Esther Pascua

title.none: Catlos, The Victors and the Vanquished (Esther Pascua)

identifier.other: baj9928.0509.013 05.09.13

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Esther Pascua, University of St. Andrews,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Catlos, Brian A. The Victors and the Vanquished: Christians and Muslims of Catalonia and Aragon, 1050-1300. Series: Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought: Fourth Series, vol. 59. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Pp. xxiv, 449. $95.00 0-521-82234-3. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.09.13

Catlos, Brian A. The Victors and the Vanquished: Christians and Muslims of Catalonia and Aragon, 1050-1300. Series: Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought: Fourth Series, vol. 59. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Pp. xxiv, 449. $95.00 0-521-82234-3. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Esther Pascua
University of St. Andrews

Brian Catlos is a well-known medievalist with seminal articles from 1996 on the economy to the culture of 13th-century Mudejars. The object of this review is his first book based on his doctoral dissertation completed in Toronto in the year 2000 with the same title. This is an ambitious, mature and comprehensive work on a topic that he knows well. Undergraduate and postgraduate students along with specialists can learn a great deal from a book that put forward a challenging interpretation in a clear and concise style. The book is clever in structure. There are three parts. The first one begins with the final stage of independent Muslim rule in the Ebro valley region in the 11th century (pp. 1-71). The second part traces the transformation of Islamic society and economy into Mudejar society under Christian domination in the 12th and 13th centuries (pp. 123-323). Part three presents six specific case studies illustrating particular aspects (pp. 327-389). An easy text to read, every part and chapter has an introduction with the topics presented and conclusions in line with the argument. Many issues played in Catlos' mind when he wrote this book. In his own words, he presents a "revisionary" study since he aims to dive into the subtleties of the Mudejar society of 13th century Aragon situating it within the larger context of the Crown. He rejects the traditional approach that, in his view, casts a romantic, static and reified view on the Mudejars as a homogeneous, acculturated, poor, isolated and discriminated group that passively suffered Christian subjugation. For Catlos, the Mudejars were a minority made of different socio-economic strata with contrasting interests and positions. Religion was just one of the multiple factors that formed their identity and they took an active part in shaping their institutions and experience (pp. 4-8). Catlos denies the existence of two well-defined and separated communities and argues that they had more in common than the classical binomial of the Victors and the Vanquished. He spares no efforts to explain and illustrate his argument with great success and internal coherence. As part of this program, the author makes the unusual effort for a medievalist to integrate social, cultural and economic theory to account for the complexity of inter-religious relations in his period.

The book grows in complexity--from very basic first summaries of secondary literature that might put off some specialists in the topic to difficult and thorough conclusions at the end. The introduction of the book can be disappointing to the specialist or to the medievalist. The author shows from the very beginning a great ability to address eagerly all the main debates, but the list of issues presented still reflects the weight of the Doctoral Thesis and the academy: general historical introduction to medieval Spain, geography of the Ebro basin, historiography, sources, methodology, and main events of the period.

The first part of the book suffers at some points from the same problem, but has also brilliant insights. Part One presents the Muslim domination of the Ebro (700-1200) in two chapters organized by topics and it is based entirely on secondary historical and archaeological literature. These topics are: immigration, conquest, settlement, conversion, agriculture, trade, language, family and society, religion, ethnicity, administration, and power. They all are highly controversial and have involved big names in long debates. However, the author shows the capacity to summarize the positions fairly and to present his own stand. Although this part is not the core of the book, the author brings together the Anglo-American and the Spanish historiography, two different universes not always connected. Finally, this part proves the need and excellent result of integrating pre- and post-Christian periods to understand historical processes in full. Catlos touches upon the keys to understand the transition from the Caliphate to the Taifa period in the upper frontier and the aspects that would remain during Christian domination. Also in this part, one of the interpretative lines of the book appears (p. 55): for Catlos, continuity rather than cataclysm is the key concept to interpret the processes that took place in the Ebro basin during the 12 and 13th centuries. The Christian conquest was a time of both, contact and war: a time of reorganization and settlement towards the emergence of a multi-ethnic society but equally a time of pacts, institutional transfers and alliances (pp. 118-119).

