Tag Archives: Cullen Chandler

Kalamazoo 2012 – Day One; The Arrival, Accommodations and Other Miscellany

Folks will be getting sick of me posting about Kalamazoo, if they aren’t already, and this one will have almost no educational content. However I want to get this out while it’s fresh on my mind, particularly since there were some significant changes which I think reflect favorably Lisa Carnell and the Congress organizers. Lisa is flat-out awesome. I’m annually impressed with what she puts together. In some ways this post follows the format of Jonathan Jarrett’s recollection of his first Kalamazoo experience.

I had some trouble getting away from home, which led to minor troubles once I arrived. Literally half an hour before I’d planned to depart I received a call about a major snafu regarding a program I’m hosting this week. I won’t go into details but basically the site where I was bringing a hundred or so attendees, several pieces of equipment and several speakers to was no longer available. The host site had a very good reason for this and there’s no blame here but I had to find an alternate site and notify speakers and attendees. This helped me to forget several items, among those being my Kalamazoo Program Book, which is essential. I realized this was absent literally on arrival. There’s a simple fix – buy a new one – but I also had to go through it and re-mark which sessions I was planning to attend. And somehow I managed to forget deodorant. This may not have mattered much to me but I’m fairly certain it would have to those around me. Luckily I have wheels so at about 10:00 I found a grocery store open (the first I came to had already closed which began to concern me) and took care of that issue. I also had thought I might pop by a winery to help ADM a bit with the Blogger Meetup but this didn’t happen either. In essence, I had a bit more stress on leaving, left later than I’d wanted to, brought work with me, contrary to my plans, and was without a few items, though I did remember my soap dish.

Shortly after getting to my room and on discovering that I could not give myself a deodorant “booster shot” (do people really want to read this? how mundane some aspects of us as a species are) I decided my attitude needed some help and I went down to the wine hour sponsored by Witan Publishing and Scott Nokes. There I had my first of several Cullen Chandler encounters and I enjoyed briefly chatting with him. I had initially thought I’d run into town Thursday morning but instead I ran up to my room and did an inventory; toothbrush-check, razor-check, shampoo-check, etc. On finding that deodorant was indeed the only personal hygiene item I was lacking, I made my town run (don’t worry, I’d had just one of those little plastic cups of wine so I think I was safe). On returning I filled in my shiny new program book with sessions to attend the following day and made my bed, thus ending day one. Now on to some accommodations/amenities details.

The food has improved. The dining hall meals were as I remembered them, however the snack bar in Schneider was open through the week where in the past it was only open Thursday. This is a major improvement. The food there isn’t exactly good – you grab a sandwich which has been pre-made and sealed in plastic – however it is a way of consuming calories without having to run off if you happen to have your last morning and first afternoon session in Schneider, as I did on Saturday. Bernhard has a complete food court with multiple options (long lines but you have two hours for lunch).

The provided soap was brand-name. I always bring my own soap as I have literally dozens of little bars of the stuff at home from hotel stays and might as well use it up – same for shampoo(I actually like the stuff Sheraton provides, maybe I’m weird) – but I was impressed by this anyway. My bed/mattress was the best I’ve ever had there. They had bolted plywood to the bedframe to eliminate the pesky sagging issue and I actually had a real mattress, not one of those thin foam things. I also had two beds which always helps as a location to put books.

Wireless Internet access is now available in most of the dorm rooms. There were only a couple of dorms without and happily mine received it. I have a feeling as I read other reports that this will be HUGE. Of course there was the inevitable letdown when I returned home to 3G access through my aircard but it’s not Kalamazoo’s fault that I live in Siberia/rural Central Indiana. The same held true for the exhibit area. Most used digital credit card readers. I only had a couple of mechanical card swipes.

