Some Mad Ideas about Khazarian Archival Practice in Very Early Rus’

If one of the themes I’ve narrowed in on for my vikings research is cult, another is documentary practice. This is perhaps unsurprising given who my doctoral supervisor was; but what is surprising is that for such a nuts-and-bolts (Cnuts-and-bolts, snrk) subject, in this context it goes in some very strange directions. Almost inevitably, the culprit is the Rus’, who, rather like the Peace of God, seem to attract this sort of thing. General evidence for Rus’ literacy is well after my period, although what there is is pretty abundant, including a whole treasure trove of birch-bark letters from Novgorod and a fairly extensive chronicle tradition that a certain strain of scholarship wants to push back about a hundred years earlier than our first evidence for it. Where things get strange is looking at the tiny scraps of information about what was happening before, say, the mid-eleventh century. Fair warning, because this is a blog post not any kind of final or reviewed work, I’m going to be throwing out a lot of crazy ideas and many of them will be wrong. But what’s this blog for if not for exploring ideas that would never make it into print?

So, let’s start at the very beginning. What writing was in use in the world of the Rus’ before, say, c. 1000? We have evidence, exiguous though it mostly is, for five main scripts. First, unquestionably, Hebrew. The famous Khazar Correspondence shows that by the tenth century the Khazar rulers were conducting diplomatic correspondence in Hebrew. However, whilst this is unambiguous, it’s also uninfluential: there’s no evidence of the Rus’ using Hebrew or even really engaging with Judaism. (I’d love to find evidence for this, but it seems to be conspic. by its a.) Second, Greek. This is pretty straightforward: Greek-speaking communities in the Crimea encountered the Rus’ from an early point, and as we’ll see shortly the Byzantine emperors probably communicated with the Rus’ in Greek. Third, Norse runes. There’s much less runic text from former Rus’ lands than you might imagine: a bit of graffiti scratched on coins, an engraved stick from Staraya Ladoga, a runestone in modern-day Ukraine. There are, however, hints that it might have gone further. The Life of St Constantine refers to its eponymous hero staying in Cherson, in Crimea, where he encounters a Gospel and Psalter written in ‘Rus’ letters’ (росьскꙑ писмєнь, ros’kyi pismen’). Exactly what this means is unclear. It’s certainly not Cyrillic. The general consensus is that there’s been a mistake in the manuscripts and it’s in ‘Syriac letters’. I don’t really like this idea, because if it’s an error it’s an early one, since some form of ‘Rus’ letters’ is in every extant witness. I prefer, myself, the idea that it’s in runes. We don’t – as far as I’ve been able to find – have any surviving runic Gospels, but by the time of Constantine in the 860s there had been Scandinavian Christians for at least a hundred and fifty years, and it’s not inconceivable that there had been some translation work. Fourth, Turkic runes. We have a letter from the Jewish community at Kiev which appears to have an endorsement in Turkic runes, possibly in the Khazar language. We’ll return to this later, but for now let’s just not that Turkic runes were at least an option. Fifth and finally, a potential pre-Methodian Slavic script. A Bulgarian tract of c. 900, On Letters, written by one Khrabr, refers to pre-Christian Slav groups using marks and notches as a kind of rudimentary script. It’s vague, and no examples of such a script have been found in the wild; but hey, it’s possible. Overall, our picture is one of heterogeneity, with several scripts co-existing.

Part of the reason the evidence is so fragmentary is because archival practice in the lands of Rus’ was either non-existent or very different from Christian lands. One of the reasons that such a two-horse part of the ninth-century world as Europe is so well documented is the role that that the Church played as an archive. Early Rus’ had no Church, thus no archives. Or did it? After all, we know that Church archives were not the only kind of Western archives. The evidence for lay archives has been extensively documented, although we tend to only find out about such things when they get assimilated into Church archives. We also have evidence for government archives, the so-called gesta municipalia, although these are if anything even more shadowy. This raises a significant point. Simon Franklin has argued that the patterns displayed by the gaps in our evidence for writing in eleventh- and twelfth-century Rus’ suggests that there is unlikely to have been a massive loss of material, rather than that material simply having not been there to begin with. His point probably stands for the later period, but in the different world of early Rus’ it might actually be weaker. The Western analogies suggest one thing that can affect patterns of document survival is if whole types of archive disappear. Could the same thing have happened in Rus’?

Let’s go back to the Khazar Correspondence I mentioned above. This is one of our very few ‘internal’ sources for the Khazar Khaganate, a letter (actually, three different surviving redactions of a letter) written by the Khazar ruler Joseph ben Aaron to the Andalusi statesman Hasdai ibn Shaprut, in the mid-tenth century. Hasdai had written to Joseph because he had heard that there was, in the far-off reaches of the world, a Jewish kingdom and he wanted to find out about it. Ibn Shaprut’s introductory letter survives, explaining who he is and who his lord, the Caliph Abd ar-Rahman III, was. Joseph’s response is interesting: he thanks Ibn Shaprut for the letter but then says that he already knew about al-Andalus, because his ancestors used to engage in diplomatic correspondence with it and this is preserved in writing (ספר, sefer, lit. ‘book’, but can also mean written record more broadly). Elsewhere, he refers to the Khazars possessing genealogical tracts (ספר יחוסים, sefer yikhusyam). There is some supporting evidence for this. Another Khazarian Hebrew letter, known as the Cambridge Document, tells a version of the story of the Khazar debate, when the Khazar ruler invited Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy men to debate with each other at the court (an event likely to be historical, because it shows up completely independently in the Life of Constantine). In this version, the Khazar magnates order books – in this case, the Torah – to be brought forth from a cave in the plain of TYZWL so the holy men can expound upon their contents. If we take this story at something approximating face value – and that might well be a dangerous thing to do – this could indicate that the ‘cave in the plain of TYZWL’ acted as a kind of document storage repository. It doesn’t have to have been an official one, just one that the Khazar officials knew about and could readily access.

