Tag Archives: Aragón

Leeds IMC Report for 2015, part 4 and final

The last of these posts, though not the last of the 2015 conference reporting I fear, sees me up bright and early on the 9th July 2015. Why? Well, partly so as not to miss breakfast but also because as you may recall, the previous day had almost all been sessions in honour of Ian Wood to mark his retirement. In fact those sessions continued all the rest of the conference, but for reasons that will shortly become clear, I could only go to the first one, and that meant going to hear one of my undergraduate teachers for whom I long ago developed a practice of being good and prompt. What am I talking about? Witness!

1514. The Early Medieval Church: history and hagiography – sessions in honour of Ian Wood, V

  • Rosamond McKitterick, “Reflections on the Manuscript Transmission of Eusebius-Rufinus, Historia ecclesiastica in the Early Middle Ages”
  • Barbara Rosenwein, “Feeling Saints in Gregory of Tours”
  • Wendy Davies, “Unpicking the Early Strands of Becerro Gallicano of San Millán de Cogolla: the monasteries of old Castile”
  • Thomas F. X. Noble, “Response”
  • As a line-up of people whose work has influenced me this is hard to beat. Rosamond, furthermore, opened all our eyes, I think, by picking up on something that I at least knew but knew very little about, that Eusebius’s famous History of the Church, written in Greek around 312-24, was largely known to the West only in the form of the Latin translation of Rufinus, who made it in 401, he says as a distraction from the depradations of the Goths! Rosamond pointed out that he did not leave Eusebius’s text alone, but combined much of the last two books and added two more of his own, and this involved inserting the Nicene Creed, no less, where Eusebius’s report of the Council of Nicæa had only had the council canons. And this was basically the West’s most stable source for the Creed that is the centrepost of Christian worship. Rosamond had counted ten versions in circulation by the Carolingian era, but Rufinus’s was the most common. You can see why some people felt like a reform was needed, can’t you? Professor Rosenwein, meanwhile, reminded us that despite technically being in Heaven and above such concerns, saints as conceived in the Middle Ages still got angry and upset, lamenting and so forth, in much the ways that their followers on Earth did but for better reasons and with better outcomes; they were to an extent emotional guides for the faithful on how to use one’s feelings for the good. This paper was hampered somewhat by relying solely on Gregory, who may well have had his own emotional spectrum (I would centre it on crotchety entitlement, myself), and in questions Albrecht Diem mischeviously raised the prospect that Gregory had two or more different ideals of sanctity in which case, as Professor Rosenwein said in answer, all generalisation would become impossible. Lastly Wendy, taking advantage of the brand new digital version of the Aragonese monastery of San Millán’s oldest surviving cartulary, had dug into it to detect an initial compilation of geographically-focused dossiers, of which one, but only one, went much back before 1000, that dealing with one valley whose materials were, unlike the rest, not in standard diplomatic form; she characterised this as the diplomatic of breakdown, when the practice of charter-writing continued but no authority was left to require how. This is quite powerful as a tool for me and I need to go and look at those charters, not least because I have observed the same myself at Leire and Obarra without thinking about what it meant.1

Sam Ottewill-Soulsby, none other, closed that session by remarking that the frontier had its own characteristics that were worth seeing from a frontier perspective; little did he know how much of a choir he was speaking to… You see, the reason I couldn’t come to any more of the sessions for Ian Wood, be they never so luminaried, was that my own sessions got going after coffee this day. They were but two, and I could have wished they weren’t so late in the conference since the audience dropped with each one as people went home, but they were still fun and they went like this.