Now a word of caution. Among the items I forgot was my leg weights. Since my hip replacement I have some exercises I do and even 5 months post-op, doing these absolutely makes a difference. If I ever forget them again for four days and have wheels I’m finding a sporting goods store; for some reason I didn’t think of this until I was driving home. I walked to sessions Thursday and realized this was about all I wanted to put the hip through once I’d come back from Bernhard to a late afternoon Valley Session. However I didn’t want to drive for some reason. I soon found that the shuttle service is fine to get to things first thing in the morning, and fine for the two-hour lunch break, but on Friday I tried to use it to get from Bernhard to Schneider in the half hour between the two afternoon sessions (my hip was speaking to me rather loudly at the time) and ended up walking in late to that session (where the speaker I really wanted to hear was not in attendance, more on absent speakers later). I hate walking in late. It’s rude and disrespectful and shows a lack of concern for the others in the room. Sometimes this is unavoidable. For instance, a speaker may end up talking to several folks following their session and just not be able to make it. I had no such excuse though the young lady whose talk I walked in on accepted my apology graciously. In any case, that was the last time I used the shuttle for the half hour between sessions. This is likely more my fault than theirs and I don’t want to come across as blaming anyone for it but offer this for future reference as to what the shuttle can and can’t do. I ended up making at least one “half trip” (usually back to Valley) each day. It was OK and there was never any risk of any injury/harm, it was just uncomfortable, particularly when I had to set a decent pace.

So the accommodations were improved (my camping with walls reference may no longer be applicable), as were the meal options. The wine and free coffee service continue to be good; I only availed myself of the coffee Saturday morning following my ill-advised pizza and beer dinner when I had no interest in breakfast.

I’ll follow with posts on sessions and what I did Thurs-Sun in the coming weeks. If I recall anything to add regarding facilities/accommodations/amenities I’ll insert those but I think this is most of it. Lisa Carnell and the Conference Committee deserve a lot of credit for continuing to work to improve Congress. I was pleasantly surprised by a number of things.


Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Conferences


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Historical Goodies

I’ve been good lately. My last book purchase was in mid-November so I went the entire month of December without adding to the to-read shelf. So in order to make up for nobody getting me what I wanted for Christmas (I know – whaaaa, whaaaa, whaaaa) I did the usual and bought something for myself. 1

Got a 25% off coupon from B&N and ordered a copy of Ann Marie Yasin’s Saints and Church Spaces in the Late Antique Mediterranean: Architecture, Cult, and Community, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2009). ISBN: 9780521767835.

I looked pretty hard at this book a few months ago and the Kim Bowes book I recently finished moved it to the front of my mind again. Bill Caraher gave it some pretty favorable comments on his blog a while back and I think it will really fit in with the whole “archaeological evidence for space and its uses” issue I want to familiarize myself with. Fairly expensive for me as books go but I hope it will be worth it.

This was Saturday and I was pretty happy with that Purchase. On Sunday I opened a holiday catalog I’d received several weeks earlier. I’m pretty good at ignoring holiday stuff but this was from Oxford University Press. They were selling The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium for under $160, roughly a third of the usual list price. It’s a new record high for a book purchase for me. Then again, it is three volumes. Now if Cambridge would just send a catalog out with similar prices for the PLRE volumes … (see note 1, below)

All this left me feeling poorer but in the holiday spirit. So yesterday, I was going through some online library collections (for work – I DO have a job I get paid for) and I saw a link on the University Library site titled, “e-scholar.” I had no idea what this is so I clicked on it and found it full of all kinds of electronic resources, including buckets of graduate theses and dissertations. As a test, I did a search using the name of a Medieval Studies grad. I’ve now downloaded Cullen Chandler’s Ph.D. dissertation. 2 For someone who once wrote a blog post on libraries, I’ve sure been slow to take my own advice and find out what’s available. In my spare time I intend to start working my way through graduate theses and dissertations from 2010 backwards and see what else is in there.

This also inspired me to follow another piece of my own advice. I just got an alumni account from one of the higher ed institutions I have a degree from. When I get time I need to go after the others. I’m not sure what an alumni account gives me access to but I intend to find out.

I was so psyched by this last discovery that I decided I had to post about it. The price of gas may be going up but guess what – I can get a LOT from the University Library without ever leaving my house.

1 Some day my friends will take me seriously when I tell them to pool all their money together and as a group buy me The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire. Or even one of the three volumes.

2 Chandler, Cullen 2003. Charlemagne’s Last March: The Political Culture of Carolingian Catalonia, 778-987. Ph.D. diss., Purdue University.


