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21.09.35 Martín-Iglesias et al., La Hispania tardoantigua y visigoda en las fuentes epistolares

21.09.35 Martín-Iglesias et al., La Hispania tardoantigua y visigoda en las fuentes epistolares

This splendidly executed book is the work of three prolific scholars whose work is well known in the field of Late Antique Hispania in international scholarly circles. The impeccable translations from the Latin into Spanish and philological commentary were executed by Professor José Carlos Martín-Iglesias (University of Salamanca). The historical introduction for each letter is by Prof. Pablo C. Díaz (University of Salamanca) and Prof. Margarita Vallejo Girvés (University of Alcalá de Henares). Their considerable historical and philological skills are in full display.

Of the many texts that we possess of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, letters occupy a unique place in that oftentimes they offer intimate glimpses into the lives of those who wrote them and to whom they were written. Scholars have long used in their research the better-known collections of letters of the pontiffs of Rome, notably Pope Gregory the Great, in Gaul those of Sidonius Apollinaris, and other caches of letters varying in size. These have received steady attention for several decades; the same cannot be said of those emanating from Hispania or destined there from the outside. Neglect of letters that have Hispania as their origin or destination has been changing in the last decade or so, but mostly by scholars who specialize on Hispania. Although the situation has improved, in general books and articles on Late Antiquity either scarcely mention Hispania or relegate it to non-existence. It is a gaping lacuna that is ever slowly being remedied and for all concerned, the better. In recent times there has been an increased interest in letters whose emphasis is Late Antique Visigothic Hispania. In the year 2020, in addition to our book, another was published that focused specifically on letters from the pontiffs in Rome to Hispania and vice versa, covering the third through seventh centuries: A. Ferreiro, Epistolae Plenae: The Correspondence of the Bishops of Hispania with the Bishops of Rome: Third through Seventh Centuries (Medieval and Early Modern Iberia Series, 74; Brill, 2020). The volume at hand offers a broader collection of letters of various genres even though the time frame is a bit shorter. The editors have included letters that are indisputably authentic and others that are contested. Many of the letters are not just those written in Hispania; included are those coming from outside, directed at personages in Hispania. A brief introduction accompanies all letters, providing vital historical and paleographical background. It is followed by a translation of the letter to Spanish. Specialists in the field will not be impeded in the least by the Spanish. Those not having an adequate level of ability in Spanish will have to seek out other translations. For some letters, however, it is the first instance of a translation into any modern language. The issues addressed in them are many; they reflect secular and ecclesiastical themes. As such, they are necessary documents that provide us with an inside view of that society. In terms of chronological trajectory, the editors have chosen to limit themselves to the fifth through seventh centuries, which in their view is the time of the dissolution of the Roman Empire--at least in the West--and the rise of the barbarian kingdoms, with the most prominent being the Sueves and Visigoths in Hispania.

The editors clearly describe the limitations of the book; it is by admission not an exhaustive inventory of all letters related to Hispania. Included are about 150 texts dating from Pope Innocent I (c. 401) to Valerius of Bierzo (c. 695). Braulio of Zaragoza is a good example: we have a modest number of Braulio’s letters, the most voluminous of their kind for Hispania for this period. The editors decided not to integrate all of them. They treat only those written to or received from Isidore of Seville, Fructuosus of Braga, Taio of Zaragoza, and one designated to Pope Honorius I. The remaining Braulio corpus needs to be consulted in other books and articles.

The overall organization is arranged in three main sections. Part I, “Hispania in its Imperial Context,” gathers the letters dating to the dissolution of the Roman Empire in the West. Part 2, bearing the name “The Arian Period,” centers on that pivotal series of events that led to the full religious unification of the peoples of Hispania under the Catholic faith. This was made official at the Third Council of Toledo (589), where King Reccared publicly abjured Arianism and professed the Catholic faith. The epistolary correspondence is a rich depository on these momentous events. The last section, Part 3, “The Visigothic Catholic Kingdom,” comprises the biggest collection of letters; the subject matter of the letters is extensive.

After the main content, readers will find the section “Sources and Indexes.” The first is “Abbreviations of Original Sources and Modern Translations” that were consulted. The modern translations are not in this initial section; one has to consult the main bibliography to actually find them. The longest index far and away is the “Biblical Sources,” which records in detail a central component of the letters. The Bible without question was the main source for Christians for almost every aspect of life in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. It was the Bible that overwhelmingly formed and sustained the Weltanschauung of the entire era. All of the letters are replete with verbatim quotations from, paraphrases of, or allusions to the Bible. The “Index of Ancient Authors” incorporates church councils and by name the individual works of select authors. It aids the reader to expeditiously locate a letter, author, or source cited within a letter. The “Index of Personal Names” makes for easy location of the large number that are in the letters. There is an “Index of Toponyms, Rivers, and Lakes” that is most valuable to geographically locate the letters that are identified in the maps. The indexes are followed by the “Bibliography,” which catalogs all original sources and secondary works; for the former all significant sources are accounted for. The modern authors section of the bibliography has a peculiar alphabetical arrangement. Rather than organizing items by author’s last name first, instead they are listed by the first name of the author but still arranged alphabetically by the last name. The six maps complement the aforementioned “Index of Toponyms, Rivers, and Lakes.” They are arranged chronologically to correspond to the main sections: “Imperial Rome,” 2 maps; the “Arian Phase,” 2 maps; the “Visigothic Catholic Kingdom,” 2 maps. The second map in all three sections identifies the place names from where the letters originated or were sent to.

The three editors are to be commended for taking on this herculean task to produce what will be immediately an obligatory reference work for the epistolary correspondence of Hispania, with the understanding that it is not intended to be exhaustive. Henceforth, scholars who delve into the epistolary sources of Hispania will have in hand an essential research tool to launch their own investigations. Aesthetically it is a handsome volume; the type size is larger than normal, something older scholars will greatly appreciate, and last of all the price is quite reasonable, thus making it accessible to individuals and institutions. The publisher CSIC and the directors of the Nueva Roma series are to be lauded for publishing the book.