Skip to main content

IMC 2020: Sessions

Session 401: Annual Early Medieval Europe Lecture: Fines imperii: Borders and Boundaries in the Age of Charles, King and Emperor of the Franks (and Only Much Later Called Charlemagne) (Language: English)

Monday 6 July 2020, 19.00-20.00

Sponsor:Early Medieval Europe
Speaker:Jinty Nelson, Department of History, King's College London

Subjects recently chosen as IMC themes - Memory (2018) and Materialities (2019) have opened themselves up to widely divergent interpretations and meanings. This year’s theme - Borders - lends itself to being yet more polymorphously diverse. It’s no coincidence that 2020’s IMC Book (known as THE book) is fatter than ever before at 512 pp. and with 32 bullet-points indicating possible themes.

This is 2020, and here is a border. Modern geographers differentiate between a border or boundary (linear) and a frontier (zonal). But in the Early Middle Ages a limes could mean a frontier and/or a boundary. The 7th-century chronicler Fredegar already thought in terms of a limes Brittanorum - a Breton frontier distinct from the area between Seine and Loire. Most Carolingian frontiers were both linear and zonal. There was, though, no line on a map. As for Charles, there were limits and limitations to his power, of course, but wise early medieval historians can credit Charles with ‘a clear sense of the appropriate and attainable bounds of his power’. Once he had taken over rule (a bloodless take-over rather than a conquest) in what had been Lombard Italy in 774, Charles saw for himself how Roman borders and boundary-markers signalled the inheritance of Rome. The frontiers of his transalpine realm were part-political, part-linguistic. Tolls were exacted at key trading-points, and lists of checkpoints were kept by officials, north and south of the Alps, sometimes in well-known black markets. Internal boundaries were well-known and administratively needful. On the empire’s outer edges, boundaries ‘simply shaded off’.

This lecture examines how Charles managed borders and boundaries in four frontier zones. First, central Italy, especially well-documented, showed a mix of clarity and confusion where local borders were concerned. Second, in the middle-Danube zone, some Roman administrative traditions about boundaries remained. Third, Septimania and the Pyrenean marches (marcae) were frontier-zones requiring distance managemnt as well as local networking and surveillance. Fourth, the division of the empire in 806 contributed much to the practice of Charles’s government.

The journal Early Medieval Europe is pleased to sponsor its Annual Lecture at the International Medieval Congress. 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 and the Mediterranean World from the 4th to the 11th centuries inclusive. Further information is available at

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. Please ensure that you arrive as early as possible to avoid disappointment.

Speaker: Jinty Nelson, Department of History, King's College London
Introduction: Roy Flechner, School of History, University College Dublin and Francesca Tinti, Departamento de Historia Medieval, Moderna y de América, Universidad del País Vasco - Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea, Vitoria-Gasteiz