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  • Politics and Power in Early Medieval Europe: Alsace and the Frankish Realm, 600–1000
  • Ian Wood
Politics and Power in Early Medieval Europe: Alsace and the Frankish Realm, 600–1000. By Hans J.Hummer. [Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, Fourth Series, 65.] (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2006. Pp. xiv, 299. $85.00. ISBN-13 978-0-521-85441-2.)

Hummer sets out to examine the workings of power, as seen largely through the relations between aristocrats and the monastic houses they founded, endowed, and tried to control—but which were also used by rulers as a conduit for royal influence—in a region of Europe that is often ignored by historians: Alsace was not one of the major geopolitical units of early medieval Francia. Nor did it fall consistently into one of the larger power blocks, being at various moments assigned to the Carolingian Middle Kingdom, to Lotharingia, and to East Francia or Germany, and also falling prey momentarily to West Francia, and coming under the influence of tenth-century Burgundy. The strangely peripheral nature of Alsace makes it an extremely interesting region: it also makes its history all the more difficult to reconstruct. Fortunately, there is one major group of documents from Weissenburg. Even so, this evidence does not really supply Hummer with all the documentation he needs: His opening discussion of late Merovingian structures is, instead, largely modeled on his reconstruction of the Pippinid Nivelles, while his discussion of the tenth century revolves around the history of Etichonid relations with Lure, both houses lying outside Alsace. So too, his discussion of the Old German literature produced at Weissenburg (notably Otfrid's Evangelienbuch) involves an excursus further east, mainly to Fulda. Perhaps not surprisingly, Hummer's argument ends up as an interesting sequence of nearly discrete studies. After an opening discussion of Merovingian political structures, it moves to the emergence of the Etichonids and the families of Rodoin and Wolfoald-Gundoin. This is followed by a discussion of precarial tenure in the early Carolingian period, which Hummer sees as undergoing a considerable change after the Council of Estinnes (743–44). Here there are a number of important points, notably about the imposition of census, though Hummer may try to make the developments clearer than they are: The chronology does not quite fit as neatly as he would like. Thereafter there is a fine, detailed discussion of Rodoin-family opposition to the imposition of the census. This is followed by a reconsideration of the politics of Old German literature, which revisits the question of the role played by Louis the German (and Louis the Pious). Whether this would have been better placed after the ensuing chapter, which spells out the imperial politics of the period, is an open question. For the late Carolingian period, Hummer offers an interesting reading of the Vita Odiliae, and the light it sheds on the Etichonid monastery of Hohenburg,which takes the reader back to the period around 700, as well as through to the end of the ninth century. The tenth century is represented by the Vita Deicoli, and Etichonid involvement at Lure. A concluding chapter argues that it was monastic reform that transformed the early medieval aristocracy, altering its links with religious houses, limiting its actions to the military sphere, and leading to the association [End Page 328] of individual families with fortresses. While each of these discussions raises interesting points, and cumulatively they amount to a description of the interplay of local and broader politics in the Alsace region, one is left wondering whether it might have been possible to take a slightly clearer route through the period, concentrating either on the Etichonids or on the monastery of Weissenburg. Both the family and the monastery deserve fuller treatment than they receive here. A more narrowly focused argument, which gave a slightly more coherent account of one aspect of what this book is about, might have managed to cover most of the same general points in a more reader-friendly fashion. As it is, Hummer perhaps tries to give the reader too much. Even so, the interlocking studies which make up this book contain a good deal of...


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