The neglected reconquest: Portugal as a European frontier (1064-1250)

The neglected reconquest: Portugal as a European frontier (1064-1250)

By Stephen Lay

PhD Dissertation, Monash University, 2004

15th century portolan map showing medieval Iberia
15th century portolan map showing medieval Iberia

Abstract: This thesis examines the evolution of Portugal between the mid-eleventh and the mid-thirteenth centuries, a period of Iberian history dominated by the Reconquista. Study of the reconquest in Portugal has often been neglected in favour of events in neighbouring Spain. Yet during this period Portugal grew from a small, frontier county into an independent kingdom. Portuguese territory was augmented through successful military campaigns against the Muslim states to the south; but at the same time a more subtle change was taking place, as greater contact with Latin Christendom brought cultural upheaval to the region.

This thesis argues that both the territorial reconquest and Latin Christian influence were fundamental to the early development of Portugal. Local leaders sought advantage by embracing Latin culture, but attempted to use their special status as frontier defenders to mediate this outside influence to their own benefit. During the twelfth century these methods enabled the first Portuguese king, Afonso Henriques (1128-1185), to achieve independence and territorial security. His thirteenth-century successors, faced with a more complex world and changing Latin Christian attitudes to the frontier, were unable to consolidate these gains.

The thesis is organised chronologically. The first two chapters examine the characteristics of eleventh-century Iberian society and the impact of early Latin Christian influence in the peninsula. One unexpected result of this influence was the formation of the county of Portugal in 1095, and subsequent chapters address the policies of successive Portuguese leaders. Yet political developments cannot be divorced from contemporary economic and social trends, so large sections of the thesis are devoted to an analysis of changing attitudes in Portugal. Increasing contacts with northern Europe promoted economic growth and cultural transition. Urbanisation and the wealth generated by trade brought greater complexity and sophistication to Portuguese society.

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At the same time, Portuguese people were gradually made aware of a Latin Christian identity that transcended local loyalties. This process of integration into a wider Latin Christendom created both opportunity and great tension throughout the Iberian peninsula. It also created a political environment in which the foundation of an independent kingdom of Portugal was possible.

Click here to read this thesis from Monash University

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