A History of Medieval Spain

A History of Medieval Spain

Joseph F. O’Callaghan
Copyright Date: 1975
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    A History of Medieval Spain
    Book Description:

    Medieval Spain is brilliantly recreated, in all its variety and richness, in this comprehensive survey. Likely to become the standard work in English, the book treats the entire Iberian Peninsula and all the people who inhabited it, from the coming of the Visigoths in the fifth century to the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella. Integrating a wealth of information about the diverse peoples, institutions, religions, and customs that flourished in the states that are now Spain and Portugal, Joseph F. O'Callaghan focuses on the continuing attempts to impose political unity on the peninsula.

    O'Callaghan divides his story into five compact historical periods and discusses political, social, economic, and cultural developments in each period. By treating states together, he is able to put into proper perspective the relationships among them, their similarities and differences, and the continuity of development from one period to the next. He gives proper attention to Spain's contacts with the rest of the medieval world, but his main concern is with the events and institutions on the peninsula itself. Illustrations, genealogical charts, maps, and an extensive bibliography round out a book that will be welcomed by scholars and student of Spanish and Portuguese history and literature, as well as by medievalists, as the fullest account to date of Spanish history in the Middle Ages.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6872-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 7-10)
  3. Preface
    (pp. 11-12)
    Joseph F. O’Callaghan
  4. Abbreviations for Citations
    (pp. 13-16)
  5. Hispania
    (pp. 17-34)

    Within the thousand years from the coming of the Visigoths in the fifth century to the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella in the fifteenth, the character of Hispanic civilization was shaped and molded in significant ways. In the struggle for existence in an often inhospitable environment the Hispanic peoples developed those distinctive traits cited by Ramôn Menéndez Pidal: austerity, stoicism, individualism, bravery to the point of rashness, and the desire for fame—the imperishable fame that comes through remembrance in history. While historians agree that the medieval centuries were important in the making of Hispanic civilization, they are divided in...


    • CHAPTER 1 The Visigothic Kingdom
      (pp. 37-54)

      During the fifth century, Spain slipped gradually away from Roman rule into the hands of the barbarian tribes driven westward by the general tide of invasion. Vandals, Alans, and Suevi occupied the south, west, and north early in the century bringing war and destruction to the Hispano-Romans who seemed incapable of defending themselves. At the end of the century the Visigoths, the most powerful of the tribes to enter Spain, began to settle in Old Castile where their presence has been evident ever after in place names, racial structure, and customary law. They gradually extended their rule over the other...

    • CHAPTER 2 Visigothic Government
      (pp. 55-69)

      In 418, after many years of wandering through the Roman Empire without a fixed abode, the Visigoths achieved recognition asfederatiwith the right to settle in sections of southern Gaul and with the obligation to render military aid to the emperor. Retaining political autonomy under the rule of their own king and subject to their own law, the Visigoths formed a kind of state within the state. This situation changed as imperial power gradually disintegrated in the late fifth century. The authority of the emperor in the provinces of southern Gaul and northern Spain was replaced by that of...

    • CHAPTER 3 Visigothic Society and Culture
      (pp. 70-88)

      For nearly three centuries the Visigoths dominated the political structure of the peninsula, but they were never more than a minority of the total population. Of the Germanic tribes who invaded the peninsula, the Alans and the Siling Vandals had been largely destroyed in wars with the Visigoths early in the fifth century. The survivors joined the Asding Vandals who crossed from Spain to North Africa in 429. The number of emigrants traditionally has been put at 80,000. Remaining behind were the Suevi, numbering about 100,000, who settled principally in Galicia where they preserved their independence until the end of...


    • CHAPTER 4 The Emirate of Córdoba
      (pp. 91-115)

      The conquest of Spain early in the eighth century marked the culmination of nearly a century of Muslim expansion. The Visigothic kingdom collapsed, and the unity of the peninsula was shattered once more. The Muslims called the territory under their rule al-Andalus, a name possibly conserving the memory of the Vandals, or, as Vallve recently suggested, referring to the Atlantic region. Al-Andalus andHispania,the name given to the peninsula by the Romans and Visigoths, symbolized the enmity between Muslims and Christians in the centuries that followed.

