Tag Archives: Tassilo

At last, Kalamazoo 2011… Part III

On the third day of the 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies, I appear to have followed almost exactly the same trajectory through sessions as the Medieval History Geek,1 and of course he wrote it up long hence, so you could just read about them at his. Because time is short and space is infinite but this doesn’t mean I should fill all of it, however, I’ll basically just list the papers and give comments where I have anything different to say to what he did, and therefore you may want to read (or re-read) his post first as that will, you know, actually tell you what they were about.

Session 398. Early Medieval History

Antiochene gold solidus of Emperor Maurice Tiberius (584-602)

Obverse and reverse of gold solidus of Antioch in the name of Emperor Maurice Tiberius (584-602), showing (obverse) a bust of the emperor facing with cross on globe and (reverse) Victory standing facing with labarum and cross-on-globe

  • Benjamin Wheaton, “Reasons for Byzantine Support of Gundovald through 584 CE”. What I liked about this paper, which is also common to a lot of late antique history, was that although from the title you’d expect it to be very specific – one year, two polities – of course the reasons for that Byzantine support enmeshed most of the other kingdoms of Europe and what they were doing and one wound up with, not the scheming Byzantine emperor pulling strings all across our map that one sometimes gets from the more `classic’ literature but a picture of Emperor Maurice I receiving the latest unpredictable news from Spain, from Burgundy, from Neustria, wherever, taking stock of it all and rolling out a new plan to try and stay ahead of as much as he knew about developments as best he could. This seems more realistic and more useful as a comparator than the kind of gilded Byzantium-was-always-more-clever paradigm I’ve met in some work.
  • Luigi Andrea Berto, “In Search of the First Venetians: some notes and proposals for a prosopography of early medieval Venice”. I’ve had a kind of bitter interest in the origins of Venice ever since being set an assignment on it that I couldn’t do during my Master’s. The paper here was however more about the sort of problems that one gets trying to database any early medieval dataset than any specific new findings, I thought, and my notes were therefore brief because I’ve met those before.
  • Sebastian Rossignol, “New Perspectives on the Origins of Towns in Early Medieval Central Europe”. This was that slightly dubious thing, a conference paper that is basically cut down from a paper already in publication. This of course means that any feedback the presenter gets cannot profit them at all, so I find it an odd choice to make. I felt, anyway, that although the problems with deciding what is and isn’t a town were well expressed and explained here, they are also something that several people had a decent go at dealing with before I was born, so that it sounded as if Dr Rossignol had laboriously reinvented the wheel.2 Talking to him afterwards I discovered that he did know the Continental side of this literature, but whether it was useful for him to explain it all to us again I am still not sure.

Then lunch and a return to battle, or at least, opposition, with:

Session 455. Early Medieval Europe I

  • Walter Goffart, “An Experimental Introduction to Christianity for Today’s Students of Medieval History”. This, which has been gone into in detail by the Medieval History Geek so do have a look there, was another rather odd thing, since it was a pedogogical paper not a research one, unusual in this context. Also, because he is now free of undergraduate teaching, Professor Goffart was able to be fairly uninterested in suggestions about how he might modify it, because he himself would not need it. This made for a rather odd back-and-forth in questions where he basically implied that interpretation was our problem not his, leaving me with the impression that Holy Writ had just been handed down.
  • Glenn McDorman, “Diplomacy in the Post-Imperial West and the Gallic War of 507-510”. I was not convinced by the central contention of this, which was statedly that there was an agreed set of rules for conducting royal politics in the sixth century and that we can prove it—as with any system based on norms, I want some consideration of the incentives and disincentives not to play and of how the norms are communicated before I am ready to believe—but I thought it did have some value as an analysis of the way that King Theodoric of the Ostrogoths conducted his foreign relations, which might be described roughly as, “everything possible to avoid war but then go in with overwhelming force and without hesitation”. In that light, this paper was about the tipping point between these two states and that way I found it quite enlightening.
  • Gold solidus of King Theodoric of Italy

    Obverse of the gold solidus of King Theodoric of Italy that shows the "invincible" moustache

  • Jonathan J. Arnold, “Theodoric’s Invincible Mustache”. I absolutely loved this paper, not just because it managed to sneak some genuine historical import about unchecked assumptions by historians, fluidity of early medieval ethnicity and so on, past us but because it made really good use of a slideshow and graphics and was thoroughly entertaining. Dr Arnold is a presenter to seek out. How many people have you seen give a paper in which they said, “OK: get ready to have your mind blown” and then not delivered anything exciting? Not this time, and he had an extra slide ready to anticipate the most obvious question; I give him maximum points for preparation and style that Congress.

