How to take over your area, as seen by Barbero & Vigil

I have already here often argued with or been scornful of Barbero and Vigil’s book La Formación del feudalismo en la Península Ibérica. This has mainly been because of the way their seventy-page chapters swallowed my life for a while there and I don’t want to give the impression that their reputation as scholars was entirely or even mainly faulty: that would be wrong and unfair. By way of an example, and almost the last post coming from the book, I want to mention a guy called Bagauda. That’s interesting in itself, but he was far too well-off to have been interested in rebelling against Imperial rule. Between 914 and 932 in 21 surviving transactions he and his wife Faquilo got hold of an awful lot of property by purchases, getting themselves adopted as heirs, by donations whose reasons we don’t know, and so on. This property then wound up at the monastery of San Toribio de Liébana in Cantabria. The documents seem to have come with and so we have a nice chunky lay archive there about him and his doings.1

Panoramic view of Santo Toribio de Liébana, Cantabria, from Wikimedia Commons

Panoramic view of Santo Toribio de Liébana, Cantabria, from Wikimedia Commons

When Barbero and Vigil wrote Bagauda and Faquilo had been studied, but only in the kind of patrimonial way that such a case might be done; here are some people who got rich, here’s where they had land and how they got it, also what happened to it, sort of thing. Barbero and Vigil however wanted an example of a layman amassing a stranglehold on local power by property acquisition, and therefore sifted more carefully.2 And in the end they found it, good evidence that the people who sold this land became dependents of Bagauda and his wife, their tenants, maybe even their serfs. Now this is, if you stop and think, almost obvious; unless the people move off their land when they sell it, they must only be selling the revenues and thus lose control of those themselves. This was Matthew Innes’s suggestion to me; I matched it, eventually, with evidence from the other end, that we can identify this level of proprietor as such because his or her name comes up as neighbour over a wide area. But he or she can’t be farming these lands him- or herself, not all of them, or living there, which means that there are people who are whom the charters don’t name, who don’t rate a mention.3 And I eventually found that Gaspar Feliu had figured this out a few years before as well.4

Medieval peasants at work

It’s obvious in theory, maybe, but hard to prove in practice. People who sell such land usually disappear from the record, they don’t helpfully turn up as ‘so-and-so now serf of so-and-so’. That they do so disappear is suggestive in itself, perhaps, but there could be lots of reasons. But Barbero and Vigil turned up the evidence we need. One vineyard that Bagauda got he got as compensation in a court case, from Toribio son of Florence and Teudilla, “for that he hid in his house his brother who stole those three cows, one of Egerio, and another of Flaçenço, and a third of Suinito… “.5 Now, why does Bagauda get the compensation if they weren’t his cows, you ask? Well, three of the people who sold land to Bagauda were called Egerio, Flaçenço and Munita.6 Not a perfect match but as the saying nearly goes, ‘two out of three and a strong possibility of scribal error explaining the third ain’t bad’. So the answer to the question would seem to be, because Bagauda is The Man and in particular these guys are now his men because they sold him the land the cows were on and themselves with it. Even if the documents don’t say it, we know that’s what it may have meant and here we can see what that meant in practice.


1. The archive is edited as L. Sánchez Belda (ed.), Cartulario de Santo Toribio de Liébana (Madrid 1948).

2. The earlier work Margarita B. Pontieri, “Una familia de propietarios rurales en la Liébana del siglo X” in Cuadernos de Historia de España Vol. 43-44 (Buenos Aires 1966), pp. 113-144, cited by Abilio Barbero & Marcelo Vigil, La formación del feudalismo en la Península Ibérica, 2nd edn. (Barcelona 1978), p. 377 n. 48, their discussion ibid. pp. 377-380.

3. Matthew Innes, “Land, freedom and the making of the early medieval west” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th series Vol. 16 (Cambridge 2006), pp. 39-73; Jonathan Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis, University of London 2005, pp. 163-164, taken up in greater detail in idem, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (London forthcoming), Chapter 1.

4. Gaspar Feliu, “La pagesia catalana abans de la feudalització” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 26 no. 1 (Barcelona 1996), pp. 19-41, with English summary p. 41 and French résumé p. 40.

5. Sánchez, Cartulario, doc. no. 41, quoted by Barbero & Vigil, Formación, p. 378 n. 49.

6. Sánchez, Cartulario, doc. nos 21, 25 & 36, noted by Barbero & Vigil, Formación, p. 379.

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One response to “How to take over your area, as seen by Barbero & Vigil

  1. Pingback: Building states on the Iberian frontier, I: putting the peasants up front | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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