Tag Archives: Roda de Ter


In Marca Hispanica XXXV: new archæology at l’Esquerda

This gallery contains 13 photos.

There has again been marking and now I am even further behind in backlog, because I still have one more post about my April 2015 trip to Catalonia to put up. It’s too good to skip, though, so here goes. … Continue reading

Leeds 2013 report part 4 and final

I probably stayed at the dance of the International-Medieval-Congress-before-last longer than I should have done given that I was presenting the next day, but nonetheless I was on time, just, to my own session, and in practice it would have upset few enough people if I had been late, as there were only four people in the audience!

1525. Expressions of Ecclesiastic Authority: from priests to popes

The lessons here, I suppose, apart from the obvious “hope not to be scheduled the morning after the dance“, are to aim to be part of a session, not just to fling a paper title at the organisers as I had done (and as I am avoiding doing next year: had you seen the Call for Papers? I’d be happy to have some more submissions…). All the same, I’d spent quite a lot of the conference in a funk about leaving the profession, although I had during it in fact been offered my next job had I but known this, and this morning audience did not, shall we say, help me with feeling as if my work had value, as didn’t my knowing that because of Montserrat’s e-mail silence I didn’t have the facts I really needed to make it work. Nonetheless, I gave it my best, and I think that certainly the other two papers were very interesting in their own ways. The trouble was rather that there was no single way in which all three were on someone’s wavelength…

  • Jonathan Jarrett, “The Priests of Montpeità: Competing Ecclesiastical Interests at the 10th-Century Catalan Frontier”
  • Patricia Dalcanale Meneses, “‘Roman Gothic’: Giuliano della Rovere in Avignon”
  • David Kennett, “Trouble Finding Bishops: the episcopal crises of Henry VII”
  • My morning offering was, as you can see, the second part of the Manresa project. Having in my previous paper on this (seen, of course, by none of the same people but hey) tried to set apart the monastic clergy of Sant Benet de Bages from their dense recording of parts of the territory of the city of Manresa in the tenth century, I now tried to see past them to the wider priesthood, concentrating in particular on one of the most densely-documented parts of the record there, a place that is now a basically empty hillside called Montpeità. Having first taken the twenty most frequently-appearing people and shown that they were surprisingly free of direct associations with the monastery, I demonstrated the intermittent monk problem then tried the same trick with the clergy, and yeah, the top three are monastics, one of them being the place’s advocate but never actually dealing with it direct (a sign how little weight this kind of work can bear) but numbers 4-10 of the top 10 are just the actual local priests as far as I can see, albeit that one of them was apparently quite senior at the era of the monastery’s foundation and wrote their foundation and endowment documents (the latter seen below, with his distinctive spelling of his name and signature in capitals). So it does kind of work, there is a possibility of getting at the local clerical distribution through this sample despite the weight of the monastery. But it wasn’t what you could call a finished set of findings.

    The act of endowment of Sant Benet de Bages

    The act of endowment of Sant Benet de Bages, not in great shape alas, but signed at bottom left by SUNIÆRUS. Slightly larger version linked through, but even at the biggest size I have this is still basically no longer legible

    As for the other two speakers, Dr Dalcanale showed us how the man who would become Pope Julius II had, by the time he did, architecturally implanted himself all over the centre of Avignon so that even before his election one could hardly avoid seeing his works, which were furthermore strongly French Gothic in style, rather than the Romanising architecture he might have adopted. Then Mr Kennett looked at the accusations often levelled at King Henry VII of England that he kept bishoprics open for longer than other kings (thus profiting from their revenues). According to Mr Kennett, while there is a statistical justice in this it can be mostly explained by the fact that as Henry took the throne almost all of his bishops were seventy years old or more, and that very rapidly they died: he had 14 new vacancies over the period 1502 to 1505, and it understandably took him time to find competent candidates for so many sees, especially given the kind of hierarchy of importance and income they seem to have had which meant that only some of them could honourably be used as entry-level positions. This was interesting, as was Dr Dalcanale’s paper, but you can see what I mean when I say that there was very little that joined all three of us together in era, geography or focus…

I did get what looked as if it might be a useful contact for the Montserrat problem out of this, though, so I left in a better humour than I’d entered. (Ironically, firstly the contact has been unable to help, and secondly they found me independently though here a few months later anyway! But I wasn’t to know that then.) It was good to have finally done my turn, anyway, and the rest of the day was much more fun for me.

