Back in 2016, I published an English translation of a ninth-century ‘trial by cold water’ liturgy on this blog. That text came from a now lost manuscript of St-Remi of Reims, which was enough for me to suggest a possible connection with Hincmar of Reims, who we know was keen on the trial by ordeal (he discusses it extensively in De Divortio).
However, in 2017 I re-read an article by Rudolf Pokorny which drew my attention to an early modern manuscript now in Paris, shelved as Collection Duchesne 64. Duchesne 64 includes a table of contents and a partial transcription of another lost medieval manuscript, from Liege, which mostly contained Hincmar’s own works. Pokorny noted that Duchesne 64’s transcription included a trial by ordeal liturgy, but he didn’t edit it in his article. In 2019 I finally got round to looking up the ordeal copied in Duchesne 64, which is online thanks to the amazing Gallica, and gave a paper about it in St Andrews at the SAIMS grad conference.
There are some good reasons for supposing that Hincmar might have been involved in putting this liturgy together (though it’s slightly different from the version from the lost St-Remi manuscript). I’m still planning to work more on this text, and to set it in the context of Hincmar’s thinking about the ordeal, but since that probably won’t happen this summer, I thought I’d share my re-transcription of the Latin in the meantime. Thanks to Giorgia Vocino for advice on some of the most testing bits of Andre Duchesne’s seventeenth-century handwriting; there are still a few bits I haven’t quite established, and any errors that remain are of course mine (and please tell me when you spot them!).
Examen aquae frigidae
Quando Romani propter invidiam tulerunt domno Leoni papae oculos et linguam propter thesaurum sancti Petri, tunc venit ad imperatorem Karolum, ut eum adiuvaret de suis inimicis. Tunc imperator reduxit eum Romam, et restituit eum in locum suum, et thesaurum supradictum non potuit invenire aliter nisi per istud iudicium. Quod iudicium fecerunt beatus Eugenius et Leo et imperator, ut episcopi et abbates et comites firmiter teneant et credant, quia probatum habuerunt illi sancti viri, quia illud invenerunt.
Cum volueris hominem mittere ad examem aquae frigidae, apprehende illos quos vis examinere, et duc eos ad ecclesiam, quibus cantet Presbiter missam, faciat eos ad ipsam offerre. Cum autem ad communionem venerint, antequam communicent, interroget eos sacerdos conjurando ita.
Adiuro vos homines, per Patrem et Filium et Spiritum sanctum, per sanctam Trinitatem, et per vestram christianitatem quam suscepistis, et per sanctum euangelium, et per istas reliquias quae in ista ecclesia sunt, ut non praesumatis ullo modo communicare neque ad altare accedere, si vos fecistis quod vobis imputatur, aut consensistis.
Si autem omnes tacuerint et nullus hoc …, accedat sacerdos ad altare et communi -cet illos quos voluerunt in aquam probare. Cum autem … communicaverint, dicat sacerdos ad singulos Hoc corpus et sanguis domini nostri Iesu Christi sit tibi hodie ad probationem. Et expleta missa, faciat ipse sacerdos aquam benedictam, et accipiens eam pergat ad istum locum ubi iudicium facere habent… omnibus illis bibere aquam benedictam. Cum autem dederit, dicat ad unumquemque Hac aqua fiat tibi hodie ad probationem.
Postea vero adjurat aquam in hanc modum, in qua illos probare voluerunt: Adiuro te aqua in nomine Dei patris omnipotentis qui te in principio creavit et iussit ad humanis necessitatibus, [f. 50] qui etiam te iussit segregari ab aquis superioribus. Adiuro te etiam per ineffabile nomen Iesu Christi, filii Dei omnipotentis, sub cuius pedibus mare se calcabile prebuit. Adiuro te etiam per Spiritum sanctum, qui super baptizatum … dominum descendit. Adiuro te per nomen sanctae et individuae Trinitatis, cuius voluntate aquarum elementum discissum est, et populum Israel siccis pedibus per illud transivit. Ad cuius etiam invocationem Heliseus ferrum ferventum quod de manubrio exierat super aquam natare fecit, ut nullomodo, ut nullomodo [sic] suscipias hominem illum, si in aliquo est inde culpabilis quod illi obicitur, scilicet opera, consensus, scientia aut ullo ingenio; sed fac eum natare super te, et nulla posset hic praevalere fantasia aut prestigatio cum quod quaeritur, eo quem occulta cordis non fallunt revelante modo manifestetur. Adjuro te per nomen Christi precipioque tibi fidens in sola virtute Dei ut nobis per nomen eius obedias, cui omnis creatura servit, quem Cherubin et Seraphin ineffabile voce conlaudant, dicentes: ‘Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, dominus deus sabaoth, pleni sunt celi et terra gloria tua, osanna in excelsis’, qui regnat et dominatur per infinita secula seculorum. Amen.
Finita … huius… adiurationem aquae, exeat illos vestibus suis, et faciat eos osculare sanctum euangelium et crucem Christi. Postea de aqua benedicta aspergat secundum morem quod super unumquemque eorum. Et conversus ad hominem illum, qui …debet ad iudicium, dicat Adiuro te homo in presento iudicio aquae frigidae, et per invocationem domini nostri Iesu Christi. Adiuro te per Patrem et Filium et spiritum sanctum, et per Trinitatem inseperabilem, per Mariam matrem domini nostri Iesu Christi, et per omnes angelos et per archangelos, virtutes et potestates, principatus domina- -tiones thronos, Cherubin et Seraphim, et .. per omnia caelestia agmina, et per …judicii Dei et per 24 seniores, et per 4 evangelistas Marcus et Mattheum Lucam et Johannem et per 12 apostolos et 12 prophetas, per martyres per confessores et virgines, et per tres pueros qui cum ceteris ante Deum assistunt, Sidrach Misach, et Abdenago, et per 144 milia qui empti sunt de terra, et sequentes agnum quocumque …et per omnem populum Dei sanctum et per baptismum, quo in Christo per sacerdotem regeneratus es, te adiuro, ut, si hoc furtum fecisti vel aut facere alterum vidisti aut bajulasti, aut in domum tuum recepisti, aut in aliquo consentaneus fuisti, aut si habes cor incrassatum, induratum, et culpabilis es, non te praesens suscipiat aqua, neque aliquo maleficio tuo res possit occultari quam credimus dei omnipotentia manifestari. Propterea te deprecor domine Iesu Christe ostende nobis maiestatis signum tale, ut si culpabilis in hoc facto iste homo est nullatenus ab hac aqua recipiatur, et hoc facias ad laudem et gloriam et invocationem nominis tui, ut cognoscant omnes qui tu es dominus noster Iesus Christus qui cum patre et spiritu sancto vivis, et regnas in secula seculorum amen. His dictis ex more colligatus in nomine Domini deponatur in aquam qui deponandum est.
While studying for my PhD at the University of Sheffield, I was lucky enough to be part of the Medieval Latin Translation (MLT) group, which meets informally on a roughly fortnightly basis during term time. Each semester we have a go at translating a medieval text, preferably one which has not yet been translated into English, with the aim of making our finished version available online for the benefit of other researchers and students.
In Autumn semester 2019, I proposed a letter written by an African bishop named Honoratus Antoninus in c.437 A.D. I had come across this letter while researching the penalty of exile in the post-Roman kingdoms, as it was addressed to a man named Arcadius who had been banished somewhere in North Africa by the Vandal king Geiseric (r. 428-477). Although I had already produced a rough translation of the letter, I was eager to look at the text more closely with the MLT group. The fruits of our labour are presented in this blog post, which provides (to the best of my knowledge) the first published translation of Honoratus’ letter. My thanks to Jasper Chopping, Richard Gilbert, Alex Traves, and Tianpeng Zhang who all collaborated with me on the translation, and especially to Dr Charles West, who led the group, checked over the finished translation, and heroically researched its complicated manuscript history. Any errors that remain are, of course, my sole responsibility.
Before providing the English translation, I thought it might be helpful to prospective readers to offer a brief summary of the letter’s historical context and contents. The letter was written during a tumultuous period in Roman history. In the first decade of the fifth century, several ‘barbarian’ groups had crossed over Rome’s Rhine frontier and caused disruption as they moved through the western provinces. One of those groups were the Vandals who, by the time of Geiseric’s succession in 428, had settled in the province of Baetica in southern Spain.
King Geiseric, however, took the momentous decision to move his followers across the straits of Gibraltar into Roman North Africa. Advancing eastwards along the coast, Geiseric won a string of victories against the Roman armies sent to resist him and captured the city of Hippo Regius – the see of the renowned theologian St Augustine who died during the siege – in 432. With limited resources available and recognising the strength of the Vandal position, the Western Emperor Valentinian III (r. 425-455) concluded a peace treaty with Geiseric in 435 and ceded him control of the provinces of Mauretania and the western half of Numidia.
Like many other barbarian kings, Geiseric subscribed to a form of Christianity erroneously referred to by contemporaries (and many modern historians) as Arianism but which is more properly described as Homoian. However, unlike many of his counterparts, Geiseric was a militant proponent of his creed, and over the course of his long reign he enacted several policies that targeted the Catholic or rather Nicene church in Vandal Africa. He was particularly concerned with ensuring that those serving in the royal administration subscribed to the Homoian confession and on several occasions attempted to force his Nicene officials to apostatise through threats of punishment.
It was this policy that resulted in the banishment of one of Geiseric’s loyal advisers, a man named Arcadius, in around 437. According to the Chronicle of Prosper of Aquitaine, Arcadius fell out with the king when he refused to adopt Homoian Christianity. Geiseric responded by banishing Arcadius together with three other Catholic courtiers named Paschasius, Probus, and Eutychianus. Prosper provides no indication of where the men were sent but they must have remained within the Vandal territories as they were later executed on Geiseric’s orders.
Bishop Honoratus and the Contents of his Letter
Honoratus Antoninus was the Catholic bishop of the see of Cirta/Constantina [mod. Constantine, Algeria – pictured above], which had fallen under Vandal rule following the treaty of 435. It is not clear why Honoratus addressed his letter solely to Arcadius, rather than to all four of the courtiers who had been punished by Geiseric – perhaps Arcadius had some pre-existing connection with Honoratus or was living in exile close to his see, or perhaps the bishop believed that Arcadius’ faith was wavering and thus needed special attention.
In any case, Honoratus’ letter was designed to console Arcadius, while encouraging him to remain steadfast in his commitment to Nicene Christianity. Judging by Honoratus’ repeated allusions to Arcadius’ impending martyrdom, it would seem that at the time of the letter’s writing Geiseric had already sentenced Arcadius to death (or at least Honoratus anticipated that this would happen in the near future). Throughout the letter, the bishop reminds Arcadius time and again of what is at stake in his dispute with the king. Arcadius, so Honoratus tells him, is on the cusp of greatness; if he remains true to his faith and accepts the martyr’s crown, he will join Christ and the apostles in heaven. However, if he falters, he will humiliate the Catholic church and will risk spending eternity in damnation. So, while the tone of the letter is generally positive and uplifting, it is laced with a stark warning.
Honoratus employs several rhetorical strategies to prepare Arcadius for his showdown with the Homoian authorities. He refers to exemplars drawn from scripture – Job, the Maccabean mother, and, of course, Christ himself – whom Arcadius should look to for inspiration. He also reassures Arcadius about his fate, explaining how his pain will be assuaged through the strength of his faith and that his sins will be forgiven. But again such reassurances come with a sting in the tail, as Honoratus reminds Arcadius that God is watching him and testing him. Thus, for the good of his soul, and the souls of others, he must persevere and complete his victory.
In the latter half of his letter, Honoratus adopts a more theological perspective, outlining the nature of the relationship between Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. By way of analogy, Honoratus emphasises the unity of the Trinity. It is possible that Arcadius had specifically requested such an explanation in some previous (and non-extant) correspondence with the bishop. Alternatively, Honoratus may have simply wanted to provide Arcadius with a refresher in how Nicene belief differed from the Vandal’s Homoian confession, which favoured a nontrinitarian doctrine in which Christ is distinct from and subordinate to God the Father.
The first edition of the letter was published by Johannes Sichard in 1528, in Antidotum contra diversas omnium fere seculorum hereses. The German palaeographer and philologist, Paul Lehmann, who wrote about Sichard’s sources, was unsure which manuscript Sichard had used for his text and was unable to find one. However, a little digging has turned up two manuscripts: Montpellier BM H 308, at fol. 174, a ninth-century manuscript from Lyon linked to the Carolingian scholar Florus of Lyon, and Paris lat. 16331, a thirteenth-century manuscript (probably the manuscript mentioned in a medieval Sorbonne catalogue).  The edition used for our translation was published as part of the Patrologia Latina (PL 50, Paris, 1846, cols 567-70) which was itself based on the edition published by Marguerin de La Bigne in Maxima bibliotheca veterum patrum vol. 8 in 1677, which in turn was probably based on Sichard’s 1528 edition. The Patrologia edition of the Latin text we used for our translation can be found here (n.b. requires subscription), or as in open access format here (via the Zuerich Corpus corporum project).
The Consolatory Letter of Bishop Honoratus Antoninus of Constantina to Arcadius, who has been Driven into Exile by King Geiseric of the Vandals.
Go on, faithful soul, go on; and, confessor of unity, rejoice that you have merited to suffer abuse in the name of Christ, just as when the apostles were flogged. Behold, this snake now lies beneath your feet. It was able to attack, but it fell, since it was not able to strike you. I demand of you, crush its head: let it not rise again in the martyr’s contest, let no one agitate you. Behold, Christ rejoices and watches you: the angels rejoice, and assist you; the crowd of demons watches your heel: do not falter, lest the demons who are now grieving rejoice. The whole chorus of the martyrs, your predecessors, stands with you: the martyrs await and protect you, and stretch out the crown. I ask you; hold fast what you have, lest someone else take your crown [Apoc. 31]. How short is the time in which you will fight! And how long the time in eternity in which you will be victorious in eternity! Finish what you have begun; today you will see why you are suffering; nothing is hidden from the Lord; let the devil not deceive you in the matter, when he piles confusion upon you; he does not want you, my dearest, to suffer. Truly, brother, you have a struggle. This confession is undiminished: if you die, you may be certain that you will be a martyr.
Job did not pay heed to his wife, and so he won; not to his family, not to riches, not to his friends, and rightly he prevailed. Adam loved his spouse too much, and therefore he fell so lamentably. Thus, the Lord says: “He does not send away his father, or his mother, or his wife, or his sons, or his daughters for me, is not my disciple”. [Mark 10]. If you were dead, how could your wife or family call you back? Just stay with him whom you have taken up, listen to him, hold him tight, do not reject him; and do not look back to your wife or family. In your heart, the battle you have begun is already complete. The archangel that fell is fighting you; he himself is wrestling against you; but on your side you have the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Do not be afraid: see, he is helping you so he can crown you. The Maccabean mother sent seven sons to their death for Christ. They were tortured in front of her, and she encouraged them all the more to die. After her sons were killed, behold – she exults to be crowned with her sons. Consider that God made you in your mother’s womb: he gave you spirit and soul, he endowed you with reason and wisdom. He made heaven and earth, and all the things which are in them. Thus he wants to receive you when you die for the faith, so that he may display his full majesty to you. Consider the world: it will perish. Consider the sun and the moon and the stars: they too will melt away. Fight bravely for your soul, which will either live forever or will forever perish. Behold, your sins have been forgiven. And for this struggle, God will expunge all your iniquities whatever you have managed to commit up to today.
Hear what the prophet Ezekiel says about this matter: “the day when the unjust man is a fellow-servant and creates justice from his iniquity, I will not remember any of his transgressions anymore, saith the Lord” [Ezek. 18.22]. Your justice, your faith (since he is just who lives from faith), your tribulation, despoliation, and exile have brought you the remission of your sins. Death opens up to you the kingdoms of heaven. What will it feel like when you see yourself with Saint Stephen? What will it feel like when you have Peter and Paul as friends, whom you used to pray to as patrons? Your soul will soon see Christ, and your body will be in the cool resting place of the resurrection, so that your flesh may see what your soul will see when it soon departs. The Devil rages, Christ rejoices. Ask, cry out, and demand help; and soon you will receive peace of mind. Fear the eternal punishments, where it always burns, where the body and soul are always tortured in darkness, where body and soul burn for eternity with the Devil. Fear Gehenna, and now hold onto Christ. Now is the time to either live or die. No one will rescue you if you falter in this fight.
And what benefit is it to you, if you agree with the devil, and soon afterwards you depart from your body? Or do you not know that the life of your body is in the power of your God, who can instantly take the flesh away from you if you relinquish the faith? A certain Christian recounted that, while he was being tortured on the rack for his faith, there was an angel with a shining face standing by him, with a cloth soaked in water, who splashed water on his face and wiped it with the cloth. While he was tortured, the angel did not withdraw, consoling him and refreshing him. Moreover, the martyr of Christ did not inwardly feel the punishment that he sustained. The tortures are less felt when the fighting is for Christ, because the strength of the soul overcomes the pains of the world; and since the divinity has been invoked, the bitterness of the tortures is softened.
