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Writing History: Identity, Conflict, and Memory in the

Middle Ages

Patrick J. Geary

Edited by Florin Curta and Cristina Spinei

Romanian Academy

Institute of Archaeology of Iai

ti-Brila: Editura Academiei Romne 2012

Table of Contents

Part I. Identity in the Early Middle Ages

Chapter One
Ethnic Identity as a Situational Construct
in the Early Middle Ages

Chapter Two
The Meaning of Religion and Conversion in the Early Middle Ages

Chapter Three
Barbarians and Ethnicity

Chapter Four
Teutonic Racial Ideology in America in the Nineteenth Century

Part II. Conflict Processing

Chapter Five
Monastic Memory and Onomastic Oblivion in Provence

Chapter Six
Moral Obligations and Peer Pressure
Conflict Resolution in the Medieval Aristocracy

Chapter Seven
Literacy and Violence in twelfth-century Bavaria:
th M d L tt of Co nt Siboto IV

Chapter Eight
Extrajudicial Means of Conflict Resolution

Chapter Nine
Gab i l Monod, F st l d Co lang s and Si ha s adv nt s:
The Birth of Scientific History in the Nineteenth Century

Chapter Ten
Oathtaking and Conflict Management in the Ninth Century

Part III. The Historians Craft

Chapter Eleven
Judicial Violence and Torture in the Carolingian Empire

Chapter Twelve
Visions of Medieval Studies in North America

Chapter Thirteen
Medieval Germany in America

Chapter Fourteen
History as Memory

Chapter Fifteen
Land, Language and Memory in Europe 700-1100

Chapter Sixteen
Comparative History and Social Scientific Theory

Chapter Seventeen
Gift Exchange and Social Science Modeling
The Limitations of a Construct

Chapter Eighteen
Medieval Studies in America

Chapter Nineteen
Ein wenig Wissenschaft von Gestern:
The Influence of German Language Medieval History in America

Chapter Twenty
Multiple Middle Ages: Rival Meta-Narratives and the
Competition to Speak the Past

Chapter Twenty-One
Historians as Public Intellectuals

Chapter Twenty-Two
What Happened to Latin?

Chapter One

Ethnic Identity as a Situational Construct

in the Early Middle Ages1

Studying early medieval ethnicity is a dangerous and difficult undertaking. In part these

diffi lti s a is f om th fa t that, lik f dalism, thni ity is a mod n onst t ath than a

ont mpo a y at go y, and h n xaminations of thni id ntity isk anachronism when the

origins of contemporary concerns and antagonism are sought in the past.

As Falko Daim has pointed out, the terminology of ethnicity is used by modern

ethnographers, sociologists, folklorists, archaeologists, and historians in ways that often have

little in common with each other and possibly in common with the uses of similar terminology in

antiquity or the early Middle Ages.2

In addition, this particular construct has been intimately connected since at least the

eighteenth century to that oth lat d mod n ation, nationalism, and v n today

medievalists appear unable or unwilling to separate the two. Obviously National Socialism

focused considerable attention on the German folk and created a dangerous and damaging body

of literature on the subject.3 But this Nazi period was but an extreme aberration of a much longer

and fundamental tendency in Germanic scholarship: the search for a national identity. In the

period prior to 1870 the problem was one of search for a substratum of unity in the face of

political disunity. After 1945 the same problem has reemerged in a slightly different form: is

This essay first appeared in the Mitteilungen der anthropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien 113 (1983) pp. 15-26 and
was reprinted in Folk Life in the Middle Ages, ed. Edward Peters, Medieval Perspectives 3 (1988) [1991], pp. 1-
Falko Daim, D dank n z m Ethnosb g iff, Mitteilungen der anthropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien 112
(1983), pp. 58-71.
For example, Paul Kirn, Aus der Frhzeit des Nationalgefhls (Leipzig, 1943).

there a Germany?4 Not surprisingly, therefore, in German scholarship the searches for ethnic and

national identity have become intertwined.

The two are perhaps even more intimately connected in France, where nationalism has a

longer history, where that tradition has not been discredited by the extremes of fascism, and

where the events and aftermath of three wars have created an enduring climate of anti-Germanic

sentiment. Not only did the great positivist historians of the early twentieth century, such as

Maurice Chaume, allow themselves to be carried away in excesses of nationalist or regionalist

fervor,5 but even today as excellent a scholar as Michel Rouche can present an image of civilized

Romans in the Midi fighting the faithless barbarity of the Germanic Franks well into the eighth


Perhaps, in light of these difficulties, it would be better to avoid the topic altogether.

However, to do so would be inappropriate for two reasons. First, the scarce sources from the

sixth through tenth centuries do use terms such as populus, gens, and natio, to ha a t iz

social groups, and they qualify some individuals as being ex genere Francorum, Romanorum,

g ndion m, and th lik . Som s ns m st b mad of this in s apabl ling isti vid n

for the existence of something one can call, for lack of a better term, ethnic consciousness.

Second, as has been indicated above, too much continues to be written about early medieval

ethnicity which is not only conceptually and materially weak but which, because it perpetuates

popular stereotypes of age-old divisions between Romance and Germanic groups, presents a

distortion of the past which continues to inhibit a proper understanding of the present.

Carl Hinrichs and Wilhelm Berges, eds., Die Deutsche Einheit als Problem der Europischen Geschichte,
(Stuttgart, 1960). The intimate connection between ethnicity and national identity is evident in many of the
essays in eds. Helmut Beumann and Werner Schrder, Aspekte der Nationenbildungen im Mittelalter,
Ergebnisse der Marburger Rundgesprache 1972-75. Nationes: Historische und philologische Untersuchungen
zur Entstehung der europischen Nationen im Mittelalter, Bd. I (Sigmaringen, 1978).
Ma i Cha m , L s ntim nt national bo g ignon d Gond ba d Cha l s l Tm ai , Annales de
lAcadmie de Dijon (1922).
Michel Rouche, LAquitaine des Wisigoths aux Arabes 418-781: Naissance dune rgion (Paris, 1979).

Until quite recently the generally accepted view of the amalgam of Germanic and Gallo-

Roman societies has been that presented by Eugene Ewig and Reinhard Wenskus, the two

scholars who have done more than anyone else in the post-war period to temper the

misconceptions of early medieval ethnicity.7 In contrast to a generation of scholars who argued

that the basis of ethnic identity lay in the inherited and immutable tradition of personal legal

identity, they have emphasized the importance of territorialization, even as early as the seventh

century, and of language which, according to Wenskus, became increasingly important from the

ninth century. In general, they argue that the fusion of Germanic and Gallo-Roman elements in

European aristocracy had begun before the settlement of barbarians within the Empire, and that

by the eighth century this process was complete. The old tribal groups had ceased to cohere by

roughly 700, and after this time designations such as Roman, Frank, Goth, and Alamannian were

more territorial than ethnic.

Very recently this position has come under reexamination both in France and in Germany

as a younger generation of scholars argue that ethnic differences in the aristocracy in some areas

of Francia persisted well into the eighth, if not into the tenth and even eleventh centuries.8

The old studies of Godefroid Kurth, tudes Franques, 2 vols. (Paris and Brussels, 1919), while containing some
intelligent ideas, are no longer adequate discussions of medieval ethnicity. More important are Eugen Ewig,
Volkst m nd Volkb w ssts in im F ank n i h d s 7. Jah h nd ts, fi st p blish d in Caratteri del Secolo
VII in Occidente 2. S ttiman di st di d l C nt o italiano di st di s llalto m dio vo 5 (Spol to, 1958) and
reprinted in Eugen Ewig, Sptantikes und Frankisches Gallien, 1952-73, ed. Hartmunt. Atsma, vol. 1 (Munich,
1976), Beihefte der Francia, vol. 3/1, pp. 231-273; Reinhold Wenskus, Stammesbildung und Verfassung. Das
Werden der Frhmittelalterlichen Gentes (Cologne and Graz, 1961); Di d ts h n Stamme im Reiche Karls
d s G oss n, Karl Der Grosse 1 (1965), pp. 179-219; Rolf Sprandel, St kt nd G s hi ht d s
m owingis h n Ad ls, Historische Zeitschrift 193 (1961), pp. 33-71; and Ka l F dinand W n , L s
nations t l s ntim nt national dans lE op mdival , Revue Historique 244 (1970), reprinted in Structures
Politiques du Monde Franc VI-VIIe Sicles. tudes sur les Origines de la France et de LAllemagne (London,
Jean-Pierre Poly and Eric Bournazel, La Mutation Fodale Xe-Xlle Sicles (Pa is, 1980), pa t III, hap. 7: Unit
politiq t oppositions thniq s, pp. 313-348; Ho st Ebling, Jo g Ja n t and G d Kamp s, Nom n t g ns:
Untersuchungen zu den Fhrungsschichten des Franken-, Langobarden- und Westgotenreiches im 6. und 7.
Jahrh nd t, Francia, vol. 8 (1980), pp. 687-745. Ebling on the Franks, pp. 687-701.

While the revisionists dispute the chronology of their predecessors, in general they share

with them five basic suppositions about the meaning of early medieval ethnicity prior to its

dissolution, whether this dissolution occurred in the seventh or tenth century, suppositions which

must themselves be examined with care: 1. ethnicity is closely related to law and language; 2.

everyone had a specific ethnic identity; 3. all contemporaries should have been able to recognize

this on thni id ntity a p son sho ld not b all d a F ank in on so and a Roman o

Alamannian in another; 4. except over many generations, ethnic identity proved very difficult to

change, largely because of the personal nature of inherited law; 5. ethnic identity was a source of

friction in society.

These suppositions create an objective model for examining ethnicity which, while

simplifying the problem, may simultaneously distort the phenomenon. Ethnicity, as sociologists,

anthropologists and even some medievalists are increasingly aware, should be seen not only in

obj tiv , b t also in s bj tiv t ms. In th wo ds of Ws volod Isajiw, In ont ast to th

objective approach by which thni g o ps a ass m d to b xisting, as it w o t th as

real phenomena, the subjective approach defines ethnicity as a process by which individuals

either identify themselves as being different from others or belonging to a different group or are

identified as different by others, or both identify themselves and are identified by others as

diff nt.9 As applied to early medieval ethnicity, the implication of this concentration on

ethnicity as a subjective process is that the proper task is not to determine who was a Frank, who

a Roman, or what effects these different ethnic identities had on communal relations. Rather, one

must attempt to determine by what criteria individuals and groups might be so identified and,

equally important, under what circumstances ethnicity was perceived at all. That is, in what

situational contexts ethnicity becomes a relevant issue.

Wsevolod Isajiw, Definition of Ethnicity (Toronto, 1979), p. 9.

One should begin with an examination of categories by which persons in the early Middle

Ages identified, or at least purported to identify, diff nt p opl . P opl s, in id ntally, is a

very poor term to use. The exact terminology underwent a constant transformation from the fifth

to th t nth nt i s. As J my Adams has d monst at d, th pat isti t m pop l s, b lov d

of Augustine and Jerome, cedes in importance from the early seventh century to terminology

di tly lat d to th lang ag of kinship and s gg sting a ommon biologi al o igin: g ns

and nations. In a s ns th s at go i s imply that thni id ntity is m ly kinship w it

la g . Gens was the major term into the ninth century, although natio appeared increasingly

from the later ninth.10 Th s at go i s, whi h might b t m d th at go i s of th nativ

mod l of thni ity, a s ldom a ti lat d.11 Through most of the period, one finds little that

indicates specific reflections on the characteristics by which peoples were distinguished. Much

of this, s h as Isido of S vill s dis ssion of gentes, is heavily dependent on the Biblical

story of the tower of Babel.12 However, in general, the characteristics stressed by contemporaries

were origin, customs, language, and law, as in a much discussed passage in Regino of Prm

w itt n in th lat 800s: Div s nations of p opl s (nationes populorum) differ among

th ms lv s in o igin, stoms, lang ag and law13; in th Di t of V ona (983) a oming

Jeremy Du Quesnay Adams, The Populus of Augustine and Jerome: A Study in the Patristic Sense of Community
(New Haven, 1971), esp. pp. 42, 68, 97 and 109-121. Th Politi al G amma of Isido of S vill , Actes du
Quatrime Congrs International de la Philosophie Mdivale (Montreal-Paris, 1969), pp. 763-775. On gens
and natio see Daim, pp. 60-61.
Barbara Wa d, Va i ti s of th Cons io s Mod l: Th Fish man of So th China, The Relevance of Models for
Social Anthropology, ASA Monog aphs 1 (London, 1965). Cit d by F d ik a th, Pathan Id ntity and its
Maint nan , in d. F d ik a th, Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Cultural
Difference (London, 1969), p. 120.
Isidorus, Etymologiarum sive originum libri XX, ed. Wallace Martin Lindsay (Oxford, 1971), Liber IX, de linguis,
gentibus, regnis, militia, civibus, affinitatibus. On medieval exegesis of the Babel story see Arno Borst, Der
Turmbau von Babel, Geschichte der Meinungen ber Ursprung und Vielfalt der Sprachen und Vlker, 4 vols.
(Stuttgart, 1957-63).
MGH SS RER GERM. Regino of Prm, Epistula ad Hathonem, p. xx. For the most recent examination of this text
with xt nsiv bibliog aphy s H lm t mann, Di d t ng d s Kais t ms f di Entst h ng d
d ts h n Nation im Spi g l d z i hn ng n von R i h and H s h , in mann and S h od , Aspekte
der Nationenbildung, pp. 351-352.

together of Saxons, Suebi, and Lotharigians, Bavarians, Italians and of other dissimilar in birth

(nation ) lang ag and stoms14; o in Ado of Vi nn s (mid-ninth century) lament over the

battle of Fontenoy in 841 at which, for the first time, major Frankish armies met in disastrous

onf ontation: Not dissimila in a ms o distin t in th stom of p opl s, b t only oppos d in

th i amps.15

If we examine in turn these four characteristics, we find that they are relatively fluid and

in a sense arbitrary. Regino lists first genus, origin, similar to the natio of the Diet of Verona.

Origins can include geographical origin, personal ancestors, or even the common origins of a

people. All are, in anthropological terms, fictive, in that a selection or re-creation must be

exercised to determine with which of the myriad possible origins an individual or group will

identify. Examples of the flexibility within the Frankish tradition are the Trojan origins of the

Franks, which first appear in the Chronicles of Fredegar16 written in the mid seventh century and

the so-called Frankish genealogical tree compiled ca. 700, which presents the peoples of the

West as descendants of three brothers.17 The Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, Gepids and Saxons are

said to descend from the first, Erminus; the Burgundians, Thuringians, Lombards and Bavarians

from the second, Inguo; and the Romans, Britons, Franks and Alamanni from the third, Isto.

The second characteristic emphasized by Regino, mores, corresponds to the habitus of

the Diet and of Ado. Mores or customs, too, are certainly open to change and alteration. Already

in the fifth century some Gallo-Romans were adopting barbarian dress.18 Dress and weapons

On this t xt s W n , L s nations, p. 291.
PL 123-136.
Chronicarum Quae Dicunter Fredegari Scholastici, ed. Bruno Krusch, MGH SSRM II 11, chap. 4-8, pp. 45-47;
III, chap. 2, p. 93. On this legend,which appears independently in the Liber Historiae Francorum, MGH SSRM
II, pp. 241-242, s John Mi ha l Walla Had ills int od tion to his dition of The Fourth Book of the
Chronicle of Fredegar (London, 1960), xi-xii, and his The Long-Haired Kings (New York, 1962), pp. 79-83.
MGH SSRM VII, 851. On th signifi an of this t xt s R inha d W nsk s, Di d ts h n Stamm , p. 180.
On the cultural fusion and cross-cultural influence during the fifth century see Pierre Rich, ducation et culture
dans l'Occident barbare. VII-VIIIe sicles (3rd edition, Paris, 1972), pp. 92-118.

seem to have had particular significance as a sign of belonging to a specific group, as in the case

of Lo is th Pio s who, as king of th Aq itanians, d ss d as a Gas on on his fath s o d s,19

or that of Charles himself, who dressed in the Frankish manner, except on two occasions when at

a papal request he dressed in the Roman fashion.20

Language is the third characteristic mentioned by Regino, and the second by the Diet.

Much has been written on the increasing tendency, evident from the ninth century, to emphasize

the unity of the Germanic language in opposition to Romance as a characteristic of ethnic

difference.21 However, in the earlier period, in spite of the standard acknowledgment of linguistic

differences which were largely based on the Babel story, medieval authors were acutely aware of

the fact that every gens did not have its own language. Gothic disappeared within two

generations as a spoken language; and in Neustria, although by the eighth century legend had it

that the earliest Franks had exterminated all of the Romani living in the region, the same legend

also contended that the Franci had adopted the language of the eradicated population to such an

extent that no one knew what the original language of the Franci had been.22 In addition,

bilingualism was characteristic of large portions of the population, particularly of the

Anonymi Vita Hludowici c. 4. Quellen zur Karolingischen Reichsgeschichte I, ed. Reinhold Rau (Darmstadt,
1974), p. 264. It is perhaps most significant that Louis is described as dressed in the manner of Gascon youths
of his age when he led the Aquitanian host to Paderborn in order to assist his father against the Saxons. As we
shall see, ethnic identity is most acute under arms.
Einhard, Vita Karoli 23: Vestitu patrio, id est Francio, utebatur...Peregrinavero indumenta, quamvis pulcherrima,
respuebat nec umquam eis indui patiebatur, excepto quod Romanae semel Hadriano pontifice petente et iterum
Leone successore eius supplicante longa tunica et clamide amictus, calceis quoque Romano more formatis
W nsk s a g s in Di d ts h n Stamm , pp. 207-210, that the distinction between those speaking lingua
theodisca and lingua Romana was increasingly important by the ninth century. More recently, see Karl Heinrich
R x oth, Volkssp a h nd w d nd s Volksb w ssts in im ostf nkis h n R i h, Nationes, pp. 275-315 for
th G mani gions of th alm and Max Pfist , Di d t ng d s g manis h n S p st at s f di
sp a hli h A gli d ng d Gallo omania, Nationes, pp. 127-170, for the Romance areas. While the
consciousness of difference based on language was certainly increasing in the ninth century, both within
Germanic- and Romance-speaking regions, as late as the mid-ninth century Haymo of Auxerre (d. 855) could
list among those speaking lingua Romana Romi, Itali, Aquitani, Franci, Burgundiones, and Gotthi. (cited by
Wenskus, 209).
Ewig, Volkst m nd Volksb w ssts in, p. 273.

aristocracy.23 Like the previous characteristics, language was then at best a fluid index of ethnic


Regino mentions leges last in his list; others do not mention law at all. Already by the late

ninth century, when Regino was writing, references to the laws of individuals (so-called

personality of law) were decreasing except in such places as Septimania and Italy. However, one

should not conclude that an ancient, immutable, non-territorial legal tradition, passed from father

to son, was at last breaking down. This personality principle did not precede the establishment of

the Germanic peoples in the Empire, nor did it appear in such early laws as the lex Salica. Its

first appearance, as Heinrich Brunner pointed out in the last century, was in the Lex Ribuaria, but

th only sp ifying that in j di ial p o dings th a s d was to spond a o ding to th

law of th pla wh h was bo n.24 A sense of law as a heritage from parents regardless of

the place in which one was born developed only with the expansion of the Salian Franks and

their domination over other peoples. This was the retention of the law of a conquering and ruling

elite among members of that elite in far-flung corners of the empire, which ordinarily retained

their traditional laws. But even this sort of personality of law varied with intermarriage, through

which individuals might deal with different matters such as inheritance according to the laws of

the side from which the inheritance had come, and it was attenuated through the increasing

t nd n y in th lat ighth and ninth nt y to s ttl disp t s a o ding to th law of th pla

wh th im was ommitt d.25 Finally, it is not at all clear that the so- all d p of ssion of

law q i d at th o ts t of j idi al p o dings fo nd in Italy, g ndy and S ptimania

need be understood as a technical declaration of ethnicity. The Caputularia Missorum ordering

On th impo tan of biling alism in th a isto a y s W nsk s, Di d ts h n Stamm , pp. 209-212. Max
Pfister discusses the influence of the Germanic language of the aristocracy on the linguistic map of Gaul in his
Di d t ng d s g manis h n S p st at s, pp. 142-158, and the regions of bilingualism on pp. 139-140.
Heinrich Brunner, Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte, vol. 1, 2nd ed. (Munich and Leipzig, 1906), no. 35, pp. 382-399.
Brunner, ibid., pp. 386-387.

missi to inquire into the birth law of individuals, proved ambiguous in specifying whether the

law is that which they have from their parents, or from their birth, that is, from where they were

born.26 Thus once more one finds that this final category of ethnicity was far from stable and

immutable, neither for individuals nor for multi-generational groups.

One can conclude from this examination of the characteristics emphasized by

contemporaries as most important in determining ethnicity that each of them was to a large

extent subjective and arbitrary. Moreover, they may have existed within an individual in a

complicated and contradictory combination. A man might speak a Romance language, dress as a

Frank, and claim Burgundian law. How he perceived his ethnic identity, and how he was in turn

perceived by others, if in fact anyone thought of his ethnicity at all, is impossible to determine as

an obj tiv at go y.27 The only alternative is to look at specific instances in which

individuals or collectivities are given ethnic identifications, and attempt to discover the reasons

for these labelings. Unfortunately, given the fragmentary and laconic nature of early medieval

documentation, it is seldom if ever possible to determine exactly why an individual was termed a

Goth, F ank, Roman, o g ndian. Th oppo t nity fo thi k d s iption, o tsid of th as

of Gregory of Tours, is entirely lacking, and one risks falling into the trap of attempting to

determine what the ethnicity of individuals ought to bethat is, once again objectifying


MGH Capit, I, p. 67, no. 25, c. 5.
The most famous example of the complex ethnic identities of important early medieval families is that of the
Welfs. Scholars have long been troubled by the fact that contemporaries of the second wife of Louis the Pious,
Judith, whose father was Welf, identifi d th familys o igins diff ntly. Va io s att mpts hav b n mad to
see them as Bavarian, Saxon, Frankish, or Alamannian. The most reasonable conclusion is that all of these
identifications were equally correct but were the result of different situational and contextual observations of the
family. See Karl Brunner, Oppositionelle Gruppen im Karolingerreich, Verffentlichungen des Instituts fr
sterreichische Geschichtsforschung, 25 (Vienna, 1979), pp. 102-103.
Thi k D s iption is th t m bo owed by Clifford Geertz from Gilbert Ryle to characterize ethnographic
description. Geertz further characterizes this description as a microscopic interpretation of a social discourse
whi h s ks to ... s th said of s h dis o s f om its p ishing o asions and fix it in p sabl t ms.

Instead, one should examine not primarily why specific individuals were labeled as they

were, but rather consider why they were labeled at all. In the narrative sources of the sixth and

early eighth centuries (chiefly Gregory of Tours, Fredegar and the Continuators, and the Book of

the History of the Franks), the most remarkable finding is that in fact very few persons are ever

identified by ethnic group. Gregory, writing in the sixth century when the Frankish conquests of

the kingdoms of the Romans, Burgundians, and Goths was less than a century old, did not bother

to mention the gens of even two dozen of the hundreds of persons whose names appear in his

works.29 The seventh-century history of Fredegar and his continuators, whose tendency to note

the gens of at least some of his principal actors has been noted, actually gives an ethnic label for

only l5% of the roughly 230 individuals in the text.30 The Liber Historiae Francorum (LHF)

identified even fewer, only five in all.31 Perhaps everyone in the intended audience knew the

ethnic identity of all the others, but this is most doubtful, and in any case, were such things

general in knowledge, the intended public would certainly have already known the ethnic

identity of many of those who are so designated. Thus one encounters a very highly limited and

selective use of ethnic terminology, and must therefore attempt to determine what circumstances

made contemporaries conscious of others in relationship to large social groupings.

A preliminary distinction must be made between instances of ethnic identity assigned to

groups from that assigned to individuals. Most commonly, terms which related to gens, populus,

Gliffo d G tz, Thi k D s iption: Towa d an Int p tiv Th o y of C lt , in The Interpretation of

Cultures (New York, 1973), pp. 3-30, esp. 5-7 and 20-21.
Counted are only those individuals identified by a folk nam , as, fo xampl , Valdenus Francus, or by gens, as
Vulfiaicus genere Langobardus. For reasons discussed below, individuals identified, for example, as Rex or Dux
Francorum are excluded. The resulting list (compiled from the Arndt-Krusch edition Gregori Turonesis opera,
MGH SSRM 1 (Hannover, 1884) includes 8 Francs, 3 Britons, 1 Burgundian, 2 Goths, 1 Hun, 9 Jews, 1
Lombard, 1 Thuringian, 1 Theifar, and 1 Barbarian.
Fredegarii Chronicorum Liber Quartus Cum Continuationibus, ed. John Michael Wallace-Hadrill (London,
1960). For Book Four of the Chronicon, the appearance is as follows: 15 Francs, 4 Romans, 5 Lombards, 1
Saxon, 1 Burgundian. For the Continuations: 6 Franks and 1 Anglo-Saxon.
MGH SSRM II, 238-328. The only persons identified by gens original chapters are two Saxon queens and three

or natio were applied to large collectivities such as the gens Francorum, the gens Saxonum, and

so forth. As Jeremy Adams has observed, the term gens has become for Isidore a word with a

much stronger emotional charge in political contexts, and has even taken on a legal,

constitutional character. As in the Visigothic law codes, it is the gens against which one commits

treason. Gens enjoys a closer relationship with the regnum than does its satellite populus.32

However, the context was seldom if ever suggestive of a community of common origin, custom,

language, or law. Essentially, the terms Franci, Alamanni, Burgundiones, Gothi, and the like

appeared in connection with kings and with war. The kings were kings of peoples, as were

dukes, and by far the most common use of the ethnic labels was to modify the names of kings.

When Gregory, Fredegar, or the author of the LHF speak of peoples, they normally meant the

warriors, the army.33 The gens Francorum was the exercitus Francorum, led by its king or its

duces. This tradition was hardly novel in the sixth century. As Reinhard Wenskus and Herwig

Wolfram have demonstrated, the peoples of the migration period acquired their identity through

their adherence to particular royal or ducal families alongside whom they fought and whose

traditions they adopted.34

This migration period tradition continued long after territorialization. Through the eighth

century, military organization continued to be the fundamental form of association in the free

society: assemblies of the Frankish realm continued until the reign of Louis the Pious to take

place under arms; counts served not simply as local administrators but as military leaders of the

host from their country; and freedom and bearing arms were synonymous.35

Adams, The Populus, pp. 120-121.
Out of numerous instances, one might cite the description of Fredegar of the battle between Theudericus and
Theudebertus in which the latter came to meet Th d i s m Saxonis, Tho ing s l t as g nt s q d
lt a R n m l ndiq pot at ad na , hap. 38, p. 31.
Wenskus, Stammesbildung, esp. pp. 38-39, 319-320. Wolfram, Geschichte der Goten, esp. pp. 111-116, 362-380.
On Frankish military organization in general see Bernard S. Bachrach, Merovingian Military Organization 481-
751 (Minneapolis, 1972) and for the Carolingian period Franois Louis Ganshof, Frankish Institutions Under

Membership in the gens Francorum or Burgundionum in the sense of the exercitus

certainly did not depend on shared cultural, linguistic, or legal background. The Frankish host

regularly included subgroups of Burgundian, Saxon, and other contingents.36 Likewise, the

exercitus Burgundiae could include contingents led by Franks, Burgundians, Saxons and


A second and much rarer sense in which ethnic identification seems to have been made,

at least in the sixth century, was in terms of religion. Gregory of Tours quoted the Gothic King

Theodegisis (d. 549) who, skeptical of a miracle performed by an orthodox Christian, dismissed

it as d to th l v n ss of th Romans. G go y xplain d that th y all d th m n of o

religion Romans. If this is so, th n by this dat Romans in l d d not only Gallo-Romans but

Frank and Burgundians as well.38

A final collective identification appeared from the fifth century. This was simply the

geographic terms, such as Francia, Gothia, Burgundia, and Alamannia, all used by Gregory,

which indicated, already in the sixth century, that the process of territorialization of ethnic

consciousness to which we referred in our discussion of law, was taking place.39

One must keep in mind these uses of ethnic labels when considering those situations in

which specific individuals were identified by ethnic background. Here, one finds the same

general tendencies observed in the use of such terms for collectivities. First, authors became

conscious of ethnic designations most often when their subjects were part of the elite, either

fulfilling some official office or duty to which they had been appointed by the king, or when they

Charlemagne (New York, 1968), pp. 59-68. See also Arnold Price, Di Nib l ng n als k i g is h
W ih b nd, Vierteljahrschrift fr Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte, vol. 61:2 (1974), pp. 199-211 for a
discussion of the role of warrior bands in the formation of a new people.
As for example, Fredegarii Chronica IV, 38.74.
Ibid., 78.
In Gloria Martyrum 25, 502.
Francia in Gregory quoting Sulpicius Alexander, LHF, II, 9; Saxons invaded Francia IV.16. Gothia, IV. 51.
Burgundia II, 24, Alamannia, Vitae Patrum 1, 2.

had close personal relations, by blood or friendship, with a king. Second, but closely related to

the first, were instances in which individuals were serving in a military capacity. Third, authors

fo nd it app op iat to m ntion thni ity wh n th i s bj t was in som s ns o t of pla ,

either geographically or religiously.

There are examples of p sons who w los to kings. G go y told of on Sila i s, a

tain Goth, who was bo nd to King Ala a with g at lov (735).40 In Fredegar six of the

individuals mentioned by genus were mayors of the palace or Patricii;41 two of the five

individuals so designated in the LHF were queens.42 This does not imply that the individuals

identified by ethnicity shared the ethnic label of the king: the queens were both Saxons, the

mayors of the palace in Fredegar may have been Franks or Romans. The point, rather, is that in

the proximity of the king, or in carrying out a duty assigned by a king, ethnic affinity became


The relationship between duces leading armies and the population composing those

armies has been the subject of considerable debate and misunderstanding. Usually duces are not

identified by gens or by region at all. When they are, the language of the sources present their

relationships to the exercitus or gens in one of two ways. Either they are termed dux

Bagoariorum, Alamannorum, and the like,43 or they are termed dux ex genere Francorum, ex

genere Romano, ex genere Burgundionum, etc.44 Too many examples of duces described in the

first manner who had been appointed dukes in regions other than that of their origin have been

found to argue that such dukes were the native leaders of ethnic groups. Examples include the

Vitae Patrum XVIII, 2.
Mayors of the palace; Bertoaldus, c. 24; Claudius, c. 28; Floachad, c. 89; Patricii; Quolenus, c. 18; Protadius, c.
24; Rocmieri, c. 29.
Nanthilde, c. 42; Balthilde, c. 43.
For example, Leutharius dux Alamannorum, Fredegarii Chronica, W, 88; Odilio dux Bagoariis, Fredegarii
Chronica IV, 25.
Ibid., 78.

dux Radulf placed by the Frankish King Dagobert over the Thuringians45 and the Aticus or

Adaircus described as leading the gentile band of Alamanni elsewhere described as issued from a

most nobl o igin of pa ntal g n s, a ising in th t ito y of th Ga ls, and still ls wh as

b ing f om th v y nobl gens of th F anks.46 The duke led a regional army which was

designated by the predominant gentile-territorial designation of the region. Although such dukes

might have established themselves as integral parts of these regions in an effort to achieve a

regional hegemony, particularly in the late seventh and again in the late ninth centuries, once

more the terminology of ethnicity was a military and not a cultural, legal, or linguistic


Th sol tion to th p obl m of d k s d s ib d as b ing ex genere Romano or

Burgundionum is less obvious. The most famous instance occurs in chapter 78 of the Fourth

book of F d ga , in whi h Dagob ts g ndian R f nda y, Chadoind, ais d an a my f om

th niv sal kingdom of g ndy. Chadoind mad fo Gas ony with t n d k s with

armi s. F d ga th n p o ds to list ight individ al duces h t m d ex genere Francorum,

one ex genere Romano, one genere Burgundionum, and one genere Saxonum. In what manner

these eleven individuals were perceived as from specific genera is not clear.47 What is clear is

that their genera were identified because of their military function: leading specific armies

within the host. Under arms, the relationship between leaders and peoples became more


Ibid., 77. Similarly, after Theuderic II and Theuderbert II defeated the Gascons in 602 they appointed a duke
Genialis over the Gascons, ibid., 21.
Vitae Odiliae SSRM, VI, 29, x nobilissimo F an o m g n o t s (Lectio ldibus Dec.). The vita itself
d s ib s Adal i s x nobilissimis pa ntib s g n is o igin m so ti ns, Galli nsi m t ito io o i nd s, in
the Vita Germani Abbaus, MGH SSRM V, 37. Th sam D x is d s ib d as l ading with him th phalangas
Alamannor m g nts iniq a . On Adalricus see Horst Ebling, Prosopographie der Amtstrger des
Merowingerreiches, Francia Beihefte 2 (Munich, 1974), no. VIII.
The Saxon was Aigyna, apparently from a community of Saxons settled on the Garonne, who served as Dux in
Aquitaine under Chlothar II and Dux terme Wasconiae under Dagobert I. See Egling, XVIII. Whether or not an
important part of his exercitus was composed of Saxons from this region is unknown.

The third type of circumstances within which ethnic affiliation was likely to be

m ntion d was wh n individ als s m d o t of pla ith in t ms of g og aphy o ligion.

Here, too, one could cite a number of examples. Samo, the Frank who organized the

Slavic people into a powerful if ephemeral r alm, is a F ank among Slavs.48 Vulfilaic, the

hermit and imitator of Simeon Stylites in the area of Trier, is ex genere Langobardusa man out

of place both by his distance from Lombard, Italy and his fervent if extra-episcopal orthodoxy.49

Much has been made of an episode in the life of St. Eloi of Noyon in which he confronted men

in the household of the Neustrian major domus Erchinoald celebrating an old pre-Christian feast,

only to b told, Yo Roman, no matt how f q ntly yo t y, yo will n v b able to change

o stoms.50 Suggestions that Romani was meant as a synomym for Aquitaini because Eloi

was from the South, or even that Romani translated the Frankish Welsh n my, may b pla ing

too much emphasis on supposed antagonisms between Gallo-Romans and Franks.51 More

significant are the circumstancesorthodox opposition to heterodox religionin which the

sp ak is awa of Elois Romann ss. Th pa all l to th d finition of G go y, Th y all th

m n of o ligion Romans, is p haps mo g man . Not Elois inh it d thni ity o

geographical origin, but rather his strict religious sentiment induced his opponent to think of him

as a Roman.

To summarize this brief examination of the uses of ethnic terminology in the early

Middle Ages, one finds a contradiction between the articulated criteria by which peoples were to

be differentiated, and the circumstances in which these differentiations actually took place.

Criteria such as origin, customs, language, and law, while subjective and malleable, were still

Fredegarii Chronica IV, c. 48. Samo, who is not described as either of an illustrious family or in any official
position, is the only person designated by Fredegar not by gens but by natio.
HF, VIII, 15, 333-334.
See Wenskus, Di d ts h n Stamm , p. 185 and n. 58-59.

characteristics of cultural ethnicity. The actual circumstances in which ethnic designations seem

to have been felt most acutely were largely political. The kind of ethnicity, then, that we are

examining is essentially what Sidney Mintz describes as political ethnicity thni ity in th

s vi of politi s.52 One must never lose sight of the fact that the characters who pass through

the pages of a Gregory or a Fredegar were, with few exceptions, members of a small political

elite to whom political power, lordship, was the major concern. If the first set of explicit

categories by which contemporaries claimed to distinguish ethnic identity could be interpreted as

nothing more than kinship writ large, these circumstances in which ethnic labels were actually

used seem to be quite different. Here, rather, the primary interest seems to be the use of such

terms to identify forms of political, non-kindred organization, even if kinship-like terms are used.

The gens Francorum may have been much more than the Frankish army, but that which it was in

addition to the free warriors was not of particular importance to our authors. Within these elite

circles, ethnicity was perceived and molded as a function of the circumstances which related

most specifically to the paramount interest of a lordship. Thus a duke may have been Gallic

when his birthplace was mentioned, but he was a Frank when talking of his close connection to

the king, and an Alamannian when leading the Alsacian levy.

Ethnicity was not an objective phenomenon, a stumbling block to the assimilation of

diverse European peoples. But it was likewise not entirely arbitrary. Again, in the words of

Mintz Ethni ity is not a phantasm, th s lt of an a t of sh imagination; b t its p lia and

particular expression in the form of claimsethnicity for somethingis the precipitate of wider

forces, acting in conjunction upon the awareness of people for whom some aspects of their

Sidn y W. Mintz, Ethni ity and L ad ship: An Aft wo d, in Ethnic Leadership in America, ed. John Higham
(Baltimore, 1979), p. 197. I am grateful to Professor Mintz for pointing out to me the significance of the use of
kinship terminology for the erection of new levels of organization. On the uses of fictive kinship see his article
co-authored by E i R. Wolf, An Analysis of Rit al Co-Pa nthood (Compad azgo), in Southwestern Journal
of Anthropology, 6 (1950), pp. 341-368.

p xisting lik n ss hav b om so iologi ally l vant.53 Mintzs mphasis on thni ity fo

som thing is ss ntial to nd standing th ol of thni lab ling in a ly E op an so i ty.

Ethnic identity in itself was not the basis of political unity or opposition. Rather, political

opposition was often express d th o gh th symboli manip lation of th s p xisting

lik n ss s in o d to mold an id ntity and a omm nity in opposition to on s n mi s. Sin

th s lik n ss s o nativ mod ls w s bj tiv , mov m nt a oss thni bo nda i s was not

only possible but natural within the small elite element of society visible in our sources that

sought to acquire or to maintain its dominant position. As Fredrik Barth suggests in a discussion

of hang s of thni id ntity, What matt s is how w ll th oth s, with whom one interacts and

to whom one is compared, manage to perform, and what alternative identities and sets of

standa ds a availabl to th individ al.54 Within the context of the early Middle Ages,

aristocratic groups seeking autonomy from royal or central authority could identify themselves

with such groups as Thuringian or Romans, and hence these identifications were the result, not

the cause, of opposition within the greater Frankish realm.

In conclusion, let us return to the initial observation that early medieval ethnicity has too

often been viewed as a motivator, an explanation of antagonisms, a source of conflict in early

medieval society. This view is inadequate because it leads historians to ignore the processes

which give rise to the conflicts and hence to the strategic formation of ethnic consciousness. This

process, which Herwig Wolfram termed ethnogenesis in the migration period and which, in a

contemporary context, Andrew Greeley calls Ethnicization, continued through the early Middle

Ages, and indeed beyond.55 As Imman l Wall st in says, thni g o ps a onstantly at d

Ibid., p. 198.
Fredrik Barth, Ethnic Groups and Boundaries (London, 1969), p. 25.
H wig Wolf am, Entw f in histo is h n Ethnog aphi am ispi l d Got n, Geschichte der Goten, 2nd
edition (Munich, 1980), pp. 448-460.

and re- at d; th y also onstantly as to xist; th y a th s onstantly d fin d and

hang th i fo ms at amazingly fast at s.56 Thus early medieval ethnicity should not be the

end point of an examination of society, but rather a beginning, a code which must be deciphered

in order to understand the process of social change.

Imman l Wall st in, Th Two Mod s of Ethni Cons io sn ss: Sovi t C nt al Asia in T ansition? The
Nationality Question in Soviet Central Asia, ed. Edward Allworth (New York, 1973), pp. 168-169. Wallerstein
emphasizes ethnic consciousness as a form of conflict, but not as a source of that conflict.

Chapter Two

The Meaning of Religion and Conversion in the Early Middle Ages1

Between 450 and 1000, the religious map of Europe and the Mediterranean world was

radically transformed. At the start of this period, Orthodox Christianity dominated the eastern

Mediterranean, North Africa, and the old, Romanized regions of the Western Empire.2 In the

south of Gaul, the Iberian peninsula and North Africa, powerful military and political elites

confessed Arian Christianity, while beyond the Channel, the Rhine and the Danube, except for

the Romanized Gothic and Burgundian peoples, barbarian societies remained largely

polytheistic. By 1000 Germania, Gaul, Britain, and most of the Slavic world had become

orthodox Christians. Arianism had entirely disappeared. However, the vast majority of the

descendants of Christians in the eastern and southern Mediterranean as well as much of the

population of Spain had converted to Islam.3 This transformation of the religious map of the old

Roman world and its neighboring regions continues to have profound consequences for the

culture and politics of the West. It is appropriate to consider the phenomenon of conversion in

the early Middle Ages, and to do so not only in the narrow context of conversion from paganism

or Arianism to orthodoxy but in the wider context of the equally important conversion from

Christianity to Islam in the oldest, most Christianized regions of the Mediterranean world.

Th following a ti l was o iginally p blish d in G man nd th titl Di d t ng von R ligion und
k h ng im f h n Mitt lalt , in Die Franken und die Alemannen bis zur Schlacht bei Zlpich (496/97),
ed. Dieter Geuenich, (Berlin, 1998), pp. 438-450
Conversion to Christianity has been treated extensively in scholarly literature. See in general: La conversione al
cristianesimo nellEuropa dellalto Medioevo. 14-19 aprile 1966, Settimane di studio del Centro italiano di
st di s llalto M dio vo; 14 (Spol to, C nt o italiano di st di s llalto M dio vo, 1967); K t Aland, ber den
Glaubenswechsel in der Geschichte des Christentums (Berlin, 1961); Jocelyn N. Hillgarth, Christianity and
Paganism, 350-750: The Conversion of Western Europe (Philadelphia, 1986).
On the conversion to Islam see ed. Nehemia Levtzion, Conversion to Islam (New York, 1979); Richard W. Bulliet,
Conversion to Islam in the Medieval Period: An Essay in Quantitative History (Cambridge, MA, 1979); eds.
Michael Gervers and Ramzi Jibran Bikhazi, Conversion and Continuity: Indigenous Christian Communities in
Islamic Lands Eighth to Eighteenth Centuries (Toronto, 1990).

The issue of conversion is particularly important today when once more the question of

conversion, confession, and national identity in the formative period of European history has

been politicized. I have been asked by the organizer of the conference not to focus on the

baptism of Clovis, and thus I will say nothing about the major conference just held in Reims,

attended not only by scholars legitimately interested in the world of fifth-century Gaul but by

politicians, clergy and even by Pope John Paul II, eager to reaffirm the relationship between

French identity and the conversion and baptism of Clovis. I will be still more silent about the

politics of National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who a few years ago declared himself the

hampion of Th F n h p opl bo n with th baptism of Clovis in 496, who hav a i d this

inextinguishable flame which is the soul of a people for almost one thousand five hundred

y a s.4 Once more, the early Middle Ages is in France, no less than in Bosnia, a source of

ideological polemics. However, this present conference, held to commemorate a battle between

the Franks and the Alamanni in which Clovis may not even have participated, is hardly the

occasion to explore the explosive mixture of contemporary ideology and historical

misappropriation that increasingly characterizes popular history in the late twentieth century.

Instead, I will try to look very generally and comparatively at two discourses on

conversion in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, discourses not only of how conversion

seems to have been brought about, but also how it was represented by contemporary and later

authors. We have no possibility of penetrating into the innermost souls of converts. Thus we are

well advised to focus on how conversion, whatever its inner meaning, was perceived and

reflected in conversion accounts. Here, the discourse about conversion is important for social and

cultural history because it is in precisely this public sphere that conversion took on a historical

meaning. From the start, these meanings were disputed and constructed, as polemicists such as
Le Monde, September 24, 1991.

Eusebius, Avitus of Vienne, Gregory of Tours, and others attempted to attach to the conversion

of ordinary people as well as rulers a religious and political message which may have had

nothing to do with the decisions or intentions of the converts themselves.

In order to widen the usual horizons within which we attempt to understand conversion, I

will begin with a consideration of those conversions that we western medievalists tend to

overlook, specifically those not to, but rather from, Christianity. In particular, I would like to

suggest that the process of conversion may have been remarkably similar in the Islamic and

Christian worlds. The differences in the image of conversion in the two may owe more to the

ideological uses of conversion in Christian discourse than to fundamental differences either

between those actually converting or the religious traditions to which they converted.

Conversion was a gradual process under Islam. Its rate, causes, and process remain the

subject of considerable debate. It was once thought that rapid conversion from Judaism and

Christianity took place in the first century of Islamic conquest, spurred by a desire to escape the

poll tax impos d by Islami l s on oth P opl s of th ook. In nt y a s, s hola s hav

onsid ably vis d both th h onology of th ag of onv sions and th asons fo th m:

The majority of Copts in Egypt and North Africa may have been Muslims by the middle of the

ninth century. Muslims became a majority in Spain at some time in the course of the tenth

century. Iran was Muslim by the early tenth century.5 This rather gradual process of conversion,

stretching not over decades but over centuries, parallels conclusions of more recent studies of

conversion in Western and Central Europe. I do not wish to become involved in the interminable

and f itl ss d bat s abo t what onstit t s g n in Ch istianity, b t it is fai ly l a that v n

if one eschews essentialist arguments about Christian religion, traditional cults to local Celtic and

Mi ha l G. Mo ony, Th Ag of Conv sions: A R ass ssm nt, in ds. Mi ha l G v s and Ramzi Jib an
Bikhazi, Conversion and Continuity, pp. 135-150.

Germanic deities long continued in Europe: certainly into the sixth century in such Romanized

areas as Northern Italy and Galicia, and into the eighth and ninth centuries elsewhere.

Conversion, whether to Christianity or to Islam, was a gradual process.

Motivations for conversion likewise are difficult to study but it is both simplistic and

dismissive to attribute massive conversions to Islam entirely to the desire to avoid the poll tax.

However, it does seem clear that the initiative to convert came largely from the non-believers

themselves, not from any pressure or proselytizing on the part of Muslims. Missionary activity

outside of the Arab world was practically non-existent prior to the ninth and tenth centuries.

Even then, attempts to convert Christians and Jews were primarily the work of heterodox Islamic

sects that resulted in competitive conversion among isolated non-Muslim communities.

Conversion, whether individual or collective, is rarely mentioned by Islamic historians and

chroniclers. The process thus is largely studied indirectly, but a statistical evaluation, for

example, of the date at which names in genealogies change from non-Arabic to Arabic, is at best

a delicate and controversial index of conversion.6

Part of the difficulty in studying conversion to Islam is that conquest and conversion were

often described in the same terms. The Arabic term for conversion, aslama, submission to God,

is the same term for surrender to an enemy, and the two often went hand in hand. Indeed, it is

sometimes impossible to know from the sources whether authors made a differentiation between

the two. In his study of conversion stories in early Islam, Richard W. Bulliet cites examples from

the Futh al-Buld von al-Baldhur in which conquest and conversion seem synonymous:

The people of Tabla and Jurash surrendered/converted (aslama) without a fight.

So the Messenger of God...let them act freely in their surrender/conversion.7

This is particularly the approach used by Richard W. Bulliet, Conversion to Islam in the Medieval Period: An
Essay in Quantitative History (Cambridge, 1979).
Ri ha d W. lli t, Conv sion Sto i s in Ea ly Islam, in ds. Mi ha l G v s and Ramzi Jib an Bikhazi,
Conversion and Continuity, pp. 123-133.

In such passages it is impossible to know whether the surrender implied conversion or

not. However, surrender, aslama, certainly did not always imply submission in the sense of

conversion. Reports of a treaty contracted between Abd al-Aziz and the Visigoth Theodemir,

a ly in th onq st of th Ib ian p nins la in 713 stip lat s that thos who s bmit

themselves to the patronage of God can retain their own lords and will not be prevented from

p fo ming th i ligion.8 In all likelihood, this represented a temporary arrangement with a

local commander that neutralized him during the preliminary conquest of the Visigothic


In the period following the Prophet, most conversions outside of tribal societies were

individual affairs, and, according to Bulliet, left little in the way of written evidence. This is in

pa t, h a g s, b a s onv sion t nd d to b an individ al, or at least a non-political, choice

o xp i n .9 Moreover, he argues, such conversions often had little religious significance:

conversion, at least in the early Islamic period, was more a matter of social behavior than of

religious belief. Those converting, and those Muslims before whom they converted, probably

had little knowledge of the message of the Quran. Essentially what was understood was the

unity of Godalready a tenet of Christian and Jewish beliefand the acceptance of

Mohamm ds ol as that of Gods m ss ng . Oth than onf ssing Allah as God and

Mohammed as his prophet, there was no specific ritual by which one entered the Muslim

community, although adult males were expected to undergo circumcision. Rather, conversion

seems to have implied essentially minimal ritual practices and the adoption of Arab social traits

Rog Collins, Th A ab Conq st of Spain: 710-797, (Oxfo d, 1989), p. 40. Collins stat s that it is also
preserved in three separate later works and cites F. J. Simonet, Historia de los Mozrabes de Espaa. Deducida
de los mejores y ms autnticos testimonios de los escritos cristianos y rabes (Amsterdam, 1967), pp. 797-
lli t, Conv sion Sto i s, p. 124.

such as dress (Arab dress was forbidden to non-Muslims) and the assumption of Arab names

marking a new, Muslim identity.

Why then did people convert? Bulliet has argued that in Iran, and others have argued

similarly for Spain, conversion was primarily motivated by the desire to maintain or enhance

social and political status. This is certainly the implication of many of the rare conversion

accounts preserved by later historians or family chroniclers. Al-Baldhur describes, for example,

the conversion of the Iranian military commander Siyah al-Uswari during the invasion of Iraq:

Wh n h saw th app a an of Islam and th glo y of its p opl , and that S sa

had been conquered, and the continuous flow of supplies to Abu Musa, he sent a message
to him: W wo ld lik to nt with yo in yo ligion so that w may fight yo
I anian n mi s with yo ....

One finds evidence of similar conversions in eighth-century Spain. Indeed, some of the

Muslim conquerors were themselves converts. One of the leaders of the conquest was Mugit ar-

R mi, (th Roman), a Sy ian apt d as a boy b t lat d at d and f d by aliph Abd al-

Malik who made him a commander in Africa. He later served under Trik as commander of the

Muslim cavalry and is reputed to have captured Cordova.10 Later, some Muslims claimed

descent from members of the Visigothic elite who converted shortly after the conquest. One, Ibn

al-Qutiyya (The Goth) even claimed to be a descendant of the Visigothic King Wittiza.11 Some

scholars question the accuracy of this tradition, doubting that the sons of Wittiza ever existed.12

However, stories of this family circulated both in Christian and Muslim circles. The hostile

a o nts of Wittizas sons in the Chronicle of Alfonso III as well as an Arabic story of their

inheritance and especially of the land dispute between Sarah, daughter of the eldest son

Roger Collins, Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity, 400-1000, 2nd ed. (London, 1995), p. 155; Ahmed Ibn
Mohammed Al-Makkari. tr. Pascual de Gayangos, The History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain,
extracted from the Nafhu-t-tb min Ghosni-l-Andalusi-r-rattb wa trkh Lisnu-d-dni L-Khattb, 2 vols.
(London, 1840-3), Book V, ch. iii, vol. II, p. 15.
Collins, Early Medieval Spain, p. 152.
Ibid, p. 158.

Almond, and her uncle Artabash, suggests an elite Gothic family with some claims to descent

from the penultimate Gothic king had indeed negotiated the transition from Christian aristocrat

to Muslim notable fairly well.13

Of course, initially, conversion was not always necessary to maintain some relatively

high court positions. Christians served along with Muslims in a variety of positions. However,

when religion was made an issue as in the mid ninth century under Mohammed I who purged his

court of Christian officials, some, such as Gmez Ibn Antonin Ibn Julin, converted in order to

maintain their court positions and to obtain the position of secretary to the emir.14 Preservation of

social, military and political authority on the part of aristocrats, commanders and governors

seems to have been an integral part of the history of Muslim conversion.

To what extent can conversion to orthodox Christianity be seen to parallel the process of

conversion to Islam during the same period? At first glance, one might assume that the processes

are fundamentally different. Unlike Islam, that possessed neither clergy nor a ritual of conversion

and that did not develop an ideology of missionary activity outside of the Arab world,

Ch istianity was xpli itly a p os lytizing faith: Go fo th and t a h all nations, baptizing th m

in the name of the Father and of the Son and of th Holy Spi it. Mo ov , it had a p of ssional

clergy and clear rituals by which individuals were incorporated into the Christian community.

Finally, since the late fourth century, imperial Christianity had developed from a persecuted to a

persecuting religion, demanding the conversion, by force if necessary, of all who lived in

Christian kingdoms, with the occasional exception of Jews.

According to Ibn al-Qutiyya (d. 977), Artebash (or Ardebasto) also had sons whose posterity included Abu Said
al-Kumis (the Count); the second son, Romolu, was claim d as th an sto of Jafa Ibn Alfo o Alfa o, Kadi-
I-aj m o j dg of th Ch istians, in Co dova, II, p. 515.
Collins, Early Medieval Spain, p. 205. See Ann Christys, Christians in Al-Andalus, 711-1000 (Richmond, 2002),
p. 178.

Thus Christian scholars have argued that conversion to Christianity and conversion to

Islam are so radically different that they can scarcely be compared. In his recent Understanding

Conversion, Karl Morrison writes,

Although Islam and Christianity were both religions of conversion, conversion

was not institutionalized in Islam, which lacked both priesthood and hierarchy...I am told,
too, that, lacking a word for conscience, Arabic has no equivalent for the mysterious
inwa dn ss of hang onnot d by onv sion. To adh to Islam is to follow th
ight way, m aning fo mal obs van . Cons q ntly, n an s of doctrinal
nd standing, whi h shap d s h na ativ s of onv sion in w st n E op as d s
portrayal of the rivalry between Celtic and Roman practices, were for Muslims not
indices of an unfolding apocalyptic conflict between good and evil.15

However, one can make too much of these differences, especially if one concentrates on

th d v lop d id ology of onv sion within th lt al lit . Mo isons int st is in th

conversion of acutely self-reflective intellectuals, not in the conversion of the vast majority of

Europeans, whether rulers or ruled. Once one looks beyond such rarified examples as Augustine

of Hippo or learned and ideologically motivated authors such as Bede, one sees that there are

actually great similarities within the presentation of conversion in the Christian tradition and that

in Islam.

First, although the stereotypical image of missionary activity places great weight on

preaching and on miracles, and while certain techniques, such as purchasing native slaves,

training them, and then using them as proselytizers was certainly practiced, the emphasis on

missionary activities of early medieval saints may reflect more internal ideological and polemical

issues than actual missionary work on the part of these individuals. This at least is the tentative

conclusion of Ian Wood, who argues that the discourse of mission must be carefully separated

from the actual efforts at conversion of peoples outside the empire. Moreover, with few

exceptions contemporary and near contemporary the narratives of conversion do not place great

Karl F. Morrison, Understanding Conversion (Charlottesville, 1992), pp. 5-6.

emphasis on the message taught. In the cases of major political conversions, the narration may

even be at odds with such an image. While Gregory of Tours, for example, writing two

generations after the conversion of Clovis, may have emphasized the role of Clothilde as a

second Helena and of Remigius of Reims as a second Sylvester in the conversion of the king as a

novus Constantinus,16 Cloviss ont mpo a y Avit s of Vi nn s gg sts that th onv sion

took place on the kings own initiativ witho t the intervention of such learned intermediaries:

Sho ld w p a h th faith to th onv t who p iv d it witho t a p a h ... h w it s.17

Nor does Avitus emphasize the spiritual benefits of baptism. The advantages that Avitus does

offer Clovis are not greatly different from that sought by Siyah al-Uswari, the Persian

ommand st k by th app a an of Islam and th glo y of its p opl : Th bishop p omis s

th king that th soft lothing [of th n wly baptiz d] will give more force to your arms:

what v Fo t n has giv n p to now, this San tity will b stow.18

Moreover, rather than affairs of individual consciences, conversions are often presented

as events carried out by an entire people or an army. Far from seeming at odds with the tradition

of a personal calling, the concept of an entire people being converted en masse could be

developed within the commentaries on Genesis. The crossing of Red Sea by the Hebrew people

was a prefiguration of the baptism of the whole p opl , whil th d owning of th Pha aohs

army in the waters of baptism signifies their rejection of salvation. Not of course that the
G go y of To s II, 31. Altho gh som s hola s ontin to a pt G go ys a o nt of th onv sion as an
accurate account, the most recent studies of Gregory emphasize his intellectual and religious ideology that
infl n d not only th fo m b t th ont nt of his histo i s. S in pa ti la Ian Wood, G go y of To s and
Clovis, in Revue belge de philologie et dhistoire 63 (1985), pp. 249-272; Walter Goffart, Narrators of
Barbarian History (A.D. 550-800), Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon (Princeton, 1988);
Martin Heinzelmann, Gregor von Tours: Zehn Bcher Geschichte. Historiographie und Gesellschaftskonzept
im sechsten Jahrhundert (Darmstadt, 1994) tr. Gregory of Tours: History and Society in the Sixth Century
(Cambridge, UK, 2001).
Numquid fidem perfecto praedicabimus, quam ante perfectionem sine praedicatore vidistis? Avitus, Epist. 46,
MGH AA, ed. Rudolf Peiper (Berlin, 1883), p. 76, Tr. Jocelyn N. Hillgarth, Christianity and Paganism 350 -
750: the Conversion of Western Europe (Philadelphia, 1986), p. 78.
Ibid., 75-76: Faciet, sicut creditis, regum florentissime, faciet inquam indumentorum ista mollities, ut vobis
deinceps plus valeat rigor armorum.

conversion of every king is understood as the simultaneous conversion of the entire people.

Avitus may speak of the conv sion of Clovis and of his p opl in on b ath: Sin God,

thanks to yo , will mak of yo p opl his Own poss ssion,19 but this is not always the case.

This same Avitus writes in a much more circumspect way to his own king Sigismund who had

asked if A ian o ato i s and basili as o ght to b onv t d to o thodox s following th kings

conversion. Avitus replies, asking the king if he had consulted his own prelates, that is, the

Arians. Clearly, for Avitus, the conversion of the king did not necessarily imply the conversion

of everyone in the kingdom.20 In other cases, as in the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons, one sees

a m h mo g ad al p o ss. In d s t lling of th onv sion of Eth lb t of K nt, th kings

baptism began to attract by example many others to conversion, it did not impel these

conversions.21 This image of the conversion of the ruler precipitating the conversion of followers

is the essence of the process examined by Bulliet and others in understanding the attraction of

Islam. Conve sion to th l s faith was a path to th p s vation o nhan m nt of stat s and

position. No greater example could be offered than that of the Roman world in the generation

following Constantin s own onv sion.

The greatest parallel to Islamic conversion, however, is exactly in that sphere that has

been described as most typical of Islam: the eliding of conversion and submission. Such

submission is already implied in the letter of Avitus, as he urges Clovis to send missionaries to

those peoples not y t o pt d by A ian h sy so that th y might fi st b s bj t to Cloviss

Ibid., q ia d s g nt m v st am p vos x toto s am fa i t.
Vnde primum quaeso, si a principe regionis nostrae, cuius nobis deus praestitit in vera religione consensum,
sortis suae antistites consulantur, utrum respondere possimus fabricas a patre suo haereticis institutas
catholicis debere partibus adplicari. Epist. 7 MGH AA 6.35-39.
On the conversion of England see in general Henry Mayr-Harting, The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon
England, 3rd ed. (University Park, PA, 1991).

imperium because of religion, with the implication that this religious subjugation would be

followed by a political one as well.22

The language of subjugation to Christianity and to Christian rulers began with the

Constantinian dynasty and grew with the expansion of Frankish Christianity both within and

without the kingdom. In the first century of Roman imperial religion, Christianity moved from

being a persecuted to a persecuting religion, and the Frankish monarchy, as in so many other

spheres, absorbed this tradition. The life of St. Amandus, for example, tells of the saint having

secured letters from King Dagobert ordering that if any inhabitant of the region of Ghent should

refuse baptism, he should be compelled by the king to receive the sacrament.23

Such forced submission within the Frankish realm paled in comparison with forced

submission without. The clearest parallel to submission/conversion in the Islamic world is that of

the Saxons. Here, as Michael Morony has noted, the ambiguous vocabulary of subjugation is

exactly parallel to that of Islam. In 776, following the defeat of the Saxons by Charlemagne, the

Royal Frankish Annals state:

And all the Saxons, terrified, came from all over to the source of the River Lippe
and they surrendered their fatherland by providing sureties and pledged to become
Christians and they submitted themselves to the rule of the lord King Charles and of the

The same parallel between political and religious submission is repeated throughout the

account of the Saxon wars, as in the 785 baptism of Widukind, concerning which the Annales

Quatenus externi quique populi paganorum pro religionis vobis primitus imperio servituri.... Epist. 46 MGH AA
VI, 76.
Vita S. Amandi, MGH SS rer. Mer. V, ed. Bruno Krusch (Hannover, 1910), pp. 436-437.
Annales Regni Francorum a. 776, MGH SSRG, 6 ed. Georg Heinrich Pertz rev. Friedrich Kurze (Hannover,
1895), p. 46: Et Saxones perterriti omnes ad locum, ubi Lippia consurgit, venientes ex omni parte et reddiderunt
patriam per wadium omnes manibus eorum et spopenderunt se esse christianos et sub dicione domni Caroli
regis et Francorum subdiderunt.

say: And th [Attigny] th abov m ntion d Wid kind and Abbi w baptiz d along with

their companions, and th n all Saxony was s bj gat d.25

Subjection to God and to the Franks amounts to the same thing. The same parallelism,

precisely following the model seen in Islam, appears in the 795 account of the conversion of an

Avar notable, or Tudun.26 His emissaries appeared before Charlemagne at Lne and announced:

that this T don wish d to giv hims lf along with his land and his p opl and that h wish d to

accept the Christian faith according to his command.27 Again one sees the characteristics said to

be typical of conversion to Islam: a military leader, without any apparent impetus from learned

missionaries or clerics, declares to a military commander his desire to submit (didere) to his

command and his faith.

One might argue that the essential difference between conversion to Islam and that to

Christianity was one of the rhetoric in which the process was interpreted, the ideological uses of

conversion rather than the conversion itself. In Islam, conversion was largely non-ideological. In

Christianity, conversion was a powerful cultural symbol, often unable to bear the weight with

which it was burdened. If the process of conversion was largely one of political and status

expediency, demanding formal adherence and political subjection while the rhetoric of

conversion emphasized a more radical religious transformation, it is no wonder that the distance

between process and interpretation was perceived even by some contemporaries with irony and

even cynicism. It may be this difference that gave rise to a tradition, present in Islam, but

particularly evident in Christian texts, of doubting or even mocking the reality of conversion.

Just as complaints were made that Gmez Ibn Antonin Ibn Julin was actually still a

Annales Regni Francorum a. 787, p. 70: Et ibi baptizati sunt supernominati Widochindus et Abbi una cum sociis
eorum; et tunc tota Saxonia subiugata est.
Walter Pohl, Die Awaren: ein Steppenvolk im Mitteleuropa, 567-822 n. Chr. (Mnich, 1988), p. 300.
Annal s R gni F an o m, p. 96, a. 795 q od id m t d n m t a t pop lo s o s gi d d v ll t t i s
ordinatione christianam fidem suscipere vell t.

Christian,28 Christian authors used conversion stories to mock converts and, perhaps, to subvert

the official policy of encouraging nominal conversion within the context of political submission.

To this tradition may belong the humorous account of the failed conversion of Radbod, the

Frisian Duke, who refused baptism when, in the course of religious instruction, he learned that

his ancestors were in hell, preferring to remain with them than to go to paradise alone.29 The

story is an obvious play on the previously cited letter of Avitus, in which the bishop commends

Clovis for having rejected the temptation to oppose a futile reverence for parents. More pointedly

mo king is Notk s a o nt of th No thm n whom Lo is the Pious baptized, and who came to

th Emp o at East fo th i baptism not as l gat s b t as most d vot d vassals. At th i

baptism, of course, they were given white garments and gifts. One year, when some 50

Northmen arrived, the court did not have available sufficient white garments and the emperor

had white cloth cut into strips and sewn together like tendrils. One of the newly baptized

complained vociferously, explaining that twenty times before he had been bathed there and each

time had received white clothing. But what he was now given was appropriate not for a warrior

but for a swineherd.30 One can see in this story a criticism, by a monastic author, of the

Carolingian policy of political conversion. Similarly, the account of the baptism of the Norman

Rollo who then refuses to do obeisance, that is, submission, to Charles III the Simple, having his

man upturn the Frankish king by lifting his foot to kiss it, mocks the combination of submission

and conversion that seems to have been a cornerstone of Frankish religious policy. Rollo had

promised by baptism to be a son to the king, not his servant.31 The tradition of satirizing political

conversion even continues into the tenth century, when the Magyar lord Gezo, father of St.

Christys, Christians in Al-Andalus, p. 178.
Vita Vulframmi (Wulframni), MGH SSRM 5, eds. Bruno Krusch and Walther Levison, (Hannover, 1910), p. 668.
Notkeri Gesta Karoli, MGH SS rer. Germ. N.S.12, ed. Hans F. Haefle (Berlin, 1959), p. 90.
Dudo Viromandensis, De moribus et actis primorum Normanniae ducum PL 141, col. 649D.

Stephen, was said to continue to venerate and support the cult of his traditional divinities even

aft his onv sion. Wh n hid d by th bishop, h was said to hav pli d ai ily, Dont

worryI am w althy no gh to b abl to affo d th m all.32

What we are perhaps seeing in these and other examples of conversion satire is a critique

of the developed ideological use of conversion/submission on the part of those who wanted a

reality and an image to approach each other more nearly. Early medieval conversions in

Christianity and in Islam tended to be formal affairs intended by the recipients to preserve or

enhance status and by their sponsors as a means to ensure political submission, thus requiring

little but submission to a brief ritual. Nevertheless, in the Christian ideological discourse, unlike

that of Islam, these conversions were reinterpreted into an elaborated ideological schema as

though they had brought about much more. Mocking the converts (and indirectly the converters)

may have been a way to call into question the whole tradition. Perhaps today, in 1996, it is time

to interject once more some satire in the propaganda of conversion in the early Middle Ages.

Thietmar von Merseburg, Chronicon VIII 4 MGH SS Rer. Germ. n.s. 9, ed. Robert Holtzmann (Berlin, 1935),
496-498. Hic Deo omnipotenti variisque deorum inlusionibus immolans, cum ab antistite suo ob hoc
accusaretur, divitem se et ad haec facienda satis potentem affirmavit.

Chapter Three

Barbarians and Ethnicity1

Th on pt of ba ba ian was an inv ntion of th Graeco-Roman world, projected onto

a whole spectrum of peoples living beyond the frontier of the empire. Except for the Persians,

whose cultural and political equality the Roman world begrudgingly recognized, Romans

perceived all other societies through generalized and stereotypical categories inherited from

nt i s of G k and Roman thnog aphi w itings. Ea h p opl s ompl x of t aits, along

with geographical boundaries, became the determining factors in Roman ethnic classification.

If barbarians were a Roman invention, ethnogenesis, or ethnic formation and

transformation, was emphatically not. Classical systems of territorialization and classification,

typical of Roman concerns for precision and order, objectified and externalized the identity of

peoples, relegating them to an eternal present. Geographers such as Pliny delighted in combining

as many sources as possible, mixing peoples long disappeared with contemporary ethnic groups

in his Natural History. The result was a sort of law of conservation of peoples: no people ever

disappeared, no trait ever changed. At best, a group might acquire a new name and novel, even

contradictory, customs and characteristics. Moreover, the geographical location of peoples took

on increasing importance as Roman contact with barbarians increased. The maps of the Roman

world became crowded as their compilers sought to fill their land masses with as many peoples

as possible. These peoples, like other natural phenomena, had no real history: they encountered

history only when they entered the sphere of the civilized world. Thus the concept of

ethnogenesis was alien to the Roman understanding of their neighbors. Typical of the Roman

This article originally appeared under the same title in the volume Late Antiquity, eds. Peter Brown, Glen
Bowersock, and Andr Grabar (Cambridge, MA, 1999).

xplanation of p opl s is this a o nt of th m g n of th Goths: Now f om this island of

Scandza, as from a hive of races or a womb of nations, the Goths are said to have come forth

long ago under their king, Berig by name. As soon as they disembarked from their ships and set

foot on th land, th y st aightway gav th i nam to th pla (Jordanes, Getica, ed.,

Mommsen [Berlin, 1882], p. 60). Thus begins the sixth-century account of Gothic origins by the

Gotho-Roman Jordanes, writing in the Constantinople of Justinian. The account reflects

traditional concepts of Graeco-Roman ethnography more than Gothic oral traditions. The Goths

(to Jordanes, equivalent to the Getae) are but one more of the innumerable peoples who emerged

f om th no th in a tim l ss long ago and b gan th i long mig ation towa d Italy and th by

entered the sphere of Roman civilization.

In contrast to this classical image of peoples as static, eternal, and without history, an

inscription erected by a Turkic Khagan presents an alternative understanding of the origin of a

p opl : My fath ; th khagan, w nt off with s v nteen men. Having heard the news that [he]

was marching off, those who were in the towns went up mountains and those who were on

mountains came down [from there]; thus they gathered and numbered seventy men. Due to the

fact that Heaven granted strength, the soldiers of my father; the khagan, were like wolves, and

his enemies were like sheep. Having gone on campaigns forward and backward, he gathered

together and collected men; and they all numbered seven hundred men. After they had numbered

seven hundred men [my father, the khagan] organized and ordered the people who had lost their

state and their khagan, the people who had turned slaves and servants the people who had lost the

T kish instit tions, in a o dan with th l s of my an sto s (Ti iat T kin, A Grammar of

Orkhon Turkic, Bloomington, Ind., [1968], p. 265). In this model of the origin of a people, one

sees a new creation brought about through military success: as a war leader is successful, he

draws more and more followers to himself, and they become a band and then an army. This

critical mass of warriors under a successful commander is converted into a people through the

imposition of a legal system. Peoplehood is the end of a political process through which

individuals with diverse backgrounds are united by law. So conceived, a people is constitutional,

not biological, and yet the very imposition of law makes the opposite appeal: it is the law of the

ancestors. The leader projects an antiquity and a genealogy onto this new creation.

In general, three models of barbarian ethnic formation can be discerned among the

peoples who came into contact with the late Roman empire. The first and most closely studied is

that which took its identity from a leading or royal family. Among the Goths, the Longobards,

the Salian Franks, and other successful barbarian peoples, members of a successful family of

warriors succeeded in attracting and controlling a following from disparate backgrounds that

adhered to the traditions of the family. In such peoples, the legendary origins of the royal family

b am th l g nda y o igins of th p opl that oal s d a o nd this k n l of t adition.

These traditions traced the origin of the family or people to some distant, divine ancestor who led

the people out of their original territory, won a significant victory over another people or

peoples, and went on to find a place within the Roman world. The success of such peoples

depended on the ability of their leading family to destroy alternative claimants to leadership and

to find a way of grafting onto the fluid barbarian cultural and political tradition Roman

institutions of law, polity, and organization. Thus, these barbarian peoples were dependent for

their survival on the cooperation and recognition, however grudgingly accorded, of the emperors.

The second model of ethnogenesis drew on traditions of Central Asian steppe peoples for

the charismatic leadership and organization necessary to create a people from a diverse

following. The primary model for such an ethnic formation was the Huns of Attila, although the

Alans, the Avars, and later the Magyars also were steppe empires. These polyethnic

confederations were if anything even more inclusive than the first model, being able to draw

together groups which maintained much of their traditional linguistic, cultural, and even political

organization under the generalship of a small body of steppe commanders. The economic basis

of these steppe confederations was semi-nomadic rather than sedentary. Territory and distance

played little role in defining their boundaries, although elements of the confederation might

practice traditional forms of agriculture and social organization quite different from those of the

steppe leadership. Thus the Goths in the kingdom of Attila and the Bulgars in the kingdom of the

Avars could not only maintain but even develop their own traditions while remaining firmly

attached to the central organization of the empire. The survival of such confederations required

constant military successes to an even greater extent than did the first model. A combination of

terror and military victory held them together. The death of a leader or his defeat at the hands of

another barbarian or Roman army could lead to the rapid disappearance of the mightiest of these

empires. Reversals such as that of the Huns following the death of Attila, or of the Avars

following Cha l magn s s ssf l p n t ation of th i kingdom in th lat 700s, s lt d in

their rapid and total disappearance. At the same time, the disintegration of these vast steppe

confederations generated new and transformed peoples. The Ostrogoths, Gepids, and

Longobards emerged from the empire of Attila; and the Bulgars and other Slavic peoples

emerged from the ruins of the Avar empire.

The last model, that of decentralized peoples such as the Alamanni, perhaps the

Bavarians, and certainly the Slavs, ismay be the most difficult to understand. In these

configurations, whatever traditions may have informed the community were transmitted not by a

central royal family but in a more communal form. It is impossible to know to what extent such

peoples had any consciousness of communal identity at all. The Alamanni appear in Roman

sources from the third century, but no evidence of any collective legends, traditions, or

genealogies has survived that would indicate the emergence of a common sense of identity

among the Germanic peoples living on the upper Rhine. In the case of the Slavs, some have

hypothesized that these peoples were the amalgamation of the Germanic-Sarmatian peasant

populations left behind in those regions from which warrior bands and their leaders of the first

type departed for the lure of the Roman empire. This may be so, but whenever the Slavs appear

in sources, they do so not as peasants but as fierce warriors, loosely organized into short-lived

bands. Centralized leadership was not the norm and often came in the form of outside elements,

from nearby Germanic peoples such as the Franks, or from Iranian Croats, Turkic Bulgars, or

S andinavian R s.

Regardless of the form of ethnogenesis, it must be understood as a continuing process

rather than a historical event. Ancient names could and did come to designate very different

groups of people. Alternatively, certain groups underwent repeated, profound, social, cultural,

and political transformations such that they became essentially different peoples even while

maintaining venerable names. The only way to understand the varieties of ethnogenesis, then, is

to observe the historical transformations of the most significant of these groups across Late


By the fifth century, Romans and barbarians had learned a great deal about each other,

much of it through painful contact and all of it filtered through their own modes of understanding

the world. Romans viewed barbarians through the inherited categories of classical ethnography

stretching back over four centuries, but also with the more pragmatic eyes of conquerors and

adversaries whose faith in Roman superiority had been severely shaken in the last quarter of the

fourth century. Barbarians viewed the Roman empire as the home of the great king, as a source

of inexhaustible wealth, and frequently as a powerful but treacherous ally. Still, this empire was

deemed as essential to the barbarians as it was to the Romans. The Visigothic ruler Athaulf was

said to have contemplated replacing the empire with his own, but abandoned the idea as a

chimera. Four hundred years later another barbarian ruler, Charlemagne, absorbed the empire

into his person, having himself acclaimed emperor on Christmas Day, 800.

Romans of the fifth century contemplated the barbarians of their own day from the

perspective of almost a millennium of interaction with the barbarian world. These centuries of

Roman presence had profoundly influenced the peoples living along the frontiers. Roman policy

dictated the creation of client buffer states that could protect the empire from contact with hostile

barbarians further afield; provide trading partners for the supply of cattle, raw materials, and

slaves; and, increasingly from the fourth century, fill the ranks of the military with mercenary

troops. Thus the empire supported friendly chieftains, supplying them with weapons, gold, and

grain in order to strengthen the pro-Roman factions within the barbarian world. The effect on not

only the barbarians living along the limes but also those further away was considerable. Roman

economic and political power destabilized the rough balance of power within the barbarian world

by enabling pro-Roman chieftains to accumulate wealth and power far in excess of what had

been possible previously. These chieftains also gained both military and political experience by

serving in the Roman military system with their troops as federates. At the same time, fear of the

Romans and their allies drove anti-Roman factions into large, unstable, but occasionally mighty

confederations that could inflict considerable damage on Roman interests on both sides of the

borders. This had happened in the time of Caesar among the Gauls and at the end of the first

century among the Britons. In the late second century a broad confederacy known as the

Marcomanni tested and temporarily broke through the Danubian frontier. In the aftermath of the

Marcomannic wars, new barbarian peoples appeared along the Rhine-Danube frontiers in the

o s of th thi d nt y. A loos onf d ation along th pp Rhin known as simply th

p opl (Alamanni) app a d in th a ly thi d nt y and a simila onf d ation on th low

Rhin , th f o th fi (F an i), am to th att ntion of th Romans a g n ation lat ,

as did a confederation of Germanic, Sarmatic, and even Roman warriors along the lower Danube

nd th g n alship of th Goth Cniva. hind th s onst llations on Rom s bo d s stood

still other groups, such as Saxons beyond the Franks, Burgundians beyond the Alamanni, and

Vandals beyond the Goths.

These confederations were in turn composed of small communities of farmers and

herders living in villages along rivers, seacoasts, and clearings from the North and Baltic Seas to

the Black Sea. Most members of the society were free men and women, organized in nuclear

households governed by the husband or father. Status within the village depended on wealth,

m as d by th siz of a familys cattle herd, and military prowess. Some wealthier individuals

presided over households that included not only their wife or wives and children, but free

d p nd nts and slav s ho s d in o tb ildings a o nd th l ad s hom .

