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This chapter focuses on material dimensions, such as settlement, topography and access to resources, as well as on fundamental factors that define the position of individuals within local societies and groups. Drawing on recent settlement archaeology to present a synthetic overview of the shape, size and internal organisation of rural settlements, it highlights their dynamism and diversity across time and space. It provides examples of the topographic arrangement of landed property and of the constituents of individual farming units, thereby presenting concrete illustrations of ‘neighbourhood’. The socio-economic and legal stratification of local societies is discussed, revealing high levels of local and regional variation, but also some general tendencies. The problem of freedom and servitude as formal/legal and informal categories is emphasised. An analysis of the organisation of landownership is presented together with the different forms of aristocratic property and their relationship to the property of individuals with a lower status.

in Neighbours and strangers

Using the evidence of normative texts, such as capitularies, as well as charters and estate records, this chapter studies the aims of interventions by political authorities and the dynamics of outside intervention within local society and their influence on social cohesion locally. With a focus on the three fields of war, justice and landownership, it demonstrates (where possible) the effects on the local of intervention from outside and demonstrates that such intervention was part of the regular experience of local people – whether from invaders, in court cases or as tenants. Moreover, individual members of local residential groups could often find supporters and mediators outside their small worlds, and factions within a community could use external agencies against their neighbours: external intervention into the local in the early Middle Ages could be an opportunity as well as a threat.

in Neighbours and strangers
Lower office holders

Local societies were also influenced by other kinds of landowner, who may have been absentees or have had a wide spread of interests beyond that of a single local group. This chapter treats the ways in which outside authorities, office holders and aristocrats intervened in local society. On the one hand, members of these elites were themselves part of local societies; on the other, office holders acted as mediators linking local societies to higher levels such as the kingdom, the county or distant landowners. They therefore occupied a double position: they were themselves members of a local society and at the same time they were legitimised and commissioned by outside authorities. Numerous different types of secular office holder, from both the public and the private sphere, are referenced. However, the frequency of their appearance varies: lower-level office holders are extremely well documented in some parts of northern Italy, are less common in the Frankish and Anglo-Saxon world, and are rare in the Iberian peninsula.

in Neighbours and strangers
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Collective action in rural settlements

Access to resources and conflicts over resources provide many of the contexts for collective action by local groups. This chapter investigates the evidence for collaboration in basic agricultural tasks and other economic activities, as well as that for more political forms of cooperation, for instance in jointly building churches, running local courts, attesting land transactions; and it looks at the evidence for the role of conflict in defining discrete groups. Our focus examines how collective action brought together people of widely varying wealth, social standing and even different legal status. The chapter also considers the labels people used of themselves and those that others used of them, as well as attitudes to outsiders, such as non-residents, people culturally marked as foreign, and those excluded from the social group for lack of conformity or otherwise, as well as the conscious identification of some within the group, such as Jews, as 'other'.

in Neighbours and strangers
Local societies in early medieval Europe

This is an exploration of social cohesion in rural settlements in western Europe in the period 700–1050 CE, and of the extent to which settlements, or districts, constituted units of social organisation. It focuses on the interactions, interconnections and networks of people who lived side by side – neighbours. Drawing evidence from most of the current western European countries, the book plots and interrogates the very different practices of this wide range of regions in a systematically comparative framework, offering a new approach to well-known problems of the early Middle Ages by bringing together expertise from different national traditions. It examines how people in the localities of the early medieval West worked together in pursuit of shared goals beyond the level of the household, and how (and whether) they formed their own groups through that collective action. It considers the variety of local responses to the supra-local agents of landlords and rulers and the impact, such as it was, of those agents on the small-scale residential group. It also assesses the impact on local societies of the values, instructions and demands of the wider literate world of Christianity, as delivered by local priests.

Searching for the local

There is no evidence that the residential group was the only group to which local people belonged. The locality, understood as a zone of the order of 10 km diameter, with a multiplicity of settlements, was a meaningful unit of operation, although the scale of association in northern Iberia appears to have been wider. Some members of some settlements engaged in collective agricultural practices, and some households joined together to take legal action, but there is no reason to suppose that all members of any one settlement regularly did so. There is little awareness of belonging to a group, although the integration of immigrants and the exclusion of individuals are well evidenced. There cannot have been a shared view of social cohesion in every settlement or every locality. The same Christian message was heard by every flock, meaning that the sphere of responsibility of the local priest defined a community of a kind, although some people clearly stole from their neighbours, as others fought or assaulted or raped them. The number of officers within range, and the frequency of their visits, must have made a difference to the lives of peasant farmers: so, life in a farming settlement in northern Iberia must have been free from the micro-management of those in the Carolingian Empire.

in Neighbours and strangers
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This chapter outlines the main problems the book will address, surveys the national historiographies of Germany, England, France, Italy and Spain and identifies the problems highlighted therein. While national historiographies have different preoccupations, we note the widespread influence of German writing of the nineteenth century and of French regional studies in the twentieth. There are also common themes: free proprietorship and personal freedom and their impact (or not) on emerging institutions; lordship and its many varieties, with a tendency to treat the local through the structures and relationships of great estates; the importance of archaeology and its increasing provision of new data.

in Neighbours and strangers
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This chapter provides basic orientation, with essential information on the physical geography and political history of the period 750–1000, outlining the main political trends in Francia, Italy, England and Spain. Though a period of extreme political instability at the highest levels of kings and emperors, complicated by the long-term impact of invaders from outside, many of the regions within kingdoms sustained an identity over many centuries. The chapter continues with a brief survey of available primary source material for the study of local societies (which is extended in the Appendix). It surveys charters, estate records, narratives (including annals, chronicles and hagiography), capitularies, law texts and liturgy.

in Neighbours and strangers
Priests as neighbours in early medieval local societies

This chapter explores the position of early medieval priests within local rural societies and the influence they had on the social cohesion of rural settlements. As pastors who taught and preached, they communicated ideas of good and bad behaviour towards relatives, neighbours and God, and in their capacity as confessors and advisors, they played an important role in settling disagreements between members of their flocks. Priests were in a unique 'hinge' position to transmit new rulings from the bishop or the royal court to local audiences, because they were generally capable of reading and understanding Latin, and were trained to translate and rephrase sophisticated knowledge into vernacular messages understandable to illiterate audiences. Priests did not only spend their days praying, preaching, performing rituals or reading books. They were firmly rooted in the lay world and often seem to have been members of local families. Their ministry usually came with landownership and, like other landowners, priests bought, sold and gave land and moveable goods. They were also active in writing charters for local people, in effect performing notarial services for them.

in Neighbours and strangers
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The Afterword celebrates the communal practice that is riddling—whether composing, solving, interpreting, or editing. It aims to draw together the individual voices of the riddles and of the chapters of this volume into a communal unity that celebrates diverse methods and perspectives. This book’s sections—Words, Ideas, Interactions—arguably move, flow, collapse inward, and reconstitute themselves through the act of interpreting, just as the riddles themselves invite constant re-reading and re-interpretation of clues and solutions. Hence, the Afterword also maps out possible directions for future work in the field of riddle studies: more engagement with the Latin collections and comparative work on Scandinavian and Celtic riddle traditions, as well as critical engagement with identity, especially identity informed by disability, race and gender theories. Finally, it suggests that the insights into daily life offered through the riddles’ subversive concealments and manoeuvrings make them ideal texts for the study of identity in all its complexity.

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition