The Heroic Age

A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe

Founded 1998   |   ISSN 1526-1867

Issue 17 (2017)

Carolingian Catalonia: the Spanish March, 778–988

Cullen J. ChandlerMailto: Icon

Lycoming College

©2017 by Cullen J. Chandler. All intellectual property rights reserved. This edition copyright © 2017 by The Heroic Age. Permissions granted for educational and personal purposes only.

Abstract: When Charlemagne crossed the Pyrenees into Spain in 778, he sought to extend his dominion over lands and peoples, to expand the realm of Christendom. By no means did he intend to create, over the next two decades, the nucleus of a principality. Yet ultimately, the creation of the Carolingian Spanish March did set the stage for the gradual development of Catalonia over the following two centuries. Frankish might carved a handful of counties out of Muslim-held territory in the eastern Pyrenean region, where the population consisted of Christians labeled as Goths and Hispani. In the context of the ninth and tenth centuries, however, it is quite clear that the Frankish conquest and connection to the monarchy, not a treasured memory of the Visigothic past, was the defining element of the region’s politics and culture.

§1. The Spanish March of the Carolingian Empire provides an interesting and useful case study in how rulers integrated a conquered territory into the political, social, and cultural framework of the regnum francorum. From the first forays across the Pyrenees in 778 to the severing of links between local counts and their kings late in the tenth century, Frankish rulers managed personnel, patronized monasteries, and cultivated ties to people based in the March in order to maintain a sort of royal presence in the area. In this way, the Spanish March became not just a militarized frontier zone, but a prized province, a sought-after honor for members of the imperial aristocracy. When it was entrusted to loyal men of regional origins late in the ninth century, a dynasty was able to emerge gradually. The new ruling family of the March, it should be stressed, seems never to have sought autonomy, and indeed maintained loyalty to the Carolingian rulers. It was the Carolingians themselves who faced dynastic challenges in the late ninth and tenth centuries, and these issues helped to separate the monarchy from the March. What the history of the Spanish March tells us about the Carolingian Empire, then, is that relationships between local aristocrats and kings were coveted by both, and when these relationships became ultimately untenable, power brokers in places like the March were left to their own devices.

§2. While Charlemagne was addressing concerns in Saxony in 777, an opportunity at the far bounds of his kingdom presented itself (Collins 1995, 251). Rebellious governors on the northern frontier of Muslim Spain invited the Frankish king's support of their planned moves to shake off the control of the emir based in Córdoba (ARF 48–49, 51; Collins 2000, 191–213). Charlemagne's invasion of Spain did not turn out as he had hoped, though. His erstwhile allies apparently called off their revolt and failed to hand over their cities (ARF 50–53; Engels 1970, 8; Bautier 1979, 1–47). After failing to take Zaragoza and commanding hostages to be removed from Pamplona, the king headed north over the Pyrenees toward home (Annales d'Aniane cols. 8–9; Chron. Moissac. 296; ARF 51). The Basque ambush of his rearguard at Roncevalles in 778 became the stuff of legend, and Charlemagne never campaigned in Spain again. If his longer term goals had been to establish his ecumenical rule across the Pyrenees and protect the Christians who lived there, or perhaps merely to create a frontier buffer zone between his kingdom in Gaul and the persistent Muslim threat, they were not completely dashed. The invasion, although a failure, proved to be only the first step in Frankish military and political intervention in northeastern Spain.

§3. The shorter-term repercussions of the invasion may have included dealing with a wave of immigrants fleeing Muslim authorities by entering Septimania, the coastal section of southeastern Gaul that had remained part of the Visigothic kingdom after Clovis I's victory over Alaric II in 507, and was not added to the Frankish kingdom until 759. These newcomers, called hispani in contemporary documents, became productive members of their new society by bringing unsettled lands into cultivation by a process known as aprisio (Chandler 2002a; Jarrett 2010b). They also provided Charlemagne with a way to increase his own authority in the region. He claimed deserted lands for the royal fisc and granted those who settled them the status of military service along with certain other judicial rights, including freedom from the payment of cens. Even though such grants were largely retroactive—that is, they recognized work already done rather than granting land before the fact—they provided Charlemagne a way to act as patron to men at the local level and have his power recognized without being filtered through others, such as counts and bishops.