Posted by on January 4, 2011 in Books


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A Medieval Land Settlement Program – the Carolingian Aprisio Revisited

In Jonathan Jarrett’s recent EME article, “Settling the kings’ lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective,” 1 Dr. Jarrett takes issue with what the scholarly community has to date accepted as characteristics of aprisio. 2

As I mentioned in the comment section of my Carolingian Lay Literacy post, what I knew of aprisio two weeks ago could have been written on the back of a book of matches. I simply thought it was a strategy the Carolingians used to encourage people to settle in underpopulated areas. I had no idea how it worked, what kind of benefits settlers would have – I didn’t even think about it being royal lands (though I hope I’d have been able to figure that one out if I’d given it any thought – be tough for even Charlemagne to get away with settling folks on someone else’s lands). If you’d asked me to sum up aprisio in one statement I’d have likely muttered something about it being similar to The American Homestead Act and shut up fairly quickly.

So Dr. Jarrett’s article was very informative for me, and once I started going through it I knew that in order to blog about it, I’d have to read a 2002 article from Cullen Chandler as well. 3 I don’t know the history behind it but Dr. Jarrett and Dr. Chandler have agreed to become friendly enemies, or respectful rivals – or something. They disagree with each other on things, then have a meal together when they meet at a conference. I hope we all have the pleasure of seeing them argue about medieval issues for the next 30-40 years. 4

In short, aprisio evolved in the aftermath of Charlemagne’s Spanish expedition of 778. The expedition has been viewed as a failure historically and I suppose by Charlemagne’s standards it was, but it did yield some benefits. One was the inspiration for the Song of Roland. While the King would never appreciate that, he seems to have placed some importance on the territories in Northern Spain that he gained, a large portion of what is now Catalonia. Much of the region was underpopulated, basically wasteland, and Charlemagne initiated aprisio grants where settlers would clear the land and bring it to productivity and he would allow them to hold it. The use of this term is unknown outside of what is today Catalonia.

This is where we reach the point of disagreement discussed in this article. Overall, what Jarrett believes is that aprisio, as an overall practice, should not be considered more than a general term used for clearance of land and settlement. In essence, he believes that aprisio did not include certain characteristics attributed to it and, even when these characteristics are found, they are not nearly as universal as historians have believed. 5

Among these characteristics which Jarrett challenges are that aprisio was; always accompanied by extensive privileges; in any way tied to the Visigothic thirty-year rule of law; awarded largely to Hispani 6; created and used for military purposes to counter the influence of distant and independent counts and; exclusively the prerogative of the Frankish King.

As I expected, based on the quality of his blog posts, Jarrett proceeds with his arguments through a detailed examination of the source materials, in particular charters.

One of the issues Jarrett explores, and which he believes to be a major source of confusion, is the relationship between Hispani and aprisio. He provides considerable evidence demonstrating why he believes that previous studies, including Chandler’s, have wrongly attributed rights and immunities granted to Hispani as also applying to aprisio. (324) He states that, “The Constitutio pro hispanis and the earliest grants to Hispani do indeed represent a fairly consistent set of exemptions and requirements . . . It was not however general to all land held by aprisio . . .” (327-8) In other words, the Carolingians did provide favorable treatment to the Hispani, but this cannot be applied to aprisio as a whole. An additional argument against this connection is that not all aprisio holders were Hispani. The Church and indigent landholders also received aprisio grants. (339-41)

In arguing against aprisio always including privileges beyond the grant of land (remember that when I say “grant” this means they held the land in the name of whoever gave them the grant, they didn’t own it – though they could frequently transfer the property) Jarrett explores several aprisio grants which did not confer additional privileges and returns to his argument that these immunities applied to the Hispani and not aprisiones. (327-329) 7

Jarrett argues against Chandler’s proposal that a major purpose of the aprisio was to “establish a military counterweight, in the form of an armed yeomanry, that might check the independence of the counts whom the kings appointed to this distant frontier.” (322-3) Jarrett concedes that “The basic premise here is convincing . . .” (323) however ultimately he believes that this is inconsistent with normal Carolingian strategy which focused on influencing and controlling the powerful, not a weaker group such as individual holders of land. (331) I will return to this in more detail below. 8