Behold, you are held on behalf of mankind; and when you are broken, you will not lose the faith, even if you have lost your flesh. Show God this perseverance, and you need not greatly fear the punishment; for either it will either be great and soon over, or it will be trifling, and your soul will be in no great torment. You must pray, however, because you have begun to struggle, and you have not failed; you have commenced your martyrdom, so look after your soul. I adjure you by the union of the Trinity, for which you will suffer death, to preserve your heart, and strengthen it through the Holy Spirit, which you wished to inspire you, and which you have honoured in yourself. Fight bravely through the purity of your baptism, which you never intended to let down. Be sure of the crown; be sure in the fight, until the Lord wishes to complete your victory. Now God is testing your soul. There is the eye of God: it is watching you from hour to hour, what you are doing, what are thinking, how you are fighting, how you are behaving. If it sees that you are strong, it rejoices and assists; if it sees that you are weak, it sustains and uplifts.
So fight for the truth continuously until death; and you will be a salvation not only for yourself but for others: otherwise God will examine both your soul and the souls of others. You are the standard-bearer of Christ; you are marching first in the battle line: if you fall, you will not be without blame for the death of others. Be apprehensive of that: for, if you succeed, you will have fought for the salvation of many people, and you will receive a manifold crown. God is one, God can be nothing less, God cannot be changed. You know these things, so hold on to the truth strongly. Listen briefly to what I said before. God is one: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, yet the flesh pertains only to Christ. Truly, the soul is one thing, reason is another: but reason is in the soul. And the soul is one; but the soul does one thing, reason does another: the soul lives, reason knows. Life pertains to the soul; wisdom pertains to reason; and yet neither is the soul without reason, nor is reason without the soul; and though they are one, the soul alone takes up life, reason alone takes up wisdom. Thus the Father and the Son, although they are one, and God is one, yet the flesh pertains to Christ alone, just as wisdom pertains to reason alone, though it does not recoil from the soul. See therefore, the heat and light of the sun are in one ray, but the heat dries out, while the light illuminates: the heat does one thing, the light another, although the heat and the light cannot be separated from each other. The light therefore brings illumination, not warmth; the heat brings warmth, not illumination.
Each does different things individually, yet they do not recoil from each other. Thus the Son alone took on the flesh, and yet did not depart from the Father, nor did he divide himself from the Father. The Son therefore took on the flesh as a quality, and yet the Father and the Holy Spirit were not absent in majesty. Equality in divinity, specific in the Son’s flesh; but the divinity of the Father or the Holy Spirit did not recede from him. Christ took on the flesh, but did he retreat from the Father or the Holy Spirit? Therefore, there is a true unity. Both Father and Holy Spirit filled the flesh of Christ, but by majesty, not by taking it up. You want to know that the Father was in him: “I am not alone”, said Christ, “but the Father is with me “[John 16:32]. Listen to what the evangelist relates about the Holy Spirit, who was with him: “Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, returned to the [river] Jordan” [Luke 4.1]. Behold, Christ alone took on the flesh, and yet the Father and the Holy Spirit were not absent in their majesty. If they fill up heaven and earth, they could not abandon the flesh of Christ, as long as they remained in the unity of divinity.
Furthermore, consider the lyre as it gives forth melodies with sweet sounds: three things seem as one, skill, hand and string. Skill dictates, the hand plays, and the string resounds. All three are at work, but only the string produces the sound you hear. Neither skill nor the hand make a sound, but each of them is working together with the string. Thus, neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit took flesh, but even so they are working together with the Son. Only the string produces sounds, only Christ took on flesh. The working consists of three things; but just as the production of sound pertains only to the string, so the taking on of human flesh pertains only to Christ. These words come from an inconsequential man placed in great suffering, so that whatever should be said came only with difficulty to my mind. This is the proper rule of the faith. If anything happens to you on account of this, you have achieved martyrdom. Christ received blows, Christ endured the spit of others, Christ drank sour wine vinegar, Christ was crowned with thorns, Christ was crucified, and the righteous was condemned among guilty thieves; Christ was pierced by a spear — Christ stood firm through all this on behalf of your faults, so how much firmer must you stand for your soul, so that nobody takes away your crown.
Now you are in the stadium; march forward bravely, do not be afraid; let nothing terrify you; let nothing deeply trouble you, because the whole Church prays for you so that you might conquer. The Catholic church is looking out for you, its martyr, so that it may honour you just like its martyr Stephen. See to it that you do not confound us in this world. See to it that you do not humiliate us in the sight of our enemies. Christ the Lord endures with you, the church endures with you. Be most confident about your crown; do not fear at all whatever past sins you have been able to commit.
In 1059, the campaign to rid the church of the evil of simony moved up a gear. Simony was the sin – contemporaries said heresy – of acquiring ecclesiastical office in exchange for gifts, or promises of favour. At a council in Rome, Pope Nicholas II declared that all priests who had secured their position in this way were now deposed.
But Nicholas went further than that. He not only deposed priests who had paid for their offices, he also targeted priests who had been ordained by such priests, even if their own ordination had been carried out for free (gratis). This was a radical and controversial measure, reminiscent, as Conrad Leyser has pointed out, of the Donatist schism in the fifth century, because it implied that the sacraments of simoniac priests were invalid. Its practical implications were so great that Nicholas accepted that priests already freely ordained by simoniacs might stay in their offices – but by merciful concession, not by the letter of the law.
Nicholas’s decree also dealt with matters of papal election, so it might be tempting to read its far-reaching statements about simony as primarily an act of dramatic rhetoric, aimed at a local, Roman audience. Was it really intended to have an impact in the Latin church as a whole?
Actually, the answer might be yes. There’s a clue in the manuscript transmission – ie, how the text was preserved in the Middle Ages. Nicholas’s decree was copied not in manuscripts written in Rome, but in manuscripts based on a compilation of Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury – and quite separately, in a manuscript now preserved in Vic in Catalonia. As Rudolf Schieffer pointed out, this suggests that Nicholas II took care to promulgate his decisions beyond Rome, sending out not only this decree, but also related material such as an oath sworn by the recanting heretic Berengar of Tours, which accompanies the 1059 decree in all manuscripts.