1602. ‘Defended Communities’: fortified settlements of the 8th-10th centuries – origins, forms and functions, II

  • Rossina Kostova, “The Western Black Sea Coast: how and how much was it defended?”
  • Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer, Montserrat Rocafiguera & Maria Ocaña-Subirana, “The Southern Carolingian Frontier along the River Ter: ‘Roda Civitas’ identified in the archaeological site of l’Esquerda (Catalonia)”
  • This thread was ill-favoured by its position on the last day, as all the sessions I could make were really interesting but people kept leaving during them. This session here had even lost one of the planned speakers, but to me this mattered not at all because what it meant was that the small-scale Catalan invasion got to take up far more of the session than it otherwise would have been allowed. (You may have recognised some of the names…) But before that happened, Dr Kostova gave us an interesting summary of the medieval fortress archæology along the Bulgarian coast of the Black Sea. She saw a division at the Danube, south of which the Byzantines kept forts active in some places, planted settlements when they could and generally kept the space full, and which the Bulgars subsequently blocked up with earth dykes to prevent easy movement of armies; the Byzantines recapture of this zone during the eleventh and twelfth centuries didn’t change that much but they did make a good attempt to hold the Danube. North of the Danube, however, whether Byzantine or Bulgar (or, briefly, Avar) there was much less investment except at a few notable coastal centres. What this seemed to show to the audience was that whoever held that territory, they could usually mobilise a good deal of labour: the Bulgarian dyke system extends for 120 km in some of its lengths! But though the how is impressive, the why of all of this would also be informative if we could get closer to figuring it out.

    Aerial view of l'Esquerda

    Aerial view of l’Esquerda

    Then, however, came a site dear to my work, good old l’Esquerda, being presented in the UK for the first time in a long time, and with much done since then.1 The site has a very long chronology, late Bronze Age to twelfth century, so Dr Rocafiguera took us through the background, which included one more big square Iberian tower than they thought they had when I was last there, possible Punic War defences that became the gateways of a Roman village. They now also have a hitherto unsuspected Visigothic phase, however, dating evidence including a radio-carbon date centering around 614, and it comprises a thoroughgoing refortification period with a huge new wall slighting the older defences. Within it, however, the excavated area seems to have been turned over to silos that eventually became rubbish pits and cut through each other, with burials going on in the area of the walls. A village was presumably there somewhere but as of the 2012 season they hadn’t yet found it. It was this somewhat dilapidated complex, anyway, rather than a half-functional Iberian fortress-town, that the Carolingians inherited and refurbished, then.2 There was obviously enough for the Carolingian forces to reuse.

    The newly-discovered wall of l'Esquerda exposed in the 2012 excavations

    The newly-discovered wall exposed in the 2012 excavations

    The star find in all this, however, was a silver denier of Louis the Pious that came from the Carolingian destruction layers, whose deposition we can thus reasonably date to 826 or very narrowly before, an unusually close chronology. Coins are just vanishingly rare finds in Catalonia anyway, so they were understandably excited, but the find also helps remove any doubt (if there were any) that this is the Roda mentioned as destroyed in the rebellion of Aizó in the Royal Frankish Annals.3 That’s great, because pinning textually-attested events to archæology so closely hardly ever happens, but now we have quite a lot more questions about what on earth the Visigothic-period site was for and who was using it…

All of that gave me quite an appetite for lunch, once I managed to stop talking Catalonia. But I was clear which strand I needed to be in for what remained of the conference now! First, however, came lunch with friends and also some unexpected neighbours…

Hawks and owls at the 2013 International Medieval Congress

Hawks and owls peacefully waiting for showtime

I didn’t get to see the actual show, however, because I had more fortresses to go and hear about!

‘Defended Communities’: Fortified Settlements of the 8th-10th Centuries – Origins, Forms, and Functions, III

  • Juan Antonio Quirós Castillo, “Early Medieval ‘Incastellamento’ in the North of Iberia”
  • Alessandra Molinari, “Rural Landscapes of Sicily between Byzantines and Muslims (7th-11th c.)”
  • Neil Christie, “Creating Defended Communities in late Saxon Wessex”
  • Yes, that’s right, every single session I went to this day had something about Spain in it and I only had to supply one of them! (This was not least because I’d suggested a bunch of Spanish castellologists to Hajnalka Herold when she was setting the sessions up and they apparently proved agreeable, but hey, you do what you have to.) Nonetheless, and despite his prodigious output, much of it internationally aimed, this was the first time I’d actually seen and met Professor Quirós. He was here to tell us of a sea-change, however, in which Pierre Toubert’s model of castles as the social centres that drive everything because of élite demand have been shunted out in the archaeolography (if there can be such a word) of northern Iberia in favour of villages being the key, and castles being basically defence apparatus, more symbols of power than agents of it.4