His counter to the idea that aprisio grants exclusively originated with the king is very simple. He gives several examples where counts granted the privilege (336) and indicates that frequently the privilege might be claimed without them. “Such instances [of royal or comital grants], however, are outweighed to negligibility by the sheer volume of references to aprisio which have nothing to do with kings or counts.” (337)

As this is an area I’m relatively unfamiliar with, it’s difficult for me to pick apart arguments, or to really evaluate the quality of Jarrett’s article, except for appreciating the detail and acknowledging the extensive use he makes of sources. However there are a couple of exceptions to my ignorance.

One is related to the Visigothic thirty-year rule. This rule is not unique to the Visigoths and may be found in accounts of disputes in various regions. Basically, if someone held land for 30 years, their possession of it could not be challenged (this is a bit simplistic – there are exceptions to this but it’ll do for this discussion). It appears to have originated in Roman Vulgar Law. 9 Related to this, there has been a belief among historians that aprisio holders could not defend their landholding rights until the thirty years had passed. Dr. Jarrett relates how this came about, originally based on an 812 case where a group of settlers appealed to Charlemagne that their aprisio rights were not being respected by the local counts. (326). Their grant dated from 780 and in addition to the language of the grant, they invoked the thirty-year rule as well. This does seem to be an odd thing for historians to believe. There are plenty of examples among the Franks, Lombards and Visigoths of the thirty-year rule being used in land disputes, and plenty of disputes where it was not. The aprisio holders certainly cannot have been left to fend for themselves without recourse to challenging an infringement of their property rights for 30 years. If Charlemagne really wanted to grant them land, that seems a strange way to do it – giving a charter without it meaning much for thirty years. In a dispute, both sides will throw the kitchen sink at each other. The use of the thirty-year rule in this case certainly seems to have been no more than additional ammunition in defense of their rights, not something which they would have been defenseless without.

In the opening of this article Jarrett highlights Cullen Chandler’s 2002 EME article (see note 3) and you could be left with the impression that his article is written as essentially a counter-argument and that the bulk of the criticism is directed toward Dr. Chandler. This is untrue. While Chandler may have provided, at least in part, the motivation for this article, several of the items Dr. Jarrett takes issue with, such as that they only originated from Carolingian Kings, are not positions Chandler takes. I also think it’s important to note that the period Chandler’s article addresses ends in 897 while Jarrett continues the discussion into the tenth. However there are some significant areas where Jarrett disagrees with Chandler and I’d like to explore two of these.

One of these is related to how aprisio immunities may have paralleled or even been related to those granted to religious entities. Chandler draws substantial parallels between the two. Jarrett believes that this is overstated and a tendency to apply Hispani privileges to all aprisione grants is partially the reason. 10 However the area I’d like to discuss is this: Chandler discusses an aprisio grant of 847 of Charles the Bald to Alfonso, Gomesindus and Duranus. This grant mentions only a right of proprietorship and no other privileges or rights of royal protection. Chandler states, “This may be because it is the latest new Carolingian aprisio grant, and the terms and conditions of such grants were well established by then. This simplified language, referring only to jure properietario, surfaces also in the 849 confirmation of Teudefred’s aprisio inheritance. Charles the Bald did not need to explain what the aprisio rights and privileges were in great detail largely because of the generations of precedent that his father and grandfather had established.” (Chandler, 2002, p 35)

Chandler believes that the rights and privileges of aprisio grants had become so customary, so well known, that they no longer needed to be included in the language of the grants. Jarrett has some problems with this argument, as do I. Jarrett’s argument has several aspects. First and, to me, most important, is that immunities granted to religious institutions continued to be fully stated. (327) This seems to be a matter of simple logic. If putting everything in writing became less important for aprisio grants, wouldn’t it be expected to carry over to other areas? Jarrett also believes this may be an error caused by a tendency to see aprisio in grants to Hispani which are not aprisio.

