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  • Scale and Scale Change in the Early Middle Ages: Exploring Landscape, Local Society, and the World Beyond by Julio Escalona and Andrew Reynolds
  • Shane McLeod
Escalona, Julio and Andrew Reynolds, Scale and Scale Change in the Early Middle Ages: Exploring Landscape, Local Society, and the World Beyond (The Medieval Countryside, 6), Turnhout, Brepols, 2011; hardback; pp. xi, 316; 33 b/w illustrations; R.R.P. €80.00; ISBN 9782503532394.

Despite the excellence of much of this volume, its title is somewhat misleading. It fails to alert the would-be purchaser that the work deals exclusively with post-Roman Europe, often with reference to the changes in scale that occurred with the end of the Empire. This of course results in the large parts of Europe that were not incorporated into the Roman Empire being excluded. Furthermore, after a theoretical chapter, six of the nine chapters focus on the Iberian Peninsula.

The volume is the result of a research project during which each chapter of the book was presented to the other participants as a seminar paper, resulting in a level of uniformity not always found in edited collections. For example, many of the papers deal with the social construction of scale. Following an Introduction, the useful theoretical chapter by Julio Escalona establishes different approaches to investigating scale and scale change, and the accompanying theoretical issues. Perhaps the most important of these is that issues of scale are often fundamental to scholarship on the Middle Ages but they are usually taken for granted.

'Part I: Territories, Landscape, and Settlement' commences with a chapter on 'Early Medieval Rural Societies in North-Western Spain' by Alfonso Vigil-Escalera and Juan Antonio Quirós Castillo in which they establish that, contrary to previous scholarship, early churches in the region were built in existing villages rather than villages later forming around churches. Andrew Reynolds then presents four case studies relating to scale change in the English landscape in the Roman and medieval periods. He argues that archaeologists working on the Roman period are often looking at different things from those working on the early medieval period, who in turn are not looking for the same things as those working on the following period, which makes drawing comparisons between these periods very difficult. A long chapter by Margarita Fernández Mier returns to early medieval North-Western Spain to examine changing scales of local power, arguing that different economic, social, and administrative mechanisms co-existed and functioned at different scales. Her willingness to use a retrospective reading of later documents may be considered problematic by some scholars.

Alexandra Chavarría Arnau's chapter opens 'Part II: Local Society and the World Beyond'. She compares changes in scale in the late Roman and early medieval period in the Italian countryside and argues that the late antique [End Page 237] aristocracy remained but became militarized, and that local churches were not randomly sited but instead the ecclesiastical network was planned. In 'On Suretyship in Tenth-Century Northern Iberia', Wendy Davies draws on her earlier work on Brittany for comparisons. She examines personal sureties and argues that they operated on two scales: a small local scale where people would travel short distances (up to six or seven kilometres in Eastern Brittany) to act as a surety in agreements between two other parties, and on a much wider scale amongst the aristocracy where the distance travelled could reach one hundred kilometres. Part II concludes with a chapter by Escalona and Francisco Reyes on changes in scale that occurred when the County of Castile expanded in the ninth and tenth centuries. The authors demonstrate that the changes operated on three different scales, and they identify a bottom-up process by which local elites became part of the countywide aristocracy.

'Part III: Large-Scale Systems in Local and Regional Perspective' commences with Santiago Castellanos's chapter on the adaptation of the late Roman tax system by Visigoth kings. He argues that both systems operated on two levels, state and local. Taxation in Visigoth Iberia is also the focus of the chapter by Iñaki Martín Viso. He examines gold coinage in the Duero plateau in the sixth and seventh...


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