Tag Archives: Jonathan Jarrett

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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Cool Stuff on Other Blogs III

I should subtitle this, “and Cool New Blogs.” Meaning blogs I just found out about, not newly created.

At the moment I have nothing to say but some time to say it. This is a perilous situation but I will attempt to avoid boring you all.

My first kudos goes to Michelle Ziegler. Michelle has her excellent blog on the Early Medieval British Isles, Heavenfield. She also has a second blog, Contagions. I happen to not have this on my blog list because about 80% of the content is well over my head. I mean, I took Epi in college but along with Physics and Advanced Calculus I seem to have eradicated it from my brain. But every so often she posts a Round-up. These are very interesting, even when none of my stuff is mentioned, and this time it introduced me to four new blogs I’m planning to pay attention to.

First up is Kristina Killgrove’s Roman DNA Project Blog. There are a couple of reasons I’m interested in this, even though it’s before my period. First is that how the Empire was populated is interesting in and of itself. Second is that DNA evidence is coming up quite frequently in Medieval research and by following a project from its beginning (If I can – I didn’t donate) I should be able to learn a lot about methodology. As I’ve said before, this is not so I can go out and do my own research, which I expect to never do, but so I can better assess the validity of an argument when I read it.

Rosemary Joyce has a blog, Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives which seems (I’ve just started reading it) to be about archaeological evidence disclosing the roles of gender, in particular women, in ancient societies. I’ve always been fascinated in trying to find out (from a reading what other people write perspective) what happened to two massively underrepresented groups, peasants and women. While for her blog ancient does indeed seem to cover the ancient period, women were just as underrepresented in pretty much all of history and going earlier will still be very interesting.

Senchus is a blog about Early Medieval Scotland authored by Tim Clarkson and I’ll just say that I’m a bit embarrassed that I didn’t already know of it.

I think I’m going to enjoy reading Bones Don’t Lie. Katie Meyers is a PhD student at Michigan State and it looks like she knows her stuff.

So thanks Michelle!

Gabriele from The Lost Fort always has excellent posts with great pictures. She has two posts which cover historic sites including a lot of reconstructed Germanic (sorry Goffart!) buildings, bridges, etc. Really good stuff.

As always, it seems, I can’t do one of these without mentioning Jonathan Jarrett. Even though I don’t know enough about it to comment, his opening report on Leeds has some fabulous pictures of Whitby Abbey. If Jonathan ever gets tired of this Medieval stuff he might do pretty well as a photo journalist (He could get some serious competition from Gabriele). He does far better with images than I could ever hope to and these are particularly good when he breaks out his camera.

And yet again, one of the things I got from this post, based on clicking on the links for some of the comments, ended up being two things; new blogs to follow. I really need to mine Jonathan’s Blogroll one of these days.

First up is L’Historien Errant. Christian Opitz says his main focus is Late Medieval which makes it several hundred years later than mine but I was impressed enough by the quality of the posts to want to start reading what he has to say, whether I understand much of it or not.

Slouching Towards Extimacy looks to have an Anglo-Saxon focus. I couldn’t find out who the author was so either he/she wishes to remain anonymous or I couldn’t figure out where to look. Of course I had to look up what “extimacy” means but it’s such a cool word. Looks like a pretty cool blog too. And give me a break – 15 years ago I didn’t know what exegesis meant. 1

I wasn’t going to focus on Jonathan’s most recent post about Richard Hodges’ book on the Vikings but it was through comments on that post that I found Norse and Viking Ramblings authored by Viqueen. I have not read a ton on them but I have several books on the Vikings and am interested in them and figuring out their impacts on Western Europe, in particular (for now, I always find more to be interested in when I start reading) on the evolution of fortifications in Western Europe. From scanning the first page of posts I think this is another gold mine.

So thanks again Jonathan – not just for the great posts but for helping me find some other terrific blogs.

I had a bit more to add but this seems long enough for now. I may follow up in a couple of days with a bit more. But reading three posts and finding seven new blogs? That’s a pretty good couple of days there.

1 Another broken vow. I swore when I started this blog to never use “exegesis” or “exegetical” in a post. I suppose I’ll just have to remember not to use it in a historical context or in a review while discussing how the author examines texts.


Posted by on November 19, 2011 in Other Blogs


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Scattered Not-so-Random Thoughts

I’ve been reading quite a bit on Ostrogothic and Lombard Italy lately. I’ve never focused on the Lombards before so I’m learning quite a bit. I read some of the obvious books years ago such as Chris Wickham’s Early Medieval Italy, Neil Christie’s The Lombards and Paul the Deacon’s History of the Lombards.

I’ve been waiting for something to stimulate my brain to the point where I’d feel inspired to post. This has happened three times. Each time I started a post and in reviewing it realized that it had huge holes, largely due to my lack of knowledge, and was in an area where, once I look into it more, I should be able to put up something more substantial. 1

So here are my teasers; areas I intend to look at in more depth at some point (I really shouldn’t run out and buy more books right now – I have plenty to read sitting here). While these are Italy-based, they have implications for Western Europe during the period.

The nature of violence. The closest I came to making a complete post was one which would have been titled something like, The Feud and Vendetta in Late Antiquity. What stopped me was realizing that in order to do this topic justice I would have to try to place the feud in context with the role of violence overall, and based on that, how the state tried to regulate legitimate societal violence as one of its aspects of maintaining authority, and how this evolved from a recognition of a legitimate personal grievance to one where these grievances were a matter of concern for the state. 2

This arose from a discussion by Giorgio Ausenda and Sam Barnish on how feud was regulated by Liutprand where a murderer would lose everything, “They [those who developed Liutprand’s legal decrees] condemned the intentional killer to the loss of his entire substance, with the proviso that, if the murderer’s substance was less than the compensation stated in Rothari’s Edict, he was to be delivered to the victim’s relatives; if it was more, half the balance was to go to the king’s court and the rest to the victim’s heirs.” 3

One of the things I enjoy about the Studies in Historical Archaeoethnology series sponsored by the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Social Stress is that the volumes include participant discussions following each paper. One of the exchanges, initiated by Marios Costambeys, discusses how feud and vendetta were extensively mentioned in literature, less frequently in law codes, and are almost nonexistent in charters. Costambeys offers that literary mention of feuds may involve topoi and may not be representative of reality. This raises a host of questions for me, including whether one would expect to find this mentioned in charters, but also provided the motivation for my almost-post. 4

Lombard aristocracy. An area which I am intrigued by, but have never looked into, is why the city-state developed in Medieval Italy. Now every Medieval society is unique however entities such as 13th century Genoa and Venice are more unique than most. I don’t know for sure that these were factors – the temporal distance my be too great to make that connection – however the inability of the Lombards to create the sort of Romano-barbarian kingdom found in Gaul and Hispania may have something to do with it. 5

Related to this is that Lombard aristocrats did not develop the wealth possessed by the Franks and that the aristocrats were much more city-based than in Gaul. 6 Was this a precursor to the development of city-states? I don’t know but it’s an interesting question.

Literacy. Literacy and Education have always interested me, in particular evidence for lay literacy. I have never focused all that much on the development of scripts and what that may indicate. Nicholas Everett discusses the evolution of Lombard scripts from very individualistic, varied cursives to the adoption of more standardized miniscule. He argues that this development is an indication of a lower level of literacy, though possibly a broader audience. 7

This makes some sense. I’m not sure about lower level of literacy. To me, individualistic scripts may represent manuscripts intended for a limited audience – a small circle of “literate elites” – which would recognize and read it easily. It also may indicate political leadership having little influence on what was being written – an absence of the “official” centers where charters are redacted or edicts written such as are found with the Carolingians. It may possibly point to a lower literacy level at the court as well though this would require a lot of investigation before I’d be comfortable with it as a conclusion.

These three areas; the role of feud and vendetta; the structure of Lombard society and; what the development of scripts may indicate about literacy and the uses of writing, were very interesting for me. However, while I’m interested in them, I don’t know enough about any of these topics to offer them up as standalone posts.

1 I apologize for my lack of substantive posts lately. I finished a major responsibility on September 24 and thought I’d have more time. I underestimated how many projects I’d set aside to be worked on as soon as I finished this. I’m still working through “the stack” and hope to return to more regular posting in the not-too-distant future.

2 I use the term “state” very loosely here. Entities in Western Europe in Late Antiquity lacked many of the aspects we would today attribute to a state. Guy Halsall’s use of the term “polity” is more accurate but I don’t want to take the time to discuss that here – for the folks who this blog targets, I think I’ll stick with state, however flawed. There have been some interesting blog posts on this topic recently. I’d suggest one by Guy Halsall and another by Steve Muhlberger referencing Susan Reynolds. This is another area I really need to focus on – what is a state and which medieval societies fit the term?

3 Giorgio Ausenda and Sam Barnish, “A Comparative Discussion of Langobardic Feud and Blood-Money Compensation with Parallels from Contemporary Anthropology and from Medieval History,” p. 314 in Ausenda, Delogu and Wickham, eds. (2009). This seems to indicate a situation where under Liutprand, violence in the form of feuds and vendettas were no longer a crime against an individual and/or family, but a public crime, requiring that the state also be compensated. Graham Barrett gave a paper titled, “Literacy, Law and Libido in Early Medieval Spain” at Kalamazoo in 2010 which pointed out a similar evolution in 10th century Hispania.

4 Ausenda and Barnish (2009), p. 338. This is something I really want to explore. I’m for anything which further debunks the portrayal of Medieval Society, particularly immediately post-Roman, as the anarchic, people running around killing each other randomly, way it’s frequently been illustrated in older history, popular modern literature, and credit card commercials. But I need to know more before I start posting on it. Another shout-out to Guy Halsall. His Violence and Society in the Early Medieval West is extensively referenced. One more book I haven’t read which I clearly need to get to.

5 Paolo Delogu, “Kingship and the Shaping of the Lombard Body Politic,” p. 255 in Ausenda, Delogu and Wickham, eds. (2009). Delogu believes that Authari and Agiluf attempted to create this sort of entity however Roman society was too fragmented in the wake of the Gothic Wars to take this sort of role in kingdom formation.

6 Chris Wickham, “Social Structures in Lombard Italy,” p. 123 and discussion on pp. 140-2 in Ausenda, Delogu and Wickham, eds. (2009).

7 Everett, Nicholas, Literacy in Lombard Italy, c. 568-774, (2003) pp. 315-6. I am not, overall, very fond of this book. I felt he was overly given to conjecture and did not provide sufficient evidence for many of his conclusions, however this argument was pretty good. Many of his arguments are interesting but he failed to provide a discussion of the evidence in the sort of detail to convince me. Jonathan Jarrett once asked me about reviewing books I didn’t find useful. This book became a candidate (and this may still happen). A lot of good ideas, insufficient evidentiary support for many of them.


Ausenda, Giorgio, Delogu, Paolo and Wickham, Chris, eds., The Langobards before the Frankish Conquest: An Ethnographic Perspective. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press (2009). ISBN: 9-781843-834906.

Christie, Neil, The Lombards. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers (1995). ISBN: 9-780631-211976.

Everett, Nicholas, Literacy in Lombard Italy, c. 568-774. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2003). ISBN: 978-0-521-17410-7.

Halsall, Guy, Violence and Society in the Early Medieval West. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press (1998).

Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, Edward Peters, ed., William Dudley Foulke, trans. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (2003). ISBN: 9-780812-210798.

