The Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed inland body of water on Earth by area, variously classed as the world’s largest lake or a full-fledged sea. It is in an endorheic basin (it has no outflows) located between Europe and Asia. It is bounded to the northeast by Kazakhstan, to the northwest by Russia, to the west by Azerbaijan, to the south by Iran, and to the southeast by Turkmenistan. The Caspian Sea lies to the east of the Caucasus Mountains and to the west of the vast steppe of Central Asia. Its northern part, the Caspian Depression, is one of the lowest points on Earth. The ancient inhabitants of its coast perceived the Caspian Sea as an ocean, probably because of its saltiness and large size.
The sea has a surface area of (not including its detached lagoon of Garabogazköl Aylagy) and a volume of . It has a salinity of approximately 1.2% (12 g/l), about a third of the salinity of most seawater.
The word Caspian is derived from the name of the Caspi, an ancient people who lived to the south-west of the sea in Transcaucasia. Strabo wrote that “to the country of the Albanians belongs also the territory called Caspiane, which was named after the Caspian tribe, as was also the sea; but the tribe has now disappeared”. Moreover, the Caspian Gates, which is the name of a region in Iran‘s Tehran province, possibly indicates that they migrated to the south of the sea. The Iranian city of Qazvin shares the root of its name with that of the sea. In fact, the traditional Arabic name for the sea itself is Bahr al-Qazwin (Sea of Qazvin).
In classical antiquity among Greeks and Persians it was called the Hyrcanian Ocean. In Persian antiquity, as well as in modern Iran, it is known as the Mazandaran Sea (Persian: دریای مازندران); it is also sometimes referred to as دریای خزر, Daryā-e Xazar in Iran. Ancient Arabic sources refer to it as Baḥr Gīlān (بحر گیلان) meaning “the Gilan Sea”.
Turkic languages refer to the lake as Khazar Sea. For instance, in Turkmen, the name is Hazar deňizi, inAzeri, it is Xəzər dənizi, and in modern Turkish, it is Hazar denizi. In all these cases, the second word simply means “sea”, and the first word refers to the historical Khazars who had a large empire based to the north of the Caspian Sea between the 7th and 10th centuries. An exception is Kazakh, where it is called ,Kaspiy teñizi (Caspian Sea).
Old Russian sources call it the Khvalyn or Khvalis Sea (Хвалынское море / Хвалисское море) after the name of Khwarezmia. In modern Russian, it is called , Kaspiyskoye more.
The Caspian Sea, like the Aral Sea, Black Sea, and Lake Urmia, is a remnant of the ancient Paratethys Sea. It became landlocked about 5.5 million years ago due to tectonic uplift and a fall in sea level. During warm and dry climatic periods, the landlocked sea almost dried up, depositing evaporitic sediments like halite that were covered by wind-blown deposits and were sealed off as an evaporite sink when cool, wet climates refilled the basin. Due to the current inflow of fresh water, the Caspian Sea is a freshwater lake in its northern portions. It is more saline on the Iranian shore, where the catchment basin contributes little flow. Currently, the mean salinity of the Caspian is one third that of Earth’s oceans. The Garabogazköl embayment, which dried up when water flow from the main body of the Caspian was blocked in the 1980s but has since been restored, routinely exceeds oceanic salinity by a factor of 10.
The Caspian Sea is the largest inland body of water in the world and accounts for 40 to 44% of the total lacustrine waters of the world. The coastlines of the Caspian are shared by Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan,Russia, and Turkmenistan. The Caspian is divided into three distinct physical regions: the Northern, Middle, and Southern Caspian. The Northern–Middle boundary is the Mangyshlak Threshold, which runs through Chechen Island and Cape Tiub-Karagan. The Middle–Southern boundary is the Apsheron Threshold, a sill of tectonic origin between the Eurasian continent and an oceanic remnant, that runs through Zhiloi Island and Cape Kuuli. The Garabogazköl Bay is the saline eastern inlet of the Caspian, which is part of Turkmenistan and at times has been a lake in its own right due to the isthmus that cuts it off from the Caspian.
Differences between the three regions are dramatic. The Northern Caspian only includes the Caspian shelf, and is very shallow; it accounts for less than 1% of the total water volume with an average depth of only . The sea noticeably drops off towards the Middle Caspian, where the average depth is .
