Charter A Week 81: Pinning Down Status in Lotharingia

We’re going big this week, with no fewer than four [!] documents translated here. As often is the case in medieval history, such showboating reflects weakness rather than strength. In essence, I finished translating the first of these charters and realised I didn’t have much to say about it (the options for 957 were not terribly compelling and this was the best of a bad lot…). However, it is part of a complex of four charters, and these charters are quite interesting, so I thought, why not?

So, let’s start at the beginning. It’s summer 957 (or, perhaps more likely, 958), and a nobleman named Ragembald is ill. In fact, he’s dying. Ragembald is a big cheese in the western Saulnois (just south-east of Metz), and he has close ties with institutions in the area, notably Saint-Arnoul. With his only son having predeceased him, he decides to hand over (at least) two of his major estates to two important ecclesiastical institutions, Gorze and Saint-Arnoul de Metz:

Gorze, no. 106 (957 [recte 958?], Destry)

It befits the human intellect to think with a wise mind as much as it can, so that each might for the salvation of their soul solicitously be on guard so that the strict Judge might find no-one unprepared when He comes, and so that He does not find what He might damn, but rather what He might crown. That is, that everyone, while they remain in their own right of freedom, seek to exchange perpetual life in eternal tabernacles for fallen and transitory things, and make God their repayer, so that they might obtain a desirable place amidst the company of the just.

Indeed, I, Ragembald, son of Ragembald and Heriburgis, often turning this over in my mind, and because (as is written) the goods of the Church are the vows of the faithful, the patrimony of the poor and the price of sins, thought that I should give something from the goods conceded to me by my aforesaid parents to the part of the congregation of holy Gorze, so that I might both be able to receive pardon for my sins and so that on the day of the strict examination I might be able, standing more securely, to hear the desirable voice of the Lord saying ‘Come, ye blessed of my father, take up the kingdom’; and this I did. For indeed I gave through the hands of my followers living by Salic law, that is, Winemand and Wachin and Gerulf, my estate sited in the district and county of Saulnois, named Vertignécourt, with all its buildings and appendages, both in houses and in manses, churches, fields, meadows, vineyards, woods, orchards, estates, small estates, bondsmen of both types, pastures, fisheries, waters and watercourses, bridges, incomes and renders, mobile and immobile goods, and in everything which can be said and named pertaining to that curtilage, both from that conceded by my parents and from that acquired by me, so that, in the same manner as I gave the said allod to them, they might thus give and invest the part of the altar of St Peter, which is in the aforesaid monastery of Gorze, where also that venerable relic, to wit, the body of St Gorgonius, is held, and of whence Agenold of memorable sanctity is discerned to be abbot – on the condition, to wit, that as long as my wife Fredelind should live, she should possess the usufruct, having no pontificate [sic!] to diminish anything of them, but rather to increase, improve and restore; and each year, let her pay in vestiture for it, on the feast of St Gorgonius (which is the 5th ides of September [9th September]), a pound of silver. After her death, whenever God wishes it, let these things immediately and without any contradiction, with everything of theirs, revert to the right and rule of the abbot of the said congregation and to the prebend of the monks dwelling for God therein, and let them have such power over them as they do with the other things pertaining to their prebends.

If they are negligent or tardy in regard to this rent, and delay carrying out their legal obligations, let the same thing happen. I in addition beseech that the writing of this deed should be raised up in full court, and confirmed by the count, the scabini, and other God-fearing men. 

If anyone of my heirs might wish to rise up against this donation made by me, and try to infringe it, in the first place let them incur God’s wrath, and let them pay 100 pounds of gold and a thousand of silver to God’s holy Church, on whom they inflicted force, and let them be unable to vindicate their claim. 

Enacted in the estate of Destry, in full court, in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 957, in the 15th indiction, in the 17th epact, in the 3rd concurrent, in the 21st year of the reign of Emperor Otto [the Great]. 

+ Count Theobert. These are the scabini: + Sigebert + Raginard + Hugh + Walter + Ribald + Warnard + Angebald + Liuzo + Aldric + another Walter + Robert + Adalbert + Fulmar + Otto. 

I, Adelard, an unworthy priest, wrote this on behalf of Chancellor Norman. 

Saint-Arnoul, no. 82 = ARTEM no. 212 (16th June 958, Destry)

Whoever, for love of God Almighty and the remedy of their souls, bestows anything from the goods and resources of their patrimony to places of the saints surrendered to divine worship in the name of pious devotion, believes not unfruitfully that this will (far from doubt) prosper for them many-fold, both in  help in present temporal matters and to gain the unfading goods of eternal happiness.

Whence let the magnificence of all of the faithful of the holy Church of God, that is, present and future, learn that I, Ragembald, born from a family of no meagre nobility, while falling into bodily weakness, concerned that I should labour over loss in the present life, thinking of the salvation of my soul so that I might be able to at least gain pardon for my sins from the ineffable mercy of the Lord on the day of His strict examination, I decided that, because (by judgement of divine equity) I have been deprived of children to whom I might relinquish them, I should, of my free will, offer much from those things which fell to me by hereditary right as a legitimate patrimony to the Lord (and His saints) from Whom I received them. Because, the body of my pious father, and my only son, and my other ancestors and relatives, are known to be buried by solemn custom in the basilica of the most holy confessor of Christ Arnulf, where I too, by assent of divine clemency, had the desire to be buried, I believed it was opportune and very convenient that I should bestow something from my resources on the same venerable place so that it might benefit both me and them in common, and thus with a very ready will I carried this out.

And thus, with the consultation of my most beloved wife, and also my friends, illustrious men, who are also guarantors of this donation, and with the confirmation of the faithful, I gave to the part of the same outstanding confessor and pontiff of Christ Arnulf, and to the table of the brother monks soldiering for the Lord therein, through the hands of the same guarantors, a certain allod of my property, falling to me legally by right of my father, named Morville, sited in the county of Saulnois, with all appendages and goods pertaining to it, that is, churches, bondsmen of both sexes, buildings, vineyards, woods, fields, meadows, pastures, waters and watercourses, mills, cultivated and uncultivated, mobile and immobile, just as my aforesaid father held in his lifetime; and whatever by my own devices I later justly and reasonably gained, I transfer it all inseparably and universally by the same condition and law into the right and power of that monastery and the monks serving therein, to be had, held, and most firmly possess in perpetuity, without contradiction from any person or power, that is, on the condition that my aforesaid wife might enjoy the usufruct henceforth during her lifetime only.

Let the brothers of the aforesaid place, keeping all this I have invested them with entirely at the present time in their own hand and rule, have them under their oversight and mundeburdum for all time; and after the death of my wife, let them all go into their uses with all accoutrements and without any retraction; and each year in her lifetime, on the feast of St Arnulf, let her pay 10 shillings in rent to his altar; and let this largess and donation, made by me of my own free will, be supported perpetually by a firm and stable corroboration, so that by the most pious intercession of the most blessed Arnulf and the assiduous supplication of the brothers, having gained pardon from God’s mercy, with those who (in accordance with the admonition of divine precepts) passed happily from the worldly to the heavenly, I might deserve to be given inestimable prizes in eternal tabernacles in the blessing of perpetual quiet.

Therefore, through the fearful name of divine majesty and the venerable merits of the saints, I call to witness, beseeching and firmly oath-swearing all who are to come, that no powerful person, worldly or churchly, nor any of my relatives, should presume to alienate this donation or confirmation either from the holy place or from the table of the brothers in any way, neither through benefice nor exchange nor precarial grant nor any trick.

If anyone should try to come against this, let them have the blessed Arnulf be a very strict accuser against them on the Day of Universal Judgement, with the wrath and harshness of God Almighty, with all the saints; and let them be completely unable to vindicate their claim. We also pray that the writing of this deed be read in full court, and be confirmed by the count, the scabini, and other God-fearing men.

Enacted in the estate of Destry, on the day of the 16th kalends of July [16th June], in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 958, in the reign of King Otto, in the realm of King Lothar, happily, in the 15th indiction.

+ Sign of Fredelind, wife of the same Ragembald +.

+ Count Theobert. + Winemand and Wahin, guarantors. + Count Odoacer. + Waldo. + Fulmar. + Folcuin. These are the scabini: + Sigebert. + Rainard. + Hugh. + Walter. + Ribald. + Warnard. + Angebald. + Liuzo. + Aldric. + Another Walter. + Robert. + Adalbert. + Otto.

I, Adelard, recognised this on behalf of Chancellor Norman.

The first thing to note here is that neither Saint-Arnoul nor Gorze seem to be the real motivating forces behind these documents. The role of the priest Adelard is important here. The document collections we have aren’t quite good enough that I’d want to die on this hill, but I don’t think he’s associated with either institution. We do see him again in another charter a couple of years later (which we will actually cover in a couple of weeks’ time), writing for Duke Frederick of Lotharingia, and I think he’s more likely to be a priest associated with a constellation of Upper Lotharingian nobles, including Count Theobert and the counts of Chaumont. This fits with the milieu in which we see Ragembald operating: he’s not terribly well-attested, at least as far as I know, but he can be seen witnessing a(n admittedly very suspicious) donation of Countess Eve of Chaumont to the abbey of Saint-Arnoul in 950.

This fits into the location of the donations, Destry. Charles West has looked at these documents, and said that although they seem very Carolingian, some things have nonetheless changed. I would actually be even more inclined to stress the continuities. This charter is witnessed by scabini at a mallus court. Destry itself was in the process of becoming the centre of a county (the earliest evidence is from 966, but isn’t exactly unimpeachable) by the latter part of the tenth century, but its role here as the home of a mallus fits neatly into Carolingian tradition, such as Richard the Justiciar holding courts at Longvic, or his ninth-century predecessors at Lux, or Fulk the Red at Amboise. I rather suspect that Destry became the centre of a county because it was one of these important ‘third places’. Certainly, we see here a fairly important set of sub-regional nobles in play. (The same charter which claims that Theobert was count of Destry also puts Odoacer as count of Sarrebourg, which is also odd, and I’m not sure how far to trust it.) In any case, what we’re looking here is a fairly straightforward donation of a man who was part of a sub-regional network of nobles to the major local institutions, with an added twist of personal tragedy.

Then there’s further developments:

Saint-Arnoul no. 83 = ARTEM no. 216 (16th August 967, Metz)

In the time of the venerable Abbot John in the monastery of Saint-Arnoul, it happened that men from an estate of the most illustrious man, the late Ragembald (which is called Morville, which he, in good hope for the remedy of his soul, transferred into the right and rule of the monastery from his hereditary right) asked the clemency of the aforesaid abbot in the matter of benefitting their necessities, that out of the munificence of his grace he might deign to institute for them that, because of what would be declared to them in the present sanction, from then and thereafter in future more service ought never be exacted from them in posterity, in order that they could rely on something certain in the face of any command to obey orders, by the custom of surrounding powers subjected to the uses of the Church, to wit, because that man, the most renowned Ragembald, had subjected them with the whole estate to the monastery on the same law and under the same dominion of service by which he had kept them during his lifetime.

The venerable Abbot John, referring this to the brothers of his congregation soldiering for the Lord with him, after the case had been attentively turned over amongst them for a long time, when nothing on their part seemed to block his advantage, decided it was not unworthy to assent to their request.