The Vic manuscript is especially interesting, however, since it also contains a copy of Humbert of Moyenmoutier’s 1058 treatise Three Books Against the Simoniacs. It’s long been debated how much this radical text spread, since not many copies of it now survive. But its proximity to the 1059 decree about simony in the Vic manuscript suggests not only that it might have spread more than we might think, but that it might even have been actively disseminated by the papacy as part of its anti-simony campaigns.
The mid-eleventh-century papacy is often overshadowed by Pope Gregory VII, but it’s becoming ever clearer how much he was the product, and not the cause, of ‘reform’.
Since at least the early tenth century, the failure of the Middle Kingdom – the kingdom of Lothar II, Lotharingia – has been tied to the failure of the Carolingian empire, whose wider history has almost always been dominated by the trope of decline: the inability of Charlemagne’s successors to measure up. That’s lent the kingdom’s eventual fate – divvied up by rival kings in 870 – an air of inevitability.
But for all that a combination of bad luck and poor judgement landed King Lothar II into a very deep hole in the 860s, we must beware the historian’s besetting vice of teleology. Dramatic reversals in fortune were par for the course in ninth-century politics. Lothar was admittedly in a pickle from 863 onwards thanks to his marital problems, but had it been his uncle King Charles the Bald who’d succumbed to unexpected illness in 869, events would have taken a rather different turn. And this blog is about some evidence that, up to his death, Lothar’s embattled kingdom seemed to remain in working order.
Like other Carolingian kingdoms, Lothar II’s had been afflicted by Viking raids, though the absence of a Lotharingian equivalent of the Annals of St Bertin or Annals of Fulda mean that we’re generally less informed about them. Viking raids could be dangerous and destabilising, but they also offered rulers a chance to demonstrate their martial vigour against an unproblematically ‘othered’ enemy. The Franks had mixed feelings about “civil” war – i.e. killing other Franks – but fighting Vikings was a different matter.
That’s demonstrated by a letter that chances to survive from Bishop Adventius of Metz, one of King Lothar’s most important supporters, and which probably dates from the year 867. In it, Bishop Adventius gives notice that the ‘whole people’ in his diocese is to undertake a three-day fast to beseech God for Lothar’s victory in an upcoming confrontation with the Vikings (see translation below). This is, in a way, the staging for a holy war.
Without doubt there were genuine religious motives at work here. But Lothar II’s kingdom was under enormous external pressure, which had not been relieved by Lothar’s decision under compulsion to readmit Theutberga as his wife in 865. So the opportunity to bring everyone together in a set of religious ceremonies against a common enemy would have been a welcome fillip to the king and his supporters. Here everyone could see the God-given, traditional order being rehearsed by the Carolingian military-religious complex: bishops praying for kings to triumph in war, with the common people (vulgaris populus) doing as they were told by their local priests.
In 867, Lothar II could, then, still present himself as a traditional king doing traditional kingly things, despite all the problems he and his supporters were facing. Ironically, though, hewing to tradition was actually one of the causes of those problems, since his disastrous marriage politics can be read as an attempt to behave just as his predecessors had, without realising that the ground had moved beneath his feet. In the end, maybe Lothar II was just too traditional for his own good?
It’s long been emphasised by historians of the European Middle Ages that their subjects did not think of themselves as medieval, a periodisation that was only invented and imposed later. Less often discussed, but perhaps just as important, is that they would not usually have thought of themselves as ‘European’ either. There certainly was a medieval concept of Europe (Europa). But as Klaus Oschema and Marie-Céline Isaia have suggested, that itself means that we should be cautious about using the term when the people we are studying did not.
To avoid the risk of anachronism that the language of “medieval Europe” might bring with it, historians have sometimes instead talked of the Latin West to describe their focus of study. In many ways this is both understandable and justifiable. People living in Carolingian Francia, for instance, did think of themselves as western, and the widespread use of Latin in liturgical and learned contexts – no matter what the vernacular – eased cultural transfer across wide areas, from Ireland to Hungary, and from Iceland to Sicily. There is a real cultural network here to be studied.
However, this cultural network was not strictly bounded or contained, and in fact many of its most central ideas developed in and through dialogue with those living elsewhere. As Saba Mahmood has put it when talking of European encounters with the wider world, ‘These encounters did not simply leave Christianity untouched but transformed it from within…’
The text presented here in English translation is a case in point. It is a letter written on the theme of simony, that it is to say the purchase (or, according to this treatise, attempted purchase) of ecclesiastical office: paying to become a priest or bishop. Very likely this letter was written by Humbert of Moyenmoutier, since it seems in some ways a first draft of his much longer (and more celebrated) Three books against the simonists. This letter was therefore an important step in the elaboration of a key concept in medieval history.
Significantly, however, this “early draft” was written to a Byzantine governor in southern Italy – a representative of another socio-political complex, in which Greek, not Latin played the role of lingua franca, and in which ancient ideas of the state (and of office holding) seemed better preserved. In other words, we can see Humbert developing his ideas – ideas that proved central in the history of the Latin West – in dialogue with people located in overlapping but distinct cultural networks.
Encounters such as these were not marginal to the development of the cultural network we might label the Latin West: they were baked in.
“Curiously, the earliest documented [coronation ordo] is for a queen, Judith in 856” – Jinty Nelson.
The coronation ritual by which the Frankish princess Judith was initiated into her marriage with the West Saxon king Aethelwulf has often been studied by historians of queenship and Anglo-Frankish contacts and connections. It has not however been translated into English before, as far as I know. This blog is therefore to make available my own draft translation of this important text, on the day of a modern royal wedding to boot. It’s rather rough and ready (& not polished enough for formal publication), so comments are welcome.
