Post-classical history


The name Aragon can refer to two different realms in the Middle Ages: on the one hand, the county (later kingdom) of Aragon; on the other hand the larger polity formed by the dynastic union of Aragon and the county of Barcelona in 1137. In order to distinguish between them, the latter is more appropriately referred to as the Aragonese-Catalan Crown or the Crown of Aragon.

The county of Aragon was established as a Carolingian border region at the turn of the ninth century, but it soon fell under the supremacy of Navarre. Only after 1035 did it achieve independence, and under its first king, Sancho Ramirez (1063-1094), the neighboring counties of Sobrarbe and Ribargorza were incorporated into the territory. During the reigns of Peter I (1094-1104), and Alfonso I the Battler (1104-1134), Aragon expanded south toward the pre-Pyrenees and the upper Ebro Valley, which was wrested from the Muslims in a series of campaigns culminating in the conquest of Zaragoza in 1118. Alfonso died without heirs shortly after the disastrous defeat by Muslim forces at Fraga (1134), and in 1137 the kingdom was unified—but never amalgamated—with the expanding county of Barcelona. The latter had emerged since the ninth century as the leading force among the Carolingian counties of the eastern Pyrenees. Practically independent of Frankish rule since the turn of the eleventh century, the counts of Barcelona had acquired a hegemonic position that enabled them to successively incorporate practically all other Catalonian counties by the end of the twelfth century.

Aragon and the Aragonese-Catalan Crown formed part of the crusading movement in three different ways. First, arms bearers from the eastern Pyrenees participated in crusades to the Levant. Second and most importantly, both polities were crusading areas in their own right, expanding to the south against Muslim al-Andalus during the process known as the Reconquista (reconquest). And third, in the later Middle Ages the Aragonese-Catalan Crown itself became the object of a short-lived crusade mounted by rival Christian powers.

Long before the First Crusade (1096-1099), Catalan and Aragonese pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem, as many extant wills demonstrate. Despite papal prohibitions against joining the campaigns in the Levant, Pyrenean warriors can also be traced among crusaders to the East in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and an entire Aragonese-Catalan expedition in aid of the kingdom of Jerusalem was undertaken by King James I in 1269-1270, even though its success was rather limited. Catalans in particular also migrated to the Frankish states of Outremer as settlers, and during the entire Middle Ages, arms bearers from both regions entered the Palestinian military orders, where knights such as Arnold of Torroja or Juan Fernandez de Heredia rose to high positions.

But it is as a crusading theater that the Aragonese-Catalan Crown acquired major importance for the history of the crusades. For two centuries, the kings of Aragon extended their dominions south in a series of crusading thrusts that interrupted longer spells of peace, until their expansion came to a halt at the Christian-dominated territory of Murcia in the middle of the thirteenth century. These campaigns assumed the character of crusades at the beginning of the twelfth century, when a series of papal bulls equated the struggle against Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula with the crusades to the Holy Land. Some of the Iberian crusades were formally proclaimed or even monitored by Rome, and identical indulgences were promised for combat in either region. This also holds true for the Aragonese expansion, which was not only fostered by the popes, but also attracted some, albeit not many, foreign crusaders. Among the Aragonese-Catalan warriors, the concept of religious, spiritually meritorious warfare was well-known, and the struggle against the Muslims of al-Andalus was sometimes depicted as an attempt to reestablish the Christian rule abolished as a result of the Muslim invasion of 711. The concept of restoring the vanished Visigothic Empire so important to the early Reconquista in Leôn and Castile was, however, less pronounced in the eastern part of the Iberian Peninsula.

Aragonese-Catalan warfare against Islamic Spain can be divided into four phases, the first of which roughly comprises the eleventh century. During this period, the collapse of the caliphate of Cordoba enabled Aragonese magnates to expand their territories south to the borders of the upper Ebro Valley, conquering the defensive sites of Huesca and Barbastro in 1096 and 1064/1100 respectively. In Catalonia the eleventh century brought a less spectacular advance in the Reconquista. After the sack of Barcelona in 985, the counts undertook expeditions against Cordoba (1010 and 1017) and levied tribute from Muslim lordships, but the decades between roughly 1020 and 1060 were marked by inner turmoil, which only ended when Raymond Berengar I (1035-1076) succeeded in reestablishing order under the leadership of the house of Barcelona. Only toward the end of the century was the military advance resumed and the town of Tarragona taken (around 1100). At this time, the crusades to the East changed the character of these attacks, and both military theaters began to be put into correlation. A clear sign of this shift was Pope Urban’s II exhortations from 1089 and 1096-1099 to reestablish the see of Tarragona: by explicitly stating that this was as laudable a service as the iter Hierosolimitanum (crusade to Jerusalem), the pope linked the two areas.