I think that the coffee in the more modern part of the West Michigan campus come Congress time is a little too hard to reach. The spaces between sessions are generous, but this year as last year I would be talking to people after sessions, go to seek out coffee, get slightly lost, and either only just get the vital caffeine or actually have to give up and run back. Thus, somehow, the sessions I was most likely to be late for this year appeared to be the ones where I didn’t have to change rooms. I seem to have a full set of notes on this next one so I assume that I wasn’t late; however, my notes seem sufficiently grouchy that I suspect I didn’t get the coffee. I apologise in advance to the speakers in this panel, therefore, for what may be a less generous appraisal than they deserved.

Session 511. Early Medieval Europe II

The so-called Tassilo Chalice, preserved at Tassilo III's foundation of Kremsmünster

The so-called Tassilo Chalice, preserved at Tassilo III's foundation of Kremsmünster

  • Jennifer Davis, “Charlemagne and Tassilo in 794: a final encounter”, arguing that Charlemagne’s final display of the deposed Duke Tassilo of Bavaria at court was more a display of power and confidence than a response to any real threat from him or his old duchy.3
  • Courtney Booker, “The fama ambigua of Ebbo, Bishop of Reims and Hildesheim”, arguing that we should consider Ebbo‘s choices and decisions when trying to weigh up his involvement in the deposition of his old master and patron, Emperor Louis the Pious, more than has been done. I would be inclined to agree and found the interpretations persuasive but I thought it was odd that, in a paper that urged us to hear Ebbo’s voice, none of his actual writings got quoted. I’m sure they will be in the print version.
  • Phyllis Jestice, “Constructing a Queen: Adelheid’s Great Escape and the Ottonian Image”. This was another great presentation, full of humour and irony but without ever letting go of the subject, the way that this somewhat unlucky but prestigious Queen of Italy and then Germany was presented and, well, used, by those who attacked her, captured her, married her or wrote about her (the first three groups sometimes being the same people). Even her history was worth claiming, it seems, and Professor Jestice certainly made it worth hearing about.

And then, I believe, the dance, and I also believe that I had failed to make any sensible plans for dinner and that Michael Fletcher, again, obligingly drove us out to town to get something as part of a general mess of collapsing plans that had been made somewhere around the beginning of the mead tasting and fallen apart by the end, can’t imagine why. I do remember that somewhere in that press of mead-bibbers I met, at last, the inimitable and now-unlinkable Jennifer Lynn Jordan, which was of course a delight, but mainly I have to thank Michael for making sure I got fed at the expense of his time and gasoline. By that generosity I was set up for the dance, which was loads of fun even if this time I didn’t have as much freedom (or indeed cause—no Sex Pistols this time) to let my hair down and fling it around as I had last year, because of presenting the next day. Michael and I did clear a reasonable area around us when we undertook to give `Bohemian Rhapsody’ the full Wayne’s World treatment towards close of play, however.4 I was there at the end, but not for long after, and then it was sleep before the last day of the whole shebang.


1. This nomenclature feels awkward, since I have met him and know his name and I don’t think he’s even keeping it secret; but I learnt netiquette in the old days and one of the tenets of the old school was and probably is, “you use the name that someone gives you, because identity on the Internet is meant to be different if someone wants it to be and anyway to do otherwise is kind of like calling someone a liar about their name”. Lacking instruction to the contrary, I’ll stand by that.

2. Edith Ennen, Frühgeschichte der europäischen Stadt (Bonn 1953) non vidi, cit. Martin Biddle, “Towns” in David M. Wilson (ed.), The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England (London 1976), pp. 99-150 at p. 100 n. 4, that Biddle chapter being the basic starting point for this whole deal even now I reckon.

3. Cf. Stuart Airlie, “Narratives of Triumph and Rituals of Submission: Charlemagne’s mastery of Bavaria” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 9 (Cambridge 1999), pp. 93-119.