Over 130 rivers provide inflow to the Caspian, with the Volga River being the largest. A second affluent, the Ural River, flows in from the north, and the Kura River flows into the sea from the west. In the past, the Amu Darya (Oxus) of Central Asia in the east often changed course to empty into the Caspian through a now-desiccated riverbed called the Uzboy River, as did the Syr Darya farther north. The Caspian also has several small islands; they are primarily located in the north and have a collective land area of roughly 2000 km2. Adjacent to the North Caspian is the Caspian Depression, a low-lying region below sea level. The Central Asian steppes stretch across the northeast coast, while the Caucasus mountains hug the western shore. The biomes to both the north and east are characterized by cold, continental deserts. Conversely, the climate to the southwest and south are generally warm with uneven elevation due to a mix of highlands and mountain ranges; the drastic changes in climate alongside the Caspian have led to a great deal of biodiversity in the region.
The Caspian Sea has numerous islands throughout, all of them near the coasts; none in the deeper parts of the sea. Ogurja Ada is the largest island. The island is long, with gazelles roaming freely on it. In the North Caspian, the majority of the islands are small and uninhabited, like the Tyuleniy Archipelago, an Important Bird Area (IBA), although some of them have human settlements.
The Caspian has characteristics common to both seas and lakes. It is often listed as the world’s largest lake, although it is not a freshwater lake. It contains about 3.5 times more water, by volume, than all five of North America’s Great Lakes combined. The Caspian was once part of the Tethys Ocean, but became landlocked about 5.5 million years ago due to plate tectonics. The Volga River (about 80% of the inflow) and the Ural River discharge into the Caspian Sea, but it has no natural outflow other than by evaporation. Thus the Caspian ecosystem is a closed basin, with its own sea level history that is independent of the eustatic level of the world’s oceans. The level of the Caspian has fallen and risen, often rapidly, many times over the centuries. Some Russian historians claim that a medieval rising of the Caspian, perhaps caused by the Amu Darya changing its inflow to the Caspian from the 13th century to the 16th century, caused the coastal towns of Khazaria, such as Atil, to flood. In 2004, the water level was 28 m (92 ft) below sea level.
Over the centuries, Caspian Sea levels have changed in synchrony with the estimated discharge of the Volga, which in turn depends on rainfall levels in its vast catchment basin. Precipitation is related to variations in the amount of North Atlantic depressions that reach the interior, and they in turn are affected by cycles of the North Atlantic Oscillation. Thus levels in the Caspian Sea relate to atmospheric conditions in the North Atlantic thousands of miles to the northwest.
The last short-term sea level cycle started with a sea-level fall of from 1929 to 1977, followed by a rise of from 1977 until 1995. Since then smaller oscillations have taken place.
The Volga River, the largest in Europe, drains 20% of the European land area and is the source of 80% of the Caspian’s inflow. Its lower reaches are heavily developed with numerous unregulated releases of chemical and biological pollutants. Although existing data are sparse and of questionable quality, there is ample evidence to suggest that the Volga is one of the principal sources of transboundary contaminants into the Caspian.
The magnitude of fossil fuel extraction and transport activity in the Caspian also poses a risk to the environment. The island of Vulf off Baku, for example, has suffered ecological damage as a result of the petrochemical industry; this has significantly decreased the number of species of marine birds in the area. Existing and planned oil and gas pipelines under the sea further increase the potential threat to the environment.
Sturgeons, including the beluga sturgeon, the largest freshwater fish in the world, inhabit the Caspian Sea in great numbers and yield roe (eggs) that are processed into caviar. Overfishing has depleted a number of the historic fisheries including the economic exhaustion of the tuna fishery. In recent years overfishing has threatened the sturgeon population to the point that environmentalists advocate banning sturgeon fishing completely until the population recovers. However, the high price of sturgeon caviar allows fisherman to afford bribes to ensure the authorities look the other way, making regulations in many locations ineffective. Caviar harvesting further endangers the fish stocks, since it targets reproductive females.
Reptiles native to the sea include spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca buxtoni) and Horsfield’s tortoise. Although Caspian turtles (Mauremys caspica) distribute in nearby areas, this species is completely adapted for freshwaters.
The area has given its name to several species, including the Caspian gull and the Caspian tern. The Caspian seal (Pusa caspica) is the only aquatic mammal and is endemic to the Caspian Sea, being one of very few seal species that live in inland waters, but is different from those inhabiting freshwaters due to hydrological environment of Caspian Sea. There are several species and subspecies of fish endemic to the Caspian Sea, including the kutum (also known as the Caspian white fish), Caspian marine shad, Caspian roach, Caspian bream (some report that the bream occurring in the Aral Sea is the same subspecies), and a Caspian “salmon” (a subspecies of trout, Salmo trutta caspiensis), which is critically endangered.
