In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Spain

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Historiography
  • Literature
  • Women in Medieval Spain

Medieval Studies Spain
Olivia Remie Constable
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0010


What is meant by “medieval Spain”? Usually, “medieval” is understood as roughly the millennium between 500 CE and 1500 CE, and these dates fit reasonably well with political eras in the Iberian Peninsula, from the arrival of the Visigoths in the late 5th century to the end of the reigns of Ferdinand and Isabella in the early 16th century. For the sake of simplicity, the basic structure of this article is chronological. The second term, “Spain,” is much more complex. The modern country traces its roots to the medieval kingdoms and counties of Galicia, León, Castile, Aragón, Navarre, Catalonia, Valencia, Murcia, and Granada. All of these entities contributed to what is now modern Spain and Spanish (Castilian), although other regional identities and languages have also survived. The sections of this article on Christian Spain include the medieval regions noted above. Although Portugal also emerged during the medieval period, becoming a kingdom in the 12th century, it is usually not counted as part of medieval Spain and is not covered in this bibliography. Adding complexity is the fact that, for nearly eight hundred years, much of the Iberian Peninsula was under Islamic rule, with a population that was predominantly Muslim and Arabic-speaking. Muslim Spain is generally referred to by the Arabic name “al-Andalus.” Studies on the history of al-Andalus are considered separately in this bibliography. Alongside Christians and Muslims, there was also a significant Jewish population living in medieval Spain, both in Christian and Muslim regions. Because of this, medieval Spain is sometimes called “the land of three religions” (or tres culturas). Scholarship on the Jews of medieval Spain is its own field, but study of the coexistence of the three groups (often known as convivencia) has gained much attention. Studies on relations between the three cultures are considered in the section A Land of Three Cultures. Works on the Spanish Inquisition, conversos (Jews converted to Christianity), and moriscos (Muslims converted to Christianity) are not included in this article because these issues were largely phenomena of the early modern period. Languages in medieval Spain were also complicated. People spoke and wrote in Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, and––increasingly––in medieval versions of Castilian, Catalan, and other Romance vernaculars. Because of this, one finds many different spellings for names and places, making it difficult to be completely correct and consistent, especially when translating these into English.

General Overviews

Full coverage of the history of medieval Spain is difficult to do in one volume, since the period is long, the medieval peninsula and its inhabitants were highly diverse, and not all scholars even agree about what “Spain” means. In general, most of the authors noted below include coverage of both Muslim and Christian history, but most exclude the history of Portugal. Two comprehensive histories from the Visigothic period until Ferdinand and Isabella are O’Callaghan 1975, a weighty English survey of medieval Spanish history, and Álvarez Palenzuela 2002, an edited collection, in Spanish, by multiple authors. For briefer coverage, Jackson 1972 is a popular survey that includes plenty of illustrations, and Reilly 1993 covers medieval Spanish history from the late Roman period until the Catholic Kings in just over two hundred pages. For a somewhat more specialized approach, Glick 2005 provides one of the most thoughtful treatments of early medieval Spain, both Christian and Muslim, with special emphasis on the history of technology and science. For the general reader interested in the Crown of Aragón, the short history Bisson 1986 is an essential introduction. Rucquoi 2002 is a nifty illustrated handbook in French that surveys Christian and Muslim regions by topic rather than by chronology.

  • Álvarez Palenzuela, Vicente Ángel, ed. Historia de España de la edad media. Barcelona: Ariel, 2002.

    Each chapter is written by a different scholar, and each concludes with a bibliography for the particular topic. Largely political, but also good coverage of religion, culture, law, economy, society, intellectual developments, for the entire medieval period. In Spanish.

  • Bisson, Thomas N. The Medieval Crown of Aragón: A Short History. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986.

    Bisson traces the history of Aragón and Catalonia before their union, through the creation of the “Crown of Aragón,” and into the 16th century. Covering mainly political history, this short volume is one of the few English surveys of the region.

  • Glick, Thomas. Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages. 2d ed. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2005.

    Glick pays special attention to culture, technology, science, economy, and society, in Christian and Muslim regions, with evidence from texts and archeological evidence. The first edition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979) is available online. The second edition is considerably expanded and the bibliography is brought up to date.

  • Jackson, Gabriel. The Making of Medieval Spain. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972.

    The author concentrates mainly on Christian Spain, and on social, economic, and cultural history. Although now somewhat dated, this brief survey is noteworthy for its many pictures.

  • O’Callaghan, Joseph F. A History of Medieval Spain. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1975.

    At over seven hundred pages, this comprehensive survey of medieval Spanish history in English has become an essential reference work. This readable but fairly traditional treatment is particularly strong for the history of Castile and the later medieval period. Coverage is supplemented by useful genealogical tables and maps.

  • Reilly, Bernard F. The Medieval Spains. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    The author emphasizes the diversity of peninsular history and its regional variations, but coverage is somewhat patchy, given the volume’s brevity, and most attention goes to Christian kingdoms. In English, this is suited to general readers.

  • Rucquoi, Adeline. L’Espagne médiévale. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2002.

    Packed with pictures and organized by topic, this handy book can be dipped into rather than read all the way through. Little on political history, but excellent sections on social life, family, the arts, literature, religion, architecture, economy, and urban life. In French.

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