Tag Archives: tolls

From the Sources XIV: the Raffelstetten Inquest on Toll

Jumping out of the chronology of my backlog for a moment, as I settle into my largest ever teaching load this term I am very glad to be re-running at least one course, my Rule and Reform under Charlemagne and his Successors. Even that has changed, however, and it has just struck me that the changes mean that I will not this year be doing a seminar using the Raffelstetten Inquest on Toll. So I have the translation I used last year sitting around doing nothing, and I thought it could just as usefully go up here where others may be able to use it. What, you may patiently be asking, is the Raffelstetten Inquest? And fair enough if so, because you’d have to be quite deep into Carolingian history to catch even mentions of it.1 There is a quite reasonable Wikipedia page at the time of writing, but even that doesn’t provide a translation, because as far as I can see there isn’t one.

We are talking about more or less here, Raffelstetten being on the southern shore behind the Ausee, the lakelet at centre left; note that this is still a place where stuff is stuck across the river, though I don't know for what reason...

So, briefly, Raffelstetten is in modern-day Austria in the town of Asten, on the Danube river, and in about 900 it was on the very edge of the freshly-fragmented Carolingian Empire. To wit, it was on the edge of East Francia, under the rule of a king we now know as Louis the Child, son of King Arnulf, himself illegitimate son of King Carloman II, son of King Louis the German, son of Emperor Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne. Louis ruled 899-911 and was the last Carolingian ruler of anything we could really call Germany, and between 903 and 906 his officials turned up at Raffelstetten, which was at this time a toll station for goods moving up and down the Danube, and recorded for the king what regulations were in force there. This, as you can imagine, is gold-dust for economic historians of the period, who usually have almost no data about types or volumes of trade except what they can intuit from other forms of evidence, but here we have a government actually demonstrating that it attempted to control bulk exchange across its borders.2 But, when you look at it, it does begin to appear that their priorities were not necessarily ours, and that was why I was using it to teach with. So, let me put it before you and see if you see what I see.3

Inquisition on the Tolls of Raffelstetten

Let the industry of all of the orthodox faithful, present indeed and future, know that the request and demand of all the Bavarians, namely the bishops, abbots and all of the counts, who were making journeys into eastern parts, had reached King Louis [the Child], saying that they were constrained and coerced by unjust toll and unfair exchanges in those parts. Hearing this with benign ears he, indeed, according to the custom of the kings his ancestors, ordered Margrave Arbo, along with the judges of the easterners, by whom let this be recorded, that he should look into the toll laws and the custom of toll; and he gave power to his messengers Archbishop Theotmar [of Salzburg], Burchard Bishop of the Church of Passau and Count Otachar, to correct this justly and legitimately in his place. And these are the people who swore about the toll in the county of Arbo: the vicar Walto, the vicar Durinc, Gundalperht, Amo, Gerpreht, Pazrich, Diotrich, Aschrich, Arbo, Tunzili, Salacho, Helmwin, Sigimar, Gerolt, Ysac, Salaman, Humperht, another Humperht, Englischah, Azo, Ortimuot, Ruotoh, Emilo, another Durinc, Reinolt, the vicar Eigil, Poto, Eigilo, Ellinger, Otlant, Gundpold, another Gerolt, Otperht, Adalhelm, Tento, Buoto, Wolfker, Rantolf, Kozperht, Graman, Heimo. These and other men, who were nobles in these three counties, having been interrogated (after swearing the oath) by Margrave Arbo in the presence of Archbishop Theotmar and Burchard Bishop of the church of Passau, with Count Otachar sitting with them, in the court in the place which is called Raffelstetten, reported on the toll places and the custom of the toll that used most justly to be paid in the times of Louis and Carloman and the other kings.

  1. Ships, indeed, which from the western regions, should afterwards have come out at the wood of Passau, and should wish to beach at Rosdorf or anywhere else and make trade, should give a half-drachm in toll, that is 1 scoto; if they should wish to go downriver to Linz, let there be paid three half-modii per ship, that is three scafils of salt. For slaves and other things let them pay nothing there, but afterwards have license for beaching and trading as far as the Bohemian forest, wherever they shall wish.
  2. If anyone from Bavaria should wish to move his salt to his own house, and the ship’s steersman affirms this with an oath, let them pay nothing, but go without trouble.
  3. If moreover any free man should have carried out a legitimate trade, paying or saying nothing there, and then this shall have been proved, let him be tolled for it both by ship and by goods. If moreover any slave perpetrates this, let him be bound there, until his lord comes and pays off his fine, and afterwards let him be permitted to leave.
  4. If moreover Bavarians or Slavs of that same country should have entered the selfsame region to obtain victuals with slaves or horses or cattle or other furnishings of theirs, let them buy what things are necessary without toll wherever they should wish in the selfsame region. If moreover they should have wished to cross to the selfsame marketplace, let them go halfway across the shore without any constraint; and in other places of the selfsame region let them buy what things they are able to without toll. If it please them better to trade in the selfsame marketplace, let them give the prescribed toll and let them buy whatever they should wish and however much better they can.
  5. On the salt paths, moreover, which cross the river Enns by the legitimate street, let them pay a full scafil at Url and let them be forced to pay nothing further. But let the ships there that are from the Traungau pay nothing, but cross without tax. This is to be observed with respect to the Bavarians.
  6. The Slavs, indeed, who came out from the Russians or from the Bohemians for purposes of trade, let them have marketplaces wherever [they want] on the bank of the Danube or wherever in Rotthales or in Ried, two lumps from one mule’s load of wax, of which both shall be worth 1 scoto; from one man’s load a lump of the same price; if indeed one should wish to sell slaves or horses, 1 tremissis from one female slave, similarly from 1 male horse, 1 saiga from a slave, similarly from a mare.
  7. Also of salt-ships, after they shall have crossed the Bohemian forest, let them have license to buy or sell or beach in no place before they arrive at Ebersburg. There from each legitimate ship, that is one which three man sail, let them pay 3 scafils of salt, and let nothing further be exacted from them, but let them reach Mutarim or wherever shall then have been constituted the salt-market at that time; and let them pay similarly, that is 3 scafils of salt, and no more; and afterwards they shall have free and secure license to sell and buy without any comital fine or the restraint of any person; but however much better a price the buyer and seller should wish to give for their property between themselves, let them have free license in all things.
  8. If moreover they should wish to cross to the marketplace of Marahorum, let them pay 1 solidus per ship, according to the estimation of the market at that time, and cross freely; on returning, moreover, let them be forced to pay nothing legitimate.
  9. Let merchants, that is, Jews and other traders, wherever they should come from in this same country or other countries, pay the just toll as much for slaves as for other goods, just as they always did in the times of previous kings.

There are many things that interest me about this document, but I don’t really have time to dig into them just now; there’s a lecture that needs finishing. So, just a list of talking points, maybe.

  • The tolls really only concern a few sorts of goods, salt most of all but also slaves and wax, horses too, and these are the only named goods. It seems clear that other stuff is being traded, but the state cares much less about it; these are the things for which toll levels are set.
  • Those tolls are to be paid in kind, where the goods are salt or wax, but otherwise in cash, except that none of the words used for that money, semidragma, scoto, tremissis, solidus, saiga, are actual Carolingian coins. (Solidus might just be, but it’s unlikely; none had been struck for nearly a century.) It’s not actually clear what people are paying in, but presumably at least some of the time it must have been goods to the agreed value of these units we can’t identify, as it says, “by the estimation of the market at that time”, iuxta estimationem mercationis tunc temporis. Pursuing that point a little distance usually makes peoples’ heads spin. How do we know what a pound, dollar, or whatever, is worth? Is that what’s happening here? And so forth.
  • There are ethnicities in play here, but they are not legal categories. There are Slavs on both sides of the river, and those from ‘Bavaria’ as it is here counted have the same rights as the Bavarians, those from Rus’ and Bohemia (the former being a long way to travel!) have different ones. Certainly, it seems to be better to be a Bavarian in these exchanges, but that’s unsurprising given that that’s the side that is running the toll station, and it seems to have been the erosion of that special status that led to the enquiry in the first place, so it obviously wasn’t what everyone wanted.
  • It is repeatedly stressed that if people can cut a better deal than these terms give them elsewhere, good luck to ’em. It’s interesting therefore that enough of them felt it was still worth coming to these controlled marketplaces. This tells us something about the opportunities for trade in this world. As with emporia in the West somewhat earlier, these tolls seem only to be practical if buyers were so few that sellers had to go where they were even if it cost them something to do that.
  • Another reason for the focus on this place, and for the prominence of salt in the details here, may be that a major route for salt seems to have crossed the Danube here (see no. 5 above), which is presumably why the toll station was where it was (which is, you’ll notice, never actually specified—Raffelstetten is just where the enquiry was held). The idea that salt moved along fixed routes is one we find elsewhere, but I’m not sure anyone’s really thought about why; if it cost you to go these ways, why not go others? The cost must presumably have been quite carefully balanced.4
  • Lastly, for now, that last clause is interesting, isn’t it? I can see how it could be read as evidence that Jews were dominant in long-distance trade, but to me what it actually seems to say is that there was a class of (professional?) traders, mercatores, among whom Jews were a recognised category, and indeed that all Jews here concerned could be assumed to be such traders, but that these people were actually separate from the normal business operations up and down the Danube here, even though people were apparently trekking all the way from the modern Ukraine to traffic. Is the difference here between people who live by trade and by people who trade what they make or get by other non-market means? If so, what does that do to our picture of early medieval trade, if it mostly wasn’t traders doing it? Yes, I know, generalisation from a single datum, but it’s such an interesting one…

I should leave it there, anyway, but I could go on, and one place I’m conciously not going is into the chronology and whether you’d have seen something like this if you’d been at, say, Frankfurt, a century before. Instead, I invite you to, if you like, and maybe put it before students and see what they see. Enjoy!


1. I first found out about it from François-Louis Ganshof, “Note sur l’« inquisitio de theloneis raffelstettensis »” in Le Moyen Âge : revue d’histoire et de philologie Vol. 72 (4e Séries Vol. 21) (Bruxelles 1966), pp. 197-224, which I was reading just because I had the volume out in order to read something else entirely (probably Lina Malbos, “L’annaliste royale sous Louis le Pieux”, ibid., pp. 225-233) and checked the contents page. I wish there was still time to do this with every volume I borrowed from a library, because you learn so much by doing it…

2. I’m thinking here, of course, of Michael McCormick, The Origins of the European Economy: communications and commerce 300-900 (Cambridge 2001), of which whatever you may think of it it can fairly be said the bulk of its evidence is not actually about trade.

3. Usually in these posts I give the original text in a footnote, but since here that original text is Alfred Boretius & Victor Krause (edd.), Capitularia regum Francorum, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Legum sectio II: Capitularia regum francorum) (Hannover 1897, repr. 2001), 2 vols, II no. 253, which is online here, I won’t as you can just check it yourself. The translation is all my own and if you spot any errors please do say so!

4. There is some work on salt roads in England at least; I know of John Maddicott, “London and Droitwich, c. 650-750: trade, industry and the rise of Mercia” in Anglo-Saxon England Vol. 34 (Cambridge 2005), pp. 7-58, but there must be stuff for the Continent I haven’t found too. On emporia, I suppose we still see Richard Hodges, Dark Age Economics: the origins of towns and trade AD 600-1000, 2nd edn. (London 1989) but a quick search now produces Sauro Gelichi & Hodges (edd.), From One Sea to Another: trading places in the European and Mediterranean early Middle ages. Proceedings of the International Conference, Comacchio, 27th – 29th March 2009 (Turnhout 2012), which I didn’t know about and should obviously look at.

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Seminary XVII: tolls and trade and bad mathematics

Going back through old entries to find stuff, I realise that somehow I missed Seminary X. No idea how, but it’s a bit late now. In case I’ve been causing confusion, by the way, the idea was to coin an adjective that would mean `of or pertaining to a seminar’, and I thought the ambiguity would be fun. But so far it doesn’t seem to be bringing me any misdirected search hits, whereas « medieval sex » is still bringing people here with unfortunate frequency.1 But, shockingly, this isn’t what I was aiming to write about.

As well as missing virtual seminars, I have also been missing real ones I’m afraid, through a variety of causes involving some any or all of disinterest in penitentials, acute pressures of writing, clocks whose hands I set forward whilst fumbling to switch off the alarm, and general wastrel languor. But, to make up for it, the Department has been bringing seminars to me, in the form of a sudden and shortlived revival of our departmental seminar series. This was orchestrated by the tireless efforts of Rory Naismith, who arranged that on the 1st of February Neil Middleton, fresh from his appearance in Early Medieval Europe,2 could come to speak to the Department and various visitors about “Early Medieval Tolls and the Coinages of North-West Europe”.

A silver penny of King Offa of Mercia, c. 793

Mr Middleton’s basic thesis, and one that he’d very much brought for our scrutiny as numismatists, was that when early medieval monarchs changed tax levels by altering the amount that was taken at ports and other toll stations on goods that were being transported or sold, they did not do so simply by changing the amount that they charged, because the proportion that was permitted in each place often seems to have been ancient, traditional and invariant over many centuries. Proving that, by means of very lengthy excursuses on equivalencies of weights, was where most of the paper’s time went, but the interesting bit was the alternative, that instead, when times were bad and kings like Charlemagne or Alfred urgently needed to drum up more revenue, they did so by tinkering with weight standards. They made bigger coins, or more subtly, changed the basis of the weight to which the coins were made to a heavier one, so that for the same number of pennies or deniers levied more actual bullion came their way. It sounds vastly complicated, but really it’s easier, because you can control the coinage because you make it, or have it made, in a few places well controlled, but you may well not be able to alter market regulations across the empire or collect new tolls in places where your writ doesn’t really run. And indeed, Mr Middleton admitted to examples of places where old weight standards and coin seem to remain in circulation, and I was fine with that because Catalonia is one of them, though he didn’t know that necessarily.3