1630. Rethinking the Medieval Frontier, I: beyond the Reconquista

  • Álvaro Carvajal Castro, “A Kingdom with no Frontier: on the political identity of the Astur-Leonese monarchy, 9th-11th centuries”
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “De administrandis marcis: the 10th-century frontier with Islam seen from Barcelona and Byantium”
  • Rodrigo García-Velasco, “Place, Fringe, Society or Process? Rulers and Ruled at the Iberian Frontier through the evidence of the fueros and cartas de población, c. 1050-1150″
  • Remains of the church of San Benito de Sahagún, on the site of the earlier monastery

    Remains of the church of San Benito de Sahagún, on the site of the earlier monastery. Photo by Davidh820Trabajo propio, CC BY-SA 3.0 es, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21717489


    All three of us entered this session with historiographical beasts to slay, I think. For Álvaro it was the frontier itself: he focused on the Tierra de Campos around the monastery of Sahagún and noted that after it was notionally fully incorporated into the kingdom of Asturias at the end of the ninth century, with royal donations indicating a considerable scale of property in the general area, the kings could still effectively lose control to local strongmen after a while, and the monastery had first to become the kings’ chosen strongman and then, after a further while, to give up on the kings and focus on the counts of Castile for support. This was less a frontier zone than just an ineffectively-governed one (though I might still argue for that as a frontier space, like mountains2). This theme that frontier politics were maybe just like politics elsewhere came up a lot in discussion, and it was fellow contributor Nicholas Paul who drew us back on track by reminding us that what made it different was the possibility of and for warfare, and Rob Portass had already raised this possibility by reminding us that Sahagún suffered sacking by the armies of al-Mansur in the late tenth century, enough as we know to detach many an area from its notional protectors!
    Rodrigo’s chosen beast, which has withstood a lot of slaying so far, was the Reconquista. Despite doing the particularly difficult thing of giving a first paper before one’s old supervisor (I taught Rodrigo in Oxford, which was why I had gathered him into this effort), he made an eloquent and even impassioned attempt to use the five-hundred-plus local law codes known as fueros to argue for a fragmented, discontinuous and locally-negotiated process of incorporation of new territories into the Navarrese and Aragonese crowns, a process which military presence and the award of these codes only began, rather than concluding. The results remained at the mercy of local strongmen and contrary offers (meaning, for example, that Tudela, Rodrigo’s particular focus, actually switched from Aragón to Navarre after a while) for a long time after the supposed frontier had moved beyond them. This of course meant that the very processes that Rodrigo here thought defined the frontier were those which Álvaro had used to refute such a definition for Sahagún, so it is perhaps no wonder that the discussion was agnostic about whether we were really looking at a distinct phenomenon, but trying to put some definitional flesh on the skeletal concept of ‘frontier’ was what we were all doing there so that was OK by me.
    Archivo Municipal de Tudela, Pergamins A.0002.3

    One manuscript of the fuero of Tudela, Archivo Municipal de Tudela, Pergamins A.0002.3 I think, due to be published by Rodrigo García-Velasco whose image this is


    Speaking of me, I was of course the middle one here, and my beast was incomparability. Despite the apparent incongruities of culture, size, resource and agency I was determined to put my year of necessary Byzantinism to use here, which was where all the digging into Constantine VII‘s De Administrando Imperii had come from. Looking at Constantine VII and Borrell II of Barcelona, of course, who just about overlapped but who in the former case were writing of an earlier time, I gave due attention to the disparities but then argued that both leaders seemed to realise that their best strategy for asserting themselves beyond the borders of what they securely controlled was to locate and enlist a subordinate in whom they could really trust and then let them have their head. Borrell laid more conditions down on some of his chosen subordinates (some of whom, like those of the kings of Asturias, were monasteries) and arguably got less out of them, but the attraction and retention of somebody who could actually achieve things for you was apparently worth the price of their working for themselves. This is the kind of ‘rule’ I want this frontiers project to derive and test; how well has this worked when people have done it and are there context-specific factors that explain that? And so on. This was by way of a first try at what I want this project to be.
    Castell de Llordà, Isona, Catalunya

    The current state of the Castell de Llordà (image from Viquipèdia), populated for Borrell II by a monastic subsidiary

But, necessarily, such a project cannot be all about the Iberian Peninsula even if that’s where my personal networks are strongest. So there was lunch, and various people fading away and finally, the determined hold-out cohort reconvened for the last session of both conference and strand, as follows.

