Eduardo Carrero Santamaria

title.none: Deswarte, De la destruction a la restauration (Eduardo Carrero Santamaria)

identifier.other: baj9928.0601.023 06.01.23

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Eduardo Carrero Santamaria, University of Oviedo,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Deswarte, Thomas. De la destruction a la restauration: L'ideologie du royaume d'Oviedo-Leon (VIIIe-XIe siecles). Series: Cultural Encounters in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, vol. 3. Turnhout: Brepols, 2003. Pp. xiii, 411. $96.00 2-503-51305-0. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.01.23

Deswarte, Thomas. De la destruction a la restauration: L'ideologie du royaume d'Oviedo-Leon (VIIIe-XIe siecles). Series: Cultural Encounters in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, vol. 3. Turnhout: Brepols, 2003. Pp. xiii, 411. $96.00 2-503-51305-0. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Eduardo Carrero Santamaria
University of Oviedo

This is an important book that represents a work of synthesis that has been necessary for several years. Of course, the history of the monarchy of Asturias and ninth- century Christian Spain has been the object of study and revision for the last fifty years, but from a somewhat static perspective. In addition, in the 1980s, a certain kind of historiography wanted to look for signs of reaction against the previous period, that is to say, Visigothic Hispania. It is certain that, as the title of Deswarte's work indicates, the kingdom of Asturias was a restoration of Christian Hispania after the invasion of the Muslims in the eighth century, something on which several authors have insisted before. Since the studies of Claudo Sénchez Albornoz on the Asturian monarchy, numerous authors have contributed their points of view in the fields of history and art history, and in editions of documentary sources. The most fertile historiography has been one that has insisted on the relations of dependency between the Kingdom of Asturias and the Visigothic Kingdom of Toledo, while a small sector looked for relations with the Carolingian Empire. While this last proposal is totally rejected today, a certain sector of Spanish historiography of the 1980s and 1990s--with some shady derivations at the present time-- wanted to review this entire subject. In the opinion of these scholars, the formation and development of the Kingdom of Asturias did not have as an objective the restoration of the Visigothic monarchy, but their political ideology and their magnificent artistic expression came from a mysterious PreRoman substrate, tribal...Celtic. As the wise reader could deduce, these ideas are no more than the death throes of the old-fashioned Celtic trend that affected other territories of Europe between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For the Roman world, this is what the archaeologist Carmen Fernandez Ochoa has defined eloquently as the "syndrome of Asterix," that is to say, a supposed local power fighting against the Roman "invaders" that, between the eighth and ninth centuries, had become the most cultured and powerful Visigoths who arrived towards the north of the Iberian Peninsula, fleeing from the Muslim invasions. Just joking a little, all we agree that there were towns displeased that they were not Romanized, but in the case of the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula, Romanization left deep tracks, as recent archaeological findings have demonstrated. In the same way, the brilliant theory of state and the monumental architecture that were created in the kingdom of Asturias during the ninth century would have been absolutely unthinkable without the presence of the Visigoths and the inheritance of the political ideology of the Court of Toledo.

One of the more serious problems that affected studies on the Kingdom of Asturias was, indeed, the question of its territorial boundary. A proportion of Spanish scholars and, by default, Asturian scholars, have created closed borders according to which the kingdom of Asturias was limited to what today is the Spanish province of Asturias. In the same way, its history included only the difficult period from the consolidation of the Kingdom after the Muslim invasion (A.D. 711) to the transfer of the capital to Leon in the tenth century. Evidently, this is a problem of localism, of partial studies that take a present territory as an historical geographic landscape, instead of considering the complete medieval territory, which included Galicia, the north of Portugal, Asturias, Cantabria and part of the Basque Country. The transfer of the capital of the kingdom from Oviedo to Leon was only a geographic feature that imposed the advance of the 'Reconquista' towards the south, but ideologically nothing separated the old Kingdom of Asturias from the new Kingdom of Leon. These historians were looking at the past with the eyes of our days.

Thomas Deswarte has understood very well all of these problems. His book is a total work in all senses: the type and number of the documentary sources used by the author, an exhaustive bibliographical compilation, the revision of an ample archaeology of landscape, the extension of the chronological limits of the ideology of the Kingdom of Asturias until the eleventh century, that is to say, an almost holistic revision of a period of the history of the Iberian Peninsula. It seems interesting that the publication of Deswarte's book agrees with other recent editions that follow a similar ideological dialogue. In this sense the recent revisions on the city and the church of Oviedo made by other scholars of history and art history are especially recommendable. [[1]]

I have just one comment. I have missed a bigger emphasis on the work that some art historians have done on the revision of the Kingdom of Asturias as the heir of the Visigothic Spain. I especially refer to the precursory works of Isidro G. Bango, published from the 1980s to the present time. He has demonstrated how the famous "Asturian art" of the ninth century represented the material continuity of Visigothic Art and was the prelude of the so-called "mozarabe" architecture in the tenth century. [[2]] All is marked by the political ideology of the kingdom of Asturias, defined very well in the Asturian chronicles: "to make of Oviedo a new Toledo." An habitual problem in Spanish historiography is that, often, it turns its back on what art historians propose from an ideological analysis of the material culture. Leaving these questions aside, the wonderful book of Thomas Deswarte is doubtless a new paragraph in the bibliography on the Early Middle Ages of the Iberian Peninsula.


[1] A. Besga Marroquin, Origenes hispano-godos del Reino de Asturias, Oviedo, 2000 and E. Carrero Santamaria, El conjunto catedralicio de Oviedo durante la Edad Media. Arquitectura, topografia y funciones en la ciudad episcopal, Oviedo, 2001.

[2] I. G. Bango Torviso, "El neovisigotismo artistico de los siglos IX y X: La restauracion de ciudades y templos", Revista de Ideas Esteticas, no. 148 (1979), pp. 35- 54; Id., "L'Ordo Gotorum et sa survivance dans l'Espagne du Haut Moyen Age," Revue de l'Art, no. 70 (1985), pp. 9-20; Id., "El arte asturiano y el Imperio carolingio," in I Jornadas sobre Arte Prerromanico y Romanico en Asturias, Villaviciosa, 1984, Gijon, 1988, pp. 31-88; Id., "De la arquitectura visigoda a la arquitectura asturiana: los edificios ovetenses en la tradicion de Toledo y frente a Aquisgran," en L'Europe Heritiere de l'Espagne wisigothique, Madrid, 1992, pp. 303-313, and Id., Arte prerromanico hispano. El arte en la Espana cristiana de los siglos VI al XI, Summa Artis, vol. VIII-II, Madrid, 2001.