Brian A. Catlos

title.none: Kosto, Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia (Brian A. Catlos)

identifier.other: baj9928.0212.004 02.12.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Brian A. Catlos, University of California at Santa Cruz,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Kosto, Adam. Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: Power, Order, and the Written Word, 1000-1200. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Pp. iv, 366. ISBN: 0-512-79239-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.12.04

Kosto, Adam. Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: Power, Order, and the Written Word, 1000-1200. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Pp. iv, 366. ISBN: 0-512-79239-8.

Reviewed by:

Brian A. Catlos
University of California at Santa Cruz

Adam Kosto's Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia is an exhaustive and precise archival investigation of the type that few North American historians today would have the technical ability and discipline to undertake. Based on a thorough survey of documentation in no less than ten Catalan archives, Kosto endeavors to trace the development of the convenientia ("convention"), an imprecise genre of legal contract current in the institutionally-formative centuries of medieval Catalonia and comprising an extensive but discrete body of material. His goal is not only to survey the one thousand or so surviving convenientiae themselves, but to analyze their relationship to judicial and administrative practice in the eastern Pyrenean counties. Special emphasis is placed on Barcelona, which came to dominate the other Catalan principalities during the period under study (1000-1200). It is the development of the Catalan feudal regime in the two centuries after the year 1000 and the role of written agreements in that process which interest Kosto -- a process which in his view was multifaceted and stretched out over centuries, rather than cataclysmic as some historians have maintained. While acknowledging the importance of legal and literary sources, he argues convincingly that convenientiae, which reflect actual rather than ideal situations, as a more accurate source for understanding the interpersonal relationships at the core of medieval administration (15-16).

Convenientiae, written contracts defined by their bilateral nature, were not unique to Catalonia, but appear also in Provence, the Midi, Castile, and Lombard Italy; by closely defining their characteristics and role, Kosto hopes to illuminate what may be a distinctly Southern European development. This, he hopes, will be useful for reassessing contemporary developments in northern European principalities (23), thus contributing to a perspectival revision of feudal development, which has traditionally been based on research on Northern European rural society.

The first of six chapters addresses the emergence of convenientiae and "Social and Documentary Change Around the Year 1000." In the formative period of 1021-1050 convenientiae emerge as a new administrative genre in Catalonia, differing from convenientiae in other lands, and conceptually distinct from the various types of oaths, pacts, and sale and exchange agreements which were the local Carolinian and Visigothic antecedents. Convenientiae were essentially conditional agreements between two parties which carried a punitive clause for non-compliance. Counts, bishops and abbots used them to formalize commendations, land grants and contracts relating to castleholding and military service. Originally ad hoc and imprecise in format, they began to take on a more standard form by the mid-eleventh century.

The second chapter, "Making Agreements," surveys the various types of agreements which came to be formulated in this manner, first and foremost those relating to castle tenure and military service. This leads into a discussion of the nature of comital power in Catalonia, an element characterized by a strong reciprocal element which in Kosto's view defies traditionally rigid and hierarchical definitions of concepts such as "homage" and "fief." Indeed, convenientiae often articulated treaties and "out of court" settlements between essentially equal powers, be they counts or bishops. Other important uses of convenientiae included setting up complex agreements between land-holders and peasants for agricultural exploitation, the resolution of inter- and intra-family disputes relating to inheritance, as well as other a variety of other conditional, bilateral agreements. As Kosto admits, his efforts to investigate the mechanics of these settlements are frustrated by the imprecise and uncertain nature of their terminology, but he determinedly wrings as much as possible out of the material, analyzing their structure, text, vocabulary and temporal and geographical occurrence.

Chapter Three, "Keeping Agreements," focuses on enforcement, which was an essential aspect of convenientiae. The coercive element was ensured by the offering of sureties in the form of hostages or money, either offered up front or to be demanded in future in case of non-compliance. Here Kosto sees the intrusion of Catalan phrases into the Latin text of these documents as symptomatic of the role played by ritual in the conclusion of conventientiae. The oath-making ceremonies which would have accompanied the signing of these contracts informed them with moral and religious content and impressed the gravity of the agreement on the signatories through personal participation. Indeed, it was the personal oath which was essential and which the conventientiae served to formalize. The fourth and fifth chapters, "Foundations (Eleventh Century)" and "Fortunes (Twelfth Century)" explore the articulation of power structures in Catalonia and the role of conventientiae in this process. Relating as they do to castle-holding, these agreements are seen by Kosto as a key to the development of comital power in Barcelona and to episcopal administration throughout Catalonia. The role of the agreement and the document in the disputes which invariably arose as a result of the ambiguities of power relationships is discussed in general terms, and is illustrated through a series of illuminating case-studies -- minute reconstructions in which the effective use of written agreements is shown to be key to obtaining favorable results for litigants. Hence the increasing obsession on the part of the Counts of Barcelona, beginning with Ramon Berenguer I, to maintain such records as an instrument of domination and control of their vassals. In the twelfth century the successful negotiation and timely renewal of conventientiae relating to castle-holding enabled the Barcelona counts to extend their power. The effectiveness of this policy is illustrated by the fact that when, as in the early decades of the 1100s, the Counts failed to renew such contracts, noble families clawed back autonomy and privileges which had previously been promised away, resulting in an erosion of Barcelona's power. With the return of a powerful comital regime in the second half of that century under Ramon Berenguer IV and Alfons I (also Alfonso II of Aragon), skillful and determined litigation based on contractual agreements helped to establish the incontestable supremacy of Barcelona over the lesser counties.

In the concluding chapter, "Writing and Power," Kosto underlines the central role of convenientiae in the political formation of medieval Catalonia. The importance of the creation and maintenance of written records was not lost on the counts, who were inspired to establish an organized bureaucracy and archive in the late eleventh century -- a policy which coincided with the analogous establishment of formal chanceries in the papal and the royal courts of Latin Christendom. Kosto quite validly underlines the active role that the deliberate foundation and maintenance of archives, so easily dismissed as static collections of documents, played in this political process. The use of convenientiae reached its apex with Alfons I's compilation, the Liber Feudorum Maior (1178-94), a compendium of individual contracts which at this point in time proved more effective as an instrument of authority than Barcelona's famous law code, the Usatges, and which, as whole, revised the concept of comital authority by presenting the Count as the ruler of definite territorial extension. In the following century convenientiae disappeared; in the 1200s the structure of Catalan society transformed in such a manner that this type of agreement no longer corresponded to expectations or needs.

One cannot help but be impressed by Kosto's investigative rigor. His determination to systematically survey and consult the documentary material in original form (even where editions exist) is commendable -- he is quite correct to mistrust the selective criteria and sometimes questionable accuracy of earlier historians and editors of sources. By painstakingly dissecting, comparing and contextualizing the documents Kosto articulates an argument for the singular role of convenientiae in the development of the feudal regime of Catalonia in which it is difficult to find fault. Indeed, if any complaint is to be found with this study it comes as a result of the microscopic attention that the author devotes to his material and the technical nature of his arguments -- this is not a work for the uninitiated. Given the profundity of the analysis and relative absence of comparative content, readers are left largely on their own to draw conclusions the ramifications of which extend beyond the bounds of Catalonia itself. This book is a welcome addition to Catalan and Iberian studies; with its thorough and unimpeachable archival grounding, Making Agreements will undoubtedly provide Kosto and other historians with a solid foundation on which to base broader studies relating to the development of medieval juridical and administrative regimes both in medieval Catalonia and elsewhere Latin Christendom.