And thus, by the common consultation of the brothers, with too the legal counsel of the most renowned man Theobert, count of the palace, advocate of that monastery, with many faithful both from his rule and those who in some fashion were from the same place, with all of the people of that estate jointly agreeing and receiving with a grateful soul and confessing themselves pleased, the said Abbot John decreed, as far as he saw it was possible for them, by the custom of others remaining in the right of the monastery, to emancipate them from their former servitude by right of freedom, that is, that each of those who are known to have dwelled therein should each year pay an ounce of silver between the feast of St Arnulf and that of St Martin.

Besides, each manse should take one ensange in corvee, 2 days for each sowing, two days in the meadow, and seven nights for wagon-work (2 wagons are appointed for any sort of service); each should grind 5 pecks of any kind of grain; send two people to the vineyards; enclose 2 perches of the public manse and 4 perches on corvee, 4 perches in the vineyards; 3 chicken; 15 eggs; it should sell 8 pecks of wine in the public tavern. Regarding dependents, if they are outwith the estate, let a male pay 5 pennies and a female 1 chicken. Otherwise, let them have both the lands of their share and anything pertaining to them under the name and right of freedom, and let them hold and possess them freely.

So that this liberty of freedom might endure firm for them for all time in posterity from anyone who will succeed hereafter in the monastery, and as it has been bestowed and engaged upon by the common confirmation of the whole congregation, Abbot John, together with the others of the holy monastic order under him, wished this strengthening of its authority to be made for them, and they confirmed it by their signs and names and those of their followers in the place.

Enacted publicly at Metz, at the annual fair, on the day of the 17th kalends of September [16th August], in the 6th year of the empire of the most serene augustus Otto [the Great], and in the 7th year of the reign of the famous king, the younger Otto [II], in the 3rd year of the bishopric of the outstanding bishop lord Thierry [of Metz], with Frederick [of Lotharingia] as most illustrious duke, in the 10th indiction.

Sign of the most reverend abbot lord John. + Sign of Dean Warnard. + John the priest. + Allo the priest. + Gundin the priest. Sign of Amalfred the priest. Sign of Fredulf the priest. + Sign of Haimo the deacon. + Deacon Odo. + Deacon Rainard. + Deacon Radeco. + Deacon Martin. + Deacon Aimeric. + Deacon Dudo. + Subdeacon Constantius. + Sign of Theobert, count of the place. + Anselm the judge. + Odo. + Baldrad. + Ailard. + Gerard. Sign of Widric. Sign of William. Sign of Honrad. + Sign of Baseus. + Nevasus. + Theother. Sign of Amalric. Sign of Johm. Sign of Leutbert. Sign of Theotald. Sign of Bernulf. Sign of Herwin. Sign of Hermer. Sign of Fainulf. Sign of Otbert. Sign of Hildebrand. Sign of Hardrad.

John, chancellor and priest, although unworthy, wrote and subscribed.

The charter as it survives today, sourced from ARTEM as above.

In this charter and the next one, there’s a lot of technical language; and in this one in particular the prose is not exactly lucid. Admittedly, this one I was able to check against a pre-existing French translation; but if you see any mistakes in either please let me know!

Anyway, this charter is pretty interesting: since Ragembald gave Morville to Saint-Arnoul, there have apparently been disputes over exactly what the estate owes to the monks. A band of locals make petitions and – amazingly, perhaps, given some of the apocalyptic things which have been written about medieval aristocrats – the abbot decides to accept them. This means the peasants end up performing some dues which are, not quite token (I wouldn’t want to do them), but certainly not huge.

More interesting to me is the role of Ragembald’s memory and the original donation. Tempore Regimbaldi here serves much the same purpose as tempore regis Edwardi did in the Domesday Book: a kind of Year Zero, a point where things could be fixed. Ragembald’s donation serves as an ideological touchstone here, and we can note with some interest the role of Count Theobert. Theobert – called here ‘count of the palace’ rather than, say, ‘count of Destry’, which also suggests a kind of Carolingian continuity in his role – was a high-status witness of the original transaction, as well as a major figure within the home life of the abbey, and that was presumably a major part of his appeal to both parties. In a sense, Ragembald may have got what he wanted: his memory was undoubtedly being preserved, and on this very small scale his life came to define local chronology.

Things are slightly different in our final document:  

Gorze no. 116 (17th August 984, Gorze)

Ermenfred, by God’s grace humble abbot of the monastery of Gorze, to all those living piously under Christ’s empire.

Let it be known to all, present and future, that the people of the power of Bruoch, which was given to our patron St Gorgonius by Count Ragembald of pious memory to be possessed in perpetuity, asked Us full humbly that We might strengthen for them by Our authority the firmness of a privilege, in accordance with the law by which their predecessors served the king until the fisc was given to the aforesaid Ragembald.

We, considering a matter of this sort deeply and piously, judged it very unworthy to burden them in Our time with service greater than previously. Whence, with all Our brothers praising and suggesting it, it was pleasant to consult them on what service they carried out up until now under secular lords and Our holy predecessors, to wit, Agenald, John, Odalbert, and to confirm it for them hereafter for times to come with a most certain privilege, on the law and condition that, if anyone should be found guilty of lying and concealing any due service, their aforesaid petition should be completely annulled.

In any case, the service professed by them is seen to be adjoined below:

Each dependent owes 6 pennies on the feast of St Remigius, even if their son is free. Each year, each will observe the assembly, even they are accused, until their case is closed. Each will thresh within the power 2 pecks of straw and one of provisions. Each will send one reaper into the field. Each will carry out one day of sowing in the meadow and one in the field. Each will send 2 reapers into the meadow.

There are 21 manses and 3 quarters. From a half-manse, nothing is to be paid except from an ensange; a whole manse will bear 8 pecks of provisions, either 15 days before the feast of St Remigius or 15 days afterwards; and a half will bear a cartload of wine, and if they are commanded, let them sell one. If an indominical house or granary is destroyed, they will restore it with our carpenter. After Christmas, five manses owe 8 pennies in offerings; at Easter, 5 manses owe 2 chickens and 15 eggs. Seven of the manses pay 4 chickens and 30 eggs. In May, a whole manse owes 2 carts of wood. Five manses should carry out two perches of building-work wherever they are commanded within the power. A manse should pay 200 maniples of reeds on the feast of St John. They will thresh whatever grows in the ensanges and croads. In the croads, whatever should be given from our part: 2 pecks of provisions for bread and 6 for beer-making.

Enacted publicly at Gorze, on the day of the 16th kalends of September, in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 984, in the 12th indiction, in the 15th epact, in the 3rd concurrent, after the death of Otto III and the assumption of the realm by Otto III; and in that same year, after Thierry died, Adalbero II received the episcopal throne of Metz.

In terms of its economic provisions, Gorze is here doing much the same thing Saint-Arnoul did twenty years earlier, confirming the rights of the peasants by reference to the past. In this case, Ragembald doesn’t get to stand alone. Instead, it turns out that Bruoch used to be fiscal land, and the monks of Gorze have to promise not to go beyond what the kings demanded. It’s a shame we don’t have Ragembald’s donation of Bruoch, because it would be interesting to see how the land’s royal past was reflected in a royal grant.

However, what I really want to ask here is: is this the same guy? You’ll note that Ragembald has, all of a sudden, been given a comital title which he didn’t have in his own documents or in the 967 Saint-Arnoul charter unquestionably referring to the same man. Is it just a different Ragembald? Well, perhaps. On one hand, a ‘Count Ragembald’ appears not just in this charter but also the dubious 966 charter I’ve mentioned a couple of times, a charter of 959 and a couple of charters from Bouxières from the years around 960. This suggests that they were different: the Ragembald of 957 is evidently seriously ill and has no surviving children. However, on the other hand, the cartulary of Saint-Arnoul records how Ragembald the Elder, count of Saulnois, and his son Ragembald the Younger, gave gifts to the abbey and were buried there (probably, one could construe the text differently). This seems to pretty clearly refer to the Morville charters, but notably the younger Ragembald was not given the comital title. What seems to me to be the most likely case, then, is that Count Ragembald is not the same man as the Ragembald of 957 (or else the Saint-Arnoul documents would presumably know about it), but that Count Ragembald is closely related to the man of 957, whether as a somewhat more distant relative or simply as the child of a political ally. We are certainly dealing here with a flexible comital title. The Ragembald of 957 seemingly came from a comital family, and his family’s legacy, whether directly or indirectly, could help the Count Ragembald of the 950s and 960s gain comital status; but Ragembald, for whatever reason, was apparently unable to claim it himself. For all that these charters purport to fix things in place, there’s a lot of fluidity underpinning them too.   

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Men in the Middle: Evrebert

One group of people I’ve always been interested in are local elites – the sort of people who are definitely still aristocrats, and who are powerful in their own domains, but don’t necessarily have the huge, transregional interests (or even visible presences) of their greater contemporaries. The ‘mayor of Chesham’ types, if you will. However, my main source base is not really good enough to tell me about these people in much detail – I don’t work on the huge and early East Frankish collections or eastern Brittany, and otherwise it’s just not that granular. When I was casting around for postdoctoral projects I wanted to do something on central medieval southern Burgundy to use the Langres/Mâcon/Autun charter material to cast some light on ideological competition between exactly these sorts of figures, but nobody bit… (Let me know if you’re interested and have a few thousand quid to spare!)

Anyway, today I want to talk about one happy exception to the rule, a man who shows up in just enough evidence (four pieces!) to get a sense of who he was and what he was about. So let me introduce you to Evrebert, who flourished in the north-east of Charles the Bald’s kingdom, what would later become southern Flanders, in the latter half of the ninth century. Evrebert, insofar as he has a reputation, doesn’t have a great one, largely because one of our main sources for his times, the Annals of Saint-Vaast, ended up on the other side of a local political dispute in the 890s. But before that, we can see Evrebert operating as a minor figure in the court of Charles the Bald. He first appears as a vassus dominicus at Charles’ court in 861, in a famous diploma in which Charles judged that the peasants of Mitry, an estate of Saint-Denis, owed service to the abbey; Evrebert was one of the people making the judgement at the king’s court at Compiègne. He was clearly trusted by the king: a few years later, in 866 (according to a reference in a twelfth-century cartulary), he acted as a royal nuntio at Saint-Vaast in order to oversee a survey of the abbey’s property. This was a more pointed issue than it sounds. Saint-Vaast had only just been given to Charles the Bald by Lothar II, so assessing the value of his new acquisition was a matter of some importance. Here, the fact that we don’t really know much about Evrebert’s background becomes somewhat frustrating. He would go on to have a long and close relationship with Saint-Vaast, and it would be quite important to know whether this developed out of the missions he undertook at royal behest, or whether Charles ordered him on the missions because he already had the ties… By analogy, he would seem to be a local (the other two royal representatives were the prior of Saint-Vaast and a count from the region), but we can’t really tell. Evrebert then disappears from our sources for over two decades, but we know he was still active and important: he was rewarded with lands, almost certainly in the region around Bapaume, by Carloman II. This region was party central for viking attacks in the 880s, so it may well be that Evrebert played an important part in leading local defence. Either way, he was clearly a figure of some importance in the region.