We have, then, hints that there were Khazarian archives. You might now be asking, ‘so what’, and that’s simple enough to answer: what if the early Rus’ took over Khazar archival practice, at least for a little bit? The Russian Primary Chronicle preserves the texts of four tenth-century (but, interestingly, no eleventh-century) Rus’-Byzantine treaties, of which three seem to be legit. General scholarly consensus is that these were found in Byzantine archives pretty close to the compilation of the Primary Chronicle at the start of the twelfth century, but this is, as far as I can see, an assumption and there are a few points against it. First, why would Rus’ scholars be allowed into the Byzantine state archives? Second, these treaties were written in Greek but translated into Slavonic, apparently – according to philologists – by someone very familiar with Bulgarian, which doesn’t scream ‘eleventh-century context’ to me. Third, why does the series stop in 971? We know there were eleventh-century Rus’-Byzantine agreements, they’re just not preserved in the Primary Chronicle. (Malingoudi, the most influential scholar of this matter, argues that the putative Byzantine documents came from one of the hypothetical earlier works used by the Primary Chronicle author, but recent research is increasingly sceptical of the existence of these works.) Several of the treaties make reference to there being two versions produced, one for the Byzantines and one for the Rus’. What if the copies we have really are those made for the Rus’, stored in Kiev in archives which in some way derived from Khazarian practice and which consequently don’t preserve eleventh-century treaties either because their maintenance decayed after the end of the Khazar Khaganate in the latter part of the tenth century or because the Rus’ conversion to Christianity in the early eleventh century overwrote (erm, so to speak) Khazarian archival traditions?

The legendary Kievan Letter (source)

A final Hebrew letter, which I mentioned above, may also provide a key to unlocking this mystery. The so-called Kievan Letter, written to Jewish communities abroad in the early-to-mid tenth century to ask for help ransoming a member of their own community who had been taken by bandits, bears an endorsement in Turkic runes which says ‘I have read this’. This bears close parallels to Roman traditions of the legimus endorsement, and was probably put in place by a Khazar official in Kiev to signify that the letter had permission from the local government to be sent. This is interesting, because by this period Kiev was under Rus’ rule. This letter may therefore provide the most direct evidence for the initial maintenance of Khazar administrative traditions under the early Rus’ great princes.

…Or, it would if it were not for the fact that pretty much everything I said just now is is heavily disputed. It’s not clear this letter is original. It’s not clear that the letter was written by the Kiev community rather than to it. The dating is heavily disputed, and paleographical evidence only narrows it down – if that’s not too generous a phrase – from the late ninth to the twelfth centuries. It’s not clear that the runic inscription was put there in Kiev. It’s not clear it’s in Khazarian. If it is in Khazarian, there are arguments over what it says. (For what it’s worth, scholarly consensus still puts the letter’s date in the early/mid-tenth century, I’m convinced by arguments saying that a) it is original (because it bears signs of having been transported from Kiev elsewhere and indeed comes to us from the Cairo Genizah) and b) it was from not to Kiev; but the Turkological wranglings are a) technical and b) as-of-yet unread by me.)

Nonetheless, if we assume for the state of argument that the extremely suspect hypotheses in the initial paragraph are correct, then we put it together with other elements of early Rus’ political culture like their titulature to give a picture of a very early Rus’ state which is, in essence, a ‘barbarian kingdom’ of the Khazar empire rather like the ‘barbarian’ successor states of the Roman Empire. This doesn’t mean a one-to-one correspondence, but just as lots of early medieval Europe looks like evolutions of Roman provincial culture, so too do political-cultural similarities between groups such as the Rus’, Petchenegs, Magyars and Volga Bulghars suggest the importance of regional Khazarian legacies in the ninth century.

Charter a Week 65/2: Judicial Duels in the Loire Valley

The real scholarly commentary was on Tuesday. I just wanted to put this charter up because it’s fun. It’s also, somewhat sadly, the last of our Martinian dispute settlement records. The abbey’s surviving archive starts decreasing in content from the end of the reign of Charles the Simple, and in the mid-tenth century there’s a big hiatus. Even after it starts up again in the 960s, it’s never the same (and indeed I don’t think we’ll be encountering another charter of Saint-Martin again). So as a fond farewell:

Introduction 8 (August 941, Amboise)

A notice of how a certain priest of Saint-Martin named Tesmund, from the castle of Amboise, came on the ides of August [13th August], before the presence of lord Fulk [the Red] and of his son [… and of] Fulk [the Good], and of other noble men residing therein, making a complaint concerning… his allod which is sited in the estate of Avon, which his uncle Ansebald left to him in proper order and he legitimately held until the time when the Northmen took him and led him captive overseas, when Isembert wrongly and against the law held that allod.

Then lord Fulk and his aforesaid son interrogated him for which reason he held that allod. The same Isembert responded that he had bought that allod for his fixed price from Guy, who he held to be a late cousin of Tesmund and for that reason he held it. The aforesaid lords also said that he should show a charter or testimony as to how he had bought the aforesaid allod. Isembert responded that he had neither a charter nor testimony. They also interrogated the aforesaid Isembert if he could have such an advocate as would dare to prove on the field against an advocate of the aforesaid Tesmund that the aforesaid allod pertained more to Isembert through purchase than to the aforesaid Tesmund through inheritance from paternal and other relatives. Finally Isembert responded that he would have his advocate prepared to defend this at the established assembly. Therefore, they judged that both should formally bring their advocates to the first court, who would thus be able… one against the other, and thus they did.

But when they came to the court, the aforesaid Isembert… was able to have [nothing], who would dare defend this against the advocate of Tesmund, because… to everyone who was there that he held the aforesaid allod unjustly and against the law.

