Brian Catlos

title.none: O'Connor, A Forgotten Community (Brian Catlos)

identifier.other: baj9928.0412.010 04.12.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Brian Catlos, University of California Santa Cruz,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: O'Connor, Isabel A. A Forgotten Community: The Mudejar Aljama of Xativa, 1240-1327. Series: The Medieval Mediterranean, vol. 44. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Pp. x, 251. $84.00 900412846-8. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.12.10

O'Connor, Isabel A. A Forgotten Community: The Mudejar Aljama of Xativa, 1240-1327. Series: The Medieval Mediterranean, vol. 44. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Pp. x, 251. $84.00 900412846-8. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Brian Catlos
University of California Santa Cruz

The town of Xàtiva (Játiva, in Castilian) lies inland some 60km south of Valencia among rugged hills on the banks of the Albaida River. Prior to the 1240s it was a thriving Muslim center, home to an important paper industry, as well as agriculture, dyeing and tanning. In the thirteenth century it was conquered by James I, King of Aragon, Mallorca and Count of Barcelona, Roussillon and Montpellier and incorporated into the Christian-ruled "Crown of Aragon." As was generally the case in the Islamic lands absorbed by the Crown, the majority of the town's inhabitants stayed on in the wake of the conquest, living under Christian suzerainty, coming later to be referred to as "Mudejars." The conquest of Xàtiva, as most of the rest of the Kingdom of Valencia, came not as the result of a single decisive military episode but was, rather, the culmination of a process of negotiation, occupation, revolt and colonization, which spanned some four decades of the mid-thirteenth century. Isabel O'Connor's A Forgotten Community, based on her PhD dissertation of the same title (UCLA: History, 1998), examines the town's Muslim community, or aljama, from the initial phase of conquest through to 1327. The study's terminal date, which coincides with the end of the reign of James II of Aragon, was chosen arbitrarily as a means of avoiding the generalizations (3) which the author feels a broader chronological sweep would entail, and of dealing practically with the burgeoning archival records of the fourteenth-century Crown of Aragon. This is an entirely reasonable position. However, the author's contention that the only work that "traces this history of a Mudejar community for a one hundred year period"(p. 3) is a 1952 article by F. Roca Traver on the aljama of Valencia is not accurate. More recent monographs by M. B. Basáñez, A. Conte Cazcarro, M. T. Ferrer i Mallol and J. Mutgé each examine specific aljamas for spans of at least one century, but were apparently not consulted for this work. [[1]]

The first of the book's eight chapters, "From Foreign to Native: Changing Patterns in Spanish Scholarship on the Mudejars" provides a lengthy, twenty-one page overview of the study of Iberian Muslims from its most remote eighteenth-century origins. This chapter is particularly effective in relating twentieth-century historiographical trends to contemporary political and social contexts, from Franco's colonial adventures to recent Muslim immigration. As per the title, however, foreign historiographical trends are all but ignored. The Burns-Guichard debate, originating in the 1970s and of fundamental importance to understanding post-Conquest Valencia Muslim society is glossed over in a single paragraph (22-23). Guichard's and others' sociological and anthropological approach, and the recent the work of M. Meyerson and D. Nirenberg, among others, are not referred to; nor are the archeological and hydrological studies carried out by T. F. Glick, M. Barceló and his disciples, or Madrid's Casa de Velázquez mentioned. A most notable omission is J. Torró's monograph in Catalan, El naixement d'una colònia, which examines the Mudejar society of the Kingdom of Valencia for some of the same period covered here. [[2]]

The remaining seven chapters take a combined thematic and chronological approach to the history of the aljama, beginning with "The Christian Conquest of Xàtiva and its Aftermath, 1244--1252." It was in this period that the Banu Isa, the rulers of Muslim Xàtiva became vassals of James I, a role which they maintained until 1246 when the town came under Christian rule. The following six years were marked by the first Christian colonization, recorded in detail in the town's Llibre de repartiment and culminating in the 1252 royal charter which formally marked off the Muslim neighborhood or morería. The chapter is essentially an analysis of the Llibre de repartiment, and endeavors to map out the effect of Christian settlement on the town's urban and agricultural geography. O'Connor stresses James's challenge to find permanent Christian settlers, and the Muslim community's attempts to grapple with life under Christian rule. The chapter is most convincing when discussing the impact on the townscape, although some of the author's observations bear further consideration and refinement. One wonders, for example, how converting Muslim houses to stables is a reflection of colonists' "Christian beliefs" (40). Further, a series of scarcely substantiated positions taken by M. Epalza (43 and 44, for example) are accepted without critical analysis, and the transformation of the productive countryside is discussed all but without reference to irrigation structures.

