Geography & Language of the Troubadours
What is now France made up the bulk of the region known as ‘Gaul.” By the 2nd century BC, Celtic France was called Gallia by the Romans, and its people were called Gauls. The peoples of the southwest of France were called the “Aquitani” by the Romans. Under later Roman rule, after 355 C.E., most of Occitania was known as Aquitania, itself part of the Seven Provinces with a wider Provence region than today, while the northern provinces of what is now France were called “Gallia” (Gaul). Gallia Aquitania (or Aquitanica) is thus also a name used since medieval times for Occitania (i.e. Limousin, Auvergne, Languedoc and Gascony), including Provence as well in the early 6th century. In the later stages of the Roman Empire, Gaul was subject to barbarian raids and migration, most importantly by the Germanic Franks, the people of Gaul who merged with the Gallo-Roman populations during succeeding centuries, passing on their name to modern-day France and becoming part of the heritage of the modern French people. Thus the name “France” comes from Latin Francia, which literally means “land of the Franks.” It originally applied to the whole Empire of the Franks, extending from southern France to eastern Germany. Under the reign of the Franks’ Kings Clovis I, Charles Martel, Pepin the Short, and Charlemagne, the country was known as Kingdom of Franks or Francia. The Frankish king Clovis I united most of Gaul under his rule in the late 5th century, setting the stage for Frankish dominance in the region for hundreds of years. Frankish power reached its fullest extent under Charlemagne. Thus, France as nation came into existence when Charlemagne became Emperor in 800 CE. The medieval Kingdom of France emerged from the western part of Charlemagne's Carolingian Empire, known as West Francia, and achieved increasing prominence under the rule of the House of Capet, founded by Hugh Capet in 987. It was known as Aquitanica or the Visigothic Kingdom of Toulouse, before the northern French conquest started in the early 1200s. Gallia Aquitania (or Aquitanica) is thus also a name used since medieval times for Occitania, including Provence as well in the early 6th century. Occitania has been recognized as a linguistic and cultural concept since the Middle Ages, but has never been a legal or a political entity under this name, although the territory was united in Roman times as the Septem Provinciæ and the early Middle Ages. Thus the historic Duchy of Aquitaine must not be confused with the modern French region called Aquitaine: this is the main reason why the term Occitania was revived in the mid-19th century.
The troubadours wrote and sung not in classical Latin, but in the vernacular dialects. As far as pinning down the exactly dialect is concerned, scholars vary on this, depending how where one draws the line between Southern and Northern dialects. It’s complicated, but simply put the vernacular Southern dialects were those of Languedoc and Provence; north of the line were the Limousin and Auvergne Northern dialects. At the present day these dialects have diverged very widely, but in the early middle ages the difference between them was by no means so great. Moreover, a literary language grew up by degrees, owing to the wide circulation of poems and the necessity of using a dialect that could be universally intelligible. Thus scholars hold that it was the Limousin dialect that became, so to speak, the backbone of this literary language, now generally known as Provençal, just as the Tuscan became predominant for literary purposes among the Italian dialects. It was in Limousin that the earliest troubadour lyrics known to us were composed, and this district with the adjacent Poitou and Saintonge may therefore be reasonably regarded as the birthplace of Provençal lyric poetry. In any case, linguists and philologists today, ever since Dante (De vulgari eloquentia—”On the Eloquence of Vernacular”), recognize all these dialects under the designation of “romance languages.”
This issue of language gets rather confusing, since this north-south demarcation actually encompasses what was one cultural-linguistic region of the South of France, then known (an area south of the river Loire) as the Occitan. Furthermore, the main division of language is north and south of the river Loire; two distinct linguistic and cultural areas, with òc language (Occitan) and of the south and the oïl language (medieval version of modern French) of the north, the language that the trouvères (the later northern troubadours) wrote in. In other words, France was then two distinct cultural-linguistic regions. A further confusion for the layman comes in because terms like “Occitan,” “Provençal,” and “Langue d’oc” designate both a language and a region. Simply put, language of the troubadours was Occitan (also known as the langue d’oc, or Provençal); the language of the trouvères was Old French (also known as langue d’oil).
Today, the term “Troubadours of the Provence” is used identify and to locate the home of the troubadours as equal to the entire south of France. By the same token, the term “Provençal” is used to cover the vernacular romance language of the troubadours. However, to be more accurate, the terms “Provence” and “Provençal” are not entirely appropriate to describe the region and the literary language of the troubadours, as they may be restricted to denote only one single region and dialect spoken in what is called “Provincia” or the Provence. (And it should be noted that what divided the north from the south of medieval France is roughly the Loire river. Thus Occitania was demarcated at the Loire River to the north, the Atlantic Ocean at its western boundary, the Mediterranean Sea at its eastern boundary, and the Pyrenees mountains at its southernmost boundary. Aquitania, or Aquitanica, was also the name used since medieval times for Occitania.) The term Provençal is especially misleading given that the earliest of the troubadours all came not from the Provence, but from Poitou and Gascony (provinces of west-central France near Aquitaine), whose dialect was Limousin. It was not in fact until past the middle of the 12th century that we find troubadours in Provence proper.
This difficulty in terminology was felt at an early date. It is a difficulty because the southern region of “Provincia” was in the 12th and 13th centuries only one of at least nine other southern regions of provinces that made up Occitania, which also included (looking at a map from north to south) Poitou, Limousin, Auvergne, Aquitaine, Languedoc or Toulouse, Gascogne, Vavarre, Aragon, Roussillon, and Catalunya (or Catalonia). Occitania was united by a common culture, which used to cross easily the political, constantly moving boundaries. This terminology is all the more confusing, since both the provinces and the dialects have the same names; for instance Occitan and Languedoc denote both.
The first troubadours spoke of their language as roman or lingua romana, a term equally applicable to any other romance language. Lemosin was also used, which was too restricted a term, and was also appropriated by the Catalonians to denote their own dialect. A third term in use was the lingua d’oc, which has the authority of Dante and was used by some of the later troubadours; however, the term “Provençal” has been generally accepted, and must henceforward be understood to denote the literary language common to the south of France and not the dialect of Provence properly so-called. For obvious reasons Southern France during the early middle ages had far outstripped the Northern provinces in art, learning, and the refinements of civilization. Roman culture had made its way into Southern Gaul at an early date and had been readily accepted by the inhabitants, while Marseilles and Narbonne had also known something of Greek civilization.
Occitania has been recognized as a linguistic and cultural concept since the Middle Ages, but has never been a legal nor a political entity under this name, although the territory was united in Roman times as the Septem Provinciæ and the early Middle Ages (Aquitanica or the Visigothic Kingdom of Toulouse) before the northern French conquest started in the early 1200s. Under later Roman rule (after 355 C.E.), most of Occitania was known as Aquitania, itself part of the Seven Provinces with a wider Provence, while the northern provinces of what is now France were called Gallia (Gaul). Gallia Aquitania (or Aquitanica) is thus also a name used since medieval times for Occitania, including Provence as well in the early 6th century. (Thus the historic Duchy of Aquitaine must not be confused with the modern French region called Aquitaine: this is the main reason why the term Occitania was revived in the mid-19th century.)
Occitania was often politically united during the Early Middle Ages, under the Visigothic Kingdom and several Merovingian and Carolingian sovereigns. Charlemagne, in 805, vowed that his empire be partitioned into three autonomous territories according to nationalities and mother tongues: along with the Franco-German and Italian ones, was roughly what is now modern Occitania from the reunion of a broader Provence and Aquitaine. But things didn’t go according to plan, and at the division of the Frankish Empire (c. 9th century C.E.) Occitania was split into different counties, duchies and kingdoms, bishops and abbots, self-governing communes of its walled cities. Since then the country was never politically united again, though Occitania was united by a common culture that used to cross easily the political, constantly moving boundaries. (A good example of this is the southern-eastern province of Occitania, Catalunya or Catalonia, which is now a Spanish province, with its capital of Barcelona. Under Visigothic rule for four centuries after Rome’s collapse, it came under Moorish al-Andalus control in the 8th century. After the defeat of Emir Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi’s troops at Tours in 732, the Franks conquered former Visigoth states that had been captured by the Muslims or had become allied with them in what today is the northernmost part of Catalonia. Charlemagne created in 795 what came to be known as the Marca Hispanica, a buffer zone beyond the province of Septimania made up of locally administered separate petty kingdoms which served as a defensive barrier between the Umayyad Moors of Al-Andalus and the Frankish Kingdom. However, Catalonia was to become politically and culturally linked with Southern France or Occitania, when, in 1137, Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona married Queen Petronila of Aragon, the province to the northwest, establishing the dynastic union of the County of Barcelona with the Kingdom of Aragon that was to create the Crown of Aragon. It was not until 1258, by means of the Treaty of Corbeil, that the king of France formally relinquished his feudal lordship over the counties of the Principality of Catalonia to the king of Aragon James I, descendant of Ramon Berenguer IV. This Treaty transformed the region’s de facto autonomy into a de jure direct Aragonese rule.)
“Occitania” and “Occitan language” (Occitana lingua) appeared in Latin texts from as early as 1242-1254 to 1290 and during the following years of the early 14th century; texts exist in which the area is referred to indirectly as “the country of the Occitan language” (Patria Linguae Occitanae). This derives from the name Lenga d’òc that was used in Italian (Lingua d’òc) by Dante (De vulgari eloquentia) in the late 13th century to denote the vernacular romance language of the troubadours. Occitan or langue d’oc (lenga d’òc) is a Latin-based Romance language in the same way as Spanish, Italian or French. There are six main regional varieties with easy intercomprehension among them: Provençal (including Niçard spoken in the vicinity of Nice), Vivaroalpenc, Auvernhat, Lemosin, Gascon (including Bearnés spoken in Béarn) and Lengadocian. All these varieties of the Occitan language are written and valid. Standard Occitan is a synthesis that respects soft regional adaptations. Catalan is a language very similar to Occitan and there are quite strong historical and cultural links between Occitania and Catalonia. Written texts in Occitan appeared in the 10th century: it was used at once in legal then literary, scientific and religious texts. The spoken dialects of Occitan are centuries older and appeared as soon as the 8th century, at least, revealed in toponyms or in Occitanized words left in Latin manuscripts, for instance. Actually, the terms Lenga d’oc, Occitan, and Occitania appeared at the end of the 13th century. Occitan literature was glorious and flourishing at that time—in the 12th and 13th centuries, the troubadours invented courtly love (fin’amor) and the Lenga d’oc spread throughout all European cultivated circles.
