The Balearic Islands (Sp. Islas Baleares) were the commercial crossroads of the western Mediterranean and, whether under Muslim or Christian domination, were coveted by a wide variety of people from the Mediterranean littoral. In the late Middle Ages, Mallorca’s merchants were as aggressive and acquisitive as any in Europe; its Jewish quarter, until the riots of 1391 and the community’s destruction in 1435, was large, prosperous, and renowned, especially for its cartographers, such as Abraham Cresques; and although its importance as an intellectual center was not on a par with its strategic and commercial importance, it was by no means a cultural backwater. The mystic and philosopher Ramon Llull was born on the island around 1232, learned Arabic from one of his Muslim slaves, assisted the Franciscans in founding a college at Miramar for the training of Christian missionaries, and wrote many of his several hundred Catalan (and apparently Arabic) works while resident there.
The Balearic Islands form, geologically speaking, two separate groups of islands: a western group, the Balearics proper, comprising Mallorca (Majorca), Menorca (Minorca), and Cabrera; and an eastern group, the Pitusians, comprising Ibiza (Eivissa), Formentera, and nearby islets. The island of Mallorca, equidistant from Barcelona and Valencia at some 160 kilometers (100 mi.) from the Iberian coastline, occupies over three-quarters of the total landmass of the Balearics. Mallorca’s dominant physical feature is 300 kilometers (c. 188 mi.) of coastline, with several notable bays in the north and south and a number of other serviceable ports, as well as a scenically stunning northwest coastline where a chain of mountains falls steeply into the sea.
Many of the qualities and elements that made Mallorca attractive in the medieval and modern worlds were no less apparent in the ancient world, and evidence points to considerable penetration by Greek and Phoenician traders. All the islands were under Roman domination by 123 b.c., and the Vandals and subsequently the Byzantines left their marks. The most lasting mark for the medieval world was made in 902 (the same year that Sicily was conquered by Muslims from Tunis) when troops of the emir (later caliph) of Cordoba conquered the island. After the collapse of the caliphate, Mallorca was joined politically with Cartagena, Murcia, Alicante, and Denia to form one of the more than twenty independent Islamic states (the so-called Taifa kingdoms) then present in al-Andalus (Muslim Spain). The emirate of Denia achieved considerable notoriety under Mujāhid (d. 1045), who attracted considerable talent to his court and raided Sardinia. For a brief period (1075-1115) after the end of the Denia emirate, the Balearic Islands constituted an independent Islamic state, two of its rulers even minting coins. In 1109 the islands successfully fended off Norse crusaders on their way to the Holy Land, but they were captured by a crusade consisting of forces from Pisa and Catalonia in 1114-1115, which, however, did not attempt to hold its conquests and withdrew.
The Kingdom of Mallorca and the Crown of Aragon
Muslim control was reestablished in 1116 under the Banû Ghâniya family, who ruled in the name of the Almoravids. At mid-century, when political hegemony in Muslim Spain passed from the Almoravids to the Almohads, yet another North African Berber tribe, the Ghâniya, along with independent peninsular rulers such as Ibn Mardanish (d. 1172), resisted; and in 1185 the Ghâniyaattacked and captured Bejaïa (Bougie) and Algiers in North Africa. The Almohads, however, conquered Mallorca in 1203, and the final years of Muslim domination were under a wall (governor) appointed from Marrakesh. Mallorca was a thoroughly Islamic state, inhabited by Muslims, with its dominant land-use patterns and human geography thoroughly Islamic; when the Pisans and Catalans arrived for their brief stay in 1114-1115, although they found an Arabized Jewish population living among the Muslims, they found no remnants of Mozarabs, or native, Arabized Christians living under Muslim rule. There can be little doubt that the vicissitudes of political leadership and the collapse of Almohad power, following the Almohads’ surprising defeat by Christian crusaders at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, offered propitious conditions for that rarest of overseas Christian crusades: a successful one.
The Aragonese-Catalan Conquest
The definitive Christian conquest of Mallorca took place in the years 1229-1232. James I, king of Aragon, count of Barcelona, and lord of Montpellier, won fame throughout Christendom and earned his sobriquet el Conqueridor (the Conqueror) by his conquests of Islamic Mallorca and Valencia. James was five years old when his father Peter II, a hero at Las Navas de Tolosa, fell on the battlefield at Muret (1213) in Occitania fighting the forces of the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229), and James’s minority was both protracted and difficult. When he summoned the Catalan corts (parliament) to Barcelona in December 1228, announced his intention to conquer Mallorca, and was granted an extraordinary bovatge (a general tax, normally granted only once to a monarch upon ascension to the throne), these events marked James’s coming of age and his recovery from an earlier failed attempt to conquer Penyiscola.
