Tag Archives: Sant Joan de les Abadesses

The kind of maths we should not do

A lot of the problems any historian of the early Middle Ages faces are about how typical any given piece of evidence is. When so little survives, can we generalise from the few fragments we have across the great spaces where we simply know nothing? I came up against this while writing the post some time back about widow warlords, where as you may remember I wound up trying to argue for a level of social occurrence that could be common enough to be frequent while still being statistically unusual. The question remained then: how unusual? And this led me to thinking about the best evidence I have for female presence in local society, the good old Vall de Sant Joan hearing, and then the temptation stole upon me to do some very bad maths.

Aerial view of the Vall de Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Aerial view of the Vall de Sant Joan de les Abadesses. I know I use this picture a lot but I find it really hard to get tired of. However, I can no longer find where I got it from, so if you happen to own it do let me know…

Y’see, the Vall de Sant Joan hearing seems to be really good evidence for population size, at least by our starvling early medieval standards. We do not know the whole population of the area, but we think we know how many households there were in it, and we know what size it was: 269, by my count, and about 7 km2.1 Now, we could just multiply up, because the Vall de Sant Joan is in some sense a jurisdictional term and we know how many of those there were in the tenth-century county of Osona, give or take a few for changes, and it’s thirty-seven. If each contained this many households, tenth-century Osona would have been a county of nearly ten thousand households.

The town of Sant Joan de les Abadesses, viewed from across the Pont Vell

There probably aren’t that many households in the Vall de Sant Joan now, for a start, though I wouldn’t mind going back again to look (albeit this time with a car). Image by Espencat (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In fact, that is really unlikely to be true, because this was a frontier county and we’re counting its very inward corner, where we can document, more or less by the fact that we can document anything but also by the nature of the actual documents, that an ambitious lordship interest was moving people in here and encouraging settlement that is quite unusually dense.2 Such a figure is likely to be a massive over-estimate. So what should we do instead? Now, here the words of my old colleague Ted Buttrey come back to me with force:

“What should we do? We should do nothing. Nothing can be done. There is no solution to this problem, beyond inventing new data to push the inquiry into the realm of the fanciful. This is uncomfortable but it is true. If we allow ourselves, in our frustration, to confect the missing data, we will to that extent have destroyed our own purpose. To create quantitative studies built of imaginary data, to force an answer by assuring ourselves and others that we know what we do not, and cannot, is to compromise everything that we hold important. Each of us builds, and others build upon us: when we dress up guesses as data we do permanent damage to our scholarship, and to the scholarship of others.”3

He is right, of course, I know he’s right. He is also right that bad guesses get out there and get used even when they are explicitly qualified as such.4 So I must not, I must not attempt to correct the above error by breaking the data down, down to the level of households per villa (which would be 12·2 NO STOP IT), and then multiplying up by the number of villae in Osona. I should not do that not least because we don’t know with any certainty how many villae there were in Osona around the year 913, which is when this data would be comparable, probably not even in total for the tenth century which would add many more than there then were and would fail in any way to counter for the factor of population change over that century; I should not do that because, again, villae in the Vall de Sant Joan were probably over-many and over-stuffed compared to other areas and though those two errors might tend in opposite directions, we cannot know that they would cancel each other out; I should not do it because any operation involving multiplying up a small number to obtain a large one necessarily multiplies the error in that number just-as-many-fold; and I should not do it for many other good solid reasons of mathematical rigour. And in fact I will not. But it is sorely tempting, just because it’s hard to rid myself of the idea that if I could allow for enough factors, this would actually be a better basis for early medieval population figures than we currently have anywhere else.5 But every one of those corrections would be another piece of fiction, an error to be multiplied up. Ted again has the correct admonitions:

“When we enter on these kinds of calculation, we can be confident of two things. First, the answer will be wrong. Whatever it is, it will be wrong, since it cannot be right—once you are guessing, the number of possible permutations is gigantic. Worse, where the errors lies, and how serious they are, cannot be determined… Secondly, we can be confident of something else: when we publish this sort of thing, no matter that it be all set about with caveats and qualifications, the very fact that we thought it worth publishing will give it credibility.”6

And that is of course exactly the pain of it; there are figures that are thought credible abroad already that I feel must be wrong, because the person who put them together on the evidence we don’t have made his own set of assumptions about how the lack of evidence should be countered, and now I prefer my assumptions to his and would like to put into circulation alternative figures that are no more verifiable but feel more likely to me. But this will not make things better. Ted can have the last word, albeit he gives it to someone else:

“We should take to heart the dictum of a character in Umberto Eco’s novel, Foucault’s Pendulum, who explains, ‘For every complex problem there is a simple solution; and it is wrong.'”7


1. The reason we assume that the document, which is a vast parchment recording the names of people who swore that Abbess Emma of Sant Joan de Ripoll had been given the valley to settle by her father Count guifré after he expelled the Saracens from it, records households is because about half of its signatories are female, and mostly appear with a male partner. This looks like an attempt to implicate all the conjugal pairs of the valley in what was in fact a political fiction (see Jonathan Jarrett, “Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 (Oxford 2005 for 2003), pp. 229-258, DOI: 10.1111/j.0963-9462.2004.00128.x), but since there are others who aren’t in pairs, it must also be more than that. Hence, households seems likely. The argument is made most thoroughly in Gaspar Feliu i Montfort, “Sant Joan de les Abadesses: algunes precisions sobre l’acta judicial del 913 i el poblament de la vall” in S. Claramunt and M. T. Ferrer i Mallol (edd.), Homenatge a la memòria del Prof. Dr. Emilio Sáez: aplecs d’estudis dels seus deixebles i collaboradors (Barcelona 1989), pp. 421-434. The count of these households I just redid from a spreadsheet I constructed when writing the thesis that lies behind Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Tenth-Century Catalonia: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), where you can find more detail at pp. 35-51. The area I estimate from the map in Jordi Bolòs & Victor Hurtado, Atles del Comtat d’Osona (798-993) (Barcelona 2001), pp. 94-95 at p. 94. Thus my doubtless inaccurate estimation is already one basic source of error!

