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  • The Village World of Early Medieval Northern Spain: Local Community and the Land Market by Robert Portass
  • Josefa Conde de Lindquist
Portass, Robert. The Village World of Early Medieval Northern Spain: Local Community and the Land Market. Boydell & Brewer, 2017. ISBN: 978-0-86193-3440.

The opening statement of this volume captures its main objective: "This is a book about the development of social relations and politics in Christian northern Spain in the three centuries after Iberia was radically transfigured by the Muslim invasion of the early eight century" (1). The introduction provides the reader with a historical background on the making of medieval Iberia, 711-1031. Following the introduction, the work is divided into two main parts, "Part I: Liébana" and "Part II: Southern Galicia." The first part is divided in four sections that deal with 1) Cantabria after Rome; 2) Local society in the ninth century; 3) The emergence of a village elite; 4) Kings, counts and courts. The second part covers 1) Galicia after Rome; 2) Before Celanova; 3) Rosendo, Celanova and the village world, 936-1031; 4) Magnates, monasteries and the public framework. In the conclusion, the author reaffirms the purpose of the work and provides a comprehensive bibliography.

The introduction, "The Making of Medieval Iberia, 711-1031," chronicles the difficulties that the northern kingdoms of Galicia and the Cantabrian [End Page 200] coast faced after the disinterest of the Ummayyad dynasty in these territories because "poor communications and inclement conditions persuaded the Arab authorities of the wisdom of withdrawal from the northern fringe of the peninsula" (2). The author suggests that this work is a socio-economic and political analysis of the development of a rural society centered on the rising political and social power of the village and how it was affected by the power struggles of the ruling monarchs of Asturias and León. After 718, the kingdoms of Asturias and León slowly expanded their territories in their southern borders with the support of the local aristocracy. The slow territorial expansion occurred during periods of upheaval and disorder within al-Andalus (O'Callaghan 163). The landscape, the geographical isolation, and the systematic attacks upon Leonese lands from the Cordoban Caliphate undermined royal bargaining power with the regional aristocracy—an aristocracy that took this opportunity to enrich themselves with royal rewards and land charters that legitimized their properties (11). Likewise monasteries and adjacent communities solidified their economic growth in charters that record legal transactions of compraventa, gifts, and pleitos. The author highlights the peasants' purchasing power as landowners. This acquisitive power, "thanks to their buying and selling of landed assets, played [a] role in the creation of the more extreme social stratification" (23). This argument revises the traditional view that the concentration of power in the local aristocracy resulted in the degradation of peasant autonomy. The geographical nearness of Liébana and the Galician area of Celanova are examples of land ownership, transfers of wealth, and political influence of the aristocracy and the monasteries that shaped rural society with the cooperation of landowning peasants.

The first part of the book, Liébana, provides a concise study refuting Abilio Barbero and Marcelo Vigil's theory that "northern Spanish local societies and their political and economic underpinnings were not in a meaningful way 'tribal,' and that the northern fringe of Spain shared broad socio-economic characteristics with the rest of the peninsula in the post-Roman centuries" (29). Liébana's rise in regional influence begins with the founding charter of a new monastic community. The new monastery gave way to "una pléyade de asentamientos monacales, que suponían en Liébana no sólo un importante movimiento socio-cultural, sino de hecho una intensa colonización del país en su dimensión agrícola y ganadera, que se entendían prácticamente por todos [End Page 201] los rincones del valle" (Yarza Luaces 20). It was a Mediterranean micro-climate valley with arable land that produced a great variety of crops to support the monastic pact (Sancta Communis Regula), as shown in the cartulary of Santo Toribio (790). The monastery became a "community of goods" where its members grouped...


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pp. 200-205
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