Tag Archives: Ribuarian Law

Leeds 2014 Report IV and Final

The 2014 bookfair, International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds

I should, given that I’d missed the dance the previous night, have been up bright and early on the following and final day of the 2014 International Medieval Congress, but I confess I was not. I had had a couple of sessions in mind to go to, but in fact by the time I was fully operational it was just too late gracefully to get in, and so I gave into temptation and went to the bookfair to check along a few final stalls I hadn’t yet reached. With that achieved, and coffee consumed, I threw myself back into academia for the last two sessions.

1607. Law and Empire: editing the Carolingian capitularies, II

The earlier one of these sessions was one of those I had been thinking of going to, and once I’d been to the second I regretted my failure, as it was very much on my interests. It was, I gathered, part of a thread coming out of the ongoing work to re-edit the disparate body of texts emanating from the Carolingian empire which we call ‘capitularies‘, because they are arranged by capitula, headings or articles. This covers everything from programmatic law through sermons to meeting agendas and so many problems arise, which the speakers were variously facing. This was the running order:

  • Jennifer R. Davis, “Manuscript Evidence of the Use of Capitularies”.
  • Matthias Tischler, “Changing Perceptions of a Carolingian Constitution: the legal and historiographical contexts of the ‘Divisio regnorum’ in the early 9th century”.
  • Karl Ubl, “Editing the Capitula legibus addenda, 818-819, of Louis the Pious: text and transmission”.
  • The first problem tackled was : did anyone ever actually use the legislation that the Carolingian kings issued like this? Doubts have been raised, even though they were later compiled into something like a new lawcode for Emperor Louis the Pious (814-840), because however interested the court may have been in them, only one citation of them is court has so far been located, making them vulnerable to an old argument by the late Patrick Wormald that early medieval law-making was about performance, not about actually trying to govern people’s behaviour.1 Professor Davis had however found a private manuscript that collects capitulary legislation, perhaps, given its contents, made for a courtier bound for Italy who needed to know about the laws there, and she argued that this was the tip of a lost iceberg of people making their own legal handbooks of the bits they needed from the central law-bank at the court.

    Part of Charlemagne’s789 capitulary, the Admonitio Generalis, in St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 733, DOI: 10.5076/e-codices-csg-0733, f. 13r. (http://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/list/one/csg/0733), Professor Davis’s chosen manuscript.

    This was in part supported by Dr Tischler’s paper, which found several manuscripts collecting one capitulary in particular, that by which Charlemagne promulgated the division of his empire which he planned in 806, before the death of his two elder sons. Since Louis the Pious, the remaining son, had three sons of his own, this text retained a worrying relevance and Dr Tischler thought he could identify several of the people worrying from the provenance and contents of the manuscripts; they too went back to these texts for models of how things might be done even after the moment of the text itself had passed. Lastly Professor Ubl spoke of the difficulty of categorising his chosen text, the Capitula legibus addenda, ‘articles for adding to the laws’. If lawcode and capitulary were really separate categories, as their initial editor believed, what are we to do with a capitulary that updates the lawcodes? And again, the manuscripts show us that this is indeed how it was used: of 32 surviving copies, two-thirds also contain one of the Frankish law-codes, the Lex Salica and an overlapping third contain the other, the Lex Ribuaria. The people writing these manuscripts didn’t necessarily know which king had issued the capitulary but they knew what it was for and wanted it available.

There was heated discussion after this, because who loves categories more than legal historians? And who loves questioning them more than modern social historians? But one of the questions that was being asked throughout, but especially by Professor Ubl, was just what kind of an edition one can make of a text like the Capitula legibus addenda, of which there are thirty-two different versions none of which are evidently definitive and all of whose constructions are, as these papers had shown, potentially informative. Professor Ubl wanted a born-digital edition but it wasn’t quite clear how it would work yet. I thought that a kind of database of clauses, from which a website could cook you up any given manuscript, would still actually give you a form of text to print, but there were reasons my notes don’t let me recall why this wouldn’t answer. I still like it, though. Anyway, then there was lunch and then it was the final straight.

