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.
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.