Couriers in Medieval Valencia

This month’s podcast is a double story.  The first narrative is about my recent research into high-speed couriers in the late-medieval period.  It turns out that the city of Valencia (as well as, probably, the king of Aragon and the king of Mallorca) had a group of runners specifically dedicated to transporting their official communication who could travel on foot at crazy speeds.  The fastest trip seemed to be from Valencia to Barcelona and back where the runners could move just shy of seventy miles per day for up to a week.  Imagine that – you could run from Boston to New York City and back in just under a week!  See if you know any friends that want to try that with you.  The second narrative is about how people “do” history.  What does it mean to do research, and how do we sometimes make new discoveries.  This topic is something I discovered quite by accident recently, so it provides a great example of how that happens – and hopefully why it’s kind of awesome.

In the podcast, I mention a couple of external items, the first of which is an image of the runners, taken from the Leges Palatinae used first by Jaume III of Mallorca and then adopted by Pere the Ceremonious of Aragon.  This is an image from the Cod. Lat. 9169 from the Biblioteque Royale de Belgique, folio 45v.  The image is on the lower right column.  You’ll notice that it says “de cursoribus” in red just above and to the right of the miniature (this is the section “on runners”).  It shows the group of runners with the royal crest on their little mail pouches.  They are dressed in what I imagine must be fourteenth century “runners garb.”  I wonder if those tights are linen or wool…

The second thing I mention is how the text actually looks in fourteenth century documents of this type.  Most city or church notaries at this time in the Crown of Aragon wrote in Catalan rather than Latin, although many more official documents (like the Leges above) are still prepared in Latin – it’s mostly these day to day business materials that are in Catalan.  This is what the handwriting generally looked like – see what you think.

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 7.42.59 PM

The last item I mention in the podcast is an interactive map I’ve started that shows some of the routes, how long people took to run those routes, how much they get paid, and a few other interesting details.  Since this is an ongoing research project, the map might expand in the future, but for the moment, it’s a good way to get a sense of how this work progresses.

Recommended food pairing: If you want to feel like a runner, I’m pretty sure they were eating mostly candied fruit and nuts while out on the road, so get a big bag of gorp or the equivalent.  But since this is a sandwich, if you want something more substantial, fix a nice turkey sandwich with some dried apple and cranberry compote or something to go with it – that’s a great sandwich.  The image, appropriately enough, is a big thanksgiving leftover sandwich (turkey, stuffing, cranberry-walnut sauce, also) but made on a giant slab of Pa de pages, a big loaf of Catalan “rustic” bread (de pages literally means “farmer’s bread”).  So yeah, both hefty and dried fruit and nuts.

Bibliography (There’s more in Spanish if anyone is interested):

Ohler, Norbert. The Medieval Traveller. 2nd ed. Boydell & Brewer, 2010.
Braudel, Fernand. The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. Vol. 1. Univ of California Press, 1995.  Especially look at the beginning of Part II – “Distance, the first enemy.”
My initial research on this project was funded by a faculty development grant from Marlboro College

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *