Felice Lifshitz

title.none: Innes, State and Society in the Early Middle Ages (Felice Lifshitz)

identifier.other: baj9928.0211.017 02.11.17

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Felice Lifshitz, Florida International University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Innes, Matthew. State and Society in the Early Middle Ages: The Middle Rhine Valley, 400-1000. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought., 47. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Pp. v, 316. ISBN: 0-512-59455-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.11.17

Innes, Matthew. State and Society in the Early Middle Ages: The Middle Rhine Valley, 400-1000. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought., 47. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Pp. v, 316. ISBN: 0-512-59455-3.

Reviewed by:

Felice Lifshitz
Florida International University

This study describes, on the basis of an exacting examination of the region's unusually large stock of documentary sources (predominately charters of Lorsch and Fulda origin), power, and politics, and power politics in the Middle Rhine Valley (from Bingen to Speyer). The work ranges, sometimes superficially, from the late Roman period through the opening decades of the second millennium, and has a great deal of value to say about the entire eighth and ninth centuries; however, its greatest weight lies in the minute reconstruction of local social relationships during the late eighth and early ninth centuries, when the region became a "royal heartland." Beginning dramatically with Charlemagne's personal takeover of the theretofore local-familial monastery of Lorsch in 771, the inhabitants of the Middle Rhine were increasingly faced with royal intervention in what had been a closed world of regional politics; during that period, "the Carolingians rewrote the rulebook, establishing royal lordship over the church and redefining aristocratic local dominance in terms of office" (260). Eventually, political power was to be even further institutionalized in formal rights of command, but Innes is here concerned above all to say something about early medieval polities, when both kings and elites "lacked an institutional basis for the exercise of local power, and so both dominated socially rather than administratively" (261). It was precisely social relationships, Innes argues, which formed the real stuff of political power during the early middle ages, and it is such social relationships which should form the centerpiece of historical studies of early medieval politics; "institutionalism" -- which treats the ruler as a sovereign source of power and of delegation of power -- is a misguided approach. He writes: "the exercise of power was rooted in the everyday, in the give and take of face-to-face relationships of co-operation, patronage and mutual back-scratching...Personal presence was necessary for the direct exercise of power, which was therefore bound up with patterns of movement and meeting. To a very large extent, then, the terminology of 'government' and 'administration' is misleading...local patterns of the public, manifest and collective must replace administrative delegation in our minds as the foundation stones of the Carolingian polity" (139-140).

That early medieval politics are best understood in such terms is not a completely novel assertion; much of the most influential recent work in the field (which deeply informs Innes' own study, explicitly and implicitly) has tended in that direction. It has not, however, carried the day, for there are prominent voices speaking instead in favor of institutions, offices, and administrative structures as the key to early medieval politics. Indeed, in his 1998 Speculum review of Mayke de Jong's In Samuel's Image, Alain Stoclet declared the position espoused by Innes (along with de Jong) already to be "old school" and "no longer tenable in the face of the evidence massively accumulated by Karl-Ferdinand Werner, Jean Durliat, Elisabeth Magnou-Nortier and other 'hyperromanists': an uninterrupted chain links late Roman to Merovingian to Carolingian administration" (829). Yet Stoclet's obituary for the "hyporomanist" view was surely premature, and it seems clear that the theories of the "hyperromanists" cannot stand alone in explaining early medieval politics. Too much evidence has also been massively accumulated by scholars who, like Innes, have been increasingly turning our attention away from formal, structured institutions and towards informal, fluid negotiation as the key to early medieval society: Wendy Davies and Paul Fouracre's edited collection The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (1986), Barbara Rosenwein's To Be the Neighbor of St. Peter (1989), and numerous publications by Gerd Althoff and Chris Wickham, just to name a few. It is impossible to read Dudo of St. Quentin's Gesta Normannorum -- a text which, by no means (co)incidentally, experienced a wave of popularity among medievalists precisely as those studies were making their effects felt -- without noticing that the political landscape of at least one late Carolingian cleric and historian consisted almost entirely of ad hoc placita arranged by ever-scheming go-betweens. Innes is clearly onto something, and the fact that he is not here the first to stake out his particular set of claims hardly detracts from the ultimate value of his extremely well-written study.

Matthew Innes has chosen to examine a region which is ideally suited to playing a breakthrough role in the scholarly impasse between the "hyporomanists" and the "hyperromanists" (contemporaries whom Innes diplomatically spares by explicitly battling, instead, the long shadow of the late F.L. Ganshof; see p. 5 and passim). For one thing, the Middle Rhine boasts a large and therefore potentially persuasive source base. Furthermore, the Middle Rhine is a region whose status as a royal heartland makes it of interest to all manner of historians who might ignore a study -- however compelling and sophisticated that study might be -- of (for instance) peasants or religious women in a provincial backwater. Finally, the Middle Rhine is a region for which the nitty-gritty legwork of identifying kin groups and their properties and their monastic allies, legwork which must under gird any synthetic picture, had already been accomplished in innumerable studies by Franz Staab and, to a slightly lesser extent, Wilhelm Stoermer, and by others as well. Indeed, the basic "facts" of Innes' narrative will be recognized by anyone who has also read that enormous Germanophone literature, but so too will be the extent to which he has gone beyond that literature to create historical meaning. Innes always locates the larger significance of his arguments front and center; his spotlight is never trained on mere factoids. He is therefore able to demonstrate, by naming names, matching persons to properties, and so forth, precisely how the social "relationships of co-operation, patronage and mutual back-scratching" (139) did in fact constitute the stuff of power in the early middle ages.

Moreover, the volume also boasts numerous original interpretations of long-known individual "facts," interpretations which provide even further insight into the overarching problematic of "state and society" (his real interest) or into the definition and mechanisms of power in the early middle ages. Even when his insights, as well as his data, are largely indebted to previous Germanophone scholarship, he utilizes that scholarship in subtle, sophisticated ways, as well as performing the great good service of making some of the more obscure of German studies known to a wider audience. There is, indeed, no fray Innes does not enthusiastically join. His discussion of the meanings of "public" and "private" when applied to different stages for, or mechanisms of, the donation of property is a case in point (94-117); his discussion of the archeological evidence for the region, in which he suggests that changes in burial practices "should be seen as responses to political competition in this highly unstable zone, not as blanket indicators of Frankish ethnicity" (170), is another. As a final concrete example, consider Innes' treatment of the apparently momentous shift in the legal personnel of "judgment-finders" from boni homines or nobiliores homines to scabini, a "transformation" which -- on closer examination -- is revealed to have occurred primarily on the level of discourse, not on the level of institutions:

Scabinus was a newfangled title adopted by the court in royal edicts. Earlier historians, working from royal legislation alone, have seen in the adoption of the new term scabinus an attempted institutional reform; the scabini were close to being professional jurors...Yet the scabini of 782 were exactly the same kind of men who had been described as boni homines previously: local men of property and influence. There was no change of personnel...local influence was being presented in terms of official roles defined by the political centre (184-85).

Despite the work's many excellent qualities, it is also possible to fault Innes for an analysis that sometimes lacks cultural depth and richness. For instance, his discussion of the frenzied search for spiritual patronage which, between the 780s and the 820s, transferred one-third to one-half of the land in any given east Frankish settlement to ecclesiastical or monastic control (see especially pp. 16-17 and 36-42), would surely have benefited from some attention to the apocalyptic "terrors of the year 800" long highlighted by Juan Gil, Richard Landes, Johannes Fried and Wolfram Brandes (in the latter case, precisely as a phenomenon of the Middle Rhine Valley).[[1]] Furthermore, Lorsch and Fulda in particular, along with other monasteries relevant to the region, possessed some of the most significant libraries and some of the most productive scriptoria of the entire early middle ages, yet Innes never mentions, let alone exploits, a single piece of manuscript evidence. This neglect of so much of the available evidence for the region is particularly striking in a student of Rosamond McKitterick, who has done more than anyone else to draw attention to the centrality of the written word to Carolingian politics.[[2]] The (re)production of knowledge and books formed part of the complex set of mechanisms whereby royalty and other elites exercised power during the Carolingian period; some attention to the topic would not have been a mere ornamental frill, but would have added substantially to Innes' overall picture. The role of Lorsch, for instance, in creating (in 789) a uniform, official "Reichskalender" for propagation throughout the Frankish lands would surely have been worth some mention, if only a brief one.[[3]] But no one can do everything, and the book remains a stimulating and satisfying read.

[1] Wolfram Brandes, "'Tempora periculosa sunt' Eschatalogisches im Vorfeld der Kaiserkroenung Karls des Grossen" in Das Frankfurter Konzil von 794. Kristallisationspunkt karolingischer Kultur, ed. Rainer Berndt, 2 vols. (Mainz, 1997) vol. 1 pp. 49 - 79; see Brandes for references to previous scholarship on the subject.

[2] For instance, Rosamond McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word (Cambridge, 1989).

[3] For the calendar, see Arno Borst, Die karolingische Kalenderreform (Hannover, 1998).