Households were in turn integrated into the larger kindred group known to scholars as the

Sip (German: Sippe) or clan. This wider circle of kin included both agnatic and cognatic groups

who sha d a p ption of ommon d s nt, info d by a sp ial p a that mad viol nt

conflict within the clan a crime for which no compensation or atonement could be made, by an

incest taboo, and possibly by some claims to inheritance. This wider kindred might also form the

basis for mutual defense and for pursuit of feuds. However, membership in this larger circle was

elastic; it provided the possibility but not the necessity of concerted action since individuals

might select from a variety of possible broader kin affiliations depending on circumstances. The

nuclear family, not the wider clan, was the primary unit of barbarian society.

Village life was directed by the assembly of free men under the leadership of a headman

whose position may have come from a combination of factors including wealth, family

influence, and connections with the leadership of the people beyond his village. Binding together

this larger entity was a combination of religious, legal, and political traditions that imparted a

strong if unstable sense of unity.

Members of a people shared ancestry myths, cultural traditions, a legal system, and

leadership. However, all of these were flexible, multiple, and subject to negotiation and even

dispute. Ancestry myths took the form of genealogies of heroic figures and their exploits. The

founders of these genealogies were divine, and the chain of their descendants did not form a

history in the Graeco-Roman sense of a structured narrative of events and their broader

significance. Rather, these myths preserved an atemporal and apolitical account of individuals,

woven together through ties of kinship and tales of revenge and blood feud, to which many

individuals and families could claim ties. Other cultural traditions, too, such as dress, hairstyles,

religious practices, weapons, and tactics provided strong bonds but also fluid and adaptable ways

of creating unity or claiming difference. Legal traditions were an outgrowth of this religious and

cultural identity. In the absence of strong central authority, disputes were regulated through

family leaders, village assemblies, and war leaders. Control was exerted to preserve peace or at

least to set the rules for feuds to take place in a manner least destructive of the community.

Finally, these religious and cultural groups were organized under political leadership, a

leadership that underwent profound transformation in the early centuries of contact with Rome.

When the Romans first came into contact with the Celtic and Germanic peoples, these

populations were largely governed by hereditary, sacral kings who embodied the identity of their

people by their sacred ancestry. This traditional type of king, termed Thiudan (from thiuda,

p opl in ast G mani lang ag s s h as Gothi ) o in C lti lang ag s rhix, continued

among peoples far from the Roman limes in portions of the British Isles, in Scandinavia, and in

the Elbe region. In the course of the first and second centuries, those living in proximity to the

Romans had largely abandoned their archaic sacral kings in favor of warrior leaders who might

be selected from old royal families or, as frequently, from successful aristocratic fighters. This

change favored the empire, since Rome could more easily influence new leaders emerging from

oligarchic factions than heirs of ancient religious authority. These leaders were raised up by their

heterogeneous armies and formed the centers around which new traditions of political and

religious identity could develop and onto which, in some cases, older notions of sacro-social

identity could be grafted. The legitimacy of these leaders (termed duces, reges, regales by

different Roman sources; kuning, that is, leader of the family, in west Germanic languages; or in

Gothic reiks, borrowed from the Celtic rhix) derived ultimately from their ability to lead their

armies to victory. A victorious campaign confirmed their right to rule and drew to them an ever

growing number of people who accepted and shared in their identity. Thus a charismatic leader

could found a new people. In time, the leader and his descendants might identify themselves with

an older tradition and claim divine sanction, proven by their fortunes in war, to embody and

continue some ancient people. The constitutional integrity of these peoples then was dependent

on warfare and conquestthey were armies, although their economies remained dependent on

raiding and a combination of animal husbandry and slash-and-burn agriculture. Defeat, at the

hand of either the Romans or other barbarians, could mean the end not only of a ruler but of a

people, who might be absorbed into another, victorious confederation.

At any given time, therefore, within these broad confederations, a variety of individuals

might claim some sort of kingship over portions of the people. The Alamannic confederation that

fought the emperor Julian in 357, for example, was led by an uncle and n ph w t m d th most

o tstanding in pow b fo th oth kings, fiv kings of s ond ank, t n regales, and a series

of magnat s. Altho gh Roman so s t m d all of th s l ad s Alamanni, th y also

observed that the Alamanni were composed of such groups as the Bucinobantes, Lentienses, and

Juthungi under the leadership of their own kings. These subgroups could be termed gentes,

implying a social and political constitution, or pagi, suggesting that organization was at least in

part territorial; or, as in the cases of the Lentienses, both. Similarly the early Franks were

composed of groups such as the Chamavi, Chattuarii, Bructeri, and Amsivari, and had numerous

regales and duces who commanded portions of the collectivity and disputed among themselves

for primacy. In the late fourth century, for example, the Frankish war leader Arbogast, although

in Roman service, used his Roman position to pursue his feud with the Frankish regales

Marcomer and Sunno in trans-Rhenian territory. Further to the east, the Gothic confederation

with its military kingship splintered under Roman pressure. The most eastern portions of the

Goths in modern Ukraine accepted the authority of the Amals, a royal family of the new type that

nevertheless claimed ancient and divine legitimacy, while among the western Gothic groups

numerous reiks shared and disputed an oligarchic control.

Warfare, whether large-scale attacks led by the reiks or kuning or small-scale cattle raids

carried out by a few adventurous youths, was central to barbarian life. Warfare within the family

was forbidden; within the people it was controlled by the conventions of the feud; but between

peoples it was the normal state of affairs. Raiding was a normal way of acquiring wealth and

prestige as well as of reestablishing the balance of honor within the community. Successful war

leaders gathered around themselves elite groups of young warriors who devoted themselves to

their commander in return for arms, protection, and a share of booty. These bands of retainers

formed powerful military units that could be invaluable in war; but also, in their tendency to

fight each other and dispute over spoils, dangerous sources of instability. The following of a

successful war leader could grow enormously, as young warriors from surrounding villages and

even other peoples joined. In time the warrior band and its dependents could splinter off to create

a new people.

For the most part, warfare was directed against neighboring barbarians, and raids and

plundering maintained a relative equilibrium within the barbarian world. However, the presence

of Roman merchants within this world and of the riches of the empire on its frontiers proved

irresistible to barbarian leaders who needed to win glory in battle and to acquire iron, horses,

slaves, and gold for their following. For as long as it existed, the empire could serve this purpose

in one of two ways, either as the employer of barbarian military bands or as the victim of these

same bands.

Until the last quarter of the fourth century, barbarians had found direct assaults on

imperial armies less effective than service to them. Barbarian military successes against the

empire tended to result from Roman disputes and weaknesses. Barbarian armies were never a

match for a competent emperor at the head of his army. Sporadic raiding across the frontier,

often carried out by isolated warrior bands, brought severe reprisals, at times through punitive

expeditions into the barbarian world accompanied by thorough devastation in the Roman

tradition. Large-scale raiding was possible only when the Roman frontier garrisons were

withdrawn or weakened by urgent needs elsewhere in the empire. In the 250s, during the darkest

hours of the third-century crisis for example, the Gothic King Cniva led his mixed confederation

into the province of Dacia while Gothic pirates attacked the Black Sea coast from the mouth of

the Danube. When legions from along the Rhine were shifted east to deal with internal and

external problems, barbarians took the opportunity to raid across the poorly defended frontier.

Alamannic bands overran the Roman trans-Rhenian Decumatian territories and Frankish armies

advanced deep into Gaul and even Spain. The actual identities of the peoples involved in these

raids are difficult to ascertain. Often Roman sources speak of the barbarian inhabitants along the

Rhin as simply G mani. At oth tim s, th y t nd to id ntify thos on th pp Rhin as

Alamanni, those on the lower as Franci, although the extent to which the raiders would have

recognized such labels themselves is impossible to determine. Moreover, Romans were aware

that other groups, such as Burgundians, Vandals, and Saxons, participated in these raids as well.

However, although neither Dacia nor Decumania was entirely retaken by the empire,

Emperor Gallienus (253-268) and his successors decisively defeated the Franks and the

Alamanni, and Emperor Aurelian (270-275) crushed Goths in a series of campaigns that

splintered their confederation. Raiding continued sporadically, but the frontiers were essentially

secure for another century.

For some barbarian armies, defeat meant the destruction of their identity as a cohesive

social unit. The devastation caused by barbarian raids into the empire paled in comparison with

the wasting and slaughter meted out by Roman armies engaged in expeditions across the Rhine

or Danube. A panegyric of the year 310 describes the treatment to which Constantine subjected

the Bructeri after a punitive expedition he led against them: the barbarians were trapped in an

area of impenetrable forest and swamp, where many were killed, their cattle confiscated, their

villages burned, and all of the adults thrown to the beasts in the arena. The children were

presumably sold into slavery. In other cases, surviving warriors were forced into the Roman

army. These dediticii or laeti, following a ritual surrender in which they gave up their weapons

and threw themselves on the mercy of their Roman conquerors, were spread throughout

the empire in small units or settled in depopulated areas to provide military service and restore

regions devastated by barbarian attacks and taxpayer flight. One such unit of Franks sent to the

shores of the Black Sea managed a heroic escape, commandeering a ship and making their way

across the Mediterranean, through the Straits of Gibraltar and ultimately home, but most served

out their days in the melting pot of the Roman army.

Defeat also meant major changes for barbarian peoples on the frontiers of the empire not

forced into service or sold into slavery. Deprived of the possibility of supporting their political

and economic systems through raiding, the defeated barbarian military kings found an alternative

in service to the Roman empire. After defeating a Vandal army in 270 Emperor Aurelian

concluded a treaty with them as federates of the empire. Similar treaties with Franks and Goths

followed before the end of the century. Foederati obligat d th ms lv s to sp t th mpi s

frontiers, to provide troops to the imperial army, and in some cases to make additional payments

in cattle or goods. Barbarian leaders favorable to Rome found that they could reach previously

unimaginable heights of power and influence by fighting not against the empire, but for it.

In the course of the fourth century, internal conflict and pressure on the Persian frontier,

as well as a desire to minimize imperial expenses, led to the progressive incorporation of these

barbarian leaders and their followings into the Roman military system. Constantine I led the way,

not only designating Frankish military units as auxiliary units of the imperial army but also

promoting barbarians, such as the Frank Bonitus, to high military office. Bonitus was the first of

a long series of Franks in Roman service. In 355 his son, the thoroughly Romanized Silvanus

who was commander of the Roman garrison at Cologne, was proclaimed emperor by his troops.

Although Silvanus was quickly assassinated by envoys of Emperor Constantius, subsequent

barbarian commanders such as Malarich, Teutomeres, Mallobaudes, Laniogaisus, and Arbogast

avoided usurpation but exercised enormous power within the western empire. Ultimately one of

these Frankish Roman commanders, Clovis, would eliminate the remnants of the Roman state in

Gaul and receive imperial recognition.

For the most part, these Roman generals maintained close ties with the members of their

p opl s o tsid th mpi . Sho tly aft Silvan ss assassination, F anks sa k d Cologn ,

possibly in revenge for his murder. Mallobaudes, who participated in Gratians vi to y ov th

Alamanni in 378, was simultaneously termed comes domesticorum and rex Francorum by the

Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus. Others such as Arbogast used their position within the

empire to attack their enemies across the Rhine. Still, their situation was extremely precarious

both within the empire and without. Frequently they were the objects of suspicion to their Roman

competitors, even though they generally were no less reliable than Romans in high command. At

the same time, as Roman officials and as adherents of Roman religion, whether Christian or

pagan, they were always targets for anti-Roman factions at home. Assumption of high Roman

command generally meant forgoing the possibility of retaining a position at the head of a

barbarian people outside of the empire.

Around the Black Sea, the Gothic confederation experienced a similarly ambiguous

relationship with the eastern portions of the empire. By the fourth century the more eastern

Gothic peoples, the Greuthungs or steppe peoples, had absorbed characteristics of the Scyths. In

the western regions, the Tervingi or forest people had come under the greatest direct influence of

Rome. Both were sedentary agrarian societies, although in the former the military elite was

composed primarily of infantry while in the latter horsemen in the tradition of the ancient Scyths

formed the core of the army. In the fourth century, the Tervingian Goths had expanded their

lordship over a wide spectrum of peoples with different linguistic, cultic, and cultural traditions.

Settled in agricultural villages and governed by local assemblies of free men, the

population of this Gothic confederation was nevertheless subject to the central oligarchic

authority of Gothic military leaders under the authority of a non-royal judge. In 332 Constantine

and the Tervingian judge Ariaric concluded a treaty or foedus. A ia i s son A i was ais d in

Constantinople and the emperor even raised a statue in the city in honor of the judge. Under

Ariaric, Aerie, and his son Athanaric, these western Goths became progressively integrated into

the Roman imperial system, providing auxiliary troops to the eastern region of the empire. One

effect of this closer relationship with the empire was their implication in internal imperial

politics. In 365 the usurper Procopius convinced the Tervingians to support him as the

representative of the Constantinian dynasty in his opposition to Emperor Valens. After

P o opi ss x tion, Val ns la n h d a b tal p nitiv atta k a oss th Dan b that ended

only in 369 with a treaty between Athanaric and the emperor.

Religion was a binding force in the Gothic confederation, but the heterogeneous

constitution of the confederation created difficulties in maintaining this religious unity.

Christians, large numbers of whom were incorporated into the Gothic world from the Crimea

during the time of Cniva, and others who were carried off in trans-Danubian raids, proved the

most difficult religious minority to assimilate, both because of the strong exclusivity of their

monotheistic faith and because of the importance of Christianity in the political strategies of the

Roman empire. Gothic Christians represented the spectrum of Christian beliefs, from orthodox

Crimean Goths to the Audian sect that confessed the corporeality of God among the Tervingi, to

various Arian or semi-Arian communities in the Gothic Balkans. The most influential Gothic

Ch istian was Ulfila (whos Gothi nam m ans littl wolf), a thi d-generation Goth of

relatively high social standing whose Christian ancestors had been captured in a raid on

Cappadocia sometime in the 260s. In the 330s Ulfila came to Constantinople as part of a

d l gation, sid d in th mpi fo som tim , and in 341 was ons at d bishop of th

Christians in the G ti land at th o n il of Antio h and s nt to th alkan Goths. Ulfilas

consecration and his mission to the Goths and other peoples in the Gothic confederation were

part of an imperial Gothic program, which may have precipitated the first persecution of Gothic

Christians in 348 under Aoric and a resurgence in 369 under Athanaric. During the first

persecution Ulfila and his followers were exiled to Roman Moesia, where he preached in Gothic,

Latin, and Greek to his heterogeneous flock, wrote theological treatises, and translated the Bible

into Gothic. Ulfila and his followers attempted to steer a middle course between the Catholic and

Arian positions on the nature of the divine persons, a position that inevitably resulted in being

labeled Arian by future g n ations of o thodox b li v s. In th sho t n, how v , Athana i s

persecution was as ineffective as had been earlier persecutions of Christians by Rome. He

succeeded only in badly dividing the Gothic peoples, creating an opportunity seized by the

Gothic aristocrat Fritigern, who contacted the Roman emperor Valens and agreed to become an

Arian Christian in return for support against Athanaric.

These political and religious tensions between and within the Roman and Gothic worlds

were rendered suddenly beside the point by the arrival of the Huns, a steppe nomadic

confederation under Central Asian leadership, in the area of the Black Sea in 375. These

nomadic riders were like no people seen before by Romans or barbarians: everything from their

physical appearance to their pastoral lifestyle to their mode of warfare was foreign and terrible to

the old world. The Huns were never, except for the short period of the reign of Attila (444-453),

a united, centralized people. Rather, the Huns, commonly referred to as Scyths by Roman

sources, were disparate groups of warrior bands sharing a common nomadic culture, a military

tradition of mounted raiding, and an extraordinary ability to absorb the peoples they conquered

into their confederations. Their startling military success was due to their superb cavalry tactics,

their proficiency with short double-reflex bows that allowed them to launch a volley of arrows

with deadly accuracy while riding, and their tactical knowledge of the steppes and plains of

western Asia and Central Europe that allowed them to appear without warning, inflict

tremendous damage, and disappear into the grasslands as quickly as they had come.

Within a generation, these nomadic warrior bands destroyed first the Alans and the

Greuthung kingdom and then the Tervingian confederation. With the destruction of the authority

of Gothic leadership, constituent groups of the old Gothic confederations had to decide whether

to join the Hunnic bands or to petition the emperor to enter and settle in the Roman empire.

The semi-nomadic confederation known as the Huns provided a model for the enormous

but fragile steppe confederations such as that of the later Avars. They easily absorbed a vast

spectrum of other peoples and profited from their position between the eastern and western

halves of the empire, but vanished when their leaders were no longer able to lead them to

victories over their victims.

For most of the Goths defeated by the Huns, entering the confederation was an obvious

choice. Although a Hunnic core of Central Asians provided central leadership to the Hunnic

armies, the peoples they conquered were assimilated with ease. Good warriors, whether of

Gothic, Vandal, Frankish, or even Roman origins, could rise rapidly within the Hunnic hierarchy.

Even among the central leadership, this polyethnicity was obvious. The Hunnic leader Edika was

simultaneously a Hun and a Scirian, and ruled the short-lived Scirian kingdom as king. The

greatest of the Hunnic leaders, Attila, bore a Gothic name (or title): Attila m ans littl fath .

Gothic, Greek, and Latin were used alongside Hunnic in his court, and among his advisers were

not only leaders of various barbarian peoples but even former Greek merchants. For a time the

Italian aristocrat Orestes, father of the last Roman emperor in the west, Romulus Augustulus,

served the Hunnic king.

To maintain the unity of this heterogeneous Hunnic confederation, its chieftains needed a

constant flow of treasure, the principal source of which was the empire. Initially, raids on the

Illyrian and Thracian borders of the empire provided the bulk of the booty, supplemented by

annual subsidies from the emperors to prevent further incursions; thus the ability to conduct

successful military operations was essential for the survival of Hunnic leaders. During the first

decades of the Hunnic confederation leadership was shared by members of a royal family, but in

445 Attila eliminated his brother Bleda after Hunnic successes began to abate and unified the

Huns under his command. Under Attila annual subsidies from the emperor increased from 350

pounds of gold to 700, and eventually to 2100, an enormous amount to the barbarians but not a

devastating burden on the empire. Theodosius found it easier to pay than to defend against

Hunnic raids. In addition to gold, Attila demanded that the empire cease harboring Hunnic

refugees and return those who had fled his authority. Those who were returned were impaled or


After the death of Theodosius in 450, his successor Marcian refused to continue

preferential treatment of the Huns. With this source of funding gone, Attila apparently

considered himself too weak to extract adequate booty by raiding the eastern empire and turned

his attention to the western empire of Valentinian III. He led his armies west in two long raids.

The first in 451 reached far into Gaul before being stopped at the battle of the Catalaunian Plains

between Troyes and Chalons-sur-Ma n . Th Attilas a my, p obably ompos d p ima ily of

subject Germanic peoples from the western areas of his controlSuebi, Franks, and

Burgundians in addition to Gepids, Ostrogoths, and Central Asian Hunswas stopped by an

equally heterogeneous army of Goths, Franks, Bretons, Sarmatians, Burgundians, Saxons, Alans,

and Romans under the command of the patrician Aetius. The second raid came the following

year, when Attila led another army into Italy. Again, in keeping with Hunnic priorities the

expedition was primarily undertaken for pillage, not for lasting political objectives, and ended at

the gates of Rome when Pope Leo I paid off the Huns, who, weakened by disease and far from

their accustomed terrain, were probably all too ready to return to the steppe.

Th ss ntial f agility of an mpi s h as Attilas was d monst at d by its apid

disintegration following his death. Steppe empires built on victory could not endure defeat. A

s pa atist oalition nd th l ad ship of th G pid A da i volt d against Attilas sons. Th

b ls w vi to io s and th d f at of Attilas sons l d to th splintering of the old

confederation and new processes of ethnogenesis. In addition to the Gepid alliance emerged the

Rugii, the Sciri, and the Sarmatians along the Danube, and the Ostrogoths, who gathered the

remnants of the Greuthungs and entered Roman service as foederati. Som of Attilas sons

continued to lead splinter groups, some apparently returning to Central Asia, others entering

Roman service within the Roman military aristocracy. Within a few generations, they and their

followers had become Ostrogoths, Gepids, or Bulgars.

A different fate met those barbarians who fled the Hunnic onslaught in 375. While the

majority of the Greuthungs and Alans were absorbed into the new Hunnic confederation, a

minority, augmented by deserting Huns, fled toward the limes. So too did most of the Tervingi,

who abandon d Athana i s l ad ship and fl d with F itig n a oss th Dan b . Th flight of

the Tervingi into the empire set in motion a decisive transformation in the identity of this people.

From the Roman perspective, they were but one more barbarian group of dediticii, received into

the empire and allowed to settle in Thrace, where they were expected to support themselves

through agriculture while supplying troops to the military. The reality was that in quality and

q antity, th T vingian f g s sit ation was v y diff nt f om that of a li dediticii. First,

these Goths were far more numerous than earlier barbarian bands allowed into the empire, and

they overwhelmed the Roman administrative abilities. Second, the Romans did not force them to

surrender their arms as was the usual practice. When Roman mistreatment and Gothic hunger

pushed the refugees to armed resistance, the result was a series of Gothic victories. Soon the

refugee cavalry of the Greuthungs, Alans, and Huns joined the Tervingi, as did Gothic units

already in the Roman army, Ihracian miners, barbarian slaves, and the poor. The Gothic victories

culminated in 378 with the annihilation of the imperial army and the death of Valens at


After Adrianople, Rome could no longer treat the Goths as dediticii. In a treaty concluded

in 382, the Goths were recognized as a federated people but were allowed to settle between the

Danube and the Balkan mountains with their own governors, creating in effect a state within a

state. Tax revenues traditionally collected for the support of the military were redirected to the

support of the barbarians. In return they were required to provide military support to the empire,

but they did so under their own commanders, who were subordinated to Roman generals.

At the same time, the unprecedented success of the Tervingians and their allies led to a

fundamental transformation of this disparate band of refugees into the Visigoths, a new people

with a new cultural and political identity. The Visigoths quickly adapted the mounted tactics

used so effectively by the Greuthungs, Alans, and Huns in the campaigns against Valens, in

effect transforming themselves into a highly mobile cavalry on the Scythian model. For the next

generation the Visigoths struggled to maintain themselves both as a Gothic confederation and as

a Roman army. Their king Alaric, a member of the royal clan of the Balths, sought recognition

and payments at once as ruler of a federated people and as a high-ranking general, or magister

militum, in imperial service with de facto command of the civilian and military bureaucracies in

the regions under his authority. He pursued both of these goals through alternate service to and

expeditions against the eastern and western emperors and their imperial barbarian commanders.

Ala i s insist n on his d al ol stood in ont ast to an old mod l of imp ial

barbarian embodied by Stilicho, the supreme military commander in the west and intermittently

Ala i s ommander, ally, and bitter enemy. Stilicho was of Vandal birth, but he, like pagan

Frankish and Alamannic Roman commanders before him, had entirely abandoned his ethnic

barbarian ties. He was a Roman citizen, an orthodox Catholic, and operated entirely within the

Roman tradition, alternately serving and manipulating both the imperial family (as guardian and

later father-in-law of th mp o Hono i s) and ba ba ian f d at s s h as Ala i . Stili hos

path proved fatal when he was unable to maintain the integrity of the Rhone and Danube limes.

On the last day of the year 406, bands of Vandals, Suebi, and Alans crossed the upper Rhine to

ravage Gaul and penetrate as far as Spain unhindered. Around the same time, Gothic bands

fleeing the Huns invaded Italy from Pannonia. In spit of Stili hos ltimat s ss in d f ating

th Gothi invad s, th s twin disast s play d into his n mi s hands. In 408 h was d pos d

and executed on orders of his son-in-law. Following his death, thousands of other assimilated

barbarians living in Italy were likewise slaughtered.

Surviving barbarians in Italy rallied to Alaric, whose dual role as barbarian king and

Roman commander offered a more durable model. His efforts to win recognition and payments

to support his followers led to his invasion of Italy in 408. Botched negotiations led, after

numerous feints, to the capture and pillage of Rome on August 24-26, 410. Although his

subsequent attempt to lead his people to the fertile lands of Africa failed and he died in southern

Italy, Alaric had established an enduring form of barbarian-Roman polity.

Ala i s s sso and b oth -in-law Athaulf led the Goths out of Italy and into Gaul. At

Narbonne in the year 414 he married Galla Placidia, sister of the emperor Honorius captured in

Rome, in the hope of entering the imperial family of Theodosius. The chimera of political

advantage through marriage into the imperial family would recur over the next century, with

Attilas laims to Hono ia, th sist of Val ntinian III, and with th ma iage between the

Vandal p t nd H n i and his hostag E do ia, Val ntinians da ght . Non of th s

attempts accomplished either peace or parity with the Roman empire.

Athaulf fell to an assassin and after futile attempts first to reenter Italy and then to reach

North Africa, his successors accepted a new foedus with the mandate to clear Spain of rebel

Bagaudae as well as of Vandals and Alans. Following their return to Toulouse in 418, the

Visigoths began the form of political and social organization that would characterize their

kingdom and those of other federated barbarians, notably the Burgundians and the Ostrogoths.

The barbarians, whatever their ethnic origins, formed a small but powerful military

minority within a much larger Roman population. As mounted warriors, they tended to settle in

strategic border areas of their territories or in the political capitals. Support of these barbarian

armies was provided by the assignment of a portion of traditional tax revenues that had gone to

the imperial fisc, thus minimizing the burden of the barbarian occupation on the land-owning

Roman aristocracy and keeping these professional warriors free for military service. Collection

and distribution of these taxes remained in the hands of the municipal curiales, likewise

minimizing the effects on the landowning aristocracy that monopolized these offices. At least

this seems to have been the arrangement with the Visigoths in 418, the Burgundians in 443, and

the Ostrogoths in Italy during the 490s. In some other cases, such as that of a group of Alans

settled around Valence in 440, the barbarians were assigned tax debts no longer being collected

by imperial officials. Through these tax shares, barbarian kings were able to provide for their

followers and keep them from dispersing into the countryside in order to supervise their estates.

In the tradition of Alaric, barbarian kings were not only commanders of their people but

simultaneously high-ranking Roman officials (magister militum, patricius, and so forth), who

exercised supreme authority over the civilian administrative system in their territory, effectively

governing the two elements of the Roman state that had been separate since the time of


The territorialization of barbarian armies within these terms set into motion a further

ethnogenesis. Barbarian kings began the attempt to transform the culturally disparate members of

their armies into a unified people with a common law and sense of identity while maintaining

their distance from the majority Roman population of their kingdoms. This identity was drawn

from vague family traditions reinterpreted and transformed by the new situations in which they

found themselves. For the Visigoths, the Balth family provided the center of this tradition. For

the Vandals, it was the Hasdings; for the Ostrogoths, the Amals. These royal families projected

their imagined past onto the people as a whole, providing a common sense of origin to be shared

by the whole of the military elite.

To a lesser extent, barbarian kings likewise used religion to found a common identity.

The Gothic royal family, like those of the Vandals, Burgundians, and other peoples, were Arian

and the Arian faith became closely identified with the king and his people. Arianism was neither

a proselytizing faith nor a persecuting one. At the most, Arians demanded the use of one or more

churches for their worship. Otherwise, orthodox Christianity was not proscribed or persecuted.

The exception appears to have been the Vandal kingdom of North Africa, but even here the

persecutions and confiscations directed against the Orthodox Church seemed to have had more to

do with confiscation of land and repression of political opponents than doctrinal differences.

Barbarian kings also relied on legal tradition to forge a new identity for their peoples.

Nothing is known about barbarian law codes before the Visigothic Code of Euric, which dates

from ca. 470-480. Although in general barbarian law codes appear to stand in sharp distinction to

Roman law, with their system of tariffs for offenses (Wergeld), the use of oaths, and formal oral

procedure, such traditions may not have been much different from local vulgar legal practice and

military law in large areas of the west by the fifth century. The laws sought to delineate rights

and responsibilities of barbarians and Romans and seem to have been territorial laws, intended to

be applied to barbarians and Romans alike, although not to the exclusion of other Roman legal

traditions alive in the territories granted to the barbarian armies.

Royal efforts to forge new and enduring ethnic and political identities within these dual

kingdoms met with indifferent success. The distinction between the barbarian military and

political minority on the one hand and the Roman population on the other remained most sharp

in Vandal Africa. The Vandals, unlike most of the other barbarian peoples to create kingdoms

within the empire, had done so without benefit of a treaty with the empire and had proceeded to

the confiscation of property on a wide scale. These confiscations won for them the enduring

hatred of aristocratic landowners as well as that of the African orthodox church that had learned

political activism during decades of opposition to Donatists. Many of the landowning aristocracy

fled or were exiled, as were the Catholic bishops, who returned only in the 520s. Vandal kings

eventually won imperial recognition, but even then their rule remained tenuous. Hated and

isolated from the rest of the population, the Vandals were easy prey for Justinians a my in 533.

Two decisive battles broke the kingdom and the remaining Vandals were deported and dissolved

into various federated barbarian armies in the eastern Mediterranean. Within less than a decade

the Vandals had entirely disappeared.

The Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy established by Theoderic the Great in the

490s began with greater prospects but likewise fell to Byzantine reconquest. The Ostrogoths

emerged from the ruins of the Hunnic empire as one of the Germanic factions alternatively

allying with and fighting against the eastern empire. In 484 Theoderic, who claimed descent

from the pre-Hunnic royal Amal family, united a number of these groups under his command

and four years later led a polyethnic army into Italy on behalf of the emperor Zeno against

Odoacer, a barbarian commander in the tradition of Stilicho who had made himself master of

Italy. In 493 Theoderic gained control of the peninsula, eliminated Odoacer, and took over the

Roman fiscal and administrative system.

Theoderic sought to transform his heterogeneous, mobile barbarian army into a stable,

settled, Gothic people capable of peaceful coexistence within Roman Italy. His goal for his

Gothic following was to convince them to adopt civilitas, the Roman principles of the rule of law

and the traditions of tolerance and consensus in civic society which they were to protect by their

military valor. Nevertheless, he intended to maintain Goths and Romans as separate

communities, one military, one civilian, living in mutual dependence under his supreme

authority. Thus, although Theoderic received the loyal support of Roman administrators and

even of the close advisers of Odoacer such as the senator Cassiodorus, like other barbarian kings

he sought to strengthen the Gothic element of his rule by appointing his personal agents or

comites to supervise and intervene throughout the Roman bureaucracy. He likewise privileged

the Arian church as the ecclesia legis Gothorum, but he saw to it that it remained a minority

church which he prohibited from proselytizing among the orthodox majority.

Th od i s att mpt to b ing abo t a n w Gothi thnog n sis fail d. Th bo nda i s

between Ostrogothic warrior and Roman civilian blurred as many barbarians became landowners

sharing the same economic and regional concerns as their Roman neighbors. Their children,

educated in the traditions of the Roman elite, grew even further apart from the warrior culture. At

the same time, some Romans rose in the ranks of the military and adopted Gothic tradition, even

to the extent of learning the Gothic language and marrying Gothic women. In reaction to this loss

of Gothic distinctiveness, an anti-Roman reaction set in among a portion of the military

concerned about the rapid Romanization of many in their ranks. Tensions mounted following

Th od i s d ath and lminat d in th m d of his da ght Amalas ntha in 535. J stinian

took the murder as an excuse to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the Gothic king Theodehad,

Th od i s n ph w, and to invad Italy. Unlik th conquest of Africa, however, which was

accomplished in two battles, the war lasted almost two decades and devastated Italy more

profoundly than had all of the barbarian invasions of the previous two centuries. The final result

was, however, just as in North Africa: the total disappearance of the Ostrogoths.

In Gaul, the Gothic kingdom of Toulouse and the Burgundian kingdom met similar fates

Both continued to serve as federates, participating for example in the defeat of the Huns in the

battle of the Catalaunian Plains. They likewise profited from imperial weakness by expanding

their territories. The Goths eventually extended their control north to the Loire and south through

Spain, while the Burgundians expanded east until being driven back by the Gepids. Still, the

Visigoths remained a small Arian minority and disappeared north of the Pyrenees after a single

defeat at the hands of the Franks in 507. Their survival in Spain was due to the intervention of

Theoderic, who assisted them in maintaining their independence. Thereafter they retreated into

Spain, where they abandoned their Arianism and thus their separate gentile identity only in 587.

The Burgundians rapidly lost any cultural, religious, or genealogical identity they may have had,

and by the sixth cent y g ndian s ms to hav d signat d littl mo than th hold of

what had originally been the military allotments first divided among the barbarians.

The type of barbarian polity pioneered by the Visigoths and largely adopted by the

Vandals and Ostrogothsthe creation and maintenance of two communities, one orthodox,

Roman, and civilian, the other Arian, barbarian, and military, under the unified command of a

barbarian king holding an imperial commissionended in failure. More enduring were the

unitary kingdoms created by the Frankish king Clovis as well as by the petty kings of Britain.

The reasons for these successes are several. In part, their distance from the core of the Byzantine

world meant that by the early fifth century these regions were already considered expendable by

the empire, and in the sixth century they lay beyond the reach of Justinian. In part, too, the

transformation of Roman civil administration may have been sufficiently advanced that little

remained for barbarian kings to absorb: in the case of the Franks, this was only the individual

civitates; in the case of the Saxons, not even that. Finally, the barbarians themselves were

different. Although the Franks and the Saxons initially served as federates of the empire, they

had no direct experience of the Mediterranean world of Constantinople or even Italy. They, like

the provincial Romans they absorbed, were far removed from the cultural and administrative

traditions of a Theoderic or a Cassiodorus. The result was a simpler but in the long run more

thorough transformation of these peoples into new social and cultural forms.

In the early fifth century Britain and northern Gaul, long peripheral to the concerns of

Ravenna and Constantinople, were forced to look to their own protection and organization. In

both areas, old Celtic regional affinities began to take precedence over more recent Roman

organization, and new political constellations of Roman, Celtic, and Germanic elements

emerged. In Britain, the Roman centralized government ceded to a plethora of small, mutually

hostile kingdoms. During the later fifth and sixth centuries, Germanic federates drawn from the

Saxons, Frisians, Franks, and other coastal peoples came to dominate many of these kingdoms,

particularly in the southwest. Although migration from the coastal regions of the continent was

significant, particularly in the sixth century, the frequent appearance of Celtic names in the

genealogies of early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms as well as the survival of Christian communities

within these kingdoms indicates that the Anglo-Saxon ethnogenesis was the gradual fusion of

indigenous populations and new arrivals under the political leadership of families that in time

came to regard themselves as descended from mythical Germanic heroes. Indeed most Anglo-

Saxon royal genealogies traced their ancestry back to the war god Woden.

Frankish society was the result of a similar fusion that took place in the northern portions

of Gaul, those most removed from Mediterranean concern. In the course of the fifth century, a

series of rival kingdoms emerged from the ruins of Roman provincial administration, each

headed by a warlord or king. Some of these leaders were Frankish kings who commanded largely

barbarian units and had ties on both sides of the Rhine. Others were members of the Gallo-

Roman aristocracy and drew support from mixed Roman provincial and barbarian armies.

Among the former were members of the Merovingian family, who commanded barbarian troops

descended from Salian Franks probably settled within the empire in the late fourth century.

Ethnic affiliation was much less significant in these constellations than political expediency: the

Frankish followers of the Merovingian Childeric, who had grown wealthy and powerful in the

service of the empire, temporarily transferred their allegiance to the magister militum Aegidius.

ginning in 486 Child i s son Clovis xpand d his pow so th and ast f om his

fath s kingdom nt d a o nd To nai. H apt d Soissons, th administ ativ nt of

Belgica Secunda, temporarily dominated the Thuringians, and defeated the Alamanni between

496 and 506. In 507 he defeated and killed the Visigothic king Alaric II and began conquering

the Visigothic kingdom north of the Pyrenees. None of his conquests appears to have been based

on a commission or treaty with Constantinople, but following his victory over Alaric, emissaries

of Emperor Anastasius granted him some form of imperial recognition, probably an honorary

consulship. He spent his final years, until his death around 511, eliminating other Frankish kings

and rival members of his own family who ruled kingdoms in Cologne, Cambrai, and elsewhere.

Ethnog n sis p o d d diff ntly in Cloviss F ankish kingdom f om that in

Ostrogothic Italy or Visigothic Aquitaine. He did not base his conquests on an imperial mandate

nor did he attempt to create the sort of dual society erected by an earlier generation of barbarian

kings. Salian Franks had been deeply involved in imperial and regional political struggles in

Gaul fo g n ations. Cloviss a tho ity had b n ogniz d by p s ntativ s of th Gallo-

Roman aristocracy such as Bishop Remigius of Rheims since the death of his father in 486. His

absorption of rival power centers caused much less dramatic change than had the conquests of

earlier barbarian kings He certainly took over the remnants of civil administration, but these

probably were already in serious decay and in any case did not extend above the level of

individual civitates. Moreover, there is little evidence that the Franks had or attempted to create

as strong a sense of identity distinct from the Roman population as had Theoderic or other

Gothi ommand s. Cloviss family appa ntly laim d som s mi-divine descent and counted

a minotaur-like beast among its ancestors, but no Frankish genealogical lore could rival the

generations of heroes and gods in Gothic tradition. Already in the sixth century Franks may have

claimed Trojan ancestry, thus connecting themselves genealogically to their Roman neighbors.

Nor were the Franks long separated from their Gallo-Roman neighbors by religion. Prior to the

sixth century some Franks had been Christian, whether Arian or orthodox, while others,

in l ding Cloviss family, had tain d a pagan ligio s t adition. Clovis probably flirted with

the Arianism of his great neighbor Theoderic, but ultimately accepted orthodox baptism,

although when in his career this took place remains open to debate.

Unit d by a ommon ligion and a ommon l g nd of o igin, Cloviss F anks and the

Roman provincials of his kingdom found no obstacles to forging a common identity. This they

did with considerable rapidity. Within only a few generations, the population north of the Loire

had become uniformly Frankish and, although Roman legal traditions persisted in the south and

Burgundian and Roman legal status endured in the old Burgundian kingdom conquered by

Cloviss sons in th 530s, th s diff ing l gal t aditions did not onstit t th basis fo a

separate social or political identity. The great strength of the Frankish synthesis was the new

creation, within the Roman world, of a unified society that drew without a sense of contradiction

on both Roman and barbarian traditions.

As Frankish, Longobard, Anglo-Saxon, and Visigothic kingdoms assimilated surviving

Roman political and cultural traditions they became the center of post-Roman Europe, while new

barbarian peoples, most notably the Saxons, Slavs, and Avars, replaced them on the periphery.

Ethnic labels remained significant designations within the Romano-barbarian kingdoms, but they

designated multiple and at times even contradictory aspects of social and political identity.

In Italy, the Longobards, a heterogeneous amalgam including Gepids, Herulians, Suebs,

Alamans, Bulgarians, Saxons, Goths, and Romans who had arrived in Italy in 568 from Pannonia

created a weak, decentralized union of rival military units of duchies. The duchies combined

traditional military units or fame with the Gothic-Roman military and administrative tradition

Religious as well as political divisions ran deep in Longobard Italy: in the sixth century

Longoba ds in l d d pagans, A ians, s hismati Ch istians, and o thodox Ch istians. Som

dukes allied themselves with the Byzantine exarch of Ravenna while others, particularly in the

south, remained fiercely autonomous.

In the last decades of the sixth century, however, the constant challenges that the

ambitious Longobard armies posed to the Byzantines to the east and the Franks to the west led

these two powers to coordinate their attacks on the Longobards. Threatened with annihilation

between these two foes, the Longobard dukes restored the monarchy that they had abandoned

shortly after their arrival in Italy. This kingship owed much to Gothic precedence, especially in

the use of the name Flavius, which sought to connect the new Longobard identity with the

imperial Flavian name and tradition, as a claim to universal recognition on the part of all

inhabitants of the kingdom. Still, Longobard identity and organization remained porous. The

great duchies of Beneventum and Spoleto remained essentially independent of the king

throughout the entire history of the Longobard kingdom.

In the course of the seventh century, the Longobard kings solidified their position both

externally and internally. They formed marriage alliances with Franks and especially the

Bavarians, whose own Agilolfing dukes were closely related to Longobard kings. They

strengthened the Arian party within the Longobard kingdom while maintaining a balance

betw n o thodox and Th Chapt Ch istians, a t ipa tit Ch istian t adition that nd d only

around 700. Most important, beginning with Rothari (636-652) Longobard kings published legal

codes for their kingdom, codes that enunciated a theory of cooperation between king and people,

the former initiating and improving tradition, the latter accepting the code through the army and

the magnates. The Edict of Rothari (643) also presents a reshaping of a Longobard ethnic myth,

centered on the line of Longobard kings. Rotha i styl s hims lf th s v nt nth king of th

Longoba d p opl , a n mb m ant to assimilat th Longoba ds to th Romans and th Goths

(both Romulus and Theoderic the Great were held to be seventeenth in their lines). The very

creation of this claim to an ancient royal history and ethnic identity is proof of the deep

assimilation of Gothic and Roman values and identity.

Like the Longobard kingdom, the Frankish world remained divided in fundamental ways

through the later sixth and seventh centuries. Core areas of the kingdomNeustria, Austrasia,

and Burgundyoften had their own kings, who drew their legitimacy through descent from

Clovis. The peripheral areas of the Frankish kingdomAquitaine, Provence, Bavaria, Thuringia,

and Frisiawere governed in the name of the Frankish kings by dukes or patricians, often men

with central Frankish ties who rapidly integrated themselves into the local power structures.

The Frankish name came to designate the inhabitants of the core territories ruled by the

Frankish kings and acquired increasingly a geographical rather than ethnic connotation. Legal

codes for the Thuringians, Bavarians, and other peoples within the Frankish realm were

essentially regional law codes, modeled on Salic law even while incorporating some local

traditions and imposed on peripheral areas of the Frankish realm. In general the vocabulary of

ethnic terminology occurs most frequently in the context of military organization, since

contingents from different areas were mustered and led by their dukes and counts, the

institutional descendants of late Roman military officers.

Merovingian kings of the seventh century, once characterized as incompetent if not

mentally deficient, are now recognized to have been nothing of the sort. Still, from the early

seventh century, when powerful leaders such as Chlothar II (584-629) and Dagobert I (623-638)

could exercise effective control over a unified Frankish kingdom, a gradual decline in royal

authority worked to the benefit of regional aristocracies. However, this growth of regionalism

was seldom if ever the result of deep ethnic or cultural differences. The leading families in

Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy, as well as in the peripheral duchies of the Frankish realm,

were generally themselves descendants of representatives of the Frankish monarchs with both

central and regional ties that they used to their own advantage. The struggles between aristocratic

factions that eventually led to the rise of the Carolingian dynasty are remarkable for their lack of

ethnic overtones, in spite of the attempt by some modern historians to read ethnic conflict into

these contests.

In the Visigothic kingdom, the integration of barbarian and Roman populations began

with Leovigild (569-586) and his son Reccarid (586-601). Leovigild reunited a much divided

Visigothic kingdom and expelled most of the remnants of Byzantine control from the peninsula.

Once the orthodox Byzantine presence was eliminated, orthodox Christianity ceased to be the

political threat that it had been, and Leovigild began to move his Arian elite toward orthodox

Catholicism. His son brought this to completion at the council of Toledo in 589 that followed the

conversion of Reccarid himself in 587.

The conversion of the Visigoths had fundamental consequences for the identity of the

Visigothic people and kingdom. The Catholic hierarchy and the political and social leadership of

the communities they represented became fully integrated into the Gothic state and people. The

periodic councils of Toledo that began in the 630s developed into the fundamental institution

unifying Visigothic Spain. These councils treated matters of faith, morals, and ritual, as well as

politics and administration. Toledo became in time the preeminent metropolitan see of Spain,

able both to extend its authority throughout the Spanish church and to define royal legitimacy not

in terms of family, as in the case of the Merovingian family, but rather in terms of having

received royal unction in the city. The extent of episcopal and royal cooperation in the

transformation of the Visigothic kingdom and state was unprecedented in Western Europe.

The British Isles never knew the kind of unity of people and kingship known on the

continent. In Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, as in England, a sense of identity never translated into

a political structure. Through the seventh century, southeastern England was closely connected to

the cultural and political world of Merovingian Gaul. Political unity was never an issue. At

various times petty kings of southeastern England attempted to dominate their neighbors, and in

the later seventh century some rulers of Northumbria temporarily managed to enforce some sort

of lordship over other kingdoms. However; such claims never amounted to an institutionalized

overlordship. The office of a high king, the so-called Bretwalda, is essentially a modern myth.

Nevertheless, a gens Anglorum was perceived to exist, although it was largely defined by

opposition to the British enemies to the west, south, and north. And yet membership in the gens

Anglorum, through participation in one of the petty Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, was open to people

of British and Germanic background alike. Once more, membership in the Anglo-Saxon people

was a question of constitution, not simply of inheritance.

Although Roman sources oft n p s nt d ba ba ian p opl s thni id ntiti s as fix d, w

have seen that new identities were constantly being established and transformed through contacts

with the Romans. The barbarian gentes in turn came to play an integral and transformative role

in the later Roman empire.

Select Bibliography

Amory, Patrick. People and Identity in Ostrogothic Italy, 489-554. Cambridge, England, 1997.
_____. Ethnog aphi Rh to i , A isto ati Attit d s and Politi al All gian in Post-Roman
Ga l, Klio 76 (1994): 438-453.
_____. Th M aning and P pos of Ethni T minology in th g ndian Law Cod s, Early
Medieval Europe 2 (1993): 1-28.
_____. Nam s, Ethni Id ntity and Comm nity in Fifth- and Sixth-C nt y g ndy, Viator
25 (1994): 1-30.
Buml, Franz H., and Marianna D. Birnbaum. Attila: The Man and His Image. Budapest, 1993.
Balsdon, John Percy Vyvian Darce. Romans and Aliens. Chapel Hill, NC, 1979.
Campbell, James, ed. The Anglo-Saxons. London, 1982.
Collins, Roger. Early Medieval Europe 300-1000. New York, 1991.
_____. Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity, 400-1000. London, 1983.
Drinkwater, John, and Hugh Elton, eds. Fifth-Century Gaul: A Crisis of Identity? Cambridge,
Geary, Patrick J. Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the
Merovingian World. New York, 1988.
_____. Ethni ity as a Sit ational Const t in th Ea ly Middle Ages, Mitteilungen der
anthropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien II3 (1983): 15-26.
Goffart, Walter. Barbarians and Romans A.D. 418-584: The Techniques of Accommodation.
Princeton, 1980.
_____. The Narrators of Barbarian History (AD 550-800): Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede
and Paul the Deacon. Princeton, 1988.
_____. Romes Fall and After. London, 1989.
James, Edward. The Franks. Oxford, 1988.
Jarnut, J. Geschichte der Langobarden. Stuttgart, 1982.
Maenchen-Helfen, Otto. The World of the Huns. Berkeley, 1973.
Murray, Alexander C. Germanic Kinship Structure: Studies in Law and Society in Antiquity and
the Early Middle Ages. Toronto, 1983.
Pohl, Walter. Die Awaren: Ein Steppenvolk im Mitteleuropa 567-822 n. Chr. Munich, 1988.
_____. Con ptions of Ethni ity in Ea ly M di val St di s, Archaeologia Polona 29 (1991):
_____. T adition, Ethnog n s nd lit a is h G stalt ng: Ein Zwis h nbilanz, in Ka l
Brunner and Brigitte Merta, eds., Ethnogenese und berlieferung: Angewandte
Methoden der Frhmittelalterforschung. Vienna, (1994): 9-26.
_____. T lling th Diff n : Signs of Ethni Id ntity, in Walt Pohl and H lm t R imitz,
eds., Strategies of Distinction: The Constitution of Ethnic Communities, 300-800. Leiden,
1998: 17-69.
Todd, Malcolm. The Northern Barbarians. London, 1987.
Wenskus, Reinhard. Stammesbildung und Verfassung: Das Werden der frhmittelalterlichen
Gentes. Cologne, 1961.
Wolfram, Herwig. History of the Goths. Berkeley, 1988.
_____. Gothi Histo y and Histo i al Ethnog aphy, Journal of Medieval History 7 (1981):
_____. The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples. Berkeley, 1997.

Wolfram, Herwig, and Walter Pohl, eds. Typen der Ethnogenese unter besonderer
Bercksichtigung der Bayern. Vol. I, Vienna, 1990.
Wood, Ian N. The Merovingian Kingdoms 450-751. London, 1994.
Zllner, Erich. Geschichte der Franken. Munich, 1970.

Chapter Four

Teutonic Racial Ideology in America in the Nineteenth Century1

Altho gh th p og am anno n s that I will sp ak on Das P obl m G manis h-Deutsch

a sd ang ls hsis h n Si ht, I int nd to fo s on a sp ifi asp t of this v y b oad

question: the so-called Gothic or Teutonic racial ideology in nineteenth-century America.2 This

movement combined currents of romantic and racist scholarship developed in England and

Germany with the peculiar circumstances of identity formation in the United States during its

first century. In order to appreciate this development we must consider two intertwined strands.

The first is the history of linguistics in North America, a field largely derivative of European

scholarship throughout the nineteenth century and yet given unique cultural and political

meaning in the American context. The second is the history of the migration period and the early

Middle Ages. Again, this work is almost entirely derivative from English and German sources,

and yet in America acquires a particular cultural and institutional role.

These two traditions intertwine in America as they do in Germany and France in the

course of the nineteenth century. They move from a romantic notion of language and Germanic

(or Saxon) identity closely related to that of Herder to a more racist and politically

instrumentalist image after the middle of the century. Since America produced no first-rate

historians or philologists in this period, and those few Americans who made contributions in

these fields were generally educated in Germany, the story is one of reception and

This a ti l o iginally app a d in G man (t anslat d by H lm t R imitz) nd th titl , T tonis h
Rassenideologie im Amerika des 19. Jah h nd ts, in th vol m Zur Geschichte der Gleichung germanisch-
deustch: Sprache und Namen, Geschichte und Institutionen, eds. Heinrich Beck, Dieter Geuenich and Heiko
Steuer (Berlin, 2004), pp. 343-356.
The history of Anglo-Saxon racial ideology has been studied extensively in its relationship to American ideas
expansionism, imperialism, and racism. See in general Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny: the
Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism (Cambridge, MA, 1981).

transformation. Nevertheless, it tells us something about the direction of national identity debates

and scholarly agendas in this country prior to the First World War.

For the Calvinist English colonists in North America, the Middle Ages were indeed a

dark age, when Europeans, enslaved by the Catholic Church (the Pope was still considered the

Antichrist by the Puritan divine Jonathan Edwards) were steeped in superstition and ignorance.3

Correspondingly little attention was paid to the period in North America. The situation was

different in England, where the pre-Norman Conquest history of England acquired an

instrumentality from the sixteenth century. British Saxonism arose in the aftermath of the

English Reformation as part of a polemic that claimed that England was simply returning to its

earlier, pristine state of freedom and autonomy.4 In the last decades of the eighteenth century this

British Anglo-Saxonism develop a racial cast in the context of regional antagonism in Great

Britain. Anti-Irish, Welsh and Scots polemicists like John Pinkerton argued that unlike the

Goths (m aning G ks, Romans, G mans and S andinavians), C lts hav th o gho t histo y

been savages.5

Such racial issues had little resonance in Colonial America or in the first half of the

nineteenth century. The only aspect of medieval civilization that attracted some interest was the

history of the English legal system, in particular Anglo-Saxon law, known to all American

lawy s th o gh Si William la kston s Commentaries on the Law of England, the standard

textbook of English jurisprudence. The first American to take this interest in Anglo-Saxon legal

In general on medieval studies in America during the nineteenth century see Hans Rudolf Guggisberg, Das
europische Mittelalter im amerikanischen Geschichtsdenken des 19. und des frhen 20. Jahrhunderts, Basler
Beitrge zur Geschichtswissenschaft 92 (Basel, 1964). On Edwards see p. 6.
R ginald Ho sman, O igins of Ra ial Anglo-Saxonism in G at itain b fo 1850, Journal of the History of
Ideas, vol. 37, 3 (1976), pp. 387-410; and Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny, pp. 7-78.
Ho sman, O igins, pp. 391-92.

institutions to a new level was the polymath statesman Thomas Jefferson.6 J ff sons

commitment to the rights of the American colonists was a complex and perhaps contradictory

blend of enlightenment universalism based on Lockean social contract and Saxonist

particularism. His interests in Anglo-Saxon was broad, but its primary focus was on land-law.

The specific issue, particularly in terms of the rights of colonists and citizens in the nascent

United States, was the nature of land tenure in English law. Jefferson believed that land should

be owned outright, not held by the crown in a feudal or quasi-feudal freehold. According to the

prevailing interpretation of legal history, Anglo-Saxon land law recognized allodial tenure, while

following the Norman conquest the only landowner in England was the king, from whom

everyone else held either as tenants in chief or indirectly as arrire-vassals. Thus he considered

the Anglo-Saxon laws as the perfect legal system, corrupted by feudalism. He believed that the

cause of American freedom was to be sought in a return to the original freedom of the Anglo-

Saxons. In 1776 h w ot : Has not v y stit tion of th ancient Saxon laws had happy

effects? Is it not better now that we return at once into that happy system of our ancestors, the

wisest and most perfect ever yet devised by the wit of man, as it stood before the 8th nt y?7

Jefferson was not simply interested in Anglo-Saxon law, but extended his interests more

generally to Anglo-Saxon history and language. According to the second president of the United

States, John Adams, so enamored was Thomas Jefferson of the Saxon past and its importance to

the new nation he was helping to create that he had originally wanted to place Hengist and

Horsa, the Saxon chiefs who according to Bede first arrived in Britain, on the great seal of the

Unit d Stat s. J ff son a g d that it was H ngist and Ho sa f om whom w laim the honor of

On Jefferson and Anglo-Saxon see Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny, pp. 18-24; Allen J. Frantzen, Desire for
Origins: New Language, Old English, and Teaching the Tradition (New Brunswick, 1990), pp. 15-19, 203-207.
Letter to Edmund Pendelton, 13 August, 1776, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1, 1760-1776, ed. Julian P.
Boyd et al. (Princeton, 1950), p. 181. Cited by Guggisberg, p. 9.

b ing d s nd d, and whos politi al p in ipl s and fo m of gov nm nt w hav ass m d.8

Moreover, a gifted philologist, Jefferson considered the study of the Anglo-Saxon language

necessary not only for an understanding of law but for a proper appreciation of modern English.

At the same time he remained skeptical of scholarly editions of Old English texts, arguing that

It is a misfo t n that th y [philologists] hav nd avo d to giv it too m h of a l a n d

fo m.9 He urged instead that Anglo-Saxon be modernized, simplified, and understood as but one

of many dial ts of English, in o d to sto to s o lang ag in all its shad s of

va iation.10 He even believed that a common study of Anglo-Saxon might draw together

Americans and English, healing the wounds of rivalry and competition. So convinced was he of

the importance of Anglo-Saxon for America, that he required its instruction at the University of

Virginia that he founded in 1824.11

In the first decades of the nineteenth century, however, most American language debates

were less concerned with bridging the gap between Americans and British than in establishing a

linguistic basis for a national identity accentuating the differences between England and

America.12 The debate was essentially between invention and discovery. On the one hand

Lockeans argued that language was an instrument that humans could make and mold in a way

appropriate to their needs. Such a vision of language fit well into the belief that a new republic

would create a new language, one more appropriate to the new nation than that of England.

Romantic philologists, on the other hand, saw language as a reservoir of spiritual truths that

needed to be discovered in order to come to a more profound understanding of on s id ntity.

Charles F. Adams, ed., Familiar Letters of John Adams and his wife, Abigail Adams, during the Revolution (New
York, 1876), p. 211.
Th Anglo-Saxon Lang ag , J ff son to J. Ev lyn D nison in Thomas J ff son, Writings (New York, 1984),
pp. 1502-1505.
Ibid., p. 1504.
Guggisberg, p. 10.
S in g n al K nn th Cmi l, A oad Fl id Lang ag of D mo a y: Dis ov ing th Am i an Idiom, in
The Journal of American History, vol. 79,3 (1992), pp. 913-936.

For the Romantics, separation from England and the realities of a new life needed to be

reconciled with the notion that language and culture preceded and defined political formation

and national character. As romantic language theory became increasingly widespread in America

during the 1830s, Americans, convinced of the superiority of their nation, sought to reconcile a

sense of discovery with a sense of innovation. If, in the words of Maximilian Schele de Vere,

th lang ag of a p opl was th mbodim nt of its spi it al lif ,13 how was this to apply to

the American experience? Paradoxically, this led to an American version of racial Anglo-

Saxonism that argued that American English was closer to the Anglo-Saxon past than the

language spoken in England and thus superior.

Such reflections, combined with the Herderian notion that the history of a people is

hidden in its language and with earlier Saxonist ideologies such as that of Jefferson, led to a

widespread popularity of language studies among the American educated public. Here the

intellectual ferment at the University of Gttingen played an important role: young Harvard

graduates, drawn by the Hanoverian connections between Gttingen and Britain, as well as by

the fascination with German romanticism, spent varying periods of time studying in the

university. Some even completed doctorates at Gttingen and returned to the US to promote the

lessons that they had learned in this center of historical and philological study. Inevitably, this

led to an interest in the new, Indo-European philology rapidly developing in Germany and Great

Britain. However, in America, this work was popularized and transmitted by educators who

belonged to the old order of religious and spiritual leaders of society, and the result was a

philology as much religious as nationalist.

Perhaps typical of religiously inspired amateur philologists was Benjamin Woodbridge

Dwight (1816-1889). Dwight, the grandson of a very influential president of Yale College,
Quoted by Cmiel, ibid., p. 925.

Timothy Dwight, was an ordained Congregational minister who served for a time in Joliet,

Illinois, before moving to New York City where he became a prominent educator and reformer.

In 1864 he published Modern Philology: Its Discoveries, History, and Influence, a two-volume

compendium of philology and history. The first volume is more historical, including a history of

Indo-E op an lang ag s, a histo y of mod n philology, and an int od tion to Th S i n of

Etymology. Th s ond vol m was d vot d to ompa ativ phonology and comparative

English etymology.14 Dwight, himself no philologist, nevertheless drew on a wide spectrum of

Germanists, both in the original and in many cases that had previously appeared in English, as

well as on historians and classicists. Although he freely admits that his study was derivative, it

was his hop that s h a st dy wo ld h lp b ing Am i an S hola ship to th h ights of

attainment almost unthought of now. We are not to be always spoken of lightly as mere

borrowers of others, and as a omplishing at th b st only s p fi ial s lts.15

Dwights ligio s o i ntation and fas ination with G man s i ntifi philology

produce an attitude toward his subject that appears complex and contradictory. On the one hand,

he extols philology as s i ntifi : Indo-European philology rests, like very other great or true

fo m of Philosophi Inq i y, on a basis of tho o gh s i n .16

And yet this scientific basis did not prevent Dwight from combining his enthusiasm for

English and his religious zeal: Th th g at lang ag s of th wo ld s l t d in th p ovid n

of God for the conveyance of His word and will to mankind, deserve from that fact a distinct

enumeration and association with each other: the Phoenician of Hebrew, the language in which

New York, Charles Scribner, 1864. The author explains that the first section on the history of Indo-European
languages first appears in the Bibliotheca Sacra, a religious and quarterly published in Andover, Massachusetts
the chapter on the history of modern philology in the New Englander and Yale Review, a publication of the
Congregational Church.
Dwight, I, p. 8.
Ibid., p. vi.

the Old Covenant was published; the Greek, that of the New; and the English, the language of

mod n ivilization, ligion and h man p og ss b yond all oth s....17 Thus the study of

philology is a confirmation and celebration of Christian faith.

Although Dwight do s not pla G man among th g at lang ag s of th wo ld, h

l a ly has a sp ial st m fo this lang ag whi h, has ind d, th o gho t, f w admixt s

of other languages in it, than any other European tongue, while the English has more than any

oth . Th G man mind fl ts this st ngth, and in pa ti la Th G mans a th s lf-

chosen and world-accepted miners of the realms of science, and obtain the pure ore of

knowledge, by willing, patient delving after it; which other nations convert into all the forms of

int ll t al omm fo th wo lds good. What Dwight do s not assign to th G man mind

is any hint of nationalism: Inst ad of th s ns of nationality, whi h oth nations h ish so

warmly and of which their poets sing in songs of their fatherland...they possess a broad

cosmopolitan taste and consciousness, and have accordingly undertaken to be the stewards of the

wo lds int ll t al i h s, and p v yo s to its m ntal wants.18

If Dwight did not recognize philology, and especially German and Anglo-Saxon

philology, as tools of nationalism or racism, this may be explained by his age and position.

Although thoroughly familiar with contemporary philological scholarship in Germany, he

remained quite unaware of German politics and the uses of language ideology in the creation of

the nationalist movement. Moreover, born into an old New England family, he had apparently

not, even by the 1860s, felt the displacement and anxieties that descendants of New England

settlers would feel most acutely as a result of the massive migrations from Ireland, Italy, Eastern

and Southern Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century. This demographic

Ibid., pp. 137-138.
Ibid., pp. 150-151.

phenomenon became increasingly significant in the decades following the publication of

Dwights Modern Philology.

The racial Anglo-Saxonism that emerged in the middle of the century combined the Indo-

European philology of Franz Bopp and others with phrenology and, eventually, with social

Darwinism.19 The result was a new and powerful historical model that emphasized the putative

Teutonic roots of American institutions and the American national character that had to be

preserved in the face of massive migration.

Just as Romantic philologists argued that the true American language was to be found not

in a new creation in a new world, but in the ancient language of the Anglo-Saxons, a generation

of historians looked for the essence of American institutions and culture in their Teutonic roots.

For over fifty years, from mid-century until the First World War, the so-called Teutonic or

G m th o y of Am i an histo y am to dominat th nd standing of Am i an histo y. In

th wo ds of Edwa d No man Sav th, Th bi thpla of Am i an onstit tional lib ti s was

shifted from the cabin of the Mayflower to th fo sts of G many.20 This turning inward to

discover the authentic roots of American identity was part of a wider movement that combined

social Darwinism, comparative philology, and comparative institutional history. At its broadest,

it looked to Aryan history to discover a political heritage shared by Greece and Rome, and later

by Germany, England, and finally America. These societies sprang from a common ancestry

which carried the germ of their future development. Change came through the internal evolution

of a specific race, not from acquisition or acculturation. Inferior races could never embrace the

values of Anglo-Saxon freedom and government through any amount of education or experience.

See Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny, esp. pp. 116-138, for the development in America of strict racial
hierarchies growing specifically out of the abolitionist/slavery disputes.
Edwa d No man Sav th, Ra and Nationalism in Am i an Histo iog aphy: th Lat Nin t nth C nt y, in
Political Science Quarterly 54,3 (1939), pp. 421-441. Citation p. 421. In general on the germ theory and its
relationship to medieval history see Guggisberg, pp. 54-65.

Moreover, within this evolution, the most recent forms were deemed to be the most evolved and,

thus, the best. In this way American democracy was superior to that of England from which it

sprang, just as the latter had surpassed those of the German forest or indeed Greece and Rome.

This racial theory was largely borrowed from English racial Anglo-Saxonism which, as

we have seen, had been developed in England since the eighteenth century as part of a polemic

against Irish, Welsh, and Scots. In the nineteenth century, the leader of this racial history was

Edward Augustus Freeman, who applied the classificatory methods of zoology, the comparative

philology of Franz Bopp, and theories of evolutionary geology to the comparative history of

English institutions.21 For Freeman, the Teutons were the last and most developed of the Aryan

peoples and were destined as rulers and teachers of the world. However, while the continental

Germans had suffered from an infusion of Roman blood, in England, in spite of the Norman

invasion, the Teutonic tradition remained strong.22 Of course, such an argument denied any

biological continuity with the pre-existing Romano-Celtic population of Britain. As J. R. Green

emphasized in his A Short History of the English People, th histo i al b sts ll in England

and Am i a whi h pop la iz d F mans wo k, th Anglo-Saxon conquest meant the total

xtin tion of th indig no s pop lation along with its Romaniz d instit tions: Th onq st of

Gaul by the Frank, or of Italy by the Lombard, proved little more than a forcible settlement of

one conqueror or the other among tributary subjects who were destined in a long course of ages

to absorb their conquerors... But the English conquest was a sheer dispossession and slaughter of

Sav th, Ra and Nationalism, pp. 424-427.
On his general theories see his Comparative Politics: six lectures read before the Royal Institution in January and
February, 1873: with The Unity of History: the Rede Lecture read before the University of Cambridge, May
29, 1872 (London, 1873).

the people whom the English conquered....of all the German conquests this proved the most

tho o gh and ompl t .23

One of the earliest Americans to develop such ideas was W. F. Allen of the University of

Wisconsin. Allen had studied classical philology in Gttingen where he had also attended

lectures of A. H. L. Heeren and Georg Waitz.24 As early as 1870 Allen called for a comparative

study of the Anglo-Saxon t n and th N w England villag and in his Town, Township and

Tithing, a g d that N w England olonists had returned to the ancient, pre-feudal traditions of

Anglo-Saxon freedom in the organization of their communities.

Th most infl ntial p opon nt of th th o y that a g m of T toni f dom and

government had been transported to America was Herbert Baxter Adams, the founder of the

seminar for history and politics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Although his own

scholarship was very slighthis The Germanic Origins of New England Towns draws

p in ipally on a f w passag s f om Ta it s Germania and his own wanderings in the Odenwalt

across the Neckar from Heidelberg where he studiedhis influence on a generation of younger

American scholars was great.25

Such studies relied heavily on finding parallels between Anglo-Saxon tuns, reeves,

theow, and coerls with corresponding institutions, offices, and social categories in New

England.26 Their reappearance in New England was understood to have taken place in the same

manner that American English was thought to have reemerged as the version most faithful to its

John Richard Green, A Short History of the English People (London, 1875), pp. 9-10.
Guggisberg, pp. 54-55; David B. Frankenburger, in Essays and Monographs by William Francis Allen (Boston,
Herbert Baxter Adams, The Germanic Origin of New England Towns (Baltimore, 1882). There exists a large
lit at on Adams and th Johns Hopkins s mina . S E nst S h lin, G man and Am i an Histo iog aphy
in th Nin t nth and Tw nti th C nt i s, in An Interrupted Past: German-speaking Refugee Historians in
the United States after 1933, eds. Hartmut Lehmann and James J. Sheehan (New York, 1991); Guggisberg, pp.
57-59; Patrick Geary,M di val G many in Am i a, G man Histo i al Instit t , Washington, DC, Annual
Lecture 1995 (Washington, 1996).
Saveth, p. 430.

Anglo-Saxon origins: the veneer of Norman feudalism and Catholicism had been stripped off by

the wilderness conditions in the new world, conditions more like those of the primitive German

forest. Teutonic history became the reigning explanatory model for understanding American

institutional and political history. However, it was more than that: it was also predictive.

Particularly in the writings and lectures of James Kendall Hosmer and John Fiske, the Teutonic

germ theory was popularized and mobilized for political purposes by those seeking to limit

immigration from regions of the world that they judged incapable of participating in Teutonic


If American political institutions were created by Teutonic peoples, then their survival

demanded the continued dominance of Teutonic, and more specifically, Anglo-Saxon peoples in

Am i an p bli lif . In th wo ds of Hosm , N w blood is to b w l om d, and y t it sho ld

not be infused to so large an extent as to make of the strain a different thing. Anglo-Saxon we

ought to remain, if Anglo-Saxon f dom is to b maintain d.27 Such claims justified restrictive

immigration policies aimed at races not deemed carriers of such traditions. Russians, for

example, were heirs of Byzantium, where patriotism embodied loyalty to the head of the state,

not to on s o nt y; th I ish w ns itabl b a s P sonal atta hm nt in small bodi s to a

hos n hi f is th p lia politi al t ait of th C lti nations. 28 Concerning modern Germans

immigrants, racial Saxonists were divided on their ability to be bearers of the Teutonic germ.

Some, such as Burgess, believed that their racial kinship to Anglo-Saxons made them ideal

immigrants. Others, among them Hosmer, placed these modern Germans in the same category as

James Kendall Hosmer, A Short History of Anglo-Saxon Freedom. The Polity of the English-Speaking Race.
Outlined in its Inception, Development, Diffusion and Present Condition (New York, 1890), p. 325.
John W. Burgess, Germany and the United States: An Address Delivered before the Germanistic Society of
America, January 24, 1908 (New York, 1909); Political Science and Comparative Constitutional Law, (Boston
and London, 1891), vol. I, p. 34.

Irish as well as immigrants from southern and eastern Europe.29 At the same time, he and others

saw an v n g at th at in th fo m of Asian immig ation, that Anglo-Saxon lands, indeed,

may b om littl b tt than Chin s Coloni s.30

Although never free from its detractors, racial Anglo-Saxonism disappeared slowly in

America. Early opponents objected that the study of analogies could not prove identities and that,

as Edward Channing suggested, one could as well use the arguments about New England towns

to connect them with the Massai enclosure of Central Africa.31 Influential historians such as

Henry Adams at Harvard never accepted the germ theory and turned their attention toward other

aspects of medieval culture than putative Teutonic ancestors. More significantly, American

historians became increasingly attracted to the so- all d F onti Th sis of F d i k Ja kson

Turner, who postulated that the experience of life on the frontier, not racial traits, had created the

unique social, institutional, and cultural traditions of America.32 Certainly, too, anti-German

sentiment in the First World War and American isolation following the war led to a de-emphasis

of Germanic philology and of all things Germanic in America.33 The racial ideology of National

Socialism completed the discrediting of racial theories of history as thoroughly in the English-

speaking world as in the German. If it survives at all, it is in a mitigated form in Indo-European

philological studies that continue to connect certain vocab la y with ha a t isti fo ms of

social and institutional organization, and, curiously enough, in comparative religious studies

What v nth siasm fo [lib ty] individ als o lass s may show, among Frenchmen, Germans, or Russians,
the historic discipline of those stocks has not been such as to prepare them to maintain it. These nations have all,
at one time or another, been crushed and spirit-broken. The Anglo-Saxon, on the other hand, has preserved for
two tho sand y a s th onn t d t adition of o d d onstit tional f dom. Hosm , p. 354.
Hosmer, p. 357, quoting Josiah Clifton Firth of New Zealand.
Sayeth, p. 331.
Ray Allen Billington, The Genesis of the Frontier Thesis: a Study in Historical Creativity (San Marino, CA,
1971); Rob t E. L n , T n and th R volt Against E. A. F man, in Arizona and the West 5 (1963), pp.
For my interpretation of the disillusionment of American academy with German scholarship see Medieval History
in America, esp. pp. 24-31.

where comparative mythology still occasionally enshrines theories of Indo-European or

G mani ligio s vol tion.34

However, before dismissing American Teutonism we might reflect on some of its most

salient characteristics, characteristics not entirely dissimilar from much research today. First, it

was lik m h histo i al s hola ship today, an att mpt to apply th n w philology to th

critical issues of historical inquiry. Second, it was interdisciplinary, drawing not only on the

developing disciplines of history and philology, but also on sociology and genetics to understand

historical change. Third, it attempted to address in historical perspective the major issues facing

contemporary society. If it also happened to be dead wrong, perverse and dangerous, what can

we learn in this experience about the scholarship of our own day?

As in Jam s C. R ss lls The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to
Religious Transformation (New York, 1994.)

Chapter Five

Monastic Memory and Onomastic Oblivion in Provence1

From his early studies on Justice in the Mconnais2 to his work on the mental and cultural

universe of the medieval aristocracy,3 Georges Duby followed the intellectual itinerary that

Lucien Febvre so w ll d s ib d: To ompos by tho ght, fo v y po h that h st di s, th

m ntal mat ial of th p opl of this p iod.4 Memory is an essential part of this mental

material. Whatever the personal, regional, or especially family dimension, memory offers to

individuals and collectivities the framework within which to situate themselves and to

understand the world around them. One of the essential aspects of aristocratic mentalities in the

Middle Ages was the memory of ancestors, a memory consisting at once of both explicit

memories of predecessors and memories of a heritage, less explicit but just as important of a

much broader family tradition which is perpetuated particularly through the onomastic stock of

the family. In this area as in many others, the eleventh century experienced a profound rupture

with th past. tw n th ninth and l v nth nt i s E op s onomasti t aditions nd w nt

transformations which reflected social transformations which, at the same time, contributed to

the modification of the sense of identity within the aristocracy itself. These changes are

recognizable across much of Europe, and particularly in Provence, where, with the participation

of monastic institutions, aristocratic families reorganized their onomastic boundaries and through

This ssay fi st app a d as Mmoi monastiq t o bli onomastiq n P ov n , Histoire et socit:
Mlanges offerts Georges Duby, III: Le moine, le clerc et le prince (Aix-en-Provence, 1993), pp. 61-65.
R h h s s lvol tion d s instit tions judiciaires pendant le Xe et le XIe si l dans l S d d la o gogn ,
Moyen ge (1946), pp. 149-194; (1947), pp. 13-38.
Esp. Le Chevalier, la femme et le prtre, Le mariage dans la France fodale (Paris, 1981) as well as the articles
collected in Mle Moyen ge (Paris, 1988).
Lucien Febvre, Combats pour lhistoire, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1965), p. 334.

this their very kinship identities, through a double process of selective recollection and


A complex metamorphosis of onomastic traditions took place in the Rhone valley during

a period that stretched from around 850 to 1050. This evolution manifested itself first by a

significant reduction in the number of names transmitted from generation to generation. Then, in

consequence of this reduction, certain names become increasingly common. Finally, along with

the disappearance of certain ancient names, others appeared for the first time and became

remarkably frequent. The causes of this phenomena are not entirely clear. It is possible that the

increasing tendency to give godchildren the names of their godparents may have been in part

responsible for this chain reaction, as well as the custom of baptizing children of vassals with the

names of their lords (who might also be godparents). One might even invoke the changes in

inheritance and marriage practices which reduced for some male children the chance of

procreating and transmitting their own names, as well as the expansion of lineages which

provided to certain key names a new importance in the formation of collective identity.5

Whatever the value of these or other various explanations, one can easily see the net

result: the onomastic networks within which the individual was surrounded by the memory of his

ancestors, had contracted. The abandonment of common names and the transformation of types

of names resulted ultimately in a similar forgetting of the persons and events who had carried
Since the appearance of this article historians have made considerable progress in the study of medieval
onomasti s. S G o g T. h, L s noms d p sonn poit vins d 9 a 12 si l , Revue Internationale
dOnomastique (1974), pp. 81-100; Klaus Walter Littger, Studien zum Auftreten der Heiligennamen im
Rheinland, (Munich, 1975); Joseph H. Lunch, Godparents and Kinship in Early Medieval Europe (Princeton,
1986); Agns Fin , Lh itag d nom d baptm , Annales ESC (1987) and T ansmission d s p noms t
parent en Pays-de-Sault, 1740-1940, Le prnom: mode et histoire (Paris, 1984), pp. 109-125; Dieter
Geuenich, Wolfgang Haubrichs and Jrg Jarnut, eds., Person und Name (Berlin, 2002). For medieval
onomastics one should consult in particular the important studies in the series Gense mdivale de
lanthroponymie moderne, esp. Moniq o in, ilan d l nq t : d la Pi a di a Po t gal, lapparition du
systm anth oponymiq d x lm nts t s s n an s gional s, Gense mdivale de lanthroponymie
moderne 1 (Tours, 1988), pp. 233-246 and, on the method of onomastic research Pascal Chareille, Le nom:
Histoire et statistiques: Quelles mthodes quantitatives pour une tude de lanthroponymie mdivale? Gense
mdivale de lanthroponymie moderne 6 (Tours, 2008).

these markers of identity. From the middle of the eleventh century, even the greatest families of

the region no longer preserved the memory of their distant ancestors.

To understand the process that was at the origin of the maintenance of certain names and

the discarding of others one must address the wider problem of individual and collective identity.

There were two ways to preserve names. The first and the most direct was to reuse these names

within the family. The second technique was to preserve the perpetuity of names through

monastic institutions which preserved, transmitted, and structured this memory. As Joachim

Wollasch, Karl Schmid, and their colleagues have shown, the preservation of the bodies, and in

particular, the remains of deceased patrons, played a fundamental social role in monastic

communities.6 These institutions served as the center of familial memory. Monastic intervention

in the selection and the preservation of the past varied not only according to the needs and

interests of the families, however, but also according to those of the monastery. These interests

were crystallized when the patronage of monasteries was assumed by families, and they rarely

looked back to earlier periods.

The cartulary of Lrins, better than any other Provenal source, illustrates the role of

monasteries in the institutionalization of onomastic practice and as a result, of familial memory

as well as the influence of monastic interests on the manner in which to guard this memory.