To provide some context, I’ve also translated a slightly later coronation ritual for another Frankish queen, Ermentrude. This ceremony, which took place in 866, did not mark the beginning of Ermentrude’s marriage to Charles the Bald – they had been married since 842, and in fact Judith was one of their children. The liturgy is preceded by a short text which offers an explanation as to why Charles (and Ermentrude?) arranged the event, decades into their married life. Further research on this by Zubin Mistry is forthcoming in the journal Early Medieval Europe.
Medieval coronation orders are strange sources. Composed largely of prayers, interspersed with citations from and references to the Bible, they can seem difficult to make much of (and to translate into English, too). However, these two rituals were written for specific occasions, and it may be possible to detect traces of how they were tailored to those occasions. They were also written by the same person – Archbishop Hincmar of Reims. That makes a comparison even more telling: how did Hincmar adjust and adapt his material, according to the political and theological imperatives of the moment?
One final point. It’s often assumed that marriages such as these were political affairs, not affairs of the heart. Perhaps. But Hincmar at least hoped that one wouldn’t exclude the other, since alongside praying for eternal life, freedom from ‘the stain of adultery’ and plenty of offspring, he also hoped Ermentrude and Charles would persevere amore coniugali sincero: ‘in sincere conjugal love’. Unfortunately, Charles’s efficiency in negotiating a remarriage to a woman named Richildis merely days after Ermentrude’s death in 869 suggests this prayer may not have been fully answered.
Chris Wickham has argued that polities whose political economy is based on grants of land (as opposed, say, to tax and salaries) are intrinsically unstable. Here’s a text in support of his argument, written by Archbishop Hincmar of Reims in 876 – the De villa noviliaco, a text surviving in a single ninth-century manuscript (Paris lat. 10758).
In it, Hincmar recounts the complex history of the villa (estate) of Neuilly. King Carloman granted this estate to the church of Reims in the late eighth century; the grant was confirmed by Charlemagne who nevertheless gave it in benefice to a Saxon named Anscher. Later, Charlemagne’s son Louis gave it to a count named Donatus. Legally, these grants in benefice did not overturn Reims’s ultimate ownership. However, Donatus craftily sliced off some holdings from the benefice which his family would later claim were entirely his.
When Emperor Louis’s sons rebelled against him, Donatus had to make a political choice; unfortunately for him, he made the wrong decision, joining Lothar just before Lothar surrendered. Neuilly was duly taken from Donatus, and given to a certain Hatto. But when Hatto died, Donatus and his family got it back again. However, when Louis the German invaded the western Frankish kingdom in 858, Donatus’s widow Landrada read the politics wrong once again, deserting Charles to join Louis. When Charles re-established control, he therefore took the estate from Landrada and gave it to the monastery of Orbais. Only then did Hincmar finally manage to get Neuilly back for Reims, shortly followed by the associated holdings stolen by Donatus. Hincmar did not keep the estate in house, however, preferring to grant it out in benefice to clients, Rothaus and Bernaus.
Donatus’s family was down but not out, however, for when Louis the German invaded again in 874 (while King Charles was in Italy), his and Landrada’s sons managed to get the estate back from Queen Richildis, presumably in return for their political and maybe military support. Not until Charles’s return from Italy was this grant overturned thanks to Hincmar’s lobbying.
The estate of Neuilly thus changed hands at least eleven times in around a century. Hincmar thought Reims had the better claim – and used the written word to prove it, referring to several charters none of which now survive. But the family of Donatus thought otherwise, and had their own established hereditary claim which had twice been honoured. We cannot know what they would have made of Hincmar’s arguments, but mostly likely they would have argued that although Reims owned Neuilly, they had a family claim to it as a benefice. Perhaps the families of Hatto, Anscher and Bernaus (each of who had held at it some point) would have seen things differently again.
Who had the best claim to Neuilly was therefore a political question, which is why Hincmar wrote and preserved his (doubtless partisan) account. But what Hincmar’s history does show quite unequivocally is how tensions over landholding made Frankish politics in the ninth century very unstable. For there was always someone waiting for the right opportunity to press long-harboured claims over some estate – and no shortage of rival kings willing to provide that opportunity.
Clerics preaching that God could be worshipped anywhere and that the cult of relics was a fraud, spreading their dangerous message in the countryside, and preying in particular on credulous and uneducated women…
…This may sound like a summary of some 11th or 12th-century criticism of heretics, like that of Ralph Glaber. But actually it’s a resumé of a ninth-century miracle story, recorded in the Miracula sancti Dionysii of Paris (an English translation is provided below).
The Miracles of Saint-Denis is a surprisingly neglected ninth-century source. It’s divided into three books. According to Levillain and, following him, Stoclet, the first two books (BHL 2202) were written in the 830s by none other than this blog’s old friend, Hincmar of Reims, who had been a monk at St Denis before his elevation to the Reims archbishopric in 845. It’s certainly striking that extracts from them survive in Reims BM. 1395, a ninth-century manuscript from St Remi.
A third book of miracles was written later, around 877 (BHL 2203). Most historians have been less interested in this book: Levillain because it had nothing to say about the Merovingian kings, Stoclet because it has less topographical information for the history of the monastery. In his recent book on Dionysian hagiography, Michael Lapidge also thought Book III wasn’t that interesting – just “a sequence of brief and unilluminating miracles”. Yet it’s in this book that our miracle story of the ‘pseudo-preaching’ clerics and their victims is to be found.
Obviously one can’t take such an account at face value. But it’s nevertheless interesting that in his recounting of the miracle, the author, presumably a monk of St-Denis, went to some trouble to justify the monumentality of the early medieval church, using a string of biblical precedents. That suggests a perception of a genuine counter-argument of the kind attributed to the ‘brainless’ clerics in the story – one that might be linked to contemporary arguments about church property, mentioned in an earlier blog.