1730. Rethinking the Medieval Frontier, II: Eastern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean

  • Jakub Kabala, “Concepts of the Border in Early Medieval Central Europe”
  • Luca Zavagno, “Islands – Not the Last Frontier: Insular Models in the Early Medieval Byzantine Mediterranean, ca. 650-ca. 850
  • Nicholas Paul, “The Lord’s Tournament Ground: the performance of nobility in Crusader Outremer”
  • I was sorry about the small audience for this session, not just because I’d invited these people to speak from far away in all cases and could in the end offer them only a few hearers, but also because there were three quite different and testing conceptions of frontier space in operation, the discussion such as it was was very thought-provoking and I just wish there could have been more people in it. Kuba was dealing with early medieval ecclesiastical language for borders, which, unsurprisingly, was Biblical, coming from Exodus and Proverbs. While these were usually interpreted in commentaries as describing the boundaries of correct belief, beyond which only heretics would go, Kuba had many examples of churchmen invoking them to complain of more basically territorial infractions, Carolingian clerics writing of Brittany and Thuringia, Methodius of Bavarian infiltration of the province of Moravia, and so on. Clearly the Church had a sense of bounded space here, even if a Biblically-phrased one. Predictably, I therefore asked in questions how that space was bounded, given that it didn’t need to be politically controlled or defended and frequently wasn’t, and Kuba wisely said that the key question was who ordained its clerics.

    Fresco illustration from San Clemente di Roma, showing the apostles of the Slavs, Saints Cyril and Methodius, before the pope

    Fresco illustration from San Clemente di Roma, showing the apostles of the Slavs, Saints Cyril and Methodius, before the pope. By anonymous artistUnknown, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2303590


    This got me thinking. It is that nodal concept of territory with which early medievalists now like to play instead of lines on a map, and it could be represented almost fractally, as each individual cleric answering or not answering the claimant authority himself had a congregation composed of villages or even households who might go to him but might instead go to the priest next-door. In some sense, at this lowest level, if you could go back there and ask people which fields and streams were in which farm and so on you could build a map up from these tiny tiles, as indeed people did for the term of Santa Maria de Manresa in 978 in a way that Jordi Bolòs hs since mapped (my example not Kuba’s obviously), but it would be sort of missing the point: the resource demarcated by such lines was the hearts and minds of those behind them, not the stuff up to the edge.3 If such a person crossed that line to go and visit someone, and then died, would the priest he ordinarily confessed to still get to claim him for burial? Somehow these questions did not come to me at the time, and I don’t know if they could be answered, but I think I will probably be asking them of Kuba when next we meet…4
    The Byzantine-built castle of Saint Hilarion, Girne, Northern Cyprus

    The Byzantine-built castle of Saint Hilarion, Girne, Northern Cyprus. By Richard – originally posted to Flickr as Saint Hilarion Castle, Girne, Northern Cyprus, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7030408


    Luca, meanwhile, had and has a manifesto. A decent part of the Byzantine Empire was made up of large islands: if you count Sicily, Cyprus, Crete, Malta and the Balearics together you are looking at quite a lot of land-mass, yet they are almost always considered peripheral to the mainland’s interests, Sicily sometimes excepted. Luca argued instead that these are a third sort of space to range between the plains of the landward empire and the mess of islands that is the Ægean, places to which the sea is very important but which can function autonomously. They are also more than fortresses and defences, often being trade hubs and even—and this is the bit that catches me particularly—becoming sort of betweennesses once technically lost to the empire, with connections still visible in the form of ceramics, seals and coins after their conquest by or loss to opposing or local powers. Cyprus, indeed, was subject to something like a formal power-sharing agreement between the Empire and the Caliphate during the seventh century, and it’s persistently difficult to say whether it was really in the Empire or not thereafter; its officials used Byzantine titles and honours, but we’ve seen how that can work… Much of what seems problematic here stops being so if we start to see Luca’s islands as frontiers in the Islamic sense, as thughr, that is as passages from one space to another rather than barriers between them, and maybe that’s where we take it next.
    Manuscript illumination of Richard the Lionheart jousting with Saladin

    Manuscript illumination of Richard the Lionheart jousting with Saladin (N. B. this never actually happened)


