The Heroic Age – A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe, Issue 12 (May 2009).
Abstract: This article discusses and reviews the following books:
- Brown, W. 2001. Unjust Seizure: Conflict, Interest, and Authority in Early Medieval Society. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
- Hummer, H. J. 2005. Politics and Power in Early Medieval Europe: Alsace and the Frankish Realm, 600–1000. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Innes, M. 2000. State and Society in the Early Middle Ages: The Middle Rhine Valley, 400–1100. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Pearson, K. L. R. 1999. Conflicting Loyalties in Early Medieval Bavaria: A View of Socio-Political Interaction, c. 680–900. Aldershot: Ashgate.
§1. A full decade has passed since the appearance of New Cambridge History, volume 2, which concerns the Carolingian world and its neighboring civilizations (McKitterick 1995). That collection served as a synthesis of the state of the question in different aspects of the field and as a point of departure for more recent studies. It gave digests of the developments in different regions of the Carolingian Empire—the West, the Middle and East, and the Fines Imperii—as well as on different aspects of the life, thought, religion, and culture of the era (Fouracre 1995, 85–109; Nelson 1995, 110–141; Fried 1995, 142–168; Smith 1995, 169–189). The volume also includes sections on kingship and the aristocracy, which help to deepen our understanding of how power and politics worked in the Carolingian period (Nelson 1995, 383–430; Airlie 1995, 431–450;MacLean 2003). Even while the contributors to that volume did their work, new investigations into the regional histories of the Carolingian world were underway. It is time to see where this new body of scholarship has taken the field.
§2. The idea of studying regions in order to construct a solid understanding of the medieval past has a long history traceable back to at least Georges Duby (1971). Likewise, there exists the distinguished Landesgeschichte tradition in German scholarship. Scholarship along these lines has yielded much profit in terms of seeing history from the point of view of the hedgehog rather than the fox. If it may be considered one region rather than several, Carolingian Italy has benefited from similar attention in Giuseppe Albertoni’s recent survey, L’Italia carolingia (Albertoni 1997;Hlawitschka 1960). Other portions of the West Frankish realms have of course been studied in previous decades. Dating to the 1930s, Leonce Auzias’s unfinished and posthumously published L’Aquitaine carolingienne laid the foundations for later understandings of Aquitaine’s early medieval political history vis-à-vis supposed particularism (Auzias 1937; Lewis 1965, 51; Rouche 1979, 114–32; Lauranson-Rosaz 1998, 411–12). Aquitaine’s earlier history has benefited from the large and thorough tome of Michel Rouche, who took the approach of a regional thèse and constructed a more comprehensive regional history that delves into social and economic concerns as well as political. Other regions of the south, which coincidentally became principalities functionally independent of the kings north of the Loire, have been the subjects of scholarship for a long time. Catalonia in the Early Middle Ages was the subject of the fundamental studies by Ramon d’Abadal, who wrote during Franco’s harshly nationalist regime in Spain, and Josep Salrach, whose survey of Catalonia’s Carolingian history appeared shortly after the dictator’s death (d’Abadal 1974; d’Abadal 1958; Salrach 1978). Both employ rigorous scholarship but cannot completely escape the interests of Catalan nationalism. Michel Zimmermann and Martin Aurell, French scholars who have trained their attention south of the Pyrenees, have produced useful works on the internal workings of politics, aristocratic society, and culture in Catalonia (Zimmermann 2003; Zimmermann 1983, 5–40; Aurell 1998, 467–481; Aurell 1995). The regional studies of the 1990s and early 2000s, however, diverge from this legacy (Hummer 2005; Kosto 2001). In this they resemble the work of Elisabeth Magnou-Nortier who, although entering the Early Middle Ages from an interest in Gregorian reform, offered an overview of the Languedocian lay aristocracy its interactions with monasteries, as well as ecclesiastical connections to Rome (Magnou-Nortier 1974). Rather than focusing so intensely on the specific that they neglect the general, the new regional studies consciously relate the societies and political structures they identify explicitly to the Carolingian Empire of which they were a part.
