Skip to content
IUScholarWorks Journals
19.08.02 Flood, Rulers and Realms in Medieval Iberia, 711-1492

19.08.02 Flood, Rulers and Realms in Medieval Iberia, 711-1492

Rulers and Realms in Medieval Iberia offers what the title promises: a political and institutional history of the Iberian peninsula during the medieval period, organized chronologically, with a focus on the many vicissitudes of monarchs, wars, and kingdoms. The book actually begins before the Islamic conquest of 711, tracing the Goths from the Danube region west into Iberia, where they established a kingdom in the sunset hours of Roman control. It does, however, end precisely with the Christian conquest of the Islamic kingdom of Granada at the beginning of 1492, and goes no further.

To specify that a book covers the Iberian peninsula from 711 to 1492 implies an adherence to the narrative of "the Reconquista," the idea that medieval Iberian history is defined by a contest for territorial dominance between Christians and Muslims. That narrative is, at the very least, deeply flawed. But Flood follows it without addressing either its historical shortcomings or the political weight it carries in the post-Franco era. Indeed, he concludes the book on a triumphal note: "Nearly eight centuries of Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula had run its course, and sovereign authority was once again placed in the hands of the Christian monarchs" (200).

I had picked up this book in the hope of finding an undergraduate-friendly survey of the period, suitable for assigning in a course on medieval Iberian history. However, any modern course on medieval Iberia must reach well beyond what this book can offer. Its uncritical acceptance of the Reconquista narrative is one reason why undergraduates would be better served by a different textbook. Another is that successful courses on this subject have to engage with the religious, cultural, and literary history of Iberia, and particularly with the question of how people from non-dominant religions experienced both Muslim and Christian rule. Medieval Iberia is well known for having been home to large populations of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The contentious coexistence of these three religions, and its eruptions into prejudice and violence, are among the peninsula's most significant medieval legacies. But those concerns--though of great interest, not only to students but also to general readers--are largely absent from this book.

There is no material on the Spanish Inquisition, or on the fifteenth-century spike in hostility toward converts from Judaism (and their descendants) that led to it. Nor is there discussion of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, or of the expulsions of Muslims and moriscos (Christians who had converted from Islam, or who were descended from converts) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Almohad dynasty's infamously severe treatment of Christians, Jews, and non-Almohad Muslims likewise goes unmentioned. And a rash of harsh anti-Jewish legislation under the late Visigoths appears only as "a forced conversion of Jews," listed among the "accomplishments" of King Sisebut (7).

The book's fierce concentration on specific types of political and institutional history means that many poets, philosophers, and other giants of Iberia's cultural and literary scenes--Jewish, Christian, and Muslim--are omitted, including such towering figures as Ibn Rushd/Averroes and Moses b. Maimon/Maimonides. The book will not break new ground for specialists, and will leave the most pressing questions of a student or general reader unanswered. Those of us in search of a student-friendly overview of medieval Iberian history must look elsewhere.