The Middle Ages were as a period of time when inequality in the society of all countries was very common. Like any Mediterranean society in medieval times, the Spanish one was not homogeneous. Since antique times, Christians and Jews have lived there together. During the period of 711-1492, Christians, Muslims, and Jews coexisted on the peninsula. Such a diverse population resulted in a significant number of people’s prejudices and biases. Rulers had unlimited rights, clergy positioned itself as the only truth, peasants had almost no rights, and people having opinions contradicting general beliefs were persecuted. This social inhomogeneity caused numerous conflicts and it was the reason for the existence of different languages. However, pluralism of languages that nourished the interpretation and knowledge did not create obstacles to the idea of the community of thoughts. Spanish society still faced many inner conflicts. Unlike our modern society, there were no tolerance and understanding. Therefore, this paper examines social problems and the level of convivencia in the Spanish society of the Middle Ages.
Spanish medieval society was organized and hierarchically constructed based on three major factors, namely law, religion, and public. From a legal point of view, The Roman law determined the level of freedom or dependence. It was renewed and systematized in Visigothic Code (Liber Iudicum), which divided people into persons free from birth, those who purchased the freedom and so-called Servi (serui) or slaves who were not legal persons. In addition to the privileges used by the free people, they cost more than slaves or freedmen. In the case of the murder of a slave, "the price of blood" was reduced by a half. Furthermore, Islam allowed the Muslims to possess only slaves of other faiths. Christians, on the other hand, were not allowed to possess Christian slaves.
From a religious point of view, the religious laws were mixed with religious practice. Religion in the Middle Ages was not only a category of culture as it is now customary to think. On the contrary, it was the law that ruled the society. This concept was first formulated in the Roman Empire, was applied in three religions, and came from one of the fundamental books – the Bible. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have a common ancient history, the belief in one God, and the idea of law supremacy. Culturally, they strongly resemble one another.
From a political point of view, co-religionists differ from those who belong to other religions, but these differences were blurred in the face of the Gentiles, who were real aliens for all of them. The Jews, who settled in Spain since the II or III century, never occupied a dominant position in the society. Thus, they had to agree, concede, and obey the authorities, whether they were Christians or Muslims. Their constant state of dependence was unstable as mercy could easily turn into disfavor.
The clergy used some certain privileges acknowledged by civil law. For example, only ecclesiastical courts could judge its representatives, who also did not pay direct taxes and received tithes from Christian and non-Christian households of the kingdom. However, the clergy did not represent any special self-contained class. King guaranteed rights to them, but he received a portion of the tithe and could call on the clergy in the army, legitimize their children, and even reconsider the Pope’s decisions.
From the public point of view, services provided to the community differed noble people and commoners. These differences were often mitigated and every inhabitant of the peninsula could be judged by several criteria. Religion was primarily the law; therefore, the inhabitants of the peninsula were differentiated by the fact that even inside of the same kingdom they were not subject to the same legal system. Nevertheless, of course, anyone who dominated imposed specific laws on all other residents.
However, in addition to the general laws, each religious community had its rules, magistrates, court, and privileges, which guaranteed the rights of its members. For instance, Christians of the Caliphate of Cordoba maintained their judges and bishops in the community and subordinated to the regulations of Liber Iudicum, local laws. The Talmud determined the life of the Jews of al-Andalus and the Christian kingdoms. Muslims’ life in the medieval Spain was subject to the rules of the Quran and its interpretations. In the face of the political power of the time (Muslims or Christians), the inhabitants of the peninsula were also famous for their wealth and poverty that depended on the old social groups. They included free men, slaves, and freedmen. The wealth that was mainly associated with power and nobility resulted in differences approved by law. A rich Spaniard, for example, could take part in military campaigns on horseback and received twice more trophies comparing with a simple foot soldier. The wealth made such persons famous as Sid – the king, Pero Niño – the groom Portuguese Infanta, Hernan Cortes – the discoverer of the New Spain.
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The mobility in space as well as social and religious activity, which did not acknowledge strictly defined frameworks or barriers, promoted social dynamism and offered everyone numerous opportunities. However, the high activity of the Spanish society, that was either increasing or decreasing depending on the economic or political situation, was not the only feature that characterized the life of that time. The mobility in space as mentioned earlier happened due to the capture or unavoidable loss of land and the political actions of occupancy made by individual cities or nobles, who wanted to enrich their property. However, in Aragon, mainly in the north of Catalunya, the peasants did not have the same freedom of movement and were tied to the land, which they could leave only by paying off.
