Tag Archives: Vikings

Seminar LXXV: more skeletons, and this time Vikings

So, the new term’s seminar series at the Institute of Historical Research starts on Wednesday, and I still have four seminars or lectures from last term I was hoping to give some notice of. Whether I manage this, only time will tell, but here is one that deserves a quick write-up and which fits into what is sadly becoming a real theme round here at the moment, to wit, untimely death. More on this soon, alas, but this one is probably not news to you as such, because these images travelled the web quite quickly.

The Ridgeway burial pit containing 51 Viking-age bodies

The Ridgeway burial pit, containing 51 Viking-age bodies

This is a burial pit that was found in the course of construction work along the Ridgeway in Dorset to build the Weymouth Relief Road in 2009. The big news when the find was let out onto the web was twofold, firstly that the bodies had all been men, none probably older than 25, and all apparently executed, and secondly that initial radio-carbon dates placed them smack between the two Viking ages, c. 890X1030 and 910X1030, with potential to be from either one. It could have been neither, of course, but then the isotope analysis came back as being, for the most part, non-local and most likely from much further north than Dorset, one even north of the Arctic Circle, at which point it became hard to doubt that what we had here was some Scandinavians who’d lost the big game quite badly. And so, on 29th November, David Score from Oxford Archaeology, the contractors who’d dug the site, came to the Oxford Medieval Archaeology seminar to tell us more.

Leg bone showing signs of serious infection from the Ridgeway burial

Leg bone showing signs of serious infection from the Ridgeway burial

This proved valuable for both macro- and micro-scale detail. I did not know, for example, that the landscape in which these people were buried is absolutely busy with prehistoric barrows; several of the site photos had barrows lurking at their edges. There had also been Roman burial here and a Roman road runs through the area; in short, this landscape had a history of use written all over it, but was also easy to get to. Secondly, only the team who’d done the dig and the analysis could have told us how the victims died: all of a single or multiple blows to the head, possibly all delivered from the same direction at least at first. It looked as if the blows had been intended to decapitate; subsequent blows might have been to finish that job and may have been delivered once the victim had fallen. These were almost their only wounds; that is, they were not battle victims, and had apparently been brought to where they died, perhaps even here, in good health, and presumably knowing what was going to happen. The exception was one man with what must have been a horribly infected leg wound—as you can see above the bone looks all wrong—whose presumably hindered mobility was an unsolved question; he would have been a problem for any warband, which raises questions about whether this was one. The first body appeared to have fallen into the pit, which was just an old quarry pit, not dug out or deepened, face-first, arms extended, as if he’d been trying to break his fall; the rest were felled on top of him, one after the other, with their severed heads placed separately on a slight natural ridge in the pit.

The skulls from the Ridgeway burial

The skulls from the Ridgeway burial

There were fifty-one skulls, but fifty-four bodies (probably; unjumbling them from where they’d collapsed into each other over the centuries was tricky). It was suggested that the missing heads may have been displayed on stakes, as warnings, but if so, not here. Executing fifty-four people by sword must have taken a long time, which makes the absence of wounds the more surprising. One had apparently put his hand up to protect himself, as he had lost his fingertips to a sharp edge, but otherwise they took what was coming in fairly good order, or were perhaps bound and held in such a way that they had little choice perhaps, though there was no sign of rope in the grave (or indeed clothing). The last few must have had to be exceptionally brave, all the same.

A skull from the St John's College, Oxford, burial pit

A skull from the St John's College, Oxford, burial pit

The inevitable parallel is with another set of Scandinavian-isotoped bodies of this sort of date-range that were found even more locally to me, in St John’s College Oxford in 2008. That hasn’t been properly published yet, but it was discussed here in questions by people who knew about it, and the contrasts were huge; those bodies were hacked about, some even partly burned as if they’d been caught in a fire or tortured. There was no order to their deaths, and if, as seems possible, the burial has been correctly associated with the infamous St Brice’s Day Massacre of 1002, then the Danes of Oxford must have been chased through the street and killed wherever they couldn’t escape. Horrible in its way, and terrifying to experience no doubt, but this one, this looks much more nastily like organised death. There are obvious parallels from our times, of course, which show that perhaps even fighting men wouldn’t struggle when they knew that all was lost except the chance of dying with honour. One wonders whether they really were raiders, or whether they were a mercenary group or even a garrison whom the order of 1002 found dispensable. We will never know, most probably, but it is strange that with these finds we now have overwhelmingly more evidence of Vikings being killed by the English, and not in battle either, than we do for the reverse.

Exciting things out of the ground!

There’s been quite a lot of heavyweight braining here over the last little while, so I think it’s OK if I slack with a links post this time. Some of the stuff that was done by archæologists in the last few months of 2009 might turn out to be pretty significant, in fact. Firstly, you can find at Martin Rundkvist’s Aardvarchaeology a report of new dendro-chronological dates for two Norwegian ship-burials. They turn out to be prime Viking-Age examples, and the oldest dendrochronologically dated ones there are. He also notes that the famous Oseberg ship can now be dated to 820 but that it was built far away from Oslo where it was modified and eventually buried, which allows one to think new, if unprovable, thoughts about the origins of the princess supposedly buried therein. So that’s fun, and, you know, furnished burial, Vikings and women, pretty much all the cool medievalist points there are except plague or trebuchets.

A brooch from the Merovingian-period cemetery at Noisy-le-Grand, Paris

A brooch from the Merovingian-period cemetery at Noisy-le-Grand, Paris

Then, in a case of ‘all of those except the Vikings’, I see from Archaeology in Europe that News for Medievalists reports on the location of two Frankish cemeteries in the Parisian area, at Noisy-le-Grand, which date from the 5th-6th centuries, when the kings were Merovingians (in some cases) and most Franks were probably pagan and burial was furnished and boxed, and the 8th-10th centuries, when the kings were Carolingians, Christianity was Generally prescribed and to be taught in schools and that, and burial was apparently austere and shrouded. This kind of direct possibility comparison is a real boon and I hope for a suitably glossy booklet to snag illustrations from (or perhaps, you know, a Flickr site as per Staffordshire Hoard).

Excavations at church of Varnhem, SW Sweden

Excavations at church of Varnhem, SW Sweden

Then, this time with ‘women, Vikings and burial which I don’t know about the furnishing of’, and that for a fairly broad use of the term Viking, a team of Swedish archaeologists have apparently found a church dated to c. 1000 in southern Sweden, which would be the oldest yet known there: so at least reports News for Medievalists on the basis of an article in Viking and Medieval Scandinavia that would cost you twenty Euros to read. From the report at News for Medievalists, though, it seems that the church was raised over an existing female burial dated to c. 975, and that other older burials are nearby. The article as they quote it suggests that this means a Christian site all along, but I wonder (and I note that if that burial and that church have both been dated from radio-carbon, the real dates could easily be in the opposite sequence, which might give us a ‘prominent noblewoman converts and founds oratory in deathbed gift’ scenario or similar).

Ruins of Qasr al-Banat, Rakka, Syria

Ruins of Qasr al-Banat, Rakka, Syria, from Wikimedia Commons

Then, something and somewhere completely different, News for Medievalists has a notice, one of many in recent months, about the ongoing digs at Qasr al-Banat in Syria. This time the find appears to be a bathhouse, in remarkably good order allowing us to distinguish, for example, that it had a separate toilet block, but for some reason I’d not taken on board the significance of the site as a whole, which is that it’s an cAbbasid palace complex in Syria. This is mainly significant because early medieval Syrian Islamic palaces are usually a thing of the previous, Umayyad, dynasty, as the cAbbasids were much more Persia-based. It’s only small, but Caliph Harun al-Rashid seems to have sorted himself out quite nicely.