Around 1125, the acquisition of the important lordship of Vallauris, situated in the diocese of

Antibes, was registered in the cartulary of this monastery.7 This document presents a detailed

explanation of the means by which, over more than a century and a half, the monastery acquired

possession of this estate which had previously belonged to Rodoard, one of the companions of

William the Liberator in 961. In a penetrating analysis, Jean-Pierre Poly used this text to explain

See especially the studies collected in eds. Karl Schmid and Joachim Wollasch, Memoria: Der geschichtliche
Zeugniswert des liturgischen Gedenkens im Mittelalter (Munich, 1984).
Cartulaire de labbaye de Lrins, eds. Henri Moris and Edmond Blanc (Paris, 1883), no. 132, pp. 119-120.

the succession practices of the Provenal aristocracy, as well as the process by which the great

estates of the tenth century were progressively acquired by the church.8 Poly described this

noti as a g n alogy of th family of Antib s-Grasse, and thus the most ancient genealogical

document of Provence.9 It is true that this text contains information on five generations of the

descendants of Rodoard and that it records marriages and inheritances of nineteen members of

his descendants as well as that of their spouses.

Rodoard had divided his estate among his three children, Gauceran, Guillaume Grueta

and Oda, leaving half of his estate to the first and a quarter to each of the other two. Gauceran

and Guillaume also divided another fief situated at Vallauris, with Gauceran again holding half

and Guillaume a quarter. Gauceran later received from the count the other half of the episcopatus

of Antibes. Upon his death, his sons Guillaume Gauceran and Aldebert, bishop of Antibes,

divided between themselves the property of their father. Aldebert sold his part of the estate of

Valla is to th monks of L in with th ag m nt of his son G illa m th Lomba d, with

the exception of a manse that he reserved as a dowry for his daughter.

The share of Oda, which constituted her dowry, was first transmitted to her three

children: a son, Pierre Signerius, and two unnamed daughters who married respectively

Aldearius of Maganosc and Guillaume of Clermont. The share of Pierre went to his son

Guillaume, who donated it to Lrins when he and his own son entered the community. The son

of Aldearius, Audibert, and his grandsons Fouques, Pierre Crispus, and Isnard also donated their

portions to Lrins. The grandson of Guillaume de Clermont, Isnard, and his son Raymond, as

well as the cousins of Isnard, Bertrand and Pierre, did the same.

Jean-Pierre Poly, La Provence et la socit fodale (879-1161). Contribution ltude des structures dites fodales
dans le Midi (Paris, 1976), pp. 158-159.
Poly, La Provence, p. 140.

The share of the second son of Rodoard, Guillaume Grueta, had a similar fate. His

daughter Accelena and her husband, Braud de Mongins granted their portions to Lrins. The

part that remained from Guilla m G ta was giv n to his son Pi dOpio, th n to tain

milit s f om Sa to x ( omm n of Cann s, a ondiss m nt d G ass , Alp s Ma itim s) who

eventually donated it to Lrins.

The reunification of the estate was almost prevented when Foulques de Grasse, son of

Guillaume the Lombard and grandson of Bishop Aldebert, initiated a long-lasting conflict with

the monastery, demanding that the monks recognize certain rights over the estate. The question

was finally ended when Foulques renounced all of his rights in favor of the monastery. It was

this conflict that motivated the monks to draw up the account of the successive transmission of

parts of the estate.10

As Poly has emphasized, this is certainly not a genealogy in any traditional sense.11 Only

the individuals who participated in the division or the reconstitution of the estate of Vallauris are

mentioned. Thus the descendants of the eldest branch of the family, those descended from

Gauceran, are only mentioned in passing, while the descendants of Guillaume and of Oda appear

in great detail. If one can speak here of a genealogy, this is the genealogy of the land, and the

descendants of Rodoard only play a secondary role.

This document is particularly illuminating because it clearly illustrates the way in which

monasteries such as Lrins preserved family memory, but only on its own conditions. If the

memory of the descendants of Rodoard was maintained, it was uniquely to the extent that these

individuals maintained contacts with the monks in the form of property transactions, and thus

gave rise to the elaboration of written documentation that could be used subsequently. The notice

Fulco, filius Guillelmi predicti, multociens ibi iniurias intulit. See Poly, La Provence, p. 140, n. 51.

itself is based on a series of charters and probably on necrological notices12 which date back to

the end of the tenth century, that is, to the time when Guillaume Grueta entered the monastery

and, no doubt sensing the approach of his death, donated to the community certain properties. 13

This notice is entirely composed of echoes or extracts taken verbatim from earlier charters, some

of which can be found in the cartulary.14 Here as elsewhere family memory barely reaches back

beyond a single generation: the father of Guillaume Grueta, Rodoard, is mentioned in the

document of Lrins, but none of his ancestors appear. His social and geographical origins had no

importance since the monastery was interested exclusively in the origins of his lands which, like

the majority of estates in the tenth century, had been granted him by the count of Provence at the

time of the expulsion of the Saracens. Only the land carried the memory, whether this was thanks

to donations p iodi ally p at d by th fo nd of th family, o by th s i s of disp t s

periodically initiated by his successors. As for the individuals who had no relationship with these

lands, which were the monastic carriers of memory, they were without a point of reference by

which their memory could be continued. As a result, more distant relatives or those who did not

inherit these specific lands as well as their names were destined to disappear from the region and

its onomastic stock.

Thus over the eleventh century the semantic markers of familiar names, names which

connected the past with the present, were transformed. One should not be surprised that the

memory transmitted by these labels was also reconstituted, fixed onto a few familiar names from

the past, then considerably simplified, contributing by this very fact to the amputation of a sense

The necrology of Lrins is no longer extant.
Cartulaire de labbaye de Lrins, n. 3, pp. 2-3.
Among others these include the donation made by Bishop Aldebert (no. 131), that made by Guillaume the
Lombard (no. 137) and the final guerpitio made by his son Foulques (no. 343).

of familial identity and the narrowing of the mental universe in which the aristocracy of the

eleventh and twelfth centuries perceived itself as a new society.

Chapter Six

Moral Obligations and Peer Pressure

Conflict Resolution in the Medieval Aristocracy1

Mo al obligations and th p s asion of th i p sw all that could impose a limit to

th i viol n and g d.2 With these concluding words in his 1946 article on the dissolution of

judicial courts in the Mconnais, the young Georges Duby redirected the course of judicial

history for more than a generation of medievalists. This decisive transformation of judicial

institutions which took place between the years 1000 and 1030 was but a part of the fundamental

changes in European society which Duby posited for the early third of the eleventh century. Well

into the tenth century, he argued, the Carolingian system of public justice administered by counts

and their vicarii continued to draw the free men of the region to public courts. Around the end of

the century, castle holders deserted the mallus and captured the judicial power of the vicarii for

their own profit, turning these assemblies into instruments of private domination. Within this

finely researched and meticulously argued analysis, he demonstrated the transformation of

comital, vicarial, and episcopal courts from public courts of adjudication to private courts of

a bit ation. With th ompl tion of th banal vol tion p bli j sti no long xist d in th


In the more than four decades since the appearance of this truly seminal article, historians

have pursued the series of research agenda which it suggested. First, parallel studies have been

done in other regions of the former Carolingian empire to determine to which extent this image

This essay first appeared under this title in Georges Duby: L'criture de lhistoire, eds. Guy Lobrichon and Claudie
Amado, (Brussels, 1996), pp. 217-222.
G o g s D by, R h h s s lvol tion d s instit tions j di iai s p ndant l X e et le XIe sicle dans le sud de
la o gogn [1].

of the disappearance of public justice was general. Second, historians have worked to delineate

exactly in what consisted these moral obligations and peer persuasion, that is, the techniques of

so- all d xt a-l gal so ial st aint and onfli t sol tion. Thi d, histo ians hav b g n to

question the validity of the received tradition of centralized Carolingian justice which Duby took

as his point of d pa t . Finally, histo ians a b ginning to ask if th xist n of th s xt a-

l gal p o ss s a in fa t n ssa ily indi ativ of a disint g ation of public authority, or rather

if public justice and moral force perhaps work hand in hand.

The model proposed by Duby for the Mconnais soon was tested widely, although

outside of contemporary France and England studies are more suggestive than conclusive.3 The

weakness of central authority in the Mconnais of the year thousand was an extreme and

precocious instance, although a similar inability of counts to enforce sentences and concomitant

decline in comital justice appeared in Provence, Languedoc and the Toulousain in the second

quarter of the eleventh century and in Catalogna in the third. The central regions of France such

as Anjou, Champagne, and Picardie experienced the devolution of comital rights of justice, but

as much as a century later. In Normandy and in Flanders the dukes and counts managed to retain

control of justice to a high degree, just as recent studies of Anglo-Saxon courts suggest that the

English monarchy continued to exercise public justice through the tenth and eleventh centuries, a

system inherited by their Norman successors. In the Germanic and Italian regions of the Empire,

comital justice seems to have continued to exercise its force over free men and women through

th l v nth nt y. Th s, whil th validity of D bys imag has b n confirmed for a large

portion of western Europe, it has been placed in a more precise geographical and chronological

context which emphasizes the enormous variations in the post-Carolingian world.

For a complete bibliography and summary of these comparative studies see Robert Fossier, Enfance de lEurope.
Aspects conomiques et sociaux. 1. Lhomme et son espace, (Paris, 1982), pp. 394-401.

For Duby, however, the disappearance of public justice was more than simply the transfer

of j di ial pow f om o nt to hat lain o th disint g ation of p bli j sti into f dal

ana hy. Rath , in thos gions in whi h this p o ss was most ma k d, n w fo ms of so ial

control developed, forms which differed fundamentally from those of public justice and which

claimed a radically different ideological justification.4 The most striking for Duby and others was

the Peace of God, a phenomenon long of interest to religious and institutional historians. In his

1965 paper on the laity and the Peace of God,5 Duby placed the peace movement within the

context of novel tentatives to control the milites, the most striking of the forms of moral

persuasion alluded to in 1946. Later, in his Trois ordres,6 he further developed the concept of

Peace as a radical alternative to traditional political systems of social control. The Peace was but

one such program. Other historians began to examine a spectrum of analogous and related means

by which society sought to restrain milites. These included courts of arbitration such as those

studied by Duby in the Mconnais,7 but also religious rituals8 and informal peace-making by

monks.9 Increasingly these studies have focused on models of conflict processing first noted in

This image, which rejected the state as the norm, resembled but curiously did not apparently directly benefit from
the ground-breaking work of Otto Brunner, especially in his Land und Herrschaft: Grundfragen der
territorialen Verfassungsgeschichte sterreichs im Mittelalter, 3rd ed., (Vienna, 1965), who, already in the
1930s, had argued that the feud, not the state, was the fundamental institution of late imperial political life.
L s la s t la paix d Di [48].
Les trois ordres [138], pp. 168-174. S F d i k S. Paxton, Th P a of God in Mod n Histo iography:
P sp tiv s and T nds, Historical Reflections/Rflexions historiques 14 (1987), pp. 393-394, and Histo y,
Histo ians, and th P a of God, The Peace of God. Social Violence and Religious Response in France
around the Year 1000, eds. Thomas Head and Richard Landes, (Ithaca, NY, and London, 1992), pp. 21-40.
F d i Ch y tt , S m C iq T ib , French Historical Studies 6 (1970), pp. 287-299; Stephen D. White,
Pactum... Legem Vincit et Amor Judicium. The Settlement of Disputes by Compromise in Eleventh-Century
W st n F an , The American Journal of Legal History 22 (1978), pp. 281-308; St ph n W inb g , L s
conflits entre clercs et lacs dans la Provence du XIe si l , Annales du Midi 92 (1980), pp. 269-279.
L st K. Littl , La mo phologi d s maldi tions monastiq s, Annales E.S.C. (1979), pp. 43-60; Patrick Geary,
H miliation of Saints, Saints and their Cults. Studies in Religious Sociology, Folklore and History, ed.
Stephen Wilson (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 123-140; H n i Plat ll , C im t htim nt Ma hi nn s. t d s
la on ption t l fon tionn m nt d la j sti dap s l s Mi a l s d saint Ri t d (XII e si l ), Sacris
Erudiri 24 (1980), pp. 155-202.
G off y Koziol, Monks, F ds, and th Making of P a in El v nth-C nt y Fland s, Historical
Reflections/Rflexions historiques 14 (1987), pp. 531-549, repr. in The Peace of God, op. cit., pp. 239-258;

nonwestern traditional societies and thus not dependent on concepts such as the rule of law or

central authority.10 Viewed from this non-statist perspective, neither the violence of feud nor the

private convenientiae, peace pacts, rituals, or settlements appear as evidence of anarchy or of

usurpation of legitimate authority, but rather as evidence of alternative understandings of

legitimacy. The authority of counts, no longer agents or even partners of kings but hereditary

lords, carried no greater legitimacy than that of any other lord, chatelain or simple miles. Just as

Duby himself has argued for alternative models of marriage developed by lay society outside of,

and in competition with, ecclesiastical models,11 one can posit alternative models of authority

and legitimacy held by the new order of milites and vassals. Thus, while comital attempts to

monopolize justice and violence used the rhetoric of Carolingian governmental language, the

gradual assertion of comital authority and its more gradual absorption into royal justice in the

course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was actually more the success of one competing

model over the other than the reestablishment of the public justice system of the Carolingian


But had this public justice system ever existed even in the Carolingian period? Concerned

as he was with the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Duby had largely left intact the image of

centralized Carolingian justice posited by an earlier generation of historians, particularly

Franois Louis Ganshof.13 At th sam tim that histo ians a xamining th appa ntly n w

St ph n Whit , F ding and P a -Making in the To ain a o nd th Y a 1000, Traditio 42 (1986), pp.
Pat i k G a y, Viv n onflit dans n F an sans tat: typologi d s m anism s d gl m nt d s onflits
(1050-1200), Annales E.S.C. (1986), pp. 1107-1133.
Le Chevalier, la femme et le prtre [168].
See Jean Dunbabin, France in the Making 843-1180, (Oxford, 1985).
In his 1946 a ti l , D by had iti iz d F anois Lo is Ganshofs Ladminist ation d la j sti dans la gion
bourguignonne de la fin du Xe au dbut du XIIIe si l , Revue historique 135 (1920), pp. 193-218, but had
fo nd his Cont ib tion lt d d s o igin s d s o s fodal s n F an , Revue historique du droit franais
et tranger (1928), pp. 644-655 ma kabl . Ganshofs lat synth sis on Ca olingian administration is his

forms of social control and conflict resolution, a new generation of historians, largely trained in

England, has begun exploring the reality of the received image of early medieval legal systems.

How p bli was Ca olingian j sti , v n at its h ight? Histo ians b gan to diss t th

accounts of Frankish courts. They found that these apparently transparent records of public

judicial proceedings actually mask much more complex, multifaceted maneuverings through

which local elites maintained their control over local society by alternately cooperating with or

subverting royal and comital justice. Even in those regions such as western Francia and northern

Italy where written law and central authority seemed most secure in the eighth and ninth

centuries, Wendy Davies, Chris Wickham, and others have shown how the language of Frankish

legal proceedings masks complex processes by which local magnates, often in collusion with

interested royal agents, used Carolingian courts to achieve their ends in ways that presage the

courts of arbitration and magnate assemblies of the eleventh century.14 Moreover, hovering on

the edges of the Carolingian justice system and implicitly assumed by Carolingian functionaries

were always private vendettas, self-help, and informal negotiations which functioned much as

they would three centuries later. The decline of comital courts may have meant less the

transformation of conflict resolution than a change of its locus. The language recording the

activities of these royal courts, too, may have simply masked much less authoritarian judicial


Does the distinction between public and private justice necessarily imply the decline of

central authority? Are self-help, arbitration, religious and ritual means of transforming or

diverting conflicts incompatible with and necessarily opposed to central authority? This is

Cha l magn t ladminist ation d la j sti dans la mona hi f anq , Karl der Grosse. Lebenswerk und
Nachleben, ed. Helmut Beumann, vol. I., Persnlichkeit und Geschichte (Dsseldorf, 1965), pp. 394-419.
These fundamental studies appear in Disputes and Settlements. Law and Human Relations in the West, ed. John
Bossy (Cambridge, 1983), and Wendy Davies and Paul Fouracre, The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval
Europe (Cambridge, 1986).

perhaps the most challenging area of study in the developing field of medieval justice since it

returns to those regions such as Normandy, Flanders, England, and the Empire to examine

wh th th ha a t isti p o ss s of stat l ss onfli t p o ssing also f n tion d within


On the one hand historians posit central authority, legitimate, court-centered, and

hegemonic. On the other are the forces of self-help, religious peace-k ping, and p ivat

settlement. The latter is seen either as a substitute for the inadequacies of the former or a

challenge to it. The central battleground for this debate has been England where a new

generation of historians, chief among them James Campbell and Patrick Wormald, have

rehabilitated the image of royal power in the century before the Norman conquest. They argue

that in the eleventh century, Anglo-Saxon kings displayed a concern for routine crime and

violence and developed legal means of controlling it which, although based on Carolingian

precedents, far surpassed the public authority of any continental contemporaries.15 This maybe

so, but historians such as Paul Hyams argue that if one looks from the perspective of individual

parties to disputes, even at the height of centralized legal systems such as the England of the later

tenth century, one can see individuals and groups operating according to the other model.16 The

very authoritarian nature of central justice may make it something to be avoided at all costs by

opponents who see in royal or comital justice more of a threat than a remedy. Alternatively,

parties in the eleventh and twelfth centuries were quite capable of using royal courts, even in

iminal matt s, to f th th i own p ivat v nd tta against th i n mi s.17 Finally, one sees

James Campbell, Essays in Anglo-Saxon History (London, 1986), sp. hap. 10 and 11; Pat i k Wo mald, A
Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Laws its, Anglo-Saxon England 17 (1988), pp. 247-281; Cha t s, Law and th
S ttl m nt of Disp t s in Ea ly M di val England in The Settlement of Disputes, op. cit., pp. 139-168.
Pa l R. Hyams, Wa anty and Good Lo dship in Tw lfth-C nt y England, Law and History Review 2 (1987),
pp. 437-503; F d in M di val England, Haskins Society Journal 3 (1991), pp. 1-21.
S Hyamss o tstanding xampl of th s of a oyal o t to p s a p ivat v nd tta in Th St ang Cas of
Thomas of Eld fi ld, History Today (June, 1986), pp. 9-15.

in both Anglo-Saxon and early Angevin legal evidence hints that formal, centralized procedures

are understood to exist within a much broader system of self-help, bilateral negotiation, informal

arbitration, and the like.

A similar reassessment of the evidence concerning royal authority is likewise beginning

in the Empire. Karl Leyser has focused on the role of feuding in tenth-century Germany and

G d Althoff has s gg st d that th t aditional d s iptions of b llions instigat d by G man

nobles and crushed by Ottonian kings actually mask feuds and conflicts generally recognized as

legitimate challenges to central authority.18 Here the language of rebellion, subjugation, and

royal pardon seems to mask a process of self-help and arbitration similar to that common in


Thus, the ongoing investigation of conflict resolution has moved from a dichotomous

view of periods or regions of central authority on the one hand and those dominated by private

mechanisms on the other to an understanding of the mutual interpenetration of public and

private modes of dealing with disputes. For men and women of the Carolingian and post

Carolingian worlds, moral obligations and the persuasion of their peers were always central to

these processes. But we now understand these forces in a somewhat different sense, recognizing

th m at wo k both in th p bli o t and th p ivat ass mbly.

Karl Leyser, Rule and Conflict in an Early Medieval Society: Ottonian Saxony (London, 1979); Gerd Althoff,
Knigsh s haft nd Konfliktb wltig ng im 10. nd 11. Jah h nd t, Frhmittelalterliche Studien 23
(1989), pp. 265-290; Verwandte, Freunde und Getreue. Zum politischen Stellenwert der Gruppenbindungen im
frheren Mittelalter (Darmstadt, 1990), pp. 195-203.

Chapter Seven

Literacy and Violence in twelfth-century Bavaria:

the Murder Letter of Count Siboto IV1

One of the earliest letters2 of a purely secular nature between two lay persons is that of

Count Siboto IV to his vassal (homo) Ortwin of Merkenstein, asking him to deponere, that is, to

dispose or get rid of, perhaps to kill, or at least to blind, one Rudolf of Piesting by Michaelmas,

September 29:

S(iboto), count of Hanmannsberg, to O(rtwin) of Merkenstein, his cherished

vassal, greetings and all that is good and proper for a friend. This mandate, which
we ask you in secret, if you fulfill it faithfully, I will do all things that are dear to
you. If you will get rid of my enemy Rudolf of Piesting, who has greatly troubled
me, so that you do not incur a penance on his account3 I will do for you whatever
you wish. I grant you the property along the Panzenbach from its source to where
it flows into the Piesting. This order and mandate, which should be executed
before the feast of Saint Michael, that is, that he might be deprived of his eyes so
that he cannot see you or himself, all of these things will undoubtedly be yours. If,
however, these things are not and cannot be done, I ask you, nevertheless, that
they remain as though engraved on your heart.4

This article was co-authored with John B. Freed and originally appeared in Viator 25 (1994), pp. 115-129.
This paper grew from a seminar discussion at the Institute for Advanced Study held on 2 April 1991. The authors
are grateful for the suggestions and advice offered both during the seminar and subsequently by the participants,
Horst Bredekamp, Giles Constable, Patricia Craddock, Monica Green, Peter Landau, Walter Simons, Herman
van der Wee, Andr Vauchez, and Kenneth B. Wolf. The authors wish to thank in addition Elisabeth Noichl of
the Bavarian State Archives for her willingness to discuss the issues raised by the letter.
See discussion of this passage p. 13, below.
S(iboto) om s d Had ma p h O( twino) dil to homini s o d M h nstain sal t m t omn bon m t
quicquid amico. Mandatum istud, quod demandamus in secreto, si persolvitis in fide, omnia, quecumque cara
s nt vobis, fa iam vobis. Inimi m m m Rdolf m de Piesnich, qui multum infestavit me, si deponitis eum,
ne fiat vobis et ei in carrinam, quecumque vultis, faciam vobis. Concedo vobis itaque bonum da der Panzenpach
also er oueralbe in den Piesnich uellet unde dase da springet. Verbum istud et mandatum, ut fiat ante festum
sancti Michaelis, videlicet [MS uiodl] ut privetur oculis, ne vos vel ipsum videat, ista omnia certa erunt vobis. Si
autem ista non fiant nec possint fieri, rogo tamen, ut sint quasi in corde sculpta [MS s lpta]; Codex
Falkensteinensis: Die Rechtsaufteichnungen der Grafen von Falkenstein (hereafter CF), ed. Elisabeth Noichl,
Quellen und Errterungen zur bayerischen Geschichte n.s. 29 (Munich, 1978), pp. 63-164, no. 183. The Codex
Falkensteinensis is now in Munich, Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv KL Weyarn 1.

One might at first glance consider this early example of secular letter writing an eloquent

argument against the extension of literacy to the laity. Indeed, it is rather difficult to decide just

what on sho ld mak of it. Fo mally, on might t m it a l tt los and ompa it to oth

early letters or mandata intended for the eyes of the recipient only and thus either tied or, from

the ninth century at least, sealed.5 However, its contents appear so remarkable that most scholars

who have noted it have done so with some curiosity edged by disgust, without dealing with its

historical implications. Historians have commented on its peculiarity but have hesitated to

discuss in detail its content or even to accept its authenticity. Michael Mitterauer, in his 1972

a ti l on th typ s of nobl lo dship in m di val A st ia, d s ib d it as a sittengeschichtlich so

int ssant s G h ims h ib n, b t s d it only to d monst at that O twin, h d s ib d as

the homo of Siboto, was simultaneously a Babenberg ministerial.6 Some, as we shall see, argue

that the document is not a genuine letter at all, but rather a forgery, intended to embarrass

Sibotos s sso s.

The tradition of textual criticism, as it has developed over the years, demands that such a

document be examined in order to determine whether it is genuine or a forgery; when and for

what purpose it was written; the precise genre within which it can be classified; and the extent to

which it can elucidate its broader historical context. For reasons we shall discuss presently, none

of these fundamental questions surrounding the document can be answered in a definitive

manner. Still, while no solutions can be reached, the process of attempting to answer these

questions can lead to a greater understanding of the complexities and contradictions of lay

On th a li st l tt los and on th fo ms of a ly p ivat l tt s in g n al s Pi Chaplais, Th L tt
f om ishop W aldh of London to A hbishop ihtwold of Cant b y: Th Ea li st O iginal L tt Clos
Extant in th W st, in his Essays in Medieval Diplomacy and Administration (London, 1981), XIV 3-XIV
Mi ha l Mitt a , Fo m n ad lig H s haftsbild ng im ho hmitt lalt li h n st i h: Z F ag d
a tog n n Hoh its ht . Mitteilungen des Instituts fr sterreichische Geschichtsforschung 18 (1972), p.
294, n. 121.

society in the later twelfth century. In particular, one can argue that, while perhaps unique in its

survival, the letter was certainly not a unique document in its day and that its content would have

made perfect sense to its author, its recipient, and their contemporaries, if not to us. To this end

we shall discuss its transmission, content, language, formal characteristics, and, finally, context.

However, the arguments that establish this plausibility can in turn be challenged by equally

plausible objections. This article, thus, reaches no conclusion and offers no solution. It is rather

an example of the limits of historical analysis.

The collection in which the letter appears, the Codex Falkensteinensis, is an extraordinary

volume, unique for its date.7 Count Siboto IV of Falkenstein, who ordered its compilation,

controlled a scattered inheritance of lands in Upper Bavaria and Lower Austria, threatened by the

growing power of the Babenbergs to the north and east and the Wittelsbachs to the north and

west. In the summer of 1166 Siboto was p pa ing to join F d i k a ba ossas ill-fated fourth

campaign to Italy. Fearing that he would never return, Siboto commissioned a canon of

Herrenchiemsee to list his fiefs, record his various traditiones, describe his various holdings, and

compile a manorial register so that his sons and his father-in-law, who served as their guardian,

would have a written record of their ancestry, estates, rights, and incomes. He even included a

family portrait. When he returned from Italy, one of the fortunate few who did so, Siboto had the

collection emended and continued until his death around 1200 with lists of his vassals,

inventories of his valuables, a genealogy, and other disparate documents. At some point around

1190 the collection was translated into German. This German version was continued under

On the social and economic significance of the Codex Falkensteinensis see Wilhelm Strmer, Frher Adel: Studien
zur politischen Fhrungsschicht im frankish-deutschen Reich vom 8. bis 11. Jahrhundert, Monographien zur
Geschichte des Mittelalters 6.1 (Stuttgart, 1973), pp. 147-151. On the political background and the significance
of the Codex Falkensteinensis for understanding the self-perception of the twelfth-century nobility see John B.
Freed, The Counts of Falkenstein: Noble Self-Consciousness in Twelfth-Century Germany, Transactions of the
American Philosophical Society 74.6 (Philadelphia, 1984).

Sibotos sons ntil a o nd 1231. Altho gh this v sion is lost, opi s of som do m nts it

contained were made in the early modern period and were published by Elisabeth Noichl in her

recent edition of the Codex Falkensteinensis.

It is impossible to overestimate the significance of this aristocratic collection. No other

secular archive of this sort exists from any region of Europe from the twelfth century. Nowhere

else can one see into the economic, political, and social concerns of a lay aristocrat with such

extraordinary detail. But the extraordinary nature of the codex makes it impossible to reach

conclusions about any of its parts. The collection is unique in its survival; moreover, one has no

means of knowing whether other twelfth-century counts maintained such detailed records of their

fiefs, vassals, rights, and family traditions. Thus it is difficult to argue about the typicality or the

exceptionality of any of the documents in the codex: the whole concept is unique. If the letter is a

unicum, so too is the entire volume.

How v , v n within this niq oll tion th m d l tt displays niq physi al

features that might well lead to suspicions about its authenticity. First, it is written by a hand that

appears nowhere else in the manuscript and that cannot be identified with any Herrenchiemsee

s ib . S ond, th l tt s position s gg sts that it was a lat addition. It app a s on th

penultimate folio (fol. 39v) of quire 6, the last quire of the manuscript. This folio today has been

reduced to two small irregular strips of parchment, one on the upper edge and the other (the

m d l tt ) in th middle of the leaf; the remainder of the folio has been trimmed away. The

upper strip (fol. 39va) measures 25/30 x 160 mm, and the strip containing the letter (fol. 39vb)

38/41 x 158/163 mm. Full-size folios in this manuscript measure 273 x 177 mm. Finally, this

text, as it presently exists, is upside down to the sense of the rest of quire 6, and to the sense of

the rest of the manuscript. Elisabeth Noichl suggested, as an explanation, that when the

collection was compiled this quire was not yet bound. She further speculated that the entry is a

draft or a copy of the original letter; and because of the nat of its ont nt this f agli h

Eint ag was opi d, p haps d lib at ly, in an o t-of-the-way place inside the last quire, the

rest of which at that time was blank.8 This is an ingenious if unprovable suggestion. We shall

return later to the possible significance of the physical position of the letter.

The language of the letter, while primitive by the standards of twelfth-century

ecclesiastical letters, is not markedly different from the administrative Latin of other texts in the

codex prepared presumably by Herrenchiemsee canons.9 The place-names are not inflected and

the description of the property along the Piesting appears in German. Again, the use of the

vernacular for confines and property descriptions corresponds to common usage in southern

German documents as early as the late eighth, and certainly in the twelfth and thirteenth


If these characteristics of the language do not hint at forgery, they also do not necessarily

suggest that Count Siboto dictated the letter himself. Certainly, the very existence of the codex

suggests that the written word may have been of greater importance to him than to most nobles

of his day, but again we cannot be sure whether the codex was unique in its composition, or only

in its survival. The simplicity of the word order, vocabulary, and syntax might indicate that, if he

did not actually dictate it in Latin, he might well have been able to understand it, as perhaps

could Ortwin.

Noichl (n. 3 above) 23*, and CF 163 no. 183, headnote.
Noichl 48*-51*.
An early example appears in a donation of Count Helmoin to Freising, ca. 793, Die Traditionen des Hochstifts
Freising 1, ed. Theodor Bitterauf, Quellen und Errterungen zur bayerischen und deutschen Geschichte n.s. 4
(Munich, 1905), pp. 161-162, no. 166a: t xind t ndit in i s [in vis ?] i xta ivol m sq ad magn m
b m q od v lgo di it nida pi d lahh n za d mihil n ihi. In a ha t of A hbishop Eberhard II of
Salzburg of 1229, a property is d s ib d as q oddam p di m v lga i nomin n n cupatum den hof zem
Eig n in Pnzgov s p a Nid nh im i xta Salzaham; Salzburger Urkundenbuch 3, ed. Franz Martin (Salzburg,
1918), pp. 376-377, no. 840.

An argument against the direct authorship of the text by Siboto himself might be the

reflection, however distant, of the tradition of artes dictaminis in the structure of the letter. If we

compare the text to the conventional division of the five-part structure of a letter into salutation,

exordium, narration, petition, and conclusion,11 we see some reflection of this tradition. The

letter begins with a salutation in which Siboto, as superior, appears first, greeting his inferior

with a reminder of friendship and wishing fo all that is good fo a f i nd. If th xo di m is

d sign d to p t th ad in th p op f am of mind fo g anting th q st to follow, th

l tt do s this admi ably, not simply th o gh a ommonpla g n ality, p ov b, o s ipt al

quotation,12 b t th o gh Sibotos sp ifi p omis I will do all things that a d a to yo . Th

narration is truncated but certainly present: we do not learn what evil Rudolf has done, but the

l tt do s xplain that th fo m is Sibotos n my who has g atly t o bl d m . Th

petition, namely that Ortwin should dispose of him, follows logically from the previous

statements that Ortwin and Siboto are amici, that Rudolf has long troubled the count, and that, if

O twin do s this favo , h will iv all that is d a to [him]. Th mo g n al xo di m is

then clarified, with the promises that if Ortwin carries out the mandate, he will not owe any

penance and that Siboto will grant him a specific piece of property. Although the letter closes

with a request, possibly echoing Jeremiah 31.33, that if Ortwin is unable to fulfill the request, he

k p th s things as tho gh ng av d on yo h a t, it ontains no s bs iption o

authentication. Still, as Giles Constable points out, not all medieval letters carried such

subscriptions. Possibly authentication was provided by a closed seal in the original. In

conclusion, we can say that while crude by the standards of the twelfth-century renaissance, the

See Giles Constable, Letters and Letter-Collections, Typologie des sources du moyen ge occidental 17
(Turnhout, 1978), pp. 16-88.
Ibid., pp. 16-17.

letter is not entirely unlearned and echoes something of the great tradition in epistolary style

familiar in the Empire as well as in Italy and the West in the twelfth century.

The content of the text itself, combined with the unusual position within the manuscript,

might give one pause concerning its authenticity, were the manuscript not the personal and

familial archive of the count and his family. Whatever the reason that it found its way into the

manuscript upside down, it is difficult to think that it is a forgery, planted by someone to

discredit the count in his own codex and preserved by his sons. Moreover, such a hypothesis

presupposes that knowledge of the letter would be an embarrassment to Siboto and his heirs.

However, if we consider the probable context of the letter, we can begin to imagine why the

elimination of Rudolf might have been considered quite proper, why it might have been ordered,

and why it might have been ordered in just this manner, that is, as a written mandate.

Siboto IV may well have had reason to kill Rudolf of Piesting, and this killing would

have fit well into the way a magnate conducted family affairs in the later twelfth and thirteenth

centuries. The reasons probably relate to a very long-lasting dispute between Siboto and the heirs

of his late brother Herrand II who died about 1155. For over thirty years, Siboto worked to

obtain the properties Herrand left to his two sons and daughter in Lower Austria. Early on in the

disp t , Sibotos n l Wolfk of Falk nst in took th ol of p ot to of his g at-nephews

and niece. Siboto deliberately harassed his nephews and uncle to force them to cede to him or his

h i s th s po tions of th familys stat s. tw n 1155 and 1158 Wolfk a ang d a

settlement between Siboto and the heirs of Herrand. Wolfker, who had no legitimate, noble-born

children, entrusted his share of the lordship of H nst in and th sha of Sibotos fath , whi h

had apparently been acquired by Wolfker rather than by Siboto IV, to Count Gebhard of

gha s n. Th o nt was to hold th m in t st fo Siboto IV and his sons ntil Wolfk s

death, in return for Sibotos ag m nt to d op his s it against his n ph ws.13

Included in this property entrusted to Count Gebhard was a predium held by Rudolf of

Pi sting. Siboto ag d to R dolfs predium at the request of his uncle Wolfker, on the condition

that Rudolf marry a serf who belonged to Siboto and that he neither give nor delegate this

p op ty to anyon ls witho t Sibotos ons nt.14 Approximately ten years later, after

Wolfk s d ath, R dolf mo tgag d a po tion of this p op ty ba k to Siboto fo t n po nds.15

Rudolfs ma iag to on of Sibotos s fs st ongly s gg sts that h was of th sam nf

status. Thus he appears as a serf, probably a ministerial, bound by marriage to the familia of

Siboto, and holding, at th insist n of Sibotos n l and oppon nt, some of the disputed

property. It is impossible to say whether he sided with the other heirs of Herrand against the

count, whether he attempted to alienate his holding without permission, or whether he simply

was a onv ni nt pawn in Sibotos onstant war of nerves and attrition against his kin. However,

h was l a ly link d th o gh his holding at Pi sting to both Siboto and Sibotos familial


Over the years, Siboto pursued quarrels with all the heirs, gradually acquiring the

properties of his two n ph ws, his b oth s widow, h widow d s ond h sband, his ni ,h

s ond h sband, and th hild n of his ni s fi st and s ond ma iag s.16 Sometime during

th o s of th s disp t s, Siboto a q i d anoth po tion of his n l s stat , situated north

CF 77-78 no. 114. All of this following Freed (n. 7 above), pp. 46-49.
CF 81-82 no. 116: ho liq it om s Siboto Rdolfo p ti ion pat i s i ad suam vitam ita discreta ratione, ut
suam propriam ipsius feminam acciperet et ne alicui dare vel constituere vel delegare compos esset nisi comit,
nd t a piss t.
CF 94-95 no. 129. In a private communication, Karl Brunner has pointed out that a mortgage of ten pounds was in
line with similar transactions in Lower Austria in the twelfth century.
CF 105-108 no. 136, 122-127 nos. 148-152, 136-139 nos. 158-160, 144-145 no. 166, and 150-155 nos. 171-173.

of the Piesting, about eighteen kilometers west of Hernstein. This was Panzenbach,17 given to

Siboto about 1160-1166 by Otto of Hernstein, the illegitimate son of Wolfker of Falkenstein.18 It

would later be the prize offered Ortwin for killing Rudolf.

Nothing else is known about Rudolf, who does not appear in any other extant documents

from the region. We know a bit more about Ortwin, although he appears nowhere else in the

codex and is not listed among the vassals of Siboto compiled after his return from Italy.19

However, Ortwin appears as the homo of Siboto and as a Babenberg ministerial.20 Ortwin and his

younger brothers Hugo, Ulrich, and Wichard appear in a number of Babenberg documents from

the late twelfth century.21 Their position, fairly high in the lists of witnesses, suggests that they

were ministerials of some standing in the ducal familia. That a person might be ministerial of one

lord and vassal of another was common. However, in the letter, Siboto suggests that Ortwin may

be more than simply a homo, he is amicus. Although the dictator of the letter is familiar (at what

distance one can guess from his Latinity) with the Ciceronian amicitia, he is going beyond

Ciceronian rhetoric in addressing Ortwin as amicus. Otto Brunner pointed out that a p sons

friends were often his kinsmen, that is, significantly enough in this context, individuals who were

CF 91, headnote to no. 125, and index, p. 194, identified Panzenbach as a farm (Einzelhof) situated in the village
of Vorderbruck in the township of Gutenstein.
CF 91 no. 125. Otto was identified as Otto of Hernstein in the now lost German translation of the text, according
to the sixteenth-century Bavarian historian Johann Aventinus. Otto of Hernstein was identified in turn as the son
of Siboto IVs pat nal n l (fili m pat i s i) Wolfk (CF 3-4 no. 1).
CF 68-70 no. 106.
Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der Babenberger in sterreich, ed. Heinrich Fichtenau and Erich Zllner, 4 vols.
(Vienna, 1950-1968), 1.92 no. 68.
Ortwin, Hugo, Ulrich, and Wichard of Merkenstein appear as witnesses in a donation (ca. 1182) by Henry of
Mdling, the brother of Duke Leopold V1 to Heiligenkreuz (Urkunden des Cistercienser-Stiftes Heiligenkreuz
im Wiener Walde 1, ed. Johann Nepomuk Weis, Fontes rerum austriacarum pt. 2.11 [Vienna, 1859] 12, no. 9).
Ortwin and Hugo of Merkenstein were also listed first in a series of twenty-seven witnesses to an undated
donation by H n y to Klost n b g on th day of his wif s b ial (Codex traditionum ecclesiae collegiatae
Claustroneo-burgensis continens donationes, fundationes, commutationesque hanc ecclesiam atlinentes ab
anno domini MCVIII usque circiter MCCLX, ed. Maximilian Fischer, Fontes rerum austriacarum 2.4 [Vienna,
1851], 125 no. 560). Wilh lm W g n , Di P myslid n: Stammtaf l d s national n bhmis h n
Herzogshauses ca. 850-1306 mit in Einfh ng, in Genealogischen Tafeln zur Mitteleuropischen
Geschichte 1 (Gttingen, 1964), p. 6, indicates that Henry married Richsa, the daughter of the king of Bohemia,
around 1177, but Wegener does not indicate when Richsa died.

expected on account of their kinship, even in the later Middle Ages, to assist their injured relative

in the pursuit of a feud.22 Ortwin may, as an illegitimate kinsman of Siboto, have thus been

doubly bound to serve his kinsman and lord. Bound but not obligated: Siboto promises him a

specific reward-p op ty f om th disp t d inh itan lo at d in th vi inity of O twins

property at Merkenstein, which is situated in Lower Austria west of Baden bei Wien, about

twenty-two kilom t s no thw st of Panz nba h. Most of Sibotos stat s and ti s w fa away

from this area in Upper Bavaria. Ortwin, whose castle of Merkenstein was only twelve kilo-

m t s no th of R dolfs hom at Pi sting, was th s id ally s it d, both by his p oximity to the

o nts n my and by his ti s of kinship, to impl m nt Sibotos ommission. P s mably O twin

was also good with a sword or an ax.

Thus far, what one sees is a hypothetical but rather banal scenario: a lord, in a dispute

with a kinsman/enemy, pursues his dispute by subordinate proxy: serf killing serf. One thinks of

the exchange killings in the Njls Saga and the killings or maimings of serfs and vassals that

were part of feuding in eleventh- and twelfth-century France.23 Siboto, like other twelfth-century

counts involved in the consolidation of their familial lands, may also be attempting to exercise

s h galian pow s as high j sti . H b lieves that he has the right to punish or eliminate

recalcitrant subordinates. And yet, he is not ready to dispense with the older tradition according

to which such actions fall under the jurisdiction of the Church. These concerns about ancient

Otto Brunner, Land und Herrschaft: Grundfragen der territorialen Verfassungsgeschichte sterreichs im
Mittelalter, ed. 5 (Vienna, 1965), p. 20; trans. Howard Kaminsky and James Van Horn Melton, Land and
Lordship: Structures of Governance in Medieval Austria (Philadelphia, 1992), pp. 16-17. See also Freed (n. 7
above), p. 46.
On th killing of slav s and s vants in th o s of f ds s St ph n D. Whit , F ding and P a -Making in
th To ain a o nd th Y a 1100, Traditio 42 (1986), p. 202; and William Ian Miller, Bloodtaking and
Peacemaking: Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland (Chicago, 1990), pp. 182-186. One is also reminded of
H gh of L signans omplaints that in th o s of his disp t with D k William V of Aq itain , Williams
vassal Josf d apt d H ghs astl of Mo z il and t off th hands of H ghs astl knights; Jan
Ma tindal , Not s and Do m nts: Conv nt m int G ill lm m Aq itano m om s t H gon m Chilia -
h m, English Historical Review 84 (1969), p. 543.

ecclesiastical issues may be at the heart of the textualization of what one might otherwise have

expected to be an oral order, whispered into the ear of his agent.

The greatest oddity about this text is that it is a text that Siboto would commit to writing

in the form of a letter or mandatum and that, having done so, he would preserve it. Let us now

examine just exactly what Siboto says about himself, Ortwin, and Rudolf in his letter, to

d t min if th ont xt off s s any l s to th l tt s o igins and to th easons for its


Siboto refers to himself in the letter as Siboto of Hartmannsberg, a castle located eight

kilometers northwest of Herrenchiemsee in Upper Bavaria. Elsewhere in the codex he uses a

variety of titles in his records: the most frequent is count of Falkenstein (10 times), followed by

count of Neuburg (7), then Hartmannsberg (2) and Hernstein (1). Normally, he is referred to

simply as Count Siboto.24 Because the people and lands involved in the letter were all associated

with what is today Lower Austria, one might have expected that in this document Siboto would

have used the toponym Hernstein, which lies southwest of Vienna, rather than one that refers to a

Bavarian castle several hundred miles away. Perhaps the choice of toponym had more to do with

the scribe (or dictator), presumably a canon of Herrenchiemsee, who was more familiar with

Hartmannsberg than Hernstein. One can thus offer the hypothesis that the dictator rather than the

auctor chose the intitulation. One can make, however, an alternative argum nt. Sin Sibotos

uncle, brother, nephews, and niece had retained shares of the lordship of Hernstein and since it

was probably in the context of the dispute over the lordship of Hernstein that Rudolf earned

Sibotos nmity, Siboto may have deliberately avoided using the title of lord of Hernstein. In this

directive, he is representing himself as an undisputed and undivided lord, who presumably has

the right to order the death of a troublesome ministerial.

Freed (no. 7 above), pp. 54-55.

Siboto begins by addressing Ortwin as his dilectus homo, greeting him and wishing him

all that is good and fitting for an amicus. He describes his text as a mandatum, which, contrary to

normal medieval letters described by Giles Constable as essentially public documents, is

sp ifi ally a s t q st. In t n fo doing Siboto a favo , O twin will obtain omnia,

q mq a a s nt vobis. Siboto s bs q ntly stat s that h will g ant O twin a p op ty

along th Panz nba h f om its so to wh it flows into th Pi sting. Th impli ation is

that this pi of p op ty, q it p obably h ld by R dolf of Pi sting, is among th things that

a d a to yo . In oth wo ds, O twin had p vio sly laim d o d mand d this p op ty. Th

precise description of the property in German may echo a specific, written petition made to

Siboto by Ortwin. If so, the background to the creation of the letter would resemble the process

by which an individual or institution went about procuring a charter. The petitioner or

Antragsteller would present to a chancellery a petition which would become the basis for the

preparation of the charter.25 If this hypothesis is correct, then one must assume a level of

p a ti al lit a y v n b low that of Sibotos l tt . Ministerials such as Ortwin may have been

capable of presenting petitions to their lords in vernacular texts, elements of which could be

incorporated into the rough Latinity of counts such as Siboto.

In any case, the description of the Panzenbach property as something coveted by Ortwin

suggests that the dispute operated at two levels. On one, Siboto and his kin disputed the Lower

Austrian inheritance of the lordship of Hernstein. On the other level, their respective homines

disputed, or at least coveted, portions of this inheritance as fiefs. The interests of the great and

the small thus paralleled each other and could be furthered by the same strategy. Siboto could

strike against his kin by an attack on a subordinate and thereby press them further toward a

settlement in his favor; Ortwin could advance his position in the region of Lower Austria by
The authors are grateful to Karl Brunner for this suggestion.

eliminating his rival and acquiring much-desired property.

But Siboto promised Ortwin more than just the land at Piesting. In a muddled phrase he

ass d him that, si d ponitis m, n fiat vobis et ei in carrinam, quecumque vultis, faciam

vobis. This ambig o s ph as tak s s to th h a t of th l tt .

Th d p nd nt ph as d fi s nambig o s t anslation. It may m an, If yo st ik him

down, in order that there will be no penance for you or for him, I will do for you whatever you

wish; o If yo st ik him down, l st h mak fo yo and fo him [som thing] in p nan , I

will do fo yo what v yo wish. Why R dolf sho ld ow any p nan fo b ing assa lt d o

possibly even murdered defies explanation, unless the count was ordering that Rudolf be killed

in s h a way that h had no han to onf ss his sins. On might th s p f , If yo st ik him

down, I will do for you whatever you wish, so that you do not incur a penance on his behalf,

altho gh this t anslation is not j stifi d by th Latin. A possibl pa all l to th ph as , vobis t

i, o s lat in th l tt wh n Siboto inst ts O twin to blind R dolf n vos v l ips m

vid at. Th s gg stion that R dolf sho ld b so blind d that h annot s yo o hims lf

seems odd. Alternatively, the implication of the second may have been that the deed was to be

done in such a sudden manner that Rudolf would see neither Ortwin nor the attack itself; again,

the implication is that the deed should be done very swiftly. More probably, the intent of the

passag b ginning si d ponitis m is that, if O twin do s th d d, no p nan (carina)

should be done for it.

As Giles Constable has noted, Carina m ans a paym nt fo m d .26 We can go

further than this. In book 19 chapter 5 of his Libri decretorum, Burchard of Worms discusses in

detail the penalties for various types of homicide. Carina, he explains, is a forty-day penance:

Gil s Constabl , Fo g d L tt s in th Middl Ag s, Flschungen im Mittelalter 5: Fingierte Briefe,
Frmmigkeit und Flschung, Realienflschungen, MGH Schriften 33.5 (Hanover, 1988), p. 32, n. 85.

XL di s ontin os, q od v lg s a inam vo at.27 However, just how this forty-day penance is

to be carried out and what additional penalties one must undergo depend on the circumstances of

th killing. If it is don vol nta i sin n ssitate non in hoste sed per tuam cupiditatem ut sua

sibi tolleres, th carina is to be done on bread and water, followed by seven years of additiona1

penance. If, however, a servus kills a fellow s vant j ss domini [s] i, then it is the lord, not

the servant, who must perform the carina on bread and water, and the servant must perform only

three forty-day p nan s p l gitimas f ias nl ss it was don fo th ommon p a .28

This s ms p is ly th sit ation in whi h O twin finds hims lf. As Sibotos s vant, he

is being asked to eliminate a fellow servant at his lo ds ommand. If h do s so, Siboto

promises him, in conformity with penitential practice, Ortwin will not be obligated for the

penance. The implication is, however, that Siboto himself will be. And in fact, another late entry

in the codex specifies that Co nt Siboto mak s known to thos wishing to know, that h shall

hav paid a a ana fo homi id and that fiv y a fasts a mitt d him.29 We cannot be

PL 140.951. See also Ivo of Chartres, Decretum 15.183 and 185, PL 161.896-897; Alan of Lille, Liber
poenitentialis 2.14 and 3.8, ed. Jean Longre (Louvain, 1965), pp. 56, 131; Paul Anciaux, La thologie du
sacrement de pnitence au XIIe sicle (Louvain, 1949), pp. 336, n. 2, 371. These references come from the
Liber poenitentialis of Robert of Flamborough, canon-penitentiary of Saint-Victor at Paris, ed. J. J. Francis Firth
(Toronto, 1971), p. 213, n. 65. Robert introduces his explanation of carina, id st t g i m j xta l siam ad
hoc aedificatum; non exeat (quod dicitur carina a quadraginta, quia tot diebus ibi includendus est, vel a carendo,
quia tot diebus hominum communione carere debet; de hac carina dicitur alibi quod non debet dividi, id est
min i), within a anon oth wis tak n f om a tholom w of Ex t , hap. 46, D int fectoribus
l i o m; s Ad ian Mo y, Bartholomew of Exeter Bishop and Canonist: A Study in the Twelfth Century
(Cambridge, 1937), pp. 213-214. See Firth, pp. 47-48; iting P t Com sto s De sacramentis 24, Firth
explains that the tugurium or hut was an Italian penitential practice.
ha d, PL 140.956d: Si a t m t s v s ons v m t m j ss domini tui occidisti, dominus tuus quadraginta
dies, id est carinam, in pane et aqua cum septem sequentibus annis poenitere debet, et tu tres quadragesimas, per
l gitimas f ias, x pto nisi p o pa omm ni fi t. Lat p nit ntia i s and summae confessorum from
France and England, where ministerial status was not known, do not so easily excuse killings at the demand of
on s lo d, and do not onsid th as of a servus killing another servus. Bartholomew of Exeter and Robert of
Flamborough follow Ivo of Chartres, Decr. 10. 146 (PL 161.735) in assigning the same penance for a free
p son who kills a s vant j b nt domino s o as fo a vol nta y homi id : Si q is lib j b nt domino s o
servum ei s o id it, t homi idi m spont ommiss m po nit at; Mo y (n. 27 abov ), p. 221; Rob t of
Flamborough, De homieidiis sponte eommissis 5.267, Firth (n. 27 above), p. 227.
CF 162-163 no. 182: Com s Siboto notifi at s i vol ntib s, q od p o homi idio carranam persolverit; quinque
v o ia ast n sibi s nt miss . It is not clear whether five years of fasting or fasting for forty days for five
years were meant.

certain that this penance is for the killing of Rudolf, but the hypothesis is attractive. In any case,

it is evident that Siboto was aware of the obligation to do penance for homicide, did so on at least

one occasion, and did not hesitate to leave permanent, written evidence to this effect, even

though it was tantamount to admitting to manslaughter.

Still, fo Sibotos p omis that O twin will not hav to p fo m th p nan himself, he

m st b abl to off p oof that th killing was don j ss domini s i. Co ld it b that th

proof was provided in the form of a letter or mandatum? The answer, to judge from an

admittedly considerably later document, seems to be yes. In 1276 Conrad Schrankbaum, a

Carinthian ministerial, agreed to compensate Salzburg for injuries he had caused when, in the

service of Ottokar 11 of Bohemia and Count Henry I of Pfannberg, he had participated in the

destruction of the town of Friesach.30 In the attack, Conrad had also killed a burgher. Conrad

ag d to pay fo damag s h had ommitt d x p op io mot . How v , h p omis d to

obtain, by the feast of Saint George, from King Ottoka and Co nt H n y, litt as ... q od d

mandato ambo m v l alt i s o m xtit nt.31 That is, he was to produce a letter or letters

demonstrating that he had received a mandate either from both or from at least one of his lords.

If he was unable to produce these letters by the specified date, Conrad expressed his willingness

to make satisfaction himself.32

The parallels seem clear. In order to be absolved of personal responsibility, the

Monumenta historica ducatus Carinthiae: Geschichtliche Denkmler des Herzogthumes Krnten 5: Die krntner
Geschichtsquellen 1269-1286, ed. Hermann Wiessner (Klagenfurt, 1956), p. 132, no. 198. On this incident see
John B. Freed, Noble Bondsmen: Ministerial Marriages in the Archdiocese of Salzburg (Ithaca, NY, 1995).
Q od si s p aliis dampnis, que non ex proprio motu comisi, domini mei serenissimi regis Bohemie aut comitis
Henrici de Phannenberch litteras optinebo, quod de mandato amborum vel alterius eorum extiterunt per me
dampna eadem perpetrata et illa in se receperint, non tenebo t n ad m ndam d illis: Wi ssn lo . it.
One might ask if the existence of this document is related to the growing interest in learned legal traditions in the
Salzburg court of Archbishop Frederick II of Walchen (1270-1284), even though the archbishop himself was
almost certainly illiterate. However, the document, which exists in the original, carries no indirect indication of
the influence of any of the magistri or doctores active at the archiepiscopal court. See Winfried Stelzer,
Gelehrtes Recht in sterreich von den Anfngen bis zum frhen 14. Jahrhundert in Mitteilungen des Instituts
fr sterreichische Geschichtsforschung, suppl. 26 (Vienna, 1982), pp. 166-186.

ministerial of a lord needed to present written proof, in the form of a letter, that he had received a

mandatum from his lord ordering a killing. This would respond very closely to the technical

sense of a mandate as a document by which an individual is constituted to act on behalf of

another,33 a concept which has its roots in Roman law and which appears in Gratian, causa 2.6.30

De recipiendis appellationibus: Non sol nt a di i app llant s, nisi hi, q o m int st, v l

q ib s mandat m st, v l q i n goti m ali n m g nt, q od mox at m hab t .34 We see,

how v , that Sibotos mandat diff s f om th Roman mandatum stricto sensu. A mandatum is

a consensual contract by which one person assumed the duty to perform a service for another

based on friendship. Essential to the concept of a formal mandatum is the gratuity of the service,

and this gratuity distinguishes it from hiring for services.35 Since Siboto promises Ortwin a

specific reward for his service, this text could be considered a mandatum only in the broader

sense of an order or authorization given by one person to another.36 Also essential to this

mandatum, as in later canon law, is its evidentiary significance. The procurator of another must

be able to produce a mandatum that attests to his role as representative and to the object of his

charge. If the procurator remains within the limits of his mandatum, only the mandator is

obligat d to answ fo th ff ts of th p o ato s a tions.37 Conrad contended that he had

such a mandate and that he would be able to provide letters to this effect from the king or count,

C. du Fresne Du Cange, Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis 5 (Niort, 1885), 212b: [Mandat m:] Cha ta q a
n gotii ali i s a to q is onstit it .
C.2.6.30 (T) 477, 10.
Adolf Berger, Encyclopedic Dictionary of Roman Law (Philadelphia, 1953), p. 547.
The distinction between missive letters and mandements is vague at best. Attempts to differentiate them according
to whether they communicated an order or whether they were recognized in chancery are more theoretical than
practical. On mandates or mandements see Constable (n. 11 above), p. 22, and nn. 50 and 51. On the meaning of
mandatum in the canonical glosses and commentaries of the late twelfth century see Othmar Hageneder,
Mandat m nd P a pt m im politis h n Hand ln Papst Inno nz III, in Proceedings of the Sixth
International Congress of Medieval Canon Law, eds. Stephan Kuttner and Kenneth Pennington, Monumenta
Iuris Canonici ser. C, 7 (Vatican City, 1985), pp. 379-390, esp. 388-389. The canonical tradition shows the
influence of the Roman civil mandate in that, according to some glossators, one was obligated to fulfill the
mandate unless he acknowledged his inability to do so and the mandator released him; Hageneder, p. 288, n. 60.
Dictionnaire de droit canonique, ed. Raoul Naz (Paris, 1957), pp. 6.714-718.

but it is not entirely clear whether the mandate itself was a verbal commission, or if an actual

document already existed. In the case of Ortwin, the letter, specifically termed a mandatum, is

being given in advance. The implication in both cases is that, through a mandate, not only can

on onstit t anoth as on s ag nt, b t th ag nt is f d f om any obligation to mak

reparations, whether penitential or legal, for deeds he might commit in carrying out the mandate.

Sibotos mandat carries a specific time frame. The reason is obscure, but the date,

Michaelmas, is suggestive. Since this is the end of the harvest season and often the date for

paying rents, Siboto may have intended for the deed to be accomplished and the new holder of

Piesting to be established before the end of the bookkeeping year. If the accounting year ran

from Michaelmas to Michaelmas, then Siboto was indeed settling accounts with Rudolf.

Before the killing, the document was to be kept secret. If, but apparently only if, he was

unable to carry out the deed, did Siboto request that the mandate b k pt as tho gh ng av d on

yo h a t. t th s xho tations to s yw p a tionary. Before the killing one could

ha dly tip on s hand, and if th a t o ld not be carried out, it would be necessary to keep the

attempt a secret. Once successfully achieved, however, not only could the deed be made public

b t, fo O twins sak , th mandatum ordering the deed needed to be public. It was his proof that

the requirement specified by the Burchardian penitential system had been fulfilled. Likewise,

once the act had been completed, the promise of the property at Piesting would presumably be

carried out, and the copy of the letter retained by Siboto became a tradition notice and thus a

necessary addition to the codex.

The decision, even while exercising high justice, to respect the older penitential system,

may indicate that Siboto operated within two traditions. On the one hand, he was claiming the

authority, as count, to destroy his enemies. But on the other, he still felt compelled to submit

himself to church authority when punishment meant the killing or maiming of a human being.

However, by submitting himself to church authority, he may also have been avoiding the

authority of competing secular authorities, specifically that of the Babenberg dukes, who might

have been expected to intervene in such an act of peace-breaking. By tying the act to the

ecclesiastical tradition of penance, he was silently rejecting an alternative possibility, that of

ducal authority in offenses against the Landfriede. In his concern for carina as in his initial

decision to protect his property by means of a written Traditionsbuch, Siboto could be said to be

sing l i al w apons to p otect himself against his secular rivals.38

Was this mandate actually carried out? The evidence to resolve this question is as

ambiguous as that for every other aspect of this tantalizing document. On the one hand, the fact

that the document has survived strongly suggests that Ortwin was able to complete his task. Its

preservation in the Codex Falkensteinensis may indicate that Ortwin was successful, that Rudolf

was dispos d of o d p iv d of his y s so that h o ld s n ith yo no hims lf, and that

th d tif l s vant iv d his h a ts d si , th lands along th Panz nba h. P haps b fo th

deed was done the copy was, as Noichl suggested, written in an obscure place in the leaves that

would form the codex to keep it from the eyes of others, presumably canons of Herrenchiemsee

not as closely in the confidence of the count as the man who wrote this, and only this, notice in

Sibotos oll tion. On O twin had f lfill d his mandat , how v , th do m nt no long

needed to be kept secret. No longer hidden in the heart, it became a public document, essential

for Ortwin, like Conrad later, to demonstrate that he was following orders and thus to establish

his immunity from the obligation to make reparations, and necessary for Siboto and his heirs to

On th p in s s of th Landfriede to strengthen their regional jurisdiction see Benjamin Arnold, Princes and
Territories in Medieval Germany (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 186-210. The Babenbergs, whose special rights were
recognized by Frederick Barbarossa in the Privilegium minus of 1156, are a prime example. The privilege
in l d d th stip lation, W also instit t that no p son g at o l ss within th dominion of that d hy
shall p s m to x is any j sti witho t th ons nt o p mission of th d k s, A nold, p. 104.

remember their reward to a dilectus homo et amicus.

But such an argument assumes that the document is not a forgery, an assumption which

one is by no means compelled to make. The preceding arguments are actually a series of

speculative and not fully convin ing hypoth s s h dg d with s h waffling t ms as might,

imagin , s gg st, lik ly, p haps, possibly, p s mably and p obably. On might

onst t an alt nativ xpli ation mphasizing ath p obably not.

Are we so sure of the status of Ortwin and Rudolf and their relationships to Siboto?

Ortwin is indeed a vassal of the count and a Babenberg ministerial, but the argument that he was

a kinsman of the count, bound to him both by ties of blood and allegiance, is placing more

weight on the word amicus than it should be asked to bear. Was Rudolf actually a ministerial or

s f of Siboto? Th only vid n is that h was fo d to a pt s am p op iam ipsi s

f minamhardly overwhelming proof.

If we doubt the accuracy of the historical and social situation presented above, then the

plausibility of the whole argument, including the authenticity of the document, is cast in doubt.

Gil s Constabl finds it ha d to a pt witho t h sitation th s t l tt of Siboto of

Falkenstein in 1180/90 ordering the murder of an enemy, even though it is found in the Codex

Falk nst in nsis. H adds in a not , It is amazing that s h a do m nt, if a th nti , fo nd its

way into th Cod x.39 The ambiguities of the intitulatio and of the language of the text add to

the doubts about its authenticity. The designation of Siboto as count of Hartmannsberg makes

littl s ns h . Th m anings of th t ms d pon and a ina a p haps not as l a as

the first part of the paper attempted to argue. Nor a th ph as s vobis t i and vos v l

ips m, asily t anslatabl , l t alon ad q at ly xplain d in t ms of th p tativ int nt of th

do m nt. That a layman sho ld o d som on to d pos som on ls in s h a way that no

Constable (n. 26 above), p. 32.

penance should be done is extraordinary.

Mo ov , it is highly nlik ly that a p son in Sibotos position wo ld hav p t into

writing an order implicating himself in a serious crime or, if by any chance such a document

were written, would have allowed it to be incorporated into his family codex. If it is a forgery,

the most likely culprit is Ortwin, who might have had it written and surreptitiously copied into

the codex as an ex post facto l gitimization of his laim to Panz nba h. Th vobis t i and th

vos v l ips m make better sense if the letter is regarded as a clumsy draft of an oral instruction

referring to Siboto and Ortwin rather than to Ortwin and Rudolf, who could hardly be expected

to p fo m p nan fo his own d position o to s hims lf aft h was blinded. If in fact

Ortwin seized Panzenbach after the death, murder, or mutilation of Rudolfand perhaps after

the death of Siboto as wella letter like this might have justified his possession and thrown

some of the blame onto the count. However, how Ortwin would have gained access to a codex

presumably kept in a secure place in far-off Bavaria is equally difficult to imagine.

Finally, w sho ld onsid th possibility that th l tt was n ith a g n in missiv

nor a forgery. Its peculiar position in the codex and the distinctive hand in which it was written

may suggest a third alternative hypothesis. As we have seen, the letter is written in an extremely

fine, pointed minuscule, upside down on the penultimate folio. The hand, Hand A, is unique,

although it resembles another hand responsible for four documents in the codex as well as for

several marginal notations.40 The latter, Hand B, is a fine, expert hand with points of

resemblance to a charter minuscule. In fact, one of its occurrences, on fol. 3, was not originally

part of the codex at all, but rather an original tradition notice that had been cut from a larger

piece of parchment, folded, and presumably delivered to the recipient. Only later was it sewn

Noichl (n. 4 above), 51*. Hand B, termed F11 in the edition, was responsible for CF entries 176 (pp. 157-158),
177 (p. 158), 178 (pp. 158-159), and 184 (p. 164). The similarities between the two hands, not noted by Noichl,
was observed by Geary when examining the manuscript in Munich.

into the codex, presumably in the sixteenth century when quire 1 was rebound.41 The other three

entries written by Hand B were recorded directly in the codex. The first, written in 1193, is a

brief notice on fol. 1 of the CF indicating that an eclipse of the sun had occurred in 1133.42 Two

more entries in Hand a what Noi hl d s ib s as P otokolla is h Eint g add d to th

codex around 1196.43 The second of these appears on fo1. 39va, that is to say, on the same

m tilat d folio as th l tt , and it not s Sibotos donation to a Wi ha d of th children of a

serf. Three of the four documents written by Hand B, thus, are not copies made in a book hand

for later reference but rather are practical instruments written onto odd pieces of parchment in a

fine compressed charter hand.

The mutilated state of folio 39 suggests that this leaf, originally blank, may have been

used as a source of parchment for such notices. The missing portions may have been cut out and

used to write such documents as that which is now fol. 3. It is of course possible that the missing

pieces of parchment contained the copies of the two documents found on folio 39 that were given

to the addressees and that the surviving ones are chirographs. However, the inversion of the letter

on this folio, written, like the other document, in a hand more resembling a fine charter hand than

a book hand, suggests that perhaps the letter had been intended, not as a permanent entry into the

codex or even as a chirograph or copy of the letter, but as the letter itself, to be cut out and

delivered. If this was indeed the case, then one could well understand its inverted position. If it

was intended to be cut from the blank page, its inverted form would present no difficulty, even if

the quire were already bound into the codex. It only appears peculiar today because it was never

cut from the manuscript and never sent. Siboto may have decided not to send the mandatum.

Perhaps he never intended to do so. It may have been a quickly and clumsily drafted ruse. The

CF 158-159 no. 178.
Ibid., 164 no. 184.
Ibid., 157-158 nos. 176 and 177.

threat, perhaps shown to Rudolf or his lo ds, may hav b n pa t of Sibotos wa of n v s

against his relatives. Perhaps the murder letter was neither a genuine missive nor a forgery, but

an elaborate threat, made all the more terrifying by its written form.

Chapter Eight

Extra-Judicial Means of Conflict Resolution1

The means by which disputes were pursued and resolved in the early Middle Ages,

particularly within the formal sphere of judicial process, have been immeasurably clarified in

recent years as the result of a series of important studies by a circle of British and German

historians. In particular, Paul Fouracre, Edward James, and Ian Wood have greatly elucidated the

process of disputing within its social and political context in Merovingian Francia.2 Janet Nelson

and Wendy Davies have done the same for western Francia and Brittany in the ninth century,

while Roger Collins and Chris Wickham have begun similarly vital studies for Spain and Italy

respectively.3 Patrick Wormald and Richard Sharpe have likewise pioneered the systematic study

of disputing in the British Isles, and Gerd Althoff, Hanna Vollrath, and Timothy Reuter have

studied disputing in a somewhat later period of German history.4

This ssay fi st app a d as Ext a-J di ial M ans of Confli t R sol tion, in La Giustizia nellalto medioevo:
(secoli V-VIII). Settimane di studio del Centro Italiano di studi sull'alto medioevo. (Spoleto, 1995), pp. 571-605.
See the collection of essays edited by Wendy Davies and Paul Fouracre, The Settlement of Disputes in Early
Medieval Europe (Cambridge, 1986). Of particular importan is Fo a s own Placita and the settlement of
disputes in later Merovingian Francia, pp. 23-43. Edwa d Jam s, ati pa ifi i: ishops and th Law in Sixth-
C nt y Ga l, in ed. John Bossy, Disputes and Settlements: Law and Human Relations in the West
(Cambridge, 1983), pp. 25-46. Ian Wood, Disp t s in lat fifth- and sixth- nt y Ga l: Som p obl ms, in
Davies and Fouracre, pp. 7-22.
Jan t L. N lson, Disp t s ttl m nt in Ca olingian W st F an ia, in Davies and Fouracre, pp. 45-64. Wendy
Davi s, P opl and pla s in disp t in ninth- nt y ittany, in Davies and Fouracre, pp. 65-84. See also
her Small Worlds: The Village Community in Early Medieval Brittany (Berkeley, 1988), pp. 146-160. Roger
Collins, Visigothi law and gional stom in disp t s in a ly m di val Spain, in Davies and Fouracre, pp.
85-104. Chris Wickham, Land disp t s and th i so ial f am wo k in Lomba d-Carolingian Italy, 700-900, in
Davies and Fouracre, pp. 105-124.
Pat i k Wo mald, Cha t s, Law and the Settlement of Disputes in Anglo-Saxon England, in Davies and
Fouracre, pp. 149-168; A Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Disp t s, Anglo-Saxon England, XVII (1988), pp. 247-
281; Dom sday Laws its: A P ovisional List and P limina y Comm nt, in England in the Eleventh Century:
Proceedings of the 1990 Harlaton Symposium in Harlaton Medieval Studies II (Stamfo d, 1992); In S a h of
King Offas Law-Cod , People and Places in Northern Europe 500-1600: Essays in Honour of Peter. Hayes
Sawyer, eds. Ian N. Wood and Niels Lund (Woodbridge, 1991), pp. 25-45. Ri ha d Sha p , Disp t s ttl m nt
in m di val I land: A p limina y inq i y, in Davies and Fouracre, pp. 169-189. Gerd Althoff,
Konigsh s haft nd Konfliktb wltig ng im 10. nd 11. Jah h nd t in Frhmittelalterliche Studien XXIII
(1989), pp. 265-290; Verwandte, Freunde und Getreue: Zum politischen Stellenwert der Gruppenbindungen im

In general, the approach that these scholars take is an empirical one, based primarily on

documents of practice or narrative descriptions rather than on programmatic evidence such as

law codes or capitularies. While not neglecting the formal and institutional aspects of dispute

settlement, they are careful to establish specific contexts within which the disputes they study

take place, contexts characterized by dense networks of social relations among participants. This

new, process-oriented approach to the subject has revolutionized the understanding of early

medieval disputing and offered exemplary models of how to reassess the place of judicial

institutions within early medieval society.

However, by the nature of their investigation and their sources, these scholars have

chosen to concentrate primarily, but by no means exclusively, on the formal, judicial means by

which conflicts were handled. The placitum or mallum publicum is thus the dramatic stage on

which they observe the varied actors of the rituals of justice playing their part. Here they observe

procedures as essentially pragmatic, dealing with written evidence, testimony, and oath-helping

as the need arose in a broad and flexible manner. By and large, they show the formal procedures

producing a structure within which disputing parties could battle each other before a public

composed of boni homines, the people who mattered in the local community, as well as before

representatives of public authority.

Once a dispute was brought before such a public court, unilateral withdrawal was

normally impossible the procedures would be followed to a judgment, which might be a clear-

cut case of victory for one and defeat for the other, or it might be an adjudicated compromise.

frheren Mittelalter (Da mstadt, 1990); Ami itia nd Pa ta: ndnis, Ein ng, Politik nd G b tsg d nk n im
beginnenden 10. Jah h nd t, in Monumenta Germaniae Historica Schriften XXXVII, (Hannover, 1992).
Hanna Voll ath, Konfliktwah n hm ng nd Konfliktda st ll ng in zhl nd n Q ll n d s 11. Jah h nd ts,
in Die Salier und das Reich, vol. 3, Gesellschaftlicher und ideengeschichtlicher Wandel im Reich der Salier,
eds. Stefan Weinfurter and Hubertus Seibert (Sigmaringen, 1991), pp. 279-296; Timothy Reuter,
Un h stift ng, F hd , R b llion, Wid stand: G walt nd F i d n in d Politik d Sali z it, eds. Stefan
Weinfurter and Hubertus Seibert, Die Salier und das Reich, vol. 3, pp. 297-325.

Nevertheless, such compromises were imposed by the court which exercised coercive powers,

not, at least to judge from the records of the courts and from formularies, negotiated by the

litigants themselves.5

This emerging image of justice, which is a sharp revision of traditional views of early

medieval justice as ritualistic and irrational, is a major advance to our understanding not only of

justice but of the nature of state power and social structures in the sixth through ninth centuries.

However, although it is entirely appropriate to examine at length the ideal and the practice of

justice in the early Middle Ages, we must never forget that as important as judicial systems

certainly were, they were not then, nor are they ever, the only or even the most common means

of s ttling a so i tys disp t s. It is diffi lt to stimat th p ntag of disp t s of any so t

that reach the judicial system of modern societies and it is entirely impossible to guess the

percentages for the early Middle Ages. Still, one can assume by analogy that the vast majority of

grievances, claims, and disputes then as now were either ignored, settled by bilateral negotiation,

or by arbitration and compromise.6 The formal institutions of justice are in a sense the measures

of last resort turned to only when alternative means of dealing with disputes have failed. This is

not to suggest that judicial means of disputing are irrelevant because they are the exceptions

rather than the rule. Certainly they play an important role quite beyond their actual employment

since, even in extra-judicial disputing, they exist as at least a theoretical alternative to other

procedures. Nor is the resort to extra-judicial means of conflict resolution necessarily an

indication of the weakness or non-existence of central authority. Rather the two exist in a

dynamic and changing relationship, at times complementary, at times antagonistic. Still, given

the prevalence of extra-judicial means of dealing with conflicts, any assessment of the role of

See in particular the conclusion to Davies and Fouracre, pp. 207-240.
Ma Galant , R ading th Lands ap of Disp t s: What w know and dont know (and think w know) about
o all g dly ont ntio s and litigio s so i ty, UCLA Law Review XXXI, 4 (1983), pp. 4-71.

justice in early medieval society must place such proceedings in a context of the alternatives to

courts and judges, the extra-judicial means by which men and women dealt with their disputes

between the sixth and ninth centuries.

Studying extra-judicial disputing is difficult, since by the very informal nature of this

normal means of settling disputes, such processes seldom leave traces. As a result, it is much

easier to talk about the exceptions, that is, those that found their way to a court or other

administrative or judicial forum, than the vast majority that ended before reaching circles so

elevated that they might leave a written account of the actions before them, an account that might

have been deemed by future generations of sufficient importance to be preserved. This bias of

the sources then seems to reinforce the notion that disputes and courts are somehow inextricably

linked, and the scattered references to other means of disputing appear aberrations rather than

normative behavior. As a result, in the barbarian states that succeeded the Roman Empire in the

West, the appeal to extra-judicial means of pursuing or concluding disputes is often mistakenly

taken as evidence of the weakness of centralized judicial institutions, the incomplete assimilation

of barbarians into Roman legal traditions, or the negative heritage of Germanic custom. As a

result, too much of the attention on the disputing process in the early Middle Ages has focused

on determining whether practices such as oath-taking, composition, and the ordeal are of Roman

or barbarian origin. Likewise, the tendency to polarize the placitum on the one hand and the

blood feud on the other fails to recognize that both are essential parts of the disputing process

within these societies. Finally, much recent and important discussion of the role of bishops in

resolving disputes has perhaps over-emphasized the distance between episcopal values and those

of their secular contemporaries, and perhaps too one can overestimate the independence with

which bishops acted as peace-makers in the barbarian kingdoms.

Rather than search for the barbarian or Roman origins of specific disputing mechanisms

or arguing about the putative extremes of violence in early medieval society, this essay will

examine the range of informal, extra-judicial disputing procedures that our sources preserve as

they appear in the complex societies of the barbarian successor states and will assess their

relationship to more formal means of disputing. Detailed studies of these procedures in each of

the successor kingdoms over the centuries will be necessary to appreciate adequately the range

and subtlety of these mechanisms. Here will be provided first a general overview of some of the

kinds of extra-judicial means of handling conflict, drawing examples from the spectrum of

barbarian kingdoms that were heirs of late Roman political and social traditions.

In particular, this paper will examine three pre- or extra-judicial means by which early

medieval societies dealt with the inevitable conflicts and contests that arose involving individuals

and groups. These include private agreements between disputing parties, appeals for assistance to

powerful and influential patrons, and acceptance of arbitration by third parties. Central to many

of these were convenientiae, private agreements, that could range from simple, bilateral accords

between equals to mutual defense pacts of private military alliances. Many of these arrangements

appear self-evident, few are clear and unambiguously conflict-resolution mechanisms. Rather,

they are flexible social and cultural practices that served a wide spectrum of ends, but which

could, when appropriate, be brought into service to deal with conflict. Many involve the same

language as that of the judicial system, and many indeed the same people. The distinction

between the two is often blurred, but rather than attempting to establish clear, unambiguous

differences, we shall concentrate on the common groupings of values and cultural norms within

which these procedures were given prominence, and shall try to suggest the areas in which these

extra-judicial procedures complemented or challenged those of the judicial systems themselves.

I. Convenientiae

One can categorize approaches to dispute settlement very generally by distinguishing

between bilateral negotiations and third-party negotiations.7 The most obvious and traditional

means of settling disputes is by an accord negotiated between the two disputing parties. Such

negotiations were probably often oral, but could be settled by the drafting of an agreement or

convenientia, either to anticipate a potential area of dispute or to settle one once it had

developed. Convenientiae have long attracted the interest of historians both in the early Middle

Ages and in the tenth and eleventh centuries. However, the detailed studies of the convenientia,

particularly in Lombard law, have focused primarily on the formal elements of this type of

contract.8 In the tenth and eleventh century, convenientiae would be an important part of

conflict settlement as well as conflict promotion, and the history of the medieval convenientia in

this period with its relationship to feudal bonds and the avoidance of comital justice is a rich and

important one.9 This essay will focus not on the legal form of the convenientia but rather on the

complex of relationships that made up early medieval convenientiae, without attempting to

establish direct linkages to the subsequent period and without attempting to present a

teleological history of this tradition of mutual agreements.

