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Pillages, tributs, captifs

 | 
Rodolphe Keller
, 
Laury Sarti

Predatory Warfare – the Moral and the Physical

Guy Halsall

Texte intégral

1The terms that we consider in this volume – looting, tribute paying, the taking of captives and predation – are haunted by some important assumptions. One is an implicit opposition between predation and some other type of warfare. Presumably, following usual military historical typologies, that type of war would be one based around set-piece battles. But is any sort of warfare not predatory? Also possibly implicit in our rationale is a concentration on what we might term the physical or the material, on the economic uses of the things taken during such warfare. In that analysis, the focus remains on the deliberate, human manipulation of objects. This paper aims to rake up those presuppositions, bring them to the surface and swirl them about.

  • 1  This issue of diversity and change was one that I endeavoured to highlight in Guy Halsall, Warfare (...)
  • 2  I explored the change between the sixth and seventh centuries in a Leverhulme Major Research Fello (...)
  • 3  The social and economic importance of the period around 700 needs greater recognition. Ganshof tho (...)
  • 4  This is of course a subject with an enormous bibliography. See also Lucie Malbos’ contribution to (...)
  • 5  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 40-110.

2At the very beginning of the analysis, we must recognise the diversity of early medieval warfare. One cannot take the whole era from 450 to 900, across all of Western Europe, and treat it interchangeably as far as warfare is concerned1. The sixth century differed from the seventh in many areas, one of the clearest of which was the organisation and practice of warfare2. The late seventh century and the decades around 700 saw further important economic developments3. Finally, there were more changes in the ninth century, many of which were at least exacerbated by the Vikings, the way in which they practised warfare, particularly raiding and predation, and by the responses to it4. In Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West I found it helpful to discuss the raising of armies century by century5. To do otherwise obscured many important changes, although of course these generally remained in the sphere of hypothesis. Separating the data according to date and place usually left one with little evidence but nonetheless revealed potentially important differences between various times and places.

  • 6  Timothy Reuter, “Plunder and Tribute in the Carolingian Empire”, Transactions of the Royal Histori (...)

3In assessing the role of plunder and booty in medieval warfare, the composition of armies, their size and how they were raised are all issues of crucial importance. One might expect the distribution and circulation of plunder to differ significantly in small armies composed essentially of aristocrats and their retinues, compared with that in large armies with a greater percentage of small-holding farmers, or ones raised on more of a levy basis. The ease with which armies might have been raised might have been closely related to issues of remuneration through booty. Historiographically, the clearest example of the exploration of such a possibility would lie in the late Tim Reuter’s theories about the ends of Carolingian military expansion6. We cannot speak of a “gene-ral early medieval culture of predatory warfare”, at least in any detail. The shortage of data makes precision difficult and aggregation almost unavoidable, but what we say should be inflected by this point.

Economic Background

  • 7  See, e. g., Bernard S. Bachrach, Merovingian Military Organization, 481-751, Minneapolis, Universi (...)

4One particularly important variable that underlines this point is the economic context within which warfare was waged. The nature of early medieval evidence is such that we can say far more, in far more detail, about the economics of different regions at particular points in time than we can about the armies that operated in those contexts. This in turn means that this knowledge must govern what we suggest about armies and warfare, not the other way round. Historiographically, this seems like an obvious point, but it must be remembered that the most prolific writer on early medieval warfare, Bernard S. Bachrach, has adopted the diametrically opposite approach7.

  • 8  Chris Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages. Europe and the Mediterranean 400-800, Oxford, Oxford (...)
  • 9  Information on the seventh-century economy can be found in Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages…(...)
  • 10  Hansen, Wickham, The Long Eighth Century, op. cit.; Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages…, op. c (...)

5Working from these data further underlines regional diversity and chronological change. If fifth- and sixth-century north-west Europe is a particularly clear point of economic regression, more southerly regions cannot exactly be said to have been experiencing economic growth at that time8. The northern economy picked up, as is well-known, in the seventh century, but by the end of that century other regions, like the south of Gaul, were undergoing economic decline9. The eighth and especially ninth centuries saw further growth, especially in towns and markets, in the north10. The economic possibilities of warfare – of predation – were therefore not constant across early medieval Europe, either from century to century or from place to place during the same century. Thus a very important question is raised: If warfare was for plunder, what – and how much of it – was it that was being plundered?

  • 11  Neil Christie (ed.), Landscapes of Change. Rural Evolutions in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle (...)
  • 12  Mark Blackburn, “Money and Exchange”, in Paul Fouracre (ed.) The New Cambridge Medieval History, o (...)
  • 13  Richard Abels, Lordship and Military Obligation in Anglo-Saxon England, London, University of Cali (...)

6Settlement archaeology implies that for much of the period there was little by way of wealth to be gained from looting settlements – even the larger commercial centres that began to emerge from the seventh century – until perhaps the ninth century11. Fifth- and sixth-century northern Gaulish and English settle-ments are pretty ephemeral. It has taken fairly detailed work with the pottery of the period even to identify certain periods in the excavated record. Such is the decline in the complexity of the pottery industry and its transportation. Much of the early medieval period in the West was incompletely monetised12. It might, then, not be coincidental, that the fortification of such settlements only begins to look significant from late within this period: the fortification programme of Alfred of Wessex, for instance13.

  • 14  Ecgfrith in Bede, Ecclesiastical History, 4, 26, ed. and trans. Bertram Colgrave, R. A. B. Mynors,(...)

7The exception, of course, would be furnished by churches and monasteries. This is the obvious reason for their targeting by Vikings, but it might also explain why even Christian armies were incapable of always leaving them entirely untouched. Ecgfrith of Northumbria, for example, attacked Irish churches in 684, “sparing neither churches nor monasteries from the ravages of war.” According to Welsh poetry, Cynddylan’s Christian Welsh seem to have killed English clergy at Lichfield, whilst the Annales Cambriae record the burning of Saint David’s in 645. It has long been pointed out that the Irish attacked churches before the coming of the ‘Foreigners’; twenty-seven possible instances of such activity are recorded in the annals between 612 and 792. O Corraín says that church-burning was “an integral part of [Irish] warfare.” The Austrasian Franks of Theuderic I ravaged the Auvergne some time between 525 and 532, destroying the churches of the region and killing priests in front of their altars14.

