ICMS Session Report IX: Session 536 – The Court and Courts in the Carolingian World

31 May

Sunday, May 16
Session 536
The Court and Courts in the Carolingian World

My final visit to the world of the Carolingians was another very good session though I’m afraid my report won’t do it justice. At least I managed to get all my books picked up Saturday afternoon so I was able to attend both Sunday sessions.

This session opened with Warren Brown of the California Institute of Technology discussing, “Local Conflict and Central Authority in the Carolingian Formula Collections.”

The timing of this paper couldn’t have been better as I’d just started Alice Rio’s The Formularies of Angers and Marculf: Two Merovingian Legal Handbooks (Liverpool, 2008). I was only at about page 10 of the introduction (this is the book I brought with me to read at K’zoo – you can tell how much reading I got done in 4 nights!) so I hadn’t learned much before the paper, but it gave me something to compare and contrast over the next few days as I worked through the book.

This paper is notable for its level and depth of information. Dr. Brown opened with a brief discussion of the limitations of charter evidence. These provide some insights into local issues and conflicts however they are generally limited to disputes over property. In contrast, formula collections provide information on local, lay disputes for various other issues. These included property disputes but also many other items. In looking at which formula were copied into manuscripts we can get an idea of what type of conflicts actually occurred and what was important to people.

Here is where the huge amount of information started flowing. I’m going to abbreviate this section in a substantial way – I can confidently suggest Rio as a source if you would like to get into details. And surely Dr. Brown will be publishing this somewhere? He should.

Formulae which Dr. Brown discussed include; a receipt of wergild for the killing of men “belonging to a bishop”; a charter of agreement where a man provided property to the kin of a woman he had seized for his wife; letters indicating the need for intercessors and the expected role of bishops and counts in conflict resolution; a letter prescribing pilgrimage as penance for killing someone and; a letter telling someone who has killed a person to immediately visit his bishop.

Brown discussed how formulae may be used by kings with an example from Marculf which relates to the killing of a king’s man while on the road – this was later adapted to cover a property dispute.

Brown believes formula collections contain evidence of real life. They, along with charters, are an indication of the spectrum of options available to resolve disputes. The survival of formula collections and their re-use indicates how later scribes believed in their utility, even including letters issued by a king.

This was a truly excellent paper (again note the terminology change). Dr. Brown went a bit over his time but for a paper of this quality, it was worth it. I’m not going to rate a “best paper” like I have for sessions, or for one based on presentation, but if I was to do so, this paper would have to rate serious consideration.

I have an apology to make for the next two papers. During Jonathan Jarrett’s paper I received a call on my cell (I had the ringer off but the phone lit up) so I spent some time wondering if I should get up to answer it and decided if they really needed me they’d call back – everyone knew I was on vacation and sometimes folks figure things out on their own. During Dr. Koziol’s paper the same person called again so I missed probably 10 minutes of his paper to step outside and answer.

So I may have missed something crucial in the next two papers. I know Jonathan has been checking in on these so I request that if I have an error included here, that he please correct me.

The second paper was by Jonathan Jarrett of the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge on “The Carolingian Succession to the Visigothic Fisc on the Spanish March.”

Those of you who follow medieval blogs must know of Jonathan’s excellent blog, A Corner of Tenth Century Europe. If you don’t, you need to get to know it. In this paper Jonathan set out to describe the level of involvement of the Carolingians in those territories conquered by Charlemagne in his later 8th century Spanish campaign (which incidentally provided the inspiration for The Song of Roland).

When the march was initially established the Carolingians guaranteed that this area would continue to be governed through local laws and under local control. However this did not mean that they were not ultimately answerable to the Carolingians. Following the conquest there appeared to be something of a Visigothic-Carolingian merge of laws. Documentary evidence largely appears to be Carolingian and provides evidence of local revolts. Within the charters issued to resolve the conflict there are references to Frankish capitularies, Salic Law and the Frankish missi domini.

From this Jonathan proceeded into a discussion of the Carolingian administration of the fisc (this happens to coincide with my phone interruption – right in the heart of his paper). There is documentary evidence of Carolingian involvement to the time of Charles the Simple (early 10th century) including grants of land and fiscal grants of immunity. Clearly, up to this time, those in the Spanish March could still attain royal charters and benefits from the Franks.

One of the interesting questions is that of the survival of Visigothic systems. Between the Muslim and Carolingian conquests Visigothic systems were accountable to Muslims – did they survive all the way to the Carolingian conquests? For this portion of the paper Jonathan primarily discussed the “state of the question.” There are many variables that need to be looked at. How involved were the Muslims in administering their northern Spanish territory? What, exactly, did local control, as defined by the Muslims, mean? There is some evidence that Muslims set up financial districts which may actually have dated from the 4th century Roman period. These appear to have been periodically renewed from that time. NOTE: Please read Jonathan’s explanation in the comment section, below, clarifying (and correcting) this and the statement in the following paragraph.

There is some documentary evidence of fiscal administration by the Carolingians. There are grants of family property to the Church, one of which has 500 signatures on it. Counts held property which they weren’t able to freely grant without judicial intervention.

Jonathan summarized his paper by stating that it is difficult to determine the level of Carolingian involvement and the precise role they played in the administration of the Spanish March, particularly as it relates to the fisc. The documentary evidence is relatively sparse and it’s hard to reach anything approaching a firm conclusion based on this.

