Marriage across frontiers: sexual mixing, power and identity in medieval Iberia
Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, March (2011)
This article explores the functions that interfaith marriages and other sexual liaisons fulfilled within the overall dynamic of Christian–Muslim relations in the medieval Iberian Peninsula. While in the aftermath of the Islamic conquest exogamous marriages served to consolidate Muslim authority over the region, such alliances later became a tool of diplomacy for the Umayyads and other e ́lite families in their relations with the emerging Christian states of the North. The taking of a Christian bride or slave concubine by a Muslim potentate was in part a dynastic defence mechanism, designed to forestall the danger that a Muslim wife’s family might at some point stake its own claims to power; it was also regarded as symbolic of Islamic political and military hegemony. Here, the marriage alliance that was arranged between Princess Teresa Vermu ́dez of Leo ́n and a certain “pagan king” of Toledo at the beginning of the eleventh century is investigated and it is argued that the ruler in question could have been the h_a ̄jib [chief minister] ‘Abd al-Malik al-Muz_affar or his brother ‘Abd al-Rah_ma ̄n Sanchuelo, heir to the caliphal throne. By c. 1100 a convergence of political and cultural factors – not least the marked shift in the peninsular balance of power – condemned the practice of interfaith marriage to a swift decline. However, the “cultural memory” of such liaisons was to carry a powerful resonance within Christian society thereafter, helping to reinforce community identity and define social and cultural boundaries between the faiths.