The Mallorcan crusade was enthusiastically sanctioned by Pope Gregory IX; as early as 1203 his predecessor Innocent III had promised to establish a new diocese upon conquest. The crusade was preached and partially financed by international crusade mechanisms and led by the papal legate Cardinal John of Abbéville, who offered crusade indulgences to all who took the cross. It included troops and galleys from the archbishop of Tarragona, the bishops of Barcelona and Girona, and the abbot of San Feliu de Guixols. The most detailed primary account of the conquest is found in the Libre dels Feyts of James I, the first known autobiography by a European Christian monarch. The fleet of 150 ships and force of 1,300 knights made this the largest single military campaign mustered by the Crown of Aragon in the thirteenth century. The fleet set sail from Cape Salou on 5 September 1229 and arrived at what is today Sant Elm on the southwest coast a few days later. Part of the force disembarked with the king at Santa Ponça on 11 September, and won a costly battle at Coll de Sa Batalla the next day, while the rest of the fleet proceeded to Porto Pi and fought Muslims there on 13 September. By 15 September the city of Mayurqa (mod. Palma de Mallorca) was under siege by land and sea, and on 31 December the crusaders successfully stormed the walls in a bloody assault that led to widespread slaughter and enslavement of Muslims. By the spring of 1230 all of the eastern sections of the island had been overrun, save Cabo Ferrutx in the north, incorporated the following spring in 1231, and the castle of Santueri, not taken until the autumn of 1231. In the northern sierra between Sôller and present-day Lluch, the Muslims held off the crusaders until June 1232, when they were finally subjugated. In June 1231, before final operations in the mountainous regions of Mallorca, James led a small fleet to Muslim Menorca, which agreed to pay tribute and homage to its new neighboring sovereign.
The first major act of James was to oversee the division of spoils. By right of conquest the king received half the land of the island: principally Montuiri in the southeast, Sineu and Petra in the center, Artà in the northeast, and Inca, Muntanyes, and Pollença in the north. He also took half of the houses, workshops, ovens, and baths in Mallorca City. The repartiment (land division) that survives describes the subdivision and distribution of this royal half. The major beneficiaries of royal largesse were nobles such as Ramon Aleman, Ramon de Plegaman, Guillem de Claramunt, and surviving scions of the Montcada family; citizens of Barcelona, Marseilles, Tarragona, Lleida (Lérida), and Montpellier, who received farms in the countryside and houses and shops in the city; and religious orders, especially the Templars, who were endowed with land in Mallorca City and in Inca and Pollença. The royal distribution was primarily to a large number of small proprietors. Little is yet known about the subdivision of the seigneurial lands that comprised the other half of the island. Nunyo Sanç, lord of Roussillon and Cerdanya, was given Bunyola and Valldemossa in the northwest and Manacor in the east; the count of Empûries (Ampurias) received Muro in the northeast, and part of Sôller in the northwest; the bishop of Barcelona was given Andratx in the southwest corner of the island; and the viscount of Béarn obtained Canarossa in the center of the island, including the key castle of Alarô.
More complex than the military enterprise that seized the island or the politics dictating division of spoils was the government of the island, the importation of Christian settlers and institutions, and the transformation of this Islamic frontier. A key role was played by the church, especially by the pope, Gregory IX, who renewed indulgences, and eventually established Mallorca as an independent diocese, that is, not under a metropolitan but directly subject to the Holy See. James I, for his part, saw his opportunities on the Peninsula following the precipitous collapse of Almohad power. He pawned off many of his Mallorcan rights to Prince Peter of Portugal, granted the right of conquest for Ibiza and Formentera to him and to Nunyo Sanç, and reallocated this right in early 1235 to Guillem de Montgri, sacristan of Girona cathedral and archbishop-elect of Tarragona; then he resolutely turned his attention from Mallorca to his lifelong project of conquering and settling Valencia.