§3. All of the works under consideration here try to go beyond restricted regional history by situating their regions in the wider world. Rather than presenting a chronicle of the development of economic, social, or political institutions of the regions, they analyze those developments in the regions. In doing so, they represent a drive to understand the Carolingian Empire one piece of the puzzle at a time, always keeping in mind the parts’ relationships to the whole. Despite the larger claims to investigate ‘Power’ or the ‘State’ in the Early Middle Ages more broadly conceived, each of these works clearly emphasizes the Carolingian period. They also share a common foundation built on investigations appearing in the late 1980s.
§4. Basing her work largely on charter evidence, Wendy Davies performed a social history of Brittany’s villages and families, with emphasis on status and mobility (Davies 1988). She also looked at Brittany’s connections to the world beyond—the Carolingian Empire—and the role of the powerful in local affairs. Chris Wickham’s major contention, that valleys in the Tuscan Appenines were quite integrated into the socio-political world of the cities in the Early Middle Ages, was likewise based on a thorough study of charters, which he used to get ‘below’ the elite to circles of locals (Wickham 1988). The impact of his approach is the search for local, informal networks of relationships. The ability of informal circles of associates crossing geographical and status boundaries is a key element in the more recent body of work as well.
§5. Davies’ and Wickham’s efforts formed part of an influential enterprise that spawned two other volumes, each a well-known collection of essays (Davies and Fouracre 1986;Davies and Fouracre 1995). These team efforts have proven very influential on the studies of the past decade and a half, since they revealed the importance of localized studies of charter evidence. Following this program, Kathy Pearson, Matthew Innes, Warren Brown, and Hans Hummer have studied the charters of Bavaria, the middle Rhine, and Alsace to chart the ways that landed wealth translated into power in the central and eastern Frankish lands. Another study of early medieval Bavaria, by Carl Hammer, focuses quite intensely on the economy and society of slavery and is not as broadly conceived as the others, so does not fall into consideration here (Hammer 2002).
§6. Before these studies began to appear in the late 1990s, Julia Smith’s Province and Empire was published in 1992, in many ways marking the real starting point for this review. It is based on charter evidence to paint a picture of local power structures, but is very mindful of how Carolingian rulers sought to maintain recognition of their authority—or at least superiority—while Breton nobles worked to build their own power in the region by means of patronage and even violence when deemed necessary. Smith’s work, as much and Davies’s and Wickham’s, could have served as a model for latter day regional studies. In many respects it has, but as will be seen, in other ways the more recent works do not all take full advantage of the regional approach.
§7. Clearly, the work of Davies, Wickham, Smith, and the contributors to The Settlement of Disputes and Property and Power demonstrates the utility of charters for examining local and regional conditions. Thus it is no surprise that charters form the primary evidence for regional studies since those volumes appeared. Historians face the difficulty that there are precious few narrative sources for local power figures—the dukes, counts, bishops, abbots, and the like—to parallel the widely known royal texts like the Annales regni francorum, Annales Bertinianes, and Annales Fuldenses, nor is there a comital De ordine palatii to be found for regional rulers. Thus these studies turn to what Julia Smith termed the ‘circumstantial evidence’ of charters (Smith 1992). Charters do indeed allow researchers to get below the elite, but not without pitfalls. As these authors are all well aware, ecclesiastical archives dominate the body of surviving evidence, so we must be aware that we have nothing approximating a complete picture. What does survive, though, allows a reconstruction of how things worked: how people and families in the early Middle Ages built up, maintained, and lost power. Even though full reconstruction is impossible, since charters usually represent the end of what presumably was a process of negotiation and careful consideration of a transaction’s effects, the documents do provide some entry into the world of early medieval power as exercised by kings and locals alike.