      The foundations of a Muslim kingdom ruled by the Umayyad dynasty, independently of...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Caliphate of Córdoba
      (pp. 116-136)

      At the commencement of the tenth century al-Andalus appeared on the verge of disaster, but the remarkable talents of Abd al-Rahman III averted the destruction of the kingdom and reaffirmed and strengthened its unity. Indeed, the tenth century proved to be an epoch of unrivaled splendor in the history of Muslim domination in Spain. Recovering from the blows they had received from both external and internal foes, the Umayyads restored order to the peninsula and established hegemony over the Christian states. As a symbol of the new order Abd al-Rahman III reclaimed the title of caliph lost by the dynasty...

    • Plates
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER 6 Government, Society, and Culture in al-Andalus, 711–1031
      (pp. 137-162)

      From the beginning of the period of Muslim conquest al-Andalus was but a province in an empire ruled by the caliph of Damascus, an empire extending from the borders of India to the straits of Gibraltar. Although the Muslims penetrated into the deepest sectors of the peninsula and even crossed into southern Gaul, they did not long remain in occupation of the far north. By 740 their forces were withdrawn from the northwest, and by 751 they were driven from Narbonne by Pepin the Short. In the years that followed, the Christians slowly advanced to the south, but in the...

    • CHAPTER 7 Government, Society, and Culture in Christian Spain, 711–1035
      (pp. 163-190)

      In contrast to al-Andalus, Christian Spain during the era of the Umayyads existed only as fragments—states varying in size and importance. From west to east they were the kingdom of Asturias-León, the kingdom of Navarre, the counties of Aragon, Sobrarbe, and Ribagorza, and the Catalan counties of Pallars, Urgel, Cerdagne, Rousillon, Besalú, Ampurias, Ausona (Vich), Gerona, and Barcelona. The Christian states expanded slowly, principally in times of disorder in al-Andalus. The greatest advance was made in the west where the rulers of Asturias-León occupied and colonized vast areas abandoned by the Muslims, extending as far south as Porto at...


    • CHAPTER 8 Alfonso VI, the Taifas, and the Almoravids
      (pp. 193-214)

      The eleventh century was a period of transition characterized by the integration of Christian Spain into western Christendom and by the political restructuring of al-Andalus. The Christian states intensified their relations with northern Europe, especially with France and the papacy, in every way and entered the mainstream of European civilization. Knights, monks, pilgrims, merchants, artisans, and scholars came from the lands north of the Pyrenees, sometimes in search of novelty and adventure, but more often to settle and to make a new life for themselves. Many of them were fortunate to attain high rank in the civil and ecclesiastical hierarchies;...

    • CHAPTER 9 Alfonso VII and the Leonese Empire
      (pp. 215-233)

      During the reign of Alfonso VII, in the first half of the twelfth century, the concept of a Leonese empire, developed centuries before, reached its culmination and briefly acquired a juridical existence. In fact, however, Alfonso VII’s claims to dominion over the whole of the peninsula were never fully admitted by his contemporaries. Several developments directly challenged Leonese hegemony. The prospective union of Aragon-Navarre and León-Castile, foreshadowed by the marriage of Alfonso I and Urraca, never became a reality. Instead the union of Aragon-Navarre was dissolved and replaced by the union of Aragon and Catalonia, thereby creating a major counterweight...

    • CHAPTER 10 The Duel with the Almohads
      (pp. 234-253)

      The second half of the twelfth century was one of the most critical times in the history of the reconquest. The Almohads, after destroying the Almoravid empire, consolidated their hold in Morocco and restored the balance of power in Spain. Though unable to reconquer Toledo, Zaragoza, or Lisbon, they inflicted great damage upon the Christian states and kept them almost continually on the defensive. Two great battles, the one an extraordinary victory for the Muslims at Alarcos, the other an equally important triumph for the Christians, highlighted the struggle for dominion. The rout at Las Navas marked the beginning of...

    • CHAPTER 11 Government, 1031–1212
      (pp. 254-281)

      In the nearly two hundred years from the fall of the caliphate of Córdoba to the defeat of the Almohads at Las Navas de Tolosa, the political structure of the peninsula developed with a greater complexity than previously had seemed likely. The disintegration of al-Andalus into numerous petty kingdoms coincided with the ascendancy of Sancho el mayor, king of Navarre, who extended his rule over Aragon and Castile and even occupied León for a brief time. But the prospect of union among the Christian states was premature, for he divided his dominions among his sons, each of whom assumed the...