    Castillo d'Arganzón

    The Castillo d’Arganzón, another of those Professor Quirós has been digging

    That fits what I see in Catalonia quite well, but it is also something much more likely to come up in archæology because the units the newest digs, his type site here being a place called Treviño, are showing up are effectively self-contained, so would not show up in transactions. I’m less sure about that argument or whether any such places exist outside mountain Navarre, but I suppose that the Catalan archæologists would probably brandish Roc d’Enclar at me and they’d probably have a point.5 From the survey Professor Quirós’s team have, in any case, early medieval castles in Navarra and the Basque Country seem to have been exterior to settlements, churches were more integral and a late antique precedent is also often common; it’s only in the twelfth century that the picture of a castle as the obvious tool of social domination begins to stick, which means that such incastallamento as was being carried out was being done from existing, centralised, sites. That paradigm was already struggling, but this doesn’t do it much good…6

    Meanwhile, in Sicily, wouldn’t you know, it’s the tenth century that turns out to be crucial; Dr Molinari painted us a picture of a society where late antique settlement organisation went on till quite late, and while it began to be dotted with Byzantine fortresses in the face of the Muslim invasion in the ninth century, it’s only in the tenth that peasant settlement moves up to the hills. What is missing from the picture so far is much sign of Islamic fortification; the Byzantine state here seems to have been attenuated enough that it just withered back in the face of opposition. And lastly, Neil Christie, co-organiser of the sessions, took us through the now-appreciated variety of the Anglo-Saxon burghal system of fortresses against the Vikings and added to it a perspective that many of the other papers had also adopted, that control of territory may not have been as important for their location as control of routeways (including waterways).7 This interests me because, as I hope to show soon, it just doesn’t work in Catalonia (except maybe the waterways, but the Ter is no quick way to get anywhere, especially upstream). The other factor that came up again here was the workforce needed to get these sites up, which was not just a matter of a quick bit of earth-moving but often demolition, clearance, and then quite heavy building for all that stone was not usually involved. Of course, Asser tells us about how this was resented, but it was good to have the Anglo-Saxon sites brought into the same dialogue as everyone else was having.8

So, that was it; after that it was an hour or so of hanging about, gathering bags, drinking tea and saying goodbye, and then I set off home, quite possibly as I then thought having just done my last Leeds as an academic. I’m pleased that this was not so, and I had extensive plans for how to handle it if it were so, but all the same the abyss yawned near, and spending most of a day remembering that other people are also interested in the things I’m interested in and get paid for investigating them was a boost in an otherwise slightly dark time. But it’s OK: I was about to head for the sunshine…

1. That first presentation being Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer & Montserrat Rocafiguera, “Ancient patterns in settlement and urbanism: the medieval site of L’Esquerda (Catalonia)” in Rural Settlement, Medieval Europe 1992: a conference on medieval archaeology in Europe, 21st-24th September 1992 at the University of York volume 4 (York 1992), pp. 131-137.

2. Cf., well, basically everything previously published on the site alas. Happily, in a way, there’s still basically no later ninth- or tenth-century evidence beyond the church, so J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 87-99, is still basically OK on the place, and you can find there the other most useful earlier references.

3. Friedrich Kurze (ed.), Annales regni Francorum inde ab a. 741 usque ad a. 829, qui dicuntur Annales Laurissenses maiores et Einhardi, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores Rerum Germanicum) VI (Hannover 1895; repr. 1950), transl. in B. Scholz & B. Rogers (transl.), Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories (Michigan 1972), pp. 35-125, with commentary pp. 2-21, s. a. 826. On the coinage of the area see most easily J. Jarrett, “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London: Royal Numismatic Society 2010 for 2009), pp. 217-243.

4. Toubert, classically, in Pierre Toubert, Les Structures du Latium médiéval : Le Latium méridional et la Sabine du IXe siècle à la fin du XIIe siècle, Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d’Athènes et de Rome CCXXI (Paris 1973), 2 vols, but now cf. his “L’Incastellamento aujourd’hui : Quelques réflexions en marge de deux colloques” in Miquel Barcelo & Toubert (edd.), L’incastellamento : Actes des recontres de Gerone (26-27 novembre 1992) et de Rome (5-7 mai 1994), Collection de l’École française de Rome 241 (Rome 1999), pp. xi-xviii, also printed as “L’incastellamento, mode d’emploi” in Hélène Débax (ed.), Les sociétés méridionales à l’âge féodal (Espagne, Italie et sud de la France Xe-XIIIe s.) : Hommage à Pierre Bonnassie, Méridiennes 8 (Toulouse 1999), pp. 119-124. For Professor Quirós the new gospel appears to be the work of Iñaki Martín Viso, most obviously I suppose his “Un mundo en transformación: los espacios rurales en la Hispania post-romana (siglos V-VII)” in Luis Caballero Zoreda, Pedro Mateos Cruz & Tomás Cordero Ruiz (edd.), Visigodos y omeyas: el territorio (Mérida 2012), pp. 31-63.