Then lord Fulk made him give a bond of 60 shillings because of this, that he formally bring his advocate to the established assembly… he was not able to have. Thereafter everyone who was there judged that Tesmund should make no other judgement that on holy relics with his own hand, because he was a priest… which he did immediately. And the aforesaid Isembert yielded thereafter and surrendered it through a rod. Then not… to the aforesaid Tesmund, that he should seek a notice concerning such a decision, which they commanded be done immediately.

This was enacted in the presence and sight of these people:

[Sign of the holy Cross of lord abbot Hugh.] Sign of lord Fulk [the Red]. Sign of his son lord Fulk [the Good]. Sign of Erard, advocate and legislator. Sign of Arduin the legislator. Sign of Eldemand the vicar. Sign of Wanilo the vicar. Sign of Bernard. Sign of Markward. Sign of Fulculf. Sign of Odalger. Sign of Rainald. Sign of Adalelm.

Given in the month of August, in the year of the Lord’s incarnation 941, or the 4th year of the reign of King Louis, son of Charles.     

Amboise today, which had an Early Modern glow-up (source)

So what’s happening here? We start with Tesmund the priest, for whom everything was apparently hunky-dory until he was captured by Northmen. The circumstances under which he was captured bear some consideration, because it’s distinctly unlucky. Amboise is probably too far upriver to be affected by the fighting in Brittany after 936; but there was a raid into Berry in 935 in which the men of the Touraine participated. Tesmund was probably captured in this campaign – the last we know about on the Loire until the Norman War of the 960s. Anyway, Tesmund is ransomed or escaped, but was a captive for long enough that his estate goes to his cousin who then sells it to Isembard. When Tesmund gets home, he wants his land back.

At this point, the count of Anjou, Fulk the Red, and his son and heir Fulk the Good show up. Fulk the Red is a very old man by now, in his mid-to-late seventies at least. He’s also quite far east of Angers. This charter lends some support to the twelfth-century Deeds of the Consuls of Anjou which say that Amboise was a very early acquisition of the family. Of note, therefore, is that Fulk is probably not holding the mallus court because he’s count of the area. This fits with an argument I’ve made before, that the Carolingian judicial charter tradition covers up a much more flexible and informal set of practices even at very high levels.

In the end, the participants settle on trial by battle. The charter emphasises the problems Isembert has finding someone to support him, to the point that he ends up having to pay a forfeit and Tesmund wins the case. I wonder about the dynamics underlying this. That Isembert can find no-one suggests a stitch up, but the fine of 60 solidi makes me wonder if Isembert wasn’t being punished for being too stubborn and resisting the judgement… In any case, Tesmund gets his land back.

The problem of what to do with captives of the vikings was not unique to Tours. The Old Frisian law-codes, first written down in the thirteenth century but possibly containing older material, have provision for what happens if a child is sold into slavery to the heathens and returns: if he can recognise his land and his close kin, he can reclaim the land without further ado. One wonders if Tesmund wished he had been a Frisian. In any case, this charter is interesting evidence for the problems of re-integrating freed captives back into their original society.

Charter A Week 63: An Unknown Document from Chinon

More synergy! For the last time, mind, if only because I think this is the chronologically latest document I cite in that article… In any case, this is also another special document, because it’s also (drumroll please) unpublished! In fact, other than my article, I think it’s also unmentioned in the scholarly literature; or, at least, I’ve never seen any references to it. So without further ado, here we go:

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Collection Touraine-Anjou 1, no. 167 (May 939, Tours)

It befits everyone to whom pastoral care is at any time committed to solicitously investigate how they might remove any excuse in regard to the allods under their dominion*, lest anyone be able to inflict any molestation on priests or other ministers of the Church attending* to the cells of the saints out of worldly greed.

Wherefore I, Theotolo, although unworthy humble archbishop of the see of Tours, heard that a certain priest of Saint-Mexme, named Elias, and the place of St Maximus, where he rests in body, had been very frequently dishonoured by Our archdeacon Robert and molested by a serious incursion using the excuse of his ministry and Our service against ecclesiastical right deriving from the institutes of the canons. And thus, desiring to completely banish the most savage intention of him and his successors from that place of Saint-Mexme, We made the fixed decision, with the counsel of Our followers of both orders, that for love of God Almighty and out of veneration of His confessor the blessed Maximus We should entirely remit circuit-fees and synod-fees from that place, so that the body of the saint might be more devotedly venerated by priests and by other ministers of the holy Church of God, and be dealt with more securely. Furthermore, chiefly so that no assessment of renders might be carried out there, it was equally worthy that the same place should endure immune from every render of synod- or circuit-fee and also as well from any molestation from archdeacons or lords. Even more than that, I, Archbishop Theotolo, along with the counsel of Our followers, as We said above, and through the sequence of this writing, establish, and in establishing confirm, that the said Elias the priest and his successors should henceforth pay neither Us nor Our successors any synod-fee nor circuit-fee on behalf of that place of Saint-Mexme. Rather, let these go to lighting and food stipends for the same church in alms for Us and Our successors, and for the prize of eternal repayment.

If anyone (God forbid!), roused up by the prick of greed, should henceforth wish to reclaim from the rulers of Saint-Mexme this which We remitted above or inflict any molestation by any evil trick, let them know themselves liable to the wrath of our most pious Lord and aforesaid patron Maximus, unless they quickly come to their senses. In addition, We pray the intention of Our successors in holy pastorality that, just as they would wish their statutes which they have enacted for love of God Almighty and veneration of His saints to be conserved, thus they should permit this thing done by Our Smallness to be violated by no-one. In order that it might be better known and might be presumed to be infringed nor made viler by anyone, We strengthened the current writing with the strength of Our pontificate and established it be confirmed by the hands of Our followers of both orders in Our general synodal convent.

