THE AARHMS LIBRARY
DAILY LIFE IN THE SPANISH RECONQUEST:
Scenes from Tenth-Century León
Claudio Sánchez Albornoz
Trans. Simon Doubleday
Only in two cases can we attempt to reconstruct life in a Spanish city before the last millennium with any hope of success: that is to say, in León and Córdoba. The rich and varied Hispano-Arabic literature, the abundant and expressive historical writings of Spanish Muslims, and the splendid ruins of Córdoba which survive to our own day, seem sufficient to allow us to describe the city of the Spanish caliphs in the age of Abd-ar-Rahman III and Almanzor. But in the following pages I will be attempting to depict some scenes of life in León in the tenth century.
Very much to my regret, I cannot offer the reader a total reconstruction of León at the turn of the millennium. There is an absolute lack of any literary texts from which we might glean information about the private life, festivals and customs of the day. Hardly anything remains of this society, except religious buildings, commemorative plaques, works in marble and stone, and a very small number of religious objects. Even representations of the human figure are scarce, and those which are preserved in Bibles, antiphonaries, and Saints' Lives are on occasion so crude and stylized that it proves extremely complicated to interpret them; sometimes there is doubt as to whether the artists were reproducing scenes from daily life, or simply following tradition and copying past customs and ways of life. The Christian chronicles of the era are brief and threadbare biographies of kings: dry, schematic and colorless. They offer a sad contrast to the rich, detailed and exuberant works of Al-Juxani and other Muslims of the time. We have no choice but to turn to the arid diplomas of that century, painfully laconic in comparison to the loquacious documents of the following centuries. Using these diplomas and the Fuero of León (1020), which crystallizes the legal, economic and social traditions bequeathed to the contemporaries of Alfonso V by their ancestors, along with the artistic, narrative and architectural sources mentioned above, I will trace the features of life in León between 900 and 1000.
I will allow myself some artistic license in depicting these scenes.
The scarcity of data makes it necessary to concentrate information which
comes from the whole kingdom of León, and the whole period in question,
as if it came from one city and one year. The need to fill gaps in our
knowledge of Leonese society in the tenth century will oblige me to furnish
some of the details which time has been slowly erasing, using imagination
and some of the oldest local traditions which still sporadically exist.
To breathe life into the fading information which can be squeezed from
diplomas, legal texts, miniatures and chronicles, let us transport ourselves
to a society where life was varied, amorphous and unstable, but which carried
in its heart all the characteristics of our later history.
The City and its History
Built by the Romans to garrison to Seventh Legion, León may also have been the base of the legion's military commander, who was sometimes fully empowered by the emperor to govern Asturias and Galicia. We do not know the town's history after the end of Roman power in Spain. It must have been conquered by Muza in his campaign in the north-west, and may have served as a base for the Muslim governor of the Asturians south of the Picos de Europa, while his counterpart north of the mountains resided in the maritime town of Gijón. Reconquered by the Christians in the middle of the eighth century, during the campaigns of Alfonso I, León subsequently remained deserted for around a hundred years, after Alfonso moved the people of the upper meseta to the rugged northern mountains of his kingdom.
With its old Roman walls still standing, but its hot public baths and similar monuments more or less in ruins, León was a ghost town for almost a century. It seems to me that when he was finally able to resume the Reconquest, Ramiro I would have found it deserted. At the very least, the effort required to recapture it must have been so small that not even his grandson the chronicler nor the chronicle attributed to a monk from Albelde, mention his occupation of the town. However, it is beyond doubt that a Christian population established itself there during his reign, because various Muslim historians tell us how this population fled in 846 in the face of a Moorish attack. These same sources reveal the strength (and therefore the origin) of the town walls when they tell us that, after having set fire to the town, the Moors tried to destroy its fortified area but had to retreat without success as a result of the depth and strength of the walls. The fire and the failed attempt to raze the walls are good proof that the troops from Córdoba did not even consider garrisoning the conquered town, which must have continued to be deserted. This is how King Ordoño found it in 856, when he left behind the mountain barrier that surrounded the kingdom of Asturias to settle the plain below, restored Astorga and Amaya at the foot of the hills, and occupied León. As he generally did with all new lands, he repopulated it with Christians from the north, who had come to seek their fortune on the frontier, and with Mozarabs who were fleeing from civil strife in Muslim Spain.