§4. Royal authority needed reinforcement in the localities of the Carolingian Empire, all the more when the court was a great distance away and never physically present. Establishing relationships with individuals or even communities in the area the Franks called Gothia or Septimania was essential. In addition to the ties to the group of aprisio landholders around 780, Charlemagne and his son, Louis king of Aquitaine, cemented at least one relationship with a man of somewhat higher status in Septimania. The first grant to a named individual, dated 795, went to John, who served Louis in battle against the Saracens near Barcelona (CC 2, 307–311; Dupont 1965–1966, 183–189; Lewis 1965, 70). John captured in battle booty, which he offered to Louis, requesting the desert villa of Fontes in return. Louis drafted a letter documenting the grant of the villa and sent John, with the letter, to Charlemagne in Aachen. Upon arriving at Aachen, John commended himself to Charlemagne and received concession of Fontes as aprisio. As the reach of Carolingian authority extended over the Pyrenees, kings turned to monastic houses as the connections to local networks of power and loyalty, as in the example of Arles and St-Genís des Fonts (CC 2, 22–26, 206–207). Charlemagne and Louis issued grants of immunity and protection to several monasteries in the region, as well as laymen like John and the hispani, thus forging bonds of association that reinforced both royal authority in faraway provinces and the prestige of the local parties.

§5. Charlemagne's son Louis "the Pious" was born during the 778 campaign to Zaragoza and Pamplona. Three years later, the boy was created king of Aquitaine. Louis and his advisors had responsibility for most of southern Gaul, Gascony, and Gothia (Auzias 1937, 1–63; Lewis 1965, 51; Collins 1998, 70, 73). The case of John and his aprisio settlement helps to clarify the functioning of a kingdom within a kingdom, as the teenaged Louis referred John to Charlemagne. While Louis was king of Aquitaine, several military campaigns were carried out in his name, and Frankish dominion extended over the Pyrenees (ARF). The inhabitants of some areas seem to have submitted on their own accord, at least as narrative sources have it. These included Girona and Urgell in the 780s, "the men of Girona" submitting to "king Charles" (Chron. Moissac 297). Louis led campaigns to Lleida, Huesca, Tarragona, and Tortosa as well (Astronomer Vita Hludowici 14). Meanwhile, the counts of Toulouse, Chorso, and later Charlemagne's kinsman William, added the central Pyrenean areas of Pallars and Ribagorça to their own domain. They thus earned the title marchio, as their lands now included the outer limits of the kingdom (Werner 1980, 191–239; d'Abadal 1958, 89–91). Likewise, counts, usually emanating from families in Septimania, came to govern the other territories (d'Abadal 1958, 221; Salrach 1978, 25–26).

§6. Other campaigns failed to add more land and cities to the growing Frankish empire, but with the execution and failure, set its limits in Hispania. The crowning achievement of Louis's reign in Aquitaine, though, was the conquest of Barcelona. Frankish annals suggest that Charlemagne considered himself overlord of the city from 797, but the king could never enforce his authority there (Collins 1998, 74; ARF 100–101; Astronomer Vita Hludowici 10). Given the opportunity, Louis mounted a campaign in late 800 and captured the city, entering triumphantly on Easter Sunday 801 (Astronomer Vita Hludowici 13; Chron. Moissac 307; Salrach 1978, 14–24; CC 1, 183–216; ARF 116; Lewis 1965, 41).

§7. The symbolic meaning of entering a city conquered from Muslims on the holiest day of the Christian calendar was clearly intentional. Louis waited outside the city to orchestrate his triumph, tying the victory of the Franks on the field of battle to Christ's victory on the cross. It was not the only way that religion factored into the creation of the Spanish March. One of the greatest doctrinal controversies to face Charlemagne emanated from his activity in Spain. Adoptionism, first propounded in Toledo, found a staunch supporter in Felix, bishop of Urgell, when that see was under Frankish suzerainty (Cavadini 1993, 19–44; Chandler 2002b). Court-sponsored scholars attacked Felix in a series of letters and treatises, and condemned his teaching in church councils at Frankfurt (794) and Aachen (799-800) (Concilium Francofurtense; Concilium Aquisgranense; Nagel 1998, 111; Alcuin Ep. 156). Alcuin, Felix's most fervent foe, feared that heresy infected the laity as well as the Urgell clergy and regional monastic communities. He therefore sent books to aid preachers in Gothia and the Spanish March, led by Benedict of Aniane, as they worked to instill correct belief in the areas most affected (Chandler 2002b). Wherever Charlemagne's armies went, so did his missionaries. In this case, the mission was to convert other Christians to "correct" belief, something that was one of Charlemagne's chief concerns in his royal ministerium.