5. There’s probably a full report on Roc d’Enclar by now but I know it from J. M. Bosch Casadevall, “El Roc d’Enclar: el poblado fortificado d’época carolingia” in Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la época carolingia: arte y cultura antes del Románico (siglos I y X), pp. 107-110, transl. as “El Roc d’Enclar. The Fortified Site in the Carolingian Age”, ibid. pp. 473-476.

6. See Richard Hodges, “Size matters: new light on the Italian Dark Ages” in Philippe Sénac (ed.), De la Tarraconaise à la Marche Supérieure d’al-Andalus : les habitats ruraux (IVe-XIe siècle). Desde la Tarraconense a la Marca Superior de al-Andalus: los asentamientos rurales (siglos IV-XI), Méridiennes : Études Médiévales Ibériques 2 (Toulouse 2006), pp. 223-229.

7. Here the cite of choice, which I must follow up some day when world enough etc., was Jeremy Haslam, Urban-rural connections in Domesday Book and late Anglo-Saxon royal administration, British Archaeological Reports (British Series) 571 (Oxford 2012).

Seminar CLXXII: roads to nowhere?

I’ll have to beg still more forgiveness for the sudden drop-off in posting here. I sent in the final version of an article the day before yesterday, finished a late review yesterday, hope to finalise another chapter today, and that still leaves me three pieces of work to get done before the end of the month, one of which I didn’t know about two days ago… It’s a bit like that at the moment. I can already see that there’s no prospect of my getting as far as last year’s Leeds before departing for this one, which is a bit embarrassing. Since the only thing that can make this worse is not posting, however, here is another backlogged seminar report, from 24th April 2013, when I was at the Medieval Social and Economic History Seminar in Oxford to hear Professor Andrew Fleming of the University of Wales Trinity St David give a paper entitled “Exploring the History and Significance of Early Medieval Roads”.

Hollow Lane, near Canterbury, linking the old Roman road, Stone Street to Wincheap

Hollow Lane, near Canterbury, linking the old Roman road, Stone Street to Wincheap, certainly an old road – but how old? Image from Wikimedia Commons

I might, I suppose, given that I was still in Oxford, have expected that this would turn out to be solely about England, but it was still interesting, because Professor Fleming has been working on landscapes and how you get through them, and specifically on this with regards to Dartmoor in Devon, where there has been comparatively little to change routes since prehistoric times, for a long time. Rather than reprise the paper, given my lack of time, I’ll just draw out the points that particularly interested me.

  1. There was great stress on the difficulty of putting an archæological date on a road. Since what a road most fundamentally is a space, the bottom limit of which people wear away by using it, really all one has to work with beyond place-names and surveys (so, for early medieval purposes, charter boundaries and Domesday Book) is stratigraphy where the road intersects with something else. On the one hand, because roads are linear and long that does mean you get quite a lot of such intersections, but on the other you can’t necessarily expect all the road to have been built, maintained or replaced at once so even on the rare occasions where you have a date to work with, it’s not usually clear how far down the road it will travel.
  2. It is apparently a big argument of Professor Fleming’s that medieval roads did not join places, but joined regions, being long-distance routes rather than the short-distance ones eventually joining up into a system that Hoskins, invoked in the first sentence of the paper, saw in the English landscape.1 Places are then jointed to these long routes by their own little roads, leading up out of the valley or wherever to meet the main track along the high ground. I don’t know how true that is everywhere but I could certainly think of places where it is, in fact it would be true of a good distance of the A404 which must be the single road of any size I have travelled the most. So that was interesting to think with as it implies that roads need not necessarily go where people wanted to go to them on, and that guessing those destinations may therefore be harder than it appears.
  3. That said, roads, especially military or transhumance routes, tend to generate supporting settlement, especially at junctions. What started as a few huts seasonally occupied gets a bit more established, sooner or later someone puts a church up and suddenly you have a community locus where before settlement was dispersed. It still is, at that point, probably, but even so the road, though a line not a point, can give places a centre. This all made me think about things in my area like the strata francisca and the Camí Ral, which certainly weren’t intended to link the places I’ve been to on them to anything else but may explain some of why those places are where they are. (Roda de Ter is older than the Roman bridge across the Ter there, but that bridge has certainly focused subsequent settlement, not least as someone built a church at one end of it2)

