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  • Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880–1010: Pathways of Power
  • Paul Freedman
Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880–1010: Pathways of Power. By Jonathan Jarrett. [Studies in History, New Series. A Royal Historical Society Publication.] (Rochester, NY: The Boydell Press, an imprint of Boydell & Brewer. 2010. Pp. xii, 208. $90.00. ISBN 978-0-861-93309-9.)

This is a study of Catalonia in the tenth century (one hesitates to use a term such as the long tenth century), when the Christian princes of northeastern Iberia gained some advantages, not all of them permanent, over the Islamic Caliphate on the one hand and the faltering Carolingian kings on the other. Catalonian scholars have examined the years from the emergence of autonomous counts (c. 880) to the temporary but dramatic Christian conquest of Córdoba (1010) in terms of the formation of something recognizable as Catalonia. Even if the term Catalonia did not come into use until the twelfth century, the establishment of a set of independent polities within and south of the eastern Pyrenees under various counts, mostly of the same family, has been regarded as the origin of the great medieval principality. The destruction of Barcelona by al-Mansur in 985 and the response of Count Borrell II were commemorated in the late 1980s as constituting the “millennium” of Catalonia, and if this did not meet with universal agreement as a [End Page 93] precise date, the “process of independence”—of which it forms at least a part—has dominated historiography, to the neglect, according to Jonathan Jarrett, of asking what really held the fledgling counties together and allowed them to flourish.

Rather than looking at the tenth century in terms of the future Catalonia, Jarrett aims to consider the region as a neglected part of the history of the Carolingian empire. Although the only evidence of interest from the distant and beleaguered descendants of Charlemagne comes in the form of a few ecclesiastical confirmations, Jarrett wants to examine the substantial documentary evidence from Catalonia to understand Carolingian institutions and practices.

This original inspiration tends to evaporate once the author embarks on his real project, which is to discuss who held power and how they exercised it—an affair of upper-level peasants, large landowners, and great men in small spheres who are otherwise unknown. The result is a kind of prosopography of power, especially in the regions to the north of Barcelona: Osona (centered on the episcopal city of Vic), Bages (centered on the town of Manresa and the monastery of St. Benet), and the Ripollès (which takes its name from the great monastery of Ripoll). Particular consideration is given to valleys belonging to the monastery of Sant Joan “de les Abadesses,” the fortified site of L’Esquerda on the Ter River, and the castellanies of Malla and Gurb near Vic.

None of these places are household names among medievalists. The reader not intimately familiar with Osona and its neighbors will not find it easy to follow the local geography, cast of characters, or ultimately the argument of the book. Jarrett has looked very carefully at those who bought and sold land, people who turn up as officials and members of the counts’ entourages, and how fortunes were made and lost in a fluid but well-organized frontier setting. The diversity of names and the fact that so many are unique or unusual during the tenth century allows the author to follow individuals with reasonable confidence through many transactions and appearances. We come to see how territories were settled and to some extent administered without reference to the impositions of counts and bishops. Power, Jarrett concludes, was based more on wealth than on title, function, or delegation—an argument worth making even if it says little about the Carolingians, who, by this time, were virtually absent. [End Page 94]

Paul Freedman
Yale University


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