§8. Even before Barcelona fell, the fact that Charlemagne had created an empire was recognized in his coronation in Rome on Christmas Day 800. In the formation of a kingdom ruled by his son, the patronage of regional monasteries and lay individuals, and the sponsorship of reformed religious teachings and practices, Charlemagne fostered the integration of the Spanish March into his empire. In the decades that followed, the March was just as much central to the concerns of the imperial aristocracy as it was a military frontier region.

§9. In the history of Barcelona, the conquest by Louis in 801 is significant enough to merit a street being named in his honor. Yet the king led further expeditions in Spain. Louis directed three campaigns against Tortosa before his accession as emperor, none of which succeeded (Astronomer Vita Hludowici 14; Wolff 1965). A treaty agreed in 810 set the limits of Frankish dominion south of the Pyrenees just beyond Barcelona, ending the attempt to establish the frontier at the Ebro. Other reasons pressed the Franks to give up on further conquest in Spain. Events in the burgeoning kingdom of Aragon, where walis tended to rebel against emirs in Córdoba, factored into the decision. The Franks established a count there, but at his death another wali came to power and sent to Charlemagne for aid against the emir (ARF 130). The emir proposed a separate peace agreement in 810, by which the Franks agreed to give up on Tortosa and Zaragoza, while the Muslims accepted Frankish control of Barcelona and had the freedom to deal with Aragon (Salrach 1978, 37–38). Carolingian attempts at expansion into Spain continued in 812 with the siege of Huesca, intended to retake a position from which Muslims had ousted them. The siege failed and with it the Carolingian intervention in the central Pyrenees (Astronomer Vita Hludowici 17). Also around 810, Muslim pirates raided the Balearics and Corsica, causing Charlemagne to legislate the construction of naval protection for his coasts (Wolff 1965, 282). In 815 a Muslim attack on Barcelona failed, and the next year the emir sent envoys for peace. The two sides agreed a truce for 817–20 (ARF 145). The limits of Carolingian dominion had been fixed: near the coast they lay just south of Barcelona, barely coming down from the mountains further inland.

§10. By the 810s, the military situation of the Spanish March was relatively settled. Charlemagne and Louis the Pious ruled over a genuine empire, integrating its various regions by means of royal patronage and religious reform. Their diplomas issued to recipients in the region may indicate that they conceived of empire as rule over different peoples. Ethnic labels used in texts emanating from the court distinguish various people as "Goths" or hispani. For example, about twenty years after he granted rights to land and freedom from jurisdiction to hispani fleeing from Muslim rule, Charlemagne granted similar rights to Goths and hispani living in Barcelona and the nearby fortress of Terrassa (CC 2, 415–416; Lewis 1965, 73). Such an act suggests that the emperor felt it useful not only to extend his protection to additional groups, but also that it was useful to distinguish between them, or even perhaps between them and their neighbors. In 812, a record of dispute concerning aprisio lands reveals that the villas had, after the interval of thirty years since the original grant, become property of the former immigrants, or even their heirs, still called hispani (CC 2, 314; Dupont 1965–1966, 191–192). The dispute centered on claims by the hispani that their neighbors (called pagenses) and the regional counts had violated their property rights. Charlemagne ruled in favor of the hispani and ordered full restitution; Louis as king of Aquitaine and a missus were to work out the details. Later, even as Louis as emperor restrained the rights of the settlers somewhat by limiting the crimes they could judge among themselves, he maintained the direct ties between them and his court (CC 2, 418). Meanwhile, the extension of royal protection to the very limits of the Spanish March near Barcelona shows the rulers managing the affairs of their frontier while also claiming a true empire, that is, lordship over a variety of subject peoples.