  • 15  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 215-227.
  • 16  Mainz: Matthew Innes, State and Society in the Early Middle Ages. The Middle Rhine Valley, 400-100 (...)
  • 17  Ricardo Francovich, “Changing Structures of Settlements”, in Cristina La Rocca (ed.), Italy in the (...)
  • 18  Leslie Alcock, Kings, Warriors, Craftsmen and Priests in Northern Britain, AD 550-850, Edinburgh, (...)
  • 19  For late Carolingian ‘castles’, see, e. g., Charles L. H. Coulson, “Fortresses and Social Responsi (...)

8Related to this is the decline in fortification and siege warfare15. Roman towns, of course, retained their walls but numerous sources suggest that these were not always kept up in a very good state of repair. Indeed some stories suggest their deliberate dismantling – at Reims and at Mainz for example – in the eighth century16. Fortified rural settlements are rare, outside Ireland from the seventh century onwards. The processes of incastellamento are a matter of debate but they certainly do not span the whole early medieval period17. As with the forts of Scotland18, the purpose of even these fortifications might be debated. What size of threat did they protect against? What other social factors might have led to their appearance? Again, it seems no coincidence that the true aristocratic fortified settlement is something that generally appears at the end of the period that I am talking about, in the ninth century19.

9The study of early medieval warfare and politics has run a historiographical course quite separate from that of the analysis of material culture and the history of rural and urban settlement. When this dislocation is pointed out and the different lines of argument are brought together, we can see that the standard models for understanding the economic purposes of warfare are entirely unsatisfactory. The political economy of western Europe across most of the early Middle Ages quite simply cannot have been fuelled by the provision of loot, booty or treasure taken in small-scale, predatory, raiding warfare.

The Strategic Consequences of the Economic Background

  • 20  Classic words of caution about the wealth of archaeological discoveries are found in James Campbel (...)
  • 21  For the social importance of display and costume, see Guy Halsall, Cemeteries and Society in Merov (...)

10This archaeologically-revealed material poverty therefore has several important implications, which begin to stir up the sedimented assumptions with which I began. Where is the wealth that we know existed? This wealth may have been rather less than was accumulated by Roman senatorial aristocrats or later medieval noblemen but it existed. Some fairly spectacular archaeological finds have suggested this (although it is always worth reminding ourselves how small the value of even the greatest finds is, compared with the treasures alluded to in the written sources20). Yet the very context of such finds points us at an answer. It seems to me that the disjuncture between the settlement archaeological record and the written sources is best explained by the assumption that early medieval wealth went into adornment and other, essentially portable, items. People wore their riches. When one looks at some of the costume adornments found in burials like Sutton Hoo Mound 1, or many others, this conclusion does not seem very surprising. It can easily be set alongside considerable written evidence for the importance of costume in competitive status display21.

  • 22  Kurt Böhner, “Die frühmittelalterlichen Spangenhelme und die nordischen Helme der Vendelzeit”, Jah (...)
  • 23  Chris Fern, “The Archaeological Evidence for Equestrianism in Anglo-Saxon England”, in Aleks Plusk (...)
  • 24  For interim information on the hoard, see above all the lovely booklet prepared by Kevin Leahy and (...)

11If we pursue this possibility into the military sphere it gains further credibility. The lavish burials of the first part of the period make clear that weaponry and other military accoutrements were one of the main foci for the expenditure of wealth. Almost every surface that could practically be decorated was decorated. The helmets of the period serve as good examples22. Even spurs were frequently inlaid with precious metals, and the belts by which they were attached to a rider’s boots had similar, intricate inlaid patterns. Bridles and elements of horse-harness, too, show similar attention23. The Staffordshire Hoard underlined much of what we knew already about this aspect of early medieval warfare, but did so spectacularly. Elements of over eighty decorated swords were found in the hoard. Much of the gold in the treasure was incorporated in their hilts and fittings24.

  • 25  Stephen of Ripon, Life of Wilfrid 2, ed. and trans. Bertram Colgrave, The Life of Bishop Wilfrid b (...)
  • 26  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 174-175. Cf. Simon Coupland, “The Carolingian Army and (...)

12That, of course, limits the discussion to the things which are – in general – archaeologically visible. Written texts tell us of the provision of clothes for a retinue25. One imagines that the appearance of one’s followers was as much a source of competition as that of the warband leader himself. The horse, too, a sine qua non of the early medieval warrior, was costly. Although horseflesh was highly vulnerable on campaign and a warrior would need more than one horse if he could afford it, it is clear from charter evidence that horses were not cheap – they could be exchanged for pieces of land. The cost of a decent horse appears to have remained fairly constant at about ten solidi (whatever that might have meant in practice) throughout the period, and that could equate with the cost of the rest of the warrior’s equipment26.

  • 27  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 212-213.
  • 28  A fairly long list of examples, drawn from across western Europe and from the sixth century to the (...)

13In addition to all of the above, it is clear that kings and their aristocrats took their treasure with them on campaign. The social élite stayed in costly tents. What all this means, when placed alongside the general poverty of the archaeological record in terms of the settlements and economy of the period, is that, in fact, looting in early medieval warfare was best focused not upon raiding and harrying but upon battle. This erodes the frequently-assumed opposition between raiding or plundering warfare and the warfare of fixed battles. Battle does seem to have been comparatively common between the mid-fifth century and the end of the ninth. Its size may not have been great when compared with other eras but its importance is best measured in terms of stakes fought for. Quite apart from loss of life – and the numbers of early medieval aristocrats killed in battle are high throughout the era27 – there were the political consequences of a defeat in terms of the instability that would follow the deaths of a portion of the realm’s royalty and aristocracy. A king’s defeat could and did frequently lead to deposition and assassination28.