Archeological studies of Gobustan petroglyphs indicate that there once had been dolphins and porpoises, or a certain species of beaked whales and a whaling scene indicates of large baleen whales likely being present in Caspian Sea at least until Quaternary period. although the rock art on Kichikdash Mountainassumed to be of a dolphin or of a beaked whale, might instead represent the famous beluga sturgeon due to its size (430 cm in length), but fossil records suggest certain ancestors of modern dolphins and whales, such as Macrokentriodon morani (bottlenose dolphins) and Balaenoptera sibbaldina (blue whales) were presumably larger than their present descendants. From the same artworks, auks, like Brunnich’s Guillemot could also have been in the sea as well, and the existences of current endemic, oceanic species and these petroglyphs suggest marine inflow between the current Caspian Sea and the Arctic ocean or North Sea, or the Black Sea.
Many rare and endemic plant species of Russia are associated with the tidal areas of the Volga delta and riparian forests of the Samur River delta. The shoreline is also a unique refuge for plants adapted to the loose sands of the Central Asian Deserts. The principal limiting factors to successful establishment of plant species are hydrological imbalances within the surrounding deltas, water pollution, and various land reclamation activities. The water level change within the Caspian Sea is an indirect reason for which plants may not get established. This affects aquatic plants of the Volga delta, such as Aldrovanda vesiculosa and the native Nelumbo caspica. About 11 plant species are found in the Samur River delta, including the unique liana forests that date back to the Tertiary period.
The rising level of the Caspian Sea between 1994–96 reduced the number of habitats for rare species of aquatic vegetation. This has been attributed to a general lack of seeding material in newly formed coastal lagoons and water bodies.
The earliest hominid remains found around the Caspian Sea are from Dmanisi dating back to around 1.8 Ma and yielded a number of skeletal remains of Homo erectus or Homo ergaster. More later evidence for human occupation of the region come from a number of caves in Georgia and Azerbaijan such as Kudaro and Azykh Caves. There is evidence for Lower Palaeolithic human occupation south of the Caspian from western Alburz. These are Ganj Par and Darband Cave sites. Neanderthal remains also have been discovered at a cave site in Georgia. Discoveries in the Huto cave and the adjacent Kamarband cave, near the town of Behshahr, Mazandaran south of the Caspian in Iran, suggest human habitation of the area as early as 11,000 years ago.
The Caspian area is rich in energy resources. Wells were being dug in the region as early as the 10th century. By the 16th century, Europeans were aware of the rich oil and gas deposits around the area. English traders Thomas Bannister and Jeffrey Duckett described the area around Baku as “a strange thing to behold, for there issueth out of the ground a marvelous quantity of oil, which serveth all the country to burn in their houses. This oil is black and is called nefte. There is also by the town of Baku, another kind of oil which is white and very precious (i.e., petroleum).”
In the 18th century, during the rule of Peter I the Great, Fedor I. Soimonov, hydrographer and pioneering explorer of the Caspian Sea charted the until then little known body of water. Soimonov drew a set of four maps and wrote the ‘Pilot of the Caspian Sea’, the first report and modern maps of the Caspian, that were published in 1720 by the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Today, oil and gas platforms are abounding along the edges of the sea.
The world’s first offshore wells and machine-drilled wells were made in Bibi-Heybat Bay, near Baku, Azerbaijan. In 1873, exploration and development of oil began in some of the largest fields known to exist in the world at that time on the Absheron peninsula near the villages of Balakhanli, Sabunchi, Ramana and Bibi Heybat. Total recoverable reserves were more than 500 million tons. By 1900, Baku had more than 3,000 oil wells, 2,000 of which were producing at industrial levels. By the end of the 19th century, Baku became known as the “black gold capital”, and many skilled workers and specialists flocked to the city.
By the turn of the 20th century, Baku was the center of international oil industry. In 1920, when the Bolsheviks captured Azerbaijan, all private property – including oil wells and factories – was confiscated. Afterwards, the republic’s entire oil industry came under the control of the Soviet Union. By 1941, Azerbaijan was producing a record 23.5 million tons of oil, and the Baku region supplied nearly 72% of all oil extracted in the entire USSR.
In 1994, the “Contract of the Century” was signed, signaling the start of major international development of the Baku oil fields. The Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline, a major pipeline allowing Azerbaijan oil to flow straight to the TurkishMediterranean port of Ceyhan, opened in 2006.
