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21.09.30 Carroll et al. (eds.), Power and Place in Europe in the Early Middle Ages

21.09.30 Carroll et al. (eds.), Power and Place in Europe in the Early Middle Ages

At first glance, this excellent volume seems to follow in the footsteps of a number of works published in the last two decades that study the relation between space and civil organisation in early medieval Europe, especially the outstanding Topographies of Power in the Early Middle Ages, by M. de Jong, F. Theuws and C. van Rhijn in 2001 (as, otherwise, recognised in several chapters of the volume). But a closer look reveals that this book contains important elements of originality that distinguish it from the previous contributions and open new lines of research and discussion. Probably the most relevant three are the emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches that combine written sources, archaeology and place-name study; the interest in assembly places as important indicators of the local configuration of power; and the extent of the geographical coverage with case studies from the British Isles, Scandinavia, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Kosovo.

The volume is composed of twenty chapters preceded by an introductory discussion by the three editors. The chapters are grouped into two sections: a first group of papers dealing specifically with the topic of assembly places ("Part I: Assemblies, Meeting Places and Negotiation"), and a second group of cases that explores the wider theme of the organisation of power in early medieval landscapes ("Part II: Landscapes of Power").

In the Introduction, the three editors set up the general framework for a discussion about the relation between Power and Place in Early Medieval Europe, and the implications that this topic poses for the study of this period of important transformations. As the editors explain, "our approach considers the second half of the 1st millennium AD in its own right as a distinctive and innovative socio-political environment with important cross-cultural and cross-chronological implications for the study of other largely non-urban, yet highly organised, societies" (33). The editors are aware that the main challenge of this volume is to compare three major zones--Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe--so they choose to articulate the introduction around three main themes that appear through the book: monumentality and material expressions of power, place-names, and law.

The first three chapters of the first section of the book deal, from different approaches, with the study of Anglo-Saxon assembly places. First, John Baker explores a specific type of meeting place in the Domesday Book that refers to personal names. Although great variety can be observed in the formation of these place-names, it is also possible to detect a clear trend of cases referring to mythical heroes in the 10th century, especially regarding the kings of Wessex. In the next chapter, Stuart Brookes examines the relation between meeting places and some ancient pre-Christian cemeteries in two areas of Anglo-Saxon England: south of the River Thames and east of the River Taw, and the eastern counties of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. Although these cases are only a minority of hundreds, they seem to reflect particular contexts of liminality and conflict, in which assemblies were chosen be held in "neutral" or symbolic locations. In chapter 4, Levi Roach explores "regnal" assemblies (large-scale gatherings of the entire kingdom) in 10th-century England. After an interesting historiographical revision, this author studies the location of four later Anglo-Saxon royal assemblies, showing that they were carefully prepared in order to present and perform royal power in the locality within specific social and political contexts.

Acting as an interesting mirror for the Anglo-Saxon case studies, the next four papers focus on assembly places ("thing-sites") in Scandinavia. First,Marie Ødegaard studies a number of cooking-pit sites as possible assembly places in Norway. By means of a truly interdisciplinary approach that combines medieval written sources, toponymic evidence, and archaeology, she proposes that these sites were meeting places in the early Iron Age, predecessors of later places of administration and justice. The following chapter, by Halldis Hobæk,focuses on Viking Age and medieval assembly sites in western Norway. The author discovers 33 new "thing-sites" in this area, through the combination of archaeology (including stone standing crosses and cooking pits), written sources (mainly Diplomatarium Norvegicum) and place-names. In chapter 7, Lars Jørgensen, Lone Gebauer Thomsen and Anne Nørgaard Jørgensen explain the creation of large pit-house sites in 6th-century Denmark in relation to emergent kingship. The interesting example of the Lake Tissø site allows the authors to propose that the primary function of pit houses was as temporary housing for families and workers while the assemblies took place. In chapter 8, Frode Iversen studies courtyard sites (houseplots set in a semi-circular formation facing a central open space, used in the first millennium AD) in Norway and proposes that the individual thing-communities had their own houses within the courtyard site. Moreover, the administrative landscape analysis suggests an initially egalitarian decision-making process that evolved into bigger districts with the emerging of the royal monopoly of violence.