One of the questions we didn’t really touch on was who maintained these routes, and I’m surprised at myself there given how much I would usually be all over any questions of agency. There were lots of other questions, though – this seminar was always good for that as I would duly find out myself – and they raised the further points that private property could be on a large enough scale to account for some of that, in as much as a lot of the Dartmoor places that had been mentioned had some connection with Tavistock Abbey, who might well have wanted to join up their properties and move sheep between them. Other questions took this question of livestock down to the micro-level, asking about how roads that might have been intended mainly to move animals interacted with field boundaries that might be even older, but given the dating problems little that was substantive came out of that. There was a question about roads imposed by élites for rapid communication and how those might differ from drove roads but Professor Fleming contended for overlap here. It all made for some interesting thoughts the next time I was being driven anywhere, anyway, and perhaps it will for you too. Now, back to the grindstone!

1. Referring to W. G. Hoskins, The Making of the English Landscape (Cambridge 1955, 2nd edn. 1973).

2. See Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer, Maria Ocaña i Subirana, Maties Ramisa i Verdaguer & Montserrat de Rocafiguera i Espona, A banda i banda del Ter: Història de Roda (Vic 1995).

On the economics of tenth-century mills

Every now and then I write a post for this blog that is probably really a paper. Occasionally this is deliberate, because I’m having trouble working something out and I try and explain it to an imagined audience. All of those posts are still in the queue, which is now so long that the paper may be finished before they are… but this one, like one or two others, I started writing merely to get something off my chest that I hoped might be interesting and then by the end it’s nearly three thousand words and has enough footnotes for a centipede. Were it not that a lot of these posts start as me trying to show someone wrong about something, it’d be a great way to carry out scholarship. But maybe that doesn’t stop it being a viable paper, and it’s been some time since I wrote about my actual research area, so, hey: let’s ask a Marxist question about mills in early medieval Catalonia! That question is, of course: who controls the means of production? There is an accepted answer about this and I’m not sure it’s quite right. Interest piqued? The rest is behind the cut below. If not, here is that really cool mill location I wrote about before once more, why not look at that instead?

Building set into a riverine waterfall at Marfà, Castellcir

Building set into a riverine waterfall at Marfà, Castellcir

Continue reading

In Marca Hispanica XIV: l’Esquerda, city of helpful archæologists

L'Esquerda, Roda de Ter, Osona, Catalonia

L’Esquerda, Roda de Ter, Osona, Catalonia, from above

You’ve heard quite a lot about the site of l’Esquerda here by now, and more if you braved the numbers at the Kalamazoo paper indeed. I haven’t finished, however, as I was there a couple of months back as part of this trip whose telling I am still unwinding, and firstly it is one of the best-displayed archæological sites I’ve ever seen, secondly it is highly photogenic and thirdly and most importantly it has given me a heartening story, which I will now share. But first! The obligatory scenery photo!

The end of the l'Esquerda peninsula, with the River Ter visible on both sides

The end of the l’Esquerda peninsula, with the River Ter visible on both sides

I won’t try and explain once more why this place is important, I’ve done it before.1 So, just the travelogue here. The first thing is to explain that I hadn’t even planned to go to Roda de Ter, where it is, next. I had been meaning to go to Sant Pere de Casserres, but couldn’t face planning it at the end of the previous day’s labours and so woke up next day to find, on inspection, that there was no public transport there at all. I could have got halfway out on the bus back to Folgueroles from market, but it wasn’t market day in Vic and even had it been I’d still have had to walk the rest and would have arrived late and then had to walk all the way back too. Really, the only way out was a hiking route, which despite the previous day’s experience I would have been prepared to chance if I’d had time to do it; but by the time I’d made sure of this, I would have arrived just as the museum shut and had to come back in the dark. No. So instead I took the next day’s plan instead, which was to Roda de Ter and l’Esquerda, and because Roda is quite big and new-industrial, I could just hop on a bus to it and be there and back in half a day. So I did.

