• Medieval women and power

    I'm interrupting a chronological survey of my conference going this year to give you a thematic post: I went to roundtables on medieval women and power at both Kalamazoo and Leeds this year and got involved in subsequent discussions with Another Damned Medievalist about definitions of power. So this starts with some definitions, then talks about useful points I got from both panels and finishes by going back to problems about defining and conceptualising power. The panel at Kalamazoo consisted of Lois Huneycutt, Constance Berman, Kathy Krause, Ellie Woodacre and Marie Kelleher. The panel at Leeds was Theresa Earenfight, Joanna Huntington, Amy Livingstone, Therese Martin and Penelope Nash. (The panel at Leeds had a rather better temporal and geographical spread of research than that at Kalamazoo, which may reflect the availability of participants).

    I think only two of the scholars who spoke at the roundtables attempted to define power. Marie Kelleher said her ad hoc definition of agency and power was that agency was the ability to take action that has the potential to affect one's own destiny, and power was the ability to take action that has the potential to affect the destiny of others. Theresa Earenfight,meanwhile, described power as the application of some force to coerce others to do something. (I hope I wrote down all these quotes accurately).

    As far as more general sociological definitions go, Christine Firer Hinze, in Comprehending power in Christian social ethics summarizes a lot of modelling of socio-political power as models either of 'power over' or 'power to'. She, among a number of others, quotes Max Weber from Economy and Society (I, 1, 16A), who defines "Power (Macht" as "the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests." (Another translation has "even against resistance" rather than "despite resistance", showing that resistance is not a necessary part of the definition). In contrast Weber talks of "Domination (Herrschaft)" as "the probability that a command with a given specific content will be obeyed by a given group of persons."

    Michael Mann, in Sources of Social Power (I, p. 6) defines power "in its most general sense" as "the ability to pursue and attain goals through mastery of one's environment". He then wants to distinguish two forms of "social power" (which he doesn't define): "distributive power" (the zero-sum game of A's power over B, where A's power diminishes as B's power increases) and "collective power" where people cooperate to enhance their joint power over a third party or over nature. He sees four sources of social power (p. 2): ideological, economic, military and political relationships.

    ADM also said that we needed to think more about medieval definitions of power. Since I'm not an expert on medieval political theory, I'll just give a quick couple of comments. Isidore of Seville, in his Etymologiae X, p. 208: "Potens, rebus late patens: unde et potestas, quod pateat illi quaqua uelit, et nemo intercludat, nullus obsistere ualeat." translated by Barney et al as "Powerful (potens),extending patere widely in one's property; hence also "power" (potestas), because it extends for him in whatever direction he chooses, and no one closes him in, none can stand in his way.") To Isidore, therefore, power is essentially about large land-holding. I also talk in general terms about Carolingian ideas of power in Morality and Masculinity in the Carolingan Empire. The most frequent contrast was between between potentes and the pauperes they oppress, where the pauperes are free small landowners, not the dependent poor. But there are occasional references to female potentes in terms of their household control. In other words, power generally is conceived of in terms of extensive landowning (the main source of wealth) and the manipulation of legal systems as well as direct control: there's Weber's Herrschaft, but also less explicit Macht as well.

    As for the panelists, Lois Honeycutt was talking about the early development of the study of women and power, when "no-one was even sure that queenship was a thing". She was arguing for a move beyond exceptionalism (seeing only exceptional women as holding power), and also asking how we might look beyond queenship. This was in terms of non-royal women, alternative routes to power and also looking beyond western Europe. She was saying she'd recently looked at Georgian and Armenian saints, who were seen as lionesses, not viragos.

    Connie Berman was talking about "lady-lords" in thirteenth-century France, saying that a dip in women's presence as lords after Eleanor of Aquitaine was only temporary, and giving as an example Matilda de Courtenay, the Countess of Nevers (d. 1257). She also mentioned in the discussion that abbesses might have more time for administrative duties than abbots, because they had fewer liturgical functions.

    Kathy Krause spoke about the disconnect between the lordship of thirteenth-century women and romances from the same period showing heiresses as being exiled and powerless. But she has found a planctus (lament on death) for a countess of Boulogne probably Matilda II), which does talk about her as a lord, knighting knights and protecting ladies. Kathy was also the first of several panellists to mention Georges Duby, whose views on the disempowerment of medieval women in the high Middle Ages are still frequently referred to, however much they get debunked. (Amy Livingstone talked about playing Whack-a-Mole with his ideas).

    Ellie Woodacre was talking about Theresa Earenfight's ideas of power-sharing between queens and kings and the different possible templates. She was arguing for monarchy working best as a team (there were interesting echoes here of Elizabeth II's reference to the British monarchy as "The Firm") and also looking for continuities between the late medieval and early modern periods. Ellie also pointed out that attempts to exclude women from rule or transmission of inheritance rights (such as the use of Salic law in fifteenth-century France or John Knox's complaints about the "regiment of women") tend to come out of a specific context, rather than be just an generalised expression of misogyny.

    Marie Kelleher, as well as giving the definitions of power and agency I mentioned above, was suggesting we should look beyond political power. She was particularly interested in what legal sources might be able to show us about women exercising both agency and power, pointing out that it enables us to see women at a lower social level. She stressed that women's choices to litigate shows us that in a legal system where women are presumed to lack power, they could nevertheless use the courts to their advantage, e.g. by stressing their need for protection. Marie made the important point that women's power need not offer more or better for women more generally, to which I'll come back later.

    At Leeds, Therese Martin was lamenting the fact that we still have to continue rehearsing the question "Do women have power?",because (some) other medievalists still aren't listening. She was one of several speakers worrying that we were just preaching to the choir and that historians of women were still ghettoised. (In the discussion afterwards, the Royal Studies Network was mentioned as an organisation that was managing to get such research into a wider context). Therese was also talking about her current project reassessing women as "makers" of art, a term which she felt got beyond the question of whether they were the creators or the patrons and reflected the medieval terminology of objects which say "X me fecit" more accurately.

