Paper by Christopher Loveluck, University of Nottingham
Given at 2011 Haskins Society Conference, Boston College
Professor Loveluck’s paper explores how we defined early-medieval landed elites through archaeology, and those who held portable wealth, such as people living in maritime societies, and how this effected their social status? He asks what was the relationship between material wealth and social status? Did portable wealth convey to social status for elites?
Beginning with the transformation and creation of elites, 500-700, Lovelock notes that there is often great diversity within burial practices, even within the same region. In some cemeteries from Gaul, one can find decorated swords, others were buried in major monastic centers, near a saint’s shrine. Although these were all Christian burial practices, the archaeological excavations show that the practices of burial alignments and places the bodies were buried varied widely. There was similar diversity in England – in Kent and Isle of Wight much more use of swords in graves than in other places in Anglo-Saxon England. Therefore, it is hard to interpret the link between elevated status and land ownership based on burial excavations.
The situation begins to change in the seventh century – we beging to see men and women being marked out by important dress and jewellery remains in their burials. Also have commemorative monuments for Angl0-Saxon elites starting around 650-700. Although this make it some what easier to identify elites, we still have so many diverse choices being made, that the burial evidence is hard to use to identify elites in northwest Europe
Turning to settlement patterns, Lovelock notes that in northern Gaul and Anglo-Saxon there is no secular elite rural settlements emerging until the 7th century. One does find centers for ecclesiastical elites, such as episcopal sites and monastic rural centers.
Meanwhile, in other parts of northwest Europe you can find secular elite centers dating from the 5th and 6th century, including Poncin, Ain (Southern Gaul) and Stavnsager, Southern Denmark. In both places find riding gear, military equipment, signs of trade and exchange.
Landed Elites, AD 650-900: Lifestyles and mentality
When examining the estates of secular elites from the mid-seventh century onwards, such as Flixborough in England, one notices that these sites were always very different from each other, in how the buildings were laid out and organized. We also find imported drinking vessels, pottery tableware, coinage, seeing use of falconry and hunting, including the eating of unusual animals like dolphins and wild birds. For example, at Karlburg, built by Pepin III in the 750s they were eating mostly wild board.
Loveluck also notes how these sites changed over time. The settlement of Flixborough changes in the 9th century – new buildings, see window glass, iron, lead items, use of literacy, huge change in husbandry – and also lots of textile and metal working taking place here, no international networks. Also, no more hunting going on here.
The paper then focuses on coastal and maritime communities which have portable wealth. These are small settlements and farmsteads, but have imported pottery, silk, fine weaponry For example in coastal Flanders and Denmark we see imported luxuries – everybody has them – which suggests access to wealth over a much wider social spectrum than in interior areas.
By the 10th century we see the transformation of major port towns like York, Dublin, London were becoming global networks -for example by the year 1000 significant quantites of pepper being brought into London. The wealth of these places was becoming evident in the archaeological finds. At York, Coppergate we find riding gear, spears, other high quality goods, once thought just to belong to landed elites.
The paper ends by examining changes in secular rural landed estates in the 10-11th centuries – most notably the emergence of Hall complexes and castles. For example at Flixborough a new 20 meter hall was built, and that the finds from this period show that hunting had returned to be a main activity while trade had become more local and less international. Loveluck sees this ‘ruralization of elite identity’ emerging in his research at Stavnsager, Denmark and in France, where the castle emerges from 950-1150 as a symbol of power. Even at smaller local rural sites during the 10-12th centuries there is more and more riding, trappings of warfare, but not consuming the local area’s agricultural resources as much.
Loveluck concludes by arguing that we do not see the emergence of merchant-artisan patricians and seafaring elties as poltical force until the 11th and 12th centuries, although these people had strong levels of portable wealth. But by the mid-12th century we see examples of this class of people becoming more powerful, such as the construction of urban patrician merchant houses in mid-12th century in cities like Tours, Ghent and London, and the fact that the Anglo-Norman contingent at the conquest of Lisbon in 1147 were led by merchants.