§11. Bera, a so-called "Goth" noble whose family was based in Septimania, became Barcelona's first Carolingian count in 801 (Astronomer Vita Hludowici 13). Little is known of his deeds in governing in the Spanish March. It is presumed that in 812, Bera gained authority over areas on both sides of the Pyrenees (Salrach 1978, 43; d'Abadal 1974, 189). It appears that his power in the March was endangered by the very fact of its growth. He was accused of treason and brought for judgment before an assembly in the emperor's presence. In the trial by combat that ensued, the count was defeated and thus found guilty. Louis commuted the death sentence to exile, sending Bera to Rouen (ARF 152). According to the Astronomer, Bera's accuser was a man named Sanila, meaning the two men, called "Goths," were entitled to settle their case by combat "according to their own law" (Astronomer Vita Hludowici 33). This account also tells us that loyalty to the Frankish Carolingian ruler was expected of locals in the March not only by the emperor, but also by other locals based in the area, or at least that accusations of disloyalty could be used against enemies. Maintaining the loyalty of the counts of the March would prove challenging to three generations of Carolingian kings.

§12. During the 820s, two men succeeded Bera as count of Barcelona. Of the first, Rampo, very little is known, other than that he came from a Frankish family and had a record of faithful service to both Charlemagne and Louis. It is likely that Rampo led or participated in a raid beyond the frontier, but otherwise, there is little evidence as to his activity (CC 2, 46, 7, 247; Salrach 1978, 47; d'Abadal 1974, 89–90). For the next count, Bernard of Septimania, there is much more to say. Upon Rampo's death in 825, the March became destabilized, precipitating an uprising led by a mysterious figure named Aizo. This Aizo seems to have been in league with Bera's son, Willelmundus, as well as Muslim allies from across the frontier. Having been a hostage at the royal court, Aizo somehow made his way to the Spanish March and summoned his allies, wreaking havoc in the March during 826–7 (ARF 172–173; Astronomer Vita Hludowici 40 and 41). Bernard, the newly appointed count of Barcelona, struggled against the uprising. Louis the Pious ordered reinforcements to aid Bernard, but the leaders of the forces, counts Hugh of Tours and Matfrid of Orléans, arrived too late to be useful. Hugh and Matfrid lost their offices and lands, while Bernard, who was able to put down the rebellion without their help, gained in status and prestige. He was elevated to the office of chamberlain and served at Louis court from 828. By then, however, damage had been done. The countryside of the Spanish March had been ravaged, and even territory was lost to Muslims (Thegan Vita Hludowici imperatoris 597; Nithard Histoire des fils de Louis le Pieux 1.3; Annales Xantenses et Annales Vedastini 7).

§13. This episode shows that the Spanish March was not merely a distant, unimportant backwater, despite the lack of attention it tends to receive in modern Carolingianist scholarship. Its events were as much a part of the politics of the realm as those of the heartland. Hugh and Matfrid were two of the highest-ranking aristocrats in the empire, and the timing of Bernard's promotion coincided with the beginnings of the greatest crisis of the period. Indeed, once at court, Bernard seems to have miscalculated every political step he took, becoming part of the crisis itself. While the primary concerns of those involved centered on Louis the Pious reorganizing the empire to make an inheritance for his fourth son, Charles, those who supported his oldest son, Lothar, targeted Bernard to suggest that Louis was losing control of everything. Bernard found himself accused of adultery with the empress Judith and fled to Gothia in 830 (de Jong 2009, 41–44; Paschasius Radbertus Epitaphium Arsenii 1–98; Ganz 1990, 527–550; Ward 1990a, 205–227; Bührer-Thierry 1992, 299–312; Ward 1990b, 15–25). In the rebellions of Louis's sons against the emperor that plagued the early 830s, Bernard aligned himself with the losing side and had lost Septimania and the Spanish March by 833. The people and events of the Spanish March had taken on imperial significance by the reign of Louis the Pious.

§14. During 833–4 the crisis of empire came to a climax. The fall of the emperor to his sons at the Field of Lies, and his penance and deposition that followed, were very dramatic, carefully orchestrated events (Booker 2009, 104–126). By the time Louis restored himself to power in 834, the Spanish March once again needed his attention. The March and its associated territories in Septimania and Aquitaine were contested between his man, Berengar of Toulouse, and the dishonored Bernard of Septimania. In the controversy between these two magnates, men of more localized status were able to gain their patronage and even hold honores in the Spanish March (Salrach 1978, 104–105; d'Abadal 1958, 20–22; Werner 1979, 137–202). Louis called Berengar and Bernard together to settle their problems in 835, but Berengar died on his way to the conference. Bernard was thus able to regain power in Septimania and Barcelona. Perhaps emboldened by his resurgence, and even the extension of his power to Toulouse, Bernard embarked on a reaffirmation of his authority that some have labeled "despotic" (Astronomer Vita Hludowici 57; Salrach 1978, 110). In fact, some Marcher lords complained of his acts and sought retribution through appeal to the emperor (Astronomer Vita Hludowici 59). Bernard may have overplayed his had in reasserting himself after a period without official position. After the death of Louis the Pious in 840, he seems to have thrown his support behind Pippin II of Aquitaine in his struggles against Charles the Bald, while a good many others in the Spanish March—those whose power was locally based—supported Charles.