Wickham, Chris, Early Medieval Italy: Central Power and Local Society 400-1000. Ann Arbor, MI, USA: Ann Arbor Paperbacks (1989). ISBN: 9-780472-08099-7.


Posted by on October 16, 2011 in Blogology


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Cool Stuff on Other Blogs II

I had a post I really wanted to get out before I leave tomorrow until realizing that it may generate some discussion and while I’ll have internet access, I should be near my books, depending on what questions or comments come up. It’s mostly written so I should get it out next weekend.

Since I have nothing else to offer, here are a few recent posts by other bloggers which have caught my attention.

Steve Muhlberger put up a post a week or so ago which I found very interesting. In the US at least, and this may be true of other countries in what we’d call Western Civilization, we have a tendency to think of an entire country as being of basically the same culture. I’d argue that while this is more true in the US than many places, it’s not absolute even here. His post is a nice reminder that multiculturalism is the rule, not the exception even today, and was so to an even greater extent in the past. When I started reading about the Crusades one of the things that struck me was how many different Arab groups there were and how this had such an impact on their initial inability to resist the crusaders and crusade states. They were very willing to enter an alliance with Christians if it gained them an advantage against a rival Arab group. The Crusades have often been portrayed as a simple “Christian vs Islam” struggle. It was much more complex than that.

This is a bit of an old song here but once again I’m impressed with the latest post by Jonathan Jarrett detailing his travels in Catalonia. This one, in addition to having a lot of excellent historical information, includes some great pictures.

Magistra et Mater has two very good posts detailing IHR Early Medieval Seminars. Between her and Jonathan I feel like we got the whole set of sessions. I’m particularly interested in the earlier of the two, discussing continuity with some comments on the use of evidence, two topics I’m really interested in. I started to reply to that post three (I think) times and each time I got to over a hundred words with more to say – too long for a post comment, even for an over-writer like me. Her second post, on the, sort of, survival of free speech into the Middle Ages is also interesting and has its own implications for continuity.

Michelle Ziegler has two good blogs, Heavenfield and Contagions. She recently put up a post discussing her thoughts on Cuthbert’s impact on Aldfrith’s succession to the English throne in the late 7th century. Contagions is good if you’re interested in a more scientific discussion of diseases and their evolution, spread, and impacts. She also periodically puts up summaries of what other people are blogging about – and I’m not saying this just because I received a mention in her latest one! It’s a good way to find out what people are talking about.

My final reading suggestion isn’t exactly about history but about how to do academic work. Another Damned Medievalist and Notorious PhD have started an online writing group. I’ve been following this and find it very interesting. I debated signing up but my current major writing project is much more along the lines of “unwriting.” I have been asked to take elements of a two-hour presentation I’ve given probably two dozen times over the past 2 years and break it down into several 1,000-2,000 word publications, along the lines of fact sheets. I decided not to curse the group with this particular task.

However I’ve been following the discussion and I think, even by lurking, I’m going to learn a lot. The folks in this group are so much more disciplined than I. It’s also interesting to see, once again, how very different humanities presentations are from those in my field. I received an e-mail yesterday asking me to give an hour-long presentation on June 30. Now it’s on a topic I’m very familiar with but I’ve never presented on it before. If I had to present it from an academic paper, I don’t think I could get that put together in less than three weeks, however well I know the topic. But I’m going to create an outline, flesh it out, develop a powerpoint (I don’t read from ppt’s – I use them like I used index cards in the pre-digital age) and am very comfortable with being able to do that, though this has changed what I’ll be doing on my flight tomorrow. Anyway, if you are involved with writing, I encourage you to keep an eye on this discussion. Very good stuff.