    Amy Livingstone wanted to get beyond the simple statementthat women had power and also the tendency to qualify a particular woman's power by saying she ruled as a wife or with a husband. She also thought there was too much emphasis on titles, since some powerful men didn't have titles.Amy is currently researching Countess Ermengard of Brittany and how she ruled with her father and sons as well as her husband. She was also arguing against the idea of a rupture in women's power in around 1000 and for more continuity between the early medieval and high medieval periods.

    Theresa Earenfight mentioned the "power of the mundane" and the importance of reading sources such as registers (at which point the early medievalists among us mentally swore at our lack of such sources). She was also arguing for looking comparatively beyond England, France and Germany (she's currently working on Catherine of Aragon, who was caught between Spain and England), for thinking beyond kin ties to consider the importance of other relationships, such as friends, and for looking at alternative sites of power (such as material culture and the workplace).

    Penny Nash said she wanted two major changes in studying women and power. One was looking beyond queens and empresses: she's particularly interested in whether there were fewer options for countesses in the more structured world from the later eleventh century on.Was someone like Countess Matilda of Tuscany exceptional? She also wanted us to get beyond biography and lifecycle, since royal men don't get talked about in those terms.

    Finally Joanna Huntington, who works on British royal hagiography brought in gender, saying that "my sources in the twelfth century are all about the men", and arguing that Turgot's life of Queen Margaret of Scotland is showing Margaret as a model for rulers, not just queens, and that much of what we read in the narrative sources is a clerical conversation and "guys writing themselves into the story". Joanna worried about being seen as a traitor to the feminist cause by working on masculinity; afterwards, she confirmed that she and I had both been influenced by the same article: Elizabeth A. Clark, "The Lady Vanishes: Dilemmas of a Feminist Historian after the "Linguistic Turn"", Church History, 67 (1998), 1-31, which worries at the question of how much we can recapture "real women" beneath their symbolic use in narrative sources predominantly written by men.

    I enjoyed the sessions a lot, but I now want to go back to ADM's comments about definitions of power. In terms of the definitions I quoted at the start, what the panellists' research on is largely female Herrschaft in Weber's terms; they almost all work on "lordly women" (queens, countesses, etc) and their focus is mostly on their exercise of political power (and less commonly ideological and military power). There was little discussion of economic power, apart from artistic patronage, mainly, I suspect, because it's only in the late medieval period that you start seeing women (and men) who have substantial economic power without necessarily also possessing direct political power, while the focus of the panels was predominantly on the high Middle Ages.

    What was lurking on the edges was other forms of power and influence, what we might call "non-Herrschaft Macht" in Weber's terms. The best label I can come up with at the moment is "indirect power"; Theresa Earenfight was unhappy with the terms "influence" and I need to read up on the literature conceptualising that. Essentially, it's the ability to get your own way without using command (or without the accepted right to command), and I think medieval women's use of such indirect power is a far more difficult problem, especially,paradoxically, for feminist historians.

    The first problem, obviously, is that of sources. It's normally much harder to see and assess indirectly wielded power than direct power, because it leaves fewer traces in the records. Two years ago, Margaret McCarthy was raising an important point about how we could assess the influence of a (male) royal advisor (Hincmar of Rheims).If a king did something of which Hincmar approved, was that because of Hincmar's influence, because of someone else's influence,or because it was the most sensible course of action anyhow? On most occasions, we'll only know about indirect power when narrative sources mention it, and such sources are particularly problematic for female indirect power,given both their bias and the possibility of references to women's influence being symbolic (see the classic article: Kate Cooper, "Insinuations of Womanly Influence: An Aspect of the Christianization of the Roman Aristocracy", The Journal of Roman Studies, 82 (1992), 150-164).

    One of the most promising sources for such indirect power brings us back to Marie Kelleher's point about the importance of legal sources. These can sometimes make clear the strategies that women use to exercise such indirect power: we can hope to see what women want and the extent to which they get it. I'm still quite pleased with the first article I ever got published: "'Bound from Either Side': The Limits of Power in Carolingian Marriage Disputes, 840-870", Gender & History, 19 (2007), 467-482,which does attempt (in an undertheorised way) to do this with the very limited information we have from Carolingian "court records".

    But I think there's a deeper problem about indirect power than this and that's feminist discomfort about the methods used to obtain such indirect power. And here we touch on the difference between (politically) powerful men with no official position and (politically) powerful women who wield indirect power. Powerful men with no official position tend to be either the ťminence grise with exceptional political skills or men with charismatic authority (whether it's Benedict of Aniane or Rasputin).

    In contrast, although there are a very few women who wield charismatic authority at premodern courts and centres of power (a few saints and some exceptional intellectuals), most women who wield indirect power are those with exceptionally intimate ties to rulers or other politically powerful men: wives, mothers, daughters and mistresses (there don't seem to be many sisters, which is odd). And the main methods used by them to exercise such indirect power/influence are wheedling, nagging, the giving and withholding of sexual favours and the bearing of sons.

    In other words, women's gaining indirect power has traditionally involved both female manipulation of men and the reduction of their own selves to desirable and/or fruitful bodies. Substantial indirect political power is available in this way only to a small number of women who have such intimate connections to powerful men (female social climbers almost invariably have to go via the bedchamber, male social climbers have more options), although indirect power over a man and his dependents is potentially available to any woman intimate with him.

