IMC 2018: Sessions

Session 418: Annual Early Medieval Europe Lecture: Lights, Power, and the Moral Economy of Early Medieval Europe (Language: English)

Monday 2 July 2018, 19.00-20.00

Sponsor:Early Medieval Europe
Introductions:Marios Costambeys, Department of History, University of Liverpool
Simon MacLean, Department of History, Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge
Speaker:Paul Fouracre, Department of History, University of Manchester

From Antiquity, light has been associated with power. Taking on board the Old Testament injunction to keep a light burning before the tabernacle, the Christian Church required all churches to burn a light before the altar, and saints’ shrines were also honoured with lights. As lighting was expensive it was initially the elite in society which made grants for lighting provision. It can be demonstrated that rulers made such grants at politically important moments. This lecture examines how the burden of providing for the lights spread into the wider population. In Francia this happened in two ways: precarial tenures created a class of rent payers (censuales or cerocensuales) whose rent was often designated for light provision, and, secondly, a proportion of the tithe was also assigned to the lights. From Carolingian legislation (capitularies, the canons of councils, and episcopal statutes) we can see a reform programme insisting on the maintenance of the lights. In the 10th century we see the first evidence of voluntary associations (guilds) forming for this purpose. Although the requirement to burn lights was universal, it is possible to identify significant differences in the way this requirement was met: top-down in West Francia, but by a growing class of ecclesiastical tributaries (the so-called Zensualität) in East Francia/Germany, by local arrangement in Italy and Spain, and apparently by quasi-taxation (‘wax-scot’) in England. The conjunction of religious belief, resource dedication, and social organisation is what makes up the moral economy here. The lecture seeks to understand the differences between the various regions of Europe and asks whether the subject of lighting can contribute to our understanding of social structuration in the Early Middle Ages.

The journal Early Medieval Europe (published by Wiley) is very pleased to sponsor the Annual Early Medieval Europe Lecture at the International Medieval Congress. By contributing a major scholarly lecture to the Congress programme, the journal aims to highlight the importance of the Congress to scholars working in early medieval European history and to support further research in this field. Early Medieval Europe is an interdisciplinary journal encouraging the discussion of archaeology, numismatics, palaeography, diplomatic, literature, onomastics, art history, linguistics and epigraphy, as well as more traditional historical approaches. It covers Europe in its entirety, including material on Iceland, Ireland, the British Isles, Scandinavia and Continental Europe (both west and east). Further information about the journal and details on how to submit material to it are available at (the full url is All those attending are warmly invited to join members of the editorial board after the lecture for a glass of wine.

Please note that admission to this event will be on a first-come, first-served basis as there will be no tickets for the event. Please ensure that you arrive as early as possible to avoid disapointment.