The Transformation of a Multi-Ethnic Middle Ground of the Euro-Mediterranean World

Septimania and Catalonia, belonging today to two different national states (France and Spain), were one space of communication especially after the expansion of the ecclesia Narbonensis to the Hispanic south caused by the Muslim domination of Tarragona. The present project addresses this region as a whole in its Euro-Mediterranean network of knowledge transfer and learning. This perspective offers the chance of overcoming modern national(istic) political perspectives and narratives, which still favour the concept of a medieval ‘History of France’ or ‘Spain’ (or, recently, ‘Catalonia’), and allows interconnecting previous studies of historical regional identities which are often artificially separated.

Not much effort has been devoted to the flow of Carolingian texts and manuscripts to Septimania/Catalonia (as reflected, for instance, in Bishop Gotmar of Girona’s Chronicle from 939/40). Its deep-rooted Roman and Mediterranean tradition facilitated these exchanges, and gave them a particular flavour. This was a frequently contested frontier area to the Muslim World, but it also constituted a middle ground between the Western Mediterranean and the Frankish realms. Studying it can provide a fresh perspective on a process recently called ‘Transformation of the Carolingian World’, which led to the emergence of new, often regional realms that replaced the Carolingian Empire. A network of regional centres now sought to implement many of the goals of the Carolingian reform, if on a less ambitious scale.

Our research project proposes to study Medieval Septimania (or Gothia) and Catalonia, which have produced a rich and in many respects understudied manuscript heritage from the 9th to the 12th centuries. The region thus offers a highly suitable test case to study this process in a marginal area that was at the same time very well connected to the north and to the south. This research angle transcends national histories that have often restrained research and directs attention to different spatial and cultural configurations of the Middle Ages. Given these attractive conditions for innovative research, it is surprising that this phase of post-imperial ‘transition’ in which the medieval cultural profile of the region took shape has never been systematically investigated. The project proposed here will engage in systematic in-depth manuscript studies in regional (and other) archives, and on this basis address broad questions of cultural transmission and adaptation between Septimania/Catalonia and the Carolingian core areas, and beyond. Previous studies have already yielded many hitherto unexplored traces, unstudied manuscripts, and unknown texts which can stimulate new perspectives.

The transmission and reception of Visigothic (or rather, Hispano-Roman) textual culture in early medieval Europe is a well-studied feature. Beside further authors working in the 7th-century Visigothic kingdom such as Fructuosus of Braga, Braulio of Zaragoza or Julian of Toledo, Bishop Isidore of Seville was a key figure of the influence of culture in the Visigothic kingdom in medieval Europe. An international congress organised in 1990 in Paris yielded a comprehensive picture of the important role that ‘Visigoths’ and their Hispanic Latin culture played in the Carolingian Empire. This picture was based on critical editions and monographic studies of their works produced since the 1960s, which became a favoured subject of Carolingian Studies, especially on Louis the Pious’s period, since the 1990s. Among these Hispano-Carolingian scholars, Felix of Urgell, Witiza-Benedict and Ardo of Aniane, Smaragdus of Saint-Mihiel, Theodulf of Orléans, Agobard of Lyon, Claudius of Turin or Galindo-Prudentius of Troyes stand out. Prosopographic and comparative studies in the last two decades have deepened our insight into the special role this personnel from the south-western periphery of the Empire played in the Carolingian Church reform under Charlemagne and Louis the Pious.

Yet this, largely adequate, master narrative misses an important complementary part. What remained widely unstudied was the cultural impact these and later key figures of Gothic-Carolingian culture, and further Carolingian authors and works, had since the 9th century on the regions of Septimania, the so-called Spanish March (Catalonia), the deeply Romanised and formerly Gothic south-western periphery of the Carolingian Empire, and on Hispania. Neither Spanish or Catalan experts nor their non-Iberian colleagues have focused on this research perspective. In consequence, we know hardly anything about how these agents of reform and their networks of oral and written dissemination of Carolingian texts worked in the Romanised middle ground between Frankish and Hispano-Roman culture and religious practice. Addressing this issue, it soon became clear that what was lacking was the proper manuscript basis. Especially Catalonia had not only been neglected by Bernhard Bischoff, whose studies are still fundamental for Carolingian manuscript culture, but also by many Catalan, Spanish, and French scholars, for whom Carolingian culture had not been a central concern.

This was the reason for the project team to start systematic fieldwork on Carolingian manuscript culture in Septimania and Catalonia.

In addition, working with manuscripts goes beyond traditional cultural history only based on a small number of ‘original’ texts. The combined analysis of scripts (Visigothic, Carolingian and hybrid minuscules), texts, and compilations can yield a much more fine-grained picture of imported and autochthonous products, and of networks of oral and written communication. Studying the basic media of transfer and transformation of religious culture is decisive for a deeper understanding of exchanges between the cultural centres of Septimania and Catalonia, and between these communities of the middle ground and the wider Euro-Mediterranean framework of writing and learning. A greater part of the Carolingian manuscript culture in Septimania/Catalonia is still hidden in the archives and libraries of southern France, Catalonia, Spain, and beyond and has been studied only selectively so far. Hence, the exploration of these collections by the project team has established strategies and criteria for a balanced research of the importance and impact of textual corpora that formed the religious and political memory of the area under consideration.

A central question of our project is which Carolingian texts, manuscripts, and corpora were used or not used in the region under study and in what way. How could they help to shape the transformation towards a new religious/political order in the border zone between the Frankish kingdom and the former Gothic lands now largely under Muslim rule? Complementing the selected sources (e.g. law, charters and texts of religious lifestyles) addressed in previous research, we intend to focus mainly on three central text corpora of which two (1. and 2.) were normative and one (3.) formative, and which were all interacting with each other: 1. the Bible, 2. liturgy and biblical exegesis, and 3. historiography. Each text corpus has its specific character of transmission, which calls for an adapted treatment under the general perspective of the project.