    The problem is that gaining such indirect power normally comes at the price of substantial emotional harm both to women themselves and to male/female relationships more generally; indirect female power tends intrinsically towards the deceitful, if not actively toxic. In addition, anti-feminists have often claimed that such methods of power make women more powerful than men or that women don't need formal rights because of their informal power. It's difficult as a historian to talk about such possibilities of informal power without being seen as anti-feminist.

    One additional important point is that in some particularly oppressive patriarchal societies, exceptional women may be able to gain unusually large amounts of indirect power by these indirect methods, more so even than typical queens (who are largely chosen for their dynastic connections). For example, the role of chief wife in a polygamous society or chief mistress in a monogamous one will usually be filled by a woman with particular beauty, exceptional force of character, and who has often been trained in forms of manipulation.

    I think such intimate forms of indirect power don't fit easily into existing frameworks of social power (although I need to read more of both Weber and Michael Mann), but scholars of medieval women and power do need to think more about them. This may be why lifecycle comes in so frequently to our discussions: it allows us to talk about the "power" of women's bodies in more acceptable terms. We may need to go further, setting aside our qualms about such forms of intimate power in order to explore exactly how they were used over the centuries and their successes and failures as compared to more "lordly" forms of power held by medieval women.

  • Kalamazoo 2014 report 2: monks and violence

    My second day at Kalamazoo involved me mainly attending sessions on monks and on violence (and in some cases on violent monks). The number of interesting sessions on monks reflects both the commitment by American religious orders to supporting scholarship and a strong US network of secular researchers on early medieval monasticism, embodied in Albrecht Diemís Network for the Study of Late Antique and Early Medieval Monasticism. But the first session I went to, Panel 207 on Monastic Ways of Life for Women, also revealed some of the tensions between the two approaches: one of the distinguished Benedictine scholars there proved not to be well up on the latest research on his source and gave an embarrassingly weak paper. The two other papers, however, provided an interesting contrast between what you might call the internal and external approaches to monastic texts. First of all, we had Colleen Maura McGrane talking about Caesaria the Younger of Arlesí dicta on abbesses. These comments survive only in c. 21 of Benedict of Anianeís Concordia regularium from several hundred years later. They all revolve around meditatio, the memorising and continually repeating of Biblical texts. Sister Colleen was arguing that though Caesaria was drawing on the work of both her uncle Caesarius of Arles and John Cassian, she also had her own distinctive "meditative pedagogy".

    This was a neat demonstration of finding a womanís own words embedded within male discussions, but I also got an interesting sense of how "meditative pedagogy" still made sense in a personal, as well as a scholarly way, to Sister Colleen. Meditatio came across as a familiar practice to her, unlike most of the rest of us, and it was a useful reminder that such routines mattered to those who thought about them in the Middle Ages. It was part of religious womenís job/role/vocation to work with Biblical sayings in this way and to affect themselves psychologically by doing so.

    The paper that followed was by Marie Schilling Grogan from St Josephís University, talking about the Book of Nunnaminster, a ninth-century Anglo-Latin collection of prayers. This was in female ownership and possibly written by a woman; Marie saw this not as a service book, but one that was nevertheless intended for liturgical performance, in some sense. She argued that the overall theme of the collection was the Body of Christ, and that the aim was that the individual reader should imaginatively read herself into her correct place in the cosmos, via an emotional engagement with the text. In particular, Marie highlighted a sub-group of prayers which seems to be connected to ritual anointing, with parallels to elaborate lists of body parts to be anointed in Anglo-Saxon liturgical texts. Again, I got a sense of the possibilities of monastic reading as active; Sister Colleen in the discussions afterwards talked of liturgy and lectio as a Ďseamless garmentí, and meditatio as a way of praying: she compared it to modern ideas of mindfulness meditation.

    After lunch, I abandoned monks temporarily and went off to hear some of the big names of American medievalism: specifically, Session 243, with Dyan Elliott, Paul Freedman and Peggy McCracken on "Violence and Vulnerability". First up was Dyan Elliott talking about what she called "negative translation": the violence inflicted on corpses as part of damnatio memoriae. She discussed how the urge to punish the dead gradually developed within the church; while the Council of Constantinople in 394 stated that the dead should not be excommunicated, since they were not present to receive their sentence, by the time of the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 553, the participants were looking for sources to justify the condemnation of heretics after death, and by 897, we have the notorious Cadaver Council. The Gregorian reforms encouraged such negative translations, with the bodies of simoniac priests being dug up and burned. Most gruesome of all, buriers of heretics could be excommunicated and then only absolved if they publically dug up the corpses with their own hands. Yet despite all this gruesome symbolism, Dyan concluded that negative translation could fail completely in its effect. There was public hostility to exhuming heretics and Formosusí post-mortem martyrdom helped preserve his memory in a way that ignoring his grave would not have done.

    Itís not often where you have a conference session including more grisly stories than the Cadaver Council, but this one managed it. Next up was Paul Freedman, talking about the execution in 1514 of the Hungarian peasant leader Gregory (Georghe) Doja, which included a symbolic vocabulary of horrors to mock peasant pretences to rule. This included putting a red-hot crown of iron on his head; Paul also talked about the "ludic" aspects of his torture, such as Dojaís followers being made to dance around him, with trumpets and bagpipes playing. Although Dojaís torments werenít particularly new, the terror and pity aroused by this specific execution led to him becoming a hero in modern Hungary. Once again, symbolic violence might fail in its effects.

    The final paper had Peggy McCracken talking about Adam and Eve and the animals, looking at Adamís dominion over animals (as recorded in the account of creation in Genesis). This isnít explicitly ended by the Fall; after the Flood, God tells Noah (Genesis 9) that the animals will fear and dread man and Noah and his sons may consume their meat. Peggy then went on to look at how later texts discussed human-animal enmity, using both various version of a Greek apocryphal life of Adam and Eve, original written in the fifth century and vernacular moralised bibles. The apocryphal life of Adam and Eve shows them losing peaceful dominion only some time after their expulsion from Eden. At the end of Adamís life, the animals rebel, symbolised by a venomous snake attacking Seth when he and Eve are seeking oil of mercy from the Angel of Paradise to cure Adamís pain. When Eve reproaches the snake for this rebellion, the snake chides her for her sin.

