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22.02.03 Goldberg, In the Manner of the Franks

22.02.03 Goldberg, In the Manner of the Franks

In his recent book, Eric J. Goldberg sets out to trace the evolving nature of hunting in the Frankish realms during the early Middle Ages. Goldberg tackles the thorny issue of the hyper-masculinized nature of hunting while also outlining the changing techniques and legality of this activity across the paleolithic, Classical, Late Antique, and Merovingian periods, before shifting to a more focused, thematic discussion of this sport in the Carolingian and early Ottonian eras. In doing so, Goldberg concludes that it was the Carolingians who made hunting “a symbol of Frankish kingship and political identity” (3) and through restricting the game to only their favored aristocrats, Carolingian hunting became an ideological tool for solidifying authority. Through tracing these developments, Goldberg outlines how hunting became part of the concept of mos Francorum (the custom of the Franks), and thereby served both as a bond between Frankish men, while also positioning the ruler as the most avid hunter among them, thereby securing the dominance of the Carolingian state.

In his introduction Goldberg begins strongly by countering the distorted image, promoted by Gibbon and Elias among others, that hunting as an ideological activity only emerged in Europe during the high Middle Ages. Goldberg quickly dismisses this notion by pointing out early Persian and Roman examples of hunting, and he suggests that Chris Wickham’s notion of “rituals of consensus” as essential for early medieval statecraft was very much operational in the use of hunting in this period (7). Goldberg is succinct in his outline of the gendered underpinnings of the work, relying primarily on medieval historians of gender, but this could be enhanced with a more robust theoretical framework. At times Goldberg favours modern interpretations of historical terms, such as reading fortitudo as “strength” as well as “skill” (7, 21, 90) rather than the more established “endurance” (239), which isn’t introduced until later in the work, resulting in the loss of some of the nuance of their pre-modern connotations in describing masculinity. Nevertheless, this introduction offers an excellent overview of key scholars in the history of Carolingian gender, and establishes a clear comparison between the hunting practices of earlier periods and those of the Carolingians along with connections to masculinity in a way that would be accessible to seasoned scholars as well as those new to the field.

In his first chapter, Goldberg begins his research with an extensive examination of hunting among a wide range of classical cultures. Beginning with Ancient Persia as well as some Neolithic examples, he dismantles the outdated notion of unsophisticated hunting among these cultures by explaining the ideological basis for depictions of Assyrian hunting (19). Goldberg then moves on to a discussion of Roman hunting practices, with the claim that, during the Republic, Romans had little need for hunting as an ideological tool to prove their masculinity, and instead preferred more civilian activities. While this argument has potential, Goldberg only cites Pliny as a source, and as a result this argument feels less robust in comparison to other sections of the work (21). For the remainder of the chapter, he argues that it isn’t until Late Antiquity that hunting became a symbol of masculinity, as the increasing militarization of the late Roman Empire brought with it an increase in hunting being used for ideological purposes, presenting a convincing connection between rulership and aristocratic culture and hunting in the Roman Empire.

In his next chapter, Goldberg moves on chronologically to examine the ambiguous role that hunting played among the Franks of the Merovingian dynasty. Although it seems to have been a reasonably common activity, descriptions of hunting are not well attested in Merovingian sources, and this does cause some issues for Goldberg in tracing the importance placed on hunting in this period. Later, in Chapter Seven, Goldberg considers the clerical disdain for hunting in the Carolingian empire at length, an analysis that could also be applicable within a Merovingian context, where many of the sources were written by a relatively independent and outspoken clergy, typified by Gregory of Tours who Goldberg cites extensively. Therefore, it comes as little surprise that the image of hunting which emerges is neutral at best, or even negative. Goldberg’s conclusion that hunting carried little ideological meaning for the Merovingian Franks seems more due to a lack of extant sources beyond clerical writings, rather than existence of specific evidence.

As of the third chapter, “Charlemagne and the Chase,” the work focuses more specifically on the Carolingians, with targeted chapters that examine the multifaceted ways that hunting underlined Frankish masculinity. Here Goldberg is in his element as he outlines how, after the conquest of Italy and encountering the Lombard tradition of hunting, Charlemagne affected a change in organization of forests and hunting into separate categories of silvae, for collecting firewood, raising livestock and fowling, while the new category of forestesrestricted the right to hunt in certain forests only to those with royal permission (74). All wild animals in and around royal forests were now counted as the king’s exclusive domain, which heralded a rapid change in the symbolism of hunting in the Frankish realm from the earlier periods where such distinctions had not been necessary. As a result, hunting became seen as a proprietary activity, as now a breach of this commandment amounted to a breach of loyalty towards the ruler (80). The Carolingian rulers were thereby able to utilize the symbolism and tradition of hunting as a sign of royal favor.

In chapter 4, Goldberg goes on to discuss the use of hunting as a form of imperial propaganda during the reign of Louis the Pious. He notes that it was only when Louis ascended to the imperial throne that he took up hunting, and suggests that this was done as a deliberate attempt to remedy doubts cast on his masculinity as a result of Charlemagne’s initial hesitation to appoint him as co-emperor (104). It is therefore during the reign of Louis that we can find a number of developments in the ideology of royal hunting, such as the centrality of the chase and inclusion of women in the activity. Goldberg presents this example as a distinction between Merovingian and Carolingian attitudes towards the hunt, suggesting that the latter embraced it and wielded it as a political tool in ways that the former did not. Yet there were also criticisms levied at Louis for this newfound hobby, informed by the strong clerical emphasis on moderation that had been introduced with Gregory and persisted into the Carolingian era, which suggests that Louis’ hunting ambitions had just as much potential to be seen as a marker of emasculating excess. Addressing these competing ideals of masculinity in more detail could lend nuance to Goldberg’s argument and create a more synchronous conversation about the relationship between Merovingian and Carolingian approaches to the hunt.

Chapters Five and Six are more technical in nature and go into depth about the equipment and rituals of hunting “in the manner of the Franks,” as well as hunting among the lower classes. Goldberg convincingly argues against older claims that hunting lacked importance in the early Middle Ages, which is often based on the lack of descriptive guides, and the widespread suggestion that Franks exclusively engaged in boar hunts. Here Goldberg’s deep familiarity with Carolingian sources is a significant asset to the argument, as he uses a wide range of literary, archaeological, and artistic sources to counter this long-held argument. Through this study he notes how the Carolingians built upon the traditions of the past and specialized the art of hunting, which contributed to its importance as a sign of nobility.

This becomes especially clear in Chapter Six, “Peasants and Poachers,” where Goldberg outlines the increasing restrictions placed on hunting for the lower classes in the Carolingian period, and how this aided the growing association of hunting with aristocratic status. In terms of masculinity, he notes how the forms of the hunt that were reserved for the lower classes, such as trapping, were associated with lesser forms of physical prowess and therefore became less manly; as such, the hunt reinforced not just class but also gender status (173-174). The two chapters are complementary, as the codification of hunting rituals as it became an increasingly aristocratic activity led directly to the increased control that was exerted over the ability of the lower classes to participate in the hunt. Yet, this dynamic was not without its advantages as well, as hunting paradoxically also formed a potential avenue for claiming greater social advancement among the peasantry, as skilled hunters could find themselves as valued members of the royal hunt.

In the seventh chapter, Goldberg tackles the clerical response to this ideology of hunting. Despite the general ban on clerical involvement in the hunt, there nevertheless existed some opportunities through activities such as fishing. In this way, the blurred lines between laity and clergy were able to become clearer through the “flashpoint” which was the activity of hunting as a marker of worldly power (191). Yet hunting also formed an alluring symbol which clerical men found hard to forgo, and as the many hagiographical descriptions of saints pitted against wild animals demonstrate, this struggle with maintaining a male identity devoid of hunting formed a lingering temptation for the clergy.

In his last chapter, Goldberg turns to the issue of hunting among the late Carolingians of the tenth century. In so doing he finds that hunting did indeed remain an important activity in this time replete with its ideological underpinnings; however, the mentions of royal hunts plummeted in the chronicles of this period, only appearing when the hunt ended in disaster. This suggests that by this time the Carolingians were losing their exclusive association with hunting, and that the activity was becoming widely adopted by all levels of the nobility without maintaining a royal association. Goldberg links this shift to a decline in the size and ostentatiousness of royal hunts among the later Carolingians themselves, possibly due to fear of injury or assassinations while hunting.

Ultimately, this book is very well researched and presents a wealth of illustrations and sources which will prove a great help to anyone interested in learning more about hunting in the early Middle Ages. Rather than approaching hunting in a narrowly defined manner, Goldberg succeeds in situating this activity within a framework of complex social practices. In so doing, he hammers home the point that this was not a static period of history, but rather one that remained in flux, which necessitates a contextual approach that avoids an oversimplified model of the early medieval hunt.