We’re on the map!

After more than TWO YEARS of futzing around, I have finally put together a first cut of a map of Francia.

Many thanks for Dr. Laura Morreale of Fordham University, who turned me onto the application called Carto.1.Also many thanks to Dr. Scott Bruce, who organized the symposium that brought Dr. Morreale to Boulder. Dr. Morreale is using Carto to map locations and times when French was the language of record in Italy, as part of a wider series of projects that apply digital methodologies to the study of medieval history. As a career telecom guy who dabbles in medieval history, it is great to see those musty historians dipping their toes in the digital world.

Carto is web-based mapping platform that has a pretty robust set of features, and is available in a limited, non-commercial form without cost. It is intuitive and simple – I had a map up and running in an hour. By comparison, I worked with ArcGIS for a couple of months, and was never able to get a grip on the vast array of features and functionality it offers. While Carto is more limited, a layman like me can get moving pretty quickly. And if I can do it, so can you.

The essence of a Carto map (and probably any digital map) is a base map, on which you pile “layers” of additional data. Most base maps include everything you see in a regular map, such as towns, roads, country boundaries, etc. Of course all of that goes out the window for early medieval Europe, so I started by finding a basemap that didn’t have all the modern stuff, only terrain and natural features. There are many, many basemaps out on the Web to chose from, and I got one from Leaflet. However, I now had to layer in my own towns and boundaries.

There are three types of Carto map features: points (towns, or anything else at a given point); lines (rivers or roads); and polygons (regions). Depending on the scale you want to illustrate, a town could be a point, or it could be a polygon on a large scale map. For me, a point is what I needed for towns.

To different feature types each require a different map layer. In other words, I have a points layer for my towns, and a polygon layer for my regions. All of the features in one layer share the same customizable display attributes – every town name will display in the same font and color. If you want to display some towns as red dots, and other towns as black squares, you will need to use two separate point layers. You can put four layers on your map using the free version, so choose your layers carefully!

My first points layer was a .csv file of town names with lat/long coordinates, that I had created during my tribulations with ArcGIS. From the Carto site, where you actually build your map, I linked to the town list that I kept in my Dropbox account. At that point I had a terrain map of the world, with a bunch of dots in Europe that represented the towns that I had decided to put in. I had a map, but only on the Carto site. Fortunately it is very easy to embed the Carto map into the blog. From the Carto site I copied the map link, and then pasted that link in my Francia map page. And voila, my first blog map!

I have spent a few days this week building up the polygon shapes that define the different regions of Francia. The region boundaries are very vague, of course, but you have to start somewhere. So now I have used up two of my four layers. I am thinking about adding another layer of lines to represent Roman roads.

There is a lot of work still to come. There are several more regions to build (lots of clicking – I probably create the polygons with a hundred points each), and many more towns and bishoprics to add. I have asked the user community about hyperlinking from a blog post to the map, so that when I write about Bourges you can click and jump directly to the map, with Bourges neatly centered. The base map I’m using is not great, as the rivers are not very clear, so I want to find a better base map. I want to make the town and region names only visible at certain zoom levels, so the map doesn’t become too cluttered with labels when you zoom out.

There is a function called Torque that let’s you creat an animated map based on times or dates. Someday soon I want to create an animated map of the Aquitanian war, that shows the various thrusts that Pepin made each year, and how the Franks slowly conquered the entire province. You can even add narration! Could be my big break into voice over work…

Please chime in with any questions or comments, particularly anything you would like to see in the map. Enjoy!

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Also many thanks to Dr. Scott Bruce, who organized the symposium that brought Dr. Morreale to Boulder.

Brothers, kings – and enemies

In December of 771 a Frankish king died, Carloman, second son of King Pepin. He was not yet twenty-one. His brother Charles, who would become known to us a Charlemagne, probably did not grieve. The two brothers had been in conflict and contention for years, and tensions had been so high that they had almost come to war just a year or two earlier. Their mother Bertrada, widow of the late king, at some point decided that her older son was the greater man, and threw her considerable diplomatic talents behind Charles. While no one has ever suggested foul play in the death of Carloman, his demise was a great convenience for Charles and his mother. Let’s see if we can untangle this twisted family tale.