Since it’s at the end of the miracle collection, could this story have been added later? That’s in principle possible, since the earliest manuscript is 12th-century, and miracle collections did sometimes grow by accretion. But the story’s author notes that he had mentioned the place of Chaudrades “above”, in a cross-reference to chapter 10 of Book III, whose ninth-century credentials seem pretty strong (e.g. references to pagi, the personal names, etc). So any addition would have been fraudulent in intent. Given that we know there was some ambivalence about relics in the ninth-century, this seems an over-complicated solution.
What’s most surprising about the story is its suggestion that ‘ordinary’ people, not just clerical elites (or sub-elites), might have been affected by such views in the Carolingian period. How to interpret this evidence is a problem that needs to be chewed over. In any case, it’s a reminder that early medieval miracle collections deserve more attention than they tend to receive – and for none is that more true than the Miracles of Saint-Denis.
Note on the Latin edition of the Miracula Sancti Dionysii (with links to the manuscripts on the ever-amazing Gallica) The standard edition of the Miracula Sancti Dionysii is Mabillon’s Acta Sanctorum Ordinis sancti Benedicti, based on two 13th– and 15th-century manuscripts (Paris BnF nal 1509 and Paris, Arsenal 1030). Mabillon later came across the much older Reims BM 1395. He published two more miracles he found there, but without updating his earlier edition, although the Reims manuscript clearly provides alternative readings. And Mabillon didn’t know at all about Vatican Reg. lat. 571, a late 12th-century manuscript, which has a full text that may well be better than the manuscripts Mabillon used. A new edition of the Miracula could be based on the Vatican manuscript, drawing on the Reims extracts (already edited by Luchaire as an appendix to his study).
Miracles of St Denis, Book III, Ch. 15: draft translation
Paris nal. 1509, s. xiii, p. 372 Paris lat. 2447, s. xiii, fol. 184
Vatican Reg. 571, s. xii, fol. 95v
Paris lat. 2873B (s. xv), fol?
About two women who suffered from spasms and were eventually cured
There were two women, one of whom lived in Chaudardes of Laon (Caldarda Laudunensium) which I mentioned above, and the other in the village (vicus) of Breuil, whose faith was subverted by pseudo-preaching clerics. These clerics mocked the afore oft-mentioned Denis. They said that God was everywhere and did not need to be sought anywhere else, although Jacob placed the stone where he said the true God was [Genesis 28], and Naaman was cured nowhere else but the River Jordan [2 Kings 5], and certain kings of Israel who walked perfectly before God were blamed only because they worshipped him in the heavens, and our Lord Jesus Christ wished to be born nowhere else than in a house of bread [ie the Eucharist]* – Jesus who gives life to those who worthily consume him, and is a future judgement for those who take him unworthily…**
Eventually these women, urged by the admonitions of their neighbours, came together amongst the crowds that gathered on the sixteenth kalends of October [16th Sept]. While we were celebrating the night office on the holy Sunday night, suddenly amongst the whole multitude they began to suffer from that disease which we call spasm. After they had collapsed to the ground many times like madmen, they looked like they were dead. They suffered for this for a long time, until they confessed that they had not only believed what they had heard from the brainless clerics, but had often mocked those who sought the saint.
*Thus Mabillon (in panis domo). The Vatican manuscript however has an abbreviation mark on the p and a suspension mark over the a: not panis but p̱ānis. Answers on a postcode please.
**the Latin continues ita ibi per quindecim dies sana est reddita (‘thus for fifteen days ?health was returned there’) which is difficult to make sense of.
 Levillain, Études sur l’abbaye de Saint-Denis; Stoclet, ‘Les miracula sancti Dionysii, commentaire et donnees topographiques’, in Wyss, Atlas historique de Saint-Denis. The BHL website lists six manuscripts:
In 2016, the MGH published Benedikt Marxreiter’s edition and German translation* of a hitherto unknown text – a work on demonic magic by an eleventh-century monk, Bern of Reichenau.
As well as Bern’s treatise, De nigromantia, there also survive two cover letters, which accompanied copies of the work that he sent to people, which are also included in Marxreiter’s edition. One of these letters was addressed to Archbishop Poppo of Trier (d. 1047). Here’s a quick draft translation of a key passage:
“Those people stir up foolish, useless and vain questions, who watch the movement of the stars because they think that every human is born under a constellation, who seek answers from demons, who demand divinations, who foster the magical art, and who destroy themselves. Following the Apostle Paul’s words, they ‘introduce sects of perdition, and denying the Lord who bought them, they bring swift destruction on themselves’. We have heard that these people sprouted forth in Italy in the kingdom of Charles, emerged forth for their own ruin, came to Lotharingia and sowed the poisonous seeds of their lethal teaching, for the destruction of many. Your Authority [Poppo] resisted them according to the wisdom divinely given to you, argued against and contradicted them many times… And recently some news that was not good reached me, which reported that certain seedlings of error have again sprouted in Francia, which strive to contaminate the harvest of the catholic faith…”
What does Bern’s letter mean for students of 11th-century heresy – a long vexed historiographical field? On the one hand, it could represent new evidence for the existence and spread of heretics in post-1000 Europe, moving up from Italy into Lotharingia, and connected moreover with the well-known appearance of heretics in France around this time (e.g. the famous 1022 Orleans burnings).
On the other, it could simply show how what was changing was not the heretics but the church’s classification of people perceived as dissenters. Bern was after all a well-networked ‘reforming’ monk, closely connected with both Fleury and Gorze, and thus perhaps prone to see the devil’s work in any resistance to a programme of reform. His association of heresy with demonic magic and astrology certainly suggests that we are dealing with very thick layers of ecclesiastical interpretation. As Marxreiter points out, it certainly can’t be a coincidence that Archbishop Poppo had accused nuns in his diocese of magic, as a justification for dissolving the convent of Pfazel**.
Either way, it’s exciting to have a new piece of the heresy jigsaw to play with.
How did the Carolingian Empire, established by Charlemagne through his coronation in Rome in the year 800, differ from the Byzantine Empire centred around Constantinople (modern Istanbul)?
The ideological and cultural aspects of this enormous question have been abundantly studied for these two heirs of the ancient Roman Empire, but the issue is perhaps less clearly understood when it comes to the practical exercise of power. Historians have plenty of sources at their disposal for both these political units, but these sources are culturally embedded in such a way as to make direct comparison difficult, especially when it comes to thinking about how power worked at an everyday level, and how rulers controlled their territories.
There is however one source that not just allows but encourages us to think comparatively about how these two empires actually worked, and that is the Rižana Dispute (sometimes also known as the Plea of Rižana). You can read a full English translation, but here is a brief summary:
Around 804, Charlemagne sent three legates to Istria, a peninsula to the north-east of Italy, to resolve a dispute that had broken out there.
Istria was a region that had previously been under Byzantine control, but Charlemagne had conquered it in 788, and annexed it to the kingdom of Italy (which he had also conquered a few years earlier, in 774). This conquest had brought with it some changes in how Istria was governed: and it was to these changes that people in Istria were objecting in 804.
The source is a record of the meeting that Charlemagne’s legates arranged to sort things out at Rižana, an area now just outside the modern Slovenian town of Koper, a couple of kilometres from the Italian border. The legates summoned 172 leaders from cities and fortified settlements in the Istrian region to hear what the issue was: and these people did not hold their punches.
First of all, the Istrian witnesses complained that since the Frankish conquest, the church had started to throw its weight around much more. They began by accusing the Patriarch of Grado, the most senior churchman of the area, of evading his financial responsibilities. Then they moved onto the other bishops, who they said had been dodging their obligations, evicting people from church lands wrongfully, and generally bullying the local free population.
But their real anger was reserved for Duke John, the main secular agent appointed by the Franks. John, they said, had appropriated the revenues meant for the imperial court for his own purposes, and had also taken over a great deal of property. And that was just the start of it! He’d abolished the traditional hierarchy of offices held by regional leaders, along with the cherished privileges that went with them; he’d demanded extra humiliating services, such as feeding his dogs and onerous long-distance transport duties; and he’d raised tax demands considerably. Getting direct access to the centre of power was much harder than it had been, the Istrian leaders claimed, under the Greeks.
What does this account tell us about the Carolingian and Byzantine empires? Both were obviously agrarian empires, getting their revenues from an overwhelmingly agricultural economy. Rights over grazing livestock were particularly important in this region. So in focusing their demands for revenue on these resources, to some extent the new rulers of Istria simply stepped into the shoes of the old.
But the differences are striking, too. Power in Carolingian Istria was organised and exercised in new ways. The Carolingian regime had apparently empowered bishops at the expense of what seems like the relics of a Roman-style city-based administration maintained by the Byzantines. The Carolingian administrative apparatus was also far less elaborate: instead of a series of grand titles and offices, each with their own administrative privileges, rituals and customs, there was just the duke and his all-purposes “sheriffs” (centenarii), together with his own extended family. And, as already mentioned, the new emperor was harder to reach than the old one. To get to the court, and thus to reach Charlemagne’s attention, the Istrians had to go through mediators whom they didn’t altogether trust, whether it was a duke or a church patriarch.
The new Carolingian regime may seem therefore less sophisticated than the Byzantine administration had been. Yet despite our modern preconceptions, and as Matthew Innes has pointed out, that doesn’t mean that it was less effective at flexing its muscles. In fact, judging from the complaints, it was actually more successful at extracting revenues from the region than the Byzantine rulers had been, even if not all of the proceeds ended up at the imperial centre any more.
And, as Stefan Esders has noted, the new regime was also just as literate. The Rižana record itself demonstrates that, since it was probably the first time that the customs of the region had been written down, in this case under the auspices of the Patriarch of Grado (in some ways as much a representative of Frankish authority in Istria as Duke John).
So, a relatively unelaborated and informal apparatus of government posed no barrier to efficient and effective rule. Carolingian Istria seems to have been just as controlled, and just as exploited, as Byzantine Istria, even though (as Rachel Stone has also argued) the Carolingian Empire was organised very differently.
Can we securely draw sweeping conclusions about how power worked in two empires just on the basis of a single document? Of course not. Matters in Istria were complicated by its recent conquest. This was a frontier zone between two empires, so things may well have been very different elsewhere. But the Rižana Dispute at least gives us a glimpse into how the Carolingian and Byzantine empires were ‘experienced’ differently by the same regional community – and that’s a precious insight of which we should make the most.
For more discussion (in English) of the Rizana (sometimes also spelled Risano or Riziano) dispute, see
J. Davis, Charlemagne’s Practice of Empire (Cambridge, 2015), esp. pp. 102-4 and 274-277.
M. Innes, ‘Framing the Carolingian Economy’, Journal of Agrarian Change 9 (2009), 42-58.
F. Borri, ‘Neighbors and Relatives”: The Plea of Rižana as a Source for Northern Adriatic Elites’, Mediterranean Studies
17 (2008), pp. 1-26
 M. Innes, ‘Framing the Carolingian Economy’, Journal of Agrarian Change 9 (2009), 42-58.
 Stefan Esders, ‘Regionale Selbstbehauptung zwischen Byzanz und dem Frankenreich: Die inquisitio der Rechtsgewohnheiten Istriens durch die Sendboten Karls des Großen und Pippins von Italien’, in Eid und Wahrheitssuche. Studien zu rechtlichen Befragungspraktiken in Mittelalter und früher Neuzeit, ed. S. Esders (Frankfurt, 1999), 49-112.
A research project blog by Charles West (Department of History, Sheffield)