In the second part of the book, the centre of Catlos' research and mostly based on archival work, this topic reaches momentum. The author's main purpose is to show how the multiple interactions between the Muslim minority and the dominant Christian culture lead to integration rather than exclusion and to the emergence of a community strongly diversified in terms of interests, identities, and strategies. In order to appreciate this, he analyses several aspects organized in four chapters. Chapter Three is on financial and judicial administration of the Mudejar society, the aspect better studied from the documents produced by the Christians and a central topic of current historiography. Chapter Four is on their economic role. Chapter Five is on the upper oligarchy of the Mudejars, those who monopolized the offices, and on the slaves, the two sectors more closely connected with the Christians. Finally, chapter Six treats Mudejar ethnicity and social interactions described around the topics with denser evidence such as defense, sexual relations, communal violence and crime. There are thoughtful insights in these chapters and superb examples and cases. For instance, the aljama is described as a corporate manifestation of the Muslim community and identity and as an active response of the Muslims to the attempts by Christians to integrate two distinct administrative schemes. This turns out to be relevant for understanding later developments in the increasing interference of Christians in the aljama offices, in the nature of its power, systems of representation and the use of the franquitas as a mechanism of Mudejar divisiveness (pp. 136-137). Catlos tends to minimize the boundaries between Christian and Muslim communities, sometimes to a critical point, and chooses to talk of adaptation to a Christian system (p. 154) rather than on the violence or coercion involved in such a process. Catlos finds his inspiration in the evidence that indicates that Muslim and Christian communities worked together to resist taxation or in any other situation where they feared an external threat. He argues that corruption and corrupted officials existed between Muslims and Christians equally and both faced same type of abuses (pp. 161, 171, 174). The chapter on the economy is the most demonstrative of the way he applies his assumptions and of his theoretical background. He makes thoughtful remarks on the exaricus who he defines as a free peasant living under similar conditions as Christian tenants (p. 180) and on the strong continuity in the evolution of land tenure from Arab-Islamic sharik mode into the Latino-Christian exaricus, in irrigation and animal husbandry, craft and mercantile activities. The economy for Catlos was a powerful engine of integration because of the wide range of economic activities carried out by the Mudejars and because their participation in the Christian market drew Mudejars into "Occidental" modes of economic interchange. In my view, this is a clear example of how much the author pushes forward his argument. It seems to me that none of the two arguments is a proof of integration without carefully checking the dynamic of such integration in the market. The two last chapters of the book introduce social analysis of a group that was far from homogenous. The part on the slaves is a great example of how far Catlos can go in the knowledge of the reality of a group (he deals with topic such as the black market, fugitives, owners, manumission, baptizatus). He also reviews some other aspects of the Mudejars' identity such as language and religion. Here again he concludes that the upper classes of urban oligarchy and the slaves, both contributed to the cross confessional integration, as conduits for "occidental" influence on Mudejar society. The chapter on defense provides pertinent nuances to some of the Anglo-American historiography obsessed with the influence of the crusading ideas in the Spanish Reconquest (p. 282). However, in his constant zeal to prove his approach in favor of integration, there are radical interpretations of some revealing anecdotes (see the Costums of Tortosa, p. 290). Equally, sex, violence, and discrimination put in context by Catlos all speak of a generalized problem for both societies rather than of discrimination of a specific ethnic group (p. 314). Contrasting the different chapters of this second part, it seems that Catlos regards ethnic issues as prejudices or emotional outpourings and opposes them to economic background and social conflicts, the "real" factors in order to define social dynamics and decision-making, but I will come back to this point at the end of the review.

