Tag Archives: Galicia

Expressions of Hispanist medevalist community, in Exeter

We seem now to be firmly into June 2013 in my never-decreasing backlog of reporting, and next up in it was a day out to Exeter, somewhere I hadn’t been for a long time but which called me now for the same reason as it often has before, a gathering of the intermittent organisation known as Historians of Medieval Iberia. The main reason this had occurred was the presence in the UK of a man much cited here, Professor Jeffrey Bowman, visiting Exeter, because of which Professor Simon Barton thereof had wanted to organise a day symposium, and so being called we variously went. Due to the uselessnesses of First Great Western trains, I was only just in time for the first paper, but in time I was, and the running order was as follows, in pairs of papers.

  • Jeffrey A. Bowman, “Lordship and Gender in Medieval Catalonia”
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “Per multa curricula ex parte destructa: membership of a Church community in Catalonia c. 1000″
  • Robert Portass, “Doing Business: was there a land market in tenth-century Galicia?”
  • Teresa Tinsley, “Hernando de Baeza and the End of Multicultural Iberia”
  • Graham Barrett, “Beyond the Mozarabic Migration: frontier society in early medieval Spain”
  • Simon Barton, “The Image of Aristocracy in Christian Iberia, c. 1000-c. 1300: towards a new history”

Professor Bowman’s paper is now out as an article, but some brief account may be of interest anyway.1 The way it worked was to do what I love doing, standing Catalonia up as a better-evidenced counter-example to a broader theory, in this case that of Georges Duby that female lordship as early as the tenth century was an incredibly rare occurrence seen as a pale imitation of masculinity. To do this involved setting up some kind of definition of lordship, which Professor Barton suggested should at least include fighting, doing justice, controlling castles, diplomacy and ‘special projects’. Women with military rôles are not unknown in the Catalan records (wait for a future post here, as I think the phenomenon goes down lower than Professor Bowman had time to look), countesses in the eleventh century at least certainly presided over courts alone, a good few held castles in fief (or by other arrangements2), we have various Arabic testimonies to the countesses of Barcelona being conduits for diplomatic communication and under ‘special projects’, if we mean things like land clearance, Abbess Emma is an obvious example.3

Seal of Countess Ermessenda of Barcelona, Girona and Osona in the Museu Diocesà de Girona

Seal of Countess Ermessenda of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, a woman who would not give up government till there was no choice, in the Museu Diocesà de Girona

So that case looks pretty much made: in this area, for that definition of lordship (and it does occur to me now that it is a very tenth-century-and-later one because of the inclusion of castles, though one could still say the same of Dhuoda I guess), it’s hard to see anything odd about female participation in lordship here and we should stop thinking it odd. And I suppose I’d agree with that, and not necessarily just here (another future post) but there does still seem to me to be a difference, in the Languedoc at least where the ninth century gives enough to compare with, between the rôles in and frequency with which women appear in charters, especially as far as their titles go, to suggest that even if this situation wasn’t odd, it might still be new. It did, however, last: Professor Bowman was keen to stress in questions that those who have looked for a shift towards a lineage system here have found it hard to locate over any timeframe much shorter than a century.4

Sant Pere de Casserres, from above

Sant Pere de Casserres, from above

As for me, little enough needs saying there: in the throes of another project entirely and with no time to come up with two papers so close to each other from it, I’d offered the latest version of the now-legendary Sant Pere de Casserres paper; I ran through where the place is, what the sources are, why there’s a problem with the narrative of its foundation and what the actual story might be that would fit it; Graham Barrett suggested some modifications to my Latin and then the questions were all for Professor Bowman, which is fine as he was building a much bigger thesis. One of my problems with the Casserres paper is working out what larger point it makes; the other, of course, is non-responsive archives, but that’s a bigger problem than just here…

The monastery of San Salvador de Celanova in its modern form

The monastery of San Salvador de Celanova in its modern form

The second session put two rather less-connected papers together. Rob was out to demonstrate peasant access to the land market in his corner of early medieval Spain, which has often been overlooked because the dominant Spanish historiography interested in peasants has been more interested in how they resisted power than how they cooperated with it.5 This Marxist perspective needs rethinking, argued Rob, not least because many of these peasants did not live in the Marxist ‘peasant mode’, but operated in both vertical and horizontal networks of power and assistance. Even when those networks led to the monastery of Celanova, whence most of Rob’s material, it was not always to peasant disadvantage to cut a deal with the monks, whose rents were limited, and the land that was then sold to them had often come from other peasants previously. The problem here is of course the definition of peasant, but I think I would agree that whatever we call the free smallholders here they could happily do business with each other, and do so with an eye to their own benefit.6

The Alhambra palace in Granada

The Alhambra palace in Granada, now very keen to be widely known as a World Heritage site

Miss Tinsley’s paper came from a completely different place, sixteenth-century Granada, where one Hernando de Baeza, a Christian interpreter for the last lords of the Muslim state there, was writing a history of recent events. This man is almost exactly the author a multicultural twenty-first century reading of events at the end of Muslim rule in Spain wants: his sources included Africans and women, he spoke all the necessary languages and about the only minority group he doesn’t mention is Jews, but the work was only published in the nineteenth century, from two incomplete manuscripts and is consequently confused and disordered in structure, which with its anecdotal style has left it out of most serious historiography. There is now, however, a recently-discovered complete manuscript to work from (which a Mexican archbishop had made in 1550 to help with converting native Americans!) and this offers more details with which the author’s life can be filled out. He seems to have been an ambassador to the papal court for Queen Isabella, briefly papal chamberlain and a protector of Jews, but whom King Ferdinand however booted out of his offices and whose parents had been burnt by the Inquisition! He seems to have written his history in Rome, a disenchanted man. He may therefore have been attempting something like a dream past of late medieval inclusion, before intolerance and persecution wrecked everything for him and his family. Again, just what we might wish but correspondingly slippery to deal with! This all sounded tremendous fun and I hope Miss Tinsley can make the man’s name better-known, although it transpired in questions that she is dealing with a recalcitrant editor of the manuscript who is being very careful what details he lets her have. That sounded dreadfully familiar, alas…

A Leonese royal charter of 860

A Leonese royal charter of 860

Then came Graham Barrett, who was speaking on those curious populations in the frontier Christian polities of tenth-century Spain whose personal names were Arabic, about whom I’ve spoken myself once or twice, including at an earlier Historians of Medieval Iberia gathering, pre-blog. As that suggests, I had given up trying to get my work on this published before Graham had arrived in England to start his Ph. D., but also in the room was Professor Richard Hitchcock, who was fairly sparing about the absence of his more successful work from the presentation…7 I found it hard to rate this paper neutrally, anyway, it was much too close to my own fruitless sidetracks of yore. Graham’s take on things is always original, however, and he knows the documents far better than me, so there were new thoughts available. In particular he raised the possibility that lots of the relevant documents might be forged, although why one would then put Arabic names into them (and the same names over quite an area, I’d note) is hard to explain.8 He also correctly pointed out that migration of southerners was not necessary to explain these names and that they themselves were not evidence of ethnicity or even cultural affiliation,9 but that they might usefully be mapped against other markers of that, if any could be agreed. There’s definitely a project here, but I suspect that in fact neither of us will be the ones who do it as we both have easier things to attempt…

Brass plate bearing the arms of the Lara family

Brass plate bearing the arms of the Lara family

Lastly our host, Simon Barton, asked whether the approximate synthesis to which historians of North-Western Europe seem now to have come about the medieval aristocracy applies in the Midi.10 Most study of the Spanish nobility has been of families, rather than of a class, but Simon argued that a class identity can be seen in formation after about 1050, with a hierarchy of aristocratic rank, heraldry and literature all developing to emphasise it. He suggested that these markers were developing not so much as spontaneous expression of ideals but as tests that helped mark people off from their imitators, which exposes the ideals in play to us in negative. This was a good wrap-up to a good day that refreshed a realisation for us that even if it’s thinly spread and uncertain of duration, nonetheless there is still a medieval Iberian scholarship in the UK and we’re all active parts of it; it’s never a bad time to be reassured that one has colleagues!


1. Jeffrey A. Bowman “Countesses in court: elite women, creativity,
and power in northern Iberia, 900–1200″ in Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies Vol. 6 (London 2014), pp. 54-70, DOI: 10.1080/17546559.2014.883084.

2. J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 83-85.

3. Idem, “Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 (Oxford 2005), pp. 229-258, DOI: 10.1111/j.0963-9462.2004.00128.x.

4. Cited here was Theodore Evergates, “Nobles and Knights in Twelfth-Century France” in Thomas N. Bisson (ed.), Cultures of Power: lordship, status and porcess in twelfth-century Europe (Philadelphia 1995), pp. 11-35; Georges Duby, “Women and Power”, ibid. pp. 69-85, provided the basic counter-type here.

5. Classically, Reyna Pastor de Tognery, Movimientos, resistencias y luchas campesinas en Castilla y León: siglos X-XIV (Madrid 1980).

6. R. Portass, “Rethinking the «Small Worlds» of Tenth-Century Galicia” in Studia Historica: Historia medieval Vol. 31 (Salamanaca 2013), pp. 83-103, online here, contains some aspects of this paper.

7. R. Hitchcock, Mozarabs in Medieval and Early Modern Spain (Aldershot 2008), building on his “Arabic proper names in the Becerro de Celanova” in David Hook & Barrie Taylor (edd.), Cultures in Contact in Medieval Spain: Historical and Literary Essays Presented to L. P. Harvey, Kings College London Medieval Studies 3 (London 1990), pp. 111-126; references to my presentations can be found on my webpages here.

8. One example would be the apparent court notable Abolfetha ibn December (good name huh?), who certainly does appear in the forged Santos García Larragueta (ed.), Colección de Documentos de la Catedral de Oviedo (Oviedo 1962), doc. no. 22, but also in the less dubious José María Mínguez Fernández (ed.), Colección Diplomática del Monasterio de Sahagún (siglos IX y X) (León 1976), doc. no. 19 and Emilio Sáez (ed.), Colección Documental del Archivo de la Catedral de León (775-1230): I (775-952) (León 1987), doc. no. 68; at that rate, it begins to look as if the reason for putting his name in a forgery would be because it was known to belong to the period being aimed at, which is to say that at least up to three separate forgers thought he was a real historical person.

9. As also argued in Victoria Aguilar, “Onomástica de origen árabe en el reino de León (siglo X)” in al-Qantara: revista de estudios árabes 15 (1994), pp. 351-363 esp. at p. 363 and Fernando Rodríguez Mediano, “Acerca de la población arabizada del reino de León (siglos X y XI), ibid. pp. 465-72 with English abstract p. 472; they collect the Leonese evidence in Aguilar & Rodríguez, “Antroponimia de origen árabe en la documentación leonesa (siglos VIII-XIII)” in El Reino de León en la Alta Edad Media Vol. 6 (León 1994), pp. 497-633.

10. E. g. (cited) David Crouch, The Image of Aristocracy in Britain 1000-1300 (London 1992) or Constance Brittain Bouchard, “Those of my blood”: Constructing noble families in medieval Francia (Philadelphia 2001), to which cf. S. Barton, The aristocracy in twelfth century León and Castile (Cambridge 1997).

More cheese than adultery

A page from the thirteenth-century Tumbo of the monastery of Sobrado de los Monges, Galicia

A page from the thirteenth-century Tumbo of the monastery of Sobrado de los Monges, Galicia, preservation context of today’s featured charter and sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Happy New Year! I’m afraid my seminar reports are still queued awaiting certain vital feedback before the next one can go up, so instead here’s something I’ve had ready to write for ages. The subject header is, perhaps sadly for our societies, not a phrase one hears often, but happily for you my readers, it is completely appropriate to the subject of this post. That subject is a charter that I read while pulling together a comparative section for my chapter in the volume Allan Scott McKinley and I are editing from the Leeds conference sessions we used to run, now in press.1 The chapter has a substantial section setting pre-Catalan documentary phraseology against that used in its contemporary Asturias-León. This, of course, takes me into the territory inhabited by the expertise of Wendy Davies and Graham Barrett, and in fact I’d heard Graham talk about this charter at Kalamazoo some time ago and then again more locally and recently, as it forms one of a group of documents that tell us that certain counts of the Leonese court took it upon themselves to start bringing public suits against adulterers, adulterers who then often had to pay off the quite unpayable fines by giving lands to the counts. Kalamazoo papers are short, and one has to be selective about what one includes, and that is the only reason I can imagine why Graham would not have told this story himself then—and he may have done in his thesis, even now nearing completion—but, there is more than he told and that more is substantially CHEESE. What do I mean? Well, read this translation.2 It’s a bit rough, because the original is not the smoothest, and I’ve only modernised a few of the names where I’m sure what modern forms would be, but you’ll get the idea.

In the name of the Lord. I, Letasia, am infamous to many, indeed it is most well-known to many people that I mixed myself up in adultery with a slave of Hermenegildo, Ataulfo by name, who was holding a tenement of his, and we ate four cows of the animals there and sixty cheeses in secret and they led me before the judge, namely Bishop Froarengo. And the selfsame judge decided that I should pay for those same cows and cheeses twofold, and I was to make over eight acceptable cows and a hundred and twenty cheeses, the which judgement left me well-pleased. On this account it has pleased me, Letasia, for all of this crime which I have professed before the selfsame judge, and thus I pay to you Hermenegildo the whole inheritance I have in the villa where my father Cristobal or my grandparents Abolino, Deodatis and Violicus lived, in the territory of Tamara, that is, land, fruit-trees and all kinds of fruits, meadows, pastures, water-meadows, waters with all buildings or whatever is for the use of men. Thus, so that from this day and time today it be erased from my right and handed over and conceded to your right and you may have power fully in God’s name. If, however, any man, what I do not believe shall be brought about, should come against this my act to disrupt it, let him pay you two pounds of gold, and you have it in perpetuity. This little charter of payment or agreement made the 8th Kalends of September, Era 896. Letasia, in this testamentary or judicial scripture, have made the sign of my hand. Sisibert, witness. Savarigo, witness. Assiulfo, witness. Daco, witness. Ebregulfo, witness. Mirello, witness. Ostouredo, witness. Quirico, witness. Ermorico, witness.

