Monthly Archives: May 2011

If You Couldn’t Live as a Virgin at Least You Could Die as One

I originally had written a much longer post but I have one significant aspect of Radegund’s portrayal (or at least I consider it significant) that I decided deserves its own post, which will follow soon. Don’t worry, it’s mostly written since I simply copied it from this one.

One of my favorite Saints is Radegund. There are a lot of reasons for this. First and foremost, she’s a Merovingian woman and women and peasants are, IMO, the two most underrepresented groups in the Middle Ages, even more so in the Early MA. Second, we have a lot of source material for her. 1 Third, some of the source material says different things. And finally, it’s just a good story. She ranks high on my list of favorite Dead Holy People.

I recently finished reading Transformations of Late Antiquity: Essays for Peter Brown by Philip Rousseau and Manolis Papoutsakis. It’s a good book with some pretty solid essays. So I’m reading along and I get to Essay XVI, “Radegundis peccatrix: Authorizations of Virginity in Late Antique Gaul,” by Julia M. H. Smith. Good deal – I know Radegund pretty well. Then Dr. Smith writes, “Because she read about virginity, wrote about it and, although not herself a virgin, was extensively written about in virginal terms, she should be evaluated in the context of late antique virginity literature.” (304-305) Cool.

The remainder of the essay talks about how Radegund was portrayed by her various biographers – Gregory of Tours, Venantius Fortunatus and Baudonivia. The vita written by Fortunatus is equated with that of Eugenia who underwent symbolic martyrdom. Good essay.

But I’m going to go in a bit of a different direction and offer my own interpretation of Radegund and how she was portrayed. I can do that because this is my blog and also because I’m not a historian so I can chuck words around when the topic is fun and not damage my professional reputation too much. And I think the Radegund story is fun, from an analytical point of view – there’s a lot to work with.

A brief bio is probably the first order of business. Radegund was born around 520 in Thuringia and was captured around 531 by Clothar/Lothar. She received schooling and became a Christian before marrying Clothar around 540. Somewhere around 550-555 Clothar killed her brother and Radegund fled to Menard where she was consecrated as a deaconess. Around 560 she founded the Convent of the Holy Cross in Poitiers and was named Abbess. She ruled the convent until her death in 586/7 with two notable accomplishments; adopting the rule of Caesarius of Arles and being given a fragment of the One True Cross by Justin II.

We have three main sources for her. Gregory of Tours provides most of his information in his Histories but she also is mentioned in Glory of the Confessors and Glory of the Martyrs. Venantius Fortunatus wrote a vita and she is mentioned frequently in his poems. Baudonivia, a nun from Radegund’s convent, also wrote a vita. All of these, except the poems which are often addressed to her, were composed after her death. These sources have some interesting things to say about Radegund and I think they are very enlightening as to how biographers would portray a subject to promote his or her cult.

Fortunatus’ vita is of most interest to me. While it is never claimed that she is a virgin, virgin references fill the account. It starts early on, “Therefore, though married to a terrestrial prince, she was not separated from the celestial one … she was more Christ’s partner than her husband’s companion.” 2 And, “Because of this, people said that the King had yoked himself to a monacha rather than a queen.” 3 Also, “Who could believe how she would pour out her heart in prayers when the king was away? How she would cling to the feet of Christ as though He were present with her and satiate her long hunger with tears as though she was gorging on delicacies! She had contempt for the food of the belly, for Christ was her only nourishment and all her hunger was for Christ.” 4

So, though trapped in an Earthly marriage, she was at heart a bride of Christ. Of course once she moved into a convent that eased off and the martyrdom began. Even while living with the king she would wear a hair cloth for religious holidays and would regularly lie on the stone floor, praying, under a hair cloth. 5

Once she moved to the convent, things began in earnest. She ate no meat, fish or eggs and gave up bread and drank very little water during the Quadragesima (Lent). 6

But it gets better (or worse). Once during Lent she encircled her neck and arms with iron bands and inserted chains into them. Her body swelled around these to where the chains were embedded in her flesh. 7 During another Lent she took a brass plate “shaped in the sign of Christ,” heated it and pressed it against herself so her flesh was roasted. Another time she took a basin full of burning coals and, “She drew it to herself, so that she might be a martyr though it was not an age of persecution.” 8

Of course mixed in with the burning and freezing and starving and hair cloths were a bunch of acts of charity and miracles. I won’t go into these because they’re pretty standard fare but Radegund’s re-virgination and martyrdom are very interesting, particularly because, while virginity was prized, married Saints, even with kids, are known. 9

In contrast, while Baudonivia mentions the hair shirts and fasting, as well as other acts of abstinence and asceticism, she doesn’t say anything about the self-mutilations Fortunatus relates. Fortunatus chose to portray her as removed from the world but Baudonivia, who knew of his vita and wrote hers as a complement to it, discusses her letter writing, her actions on behalf of the Church and individuals, her traveling to collect relics and, most importantly, her efforts to gain a fragment of The One True Cross from Justin II, the Byzantine Emperor.

Two very different accounts and it’s pretty clear from the use of language and from the incidents mentioned that Fortunatus wanted Radegund to be considered a virgin, or as close to this as someone who had been sexually active could be, and he also wanted her to be considered a martyr. Neither was a requirement to be named a Saint but Fortunatus was clearly a big fan.

Radegund is a great figure to examine. Her vitae and other accounts have everything. You have your violence, you have a martyrdom account, re-virgination – the only thing you don’t have is sex and for that, check out Gregory’s account about what happened to the Convent after Radegund died. 10

Abbreviations used in notes:

VR I – Vita Radegundii by Venantius Fortunatus
VR II – Vita Radegundii by Baudonivia (These are usually referred to as books I and II of her Vita) Both found in McNamara, et al. (1992).

1 Of course it would be nice to have even more. Radegund wrote a lot of letters but unfortunately only one has survived.

2 VR I.3

3 VR I.4 According to McNamara, Halborg and Whatley(1992), the word monacha is a term which later fell out of usage to be replaced by sanctimonial which they translate as nun.

4 VR I.6

5 VR I.5,6

6 VR I.22. At one time Quadragesima could mean any Christian ritual of fasting and prayer but as Fortunatus consistently identifies this as if it were the only one, without providing additional information, it seems almost certain that this was the Lenten Fast.

7 VR I.25

8 VR I.26. This type of self-abuse is rare in hagiography. Saints almost always engaged in some sort of ascetic, strict lifestyle which is portrayed as unpleasant and quite frequently they wore hair shirts or engaged in self-flagellation however behavior such as Fortunatus portrays Radegund as engaging in is unusual.

9 For example, Monegund and Chrothilda. Also, Angela Kinney recounts several of these, though later than this period, in her paper, “The Elusive ‘Happy Marriage’ in Hagiography,” given at the 2010 International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

10 What you basically had was a Medieval version of Girls Gone Wild. A revolt in the nunnery, prostitution, pregnant nuns, etc. Gregory gives quite the account. See, Historiae IX.39-43 and X.15-17.

Special Note: Sometimes events happen that slap you in the face. This post had mostly been written when the news story about women undergoing “virginity checks” in Egypt came out. I scrupulously steer clear of current events in this blog. However I want to stress that though I am somewhat light in my use of the term “re-virgination” and with the title of this post I am not, in any way whatsoever, as light about the abuses and atrocities committed upon women in the name of sexuality and sexual reputation. In a world where “honor killings” are committed because a woman has the temerity to be sexually active, where women go to prison for being raped, where female genital mutilation and operations to restore hymens are commonplace, it is impossible for these things to be taken lightly. I’m going to leave the post as written (I considered a total re-write) because I do think the examination of how biographers portrayed their subjects is fun however these things happening in our world today are atrocities. I hope the tone I wrote this post in will not offend anyone. This note may well take some of the fun out of it, and that’s OK.