4. Except that we did not pause to recover someone from another party because we were all the party already.

Kalamazoo and Back, III: bloggers, bishops, Bavaria and bastions*

Right, here we go again. I still hadn’t really mastered the trick of adequate sleep by Friday morning, but I had realised the previous day that the first thing I had to do that day, which was make it to the blogger meet-up, was actually in the same building as my room and also the nearest source of caffeine, and so I figured that this was the best of all available plans and headed up there. And, as previously recorded, they actually make tea at Mug Shots, so within about five minutes of arriving at the blogger meet-up I was something quite like my normal self, which is just as well given the number of people I had to take in. There are lots of us! I think that present were all of Another Damned Medievalist, Clio’s Disciple, Dame Eleanor Hull, Mary Kate Hurley, the Medieval History Geek, Steve Muhlberger, Notorious, Ph. D., the Heptarchy Herald, the Rebel Lettriste, Professor Richard Scott Nokes, both Vaulting and Vellum, Thomas Elrod, Heu Mihi and Meg of Xoom, and that may not be all. Plus which there were other bloggers lurking in the conference who did not make it, so there was really nowhere safe to hide. Many of these fine people I had not met before, some of them alas I still haven’t, it was that full, and all of them it was good to see. I wrote the name of my blog on the reverse of my nametag and then had to explain it to people whenever the wind flipped it over, but I don’t care. (Not least because at Kalamazoo no-one thought keeping an academic blog was a weird thing to do, or if they did they hid it well.) But it couldn’t last forever as someone had unthinkingly scheduled a conference around us, and so off I trotted feeling much the better for the tea and sympathy.

The counter of Mug Shots Coffeehouse, Western Michigan University

Session 189. Bishops and the Papacy, 900-1100

Scribblings in my programme indicate that I was in two minds about whether to come to this, even though a friend was organising, partly because of a competing session and partly because one of the speakers had dropped out, but I’m glad I decided as I did.

  • This was not least because the first speaker was Anna Trumbore Jones, whose name for some reason I keep spelling differently so I hope I have it right here. I’ve very much liked what I’ve met of Dr Jones’s work, particularly a very sane attempt to use a local case-study with some actual evidence in to try and assess the turbid question of Viking violence in Viator a few years back,1 and I feel that she and I are in some ways engaged in the same pursuit, trying to make South-Western Europe’s copious evidence contribute to the bigger questions of European medieval history in the long tenth century. Her paper title, “The Power of an Absent Pope: privileges, forgery, and papal authority, 877-1050”, also chimed well with some work I’ve lately been finishing off about forging papal documents in this area and so we had a lot to talk about afterwards.2 Here she was tangling with a standard narrative of papal power in the South of France, that it is secured by patronising monasteries to give the pope leverage to dominate the bishops. She showed that firstly bishops were often involved in securing these monasteries’ privileges, that (as we know when we look, I think) that papal exemption of a monastery rarely actually excludes a bishop from it in practice unless it was specifically aimed at him, because most houses need a continuing relationship with their bishop even if he can’t tithe them, and that although the idea of the papacy obviously had power because people went to the effort of forging papal documents, they had far rather do that later on than have obtained them from the pope himself. Actually getting a document from the pope might entail one in links to him that would be politically awkward, and a forgery would probably work just as well for whatever the purpose of these documents was anyway. I think we, collectively, are still a bit unclear about what that purpose really is, and the same goes for royal immunities beyond the area of plausible enforcement, but all this was meat and drink to me when reckoning with these questions and it was great to see someone else asking them, in English.
  • The second paper in the session was by John Ott, who was speaking to the title, “Band of Brothers: episcopal solidarities and the limits of papal intervention in Northern France around 1100”. I have less to say here because it’s further from my period, but anyone who’s taught papal reform may have realised that in Northern France it doesn’t get a grip because the bishops tend to band together and claim papal authority doesn’t apply to them in various complicated ways: this was a case-study of that defiance and the network of acquaintance, friendship and tolerance of dubious canonicity that made it possible, based around the election to the bishopric of Beauvais in 1099. It emphasised, among other things, that a bishop didn’t have to have been squeaky-clean in his own past to be a reformer, that reformers mostly would compromise, and that there was a strong middle road here which could be described as “reform on our own terms in our own time” that I think we could find a lot more of even in the Gregorian period if we looked for it in those terms. (It’s worth remembering in that light that for a lot of the Italian bishoprics, the pope is their metropolitan and part of precisely this sort of local acquaintance network.3 Archbishop Manasses of Rheims here and Pope Leo IX fifty years before are not necessarily playing different games in their bailiwicks simply because the latter is pope and also has a wider political position.)
  • There being no third paper meant lots of questions, but mainly for Ott, so I was quite pleased to be able to reassure Dr Jones of my attention to her paper too.