The final two chapters of this first part of the volume deal with meeting places in South Europe, a topic far less studied here than in North Europe. Chapter 9, byAlexandra Chavarría Arnau, examines the role of churches as assembly sites in early medieval Italy. Based on a revision of written sources and the more elusive archaeological record, the author shows that Christianization led to a move of many earlier open-air assembly places to churches and cemeteries. In chapter 10, Julio Escalona explores how assemblies worked in early medieval Castile. This author reminds us that local communities gathered for dealing with issues of daily life but the preserved documents tend to hide this reality while over-representing issues of interest for aristocracies. He also shows that local assemblies were recognised as real political agents in wider contexts.

As said, the second part of the volume is dedicated to the landscapes of power in early medieval Europe. In this sense, the first four chapters of the section deal with power organisation in different areas of southern Europe. First, Wendy Davies analyses the structure, language and physical characteristics of the justice scriptures in the northern Iberian peninsula in the 9th and 10th centuries. Despite the protocolary language, these judicial records reflect the use of ritual words and actions (like ordeals), showing that performance was very important in early medieval justice. As in the previous chapter, the author highlights that the preserved documents always lead us to power, rather than to a current notion of justice: "Power lies not only in winning the confrontation, nor in holding the court, nor in manipulating the performance, but also in controlling the record" (251). In the following chapter, Ian Wood explores the role of the monastery of Luxeuil as a place of power in Merovingian Gaul. Confronting the traditional idea of the monastery being founded in a deserted place, recent excavations have shown that it was built over a previous church, and inserted into a dynamic and populated landscape. The author analyses the implication of these discoveries in the political context of early medieval Gaul. Chapter 13, by Elizabeth Fentress and Caroline Goodson, presents the exceptional case study of Villamagna (Italy), with its evolution from an imperial Roman villa to a medieval monastery. The authors offer an interesting archaeological review of the excavations at this important site, and show that Villamagna endured as a centre of power, providing essential support for the new political structures which took advantage of the legitimating power of the ancient Roman remains. In the next chapter, Felix Teichner raises the importance of understanding continuity or transformation of places of power in the Balkan Peninsula. Specifically, the author studies three sites in the Kosovo plain from a long-term perspective--Ulpianum as a Roman and Late Antique city, Nyeuberge in the medieval Serbian state, and Pristhine in the Ottoman period--and discovers that these places of power are strategically linked to mineral resources and communication routes.

The following two chapters bring us to Celtic Atlantic Europe. First, Andrew Seaman uses archaeology (especially excavations at Dinas Powys and Hen Gastell) and written sources to study the evolution of early medieval southeast Wales, the only area of lowland Britain that did not have Germanic occupation. After the disappearance of the Roman economy and administration, a society based on fragmented elites arose, as it happened in the first stage of Anglo-Saxon England, although in Wales there is more evidence of social differentiation of the elites, as well as of contacts with the eastern Mediterranean and of the continuity of Christianity and Latin. However, from the 7th century Anglo-Saxon England shows more hierarchy and stronger elites, while in southeast Wales power continued to be unstable and highly fragmented. In the next chapter, Patrick Gleeson shows how genealogy and places of power are closely associated in early medieval Ireland through the case study of the Rock of Cashel, supposedly the capital of the territory of Munster. Based on analysis of this site and its landscape (including ceremonies) by means of archaeological and LiDAR data, the author emphasises the importance of changes in royal landscapes behind the idea of immutability in Irish tradition.

In chapter 17, Egge Knol explores the territorial organisation of early medieval Frisia. This is an area with very little textual data, with the exception of donations to monasteries from 9th and 10th centuries. Archaeology, on its side, reveals that this territory was heavily populated in the Roman period; then there was a decline and settlers arrived from Britain and other areas. It is only from the 8th through 10th centuries that the population increased again and peat areas began to be colonised. In general, there are no relevant central places here, although there is evidence of intense commercial contacts, the arrival of Christian missionaries, and assembly sites.