George, Judith, trans., Venantius Fortunatus: Personal and Political Poems. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press (1995). ISBN: 9-780853-231790

McNamara, Jo Ann, Halborg, John E. and Whatley, Gordon, ed. and trans., Sainted Women of the Dark Ages. Durham and London: Duke University Press (1992). ISBN: 978-0822312000

Rousseau, Philip and Papoutsakis, Manolis, eds., Transformations of Late Antiquity: Essays for Peter Brown. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company (2009). ISBN: 9-780754-665533

Thorpe, Lewis, trans., Gregory of Tours: The History of the Franks. London: Penguin Books (1974). ISBN: 9-780140-442953


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Leeds Looking for Papers

OK, I can’t for the life of me imagine that anyone who might respond to this wouldn’t know of this already via some other means but John Dillon just sent out a message to Mediev-L announcing that they have some open spots on the Leeds program and are looking for additional papers. So if you’re going to be there and have something that can be ready in six weeks, here’s your chance. You can find details at The International Medieval Congress Website.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 30, 2011 in Conferences


Tags: ,

Kalamazoo 2011 – Day 3

I’ve decided to insert anchors to help people find individual session reports more easily. I’ve added those to my reports from the first two days.

Session 398, Early Medieval History

Session 455, Early Medieval Europe I

Session 511, Early Medieval Europe II

If you’re wondering what happened to day two, I used a different nomenclature. So Saturday dawned, er, dark and gloomy. Had a nice drizzle going on which occasionally strengthened to a full-on rain with periodic moderation to a cold dampness. And the high for the day was about 30 degrees less than it had been the previous two days. Typical May in Michigan weather.

All my books were bought and I for darn sure wasn’t going back to the Exhibit Hall after I’d taken account of the damage the previous evening so I headed up to Bernhard as soon as I finished breakfast and grabbed a spot for myself so I could pull out the laptop and work until it was time to head to, Session 398, “Early Medieval History.”

The first presenter was Benjamin Wheaton of the University of Toronto with a paper on, “Reasons for Byzantine Support of Gundovald through 584 CE.” OK, it’ll come as no surprise that the Merovingian nobility fought a lot. This paper looks at the events of 582-4 and how the Byzantines may have influenced them. This is another paper that stresses my self-imposed space limitations because of the detailed way Wheaton presented his argument. In this paper Wheaton discusses Gundovald from 582-584 and the Byzantine role in his activities. According to Gregory of Tours Gundovald was born, raised and educated in Gaul and once he was grown, was presented as the son of Lothar/Clothar. This was the start of his troubles. He got kicked around and eventually fled to Constantinople. In 582 he returned, apparently with Byzantine support but was quickly defeated by Guntram Boso and retreated to a Mediterranean island. In 584 he showed up again, after King Chilperic’s death and was hailed as King. He tried to set up in Aquitaine but got along even worse than the previous time and was eventually killed. Wheaton believes that initially the Byzantines had supported him so that he would act against the Lombards and help protect their Italian possessions however in 584 the Byzantine goal was for him to intervene in Spain in support of Hermenegild against his father, Leovigild. Interesting stuff. 1

Luigi Andrea Berto from Western Michigan University gave the next paper, “In Search of the First Venetians: Some Notes and Proposals for a Prosopographical Study of Early Medieval Venice.” I’m not very familiar with the rise of the Italian City-States. In fact, my knowledge of the Italian peninsula is pretty sparse for the years after 774. Berto discussed a study he is beginning where he’s going to try to trace the evolution of Venice by tracking the establishment and rise of the great families of the city. There was a fair amount of prosopographical information given; not specific names but how names often evolved from offices and occupations and how early on three names dominated Venice; Iohannes, Petros and Dominocos, which makes tracking their evolution a bit tough. Berti will be scouring Byzantine sources for name information to help determine how power structures and powerful families evolved. He also provided a fair level of detail regarding how study information will be displayed, which I won’t go into here.

What makes a settlement a town? Sébastien Rossignol, an Independent Scholar and someone whose papers I have enjoyed in past years, took at look at this with, “New Perspectives on the Origins of Towns in Early Medieval Central Europe.” I took two full pages of notes for this but basically Rossignol looked at references in charters and literature as well as archaeological finds to examine settlement status prior to the issuance of charters which began in the 12th century. He went into a fair amount of detail with this discussing whether a settlement was described as a civitas, castra, castellan, vicus, urb, etc. Most of these places had little military significance but were primarily the dwelling places of Frankish elites. Even when a place was fortified it was usually described in non-military terms and fortifications may have been as much a status symbol as a defense. Ultimately, he believes that before charters were issued it is very difficult to determine if a place should be considered a town. He suggests using the term, “early urban phenomenon” to describe a settlement. He makes a good argument re the difficulty of determining the “townness” of a place but I’m not terribly enthusiastic about inventing an arcane term because of this. The idea of a town is a relatively recent one and this may be something which just needs to be set aside however Rossignol’s term seems to be as problematic and lacking usefulness. Even with that, I enjoyed this paper very much and considered the entire session quite good. Yet another example of the difficulty of interpreting what people meant when they said something a thousand years ago.

Maintaining my status as hermit in the midst of people, after pecking away at my laptop for a while I returned to the same room for Session 455, Early Medieval Europe I. The first speaker was Walter Goffart, now of Yale University. There are a few folks who won’t need an introduction to anyone familiar with this period and he’s one of them. His paper was, “An Introduction to Christianity for Today’s Novices in Medieval History: An Experiment.” Goffart provided an outline of how he would approach teaching Christianity in the fourth to sixth century to a beginning student of Medieval History. He had seven main points in his outline and the following will only make sense to those who were in the room. It was actually pretty good but I have two areas where I have a difference of opinion with him. One of his seven items was, “Intransigence.” For this point Goffart returned a couple of times to Christianity being a forced, sometimes violent conversion. And it was, but I don’t believe the evidence shows that this is where the bulk of the bloodshed took place. Where the violence really got going was in forcing all Christians to believe the same thing – part of the transition from an underground (though large) movement of scattered groups to a cohesive religion with one belief. This involved the suppression of entire churches, such as in North Africa, or belief systems, such as Arianism (does anyone really believe Arius was the first person to come up with this?). Now once you get into the 6th century, particularly in the East with Justinian, the suppression of paganism became much more hard core but for much of this period, the bulk of the violence was about enforcing orthodoxy/suppressing heresy within Christian groups. The area he left out is the transformation of Christianity from a religion which was practiced largely at homes, in private places, either by families or in small groups, to one which was practiced largely in a communal setting in authorized, holy spaces. I’d need a whole post to really cover this one paper, maybe because I think the evolution of Christianity is absolutely fascinating but I want to stress that this was overall very good, there are just a couple of areas I would change.