The abbey of Saint-Vaast as it is today (source).

All this came to play in 892. In January of that year, Abbot Rodolf of Saint-Vaast died. The scramble for his lands and offices began almost immediately. The most vocal contender was Baldwin the Bald, the count of Flanders. Baldwin approached King Odo, asking for the abbeys of Saint-Vaast and Saint-Bertin. Baldwin was, let’s say, a controversial figure. At Saint-Bertin, he definitely didn’t have the local support he needed to back up his request:  the monks sent an emissary to the king to try and prevent his takeover by any means necessary, and succeeded in that. At Saint-Vaast, however, the situation was different. There appear to have been two factions of locals. Odo – and apparently the Saint-Vaast annalist – supported the claims of Count Egfrid of Artois to succeed Rodolf as abbot. Evrebert, however, favoured Baldwin, and prevailed upon a majority of locals to let him in to the monastery’s castle. Baldwin’s demeanour was conciliatory: he sent messengers to Odo asking for ex post facto legitimation of his possession. This didn’t work. Odo tried to attack Baldwin, although the attack failed. The fighting between the two dragged on. Yet Evrebert was no inveterate rebel: in summer 893, he issued a charter for Saint-Vaast dated by the reign of the ‘most glorious king Odo’. This charter is actually the last we see of Evrebert. He had two sons, Roland and Landuin, who are not otherwise known to the historical record. In 896, Odo launched another siege of Saint-Vaast, which had remained under Baldwin’s control, and a deal was struck. By this point, Evrebert may well have been dead.

The sources for Evrebert’s career aren’t everything I would like. Crucially, we have no real sense of Evrebert’s connections to Baldwin. Virtually all of our sources other than the Annals of Saint-Vaast stress his connections to royalty, but he was evidently a close political ally of Baldwin, enough to turn Saint-Vaast over to him. Exactly what he got out of the association is unclear. A patron in his local context, perhaps, much as we expect kingship to work; but in that case why not go directly to the king? In Odo’s case, admittedly, his strong Francian background (yes, north-east – he was a newcomer to Neustria in 886 and all his background points to Francia) meant he had lots of local enemies, and perhaps Evrebert was already one of them… What is more significant, though, is what Baldwin got out of Evrebert. Like Charles the Bald before him, powerful people needed men on the ground to get things done. This isn’t a new or original point, but the case of Evrebert shows how this worked in practice. Evrebert’s ties to a major monastic institution provided a crucial mechanism for controlling it, whether gently as in 866 or dramatically as in 892. He’s unusually visible in our sources, but we have to imagine hundreds and thousands of men like him across the kingdom.

For me the big question – and it is, sort of, answerable, but not in the detail I’d like – then becomes how he compares to other local elites. The first comparison that springs to mind is actually with someone like Adalmar, advocate of Saint-Martin. Here, it is easier to articulate how Adalmar stands out from Evrebert, via his participation in a calcified, crystallised Neustrian hierarchy; by contrast, Evrebert’s power seems much less defined. Further research would help here. After all, given the importance of these people to wider power structures, the differences in how they related to these wider structures have an obvious and crucial relevance to our broader understandings of Late Carolingian politics.

Source Translation: The Chronicle of Moissac and the Umayyads of Córdoba

In around the year 799 Charlemagne sent a letter to Tours, asking his old adviser Alcuin, now abbot of the monastery of Marmoutier, for help. The Frankish king requested a copy of the text of a religious debate held between Bishop Felix of Urgell and the Saracens. Felix was at this time languishing in exile in Lyon for his embrace of the Adoptionist heresy, but his arguments with Muslims in his old Iberian see were apparently of interest to Charlemagne. Sadly, Alcuin was unable to locate this text, gamely offering his monarch a recollection of a debate he had once seen with a Jew as an alternative.

As this incident suggests, despite the very real interest that the Carolingians had in al-Andalus, getting information about the place could be tricky for Frankish rulers like Charlemagne. Yet what held true in the halls of Aachen was not necessarily the case elsewhere in the empire. The regions of Septimania and the Spanish March lay on the frontier with Umayyad al-Andalus. They were not only geographically proximate with Muslim Spain. Ties of trade, history and culture linked their populations to those of the Iberian Peninsula.

The historical writing of the Carolingian period is dominated by centres far to the north of this liminal zone. There is however at least one exception, a set of annals compiled somewhere in Septimania known as the Chronicle of Moissac, that contains substantial information about the Iberian Peninsula. These passages are of considerable interest, granting us an insight into how al-Andalus was perceived by those just outside it, while also giving us important evidence for Carolingian interaction with the Umayyads of Spain from someone well placed to understand what was going on. For this reason, I’ve translated them here:

Chronicon Moissiacense

[Ed.: I’ve put the Arabic names here into their modern forms rather than keeping the Latin orthography.]

…At this time [i.e. the 750s] Yusuf ibn ʿAbd al-Rahman [al-Fihri, ruled al-Andalus 747-756], beginning his tyranny, reigned over the Saracens in Spain. A terrible famine then ravaged Spain…

[…]

At this time [i.e. around 793], Hisham [I, r. 788-796], the son of ʿAbd al-Rahman [I] ibn Muʿawiya [r. 756-788], reigned in Spain. This Ibn Muʿawiya defeated Yusuf Ibn [sic; i.e. Yusuf ibn ʿAbd al-Rahman al-Fihri] and killed him and his son. And he reigned in Spain for 33 years and four months. This Ibn Muʿawiya was cruel to all the kings of the Saracens who were before him in Spain. He killed countless Saracens and Moors by various tortures. He also ordered his father’s son, his brother, after having his hands and feet cut off, to be burned in a fire. He oppressed the Christians in Spain and the Jews by exacting so much tribute that they sold their sons and daughters and slaves, and the few left were afflicted by poverty, and through his oppression, all Spain was disturbed and plundered. But Ibn Muʿawiya died, and Hisham, his son, reigned in his stead. And he did evil as his father had done.

When he heard that King Charle[magne] had gone to the lands of the Avars, and judging that the Avars had fought bravely against the king and for this reason he had not been allowed to return to Francia, he sent ʿAbd al-Malik [b. ʿAbd al-Wahid b. Mughith], one of his leading men, with a large army of Saracens to ravage Gaul. They came to Narbonne and set fire to its suburbs, and captured many Christians and great booty. They wished to proceed to the city of Carcassonne. William [of Gellone, count of Toulouse] and the other counts of the Franks went out to meet them. And they fought a battle with him on the river Orbieu. And the battle was fierce and terrible, and the greatest part of the Christian people fell that day. But William fought bravely that day. Seeing, however, that he could not overcome them because his companions had forsaken him and fled, he departed from them. The Saracens thus gathered their spoils and returned to Spain.

[…]

[796: Charlemagne sends armies to fight the Avars and the Saxons.] And in the same summer he sent into Spain, into the borders of the Saracens, a third army, with his missi, who also did likewise. They devastated that land and returned in peace to King Charles at the palace of Aachen.

[…]

In these days [i.e. around 803], Abu al-As [i.e. al-Hakam I, r. 796-822], the son of Hisham, reigned over the Saracens in Spain. After the death of Hisham, this Abu al-As, his son, came to the throne and did evil as his father and grandfather had done. In that year, while he reigned in Spain, the Emperor Charles sent Louis [the Pious], his son, king of Aquitaine [r. 781-814], to besiege and capture the city of Barcelona. He assembled an army from Aquitaine, Vasconia, as well as from Burgundy, Provence, and Gothia, and sent them before him to besiege the city. They left, and the army surrounded the city and besieged it for seven months. And they took the king of that city, whose name was Saʿdun [al-Ruʿayni, governor of Barcelona]. And when the bread had run out in the city, and the city was also about to fall, they sent to King Louis to come to Barcelona, because the city was about to fall, so that when it had been taken, the victory might be attributed to his name. And the aforesaid King Louis came to the city, and the city was delivered into his hand. And there he appointed a guard and an arsenal. But he sent the king of that city, Saʿdun, defeated in fetters, to his father King Charles, emperor in Francia. He himself returned to his own lands in peace and triumph.

[…]

In the same year [i.e. 812] Abu al-As [i.e. al-Hakam], king of the Saracens, hearing from Spain reports and rumours of the virtues of the lord Emperor Charles, sent his messengers, asking to make peace with him, which the most pious emperor himself did not want to deny, but made peace with him for three years…

Although the Chronicle of Moissac has no actual connection to the monastery in Moissac there was no way I was going to turn down an opportunity to use this gorgeous image of the twelfth-century tympanum to illustrate this post. (source)

What exactly are we reading here? The Chronicle of Moissac is a universal history, which primarily draws upon Bede’s Chronica Maiora, but which supplements it with a wide range of other material, including the Chronicle of Fredegar, the Continuations to that chronicle, and the Annals of Lorsch. Running throughout all of this is unique material that pertains to southern Gaul and the Iberian Peninsula. From 803 to 818, where the Chronicle of Moissac ends, the text appears to be entirely new.

The Chronicle only survives in two much later manuscripts, both of which contain texts that differ from each other in important ways. Paris BNF Latin 4886 is from the eleventh century, and was found in the monastery of Moissac, while Paris BNF Latin 5941 is twelfth-century and contains the variant known as the Annals of Aniane. There is no reason to connect the Chronicle to Moissac itself and it’s possible that (confusingly) it was compiled at the monastery of Aniane, in the circle of Benedict of Aniane (d.821), a mentor of Louis the Pious. To avoid confusion, this translation is from the text in Paris BNF Latin 4886, using the edition prepared by Kats and Claszen (2012), available online for free here.

This is not all the material in the chronicle that relates to Muslim Spain. There is a lot of interesting stuff from before 751 which I haven’t included mostly due to reasons of time and space, but also because I haven’t worked with it in my research and therefore I’m less familiar with it. I should also say that grabbing the original text concerned with al-Andalus and translating it in isolation as I have done above presents a slightly misleading image of the Chronicle of Moissac. This is a universal history, and its compiler(s) were interested in affairs across the Frankish world, integrating their knowledge of the Iberian Peninsula into a much wider story of the rise of the Carolingians.

That said, this is very clearly a perspective from the Spanish March. The first thing that leaps out from this material is how much the writer of the Chronicle of Moissac knows about al-Andalus. This includes details such as the names of relatively obscure figures such as Yusuf al-Fihri and ʿAbd al-Malik b. ʿAbd al-Wahid. Strikingly, they are familiar with how Arabic names work. They understand that a nasab (such as ‘Ibn Muʿawiya’) is a patronymic, something most other Frankish sources struggle with. Their estimation of the length of ʿAbd al-Rahman I’s reign is only out by a year (it was actually 32 years and four months). The biggest error is dating the fall of Barcelona to 803 rather than 801, something I’m not quite sure how to explain.

Sometimes the information available to the annalist is demonstrated by absence. I haven’t included their entry for Charlemagne’s 778 invasion of Spain because it’s largely the same as that in the Annals of Lorsch, but interestingly the Chronicle of Moissac leaves out the false information reported by the Lorsch annals that Sulayman al-ʿArabi had been taken prisoner by the Frankish king. Whoever was writing the Chronicle of Moissac was probably familiar with Sulayman’s later career in the Iberian Peninsula and therefore knew he couldn’t have been carried off as a Frankish captive.

