Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Conquerors, Brides, and Concubines: Interfaith Relations and Social Power in Medieval Iberia

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Conquerors, Brides, and Concubines: Interfaith Relations and Social Power in Medieval Iberia

Article excerpt

Conquerors, Brides, and Concubines: Interfaith Relations and Social Power in Medieval Iberia. By Simon Barton. [The Middle Ages Series.] (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2015. Pp. viii, 264. $59.95. ISBN 978-0-8122-4675-9.)

In Conquerors, Brides, and Concubines Simon Barton analyzes the varied and complicated ways in which group identity, interfaith sexuality, and power interacted in medieval Iberia-centering on relationships between Muslims and Christians. He focusses on interfaith sexual liaisons showing how they were "conducted, perceived, manipulated, and above all, controlled" (p. 4), and how attitudes towards this mixing changed over time, as a reaction to local circumstances and general trends. Even though the book centers on the medieval period, both within alAndalus and the Christian dominated lands, it also explores the reverberation that the cultural memory of those relationships had in Iberian culture. Indeed, the popular festivals that continue to be celebrated in some towns even today serve as a reminder of the deep sense of cultural difference that exists in Spain, and the exoticism it has been endowed with thanks to the region's Islamic past.

The book is divided into four chapters framed by an introduction and a conclusion. Chapter One, "Sex as Power," centers on early medieval Iberia from the eight to eleventh centuries, a time in which Muslim lords took Christian women as wives and concubines. These unions have to be understood not only as a tactic for building diplomatic alliances, but also as a means for Muslim lords of showing their superiority, and even as a tool of psychological warfare. The remaining chapters deal with the central and late medieval period, that was characterized by a progressive shifting of power in favor of the Christian-ruled realms that eventually manifested itself at the end of the fifteenth century in the form of policies of mass conversion or expulsion, and the establishment of an Inquisition dedicated to ending religious heterodoxy in Iberia. Chapter Two, "Marking Boundaries," examines why after about 1050 interfaith marriage declined and how religious and secular Christian authorities harden their positions, and condemned and discouraged interfaith unions and sex-a development that came partly as a consequence of the new balance of power, the reform of the papacy, and the development of canon law. …

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