Dr Jonathan Jarrett

Dr Jonathan Jarrett

Lecturer in Early Medieval History

0113 343 6745

Summary: Power and authority in the medieval world, especially on frontiers; the Frankish frontier in Spain (Catalonia), the Carolingian Empire, coinage and numismatics, diplomatic and humanities computing

Location: Parkinson Building 4.05

Teaching Commitments:
HIST1045 Empire and Aftermath
MEDV1085 Medieval Narratives in the Modern World
HIST1090 Medieval and Renaissance Europe
HIST2005 Rule and Reform under Charlemagne and his Successors
HIST2006 Money and Power in the Late An



I read History at Cambridge as an undergraduate, and stayed there to do an M.Phil. in Medieval History (in which, oddly as it now seems, I worked mainly on the Picts) and then took one of my lesser topics of study, the area that is now Catalonia under the Frankish kings, to Birkbeck, University of London (as it now is) to study as a doctoral topic. Thereafter I worked in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, for five years while teaching here and there in the University of London, moving on to become a Career Development Fellow at the Queen’s College Oxford, a Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Birmingham and then Interim Curator of Coins at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. This has all served to broaden my interest in the early Middle Ages, which I see as a period of formation whose outcomes were anything but certain and demand better explanations than those we often see in which our current nations take on a supposedly natural existence. Almost no-one living in the period was trying to create anything of the kind, so how did it get this way, and what did and could people try and do in this age in which as much is unfamiliar to us as is recognisable? This continues to drive my research into early medieval society.

Research Interests

My work has always focused on questions of authority and power, specifically on who claimed it, how, and why they were able to get away with it, all of which necessarily also involves studying those over whom power was exercised and how they reacted. I have come to pursue this especially in frontier areas, where the subjects of authority have more options, either in terms of membership of a polity or at least in terms of which one to belong to; the frontier thus makes especially clear what it is about a given power interest that worked in bringing people under its sway. This kind of question about low-level response to authority requires access to levels of society below the elites, which leads me to focus most of all on low-level high-volume sources like charters (documents of rights, usually recording land transactions) and coinage, which in turn require the kind of processing that can really only be done by computer. As a result I can be found loading people’s names into a database or cataloguing coins (or even examining them by X-ray—I had a project funded by the Royal Numismatic Society to do this) as doing more conventional textual analysis. My main area of expertise remains the medieval Iberian peninsula, and especially Catalonia, in the ninth to eleventh centuries, but I have picked up subsidiary knowledge of Anglo-Saxon England, Pictish Scotland, Carolingian Europe and the early and middle Byzantine Empire from teaching or comparative study. In recent years I have become convinced that there are theories about the operation of authority, not just in the Middle Ages but in non-industrial societies much more widely, to be drawn from using medieval evidence in intensive comparison, and most of my current work is focused on this and assembling a network of like-minded scholars with whom to compare results.

Current and Forthcoming Projects

My main current work is a semi-biographical study of a tenth-century Count of Barcelona, Borrell II (945-93), who changed a great deal about the way he governed largely in order that he might be able to keep his position of power about the same. This paradox of innovation in order to conserve, which I can found in an unusual quantity of evidence for the period, will be the core of a book now under contract with Palgrave MacMillan. I hope that it will provide a new model for the extent to which a person in power in this or any other era could contend with and divert larger forces of social change at work in the time when they lived. I am also producing a collaborative volume with colleagues from the world of numismatics on the scientific analysis of metal content of Byzantine gold coinage, coming from the x-ray fluorescence project mentioned above. This has benefitted from a grant from the Royal Numismatic Society and the continuing collaboration of the University of Birmingham. I have other shorter pieces of work on the slipway about crop yields in early medieval Europe (higher than the textbooks tell you) and about military service and army sizes in the tenth century (probably lower than they tell you). Lastly, I am putting together a network of scholars who, like me, wish to develop new understandings of the working of medieval (and other) frontiers as political and social spaces, and expect this to be the topic of a number of future conferences, articles and books as well. I keep busy!


Inheriting Rome: the imperial legacy in coinage and culture (Birmingham: Barber Institute of Fine Arts 2015)

‘Bovo soldare: A Sacred Cow of Spanish Economic History Re-evaluated’, in Early Medieval Monetary History: Studies in Memory of Mark Blackburn, eds Rory Naismith, Martin Allen and Elina Screen (Farnham: Ashgate 2014), pp. 187-204

‘Poor Tools to Think With: the human space in digital diplomatics’, in Digital diplomatics: the computer as a tool for the diplomatist?, eds Antonella Ambrosio, Sébastien Barret and Georg Vogeler, Beihefte der Archiv für Diplomatik 14 (München: Archiv für Diplomatik 2014), pp. 291-302

‘Comparing the earliest documentary culture in Carolingian Catalonia’, in Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters (see below), pp. 89-126, doi: 10.1484/M.IMR-EB.1.101679

‘Introduction’, in Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters (see below), pp. 1-18, doi: 10.1484/M.IMR-EB.1.101674

Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout: Brepols 2013), co-edited with Allan Scott McKinley

‘Only Typing? Informal Writing, Blogging and the Academy’, in Writing History in the Digital Age, eds K. Nawrotzki & J. Dougherty, digitalculturebooks (Detroit: University of Michigan Press), pp. 246-258, doi: 10.3998/dh.12230987.0001.001, with Alex Sayf Cummings

‘Views, Comments and Statistics: Gauging and Engaging the Audience of Medievalist Blogging’, Literature Compass 9 (Oxford: Wiley 2012), 991-95

‘Coinage, Digitization and the World-Wide Web: numismatics and the COINS Project’, in Digitizing Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture, eds B. H. Nelson & M. Terras, New Technologies in Medieval and Renaissance Studies 4 (Tempe: University of Arizona Press), pp. 459-489, with Sebastian Zambanini, Reinhold Hüber-Mork and Achille Felicetti

‘Caliph, King or Grandfather: strategies of legitimisation on the Spanish March in the reign of Lothar III’, The Mediaeval Journal 1.2 (Turnhout: Brepols 2012), 1-21, doi: 10.1484/J.TMJ.1.102535, for 2011

‘A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe’, The Oxford Historian 9 (2011), p. 60

‘Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: the organization of society in the pre-Catalan “terra de ningú”’, in Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, eds †Alan Deyermond and Martin Ryan, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London: Queen Mary 2010), pp. 97-127

Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History: New Series (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer for the Royal Historical Society 2010), runner-up for RHS Gladstone Prize

‘Archbishop Ató of Osona: false metropolitans on the Marca Hispanica’, Archiv für Diplomatik 56 (München: Archiv für Diplomatik 2010), 1-42

‘Settling the Kings’ Lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective’, Early Medieval Europe 18 (Oxford: Wiley 2010), 320-42, doi:10.1111/j.1471-8847.2010.00301.x

‘Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics’, Numismatic Chronicle 169 (London: Royal Numismatic Society 2010), 217-43, for 2009

Coins in Collections: care and use. A Guide to Best Practice by the COINS Project (Cambridge: Fitzwilliam Museum 2009), currently distributed to all UK museums with numismatic collections by the British Museum ‘Money and Medals Network’ as a guide to industry best-practice

‘Digitizing Numismatics: getting the Fitzwilliam Museum's coins to the world-wide web’, The Heroic Age 12 (2009), http://www.heroicage.org/issues/12/foruma.php

‘The Political Range of Áedán mac Gabráin, King of Dál Riata’, Pictish Arts Society Journal 17 (Brechin: Pictish Arts Society 2008), 3-24, for 2001, published without revision or endnotes

‘Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses’, Early Medieval Europe 12 (Oxford: Blackwells 2005), 229-58, doi: 10.1111/j.0963-9462.2004.00128.x, for 2003, winner of Blackwells-Early Medieval Europe Prize for Best First Published Essay

Forthcoming publications

Watch this space!

Postgraduate Supervision

I can offer supervision in most areas of research covering early and central medieval Europe in the West and the Byzantine Empire, and am slowly trying to close the gap. I am particularly interested in research questions involving frontiers, the Iberian Peninsula, the Carolingian Empire, coinage or charters or any combination of the above!

Undergraduate Teaching

ODLM1002 Studying in a Digital Age (staff contact)

HIST1045 Empire and Aftermath: The Mediterranean World from the Second to the Eighth Centuries (convenor, sole lecturer and tutor)

MEDV1085 Medieval Narratives in the Modern World (guest lecturer)

HIST1090 Medieval and Renaissance Europe (co-convenor, lecturer and tutor)

HIST2005 Rule and Reform under Charlemagne and his Successors, 768-987 (convenor, sole lecturer and sole tutor)

HIST2006 Small Change and Big Changes: Money and Power in Europe, 284-1000 (convenor, sole lecturer and sole tutor)

HIST2557 Thinking About History (guest lecturer)

HIST3001 Conquest, Convivencia and Conflict: Muslim and Christian Spain, 711-1212 (convenor and sole teacher)

HIST3500 History Dissertation (available supervisor)

Both of my current second-year modules reflect different aspects of my interest in how authority was expressed and made to stick in the early medieval world. The empire of Charlemagne was so effective in convincing people to join in that its legacy is still with us today, and the emperor himself became not just an archetype of good Christian rule but a legendary crusade hero and a model for future would-be conquerors of Europe, with all the ambiguity that entails, and yet it lasted a very short time. So did it work, or not, why or why not, and how? These are questions I’m still trying to answer and so Rule and Reform will be slightly different each time it runs. Part of the ‘how’ involves coinage, which is in general an excellent source for what states want to achieve or communicate and also sometimes for how effectively they can do so. My continuing work in this area gives me fresh insights into the material for Small Change and Big Changes every time I approach it. The application of my third-year module Conquest, Convivencia and Conflict to these themes is hopefully obvious, but it has also become uncomfortably topical as the issues of how and when Islam and Christianity have managed to co-exist take on new importance. It's actually very important to get these things right...

Postgraduate Teaching

MEDV5110 Research Methods and Bibliography (contributor)

MEDV5120 Palaeography: Reading Medieval Manuscripts (co-convenor and teacher)

I also jointly supervise one Ph.D. student (so far) and advise five more.


I am a long-running academic blogger, with eight years behind me at A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe. I no longer have time to maintain it, sadly, but it has garnered me many a conference invitation and occasional media consultation, most recently for BBC History Ireland. I’m happy to try and answer questions from anyone interested in the field as far as I can.