The next paper was by Glenn McDorman of Princeton, “Diplomacy in the Post-Imperial West and the Gallic War of 507-510.” This was an examination of Clovis and his actions in the war in which, ultimately, Clovis drove the Visigoths out of Gaul. McDorman argued that Clovis’ actions were perfectly acceptable according to the standards of the time. He did this by framing the discussion around three areas; 1)That there were established practices determining acceptable conditions for engaging in warfare; 2)That Clovis followed these practices and; 3)Examining Clovis’ motivations for the war with the Visigoths. Within this framework, Clovis and his Burgundian ally, Gundobad, had no familial affinity with Alaric (the Visigothic ruler) so warfare was acceptable. McDorman also argued that it is very possible that Clovis did not initiate hostilities and that there is evidence for Alaric being enraged at Clovis to the point where Theoderic (the Ostrogoth ruler in Italy) asked Alaric to allow him to mediate. He believes, contrary to Theoderic’s claim, that while Clovis wanted to remove Alaric’s influence, he had no desire to harm the Visigoths as a people. Ultimately, McDorman wanted this specific war to be viewed as part of a broader set of relations between polities.

The final paper was by Jonathan J. Arnold of the University of Tulsa, “Theodric’s Invincible Moustache.” The purpose of this paper was to provide evidence against the theory that the portrayal of Goths and Theodric with a moustache without a beard was a convention in depicting Goths. The theory is that only Goths are shown with a moustache sans beard. Arnold provided a variety of images to show that this is untrue, including images of Emperors with moustaches, as well as other Barbarians. 2

I really enjoyed this session. Goffart’s and McDorman’s papers were about issues I find very interesting and Arnold’s was just plain solid and another example of people sometimes reading too much into certain pieces of historical evidence.

Next up was Session 511, Early Medieval Europe II. I think this was probably my favorite session this year. Even though it was a bit later than my core period, I was fairly familiar with the issues covered in the papers, yet not so much that I already knew what the speakers were talking about. I have a page and a half of notes from each paper which is going to make a single paragraph summary interesting.

Jennifer Davis from the Catholic University of America was first up with, “Charlemagne and Tassilo in 794: A Final Encounter.” Tassilo was Duke of Bavaria and Charlemagne’s cousin. In 788, after various treacheries, according to the Royal Frankish Annals, he was tried, deposed, sentenced to death with the sentence commuted to his being tonsured and stowed away in a monastery, St. Jumièges. His wife and daughters were also “nunnerized” in a package religiosity sort of deal. In 794 Tassilo reappeared when Charlemagne dragged him out of the monastery back to his Council where he was again condemned and then shipped back. The conventional wisdom has been that Charlemagne’s bringing Tassilo out the second time is a sign of weakness; he was having trouble with Bavaria and paraded Tassilo to provide a visible sign of his authority. Davis believes this should be interpreted differently. She thinks Tassilo’s reappearance should be looked at as Charlemagne feeling comfortable enough with Bavaria to risk bringing him back out, that he could be brought back out and the old memories stirred up precisely because Bavaria was no longer a threat. This also gave Charlemagne the opportunity to use him as an object lesson, sort of a, “See what happens if you screw with me?” Davis provided a fair amount if evidence in support of her interpretation. Good paper, one of my favorites of Congress. 3

Courtney Booker of the University of British Columbia followed with another really cool reinterpretation in, “The Fama Ambigua of Ebbo, Bishop of Reims and Hildesheim.” Ebbo was one of the many people who got caught up and yanked around in the events of Louis the Pious and his sons which took place from 830-840. When the sons rebelled, Ebbo initially remained loyal but eventually joined the rebellion and presided over a synod where Louis admitted to crimes and did public penance. A couple of years later, Louis got the upper hand and Ebbo was forced to admit at another synod that Louis was innocent of what he’d confessed earlier. For a few years Ebbo got shuffled around, confined to monasteries. He got a brief respite when Louis died but then was deposed as Bishop of Reims by Charles the Bald before later being named Bishop of Hildesheim by Louis the German, a position he held until he died. Ebbo was portrayed fairly negatively by contemporaries and Booker took a detailed look at this. Plenty of others took basically the same actions as Ebbo but he was singled out for punishment. Booker believes he was a scapegoat and a primary reason for this is that Ebbo was born to servile status which made him an easy target. However he showed considerable abilities and was sort of a rising star until the events of the 830’s derailed him. Once that was sorted out he again attained pretty significant status. I don’t recall this being mentioned but to me, a key point in all this is that Ebbo was one of the last to remain loyal to Louis. His heading the synod may have been as a way for the rebels to say, “If his most loyal follower is willing to run this, what Louis did must have been really bad.” And for Louis, to have been publicly denounced by his last loyal follower may have felt like a betrayal of the worst type, on a personal level. Ebbo had a lot of chips stacked against him.

The final paper was, “Constructing a Queen: Adelheid’s Great Escape and the Ottonian Image,” by Phyllis Jestice of the University of Southern Mississippi. Before I get started let me say that Dr. Jestice gives a great presentation. I heard a paper she gave in 2009 on heresy during the Ottonian period which I still recall vividly (the basic premise was that according to the Ottonian chroniclers, in particular Thietmar of Merseburg, the Ottonians weren’t too worried about heresy). In this paper she explored the “making” of a person, Adelheid. Adelheid married Otto I in 951 after the death of her first husband, Lothar II, King of Italy. This was almost certainly to provide Otto with legitimacy to claim Italy. A poem (I neglected to note by whom – Odilo?) was influential in the evolution of her cult and a focus of Jestice’s paper. In this poem she is imprisoned, starved, tortured, and held in chains by Berengar of Italy who was attempting to rule Italy. She escaped and married Otto, gave him Pavia and helped him subjugate Berengar. The torture is mentioned in some accounts but not in others. Jestice believes this reads as a fairly tale and while she may have been imprisoned, was not tortured or held in chains, as evidenced by the fact that she later forgave Berengar. Another good paper to close an excellent session. 4

That evening I went to the Pseudo Society Session, something I do every year. I won’t give an account of the papers because, well, you had to be there. They were all very good. Most years it seems that there are two good ones and one clunker but nothing clunked. They were funny, we laughed, drank (beer for me), ate (I had a sub but there was plenty of pizza). The highlight, other than the papers, was meeting Chris Armstrong, Professor of Church History at Bethel Seminary and author of the blog, Grateful to the Dead. He was sitting behind me and I was having one of those, “trying to stare without staring” moments because I thought he looked familiar. Fortunately, from his vantage point behind and above me, he figured out who I was and we chatted for a bit before things got started.

I had thought I might make the dance this year for the first time since my initial Kalamazoo in 2001 but in the end I went back to my room and to bed. I know how to live large, don’t I? Good day, lots of info, I mostly stayed a hermit.

1 For Gundobad, see Gregory of Tours, Historiae, VI.24 for the events of 582 and VII.10-38 for 584-5.

2 Yup – two different spellings for Theoderic/Theodric. I’ve always spelled it with the second “e” but Arnold did not so for his paper I’ll respect his spelling. I still like the extra “e.”

3 For Tassilo see the Royal Frankish Annals for the years 787-8. Pretty much any book on Charlemagne will mention the Tassilo incident. Most recently (that I have anyway) see Rosamond McKitterick, Charlemagne: The Formation of a European Identity, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press (2008), pp. 118-127 with the “traditional” perspective of this incident on p. 126.

4 I’ve seen Adelheim referred to as Adelaide of Italy. Though less renowned, she’s sort of a 10th century parallel to Eleanor of Acquitaine. She was extremely influential. For accounts of the imprisonment see Adalbert’s Continuation of Regino’s Chronicle for the year 951 and Thietmar of Merseburg’s Chronicle, II.5.