Bronze Age flowers found in a grave at Forteviot, Perth, Scotland

Bronze Age flowers found in a grave at Forteviot, Perth, Scotland

Lastly, not medieval at all but quite touching: in the ongoing digging at Forteviot, site of a medieval Scots royal palace near Perth, a monumental Bronze Age grave has been opened that proved to contain, among more normal things like a coffin and a dagger, the heads of several meadowsweet blooms that have somehow lasted 4,000 or so years in the ground. Pollen has apparently been found in such sites before but was put down to honey; now we can suspect that even in the Bronze Age one might deposit flowers with the dead. (Ha! a dagger and flowers and no surviving body. Gender me that, processualists!) The report is apparently out in British Archaeology, but I got this from this BBC News story which I was alerted to by Archaeology in Europe. So there you are.

From the sources IV: following up the simonists and Vikings

Right! The year has started and it’s time to take up many screens with tight discussion of medieval Latin sources again! Two of the posts in this series have occasioned or involved questions and shortly before Christmas I finally found time, with all the essays marked and no further preparation to do for the last class of last semester, to get into a library and look up the answers. So without further ado here they are.

What’s the Latin for simony?

Theo asked, apropos of the Catalan simony agreement I posted, for the Latin text because the journal in which it’s published is hard to get hold of. Well, it will be out before long in the Catalunya Carolíngia, but since it is, I suppose, unlikely that you will all be racing down the IEC to get your copy on that day, perhaps there’s still an argument for this, and in any case, I’d quite like a digital text of the Latin too, so if I’m typing it up anyway

Iuro ego Ermengaude comes, filius [quod fuit] Borrello comite et filio quod fuit Letg[gardis] con[iuge], ut de ista ora in antea infra [proximos .X.m] dies quod Sallane episcopo, filius quod fuit Isarnus et filius quod fuit Rranlane, me Ermengaude supra scripto commonuerit, per nomine de isto sacramento, quod ipso episcopato de comitatum Urgello Sedis Vicco donare faciam ad Ermengaude, filio Bernardo vicecomite et filio Wisila vicecomitissa, ego Ermengaude comite donare faciam ad isto Ermengaude, filius Bernardus, et vesticione ad illum faciam. Et de ista ora in antea ego Ermengaude comite supra scripto non decebre isto Ermengaude, filio Bernardus vicecomite supra scripto, de ipso episcopato de Sancta Maria Sedis Vico quod est in Urgello. Et si Sallane episcopo ordinare voluerit suo nopoto [sic] Ermengaude supra scripto in sua vita, ego Ermengaude comite supra scripto adiutor illi ero ad ordinare ipso Ermengaude, filio Bernardus supra scripto, sine sua decepcione de ipso Ermengaude, filio Bernardus supra scripto et filio Wisila, si Sallane episcopo aut Bernardus fratri sup aut aliquis ex parentibus vel amicis de isto Ermengaude clericus supra scripto donare mihi faciant pessas .C., aut pessatas valibiles, aut pigdus valibiles de pessas .CC. pro ipsas pessas .C., quod donare mihi faciant infra dies .LX. quod isto Ermengaude, filio Bernardus supra scripto, fuerit ordinatus, et mihi donaverunt pigdus valibiles de pessas .CC. pro alias pessas .CL. quod mihi donent post obitum Sallane episcopo supra scripto, infra medium annum ipsa medietate et ad alium medium in alia medietate. Et si Sallane episcopo non fecerit ordinare ipso Ermengaude suo nepoto upra scripto in sua vita de Sallana episcopo, et ego Ermengaudes comite vivus fuerit, et ipso Ermengaude, filio Bernardus supra scripto, vivus fuerit, ego Ermengaude comite supra scripto ordinare illum faciam, si facere potuero, si Ermengaude clerico supra scripto donare mihi voluerit aut aliquis ex parentibus vel amicis suis donare mihi voluerint et donaverint ipsas pessas aut pessatas aut ipso pigdus supra scriptus. Et ego Ermengaude comite supra scripto non faciam nullam disturbio ad ipso Ermengaude clerico supra scripto de ipsa sua ordinacione de ipso episcopato de Urgello, neque nullum malum ingenium, nec ego nec ullus omines nec nullas feminas per meum consilium neque per nulla mea absencione. Et ego Ermengaude comite supra scripto adiutor ero ad isto Ermengaude, filio Wisila supra scripta, ipso episcopato de Urgello a tenere et abere sicut Sallane odie tenet, contra omnes omines aut feminas quod eum tollere voluerint aut tulerint, sine sua deceptione de Ermengaude clerico supra scripto post obitum Sallane episcopo supra scripto aut in diebus suis, si Sallane episcopo ad illum dimiserit aut quantum ad ille donaverit de ipso episcopato, si Ermengaude, filio Bernardus vicecomite, frater Sallane, et filio Wisila vicecomitissa, filia quod fuit de Seniofredus de Luciano, mihi voluerit facere fidantias et fidelitatem super altare dedicatum, vel super reliquias, et fecerit unde ego Ermengaude comite firmiter fidare possem in illum.

(Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell, pergamins no. 163, as ed. by Cebrià Baraut in ““Els documents, dels anys 981-1010, de l’Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell” in Urgellia Vol. 3 (Montserrat 1980), pp. 7-166, doc. no. 276 at pp. 106-107.)

I’ve already talked enough about this but I do like (i) the way the vernacular nearly makes it through at ‘decebre’, which would be just there in later vernacular promises of the same sort (see the Kosto reference from before), (ii) the way the scribe doesn’t give a damn about the case of his nouns but conjugates the future perfect with scrupulous care and (iii) the fact that when Count Ermengol stresses that he needs a pledge of faith from the future bishop all the future bishop’s family connections are listed, presumably to illustrate the sort of family involved and explain why the count needs this person sworn to him.

OK, that’s one.

Vikings in Portugal

The second follow-up is apropos of the post in which I included a chunk of Sampiro’s Chronicum that failed to document Viking attacks on the north of Iberia in the eleventh century. Since I posted that, a learned commentator has supplied many more such references than I realised existed, but not the one that was in the Richard Fletcher reference I was originally following up. He cited “R. Pinto de Azevedo, ‘A expedição de Almanzor a Santiago de Compostela em 997, e a de piratas normandos a Galiza em 1015-16′, Revista Portuguesa da História 14 (1974), 73-93”, and this I have now gone and got. It turns out to be a short piece presenting two documents from the seventeenth-century cartulary of a monastery called San Salvador de Moreira, documents which appear to have been made there but whose originals are lost and which somehow didn’t get edited in the Portugaliae Monumenta Historica when that was done. One refers to an attack by al-Mansur on the area concerned, which is probably to be pinned to 997, and the other to, well you’ll see. (Of course, that’s not what the transactors thought was important about the record, but you know, times change.) This document was not known to any of the other people who’d worked on these raids at the time that Pinto wrote, but he gives references to them and since that was the original point of query, so shall I: they are L. Saavedra Machado, “Expedições Normandas no Ocidente da Hispania” in Boletim do Instituto Alemão Vol. 3 (Coimbra 1930), pp. 44-65, and Reinhard Dozy, Recherches sur l’histoire et la littérature en Espagne pendant le Moyen Âge (probably the 2nd edn. of Leiden 1849, though it doesn’t say), II p. 302 where there starts a chapter called “Les Normands en Espagne”. Dozy was using a source called the Chronica Gothorum but that would be another post (if anyone wants).

The charter that Pinto adds to this mix starts like this:

Non est enim duuio sed pleris manet in ueritate eo quod ego Amarcio Mestalis sedente fuit in coniungio eum uxore sua Adileoua sine quoliue escritura dedit ipso Amarelo precio de suo peguliar que solo abuit, et ganauit ereditates et miscuit eas ad illa sua que abuit de suo aboligo ubi ipsa Adileoua aligo nom dedit et as comparamus alias ereditates nos ambos et misquimis illas ad eriditate de Adioleoua et separauimus illas unas de alias per firmitates factas que abea Adileoua illas que mesturamus ad illa sua sicut comparamus ea de suo tribu et aber, Amarelo illas que solo comparauit et illas que comparauit cum sua mulier, et sunt ipsas comparationes de tribu de Amarelo, isto abuisse Amarelo, sicut et fecemus usque ad obitum de Adileoua. Post sua morte per anis plures tenuerunt suos filios sua ereditate quanta superius resona, et quanta est mea tiui eu Amarelo illa integra pagata sine calumnia de filius de Adileoua, per annis plures in de illa domna Lupa prolis Aloiti et Guncine pro non uindere nec donare nisi ad illa et illa mici, rouorauit placitum que sic uenere mici aligo uno male in ipsa ereditate aut de alia causa ajutasse me et sacasse me inde sano stantes firmiter de amborum parte in ista actio et in nostra robore per currigula annis.