☧ Theotolo. ☧ Dean Badilo. Aimo the precentor. Robert. Gozbert. Ricbert. Arnulf. Iter. Robert. Robert. Bodald. Hildegar. Otbert. Otgar. Adalulf. Mainard. Girard. Odo. Folcuin. Godalbert. Girard. Armand. Girard. Robert. Gogobrand. Gozwin. Otgar. James. Waldo. Berengar. Warengaud. Ingelbald. Benedict. Erchembald. Adalmar. Isembert. Elias. Henry.

Given in the month of May, in the city of Tours, in the third year of the reign of King Louis, son of King Charles.


Image dans Infobox.

So I do have photos from when I went, but I went on a grey and overcast day so Wiki’s is actually nicer… (source)

On a basic level, this document reveals one of the problems with the way they train medievalists. When I did my initial training at Master’s level, I was given a full background in medieval palaeography – only for it then to turn out that I’d be spending most of my manuscript-reading career dealing with Early Modern script. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem except that this means rather than dealing with the careful, simple Caroline Minuscule in which most actual tenth-century manuscripts were written, I have to deal with whatever a hungover seventeenth-century notary splurged onto a page that day. This example isn’t that bad, but some of the readings underlying the above are questionable, and I’ve marked them with an asterisk:

  • Alodis sibi dominissis. This feels like it wants to be ‘dominical allods’, but then I don’t know what to do with the sibi and the clause wants a participle in there…
  • in cellulis sanctorum ministrantium. This, by contrast, looks like a ministrantibus (going with ‘priests and other ministers’) has been put in the genitive by accident, because it doesn’t make a lot of sense as ‘cells of the ministering saints’.

There are probably more – and if you spot any which mean the translation is wrong let me know and I’ll fix it – but at the very least, the gist of this is pretty clear.

This is another example of clergy in the archdiocese of Tours getting on each other’s nerves. In this case, it’s Tours archdeacon Robert and a priest of Saint-Mexme in Chinon. (I have actually been to Saint-Mexme, which is quite a pretty church; but its archives no longer exist – I’ve seen this and a late eleventh-century charter of Archbishop Bartholomew of Tours.)

But what makes this charter more than just another clerical complaint, though, is the type of clerical complaint it is. Archbishop Theotolo of Tours was, alongside Odo of Cluny, one of the hardcore faction in Saint-Martin (where he had served as dean). It is therefore striking that the theology of attacks on Church property here has similarities with Odo’s (obviously, in the masses of surviving Odonian evidence, much more developed) views. It is also not too dissimilar to some Saint-Martin charters we’ve seen before. In the article, I argued this similarity was genetic, that there was a fundamentally Martinian background to these ideas that evolved out of how the Neustrian March dealt with itself. Of course, if you want to find out more, you’ll have to read the article…

Charter a Week 49 – Twilight in Vienne

It’s been almost a decade since we last checked in on Provence. In the middle of the 910s, it was already pretty weird – despite its ruler’s political failure in Italy and subsequent blinding, and, even more importantly, despite the fact that Louis the Blind did not (as far as we can tell) leave Vienne for the last twenty years of his life, it seems to have been a stable polity with Louis’ rule still proving effective. And then, in the mid-920s, it collapsed.

Quite why is a question up for debate. Our internal evidence from Provence consists, more or less, of a handful of royal diplomas – including this one:

D Prov 70 (c. 925)

In the name of God Eternal on high.

Louis, by grace of His favour emperor augustus.

We decree it be known to the industry of all the followers of the holy Church of God and Us, present and future, that Our famous son Count Charles [Constantine of Vienne] approached Our presence, entreating that We might command a precept be made for a man named Bonus, faithful and of one mind with Us and the most intimate obediencer of Our sacred palace, concerning a certain curtilage in Tressin which he bought off Levi the Jew, with fields and woods, and a vineyard held above it, which he exchange with the good Bonus from his inheritance in that estate.

Lending Our ears to his petition, We decreed this letters of Our Eminence be made, through which let the said Bonus and his wife Gertrude be able to obtain, rule and possess firmly and securely all the aforesaid goods in the estate of Tressin acquired by himself as property.

And that this authority of Our largess might obtain undisturbed firmness, We confirmed it below with Our own hand and We commanded it be signed with the impression of Our signet.

Sign of the most serene augustus Louis.

Ubald the notary wrote this.

The abbey of Saint-André-le-Bas in Vienne, where Louis seems to have spent much of his time (source).

The two figures in this charter are the only men (other than the archbishop of Vienne) to appear in Louis’ diplomas from these years: Bonus the obsecundator (which I have translated as ‘obediencer’, but more on which below), and Louis’ son Charles Constantine. Charles’ role is slightly less murky: in the mid-920s he emerges as count of Vienne (itself not a common royal for king’s sons). Bonus, though, is a different question. It is possible that he was basically insignificant – all we know of him comes from three royal diplomas which ended up in the archives of Cluny, so his omnipresence at court may be an illusion caused by source preservation. However, his title of obsecundator is a strange one – as far as I know, it’s the only instance of this – and how it should be translated depends heavily on what you think his political role is.

There’s a chicken-and-egg question here: are Charles (and Bonus) big deals because everyone else abandoned Louis; or did Louis’ promotion of Charles (and Bonus) drive others away? If obsecundator could be translated as something like ‘disability support assistant’, the closeness to the king which the role would have given might produce the latter scenario, but there’s no other evidence for it. Frankly, either case is plausible.

Are there any other hints? Two things spring to mind. First, the deposition of Charles the Simple. West Frankish power up to the early 920s had been significant, and if Louis was in any way connected to it, this might have promoted his regime’s stability. Even more, Charles’ deposition made way for Ralph of Burgundy, a king who already had significant interests in southern Burgundy and northern Provence, and who in 924 met and spoke with Hugh of Arles, although to what effect we don’t know. Hugh of Arles is himself the second factor – in 926 he became king of Italy, and it might be that his departure hollowed out Louis’ regime. I’ve always had trouble with this idea, though, because Hugh had been looking towards Italy with interest for years; and also because Hugh’s bid to become king didn’t seriously take off until after Louis’ power seems to have collapsed. If I were going to attribute Louis’ mid-to-late 920s problems to any one factor, then, it would be the predatory interest of his cousin Ralph of Burgundy looming on the horizon; but really, I don’t know. Research remains ongoing!