    Similar reflections on a between-space came finally from Professor Paul, who pitched us a picture of Crusader Outremer as its visitors seem to have seen it by the twelfth century, not as a warzone but really more as a holiday camp where you came from the West to get your chivalry good and bronzed. An analysis of chronicles and literature both was behind this, from which emerged a picture of the lords of the Crusader kingdoms as the ultimate hosts and arbiters of chivalric conduct, rich and homed in exotic spaces where, yes, you might go fight Muslims but you might equally fight each other or hey, go hunting lions with trained cheetahs and go back home with a whole cluster of prestige stories whose attainment, rather than expanding Christendom, was really the point in going.6 Presumably not very many Crusaders’ journey was really like this but it was the story people wanted told, and for the audience raised questions about whether anyone saw this as the frontier of Christianity that we now see in it. Professor Paul’s answer was that the frontier became less visible the closer to it you got, and he linked this back to Kuba’s mission grounds with, I now suppose, that same sense of the reductive optic by which you could keep going down a level and define the boundary slightly differently each time you zoomed in. Of course, in Crusader Jerusalem there would be about five cross-cutting ways in which you could define it, which was exactly why I had been so keen to get a Crusader specialist in on this whole thing. Professor Paul did not disappoint.

So that was the end, and accordingly those of us still left went with one accord to the bar, and I can’t remember what eventually made us leave it but we must have done, because I have stuff to report from elsewhere on the next day as well. But to that, we will come next post! [Edit: I forgot the ending… !] Finally, to end with, proof that I will go on needing more shelves and more reading time as long as I keep going to this conference…

Books bought at the 2015 International Medieval Congress, Leeds

The book haul from 2015, assembled shortly after my return to Birmingham


1. In Jonathan Jarrett, “Comparing the Earliest Documentary Culture in Carolingian Catalonia” in idem & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout 2013), pp. 89-128, DOI: 10.1484/M.IMR-EB.1.101679.

2. I’m thinking here mainly of Chris Wickham, The Mountains and the City: the Tuscan Appennines in the early middle ages (Oxford 1988), esp. pp. 357-365.

3. The Bull is printed in Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 1245, and how long it seems since I’ve cited that work! I must have been teaching… The mapping is done in Jordi Bolòs & Victor Hurtado, Atles dels comtat de Manresa (798-993) (Barcelona 2004), p. 53.

4. The question about burial rights mainly occurs to me because they were significant in the demarcation of early English parishes: see John Blair, The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society (Oxford 2005), pp. 433-471 with particular disputes at pp. 450 & 463.

The unbearable emptiness of being post-Roman: Aragonese depopulation and the rest of the field (Feudal Transformations XII)

The latter part of a conference volume that I was recently reading, so as to make watertight the final revision of a forthcoming paper, has set me thinking about the whole transformation argument one more time.1 (Still not ready to write that paper yet.) However, because that conference was concentrating mainly on late Antiquity and was largely attended by archæologists and historians who travel with them, it’s left me looking at it from an unusual point of view, and one that I have some trouble articulating (though that may just be shortage of sleep or coffee). So here is a slightly wandering review which may help me clear my thoughts. It’s a long long post, so it mostly lies behind a cut; you’ll be able to tell, I hope, from what lies above that whether you need to read either the post or the book.

Cover of Philippe Sénac (ed.), <u>De la Tarraconaise à la Marche Supérieure d'al-Andalus

Cover of Philippe Sénac (ed.), De la Tarraconaise à la Marche Supérieure d'al-Andalus

Because of the late antique focus, the book’s input is much less about the feudal transformation concept we know and, well, know, and more about what Chris Wickham has called ‘the other transition’, the end of the Roman system of trade and land ownership and the development of successor kingdoms. He, and some others, have argued that those kingdoms are ultimately based on a system of service-for-land that is later formalised as what the « mutationnistes » call feudalism and that others have wished that they wouldn’t.2 Okay so far?