That familiarity did not preclude contempt. The Chronicle of Moissac is extremely hostile to the Saracens in general and the Umayyads in particular, portraying them as tyrants. The depiction of ʿAbd al-Rahman I coming to power by brutally crushing all of his rivals is not far off the mark. The story about his brother is new to me, and one I’m inclined to discount, as the only other Umayyad who reached the Iberian Peninsula that I can think of at this time was an uncle. Few of ʿAbd al-Rahman’s successors lacked his ruthless streak. The plight of the Christians and Jews of al-Andalus is overstated. Both were most definitely second-class citizens, forced to pay taxes that Muslims did not have to, and strict limits on how far they could advance in society. This subordinate status was enshrined in law and enforced by violence, including legally sanctioned torture and execution. That said, Christians and Jews continued to survive and often flourish in al-Andalus, with the former remaining the majority of the population throughout this period.

The depiction of desolation and oppression in al-Andalus offers an interesting clue as to the source of the Chronicle of Moissac’s knowledge. At least to begin with, it suggests that information was coming from Christian Goths who had left the Iberian Peninsula after the conquest and had settled in Septimania. Members of this group can be identified across the Carolingian world, with a particular concentration in the Spanish March and places like Lyon. Indeed, the chronicler themselves could well have been one of them. It also probably hints at continued communication with the Christians of al-Andalus. Charlemagne was in (acrimonious) correspondence with Elipandus, the Adoptionist Archbishop of Toledo. Later in the ninth century Iberian Christians with connections to movements like the Martyrs of Córdoba would try to recruit Frankish support for their liberation. The narrative of the tyranny of the Umayyads would come very naturally from them.

If the Emirs of Córdoba are the villains, the heroes are most definitely on the Carolingian side. Count William of Toulouse comes out well, despite losing the Battle of Orbieu in 793. Broadly the kings of the Franks also get a good write up, even if the depiction of Louis the Pious only showing up at Barcelona when it was about to fall has a decidedly ironic undertone to a modern reader. Relations with the Umayyads form part of a wider story of the rise of the Carolingians. We watch as, after much fighting and some defeats, the Carolingians tame the aggression of the tyrannical Umayyads, culminating in al-Hakam I being so impressed by the culture and justice of Charlemagne that he demands a peace treaty.

As mentioned above, the omissions are as important as the inclusions. The Chronicle of Moissac presents the treaty of 812 as a final moment of triumph, in which peace is finally achieved. In reality, the 810s were a frustrating period for Carolingian-Umayyad relations. Peace was also made in 810 and 817 and swiftly broken, normally by Umayyad attacks that Charlemagne and Louis the Pious had limited capacity to respond to. The Chronicle’s depiction is a very selective one, designed to package Frankish dealings with Córdoba as part of an ever-escalating story of success.

This is perhaps one of the things I find most interesting about this material from the Chronicle of Moissac. Its author lived on the farthest fringe of the Carolingian empire, in a milieu dominated by Goths rather than Franks, and clearly had a very close perspective on the Iberian Peninsula. Yet despite this, their perspective of history was a fundamentally Carolingian one, albeit occasionally an idiosyncratic one. I think this speaks to the power of the Carolingian project, that it could inspire and motivate people on the very edge of its world.

Charter A Week 80: Border Warfare in Auvergne

The idea of a ‘charter’ is a flexible one. My favourite example of this is a document from the church of Saint-Maturin de Larchant, which is half saint’s life and half property register and probably wouldn’t be counted as a ‘charter’ except for the fact that it’s a parchment single-sheet. Another case in point is this week’s document, from the archives of Fleury’s priory Perrecy, located about half-way between Autun and Mâcon. Perrecy has had a lot of interest from historians because it preserves some really interesting ninth-century documents, including what seem to be the traces of a lay archive; but it also has the following oddity, which has the remnants of a charter in it at one point, but is really more of a short sacred history:

Fleury no. 51 (late 950s)

In the time of Hugh the Great, and Lambert [of Chalon], count of the Allobroges, Letald the knight, uncle of Teduin of Sancerre, seeking Burgundy, committed himself to the aforesaid Lambert and to Bernard, that is, his relative. Having received their grace, they bestowed many goods upon him, from which he acquired certain others by his labour. Therefore, in their times, the men of Auvergne left their borders and entered Burgundy, and plundered the fields, and took everything, and thus went home. When they had already completed three return journeys, the report reached the Allobroges and disturbed some of the powerful among them, and incited Lambert and Bernard (by God’s gift always victor in battle), to battle.  

They came together, and took counsel with their gathered potentates as to what should be done in circumstances of such peril, and whom they should send to oppose such evil. Their unanimous opinion settled on Bernard and entreated he be made their leader. Lambert, joyfully assenting to their petitions, exhorted Bernard in these words: ‘As you see, most faithful follower of mine, great necessity urges us to stand against our enemies; but it befits us to first establish someone experienced who can lead our forces with distinction. For this reason, because your nobility in such matters has, by God’s gift, been often proven, we ask you to be the general of our forces and to help out with such a necessity’. Bernard said, ‘I give thanks to God, Who has led me back safe from such perils as often as has pleased Him; but up until now I have been greatly worn down by this, and my inner voice is currently not telling me to seek them out, having not been enriched by such labours.’ Lambert responded to this: ‘I know for sure that you have deserved much more than your nobility possesses, and for this reason you will not feel sorry for having worked in vain if you do not put off coming to help with such a necessity.’ Bernard spoke and responded: ‘I am not conniving to seek any advantage for what Your Highness asks – particularly since I know not what the Highest Majesty has decreed in this conflict – but if God’s usual clemency should make me victorious and unharmed, let your soul deliberate what it might worthily and in the very best way bestow’. Lambert promised this quite happily. Together they sought Perrecy, and approached Richard (who presided over the same place at that time), to defend themselves by grace of prayer. Having offered from his estates one manse in Curdin with a serf and meadows, vineyards, lands cultivated and uncultivated; and another with another serf in Gentiliaca Villa, in the place called Renosus, with meadows, vineyards, lands cultivated and uncultivated, and enjoyment of the wood, Bernard brought with him relics of the saints he had already used in some battles. 

Fortified (under God’s clemency) by such a defence, therefore, he met the enemies in the district of the Bourbonnais, and battle was joined over the estate of Chalmoux, and he slew them with such slaughter that the rivers were blocked up, losing no more than 15 of his own men, including the aforesaid Letald, Guy, and Arnald. Therefore, to fulfil his vow, having gained the victory, he returned home rejoicing with the aforesaid, bringing Letald to Perrecy. For the remedy of their souls, the aforesaid Lambert and Bernard both bestowed on the same place in perpetuity as a gift whatever they possessed from them or had bought from others from their estates: that is, one manse with an enclosure in the estate which is called Vicille Vigne, another in the place which is called Montceau (which the aforesaid Letald bought from Constable and from his heirs), with one field between La Creuse and La Goutte, which descends from Hill Bridge; another manse in the place called La Vaux, and half of Hill Bridge, and half of Taxeneriarus; and whatever Guy and Arnald acquired in L’Hessard, that is, one curtilage at Dear Place, one field with vineyards, lands cultivated and uncultivated, and woods, and whatever is there with renders and customs from everything, under such an injunction that whosoever might try to infringe or reclaim any of these which have been named should receive damnation with Judas the Betrayer, Annais and Caiphas, with the Devil and his angels in the eternal fire; and should pay 10 pounds of gold to them on whom he inflicted the quarrel, with the fisc confiscating, and his claim should be entirely frustrated. 

That this donation might endure firm and stable, relying on this guarantee, after witnesses have subscribed, we undersigned it. 

Lambert (☧), Bernard, Leotald (☧), Giso, David, Hilderic, Antus, Rainer, Deodatus, Budo.

The church of Perrecy as it exists today (source)

This is another document where the date it all happens is unclear, not least because it evidently takes place over the course of several years. The reference to Hugh the Great, who died in 956, puts our terminus ante quem in the mid-950s; but Lambert of Chalon (for it is he) only became count in around 959. With that said, Lambert, the son of Viscount Robert of Dijon, was still a prominent figure in southern Burgundian politics before Lothar handed Chalon over to him, and so c. 955-960 is a good time-frame for these events.

And these are pretty interesting events: fighting between royal allies (Lambert and co.) and Auvergnat raiders in the marches of the Auvergne and Mâconnais. This all fits into what we were discussing last time: the attempts by William Towhead of Poitiers to assert himself in eastern Aquitaine. The year 955 had largely frustrated him: he had been defeated outside Poitiers (although an attack on the city itself had been thwarted) and the archbishopric of Bourges had gone to Richard I, brother of Hugh the Great’s key ally Theobald the Trickster. By the years around 958, though, he was doing better, probably capturing Nevers. It is in this context that we can probably see the Auvergnat raids this charter refers to.

We have noted in prior posts that the Auvergnat elite in the latter 950s was divided, with one portion favouring William Towhead and one portion favouring Stephen of Clermont. In 956/957, Stephen had the upper hand (as we have seen in other charters on this blog) but William remained a contender and the raids of 958 and earlier years into Burgundy may have a surprising amount in common with viking raids. One of the standard explanations for viking raids is that they were expeditions to gain booty and political capital in order to pursue political objectives at home; and this may well be what’s happening here. (Not for nothing did Timothy Reuter say that ‘for most of Europe the Franks were the vikings’.)

However, raids into this area would have been particularly problematic for Lambert, whose powerbase seems to have been in precisely this border region, around the Charolais and Paray-le-Monial. I don’t think we have to see an actual civil war here. Lambert of Chalon and Abbot Richard of Fleury between them are a constellation of royal allies. But although (as we’ll cover later) Lothar certainly had a vested interest in keeping William down, this reads more like a primarily local affair, dictated by local interests and at best secondarily reaching towards a wider frame.

As such, the shafts of light this act shines on relations within an aristocratic entourage are quite interesting. Letald appears as a roving warrior, seeking employment based on family ties with an up-and-coming pair of leaders. (I have to confess I have no idea who Bernard is outside of this charter; he’s clearly important, but also subordinate to Lambert.) Lambert and Bernard evidently have a duty of care towards him even after his death. Lambert also apparently has a duty towards Bernard, but although Bernard acknowledges Lambert as his boss, he’s also apparently in a position to basically blackmail him for more stuff in situations of urgency. In fact, the transactional nature of the relationship reminds me of nothing so much as the Conventum of Hugh the Chiliarch; and like that text makes me wonder whether the relationship in question is purely transactional. Ultimately, I think not: the negotiations around Bernard’s appointment come in the context of an assembly of whoever the scribe is subsuming under the Classicising term ‘Allobroges’ (for my money, it probably would be something like ‘Southern Burgundians’), under Lambert’s leadership. What I think is happening is that this kind of (leader-based?) group membership is the stage setting in which this kind of negotiation can take place, and that the combination of intercutting regional and sub-regional groups and negotiable relations of fidelity within them are pretty basic for noble power at this time. (I also think this represents a bit of a change from the late ninth century, but that’s a story for another moment!)

