One of the many good things about Wendy Davies’s Acts of Giving is the care she takes to compare her evidence not just across time but across space.1 The trends she notices are plotted over the whole tenth century, and as I might have predicted from Catalonia she thinks change begins to accelerate at the end. I’d have said 940, myself, but Catalonia is perhaps closer to the European action. Anyway, the space is the important thing. The area that Wendy is principally looking at breaks most easily down into kingdoms, or at least, areas which for a while had their own kings, Galicia in the far west, Asturias and Cantabria up behind the mountains on the north coast, León to the south of the mountains, and Castile to its east. Aragón doesn’t really get a look in, I suspect because nobody except the Aragonese now really claims it as historical territory due to its having moved from the Crown of Aragón-Catalonia to that of Castile only under Ferdinand and Isabella, whereas León had the good sense to get taken over earlier and thus be part of the great Castilian story. And that story is kind of what the post is about.
Whenever she’s talking about something big, like balance of men and women in donation charters for example, Wendy is careful to distinguish between areas.2 There are very few worthwhile charters from Asturias compared to the others (except Aragón, which just starts late with charters and that may be another reason why it gets short shrift) and many more from León; León is also the only episcopal archive that she uses (I don’t know why), although it contains many smaller monastic ones that have been absorbed.3 That means that there is a genuine danger that everything gets compared to León just because León outweighs the rest of the sample, so it may not be surprising a priori that Galicia and Castile often look a bit weird compared to it. There do seem to be genuine differences however: Galicia makes more mention of slaves and has about three valuation systems running in parallel, probably because so little actual money is in use out there.4 And Castile, well, let Wendy speak for herself:
And then there is Castile. Again and again Castilian patterns look different from those found elsewhere: the region has more transactions in churches but fewer instances of donation for the purposes of commemoration, fewer gifts to discharge debts, lower proportions of female alienators and of gifts to lay persons, fewer indications of peasant buying and selling, and so on.5
As she goes on to say, a lot of this is because a great proportion of the Castilian documentation that she uses comes from one house, San Pedro de Cardeña, which seems to have had some peculiar preferences when it copied up its charter archive to make the cartulary that is now our source of information.6 They look like sensible enough choices for the specialist in France or Germany: they kept few documents that didn’t relate to the house, and preferred to keep donations over sales and especially over exchanges; and they didn’t bother to write up very many small transactions or ones that might be difficult to insist on, such as those by women or peasants… Or at least this is what we assume to have happened, because other places didn’t make such a selection so Cardeña’s archive looks odd in comparison in ways that that would explain. Someone made deliberate choices that have gone on to bend the whole historical picture of the area’s demography and social practice. And Celanova, which is the principal house of record in Galicia, also has its oddities because of being the family foundation of a very aristocratic bishop whose family carry on connecting to the place and dump their charters there so it preserves strangely as well. (Sound familiar?) But Cardeña’s biases are harder to spot because they don’t clearly involve such a linking genealogical factor.
I would like to see these findings tested against the other houses in Castile that could have been used, there certainly are some, but whatever that might produce, I think there are some things that are genuinely different about Castile. In particular, the economy in this area was differently built I think, being drier (so we see more fighting about water rights) and much more pastoral. Wendy touches on this when looking at boundary disputes, saying in a footnote, “Also interesting that these boundary disputes are very rarely about grazing rights…. References to pasture rights are quite rare in the tenth century and only occur notably in Castile, especially in the San Millán charters”, though she also gives an example from Aragón.7 I think those two should probably be seen together in this; both of them would later extend huge transhumance trails across the whole peninsula as the Reconquista stretched southwards, with companies of shepherds petitioning the kings for preferential rights.8 That starts here, and Asturias, Galicia and Navarre and other areas beyond like mine aren’t really like that. Castile was a very particular sort of society, with more mobility, less investment in settlement, no towns to speak of, and a generally rougher and more lawless style of rule. Despite or because of that, eventually, it rose to the top of the pile of royal families of the Peninsula and thence to the entire dominance of Spain, to the extent that what English-speakers learn in school as Spanish is what Galicians or Catalans would call Castilian, or rather castelano or castellano. Now this presents problems, because people go on to write things like this:
The history of no other European people has been so decisively modified by a frontier as Castile.
This, if you couldn’t guess, is Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz again (mentioning whom is, it appears, a way of guaranteeing no comments on a post, which seems oddly fitting).9 So we have, by the evidence, a place that is quite unlike large swathes of Christian Spain to start with, that then gets “decisively modified” by its frontier, and finally by a series of dynastic and military chances and, most recently, by birthing Franco, winds up as the ruling power. It doesn’t have Aragón’s Jews, Galicia’s rural economy, Catalonia’s trade or Andalusia’s urban development, but it becomes Spain, and this is Franco, Menéndez Pidal and Don Claudio as much as anything, but also all the people who read them in other countries! It’s not just me who says so either, witness:
… the concentration on one part of Iberia is a regrettable confirmation that some see the history of the peninsula as to all intents and purposes the history of Castile.10
So just a plea to the contrary: Castile was weird. In fact, most zones of Iberia are or were, but watch out, when you talk about Spain, which one you’ve been taught to mean. And if possible, compare as does Wendy.
1. Wendy Davies, Acts of Giving: individual, community and church in tenth-century Christian Spain (Oxford 2007).
2. Ibid., pp. 164-189 and esp. pp. 171-173.
3. Ernesto Sáez (ed.), Colección diplomática del archivo de la catedral de León (775-1230) vol. I: 775-952 (León 1987) & idem; Carlos Sáez (edd.), Colección diplomática del archivo de la catedral de León (775-1230) vol. II: 953-85 (León 1990); José María Ruiz Asencio (ed.), Colección diplomática del archivo de la catedral de León (775-1230) vol. III: 986-1031 (León 1987).
4. Wendy Davies, “Sale, price and valuation in Galicia and Castile–León in the tenth century” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 (Oxford 2002), pp. 149-174.
5. Davies, Acts of Giving, p. 215.
6. G. Martínez Díez (ed.), Colección documental del monasterio de San Pedro de Cardeña (Burgos 1998).
7. Davies, Acts of Giving, pp. 200-201 n. 45.
8. Esther Pascua, “Around and About Water: Christians and Muslims in the Ebro Valley”, paper presented to the 4th Conference of Historians of Medieval Iberia, University of Exeter, 16th September 2005.
9. Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz, transl. in Robert I. Burns, “The Significance of the Frontier in the Middle Ages” in Robert Bartlett & Angus Mackay (edd.), Medieval Frontier Societies (Oxford 1989), pp. 307-30 at p. 325, cited in turn by A. Christys, “Christan-Muslim Frontiers in Early Medieval Spain” in Bulletin of International Medieval Research Vol. 5 (Leeds 1999), pp. 1-19 at p. 5, n. 19.
10. David Abulafia, “Introduction: seven types of ambiguity” in idem & Nora Berend (edd.), Medieval Frontiers: concepts and practices (Aldershot 2002), pp. 1-34 at pp. 2-3 referring to the focus of Bartlett & Mackay, Medieval Frontier Societies.