The final four chapters return to Anglo-Saxon England. Christopher Scull offers a very interesting and detailed study of the emergence of regional elites and polities in southeast Suffolk between the 6th and 7th centuries AD. Information from systematic field surveys, metal-detecting and excavations allows this author to explore in detail the development of elite foci and how supra-local hegemony began to integrate local economies and jurisdiction on a regional scale in this area. In chapter 19, Rory Naismith studies the relationship between mints and power in Anglo-Saxon England and makes an interesting and very erudite comparison with the rest of Europe. Chapter 20, by Andrew Reynolds, introduces the interesting idea of "non-urban social complexity" in Anglo-Saxon England, challenging the traditional assumption that the presence of towns was an indicator of social complexity. Combining archaeology, toponymy and documentation, Andrew Reynolds explains that many of the functions of the Anglo-Saxon towns of the 11th century already existed in the rural world in the 8th through 10th centuries, showing that dispersed systems of social and political organisation prevailed and proved persistent in the longer term. Finally, chapter 21 by Susan Oosthuizen offers an interesting and alternative explanation of the differences in agriculture and settlement patterns between the so-called "Central Province" and the rest of the territories of Britain. She analyses the property rights and the collective management of arable land and shows that the Central Province was forged in areas in which there was a stronger Romanisation and tradition of communalism.

Altogether, these twenty-one chapters provide the reader with much food for thought regarding questions of civil organisation, law, languages and places of assembly, identification of political landscapes, political participation, governance and authority. Obviously, there are important differences in the historiography and academic traditions of the areas covered in this volume, and a good example of this is the differing attention paid to the topic of assembly places between North Europe (eight chapters) and South Europe (only two). Nevertheless, the reader can easily perceive several points of convergence across the papers, something which is probably the most important contribution of this volume. I would like to highlight just a few of them.

One is the omnipresence of the debate about the continuity or change of the Roman political structures into the following centuries, including areas that were not part of the empire, but experienced its influence, as well as the use of the legitimating idea of Romanitas in very different early medieval power structures. Second, most of the papers deal, more or less implicitly, with the process of state formation during this period, showing the evolution of power organisation from "petty kingdoms" into "states." However, challenging traditional perspectives of top-down impositions of power, this volume emphasises the civil capacity of organisation of local societies, as well as non-linear explanations of social complexity. Third, it is also interesting to see how the study of meeting places was interpreted in different national historiographies of the 19th and 20th centuries as the origin of modern representative systems like parliaments or municipalities in different parts of Europe such as England, Norway, Spain or Italy. Finally, although the volume highlights the diversity of places of power in early medieval Europe, it is possible to envisage the importance of churches and monasteries as centres of power in southern Europe (in France, Kosovo, Galicia, Castile, central and north Italy...) and the importance of open-air assembly sites in northern Europe, with many parallels between Scandinavia and Britain. In both areas, the study of the rationales behind the location of these places (sacrality, continuity of earlier meeting places or novelty and creation of new political landscapes) seems a powerful research tool.

On a formal level, it is very appreciated that most of the chapters are coherently articulated and include careful discussions as well as clear conclusions. However, there is a general lack of good location maps of the different case studies, especially in the British cases. Moreover, from several footnotes and details, one can perceive that the editing process was long, perhaps too long, from the conference held in London in 2011 until the publication of the volume in December 2019. As a result of this, the bibliography and archaeological information presented in some of the chapters are not always updated. Finally, with regard to the methodology, this volume stands out for the successful implementation of interdisciplinary perspectives, as most of the papers masterfully combine different sources in order to study the relation between power and place. Sadly, the study of place-names--which is probably one of the most interesting methodologies of this volume--is applied only to Britain and Scandinavia, while it is almost absent in the papers about southern and eastern Europe.

In sum, this volume is an important step towards a more complex and nuanced understanding of the political articulation of early medieval Europe and, without doubt, will open and promote new lines of work and discussion.