A Year In (Historians’ Sketchpad-Adjacent) Books

I’ve read a lot of books this year, outside of normal work reading. Largely, this is a by-product of travel – spending so much time travelling back and forth between Tübingen and Leeds has meant that I’ve had lots of time sitting on planes, trains and buses pressing on with one book or another. So I thought that it would be interesting to briefly comment on some highlights, insofar as they relate to our blogological topics of interests. After all, last year’s main book post, whilst the most successful post on this blog not directly related to love or sex, wasn’t much fun. This time, I want to do something more upbeat. This is not a comprehensive list of everything I read for fun this year. It’s not even a comprehensive list of books I read about earlier medieval history – some (such as Clare Downham’s Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland, which I read for fun early in the year prior to actually going and making formal notes) I don’t have much to say about, in this context, beyond “I liked them and they were good”. I’ve stuck to books that I have something else to say about, even if not very much.

So here goes: some short comments on things I’ve read this year particularly interesting to early medieval history.

Edoardo Albert, Conrad Monk and the Great Heathen Army

This was fine, although its attempts at Flashman-esque comedy largely fell flat. I would like to mention Albert’s series of novels on the kings of Northumbria, though, which I read a couple of years ago and which I thought were really good, with an interestingly small-scale portrayal of sub-Roman Insular military activity.

Rodney S. Barker, Legitimating Identities

Barker may have shown me the way to cut the Gordian knot. One of my core arguments about tenth-century principalities is that they are essentially a development in political culture and legitimacy. Such an argument has never sat easily with the fact that it’s really hard to see reception of what comital courts are putting out until late in the eleventh century (at least outside Normandy). Barker, however, argues that the primary audience for claims about rulers are the rulers themselves, and the further away you get from the ruler the less of a role most legitimating activity has in your life. He also argues that this is far from negligibly important, because the self-confidence of rulers has direct implications for the nature and force of their rule (something I would argue we’re currently seeing play out in Iran). There is explanatory power here I need to tease out…

Frans G. Bengtsson, The Long Ships

Apparently to those in the know this is already a YA classic, but I hadn’t heard of it before helping Sam unpack in Tübingen and it proved to be really good. I especially liked how the translator’s rendition of Bengtsson’s Swedish original does a good job of matching the English translations of Old Norse sagas.

Patricia Crone, The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran

For not insignificant amounts of this book it forgets what it’s actually about. Nonetheless, any structural weaknesses are vitiated by the absolutely bonkers amount of material Crone throws at the wall here. I have no idea how well this holds up to specialist scrutiny, because I can’t evaluate source material in about seventeen languages; but even knowing a Late Antique traveller’s diary describing Central Asia in Korean exists is pretty darn exciting.

Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Echoes of Eternity

One of the things I do in my spare time is paint Warhammer 40,000 miniatures. I am enough of a fan to also read the tie-in novels, and this one may be worth it even if you’re not a franchise or genre fan, because it’s tremendously affecting. The reason for that is almost too obvious to mention, which is that war is bad. Warhammer is full of war – clue’s in the name – and this book takes the harrowing impact of war seriously and viscerally. What makes it relevant to this blog is its relationship with earlier medieval violence. I am generally a historiographical minimalist on the impact of viking violence, and the actual impact of Carolingian warfare is not something I focus on at all. But as this year’s research has taken a much more military turn, this book came along at the right time to be a warning against callousness, and a reminder to approach the violence in our sources humanely.

David Drake, An Oblique Approach (and sequels)

…erm, by contrast these are kinda dumb. A colleague reminded me of this series, which I haven’t read in over a decade and never finished. They’re silly, but fun. Presenting Justinian’s Roman Empire as a (flawed) meritocracy makes me roll my eyes every time, although I suppose when the bad guys are eugenicist space robots from a million years in the future it’s possible in relative terms. Also, I love all of the dunking on Procopius.

Victoria Goddard, The Hands of the Emperor

Not the best fiction book I read this year (that would be Cordwainer Smith’s The Rediscovery of Man) but certainly the one I read the fastest, over a single Sunday. It’s a very cosy plot where nothing much happens. The main questions are 1) will the Prime Minister of the world’s empire make friends with the emperor; and, in the background, 2) will he institute his thoughtful, generously minded political and social reforms in the face of limited, respectful opposition? Much as I enjoyed it, it wouldn’t make the list except that the way it approaches its imperial government was really quite reminiscent of certain brands of British scholarship on Charlemagne…

Pekka Hämäläinen, Lakota America

I’ve mentioned Lakota America before this year, and probably the most interesting takeaway from this is his point about territoriality. He argues that two different polities can occupy the same space if their conceptions of space are different enough not to overlap. In this case, he’s talking about the USA (which thought they ruled large chunks of the Great Plains because of their claims under their own law) and the Lakota (who thought they ruled the same chunks because they were the ones taking resources from it); but it can work as well for some of our own cases. Otherwise, I’m not fully convinced by Hämäläinen’s historical point: the nineteenth-century Lakota pull off some spectacular military victories, but they always seem to be on the back foot. For me, it’s only during their relationship with the Mandan and Hidatsa that Hämäläinen succeeds in arguing they’re an imperial power.

Donald Michael Platt, Bodo the Apostate

In the comments of one of Sam’s posts, we had a discussion about the absence of fantasy fiction based on the Carolingians, and I noted in passing the absence of (English-language) historical fiction about the Carolingians as well. The main exception I read this year was this, which is about a real figure, a deacon who converted to Judaism, moved to Cordoba, and started an anti-Christian polemic with a Jewish convert to Christianity. It has the distinct feel of an essay written by an undergraduate who has not understood the topic and is trying to compensate by regurgitating large chunks of the textbook. Absent the trivia infodumps, it would be about half the length; even then, it would drag because of how flatly the characters are written. (Lothar I in particular gets short shrift: paging Elina Screen!) I wish there were fiction set in the Carolingian world as good as some of that in the earlier medieval North Sea

Neil Price, Children of Ash and Elm

This requires a small disclaimer, insofar as Price is not great on the Continental stuff where I know the most – we haven’t really thought Normandy was created in three mid-tenth century tranches for a while now, and he’s pessimistic on Carolingian responses to the vikings in a way which most Carolingianists aren’t anymore. Nonetheless, this is my new to-go suggestion for a one-volume introduction to the viking world, in particular because it integrates the eastern European material so thoroughly and successfully. Price also writes beautifully, something which brings to life especially the early portions. I was intrigued by the way Price relates the grim Norse mythology we currently have, the disappearance of a thousand-year old sun cult, and climactic anomalies in Late Antiquity. (I’m still a bit worried it’s a bit ‘Atilla the Hun was really Odin’ – one of the barmier things I’ve read from a serious academic – but it’s a fun possibility at the very least.)   

Robert Rath, The Infinite and the Divine

Second 40K book on the list, and the reason is much smaller than Echoes of Eternity: it’s one of the best portrayals of a vast sweep of chronological time I’ve ever read, up there with Galaxies Like Grains of Sand and the works of Olaf Stapleton. You can take or leave the plot (although the characters are quite fun), but the way the setting evolves dramatically yet plausibly over thousands of years in what’s not a long book really worked for me.

Khodadad Rezakhani, Re-Orientating the Sasanians

A challenge I’ve been trying to face over the last few years is to find a work on the Sasanians that I can set undergraduates which is neither nuts nor technical. This is the second time I’ve read Razakhani’s book, and the first time I really liked it for basically the same reason I liked Crone’s Nativist Prophets above: it was a panorama of places, times, and people about which I knew nothing. On re-reading… it’s actually way too technical. Back to the drawing board…

James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed

Another ‘good to think with’ book, although its specific geographical setting doesn’t map all that neatly onto the earlier Middle Ages. Scott also has the bad habit of mentioning in passing things perhaps more interesting than what he’s actually writing about. I would really have liked him to go into more depth on the idea that spaces caught between mandala polities might end up have both polities’ authority cancelled out, for example.

David Sneath, The Headless State

Similarly here, this should have been longer, at least for me as a non-specialist. Sneath spends about four-fifths of the book addressing theoretical models of Staatlichkeit within his own field, in order to justify his idea that nomad polities could exercise the functions of states without necessarily having political centres. This means that he only takes one chapter – perhaps the same size as a mid-length article – to actually explore how the concept can help us understand these polities. As someone who was on board with the idea from go, I’d like to read more of the latter. (It strikes me, for instance, that Sneath’s headless state might have some strange and profitable interactions with the concept of the mandala polity…)  

Sylvia Townsend Warner, The Corner That Held Them

And finally, a genuine surprise: a small, quiet novel about an underfunded convent (mostly in the fourteenth century). The characters are nothing special and the plot is, let’s say, picaresque, but the evocation of atmosphere and scene gives The Corner That Held Them almost the sense of a prose poem. I really liked it.

Charter A Week 79: A New Aquitaine?

Last time we were in Aquitaine, Bishop Stephen II of Clermont was getting his local authority reinforced through a renewed connection to royalty. Yet there was a cloud on the horizons: the presence of William Towhead, count of Poitiers, on the Loire with him. William’s position in the first half of the 950s was difficult, not least because when Louis IV died Hugh the Great was able to exploit the new king, Lothar, to attack him. Nonetheless, William fought Hugh off, and even pushed eastwards to try and suborn an old royal ally:

CC no. 1.825 (June 955/shortly thereafter, Huillaux/Ennezat)

Since, in the laborious pilgrimage of this world, whilst it is yet allowed and whilst the time is right and the days of salvation are seen to be at hand, provision ought to be made with every fibre of one’s being that if we can do anything good we should put aside all delay and not hesitate to carry it out, making our debtors those whom we know truly to consult for the safety of the body in the present and whom we little doubt will be judges of our souls in future. Because after death we can do nothing good, we deem it worthwhile to give satisfaction to the Hidden Judge before we are led to that subtle and incomprehensible Judgement. We should not cease to wipe what we have negligently committed clean with the hand of penitence however we can in this brief life.  

Therefore I, Stephen, an unworthy sinner, and my wife named Ermengard, considering the enormity of our sins, and – which is more salubrious – delighting to hear the sweetest voice of our lord Jesus Christ, which says ‘Give alms and behold, everything will be clean unto you’, and also that which holy Scripture admonishes us, saying ‘the riches of a man are the redemption of his soul’, donate because of this exhortation and admonition something from the goods of our property to God and His holy apostles Peter and Paul at the place of Cluny, which the humble abbot lord Aimard is seen to preside over. The place is sited in the district of Mâconnais, and is consecrated in veneration of the blessed mother of God Mary, ever-virgin, and of the same apostles. These goods are sited in the county of Auvergne, in the bishopric of Autun: that is, the indominical curtilage which is called Huillaux with a chapel which is built in honour of the blessed mother of God Mary, where St Leotald rests in body. 

We make this donation on this condition: whilst we live, I, Stephen and my wife Ermengard, we should hold and possess it, and the rulers of the abovenamed place should hold the chapel in vestiture with everything which is seen to pertain to that chapel. After both of our deaths, we donate and wish to be donated in perpetuity to Lord God, as we have often already said, as much as is beholden or seen to be beholden to that curtilage or to that chapel which is built therein in its entirety, for the remedy of our souls, and for the remedy of the souls of our parents, and in addition for the salvation of the living and the rest of the dead, with serfs and freedmen, fields, meadows, vineyards, woods, waters and watercourses, mills, houses, buildings, with everything thereon, mobile and immobile goods, incomes and renders, cultivated and uncultivated lands, sought and to be sought, beholden or pertaining to that inheritance, as is ruled and possessed by us at the present time, so that the rulers of the said monastery and those serving God therein might, without interruption by anyone, firmly and solidly hold it always in perpetuity. 