2. This is the basic story of Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, as above and also pp. 57-64.

3. Theodore V. Buttrey, “Calculating Ancient Coin Production: facts and fantasies”, The President’s Address in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 153 (London 1993), pp. 335-351 at p. 351.

4. My best example is another numismatic one, an article by Warren Esty, “Estimation of the size of a coinage: a survey and comparison of methods” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 146 (London 1986), pp. 185–215, which pitted a range of statistical techniques then in use to reason up to ancient currency sizes from current surviving evidence against each other by means of a randomly-generated virtual hoard, and concluded that all were more or less rubbish but a combination of two the least rubbish way to do this, the result of which has of course been that his least-worst method is now the standard among those who do such things…

5. I look here with especially narrowed eyes at Georges Duby, The Early Growth of the European Economy: warriors and peasants from the seventh to the twelfth century, transl. Howard B. Clarke (London 1974), pp. 11-13, which does exactly the trick Ted decries (Buttrey, “Calculating ancient coin production”, pp. 349-350) of surrounding the data with all kinds of cavils and conditions and then rhetorically building on it just the same.

6. Buttrey, “Calculating ancient coin production”, pp. 349-350.

7. Ibid. p. 339.

The complex thrill of uncut pages

Once, during the latter stages of my Ph. D. work, I went to the Cambridge University Library only to find that someone had borrowed the borrowable copy of volume 5 of the Histoire Générale de Languedoc in its revised edition and not returned it. I know, I know, happens to you all the time, right? They continued not to return it subsequently, anyway, and while these days such a difficulty is rendered negligible by the fact that the thing is online now, then it was quite the difficulty, at least for me right then. Cambridge UL however had a second copy, accessible only via the Rare Books Room, so I went there and requested it, and when it came up its pages were uncut; in the course of the UL’s ownership of the Acton Collection within which it resided, and of course since its actual printing in 1872, no-one had wanted to read this book albeit, apart from Lord Acton who had no excuse except his other 59,999 books, probably not least because of the other copy that you didn’t have to order up not then being missing. So I sat there for an hour unable to work on it while someone behind the desk slowly and carefully went through every folio with a paper knife, and I felt like an awful vandal. Why am I telling you all this? Because of this, dear readers!

A copy of Federico Udina Martorell's El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Barcelona 1951)

My own copy of Federico Udina Martorell’s El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Barcelona 1951).

This was an ABE moment brought on by one of my book plans. I had told someone that the only reason I couldn’t start on one of these books was that I probaby needed to own the actual standard edition of the Sant Joan de Ripoll charters, then one evening I wondered how much that would cost to buy, and whoops, ABE and it arrived with me a few weeks later. And yup, look. It was uncut too.

Splayed pages of an uncut copy of Federico Udina Martorell's El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Barcelona 1951)

My reaction this was quite complex. In the first place, there was vexation. Now, apart from anything else, I needed a paper knife, and using the book would be laborious even then unless I too wanted to spend that solid hour carefully going slit… slit… slit…. In the second place, I felt quite powerfully that this would be spoiling it. You can’t put a book back like that, after all; as before, it seems weirdly like vandalism even though the manufacturers and indeed authors always meant this to happen and you can’t use the book without doing it.

Federico Udina Martorell's El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Barcelona 1951)

Those rough uneven edges will never be the same!

But lurking behind that is a deeper question. This book was published in 1951, and at that point or soon after, presumably, someone decided they needed a copy, but then never opened it. Perhaps, indeed, there has been more than one owner of this volume before me who never quite got round to actually using it. They’ve left me no clues. But who would buy a volume of Catalan charters with all their supporting palæographical and chronological difficulties studied, the perfect entry to the study of these documents, yet, already, and then never open it? What historian was working on this stuff and then got diverted? Why did it never get used? The book itself has become a source for an abortive endeavour of study about which, never having been marked, it can tell us nothing further, and it’s just that little bit maddening…

Picturing Abbess Emma’s associations

Really long-time readers of this blog will maybe remember a debate that got going on this blog in June 2008, apropos of a paper in the Journal of Neurocomputing that was using medieval charter information to showcase visualisation of social networks data.1 I was initially sceptical but talking to two of the authors got me much more interested and I subsequently talked one of them into delivering a paper in the final Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic session at Leeds, a paper that we did want to publish but which sadly in the end could not be included in the final publication.2 That’s still a shame as there was good stuff to think with there, but of course what any historian dealing with dense social data is going to want to know about such software and techniques is, ‘how will it help me with my stuff?’ And since answering that question usually involves a lot of data entry, it has tended to rest there.

"Representation of the medieval social network with force directed algorithm" from Boulet et al., "Batch kernel SOM and related Laplacian methods for social network analysis", fig. 1

There is also the question of how much a “Representation of the medieval social network with force directed algorithm” like this from Boulet et al., “Batch kernel SOM and related Laplacian methods for social network analysis”, fig. 1, can tell you by itself, which is why of course in that article they then spend a lot of time breaking it down

For my area of interest, this was changed in mid-2012 as the indefatigable Joan Vilaseca of the Cathalaunia website began to investigate applying such techniques to the database he maintains there, which includes quite a lot of the documents from which I ply my trade. Magistra et Mater, who was getting interested in the possibilities of these things around then too, wrote some initial thoughts about what Joan and others were doing at hers in December 2012, and I had already made a stub note to talk about it in October of that year but, well, it’s been queued ever since. There is still plenty to say, though!

