Laymen, Clerics, and Documentary Practices in the Early Middle Ages: The Example of Catalonia

Adam J. Kosto

Around 990, somewhere in Catalonia, a certain Julius was staying in the house of a certain Ramió. Unbeknownst to Ramió, Julius was stealing from him: mostly bread and wine, and perhaps other things as well. Eventually Ramió figured out what was going on, but instead of dragging Julius to the comital court, Ramió made a deal with him. As part of this deal, Ramió promised Julius not to involve the lawyers: neither he nor his descendants would get any count, viscount, or advocate (asertor) to prosecute the matter of the theft, under the heavy penalty of a pound of gold. How do we know about all this? Because Julius got Ramió to write up a document recording it: a scriptura securitate, which is currently preserved in the episcopal archive of Vic. This is the only such document that I have come across in Catalan sources, and it is absent from an influential tenth-century formula book from Catalonia. The scribe himself did not quite know how to handle the situation, as he began the document with the formula for a simple gift, as if Ramió were granting something tangible to Julius: “In nomine Domini. Ego Ramio donator …” Historians who do not work on Catalonia are no doubt tired of hearing those who do refer to the apparent mania for the written word in this society, but it is documents like this that lie behind such claims. If we may judge by the rarity of their names in contemporary documents from this region, Ramió and Julius are nobodies—a small-time landowner and a petty thief—but for some reason, in working out their dispute they decided that it was necessary to round up three witnesses and hire a scribe to put something down on parchment.

Adam J. Kosto is Associate Professor of History at Columbia University, New York, NY 10027 (e-mail: ajkosto@columbia.edu).