If anyone, which we do not believe will come to pass, we ourselves (God forbid!) or anyone at all joined to us by kinship, a son or a daughter, a nephew, or anyone else at all, might against divine right become an invader or contradictor of this donation spontaneously made by Us, and endeavours to transfer the good named to God and entrusted to His saints into their uses, in the first place let them incur the wrath of God Almighty, Whose goods they have presumed to by rash daring, let them be bound by the chains of a terrible anathema, and unless they come to their senses, let them be subject to every curse, and let this donation endure firm. 

S. Stephen and his wife Ermengard. Heldin. Rainald. Robert. Caro. Warner. 

Enacted publicly at Huillaux. 

Boso wrote and gave this in the month of June, in the year of the Lord’s incarnation 952 [sic], in the 3rd indiction, in the 1st year of the reign of King Lothar, who commanded a precept be made about the same donation and signed it with his seal. 

At lord Stephen’s command, this charter was read in the court at Ennezat before the lord count William [Towhead], in the presence of lord Stephen [II], bishop of the Auvergne, on the day when the lords of the Auvergne gathered with the aforenamed count and commended themselves to him; and he had the male and female serfs who were not there to be written by name. These are their names: Bladald, who is vicar of that power, with his wife, named Ermentrude, and their sons and daughters, and another named Godin with his wife and their sons and daughters, and as well all the other serfs who are seen to pertain to the same power.

This charter was confirmed and corroborated in the same assembly, at the prayer of lord Stephen, who asked it to be made. S. lord Stephen, bishop of Auvergne, Count William, Viscount Robert [of Clermont], Abbot Robert [of Mozac], Girbern, Theotard, Stephen, Viscount Dalmatius [of Brioude], Heldin, William, Deodatus. 

The church at Ennezat as it exists today (source)

This document’s dating is all out of whack, which is an issue. We also have at least two different events being described here, and probably three: the giving of Stephen’s gift at Huillaux, Lothar’s confirmation of it, and the assembly at Ennezat. Ennezat definitely followed Huillaux, so the question becomes twofold: 1) when was Lothar’s diploma relatively; and 2) when did these events take place in absolute terms?

The second question is easiest to answer. The Ennezat assembly is almost certainly summer 955, and most historians will give you that date. In fact, they’ll normally tell you June 955; but the charter’s June dating probably attaches more properly to the Huillaux donation than to the Ennezat assembly. In any case, though, the latter probably followed shortly after the former. The main question then is when Lothar’s diploma was issued. Here, we have to confess that given that the charter as it currently survives is evidently a melange, it could really have been at any point in his reign. However, we do have to consider when, exactly, Lothar would have been interested in confirming Stephen and Ermengard’s donation. (I am here assuming that the diploma was specifically in regard to this donation rather than merely mentioning it as part of a general confirmation.) What I want to have happened is a first donation, perhaps in 952, which was then confirmed at Lothar’s coronation (we can surmise relatively easily that Stephen and Ermengard’s patron Stephen of Clermont was there). Realistically, though, there’s no particular reason to assume that the original donation was prior to the charter being written in 955, and – as we’ll see in upcoming weeks – the early 960s would provide a better point for that diploma to be issued.

This leaves us with the events of 955 themselves. If so, then this charter gains an interesting frisson. Much of the context for this act has been covered before on this blog long ago, but in fact there’s some crucial chronological nuance which means that picture needs a little revising. To summarise, William Towhead had been an ally of Louis IV, but ties had loosened after the late 940s. Then, when Louis died in 954, Hugh the Great took partial control of his young son Lothar’s regime, and was – according to Flodoard – ‘given’ Aquitaine by the king. This was a final attempt by Hugh to regain his position as uncontested second man in the kingdom, and I think it prompted something much like what Raymond Pons of Toulouse had done almost twenty years earlier. Unlike Raymond, William did not claim to be ‘duke of the Aquitanians’ – yet – but he did move into Auvergne, a place none of his ancestors had held any interest. We’ve seen before that William’s infringing on Stephen of Clermont’s territory was not without friction, and it also prompted Hugh to respond with the military attack on Poitiers we discussed in passing last time – according to Richer, William marched to Poitiers directly from Auvergne. William’s rejection of the authority of Hugh and Lothar basically failed. He kept Poitiers, but his authority in Auvergne became yet more precarious. However, William may have been down, but he was not out. The struggle for Aquitaine was just beginning.

Honour Among Archivists: Thoughts on Consulting Medieval Manuscripts in Stuttgart

In the not-too-distant past I had the pleasure of visiting two research libraries in Stuttgart, the Hauptstaatsarchiv and the Württembergische Landesbibliothek. I thought it might be potentially useful for people planning a visit to either of those two institutions if I were to jot down some thoughts about using them. What follows will not be as involved a description as the ones Fraser has provided for using libraries in Paris. This is mostly because I don’t have the same level of experience with the Stuttgart archives that Fraser has with those in Paris. I’ve visited the Hauptstaatsarchiv once and the Landesbibliothek twice, the first of which was some years ago when the library was in a different building. But the comparative brevity is also because I found both Stuttgart libraries exceedingly helpful and forgiving to new users, so relatively little guidance should be required.

Before Arrival

The first thing to do is check that the material you need isn’t already digitised. The Landesbibliothek has put a huge amount of its early medieval collection online. Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the Stuttgart Psalter (Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart, Bibl. fol. 23), which I frequently use to illustrate posts.

I contacted both libraries about three weeks before I planned to visit. Since 2005 the Hauptstaatsarchiv has been part of the wider Landesarchiv network, with branches across Baden-Württemberg. I set up an account (konto) on the Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg website which then allowed me to book a timeslot at the Hauptstaatsarchiv in Stuttgart for the day I wanted. In theory, you are also supposed to order the material you will consult at the appointment through this online system. In practice I found this impossible for the medieval manuscripts I wanted to see, the reasons for which became apparent only when I saw them. So, I emailed the library directly, the approach I also took with the Landesbibliothek. In both cases I explained who I was, emphasising my professional training as a medieval historian and experience with handling medieval manuscripts. I also introduced the project I work for, with links to the site at the University of Oslo, before specifying precisely which manuscripts I needed and why. In both cases I received a speedy and helpful response (my correspondent at the Landesbibliothek even suggested another couple of manuscripts I might wish to consult.)

The Landesbibliothek

Navigating Stuttgart is not a task for the faint of heart. Even escaping the Hauptbahnhof, and the labyrinthine network of tunnels that you are required to follow in order to navigate the building works around it, is a challenge*. Fortunately, the main sites of both libraries are close to the centre of town, on Konrad-Adenauer-Straße, which is a formidably busy road that separates them from gardens that used to belong to the kings of Württemberg, but are now mostly ruled by geese. The Landesbibliothek started life as a library of the dukes, later kings, of Württemberg. Over the course of the nineteenth century it grew in size, often by merging with other collections. In doing so, it acquired a large number of medieval manuscripts that had ended up in the Royal Court Library during the secularisation of monasteries during the French Revolution. It also acts as a legal deposit library for Baden-Württemberg and as a library for faculties of the University of Stuttgart.

If you have ordered any of the medieval manuscripts mentioned above, you will not be at their main site, but instead in the Sonderlesesaal, located at Gaisburgstraße 4a, which is ten minutes’ walk south-east. There you will encounter an impressively unmemorable modern complex, reminiscent of office blocks across Europe. Walk into the courtyard that serves as a carpark and you will find the building that houses, in addition to various offices of an apparently medical persuasion, the Sonderlesesaal. A handwritten note on the front door of said building asks you to press the buzzer to be let in. There is no indication which of the four identical buzzers one should press. If there was a response after I pressed them, I didn’t hear it. Instead, I opted for the tried and tested method of just opening the door and wandering in, trying to look as amiable and unworldly as one can while wearing a mask, on the basis that even if I got shouted at, someone would eventually have to tell me where I needed to go.

Fortunately, the Sonderlesesaal is well signposted and I found it on the first floor, straight on the left from the stairs. If the librarian was startled when I poked my head in without warning, she was very friendly and clearly expecting me, with the 22 manuscripts I had requested ready and waiting for me. I had to show my passport and fill out a one-page form confirming who I was, what manuscripts I wanted and why I wanted them. I placed my bag at the bottom of a coat rack by the front of the room. I was then assigned one of the eight desks and the manuscripts were brought to me one by one over the next three days. As is usual in manuscript libraries, pens are forbidden, so I took notes on my laptop.

By and large, I would describe the staff as relatively hands off. The one annoyance was that I was not allowed to take photographs because the manuscripts I was consulting were unpublished. This wasn’t great for me, as it makes it a lot harder to consult with the other members of the team over tricky texts. Apart from that, the librarians were extremely helpful and very happy that I was interested in the collection. I had a lot of fun showing them interesting minitexts when I found them, and explaining the project to them. Very usefully, up-to-date catalogues are kept on the shelves of the special reading room. This is particularly valuable if your laptop throws a wobbly and decides that it is not going to connect to the Landesbibliothek’s WiFi.

The Hauptstaatsarchiv

The Lesesaal in the Hauptstaatsarchiv, Stuttgart (source)

The Landesbibliothek has a large and impressive collection of early medieval manuscripts, many of which come from monastic powerhouses on the Bodensee like Reichenau. I got the sense that someone rocking up and ordering 22 of them was something of a novelty, and the small number of other people working in the Sonderlesesaal at the same time as me were clearly all working on modern material. Nonetheless, early medievalists are not an unknown breed in the Landesbibliothek. The Hauptstaatsarchiv is a different sort of place. Its primary purpose is to hold government and administrative records for Württemberg. This doesn’t preclude it from containing other sorts of material. Nor does it mean there is no medieval stuff here, including a fair number of charters and legal records, some of which go back to Charlemagne. But I got a very strong impression that people working on three-digit history, as opposed to modern or late medieval, were more exotic there than in the Landesbibliothek.

As with all places in Stuttgart, and in Germany as a whole, there was construction work taking place outside the Hauptstaatarchiv, and I climbed the stairs to the front door at an oblique angle, guided by arrows on the hoardings. The inside of the building is much nicer than the outside, being spacious and surprisingly light. I introduced myself at the front desk by the main entrance and was issued with a laminated card with a number on, indicating which desk in the reading room I would be using. Make sure you return it on your way back out. Bags and pens are not allowed in the reading room, so I left them in a locker in the cloakroom that accepts 2-euro coins (which are returned at the end). The gallery on the ground floor was hosting a temporary exhibition about the German humanist Johannes Reuchlin, of whom I was to learn much more later.

Having shed superfluous gear, I took my laptop up to the first floor, where I found the reading room. There I signed a form while the librarian checked my passport and I was issued with my laminated Landesarchiv pass, that would also allow me to use any of the other branches of the Landesarchiv network. The fluent English-speaking librarian indicated that the boxes I’d ordered had arrived, and I was presented with them two by two. Somewhat baffled by said boxes, I carried them over to my assigned desk. It was then I began to understand why I’d had such trouble ordering individual manuscripts.