Many of the islands along the Azerbaijani coast continue to hold significant geopolitical and economic importance because of the potential oil reserves found nearby. Bulla Island, Pirallahı Island, and Nargin, which was used as a former Soviet base and is the largest island in the Baku bay, all hold oil reserves.
The collapse of the USSR and subsequent opening of the region has led to an intense investment and development scramble by international oil companies. In 1998, Dick Cheney commented that “I can’t think of a time when we’ve had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian.”
A key problem to further development in the region is the status of the Caspian Sea and the establishment of the water boundaries among the five littoral states. The current disputes along Azerbaijan’s maritime borders with Turkmenistan and Iran could potentially affect future development plans.
Much controversy currently exists over the proposed Trans-Caspian oil and gas pipelines. These projects would allow Western markets easier access to Kazakh oil and, potentially, Uzbek and Turkmen gas as well. Russia officially opposes the project on environmental grounds. However, analysts note that the pipelines would bypass Russia completely, thereby denying the country valuable transit fees, as well as destroying its current monopoly on westward-bound hydrocarbon exports from the region. Recently, both Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have expressed their support for the Trans-Caspian Pipeline.
U.S. diplomatic cables disclosed by WikiLeaks revealed that BP covered up a gas leak and blowout incident in September 2008 at an operating gas field in the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshi area of the Azerbaijan Caspian Sea.
Negotiations related to the demarcation of the Caspian Sea had been going on for nearly a decade among the states bordering the Caspian – Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran. The status of the Caspian Sea is the key problem. Access to mineral resources (oil and natural gas), access for fishing, and access to international waters (through Russia’s Volga river and the canals connecting it to the Black Sea and Baltic Sea) all depend upon the outcomes of negotiations. Access to the Volga River is particularly important for the landlocked states of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. This concerns Russia, because the potential traffic would utilise its inland waterways. If a body of water is labeled as a sea, then there would be some precedents and international treaties obliging the granting of access permits to foreign vessels. If a body of water is labeled merely as a lake, then there are no such obligations. Environmental issues are also somewhat connected to the status and borders issue.
All five Caspian littoral states maintain naval forces on the sea.
According to a treaty signed between Iran and the Soviet Union, the Caspian Sea is technically a lake and was divided into two sectors (Iranian and Soviet), but the resources (then mainly fish) were commonly shared. The line between the two sectors was considered an international border in a common lake, like Lake Albert. The Soviet sector was sub-divided into the four littoral republics’ administrative sectors.
Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan have bilateral agreements with each other based on median lines. Because of their use by the three nations, median lines seem to be the most likely method of delineating territory in future agreements. However, Iran insists on a single, multilateral agreement between the five nations (as this is the only way for it to achieve a one-fifth share of the sea). Azerbaijan is at odds with Iran over some oil fields that both states claim. Occasionally, Iranian patrol boats have fired at vessels sent by Azerbaijan for exploration into the disputed region. There are similar tensions between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan (the latter claims that the former has pumped more oil than agreed from a field, recognized by both parties as shared).
The Caspian littoral states’ meeting in 2007 signed an agreement that bars any ship not flying the national flag of a littoral state from entering the sea.
Although the Caspian Sea is endorheic, its main tributary, the Volga, is connected by important shipping canals with the Don River (and thus the Black Sea) and with the Baltic Sea, with branch canals to Northern Dvina and to the White Sea.
- a line between Türkmenbaşy, Turkmenistan (formerly Krasnovodsk) and Baku.
- a line between Baku and Aktau.
- several lines between cities in Iran and Russia.
The ferries are mostly used for cargo, only the Baku – Aktau and Baku – Türkmenbaşy routes accept passengers.
As an endorheic basin, the Caspian Sea basin has no natural connection with the ocean. Since the medieval period, traders reached the Caspian via a number of portages that connected the Volga and its tributaries with the Don (which flows into the Sea of Azov) and various rivers that flow into the Baltic. Primitive canals connecting the Volga Basin with the Baltic have been constructed as early as the early 18th century; since then, a number of canal projects have been completed. The two modern canal systems connecting the Volga basin with the ocean are the Volga–Baltic Waterway and the Volga–Don Canal.
The proposed Pechora-Kama Canal was a project that was widely discussed between the 1930s and 1980s. Shipping was a secondary consideration; its main goal was to redirect some of the water of the Pechora River (which flows into the Arctic Ocean) via the Kama into the Volga. The goals were both irrigation and stabilizing the water level in the Caspian, which was thought to be falling dangerously fast at the time. In 1971 some construction experiments were conducted using nuclear explosions.