Posted by on May 30, 2011 in Conferences


Tags: , ,

Friggatriskaidekaphobia at Kalamazoo

Session 201: Cyril and Methodius: New Research on the Cyrillo-Methodian Mission and Its Aftermath

Session 255: The Archaeology of Early Medieval Europe: Hoarding

Session 319: Miracles and Politics in the Development of Early English Saints’ Cults

Cassian’s Long Shadow

Or if you prefer the Greek form, paraskevidekatriaphobia. I’m a pretty non-superstitious person. I’m mean of course it’s bad luck to walk under a ladder – it might fall on you or the person working up there might drop something. I didn’t see much fear of Friday the Thirteenth going on in Michigan this year either but I like it better than “Kalamazoo: Day 2” as a title, though it may not do much for people doing web searches for ICMS summaries.

After breakfast I walked up to Valley I for the Blogger meetup. I knew of this event last year but didn’t go – I wasn’t sure if it was an academic thing (Medieval academic anyway) and nobody invited me. Since Jonathan Jarrett gave me the thumbs-up, I decide this year I’d show. 1

This was a good move. I got there just about at 8, maybe a touch early and took a seat at a table by myself. I thought I might recognize exactly two of the bloggers and neither of them were there at that point. I didn’t recognize Steve Muhlberger for the second year in a row either. After a few minutes a gentleman came over, asked if I was who I am and it was Steve. Last year Paul Gans, Steve and I were supposed to go out to dinner together. Paul told me the next day that we’d walked right past him. This time I sat 20 feet from him. Must work on my facial recognition skills.

Anyway, Steve and I visited for a bit and other folks started to show up. Lisa Carnell was first. Now if Lisa has a blog, I don’t know what it is but I know she’s the Congress Coordinator so that was way cool. More folks started to arrive. By the time everyone was there, we had Another Damned Medievalist or ADM (who neglected to tell us that she’s thinking of joining The Evil Empire), Jonathan, Notorious Ph.D., Vaulting & Vellum, Larry Swain, and a couple of folks who I don’t remember – I’m thinking Heptarchy Herald was one of them but I’m not 100% on that. Check Jonathan’s blog when he gets his K’zoo stuff up. He’s about 2 months behind by the calendar with his catching us up with what he’s been doing so it may be a little while but I’m sure it’ll be worth it.

This was a good time and I can see why it might have gone over well in a bar. I got to hang out with a bunch of folks who are smarter than me and they managed not to laugh at me (at least I think they were laughing with me). So I had a lot of fun. I enjoyed the Acronym discussion, among others. The bloggers are as smart and entertaining in person as they are on their blogs. 2

After the meetup I drove up to Schneider for Session 201, “Cyril and Methodius: New Research on the Cyrillo-Methodian Mission and Its Aftermath.” 3

The first paper was by Maddalena Betti of the University degli Studi di Padova, “The Rise of ‘Sancta Ecclesia Marabensis’: The Missionary Letters of Pope John VII (872-882).” I’m looking at a page and a half of notes and wondering how to summarize it into a paragraph, which is all the space I’ve given myself for each paper this year. I have a feeling I’m going to violate some rules of grammar in these posts. Betti’s discussion centered around John VII’s letters found in a Monte Cassigno manuscript which she believes shows the Pope’s missionary emphasis. I’m going to gloss over a historiography review she gave summarizing some ways in which history has been misrepresented more recently for various reasons and get to what I considered the most interesting aspect of this. At this point Rome was looking for ways to strengthen its claim against Constantinople for primacy over the Eastern European Church. John’s letters dating from around 873 to Carolingian and Bavarian Bishops use the term “Pannonian” to illustrate, by using the Roman provincial name for (roughly) the region in question, that this region was subject to Rome and should remain so as the church was organized. Later, beginning in 880, in his instructions for how to organize the area into a Metropolitan Church he uses the term, “Moravian” to describe the Church. In Betti’s opinion this was directed to those in the region and would ethnically define the Church. There’s a lot to go through here and entire books have been written about the tug-of-war between Rome and Constantinople over who got their hands on this piece of real estate from an ecclesiastical standpoint. This is one piece of that struggle and shows the ability of the Papacy to tailor its message based on how it wanted to frame a discussion. That last should be no surprise to anyone but the way in which John VII did this is interesting. Lisa Wolverton asked a very interesting question afterwards as to whether the use of the term Moravian would have been an effort to use locally familiar terms rather than a change in the focus of the message. For me, one does not preclude the other and it may have been for both purposes.

Roland Marti of the University des Saarlandes gave a paper, “‘… quasi in signum unitatis Ecclesiae’: East and West in the Cyrillo-Methodian Heritage” which looked at things from the perspective of what the residents of Eastern Europe thought of their new-found religion. They adopted a neutral stance, despite Cyril and Methodius favoring Byzantine interests. The Bulgarians used Slavonic as a language of religion which Marti believes was a means of distinguishing themselves from the Byzantines. Their lettering was Cryllic but they retained the Slavonic for use and the Bulgarian Church showed considerable western influence to the point of their calendars including western saints. Above all, Marti believes they wanted to carve out their own identity and not be either an Eastern or Western Church.

The final paper was, “Interpreting Holy Men: Cyril and Methodius as Saints in the Earliest Tradition and in the Later Bohemian Hagiography (Ninth to Fourteenth Century) by David Kalhous, an Independent Scholar. It took me a while to sink my teeth into this paper. Ultimately, Kalhous wanted to show how the Cyril/Methodius story changed over time and what that meant. Basically, in the earlier recountings the emphasis was on the Church. As described in the stories, the Slavonic liturgy was equal to the Eastern and Western liturgies and the Bulgarian Church was worthy to exist alongside the Roman and Byzantine. The later tradition focused much more on ethnic/nationalistic concerns. All was lost for Moravia until the arrival of Christianity. Much more emphasis was placed on the Moravian nobility and the stories were intended to create a Bohemian identity and engender a sense of worth as a people.

This session was a bit tougher. None of the speakers were presenting in their native language and there was a tendency for them to focus on what they were reading, which took away from the presentation. It was still a good session with some very interesting information.

After that I headed back to Valley for my final shot at the books. All I had left were two used bookstores, Loome and Powell’s. Of course those are two of my favorites. My mistake is that I was wearing a sports coat and left it on, and Friday was another warm one. By the time I’d gone through those two shops and made my final Congress purchases I was pretty well soaked. Fortunately I had a few minutes to get to my room and sit in front of a fan so I wasn’t too repulsive (I hope) by the time I went back to Schneider for Session 255, “The Archaeology of Early Medieval Europe: Hoarding.”

I’m only going to discuss two of these papers. For the second paper I have almost no notes so either it didn’t interest me, I didn’t follow it or, more likely, both. A dim possibility is I pretty well knew the topic already but I’m going to discount that alternative. Marcin Woloszyn of the Instytut Archeologii I Etnologii started things off with a very interesting paper, “Avars, Scandinavians, Slavs and Byzantine Coins: Hoard and Hoarding in East-Central Europe between the Sixth and Eighth Centuries.” This paper examined coin finds from the area which comprised the Avar Khaganate and just north; Eastern Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. He divided the finds into three periods and discussed those finds and their implications. The finds indicate substantial Byzantine influence to the later 7th century, afterwards more Western influence. There are few documented finds of bronze coins though he believes there may be more than have been reported as many museums have finds in their holdings and exhibits, but the finds were so poorly documented at the time of excavation that they tend not to be attributed to the region. An interesting fact is that there are very few finds in the center of the Khaganate, most are from the periphery. He gave two explanations for this, one I agree with and one not. He thinks the Avars had a different way of displaying social status and much of the gold was melted down into jewelry, an explanation I like. He also stated that Charlemagne seized much Avar treasure in wars however, for me, this would have been a reason for Avars to start burying the stuff so he couldn’t find it. Granted, Charlemagne could move swiftly, but not so swiftly as to preclude someone from going into the woods and digging a hole.