Shelfmarks in the Hauptstaatsarchiv begin with a letter, indicating a category of material. Stuff that begins with A comes from the archives of the County, Duchy and Electorate of Württemberg up to 1805. Territory acquired later is organised under B. While theoretically historically tidy, practice is messier, with H containing things that technically belonged to A and B but had been removed on ‘diversen Gründen.’ Most of these 15 categories relate to different archives. The manuscripts I was interested in were all in J, ominously entitled ‘Collections,’ ranging from seals, coats of arms, aerial photos and American military government files. Given the heterogenous nature of this material, rather than giving me the exact manuscript, I was presented with the box in which it was contained with several dozen other manuscripts and invited to sort through it.

This process was a lot easier than I’m making it sound. All the manuscripts are kept in labelled folders arranged in numerical order of shelfmark, so sifting through them was relatively painless. As this suggests, none were complete manuscripts, with the largest being a couple of bifolia. There are some real treasures here, but this state of affairs made my visit a little pointless, as the minitexts project is mostly interested in texts in more complete manuscripts. (Unkind thoughts concerning Bernhard Bischoff’s catalogue, which had indicated to the minitexts team that the manuscripts would be rather more substantial, may have gone through my head at this discovery.) I worked through my boxes quite quickly. There was no problem with taking photographs.

A snag emerged when I realised one of the manuscripts I was looking for was missing, because the relevant box had not been brought up. The Hauptstaatsarchiv sends someone to fetch material ordered from storage four times a day, so this wasn’t a disaster, but placing that order required a team of librarians trying to make the online system work as they encountered the same problems that I had done previously. This reinforced my sense that they weren’t entirely used to people wanting to look at their early medieval material (which is a shame, because there is a lot of it.) I spent the half hour that it took the box to arrive chatting to the librarian, who proved to be an expert in German Renaissance Humanism. I learned some fascinating things about Reuchlin’s advocacy of Hebrew learning and tolerance for Jews, a position that survived a run-in with the Inquisition.

Another thing to watch out for is that oversized items are not always kept in the box their shelfmark would suggest they are in. This was the case with my last item, J 522 B IXb Nr. 626, which came from a Tours Bible. These are massive items, produced at St Martin’s at Tours in the last years of the eighth and into the ninth centuries, initially under the leadership of Alcuin of York. The huge pages were not going to fit in the box, something I realised after the last collection of material from storage had taken place. When I raised this with the librarian, he said that he would consult the person doing the fetching. ‘I think he will go back to find it,’ the librarian told me solemnly, ‘he is an honourable man who understands his duty.’ So, it proved, and half an hour later I was indeed admiring the magnificent pages of J 522 B IXb Nr. 626.

Concluding Thoughts

All in all, I would say that I had a largely positive experience with the archives of Stuttgart. They contain wonderful collections that are well worth investigating. The staff were universally friendly and helpful, which meant that potential stumbling blocks like difficulties with ordering material or non-obvious buzzers could be navigated around. Above all, they communicated very clearly that they were happy that people were using their collections, a very welcome, and not always universal sentiment.

*Although one not entirely without its compensations, if you can see the vast chorus of songbirds that take roost among the towering cranes that loom over the building site in the rosy light of early evening.

Charter A Week 78: Meet the New Dux, Same as the Old Dux

With this Charter A Week, we enter a new age: as 2022 finishes, so too does the reign of Louis IV. Louis died young, aged only in his mid-thirties, in a hunting accident. One source remembered him as ‘having led his whole life full of troubles and strife’, and indeed his final year or so was somewhat anti-climactic. One of the reasons for this was that his patron Otto the Great was locked in the last major rebellion of his career, as his son Liudolf and son-in-law Conrad the Red allied with dissident elements to try and regain influence they perceived they were losing at court.

In the West Frankish kingdom, a combination of these difficulties and Louis’ death opened the door for Hugh the Great to make one last stab at becoming secundus a rege, second only to the king. In return for a promise not to make trouble, Hugh was allowed access to the new king, Lothar. Lothar’s main guardian was his mother, Queen Gerberga, with hefty input too from her brother, Otto the Great’s new point man in Lotharingia, Archbishop Bruno of Cologne. They decided that, to stabilise the first period of Lothar’s reign, it was worth giving Hugh access to the king to legitimise some of his pet projects. And so we get documents like:

D Lo no. 2 (954-955)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.

Lothar, with divine clemency propitious most excellent and most powerful king of the Franks of youthful age.

If (preserving the custom of kings) We confer any supplement on Our followers through a precept of Our defence, We hold most firmly that this will eternally benefit the increase of Our honour.

Wherefore We wish it to be known to the followers of God’s holy Church and of Us, to wit, present and future, that Hugh, duke of the Franks and nearly the most powerful man in the whole empire, and Gilbert, special count of Burgundy, the strongest knight of the aforenoted Hugh, and Count Theobald [the Trickster], Our follower extraordinary in everything, came and asked Our Highness and the dignity of Our Sublimity, strenuously beseeching that We might deign to have a precept of immunity made for Witlenc and his sons, to wit, Guy and Norduin, concerning certain goods of Saint-Beurry lying in the district of Burgundy. These goods are sited in the district of Burgundy, as We said, in the estate of Cheilly on the river Dheune, that is, 10 and 8 manses and half a church in the county of Beaune, with another entire church in the county of Chalon, named in honour of St Lupus, sited on the aforesaid river.

Lending the ears of Our Serenity to their petitions, preserving the custom of kings, We commanded this precept be made to the people spoken of, and (led by free-flowing piety) We confirmed it, on the condition that the said Witlenc and his two sons Guy and Narduin should have, hold and possess it in their lifetimes, and after the course of their lives it should all return to the aforesaid basilica of Saint-Beurry.

But that the writing of this precept might be held more firmly and creditably, and be more diligently conserved by all in future times, We confirmed it below with Our own hand and We commanded it be signed with the impression of Our signet.

Sign of Lothar, glorious king of the Franks.

Chancellor Guy witnessed on behalf of Artald [of Rheims], archbishop and archchancellor.

Enacted in the town of Paris, in the first year of the reign of the most glorious king Lothar, in the 13th indiction. 

This act, issued some time between the middle of 954 and the middle of 955, is more pointed than it looks. For one thing, its protagonists either are about to, or have just (probably the former), launched a military campaign on Poitiers. This campaign would not be a massive success: Lothar would acquit himself well (doubly well for someone only just pubescent) on the battlefield, but the siege of Poitiers was a failure and Hugh and his men retreated home ingloriously. (The embarrassment of the defeat was remembered at Sens decades later.)

To justify this war, we have Hugh the Great with titles as grandiloquent as they had been since the early years of Louis IV. ‘Nearly the most powerful man in the whole empire’! After decades of warfare, it was as close as Hugh could have come to validating the position he had always sought. Even more, the presence of Gilbert of Chalon, now Gilbert of Burgundy, indicates that a significant shift has taken place in the balance of power. Hugh the Black, duke of Burgundy, was dead. Gilbert had taken his place, but Gilbert was also deeply ensconced within Hugh’s network of allies: one of Gilbert’s only two children was married to Hugh’s son Otto and the other to Hugh’s nephew Robert. From being a counterbalance to the Robertians, it looked like Burgundy might swing fully into their camp. It is thus noteworthy that Burgundy is described as a ‘district’ (pagus) – usually some more prestigious word is used. The hint, I think, is that Burgundy has been reduced to a mere appendage of Hugh’s ducal power. How that situation would play out, we will see next year, as we dive into the long, poorly documented reign of Lothar.

Finally, a brief bit of housekeeping: with Christmas and the move back to the UK from Tübingen, my buffer has run low. As you future people of the year 2023 read this, I am writing it at the end of December 2022, about to leave for the US to finish our wedding celebrations. As such, I’m going to be taking a week off. Normal service (minus a bit of rejiggling to sort out the scheduling of Charter A Week) will resume with another post from Sam on the 12th.

Cologne Columns: St Gereon’s Basilica as a Model for Aachen

In retrospect, it has to be said that my research trip to Cologne and Aachen in February 2022 was not necessarily the best organised. My key error was the timing. I arrived on Thursday 24th, which proved to be the first day of Carnival. As I walked out of the train station in the shadow of the cathedral, the streets of Cologne were already filling up with crowds, glitter and vomit. My hotel in the centre of the city proved to be on top of a nightclub, and my room vibrated at night. Worse still, a large number of the museums and churches I wanted to visit were closed in the face of the revelry.

These were not ideal circumstances for gaining insights about the past. And yet the trip vindicated itself for me by creating the circumstances in which I could encounter two churches on consecutive days. The first, the celebrated Palace-Church at Aachen, was an old friend that I had visited several times before. The Carolingian core of the building, including the spectacular octagonal nave, is the largest remnant of Charlemagne’s Aachen still standing. It was originally part of the palace-complex, linked to the Great Hall by a series of corridors. Although the interior decoration that you see in the church now is mostly a nineteenth-century reconstruction, it’s still an extremely impressive statement of Carolingian power and ambition.

The church was at the heart of Charlemagne’s plans for Aachen, with dendrochronology suggesting that its construction predated that of the Great Hall. The great dome above the nave is proportionally taller than any other previous dome that we know of, and constructed with a very different technique to pre-existing Roman and Byzantine examples, using innovative quick drying mortar. It was also built very swiftly. Analysis of the timber used in the dome indicates that construction started in 793 at the earliest, while Alcuin’s letters suggest that it was nearing completion by 798.

A plausible reconstruction of Charlemagne’s palace-complex in Aachen. Any resemblance to a TIE Fighter is entirely uncoincidental. (source)

It’s a remarkable piece of work and one that has inspired considerably scholarly debate about what model inspired its unusual design. Popular suggestions have included buildings from Constantinople, such as the Hagia Sophia or the Church of Sergius and Bacchus, and from Jerusalem, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or the Dome of the Rock (commonly thought to be Solomon’s temple). Both of these cities loomed large in the Frankish imagination. That said, Charlemagne’s major interest in Jerusalem really took off after 797, by which point the dome at Aachen was well underway. Constantinople remains a possible model, albeit one Charlemagne never saw.

More convincing to me is the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, which Charlemagne visited multiple times. After his first visit to Ravenna in 787, he had mosaics and marbles brought from the city to him as tribute. When he wasn’t stripping Ravenna of treasures, Charlemagne was giving them to the city, including a table adorned with an image of Rome on it. Ravenna may have had a special significance as the city associated with Theoderic, who Charlemagne modelled his kingship and facial hair on. A statue of the Gothic ruler stood in Aachen, taken from Ravenna in 801 when Charlemagne visited as his first destination after his imperial coronation in Rome.

But on my ill-timed visit to Cologne, quite unexpectedly I encountered another possible model for the Palace-Church. The Basilica of St Gereon in the north of the old city, outside the Roman walls, is in a rather more battered state than the Palace-Church. It was badly damaged in the Second World War and nearly collapsed in 1952. The church as it stands is a patchwork, where the late antique and medieval layers mingle with the modern sensibilities of its restorers. But you can still get a sense of the spectacular building, first constructed in the middle of the fourth century. The main building consists of an enormous central oval with fourth conch-like niches and a large apse to the east, clad in marble and porphyry with mosaics on the walls and floors. The impressive decagonal dome above this structure dates to the thirteenth century.

