Courts and Craftspeople in the Late Medieval Crown of Aragón

Eva-Maria Cersovsky, Universität zu Köln

Abstract: The research project outlined in this contribution aims at offering new insights into an important but underexplored group of actors at late medieval royal courts by putting craftspeople at the centre of analysis. It takes the courts of the kings and queens of the Crown of Aragón as its focus to investigate the multifaceted relationships they formed with artisans from the end of the thirteenth to the beginning of the fifteenth century. The project pursues three main objectives: First, it explores and compares the forms of affiliation, the status, tasks, functions, material resources, and working conditions of the many different artisans serving the royal households. Second, it examines the role of courts as spaces of artisanal training, production and knowledge, cooperation and competition. Third, it illuminates the activities of craftspeople in-between courtly and civic environments. The project’s findings thus promise to foster a better understanding of artisans’ economic and social interactions with royal households, while also offering new perspectives for studying court economy and court culture.

Late medieval courts attracted a wide variety of different craftspeople.1 Numerous experts specialising in the food, wood, metal, or textile crafts were commissioned by princely and royal households to create products of various kinds. It is well known that medieval rulers both acquired large quantities of artisanal luxury objects and needed countless craft products for everyday use. Noble patrons, courtly material culture, and patterns of consumption have been at the focus of historical scholarship for quite some time. However, to date, only a few historians have attempted to put artisans, the makers of courtly objects, at the centre of monographic studies in order to systematically determine the multifaceted work-related and social relationships they formed with late medieval courts.

My book project (Habilitation), still in its early stages and tentatively outlined in the following, aims at filling this gap by taking the late medieval courts of the kings and queens of the Crown of Aragón as its focus. The Aragonese courts hold particular potential for the study of craftspeople since they did not only constitute important political and social centres formed around a ruler but were also dynamic economic and cultural hubs within the Mediterranean, attracting various people from different social and religious groups, regions, and cultures. They employed, to just name a few examples, Catalan bakers, French tailors, or German goldsmiths, Jewish candle makers, Muslim construction workers, or Christian carpenters in a variety of different institutional affiliations and socio-economic interdependencies. Some artisans also performed services for queens and kings that went beyond their specific craft, such as buying goods for the royal household, joining diplomatic missions, or functioning as administrators involved in the foundation of monasteries or the overseeing of royal mills. These ways in which different craftspeople were connected to the kings’ and queens’ courts economically and socially have yet to be studied in a comprehensive and comparative approach, as has the question of how royal courts functioned as sites of artisanal production, collaboration, and knowledge – with both patrons and craftspeople as active participants.

Since the courts of the Crown of Aragón are documented exceptionally well, especially from the thirteenth century onwards, it is possible to trace such questions in a wide variety of sources, mainly housed in the Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó in Barcelona. The project will, for example, draw on court ceremonials characterising court personnel and their duties as well as on various household accounts that document payments to artisans holding court offices and to many other craftspeople for commissions of differing nature, often including detailed descriptions of the final products and their materials. It will also utilize a small number of account books written by the artisans themselves which have survived in the royal archives, and make use of the numerous royal chancellery registers documenting contracts, letters, privileges granted to artisans, or recommendations of specific craftspeople to other institutions. Additionally, I will employ inventories which list objects in varying detail and frequently mention who created them, where they were made, and/or – in the case of objects in relation to specific court offices – who used and took care of them.

Seeing the quantity and variety of available sources, the project’s main focus is on a ‘long fourteenth century’, from the reign of James II (1291–1327) to the reign of Martin I (1396–1410). This period also holds an important place within scholarly discussions on how artisans’ relationships to courts developed over time, both in the Crown of Aragón and other regions. These debates concern, for instance, the perception and status of craftspeople as ‘artisans’ or ‘artists’, the inclusion of artisans into the circle of royal familiares, or the emergence of new legal and institutional forms of ‘court craft’ (‘Hofhandwerk’) or ‘court art (‘Hofkunst’) and their position between court and city.