I mean, I grant you there are all kinds of interesting implications of language and social practice here. It’s more or less built out of formulary phrases without much attempt to get them joined up into sense, but obviously they have been chosen for the job even so. Letasia’s husband is not mentioned; one might expect him to be, really, if there were one, which suggests that there wasn’t, but the crime is still adultery. Nonetheless, she was not actually required to compensate for the adultery, which was presumably not considered worth punishing; it would have been hard to argue, perhaps, that it had cost Hermenegildo anything except a few hours of his slave’s labour (ahem) but for the, well, inconspicuous consumption of four head of cattle and sixty cheeses. I mean, how long was this going on? It’s not a one-off, is it, and even a four-off involves enough cheese per person that they would have been pretty easy to catch. Letasia may indeed have been pleased by the judgement, as she could according to the Visigothic Law that still ran here have been put to death or enslaved herself, although not to Hermenegildo but to her own heirs.3 Nonetheless, though she had got away lightly, she had eaten more than she cared to pay back four times over, which gives us some idea how much of a hit Hermenegildo had been able to take without, apparently, noticing. In other words, we’re looking here at lifestyles of the rich and infamous in ninth-century Galicia, and those lifestyles on this occasion included a certain amount of sexual impropriety and some seriously big amounts of cheese. We have proof!


1. To my current understanding this can be cited as J. Jarrett, “Comparing the Earliest Documentary Culture in Carolingian Catalonia” in Jarrett & A. S. McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout forthcoming).

2. I’m quoting this from Antonio Cumbreño Floriano (ed.), Diplomática española del periodo Astur. Estudio de las fuentes documentales del Reino de Asturias (718-910), 2 vols (Oviedo 1949), doc. no. 68, but it has been more recently edited in Pilar Loscertales de Valdeavellano (ed.), Tumbos de Monasterio de Sobrado de los Monjes, 2 vols (Madrid 1976), doc. no. 75. The text as Floriano gave it is: “In Dei nomine. Ego Letasia manifesta quidem sum multis, set et multis manet notissimum, eo quod commiscui me in adulterio cum servo Hermenegildi, nomine Ataulfo, qui eius bustum tenebat, et comedimus de ipsis animalis IIIIor vaccas Lxa caseos furtim et adduxerunt me ante iudicem nomine Froarengum episcopum. Et ipse iudex iudicavit ut parierem ipsas vaccas et ipsos caseos in duplum, et facerem octo vaccas placibiles, et centum viginti caseos, quod Iudicum bene mihi complacuit. Ob inde placuit mihi Letasia, ut pro omni ipso furto, quod ante ipsum iudicem manifestavi, pariarem tibi Hermenegildo omnem meam hereditatem integram quam habeo in villa ubi pater meus Christovalus habitavit sive tionis mei Abolinus, Deodatis et Violicus habitaverunt, in territorio tamarense, id est, terras, pumares et omnia genera pomorum, pratis, pascuis, paludibus, aquas cum omnibus edificiis vel quicquid ad prestitum hominis est. Ita ut de hodie die et tempore de meo iure abrasa et tuo iuri sit tradita atque concessa et plenam in Dei nomine habeas potestatem. Si quis tamen homo, quod fieri non credo contra hunc meum factum ad irrumpendum venerit pariat tibi auri libras duas, et tibi perpetim habituram. Facta cartula pariationis vel placiti viiio Kalendas Septembris, era DCCCa LXXXX VIa. Letasia in hac scriptura testamenti vel placiti manu mea signum feci (signum). Sisibertus testis (signum). Savarigus testis (signum). Assiulfus testis (signum). Daco testis (Signum). Ebregulfus testis (signum). Mirellus testis (signum). Ostouredus testis (signum). Quiricus testis (signum). Ermoricus testis (signum).”

3. That said, Letasia’s case, as an apparently-freeborn woman with no husband messing with somebody else’s slave but clearly at her will and with no intent to marry him, is hard to find an exact ruling for in the Law. The closest fit, whence I get the enslavement idea, seems to be Karl Zeumer (ed.), Leges Visigothorum, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Leges Nationum Germanicum) I (Hannover 1902, repr. 2005), online here, transl. S. P. Scott as The Visigothic Code, 2nd edn. (Boston 1922), online here, Book III Title IV cap. xiv.

Seminar C: differing valleys in North-Western Iberia

View of Potes in Liébana

This view of Potes in Liébana, Cantábria, seems weirdly familiar

The big one hundred goes, by more or less complete coincidence, to a fellow Hispanist, Rob Portass, who lately finished his doctorate in the History Faculty here and was thus able to be coaxed out into daylight to address the Oxford Medieval History Seminar on 6th June, which he did with the title, “Magnates and their monasteries in the tenth-century kingdom of Leon”. Rob, who has since got a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship so that we get to keep him for a bit, is another person who has realised that the peculiar depth of Iberian charter evidence for the early Middle Ages lets one do serious microcosmic levels of study of society, but he differs from me firstly in that he’s gone to the opposite Northern corner of the peninsula, working on Galicia and Cantábria, and that he works on an even closer scale, individual valleys, which even I could only sustain for a chapter before breaking out to where the castles are. Rob’s two valleys, for this paper at least, were that around the monastery of Celanova (in Galicia) and that of Liébana, where there are two monasteries, Santo Toribio and Santa María de Piasca, to tell us what was going on in the areas.1

Map of early medieval Spanish archive preservation by Wendy Davies

Map of early medieval Spanish archive preservation by Wendy Davies

With this paper Rob was addressing an idea that when things went feudal in Northern Iberia as of course It Is Written that they did, the monasteries assisted in this process, being functionally equivalent to greedy landlords acquiring seigneurial rights over their local populations by subjecting their lands, and often becoming controlled by noble family interests anyway.2 To cut a long and careful story short, he finds this difficult to see in the charter evidence. Especially in Liébana, where one family did indeed get hold of the monastery of Santo Toribio, donation and sales to it came substantially from the wealthy and that not for very long. The peasantry just didn’t really interact with it at all (and consequently, of course, we can hardly see them). The local wealthy were only locally wealthy but all the same, Rob did not think they could be reckoned peasants by any stretch of interpretation (though we did try and stretch him on this). At richer Celanova the picture is a bit more conventional, but has its own peculiarities; here peasants did sell to the monastery, in some number, but they did not donate at all.3 Rob argued that this was too busy a land-market, and too various, to be explained as has been done in terms of poverty and bad harvests forcing people to sell up in order to obtain food, and that really this is business, and can’t be assumed to have been only to the monastery’s advantage.4 This also provoked questions, including one or two about how far we can assume that the charters give us a representative picture, even though Rob had cited me earlier on on such matters, which surely ought to have been enough! (I jest.5) But at the end of the paper and the discussion, all the same, I think Rob had successfully put across what my final paragraph of notes records: “One model here won’t do, but neither will the existing one. Our two noble abbots operate on a different scale, but local community must still be engaged and in Liébana that can’t be done.” If the model can fail, then, we need to know more about why, and for that I suppose we must now read Rob’s thesis!

The chapel of San Miguel de Celanova, with the baroque walls of San Salvador behind it

The chapel of San Miguel de Celanova, with the baroque walls of San Salvador, the Cistercian house that replaced the one Rob's subject population was dealing with, behind it; I include this because, if it is as the architectural historians think tenth-century, some of Rob's people probably went in this building. From Wikimedia Commons


1. The various documents are edited in J. M. Andrade Cernadas (ed.), O Tombo de Celanova: estudio introductorio, edición e índices (ss. IX-XII), Fontes Documentais para a Historia de Galicia (Santiago de Compostela 1995), L. Sánchez Belda (ed.), Cartulario de Santo Toribio de Liébana (Madrid 1948) and J. Montenegro Valentín (ed.), Colección diplomática de Santa María de Piasca, 857-1252 (1991).

2. There is of course an incredibly vast historiography here, but José Ángel García de Cortázar, “Estructuras sociales y relaciones de poder en León y Castilla en los siglos VIII a XII: la formación de una sociedad feudal”, in Il feudalesimo nell’alto medioevo, Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo Vol. 47 (Spoleto 2000), pp. 497-563 with discussion pp. 565-568, charts a reasonable path through it.

3. And just as well for Rob, otherwise they’d likely have been fully discussed already in Wendy Davies, Acts of Giving: Individual, Community, and Church in Tenth-Century Christian Spain (Oxford 2007).

4. This scenario is most vigorously envisaged in good old Abilio Barbero & Marcelo Vigil, La Formación del feudalismo en la península ibérica, 2nd edn. (Barcelona 1979).

5. Although, seriously, it is perplexing to me that numerous people find that part of my thesis (J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia” (unpublished Ph. D. thesis, University of London 2005), online here, pp. 27-71) useful, and yet I could not for the love of Mike get it into print because it “says nothing new”. (I do now have a home for it but they want a very different kind of article that will take a lot of reading to produce.) The problem is that the diplomatists aren’t telling other people what they need to know, and this is how it’s not happening. This part was not included in the book, but if you happened to have the book and looked at J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London 2010), pp. 15-17, you’d see the thinking behind the questions about peasant visibility that Rob was getting.

Seminar XCIV: cows, mills and bullion from the Duero to Dublin

Life seems at the moment determined to carry me relentlessly between cities, but I have plenty of good reasons to be in Cambridge at almost any time, and so when I learnt that on 17th March the Chadwick Memorial Lecture would be given there by none other than Professor Emerita Wendy Davies, it seemed rather as if a number of birds had queued up in front of my metaphorical mangonel. This was not least because her title was “Water mills and cattle standards: probing the economic comparison between Ireland and Spain in the early Middle Ages”, which may not sound so great in a detached way but Wendy is a person who can give a fascinating seminar paper about a single charter formula; her fans, among whom I freely number myself, must have known this would be good. And so it was. While a comparison between Spain and Ireland in the early Middle Ages may not seem that intuitive, it’s surprising how well it works (as long as you stick with Northern, Christian, Spain anyway). For example, Ireland is famous now for medieval mills; Spain has fewer known in archæology (and much less archæology generally, though there is apparently hope for a dig of a Leonese market site which would hopefully be fascinating) but does have lots of recorded disputes over them; both countries are also famous to medievalists for using cattle as currency (even if some of us disagree as to their value), and though there are other similarities these were the ones Wendy decided to use as wedges to open up the nature of early medieval societies a bit.

A Leonese royal charter of 860

A Leonese royal charter of 860

There are also differences. You won’t see documents like this in Ireland, but on the other neither will you find 50,000 ringforts in Spain, and though there are forts, very few have been dug. The climates obviously differ, though by less than you might expect in Atlantic, misty Galicia. Nonetheless, Wendy also detected similarities in the persistence of tradition, both regions having seventh-century law active in their courts till much later, for example, and using sculpted stones as boundary markers; in transactional language (and here, I have to admit, I find my notes less convincing than I found the lecture); in the importance of cereals, which is to say considerable but far from total, and in the growth of this cultivation over the ninth and tenth centuries (though that, I think, you would see in most places); in valuation, which was sometimes by cattle and otherwise by metal or other goods (in Spain the metal was notionally coined silver but only in Catalonia, which Wendy as usual disclaimed, was that coin actually available), with massive variation;1 and therefore in the exchange of unlike things, which means that there was some kind of commercial infrastructure in both places. Again, where not, you might wonder, but the evidence we have to demonstrate this is weirdly similar in its difference in these two places compared to elsewhere, where it is usually simply money (though that, as we know, need not always imply trade).

Hiberno-Norse penny of c. 997, presumably Dublin mint, imitating contemporary money of Æthelred the Unready

Hiberno-Norse penny of c. 997, presumably Dublin mint, imitating contemporary money of Æthelred the Unready

Both also seem to have gone through some parallel developments in the Viking era, which is odd as although there certainly were Viking attacks on Spain as we have before here discussed, some of the things that are usually explained by Viking influence in Ireland also happen in Spain, apparently for other reasons: a boom in the use of silver bullion as currency (eventually as coins in Ireland but as argentazas, which no-one is sure about,2 in Spain, Catalonia again apart), a new development of certain urban locations as population, military, administrative and economic foci (in Ireland Dublin and Waterford, in Spain most obviously León), and burgeoning exchange relations. Several of these are wider European phenomena, in which case their national explanations might need questioning… As Dr Mairé ní Mhaonaigh pointed out in her response, of course the Book of Invasions tells us Ireland was settled from Spain anyway, and there are probably more similarities to be found yet, but in this respect I think what I took away was one of my old favourite sentiments, hurray for deviation and variation. Because, in the things that are not quite the same lies a shortage of variables that means we can sometimes actually pin down the reasons for things, and that’s really rather what we’re here for, isn’t it?


1. W. Davies, “Sale, price and valuation in Galicia and Castile-Leon in the tenth century” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 (Oxford 2002), pp. 149-174; soon also Miquel Crusafont i Sabater, Anna M. Balaguer & Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a catalogue of the coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge forthcoming), Chapter 8.

2. On the beginnings of coinage in Ireland, see Mark Blackburn, “Currency under the Vikings. Part 4. The Dublin coinage c. 995-1050″, Presidential Address in British Numismatic Journal Vol. 78 (London 2008), pp. 111-137; on argentazas, Davies, “Sale, price and valuation” again, though a Catalan comparison such as J. Jarrett, “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London 2009), pp. 217-243 at pp. 226-227 & n. 39, might still interest you.

Lost in citation II: slaughtering sacred cows

For a variety of reasons, only one of which is my imminent departure, my department is currently in full-on publication frenzy. The boss has calculated that, if we include our personal work, the department is trying to send nine books to various presses by the end of the calendar year. One of these, Derek Chick’s corpus of the coins of King Offa, is already with the press; my magnum opus will be finally with the printers soon after mid-October, hopefully still available for Christmas :-) and that leaves me only three which remain my job for a short while longer. Of one of these will I speak. I shan’t say which one, though it will I guess be kind of obvious; that’s not the same, however, as making it web-searchable… It involves, once again, the ghost of Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz, so you may want to tune out now…

Gold solidus of Emperor Louis the Pious (814-40), Fitzwilliam Museum, PG.8162 (Grierson Collection)

Gold solidus of Emperor Louis the Pious (814-40), Fitzwilliam Museum, PG.8162 (Grierson Collection)

In this text, the question is covered of what was used as a medium of exchange in Asturias and León before there was coin being struck there. There have been a range of theories about this, and a fairly recent article by Wendy Davies that is characteristically thorough covers most of the options.1 She detects several regions of practice, some using metal-based standards and possibly, in León, actual metal proto-currency, but others using several value referents, including livestock:2

… there are some very clear regional differences: before 930, price in Sahagún texts was usually expressed in terms of clothing or farm produce, especially animals, which were sometimes given a valuation in silver solidi but more often not; and it was once expressed as a silver vessel.20 Thereafter, price was often expressed in terms of solidi until the 970s, when this mode of expression came to predominate. Although the number of cases is smaller, Cardeña transactions more often used solidi to express price before 930, as they did from the 960s, but frequently used produce and objects in the 930s and 940s. Half of all tenth-century cases also had a valuation in solidi attached; records of Cardeña sales were more likely to use the concept of the solidus than records from the other collections, at any point in the tenth century.21 Celanova transactions, on the other hand, used metal concepts only rarely and they never predominated in this period. The contrasts between the three are therefore stark: western Celanova essentially non-metal-based; eastern Cardeña more metal-based than not; and central Sahagún changing its practice across the century….

So, OK, the question that arises is what these various populations thought a solidus was and what it was worth, and that’s where we come in. This certain work I’m copy-editing said, until quite recently, as follows:3

It has to be remembered that when there are no coins in circulation, the use of units of account is possible only on condition that a verifiable value referent exists. In the case of Galicia this referent was the ox, and logically that has to be taken to mean an ox of average stature, neither extraordinarily strong nor particularly thin. This could be modulated by a practice whereby more or less than the stated value changed hands if the ox that was actually given in payment was especially excellent or manifestly deficient. Some authors (Gautier Dalché, 1969a, pp. 49-50; Sáez, 1946, pp. 5-6) have failed to grasp this mechanism of fixing prices by equating a value of account with physical goods (an ox, a modio (measure) of grain, a sheep, etc.). On the other hand, Mínguez, 1979, p. 43, n. 5, accepts that an average value served as a reference. He admits that there could occasionally be some upwards or downwards variation in prices, but from a fixed referent.

You see here that we are in good old regula magistri territory here, and so I thought it would be best to cite some actual evidence for the practices we’re talking about here, not least because I’m not sure I believe in any value standard where an ox could be worth the same as a sheep. Would you believe, the evidence turns out to be harder to find than you might expect? I mean, there are some fabulous prices: “a chestnut-coloured cow, a quilted and lined linen cloak, 12 cheeses, and this price in the place of 4 gold solidi and 1 tremiss”, but this just doesn’t help at all because (a) the authors quote it wrong, reading ‘IIIIor’ as ‘4 or’ not as a short-form of ‘quattuor’, whereas there is really no gold referred to, (b) in the manuscript there are seventeen spaces after the word for ‘cheeses’ so the price is probably incomplete (and was perhaps never actually fulfilled) and (c) there are of course no gold solidi for them to be talking about, Louis the Pious’s above being unknown in this area and the only coin of that denomination that has been minted in the West for more than a century.4 Of course, arguing from silence with Spanish coin finds is a dangerous game but it’s a problem.5 So what about them there magistri? The authors cite three works that tried to address this very problem by collecting references to prices in León, Galicia and Portugal in this period. Surely exactly what’s needed! Well—you know what’s coming—no.

The most up-to-date of these references was the first blow from Don Claudio, a paper from the Spoleto conference of 1960. However, that only actually refers back to an earlier article of his for the data—yup, we’ve played this game before—and it also makes it clear that the equivalence of a sheep to a solidus is being made via the grain measure known as a modius; that is, we see that a modius can be worth a solidus and that a sheep can be worth a modius, and therefore…6 And OK, that is logical, but it still gives us a chain at whose ends we can have supposedly equivalent sheep and cows and I don’t reckon this much. Also, Sánchez-Albornoz thought these were probably sometimes being paid in leftover Roman silver coin, which numismatists and historians since him have found frankly implausible.7 Next up would be the Portuguese contribution, which was published in Don Claudio’s own journal, and that has a long list of equivalencies, but only one mentions a sheep with an equivalence to something else, and that’s a modius. Only halfway there I’m afraid. It’s slightly better for cows, but their value (where it can be clearly averaged to a single cow, which is very rarely) is usually around the two-solidus mark and sometimes rather higher. The lowest it gets is one-and-a-half.8 And then there’s a study on Galician Celanova, and that messes things up further by having two sheep that were worth four modios (which the author suggests may be because the modios were of barley not wheat, thus unhinging any hope of using his own evidence that way because of course this is never specified) and eight sheep elsewhere that were worth twelve solidi.9 And these two and Sánchez-Albornoz’s paper all refer to an earlier paper of his, and that refers you back to almost his first paper of all from 1928.10 How anyone who doesn’t have access to an incredible research library is supposed to follow this up is beyond me.

Thin cows grazing

Some cows will sell for more than other cows at market

So with the 1928 paper, at last, we reach port. Here are 266 price equivalencies from the early eighth century to well after 1000, meaning that another factor that we simply can’t calculate for is inflation. We can tell it’s a factor because he cites a Celanova reference in which four cows are worth forty solidi from 1001. In 796, however, the other articles all said, there was a cow worth one solidus; but it turns out that when you actually check the real document’s text it’s actually two separate prices, a cow and a solidus.11 What there is quite a lot of is boves soldades, which it is assumed are cows worth a solidus. It’s not clear to me that that’s what it means at all, however, I could equally argue that soldadis is derived from solidus the adjective, solid, worthy, especially as this is also the period in which people start referring to their liege followers as homines solidi, which I don’t think means they are people worth a solidus. (Slaves usually go for much more than that.) And, furthermore, the prices are off still: Castile shows us a bovis soldadis worth two modios and a goat worth one, and Celanova often talks about ovelias modalias, which by analogy ought to be sheep worth a modius.12 The prices, if they suggest anything at all overall, may suggest that an average cow was worth roughly twice what an average sheep was, but we’re still talking median not mean and it’s still not matching neatly to any currency equivalent. These animals vary in worth and that’s all there is to it.

Catedral de Le&ooacute;n

The Catedral de León, still home of the eponymous Archivo

So, even if I could find the two documents that Sánchez-Albornoz cited as proof that a sheep could be worth a solidus too, documents from 1001 and 1008 that pay 100 sheep or 100 modii, or 100 modii or 100 solidi, I might still be inclined to dismiss them as singletons. But since a hundred of anything ought to average out quality variations a bit, it’s still worth investigating, of course. Sadly, however, these are the only documents Sánchez-Albornoz cited from the Archivo del Obispo de León, as opposed to the Archivo de la Catedral. You might think these two would be the same things, but apparently not. The latter has been edited, for a start, and these documents aren’t there.13 So, where are they? You’ll notice that if you search on Google for ‘”Archivo del Obispo de León”‘ the only hits are from Don Claudio’s work. I can’t find any other reference to this archive. Complete-looking lists like this one don’t mention it. I realise not everything is on the web, but it’s also not mentioned in the edition of the cathedral’s documents. I do not know if it was a separate thing (which happened at Barcelona, so quite plausible14) or what. Maybe it got destroyed or dispersed during the Civil War. I presume Don Claudio didn’t actually make it up! But it’s not apparently there now and its documents’ shelf-marks can’t be traced. So there’s basically no proof of this solidus sheep at all, and the cow looks pretty weak also (otherwise it’d be worth more, oh ho ho). This, by itself, cannot constitute evidence of social practice over three very different economic zones over a century and a half of considerable economic change. This bit has therefore been removed from the text and I hope that in the long run our authors will agree that was for the best. As to the actual situation, perhaps it’s best to leave Wendy the last word there:15