    In contrast, the moralised Bibles understand the animal-human war as beginning with the Fall, whereas before Adamís dominion had been peaceful and animals and man had both eaten only herbs and fruit. They depict the "garments of skin" mentioned in some versions of the story as fur tunics with the animal heads still attached, implying that Adam and Eve has hunted and killed them. But according to these texts, although Adam lost his dominion over large and small animals as a result of the Fall, he kept it over medium-size animals, as a comfort to him: thus although man did not control deer or flies, he did control some domesticated animals. Peggy was pointing out how the existence of power relations even in Paradise was used to justify medieval hierarchies. Animals participated in the definition of the sovereign order of nature, and these structures of sovereignty over them were enacted via violence. But as with other subordinate groups, animals could contest this dominance: the violence of the Middle Ages (both actual and symbolic) wasnít all one way.

    After this quick tour of millennia of violence, I went off to hear Session 311, one of several sessions on late antique and early medieval monasticism organised by Albrecht Diem. This session had the intriguing title of "Monks going wild", and started off with Paul Brazinski from Catholic University of America talking about Constans IIís punishment of Maximus the Confessor, after the Lateran Council of 649. Paul was arguing that some of the details of Maximusí exile and mutilation (such as him being placed in a cell of a military jail, separate from his companions and later having his hand and tongue amputated) were intended to recall Basil of Caesareaís monastic rule. Maximus was being symbolically treated as a rebellious monk or unruly abbot, someone who required the "monastic" discipline first of solitary confinement and then of being "cut off". Because there were four papers in the session, we didnít really have time to discuss Paulís, but it might have been interesting to put this into a wider discussion of whether the seventh century was a particularly dangerous time to be a religious leader (given itís also at the same time that Merovingian bishops were getting murdered).

    The next of the four papers was by Ekaterini Mitsiou from the National Hellenic Research Foundation, on the topic of "A criminological approach to early monastic life". Ekaterini was pointing out that monasteries both contained people who were former criminals and was an enclosed society in which crimes might also be committed. She was then trying to draw parallels between criminology and monastic theology as ways of studying and thinking about crimes. Discourses which in the nineteenth century became part of a new discipline of criminology had previously been part of theology (and medicine). Unfortunately, Ekaterini didnít really have time to develop this interesting contrast: maybe as well as Foucaultís techniques of the self, we need more long-term studies of "techniques of producing self-control in others".

    After this, John Henry Clay from Durham spoke on "The taming of the Jura wilderness, 435-513", looking at the late antique monasteries founded by Romanus in around 435 on the French/Swiss border and the subsequent history of the abbots there, as recounted in The Lives of the Jura Fathers written in 520. John was discussing the relation of the monastery to that of Lerins, one of the most significant monasteries in Gaul at the time. Romanus had been trained by a bishop who himself had been trained at Lerins, but John argued that the Jura monasteries werenít either a reaction to Lerins or a part of it, but instead an attempt to create an Eastern-style monastic life in the West. In particular, although Lerins was a "nursery of bishops", the Jura fathers appear to have been very reluctant to be priested themselves, to have priests in the community, or to associate with bishops. They didnít have the "public service ethos" that Lerins had to help reform the wider church.

    I was particularly interested by the reference to one of the Jura abbots, Eugendus, who supposedly never left the monastery from the age of seven. I need to follow up on the reference to that, because itís very relevant to the debate on strict active enclosure for women religious. Could a man who voluntarily accepted such restrictions nevertheless run an abbey effectively? If so, that may tell us something about the problems (or lack of them) that women may have had.

    The final paper in that session (and thus the final one of the day) was Albrecht Diem discussing Hildemar of Corbie on sodomy. This paper came out of Albrechtís wonderful Hildemar Project, translating and analysing Hincmarís commentary on the Benedictine Rule. Albrecht was arguing for Hildemar as having "a slight obsession with sodomy", and references appear in a number of different chapters of his. Yet his discussions of it arenít all in the same tone. At one level, itís a serious problem to be dealt with by ascetic techniques derived from Cassian and others. On the other hand, Hildemar can also treat the topic casually, and even partly for shock value in teaching his novices, e.g. by saying in the chapter on manual work that idleness leads to sodomy.

    A lot of Albrechtís work has charted a shift in methods for ensuring monastic purity, away from an earlier emphasis on psychological techniques (exemplified by Cassian) towards disciplinary techniques, such as the seventh century development of the common dormitory. Hildemarís interesting because he combines aspects of the older tradition as well: he cites late antique sources on the unceasing battle for chastity, as well as talking about disciplinary techniques. But Albrecht also had a sense that although Hincmar regarded sodomy as a serious nuisance, it wasnít an imminent threat to monasticism. And as he pointed out, the reform councils and monastic hagiography donít focus on sexual pollution.

    So does Hincmarís work suggest that there is a "hidden discourse" on sodomy in the Carolingian period? Some scholars have argued for this, but Iíve been sceptical. I think Hildemar is more evidence for such a discourse than I previously realised (though Albrecht in later discussions said there was very little mention of bodies at all in Smaragdusí commentary on the Benedictine rule), so the question remains of how much this is a shared discourse and how much this is just Hildemar. Albrecht also suggested that there was a monastic esprit de corps that meant problems tended to be dealt with internally and concealed from outsiders, but it seems unlikely that if it was a major problem that it never got mentioned anywhere. Albrecht pointed out that Gottschalk, for example, never got accused of sodomy, despite writing a (possibly) same-sex erotic poem and being immensely controversial for other reasons. I added in discussions that nobody in the Carolingian period ever got accused of (homosexual) sodomy; there are no specific allegations against anyone, and none of the visitors to hell in dreams even meet "sodomites" there. I still think that John Boswell had a point about the Carolingian period not being that worried about homosexuality. Given my last post, Iím almost tempted to draw analogies to Frankish societyís attitude to wolves: a problem, but not the biggest one around. As ever, our view of the world is not necessarily the one that early medieval people shared.