A high medieval illumination of battles during the Reconquista

A high medieval illumination of battles during the Reconquista

Because, also, the book is mainly about the old Tarraconensis, the Roman and later Visigothic province of North-West Spain and the northern side of the Pyrenees, the contributors also have to deal with two other historical or historiographical complexes. First and less disputable is the effect of Islam on this furthest reach of Islamic Spain, though there is debate here about how strong that effect was. Second is the supposed Reconquest and its attached depopulation-and-repopulation historiography, which holds or held that the frontier zones between the new Islamic polity and the surviving or following Christian principalities along the Northern edge of Iberia became almost empty and were then settled by an aggressive movement from those kingdoms that culminated in the demolition of the fragmenting Islamic Caliphate and the recovery of Toledo, Tarragona, Lisbon or whatever your favourite important Iberian capital is. This historiography has, as we have seen before, come under less attack for Aragón than for elsewhere, and since that was definitely in the conference area opinions here varied quite widely. However I still have a sense of some consensus that the historians of the transformation who approach it mainly from documents are missing a number of important tricks, and am therefore trying to get my head round what these suggestions do to that historiography. Continue reading

Where the teachers lived

Here is an odd little case. Let me quote some document at you:

In the name of Christ and the individual Trinity. I the senior Galí, and my wife Bella, together with our collective neighbourhood [‘cum cuncta nostra vicinitate’] who dwell at the castle of Erdao, that is: Albino Bradilans with all his kindred [parentela], and Oriol with all his kindred, and Albino magister with all his kindred, and Rather magister with all his kindred, and Oliba with all his kindred, and Maiol and Salamó with their kindreds, and Daco with his kindred, and Galindo and Asner with their kindreds, and Ermeniscle and Miró with their kindreds, and Albino and Centoll with their kindreds, and Centoll the priest with all his kindred. We the above-written with all our neighbourhood, as much greater as lesser, as much noble as ignoble, all together equally, by one will, to you Abbot Galí, and to your brother Ató, we do make a charter or affirmation [firmitatem] of our churches or of everything that pertains to the selfsame churches, in lands, in vines, in houses, in buildings, in orchards, in gardens, in trees, in rivers, in mountains, in meadows, in pastures, cultivated and uncultivated, in mountain as much as valley, as much that by which it is today augmented as that we shall now be able to further add to the name of the selfsame churches…. The selfsame half do we transfer into your dominion, so that you may do what you wish or judge good with it. And the other half we give to you, so that you may build it and guard it, and from the uncleared waste make to bring it fruitful into cultivation or into the monastic service. Therefore on account of this do we make this donation, so that we the above-named or our gathered lineages [generaciones], as much living as dead, may find consolation or mitigation in this world, and in the future may possess life eternal; both we and our ancestors [parentes], who have passed on from this world who began and dedicated these churches….1

There’s so much going on here I hardly know what to point at: all the terms for kinship, the almost unparallelled evocation of all the family of each head of household (as I assume them to be) and the general all-hands inclusiveness; the priest who is apparently such a household head; a community chief called a senior, which I think here genuinely could be translated as `chief’; and the community development efforts that have apparently proved too hard and are now being outsourced to the monastery (the monastery in question being Santa Maria d’Obarra). Also, the singsong repetitive style, which is not unusual but quite pronounced. But the thing that struck me first of all from the report of Barbero and Vigil (yes, I’m afraid it’s another post based on that book) was not, as they might have wished, the all-inclusive nature of the witnessing (though, fair enough, and though I have seen the like, where I saw it those people did not retain their independence of action in this way), but the third and fourth named participants, “Albinus” and “Raterus” magistri.2

View of the route up to San Saturnino de Erdao as it now stands, perhaps the church that Obarra had built...

View of the route up to San Saturnino de Erdao as it now stands, perhaps the church that Obarra had built...

Okay you two, own up. You’re not locals are you? Albinus reminds me of Alcuin of York, Charlemagne’s tutor, who used it as a nickname for himself, what might be significant for a schoolmaster; but on the other hand there are two others of that name here so maybe it just has an odd local popularity. Rather, however, is a different story. The only famous Rather I can think of is the tenth-century Bishop of Verona and he was a Frank. Seems unlikely that he is being referred to here but I am suspicious, all the same, of these schoolmasters’ origins. Now if they were immigrant Franks, in Aragón (or, if you’re looking at the right point, Catalonia; Erdao is in Ribagorza, which has passed from the other to the one over time), they’re behind the times. This is 1018, and the Franks haven’t been in charge here since 872. But this is maybe, just, the reform movement in action and new people are arriving and trying to change the world through education? If so they’ve settled in quickly: note that both already have parentelae, kingroups… So I am confused, but suspect that formula may have outweighed reality in their cases.