  • 29  Sedulius Scottus, On Christian Rulers 3, in Paul Edward Dutton, Carolingian Civilization. A Reader (...)
  • 30  Paul, History of the Lombards, 6, 24; 6, 26, in William Dudley Foulke (trans.), Paul the Deacon. H (...)

14Why did early medieval leaders so frequently play for such high stakes, when even people at the time (such as Sedulius Scottus29) knew that battle was a complete lottery? One reason is the importance of warfare and battlefield prowess in the construction of especially élite masculine identity. I will return to this but for now as good an illustration as I know can be found in Paul the Deacon’s account of a catastrophic Friulian Lombard defeat against the Slavs. One Lombard leader accused another of cowardice, which resulted in the latter challenging him to follow him in a charge uphill against the fortified Slavic camp. The rest of the army followed because, in Paul’s words, “they considered it base not to”. So many were slaughtered that the next duke had to set up a sort of orphans’ home for the children of the aristocrats who had been killed30.

15Apart from the demands of honour, the other reason for the frequency of battle must have been that it was the best way of taking treasure or increasing one’s wealth from warfare. This sort of context is, I think, probably the best mechanism within which one might imagine the assembly of the collection of objects found in the Staffordshire Hoard.

The Strategic Role of Harrying

16All that being said, it cannot be denied that early medieval armies did harry and raid their enemies. One must, therefore, ask why. If the movable objects to be found in the average settlement were unlikely to oil the cogs of early medieval politics – unless fairly undiagnostic common wares were more sought after than we have hitherto imagined – what was at stake? One might envisage the taking of cattle and other livestock. Perhaps this is where we touch upon the theme of slave-taking. And yet I do not find either possibility particularly convincing. Obviously there are exceptions. Cattle were effectively the units of currency of early medieval Ireland, held as much as signs of status as for any actual economic value. The slave-raiding of the Vikings is well-enough documented, and so is that of Franks on their eastern frontier. But we might be cautious about generalising from these examples.

  • 31  For Irish politics, see Francis J. Byrne, Irish Kings and High Kings, London, Batsford, 1973; Gear (...)
  • 32  Pierre Dockès, Medieval Slavery and Liberation, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1982; David Pel (...)
  • 33  Charles R. Bowlus, Franks, Moravians and Magyars. The Struggle for the Middle Danube, 788-907, Phi (...)

17The importance of cattle within the Irish political economy is particular to the island31. Is it likely that a powerful aristocrat like Robert the Strong – whose family’s possessions in several kingdoms made them the Carolingian equivalent of a ‘multinational’ – was particularly interested in livestock? The Vikings struck across the sea and were able to carry captives, quickly, far away from their homelands. For similar reasons, sea-borne attack remained the principal mechanism of slave-taking in Europe and the Mediterranean (and beyond) into the sixteenth and seventeenth century32. The Franks appear to have established a solid military superiority over their Slavic neighbours by the tenth century33. Absolute military dominance (as with Europeans or European-backed Africans in Africa, or with the early Roman expansion) or the capacity for rapid transportation overseas seem to be the essential requirements for significant slave-taking. Most early medieval warfare, by contrast, was small-scale and waged against enemies of roughly equal military capacity. Trains of slaves and herds of captured cattle would slow down an invading army making it vulnerable to attack.

  • 34  Greg., Hist., op. cit., 2, 32.
  • 35  Royal Frankish Annals a. 822, in Bernhard W. Scholz (trans.), Carolingian Chronicles, Ann Arbor, U (...)

18Perhaps, however, that was the point. In my reconstruction, the main objective of early medieval raiding was to provoke battle – partly of course for the economic reasons just set out. Harrying territory, burning houses and crops, killing or dispersing livestock, ripping up vines (Gregory of Tours gives a good account of what was involved in Book II of the Histories34) struck at the political legitimacy of the opposing realm. A king or lord was, after all, supposed to defend his subjects, followers or clients and their property from these sorts of depredations. A ruler who shut himself up in his fortresses might well see off an invading army, given the risks of disease and the usual inadequacy of early medieval logistics and siege techniques – but the efficacy of this strategy was strictly limited over time. Repeated plunderings that went unchallenged could produce political crisis. One early ninth-century Slavic leader, Liutwit, faced down the Franks for several years by avoiding battle but eventually was assassinated by his followers35. One could stop the plundering by paying tribute: the other means by which considerable wealth might be transferred from one early medieval western polity to another.

  • 36  See above, note 24, p. 60.
  • 37  I owe this suggestion ultimately to a discussion with Dr Jonathan Jarret (Leeds).

19The advantage of tribute, of course, was that it diverted resources used to maintain political support and military effectiveness away from one ruler and towards his overlord. Further light might be shed on this by the Staffordshire Hoard with its dozens of sword pommels and other fittings. Some look like they have been snapped off their swords with minimal care36. This might of course have taken place on the battlefield during looting of the dead but it might also have taken place in the context of tribute taking, with the enemy army forced to give up the decorations from their weaponry37. With the concentration of precious metal in these items it is not difficult to suppose that items like this could have been the currency of such transactions. It would also, of course, remove from the enemy army much of the display and show that was so important, as discussed: a very visible means of shaming an enemy.

20Important quantities of wealth could be obtained in early medieval warfare but not – I suggest – simply by raiding. Battle was more important, either through the destruction and looting of the dead and captured members of an enemy army, or its camp, or through strategies that turned upon the very real possibility that a battle might come about.

The Other Purposes of Harrying

  • 38  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 3, 63, 136-37, and references.
  • 39  Julian of Toledo, Historia Wambae, Wilhelm Levison (ed.), MGH SS rer. Merov. 5, Hannover, Hahnsche (...)

21Raiding and harrying operations were nevertheless common in the early medieval west, and often produced neither battle nor tribute. Sometimes one might wonder what sort of tribute might be forthcoming in any case. Visigothic armies appear to have fought in Basque territory frequently, often it seems as part of the process of establishing a new king38. According to Julian of Toledo’s account, the new king Wamba spent a week ravaging Basque territory before the Basque leaders submitted and paid tribute39. But one is entitled to wonder what booty could have been taken in the Pyrenean foothills. Sheep? Developing the points made earlier, it might have been the case that the economic value of what was taken as tribute was less important than the public, symbolic and probably heavily ritualised process whereby the dominated yielded tribute – whatever it was, however economically useless it might have been – to the dominant, as a material, physical representation of their domination.

  • 40  Alfred Boretius, Victor Krause (ed.), MGH Capit. 2, Hanover, Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1895-1897, nos (...)
  • 41  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 135-143, for endemic raiding.

22One might also suppose that, in Irish, Welsh or northern British (Pictish, Scottish, English or British) cattle-rustling or the cross-border raiding that, to judge from the treaties signed between the Doges of Venice and the Carolingian Kings of Italy40, formed a sort of background noise to early medieval politics, much of the booty taken by one side in one raid would be taken back by the other next time41.

  • 42  Engelbert Mühlbacher (ed.), MGH DD Kar. 1, Hanover, Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1906, no. 179, p. 241-2 (...)
  • 43  Greg., Hist., op. cit., 2, 27; Felix, Vita Guthlaci, 17-19, ed. and trans. Bertram Colgrave, Felix (...)

23Plunder flowed in other directions than from king to follower. One is suggested by the story of John, a warrior on the Franks’ Spanish march who sent the loot he took from a defeated Moorish warrior up the political food-chain to his lord, Louis the Pious – who in turn bestowed lands upon him42. Other stories contain some admittedly problematic indications that loot might actually be returned to the people from whom it had been taken. Gregory’s story of the Vase of Soissons and Felix’s tale of Guthlac returning a third share of the loot he took in his warrior days both come from hagiographic contexts that should make us hesitate before accepting them43. Nonetheless there are reasons why such a thing might be plausible. Quite apart from the ostentatious display of superiority involved in such a gesture, the act of giving would, in early medieval terms, further establish a relationship of dominance over the receiver. It would also ensure that there remained something to be taken in future raids!

  • 44  Edict of Pîtres, 25 June 864, in Boretius, Kraus, Capitularia, op. cit., no. 273, ch. 27, p. 231-3 (...)
  • 45  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., 43, 82 and references.

24We can therefore propose that the flow of objects in raiding warfare was not always or exclusively in the direction that one might expect. What must be stressed, though, are the non-material rewards of raiding: the moral rewards as opposed to the physical. I suggest that these were, given the economic realities discussed above, often actually rather more important than material remuneration. I have alluded to the importance of warfare in the construction of identities. It was also, warfare, specifically, rather than violence or fighting in general, that was important to these identities. In the fifth and sixth centuries in particular, military service was important in the construction of ethnic identities. Attendance in the ranks (and the acceptance of one’s attendance) when the army was called out was, one imagines, a very important way of underlining a claim to a particular ethnic identity. Later, involvement in military activity was a sign of belonging to a particular stratum of the free population. By the ninth century this was so important that aristocrats were known to attack lesser freemen who presumed to take up arms44. Both mechanisms required, one imagines, fairly frequent mustering of the army. Not only does this explain why, in some times at least, we can see the army being assembled without any significant military activity ensuing – it was the assembling of the force that was important, with the consequent selection of who was and was not deemed to be of military rank. Military assemblies on 1 March seem thus to have been annual events in Merovingian Gaul and in eighth-century Lombard Italy. Theoderic of Italy is known to have held regular assemblies of the Goths, the army45.

  • 46  See Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 27-28. Nevertheless see ibid., p. 231-233, for a l (...)
  • 47  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 27 (and p. 28, fig. 1).
  • 48  Julian, Historia Wambae, op. cit., 10.

25The importance of warfare in the construction of royalty must also have led to frequent mustering of the army. Few were the times and places were kings did not feel the need to place themselves at the head of their armed forces on a regular basis. The Merovingian realms during the reigns of Clovis’ grandsons seems to be one such moment46, but more typical, one might suggest, is the kingdom of Mercia, where, between 600 and 850, military action on such a scale as to be recorded in the later Anglo-Saxon Chronicle took place within four years of a king’s accession at the latest47. We can imagine that smaller-scale actions might have been brought about rather sooner. Wamba’s harrying of the Basques seems like another example48.

  • 49  Peter Heather, “Theoderic, King of the Goths”, Early Medieval Europe, 4, 1995, p. 145-173.
  • 50  The three edicts of Childebert II are dated (all on 1 March) at Andernach in 594, Maastricht in 59 (...)

26A further reason for military assembly of course was that it was the closest thing that a king had to a parliament. It was thus a prime occasion to expose the political and military élite to royal ideology. It was an occasion, documented in several contexts, for the bestowal of royal patronage. Warriors who had done well were rewarded; those who had not were punished. Such seems, for instance, to have been the case at Theoderic’s military musters49. If military assemblies were important for all these reasons it is not surprising that some sort of military activity might follow. It is probably not coincidental then that the three recorded Marchfields of Childebert II of Austrasia in the 590s all took place on his Rhine frontier – convenient for some sort of display of strength in the trans-Rhenan areas of the Merovingian hegemony50. I suggest, therefore, that the assembly of an army was itself a crucial – if not the crucial – political and even political-economic aspect of military activity, more important, I propose, than any material wealth obtained on campaign.

