Adam J. Kosto

title.none: Feller and Wickham, Le Marché de la Terre au Moyen Âge (Adam J. Kosto)

identifier.other: baj9928.0706.012 07.06.12

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Adam J. Kosto, Columbia University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Feller, Laurent and Chris Wickham. Le Marché de la Terre au Moyen Âge. Collection de L'École française de Rome, vol. 350. Rome: École Française de Rome, 2005. Pp. xii, 672. ISBN: $92.95 (pb) 2-7283-0717-2 (pb).

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.06.12

Feller, Laurent and Chris Wickham. Le Marché de la Terre au Moyen Âge. Collection de L'École française de Rome, vol. 350. Rome: École Française de Rome, 2005. Pp. xii, 672. ISBN: $92.95 (pb) 2-7283-0717-2 (pb).

Reviewed by:

Adam J. Kosto
Columbia University

This volume collects the acts of two international colloquia held in 1999 (Les Treilles) and 2001 (St. Lambert des Bois), the fruits of a working group sponsored by the Laboratoire de Medievistique Occidentale de Paris (LAMOP). The subject of investigation is the "land market"--a term that generates substantial methodological introspection--in various regions of England, Germania, Francia, Italia, and Iberia, from the late ninth to the early sixteenth centuries, although with a heavy emphasis on the Late Middle Ages. Part I offers three (!) introductions, Part II a series of regionally oriented historiographical essays, and Part III twelve case studies. Chris Wickham's bravely synthetic and typically incisive conclusion (625-42) lays out the principal challenge for the scholar of the medieval land market and, a fortiori, the reader of this volume: six major binary variables in the markets under consideration (sales of properties or of tenures; sales by peasants or by elites; etc.), resulting in a minimum of "sixty-four different pathways of historical analysis" (632). Add to this the chronological and geographical diversity of the individual studies and variations in the nature of the evidence, not just in volume but in type (prices versus entry fines; complete regsiters versus single documents), and it is clear that the most that this volume can hope to do is to frame the question--to explore the various ways in which the medieval land market may be studied.

For reasons that remain unexplained, one of the interventions has been published separately: Laurent Feller, Agnes Gramain, and Florence Weber, La Fortune de Karol: Marché de la terre et liens personnels dans les Abruzzes au haut moyen age. [1] That the decision to publish separately took place after the preface and conclusion had been written is slightly disorienting, given the frequent references to it and its clear importance in the group's discussions. Another striking omission is any representative--despite the strong Iberian presence in the working group--of the contributors to Reyna Pastor et al., Transacciones sin mercado: Instituciones, propiedad y redes sociales en la Galicia monastica, 1200-1300 [2], a volume that is also frequently cited by the various authors. These two absences are all the more regrettable in that they stake out the two extremes of the debate that runs through the volume. La Fortune de Karol, based on a dossier of close to a hundred documents from the ninth- century Abruzzo (central Italy), offers--despite the early date-- strong evidence for a "market" in land that is subject to economic analysis. Transacciones, argues the opposite, that land transactions were dependent solely on social and political pressures. The authors in La marché de la terre ally themselves with one or the other position. The theories of Karl Polanyi, on the socially embedded nature of economic transactions in the premodern world, and Alexander Chayanov, on life cycle as a determinant of peasant transactions, are supported or contradicted throughout. [3] Francois Menant proposes a reasonable middle ground: it is "legitimate to maintain this term, as long as one takes into account that the idea of 'market' could encompass factors that have little to do with pure economic rationatlity (social, affective, symbolic...), and that it could even be applied in situations of low transaction density, such as those presented by the majority of dossiers of medieval sources.... Medieval land transactions can indeed be considered a market, as long as one does not fail to take into account any of their specificities" (199). Wickham offers instead a rule of procedure: before writing of a "land market" and applying economic analysis, one must first show that "there was any available determination of land prices by the 'laws' of supply and demand, whether or not any individual pair of buyers and sellers kept to it"; in other words, the possibility of an economic market allows for the discussion of the evidence in terms of a market (631). This varies, as the case studies in the second half of this volume clearly demonstrate, from region to region.

After a preface by Monique Bourin, Part I offers introductory reflections on the subject of medieval land markets by an historian (Laurent Feller) and then an economic anthropologist (Florence Weber); there follows an expendable review essay of some recent work in economic history (William R. Day, Jr.). Taken together, these do not introduce the volume in a systematic way, but the Feller and particularly the Weber essays offer some important theoretical observations that inform much of the rest of the volume.

Part II comprises historiographical essays prepared for the 1999 colloquium as an initial step in the project. The contributors take a national or regional approach, with separate discussions of the land market in: England (Christopher Dyer); Germanophone Europe (Joseph Morsel); northern France and Belgium (Ghislain Brunel); France mediane, i.e., from the Lyonnais to Brittany (Patrice Beck); the Midi (Monique Bourin); the Kingdom of Italy (Francois Menant); Catalonia (Lluis To Figueras); and Iberia generally (Carlos Laliena Corbera). The authors addressed their task in different ways, some offering straight surveys of scholarship, others hazarding preliminary methodological reflections. Several of the essays note that the subject is essentially absent from a given regional historiography. The essays become quite repetitive, but, as might be expected for work from an early stage of the project, a common language and interpretive framework fail to emerge. A second essay by Menant, "Comment le marché de la terre est devenu un theme de recherche pour les historiens du moyen age," is the most valuable of Parts I and II, offering a transregional survey of scholarship from the work of Michael Postan on the cartae nativorum of Peterborough Abbey (1960), through Chayanov and Polanyi, to a series of important colloquia in France, Italy, and Spain in the 1980s and 90s. Menant's essay is in fact the best introduction to the problem as a whole and should be a reader's first stop.