At some point in the mid-740’s Pepin and his consort Bertrada had a son, whom they named Charles, after his grandfather Charles Martel. The date of this birth is a subject of some dispute, but we’ll settle on the year 747 for the purposes of this post. While to modern eyes this uncertain state of marriage between the parents would automatically render Charles illegitimate, Germanic concepts of marriage were more fluid in early medieval times. Charles was just as legitimate as Pepin and the nobles of the land wanted him to be. At any rate Pepin and Bertrada tied the knot in a formal public ceremony a few years after his birth. Then in 751 they had a second son, Carloman, named after his uncle, Pepin’s brother. Perhaps the choice of name was unfortunate, for the elder Carloman had led a troubled life, and died in somewhat mysterious circumstances.

From the start Charles was seen a favored son. “The prince seems to have been involved in politics from an early age. In 753, he enjoyed the signal honor of conducting Pope Stephen II to Ponthion, and later accompanied his father on his Aquitainian campaigns.”1.Riche, Carolingians, p.85. The pope, however, treated both children equally, and anointed Charles and Carloman along with their father in 754.2.There was a sister, Gisela, born in 757, but obviously she was never considered as a future ruler of the realm.)

The sources are silent on the adolescence of the princes, until Pepin died in 768, after the long and brutal war for Aquitaine.3.You can check my 2000 part essay that I put together earlier this year. On Pepin’s death the magnates of the Frankish realm gathered to acclaim his two sons as successor kings. Having two kings (or even three) to succeed the dead ruler might seem like a recipe for trouble, but it was in keeping with Frankish traditions. Pepin, his sons, and the nobles, agreed to a completely new division of the kingdom. In the past the two great regions of Austrasia and Neustria were allocated. This time was quite different.

“[I]t appears that Charles got a great arc of lands running from central Germany, along the North Sea coast, and southward along the Channel and Atlantic coasts to Gascony. Carloman got a core of lands running from the Paris basin to Provence.”4.Noble, Charlemagne and Louis the Pious, p.26, n.17. Was it this division, that Riche calls “this bizarre partition”,5.Riche, Carolingians, p.85. that lay at the heart of the fraternal dispute? “The logic behind these new entities that disregarded the existence of past kingdoms was to emphasize the effective unity of the Frankish people. There were two kings, but only kingdom.”6.Barbero, Charlemagne, pp.22 – 23. But had Pepin, near death, aimed too high?

Relations between them very soon became tense, possibly because the geopolitical conditions created by the division forced them to direct their policies in opposite directions. Charles had the opportunity of unrestricted expansion into pagan Germany, whereas Carloman was confronted with the most dangerous border, the Pyrenean one with Arab Spain and the most sensitive border, the one with the Lombard kingdom of Italy.7.Barbero, Charlemagne, p.23.

One of the points that the scholars never make, but that I think is important, is just how young some of these rulers were. Charles was twenty-one when his father died, and Carloman just seventeen. Seventeen! No wonder conflict broke out. A teenage boy is given a smaller, more difficult land to govern, which is virtually encircled by the vast swath of land given to his older, more charismatic brother. Of course he is angry. His anger was probably stoked by his advisers and counselors. “This harmony persisted, but only with the greatest difficulty, because many of Carloman’s supporters were trying to drive the heirs apart and some were actually scheming to commit them to war.”8.Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, in Noble, Charlemagne and Louis the Pious, bk. 3, p. 26.

One of the many problems with deciphering the actions of these eighth century kings is that just about all of the sources were written after the fact, by supporters of Charlemagne. No one has any doubt that a chronicler in the court of Carloman would have written a vastly different narrative. But we don’t have such a source, so we soldier on.

The first item of business with which we know that the two kings had to cooperate was the sudden rise of a fresh Aquitanian usurper. Militarily this was not of great consequence, for the province was a ruin, and Charles and Carloman had an army fresh with conquest to put down the micro-rebellion. But first they had to agree on a plan. They met, but most definitely did not agree to anything. “But since he could not gain the help of his brother, who was prevented from giving it by the evil counsel of his proceres, but had only a conference with him, at the place called Duasdives [Moncontour], he proceeded to the Aquitanian city of Angouleme – his brother returning to his own kingdom…”9.King, Translated Sources, Revised Frankish Annals, year 669, p. 109.

Clearly the relationship of the co-rulers was off to a rocky start. So the next year their mother Bertrada stepped into the fray in an attempt to craft some kind of solution. Bertrada was no shrinking violet, and, while no source says so, the general thinking is that she recognized Charles as the stronger of the two brothers. She decided to forge alliances that would, in effect, encircle Carloman, and inevitably make Charles the greater of the two. An examination of the sources in combination reveal her methods.