(Archivo Universitaria da Coimbra, do maç 194 of the Convento de Santa Cruz de Coimbra, fo. 200r & v., ed. Pinto, “A expedição de Almanzor”, pp. 91-93.)

The story really starts in the next bit but I think I ought to try and set it up. It’s not easy to understand, at least for me, this is very much on the way to being Galician or Portuguese already and it might in many cases be easier to read it that way. As far as I can work out, a chap called Amarelo Mestaliz who had a wife called Adileuva with whom he bought lands from both their families that they amalgamated and then redivided and of which he passed some onto their heirs after Adlieuva died, now promises his entire remaining share to a noblewoman called Loba Aloitiz, on condition that they can only sell or give it to each other thereafter, because of the help and succour she gave him or for other reasons I can’t make out in the Latin. OK, so what was this help? Here’s where the story really starts.

In Era M L iija mense Iulio ingressi fuerunt filius et neptis Lotnimis multis in Doiro, predans et captiuans de Doiro in Aue per viiije menses. Ibi captiuarunt tres filias de me ipso Amarelo et remansi mesquino, pasarunt Leodemanes illos catiuos a uindere totos, ipsas filias de Amarelo nomine Serili Ermesenda Faquilo, et non aueua que dare pro eas a Leodemanes, pro it [for proinde?] producto fuit in Argentini ante illa domna Lupa pro uindere ad illa mea ereditate sicut aueua scritura roborata et prendere ibi que misesse ea a Lotmanes pro ipsas meas filias, et illa non quisit, et mos misericordia abuit super me et prosolbiui me per scriptura pro dare illa ubi potuisse, pro tale actio aueruaui com Froila Tructesindiz que li dedise ea per carta et dedi mici que misi pro filias meas, et sacaui eas de captiuitate.

This is worth at least trying to translate:

In the Era 1053 [1015 AD] in the month of July there arrived many sons and grandsons of Leudeman on the Douro, preying and capturing from the Douro to the Ave for nine months. There they captured three daughters of me Amarelo and I remained behind weakened, the Leudemen carried off all those captives for to sell, those daughters of Amarelo by name Serila, Ermesenda and Faquilo, and I had nothing to give the Leudemen for them, so then this was brought up in Argentino before the lady Loba, to sell to her my heredity just as I had it by confirmed scripture and to take there what might be given by her to the Leudemen for my selfsame daughters, and that woman did not accept it, and behaved mercifully towards me and I promised by scripture to pay her for it when I was able, for which action I agreed with Froila Tructesindiz that I would give her by charter what he gave [it must be, even though that isn’t what it says] to me that I sent for my daughters, and I ransomed them from captivity.

This is marvellous isn’t it? The Vikings (for whom I’d never seen this name before, though the extracts supplied by Cossue all use it; anyone know its origin?) are there for a while, and while they’re there they’re open for business. It’s apparently possible to approach the Viking camp and broker a price for three young Galician girls on behalf of their father. Who do you suppose are the go-betweens? And it’s just such a marvellous picture of Loba, too, gently refusing to take his living off him for an errand of mercy. She deserves to be remembered. Exactly what the position of Froila is, other than Loba’s agent for some reason, isn’t clear to me, but he will come back.

Because, unfortunately, Amarelo’s troubles didn’t end there. At the end of the same year, he became too ill and infirm to look after himself, “per malos annos” as the scribe has him put it, ‘through bad times’, and so he sold his remaining lands to his daughters instead, divided between them to be taken when he died, on condition that they would look after him, clothe him and feed him till then. But they treated him badly, he felt, so, he called a big meeting, and there presumably browbeat his slack daughters out of their entitlement. Instead, he now gives everything he has left, including what he has loaned out to others, to Dona Loba again in settlement of the debt he owes her, which is only now quantified as 15 solidi, getting in return a bed, some bedclothes and an ox, and upkeep for life. The daughters were at the meeting and confirmed this so presumably the rest of the meeting or their own guilty consciences were enough to persuade them to settle for their own inheritances. And once again, Dona Loba is being much nicer than she needs to be; the lands might easily be worth 15 solidi, though they equally might not, but the ox and the goods take a chunk out of that and even if he doesn’t look like living much longer, another dependent is a further drain on any gain she might get from an estate which must be pretty much all sold anyway.

And that’s what we have. Which is, if you ask me, a pretty good story, albeit of a life we can all be glad we didn’t have, showing a community patron might work in the best of ways, and it’s also interesting evidence for Vikings and what effect they can have on a community, these raiders who then sell what they’ve looted back to you. (I don’t suppose the daughters’ lives were exactly full of joy at this time either, I should point out.)

There is the little question of whether we can believe it. It is only found in a seventeenth-century cartulary copy, but they clearly didn’t make it as they’ve mangled its Latin so badly, so it must at least have been older than that. Nonetheless, the fact that it actually uses Portugal as a place-name this early is a bit worrying. Pinto however pointed out that it fits with other notices of Viking activity, more or less, specifically a 1014 raid led, Scandinavian sources apparently tell us, by Olaf Haraldsson, that must presumably have hung around a while. The transactor, poor Amarelo, appears in other earlier documents, so that he should be an old and infirm man by 1015-6 is about right; and on the whole it seems to be plausible, if not necessarily exact in every word. However, you may remember that when I first introduced this it was to try and work out what the evidence was that Tuy was sacked by Vikings at this time. Pinto sheds a little light on this too, while comparing Viking raids that this one might have been, because he notes that Dozy reckons that the 1014 raid was responsible for that, so that’s presumably where the idea comes from (and before that from episcopal lists with gaps, if I understand Fletcher right). Here, I think we should let Pinto have the last word:

Confesso-me, porém, insuficientemente documentado para emitir opinião segura sobre a invasão normanda deste territorio.

The rest of the charter’s Latin, since I’ve copied everything but this, may as well go in here too:

Dum uenimus ad anno pleno integro cadiuit ego Amarelo in mesquinitate et in infirmitate per annos malos et non aueua in meo iure pan nec aligo genere causa que aprestamo ominis est per que uiuere fecissime a meas filias carta que partissent mea ereditate in tercios post mea morte pro que eram de singulos matres et pro it dedissent mici uictum et uestitum et seruissent in mea uita, et non abuerunt unde, et deleisciarunt me mal in me infirmitate. Dum tale uidi, feci concilio ante Tructesindo Guimiriz, Gardalia Branderiz, Ordonio Brandiliz, Guntigio, Salamiro, Cendon, Ascaldo, Gaudila, Amarelo Cendoniz, Queta, Rodorigo Gardaliz, ipsa Sesili, ipsa Ermesenda, ipsa Faquilo, Elduira et Petro Aderiquiz et crepantauit ad illas cartas et scripturas. Obinde nomine ego Amarelo Mostalis placui mici pacis uoluntas nullo para meto ditate, de duas partes de ipsa ereditate do uobis inde duas partes integras, tam de parentela quam etiam de comparentela per terminos uigus et locis antiguis omni rem que a prestamo ominis est et ibi potueris inuenire, et do uobis illa pro dimisione qui mici feci illa domna Lupa, est ipsa hereditate in uilla Vilabredi subtus Castro de Boue urbio Portugal pro que accepi de uos uno lenzo et camisa antimana uno boue et in uita mea abeatis de me cura quantum potueritis. Isto mici placuit et illos XV solidos argenzdeos que iam de uos pressi pro in illa captiuitate et inde contra uos non remansi, ita deodie de iure meo sede abrasa et in uestro tradita. Aueatis uos et posteritas uestras in seculum seculi. Siquis tamen minime quod fieri non credo aliquis omo uenerit uel uenero contra anc cartula inrumpendo et tiui illa deuindigare uel octorgare noluero paie a uobis ipsa ereditate dublata et perenne auituro. Notum die iij nonas Aprile Era M L VI. Amarelo mano mea rouoraui +. Ic presentes Gardalia, Queta, Petro, Pelagio, Ordonio, Guntigio, Aluito, Salamiro, Ermesenda, Sesili, Faquilo, Elduira confirmo +. Petro Gardalis, Godisareo presbiter, Froila, Vermudo, Gundila notuit.