In June 2007, in order to boost his oil-rich country’s access to markets, Kazakhstan‘s President Nursultan Nazarbaev proposed a link between the Caspian and Black seas. It is hoped that the “Eurasia Canal” (Manych Ship Canal) would transform landlocked Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries into maritime states, enabling them to significantly increase trade volume. Although the canal would traverse Russian territory, it would benefit Kazakhstan through its Caspian Sea ports. The most likely route for the canal, the officials at the Committee on Water Resources at Kazakhstan’s Agriculture Ministry say, would follow the Kuma-Manych Depression, where currently a chain of rivers and lakes is already connected by an irrigation canal (Kuma-Manych Canal). Upgrading the Volga–Don Canal would be another option.
- Baku Oil Fields
- Caspian people
- Ekranoplan, a ground effect plane which was developed on the Caspian Sea.
- Epoch of Extremal Inundations
- Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea
- Shah Deniz gas field
- South Caucasus pipeline
- Southern Gas Corridor
- Tengiz Field
- Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline
- Trans-Caspian Oil Pipeline
- Names of the Caspian Sea
- Caspian Sea Region
- Target: Caspian Sea Oil John Robb, 2004
- Dating Caspian sea level changes
- Caspian Sea Is Dying
Original article: http://goo.gl/C6Vqpr
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Alcuin of York (Latin: Alcuinus, c. 735 – 19 May 804), also called Ealhwine, Albinus or Flaccus, was an English scholar, ecclesiastic, poet and teacher from York, Northumbria. He was born around 735 and became the student of Archbishop Ecgbert at York. At the invitation of Charlemagne, he became a leading scholar and teacher at the Carolingian court, where he remained a figure in the 780s and 790s. He wrote many theological and dogmatic treatises, as well as a few grammatical works and a number of poems. He was made Abbot of Tours in 796, where he remained until his death. “The most learned man anywhere to be found”, according to Einhard‘s Life of Charlemagne, he is considered among the most important architects of the Carolingian Renaissance. Among his pupils were many of the dominant intellectuals of the Carolingian era.
Alcuin was born in Northumbria, presumably sometime in the 730s. Virtually nothing is known of his parents, family background, or origin. In common hagiographical fashion, the Vita Alcuini asserts that Alcuin was ‘of noble English stock,’ and this statement has usually been accepted by scholars. Alcuin’s own work only mentions such collateral kinsmen as Wilgils, father of the missionary saint Willibrord; and Beornred, abbot of Echternach and bishop of Sens, who was more distantly related. In his Life of St Willibrord, Alcuin writes that Wilgils, called a paterfamilias, had founded an oratory and church at the mouth of the Humber, which had fallen into Alcuin’s possession by inheritance. Because in early Anglo-Latin writing paterfamilias (“head of a family, householder”) usually referred to a ceorl, Donald A. Bullough suggests that Alcuin’s family was ofcierlisc status: i.e., free but subordinate to a noble lord, and that Alcuin and other members of his family rose to prominence through beneficial connections with the aristocracy. If so, Alcuin’s origins may lie in the southern part of what was formerly known as Deira.
The young Alcuin came to the cathedral church of York during the golden age of Archbishop Ecgbert and his brother, the Northumbrian King Eadberht. Ecgbert had been a disciple of the Venerable Bede, who urged him to raise York to an archbishopric. King Eadberht and Archbishop Ecgbert oversaw the re-energising and re-organisation of the English church, with an emphasis on reforming the clergy and on the tradition of learning that Bede had begun. Ecgbert was devoted to Alcuin, who thrived under his tutelage.
The York school was renowned as a centre of learning in the liberal arts, literature, and science, as well as in religious matters. It was from here that Alcuin drew inspiration for the school he would lead at the Frankishcourt. He revived the school with the trivium and quadrivium disciplines, writing a codex on the trivium, while his student Hraban wrote one on the quadrivium.
Alcuin graduated to become a teacher during the 750s. His ascendancy to the headship of the York school, the ancestor of St Peter’s School, began after Aelbert became Archbishop of York in 767. Around the same time Alcuin became a deacon in the church. He was never ordained as a priest and there is no real evidence that he became an actual monk, but he lived his life as one.
