Mark Lewis Tizzoni – Response Paper

Response to Visigothic Symposium 2, Panel 2: Identity (pdf)

(*En Portugués aquí; En Español aquí; En français ici)

I should first begin by thanking the organizers Dolores Castro and Michael J. Kelly for orchestrating these Visigothic Symposia. In doing so, they have provided an important and inclusive space within which the history of Visigothic Iberia can be approached both collectively, and with great variety. My goal here is to provide a response to the four other essays that make up panel two of the second Visigothic Symposium, within which my essay also features. Our panel examines the topic of identity in Visigothic Iberia. Not only have we approached this from different angles, we have conceived of this word in different ways. The result has been a broad study that embraces, in a sense, the diverse heterogeneity of our topic.

Together, these papers employ evidence drawn from a wide range of the available written sources, although the Visigothic church councils and the writings of Isidore form common threads throughout. Several of the essays likewise employ archaeological evidence to both further understand and evaluate the written sources, and to create an understanding of periods and locations for which we have very little written evidence. The first two papers discussed here, those by Mertixell Pérez Martínez and María de los Ángeles Utrero Agudo, approach the central question of identity with a view towards the archaeological evidence. The final two papers, those by Artemio M. Martínez Tejera and Molly Lester, approach the topic more through literary sources, in the case of the latter partly because the archaeological evidence is yet to be fully collected.

Focusing on the city of Tarragona and the Tarraconensis, Mertixell Pérez Martínez outlines and argues the case for fifth- to sixth-century Roman continuity. Central to her essay is the examination of the impact of the Visigothic conquest of Tarragona in 472. Pérez Martínez approaches her analysis through both archaeological evidence and through an extensive examination of the written sources. Though written sources may be sparse and, as Pérez Martínez tells us, incapable of giving us a truly complete picture, she nevertheless carefully and deftly brings them together, alongside the archaeological evidence, into a convincing argument for continuity. Pérez Martínez begins her argument by examining the role of Tarragona in the western Roman world in the aftermath of the invasions of 406. In this period, Tarragona took on the mantle not only of provincial capital, but also of the bastion of Roman authority in Hispania and the West. This shift in function necessitated a shift in the fabric of the city itself. Within this context, as Pérez Martínez establishes, the physical restructuring of the city began in the 420s, the better to take on this new role. While the physical city itself was changing, it was doing so not as a break with the Roman system but rather in keeping with it. The period immediately following the Visigothic conquest, the last quarter of the fifth century, merely saw, or perhaps rather fostered, the consolidation of these late Roman developments. As Pérez Martínez argues, the power structures in Tarragona, the social fabric of the city, remained largely unchanged, indeed, the city thrived in the sixth century, exerting even greater ecclesiastical influence. As the episcopal authorities flourished under Visigothic rule in the sixth century (or rather under Ostrogothic domination), so too did the city’s financial sector. Tarragona’s trade boomed in the sixth century, and we witness in the archaeological record the importation of eastern Mediterranean and African trade goods. The interests of the Hispano-Roman elites continued to dominate the affairs of the city, and even of the province itself. The incorporation of Tarragona into the Visigothic Kingdom did not disrupt these existing power structures and networks, whose identity continued to be Hispano-Roman. Indeed, the Hispano-Roman aristocracy appear to have played a key role in the Visigothic conquest of Iberia, through which they were able to preserve their dominance in the traditional fabric of society in the Peninsula, itself threatened by rebellion and unrest in the run up to the 470s. Overall, Pérez Martínez presents the case that the conquest of Tarraconensis by the Visigoths did not alter the socio-economic, political, or ecclesiastical structures of Roman Tarraco; rather, there is a strong case for continuity in the sixth century, with the structural shift occurring in the early fifth century, decades prior to the Visigothic conquest. The Visigoths (and the Ostrogoths during their protectorate) fostered the local aristocracies and the ruling systems and power structures of the Roman period, especially the rising power of the ecclesiastical elites.