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Posted by on June 12, 2011 in Other Blogs


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The Disgusting Miracles of Gregory

Well, a couple of them anyway. To be honest, this post is inspired by one by Jonathan Jarrett from a few months ago. In this story a girl is healed when her mother runs to a manse where St. Marcel of Die has been staying, scrapes some of his saliva off the walls, and cleans the girl’s nose and mouth with it. 1

Gregory has a fondness for saliva himself. I was reading the Life of the Fathers (Vita Patrum) last night and came up with two spit stories. Neither is quite as good as Jonathan’s but hey, you gotta do what you can to contribute to the conversation.

One of Gregory’s subjects is Leobardus. Leobardus was a recluse and contemporary of Gregory’s who, “. . . obtained so much grace from God that with his saliva alone he could banish the poison from malignant pustules.” (Gregory, Vita Patrum 20.3 in James, 1991 p. 129) 2

Better, though still not quite up to the standard of the mother washing her daughter’s mouth out is St. Lupicinus. Lupicinus had this self-mortification thing going on where, “And he wore on his neck, all through the day, while he sang the praises of God in his cell, a large stone, which two men could hardly lift. . . . Towards the end of his life his chest was so crushed by the weight of the stone he wore that blood began to come from his mouth; he used to spit this out against the walls.” (Gregory, Vita Patrum 13.1 in James, 1991 pp. 86-7)

This blood-spit was valuable enough to fight over after his death. With his body still lying in his cell, ” . . . others collect from the walls the blessed blood that he had spat out. And indeed scuffles break out among them . . . The wall today still witnesses to what we have just said, for it has as many little holes as it had merited drops of spittle from the mouth of the blessed man. . . . I have indeed myself seen many who had scraped from the wall the spit which had come from that sanctified mouth, who have had the honor of relief from several illnesses.” (Gregory, Vita Patrum 13.2 in James, 1991 p. 88)

Not quite the detail of what was done as with Marcel’s, er, fluid, but still interesting, I guess. I’m going through Gregory’s The Miracles of the Bishop St. Martin right now and I think I might have something on bloody pus to offer in the near future.

1 It would be interesting to know if Marcel’s story was inspired by either of Gregory’s. More likely that all of these originated with John 9:1-12 where Jesus spits on the ground, mixes the dirt and spit into clay and puts it on a blind man’s eyes to restore his sight.

2 I know – incorrect method of attribution but since this blog is geared toward amateurs – I hope – I didn’t want to just reference Gregory or add a bunch of footnotes.

James, Edward, trans., Gregory of Tours: Life of the Fathers. 2nd ed. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press (1991). ISBN: 9-780853-233275.

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Posted by on October 4, 2010 in Hagiography, Literature


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Random and Not-so-Random Thoughts

I had a brief moment of delusion a month or so ago that my usually torrid (from a “real job” perspective) summer was easing up. A second wave of “business” started a couple of weeks ago and looks to continue at least through the next two weeks. Without time to really research and develop a content-driven post, I thought I’d highlight a few of my favorite blogs and throw in a couple of introspective notes.

Of course you can look at my Blog List on the left side of my web page. I like all of these and will at least scan them whenever a new post comes up, though David Beard’s Archaeology in Europe Blog sometimes overwhelms me with the amount of information. However right now I want to mention a few blogs which are largely focused on the Early Medieval/Late Antiquity periods.

Burgundians in the Mist is a blog devoted to the 5th and 6th century Burgundian Kingdom. The Burgundians were one of the Roman successor states, first settled as foederati and then carving out their own kingdom. In 534 they were defeated and their kingdom absorbed into that of the Merovingians. This website helps remove them from obscurity. One of the items which makes the Burgundians so interesting to me is that through the writings of Avitus of Vienne we’re provided a window into the struggle between Arian and Orthodox Christianity for Western supremacy. Outside of the Franks, all of the barbarian groupings that entered the former Roman territories were Arian and, one by one, they converted – or were destroyed by Justinian.

Grateful to the Dead is authored by Dr. Chris Armstrong, Professor of Church History at Bethel Seminary. The blog is not exclusively about the early Church, which is my main interest, but it has a lot of information about it, as well as the development of doctrine. I’ve only been following it for a short time but have found it very interesting.