First, “Bertrada, the kings’ mother, after discussions at Seltz with her younger son, Carloman, in the cause of peace, went to Italy.”10.Revised Frankish Annals, year 770, King, Translated Sources. The original annals for 770 add the juicy detail that she went to Italy by way of Bavaria. Einhard notes that “at the urging of his mother, he married a daughter of Desiderius, the king of the Lombards.”11.Einhard, Life, ch.18. Duke Tassilo of Bavaria, whom Bertrada had recently visited, had also married a daughter of Desiderius.

At this point Carloman recognized the trap. His central nut of Europe was now circled by a web of Frankish-Bavarian-Lombard marital ties. He tried to build a bridge to the pope, but the papacy decided to throw in their lot with the Franks, and Carloman was left out in the cold. In contrast, Berbero believes that “it seems logical that in her peacemaking role Bertrada sought a three-way agreement so that neither of the rival brothers could use an alliance with the Lombards against the other.”12.Berbero, Charlemagne, p.26. I am unpersuaded.

Fate has a way of stirring the pot, and on December 4 of 771 Carloman died, of causes unrecorded. The effects were immediate. Carloman’s widow Gerberga (who must have also been only a teenager, and a mother as well) fled to Desiderius along with some of Carloman’s allies. Charles repudiated his Lombard wife and sent her back to Desderius. Mightily insulted, Desiderius turned to Pope and asked him to come and anoint Gerberga’s child, who then would have been recognized as a Frankish king, but nothing came of that. Charles, as ever the penultimate man of action, called Carloman’s men to him. He was quickly acclaimed king of all the Franks.

Neither brother had undertaken a significant military action (with the exception of Charles’ expedition to Aquitaine, mentioned above), probably because of mistrust between them. With Carloman out of the way his first act was to break his agreement with Desiderius and invade Lombardy!

Two Frankish forces were directed across the Alps, and Desiderius retired behind the walls of his capital while his son Adalgisus took refuge together  with Gerberga and her children at the even more formidable Verona. The ensuing siege of Pavia lasted for nineteen months, and at its end in 774, Charlemagne captured Desiderius and his treasure. He had already caught up with Gerberga and her children…13.Riche, Carolingians, p.97.

Nothing is heard of Gerberga or her child after the Lombard campaign. Charles probably sent her to a nunnery and sent her son to a monastery as soon as he was old enough. Carloman was treated reasonably well in the Carolingian sources after his death. In 781 the royal annals note that papal legates to Tassilo reminded him of his oaths to “king Pippin, his sons, and the Franks…”, so at least he wasn’t subject to some kind of Stalinesque purge of his existence.((It is not a recent practice. The Egyptian eighteenth dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep IV raised up the cult of Aten, but within a generation of his death his name and that of his successors had been scratched from the stones.

My own belief is that Carloman was simply born to the wrong brother. I don’t think anyone could have stood next to Charlemagne, and Carloman was simply an inconvenience that had to be dealt with. Sorry, Carloman.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Riche, Carolingians, p.85.
2. There was a sister, Gisela, born in 757, but obviously she was never considered as a future ruler of the realm.)

The sources are silent on the adolescence of the princes, until Pepin died in 768, after the long and brutal war for Aquitaine.((You can check my 2000 part essay that I put together earlier this year.

3. You can check my 2000 part essay that I put together earlier this year. On Pepin’s death the magnates of the Frankish realm gathered to acclaim his two sons as successor kings. Having two kings (or even three) to succeed the dead ruler might seem like a recipe for trouble, but it was in keeping with Frankish traditions. Pepin, his sons, and the nobles, agreed to a completely new division of the kingdom. In the past the two great regions of Austrasia and Neustria were allocated. This time was quite different.

“[I]t appears that Charles got a great arc of lands running from central Germany, along the North Sea coast, and southward along the Channel and Atlantic coasts to Gascony. Carloman got a core of lands running from the Paris basin to Provence.”((Noble, Charlemagne and Louis the Pious, p.26, n.17.

4. Noble, Charlemagne and Louis the Pious, p.26, n.17. Was it this division, that Riche calls “this bizarre partition”,((Riche, Carolingians, p.85.
5. Riche, Carolingians, p.85. that lay at the heart of the fraternal dispute? “The logic behind these new entities that disregarded the existence of past kingdoms was to emphasize the effective unity of the Frankish people. There were two kings, but only kingdom.”((Barbero, Charlemagne, pp.22 – 23.
6. Barbero, Charlemagne, pp.22 – 23. But had Pepin, near death, aimed too high?