1715. Networks and Neighbours, VII: relationships of power in the Early Middle Ages

I have a certain loyalty to the Networks and Neighbours strand at Leeds, mainly out of self-interest since I am in the journal, or will be, but also because the organisation behind it is quite the creation for a then-bunch of postgraduates, and it is doing several quite important things in terms both of methods and of subject of publication. This session was no longer being organised by the same crew as are behind the journal, however, and I should have realised that. The order of ceremonies was this:

  • Paulo Henrique de Carvalho Pachá, “The Visigothic State and the Relations of Personal Dependence: transition, transformation, and domination”.
  • Michael Burrows, “Lower Class Violence and the End of the Roman Empire”.
  • Renato Rodrigues Da Silva, “Donation of Land and State Building in 7th- and 8th-century Northumbria”.
  • Senhor de Carvalho set up for us a separation of aristocracy and state in Visigothic Spain: he argued that king Wamba had tried to bring it about and that Ervig, his successor, was able to gain power by conceding a rôle in government to part of the aristocracy, thus splitting them while still looking conciliatory. This is certainly one way to read the texts, but not perhaps a new one, and was reacting to a book published in 1978, what may no longer need doing.2 Mr Burrows picked up the terms of his sources in distinguishing a ‘more humble’, lower class from a ‘more honest’, upper class in the late Roman Empire, and asked what our sources, written largely by the latter, thought of the former resorting to violence. You would think the answer obvious but Christianity, because of its founder’s interest in the poor and because of the way that mob action sometimes brought about what seemed to our writers like the will of God, made some of those writers find a space for rightly-guided popular violence, thus making some of it seem legitimate in the terms of the time. Lastly Senhor Rodrigues tried to put the limited evidence that donations of land were made in pre-Viking Northumbria (we don’t have any charters, but we have some sources that talk about them existing) into the context of political turmoil in that kimgdom in the eighth century. Since we don’t have any of the relevant donations, the links between them and events never really crystallised for me here, and I was left wondering how Senhor Rodrigues thought it all joined up.

Any unsympathetic feelings I had for the panellists, however, evaporated in horror during a five-minute mini-lecture that a commentator delivered to Senhor de Carvalho, condemning him for not having read many things which got listed and bombarding his argument with a supposedly-revisionist view of the development of Spain that was clearly based on the even older work of Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz. Senhor de Carvalho had spine enough to point this out, whereupon the commnetator, who was from Valladolid as he told us although I never identified him, dismissed Senhor de Carvalho contemptuously as a Marxist. This was quite the rudest attack I’ve seen an academic deliver upon a junior scholar, and I felt I had to go and reassure Senhor de Carvalho afterwards that we had all met such people and that they should not be allowed to triumph. I had had my own reservations about the paper, yes, but this was a whole circle of Hell below anything I would ever say, or mean, in a postgraduate session or indeed elsewhere. Professor Ian Wood exemplified how this could be done by also offering Senhor Rodrigues a reading list, but one couched as possibly-helpful suggestions, and the other questions were also, I think, intended to guide and suggest rather than demolish. I understand rage at wrongness as much as anyone, but I also regard such anger as a sign that it’s not views of the early Middle Ages that are threatened… To remember that was, alas, and through no fault of the panellists, the most striking lesson of this final panel, and pondering it I departed southwards, many books the richer and another International Medieval Congress down.

Books I bought at the International Medieval Congress, Leeds, 2014

The Leeds 2014 bookhaul, reconstructed for this post. What is now mainly evident is how very sure I was that I would still be teaching Anglo-Saxon England whatever happened, which I shall somehow have to contrive to do even now, because the sunk costs of my library are just awful otherwise!


1. An eloquent statement of doubt on this score, and the lone legal citation, can be found in Christina Pössel, “Authors and recipients of Carolingian capitularies, 775-829” in Richard Corradini, Rob Meens, Pössel & Peter Shaw (edd.), Texts and Identities in the Early Middle Ages, Forschungen zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 12, Denkschriften der phil.-hist. Klasse 344 (Wien 2008), pp. 253-274, online here. The work of Wormald referred to is “Lex Scripta and Verbum Regis: legislation and Germanic kingship, from Euric to Cnut” in Peter Sawyer & Ian N. Wood (edd.), Early Medieval Kingship (Leeds 1977), pp. 105-138.

2. That book being none other than Abilio Barbero & Marcelo Vigil, La formación del feudalismo en la Península Ibérica, 2nd edn. (Barcelona 1978), which of course even I thought worth many blog posts, so I am conscious that I would have done little better at that stage. Still, on this subject I’d probably have started with Roger Collins’s Visigothic Spain 489-711 (Oxford 2004) and gone on with the commentary in Joaquín Martínez Pizarro (transl.), The story of Wamba: Julian of Toledo’s Historia Wambae regis (Washington DC 2005) before I got back to Barbero and Vigil. These were, signally, not among the suggestions made by the commentator mentioned below…

Seminar LXXXII: tiny laws and constraining categories

The lecture that had swallowed me is done and so I can tackle some backlog. In order to make some ground I’m going to reluctantly skip over two Oxford papers I went to about which, for one reason or another, I just don’t have anything useful to say,1 and skip straight on to Tom Faulkner presenting at the Institute of Historical Research Earlier Middle Ages Seminar on 26th January 2011, with the title “Peoples and Legal Practice in the Carolingian Minor Law-Codes”. Now, I dithered about skipping this one too, not because it wasn’t fascinating, but because again Magistra et Mater has got in ahead of me and covered it excellently already. But there remain a point or two that it’s still worth drawing out. You may want to read her post first, though, because she’s done a better job of explaining what the paper was actually about than I’m going to have time to do.