Magistra et Mater has a blog which is a combination of her work on Early Medieval Europe and her current job as a Librarian (somehow “librarian” doesn’t seem to capture the essence of this – Library Scientist? academic librarian?). I’ve found her posts on the Carolingians very interesting and look forward to more of her work being published. I’m very interested in the role(s) of women during the Medieval period and her work on masculinity includes a tremendous amount of information on this. See her recent post on methods of study regarding the level of freedom women hold in societies for an example.

I’ve only recently been introduced to The Lost Fort through the recent Carnivalesque hosted by Jonathan Jarrett at A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe. Gabriele Campbell is a writer of historical fiction and fantasy who has done extensive research on the Ancient and Medieval periods. I haven’t had the time to go through her blog in depth – yet – but from what I can see, there’s a wealth of information.

You may wonder why I’ve left A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe so late. Alphabetically, Jonathan Jarrett’s blog is the first on my Blog List and anyone who’s read my blog knows how much I appreciate what he’s put together. That’s because I’m going to use his blog as a segue to another topic. Jonathan’s blog is remarkable for a couple of things. First, and most obvious, is the content. Absolutely loaded with information, not just about the 10th century and his most recent research interest, Catalonia, but about the Carolingians in particular, and Medieval History in general. Also, I’m a huge footnote-chaser and Jonathan includes these liberally. One of the things which characterizes all Medievalist blogs that I’ve come across is the love they have for the period and their work in it. I think this comes across particularly strongly in Jonathan’s blog. I’m certain there are Medievalists out there a bit discontented with their work, or wishing they were doing something else. But you don’t find them blogging.

Jonathan recently posted about his trip to the New Chaucer Conference in Siena a month or so ago. The post was interesting enough, but he was kind enough to include a link to his paper on blogging. I’ve read it 3 times.

Jonathan’s paper tells a story of how and why he began blogging, and how his blog has evolved. It’s good reading, but it speaks to me because I’m still trying to figure out what my blog is “about.” I know it’s about Late Antiquity and the Early Medieval period and I know it’s very much an amateur effort. But why does it exist? I started it because I enjoy conversations about medieval history and have engaged in multiple online forums related to this, and wasn’t happy with the level/content/something indefinable on any of them at the time. Mixed in with this is my enjoyment of teaching and my hope that I could provide some sort of amateur-professional “link” which other amateurs might find helpful. I’m certainly not a Medieval Historian, but when I get in a room full of them I can generally understand what they’re saying – something which wasn’t true at, say, my first International Congress on Medieval Studies ten years ago where I pretty much sat meekly in the back of the room during sessions.

That takes care of the why. How about the content, the what? As some have noted, I read a lot. I thought most of what I’d do would involve posting book reviews. It didn’t take very long to realize this wouldn’t happen. For one thing, while I read a lot, I don’t whip through a 500-page book every week and I feel it’s important to post regularly, at least weekly. However I don’t want this blog to be about my real job, my real life, or anything but medieval history.

So reading Jonathan’s paper has me thinking, again, about the purpose of this blog, the message I’d like to communicate. I’m not sure I have one beyond “the Middle Ages fascinate me.” No overarching theme or concept. This will likely result in a continued mixture of posts with a fair level of content, interspersed with those such as this one which include resources and introspective thoughts (nobody should interpret this post as even hinting that I don’t enjoy blogging or am thinking of stopping). And while I don’t want to “post just to post” I find this happening – where, when I’m busy, I throw something like this out (which I can put together in an hour without digging through references) so I can have a post up at least weekly, even when I have nothing to say.

Not to worry though. I’ve just started Allen Jones’ Social Mobility in Late Antique Gaul: Strategies and Opportunities for the Non-Elite. I think I’m going to enjoy this, and I expect I’ll have something to say about it when I finish.


Posted by on August 29, 2010 in Blogology, Resources


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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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