit but a creative repurposing of the tools at hand to do the new job. And I guess because I found that link to a bigger point, they let me into their journal! But in the meantime, also, for those who care about such things I think it’s also the last word on reparatio scripturae for now…
Statistics here: I first gave this as a paper in Lincoln in 2015, and the publication draft didn’t change a great deal; it’s effectively been through only three drafts all told, unusually clean for my work. I guess I knew what I wanted to say! The reviewers mainly wanted me to incorporate more Wendy Davies, which was a pleasure as ever and easy to do, and the journal has a quick turnaround, so it was actually only three months between sending in the final revised version and it becoming available online as a published article.6 When it came out in print, I don’t know, but I’m assured that it has done! So this lowers all my averages a bit, and I’m very pleased with the result. I humbly commend it to you. And since I already have two more pieces in proof as we write, and two more under review beyond that, it probably won’t be long before you see another of these posts…
1. Jonathan Jarrett, “Ceremony, Charters and Social Memory: property transfer ritual in early medieval Catalonia” in Social History Vol. 44 (Abingdon 2019), pp. 275-295, DOI:10.1080/03071022.2019.1618570.
2. Idem, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished doctoral thesis (University of London 2005), online here, pp. 27-71 and esp. pp. 49-53, which however only addresses two of the documents used in the article.
3. There’s a limited bibliography on reparatio scripturae already, most obviously José Rius Serra, “Reparatio scriptura” in Anuario de historia del Derecho español Vol. 5 (Madrid 1928), pp. 246-253; Jeffrey A. Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: property, proof, and dispute in Catalonia around the year 1000 (Ithaca NY 2004), pp. 151-163; and Josep María Salrach, Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil (Vic 2013), pp. 185-211. None of these deal with the apparent underlying formula, however.
4. Noted also by Salrach, Justícia i poder, p. 195, which is what really provoked the first version of my article.
5. The work referred to here is Nicholas Everett, “Lay Documents and Archives in Early Medieval Spain and Italy, c. 400–700″ in Warren C. Brown, Marios Costambeys, Matthew Innes and Adam J. Kosto (edd.), Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 2013), pp. 63–94, and Warren C. Brown, “On the Gesta municipalia and the Public Validation of Documents in Frankish Europe” in Speculum Vol. 87 (Cambridge MA 2012), pp. 345–375, DOI: 10.1017/S0038713412001066, basically reprinted as idem, “The Gesta municipalia and the Public Validation of Documents in Frankish Europe” in Brown, Costambeys, Innes and Kosto, Documentary Culture, pp. 95–124, but with some small differences that mean you have to cite both despite them having the same title! That distresses most style sheets, I can tell you. I’ve already written about the work Warren’s done here, however, because it’s really clever.
6. The relevant work here being Wendy Davies, Windows on Justice in Northern Iberia, 800-1000 (Abingdon 2016), about which I will be blogging in future!