Settlement Of The Plains

The Muslims' onslaught and their early retreat behind a climatic frontier resulted in the depopulation of substantial buffer zones between the two societies. The extent of the depopulation differed from place to place. Both in the far east and far west, early Muslim aggressivity seems to have resulted in the removal of substantial numbers of the original inhabitants: Septimania, the Roman province straddling the eastern Pyrenees, may in the eighth century have been as deserted as the Duero Valley; likewise, large areas of Galicia were said to have been barren for a long time after the devastations of the Muslims -- according to the Chronicle of Alfonso III, who, however, may have overstressed the generality of the depopulation of Christian lands in order to magnify his own colonization attempts.(83) The extent of the abandonment of the vast valley north of the Duero -- first stressed by the Portuguese historian Herculano and, more recently, by Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz -- is not fully ascertainable, but must have been substantial. On the whole, the indirect evidence leads to the conclusion of widespread population loss: the Muslim raids and fleeting occupation, combined with the severe drought and famine of the mid-eighth century, would have induced Christians to move northward into the mountains, which were both more secure and climatically more favorable to subsistence, while the lack of toponymic specificity in charters describing the first settlements of the ninth century (that spring, those hills, rather than named sites) lends credence to a picture of desertion.(84)

On the other hand, the direct evidence, particularly a few much-quoted passages from the Chronicle of Alfonso III, seems hyperbolic and to smack of special pleading: in it, Alfonso I is said to have captured thirty towns from the Muslims and then to have retreated, taking the indigenous Christian population back with him to Asturias; and Ordoño I (Alfonso III's father) is said to have circled the cities of León, Astorga, Tuy, and Amaya with walls and to have populated those places with refugees from Islamic Spain populopartim ex suis, partim ex Spania advenientibus implevit); finally, Alfonso III stresses that the area had been depopulated by the Islamic wars, and revivified by his own efforts, a statement taken by Sánchez-Albornoz as indicative of the survival in the early tenth century of [88] the memory of total depopulation earlier. Others have argued, with considerable justice, that the depopulation could not have been total, and that some population, particularly in remote areas, must have remained.(85)

In any case, it is not necessary to argue for the totality of depopulation to agree that both the Duero Valley and the plains of Vich and Barcelona (captured by the Christians in 801) were characterized throughout the ninth century by a very low density of population, which made these regions desirable for settlement.

The attractiveness of empty land for settlement was always tempered by strategic considerations imposed by the proximity of the frontier, on the one hand, and the relative aggressiveness of the enemy, on the other. The towns resettled by Ordono I were all of strategic importance, necessary for stabilizing the frontier and providing secure bases for rural development. For similar reasons, some lands of marginal agricultural value were cultivated to achieve, for defensive purposes, a relatively high population density in strategically important regions, only to be abandoned later as the frontier advanced. The rhythm and quality of settlement were directly affected by the pattern and intensity of Muslim raids: thus vineyards, for example, which required year-to-year stability for their development, could not be planted too close to the frontier or in areas subject to raids, and, further, when the raiding became intense, as during the reign of al-Mansur (end tenth century), frontier landlords, such as the monastery of Cardena, actively sought northward-lying land, towards the headwaters of the Ebro, in order to ensure continuity in cereal production in a region safe from attack. The southward expansion of monastic estates was directly affected by the proximity of the enemy. Cardena's early properties were nearly all to the north of the Arlanzon River, since the region to the south was still, in the early tenth century, considered too insecure (with reason; the monastery was completely destroyed by a Muslim raid in 920). The same strategic factor explains why, during this period, monastic landowners such as San Millan de la Cogolla maintained a very careful balance between the production of cereals, dependent on extensive dry-farming (where extent was limited by strategic considerations), and intensive cultivation, by irrigation, of riverside properties close to the mother house. As the frontier receded, the agricultural balance tilted decisively towards extensive cereal cultivation.(86)

The availability of land led to idiosyncratic juridical, social, and economic forms characteristic of frontier settlement, both in the Duero Valley [89] and in Catalonia. The typical form of acquisition of property was the aprisio (presura, in Castilian), a modality of "squatter's rights" in Germanic customary law which, owing to the exaggeratedly low density of population, came to acquire particular vigor in medieval Spain. Juridically, aprisio was a formula whereby any person or group of persons could lay claim to land simply by virtue of occupying it (presura) and by bringing at least a portion of it under cultivation (escalio). (How much had to be cultivated need not be debated; the idea was to establish an economically viable unit, including cultivated land, pasture, and woodland.) Land conquered from the enemy was, under Germanic law (and Islamic law as well), held by the sovereign, and, in the case of presura, was considered an implicit grant, made explicit (by virtue of thirty years settlement) only at the time of its alienation, when title had to be shown. The net result was something close to an allode, held by a free proprietor, outright or by emphyteutic contract.(87)

The mood of early presuras is captured in a description of a church in the Mena Valley founded by an abbot named Vitulo in the late eighth century, in a charter dated 800: "there we established the aforementioned basilicas; we cultivated; we planted; we built there houses, cellars, granaries, with wine-presses and cauldrons, orchards, mills, apple trees, grapevines and other fruit-bearing trees." Frequently such documents stipulate that the presura was accomplished with the signatory's own hands (de manibus meis), a striking evocation of the reality of life on the frontier.(88)