By this stage the sun had come out and the prospect of eating lunch in it in the shades of Kalamazoo’s precipitously forested campus meant that as far I was concerned this day was now going pretty well. I think this was also the point at which I hit the book exhibit, with thrift and determination not to come away with anything I didn’t actually have a use for. Now, as is well documented That Never Works, but I didn’t spend too much and, as someone observed later in a conversation about this with me, I have passed some kind of level here beyond which I now mainly buy books I have already read, and know I need, rather than books I feel I should read but subsequently don’t for years. But this time my purchases, which included being introduced to Olivia Remie Constable just as I was buying her book, which was nice, mainly seemed like sound choices and none too heavy, either. The next session maintained my bonhomie….

Session 285. The Carolingians and their Neighbors

    I think this session managed to run in parallel with one of similar focus, as quite a few people I might have expected to be there weren’t, but it was a good one.

  • First up was Isabelle Lachat, speaking to the title, “Charlemagne’s Foreign Policy and the Manufacturing of Empire”, which was some detailed riffing on Stuart Airlie’s paper about Duke Tassilo of Bavaria,4 pointing out how he and Charlemagne were using very parallel strategies of legitimisation including sponsoring of missions to the pagans on their Eastern frontiers, and that among the other gains that Charlemagne made from his eventual conquest of Bavaria was Tassilo’s ideological ideas bank that Lachat thought he could be shown appropriating. This, sadly, attracted less attention in questions than an unsustainable idea of Carl Hammer’s about the identity of Tassilo’s wife, but never mind.5
  • Third paper, but so closely associated with this topic-wise that I want to take it out of order, was Jonathan Couser, my session organiser indeed, talking about, “Clergy and the Laity on the Eastern Marches”, in which he argued that the Bavarian and eventually Carolingian missions in the East proceeded in phases, with rotating staffs of clergy from Salzburg who neither made nor wanted local recruits while new monastic foundations took the heat in the very far borders, then a new episcopal policy under Charlemagne driving missions from several new bishoprics, and lastly a monastic phase led principally from the East, the missions of Cyril and Methodius, the only saints really worth celebrating on February 14th, which operated in competition with the Carolingian strategy not just politically and linguistically but also institutionally. There was a lot of material in this paper and it went very fast, but it made a few things quite a lot clearer for me.
  • Distribution map of the so-called Ulfberht sword-blades in Europe

    Distribution map of the so-called Ulfberht sword-blades in Europe, from Stalsberg's article cit. n. 7

  • Between the two, and less fast because less comfortable with English, something she heroically overcame, was Anne J. Stalsberg, asking, “Did the Carolingians Export Swords to their Pagan Neighbors during the Viking Age (ninth-tenth centuries)?” You’d think that the answer was a fairly obvious ‘no, duh, why would they do that?’ but actually the find patterns of the so-called Ulfberht swords, of which Dr Stalsberg is building a corpus, rather seem to suggest otherwise, since the maker’s name is held to be Frankish but the swords occur thickly all over Scandinavia and rather more sparsely over a very thin but wide range inside the Carolingian Empire. She therefore questioned the amount of state control over such things, and asked for help about the inscriptions on the swords, some of which bear legend +ULFBER+HT, with the cross breaking the name as shown, what would appear to be nonsensical punctuation. If anyone has anything to add, I have her contact details, because I stopped afterwards to suggest coin legends might give parallels and wound up with a copy of a paper she’d recently published about the swords and a fervent wish that I would get in touch if I found anything out.6 I think she may in fact have got more out of the session than some of her audience, whom I think may have been hoping for more pictures of swords and fewer distribution maps, but this is how we learn, people, and I thought it was good.

The last session of the day for me turned out to mean not moving very far, but between the two I caught up with some further people whom I’d known were there somewhere but hadn’t yet found, gulped down some emergency coffee and then resumed the trench warfare with the following…

Session 346. The Archaeology of Early Medieval Europe II. Early Medieval Hillforts in Central Europe: strongholds or central places?

