Tag Archives: Spain

Seminary XXVIII: settling disputes across three countries

A monk in the stocks being berated by a bishop

Promised for a few days now, here is a report on the last seminar of the term in the Institute of Historical Research’s Earlier Middle Ages series, at which Wendy Davies was speaking to the title “Disputes and disputing in early medieval Spain: some comparisons with Wales and Brittany”. Wendy is perhaps the only person who could speak to this title, having spent considerable and intense scholarly hours acquiring a knowledge of the relevant charter corpora second to few and in combination, none. I’m not sure I got very much out of the effort of comparison, though, as it distracted me from the fascinating, and sometimes horrifying, dispute stories. However, because Wendy is a scholar, it behoves me to point out that she did make some serious points of comparison, considering the evidence from the point of view of:

  • kinds of dispute: Spain leaves us many more cases that don’t involve land in dispute, though this is usually because land is what is given instead of the financially-impossible compensation
  • procedure: Spain shows up officers of the court, mainly the ambiguous saiones, and makes much more of producing documents in evidence, even if they can as shown elsewhere on this blog be oversworn fairly easily, and Brittany has a lot of cases but only ever one sworn statement, which suggests that it’s something they really don’t usually do
  • modes of proof: Spain likes documents and sworn statements, as said, inquests, walking bounds (this last probably also occurring in Wales and Brittany) and even the ordeal, though I emphasised what Jeffrey Bowman has said, that you only go to ordeal when everything else has failed, so it’s always a breach of procedure even if it is itself done ritually; in all areas, however, the verdict and opinion of the local ‘good men’ can be crucial or even overcome an otherwise procedural judgement
  • outcomes: for major crimes, as well as compensation for the victims or their kindred, Spanish courts take a fine themselves, and sometimes this is land that is then donated to the Church which is the only reason we know about this
  • and

  • enforcement, usually done with sureties in all areas (though I couldn’t find you this in Catalonia), and in Spain the documentary forms may be hiding private settlements that are much more obvious in the Breton documents

Wendy emphasised that all these areas had formal courts, though the Breton ones could be no more than village assemblies: she suggested that such courts probably existed in all areas, but either only Brittany bothers to document them because there is almost no higher structure there, or else, the documents in Spain from them have not been preserved because there is no ecclesiastical interest in doing so. I think that last one shouldn’t be overstated: there are judgements from Catalonia that, I’m sure, exist only because the judge was a donor to the church of entirely unconnected properties (I should blog that one, just to have it somewhere), and though arguing from silence is always dodgy there could be an argument in this one. We kept coming up against the problem of what each society might have considered worth recording, and what that meant that we couldn’t see; in this, whatever Wendy pulls out of this (and she was speaking of another book), she may well reset our previous understanding which hasn’t really changed since two articles of Roger Collins’s in the mid-eighties.1

But always the best bit of disputes studies is the stories, because this is where we see medieval people in extraordinary circumstances, where we know emotions ran high and where any supposed grip of ritual or social control slipped looser than usual. It’s where the humanity of our subjects comes out strongest. So it seems best to close this with one of the more surprising stories that Wendy handed out, from northern Portugal in 943. The parts that I have emphasised are where the Latin, which is, er, unusual, most threatens to evade translation, and if anyone wants the original to compare, I’ll happily transcribe in comments.2

There is no doubt, but it remains known by many: I, Adulf, a priest, for my sin and by the schemings of the Devil who deceived me, I committed homicide upon a man by the name of Leo. And I compensated that homicide to his kin and there remained of that payment a portion due from me that I could not supply. And they led me for to die and I came before my lord Ansuri Gudesteiz and his wife Eilewa. And I asked the worthy men that they would make up stories to that man, so that he might put forth his protection for me since I did not have [the wherewithal] to supply that and so that I might liberate myself of that homicide and I would give to that lord Ansuri all my heredity so that I might be free of that same homicide for all the days of my life, and just so did he. On account of which I Adulf the priest, it pleases me through good peace and free will that I should give or concede my church to you the lord Ansuri and your wife Eilewa, my own church called Sao João, whose basilica is founded below Mt Petrosselo, the river Tamega running to the villa that they call Luzim in the aforesaid place in the homestead which was my father Prudentius’s, which I built from the grass up…