The problem is the maths. I don’t believe in the mathematics of medieval metrology. There is is no good basis for working out a weight standard except when a vast amount of evidence all points in broadly the same direction. Then, maybe, you can say that these things were made to the same standard, but it’s still only a guess. Coins come to us worn; we never know how much weight they’ve lost. Even fine ones are not going to be their mint weight, and while ancient Greek coins are usually within 0.5 g of a mean weight, medieval ones do not match up so well. And these things, because they had to contain a certain accepted amount of precious metal, are one of our best sources for medieval weight standards. Cereal grains are usually reckoned as the actual medieval basis of weight standards, and long theories have been constructed around whether this kingdom or that is reckoning weights starting from a wheat-grain or a barleycorn. Mr Middleton’s handout helpfully suggests that an average equivalence for wheat to barley is 4:3, and his figures go to three decimal places. Well, just try it. You won’t find a match to three decimal places, I know that much. He explained disparities as being down to improved breeds of the crops. Well, whatever, they just don’t grow to the same weight, sorry. And then, starting with these three-decimal place figures, he multiplies up to get a pound, which involves multiplying whatever error is involved in the base weight by a factor of 5,000. And then—surprise—it doesn’t quite make what we believe to be a Roman pound, so he rounds up, because those medievals, their weighing was a bit vague anyway, right? Only they made the evidence that he’s using, and he’s using it to prove that they were a bit slapdash because it doesn’t add up to this standard that he is arguing, from the way he’s managed to add things up so that they nearly match, they were using, based on evidence he is arguing is flawed! And furthermore he then used slight differences to argue (and he’s not the first here by a long way) for a notional pound of account that differed from the actual pound weight. And he posited a “heaping-up allowance”, i. e. the difference between a level measure and a heaped one, and shockingly, the figure he posited matched the difference he’d posited between the account and weight pounds, which obviously proves that they were using them as he said. Well, er, no. It proves he’s made up figures that fit his own sums. If there had been cake, which unusually for our seminars there wasn’t, he would clearly have been both having and eating it. There can be no foundation for conclusions based on this kind of maths.

The which is really bothersome, because what he was basically arguing makes a very great deal of sense and is a big contribution to our grasp on how kings like Charlemagne or Alfred would have tried to alter the workings of their states’ economies, and I’d really like to be able to believe that it was acceptable, and that the fine details and the dodgy maths involved beneath them don’t affect it. And they may not, but we were so drowned in worthless figures that their actual connection to the argument is hard to work out and surgically remove. So I will wind up citing this stuff, possibly, because I believe it very plausible that things could have worked this way, but I still don’t think that any of this stuff goes any distance towards proving it.


1. On the other hand, the fact that some people are getting my rant about gender theory’s divorce from the real physical passions when they were after porn amuses me, especially since they apparently still decide to click that link in the search engine despite a non-pornographic preview clip. Why? Ah well. The best ones are indubitably the misspelt ones. Chief in this regard, and unlikely ever to be surpassed, is the unfortunate person who was brought to this humble weblog searching for « historic annal sex ». Yeah, you didn’t get what you were after did you. Never mind hey? Now you know a new word for a chronicle with year-by-year records! I’m here to help!

2. N. Middleton, “Early medieval port customs, tolls and controls on foreign trade” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 13 (Oxford 2005), pp. 313-358.

3. Mints in Catalonia made Frankish deniers like everywhere else in West Francia until 864, when King Charles the Bald reformed his coinage in the Edict of Pîtres. The Catalan stuff however continued exactly the same after the reform as before, even though the local counts were still occasionally coming to court. It’s not a deal-breaker. I expect that, being that far away, Charles was happy to have people there using money with his name on still. In 877 he gave an embassy from Barcelona ten pounds of silver to fix Barcelona cathedral roof with; they turned up, led by a Barcelona Jew called Judas, no less, just as a rebellion was breaking out and it must really have helped him to have strange ambassadors from far-off lands turning up at court and calling him king. On the coinage you can see A. M. Balaguer, Historia de la moneda en les comtats catalans (Barcelona 1999), pp. 64-67, though you’ll probably have to come here to get hold of a copy; on the counts and their loyalty, I recommend Roger Collins’s article “Charles the Bald and Wifred the Hairy” in M. T. Gibson & J. L. Nelson (edd.), Charles the Bald: court and kingdom. Papers based on a Colloquium held in London in April 1979, British Archaeological Reports (International Series) Vol. 101 (Oxford 1981), pp. 169-188, repr. in Gibson & Nelson (edd.), Charles the Bald: court and kingdom (Aldershot 1990), pp. 170-189; and the 877 embassy is known from a capitulary which is best edited as R. d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Institut d’Estudis Catalans: Memòries de la Secció Històrico-arqueològica 2-3 (Barcelona 1926-1952), pt. II, ap. VII. So there.