§15. The political division among the leaders of the Spanish March figured prominently in the fighting Charles the Bald faced in the early part of his reign. Bernard of Septimania still governed Barcelona but was absent much of the time participating first-hand in the fighting. He delayed bringing aid to Charles against Pippin II of Aquitaine, whom he had earlier supported. When Charles finally forced Bernard's hand, support materialized, but by then it was too little, too late (Nithard Histoire des fils de Louis le Pieux 2.5). Bernard's damning mistake, though, was at the battle of Fontenoy in 841. Torn between his long-standing loyalty to Pippin II, who sided with Lothar, and more recent promises to Charles, Bernard withheld his forces until he thought the battle decided. After the battle, he handed his son, William, over to Charles with promises of fidelity ( Nithard Histoire des fils de Louis le Pieux 3.2). Despite his oaths and even giving his son into custody, Bernard returned to serve Pippin II. Charles besieged Pippin's forces at Toulouse in 844. Although the sources do not mention who commanded the city, they do reveal that Bernard was captured and executed in Aquitaine (AB, 45; Ann. Lorsch, 34, Malbos 1970, 7–13; Nelson 1992, 139–140). On the other side of the equation were men like Sunifred, count of inland and mountainous Cerdanya, who benefited from their sustained loyalty to Charles. Sunifred himself acquired properties both north and south of the Pyrenees by royal grant in the early 840s (CC 2, 332–334). After Bernard's death, Sunifred succeeded to Barcelona and the Septimanian counties (CC 2, 335–337; Salrach 1978, 119; Nelson 1992, 140–141).

§16. Matters were still not settled between Pippin II of Aquitaine and Charles the Bald. Pippin managed to mint coins, issue charters, and pick up followers from among the southern nobility (Coupland 1989, 194–222). One of these followers, William, son of Bernard of Septimania, played an important role in destabilizing the March. After Fontenoy, young William pledged homage to his king and in return received the Burgundian lands of his uncle Theodoric. It was not long, however, before their relationship soured. William was already working against the king in 844 just before his father fell to Charles, teaming with Pippin in an ambush of the royal army heading south to help with siege of Toulouse. Although it did not save Toulouse, the ambush proved devastating to upper ranks of the loyal west Frankish aristocracy (AB 46–47; Nelson 1992, 140–142). William seems also to have gained the county of Bordeaux and duchy of Gascony in 845, giving him a solid power base in southern and southwestern territories (Auzias 1937; CC 3, 110; Salrach 1978). In 848, because of Pippin's failure against a raiding band of Northmen, William was captured in Bordeaux, and a good many Aquitainians deserted to Charles the Bald. This act threatened both the Northmen and Pippin, so they came to an agreement freeing William, who could raise a rebellion against their common enemy, Charles (Salrach 1978, 26). William took the opportunity of his release from captivity to attack the Spanish March, overthrowing and killing Sunifred and his colleagues in 848 (AB 56, 58–59; Chronicon Fontanellense 80–83).

§17. At the high point of William's revolt, Charles was forced to appoint new counts for the March (AB 58; Salrach 1978, 28). To Aleran, the new count of Barcelona, fell the task of expelling William (AB 58; d'Abadal 1958, 176;). It seems that William called on the emir of Córdoba for help against royal Frankish troops. That is the ultimate irony, as his father had gained so much for his role in putting down a revolt aided by Muslim arms. Charles's men held their commands strong against Muslim incursion, but William captured them by a false promise of negotiations. They were not held for long, as royal reinforcements defeated the rebel. William, like his father, fell during a siege (AB 58–59; Chronicon Fontanellense 302–303).