Relations between them very soon became tense, possibly because the geopolitical conditions created by the division forced them to direct their policies in opposite directions. Charles had the opportunity of unrestricted expansion into pagan Germany, whereas Carloman was confronted with the most dangerous border, the Pyrenean one with Arab Spain and the most sensitive border, the one with the Lombard kingdom of Italy.((Barbero, Charlemagne, p.23.

7. Barbero, Charlemagne, p.23.

One of the points that the scholars never make, but that I think is important, is just how young some of these rulers were. Charles was twenty-one when his father died, and Carloman just seventeen. Seventeen! No wonder conflict broke out. A teenage boy is given a smaller, more difficult land to govern, which is virtually encircled by the vast swath of land given to his older, more charismatic brother. Of course he is angry. His anger was probably stoked by his advisers and counselors. “This harmony persisted, but only with the greatest difficulty, because many of Carloman’s supporters were trying to drive the heirs apart and some were actually scheming to commit them to war.”((Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, in Noble, Charlemagne and Louis the Pious, bk. 3, p. 26.

8. Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, in Noble, Charlemagne and Louis the Pious, bk. 3, p. 26.

One of the many problems with deciphering the actions of these eighth century kings is that just about all of the sources were written after the fact, by supporters of Charlemagne. No one has any doubt that a chronicler in the court of Carloman would have written a vastly different narrative. But we don’t have such a source, so we soldier on.

The first item of business with which we know that the two kings had to cooperate was the sudden rise of a fresh Aquitanian usurper. Militarily this was not of great consequence, for the province was a ruin, and Charles and Carloman had an army fresh with conquest to put down the micro-rebellion. But first they had to agree on a plan. They met, but most definitely did not agree to anything. “But since he could not gain the help of his brother, who was prevented from giving it by the evil counsel of his proceres, but had only a conference with him, at the place called Duasdives [Moncontour], he proceeded to the Aquitanian city of Angouleme – his brother returning to his own kingdom…”((King, Translated Sources, Revised Frankish Annals, year 669, p. 109.

9. King, Translated Sources, Revised Frankish Annals, year 669, p. 109.

Clearly the relationship of the co-rulers was off to a rocky start. So the next year their mother Bertrada stepped into the fray in an attempt to craft some kind of solution. Bertrada was no shrinking violet, and, while no source says so, the general thinking is that she recognized Charles as the stronger of the two brothers. She decided to forge alliances that would, in effect, encircle Carloman, and inevitably make Charles the greater of the two. An examination of the sources in combination reveal her methods.

First, “Bertrada, the kings’ mother, after discussions at Seltz with her younger son, Carloman, in the cause of peace, went to Italy.”((Revised Frankish Annals, year 770, King, Translated Sources.

10. Revised Frankish Annals, year 770, King, Translated Sources. The original annals for 770 add the juicy detail that she went to Italy by way of Bavaria. Einhard notes that “at the urging of his mother, he married a daughter of Desiderius, the king of the Lombards.”((Einhard, Life, ch.18.
11. Einhard, Life, ch.18. Duke Tassilo of Bavaria, whom Bertrada had recently visited, had also married a daughter of Desiderius.

At this point Carloman recognized the trap. His central nut of Europe was now circled by a web of Frankish-Bavarian-Lombard marital ties. He tried to build a bridge to the pope, but the papacy decided to throw in their lot with the Franks, and Carloman was left out in the cold. In contrast, Berbero believes that “it seems logical that in her peacemaking role Bertrada sought a three-way agreement so that neither of the rival brothers could use an alliance with the Lombards against the other.”((Berbero, Charlemagne, p.26.

12. Berbero, Charlemagne, p.26. I am unpersuaded.

Fate has a way of stirring the pot, and on December 4 of 771 Carloman died, of causes unrecorded. The effects were immediate. Carloman’s widow Gerberga (who must have also been only a teenager, and a mother as well) fled to Desiderius along with some of Carloman’s allies. Charles repudiated his Lombard wife and sent her back to Desderius. Mightily insulted, Desiderius turned to Pope and asked him to come and anoint Gerberga’s child, who then would have been recognized as a Frankish king, but nothing came of that. Charles, as ever the penultimate man of action, called Carloman’s men to him. He was quickly acclaimed king of all the Franks.

Neither brother had undertaken a significant military action (with the exception of Charles’ expedition to Aquitaine, mentioned above), probably because of mistrust between them. With Carloman out of the way his first act was to break his agreement with Desiderius and invade Lombardy!