Chapter Three, "The Aljama: Internal Organization of the Mudejar Community of Xàtiva" is based on a range of published and unpublished archival sources and quite understandably relies for much on the work of Burns. O'Connor's discussion of the transformation of the local Muslim elite, particularly the rise of the Abenfaqui family, is well done; her description of the emergence of a new Mudejar elite and of Christian administrative pressure is also convincing. However, although she suggests that the fact that the town remained under the control of the "ulama" represents a strand of continuity with pre-conquest times (73), it bears considering that this religious elite may have itself been transformed as a result of the occupation and may have been functionally and institutionally distinct from the previous "ulama." Continuity remains to be established convincingly.

"Mudejar Economy in Xàtiva" begins with a discussion of the agricultural economy. Although O'Connor uses unedited documentation to illustrate her claims, the principles which she discusses are drawn heavily from the work of other historians (notably, Burns) and are frequently both rather vague and analytically restrained. For example, the puzzling lack of reference to grants of Christian lands contiguous to Mudejar properties (85) which she notes may indicate either that Muslims and Christians practiced different types of agriculture, or that the lands granted to Christians were the remains of large decommissioned estates (consistent with the departure of the pre-conquest elite). Her discussions of the non-agricultural economy and of the tensions generated by Christian fiscal administration are sound; Mudejar Xàtiva did undoubtedly remain a center of trade and industry and the royal government certainly did attempt to extract whatever revenue it could from the Muslims. The question remains, however, as to how this differed from the town's Christian and Jewish economies and fiscal administrations and, more intriguingly, how the three were linked.

The next chapter, "Mudejar Response to the Christian Conquest," deals with social and cultural issues, notably the desirability of emigration to Islamic lands, pressure to convert to Christianity and Muslim-Christian sectarian violence. Her brief discussion of the Islamic conundrum of living under the rule of infidels may under-estimate the ideological pressure which Mudejars may have come under, but very astutely points out that the situation created opportunities for those Muslims who came to comprise the new elite (120). Next there follows a detailed review of the intense and utterly failing efforts of various religious orders to convert Mudejars to Christianity (often with royal patronage) in the final quarter of the thirteenth-century through the media of obligatory sermon attendance and promises of legal and fiscal protection to conversos. O'Connor, in fact, admits to having uncovered only one case of conversion, that of woman named Mascharosa, which the author surprisingly takes as evidence that "conversion occurred in all sectors of society" (131). The chapter concludes with an examination of violent Muslim resistance to Christian rule, which in Xàtiva was encouraged by proximity to Muslim-ruled Granada, the provocative attacks by certain Christians on aljamas, and the revolts of local Muslim lords, such as al-Azraq.

The final three chapters are solidly based on original archival research of unedited documentation from the Arxiu de la Corona d'Aragó (Barcelona). Chapter Six, "Troubled Times," traces the fate of the aljama from the failed revolt of 1276 through to 1327. In the aftermath of the uprisings of 1276 the Crown found itself seeking to stem the flow of Muslim refugees out of the kingdom, a trend which put royal revenues at risk and inspired policies aimed at courting the return of emigrants. Plans to repopulate the depleted morería of Xàtiva were apparently not greatly successful, and further disruption was caused by an invasion of Granadan raiders taking advantage of the revolt of the Aragonese Unión in 1287. According to O'Connor, these circumstances contributed to a general decline in the aljama and encouraged administrative encroachment in Mudejar affairs on the part of Christian officials. This theme provides the focus of the next chapter, "Change in the Aljama: Increased Christian Intervention in Aljama Affairs." Here she uncovers the dynamic of tension which arose between the king, whose interest was in maintaining a prosperous Muslim community, and local officials, whose agenda was their own exploitation of the aljama. Under James II, Mudejar legal jurisdiction, which had been established as largely autonomous under the early treaties, was eroded piecemeal by the claims of various Christian authorities. Mudejar complaints to the king of administrative abuse became increasingly common. By 1321, the king had formally redefined his juridical relationship with the Muslim subjects of the kingdom. The final chapter, "Hard Economic Times," deals with the effects of the aljama's shrinking population base on both the economy and relations with the Crown. James II was determined to maintain Xàtiva's paper-making industry and aggressively legislated to protect it, all the while expanding control over public utility monopolies. Meanwhile, the Muslim community continued to bear the pressure of increased colonization by Christian settlers and the concommitant competition for resources, which in turn encouraged administrative encroachment and engendered social tensions.

