The fourth and final day of the 2011 International Congress on Medieval Studies was another cold and wet one. In my Day 3 update I neglected to mention one item; running through the exhibit area on Saturday evening to pick up the display copies I’d bought. This was unremarkable except I missed the Mead-tasting, which was a shame.
So the next day I started off with multiple trips to the car to load luggage and books. It was raining but not hard right then so that was OK. Then I headed up to Schneider for Session 531: The Court and Courts in the Carolingian World.
This has been a good session for two years running. I wonder if they could move it to a different time? Looks like a good Friday PM session to me. In any case, Jonathan Jarrett of Oxford was first up with, “2:1 Against: Cereal Yields in Carolingian Europe and the Brevium Exempla.” This paper addresses the question of what sort of grain yields might be expected in Carolingian Europe. Jonathan began by summarizing the existing argument in Georges Duby’s Rural Economy and Country Life in the Medieval West where he discusses an estate survey from Annapes, contained in the Brevium Exempla and concludes that for the year of the survey, the ratio of harvested yield to grain sown was 1.6:1. This is a pretty big problem – with that sort of yield it’s hard to see how you could even feed the families involved doing the field work, much less the entire estate, much, much less have any kind of surplus available to the Carolingian Empire or to support military operations. Jonathan’s paper focuses on contrasting Duby’s account with an experimental archaeology project taking place in l’Esquerada, Catalonia, which was a Carolingian settlement. Using crops and (mostly) methods which are similar to those grown/used by Carolingians, at l’Esquerada they had yield ratios of at least 15:1 and often well above that. At the field plots they used a drill to plant, which studies have shown results in 45% less seed being eaten by birds than if broadcast however even with this the yield ratios would be in the 8:1 to 10:1 range. 1 He also examined the Brevium Exempla which says some grain was ground before the surveyors took their measurements. Dr. Jarrett concludes that the estate survey was not for the estate’s actual harvest but for the surplus beyond what was needed for local use and that there was sufficient yield both for use by the Empire and to see the settlement through one bad year. Jonathan provided a post on his blog with much of this information a little while back (before I started blogging or I’m sure I’d have recalled it – and if I’d found it before doing a search for “Annapes” for some footnote info this summary might have been much shorter as I’d have referred you there first). Good paper, one of my two favorites of the week.
Lynley Anne Herbert followed with an interesting paper, despite it being in one of my areas of weakness, “A Bishop and an Abbott Walk Into a Scriptorium: Uncovering the Clerical Courtiers Behind the Gospels of Sainte-Croix.” This paper examined the illustrations in several documents, among them the the Gospels mentioned in the paper title and a Feast Days Calendar from Poitiers. Unfortunately, while I have a fair amount of notes, I never wrote down any sort of summary of an overall theme. I have some use of the imagery to counter heresy, particularly Adoptionism, mixed language with some Greek in the manuscript and the use of gold and silver in the pigments. I recall the paper being very good but I may have been thinking of the trip home already. I really need to get a bit more up to speed on art history.
There was no presenter for the final paper which of course precluded its being offered. This gave everyone a chance to chat for a bit before dispersing.
I did not go to a 10:30 session as, while I had marked a couple as possibilities, neither was extremely interesting to me. I headed out to the car, gave Cullen Chandler a ride to his, necessitating some book relocating so he could find a seat, and by 11 or so I had wheels on the road headed south with an uneventful trip home other than to note that the previous evening had been a bad one for deer on southwestern Michigan interstate highways.
1 This was a dangerous paper to give with someone with professional training in Agronomy in the room. I studiously avoided asking questions about soil types, differences in rainfall between Annapes and l’Esquerada, etc. I will comment that in using a drill, a field implement mechanically cuts open a furrow and a combination of coulters and a press wheel closes the furrow behind (and over) the seed. Obviously, seed would then be less exposed to being eaten by pests such as birds and mice. It also provides superior seed-to-soil contact which can be important sometimes, not other times. I haven’t done any kind of detailed examination of this but Annapes was a pretty fertile area. If anything, I would expect the deeper, richer soils there to yield better than a hillside Catalonian estate in all but very wet years. Maybe one day I’ll feel like working my way through characteristics of French soil types but that’s not today and even if I wanted to, I don’t know if detailed online soils information like we have for the US is available for France.