Charter a Week 30: A Property Transaction in Three Acts

Technically speaking, I’m spoiling you today, because this week’s Charter A Week is in fact not one, but three charters. In fact, as you’ll see, that’s probably overselling them. Most medievalists are familiar with the concept of the chirograph, where two copies of the same charter are written on the same piece of parchment with the word chirographum in the middle which is then cut through so each party can have a copy of the transaction which can be compared against the other. Here, though, something more complicated is happening:

DD CtS no. 54 (7th September 906, Laon)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Charles, by the gracious favour of divine clemency king.

Whatever We confer by Our clemency on places given over to divine worship at the suggestion of Our followers, We should truly trust God to repay Us thereafter.

Therefore, let the skill of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us, both present, to wit, and future, know that Our most beloved follower Robert, abbot of the monastery of the nourishing bishop and confessor of Christ Amandus, approaching Our Serenity, made known to Our Highness that he had sought from the monks of the aforesaid abbey certain of their goods, once given by that most blessed pontiff Amandus to his monks and confirmed for their particular uses by royal and imperial precepts, but needful and useful to him in Our service, sited in the district of Laonnais: that is, the cell which is called Barisis with everything pertaining to it, that they might concede the same goods to him in benefice for his lifetime alone. But lest his petition should seem absurd and burdensome, and lest he should hence incur the offence of God and His most dear of priests Amandus, and lest he be seen to inflict any harassment on the servants of God because of this act and lest in the course of receiving these stipendiary goods necessary resources fail them, insofar as it can be done, he requested from Our Mildness that We might consign from that abbey and from his demesne the estate which is called Dechy with all of the goods pertaining to it to their particular needs, and that We should deliver it up perennially from the present day to benefit their uses.

We proffered assent, thinking his request just and reasonable, and We commanded this precept of Our authority be made about this matter, and We gave it to the same monks, through which We enact and wish to firm in perpetuity that the said estate of Dechy, which We concede to them at present with everything pertaining to it, should be yielded forever to their demesne, and after the death of Our follower Robert, the cell of Barisis with everything legally pertaining to it should be recalled to their dominion without contradiction from any abbot.

In addition, We decree that whatever was bestowed on the same holy congregation by emperors and kings, Our predecessors, or any good people, in any districts or territories, as We previously confirmed in Our edict made for the same monks at the petition of Archbishop Fulk [of Rheims], should also in the same way now endure perennially undisturbed under the fullest tutelage of immunity.

And that this precept of Our Royal Majesty might obtain inviolable firmness, We confirmed it below with Our own hand, and We commanded it be sealed with the impression of Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Ernust the notary subscribed on behalf of Bishop Anskeric [of Paris].

Given on the 7th ides of September [7th September], in the 9th indiction, in the 14th year of the reign of Charles, most glorious of kings, in the 9th of his restoration of the kingdom’s unity.

Enacted at the castle of Laon.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

DD RR no. 46 (24th September 906, Saint-Amand)

In the name of God, Robert, abbot of the monastery of the nourishing bishop and confessor of Christ Amandus, to the beloved brothers of the same abbey.

We wish it to be known to many that I sought from you some of your goods, given by that most blessed pontiff Amandus to his monks and confirmed for your particular uses by royal and imperial precepts, but needful and useful to me in the service of our lord and master King Charles, sited in the district of Laonnais: that is, the cell which is called Barisis with everything pertaining to it, that you might concede the same goods to me in benefice for my lifetime alone. Because I wish to do nothing presumptuously or by force, as I ought not to, but rather having before my eyes the just judgement of God, and lest I incur the offence of His most holy and dearest priest Amandus, and lest I inflict any harassment on you thereby, I sought and accepted the aforesaid goods by a precarial grant in right of benefice.

And, lest in the course of receiving these stipendiary goods necessary resources should fail you because of this act, insofar as it can be done, I requested from the lord king Charles that he might despatch from that abbey and from Our demesne the estate which is called Decy with everything pertaining to it to your particular needs, and deliver it up perennially from the present day and confirm it to benefit your uses by a precept of his authority, that is, after an agreement had been confirmed between us that I should hold in usufruct, develop and improve the said goods which I accepted from you as long as I live, and not alienate or diminish anything from them; rather, I should endeavour in every way to add and improve therein whatever I can in any fashion, and each year I should have 12 pennies paid on the feast of Saint Amandus, which is the 7th kalends of November [26th October], in vestiture.

After my departure from this light, whenever God wills it, let the aforesaid cell of Barisis in its entirety be recalled to your dominion without contradiction from any abbot. No less should the estate of Dechy be held from this day without any prejudice under your dominion in perpetuity.

But in pursuit of firmness, we had two documents written, made in your manner, which We confirmed below with Our own hand, that they might endure stable and undisturbed, and We had them strengthened by the hands of good men.

Enacted at Elnon, in the monastery of Saint-Amand, in the 14th year of the reign of the glorious king lord Charles, on the day of the 7th kalends of October [4th September].

Sign of Abbot Robert.

[Column 1:] S. Bishop Robert [of Noyon]. S. Count Altmar [of Arras]. S. Count Odilard [of Laon]. S. Count Hilmerad. S. Count Richer [of Astenois]. Count Erlebald [of Châtresais].

[Column 2:] S. Ralph. S. Letrand. S. Eilfred. S. Frodo. S. Walter. S. Ingelmar.

[Column 3:] S. Hugh. S. Rainard. S. Madelgaud. S. Ermenfred. S. Rainald. S. Hagano.

I, Hucbald the notary, related and subscribed this.

