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Victory's Shadow: Conquest and Governance in Medieval Catalonia. Thomas W. Barton. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2019. xviii + 412 pp. $49.95.

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 March 2021

Michael J. Sanders
Affiliation:
Fordham University
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Abstract

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Copyright © The Author(s) 2021. Published by the Renaissance Society of America

In his first monograph, Contested Treasure, Thomas W. Barton examined relations between monarchy and aristocracy through the contest for jurisdiction over the Jewish communities of Tortosa. Victory's Shadow continues this examination, but instead of using Christian-Jewish relations as his prism, Barton looks through the Crown of Aragon's territorial expansion into the Ebro valley—namely, the Andalusi cities of Tortosa and Lleida (New Catalonia), and the kingdom of Valencia, between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. Together Contested Treasure, Victory's Shadow, and Barton's upcoming From the Hands of Infidels: The Christianization of Islamic Landscapes in Europe provide an in-depth study of the changes Catalonian government and society underwent as it conquered and integrated its Muslim frontier. Barton designed Victory's Shadow as a sort of prologue to contextualize his other monographs within Catalonia's administrative trends.

Aside from fulfilling its role in the trilogy, Victory's Shadow stands alone as an impressive political history. Barton persuasively argues that the count-kings of Barcelona expanded their federative principalities through a variety of political, cultural, and economic practices and institutions distinct for each region. This heterogeneity, moreover, gradually enhanced comital-royal authority, and altered the conqueror's society. These arguments build on and challenge the work of Robert Bartlett, who described medieval expansion as a more homogenous colonization process, often led by knights, clerics, and merchants, in which core kingdoms replicated themselves on Latin Christendom's frontiers.

Over eight thematic chapters, divided into three chronological parts, Barton illustrates that the Crown of Aragon's expansion did not follow a standard “blueprint” (7). As part 1 shows, the counts of Barcelona struggled in the eleventh century to compete with other Christian kingdoms, as well as their own nobles and castellans, for tribute (parias) and territory from the Upper Frontier of al-Andalus (Thaghr al-‘Aqsa). The kings of Aragon were more successful, but by the 1130s, they too had overextended themselves. Only the unification of Aragon and Catalonia after the death of Alfonso I provided the resources, and quelled the competition, necessary for Ramon Berenguer IV to conquer Lleida and Tortosa in the mid-twelfth century.

Yet even with a unified kingdom, the count-kings could not assume complete control of their conquests, as Barton describes in part 2. Ramon Berenguer IV had to alienate much of the conquest to preconquest pledges, most notably the Templars, who aided in the acquisition of New Catalonia. He did manage to keep the choicest lordships, mainly in the urban districts, despite suits from influential nobles like the Montcadas. Nevertheless, these territories required time to become profitable, and his successors, Alfons I and Pere I, became increasingly short of money in their quests for legitimacy among Aragonese nobles and more land in northern Valencia and Languedoc. Consequently, the two count-kings loaned out or completely alienated most of their control in Tortosa. Ironically, at the same time, they espoused a heightened sense of sovereignty over rival lords—namely, the counts of Urgel who also had a controlling stake in Lleida.

Part 3 thus begins with Pere's son and heir, Jaume I, inheriting a severely depleted and impoverished patrimony. As the section progresses, though, three main factors lead to a change in the count-kings’ fortunes. First, Jaume I's conquests of the Balearic Islands and Valencia allowed him to exchange lordships in the new kingdoms for older ones in New Catalonia. Second, the need to attract and retain peasants restricted seignorial power, especially the mals usos (bad customs) that tied peasants to the land. Finally, boundary disputes between Aragon and Old Catalonia over New Catalonia led to the erosion of many customary laws that disadvantaged the monarchy. By the book's end, then, Jaume I and his successors, mainly Pere II and Jaume II, have gained direct rule over Lleida and Tortosa, though nobles retained power outside the cities.

Victory's Shadow has much to commend it for an upper-level history course and scholars interested in Catalonian society, lordship, or royal power. Barton does a masterful job interpreting a wide variety of published and unpublished charters, coins, court cases, and law codes from well-known archives, like the Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, as well as less commonly utilized institutions in Lleida and Tortosa. Surprisingly, Barton does not discuss the foundation of those archives, which occurred under Jaume I. Indeed, Robert I. Burns, whose 1985 introductory volume to the Diplomatarium of the Crusader Kingdom of Valencia remains the standard English history of the Crown's archives, claimed, “An array of lawyers and scribes was more vital to [Jaume's] achievement than were the contingents of crossbowmen and knights” (9).

Barton does much to support Burns's assertion, particularly in the twelfth century. Charters of settlement, surveys by Bertran de Castellet and Ponç the Scribe, the Usatges de Barcelona, Liber feudorum maior, and other documents enhanced the count-kings’ fiscal efficiency and accountability over their aristocracy and allowed them to maintain their conquests. Yet Barton does not trace how these initial “rudimentary and unsystematic” parchments evolved into one of Europe's best kept archival systems, a key factor in comital-royal authority from the thirteenth century onward (96). In other words, the Crown of Aragon's victory over New Catalonia might have cast an even longer shadow than Barton suggests.

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Victory's Shadow: Conquest and Governance in Medieval Catalonia. Thomas W. Barton. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2019. xviii + 412 pp. $49.95.
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Victory's Shadow: Conquest and Governance in Medieval Catalonia. Thomas W. Barton. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2019. xviii + 412 pp. $49.95.
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Victory's Shadow: Conquest and Governance in Medieval Catalonia. Thomas W. Barton. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2019. xviii + 412 pp. $49.95.
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