Like most of the terminology that may cover extra-judicial settlements, the term

convenientia can have a wide variety of technical and non-technical meanings. Its classical

meaning of an agreement, or of a meeting at which such an agreement is made, survives through

Fo a th o ti al dis ssion of th kinds of disp t s ttl m nt m hanisms s Ri ha d L. Ab l, A Compa ativ
Th o y of Disp t Instit tions, in Society, Law and Society (Winter, 1973), pp. 217-347.
Francesco Calasso, La convenientia. Contributo alla storia del contratto in Italia durante lalto medioevo, Fasc.
IX bibi. Rivista del dir. ital. (Bologna, 1932); Paul Ourliac, La convenientia in tudes dhistoire du droit priv
offertes Pierre Petot (Paris, 1959), pp. 413-422.
Pi onnassi , L s onv ntions fodal s dans la Catalogn d XI si l , in Les structures sociales de
lAquitaine, du Languedoc et de lEspagne au premier ge fodal (Paris, 1969), pp. 187-219.

the early Middle Ages. As a more specialized kind of contract, the term in various forms appears

across Lombard, Frankish, and Visigothic sources as a common inheritance of late Roman


In the early formularies such as the Formulae Andecavenses10 and the slightly later

Formulae Marculfi11 it is a type of contractual instrument, listed in formulaic enumerations along

with strumenta vindicionis, dotis, conposcionalis, contullicionis, pactis, conmutacionis,

securitatis, vacuaturias, iudicius et noticias.12 The term is used especially for bilateral

agreements concerning the disposition of the offspring of slaves or adoptions. Formula 59, of the

Formulae Andecavenses for example, presents a convenientia that is an agreement whereby two

parties agree that a free woman who has married a slave of one of the parties will not be forced

herself into servitude and that her children by this union will be free.13 The kind of negotiations

that might lead up to this bilateral agreement appear in a letter of Sidonius Apollinaris to one

Pudens.14 Sidoni s xplains that th son of P d nss n s has abd t d th da ght of

Sidoni s own, who is a f woman. H hints that this might l ad to hostility b tw n hims lf

and Pudens, but suggests that Pudens could make compositio or satisfactio for this outrage by

freeing the seducer so that the woman does not have to carry the disgrace (and, presumably, the

Formulae Andecavenses, esp. nos. 30, 31, 32, 33, 45, and 59. M.G.H. Formulae, pp. 14-20.
Marculfi Formularum Liber II, esp. 13, 43, M.G.H. Formulae, pp. 83-84; 158.
Formulae Andecavenses, 31, p. 14. See also 32, pp. 14-15: ... m st m nta a ta m, vindi ionis, a ionis,
cessionis, donacionis, dotis, conposcionalis, contulacio nis, pacts, conmutacionis, convenenciis, securitatis,
vacuaturiis, iudicius, et noticias, oblecacionis, vel reliquas res quam plures, ....; 33, p. 15: ... s st m nta
cartarum quam plurimas, vindicionis, caucionis, cessionis, donacionis, dotis, conposcionalis, pac- tis,
onm ta ionis, onv ni ntis, s itatis, va at ias, i di i s, t noti ias s t omn sol mnitas....
Formulae Andecavenses, no. 59, p. 25: Nos nim illi t oni x m a illa. D m non st in ognit m, q alit aliq a
femena nomine illa servo nostro nomen illo ad coiu gium copulavit, et modo nos bona volumtate convenit, ut,
quamdiu quidam in coiugio sunt copolati, ipsa femena per nos non debiat esse declinatam in servicio, et
agnacio, se ex ipsis procreata fuerit, ad ingenuetatem capitis eorum debiant permanere ingenui... Deinde in hanc
epistola nobis intimare convenit, se nos ipsi aut heredis vel propinqui nostri seu quislibet opposita persona, quis
ad traditis convenencias ipsa femena conmodolare voluerit aut contra epistola hec agere, cui timptator fuerit,
soledus tantus con- ponat, t nihil vindi it t q od p tit, t h pistola omni t mpo fi ma p man at.
Sidonius Apollinaris, epistola V, xix, Sidoine Apollinaire Lettres, texte tabli et traduit par Andr Loyen (Paris
1960), II, p. 207.

legal disability) of having been joined to an unfree man and can be instead a legitimate wife. 15

Sidonius concludes his letter with an appeal to Pudenss f i ndship, th s balan ing his hint of

enmity with which he began his letter.16

Sidoni s l tt do s not m ntion convenientia, however, the kind of arrangement he

requests is exactly that offered in the formula. The letter of Sidonius as well as the formulas of

the convenientia emphasize the voluntary, amicable nature of the agreement and the importance

of the convenientia in establishing or maintaining concord, pacis cumcordia,17 bona voluntate18

or bonae pacis19. Such agreements are to be based not on strict justice or force, but on amicitia,

on the love of peace, and concord.20

Within the broad category of agreements, convenientiae applied especially to mutual

agreements entered upon by two or more parties which carried an actionable penalty for failure

to comply with the stipulation of the agreement. The Leges Liutprandi stipulate that:

If a number of men should make a cartola convenientiae among themselves, and

afterwards one two three or more wish to remove themselves from this convenientia or to
break the penalty, let each one pay the penalty which they had imposed in its integrity,
because all had agreed in unanimity and no one forced them to make this agreement, and
then let each person pay who breaks this penalty, just as each person had agreed

Nutricis meae filiam filius tuae rapuit: facinus indignum quodque nos uosque inimicasset, nisi protinus scissem
te nescisse faciendum... Mulier autem illa iam libera est; quae turn demum uidebitur non ludibrio addicta sed
assumpta coniugio, se reus noster, pro quo precaris, mox cliens factus e tributario plebeiam potius incipiat
habere perso- nam q am olona iam. Ibid.
Nam meam haec sola seu compositio seu satisfactio uel mediocriter contumeliam emendat; qui tuis uotis atque
amicitiis hoc adquiesco, si laxat libertas maritum, ne con- st ingat po na apto m. Ibid.
Formulae Andecavenses, no. 45, p. 20.
Formulae Andecavenses, no. 59, p. 25.
Marculfi Formularum Liber II, no. 13, p. 83.
On th impo tan of amo in lat onfli t sol tion s St ph n D. Whit , Pa t m... l g m vin it t amo
judicium. The Settlement or Disputes by Compromise in Eleventh-C nt y W st n F an , in The American
Journal of Legal History XXII (1978), pp. 281-308.
Liutprandi leges anni XVII, cap. 107 M.G.H. Legum EH, p. 151: Si pl s hom nis a tolam on n ntia int
se fecerent, et poena posuerint, et postea unus duos nut tres uel amplius se de ipsa conuenentiam subtraere
uoluerent aut poena rupperent, unusquisque per caput conponat ipsa poena, quam posuerunt, in integrum. Quia
omnes unianimiter consenserunt, et nullos eos imperauit talis causam facere, ideo per caput conponat, qui
p nt ipsa po na, si t p ap t olonta ia ons ns nt.

Such voluntary but enforceable agreements provide the form for many bilateral, extra-

judicial settlements of disputes. One sees with particular clarity the use of the convenientia to

settle a dispute in a case between the monastery of St. Gallen and Count Isanbard of the Thurgau

(ca. 770-806) that was settled by a convenientia in 806.22 Isanbard was the son of count Warin

(ca. 754-774) who had played an important role in the creation and extension of comital

organization and of fiscal lands in Alemannia, thus contributing to the Carolingian restructuring

of Alemannia and earning the enduring animosity of St. Gallen historiographers.23 Wa ins own

property was located along the route connecting the upper Danube valley and the Rhinebergang

n a S hopfh im. Aft Wa ins d ath, Isanba d s d d him in th Th ga , b t in 779 f ll

into disfavor with Charlemagne. Early in the ninth century, he sought a rapprochement with St.

Gallen, perhaps as a way to improve his position in the area.24

In 806, as part of this rapprochement, Isanbard came to terms with the monastery over

property in the Durgau. This settlement took the form of a convenientia concluded between

Isanbard on the one hand and with Bishop Egino of Constanz, the rector of St. Gallen and abbot

Werdo on the other.25 Th do m nt, p s v d among St. Gall ns p io s o iginal

parchments, presents the fully elaborated elements of the convenientia and shows its continuity

with earlier tradition.26 The document begins with a prologue in which bishop Egino announces

the traditio and convenientia established with the consent of abbot Werdo and his advocate
Urkundenbuch der Abtei Sanct Gallen, ed. Hermann Wartmann, (Zurich, 1863), no. 190, pp. 180-81.
On Warin, procurator of Alemannia who was connected with the Widonen and probably one of the ancestors of
the Welfs see Karl Brunner, Oppositionelle Gruppen im Karolingerreich (Vienna, 1979), pp. 41-42, 52, and
esp. Mi ha l o golt , G s hi ht d G afs haft n Al manni ns in F ankis h Z it, in Vortrge und
Forschungen, Sonderband XXXI, (Sigmaringen, 1984); and ibid., Die Grafen Alemanniens in merowingischer
und karolingischer Zeit: einer Prosopographie (Sigmaringen, 1986), pp. 282-287.
Borgolte, Die Grafen Alemanniens, pp. 150-156, 284.
Wartmann, no. 190, p. 180: V n abilis in Ch isto pat Egino dono D i piscopus urbis Constantiense et rector
monasterii sancti Gallonis una cum fratre nostro Werdone abbate seu et cuncta congregatio sancti Galli
confessoris Christi etiam et advocato nostro Hrodino, pari consensu parique consilio istam traditionem et
convenientiam cons nti nt s, t s bt in ista a ta adnotat m ss vid t .
On the charters of St. Gallen see most recently Rosamond McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word
(Cambridge, 1989), pp. 77-134.

Hrodinus. The convenientia is a subjective statement of Isanbard who donates properties to St.

Gallen that he had acquired from his father. However, he goes on to explain that the reason for

this convenientia was so that th querellas that you have against me over the properties in the

Durgau from this day forth and in the future on the part of your monastery of St. Gallen you will

not p at against m o against my h i s.27 Mo ov , h ontin s if in th f t yo sho ld

wish to re-instigate these querellas against me or my heirs, ... my legitimate heirs will have the

power to recall all of these above-m ntion d p op ti s into th i ont ol.28 He further stipulates

that should he or his heirs attempt to contest this donation, they will pay three ounces of gold and

three pounds of silver.

This document is a formal and solemn conclusion of a dispute, prepared with care by the

deacon Mano who wrote the last three lines in litteris elongatis recalling the formal tradition of

royal diplomata, and witnessed by a total of 42 persons.29 And yet it is no judgment. The

negotiations are not presented as having taken place in any sort of court or mallum publicum but

only in villa nominata Wanc publice. The language of peace (bonae pacis) rather than of justice

recalls the convenientiae of the formulae Marculfi. Although Isanbard states that he makes the

convenientia for the redemption of his soul and for the soul of his father and mother, as Michael

Borgolte has emphasized, Isanbard never states that his claims on the disputed property are

unjust or that he is acting out of any sense of guilt for his actions or for those of his father. On

the contrary, he insists on his right to the property and his right to reclaim the donated property

Wa tmann, no, 90, p. 180: ... in am v o ation m t onv ni ntiam, t q llas, quas contra me habetis per
singula loca in Durgauge, ab hodierno die et deinceps de partibus monasterii vestri sancti Gallonis neque contra
me neque contra heredes meos n llo mq am t mpo non pp tatis....
Ibid., Q od si it m ipsas q llas ont a m a t h d s m os pp t vol itis, q od minim dim s
esse venturum vos aut successores vestri fecerint, tune legitimi heredes mei potestatem habeant absque
xsp tata t adition ipsas s s p i s nominatas in o m domination m vo a .
Borgolte, Die Grafen Alemanniens, p. 153.

should the monastery reopen the dispute, thus violating the agreement.30 The convenientia closes

the dispute and establishes a pax between the disputants, it does not establish a winner or a loser

in the dispute.31

Such settlements are bilateral agreements intended to end conflicts by mutual accord,

strengthened by the threat of the stipulation attached. Such convenientiae may be verified in the

presence of a third party, perhaps count or bishop, but they are neither judgments nor forced

compromises, although certainly their conclusion may have been brought about at least in part

through the efforts of the convener and by the friends and kin of the parties or even out of a

desire to avoid judgment.

Thus the conclusion of a convenientia could also be used to avoid a judicial contest.

Apparently, in some cases, it might be used to escape one already under way. Preventing such a

use of private agreements is the intent of title II, 2, 10 of the Lex Visigothorum, that condemns

those who begin a judicial process and then decide between themselves to remove their case

from judgment and to enter into a convenientia.32 The law states that many people are

accustomed to initiate suits before the king or his agents, but then to reject royal judgment in

favor of settling the dispute by entering into a convenientia with their adversary.33 The

ond mnation its lf s gg sts that th t mptation to on l d a as o t of o t might b g at

The convenientia between Isanbard and St. Gallen was not the only such agreement. In 837 one Winibert received
13 yok s of land t d vitanda d in ps a sa ont ntions p fata s. Wa tmann, no. 367, p. 341.
Lex Visigothorum II, 2, 10, M.G.H. Leges nationum Germanicarum I, p. 87. D his, q i n gotia s a i
principali iudicialiter incipiunt et postea inter se citra iudic ium pacificare presumunt et ad convenientiam
di . S P. D. King, Law and Society in the Visigothic Kingdom (Cambridge, 1972), pp. 93-94.
Lex Visigothorum II, 2, 10, M.G.H. Loges nationum Germanicarum I, p. 87. Sol nt nim pl iq , postquam
suarum intentionum iurgia principali adpetunt examine finienda, quandoque resoluti licentia legalem fugiendo
iacturam ad convenientie finem deducere, quam regiis auditibus protulerant causam. Ne ergo sub fraudis huius
argumento pars causantium iudicialis fori equitatem effugiat, ideo presentis legis sanctione decernimus, ut,
quicumque deinceps causam suam contra alium regio intimaverit culmini decernendam, nulla ratione se de
iudicio submoveat nec quamlibet cum suo adversario convenientiam agat; sed tarn diu cepti negotii
p oposition m int ndat, don galis l m ntia sp ial pa tib s i di i m p omat.

to both parties, and that such a conclusion was detrimental to the interests of the king and his

judicial officer.

The desire of the constituted authority to control the disputing process, and the desire of

the disputants to avoid judgment, was not unique to the Visigothic kingdom. The same concern

appears in the so-called Pactus pro tenore pacis of Childebert and Clothar. The third clause of

the Pactus Childeberti regis stip lat s that If on sho ld find his thi f and s tly sho ld

a pt omposition witho t j dgm nt h is lik a thi f.34 Similarly, the Decretio Chlotharii

regis p ovid s that if anyon who has b n obb d of his goods sho ld a pt omposition f om

a thi f, h too sho ld b s bj t to th g ilt of th ft.35 The Lex Baiwariorum, echoing the Pactus

pro tenore pacis, likewise stipulates that no one is to dare to accept composition from a thief

unless the thief has been judged before a judge.36

These Visigothic, Frankish and Bavarian instances of avoiding courts altogether or of

removing a dispute from a court raise the broader issue of self-help and settlement of disputes

not only outside of, but in opposition to, constituted pubic authority.

Convenientiae were flexible, mutually binding agreements, that could relate to the

conduct of disputes in other ways as well. The agreement might be between disputing parties, as

in the formulae and in the St. Gallen charters, but they could as well be between partners in a

dispute in order to achieve advantage over their opponents. Gregory of Tours uses the term for

secret sworn associations intended to advance the interests of one party against another. He

describes how, in 584, King Guntrum, replying to entreaties of his nephew Childebert, accuses

Pactus pro tenore Pacis dominorum Childeberti et Chlotharii regum, can. 3 M.G.H. Capit. I, p. 5: Si q is f t m
suum invenerit et occulte sine iudice compositionem ac p it, lat oni similis st.
Ibid., c. 13, p. 6: Si q is o lt d sibi f ata a q olib t lat on ompositionem acceperit, utraque latronis
lpam s bia at; P s ta n n i di ib s p s nt t .
Lex Baiwariorum IX, 17, M.G.H. Leges nationum Germanicarum V, ii, p. 380: Ut n mo d p obato f t
onposition m a lat on a s s sit a ip , nisi ant i di m s m i di t .

the latter of having written a pactum with Chilperic according to which the two would divide up

G nt ms kingdom. Th do m nt its lf is f d to as a convenientia (conibentia).37 Here

one sees convenientia used in the sense of a secret pact between equals to pursue a course of

action against another. It also shows the fluid boundary between mutual support in the disputing

process that can lead to a settlement, and the ever-present possibility of private warfare, carried

o t not only with th h lp of on s kin b t with on s swo n amici, that is a constant element of

early medieval society.

Such sworn convenientiae reappear at the end of the eighth-century in connection with

the famous canon of the 779 Herstal Capitulary outlawing guilds.38 The canon orders that no one

should presume to form guilds through mutual oaths.39 Scholars have rightly observed that the

canon condemns these gildonia because of the mutual oaths, coniurationes, which were their

basis, while allowing other self-help associations in time of need provided that they were not

created through oaths.40 Since the types of convenientiae mentioned in the capitulary include

charity, fire, and shipwreck, one cannot be certain that these associations are the same as those

created for mutual protection or for the pursuit of private vengeance such as those condemned by

later capitularies.41 Nor, for the purpose of examining the complex of relationships formed by

Gregori Episcopi Turonenses, Historia Francorum VII, 5, M.G.H. SSRM, I, i, p. 329: E pa tion s ipsas, ecce
man s v st a s bs iptions, q ib s ban onib n tiam onfi mastis.
c. 16, M.G.H. Cap. I, p. 51: D sa am ntis p gildonia invi m oni antib s, t n mo fa p a s mat. Alio
vero modo de illorum elemosinis aut de incendio aut de naufragio, quamvis convenentias faciant, nemo in hoc
i a p a s mat.
S sp. Otto G ha d O xl , Gild n als sozial G pp n in d Ka oling z it, in Das Handwerk in vor- und
frhgeschichtlicher Zeit I, Historische und rechtshistorische Beitrge und Untersuchungen zur Frhgeschichte
der Gilde, ed. Herbert Jankuhn et al., Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Gttingen (1981), pp.
284-354, esp. 301-302.
The Herstal prohibition was repeated for Aquitaine in 789: M.G.H. Capit. 1, p. 66, c. 16. The Synod of Frankfurt
in 794 forbade coniurationes (M.G.H. Capit. I, p. 77, no. 28, c. 31) as did the Diedenhofer Capitulary of 805
(M.G.H. Capit. I, p. 124, no. 44, c. 10). On these as well as the later Carolingian prohibitions of guilds and
coniurationes, including the Capitulare missorum of 821 (M.G.H. Cap. I, p. 301, . 7) and th oni atio of
th v lg s p omis m b tw n th Loi and S in against th Dan s in 859 (Annales Bertiniani a. 859) see

convenientia, need one retrace the debate concerning the relationship between sworn associations

for mutual assistance from Gallo-Frankish conventicula or clerical coniurationes,42 and swo n

f i ndships of th lat M ovingian p iod.43 We can however note the structural similarities

between these guilds or convenientiae and both earlier and later forms of horizontal associations.

They are voluntary associations taking place outside of constituted authority and hence private,

established to pursue the interests of a group against those of another. With the conibentia of

Gregory of Tours and the convenientia of the Capitulary of Herstal, one moves toward the

concept of sworn self-help associations through which conflicts can be pursued by violence as

well as by negotiation.

II. Commendation

Thus far, we have considered bilateral means of pursuing or settling conflicts, especially

contracts or convenientiae in which the two parties, motivated by the desire for amicitia, agree to

create concordia through a mutually binding agreement, or in which individuals unite themselves

in a mutual pact to assist each other in the pursuit of a common goal, including a conflict. But

bilateral means of settling quarrels were not the only, or even perhaps the most common extra-

judicial means of settling serious quarrels. Particularly when the disputants were of unequal

st ngth, th mo lik ly av n was to tak on s as to on s pat on, in th an i nt t adition of

F anz Staab, Unt s h ng n z Gesellschaft am Mitt l h in in d Ka oling z itz, in Geschichtliche

Landeskunde XI (Wiesbaden, 1975), pp. 372-379 and Oexle, Gilden als soziale Gruppen, pp. 301-308.
Otto G ha d O xl , Conj atio nd Gild im f h n Mitt lalt : in it ag z m P oblem der
sozialg s hi htli h n Kontin itt zwis h n Antik nd Mitt lalt , in ed. Berent Schwinekper, Gilden und
Znfte: Kaufmnnische und gewerbliche Genossenschaften im frhen und hohen Mittelalter in Vortrge und
Forschungen XXIX, (Sigmaringen, 1985), pp. 151-214; s Wolfgang F itz , Di f nkis h
S hw f nds haft d M owing z it, Zeitschrift fr Rechtsgeschichte LXXI, Germ, Abt. (1954), pp. 74-
Franz Staab argues that the gilds of the later eighth and ninth centuries are a continuation of the Merovingian
trustis, a position pointedly rejected by Oexle. Franz Staab, Untersuchungen zur Gesellschaft am Mittelrhein,
pp. 371-379.

Roman clientage. Indeed, appeal to one patronus to exert pressure on the opposing party, or to

intervene before, during, or after the initiation of a judicial proceeding was the cement of the

clientage relationship from the times of the Roman republic and continued, with slightly different

terminology, throughout the early Middle Ages.

Again, the evidence of such interventions, since they were informal and extra-judicial,

seldom appear as such in the judicial records themselves. Rather they appear in formularies of

commendation and especially in letters written on behalf of clients to powerful figures

imploring their intercession in place of, before, or even during a judicial proceeding.

Like the term convenientia, commendatio has been the subject of a great amount of

scholarly debate.44 Again, much of the literature devoted to commendation has focused on the

development of institutions and in particular on the relationship between the commendatio of the

Merovingian and Carolingian formularies and the vassalic bonds of the tenth and eleventh

centuries, rather than on the more fluid social bonds and alliances that these terms also

communicate. Here we shall look at how the language and connections operated in disputing

rather than at whether these were Germanic or Roman institutions of dependency or forerunners

of medieval feudal bonds.

The most-cited example of a commendation is the formula Qui se in alterius potestate

commendat of the Formulae Turonenses.45 In it an inferior declares his inability to feed and

clothe himself and states that he has asked and been granted by a superior, to whom the formula

is add ss d, to b tak n into th latt s mundoburdus. He recognizes further that he is bound to

serve and respect the superior individual for the remainder of his life. In the same way, the

See in particular Elisabeth Magnou-Nortier, Foi et fidlit: Recherches sur lvolution des liens personnels chez
les Francs du VIIe au IXe sicle (Toulouse, 1976), pp. 27-31 and 41-49.
M.G.H. Formulae. no. 43, p. 158. See Franois Louis Ganshof, Feudalism (New York, 1961), pp. 5-9 for the
classic discussion of this text and of commendatio from the perspective of formal contracts.

person who has accepted him is obligated to provide him protection and sustenance. If either

tries to alter the agreement he must pay a fine. This formula, like those we have considered

above, is again a convenientia, a private agreement protected by a sanction clause. As Ganshof

long ago pointed out, this agreement is a very general one, and while the specific version in the

Formulae Turonenses represents the extreme case of a person without means placing himself

under the mundiburd of another, commendations could be adopted to a variety of

circumstances.46 A particular type of commendation is that represented by formula 45 of the

same collection: De causis commendatis, which, like mandates in earlier formularies, grants an

ag nt th pow to p s nt on in l gal as s wh th in th pala o b fo j dg s, o

wh v it might b n ssa y fo m .47 Like the earlier mandates in the Formulae

Andecavenses48 it echoes, such mandates are not simply instruments granting power of attorney,

b t ath p titions ognizing, in th a t of g anting th a tho ity to p s on s int sts, th

subordinate position of the grantor vis--vis th ipi nt: Domno mihi iocali meo illo rogo

adque supplico dilcissima gracia vestra...49; Rogo, supplico atque publiciter tuae caritati

iniungo50. Such petitions were the essential cement binding together the humble and the

powerful in antique and early medieval society.

Letters of commendation, recommendation, and supplication are among the most

common genres of epistolary tradition. The Formulae Marculfi provide a series of forms for the

Ganshof, Feudalism, p. 9.
Formulae Turonenses no. 45, M.G.H. Formulae, p. 159: Rogo, s ppli o atq p bli it t a a itati iniungo, ut
omnes causas meas tam in pago quam et in palatio aut ante iudices, vel ubicumque mihi necessitas evenerit,
ipsas causas mess ad meam invicem prosequere et admallare facias et de ipsa prosecutione mihi reddas
certiorem. Et quicquid exinde egeris gesserisve, ratum et bene acceptum a me in omnibus esse cog noscas.
Quod mandatum, ut pleniorem obtineat firmitatem, manu propria subter firma vi et abonis viris ad firmare
Formulae Andecavenses, 1. b; 51 M.G.H. Formulae, pp. 4, 22.
Formulae Andecavenses 1 (b) M.G.H. Formulae, p. 4.
Formulae Turonenses 45, M.G.H. Formulae, p. 159.

commendation or recommendation of individuals to bishops,51 abbots,52 and lay aristocrats.53 A

particularly important sub-genre of such letters are those asking for assistance in the courses of

disputes. Ian Wood has pointed out how common such requests are in the letters of Sidonius,

Avitus, and Venantius Fortunatus.54 One sees similar requests in the correspondence of Gregory

the Great and Desiderius of Cahors. Here one recognizes the ancient role of patron intervening

on behalf of his client, urging colleagues and counterparts to look into complicated legal cases,

to use their influence to assist supplicants. The letter of Sidonius to Pudens discussed above is a

case in point. On one level is the offer of a bilateral settlement, but at another level, it is the

intervention of Sidonius on behalf of his client in which Pudens is urged to make of his

tributarius a cliens, implying that it is better to have the latter than the former.55

If in the bilateral convenientia the emphasis was on pax and amicitia, in these

relationships the operative language is humility and deference, commendatio, not necessarily in a

strict, legal sense, but nevertheless both implied in the relationship between patron and party to

the conflict and in the recommendation, on behalf of the aggrieved party, to the intervener.

Commendo vindicium necessarium meum, writes Sidonius when he urges Petronius to

intervene on behalf of the deacon Vindicius in an affair of a disputed testament.56

An appeal on behalf of another client, termed humilis, obscurus, despicabilisque, is based

on th ipi nts w ll-known attachment to honor and anger at the faults of others.57 Such

interventions are the very essence of patronage and power, and appear throughout the early

Middle Ages whenever a petitioner asks the assistance of another in the pursuit of a grievance.

Formulae Marculfi, no. 46, M.G.H. Formulae, p. 102.
Ibid., no. 47, pp. 103-104.
Ibid., no. 50, p. 105.
Wood, Disputes in late fifth- and sixth-century Gaul, p. 8.
Sidoni s, V, xix, d. Loy n, vol. II, p. 207: Mox li ns fa t s t ib ta io pl beiam potius incipiat habere
p sonam q am olona iam.
Sidonius, V, i, ed. Loyen, vol. II, pp. 173-174.
Sidonius, III, ix, ed. Loyen, vol. II, p. 98.

A particularly insightful case is the network of informal appeals for assistance presented

in the letters of Desiderius of Cahors in the early seventh century.58 D sid i ss onn tions at

court make him the object of appeals for intervention on behalf of correspondents from across

the Frankish kingdom. An abbot Bertegyselus urges him to use his influence to assist him in a

causa against the Patricius Phylippus.59 Rauracius of Nevers begs his assistance on behalf of a

land disp t involving Ra a i s dio s .60

The most illuminating cases of Desiderius using his network to intervene on behalf of

others involved in disputes is that of Bobila, a wealthy heiress who, like her father Agilenus

before her was devoted to the church of Cahors and would eventually be buried there.61 Around

647 Desiderius exchanged letters with bishops Paul of Verdun and Abbo of Metz in the course of

his ffo ts to s a satisfa to y o t om in a p op ty disp t involving po tions of obilas

property that had come into the royal fisc. Here one sees him using his influence, his close ties to

the royal palace, and judicious gifts to win supporters on behalf of Bobila and, ultimately, his

own church.

obilas fath Agil n s had own d th villa of Ro tabo l n a Rod z. H had sold a

portion of this villa to Bishop Verus of Rodez. Aft his d ath, obilas h sband S v s had

apparently redeemed this portion and then transferred the entire villa and other portions of his

wif s inh itan to King Dagob t I. Th king th n assign d th villa of Ro tabo l to th

Th l tt s hav b n most ntly dit d by Dag No b g, Epist la S. D sid ii Cad nsis in Studia Latina
Stockholmiensia VI (Sto kholm, 1961). On D sid i s s J an D liat, L s att ib tions ivil s des vques
m ovingi ns: L x mpl d Didi , vq d Caho s (630-655) in Annales du Midi XCI (1979), pp. 237-254;
Martin Heinz lmann, D sid i s in Lexikon des Mittelalters 3, 1986, pp. 725-726; and his is hof nd
Herrschaft vom sptantiken Gallien bis zu den karolingischen Hausmeiern. Die institution ll n G ndlag n, in
ed. Friedrich Prinz, Herrschaft und Kirche: Beitrge zur Entstehung und Wirkungsweise episkopaler und
monastischer Organisationsformen, Monographien zur Geschichte des Mittelalters XXXIII, (Stuttgart 1988),
pp. 23-82, esp. 73-80.
II, 2, pp. 45-46.
II, 7, pp. 54-55.
Bobila and her husband Severus appear as patrons of the church of Cahors in the Vita Desiderius, ch. 28, M.G.H.
SSRM IV, p. 585.

church of Metz in return for 50 solidii. After the death of Severus and Dagobert, Bobila sought to

recover the villa from Sigebert III along with others that she claimed her husband had illegally

alienated so that she could donate them to the church of Cahors.62

Desiderius, eager to secure the villas for his own church, sent emissaries with letters to

bishops Abbo and Paul asking that they intervene on behalf of Bobila before the royal court.63

Pa l sponds to D sid i s, indi ating that h has b om involv d in obilas affai s as

Desiderius had requested, but providing no details. Instead, he informs him that the bearer of the

letter would provide him a verbal account of his efforts on behalf of Bobila and Desiderius.

While he does not trust the details of his efforts to writing, he does profusely thank Desiderius

for ten vessels of wine that Desiderius had sent him, perhaps to encourage his intervention on

behalf of Bobila.64

In a s ond l tt , ishop Abbo of M tz sponds to D sid i ss q sts, b t only aft

the latter had sent two different emissaries urging him to intervene on behalf of Bobila. The

bishop of Metz informs Desiderius that he has done what was requested and that now Bobila

should be able to recover some of her property.65 However, Abbo is much less forthcoming with

th p op ty that had b n assign d to his own h h. H minds D sid i s that obilas

father had sold the property and that Severus had legally redeemed it before transferring it to the

Church of Metz. On this issue, Abbo urges Desiderius to use his own influence on Bobila to

induce her to sign a preliminary agreement (exemplaria) that Abbo had sent her, pointing out that

it is b tt to sha som thing with anoth than to hold nothing by on s s lf.66 Here one sees

S th xplanato y not s to No b gs edition, pp. 63-66.
Appa ntly D sid i s l tt to Abbo may b I, 9, pp. 27-28.
II, 11, p. 59: P a t a m ltipli s dominationi st a agim s g atias d logias sanctas, de Falerno nobile uel
as la d m, q a nobis tanti hab istis di ig .
II, 13, pp. 63-66.
Q ia m li s st aliq id m alio onpa ti q am sol s nihil hab , p. 63.

the importance of Desiderius onn tions Fo yo a w ll known in th oyal palace, where

yo w a d writes Abbo.67

Throughout the exchange of letters, one also sees the language of petition, of deference,

of app als to a s ns of j sti and gracia according to which the recipient is expected to move

fo wa d th s ppli ants a s o tsid of o pa all l to th m hanisms of th o t. Th q sts

for intervention, transmitted through emissaries, present the bearers of the letters as humble

petitioners, commended by the writer to the patricinium of the recipient.68 At the same time, the

realities of court favor, of timely gifts, and of discretion and secrecy determine the ability of such

n two ks to hav th i d si d ff t. D sid i s sp ial lationship with th o rt on the one

hand and with the lady Bobila on the other makes him the ideal power-broker to arrange an

advantageous settlement on behalf of his episcopal colleague.

This vertical approach to disputing can be an alternate to bilaterial approaches to dispute,

or it can be in competition with such approaches. There is a constant tension between attempts at

horizontal association and the desire of elites to reinforce vertical ties at the expense of

horizontal ones. The most telling example of this tension is the often-studied case of Gregory the

G ats int v ntion on b half of th soap-makers corpus or craft association of Naples.69 The vir

clarissimus palatines Iohannes had apparently attempted to take control of the guild both by

appropriating the funds paid by individuals upon entering this association, and by offering

Ibid., vos nim t in pala io gis, bi in t iti f istis, b n ogniti stis.
As in I, 9, p. 27: D m lato p a s nti m api m ad obs ando illo monast io i ss s a dit, t q ia n ssa st
uestro eum patrocinio commendemus, igitur famulatus mei offitia persoluens supplico ut eum sicut famulum
gratia pietatis uest a ipiat omm ndat m.
MGH Ep. II, IX, 113, pp. 118-119. See Gunar Mickwitz, Die Kartellfunktionen der Znfte und ihre Bedeutung bei
der Entstehung des Zunftwesens. Eine Studie in sptantiker und mittelalterlicher Wirtschaftsgeschichte,
Societas Scientiarum Fennica. Commentationes Humanarum Litterarum VIII. 3 (Helsingfors, 1936), pp. 183-
186; L llia C a o R ggini, L asso iazioni p of ssionali n l mondo omano-bizantino in Artigianato e
tecnica nella societ dellalto medioevo occidentale in Settimane di studio del Centro italiano di studi sullalto
medioevo XVIII (Spoleto, 1971), pp. 59-193, esp. 192-193, n. 247; Pi Ra in , L s asso iations d s mti s
n Itali d ant l ha t Moy n Ag , in Nuova rivista storica LXIV (1980), pp. 506-508; Oexle, Conjuratio und
Gilde, pp. 191-195.

members who wished to leave the corpus his own patrocinium and protection in contradiction to

their oaths of mutual assistance. Gregory appeals to the bishop of Naples to intervene in order to

dissuade Johannes, urging him to resort to the prefect only if Iohannes refuses this informal

intervention.70 While it is telling that Johannes is attempting to weaken the horizontal ties of the

guild, it is equally telling that these ties are apparently already ineffective. Unlike the later

Carolingians, Gregory finds nothing illegitimate about the mutual oath uniting the members of

the soap-makers association. Far from being a source of illegitimacy, the very basis for their

association and its violation is one of the principal grounds that Gregory offers for objecting to

Johann s a tiviti s.71 However, the oath of mutual assistance is apparently insufficient to protect

the corpus, and the representatives of the guild have appealed to Gregory, in effect placing

themselves under his patricinium rather than that of Johannes, and Gregory bases his appeal

upon the necessity of protecting the members from the sin of breaking their oaths, and also on his

responsibility as patron to protect his clients. Thus Gregory and Johannes can be seen as vying

for the role of patron of the corpus saponariorum and present similar threats to the corporate

autonomy of the association.

Vertical efforts at self-help, with its long-term implications for the creation of personal

followings through commendatio, like the bilateral convenientia, shades almost imperceptibly

from the normal, accepted process of pursuing alternative dispute resolution to competing and

thus condemned means of settling conflict. Again, by the period of Carolingian consolidation, it

Quod si, quod non credimus, ammonitionem vestram praedictum Iohannem vi rum clarissimum videtis forte
differre, cum eminentissimo filio nostro praefecto stricte loquimini, ut ipse, hoc sicut in praesenti dici fecimus,
quomodo praeviderit, rationabiliter faciat emendare, quatenus et eos qui tuitionis nostrae suffragia quaesiverunt
quorun- dam voluntas injuste non opprimat et ille ab opere se indecenti prohibitum et pro suae magis animae
tilitat ognos at. Ibid., p. 119.
Pariter etiam providendum est, ut et pactum, ubi sacramenta sunt praestita, conservetur et cum dispendio animae
suae temporalia lucra contraveniendo non appe tant, ne et periurii discrimen incurrant et commoda prave
d sid ata non apiant. Ibid., p. 119.

is the oath that is seen by centralizing authority as the boundary marking the legitimate and

illegitimate limits of vertical self-help.

III. Arbitration

Closely related both to bilateral agreements and to vertical appeals for assistance outside

of the judicial system is the mutual consent to put a dispute in the hands of an arbitrator.

However, as in the cases of informal bilateral negotiation and the manipulation of patronage ties

to influence the conclusion of disputes, arbitration proceedings have left little trace in early

medieval documentation. What there is concerns primarily bishops as arbitrators, but this

evidence, culled primarily from historiography and hagiography, is very problematic.

Arbitration was an accepted means of concluding conflicts within Roman legal tradition.

An arbitrator could be chosen by parties to a conflict as an alternative to judgment. As the

Th odosian Cod stat s, P ivat p sons an h a thos p sons who hav giv n th i ons nt,

even without th knowl dg of th j dg .72 A primary difference in roles, however, was that

unlike the judge, the arbiter was to look to the specific circumstances of the dispute rather than to

the letter of the law. Receptum, that is, submission of a dispute to arbitration, was voluntary, and

could not be enforced by an action. The agreement between the parties to abide by the decision

of the arbiter, the compromissum, was enforced as a penal stipulation, but the decision of the

arbiter could not be enforced as a judgment.73

1.27.2: Epis opat i di i m sit at m omnib s, q i s a di i a sa dotib s adquieverint. Cum enim possint
privati inter consentientes etiam iudice nesciente audire, his licere id patimur, quos necessario veneramur
eamque illorum iudicationi adhibendam esse reverentiam, quam vestris deferri necesse est potestatibus, a quibus
non li t p ovo a . S Ka l L o No thli hs, Mat iali n z m is hofsbild a s d n sptantiken
R htsq ll n, in Jahrbuch fr Antike und Christentum XVI (1973), p. 44.
(Cod. 56, 1). On a bit ation in Roman law s Ka l H inz Zi gl , Das p ivate Scheidsgericht im antiken
mis h n R ht, in Mnchener Beitrge zur Papyrusforschung und antiken Rechtsgeschichte LVIII (Munich,
1971). For a classic overview of arbitri see Wilhelm Rein, Das Privatrecht und der Zivilprozess der Rmer von
der ltesten Zeit bis auf Justinian (Aalen, 1964), pp. 868-869.

Nevertheless, the position of arbiter is relatively undeveloped in late Roman law and as a

formal, extra-judicial procedure the form and the language of arbitrator, receptum arbitri and

compromissum largely disappear from the post-Roman formularies and narrative sources. It is

impossible to know to what extent this disappearance indicates the decline of arbitration or

simply a preference for presenting resolutions of disputes in a language of definitive judgment

that masks compromise and arbitration. In any case, this alternative to judgment is often assumed

to have been assumed and transformed within the context of the episcopalis audientia.74

However, as the essays by Professors Vismara and Hartmann in this volume suggest, episcopal

intervention in the settlement of disputes tended to be within the context of judicial jurisdiction

rather than arbitration.75 Whether exercising an authority derived from Roman legal tradition,

usurping the authority of the comes, or simply filling a void left by the retreat of public authority,

bishops clearly exercised judicial authority, both in cooperation with civil authorities and


Still, the judicial role of bishops did not encompass their entire role in conflict resolution.

They had been enjoined since the apostolic period to serve as agents of peace, to work to resolve

disputes among Christians, and, in the words of a fifth- nt y t xt, to g disp tants to p a

ath than to j dg m nt.77 This role extended far beyond the law court and included their roles

S in pa ti la W. S ib, Epis opalis a di ntia, in Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung fr Rechtsgeschichte,
Romanistische Abteilung LXXXIV (1967), pp. 162-217; and Ziegler, Das private Scheidsgericht, p. 281.
See also Noethlichs, Materialien, pp. 28-59; Heinzelmann, Bischof und Herrschaft vom sptantiken Gallien;
F i d i h P inz, Bischfliche Stadtherrschaft im F ank n i h vom 5. bis z m 7. Jah h nd t, in Historische
Zeitschrift CCXVII (1974), pp. 1-35; R inhold Kais , is hofsh s haft zwis h n Kningt m nd
Frstenmacht. Studien zur bischflichen Stadtherrschaft im westfrnkisch-franzsischen Reich im frhen und
hoh n Mitt lalt , in Pariser historische Studien XVII, ( onn, 1981); and his Knigtum und
is hofssh s haft im f hmitt lalt li h n N st i n, in Prinz, Herrschaft und Kirche, pp. 81-108.
In addition to Heinzelmann, Kaiser, and Noethlichs see Georg Scheibelreiter, Der Bischof in merowingischer Zeit,
in Verffentlichungen des Instituts fr sterreichische Geschichtsforschung (Vienna, 1983), pp. 172-177.
Statuta Ecclesiae Antiqua, c. 54 in ed. Charles Munier, Concilia Galliae, A. 314-A. 506 in Corpus
Christianorum, ser. lat. CXLVIII (Turnholt, 1963), Beali 175. See James, Beati pacifici, p. 26 for a summary
and discussion of this tradition. On the earliest evidence of bishops as arbitrators and peace-makers in the
community see Noethlichs, Materialien zum Bischofsbild, pp. 41-42.

not only as arbitrators but also as protectors of the poor and widows, as liberators or ransomers

of captives, and as guarantors of ecclesiastical sanctuary78.

However, in spite of these injunctions, how seriously and systematically bishops

exercised their role of peace-maker in early Middle Ages is extremely difficult to determine.

Most of the evidence, whether from laws, conciliar records, formularies, records of placita, or

narrative sources, presents bishops either as themselves parties in disputes carried out within a

judicial proceeding or as themselves acting in a formal judicial capacity. Evidence of bishops as

arbitrators comes essentially from hagiography and from the Histories of Gregory of Tours.

Gregory describes his own role as peace-maker, as in his attempt to arbitrate in feuds such as that

which arose between Sichar and Chramnisind in 58579 as well as intersession by himself and

other bishops on behalf of those condemned to death.80

Such evidence of active episcopal intervention in disputes before, during, and after

formal judicial proceedings is highly problematical when attempting to assess the actual extent to

which bishops participated as third-party arbitrators in the day-to-day process of conflict

resolution. First, the examples from Gregory, with the possible exception of the case involving

thieves who broke into the church of St. Martin, are concerned with major political conflicts

rather than ordinary criminal or civil actions. They tell us nothing about the extent to which

bishops might have ordinarily interposed themselves into conflicts in order to bring about an

a bit at d s ttl m nt. S ond, G go ys p s ntation of th s as s is p ima ily id ologi al. In

James, Beati pacifici, pp. 34-44; Scheibelreiter, Der Bischof in merowingischer Zeit, pp. 177-192.
Gregorii Episcopi Turonenses, Historia Francorum VII, 47. See James, Beati pacifici, pp. 25-26.
See James, Beati pacifici, pp. 35-36. Gregory saves the lives of thieves who broke into the church of St. Martin
LH VI, 10, M.G.H. SSRM I, i, pp. 279-280; He saves Counts Barachar and Bladast from execution by King
Guntram, LH VIII, 6 M.G.H. SSRM I, i, pp. 374-375. He saves Duke Bertulf and his associate Arnegisel from
execution at the hands of King Sigibert LH VIII, 26, M.G.H. SSRM I, i, p. 390; Bishop Leudovald of Bayeux
intercedes for Baddo, LH IX, 13, M.G.H. SSRM I, i, pp. 427-428; Two unnamed bishops attempt to save the tax
collector Parthenius, LH III, 36, M.G.H. SSRM I, i, pp.131-132; Guntram Boso seeks to obtain pardon through
bishop Ageric of Verdun and then Bishop Magneric of Trier LH IX, 8, M.G.H. SSRM I, i, p. 421.

other words, they say more about the ideal of episcopal identity than about the give and take of

daily life. In his penetrating examination of Gregory of Tours as a satirist, Walter Goffart has

recognized the essential problem in analyzing such ideological accounts.81 We must understand

how bishops and other clerical authors perceived and constructed accounts of feuds, of episcopal

interventions, of divine justice, in order to assess properly how such accounts should be

understood. Gregory was a moralist, w iting, as Goffa t has s gg st d, a tim l ss l sson the

ons q n s of so ial dis o d and its m dy.82 Thus, he reconstructs discord in a particular

way, disp nsing with th onn t dn ss that v nts t nd to ass m , isolating s bj ts, omitting

details such as family relationships, and intensifying individual scenes.83 For Gregory, feuds of

th so t that a os b tw n Si ha and Ch amnisind Goffa t points o t, a not an xoti impo t,

acclimatized to Roman Gaul by Visigoths, Burgundians, and lately Franks. They are the

customary expression of human aggression, ranging from public wars between Franks and

Th ingians to p tty q a ls b tw n f llow townsm n and kind d join d by ma iag . As a

ons q n , Goffa t ightly asks wh th G go ys p dil tion fo x ptional in id nts

ill minat th ma gins ath than th no m of ont mpo a y l gality?84 Thus Gregory may well

quote Matthew 9, Beati pacifici, quoniam filii Dei vocabuntur,85 but even while recognizing the

traditional obligation of the Christian clergy to value peace over judgment, it is unclear how

much such a role of arbitrator was actually fundamental episcopal activity or a role played

p ima ily by bishops. G go ys d s iptions t ll mo abo t th id al of pis opal id ntity than

about the give and take of daily life.

Walter Goffart, The Narrators of Barbarian History (A. D. 550-800) Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul
the Deacon (Princeton, 1988), pp. 112-234.
Goffart, Narrators, p. 205.
Ibid., pp. 206-207.
Ibid., p. 210.
LH VII, 47, M.G.H. SSRM I, i, pp. 366-368. See James, Beati pacifiai, p. 25.

Both in its voluntary nature and in the language of pax, amicitia, and concordia,

episcopal arbitration, far from being the unique alternative to justice based on Christian religious

values, belongs to the social and cultural field of the convenientia. These values were not unique

to the clergy, nor was episcopal competence in arbitration any different from that of lay

arbitrators. According to the Codex Theodosianus, disputes between laity could be transferred to

an episcopale iudicium, only with the mutual consent of both parties. Moreover, even then, the

episcopal decision could be communicated to the secular judge for execution only with both

pa ti s ons nt. Th s as o ts of a bit ation, pis opal o ts did no more than any mutually

agreed-upon arbiter might do.86 Choosing an arbitrator was then at the initiative of the disputants,

not the arbitrator, and while bishops may well have been chosen for this role, whether it was

because of their religious authority or their position as members of the aristocracy with deep ties

within the local community is impossible to say. Likewise, the silence of our sources concerning

lay arbitration may again reflect the ideological purposes of ecclesiastical writers. Even in

seemingly unambiguous cases of episcopal arbitration as the famous dispute between Sichar and

Ch amnisind, G go ys a o nt do s not nti ly hid anoth l m nt of th att mpt to s ttl

this violent conflict.87 Gregory presents himself as the principal arbiter, begging the two to make

peace and ultimately providing part of the compensatio f om his h hs off s. Still, on m st

remember that the settings in which this settlement took place was both times before not only the

Cod x Th od. 1, 27,1. I I d x p o s a solli it din obs va d b bit, t, si ad pis opal i di i m p ovo t ,
silentium accommodetur et, si quis ad legem Christia nam negotium transferre voluerit et illud iudicium
observare, audiatur, etiamsi negotium apud iudicem sit inchoatum, et pro sanctis habeatur, quidquid ab his fuerit
iudicatum: ita tarnen, ne usurpetur in eo, ut unus ex litigantibus pergat ad supra dictum auditorium et arbitrium
suum enuntiet. Iudex enim praesentis causae integre habaere debet arbitrium, ut omnibus accepto latis
p on nti t. S Noelhlichs, Materialen, pp. 43-44.
LH VII, 47, M.G.H. SSRM I, i, pp. 366-368. See James, Beati pacifici, pp. 25-26 and the literature cited in n. 2, p.

bishop but also the iudex and a group of citizens, presumably the boni homines of Tours.88

Although Gregory only reports his own exhortations to the two principals, the proposed

s ttl m nts w appa ntly wo k d o t against th law with th a tiv involv m nt and

approval not only of the bishop but of the secular court as well. The relative importance of the

roles of each of the three agents of the compromise is impossible to determine, but there is no

evidence that Gregory acted independently to negotiate a settlement to the conflict or that he was

th p in ipal a bit ato . Th d si to s ttl th disp t ut tantum pacifici redderentur was

shared by bishop, judges, and citizens alike.

Still such settlements, like coniurationes and private interventions of influential patrons,

would run afoul of later Carolingian attempts to control the process of conflict settlement. Canon

26 of Cha l magn s Capitulare missorum generale of 802 o d s That j dg s j dg j stly

according to written law, not according to their arbitrium.89 In one sense this may be taken as

evidence of Carolingian concerns for justice. In another, it is evidence of Carolingian concern for


To conclude these observations on extra-judicial means of handling disputes, we see that

horizontal mechanisms of voluntary association, vertical bonds of patronage, or religious

authority of arbitrators could be called upon to replace, supplement, or at times subvert formal

institutions of adjudication. The existence of convenientiae, of commendatio, and of episcopal

arbitration do not necessarily indicate the absence or weakness of judicial institutions in

themselves. However, these extra-judicial mechanisms did more than simply end disputes: they

The first attempt to settle the feud took place apparently without the involvem nt of th bishop: D hin m in
i di io ivi m.... Ibid., p. 366. The second took place before the bishop, the iudex, and a group of citizens:
Q od nos a di nt s, v himenter ex hoc molesti, adiuncto iudice, mittimus ad eos legationem, ut in nostri
praesentia venientes, accepta ratione, cum pace discederent, ne iurgium in amplius pulularet. Quibus
v ni ntib s oni n tisq ivib s, go aio.... Ibid., p. 367. The third likewise took place before the judge and a
group of judges, presumably the boni homines: T n pa t s a i di ad ivitat m d d ta .... Ibid., p. 367.
Capitulare generale missorum, c. 26. M.G.H. Capit. I, n. 33, p. 96: Ut i di s s nd m s iptam l gem juste
i di nt, non s nd m a bit i m s m.

also affirmed group identity and solidarity, bonds of dependency and deference, and spiritual

authority. Such extra-judicial mechanisms ran afoul of judicial systems in times, such as the

early reign of Charlemagne, when the directors of judicial power saw the bonds they created,

primarily through constitutive oaths, a threat not so much to royal justice but to the monopoly of

royal power.

Chapter Nine

Gabriel Monod, Fustel de Coulanges and Sichars adventures:

The Birth of Scientific History in the Nineteenth Century1

Gravia tunc inter Toronicos cives bella civilia surrexerunt.2 Thus begins what Philippe

D p x has s gg st d might b s n as th a o nt of a faid x mplai . C tainly, fo w ll

over a century, the violent account of Sichar and Chramnesind have been extracted from Gregory

of To s Historiae by historians and philologists as not only an exemplary feud but as a rcit

p s ntativ of G go ys so i ty and of his p ption and d s iption of it.

I. Introduction: Sichar and Chramnesind in the Twentieth Century

This dispute has held a privileged place in analyses of feuding in the Frankish world.

Michael Wallace-Hadrill, in his article on the Bloodfeud of the Franks that first appeared in

1959, pays significant attention to the feud between Sichar and Chramnesind, saving it for the

last of G go ys f ds that h analyz s. Mo ov , ma king that m h has b n w itt n abo t

it,3 he traced briefly its analysis in German legal history by Alexander Gl,4 Alfred von

Halban,5 Heinrich Brunner,6 Felix Dahn,7 and Julius Gobel8.

Fi st p blish d as Gab i l Monod, F st l d Co lang s t l s av nt s d Si hai : La naissan d lhistoi
s i ntifiq a XIX si l , in La Vengeance, 400-1200 ed. Dominique Barthlemy, Franois Bougard, and
Rgine Le Jan (Rome, 2006), pp. 87-99.
Gregorii Episcopi Turonensis Libri Historiarum, eds. Bruno Krusch and Wilhelm Levison, MGH SSRM I VII, 47
(Hannover, 1951), pp. 366-368; IX, 19, pp. 432-434.
John Michael Michael Wallace-Hadrill, The Long-Haired Kings and Other Studies in Frankish History (New
York, 1962), p. 141.
Al xand Gl, Die Prozessbeilegung nach den frnkischen Urkunden des VII.-X. Jah h nd ts, in
Untersuchungen zur deutschen Staats- und Rechtsgeschichte 102 (Breslau, 1910).
Alfred von Halban, Das rmische Recht in den germanischen Volksstaaten, 2 vol., Untersuchungen zur deutschen
Staats- und Rechtsgeschichte, Heft 56, 64. (Breslau, 1899-1901).
Heinrich Brunner, Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte (Berlin, 1958-1961), vol. 1, 1961.
Felix Dahn, Bausteine: Gesammelte kleine Schriften von Felix Dahn (Berlin, 1879-84), pp. 90, 99.
Julius Goebel, Felony and Misdemeanor: A Study in the History of the Criminal Law, with an introduction by
Edward Peters (Philadelphia, 1976, c1937).

A generation later, in her study of the Frankish elite in the sixth century, Heike Grahn-

Hoek discusses the case at length, arguing that treatment of wergeld by the courts presided over

by the count and Bishop Gregory support his contention that no legally recognized Frankish

nobility existed in the sixth century.9

But Sichar and Chramnesind have not only caught the attention of historians of law.

Edward James,10 who begins his study of Bishops and the law in sixth-century Gaul with the

account of this same feud, traces its analysis in the history of episcopal authority through Sara

Hansell MacGonagle, 11 Henry G. J. Beck,12 Walter Ullmann,13 and Michel Rouche14.

Indeed, the most important study of Sichar and Chramnesind pays no attention at all to

the questions of vengeance or feud. In his classic study of the representation of reality in western

lit at ,E i hA ba h hos th in id nt to int p t G go ys Latin styl . A ba h, whil

app iating G go ys styl b a s it v als to s a fi st a ly t a of th awak ning

senso y app h nsion of things and v nts,15 n v th l ss ha a t iz s G go ys p sp tiv

as severely limited and divorced from any larger meaning. If Gregory presents things and events

in a vivid manner, things that a classical author would never have bothered to mention, it is

b a s of th xt m limitations of G go ys p ptions:

Heike Grahn-Ho k, Die frnkische Obersicht im 6. Jahrhundert. Studien zu ihrer rechtlichen und politischen
St ll ng, in Vortrge und Forschungen 21 (Sigmaringen, 1976), pp. 101-107.
Edward Jam s, Beati pacifici: Bishops and the Law in Sixth-C nt y Ga l, in d. John ossy, Disputes and
Settlements: Law and Human Relations in the West (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 25-46, esp. 25-26.
Sara Hansell MacGonagle, The poor in Gregory of Tours; a study of the attitude of Merovingian society towards
the poor, as reflected in the literature of the time (New York, 1936).
Henry G. J. Beck, The pastoral care of souls in South-East France during the sixth century (Rome, 1950),
Analecta Gregoriana, v.51 Series Facultatis Historiae Ecclesiasticae, Sectio B, n.8, esp. pp. 317-344.
Walt Ullmann, P bli W lfa and So ial L gislation in th Ea ly M di val Co n ils, Studies in Church
History 1 (1971), pp. 1-39.
Mi h l Ro h , La mat i l d s pa v s, in d. Michel Mollat, tudes sur lhistoire de la pauvret (Paris,
1974), pp. 83-110.
Eric Auerbach, Mimesis, The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Princeton, 1953), p. 95. The
German original was famously written in Istanbul between May 1942 and April 1945 when a very different sort
of barbarian feud was ravaging Europe.

This obs vation shows how na ow G go ys ho izon ally is, how littl p sp tiv h
has with which to view a large, coherent whole, how little he is in a position to organize
his subject matter in accordance with the points of view which had once obtained....His
material is essentially limited to what has been brought before his eyes. He has no
political point of view in the old sense; if he may be said to have any at all, it is the
interest of the Church; but there again his perspective is restricted; he does not conceive
of the Church as a whole in such a way that his work forcibly conveys that whole;
everything is locally restricted, both in substance and in thought.16

Not only is A ba hs G go y nabl to p iv b yond his imm diat s o ndings,

he cannot use language to organize events. He cannot create causal connections between events;

some trivial details are exaggeratedly detailed while others that might seem essential to his story,

such as motivations or connections among persons, are omitted entirely. At crucial moments in

the account, such as the description of the first legal proceedings, his language, Auerbach

contends, fails him entirely. He conclud s that: G go y is not apabl of a anging th

occurrences themselves in an orderly fashion.17

II. Monod, Fustel, and Scientific History

But whatever approach medievalists have taken to the affair of Sichar and Chramnesind,

they find themselves referring to Gab i l Monod and his 1886 a ti l , L s av nt sd

Si hai , whi h app a d in th Revue Historique of which he was director.18 This article,

which explicitly undertakes to apply the tradition of German scholarship Monod learned as a

student of Georg Waitz in Gttingen between 1968 and 1870 (the article was originally written

for a Festschrift dedicated to Waitz)19 to understanding the origins of French justice. The article

Ibid., pp. 84-85.
Ibid., p. 83.
Gab i l Monod, L s av nt s d Si hai , Rvue historique 31 (1886), pp. 259-290.
la mmoire de M. le professeur Georges Waitz, 1813-1886 [electronic document]: hommage respectueux des
anciens lves Gabriel Monod et Marcel Thvenin. tudes sur la proprit au Moyen-g , la p op it et la
j sti d s mo lins t fo s / Ma l Thv nin. G o g s Waitz / Gab i l Monod. L s av nt s d Si hai /
Gabriel Monod.

is a critical analysis of a text, an analysis of the story in light of the Salic Law, and while

narrowly focused on the text of Gregory, it was clearly meant as a demonstration of how to

practice the new scientific history that Monod and others of his generation had imported to

France. Wallace-Had ill li d on Monods analysis of the enormity of the composition required

and Grahn-Ho k bas d m h of h analysis on Monods a ti l . Jam s d aws pa ti la

att ntion to Monods analysis. And in F n h handbooks today, Monods a ti l that app a d in

1886 continues to be cited as part of the essential literature on the blood feud in Frankish society.

Only A ba h, how v , m ntions that Monods a ti l was not only a mod l of appli d

scientific history in the Germanic tradition but explicitly an attack on Fustel de Coulanges and

his Romanist analysis of th t xt, a t nd that s m d in asingly old-fashioned by the mid-

1880s and that would soon disappear. Auerbach, always the philologist, suggests that their

ont ov sy is d not m ly to th ambig ity of th wo d placitum but also to the general lack

of o d ly a ang m nt in th h to i al st t .

Fo F st l d Co lang s, th p obl m lay not with G go ys Latin b t with th

comparative method of Monod. In his response, published the following year in the Revue des

questions historiques, Fustel castigated Monod and by implication other young historians in the

tradition of German scholarship, for replacing painstaking analysis, largely philological, with


Si M. Monod avait fait une vraie analyse, il aurait pris l n ap s la t haq mot d
lhisto i n, il n a ait h h l s ns, il a ait s to t bi n ma q la p ns d son
a t dans haq lign , t il a ait dgag l fait, l sag , linstit tion q la t avait
en vue en crivant cette ligne.

Of course, what was at stake was much more than how to read the text of Gregory or indeed

wh th th way to analyz t xts was to b ompa ativ o to p o d on wo d aft

F st l d Co lang s, Lanalys d s t xt s histo iq s, Revue des questions historiques 41 (1998), pp. 5-25.
Citation p. 8.

anoth . F st l and Monod p s nt d at on diff n s in m thodology, in g nerations, and

in fundamental historical schools. The older, composed of generalists trained in the Classics who

had come late in life to medieval history which they saw as the continuity of Roman culture and

institutions, and the younger, German-trained or inspired professional medievalists who adopted

not only the methodology of their German mentors but also their sense of fundamental rupture

between Roman antiquity and a Germanic Middle Ages. The future lay with the latter.

In 1988 this clash between the old history and the new history was made the focus of

analysis in F anois Ha togs Le XIXe sicle et lhistoire: le cas Fustel de Coulanges.21 Although

for over a century, Monod had been seen as the clear winner in this contest, Hartog revisits it in

ord to xamin F st ls m thod of histo i al analysis and w iting, two y a s b fo his d ath in

1889. The result is, if not a triumph for Fustel, at least a new sympathy for the manner in which

he faced the growing power of a scientific, positivist history, today once more the object of


t what of that s i ntifi histo y that s m d to win th day? It is, aft all Monods

a ti l , not F st ls, that onstit t s th footnot s of histo ians of v ng an and th f d. Was it

indeed a model example of German scientific historical methodology applied to the question of

law and vengeance? What long-term effects has this approach had on how subsequent

generations of historians, ourselves included, analyze this and other accounts of feuding in the

Early Middle Ages?

What I p opos to do is to xamin th s i ntifi m thod of Monod, to s gg st th way

whi h h and his ont mpo a i s appli d this m thod, and to onsid as w ll som of F st ls

Franois Hartog, Le XIXe sicle et lhistoire: le cas Fustel de Coulanges, 1st. edition (Paris, 1988); 2nd edition
with new preface (Paris, 2001).

much maligned approaches in light of how scholars most recently have attempted to read the

adventures of Sichar.

III. Monods S i ntifi T adition

Monods app oa h app a s q it simpl . Rath than a t aditional xpli ation wo d by

word as Fustel had recommended, he proposes to read the entire account against another text that

is never mentioned by Gregory of Tours: the Lex Salica. The result is a fascinating and for its

day innovative approach that strongly resembles more recent approaches to early medieval

justice. Rather than just taking the story as a story, he asks what laws, institutions, procedures,

and cultural assumptions would have animated the lives of the participants and determined the

course of events. If this sounds like good history, this is because the purpose of this article was to

define in essence what good history was, and thus in reading Monod we are reading one of the

first French historians to apply the tools of modern (read German) historical analysis to

important questions of European history, essentially the same tools that we employ today.

Monods m thod an b s mma iz d as follows: Fi st, th p obl m of vid n . Lik

many histo ians aft him, Monod is at pains to point o t that G go ys a o nt an b t st d

entirely precisely because he was so completely without rhetorical skill or ideological intention:

Sans avoi jamais la p t ntion d ompos d s its pitto sq s o

d amatiq s, G goi d To s, i n q n a ontant to t simpl m nt, dans son d
langag , q il a v o nt nd , no s a laiss d s tabl a x d m s d n li f t d n
olo is in ompa abl s. Pa mi s tabl a x d m s, il n n st pas d pl s ompl t, d
pl s saisissant q lhistoi d Si hai . C tt histoi m it datti not att ntion,
non seulement cause de la quantit de renseignem nts q ll no s fo nit s l s
m s t l s instit tions gallo-franques, mais aussi parce que ces renseignements sont
d n p ision t xa tit d x ptionn ll s.22

Monod, p. 265.

This combination of simplicity and precision are the indispensable preconditions of Monods

subsequent analysis.

Second, he declares all of the characters of the story, with the possible exception of

Si ha s wif T anq illa, as F anks. F ankish id ntity is ss ntial fo two asons: Fi st and most

obviously, he needs to establish that the various proceedings must have followed Frankish law,

the heart of his analysis. But equally important is the Germanic and thus barbaric identity of the

participants, which explains their behavior:

Brutalits sans motifs, besoin de vengeance qui pousse lhomm av la fatalit d n

instin t, t q i simpos l i omm n d voi inl tabl , mp is d la vi h main ,
b sq s s sa ts d passion q i hang nt n n s ond lamiti la pl s t nd n n
hain impitoyabl , avidit a pillag , habit d s divrognerie produisant des accs de
gaiet grossire et de subite fureur, tous les traits de caractre que rvle ce rcit sont
bien ceux qui conviennent des Germains de Tacite que la vie large et facile de la Gaule
a pervertis sans les adoucir.23

The cha a t s in th vign tt a th s typi al of to s l s ompagnons d Clovis t d

Clothai ; th y th s an b s n as typi al and t nal G mani ba ba ians and what v

Tacitus wrote of first-century Germanic mores can be applied without difficulty or hesitancy to

sixth-century inhabitants of the Touraine. The conflict, violence, vengeance, and retribution, to

say nothing of drinking and boasting, need not be contextualized in the sixth century: their

context is eternal. The whole case is a classic exampl of G mani f d, th faid : C d oit d

sang q i jo n si g and l dans lan i nn so it g maniq t dans la so it s andinav ,

bien que nous ne le trouvions pas formellement exprim dans la loi salique, existait toujours dans

l s m s t st impliqu par plusieurs titres de la loi elle-mm . 24

Thus, by making Sichar and Chramnesind Franks, Monod can grind them between the

millstones of Tacitus and the Lex Salica. The causes of the dispute then are obvious: Tacitus tells

Ibid., pp. 266-267.
Monod, p. 281. In a not , Monod disp t s F st l d Co lang ss q stioning of wh th a ight of v ng an
existed among the Franks.

of G mans lov of drinkthe participants in the initial altercation are drunk as Germans tend

to b at Ch istmas, and this xplains th s dd n killing of Si ha s s vant that p ipitat s th

whol sto y as w ll as th s dd n killing of Si ha hims lf at th nd. Monods ultural milieu in

which the entire story is placed is that of the Tacitean forests.

Monods m thod of xpli ation of th t xt on th basis of Ta it s and th Lex Salica is

precisely the tradition of his German mentor, Georg Waitz. Waitz, (181386) born in Schleswig,

was a student first of Leopold von Ranke in Berlin and then, thanks to the latter, a Mitarbeiter of

the Monumenta Germaniae Historica under Pertz. In 1842 he became professor at Keil where he

became involved in politics even while lecturing on the history of Schleswig-Holstein, German

histo y, Ta it s Germania, the Lex Salica, and constitutional history. He had just received a call

to the university of Gttingen when the revolution of 1848 began, and he was immediately

involved defending the Prussian cause against the democrats, eventually being elected to the

Frankfurt Parliament where he strongly supported a united Germany including Prussia and

Austria. In 1849 he took up his chair at Gttingen where he taught constitutional history until

1875 when he became president of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica.

In his monumental Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte that Monod characterized as the best

study of the origins of France, Waitz moves constantly back and forth between the Germania of

Tacitus and the Lex Salica. His discussion of the Die Verfassung des Deutschen Volks in ltester

Zeit is based almost exclusively on Tacitus, but a Tacitus constantly interpreted through the

prism of the Lex Salica.25 The result is a vicious circle: one understands Tacitean age

descriptions through the Salic Law, which in turn is comprehensible only in terms of Tacitus. An

essential premise of this approach is that the Salic Law, in the Latin versions known to us, had to

Georg Waitz, Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte I. Die Verfassung des Deutschen Volks in ltester Zeit, 3rd edition
(Berlin, 1880).

be essentially a translation of much older Frankish laws compiled before the establishment of the

Franks within the Roman empire. It is thus, in the words of Rudolf Sohm, who was Privatdozent

in Gtting n nd Waitz, th lt st nd b li f t d ts h P o .26 The antiquity of the

Lex Salica, then, justified its assimilation into the world of Tacitus.

Waitzs dis ssion of th Deutsche Verfassung im Frnkischen Reich continues this

approach. Accepting the Tacitean tripartite division of the Germani, he states that the Franks are

the Istvonischen Stamm. The continuity between the two is perfect: although the Frankish name

may b n w, th p opl is not: Es sind n Nam n, ab ni ht n Vlk .27 Moreover, as

the Franks moved into the Roman Empire, they did so not as destroyers of a Roman system and

still less as the representatives of Roman authority. Rather they brought new life and freedom to

a world characterized by lawlessness and oppression.28 Here Waitz explicitly took issue with

Fustel de Coulanges and the Romanist tradition of French scholarship that emphasized the

Frankish kings as agents of Roman imperial authority.29

Monod eagerly places himself alongside of Waitz in this rejection of the Romanist

t adition and a pts Waitzs Ta it an app oa h to th Sali Law v n as h s s th latt to

xpli at G go ys a o nt. How v , Monod, fo all of his d si to b a faithf l st d nt of his

German mentors, fails to take into consideration certain essential elements of their full

argumentation concerning the Lex Salica and the Frankish period. Rudolf Sohm, whom he cites

regularly, argued that since the Lex Salica, by its very antiquity, stood closer to the period of

Tacitus than that of the Frankish kingdom of Clovis, it could only with certain reserves be used

Rudolf Sohm, Der Proce der Lex Salica (Weimar, 1867), p. vi.
Zweiten Bandes erste Abteilung, 3rd edition (Berlin, 1882). Die Deutsche Verfassung im Frnkischen Reich, p. 8.
Ibid., p. 74. Here above all was needed new force, fresh life, free movement. It is this that the Germans brought to
the world of Antiquity.
Ibid., Was F st l d Co lang s dag g n vo g b a ht hat, v di nt k in w it Wid l g ng. H is f ing to
Fustel de Coulanges, Histoire des institutions politiques de lancienne France I. 1 (1875, e. Aufl. 1877) who
a g s that th F ankish king di H s haft als V t t d s Rmis h n R i h s g fh t. Waitz refers to his
own article in Historische Zeitschrift 37, p. 46ff.

to elucidate the legal process of th latt p iod. Th R i hsg nding a s d an ss ntial

change in the traditions of Frankish law and legal procedure, and the Lex Salica stood not at th

b ginning of th n w b t at th nd of th old. As s h, th l gal p o d s of th Lex Salica

were obsolete within a half century of their transcription.

Impervious to this suggestion, Monod proceeds as though the Lex Salica was still being

applied in the 580s with all the precision of a nineteenth-century criminal code. Drawing on the

Belgian Jean-Ja q s Thoniss ns st dy of p o d in th Sali Law,30 his description of the

procedures followed in the various tribunals mentioned by Gregory posits a literal use of the Lex

that produces extraordinary if highly dubious precision: Citing Lex Salica X and XXXV he

calculated that Austraghisel owed 180 solidi for the killing of four slaves; in the second tribunal

Sichar owed 1800 solidi. Moreover, he believes that he can follow the precise reasoning of the


La condamnation de Sichaire tait tain ; mais il ntait pas moins tain q Si hai
serait incapable de la payer, car il tombait sous le coup du titre XLII de la loi salique,
relatif au meurtre commis par une bande arme avec violation de domicile. La mort des
trois victimes entranait au moins 1,800 sous de composition ; il fallait y ajouter les
ompositions d s pa l s ompli s d Si hai , ll s q nt anait l massa d s
s lav s t l nlv m nt d s t so s t d s t o p a x. Ch amn sind omptait bi n s
limpossibilit o se trouverait Sichaire de payer ; il sp ait mm q ap s avoi ,
conformment au titre LVIII de la loi salique de Chrenecruda, invoq laid d s s
parents, Sichaire lui serait livr ; t q ap s lavoi ond it q at malls s ssifs,
sans que personne se prsentt pour payer pour lui, il pourrait assouvir sur lui sa
vengeance et le faire prir.31

IV. F st l d Co lang s itiq

Such a mechanical application of Salic Law both in terms of procedure and precise

amounts of fines, created a striking image of Frankish law at work. But it is an image built on a

Jean-Jacques Thonissen, Lorganisation judiciaire, le droit pnal, et la procdure pnale de la loi salique.
Mmoi s d lA admi oyal d s S i n s, d s L tt s t d s a x-Arts de Belgique, tome XLIV, Classe
des Lettres (Brussels, 1882).
Monod, p. 280.

whole series of suppositions largely external to his sources. Fustel de Coulanges called him to

task on a number of them. Beyond objections to the way Monod attributes the initial attacks to

drunkenness without an explicit statement to that effect in Gregory and how Monod guesses

motivations or procedural strategies, Fustel raised f ndam ntal obj tions to Monods s of th

Lex Salica. First, he denied that one can know that the principal characters in the story were in

fact Franks. He presents a series of examples from the sixth and early seventh centuries of

Romans who bear Germanic names and points out the complexity of naming possibilities in the

Frankish world. Once he has introduced a doubt about the essential Frankish identity of the

characters, he can then question the appropriateness of referring to the Germania of Tacitus or to

the faide in order to explain motivations and events.32 Aft all, h points o t, si vo s lis z

Grgoire de Tours, vous remarquerez sans peine que les Gallo-Romains ont les mmes vices, les

mmes ardeurs, les mmes colres, les mmes cupidits que l s G mains.33

Moreover, he continued, if one cannot prove that Sichar and his contemporaries are

Franks, one can also not demonstrate that any of the assemblies or procedures described in the

text refer to Salic Law. Gregory never once mentions the Lex Salica, and in this passage Fustel

suggests that not one of the technical terms derived from Salic Law appear. The closest that he

comes is to write of compositio and componere. However, Fustel points out the history of these

terms not only in Germanic law but also in Roman and, most importantly in ecclesiastical law.

Rather than assuming, with Monod, that one knows exactly the amounts of composition offered

by Gregory taken from the Lex Salica, he suggests that perhaps one should imagine Gregory, as

bishop, offering compensation according to ecclesiastical rather than Frankish norms. As for the

exact nature of the judicial assemblies, Fustel does not deny that they may have been placita in

Fustel, pp. 12-16.
Fustel, p. 16.

the sense of the Frankish Mallum, but, he insists, there is simply no evidence on which to make

this judgment.

V. The Adventures of Sichar and Chramnesind today.

Fustel died two years after the publication of his response to Monod, and his tradition of

Romanist scholarship died not long after. Although revered by classicists for his Cit Antique,

honored (if not particularly believed) for his Histoire des institutions, and resurrected and

celebrated by the extreme right as a National Historian, F st ls ont ib tions to a ly m di val

histo y main d la g ly a d ad nd. Monods ont ib tion, on th oth hand, as w saw at th

beginning of this lecture, has continued to exercise a major role in how the Frankish period has

been understood and how vengeance and feud have been framed and interpreted in this period.

First, whatever they make of the account, scholars have assumed that they could take

G go ys a o nt of th v nts as a at , if a tl ssly p s nt d. S ond, as th v y titl of

Wallace-Had ills hapt s gg sts, this a o nt is tak n to b a Frankish blood feud and that

thus the Lex Salica was in some way pertinent to the case, even though Wallace-Hadrill,

influenced as he was by Jack Goody and others, was perfectly aware that Franks or Germani in

general had no monopoly to the feud. Third, it has been largely assumed that the participants in

the feud had some sort of right to violent self-help drawn from the Frankish tradition, even if

their bloody confrontations led to at least three court days in Tours and two before Sigibert I.

Without wishing to repeat the ground covered by Philippe Depreux, we might do well to look at

some of the problems that each of these assumptions has raised today.

First and most fundamentally, Gregory can no longer be accepted as a simple scribe,

conveying without art or ideology what occurred around him. As Martin Heinzelmann has

argued, the episode is privileged in Book VII by its appearance at the end of the Book devoted to

th Good King G nt am. It is the most telling of the series of episodes of violence and civil

wa in th a a a o nd To s whi h o spond fo G go y to th ills of J sal m s ff d at

th tim of th divin ly s ppo t d king, H z kiah...34 Heinzelmann even suggests that far from

b ing, as A ba h p s nt d it, ha a t isti of G go ys w iting, a t ally it is a ling isti ally

app op iat adaptation of th onf sion of th pa ti la sit ation in whi h all pa ti ipants w

both perpetrators and victims.35 Gregory is compressing, for purposes of typological parallelism,

events that took place over a long period, creating a highly manipulated image of human

depravity and episcopal responsibility. One must ask if this vignette can possibly be explicated

as though it were a simple description of events at all.

Second, while historians from Monod through Wallace-Hadrill and Grahn-Hoek have

consistently portrayed this account as a Frankish blood feud, one must ask, with Fustel, whether

it is specifically Frankish, or perhaps what Frankish might have meant in the 580s. The evidence

that the participants were Frankish is, as Fustel pointed out, entirely onomastic, a dubious test for

the second half of the sixth century. There is no reason to assume that the blood feud was a

particularly Frankish practice in the sixth century. Indeed, as Fustel pointed out, Gregory

describes in great detail a violent feud involving members of his own family.36 These were the

v nts s o nding th killing of G go ys b oth P t , who had b n a used of causing the

death of Bishop Silvester of Langres and had cleared himself before a court by an oath. Two

y a s lat , h was p bli ly m d d by Silv st s son, who was in t n kill d som tim lat .

All of the participants in these bloody events were kinsmen of Gregory and thus hardly Franks.

Martin Heinzelmann, Gregory of Tours: History and Society in the Sixth Century (Cambridge, 2001), p. 57.
Ibid., p. 59 and esp. n. 44.
HF V, 5.

Perhaps the primary reason that the desire to make these citizens of Tours Franks is that

this then allows one to see the various tribunals as operating according to the Pactus Legis

Salicae, certainly the c nt pi of Monods analysis. And y t again, it is fa f om l a that this

is an app op iat l gal f am wo k. If w now nd stand G go ys Histories in a way that is

radically different from that of Monod and Fustel, so too is our understanding of the Salic Law.