§18. After the dust settled around 850, Sunifred's sons probably were all minors, as there is no record of their political or legal activities; Charles the Bald resorted to installing Franks in the March and Septimania (Collins 1990, 173). The second half of the ninth century, as did the time of Bernard of Septimania, featured the Spanish March not as a marginal frontier zone, but as a key element in the conflicts among the highest Frankish nobility. Powerful magnates with familial bases elsewhere in the kingdom controlled the region as they vied for supremacy with each other and with the royal family. The first count of Barcelona in this period, Aleran, died in 852. His successor, Odalric, came from an East Frankish family. Odalric had difficulty defending Barcelona and temporarily lost the border fortress of Terrassa in 856. These failures, together with the rebellious activity of his brother, cost Odalric his honores in Septimania and the Spanish March (Salrach 1978, 52–54; Nelson 1992, 186–188). His successor, Humfrid, also came from Louis the German's kingdom, but had transferred his allegiance to Charles the Bald (Chaume 1940, 113–136). The narrative account of a mission to retrieve relics from Spain places Humfrid in Burgundy and gives him the title "marchio Gothiae" (Aimoin, 940B). By 862, however, Humfrid had joined in the revolt of the royal son Charles the Younger. When Charles the Bald put down his son's uprising, Humfrid feld to Italy (AB 110–111, 118).

§19. From Charles the Bald's perspective, these two counts must have proven disappointing. He turned next to a man known as Bernard of Gothia. Yet rather than keep with recent practice and trust Bernard with coastal areas and local men with inland territories, Charles this time decided to place some maritime counties in the hands of locals. Bernard of Gothia, meanwhile, embroiled himself in competition with other great magnates who held land and office in the kingdom of Aquitaine. The resulting intrigue caused a great deal of trouble for Charles the Bald during the 870s. Ultimately, Bernard fell into royal disfavor and lost his honores, which were re-appropriated in 878.

§20. By 870, it seems the sons of Sunifred, too young to hold office in the Spanish March before 850, had come of age. Wifred (known as "the Hairy"), likely his oldest son, came to govern the inland areas of Cerdanya and Urgell at the behest of Charles the Bald (d'Abadal 1958, 42–45). The next king, Louis "the Stammerer," bestowed upon Wifred the coastal counties of Barcelona and Girona at the Council of Troyes in 878 (Hartmann 1989, 336–340; d'Abadal 1958, 53–72; Salrach 1978, 82–86, 104–105). He proved to be the last count and marchio in the March appointed by a king of the Franks. Traditional historiography, not altogether wrongly, reports the continuity of this family's loyalty to the Carolingian kings as the prime factor in their gaining power (Salrach 1978, 103; Collins 1995, 254–256). Yet it may be asked whether their acts reflect loyalty or opportunism. The great families of the imperial nobility changed sides seemingly without hesitation, as the behavior of Humfrid and Bernard of Gothia illustrates. Wifred and Miro were simply taking advantage of the situation to strengthen their position. When Wifred became marchio in 878, he was the first local in that position since his father Sunifred in the 840s. Based on his experiences as count of Urgell and Cerdanya since 870, he may have had some plans underway—such as encouraging the settlement of the valleys of Osona and fighting against neighboring Muslims—and relinquished some authority to his brothers elsewhere in order to devote himself to these endeavors (Lewis 1965, 123; Salrach 1978, 105–106).

§21. More or less "natural" migrations down from the mountains began in the 870s as people faced famine and left to find opportunities in lands lost to Christian control in the revolt of 826–7. Useful lands in the eastern territories were relatively crowded, making it difficult to start new cultivation, while it was impossible to advance southward in the western counties because of Muslim settlement. This grass roots development was well under way before Wifred began to cast himself as its defender and organizer. At first settlers maintained peaceful relations with Muslims nearby. As Christian settlement increased, tensions mounted, and Wifred came to see the recently fortified Muslim base at Lleida as a threat, attacking it in 883/4. Unfortunately for the marchio, striking first did not translate into victory, and the March remained open to threat. Throughout this period, Wifred did create a new county (Osona, in the region lost since 827); he sponsored parishes and monasteries (Ripoll for men and St-Joan de les Abadesses for women); and he reestablished the bishopric of Vic (886) (Les Dotalies 11,14; Marca 1688, 123; CC 4, no. 4; ACB no. 3; d'Abadal 1974, 317–319; CC 2, 293–299; ACB no. 7). Wifred was a patron of religion as well as a leader of his people (Salrach 1978, 107–108, 136–137; Bonnassie 1975, 99–106; d'Abadal 1958, 73–114; d'Abadal 1958, 130–147; Balaña 1997, 32–33; Goldberg 1999, 41–78).