A model of a model. A model of early medieval St Gereon’s displayed in the current church. Photo by author.

In the sixth century Venantius Fortunatus celebrated the building in a poem, saying that it had been repaired by Bishop Carentinus, calling it the golden temple. By this time, the church had acquired an association with the Theban Martyrs. A little later, Gregory of Tours made reference to the Church of the Golden Saints in Cologne, where Gereon and the Theban Legion were martyred, whose relics healed the city’s bishop Ebregisel of a nasty headache. Even in its somewhat decayed current form, it’s an imposing building on a grand scale.

Before I go any further, I should note that I’m not the first person to think that St Gereon’s might be a plausible example for the Palace-Church at Aachen. Indeed, the Centre Charlemagne in Aachen includes a model of St Gereon in its exhibition next to one of Charlemagne’s church. But it strikes me that it’s not a common comparison to make. ‘Why is no-one talking about x?’ is among the most tedious genres of blogging, typically flavoured by misplaced righteous anger, particularly because someone always is actually talking about x, but I think in this case it might be justified. So here goes my attempt to make the case.

The oval St Gereon’s doesn’t match the octagonal nave at Aachen, nor were they built in the same way. But the basic structure of large impressive domed building with a westwork from which a monarch could overlook proceedings while being highly visible is both unusual generally and similar between these two instances. We also have the admittedly very late testimony of Arnold of Born, deacon of St Gereon’s, who wrote in 1229 that Charlemagne had taken marble columns from St Gereon’s to decorate the second level of the octagon in Aachen.

The most obvious advantage St Gereon’s has as a model is straightforward proximity. The two churches are a day’s walk (less than fifty miles) away. Although the two structures were built in different ways, it would have been very easy for the builders working in Aachen to visit Cologne for inspiration, something not possible with Ravenna, Constantinople or Jerusalem. Cologne was also a place that Charlemagne was familiar with, using it as his base for campaigns in Saxony in 782, 789, 794 and 804. In his will of 811, Charlemagne listed all the cities that alms are to be given to. Cologne is the first one mentioned from north of the Alps.

The Frankish monarch had an exceptionally close relationship with Bishop Hildebald of Cologne, who he appointed court chaplain in 794, with responsibility for the Palace-Church then being built. Hildebald travelled with Charlemagne and was raised to archiepiscopal status for his services. Although often away from his see, in his time Cologne cathedral developed into a great centre of the Carolingian renaissance. Interestingly, when Hildebald died he was buried in St Gereon’s rather than in the cathedral, suggesting a special status associated with the building.

St Gereon’s had been a place of power in the Merovingian period. Theuderic II had received the submission of the Austrasian nobility outside St Gereon’s. It may also have had an imperial aura. By around the year 1000 we have evidence for claims that the church had been founded by Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, in honour of the Theban martyrs. It’s unclear whether this was a story that was familiar in the 790s, but it might have added its desirability as a model.

Is this an overwhelming case? Most certainly not. But I think it’s as good a case as any of the other supposed models for the Aachen church have and probably better than any but San Vitale. Yet it’s not a comparison that you encounter very often, particularly in anglophone scholarship. I think this is mostly a simple knowledge issue. Despite its spectacular size, St Gereon’s isn’t particularly famous. It tends to get lost in the shuffle with the numerous other late antique and Romanesque churches of the city. The strong vibe I got from the very keen caretaker who kindly showed me around it when I visited was that it doesn’t get a great deal of footfall. By contrast, places like the Hagia Sophia and San Vitale are part of the basic background knowledge that anyone at all interested in the early medieval period can draw upon. The recent and necessary push to include the Middle East and the Caliphate in our understanding of the period means that the Dome of the Rock is also increasingly on our radar.

But I think it also speaks to another couple of trends in scholarship. The first is the continued conviction that the Carolingians had no interest in cities. As a consequence of this position, the importance of urban churches like St Gereon’s, even when they’re right at the heart of the empire, gets continually overlooked. The second is the tendency to emphasise the global interests of the early medieval past at the expense of the local. Regular patrons of this blog, as well as those unhappy penitents who read my work, will know that I like nothing more than discussing the Carolingians and the wider world, whether its diplomatic relations with the Islamic world or the spread of ideas and culture across the Mediterranean. These connections are real and important. But it’s vital to make sure that in doing so we’re not overlooking what was right underneath the noses of the people we study. Distance mattered and we should be cautious about assuming a far away model when one existed not a day’s ride away.

Despite the chaos of the carnival, my trip to Cologne and Aachen last February was a fabulous expedition, in which I learned a great deal from my wonderful companions. I benefitted greatly from seeing places in person. I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t have drawn a connection between Aachen and St Gereon’s if I hadn’t visited them in two successive days. In doing so, I learned a very great deal.

How wealthy were the Carolingians?

Super wealthy. Thank you for reading!

…can’t get away with that one, huh? Well, I tried. Anyway, it’s an important question, and my mind came back round to it recently because someone on Twitter asked it straight up:

Part of the reason this is an important question, and one which is specifically important to me, is because of the reasons for tenth-century Carolingian “decline” is supposed to be the amazing disappearing fisc, the idea that the Frankish monarchs of the ninth century, needing to buy support, give away all of their land and therefore ended up too poor to control the aristocracy. The two giants behind this picture were James Westfall Thompson and Jan Dhondt, especially the latter. Dhondt traced the pattern of land grants in surviving royal diplomas and found: 1) Louis the Pious gave away more land than Charlemagne; 2) Charles the Bald gave away even more land than that; 3) the tenth-century Frankish rulers gave away almost none. Dhondt concluded that the tenth-century rulers had no land, and that their poverty was a fundamental cause of the century’s political disasters. This can still be found, more-or-less explicitly stated in a lot of places: a key change between the ninth century and the tenth is that in the latter magnates were richer and kings were poorer.

I’ve never liked this much. On a basic level, this is because it finds very little direct support in the sources: if kings were poorer after the latter part of the ninth century, no contemporary author seems to have noticed.* But on a deeper level, it goes back to the original question: how wealthy were the Carolingians? This question, you’ll note can be understood two ways: both ‘what quantitative extent did Carolingian richness have?’ and ‘in what ways were Carolingians rich?’ These two questions are connected, and the answer to the former has to inform our view of the latter.

The first question has two answers: 1) we don’t know; 2) probably neither did they. The first of these is pretty straightforward. We don’t know how much land the Carolingians had. Attempts have been made to measure ‘the fisc’ based on charters, but as Charles West has noted such attempts do not take into account the fluid nature of earlier medieval land-ownership. Even worse, we don’t have a clue how much property didn’t make it into the record, and we have no good basis for guesswork. Moreover, this is just land. We definitely don’t know what kind of resources they were able to deploy on the basis of ‘governmental’ income – fines, gifts, tolls, etc. And we definitely definitely can’t measure how many resources they were able to deploy in an indirect manner. Dhondt’s methodology is probably the best anyone’s come up with for measuring change over time, but it’s been pretty comprehensively demolished by now. Any quantitative measurement of Carolingian wealth, therefore, is based on seriously shaky foundations, and statements of global change over time are basically indefensible.

The second may be more surprising. The Carolingians, after all, are supposed to have been concerned to the point of neurosis with record-keeping and accounts. We even have documents such as the Capitulare de villis which testify to a concern with accounts. But is this really about finances? Documents such as polyptychs and other kinds of land register are rarely complete. One thing I’ve been doing recently is looking at the pouillés of the diocese of Rheims trying to identify some land in Provence which Flodoard mentions – and it’s not there. Nor is the land we know the church of Rheims had in Aquitaine. We have seen on this very blog that ecclesiastical institutions could apparently forget they owned land relatively close to home. At the very least, therefore, it is overwhelmingly probable that the information Carolingian-period elites had about their land-owning was patchy.

I tried using an AI image generator for blog illustrations. This was the result for ‘Medieval Manuscript Excel Spreadsheet’…

There are also questions of practicality. Note that in the previous paragraph I slipped from talking about ‘wealth’ to ‘land-owning’, which are not quite the same thing. You have to be able to use the products of the land to meaningfully generate wealth out of it. The Capitulare de villis orders estate stewards to list the income from hides, skins, horns, honey, wax, oil, tallow, soap, mead, vinegar, beer, grain, chickens, eggs, geese, fish, ironmongery, shields, shoes, lead-working, and horses (this isn’t completely comprehensive but it’s representative). What all these things (other than eggs) have in common is that they are relatively simple to preserve. If the estate is in, say, Flanders and the king is in northern Italy, he can still use shields in a way he can’t, say, onions. We know that lords did want estates to produce vegetables, but they can’t have made a real difference to levels of wealth unless the lord was close enough to tap them.

On the other hand, there are also questions about appropriations. Monasteries acted as cash cows for elites. Think here of King Odo’s gifts to Arnulf of Carinthia taken from the treasury of Saint-Denis, which so vexed an anonymous monk. For all intents and purposes, these items were part of Odo’s royal resources, and were used for his political purposes- but could we or he actually account for this as ‘royal wealth’? Shouldn’t we be imagining a scenario where Odo shows up to Saint-Denis, says ‘I need something to impress the big dude in the east, whaddaya got?’ Kings, and by extension other elites, probably didn’t know how wealthy they were because they couldn’t know how wealthy they were. Wealth was not measurable because it was a product of power, not a precondition for it.

So how were the Carolingians rich? Not, I think, in terms of anything which could be put on a balance sheet. The Carolingians certainly ordered balance sheets made, but their purpose was, I think, more moral than fiscal. The aim was to record and register so as to be seen to be a just and worthy steward of the realm rather than because that was how you knew what your resources for a given period were. Revealing here is a diploma of Charles the Simple for Compiègne in which he donates land in Verberie, giving the names of the people who used to dwell on its manses some time ago (ex antiquo) and which he found written in the estate’s polyptych: it didn’t matter that this information was out of date, it simply mattered that records had been used and thus the moral duty of kingship had been fulfilled. Royal wealth came from having the prestige and the connections to get what kings wanted, whether that was ‘give me cheese’, ‘give me the contents of your monastic treasury’, or ‘take thirty men and march over the Alps to Italy’. In this sense, moreover, the tenth-century rulers were basically as wealthy as those of the ninth century.

We return, finally, to the original question: how wealthy were the Carolingians? The options were ‘enough for the matter at hand’ or ‘not enough’. Generally, the former applied to kings. Sometimes, the latter. A spreadsheet, though, would not have been the greatest help to kings in working out which applied to them in the moment.

*I’m ignoring here two things: 1) a bunch of sources wherein Louis IV complains about being stripped of all resources in 946, because in this case the unusual circumstances mean that the complaints are literally true but also very temporary; and 2) a bit in Aimoin of Fleury where he says that Charles of Lower Lotharingia ‘grew old in private houses’, which has been interpreted as meaning that the West Frankish kings didn’t have enough resources to carve out a sub-kingdom for him but realistically just means that Lothar didn’t trust him enough to entrust him with public office.