However Dr. Jarrett does provide some support to Dr. Chandler in a discussion of 10th century grants. “The word aprisio is used so widely, however, that it obviously had a meaning that was fairly well understood, and a few charters make it clear that there was a more systematic and even legalistic idea of what the claim involved than the simple clearance envisaged in the royal documents.” (335) This doesn’t exactly say that there were commonly recognized but unwritten rights associated with aprisio but it comes awful close. NOTE: See Dr. Jarrett’s comment below – I misread the intent of this statement.

I believe the argument that if aprisio grants were meant to carry unwritten privileges then other grants of immunity would likewise show a lack of specificity in their language is a sound one. There is a second question that came to mind for me as I read this. In later disputes concerning aprisio land, did a) those holding land by aprisio mention these unwritten privileges and b) were these privileges recognized in the proceedings? I don’t know the answer to this and certainly a dispute taking place in, say, 890 can’t tell us much about Charles the Bald’s intentions when he stopped referring to privileges in these grants in 847, but it would add some weight to the “customary but unwritten privilege” argument.

The final area I would like to explore is by returning to the disagreement between Jarrett and Chandler about whether the aprisio grant “was created and used by the Frankish kings to establish a military counterweight, in the form of an armed yeomanry, that might check the independence of the counts whom the kings appointed to this distant frontier.” (321-2)

I’ll mention a couple of things on this. First, this is a bit of an oversimplification of Chandler’s argument. He believes aprisio was, at least in part, introduced as a way to reduce, or at least counter, the power of distant marcher counts (or if it wasn’t introduced for this purpose, the Carolingians quickly recognized the potential benefits). The fact that aprisiones were to give military service to the king, not the local count, is an aspect of this power reduction, but far from the whole of it. In addition, Chandler argues that their appealing directly to the king, rather than to the count for justice, and that statements in the grants saying they would only hold their lands so long as they were faithful to the Carolingians are also aspects of this. 11

This is not unpersuasive, if relatively unprovable. Put more correctly, I think it’s a reasonable, though certainly contestable, interpretation of the evidence (what can you actually “prove” in history anyway?). One problem with the theory is that aprisiones were generally given the right to sell their property. It would still ultimately belong to the king, but would have another landholder. If countering comital power was a major concern, then it would seem that allowing the alienation of land to either an ally of the local count or the count himself might have been restricted.

For my money, I think it very possible that Charlemagne and his successors saw this as a way of maintaining their influence in the marcher lands, as Chandler proposes. I question how much impact it would have had though. A belligerent count could create much more trouble for a landholder than the king over 600 miles (a thousand kilometers) away, no matter who he held his land from. I have a feeling most Hispani and aprisiones likely paid more attention to the local guy who had armed forces at his call, may have controlled the local mill, etc., than to a distant king. To me the military force aspect would have been less important as a check than the appeal to justice since in that case a king could basically overrule a count about something taking place in his back yard and would also find out much more quickly if local authorities were getting out of hand.

I’d like to propose an interpretation of my own for this. At the time of the first aprisio grant, Charlemagne had just finished a failed invasion of Muslim Spain. Clearly he did not achieve all of his objectives and I don’t think it’s a stretch to conjecture that he at least had thoughts of going back. The aprisio grants – as well as the grants to Hispani – would have provided him with a force located close to his target which he could call up for military service without requiring them to attend the mallus. This is pretty much opinion on my part without any basis in the evidence (that I’m aware of) but it seems like it might be an option.

To return to Jarrett’s paper as a whole, I enjoyed it – and it forced me to read Cullen Chandler’s 2002 article which I also enjoyed. Composing this post was not quite as enjoyable, simply because I’m posting from an even greater degree of ignorance than I’m accustomed to. I found Jarrett’s article very persuasive. It seems like we’re constantly, on closer examination, finding that almost any medieval institution is not as simple as we had believed. The thought that there might be considerable variability in different aprisio grants not only seems logical, but it appeals to me. I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite books is Chris Wickham’s Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800 (Oxford, 2005). If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this book, it’s not to generalize. Instead, closely examine items individually and only then, if the evidence fits, can things be grouped together and generalizations applied. While aprisio grants share a name, I’m very willing to accept that their characteristics might change over time, or even depending on the recipient. Although it’s apparent that the grant might well contain some privileges, it appears that quite often it did not, or that these privileges were not uniform, and Jarret’s article has persuaded me that, “Aprisio was one of these practices, an interesting and illustrative one, but in final analysis, mainly a word for a wider phenomenon of ground-level clearance and settlement, in which context it has to be understood.” (342) 12