27That leads to what might be considered as the main point of this paper. For most warriors warfare’s primary purpose was as a means of coming to the attention of their socio-political superiors. Performing well on campaign was a means by which pueri could come to the attention of their lords, by which their lords could come to the attention of the magnates of the kingdom, or of the king himself. Such attention could bring patronage in the form of offices and of gifts, whether of lands or of movable objects – not necessarily or even, perhaps, very often those taken on campaign. To be granted lands, titles or honores was probably far more economically valuable than anything that might be taken on campaign – but warfare was the principal means by which one showed that one deserved such patronage. The Hispanus John’s despatch of loot to Louis of Aquitaine in return for land illustrates this well. Thus it might be that whatever was stolen during raids in effect served more as tokens or even as proxies for more important gifts, of intangible things like patronage, of titles, or of lands and movables that were actually transacted afterwards. If you look at it in that perspective, the returning of the ‘loot’ taken on campaign seems less bizarre than it might otherwise appear.

  • 51  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 91.

28My thesis is also supported by the events of the first crisis of Louis the Pious’ reign. The actions of Hugh and Matfrid, sent away to campaign on the Spanish March, make it clear that campaigning, even with the chance of loot, was less important than being close to the king at the centre of politics51. Remember, too, that the possibilities of real loot were more likely in campaigns in Spain than on perhaps any other of the Franks’ borders. Hugh and Matfrid’s actions make no sense at all if booty and predation were as essential to early medieval politics as we have been given to believe.

  • 52  Aleks Pluskowski, Personal communication. See also Aleks Pluskowski, “Holy and Exalted Prey. Hunte (...)
  • 53  Greg., Hist., op. cit., 10, 10.

29Predatory warfare might then have resembled hunting at this point in time. The assemblages from high-status sites, where they exist, show low percentages of hunted animals, compared with those from the end of the first millennium and later52. Set alongside a story towards the end of Gregory of Tours’ Histories53 the suggestion can be made that hunting was more about training, teamwork and prowess, and about the simple killing of animals – not then taken home to be eaten. Similarly, much low-level warfare might have been an exercise that served more to demonstrate skill and bravery than to produce valuable treasures.

Different Ways of Seeing Objects

30Finally, we might look once again at the material gained on campaign, in ways that go beyond the usual material, economic perspective. The standard way of seeing early medieval predatory warfare, one which this paper has been at pains to disturb, sees the personnel involved taking material and exchanging it with each other. These transactions then embody various political relationships. It is a natural tendency, from that point, to match the value of the relationship to an assessment of the value of the objects which established it: a richly adorned sword, for example, might well reflect the loyalty of a powerful magnate to his king. This, clearly, is reasonable enough, given the early medieval obsession with precious metals and stones.

  • 54  For some discussion see Frans Theuws, “Grave Goods, Ethnicity, and the Rhetoric of Burial Rites in (...)
  • 55  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 174-175.

31In rethinking this idea, we need not only to point out that the biography of an object – to whom it had belonged, the events in which it had participated in the past – might be more valuable than its adornment54. Nor do I want solely to repeat the point that an object’s value transcended its simple cost in terms of labour and materials. A sword’s value in some early medieval texts, vis-à-vis other items such as cattle or bread, is derived not from its relative cost, a frequent mistake, but from a sort of social-symbolic surplus-value – the fact that its possession enabled participation in particular social circles55.

  • 56  See, e. g., Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social. An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory, Oxford (...)
  • 57  Fredegar, Chronicle, 4, 73, Bruno Krusch (ed.), MGH SS rer. Merov. 2, Hanover, Hahnsche Buchhandlu (...)

32Following on from that, we might open up the possibility of seeing particular types of plundered or looted object in less passive terms. Might we view them as something akin to the ‘actants’ of Bruno Latour’s “actor-network theory”56? Perhaps certain objects – ones that we might not now immediately detect – were so linked to the essential political activity of warfare that they shaped relationships between individuals in a way that seems to transcend their material value. Their employment might also not fit what one might expect to be their rational use by human agents. The case of the gold plate given by Sisenand to the Franks, and then asked for back as a result of Gothic outcry57, might be a good example of an actant object.

  • 58  Though often cited, the attribution is unverifiable. Apparently a hand-written note in the Congres (...)

33If we bear all this in mind, in early medieval warfare it might well have been that, in the quote often attributed Napoleon, “the moral [was] to the physical as three to one”58.

Notes

1  This issue of diversity and change was one that I endeavoured to highlight in Guy Halsall, Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West, c. 450-900, London, Routledge (Warfare and History), 2003.

2  I explored the change between the sixth and seventh centuries in a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship project entitled ‘The Transformations of the Year 600’. A volume stemming from that project will appear in the future.

3  The social and economic importance of the period around 700 needs greater recognition. Ganshof thought the era was crucial to the development of ‘feudalism’. François-Louis Ganshof, Feudalism, 3rd edn, Toronto/London, University of Toronto Press (Medieval Academy Reprints for Teaching, 34), 1964. Although the specifics and details of Ganshof’s argument have been critiqued and rejected, that he had identified a real period of important change seems reasonable: Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 71-74. On economic change, see, e.g., Inge-Lise Hansen, Chris Wickham (ed.), The Long Eighth Century, Leiden, Brill (Transformation of the Roman World, 11), 2000.

4  This is of course a subject with an enormous bibliography. See also Lucie Malbos’ contribution to this volume. As a fairly representative sample of work from roughly the last twenty-five years (most of which contains very full bibliographies), see Richard Abels, “English Logistics and Military Administration, 871-1066. The Impact of the Viking Wars”, in Anne Nørgård Jørgensen, Birthe L. Claussen (ed.), Military Aspects of Scandinavian Society in a European Perspective AD 1-1300, Copenhagen, National Museum (National Museum Studies in Archaeology and History, 2), 1997, p. 256-265; Erik Christiansen, The Norsemen in the Viking Age, Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell, 2002; Simon Coupland, “The Rod of God’s Wrath or the People of God’s Wrath? The Carolingians’ Theology of the Viking Invasions”, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 42/4, 1991, p. 535-554; id., “From Poachers to Gamekeepers. Scandinavian Warlords and Carolingian Kings”, Early Medieval Europe, 7/1, 1998, p. 85-114; id., “The Frankish Tribute Payments to the Vikings and their Consequences”, Francia, 26/1, 1999, p. 57-75; Guy Halsall, “Playing by Whose Rules? A Further Look at Viking Atrocity in the Ninth Century”, Medieval History, 2/2, 1992, p. 3-12; Niels Lund, “Allies of God or Man? The Viking Expansion in a European Perspective”, Viator, 20, 1989, p. 45-59; Simon MacLean, “Charles the Fat and the Viking Great Army. The Military Explanation for the End of the Carolingian Empire (876-88)”, War Studies Journal, 3/2, 1998, p. 74-95; Gareth Williams, “Raiding and Warfare”, in Stefan Brink, Neil Price (ed.), The Viking World, London, Routledge (Routledge Worlds), 2008, p. 193-103 (this has, alas, a surprisingly dated bibliography).

