Skip to content
IUScholarWorks Journals
24.01.08 Bauduin et al. (eds.), Les Transferts Culturels dans les Mondes Normands Médiévaux (VIIIe-XIIe Siècle)

24.01.08 Bauduin et al. (eds.), Les Transferts Culturels dans les Mondes Normands Médiévaux (VIIIe-XIIe Siècle)

This book contains thirteen papers delivered at a conference at the University of Caen in 2017, sandwiched between introductory and concluding essays. Four of these are in English, the remainder in French. The French articles have English-language abstracts, but those in English oddly lack a French counterpart. The title needs a slight qualification, meaning here both the Normans who settled in Normandy and Southern Italy, as well as Northmen in the broadest sense, people who came from Scandinavia and who interacted with their neighbors such as the Slavs and the Franks. A more popular title might be something like “Vikings Near and Far.” Les Transferts Culturels is therefore at one end of a scholarly spectrum, the other end represented by Green’s The Normans, which covers the Normans in the eleventh century, omitting interactions with the Slavs but including Normans on the First Crusade. [1] Both books bring the reader up to date in terms of the latest scholarship.

In the volume under review, Pierre Bauduin’s introduction gives context, laying out epistemological assumptions, definitions, and geographic coverage. Thus, the book attempts to focus on objects (both material, such as coins, and non-material, such as language), actors (those who initiate material transfers, such as merchants), and passeurs (those who transmit more cultural aspects, such as missionaries).

Section I deals with objects. Anne Pedersen introduces a new source into the old story of the Christianization of Denmark, namely “the personal ornaments worn and accidentally lost by single individuals” (31). Tracing their shapes (crosses and coins) and the motifs (crosses and animals), Pedersen suggests that these pendants and brooches show the gradual advance of Christianity, especially among elite individuals. Jens Christian Moesgaard investigates another gradual trend in Denmark, moving from a situation with no coinage in c.700 to a well-organized system of coinage and currency by c.1050. He finds the emporia of Ribe and Hedeby as early adopters, implying that the minters and merchants were powerful actors in the process of cultural diffusion. Jacques Le Maho, for his part, zooms in on a single artifact, the sarcophagus of Robert, son of Count Richard of Normandy, originally located on the grounds of the abbey of Fécamp. Displaying impressive detective work, Le Maho suggests that the tombstone was fabricated c.960 in faraway Narbonne, perhaps because one of the clerics of Fécamp at that time came from the region. Alexandra Lester-Makin also analyzes a single object, in this case the Bayeux Tapestry. She concludes that, “[it] was undoubtedly an object of cultural transfer because it was part of an embroidery culture that traversed the Norman worlds and beyond” (111). These articles confirm that in the Old North, sea-ports served as the crucial linkages in such material exchanges. The preponderance of place-names mentioned by Pedersen are maritime; so also the coinage at Ribe, Hedeby, and later at Lund; the sarcophagus lid must certainly have shipped from coastal Narbonne to coastal Fécamp; and the Bayeux Tapestry connects Canterbury to Bayeux, both cities located near the coast. The heartlands by implication seem quite marginal.

Part II is termed “Traduire, transmettre, adapter.” Simon Lebouteiller surveys the example of the Oath in the Christianization of Scandinavia. He takes for granted that this was an ongoing process, proposing that Christian oaths preserved vestiges of pagan oaths, as for example in swearing on rings at the doors of pagan temples mutating to those of rings located at church doors. This discussion seems very much along the lines of Chaney’s The Cult of Kingship in Anglo-Saxon England, although Lebouteiller handles the evidence in a less emphatic fashion. [2] Alban Gautier asks the reader to avoid thinking that Mercury, Woden, Wotan, and Odin have a one-to-one correspondence, as we assume from our names for the days of the week (e.g., Wednesday = mercredi). Rather, these equivalencies are unstable and shifted from time to time and place to place. Laura Vangone investigates “Les saints normands en Italie du Sud,” finding that the Norman Saints Ouen, Taurin, and surprisingly, the obscure female, Sainte Austreberthe, appear in southern Italy. But their impact appears to be minimal, probably because Norman saints clashed with other cultural inputs from Monte Cassino, the Lombards, Byzantium, or even Islam. Rosanna Alaggio considers twelfth-century mosaics in Sicily in light of contemporary literature, such as the Chansons de Geste. Contra scholars who see artistic depictions of Alexander the Great as negative--anti-Byzantine to be specific--she sees his portrayal in a positive light, “le prototype du souverain idéal” (190). Indeed, they embody aspects of good rulership for the South Normans, but also more broadly the affirmation of “a common historical-cultural heritage” (199).

