Women and Authority in Early Modern Spain: The Peasants of Galicia

By Allyson M. Poska | Go to book overview

Introduction: Gendering
Peasant Society

During the reign of Augustus (27 BCE–14 CE), the Greek geographer Strabo made an astounding assertion about the gender norms of the native peoples of north-western Spain: ‘it is the custom among the Cantabrians for the husbands to give dowries to their wives, for the daughters to be left as heirs, and the brothers to be married off by their sisters. The custom involves, in fact, a sort of gynaecocracy.’1

Strabo went on to note that the female members of the Callaı¨ci (or Gallaecians), Astures, and Cantabri, ferocious tribes that had recently been conquered by Rome, were remarkably courageous, killing their children rather than allowing them to be taken captive by the Romans, and hard-working, giving birth while toiling in the fields.2

Historians know little about gender norms in ancient Spain, but it appears that, far from characterizing tribal cultures, Strabo may have had his own reasons for portraying the people of north-western Spain in these highly gendered terms. Classicists have long since demonstrated that tribes ruled by women were a common trope in ancient literature and that the Greeks insulted conquered peoples by describing them as having been ruled by women. In fact, Strabo goes on to say that the power of women in these tribes ‘is not at all a mark of civilization’.3 Certainly, his depiction has not held up to historical scrutiny. There is no evidence of a

1 Strabo, The Geography of Strabo, III-4.18, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1949). Scholars disagree on the meaning of the term gynaecocracy. Although Simon Pembroke acknowledges the essential validity of Strabo’s statements on female inheritance, he also argues, on the basis of Aristotle’s definition of gynaecocracy, this was ‘more of an evaluative than a descriptive term’ and that Strabo did not mean ‘anything more technical than women getting out of hand’. Simon Pembroke, ‘Women in Charge: The Function of Alternatives in Early Greek Tradition and the Ancient Idea of Matriarchy’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 30 (1967), 20, 22.

2 Strabo, III-4.17.

3 Strabo, III-4.18. Classicists have ascertained that Strabo acquired his knowledge of northern Spain not from an actual visit, but from the commentaries of earlier Greek writers, including Posidonius. Alain Tranoy offers an analysis of Strabo’s commentary in

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Women and Authority in Early Modern Spain: The Peasants of Galicia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Maps and Illustration viii
  • A Note on Currency and Measures ix
  • Introduction- Gendering - Peasant Society 1
  • 1 - Women without Men 22
  • 2 - Single Women and Property 41
  • 3 - Sex and the Single Woman 75
  • 4 - ‘A Married Man Is a Woman’- Gender Tensions in Galician Marriages 112
  • 5 - Widowhood 163
  • 6 - Modelling Female Authority 193
  • 7 - Beyond Finisterre 228
  • Bibliography 247
  • Index 267
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