Jaspert, Die Reconquista. Christen und Muslime auf der Iberischen Halbinsel 711–1492
Annotation author: Büttner, Marco
Book author: Jaspert, Nikolas

Nikolas Jaspert, Die Reconquista. Christen und Muslime auf der Iberischen Halbinsel 711–1492 (C.H.Beck Wissen 2876), München 2019.

Nikolas Jaspert is a professor of Medieval History at the University of Heidelberg. As an expert for the medieval Mediterranean and its transcultural entanglements, he has published various books and articles on military orders, the crusades and the history of the Iberian Peninsula. The latter also include his survey Die Reconquista. Christen und Muslime auf der Iberischen Halbinsel 711–1492, published in 2019 as part of the C.H.Beck Wissen series. In no more than 128 pages, Jaspert attempts to provide an overview of the history of the so-called Reconquista. Contrary to the image of a steady reconquest of Islamic territories, Jaspert aims to stress that this period was in fact characterized by various kinds of cultural exchange. Against this backdrop, he deconstructs the Reconquista as a powerful, but flawed narrative that does not sufficiently take into account the changing courses of the wars on the Iberian Peninsula and which obscures other aspects of the relations between Christians, Muslims and also Jews in this period.

By combining a chronological description of phases of Muslim or Christian expansion successes on the one hand and thematical insights into new research on the other, Jaspert succeeds in presenting this large and complex subject in an understandable way. A particularly interesting aspect that Jaspert addresses are the cross-connections of the so-called Reconquista to other narratives and practices, such as those concerning the Crusades in the Levant. Jaspert discusses the relationships between these concepts and makes a differentiated judgment by identifying tensions between the pragmatic approach of local rulers in the sense of gaining land and the religious interpretation of the Reconquista by foreign combatants and the popes (p. 45–46). This also brings up another aspect that plays an important role in Jaspert’s account, namely that of frontier society and frontier warfare. Based on the Spanish research discussion, Jaspert discusses the role of the Iberian frontera and its changing history in the development of cultural phenomena that are specific for these areas that were shaped by turns of conflict and harmony. An interesting aspect that Jaspert emphasizes here is that the emergence of harmonious phases was based less on religious tolerance than on pragmatic avoidance of conflict, since the danger of escalation was always present. This is also evident in the constant threat of kidnapping, which led to the emergence of numerous religious congregations dedicated specifically to the ransom of hostages (p. 75–80). By problematizing the narrative of the Reconquista and its use as an ideological fighting term, for instance, in the example of the colonies in America or in the rhetoric of right-wing extremist movements (p. 107–114), Jaspert finally draws a line to the present.

As usual for the C.H.Beck Wissen series, Jaspert’s volume conveys established knowledge in a concentrated and comprehensible form on a topic which is important not only for medievalists. The volume can thus be recommended to anyone who wishes for concise information and a more sophisticated discussion of the main problems and issues surrounding the subject complex of the so-called Reconquista. Students in particular will benefit from this volume as a quick introduction to the topic which is supported by a solid bibliography. In addition, the book provides important context to present-day controversies and conflicts and demonstrates the relevance of the Reconquista narrative, which also leads me to highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in these current political debates.