  • Kalamazoo 2014 report 1: Iíve got a conference in Kalamazoo

    I have now taken part in my first ever International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo, although I skipped the full experience by staying in a hotel, not the dorms. I enjoyed it a lot, meeting a number of new people as well as many familiar faces: particular thanks go to Danica Summerlin, Val Garver, Kimberley Jack and Jenny Davies, all of whom provided support and/or transport at key moments. Although the Zoo is rather lighter on early medieval history than the Leeds International Medieval Congress and some of the sessions were fairly loosely connected together, I still heard a lot of interesting papers, so Iíll get right into discussing them.

    I started off literally at the beginning with Panel 1 on Aspirations Unmet and Exceeded: Failure and its Fruits in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. This had lost one paper of its three, but two very different and interesting papers remained. One was Mary Ellen Rowe from Central Missouri talking about the life and especially the afterlife of Widukind, the Saxon opponent of Charlemagne. She was arguing for a reciprocal effect of Charlemagne and Widukind on each other: Charlemagne defined as victorious Christian hero against Widukind and Widukind reacting by the creation of militant paganism (or at least unifying defence of pagan practices). She was also suggesting the possibility that the Viking raids of the late eighth century may have been a broadening out of resistance to Charlemagne from Widukindís initial impetus, since he had Danish connections.

    Widukind remained a surprisingly popular figure for centuries after his defeat Ė Mary Ellen traced this as far as the Niedersachsenlied, a pre-World War II German song still being sung today. Widukind could be remembered in many different ways and his failure could be worked around. To those who celebrated a pagan Widukind, the tendency is to focus on his heroism against overwhelming force, (Mary Ellen paralleled this to the US Confederacy). To those who want to stress his Christianity, in contrast, he is a shining example of someone who finally saw the light and thus became an even greater hero.

    Mary Ellen was taking a traditional close analysis approach to her early medieval history. In contrast, Martin Reznick from New York was combining traditional history of late Roman Egypt with some very interesting ideas from political science and game theory. He was looking at why people used the Roman legal system, with all its corruption and inefficiency rather than alternative methods of dealing with disputes and taking as a specific example an unfortunate landowner called Aurelius Isidoros, who had his grain burnt while it was on the threshing floor in Karanis around 298 AD. Isidoros submitted several petitions to various officials in Egypt: why did he do so when the chances of getting a satisfactory judgement and being able to enforce it were so low?

    Martin discussed the initial crime as the sign of a failure by Aurelius Isidoros: the arson would have been very hard to carry out without someone seeing it, which meant the perpetrator must have counted on local sympathy for him. Indeed in one of the later petitions, Isidoros states the name of the perpetrator, with whom he had a long and complex history of problems. Martinís argument was that using formal legal systems was a strategic move, a difficult, dangerous and complex gesture by Isidoros intended to get local people on his side, by implicitly proclaiming that he did not deserve such treatment, i.e. that the arson, probably a revenge attack, had gone too far. If he was able to get local support in this way, he could then abandon the formal legal procedure and revert to self-help methods. Martin mentioned a second century edict that seemed to be trying to prevent people abandoning cases partway through in this way.

    I found Martinís paper particularly interesting both because I and some other early medievalists have been playing around with game theory and because last year I heard (although I still havenít blogged about) Tom Lambert arguing for self-help and legal systems as operating in largely separate spheres for Anglo-Saxon England. While Martinís work doesnít necessarily invalidate Tomís ideas (which are more about what kings thought they ought to be legislating about) they do suggest that even a crappy and unjust legal system may get used quite a lot (and Martin was quite clear that the Roman legal system was crappy and unjust).

    As well as this specific early medieval connection, Martinís work was also very interesting for its methodology. The problem with game theory for early medieval history is that you can only guess at the pay-off matrix. What Martin was arguing was that you could nevertheless use game theory to look at the Ďblack boxí of self-help and see what strategies are plausible, given the tactics of the other player. In other words, he was rejecting the previous suggestions in the literature that people turn to the law either because theyíre desperate or theyíre ill-informed about their chances. Itís more likely that there were ways litigants could make the system work in their favour to some extent, and anyone who works on dispute settlement should probably start thinking in more detail about how people might be able to game things to get what they want.

    After that very interesting start, I stayed with early medieval stuff and had the slightly odd experience of having flown thousands of miles to hear a predominantly English panel. The first session organised by Early Medieval Europe journal (Session 45) had two out of three English panellists. The one US participant was Amy Bosworth from Muskingum, talking about Carolingian attitudes to wolves. As expected, these didnít get a good press, whether itís as ravening baby-snatchers or as comparisons with people who are even worse than wolves. But Amy ended by pointing out that actually wolves donít get mentioned that much by the sources, compared to natural disasters so Carolingians may have not worried that much about them. This prompted a comment by someone (Iím afraid I canít remember whom, but I think a Canadian) that maybe wolves then were regarded much as Ďweí thought of racoons and bears nowadays, as nuisances with whom we just had to get along. It was at that blithe acceptance of living alongside bears that I truly appreciated that I was not in the Golden Triangle anymore.