§8. That is not to say that no other evidence has proved helpful. Indeed, law codes, hagiography, letters, and annals help flesh out the picture for wider developments. Pearson consulted notitiae (notices, or summaries of charters no longer extant), the letters of Boniface, the Liber Confraternitatem, and narratives including the Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum. Innes put to use mostly the voluminous charter repositories of Lorsch and Fulda, drawing the bulk of his evidence from the late eighth and early ninth centuries. The chronological distribution of his evidence is what makes his study one of a Carolingian region despite the wide scope of its title. Other evidence, such as Einhard’s letters and Translatio et miracula sanctorum Marcellini et Petri, in addition to other letters, chronicles, and hagiography, round out his most important source material. Brown’s focus is on disputing, bolstered by hagiography and some annalistic evidence, and ostensibly allows him to measure the importation into Bavaria of Carolingian governance, on the assumption that one can better understand the Carolingians’ stateless regime by examining its application to a conquered area. What he actually measures is the impact of Carolingian rule on the recording of property disputes, which may or may not serve as the basis for an extrapolation applied to the totality of Carolingian royal authority. He argues that a ‘subculture of compromise’ survived the Carolingian conquest of Bavaria. Certainly, disputing practice—or at least its documentary representation—changed according to new norms required by Carolingian rulers, but in the end, Bavarian dispute culture and the wider politics it represents seem to have reverted back to pre-Carolingian forms by the middle of the ninth century (Brown 2001, 124–39).
§9. Hummer’s book, the most recent of the group, follows the pattern of basing the study largely on charter evidence, supported with narratives. Hagiography is clearly important to Hummer, who takes saints’ lives as indicators of the society that produced them rather than the society they presume to depict. Vernacular religious texts, theHeliand and the Evangelienbuch of Otfrid of Weissenburg, give him further insight into the culture of ninth-century Alsace. In general, these works follow the model established in the 1980s by using charters, but their incorporation of narrative and literary sources keeps them grounded in the wider context of the Carolingian world.
Rulers and Ruling
§10. Kings were partners with nobility, as Airlie has shown, but regional studies can illuminate the mechanism behind such cooperation (Airlie 1995, 431–450). Possession of landed wealth was key even for kings to play prominent roles in local affairs. But they did so through intermediaries, using patronage of monasteries and personal relationships with local notables to enforce royal authority. Davies argued that the Carolingian state did not reach to the lowest levels of Breton society (Davies 1988, 201–10). Kings and high aristocrats may have associated with regional counts and principes, but these figures in their own turn regulated justice and order along with their networks of lesser aristocrats. Smith notes the invention of the title comes for four supporters of Salomon, but notes that no localities for their responsibilities were given (Smith 1992, 124). According to Innes, who strongly opposes what he terms the institutionalist point of view that posits delegation of royal power to local officials, the state was composed of these very networks of nobles and rulers; if somebody reached peasants, it was the ‘state’ as it functioned in the Early Middle Ages, because state and society ‘tend to collapse into each other’ in early medieval evidence (Innes 2000, 5–8). As for a necessary correlation between title and jurisdiction, Smith seems to have assumed that being called a count gave a man a county. The original meaning of comes is simply ‘companion’. Could the title comes have been used, at least sometimes, as an honorific, indicating status, and one would presume, power without jurisdiction over a specific area? Innes argues that the pagus was not a jurisdictional, territorial unit, but a network of nobles in an area. Political leadership was exercised in public meetings, not administrative assignments; power was personal, not delegated. Even the word ‘county’ could mean ‘assembly of local notables,’ not ‘area of count’s authority’ (Innes 2000, 94–140). While his argument intrigues, the cases Innes uses to illustrate these points need more details and explanation. Nonetheless, it is worth pondering the idea’s application to other areas within the Carolingian realms. What does this mean for our understanding ofhonores? Such aristocratic privileges were designated by kings and could be revoked, as happened to Counts Hugh of Tours and Matfrid of Orléans in 828. Perhaps we are to understand that what heretofore has been seen as an office was actually more like a formal invitation to the most elite social circle of the realm. Could things be different in the Middle Rhine Valley than they were in newly conquered areas like Bavaria concerning any kind of territorial link with a count’s or duke’s authority (Pearson 1999, 118–19)?