Outskirts of Roda de Ter, and trucks, viewed from la Muntanyeta

Outskirts of Roda de Ter, and trucks, viewed from la Muntanyeta

Excavations at la Muntanyeta, Roda de Ter, 1973

Excavations at la Muntanyeta, 1973, which I must have walked straight over

The view on the left, which I got by hauling up onto a hill to see if I could work out what direction I needed to go in, didn’t impress me much with the town. It seemed a lot as if the most important thing in it might be the trucks. This just goes to show what lies hidden though. You will observe that I have been able to find an older photo of exactly the same vantage, and this is because although all I could see up on this hill was a reservoir and a pylon, when they put that reservoir in in 1973, they found a set of stone-lined tombs that probably dated back to the seventh or eighth centuries. I must have been standing practically on them; I got quite a shock when I downloaded the article from which that picture comes a few days later apropos of something else I’d read by complete coincidence.2 So, as has been remarked elsewhere lately too, people do go on living where the archæology is. But anyway. I saw nothing useful from here, as I then thought, but when I got into the town I found the archæological site well signposted, and furthermore that the route to it led me over this:

Roman and Romanesque bridge over the River Ter at Roda de Ter

Roman and Romanesque bridge over the River Ter at Roda de Ter

The River Ter, viewed from the Pont Romà, Roda de Ter

The River Ter, viewed from the Pont Romà, Roda de Ter

The lower course of this bridge is Roman; the upper is Romanesque, but how would you tell? They just wanted a bridge that worked, and they wanted this because this road is on one of the main routes north through the Pyrenees, the strata francisca.3 There may have been several routes called this, but the one through Roda is predictably mentioned in a lot of its charters; this may be the only place left where I could be sure I was actually standing on that route, and I walked up into the town with a certain kind of connected smugness going on, crossing the river…

The Riu de Ter in spate, viewed from l'Esquerda

The Riu de Ter in spate, viewed from l’Esquerda the same afternoon

… which was extremely high this spring…

… and eventually arrived. This was one of several moments of recognition this trip gave me where I realised I was looking at something for real that I knew only from pictures in books, and you too have seen the wreck of a church just visible there on the blog. But up close it is more impressive even if it is only half there:

Ruins of Sant Pere de Roda, l'Esquerda

Ruins of Sant Pere de Roda, l’Esquerda

More below the cut… Continue reading

Rebel without a pension: the mystery of Aizó

On the way to a really great meeting in Oxford a few days ago, about which I’ll write separately, I took with me Jordi Camps’s Cataluña en la época carolingia and re-read a couple of articles in it by Immaculada Ollich that I’d skimmed for book purposes a while before but not, apparently, fully absorbed. Both of them heavily featured this one figure who seemed good material for a blog post, a man who threw back Carolingian rule in part of Spain for nearly sixty years, or so it is said, and about whom we know almost nothing. So I thought I’d do an exposé in the style of Carla Nayland or Judith Weingarten, complete with headings. But over the several days of on-and-off construction it’s turned into a four-thousand word monster (I am having real trouble typing that instead of `monastery’ these days you know) which closely resembles genuine scholarship and I thought perhaps it belonged behind a cut. I’d be delighted if you can find the time to read it but if not, don’t worry, there’ll be time later for other things. Continue reading

Blogroll policy, and some more archaeological experiments

I appear, over the nearly-two years this blog has been running, to have developed a blogroll policy. Given that, it seemed like a good idea to explain it, especially as I’ve just pruned it and I suppose the prunees might be wondering why. Basically it comes to the two things this blog is, at its core, intended to be, which is (a) academic and (b) advertising. Then there is also the idea that what I link to reflects my judgement in some way, so that in combination, I want the blogroll to show that I know that there are other medievalist bloggers out there trying to communicate their field to the general public. What this all means is that I want what I link to to be current, academically-inclined and more-or-less medieval. In practical terms, I seem to have wound up defining these criteria as “updated within the last quarter”, “having academic content on the front page” and “medieval, well, all right, ancient is also cool and archaeology is relevant almost without period”. Now I think that everyone I have linked to here satisfies those criteria, even if in a few cases I have linked to their categories so as to filter out non-relevant material. On the other hand, I’ve just removed The Punch Die, not because its focus is ancient and numismatic but simply because it hasn’t been updated in a quarter, and one highly erudite medieval blog currently featured on the blogroll was for a while removed because its entire front page was then squeeing about dogs, and I didn’t think that anyone following that link would think I was trying to tell them anything very useful about the medieval blogosphere. And I by and large don’t link to Livejournals, because they function rather differently as social networking and even where their content is largely medieval it’s often drowned by life, love and the pursuit of drunkehappiness. (I don’t link to the Medieval Studies community LJ for a different reason, which is that it’s locked to LJ users only; open it up to OpenID so I can comment some of the places I’ve been mentioned, and I’ll reconsider. Huh.)