The book closes with a five-page conclusion which summarizes the preceding chapters and notes that, despite the negative trends, the aljama continued to prosper into the fifteenth century. This is followed by a very brief bibliography, which disappointingly does not contain a list of archival sources consulted. The five maps, four of which reflect the changing layout of the town, are clear and well-drawn, while the eight photographs, although they provide a certain visual orientation for the reader, do not relate specifically to or clarify the author's arguments. Typographical errors and misspellings are few in this work, although the non-standard enumeration of the Catalan-Aragonese kings may cause some brief confusion (throughout, for example, Peter the Great is referred to as "Pere III," rather than "Pedro III" or "Pere II," as is customary).

As it stands, A Forgotten Community presents a sketch of the aljama of Xàtiva at the turn of the fourteenth century. It cannot be described as exhaustive and its structure seems to have followed the serendipitous yield of the archives rather than a deliberate theoretical scheme or a consistent argument to establish the character of the Mudejar experience in Xàtiva. Most seriously, O'Connor never questions the assumption that the aljama is an adequate basis for the analysis of Mudejar society, or interrogates the validity of its historiographical conception as a corporate institution representative of the local Muslim community. In fact, this is less than clear. Relationships between aljamas and their constituents were often ambiguous. In the medieval Crown of Aragon many Mudejars, including aljama officials, had economic, fiscal and judicial relationships which bound their own agendas to those of individuals and institutions outside the aljama, including noblemen, religious and military orders, business partners and creditors -- third parties who were Christians, Muslims and Jews. Even officials themselves were often at odds with their own communities thanks to the tax franchise (franquitas) they traditionally enjoyed, and their own desire to economically and judicially exploit their subjects. One can certainly not assume that the qadi or other officials were seen as "role models" by the population at large (172). They were frequently despised. Tensions within the Muslim community deserve to be explored. The confessionally-oriented character of the study encourages essentialist assumptions, which too easily perceive of Muslim and Christian societies as monolithic, and which can thus assume that any dynamic of interaction involving Christians and Muslims is ideological or communal in nature. Hence, a dispute between two Christians and several specific Muslim master paper-makers (194) is misleadingly transformed by the author's language into a dispute with "the Mudejars of Xàtiva." Nor is there any serious attempt to compare and contextualize the situation in Xàtiva with contemporary aljamas elsewhere in the Crown, aside from some allusions to the community of Valencia. A broader, more comparative approach might have tempered these tendencies and helped to distinguish those of the dynamics that the author uncovers which were a function of Mudejar identity from those which were common to Christian and Jewish communities or arose out of non-sectarian circumstances.

These points of criticism aside, the book comprises a useful case-study of a Valencian aljama based to a large extent on "new" documentation. It addresses, albeit often in a superficial manner, a whole range of topics including administrative competition, fiscal and juridical relations, religious identity, economic activity and the effects of colonization. Hence, it will doubtless be useful to historians seeking to develop a broader. more sophisticated vision of the Crown of Aragon's Mudejar population or of medieval minorities in general.

[[1]] M. B. Basanez Villaluenga, La aljama sarracena de Huesca en el siglo XIV (Barcelona: CSIC, 1989), A. Conte Cazcarro, La aljama de moros de Huesca (Huesca: Instituto de Estudios Altaragoneses, 1992), M. T. Ferrer i Mallol, Les aljames sarraines de la governacio d'Oriola en el segle XIV (Barcelona: CSIC, 1988), and J. Mutge i Vives, L'aljama sarraina de Lleida a l'Edat Mitjana (Barcelona: CSIC, 1992).

[[2]] J. Torro Abad, El naixement d'una colonia. Dominacio i resistencia a la frontera valenciana (1238--1276) (Valencia: Universitat de Valencia, 1999).