The final paper of the session was by Florin Curta, the organizer of this and the previous session, from the University of Florida and someone who, if you feel the urge, you can “like” on Facebook. He also has a Wikipedia page. Each of the last three years I’ve tried to get to his sessions if they don’t conflict with something I’m really interested in. I am interested in this area but it’s not number one on my list. However in my experience the sessions have always been very good. Dr. Curta’s paper was, “Trade or Taxes? Hoards of Iron Implements and Weapons in Ninth-Century Moravia.” In this paper he discusses several Moravian iron finds. One was the site of Pohansko-Lesni Skolka in Moravia where a ceramic container holding a variety of iron tools as a hoard was found in a sunken-floor building however what was of most interest to me were the iron ingots found at a variety of sites. These did not originate from Moravia but came from elsewhere and he believes these were tribute payments, not trade items. I was going to add more but you can read pretty much the entire thing yourself (which I’m going to – I found it because I was looking for an image of the axe-shaped ingots he discussed in his paper to post here). This fits in rather well with an essay of his I read a little while back discussing the 6th century amber trade in Eastern Europe.

For this session the first and third papers were very good and evidently, from my notes, the second one didn’t do much for me.

The next session started half an hour later in the same building and I was fortunate enough to meet Michelle Ziegler of Heavenfield and Contagions fame and chat with her for a few minutes while I re-hydrated from my swim through the book exhibit. I enjoy her blog as I think the Justinian Plague is very interesting, though I don’t have anything close to her knowledge of it.

So I made a 90 degree rotation through Schneider to Session 319, “Miracles and Politics in the Development of Early English Saints’ Cults” – more Dead Holy People!

The first paper was, “Divide and Conquer: West Saxon Relics in the Reign of Cnut,” by Nicole Marafioti of Trinity University. This was a very interesting paper and she gave a nice presentation. Marafioti discussed how Cnut used his treatment of English Saints to indicate his approval/disapproval of a region of England and for political purposes. He had Aelfheah’s relics translated from St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, to Christ Church at Canterbury. London was the Church of Edmond Ironside and a location which held out against Cnut for a long time. The translation may have been a pointed lesson to Londoners. He treated the remains of Edmond very respectfully – and carried them away to be buried 150 miles from London where a cult resistant to him couldn’t form. He also distributed Edward the Marty’s relics to many locations, dispersing his cult. Marafioti also related a story from William of Malmesbury regarding Edith of Wilton and Cnut where on opening her tomb the saint bodily rose up and assaulted the King for disturbing her. The King did not believe that the daughter of so evil a man as Edgar could be a saint. After this Cnut became a patron of her cult and Marafioti believes this story may have been a later story to help legitimize his reign. Good paper.

In looking at my notes, I’m going to refrain from commenting on the other two papers. I took a fair amount of notes for the second one which discussed St. Cuthbert but I didn’t write down any kind of dominant theme and I’m afraid that for the third I was drifting, badly. Bad Geek. But the first paper was very good.

That evening, after a couple of beers, I made a brief foray to the Digital Medieval Poster Session, which I’ve previously mentioned. Then I went to an evening session sponsored by WMU’s Center for Cistercian and Monastic Studies and the American Benedictine Academy, “Cassian’s Long Shadow.”

The first paper was by Duncan Robertson of Augusta State University, “Experientia Praecedente: Cassian on Reading.” This was a good paper but the sum purpose was simply to illustrate that Cassian wanted people to do more than just read but to experience the scriptures. Reading is valueless unless the text is intellectually and emotionally internalized. An interesting sidebar is that Cassian advises teaching children to read very early, even carving out wooden blocks with letters. This may be very 20th century but when I was a kid we had blocks with letters on them so that piece of advice had some legs to it.

The final paper was by F. Tyler Sergent, “Cassian and William of Saint-Thierry on the Incarnation and the Spiritual Union.” In this paper Sergent discusses the use William made of Cassian, focusing primarily on Conferences, X. He wanted people to move from a physical to a spiritual vision of God, to engage in imageless prayer. William believed this was part of the progression of man from an animal, to rational to, finally, a spiritual state. Though man will always be somewhat animal (among other things, he must eat to live) he must move beyond a reliance on the physical senses to a more elevated state. Cassian did not believe in the use of images in worship, thinking these impede seeing Christ spiritually. William picked up on this theme and believed that man, even on Earth, could achieve a unity of spirit with God which, though fleeting, would be a profound experience. These were both good papers though at the end of the second one the questions went in the wrong direction IMO, into a discussion of errors of William. I’ve gone to these before and usually they have a short break and then get into the religious discussions in the sense of orthodoxy of belief, etc. This year they jumped right to it before I could excuse myself. It was still interesting and I learned a fair amount though I don’t know if I’ll ever read Cassian. I pulled out Conferences while writing this and my edition, Ancient Christian Writers Series Number 57, Boniface Ransey, trans., New York: Newman Press (1997), is nearly 900 pages. I think it may have to serve simply as a reference. I read Augustine’s City of God all the way through – isn’t that enough?

That ended my sessions for the day. I went back to my room and called someone to cancel meeting him at Bilbo’s that evening (don’t worry, he had plenty of others going to make up for my absence). Then I started going through my books, mainly so I’d know which sellers I’d need to visit Saturday to pick up display copies. In the process I discovered that rather than buying fewer and better books, I had bought more and better books than usual. Uh-oh.

1 As I’ve mentioned before, I am an academic but it’s an Extension appointment which is kind of a different sort of setup and sometimes hard to explain to those who aren’t in our little corner of the universe (or cult). I feel like I sort of blew off ADM when she asked me what I teach but I’ve never been able to really explain it in under 20 minutes – I have no “official” teaching appointment or load but I teach a lot and I have no research appointment but I do a fair amount of that too. The reason I don’t talk about my real life or job (much) isn’t to hide anything (I have a heckuva sales pitch for anyone thinking of getting into Extension) but because for the most part it isn’t relevant to my Medieval hobby.

2 When I use the term not smart re Medieval History I’m not referring to basic intelligence but to my knowledge level. IOW, I consider myself topically ignorant, not stupid.

3 As a very brief synopsis for those who may not be familiar with this, two brothers, Cyril and Methodius, were sent by the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Byzantine Emperor on a series of missions to the peoples of Eastern Europe to convert them to Christianity in the mid-9th century. They were very successful but, among other things, this gave the Eastern and Western Churches one more thing to fight about.


Posted by on May 22, 2011 in Conferences, Other Blogs


Tags: , , , ,

The End of Days

OK, the world’s ending today and somehow I didn’t know about this until yesterday. If I had, maybe I wouldn’t have bought all those books last week. But even if there isn’t any beer in heaven, maybe we can bring books?

Though based on this diagram provided by Laura Blanchard via Facebook, I don’t think my chances of going are very good. 1

1 Yes, THAT Laura Blanchard, former head of the Richard III Society and Philadelphian. When I first started going to Kalamazoo, every morning you could see her sitting in the Valley III lobby with people literally lined up to see her. She knew everybody.