§22. With the rapid succession of Charles the Bald's son Louis (d. 879) and grandsons Louis (d. 882) and Carloman (d. 884) the West Frankish Kingdom devolved to Charles the Fat, son of Louis the German. This Charles briefly ruled a unified empire. With his deposition in 887 and death in 888 came the real end of the Carolingian Empire. The family would continue to rule into the tenth century, but any ideal of unity ended with the successions of an illegitimate Carolingian king in the east, and non-Carolingians in Italy, Burgundy, Provence, and the western kingdom (AF 405–406; Regino 598–599; Riché 1993, 207–238). In the Spanish March, Wifred the Hairy neither came to pay homage to his new king, Odo, nor rebelled against him. Contrary to the established interpretation, (Salrach 1978, 112; Lewis 1965, 92, 103, 111, 113; d'Abadal 1958, 153–154) the election of Odo did not so much contribute to distancing Catalonian counties from the monarchy as it reflected the trends of the 870s and 880s that generally severed ties between center and peripheries. It was not Odo's election per se, but the circumstances that warranted it. At issue was the local focus of the northern magnates and their problems that led to Odo's succession. His ability to deal more effectively with local issues resulted in the election; the dissipating power of the monarchy was also the cause of the Spanish March—and the other regions, where local magnates claimed the title of king—becoming distant from the central monarchy. Weakening ties to the Frankish monarchy, now in the hands of a different family, and Wifred's personal role in reorganizing areas lost to Christian authorities since 827 enhanced the stature of the marchio in the March. Indeed, the count conducted two major campaigns against the Banu Qasi, one to stop the fortification of Lleida in the 880s, and the other in 897 ( Millàs, nos. 128–129 and Bramon 2000, no. 316; see also Balañà 1997, 33). It is significant that both were offensive actions taken by the Christian count, and the major fighting took place in Banu Qasi territory in and around Lleida. Both campaigns went badly for Wifred, and in the latter he lost his life.

§23. Wifred the Hairy's sons saw no need to receive royal permission from Odo to succeed their father (d'Abadal 1958, 249–250; Salrach 1978, 141–150). Within a few months, though, there was a new king—Charles the Straightforward, son of Louis the Stammerer, the king who had appointed Wifred the Hairy as count of Barcelona. With the return to legitimate Carolingian rule, Wifred-Borrell, the new marchio and count of Barcelona did seek and receive royal blessing for his de facto power. The king granted him legitimate rule of his territories, as well as rights to all fiscal and deserted lands within them, and the right to take profit from the minting of coins in his lands (CC 2, 375–377). Wifred-Borrell governed most of the Spanish March as count and marchio until his death in 911. His brother Sunyer succeeded him in Barcelona, Girona, and Osona, while the other brothers ruled elsewhere and cousins governed Roussillon and Empúries (d'Abadal 1958, 245, 250, 267, and 292–293). These brothers dispensed justice and led military campaigns, showing themselves to wield power in the Spanish March (ACB nos. 16 and 38; Sánchez Martínez 1999; d'Abadal 1958, 313–314). At Sunyer's death in 947, authority over most of the lands of the March came into the hands of his son, Borrell II.

§24. Borrell II, son and successor of Sunyer to the counties of Barcelona, Girona, and Osona, accrued land, wealth, and titles beyond his contemporaries in the Spanish March (Jarrett 2010a, 129–166). Richer called him dux citerioris Hispaniae Borrellus; later Borrell claimed the title Hibereo duci atque marchiso in a document emanating from his own chancery (Sant Cugat no 217; Richer 62–67). Gerbert, who knew Borrell personally, referred to him among "the princes of Spain" in a letter of early 985 (The Letters of Gerbert no. 51). The use of such title was not new in this generation, so contrary to what many might hope to detect, there was no more separation from the monarchy, in many ways, in the tenth century than there had been before. Contemporaries noted Borrell's status as the autonomous ruler of most of the Spanish March, distributing land and rights like a king of an earlier generation. One obvious way the counts of Barcelona acted like kings was their use of aprisio grants. So important to Carolingian kings for maintaining their authority in the ninth century, the counts appropriated this prerogative in the tenth. Tenth-century aprisiones served the same function as earlier grants: settlement and economic production in new areas along with obligations for military service (Jarrett 2010a, 47–51; Lewis 1965, 281–282).