In 781, King Elfwald sent Alcuin to Rome to petition the Pope for official confirmation of York’s status as an archbishopric and to confirm the election of the new archbishop, Eanbald I. On his way home he met Charlemagne (whom he had met once before), this time in the Italian city of Parma.
Alcuin’s intellectual curiosity allowed him to be reluctantly persuaded to join Charlemagne’s court. He joined an illustrious group of scholars that Charlemagne had gathered around him, the mainsprings of theCarolingian Renaissance: Peter of Pisa, Paulinus of Aquileia, Rado, and Abbot Fulrad. Alcuin would later write that “the Lord was calling me to the service of King Charles.”
He was welcomed at the Palace School of Charlemagne in Aachen (Urbs Regale) in 782. It had been founded by the king’s ancestors as a place for the education of the royal children (mostly in manners and the ways of the court). However, Charlemagne wanted to include the liberal arts and, most importantly, the study of the religion. From 782 to 790, Alcuin taught Charlemagne himself, his sons Pepin and Louis, the young men sent to be educated at court, and the young clerics attached to the palace chapel. Bringing with him from York his assistants Pyttel, Sigewulf, and Joseph, Alcuin revolutionised the educational standards of the Palace School, introducing Charlemagne to the liberal arts and creating a personalised atmosphere of scholarship and learning, to the extent that the institution came to be known as the ‘school of Master Albinus’.
In this role as adviser, he tackled the emperor over his policy of forcing pagans to be baptised on pain of death, arguing, “Faith is a free act of the will, not a forced act. We must appeal to the conscience, not compel it by violence. You can force people to be baptised, but you cannot force them to believe.” His arguments seem to have prevailed – Charlemagne abolished the death penalty for paganism in 797.
Charlemagne was a master at gathering the best men of every land in his court. He himself became far more than just the king at the centre. It seems that he made many of these men his closest friends and counsellors. They referred to him as ‘David’, a reference to the Biblical king David. Alcuin soon found himself on intimate terms with Charlemagne and the other men at court, where pupils and masters were known by affectionate and jesting nicknames. Alcuin himself was known as ‘Albinus’ or ‘Flaccus’. While at Aachen, Alcuin bestowed pet names upon his pupils – derived mainly from Virgil‘s Eclogues.
In 790 Alcuin returned from the court of Charlemagne to England, to which he had remained attached. He dwelt there for some time, but Charlemagne then invited him back to help in the fight against the Adoptionistheresy which was at that time making great progress in Toledo, the old capital of the Visigoths and still a major city for the Christians under Islamic rule in Spain. He is believed to have had contacts with Beatus of Liébana, from the Kingdom of Asturias, who fought against Adoptionism. At the Council of Frankfurt in 794, Alcuin upheld the orthodox doctrine against the views expressed by Felix of Urgel, an heresiarch according to the Catholic Encyclopaedia. Having failed during his stay in Northumbria to influence King Æthelred in the conduct of his reign, Alcuin never returned home.
He was back at Charlemagne’s court by at least mid-792, writing a series of letters to Æthelred, to Hygbald, Bishop of Lindisfarne, and to Æthelhard, Archbishop of Canterbury in the succeeding months, dealing with the Viking attack on Lindisfarne in July 793. These letters and Alcuin’s poem on the subject, De clade Lindisfarnensis monasterii, provide the only significant contemporary account of these events. In his description of the Viking attack, he wrote: “Never before has such terror appeared in Britain. Behold the church of St Cuthbert, splattered with the blood of God’s priests, robbed of its ornaments.”
In 796 Alcuin was in his sixties. He hoped to be free from court duties and was given the chance upon the death of Abbot Itherius of Saint Martin at Tours, when Charlemagne put Marmoutier Abbey into Alcuin’s care, with the understanding that he should be available if the king ever needed his counsel.
Alcuin died on 19 May 804, some ten years before the emperor, and was buried at St. Martin’s Church under an epitaph that partly read:
Dust, worms, and ashes now …
Alcuin my name, wisdom I always loved,
Pray, reader, for my soul.
The majority of details on Alcuin’s life come from his letters and poems. There are also autobiographical sections in Alcuin’s poem on York and in the Vita Alcuini, a Life written for him at Ferrières in the 820s, possibly based in part on the memories of Sigwulf, one of Alcuin’s pupils.
Carolingian Renaissance Figure and Legacy
The collection of mathematical and logical word problems entitled Propositiones ad acuendos juvenes (“Problems to Sharpen Youths”) is sometimes attributed to Alcuin. In a 799 letter to Charlemagne the scholar claimed to have sent “certain figures of arithmetic for the joy of cleverness,” which some scholars have identified with the Propositiones. The text contains about 53 mathematical word problems (with solutions), in no particular pedagogical order. Among the most famous of these problems are: four that involve river crossings, including the problem of three anxious brothers, each of whom has an unmarried sister whom he cannot leave alone with either of the other men lest she be defiled (Problem 17); the problem of the wolf, goat, and cabbage (Problem 18); and the problem of “the two adults and two children where the children weigh half as much as the adults” (Problem 19). Alcuin’s sequence is the solution to one of the problems of that book.
Alcuin made the abbey school into a model of excellence and many students flocked to it. He had many manuscripts copied using outstandingly beautiful calligraphy, the Carolingian minuscule based on round and legible uncial letters. He wrote many letters to his English friends, to Arno, bishop of Salzburg and above all to Charlemagne. These letters (of which 311 are extant) are filled mainly with pious meditations, but they form an important source of information as to the literary and social conditions of the time and are the most reliable authority for the history of humanism during the Carolingian age. Alcuin trained the numerous monks of the abbey in piety, and it was in the midst of these pursuits that he died.
Alcuin is the most prominent figure of the Carolingian Renaissance, in which three main periods have been distinguished: in the first of these, up to the arrival of Alcuin at the court, the Italians occupy a central place; in the second, Alcuin and the Anglo-Saxons are dominant; in the third (from 804), the influence of Theodulf, the Visigoth is preponderant.
Alcuin also developed manuals used in his educational work – a grammar and works on rhetoric anddialectics. These are written in the form of dialogues, and in two of them the interlocutors are Charlemagne and Alcuin. He wrote several theological treatises: a De fide Trinitatis, and commentaries on the Bible. Alcuin is credited with inventing the first known question mark, though it didn’t resemble the modern symbol.
Alcuin transmitted to the Franks the knowledge of Latin culture which had existed in Anglo-Saxon England. A number of his works still exist. Besides some graceful epistles in the style of Venantius Fortunatus, he wrote some long poems, and notably he is the author of a history (in verse) of the church at York, Versus de patribus, regibus et sanctis Eboracensis ecclesiae.
Passages in Alcuin’s writings have been seen to exhibit homosocial desire, possibly even homoerotic imagery. David Clark suggests it is not possible to determine whether Alcuin’s homosocial desires were the result of an outward expression of erotic feelings. Historian John Boswell cited this as a personal outpouring of Alcuin’s internalized homosexual feelings. Others agree that Alcuin at times “comes perilously close to communicating openly his same sex desires”, and this reflects the erotic subculture of the Carolingian monastic school, but also perhaps a ‘queer space’ where “erotic attachment and affections may be safely articulated”. Erotic and religious love are intertwined in Alcuin’s writings, and he frequently “eroticizes his personal relationships to his beloved friends”. Alcuin’s friendships also extended to the ladies of the court, especially the queen mother and the king’s daughters, though his relationships with these women never reached the intense level of those of the men around him.
However, the interpretation of homosexual desire has been disputed by Allen Frantzen who identifies Alcuin’s language with that of medieval Christian amicitia or friendship. Karl Liersch, in his 1880 inaugural dissertation, cites several passages from poems by Theodulf of Orleans. In these poems Theodulf reports that Alcuin had a female muse named Delia in the king’s court (she was probably Charlemagne’s daughter). Delia is also the addresse of several poems by Alcuin.
David Dales and Rowan Williams say “the use of language drawn from the Song of Songs transforms apparently erotic language into something within Christian friendship – ‘an ordained affection’.”
Nevertheless, despite inconclusive evidence of Alcuin’s personal passions, he was clear in his own writings that the men of Sodom had been punished with fire for “sinning against nature with men”. Such sins, argued Alcuin, were more serious than lustful acts with women, for which the earth was cleansed and revivified by the water of the Flood, and merit to be “withered by flames unto eternal barrenness.”
For a complete census of Alcuin’s works, see Marie-Hélène Jullien and Françoise Perelman, eds., Clavis scriptorum latinorum medii aevi: Auctores Galliae 735–987. Tomus II: Alcuinus. Turnhout: Brepols, 1999.
- Carmina, ed. Ernst Dümmler, MGH Poetae Latini aevi Carolini I. Berlin: Weidmann, 1881. 160–351.
- Godman, Peter, tr., Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1985. 118–49.
