Daily Life in the Spanish Reconquest: Scenes from Tenth-Century León
Claudio Sánchez Albornoz
THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF RESEARCH HISTORIANS OF MEDIEVAL SPAIN, THE AARHMS LIBRARY (1999)
Only in two cases can we attempt to reconstruct life in a Spanish city before the last millennium with any hope of success: that is to say, in León and Córdoba. The rich and varied Hispano-Arabic literature, the abundant and expressive historical writings of Spanish Muslims, and the splendid ruins of Córdoba which survive to our own day, seem sufficient to allow us to describe the city of the Spanish caliphs in the age of Abd-ar-Rahman III and Almanzor. But in the following pages I will be attempting to depict some scenes of life in León in the tenth century.
Very much to my regret, I cannot offer the reader a total reconstruction of León at the turn of the millennium. There is an absolute lack of any literary texts from which we might glean information about the private life, festivals and customs of the day. Hardly anything remains of this society, except religious buildings, commemorative plaques, works in marble and stone, and a very small number of religious objects. Even representations of the human figure are scarce, and those which are preserved in Bibles, antiphonaries, and Saints’ Lives are on occasion so crude and stylized that it proves extremely complicated to interpret them; sometimes there is doubt as to whether the artists were reproducing scenes from daily life, or simply following tradition and copying past customs and ways of life. The Christian chronicles of the era are brief and threadbare biographies of kings: dry, schematic and colorless. They offer a sad contrast to the rich, detailed and exuberant works of Al-Juxani and other Muslims of the time. We have no choice but to turn to the arid diplomas of that century, painfully laconic in comparison to the loquacious documents of the following centuries. Using these diplomas and the Fuero of León (1020), which crystallizes the legal, economic and social traditions bequeathed to the contemporaries of Alfonso V by their ancestors, along with the artistic, narrative and architectural sources mentioned above, I will trace the features of life in León between 900 and 1000.