Thus, to speak of “troubadour culture” entails not just the south of France, but also south into Spain (Catalonia) and east into Italy. The earliest lyric poetry of Italy is Provençal in all but language; almost as much may be said of Portugal and Galicia; Catalonian troubadours continued to write in Provençal until the 14th century. The lyric poetry of the trouvères and the romances of Northern France were deeply influenced both in form and spirit by southern troubadour poetry, and traces of this influence are perceptible even in early middle-English lyrics, the most prominent of which being Chaucer’s. Finally, the German minnesingers knew and appreciated troubadour lyrics, and imitations or even translations of Provençal poems may be found German works. Eventually, the troubadours became a pan-European phenomenon and are credited with the birth of modern European poetry.
All this said, the terms “Provence” and “Provençal” have, nevertheless, been generally accepted to locate the region at large of the troubadours and to denote the literary language common to the south of France respectively (and not the dialect of Provence properly so-called). Therefore, it should be kept in mind that when the GS uses these terms he does so only because they have been accepted as normative to describe the geography and language of the troubadours.
Southern France (or the south of France), colloquially known as le Midi, is defined geographical area consisting of the regions of France that border the Atlantic Ocean south of the Gironde, Spain, the Mediterranean, and Italy. The Midi includes:
Rhône-Alpes (southern parts)
This area corresponds in large part to the name for Southern France, Occitania (which has been recognized as a linguistic and cultural concept since the Middle Ages); the territory in which Occitan (langue d'oc—as distinct from the langues d'oïl of Northern France) was historically the dominant language. Thus Occitania is the name given to the area where Occitan, the langue d'oc, was traditionally the first language. It covers almost half of modern France (the Midi–the southern part, excluding the Basque Country and the Roussillon which is Catalon speaking), along with parts of what are now Italy and Spain. The regions of Auvergne and Limousin are also a part of Occitania but are not normally referred to as Southern France. From the Middle Ages onward the French rulers believed their kingdoms had natural borders: the mountains of the Pyrenees and the Alps and the rivers of the Rhine and Loire.
The terms used in this musical essay series for the region of Southern France of the Middle Ages (especially the 12th century) can be confusing. During the Middle Ages, what we know today as France was actually two separate cultural, linguistic, and political territories: Gaul (Francia), in the north and Occitania in the south, which are roughly divided by the great river Loire. Also today, the home of the troubadours is called Provence (thus the popular term “the Troubadours of the Provence”). But this is largely for convenience sake, since the first troubadours were, for the most part, natives of provinces farther north; Poitou, Auvergne, and Limousin. The confusion is compounded by the fact that the southern provinces are also separate linguistic areas, so that such provinces as, for instance, Limousin and Provence are also designations of dialects; Lemosin and Provencal, both dialects of the Occitan (or Langue d'oc) language.
Lengadòc (Occitan word) is a former province of France, now continued in the modern-day regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées in the south of France, and whose capital city was Toulouse, now in Midi-Pyrénées. The province of Languedoc (bordering the Mediterranean Sea on the south and the Rhône River) covered an area of approximately 16,490 sq. miles in the central part of southern France, roughly the region between the Rhône River (border with Provence) and the Garonne River (border with Gascony), extending northwards to the Cévennes and the Massif Central (border with Auvergne). The province of Languedoc took its name from the Romance Provençal language widely spoken in Southern France in the Middle Ages and known as Langue d'oc (oc is Provençal for ‘yes’). Again, the use of the geographical designation Languedoc (separate from the language) can be confusing, since at the time of the troubadours Languedoc was a southeastern province in the political territory or country of Toulouse. But Languedoc can also be synonymous with Occitania, the special culture of all of Southern France.
Occitan language is a Romance language. The French spoken north of the Loire and in France today was known as langue d'oïl (oïl also meaning ‘yes’). Occitan, also called Provençal or Langue d'oc (lenga d'òc), is a Latin-based Romance language in the same way as Spanish, Italian or French. There are six main regional varieties with easy intercomprehension among them: Provençal, Vivaroalpenc, Auvernhat, Lemosin, Gascon and Lengadocian. All these varieties of the Occitan language are written and valid. Standard Occitan is a synthesis that respects soft regional adaptations.
As for the geographical region of Provence in the time of the troubadours, it covered a larger area than today. Thus, it should be kept in mind that when the Provence is used for the home of the troubadours, it is not a designation that is completely accurate, but has come to conventionally represent their geographic and linguistic (Provençal) identity. (See maps on this “Troubadours & Courtly Love” webpage.)