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Many more documents survive from the early Middle Ages than from the Roman Empire. Although ecclesiastical archives may account for the dramatic increase in the number of surviving documents, this new investigation reveals the scale and spread of documentary culture beyond the Church. The contributors explore the nature of the surviving documentation without preconceptions to show that we cannot infer changing documentary practices from patterns of survival. Throughout Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages - from North Africa, Egypt, Italy, Francia and Spain to Anglo-Saxon England - people at all social levels, whether laity or clergy, landowners or tenants, farmers or royal functionaries, needed, used and kept documents. The story of documentary culture in the early medieval world emerges not as one of its capture by the Church, but rather of a response adopted by those who needed documents, as they reacted to a changing legal, social and institutional landscape.
The convenientia played a central role in the organization of Catalan society from the beginning of the eleventh century to the end of the twelfth, but its origins are to be found earlier and farther afield, in early medieval notarial traditions. The near total absence of documents from the Visigothic kingdom, however, precludes a demonstration of the direct influence of earlier traditions, whether indigenous or external, on the eleventh-century Catalan scribes who first composed convenientiae. The documentary context in which this form first appeared was particularly rich and, by the 1020s, increasingly fluid. Toward the end of the tenth century, the strict adherence of scribes to formulae, such as those found in the highly influential formulary of Santa Maria de Ripoll, began to break down. This development was perhaps connected to the disruption caused by the sack of Barcelona in 985, but whatever the precise reason for the change, scribes began to use new terms in standard types of documents and to create entirely new documentary types. Formally, the convenientia evolved from documents concerning conditional grants, the settlement of disputes, oaths of fidelity, and castle-holding agreements.
This understanding of the development of the convenientia, rather than simply the observation of its appearance, allows for a more sophisticated model of the connections between words written on parchment and the institutions that inspired those words.
Making agreements is one thing; keeping them is another. We are much less well informed about this second aspect of the process. Individual cases did end up in courts or other dispute-settlement fora that have left records, and here we can see an enforcement mechanism at work. Such cases are, however, few and far between, and furthermore only show that certain agreements failed. What about those agreements that worked, or at least did not break down to the point where they generated a record of a dispute? How were agreements kept? The agreements themselves give indications. Some convenientiae contain simple penalty clauses, though others address the issue of guarantees at great length, as was the case in the convenientia between Berenguer Ramon I and Ermengol II of c. 1021. Parties proposed various types of real and personal sureties, and they detailed procedures to be followed in case of violations. The threat of these sanctions certainly played a role in encouraging adherence to agreements, but sanctions are, like dispute-settlement procedures, negative factors, potential consequences of a change in the status of the agreement. Other factors contributed to the maintenance of agreements in a less mechanical fashion. The oath is one such element; we must revisit its relationship to the convenientia in order to understand more fully the nature of agreements. The written word is another, for the very inscription of the convenientia on parchment was a part of the process of making sure that it would be kept.