An emerging periphery: maritime activities and communities on the Atlantic shores of Iberia (850-1100)

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Information about north Iberian maritime communities and their workings during the early Middle Ages is scanty when compared to that on the North Sea or the Mediterranean. This has helped to perpetuate the idea that the sea repelled rather than attracted settlement in this period. Modern historiography, concerned as it was for a long time with the processes of inland conquest and colonization (the so-called Reconquista), is partly to blame for that notion. But the textual and material evidence available is still insufficient to advance an alternative view. Archaeology does hint at some maritime activity along the north Iberian coasts up to the early seventh-century, but it seems to fade away immediately after. This strengthens the case for a striking contrast between the small and rural maritime communities of Christian Iberia and the large port cities of Muslim al-Andalus. Focusing on the northern shores of the Peninsula, this paper aims to assess whether the extant sources actually reflect an underpopulated and rural littoral before the twelfth century, or rather a peripheral status of maritime activities and communities in a period when the main socio-political centres lay inland. The first section questions the “periphery” paradigm constructed by early medieval sources and modern historians alike, the second discusses the evidence of maritime networks encompassing northern Iberia between the ninth and eleventh centuries, the third reflects on the density of coastal settlement and its indicators, and the fourth looks into the documentary records preserved by two littoral monasteries — São Salvador de Moreira (Portugal) and Santa María del Puerto (Cantabria) —, in order to gain some insight into how coastal communities were affected by their maritime experience.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCommunautés maritimes et insulaires du premier Moyen Âge
EditorsA. Gautier, L. Malbos
Place of PublicationTurnhout
PublisherBrepols Publishers
Number of pages28
ISBN (Print)978-2-503-58551-2
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Maritime Communities
  • Early Medieval Iberia
  • Seafaring
  • Coastal Settlement


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