Frontiers in Medieval Spain

August 30th, 2007 | by nick |

I came across this somewhat inaccurate and slightly bizarre piece of historical geography writing by one Charles Julian Bishko, University of Virginia, from “The Frontier in Medieval History” for the American Historical Association in 1955.

“The fifth sector, the Iberian, Luso-Hispanic, or Spanish and Portuguese frontier, includes between 1050 and 1250 the main southward surge of the Reconquest against the Muslims of the Taifa kingdoms and their Pyrenean valleys, to sweep beyond the Ebro at Saragossa into the Balearlics and Valencia; the Portuguese–newcomers in a frontier state created by secession from Leon, even as Kentucky from Virginia or Tennessee from North Carolina–expand from small-farming Minho and Beira to latifundial Algarve, along a coastline pointing towards America and Africa; and the Castilians, forcing their stubborn passage across the bleak plains and rocky sierras of the Iberian Meseta, occupy New Castile, Extremadura and Andalusia. Of all these colonizing peoples, the Castilians chiefly confronted and most decisively solved the problems that broke the Crusader East, perhaps, and one which Walter Prescott Webb has so emphasized in his The Great Plains–namely, the adaptation of a humid-zone society, based on abundant rainfall, forest resources, deep fertile soils, and manorial farming, to the arid, treeless, barren plains of inner Iberia. Producing in abundance stalwart, rootless freemen, and colonizing kings, nobles and churchmen who, long before Cortez and Pizarro, proudly styled themselves “conquistador e poblador”, these medieval Castilian frontiersmen took early to the horse, indispensable in such terrain for travel and warfare, and unmonopolized by a closed feudal oligarchy. On the rolling Meseta they evolved a novel ranching economy, based upon large fortified rural towns that dominated a village-less countryside,–an economy in which not tracts of land but grazing rights in royal, seigneurial and ecclesiastical domain were basic. Against this background there arose not only the great sheep flocks of the (12) Mesta, so often cited by historians, but the uniquely Castilian ranching of cattle, an industry which with its long-horned stock, its free-riding, bolero-jacketed vaqueros, and its round-ups, brandings and overland drives, was destined to prolong the Spanish Middle Ages in Latin America and the plains of Texas.”

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