§11. For the situation in Bavaria, Brown touches on some of the same issues as Innes, whose book appeared the year before, on the relationship between state and society. Brown emphasizes the personal nature of power and the informality of how things worked. But he also tends to frame parts of his argument in terms of the ‘state’, which Innes rejects (Innes 2000, 93). Smith further argued that ‘the roots of power and authority lay in the family and household.’ Others emphasize more the role of land. According to Innes, land itself was not the same as power, but land indeed was a tool, the key to the gateway limiting access to the playing fields of power (Innes 2000, 93). Likewise, the studies of other regions focus on land as being the source of any particular family’s or household’s power, such as the Huosi kindred in Bavaria and the Etichonids in Alsace (Pearson 1999, 94–100 and 170–3; Hummer 2005, 209–26).
§12. The studies share the common concern about the impact of Carolingian rule on their respective regions. For Pearson, the key concept is ‘territoriality,’ a term defined as individual or group efforts to control ‘people, phenomena, and relationships by delimiting and asserting control over a geographic area’ (Pearson 1999, vii; Sack 1986, 19). She is expressly interested in the intersections between these efforts and the multiple loyalties held by early medieval Bavarians. Her argument on the Carolingian conquest of Bavaria touches on both concepts, in asserting that Charlemagne had a relatively easy time imposing his power thanks to the efforts of dukes of Bavaria, especially Tassilo, in constructing ‘territoriality’. One might question the usefulness of her key concept. On one hand, it enables Pearson to avoid falling into what Innes identifies as the institutionalist trap (although his book appeared a year after Pearson’s), by avoiding ‘the state’ and related modernist assumptions. On the other hand, however, she sometimes seems to equate territoriality with state-building, and tends to frame relationships among power brokers as if they were in fact representatives of states. Take for example the creation of a ‘peace between Bavaria and Francia’ (rather than peace between Pippin and Carloman on one side and Odilo on the other), or land passing to ‘the state’ (rather than to the ducal fisc) in lieu of heirs within the seventh degree of kinship (Pearson 1999, 52 and 107). Is it not better to see these people, whether Frankish kings, nobility, or dukes of Bavaria, as furthering their own status and power? It seems rather unnecessary to impose a new term in instances where legitimate, older ones like authority and power express the ideas clearly.
§13. Brown argues for an important but limited impact of Carolingian rule on Bavarian institutions. Pearson illuminates the conflicting loyalties of her title when an individual had to weigh his loyalty to the kindred against loyalty to the king, finding a considerable Carolingian impression on Bavarian politics (Pearson 1999, 72–4 and 111–61; Brown 2001, 197). Hummer favors seeing a strong royal presence in later ninth-century Alsace because of direct royal rule in the partitioned kingdoms; because Alsace was part of Lothar’s Middle Kingdom and later Louis the German’s East Frankish realm, kings paid a great deal of attention to the area and fomented loyalty in local monasteries and aristocracy (Hummer 2005, 209–12). According to Simon MacLean, whose recent book on Charles the Fat meshes well with aspects of the regional studies, the reguli of the late ninth and tenth centuries arose because of, not counter to, Carolingian kingship. The previous generation—the sons of Louis the German and Charles the Bald, Charles the Fat’s brothers and cousins—featured many kings and smaller kingdoms, making aristocratic access to royalty easier. The rebellious magnates Charles the Fat faced were not anti-king, but rather sought more Königsnähe to reinforce their regional power (MacLean 2003, 75–80).
§14. Brown’s focus on disputing is helpful, and it follows right from the methodology of the essays in The Settlement of Disputes. In fact, Unjust Seizure has been called ‘an exemplary first book’ (Hyams 2002). But just how helpful is the focus on disputing? Through dispute charters, Brown is able to make some claims about the wider context of power, especially the role of Arn of Salzburg as an instrument of royal governance, but he misses out on some potential observations about royal power (Brown 2001, 102–23). He claims that any institutional ‘state’ Charlemagne established in Bavaria did not endure even to the time of Louis the German. This is because dispute records focus less on formal placita and more on extra-judicial compromises. Such an argument about the weakness of Carolingian ‘statelike institutions’ discounts the actual presence of Louis the German in Bavaria as its ruler (Brown 2001, 166–85 and 196–9). Louis would not need a ‘statelike’ apparatus to govern Bavaria, as his father and grandfather did, because Louis was on the scene in person. The king’s physical presence in the region, at least as part of a royal itinerary, might indicate more strength than Brown’s evidence admits (Hummer 2005, 209–12; MacLean 2003, 75–80). Assemblies continued to meet in ninth-century Bavaria, but scribes tended to record informal compromises rather than formal means to end disputes. Given the evidence mustered, that conclusion can not really be questioned, but its meaning for Carolingian authority can. The focus on disputing sheds much light on conflict and resolution, but leaves other functions of the kings and assemblies in the dark. How did kings rule with assemblies in facets of life beyond property disputes?