1 Jarrett, Jonathan, ‘Settling the kings’ lands: aprisio in perspective,’ Early Medieval Europe 18 (2010), pp. 320-342.

2 This is where Google and Blogger and the Internet get in the way. I wanted to title this post: “Northward Ho! A Carolingian Homestead System”. But not mentioning aprisio in the title would have been bad – and including the word “ho” for search engines to pick up would have been worse.

3 Chandler, Cullen J., ‘Between court and counts: Carolingian Catalonia and the aprisio grant, 778-897,’ Early Medieval Europe 11 (2002), pp. 19-44.

4 I’m not sure if this even matters but I want to mention that at the time he wrote his 2002 article, Cullen Chandler was not yet Dr. Chandler but a Phd. candidate. I have no idea what the protocol is for this – maybe by even mentioning it I’m screwing up. I know that advanced doctoral students will – and in this case certainly did – provide quality work. The only thing I can go by is consistency. I tried to include education levels and affiliation in my Kalamazoo session write-ups so I wanted to include it here, somewhere, but hopefully without in any way inferring that Chandler wrote anything but a quality article, or that he should be judged any differently from any other author.

5 The detail with which Dr. Jarrett explores the evidence and my own propensity toward over-writing combined to create a slightly ludicrous situation. My initial foray resulted in a post of 532 words – at which time I had only gotten to the 4th page of the article. This edition is, I hope, a bit saner, though it’s still my longest blog post to date. My goal is to discuss some things of interest and encourage people to read EME, not recreate the entire article in Geekish.

6 Hispani is a term used by Carolingians for residents of Spain who fled Muslim territories to live under Carolingian rule. It has been explained that often these were people who supported the Carolingians during the invasion and, once it was beaten back, found the concept of remaining under Muslim rule untenable. NOTE: See Jonathan Jarrett’s comment below regarding the correct use of the term Hispani.

7 Once I got into the details of the charter evidence I nearly decided not to post this article. I am completely unfamiliar with this evidence and am unable to comment on it other than to state that Jarrett footnotes extensively, in particular referring to R. d’Abdadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolingia Vol. II: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, 2 vols (Barcelona, 1926-52). In fact, if Dr. Chandler had not responded to my Carolingian Lay Literacy post, I may not have written this at all. However this seemed like a good way to start an interesting discussion and, from a selfish perspective, I have a feeling I may learn a lot from these two gentlemen and hopefully others will as well. And I should note that Chandler’s 2002 article also uses sources extensively, though his interpretation of some of them are different.

8 This is a major theme of Dr. Chandler’s 2002 EME article and one I really would like to give more time to. Chandler offers a summary of his argument for this on pages 22-24 and also in his conclusion (43-44) but touches on it throughout.

9 See Davies, Wendy and Fouracre, Paul, eds., The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe, (Cambridge, 1986) ISBN: 978-0521428958, p. 275. The thirty-year rule is also discussed in several cases in this book, in particular in; “Dispute Settlement in Carolingian West Francia,” by Janet L. Nelson, pp. 49-51 and; “Land disputes and their social framework in Lombard-Carolingian Italy, 700-900,” by Chris Wickham, pp. 110-111.

10 See Chandler (2002), p. 26, “Not only do grants of aprisiones to Hispani chronologically and geographically coincide with grants of immunity to monasteries, but aprisio grants also contained immunities that paralleled those contained in the diplomata issued to monasteries.”

11 In Chandler (2002) for discussion on; appealing directly to the king for justice, see pp. 22-3 and p. 27; military service owed to the king, see p. 25; statement that they will retain their grant only so long as they remain faithful to the Carolingians, see p. 30.

12 Even with the length of this post, I haven’t completely covered this article. Dr. Jarrett also includes a substantial discussion of what aprisio, even with the inconsistencies he attributes to it, can teach us about patterns of land settlement. I haven’t touched on this here, though it’s one of the most informative sections of the article. Again, I encourage people to read the full article, as well as Dr. Chandler’s.