The thing that particularly caught my interest was that Joan put up a post on his blog in which he produced a list of the best-connected people in his database, the ones who appear with the most other people, and once the kings who appear in dating clauses and their notaries were filtered out, pretty much top of the list was Abbess Emma of Sant Joan de Ripoll. Since there is perhaps no-one in the world who cares more about Abbess Emma than me,3 this seemed like a really good type-case with which to answer the quesion: does this kind of analysis actually tell us very much that we didn’t already know? And, weirdly, I think that my conclusion is that for me it’s perhaps most valuable for emphasising what we don’t.

Relationships of Abbess Emma in the Cathalaunia database coloured according to grade of connectivity

Relationships of Abbess Emma in the Cathalaunia database coloured according to grade of connectivity

To talk about this it’s necessary to get you the reader clear about exactly what Joan has actually done here, of course. As simply as I can put it, what we have above is a graph built in the following way. In Joan’s database Emma appears in 50 documents and in those 50 documents she occurs with an awful lot of people. Looking for only the most meaningful, Joan excluded from the count all persons with whom Emma turned up only once, which is a lot given that she orchestrated the Vall de Sant Joan hearing in which about 500 people swore testimony for her and then there’s still 48 more documents with her in. That still leaves 112 people with whom she is recorded associating more than once, in fact the total of associations still in the count is 1292. Many of these people also relate to each other and what you have above is a computer-aided display of all those links, with Emma at the centre and everyone else pulled out to where you can see the links. But you can already see from the way that some of the links are made with thicker bands of darker colour that some of these people dominate the sample much more than others. So, who are these people? Well, if you load up the SVG version of this graph on Joan’s blog you can just click straight through to his database records, which is marvellous, but in short the top five are two priests called Gentiles and Guisad, and then three laymen, namely Reinoard, Guimarà and Tudiscle.

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39

Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39 (reduced-quality version), with Gentiles’s signature lower left centre

This all sounds more or less sensible to me: though I think only Gentiles and Reinoard, maybe Tudiscle, would have been in a top five I’d guessed, I can see why they’re all here. Gentiles was something like the chief scribe of Sant Joan: he appears in Emma’s first appearance as an adult, he went on appearing some six to ten years after her death, and in that time an awful lot of the documents of the abbey carried his scribal signature, even though as Federico Udina pointed out when he edited these documents, they’re not all in the same hand. This presumably means that he had subordinates signing stuff off for him and that his name was important enough that it still had to be there.4 Guisad was another frequent scribe for the abbey, apparently older, and he also appeared on the panel of a couple of the hearings in which Emma pursused people for her rights over their land.5 Reinoard was headman of one of the settlements in the Vall de Sant Joan and worked as court enforcer for Emma once as well as appearing in court when she called them, he was a collaborator of hers whom I’ve discussed elsewhere.6 Tudiscle and Guimarà present a more interesting case: these are two of the landowners whom Emma took to court, but in both cases those episodes were part of a longer relationship with the abbey which had here broken down. I’ve written about these two as well precisely because I think that in Tudiscle’s case the hearing was part of mending that relationship, as his importance seems not to have suffered subsequently, whereas Guimarà seems subsequently not to have worked with the abbess and in fact seems to have managed to shift quite a lot of property once donated to the nunnery onto Emma’s little brother, Count-Marquis Sunyer of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, as part of Sunyer’s campaign to clip his sister’s independently-ruled abbey’s wings.7 But before that he had worked for Emma, and these people certainly make good people to study if you want to understand how Emma worked, which is of course why I did.

Relationships of Abbess Emma in the Cathalaunia database, sorted by modularity

The same relationships now displayed according to their modularity, that is, by the size of the groups internal to the data

So, the first answer to the great question about whether this tells me anything looks like ‘no’; I had already found these people by older methods. But I’m arguably not the target here: the thing is that those methods were very like what Joan’s programming all but automates. I went through the documents, made note of the names who recurred most, assembled profiles of their appearances and decided who were the people I could tell the story with. Joan’s database and graphing together mean that I could, if I was starting again, do in about ten minutes the same exercise that took me weeks when I actually did it. I could do (and may do) the same thing now with Count-Marquis Guifré II Borrell, Sunyer’s predecessor and brother, for whom I haven’t done the same kind of background data-crunching, with far less trouble than I was anticipating. So in terms of research facilitation for others, this is a huge step forward even if it doesn’t help me. I can in fact only tell how much use it is precisely because I’d done it already by another means! (Whether Joan had to put fewer hours in to make it happen than I did for my research is another question of course…)

All the same, as I said above, what it now makes me think is how imperfect our data sometimes is for the kind of questions we might like to ask. If, on first principles, we asked ourselves who the principal contacts of an early medieval abbess was, we would probably presume that the main ones were her nuns. So indeed they may have been here, but as I’ve observed in a supposedly-forthcoming paper, while Emma was in charge of Sant Joan we know the names of only two other nuns, and those are only seen as they join the nunnery, we’ve no idea what Emma’s relations with them were like.8 If we then allowed ourselves to remember that this abbess was a count’s daughter, we might then think about her family as an important second string. But Emma hardly shows up with her family, and when she does it needs very careful reading: I think she only occurs alive and in person with brother Sunyer in the Vall de Sant Joan hearing where she was in theory taking him to court, for example.9 (She also turns up as a neighbour of land he was transferring twice, but of course she wasn’t actually there for that, though it gives us another reason to suppose they had other dealings.10) Also on the defending end on that occasion was their probably-elder brother Miró, Count of Cerdanya, who in his will named Emma one of his executors and had her called ‘my most dear sister’; I think she occurs with him once otherwise.11 She got Radulf to consecrate a church with her once, I think that’s it though.12 We can more or less see from this that this set of siblings were close collaborators even if not always very willing ones but the quantity of occurrences doesn’t really reflect what we can guess the importance of those relationships would have been.

