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23.01.05 Lusset (ed.), Frontières spatiales, frontières sociales au Moyen Âge

23.01.05 Lusset (ed.), Frontières spatiales, frontières sociales au Moyen Âge

The 51st meeting of the Congrès de la Société des historiens médiévistes de l’Enseignement supérieur public, dedicated to the theme “Frontières spatiales, frontières sociales au Moyen Âge,” was to have taken place at Perpignan and Girona in May 2020. It did not go quite as planned. The lockdowns that took hold around the globe in March and April 2020, a response to COVID-19’s crossing of every frontier on earth, made in-person presentations to roomfuls of scholars inadvisable if not impossible. Despite the frantic confusion of that historical moment, the conference organizers and participants adjusted and held their meeting virtually. The presenters’ papers are published in Frontières spatiales, frontières sociales, and readers will be grateful to them and to all involved for their perseverance. They have produced a valuable collection of essays.

This book’s defining characteristic is its expansiveness, which takes multiple forms. Geographical and temporal expansiveness are evident from the outset. Notwithstanding its modest title, Stéphane Boissellier and Lucie Malbos’s “Rapport introductive” provides a wide-ranging etymological and historiographical overview of frontiers that takes readers from Isidore of Seville to Frederick Jackson Turner and to Richard White of The Middle Ground fame. Arnaud Lestremau’s “Ex paterno genere Danici:L’onomastique d’une société frontalière. L’exemple des Midlands aux Xe-XIe siècles” and Frédérique Laget’s “La construction d’une frontière maritime en Angleterre à la fin du Moyen Âge” treat central England and the English Channel across some five hundred years. Lestremau demonstrates a growing coexistence of Old English and Scandinavian place names and personal names that became thoroughgoing in the eleventh century, which also saw the emergence of personal names combining Old English and Scandinavian elements. He concludes that any Midlands frontier must have been permeable if not weak. Laget shows how the English royal government expanded its claims over the English Channel, effectively pushing the boundary between England and France to the French shoreline.

French and German lands are examined across an even wider time span in Tristan Martine’s “D’un royaume à l’autre: Frontières mouvantes et sociétés aristocratiques en Lotharingie méridionale (fin IXe-Xe siècle),” Laurence Leleu’s “Frontières spatiales et frontières mentales de la Saxe (IXe-XIe siècle),” Juliette Dumasy-Rabineau’s “Les cartes perdues des frontières de Bourgogne au milieu du XVe siècle,” and Marc Suttor’s “Définir et rendre visible une frontière fluviale: Le cas de la Meuse moyenne du XIIIe au XVIe siècle.” Martine finds among the tenth-century Lotharingian nobility scarcely any concept of or concern with geographical frontiers; for roughly the same period, Leleu finds both contemporary certainty of Saxony’s existence and very little concern with where Saxony began or ended. Suttor, however, finds that from the thirteenth century onward, secular and ecclesiastical powers put some effort into delineating frontiers, identified through a combination of natural features (such as the Meuse River) and manmade markers. In fifteenth-century Burgundy, as Dumasy-Rabineau shows, this effort took the form of a new interest in regional mapmaking.

Anglo-French-German Europe, therefore, is well represented here, but it does not command all or even most of the volume’s attention. Olivier Marin’s “L’expérience de la frontière au miroir du Liber de legationibus de Gilles Charlier (1433-1435)” focuses on Czech and Hussite Bohemia. Gilles Charlier was an experienced ambassador; Marin reconstructs his travels to Prague and Brno, with special attention to the confessional and linguistic difficulties that he encountered and described. Southern Italy (especially the town of Oria and its environs) receive attention in Giovanni Stranieri’s “Les territoires locaux dans la Pouille méridionale du VIIe au Xe siècle: Un reflet de la frontière de Byzance en Adriatique?” Stranieri argues for a shift in the frontier between Oria and the surrounding countryside; as Byzantine power attenuated, Oria’s growing regional influence resulted in a reorganization of the rural economy.

For the Iberian peninsula, there are “La frontière interconfessionnelle, un concept pertinent dans l’espace urbain de la couronne d’Aragon des XIIIe-XVe siècles?”, coauthored by Ingrid Houssaye Michienzi, Sarah Maugin, and Claire Soussen; and Josep Torró’s “La frontière médiévale comme processus d’appropriation Quelques considérations concernant le cas ibérique au XIIIe siècle: cuadrilleros, almonedas, suertes.” Michienzi, Maugin, and Soussen make the case for mutually recognized “interconfessional frontiers” between Jews and Christians within the Crown of Aragon’s municipalities, as demonstrated by Jewish quarters where ingress and egress were regulated and limited. Torró examines how processes of material appropriation, whether the seizure of movable property as booty or the distribution of territory following conquest, operated along the Christian-Muslim frontier. These processes gave rise to cuadrilleros, persons charged with overseeing the allotment of booty; almonedas, or public sales of captured movable property; and suertes, or the distribution of land through random selection. Hispanists especially will want to take note of Torró’s article, which builds upon but also offers adjustments to the work of James F. Powers and Antonio Palomeque.

Not too long ago, a collection that examined English, French, German, Iberian, and Italian material would have been considered ambitiously far-reaching. ButFrontières spatiales, frontières sociales ranges even farther afield. The Latin Empire of Constantinople is the subject of Simon Hasdenteufel’s “L’empereur au-delà du fleuve: La construction d’un territoire politique dans l’Empire latin de Constantinople (1204-1213).” The Latin Empire’s opening decade, when crusaders partitioned Byzantine territory and the Latin emperor reached a temporary accommodation with his Greek counterpart in Nicaea, are especially propitious for studying frontiers. Hasdenteufel studies how Latin emperors used garrisons and cavalcades to create boundaries; along the way, the author disentangles the snarled complexities of Frankish land distribution. Simon Dorso’s “Délimiter le territoire: Réflexions le long de la frontière du royaume de Jérusalem (Galilée, XIIe-XIIIe siècle)” brings readers to the crusader states of the Near East, where the author considers a variety of frontiers: regnal, seigneurial, and village. Dorso finds that, while the regnal frontier was a vaguely defined area that sometimes took the form of a castle-less demilitarized zone, seigneurial and village boundaries were defined far more precisely.

Frontières spatiales, frontières sociales extends beyond even the most broadly construed Christendom. Syrian and Persian territories are the respective foci of Éva Collet’s “Tracer la frontière juridique entre Byzance et l’Islam (Nord du Bilād al-Šām, IIe-Ve siècle h/VIIIe-XIe siècle),” and Camille Rhoné-Quer’s “Ériger les cours d'eau en frontières: Ṭabarī (839-923) et les confins iraniens, entre héritages mythiques et écriture de l’histoire impériale islamique.” Collet examines the opinions of Muslim jurists regarding how travelers might know whether they were within the House of Islam or the House of War, meaning in this instance the Byzantine Empire. She finds that jurists defined frontier crossing not so much by a change in physical location as by “particular moments when administrative and judicial procedures made voyagers aware that they had passed from one world to another” (56). Simon Berger’s “Mingghan et tamma:L’administration nomade des frontières dans l’Empire mongol au XIIIe siècle” takes readers to the Mongol Empire. The Mongols’ nomadic pastoralism, far from rendering them indifferent to frontiers, left them keenly aware of ecological and political boundaries, as evidenced by their tamma: military units with administrative duties stationed in frontier regions, and whose members (tammichi) Mongol overlords recruited and organized differently from the more standard minnghan unit.

The local also gets its due. Befitting a conference organized at Perpignan, a Catalonian town whose seventeenth-century French annexation accounts for its present location within the Département des Pyrénées-Orientales, Frontières spatiales, frontières sociales includes two essays dealing with frontiers as they pertained to Perpignan and its surrounding counties: Romain Saguer’s “Consolidation ou disparition des frontières? Les comtés de Roussillon et de Cerdagne après la chute de la couronne de Majorque (seconde moitié du XIVe siècle),” and Damien Coulon’s “Pareurs de Perpignan au-delà des limites de la couronne d’Aragon et des frontières sociales.” Saguer examines how, following the Crown of Aragon’s reassertion of direct rule over Roussillon and Cerdagne, its frontier with the Kingdom of France grew more distinct in most regards but less distinct in others. The region’s royal governor amassed a combination of military and judicial powers typical of those operating in frontier regions, and kings of Aragon multiplied officials whose job was to supervise and to tax people and goods passing from one kingdom to the other. Offsetting these trends, however, was the crown’s increasing alienation of its rights over the castles whose looming presences indicated where the Crown of Aragon ended and the Kingdom of France began. Coulon demonstrates how Perpignan’s cloth finishers, although artisans well differentiated from merchants for purposes of communal government, pooled capital as merchants did for the purpose of commercial investment. Moreover, cloth finishers generated sums of capital comparable to those generated by merchants.