María de los Ángeles Utrero Agudo likewise addresses the debate on continuity. Focusing on the sixth and seventh centuries, her essay seeks to re-evaluate later Visigothic architectural and archaeological remains in light of recent discoveries and new methods of interpretation drawn partly from scholarship on the Islamic period. Key to her examination are the methods of construction and the identity of the builders and the patrons who hired them. She opens her essay with a consideration of the two existing interpretive models for addressing and understanding the development and the chronology of late antique and early medieval Iberian architecture. The first model, the more traditional, is rooted in the idea of essential continuity between the fourth and the tenth century. The second model, within which Utrero Agudo locates her work, replaces the strict continuity tradition by asserting a contextual, and thus architectural, shift centered upon the Islamic conquest in 711. This creates a bipartite division: the pre-Islamic period marked by the demise of the Roman system and the concomitant decline in the manufacture of new building materials and the Islamic period marked by the introduction of new stimuli, Eastern craftsmen, and new technologies. In the Visigothic period of the sixth and seventh centuries, Utrero Agudo argues, the structures of euergetism shifted from the state to local aristocracies and the bishops who were drawn from their ranks. This necessitated smaller-scale construction, in terms of both project scope and expense. Part of this change in patronage manifested itself in a shift in building materials, and so we witness a rise in Roman spolia and rough-cut stone and near complete disappearance of newly quarried material. Perhaps the key part of Utrero Agudo’s argument, however, is that this change in patronage altered the type of builder they employed, and so the identity of the workers themselves changed. Smaller projects increased the need for more general workers who could design buildings, lay foundations, plaster, tile, etc. The shift in material, likewise, reduced the need for skilled stonemasons. An interesting consequence of this change, as Utrero Agudo demonstrates, is that architecti shift from being high-status professionals in the Roman and later medieval fashion, to being skilled manual laborers, the latter role being the only one this more modest economy of patronage could feasibly support.

Artemio M. Martínez Tejera’s contribution examines the nature of monasticism in Visigothic Iberia, with a view towards the various influences that had an impact upon it. Martínez Tejera begins by outlining the pronounced regionality of Iberian monasticism, itself an aspect of a larger separation of the Peninsula into a series of geographically-situated regional religious subcultures. A key factor in the formation of monastic landscapes within this context is what Martínez Tejera refers to as the “personalist organization” of euergetism practiced in the sixth and seventh centuries.[1] This point plays into Utrero Agudo’s argument about patronage — the same forces that shape monastic practice are also shaping the nature of ecclesiastical architecture and the workers who construct it. Following this conceptual foundation and having underlined the essential origins of Iberian monasticism in the cenobitic traditions of the eastern Mediterranean, he details a precise coverage of the wider geographic influences on the larger sub-regions. In Tarraconensis, for example, the influence of the Gallic church is evident in their matching conciliar guidelines — this, of course, fits neatly with the evidence presented by Pérez Martínez in her discussion of Tarragona. In Gallaecia, Martin of Braga laid the crucial foundation for that region’s monasticism on an eastern model. Towards the south, in Baetica and Carthaginensis, we find North African influences, particularly in the form of Donatus (associated with Servitanum) and Nancto (who founded a monastery outside Mérida). This is in keeping with the strong links between the south of Iberia and North Africa. Martínez Tejera follows this discussion on the formative influences of Iberian monasticism with an analysis of the principles affecting the consolidation of these monasticisms in the seventh century. Under the guidance of figures like Isidore of Seville and Fructuosus of Braga, Iberian bishops increasingly attempted to legislate and homogenize Iberian monasticism. This process was impacted by a wide range of monastic texts. In other words, while specific trends may have been confined to regional monastic subcultures, Iberia as a whole was essentially aware of, and influenced by, the major monastic thinking of the fifth and sixth centuries, wherever it may have arisen. As the leading figures of the seventh century, like Isidore, sought to legislate monastic practice through conciliar action, they consulted a broad range of sources drawn from across the Mediterranean world and beyond in order to promote some level of monastic unity.