Part III includes a series of case studies presented at the 2001 colloquium. These, too, are a mixed bag, starting with different assumptions, working with different kinds of evidence, and applying different methodologies with varying degrees of effort. They are, in addition, much more concentrated regionally than the historiographical essays, with five essays on England and four on Iberia, but only two on France, one on Germany, and none on Italy. Dyer discusses geographical and chronological variation in the levels of entry fines in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century England generally. Mark Page offers a narrower look at the same type of evidence, analyzing fines from the Winchester pipe rolls. Phillipp R. Schofield offers two essays, one on the use of manorial court rolls as sources for the peasant land market in Eastern England, still in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and a second on the market in free (as opposed to unfree) land on the estate of Bury St. Edmunds from Domesday to c. 1300. Miriam M?ller presents the only truly comparative study, contrasting the peasant landmarkets in fourteenth-century East Anglia and Wiltshire.

The essays on Iberia are more substantial and cover a wider range geographically. Stephane Boissellier analyzes the acts in an early- thirteenth-century monastic cartulary that offers evidence for land transactions around Lisbon during the Reconquest. To Figueras offers a deeply researched treatment of the differential development of entry fines (Fr. lods et vents; Cat. lluïsmes) in Old and New Catalonia from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries, followed by a case study of a single property of the cathedral of Girona over the period 1344-1434. Laliena Corbera confronts distinct evidence for the operation of land markets involving peasants, local notables, and the formation of a great estate, all in the Ebro valley in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Antonio Furio and Antonio Jose Mira Jodar mine the extraordinarily rich Valencian archives for their analysis of 602 sales of land from between 1401 and 1511.

The remaining essays treat sales from the ecclesiastical archives of Clermont in the thirteenth century (Emmanuel Grelois), alienations of land from Provencal notarial registers from the first half of the fourteenth century (John Drendel), and--in the most methodologically innovative and stimulating study in the entire volume--the relationship between crop and land prices on the lands of the Hospital of Nuremberg from 1432 to 1527, based on records of 927 transactions (Julien Demade).

The removal of the study of the Abruzzo means that, in addition to their geographical concentration, the case studies reach back only to the eleventh century. Scholars will need to follow the early medieval part of the story elsewhere--despite the assertion of one of the contributors, it does exist. [4] More significantly, only the most local issues of chronology are addressed; the participants in this working group were perhaps in a position to do more. Certain expected themes recur throughout these case studies: very active peasant land markets; questions about the appropriateness of economic analysis, particularly surrounding the relationship of prices to supply and demand; the disparate impact of economic forces and seigneurial control; and the role of family structure and life cycle on the market. But as Wickham's conclusion shows, it it difficult to say what it all adds up to, beyond a set of problems, an acknowledgment of regional variation, and a demonstration that "the imbrication of the social and the economic was, empirically, normal in medieval land sales" and that "all land-based economic relationships have an intrinsic element of power to them" (639).

Perhaps the most useful, if modest, aspect of the volume is as a model of how an international working group can work. While some of the individual essays here present finished research, the collaborative development of the medieval land market as a subject of historical investigation is very much still in progress. As noted by Wickham: "We have made advances in the still difficult task of establishing a common language of analysis for the economic and social history of western Europe as a whole" (625); "If a multi-national research group has any value, it should allow us to become aware of the national origins of too many metanarratives and to read across them.... This book aims to further that process of internationalization" (629); and "the more that we as historians widen our persepctives from single regions to the multiplex experience of the whole of western Europe, the better" (641). By these measures, Le marché de la terre-- the volume and the working group that lay behind it--is an imperfect undertaking, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.


[1] Collection de l'École française de Rome 347 (Rome, 2005).

[2] Madrid: CSIC, 1999. Translated as Beyond the Market: Transactions, Property and Social Networks in Monastic Galicia, 1200- 1300 (Leiden: Brill, 2002).

[3] Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (New York: Farrar, 1944); A. V. Chayanov, The Theory of the Peasant Economy, ed. Daniel Thorner, Basile Kerblay, and R. E. F. Smith (Homewood, Ill.: American Economic Association, 1966).

[4] "La question même du marché de la terre ne se pose d'ailleurs pas vraiment pour le haut Moyen Age: la majorite des transferts de biens releve alors de l'echange et non du marché, et ne correspond pas à des evaluations monetaires" (197 [Menant]). Cf., in addition to La fortune de Karol: the work of Pierre Bonnassie and Josep Maria Salrach on ninth- and tenth-century Catalonia (discussed here at 164- 171 [To Figueras]); Wendy Davies, "Sale, Price and Valuation in Galicia and Castile-Leon in the Tenth century," Early Medieval Europe 11 (2002), 149-74; and above all the studies collected in Les Transferts patrimoniaux en Europe occidentale, VIIIe-Xe siècle (Mélanges de l'École française de Rome: Moyen Âge, 111/2 [1999]).