And from there on much more normal, but it’s quite scary stuff, isn’t it? The agonies of remorse but at the same time the hope of somehow escaping the ultimate punishment, and the whole doing the best he could but ultimately needing more help than he could get without basically subjecting himself. On a macro scale this is how peasants are supposed to become serfs, or at least one way, but firstly this is a professional who presumably lives on tithes as well as what used to be his estate revenue, and secondly he’s no ordinary peasant, if his father had this homestead and he could raise his own church on it. Makes me wonder who Leo’s kin were, and how powerful. And from there the whole question of how and why the murder took place! The Devil deceived him: is that just empty metaphor, or did he have some plan to achieve something by the murder that didn’t come off? Dammit, Adulf, you could have told us more…

1. I say `another book’, because of course she only just published Acts of Giving: Individual, Community, and Church in Tenth-Century Christian Spain (Oxford 2007). The two Collins articles, meanwhile, are R. Collins, “‘Sicut lex Gothorum continet’: law and charters in ninth- and tenth-century León and Catalonia” in English Historical Review Vol. 100 (London 1985), pp. 489-512, & idem, “Visigothic Law and Regional Diversity in Disputes in Early Medieval Spain” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (eds), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1986), pp. 85-104, both of which are reprinted in R. Collins, Law, Culture and Regionalism in Early Medieval Spain, Variorum Collected Studies 356 (Aldershot 1992), V & VI respectively. Collins argues that the Visigothic legal forms that generated Spanish dispute documents required an initial statement of the case, a record of any oath sworn, and a final quitclaim by the losing party, so that every case should generate at least three documents, but that these later combine into two or even one. The Leonese stuff that Wendy was showing us just doesn’t fit this: it comes from all points in the process, and those processes often had many stages, all of which generated some documentation of which we rarely if ever have more than one piece. Pity, because the Catalan stuff might almost fit the scheme…

2. Alexandre Herculano (ed.), Portugaliae monumenta historica a sæculo octavo post Christum usque ad quintumdecimum. Diplomata et chartae, vol. I (Lisbon 1867), doc. no. LIII, p. 31.

Long-promised conference report (Unislamic Vandals, Perverse Christians and Heavy-metal Arabic Gospels)

It already seems quite a long time ago, but at the beginning of September I was at a conference in Exeter, to wit the Second Colloquium of the Cultures of Christian and Islamic Iberia, whose web-presence seems to have already been killed off by over-zealous admins. I promised you a report on it and by golly a report you shall have, even if it be brief.

I’ve not yet been to a conference in Exeter that didn’t tell one a lot about how not to organise a conference—little tricks like signs directing people to the venue and an organised and informed registration desk really didn’t ought to be beyond possibility—but it was a good and select gathering. In fact possibly too select, as there were only two people present but not presenting, and as one of those was Ann Christys I’d have rather it had been fewer than that because she had been… But still. What we got was good.

I’ll give a list here, but only comment in extenso on those that I had something extra to say about below; anyone wanting more details I don’t give, do comment.

  1. Prof. Richard Hitchcock, “Vandals in al-Andalus?”
  2. Prof. Roger Wright, “Placenames in Medieval Documents: the case of Cabra”
  3. Dr Leonor Sierra Macarrón, “Tipologías documentales del monasterio de Sahagún (siglo X)”
  4. Dr Jonathan Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani Perversi: organisation of society in the pre-Catalan ‘terra de ningú'”
  5. Mr Charles Tindal-Robertson, “The Reconquest in Historical Epic”
  6. Dr Geraldine Coates, “Muslim Rule and the Body Politic in the Estoria de España
  7. Prof. L. P. Harvey, “The Forging of a Sacred Past: from the Votos de Santiago to the Sacromonte ‘Lead Books'”
  8. Dr Anna Akasoy, “Patronage in al-Andalus for Philosophy and Mysticism”
  9. Raquel Sanz Barrio, “The Jewries of Málaga and Vélez-Málaga on the Even of the 1492 Expulsion”
  10. Dr Grace Magnier, “Philip III, Millenarianism and the New Jerusalem”
  11. Dr Juan Carlos Bayo, “Moors and Jews in the Habsburg Sate: on the first performance of Calderón’s El Tuzaní del Alpujarra

Professor Hitchcock’s paper was perhaps the bravest, as it was more hypothetical even than mine. There were some parts of it I couldn’t really admit to believing, but the core of it was a perfectly sensible consideration, which I can encapsulate as follows. Procopius tells us that the Visigoths drove a population of some 80,000 Vandals out of Spain to Africa, and as we know a prosperous and Romanised kingdom in North Africa resulted that there’s been some exciting recent work about. That fell to Justinian’s armies, and then a century and a half later—five generations?—the Muslims took over. Within twenty years they were invading Spain, with armies mostly locally recruited from Africa. So what happened to the people who in 565 were still being identified as Vandals? Presumably they didn’t all die off, but had children, also Vandals? and so on. Must they not therefore have been a fairly sizeable slice of the population that the incoming Arabs called barbarî? And doesn’t that in turn mean that a big part of the army that invaded Spain in 711 was actually coming back to the homes of its forefathers?