5  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 40-110.

6  Timothy Reuter, “Plunder and Tribute in the Carolingian Empire”, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., 35, 1985, p. 75-94; id., “The End of Carolingian Military Expansion”, in Peter Godman, Roger Collins (ed.), Charlemagne’s Heir. New Perspectives on the Reign of Louis the Pious, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 391-405.

7  See, e. g., Bernard S. Bachrach, Merovingian Military Organization, 481-751, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1972; id., Armies and Politics in the Early Medieval West, London, Variorum, 1993; id., The Anatomy of a Little War. A Military and Diplomatic History of the Gundovald Affair, Boulder, Westview Press (History and Warfare), 1994; id., “Medieval Military Historiography”, in Michael Bentley (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Historiography, London, Routledge, 1997, p. 203-220; id., “Early Medieval Europe”, in Kurt Raaflaub, Nathan Rosenstein (ed.), War and Society in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds. Asia, the Mediterranean, Europe, and Mesoamerica, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press (Center for Hellenic Studies Colloquia), 1999, p. 271-307; id., “Early Medieval Military Demography. Some Observations on the Methods of Hans Delbrück”, in Donald J. Kagay, L. J. Andrew Villalon (ed.), The Circle of War in the Middle Ages. Essays on Medieval Military and Naval History, Woodbridge, Boydell & Brewer, 1999, p. 3-20; id., Early Carolingian Warfare. Prelude to Empire, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000. All this work has been heavily criticised by historians of the early middle ages.

8  Chris Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages. Europe and the Mediterranean 400-800, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005; Richard Hodges,William Bowden (ed.), The Sixth Century. Production, Distribution and Demand, Leiden, Brill, 1998; Simon T. Loseby, “The Mediterranean Economy”, in Paul Fouracre (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005, vol. 1, p. 605-638.

9  Information on the seventh-century economy can be found in Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages…, op. cit.; Hodges, Bowden, The Sixth Century…, op. cit.; Hansen, Wickham, The Long Eighth Century, op. cit. See also Stéphane Lebecq, “The Northern Seas (fifth to eighth centuries)”, in Paul Fouracre (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 605-638.

10  Hansen, Wickham, The Long Eighth Century, op. cit.; Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages…, op. cit.; Helen Clarke, Bjorn Ambrosiani, Towns in the Viking Age, Leicester, Leicester University Press, 1991; Ross Balzaretti, “Cities, Emporia and Monasteries. Local Economies in the Po Valley, c. a. AD 700-875”, in Neil Christie, Simon T. Loseby (ed.), Towns in Transition. Urban Evolution in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, Aldershot, Scolar Press, 1996, p. 213-234; Gian Pietro Brogiolo, Bryan Ward Perkins (ed.), The Idea and the Ideal of the Town Between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, Leiden, Brill, 1999; Gian Pietro Brogiolo, Neil Christie, Nancy Gauthier (ed.), Towns and their Territories Between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, Leiden, Brill, 2000; Richard Hodges, Dark Age Economics. The Origins of Towns and Trade, AD 600-1000, London, Bristol Classical Press (New Approaches in Archaeology), 1982; Richard Hodges, Brian Hobley (ed.), The Rebirth of Towns in the West, 700-1050, London, Council for British Archaeology, 1988.

11  Neil Christie (ed.), Landscapes of Change. Rural Evolutions in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, Aldershot, 2004; Helena Hamerow, Early Medieval Settlements. The Archaeology of Rural Communities in North-West Europe, 400-900, Oxford, Routledge, 2002; id., Rural Settlements and Society in Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012; Édith Peytremann, Archéologie de l’habitat rural dans le nord de la France du ive au xiie siècle, Condé sur Noireau, AFAM (Mémoires publiés par l’Association française d’archéologie mérovingienne, 13), 2003; Elisabeth Zadora-Rio, “Early Medieval Villages and Estate Centres in France (c. a. 300-900)”, in Juan Antonio Quiros Castillo (ed.), The Archaeology of Villages in Europe, Bilbao, Universidad del País Vasco (Documentos de Arqueologia e Historia, 1), 2009, p. 77-98.

12  Mark Blackburn, “Money and Exchange”, in Paul Fouracre (ed.) The New Cambridge Medieval History, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 660-674.

13  Richard Abels, Lordship and Military Obligation in Anglo-Saxon England, London, University of California Press, 1988; Nicholas P. Brooks, “The Development of Military Obligations in Eighth and Ninth Century England”, in Peter Clemoes, Kathleen Hughes (ed.), England before the Conquest, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1971, p. 69-84 [reprinted in Brooks’ Communities and Warfare, 700-1400, London, Hambledon Continuum, 2000, p. 32-47]; David Hill, Alexander Rumble (ed.), The Defence of Wessex. The Burghal Hidage and Anglo-Saxon Fortifications, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1996.