    The English contingent of the panel were Sarah Hamilton talking about cursing (although with surprisingly few curses, which had to be cut for length) and Fraser McNair from Cambridge on tenth-century Flanders. Sarah, as usual, was demonstrating why looking at the tenth-century and liturgical sources (neither of which are terribly mainstream) is worthwhile. While thereís a new interest in tenth-century bishops in the wake of Tim Reuterís ideas of the period as ďa Europe of bishopsĒ, the emphasis has been on their more secular roles. Sarah was pointing out that there was a new type of liturgical book developed at this point, the pontifical, which was intended for material specifically needed by a bishop.

    Iíve heard Sarah talking about excommunication before and in some ways this was a shorter version of some of those themes: the flexibility of the texts (once memorably described by Conrad Leyser as ďjazz cursesĒ) and their use in negotiations. But this time she was also making the point that a lot of the formulae look very specific and some seem to refer to particular property disputes. In the light of Martin Reznickís paper, rather than treating excommunication as just a liturgical Ďblack boxí (offence goes in one end, ritual condemnation comes out the other), we probably ought to be thinking more seriously about how the staging and the sequences of the stages might be intended successively to mobilise local support, especially when Sarah showed how much detail we can see about the sentence of excommunication being publicised.

    Fraserís paper also intersected in my mind with some of the issues Iíd heard earlier about game theory. In the teeth of the methodological problem that there are far too many people called Arnulf in late tenth-century Flanders, Fraser was trying to sort out the political events of the succession to Arnulf the Great of Flanders, who died in 966. In 965, Arnulf, who was worried about the fact that his successor was his grandson Arnulf II, then aged seven, gave his county to Lothar, king of France. When Arnulf died, Lothar annexed southern Flanders: Fraser was arguing, contrary to some previous scholars, that this wasnít an agreed part of the deal, and that Lothar also managed to install the regent of his choice in the rest of Flanders.

    What I (as someone who knows sod-all about tenth-century Flanders) took away from this was a reminder that tenth-century Carolingian kings werenít just negligible: Lothar seems to have managed to play quite a successful game both here and during some other minorities. But Fraserís paper also raised a wider point. As he stated, Arnulf the Great had been both very aggressive and very successful in his early career (including being behind two of the more shocking murders of the period: Archbishop Fulk of Rheims and William Longsword). But these tactics meant he didnít have many allies when things got difficult in the 950s. (I asked about marriages, and Arnulf seems to have had bad luck on timing of these, with one in-law dying and his holdings getting split seven ways and another marriage being too late to provide support).

    In other words, tactics for princes/magnates arenít one size fits-all and what works at one point might not be so good a decade later. This may be an obvious point, but itís one thatís easy to forget: a game-theoretic approach isnít a complete solution, but trying to think more systematically about what other options were realistically available may sharpen our political analysis.

    For the next timeslot there were several panels solely on early medieval Europe, so I went off to one organised by the Haskins Society (Session 107) on periodisation and organising concepts. We started off with Bonnie Effros from Florida talking about nineteenth-century archaeological study of the Merovingians (on which sheís recently written a book: Uncovering the Germanic Past: Merovingian Archaeology in France, 1830-1914). The book focuses on the impact of Merovingian graves on debates about French ethnic origins. In this paper, by contrast, Bonnie was talking about views on paganism and Christianity. She identified the development and persistence of a fixed view that the presence of grave goods indicated ďpagansĒ, a view particularly promulgated by Abbe Cochet, one of the founders of Merovingian archaeology. Bonnie suggested that this may also have affected how skeletal remains were handled (without much respect or interest) and speculated if they might have been treated with more care if they had been felt to belong to ďfellow ChristiansĒ.

    The second paper in the session was by Laura Wangerin from Wisconsin-Madison, asking why the Empress Theophanu wasnít made a saint, when the other Ottonian queens were, when she was carrying out the same kinds of activities as them. Laura was arguing that Henry II, who succeeded Theophanuís son Otto III wasnít interested in maintaining Ottonian culture, which had stressed the royal dynasty as intercessors between heaven and earth. In addition, Theophanu, as an outsider, was a handy scapegoat for opponents of her male relatives: Laura pointed out how some manuscripts record her name in Greek characters whenever sheís mentioned, just to emphasise her alien nature.

    The last paper in the session was the one that I particularly wanted to hear: Val Garver from Northern Illinois, asking the question ďDid Children Have an Early Middle Ages?Ē Iím very interested in questions of non-traditional periodisation at the moment and Val made some important points while demonstrating just how hard such matters can be. Her overall answer to whether there was something distinctive about the early Middle Ages for children from other periods, was ďit dependsĒ. One key point was about class: while itís easy to think about oblation, for example, as being a distinctive experience for early medieval children, this was only experienced by a relatively small proportion of children from elite families. In contrast, Val was arguing for the frequency of death and disease in young children as cutting across periods (and classes). Having read Robin Fleming on bones for historians I was thinking of the period before the twelfth century as distinctive for its incredibly high mortality, but in fact it may be thatís what unusual about the early Middle Ages is high mortality for relatively young adults of all classes, with a divergence between the rich and the poor in adult life expectancy from the high Middle Ages. But this might still fit with under-five mortality only reducing for any class much later. Val was also suggesting that the lived experience of children was much the same between late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. I asked in the questions about infanticide and Val thought that shorter periodisations were more relevant here, though she didnít have time to go into details; she also pointed out that there are a lot of problems with measuring infanticide.

    It was useful to be reminded that periodisation depends crucially on what class youíre looking at and how much continuity there can be for subordinate groups (such as children). Periodisation for this kind of social history isnít easy, but I think weíre still stuck with the problem that we need some version of it if weíre going to talk about change at all. As Iím trying to think about periodisation for patriarchy and womenís history, Iím increasingly coming to think that the key pivots may be very general changes, such as the Christianisation of the Roman empire or the development of legal systems, rather than more specific political or social moments. Valís paper offers some pointers for how I might think about that problem at several different levels.