In Part III, “Acteurs et passeurs : groupes, rôles et identités,” Leszek Garde­ła deftly discusses Norse identities in Slavic Poland. He surveys various cultural markers and even proposes a snake motif as a newly recognized Slavic feature. He highlights two different trans-cultural experiences. First, those Vikings who came as traders along the southern Baltic, identifiable by their surviving items, such as certain brooches, amulets, and metal-work. Second, those who surface in the interior of Poland “sometimes display[ing] stylistic traits that combine Slavic and Scandinavian styles, suggesting a kind of artistic hybridity, which may have developed in circumstances of prolonged intercultural contact” (229). Aleksandr Musin warns against long-held historical portrayals of the origins of Russia as either Scandinavian (Norman) or Slavic (the anti-Norman school). He focuses not so much on material survivals, but on deeper value systems. “Through this approach, tenth-century Rus’ is presented as a result of acculturation of Scandinavian groups in a [broader] Eastern European milieu” (257). Patrick Ottaway treats “Innovation and Diversification in the Production of Iron Objects in England and Northern Europe, c.700-1100.” Of course, there are numerous examples of regional differences, borne out by a fascinating discussion of knife blades. But at the same time, “many [later] innovations appear to have happened at more or less the same time in all regions” (263). The author also charts developments in hasps, hinges, padlocks, spurs, and stirrups. He proposes that changes in ironwork towards greater uniformity were due to increased communication, especially between coastal or riverine towns. Anastasiya Chevalier-Shmauhanets ruminates about possible architectural influences on the parish churches around Rouen during the Ducal Period. The author admits the difficulty of her project but suggests that Chartres and the Bourgogne are likely candidates for the eleventh century. To follow up on one of her points, it seems to me that after 1066 sufficient mass had been reached such that one can talk about local ateliers working in a “Norman” idiom, as well as telling cross-Channel exchanges. [3] Luisa Derosa scrutinizes the Normans in South Italy, in Apulia, especially Brindisi and Barletta. Consonant with other papers in this volume, Derosa sees definite Norman influences in the realm of sculpture in a region characterized by heterogeneity.

Geneviève Bührer-Thierry concludes the volume with a valiant attempt to synthesize and summarize the book’s contents. Much of this effort is a bit too jargon-laden for this reviewer. Still, I found her observations about women as a hidden dimension in the story quite striking. Women often act as cultural intermediaries as a result of being married to far off and alien husbands; of their participation in textiles (which get traded), especially embroidery as local women must deal with dominant elites from other societies; and of their role as mediators between conservative values and new usages which crop up.

Finally, historiography is another veiled dimension in the book. Aleksandr Musin raises the issue explicitly as he warns against accepting nineteenth- and twentieth-century assumptions about Russian history. But, aside from a brief reference on page 14, one would not readily know that lurking behind the book under review, published in the same Brepols series, are six volumes on historiography and identity. It is important to mention in this regard that each essay ends with a full and up-to-date bibliography that reveals the current state of the discipline, as well as the paradigm under which we operate. One example of how the scholarly terrain has changed is to compare LeBouteiller’s nuanced and sympathetic discussion of oaths with that of just over a century ago. The learned entry from the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica startles the contemporary reader by its assumptions about superior civilizations: “The oaths of the lower culture show a remarkable difference from those of later stages.” [4] We ask different questions these days.



1. Judith A. Green, The Normans: Power, Conquest and Culture in 11th-Century Europe (Yale University Press, 2022).

2. William A. Chaney, The Cult of Kingship in Anglo-Saxon England: The Transition from Paganism to Christianity (University of California Press, 1970).

3. It might surprise the reader to know that just in the small region of two archdeaconries in the diocese of Rouen, there were perhaps as many as 89 Romanesque parish churches. I am relying on the series of articles on “Les Églises Romanes du Pays de Caux” by Anne-Marie Carment-Lanfry in the Revue des Sociétés Savantes de Haute Normandie published between 1960 and 1973. She surveys 41 eleventh- and twelfth-century churches and mentions 48 others that had only small Romanesque vestiges, or might have had but have now disappeared. These studies were based on her thesis at the École des Chartes (1939).

4. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., s.v. “Oath.”