The Transformation of Christian and Muslim Communities from Spiritual to Territorial after the Wars of Twelfth-Century Iberia

AHA Session 214
Sunday, January 8, 2012: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Superior Room B (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Brian A. Catlos, University of California, Santa Cruz and University of Colorado Boulder
Brian A. Catlos, University of California, Santa Cruz and University of Colorado Boulder

Session Abstract

This panel studies how large-scale territorial conquests during the “long twelfth century” transformed concepts of Muslim and Christian community in medieval Iberia.  Prior to this era, the Umayyad Caliphate and its successor states that dominated the peninsula had permitted Christian and Jewish communities to cohabit among Muslims.  Since different religious communities could live side-by-side, the boundaries that separated them could be said to have existed more in the realm of the mind (spirituality and ideology), and less so in physical space (territory and body).  From the late-1000s to the early-1200s, however, vast swaths of Iberian territory changed hands successively between Christians and Muslims.  First, Christians took advantage of Islamic political fragmentation to sweep south, taking land as far as Toledo (1085) in the Tagus river valley and Zaragoza (1118) in the Ebro river valley.  The North African Almoravid and Almohad empires then crossed into Iberia and claimed much of the lost territory.  The Almohads, however, were decisively defeated at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, opening up even more land for the Christians.  Castile-Leon conquered much of Andalusia and the Crown of Aragon seized Valencia and the Baleares.

These conquests led to the first widespread expulsion of Muslims from Andalusia and the Baleares, the subjugation of populous Muslim communities in Valencia under Christian rule, and the exile of Christians from Granada.  The frequency that land was exchanged en masse between Muslims and Christians, through a series of momentous military and political events that saw the successive fall of several Islamic empires and states and the ultimate rise of Christian kingdoms in their place, vested more critical meaning in land than ever before.  By the time the dust settled at the end of the long twelfth century, Muslim and Christian communities were no longer defined as much by the realm of the mind and spirit, but more so by territory and body.  The “tangible,” then, came to possess critical political, martial, social, cultural, and symbolic meanings.  

 This panel explores the impact these large-scale conquests had for the concept of religious community in medieval Iberia.  When once the realm of the mind was notoriously difficult to police, it was now comparatively easier to measure geographic frontiers and monitor bodies.  As such, religious community came to be defined by territorial occupation and bodily segregation.  And yet the physical constraints of territorially-based notions of community may have spurred the formation of other types of communities.  New mechanisms such as social networks - contact between and circulation of bodies - transcended communities rooted to space and created new types of communal bonds.  The transformation from spiritual to territorial/bodily notions of community after the long twelfth century changed dynamics among Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Iberia and set the stage for even more intense exclusionary measures such as the expulsion of the Jews and the Muslims/Moriscos in the early modern period.

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