    Since Kalamazoo has rather fewer sessions than Leeds, but a lot more new people to meet, that was the last session I attended on the first day, but I did also go to the early medievalistsí dinner, ably organised by Deborah Deliyannis. All in all, it was a good introduction to the ĎZoo and its delights.

    Update: a couple of minor corrections from Fraser on his paper: Arnulf the Great committed his lands to Lothar in 962 and died in 965 and it was at his father's orders that Fulk of Rheims was killed.

  • Global academics and historians du terroir

    It was nine years ago last week that I first started this blog, so to celebrate here's a post about one of the themes that most inspired me at when I started: the interaction of the academic world with family life. This particular post has been lurking in my mind for months, as I have, for the first time in my career, attended a number of overseas conferences. In particular, it's inspired by two conferences I went to last summer/autumn.

    The first was in ZŁrich, on the theme of The Gender of Authority: Celibate and Childless Men in Power, Ruling Bishops and Ruling Eunuchs, 400-1800. I'll say at once that this was a fascinating conference and I learnt a lot from it. But it did bring into particularly sharp relief for me the extent to which academic life is becoming globalised at all levels. I was one of the minority of participants who wasn't employed outside their country of birth. And other than because the organisers were based there, there was little connection between ZŁrich and the conference or theme. Reflecting this, in an officially trilingual country, the language of the conference throughout was English.

    What also became clear, listening to other historians at conferences and elsewhere is that while the global academic life may offer new opportunities to people, it can be tough on personal life. The ideal global academic has no permanent ties: he or she can relocate anywhere in the world for a few years or even just six months at short notice. Family and friends can be left behind briefly or permanently if a fellowship or a job is on offer.

    What I'm also coming to realise is that the stresses that result are less and less a matter of biological sex, sexuality or marital state. Gay men can find it just as hard not seeing their partners/husbands regularly for three years because their job is in a different country. If your elderly parents are in the UK and you are in the US, how do you ensure they're OK? Unmentioned but lurking in the background, are wider ties: to particular churches, voluntary groups, political parties. And how can you act locally when you have few long-lasting local commitments anymore?

    This globalisation is no longer for a few academic superstars: it's for would-be academics at all levels. In a recent discussion of postdoctoral careers in The Guardian, someone made the entirely unironic claim: 'people come with lives and commitments, but they have to understand what those mean for their job prospects'. Other contributors talked of moving halfway across the world for a short-term contract: one had just enough money to go back for his father's funeral.

    Despite all the talk of globalization in the job market more generally, I can't think of many other careers where such mobility (repeated moving between countries) is expected of relatively junior staff. There are examples in transnational companies, international organisations and the armed services, but they tend to have support systems in place for staff working overseas and their families. What seems distinctive to academia is the lack of any such support systems as globalization has increased.

    But beyond these important practicalities, I want to ask what such a career pattern does to the outlook of those researching history. In a modern career world where deep connections to people and places are a positive disadvantage, how do we imaginatively understand past worlds where kin and location were vital parts of people's existence? Are we creating an academic world which restricts more and more researchers from sharing common lived experience? Where having lives and commitments really is a major problem for anyone who wants to stay in academia?

    I'd better say at this point that I'm not arguing for a purely insular attitude to academic life. Many of us carry out research on a country/area that isn't where we 'come from'. And some of the most important contributions to historical research and the academy have come from outsiders: you only have to think of the profound influence on British universities made by German-Jewish historians escaping from the Nazis. But I think we are danger of loss as historians if we do become purely global academics. Some of us, I think, do need to remain as historians du terroir, deeply rooted in a particular locality and its traditions and connecting those into wider historical networks.

    I felt something of that connection at the second conference I went to last summer: one entitled ĄGott handhaben Ė Le Dieu Maniable Ė Managing Godď. ReligiŲses Wissen im Konflikt um Mythisierung und Rationalisierung, held in Reims. As the title implies, this was a trilingual conference, organised jointly by a German and French university and held in a location (Reims), which is a symbol both of European conflict in World War I and of subsequent Franco-German reconciliation. The conference was a matter of local pride and we were invited to a reception by the mayor of Reims, involving a certain amount of speechifying and a lot of champagne. The careers of the conference delegates I talked to seemed to me to have far more of a 'local' feel to them than in ZŁrich: there was some movement required for career advancement, but it was less frequent and smaller-scale. And the research itself seemed more locally-rooted, partly because a number of papers were talking about grassroots religion, which is very much a matter of regional divides in premodern Europe. Even though I struggled more with the languages at this conference, I did end up feeling rather more at home here than in the new global world of global history. I don't want to say that there's only one way of doing history or being a historian. But I think we do need to start asking quite seriously how we can ensure that historians keep both personal and professional connections to places and people as the job market alters.

  • Hincmar and the 'Dark Ages'

    I've written nothing on this blog for months because I've been busy with several different projects. One is a long paper on 'canon law' which I gave at the Cambridge Late Antiquity Network Seminar in February and which I hope to put online soon. The second is an ongoing project to edit a book on Hincmar based on the Leeds IMC sessions given in 2012. I'm also off to the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo for the first time in May (talking about the Charlemagne charter project) and the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women (talking about Hincmar's problems with a dodgy nun), so blogging will remain light for the foreseeable future. But here are a few impressions from spending months reading and thinking about the world Hincmar lived and worked in.