Posted by on May 21, 2011 in Humor and Games


Tags: , , , ,

Kalamazoo 2011 – Day One and a Half

Man this is long – I think it may be the eternal post. I’ll try to shorten the next three installments – at least this takes care of 90% of the book buying. EDIT 5/30/11 – I’ve just added anchors to help people navigate to the sessions, if that’s what you’re interested in.

Session 25: Late Antiquity I: Saints: Their Lives and Their Experiences

Session 72: Late Antiquity II: Understanding Barbarians

Session 95: Creating the Holy Dead: Sainthood in the Middle Ages

Before I get started I’ll remind anyone who was around then that I will not be posting session summaries like I did last year. Even if I wanted to, I don’t have time – and I don’t want to.

This edition will cover Wednesday and Thursday, though I sort of covered Woden’s Day already. In honor of Woden, I went on my own Wild Hunt for a soap dish. I must have wandered through the pharmacy area at Wal-Mart for 15 minutes trying to find a 97 cent item. I could have spared myself though. My “loo-mate” did not choose to avail himself of such an item and his soap ended up on the only tray in the shower for the duration. I was glad I had mine though – I’m sure he’s a fine fellow and everything but I didn’t feel like sharing lather with him and even if I brought my own soap in, once I set it on top of his in a warm shower with only one soap tray, I think the two bars would have become intimately acquainted with one another anyway. Of course since he never saw me use any soap since the soap dish I’d spent so much effort in acquiring traveled into my room with me, he likely believes I neglected my personal hygiene and didn’t bother showering the entire week.

Thursday post-breakfast found me at my usual post, waiting at the doors of the exhibit area, AKA (borrowing from the Congress Facebook Group) Book Heaven waiting for 8 a.m. I had two books I wanted to make sure I got before worrying about grazing my way through so my first stop was at the Boydell and Brewer Booth. This was a popular destination so I worked through the entire booth before finding a single display copy of Jonathan Jarrett’s new book, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010. I got my mitts on it and took it to the front along with another couple of books I’d picked up. My first question for the young lady was, “You should have brought more than just one of these.” Her response, “We brought two – someone already bought the other one.” This was at about 8:15. I believe Boydell & Brewer prevented Jonathan from becoming an instant best-selling author. It’s simple math. Two were purchased in the first quarter hour the exhibits were open. That figures to 8 an hour. The exhibit area was open 35.5 hours. If they had brought a sufficient quantity, Jonathan would have sold 284 books in the 4 days. Maybe that wouldn’t beat out J.K. Rowling but it would rate fairly well in the nonfiction category.

My next stop was Oxford to make sure I left with a copy of Alan Cameron’s The Last Pagans of Rome. Evidently the person running that booth hadn’t arrived the day before as she was unloading boxes when I got there and said she’d be ready for business in about an hour. So I reversed steps and started working my way through booths – Motte and Bailey was a revelation. I don’t know who Mike Belding is (was? RIP?) but I now own about six books that used to be his including a few I never thought I’d have because of the price. Among others, I now have Burgess’ The Chronicle of Hydatius and the Consularia Constantinopolitan which is OOP and, when I’ve seen used copies for sale, has been upwards of $300. If they’d had Steve Muhlberger’s The Fifth-Century Chroniclers. Prosper, Hydatius and the Gallic Chronicle of 452 and Blockley’s Fragmentary Classicising Historians of the Later Roman Empire similarly priced I think I could have died happy right then.

So I bought some books, including the Cameron volume, hauled them up to my room (I was staying in Harrison, right above the books) and headed up to Fetzer for a 10 AM session.

The first session I attended was Session 25, sponsored by The Society for Late Antiquity, “Late Antiquity I: Saints: Their Lives and Their Experiences.”

The first paper was presented by David Price of the University of Toronto, “Saints and Their Communities: Reading Sixth-Century Italian Hagiography in Its Oral and Popular Context.” David discussed hagiography and in particular those written by Gregory the Great. David believes that Gregory’s miracle stories were not invented by him or sent to him as texts but were Gregory’s recounting of stories which had become widespread in Italy. These stories had been developed by a popular audience which was familiar with the standard Hagiographical “forms” and through oral transmission became widespread. He discussed how Italy possessed a vibrant story telling culture at the time and also how Gregory specifically identifies individuals he heard the stories from. David believes that while Gregory almost certainly did some editing, the stories themselves developed and circulated shortly after the death of a saint. For me, this paper left me a little dry. I can accept that Gregory was relating stories which had become widespread by the time he heard of them and decided to write them down, however David offered no real proof of his theory for a popular origin. A question I would have liked to ask, but time ran out before I could was, “Are you attributing the spread of these stories simply through oral transmission by the populace or do you think the respective saints had a local patron, likely clerical but at least highly influential, who acted to promote that saint’s cult?” I think you can look at a contemporary, Gregory of Tours, and see an active promotion of Saints’ cults and I would have liked more concrete evidence that in Italy these originated by a different method before accepting it. 1

The next paper was by Francesca Bezzone of the National University of Ireland-Galway, “Ancient Medicine and Early Roman Liturgy: The Use of Holy Oil in the Vita Germani by Constanius.” She discussed how while oil had been used in religiously significant ways since the Old Testament, particularly for anointing, the Vita Germani is the first instance where Holy Oil is used for its regenerative and healing powers. She related several episodes where Germanus used oil to heal. I enjoyed this paper. She provided solid evidence and I’m willing to accept that this was a significant new addition to hagiography. I don’t recall her saying this but according to the forward to the Life of Germanus I have, this vita was likely written between 475-80. 2

Amy Norgard from the University of Illinois followed with, “Traveling With Bonitus: An Analysis of his Seventh-Century Vita and Its Place in Merovingian History.” This is basically an account of how a hagiographical author might “dress up” the life of his subject to gloss over some difficult moments. In this case, Bonitus, a seventh century Bishop of Clermont gives up the Bishopric to take a pilgrimage to Rome. In the account of his pilgrimage he spends little time in Rome but instead is trucking around to a variety of locations in Europe. Norgard believes it likely that Bonitus’ leaving Clermont was not as voluntary as it is portrayed in the account but that he may have been expelled and sent to Rome to face judgement. Of course this is portrayed as an adoption of asceticism and was evidently Bonitus’ “desert” for the purposes of this story. 3 She briefly discussed two other similar accounts in the Vita Apollinaris and Vita Justi. I had recently read the Vita Wilfridi by Eddius Stephanus so I was very familiar with what she was talking about.

The final paper of this session was by Elizabeth Platte from (I hope) The University of Michigan – in the program she’s listed as being from Loyola of Chicago but at the top of her handout it says Michigan. Her paper was titled, “The View from the Top: Egeria’s Ascent of Mount Sinai.” This paper basically recounted Egeria’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land and how her physical ascent of Sinai is mirrored by a spiritual ascent. By scaling to the top of the mountain she becomes able to see the world as God sees it and view the entire holy land. This ascent is her penultimate experience which brings her very close to God.

This was a good session. I particularly enjoyed the papers by Norgard and Bezzone but they were all good though I would liked to have had firmer evidence for the first one.