Whatever the Lex Salica was in the sixth century, it was more and different from the texts that

have come down to us. As Ian Wood has pointed out, the Pactus did not contain all Salic law,

and specific references to Salic law as in the Pactus pro tenere pacis cites material not in the

version we have of the Pactus Legis Salicae.37 One must conclude that whatever law was being

applied in Tours in the 580s, it was not contained in the sixty-five titles that we know, nor can

we be certain that the participants in this conflict were subject to it in any case.

Space does not permit us to examine the three public assemblies that the conflict gave

rise to over the course of an undeterminable period, but as Edward James, Walter Goffart, and

later Martin Heinzelmann point out, Gregory is more concerned with the role of bishop as peace-

maker within the Christian community than he is with an accurate portrayal of secular court

proceedings. Indeed, James points out how Gregory and his fellow bishops are quite willing to

ignore or mitigate secular law in their role as peace-makers. Rather than contextualizing the

adventures of Sichar either in the Lex Salica or even in Roman law, it would be well to

recontextualize it in conciliar traditions on the one hand and in G go ys id ologi al

constructions on the other.

What th n mains of th x mpla ity of th av nt s d Si hai in th tw nty-first

century? I will leave it to Philippe Depreux and others to make a final judgment. However I

would contend that an examination of the ways that scientific history, beginning in the late
Ian Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms 450-751 (London, 1994), pp. 108-110.

nineteenth century, has misused this case is exemplary in terms of how not to write history in the


Chapter Ten

Oathtaking and Conflict Management in the Ninth Century1

Much, probably too much, has been written on the Oaths of Strasbourg, putatively

pronounced in Teudisca and Romana lingua on February 11, 842, by Louis the German and his

brother Charles the Bald. The texts of these oaths, recorded not in any capitulary collection but

only by Nithard in his history, and known from a unique manuscript of the tenth century,2 have

been the focus not only of scholarship but of politics because of their supposed importance in the

history of the French language.3 Recently, Rosamond McKitterick, following the suggestion of

Janet Nelson, has even suggested that the oaths may have been the invention of Nithard himself.4

McKitterick argues that Nithard is less concerned with transmitting actual oaths pronounced by

the two kings than with using these vernacular oaths as a rhetorical device. By having the king

of the West Franks swear in lingua Theodisca, and the king of the East Franks in lingua Romana,

he is emphasizing the unity and coherence of the two armies while simultaneously emphasizing

the overall unity of the Carolingian regnum. Sh on l d s that what h is doing is giving

literary and formulaic oral struct s to what was an xt mpo o al p omis .5

Too often, discussion of the Strasbourg oaths has focused on their putative uniqueness,

concentrating so closely on the philological aspects of the texts, the exact meaning of Romana
A version of the following paper originally appeared in Rechtsverstndnis und Handlungsstrategien im
mittelalterlichen Konfliktaustrag. Festchrift fr Hanna Vollrath, eds. Stefan Esders and Christine Reinle
(Munich, 2007). I am grateful to Professors Janet Nelson, Robin Stacey and Dana Polanichka for their advice on
an earlier draft of this essay.
Paris, BN Lat. 9768 fol. 13r.
Fo a b i f ov vi w of this d bat s R. Howa d lo h, 842- th Oaths of St asbo g and th i th of
M di val St di s, in A New History of French Literature, ed. Denis Hollier (Cambridge, MA, 1994), pp. 6-13.
Rosamond McKitterick, The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol. II, c. 700-c. 900 (Cambridge, MA, 1995), pp.
11-12 and in mo d tail in Rosamond M Kitt i k, Latin and Roman : An Histo ians P sp tiv , in Latin
and the Romance Languages in the Early Middle Ages, ed. Roger Wright (London, 1991), pp. 130-145. See
also Jan t L. N lson, P bli Histo i s and P ivat Histo y in th Wo k of Nitha d, in Speculum 60 (1985), pp.
251-293 (esp. 265-267).
McKitterick, The New Cambridge Medieval History, n. 4, p. 12.

lingua, the relationship between the language of the oath sworn by Louis and the French, and the

legal vocabulary of the royal oaths and the oaths of the respective armies in terms of technical

legal vocabulary.6 As a result the broader context of the use of vernacular in early medieval

oath-taking has been obscured. Such oaths are at the heart of what Hanna Vollrath has called the

oral legal culture of the early Middle Ages, a world in which, as she has forcefully reminded us,

written texts can only have meaning within a wider world of orality.7

These oaths are perhaps the earliest pair of vernacular oaths that have been preserved, but

the practice of swearing oaths in the vernacular and of transcribing them or at least reporting the

language in which they were sworn was part of a much wider field of practice in the eighth to

eleventh centuries. Some time ago I examined one particular group of these oaths, namely oaths

concerning land and especially descriptions of land, suggesting that the textualization of these

vernacular descriptions can shed light on the significance of the performative nature of early

medieval texts. Specifically I argued that vernacular oaths concerning land, which are among the

earliest extant texts in German, Italian, and Hungarian, provide an entry into what has been

t m d th w ak th sis of o ality. This th sis, in ont ast with th st ong th sis that posits a

major transformation associated with the introduction of literacy into a previously oral society,

assumes that a knowledge of writing is not completely new and attempts rather to account for the

interaction of the oral and the written after the initial steps are taken.8

Ruth Schmidt-Wi gand, Eid nd G lbnis, Fo m l nd Fo m la im mitt alt li h n R ht, in Recht und Schrift
im Mittelalter, ed. Peter Classen, Vortrge und Forschungen 23 (Sigmaringen, 1977), pp. 55-90 and also Ead.
Stamm s ht nd Volkssp a h in ka olingis h Z it, in Aspekte der Nationenbildung im Mittelalter,
Ergebnisse der Marburger Rundgesprche 1972-1975, ed. Helmut Benmann and Werner Schrder
(Sigmaringen, 1978), pp. 171-203, esp. 179-183.
In pa ti la s Hanna Voll ath,R htst xt in d o al n R htsk lt d s f h n Mitt lalt s, in
Mittelalterforschung nach der Wende 1989, ed. Michael Borgolte, Historische Zeitschrift Beiheft 20 (Munich,
1995), pp. 319-348 and Das Mitt lalt in d Typik o al G s lls haft n, HZ 233 (1981), pp. 571-594.
Brian Stock, Listening for the Text. On the Uses of the Past, (Philadelphia, 1996), pp. 5-6.

I considered these vernacular passages, which appear in charters and placita or court

proceedings, not only as records of agreements, transactions, or donations but also as records of

performances. Moreover, they are scripts for future performances. In such cases, statements of

the boundaries, oaths acknowledging these boundaries or declaring uninterrupted possession of

disputed lands, are vital parts of the scripts for these performances. The performance had to be

accessible to a lay audience whose concern about property was paramount, not only the first time

that it was given, but, in case of necessity, for future audiences.

These sorts of vernacular texts, as Cyril Edwards has pointed out, were seen very

differently from other types of vernacular language texts that were often dismissed, even by

those writing them, as obscenus, inutilis, barbara, or rustica. Vernacular oaths, in contrast, were

considered indispensable for certain types of legal proceedings.9 I have argued that Hamelburg

and Wrzburg property descriptions, like the boundary descriptions in Anglo-Saxon charters, the

boundary description in a charter of Pannonhalma that is the first preserved sentence in

Hungarian, and the oaths concerning the property of Monte Cassino that preserve the first

sentences in Italian, are evidence of complex interplay between performance and community in

early medieval societies.10 In what follows, I wish to continue a discussion of vernacular oaths,

examining this time oaths similar to those pronounced at Strasbourg, in an effort to understand

the circumstances that could lead, in the ninth century, not simply to the swearing of oaths in the

vernacular but, more significantly, to their transcription, preservation, or, at least in the case that

I will examine, the emphasis on their vernacularity. Understanding the strategy of vernacular

swearing and the reasons that the vernacular is highlighted takes us toward the kind of study of

Cy il Edwa ds, G man V na la Lit at . A S v y, in Carolingian Culture: Emulation and Innovation,
ed. Rosamond McKitterick (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 141-170.
Pat i k G a y, Land, Lang ag and M mo y in E op 700-1100, in TRHS 9 (1999), pp. 169-184, reproduced
here as Chapter Fifteen.

the interplay between Wahrnehmung and Darstellung so well studied by Hanna Vollrath


I will concentrate on the so-called oaths of Koblenz, pronounced by Louis the German

and Charles the Bald some eighteen years after their meeting at Strasbourg. These oaths are not

recorded in the vernacular, although as we shall see they are recorded in something very close to

it. However, the record of these oaths is at pains to emphasize their vernacular nature. Why this

is so is something that I will attempt to explain.

858 was a bad year for Charles the Bald. It began with an earthquake on Christmas night.

Cha l ss ally and son-in-law, th lw lf of W ss x, who had ma i d Cha l ss da ght J dith

shortly before, died. The Abbot of St. Denis, along with his brother, was captured by Vikings,

and th kingdoms h h sw h avily b d n d with th ost of ansoms. A n mb of

Charl ss N st ian o nts, in l ding Odo of T oy s and Rob t of Ang s, volt d and alli d

with the Bretons. A long siege of the Danes holed up on the island of Oissel in the Seine ended

ns ssf lly. Finally, Cha l ss b oth Lo is th G man, appa ntly urged by western

aristocrats including Abbot Adalard of St. Bertin and Count Odo of Troyes, invaded the kingdom

of Charles the Bald.12 He rapidly moved first to Ponthion, then Sens, whose bishop Wenilo

joined his party, and then on to the area of Orleans where he was joined by defectors from

Aquitaine, Neustria, and Brittany. Charles, with the aid of his Burgundian supporters, attempted

to face up to his brother at Chlons, but fearful of continuing defections he avoided battle and

retreated first to Troyes where he shored up his remaining supporters, and then he moved on to

Hanna Voll ath, Konfliktwah n hm ng nd Konfliktda st ll ng in zhl nd n Q ll n d s 11. Jah h nd ts, in
Die Saler und das Reich, vol. 3, Gesellschaftlicher und ideengeschichtlicher Wandel im Reich der Salier, ed.
Stefan Weinfurter (Sigmaringen, 1991), pp. 279-296.
On Louis and his invasion see Eric J. Goldberg, Struggle for Empire: Kingship and Conflict under Louis the
German, 817-876 (Ithaca, NY, 2006), pp. 248-262.

Attigny where he negotiated an agreement with his nephew Lothar II, and finally retreated to St.

Quentin where he ended the year.

His fortunes revived the following year, beginning what Janet Nelson has justly called a

R sto ation. On Jan a y 15 h alli d his s ppo t s to d iv Lo is f om th kingdom. H

rewarded those who had remained faithful to him at a series of synods, creating a new inner

circle that included Abbot Hugh of St. Germain of Auxerre, Bishop Erchanraus of Chlons, and

others who had seem him through the crisis of the previous year. Some of these grants were

certainly made at the expense of the rebels, including Wenilo, Robert, Odo, and Adalard.

Although he still faced Viking raiders in Neustria, in some ways their presence worked to his

advantag , splitting and d awing th att ntion of th N st ian a isto a y. Cha l ss maining

problem was the revolt of Robert of Anjou and the alliance with the Bretons. Reestablishment of

control of his counts required reaching an agreement, however fragile, with his brother Louis. A

first, inconclusive meeting was arranged in the middle of the Rhine near Andernach. A second

was to be held in Basel, but the affair was postponed. Finally, the following year, according to

the Annales Fuldenses, the two kings met at Koblenz together with Lothar II. Koblenz was no

doubt chosen for its symbolic meaning to both kings. On the one hand, it was on the western

edge of Louis's kingdom, thus necessitating that Charles come to him. But it was also the

location where, in 842, in the same church of St. Castor, the 120 commissioners of Louis,

Charles, and Lothar I had met to attempt an equitable division of the empire and broker a peace

following the battle of Fontenoy.13 What transpired at Koblenz and why, and perhaps as

importantly why we know about it, is what I wish to examine today.14

See Janet L. Nelson, Charles the Bald, (London, 1992), p. 126; and Goldberg, Struggle for Empire, p. 260, n. 12.
The importance of the Koblenz capitulary for the question of vernacular language usage has long been recognized.
S in pa ti la R inha d S hn id , S h iftli hk it nd Mndli hk it im i h d Kapit la i n, in Recht
und Schrift 6, (1977), pp. 257-279; Wolf-Dieter Heim, Romanen und Germanen in Charlemagnes Reich.

The Annales Fuldenses say that th b oth s a h onfi m d p a b tw n th ms lv s

and mutual fidelity by means of an oath.15 The Annales Bertiniani say that the brothers met at

Kobl nz and th aft long n gotiations on ning p a b tw n th ms lv s, finally th y

stablish d on o d and f i ndship b tw n th ms lv s by an oath.16 In a letter to Charles,

Hin ma of R ims also mind d th king that h was mad th stability whi h follow d

b tw n yo and yo b oth and yo n ph w.17 Moreover, as we shall see, both the Annales

Fuldenses and Hincmar then give what they say was the oath sworn at Koblenz. But was this

oath the essence of that sworn at Koblenz? Unfortunately, this is not as easy a question to answer

as one might expect. Nor is answering it facilitated by the best available edition, that of Alfred

Boretius and Victor Krause in the MGH.

The Boretius Krause edition presents the following elements of the Koblenz:18 First, the

Adnuntiatio domni Karoli, in whi h Cha l s d la s, Yo know, how ntly som m n,

fearing God less than is necessary, invited our brother Louis under the pretense of good

int ntions, that h sho ld nt o kingdom as yo know. H th n go s on to xplain how God

came to his aid and how his beloved nephew worked to establish peace between the brothers.

Aft j ting th p oposal mad by Lotha s missa i s, Lotha s nt a second delegation whose

offer Charles accepted.

Untersuchungen zur Benennung romanischer und germanischer Vlker, Sprachen, und Lnder in franzsischen
Dichtungen des Mittelalters, in Mnstersche Mittelalter-Schriften 40 (M ni h, 1984); E nst H llga dt, Z
Mehrsprachigkeit im Karolingerreich: Bemerkungen aus Anla von Rosamond McKettericks Buch, The
Carolingians and the Written Word, in Beitrge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur 118
(1996), pp. 1-48. esp. 20-24.
Annales Fuldenses 860: pa m int s t fid litat m m t am singli i am nto fi mav nt.
Annales Fuldenses 860: ibiq d pa int s di t a tant s, tand m on o diam atq ami itiam ipsi p s
i am nto fi mant.
In his P o E l sia lib tat m D f nsion Expositio T tia i tit l s Admonitio: fi mitas q a s bs q it int
vos t f at m v st m, a n pot s v st os fa ta st (PL 125, ol. 1067).
Capitularia Regum Francorum II, 1, eds. Alfred Boretius and Victor Krause, MGH LL Sect. II,1 (Hannover,
1939), no. 242, pp. 153-158.

Following this adnuntiatio is a list of the eleven bishops, two abbots, and thirty-three

laymen who were present and who participated in the synod in the Basilica of St. Castor, which

begins with the explanation Th s a th nam s of th bishops who on th fifth of J n in th

secretarium of the basilica of Saint Castor considered with the nobles and the laity the firmitas

which our glorious kings Louis and Charles and Lothar made on June seventh in the same

monast y and who a pt d th s apit la i s that a to b obs v d by all.19

This is followed by the Sacramentum firmitatis Hludowici regis, and then followed

capitula ab omnibus conservenda. Capitula 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, and 12 are repetitions of the

capitularies first agreed upon at Meersen in 851.20

Then follows the Adnuntiatio Domni Hludowici Regis apud Confluentes lingua

Theodisca.21 This consists of 7 capitula in the second person addressed to his fideles.

Immediately following these capitula is a b i whi h xplains, Th Lo d Cha l s d la d

these same things in the Romana lingua and summarized them for the most part in lingua

Theodisca.22 After this Lord Louis said to his brother Lord Charles in the lingua Romana,

Now, if yo pl as , I want to have your word concerning those men who came over to my

fid lity.23 Following this q st, th Lo d Cha l s pli d in a lo d voi in lingua Romana,

thos who th s a t d against m , as yo know and who w nt ov to my b oth , b a s of

Ibid., p. 154: Ha s nt nomina pis opo m, q i anno in a nationis domini a XCCCLX, Novis I iis in
secretario basilicae sancti Castoris considerareunt cum nobilibus ac fidelibus laicis firmitatem, quam gloriosi
erges nostri Hludowicus et Karolus atque Hlotharius inter se fecerunt VIIe Idus Iunias in eodem monasterio, et
q i ha apit la ab omnib s ons vanda a ptav nt.
MGH Capit. II, pp. 72-74.
Ibid., p. 157.
Ibid.: Haec eadem domnus Karolus Romana lingua adnuntiavit et ex maxima parte lingue Theodisca
apit la it.
Ibid.: Post ha domn s Hl dowi s ad domn m Ka ol m f at m s m ling a Romana dixit: N n , si obis
placet, retrum rerbum habere valo de illis hominib s, q i ad m am fid m v n nt.

God and b a s of his lov and g a I nti ly pa don th m fo what th y did against m .24

He continued to agree that they would keep those allods that they had received either by

inheritance, by acquisition, or by gift from his ancestors except for those derived from his own

grants, provided that they swore that they would remain peaceful in his kingdom and would live

as Christians should in a Christian kingdom. Likewise, they could keep those allods they held in

his b oth s kingdom. How v , h insist d that they return the allods and honors they had

received from him so that he might do with them as he wished.

Following this, th n Lo d Lotha said in th lingua Theodisca that he consented to the

abov hapt s and h p omis d to obs v th m.25 The capit la y th n on l d s: And th n

Lord Charles again in the lingua Romana forcefully reminded [those present] concerning peace

and with the grace of God they went out healthy and safe and so that they might once more see

them well he prayed and he put an end to th d la ations.26 Unfortunately, the Capitulary of

Koblenz as presented in the MGH corresponds to no medieval transmission. It is an invention of

the editors, who combine two very different traditions of transmission of the events that took

place at Koblenz in that year.27 Moreover, the two most important capitulary collections, Vat.

Pal. Lat. 582 and Paris Lat. 9654, ignore the vernacular oaths altogether.28

Ibid.: Et domn s Ka ol s x lsio i vo ling a Romana dixit: Illis hominib s, q i ont a m si f nt si t
scitis, et ad meum fratrem renerunt, propter Deum et propter illius amorem et pro illius gratia totum perdono,
q od ont a m misf nt...
Ibid.: Et domn s Hlotha i s ling a Th odis a in s p a adn ntiatis apit lis s ons nti dixit t s
obs vat am illa p omisit.
Ibid.: Et t n domn s Ka ol s it m ling a Romana d pa ommon it, t t m D i gratia sani et salvi irent
t t os sanos vid nt, o avit t adn ntiationib s fin m impos it.
The editors make clear in their introduction the manner in which they have constructed the capitulary, but too
often scholars using the MGH forget the editorial liberties that were taken in the production of critical editions.
Vatican, Pal. Lat. 582 fol. 86v-88r. Paris, BN Lat. 9654, fol. 79v-81r. For all that follows see the essential work of
Hubert Mordek, Bibliotheca capitularium regum Francorum manuscripta : berlieferung und
Traditionszusammenhang der frnkischen Herrschererlasse, in Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Hilfsmittel,
15 (Munich, 1995). The other manuscripts containing portions of what have been edited at the Capitulary of
Koblenz are Heiligenkreuz 217, fol. 287rv-288v; Munich, CLM, 3853, fol. 268v-269v; Rome, Vallicell. C. 16,
fol. 47r-51r; Vatican reg. Lat. 291, fol. 111r-112r; and Vatican, Vat. Lat. 4982, fol. 112r-125r.

oth of th s man s ipts b gin with th io s o in th y a 860 th s a th

capitularies of the venerable kings Lothar, Louis, and Charles that they swore on the twelfth of

June in the pagus of Maast i ht in th town of Maast i ht.29 Then follow the twelve capitularies

as published in the MGH. Th y on l d and so that th s abov w itt n capitularies may with

the help of God be observed by us inviolably, and that they may be observed we sign below with

o own hands. Imm diat ly follows: Th s a th nam s of th bishops who on th fifth of

June in the secretarium of the basilica of Saint Castor considered with the nobles and the laity

the firmitas which our glorious kings Louis and Charles and Lothar made on June seventh in the

sam monast y and who a pt d th s apit la i s that a to b obs v d by all. Th

signatures of the bishops and counts follow. After these signatures follows the oath of Louis

which Kraus reproduces as the Sacramentum firmitatis Hludowici regis.

The second set of manuscripts that record the royal meeting at Koblenz are

Heiligenkreutz 217 and Munich Lat. 3853. These are similar to the first group, except that they

record only some of the capitula and the participant list, not the sacramentum.

The only manuscripts that record the vernacular exchanges between the kings are Vat.

Reg. Lat 291, Vat. Lat. 4982, and Rome Bib. Valicelliana c. 16, all early modern copies that

descend from a lost manuscript of Beauvais used by Pithou, Sirmond and Baluze. These record

first the Adnuntiatio Karoli, the list of bishops and lay signatories, the Capitula ab omnis

conservenda, followed by the Adnunciatio Domni Hludovici Regis lingua Theodisca.30

How do the differences in these transmissions help us to understand both what transpired

at Koblenz and the meaning that these oaths and adnuntiationes both held for contemporaries? I

Anno in a nationis domni nost i Ih s Ch isti DCCCLX. Ha s nt capitula renerabilium regum Hlotharii,
Hluduwici et scilicet Karoli, quae inter se fimarerunt pridie Id. Iun. in pago Treiectinse inxta ipsum locum
T i t m. This is duly noted by the editors, MGH Capit. II, 153.
On this lost Beauvais manuscript see Mordek, Bibliotheca capitularium, pp. 865-867, n. 28.

believe that we should understand that the events at Koblenz unfolded in two parts, each one

touching on issues of differing importance to different parties.

The first set of issues was the continuing problem of peace between the two brothers.

This is represented in the accounts in the Annales Fuldenses and in the Annales Bertiniani as

w ll as in Hin ma s l tt . Th s m ntion only th oaths swo n by th two b oth s. Th t xt

given by the Annales Fuldenses is exactly that in the first group of manuscripts (Vat. Pal. Lat.

582 and Paris Lat. 9654), both of which are east Frankish, probably Mainz, in origin and

presumably represent a manuscript tradition resulting from copies of the proceedings at Koblenz

mad and maintain d by Lo iss s ppo t s.

The s ond v sion of th v nts at Kobl nz i lat d among Cha l ss s ppo t s b t

again concerned essentially the oaths of peace between the brothers. This is represented in

Hin ma s itation of Cha l ss oath and in th man s ipts whi h in l d th Adnuntiatio domni

Hludowici with the references to the vernacular oaths. The compiler of the Beauvais manuscript

was particularly interested in capitularies of Charles the Bald: it is the exclusive source for a

whole series of capitularies directed to the West Frankish kingdom.31 Significantly this includes

a series of capitularies that follow up on the oaths taken at Koblenz in the vernacular and

prescribe the ways that they are to be implemented.32 The oaths concerning fideles of Charles

who had joined his broth d ing Lo iss invasion th fo find th i pla in a oll tion that

is much more focused on the relations between Charles and his fideles than on the relations

between Charles and his brother. The emphasis of the use of vernacular should also be

understood in this connection. Two questions arise concerning the Adnuntiatio domni Hludowici.

Including Capitularies 244, 265, 266, 269, 270, 271, 275, and 277.
MGH Capit. II, no. 270. pp. 297-301, Capitula post conventum confluentium missis tradita. Here again is the
concern for those qui alodes in regno nostro habere volunt.

First, why were the oaths sworn in the vernacular? Second, and more importantly, why do the

rubrics take pains to emphasize that the oaths were sworn in the vernacular?

The answer to the first is related directly to their audience. Unlike the oaths of mutual

fidelity and peace between the brothers, which were directed at each other, or the capitula ab

omnibus conservanda that were signed by bishops and counts, the Adnuntiatio was directed to a

lower level of society: to the lower tier of the landed aristocracy who had participated in the

rebellion.33 These lesser Frankish landholders, the fideles of the magnates who had received

lands when the latter turned to Louis, were most at risk following the peace, and for this group

oaths about property, and oaths that they could understand, were paramount.

The first section of the Adnuntiatio, pronounced by Louis in lingua Theodisca, and by

Charles in lingua Romana, announces to this lower stratum of society the measures taken by the

kings in consultation with their counts and bishops. Janet Nelson has characterized this section as

a nilat al a knowl dgm nt of g ilt,34 although this may be a bit strong, since what she sees

as his a knowl dgm nt of g ilt, now w want to b hav towa ds o b oth as a b oth ightly

sho ld, and towa ds o n ph ws as an n l sho ld,35 was also repeated by Charles in lingua

Romana. First Louis explains that "we" (here not the royal we, but he and his brother Charles)

had ordered their bishops and certain others of their fideles to investigate the situation and now

th y wish to anno n to yo (that is, to th st of th i fideles) what these men had found and

had shown to the kings in writing.36 He then goes on to summarize those texts that the bishops

Hellgardt, Zur Mehrsprachigkeit, p. 23, draws attention to what he considers the difference between the
Strasbourg oaths and the Koblenz exchanges, saying that while at Strasbourg the oaths were directed to the
infa h( ) Volk, thos at Kobl nz w di t d to th l siasti al and s la lit s. In light of man s ipt
tradition, this may not have been the case.
Nelson, Charles the Bald, p. 195, n. 13.
MGH Capit. II, 157: Et vol m s, t s iatis,... ad invi m ad nati s m s, si t f at s p t m ss d b nt...
Ibid.: Et misim s ho s p pis opos t t os fid l s nost os, t illi ho inv ni nt, q alit nos ad ha , q a
diximus exequenda adunaremus. Et volumus, ut sciatis, quia, sicut illi invenerunt et scripto nobis ostenderunt,
ad invicem adunati sumus, sicut fratres per rectum esse debent, et nos simul cum isto nepote nostro et ille

and fideles had presented to the brothers, the capitula ab omnibus conservenda as well as earlier

apit la i s, d la ing that y Gods an and by o wo d, w fo bid th apin and pl ndering

whi h now many hold as tho gh law b a s it has b om s h a stom.37

After Louis had finished his address to his army, Charles repeated the same address in

lingua Romana, and then summarized it again in lingua Theodisca. Thus both kings announced

to their followers in their respective vernaculars the measures adopted by them and the smaller

circle of their elite followers. What followed, however, was the heart of this proceeding.

Louis, now speaking in lingua Romana, asked Charles for his word concerning those men

who had become fideles of Louis. Raising his voice (excelsiori voce), Charles said in lingua

Romana that he would pardon those men who had acted against him and who had joined with his

brother. Moreover, they could keep their allods and whatever they had acquired or received from

his ancestors, but not what they had received from Charles himself, providing that they would

make an oath that they would remain peaceful in the kingdom and live there as Christians should

in a Christian kingdom. All of this was on condition that in turn Louis would grant allods in his

kingdom to Cha l ss follow s who had don nothing against Lo is and had s ppo t d Cha l s.

Although the manuscript traditions claim that the next speaker was Lothar, it is clearly

Louis, now speaking lingua Theodisca, who agrees to this and promises to observe its

provisions.38 Finally, Charles again speaking lingua Romana exhorts peace and "with the grace

nobiscum, et etiam suos fratres, nepotes nostros, in hac adunationis firmitate nobiscum recepimus, ita tamen, si
t ispsi han fi mitat m ga nos f i t t obs vav int.
MGH Capit. II, 158: S d t d istis apinis d d p a dationibis q as iam q asi p o l g m lti p ons t din m
tenent, ab hoc die et d in ps d D i banno t d nost o v bo banni ms, t n mo ho ampli s p a s mat.
Hellgardt, Zur Mehrsprachigkeit, p. 23, n. 14, accepts that Lothar is indeed speaking, but it is unclear why he
should be agreeing to terms of which he has no part.

of God they went out healthy and safe, and so that they might once more see them well, he

p ay d and h p t an nd to th d la ations.39

Each of the elements of this exchange is carefully orchestrated. First, the proceedings are

quite distinct from the Koblenz capitularies and oaths recorded in most manuscripts. Those

proceedings concerned the kings, the bishops, and the counts. It is this group, closely related to a

world of textuality, who prepared a document which they presented to the kings and on which

basis the royal settlement was reached. Many of them may have left the synod after the

reconciliation between Louis and Charles had taken place. Since we know from other examples

of capitulary copies that individual participants apparently kept their versions of capitularies

produced at synods, it may be that the manuscript tradition represented by the Mainz manuscripts

reflects the copies of participants who left prior to the addresses of the two kings to their lesser


Thus what transpired in the vernacular can best be seen as a series of events aimed at a

fundamentally different audience from that of the first part of the proceedings at Koblenz. This

was an audience that was not as close to the textual evidence presented by the first group of royal

advisors and that was less likely to understand Latin spoken in the same register as would

bishops, abbots, and perhaps counts. Whether or not lingua Romana might still mean Latin under

certain circumstances, the copyist is at pains to distinguish this language from that used by Louis

and by Charles. If we do not find other references to lingua Romana and lingua Theodisca in the

capitularies, it may be because most of the capitularies as we have them were of the sort

transmitted by the first set of manuscripts, and not the sort of statements and oaths transmitted by

the second.

Ibid., 158: Et t n domn s Ka ol s it m ling a Romana d pa omman it t t m D i g atia sani t salvi
i nt t t os sanos vid nt, o avit t ad ntiationib s fi m impos it.

We should be wary of assuming that these pronouncements made in the vernacular

p s nt xt mpo stat m nts by th kings as Rosamond M Kitt i k s gg sts may hav

been the case at Strasbourg. Even at Strasbourg, as Ruth Schmidt-Wiegand has demonstrated,

far from being ad hoc oral formulations, the royal oaths follow very closely traditional

formulations of legal oaths, while the oaths of the armies are close to equally formulaic

vernacular speech traditions.40 The fact that the speeches or oaths were made in the vernacular

does not suggest that they were extempore. As I have argued concerning other vernacular oaths

in the early Middle Ages, these are carefully constructed speech acts that follow set formulas. In

the Koblenz case, the adnuntiationes of the two kings draw on a series of prior texts, particularly

on the capitularies of Meersen and earlier Carolingian capitularies. They also repeat elements in

the more formal oaths of the two kings pronounced at Koblenz. Moreover, since both Louis and

Lothar made the same discourse, each in the idiom of the majority of his followers, these can

hardly have been extempore pronouncements. More likely, they were written out for presentation

by the two kings, presumably in Latin and then in the vernaculars. Such written oaths were not

unknown in the ninth century, even if they have not, apart from the Strasbourg oaths, been

transmitted. The Annales Fuldenses of Fulda report that in 876, following the division of the

kingdom of Louis the German among his sons, the brothers swore to remain faithful to each

oth and that Th t xt of this sa am nt w itt n in th theutonica lingua is found in many

pla s.41

Schmidt-Wiegand, Eid und Gelbnis, n. 6. S also Ead., Volkssp a hig Rechtswrter in karolingischen
Kapit la i n, in De consolatione philologiae: Studies in Honor of Evelyn S. Firchow, eds. Anna Grotans,
Heinrich Beck and Anton Schwob, Gppinger Arbeiten zur Germanistik 682 II (Gppingen, 2000), pp, 335-
Annales Fuldenses 876: C i s sa am nti t xt s th toni a ling a ons ipt s in nonn llis lo is hab t . See
Jan t L. N lson, Lit a y in Ca olingian Gov nm nt, in The Frankish World 750-900 (London, 1996), p.
708. Unfortunately, although scholars, again following the MGH edition of the Capitularies, also cite the
Capitula post conventum Confluentium missis tradita, MGH Capit. II, pp. 297-301, as having also been capitula
lingua theodesca facta repetuntur according to Vat. Reg. 291, fol. 111, this is a false reading by the editors

The vernacular is not far from the texts, as is evident in the technical vocabulary of

violence and surety that appears for the first time in these oaths. The kings declare that everyone

should have the right to come and to go to the army or to placita or courts de suo sic warnitus;

Charles pardons those contra me misfecerunt. He will consider whether to return the honores he

himself granted to those qui me se retornabunt. All of these words, warnitus, misfacere,

retornare, appear for the first time in this text. If the vernacular versions were translated from the

Latin, the vernacular technical vocabulary was very much in the mind of the drafter.

However, the discourses are not pronounced in the vernaculars simply on practical

grounds. As McKitterick rightly saw in the way that the Strasbourg Oaths are described by

Nithard, the texts themselves are deployed rhetorically. The very mention of the language in

which the oaths were given provides a rhetorical intensity to their description. As Franz Buml

has argued concerning oral formulaic literature, in referring to the oral tradition, the written text

fictionalizes it. Since the one is given a role to play within the other, since oral formulae in the

ga b of w iting f to o ality within th w itt n t adition, th o al t adition b om s an

impli it fi tional ha a t of lit a y.42

In the same sense, the way that the rubrics of the Koblenz exchange play with the

languages employed heightens the drama and significance of the oaths. First, Louis speaks,

addressing his followers in lingua Theodisca. Then Charles does the same for his followers in

lingua Romana. However, he then summarizes what he has said in lingua Theodisca. Since

Louis has just spoken the same text in German, there is no practical need for this summary.

(299), who mistook a note clearly connected to the Koblenz capitulary as referring to the later capitulary
through which Charles disseminated the capitularies of the first part of the Koblenz synod through his kingdom.
In reality, such a dissemination in lingua Theodisca would have had little sense.
F anz ml, M di val T xts and th Two Th o i s of O al-Formulaic Composition: A Proposal for a Third
Th o y, in New Literary History 16 (1984-85), p. 43. Cited by Ursula Schaefer, Vokalitt: Altenglische
Dichtung zwischen Mndlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit (Tbingen, 1992), p. 115-116, n. 49.

Rather, just as at Strasbourg, where they are said to have spoken in th lang ag s of a h oth s

followers, it presents Charles speaking the language of the East Franks as well as his own. Louis

then makes the same switch, asking his brother in lingua Romana to give assurances to the men

who had rallied to his cause in the west. This bilingualism, of which both kings were obviously

capable, reinforces, as it did at Strasbourg, the essential unity of the regnum Francorum, even in

the face of the obvious divisions of the kingdoms among the sons and grandson of Louis the

Pious. It reinforces it, too, in face of the strong likelihood that only a minority of the Frankish

aristocracy by the middle of the ninth century were bilingual, essentially those in border zones. 43

The symbolic representation in speech of the unity of the Frankish realm is all the more

important because, as the subsequent discourse of Charles makes clear, the persons being

addressed still hold lands in the kingdoms of both brothers and it is precisely these tenures that

are threatened.

The drama is further increased by the statement that Charles speaks in an even louder

voice (excelsiori voce) when he promises that those of his fideles who went over to Louis in the

recent invasion may retain their allods and earlier benefices provided that they return to his fealty

and that Lo is fo his pa t allows Cha l ss fideles who hold lands in his kingdom to do the

same. The indication that Charles spoke in a louder voice emphasizes the performance nature of

th two b oth s oaths and th impo tan of not only th words but how they were spoken.

The texts next state that Lothar then said in lingua Theodisca that he consented to the

agreement and promised to observe it. As we have seen, this is surely a scribal error: logically, it

should have been Louis the German, not Lothar II, whose consent and promise was required at

this point. Substitution of Hludowicus for Hlotharius would preserve the rhythm of the entire

exchange, which ends with a final statement by Charles in lingua Romana concerning peace.
See Hellgardt, Zur Mehrsaprachigkeit.

If the Koblenz pronouncements resemble the Strasbourg Oaths in the rhetorical

deployment of vernacularity, they resemble other less famous oaths in their audience and their

essence: oaths intended for an assembly of lesser nobles and landowners about that which is

most precious to them: the land itself. Ultimately the settlement of the violence in the kingdom

of Charles requires two things. As Janet Nelson points out, Charles had to deal with the rebellion

of his great nobles, particularly Robert of Anjou who was not present at Koblenz and who had to

make his peace with Charles the following year. But it was also essential that both Charles and

Louis come to terms with a more profound level of Frankish nobles who held lands in both

kingdoms and who were keenly anxious about the future of their property in an increasingly

divided Francia. Some with lands in the kingdom of Charles had rallied to Louis, perhaps in part

because they feared losing their lands to the east; others were in the reverse position, supporting

Charles and fearing the loss of land in the kingdom of Louis. For such men, the peace settlement

between kings and magnates could pose a new threat to them: that they would be shut out of their

lands east or west of their primary allegiance. The possibility of a comprehensive settlement had

to deal with their preoccupations, and it had to do so in a language that was immediately

transparent to them. Thus, just as in oaths about land in other cases in the ninth and tenth

centuries, the principles made explicit the transparency of their promises by announcing them in

the vernacular, and the record of these pronunciations recalled this vernacularity. The actual

words, probably written on schedulae and dist ib t d in va io s pla s as th Annales

Fuldenses put it, have disappeared. But for that generation of Franks, still clinging not just to the

ideal of Frankish unity but to the reality of estates within the shifting boundaries of both

b oth s kingdoms, th ho s of th s wo ds, in lingua Romana and lingua Theodisca, were

vital to any settlement of the conflict between their lords and themselves.

Chapter Eleven

Judicial Violence and Torture in the Carolingian Empire1

Medieval scholars of judicial procedure, particularly those concerned with the early

Middle Ages, have in the past two generations brought enormous clarity to our understanding of

how the operation of Frankish justice was deeply imbedded within the context of Frankish

society. A primary goal of this scholarship has been to demonstrate the p agmati and ational

nature of early medieval judicial procedure. In the immediate postwar period, scholars such as

Franois Louis Ganshof studied Carolingian justice with an emphasis on rational institutional

procedure and institutions.2 More recent scholarship, drawing on the processural school of legal

studies, tends to present Carolingian justice as though it were primarily concerned with fines and

financial settlements rather than with blood and torture.3 This is in marked contrast to the

approach of legal historians in the first half of the twentieth century who view early medieval

j sti as a bit a y and i ational, mphasizing s h p a ti s as th o d al that th at n d

physical pain, mutilation, or death to those who underwent it.4 Physical violence in the early

Middle Ages has not been rejected, but recent studies tend to focus on violence as though it

existed outside of and opposed to the formal apparatus of the courts. The emphasis has been on

legal procedures as means of eliminating violence, specifically the feud, and keeping peace,

This article originally appeared under the same title in Law and the Illicit in Medieval Society, eds. Ruth Karras,
Joel Kaye and Ann Matter (Philadelphia, 2008), pp. 79-88.
F anois Lo is Ganshof, Cha l magn and th Administ ation of J sti , in F anois Lo is Ganshof, Frankish
Institutions under Charlemagne, trans. Bryce and Mary Lyon (New York, 1968), pp. 71-97.
On Carolingian justice see Davies and Fouracre, Settlement of Disputes, the essays in eds. Warren Brown and Piotr
Grecki, Conflict in Medieval Europe (Aldershot, Hants, UK, 2003); and La giustizia nellalto medioevo I
(secoli V-VIII) in Settimane di studio 42 (Spoleto, 1995) and II (secoli IX-XI), Settimane di studio 43 (Spoleto,
See the important conclusion in Davies and Fouracre, Settlement of Disputes, esp. pp. 214-228.

rather than exploring the violence the Carolingian state itself exercised in the course of

performing justice.5

As important as this corrective has been, however, as a result in recent decades virtually

nothing has been written about the use of what might be generally termed judicial violence, that

is, torture and corporal punishment inflicted to elicit confessions from those accused or to punish

those convicted. Instead, recent scholarship has emphasized that such relatively pacific

procedures as oath helping, the use of written evidence, and interrogation of witnesses were

integral to Frankish legal procedure. The result has been, as Barbara Rosenwein has suggested,

that two generations of historians have developed an image of justice that might rightly be called


A notabl x ption to this app oa h is Edwa d P t s Torture, a bold and important

book that, in a concise treatment, traces the history of torture in western judicial tradition to the

twentieth century.7 Not surprisingly, the early Middle Ages is a period to which Peters devotes

only a few pages in his powerful book: he is clearly after bigger game. At the time of its

publication the book was one of those rare monographs by a professional medievalist that

succeeded in reaching a wider audience, not only of scholars and students, but also of educated

men and women concerned with the historical dimensions of an important, if somber, aspect of

the judicial tradition. Recently and sadly, world attention has again been directed to the question

of torture and judicial cruelty, not only in those many parts of the world where they never

disappeared and continue to be an integral part of daily life, but also in Western democracies. To

See in particular ed. Guy Halsall, Violence and Society in the Early Medieval West (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1998);
ed. Franois Bougard, La Vengeance, 400-1200 (Rome, 2006); and the essays by Stephen D. White, Feuding
and Peace-Making in Eleventh-Century France (Aldershot, Hants, UK, 2005).
a ba a Ros nw in, W iting witho t f a abo t a ly m di val motions, Early Medieval Europe 10 (2001), pp.
Edward Peters, Torture (New York, 1985).

what extent Am i an j sti , with its d ath p nalty, p mits l and n s al p nishm nt

and to what extent the ongoing, transnational struggle against violent anti-Western terrorism

must incorporate torture have once more become publicly debated issues.

And yet, while such debates about contemporary violent justice dominate headlines and

although scholars are aware that torture and excruciating corporal punishment existed in early

medieval judicial proceedings to some extent, medieval torture is generally said to become

common only in the thirteenth century. Robert Bartlett has perceptively discussed the

reappearance of torture within the context of the decline of the ordeal and has emphasized that

torture, when it reappears in the high Middle Ages, was explicitly regarded as an alternative to

the ordeal.8 In what follows, I would like to reconsider the Carolingian uses of judicial violence,

including corporal punishment and torture employed to elicit confessions, to correct the image of

Carolingian justice that has developed in recent decades. I also wish to put forth as an hypothesis

that on might xt nd a tl tts th sis by s gg sting that not only did th disapp a an of th

ordeal contribute to the increased use of judicial torture but also that the ordeal may have

replaced judicial torture in parts of post-Carolingian Europe.

In spite of the relatively abundant extant records of Carolingian courts or placita, we

know very little about the torture or physical punishment exercised in the course of Carolingian

justice. This is in part because virtually all of the surviving placita concern property disputes or

claims of free status on the part of individuals or groups of peasants. In such cases, which today

would be considered issues of civil rather than criminal law, remedies are the surrender of real

property or the submission of individuals to the authority of their masters rather than either fines

or physical punishment. By their nature, what we would term criminal cases are little likely to

have left documentary evidencepunishment would have been immediate and definitiveand
Robert Bartlett, Trial by Fire and Water: The Medieval Judicial Ordeal (Oxford, 1986), esp. pp. 139-146.

even if such records did exist, there would be little reason for them to have been preserved after

the death of the parties involved. As for torture, the protocols of Carolingian placita provide no

place for the description of the circumstances under which individuals gave testimony. If

pressure or even torture was indeed employed, it is absent from the formal record. As a result,

the image that written sources provide of Carolingian justice is remarkably pacific: cases held by

counts or missi, whether resolved by clear judgments or settled through amicable compromise,

provide no evidence of physical pain, suffering, mutilation, or death.

To some extent, this is also the image presented in the so- all d G mani o

ba ba ian laws that ontin d to b opi d, am nd d, and th s, w an inf , appli d in th

later eighth and ninth centuries. In these various legal compilations, drawn up under the

influence of Roman vulgar legal practice, and by the eighth century more territorial than

personal, the vast majority of offenses can be atoned for by the payment of wergild. Only if the

offender and his kindred are unable to make this payment is a corporal penalty, usually death, the

alternative. Only the unfree are regularly subject to corporal punishment rather than payment for

their offenses.9

Corporal punishment is more present in the capitularies, specifically in those directed

toward the Saxons, for whom a wide range of behavior merits death. Two capitularies in

particular, that of Herstal10 and the capitulare de Latronibus,11 do address the punishment of

theft. The former in particular prescribes specific punishments: for the first offense, the loss of

an eye; for the second, the loss of a nose; and for the third, death.12 Such explicit references to

Lex Salica 68 2, 3. ed. Karl August Eckhart, MGH Leges nationum Germanicarum IV, II, (Hannover, 1969), p.
108. The Lex Baiwariorum IX, 20 also assumes that slaves are tortured in interrogations, MGH Leges nationum
Germanicarum V, II Lex Baiwariorum (Hannover, 1926), pp. 382-383.
Capitulare Haristallense, 779, MGH Capit. I, pp. 46-51.
Capitulare de Latronibus, MGH Capit., pp. 180-181.
MGH Capit. I, 20, c. 23, p. 51.

violent punishment are rare, however, and generally penalties tend to include fines and, more

rarely, exile.

But it would be hopelessly naive to believe that Carolingian justice functioned either

without judicial torture or without corporal punishments, ranging from beatings to mutilation to

death in a variety of excruciating manners. Narrative sources mention blindings, drownings, and

execution with sufficient frequency, even if only in connection with elites caught up in political

conflict, to make us cognizant of the ever-present possibility of corporal punishment in

Carolingian justice.

Nor is this in any way surprising. Much of Carolingian law and legal practice derives

from Roman law, in which torture, mutilation, and execution were prescribed both for the

interrogation of unfree witnesses and as punishment for a wide range of offenses.13 Thus it would

b a g av o to imagin that th s p nalti s a vid n of ba ba ian t aditionthey are

inherited from Roman tradition. Torture was a normal and even necessary part of the

interrogation of unfree witnesses or accused, and the public infliction of pain, mutilation, and

execution as penalties on less privileged members of the community had long characterized the

exercise of Roman justice. Such measures, largely restricted in the Republic and the Principate to

slaves and noncitizens, became increasingly common in their application to all but the

honestiores in Late Antiquity. These practices were incorporated into Visigothic legal practice

and into oth ba ba ian od s as w ll.14

On Roman criminal procedure and punishment see the still-essential Theodor Mommsen, Rmisches Strafrecht
(Leipzig, 1899), esp. pp. 405-418 on torture and pp. 981-985 on corporal punishment; O. F. Robinson, The
Criminal Law of Ancient Rome (London, 1995); Jens-Uwe Krause, Gefngnisse im Rmischen Reich (Stuttgart,
1996); and sp. K. M. Col man, Fatal Cha ad s: Roman Ex tions Stag d as Mythologi al Ena tm nts, The
Journal of Roman Studies, 80 (1990), pp. 44-73, which discusses much more than simply the executions
announced in the title. Fo lat antiq ity s also Mi ha l K likowski, F onto, th bishops, and th owd:
Episcopal justice and communal violence in fifth- nt y Ta a on nsis, Early Medieval Europe 11 (2002),
pp. 295-320.
Floyd S ywa d L a , Th P bli Law of th Visigothi Cod , Speculum 26 (1951), pp. 1-23.

The threat of physical pain at the hands of judges was thus a normal expectation for the

vast majority of the inhabitants of the late empire and its successor kingdoms. Such violence in

the pursuit of justice was an integral part of Carolingian justice, both in regions largely under

Roman law and in areas where Germanic laws predominated, even if its exercise has left

relatively little evidence in the written record.

Those few who have addressed the question of criminal justice in the Carolingian period

have concentrated less on the harshness of the justice meted out by judges than on their failure to

p ovid j sti at all. This is ind d th fo s of Pa l Fo a s x ll nt s mma y of th

rhetoric of judicial reform in the Carolingian world.15 Fouracre notes that those capitularies of

Charlemagne that most address the problems of criminal justice, primarily Herstal 16 and the

capitulare de Latronibus17 fo s sp ifi ally on th fail to a s iminals and th fail to

deliver criminals up to the co nt fo j sti .18 Certainly the corruption of judges and their

failure to prosecute criminals vigorously are recurrent issues in Carolingian reform language, but

they are not the only ones addressed by reformers. At least a few were concerned not simply with

judges who did not pursue criminals but also with those who did so with excessive or arbitrary


Three Carolingian texts shed particular light on the use of corporal punishment in the

courts of the ninth century. They are poems rather than records of courts, but all three purport to

describe the proper exercise of justice by royal officers. The anonymous Carmen de Timone

comite, produced in Bavaria sometime in the mid-ninth century, presents what might be seen as

the majority image of the proper use of violence in Carolingian court proceedings:

Pa l Fo a , Ca olingian J sti : Th Rh to i of Imp ov m nt and Cont xts of Ab s , La Giustizia nellalto
medioevo I, vol. II, pp. 771-803.
Capitulare Haristallense, 779, MGH Capit. I, pp. 46-51.
Capitulare de Latronibus, MGH Capit., pp. 180-181.
Fouracre, p. 797.

Therefore, when the count arrives, he orders that thieves be hanged,
And that the cheeks of robbers be forever branded.
That criminals be disgracefully maimed by having their noses cut off;
This one loses a foot, and that one loses a hand.19

This imag of omital j sti a o ds w ll with Pa l Fo a s d s iption of how a

judge ought to act: to punish thieves with severity and not to be swayed by bribes or external


Such a view of Carolingian justice, however, is only part of the story. If unjust judges fail

to enforce the law with proper severity, others, according to Theodulf of Orleans, do so with too

much cruelty. Theodulf develops this other critique of Carolingian justice in two poems, his

Paraenesis ad judices, also known as his Address to Judges,20 and his Comparison of Ancient

and Modern Laws, a poem that contrasts human and divine law.21 In what follows, I will attempt

to sp lat on how Th od lfs po ms, b sid s do m nting extremes of cruelty as a judicial

punishment, may also suggest widespread use of torture in obtaining testimony in certain cases

involving questions of free status, uses that may have contributed to the subsequent use of threats

of ordeal, which, in turn, may have replaced torture as a coercive measure between the tenth and

thirteenth centuries.

In o d to nd stand Th od lfs iti ism of o po al p nishm nt as w ll as of th s

of torture in order to obtain testimony, one must consider the structure and organization of the

Paraenesis as a whol . Th od lfs long po m, b a s of th d tail d d s iption of an antiq

Ernst Dmmler, ed., MGH Poetae Latini aevi Carolini II (Berlin, 1884), pp. 120-124, here p. 122, ll. pp. 65-68.
On the Carmen, see Warren Brown, Unjust Seizure: Conflict, Interest, and Authority in an Early Medieval
Society (Ithaca, NY, 2001), pp. 1-5 and pp. 206-208.
Versus Theodulfi episcopi contra iudices, ed. Ernst Dmmler, MGH Poetae Latini aevi Carolini I (Berlin, 1881),
pp. 493-517. The poem was translated by Nikolai A. Alexand nko in his diss tation, Th Po t y of Th od lf
of O l ans: A T anslation and C iti al St dy (Ph.D. Diss tation, T lan Univ sity, 1970), pp. 157-202. I
hav s d Al xand nkos t anslation wh n v possibl .
Ernst Dmmler, ed., MGH Poetae Latini aevi Carolini I (Berlin, 1881), pp. 517-520. Trans. Alexandrenko, pp.

vase offered to Theodulf if he would find in favor of a party, has been the focus of a great

amount of scholarship on the knowledge of classical mythology in the Carolingian renaissance.22

However, its essence is a systematic critique of the work of a royal judge that incorporates his

own experience as a royal missus in Provence and Septimania at the end of the eighth century,

and is an extended exhortation to royal judges to act with justice and mercy. Much of the poem is

devoted to the universal problem of bribery and concentrates on the temptations facing a judge to

accept gifts from parties in lawsuits to favor their cause. However, while much of the poem is an

exhortation to judges and others involved in the administration of justice to resist bribery and to

act with honesty in court, the poem also outlines the steps of a judicial proceeding, beginning

with the entry of the judges into a city; their arrival at the thronged court; the admission of

litigants by the (normally corrupt) doorkeeper; the proper seating of the litigants and judges; the

investigation of the individual case by hearing the arguments of the litigants; the interrogation of

witnesses; the taking of oaths; the judgment; and the meting out of punishments. The poem then

ends with a plea to judges to show mercy.23

It is in the final sections, the description of punishments and the plea for mercy, that

Theodulf addresses judicial violence both in the use of corporal punishment and in torture to

elicit confessions. Discussing punishments, he describes the penalties permitted by law and

contrasts, on the one hand, the demands that these be applied and, on the other, an exhortation to

l m n y: Th law ommands that th vil h ads of th ond mn d b t off, th i l gs,

genitals, eyes, backs, hands; to burn their limbs, to fill their mouths with molten lead, or

SG lind tzigh im , D H k l s-Mythos als G fd ko : Ein d s iptio d s Th od lf von O lans,
Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch: Internationale Zeitschrift fr Medivistik / International Journal of Medieval
Studies / Revue internationale des tudes mdivales / Rivista internazionale di studi medievali 39, no. 2,
(2004), pp.183-205; Lawrence Nees, A Tainted Mantle: Hercules and the Classical Tradition at the
Carolingian Court (Philadelphia, 1991); Ibid., Th od lf's mythi al silv H l s vas , po ti a vanitas, and
th A g stinian itiq of th Roman h itag , Dumbarton Oaks Papers 41 (1987), pp. 443-451.
Gabriel Monod provides a summary of the judicial asp ts of th po m in L s mo s j di iai s a VIII si l
dap s l Paraenesis ad Judices d Thod lf, Revue historique 35 (1887), pp.1-20.

what v ls h man laws d mand.24 Still Theodulf is uncomfortable with such punishments

which, he contends, contradict the Christian obligation of compassion.

In Th od lfs s ond po m, th Comparison of Ancient and Modern Laws, he expands on

his critique of human justice, contrasting the penalties demanded by modern law with those of

th ibl . Th od lf a g s that if In a ly tim s p nishm nts w s v , in o tim s th y a

v n mo l.25 Theodulf contrasts biblical punishments that demand restitution and

compensation with contemporary punishments that, he contends, demand death or mutilation

even for theft. To Theodulf, biblical punishments better fit the crime than do the human penalties

of his day: If th ibl ommand d that h who st als a b a tif l lamb f om th flo k sto it

twice over to him who took it, th n it is nknown x pt in o day that th app h nd d thi f

is p nish d by d ath.26 He goes on to enumerate the penalties prescribed by contemporary law

fo thi v s: Mod n law tak s away y s, th so of b g tting b a tif l offsp ing, a l g and

hand at the same time. They order that backs be cut with brands, lead be poured into the mouth,

that ears, noses and all that is beautiful be cut off. They order that swift feet be amputated and

that with a rope around it, the neck, suspended from a high pole, should bear the weight of a

thi f.27

In only one area does he see modern law as less severe than that of the Bible: biblical law

required, he writes, an eye for an eye and a life for a life, while modern law requires that human

blood pay for that of animals. And yet, if someone strikes and kills another in rage, the price for

this offense is cheap: money, livestock, or fear of imprisonment.28

MGH Poetae Latini aevi Carolini I, ll. 847-850, p. 515.
Ibid., p. 517.
Ibid., p. 518.

Th od lfs obj tion to m tilation and oth fo ms of o po al p nishm nt a not simply

based on the disparity between biblical and modern justice. In his Comparison of Ancient and

Modern Laws, he contrasts what he considers the cruelty of the modern law with the Gospel

admonition to t n good fo vil. Th Lo d did not o d to t n vil fo vil, p oa h for

ha sh p oa h, atta k fo atta k.29 In the Paraenesis, however, his opposition to mutilation and

execution is more sociologically grounded. First, in response to those who might insist that

Theodulf is opposing the restraint of evil, he urges that judges be neither too lenient nor too

savage. Neither should law make one cruel, nor pity, soft. He urges that the guilty be enchained,

that th y b b at n, b t h g s do not stain yo blad with w t h d blood.30 He would

rather be known as a judge who saves lives and whose sight returns strength to the weakened

body of the throng.

These thoughts of mercy are encouraged by a further consideration: the plight of the poor

oppressed by the rich. Pauper in Carolingian Latin is often opposed to potens, the poor being

those who are without power, not simply without wealth.31 This is l a ly th as in Th od lfs

poem, in which pauper, miser, or inpos d signat on nabl to p has j sti . What a poo

man loses, he is said to los j stly; What a i h man g abs, h is tho ght to tak j stly.32 Here,

in Th od lfs xp i n , is th x of th p obl m in th administ ation of j sti . H p s nts

bribery and corruption not simply as general evils affecting justice but most particularly as

leading to the tyranny of the powerful over the weak.

Ibid., p. 519.
Th lassi st dy is Ka l osl, Potens et pauper: Begriffsgeschichtliche Studien zur gesellschaftlichen
Diff nzi ng im f h n Mitt lalt nd z m Pa p ism s d s Ho hmitt lalt s, in Ka l osl, Frhformen
der Gesellschaft im mittelalterlichen Europa; ausgewhlte Beitrge zu einer Strukturanalyse der
mittelalterlichen Welt (Munich, 1964), pp.106-134.
MGH Poetae Latini aevi Carolini I, ll. 915-916, p. 516.

This tyranny is most painfully evident in the practice of judicial torture to elicit

confessions. For it is here alone that he broaches the question of the inflicting of physical pain

not as punishment but to extract confession. He suggests a series of accusations that the rich

b ing against th poo : h is a thi f, h is ady to fl ; his mind is d itf l; h is d ptiv , h

steals and robs, he plots to avoid our service, he has been fleeing our neighbor for a long time.

Bind them to a post, chain their arms, make them confess their evil, make them bear the lash of


This list of accusations is more than simply a random series of reproaches. The

suggestion that the pauper is fugax (inclined to flee), that he attempts to avoid services owed the

dives, and that h has fl d th a s s n ighbo , a all a sations b o ght by a landown

who is claiming that peasants who assert their freedom are in fact servile. The specific instance

of abuse, then, is one commonly observed in Carolingian placita: a group of peasants refuse

compulsory services demanded by a local landowner; they attempt to elude his authority and that

of other local landowners. They declare that the lands that they work are their own, not those of a

lo d. Th od lfs stat m nt that th lo ds th n d mand that th s pa p s b s bj t d to to t

so that th y might onf ss th i vil is onsist nt with this laim of s vil stat s: if ind d

servile, they are subject to corporal punishment to force them to testify. The demand on the part

of their accuser that they be chained and beaten in order to reveal their legal status is thus a

demand that they be treated from the start not as freemen but as servi. Little wonder, then, that

Th od lf omm nts that thos making th s d mands do so b a s th y wish to st ip th m of

th i p op ty, not of th i vi s.34


Within Th od lfs itiq of j di ial lty, th n, is a itiq not only of to t as

punishment, but also of the torture of individuals intended to coerce confession to the

accusations of the powerful.

Th od lfs on n that pow f l landown s a ging j dg s to s j di ial to t ,

permitted, as we have seen in both Roman and Barbarian law only on the unfree, to prove the

unfree status of peasants, resonates with a general issue remarked upon by Janet Nelson. Talking

abo t W st F ankish disp t s ttl m nt, sh point d o t Lo ds w l a ly sho t of manpow ,

and used the courts to impose their demands on refractory peasants, sometimes putting the

ma hin y in motion to s a j dgm nt on th s vil stat s of a singl man o woman.35

Nelson cites a number of placita and formulary texts that indicate the relative frequency of such

actions.36 Disputes concerning servile status were indeed an important issue in the ninth century.

Among the Formulae Senonenses recentiores from the reign of Louis the Pious, for example,

one finds a series of protocols for judgments in which men lose court cases denying their status

as servi or coloni.37 The procedures in all of these cases seem so simple that if one were to take

them as literal descriptions of the cases, one would wonder why the peasants had brought them at

all. For example, a man claims that he is not the servus or colonus of a monastery or of a lord.

He is unable to provide evidence, but the individual or institution claiming him produces

testimony from witnesses to his servile status, and he loses his case. This is quite similar to the

case examined by Janet Nelson of some twenty-three named men of St. Denis who in 861

Jan t L. N lson, Disp t s ttl m nt in Ca olingian W st F an ia, in ds. W ndy Davi s and Pa l Fo a , The
Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge and New York, 1992), p. 52
Ibid., p. 52, n. 27.
MGH Formulae, esp. formulae 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, pp. 211-214.

claimed that they were free coloni by birth and were being unjustly forced into inferior service.38

The Abbey produced its witnesses and the peasants promptly lost their case.

Do such formulaic accounts of the proceedings tell the whole story? Are the plaintiffs or

even the witnesses tortured or threatened with torture? It is impossible to say: to do so would be

to argue from silence. Certainly some cases in which peasants were forced into servitude were

deemed unjust: two formulas from the reign of Louis the Pious provide for the restitution of the

freedom of which they had been unjustly deprived.39 The first specifically states that the

individual had had his liberty taken from him by the count.40 Accusations that such judicial

proceedings to determine freedom were settled by force certainly appear. In a placitum held at

Turin in 880, for example, one Maurinus and his son Ansevertus claimed that the monastery of

Novalesa wrongly held them in s vit d v n th o gh th y w f m n. Th monast ys

advocate responded by presenting a notice of a previous judgment in which they had been

d la d s fs of th monast y. Th laimants spons , ltimat ly j t d fo la k of

evidence, was that th j dgm nt was invalid b a s all that had b n don had b n don by

fo and not by [p op ] j dgm nt.41

What sort of force might be brought to bear on peasants claiming liberty is impossible to

determine. One might nevertheless suspect that one possibility was real or threatened torture or

possibly its later analogue, the ordeal.

No Carolingian placita indicate that peasants claiming free status were tortured or

threatened with torture as part of legal proceedings to adjudicate their cases. By the twelfth

Nelson, pp. 51-52.
MGH Formulae, Fo m la Imp ial s, 5, p. 291. P pt m d his, q ib s p op i m a t lib tas ini st t p
pot nt s ablata st; and 9, p. 293, P pt m s p his, q i ini st t ont a l g m ad s vi i m in linati t
fisco regio addicti et post a lib ati donati s nt.
MGH Formulae, p. 291.
Carlo Cipolla, ed. Monumenta Novaliciensia vetustiora, I (Rome, 1898), p. 91.

century, however, as we shall see, the ordeal had become a common form of proof in such cases.

Can one demonstrate that the ordeal, demanded of peasants claiming free status, was the

successor of the judicial torture applied or threatened on those who claimed free status? Certainly

not. However, it is worth considering the circumstantial evidence connecting the practice of trial

by ordeal, either unilateral or bilateral, with the demonstration of servile status from the post

Carolingian period.

The evidence from the Liber de Servis of the monastery of Marmoutier is particularly

suggestive in this regard.42 This extraordinary manuscript, which contains charters and

do m nts lating to th monast ys s fs f om th t nth and l v nth nt i s, ontains a

number of cases in which peasants unsuccessfully contested their servile status. In one mid-

eleventh-century case, one Turbatus denied his servile status and was granted a hearing at a

placitum before Count Tibald.43 However, when at the placitum, the monks presented one of his

relatives who affirmed that he was a serf and offered to prove it by judicial combat, Turbatus

ended his case and acknowledged his unfree status. Similarly, when a claim was presented to the

monastery that a tailor and his son had been given to the monastery not as serfs but as colliberti,

the monks arrived at a placitum at Vendme with a champion named Teelus who was ready to

p ov by o d al th monast ys as , pon whi h th laim was d opp d.44

A different but perhaps related form of pre-judgment punishment was meted out to one

Gandelbert who denied that he was a serf of the monastery. He was not tortured, but the prior

took him to the monastery and imprisoned him until he admitted his servile status.45

Andr Salmon, ed., Livre des Serfs de Marmoutier (Tours, 1864).
No. XI, pp. 12-13.
No. CI, pp. 94-95.
Livre des Serfs, no. CVI, p. 100.

A shepherd Otbertus and his wife Plectrude were forced into servitude because Otbertus

had b n d on of th monast ys ba ns and was nabl to pay fo th damag . Wh n th monks

also claimed as a serf their son Vitalis, his mother offered to undergo a trial by hot iron to prove

that he had been born before his parents had been reduced to servitude. However, just as the iron

had been heated for the ordeal, she withdrew her offer.46

The monks alleged that one Stephan Dogleg (Gambacanis) became a serf of Marmoutier

by marrying a s f of th monast y. Aft his wif s d ath h ma i d a f woman and laim d

that he was himself free. He prepared to prove his freedom by ordeal by battle. However, when

the appointed time for the ordeal arrived, he surrendered his claim and underwent the traditional

ritual of recognition of his servitude: he placed four denarii on his head and through them offered

himself to Saint Martin and his monks.47

The parallels between these threats of painful or even deadly ordeal or imprisonment

without trial used on peasants claiming free status to force them to renounce their claims

tainly ho Th od lfs omplaint that p asants laiming f stat s w hained or tortured

in order to coerce them into surrendering their claims. If Robert Bartlett is correct that the

judicial torture of the High and later Middle Ages did indeed replace the ordeal, one might argue

that at an earlier period the ordeal had replaced judicial torture. But whether or not this was the

case, the violence of early medieval justice, not only as punishments of those found guilty, but as

means to extract confessions of those accused, must be recognized as an integral if disputed

element of early medieval justice.

Livre des Serfs, no. CXXVII, p. 117.
Livre des Serfs, Appendix, no. VI, p. 125.

Chapter Twelve

Visions of Medieval Studies in North America1

As we begin our reflection on medieval studies, it is appropriate to remember that North

Am i ans, in th vi w of E op ans, a th oth , that is, voi s th y p iv as sit at d,

like our Russian, Australian, New Zealand, and Japanese colleagues, on the periphery of the

geographical and perhaps sometimes intellectual world of the Middle Ages. Since no scholars

currently teaching and working in Europe have been invited to participate in this collective

reflection on the past and future of medieval studies, I propose to bring something of this

external vision to our attention. In particular I wish to examine what, if anything, scholars

believe makes the medieval scholarship of North American distinctive from that conducted in

Europe. In other words, what is it we do, what is it that we do well, and what distinguishes or

unites us with our European colleagues?

In this examination I am much less interested in my own perceptions of medieval studies

than I am in how we perceive ourselves and are perceived by European colleagues. To this end I

have contacted a spectrum of Canadian and U.S. scholars in English and French, in art history

and other disciplines within medieval studies and asked them frankly what, if anything, they see

as distinguishing the work that they and their North American colleagues do from that done in

Britain and on the Continent. Not, however, being content to present the self-image of North

Americans, I have also asked a number of British, French, German, Belgian, Austrian, and

Italian scholars the same questions. How do they see the work done by New World medievalists?

This article originally appeared in The Past and Future of Medieval Studies, ed. John Van Engen, (Notre Dame,
1994), pp. 45-57.

How does it fit into what they and their colleagues are doing? When they see differences, how do

they account for those differences?

This, I must emphasize, was not a rigorous, formal survey. It was entirely impressionistic,

relying largely on my own informal network here and abroad. Nevertheless, it has allowed me to

begin to see what we do in a somewhat different light. I share these comments, which out of

consideration to those I pressed for frank evaluations I keep anonymous, in the hope that they

might serve as introductions to some of the issues facing North American medievalists in the last

decade of the twentieth century. In particular I urge us to listen to the voices and visions from

outside of North American so that we might begin to understand ourselves as others see us.

Some foreign scholars suggest that in their fields, North Americans lead the world. This

is the opinion of one European musicologist, who suggests that the Germans who arrived in the

U.S. after Kristallnacht not only continued to make major contributions but succeeded in training

subsequent generations of American musicologists who have continued the tradition both in

editing work, although generally with relatively few manuscripts consulted, and in theory. Part of

the American leadership, he concedes, is by default: in Germany there are fewer medieval

musicologists and he expects the tradition to die out altogether shortly. In France, he describes

th stat of m di val m si ology bl ntly as mis abl .

In some fields the differences between the kinds of scholarship being done on the two

sides of the Atlantic is minimal. This seems to be in the case in Middle English. Today, thanks to

Margaret Thatcher, it is very difficult to talk about a distinct American as opposed to British

Middle English tradition: some of the very best British are here permanently or come regularly.

We have something else to thank Margaret Thatcher for: the systematic destruction of British

higher education that has radicalized and polarized many of the best minds in British academia,

who have organized for survival around a kind of Marxist material cultural approach to Middle

English which has also found fertile ground in some North American literature departments and

MLA panels.

If there is a difference in approaches to Middle English on the two sides of the Atlantic,

perhaps it is the relative diversity and eclecticism represented in the American scene. Twenty

years ago, the fight was against dominant traditions which celebrated church hierarchy, the

reading of literature for power politics, or reading Middle English through Augustinian or

perhaps neo-Thomist optics. This is old stuff today. And yet survivors of the intellectual history

tradition jostle the new historicists, Marxists, post-modernists, and post-deconstructionists, all of

whom still find themselves on panels at conferences with people who are not afraid to mock

intertextuality and interedisciplinarity. It is relevant in understanding this anarchy to realize that

here these intellectual traditions exist in an institutional and political atmosphere which, while

threatening, is not yet Thatcherism. At the same time, one must gauge the extent to which the

emergence of the new historicist tradition today, no less than the Robertsonian analysis of the

1960s, tends toward hegemony. Thus far, the general answer is that new historicists and Marxist

materialists do not search for, or at least have not achieved, this hegemonic position. Still, one

can ask whether, for some at least, pluralism is a dirty word.

Other areas of medieval studies exist within the cracks and corners of exactly this

diversity in departments of English. One is medieval Latin, once the cornerstone of medieval

studies, which rarely has its own identity outside of Toronto. This tradition, which originated in

the generation of Traube students including Beeson, Rand, and Charles U. Clark, has no

institutional base in American universities. Instead Latinists hide out in faculties in English,

philosophy, French, and even history, where they are frequently made more welcome than in

departments of classics.

Some practitioners see this as a blessing. First, I am told, the dispersion of Latinists

across the university functions as a kind of glue, holding together medieval vernacular studies. In

a major university, one is never far from someone in German, English, or Romance languages

who is actually a Latin philologist reminding us that vernacular literature was, for most of the

thousand-year period we study, a minor genre usually written by people who did most of their

writing and thinking in Latin. Second, because Latinists must do other things as well, they have

remained more in touch with literary critical methodology and the like than classics ever has,

wh , as on Latinist who t a h s in a lassi s d pa tm nt s gg sts, w always st ggling

a g n ation b hind. H on l d s that Th fa t that m di val Latin sp ialists a to b

found in an odd variety of departments has a negative effect on collegiality among them as a

g o p, b t a positiv ff t on th i int a tion with oll ag s oth wis . Th downsid , h

goes on to say, is that it is hard to transmit a discipline when there is no core program where one

can send students for training.

One American suggested that our peculiar relationship to Latin training results from our

lack of connectedness to European assumptions about this language. In Britain, she contends,

Latin was taught in schools in a way that implied a congruence between the British Empire and

that of the Romans. The Latin of the Aeneid was somehow their Latin too. British medievalists

feel comfortable with this humanistic Latinity and find it in the Renaissance of the twelfth

century for example, or in the great bishop-administrators of the thirteenth. In Germany Latin is

the legal language and so Germans reading medieval Latin see the juristic and constitutional

implications. In France and in Italy, Latin is simply the language, for French and especially

Italian are Latin, changed and evolved of course. Thus in France all historical inquiry is in a

sense literary inquiry and writing medieval history explicitly a literary activity. But in the U.S.

Latin is strange, curious, foreign, somehow not ours. It is unmoored from anything in our secular

histo y and sonat s only with o ligion; b t, sin Vati an II, v n this is gon . All this

m ans, sh on l d s, that Am i an m di valists visit th Middle Ages as a more utterly and

profo ndly fo ign o nt y than E op an m di valists. Small wond that m di val Latinists,

the ultimate aliens, must make their living in the American university by doing something else.

The problem of people practicing their professional interests on their own time while

making their living teaching in other fields is also at the heart, I am told by one European

Byzantinist, of the deep problem affecting Byzantine studies in North America. There are no jobs

in Byzantine history. This is not an exaggeration. This year, one post was announced in all of

North America, and the offer was subsequently canceled. The result is that North American

Byzantinists, like medieval Latinists, must sell themselves as something else. Generally this is to

teach western European history or possibly Greek language or history, unless they leave academe

altogether for another profession.

Since there are no jobs in Byzantine, there are few teachers of Byzantine, few institutions

where students can be trained to be Byzantinists, and still fewer where Byzantinists can develop

the broad perspective on history in which to understand the Byzantine world. This, my European

informant contends, is the basic problem of Byzantine studies in North America: undergraduates

and graduate students lack this historical context within which to draw comparative frameworks

for understanding Byzantium. They are too ignorant of Latin Europe, of Islam, and of the Far

East. This tunnel vision cuts Byzantine culture off from its sibling cultures. Byzantium on its

own is not as interesting as Byzantium in the medieval world, or Byzantine traditions compared

with Chinese bureaucracy or Japanese feudalism.

Byzantine studies are seen either as part of ethnic Greek studies or as a luxury which is

among the first to go in times of austerity. And yet, within the contemporary world, the

Byzantine tradition is essential if we are to understand the vast changes affecting eastern and

central Europe as well as the Near East. Heavens knows that America desperately needs such

knowledge. However, for the most part American Byzantinists (my informant continues) are

either incapable or uninterested in addressing these broad and vital concerns which would

demonstrate the connectedness of Byzantine studies to understanding the Slavic, Hellenic, and

Turkic worlds of today. The tunnel vision which characterizes students going into Byzantine

studies characterizes too much of the work of those who have survived in the profession, or so I

am told.

The opposite of tunnel vision is seen to characterize much of other areas of medieval

history, although this breadth is a two-edged sword. The negative component is that some

Europeans see Americans as too far removed from the sources. As one Belgian scholar

suggested, many European scholars consider that North American hover over the surface of their

subject but fail to do the kind of exhaustive local research necessary to master thoroughly all of

the documents, topography, and local history in the way that a native historian can. I am very

familiar with this problem. Several years ago I struggled for months with everything from

eighteenth-century local publications to World War II ordnance maps to CIA publications in an

attempt to identify some 200 places in Provence and the Piedmont in an eighth-century

testament. After publication, a colleague who is a native of Avignon pointed out that one village

near his home that I had identified as belonging to the list had received its name only in the

nineteenth century in honor of a French military hero. Had I been a native of Avignon, I would

never have made such a blunder.

On the other hand, the same Belgian who points to the perception of the superficiality of

American archival research suggests that Americans work comparatively, more frequently

addressing the theoretical framework and broader conclusions and implication of their work than

do many Europeans whose deep familiarity with local sources exists in a vacuum. He attributes

this not only to the inaccessibility of sources to those of us who must do archival research in one-

semester or at best one-year increments, but also to the institutional situation in which we find

ourselves. First, we are forced to teach early modern and renaissance periods in our disciplines as

well as medieval and thus are exposed to theoretical problems and issues raised outside of

medieval perspectives. Second, we seldom can specialize on as narrow a geographical

perspective as a single country in our courses.

An American writing French history echoed this positive appreciation of the influence of

the teaching system in his own work. Although he publishes exclusively on medieval France, he

always teaches comparative French and English history. His knowledge of English history has

made him a closet comparativist: all of his work is implicitly comparative, even though one sees

only the French side of this comparison in his publications.

This broader, comparative aspect of American medieval studies and particularly medieval

history is the characteristic most frequently mentioned by American and Europeans alike. With

rare exceptions, Europeans remain tied to a local or national conception of the past. Our

esteemed European colleagues whom we so much admire are in fact the counterparts to our

colleagues at home who teach American civilization and whose parochialism we so much regret.

Several German colleagues, commenting on the relative ignorance of North American

scholarship in Germany, explained that for all their strength, many German medievalists are

driven by the fear that they might have to compete not only with each other but with foreigners,

and they deal with this by simply ignoring these outsiders. Thus North American, French, or

British scholars seldom appear in the bibliographies of major German reference works or

synth s s. Wh n No th Am i ans a ogniz d, and th y giv as xampl s John F ds wo k

on Salzburg ministerials and Andrew Lewis on the Capetians, their thematic and methodological

contributions to, for example, the history of the medieval nobility or the ministerialage are

ignored. These outsiders are recognized simply for providing specific regional studies, usually of

areas on the margins of German scholarly interest.

In North America it is hard to ignore competing traditions. One French scholar

comment d that Th ont asts and onf ontations fo m d in E op a fl t d in Am i a. It

seems to me that difference chez vous has a positive effect, namely that diversity is not isolated

by more or less national traditions but rather is encountered within great universities. The clash

of div s attit d s is both onstant and b n fi ial.

By no means is this European parochialism limited to political historians. Speaking of the

great David Knowles, one scholar admitted that for all his learning, Knowles tended to think of

Scotland and England as more similar than England and France in the Middle Ages because in

the twentieth century they are part of the same national polity. A British scholar echoes the

opinion that North Americans can escape this parochialism, saying that North Americans have at

their disposal all the European traditions, and it is the choice and the blending of traditions that

gives them such strength.

This lack of national tradition or bias is constantly emphasized by Europeans. As one

British histo ian s gg st d, Am i an m di valists hav th pot ntial to t ans nd o avoid th

in vitabl national bias s o p sp tiv s of E op an s hola s, sin th y dont hav to id ntify

with on pa ti la E op an o nt y, altho gh h adds many do. An A st ian on d,

saying that in his experience, Americans take a unified view of the Middle Ages while European

scholars work within national if not nationalist traditions. It would be no exaggeration to state

that unlike Americans, most Europeans do not do European history.