§15. Brown’s book works nicely with Pearson’s, which appeared too late for Brown to consider, on the organization of power and society in early medieval Bavaria. He relies on some secondary work that Pearson does not, but they agree on certain revisionist points, for example on the west-east split of Bavarian nobles’ loyalty to Carolingians and Agilolfings, westerners tending toward loyalty to the Carolingians and easterners maintaining ties to the regional dynasty (Jahn 1991). Pearson and Brown argue that there were pro-Frankish individuals, regardless of geography (Pearson 1999, 73 and 92–9; Brown 2001, 101). Regardless of the loyalties of various Bavarian nobles in the late 780s, Pearson’s wider concern with authority can help readers take in the larger picture. At the end of the Carolingian period, Bavaria, Alsace, and Brittany were more or less firmly in the control of regional rulers, although only Brittany functioned fully independently of royal or imperial authority; the middle Rhine was a part of the tenth-century duchy of Franconia. These post-Carolingian developments have led most of the authors to remark on the Carolingian contribution to methods of wielding power in the regions studied.
§16. Along these lines, readers should remember Smith’s comment that Brittany as medieval principality was at root a result of Carolingian intervention because the Frankish kings instituted new rules of power. Bavarian evidence indicates that the rule of Charlemagne did indeed constitute a period of change even for local arrangements. Innes emphasizes that the Carolingians rewrote the rules of the game in the Rhine valley, taking over the Middle Rhine and making it a royal heartland where before there was a complex of regional aristocratic networks, which in turn included monasteries like the later royal house, Lorsch. Hummer argues something similar—that later Ottonian power was based on the very structures the Carolingians built—working with regional monasteries (Smith 1992, 3–5; Brown 2001, 73–123; Innes 2000, 180–8; Hummer 2005, 252). In Alsace, the same dynamics were at play, as earlier the family of Charles Martel built a power base there following the blueprint of nobles throughout the late Merovingian world. Pearson’s findings on Bavaria offer a complementary pattern (Pearson 1999, 113–17). The common thread through each region is the necessity facing the Carolingians of integrating kingship into established patterns of local power. In all cases, the Carolingians successfully made the regions functional parts of a wider empire in the late eighth and early ninth centuries. As the dynasty’s grasp on royal power waned a century later, different regions developed differently, with areas on the outer borders of the former empire (Bavaria, Brittany) becoming more autonomous than centrally located places (Alsace, the Middle Rhine).
§17. Regional rulership, whether ducal, comital, or whatever, was predicated on similar conditions. The last Agilolfings of the eighth century seem to have attempted to rule their territory like the neighboring Carolingians ruled Francia. In so doing, they adopted Frankish practices and institutions, thereby making the conquest easier (Pearson 1999, 113–17). For the Middle Rhine and Alsace, Innes and Hummer have shown the Carolingian-ization of the regions in various ways, even if that means that the Carolingians simultaneously adapted themselves to regional and local practices (Innes 2000, 141–64 and 180–95; Hummer 2005, 57–63 and 76–104). Smith showed parallel developments that, as regional rulers distanced themselves from royal authority in Brittany, they co-opted the right to cultivate obligations from Breton subjects and became principes. In terms of more the recent scholarship, we would understand the acts of Salomon, Nominoe and Ersinoe as removing royal patronage in favor of their own and placing themselves at the center of regional networks (Smith 1992, 116–46). Smith’s and Innes’s evidence demonstrates the care needed to untangle the mechanics of power, especially in that titles may not have meant for early medieval people the kinds of formal structures twentieth-century investigators ascribed to them. We thus must try to look at the deeds the local and regional sources represent to get a feel for how power was exercised on the ground.
