THE 13TH CENTURY
During the XIII century, the Christian kingdoms predominated in the Iberian Peninsula.
1. The Christian kings Alphonso X of Castile and James I of Aragon thought they were chosen by Providence. James I was on the verge of death on many occasions, and miraculously he saved his life in all of them. A myth was created, in which the king was a divine figure protected by the divinity. Alfonso X believed he was above the church and pursued the title of emperor, considered the maximum political figure of God in Earth.
2. Castile and Aragon were an example for other European Christian kingdoms. James I made epic conquests in Majorca and Valencia. Castile and Aragon managed to conquer most of the territory to the Arabs, with the exception of Granada.
3. The difficulties of Castile in the second half of the 13th century were produced by the waste of the Castilian crown. Alfonso was forced to mince low quality coin on several occasions, and the kingdom, which was in an excellent condition in 1260, ended in bankruptcy at the end of his reign. The civil war between Sancho (the second son of the Alphonso) and the king increased the chaos and the confusion in a kingdom.
4. The relationship between the church and Christian kings was not fluid. Many of the obligations of the church were not fulfilled by the kings, especially with regard to the obligations towards the Jews and Arabs. The kings of Castile and Aragon considered they were performing a great task for the Christianity and did not like to obey the dictates of Rome. Alfonso dared to start and absurd African crusade on his own, which was a complete failure. All the popes refused to grant Alphonso the title of emperor, which was the main obsession of the king during his reign.
The Jewish communities lived a great splendor during the 13th century. The Jews were the main doctors, astrologers, and advisers to the Christian kings. They also practiced different professions such as lenders, poets, or book translators. In addition, the schools of mystical knowledge were of great importance in Castile and Aragon.
There were very important Jewish communities in Gerona, Barcelona, Zaragoza, Burgos, Medinaceli, Cuenca, Teruel, Albarracin, Corral de Almaguer, Talavera, Guadalajara, and Toledo. They could live in peace because of the protection provided by the kings in exchange of large sums of money.
There was a huge exchange of knowledge among the different Jewish communities. In many of the cities there were groups of mystical knowledge that practiced and taught the Kabbalah.
The Jews were also experts in astrology. There were several schools of astrology in Aragon and Castile. They advised the Christian kings in many issues. They also helped to create the new astronomical tables, that were used by Christopher Columbus, two hundred years later, to sail to America. The Jews also collaborated in the translation works at the Court of Alphonso X the Wise King.
The 13th century was a century of decline for the Arab kingdoms of the Peninsula. The splendor lived in the previous centuries with the caliphate of Cordova was lost. The inner fights between the different kings caused the loss of the greater part of the territory at the hands of the Christians. Here are the main historical marks:
1. The loss of the battle of the Navas of Tolosa (1212) marked a turning point in the Arabian dominion of the Peninsula. From that moment, the Arab kingdoms began to crumble. At the end of the century the Kingdom of Granada was the only Arab territory in the Iberian Peninsula.
2. In the border towns like Teruel, there were attacks between Arabs and Christians, like a furtive attack from Sarrion to Teruel. There were also constant incursions to take prisoners and slaves, who were sold in Africa or traded in several deals.
3. The territories conquered by the Christians were difficult to repopulate. For this reason the Christian kings allowed the Arab population to live in exchange for a vassalage. Nevertheless in some cases like in Valencia, the king James I expelled all the Arabs once he conquered the city.
4. Arab forces recovered in the latter part of the century as a result of the economic crisis in Castile. The malicious attack in Sale on the day of Ramadan by the army of Alphonso X, provoked the anger of the Arabs of North Africa; as a consequence, the king of Granada called the revolt of the Arabs who still lived in Christian territory and the Emir of Morocco entered the Peninsula with great fury, devastating everything up to Seville. Nevertheless, the new king Sancho (son of Alfonso) managed to recover all the territory of the south of the Peninsula with the exception of Granada.
Relationship between Christians, Jewish, and Arabs
Christians, Jews and Arabs lived in the Iberian Peninsula during the 13th century. Coexistence was not as peaceful as it might seem.
1. Christians and Arabs were at war. The Christians in Castile won the important battle of Navas de Tolosa (1212) which helped them conquer all the territory until Granada. James I of Aragon conquered the kingdom of Valencia, Majorca, and Menorca. For this reason, the coexistence was be peaceful. Likewise, there was little permissiveness of the Christians with the Arabs who remained in Christian territory. There was only a fruitful exchange between the Arab and Christian intellectual elites who collaborated in the artistic works or in the translation of books.
2. Christians and Jews had a good relationship during of the century. The Jews paid a special tax to the Christian kings for royal protection. The Hebrews had great respect for the Castilian king Ferdinand III (1199-1252), who obtained a papal dispensation, so that they did not have to wear a badge on their clothes. With Alfonso X (1221-1284) the relationship was excellent at the beginning of his reign due to the collaboration in the translation of books and to the Jewish astrological advice to the king. In fact the relationship between the great Castilian Rabbi Todros and King Alfonso was extraordinary. But at the end of the reign, and as a consequence of the disobedience of the Jewish treasurer of the kingdom, Zag de la Maleha, the king confiscated a lot of property from the Jews, and imposed them a heavy fine. The relationship deteriorated to such an extent that many Jews left to Navarre and France. In Aragon, King James I (1213-1276) had a good relationship with the Hebrews until he forced the exile of the rabbi Nahmanides in 1263, after a theological dispute with the Christian priests in Barcelona.
3. Jews and Arabs had a much colder relationship than in previous centuries. The Arabs had expelled the Jews from their territories, blaming them for the war defeats against the Christians. The Hebrews of Al-Andalus migrated to the northern territories of the Peninsula, and many of them settled in Toledo. Therefore, most of the Jewish in the Peninsula lived Christian territory during the 13th century, and not many in Arab territory.