Argument with this paper, because of course there was some, centered firstly on Procopius’s numbers, and then on the unknowable questions of acculturation of the Vandal incomers into the population that we would identify as Berbers. Some agreement seemed to be reached that this would probably have varied between city and countryside, and that populations descended from Vandals would probably not have had a great deal in common between the two environments by the time of 711. Almost everyone was forced to admit, though, that whatever their extraction or history, most of the army that invaded Spain in 711 probably spoke Latin, because the alternative would seem to be tens of thousands of people being taught Arabic in a few short years of Muslim rule, and as Professor Hitchcock rightly said, by whom? Surely not enough people. So lots of stuff there to think about.

Professor Wright’s paper was as his usually are inarguably referenced, learned, interesting to anyone who studies language, and outside most of our kens. He says people never have any questions for him and I think it’s mainly because there’s only about five people in the world qualified to argue with him.

Dr Sierra very kindly brought me offprints of loads of stuff of hers, and her Sahagún paper probably interested me more than anyone else, but I don’t think I could tell you much to spark that interest in a blog audience because it was kind of specialised, so I’ll move on.

Someone or other talking to some Hispanists

This guy Jonathan Jarrett had a load of beardy waffle that hardly merits a mention, but I can at least give you his abstract:

Centurions, Alcalas and ‘Christiani Perversi’: organisation of society in the pre-Catalan ‘terra de ningú’

In recent years attention has repeatedly been drawn to evidence that allows critics of older theories of depopulation and repopulation in the Spanish Reconquista to prove that the supposedly deserted lands into which the frontiers of documented Christian society were expanding during the tenth and eleventh centuries were in fact populated. This paper expands on such anti-dogmatic exposés to set out, in an exercise in documentary archaeology supported with material evidence, some of what can be said about the organisation of such `external’ groups on the southern and western frontiers of the tenth-century Catalan counties.

It was all rather sketchy and hypothetical, but there were some pretty slides, and I gather the guy is going to give and hopefully publish a rather better-founded version early in 2008, so you may hear about this again before long…

I think, despite Professor Hitchcock’s attempts, Professor Harvey’s paper was the one I found most enthralling, and that mainly because of the way it matched up with my own interest in weird documents. A while ago, in my most popular ever post, I showed you a slate charter from seventh-century Visigothic Spain, almost the very beginning of the Middle Ages. Professor Harvey was instead talking about apocryphal books of the Bible inscribed, in Arabic on lead discs that were ‘dug up’ at Sacromonte in 1595, right at the other end. He was linking these with an attempt by Santiago de Compostela to claim ecclesiastical offerings from the whole of Spain, but although these texts, which still exist but are locked away in a museum where the curator reckons that the anathema on them pronounced by Innocent XI in 1682 is still binding and so won’t let people see them (!), do contain a new, I’m sorry ‘lost’, Gospel of St James, their actual production probably had motives more local than that.

Sixteenth-century drawing of two of the Plomos de Sacromonte

Because of access restrictions as mentioned, it’s very difficult to tell you much about these documents (of which there were about 20), but what is currently known is presented in a recent book edited by Manuel Barrios Aguilera and Mercedes García-Arena, called Los plomos del Sacromonte: invención y tesoro, which appears to be on sale still in a few corners of the web, and I have to admit, had I but world enough and time, I’d be reading it now.

Those, for me, were the highlights, but I have enough notes on the rest that I could probably tell you more if you wanted. Mainly it was nice to get back to Exeter. There are after all things to be said for talking about the Middle Ages with this kind of setting:

That same beardy bloke pontificating over dinner

(Many thanks to Juan Carlos Bayo for firstly organising and secondly providing the photographs, and to Professor Hitchcock and Dr Sierra for offprints; also to Peter Lahiff for vital drinking assistance…)