I am however considerably more exercised by a more important question: where’s the school? This document hails from the monastery of San Martín de Obarra, but I don’t know of any evidence that these guys were based there. They don’t turn up again in this charter corpus. A few other magistri do, and one of them is very helpfully qualified as ‘Bradilano magistro de Rota‘.3 Now in this context, Rota must be Roda de Isavena, the capital of Ribagorza, where there had recently been refounded a bishopric. So it doesn’t seem to be going too far to call Bradila a teacher of the cathedral school, which is the kind of thing we don’t often see: but what is he doing witnessing a sale of land at Recons to Santa Maria d’Obarra?

Santa Maria d'Obarra, Ribagorza, seen from the apsed end; image from the Catalan Wikipedia

Santa Maria d'Obarra, Ribagorza, seen from the apsed end; image from the Catalan Wikipedia

Well, one answer might be that these transactions were done at the cathedral. That would have some parallels elsewhere, but it doesn’t explain why he then only turns up once; you would expect that to be something that happened more than once if it happened at all.4 It seems much more likely to me that ceremonies of gift to Obarra were usually performed at Obarra, but if they were connected there, again, we ought to see these people frequently in this corpus, and none recur. Another answer therefore that allows us to include Albinus and Rather with their lack of obvious cathedral connections is that these masters actually lived near the lands concerned, with their families. But that has its own implications. No small Aragonese village has two schoolmasters in 1018; it doesn’t even have a school. One of them would be acceptable, maybe; every such person has to live somewhere, but one would expect them to be placed somewhere by the patronage of their employer. With two of them together I’d say that was a near certainty. What such community would accept two professionals working for someone else into their midst if they could avoid having to spare the surplus?

So I think their presence here entails that the land that they had belonged to some host institution. And I suspect that that means that Obarra was already here, perhaps indeed by the sort of pacts of pseudo-adoption that Barbero and Vigil go on to describe.5 So I think that by seeing this, as they did, as the handing over of rights to an outside power by a community that had until now otherwise retained a communal organisation, Barbero and Vigil missed something. Their picture of this self-governing community was too rosy; the monastery’s men were there and they were put there as part of a longer relationship to the house, which is presumably why it was Obarra to which the villagers gave their churches. At which rate, I wouldn’t be too happy concluding that the community chose its own senior, which rather removes the point our two scholars wanted this document to make…


1. Angel J. Martín Duque (ed.), Colección diplomática de Obarra (Zaragoza 1965), doc. no. 29, cited in Abilio Barbero & Marcelo Vigil, La Formación de feudalismo en la Península Ibérica 2nd edn. (Barcelona 1979), pp. 361-362.

2. Ibid. My case would be the Vall de Sant Joan de Ripoll, where the huge hearing includes almost as many women as men as if householder couples had been listed. Barbero and Vigil had their ideas about this hearing too, which will be covered in a future post, but for now, this will be Chapter 2 part 1 in the now very-nearly indexed Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (London forthcoming) by this Jonathan Jarrett guy, who I hear tell handed over the final text to the business editor only today and is now expecting actual publication early next year…

3. Martín, Colección doc. no. 16, other single-shot masters in docs no. 2 & 25. One is tempted to suggest they were on short-term placements, except that there being two here complicates that, especially if some were at the cathedral and others weren’t.

4. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, Chapter 2 part 2 and Chapter 3 part 3 has a few examples of transactions that, as can be deduced from their witnesses, were carried out at the cathedral of Sant Pere de Vic in Osona.