14  Ecgfrith in Bede, Ecclesiastical History, 4, 26, ed. and trans. Bertram Colgrave, R. A. B. Mynors, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Oxford, Oxford University Press (Oxford Medieval Texts), 1969. Cynddylan’s attack is discussed in Nicholas P. Brooks, “The Formation of the Mercian Kingdom”, in Steve Bassett (ed.), The Origins of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, London, Leicester University Press (Studies in the Early History of Britain Series), 1989, p. 159-170, at p. 169. For the Annales Cambriae, see John Morris (ed. and trans.), Nennius. The British History and the Welsh Annals, Chichester, George Bell and Sons, 1980. Irish attacks on churches, see Donnchadh O’Corráin, Ireland Before the Normans, Dublin, Gill and Mac Millan, 1982, p. 85. Theuderic’s attack, see Gregory of Tours, Histories, 3, 12-13, in Lewis Thorpe (trans.), Gregory of Tours. The History of the Franks, Harmondsworth, Penguin (Penguin Classics), 1974; Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers, 4, 2, in Edward James (trans.), Gregory of Tours. The Life of the Fathers, 2nd edn, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 1991. Similar attacks on churches are recorded by Gregory at Histories, 4, 47.

15  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 215-227.

16  Mainz: Matthew Innes, State and Society in the Early Middle Ages. The Middle Rhine Valley, 400-1000, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, 4th ser., 47), 2000, p. 97. Reims: Flodoard, Flodoardi Historia Remensis ecclesiae 2, 19, Johannes Heller, Georg Waitz (eds.), MGH [= Monumenta Germaniae Historica] SS 13, Hannover, Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1881, p. 405-599. Ed. Georges Tessier, Recueil des Actes de Charles II le Chauve, Paris, Imprimerie Nationale, 1953-1955, 3 vols., no. 130. See also Edward James, The Origins of France. From Clovis to the Capetians, 500-1000, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 1982, p. 63.

17  Ricardo Francovich, “Changing Structures of Settlements”, in Cristina La Rocca (ed.), Italy in the Early Middle Ages, 476-1000, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 144-167, at p. 151-167.

18  Leslie Alcock, Kings, Warriors, Craftsmen and Priests in Northern Britain, AD 550-850, Edinburgh, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 2003, esp. p. 179-201; Sally M. Foster, Picts, Gaels and Scots, 2nd edn, Edinburgh, Birlinn, 2004, p. 41-52; Martin Carver, Surviving in Symbols. A Visit to the Pictish Nation, Edinburgh, Birlinn, 1999, p. 25-32. Angus Konstam, Strongholds of the Picts. The Fortifications of Dark Age Scotland, Botley, Osprey Publishing (Osprey Fortress Series, 92), 2010, is a nicely illustrated popular treatment of the subject, though the text requires some care.

19  For late Carolingian ‘castles’, see, e. g., Charles L. H. Coulson, “Fortresses and Social Responsibility in Late Carolingian France”, Zeitschrift für Archäologie des Mittelalters, 4, 1976, p. 29-36. André Debord, “Castrum et castellum chez Ademar de Chabannes”, Archéologie médiévale, 9, 1979, p. 97-113; Marcel Deyres, “Les châteaux de Foulque Nerra”, Bulletin monumentale, 32, 1974, p. 7-28; Michel Fixot, Les fortifications en terre et la naissance de la féodalité dans le Cinglais, Caen, Publications du CRAHM, 1968; Jacques Le Maho, “De la curtis au château. L’exemple du Pays de Caux”, Château Gaillard, 8, 1977, p. 171-183; “Les Fortifications de terre en Europe occidentale du xe au xiie siècle (Colloque de Caen, 2-5 octobre 1980)”, Archéologie médiévale, 11, 1981, p. 5-123; Ghislaine Noyé, “Les fortifications de terre dans la seigneurie de Toucy du xe au xiiie siècle. Essai de typologie”, Archéologie médiévale, 6, 1976, p. 149-218; Annie Renoux, “Châteaux normands au xe siècle dans le de moribus et actis primorum Normanniae ducum de Dudon de Saint-Quentin”, in Mélanges d’archéologie et d’histoire médiévales en l’honneur du doyen Michel de Boüard, Genève, Droz (Mémoires et documents publiés par la Société de l’École des chartes, 27), 1982, p. 327-346.

20  Classic words of caution about the wealth of archaeological discoveries are found in James Campbell, “The Impact of the Sutton Hoo Discovery on the Study of Anglo-Saxon History”, in Calvin B. Kendall, Peter S. Wells (ed.), Voyage to the Other World, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press (Medieval Cultures), 1992, p. 79-101.

21  For the social importance of display and costume, see Guy Halsall, Cemeteries and Society in Merovingian Gaul. Selected Studies in History and Archaeology, 1992-2009, Leiden, Brill, 2010, the essays in which address various aspects of this issue. See, especially, p. 289-381. Mary Harlow, “Clothes Maketh the Man. Power Dressing and Elite Masculinity in the later Roman World”, in Leslie Brubaker, Julia M. H. Smith (ed.), Gender in the Early Medieval World, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 44-69.

22  Kurt Böhner, “Die frühmittelalterlichen Spangenhelme und die nordischen Helme der Vendelzeit”, Jahrbuch des römisch-germanischen Zentralmuseums Mainz, 41/2, 1994, p. 471-549.

23  Chris Fern, “The Archaeological Evidence for Equestrianism in Anglo-Saxon England”, in Aleks Pluskowski (ed.), Just Skin and Bones? New Perspectives on Human-Animal Relations in the Historic Past, Oxford, BAR International Series (British Archaeology Reports, inter. ser. 1410), 2005, p. 43-71, with excellent bibliography.

24  For interim information on the hoard, see above all the lovely booklet prepared by Kevin Leahy and Roger Bland, The Staffordshire Hoard, London, British Museum Press, 2009. See also http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk/. The Portable Antiquities Scheme website, on which the details of the finds are posted as they are updated, is http://finds.org.uk/. Summaries of the papers given at the Staffordshire Hoard Symposium in London can also be found on-line at http://finds.org.uk/staffshoardsymposium (all websites accessed 4 October 2011).