Peter of Portugal eventually exchanged his Mallorcan lordship for a fief in Valencia, and when James’s firstborn heir died in 1260, the royal patrimony was divided in two: his son Peter III was to receive Valencia, Aragon, and Catalonia, while his son James was to receive the Balearic Islands, Roussillon, Cerdanya, and Montpellier. On the death of James I (1276), James II became king of Mallorca, though he was forced to pay homage to his brother in 1279. In 1285 James II took sides against his brother by giving support to French invaders; these had the status of crusaders, owing to the Aragonese role in the uprising known as the Sicilian Vespers, which expelled the Angevin dynasty from Sicily. Thereupon Peter III vowed to conquer the Balearic Islands in retaliation, but fell ill and died shortly after setting out from Barcelona in November 1285. His heir Alfonso III continued the expedition, and the city of Mallorca surrendered within days, as did Ibiza, though nominal resistance continued for years. In January 1287 Alfonso conquered Menorca, enslaved the majority of the Muslim population there, which the chronicler Ramon Muntaner, describing the whole adventure, inflates to 40,000, and thereafter styled himself king of the Balearic Islands. In 1298 James II of Aragon, successor to Alfonso III after 1291, returned the Balearics to James II of Mallorca, who had held on to his southern French lands, which he ruled from his royal palace at Perpignan. This was done at papal insistence and as part of the agreement that brought the War of the Sicilian Vespers to a close. Mallorca’s greatest period of prosperity dates from after 1298, when the kingdom was ruled by James II for the second time (1298-1311) and his successors Sancho (1311-1324) and James III (1324-1343), before it was permanently reincorporated into the Crown of Aragon by Peter IV of Aragon.
None of the political, diplomatic, and constitutional upset and oscillation hampered Mallorca’s colonial progress; the reasons for this remain to be detailed, but the confined space of the island, the active role of the church, the peninsular successes of the crusades (almost the diametric opposite of the failures in the East), and a brutal colonialist regime characterized by slavery and apparently much conversion were certainly contributing factors, as were Mallorca’s demographic growth and economic development. By the early fourteenth century, the much-travelled writer Ramon Muntaner considered Mallorcans among the most prosperous peoples anywhere. In addition to Mallorcan consulates being located in ten North African ports, they are found in the early fourteenth century in Seville, Malaga, Nasrid Granada, Naples, Pisa, Genoa, Constantinople, and Bruges. Figs, raisins, honey, almonds, and olive oil were exported from Mallorca, as were cheese from Menorca and salt from Ibiza; slaves were both exported from and imported to all three islands in great abundance. During the reign of James II, Mallorca began minting its own coinage, including gold coins later at Perpignan. James also laid the foundations for or reorganization of eleven inland towns on the island, which he hoped would encourage agricultural development and the production of raw wool for Mallorca’s fledgling textile industry.
Mallorcan enthusiasm for crusading activity remained high throughout the Middle Ages. It was the papacy, in recognition of one of the causes for failure in the East, that accorded crusading status to settlers and acknowledged work that consolidated military conquests. In the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, Mallorcans participated aggressively in the never-ending “crusade” at sea between Christendom and Islam. But over time Mallorcan energies were increasingly devoted to fortifying and defending their coastline. Mallorcans were well aware of Ottoman prowess at sea, and villages were occasionally attacked by raiders from the sea as late as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Mallorcans were, for strategic and commercial reasons, covetous of the North African coast. They followed with enormous interest the Mahdia Crusade of 1390; the designs on North Africa of Alfonso V “el Magnanimo” (1416-1458), the Aragonese king of Naples; and the designs on and conquests in North Africa of Ferdinand II of Aragon (1474-1516) after completion of the Granadan crusade of 1492. Two little-known, almost “lost” crusades were joint ventures by Valencians and Mallorcans. In 1398 the latter outfitted thirty-nine ships, including five galleys, and were led in their failed attack on Tedellis in North Africa (located almost due south of Menorca) by Viceroy Hug de Anglesola, who died in the operation. Nevertheless, in the following year, 1399, a joint Valencian-Mallorcan flotilla, the Mallorcans under the command of Berenguer de Mon- tagut, sailed against Bona (located farther east along the African coast, almost due south of Sardinia), with almost equally dismal results, a fact contributing no doubt to the obscurity of the operation. The conquest and successful colonization of Mallorca had already secured its prominence in crusading annals.