Following this session I became lazy. I stepped outside of Fetzer to catch a breath of air. I was planning to head back in, fire up the laptop and get some work done (I’d taken a banana from breakfast to have for lunch) when lo and behold, a bus rolls up. It was warm — the high that day was 86/30 with a lot of humidity and I took this as a sign and hopped in to go back to the books. That was the last time I walked across the pond to Fetzer, Schneider or Bernhard. (Bad Geek)

So I bought more books, (anyone beginning to see a pattern here?) including while at Ashgate asking the clerk how much a hardcover was and being told, “Normally it’s $110 but all hardcovers are half off.” Uh-oh – gasoline poured on a flame. I thought I’d forever be running to the library to read one of their Vivarium series (Vivaria?) and here I am with two on my bookshelf. Cambridge did the same thing to me later. And you wonder why I end up with so many books? As I type this I’m eating steamed rice with a touch of salt. My new diet – oatmeal for breakfast, a fried potato from the 10 lb sack I bought for lunch and rice for dinner. Just kidding – but back in the day I have resorted to that diet to stretch my money to the next payday. And once the cc statement comes …

I also ran into Richard Nokes of Witan Publishing and spoke briefly with him. The man has become positively svelte. I’m jealous. Congrats to Larry Swain BTW, on getting on their publication list.

The bus experience I’d just had was so gratifying that I decided to, uh, hop in my car and drive back to Fetzer for Session 72, “Late Antiquity II: Understanding Barbarians.” Unfortunately, the paper by Ricardo Colon on ethnicity I was hoping to hear was canceled. I’ve read a fair amount on this but am not “in the field” and was hoping to find out if there was any new thinking out there.

Nevertheless, I settled in for the first paper by Christine DeLaplace from the University de Toulouse-le Mirail. My synopsis of this paper will be extremely short because I completely agree with what she said. She supplied a fair amount of information on the early 5th century barbarians as well as their movements and actions to conclude that the Gallic nobility and barbarians were loyal to the concept of Rome and nobody acted consciously to end it. I completely agree with this; everyone wanted to be part of Rome, they just couldn’t figure out how to make it work. It was a good, interesting paper but I spent most of it nodding my head in agreement rather than taking notes.

A great deal of the next paper left me in the dust. Patrick Neff from the University of Illinois presented on, “The Bishop and the Barbarian: The Metric Letter of Auspicious to Arbogast.” Neff opened with a discussion of the poetic/grammatical structures of this 5th century letter. As someone who has proudly left his Latin behind, this portion of the paper did the same for me. However in essence, Neff argued that Auspicious had sent an invitation to Arbogast to, despite being a barbarian, join the literary circles of the Empire. He believed that Arbogast was looking for this from Auspicious and also Sidonius who praises him in correspondence. While barbarians as a group were still portrayed as smelly, oafish and dumb, specific barbarians in the late Empire could be accepted into the more cultured aspects of society.

The final paper was by David Harris from the University of Illinois, “Umm El-Jimal: The Material Culture of a Frontier Town.” This is a Roman town in what is today Northern Jordan, situated on the Palmyra-Aqaba caravan route. It is about as close to what was Persian territory as a Roman town could be and was under continuous Roman control (there may be a contradiction here in my notes) from the 2nd century until the Persians overran the region in the early 7th century. This was more of a descriptive paper. Harris described the small settlement in some detail. Inscriptions have been found indicating that two cultures lived there, or at least interacted; Sephardic, the language of the nomads and Nabatean, the native language, were both found and for virtually the entire period discussed. An interesting note in the development of the village is that it was destroyed and abandoned in the late 3rd century (here’s my contradiction with continuity but both are in my notes), was re-built in the 4th and grew significantly in the 5th and 6th century. Harris believes that the Rome-Persian War may have stimulated the local economy. Ultimately, this is an area which is just beginning to be explored and Harris wanted to bring some of that to us and encourage more people to work in this area.

This was another good session though I was lost for part of Neff’s presentation.

Next I hopped into my car and headed for the sauna which was the room for my Session 95, in Valley III, “Creating the Holy Dead: Sainthood in the Middle Ages.” I happen to be fond of the term, “the holy dead” or, in my case, dead holy people. Has a certain ring to it though the session title is probably more correct – they’re more defined by their holiness than by their deadness.

Anyway, to get back to the topic at hand, the opening paper in this session was from Steven Stofferahn of Indiana State University, “Vitae Verity: Reality and Unreality in Early Medieval Saints’ Lives.” This paper fit in very well with Amy Norgard’s from earlier in the day. At the beginning Stofferahn asked the question, “How did exiles view their own plight?” They were stripped of their titles and authority so what did they do now? He related the tales of my old buddy Wilfrid as well as Sturm (another one I’ve read which was cool) to get his points across. The main one was that once a cleric had been removed, it wasn’t the end. In the first place, they were free to go where they wanted, which often was home. And while they may have been stripped of their ecclesiastical authority, this didn’t mean they without power or means. They could try to gain forgiveness, achieved by Sturm, or look for third party intervention as Wilfrid did from the Papacy more than once. Their situation was malleable – just because they were disgraced didn’t mean that had to last forever (though Stofferahn was careful to say that more often than not they did not return to positions of authority). Recovery was possible.

The next paper was by Cullen Chandler of Lycoming College, “Saints Eulalia of Barcelona: A Martyr and Her Ninth-Century Church.” Eulalia was a young girl who had been martyred in Barcelona (or maybe Mérida). Dr. Chandler related several interesting aspects of her cult, among these that as it progressed, her tortures through martyrdom increased, with 12 being present by the 9th century, which is the period he mainly discussed. Chandler related how, in the 9th century, the Saint took an active interest in her situation. The Archbishop wanted to translate her relics to Narbonne but when he looked for her body, it couldn’t be found. After he gave up, the local Bishop, Frodoin, found her, moved her body and built a church as her resting place. This helped Frodoin gain status and also helped the local church, at least when Charles the Bald gave it come money in recognition. It also had some implications for the Carolingians suppressing the Visigothic Liturgy. I had read one of the versions of Eulalia’s vita, likely from Mérida where her parents had hid her and she’d run away to be martyred. She was tortured but there definitely weren’t 12 of them. Interesting evolution of a story there.

The final paper in the session was by Austin O’Malley of the University of Chicago, “Worldly Detachment and Filial Devotion: The Reinvention of Bayazid Bistami in the Tazkirat al-awliya.” Now I may have read something about Muslim saints but if so, I’ve forgotten it. O’Malley related the roles which women played in Islamic hagiography. They seem to have had four roles; old women, sisters, mothers, and wives. In this paper the first two roles were explored. Old women typically show up out of nowhere in the desert, impart wisdom on the saint, then disappear equally miraculously. The saints are elevated by showing a willingness to listen to and be subservient to them. Sisters appear who are extremely pious, their piety reflecting the piety of the saint. One interesting fact he related is that while the saints retained all their masculinity, the female saints are stripped of their gender and become metaphorically and internally masculine. Interesting contrast with Christian saints where both genders are often softened; women being portrayed as more masculine and men as more feminine.

This was another very solid session with three good papers covering a topic I’m quite interested in. Plus I had the chance to meet Cullen Chandler in person for the first time, which was a pleasure. After this it was back to the books. Fortunately I ran into Jonathan Jarrett again – he was late to meet people for the second time that day and for the second time he stayed to chat with me for several minutes after telling me this. If he spends much time here we need to teach him that rushing off after telling someone you’re late is perfectly acceptable here – you shout salutations over your shoulder as you go. Anyway, the reason this was fortunate is he told me about the blogger meetup scheduled for the following day which I was clueless about.

Following the close of the book exhibit I ran into town, grabbed something to eat, went back to my room and worked on work stuff. I know that’s disappointing with all the tales of debauchery out there. I was seriously antisocial this Congress (and regretting that a bit now though it was pretty close to necessary) but I’ll talk about that in my final post. I had planned on going to a session on Negotiating Monasticism at 7:30 but two of the papers had been moved to the afternoon (creating a bit of an issue with me deciding where to go just then) and it didn’t seem worth it to haul my carcass back up there for just two papers. In any case it was a pretty good day. Went to good sessions, bought some books (would you believe at that moment in time I believed I had been buying fewer but better books than last year?) and ran into a couple of folks I hadn’t seen in a year.

