Captives in Mediaeval Spain: The Castilian-Leonese and Muslim Experience (XI-XIII Centuries)
By Francisco García Fitz
e-Stratégica, Volume 1, 2017
Introduction: Alfonso X the Wise’s Partidas or 7-part code distinguishes two types of incarcerated individual: the prisoner and the captive. They share the common characteristic of having been apprehended by others; however, although the former would lose his freedom, his captor was required to keep him alive, could not bring him to harm or suffering, could not sell him, could not enslave him, could not bring dishonour upon him in front of his wife and could not separate him from his wife and children to be sold separately.
When the authors of the Partidas laid out these conditions, they were thinking of the kind of prisoner who shared the same religion or belief – the same law – as his captor: for instance, he who is captured in a “war among Christians”. On the other hand, circumstances for the captive were entirely different, unquestionably harder and much more dramatic: according to the Partidas, captives were those “that had been captured by men from a different religion”.
On account of the contempt held by the captors for the captive’s beliefs, the latter could be murdered subsequent to his imprisonment, he could be tortured through “cruel punishments” or be used as a slave or servant for such – tough and degrading – work that they “would rather die than live”. In addition, they were prevented from possessing anything, they could be sold and even taken away from their relatives. The Partidas makes an overwhelming conclusion with regard to captives: “it is the worst fate man could face in this world” -”mayor mal andança que los omes pueden auer en este mundo”. This article focuses on the circumstances borne out by captives in the Castilian-Leonese kingdom and in al-Andalus between the 11th and 13th centuries.