§25. Frankish royal power waned just as the caliphs of Córdoba grew stronger. A long tradition of interpretation holds that the counts of the Spanish March could not withstand the caliphs' power, so they sought out protection from other sources (d'Abadal 1958, 291–325; Zimmermann 1999, 41–47). Papal bulls began to replace royal diplomas. According to some, the popes filled the vacancy created by royal "withdrawal," and a document from 956 hails both the pope and the king as sovereign powers (Zimmermann 1999, 41–47). The same modern body of research asserts that the counts sought military security through submitting themselves as vassals to the caliphs. Yet, counts in the Spanish March ever since Wifred the Hairy had hostile relations with the Muslim commanders at their doorstep, and the sources provide evidence of armed conflict as well as negotiations for peace. And while it may be true that Arabic sources portray the peace agreements as complete submission of the Christians to the caliphs, there is nothing to indicate that the counts saw such submission—if the relationship can truly be characterized as such—in any different way than they understood their relationships to the Frankish kings.

§26. The climactic events of 985–988 proved very important to the nationhood of Catalonia, in its mythic historiography if not in lived experience (Zimmermann 1980; Freedman 1991, 122–129). Submitting to caliph, whatever Borrell's true intentions, did not in fact bring security. Al-Mansur was the real power in Córdoba after the succession of al-Hisham II in 981, and from the beginning he began a long series of campaigns against the Christians of the north. In 985 he sacked and burned Barcelona (Bramon 2000, nos. 445, 447, 453, 452, 450, 453–454). Al-Mansur's successes against Borrell show that, whatever the level of authority Borrell had in the Spanish March, he had no real power beyond it. The military weakness of marcher counts for fully a century is astounding. These attacks prompted Borrell to seek help from King Lothar, as all who have investigated the period recognize. Moreover, upon succession of young Louis in 986, inquiries were made as to whether the Frankish army could help Borrell. The answer was not favorable (d'Abadal 1958, 332–333). Nevertheless, when Borrell saw his friend Gerbert of Aurillac, who had studied in the Spanish March, attain high position upon the succession of Hugh Capet, he likely counted it an opportunity finally to obtain aid. Hugh and Borrell exchanged letters, and Hugh and his court seem to have intended to help Borrell (Richer 222–225; d'Abadal 1958, 331–338). Hugh however, insisted that Borrell travel to Aquitaine to promise fidelity and help lead the army, like other fideles of the king (CC 2, 441). For his part, nearly three years after the fall of his city, Borrell knew that al-Mansur was turning his attention elsewhere and so rejected Hugh's proposal. Thus ended de facto Frankish dominion over the Catalan counties (Sánchez Martínez 1999, 29–35).

§27. In the late tenth century, Catalonia was part of the Frankish kingdom, even though its own political organization owed very little to Frankish royal influence. Certainly the counties themselves were no longer exactly the same as they had been in the early days of the conquest. The counts exercised royal prerogatives, like counts elsewhere in the kingdom (Zimmermann 1999, 41–47). Independent counts were not a new development in the tenth century. One need only to look at the examples of Bernard of Septimania and Bernard of Gothia to find marchiones who were more concerned with their own aggrandizement and roles in the politics of the wider kingdom than with administering the March as a loyal agent of the king. The main difference between them and the heirs of Wifred the Hairy is that the latter counts did not raise armies in open rebellion. The tenth-century counts were more or less forced to turn to self-government out of isolation from a meaningful royal presence, while those of the ninth century sought their fortunes within a much better-integrated empire. What is unique in the post-Carolingian era about the Spanish March in the context of separation from the monarchy is its simultaneous attachment to the caliphate. No other former province of the West Frankish kingdom linked itself to a "foreign" power as Borrell's embassies to Córdoba suggest he did. No other former province, however, was as near a foreign power as were the counties of the March. Thus, the counts in the March, adhering to legal traditions, kept their comital titles in deference to the Frankish monarchy, but were no longer "Carolingian" in terms of direct links of patronage connecting them to the dynasty.

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Published: 10-Jan-2018