The memorial stone for Abbess Emma in the abbey church of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Abbess Emma’s memorial in the medieval church of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

The information we get from this, therefore, is not wrong but it is partial. Emma probably did see Gentiles and talk with him most days of her adult life. It’s not clear whether Guisad was also a priest of the abbey but if so, he also would have been a regular feature of her days. She placed a lot of reliance on Reinoard, and that relationship was probably important to both of them in raising Reinoard above his fellows and showing those fellows how Emma could reward her collaborators. Tudiscle and Guimarà, at least at first, were more of that sort of person and even if the relationships probably didn’t mean as much to Emma as that with brother Miró did, for example, they’re historically very interesting and anyone working on Emma would be well served by being pointed towards them. But there is also quiet and missing data that must have made up a great deal more of her life, and that we can’t really reconstruct. It’s not by any means the fault of this technology that it can’t bring that to our notice: it obviously can’t give us back information we didn’t put in. But that also means that the technology is no more than one of the tools we have to use to understand that information in its context, some of which context is simply what isn’t there.13


1. Romain Boulet, Bertrand Jouse, Fabrice Rossi & Nathalie Villa, “Batch kernel SOM and related Laplacian methods for social network analysis” in Journal of Neurocomputing Vol. 71 (Amsterdam 2008), pp. 1579-1573.

2. What final publication, you ask? Why, Jonathan Jarrett & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout 2013). You could buy it here if you wanted!

3. See J. Jarrett, “Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 (Oxford 2003), pp. 229-258; idem, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 23-72.

4. Ibid. pp. 29-30; see Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18/Publicaciones de le Sección de Barcelona 15 (Madrid 1951), p. 205 for the argument.

5. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, p. 59 n. 162.

6. Ibid. pp. 39, 41-42.

7. Ibid. pp. 52-53 (Tudiscle), 53-57 (Guimarà) & 64-65 (Sunyer’s pressure on the nunnery).

8. J. Jarrett, “Nuns, Signatures and Literacy in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, to appear in a Festschrift for Rosamond McKitterick first planned in 2010.

9. The hearing is best printed in Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 119 & 120, though the palæographic notes of Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 38, are still very useful.

10. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. nos 103, 105 & 155. There are a few other cases where she and Sunyer both turn up as neighbours, but not of the same properties, so I don’t think that really counts here.

11. The will is only printed in Prosper de Bofarull y Mascaró, Los condes de Barcelona vindicados, y cronología y genealogía de los reyes de España considerados como soberanos independientes de su marca (Barcelona 1836, repr. 1990), 2 vols. I pp. 88-90. In Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 57 Miró presided over a hearing where Emma was the plaintiff, but she was represented by a mandatory and not present herself.

12. Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 73. The two also occur as common neighbours in Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. nos 155 & 419, but again that only tells us that they probably met at some other point.

13. Cf. Jarrett, “Poor Tools to Think With: the human space in digital diplomatics” in Georg Vogeler & Antonella Ambrosiani (edd.), Digital Diplomatics 2011, Beihefte der Archiv für Diplomatik (München forthcoming), pp. 291-302.

Prince Quintilian of Montgrony: a correction

With certain enviable exceptions, every historian has sometimes to admit that they got something wrong, and this will not be the first time I do so here, but up till now I’ve only once had to do this about something I got into print. Sadly, this has now arisen, as in August 2012 I came across something that meant I had to let go of one particular bête noir of my work on the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses, that being the information supposedly preserved there about the area of Mogrony (now Sant Pere de Montgrony).

Sant Pere de Montgrony

Sant Pere de Montgrony, centre of the point of contention in its slightly more modern form of both building and spelling, from Wikimedia Commons

In 2003, when I sent in the text for what would become my first paper, it contained a goodly chunk about Mogrony, because I was contending that everything Sant Joan’s documents said about this place was essentially made up.1 This included the surviving versions of the nunnery’s endowment in 887, which claim the place for the nunnery in a way that they clearly not only could not later enforce but a full century later did not even mention when going to court about it.2 I went for this as follows:

“The castle of Mogrony has often been said to have been a centre of a princely lordship in the eighth century whose line donated or sold the place to Count Guifré. This suggestion rests on almost no actual evidence, and much of what underpins it existed, if at all, in the Sant Joan archive.56 In 899, the year after the death of Count Guifré the supposed donor, in which Charles the Simple was invited to place his protection over all of Sant Joan’s property, it seems that the castle was not among that property, as all that was mentioned at Mogrony was ‘the cell of Mogrony with its limits and bounds’.57 Furthermore, when in 906 the assembled bishops of the province of Narbonne offered Emma similar guarantees, they too only mentioned ‘the cell which is called Mogrony with the parish subjected to it’.58 Thus, though Sant Joan was clearly a force in the area, there is no early evidence that it then held the castle.”

That, I think, all holds up, but the devil is as so often in the footnotes, and in particular n. 56:

56 The suggestion originated with Francisco Codera y Zaidín (in his ‘Límites Probables de la Dominación Árabe en la Cordillera Pirenaica’, Boletín de la Real Academia de Historia 48 (Barcelona, 1906), pp. 289–311, repr. in idem, Estudios Críticos de Historia Árabe Española (Segunda Serie), Colección de Estudios Arabes 8 (Madrid, 1917), pp. 235–76, at pp. 307–9 in the original). It was based on observations of a lost manuscript by Jaime Villanueva (Viage Literario a las Iglesias de España tomo X: viage a Urgel (Valencia, 1821), p. 19), some very hypothetical onomastics and a report of another now lost Sant Joan manuscript, otherwise unknown even to Masdeu before the 1939 sack, and unseen by Codera. Nonetheless, the suggestion has been picked up and expanded by Abilio Barbero (in ‘La Integración Social de los “Hispani” del Pirineo Oriental al Reino Carolingio’, in P. Gallais and Y.-J. Riou (eds), Mélanges Offerts à René Crozet, Professeur à l’Université de Poitiers, Directeur du Centre d’Études Supérieures de Civilisation Médiévale, à l’Occasion de son Soixante-Dixième Anniversaire, par ses Amis, ses Collègues, ses Élèves et les Membres du C. É. S. C. M., vol. 1 (Poitiers, 1966), pp. 67–75, at p. 72, the article reprinted in A. Prieto (ed.), Conflictos y Estructuras Sociales en la Hispania Antiqua (Madrid, 1977), re-edited A García Bellido et al. as Conflictos y Estructuras Sociales en la España Antiqua (Madrid, 1986), pp. 151–65), Esteve Albert (Les Abadesses [de Sant Joan, Episodis d’Història 69, (Barcelona 1965)], pp. 10–17), A. Vadillo Pinilla (‘El Dominio de San Juan de las Abadesas: algunas consecuencias de su formación’, in M.A. Ladero Quesada (ed.), En la España Medieval IV: estudios dedicados al Professor D. Angel Ferrari Núñez Tomo II (Madrid, 1984), pp. 1019–45) and Albert Benet i Clarà (‘Castell de Mogrony’, in idem, A. Pladevall i Font and J. Vigué i Viñas, ‘Castells i Viles del Ripollès anteriors al 1300’, in Pladevall [(ed.)], Catalunya Romànica X[: el Ripollès (Barcelona 1987)], pp. 26–32, at p. 28). Given the weakness of the original suggestion (uncited after Barbero’s article), I do not think their respective conclusions about Mogrony and its rulers can easily stand.
57 ‘Id est in praedicto pago ausonensi cella Mucronio cum finibus et adiacenciis suis . . .’: see n. 25 above.
58 HGL V 32: ‘. . . cellam quoque [sic] dicitur Mucuronio cum subjuncta sibi parrochia…’.”

Despite my total lack of understanding of non-English capitalisation of titles at that point, I exult even now in the pedantry and bibliographical research that resulted in that footnote – no-one, but no-one, ever seems to cite Codera in such a way that the actual title on the spine of the book is mentioned, and the two reprints of Barbero’s piece confuse the record massively too, but the problem is with Codera and with Villaneuva. Y’see, what Codera said is that there was a document at Sant Joan that mentions a princeps Quintilianus hanging out at Mogrony in the year 736, and others have built on this a model of vestigial lords hanging on in their local areas long after the Muslim conquest. Nowadays, what you could not do in 2003, you can find Codera online and see this.3 I translate:

“Father Villanueva was the first who encountered and published a short notice of this person: in a codex of the monastery of Ripoll, in eighth-century script, he found the following chronological text: ‘From the Incarnation moreover of the Lord Jesus Christ to the present first year of Prince Quintilian, which is Era [774], are 736 years.’ While we had no more notices referring to Quintiliano than that which Father Villanueva published, it was necessary to doubt this person’s existence, suspecting a problem with the date; but with new data encountered, such as the notice of the death of Quintiliano in the year 778, at which date, according to a martyrology of Sant Joan de les Abadesses, he was ‘senioris de Mocrono‘, it seems that we must admit the existence of this person as ‘lord’, ‘king’ or ‘chief’ of a more or less extensive territory in the mountains of Montgrony, all the more since in a document of the year 804 figures another Quintiliano, lord of Montgrony, who could easily be the descendant or successor of Prince Quintilian (I).”

Here again, though, the footnote is crucial:

“(I) We owe these notices and bibliographical data referring to Quintiliano to our good friend Don Joaquín Miret y Sans, distinguished investigator of the history of Catalonia.”

This is, you will notice, as well as being a fine example of regula magistri, not really a citation, and although the sack of Sant Joan de les Abadesses in the Civil War might go some way to explaining why, of course, none of these Sant Joan materials mentioning Quintilà survive, many of their other charters survived and nothing there from 804 can have come from them in the first place. Miret never published this stuff, anyway, to the best of my knowledge, so there’s no way of knowing what he saw, but it’s always seemed significant to me that the history of Sant Joan by the pre-war archivist, Josep Masdeu, who died in the defence of his documents indeed, did not mention this stuff.4 That, even now, leaves me feeling that it’s much safer, when everything else we have from Sant Joan about Montgrony is faked or disputed, to mistrust anything from there about the place when it can’t be examined. The problem is with what Villanueva saw, which now looks likely to be authentic.

Apse and apsidioles of the west end of the abbey church of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Sant Joan de les Abadesses, should-be location of the evidence missing from this post’s argumentation

Let us note first off that Villanueva and Miret don’t have to have been talking about the same thing. Villanueva had a dating clause or some kind of chronological summary that one might attach to a chronicle or similar; it doesn’t survive either but then that is much less surprising than at Sant Joan because the Ripoll archive was entirely burnt in 1835. What Miret had found seems definitely to have been notices of some lord of Montgrony, quite possibly in faked donations to Sant Joan that must therefore have postdated 987 when no such documents were available to them. Miret’s cites don’t call the guy ‘princeps’, though, and Villanueva’s does not associate him with Montgrony. We can’t now explain what Miret saw, but none other than Michel Zimmermann reports a very simple solution for what Villanueva had, proposed by Rudolf Beer in his attempt to reconstruct as much as possible of Ripoll’s lost library:5

“In the middle of a table of ancient eras and of the lives of the patriarchs, one finds [says Zimmermann as if the MS still exists, though I cannot see from what he says that it does] a curious note: Ab incarnatione autem Dni Jhu Xpi usque in presentem primum Quintiliani principis annum, qui est era LXX quarta sunt anni DCCXXXVI. Villaneuva restores DCC before the year of the Era and concluded from it that the page was written in 736: he was constrained to deduce from it that, twenty years after the Muslim invasion, there ruled a prince whose name recalled that of the ancient kings of Toledo, probably installed with refugees in the Pyrenean valleys where the Saracens had not yet ventured. R. Beer prefers to correct DCCXXXVI to DCXXXVI and turn Quintilianus into Toledan royalty.”