1 I mentioned last year that I am happy and willing to ask questions but generally I try to wait until the professionals have had the chance to ask theirs first. This is a professional conference and if the historians have questions to ask, I don’t want to get in their way. Unfortunately, this means I don’t always get my questions asked though sometimes I’ll come up to a presenter at the end of a session. And before anyone points this out; yes, I know 20 minutes is a very short time to cover everything but for this topic I think more evidence for this assertion would have been useful.

2 F. R. Hoare, trans., “Constantius of Lyon: The Life of Saint Germanus of Auxerre”, in Thomas F.X. Noble and Thomas Head, eds., Soldiers of Christ: Saints and Saints’ Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press (2000), p 76.

3 One of the earliest Vita was the 4th century Vita Antony or Life of Antony, authored by Anastasius. Antony is a desert monk and his time in the desert is put forward as a time of great trials and hardship while he lived a life of extreme poverty and asceticism. A pretty standard aspect of hagiography since has been some experience of hardship and travail which is sometimes referred to as that individual’s “desert” in deference to Antony. It is interesting to read some vita where their “desert” means they only traveled with two attendants instead of 20 or something (Gerald of Aurillac comes to mind here, or Edward the Confessor) but this aspect is almost always present in some form.


Posted by on May 20, 2011 in Books, Conferences


Tags: , , , ,

Online Medieval Resources and Really Cool Stuff Other Folks have Written

Before I get to the post I want to note that other bloggers will now find my comments signed as “Medieval History Geek” rather than as Curt Emanuel. This isn’t a move toward anonymity or anything. We’re going to be developing a blog for work and I don’t want people going to that blog to somehow run across my description of my knowledge level for this blog which basically says “I have no training and really am not qualified to say much of anything on this topic but I think it’s fun and interesting so I’m going to anyway.” When it comes to my job, I am trained and I do know what I’m talking about (for the most part anyway) so I’m going to use my real name for that blogger profile and MHG for this one and hope to avoid any confusion.

Posts to Check Out

Before I start putting together Kalamazoo summary posts I want to put up a quick post one discussing some online resources. 1 First, and something I’ve been remiss about lately, are good posts from other blogs.

Guy Halsall has two recent posts I strongly encourage people to read, Warfare and Society in the Early Medieval West and Warfare, the “State” and Change Around 600. For the latter post, take a look at it and see what you think about what it says on defining an entity as a state in the medieval period. This is something I am uncertain of myself and unable to say what I think of the various “state” opinions out there as I find myself swinging between arguments however this post made me think about it quite a bit which, for me, is a pretty strong recommendation in itself. 2

For the earlier post I want to pull out an excerpt and emphasize a point that over the last few years I’ve come to believe is essential for looking at all aspects of medieval history.

“Talking about all this as an issue of Roman continuity or new barbarian methods entirely – as I see it – misses the point. This was neither the take-over of western Europe by immigrant barbarian military societies with new social and military practices and nor was it – evidently – a simple continuation of the Roman regular army. It was an evolution that took place within the particular, distinct circumstances of the fifth and sixth centuries.

This general point, about seeing early medieval warfare in its own terms, applies to another common view of the period, which would understands it by extending the observed features of central and later medieval warfare backwards into our era. Thus it is sometimes said that battles were rare in this period. They were risky and therefore they were not generally sought. Instead sieges were the most important feature of warfare. This is, as far as I can see, a reasonable description of warfare in the age of castles and knights, from the eleventh century, perhaps the tenth, through to the end of the Middle Ages, but, as I will argue later, it is quite mistaken for the period between the sixth century and the ninth.”

This points to something I’ve come to believe very strongly; that examining aspects of history independently and without contamination from knowledge of other aspects, is essential to gain the most unbiased information possible (every single Human, historian or not, has biases) for the aspect under study. Chris Wickham in Framing the Early Middle Ages was highly influential in my believing in this for geographic regions, that they need to be examined on their own terms before you start looking for other regions to compare/contrast/group them with. I’ve mentioned before how Dr. Halsall, in Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568 helped me to realize that the same holds true for other pieces of evidence – each piece needs to be examined independently, on its own terms, before looking at it in relationship to other pieces. Here he applies this same reasoning with regards to warfare – don’t allow your knowledge of other periods to contaminate (I don’t think this too strong a word) how you perceive or examine the period you are investigating.

The reason these things are important to me is so I can assess what I’m reading. As I’ve (hopefully) made plain, I am not a historian. I am not engaged in historical research. Among other reasons (there are a lot of them but this is the most critical), I do not have the skills, particularly the language skills, to investigate source material in their original language, even if I had access to them. So what I do is read stuff – stuff written by historians. For me to asses what I think of their work, how much influence it should have on me, I need to be able, as much as possible, to evaluate their argument. A critical component of that is their use of evidence. Now I can’t examine the evidence itself so it’s the argument, as presented in their writings, that I have to look at.

I apologize for the digression in the previous paragraph but I try to throw something like this in every now and then so you can figure out where I’m coming from, particularly since, based on site traffic, there seem to be some new folks reading this blog recently.

New Online Resources

Right before Kalamazoo I posted about the Digital Poster Session. I had a chance to briefly look at the booths (it was a shame more people weren’t there) before the Cistercian session I attended and some seriously good online resources were displayed. I’ll note that I’m highlighting the ones which myself, with no Latin or Medieval languages skills, found interesting. Others may well be as or more useful to professionals, or serious amateurs with those skills I lack.

Cusanus Portal – This site is devoted to resources related to Nicholas of Cusa. The main site is in German but some information in English is also available.

Early English Laws – This is a project to provide online translations and editions of all English law codes and related texts produced prior to the Magna Carta in 1215. They do not have anything up yet but are looking for people to help with the translations so if you have language knowledge in Medieval Latin, Old English, Old French, etc., I encourage you to contact them and offer your assistance.

St. Gall Monastery Plan – I know; you read the title and think, “The plan of St Gall? I can already find that online“. In some ways I think the title does this site a disservice, though it will likely show up well on internet searches. First, the plan will be displayed in over a hundred images, providing far more detail than has previously been available. However the treasure is, “Besides a variety of digital representations of the plan itself, the site includes a graphic representation of how the plan was physically made, detailed information on each of the component elements of the plan, and transcriptions and translations of its inscriptions. In addition, the site contains a series of extensive data bases including one presenting physical objects found across Europe that add to our understanding of Carolingian monasticism, one devoted to the terminology of Carolingian material culture, descriptions of all known Carolingian religious edifices, and an extensive bibliography on both the Plan itself and Carolingian monastic culture generally.” I think this will be a wonderful resource.

1 Uh, sorry – when I started I thought this would be a short, quick post. Then my enthusiasm got the better of me. And it’s still too short to really talk about uses of evidence which I’m very interested in.

2 Steve Muhlberger recently posted a link to an interesting essay by Susan Reynolds on this topic. I’d encourage you to also look at the articles she mentions in it.

Halsall, Guy, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2008). ISBN: 9-780521-435437.

Wickham, Chris, Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2006). ISBN: 9-780199-212965.


Posted by on May 17, 2011 in Conferences, Other Blogs, Resources


Tags: , , , ,