The Crown of Aragon

The Crown of Aragon

The beginning of the twelfth century heralded the second phase of the Aragonese reconquest, which lasted until c. 1180. Under King Alfonso I (fittingly named “the Battler”), the strategically and economically important upper Ebro Valley and plain were conquered: Zaragoza, the center of a powerful Taifa kingdom, fell on 18 December 1118, and during the following years, other lordships such as Tudela, Tarazona, and Calatayud were also taken. The Taifas of Lleida (Lérida) and Tortosa, however, eluded the Battler’s grasp. Although Alfonso tried to bind his realm to the papacy and the crusades to the East by bequeathing it to the Templars, the Hospitallers, and the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre in 1131/1134, his true heirs were to be the counts of Barcelona. Count Raymond Berengar III had reassumed the Catalan expansion with the brief occupation of the island of Mallorca (1114-1116) and the reestablishment of the metropolitanate of Tarragona in 1118, and after the Aragonese- Catalan union of 1137, Count Raymond Berengar IV of Barcelona completed the Battler’s projected conquests with a major campaign at the end of the 1140s. Contemporary sources reveal that this operation was heavily influenced by crusading ideals. Pope Eugenius III, who considered the Iberian Peninsula as only one front of a large-scale offensive that was waged simultaneously on the coasts of the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic, promised the crusaders indulgences. Consequently, the Christian army assembled by the count comprised not only Occitan, Aragonese, Italian, and Catalan forces, aided by members of the military orders, but also a crusader contingent from northwestern Europe on its way to Palestine. On 30 December Tortosa surrendered, and on 24 October 1149, Lleida was taken. Thus, at the middle of the twelfth century the Aragonese-Catalan Crown formed a coherent territory that included the entire Ebro Valley as well as neighboring Lower Aragon in the west. The following decades brought a hiatus in expansion due to the rise of the Muslim Almohads, but the resettlement (Sp. repoblaciôn) of the newly conquered areas was effectively promoted. New towns such as Teruel were founded on the Christian-Muslim border and furnished with attractive privileges in the form of foundational charters (Sp. fueros) to attract new settlers, while both Palestinian and Iberian military orders were granted castles and extensive possessions. In some of the conquered areas (particularly in the Ebro Valley and Valencia), the subjected Muslims (Mudejars) were allowed to remain and maintain their religious practices, although they were segregated and legally discriminated against. The Christian rulers of medieval Iberia, their eyes set on a continuation of the Reconquista, also partitioned and assigned areas for future expansion. The Treaty of Tudillén between Count Raymond Berengar IV and King Alfonso VII of Castile (1151) and the Treaty of Cazola (1179) between Alfonso II of Aragon and Alfonso VIII of Castile delimited such zones, while the latter contract implicitly established the equality of the realms of Castile and Aragon. But it would take nearly a century until these expansionist plans could be carried out.

The third phase of the Aragonese-Catalan reconquest comprises the reign of King James I, known as the Conqueror (1214-1276). During the half century after his coming of age in the early 1220s, James undertook a series of crusades against Muslim lordships. Backed by papal indulgences, the wealthy Catalan port towns, and the barons of upland Aragon, the king mounted a crusade against the Balearic Islands in 1229. The island of Mallorca was subdued between September 1229 and July 1231, but it took an additional four years until Menorca and Ibiza fell to the Christians. By then campaigning against Muslim Valencia had already commenced. After the conquest of Burriana in 1233, crusading indulgences were promised, and the Valencian crusade was preached as far east as Arles and Aix-en- Provence. The conquest of the town of Valencia on 28 September 1238 marked the high point, though not the end, of the crusade, for even after the Muslim realm had been subdued in 1245, a series of ultimately futile Mudejar uprisings meant that the fighting dragged on intermittently until 1277. With the kingdom of Valencia finally conquered, the limits marked by the Treaty of Cazola (redrawn in the Treaty of Almizra in 1244) had been reached. King James II annexed the northern part of Murcia in 1304, which was lost again to Castile in the course of the fifteenth century, but the Aragonese-Catalan monarchs saw no further means to incorporate Muslim territories into their realm.

The fourth and final phase of the Aragonese Reconquista was marked by the participation of contingents in campaigns led by Castile during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Such was the case at the battle of Salado in 1340 and during the War of Granada (1482-1492), in which troops from the Iberian northeast played an important role. But in the meantime, Aragonese interests had shifted from military expansion on the Iberian Peninsula to political, economic, and military hegemony of the western Mediterranean. Even during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, political interests in Provence and other areas of southern France had diverted the monarchs’ interest from Iberian affairs. For example, dynastic ties and fear of French expansionism had led King Peter II to side with the excommunicated count of Toulouse during the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229), a decision that cost the king his life at the battle of Muret on 12 September 1212. The conquest of the Balearic Islands directed the Crown’s focus toward the Mediterranean, and in 1282 the uprising known as the Sicilian Vespers catapulted the house of Barcelona onto the throne of Sicily.

The Aragonese-Catalan Crown had become a decidedly Mediterranean power, which further expanded by acquiring the island of Sardinia and lordships in the eastern Mediterranean in the course of the fourteenth century, as well as southern Italy in the middle of the fifteenth century. This expansion, however, also created conflicts with ecclesiastical powers. The Sicilian war in particular brought the Aragonese-Catalan rulers into direct conflict with the papacy, which championed the position of their rivals, the house of Anjou. Consequently, at the end of the thirteenth century a crusade was preached against the Christian ruler Peter III of Aragon, the son of a crusading king (James I). The campaign, led by King Philip III of France, came to an inglorious end in 1285, and subsequent peace treaties reduced the invasion of 1285 to a singular event and an interlude in the long crusading history of the Aragonese-Catalan Crown.

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