This seems to me to be very likely to be right. Ripoll certainly had some pretty old books, this being exactly the context of Zimmermann’s discussion, and that one of them could have been a theological and chronographical volume dating to 636 is far from impossible, though its loss is a bit of a blow if so.6 In that case, the Prince Quintilà was no mere prince as the English use would have it; he was the king, no less. What he was not, however, was anything to do with Montgrony, and that place’s supposed lord’s ephemeral trace in unlocatable manuscripts may some day force me to write another retraction. Still: I should have looked at Beer before I wrote, maybe even at Zimmermann if there were then any copies in the country, and maybe even thought of this elegant solution myself, rather than assuming all these people were just wrong. I’ve said elsewhere that Villanueva wins as many disputes with modern scholars as he loses when someone decides he was wrong, even now; I’m not sure that handing him this one doesn’t mean he wins them all7


1. J. Jarrett, “Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 (Oxford 2005), pp. 229-258, here at pp. 235-241. I also reprised this view in my Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (New Series) (Woodbridge 2010), p. 47 n. 107 and “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: Organisation of Society in the pre-Catalan ‘Terra de Ningú'” in †A. Deyermond & M. Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London 2010), pp. 97-127 at pp. 109-110, perhaps the one I now regret the most: “… Quintilà has become an accepted feature of an excitable kind of historical writing (Vadillo 1984; Benet, Pladevall & Vigué 1987: 28), but there is really no good reason to suppose he ever existed.” (p. 110).

2. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològico LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. 4, 8 & II, the last being the fake version including the castle of Mogrony; cf. ibid. doc. no. 1526 where the area is contested with the nunnery bringing no documents in evidence.

3. F. Codera y Zaidín, “Límites probables de la dominación árabe en la cordillera pirenaica” in Boletín de la Real Academia de Historia Vol. 48 (Barcelona 1906), pp. 289–311, repr. in idem, Estudios críticos de historia árabe española (segunda serie), Colección de Estudios Arabes 8 (Madrid 1917), pp. 235–76 at p. 308 & n. of the original:

“El P. Villanueva fué el primero que encontró y publicó una corta noticia de este personaje: en un códice del Monasterio de Ripoll, de letra del siglo VIII, encontró el texto cronológico siguiente: «Ab incarnatione autem Dñi Jhu Xri usque in presentem primum Quintiliani principis annum, qui est Era LXX quarta (falta la nota DCC) sunt anni DCC.XXX.VI.» Mientras no hubo más noticias referentes á Quintiliano que la publicada por el P. Villanueva, cabía poner en duda la existencia de este personaje, sospechando que pudiera haber equivocación en la fecha; pero encontrados nuevos datos, cual es la noticia de la muerte de Quintiliano en el año 778, en la cual fecha, según un martirologio de San Juan de las Abadesas, era senioris de Mocrono, parece que hay que admitir la existencia de este personaje como señor ó rey ó jefe de un territorio más ó menos extenso en los montes de Montgrony, tanto más, cuanto en documento del año 804 figura otro Quintiliano, señor de Montgrony, que bien pudo ser hijo ó nieto y sucesor del Príncipe Quintiliano (I).


 (I) Debemos estas noticias y nota de la bibliografía referente ´ Quintiliano á nuestro buen amigo D. Joaquín Miret y Sans, distinguido investigador de la historia medioeval de Cataluña.”

4. Josep Masdeu, Sant Joan de les Abadesses: resum historic (Vic 1926); the Sant Joan documents not published in Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos XVIII (Madrid 1951) are now published as Joan Ferrer i Godoy (ed.), Diplomatari del monestir de Sant Joan de les Abadesses (995-1273), Diplomataris 43 (Barcelona 2009). The earliest survivor is from 885 and that’s one of the dodgy ones, Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 4 (= Udina doc. no. 3).

5. M. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIIe siècles, Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, II pp. 632-633 n. 32:

“Au milieu d’une table des ères antiques et des vies des patriarches, on trouve une curieuse note : Ab incarnatione autem Dni Jhu Xpi usque in presentem primum Quintiliani principis annum, qui est era LXX quarta sunt anni DCCXXXVI. Villanueva rajoute DCC devant l’année de l’ère et en conclut que la page fut écrite en 736 ; il est contraint d’en déduire que, vingt ans après l’invasion musulmane, régnait un prince dont le nom rapelle celui des anciens rois de Tolède, probablement installé avec des réfugiés pyrénéennes où les Sarrasins ne s’étaient pas encore aventuré. R. Beer préfère corriger DCCXXXVI en DCXXXVI et rendre Quintilianus à la royauté tolédane.”

The reference is to Rudolf Beer, Die Handschriften des Klosters Santa Maria de Ripoll, Sitzungsberichte der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (philosophisch-historische Klasse) 152, 153, 155 & 158 (München 1907-1908), transl. P. Barnils as Los manuscrits del Monastir de Santa María de Ripoll (Barcelona 1910), cited by Zimmermann from the Spanish with no page reference.

6. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, II pp. 620-674 on the survival of Visigothic culture in Catalonia: he opts for a very limited spectrum of such material essentially focussed on Isidore and the Spanish versions of the works of Gregory the Great leavened with a little canonical material.

7. Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi“, pp. 118-119.

In Marca Hispanica XII: do not walk whole valley at once

I’m sorry to disappoint Gesta, but I don’t think I can make the extra composition time it would take to do all my Catalonia posts in Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band filk. It seems to me that if I were to do it for this one the song to use would probably be `Ali Baba’s Camel‘, since the placename in question is syllabically almost as long as that title and the references to running miles and miles could probably be left in, and if anyone wants to have a go, I would love to see it. But actually I am just going to show you pictures of a place called Vallfogona, and talk about visiting it.