The final paper addressed in this response is Molly Lester’s essay examining liturgical identity and its use in seventh-century Iberia. Key to Lester’s approach is an investigation into how Isidore of Seville used both the liturgy and his discussion of it to help construct a collective orthodox identity for the Iberian Church. As Lester argues, Isidore worked towards this by placing the Iberian church within the intellectual and geographical construct of the universal church, seeking to both assert and distinguish Iberia’s place within the wider Christian world. In parallel to Martínez Tejera’s mapping of the regionality of Iberian monastic practices, Lester outlines the regional liturgical and ritual diversity of the Peninsula. In this world of liturgical variety, Lester discerns a shift. In the sixth century, the Iberian bishops did not view such diversity of practice as a matter of significant importance. In the seventh century, however, as Lester argues, changes in the political climate centered upon the growing push for political consensus in the Visigothic Kingdom necessitated, at least in the minds of some clerics, a corresponding religious consensus. In this context of consensus building, liturgical cohesion became an important tool, one that Isidore would wield. Founding her argument in sociological theory, Lester looks, as Isidore did, to contextualize these Visigothic reforms in the wider Christian world. Key to Lester’s assessment of Isidore’s efforts are the bishop’s attempts to geographically contextualize Iberian practice, and thus Iberian Christians, into a unified world view. Isidore emphasized liturgical similarities in order to create an orthodox framework, and then brought forward differences so as to give Iberia a privileged place within this framework. Following this discussion, Lester examines in detail the various influences working upon Isidore and the precise ways in which he engaged with these in order to construct this two-tiered orthodoxy. Lester’s exploration of this geographic approach to Isidore’s presentation of the Iberian liturgy, which he was in the process of reforming, provides an excellent window into Isidore’s wider intellectual project. Lester here emphasizes the spatial contexts of Isidore’s efforts at creating a shared identity through liturgy. In so doing, she elucidates concepts of place and space in Isidore’s construction of an Iberian Christian identity within the larger Christian community.

Collectively, these papers examine key questions that we have asked, and must continue to ask, of Visigothic Iberia. Together, they present a diverse image of the Peninsula throughout the Visigothic period; this diversity is not only in terms of time, but of topic, of material, and of methodology. While they may approach different questions from different angles, there are certainly common threads. The key question posed by the first two papers responded to here, those by Pérez Martínez and Utrero Agudo, is the question of continuity. Pérez Martínez approaches this question from the direction of late Roman studies, whereas Utrero Agudo represents the perspective of medieval studies. This is an important dichotomy present in the study of Late Antiquity, and it is of great merit to examine these two pieces together. While one could view their essays as presenting contrasting interpretations, one could also argue that they are fully compatible. The patronage shift outlined by Utrero Agudo, and the wider changes it brings, can be placed, through Pérez Martínez’s work, not in the Visigothic period, but in the late Roman period of the early fifth century. The Visigothic-backed aristocratic power structures Pérez Martínez demonstrates become those practitioners of a newly frugal system of patronage. This brings us to two other common threads throughout these papers: patronage and regionalism. The shift in patronage from the state towards local aristocracies argued by Utrero Agudo and reinforced by Martínez Tejera had an enormous socio-cultural impact. It reshaped ecclesiastical architecture, altered the nature of building materials and the identities of the builders who used them, it shaped monasticism, and encouraged diversity in the practice of Christianity. In keeping with the current state of Visigothic studies, all four of these papers address regionalism. The Visigothic Iberia we witness within these works is a patchwork of subcultures, differing from each other in all sorts of ways. In their essays, however, both Lester and Martínez Tejera demonstrate that, in the seventh century, there was a concerted effort to create a cohesive Iberian unity through religious reform, whether it be liturgical or monastic. The final theme that must be considered is that of wider cultural influences. Throughout these papers, the evidence demonstrates contact with, and a keen awareness of, the wider Mediterranean world.

[1] Artemio M. Martínez Tejera, “Monasticism in Late Antique Iberia: Its Origins and Influences,” Visigothic Symposium 2 (2017): 177.

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