Irrigation In The Christian Kingdoms

In dealing with the development of irrigation agriculture in the Christian kingdoms, we again face a complex pattern of cultural and technological diffusion. The Christians, like the Muslims, were heirs of Roman agricultural techniques, and irrigation was practiced by Hispano-Romans. Those Hispani -descendants of refugees from the Islamic conquest -- who were resettled in the future Catalonia in the mid-ninth century were authorized by Charles the Bald to follow their old irrigation customs, to utilize "canals (aquarum ductus) for their necessities . . . according to ancient custom."(109)

Irrigation from perennial water sources by gravity-flow canals was a technology shared by all peoples of the Mediterranean basin.

Yet, in spite of the widespread diffusion of irrigation, one cannot describe any large-scale hydraulic agriculture, except in certain areas of Catalonia (and there not until the eleventh century). In the plain of León, where the hydrological potential for irrigation was excellent, (110) and in Castile as well there were numerous small monastic canal systems wholly contained within the demesne of the monastery. Throughout the entire period monasteries sought riparian land, where they would conduct water from diversion dams into canals to irrigate small vegetable gardens, whose produce was used to supplement the diet of the monks. (The pattern is significant, because it is indicative of the inability of Leonese and Castilian [97] society to commercialize the products of irrigationintensive agriculture -- although not those of vineyards, also cultivated intensively.)

The manner in which water sources, particularly rivers, were utilized in the Duero Valley was shaped by the frontier situation, and the modalities of appropriation of water rights greatly resemble those of the American West and contrast with the public nature of water in the river-derived systems of Islamic Valencia. Almost all of the documentation indicates that water was subject to presura and that prior appropriation --"first in time, first in right"-- was the rule of the day. The Fuero of Logroño (1095) contains a perfect expression of this norm: "Whoever can find water for irrigating pastures and vineyards, or for mills or orchards, or wherever they might have need, let them take it."(111)

Prior appropriation by individuals was a consistent principle asserted in grants and pled in litigation over water rights. The monastery of San Isidoro in the city of León owned an irrigation system derived from a dam which the infanta Sancha had granted it as a monopoly. Other claims derived from presura. In 917, an Abbot Balderedo, also of León, successfully sued for the return of water diverted away from his mill on the Bernesga River, on the grounds that his ancestor had taken that water by presura in 875. On many rivers, monasteries, through the process of accretion of dams, mills, and canals through donation, could allege prior right. Therefore, in case after case, one notes that others seeking to use the water of such a river did so on sufferance of the monastery, as major lord. The monks of Ardón (León) were accustomed to grant the use of water downstream from their mill and brought action against a mill, claiming its ill effect on their own mill. It is clear that the monks claimed a proprietary interest in the water and that riparian rights asserted by downstream users could not hold up against the appropriative right of the monastery.(112)

Likewise, it was the policy of the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña in Old Castile to control and exploit the water of the Arlanzón for milling and irrigation. The monastery received in donation an entire stretch of the river "from bank to bank" (impossible in Roman law, where the channel is always public); purchased a canal leading to the monastery of San Martín; and won rights to the water of another canal near Burgos in litigation before the count of Castile in 932. In the same region in 956 the men of Villavascones, a village near Burgos, had to negotiate with [98] the Abbot of San Martín for the right to use the river water for the purpose of irrigating their fields. The Abbot promised to give to the villagers and their council a specified, measured portion of the water that he and the monks had purchased, so long as the villagers promised to maintain and clean the main channel. The grant was to remain in effect permanently, unless the villagers refused to clean the channel. Apparently the subject of the negotiation was the use of a canal system owned by the monastery. But the legal context in which the agreement was framed was the private absolute ownership of river water. The tendency in irrigation in León and Castile was for large seignorial domains, almost always ecclesiastical, to aggrandize the rights, ultimately by virtue of prior appropriation, through donations and purchase of water and water power, and for the free use of these to become increasingly out of the reach of small free proprietors, who in the ninth and tenth century had themselves been the owners or co-owners of mills and irrigation water, typically expressed in shares (so many parts of a mill) or in hours (the right to use water for a specified time), all of which is appropriative rather than riparian in nature. Characteristically, a dispute over Arlanzón water in 1178 was waged between Cardeña and a group of nobles; the resultant settlement (instituting a turn of five days of water for the monastery and three for the infanzones) was regarded as a loss to the monastery.(113)

The result of this appropriation of water by private individuals and institutions was a landscape of rivers bordered by local huertas, belonging typically to monasteries who absorbed their products, - and therefore the absence of interconnected regional huertas.(114) Quite distinct was the situation in Catalonia, where entire irrigated zones arose, in response to the demand of the urban market. The Catalan situation is unusual because irrigation there developed, in effect, as a byproduct of milling. Because of irregularity in the flow of the rivers, the mills were built on diversion canals at some distance from the source. Below the mill, a return ditch, the subtus rego, returned the water to the river, irrigating gardens (terras subreganeas) along the way. Around the year 1000, in Pierre Bonnassie's description, smallholders were creating the irrigation system, either individually or in collectivities of villagers, although lay and ecclesiastical lords tended to own most of the mills. The result was that by the early eleventh century Barcelona was surrounded by hortos subreganeos wherein were grown vegetables and fruit for the urban market.(115) The parallelism with Andalusi towns is striking, as is the analogous role played by mills (in [99] the plain of Barcelona) and norias (around certain Andalusi towns) in the development of irrigated huertas.

Land use in Christian Spain was divided in varying proportions among cereal fields, vineyards, irrigated orchards or gardens, meadowlands or woodland (which was used for grazing and gathering activities). New cultivation implied either a shift in agricultural regime or deforestation. In general, forests yielded to cereal lands, which in turn were partially diverted into vineyards. The development of a cereal-grapevine economy on the plains set up a natural rhythm of commercial exchange with the mountains, which were poor in wheat, rich in wood products and animals. The system was built by small, free proprietors but over a period of time tended to become aggrandized by powerful lords, particularly monasteries. In the last third of the thirteenth century the old equilibrium was broken by the seignorial cultivation of commercial crops at the expense of local consumption.(116)

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