The reason that Europeans do not study European history is that great specter hovering

ov E op an m di val st di s, as ov all asp ts of E op s past, nationalism. If in No th

America, medieval studies are seen as superfluous luxuries or the retreat of those wishing to

escape into a never-never land of pre-class, pre-industrial society, and if we sometimes look

longingly at th nt al position that o o nt pa ts play in th i nations lt al lif , w m st

not forget that they do so at a great price. What is different in the relationship between the role of

medieval studies in North America and that in Europe is that European societies have

appropriated the Middle Ages as their own, have integrated it into their national and regional

mythologies, and thus have created explicit but highly arbitrary links with this period. Medieval

civilization means something to Europeans, but it does so because of a long and often ugly

tradition of the conscious elaboration and manipulation of medieval culture which began at the

end of the eighteenth century. This tradition is alive and well, fostered by a general culture which

rewards medievalists and reinforces their scholarship when they operate within these tried-and-

true traditions. This is as much a part of the European publishing industry, tourism, and

economics as it is of education. To cite but a minor example, a few years ago I published a small

survey of Merovingian history which, in English, is called Before France and Germany and

which attempts to place early medieval history within a non-national context. It met with

considerable scholarly and popular success in France, but the success was probably due in large

part to the French title, which I only learned when I received a copy of the translation: Naissance

de la France.

An Austrian colleague cited a more important example of the freedom of North American

scholars. Since the nineteenth century, both Romance and Germanic scholars had been content to

imagine that the Gothic people installed in Italy in the late fifth and sixth centuries had

appropriated one-third of the arable land from Roman landowners. The sources could be read to

imply this, and Germans were pleased to think that Germanic peoples had been powerful enough

to carry out such a major shift of land ownership in an extraordinarily brief period. French and

Italians had been pleased to accept it as well, seeing it as one more case of brutal German

aggression. Walter Goffart, eschewing nationalist scholarly traditions, simply suggested that if

such an enormous expropriation had taken place, there would have been a tremendous outcry

that would have left some trace in the sources. From this non-ideological perspective he was able

to begin elaborating a thesis of barbarian and Roman accommodation which has received

widespread acceptance, even from Europeans.

My Austrian colleague sees this willingness to look outside of traditional approaches as a

reflection of American pragmatism. Americans, he says, are pragmatists rather than ideologues.

This indeed accounts for the methodological pluralism that one sees in disciplines such as

Romance literature, Middle English, and history. North Americans are drawn to theory, but to

the dismay of many of their theoretically oriented European colleagues, they take an enormously

eclectic approach to applying theory to their work. Social and cultural anthropology, for

xampl , hav by G mans own admission mad littl in oads into ont mpo a y G man

historiography, but they are no more influential in North American than in certain British and

French circles. The difference is that while European scholars tend to apply a single tradition of

analysis, Americans are willing to mix and match from a whole spectrum of anthropological

traditions. Som wo ld dismiss this as an anything go s app oa h; oth s wo ld s it as a

mo p agmati anything that wo ks attit d . Th n t s lt, as a itish oll ag s gg sts

is o iginality. This, sh s gg sts, ombin d with a lian on th s minar to a greater extent

than in itain, l ads to a fa mo xp im ntal app oa h than is possibl in E op .

This global and eclectic approach to medieval studies, if at times superficial and at other

times liberating, also influences the subjects that we tackle. In Europe, both national agendas and

a tradition of master-apprentice relationships maintain the questions asked and the subjects

treated within safe and familiar directions. Americans tend to tackle issues that are essentially

supranational, intellectual history and crusading history, for example. A British scholar

s gg st d that Almost all of th good wo k [in th histo y of m di val philosophy] s ms to

om f om p opl lik Ma ilyn M Co d Adams and ill Co t nay. Many s hola s of English

literature spend as much time working on Italian, French, or Latin texts as they do on Chaucer or

the Pearl Poet, which they see not at all as separate but rather as organically united.

On the other hand, some Europeans suggest that this focus of Americans leaves us more

tied to elite culture, particularly in church, intellectual, and institutional history, than is today

common in much of Europe. A British scholar suggests that North Americans may lead in

intellectual history, literary theory, art history, and the new cultural history. On the other hand,

we are often so tied to the old cultural history that we do not even understand the directions and

implications of recent approaches to medieval culture being done on the continent.

Unlike our early modern colleagues, few of us outside of the Herlihy tradition practice

the sorts of social, demographic, and cultural history of the inarticulate which demand intimate

knowledge of masses of local archives. There have been few American contributions to the

plethora of regional studies which have dominated French medieval history since the 1950s. A

British social historian suggests that the lack of social history in the American tradition

(obviously he is either overlooking or excluding the Raftis school at Toronto) may result from

Cold War ideology or perhaps a tendency for American interested in society to study American

society. Those who pursue medieval history do so, he suggests, with a sense that the Middle

Ages has an a acatholic, nostalgic, faintly elitistthat makes people who choose it gravitate

into int ll t al/ lt al fi lds.

One area in which Americans do excel, and in which they are seen to do so, at least by

som itish, lgian, G man, and F n h histo ians, is in wom ns histo y and g nd st dies.

A itish histo ian who admits to initial sk pti ism dits wom ns st di s with op ning p to

th st of th wo ld a fi ld vi t ally dis ov d in Am i a. On G man histo ian w it s that

Am i an wo k on wom ns histo y has b om v y impo tant for German historiography,

where such questions have always been marginal. This historian goes on to suggest that the very

liv ly dis ssion and d bat within Am i an s hola ship ov th lationship among wom ns

history, gender history, and traditional historical questions has helped German scholars avoid

falling into a kind of egocentric feminist history which both avoids the integration of gender

issues into more traditional historical studies and closes the possibility of new perspectives.

A number of American and European scholars emphasized the role of the unique

institutional circumstances in which North American medieval scholarship develops in

determining its content. First are research centers which bring together scholars from different

disciplines and different national traditions on an ongoing basis. In Europe, such interdisciplinary

cooperation is not unheard of, particularly in German Sonderforschungsbereiche, but these are

ad hoc programs of limited duration. As a British scholar remarked, from the British perspective,

th point abo t Am i an m di val st di s is that th y xist. M di val int sts a not j st

tacked on to departments dealing with other things. There is far more integration in North

Am i a.

On the other hand, a French scholar pointed out that in spite of these institutional

arrangements, research projects of a genuinely collective nature are rare. American medieval

scholarship is deeply individualistic. This scholar relates the dearth of real cooperative research

to an American free market approach to people, careers, and ideas, in which scholars are in

constant competition for better pay, bigger grants or a position at a more prestigious university.

Small wonder that competition rather than cooperation often characterize our professional


Second, although most of us teach in disciplinary departments, a good number of us have

had at least some training in interdisciplinary programs in medieval studies, a very rare

phenomenon in Europe outside of Louvain. On many campuses, we are involved in medieval

studies committees which emphasize horizontal orientations rather than chronological ones.

Again, some European scholars encourage interdisciplinary contacts in their seminarsmany of

us have experienced this in the seminars of Jacques Le Goff and Georges Duby, for example

but these are individual, not institutional initiatives.

Third, through our professional organizations, including the Medieval Academy and our

regional associations, we tend to listen more to scholars in other disciplines than do our

E op an oll ag s. Finally, on A st ian said, on m st not fo g t m di valist hom oming

pa ti s, pa ti la ly th vital so ializing as w ll as s hola ly ol of Kalamazoo. H add d,

som wo ld la gh, b t th y wo ld b w ong to do so.

For all this, many American medievalists find medieval studies are curiously deracinated

on this continent. This might seem simply the obvious result of not living in Europe and thus

being unable to play the same cultural role for a wider society as our colleagues in England or on

th ontin nt. As a itish s hola p t it, In E op its diff nt b a s yo an still to h it in

som s ns . A t ally, this is a bit too simplisti . E op ans no mo liv in th Middle Ages

than do Americans. In all but folkloric aspects, they live in a world no closer to the Middle Ages

than our own. That peculiar complex of political, cultural, and mental traditions, prejudices,

aesthetics, and comportments that developed in Europe during the Middle Ages is, for better or

worse, the common heritage not simply of Europe or even the West but of contemporary world

civilization. By embracing such western traditions as capitalism and technological mastery of the

physical world, Japan and Korea are as m h h i s of E op s Middle Ages as are the modern

societies of France and Germany. As victims of the darker side of western imperialism and

racism, so too are the nations of Africa and Latin America. And so too are North Americans, less

by virtue of a rapidly decreasing percentage of the population who are of European ancestry than

by a common participation in the positive and negative aspects of this ambiguous heritage. As

on Am i an s hola s gg sts, Altho gh Am i an m di valists think that m di val history is

their history, most of them do not think of medieval history as their national histo y.

If American medievalists find themselves deracinated, it is less a result of pursuing

scholarship in isolation from Europe as it is in pursuing it in isolation from our own society. One

European suggested that the essential problem is the question of the place of intellectuals in our

countries. The North American university campus reflects spatially the social isolation of the

No th Am i an a ad mi . This is, h ontin s, a lt al mod l of th longue dure

which goes back to the foundation of Oxford and Cambridge in the countryside around 1200, at

th mom nt wh n th Univ sity of Pa is was b ing fo nd d in th h a t of a yo ng apital.

This isolation from our own society is real, and often by choice. And yet I think that the

best North American medievalists have always fought this separation even while recognizing the

fundamental difference between how Americans and Europeans pursue the Middle Ages. The

best scholars have attempted to break out of the mental cordon sanitaire which separates

academia in general and medieval studies from the rest of society. The great generation of

American institutional historians, for example, while they may have made important

contributions to the history of France or of England, were never really interested in the history of

these or any other nations per sethey were interested in the history of statecraft. Likewise,

social historians such as David Herlihy have been content to pursue social structure and order in

Italy, Ireland, or Scandinavia with equal enthusiasm. And in our literature departments, scholars

are generally interested in language, representation, and communication at least as much as the

examples of it that they find in a particular vernacular tradition or at a particular historical

moment. Thus one finds that combination, so often irritating to Europeans, of American

pragmatism and a taste for theory, abstraction, and generalization. Medieval studies in America

are not and cannot be the same as medieval studies in Europe, because we are not Europeans

(nor, one might add, are most European scholars who remain, unlike their business and industrial

leaders, mired in national perspectives). However, precisely because the contemporary world is

equal heir or victim of the Middle Ages, we are in a position to continue our dialogue with our

European colleagues from whom we will continue to learn and who, frequently, learn from us.

And for the same reason, North American medievalists are in a privileged position to dialogue

with colleagues in other disciplines attempting to understand the contemporary world. These are

our fundamental challenges: to recognize who we are, and what we are in a position to do

uniquely and excellently.

Chapter Thirteen

Medieval Germany in America1

Do Americans have anything to learn from the history of Germany in the Middle Ages?

If one looks to the professional study of history in America for an answer, it would appear that

fo Am i an m di valists, th answ is v y littl . A o ding to th Am i an Histo i al

Asso iations m mb ship o ds, th a today som 928 histo ians in th Unit d Stat s who

indicate that their primary area of research and teaching is medieval history. Of this number,

only 14, or 1.5 percent, consider Germany their primary area of research. However, these

statistics are misleading. The number of American medieval historians who are actively engaged

in research and publishing in medieval German history is actually much smaller. I would

estimate that there are probably not more than a half-dozen. At American universities, the history

of Germany prior to the Reformation holds almost no place in the educational curriculum.

Within American society at large, when sociologists, political scientists, and humanists examine

the distant past of our modern society, they look to England and France to understand the world

from which America sprang. When they explore parallels and patterns in traditional Europe, they

likewise avoid German-speaking lands almost entirely. Moreover, when Americans look for

models of how to study this deep past of our common heritage, few if any rely on the centuries-

old tradition of German historical studies but rather turn almost exclusively to the English and

French historical traditions. This situation is beginning to change, thanks to patient work on both

sides of the Atlantic.2 Yet how this situation came to be says much, not only about medieval

This text originally appeared as Medieval Germany in America, German Historical Institute Annual Lecture 1995
(Washington, DC, 1996).
For an excellent survey of the historiography of medieval Germany in the United States and Great Britain that
concentrates more on the post-Wo ld Wa I p iod than do s this pap , s Edwa d P t s, Mo T o bl

Germany in America but about the at times tortured relationship between German and American

intellectual traditions during the past century.

This lack of interest in medieval Germany stands in sharp contrast to the state of

historical studies a century ago. Medieval German history and German scholarship played a

major role in the creation of modern historical studies in this country in the second half of the

nineteenth-century. For the first generations of scholars of historical studies, German history was

deemed an essential part of the training, not only of medievalists but of all historians. No better

qualifications could be imagined than to have studied in the great medieval seminars of Germany

or to have been a Mitarbeiter (fellow) with the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, the great center

of medieval German history. The founders of the professional study of history in America had

largely been trained in Leipzig, Berlin, and Heidelberg, and the twin German disciplines of

medieval history and philology were particularly significant in this process, first at the University

of Mi higan and Ha va d Univ sity, th n sp ially at Johns Hopkins Univ sitys S mina in

History and Politics, which is widely considered to be the founding institution of the professional

study of history in this country.3 Although not primarily medievalists, these scholars had learned

th histo ians aft in s mina s d di at d to m di val G many, and th y b o ght both th

method and the subject home with them.

With Henry: The Historiography of Medieval Germany in the Angloliterate World, 1888-1995, Central
European History 28 (1995), pp. 47-72.
E nst S h lin, G man and Am i an Histo iog aphy in th Nin t nth and Tw nti th C nt i s, in An
Interrupted Past: German-speaking Refugee Historians in the United States after 1933, eds. Hartmut Lehmann
and James J. Sheehan (New York, 1991), p. 13, n. 8. On early medieval scholarship in America in general see
Hans Rudolf Guggisberg, Das europische Mittelalter im amerikanischen Geschichtsdenken des 19. und des
frhen 20. Jahrhunderts ( as l, 1964). S Cha l s K ndall Adams d s iption of th a ly s mina at th
University of Michigan in ed. W. Stull Holt, Historical Scholarship in the United States, 1876-1901: As
Revealed in the Correspondence of Herbert B. Adams (Baltimore, 1938), pp. 78-80. On the early years of the
Hopkins Seminar in History and Politics see ed. Marvin E. Gettleman, The Johns Hopkins University Seminary
of History and Politics: The Records of an American Educational Institution, 1877-1912., 5 vols. (New York,
1987), esp. vol. I, pp. ixxi and 3-82.

The enthusiasm for medieval German history was, however, short-lived. In other areas of

German history, especially the Reformation period and the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,

Americans have made major and ongoing contributions to our understanding of Germany and to

G mans nd standing of their own past. In medieval history, this has seldom been the case.

Medieval German history is even today marginal to the university curricula of most American

universities; interpretations of Germany before the sixteenth century hardly intrude on the

thought of a wider circle of intellectuals. Moreover, interpretations of medieval German history

by Am i ans s ldom, if v , hav a s io s impa t on G mans nd standing of th i past.

How is one to understand this decline, and how, if at all, should it be rectified? In other words,

why did differing generations of Americans justify the study of medieval German history in this

country, and why was this study abandoned? These are the questions that I would like to address

here, offering two ways of understanding the premature death of German medieval history in

America and suggesting some ways in which the situation may or perhaps should be reversed to

the mutual advantage of both societies.

The first explanation for the rapid decline in interest in the German Middle Ages in

American academe is fairly straightforward and superficially convincing. Medieval Germany

was essential in American universities until the first decades of this century, but the anti-German

atmosphere of World War I ended that trend along with interest in all things German. In other

areas of German studies, interest in Germany revived with the great wave of refugee scholars

from Germany and Austria in the 1930s. However, because the medieval historians who arrived

in the United States as refugees from Germany in the 1930s were cultural or intellectual

historians and had never taught or researched German history as such in this country, this period

of German history did not undergo the same renewal that later German history has. In sum,

according to this line of argumentation, the aftermath of the two wars, combined with

Am i ans w ll known and lam ntabl igno an of fo ign lang ag s, sp ially G man, has

meant that medieval German history has never recovered in the United States.

There is much that is true, although partial, in this version of the story. German history in

general and medieval history in particular did enjoy a privileged place in the birth of scientific

history in the United States. In the last quarter of the nineteenth-century, German scholarship

was venerated in progressive American institutions such as Johns Hopkins as the pinnacle of

scientific study, and universities and colleges eagerly sought German or German-trained

professors while trying to emulate German seminar methods. The historian most closely

associated with Johns Hopkins in those years, Herbert Baxter Adams, had obtained his doctorate

in Heidelberg.4 Columbia University appointed a German, Francis Lieber, professor of history

and political science.5 In 1884 Harvard hired a young German, Kuno Francke, who had spent

two years working in the Monumenta Germaniae Historica as its professor of German history

and literature.6 Lik wis , yn Maw , th wom ns oll g most los ly onn t d with th

Johns Hopkins Seminar, imported the medievalist and Low German philologist Agathe Lasch to

instruct its students.7

However, in the course of little more than a generation, this German tradition and the

scholars who practiced it fell into ill repute and oblivion in North America. German history in

Later he recalled the profound impression that nha d E dmannsd ff s (1833-1901) medieval history seminar
on Otto of Freising had made on him. In the 1880s, Adams even advised a prospective student in Dresden not to
abandon his st di s in G many fo th mo limit d p ivil g of st dying with him in Baltimore. Gettleman,
ed., Hopkins University Seminary, vol. 1, p. 13.
S h lin, G man and Am i an Histo iog aphy, p. 14.
See his autobiography, Kuno Francke, Deutsche Arbeit in Amerika (Leipzig, 1930), p. 2, where he explains that his
charge was to int p t his position as inst to in G man in th wid st s ns , ... that is, to int p t it as a
collective term for political, social, intellectual, and artistic phenomena of German history; my instructional
duty was then, in essence, in the s vi of G man lt al histo y.
Robert Peters and Timothy Sodmann, eds., Agathe Lasch: Ausgewhlte Schriften zur niederdeutschen Philologie
(Neumnster, 1979), p. ix.

general and medieval German history in particular were deemed of little value to Americans,

especially when such studies were in the hands of Germans or German-trained Americans.

Cha l s Hom Haskins, Am i as g at st m di valist of the early twentieth century and

himself a product of the Hopkins Seminar, wrote in 1923 that many phases of German history

needed re-examination and noted that American scholars of his generation were making

important contributions, in part because, unlike their predecessors, they were not exclusively

trained in Germany.8 By the 1930s, few American historians knew anything about the practice of

medieval history in Germany, and fewer still were engaged in the study of Germany in the period

before the Reformation. In 1934, when C. W. David wrote an account of medieval history in

America from 1884 to 1934, apart from vague references to the teaching of German history, he

could cite only one American engaged in writing German history. That was James Westfall

Thompson, whose Feudal Germany had appeared in 1928.9 What had intervened most

obviously, of course, was World War I, with its concomitant anti-German sentiment that so

profoundly affected every area of American-German social and cultural interactions.

The Great War was certainly devastating to the intellectual relationship between nascent

American and established German scholarship, and the devastation worked itself out on the

personal as well as the intellectual level. German emigrant communities and German cultural

organizations at every level suffered ostracism, hostility, and occasional violence that has left

enduring wounds. Some German scholars such as Kuno Francke, who had become an American

itiz n, altho gh not blind to th on g av d f t of imperial Germany: the arrogance and

S hola s [of G man histo y] of th p s nt g n ation hav ont ib t d mo that is ind p nd nt than did th i
predecessors, who were more exclusively trained in Germany, and the war has compelled the re-examination of
many phases of German history, espe ially th mo nt. Cha l s Hom Haskins, E op an Histo y and
Am i an S hola ship, American Historical Review 28 (1923), pp. 219-220.
C. W. David, Am i an Histo iog aphy of th Middl Ag s, 1884-1934, Speculum 10 (1935), pp. 125-137.

ov b a ing of th milita y and b a ati lass,10 remained a loyal supporter of his fatherland

even while refusing to support active pro-German intervention or organized protests by German-

Americans. This earned him increasing opprobrium from both sides. When the United States

actually entered the war, he resigned his professorship, closed the German Museum at Harvard

that he had founded, and retired from public life until 1920. He then reopened the German

Museum but never returned to his Harvard professorship. Francke, with powerful support from

Ha va ds administ ation, was fo t nat in his ability to s viv th wa with only mino p sonal

affronts and problems.

Some German scholars in America met with much greater problems. Consider the case of

Professor Agathe Lasch (1879-1942), a brilliant medieval philologist and expert on Low German

dialects. She began teaching at Bryn Mawr in 1910, and by 1916 was promoted to the position of

associate professor. As anti-German sentiment rose in America, the college was not a

particularly comfortable institution for German-born scholars. Its president, the charismatic M.

Carey Thomas, herself a dynamic figure in American feminist education, had studied Germanic

philology in Germany. At Bryn Mawr, she continued and encouraged the German philological

tradition, just as Herbert Baxter Adams sought to transplant the John Hopkins tradition of

German-modeled scholarship to its history and political science courses. Bryn Mawr students

were even required to study German as a prerequisite for graduation. It was under this influence

that she recruited and initially supported the young Agathe Lasch.

How v , as Am i a mov d los to wa , Thomass s ntm nt towa d G many

became more prono n d and, a o ding to on biog aph , h long-standing antipathy to the

Germans added sharpness to her attitude and led her during the war to act with regrettable

Kuno Francke, A German Americans Confession of Faith (New York, 1915), p. 14.

ha shn ss towa ds any G mans who had th misfo t n to oss h path.11 There is no

evidence that she treated Lasch with anything but respect; however, the college abolished the

requirement of German language and replaced it with Spanish or Italian. Feeling increasingly

alienated in this hostile environment, when the prospect of war became inevitable, Lasch

resigned her position and returned to Germany. There she continued her work in philology,

specifically dialectology, and eventually obtained a professorship in Hamburg. But the story,

unfortunately, does not end there, because Agathe Lasch was Jewish. In the deteriorating

atmosphere of Germany, she attempted to renew her contacts at Bryn Mawr in an increasingly

urgent attempt to escape the growing Nazi menace. In 1933 she lost her chair and, both through

colleagues and directly, appealed to the president of Bryn Mawr for assistance in finding a post.

However, the academic world that had once welcomed her had changed. By the 1930s a friend of

Las h, att mpting to find h a position in th Unit d Stat s, was told that yn Maw had a f ll

p of sso in G man Philology, and v y f w g ad at st d nts in it.12 No one needed a German

philologist, particularly, the letter suggested, a woman. Eventually, the possibility of escape

disappeared entirely. She was deported in 1937 and died in a concentration camp in 1942.

Between the wars, little attention was given to German history, particularly medieval

German history, in the United States. For the entire period between the founding of the Medieval

Academy of America in 1926 and 1940, a single article on German history appeared in its

journal, Speculum, and this was on Ottoka II of oh mia and th Do bl El tion of 1257.

Actually, even this topic was of interest to American medievalists not because of its significance

Edith Finch, Carey Thomas of Bryn Mawr (New York, 1947), p. 295.
Unsigned letter to Mrs. Richter Juchter dated 17 June 1938, Bryn Mawr College Archives.

to German history but rather because one of the rival emperors elected in 1257 was Richard, Earl

of Cornwall.13

The influx of refugee historians from Germany and Austria transformed and revitalized

interest in modern German history but not in medieval.14 Scholars who did manage to obtain

positions in the United States during the 1930s did not do much to change American hostility

toward and ignorance of medieval Germany. Although a number of important medievalists

figured among them, from Ernst Kantorowicz to Gerhard Ladner, Theodor E. Mommsen, and

Stephan Kuttner, to the philologists Konstantin Reichardt and Erich Auerbach, the kind of

scholarship these intellectual leaders pursued in America avoided German history and culture for

the most part in favor of church history and intellectual and cultural history of the European

civilization. The students of these refugees, who have had such a prominent place in medieval

studies in America in the past decades, were thus from the start not German historians but

historians of European cultural history. In a recent article on the two giants of this tradition,

Kantorowicz and Mommsen, Robert Lerner, a specialist on medieval religious history, lists the

distinguished students whom Mommsen produced. They include a numismatist, a canon lawyer,

a historian of Spanish and French institutions, two Italianists, a church historian, and a

paleographer. None have devoted their careers to the study of Germany or German-speaking


F ank R. L wis, Ottoka II of oh mia and th Do bl El tion of 1257, Speculum 12 (1937), pp. 512-515.
See the remarkable series of essays in eds. Lehmann/Sheehan, An Interrupted Past.
Rob t E. L n , E nst Kanto owi z and Th odo E. Momms n, in ds. L hmann/Sh han, An Interrupted
Past, pp. 203-204. Among those who earned a doctorate at Princeton University after working entirely or
substantially with Mommsen are Howard Adelson of City College in New York, Robert Benson of UCLA,
Thomas Bisson of Harvard, William Bowsky of UC at Davis, Gene Brucker of UC at Berkeley, and Norman
Cantor of NYU; among those who studied with him at Cornell (where he taught for only two years before his
death) are Karl Morrison of Rutgers, William Percy of the University of Massachusetts at Boston, and Richard
Rouse of UCLA.

However, although the foregoing account of the decline of German medieval history in

the United States is not entirely incorrect, it would be superficial and misleading to suggest that

the repudiation of German history was simply the result of the animosities of two destructive

wars and the fortuitous research interests of refugee medievalists. A more accurate analysis

suggests that from the days of Adams, Americans have had an ambivalent attitude toward the

dominant tradition of German historiography, which the war experience only allowed to emerge

more explicitly. Likewise, the aspects of medieval German history most appreciated by these

American scholars did not represent the mainstream of late nineteenth-century German

scholarship. American historians from Adams on were more interested in using aspects of the

German past as developed by German medievalists as explanatory models for American history

than to come to terms with German history per se. Moreover, among those Americans who really

understood and appreciated the dynamism of historical discourse within the German historical

community, sympathies were largely with the broad, integrative approach to German history

represented by Karl Lamprecht, not with the mainstream of German political historians

represented by Georg von Below.16 Since, by the end of the World War I, Lampr hts wo k

am to a d ad nd in G many, th Am i an int st in Lamp hts lt al histo y and

Am i ans p og ssiv a ptan of th so iologi al t aditions of Max W b p t th m v n

further from the spirit of Weimar German medievalism.

As early as 1897 Earle Wilbur Dow, a historian at the University of Michigan who had studied briefly in Leipzig
in 1894 and again in 1897, p blish d a long and g n ally favo abl dis ssion of Lamp hts Deutsche
Geschichte: F at s of th N w Histo y: Ap opos of Lamp hts D ts h G s hi ht , American
Historical Review 3 (1898), pp. 431-448. Dow show d a g at familia ity with Lamp hts wo k and th
debate that it had engendered both within and b yond th G man int ll t al wo ld. Dows nth siasm fo a
histo y that n ompass s th a tiviti s of man as a so ial b ing; politi al ph nom na a n ith th only fa ts
to b onsid d, no th stat th l m nt fo whi h alon all oth s xist and whi h p omis s s i ntifi
on l sions (448) was in many ways typi al of p -war American historians. On Lamprecht see Roger
Chickering, Karl Lamprecht: A German Academic Life (1856-1915) (New Jersey, 1993). It is all too easy to
present a caricature of von Below as a political historian opposed to the transformation of history into a social
science. For a much more balanced appreciation see Otto G ha d O xl , Ein politis h Histo ik : G o g
von Below (1858-1927), in Deutsche Geschichtswissenschaft um 1900, ed. Notker Hammerstein (Stuttgart,
1988), pp. 283-312.

Americans who studied in Germany did not necessarily come away with a love of the

German approach to teaching and scholarship, even if they recognized the importance of its

intellectual rigor. M. Carey Thomas, for example, had studied Anglo-Saxon, Gothic, Old High

German, and Middle High German at Leipzig, although she bridled under what she considered

h inst to s x ssiv glo ifi ation of old G mani lang ag s ov h nativ English.

However, she persevered until the minister of education for Saxony disallowed her and other

women students studying with liberal professors to enroll for doctoral degrees. Disgusted by this

refusal, she transferred to Zurich, where she received her Ph.D. summa cum laude in 1882.

As a result of her experience in Europe, Thomas held an ambivalent attitude toward

German scholarship shared by other American scholars of her generation, male and female alike.

On the one hand, she recognized the superiority of German philological studies and the necessity

of acquiring a German or German-style education in order to achieve recognition in her field. On

the other hand, she d ply s nt d ba ba o s G many and th t atm nt sh had iv d

there and the superior attitude of German scholars and officials.17 Likewise, for all his talk of the

German seminar system and his praise of the German university, Herbert Baxter Adams did not

intend to introduce that system as such into Johns Hopkins, nor did he hold German historical

m thods in aw . As a ly as 1887 h w ot to F d i an oft: I have long cherished the

notion that our American students devote too exclusive attention to Germany in their foreign

st dy, xplaining that only an old b oth s h sitations abo t F n h mo als had p v nt d

him from following his original plan to study in Paris.18 Although the inspiration for a format in

which students rather than professors presented their work certainly came from his German

experience, he had no illusion that he could replicate the experience of a German seminar in

Finch, Carey Thomas, p. 120.
Holt, Historical Scholarship, p. 99.

Baltimore, nor did he onsid s h an nd v n d si abl : Th s v m thod of th G man

Seminary will never do here where the instructors are young and not as well able to criticize the

wo k as th man who w ot th pap , x pt as to lit a y fo m, h is po t d to have said in

th Hopkins S mina . C iti ism h is p ivat b tw n p pil and inst to and w all tak

pains to profit by such criticism. Americans have better notions of refined criticism than the

Germans, whose method is brutal. Criticism, not trampling, is val abl .19

Not only was the pioneering generation not prepared to replicate German scholarly

m thods, as Jam s Sh han has not d, b t G man infl n on American history did not

produce much American interest in German history. American historians turned to Germany in

order to discover the intellectual tools and institutional basis with which to create their own

national histo y.20 The first great impulse toward German history was inextricably combined

with the Aryan racist theories of neo-Darwinism commonly referred to as the Teutonic origins

thesis. This idea, developing first in German Romantic historiography and then picked up and

amplified by British liberal historians, argued that primitive Germanic society was the source of

first German, then Anglo-Saxon, and finally American political institutions and liberties.

America, and especially Anglo-Saxon America, was thus the culmination of Germanic racial


Herbert Baxter Adams was the major proponent of this thesis in the United States,

although it was far from original with him. In the 1870s he had gone to Berlin to study political

science with Heinrich von Treitschke, Ernst Curtius, and Hermann Grimm and then moved to

Heidelberg in 1875 to study with Johann Caspar Bluntschli. He also attended lectures of Eduard

A. Winkelmann on historical methodology and medieval historiography. His experience in

Gettleman, ed., Hopkins University Seminary, vol. 1, May 8, 1884, p. 3.
Lehmann/Sheehan, eds., An Interrupted Past, p. 6.

medieval history was a secondary aspect of his studies but proved to be particularly influential to

him later. In 1884 he described his experience in the Heidelberg seminaries (seminars) of

Professors Bluntschli and Bernhard Erdmannsdrffer. The former was his primary professor, but

th latt s s mina on Otto of F isings Gesta Frederici imperatoris seems to have most

profoundly affected the young American. He recalled that the seminar met once a week in

E dmannsd ff s hom . Ea h st d nt had a opy of th t xt, and a h w k a diff nt m mb

of th s mina t anslat d and omm nt d in th light of pa all l itations f om oth a tho s

belonging to ishop Ottos tim , who a to b fo nd in th folio dition of P tzs Mon m nta

G mania Histo i a.21

He further explained that:

subjects of the discussion and for special inquiry arose at every meeting, and the
Professor often assigned such subjects to the individuals more interested, for
investigation and report. One such topic was the origin of the Italian communes,
whether they were of Roman or of Germanic origin. An American student [Adams
himself] undertook to defend the Roman origins based on the work of M. Franois

E dmannsd ff s nt him inst ad to ad Ka l von H g ls Geschichte der

Stdteverfassung von Italien23 and G o g L dwig von Ma s Geschichte der Stdteverfassung

in Deutschland24. Hegel, the son of the philosopher, student of the Gttingen and later

Heidelberg professor and Frankfurt parliamentarian Georg Gervinus, and a collaborator in the

Monumenta Germaniae Historica, was a devoted Germanist. In his History of Italian Communes,

he had written that the foundation of the Italian republics was purely Germanic with only a light

Herbert B. Adams, Methods of Historical Study, Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political
Science II, nos. 1-2 (Baltimore, 1884), pp. 65-68.
Franois Guizot, Histoire des origines du gouvernement reprsentatif en Europe (Brussels, 1851).
Karl von Hegel, Geschichte der Stdteverfassung von Italien seit der Zeit der rmischen Herrschaft bis zum
Ausgang des zwlften Jahrhunderts, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1846).
Georg Ludwig von Maurer, Geschichte der Stdteverfassung in Deutschland, 4 vols. (Erlangen, 1869-71).

patina of Roman tradition.25 Adams, smarting from the humiliation of being criticized for having

d f nd d th F n h G izots Romanist th sis in th s mina (p rhaps the origin of his sense of

th b tality of th G man m thod), imm diat ly wa m d to this th o y of th G mani

origins of urban freedom, not only in Italy but in England and in the English colonies, a thesis he

fo nd s ppo t d in H n y Main s Village Communities.26 Adams laim d that that lin of

investigation has occupied the American student ever since 1876, and the present work of the

historical seminary at the Johns Hopkins University is to some extent the outgrowth of the germ

brought to Baltimo f om th H id lb g s mina y.27

Th p opon nts of th n w s i ntifi histo y g n at d th i own a ist myth of

German history through a selective and distorted reading of German history and philology. Not

really interested in German history but only in T toni g ms that wo ld app a in English

and American institutions, their exaltation of German history was in inverse proportion to their

understanding of it. We must note that neither Adams nor his students in America had any

interest in doing independent research on Germanic institutions. His own The Germanic Origin

of New England Towns28 d aws on a f w passag s in Ta it ss Germania and his own

wanderings in the Odenwald across the Neckar from Heidelberg rather than on serious research

with p ima y so s. H app als to th labo s of thos pati nt G man sp ialists, von Ma ,

Hanssen, Meitzen, Nasse and Georg Waitz, who have shown in the early Constitutional History

of Germany the same organizing power as Canon Stubbs has exercised in writing the

On Karl von Hegel and the place of his historical work in the politics of mid-nineteenth-century Germany see
Alexander Deisenroth, Deutsches Mittelalter und deutsche Geschichtswissenschaft im 19. Jahrhundert,in Reihe
der Forschungen 11 (Rheinfelden, 1983), pp. 133-137.
S Adams a li t lling of th sto y in th ssay Coop ation in Univ sity Wo k, whi h app a d at th nd
of his The Germanic Origin of New England Towns, Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and
Political Science II (Baltimore, 1882), p. 40.
Adams, Methods of Historical Study, p. 67.
See n. 25.

Constit tional Histo y of England, who fi st p ov d that th t of English lib ty tainly

oots in G man soil.29

Adams o iginal xp i n with th th o y of G mani o igins n o nt d in

Heidelberg was developed and expanded by his contact with the English liberal historians, who

were, if anything, even more racist in their use of the Germanic origins tradition than were its

original German proponents. Chief among these was the English historian Edward Augustus

Freeman (1823-92), amateur historian, racial polemicist, and regius professor at Oxford. In time,

Adams and his students moved away from this causative model of American origins.

The germ theory died a slow death, even after its attack by American historians such as

Frederick Ja kson T n and m di valists lik Ha va ds H n y Adams.30 It continued to be

espoused by Germans, including Friedrich Wilhelm Eduard Keutgen (1861-1925), a close friend

of von Below and historian of urban constitutional history to whom Johns Hopkins offered a

permanent position. Keutgen only spent the academic year 1904-05 at Johns Hopkins and

declined to remain in the United States. He did, however, write an article that appeared that year

in the annual report of the American Historical Association, entitl d On th N ssity in

Am i a of th St dy of th Ea ly Histo y of Mod n E op an Nations, that p o laim d th

vigo and impo tan of th G mani a fo th d v lopm nt of mod n d mo a y and

lt .31

Three years later, James Westfall Thompson, professor of history at the University of

Chicago and the first American to devote a considerable amount of his scholarly energies to

Adams, Germanic Origin of New England Towns, p. 11.
On Henry Adams and the germ theory see Guggisberg, Das europische Mittelalter, pp. 65-76.
Cited in the minutes of the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association, April 1904, American
Historical Review 10 (1905), p. 502.

G man histo y, q ot d xt nsiv ly f om K tg ns a ti l on th s ond pag of his Reference

Studies in Medieval History, a bibliography of medieval historical works:

Vulgarly described as barbarians though you find them, they possessed cultural
conceptions of their own and institutions of the strongest vitality, allowing of the
richest further evolution. They implanted in the Roman soil political institutions
which were their very own. They brought with them primitive but elastic systems of
civil and criminal law and of legal procedure, and likewise an economic system,
novel methods of land tenure and agriculture. Their constitutional and legal systems,
moreover, were based on conceptions or convictions fundamentally distinct from
anything Roman, but furnishing the main root out of which the most modern
democratic institutions have sprung.32

Only World War I could effectively end the open espousal of the germ theory.

The 1923 edition of Reference Studies in Medieval History indicates the shift in

American attitudes toward the Germans that had taken place in the intervening fourteen years.

Although Thompson did not abandon the citation from Keutgen, in the second edition of his

book it had been moved to page xxv of the introduction and was preceded by a quotation from

th g at F n h s hola R nan, in a notabl p ot st against th a idity of G man

ationalism...33 The subs tion on a ba ian Ra s of E op had nti ly disapp a d and

was pla d with th l ss ont ov sial Th a ba ian Wo ld. G many appa ntly was no

longer the unambiguous source of democracy.

But if, in the aftermath of World War I, one did not study German history in order to

ogniz th main oot o t of whi h th most mod n d mo ati instit tions hav sp ng,

then why should an American be interested in medieval Germany? By the 1920s, the germ

theory was replaced by the Turner thesis, which taught that American civilization, far from being

a replication in the New World of Aryan or any other institutional, social, or cultural traditions,

James Westfall Thompson, Reference Studies in Medieval History (Chicago, 1907; 2nd ed. 1914), p. 2.
James Westfall Thompson, Reference Studies in Medieval History, rev. and enl. ed. (Chicago, 1923-24), pt. 1, p.

was the unique product of the frontier.34 It was the westward expansion that created a new

civilization in the New World, a thesis that Thompson was as ready to adopt in the service of

G man m di val histo y in Am i a as h had b n with th old . Thompsons n w

justification, which he elaborated in his Feudal Germany, paralleled the Turner thesis just as

clearly as his pre-war justification had echoed the germ theory. This time, it was not Keutgen but

Lamp ht whom h q ot d to j stify att ntion to m di val G many: Th g at d d of th

German people in the Middle Ages was the recovery of three fifths of modern Germany from the

Slavs. Thompson go s on to say that:

The wars in Italy and along the French border, or even the Crusades never diverted the
eyes of the German people away from the great territory beyond the Elbe and the Inn
which their forebears had once dwelt in and ruled over. The deep determination in the
hearts of the German people to recover these lands from the Slavs, the resolute, though
often ruthless way in which the event was achieved, is one of the most stirring stories
in the annals of history.... The only thing comparable to this achievement in modern
annals is the history of the expansion of the American people westward from the
Atlantic seaboard over the Alleghanies [sic], down the rivers and across the great
plains. In both instances the work was the work of the common people and
independent of governmental initiative, the work of the pioneer and the settler
subjugating the forest with the ax, the fields with the plow, and driving the Slav or
redman, as the case may be, before him by his prowess in arms. What the New West
meant to young America the New East meant to medieval Germany.35

Th whol s ond vol m of Thompsons book was d vot d to this astwa d xpansion,

which he saw as the culmination of medieval German history. An outdated racist justification

On T n s ol in th atta k on th G mani g m th o y as d v lop d by F man s Rob t E. L n ,
T n and th R volt Against E. A. F man, Arizona and the West 5 (1963), pp. 101-108, cited in ed.
Gettleman, Hopkins University Seminary, vol. 1, p. 26. One must also wonder about the extent to which Turner
may have drawn upon German studies of the Drang nach Osten for his thesis, perhaps in the same way that
Adams had drawn upon German racial theories, although his own frontier experience and extensive studies of
the fur trade were more significant. Turner was in contact with Karl Lamprecht, who wrote him two years after
the publication of his pap on th f onti to say that h had fo nd a st ong simila ity in many sp ts with
o olonizing pion s. Q ot d in Ray All n illington, The Genesis of the Frontier Thesis: A Study in
Historical Creativity (San Marino, CA, 1971), p. 173.
Thompson, Feudal Germany, 2 vols. (New York, 1928; repr. 1962), vol. 1, p. xviii.

for the study of German history had been replaced by a more modern one.36 The eastward

expansion of Germany may well have been one of the most salient characteristics of medieval

G man histo y. Rob t a tl tts nt ompa ativ st dy of E op an xpansion on th

Slavic, Celtic, and Islamic frontiers suggests that it was characteristic of much of Europe.37

However, the way that Thompson presented and glorified this expansion was more in step with

Weimar Ostforschung than anyone today could accept. Nevertheless, his work received scant

p ais in G many. In his vi w of Thompsons wo k in the Historische Zeitschrift, while

la ding Thompsons att mpt to w it G man histo y fo an Am i an p bli , nha d

Schmeidler, whom Thompson had singled out for thanks in his preface, found the book

rckstnd[ig] (out of date), the volume on the expansion even more so than the first volume.

t b yond th s al iti isms of th Am i ans igno an of th lat st bibliog aphy and his

adh n to o tdat d th s s, S hm idl was pa ti la ly nhappy with Thompsons

characterization of the emperor Frederick Barbarossa as a tyrant and a disaster for Germany and

also with his sharp attack on modern German historians, whose preoccupation with

Kaisergeschichte h saw as a la dation of Hoh nzoll n p to ianism. Thompson, whil

willing to compare German expansion with the American West or to see Lotha II as a stat

ights man who wo ld hav stood with John C. Calho n in th Am i a of 1850, was v y

sensitive to the excessive interest of German historians in Italian policy and the resulting failure

to appreciate the enormous significance of the interior changes in Germany, in ideas and

sp ially in instit tions.38

On G man s hola ship on ast n E op b tw n th wa s s G d Althoff, Di t il ng d
mitt lalt li h n Ostpolitik als Pa adigma f z itg b nd n G s hi htsb w t ng, in Die Deutschen und ihr
Mittelalter (Darmstadt, 1992), pp. 147-164 and n. 210-217.
Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization, and Cultural Change, 950-1350 (London, 1993).
Thompson, Feudal Germany, vol. 1, p. 320.

Within Germany, Thompson was deeply interested in economic and cultural history, as

his praise of Karl Nitzsch and Lamprecht indicates. For him, the development of German feudal

instit tions was th p od t of so ial and onomi onditions play d pon by politi al

p pos s.39 Although years later Thompson was sharply critical of both these scholars,

particularly of Lamprechtwho, Thompson said, in his att mpt to mak a s i n of histo y h

had b t ay d histo y and had as d to b a histo ian40he continued to support their

fundamental insights into the economic and structural underpinnings of history in opposition to

traditional political histo y. Nitzs h, h w ot , n v iv d th dit h d s v d, sin h

challenged both liberalism and idealism.41 Of Lamprecht, he wrote that in opposition to the

Rankian na ativ , Lamp hts q y q i d a g n ti t atm nt of so i ty as a whole in

order to determine its psychic consciousness, or, as modern sociologists would say, its behavior

patt ns.... Lamp hts a t iti ism had st k hom .42

It may be this tendency to turn away from internal political history and toward social and

economic conditions that, more than anything else, may have discouraged other Americans from

pursuing German history, or Germans from appreciating the efforts of American medievalists.

Most German medievalists rejected the Weimar state system, and their nostalgia for the

Hohenzollern drove them further into the kind of political history that American scholars, with

their interest in the relationship between cultural, economic, and social factors, found

increasingly arid. The mutual bitterness of the war experience only made the growing rift

between types of historical enterprise, indeed conceptions of history, all the more intense.

Ibid., p. 321.
James Westfall Thompson and Bernard J. Holm, A History of Historical Writing. Vol. II: The Eighteenth and
Nineteenth Centuries (New York, 1942), p. 427.
Ibid., p. 421.
Ibid., p. 425.

If the generation of migr historians did not revitalize medieval German history, the

reason can be found within the historical issues of the German intellectual world from which

they came. One, Kantorowicz, had indeed written the immensely popular but controversial

biography of Frederick II.43 In America, however, he not only repudiated his earlier work but

confined himself largely to the study of pan-European phenomena. Theodor E. Mommsen,

although trained in the Monumenta tradition and the editor of Italienische Annalekten zur

Reichsgeschichte des 14. Jahrhunderts, was uneasy about the prevailing German tradition of

textual edition rather than interpretation and devoted himself to the history of ideas after his

departure from Germany.44 Both scholars were, in a way, typical of the migr medievalists.

While migr modern historians focused on German history in order to understand what went

w ong in G manys nt past, m di valists abandon d G many altog th fo a b oad

view of pre-national or pre-nationalist European culture and unity. German history became

largely irrelevant to them and their students.

Because Germans would not ask the kind of sociological and economic questions that

interested Americans or the French, and because Americans, even those trained by German

migrs, would not research the particularities of Germany, the gap that opened at the turn of

the century continued to widen. German history in America has largely meant pre-history of the

Nazi period. If medievalists have had different agendas, they have had to pursue them on

different terrains.

Can we learn anything about this past that will be of relevance for the future? First, the

experiences of the germ theory and the interpretations of the eastward expansion should warn us

not to look to German history to find easy parallels to our own. If we Americans are to take

Ernst Kantorowicz, Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite (Berlin, 1927).
L n , E nst Kanto owi z and Th odo E. Momms n, pp. 201-202.

German history seriously, we must be producers, not simply consumers. Second, if American

scholars are to devote themselves seriously to the study of German history, it must be done in a

way that respects the integrity of the subject. The history of Germany is more than Vorstudien to

Holocaust history and must be accepted as such. Finally, Americans who study German history

cannot try to do so as if they were Germans. We live in a different culture that begs different

questions and arrives at different kinds of answers. Until we can free ourselves from the burden

of the past century of American approaches to medieval Germany, we will be doomed not only

to cultural isolation but to irrelevance, both in this country and in Germany.

Chapter Fourteen

History as Memory1

The organizers of this lecture series have explained that its purpose is to examine the

models and images that underlie history in various fields and cultures. In particular they have

asked me to discuss the model of memory as it relates to historiography. Is the metaphor of

memory suitable for the historiography of the present, they ask, and if so what images of time

does this metaphor imply. I must confess that this is a difficult task to undertake, and as a

practicing historian of the central Middle Ages rather than a philosopher, I do so with

considerable reluctance. What I will attempt to do therefore is to examine, within contemporary

historical debate, issues concerning memory and history both in the very recent past and in the

deep European past with which I am more familiar. We will consider the varying approaches to

memory, history, the conflation of the two, and the exploitation and misappropriation of the two

as I see it in contemporary society and culture

We begin with a quote from Sister Anastasija of the Serbian Orthodox convent at Device

in Kosovo. Kosovo, as everyone knows from daily headlines, is a region with a population that is

90% Albanian. The vast majority of this population is Muslim, with a smaller Roman Catholic

minority. Device, a fourteenth-century monastery ruined by Ottoman Turks and then looted and

partly destroyed by Albanian allies of the Axis in World War II, was converted from a monastery

of men to a convent of nuns after it was rebuilt. Today, the nuns feel under constant threat from

the Albanian community and, in a move which is clearly intended more for its symbolic impact

than real effect, the Serbian government has recently issued all of the nuns pistols with which to

This article originally appeared as G s hi ht als E in ng? in eds. Evelyn Schulz und Wolfgang Sonne
Kontinuitt und Wandel.Geschichtsbilder in verschiedenen Fchern und Kulturen (Zuerich, 1999), pp. 115-140.

protect themselves. Sister Anastasija is quoted as saying: Th Albanians hat sb a s o

presence reminds them that historically and culturally this is Serbian land. This is a war not just

against s b t against m mo y.2 Let us keep in mind two assertions from this remarkable

stat m nt. Th fi st is: histo i ally this is S bian land; th s ond is This is a wa against

m mo y. W shall t n to both of th s in d o s .

To this bitter charge by a frightened nun, let us add a second quotation, taken from the

American poet Howard Nemerov:

...tell us no more
Enchantments, Clio. History has given
And taken away; murders become memories
And memories become the beautiful obligations
As with a dream interpreted by one still sleeping
The interpretation is only the next room of the dream.3

In these words, let us remember first the three stages: murders, memories, obligations.

The event remembered is always distinct from its memory, even if it is not, as we shall see,

perceived as such. Moreover, individual memory must die with the individual. To survive it must

be transformed into something else: what Nemerov calls with bitter irony the beautiful

obligations, the rituals and places of memory, constructed and interpreted by those radically

separated from both the event and the lived memory. For Nemerov the end result of the process

is history: no memory at all but enchantment: a dream interpreted by a dreamer. We shall have to

return to this vision of memory and history as well.

The relationship between memory and history, and indeed the history of memory have

become important topics of public debate in the past decade. The Egyptologist Jan Assmann has

New York Times, March 22, 1988, p. 3A.
Howard Nemerov, The collected poems of Howard Nemerov (Chicago,1962), p. 3.

s gg st d that m mo y has b om in asingly a n w pa adigm of lt al st dy. 4 This is no

accident. It is rather a response to fundamental questions within contemporary society, questions

central to western epistemological concerns since the late nineteenth century but which, I

believe, have been generated by the specific circumstances of Europe and America at the end of

the twentieth century.5

A critical and problematic sense of the relationship between the past and knowledge of

this past have been at the heart of European concerns about the modern since at least Nietzsche,

and has been accelerated by the loss of a consensus about the values of a unified cultural

tradition. More specifically, two very contemporary factors are fundamental.6 The first is the

rapid disappearance of the generation of Europeans who experienced the Second World War.

This means first of all the survivors of the Holocaust. For over fifty years, the experience of the

Nazi death machine has been a major living presence in western consciousness, and now the

survivors, whose personal memories these are, are rapidly disappearing. Ever since 1945

survivors have sought either to escape entirely from a memory of their trauma or to find the

appropriate voice with which to remember it. The children and survivors of those slaughtered

have struggled to find a meaning in the loss and to communicate the importance of

remembrance. What is to become of memory after the last holocaust survivor is gone? The

process of creating memories from the terrible events of the final solution has been excruciating

Jan Assmann, Das kulturelle Gedchnis: Schrift, Erinnerung und politische Identitt im frhen Hochkulturen
(Munich, 1992), p. 11.
On the development of the role of memory in western culture see Otto Gerhard Oexle, Memoria als Kultur
(Goettingen, 1995), pp. 9-18. Patrick H. Hutton, in History as an art of Memory (Hanover, NH, 1993), places
the current interest in the history of memory within a specifically French and postmodern perspective. While a
very useful analysis of the geneaology of memory studies in France, his attempt to historicize the question in
European thought is remarkable for its complete absence of the fundamentally important place of memory
studies in contemporary German language scholarship.
Assmann, in Das kulturelle Gedchnis, emphasizes in addition to the generalized sense of the end of a cultural
tradition the development of digital memory as an alternative, external memory system and the disappearance of
the Holocaust generation as factors giving emphasis to memory studies.

for those who experienced it. Now comes the question of how these lived memories are to be

transformed and transmitted to a generation that knew neither the death camps nor their

survivors. Thus it is, in the words of Howard Nemerov that:

Murders become memories

And memories become the beautiful obligations.

Will the horrors of the Nazi period fade into b a tif l obligations, m mo ial pa ks,

tasteful monuments, and solemn platitudes? How is personal memory to become collective

m mo y? And what is th lationship b tw n this oll tiv m mo y and histo y?

But of course the survivors of the death camps are but a small percentage of those who

are struggling to come to terms with their memories even while seeking to transmit them to

posterity at the end of living memory of the war years. In France and in Holland, in Switzerland

as in Austria, memories of those years are being reassessed and challenged. After fifty years, the

m mo i s of th o pation, of h oi n t ality, o of Th fi st vi tims of Nazi agg ssion,

memories that served Europeans well in the post-war era, are being disputed not only by

holocaust survivors but by the children and especially the grandchildren of the very individuals

who now stand accused of collaboration, profiteering, or at least passive acquiescence. Are the

attempts to recover counter memories, led for the most part by people not even alive or present

during the events themselves creating a memory of what in some cases never happened? How

different is such a position from that of Holocaust deniers?

Those who demand that these memories be recovered insist that the memory of those

years be preserved, this memory must be articulated, and it must be transformed from individual

to collective memory, transmitted to generations who cannot have personal experience of this

time. There is then an urgency to remember, to articulate, while some victims and perpetrators

are still alive. Thus the urgency in the pressing of claims against Swiss Banks and insurance

companies, the reports of forced labor camps, of trains rushing in the night to the German border.

Likewise, we witness today the trials of the last perpetrators of the Nazi program such as

Maurice Papon. In the U.S., Nazi hunters seek out collaborationists who were given new

identities and new lives in the U.S. during the Cold War and accuse the United States

government of actively colluding to protect these criminals.

The compulsion in these events is not simply the desire to punish or even, I think, the

desire to recuperate financial assets lost by murdered ancestors. It is first a desire to articulate, to

speak the past, and thus to invoke the dead. It is a desire to present, in a public and official

forum, the memories of that terrible time in a way that obtains public sanction, that moves from

personal memory to collective memory. In the words of Ren Panaras, whose moth s pa nts

were arrested, transported to camps under the orders of Maurice Papon, and died in Auschwitz,

I think abo t my g andpa nts and abo t all my family. W hav mad th m liv again a bit

d ing this t ial.7 One might argue that the trial of Maurice Papon, with its great stream of

survivors and children of victims eager to tell their stories, was as much about making the dead

live again, about articulating and preserving memory, as it was about judging the guilt or

innocence of an 87-year-old man.8

The other great event that has pushed memory to the forefront of Western concern is the

collapse of the Soviet system. The revolution in Eastern Europe is forcing eastern Europeans to

come to terms with over 50 years of suppressed past and invented present. On the one hand, the

populations of Eastern and Central Europe must come to terms with the memories of fifty years

of misinformation. How are people in their 40s and 50s to be expected to dismiss everything that

John-Tho Dahlb g, Papon V di t Eas s Pain fo Vi tims Famili s, Los Angeles Times, Friday, 3 April, 1998,
p. A12.
The need to speak the past in a public forum was already an important factor in the trial of Adolf Eichmann. See
Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: a Report on the Banality of Evil (New York,1977).

they have come to believe as so many lies and to acquire a new personal and collective memory?

Are they awakening from a dream, or are they dreamers moving into the next room of their

dreams? And what is to become of the very memory of the years of Soviet domination? Are the

visible symbols of this past, th li x d mmoi stablish d by th So ialists, to b

eradicated just as the socialists had done to alternative pasts? To suppress them, many argue, is

to commit the same crime against the past as was done by the Communists. But to continue them

threatens to allow them to triumph. Who has the moral authority to destroy or to recreate the

past? Thus the debate about what to do with the public monuments erected across eastern and

central Europe during the socialist era. In addition, how are these lies to be replaced with

alternative memories? Thus we continue to see the debate about not only political and cultural

figures but also about what ordinary individuals did or did not do during the Soviet period. Were

the lustration proceedings in Prague the way to recover memories of these years, or do such

procedures create more problems than they solve?

But, as Sister Anastasija reminds us, it is not only the past fifty years that must be

remembered anew. International socialism, for all its faults, attempted to impose a new memory

of the pre-socialist era on its populations. In this world, there was no place for ancient hatreds

based on ethnicity or religion. The real enemies were class enemies, not national ones. It now

appears that the instit tionaliz d m mo i s, th b a tif l obligations of th nin t nth and

early twentieth centuries, far from being eradicated by fifty years of socialism, were simply

driven underground, where they festered and grew. The collapse of socialism has allowed all of

these hatreds to reemerge with renewed intensity. The bloodshed in the Balkans and the

Caucasus, carried on in the name of struggles that took place a half a millennium ago and

repeated and remembered sporadically since in rituals of incredible violence, is interpreted as a

wa against m mo y o p haps, a bloody st ggl b tw n omp ting m mo i s. Th s w s

a new and intense concern not only with the past as past but with memories of the past:

individual memories vying with each other to become The Memory, the collective memory,

within which the past lives and the present takes its shape.

Ev ywh , th n, th q stion of what happ n d o b tt , how to m mb what

happened, is a fundamental and fiercely disputed issue in contemporary cultur . What

happ n d is also an pist mologi al p obl m at th h a t of ont mpo a y so ial s i n and

historiography. Both Sister Anastasija and Howard Nemerov equate memory and history. For the

former, it is a powerful force that her enemies are attempting to destroy; for the latter it is the

stuff of dreams and enchantments. Traditionally, historians have wanted to deny that history and

memory are qualitatively the same. Some historians still want to set themselves as the arbiters of

what happ n d in opposition to what is m mb d.

The content of memory, we are told, is fundamentally different from the content of

history. Historical memory is analytic, critical, and rational, while collective memory is fluid,

transformative and constantly enveloping the lived tradition of a social group. It is the historian

who must sit in judgment on the past, including the collective memory of that past. In so doing,

the historian appears separate from the process of creating the collective memory. Were reality

this simple, then the historian could claim to be the ultimate arbiter of the burning questions of

the Holocaust, the collaborationists, profiteers, and heroes of the war years. Likewise, the

historian could claim to restore to Eastern and Central Europe both an accurate account of the

Soviet era and of the more distant past. However, history is hardly the science that positivist

tradition made it out to be.

We now see history as a process of creation: history creates its objectit does not simply

recover it. Historians do not stand apart from their worldthey are enmeshed in it. If this is the

case, then one must ask if the recovered memory of the Holocaust, of collaboration, of the Soviet

era, or of the Ottoman conquest of the Serbian kingdom, when undertaken by professional

histo ians, a any mo a at than th oll tions of s vivo s and th i famili s, o

alternatively of those who cling to the alternative memories used as coping mechanisms for the

past fifty y a s? A th s n w m mo i s simply more useful in the present? But if so, then

how can we distinguish between the creations of memory and the creations of history? Are all

simply the next room of the dream?

The challenge of holocaust memory is evident not only in the pathologically extreme

form of holocaust deniers, but also in the debates among historians about the boundaries of

historical study of the Holocaust. At one extreme is Hayden White, whose focus on language and

the rhetorical forms leads him to conclude that these create unavoidable choices in constructing

interpretations.9 The implications of his position are, as Saul Friedlander comments, that, for

Whit , Th is no obj tiv o tsid it ion to stablish that on pa ti la int p tation is

mo t than anoth .10 Such a radical relativism, argues Carlo Ginzburg, is not only unable to

distinguish between truth and falsity but is ultimately and consciously derived from a fascist

critique of culture as articulated by Giovanni Gentile.11

Within this very immediate and hotly disputed contest for memory, for the question of

whose memory will be the collective memory, the question posed by the organizers of this

S in pa ti la his Th Politi s of Histo i al Int p tation, in The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse
and Historical Representation ( altimo , 1987), and his Histo i al Emplotm nt and th P obl m of T th, in
ed. Saul Friedlander, Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the Final Solution, (Cambridge, MA,
1992), pp. 37-53.
Friedlander, Probing the Limits of Representation, p. 6.
Ginzb g, J st On Witn ss, in F i dland , Probing the Limits of Representation, pp. 82-96.

l t , Is th m tapho of m mo y s itabl fo th histo iog aphy of th p s nt? tak s on

particular urgency. Is there indeed a difference between memory and historiography?

It is in response to such concerns, I think, that historians in the past decades have begun

to focus attention directly on the history of memory, to understand how memory works in

historical perspective. The French historian Pierre Nora has directed a major series of

p bli ations on what h t ms L s li x d mmoi in F an : thos pla s, obj ts, and

events, that collectively establish the material from which collective memory of France is

created. German historians have focused not only on the memory of the recent past but especially

on the functioning of memory in the Middle Ages. In the United States, important studies of

memory and American history have appeared, most significantly a series of articles in the

Journal of American History edited by David Thelen, partly in response to the commercialization

and t ivalization of Am i as past and pa tly in spons to politi al p ss s to laim a singl

meaning to that past.12 Memory and the history of memory have become the subjects of

international conferences and congresses, in Holland, Great Britain, Israel, Germany, Hungary,

and elsewhere.

No field of historical investigation has been more influenced by the interest in memory

than my own. The Medieval European culture can be seen as an essentially memorial culture in

which Memoria in its many forms was at the heart of Christianity with its eucharistic injunction:

Do this in m mo y of m and as w ll that of J daism with its biblical imperative, zakhor,

m mb , an obligation bo n both by th p opl of Is a l and by God.13 The Latin word

memoria and its various derivations encompassed a rich variety of interrelated meanings from

the liturgical commemoration of the dead, to physical memorials, to the records of the past, to

M mo y and Am i an Histo y, d. David Th l n, The Journal of American History 75.4 (March, 1989).
Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (Seattle and London, 1982).

the oral pronouncements that, in legal and institutional systems based on custom and precedent,

required the past to validate the present. In English juries as in French Enqutes and German

Weistmer, sworn individuals were expected to speak the past in order to establish the present

and future. Finally, memoria stood at the heart of Augustinian psychology which saw the human

intelligence composed of intelligentia, amor, and memoria.

Thus small wonder that a wide variety of scholarly approaches have developed to study

medieval memory. For an important tradition of scholars in Freiburg im Breisgau and in

Mnster, the study of medieval memoria means primarily the liturgical traditions within which

the dead were remembered and maintained as part of the community of the living.14 This

commemoration was not simply focused on the dead: it articulated the meaning of the

contemporary community as well. Other historians have focused on study of the intellectual

traditions within which memory was understood and cultivated. This involves both what people

in the past thought about memory and the techniques of memory training by which people sought

to enhance human memory faculties.15 Finally, historians are looking at the process by which

medieval people collected, from verbal and written sources, that which they considered

appropriate to communicate to the future.

As Chris Wickam and James Fentress put it in their study of social memory:

When we remember, we represent ourselves to ourselves and to those around us.

To th xt nt that o nat that which we truly are can be revealed in
articulation, we are what we remember. If this is the case, then a study of the way we
remember the way we present ourselves in our memories, the way we define out
personal and collective identities through our memories, the way we order and structure

Especially eds. Karl Schmid and Joachim Wollasch, Memoria: Der geschichtliche Zeugniswert des liturgischen
Gedenkens im Mittelalter, Mnstersche Mittelalter-Schriften 48 (Munich, 1984) and ed. Oexle, Memoria als
See especially Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory (Chicago, 1966), pp. 2-26 and most recently Mary
Carruthers, The Book of Memory (Cambridge, 1990) and Janet Coleman, Ancient and Medieval Memories
(Cambridge, 1992).

our ideas in our memories, and the way we transmit these memories to others is a study
of the way we are.16

What are we learning from this process? First, we are recognizing the complex nature of

memory itself, the problematic differences between individual and collective memory, and the

intensively contested question of the relationship between memory and history. First, we know

memory to be an active, creative mental process, intimately connected with the present: we

perceive a world already meaningful because of the background of memory within which it is

perceived.17 Psychologists have found that there is a direct relationship between what is

remembered and the present: to the extent that memories can be made meaningful and connected

to the present, these memories can be retained. What this means is that experience must be

restructured and transformed in terms of the known for it to become memory.

The British psychologist F. C. Bartlett conducted the classic studies of this process of

memory during the 1930s.18 While earlier and later clinical psychologists have studied

individ als ability to m mb nonsense data such as series of syllables or random numbers,

Bartlett was interested in how people actually recall the data of ordinary experience. He showed

subjects line drawings or gave them stories that he asked them to memorize and then to

reproduce them at increasingly distant times. In both the experiments with visual memory and

verbal memory, he found that his subjects strived always to find meaning in the material, and this

meaning grew with time. Thus, for example, drawings of individuals were remembered best

wh n p opl fo s d on sp ifi l m nts in th d awings as gov ning id as hats, beards,

pipes, etc.informing the whole image. These characteristics became a means not only of

James Fentress and Chris Wickham, Social Memory (Oxford, 1992), p. 7.
Among them, John Bransford, Human Cognition: Learning, Understanding and Remembering, (Belmont, CA,
1979). John Bransford and Robert Shaw, eds., Perceiving, Acting, and Knowing: Toward an Ecological
Psychology (Hillsdale, NJ, 1977); Scania de Schonen, La mmoire, connaissance active du pass (Paris, 1974).
Frederic Charles Bartlett, Remembering: A Study in Experimental and Social Psychology (New York, 1932).

remembering the drawing, but in subsequent reproductions, they became the guiding elements in

the transformation of the drawings into something quite different from the original. The stories

that his subjects memorized were intentionally nonsensical with gaps, inconsistencies, and

meaningless juxtapositions. However, when asked to retell the stories, subjects consistently

smoothed out these elements, eliminated contradictions, filled in gaps, and generally projected an

unifying meaning to the stories, which in turn became the core around which additions could be


Thus memory transforms its data, the various processes of assimilation and selection are

extremely important in understanding creative remembering. This assimilation takes place

through four primary processes. The first is visual association: unfamiliar objects are recognized

(or made to appear) similar to known objects. The second is analogyif something can be

understood as being like something else, then it can be retained. Third, by logicif a pattern can

be perceived, then the complex data of memory can be recalled by using the formula of the

logical pattern. Finally memory can be enhanced and activated by labels, names. This active,

transformative nature of memory means that even recent events or knowledge that is disjoint or

dissident are likely to be quickly lost or transformed beyond recognition.

These same transformative processes are active in ways by which communities have

historically constituted their social or collective memories. As Walter Melion and Susanne

Kchler explain, memory is socially constructed and operates through representation. Moreover,

modalities of memory and recollection are historically and culturally based. Forgetting and

recollecting are allied mnemonic functions.19 One must understand how people actually

remember and consider the structures in which the past is preserved, reorganized, and recalled

Walter Melion and Susanne Kchler, eds., Images of Memory: on Remembering and Representation.
(Washington, DC, 1991).

for individuals and, more importantly, for collectivities. Here the work of British scholars such

as Chris Wickham and James Fentress on social memory has attracted important attention.

However, the origins of this interest in social memory reach back at least to the 1920s in the

work of Aby Warburg who founded, together with Maurice Halbwachs, a new, sociologically

oriented interest in memory that placed the subject within the context of what Halbwachs termed

th oll tiv and what was fo Wa b g so ial m mo y. oth th n w j ting pop la

att mpts to labo at a biologi al th o y of a ial m mo y. In his last y a s, Wa b g was

particularly interested in the iconographi manif stations of so ial m mo y in E op an

culture. For Halbwachs, memory was a social construction which proceeds from the present, not

however in the sense of the sum of individual memories. Rather this memory was a collective

cultural creation developed through the influence of family, religion, and class through the very

structures of language, the rituals of ordinary life, the delimitation of space, to constitute the

system of social conventions through which and in which we create our memories.

Altho gh Halbwa hs analysis of m mo y mains th to hston of all nd standings

of social memory, one aspect of his analysis has led to a false dichotomy, that is, the difference

not only between individual and collective memory, but between collective memory and history.

He postulated a fundamental opposition between collective memory and history. The former

creates a bond between present and past; the latter disrupts this continuity; the former is highly

selective, retaining those aspects of collective identity while the latter recovers and reorganizes

this lost difference. Collective memory is made up of a multiplicity of group memories, while

history unifies the past into one. Collective memory is oral, history written. History begins where

collective memory ends.

The most significant attempt to address directly the history of collective memory is the

work of Pierre Nora who has reformulated the investigations of Maurice Halbwachs into

collective memory in order to elaborate a theory of collective memory even more strongly

opposed to historical memory. In his massive study of the Lieux de mmoire, he and his

collaborators examine the places, monuments, events, rituals, symbols, and traditions that form a

variety of French national identities.20 This major undertaking has become a model for the

investigation of social constructions and reconstructions of national identities through the

manipulation of iconic elements in a recollected past. Nora argues that one can distinguish, at

least in the modern world, between collective and historical memory. The former is the fluid,

transformative and englobing lived tradition of a social group. The latter is analytic, critical, and

rational, the product of the application of specialized scientific methodology. As he explains:

Collective memory is that which remains of the past in the lived experience of groups, or that

which these groups do with the past. ...It evolves along with these groups, for which it constitutes

at once a possession inalienable and manipulatable, an instrument of dispute and of power, at the

same time as a symbolic and symbolic sentiment. Histo i al m mo y, on th oth hand, is

nita y. It is th f it of a l a n d and s i ntifi t adition. ...Histo i al m mo y, analyti and

critical, precise and distinct, arises from reason which inst ts witho t onvin ing.21

While such distinctions may be instructive, they are also in part deceptive, not only for

understanding the relationship between memory and history in the past but even for

understanding the role of history in the present. Postulating a dichotomy between collective

memory and history ignores the social and cultural context of the historian and perhaps endows

th s i ntifi asp ts of histo y with an obj tivity and a historicity that it does not entirely

Pierre Nora, ed.. Les Lieux de mmoire, 3 vols. (Paris, 1984-1986).
Pierre Nora, in ed. Jacques Le Goff, La Nouvelle histoire, (Paris, 1978), Mmoi oll tiv , pp. 398-399.

deserve. Historians write for a purpose, essentially to shape the collective memory of the

historical profession and ultimately of the society in which they live. Scholarly investigation

seeks to transform collective understanding of the past, and while one can argue that history as a

habit of critical inquiry does not seek primarily to determine content, it is nevertheless true that

successful history is assimilated into collective memory. Likewise, oral tradition and cultural

ont xt d ply infl n th ways in whi h histo ians at th i histo i s. Th is a oll tiv

m mo y of histo ians, an nw itt n b t n v th l ss onst aining f am wo k g n at d by th

professionalization of history, which determines the rheto i al tools of th histo ians aft.

These modern tools of rational analysis are the most effective means by which historians seek to

transform or replace collective memory of the past about which they write. Similarly, if

historical memory is essentially political, so too is collective memory. Rather than an unreflected

sharing of lived or transmitted experience, it too is orchestrated and disputed, it is no less than

historical memory as a strategy for group solidarity and mobilization through the constant

p o ss s of s pp ssion and s l tion. All m mo y, wh th individ al, oll tiv , o

histo i al, is m mo y fo som thing, and this politi al (in a b oad s ns ) p pos annot b

ignored. If the distinction between collective and historical memory appears clear in the present

and obscured in the distant past this is so only because of the difficulty of recovering the context

within which the memory of the distant past was formed.

How then, if at all, are we to distinguish between memory and history? Are historians

simply claiming a role for themselves within the process of social memorialization that is not

justified? Certainly, in the popular understanding, history and memory are anything but

distinguished. Remember again Sister Anastasija who seems to use the terms interchangeably,

and Howard Nemerov who accuses Clio, the muse of history, of being the very source of the

enchantments, the dreamer who interprets dreams. I do not intend to exonerate history or

historians entirely from these accusations. There is more truth in them than we are comfortable

with. However, at the same time, I do think that some important distinctions must be made,

distinctions concerning issues at the heart of the mandate of this lecture series: time and process.

Historians do write to influence the collective memory. They hope that the conclusions of

their research, disseminated in books, articles, lectures, will directly or indirectly form the

content of how people understand the past. We are very conscious of this goal. And yet one must

distinguish the product of history, that is, the interpretation of the past and the critical process of

history, a process that is ultimately subversive of both collective and historical memory.

Memory is, as we have seen, a creative activity of the present. It is not, in the first

instan , abo t th past. Consid again th stat m nt of Sist Anastasija: Th Albanians hat

us because our presence reminds them that historically and culturally this is S bian land. Not

that she does not say, this was S bian land. Within th onst t d m mo y that sh p s nts,

memory is about the present, just as Rn Panaras says that by the testimony about her

g andpa nts b fo th t ib nal j dging Papon, W hav mad th m liv again. It is this

presentist element of memory that is both its power and its greatest contrast with history. The

refusal to transport the past to the present is what sets the historian against the partisans of

living histo y, na tm nts, and oth ffo ts to mak th past om to lif . Conflating th

past with the present, erasing the critical distinction between then and now, is the essence of

memory and the antithesis of history. Such a position flies in the face, not only of harmless

participants in historical reenactments but of powerful movements that want the past to be the

guide for the present, be they ethnic nationalists in the Balkans, traditionalists in the Roman

Catholi Ch h, o o iginal int ntion int p t s of th Unit d Stat s Constit tion. The Past

is a Fo ign Co nt y th itish g og aph David Low nthal ntitl d an impo tant book on th

pop la and p ni io s att mpts in itain and th Unit d Stat s to b ing th past aliv .22

History at its best preserves this foreignness, this alien reality of the past, and constantly reminds

not only popular recreationists but practicing historians that what they are building are present

models, not the past itself. Essential to the historical process too is making clear the process by

which the historian has manipulated the evidence of the past in order to create this model.

This radical historicism that is at the heart of history not only denies that the past and the

present are one: it refused to judge the past by the standards of the present. The spectacle of

eminent historians from France and the United States testifying at the Papon trial or, in a

different context, on both sides of a civil suit concerning the historical background to workplace

discrimination in the United States, is a dangerous undertaking. If historians are testifying about

how the documentary evidence of the past can be interpreted, how systems of government,

society, and culture can be understood to have functioned in the past, fine. If they are attempting

to judge the past in the present, they are no different from the school board in New Orleans

Louisiana that changed the name of George Washington School because of a city ordinance

forbidding that any public school be named after a slave holder, even if that individual happened

to be an eighteenth-century planter, military officer, and founder of the United States.

The impossibility of history as a process of critical inquiry into the past either to conflate

the past with the present or to judge the past for the present wins historians enemies and

detractors from all sides. Society wants memories, not historians. It wants past justifications for

the present, the enchantments of Nemerov, the pseudo-histo i al l ssons of Sist Anastasija. Is

the metaphor of memory suitable for th histo iog aphy of th p s nt? Emphati ally th answ

is no. Can histo y awak n th d am and h lp him s ap th n xt oom of th d am?

David Lowenthal, The past is a foreign country (Cambridge, 1985).

Again, I f a th answ is no. t at l ast, th histo ian, s bv siv and int siv , an info m

him that he is indeed dreaming.

Chapter Fifteen

Land, Language and Memory in Europe 700-11001

Literacy and property have been among the dominant themes of early medieval history

for more than a decade. Since the work of Rosamond McKitterick, Janet Nelson and others,

contrary to the assumptions of an earlier generation of scholars, scholars have recognized that the

written word profoundly influenced the transmission of the past and the control of the present in

early medieval Europe.2 This was true not only in the highest circles of ecclesiastical and royal

life, but also at much more humble levels across Europe. If, as Janet Nelson reminds us, even

freedmen could still be referred to in the ninth century as cartularii, literally charter-men,

b a s of th w itt n carta of manumission required by law courts as symbol and proof of

lib ation, th w itt n wo d a h d ind d d ply into so i ty.3

Nowhere is the influence of the written word more evident than in questions of property.

The recent volumes of essays on property and power edited by Wendy Davies and Paul Fouracre

remind us forcefully of the way that land property dominates not only the exercise of power but

more generally the archival record of the past.4 Indeed, so thoroughly has land been the dominant

subject of surviving archival material from before the twelfth century that the earlier volume

produced by this remarkable group of scholars on the settlement of disputes in the early Middle

The following article originally appeared under the same title in the Transactions of the Royal Historical Society,
vol. ix (1999), pp.169-184. Versions of this essay were delivered at the meeting of the Illinois Medieval Studies
Asso iation in F b a y 1998 and at th Royal Histo i al So i ty onf n , O al Histo y, M mo y and
T adition, h ld at th Univ sity of S ss x in Ma h 1998. Th a thor benefited enormously from the
discussions with participants at both meetings and wishes to thank in particular Elisabeth van Houts, Simon
Keynes and Pongracz Sennyey for their advice and suggestions.
Esp. Rosamond McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word (Cambridge, 1989) and ed. Rosamond
McKitterick, The Uses of Literacy in Early Mediaeval Europe (Cambridge, 1990).
Jan t L. N lson, Lit a y in Ca olingian Gov nm nt, in Uses of Literacy, ed. McKitterick, p. 262.
Wendy Davies and Paul Fouracre, eds., Property and Power in the Early Middle Ages, (Cambridge, 1995).

Ages might almost hav b n s btitl d th s ttl m nt of disp t s abo t land in th a ly Middle


Of course, conveyances and confirmations are one of the earliest and most significant

forms of documentation, both in England and on the continent, to have survived from the early

Middle Ages. While certainly not the only form of administrative instruments produced before

the year thousand, they are the most common form of documentation that was deemed worth

keeping through the centuries. We know, largely from formula collections, of the wide spectrum

of instruments used in the early Middle Ages to establish or prove right. But those concerning

p sons, as th Jan t N lsons cartae, or those concerned with movables, normally ceased to

have any use with the death or disappearance of the persons or things that they concerned.