Different valuation systems clearly meant different things to different people in northern Spain in the tenth century. All those considered here were notional units of account – mental constructs…. In some parts – near Celanova and Sahagún especially – they related to active systems of commercial exchange; in others – near Cardeña – the systems belonged to the world of writing and had less to do with buying and selling. The Atlantic systems were distinctive, but not wholly cut off: they certainly indicate thriving exchange economies, with some commercial aspects – the very existence of valuations makes this a sale culture. The systems of the meseta were even more obviously thriving, more commercial, as also more urban and less characteristically rural, and already by the late tenth century were beginning to be related to the wider economic networks of Spain and of the world beyond. Their relationship to the economic mainstream of western Europe obviously cannot be assessed in respect of the tenth century alone and needs a forward look into the eleventh, but the fact that transaction practice was already changing in mid-tenth century is an important signal of wider
and deeper change.

Slaughtering the sacred cows of Iberian numismatics one at a time, Jarrett, out.


1. W. Davies, “Sale, price and valuation in Galicia and Castile-Leon in the tenth century” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 (Oxford 2002), pp. 149-174. Not only is this thorough about saying what the evidence says, it also sets out how much evidence there is and how it’s distributed over time. There are graphs of charter survival. That’s what I call thorough.

2. Ibid., pp. 157-158.

3. I shan’t give a citation for this, partly because of the nod towards discretion already mentioned, partly because I gather that the one of the authors who had their name on it may actually have let the other write it, and largely because this text is not going to survive so even if you knew what the finished book was you still wouldn’t find this there.
4. Actual text P. Loscertales & G. de Valdeavellano (edd.), Tumbos del Monasterio de Sobrado de los Monjes (Madrid 1976), doc. no. 18: “Precio, id est bove colore marceno, manto laneo vilado et chomacio, kaseos XII [                 ], et est ipso precio in aderato solidos IIIIor et I tremese”. On the absence of gold solidi in the West, which went back to the Visigothic kingdom at least, see Mark Blackburn, “Gold in England during the ‘Age of Silver’ (eighth-eleventh centuries)” in James Graham-Campbell & Gareth Williams (edd.), Silver Economy in the Viking Age (Walnut Creek 2007), pp. 55-98. On the Visigothic coinage the new work of resort is Ruth Pliego Vázquez, La Moneda Visigótica (Sevilla 2009).

5. Jonathan Jarrett, “Digitizing Numismatics: Getting the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Coins to the World-Wide Web” in The Heroic Age Vol. 12, online at http://www.heroicage.org/issues/12/foruma.php, last modified 12th June 2009, §5.

6. C. Sánchez-Albornoz, “Moneda de cambio y moneda de cuenta en el reino asturleonés” in Moneta e scambio nell’alto medioevo, Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo Vol. 8 (Spoleto 1960), pp. 171-202 at p. 183.

7. References to the debate in Davies, “Sale and valuation”, pp. 161-164.

8. P. Laguzzi, “El precio de la vida en Portugal durante los siglos X-XI” in Cuadernos de Historia de España Vol. 5 (Buenos Aires 1946), pp. 143-147.

9. Ernesto Sáez, “Nuevos datos sobre la costa de la vida en Galicia durante la Alta Edad Media” in Anuario de Historia del Derecho España Vol. 17 (Madrid 1946), pp. 870-885.

10. Sánchez-Albornoz, “El precio de la vida en el reino astur-leonés hace mil años” in Logos: Revista de la Faculted de Filosofia y Letras, Buenos Aires Vol. 3 (Buenos Aires 1945), pp. 245-264, repr. in idem, Estudios sobre las instituciones medievales españolas (Mexico City 1965), pp. 369-410, citing idem, “La primitiva organización monetaria de León y Castilla” in Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español 5 (1928), pp. 301-345, repr. in idem, Estudios sobre las instituciones medievales, pp. 441-482.

11. L. Sánchez Belda (ed.), Cartulario de Santo Toribio de Liébana (Madrid 1948), doc. no. 67.

12. Homines solidi: Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutation d’une société (Toulouse, 1975-1976), II pp. 743-746. Bove soldado worth two modii: Loscertales & Valdeavellano, Tumbo de Sobrado, no. 29. Goat worth one modius: J. A. Fernández Flórez (ed.), Colección diplomática del monasterio de Sahagún (857-1300) (León 1987-1993), doc. no. 357. Oveliae modaliae: J. M. Andrade Cernadas (ed.), O Tombo de Celanova: estudio introductorio, edición e índices (ss. IX-XII), Fontes Documentais para a Historia de Galicia (Santiago de Compostela 1995), doc. nos 340 & 403.

13. They ought, if they were going to be there at all, to be in José María Fernández Caton (ed.), Colección Documental del Archivo de la Catedral de León, III: 986-1031, Fuentes de le Historia Leonesa 55 (Leó 1995), but they ain’t.

14. As with many cathedral and monasteries, in the high Middle Ages the bishop’s property at Barcelona was administered separately from the cathedral’s proper, which was held by the chapter: unlike most of them, this separation still persists today meaning that there are two parallel editions of the early cathedral’s documents divided according to which half of the operation wound with the lands concerned!

15. Davies, “Sales, prices and valuation”, pp. 173-174.

Seminary LXII: from these hilltops we can see for centuries

Here is a much-delayed seminar report for you. On 9th March, already, Damián Fernández of NYU came to speak to the Cambridge Byzantine Seminar. Since his topic was “Hilltop Settlement and Economic Change in Late-Antique Northern Iberia”, which isn’t Byzantine at all, it’s not entirely clear to me why that was, but it was of obvious interest to me (you’ve heard me mention hilltops here before, right?) and there are people in Cambridge I only see at the Byzantine seminar, so I happened along.

The basic question Fernández was setting out to answer came out of a couple of quotes from Hydatius’s Chronicle, of which one goes like this:

The Sueves under King Hermeric pillaged the central areas of Gallæcia, but when some of their men were slaughtered and others captured by the people who remained in possession of the more secure fortified sites [castella tutiora], they restored the peace treaty.1

The question that comes out of this is, what exactly were these castella? This treads lightly into some very tangled questions, about the degree of Romanisation in the north of Spain—Fernández thinks that recent work that has found seals, ceramics, buildings, walls to towns and so on demonstrates that it was more considerable than hard-line ethno-continuity theories would accept, but I know there are those reading who would say that this is what the authorities of the area want archæologists to find.2 However, what Fernández was mainly attacking was a historiography in which the period after the arrival of the barbarians in Spain and before the eventual attempted extension of the consolidated Visigothic kingdom into the north is a time in which all that the locals could do was, quite literally, run to the hills. As Fernández pointed out, however, a lot of the hilltop forts they supposedly found seem to have been there under the Romans, Gijón for example being a third- or fourth-century foundation (which was still going for the Muslims to try and run Asturias from when they arrived, of course). Some are more ancient than that, even, but are refurbished during the Roman period (castro ventosa, seen below). I suppose the question then becomes, is that Roman occupation or local resistance to the Romans? It’s all very well to say that Roman material culture indicates this area was part of the Empire, but we know from the Scots and German borders that the peoples on the outside of the limes are very often keen buyers of Roman gear, and even happy to join the army (and serve in far-away places) without that necessarily meaning that they’re now cives romani.3