One of the surviving bits of Saint-Amand (source)

DD RR III.1 (24th September 906, Saint-Amand)

To the venerable in Christ Abbot Robert of the monastery of the nourishing bishop and confessor of Christ Amand, we, the brothers of the congregation of the same abbey.

We wish it to be known to many that you sought from us some of our goods, given by that most blessed pontiff Amandus to his monks and confirmed for our particular uses by royal and imperial precepts, but needful and useful to you in the service of our lord and master King Charles, sited in the district of Laonnais: that is, the cell which is called Barisis with everything pertaining to it – that is, Vallemont, Haidulphi cortis, Bouvincourt, Mactaldi cortis, Normezières, Fresnes, Pierremande, Mennessis, Cessières, Marcilly, Hauteville, Persicus – that is, that we might concede the same goods to you in benefice for your lifetime alone. Because you wish to do nothing presumptuously or by force, as you ought not to, but rather having before your eyes the just judgement of God, and lest you incur the offence of His most holy and dearest priest Amandus, and lest you inflict any harassment on us thereby, you sought and accepted the aforesaid goods by a precarial grant in right of benefice.

And, lest in the course of receiving these stipendiary goods necessary resources should fail us because of this act, insofar as it can be done, you requested from the lord king Charles that he might despatch from that abbey and from your demesne the estate which is called Decy with everything pertaining to it to our particular needs, and deliver it up perennially from the present day and confirm it to benefit our uses by a precept of his authority, that is, after an agreement had been confirmed between us that you should hold in usufruct, develop and improve the said goods which you accepted from us as long as you live, and not alienate or diminish anything from them; rather, you should endeavour in every way to add and improve therein whatever you can in any fashion, and each year you should have 12 pennies paid to us on the feast of Saint Amandus, which is the 7th kalends of November [26th October], in vestiture.

After your departure from this light, whenever God wills it, let the aforesaid cell of Barisis in its entirety be recalled to our dominion without contradiction from any abbot. And as well, let the estate of Dechy be held from this day without any prejudice under your dominion in perpetuity. And on the anniversary of your demise, a great feast shall be prepared from that estate of Dechy in memory of you, after solemn masses and offerings for you have been carried out.

But in pursuit of firmness, we had two documents written, made in the same manner, which We confirmed below with Our own hand, that they might endure stable and undisturbed, and We had them strengthened by the hands of good men.

Enacted at Elnon, in the monastery of the blessed Amandus in the 14th year of the reign of the glorious king lord Charles, on the day of the 7th kalends of October [4th September].

Prior Ricfred.

[Column 1:] S. Theobert the priest. S. Ageric the priest. S. Ludio the priest. S. Motgis the priest. S. Eligius the priest. S. Madalgar the priest.

[Column 2:] S. Stephen the priest. S. Hildebrand the priest. S. Rodualus the deacon. S. Magenard the priest. S. Gerard the deacon. S. Everbern the priest.

[Column 3:] S. Rather the priest. S. Mainer the priest. S. Blitgar the deacon. S. Dumher the deacon. S. Winebert the subdeacon. S. Lideric the subdeacon. S. Fredenod the subdeacon.

I, Hucbald the notary, related and subscribed this.

So what we have here isn’t an identical copy of an exchange: it’s both sides of a contract, confirmed by a royal diploma. This isn’t as odd as it sounds. There are a fair few Carolingian royal diplomas from the ninth century confirming exchanges, and if I had to guess I’d say that charters like those of Robert of Neustria and the monks formed the basis of those transactions but weren’t subsequently preserved because they weren’t as authoritative as a royal diploma. This raises interesting questions about why there were preserved, though. I can’t think of any other examples of this where we still have all the documents – perhaps some of my learned readers can help?

In any case, these charters are not just rare diplomatic birds, they also provide important insight into West Frankish politics at this point. The first thing to note is that, despite his by-name, Robert of Neustria – for it is he – wasn’t just limited to Neustria in terms of his power-base. Saint-Amand was an important abbey in the kingdom’s north-east, and as its abbot Robert was able to draw on its resources. Not, however, its ideological resources. Note that the scribes felt the need to reclad the transaction in appropriately royal garb for Charles’ diploma, but with Robert’s charter they just changed the pronouns from the monks’ own act. For one of the first so-called ‘territorial princes’, Robert’s authority is not visibly either territorial or princely…

Robert’s charter does, however, shed some light on the composition of the royal court. The witnesses there are all figures from the royal court rather than Robert’s own entourage. We’ve already met Odilard of Laon last week, and from our past and future narrative sources, we know that Altmar of Arras and Erlebald of Châtresais were Charles’ allies. What we seem to have here, then, are some of the more important people at Charles’ court at the time. The problem is, this isn’t a full snap-shot. We have a witness list full of – insofar as we can place them – entirely north-eastern figures, but the transaction is also taking place in the north-east, and the witnesses are thus probably being selected not just for prestige but for relevance. That is, there is probably a selection bias against people who don’t come from the area, meaning that although we can say that Charles appears fairly well-planted in the north-east, we can’t say he isn’t outside of that region. The witness list hides one other bit of foreshadowing, though. See that guy Hagano who susbscribes last in the third column? We’ll see him again in future…

A User’s Guide to the Paris Archives, pt. 2: The Archives Nationales

I have returned triumphant from looking at actual physical manuscripts at the Archives Nationales, so here’s the second and final part of the guide to the Paris archives.

Unlike the Bibliothèque Nationale, which is fundamentally a research library for scholars, the Archives Nationales cater to a more general audience. This is good, because basically everything about setting up there is substantially easier. The first thing to do is to register an account on the website, for which you’ll need an e-mail address. Then, go to the CARAN building on the Archive’ actual site. (Note that the Archives have multiple sites both inside and outside Paris; this guide deals only with the Paris site.) There, you can register for your reader’s ticket. Happily the only document you’ll need is a passport.

