The Kingdom of Castile (1157–1212): Towards a Geography of the Southern Frontier

The Kingdom of Castile (1157–1212): Towards a Geography of the Southern Frontier

By Enrique Rodríguez-Picavea Matilla

Mirator (2005)

16th century map of Iberia

Introduction: A given geographic space is the appropriate framework for the development of socioeconomic infrastructures. Awareness of that space enables a wider and better understanding of the power structures and socioeconomic activities that develop within it. Here we shall try to understand the geography of the southern frontier of the Kingdom of Castile between 1157 and 1212, specifically that territory bordered by the Almohad Empire. However, this is not intended as an in-depth study of the frontier region, but as a general approximation of the different spaces that can be distinguished in it. Before doing so, it is important to set out the borders of this frontier zone and firstly to reflect upon the characteristics and conceptual meaning of the southern frontier of Castile in the period indicated.

This section is not the principal aim of this article, but it is important to introduce it at this point as it will help us to contextualize and create a better understanding of the historical geography of the southern frontier of Castile. For that reason, the content of this segment must be understood exclusively as an introduction, since the questions arising here are sufficiently important to deserve the focus in their own right.

To begin with, and as is well-known, the Castilian medieval border does not have an exclusively geopolitical dimension, it is also important to note its cultural, social and economic aspects. The nature of this work basically centres around geopolitical questions, but that does not mean we should ignore other fundamental aspects that one must remember here.

Thus the frontier between Castile and al-Andalus did not only consist of a geographical framework where opposing factions developed and barriers were imposed to keep these elements apart. It also frequently became the means and mechanism for economic, social, cultural, religious and artistic exchange between social groupings, whether they were already linked or in opposition. All of this is reflected in the development of commerce, cross-border migration, book circulation, the interchange of religious ideas and the permeable influence of artistic currents.

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