25  Stephen of Ripon, Life of Wilfrid 2, ed. and trans. Bertram Colgrave, The Life of Bishop Wilfrid by Eddius Stephanus, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1927, p. 6-7: arma, equos vestimentaque.

26  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 174-175. Cf. Simon Coupland, “The Carolingian Army and the Struggle against the Vikings”, Viator, 35, 2004, p. 49-70, for slightly different estimates but a not incompatible overall view.

27  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 212-213.

28  A fairly long list of examples, drawn from across western Europe and from the sixth century to the ninth, can be found in Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 29-30, & 38.

29  Sedulius Scottus, On Christian Rulers 3, in Paul Edward Dutton, Carolingian Civilization. A Reader, Peterborough, Ontario, 1996, p. 402-411.

30  Paul, History of the Lombards, 6, 24; 6, 26, in William Dudley Foulke (trans.), Paul the Deacon. History of the Lombards, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1974 [originally 1907].

31  For Irish politics, see Francis J. Byrne, Irish Kings and High Kings, London, Batsford, 1973; Gearóid Mac Niocaill, Ireland Before the Vikings, Dublin, Gill, 1972; Donnchadh Ó Cróinín, Early Medieval Ireland, 400-1200, London, Longman, 1995; for an archaeological approach, see Harold Mytum, The Origins of Early Christian Ireland, London, Routledge, 1992.

32  Pierre Dockès, Medieval Slavery and Liberation, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1982; David Pelteret, “Slave Trading and Slave-Raiding in early England”, Anglo-Saxon England, 9, 1980, p. 99-114; id., Slavery in Early Mediaeval England, from Alfred until the Twelfth Century, Woodbridge, Boydell Press, 1995; Charles C. Verlinden, L’esclavage dans l’Europe médiévale, vol. 1, Ghent, De Tempel, 1955. Algerian corsairs continued this practice as late as the early nineteenth century.

33  Charles R. Bowlus, Franks, Moravians and Magyars. The Struggle for the Middle Danube, 788-907, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995; Karl Leyser, “The Battle at the Lech, 955”, in id. (ed.), Medieval Germany and its Neighbours, London, Hambledon, 1982, p. 43-67; Karl Leyser, “Early Medieval Warfare”, in id. (ed.), Communications and Power in Medieval Europe: The Carolingian and Ottonian Centuries, London, Hambledon, 1994, p. 29-50; Timothy Reuter, Germany in the Early Middle Ages, London, Longman, 1994; id., “Carolingian and Ottonian Warfare”, in Maurice Keen (ed.), Medieval Warfare. A History, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 13-35.

34  Greg., Hist., op. cit., 2, 32.

35  Royal Frankish Annals a. 822, in Bernhard W. Scholz (trans.), Carolingian Chronicles, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1972, p. 35-125.

36  See above, note 24, p. 60.

37  I owe this suggestion ultimately to a discussion with Dr Jonathan Jarret (Leeds).

38  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 3, 63, 136-37, and references.

39  Julian of Toledo, Historia Wambae, Wilhelm Levison (ed.), MGH SS rer. Merov. 5, Hannover, Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1910, p. 501-526.

40  Alfred Boretius, Victor Krause (ed.), MGH Capit. 2, Hanover, Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1895-1897, nos. 233-239, p. 130-148; Paul F. Kehr (ed.), Karoli III. diplomata, Berlin, Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1937, p. 27-31.

41  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 135-143, for endemic raiding.

42  Engelbert Mühlbacher (ed.), MGH DD Kar. 1, Hanover, Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1906, no. 179, p. 241-242.

43  Greg., Hist., op. cit., 2, 27; Felix, Vita Guthlaci, 17-19, ed. and trans. Bertram Colgrave, Felix’s Life of Guthlac, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1956.

44  Edict of Pîtres, 25 June 864, in Boretius, Kraus, Capitularia, op. cit., no. 273, ch. 27, p. 231-322. Cf. Annals of St Bertin, a. 859. J. L. Nelson (trans.), The Annals of St-Bertin. Ninth-Century Histories, vol. 1, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1991.

45  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., 43, 82 and references.

46  See Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 27-28. Nevertheless see ibid., p. 231-233, for a list of occasions when significant armed forces were summoned in Merovingian Gaul during the 580s – a doubtless incomplete list that still adds up to about three dozen instances.

47  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 27 (and p. 28, fig. 1).

48  Julian, Historia Wambae, op. cit., 10.

49  Peter Heather, “Theoderic, King of the Goths”, Early Medieval Europe, 4, 1995, p. 145-173.

50  The three edicts of Childebert II are dated (all on 1 March) at Andernach in 594, Maastricht in 595 and Cologne in 596. Kathleen Fischer Drew (trans.), The Laws of the Salian Franks, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991, p. 156-159.

51  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 91.

52  Aleks Pluskowski, Personal communication. See also Aleks Pluskowski, “Holy and Exalted Prey. Hunters and Deer in High Medieval Seigneurial Culture”, in Isabelle Sidera (ed.), La Chasse. Pratiques sociales et symboliques, Paris, De Boccard, 2006, p. 245-255.

53  Greg., Hist., op. cit., 10, 10.

54  For some discussion see Frans Theuws, “Grave Goods, Ethnicity, and the Rhetoric of Burial Rites in Late Antique Northern Gaul”, in Ton Derks, Nico Roymans (ed.), Ethnic Constructs in Antiquity. The Role of Power and Tradition (Amsterdam Archaeological Studies, 13), Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 2009, p. 283-317.

55  Halsall, Warfare and Society…, op. cit., p. 174-175.

56  See, e. g., Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social. An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005.

57  Fredegar, Chronicle, 4, 73, Bruno Krusch (ed.), MGH SS rer. Merov. 2, Hanover, Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1888, p. 1-193.

58  Though often cited, the attribution is unverifiable. Apparently a hand-written note in the Congressional Research Service files says that the War Department Library had frequently but unsuccessfully tried to find the origin of the quote! http://www.bartleby.com/73/1213.html (accessed 17 July 2013).

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