5. Barbero & Vigil, Formación, pp. 380-394.

More royal charters (“I told you so”) and frontier settlement in Aragón

Donation by King Alfonso I 'the Battler' of Aragón to the cathedral of Tudela, 1123 (Tudela was conquered in 1119)

Donation by King Alfonso I 'the Battler' of Aragón to the cathedral of Tudela, 1123 (Tudela was conquered in 1119)

I’ve just zipped through a Kalamazoo paper from 1990-something by one William Stalls, and find further confirmation of this idea that needs to get through, that royal charters don’t show policy as much as demand.1 His example was Alfonso the Battler, King of Aragón (1104-34), who seems, contrary to what Stalls tells us is accepted wisdom, to have taken his own sweet time about settling the frontier that he recaptured on the River Ebro. In observing that areas that were freshly conquered seem to preserve charters only from a period of eight or nine years later and sometimes even later than that, Stalls points out:

This evidence suggests that the purpose of cartas pueblas and fueros, then, was to sanction settlers and their rights of settlement, even that not initiated by the crown. The carta puebla and fuero do not always demonstrate some overall royal policy of directing settlement…. More likely, the custom of the Aragonese was for the king to approve settlement, not to lead it. (p. 220)

The analogies of this with my own work are probably obvious, but mainly I’m firstly glad to see someone else saying this piece about royal documents, and secondly that it still apparently needed saying in his area too at that time. People: we give kings much too much work to have done. I don’t mean to suggest that their days were idle, Alfonso’s in particular clearly not, but it’s not as if no-one did anything in these areas without the royal say-so. Most of your life as a medieval settler you’d never have anything to do with the king. By ascribing all this initiative to the king we lift it off the shoulders of the people whose lives depended on these decisions, and to whom we should allow the credit of having taken them.

View of the Ebro Valley

View of the Ebro Valley

That said, Stalls does have one interpretation that rather sits at odds with what my work on frontiers has led me to expect. Looking at one part of the Ebro Valley, he notes a clutch of charters from 1124 when Alfonso was actually in the area that seem to be trying to sort out a local defence network pro confusionem et defensionem christianorum”.2 The area had been (re-)conquered between 1118 and 1124, and Stalls’s main point was that its defence and settlement clearly wasn’t Alfonso’s first concern. However, as he observes, “if Alfonso had already settled the Bajo Aragón, then why would he need to undertake the settlement of 1124? The most plausible explanation is that such efforts had been lacking” (p. 223). That’s weird, to me, because the prevailing historiography is that though they might be under-populated, these areas were not generally unpeopled, that’s supposed to be just a topos of the narrative sources. But if settlement really was necessary here, was there no-one here really? It was a war-zone after all…

I suspect that the answer to this emerges later on, when he finishes with a rhetorical flourish about the city of Saragossa, asking how we would judge when it could be counted as being ‘repopulated’. Its Muslim population, forced to leave within a year by the terms of surrender (p. 220), had been pretty large. Stalls therefore asks, “If Muslim Zaragoza had a population of 25,000 persons, as some shcolars have estimated, then what is the number of Christians constituting its successful settlement? 5,000, 10,000, or 25,000?” I might ask, also, once tenure had been broken by the exodus, how many of the locals might take city plots on what would probably be good terms? They’d be Muslims, of course, but we probably wouldn’t hear from them. The Muslim population is very much in the background in this story of resettlement, called on to confirm boundaries sometimes (an instance given p. 223 & n. 20) but otherwise very much out of sight, out of mind. They were there though: Stalls reports:

In various lesser villages of the Ebro Christians were truly an oddity, a minority in numbers, although ruling the Muslim majority. For example, in some villages the only Christians to be found were the priest, notary and tavern keeper, while the rest of the inhabitants were Muslim, or, later, Morisco. (Pp. 224-225.)

Makes me ask about that 1124 settlement, if there was a population there already, they’d largely be Muslim, wouldn’t they? So whom did the settler Christians need defending against, again? All kinds of stuff about interaction to be teased out here, but for the minute I very much suspect that the clash between the ‘populated frontier’ view of the historiography I know and Stalls’s necessity of settlement is to be explained by the ‘dark matter’ of the non-Christian population…


1. William C. Stalls, “The Relationship between Conquest and Settlement on the Aragonese Frontier of Alfonso I” in Larry J. Simon (ed.), Iberia and the Mediterranean World of the Middle Ages. Studies in Honor of Robert I. Burns S. J., volume I: proceedings from Kalamazoo (Leiden 1995), pp. 216-231.

2. Ibid., p. 222, the quote in n. 15 citing José Angel Lema Pueyo (ed.), Coleccioón diplomática de Alfonso I de Aragón y Pamplona (1104-34) (San Sebastián 1990), no. 134.