It should be noted that Frontières spatiales, frontières sociales does not itself follow a geographical organization. It groups its seventeen papers according to three themes, each of which functions as an “axis of reflection” (336),as Philippe Sénac puts it in the “Conclusions” which thoughtfully complete the volume. The first axis is “Making the Frontier Visible” (Rendre visible la frontière), the second is “(Re)definition of Frontiers and Territorialization” ((Re)définition des frontières et territorialization), and the third is “Frontier Societies” (Sociétés de frontière), a broadly conceived category that includes not just those who lived in proximity to geographical frontiers, but also religious or occupational groups differentiated from others residing in the same kingdom or town as themselves. Each axis has thematic coherence; considered in their totality, however, these papers suggest that the first and second axes, in fact, intertwine. Most every attempt to (re)define a frontier entailed an effort to make it visible at some level, and most every attempt to make a frontier visible involved an act of (re)definition. But no matter--the axes’ primary purpose was to steer and to stimulate the authors’ work, not to restrict it, and in that the axes have succeeded. Perhaps more unexpectedly, within each axis’s grouping, the papers appear in no order that I could identify. But that manner of presentation may well be intentional design, and it certainly has its benefits. Bringing together far-flung work leads to serendipitous encounters that stimulate thought and expand horizons. As readers make their way along each axis, they learn about frontiers of many sorts, existing at many times and in many places, most of them unfamiliar and therefore enlightening.

Expansive, too, are the sources examined, as Sénac emphasizes in his concluding remarks. Indeed, this volume could well serve as a primer for those wishing to familiarize themselves with the wide variety of techniques available for studying frontiers. Collet, Suttor, and Torró use legal records of various sorts (treatises, court records, legislation). Berger, Hasdenteufel, and Rhoné-Quer draw on chronicles, while Leleu employs both chronicles and hagiographical literature, and Martine employs both chronicles and charters. The team of Michiniezi, Maugin, and Soussen makes use of notarial records, which Coulon mines for the commenda contracts that he has used to such good effect in his revelatory studies of Catalonian commercial operations. Saguet works in royal administrative registers, Marin closely reads an ambassador’s journal, and Lestremau quantifies naming patterns. Especially ambitious and creative are Stranieri’s use of archeology and Dumasy-Rabineau’s study of a set of maps that are no longer extant. And some contributors, such as Leger and Dorso, draw from a wide variety of sources and scholarship.

Uniting these papers are two shared sets of questions. Firstly, how did medieval people conceive of frontiers? Did they understand frontiers to be lines of demarcation differentiating and separating one sovereign power, ethnic group, or religion from another? Or did they understand frontiers to constitute regional zones where peoples and cultures mixed, and where conflicting sovereign claims were negotiated? Secondly, how did frontiers function? What administrative apparatus, architectural forms, and social categories did they generate? Regarding the second set of questions, the answers are many and varied, highly dependent on specific local contexts. Regarding the first set of questions, most contributors argue that frontiers, both conceptually and functionally, were zones rather than lines. At the same time, contributors have found more than a few exceptions--the recurring tendency to identify frontiers with geographical objects (chiefly rivers) tended toward linearity. Even so, the day when solid and uninterrupted lines would separate contiguous states remained far off in the future.

The expansiveness of Frontières spatiales, frontières sociales also manifests itself in its user-friendliness and its openness to a broad readership. The volume includes not just French-language but also English-language abstracts that will facilitate international scholarly engagement. Authors and the publisher provide generous helpings of maps, tables, and visual images. Perhaps the most arresting image is a screenshot of the conference participants: twenty-four persons, confined within Zoom thumbnails and as never before within their residences as well, yet still reaching out to one another and to all those who will have the pleasure of encountering their work.