Two Frankish forces were directed across the Alps, and Desiderius retired behind the walls of his capital while his son Adalgisus took refuge together  with Gerberga and her children at the even more formidable Verona. The ensuing siege of Pavia lasted for nineteen months, and at its end in 774, Charlemagne captured Desiderius and his treasure. He had already caught up with Gerberga and her children…((Riche, Carolingians, p.97.

13. Riche, Carolingians, p.97.

Nothing is heard of Gerberga or her child after the Lombard campaign. Charles probably sent her to a nunnery and sent her son to a monastery as soon as he was old enough. Carloman was treated reasonably well in the Carolingian sources after his death. In 781 the royal annals note that papal legates to Tassilo reminded him of his oaths to “king Pippin, his sons, and the Franks…”, so at least he wasn’t subject to some kind of Stalinesque purge of his existence.((It is not a recent practice. The Egyptian eighteenth dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep IV raised up the cult of Aten, but within a generation of his death his name and that of his successors had been scratched from the stones.

Frankish travelogue: Brittany

Early medieval Brittany is a difficult place to explore. One scholar has noted “the complete absence of information about Brittany in the first half of the eighth century…”1.Smith, Julia M.H., The Sack of Vannes by Pippin III, Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies, Number 11, Summer 1986, p.25. With one notable, almost startling exception, which I will get to below, there is almost nothing in the sources about what was going on in Brittany during the eighth century. But let’s see what we can dredge up.

Brittany, for the cartographically challenged, is the peninsula jutting into the Atlantic on France’s north-west coast. It is a region of some 13,000 square miles, a land dominated by the sea, rocky and sparse. The hills reach heights of 1200 feet within just five miles of the coast. There was no traditional physical boundary between Francia and Brittany, although the Vilaine river is definitely Brittany, and the later eighth century Breton March was east of the river. On the other hand, the town of Nantes, just north of the mouth of the river Loire, was also considered part of the region. Other major towns include Rennes, and Vienne, and the monastery of Redon, which was established in 832. These population hubs are all along the Vilaine valley. West of the Vilaine there were only a few minor population centers.

Read more…

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Smith, Julia M.H., The Sack of Vannes by Pippin III, Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies, Number 11, Summer 1986, p.25.

Gregory II: the schism begins

The pontificate of pope Gregory II marked the beginning of the end of the old “Byzantine papacy,” and the start of a new, western-facing papacy. Gregory opposed the Byzantine emperor on new taxes, inaugurated a muscular regional policy to oppose Lombard expansionism, and implacably fought the eastern empire’s policy of Iconoclasm. The popes that succeeded Gregory continued his policies, eventually culminating the coronation of Pepin the Short and the establishment of the ‘Papal States’ that continued until the 20th century. Let’s take a look.

Gregory II (his original name is not known) was born to a noble Roman family in 669. After holding a number of ecclesiastical posts he was elected pope on 19 May 715, and held the papacy until his death on 11 February 731. He is first notable to history for his work with Boniface, the English monk who proselytized among the Germans. During this period the papacy became increasingly concerned with converting German lands.1.Riche, Family Who Forged Europe, p.32. Boniface, then named Wynfrith, first worked among the Frisians, then traveled to Rome in 717. Wynfrith impressed Gregory, who renamed him Boniface and sent him to Germany.

Read more…

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Riche, Family Who Forged Europe, p.32.

Santa Maria Antiqua, reborn

Once literally, now figuratively buried in the architectural mass of the Palatine Hill in Rome, lies a little church that is a gem of eighth century artistic expression. Buried in an earthquake in 847, it was rediscovered in 1900 with its frescoes more or less intact. The ensuing century has not been necessarily kind to the structure, with many of the ailments common to historic structures and artworks manifesting themselves. However, the church is a World Heritage Site, and conservators have been at work for decades to restore and protect the paintings. Best of all, particularly for my legions of Italian readers, the church is open now until 11 September, 2016, after undergoing decades of restoration.

Interior of the church

The Palatine Hill is one of the famous seven hills of Rome, and the one where several of the emperors made their residence. During the years of late antiquity, as the empire disintegrated, the Huns approached, and Christianity rose, a small church was created from a former guardroom, out of the walls and foundations of the west slope of the hill.1.Stalley, Early Medieval Architecture, p.24.

Read more…

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Stalley, Early Medieval Architecture, p.24.