Most people belonged to the category of commoners and did not have any special privileges. All the people of this part of the Spanish population were equal before the law and obliged to pay direct ordinary and extraordinary taxes, take part in the military campaigns of the king, and defend their town or village. Restrictions on the rights existed in the whole Spain in the Middle Ages. The war was the main source of purchasing slaves, who were captured during military campaigns. Then, they had to work for their masters and could be sold in the slave markets or returned for a ransom after a few years of captivity. A great number of Christians spent a part of their lives in slavery in Muslim areas and many Muslims from al-Andalus and North Africa worked as a servi in Christian kingdoms. The slave trade took place in the slave markets, where men and women intended for homework were often sold. In the IX and X centuries, slave traders bought slaves in Verdun, the Carolingian kingdom, and the south of Spain. At the end of the Middle Ages, the famous slave markets were situated in Valencia, Seville, and Lisbon. Besides, there arrived warlike Guanche from the Canary Islands and brought black slaves from Africa for sale.
One more important issue that has to be mentioned is racial inequality. “The Quran does not proclaim the innate superiority of any racial group. But the enslavement of black Africans was an entrenched part of the culture of Andalusia. So was racial prejudice” (Fernandez-Morera, 2006). Therefore, one more prejudice, that is racial, is vivid. All black people were made slaves, had no rights, and had to work for the masters that bought them. Numerous warlike slave traders that captured black people for selling in big slave markets in Spain brought them from Africa.
Al-Andalus is considered a civilization that surpassed all other civilizations in Europe. A number of reasons predetermined the fate of the Visigoth kingdom. Among them, the victory of the Arabs in the battle of Guadalete in southern Spain on July 19, 711 and the death of the last king of the Visigoths Roderih two years later in the Battle of Segoyuela. The Arabs began to call the land they occupied Al-Andalus.
Their presence and life are considered one of the greatest periods in the history of Islam. The Muslims decided to focus all their attention on the southern region of Spain – Andalusia, which they called Al-Andalus. They intended to build a civilization that greatly exceeded all those that were ever known in Spain. Ruling wisely and justly, they showed a high tolerance to Christians and Jews and, later, this factor prompted many of them to accept Islam. In addition, Muslims developed trade and many other spheres of life, contributed significantly to the development of science, and, in Cordoba, they created the best for that time infrastructure in Europe. About the centuries after founding Al-Andalus, Cordoba had a population of about 500,000 people, while, for example, in Paris at that time, there were about 38,000 inhabitants. Furthermore, 700 mosques, about 60,000 palaces, and 70 libraries, one of which comprised 500,000 manuscripts, were built in the city. Christians who lived under the rule of the Islamic Al-Andalus until the expulsion of Muslims in the middle of the XII century had a position of Jews. They saved their churches but had to pay special taxes. There were courtiers Christians who served emirs and the caliphs as advisers, translators, messengers, and poets. However, most of the Christian Arab-speaking population was engaged in small handicraft production and agriculture.
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However, in the XI century, the weak resistance of Christians began to spread and the troops under the command of Alfonso the Sixth reoccupied Toledo. It is worth mentioning that Alfonso the Sixth is said to have allowed Muslims to remain there after the conquest, but the majority emigrated (Tolan, 2013). It was the beginning of the historical period called the Reconquista. It clearly marked the main problem of that graceful epoch, mainly the inability of a significant number of the rulers of Islamic Spain to preserve and maintain the unity.
When multiple Christian kingdoms began to threat, the Al-Andalus weakened by infighting Muslim rulers were forced to ask for help the Almoravides, North African Berber dynasty. It is also vital to mention that even now nobody can answer surely what language those Berbers spoke. Some experts believe that they spoke “Latin”, while others suppose that it was nomadic (Lopez-Morillas, 2000) The Arabs were not going to give up easily as Al-Andalus was also their homeland. However, they were forced to retreat. By the XIII century, their once extensive and lengthy possessions were greatly reduced. Furthermore, there were left only several kingdoms situated in the mountains of Andalusia, which, however, were not only struggling to survive, but also thrived.
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For nearly 500 years, there is no country as Al-Andalus, the name of which has been taken over by a historical region in southern Spain, a modern Andalusia. However, the spiritual and material legacy of Al-Andalus lives today, especially in the Arab world. In the study of the history of Al-Andalus, scientists are especially attracted by the period of its greatest prosperity – IX-XI century. At that time, the country was unified and powerful and independent emirs, and then the Caliph operated in it.
In conclusion, the convivencia in medieval Spanish society was on a low level. The slave trade was flourishing and all power belonged to one ruler and it caused numerous wars and conquests. Moreover, the clergy had too much power and people were misinformed. There were many false convictions and beliefs, people were judged by the color of their skin, religion, prosperity, and background. If a person was born in a family of a peasant, he had to work for a rich landlord. In addition, religion caused a number of misunderstandings, wars, and prejudices. People of different religious confessions could not coexist peacefully. Furthermore, representatives of various religions were trying to conquer power and prove that their belief is the only one right while others are false. It is also important to say that society, where prejudices on the color of skin take place cannot be developed in a right way. Therefore, taking all the things mentioned above in the consideration, it becomes clear that medieval Spain’s society had many problems and there were no conditions for convivencia and peaceful coexistence.