03.09.06, Barton and Fletcher, eds., The World of El Cid

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Erik Ekman

The Medieval Review baj9928.0309.006


Barton, Simon and Richard Fletcher, eds.. The World of El Cid: Chronicles of the Spanish Reconquest. New York: Manchester University Press, 2001. Pp. x, 280. ISBN: 0-719-05225-4.

Reviewed by:
Erik Ekman
SUNY-New Paltz

The World of El Cid: Chronicles of the Spanish Reconquest is a collection of English translations of four Latin chronicles written in Castile and Leon between 1000 and 1150: the Historia Silense, the Chronicon Regum Legionensium by Pelayo of Oviedo, the Historia Roderici and the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris. These texts had previously been unavailable in English. They are significant primary sources of information on the formation of the Castilian and Leonese monarchies, the Christian perspective of the Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula and the events of the life of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, el Cid. In addition to the translations, there is a general introduction, an introduction to each work, a bibliography, a map of Iberia from circa 1099 and a genealogical table of the Leonese- Castilian monarchy from Vermudo II to Alfonso I of Portugal. The World of El Cid is part of the Manchester Medieval Sources Series, which claims "to meet a growing need amongst students and teachers of medieval history for translations of key sources that are directly usable in students' own work." This volume certainly achieves this goal and should be a very useful text for classes both in History and Literary studies.

The first text in the volume is a translation of part of the Historia Silense from the 1959 Perez de Urbel edition. The work is an unfinished history of the life of Alfonso VI with a significant digression that narrates the origins of the Visigothic monarchy beginning with King Wittize (d. 710). Unfortunately the translators omit this part for reasons of space and resume their work with the final ten chapters of the chronicle that recount the reign of Fernando I (1036-65), Alfonso VI's father, in some detail. This was no doubt necessary given the length of books in the series, but unfortunate nonetheless since this is the only English translation of the chronicle. Fortunately this is the only abridged text in the collection. The origin of the Historia Silense has been a topic of debate and Barton and Fletcher make a compelling case for its author having been a monk in the monastery of San Isidoro in Leon rather than at Silos. Their argument is based on internal references in the text and on an alternate reading of key words that they believe were miscopied from an original early manuscript written in Visigothic script. While the argument is convincing and interesting to scholars, a more general introduction may have been more useful to a majority of undergraduate students of history and literature, the most likely readers of the text.

The second text in the volume is the Chronicon Regum Legionensium by Pelayo de Oviedo. The translators use the 1924 edition of Sanchez-Alonso. Its introduction includes an account of the life and times of Pelayo and an explanation of how his literary projects served to strengthen the position of the see of Oviedo in fights over territory and privilege against the newly-re-conquered metropolitan see of Toledo, as well as the newly created see of Santiago de Compostela. The introduction to this text situates the Chronicon Regum Legionensium nicely in the context of both the Reconquest and the subsequent rivalries between sees as they were re- established after Christian conquests, as well as the Cluniac reforms with their changes to the liturgy and script of the Iberian Peninsula. The chronicle covers the kings of Leon from Vermudo II in 982 to the death of Alfonso VI in 1109. As Barton and Fletcher state, though the work is often superficial, it is nevertheless the only surviving contemporary and complete account of the entire reign of Alfonso VI.

The Chronicon Regum Legionensium is followed by the Historia Roderici, an early account of the life of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, the eleventh-century Castilian Soldier and mercenary known as El Cid, the protagonist of the Cantar de mio Cid, the longest and most significant surviving text of the medieval Castilian epic tradition. The chronicle is based on E. Rey Falque's recent edition and includes an account not only of his later life spent in exile, but also of his service to Sancho III and Alfonso VI. Barton and Fletcher note in their introduction to this section that the chronicle is unusual in that it does not begin with the earliest ancestors of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar but rather focuses exclusively on the events of his life. They argue that the anonymous author was most likely from the eastern part of the Iberian Peninsula and that the chronicle was written not long after the Cid's death. The most often-read medieval source of the life of the Cid is the Cantar de mio Cid or Poem of the Cid, an account of the Cid's exile by Alfonso VI, his service as a mercenary in the Eastern Iberian Peninsula and his conquest of Valencia toward the end of his life. It is remarkably accurate for a medieval epic. His earlier life is recounted in another epic poem, composed several centuries after the Poem of the Cid, the Mocedades de Rodrigo, which is considerably more novelistic. This translation of the Historia Roderici should be valuable to students of history and literature for its information and for its contrast with literary sources.

The final text of the volume is the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris, a prose and verse account of the life of Alfonso VII of Leon and Castile. The translation is based on the edition of A. Maya Sanchez. The Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris covers the time from the accession to the throne in 1126 to the conquest of Almeria in 1147. Barton and Fletcher state that it appears to be a contemporary or near contemporary account of the events in question, but that the authorship of the chronicle "remains unresolved, and we cannot even be sure when or where it was composed." The authors make a convincing argument that Arnaldo of Astorga, a Catalan-born prior of San Servando, a Victorine monastery in Toledo, and later bishop of Astorga, was most likely the author.

The World of El Cid: Chronicles of the Spanish Request deserves high praise both for its quality and for its utility. The introductions, though sometimes directed more to scholars than to undergraduates, are as a whole very useful, the translations themselves read well and there are ample explanatory notes, which is to be expected from this series. It is a very welcome addition to the small number of readily available translations of medieval Iberian historical writing. The texts Barton and Fletcher have chosen are important to the formation of the Castilian and Leonese monarchies and ultimately the Spanish state, and they are also informative of Christian-Muslim relations during the 10th and 11th centuries. The volume will no doubt be useful to a wide variety of classes in several disciplines and will serve to make medieval Iberia more visible and accessible within the humanities in the English-speaking world.


Perez de Urbel, J. and A. Gonzalez Ruiz-Zorilla, eds. Historia Silense. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificias, 1959.

Rey, E. Falque, ed. Historia Roderici Vel Gesta Roderici Campidocti, in Cronica Hispana Saeculi XII, pp. 47- 98. Turnholt: Brepols, 1990.

Sanchez, A. Maya, ed. Cronica Adefonsi Imperatores, in Cronica Hispana Saeculi XII, pp. 149-248. Turnholt: Brepols, 1990.

Sanchez Alonso, B., ed. Cronica Del Obispo Don Pelayo, Textos Latinos De La Edad Media Espanola. Madrid: Imprenta de los Sucesores de Hernando, 1924.

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Erik Ekman

SUNY-New Paltz