- Stella, Francesco, tr., comm., La poesia carolingia, Firenze: Le Lettere, 1995, pp. 94–96, 152–161, 266–267, 302–307, 364–371, 399–404, 455–457, 474–477, 503–507.
- Isbell, Harold, tr.. The Last Poets of Imperial Rome. Baltimore: Penguin, 1971.
- Poem on York, Versus de patribus, regibus et sanctis Eboracensis ecclesiae, ed. and tr. Peter Godman, De pontificibus et sanctis Ecclesiae Eboracensis, The Bishops, Kings, and Saints of York.Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982.
- De clade Lindisfarnensis monasterii, “On the destruction of the monastery of Lindisfarne” (Carmen 9, ed. Dümmler, pp. 229–35.)
Epistolae (Letters) Of Alcuin’s letters, just over 310 have survived.
- Epistolae, ed. Ernst Dümmler, MGH Epistolae IV.2. Berlin: Weidmann, 1895. 1–493.
- Jaffé, Philipp, Ernst Dümmler, and W. Wattenbach, eds. Monumenta Alcuiniana. Berlin: Weidmann, 1873. 132–897.
- Chase, Colin, ed. Two Alcuin Letter-books. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1975.
- Allott, Stephen, tr. Alcuin of York, c. AD 732 to 804. His life and letters. York: William Sessions, 1974.
- Sturgeon, Thomas G., tr. The Letters of Alcuin: Part One, the Aachen Period (762–796). Harvard University Ph.D. Thesis, 1953.
- Ars grammatica. PL 101: 854–902.
- De orthographia, ed. H. Keil, Grammatici Latini VII, 1880. 295–312; ed. Sandra Bruni, Alcuino de orthographia. Florence: SISMEL, 1997.
- De dialectica. PL 101: 950–76.
- Disputatio regalis et nobilissimi juvenis Pippini cum Albino scholastico “Dialogue of Pepin, the Most Noble and Royal Youth, with the Teacher Albinus”, ed. L.W. Daly and W. Suchier, Altercatio Hadriani Augusti et Epicteti Philosophi. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1939. 134–46; ed. Wilhelm Wilmanns, “Disputatio regalis et nobilissimi juvenis Pippini cum Albino scholastico.” Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum 14 (1869): 530–55, 562.
- Disputatio de rhetorica et de virtutibus sapientissimi regis Carli et Albini magistri, ed. and tr. Wilbur Samuel Howell, The Rhetoric of Alcuin and Charlemagne. New York: Russell and Russell, 1965 (1941); ed. C. Halm, Rhetorici Latini Minores. Leipzig: Teubner, 1863. 523–50.
- De virtutibus et vitiis (moral treatise dedicated to Count Wido of Brittany, 799 x 800). PL 101: 613–639 (transcript available online). A new critical edition is being prepared for the Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Medievalis.
- De animae ratione (ad Eulaliam virginem) (written for Gundrada, Charlemagne’s cousin). PL 101: 639–50.
- De Cursu et Saltu Lunae ac Bissexto, astronomical treatise. PL 101: 979–1002.
- (?) Propositiones ad acuendos iuvenes, ed. Menso Folkerts, “Die alteste mathematische Aufgabensammlung in lateinischer Sprache: Die Alkuin zugeschriebenen Propositiones ad acuendos iuvenes; Überlieferung, Inhalt, Kritische Edition,” in idem, Essays on Early Medieval Mathematics: The Latin Tradition. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003.
- Compendium in Canticum Canticorum: Alcuino, Commento al Cantico dei cantici – con i commenti anonimi Vox ecclesie e Vox antique ecclesie, ed. Rossana Guglielmetti, Firenze, SISMEL 2004
- Quaestiones in Genesim. PL 100: 515–66.
- De Fide Sanctae Trinitatis et de Incarnatione Christi; Quaestiones de Sancta Trinitate ed. E. Knibbs & E. Ann Matter (Corpus Christianorum – Continuatio Mediaevalis 249: Brepols, 2012)
- Vita II Vedastis episcopi Atrebatensis. Revision of the earlier Vita Vedastis by Jonas of Bobbio.Patrologia Latina 101: 663–82.
- Vita Richarii confessoris Centulensis. Revision of an earlier anonymous life. MGH Scriptores Rerum Merovingicarum 4: 381–401.
- Vita Willibrordi archiepiscopi Traiectensis, ed. W. Levison, Passiones vitaeque sanctorum aevi Merovingici. MGH Scriptores Rerum Merovingicarum 7: 81–141.