By Donald Kagay
Published Online (1997)
Introduction: It is the purpose of this paper to explore the role of the town in the medieval Crown of Aragon as a source and conduit of supplies to the royal host. Before assessing these urban logistical activities, however, the commonly-accepted vassalic duties which underpinned them must be understood. In a seminal article written almost thirty years ago, Thomas Bisson pointed out the martial nature of representation in the Middle Ages by delineating the close relationship of the vassalic duties of auxilium “aid” and consilium “counsel”. The bond between public and private in such obligations was a mottled one and none was more so than the private vassalic support of a seigneurial or royal army which, however, by its very existence focused on “public matters” and affected the well being of an entire patria “realm”. The most significant of these private/public duties, servitium “service”, stood as a generic responsibility which had tied dependant to lord since Visigothic times. In military terms, such service manifested itself as participation in both the foray (cavalcada) and the host (ost). Ancillary duties to such military service were those of alberga, statica, and cena. These consisted of the temporary hospitality which a vassal owed his lord whenever demanded in either peace or war. Such shelter and provender was owed not only to the lord but also to his retainers as well as their mounts.
When the territorial sovereign in the Crown of Aragon had need of an army and the supplies to maintain it, he, like any great lord, turned to his vassals and, by extension, his subjects. In the mountain land of Aragon, feudal ties and all the duties which went with them were normally renewed on oath at the beginning of each reign by “all men…of the kingdom”. In Catalonia, the martial obligations of vassals, explained in the twelfth-century law code, the Usatges of Barcelona, included customary limits of cavalcade and host service, the protection of an endangered lord on the battlefield and, most importantly for our purposes, the surrender of one’s castle to his lord “as many times as he should require it”. In this last instance, the sovereign could claim provisioning for a customary limit, normally specified in the convenientia or “feudal pact”. The Usatges article, which the Crown time and again used to call up the martial and logistical support of its subjects, was the Princeps namque. This law declared that if the ruler of Catalonia found himself in danger from his enemies, all his subjects were to come to his aid as quickly as they could. If they failed to do so, they were considered guilty of “dereliction of duty…since no one must fail the ruler in such a great matter.” In reality, the Princeps namque transcended feudal ties, making army service and support the business of the realm at large. With this royal and feudal legal background in mind, the role of a key segment of the Crown of Aragon, the towns, in army maintenance can be investigated.