Posted by on August 8, 2010 in Society and Social Structure


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Carolingian Lay Literacy

My extremely busy 2-month work period ended with the close of a conference Thursday. Saturday morning I had the urge to post something – but there’s nothing medieval floating around in my brain. It’s full of 1st century BC stuff and I didn’t want to put anything up about Cicero stretching his neck out to be executed or Antony and Octavius either at war or peace, or even what Cleopatra may have looked like. Fortunately, Early Medieval Europe (EME) came to the rescue. 1

The new issue is out and it has some good stuff. So good that I did something I rarely do and printed off two articles to read more closely, one by Cullen Chandler and another by Jonathan Jarrett. Usually I just save the PDF’s and read them on my screen. This had an added, unexpected benefit. I couldn’t find my stapler (it was on the dining room table) and started digging through my desk – and found a “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Desk Calendar 1999.” THAT was a bonus – Heidi Klum has looked very good for a long time. Also, there was a review of Patrick Wormald’s and Janet Nelson’s (eds) Lay Intellectuals in the Carolingian World (Cambridge, 2008). As always, I looked at the title wistfully, then decided to check the price. Sure enough – it’s still over $90, which is why the only thing I look at is the title – except Cambridge is releasing a paperback edition in September. Score!

First weekend without having to go in to work in a month, some fresh (well, maybe not so fresh) eye-candy, an unexpectedly affordable edition of a book I really want and some good articles so I can start to re-medievalize my brain – yesterday was a good day.

I’m gonna save Jonathan’s discussion of the Carolingian apriso for another day and start with “Barcelona BC 569 and a Carolingian programme on the virtues” by Cullen J. Chandler. 2

Those of you with any background or interest in the Carolingians will know of Dhuoda’s Liber manualis, commonly known as the “Handbook for William.” I’ll refer to it as the Handbook from this point forward. 3

For those who aren’t, here’s a very brief summary, complete with links to Wikipedia articles (please don’t hurt me!). William was the son of Bernard of Septimania and Dhuoda. Bernard was pretty high up on the Carolingian food chain. He was Count of Septimania and also named Duke of Barcelona. Both of these were pretty important, often contested Carolingian possessions, so having someone reliable in this position was important.

Map of Septimania, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Unfortunately, Bernard was only reliable until Louis the Pious died in 840. After that, for various reasons he chose the wrong side in the ensuing civil wars and was executed by Charles the Bald in 844. While this was going on, William had been consigned to Charles’ court. While he was there, Dhuoda sent him her Handbook.

We know little about Dhuoda other than that she very likely came from a wealthy family and was well educated. The Handbook is primarily a moral guide where Dhuoda describes to William how to live his life from a moral perspective. It’s also written in a fairly melancholy tone – reading it, you get the sense that Dhuoda isn’t a happy camper, whether it was because Bernard’s position was insecure, because he was sleeping around, because she didn’t see him much, or because William was stuck in the court of a somewhat hostile, powerful man. Or maybe she was just an anti-jovial person.

Apparently, the Handbook didn’t take – or if it did, the result couldn’t have been what she wanted. After his father’s execution William rebelled and, after some initial successes, was defeated and executed at the age of 23.

The Handbook is fascinating – a lengthy, well-written book indicating lay literacy – and female lay literacy. It hints at a role for Carolingian women of serving as the voice of morals and values. And it certainly tells us that noble Carolingian women could read and write quite well. But that’s not what Chandler’s article is about (not exactly) and not what I want to discuss.

The most complete edition of the Handbook was found in the manuscript Barcelona BC 569. This is simple enough. However medieval manuscripts frequently don’t contain just one text – they are often a collection. This particular collection included seven. Chandler included a very helpful table on page 273 which I’ll paraphrase here (because I’m currently too lazy to remember how to build a table in html – something about TD and TR):

  • Isidore of Seville’s Chronica – this is also known as the Chronica Majora, a brief history of the world.
  • Isidore of Seville’s Liber differentiarum, the section found in BC 569 is concerned with questions about the nature of the Trinity.
  • Expositio computus de diuisionibus temporum by Bede, a treatise on math and computation.
  • Dhuoda’s Liber manualis
  • Alcuin’s De uirtutibus et uitiis, a moral treatise.
  • Disticha Catonis, moral tracts/proverbs authored by Dionysius Cato in the 3rd century.
  • Commentary on Parabolas Salamone by Alcuin – a commentary on the parables of Solomon found in Proverbs.