Unless they were written into a book or document that also preserved the most enduring of

possessions, real property, normally they were allowed to disappear. Likewise, judicial records

prior to the twelfth century only occasionally include actions concerning persons or movables.6

They are overwhelmingly placita concerning disputes over real property, preserved because the

judgment or settlement, properly textualized, became itself a record of possession. Indeed, many

texts that purport to record settlements of disputes over property may be legal fictions,

Scheinprocesse undertaken not in an adversarial spirit but simply to produce a written judgment

of lawful possession.

Land and written memory of land work together in a variety of obvious and perhaps not

so obvious ways. The extent to which written record of ownership was as important to lay

landowners as to ecclesiastical varied by region of Europe and by period. Here again, however,

the work of McKitterick and her colleagues as well as that of the Davies and Fouracre team have

Wendy Davies and Paul Fouracre, eds., The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge, 1986).
An exception to this rule are judgments against serfs claiming freedom. However, this exception may be only
apparent, since servi casati were in a sense part of the real property to which they were bound.

demonstrated, from differing perspectives, that the value of written evidence of ownership

reached widely into secular society in England and on the continent, even though individual and

family archives tended to vanish with the death or extinction of the family, thus leaving the

erroneous impression that book land was largely a matter for the Church.7

Family lands, and thus the means of remembering and demonstrating possession, were, of

o s , th b d o k of a familys w alth, so ial position, and id ntity. Th ability to d monst at

a familys poss ssions was th s a nt al p agmati n d in this ag a ian so i ty. t th

relationship between land and family was more than a pragmatic one. Land not only formed the

basis of a familys w alth and pow : land was th m ans by whi h a family kn w its lf in

historical perspective. Certainly in the twelfth century, as European aristocracies completed the

process of forming lineages, the symbolic meaning of land was enormous. Whether it was the

castle or property that provided a family toponymic, the Handgemal or symbolic free tenure that

was th p oof of a familys f and nobl stat s, o th a o nts of how on s an sto s am

into land and office in the often mythical past of the ninth or tenth centuries, land was a symbolic

apital that onstit t d a familys id ntity. Its m mo y, oft n t xt aliz d, was f ndam ntal to

self-identity. Even earlier, before the toponymic came to be the distinguishing feature of a

lineage, families used property and its devolution as one way of conceiving and talking about

themselves. Inheritance of land established and clarified ego-centric kinship networks, while

broad kindreds recognized their relationship through the description of, for example, the lands of

the Huosi that appear in Bavarian charters. Current scholarship on monastic property is

demonstrating how families used donations and precarial holdings to channel wealth from one

On Anglo-Saxon Cha t s th wo k of Simon K yn s is f ndam ntal. S , in pa ti la , Royal Government and
the Written Word in Late Anglo-Saxon England, in Uses of Literacy, ed. McKitterick, pp. 226-257.

generation to another, in a real sense creating relationship through the symbolic medium of land,

recorded and accessible in monastic archives.8

Th s it is not no gh to a g that land was ss ntial to a familys stat s and pow . Land

can also be described as that which created families as well as sustained them. Property was the

symbolic language through which people discussed, negotiated, affirmed, and delimited the

boundaries of family. In the eighth century, for example, one can observe property transfers,

sales, exchanges, and the like operating within two spheres: one, explicit kinship groups

involving parents and children, brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts and cousins. The second, and

larger, was a circle of implicit kin who bought and sold land among themselves, reuniting and

redefining ancestral lands and, thus, the families that this ancestry created.9 In the ninth century,

inheritance defined kindred and proximity, not simply blood. In her book of advice for her son,

Dhuoda describes his proximi and propinqui, his close kindred, as those who leave him land in

inheritance and urges him to pray for them in proportion to the bequests that they leave him. The

bonds of giving and the bonds of praying overlay each other.10

No wonder, then, that the origins of lands, their extent, and the means by which they were

acquired took on more than merely practical significance. Memory of the family as a family

b gan with th m mo y of th a q isition of th familys land, and this p imo dial a q isition

could become the subject of family legend and myth. The most famous is perhaps that of the
On the Handgemal see John F d, Th Co nts of Falk nst in: Nobl S lf-Consciousness in Twelfth-Century
G many, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 74:6 (Philadelphia, 1984). On the use of
donations fo family st at gi s in ava ia s Joa him Jahn, T ad ad san t m. Politische und
g s lls haftli h Asp kt d T aditionsp axis in agilolfingis h n ay n, in Gesellschaftgeschichte.
Festschrift fr Karl Bosl zum 80. Geburtstag, 1 (Munich, 1988), pp. 400-416; and, in Alsace, Hans Josef
H mm , Monasti P op ty, Family Contin ity and C nt al A tho ity in Ea ly M di val Alsa and So th n
Lotha ingia (PhD diss tation, UCLA, 1997), hap. two, Family st t and family m mo y: Th Rodoins
and th Saa ga s tion of th a t la y of W iss nb g, pp. 79-105.
Patrick J. Geary, Aristocracy in Provence: the Rhne Basin at the Dawn of the Carolingian Age (Philadelphia,
1985), pp. 115-119.
Pat i k J. G a y, hang s t lations nt l s vivants t l s mo ts dans la so it d Ha t Moy n g , Droit
et Cultures 12 (1986), pp. 3-17. T anslat d as Ex hang s and Int a tions b tw n th Living and th D ad in
th Ea ly Middl Ag s, in Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY, 1994), pp. 77-92.

Welfs, whose foundation legend told of Henry with the Golden Plough reported by the Annalista

Saxo some time in the 1130s.11 This legend tells of Eticho-Welf, a great prince who refused to do

homage for land to anyone, even to his son-in-law Emperor Louis the Pious. His son Henry, by

contrast, was willing to pay feudal homage provided Louis would give him the amount of land in

Swabia he could encircle at noontide with a plough. The father was so incensed that he retired

for the rest of his life into the Schamitzwald. Henry, however, tricked the emperor by taking off

on a race through the countryside with a golden plough, using a relay of fresh horses to encircle a

vast amount of land that became the centre of the Welf patrimony.12 This legend, combining a

variety of folkloric motifs, shows close interaction between land and the memory of family

identity. No wonder, likewise, that land, its conveyance, and its boundaries was the stuff not only

of elaborated family traditions, but of archival record.

But, of course, textualization was not the only or even the most important means by

which something as fundamental as land and identity were preserved and transmitted. Orality

and a variety of oral practices were equally important. McKitterick herself, summarizing the

stat of th q stion, w ot : O ality, with lit a y, n v th l ss tain d its nt ality in a ly

medieval societies. This was most manifest in the many discussions of charters. At whatever

other levels they need to be appreciated, one essential function of the charter was to serve as a

w itt n o d of an o al t ansa tion.13 Orality and literacy, then, are not competing ways of

understanding the retention and communication of the past in the early Middle Ages as has been

suggested by some continental scholars.14 They are, rather, inseparably connected. Brian Stock,

Ka l S hmid, W lfis h s S lbstv standnis, in Gebetsgedenken und adliges Selbstverstandnis im Mittelalter.
Ausgewhlte Beitrge. Festgabe zu seinem sechzigsten Geburtstag (Sigmaringen, 1983), pp. 424-453.
Annalista Saxo, MGH SS, 6, p. 164.
Rosamond McKitterick, ed., The Uses of Literacy, pp. 320-321.
Esp. Michael Richter, The Formation of the Medieval West: Studies in the Oral Culture of the Barbarians
(Dublin, 1994), and his The Oral Tradition in the Early Middle Ages, in Typologie des sources du Moyen ge
occidental, fasc. 71 (Turnhout, 1994).

w iting on o ality and lit a y, disting ish s b tw n th st ong th sis of o ality and lit a y

and th w ak th sis. Whil th st ong posits a majo t ansformation associated with the advent

of lit a y in a p vio sly o al so i ty, th w ak th sis att mpts to a o nt fo th int a tion of

the oral and the written after the initial steps are taken. It assumes that a knowledge of writing is

not completely n w.15

Much of the recent work of British scholars on the subject of orality and literacy has

fo s d on d monst ating that th st ong th sis is not pa ti la ly h lpf l in nd standing

early medieval culture. As such, it has emphasized the literate side of the equation. This has been

entirely proper and necessary because of the misconception prevalent until recently that the

world of the early Middle Ages was an oral culture that transformed into a culture of the written

word sometime in the late eleventh or twelfth centuries. Thus a corrective was both necessary

and sal ta y. How v , w m st not fo g t th s ond half of M Kitt i ks q ation: o ality did

indeed retain its centrality. Our problem, however, is how to examine or evaluate this centrality,

how to understand the intimate relationship between oral and textual transmission, given that our

sources must necessarily derive from the second half of the equation, that which survives as

written record.

Of course, oral and literal transmission are not the only or even the primary means by

which the experiences and values of the past were communicated to the future. Much that society

needs to know is transmitted experientially: neighbors observing a family working a particular

portion of land or a lord exercising, through the collection of rents and the demand of services,

the concrete rights of possession; the boy observing as his father works a rough piece of wood

into a useful tool; the daughter assisting her mother in gathering herbs for a poultice or healing

b oth; th yo th obs ving th wa io s h s v s as h l a ns to b a knight. Th p ima y how

Brian Stock, Listening for the Text: On the Uses of the Past (Philadelphia, 1996), pp. 5-6.

to books of th Middle Ages were people, and much that was at the very core of cultural

reproduction was probably never vocalized or textualized. Verbalization was necessary only for

specific kinds of knowledge and under certain specific circumstances.

We must attempt to understand these specific circumstances, and the complex interplay

between orality and textuality that they elicited. I want to concentrate specifically on the intimate

relationship between orality and textuality in the transmission of certain memories concerning

the past. Of course, the specifically oral aspects of such transmission are irretrievably lost to us.

Unlike the ethnographer or the contemporary oral historian, we cannot listen to the voices of the

past. We have then only three possibilities. First, we can examine texts that purport to record oral

tradition. These texts are never what some philologists would call Verschriftung, that is, the

simple transference from phonetic to graphic medium.16 In medieval texts, we are always faced

with Verschriftlichung, that is, the more complex conceptual process by which textualization

creates a qualitative difference between that which is oral and that which is written.

The second possibility is to look for descriptions of how literate authors describe their

interaction with those for whom the text is always mediated. This approach too is problematic,

since the presentation of the encounter is entirely in the hands of the literate party. The extent to

which his or her construction of the party who is providing access to oral modes of

communication and transmission will be to a great extent constructed from assumptions, literary

topoi, and values that pertain to the literate world. Moreover, as Franz Bauml has argued

concerning literature:

Peter Koch, Distanz im Dictamen. Zur Schriftlichkeit und Pragmatik mittelalterlicher Brief- und Redemodelle in
Italien, Freiburg (maschinenschriftl. Habil. arbeit), p. 94. Cited by Ursula Schaefer, Vokalitt. Altenglische
Dichtung zwischen Mndlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit (Tubingen, 1987), p. 17. n. 24; Wulf Oesterreicher,
V s h ift ng nd V s h iftli h ng im Kont xt m dial nd konz ption ll S h iftli hk it, in d. Ursula
Schaefer, Schriftlichkeit im frhen Mittelalter (Tbingen, 1993), pp. 267-292.

In referring to the oral tradition, the written text fictionalizes it. Since the one is
given a role to play within the other, since oral formulae in the garb of writing
f to o ality within th w itt n t adition, th o al t adition b om s an impli it
fi tional ha a t of lit a y.17

A third possibility is to look for the evidence of oral performance within texts. Written

texts in the Middle Ages were created and performed orally: thus most texts have an essentially

oral characteristicthey were vocalized at the time that they were transcribed and were intended

to be vocalized in their reading, whether for an individual reading aloud to himself or herself, or

as a performance before others.18 Thus, at the level of representation of vocality, examination of

s h d s iptions p ovid s a vital if pa tial nt y into th op ations of th w ak th sis in th

world of medieval orality. This is especially true in examining charters and placita or court

po dings. Fo maliz d and fi tionaliz d th y tainly a , b t n v th l ss th y not only

record agreements, transactions, or donations. They are also records of performances. Moreover,

they are scripts for future performances.

It is the evidence of performance of the past that this essay will address, particularly in

terms of the primary concern about land and its history that had to be accessible to a lay audience

whose concern about property was paramount. How did one perform the scripts, what was

needed to be certain that those who spoke the past did so in a way that brought that past to life in

an immediate way?

Performing scripts, seeing as well as hearing, were fundamental in establishing right in

early medieval courts. This aural aspect was as true in Roman law areas of Europe as it was in

areas of customary law. I have elsewhere examined cases from Languedoc and Provence in

which this vocalization of texts was essential. To cite but one example, at Narbonne in 955 the

F anz a ml, M di val T xts and th Two Th o i s of O al-Formulaic Composition: A Proposal for a Third
Th o y, New Literary History 16 (1984-5), p. 43. Cited by Schaeffer, Vokalitt, pp. 115-116, n. 49.
See esp. Schaeffer, Vokalitt, passim.

local bishop judged on the validity of a deathbed donation only after he had seen and heard it,

vidit et audivit.19 This is a standard phrase in dispute settlement charters. Seeing and hearing, as

Horst Wenzel has argued in other contexts, was an essential part in determining the past.20

But what exactly did one need to hear? The past had to be revived through the

performance of a text in a way that made its content immediately accessible to those who had to

judge its right. In land cases, this meant essentially two things: possession of land and the

description of that land. Charters recorded transfers, agreements, and oaths concerning the

location and ownership of land. That which had been sworn was textualized so that, on reading,

an audience could hear once more the description and the oath that confirmed it.21 But what

sounds did a lay audience need to hear? While portions of a charter might be performed in Latin

and translated or explained by a litteratus, some portions were so important that they might be

put directly into the vernacular. This was particularly true in the descriptions of property. Names

and places were so intimately tied together that in these cases the vernacular had to bleed through

the Latin text, usually in the naming of places, but at times in the directional indications as well.

I first noticed this tendency while working with a document from the high Middle Ages.

In the 1180s Count Siboto IV of Falkenstein, a Bavarian noble who held lands in the region of

the Kemsee in modern Bavaria as well as in what is today upper Austria, grew so exasperated

with one Rudolf of Piesting that he decided to get rid of him. He had written a letter to one of his

Dom Claude deVic et Dom Joseph Vaissete, Histoire gnrale de Languedoc avec des notes et des pices
justificatives, 15 vols. in 17 (Toulouse, 1872-92), V, p. 222. S Pat i k J. G a y, Oblivion b tw n O ality
and T xt ality in th T nth C nt y, in ds. G d Althoff, Johannes Fried and Patrick J. Geary, Imagination,
Ritual, Memory, Historiography: Concepts of the Past (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 111-122.
Horst Wenzel, Hren und Sehen, Schrift und Bild: Kultur und Gedchtnis im Mittelalter (Munich, 1995).
This is true not only of ordinary disputes and judgments but even, or perhaps especially, of royal decrees. As
Simon K yn s w it s, As ga ds t nth- and eleventh- nt y l gislation, what o nt d was th kings o al
pronouncement of the law, and many of th xtant w itt n t xts w mo in th nat of min t s of what
was o ally d d, ath than stat t law in th i own ight. Royal Gov nm nt and th W itt n Wo d, in
Uses of Literacy, d. M Kitt i k, p. 228, q oting Pat i k Wo mald, Lex Scripta and Verbum Regis: legislation
and G mani kingship, f om E i to Cn t, Early Medieval Kingship, eds. P. H. Sawyer and I. N. Wood
(Leeds, 1977), pp. 105-138.

vassals, Ortwin of Merkenstein, in which he bluntly asked Ortwin to cut down Rudolf, or at least

to blind him.22 If O twin wo ld b so good as to do this favo fo him, Siboto w ot , I will do

for you whatever you wish. I grant you the property along the Panzenbach from its source to

where it flows into th Pi sting. Th l tt , on of th a li st l tt s b tw n laym n f om th

Middle Ages, is from every perspective a remarkable and unusual document, written, perhaps,

not only to communicate the request to Ortwin, something that could probably have been done as

well or even better orally, but also to provide proof for Ortwin, after the fact, that he had acted on

behalf of his lord, was free from personal responsibility, and should receive the reward that he

was promised.23 The one aspect of the letter that I wish to note today, however, is the language in

which Siboto describes the reward awaiting Ortwin. The original of the passage I just quoted

reads: quecumque vultis, faciam vobis. Concedo vobis itaque bonum da der Panzinpach also er

oueralbe in den Piesnic vellet unde dase da springet. In other words, while the letter is written in

what passed for Latin in aristocratic circles of Bavaria, the passage in which Siboto describes

what he will give Ortwin for carrying out the hit contract is in Middle High German. The

vernacular will be emerging increasingly into German documents in the next generation. Indeed,

som tim in th a ly thi t nth nt y Sibotos son had th whol od x in whi h th l tt

appears translated. However, the use of the vernacular in this Latin letter is not the beginning of

that tradition but rather the end of a much more ancient and complex tradition central to

questions of memory, land, and language.

As Anglo-Saxonists well know, English charters from at least the time of Alfred, even

when written in Latin, often contain significant passages in Old English. Most frequently these

Codex Falkensteinensis: die Rechtsaufzeichnungen der Grafen von Falkenstein, ed. Elisabeth Noichl, Quellen und
Errterungen zur bayerischen Geschichte, n.s., 29 (Munich, 1978), no. 183, pp.163-164.
S John . F d and Pat i k J. G a y, Lit a y and Viol n in Tw lfth-Century Bavaria: th M d L tt
of Co nt Siboto IV, Viator 25 (1994), pp. 115-129 reprinted above as Chapter Seven.

a , j st as in th as of Sibotos hit ont a t, d s iptions of bo nda i s. Simon K yn s in

particular has explored the importance of these boundary descriptions in the Anglo-Saxon world,

and I do not intend to develop them further here.24 In his recent unpublished dissertation on

boundaries in pre-Conquest England, the American medievalist Mark Rabuck has discussed

these passages and rehearsed the various interpretations that have been offered to explain them.25

To some, they have been seen as evidence of the decline of Latinity. This is highly unlikely,

since the scribes were perfectly capable of preparing the rest of the charters in Latin. Others see

this as part of the Anglo-Saxon linguistic renaissance encouraged by Alfred. If this were so, it

would be difficult to understand why only these passages were prepared in English. Rabuck

argues convincingly that the choice was anything but arbitrary and had everything to do with the

importance of reading aloud to people not fluent in Latin.26

But there is even more to the use of the vernacular in describing and discussing land. This

impression is supported by an examination of the appearance of the vernacular in continental

legal and administrative documents. Here, too, in places as widely separated as Germany and

Italy, the vernacular first begins to emerge in administrative practice in those aspects of disputes

and transactions involving precise descriptions and statements concerning land, its boundaries,

and the nature of its tenure. I would like to suggest that this practice is closely related to the

demands of memory, and its public recitation, under specific ritualized circumstances in the early

Simon K yn s, Royal Gov nm nt and th W itt n Wo d, in Uses of Literacy, ed. McKitterick, pp. 225-257.
See, in particular, his description of two versions of the boundaries appearing in a treaty between Alfred and
Guthrum, pp. 233-234. As h xplains, th t aty is ost nsibly a o d of o al ag m nts mad b tw n th
two pa ti s and onfi m d on a pa ti la day by th sw a ing of oaths. On th wid lit at on ning
Anglo- Saxon bo nda y la s s, s , in addition, fo an a li s v y, Ni holas ooks, Anglo-Saxon
ha t s: th wo k of th last tw nty y a s, Anglo-Saxon England 3 (1974), pp. 211-231, esp. 223-224; and C.
P. iggam, So ioling isti asp ts of Old English olo l x m s, Anglo-Saxon England 24 (1995), pp. 51-
Ma k Rab k, Th Imagin d o nda y: o d s and F onti s in Anglo-Saxon England (PhD dissertation, Yale
Univ sity, 1995), hap. 6, Dis sin b land g ma ... V na la o nda y Cla s s, pp. 149-165.
Rabuck, ibid., pp. 150-151.

Middle Ages. Th s wo ds, ph as s, o xt nd d passag s a in a s ns mls fi tional

characters embedded within the text, characters who can be made to speak again what was said

about the past.

Unlike in England, boundary descriptions were not the usual way of designating property

in the East Frankish world. The most common practice was to follow a formula that simply gave

the place-names of donated properties. For example, in a donation by Charlemagne to which we

shall t n, W giv to th monast ry of Fulda in the pagus of Gaaffelt ... our property of

Hammelburg situated in the Salgau on the Sale river, integrally, with all its adjacencies and

appendices on the Eschenback, Diebach, and Ertal, whatever we are seen to have in these above

mentioned pla s.27

As Hanna Vollrath observes, however, such designations in a charter, even if it can be

termed a legal title, could have only a very limited function since the precise property bounds

had to be expanded through a topographical knowledge of the location. Only oral testimony

could make good such written evidence.28 Occasionally, however, one learns more about the

donated property. Either because of its unusual dimensions or, more frequently, because the

specific limits of the property are subject to dispute, a charter will provide that information

normally left to oral testimony. The determination of these boundaries, and the establishment of

a charter recording the transfer or establishing the result of a judicial or quasi-judicial process,

demanded explicitly the ritual action and vocalization of the boundaries by a group of

knowledgeable and trustworthy men. These individuals had to lead a circumnavigation of the

bounds, stating explicitly what the boundaries were that they were showing. Their sworn

statement had to be heard and recorded first in the memory of witnesses and then, secondarily, in

DKar I, p. 162, no. 116. For a detailed discussion and edition of this diploma, see Edmund E. Stengel,
Urkundenbuch des Klosters Fulda, I (Marburg, 1958), pp. 140-147.
Vollrath, Rechtexte, p. 329.

a document that could be used as an aide-mmoire of the events. Such documents are particularly

telling of the relationship between ritual action, oral performance, and memory. One also sees

with particular clarity the importance of accessibility to the words spoken and remembered by

those participating in the circumnavigation, an importance that favored the use of the vernacular

in place-names and, at times, just as in England, in the presentation of the entire description of

boundaries in the vernacular.

Just such a dispute developed in the first quarter of the ninth century concerning the

Hammelburg property donated to Fulda by Charlemagne. We know this because of a document,

surviving in a contemporary copy, of the boundaries of this property. This so-called

Hammelburg Boundary description, along with a somewhat similar description from Wurzburg,

is among the most ancient vernacular texts in Old High German.29 The Hammelburg document

states that in the third year of King Charles (777) counts Nithard and Heimo, along with two

royal vassals, invested Abbot Sturm with the property granted by the king, an investiture

witnessed by twenty-one named individuals. The witness list follows with the statement (in

Latin) that this place had been described and designated with these boundaries, and then the most

noble people of the land (nobiliores terrae illius) swore that they had spoken the truth of this

portion of the fisc. Then follows a detailed description, essentially in German, which traces the

boundaries. The document has been accepted as essentially genuine in its Latin portion since it

agrees with the earlier diploma of Charlemagne. The boundary description, however, is in a

Elias von Steinmeyer, ed., Die Kleineren althochdeutschen Sprachdenkmler (Berlin, 1916), pp. xii, 62-3; and
Wilhelm Braune, ed. Althochdeutsch Lesebuch 16th ed. (Tbingen, 1979), p. 6. and by Edmund E. Stengel,
Urkundenbuch des Klosters Fulda I (Marburg, 1958), no. 83, pp. 15-16. See J. Knight Bostock, A Handbook on
Old High German Literature (Oxford, 1976), pp. 113-114; Di t G ni h, Z altho hd tscher Literatur
a s F lda, Von der Klosterbibliothek zur Landesbibliothek Beitrge zum zweihundert-jhrigen Bestehen der
Hessischen Landesbibliothek Fulda, Artur Brall, ed. (Stuttgart, 1978), pp. 14-15. One should note that the
majority of Continental boundary descriptions concern much larger territories than those of Anglo-Saxon
charters and might be considered more political treaties than ordinary land delimitations. However, the charter
evidence discussed below suggests that while full descriptions survive in such cases, the vernacular phrases in
charters suggest a similar process lay behind them as well.

German that must date philologically from no earlier than the 820s and thus has been dismissed

as a forgery, of which a considerable number were generated in Fulda at this time. This may be

so. However, the text, when examined as part of an inquest following a dispute rather than as

part of the original investiture, is subject to an alternative interpretation. The document does not

identify the nobiliores terrae illius as the twenty-one witnesses of the investiture. They may be

rather those who in the 820s recalled and swore to the earlier boundaries, swearing, naturally, in

their spoken language, not in an archaic vernacular. Alternatively, it may indeed be a forgery, but

even then its fabrication shows that for Fulda, the precise boundary, described in words that

anyone at a court could understand, were deemed sufficiently important to record in the

contemporary spoken language. Only through such an utterly transparent document, capable of

being revocalized before a lay audience, could a donation of some fifty years previous be


The importance of the vernacular oath demonstrating the boundary of land that could be

revocalized for an assembly is shown in the second such boundary description, the Wurzburg

boundary description from 14 October 779. This exists in two versions, one entirely in German,

one in Latin with significant interpolation of German.30 The German version begins in

Rabanesbrunnen and traces a series of landmarks connected by directional indications until it

returns again to its start. It is followed by the names of eighteen men who have sworn that these

are the proper boundaries.31 The Latin-German version, which is not an exact duplicate of the

information in the German version, is divided into three vernacular boundary descriptions and

one Latin description, each followed by the names of those who went around them with the royal

Von Steinmeyer, ed., Kleineren althochdeutschen Sprachdenkmaler, pp. xxiv, 115-117. See Bostick, Handbook,
pp. 114-115.
Diz sageta Marcuuart, Nanduuin, Helitberaht, Fredthant, Heio, Unuuan, Fridurih, Reginberaht, Ortuuin, Gozuuin,
Iuto, Liutberaht, Baso, Berahtolf, Ruotberaht, Sigifrid, Reginuuart, Folcberaht. Von Steinmeyer, ed., Kleineren
althochdeutschen Sprachdenkmaler, p. 116.

missi and who swore that they were accurate.32 The divergence of the two again suggests a

dispute or disagreement on the exact bounds, and the documents with their heavy vernacular

content were means to preserve oaths about those bounds for later vocalization before the kind of

audience that would want direct access to the sounds of the oaths taken by those who rode the

bounds in 779.

A similar process of riding the boundaries with a group of men who swear to their

locations appears in other Frankish charters of the eighth and ninth centuries. In some cases the

boundaries are presented in Latin, in most the place-names are designated in German and in

others all or significant portions of the entire boundary, including directional prepositions, are

p s nt d in th v na la , as, fo xampl : That is, at Kazoz h im, Ch ngsh id and Ch i stadt

with the above designated boundaries to the place called Sampinsaolla to Cozeheim and then it

follows the flow of the stream to the large bush that is called in the vernacular nidar pi deru

labhun za deru mihilun eihi...33

The procedure by which the boundaries were established is explained in the text:
In nomine domini nostri Ihesu Christi. Notum sit omnibus sanctae dei ecclesiae fidelibus, qualiter
Eburhardus missus domni nostri Karoli excellentissimi regis cum omnibus obtimatibus et senibus istius
prouinciae in occidentali parte fluuii nomine Moin marcham Vuirziburgarensium iuste discernendo et
ius iurantibus illis subter scriptis optimatibus et senibus circumduxit. Incipientes igitur in loco, qui
dicitus tuuinesbrunno, danan in daz haganina sol, danan in Herostat in den uuidenen seo, danan in
mittan Nottenlh, danan in Scelenhoue. Isit sunt, qui in his locis suprascriptis circumduxerund et
iuramento firmauerunt: Ztan, Ephfo, Lantold, Sigiuuin, Runzolf, Diotmar, Artumar, Eburraat,
Hiltuuin, Eburkar, Germunt, rberaht, Folcger, Theotger, Theodolt.
The second section continues:
Incipiebant uero in eodem loco alii testes perire et circumducere. Id est fon demo Scelenhouge in
Hibiscesbiunta, danan in das Ruotgises houc, danan anan Amarland, danan in Moruhhesstein, danan
after dero clingun unzan Christesbrunnon. hucusque preibant et circumducebant et iuramento
firmabant, qui subter nominiti sunt: hoc est Batolf, gerfrid, Haduger, Lanto, Marcuuart, Vodalmaar,
Adalbrabt, Utto, Hatto, Saraman, Hnger, Vuigbald, Aato., Eggihart, Strangolf, Haamo, Francho,
Enistriit, Gerhart, Gatto, Hiltiberaht, Ruotberaht, Hanno, Nantger, Hunband, Rihholf, Ramftger.
Von Steinmeyer, ed., Kleineren althochdeutschen Sprachdenkmaler, p. 115.
Die Traditionen des Hochstiftes Freising, ed. Theodor Bitterauf, Quellen und Errterungen zur bayerischen und
deutschen Geschichte, n.f., 4 (M ni h, 1905), no. 166a, p. 162: id est Kaozesheim, Chuningesheid et
Chriechesstat cum omni confino supradicto ad loco qui dicitur Sampinsaolla usque ad Cozesheim et exinde
tendit in iusu iuxta rivolum usque ad magnum rubum quod vulgo dicitir nidar pi deru lahhun za deru mihilun
eihi, deinde per locas terminatas, id est in longitudine antlanga Caozeslahhun usque ad Caozesprunnun, similiter
t in illa silva q a p tin t ad U modinga.

Some have suggested that the heavy use of vernacular in these descriptions stems from

the inability of scribes to write Latin when needing to diverge from set formulae. I find this

highly unlikelythe Latin is never elegant, but the charters are capable of some variety of

description and variety in other respects. Rather, I believe that the high importance of vernacular

is related to the ritual process by which these documents were produced, including the riding of

the boundaries and especially the oral statement of their limits and the oath that the statements

had been heard and were true. The testimony of witness, not in a document but pronounced in

th h a ing of oth s, was what matt d. As on R g nsb g ha t f om 819 p ts it, Th s a

the names of those who heard this judgment and who rode this boundary and who were

p s nt.34 As Susan Kelly has argued in the case of English vernacular charters, vernacular

clauses could provide not only more precision in certain terminology than Latin, but the

vernacular recorded a verbal statement of intent or agreement.35 What the witnesses said was

directly related to the names of the land, and the physical description, experienced and

verbalized, had to be immediately accessible should the document be revocalized. In the case of

s h vo alization in Latin, th ha t wo ld b , again in S san K llys wo ds, do bly

inaccessible to the uneducated. Not only did it have to be read out to them; it also required

t anslation into th v na la .36 In cases as fundamental to the identity and significance of an

Haec sunt nomina eorum, qui audierunt rationem istam et cauallicauerunt illam commarcam et fuerunt in ista
pi isa. Throughout, the charter emphasizes what has been heard as in the testimony of two episcopal
witn ss s: Tune dixit Rodolt et Betto [the episcopal huntsman and episcopal vicar]: nos audemus hoc dicere
et confirmare, etiam si fuerit coram domno imperatore, quod ista omnis commarca, sicut hunc eundem
episcopum Baturicum circumducentes consignauimus, debet consistere cum omni iustitia ad sanctum Petrum et
sanctum Emmerammum in traditione ducum, qui istam patriam possiderunt. Die Traditionen des Hochstifts
Regensburg und des Klosters S. Emmeram, ed. Josef Widemann, Quellen und Errterungen zur bayerischen
Geschichte, n.f., 8 (Munich, 1943), no. 16, p. 16.
S san K lly, Anglo-Saxon Lay So i ty and th W itt n Wo d, in Uses of Literacy, ed. McKitterick, p. 56.
Ibid., pp. 56-57.

aristocracy as land, there was greater emphasis on the ability to hear the sounds of the past that

directly linked the property to the action.37

The two versions of the Wurzburg boundary description suggest that the process by

which the document was created began with a vernacular description of the boundaries and a list

of those who participated in the riding. Then a more careful Latin text was prepared, which

nevertheless preserved in the vernacular the specific, detailed vernacular boundaries and the

names of the individuals who had sworn to them.38

Preserving boundaries is not the only kind of oral testimony about land that was deemed

sufficiently important to be transparent to a lay audience that it would be recorded in the

vernacular. So too were oaths sworn about such boundaries. The earliest documents in the Italian

language are four placiti and one memorandum (or memoratorio) from the 960s concerning the

property of Montecassino. In each case, a dispute (real or fictive) with the monastery over a

portion of land is announced before a judge. The boundaries of the disputed property are

described in a Latin closely related to the vernacular. Then individual witnesses are called to

swear to the veracity of the boundaries and to the possession by the monastery for more than

thirty years. These oaths are unambiguously in the vernacular: sao ko kelle terre per kellefini que

The same practice of providing boundaries in the vernacular appears in the earliest Hungarian royal charters. The
fo ndation ha t of th n di tin Abb y at Tihany, w itt n in 1055, ads, fo xampl , Adh a t m st
locus Mortis dictus, cuius incipit terminus a Sarfeu eri iturea, hinc Ohut cutarea, inde ad holmodi rea, postea
Gnir uuege holmodia rea et exinde Mortis uuasara kuta rea as postea Nogu azah feherea, inde ad Sastelic et
Feheruuaru rea meneh hodu utu rea, post haec Petre zenaia hel rea. Gy gy Gy ffy, Diplomata Hungariae
Antiquissima (Budapest, 1992), p. 150. Since the individual responsible for this diploma of King Stephen is
most lik ly H b t C, who had b n a tiv in th G man imp ial han ll y, on an assume that this
practice, and probably the type of vernacular inquest that produced such vernacular boundary descriptions, were
introduced from the west. I am grateful to Professors Pongracz Sennyey and Janos Bak for bringing the
Hungarian material to my attention.
The process was probably similar in the preparation of Anglo-Saxon charters. Two such original documents
containing only boundary descriptions have survived and a number of others have been preserved in post-
Conquest cartularies. These were probably the drafts prepared by the sheriff immediately after the riding of the
bounds and eventually would have been incorporated into the charter. Normally, these preliminary drafts would
not have been needed after the completion of the charter and thus need not have been preserved.
Communication from Simon Keynes.

ki contene trenta anni le possette parte sancti benedicti.39 These are hardly attempts to record the

verbatim formulations of individuals unable to speak Latin: all are pronounced by clerics or

notables who would presumably have been capable of expressing themselves in Latin that was at

least as good as the rest of the documents. Moreover, the repetition is so precise that they are

obviously formulas betraying even in their orthography hints of formal, notarial usage.40 They

are, rather, part of a ritualized performance intended not for the judges and principals but for

others attending the solemn court assembly: lay neighbors and landowners around Montecassino.

It is not enough to prove possession by Latin documents or oaths. Those for whom land matters

must be able to hear about it in a language immediately meaningful to them, and by recording

these oaths as vernacular formulae, a record is created that allows the revocalization of the

solemn oaths should they be needed in the future. Again, these oaths, in a highly stylized

vernacular, become fictionalized characters in the construction of the record of a legal procedure.

If we take the suggestion that these processes were themselves rituals in which there was no real

dispute but simply the desire to create formal recognition of monastic right, then we have the

double fictionalization of a play within a play.

This fictionalization returns us to the question of forgery, both in the Fulda boundary

description and in Anglo-Saxon charters. Nicholas Brooks pointed out long ago that these

vernacular boundaries were among the most frequently forged aspects of Anglo-Saxon charters.

More elaborate vernacular bounds were added to earlier charters, bounds that might include more

Placitum of Capua, March 960. D. M. Inguanez, ed., I placiti cassinesi del secolo X con periodi in volgare (La
Badia di Montecassino, 1934), p. 18. The other formulae are very similar: Pla it m of S ssa, Ma h 963: sao
o k ll t p k ll fini q t b monst ai p goaldi fo o q ki ont n , t t nta anni l poss tt , p. 22;
Fi st pla it m of T ano, J ly 963: K lla t a p k ll fini qi bob most ai san t ma i t t nta anni la
poss t pa t san t ma i , p. 26; S ond pla it m of T ano, O tob 963: sao o k ll t p k ll fini q
t b most ai, t nta anni l poss tt pa t san t ma i , p. 29.
See the discussion in Bruno Migliorini, Storia della Langua Italiana (Florence, 1978), pp. 93-96.

than the original donation.41 We have seen the same process at Fulda and, possibly, at Wrzburg,

wh th two v sions annot b mad to oin id . Rath than dismissing th s fo g i s as

simply fraud, one can see them as evidence of the deeply contested field of memory: differing

views about how the past was to be reactualized. Memory, always creative and transformative,

can be seen to be at work in these disputes, recreating in dynamic and original ways the past.

These brief examples suggest that while we have no direct contact with pure orality from

the Middle Ages, we have abundant evidence of vocality, of performance of texts. This is a

different orality from that which most people are interested in, since it is the orality of a literate

minority, even if they, through reading, reach a much wider audience. Nor is it a fossilized

orality, formulae transmitted verbatim through the ages. Rather, it is a constantly renewed and

disputed past, vocalized for the present with an eye to the future.

Thus, at the level of representation of vocality, examination of documents handling land

p ovid s a vital if pa tial nt y into th op ations of th w ak th sis in th wo ld of m di val

orality. This is especially true in examining charters and placita or court proceedings. Formalized

and fi tionaliz d th y tainly a , b t n v th l ss th y not only o d ag m nts,

transactions, or donations. They are also records of performances. Moreover, they are scripts for

future performances. In our cases, statements of the boundaries, oaths acknowledging these

boundaries or declaring uninterrupted possession of disputed lands are vital parts of the scripts

for these performances. The performance had to be accessible to a lay audience whose concern

about property was paramount, not only the first time that it was given, but in case of necessity,

for future audiences. To become relevant in disputes, they had once more to be heard by learned

judges and by the nobiliores terrae. Most scripts were prepared in Latin and would no doubt be

retranslated into the vernacular. But some vital elements of the vernacular, whether place-names,
ooks, Anglo-Saxon ha t s, p. 223.

boundaries, or oaths, might be so crucial that a notary or scribe might incorporate them into his

document. In this way the past could not only be memorialized in a text but it could be reenacted,

as the sounds made before a judge in a distant past could once more reach the ears and the eyes

of those who looked to land as the key to their very identities.

Chapter Sixteen

Comparative History and Social Scientific Theory1

My first experience with comparative history was something of a disappointment. As a

very inexperienced assistant professor at Princeton University many years ago, I became

fascinated with the interrelations among Latin, Greek, and Slavic hagiography in the twelfth

century. In my dissertation, I had examined the rapid spread of accounts of the translation of St.

Nicolas from Myra to Bari at the end of the eleventh century, and I thought that it might be

useful to organize a small colloquium of scholars working in these different cultural spheres to

discuss issues of comparative hagiography.2 I presented the idea to the then executive secretary

of the Medieval Academy of America. His respons was b i f and dismissiv : I aliz that

som p opl find val in ompa ativ histo y; I do not.

Although comparative history has long been an acknowledged methodology and in the

1970s played an important role in historical research, this negative evaluation of comparative

studies, while perhaps not as universal as it once was, remains typical of many historians.3 The

types of comparative studies as practiced by historians have relied, explicitly or implicitly, on

certain assumptions about the purpose of history, the nature of the phenomena being studied, and

This a ti l fi st app a d as V gl i h nd G s hi ht nd Sozialwiss ns haftli h Th o i , in d. Mi ha l
Borgolte, Das europische Mittelalter im Spannungsbogen des Vergleichs. Zwanzig internationale Beitrge zu
Praxis, Problemen und Perspektiven der historischen Komparatistik, (Berlin, 2001), pp 29-38.
Patrick J. Geary, Furta Sacra: thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages, 2nd ed. (Princeton, 1990), pp. 94-103.
Compa ativ histo y was al ady th obj t of Ma lo hs int ns int st. His lassi st dy was Po n
histoi ompa d s so its op nn s, Revue de synthse historique 46 (1928), pp. 15-50. For a critical
vi w of lo hs fo m lation of comparative history and his attempts to apply comparison in his own work see
Al tt Olin Hill and oyd H. Hill, J ., Ma lo h and Compa ativ Histo y, American Historical Review 85
(1980), pp. 828-846. A short introduction to comparative history in medieval Europe is provided by James
Given, State and Society in Medieval Europe: Gwynedd and Languedoc under Outside Rule (Ithaca, NY, 1990),
pp. 11-14. See for example the debate over social structure and economic development initiated by an article of
Robe t nn , Ag a ian Class St t and E onomi D v lopm nt in P -Ind st ial E op , Past and
Present 1970 (1976), pp. 30-75 and its prolongation in a collected volume: eds. Trever H. Aston and Charles H.
E. Philpin, The Brenner Debate: Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial
Europe (Cambridge, 1985).

the theoretical parameters of comparison itself. The emphasis on the uniqueness of historical

phenomena, particularly on the responsibility of great actors on the historical stage, is

traditionally associated with a national conservative approach to history. Comparative studies, on

the other hand, are traditionally associated with liberal oppositional historians more interested in

pursuing history as part of a more theoretically oriented cultural and social science.

Today comparative history is suspect. In the last decades the traditional polarity between

conservative and liberal historians has changed. There is an even more serious accusation leveled

against comparative history than that it is trivial, namely that it is pernicious. Does comparison

relativize and potentially trivialize the uniqueness that is the past? Is comparison a way of

excusing the evils of the past by suggesting that crimes and horrors are all more or less the same?

This, as Reinhold Bichler has argued, was at the heart of the Historikerstreit:

The uniqueness of the National Socialist crimes against humanity was asserted in
opposition to the desire to set the mass murders of the Nazi era in relationship to other
mass murders of this century and in this manner to historicize them.4

Did the attempt to compare the National Socialist program of mass extermination of

Jews, Roma, homosexuals, and others constitute an implicit relativization and thus defense of the

Holocaust? Seen through this optic, comparative history is not only trivial but pernicious, even

dangerous. Comparative history might be seen as an immoral procedure, a way to deny the

singularity and responsibility of persons and societies.

The debate about the appropriateness and possibility of comparison of the Holocaust with

other contemporary or previous massacres has, as Bichler has shown, much to do not only with

G g n di Int ntion, di Mass nv ni ht ng d NS A a z and n Mass nv ni ht ng n g ad di s s
Jahrhunderts in Beziehung zu setzen und solcherart zu historisieren, wurde die Singularitt der NS-Verbrechen
g g n di M ns hli hk it g lt nd g ma ht. R inhold i hl , Das Dikt m von d histo is h n Sing la itt
und der Anspruch des historischen Vergleichs. Bemerkungen zum Thema Individuelles versus Allgemeines
nd z lang n G s hi ht d s d ts h n Histo ik st its, Teil und Ganzes, eds. Karl Acham and Winfried
Schulze, Theorie der Geschichte, Beitrge zur Historik, Bd. 6 (Munich, 1990), pp. 169-192; esp. 170.

the immediate question of the Holocaust itself but with the development of historical traditions

within German intellectual currents of the past two centuries.5 Only in the Historikerstreit the

situation was reversed. The idea of comparative history threatened to polarize the very nature of

the historical craft.

Thus comparison remains suspect both from traditionalists but also from liberals who

seek to understand not only the general but also that which is unique within specific societies.

However, although the tradition of comparative history may be as Bichler has described it, one

can argue that comparative history need not always emphasize the general over the particular, the

theoretical over the experiential. As one who has been involved in several very different types of

comparative historical projects, I would like to reflect on some of the problems and challenges to

a comparative history of the Middle Ages that derive from some of these experiences in

relationship to the assumptions about the comparative method as received in the social sciences.

Comparative studies can draw from a variety of a priori assumptions. Structuralist

analysis supposes elementary structures of human society, structures which either develop from

biological constraints or from fundamental, universal psychological or religious commonalities.

From such a perspective, comparison is entirely appropriate since it allows one to understand

varieties of human experience. One need not postulate or assume any direct relationship between

the societies or institutions being compared. Their common human heritage is sufficient. If social

structures, religious tendencies, or psychological predispositions can be seen as ahistorical

givens in human nature, then comparative studies, whether diachronic or synchronic, can be seen

as appropriate means of recovering these elementary forms of human existence. Indeed, this is

the basis of much of twentieth-century social science, just as it was of earlier traditions of

comparative study of religion. While psycho-history, a popular undertaking of the 1960s and
Bilcher, pp. 170-171.

1970s, that applied Freudian or Jungian categories to understand the inner lives of medieval and

early modern people has fallen out of favor, in other areas such implicit assumptions about

universal human structures continue to influence historical scholarship. As medievalists we are

perhaps most accustomed to such studies in the area of kinship and family structure, as for

example in the role of maternal uncle-nephew relationships in aristocratic society of the Middle

Ages, work that draws explicitly on Claude Lvi-St a sss Lanalys st t al n ling istiq

t n anth opologi , altho gh m h has b n mad of oth so ial st t s in oss-cultural

perspective as well, including gift exchange and conflict resolution.6 Likewise, in the domain of

religious history, historians of medieval ritual have drawn on comparisons with ritual systems in

other cultures. Moreover, if an evolutionary schema is grafted onto this model, then one can

attempt to place different societies or cultures on a relative scale from primitive toward evolved

based on the ways that these elementary and eternal criteria are developed and appreciated in

given societies.

A related a priori assumption that has recently commanded attention is ecological: if all

human societies are seen as responding to challenges of environment as communities go about

finding ways of feeding, clothing, and protecting themselves within specific ecological niches,

then comparative studies of societies can examine how different communities responded to

similar environmental situations. The anthropologist Marvin Harris attempts to correlate cultural

forms in human society to strategies for maximizing caloric intakes within differing ecologies. 7

Indeed, some scholars such as the physiologist Jared Diamond have gone so far as to develop

Claude Lvi-St a ss, Lanalys st t al n ling istiq t n anth opologi , Word, Journal of the Linguistic
Circle of New York 1 (1945), pp. 1-21, repr. in Claude Lvi-Strauss, Anthropologie structurale (Paris, 1958)
esp. pp. 47-62. Of o s st t al ling isti s w al ady an impo tant infl n on Ma lo hs
ompa ativ histo y. S Hill and Hill, Ma lo h and Compa ativ Histo y.
Marvin Harris, Cannibals and Kings: the Origins of Cultures (New York, 1977); Cultural Materialism: the
Struggle for a Science of Culture (New York, 1979); Food and Evolution: Toward a Theory of Human Food
Habits (Philadelphia, 1987).

metahistorical explanations for the development of human cultures based on such factors as

directions of mountain ranges and river flows, mean and extremes of temperature and rainfall,

presence or absence of diseases in specific ecological niches, and the like.8

These assumptions about universal, ahistorical bases in the phenomena of history need

not retain our interest today. As historians, it is not our role to judge a priori whether all of

human experience is governed by certain biological, psychological, religious laws, or

environmental laws. Rather it is to examine human societies and to understand them in some

m aningf l s ns . As Adam P z wo ski and H n y T n s gg st d in a lassi stat m nt of

social scientific methodology a generation ago, the possibility of comparison is not an essential

element of social phenomena but rather depends entirely upon the perspective from which one

wishes to investigate them.9 The question is certainly not whether or not one can compare

phenomena, it is rather what questions one wishes to ask and thus what is to be accomplished in

the comparison.

Sociologists and anthropologists have a ready answer for this question. Comparative

inquiry has long been viewed, along experimental methods and statistical methods, as one of the

three fundamental forms of social scientific methodology.10 In the words of Przeworski and

Teune, social science research, including comparative inquiry, should and can lead to general

statements about social phenomena. This assumption implies that human or social behavior can

be explained in terms of general laws established by observation.11 Moreover, the typical social

Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (New York, 1997).
Adam Przeworski and Henry Teune, The Logic of Comparative Social Inquiry (New York, 1970), n. 191.
R b a J an Emigh, Th Pow of N gativ Thinking: Th Us s of N gativ Cas M thodology in th
D v lopm nt of So iologi al Th o y, Theory and Society 26 (1977), pp. 650-651.
Ibid., p. 4. There exists a large body of reflection on comparative methods by anthropologists and sociologists.
S in pa ti la And F. Kbb n, Compa ativists and Non-Compa ativists in Anth opology, in ds. Rao l
Naroll and Ronald Cohen, A Handbook of Method in Cultural Anthropology (New York, 1968), pp. 581-596;
Raoul Naroll, Som Tho ghts on Compa ativ M thod in C lt al Anth opology, in ds. H b t M. lalo k,
Jr. and Ann B. Blalock, Methodology in Social Research (New York, 1968), pp. 236-277; Maurice Godelier,

scientist is more interested in explaining phenomena whenever and wherever they occur than in

explaining phenomena as accurately as possible in terms of specific historical circumstances.12

Thus social scientific comparison willingly sacrifices accuracy in favor of generality. Such

comparative studies seek to elucidate not the particular but the general. Their intention is not to

gain a better understanding of any particular society but rather to elaborate theories of human

behavior, theoretical models that can be universal and, in a sense, predictive, as in the natural

sciences. Again to quote from Przeworski and Teune, such social scientists evaluate the relative

value of theories in terms of their accuracy, on the generality with which they can be applied to a

broad spectrum of human societies, on their simplicity or parsimony, that is, on how small is the

number of factors that provide for an explanation, and on their causality, that is, on whether no

two variables within the system explain the same part of the variation and whether or not the

explanatory pattern remains constant even when new variables are added.13 Of these four criteria,

the social scientist is least interested in accuracy and most interested in generality.

Comparison operates at two levels. At a preliminary stage, different societies are

compared with each other, or at least presented for comparison. Actually, the essential

comparison is between an elaborated model, either of human nature or of normative response to

environment, and individual cases are compared with this model rather than with each other.

Ultimately a model is elaborated that is supposed to apply to all of the elements of the

comparison, even though it may provide little information about any one of these elements. In

the much debated work of Theda Skocpol on comparative revolutions in France, Russia, and

China, for example, she considers three variables, international pressure, configuration of the

Th Obj t and M thod of E onomi Anth opology, in d. David Seddon, Relations of Production: Marxist
Approaches to Economic Anthropology (London, 1978), pp. 49-126; E n st G lln , Th Stak s in
Anth opology, American Scholar 57 (1988), pp. 17-30.
Przeworski and Teune, p. 17.
Ibid., pp. 21-23.

monarchy or dominant class, and the agrarian economy in order to isolate explanatory variables

in societies in which successful revolutions did or did not take place.14

There are certainly no lack of such comparative projects in medieval history. Perhaps the

most widely known is the once-popular attempt to compare Japanese and European feudalism.

As the level of generalization increased in order to cover both the Japanese and the European

systems of granting land to a warrior class in return for military service, the level of accurate

description declined until finally neither Japan nor Europe was quite recognizable. Other

transcultural studies have been popular, such as comparative peasant studies and comparative

studies of religious phenomena such as pilgrimage or monasticism.15

Such comparative approaches have met with considerable opposition, both from

historians and from within sociology and anthropology. Historians object that the abstractions,

such as feudalism, may never have existed, and thus find little value in comparing one modern,

anachronistic construct with another.16

A second criticism is based on new directions in the social sciences, particularly in

anthropology. Rather than searching for universals, cultural anthropology and linguistic

anthropology has turned increasingly to studying the interconnectiveness of societies; a type of

thick description that understands cultures as unique sets of interrelated elements. Abstracting

any of these from their imbedded contexts is to render them fundamentally incomprehensible.17

Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China
(Camb idg , 1979). S th dis ssion of Sko pols m thodology in R b a J an Emigh, Th Pow of
Negative Thinking: The Use of Negative Case Methodology in the Dev lopm nt of So iologi al Th o y, in
Theory and Society 26, (1997), pp. 649-684, esp. 652-653.
For example, eds. Austin B. Creel and Vasudha R. Narayanan, Monasticism in the Christian and Hindu
Traditions. A Comparative Study (New York, 1990). For a very judicious criticism of the difficulties of cross-
cultural comparison of such phenomena as pilgrimage see the introduction by Susan Naquin and Chn-fang Y,
Pilgrims and Sacred Sites in China (Berkeley, 1992), pp. 1-9.
Even if one does not entirely share the conclusions of Susan Reynolds, Fiefs and Vassals: The Medieval Evidence
Reinterpreted (Oxford, 1994).
See Given, p. 13. Such a criticism is particularly indebted to the cultural anthropology of Clifford Geertz. See

As a histo ian, I wo ld not wish to nt a dis ssion of wh th this is th ight way to

practice comparative history. Such comparisons belong to a tradition that Theda Skocpol and

Ma ga t Som s all ompa ativ histo y as th pa all l d monst ation of th o y o

comparative history as micro-causal analysis.18 The role of such comparisons in sociology and in

theories of social interaction is of great significance; their role in history is less evident.

There are other strategies and goals for comparative history, however, both those that

focus on the comparison of closely related phenomena and others that share the social science

technique of comparing non-related entities, that I believe can be legitimately historical. I will try

to illustrate this latter type of comparison, which Theda Skocpol and Margaret Somers term

ompa ativ histo y as th ont ast of ont xts19 through some brief reflections on a

collaborative project on medieval court cultures with which I have been involved in recent years.

Traditionally, of the two types of comparative study, one of two or more phenomena very

similar, and the other of phenomena vastly different, the former is seen most useful to historians.

By comparing things that are very similar, that may have recognizable common origins, and by

teasing out the subtle differences, one comes to a more finely grained understanding not only of

their differences and similarities, but of the historical circumstances that may account for these.

This was the type of comparative history espoused by Marc Bloch20. Drawing on the model of

ompa ativ philology, h a g d that ompa isons sho ld b mad b tw n so i ti s that a at

once neighboring and contemporary, exercising a constant mutual influence, exposed throughout

their development to the action of the same broad causes just because they are close and

Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York, 1973).

Theda Skocpol und Margaret Somers, Us s of Compa ativ Histo y in Ma oso ial Inq i y, in Comparative
Studies in Society and History 22 (1980), pp. 174-197, esp. 176: Comparative history as the parallel
demonstration of theory; and p. 181: Comparative history as macro-causal analysis.
Skocpol and Somers, p. 178
lo h, Po n histoi ompa d s so its op nn s.

contemporaneous, and owing their existence in part at least to a common origin.21 Valuable

comparative studies of this sort are numerous, and reach from the general to the very specific.

Because European society develops from common Roman traditions, the legitimacy of

comparative history of post-Roman societies is generally acknowl dg d. Mi ha l M Co mi ks

Eternal Victory, that traces the rituals of triumphalism from antiquity through the early Middle

Ages in both the Latin West and the Greek East, is a fine study that is at once comparative

(comparing rituals in successor states to each other and to Roman models) and analytic,

explicating these rituals within the specific contexts of the different heirs of the Roman world.22

At an even more specific level are studies of western Europe as a post-Carolingian

society. From the Elbe to the Atlantic, from Spain to the Baltic, Europe was profoundly

influenced in institutions, social order, religious culture, by the Carolingian synthesis. Following

the breakup of the Carolingian polity, this cultural unity continued, indeed it continues to today,

and has been the subject of important studies. The most ambitious recent example is perhaps

Rob t a tl tts The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change, 950-

1350.23 Bartlett examines the establishment of states created by the conquest and settlement of

the Celtic, Slavic, and Islamic areas on the periphery of what had been the Carolingian world. He

finds great uniformity in the ways that Latin Christian societies appropriated and colonized these

regions, similarities that not only transformed these peripheries but also contributed to a growing

homogenization of the center. However, his study also uncovers important contrasts, particularly

in the differences between how Mediterranean Islamic societies and eastern pagan societies were

treated from the perspective of religion and culture.

Ibid. T anslation f om Ma lo h, A Cont ib tion towa ds a Compa ativ Histo y of E op an So i ti s, in
Land and Work in Medieval Europe: Selected Papers (New York, 1966), pp. 44-81.
Michael McCormick, Eternal Victory. Triumphal Rulership in Late Antiquity, Byzantium and the Early Medieval
West (Cambridge, 1986).
Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe. Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change 950-1350 (Princeton, 1993).

Less ambitious but perhaps more focused are comparative studies of post-Carolingian

Europe that consider the coping mechanisms of different regions in the tenth and eleventh

centuries. Heinrich Fi ht na s Living in the Tenth Century is a model of this kind of study,

examining how forms and systems developed in the eighth and ninth centuries developed

differentially in the following century in Italy, France, and Germany.24 I have myself attempted

to compare Bavaria, Neustria, and the Rhone valley in terms of the ways that these three regions

came to term with the memories of their Carolingian pasts. One can observe both common

mechanisms of historical and liturgical commemoration and the particular characteristics of these

regions that led to increasing particularism and regional innovation.25

Even more appropriate as subjects of comparative study are phenomena that not only

develop from similar origins but that are consciously continuing these traditions even while

maintaining contact with each other. A primary example of such a field of research are the

Carolingian kingdoms of Charles the Bald, Lothar I, and Louis the German in the ninth century

and in particular their courts.26 Here one has the optimum possibility of similarity: all three

consciously and deliberately develop from the courts of their grandfather Charlemagne and their

father Louis the Pious. All three inherit personnel as well as the same structures, traditions of

administration and justice, and forms of liturgy and self-representation. They consciously

preserve the diplomatic traditions of their father and grandfather and claim their legitimacy from

this inheritance. Moreover, since they are in constant contact and frequent rivalry with each

other, they are acutely aware of the ways each is using this common heritage. And yet, the courts

Heinrich Fichtenau, Lebensordnungen des 10. Jahrhunderts. Studien ber Denkart und Existenz im Einstigen
Karolingerreich, 2 vols. (Stuttgart, 1984). English translation Living in the Tenth Century (Chicago, 1991).
Patrick J. Geary, Phantoms of Remembrance. Memory and Oblivion at the End of the First Millennium (Princeton
In general on the Carolingian court: Josef Fleckenstein, Die Hofkapelle der deutschen Knige. I. Teil:
Grundlegung. Die karolingische Hofkapelle (Schriften der Monumenta Germaniae Historica 16/1) (Stuttgart,
1959). Ibid., Ka l d G o nd s in Hof, in Karl der Groe. Lebens Werk und Nachleben. Vol. I,
Persnlichkeit und Geschichte, ed. Helmut Beumann (Dsseldorf , 1965), pp. 24-50.

of Lo iss h i s p s nt st iking diff n s, diff n s whi h h lp s nd stand not som

general, ahistorical theories of social organization, but rather the particularities of the rulers, the

differences in their individual inheritances, and the differing social and cultural region that they

ruled. Here, comparative history does the opposite of that claimed by social scientists: rather than

sacrificing the specific in the cause of the general, it clarifies the specific by juxtaposing it with

other extremely similar phenomena.

Without attempting such a detailed comparison, one can outline certain areas in which

comparison of Carolingian courts can help us to appreciate the individuality of these courts,

individuality that otherwise might be entirely missed. Areas of obvious comparison are centers of

royal residence: Louis chose Regensburg and then Frankfurt in the East,27 Aachen reinforced the

imperial tradition for Lothar; while Charles lacked such a center in West Francia, preferring to

travel among his palaces in the Ptres, Servais, Attigny, and Paris region until toward the end of

his reign when he developed Compigne as his Carlopolis.28 Second, one can consider

diplomatic traditions, closely connected since all of the sons used personnel drawn from Louis

th Pio s han y, b t int od d signifi ant diff n s as in l gitimization fo m las: Lotha

maintaining the imperial formula of his father divina ordinante providentia; Charles the Bald

adopting that of P pin of Aq itain s gratia Dei; and Louis the German continuing the formula

divina largiente gratia until 833 when his chancellery substituted divina favente clementia.29

Thomas Zotz, L palais t l s lit s dans l oya m d G mani , d. Rgin L Jan, La royaut et les lites
dans lEurope carolingienne (du dbut du IXe aux environs de 920) (Lille,1998), pp. 233-247.
E g n Ewig, Rsid n t apital p ndant l ha t moy n g , in Sptantikes und frnkisches Gallien, (Beihefte
der Francia 3/1), vol. I (Munich, 1976), pp. 362-408; Thomas Zotz, L palais t l s lit s dans l oya m d
G mani , in d. L Jan, La royaut et les lites dans lEurope carolingienne, pp. 233-247; Elsbet Orth,
F ankf t, in d. Thomas Sotz, Die deutschen Knigspfalzen, vol. I, Hessen (Gttingen, 1986), pp. 131-211;
eds. Margaret T. Gibson and Janet L. Nelson, Charles the Bald. Court and Kingdom, 2nd ed. (Aldershot, 1990);
Janet L. Nelson, Charles the Bald (London, 1992), pp. 36 and 247-248.
H wig Wolf am Di L gitimationsfo m l von L dwig d m F omm n bis z m End d s 10. Jah h nd ts, in
ed. Herwig Wolfram, Intitulatio II. Lateinische Herrscher- und Frstentitel im neunten und zehnten
Jahrhundert (Vienna, 1973), pp. 59-77.

Cultural production through which the royal court represented itself also serves as a major area

of comparison. Such activities under Charles the Bald were extensive and emphasized continuity

with the Latin culture and Christian intellectual work of his grandfather30 while the circles

around Louis the German, although less extensive as those around Charles drew explicitly on

vernacular, Frankish traditions.31 Another significant area of differentiation lay in the ritual of

kingship itself. Lothar emphasized his imperial heritage; Charles, who had inherited the regalia

of his father, made extensive use of the symbolic attributes of kingship as developed over the

previous century; while Louis, lacking such regalia, developed rituals more closely associated

with military kingship.32

What such comparisons, when fully developed, allow one to recognize is not simply the

universality of some social scientific model of kingship but rather exactly what social scientists

claim to eschew, namely the particularities of the three regna. The comparison itself of course

does not explain the differences: are they the result of different ideologies on the part of the three

kings or their advisors; or of the differentially available materials from which to represent their

kingship; or do they reflect the increasingly differential nature of the societies in their kingdoms?

Only specific research can answer such questions, but the questions themselves are generated

first through the comparison.

If the most fruitful areas for historical comparison are those that are organically related

amd relatively homogeneous, thus allowing for a finer grained view, there is also a place in

historical research for the kind of cross-cultural comparative study that juxtaposes unrelated

Gibson and Nelson, Charles the Bald. Court and Kingdom; Paul Edward Dutton and Herbert L. Kessler, The
Poetry and Paintings of the First Bible of Charles the Bald (Ann Arbor, 1997).
Di t G ni h, Di volkssp a hig b li f ng d Ka oling z it a s d Si ht d s Histo ik s, Deutsches
Archiv 39 (1983), pp. 104-130.
E i J. Goldb g, Mo D vot d to th Eq ipm nt of attl than th Spl ndo of anq ts. F onti Kingship,
Ma tial Rit al, and Ea ly Knighthood at th Co t of Lo is th G man, Viator 30 (1999), pp. 41-78 and more
extensively in ibid., Struggle for Empire: Kingship and Conflict under Louis the German, 817-876 (Ithaca, NY,

historical phenomena. However, the goals and methodologies of such a comparison are of a quite

different order from either the Blochian comparison of similar, related phenomena, or the social

s i ntists s a h fo a s i ntifi m thodology. I will sk t h som g n al o tlin s th o gh th

example of an international collaborative project in which I have been involved, a comparison of

court cultures in Japan, China, and western Europe in the Middle Ages.33

This project brings historians, philologists, and art historians together to share

perspectives on the cultural production generated in the orbit of centers of political power in pre-

modern societies.34 The categories of comparison are general and include: First, spectacle, that

is, pageantry, ritual, games, dress, executions, and hunting. Second, taste and sensibility

represented in manners, connoisseurship, aesthetic values, fashion, and collecting. Third,

constructions of gender and identity and considering such topics as women, femininity and

masculinity, eunuchs, monks, religion, chivalric codes. Fourth, production of tradition, history,

and texts, to include libraries, texts, bibliographic classifications, anthologies, and canons. The

final category is the construction of knowledge, disciplines and professions such as medicine,

law, cartography, science, and engineering.

Participants in the project prepare presentations of the four areas of cultural production as

they pertain to specific court cultures with which they work. Their work makes no attempt to

establish points of comparison or universal models within which to make such comparison. The
Membership changes but the core participants include, for China: Pauline Yu, American Council of Learned
Societies; Stephen H. West, Arizona State University; David R. Knechtges, University of Washington; for
Japan: Robert Borgen, University of California, Davis; Stephen D. Carter, University of California, Irvine;
Europe: Gert Melville, University of Dresden; Scott Waugh, University of California, Los Angeles; Paul
Dutton, Simon Frasier University; Rita Costa Gomes, Towson State University; Werner Paravicini, University
of Kiel, Karl-Heinz Spiess, University of Greifswald; Byzantium: Claudia Rapp, University of Vienna.
The first volume produced by this group was eds. David R. Knechtges and Eugene Vance, Rhetoric and the
Discourses of Power in Court Culture: China, Europe, and Japan (Seattle, 2005). A second volume is in
preparation edited by Immo Warntj s. A ollabo ativ a ti l , Co tly lt s: W st n E op , Islam, China,
Japan, w itt n ollabo ativ ly by Pat i k G a y, Da d Ali, Pa l S. Atkins, Mi ha l Coop son, Rita Costa
Gomes, Paul Dutton, Gert Melville, Claudia Rapp, Karl-Heinz Spie, Stephen West, and Pauline Yu will appear
in the Cambridge History of the World, vol. 5, Expanding Webs of Exchange and Conquest, 500 CE-1500 CE,
eds. Benjamin Kedar and Merry Wiesner-Hanks.

intention is neither to establish an explanatory model for accounting for difference or similarities,

nor is it intended to abstract from the spectrum of cases, generalized notions about the

relationship between centers of power and cultural production. By presenting the very great

differences in the way that power is represented and constructed in these unrelated contexts, the

project makes participants more aware than before of the contingent nature of cultural production

within their specific cultural system. Examining, for example, the origins of the Chinese civil

service examinations in the reign of the Tang Emperor Xuanzong, do not inform us of any

general rules of education for court, but they certainly make a western historian aware of

alternatives to the educational programs instituted under the Carolingians.

The premises and approach of this comparative project differ significantly both from the

closely related comparative study of the Carolingian court and also from traditional social

scientific comparative studies. The differences from the former are obvious: the participants are

comparing cultures that have no geographical proximity and that develop in total isolation from

each other. The scales of the courts is vast: while Carolingian courts were loosely organized and

may have numbered at the most a few hundred largely itinerant courtiers, Tang courts were

highly organized bureaucracies numbering in the thousands, drawn to a fixed imperial capital

through a complex system of recruitment and training. Unlike either the comparison espoused

by so ial s i ntists int nt on dis ov ing niv sal laws o Ma lo hs ompa ison that s ks

to understand differences between closely related phenomena, this sort of comparison aims to

force scholars to encounter differences that force a reevaluation of their fundamental premises

abo t th nat of th h man lt s th y st dy. S h ompa ison xpands s hola s s ns of

the possible; it forces us to recognize the historical contingency of the phenomena we study.

Much of the value in this comparative project comes not in the results obtained but in the

dynamics of discussion, probing, and questioning across cultural boundaries. Its purpose is

heuristic, not evidentiary or instrumental. The intention is that participants will return to their

own fields of study: Carolingian courts, the aristocratic courts of Champagne, the episcopal

courts of the Rhineland, or the courts of China and Japan with a more subtle and attentive series

of questions to ask about their own work.

Both the comparisons of very similar phenomena and those of very different ones have

their place in the historical enterprise. They can provide a rhythm within scholarship that,

through systematic interaction with the same and with the different, leave scholars better

prepared to understand, not the eternal verities of human condition but the particularities that are

the core of history.

Chapter Seventeen

Gift Exchange and Social Science Modeling

The Limitations of a Construct1

S hola s think that th y know th ss n of Ma l Ma sss f ndam ntal ont ib tion to

the study of gift exchange, a contribution that stands at the origins of any reflection on

negotiating the gift. Not of course that everyone is prepared to accept his analysis in all its

particulars. But in general one sees his contribution roughly as follows: Through his analysis of

potlatch in Northwest America and gift exchange in Melanesia, Mauss is believed to have

uncovered an elemental human principle, namely, that gifts are part of a reciprocal system,

essential elements of which are the obligation to give, the obligation to receive, and the

obligation to make a return for gifts received.2 This system is total, in that it engages everyone in

the community and implicates every possession of that community:

what they exchange is not solely property and wealth, movable and immovable
goods, and things economically useful. In particular, such exchanges are acts of
politeness: banquets, rituals, military services, women, children, dances, festivals
... in which economic transaction is only one element, and in which the passing on
of wealth is only one feature of a much more general and enduring contract.
Finally, these total services and counter-services are committed to in a somewhat
voluntary form by presents and gifts, although in the final analysis they are
strictly compulsory, on pain of private or public warfare.3

The reason for the compulsion lies in the thing given which possesses a soul, a hau in

Mao i pa lan . H n it follows that to mak a gift of som thing to som on is to mak a

p s nt of som pa t of on s lf.4 To keep such a thing would be dangerous, since it seeks to

The following article originally appeared under the same title in Negotiating the Gift: Pre-Modern Figurations of
Exchange, eds. Gadi Algazi, Valentin Groebner, and Berhard Jussen (Gttingen, 2003), pp. 129-140.
Marcel Mauss, The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, trans. W. D. Halls, foreword by
Ma y Do glas (N w Yo k, 1990), p. 13; id m, Essai s l don: Fo m t aison d l hang dans l s so its
archaques (1923-1924), in So iologi t anth opologi (Pa is, 1950), pp. 143-279, here p. 161; David Cheal,
The Gift Economy (New York, 1988), p. 2.
Mauss, The Gift (as above in n. 2), p. 5; idem, Essai sur le don (as above in n. 2), p. 151.
Ibid., p. 12; ibid., p. 161.

return to its place of origin or else to reproduce an equivalent to replace it on behalf of the group

from which it took its origin.

Th p obl m with this oft n p s nt d imag of Ma sss analysis of th gift is, how v ,

that this is not what Mauss considered his most important contribution in his analysis of the gift,

nor is it an accurate vision of how he came to develop his understanding of gift and counter-gift

as total social phenomena. Although we are generally told that his reflections first on the potlatch

and then on Melanesian societies led him to his formulations,5 Mauss did not consider the Maori

or other Pacific societies the fundamental paradigm for understanding the fundamental

importance of gifts in human society. Nevertheless, historians of twentieth-century sociology

have generat d a q stionabl g n alogy fo Ma sss analysis of th gift, a g n alogy that

justifies its universalism by attributing its genesis to reflection on extra-European phenomena,

reflections that supposedly then led Mauss to reflect on the cultural and social traditions of which

he, as a European, was a part. Thus, there is something both paradoxical and unsettling about the

ways that Maussian analysis has been applied to the study of the gift in European society in

general and medieval society in particular.

Di tly o indi tly, s h st di s l ad in vitably ba k to Ma l Ma sss Essai sur le

don. Ma sss wo k is almost it ally it d by so iologists, anth opologists, and historians. As

Camill Ta ot ightly obs v d, few texts have had so great an impact and continue to exercise a

simila fas ination.6 And yet these same scholars busily ignore his primary purpose in writing

the Essai while they reject his insistence on the spiritual dimension of the obligation of

reciprocity,7 argue that not gifts alone but inalienable objects are keys to understanding social

As in, for example, Camille Tarot, De Durkheim Mauss: Linvention du symbolique (Paris, 1999), pp. 598-601.
Ibid., p. 597.
Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics (Chicago, 1972); Raymond Firth, Economics of the New Zealand Maori
(Wellington, 1959).

interactions,8 o blith ly igno o ls j t o t of hand Ma sss insist n on gift x hang as

prestation totale by segmenting gift exchange as but one mechanism among several by which

goods circulate in societies.9 Those who wish to criticize his method tend to return to the much-

belabored account of Tamati Ranapiri on the hau, arguing that he did not understand this internal

obs v s dis o s o that it was an incomplete or inaccurate discussion of the hau.10 However,

these same critics ignore the texts that Mauss himself thought the clearest enunciation of the

phenomenon that he was studying: Germanic law and literature. I think therefore that it might be

worthwhile to reflect on what Marcel Mauss actually had to say about the gift, the methods that

he employed to study the question, and the causa scribendi which led him to it.

Our purpose is not simply to historicize Marcel Mauss, but to ask what we historians are

doing when we integrate reflections on gift exchange or, more generally, social science

mod ling, into o wo k. Do s h mod ls ally fo m, in a ba a Ros nw ins wo ds, an

anth opologists m ntal onstruct derived from a variety of ethnographi obs vations?11 Or are

th y ath anth opologists m ntal onst ts d iv d f om th v y E op an lt al t adition

we seek to illuminate, but projected by the anthropologists onto other cultures? Are we really

using the other to understand our own tradition, o a w d iving o s lv s with an oth

that was ally s all along? Do s Ma sss so iologi al m thod p ovid s with a n w tool fo

understanding medieval society, or is this tool already imbedded in the cultural tradition we seek

to understand?

Mauss was an armchair ethnographer: with the exception of a brief stay in Africa he

Maurice Godelier, Lnigme du don (Paris, 1996); Annette B. Weiner, Inalienable Possessions: The Paradox of
Keeping-While-Giving (Berkeley, 1992).
Christopher A. Gregory, Gifts and Commodities (London, 1982).
Esp. in Sahlins, Stone Age Economics (as abov in n. 7), hap.: Th spi it of th gift, pp. 149-183.
Barbara Rosenwein, To Be the Neighbor of Saint Peter: The Social Meaning of Clunys Property, 909-1049
(Ithaca, NY, 1989), p. 129.

never did any fieldwork and was satisfied to rely on the written reports of others.12 His interest

was primarily that of a sociologist firmly in the tradition of his uncle mile Durkheim, believing

that the utility of ethnography fo so iology was that th obs vation of p imitiv s o ld

provide a means to recognize social phenomena in their most simple and observable forms.13

Likewise, he consistently mixed his analysis of ethnographic reports with texts from classical

antiquity, Celtic societies and Germanic literature, and Vedic and pre-Vedic India. He saw no

qualitative difference between, say, Posidoni ss d s iption of C lti society and that of Richard

Thurnwald of social customs in Melanesia. Such comparisons he considered entirely appropriate,

seeing black Africa at the same stage, for example, as the Germans of Tacitus. Not, however,

that he was strictly speaking interested in some sort of evolutionary topology in which he could

fit different stages of human social development. A developmental typology is implicit in much

of his work, just as it was in his master Durkheim. However, in the words of Jean Cazeneuve,

Ma ss p ima ily so ght in th sto y of distant societies a means of accessing fundamental and

essentially universal phenomena rather than a point of departure of a more or less mechanical

and d tionist vol tion.14

It was this interest in universals that has made his work so attractive to subsequent

generations of French structuralist anthropologists and sociologists, but his interests were in

many ways v n mo p s ntist than th s , and nowhere is this more evident than in his

analysis of the gift, perhaps his most significant contrib tion. As Caz n v has s gg st d, On

might say that, from a certain point of view, all of the sociology of Marcel Mauss leads to or

S W ndy Jam s, Ma ss in Af i a: On tim , histo y, and politi s, in Marcel Mauss: A Centenary Tribute, eds.
Wendy James and Nicholas J. Allen, Methodology and History in Anthropology 1 (New York, 1998), pp. 226-
Jean Cazeneuve, Sociologie de Marcel Mauss (Paris, 1968), pp. 6-7; Bruno Karsenti, Lhomme total: Sociologie,
anthropologie et philosophie chez Marcel Mauss (Paris, 1997); and the essays in: Marcel Mauss: A Centenary
Cazeneuve, Sociologie de Marcel Mauss, p. 11.

d iv s f om this ssay.15 C tainly, in no Ka s ntis nt st dy of Ma ss, th gift iv s

a privileged place in Ma sss v .16 However, the final formulation that appeared in his 1925

Essai was the result of a complex development going back well over a decade and encompassing

issues far broader than the exchange of gifts.

