Documents and interpretation: UNITS OF MEASUREMENT IN THE EARLY MEDIEVAL ECONOMY: THE EXAMPLE OF CAROLINGIAN FOOD RATIONS
History, Vol.1 (1987)
It is only with the utmost caution that the prudent historian ventures into the realm of early medieval units of measurement.’ If the historian rejects the option of converting ancient measurements into modern ones by the use of admittedly questionable conversion tables he simply abandons the quest, giving up in the face of the divine uncertainty of history. He gives himself up to the impenetrable poetry of bonniers and setters, ansanges and hommees, livres and hemines. The historian whose aim is rather to depict within a more realistic framework the men and institutions he studies, may choose the difficult option of trying to convert into litres, kilogrammes, tons, hectares and even calories. Who could blame him for trying to elucidate, and make more intelligible, the meagre data available to the early medieval specialist? But neither of these approaches really gets to grips with the nub of the problem, that is, the difficulty of arriving at methods of conversion which can be agreed upon and perfected.
In 1973 Michel Rouche broke new ground with an article on Carolingian food consumption. Several historians have noted the atmosphere of anxiety, amounting even to a sort of famine-psychosis, which is evident in texts from the early decades of the ninth century.