The significance of this is well described by Chandler – all of the above works are those which might reasonably be expected to be found in an educated lay Carolingian’s library. Several of the texts are very similar to portions of Dhuoda’s Handbook. The Barcelona manuscript is a 14th century copy of an earlier work. He believes it likely that it was copied from a collection of documents which may represent William’s library, and that it is very possible that all of these works were sent to William by Dhuoda. If so (or even if not – this just provides added evidence), this is an excellent example of the type of education/literacy expected of a high-level Carolingian noble – and possessed by a woman of the same class.

As Chandler says, “The complete contents of BC 569 show nicely a Carolingian-era educational programme in which science as we know it was subordinated to, and indeed an element of, the knowledge of God. In fact, these texts embody the ideals of virtue and learning that Dhuoda herself held and wanted to impart to William.” (p 273)

Chandler notes that there is post-9th century material in BC 569, particularly “a list of Carolingian and Capetian kings from Pippin III to Louis VII”. (p 280) He believes it likely that this regnal list was added to Isidore’s Chronicle by a later copyist.

I won’t go into the complete details of Chandler’s argument, which includes an excellent discussion of each of the texts included in Barcelona BC 569. In general, he describes what each text is about, discusses how they would be appropriate for an educated Carolingian to have, and how Dhuoda’s Handbook utilizes material from them. The BC 569 texts provide a mixture of moral instruction and science – items that would fit in well with the education of a Carolingian noble.

While the theory that these texts originated from a single library cannot be proven, it is a very logical inference. Pierre Riché “concludes that the version of the Liber manualis in the Barcelona manuscript is closest textually to Dhuoda’s and William’s copies . . .” (p 275). The manuscript also includes other texts available to 9th century Carolingians and contains topics related to those included in the Handbook. It is reasonable to conclude that the texts in BC 569 came from the same collection – and the simplest explanation for the origin of that collection is that it came from William’s.

There are other possibilities. Perhaps William or (after his death) one of his associates augmented Dhuoda’s Handbook with other similar works. Perhaps a member of the royal court saw Dhuoda’s Handbook and said to William, “This is cool – here are some other things which go along with it.” Perhaps someone in the 12th (or any century up to the 14th) century collected these together. However the simplest explanation is that a) the texts all belonged to William and b) that they were sent to him by his mother. The one item that might clinch this is lacking – a reference in Dhuoda’s Handbook to other texts she is sending, or intends to send.

This does not keep Chandler’s hypothesis from being the simplest, and most logical. “It could be the case, then, that Dhuoda sent Isidore’s text along with her Liber manualis to William at court in the 840s. He later took it with him, along with some early additions to the narrative and other texts now in BC 569, to Barcelona, where he died in rebellion in 848.” (p 281)

In essence, it is a strong possibility, perhaps even likely, that Dhuoda sent all of these texts to her son in an effort to engage him in a fairly standard Carolingian educational program. This has important implications for details of lay literacy, education, and let’s not forget how much concern this shows that Dhuoda held for her son. Very good article that I enjoyed tremendously. And even though this is quite a long post, I haven’t begun to detail Chandler’s argument.  

1 As I’ve mentioned before, I encourage anyone with an interest to see if you have JSTOR access. EME is an excellent publication – there were 4 articles in this issue and I downloaded all of them.

2 Chandler, Cullen J., ‘Barcelona BC 569 and a Carolingian programme on the virtues,’ Early Medieval Europe 18 (2010), pp. 265-291.

3 The edition generally cited as most complete and reliable is Riché, Pierre, ed. (1975). Manuel por mon fils (Paris). I have the English edition, based on Riché. Neel, Carol, trans. (1991 with 1999 addendum). Handbook for William: A Carolingian Woman’s Counsel for Her Son (Washington, DC). ISBN: 978-0813209388.


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