Reconquest

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Reconquest

 

the recovery by the peoples of the Iberian Peninsula from the eighth through the 15th century of the territories that had been seized by the Arabs (more precisely, by Arabs and Berbers, subsequently commonly known as Moors).

The Reconquest began with the battle of Covadonga in 718. Independent states were established on the reconquered lands. (It was in the best interests of the Reconquest that the states be centralized and unified.) The disintegration of the caliphate of Córdoba in 1031 made it easier for the Spanish states to liberate the lands in the southern part of the peninsula. In 1085 the Castilians captured Toledo. The incursion into the Iberian Peninsula by the Almoravids in the late 11th century and the Almo-hads in the mid-12th century merely delayed the Reconquest somewhat. On July 16, 1212, the united forces of Castile, Aragón, and Navarre gained a decisive victory over the Almohads at Las Navas de Tolosa. In 1236 the Castilians captured Córdoba, and in 1248, Seville. From 1229 to 1235, Aragón reconquered the Balearic Islands, and in 1238, Valencia; in 1249–50 the Portuguese liberated the Algarve (present-day southern Portugal). By the mid-13th century only the emirate of Granada remained in the hands of the Arabs, and it fell in 1492.

To a considerable extent the Reconquest determined the unique character of the economic and political development of the states of the Iberian Peninsula. The Reconquest was not only a series of military campaigns; it was also a wide-scale colonization—the settlement and economic development of lands that had been devastated by war. The peasants constituted the principal moving force. During the initial period the peasants who settled on the liberated lands for the most part gained their personal freedom. The cities also took part in the Reconquest. The constant threat of Arab raids stimulated the formation of peasant communes (behetrías) and urban communes.

The successful course of the Reconquest facilitated the strengthening of the royal power in the newly formed states. Gradually the kings took into their own hands (with the participation of the secular and ecclesiastical feudal lords) the distribution of the reconquered lands. Since they were concerned with the economic development of the land and the continuation of the struggle against the Arabs, the kings were compelled to grant the new populated areas, along with the urban and rural communes, a number of rights and privileges, including self-government. From the 11th through 13th centuries the urban and rural communes flourished; in León and Castile the peasantry remained personally free at this time.

As the Moors were pushed back into the southern part of the peninsula, the pressure of the feudal lords on the peasants increased, and in a number of states on the peninsula (but not in León and Castile) the peasants had lost their personal freedom by the 13th century. Linked with the Reconquest, which was waged under the banner of a religious struggle against the “infidels,” was the growth of the Catholic Church’s ideological influence and economic power in Spain and Portugal. Religious orders of knights, such as the orders of Calatrava, Alicántara, and Aviz, became the largest owners of latifundia.

The Reconquest also determined other peculiarities of feudalism on the Iberian Peninsula, such as the great number of people in the stratum of petty knighthood (whose ranks were open even to peasants and burghers, if they were wealthy enough to provide equipage for a horse), as well as the comparatively early strengthening of the royal power, which was dictated by the need to consolidate forces in the struggle against the foreign enemy. The Reconquest also contributed to the formation of the Spanish, Catalan, Basque, Galician, and Portuguese nationalities, as well as their culture and character.

The Reconquest has been vividly portrayed in Spanish literature, such as in the heroic epic of the Cid and the romancero. Castile’s special role in the Reconquest was reflected in the formation of the national Spanish language, based on the Castilian dialect, which had become widespread in the liberated territories.

REFERENCES

Arskii, I. V. “Rekonkista i kolonizatsiia ν istorii srednevekovoi Katalonii.” In the collection Kul’tura Ispanii. [Moscow] 1940.
Friazinov, S. V. “Problema rekonkisty, kak kolonizatsionnogo dvizhe-niia, ν osveshchenii ispanskikh uchenykh.” Uch. zap. Gor’kovskogo gos. un-ta.: Ser. istoriko-filologich., 1959, issue 46.
La Reconquista española y la repoblación del país. Zaragoza, 1951.

I. S. PICHUGINA

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