The third part of the book complements brilliantly the previous one. Now, the reader faces a microhistorical and prosopographical approach in a series of six case studies to show the quotidian dynamic of this multi-ethnic medieval society. In a detailed narrative format, the six cases illustrate the idea that there were not two rival ethno-social systems and that social and economic contexts defied ethnic clusters. Case 1 illustrates the confessional identity of fiscal officers whose ethnic identity passed into a subordinate position in their decision making process. Case 2 shows how Mudejars abandoned their responsibility to their community by colluding with Christians when they were confronted with fiscal pressure. Case 3 reflects Mudejar feuds and the colonial character of Muslim administration under Christian rule. Case 4 explores the political autonomy of the Muslim aljama and the wise management of some of its officials. Case 5 presents the opposite: the concentration of power in particular individuals and families carrying out minor abuses, dubious financial dealings, and their machinations for the leadership of the community. Case 6 indicates that the stresses and tensions within the aljamas were not the mere result of the subordinate status of Muslims. On the contrary, Mudejar officials acted in response to their own interests. This third part provides an excellent material for teaching undergraduates on the "real life" of this community and for giving them a flavor of historians' archival work.

I would like to conclude with a commentary on what I think is the theoretical core of the book. Catlos had already discussed the matter of convivencia or Muslim/Christian interaction in an article written in the year 2001. Its title speaks volumes of his own stand when he plays with the words co-existence and convenience ("Christians, Musulmans i Jueus a la Corona dÁrago medieval: un cas de conveniencia," L'Avenc, p. 263 (2001): pp. 8-16). He denies that religious-cultural identity was the primary matrix of human relations in 13th-century Aragon and he makes clear in the book that each individual participated in a number of communities of different types: religious, parochial, commercial, familial, social, and municipal (p. 389). The remark is central to develop conceptual tools to go deeper into the internal complexity of ethnic and cultural identities. However, to understand the contradictions and inconsistencies that he finds in his evidence between identity and economic interests, Catlos applies social theory, but unconcerned with cultural studies, he puts together quite an explosive combination. On one side, his references come from old American Social Theory from Rothsteins (1972), to R. Levine and D. Campbell (1972), H. Siverts (1969), J. Stewart (1950) with clear functionalist tones. On the other, he adds later developments of economic theory produced by neo-institutional economics and the economy of the firm (Davies, 1994). All throughout the book, and particularly in the conclusions, the author deals primarily with sentiments, expectations, feelings, and identities, which at some points become rational interests, economic calculations, and selfish personal benefits. Catlos lacks a theory to understand his actors and therefore portrays them as "traitors," individuals that "in a given circumstance" have to chose among "one's sense of belonging and one's self-interest." At this point, "their choices of action were made rational to excuse their moral compromise." On one side people define their identities within different spheres of social interaction, on the other their interests appear clear to them away from their own community and in terms of their own family and personal benefits. The result is an odd combination that obliterates the latest sociological studies on collective action and identity (A. Pizzorno, Ch. Taylor, A. Honneth, L. Moscoso and P. Sanchez Leon and J. Izquierdo Martin), which would have helped Catlos to show that identities matter to define the choice, preference, and course of actions of individuals and groups. These authors depart from the instrumental and utilitarist principles of microeconomics that have naturalized the ontological notion of the homo economicus and his cost/benefits calculations. They put the emphasis on the collective representations shared by a community and they explain how these representations shape their identity and hence their parameters to make calculations. This perspective turns out central in times of transition as those attended by Catlos. In times of institutional change, communities and groups show different level of compromise to traditional collective interpretations. Some of them go into a sort of de-identification with some values as represented by their own community and a re-identification with others. In other words, some people enter in others' systems of values, identities or communities leaving their old one. This is precisely the time and processes that Catlos works with: a community in deep change where some groups and individuals (elites of the aljama, slaves?) are becoming others. If there is time to finish with the simplistic binomial of the Victors and the Vanquished, accompany it with the end of the dilemma among irrational moral identities versus rational economic calculations. In the end, there are only identities.