This is not, please understand, a quality judgement! All of these exceptions have stuff in I like to read and think is well-written. I was glad when Highly Eccentric hived off her academic thought to The Naked Philologist, but precisely because I was already reading and enjoying Atol is Þin Unseon and was forever in a quandary about whether to link it. I’d love to link to several blogs that spark up about once a year, I’ll mention Westmynstre Blues and Recent Finds in particular, but it makes it look as if I’m not paying attention to my own site. And even the squeeing about dogs was well-written, though I freely admit that dogs are not a great interest of mine. So please, if you find yourself excluded, don’t think of it as snobbery, but mission focus. Or, of course, should your case be appropriate, bloody well update :-)

Now for those of you not following my blogroll, and why the heck should you after all, you may just be missing out. In particular David Beard is doing sterling work keeping us abreast of what I’d call Recent Finds had that name not gone, with his posts to Archaeology in Europe, and it’s about one of those I want to write for the rest of this post.

L\'Esquerda, Roda de Ter, Osona, Catalonia

L'Esquerda, Roda de Ter, Osona, Catalonia

You may just have heard of Dr Peter Reynolds, who died in 2001 but had until then been in charge of the thirty-year research project at Butser Ancient Farm, which is a site founded to farm and build as the Pre-Roman Celts and Romans did, with authentic crops and methods, by way of finding out how that worked, how much the original farmers knew about what they were doing, and of course try and rediscover some of what they knew that we don’t.1 What you may not know is that he was also part of a project doing similar reconstructive work for the medieval period in Catalonia, which is of course how I know about it though even then only by the sketchiest of chances.2 And I was reminded of this by a recent post by David Beard, you see, and thus find out (because his link leads to the whole paper, which is in English) that this work has carried on since 2001, in one of the most interesting sites in Catalonia, l’Esquerda.3

L’Esquerda’s principally notable for being a Carolingian refortification of a Celtic oppidum that time basically forgot as the frontier moved outwards. Most of the existing building is twelfth-century but a burial sequence goes back to the Carolingian era, and there seems to be a reference in Astronomer’s Life of Louis the Pious to orders that would have seen it rebuilt.4 That’s by the by, however, as what they’ve been doing that’s described here is, Reynolds-style, constructing a replica of a granary that was found on the site some time ago. This has told them a lot about the storage capacity and techniques of the building, but the real meat of the project, and the bit that got Reynolds involved, was an attempt to recreate the agronomic range of the medieval site using the seed remains in the granary as a guide. This is essentially what the paper that David has linked to is about, and it’s all good stuff and tells us lots about what grew and what didn’t, and in particular suggests that the miserable cereal yields we are often told to think of medieval agriculture as producing are in fact so miserable as to be difficult to replicate without deliberately screwing it up, which medieval folk presumably weren’t doing, so we should probably call those sources into question (as has indeed been done).5

Chenopodium album, or Fat Hen

But I’m more pleased about the work it reminded me of, which was in a way more interesting although based on a very old-fashioned idea of the relationships between lord and peasant in medieval times. It is pretty clear from various sources that where in Catalonia wheat could be grown, it was. It was Reynolds’s contention that the lords would have taken most of this as tax, and certainly that wheaten bread or porridge couldn’t have been the peasant diet very much of the year. The same also applied to the second, spring, harvest of barley or millet, much of which would have gone for fodder. What did the peasants eat once all this was gone? And Reynolds’s article that I remembered was about this ‘third harvest’, the unlikely crops we no longer think about except at really fancy bakeries like spelt or the above-pictured vegetable and grain-source, Fat Hen or white goosefoot, which as well as having edible cabbage-like leaves also has seeds out of which a passable bread flour can be ground.6 He pointed out that this stuff and other food sources like it grow wild, in the places between cultivation, and that though we might not consider it as food, a starving peasant who knew his plants, as most of them would have done surely, certainly would. The upshot is that the state of the medieval peasant, even in hard times, may not have been as hard as we sometimes think, his diet more varied and seasonal, and less of his ill-being down to lordly exaction than it might be because there were some things lords didn’t exact. The ideology of the paper was a little questionable, to say the least, but the food science was fascinating. So yes: I recommend knowing what peasants ate and here is some good evidence. I don’t know if they have a medieval bakery at the l’Esquerda visitor centre (needs Flash, this one, but a good site) selling you Fat Hen bread but if they did (and I hope to go some time in the coming year) I would totally buy and eat some in Dr Reynolds’s honour.