The village of Vallfogona del Ripollès, seen from the road above it

The village of Vallfogona del Ripollès, seen from the road above it

I wrote at length about Vallfogona in my book, and as far as its early history goes it is possible that no-one knows more than I do about it. Unlikely, I hope, but possible; I know of no-one else who’s studied the area, which was a reason why I looked at it. The other is that it’s immediately south of the church, nunnery as was, canonry, monastery and canonry again as was in between those states, of Sant Joan de les Abadesses, and Abbess Emma of that there establishment made sufficient inroads on the area that we see quite a lot of through the window of her transaction charters for the area. For a while she had land scattered all through it, especially in a couple of settlements called la Vinya and Arigo, the latter named for its founder and now just a farmstead called el Rauric just down the road from the main modern village, Vallfogona.1

El Rauric, in Vallfogona del Ripollès

I'm pretty sure this is el Rauric, but if a knowledgeable local wants to set me right I shan't disagree; signs were hard to find

She probably also built the first church there, which was actually at Arigo, I think, though the documents don’t actually say, they just call it ‘the church’, ipsa ecclesia. But it was close to Arigo, at least, and el Rauric is now very close to the newer church, Sant Julià, whose precursor Emma’s successor Abbess Ranló put up in time for it to be consecrated in 960.2. The current building preserves none of it, we think, but it’s hard to tell, as the building is firstly in danger of collapse and secondly has been rather messed about over the years…

Sant Julià de Vallfogona

Sant Julià de Vallfogona

More beneath the cut… Continue reading

On boundaries

Aerial view of bocage in Normandy

Some modern Norman boundaries

A post by the inimitable Gesta at On Boundaries had me wanting to go, hey, hey look at my stuff in the way that I do, and that seemed best done over here.1 Specifically, among lots of other interesting things about the recent Norman Edge symposium, “Local boundaries and national frontiers of the Norman World”, that they’d just been to, they reported on a paper by Ewan Johnson, which seems to have been called “Land boundaries and cultural contact in Southern Italy”, and which talked about boundary clauses in charters. Aside from the matter of what language they’re in, which has fascinated people like Patrick Geary, there isn’t actually that much work ‘On Boundaries’ in this context that I’m aware of.2 Gesta will probably now set me a reading list, and fair enough, I need it. Before they can, however, I just want to say, I have thought about this for my material, and not come up with much. Let me tell you how it goes.

Almost all of the charter material I use concerns land, and it is usually concerned to delineate that land. There’s a small number of schema by which this is done, right across Catalonia. The one that’s commonest in my area is to describe it by compass points, thus, here, from a donation to the cathedral of Sant Pere de Vic from 930:3

Et afrontat ipsa vinea de parte orientis in strata qui pergit ubique, et de meridie in torrente, et de occiduo in vinea de nos donatores, et de circii similiter in vinea de nos donatores.

The which, translated roughly, goes:

And this vine is bounded from the eastern side on the street that goes to everywhere, and from the south on a torrent, and from the west on the vine of us the donors, and on the bit around similarly on the vine of us donors.

The first thing I get from these clauses is a sense of landscape, therefore. These people appear to be in the wilds: there is a castle nearby, we learn from elsewhere in the document, but there are no other people but them on these lands, and there’s only one road and it leads out. This could be misleading, of course; if they’re only giving one tiny corner of a larger estate they may still be small fish in a big pond who’ve just installed St Peter in their garden, in a way.4 It’s very rare for these documents to give lengths of the sides, so we don’t know how much vineyard was actually involved here. But it’s obviously not heavily subdivided landscape; in other areas you wind up with roads on every side, for example, whereas with some where the bounds are just forest or rock you get the idea that they’re your actual pioneers(-oh).5 So it’s not much like this, with its lots of plots:

Vines in the foothills of the Penedès, Catalonia

Vines in the foothills of the Penedès, Catalonia

On the other hand, it’s also obviously formulaic. Almost every charter in the cathedral archive is like this, but not every plot of land can have been square and arranged with its sides north-south-east-west. Sometimes, indeed, you get the same feature turning up on two (or even more) boundaries, indicating that topography didn’t fit the form, but the form is still adhered to, here at least.6

It’s the ‘here at least’ bit that interests me. That’s how it’s done at Vic; but, for example, in a sale to Abbess Emma of Sant Joan de les Abadesses of land in Vallfogona that leaps off the page of Catalunya Carolíngia IV.1 at me, we get this instead:7

… afrontat ipsa casa cum curte et orto de I parte in torrentem discurrentem et de alia parte in strada publica et de tercia parte in terra Reinulfo et de IIII parte afrontat in terra de te iamdicta emtrice.

Or:

… the selfsame house with courtyard and garden is bounded, on one side on the flowing torrent and from another side on the public street and from a third side on the land of Reinulf and from a fourth side on the land of you the already-said buyer.

It’s usually four sides at Sant Joan, too, but they’re not compass-linked, and when necessity drives they’ll go up to five or even six sides, and quite often drop to three.8 This looks as if it reveals more about the land, as well as illustrating that we’re in a more developed zone here: the public street is probably the Camí de Vallfogona which joins up the local area to the strata francisca from Narbonne to Zaragoza and beyond, and the nunnery’s just over the next ridge.9 In fact, if you look at this…

Aerial view of the Vall de Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Aerial view of the Vall de Sant Joan de les Abadesses

… we’re about four or five miles off to the left, and that vague cluster of buildings just visible in the middle distance is where Abbess Emma had her pad. Now this too is another formula, though as I say they do seem to make it work harder here.10 The thing that intrigues me, as a charter scholar, is that they differ at all, because in other respects the documents are formulaically pretty close and so, indeed, is the whole March.11 But these two houses, which are not far from each other, have different institutional practices in the recording of boundaries. (The very few documents recorded in any detail from Santa Maria de Ripoll suggest that they also used this scheme.12) The only formulary we have from this area doesn’t even get as far as boundary clauses, it’s really only interested in how you start documents off.13 So I have no real idea how this stuff is being taught to the scribes except that it’s presumably in-house (and this is why I have, reluctantly, to persist with Michel Zimmermann’s book and obtain various others).14 But in case it also intrigues anyone else, even potentially Gesta or Ewan, I stick it out there.