    This one has been covered better than I think I would by the Medieval History Geek, so I’ll start by directing you there. For the record however, the papers were:

  • Jiří Macháček, “Great Moravian Central Places and their Practical Function, Social Significance, and Symbolic Meaning”, focussing especially on Pohansko and Staré Mĕsto
  • Hajnalka Herold, “Early Medieval (Ninth to Tenth Centuries AD) Fortified Settlements in Central Europe”, focussing mainly on Gars-Thunau
  • and

  • Sławomir Moździoch, “Early Medieval Strongholds in Poland as Centers of Power in the Light of Recent Archaeological Research”, which covered a wider range of sites and came up with a rather different picture of state-driven castle-building that sounded weirdly familiar…

And then evening fell, and whereas the previous evening I had left my social calendar largely in the hands of ADM, today it fell to Michael of the Heptarchy Herald to see me right, because he had already kindly invited me to join what I gather is a traditional party to a local pizza joint called Bilbo’s, which I gladly did, as did Scott Nokes though again we wound up sort of across the gathering from each other and couldn’t really exchange more than greetings. I get the feeling it could have been a more raucous night than it was if I’d been drinking more heavily and I hope I didn’t slow everyone else down. The food was good, though, very fresh, and the beer likewise actually, and the company greatly enjoyed: thankyou guys (and gals). The quote of the day from this report therefore is uncontestedly:

Friday night at Bilbo’s, Saturday morning in Mordor!

which was the battle cry of Cédric Briand as we set off and which he said he would be proud to have associated with his name on the Internet. There you go, M’sieu!

That was by no means the end of the evening, however, as we had broken from the trenchers mainly to get back for the Early Medieval Europe reception. It took me a long time to find this, and it should technically have been finished by the time I got there, but it wasn’t, even slightly, and I met many useful people (one of whom was the one, who shall remain nameless, who had downloaded my thesis and said, unguardedly, that it was much better than they’d expected given my blog…) and exchanged ideas and gossip until chucking out time. But once back at the Valley I found there were still drinkers a-socialising and so rather than give up entirely, I joined them for a short while too. I think it was at this point that Theo Riches said perhaps the nicest thing I ever heard him say about me while introducing me to a colleague, which was, “but Jon is rare among historians, because Jon can count“. I was very flattered by this and would like to say, by way of gratitude, that I have now forgiven him for the year he was telling people at Leeds that I was a bigamist.7 So there!

Finally, a wander back to my own building saw me fall briefly into step with a person by the name of Elizabeth MacMahon, who is now enshrined in my mind as a sort of Quotational Fairy-Godsister, arriving at impressionable moments to deliver sardonically-memorable one-liners and then disappearing into the ether. (Yes, I was drunk on all of these occasions, I expect she has a normal physical existence really.) In our brief conversation she summed up the whole conference in one of these that had me reeling with admiration (yes, again, may have already been reeling slightly). But we’ve already had the winning quotation for this day so I shall use the lateness of the evening at that point to hold it over for the Saturday, which I will write when I am back from seeing some people about a job. Another short post will precede. Until then!


* The usual meaningless points for anyone placing the song reference, which I couldn’t help but incorporate once it had come to mind. It is related to New Hampshire…

1. A. Trumbore Jones, “Pitying the Desolation of Such a Place: Rebuilding religious houses and constructing memory in Aquitaine in the wake of the Viking incursions” in Viator Vol. 37 (Berkeley 2006), pp. 85-102.

2. Jonathan Jarrett, “Archbishop Ató of Osona: False Metropolitans on the Marca Hispanica” in Archiv für Diplomatik Vol. 56 (München forthcoming).

3. I pull this point more or less straight out of Jochen Johrendt, Papsttum und Landeskirchen im Spiegel der päpstlichen Urkunden, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Studien und Texte) 33 (Hannover 2004).

4. S. Airlie, “Narratives of Triumph and Rituals of Submission: Charlemagne’s mastery of Bavaria” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 9 (Cambridge 1999), pp. 93-119.

5. Presumably in Carl Hammer, From Ducatus to Regnum. Ruling Bavaria under the Merovingians and Early Carolingians (Turnhout 2007) (non vidi), the suggestion apparently being that the Lombard wife whom Charlemagne repudiated was then parcelled off to become the Lombard princess who marries Tassilo; Lachat asked, and perhaps Hammer does too, what if the princess had been pregnant when repudiated, but subsequently had to admit that the chronology of Tassilo’s marriage doesn’t really permit these options. I think she just threw it out there for a laugh and then had to deal with everyone’s ears pricking up for scandal.

6. It is Anne Stalsberg, “Herstellung und Verbreitung der Vlfberht-Schwertklingen: eine Neubewertung” in Zeitschrift für Archäologie des Mittelalters Vol. 36 (Bonn 2008), pp. 89-118, though the map above is from what seems to be an English version transl. as “The Ulfberht sword blades: a reevaluation”, separately paginated, online here.

7. I am not now, have never been and do not anticipate being married even once, just for the record there, and I’m sure that this was mostly understood.