1. Peter J. Reynolds, Iron Age Farm: the Butser Experiment (London 1979) (non vidi).

2. I found idem & Christine E. Shaw, “The third harvest of the first millennium A. D. in the Plana de Vic” in Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer (ed.), Actes del Congrés Internacional Gerbert d’Orlhac i el seu Temps: Catalunya i Europa a la Fi del 1r Mil·lenni, Vic-Ripoll, 10-13 de Novembre de 1999 (Vic 1999), pp. 339-351 with Catalan résumé p. 339, French résumé pp. 351-352, & Provencal résumé & English abstract p. 352. This volume is not easy to find: in fact, if you do, I’ll buy it from you! I’ve been to Vic to look (among other things). But it wasn’t Reynolds’s paper I’d inter-library-loaned it from Madrid for…

3. Carmen Cubero i Corpas, Imma Ollich i Castanyer, Montserrat de Rocafiguera i Espona & Maria Ocaña i Subirana, “From the granary to the field; archaeobotany and experimental archaeology at l’Esquerda (Catalonia, Spain)” in Vegetation History and Archaeobotany Vol. 17 (New York 2008), pp. 85-92, online at http://www.springerlink.com/content/j418g4qt35038806/fulltext.html, last modified 19 June 2008 as of 15 July 2008.

4. There’s a wealth of Catalan work about l’Esquerda, mostly from the team of Imma Ollich who has been leading the excavations there for a good many years now. I think the most thorough thing is Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer & Montserrat Rocafiguera i Espona, L’Esquerda: 2500 anys d’història, 25 anys de recerca (Roda de Ter 2001), which i’m still trying to get hold of, but there’s loads more, and Prof. Ollich is available in English on the subject too, in the translation of her “Roda: l’Esquerda. La ciudad carolingia” in Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la Época Carolingia, pp. 84-88 as “Roda: l’Esquerda. The Carolingian Town”, ibid. pp. 461-463. Now, honestly, I’ll not often say this, but you should buy that volume. It’s an exhibition catalogue, and so it’s full of gorgeous illustrations: all the articles, which cover a good swathe of Carolingian Europe and England even if it focuses on Catalonia, are translated into English from the original Spanish and feature genuine notables (Pierre Riché is the first to spring to mind but that gives you the idea). Plus which, my copy, which I got from Oxbow Books where it is still on sale, albeit at rather more than I paid for it, came in shrink-wrap with a ticket for the exhibition in, which I rather liked even if I don’t have the time machine that would let me make use of it. It’s genuinely worth having for any early medievalist. Anyway. If, instead, you would prefer current English-language scholarship on l’Esquerda, may I ask you to wait a short while and then avail yourself of J. Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: organisation of society in the pre-Catalan ‘terra de ningú'” in A. Deyermond & M. Ryan (eds), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London forthcoming), or indeed J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London forthcoming), both of which have something to say about the area, among lots more.

The refortification reference is Astronomer, Vita Hludowici Imperatoris, ed. E. Tremp in idem (ed.), Thegan: Gesta Hludowici Imperatoris. Die Taten Kaiser Ludwigs. Astronomus: Vita Hludowici Imperatoris. Das Leben Kaiser Ludwigs, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum Germanicum in usum scholarum separatim editi) LXIV (Hannover 1995), online at http://www.dmgh.de/dmghband.html?bsbbandname=00000712, last modified 8 November 2004 as of 10 November 2007, pp. 278-558 with introduction pp. 53-153, cap. 8: “… ciuitatem Ausonam, castrum Cardonam, Castaserram, et reliqua oppida olim deserta, munivit…. Now, it’s an oppidum desertum once again… Apart from the archaeologists and tourists!

5. Often hard to know what to cite on this: I would work from Norman Pounds, An Economic History of Medieval Europe, 2nd edn. (London 1994) which is solid but thorough and gives you some references that weren’t in the first edition. Much more readable is Georges Duby, The Early Growth of the European Economy: warriors and peasants from the seventh to the twelfth century, transl. Howard Clarke (London 1974), but very of its time and quite possibly where Reynolds got his ideological stances mentioned below. Pp. 25-27 of Duby’s book give the minimum figures and their sources, but as Pounds and many others have observed, it seems very unlikely that medieval agriculture could have fed so many on so little surplus. Reynolds’s most focused work on this was “Medieval cereal yields in Catalonia and England. An empirical challenge” in Acta Medievalia Vol. 18 (Barcelona 1998), pp. 495–509.

6. Reynolds & Shaw, “The Third Harvest”, an unpaginated text of which is online here, last modified 20 February 2008 as of 15 July 2008.