True Barbarians?: The Role Of Visigothic Iberia In Medieval Persecutory Discourse
Dellinger, Justin T.
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During the last twenty-five years, there has been wide-spread debate about the extent of the notion of persecution in medieval Europe. Those who believe that persecution existed deliberate to what extent, as well as when and where it took place. Historians who doubt it offer explanations of toleration, coexistence/convivencia, ambivalence, or simply repression. Most of this historical debate unfortunately tends to center itself in or after the eleventh-century, abstaining from discussions about socio-politico groups that existed in the fifth through tenth centuries. Groups such as the Visigoths are therefore largely omitted from these conversations. Compounding this deficiency is an issue with modern notions of persecution, which can distort the social, cultural, and economic interactions that took place between Jews and the Muslims and Christians with which they shared territory. For some historians, potential historical misrepresentations through use of anachronistic constructs diminish the term's reliability as an accurate image of the past. Since most of the recent medieval persecutory historiography neglects the Visigoths, extensive examination of works about Spanish Jews and Iberia is necessary to identify the historical trends. The reading of these texts generally illuminates an extensive persecutory discourse because the Visigothic treatment of the Jews proved at times to be both cruel and hostile. Discriminatory laws, compulsory conversions, polemical disputations, expulsion, and general acts of violence existed, although some historians note that these do not necessarily constitute persecution in and of themselves. It is difficult to ascertain if Visigothic motivation for hostility falls into the traditional persecutory divisions of religion, ethnicity, or politics, or whether they were merely trying to increase their power, became jealous of the Jewish positions in Roman society, or simply considered Jews different from themselves. While the scope of this paper cannot hope to resolve the entire state of the field, it offers insight into the academic dialogue that has generally overlooked the role of the Visigothic social, political, intellectual and ecclesiastical entities with regard to persecution in the Middle Ages, and calls for historians to include mention of Visigothic Spain in future persecutory discourse.