Opening of a 793 copy of the Lex Salica

Opening of a 793 copy of the Lex Salica, says the originating website

In 802 a couple of Carolingian sources record that Charlemagne had all the ‘laws of the nations’ in his empire written down and thus fixed.2 And we have a number of texts of such laws, the most obvious one being the Law of the Salian Franks or Salic Law, but also the Laws of the Burgundians, Laws of the Lombards, Laws of the Bavarians, and so on (and of course the Law of the Goths, which is different, not least because it’s actually called the Forum of the Judges—that is, it’s not ethnic in its presentation).3 Some of these things had been out there for a long time but that endeavour of 802 probably has a lot to do with the state of the current texts, Goths aside, not least because recent work by such as Christina Pössel is emphasising how new some of the apparently ‘ancient’ practices in the Salic Law might have been. But if so, there are some weirdnesses to tackle. There had been no independent Burgundian kingdom for nearly three hundred years by this time. Who called themselves a Burgundian any more and on what could that claim rest? And similar problems arise for texts Tom was talking about, not least the Ripuarian Franks, a group who appear in basically no sources other than this law. Ripuaria as an area does occasionally get mentioned, but it’s a pagus, not a regnum, a district not a kingdom. Tom argued that really, it might be little more than the territory of the see of Cologne. But this lawcode of a basically illusory people is one of the more copied ones of the group, perhaps just because it had useful stuff which could be raided for means with which to make decisions in the very (very!) few cases where we have reasons to suppose such lawcodes were actually used, rather than just stored up as tokens of nationality.

Map showing probable location of Amor

Map showing probable location of Amor

Such dilemmas get even more pronged when dealing with a text called the Ewa ad Amorem. This is a very different sort of law text, though it has been associated with this big endeavour: Tom laid it out for us and it seems pretty clearly like a set of rules being agreed in a community for how they’re going to handle various affairs, like land sales and thefts. It seems to relate to a little place in Frisia called Amor, and it is extensively referential to other codes (which is nice, because, as Tom had pointed out, Lex ribuaria actually quotes modified Salic law quite a lot too) and peoples, so that you get frankly unhelpful statements like: “… about ecclesiastical affairs and about the servants of God who serve there, we have the same, as the Franks have.” Which Franks? Salic, Ribuarian or real? And so on. Although Levi Roach found parallels in Anglo-Saxon laws (some of which are actually usually called treaties) and someone else in Venetian treaties with foreign powers, the whole thing put me in mind of nothing so much as Spanish fueros, which were civil law codes constructed for new towns in the frontier zones, by the locals in agreement with the king. The counts of Catalonia do the same sort of thing sometimes, too. A central authority and its rights are recognised, but the actual day-to-day stuff is left local, and the implication there is that that’s because they’re rather on their own and central help and involvement will be hard to come by. In that last respect, though, Ewa ad Amorem is different; it’s clear from a reading that this code has become necessary precisely because king’s officers, counts and so on have been in the area a lot and there are problems making this mesh with the local way of doing things, not least because until this was written probably there was limited agreement on what that way was. So, though Tom didn’t really make much of this point, this little code is more interesting to me than the big ones because it seems to have the same sort of ad hoc necessity as some of the capitularies, and may show us how being on the more-or-less-willingly receiving end of Carolingian administrative reform worked out in practice.