I enjoyed this paper. This was another which focused more on providing information and discussing the state of the question than it did in providing hard answers. As I’ve said before, I think these types of papers have a lot of value. There aren’t answers to everything (actually in some ways there are never answers in history – just the best interpretation of the evidence) and a discussion of evidence, what it does and doesn’t tell, and where it is difficult or impossible to reach conclusions based on it, are very useful. Jonathan also provided a map of Catalonia – a real map, with a north arrow and a scale bar!(see my upcoming session wrap-up for a bit more on this) – along with a bibliography which will be useful for future reference.

The final paper for this session was by Geoffrey Koziol of the University of California at Berkeley, “Power in the Palace in the Last Years of Charles the Bald.”

I heard a lot about Charles during Kalamazoo – at least 3 papers (Chandler, McCarthy and here) which discussed aspects of his rule in some detail. Unfortunately, other than one item, I am not going to summarize this paper. As I said, I stepped out during it. I did take notes on some charter evidence which Koziol discussed, however I do not have a summary or conclusion written down for what that evidence tells us. I was in the room for a rather humorous exchange between Brown and Koziol over some points on which they disagree – I was trying to figure out if I could get some Vegas action on that. :)

Koziol related one item which is quite important. Hincmar of Rheims’ De ordine palatii – “On the Order (Governance) of the Palace” – is commonly held up as an example of how the Carolingian palace functioned. Koziol believes this to be an ideal, not a reality. He stated that when Hincmar wrote this his involvement in the court was very marginal. Koziol believes that this may even have been written as a utopian contrast to a court which Hincmar was no longer a part of.

I believe this was another good paper, from what I heard of it. Unfortunately I missed a large chunk in the middle of it (good thing though, in retrospect).

My final Carolingian session was another good one. Brown’s paper was excellent on all levels. Jonathan’s didn’t come up with the conclusions I’m sure he wished he could have given us but he provided a lot of information and certainly made me think. The questions were very good throughout the session. I can say that my “Carolingianization” experienced throughout Congress was very fulfilling, though I doubt I’ll start preferring to read Alcuin over Ruricius or Avitus any time soon. ;)


Posted by on May 31, 2010 in Conferences


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3 responses to “ICMS Session Report IX: Session 536 – The Court and Courts in the Carolingian World

  1. Jonathan Jarrett

    May 31, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    I think you've caught the single most important point of Professor Koziol's paper there, but I will try and add more coverage when I write it up on my blog (and thankyou for the plug); I'm actually about to start my write-ups now so it won't be *that* far away.As for mine, I think I may have run through too much too fast at the point where you got your call. If I can offer a couple of clarifications:There is some evidence that Muslims set up financial districts which may actually have dated from the 4th century Roman period. These appear to have been periodically renewed from that time.There is some documentary evidence of fiscal administration by the Carolingians. There are grants of family property to the Church, one of which has 500 signatures on it. Counts held property which they weren't able to freely grant without judicial intervention.This actually breaks down into rather more separate points. There are some population centres which appear to remain continuously operational, from the archæological record, from the fourth century right through their time under the Muslims and their space on no-man's land until the Carolingianised administration comes out to meet them once more; there are also various theories about dispersed Muslim fiscal establishments, but I don't think these are at the same places, at least I don't know of any that are. (But you know, what were these sites during the Muslim period, then? I don't know yet.)The fisc is explained, in the tenth century, in Carolingian terms, and there is an idea of public land which means that the counts cannot necessarily treat it as family property, which shows up especially when they alienate it to the Church (even if the relevant churches are run by their family members). The 500-signature document (and sadly they're not autograph–it's discussed by me here) is one of these occasions.So maybe your notes are a little off in the middle but on the other hand you've given me an extra variable to think about :-) Thankyou. There is so much I could do with this topic, it's probably a book project, and sadly I have enough of those at the moment, so I'm reluctantly shelving it for the moment and may try and do small bits of it for future conference papers until my decks are clearer.

  2. Medieval History Geek

    May 31, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Thanks for the comment – you caught me before I did my "come back and read it a few hours later to edit" period. I know I shouldn't post something until it's ready for public consumption but the Bogger preview is garbage – doesn't look at all like the page, different font, color, line size.Here's the problem – my guess is I'd have fixed the line phrase from:There is some evidence that Muslims set up financial districts which may actually have dated from the 4th century Roman period. These appear to have been periodically renewed from that time.To something like (because the above wording implies Muslim control from the 4th century which is a bit ridiculous isn't it?):There is some evidence that Muslims set up financial districts. These districts may be the same, geographically, as Roman administrative districts from the 4th century and were periodically renewed.Which changes it – but doesn't change it correctly. And for some reason I wrote "signatures" in my notes though of course oath-swearing in charters back then wasn't like the American Declaration of Independence where everyone grabbed a pen. Not sure what I was thinking there.That's the problem (2 actually) with writing up summaries with this level of detail – first is if I get a critical detail wrong and second is what if I omit something critical to the argument because I don't recognize its importance? Particularly when I'm discussing something a bit out of my period.

  3. Jonathan Jarrett

    June 1, 2010 at 9:31 am

    No, signatures is quite correct; there really are 493 names on that parchment, twice. It's just that other than a few witnesses they were all actually written by the scribe. You're quite right that it's unusual that they be given as signatures, though, almost everything about that document is unusual.I wasn't very clear about the Muslim maybe-manors. This is because I don't really believe in them but I don't yet know what I think instead.


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