Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in History

Department

History

First Advisor

Joëlle Rollo-Koster

Abstract

Statement of the Problem: Recent historians have argued that the term “frontier” and the related concepts of frontier societies or zones (as used by scholars of medieval Spain in particular and the Middle Ages in general) are all amorphous and ill-defined concepts, lacking predictive value because of their conflicting usages by different historians. Is it possible to create a solid foundation for the term “frontier” so that it can be utilized in historical discourse? Do any of the elements of the frontier hypothesis as it was originally conceived hold up when applied to contemporary medieval notions of the frontier?

Methodology or Procedures: This thesis utilizes three law codes from medieval Spain: the Code of Cuenca, which is the municipal charter granted to the town of Cuenca after it was conquered from the Muslims in the 12th century by the King of Castile; the combined Fueros (the Spanish term for municipal charters) of the towns of Borja and Zaragoza in the Kingdom of Aragon, produced around 1150; and Las Siete Partidas (The Seven Laws) which were codified around the mid-13th century to apply to the entirety of Castile. This study analyzes the Code of Cuenca and the Fueros de Borja y Zaragoza for their descriptions of the boundaries of their respective communities in order to find a contemporary vision of the frontier, and then compares them to each other to establish the fundamental similarity of the frontier experience between kingdoms. Finally, it compares both Charters to Las Siete Partidas in order to establish their influence on that code and to track the changes in the concept of the frontier over the course of the Reconquista.

Findings: The pre-existing concept of the frontier in medieval Spain, la frontera, provides a stable theoretical basis for the use of the term “frontier” in analyzing medieval Spain because it is grounded in the local perceptions of the term rather than outside theoretical constructs that were originally intended to describe the American frontier. The characteristics of the Spanish frontier are visible within the law codes and town charters of the various kingdoms of Spain, and these sources are representative of the broader mindset because they were based on both the views of the powerful kings and the deeply rooted Visigothic customs kept by the peasants and local lords. The original conception of the frontier held (in part) that it shaped culture away from European norms, and this particular proviso of the original theory applies to Castile in that those previous Visigothic customs were reified by the granting of town charters and were thus made resistant to later pressure to conform to European norms. Specifically, the concept of partible inheritance, inherited from the Visigoths, remained the norm in Spanish law in direct contrast to the prevailing notions of primogeniture and/or maleonly inheritance in most of the rest of Europe.

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