Prominent in the early settlements of the Duero Valley were individual clerics or groups of monks, attracted by conditions of a rigorous life conducive to the cultivation of ascetic values. These small churches (which in reality resembled other presuras, with the added appurtenance of a church or chapel) tended to coalesce, by donation, into the great monastic domains that emerged in full relief towards the middle of the tenth century to fulfill, in effect, urban functions in a land devoid of towns. Much of the best agricultural land in León and Castile was controlled by monasteries, to whose values, needs, and tastes we must look for standards by which the landscape of the newly occupied territories was organized.(89)

Migration of mountain people to the plains entailed a shift from a high-altitude herding economy with limited agricultural horizons to a Mediterranean economy along Roman lines. This shift was furthered, in León particularly, by the massive migration of Mozarab dry-farmers from al-Andalus, beginning in the mid-ninth century, as a result of the [90] persecutions during the reigns of 'Abd al-Rahmán II and Muhammad and continuing in a diminishing but constant flow over the next century or so. These Mozarabs, settling as did migrants from the north, in joint family units or as groups of monks, organized a vast area of the Leonese Duero Valley. For example, the Valley of Ardon (originally called Mahamut or Mahmude -- Muhammad -- after an early leader) was settled almost completely by Mozarabs who clustered in small hamlets bearing an indelible Mozarab stamp (e.g., Villela de Aiub; Banuncias from Beni Iuniz, also called Villa Iuniz; Villa Vanizati, from Beni Zaid).(90) These Mozarabs migrated from a country where a Mediterranean agriculture along classical lines, with important new technological and aeronomical innovations, was flourishing. Perhaps one great symbol of the Mozarabic impact on the Leonese economy was the taste for olive oil, the importation of which played a significant economic role. But the fine structure of the Mozarabic impact on the landscape north of the Duero has not yet been investigated.

The settlement of the Duero Valley was a process which continued throughout the entire period covered in this book. The Christian victory at Simancas in 939 made possible the settlement of the Tormes basin (around Salamanca, well south of the Duero), but the situation there remained unstable and insecure until the conquest of Toledo in 1085, which opened for settlement the entire region between the Duero and the Tajo. In effect, the process was never completed, owing to the constant loss of population and to the inability of the stable population to generate much internal growth. In a situation where, as in the settlement of the American west, there was always more land available farther towards the frontier, it was difficult to maintain the stability of any settlement. Every new settlement entailed the loss of productive labor from an older settlement. Early presuras were frequently abandoned as the settlers moved on to a new situation either more attractive agriculturally, socially (remission of dues and services by lords as an incentive, for example), or economically (rural to urban migration). These would then be granted out again, if new men could be found to take the place of those departing. Villagers were able to coerce their lords into lightening feudal obligations by the threat of mass migration southwards. Other lords, desirous of attracting population, offered incredible exemptions, such as the active recruitment of criminals and wanted men and excusing of crimes, even homicide, granted in some of the early town charters.(91) The most general trend was short rather than long migrations, however: leaving the hamlet of [91] one's birth for a neighboring village, or moving from one seignorial domain to another where terms were more attractive. The net result was that lords were reluctant to have new villages in their own domain populated with their own men, and so they sought to entice the men of other lords or homini excusi, men who had no lords, to populate their lands. The obvious friction that such a strategy produced led to general attempts by lords in the late tenth century to prevent short-range migrations. A necessary corollary to this inherently unstable demographic situation was the persistent cheapness of land throughout the tenth century. Sánchez-Albornoz gives illuminating examples of the phenomenon: the barter of a parcel of land in 946 for cloth; another in 949 for a goat and a kid; and one in 959 for a ram and a quantity of iron.(92)

The occupation of the plains of Catalonia was accomplished through analogous processes, although with a more definitive conclusion: empty spaces filled up (essentially by around 1020) with a consequently significant leap in population density that allowed the agrarian economy to enter a new phase of intensification which in turn underwrote the urbanization of a metropolis -- the first in Christian Spain -- Barcelona. Settlement was achieved by the migration of mountain people first to the foothills and then in mid-tenth century onto the plains of Vich and Bages, expanding around A.D. 1000 to the middle Segre region in the south of the county of Urgell, the western frontier of the counties of Ausona (Vich) and Barcelona, and, farther south, the lower Panadés littoral.(93) Here aprisio seems to have played a similar role as an incentive to settlement, although it developed in a social and demographic context different from that characterizing the Duero Valley. Few areas where aprisio was first practiced (in the late eighth century) -- the mountainous counties of Pallars and Ribagorza, and the northern Catalan counties (Gerona, Ampurias) could have been devoid of rural population. Therefore, the new settlers, holders of aprisiones, came into conflict with older established residents, who held land under much less favorable conditions, and their lords. Thus aprisio assumed the status of a legal fiction used for political reasons to dispossess older inhabitants who had remained on the land throughout the Muslim occupation.(94) As in the Duero Valley, the peasantry was composed generally of small freeholders, paying a simple cens under an emphyteutic contract, and the process of settlement was likewise directed primarily by ecclesiastical lords. The counts may have preferred to let monasteries direct the actual work of settlement, as when Borrell granted [92] a monastery specific rights to make aprisiones in a specified region. The monastery of San Cugat was typical of a tenth-century Catalan monastic establishment involved in bringing no-man's-land on the southern frontier under the plow. After the mid-tenth century there was little good land available inland from the frontiers and by the end of the first quarter of the eleventh, according to Bonnassie, the colonization effort had lost the spontaneity characteristic of aprisio and those who aspired to such grants had to accept harder contractual terms.

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