§18. What may be actually more important than rulership per se for Innes, Brown, Pearson, and Hummer is the existence of social networks of people who owned and controlled land and the local level where power played out. They each investigate the relationship between land, kinship, status, and power on the local level. In part, this has to be because their drive to go beyond royal legislation led them to different evidentiary bases, the circumstantial evidence of Smith. The charter collections they mined for information simply—and naturally—favor locals over kings and emperors. What becomes crystal clear in these investigations is the major role monasteries played in local networks of power. While this, too, may be simply a result of evidence survival, which favors ecclesiastical over lay documents, it also allows a glimpse into the interactions among lay individuals and families, as charters include witness lists that allow the reconstruction of social networks, including cleric and layperson, family and church.
§19. Innes looks at how monasteries and their control of land factored into politics and society—patronage—of the early Middle Ages without ignoring the spiritual and religious aspects of those establishments (de Jong 1995, 622–653). Local elites donated land to receive spiritual patronage as well as this-worldly economic and politico-social protection of powerful abbeys like Lorsch and Fulda. Monasteries were thus part of networks just like lay individuals and families. Hummer eschews the notion of spiritual patronage because his documents do not seem to evince it; his book is packed to the brim with monasteries as players in local networks, primarily through precarial grants, which actually allowed notable families to continue to control—while not owning—land in successive generations (Hummer 2005, 18).
§20. Bishops and their roles figure prominently in Brown’s analysis, as Carolingian rule led to bishops’ and royal missi‘s literal interpretation of charters, meaning increased episcopal control of land because they were the legal owners. Consider also Hummer’s argument, for which bishops are almost entirely absent; Strasburg was the closest episcopal see, yet its bishops take a backseat to local monasteries, noble families, and Carolingian kings. In the middle Rhine, bishops were important for royal authority; although much of Innes’s evidence is from monastic archives, he does point out the top-down nature of the Carolingian episcopate and highlights individuals like Riculf, archbishop of Mainz, working on behalf of kings (Innes 2000, 192–4). Bavarian bishops, especially Arn as archbishop of Salzburg, were not only powerful regional lords, but also furthered the aims of Carolingian monarchs. For his part Arn was a member of the Huosi, an ancient and powerful kindred, which helped him wield power for his see and his king (Brown 2001, 102–23 and 162–5; Pearson 1999, 162–90).
§21. It is taken as a given rule that, in the early Middle Ages, landed wealth was constitutive of power. Royal and regional dynasts had to maintain enormous assets in order to remain powerful. Smith showed that the dynasty of Nominoe in Brittany was the wealthiest in the region (Pearson 1999, 162–90). Much the same can be said of the Carolingian family—it was the richest among the Franks. On a local level, individuals and families could hold land tied to military service, even if that land was legally owned by someone else. A general pattern that emerges in the pages of regional studies is the role of church houses in this practice. Precarial grants of land donated to an abbey or episcopal see and granted out to mounted warriors have been understood in different ways. On one hand is the supposed spoliation of church lands by powerful mayors and kings, as exemplified in Charlemagne’s precaria verbo regis (Fouracre 2000, 2–4, 71–2 and 124–5; Visio Rigoberti 13; Dutton 1994, 169–94). Hummer, though, highlights precarial grants as the means by which local and regional nobilities could maintain control of, if not legal deed to, land while simultaneously establishing and nourishing relationships to monasteries (Hummer 2005, 76–104). For Bavaria, we see somewhat the opposite under Carolingian rule. When new, royal means of ruling were instituted after 788, bishops began to enforce the letter of the law; their charters made them owners of land, and the lay nobles who held land from the bishop often lost control (Brown 2001, 73–101). Evidence from the middle Rhine seems to suggest no absolute passing of land from one to another party. The alienators retained their rights after any change in possession. Land, Innes argues, was considered in terms of social relationships, not legal categories. Ownership was relative and conditional, but land remained under the control of one individual. No use of the term ‘allod’ appears in the record before the eleventh century because full ownership was the norm; there was no need for a special label. Like Hummer, Innes sees tenure in beneficuim or in precarium as basically a ‘gift of uninhibited possession in return for the demonstration of ultimate ownership by payment of annual sum’ to the land’s actual owner. Such tenancies became more popular during the Carolingian period as monarchs let out church land (Innes 2000, 72–3). These studies highlight the fact that what twenty-first-century readers may perceive as a difference between inferior usufruct rights and superior, outright ownership was of little concern in most cases in the early Middle Ages. What mattered most was control of land, not legal ownership.