As with the BnF, it’s pencils and computers only in the rooms. Everything else has to be left in the lockers. Unlike the BnF, no money is required – these are code-operated.

Then, go upstairs. Again unlike the BnF, there are different procedures for manuscripts and microfilms. For microfilms, go to the microfilm reading room on the third floor. If it’s your first time, introduce yourself at the front desk and the librarian will show you round and explain the procedure. It’s a fairly simple set up: sit at any microfilm reader you like. The microfilms themselves are in draws in the room, and you just go and help yourself to the one you want – bear in mind you can only have one at a time. This is beautifully simple and convenient, but there is a catch: all the microfilms I saw, including those I saw others use, were in inverted black-and-white (black page, white text), which gave me a headache after a while.

For manuscripts, as I said, things are different, although still fairly easy. You need to order the manuscript you want online first; unfortunately, this means that you do need to know the classmark. Also, the system is slightly oddly set up, so that to search for (for instance) the manuscript with the classmark LL 50, you have to enter it into the system with two slashes, like so: LL//50. Once you’ve ordered the manuscript, at 3pm the same day or on the following day, go to the second floor reading room. There’s an issues desk on the right, go to it, show your card, and they’ll give you a place and hand over your manuscript. Sit at the assigned place. Once you’ve done with the manuscript, hand it back at the desk and they’ll give you a new one. At the Archives Nationales, both with the MSS and the microfilms, it appears that one can take photos with impunity.

And that’s it! It’s quite simple.

There are catches, of course. The two big ones are these. First, the Archives Nationales online catalogue is nowhere near as good as the BnF. Whereas with the BnF you can look at the catalogue and have a reasonable idea of what you need to look at, at the Arch. Nat., you might get handed a box full of papers and have to spend a considerable amount of time trying to find what exactly in them is relevant.

I mean, look at this…

The second, and bigger, issue is that there is no wi-fi at the Arch. Nat. At all. So bear that in mind…

I hope these guides will prove helpful, especially to junior scholars (such as myself!) going to the archives for the first time. If you think I’ve missed anything, or something should be added, let me know! My archive needs have been relatively simple, so there may be things I’ve left out or wouldn’t think to include – do leave a comment or send a message.

A User’s Guide to the Paris Archives, pt. 1: The BnF

It occurred to me the other day that, as far as I know, there’s no equivalent of this piece on the National Archives in Kew for their French equivalents, so this is a short stab at producing one for people who might be as unsure of what they’re doing as I was the first time I came.

The Bibliothèque Nationale is, for most purposes, split over two sites: the Francois Mitterand site on the left bank of the Seine, near Gare d’Austerlitz, and the Richelieu site on the right bank, near the Louvre. It is in the latter site that the manuscripts department makes its home, and so that’s what I’ll be focussing on.

To get in, first you need to register. Actually, first you need to go through a security check – make sure your wallet, phone, keys, etc. are in your bag and that your bag is open – but then you need to register. To do this, you need different documents based on whether you’re a student, a member of the public or a professional researcher. Everyone needs proof of identity – bring a passport. Students will need proof of student status – a student card will probably do the trick, but just in case it might be worth getting a formal letter from your institution to the effect that you’re legit. You’ll also need a letter from your supervisor. Members of the public will need, basically, a list of what they need and a good story at the reception desk, the former being critical. It’s easier for professional researchers (I must say, pleasingly so comparing this time to the last time I came here) – all you need is a staff card from your institution (although to be on the safe side I bought a copy of my employment contract as well).

Then, you need to get in to the manuscripts reading room. First, drop your bags off in the locker room. The lockers run on money – you need a 1 or 2 euro coin, which is refundable. If you haven’t got one, ask at the front desk – they give out little tokens which can be used in place of coins; just be sure to return them at the end of the day. Bags, pens and jackets aren’t allowed in the reading room – leave them in the locker. Happily, the BnF provides nifty plastic laptop-holders which make carrying computers around much easier.

Neat, huh?

To get into the reading room, you first need to pass the front desk by the reading room door. To do this, have your reader’s card to hand. You will have to hand it over. Specify as you do so what kind of material you’re here for – manuscripts, books, or microfilms, and whether or not you’ve already reserved them. Then, you’ll be given a laminated red card with a number on it, and a blue piece of paper which lets you pop out to go to the loo (and things like that). The card is important – that is your place. Sit at that place, and not at any other.

Now you can begin to order the documents you want. (Fun, isn’t it?) There are two main types of form: white and green. The green is for reservations in advance. Various documents can’t be ordered for the same day, and are subject to various seemingly-arbitrary periods of delay – check the website to find out the specifics, but most of them are the regional or erudite collections. The white for is for ordering manuscripts and microfilms. Unless you have a special need to see an actual manuscript, you have to see a microfilm if one is available. Fill it out and hand it in at the desk at the back of the room. Here, you will have to hand over your red laminated card. You will be told to sit at your place. If you ordered a microfilm, they will bring it to you. If it’s a manuscript, you’ll get a little piece of paper which you should bring back up to the front desk.

The Salle de Lecteur, taken from the issues desk at the back of the room (image source)

As microfilms are, if not exactly self-evident, something the librarians usually explain to how to use, let’s assume for the sake of argument that you’ve ordered some physical manuscripts. Once you have it, be sure to rest it on the cushions at each desk, and don’t use pen while taking notes. If you want to take photos of the manuscripts, you need to seek permission from the head of the reading room. I found they were fairly good-natured about this personally. Taking photos of the microfilms appease to be something you can just do, or maybe the staff simply didn’t catch me at it…

Once you’re done with your manuscript (or microfilm), take it up to the desk at the back of the room and swap it out for the next one. You can order five of each type of document per day. After finishing with all of them, tell the staff you’re done and they’ll give you back your red card. Take both your red card and your blue piece of paper back to the front desk, hand them over to the member of staff there, and your reader’s card will be returned to you.