From the sources III: Sampiro on the not the eleventh-century Vikings

We all know that Vikings are the coolest thing in the Middle Ages, or at least, my teaching career thus far has repeatedly made this point about audience interest and others have told me they find similarly. Also, there’s the media attention they draw, which we’ve discussed here in the past and which Magistra had such an interesting take on, though now I look at it again I wonder about timing; Vikings have been news longer than that, I think. Anyway, I shouldn’t have been surprised when mentioning Vikings in Spain drew comment and a fistful of references from the indefatigable Neville Resiste and the unexpected Judith Jesch. And if you look back at that piece you’ll see I promised to check out the original source and to try and synthesise something about the state of knowledge, mostly for Jonathan Grove who, being local, was able to seek me out and interrogate me for knowledge in person.

I may yet manage this, but it is currently seeming more than a bit ambitious. Once there are four papers and a source on the reading list that starts to seem like a new project, and I have enough to work on already. But I will at least get the source out there, or at least one source, as there seem to be others. That source is the Leonese chronicler Sampiro, possibly the Bishop of Astorga of that name (fl. 1034/5) but possibly someone else. This is a continuation of the Chronicle of Alfonso III, and like that text manages to stop prematurely; Alfonso (if it was him, which I think is still arguable myself) gets to his own father but says nothing of his own reign, and Sampiro only got to 982. So we’re not looking at eleventh-century attacks in that source, and I guess that was my misreading of Fletcher. Therefore, I suppose that the first thing to do is get the Fletcher text and then go from there:

By Alfonso III’s day we do seem to be in an age when the Vikings were stifling such sea-borne communications as still existed. We know of raids on the Galician coast in 844 and 858; there may have been others of which we know nothing. Alfonso III was sufficiently worried by the threat of Viking attack to establish fortified strong points near his coastline, as other rulers were doing elsewhere. Perhaps the ‘heathen men’ against whom he fought (as his charters proudly tell us) were not always Muslims. The next big raid that we hear of occurred in 968: bishop Sisnando of Compostela was killed, the monastery of Curtis was sacked, and panicky measures were ordered for the defence of the inland town of Lugo.52 At some point early in the eleventh century Tuy was sacked; its bishopric remained vacant for the next half-century. A pathetic piece of family history recorded in a Portuguese charter of 1018 lifts for a moment the curtain which normally obscures the more humble human consequences of the Viking raids, Amarelo Mestáliz was forced to raise money on the security of his land in order to ransom his daughters who had been captured by the Vikings in 1015.53 Bishop Cresconio of Compostela (c. 1036-66) repulsed a Viking descent and built the fortress intended to protect the approach to the town of Compostela from the Atlantic which may still be seen by the water’s edge at Torres del Oeste. A charter of 1086 refers to this or another raid in the Nendos district.54

52. Sampiro, Cronica, in J. Pérez de Urbel, Sampiro, su crónica y la monarquía leonesa en el siglo X (Madrid, 1952), at pp. 340-1; Cronicon Iriense, ed. M. R. García Alvarez, Memorial Histórico Español 50 (1963), pp. 1-240, c. 11; Sobrado Cart. I, no. 137; AHN cód. 1043B, fo. 38v.

53. Printed and discussed by R. Pinto de Azevedo, ‘A expedição de Almanzor a Santiago de Compostela em 997, e a de piratas normandos a Galiza em 1015-16’, Revista Portuguesa da História 14 (1974), 73-93. It may have been in the course of this raid, which lasted nine months, that Tuy was sacked.

54. HC, p. 15, Jubia Cart., no. ix.1

So, actually the eleventh-century stuff all appears to be in the Portuguese article by Pinto, which leaves the question of his source or sources unclear. However, I said I would get the Sampiro reference and dammit, I have, and I’m going to put it here even if it doesn’t answer the question. There are two versions of the chronicle, one from each of its two manuscript families, and both have a whole bundle of complex problems, but just because it’s not tied up to the arch-forger Bishop Pelayo of Oviedo I’m using the version incorporated into the Historia Silense. There’s not that much difference between the texts—Pérez edited them in parallel so it’s easy to see—but the Pelagian recension does have some extra explanatory nouns, making it clearer who people are and so on. On the other hand, that means that the Silense is shorter, so! First the text, then a rough translation. Sampiro deals with the death of King Sancho [the Fat] and then continues:

Era MV. Sancio defuncto, filius eius Ramirus habens a nativitate annos quinque suscepit regnum patris sui, continens se cum consilio amite sue domne Geluire [Pelayo adds: regine], deuote Deo ac prudentissime, habuit pacem cum sarracenis, et corpus sancti Pelagii ex eis recepit, et cum religiosis episcopis in ciuitate Legionensi tumulauit. Anno secundo regni sui, centum classes normanorum cum rege suo nomine Gunderedo, ingresse sunt urbes Gallecie, et strages multas facientes in giro sancti Iacobi, episcopum loci illius gladio peremerunt nomine Sisinandum ac totam Galleciam depredauerunt, usquequo peruenerunt ad Pirineos montes Ezebrarii. Tercio uero anno, remeantibus illis ad propria, Deus, quem occulta non latent retribuit ultionem. Sicut enim illi plebem christianam in captiuitatem miserunt, et multos gladio interfecerunt, ita et illi priusquam a finibus Gallecie exirent, multa mala perpessi sunt.

Comes namque Guillelmus Sancionis, in nomine Domini et honori sancti Iacobi, cuius terram devastauerunt, exiuit cum exercitu magno obuiam illis, et cepit preliari cum illis. Dedit illi Domninus uictoriam, et omnem gentem ipsam simul cum rege suo gladio interfecit, atque classes eorum igne cremauit. Diuina adiutus clemencia

And in translation, very roughly and probably with many errors:

Era 1015 [AD 977]. Sancho having died, his son Ramiro, being five years old, succeeded to the kingdom of his father, securing himself with the counsel of his aunt, the lady Elvira, a deo vota and most prudently made peace with the Saracens, and received the body of the holy Pelagius from them, and with the religious bishops buried it in the city of León. In the second year of his reign [so, 978-979?] a hundred ships of the Northmen [lit. fleets, but I’m taking it to be metonymic here] with their king, Gundered by name, entered the cities of Galicia, and made many slaughters in the circuit of Santiago, they killed the bishop of that place, Sisnando by name, by the sword and devastated all Galicia, up until the point when they arrived at the Pyrenean mountains of ‘Ezebrario’ [?]. In [his] third year indeed, when they returned to their own, God, from whom they did not lie hidden, wrought revenge. For just as they dispatched the Christian people into captivity, and killed many with the sword, just so before they could leave the limits of Galicia, they endured many ills to the full.

For the count Guillermo Sanchez, in the name of God and for the honour of Saint James, whose land they devastated, came out with a great army against those men, and began to battle with them. God gave that man the victory, and he killed all of that same people with their king with the sword, and burnt their fleets with fire, aided by divine clemency.2

And then we get on into a merry little vignette about how the counts don’t like their eight-year-old king once he’s twenty, so raise another king against him, against whom he is fighting when he dies of sickness the next year.

So, the first thing I notice here is that Sampiro is a lousy stylist and apparently doesn’t know the pluperfect, but secondly that this is not really providential history, or else that association between the translation of Pelagius’s relics is very oddly associated with Viking onslaught. Pelagius was an odd and controversial martyr, but I think this is more likely just to be clumsy editing than to be a subtle hint that that cult was offensive to God, since it’s God who comes and ends the attack through the Santiago-loyal count. I’d like to know where that place-name is, since if they reached the Pyrenees they really ought to feature in more sources I know about. But that’s all I have for the moment. Hopefully of some interest…

1. Richard A. Fletcher, Saint James’s Catapult: The Life and Times of Diego Gelmírez of Santiago de Compostela (Oxford 1984), p. 23.

2. Justo Pérez de Urbel, Sampiro, su crónica y la monarquia leonesa en el siglo X, Estudios 26 (Madrid 1952), cap. 28.

Eleventh-century Vikings at the Two Towers?

At the time of writing, which at current rates is something like three weeks behind appearance here, when at work I am mainly doing copy-editing of a certain book that it would be tactless of me to identify, given what I’m about to say and what I think of its chances of actually emerging. However, it has set me on a hunt, because it mentions as an unreferenced throwaway that the city of Lugo, in Galicia, north-west Spain, was sacked by Vikings in the early eleventh century. Now, I will confess, it was news to me that the Vikings were anywhere near Spain then, but it transpires that actually Norse sea-raiding was The Genuine Problem at that time and there was certainly enough of it to become a cliché in relic translation narratives and so on. However, sacking a whole city? There are books that ought to mention this and they don’t. However, Richard Fletcher’s St James’s Catapult, so much more than an incomprehensible title, does find a quote from Sampiro’s Chronicle suggesting that Lugo was threatened and also says that Tuy was sacked, which we apparently deduce from episcopal vacancy and which is associated with a serious raid of 1015-1016; this association appears to go back to Ramón Menéndez Pidal’s La España del Cid but Fletcher was suitably cautious so I guess no-one actually says straight out that the vacancy was the fault of Vikings.1 I will check Sampiro, but I think this bit has to come out, or at least be heavily modified. That wasn’t actually what I was going to talk about.

The ruins of a tower at Catoira, Galicia

The ruins of a tower at Catoira, Galicia

While searching the web for something that included Lugo in the relevant destructions, I found this, a write-up of a visit to a place in Galicia called Catoira. Here stand the Torres de Oeste, ‘Towers of the West’, which are alas two opposite ends of a ruined castle through which a road has been driven. Before that mishap this place Catoira apparently did pretty well using this fortress to hold off Viking attacks, and indeed English ones hundreds of years later, and every year the town has a festival celebrating this.

Longboats in Catoira harbour for the annual festival

Longboats in Catoira harbour for the annual festival

As for the post title, the site whose pictures I’m cheerfully linking to here reckons that either Tolkien or Tolkien’s illustrators had seen the pair of towers divided, so iconic are they. I have no idea if Tolkien ever went to Galicia, though certainly some of the Lord of the Rings names are familiar from my work (Frodo, as far as I’m concerned, was a Bishop of Barcelona, 862-90, pro-Carolingian, property reclaimer and first bishop of the see to strike coin, height and hairiness unrecorded), but it is certainly a nice idea. You can picture this as a suitable illustration quite easily:

The Two Torres de Oeste at Catoira, Galicia

The Two Torres de Oeste at Catoira, Galicia

1. Referencing Richard A. Fletcher, St James’s Catapult: the life and times of Diego Gelmírez of Santiago de Compostela (Oxford 1984), online at LIBRO, last modified 16 August 2000 as of 17 October 2009, p. 23 & nn. 52 & 53, and Ramón Menéndez Pidal, La España del Cid (Madrid 1934), 2 vols, transl. H. Sutherland as The Cid and his Spain (London 1934).

Excellentissima et merito famosissima historica II

RM Monogramme

Back again in the Winstanley Lecture Theatre atop Blue Boar Court in Trinity College, Cambridge, I really regretted the no-caffeine resolve when I just about got to the second day of Rosamond McKitterick’s birthday celebration conference on time. Trinity is a very odd mix of styles internally, and really I think it would be fair to call it an odd mix of styles generally. It is full of odd little contradictions to its general ambience and attitude, and some of them are architectural. But anyway. We were safe away from the street, in fact from pretty much everything, so we settled into our seats and listened to the tributary scholarship.

Opening page of the St Petersburg manuscript of Bedes Historia Ecclesiastica

Opening page of the St Petersburg manuscript of Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica

Session 3. History and Memory

  • Paul Hilliard, “Bede’s Use of History”. A nice clear summation of how Bede’s programme to incorporate the Anglo-Saxons into a universal history of Salvation actually operated, logically.
  • Linda Dohmen, “History and Memory: Angilberga and the court of Louis II”. A close study of the public profile of the wife of the third Holy Roman Emperor, one of the most powerful women of the early Middle Ages, who by the twelfth century, in certain chronicles, a figure of feminine evil, Jezebel-style (and where have we heard that before?). Linda presented some extra material that showed that this discourse was not completely fictional, and found the roots in eighth-century politics that had been twisted into romance, which make it hard to discern whether the stories would have been heard as romance or as history.
  • Rob Meens, “The Rise and Fall of the Carolingians. Regino of Prüm and his conception of the Carolingian Empire”. A useful presentation of one of the Carolingian period’s gloomiest but most informative chroniclers, arguing that Regino saw the Carolingians’ fall as being brought about by their mismanagement of the proper restraint of sex and violence in due deference to Rome that had brought them to power.
  • In questions Matthew Innes made the excellent point that one of the things that the chroniclers dealing with the Vikings do is emphasise the way things have gone topsy-turvy by putting the Vikings in the narrative places of the king; instead of royal itineraries and victories you get pagan ones, and the whole world seems shaken out of joint as a result. I wonder how deliberate this would have to be but it’s very sharply observed. I wish, for various reasons, I could catch up with Matthew more often, he has a point like this for almost every discussion.

Psalter of St-Denis, also known as the Psalter of Charles the Bald, Paris BN Lat. 1152, fo 6v.

Psalter of St-Denis, also known as the Psalter of Charles the Bald, Paris BN Lat. 1152, fo 6v.

Session 4. Res italica karolina

  • Richard Pollard, “Carolingian Connexions: Reichenau and Nonantola. A new manuscript fragment of Hatto’s Visio wettini“. Seriously complex manuscript stuff trying to work out how the two different versions of this rather odd and surprisingly contemporary text about Charlemagne in Purgatory actually relate to each other, and in the process thickening the links we already knew between these two Carolingian mega-monasteries.
  • Clemens Gantner, “The Lombard Recension of the Liber pontificalis Life of Stephen II”. Posited that a part of the LP‘s assembly of papal biographies might have been sanitised of its ethnic abuse and general anti-Lombard rhetoric for the eighth-century political situation in which Lombard support started to seem desirable to the popes, again demonstrated by painstaking manuscript work. This one met with sceptical questions but Clemens was equal to them with the evidence.
  • Frances Parton, “Louis the Pious, Lothar and Gregory IV: why was the Pope at the Field of Lies?” By means of a very thorough run-through of the texts, Frances showed that there is considerable uncertainty about Pope Gregory IV’s purpose in coming from Rome to assist Emperor Louis the Pious’s sons in deposing their father, and concluded that while Gregory had seen an opportunity to restore the papal status as arbiter of the Frankish monarchy Lothar had had much smaller ideas for him and kept him from having any such rôle. This also met some tough questions, almost as many of which were answered by Charles West as were asked, if not the other way about, but one thing that was made clear to us all is that Nithard, and possibly other writers of the time, were definitely thinking of the papal approval of Pippin III’s kingship in 751 when they wrote up the doings of 833.

Then there was a really quite nice lunch, and then back to battle/s!