Current state of Castro Ventosa, near Bierzo

Current state of Castro Ventosa, near Bierzo

Fernández’s answer to this was that this sort of question can’t be addressed from the archæology. The material culture doesn’t differ between areas that may have been outside the frontier and areas everyone is sure were in it; it’s not ethnicity, it’s just poverty. Okay, fair point, but we still don’t know what was going on. One thing that was going on, however, was wall-building, in the third century right through to the early fifth, not because of any particular threat but because walls are a prestigious thing to have round your late Roman settlement. They associate not with decline, but with wealth. He suggested therefore that fortified hilltop settlement (and indeed fortified lowland settlement, of which there is also lots contemporaneously) was not an aberration caused by military, economic or demographic crises but the new mode of settlement for the period, a cultural shift not a strategic one. He saw a state-driven change in the settlement network caused by, well, fashion as much as economy, though that too. This seemed somewhat circular to me, the state encouraging change in settlement morphology because lots of people have changed the morphology of their settlements because the state… I wanted to know whether these sites have rôles as burial centres, as my pet ones from later certainly do, but this didn’t appear to work here: apparently some do and some don’t, and almost none have churches. I don’t think I’d expect churches, actually, I think those would be more local until later, so this didn’t really get me anything.

Remains of the walls of the ancient fortification at Viladonga

Remains of the walls of the ancient fortification at Viladonga

So, okay, there were a lot of small things here, and some quite big things, where I think alternative theses might be arguable or even preferable, but what I did like about this paper was his overall argument that these castella need to be seen not as crisis symptoms but as part of the same growth that is, at the same time that many of them are being refurbished (or even built, like Muelas below), causing the sprouting of new villas in the lowlands from third right through to sixth and in some cases seventh centuries. (Visigothic Spain was, after all, not apparently short of wealth.) Where the land is good for large-scale agrarian agriculture, you get villas; where it’s better for pastoralism and living on hilltops, you get castella—it’s environmental not military. That makes a lot of sense to me. The other important thing that he stressed is that, unlike the situation with hillforts like Dinas Powys in Britain, these are not aristocratic centres.4 There’s no evidence of resource redistribution, of patronage of craftsmen or of accumulation or special treatment of food animals (such as Alcock found at Dinas Powys); they’re just where people live, villages with walls. That’s so in the south, anyway; in the far north we know (from the slates!) that rents were collected at these places. Here a situation where control over transhumance routes is a source of power becomes more likely, even if the material culture, as said, is no different.

The (fifth-century) settlement of Muelas del Pan, near Zamora

The (fifth-century) settlement of Muelas del Pan, near Zamora

So, plenty to chew on, and much that I thought other scholars would have disagreed with, not necessarily correctly but they would have. But my last paragraph of notes reads:

Settlements are a decision taken by social actors: response to soc.-econ. change by e. g. state, moving to a more dynamic organisation of a local kind under a hands-off barbarian k’dom; aristocracies, intensifying local and decentralised econ. Good places to put walls!

and I hope that shows that this is a guy with some big and powerfully explanatory ideas, which I’m sure I’ll meet again and which perhaps the readership might also find useful.


1. R. W. Burgess (ed./transl.), The Chronicle of Hydatius and the Consularia Constantinopolitana (Oxford 1993), Hydatius cap. 81 rev. D. Fernández.

2. The most relevant reference that the handouts provide seems to be Carmen Fernández-Ochoa [& Ángel Morillo], “Walls in the Urban Landscape of Late Roman Spain: Defense and Imperial Strategy” in Kim Bowes & Michael Kulikowski (edd.), Hispania in Late Antiquity: current perspectives, The Medieval and Early Modern Iberian World 24 (Leiden 2005), pp. 208-340, but Dra Fernández-Ochoa’s webpages would seem to be a good place to find more. That does of course rely on the assumption that she is not, contrary to what some people think, involved in the suppression of pre-Roman evidence from these areas so as to promote, “un pasado romano hipertrofiado por cuestiones políticas”. If you are concerned by that possibility you probably ought to follow the link; I’m not in any position to judge from here.

3. If you want an actual academic reference here rather than links to other blogs, no matter how authoritative they be, I offer you Karl Hauck, “Der Missionsauftrag Christi und das Kaisertum Ludwigs des Frommen” in Peter Godman & Roger Collins (edd.), Charlemagne’s Heir: new perspectives on the reign of Louis the Pious (Oxford 1990), pp. 275-296, which manages with startling ease to be more relevant to this question than you would imagine from its title.

4. I’ve given all these references before, but because it was a dig worth reading, I’ll do so again: Leslie Alcock, Dinas Powys (Cardiff 1963), rev. in idem, Economy, Society and Warfare among the Britons and Saxons (Cardiff 1987); see also idem, Kings & Warriors, Craftsmen & Priests in Northern Britain AD 550-850 (Edinburgh 2003), pp. 209-210.

Rehabilitating Don Claudio

Don Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz as a young scholar

Don Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz as a young scholar

I have written here before about the particular difficulty presented to the non-Spaniard trying to get a grip on the historiography of early medieval Spain by the existence of the voluminous œuvre of Professor Don Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz. But I’m going to do so again. Let me just remind you: he was from early on a promising analyst of early medieval texts, especially charters which hardly anyone was using at that time; but that time was immediately before the Spanish Civil War, in which Dr Sánchez-Albornoz found himself on the wrong side. Emigrating therefore to Argentina, he worked for another forty-odd years without sight of the original texts and still managed to found a major journal (Cuadernos de Historia de España) and publish a huge number of articles and books, which more or less set a mould for the Spanish historiography of the Middle Ages by emphasising what it was that was special about Spain, and Spanish feudalism in particular.1 Unfortunately he did all this with an absolute poison pen for his opponents, a tame journal in which to publish his attacks, and a low tolerance for disagreement, as well as a strong tendency to migrate his theories from tentative suggestions well-hedged with qualifications through ‘accepted theories’ to ‘things that I have proven’ the longer they remained unopposed. Some time towards the end of this, he became President of the Republic in Exile, in which capacity he outlived his hated Franco (than whom, for many, he was no less nationalist or objectionable) and eventually returned to Spain in 1983, a few years before his eventual death. He received the first parts of a six-volume Festschrift on his ninetieth birthday and there have been several other commemorative volumes since then.2 His legacy looms large, and it is prickly.

However, his domination of the field more or less ended with the alternative gospel preached in the seventies by Abilio Barbero and Marcelo Vigil, about which you have also heard much more here than you ever really wanted I suspect. Their ultra-socio-economical and deeply continuist version of Spain is slowly now disappearing from vogue in the shadow of a newly-developing ultra-European and acknowledgedly diverse Spain which will, I suspect, also be rebranded in the next generation. And of course different practitioners align themselves with different parts of this development and those in the new waves regard the old ones as superseded even though the arguments rumble on behind them, without necessarily having been settled. And obviously things can fall through that gap.

