Tag Archives: Reconquista

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.

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Cunning observations in recent reading, and a reconnection to the subject

It is being hard to find time or will to put much up here, partly because of imminent Leeds (a day after circulating the paper is no time to discover 23 extra charters of which you’ve taken no account, though thankfully they nuance and deepen my argument rather than wrecking it, I know now) and partly because of other attacks on my self-confidence that I won’t burden you all with. However, it seems that whatever I feel about my own writing just now, that of others remains interesting, and I wanted to just mention a couple of things I recently read that reflect and sharpen my own historical enquiry, one new and one old.

Alfonso X of Castile and his court, as shown in <a href="http://www.library.arizona.edu/exhibits/illuman/12_07.html">the 12th-century Libro de los Juegos</a>; from Wikimedia Commons

Alfonso X of Castile and his court, as shown in the 12th-century Libro de los Juegos; from Wikimedia Commons

First up, an excellent article by Cristina Jular Pérez-Alfonso, given a classy Englishing by Simon Doubleday that makes readable and intelligent what could so easily have been jargon-laden and impenetrable, in an equally excellent volume I should have finished reading long ago.1 Approaches to medieval power so often concentrate on only one side of it, the ruler and his or her government, or his opposition, or the down-trodden pheasants peasants. Sometimes the opposition is the government of course, and very occasionally it’s the peasants, but what we don’t often get is all three treated distinctly. Jular tries to provide this balance, king and his ideology and how it was propagated, officials and their practice, their reinforcement or lack of it from the king and their own local standing, and the communities they ruled and their voice in how they were governed, often substantial. She is looking at thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Castile specifically but she references the legends of William Tell and Robin Hood and generally you can use this stuff. And the article gives me a moment of unsettlement when she asks whether the officials represented a class and whether they recognised each other as peers.2 I really ought to have paid a bit more attention to that. I will in future.

(My initial sense is that actually, the people who call themselves vicars in my area come from a variety of initial backgrounds and don’t even necessarily engage with the counts to get their titles even though the titles imply delegation. I think I say this quite well, but whether the different groups of vicars, those born to wide-ranging property and influence, those raised up by the count for service and those who had used local status and mixed patronage to climb a level (could I even separate those two, except in terms of character? Would I want to? Character is powerful…) saw each other as equals or rivals or both, I don’t really touch.3 This would be worth doing to revive a paper I once started researching but gave up as something that had already been done. Next time someone asks me for a paper on high-status men this is what I should offer. Anyway.)

The church of Santa Coloma de Queralt, from a local postcard

The church of Santa Coloma de Queralt, from a local postcard

Then a tiny little volume in a Catalan series of tiny little volumes called Episodis de la Història, which like a lot of Catalan probably doesn’t need translating for the English reader. These little books (24mo, about 60 pp, card covers) take one theme and give a in-depth narrative account of it, and they’re very neat. There’s one about the abbesses of Sant Joan de Ripoll, and there’s one, which I mean here, about the Catalan reconquest of the no-man’s land between them and the Muslim city states of Lleida and Tortosa.4 At times it’s a fairly dry list of mentions of castles which the author, Josep Iglesies, was using to map the slow creep forward of the frontier, but the first few chapters where he tries to characterise the frontier areas before the conquest rolled over them is exactly the sort of writing that got me into this field and has inspired some of my own work.5 Perhaps, then, it’s not surprising that it matches my own picture well: work based on this work formed my picture, after all. But what I mainly like is the acerbic cynicism with which he greets the romantic picture of the frontier pioneers and their supposed throwing back of Saracen dominion. A quick burst of my notes will give you the idea:

La frontera incial a Garbí

[3] For Guifré I Manresa, Terrassa (maybe) and Barça face off against Tortosa and Lleida [4]; Tortosa protected by monastery at Segarra and Pallars/Urgell, Barça by the Penedès, Òdena and Calaf; before that however, Barça more genuinely a frontier city. Leading out, the Via Augusta [5] to Tarragona and Tortosa and the ancient road via Òdena and Segarra to Lleida. Roads imply a trade that we don’t see, but the castles and defences also provide the first seeds of repop. Valleys and ridges good ground for both [6], surely exploited. Prob. populations there already of course, fleeing settlers of C8th or even older; it is, as said, good ground. [7] Is also however the main zone of military contact: Sunyer, notably, fortifies it with e. g. Olèrdola [†SANT CUGAT] where is clearly still some pop., [8] and Queralt, conquered by Guifré I according to Borrell. Space between these bastions undocumented but actual settlement goes beyond [9] (CC2 SANT CUGAT II), though concessions here left unexploited b/of war and banditry. Line is insecure, [10] and Queralt area least safe of all. Settlement presumably fills in behind but slowly. Land clearance [11] and buildings by pioneers must go on, fugitives safe till become profitable [cynic!], or bandits part-time; equivalents on other side of no-man’s land too, enslavement t/fore a constant threat, but otherwise unusually free. Lords do establish people, however, B. of Barça most clearly at Montnell and Santa Coloma [12] [*BARCA], whose franchise terms may be typical (also in being second try!)

Hopefully my apparatus there isn’t too impenetrable. I’ve linked up where I’ve talked about people or places there mentioned on the blog before. Mainly I love the sense of realism with which he speculates; settlement must go on but it could easily go wrong, the grand concessions of frontier franchises fail to hide the danger of the place, and you’re freer than almost anywhere here, but that freedom includes freedom from protection against violent military enslavement by your peers across the terra de ningú. Partly I love this perspective because it doesn’t forget the ‘nasty brutish and short’ side of medieval frontier life; but also leaves room for the achievement, and the space for initiative, the hope of building something of one’s own and making a life for oneself, that for some people at least explains why on earth people came to these dangerous places at all, as well as remembering that some people’s families never left.6 It’s pretty rich for ten pages.

This post may seem a bit more like therapy than would be ideal, but it does help me to remember why I’m interested in this stuff. Hopefully you are too.


1. C. Jular Pérez-Alfonso, “The King’s Face on the Territory: Royal Officers, Discourse and Legitimating Practices in Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Century Castile” in Isabel Alfonso, Hugh Kennedy & Julio Escalona (edd.), Building Legitimacy: Political Discourses and Forms of Legitimation in Medieval Societies, The Medieval Mediterranean 53 (Leiden 2004), pp. 107-137.

2. Ibid., p. 121: “Let us focus the discussion for a moment on the higher officers. Do they generate their own discourse, or are they permanently dependent of [sic] that of the monarchy?”

3. When I say I don’t, I mean in the forthcoming book. The title is again under debate so I won’t cite it just yet. Instead I shall put this token in: “before 1000”, so that I can easily find it to retrospectively update again.

4. Josep Iglesies, La Reconquesta a les Valls d’Anoia i Gaià, Episodis de la Història 67 (Barcelona 1963). The other is Esteve Albert, Les Abadesses de Sant Joan, Episodis de la Història 69 (Barcelona 1968).

5. The work that specifically inspired me was Pierre Bonnassie’s La Catalogne du milieu du IXe siècle à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une sociètè (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols, I pp. 106-110, and Eduardo Manzano Moreno, “Christian-Muslim Frontier in al-Andalus: idea and reality” in Dionisius Agius & Richard Hitchcock (edd.), Arab Influence upon Medieval Europe (Reading IL 1994), pp. 83-96, and the work that it has inspired is Jonathan Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: organisation of society in the pre-Catalan ‘terra de ningú'” in Alan Deyermond & Martin Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London forthcoming), which, yes, I have been promising for eighteen months already but which is, honestly, forthcoming, but no longer in my hands to affect.

A troublesome snippet of information

Recently while passing briefly through Cambridge University Library I found myself at one of those points on a project where you think you’ve run something down only to find it’s just run round a corner you hadn’t seen and is about to disappear again. You know the ones? Where your elaborate metaphor collapses as soon as you try and rescue the paragraph? That’s the one. Anyway, I discovered that it is said as follows, if I translate from the Castilian:

Isa ben Áhmad says: ‘and in this year [280 == 893] Alfonso son of Ordoño, king of Galicia, betook himself to the city of Zamora, then depopulated, and rebuilt it and urbanized it, and fortified it and populated it with Christians, and restored all its ramparts. Its constructors were people of Toledo, and its defences were erected at the expense of a man called Agemí, from among them. Thus, indeed, from that moment the city began to flourish, and its peoples were united one unto another, and the peoples of the frontier came to settle in it.’

Why is this troublesome, you may be asking? The short answer is, because of Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz again. The long answer is the same but with an explanation, but given how much of dear Don Claudio you’ve had recently you should at least be warned. Okay? Right then.

View over some vineyards in the Duero Valley

View over some vineyards in the Duero Valley

Don Claudio’s most famous work is probably his Despoblación y Repoblación del Valle del Duero (Buenos Aires 1966), in which he claimed that the kings of Asturias and León began the ‘Reconquest’ in the eighth and ninth centuries when they rode into Muslim Spain and drove populations out of the frontier cities into their own territories, and then later on started moving their consequently abundant people into the relatively deserted no-man’s land in the Duero Valley. Since, well, the late 1980s (once everyone was sure he was dead I DIDN’T WRITE THAT), this work has been deprecated because of varying sorts of evidence that the frontier territories were never really all that deserted; territorial boundaries continue and so someone must be there to remember them, churches that are still standing apparently remain in use and so forth.1 So evidence that says this sort of thing, about the repopulating endeavours of the kings, are problems because they make Don Claudio right and the new scholarship wrong. Usually the answer is simple: the Christian sources all date from an era of glory in which the king, usually Alfonso III, was winning battles hand over fist and everyone was sure he was going to reconquer the whole of Spain in the next five minutes, and were generally a bit Messianic about the whole thing.2 When you look into it, as I have, this literature that makes these claims is actually rather hard to find, and you have to conclude that really it’s what Sánchez-Albornoz and Ramón Menéndez Pidal wanted to have happened more than what is actually evidenced by authors who had an objective perspective. (As so many do. Yes anyway.)

Trouble is of course, this is an Arabic author, because it supposedly comes from the al-Muqtabas of the 11th-century chronicler Abu Marwān ibn Khalaf Ibn Hayyān, and as you can see he is quoted as quoting the ninth-/tenth-century Cordoban chronicler, judge and doctor cIsā ibn Āhmad al-Razī, who was at least in a position to know what he was talking about and who had no great reason to laud Alfonso’s achievements. It’s odd that the text calls him King of Galicia, because he was king of Asturias in fact, but since he also ruled Galicia and Zamora is in Galicia, perhaps al-Razī thought that was the relevant territory to put him in. Anyway. This, too, is troublesome, troublesome because the text is impossible to find. I got the reference, you see, from Richard Hitchcock’s Mozarabs in Medieval and Early Modern Spain (Aldershot 2008), p. 55 n. 9, who cites two earlier works saying that “both quote Miguel Asín’s translation of a passage of Ibn Hayyān as source”. But what translation of Asín’s was this, I wondered? I’d not seen any sign of this text before you see. And the relevant portion of the al-Muqtabas, Book IV, is sadly lost, and I certainly don’t know of a translation and I feel sure Arabists would know if it was out there anywhere. So what’s the cite?

The later medieval cathedral of Zamora

The later medieval cathedral of Zamora

I went and looked up the first of the authors, who was, ineluctably, Don Claudio in his Despoblación, pp. 273-4, and it turns out he just cites the other author rather than any primary reference. (This is not untypical; he was quite good at hiding his sources in plain sight.) The other author, then, was Manuel Gómez Moreno in his Iglesias mozárabes: arte español de los siglos IX a XI (Madrid 1919), 2 vols, I. p. 107, and there as n. 1 he gave the Castilian of Asín that I’ve translated above. It seems that Asín translated it specially for Gómez, from ‘the Oxford manuscript’. I have no clue what this Oxford manuscript might be, the Bodleian Library‘s catalogue not covering manuscripts as yet, and if I found it, ironically, of course I wouldn’t be able to read it to check, not having any Arabic. So dead end: I can’t find that this text really existed and was really Ibn Hayyān, and so I don’t know whether to believe it or not. There’s nothing too difficult about believing simultaneously that the frontier was peopled but uncontrolled and that Alfonso III managed to attract some rich settlers from Toledo who came and made Zamora into a new frontier fortress; Toledo spent about two-thirds of its time in rebellion anyway so political exiles from there are quite plausible, no matter what the frontier was like generally.3 But I wouldn’t mind enough citation to be able to check.


1. For example, Eduardo Manzano Moreno, “The Creation of a Medieval Frontier: Islam and Christianity in the Iberian Peninsula, eighth to twelfth centuries” in Daniel Power & Naomi Standen (eds), Frontiers in Question: Eurasian borderlands, 700-1700 (London 1999), pp. 32-52; Mickey Abel, “Strategic Domaine: Reconquest Romanesque along the Douro”, paper presented to the 4th Conference of Historians of Medieval Iberia, University of Exeter, 15th September 2005.

2. The maddest of the relevant texts is called the Prophetic Chronicle and does terrible maths to try and make it clear that Alfonso is going to restore the old Spain in less than a year. He didn’t. Whether this emigré Southerner remained a credible person at court thereafter is not recorded. The text can be found in Yves Bonnaz (ed./transl.), Chroniques Asturiennes (fin IXe Siècle). Avec édition critique, traduction et commentaire (Paris 1987), pp. 2-9, commentary pp. 60-67, manuscript discussion pp. LX-LXIII and further comments pp. LXXXVI-XCIII; cf. J. Gil Fernández, “Introducción” in idem (ed.), J. L. Moralejo (transl.) & J. I. Ruiz de la Peña, Crónicas Asturianas: Crónica de Alfonso III (Rotense y «A Sebastián»), Crónica Albeldense (y «Profética») (Oviedo 1985), p. 104. While you’re there see if you can find any sign of this supposed neo-Gothic triumphalism in the others. No, thought not.

3. Manzano, La Frontera de al-Andalus en Época de los Omeyas, Biblioteca de Historia 9 (Madrid 1991), pp. 259-310.

Setting ethnicities: comparisons across Bohemia, India and Catalonia

Aerial view of the Bohemian city of Český Krumlov, whose building runs from the medieval period to the present day

Aerial view of the Bohemian city of Český Krumlov, whose building runs from the medieval period to the present day

I was just catching up with blogs before updating here myself, and found this note at Muhlberger’s Early History, which is one of his reports on the work of his collaborator, democracy advocate Phil Paine, two of whose book reviews form the core of the post. The one that caught my eye was about the creation of the nation of Bohemia, which the author whom Paine was reviewing, Nancy Wingfield (thus taking this post three references deep now), put largely down to a false monolingualism determined by the Austro-Hungarian authorities. I was especially struck by this bit:

Millions of people who were bilingual or multilingual, who might use Czech to gossip with a neighbour, German at work, Hungarian to talk to a brother-in-law, and Slovak in bed with their spouse, suddenly had to define themselves like a species of insect by one, and only one of these languages. A Jewish shopkeeper might speak Yiddish at home, Moravian with his Customers, and read German newspapers and books. Czech nationalists insisted that he be considered a German, and German nationalists insisted that he was not. His rabbi claimed him as neither. The only opinion that carried no weight was his own. Up until then, in most of rural Bohemia, a given person would have said, ‘I am from such-and-such a village’, not ‘I am Czech’ or ‘I am German’. Most Bohemians lived in this multi-cultural and multi-lingual reality, and had done so for centuries, but the census demanded that everyone be labeled ethnically under a single language, assumed to be identical with some inherent biological species.

To intellectuals and political activists, the resulting statistics and manufactured ethnicities became the tools for power struggles.

Of course, it’s but the biggest blow in a long long process of back and forth between domination of German and non-German cultures in this kingdom that was once one of the electors of the Holy Roman Emperor, but this piece reminds me rather of something medieval, in terms of dates, but not at all European (and therefore not really medieval, as there’s no ‘middle’ for it to be in). It reminds me of a seminar I once saw given by an Indian scholar whose name is Romila Thapar. She is now Kluge Professor at the Library of Congress, but when her candidacy for the post was announced there was a great furore in India, and petitions raised against her that called her a Marxist, a Communist and someone who “denies that India even had a history”. Petitions were raised for her too, and she eventually got the job. (A balanced-seeming view that actually refers to her work here; a Hindu pro-tolerance one here, it’s all very complicated.)

Romila Thapar in interview

Romila Thapar in interview

So what was this dangerous firebrand preaching, when I saw her? That 11th- and 12th-century charter evidence from the North-West of India, where Muslim incomers had acquired a substantial rôle in society, showed both groups in apparent cooperation over land sales, witnessing together and so on, and so the embedded historiographical idea that in India Muslims and Hindus have always fought bitterly seemed in fact to be a much more modern construction. She blamed legislation by the British to prevent such conflict, they assuming falsely that there must be some. I don’t know about that—my reading on India is pretty scant—and my own work on spotting ethnic mix in charters means that I now wish I’d asked her how she was attributing religion to these people from their names, because I can point you to deacons in Spain called Muhammad, and so on. All the same it shows that there was no established discourse of a superior ethnicity such as was established in Bohemia by state intervention; there’s nothing in the documents that she presented to suggest that either Muslims or Hindus were controlling the process to the exclusion of the other group. They sat on village councils together, presumably did business together and so on. Now there may be more to Professor Thapar’s work than this, in fact there must be, but the impression I left with was that this person gets death threats because she suggests that once upon a time, Indians got on more or less peacefully. But the suggestion that an opposition now so crucial to so many people’s identities in India is a modern construct and not hallowed by the centuries of blood that Indians grow up hearing about is a big threat to current senses of identity.

A high medieval illumination of battles during the Reconquista

A high medieval illumination of battles during the Reconquista

It’s not hard to parallel this from my own studies, of course, because this is another area where it has become legend that a national identity was built out of conflict with the Muslims (in some places quite a nasty legendsome deconstruction here and see references below). The work I mentioned above about communities with Arabic names, groups who participate enthusiastically in the nascent Leonese kingdom’s formation, should show you that this is overstated, but in Catalonia it’s actually harder to show this lack of concern with ethnicity. People (and places) with Arabic names do occur, but rarely; references to conflict are infrequent but enough to suggest that it was fairly continuous but usually very small-scale. Meanwhile, because it is in some senses suppressed, the quest for a Catalan national sentiment is very important to modern-day Catalans; establishing that they were once a nation, perhaps even before upstart Castile, makes the case for secession much easier to maintain. This is why Ramon d’Abadal had to struggle so hard to establish the case that, really, before at least the millennium and probably later Catalonia was not yet a thing. The key point is supposed to come in 985, when the Muslim hajib al-Mansur led the army that sacked Barcelona; this, and the subsequent realisations that all the proto-Catalan counties were in it together and that they had no exterior support any more, has been held to start people writing about the area as if it had an identity of its own. I myself can see no sign of a unified response and think that the real efforts in this line come after the union with Aragón, partly because by then all the separate Catalan counties have collapsed into the control of the house of Barcelona, but also because until then there is no need to define themselves against anyone; France is still forming and hasn’t really got that far south, and Aragón is aimed in a different direction. Once the counts become kings elsewhere, though, the threat of inferior status makes the Catalans look to their lineages, or so I think anyway. There’s a lot of work on this I haven’t done though. The comparisons above however help me think it’s a case that could be defended: here again, it wasn’t a popular sentiment that set up a perceived ethnicity, it was a state exercise of politics that brings about an unwelcome process of definitions not necessarily mirrored at ground-level.


Limiting references to the absolute basics, Nancy Wingfield’s book that Phil Paine was reviewing is Flag Wars and Stone Saints: how the Bohemian lands became Czech (Cambridge MA 2007) (which should so very much have been called Czech your Change don’t you think?). Romila Thapar’s most immediately accessible work is probably either her Penguin A History of India: volume 1 (Harmondsworth 1990) or Early India: from the origins to 1300 (Berkeley 2004). The easiest and most readable antidote to the Menéndez Pidal Reconquista mythos is Richard Fletcher, “Reconquest and Crusade in Spain c. 1050-1150” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th Series Vol. 37 (London 1987), pp. 31-47 but see also idem and Simon Barton (eds), The World of El Cid: Chronicles of the Spanish Reconquest (Manchester 2000). On the Catalan lack of interest in such definitions you should soon be able to see Jonathan Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: organisation of society in the pre-Catalan ‘terra de ningú'” in Alan Deyermond & Martin Ryan (eds), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London forthcoming). The 985 theory comes from Michel Zimmermann, “La prise de Barcelone par Al-Mansur et la naissance de l’historiographie catalane” in L’historiographie en Occident du Ve au XVe siècle. Actes du Congrès de la Société des Historiens Médiévistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur (Tours, 10-12 juin 1977), Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l’Ouest Vol. 87 (Rennes 1980), pp. 191-218. A reference for my scepticism lacks as yet, but let’s see what happens after November

Feudal Transformations V: el ‘Hipòtesi’ del Professor Riu

First entry in the Currently Reading… category for quite a while, but you see term wound up and I found books again. No more explanation is needed.

Professor Manuel Riu i Riu

Professor Manuel Riu i Riu is one of the grand names of Catalan medieval history and archaeology,1 so grand that unlike most Catalan academics he’s actually known to a wider field (albeit an Iberian one). This, as it appears to the outsider, is partly because of him being one of those rare people whose work is as important in archaeology as it is in history, which gives him a whole conceptual toolbox to bring to either discipline which they don’t normally use, and partly because of his being willing to communicate his findings clearly and simply in either direction. So there are a couple of archives whose charters he’s published, and on the other hand for about twenty years he was almost the only archaeologist working on the early Middle Ages whom his historian contemporaries could get to feed them information in terms they could understand.2 (This may be a little unfair, but it’s what the pattern of citation looks like sometimes.) I don’t mean to say that I fall in respectfully with every word, but he does have an immense amount of work to his credit (a selected bibliography can be found here and runs to 55 articles and 6 books). Sometimes, however, because of the ephemeral nature of some archaeology publications or just because I’m in the wrong country, it’s rather difficult to get hold of.

A while ago while reading that article of Professor Gaspar Feliu’s I subsequently wrote here about, I came across, and not for the first time, a reference to a paper that Professor Riu had not then published, but merely presented, called “Hipòtesi entorn dels orígens del feudalisme a Catalunya”. (That is, ‘Hypothesis about the origins of feudalism in Catalonia’. Catalan’s not really a difficult language to read, only to spell.) It always comes up in really interesting contexts. Now as I mentioned before, Professor Feliu has been very good to me in terms of providing offprints, so I decided I’d take advantage of his goodwill some more and ask if he still had a copy of this.

Well, blessings be upon him for he has provided, not just a copy but evidence (in the form of that copy) that the paper was in fact published some years later.3 I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have got hold of it in the UK. (There is one really good portal for Catalan journals online, but as I write at least they haven’t yet added Quaderns d’Estudis Medievals, whose articles are by now almost a majority of my Inter-Library Loan requests.) Anyway, I got it, and I was right, I did need it, and it has made me think some things.4

Riu was writing in a tradition laid down by two Iberian historians called Abilio Barbero and Marcelo Vigil, whose names hardcore Hispanists will know I guess, but who for others who don’t are important because in the sixties they quite literally risked their jobs and futures by calling into question the accepted history of Spain as a creation of the Christian Reconquista. In two books, Sobre los orígenes sociales de la Reconquista (Barcelona 1974) and La Formación del feudalismo en la península ibérica (Barcelona 1978) they set out an alternative case focussing on the long persistence of indigenous populations, the lack of impact of the Roman and Visigothic dominations and extremely local power formations of a very ancient, even ‘tribal’ kind, slowly being dragged into a form more in step with the rest of Europe by changes in production, demography and local power structures.5 There was no neo-Gothic revival, there was no heroic Crusade against the Muslims in the name of Christ, it was all a land-grab by people who’d got these local structures working for them. In saying things like this, they angered people like Ramón Menéndez Pidal and Don Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz, who were not good enemies to have, but perhaps because their vision involved an even more eternal kind of ‘Spanishness’ than those two historians’ had, they managed to hang in and now people are writing stuff about them and their impact and half of the early medieval world in Castile seems to be their pupil.6

Obviously this work didn’t go unmissed in Catalonia, especially since it had had to be published there due to the unwillingness of Castilian publishers to touch it. Riu’s ‘Hipòtesi’ is in much the same frame, but more subtly so, and bases itself as much on his own dealings with the archaeology and historical anthropologists as on the two firebrands’ work. So he also stresses the insularity and ethnic consistency (he is happy to call it inbreeding, or at least endogamy) of valley communities in Catalonia up until very late, as skeletal and documentary evidence reveal, due to geography and difficulty of communication as much as xenophobia, and suggests from this that the Barbero-Vigil paradigm is worth trying out. From this he constructs a picture in which not all, perhaps not even many (though the implication is that he thinks this was perhaps the majority formation) but at least some of the local lords of the feudal era were in fact local community leaders who had bought, bullied or even loyally and effectively administered their way into the charge of a valley community where their family had been rooted for centuries, built a castle to keep out the outsiders and thus started looking and acting just like the hypothetical comitally-installed vicars down the river. That is, you could grow up to become a feudal lord; you didn’t need to be some Carolingian or Goth import who’d dug into their new land by means of oppression. You could be an ancestral chief with a family and a status going back hundreds of years. You’d look the same in a charter. It’s a good point, I think, and one that comes in very handy for my upcoming paper just mentioned.

Pope Urban II celebrating mass at his old monastery of Cluny

The other thing he says is something that perhaps I should already have had in my head, but, while I am in the habit of considering monastic lordships as being akin to lay ones as lordships, a man (or a woman) in charge of what a lot of people can and cannot do within various limits, Riu prefers here to see them as analogous to families. Now of course we do often think of the monastic familia in this period as meaning something that that word expresses well, but he draws analogies with marriage pacts, division and consolidation of lands, and so on, and generally puts things in such a way as that for once I actually see what people mean by the comparison. I guess I haven’t really got my head round the way in which a monastic, or even other ecclesiastical, community really is a community, perhaps because in the one I know the best, only one person ever really shows up.

So in general this has been good for my head. I must thank Professor Feliu some more. But first, since he found and commented in his letter upon this here blog, I should do two things in fairness to him; firstly, admit that he has a point when he points out that though my analysis of property is all very well it leaves no room for a difference between full property and tenancy, so I need to think about that,7 and secondly to remove what he calls “la pèssima fotografia meva que no hi feia cap falta” (‘the awful photograph of me for which there was no need’)… Had I been able to find a better, and so on…


1. ‘Riu’ is of course Catalan for ‘river’. This means that ever since I started composing this entry in my head, and thus colloquialising my usual academese slightly, I’ve been unable to shake the wish to refer to the venerable Professor as Ol’ Man. River. Occasionally genuine academics come across this, as word from Professor Feliu testified: if one of them should be el Professor Riu, I’m so sorry about my brain…

2. Some idea of his influence can be got from the size and spread of his Festschrift, Salvador Claramunt & Antoni Riera Melis (edd.), Homenatge al Dr. Manuel Riu i Riu (Acta Historica et Archæologica Mediævalia Vols 20-22 (Barcelona 2001-2002), 2 vols.

3. Manuel Riu, “Hipòtesi entorns dels orígens del feudalisme a Catalunya” in Quaderns d’Estudis Medievals Vol. 2 no. 4 (Barcelona 1981), pp. 195-208.

4. I’m always really pleased when something like this comes off, as it implies that my written Catalan, in which I’ve had no training at all, is intelligible. So pleased that I have to mention it, as you see. Sorry.

5. The first of those books has as its main portion an article they had previously published that may be easier to obtain for those interested, A. Barbero & M. Vigil, “Sobre los orígenes sociales de la Reconquista: cantábros y vascones desde fines del impero romano hasta la invasión musulmana” in Boletín de le Real Academia de Historia Vol. 156 (Madrid 1965), pp. 271-339.

6. If all this infighting sounds exaggerated and crazy to you, you should probably have a look at Richard Fletcher’s marvellous article, “Reconquest and Crusade in Spain c. 1050-1150” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th Series Vol. 37 (London 1987), pp. 31-47. For those who want more detail, and for whom puns and barbed irreverencies will sustain you through an awful lot of erudition, there is beyond that Peter Linehan’s History and the Historians of Medieval Spain (Oxford 1993).

7. The obvious difference is that a tenant has a lord he’s paying, isn’t it? But a full owner obviously still pays dues to various people, so that’s not enough. It’s revocability, then, perhaps. A tenancy may not be renewed or may even be stopped. If an owner is so evicted, it would be thought wrongful. If a tenant, perhaps unfair but at least just and legal. I think that must be it. For now.