Contributing to these discussions and expanding the state of research, the project adopts a multifaceted, comparative approach. It employs the terms ‘craftspeople’ and ‘artisans’ in a broad sense to grasp and include not only renowned individuals but all people who used their hands and tools to produce, repair, or redesign products, including food as well as objects made from different materials. It also starts from the written documentation and not from objects or architecture still present today. This way, the project seeks to make a systematic effort at both establishing and comparing the variety of craftspeople connected to Aragonese courts, thereby bridging the common division between groups of different objects, materials, and/or artisans. Furthermore, it focuses on both the kings’ and the queens’ households over a longer period of time to delineate similarities and differences in the artisanal personnel serving them. As first case studies suggest, this approach promises to yield fruitful results regarding the activities, status, and career options of craftspeople working across different courts. Following this general methodological framework, the project has three main objectives that build on one another:

First, it seeks to investigate which artisans were integrated into the courts’ economic and social networks and in what ways, including how these connections were formed in the first place. Answering these questions involves inquiries into the social backgrounds, status, tasks, functions, working conditions, material resources, and careers of different craftspeople serving royal courts. Without pursuing the goal of a detailed prosopography or comprehensive network analysis, the available, relevant personal data concerning the artisans will be collected in a database, which will then form the basis for more detailed case studies on a selected number of individual craftspeople and groups of artisans. Moreover, approaching the different types of connections between craftspeople and courts necessitates semantic analyses, for example, regarding the (variable and shifting) meanings connected to titles of court offices, such as panicer, or denominations like de la casa de la senyora reyna/ del senyor rey.

Second, the project aims at analysing how royal courts functioned as spaces of artisanal production and knowledge, cooperation and competition. This includes questions on forms of training and the transmission of knowledge, on artisanal migration and interreligious collaborations and/or conflicts. Understanding artisans working for the Aragonese courts as experts possessing specialized knowledge and skills to understand, (re-)design, and invent things, I will build on the insights of both art historical research and studies on material culture to examine repositories of knowledge connected to objects, practices, and their textual representations, such as descriptions in account books and inventories. By examining experts from different regions and religious groups gathered at Aragonese courts, the project will also draw on concepts of ‘cultural brokerage’ and discuss whether artisans can be conceived as ‘brokers’ even if their primary aim might not have been cultural mediation as such.

Third, the research project seeks to illuminate the interplay between courtly and urban craft production and the positions of artisans in-between courts and cities – spaces with permeable boundaries. Exploring these aspects brings into focus, for example, the use of urban infrastructure, the role of artisanal court personnel as intermediaries hiring additional workers, or the existence of royal privileges obtained by individuals or craft groups regulating their status in relation to civic norms and institutions. Choosing one or two cities with royal residences as case studies, such as Barcelona, València, or Zaragoza, this part of the project also tentatively aims at including civic sources. Municipal ordinances, the documentation of confraternities and guilds, inventories, and other notarial documents help trace the activities of artisans in urban contexts and may also be used to conduct further prosopographical research on the identities of selected craftspeople. These sources, however, will mostly be consulted after the examination of the royal documentation.

Based on rich source material and building on insights as well as approaches of interdisciplinary scholarship, the project thus seeks to foster a better understanding of craftspeople as an important but underexplored group of actors connected to late medieval courts within the Crown of Aragón. Its findings promise to shed new light on artisans’ economic and social agency in the context of royal households and to offer new perspectives on both court economy and court culture.

Selected Bibliography

Antenhofer, Christina: Inventories as Texts and Artefacts. Methodological Approaches and Challenges. In: Österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften 32,3 (2021), pp. 7–46.

Aymerich Bassols, Montserrat: Jaume Copí, un brodador flamenc al servei de la familia reial: de Pere el Cerimoniós a Violant de Bar i Maria de Luna. In: Terés Tomàs, Maria Rosa (ed.): Catalunya i l’Europa septentrional a l’entorn de 1400. Circulació de mestres, obres i models artístics. Rome 2016 (IRCVM Medieval Cultures 5), pp. 15–52.

Beauchamp, Alexandra (ed.): Les entourages princiers à la fin du Moyen âge: une approche quantitative. Textes issus de la journée d’études organisée à l’Université de Limoges avec la Casa de Velázquez, 6 novembre 2009. Madrid 2013 (Collection de la Casa de Velázquez 134).

Campbell, Stephen John (ed.): Artists at Court: Image-Making and Identity 1300–1550. Chicago 2004.