Don Claudio about to hold forth

Don Claudio about to hold forth

One of those things, argues an article by Juan José Larrea I read in the Bonnassie Festschrift, is that Sánchez-Albornoz was actually a really skilled historian.3 Granted, he had huge interpretative paradigms founded on very little except prejudice, which have made him very awkward to engage with for the last twenty years, but when he took a text apart, he saw what was in it and explained it clearly and with copious demonstration, and indeed due caution. (Although he would then refer to his interpretation as proven and definitive for the rest of his life, of course.) Larrea’s example is based on a small-scale peasant uprising at a Galician village called, in the text, villa Matanza, which appears to be in la Sequenda between Astorga and Braga. Here, in 1046, in apparent protest at being given into the lordship of the bishop of Astorga by the king, the community killed a royal judicial officer. Larrea points out that the king did not enforce anything like the full weight of the (Visigiothic) law, but merely ordered the leaders expropriated and imprisoned and (of course) enforced the transfer. Larrea notes that this is a sign of the times because two centuries before, the zone the place was in had actually been settled under a guarantee of liberty from King Ordoño I. And Sánchez-Albornoz was the first to really draw attention to this, and none of his opponents have been able to get round that:

Car, en fait, Sánchez Albornoz ne fut pas seulement le chantre de la liberté des pionniers castillans. Il s’intéressa presque autant à la perte de la liberté qu’à son éclosion. Le resultat en fut une monographie volumineuse, rigoureuse et documentée.14 Encore qu’écrit dans un style qui n’est plus, si l’on nous permet ce propos banal, à la mode chez les médiévistes, « Homines mandationis y iuniores » est un texte passionant qui put – et peut encore – ouvrir tout un champ de recherche. Mais « Homines mandationis… » eut la disgrâce de paraître à un mauvais moment pour son auteur, car les premiers jalons de renouveau historiographique des années 1970-1980 venaient d’être posés par J.A. García de Cortázar et par A. Barbero et M. Vigil. Non seulement les nouveaux courants frappèrent d’anathème des notions comme celles de pouvoir public et d’impôt15, mais Sánchez-Albornoz était censé représenter au plus haut degré le passé institutionaliste avec lequel le discours rénovateur voulait rompre radicalement. On ne trouvera ni la référence bibliographique, ni les thèses de « Homines mandationis… » dans les synthèses importantes des dernières travaux considérés décisifs dans l’historiographie récente qui, tout en adressant des critiques acérées à Sánchez Albornoz, se voient obligés de reprendre des idées forces de « Homines mandationis… » quelques pages plus tard16. Pareil paradoxe trahit à nos yeux les limites des alternatives qui on été proposées.


14 C. Sánchez Albornoz, « Homines mandationis y iuniores », Cuadernos de Historia de España, t.53-54, 1971, p. 7-235. Aussi dans: Viejos y nuevos [estudios de las Instituciones medievales españolas, Madrid], t. 1, 21976, p. 365-577.
15 Seuls des médiévistes galiciens ont utilisé dans les dernières années de telles notions sans état d’âme.
16 Par exemple, J. M. Mínguez, « Ruptura social e implantación del feudalismo en el Noroeste peninsular (siglos VIII-X) », Studia Historica, t. 3, no 2, 1985, p. 8 et 29-31.

I guess that Larrea, of whose work I could easily become a fan at this rate, is basically saying “don’t throw the baby out with the revisionist bathwater”, though I admit that it does read more as if he’s saying that the revisionists are all charlatans who haven’t read the sources properly and that the old nationalist should be rehabilitated.4 But what I take away from it is that it might, despite the evil frame of mind in which some of it was written, still be all right to enjoy reading Don Claudio’s writing because of the skill with which he read his material, years before he wrote most of what he did about it. I shall never like him, and some of his current wave of defenders are not people with whom I want to be associated, but ignoring him is no good, as Larrea again says: both he and his supplanters were clever men (and in a few cases the supplanters clever women, though that has been much more a thing of the generation trained by his supplanters) and we can use it all.

Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz returning to Spain for the second and last time in 1983

Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz returning to Spain for the second and last time in 1983


1. Some English-language guidance to the development of this particular consensus is given in the opening pages of Richard Fletcher’s “Reconquest and Crusade in Spain c.1050-1150″ in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th Series Vol. 37 (London 1987), pp. 31-47, reprinted in Thomas Madden (ed.), The Crusades: essential readings (Oxford 2004), pp. 51-68. There are about twenty articles from elsewhere about how important Sánchez-Albornoz’s work was and you can hit up Regesta Imperii’s OPAC for them same as I did, they’re too many to list. Sánchez-Albornoz’s key works in this stream (among many others which are documented here) would, I guess, be En torno a los orígenes del feudalismo (Mendoza 1942, repr. Buenos Aires 1974-1979), 3 vols; España, un enigma histórico (Buenos Aires 1957, 10th edn. Barcelona 1985), 2 vols; Despoblación y repoblación en el Valle del Duero (Buenos Aires 1966); Orígenes de la nación española. Estudios críticos sobre la Historia del reino de Asturias (Oviedo 1972-1975, repr. Madrid 1975), 3 vols, abridged most recently (Gijon 1989); and Viejos y nuevos estudios sobre las instituciones medievales españolas (Madrid 1976-1980, repr. 1983), 3 vols. I should make clear straight away that I’ve read far far less of his stuff than all this, though. He also got to make a final statement in the name of his old master in as much as he wrote one of the volumes of the Historia de España Menéndez Pidal, El reino asturleonés (722-1037). Sociedad, Economía, Gobierno, Cultura y Vida, Historia de España Menéndez Pidal VII: la España Cristiana 1 (Madrid 1980). Say what you like about the man, he was never idle.

2. J. L. Romero (ed.), Homenaje al Profesor Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz (Buenos Aires 1964); María del Carmen Carlé (ed.), Estudios en homenajes a Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz a sus noventa años, Anexos de Cuadernos de Historia de España (Buenos Aires 1983-1986, Avila 1990), 6 vols; Miguel Ángel Ladero Quesada (ed.), Estudios en memoria del profesor D. Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz, En la España medieval Vol. 5 (Madrid 1986), 2 vols; Reyna Pastor de Tognery (ed.), Sánchez Albornoz a debate: Homenaje de la Universidad de Valladolid con motivo de su centenario (Valladolid 1993); II Estudios de frontera. Actividad y vida en la frontera. En memoria de Don Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz. Alcalá la Real, 1997 (Jáen 1998); J. Pérez & M. Aduina (edd.), Les origines de la féodalité : hommage à Claudio Sánchez Albornoz. Actes du colloque international tenu à la Maison des Pays Ibériques les 22 et 23 octobre 1993 (Madrid 2000). Maybe we’ve now reached a stopping point but I wouldn’t like to bet on it.

3. J. J. Larrea, “Villa Matanza” in Hélène Débax (ed.), Les sociétés méridionales à l’âge féodal (l’Espagne, Italie et sud de France Xe-XIIIe s.). Hommage à Pierre Bonnassie, Méridiennes 8 (Toulouse 1999), pp. 223-228.

4. Ibid., pp. 227-228, quote p. 227.