contributor.author: Olivia Remie Constable, University of Notre Dame

title.none: Abulafia, A Mediterranean Emporium (Constable)

identifier.other: baj9928.9610.002 96.10.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Olivia Remie Constable, University of Notre Dame, Olivia.R.Constable.1@nd.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1996

identifier.citation: Abulafia, David. A Mediterranean Emporium: The Catalan Kingdom of Majorca. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Pp. xxiv, 292. $59.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-32244-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 96.10.02

Abulafia, David. A Mediterranean Emporium: The Catalan Kingdom of Majorca. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Pp. xxiv, 292. $59.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-32244-8.

Reviewed by:

Olivia Remie Constable, University of Notre Dame
Olivia.R.Constable.1@nd.edu

This volume represents a much-needed discussion of the commercial and political history of the Balearic Islands in the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries. Despite the strategic and economic importance of this region, the Kingdom of Majorca has received less scholarly attention than the other Spanish kingdoms, a lacuna that David Abulafia has set himself to rectify. Briefly, his aim is "to see how coherently this kingdom functioned, particularly as a commercial crossroads between Europe and Africa."(xi) Throughout the book, Abulafia balances the topics of politics and commerce, investigating the nature of each and demonstrating their dissimilar development and success. He does an impressive job of untangling the complex political situation whereby the Kingdom of Majorca was established, together with several mainland territories, as a separate state loosely affiliated with the Kingdom of Aragon, to be ruled by the younger son of James I of Aragon after his father's death in 1276. This division proved untenable, and there was continuing tension over several generations between the assertion of Majorca's independence and an overwhelming pressure towards reintegration within the larger Aragonese Crown. As Abulafia points out, there was a striking paradox between the weakness and instability of the Kingdom of Majorca as a political entity, and the vigor and endurance of the region of Mallorca as an economic entity. He employs the two different spellings, Majorca and Mallorca, to distinguish between the kingdom and the island. Once this usage is clear, it is a helpful device in delineating the two entities, and it highlights the contrast between the political failure of one and the commercial success of the other. Contrary to some theories, Abulafia demonstrates that political weakness in the Balearics was not matched by economic weakness. Indeed, the kingdom failed in its bid for political independence precisely because the region was so economically integrated with the mainland kingdom of Aragon and other regions of the western Mediterranean. The very interdependence that made it commercially vigorous was what made it political nonviable. As put by Abulafia, "long-distance trade is about crossing frontiers, not about creating them. In the long term, the merchants of the Balearics...needed to be part of a wider Catalan common market in the western Mediterranean...In achieving that end, the autonomy of the kings of Majorca was an irrelevance, while the prosperity of their territories acted as a magnet to their kinsmen, the kings of Aragon."(234)

The book is divided into two parts. The first, entitled "Unity and Diversity" (chapters one to five), discusses the region, its historiography, the constitutional problem, and ends with two fascinating chapters on the Muslim and Jewish populations in the Balearics, including a discussion of the Mozarab community. The second part, called "The Crossroads of the Mediterranean" (chapters six to eleven), provides a detailed discussion of the commercial importance and development of Mallorca. In both sections, Abulafia is meticulous in his investigation and presentation of primary source materials, and he provides fresh interpretations on a number of issues. He also grapples with previous scholarship, for example questioning E. Lourie's description of the free Muslim population on Mallorca (64), and providing a different view of Mallorcan shipping in the 13th century from that of R.S. Lopez (192). The volume has two maps, a list of rulers, and two brief appendixes providing Latin texts pertaining to relations between Mallorca and Sardinia and the Montpellier inquest of 1338-39.