Congratulations! You have succeeded in seeing manuscripts at the BnF. Once you get used to the system, you learn to roll with it. Most of the staff – despite the horror stories you hear about French librarians – are fairly helpful, and I get the feeling they’re used to dealing with people who don’t speak all that much French and/or understand the system.

The BnF is of course a research library primarily intended for scholarly use. Things are a little different at the Archives Nationales. However, because as of yet I’ve only used the microfilms there, my guide to that will have to wait until later this week once I’ve gone and looked at the physical manuscripts I need to see…

Blogging at the BnF 1: Aides-Memoires in Eleventh-Century Tours

There’s nothing like Paris in the spring: swearing at a microfilm reader because the zoom function won’t focus properly. Yes, this month your humble blogger is in one of his least favourite major world cities, working his way through a fearsome array of Early Modern charter collections, and discovering that, whilst there are people out there who care about the endless undated chart-notices of dispute settlements from eleventh-century western France, he’s not one of them… In any case, what that means is that this month the blog will be doing something different. Rather than the usual stately progress of one post every Thursday, I’ll be putting something up every time I find an unpublished document interesting enough to blog about. (Of course, if it’s really interesting I might hold it back for publication down the line…)

The first thing to go up, then, is something I came across in MS Lat 5441(4), a collection of the charters of Marmoutier made in the late seventeenth century(ish). The charters of the two major abbeys of the city of Tours, Saint-Martin and Marmoutier, are in a fairly chaotic state, and there are all kinds of things from them that have never seen the light of print. This charter, dating from 1044, is one of them.

Marmoutier today; I believe it’s a girls’ school, actually…

How do I know it dates from 1044? Because when describing when the transaction took place, it begins ‘this is the exchange which took place when Count Geoffrey captured the city of Tours’. This phrase is actually the only dating element, but it’s relatively common in Marmoutier practice: there are several examples of Marmoutier scribes dating charters by newsworthy events, from Hugh Capet destroying a local fortification to King Lothar invading Lotharingia.

What’s particularly interesting about this is the lack of precision. As someone who’s recently lost several bets to his colleagues about when such-and-such a song was a number 1 hit (I could have sworn that Pretty Fly For A White Guy was no. 1 in 2000…), ‘the year when event x occurred’ is no guarantee that you’ll get the right year. But of course, for these purposes, you don’t need exactitude: it doesn’t matter exactly when the transaction took place, so long as you can say ‘oh yeah, when Count Geoffrey took over, I remember that land sale…’ There’s a kind of ‘memory palace’ effect at work here, associating something big with something small so that the one prompts the recollection of the other. It’s a neat little trick to ensure that your transaction can enjoy a few decades of permanence, as long as there are people around to remember it…

The transcription of the document follows; obviously it’s not a formal edition, but if you want the text, here it is:

BnF MS Lat 5441(4)

Fol. 57:

In illa rerum conuersione et mutabilium commutatio=/ne quae facta est cum comes GAUSFREDUS TU=/RONORUM Ciuitatem cepisset aliorum ad alios/ incolarum ad extraneous possessiones & hereditates Deo/ cuique iusta tribuente, transierunt. Unde factum est/ vt prefati comitis satelles quidam nomine andreas/ cognomento ARRIBATUS omnia que fuerant/ Rainaldi IUUENIS civis olim Turonici sortiretur/ Sed quoniam mentis humane auditas limites de=/dignatur habendi et concessa fastidiens in non con=/cessa caeco ruit impetu ambitu, miles ille in terram/ quamdam Sancti Martini Maioris Monasterii, Sapalicum nomine/ quam naturaliter et antiquitus solidam quietamque/

Fol. 58:

Tenebat, violentas inferre manus moliens, totam/ prorsus sibi illam quibusdam quod est ejus generis ho/minum, occasionum preiudiciis vindicare nitebatur./ loci autem Illius monachi conatibus iniustis ob=/viare jus suus reclamando illius iniusticiam ra=/tione convincendo, querelas iustas apud memoratum/ comitem persepe deponendo, stagebant. Tandem/ pars utraque concordie favens in hanc hommuni/ decreto venere sententiam, ut permissu domini/ alberti abbatis maioris monasterii fratrum dimidiam in/ ipsa terra consistentis luci partem, reliqua omnia/ Sancto Martino sicut antea Libere possidente, invita/ duntaxat sua pretaxatus andreas possideant, ita ta=/men ut neque vendat neue donet, neque dissipet quic/quam de sua illa parte, sed tantum ad sua necessaria/ id est ad se calefaciendum vel domum suam, vel vineas/ meliorandas inde accipiat et cetera conseruet & de=/fendat, post mortem uero eius id ipsum in sancti Martini/ dominium redeat, luci uidelicet pars concessa, et ut ali/quam beneficii huius gratiam mercedem maioris mo=/nasterii c [space of around 11 characters, presumably ‘comes gaufridus’ or something] retribueret, sepefato sancto post suum/ itidem decessum x agripennos vinearum dedit, ad locum/ qui dicitur Monasteriolum et II. pratorum ad mem=/breolam. Hec omnia asensu & auctoramento/ comitis Gauzfr{e}idi (e crossed out w/ i) et Vxoris eius comitisse AGNE=/TIS. facta sunt prima[?]tibus ipsis et hugone archiepiscopo/ VESANTIAE, et domno abbate ALBERTO, aliis/que quamplurimis clericalis monastici laïcalis/ ordinis, quorum aliquos firmitatis gratia huic sub=/scripsimus noticiae.

3 cols:

Col. 1:

Domnus Airardu

Walterius precentor

Petrus canonicus

Warnerius maior

Col. 2:

Rainaldus maior.

Ricardus maior.

Rotbertus maior.

Otbertus senior.

Col. 3:

otbertus iunior

Arnulfus malus finis

Rotbertus caput lupi

Martinus furnerius