    The vision we get of Hincmar's society is one particularly far from the 'Dark Ages' view of early medieval Europe. For a start, we have lots of documentation by him, and we know that we've lost far more of it. Heinrich SchrŲrs did a register of Hincmar's letters and tracts that runs to 572 items and some of those are book length, like De divortio. A large amount of Hincmar's time and effort was taken up with administrating his archdiocese and Martina Stratmann, Hinkmar von Reims als Verwalter von Bistum und Kirchenprovinz, Quellen und Forschungen zum Recht im Mittelalter, 6 (Thorbecke, 1991) shows the relative sophistication of this, with a lot of written reports being created, even if almost none of them survive.

    Meanwhile, the Annals of St-Bertin, which Hincmar took over writing after Prudentius of Troyes died (allowing him to make scathing comments about Prudentius, who was one of his enemies) also shows us a world far from heroic barbarian fantasies. There are reports about thuggish Viking bands, but they're led by politicised leaders with whom you can negotiate and whom you may be able to turn against your enemies. And there's also a vast amount of political and religious conflict being carried on by non-violent means, with a constant stream of envoys, negotiations and arguments as differing Carolingian rulers try to get an advantage over their relatives while not losing their own throne.

    We also get hints about just how rich and well-organised West Francia is in the ninth century (unlike the 'wild east' of Germany). For example, in 877, Hincmar reports the details of how the Vikings in the Loire were bought off:

    He [Charles the Bald] also made arrangements for how the tribute should be levied from thatpart of the realm of Francia which he held before Lotharís death, and also from Burgundy: from every manse in demesne one solidus; from every free manse 4 denarii from the lordís rent and 4 denarii from the tenantís assets; from every unfree manse 2 denarii from the lordís rent and 2 denarii from the tenantís assets; and every bishop to receive from
    each priest in his diocese, according to what each could afford, between 5 solidi maximum and 4 denarii minimum, and to hand this over to special missi dominici. Amounts were also taken from the treasuries of the churches in proportion to the quantity held in each place, to pay off this tribute. The total amount of tribute raised was 5,000 lb according to weight.

    Translation by Janet L. Nelson, the Annals of St-Bertin (MUP, 1991)

    That's the kind of administration at a kingdom-wide level that gets Anglo-Saxonists rapturous about the late Anglo-Saxon state, and it's actually happening: Charles gets the money (and presumably so do the Vikings). It also suggests a fairly thoroughly monetised society (and incidentally implies a wide variation in the wealth of parish priests or possibly the rapacity of local bishops).

    Hincmar can also seem relatively 'modern' because he doesn't spend a lot of time discussing the supernatural (except in the Vita Remigii). Or at least he combines a belief in God's providence with a lot of pragmatism about how politics is actually done. Hincmar moralises, of course, as all Carolingian authors do, but it's less overwhelming than in an author like Alcuin. This may be partly because Hincmar doesn't do pastoral care: he largely writes to magnates about the state of Rheims' property, not their immortal souls. That is unless the magnates are illegally trying to hold onto Rheims' property, which obviously endangers their immortal souls.

    The question becomes then, what separates this world from that of later in the Middle Ages or even the early modern period? What makes even late ninth-century Rheims a less sophisticated world than that of the twelfth century? There's an obvious difference in the size of the economy in the High Middle Ages, which allows more specialisation and larger pools of people (towns, craftspeople, enough scholars to set up universities etc) but there also seem to me changes in administration and infrastructure that make a difference to what a man like Hincmar could do in the ninth century as opposed to a hypothetical time-travelled twelfth-century or fifteenth-century Hincmar. (Let's not go into what he could do with modern technology).

    One key factor is just how difficult communications were: in particular the lack of reliable communications with Italy. At one point (reported in the Annals of St-Bertin for 867) Hincmar resorts to sending letters via messengers disguised as pilgrims, because they can't get through otherwise. And false rumours seem a particular problem: you wonder sometimes if anyone had any clear current idea of what was happening to other Carolingian rulers. Regular courier services (even with only horse or foot travel) make a lot of difference to effective communications.

    A second problem is finding authentic texts. Simon Corcoran, in the forthcoming Hincmar book, will discuss how limited a selection of Roman law Hincmar had access to. I'd also argue that the ninth century's deserved reputation as a great age of forgery was possible precisely because of a lack of multiple copies of standard texts. In the twelfth century, I think it would have been trickier to produce a large cache of early papal decretals and get them somewhat accepted. But I'd be interested to hear from later medievalists about any really spectacularly large forgeries from the period.

    Thirdly, this is an age without legal systems. The numerous disputes that Hincmar has are settled with by a variety of ad hoc methods, without there being much in the way of standardised legal procedure or a court system. I think this explains some of the interminable nature of Hincmar's disputes: it was almost never possible to exhaust appeals. In particular, the willingness of popes to reopen cases that their predecessors had settled meant that any loser could always wait till the next pope came along in a decade's time and try their luck again. Hincmar would doubtless have made a good lawyer, but he also doesn't argue with texts in the same way that a lawyer does.

    Finally, it's interesting to realise just how little coercive force it was possible to exert on the Frankish elite, whether it was kings, popes or bishops attempting to exert it. The popes, of course, had the twin problems of no divisions and acting at a distance across the Alps. But bishops didn't have much luck controlling their clerics and controlling magnates was probably harder than in later periods. One of the key difficulties for enforcing order in the second half of the ninth century was the existence of multiple Frankish kingdoms. If you were out of favour with one king (or excommunicated by one bishop) you could move elsewhere. The mobility of elites before the existence of territorial lordships is striking.

    All this adds up to both a weaker state and a weaker church than in the twelfth century. Hincmar, in that sense, was born too soon, endeavouring to impose order and fight politically in a world that lacked some important tools that would have helped him. What was lacking in the Carolingian world in contrast to later, it seem to me, isn't so much major conceptual leaps, apart from the development of legal systems. Instead it's minor practical changes that cumulatively gave later elites more control over the world they were endeavouring to order to their own satisfaction.


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