    • CHAPTER 12 Society and the Economy, 1031–1212
      (pp. 282-304)

      In the two centuries following the collapse of the caliphate of Córdoba the population of the Iberian peninsula increased, as did the numbers of the distinct racial groups. There were several reasons for this. A natural rise in the birth rate appears to have occurred, as is suggested by the more intensive settlement of lands between the Duero and the Tagus rivers, the organization of towns there, and the continuing attempt to push the frontier beyond the Tagus to the borders of Andalusia. The general expansion of the European economy north of the Pyrenees was accompanied by a remarkable population...

    • CHAPTER 13 Religion and Culture, 1031–1212
      (pp. 305-330)

      The nearly two hundred years from the fall of the caliphate of Córdoba to the death of Alfonso VIII of Castile witnessed the tentative beginnings of a truly significant Christian culture in Spain and the full flowering of Islamic culture. Christian Spain was open to all the influences of northern Europe and received a steady influx of pilgrims, monks, knights, merchants, and others who contributed to the reform of the church, the growth of schools and universities, and the introduction of Roman and canon law. The church was organized more solidly than before and maintained continual contacts with Rome, accepting...


    • CHAPTER 14 The Great Reconquest
      (pp. 333-357)

      The thirteenth century saw the rapid reconquest of the greater part of al-Andalus, the definitive formation of the Christian states, and the beginnings of Catalan expansion into the Mediterranean area. The Almohads never fully recovered from the staggering blow suffered at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, and as a result, in the years following, conspiracies, rebellions, and civil wars were chronic among the Muslims of al-Andalus and Morocco. The Hafsids eventually broke with the Almohads and established an independent state in Tunisia, while in the western regions of Morocco, the Banu Marin (Benimerines or Marinids) steadily consolidated their power...

    • CHAPTER 15 Alfonso X and the Lure of Empire
      (pp. 358-381)

      The untimely death of Fernando III in 1252 closed the age of the great reconquest. Muslim territory in the peninsula was reduced to the kingdom of Granada in tributary vassalage to Castile, a relationship that no one ever considered permanent. The conquest of Granada, however, like Fernando III’s projected invasion of Morocco, was postponed indefinitely and the threat of a new Muslim assault into Spain, which he hoped to avert, soon became a reality. In the meantime the Christian rulers were reminded of the constant domestic peril caused by the presence of vast numbers of Muslims within their dominions. The...

    • CHAPTER 16 The Overseas Expansion of the Crown of Aragon
      (pp. 382-406)

      As the thirteenth century gave way to the fourteenth and a new generation of leaders came to the fore, political interest and activity centered upon two principal issues. In the first place, the crown of Aragon, cut off from the possibility of making any further substantial territorial acquisitions in the peninsula was impelled to seek a future overseas. The conquest of the Balearic Islands and the growth of Catalan maritime trade inevitably encouraged other ventures in the Mediterranean. This further stage in Aragonese expansion was inaugurated by Pedro III, “a second Alexander, by virtue of chivalry and conquest” As will...

    • CHAPTER 17 The Straits, the Mediterranean, and Civil War
      (pp. 407-427)

      The middle years of the fourteenth century were filled with violent upheaval caused by domestic and foreign wars, family hatreds, the plague, and changing social conditions. As Alfonso XI’s minority came to an end, Castile resumed its position of predominance in peninsular affairs and under his energetic leadership attempted once again to gain control of the straits of Gibraltar. The kingdom of Granada maintained its traditionally ambiguous posture, skillfully maneuvering to avoid destruction either by Castile or Morocco. It is worthy of note that in spite of their resentment of Castilian ascendancy, the other Christian states joined in the common...

    • CHAPTER 18 Government, 1212–1369
      (pp. 428-458)

      As a result of the rapid reconquest in the thirteenth century all the Christian kingdoms, with the exception of Castile, reached the frontiers they were to retain until modern times. Territorial expansion created kingdoms with marked internal differences of language, customs, laws, religion, and race. Each region strove to defend and to preserve its identity and its peculiar institutions and to resist any royal effort to achieve uniformity in administration. Regionalism not only complicated and weakened the internal organization of kingdoms, but also thwarted attempts to bring about the union of kingdoms with one another. The Leonese concept of empire,...

    • CHAPTER 19 Society and the Economy, 1212–1369
      (pp. 459-486)

      Several major changes affected the population of the peninsula during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The remarkable success of the reconquest resulted in the incorporation of large numbers of Muslims and Jews into the Christian states. Many Muslims, however, preferred to leave their ancestral homes to settle in Granada or even to withdraw to North Africa. Vast areas, consequently, were left open to Christian immigrants from the north, whose settlements were concentrated in Andalusia, Alentejo, and the Algarve; the least change occurred in Valencia and Murcia where thousands of Muslims remained. The colonization of Andalusia resulted in the depopulation of...

    • CHAPTER 20 Religion and Culture, 1212–1369
      (pp. 487-520)

      Medieval civilization attained its apogee in the thirteenth century, but then entered upon a time of change in which older values and ideas were challenged, debated, and sometimes rejected. The fortunes of the papacy graphically illustrate this point. The popes of the thirteenth century achieved a great triumph in their long struggle for supremacy over the secular power, but their humiliation at the hands of the French king at the close of the century marked a significant change in relationships between the spiritual and temporal powers. The long residence of the popes at Avignon for most of the fourteenth century,...


    • CHAPTER 21 The Early Trastámaras
      (pp. 523-548)

      The half-century following Enrique of Trastámara’s triumph on the field of Montiel in 1369 witnessed important dynastic changes. His own family, after winning the Castilian throne, fought off the attempts of the neighboring states to drive them out, and then embarked upon a campaign to unify the peninsular realms under Trastámaran control. Marriage was the primary instrument of their policy, though from time to time they used armed force to achieve their objectives. The expansion of the dynasty also meant the expansion of Castile and resulted to some extent in the Castilianization of the other kingdoms. In this sense the...

    • CHAPTER 22 The Hegemony of the Trastámaras
      (pp. 549-577)

      In the sixty years following the death of Fernando de Antequera the ideal of peninsular union came close to realization, though turmoil threatened to destroy monarchy in Castile and Aragon. The Trastámara family continued their policy of aggrandizement by marriage, and through their several branches dominated Castile, Aragon, Sicily, and Navarre. The acquisition of the Navarrese throne was only temporary, and a series of marriages with the Portuguese royal family failed at this time to lead to the union of Portugal and Castile. The acquisition of Naples, on the other hand, completed the work begun by Pedro III in the...

    • CHAPTER 23 Government, 1369–1479
      (pp. 578-603)

      In the later medieval centuries western Europeans became aware once again of the ancient concept of the state as described by Aristotle in hisPoliticsand as exemplified by the Roman empire. Declaring man to be both a social and a political animal, Aristotle argued that government and the state consequently derive from man’s very nature. Late medieval theologians and publicists, following this lead, recognized the state as a natural institution and rejected the older Christian view that government came into existence as a result of man’s wickedness due to original sin and required the justification and sanctification which only...

    • CHAPTER 24 Society and the Economy, 1369–1479
      (pp. 604-625)

      In the last century of the medieval era there were no substantial external additions to the peninsular population nor were there vast colonizing movements as in the past. The frontiers remained comparatively stable, and the number of those uprooted by the reconquest was slight, though there seems to have been a fairly steady emigration of Muslims to North Africa. But the days when thousands of Berbers crossed the straits to settle in the peninsula were over. Colonies of foreign merchants were found in all the principal cities, but most had originated and had enjoyed their greatest growth in the previous...

    • CHAPTER 25 Religion and Culture, 1369–1479
      (pp. 626-654)

      Upheaval in nearly every aspect of life was the principal characteristic of the last century of the Middle Ages. Protests against the established order and authorities occurred in most parts of Europe, taking the form of peasant revolts, proletarian uprisings, aristocratic revolutions, dynastic quarrels, and ecclesiastical rebellions. Brutality and violence were common in everyday life among all classes, though the weak usually were the victims of the strong. Public documents as well as literary works are full of protest against the abuse of power, the failure to do justice and to love one’s neighbor as Christians were supposed to do,...


    • The Catholic Kings and the Perfect Prince
      (pp. 657-676)

      After more than a century of upheaval and violent change, the Middle Ages came to a close. As characteristic signs of the transition from the old to the new, historians have pointed to the emergence of national monarchies, the development of capitalism, the discovery and exploration of the New World and the Far East, the triumph of Renaissance classicism and humanism, and the disintegration of Christian unity.

      In the Iberian peninsula the beginning of the modern age was heralded by the advent of “the Catholic Kings,” Ferdinand and Isabella, and their Portuguese counterpart, João II, “the Perfect Prince” Overcoming the...

    (pp. 677-682)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 683-705)
  14. Index
    (pp. 706-728)