A folio of the Capitulare de Villis, from Wikimedia Commons

A folio of the Capitulare de Villis, from Wikimedia Commons

More could be done with this, but only if we spread the categories we have for Carolingian law more thoroughly away from the binary of codes and capitularies (or proscriptive and responsive, ethnic and royal, regional and central… always with the diads, as Susan Reynolds has observed, when triads (or arrays!) might be more helpful) into something a bit more slippery. As Susan herself said, it’s not that there are no categories that work for this: all these things are sets of rules, of some sort, but putting them into a particular ‘sort’ has often distorted our subsequent thinking about them. And we have the same problem with a lot of other categories in this area: the capitularies themselves are so-called solely because they are arranged in headings, capitula (chapters, capitals…). They cover an immense range of topics, however, and are in form anything from minutes of meetings or even agendas for meetings that maybe didn’t happen through case-law being worked out into general knowledge to grand-scale moral state-of-the-empire preaching addresses.4 Not even the process is the same here and a different word or words for some of them might help us think. And even I could adjust: `charter’ is a good catch-all for the documents I want to study but only with exactly the right definition.5 But my category covers sales, donations, wills, securities, homage agreements, pledges, manumissions and basically most stuff, and people have put a lot of work into worrying if these things all work the same way and much of it has made useful distinctions.6 So Tom deserves all credit for making what could have been a dry and technical field accessible an of lively interest to an audience many of whom specialise in other things, but he has also given me some useful tools with which to try and enlarge my own, er, toolbox. (Pity he didn’t give me some new metaphors too, right?)


1. Mark Williams, “Stormy Weather: divine women and the figure of sin in Aided Muirchertaig meic Erca“, Oxford Celtic Seminar, 20th January 2011, was as engaging and entertaining as Mark always is, where I’ve seen: he tells good stories about good stories. But aside from the fact that it is a good story, I really wouldn’t know what to say about the paper: it was all new to me. I probably can’t spell most of it, even. And Richard Allen, “Life before Lanfranc: the careers of three archbishops of Rouen, 942-1054/5”, Oxford Medieval History Seminar, 24th January 2011, was an expansion of the earlier paper of Richard’s I reported on last year and I don’t think I can think of anything extra to say this time round.

2. Specifically Einhard’s Vita Karoli and the Annals of Lorsch, the former of which is edited in the MGH and thus online here and more accessibly to the Anglolexic, at the cost of some appreciation of how cunning his Latin is I am told, and more on that later, by Lewis Thorpe in his Two Lives of Charlemagne: Einhard and Notker the Stammerer (Harmondsworth 1969, many reprints), and the latter edited by Ernst Katz in Georgius Heinricus Pertz (ed.), Monumenta Germaniae Historica inde ab anno Christi quingentesimo usque ad annum millesimum et quingentesimum: Scriptores tomus I (Hannover 1839), pp. 19-39, and mostly translated by P. D. King in his Charlemagne: translated sources (Lancaster 1987), pp. 137-145.

3. As well as the snippets from the Internet Medieval Sourcebook I’ve linked to above, most of these texts exist in some kind of translation, thus I know of: Katherine Fischer Drew (transl.), The Laws of the Salian Franks (Philadelphia 1991) and eadem (transl.), The Lombard Laws (Philadelphia 1996), though I also know that I somewhere read a review of the former by Patrick Wormald (in English Historical Review or Speculum I think, something I could hit by accident on JSTOR anyway) in which he said, roughly, “well, we’ve been needing a decent translation of the Salic Law for a long time and guess what, we still do”. Not a man to mince his words, dear Mr Wormald. There’s also Theodore John Rivers (transl.), The Laws of the Salian and Ripuarian Franks (New York City 1986), which I guess didn’t meet his exacting taste either. Still plenty more to do though. For the Goths, there’s S. P. Scott (transl.), The Visigothic Code (New York City 1910, 2nd. edn. 1922), online here. The Latin of all these texts and more is edited in the various volumes of the MGH’s Leges series. On how the Visigothic Law survives in this period, you can see Roger Collins, “‘Sicut lex Gothorum continet‘: law and charters in ninth- and tenth-century León and Catalonia” in English Historical Review Vol. 100 (London 1985), pp. 489-512, & idem, “Visigothic Law and Regional Diversity in Disputes in Early Medieval Spain” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (eds), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1986), pp. 85-104, both of which are reprinted in R. Collins, Law, Culture and Regionalism in Early Medieval Spain, Variorum Collected Studies 356 (Aldershot 1992), V & VI respectively, but now also Jeffrey A. Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000, Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past (Ithaca 2004), pp. 33-55.

4. Best now approached via Rosamond McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written word (Cambridge 1989), pp. 23-37, and now Christina Pössel, “Authors and Recipients of Carolingian Capitularies, 779-829” in Richard Corradini, Rob Meens, Pössel & Peter Shaw (edd.), Texts and Identities in the Early Middle Ages, Forschungen zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 12, Denkschriften der phil.-hist. Klasse 344 (Wien 2008), pp. 253-274.

5. And that definition is: “A document constructed as if for public reference, by which one party affirms the rights of another”, for which if you like you can quote J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph.D. thesis (University of London 2005), p. 27. I think it’s the only one that works.

6. Not least of course Wendy Davies, Acts of Giving: Individual, Community, and Church in Tenth-Century Christian Spain (Oxford 2007), which deliberately covers only one sort of document and is really interesting about it.