Sarcophagus and crypt of St-Bénigne de Dijon

Sarcophagus and crypt of St-Bénigne de Dijon

Session 5. Trouble and Trouble-Makers

  • Charles West, “Possessing Power. Unauthorised miracles and Dijon, c. 842″. Keen observers may recognise this title—I certainly lost no time in taxing Charles about it because I’m nice like that—but this was actually a markedly different paper, albeit about the same miraculous episode, largely because Charles had now been able to consult the manuscript that sources it and found it to be probably contemporary and rather out of place in its binding; though a later cover appeared to have been made for it out of a redundant notarial instrument, the actual libellus that tells of the strange events at Dijon in 842 may well be the very one that Bishop Theobald of Langres received from Archbishop Amilo of Lyons and therefore presumably travelled as a letter between the two. The other new emphasis was on the parish structures which Amilo apparently thought, even in 842, should be absorbing these people’s religious energy and piety, rather than crazy cult sites with politically-charged ownership issues. For one small text there’s a huge amount of potential here, I envy Charles the find.
  • James Palmer, “Apocalypticism, Computus and the Crisis of 809″. A series of well-aimed kicks at the idea that there was a widespread belief in the years leading up to 800 that that was going to be year 6000 anno mundi and therefore the end of everything, largely as expressed by Richard Landes. James’s position basically is that there is no conspiracy but there are a lot of people really interested in time and how you reckon it. In making this stand, however, he also dismantled in passing a number of the pro-millennial arguments which was a joy to hear. The significance of 809 is that in that year computistical experts were consulted by Charlemagne and his ecclesiastics on the age of the world, according to a council record, but that came on the back of two years’ famine and a defeat by the Slavs so the date may not have been the big issue. I think we all finished this paper remaining comfortably convinced that 800 was a Carolingian high point, not a year everyone spent waiting for the sky to fall on their heads.
  • These darn summaries are getting longer as I warm up. Let’s see if I can keep this under control.

  • Elina Screen, “Adalhard the Seneschal: troublemaker?” As one of the really important nobles of the time of the war between Louis the Pious’s sons, Adalhard has been seen as a kind of destabilising kingmaker figure. Here Elina argued the opposite, that as a kind of ‘shuttle diplomat’ he was frequently one of the few forces holding the fragile confederacy of brother monarchs together, largely because he had so very much to lose if it broke. She rightly pointed out in the course of this that an awful lot of the terminology we use to describe the politics of the mid-ninth century is straight from the Cold War: summit meetings, shuttle diplomats, and so on. I’m not sure what that does for our perspectives, because it does look like that in the sources…

At this point, what should have been the closing remarks were shunted forwards to allow the relevant speaker to make a plane connection, so we were next treated to:

  • Mayke de Jong, “Rosamond McKitterick and the Frankish Church”.
  • This was more of a personal tribute than an academic one, but one of the things Mayke noted is that in a climate of scepticism Rosamond’s early work always took religion seriously and that this is a great strength. And this is true, but more widely, one of Rosamond’s greatest strengths of character is that she takes people, generally, seriously. The fact that one of the most notable professors with whom I’ve ever had contact listens to my ideas and thoughts as if they might be interesting and insightful has helped me wrestle down the imposter syndrome more often than I can tell you, and I’m sure I can’t be the only one. This is one thing I didn’t manage to say in my personal thanks to her so I’ll put it here.

By now people were already gently and quietly making their farewells. People had come from Scotland, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA and Israel, as well as many points of England, and there were planes and trains necessary to catch. Pity, because the last session was just as interesting as any of the others.

Roman tuba or military trumpet

Roman tuba or military trumpet

Session 6. Taxes, Trumpets and Texts

  • David Pratt, “Taxation and Origins of the Manor in England”. While this paper was not an exception to the statement I just made, because Dr Pratt’s erudition is considerable, I have friends who are a lot more sceptical about the solidity of the terms that litter Anglo-Saxon economic history for the sorts of land that were recognised in law than this, and there was also a somewhat apocalyptic rôle for knight service which didn’t seem to have heard Nicholas Brooks’s new evidence about the date of its introduction. So I’ll forebear from further comment except to say that really, the Institute of Historical Research Earlier Middle Ages Seminars are worth attending if you can, but almost all the Cambridge people only go if they’re speaking. I think exposure to Sally Harvey’s and Professor Brooks’s papers would have made this one a different shape.
  • Jesse Billett, “Theuto’s Trumpet: the cantor in the Carolingian Renaissance”. A very unusual paper, as papers on chant usually are, not least because they are usually given by people who aren’t afraid to actually sing their subject, Dr Billett being no exception. Here he focused on one particular mention of a cantor with a trumpet in Ermold the Black‘s In honorem Hludowici and concluded that the usage was probably metaphorical, associating the poem’s military victories, which both mention real trumpets, with the spiritual one of the baptism of the Danish royal Harald Klak in 826.
  • Matthew Innes, “The Carolingians and the Archival World: charters and their preservation in the ninth-century Mâconnais—and beyond”. I actually can’t say too much about this one because it was a Lay Archives paper, and I have caused trouble before by talking too much about the Lay Archives project. You can see from his title that my work overlaps with Matthew’s here and this is something that I think we would have wished to avoid, had better communication been possible. Suffice to say that half the paper was stuff I knew nothing about and was fascinating, and of the remaining fifty per cent half is not yet agreed between us… But Matthew’s stuff is as I say always fascinating so wherever this one actually comes out it will be worth the read. (The papers should be printed; but I believe this one may be spoken for already.)

Final questions were fewer, largely because there weren’t many people left to ask them. The closing remarks were given by Walter Pohl, who made the excellent point that while the gathering had been advertised as a Festschrift, that obviously didn’t make a lot of sense to a German-speaker and he proposed instead calling it a Schriftfest, which we all thought worked a lot better. He also emphasised that the sort of open comparison of perspectives in friendship that we’d been able to do these two days was the best way to advance scholarship, and replete with that assurance, we all went our separate ways. I’m very glad to have been able to be part of all this. As long as I’m still in Cambridge it’s nice to be able to join in sometimes, and this was very good to join in with.

A certain sensitivity to the medieval, expressed by means of a bagful of links

One way I sometimes wind up writing a post is that I have two or three links that I see a common theme in. Because I tend to put things together over a while, these inevitably collect more links like fluff and not all of these fit the theme. The three extras this time do however pick up on old themes here. For a start, do you remember me posting something about Norse-Inuit contact in the Western Atlantic a while ago? A Canadian archæologist by the name of Patricia Sutherland had been set onto a search by some wool from circa 1300 found at Kimmirut on Baffin Island, and also come up with several other articles that she thinks can be called Norse. Some of these things later got displayed by the Smithsonian Museum, and now there is apparently more, a whalebone spade and drainage constructed in what Sutherland says is a Norse style, which would indicate some attempt at prolonged Viking occupation in what is now Canada, if she’s right. I evince caution because she seems to be a voice in the wilderness, and the article to which I’ve linked there shows that at least one other archæologist is reading the finds differently, as evidence that Western archæology just doesn’t rate the Dorset Inuit’s sophistication the way it should. I imagine the debate will continue, and more digging is afoot so it may even be resolved, but since I broached it here it seemed necessary to keep it up to date. Hat tip here to Melissa Snell at about.com.

Medieval wool recovered from Kimmirut site, carbon-dated to circa 1300

Medieval wool recovered from Kimmirut site, carbon-dated to circa 1300

The second piece was just a rather nice little piece of media antiquarianism. Would you like a digital copy of the original newspaper report of the discovery of the Anglo-Saxon royal burial at Sutton Hoo? The East Anglian Daily Times, who carried it, have put it online. Hat tip here to Sæsferd of Antiquarian’s Attic.

The original 1939 excavations of the Sutton Hoo boat burial

The original 1939 excavations of the Sutton Hoo boat burial

And the third is slightly gratuitous in as much as it’s more the period of bloggers such as, well, Ceirseach, than mine, but I hereby decree that it can never be gratuitous to feature a charter on A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe, especially a charter which has turned up somewhere rather unexpected, to wit, Brock University in Canada:

The Clopton Charter, Brock University

Donation by Robert Clopton to his son William, <i>c. </i>1216

This linked to the St Catharine’s Standard, which reports on the discovery (hat tip to News for Medievalists), where they say: “The best educated guess among faculty pegged it somewhere in the 15th century.” Well, I’m no palæographer for all I once passed a test in it but I do have a copy of Michelle Brown‘s A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 handy and it sure looks a lot like her sample of 13th-century cursiva anglicana to me, and indeed 1216 is the date that their examinations have settled on though I’m not going to pretend that I can read that off the JPEG myself. Still cool, though: as with the charter of Abbess Emma at Harvard or the one about Espinosa de Berguedà at Berkeley, some of this stuff has travelled a long long way. Seems to be in good shape considering…

The actual things I wanted to talk about, though, were four pieces all of which for various reasons made me quietly pleased that someone had done some genuine thinking on the basis of their knowledge of the Middle Ages, while about something where that wasn’t strictly necessary. One of these is that I have a new piece at Cliopatria talking about the two cultures and how odd it is, on a European scale, to have them. It’s not terribly surprising however that that would contain some medieval checkpoints, right? So, the oddest of these was a post at Strange Maps, in which a suggestion by Freddy Heineken, the guy who made Heineken lager a household name, that Europe would work better if its states were replaced with more equally-sized polities which punched a more equal democratic weight. It’s no more than an interesting exercise given the continuing disparity of the area’s resources, but it was slightly fascinating firstly for the breakdown of the population balances—I mean my goodness I live in a populous country compared to some—and secondly for the units he chose, apparently in collaboration with two unnamed historians. The Strange Maps crew say the new states would have had less historical baggage, but they should probably say not less, but older… Do have a look, you need their text too hence only thumbnail below.


Then, I was reading a thing I downloaded more or less at whim about the Catalan monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes, which is as you see below rather splendid even now and is still a pilgrimage centre for the relics of Saint Peter that it claims to have. A few years ago the Generalitat de Catalunya put quite a chunk of money into education programmes around its historic sites, most of which are administered loosely by the Museu Hisòric de Catalunya, and one of the results has been a set of ‘Dossiers educatius’, the one for Sant Pere being here, and being written by Sònia Masmarti. Now Miss, Mrs, Dr or whatever Masmarti has or had a nice touch with the language, and although it might be slightly romantic, it is still very far from wrong to point out that:

The majority of people lived in small houses of mud and wood, and believed firmly in the supernatural powers with which the Church acted as intercessor. They would turn up at religious centres of pilgrimage with a blend of fear and hope, looking for consolation and the pardon of their sins, or indeed for the healing of their maladies. We can imagine the enormous impression that would have been produced in them by contemplating this marble portal, crossing it and entering into the magnificence of the temple, with its decorated furniture and pictures, now disappeared.

The translation is mine, because the original is in Catalan, but you get the idea.

The monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes, as it now stands (albeit mostly empty inside)

The monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes, as it now stands (albeit mostly empty inside)

Yup. That portal led to a different world in a whole range of senses, economic, cultural and theological. For all that people did easily move between the two worlds, we’re wise not to lose grip of the contrast between them.

The Regensburg fragment, a page of a twelfth-century litany of Irish saints

The Regensburg fragment, a page of a twelfth-century litany of Irish saints

And something similar seemed to strike me when I saw this, an article in the Irish Times about a fragment of a litany from the Schottenkloster, the Irish monastery, at Regensburg, the which fragment has now been bought by University College Cork. (Hat tip here to Larry Swain at The Heroic Age.) I don’t want to weigh in one way or another on the repatriation of artefacts; it doesn’t seem to me that there’s a good way to argue that that ‘belongs’ to Ireland and we should instead celebrate the fact that it can be shared by all. Pádraig Ó Riain has done some serious work on the text and brought out all kinds of ways in which it can show what bits of Ireland were feeding the Regensburg community with monks by the 12th century, when it seems to have been composed, but that wasn’t what struck me, what struck me was this:

Of course, it has immense significance as the only early medieval written record of the Irish community in Regensburg in its day, and of course it has much more to tell us than even both Ó Riains could cover in their initial lectures. But it was meant to be prayed. Following the seminar, it was at the Benedictine’s Glenstal Abbey in Co Limerick that the monks sang the litany at vespers, giving it its first ever liturgical recital in Ireland and possibly the first chanting of its verses since the 16th century.

I’m not a religious man but I find that attention to purpose and the sense of connection and duty involved in that very satisfying, both to hear of and to sort of understand.

Fluffy Vikings follow-up

In the event, I’m afraid I didn’t make it to the Between the Islands conference I advertised here a while back. I could only do one day of the three, couldn’t bargain a discount because of this, and work needed me because so many other people were going; also, Alex Woolf, whom I was hoping to catch up with, had to cancel. But now I wish I had because of the press coverage it got. Yes, you read that right: an academic conference, nay, an academic conference on the Middle Ages got reported in, well, I count four different national dailies and the national TV channel’s website. when did that ever happen before? Here are the links:

Now if you look closely at these, you may notice two things. Firstly, none of them actually got somebody who was at the conference to report. These are all reports on the press release by Dr Maire Ni Mhaonaigh. Secondly, they almost all distort the bejasus out of it. Every single headline is based on the idea I lampooned so readily when it appeared to be coming out of the Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic Department that organised this conference itself, at the end of last year, that the Vikings were fundamentally peaceful traders who contributed a great deal to the lands in which they settled (note: settled, not invaded). As you can read there, I would prefer to retain their violent side as well and don’t see why we can’t, but if you look at the quotes the papers give from the press release, it’s clear that Dr Ni Mhaonaigh wasn’t giving the soft-side case, but trying to achieve a balance. Someone who did go to the conference tells me that the word `raiding’ came up an awful lot, and that generally the tone of the papers was not even so pacificatory as the press release, but it is nonetheless true that the papers have only wanted to report one idea, the forty-year-old one that maybe the Vikings weren’t actually single-minded agents of mayhem. Why is that so titillating to journalists, or why do they think it is to the public?

Well, I was without ideas on this except that observing that my teaching experience suggests that really, nobody doesn’t love Vikings. However, I can now point you at a pretty darn clever consideration of this same question by the one-and-only Magistra et Mater, and suggest you take a look. Though I warn you: she uses words derived from `terror’ and therefore may have her blog shut down by the Man any minute. Go quickly, and then muse upon it for it is interesting.

(Cross-posted at Cliopatria with revisions for context.)

Interesting-looking conference

Bearnán Conaill, the bell of St Conall of Inishkeel

Bearnán Conaill, the bell of St Conall of Inishkeel

I may be cutting this one a bit fine to be any use to anyone reading, but this looks like it might be worth the money: a conference at the Cambridge Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, called ‘Between the Islands: Interaction with Vikings in Ireland and Britain in the Early Medieval Period’, 13th to 15th March, registration deadline the 27th February. Speakers include Alex Woolf, sometime commentator here and general good thing, Claire Downham, Judith Jesch, John Hines and James Barrett, there’s also a paper about the Sea Stallion of Glendalough, the abstracts are online for your perusal, and all in all I may have to happen along. If I do, I shall try, eventually, to report.

Once more Mr Nice Guy: the Vikings and violence

(I shall schedule a post about war and violence for 11 o’clock on Armistice Day! Of course! That’ll be, er, something… Anyway. The robot Jonathan Jarrett should cease with this post and real editing resume next.)

