MY FOCUS IN this paper is two-fold: the uses of memory, and the problems of the relationship between memory and written records of memory in the early middle ages. Particular memories can also be exploited to reinforce an identity or even an ideology. We are all used to everyday journalism and spin as well as the supposed distinction between official and popular versions of history. All these raise the questions of collective and individual manifestations and uses of memory. One question to explore therefore is how helpful modern experience and categorizations may be in interpreting the distant past. I shall use case studies of historical narratives and epitaphs inscribed on stone from the early Middle Ages (ca. 500 to ca. 900) to highlight both the kind of material with which an early medieval historian works, and its implications for historical knowledge and interpretation more generally.
Flodoard of Reims and the Gate of Mars
Crucial issues about the uses of memory and the relation between memory and written, especially narrative, records of memory, can be demonstrated with two comments made by the tenth-century Frankish historian Flodoard. In his Annales, begun ca. 920, Flodoard casually mentions the Gate of Mars to make it serve as a reference point to locate the nearby church of St. Hilary where a blind man had miraculously had his sight restored. In Flodoard's History of Reims written ca. 950, however, the gate assumed greater significance. In this text Flodoard traced the history of the see of Reims from Sixtus, the first bishop of Reims, allegedly sent by St. Peter to northern Gaul. He further augmented the antiquity of the city and its secular Roman associations by discussing the city's foundation. He rejected the vulgata opinio that the city had been founded by Remus, brother of Romulus, as unlikely, and drew on his knowledge of Livy's “History of Rome” (Ab urbe condita) to support his judgement.
One thing that may have prompted the vulgata opinio was the relief sculpture of the twins Romulus and Remus being suckled by the wolf, the quintessential symbol of the city of Rome, on the underside of the arch.