Córdoba de la Llave, Ricardo: Los oficios medievales. Tecnología, producción, trabajo. Madrid 2017 (Temas de historia medieval 7).

Cosmen Alonso, María Concepción/ Herráez Ortega, María Victoria/ Pellón Gómez de Rueda, Adela María (eds.): El intercambio artístico entre los reinos hispanos y las cortes europeas en la baja Edad Media. León 2009.

Domenge Mesquida, Joan: Argenters i marxants de “coses de grans preus” a la cort d’Aragô (ca. 1380–1420). In: Brouquet, Sophie/ García Marsilla, Juan Vicente (ed.): Mercados del lujo, mercados del arte. El gusto de las elites mediterráneas en los siglos XIV y XV. València 2015, pp. 349–356.

Eichberger, Dagmar/ Lorentz, Philippe/ Tacke, Andreas (eds.): The Artist between Court and City (1300–1600) / L’artiste entre la Cour et la Ville / Der Künstler zwischen Hof und Stadt. Petersberg 2017.

Español Bertran, Francesca:   L’art dels reis catalans: esplendor i riquesa de la Corona d’Aragó. Barcelona 2010 (Arts 2).

Füssel, Marian/ Rexroth, Frank/ Schürmann, Inga (eds.): Praktiken und Räume des Wissens: Expertenkulturen in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Göttingen 2019.

García Marsilla, Juan Vicente: Maestros de ultramar: artistas italianos y franceses al servicio de la monarquía aragonesa (siglos XIV–XV). In: Narbona Vizcaíno, Rafael (ed.): La Mediterrània de la Corona d’Aragó, segles XIII–XVI & VII Centenari de la Sentència Arbitral de Torrellas, 1304–2004. XVIII Congrés d’Història de la Corona d’Aragó, València 2004, 9–14 setembre. Vol. 2. València 2005, pp. 1907–1922.

Jaspert, Nikolas: Mendicants, Jews and Muslims at Court in the Crown of Aragon: Social Practice and Inter-Religious Communication. In: von der Höh, Marc/ Jaspert, Nikolas/ Oesterle, Jenny Rahel (eds.): Cultural Brokers at Mediterranean Courts in the Middle Ages. Paderborn 2013 (Mittelmeerstudien 1), pp. 107–148.

Molina Castellà, Anna: L’argenter de la Casa del Senyor Rei: una distinció laboral de prestigi. In: Yarza Luaces, José Joaquín (ed.): L’Artista-artesà medieval a la Corona d’Aragó. Lleida 1999, pp. 365–383.

Molina Figueras, Joan: Gli artisti del re nel Trecento aragonese. In: Donato, Maria Monica (ed.): L’artista medievale. Atti del convegno internazionale di studi, Modena, 17–19 Novembre 1999. Pisa 2008 (Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, Classe di Lettere e Filosofia. Quaderni 4, 16.2003), pp. 193–213.

Mutgé i Vives, Josefina: Artesanos barceloneses al servicio de Alfonso el Benigno (1327–1336). In: Aragón en la edad media 19 (2006), pp. 407–416.

Povill Salas, Marina: El arte como herramienta de poder durante el reinado de Jaime II el justo (1291–1327). Las cuatro etapas de su política artística. In: Bargalló Escrivà, Maria (ed.): Recerca en humanitas 2021. Tarragona 2022, pp. 153–170.

Schadek, Hans: Die Familiaren der aragonesischen Könige des 14. und beginnenden 15. Jahrhunderts. In: Spanische Forschungen der Goerresgesellschaft – Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kulturgeschichte Spaniens 32 (1988), pp. 1–148.

Smith, Pamela H.: From Lived Experience to the Written Word: Reconstructing Practical Knowledge in the Early Modern World. Chicago 2022.

Schulz, Knut: Fremde (Kunst-)Handwerker, Gewerbegruppen und Bedienstete an der päpstlichen Kurie (ca. 1400–1527). In: Jamme, Armand/ Poncet, Olivier (eds.): Offices et papauté (XIVe–XVIIe siècle): Charges, hommes, destins. Rome 2005 (Collection de l’École Française de Rome 334), pp. 197-213.

Terés Tomàs, Maria Rosa/ Vicens, Teresa: Violant de Bar i Maria de Castella: promoció espiritual i mecenatge/ Violant de Bar and Maria of Castile: Spiritual Promotion and Artistic Patronage. Barcelona 2015 (Lliçons 6).

Warnke, Martin: The Court Artist: On the Ancestry of the Modern Artist. New York et al. 1993 (Ideas in Context 28).

Photo: December Calendar Page, Baking Bread, in: Psalter by an unknown artist/ maker, mid-1200s, Bruges (possibly), Belgium, in: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 14 (85.MK.239), fol. 8v (Detail). Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program, URL: [https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/object/105TRQ] (03.07.2024).

  1. References to some publications relevant to the project can be found in a selected bibliography at the end of the contribution. []

The beginning of the fight against the plague in the 15th-century Crown of Aragon

Dr. Albert Reixach Sala, University of Lleida

Resumen: Esta entrada presenta una investigación en curso sobre los inicios de la lucha contra la peste en la Corona de Aragón tardomedieval. En concreto, se fija en la introducción de nuevas medidas pragmáticas para hacer frente a la pestilencia y otras enfermedades contagiosas impulsadas desde los gobiernos urbanos de Cataluña, Valencia, Mallorca y Aragón desde mediados del siglo XV. Estos mecanismos suponían un avance importante con respecto a las respuestas tradicionales ligadas a la interpretación en clave religiosa de una catástrofe como un estallido epidémico. Además de reconstruir la secuencia de la aparición y la evolución inicial de este despliegue de acciones, entre las que destacan las ligadas al control de la movilidad en tiempos de contagio, se avanza hacia varias explicaciones para entender la geografía, cronología y razones principales de este desarrollo. Un desarrollo que anticipa la narrativa predominante centrada en las ciudades italianas durante los siglos XVI y XVII.

Resumen: Aquesta entrada presenta una recerca en curs sobre els inicis de la lluita contra la pesta a la Corona d’Aragó tardomedieval. En concret, se centra en la introducció de noves mesures pragmàtiques per fer front a la pestilència i d’altres malalties contagioses impulsades des dels governs urbans de Catalunya, València, Mallorca i Aragó des de mitjan segle XV. Aquests mecanismes suposaven un avanç important respecte a les respostes tradicionals lligades a la interpretació en clau religiosa d’una catàstrofe com un esclat epidèmic. A més de reconstruir la seqüència de l’aparició i l’evolució inicial d’aquest desplegament d’accions, entre les quals destaquen les lligades al control de la mobilitat en temps de contagi, s’avança cap a diverses explicacions per entendre la geografia, cronologia i raons principals d’aquest desenvolupament. Un desenvolupament que anticipa la narrativa dominant centrada en les ciutats italianes dels segles XVI i XVII.

Abstract: This blogpost presents ongoing research on the early efforts to combat the plague in the late medieval Crown of Aragon. Specifically, it focuses on the introduction of new pragmatic measures to address pestilence and other contagious diseases, driven by the urban governments of Catalonia, Valencia, Mallorca, and Aragon from the mid-15th century. These mechanisms represented a significant advance over traditional responses tied to religious interpretations of catastrophes such as epidemic outbreaks. In addition to reconstructing the sequence of the emergence and initial evolution of these actions —particularly those related to controlling mobility during times of contagion— the research explores various explanations to understand the geography, chronology, and main reasons for this development. This development anticipates the predominant narrative centred on Italian cities during the 16th and 17th centuries.

In 1348 the municipal authorities of Tortosa bought an orchard close to a parish church of the city to bury part of the extraordinary number of dead who had fallen victim to the plague during that summer. In order to mitigate divine wrath and prevent pestilence, in 1384 the city council of Manresa issued an ordinance prohibiting blasphemy, gambling and other moral sins. With the same purpose, in many years, such as 1362, 1371 or later until the Early Modern period, the rulers of Barcelona, like the ones in other Catalan and Aragonese towns, organised processions to seek the intercession of the Virgin and other saints. For instance, in Girona, prior to finally entrusting themselves to Saint Sebastian, they could not resist the attraction to the local patron saint, Saint Narcis, while in Majorca, until the end of the 15th century, saint Praxedis was the figure of reference when the situation was becoming more complicated. If all this was not enough, more resources could be mobilised. That is why in many places in Catalonia, at the end of the 15th century, pilgrims were sent to Saint James of Compostela with a first stop at the quintessential Catalan sanctuary, Montserrat. At times when the extraordinary increase in the daily death toll was beginning to frighten the population of several communities throughout the Crown of Aragon, bells were prevented from tolling and  to wear mourning garments was limited (as in Lleida in 1384).

Like in other years during that period, two pilgrims were sent by the city of Girona to Santiago de Compostela to request divine intervention to stop the plague, in: Municipal Archive of Girona, Municipality, City council acts, year 1488, f. 50r: [https://pandora.girona.cat/viewer.vm?id=2832557&lang=en&page=119] (10.06.2024).

Yet, not everything was limited to ritual actions in dealing with epidemic outbreaks. Progressively more practical measures were attempted. In this sense, from the late 1420s onwards the municipal government of Barcelona appointed a clergyman (and later a surgeon) to keep an exhaustive count of the daily deaths registered in the different parishes of the city at times when there were signs of an outbreak of epidemics. Apart from monitoring mortality, the second quarter of the 15th century saw a further step forward in a number of settlements. In July 1420 the authorities of the small town of Terrassa, and in November 1429 those of Cervera, prohibited the entry of people coming from infected places, with an emphasis on avoiding the reception of sick people by innkeepers. Indeed, in many urban centres in Catalonia, Valencia and Aragon, from the mid-15th century onwards, the closure of the town walls was promoted for this purpose; a closure that ended up affecting local people who saw their mobility limited during epidemic outbreaks. In this sense, in the city of Valencia, it was the same Queen Maria (wife of Alfonso the Magnanimous who was on the verge of fulfilling his Neapolitan dream) who issued the first travel ban in times of pestilence.

Nonetheless, in several places contagion could come not only by land, but also by sea. This is clearly seen in the exceptional case of Mallorca. There, already in 1414, the government had mechanisms to expel people from the island, who werebelieved to come from contagion hot spots. The strategy later seems to have been replicated in Barcelona. In 1458 the rulers of the Catalan capital prevented the arrival of vessels from Majorca and even ordered the expulsion of Majorcans: they justified the decision partly as retaliation for the treatment received by Barcelonian citizens on the island in the previous year. Controlling ships on arrival at ports or setting up checkpoints at the gates of city walls seems more affordable than the first attempts at real cordons sanitaires in the open. One of the first cases can again be found on  Majorca. In 1467, the representatives of Sóller, on the northern coast, tried to avoid the arrival of infected people from the city by placing guards at the crossings of the paths that gave access to the valley of this small town.

Between the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century, some progress was made in other measures that have become a benchmark in the fight against pestilence. For example, in 1501 the authorities of Cervera built provisional barracks in which people returning to the town had to spend periods of preventive confinement (or quarantines which, indeed, in most places in that period did not yet really consist of 40 days). In 1509 the jurors of València, for the same purpose, rented a farmhouse on the way to the seaport of the city. Around the year 1476, in Majorca, what historians would call a ‘health board’ was set up with a doctor at the healm and by-laws containing many revealing details. For instance, they refer to the interest of lighting bonfires in front of the houses of plague sufferers, or they allude to the prohibition that no one should act as a physician without a license by the members of the board, also responsible for controlling the action of the gravediggers  or notaries who drew up wills for the dying. In October 1482, the notary Jaume Safont from Barcelona noted an  an unprecedented episode in his diary. In the Catalan capital the royal lieutenant had ordered the expulsion of the remaining inhabitants of a house, in which some people had died in strange circumstances. In general, there was an increased rigour in the institutional response against epidemic outbursts.

Certainly, all of the above-mentioned actions, although perhaps lacking an obvious connection, are part of the heterogeneous range of strategies implemented by municipal authorities in the Western dominions of the Crown of Aragon to cope with epidemic diseases during the first phase of the so called second plague pandemic, which began with the catastrophic outbreak between the years 1347 and 1351. Broadly speaking, while all the ritual actions arising from the interpretation of epidemic outbursts as “acts of God” can be traced back to the Black Death (or even before), in the area under investigation more pragmatic mechanisms did not emerge until the first half of the 15th century.

Faced with this great diversity of documented episodes, the historian’s task is twofold: to reconstruct the sequence of measures throughout the territories of Catalonia, Valencia, Majorca and Aragon and to explain the who, when, why and where of some reactions and, especially, of new mechanisms.1 In this regard, the relatively wide range of sources preserved in northeastern Iberia prove the agency of municipal governments in the whole process. However, it remains to be determined what role medical experts may have had and to find reasons for the apparent dissociation between university medical knowledge and urban governance. This should be connected with other fundamental issues such as possible changes in the way diseases and their diffusion patterns were perceived by  authorities or policymakers in general. After all, it is possible that the war against the plague in the Crown of Aragon was initiated in a certain way and at a certain time due to a whole set of conditioning elements that were not only ‘scientific’ but also linked to the institutional landscape and the political and social context of its urban centres.

In short, to study the long list of actions mentioned above, scholars must combine several perspectives and try to be as pervasive as the invisible enemy itself (again borrowing a fortunate expression from Carlo Cipolla in his description of the challenge of epidemics in military terms) that terrorised pre-modern societies. And this without forgetting that, as we experienced very recently, global diseases can also threaten our world.

Selected bibliography:

Agresta, Abigail. “From Purification to Protection: Plague response in Late Medieval Valencia.” Speculum 95 no. 2 (2020): 371-395.

Carmichael, Ann G. “Contagion Theory and Contagion Practice in Fifteenth-Century Milan.” Renaissance Quarterly 44, no. 2 (1991): 213-256.

Cipolla, Carlo M. Fighting the Plague in Seventeenth-Century Italy. Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1981.

Cohn, Samuel K. The Black Death Transformed. Disease and Culture in Early Renaissance Europe. London: Arnold, 2003.

Nicoud, Marilyn. “À l’épreuve de la peste. Médecins et savoirs médicaux face à la pandémie (XIVe-XVe siècles)”, Annales HSS 78 no. 3 (2023) : 505-541.

Reixach Sala, Albert, “Frenar el contagio por tierra y por mar en Cataluña y Mallorca en el siglo XV: en los albores de los cordones sanitarios.” Reti Medievali Rivista, 24 no. 2 (2023): 51-87.

Roca Cabau, Guillem. “Medidas municipales contra la peste en la Lleida del siglo XIV e inicios del XV.” Dynamis 38 no. 1 (2018): 15-39.

Photo: Fragment of frescoes from the chapel of Saint Sebastian in Lanslevillard (Savoy, France), from the end of the 15th century, URL: [https://paulsmit.smugmug.com/Features/Europe/France/Chapels-of-Southern-Alps/Saint-Sebastien-Lanslevillard/i-nLxb8Db] (10.06.2024).

  1. Based on the existing scholarly literature on the phenomenon, they are two main aims of the research projects “Beyond the Black Death. Epidemics and mortality crises in northeastern Iberia, 11th-16th centuries: reconstructing cycles, measuring effects, analysing responses (EPIDEMED) (PID2020-117839GB-I00) funded by MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033 and also the research project The social dimension of health crises in Lleida and its region in the European context: from the Black Death to COVID-19 (IlerCriSan) funded by Indest – University of Lleida. []

Intercultural Processes of Interaction and their Participants in the Western Mediterranean: Norman Sicily (1061–1194) and the Kingdom of València (1238–1276) in Comparison

Eric Böhme, Konstanz

Abstract: Im Rahmen des hier vorgestellten Habilitationsprojektes werden in zwei miteinander zu vergleichenden Fallstudien zu Sizilien und zur Iberischen Levante jeweils Phasen bedeutender Umbrüche in den Blick genommen, die durch den Herrschaftswechsel von islamischer zu christlicher Oberherrschaft konstituiert wurden. Die neuen Herrschaftsstrukturen konnten nur über permanente Kommunikations-, Interaktions- und Aushandlungsprozesse etabliert und stabilisiert werden. Eine bedeutende Rolle dabei spielten Mediatoren, die einen zentralen Untersuchungsgegenstand des Projektes darstellen. Im Rahmen einer komparativen Analyse der Austauschprozesse zwischen den bereits ansässigen und neu zugewanderten Gesellschaftsgruppen sowie den neuen Herrschaftsträgern gilt es, Rückschlüsse über die möglichen Rollen, Motivationen und Verhaltensmuster dieser Vermittler sowie über sich etablierende Kommunikationsmechanismen unter ihrer Beteiligung zu ziehen. Die Ergebnisse des Projektes sollen die Forschungsdiskussion zu Kommunikations- und Interaktionsdynamiken in den multireligiös und multikulturell geprägten Gesellschaften des Euromediterraneums um einige neue Perspektiven erweitern.

Both the Iberian Peninsula and Southern Italy can be considered particularly interesting zones of contact in the Western Mediterranean where, in the course of many centuries, Muslims, Jews, and Christians frequently engaged in processes of interaction which could be characterised by peaceful and pragmatic conveniencia1 as well as by violence. In order to initiate and conduct communication and interaction between different cultures and religions effectively, all participants made use of mediators capable of acting as agents between the sides. Through combining and applying different verbal and cultural competences, these ‘border crossers’ were able to assume a variety of roles in processes of communication, interaction and negotiation.

Within the scope of the research project outlined here, this phenomenon shall be analysed in two case studies ultimately to be compared with each other. The first case study will deal with Norman Sicily. Featuring a multicultural population of both Muslims and Greek Orthodox Christians, Siqilīya was ruled until the second half of the 11th century by the Islamic dynasty of the Banī Kalb which, however, was unable to directly exert authority over large parts of the island. Instead, different petty rulers strove to extend their respective reach of influence thus creating a situation which facilitated the expansion of Norman rule from the Southern Italian mainland in 1061. Still, it took several decades for Roger I and his followers to force the whole island under Latin-Christian authority; Balarm/Palermo resisted until 1072, Siraqūsa/Syracuse until 1086 and Nūṭus/Noto fell only in 1091.

The comparative case study will focus on the Kingdom of València which was formed during the 1230s and 1240s in the context of the rapidly progressing expansion of the Crown of Aragón into the eastern parts of al-AndalusMuslim rule over the so-called Šarq al-Andalus had gradually fragmented after the collapse of Almohad rule, thus constituting a situation quite similar to the circumstances in Sicily. After the conquest of the city of València in 1238 in the wake of the crusade of King James I of Aragón, the new ‘Christian’ kingdom was formally established as part of the Crown of Aragón and in the following years expanded to cover vast territories between Qalʿa Murīla / Morella in the north and Šīšūna/Xixona in the south.

In both cases to be studied, the invasion and gradual expansion of Latin-Christian rule into regions which for centuries had been part of the dar al-islām constituted immense tension fields originating in a quite similar outset. In Sicily as well as in the Iberian Levant, the vast majority of the population did not adhere to the Latin-Christian faith of the conquerors and their comparatively small number of followers. This extraordinarily asymmetrical ratio between ‘rulers’ and ‘ruled’ balanced out only in the course of many decades by means of migration processes as well as guided measures such as waves of expulsion or the recruitment of Latin-Christian settlers. Initially, the non-Latin population groups and their traditional way of living received a basic and frequently chartered degree of respect and protection by the rulers and their functionaries which, at times, deliberately fostered the coexistence of cultures and religions. However, the omnipresent and in part rapidly progressing discrimination and gradual exclusion of non-Latins from most spheres of social and political interaction repeatedly triggered uprisings against the new rulers and their foreign elites.

Against the background of this extraordinarily strained basic situation in both regions, the new structures of rule could only be established and stabilised by means of constant processes of communication, interaction, and negotiation. As mentioned above, mediators were of central importance in these processes and therefore will be the focus of the research project presented here. By analysing the multitude of processes of interaction which arose between the already resident and newly immigrated population groups as well as the representatives of the new rulers, it will be the main task to draw conclusions on the possible roles, motivations and behaviour patterns of these mediators as well as the mechanisms of communication established with their participation.

Concerning its basic theoretical approach, the research project connects to the DFG project ‘Mediation von Herrschaft an den Grenzen Lateineuropas im Spätmittelalter’ (Chair of Medieval History, Leipzig University). Through their particular dynamics, the phases of changes of rulership in the two chosen border regions of ‘Latin’ Europe provide a suitable framework for analysing processes of interaction and negotiation between new and old elites. Against this backdrop, processes of integration and disintegration as well as aspects of legitimisation and delegitimisation of rulership are phenomena to be touched upon as well. The term ‘rulership’, which in itself is perceived as an analytical category requiring constant reflection, denotes a complex practice characterised by communication and discourse within a larger field of action. The field itself and thus the tangible individuals or groups acting in it are in turn influenced by overarching macro structures. The analysis will not focus on the ‘ruler(s)’ but on the ‘ruled’ groups and the interactions between them.

In order to examine this field, the research project will utilise a triad of terms which as well are perceived as analytical categories in need of constant reflection: MediationMediators und Mediatisation. The term Mediation denotes individual processes and moments in which rulership and its reach are subject to negotiation. Of central importance for analysing this phenomenon are Mediators as tangible participants in these processes of negotiation. The third term Mediatisation describes processes through which rulership in certain fields of action is outsourced on specialised and partly newly formed institutions and thereby made ‘mediatable’, at least to an extent. The consistent application and reflection of these terms is supposed to foster a better grasp of the characteristics of the border regions examined, without falling back on the notorious Central European paradigm of ‘modernisation’. The main questions to be treated using this theoretical approach and grid of criteria are:

  1. Which concrete moments of interaction between the resident ethnic, religious, social, and legal groups and the new authorities can be traced?
  2. How did these groups assert their demands towards the rulers and their representatives?
  3. Who were the mediators (or mediator groups) in the underlying processes of communication, interaction and negotiation? What potentially motivated them to participate?
  4. Which patterns or mechanisms of communication and/or interaction between the participating sides (‘ruled’ – ‘mediators’ – ‘rulers’) emerged and were established?
  5. Change of perspective: Which strategies did the rulers and their representatives apply in order to establish their authority over and within the heterogeneous structures of the different interest groups?

For both case studies, the foundation on which these questions shall be treated is formed by a very heterogeneous selection of sources from different genres and cultural backgrounds. Concerning the situation in the Kingdom of València, the first sources to be analysed are those whose creation context is directly connected with the establishment of Latin-Christian rule over the subjected territories. This is the case for the Llibre de Repartiment del Regne de València and the Cartes de poblament which certified the recognition of certain rights and obligations of individual Muslim communities as a result of negotiations conducted in the run-up to their capitulation. Narrative sources such as the works of Ibn al-Abbār or the quatre grans cròniques can also contribute useful information on these processes of negotiation. For the analysis of interaction processes in later decades, documentary material and legal texts such as the Furs de València or the Llibres de la Cort will be the most relevant groups of sources.

The second case study on Sicily can draw on a broad base of sources as well. The expansion and consolidation of Norman rule is mainly recorded in Latin and Arabic narrative works. As in the Iberian Peninsula, documentary material is of utmost importance for the analysis of intercultural and interreligious processes of interaction in later decades. This includes not only Latin charters, but also the Arabic respectively Arabic-Greek production of the royal dīwān. Furthermore, a small number of legal texts is available for interpretation as well.

In conclusion, it should again be emphasised that the extraordinary linguistic, religious, and cultural heterogeneity of the social structures in Norman Sicily as well as in the Kingdom of València steadily produced fields of tension which in turn caused the formation of particular dynamics in the ubiquitous processes of communication, interaction, and negotiation. Analysing the establishment and consolidation of these important realms in the Western Mediterranean from the perspective of the mediators in these processes and comparing the results for both case studies in detail is the central concern of the research project presented here. The consistent application of the outlined methodological framework in studying the main questions shall result in a monographic study adding new perspectives to the scholarly discussion on the dynamics of communication and interaction in the multireligious and multicultural societies of the Mediterranean region.


Photo: Muslims kneeling before James I of Aragón, Cantiga 169 of the Cantigas de Santa Maria of Alfonso X., in: Codex E, Ms BI2, f. 226r., Biblioteca de El Escorial, URL: [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/de/].

  1. Cf. Brian Aivars Catlos, Muslims of Medieval Latin Christendom, c. 1050–1614, Cambridge / new York 2014, 515–535. []
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