Signed, sealed, delivered: the arrangement concerning Hispani of 815

Treaties are useful for showing that there were laws, customs and institutions that guided interactions between different communities and political entities, protected the rights and status of people and their goods in foreign lands, and acted as deterrents to future conflict. However, it can also be useful to compare the contents of treaties to other documents dealing with foreign people and their rights and obligations. The arrangement concerning the Hispani (constitutio de Hispanis) of 815, granted by the Emperor Louis the Pious, is one such document, presented here with a draft translation in English.

The arrangement of 815 was one of many issued by Frankish rulers in the late eighth and ninth century to refugees fleeing Muslim Spain, who settled in Septimania and the Spanish March – a trans-Pyrenean region between the Carolingian empire and Muslim-ruled Iberian peninsula.

The arrangement shows many features we find also in treaties from the same period. For instance, the settling of disputes among the Hispani without the involvement of the ruler or his officials. The only exception to this concerned those more serious offences, for which a person could suffer expulsion or some other horrible fate – exactly as we see also in many treaties.

The lands on which these Hispani settled were often waste or less cultivated/settled, and, presumably as a consequence, tended to come free of many taxes and duties that other Franks customarily had to pay. However, Hispani certainly had to fulfil some duties and obligations, including military reconnaissance or guard services. They should also provide supplies and horses for transport to envoys. That is, they were effectively helping the ruler provide some of those safe conducts or safe escorts I have spoken about here.

18th-century engraving of the seal of Louis the Pious, from the Royal Collection RCN 612416

Interestingly, the arrangement further shows that three copies should be deposited in each city where Hispani resided – one for the bishop, one for the count and one for the Hispani themselves. In case, any dispute should arise, Louis also ordered a master copy to be kept in the royal archives in his palace; a practice which is frequently mentioned also in treaties across the whole of the period 700-1200, and which should remind us that the role of the written word within diplomacy is sometimes more important than historians think. Finally, Louis signed the document himself and sealed it with the impression from his seal ring.  The intention with this arrangement then, was truly to have it signed, sealed and delivered to all parties.

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