Nathaniel L. Taylor

title.none: Bowman, Shifting Landmarks (Nathaniel L. Taylor)

identifier.other: baj9928.0611.002 06.11.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Nathaniel L. Taylor, Brown University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Bowman, Jeffrey A. Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000. Series: Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004. Pp. 304. $42.50 0-8014-3990-6. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.11.02

Bowman, Jeffrey A. Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000. Series: Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004. Pp. 304. $42.50 0-8014-3990-6. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Nathaniel L. Taylor
Brown University

This thoughtful and rigorous book brings together two important trends in recent post-Carolingian historiography: the fruitful and still- young fashion of focus on document-rich Catalonia and southern Languedoc; and the new anthropology of law, in which legal practices are explored as the warp of a living, changable social fabric, free from some of the distortions which can come from reliance on prescriptive legal sources. From a very specific focus--a corpus of property disputes drawn from episcopal, monastic and royal archives-- Jeffrey Bowman has written an elegant and perceptive book that illuminates Catalonia's own society while gracefully making a larger point about social continuities in an era too often labeled as one of rapid change. Catalonia of the year 1000 is a remarkable place: a society with a thriving notarial tradition which has left a documentary record unmatched in the post-Carolingian world. Geographically, it lay at the crossroads of Visigothic and Carolingian Frankish influences, which gave it a unique hybrid legal and political culture. Temporally, it lay in a twilight between ageing Carolingian (and pre-Carolingian) social institutions and new economic and political developments--a transition often characterized as the mutation feodale. Indeed, Catalonia in this era has been seen by mutationistes as presenting one of the clearest examples of rapid social change around the year 1000.

Jeffrey Bowman is one of the growing number of Anglophone historians in the last decade to recognize and exploit the notarial riches of medieval Catalonia. This book applies focused questions and thoughtful analyses to a carefully selected group from among the vast surviving legacy of medieval Catalonian charters. This documentation is described with a modest simplicity (4): "The records of greatest interest for this study are the roughly 170 that mention disputes over property rights." But these charters are well larded with opportunities for interpretation, and the book is further informed by a thoughtful rummaging through thousands of other charters from the great episcopal, monastic and royal archives of the province--as well as a careful reading of the historiography of the mutation feodale well beyond Catalonia's borders.

The nine chapters of this book address distinct themes which create a composite picture of the social context of these charters. Focusing on the thick description of snapshots of a unified era (essentially 980 to 1060), rather than narrating trends within a longer period, Bowman describes various aspects of a legal culture which should be of interest to many. The first section explores the prescriptive underpinnings of this legal culture, parsing the Roman law texts which survived as living codes in Visigothic provinces, the habits of reliance on written title to land (also a Roman holdover), and the professional identity and social role of the caste of lay justices who sustained these traditions. The second section deals with the workings of this legal system, focusing in turn on the three main types of evidence used in court cases: the judicial ordeal, written documents, and the (oral) testimony of witnesses. This section is a model for legal anthropology in that it is organized around a theoretical framework--a typology of forms of evidence--but the procedures are reconstructed and explored from actual cases, rather than the prescriptive texts which at best can only say how someone thought the system should work.

The book concludes with two chapters bearing two parallel lines of conclusion. One expands on the idea of the 'end' of the legal process, both illustrating the procedural afterlife of individual cases, and returning to focus on the broader role of these proceedings in the Catalan economic and social order. The final chapter contextualizes the book in the current historiography of debate over the validity of the mutation feodale, as well as, sketchily, in the broader discourses within the anthropology of medieval violence and dispute-resolution. On the mutation--which arguably has already deteriorated to the point where one might consider it a straw man in discussions such as this one--Bowman makes it clear that his documents show a legal system healthily employing learned legal traditions throughout the allegedly disruptive century from 980 to 1060. Various procedural trends are visible, such as the "noticeable reduction in the prevalence of written proofs," but a self-respecting professional legal system continued to operate. As for its 'public' or 'private' nature, Bowman thoughtfully suggests that this modern historians' dichotomy is difficult to uphold when one considers the actions of representatives of 'public' authority (the counts and other post-Carolingian officeholders) in light of their personal and familial interests: did their predecessors ever truly participate in a 'public' order distinct from any and all 'private' interests? As for broader geographic comparisons, it is difficult to extrapolate from Catalonia simply because so few other European regions have analogous judicial (or quasi-judicial) records surviving from this period. Interesting generalizations are therefore unfortunately difficult to weigh. For example, Bowman tells us that more property cases in Catalonia seem to have been emphatically resolved in favor of one party, while elsewhere compromise was more prevalent (244). This datum (however measured) cannot prove to us that Catalan judges were more effective in pronouncing and enforcing judgments: we cannot be certain that equally confident judicial systems elsewhere have left little or no trace.

Nevertheless, by focusing on the continuities of a confident professional legal culture with the warts and flaws of a healthy, living law, in a period which has been alleged to be one of radical transition, Bowman has furthered the attenuation of mutationisme. Here, at least, the storied transformations of post-Carolingian society could rightly be understood as a long landscape (extending well beyond the chronological limits of Bowman's own investigation) of both continuity and gradual change. In fact some changes, observable in eighty years of documentation, are hinted at in the concluding chapters--changes which might have been further explored and contextualized without weakening the broader thesis of continuity. At any rate, the extent to which the Catalan case should be taken as a model for studies of the Millennial social order in Western Europe generally is unanswerable. But whether it is a snapshot of a typical or atypical institution and society, Bowman's book gives us a provocative and well-lit window into a Millennial society, while helping to rein in the runaway construct of mutation feodale.