Skip to main content

CLAIMing land in early medieval localitieS: an interdisciplinary study of land claims and property regimes in the north-west of the Iberian Peninsula (9th-11th)

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CLAIMS (CLAIMing land in early medieval localitieS: an interdisciplinary study of land claims and property regimes in the north-west of the Iberian Peninsula (9th-11th))

Reporting period: 2019-03-01 to 2021-03-31

What did it mean to own land in early medieval societies? For many regions in Europe, most of the information we have about this period comes from what specialists know as charters, that is, records of land transactions and disputes. In many areas, they can be counted by the hundred, even by the thousand. They are essentially an expression of the capacity that different actors had to dispose of land. But what was that capacity based on? At first sight, the corpus conveys the idea that actors of very different social standing played by the same rules. The charters present us all kinds of people, from peasants to kings and queens, from cathedrals and monasteries to lay aristocrats, realising their transactions following widely shared formulae. A closer look, however, reveals that different actors in different contexts conceptualised the appropriation of land differently, and that they resorted to different arguments to justify their capacity to dispose of it. These arguments did not appeal to a single legal framework. Rather, they originated from different frameworks of norms and values. Owning land, therefore, did not seem to mean the same for all people at all times. What can we say about the various manners in which early medieval people laid claims to land? Answering this question can contribute fundamental insights into the processes that shaped current European landscapes. It also provides us with an opportunity to reflect about how we want to engage with them at a time in which finding sustainable ways of managing these landscapes is a pressing endeavour.

This is the ultimate concern behind the project "CLAIMS: Claiming land in early medieval localities: an interdisciplinary study of land claims and property regimes in the north-west of the Iberian Peninsula (9th-11th)". The main objective of the project has been to build a theoretical and methodological framework for the study of land claims that can account for the different ways in which early medieval actors formulated, enacted, and engaged with each other’s land claims. A point of departure has been a long-standing tradition of historiographical research on the social meaning of land transactions and land disputes in early medieval societies. These were fundamental means through which social relations were negotiated, established, reproduced, and eventually transformed. Beyond that, the project has sought to develop a more profound understanding to how land claims were influeced by the different ways in which early medieval people related to space.

The aim, however, was not to theorise in the abstract. Rather, CLAIMS has also developed a significant methodological effort, enquiring what the sources can actually tell us about those theoretical concerns. For this, the project has focused on one particular region, the NW of the Iberian Peninsula. Charters dating from before AD 1100 are particularyl abundant for this area. There are more than 7,500 records. Almost 1,000 of them are dispute records, of which around forty per cent concern land disputes, that is, cases in which two or more parties contended over land and other natural resources. The latter are particularly significant for rather than the more formulaic clauses with which land transactions are usually supported, they present us with the discourses that contending parties articulated to formulate their claims, how they engaged with each other's discourses, and ultimately what the outcome of the dispute was. Therefore, they allow us to see land claims in action, but also how disputes were settled and the settlements justified, that is, how the discourses legitimising the appropriation of land changed over time as a result of social interactions.
A) Conference presentations at:
- CLAIMS Conference: Disputed boundaries: Claiming the land, shaping the landscape. From medieval to contemporary times, Online, 3 June 2021.
- VIII Seminario Anual de la SEHA, Seminario Virtual, 18 diciembre 2020.
- Conferencias Lacarra de Historia Medieval, Universidad de Zaragoza, 13 December 2019
- Congreso Internacional La historiografía medieval en España y la conformación de equipos de trabajo: los proyectos de investigación I+D+i. XXXII Congreso de la SEEM, CCHS (CSIC), Madrid, 24-25 October 2019.
- Gender, Place and Memory Research Cluster Seminar Series, University of Hull, Hull, 25 September 2019.
- International Workshop Social Complexity and the State: The Forms of Governance in Western Europe between the 8th and the 11th Centuries, Universidad del País Vasco, Vitoria-Gasteiz, 17-18 September 2019.
- Congreso Internacional Los procesos de formación del feudalismo. La península ibérica en el contexto europeo, University of Salamanca, Salamanca, 12-13 September 2019 (with Carlos Tejerizo-García)
- International Workshop The Study of Written Artefacts in Spain: The MEDhis Consortium, Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, Hamburg, 20-21 June 2019.
- International Workshop Defining Space in Early Medieval Europe. Language, Materiality and Social Practice, Universidad NOVA de Lisboa, Lisboa (Portugal) 24 Abril 2019.

B) Published papers
- et alii, "Collective action in local contexts in the Kingdom of León (9th-11th centuries): An exploration of the charter evidence", in Archaeology and History of Peasantries 1: From the Late Prehistory to the Middle Ages, ed. by Juan Antonio Quirós Castillo (Bilbao: Universidad del País Vasco, 2020), pp. 149-61
- “CLAIMS, Claiming Land in Early Medieval Localities: An Interdisciplinary Study of Land Claims and Property Regimes in the North-West of the Iberian Peninsula”, en La historiografía medieval en España y la conformación de equipos de trabajo: los proyectos I+D+i. Congreso Internacional celebrado en Madrid con ocasión de la XXXII Asamblea General de la Sociedad Española de Estudios Medievales (24-25 octubre 2019) (Madrid: Sociedad Española de Estudios Medievales, 2020), pp. 26-28.
- "Religious houses, violence, and the limits of political consensus in early medieval León (NW Iberia)”, Reti Medievali Rivista 21:2 (2020).
- “Resistencias campesinas en el noroeste ibérico altomedieval: confrontando la tragedia”, Jerónimo Zurita 95 (2020), pp. 13-33.
CLAIMS has succeded in developing the analysis of land claims and property regimes in early medieval localities beyond previous approaches to charters and the land transactions and disputes recorded. More significantly, it has demonstrated that in early medieval societies conflicts over the appropriation of land did not only revolve around ownership but also about many other dimensions regarding access rights, the management and the use of lands and other natural resources. It has also overcome the idea that there existed an overarching legal framework governing land transactions and disputes and shown that the configuration of property regimes locally responded to the specific balance of forces between potentially competing actors, and resulted from context-specific processes of negotiation over contending land claims formulated by resource to different types of arguments and frameworks of norms and values. With this it provides new insights, on the one hand, on the means through which social relations were articulated throughout the early medieval period, paying particular attention not only to the conflicts themselves, but to the discourses with which the outcomes of the processes were legitimised.