§22. For each region studied, there seems to have been a degree of tension between the center and the locality, with its traditions of self-regulation. Perhaps remarkably, this seems to be the case even at the ‘province level’ for regions like Brittany and Bavaria large enough to have their own, non-royal rulers in the period before conquest by the Carolingians. Aristocratic loyalties went to whomever could offer benefit. Bavarians may have become pro-Carolingian in the late eighth century in order to oppose growing Agilolfing power, or they could support a royal son generations later—Louis the German or his son Karlmann in turn—against the king to gain advantage locally (Pearson 1999, 110 and 135–8). By the same token, traditions of authority were often the basis for intra-regional conflict. One party with claims to authority in one place could come into conflict with a neighbor who supported a more powerful individual with claims to broader, regional authority (Smith 1992, 116–146).
§23. Pearson, Brown, Innes, and Hummer have all come to sound conclusions in their useful books. The question remains as to what can be done to further refine our understandings of power structures in the Carolingian Empire or the Early Middle Ages more generally. The first and most obvious answer is to take investigations into different regions, especially in the western Frankish realms, and pick up on the studies of Brittany and Bavaria by looking at conquered areas: Burgundy, the regnum Italiae, Aquitaine, Saxony (Smith 1992, 116–146; Semmler 1986; Amory 1993, 1–28; Carroll 1999, 219–246; Effros 1997, 267–286; Goldberg 1995, 467–501; Lammers 1970). Obviously such a remark is not a critique of the works considered here, for they cannot be faulted for selecting areas closer to the Frankish heartland. Future work should consider the fringe areas of the Carolingian realms, whether those are considered areas bordering other, non-Christian societies or those territories ringed around the immediate core region of Francia (Smith 1995, 169–189; Noble 1990, 333–347). One area that has already begun to receive attention is the southern extreme of the western Frankish lands, known in the ninth century as Gothia or Hispania.
§24. Articles by Cullen Chandler, Jonathan Jarrett, and Frank Riess, all in Early Medieval Europe and all concerned with Carolingian links to Spain and the Spanish March, show the historiographical interest and significance of the Carolingians’ Pyrenean frontier (Chandler 2002, 19–44; Jarrett 2003, 229–58; Riess 2005, 131–57). A couple of larger projects concern themselves with the immediate post-Carolingian period in Catalonia, the former Spanish March. While ultimately engaging with the debate on the Feudal Revolution, Adam Kosto and Jeffrey Bowman pursue lines of inquiry similar to those in the works discussed above. Kosto sheds light on larger questions thanks to details available on convenientiae, short documents drawn up at the settlement of property disputes. The result is a good, close study of one type of document, rather than of any particular individual or church. Through these agreement documents, he is able to show the stability of fluid socio-political structures in what has been regarded as a chaotic, even cataclysmic period. Bowman’s period is the decades around 1000, but his discussion reaches back to the Carolingian period from time to time. He finds that disputes relied on judicial assemblies—bishops’ and counts’ law courts—and, in the world of ideas, laws and rules, especially the Visigothic Code. But law was not a monolith, impervious to adaptation. Bowman’s dispute records allow a glimpse of the world of ideas and the world of daily life. Like Kosto, he paints less a picture of endemic violence and more one of old and new legal ideas and practices in tension with each other. Both share with the regional studies on the Carolingian Empire an interest in how power was exercised, and like Brown’s Unjust Seizure, they focus on disputes and their resolutions. They are also interested, at least preliminarily, with the relationship of the part to the whole, or the region to the wider world. Kosto and Bowman make good use of the Visigothic law code, and both have reason to treat it as an element of the culture of the region, as a marker of the region’s uniqueness among the parts of the former Carolingian Empire (Kosto 2001, 4–7; Bowman 2004, 16–19).