1. At least, I couldn’t imitate them, and I’ve never heard of it being done…

2. For example, P. J. Geary, “Land, Language and Memory in Europe 700-1100” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 9 (Cambridge 1999), pp. 169-184. Now, if you like frustration, try pinning down some of the Languedoc references from that article. I found one, not where he says it is. Anyway.

3. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i de Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueolòlogica LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. [hereafter CC4] 367.

4. I unpack that idea at greater length in J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London forthcoming), pp. 122-125, and that is the first time I have ever been able to cite a page reference from this book that now has them, rooooaaaarrrrr!

5. For example, CC4 473, a sale of land in Montpeità whose bounds are given as: “… terra qui est a Monte Pectano afronta: de oriente in roca et de meridie in serra et de occiduo similiter de circi similiter in serra“. I figure it’s not lowland fields here.

6. For example, CC4 561, where the bounds are: “de parte orientis in vinea Auria, de meridie in terra Richila, de occiduo in terra Endaleco, de circi in vinea Auria vel suos eres“, which is one of quite a number of documents out in these once-pioneer areas where the principal landholders appear to be widowed mothers.

7. CC4 229.

8. If this really interests you, I give references and a few examples in J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis (University of London 2005), online here, pp. 67-68.

9. I talk about Vallfogona and its social make-up, and indeed the Camí, in great detail in Rulers and Ruled, pp. 30-49 (roar again!), but if you can’t wait that long or want expertise on roads, the Camí is discussed by Jordi Bolòs i Masclans, “Camí de Vallfogona” in Antoni Pladevall (ed.), Catalunya Romànica X: el Ripollès, ed. J. Vigué i Viñas (Barcelona 1987), pp. 449-450.

10. The other thing we see, occasionally, and especially where large properties are at issue it seems, is bounds that are continuous, as if they’d been walked out (which they may of course have been) such as CC4 513, where one property is bounded as follows: “de ipsa casa vel de ipso orto qui fuit de fratri meo Walafonso usque in ipsa strada que discurrit ante domum Sancti Andree apostoli usque in ipsa karreira“. The biggest of these is unquestionably E. Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX i X), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), doc. no. 445, which sets it out for the whole bishopric of Osona. That goes on for a bit.

11. See J. Jarrett, “Uncertain Origins: Comparing the Earliest Documentary Culture in Carolingian Catalonia”, paper presented in session ‘Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic, I: Formulas and Realities – Did Charters Reflect Real Life?’, International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 9 July 2007, hopefully to appear in the volume of essays we’re putting together from the sessions.

12. For example, CC4 603.

13. It is published as Michel Zimmermann (ed.), “Un formulaire du Xème siècle conservé à Ripoll” in Faventia Vol. 4 no. 2 (Barcelona 1982), pp. 25-86, online here. It is, in any case, from later than any of the documents I’m talking about here: see Jarrett, “Pathways of Power”, pp. 63-68.

14. Not least Peter Erhart, Karl Heidecker & Bernhard Zeller (edd.), Die Privaturkunden der Karolingerzeit (Zürich 2009), he says in paltry declaration of intent. (PDF flyer including contents here.)

Wow! Free charters!

One of the nice things about Catalonia as a study area is that they have that provincial thing of pride in the ‘monuments’ of their local history on a national scale. There aren’t very many chronicles from as early as I work, indeed ‘none’ would be a fair summary, so the history has to be done from smaller texts. And the scholars of the area have risen to that challenge. Thus, an awful lot of the copious documentary material from my area and period of study is in print, and without that fact I could never have done my thesis. In 2001 Adam Kosto and Paul Freedman put a bibliography of this material online, but so much more has come out since then. There are two particularly important series for my line of work. More important, but as yet lacking crucial volumes, is the Catalunya Carolíngia, which aims to get all the documentary material from the old Catalan counties from before 1000 into print. This has been going since 1926 but in recent years has been given a real shot in the arm by the tireless work of Ramon Ordeig i Mata, who has in some measure or another seen seven of the current twelve volumes to press since 1998. Then, there is the Diplomataris series by the Fundació Noguera, which is instead working archive by archive, and currently stands at forty-four projects. Between these two there isn’t much not covered, which makes my life a lot simpler (and the bits that aren’t covered that much more tantalising).

Cover of Josep Baucells et al., Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona (segle XI), vol. I

The Catalunya Carolíngia did however rather start with the fringe, the almost-in-Aragón counties of Pallars and Ribagorça and then the frontier ones of Osona and Manresa… The heartland was effectively missing until Girona was covered in 2003, and the volumes for Barcelona, which is naturally where a vast proportion of the material comes from, are still in process. The Fundació Noguera has however stepped up to this gap, covering the comital archive in 1998 (up to Ramon Berenguer III; when I last saw Professor Gaspar Feliu he told me that the next set of volumes is well-advanced) and a variety of the smaller ecclesiastical archives before and after. The Arxiu Capitular, in the cathedral, which is arguably the second most important if not the first, had meanwhile set out on its own with a first volume covering the ninth and tenth centuries in 1995, but more recently appears to have decided that this was not the way to go and has arranged that subsequent publication of its documents should be done via the Fundació Noguera. Consequently, the five volumes covering the eleventh century, edited by Josep Baucells i Reig with a wide range of assistance, came out in 2006 under their auspices, and now, I am informed by a post at Joaquim Graupera’s Maresme Medieval about the Fundació, they are available online for free as PDFs. And they’re not the only ones! The new volume covering Sant Joan that I mentioned here is there too, so is Jordi Bolòs’s for Serrateix and a number of others that may interest you (you know who `you’ are). I don’t know what their business model is here but I hope it continues, as this sort of generosity deserves to be rewarded!