Mauss first wrote on gift exchange in 1910 in an analysis of R. J. Swantons Contribution

to the Ethnology of the Hada. There he focused on the relationships formed between the living

and th d ad th o gh th potlat h: Th potlat h th s is a f ast of th d ad at th sam tim as

one of the living. We tend to believe that the dead who are thus invoked to benefit from it are the

sam p sons in a nat d by th living.17 His interest then was primarily on the sacred aspects

of gift exchange rather than on their economic dimensions. Economy was, however, very much

on his mind. Around the same time, Mauss was working through German missionary reports on

the Ewh languages of Togo. These readings led him to speculate on the origins of the idea of

money, the results of which he published in 1914 in the journal Anthropologie.18 Focusing on the

Ewh word dz, magi whi h h q at d with th M lan sian mana, the Algonquin manitou,

and the New Guinean tambua, he argued that the power of money was to be found in its religious

and magical character. In p imitiv so i ti s, h a g d, sa d talismans b am g atly

desired objects coveted by all and whose possession conferred a power that could easily become

a purchasing power. Such sacred objects not only had a power and thus value in themselves but

also s v d as th m as of oth val s in th i so i ti s. Th s h on l d d that th

Ibid., p. 95.
Karsenti, Lhomme total, hap.: Q at im pa ti : L don, fait so ial total, pp. 305-447.
Marcel Mauss, uvres, ed. Victor Karady, vol. 3 (Paris, 1969), p. 33.
Mauss, uvres, vol. 2, pp. 106-112.

purchasing power of primitive money is above all, in our opinion, the prestige that the talisman

confers to the person who possesses it and uses it to command oth s.19

In 1920, Mauss returned to the potlatch, but this time his focus was quite different. He

p s nt d to th Instit t f anais danth opologi his fi st st dy of don, ont at, hang , in

which he declared to have discovered a form of the potlatch, previously seen to be specific to

Northwestern America, within other cultures.20 Such exchanges he considered a part of a system

of prestations totales, practices he considered normal in all clan-based societies. He argued that

because exogamy is an exchange of all the women of clans united by cognation, the rights and

the things, the religious rights, and everything in general are exchanged between clans and

between the different generations of different clans. Mauss characterized potlatch by its marked

sumptuary character, by the extravagant nature of the character of the loans agreed upon between

clans, by the general agonistic character of this opposition of clans that seems to enter into

combat, even mortal, as well as into a series of pacific collective contracts. He then went on to

discuss the work of Richard Thurnwald on the Northwestern Solomon Islands as well as of other

studies on New Caledonia and Fiji. Following the work of Richard Thurnwald on western

Melanesia, he found the potlatch in the umu, the competitive gift exchange of the Northwest

Solomon Islanders.

Ev n whil xplo ing gift x hang in p imitiv so i ti s, Ma ss was looking fo

similar practices in the European past. In the same year, he published a short notice on archaic

forms of contracts among the Thracians, in which he analyzed texts of Xenophon and

Anaxandridus. He believed to have found a form of competitive gift-giving similar to the

potlatch through which clans and large families were united. At the same time, he was acutely

Ibid., p. 111.
Mauss, uvres, vol. 3, hap.: L xt nsion d potlat h n Mlansi , pp. 29-31.

aware of the work of Georges Davy, who sought to connect gift-giving to a general notion of


These early publications on the gift were part of his much more sweeping investigations

that he began in his lectures at the cole Pratique des Hautes tudes in a course in 1923-1924 on

onislaw Malinowskis wo k on th w st n Pa ifi as w ll as on wo ks by Van Oss nb ng n,

Franz Boas, and Richard Thurnwald. In an oral communication presented to the Institut franais

d lanth opologi , whi h app a d in Anthropologie in 1923, he contrasted the potlatch with

gift-giving in Polyn sia. H , h a g d, on fo nd that v y ont a t b gins with an

exchange of gifts that one is obligated to return under one form or another, and, in certain cases

more or less d fin d, with an addition. H xplain d that, wh as th th m of ival y and

ombat is fo ign to this syst m, th th m of th gift at on obligatorily and voluntarily given

and obligatorily and voluntarily received is essential.22

Thus, by 1923 the essential components of his argument concerning the gift as prestation

totale were essentially formed. The 1925 Essai sur le don largely expanded on these fundamental

elements. The route by which he arrived at these conclusions is complex. Camille Tarot has

suggested that in the Essai Mauss followed the inverse order in which he actually came to his

conclusions in order to present an order that is hypothetically evolutionary.23 He began with an

extended excerpt from the Old Norse Havamal, an excerpt that concludes:

A present given always expects one in return

it is better not to bring any offering
Than to spend too much on it.

Cazeneuve, Sociologie de Marcel Mauss, p. 96.
Mauss, uvres, vol. 3, hap.: Obligation d nd l s p s nts, pp. 473-499. On the centrality of this
formulation in his work see Tarot, De Durkheim Mauss, pp. 601-604. As Tarot has observed, the formulation
of an exchange system in which there is a triple obligation to give, an obligation to receive, and an obligation to
t n, is at th nt of Ma sss nd standing of gift x hang as so ial ath than onomi .
Tarot, De Durkheim Mauss, p. 607.

Ma ss p s nt d this as a mon m nt of S andinavian ivilization, wh , as in oth

ivilizations, x hang s and ont a ts tak pla in th fo m of p s nts; in th o y th s a

voluntary, in reality they are given and recipro at d obligato ily.24 Although the Essai begins

with the Havamal, he dropped this European manifestation of gift exchange after the

introduction, and moved to a survey of non-Western societies: the Maori of Samoa, Australian

aborigines, Northeast Siberian societies, the Andaman Islands, New Caledonia, the Trobriand

Islands, and, of course, American Indian societies of the Northwest.

At th nd of this s tion h anno n d his fi st on l sion, nam ly, that th

ha a t isti s of gift x hang h had l idat d m st hav b n that of so i ti s that hav

gone beyond the phase of total s vi s... b t hav not y t a h d that of p ly individ al

contract, of the market where money circulates, of sale proper, and above all of the notion of

price reckon d in oinag w igh d and stamp d with its val .25 These conclusions, he

admitted, would have been sufficient. However, Mauss himself saw this as only the starting

point. In the next chapter, he returned to the European tradition, examining gift exchange in

Indo-European legal traditions and, in a brief section, in China.

His concluding chapter attempts to extend what he had learned to contemporary society.

A onsid abl pa t of o mo ality and o liv s th mselves are still permeated with this same

atmosphere of the gift, where obligation and lib ty int mingl .26 He divided this discussion

first into an exho tation to m g f om s lf, to giv , f ly and obligato ily,27 and then into an

att mpt to d aw impli ations fo a kind of onomy that is at p sent laboriously in gestation.

We see it functioning in certain economic groupings, and in the hearts of the masses, who

Mauss, The Gift, p. 3; idem, Essai sur le don, p. 147.
Mauss, The Gift, p. 46; Essai sur le don, p. 227.
Mauss, The Gift, p. 65; Essai sur le don, p. 258.
Mauss, The Gift, p. 71; Essai sur le don, p. 265.

possess, very often better than their leaders, a sense of their own interests, and of the common

inter st.28 In the final section of his conclusion, he elevated gift-giving to the fundamental

principle uniting societies. "Societies have progressed in so far as they themselves, their

subgroups, and lastly, the individuals in them have succeeded in stabilizing relationships, giving,

iving, and finally, giving in t n.29

Scholars tend to be wary of the last two chapters of the Essai, apparently agreeing that

perhaps, as he suggested, he should indeed have stopped with the conclusions reached in chapter

one. His use of Germanic literature at the start has also been bothersome. Jean Cazeneuve, for

exampl , ma k d: Il db t ass z i s m nt pa n itation xt ait d n vi x pom d

lEdda s andinav ....30 His attempts to see gift exchange operating and informing contemporary

society have been greeted with even more skepticism. Mary Douglas, although praising the study

fo th way that Ma ss p ovid d anth opologists with a th o y that o ld b validat d by

obs vation, a g d that his was a v y w ak att mpt to nd pin ont mpo a y so ial

democracy with this tradition.31 Marshall Sahlins, although recognizing that Mauss was

interested in elucidating a social contract that went far beyond the exchange of goods and

s vi s, fo nd th most obj tionabl pa t of Ma sss th sis th spi it al nat of th hau.

Retranslating the Maori text analyzed by Ma ss, whi h Ma ss onsid d th t xt apital fo

the entire argument, Sahlins sought to interpret the hau as something much more rational and

akin to return on investment than the soul of the giver.32

But what was Mauss really attempting to do in his Essai? Were the discussions of Indo-

European legal tradition, Eddic literature, and contemporary society actually superfluous? Mauss

Mauss, The Gift, p. 78; Essai sur le don, p. 273.
Mauss, The Gift, p. 82; Essai sur le don, p. 278.
Cazeneuve, Sociologie de Marcel Mauss, p. 97.
Ma y Do glas, No f gifts [fo wo d], in Ma ss, The Gift, pp. vii-xviii, here: p. xv.
Sahlins, Stone Age Economics, pp. 157-162.

certainly did not think so. In fact, he considered the Germanic tradition, not that of the oft-

analyzed Maori or Trobriand Islanders, the most typical example of a system of gift exchange.33

Nor should his extended excursus on the implications of his study for contemporary society be

seen as an immature afterthought. This was the very heart of the enterprise.

In order to appreciate the importance of the contemporary issues that Mauss sought to

address in his Essai, one must first consider the intellectual context within which his major

informants, particularly German ethnographers such as Thurnwald, were working. As Beate

Wagner-Hasel demonstrates in her chapter in this volume, Richard Thurnwald and Bronislaw

Malinowski among other belonged to the tradition of the historical and neoclassical schools of

economics, which opposed the mechanistic vision of Adam Smith and his homo oeconomicus.34

From the late nineteenth century, German sociologists were emphasizing reciprocity of exchange

in archaic societies not simply as a primitive form of economics but as a means of binding

together society. Thurnwald in particular had, by the early twentieth century, developed the

importance of mutuality, gift, and counter-gift in his understanding of the formative elements of

society.35 In discovering gift exchange at the heart of social activity, Mauss was to a great extent

taking the evolutionary model developed within German social and legal thought and

universalizing it within an ahistorical model of total social phenomena. Thus, the analysis of gift

and counter-gift in historical perspective as presented in the Essai recapitulates the historical

analysis of gift in classical literature and law developed by his colleagues across the Rhine.

Mauss, The Gift, p. 86; Essai sur le don, p. 185.
See Beate Wagner-Has ls hapt in Negotiating the Gift: Pre-Modern Figurations of Exchange, eds. Gadi
Algazi, Valentin Groebner, and Berhard Jussen (Gttingen, 2003).
Wagner-Has l has point d o t that al ady in 1911 Th nwald had w itt n that J d Gab h is ht ihre
G g ngab . Ri ha d Th nwald, St f n d Staatsbild ng b i d n U vlk n, in Zeitschrift fr vergleichende
Rechtswissenschaft 25 (1911), p. 422, cited by Wagner-Hasel, n. 25.

No less than his German colleagues, Marcel Mauss wrote against a mechanistic and

economic-exchange model of gifting not simply to elucidate the distant past of Europe or of non-

Western societies, but under the immediate pressure of events within Europe. As Michele Battini

has pointed out, in particular Mauss write his Essai under the influence of two contemporary

concerns: the Bolshevik direction of the Russian revolution and the challenge of postwar

Western capitalism.36 In 1924, Mauss was not only writing about gift-giving. His most

s bstantial p bli ation that y a was his App iation so iologiq d ol h vism that

appeared in the Revue de mtaphysique et de morale.37

In this extended essay, he tried to come to grips with what he considered the obvious

failure of the Russian revolution in terms of a social and an economic reform. He argued that the

imposition of a system from above through terror is impossible. A system must develop from the

constituent communities. The failure of the Bolshevik revolution was the result of individualism

and statism:

This individualism and statism were one of the causes of the moral and
material failures of the Soviets. They were deprived of the necessary
moral instrument: they attacked and terrorized the category of
professionals. They essentially destroyed it; they weakened this group
which should be above all other the means of revolution and the actual
agents of production as well as the actual owners of property. They thus
failed in their goal: the collective organization of production.38

For Mauss, the most essential economic error was that in order to establish the

communization of consumption they destroyed that which constituted the economy itself, that is,

Mi h l attini, Gli st di d l 1924-25: Etica sociale e forme di scambi in societ selvagge, arcaiche e nella
so i t sovi ti a, in Gli uomini, le societ, la civilt: uno studio intorno allopera di Marcel Mauss, ed.
Riccardo di Donato (Pisa,1985), pp. 61-82.
Ma l Ma ss, App iation so iologiq d ol h vism , in Revue de mtaphysique et de morale 31 (1924),
pp. 103-132.
Ibid., p. 107: C t individ alism t t tatism ont t l n d s a s s d l h mo al t mat i l d s Sovi ts.
Ils s sont p ivs d linst m nt mo al n ssai : ils ont viol nt t t o is l g o p p of ssion l; il lont
peu prs dtruit; ils ont affaibli g o p q i d vait t pa x ll n l moy n d vol tion t lag nt l d
la p od tion, t l tit lai l d la p op it t ils ont ainsi manq l b t: lo ganisation oll tiv d la
p od tion.

th ma k t: F dom of th ma k t is th absol t ly n ssa y ondition of onomi lif .39

F th , fo a mod n onomy, ind st ial and omm ial f dom a th indisp nsabl

atmosph fo any mod n onomy.40 However, this does not necessarily mean that unbridled

individ alism is th only possibl stat of a ont mpo a y so i ty: Th is a pla fo anoth

commercial and industrial liberty, that of collectives themselves, cooperatives, professional

groups, etc. H again th t ms lib ty and oll tiv ont ol a not ont adi to y.41

H a g d that th p ot tion of th s oll tiviti s is ss ntial, d awing on D kh ims

sense of the moral and economic value of professional groups. Essential to such groups is free

cooperation. Ever a faithful follower of Durkheim, Mauss criticized the Bolshevik revolution

within D kh ims itiq of vol tiona y omm nisms insist n on an individ alist

conception of communism imposed from above rather than its organic development from natural

collectivities such as professional associations and guilds from below.42

As Michele Battini has persuasively argued, such sentiments inform the Essai sur le don

at its deepest point. The Essai seeks to ground contemporary social order in the same bonds of

gift exchange uniting the traditional segmented societies that Mauss had studied in earlier

chapters. If the Bolshevik revolution was a failure because of individualism and statism, the

capitalist system ran the risk of failure because of individualism and utilitarianism. In the

on l sion, Ma ss t n d to th sam iss s that h add ss d in th App iation and

argued again that contemporary Western economies must operate beyond the sphere of the

simply utilitarian and beyond that of th individ al hims lf. Th b tish p s it of individ al

Ibid., p. 108: ...la lib t d ma h st la ondition absol m nt n ssai d la vi onomiq .
Ibid., p. 109: lib t ind st i ll t omm ial sont n atmosph indisp nsabl to t onomi mod n .
Ibid., p. 110: Il y a pla po n a t lib t omm iale et industrielle: celle des collectivits elles-mmes,
oop ativ s, g o p s p of ssion ls, t . I i n o , l s t ms d lib t t d ont l oll tif n sont pas
ont adi toi s.
Mik Gan , Instit tional so ialism and th so iologi al itiq of omm nism, in The Radical Sociology of
Durkheim and Mauss, ed. Mike Gane (London, 1992), pp. 135-164.

ends is harmful to the ends and the peace of all, to the rhythm of their work and joys - and

bo nds on th individ al hims lf. Th s, h ontin d, al ady impo tant s tions of so i ty,

associations of our capitalist firms themselves, are seeking as bodies to group their employees

together. Moreover, all syndicalist groupings, whether of employers or wage-earners, claim they

are defending and representing the general interest as fervently as the dual interest of their

m mb s o v n th i o po ations.43 He took this rhetoric with a grain of salt, but nevertheless

insisted that collectivities are bound not simply by individual utilitarian interest, but by values

that are not economic. The whole Essai should be read as a powerful attempt to ground social

life in necessary and morally compelling relationships between corporate entities, to substitute

new corporate entities for the guilds of antiquity and the Middle Ages or the clans of traditional


In this s ns Sahlins is o t to s th ssay as a kind of so ial ont a t, b t not only,

as h s gg sts, fo p imitiv s b t fo all p opl .44 We can thus understand E. E. Evans-

P it ha ds ma ks in his p fa to th 1966 English translation of The Gift: In Ma sss Essays

th is always an impli it ompa ison (o ont ast) b tw n th a hai instit tions h is

writing about and our own. He is asking himself not only how we can understand these archaic

institutions, but also how an understanding of them helps us to better understand our own, and

p haps to imp ov th m.45

Nevertheless, one must ask whether the understanding of these archaic institutions

originates in them or in exactly these contemporary concerns seen within a tradition of European

social thought reaching back to Rousseau and beyond. Certainly the German sociologists on

Mauss, The Gift, p. 77; Essai sur le don, p. 272.
Sahlins, Stone Age Economics, pp. 168-169.
Edward Evan Evans-P it ha d, Int od tion, in Ma l Ma ss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in
Archaic Societies, trans. Ian Cunnison (New York, 1967), pp. v-x, here: p. ix.

whom he relied for initial insights into gift and counter-gift were deeply influenced by classical

discussions of the gift going back to Homer and Hesiod.46 If the essay is about the origins of a

social contract that he sees in a reciprocal relationship between parties that maintain their

equality and freedom, then Sahlins is certainly correct in arguing that Mauss stands in the

tradition of Rouss a fo whom Cha n d no s m t n omm n sa p sonn t to t sa

puissance sous la suprme direction de la volont gnrale; et nous recevons en corps chaque

m mb omm pa ti indivisibl d to t.47 Could it be that the whole enterprise of Mauss has

been to dress up the Discours sur lorigine et les fondements de lingaliti parmi les hommes in

the garb of Maori tribesmen?

Th q stion is not nti ly fa tio s. To t n to Ros nw ins s gg stion that Ma sss

analysis of th gift is an anth opologists mental construct derived from a variety of ethnographic

obs vations, on ass m s that by obs ving non-Western societies, Mauss has identified a

paradigm that can in turn be applied to European history as an analytic tool. But if gift exchange

has indeed been a fundamental element in European social thought since the Greeks, if

reflections on contracts from Hobbes through Rousseau and beyond have been deeply informed

by the idea of a constraint to give and to return, if the German legal and sociological theorists on

whom Mauss relied for his ethnographic data had themselves first come to these questions

through reflection on European cultural traditions, and if Mauss himself was primarily

interesting in grounding a path for European societies of the twentieth century which would lead

to a corporate reciprocity avoiding the extremes of Bolshevism and capitalism, then one must ask

what role, other than that of rhetoric, the hau of the Maori or the potlatch of the Northwest

played in the development of this model. If, as Nicholas Thomas has suggested, natives of Fiji

See Beate Wagner-Has ls hapt in this vol m (as abov in n. 34).
Sahlins, Stone Age Economics, p. 171.

and other Polynesian islands only now emphasize the gift aspect of their exchange since their

contact with Europeans, one may well wonder if gift exchange was not itself an artifact of

European colonialism.48 P haps pa t of th p nnial att a tion of Ma sss Essai, even on those

who reject most of its applicability to the culture from which it is thought to be drawn, is that for

W st n s, th gift was n v abo t th oth , b t always and essentially about ourselves.

Of o s , on o ld also ask, Do s it ally matt ? Can th b n fit d iv d f om

reading Mauss, with all of the qualifications, disagreements, and methodological uncertainties

that we see in his work, transcend the interests of the author himself? Is all that we learn simply

that gifts matter and that we need to think about them when we examine economic systems,

political systems, and social cohesion? This seems a meager harvest from so prominent a scholar

but perhaps it is enough.

Nicholas Thomas, Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in the Pacific (Cambridge,
MA, 1991).

Chapter Eighteen

Medieval Studies in America1

The past decade has seen no shortage of publications on the past, present, and future of

m di val st di s in Am i a. Th y ang f om No man Canto s l v , shallow, m an-spirited

and ignorant survey to thoughtful and comprehensive conference proceedings such as John Van

Eng ns P s nt and Past of M di val St di s, to hall nging, ang y, and pol mi al a ti l s

s h as Pa l F dman and Gab i lla Spi g ls in th American Historical Review. To undertake

to summarize where we have been, where we are, and where we are going yet again, and for a

European audience in the presence of many American medievalists whose own work is very

much a part of the story, is a daunting and difficult task.

It is also an intensely problematic one, for some of intellectual reasons that make

medieval studies in America so challenging today. I am acutely aware that the pretension of

info ming yo of Am i an m di val st di s wi s ig ntli h g w s n is as impossibl a

him a as th d am of d s ibing th tw lfth nt y wi s ig nli h g w s n. Th

fundamental and inescapable subjectivity of such an attempt cannot be avoided, and its

implications must be frankly recognized. To attempt to offer a descriptive account of medieval

studies in North America inevitably means to offer something of a prescriptive account: no less

than Professors Cantor, Spiegel, and Freedman, as I construct the past and present of our

profession, I am inventing it, limiting it in critical ways that create a coherent story with an

implicit meaning. Moreover, the power to speak the past and describe the present, given me by

the organizers of this conference, becomes the power to say not just what was and is but what

This a ti l fi st app a d asM di val St di sMitt lalt st di nin Am ika in ds. Hans-Werner Goetz
and Jrg Jarhut, Medivistik im 21. Jahrhundert. Stand und Perspektiven der internationalen und
interdisziplinren Mittelalterforschung, (Munich, 2003), pp. 63-71.

should be. My narrative inevitably tends to become a master-narrative, arguing for a future in

terms of my creation of past and present. I hope that those present better informed than I can help

subvert this creation in further discussion.

Medieval studies in America are very different from medieval studies in Europe.

Americans are not Europeans, our relationship to the Middle Ages is not yours, and thus

nat ally o on ns a diff nt. As a ba a Ros nw in on ma k d, Altho gh Am i an

medievalists think that medieval history is their history, most of them do not think of medieval

history as their national histo y. Today Mi ha l o golt an ask abo t th nd of National

history in Europe, but American medievalists have moved from such perspectives decades ago.2

Moreover, Medivistik tends to mean historical research in Europe: Hans-W n Go tzs nt

study of the Stand und Perspektiven der Mittelalterforschung concentrates almost exclusively on

historical studies. In America, medieval studies mean at least as much literary scholarship,

philosophy, theology, and art history. The reasons for these differences are found both in the

history of medieval studies in America and in the structures by which our professional lives are


There is a tendency to tell the history of American medieval studies in the twentieth-

century in a kind of Biblical genealogy, Charles Adams begot Charles Homer Haskins who

begot Joseph Strayer and Charles Taylor, who begot Thomas Bisson, Lester Little, Peggy

Brown, Teo Ruiz, and Bill Jordan, who begot David Niremberg, etc. Actually, contradictory

traditions already established in nineteenth-century America continue to nourish a spectrum of

interests in the medieval world. In the twentieth century progressives looked for the direct

continuities between medieval forms of representational government, commerce, and education

Mi ha l o golt , Vo d m End d Nationalg s hi ht n? Chan n nd Hind nisse fr eine Geschichte
E opas im Mitt lalt , Historische Zeitschrift 272 (2001), pp. 561-596.

in the political, economic, and university structures of the twentieth century. Romantics,

particularly in fields of literature, emphasized the discontinuity between a harsh present and a

harmonious past, pursued Celtic myths and the lost cultural unity of the so- all d ag of faith.

In the growing numbers of Catholic Universities intellectuals, badly shaken by Vatican attacks

on Mod nist and Am i anist h resy, sought intellectual respectability and ecclesiastical

approval in the Thomistic renewal. Since the nineteenth century, American Jewish scholars have

investigated the medieval Jewish experience, in part for members of their own tradition, and in

part as apologetics for Gentiles.

But these traditions were neither isolated nor the total picture. Throughout the past

century, many American medievalists received a part of their training in Europe. In the early

years this was most often in Germany; after the first World War it tended to be France or

England. Today, we see a revival in Germany as a favored destination. Once in Europe, they

were deeply influenced by the intellectual traditions that they encountered, influences that stayed

with them throughout their careers, even if with the passage of time distance and isolation left

them increasingly behind the pace of European scholarly development. Moreover, European

scholars, particularly British, but also French, German, and Italian, are frequently invited to teach

or lecture in the US, and their presence had a great effect on directions in American history,

literary studies, philosophical studies, and art history. Beginning in the 1930s the great flight of

Jewish and anti-fascist intellectuals was decisive in this regard. In fields as varied as Canon Law

(Stephan Kuttner), literature (Erich Auerbach, Konstantin Reichardt), Economic History

(Roberto Lopez), intellectual history (Paul Oscar Kristeller), political theory (Ernst

Kantorowicz), art history (Erwin Panofsky), paleography (Ernst Lowe) and Byzantine studies

(Ernst Kitzinger and Kurt Weitzmann). European scholars held chairs of American research

universities during and after the war, training young Americans and interacting with their

American-born and trained colleagues.

These interactions were not always easy: these Europeans had lost everything: their

libraries, their professorships, often members of their families, and as significant, their place in

the culture of the country in which they lived and worked. For in America, a medievalist cannot

play the same broad cultural role that a medievalist can in Europe. Since America does not claim

the Middle Ages as part of its national history, medievalists are not the interpreters of American

identity. While this might marginalize medievalists in North America, it also frees them from the

burden of being the preservers and defenders of national pasts in the manner of our European

colleagues. Not surprisingly, then, medieval studies in America have tended, much more than in

Europe, to emphasize comparative studies, inter- and trans-disciplinary projects, broad supra-

national issues, and theoretical approaches to European culture and history as a whole.

But this tendency toward the general and comparative has also marginalized American

(and one might add, Canadian, Australian, and Latin American) medievalists from our European

colleagues who are encouraged and rewarded by their publics for a more narrow focus. Judged

by European standards of scholarship, too often American work is found to be superficial,

ob fl hli h and d ivativ . Th al p obl m may b that Am i ans a asking q stions

that resonate with their very different culture, a culture that is less concerned with the minutiae

of European life than with critical questions about societies and cultures in general, different

questions that demand different sorts of answers.

America has different needs in terms of its relationship to past and present, and it supplies

these needs in institutional frameworks very different from those in Europe. In Europe,

medievalists are prepared in Universities, institutions designed primarily to train secondary level

teachers and researchers, as well as in elite Grandes coles or Institutes, and spend many more

years in apprentice-type roles as assistants before becoming (if ever) independent scholars. They

are employed almost exclusively in state institutions of higher and secondary education, in

archives, in libraries, and in research centers. The institutional context of medieval studies in

America is far different: the faculties of history, literature, and the like are primarily intended for

providing socially mobile Americans a general education, not a professional training; thus little

of the instruction in medieval fields provided in American universities is intended to be as

technical or pre-professional as in Europe. Most professional medievalists spend their entire

careers teaching what would be, in Europe, Gymnasium-level courses. The spectrum of such

institutions is far wider than in Europe: along with public research universities, medievalists are

found in private religious and non-sectarian universities with a wide spectrum of programs,

ideologies, and organizations and an even wider spectrum of students in terms of preparation,

motivation, and expectations. Second, very, very few medievalists can find employment outside

of the university. Aside from a handful of great private libraries and museums with significant

collections of medieval manuscripts and art objects, no American medievalist can aspire to

practice his or her craft as an archivist or curator. Nor does American society find it in the public

interest to support full-time researchers in the manner of the Centre national de la recherche

scientifique or the variety of Akademien der Wissenschaften that one finds in Europe. The only

career open to American medievalists is teaching.

Within these universities have developed a wide spectrum of programs for training

medievalists at the advanced, graduate level. Most medievalists are trained within a discipline or

Fach. However, much more than in European universities, even at the graduate level, American

students must prepare systematic fields outside of the medieval period and often at least one field

outside of their Hauptfach altogether, such as Latin philology, art history, or anthropology.

Like Classicists, who generally are trained in departments of Classics rather than history,

art history, philology, and such, medievalists are acutely aware that the disciplinary divisions of

nineteenth-century universities are particularly unsuited to serious study of the Middle Ages.

Thus, beyond these traditional departmental formations, a number of universities have long-

established interdisciplinary programs that confer advanced degrees in medieval studies as such.

These institutions have developed from two traditions. The oldest of these dating back over half

a century is found in Catholic universities. These centers originally were centers for formation in

medieval theology and philosophy. Such programs have evolved far from their origins, but

continue to emphasize intellectual history and to exist in a certain tension between those faculties

such as theology and philosophy (and to a lesser extent literature and music) that may use

medieval sources but are primarily interested in a-temporal truth or aesthetics, and more recent,

secular, and more historicizing medieval studies programs that developed in the 1960s and


These latter programs, usually focusing on vernacular literatures, art history, and history,

are deeply historicist and tend to reduce all disciplines to cultural history. This focus creates

tension, both with disciplines such as philosophy, but also with those in departments of literature,

art, politics, sociology, and music who are increasingly drawn to more theoretical approaches to

texts and textuality and who find medieval training overly focused on content and context rather

than on broader, a-temporal issues of language and culture.

In part to overcome the isolation of American medievalists and in part to mobilize talent

across the country, a great number of organizations of medievalists have developed over the past

75 years. American medievalists, whatever their discipline and whatever their training, tend to

identify with and interact with medievalists from other fields at an organizational level much

more than their European counterparts. The oldest of these institutions is the Medieval Academy

of America, founded in 1925, originally to concentrate on the Latin Middle Ages in contrast to

the Modern Language Association of America, which is the primary professional organization

for professors of vernacular literature, the American Philological Association, which is the

organization of Classicists, and the American Historical Association. However, from its

inception the Medieval Academy has included in its ranks, and indeed has been largely

dominated by historians and professors of vernacular languages. Although for many decades the

Academy was an exclusive organization dominated by elite professors from so-called Ivy League

Universities and preserved its archaic and exclusionary Society of Fellows and its attempts to

imitate European learned societies and academies, the Academy has now broadened its

membership, orientation, and activities. More significantly, it has encouraged or accepted the

proliferation of regional medieval studies organizations that hold regular meetings, publish

journals and conference proceedings, and help break the terrible isolation felt by many

medievalists teaching in the far-flung institutions of this continent-nation.

Even more important in breaking this isolation and continuing and fostering intellectual

networks is the annual International Congress on Medieval Studies held in Kalamazoo, Michigan

each year. Since its inception in 1965, this has grown into the largest medieval assembly in the

world, regularly hosting as many as 3000 medievalists from every continent but Antarctica.

Unlike meetings of other professional organizations that are primarily venues for hiring and

politics, Kalamazoo has become the place where medievalists meet, exchange ideas, and

reconnect. Its ideals are quite the opposite of those of the Medieval Academy: it is radically

egalitarian, its organizers exercise little quality control on the papers offered, and it is a place for

graduate students and senior scholars alike.

Dissemination of research takes place at such venues as conferences, but relatively few

organizations publish conference proceedings or monographs. Publication in the US is controlled

largely by journals supported by research centers (Viator, Romance Philology), professional

organizations (Speculum, The Proceedings of the Modern Language Association, The American

Historical Review), and by individual universities and university presses (Exemplaria, Traditio.)

University presses are the key to publication of monographs and operate in a manner very

different from continental publishers. Commercial presses do not publish scholarship and

universities and institutes seldom provide significant subsidies for scholarly books. Nor do

faculties or research centers as a rule maintain monograph series in which their professors

publish their work. Instead, scholarly monographs are published by university presses,

independent publishing houses subsidized to a minor extent by their host universities. These

presses must operate at or near a profit and in this they resemble commercial presses.

Competition for a few, widely read authors is intense; but for the most part the real competition

is among prospective authors hoping to publish their work. Without subsidies, without

monog aph s i s, b t with no mo s p ss to p blish o p ish m di valists m st s k o t

university presses willing to edit and publish their books. Decisions, made by a press board on

the advice of anonymous outside readers and not simply by a series editor, are based not only on

the scholarly merit of the submission but on its marketability. Scholarly monographs must, in

general, make a profit or at least break even, and this means that a press must be able to sell a

minimum of 500 to 800 copies of every book it publishes. Thus research in medieval studies in

America, even more than in Europe, is market-driven in a very direct way, and this market, for

good or for ill, is an important factor in what is researched, written, published and debated in

contemporary American medieval studies.

Books and articles that emerge from these cultural and institutional constraints can be

characterized as comparative, supra-national, and interdisciplinary. And yet, for all of the talk

about interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity, collaborative scholarship in America is

extremely rare: we have no institutions or traditions of major, interdisciplinary collaborative

projects on the order of Sonderforschungsbereiche, nor is the American university system able to

understand how to evaluate and compensate truly collaborative work. American scholars tend to

work in extraordinary isolation, and collaboration seldom means more than joint editorship of

conference papers.

What do Americans do? I would hesitate to divide up American scholarship into the neat

categories of Hans-W n Go tzs Moderne Medivistik. Instead, let me indicate what the major

gat k p s to m di val st di s a allowing th o gh th doo , that is, th books ntly o

recently published by the two major university presses in our field: Pennsylvania with a long-

established medieval series edited first by Edward Peters and now by Ruth Mazzo Karras, and

Cornell, with a recently established series edited by Barbara Rosenwein.3 Omitting translations

and ditions of p ima y so s, in 2000 P nnsylvanias s i s p blish d an xplo ation of th

functions and limits of images in medieval art,4 a study of millenarian expectations for Jewish

Christian convergence,5 a detailed analysis of religious life at the parish level,6 a history of early

Obviously, not all American medievalists publish with these two presses, or indeed with American presses at all.
Other major publishers of the output of American medievalists include Princeton, Chicago, Oxford, and
Cambridge. A characteristic of American scholarship is its lack of clear hierarchy and centralization.
Herbert L. Kessler, Spiritual Seeing: Picturing Gods Invisibility in Medieval Art (Philadelphia, 2000).
Robert E. Lerner, The Feast of Saint Abraham: Medieval Millenarians and the Jews (Philadelphia, 2001).
Katherine L. French, The People of the Parish: Community Life in a Late Medieval English Diocese (Philadelphia,

Carolingian warfare,7 an exploration of ethnic identity in Venetian Crete,8 a broad study of

meditative reading from Augustine to the Renaissance,9 and a volume of essays by German

historians on the ordering of medieval society.10 In 2001 it is announcing a new study of power

and society in Bohemia,11 competing discourses about heresy in Languedoc,12 Provencal

Trobairiz lyrics,13 women in Anglo-Saxon clerical culture,14 noble kinship in medieval Francia,15

female monasticism in later medieval England,16 Beguines in the Low Countries,17 gendered

modes of visualizing women,18 a collection of essays on witchcraft and magic,19 an exploration

of the manuscript contexts of major medieval vernacular texts such as the Song of Roland and

the Lais of Marie de France,20 and Arthurian romance as an imagined community of British

sovereignty.21 a ba a Ros nw ins n w s i s in l d s a st dy of onfli t p o ssing in a ly

medieval Bavaria22, a detailed regional study of the Narbonnais built around the countess

Ermengard,23 an analysis of the language of slavery in medieval Italy,24 a study of gender and

Bernard S. Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare: Prelude to Empire (Philadelphia, 2001).
Sally McKee, Uncommon Dominion: Venetian Crete and the Myth of Ethnic Purity (Philadelphia, 2000).
Brian Stock, After Augustine: The Meditative Reader and the Text (Philadelphia, 2001).
Bernhard Jussen, Ordering Medieval Society: Perspectives on Intellectual and Practical Modes of Shaping Social
Relations (Philadelphia, 2000).
Lisa Wolverton, Hastening Toward Prague: Power and Society in the Medieval Czech Lands (Philadelphia,
John H. Arnold, Inquisition and Power: Catharism and the Confessing Subject in Medieval Languedoc
(Philadelphia, 2001).
Anne L. Klinck and Ann Marie Rasmussen, Medieval Womans Song: Cross Cultural Approaches (Philadelphia,
Clare A. Lees and Gilian R. Overing, Double Agents: Women and Clerical Culture in Anglo-Saxon England
(Philadelphia, 2001).
Constance Brittain Bouchard, Those of My Blood: Constructing Noble Families in Medieval Francia
(Philadelphia, 2001).
Nancy Bradley Warren, Spiritual Economies: Female Monasticism in Later Medieval England (Philadelphia,
Walter Simons, Cities of Ladies: Beguine Communities in the Medieval Low Countries, 1200-1565 (Philadelphia,
Madeline H. Caviness, Visualizing Women in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia, 2001).
Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark, Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, Vol. I: the Middle Ages, (Philadelphia, 1999).
Andrew Taylor, Textual Situations: Three Medieval Manuscripts and their Readers (Philadelphia, 2002).
Patricia Clare Ingham, Sovereign Fantasies: Arthurian Romance and the Making of Britain (Philadelphia, 2001).
Warren Brown, Unjust Seizure: Conflict, Interest, and Authority in an Early Medieval Society (Ithaca, NY, 2002).
Fredric Cheyette, Ermengard of Narbonne and the World of the Troubadours (Ithaca, NY, 2001).
Steven A. Epstein, Speaking of Slavery: Color, Ethnicity, and Human Bondage in Italy (Ithaca, NY, 2001).

poverty in thirteenth-century Paris,25 the representation of Episcopal power through architecture

in Italy,26 a history of cruelty,27 an analysis of hatred and reconciliation28, and translations of two

previously published books, one in French and one in Dutch.29

What does this brief sampling tell us about the current state of medieval studies in the

United States? I think quite a lot. First, the subjects addressed cut across a wide spectrum of

traditional disciplines. These publications deal with art and perception, with literature and

codicology, with Arthurian Romance and Provenal lyrics. The disciplines represented are at

once broad and difficult to place into simple university departmental structure. Nevertheless,

many are unified by common concerns. Gender and more particularly women are the central, or

a central concern in the majority of these studies, whether the question is religious communities,

power relations, music, kinship, or poverty. The goal of making gender an essential element of

historical and cultural analysis seems largely realized across the spectrum.

Second, the geographical range they cover is considerable: While most American

medievalists still concentrate on England and France, there is a growing interest in Germanic

regions and Eastern Europe as well as areas of multi-cultural interaction such as Crete and, in

recent years, Spain and Hungary. However, these tend to be foci of case-study analysis, aimed at

testing broader sociological or cultural models and hypotheses rather than celebrating the

peculiarities of a specific location. Thus one sees both highly focused micro-studies as well as

pan-European studies. Few of these monographs take a medieval kingdom as the unit of analysis

Sharon Farmer, Surviving Poverty in Medieval Paris: Gender, Ideology, and the Daily Lives of the Poor (Ithaca,
NY, 2002).
Maureen C. Miller, The Bishops Palace: Architecture and Authority in Medieval Italy (Ithaca, NY, 2000).
Daniel Baraz, Medieval Cruelty: Varieties of Perception from Late Antiquity to the Early Modern Period (Ithaca,
NY, 2003).
Paul Hyams, Rancor and Reconciliation (Ithaca, NY and London, 2003).
Dominique Iogna-Prat, Order and Exclusion: Cluny and Christendom face Heresy, Judaism, and Islam (1000-
1150), (Ithaca, NY and London, 2002); Karl Heidecker, The Divorce of Lothar II: Christian Marriage and
Political Power in the Carolingian World (Ithaca, NY, 2010).

and few of the scholars (with the exception of those who work entirely on England) would be

omfo tabl b ing id ntifi d as national histo ians.

Equally important is that most of these studies focus not on events, on social and

economic relations, on formal political or intellectual theories and articulated systems of

meaning but rather on representations of all of these: the representation of poverty; the

construction of ethnicity; the imagining of kinship; the emotional world of rancor and

reconciliation represented in literary texts; the construction of textual meaning by readers. No

longer convinced that one can study events or even social structures, American medievalists are

increasingly concerned to examine the visual and textual representations of society, government,

religion, gender, and power.

Finally, both lists include translations of recent scholarship from French, German, and

Dutch. For many years, with the exception of translations of French syntheses aimed at a general

ad ship and th ta dy t anslation of lassi s s ally thi ty years or more out of date, English

readers had no access to Continental scholarship. Today the work of relatively young Europeans

is finding its way into English relatively quickly, and this scholarship resonates with that being

done in America. Perhaps in the new century, American and European medieval studies, with an

emphasis on gender, representations, texts, inter-textuality, models, case studies, and a

geographical focus that is either more or less than the nation states of the past, are becoming one.

Chapter Nineteen

Ein wenig Wissenschaft von Gestern:

The Influence of German Language Medieval History in America1

I am honored to have been asked to address the subject of reception of post-war German

scholarship in America, although I do not consider myself an expert on the topic, being neither,

strictu sensu, a historian of Germany nor a historian of American scholarship. Thus my

reflections are inevitably partial and limited by my own perspective. However, if one looks for a

point of departure in the reception of medieval German historiography in America, one might

choose the autumn of 1939 when James Westfall Thompson, emeritus Professor of Medieval

History at the University of Chicago and at the time in semi-retirement at the University of

Califo nia, k l y, nd took to vi w th itish histo ian G off y a a lo ghs two-

volume Mediaeval Germany, 911-1250: Essays by German Historians that had appeared the

previous year.2 Barraclough, then only thirty, had translated fundamental essays by Theodor

Mayer, Ulrich Stutz, Bernhard Schmeidler, Paul Joachimsen, Hans Hirsch, Otto Freiherr von

Dungern, Heinrich Mitteis, and Albert Brachmann. This publication, the first volume of which

was a a lo ghs own g n al ssay on m di val G man histo y to th middl of th thi t nth

century, introduced English only historians to the most important historians and directions of

German medieval history in the first decades of the twentieth century.

a a lo gh xplain d that th had b n a o i ntation of G man histo i al wo k in

th last g n ation with th s lt that th answ s of nin t nth-century historians can no

This a ti l fi st app a d as Ein w nig Wiss ns haft von G st n: D Einfl d ts hsp a hig M divistik in
Am ika, in Die deutschsprachige Medivistik im 20. Jahrhundert, eds. Peter Moraw and Rudulf Schieffer,
Vortrage und Forschungen 62 (Ostfildern, 2005), pp. 381-392. I am grateful to John Bernhardt, John Freed,
John McCullough, Claudia Rapp and Piotr Gorecki for their advice in preparing this lecture.
James Westfall Thompson, in The American Historical Review, Vol. 45, No. 1. (Oct., 1939), pp. 110-114.

longer satisfy, not because they are necessarily wrong, but because they answer questions which

a no long vital.3

Thompson was not impressed, in part because Barraclough explicitly dismissed

Thompsons own Feudal Germany, whi h had app a d in 1928, as a synth sis of y st days

scholarship, a fl tion of th twilight of a day whi h had pass d.4 He had added insult to

inj y by v n iting nha d S hm idl s vi w of Thompsons book in th Historische

Zeitschrift. Although Thompson had singled out Schmeidler as the only living scholar whom he

thank d fo assistan in his p fa , S hm idl n v th l ss dismiss d Thompsons ffo t,

w iting ond s ndingly: [E]s ist in w nig Wiss ns haft von G st n.5

Thompson n v th l ss ogniz d th ssays, as w ll as a a lo ghs int od ction, as

p s nting th N w s hool of histo i al int p tation. This n w s hool, Thompson

admitt d, was not niq to G many, b t was also to b fo nd in F an and England. It may

b t m d th Do m nta y S hool, H w ot . Its ont ntion is that nineteenth-century

scholarship exhausted the narrative sources of medieval history and that the better and truer

so sa of a do m nta y nat .

The scholars and the essays presented by Barraclough were indeed part of a new school

of historical study, largely the statist tradition most associated with Georg von Below;

Thompson, who died two years later, was probably aware that in reviewing this brash young

its p bli ation h was anno n ing th nd of his own a. How v , th i ony of histo y is

perhaps that what was new in 1938 continued to be taken as the latest word in German history

Geoffrey Barraclough, Medieval Germany 911-1250: Essays by German Historians 2 vols. (Oxford, 1938) I, pp. 1-
Barraclough, p. 3.
HZ CXL (1929) 592. On this vi w, and on a a lo ghs s of it s Edwa d P t s, Mo t o bl with
Henry: the Historiography of Medieval Germany in the Angloliterate World, 1888-1995, Central European
History 28 (1995), pp. 47-72.

fo anoth half nt y. a a lo ghs Medieval Germany6 has continued in print to the present

and until less than a decade ago remained a standard if hopelessly outdated introduction to

German history for many American and British students.

Th way that a a lo ghs Medieval Germany b am , lik Thompsons Feudal

Germany, in w nig Wiss ns haft von G st n, is typi al of th ception and diffusion of

German-language scholarship in the United States. Most American medievalists read German

with great difficulty and rely on translations to inform them of trends in German scholarship.

However, unlike French medieval history, much of which is translated fairly quickly into

English, there tends to be a considerable time-lag between German scholarly production and

American reception and reaction, and most of the translation initiatives have come from Britain

rather than the US. Consider a few examples. Heinrich Mitteis 1944 Der Staat des hohen

Mittelalters app a d in t anslation in 1975. Otto nn s Land und Herrschaft, first published

in 1939, was translated only in 1992. Otto von Gierke' Deutsche Genossenschaftsrecht, written

between 1868 and 1913, appeared in a partial English translation in 1990.7 Finally, Herbert

G ndmanns g at Religise Bewegungen im Mittelalter, which first appeared in 1935, appeared

in English only in 1995.

Again, once received, such scholarship is rarely updated. If Barraclough served for

d ad s as an int od tion to G man s hola ship, H in i h Fi ht na s Karolingisches

Imperium, published in 1949 to severe German criticism and translated in 1957, remains the

Along with its ompanions, a t anslation of G d T ll nba hs Libertas; Kirch und Weltordnung im Zeitalter des
Investiturstreites, and F itz K ns Gottesgnadentum und Widerstandsrecht im frheren Mittelalter.
Otto von Gierke, Community in Historical Perspective, Tr. Mary Fischer, (Cambridge, 1990). One should note that
once more the initiative for translating German scholarship took place not in America but in England. In his
review in Speculum, Vol. 67, No. 2. (Apr., 1992), pp. 498-499, Howard Kaminsky points o t how Gi k s
understanding of dialectic between Genossenschaft and Herrschaft, was rejected, as Otto Gerhard Oexle has
said, not only in the US but also in Germany where statist studies, particularly in the tradition of Georg von
Below, eliminated for fifty years interest in community, corporatism, pluralism, and an alternative approach to
medieval society. The very late revival of interest in Gierke in the English-speaking world parallels a revival of
interest in Germany.

basic introduction to Carolingian history in many American university curricula. As a result, too

few American scholars have engaged emerging German language scholarship for it to become

fully integrated into the academic discourse of American medievalists. Until very recently,

American scholarship engagedif it engaged at allwith German scholarship of the preceding

generationEin wenig Wissenschaft von Gestern.

Why this is so is partly to be explained in the history of the twentieth century and the

rejection, in 1914-1919 of German culture in America, a rejection reinforced in the period 1933-

45. However, this is at best only a partial answer. In order to understand the American reception

of German scholarship, one must distinguish among three kinds of German-language

scholarship: Hilfswissenschaften und Quellenkunde; German-language scholarship on trans-

national or pre-national phenomena such as the Migration period, the Carolingian world, canon

law, Church and religious history, and the like; and finally scholarship on Germany and the


American admiration for, and use of, German text-critical studies has continued strong

for the past century. Technical scholarship and editing continue to be seen as areas of German

strength, and all American scholars avail themselves of German Handbcher, reference works,

and, especially, the publications of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica. The Monumenta has

long been reverenced by American scholars as the supreme example of critical scholarship. Not

only do American scholars appreciate and use the editions of the MGH constantly, but since

shortly after World War II the Monumenta has welcomed three generations of American

medievalists to use its extraordinary library. A pioneer among them was Robert Benson, who

spent two years in Munich in the 1950s. Through the following decades, at least five of his own

students followed in his footsteps and, with the help of grants from the Fulbright Foundation or

the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, they and others have benefited enormously from

the kindness of Presidents Herbert Grundmann, Horst Fuhrmann, and today Rudolf Schieffer, as

well as from contact with their Mitarbeiter. Students of Stephan Kuttner, Joseph Strayer and

others found their way to the MGH as well, among them John Freed, John McCullough and

Robert Lerner.8 The result has been a constantly renewed relationship between America and the


Another somewhat similar German-language institution has had a great and enduring

influence on American medieval history: the Institut fr sterreichische Geschichtsforschung.

This relationship began because of the continuing contact between Gerhard Ladner, an alumnus

of the Institute who maintained close ties during his long career in American exile and has been

in large measure fostered by the two most recent presidents, Heinrich Fichtenau and Herwig

Wolfram. They have likewise welcomed young Americans seeking training in diplomatics,

paleography, and medieval Latin.

If Americans are avid consumers of German editions, they are much more selective in

their consumption of German historical writing. This is in part due to the specific interests that

have developed in American medieval history over the past decades. Americans may see the

European history as part of their history, but they do not normally see it as part of their national

history. Since their relationship between this past and the present is different, one should not be

surprised that their historiographical tradition focuses on different themes and different issues.

Briefly, until recently these have included feudalism and government, with special interest in

France and England, seen as the direct ancestors of the modern nation state; Church and

Religious History in a pan-European perspective, and society and kinship structure, heavily

G ndmanns openness is particularly impressive given that according to John Freed, he had never heard of
Strayer, the towering figure of American medieval history in the 1960s and 1970s. Apparently an American
tower does not cast a very long shadow.

influenced by Anglo-French sociology and, more recently, cultural anthropology. To the extent

that G man s hola ship has on nt at d on th Sond nt ntwi kl ng of m di val G many,

traditional institutional historians in the US have found this scholarship of little interest. To the

extent that German scholarship rejected historische Kulturwissenschaft, understood as the

tradition of Emile Durkheim, Georg Simmel, Max Weber, and other sociologically oriented

intellectuals, Americans have found that the kinds of questions German medievalists asked did

not resonate with their interests.9

German-language scholarship on Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, because it

was not preoccupied with statist concerns, deals with a broad, comparative perspective, and is

open to more interpretative strategies, has been especially influential in America. This is

particularly true of the Viennese school of Heinrich Fichtenau, Herwig Wolfram and, most

recently, Walter Pohl. Although Heinrich Fichtenau and Herwig Wolfram both have made

substantial contributions to what might b t m d G man histo y as w ll as to diplomati s,

they are known in North America primarily for their work on Carolingian and migration period

European history, that is to say European history before European states.

What German scholarship on the state was read tended to be either comparative (hence

the translation and interest in Mitteis) or focused squarely on France. For example when Thomas

isson w ot in 1978 on Th P obl m of th F dal Mona hy, oth than a b i f m ntion of

Mitt is and th dismissal of Hans Kamml s Die Feudalmonarchien as a so iologi al st dy

whi h is, nfo t nat ly, of littl s fo th histo i al p obl m as I on iv it,10 the German

scholars he cites are Karl Ferdinand Werner and Walther Kienast. Indeed, Werner and Keinast,

Otto Gerhard Oexl , Was d ts h M divist n an d f anzsis h n Mitt lalt fo s h ng int ssi n m , in
Mittelalterforschung nach der Wende 1989, ed. Michael Borgolte (Munich, 1995), pp. 89-127.
Thomas N. isson, Th P obl m of F dal Mona hy: A agon, Catalonia, and F an , Speculum 53 (1978), pp.
460-478. Citation, p. 461 n. 8.

along with, more recently, Bernd Schneidmller, are the German historians whose writing on

medieval government have been the most influential in American literature, specifically because

they write not about Germany but about France.

A similar influence of German historians writing about non-German history is in

vid n in th Am i an ption of G man Ostfo s h ng. In th 1950s, Walt S hl sing s

work was a fundamental touchstone for American reflection on this complex issue.11 In 1970 a

volume of essays published by Geoffrey Barraclough and including articles by F. Graus, F. Seibt,

and Karl Bosl, brought to English readers new perspectives on German language scholarship on

Central and Eastern Europe.12 More recently, North American scholars such as Richard

Hoffmann and Piotr Gorecki, have concentrated more on the history of Eastern Europe within

the context of plurality of social and cultural interaction in a manner similar to studies of multi-

cultural Spanish society, rather than focusing on the questions of German expansion of earlier

generations. Here models of local history such as German Landesgeschichte is perhaps more

important than Reichsgeschichte.

German scholarship on lordship has also fared somewhat better than German political

writing in America, in part because of the 1968 publication of a collection of translated articles

on the subject by Fredric Cheyette.13 This volume included selections by Otto Hintze, Otto

Brunner, Walter Schlesinger, Arno Borst, and Karl Bosl, along with articles by American,

F n h, English, and lgian s hola s. Altho gh Hintz s ssay was f om 1929, th oth s dat d

Especially his post-wa visionist Di g s hi htli h St ll ng d mitt lalt li h n d ts h n Ostb w g ng,
Historische Zeitschrift 183 (1957), pp. 517-542. S Piot Go ki, M di val East Colonization in Post-War
No th Am i an and itish Histo iog aphy in d. Jan M. Pisko ski, Historiographic Approaches to Medieval
Colonization of East Central Europe, (New York, 2002), pp. 26-61.
Geoffrey Barraclough, ed., Eastern and Western Europe in the Middle Ages (London, 1970).
Fredric L. Cheyette, ed., Lordship and Community in Medieval Europe: Selected Readings (New York, 1968).

from the 1950s and Chey tt s vol m p ovid d English-only readers a comprehensive look at

German postwar directions in the studies of lordship and feudalism.

Al ady by th tim of Ch y tt s vol m , st di s of lo dship in E op w moving

from an institutional and legal perspective to one of aristocratic kinship relations. Outside of the

circle of Karl Leyser in England, German contributions to this work were known only indirectly

through French historians, particularly Georges Duby, who had read and reflected on the work of

Karl Schmid and its relevance for his own studies of aristocratic society.14 This changed

significantly with th p bli ation in 1979 of Timothy R t s The Medieval Nobility. The

impa t of R t 's oll tion an only b ompa d to that of a a lo ghs fo ty y a s p vio s.

Although intended primarily for a British audience, the volume was widely received and studied

in North America. For the first time, mono-lingual American social historians had access to the

work of major German scholars on the structure of the European aristocracy, including Karl

F dinand W n s 1965 a ti l on impo tant a isto ratic families in the Carolingian world,

F anz I sigl on F ankish a isto a y, Ka l osl on Knigsf i , and Ka l S hmids impo tant

ssay on th t ansfo mation of kinship st t f om Sipp to G s hl ht. S hmids a ti l in

particular had enormous impact. However, for the most part Americans extracted from his

closely detailed studies of Alemannic kindreds a theoretical model, the so- all d S hmid

Th sis and so ght to apply it in a mann that was ali n to his o iginal int ntion. Soon, th

G o g s D bys d bt to G man s hola ship was mad vid nt to American scholars in the publication of his,
Th St t of Kinship and Nobility: No th n F an in th El v nth and Tw lfth C nt i s, in G o g s
Duby, The Chivalrous Society, transl. Cynthia Postan (London, 1977, repub. in the US by the University of
California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1998), pp. 134-148. He concludes: ...I freely acknowledge Karl
S hmids on l sions whi h hav so g atly ill minat d my s a h s: Th ho s of a nobl b am a nobl
house when it became the center as w ll as th ind p nd nt and lasting fo s of a a ., p. 148.

S hmid Th sis was b ing hotly ont st d by s hola s nfamilia with th o p s of S hmids

work or the particular historiographical tradition within which he worked.15

The relationship between American historians of ecclesiastical and religious history has

been stronger and more enduring. In part, this was the outgrowth of reformation studies, strong

in post-war Protestant America. Indeed, because of the significance of the German reformation,

this aspect of German history had continued to be one of the few areas of American interest. As

European scholars such as Heiko Obermann began to explore the continuities between sixteenth-

century religious reform and the Middle Ages, they and their students were led back into the

Middle Ages, and they took along with them American students and colleagues. This interest in

German religious and church history was also due to the activities of migr scholars such as

Gerhard Ladner, Theodore Mommsen, and Stephan Kuttner, who sent their students to Germany

to study. There scholars such as Herbert Grundmann and Peter Classen received young

Americans including Robert Benson and Karl Morrison, and in the next generation, Robert

Lehrner, John Freed, John McCullough and John van Engen, and welcomed them in their

seminars and institutes. Likewise, interest in religious phenomena and particularly women's

religious tradition has drawn Americans such as Richard Kickeffer and Barbara Newman to

work on German saints and mystics.

Canon law and institutional church history, largely cultivated by Stephan Kuttner at

Berkeley and Brian Tierney at Cornell, have likewise maintained close contact with German

scholars, and in Washington Uta-Renate Blumenthal continues to train American students in this

tradition of German history. However, concerns of Church and State in the Investiture period,

with few exceptions, have not been, in the mainstream of American scholarly interest.

Constan o ha d Th O igins of th F n h Nobility: A R ass ssm nt, American Historical Review 86
(1981), pp. 501-532; Family St t and Family Cons io sn ss Among th A isto a y in the Ninth to
El v nth C nt i s, Francia 14 (1987), pp. 639-658.

The area least developed in North America, however, has continued to be the history of

Germany and German-speaking lands. Regional studies, too, with the notable exception of John

Freed's work on Salzburg, were absolutely non-existent in American scholarship, and because of

the differences between German Landesgeschichte and French Histoire rgionale, Americans

increasingly interested in the latter found little of use in the former.

Not that this tradition has been entirely lacking. The students of Robert Benson have

maintained a strong interest in Reichsgeschichte and have practiced it on terms that resonate with

the questions and approaches of German scholars. John Bernhardt has written on royal

itineraries, a long-established topic of German imperial history, and David Warner and Donald

C. Jackman write on specialized issues of Reichsgeschichte.16 But often this production seems

directed more to a German than an American scholarly audience.

Some syntheses of German history are finding their way into English, although again this

is in great part due to British rather than American initiative. Ho st F h manns Deutsche

Geschichte im hohen Mittelalter, translated by the truly bicultural Timothy Reuter, appeared in

1986. Alf d Hav kamps 1984 Aufbruch und Gestaltung, Deutschland 1056-1273 was

translated in England in 1988. In 1999, an American press, through the efforts of Barbara and

Cha l s owl s, p blish d St fan W inf t s Herrschaft und Reich der Salier that had

appeared in Germany only eight years before.

Along with a slowly growing interest in German history is an increased understanding of

the historiographical development of medieval German scholarship in this century. The most

John W. Bernhardt, Itinerant Kingship and Royal Monasteries in Early Medieval Germany c. 936-1076
(Cambridge, 1993). But note that this study was published in Great Britain and not in the United States. David
A. Wa n , Rit al and M mo y in th Ottonian Reich: The Ceremony of Adventus, Speculum 76 (2001), pp.
255-283; Donald C. Jackman, The Konradiner: a Study in Genealogical Methodology, Ius commune,
Sonderhefte 47 (Frankfurt am Main, 1990) b t not again that this Am i ans s hola ship was not p blish d in
the US.

significant of these scholars are Robert Lerner, John Freed, and Edward Peters. Lerner, whose

seminal influences include Grundmann and Ernst Kantorowicz has intelligently clarified some of

the many misconceptions about the author of Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite.17 In 1986 Fried

explained to an American audience the intellectual traditions in which Gerd Tellenbach, Karl

Bosl, and Karl Schmid, familiar to Americans but largely as decontextualized authors of articles

in the Barraclough and Reuter volumes, should be understood.18 Edward Peters, long influenced

by German legal history, undertook a similar broadly interpretative historiographical article in

which he situated German historical developments for an American audience in 1995.19 In a

more compact form, Otto Gerhard Oexle did the same from a German perspective the following

year.20 At last, German scholarship is becoming intelligible to American scholars.

Also beginning in the 1980s, new types of relationships between German scholarship and

American medievalists began to emerge as the result of converging interests in scholarly

programs. The history of the medieval state and institutions in both countries has developed into

the history of power. Church history and social history have focused increasingly on the

communities created through prayer and alms. A younger generation of German medievalists is

increasingly willing to draw on anthropological and sociological studies to understand social

representations and rituals in ways that resonate with North American scholars.

Freed from the burden of tracing the origins of the modern state or of the Versptere

Nation, analyses of social dynamics, ritual systems, and implicit rules of behavior can be

Robert E. Lerner, Ernst Kantorowicz and Theodor E. Mommsen, An Interrupted Past: German-Speaking Refugee
Historians in the United States after 1933, eds. Hartmut Lehmann and James J. Sheehan (Washington, DC,
1991), pp. 188-205; M ito io s A ad mi S vi : Kanto owi z and F ankf t, in E nst Kanto owi z,
eds. Robert Benson and Johannes Fried, Frankfurter Historische Abhandlungen Bd. 39 (1997), pp. 14-32 and
Kanto owi z and Contin ity, ibid., pp. 104-123.
John . F d, R fl tions on th M di val G man Nobility, American Historical Review (1986), pp. 553-575.
P t s Mo T o bl with H n y, in Central European History 28 (1995), pp. 47-72.
Was th Anything to L a n? Am i an Histo ians and G man M di val S hola ship: A Comm nt, in Pat i k
Geary, Medieval Germany in America German Historical Institute, Washington, DC, Annual Lecture Series no.
8 (Washington, DC, 1996).

compared in European-wide perspective. Articles by Gerd Althoff and Hans-Werner Goetz are

finding their way into standard American anthologies on such themes as the medieval emotion

and the peace of God.21 In 2001 a volume presenting a spectrum of current directions in German

social history edited by Bernhard Jussen brought an American public a panoramic view of

current German approaches to understanding and ordering medieval society.22

Not only individual initiatives but institutional support had played a decisive role in this

change. The Monumenta and the Institut fr sterreichische Geschichtsforschung have been

joined by other institutions such as the Max-Planck Institut fr Geschichte and the Deutsches

Historisches Institut in Washington as contact points for American scholars. The realities of

financial support offered by the DAAD make it more attractive than ever for young American

medievalists to spend a part of their education in Germanynothing comparable exists for

France, Italy, or Great Britain. Most recently, the Deutsches Historisches Institut has sponsored

conferences and lectures specifically designed to bring American and German medievalists, both

senior and junior, together in order to build lasting relationships. America has been less proactive

in this process, but a conference organized at the University of Notre Dame in 1995 was perhaps

the first occasion since the First World War at which leading German and American scholars met

to discuss specifically the history of German-speaking lands. Since then, a second conference in

Heidelberg sponsored by the German Historical Institute in Washington resulted in a volume of

Hans-W n Go tz, P ot tion of th Ch h, D f ns of th Law, and R fo m: On th P pos s and Cha a t
of the Peace of God, 989-1038, in ds. Thomas H ad and Ri ha d Land s, The Peace of God: Social Violence
and Religious Response in France around the Year 1000 (Ithaca, NY, 1992), pp. 259-279; G d Althoff, Ira
Regis: P ologom na to a Histo y of Royal Ang , in d. a ba a H. Ros nw in, Angerss Past: The Social
Uses of an Emotion in the Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY, 1998), pp. 59-74.
Bernhard Jussen, ed., Ordering Medieval Society (Philadelphia, 2001).

essays by American and German scholars that attempt to address common themes of ritual,

memory and the writing of history.23

There are also signs that a wider American reading public may be prepared to accept

synthetic visions of medieval society formulated by German and Austrian scholars. These

in l d A no o sts Barbaren, Ketzer und Artisten (1991) and his Computus (1993); Hans-

W n Go tzs Leben im Mittelalter (1993), W n Rs n s Bauern im Mittelalter (1994),

H wig Wolf ams Das Reich und die Germanen (1997), and H in i h Fi ht na s Ketzer und

Professoren (1998). While none of these books deals specifically with Germany, they suggest

that a wider public is developing that is interested in new syntheses long monopolized by French

historians writing books of grande vulgarisation.

Converging intellectual interests, frequent sustained contact, exchange of graduate

students and visiting professors, may at last be breaking down the time-lag between German

scholarly production and American reception. There is a new generation of young American

Doktoranden and Assistenten trained in German history and more broadly than ever in dialogue

with their German colleagues. Americans such as John Bernhardt a w iting on lassi iss s

of German history; others are engaging German scholarship on much more immediate terms in

research on practical literacy, conflict resolution, religious culture, monastic society, and the

history of power.

A final measure of the reception of German language scholarship in America is the

complementary aspect of the reception of American scholarship in Germany. Traditionally,

Americans have been the recipients of scholarship, not equal participants. However, in areas

such as the history of women, monastic and cultural history, and in the sensitivity of some

Gerd Althoff, Johannes Fried and Patrick Geary, eds., Medieval Concepts of the Past: Ritual, Memory,
Historiography. Publications of the German Historical Institute (Cambridge, 2002).

German medievalists to the so- all d ling isti t n, Am i an infl n is ping into

German medieval scholarship. The value of this influence may be debated, but it is no longer

dismissed. For the first time, a volume of the Monumenta edited by an American has appeared.24

Even a few American medievalists such as Caroline Walker Bynum25 and Giles Constable26 are

finding their books translated for wider German audiences, and American medievalists are being

invited to speak on the state of scholarship at German conferences. Perhaps at last the efforts of

generations of German emigrs, patient Ordinarii, and eager if linguistically challenged

Americans students are bearing fruit. Perhaps in the future American Wissenschaft will not be

the Wissenschaft von Gestern.

Opus Caroli regis contra synodum (Libri Carolini) ed. Ann Freeman unter Mitwirkung von Paul Meyvaert (1998).
Caroline Walker Bynum, Fragmentierung und Erlsung. Geschlecht und Krper im Glauben des Mittelalters,
(Frankfurt am Main, 1995).
Giles Constable and Gerd Melville, eds., Die Cluniazenser in ihrem politisch-sozialen Umfeld (Mnster, 1998).

Chapter Twenty

Multiple Middle Ages: Rival Meta-Narratives and the

Competition to Speak the Past1

The three papers that accompanied this one as originally delivered examined the ways

that meta-narratives form and deform our discourses on the Middle Ages. Klaus Grubmller

explored ways that the rhetorical model of seasons of the year or of the ages of life have

structured, distorted, and limited the ways that Medieval German literary history has been

constructed. Thomas Haye showed th impli ations of diff nt manip lations of th histo y of

medieval Latin literature in its ideological relationships to modernity and nationalism. Walter

Pohl examined how, since 1945, the structuring narratives of the early Middle Ages have turned

increasingly from particularist ethnic, statist, social, and religious beginnings to an interest in

a hai a ly Middle Ages as a negative image, a timeless traditional society from which to

develop master narratives of the rise of Western Civilization. In this final paper, I wish to return

to the more general issues raised by Professor Rexroth and to ask what has happened to our

organizing meta-narratives over the past few decades in relation to modernity and its critics.

As has been hinted at by the previous speakers, one cannot properly address the question

of meta-narratives in medieval history without first considering the peculiar, dependent position

of medieval history itself within the more powerful meta-narratives of the Modern. From its

inception, the medieval period was invented and defined by those who self-consciously

considered themselves moderni and who had no intrinsic interest in this age in the middle of two

O iginally p blish d as M ltipl Middl Ag s - konkurrierende Meistererzhlungen und der Wettstreit um die
D t ng d V gang nh it, in: Meistererzhlungen vom Mittelalter. Epochenimaginationen und
Verlaufsmuster in der Praxis medivistischer Disziplinen, ed. Frank Rexroth, Historische Zeitschrift
Beiheft (2007), pp. 107-120.

epochs of greater significance and higher value.2 In the words of the American medievalist Lee

Patterson, the Middle Ages hav always b n fo th postm di val on of th p ima y sit s of

otherness by whi h it has onstit t d its lf.3 Constantin Fasolt has recently gone even further,

arguing that the medieval and the modern are so radically different conceptually that the

m di val is ltimat ly in omp h nsibl to mod ns and is impossibl to fold into plain history

witho t abolishing th onditions to whi h histo ians ow th i xist n .4

If, as Horst Fuhrmann has reminded us, medievals imagined themselves living in a

middl ag b tw n th In a nation and th Final J dgm nt,5 this concept has been entirely

lacking in the origins and use of the term Middle Ages since its introduction in the seventeenth

century. Since the time of Christoph Cellarius this construct constitutes both a gap and a lack, a

negativity defined in opposition to the essential values of what went before it and what the

moderni were once more to recover and to complete. Those essential values were rationality and

human progress in discovering both the individual and the external world, values which first

manifested themselves in Renaissance Italy by escaping the non-modern, which is the medieval,

with th h lp of Antiq ity. Wh n Ja ob ha dt w ot of Italy F d f om th o ntl ss bonds

whi h ls wh in E op h k d p og ss,6 the countless bonds to which he alludes were the

characteristics of the Middle Ages, necessary evils that could explain the long delay of the

modern progress and that could render Renaissance men heroic in defeating them. If the meta-

On medievalism and its relationship to the modern see R. Howard Bloch and Stephen G. Nichols, Medievalism and
the Modernist Temper (Baltimore, MD, 1996).
L Patt son, C iti al Histo i ism and M di val St di s, in Literary Practice and Social Change in Britain,
1380-1530, d. L Patt son ( k l y, 1990), p. 2. Cited in a broader discussion of medievalism and
mod nism in Gab i ll Spi g l and Pa l F dman, M di valisms Old and N w: Th R dis ov y of Alt ity
in No th Am i an M di val St di s, American Historical Review 103 (1998), pp. 677-704, esp. 678.
Constantin Fasolt, The Limits of History (Chicago, 2004), p. x. I am grateful to my colleague Gabrielle Spiegel for
b inging Fasolts wo k to my att ntion and mo g n ally fo h itiq s of an a li d aft of this pap .
Horst Furhmann, Einladung ins Mittelalter (Munich, 1987), pp. 15-16.
Part IV, chap. 1, first sentence, here quoted in The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy II tr. S. G. C.
Middlemore (New York, 1958), p. 279.

narrative that defined both the modern world and the means of understanding it was

characterized above all by progress and by reason, then the Middle Ages provided the

alternative: a traditional, irrational world uninterested either in the transformation of the

individual (which scarcely existed) or in the transformation of the material world.

Since the time of Burchardt the modernist project has been refined and nuanced, but it

remains essentially tied to the twin values of progress and of rationality, manifesting themselves

for the first time in the Renaissance and reaching their culmination in the Enlightenment. The

overarching meta-narrative of the modern was the expansion of European political, economic,

and cultural hegemony over the whole world; the development of modern science; the liberation

of the individual, and ultimately the formation of the liberal democratic state.

If from the perspective of the modernist enterprise, the Middle Ages offered in this story

nothing but the negative shadow against which the modern reacted, medievalists were left with

three options for construction of their own meta-narrative. The first, namely to reject entirely the

periodization that gives the Middle Ages its ontological status, has been suggested intermittently

for at least a half a century. Rather than seeing the period from, say, the deposition of the

p t nd Rom l s A g st l s in 476 ntil th fall of Constantinopl in 1453 o Col mb ss

voyag to th N w Wo ld in 1492 o th b ginning of th Wa s of Italy in 1494, o v n L th s

publication of his 97 theses in 1517, as an autonomous segment of history, some have argued for

a long Late Antiquity that reaches to 8007 or even to 1000.8 Others have suggested that the

distinction between medieval and early modern is equally artificial and have argued for the

Th s Pi nn s Mohamed and Charlemagne, based on the argument that the fundamental structures of the
Mediterranean world economy and cultural system had not changed until the Islamic conquests.
Guy Bois, for example, argues that the fundamental slave-based economy of antiquity continued until the end of
the tenth century. La mutation de lan mil: Lournand, village mconnais de lAntiquit au fodalisme (Paris,
1989). From a radically different ideological perspective, Jean Durliat argues that the fiscal and thus
institutional systems of late Antiquity put in place under Diocletian did not change until 889: Les finances
publiques de Diocltien aux Carolingiens (284-889) (Sigmaringen, 1990).

chronological division of Old E op that stretches from the eleventh and twelfth centuries to

the French Revolution. If either or both of these suggestions were generally accepted, the Middle

Ages would disappear entirely. Such suggestions, however well-grounded in the social, cultural,

economic and political particularities of the broad sweep of European history, have found almost

no resonance in scholarly publications, in the organization of teaching, and in the

conceptualization of the Middle Ages in the popular or the professional mind. This is hardly

surprising: medievalists may study the pre-modern, but like it or not, they are firmly rooted in

their own time and share the concerns, if not necessarily the conclusions, of their modernist

colleagueswe medievalists seem to need the Middle Ages as much as our modernist colleagues


The second option within the modernist paradigm open to medievalists then was an

account of the period from 500 to 1500 that confirmed the alterity of this period from those

which preceded and succeeded it. Emphasis on the alterity of the Middle Ages has taken both the

positive valorization of religion, culture, and society and its denigration. For secular and

religious scholars alike, the Middle Ages has, since the nineteenth century, been offered as the

lost pa adis of western civilization. Nineteenth-century Romantics and escapist reactionaries,

suspicious of the class divisions, industrialization, and desacralization of the modern world

looked to the Middle Ages as a time of agrarian harmony, of faith, and of social and cultural

balance. Since Leo XIII issued his encyclical terni Patris in 1880 calling for the study of

medieval philosophy and especially that of Thomas Aquinas, Roman Catholic scholars attempted

to revive medieval philosophy not as a historically bound system but as an appropriate

alternative to contemporary philosophical traditions.

Positive evaluation of the Middle Ages as alternative to the modern is by no means lost in

contemporary secular scholarship. Much recent scholarship on medieval Germany, rather than

s a hing fo oyal gov nm ntal syst ms o b moaning th i ational nat of m di val

kingship and governance, has concentrated on the liturgical nature of kingship and the ritual

nature of medieval social and political structures generally. Some feminist gender scholars have

attempted to portray the early Middle Ages at least as a period of greater tolerance and openness

to women, gays, and other groups than either the late Middle Ages or afterward.

However, today as in the past for the most part, scholars interested in the Middle Ages

focus on far less positive aspects of this alterity. For earlier generations, the search for an

essential Middle Ages focused, as Burchardt suggested in the nineteenth century, on superstition,

religious coercion, ritualism, and magic in the cultural sphere; on subsistence economy, limited

commercialization, and lack of agricultural development in the economic sphere, and on feudal

control rather than participatory governance in the political. More recent fascination with

medieval alterity has produced what Gabrielle Spiegel and Paul Freedman have termed a return

to th t adition of g ot sq , intol ant ha a t of th po h, a da k i ationality that popular

opinion never quite abandoned but that in scholarship marks a radical turn in contemporary

histo i al app oa h s.9 W iting in 1998, th y laim d that Th most pop la topi s in m di val

cultural studies in America at the momentby some reportsare death, pus, contamination,

d fil m nt, blood, abj tion, disg st, and h miliation, ast ation, pain, and a topsy.10

The third option the modern meta-narrative offered medievalists was to attempt to

demonstrate that the medieval, no less than the modern, was part of the narrative of

rationalization and liberation claimed by the modern. If medieval alterity produced both positive

Gab i ll Spi g l and Pa l F dman, M di valisms Old and N w, p. 693.
Ibid., pp. 699-700.

and n gativ visions in m di val st di s, so too do s th p og ssiv t adition. st known a

the progressive histories of European statecraft and law, focusing primarily on the medieval

monarchies of France and England that were seen by earlier generations of medievalists as the

origins of the modern state and constitutional government. Such traditions were particularly

strong in England and in North America, where medieval statecraft was for decades the

dominant focus of the most powerful medievalists. Since the 1920s, British and American

medievalists sought to demonstrate the medieval origins of the modern state, the development of

bureaucracy, impersonal instruments of government and justice, the notion of sovereignty, and,

p haps most impo tantly, in th wo ds of Jos ph R. St ay , a shift in loyalty f om family, lo al

community, or religious organization to the state and the acquisition by the state of a moral

a tho ity to ba k p its instit tional st t and its th o ti al l gal s p ma y.11 For those

regions of Europe where centralized states did not emerge by the end of the Middle Ages,

particularly Italy and Germany, this progressive history existed in a shadow: the question was

why this positiv and p og ssiv vol tion did not tak pla , and th fail of G many and

Italy to achieve nationhood became the dark side of the sunny narrative of French and English


But the progressive history of the state was only one area in which medievalists accepted

the modernist meta-narrative while attempting to appropriate it to the Middle Ages. From the

early twentieth century, economic historians such as Henri Pirenne, Gino Luzatto, and, later

Robert Lopez sought in the eleventh and twelfth centuries the origins of the modern commercial

and capitalist systems. The origins of distinctive western urbanism, the creation of a merchant

class, systems of credit, insurance, banking, exchange, the limited liability contract, the

development of new navigational technologies and innovations in shipbuilding, all were

Joseph R. Strayer, On the Medieval Origins of the Modern State (Princeton, 1970), p. 9.

presented as evidence that the Middle Ages, not the Renaissance or early modern era, marked the

beginning of the triumphant European economic system which would become in time the world

economic system. Here, as in political history, medievalists simply appropriated the meta-

narrative established by the modern agenda and antedated its inception by three centuries.

Cultural historians have been no less interested in co-opting the meta-narrative of

progress for the Middle Ages than have political and economic historians. The primary motif

th o gh whi h this has b n don is th s a h fo naissan s. If ha dts renaissance was

supposed to have defined the modern, then generations of medievalists have claimed this term

fo th i own p iod. P haps th fi st and most nd ing was Cha l s Hom Haskins

Renaissance of the Twelfth Century published in 1927. Since then other medieval Renaissances

have been have been alleged, including the Northumbrian Renaissance, the Carolingian

Renaissance, and the Renaissance of the Tenth Century, to say nothing of the various Byzantine

renaissances such as the Macedonian Renaissance and the Palaeologian Renaissance.12 Similar

att mpts to app op iat that o n ston of mod nity, th dis ov y of th individ al, hav

been made by medievalists as diverse as Collin Morris and Aron Gurevich. Similarly, as wider

scholarship has turned its attention to textuality and communication, scholars in Europe and

North America have increasingly sought in the Middle Ages the transition from oral to literate

lt , f om m mo y to w itt n o d; f om it aliz d and a hai to mod n fo ms of

accounting and documentary recording.13

In recent years, as the modernist claim to progress has been increasingly tarnished, a

different, negative image of the progressive meta-narrative tying the Middle Ages to the Modern

has emerged. The meta-narrative is increasingly that of the progressive elaboration of insti