The Merovingian Kingdoms in Mediterranean Perspective (by David Ganz)

In December 2014 a conference was held in Berlin, called ‘East and West in the Early Middle Ages: The Merovingian Kingdoms in Mediterranean Perspective’. This guest post, kindly supplied by leading early medieval palaeographer David Ganz, provides an overview of the topics discussed at the event. With many of the current leading figures in Merovingian studies involved, the conference gives a good sense of the ‘state of the art’.

After a warm welcome by Stefan Esders the conference opened with a lively paper by Bonnie Effros (Gainesville) which set the Pirenne thesis in the context of colonial discourses about empire, and especially about Arabs, and how it preceded the real entry of archaeology into academia. Andreas Fischer (Vienna) discussed the nature of subsidies and tribute in the relations between the Franks and Byzantium, and this was complemented by Jörg Drauschke’s (Mainz)  survey of Byzantine finds from France and Germany, with superb distribution maps and graphs showing the probable date at which objects reached the West. Jamie Kreiner (Athens Georgia who was not able to be present) gave a survey of how Merovingian hagiographers engaged their audience, and suggested that some of these strategies could also be found in Coptic, Syriac Persian and Arabic sources. The final paper of the first day was Yitzhak Hen (Be’er Sheva)’s reevalutation of Defensor of Ligugé’s Liber Scintillarum, showing how it drew on sources from Britain to North Africa, remained popular well after the end of the Middle Ages, and may have been a handbook for preachers.

Christian Stadermann (Tübingen) situated the little known Passio sancti Vincentii Aginnensis in the context of the Visigothic invasion, and argued that that it showed extensive local knowledge. Yaniv Fox (Ra’anana) explored the relations of Sigismund of Burgundy with Byzantium, and with the Franks. Sebastian Scholz (Zürich) set the Three Chapters controversy in the context of the complicated relations between the papacy, the Frankish episcopate and Constantinople, and showed the autonomy of the Frankish church. His paper gave a masterly account of early decretals and Merovingian synods. He was followed by Rosamond McKitterick (Cambridge) who analysed the abridgement of the Liber Pontificalis in Paris BnF Lat. 2123 which is fairly detailed until the papacy of Conon, (686-7) and then has brief entries to Stephen I.

The Liber Pontificalis in Paris BnF Lat 2123

The Liber Pontificalis in Paris BnF Lat 2123

She suggested this might be a Merovingian work. Charles Mériaux (Lille) spoke about the account of Pope Martin in the Vita Amandi and the letter in Laon BM 199 and the knowledge of the Eastern Mediterranean. Laury Sarti (Berlin) discussed chapters 33 and 34 of the first book of the Vita Eligii and what it had to say about Pope Martin noting that it mentioned a certain brother from Eastern parts as the author’s informant. Erik Goosman (Utrecht) discussed Pippin III’s contacts with Constantinople and Baghdad, culminating in the debate between Greeks and Romans at Gentilly in 767 and the ways they were presented in the sources. Wolfram Brandes (Frankfurt), who was also unable to be present in person, gave a very detailed analysis of Pippin’s donation to the Roman church.

Friday began with Phillip Wynn (Be’er Sheva) showing how Gregory of Tours’s account of the relic of the finger of St Sergius showed how the transmission of a military relic from Byzantium was a part of a new Christianised culture of war. Wolfram Drews (Münster) turned to Spain and the role of Byzantium in the rebellion of Hermenegild and his rejection of Arianism. Benjamin Fourlas (Mainz) described a remarkable silver hoard from Lebanon, now in Karlsruhe, perhaps buried in 635-7 inscribed with the name of Framarich and Karilos, most probably Germanic mercenaries recruited by Tiberius II. One of the vessels had a roundel with the head of St Constantine, the earliest representation of that emperor as a saint. Helmut Reimitz showed how Gregory of Tours gives a nuanced view of Frankish identity and the ways in which it might be renegotiated in the interaction of Frankish rulers and elites with the rulers and elites in Byzantium. Galit Noga-Banai (Jerusalem) suggested that the chapel built to house the relic of the true cross in Poitiers was built in imitation of Jerusalem, using archaeological evidence of an apse. Max Diesenberger (Vienna) looked at the passions of Apostles and of Eastern saints from Asia Minor, North Africa, Toulouse and Narbonne in an early Carolingian  legendary with 90 lives from Benediktbeuren now in Munich (clm 4554) as evidence of contacts between East and West. Oro Limor (Ra’anana) looked at Willibald’s account of the Holy Places including 7 sites in Jerusalem and the problems of how he remembered and recounted a journey made some forty years earlier.  She argued that the account of the Holy Places by Adamnan contained facts which only an eyewitness could have known, rejecting recent Irish attempts to see the work as a patchwork of learned quotations. Ann Christys (Leeds) gave a lively account of Latin and Arabic sources for the Andalusi campaigns leading to the battle of Poitiers, including the work of Ibn Habib and AlBakri and their explanations for the lack of Arab success, including the 3 idols at the 3 corners of Spain. David Ganz (Notre Dame) listed the contents of Bern 611 and suggested that they represented the interests of the episcopal school in Bourges in the 720s. Ian Wood (Leeds) took one of those texts, the Revelation of Pseudo-Methodius, and showed how it and the sermons of Ephraim the Syrian marked a  remarkable translation enterprise, which he set in the context of Fredegar’s knowledge of a far wider world than Gregory of Tours displayed.

Inside the Dome of the Rock

Inside the Dome of the Rock

Lawrence Nees discussed the eagle capitals in the Dome of the Rock and eagle capitals in insular and Merovingian manuscripts, and similarities between the treatment of verse breaks in early Qu’ran manuscripts and Merovingian manuscripts, as evidence of possible contacts. Stefan Esders (Berlin) suggested that the rebellion of Ebroin involved Anglo-Saxon England, Lombard Italy Visigothic Spain and Byzantium. Finally Federico Montinaro looked at Theophanes’s presentation of the Merovingians with bristles on their backs, and linked this to passages in Einhard and the Gesta Pontificum Autissiodorensium. Closing remarks and suggestions for future research were given by Mayke de Jong (Utrecht), Philipp von Rummel (Berlin) and Yitzhak Hen.

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