We know, of course, that Vikings are always a hot topic. But the latest round of press coverage of Viking scholarship (even the newspapers know that Vikings are a hot topic) is giving me awful dejà vu. If you have a look at this story in The Daily Telegraph, perhaps not exactly Britain’s most forward-thinking go-ahead periodical but as with many others always eager to help so-called scholars make fools of themselves, you will find that we’re back into the fluffy phase of the old raiders-or-traders debate. You know the one? The one where we ignore all the victims’ reports of the violence of the Vikings’ attacks and say how really they were just traders out for a quick buck who didn’t mind knocking over the odd church when there was nothing more remunerative to do. This time we’re not saying how the Vikings weren’t really that numerous so the sources must be exaggerating (which was Peter Sawyer’s take), we’re not saying how the stimulus they brought both to the economy and to the few governments that were able to resist them was vital in developing Europe, which has been argued and argued persuasively, and we’re not even saying that a lot of the places that write stories about how serious the Viking attacks were are trying to explain why they need a lot more land, honest, or where they got the lands of some other less fortunate house from; there’s actually a lot of mileage in that one but it’s not what’s being said here. Instead we’re stressing that the Vikings weren’t really barbaric, because they took care of their hair and liked to dress sharp (or indeed baggy).

Antler carving of a presumed Norseman found at Sigtuna

Antler carving of a presumed Norseman found at Sigtuna

“Academics claim… ” is never a good sign, is it? Well, Telegraph, and regrettably Cambridge’s Department of Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic, who appear to be behind this latest whitewash in an attempt, among other purposes, to placate the feelings of “British children” who “are quite likely to have Viking ancestry”, I have some small history with correcting myths about the Vikings on the Internet, so let’s make it clear that some ‘academics’ don’t claim this at all. Of course the spin is the Telegraph‘s, who have cherry-picked the bits most likely to contradict what people were told at school. And they include bits that I would never seek to disagree with, like:

Although Norse men and women may have sometimes liked fighting and drinking, and were sometimes buried with weapons, they also spent much of their time in peaceful activities such as farming, building, writing and illustrating.

I know this, OK? Obviously there were farmers back in Scandinavia. They had runes, and could leave us quite complicated messages in them, so no-one should be calling them illiterate. Is anyone? (Although, of course, what is not known is how generally those runes could be read, but as exactly the same dispute is to be had over the Christian West and Latin in the same period, fuelled indeed by the writings of King Alfred, one of its greater literary children, I think we can call that a draw.) And the kick that Viking styles of art gave the West is widely known and again, not to be denied. Here I go not denying it:

Brooch based on Ringerike-style stone carving from Götland

Brooch based on Ringerike-style stone carving from Götland

Right, now my turn. We can also not deny:

  • that as a result of Viking attacks, for all that they exploited internal dissensions, the kingdoms of East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria and substantial parts of Scotland all fell to Norse or Danish overlordship, and that the last single ruler of the whole Carolingian Empire, Charles the Fat, was forced to abdicate at least in part because of his inability to deal with what his contemporaries perceived as a Viking menace;
  • that Viking armies large enough to defeat the best that the kings of the time could raise, on a good day, were in practically continuous operation on both sides of the English Channel for most of the late ninth century, and over-wintered in Britain and France, where indeed few better than my Department know that they did produce some very lovely metal-work and artefacts at their warcamp before returning to the warpath in Spring;
  • that many Danes, Norse and Swedes made their way East to work as bodyguards for the Byzantine emperors, where they were among the most feared soldiers available to him;
  • that Viking colonies established in what is now Ukraine generated a lot of the income they won, yes, as traders and merchants, by mounting repeated slave-raids into the Slav countries to their north and west, from which indeed the modern English word ‘slave’ derives;
  • that rather a lot of monasteries and churches, being easy undefended targets with money, did in fact genuinely close down because of repeated attacks by the ‘Northmen’;
  • and that the extensive, witty, highly artistic and picturesque Norse literature of later eras delights in stories with ridiculous and if at all possible obscene body-counts and gore ratings, including burning, rape and mutilation.

And you also have to admit, please, that the evidence often used that the Vikings were enthusiastic traders has been of disputed interpretation for sixty years or more—I originally edited here about the relevant paper precisely because I heard about some work coming out of the ASNC team which appeared to have forgotten this. Please, people, remember Philip Grierson. Also, those of you who so love that anecdote about Viking personal grooming, which runs of course:

They were wont, after the fashion of their country, to comb their hair every day, to bathe every Saturday, to change their garments often, and set off their persons by many frivolous devices. In this matter they laid siege to the virtue of the married woman, and persuaded the daughters even of the nobility to be their concubines

will you please take into account that it is by a twelfth-century writer, and that contemporary sources recording the annual attacks and raids should perhaps be given more weight than this however wonderful a story it is? Or, if you prefer, ask what this says about John of Wallingford (for it is he!) and his sense of appropriate hygiene…

I am not, you understand, saying that all Scandinavians of the ninth and tenth centuries were in fact unwashed unscrupulous warmongering cut-throat psychopaths, any more than the ASNC team are saying, through the stencil the Telegraph has placed over their work, that they were all soft-hearted over-barbered craftsmen with poetic souls and startlingly-cut trousers. But everyone seems to want to tip the emphasis one way or the other. We don’t need to! They were all of these things! Sometimes even in the same person, but there were certainly both farmer-craftsmen and boatloads of hairy warriors around at the same time. We can have both! Although, when we admit the hairy warriors, we should bear in mind that just because you’re looting a Christian sacred place in a hit-and-run raid from the sea, you can still at least do something stylish with your hair, as that slate from Inchmarnock that I mentioned the other day, of which I have now found the picture below, shows….

Sketch on slate from Inchmarnock of Vikings stealing St Ernan's reliquary

Sketch on slate from Inchmarnock of Vikings stealing St Ernan's reliquary

And really, it’s not only not a matter of not maligning the living or even the dead (I think many Vikings, however nicely they dressed or how clever a piece of knotwork they could carve, would have felt more than a bit miffed to be called “a settled and remarkably civilised people who integrated into community life“). Firstly, it reduces the wonderful interest of this culture to neglect either side. To call them boneheaded illiterate berserkers is obviously unfair; but so is it to neglect the fear and awe that their warriors could bring with them. To emphasise their economic and cultural aspects is important, but not at the expense of the political and military impact they had on Europe. And whatever balance one comes to of those sides, they have to have room for both the artwork and the bloodshed, they have to be able to explain both Jelling style and the Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum, both runestones and Varangians, both sagas and, well, sagas. All the events and phenomena listed above have to continue to be explicable no matter how nuanced you make your Vikings, because if you try and take the ‘viking’ out of the Vikingr, large parts of ninth- and tenth- century history stop making sense…

An example of one man. At the Battle of Stamford Bridge, which was kind of to the Viking Age what Altamont was to the hippy era, when it all goes wrong and poisonous, not only did Harald Hardrada King of Norway die, but so did his nephew Olaf. He had been in the thick of the fighting, and he was known to the later writers as Olaf the Flashy, because of his taste in personal adornment. I tell you, you can have both. The era that invented and lauds James Bond really shouldn’t need telling that someone can plausibly be all of heroic, well-dressed and pathologically violent…

I’m not going to try and set basic reading for journalists here, but I wonder how many of the readership may have come across the recent articles trying to achieve a balance on the ‘how violent were the Vikings?’ issue, either Jinty Nelson’s summary, “England and the Continent in the ninth century: II, Vikings and Others” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th series Vol. 13 (Cambridge 2003), pp. 1-28; Simon Coupland’s “The Vikings on the Continent in Myth and History” in History Vol. 88 (London 2003), pp. 186-203, or most interestingly perhaps, because of doing real exploration of the monastic narratives and the truth behind them, either of Anna Trumnore 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 or Hélène Noizet, “Les chanoines de Saint-Martin de Tours et les Vikings” in Pierre Bauduin (ed.), Les fondations scandinaves en Occident et les débuts du duché de Normandie : colloque de Cérisy-la-Salle (Caen 2005), pp. 53-66. For general reading you could probably just start with Peter Sawyer (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings (Oxford 1997) and see where it takes you. Not, I’m guessing, into journalism… I would however also like to mention Fergus Fleming’s The Viking Invader, which is a should-be present for any medievalist in your life, and something of which I for some reason don’t have my own copy. Ahem. Christmas is very soon isn’t it? Anyway.