§25. As this last point indicates, different aspects of civilization should come into the purview of Carolingian regional studies. Innes, Hummer, Brown, and Pearson are all at root trying to understand how the Carolingian Empire worked. The basic questions are about power and ‘the state’, but in their context they are about empire. Nevertheless, they tend to neglect a consideration of the cultural side of empire—they address the culture of politics yet, save Hummer, forget the politics of culture. Historians know that Carolingian civilization had two crucial elements—a political structure and a cultural program. Work yet to be done should bring these elements together. What did the Carolingian renaissance mean for the regions? How were they incorporated into the imperial enterprise in this way? Smith’s study, which could have been a model for Pearson, Brown, Innes, and Hummer, devoted some energy to these questions. What is still needed is a better idea of how the court-sponsored cultural program developed in the regions of the empire. Indeed, a reviewer of State and Society has already expressed surprise that Innes, a student of Rosamond McKitterick, would have so little to say about culture and learning (Lifshitz 2002). It is widely acknowledged that regional and local circumstances profoundly impacted the degree to which communities and individuals followed royal reform initiatives, but there is no reason for a barrier to exist prohibiting the examination of local efforts. The recent regional studies have picked up on some of these ideas, but more work can still be done. Hummer’s work on Alsace does the most to address these notions, but like Smith’s, his efforts are segregated from his other concerns in the structure of his book. The Old Saxon and Old High German poems he addresses may indicate that Alsatian monks participated in the Carolingian reform effort, but we are left in the dark about the context of schooling and texts they studied.
§26. Further, there is the idea of identity, of how people living in different regions imagined themselves and others as parts of a greater cultural or political whole. As is well known, and further illustrated in the studies under discussion here, the Carolingian Empire was a multi-ethnic state. Ethnic or cultural identities have formed a large and important section of recent enterprises in the history of Late Antiquity, and similar approaches could bear fruit if applied to the eighth and ninth centuries. How did different identities—Saxon, Frank, Goth, Bavarian, and so forth—affect the associations between rulers and local networks in the Carolingian world? According to Smith, Frankish chroniclers in the second half of the ninth century mark the difference between Bretons and Franks, for Franks at least (Smith 1992, 119–20). Innes, dealing with the middle Rhine where, presumably, everyone was a Frank, apparently was able to avoid the issue of identity. Pearson’s framework, ‘territoriality’, likewise gives ethnicity no currency. On the other hand, in a work more concerned with the center than the regions of the empire, MacLean addresses the issue of identity in the breakup of the empire, even if to downplay its importance in favor of regional nobles’ need for Königsnähe(MacLean 2003, 55–64). Regions the Carolingians conquered, like Bavaria and Brittany, present an opportunity to explore different facets of the relations between conquerors and conquered. Future work that focuses on regions rather than kings will be well advised to pursue the avenues afforded by identity (Pohl and Reimitz 1998; Goetz and Pohl 2003).
§27. Looking at the regions of the Carolingian empire has indeed furthered our understanding of how the empire as a whole functioned. The insights gained can be applied to understand the nature of the empire as well. Putting ideas on kingship and aristocracy to work has benefited regional studies, and vice versa. Simon MacLean shows how all strands of recent work can benefit how we understand the imperial center, as he makes the ‘supermagnates’ of the regions in the late ninth century key to understanding the reign of Charles the Fat and the end of the empire in a different and more contextualized way than before. As he himself observes, studies from the perspectives of the regions and localities of the empire can help us further refine our understanding of the Carolingian experiment (MacLean 2003, 64–80 and 81–120). In sum, the four authors here, not to forget Julia Smith, whose work still stands as a model in many respects, have made valuable contributions to Carolingian history and early medieval history in general. The door remains open to others who wish to carry out new regional studies. Although Pearson, Brown, Innes, and Hummer have pointed the way, new works may yet carry the flag in different directions. It is to be hoped that newer studies may address charter evidence as a way to shed light on the mechanics of power, but also that they not neglect evidence for the significance culture and identity had for politics.
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