Ordoño restored the damage to the walls that the Moors had caused in the days of his father Ramiro, created a bishopric in the town for the first time, and built a palace on the site of the old public baths. But it was Alfonso III, "the Great", who was king when in 875, three years after the day of victory at Polvoraria, there was a new drive in the repopulation of the town. Its inhabitants began to draw water from the river Bernesga, raised towers and fortifications in adjacent lands, constructed dams and mills in the nearby rivers, built farms and churches in the neighboring countryside, and scattered in villages in the Porma, Bernesga, and Torío valleys. Behind the strong walls of León, in 882 and 883, Alfonso awaited an assault by prince Al-Mundzir and the general Haxim Ben Abd Al-Aziz, who eventually returned to Andalusia without fighting the Christian army. Later, while the Cordobese emirate seemed to extinguish itself in the midst of religious persecutions, local risings, racial hatred and civil discord, Alfonso pounced like a tiger, extending his lands towards the Mondego, Duero and Pisuerga rivers. León was no longer in danger. Now that the frontier lay far to the south, the town came to be the political center of the kingdom, and soon the capital of a young, strong monarchy, where noble lineages, ideas, customs, juridical norms, institutions and artistic forms of Visigothic and Arabic origin were born.
During the tenth century, León was the most important settlement in Christian Spain. Readers should not imagine, however, that it was a large city. Its boundaries were very small. It was almost perfectly rectangular in shape; its major axis ran from south to north, from the marketplace to the castle, and its lesser axis ran from east to west, from the Bishop's Gate to the North West Gate, which was located on the hill where the Guzmán family would later build a splendid palace. Girded about by the old Roman wall, it was accessible by four gates. The so-called King's Arch led onto the marketplace and into the street where the king's palace was built, backing onto the church of San Salvador. To the east, not far from the Square Tower, was the Bishop's Gate, which kept this name until just a few years ago. The Count's Gate, to the north of the city, later known as Castle Gate, owed its name to the title of the king's governor in León, whose fortified palace was to be found next to it. Finally, the North West Gate opened onto the church of San Marcelo, which was outside the walls, and into Fagildo Street.
Inside the walls, the city was criss-crossed by many roads, streets, alleys and tracks. The old public baths were turned into the site of the episcopal see by Ordoño II, who moved the royal seat to a palace next to the Market Gate, henceforth known as King's Gate, and in the course of the century we are studying, various churches and a number of monasteries were built both outside and inside the city walls. Some housed monks, some housed nuns, and some housed both. Sometimes they followed the old Spanish Rules of St. Isidore and St. Fructuoso, and sometimes they were governed by the Rule of St. Benedict, which was foreign but already propagated in the Iberian Peninsula. The clerics of the episcopal church also followed a monastic rule. This sketch of the inhabitants of León may be completed by noblemen and various non-noble commoners. Of these, some were knights and others were workers; all had specific professions or worked the land, cultivating their own plots of land or the properties of others, sometimes with agrarian contracts.
The process of settling the land had brought a multitude of small and middle-sized properties on the high plateaus of León, creating a society of free men, sometimes enjoying the benefactoría or behetría (patronage) of a superior lord. It is also true, however, that on the middling and large properties there was a large mass of rent-paying peasants, who still retained their freedom of movement but who were tied by poverty to the lord's lands. There was, in addition, a class of young landless people, children of the rent-paying peasants, together with serfs in the fields and a variety of personal serfs who worked as servants in the households of the richest men of León.
A count governed the city on behalf of the king, assisted by a merino (judge) and a bailiff. The concilium, or general assembly of the inhabitants of León and the surrounding districts, met under the count's supervision. They met to administer justice; to witness legal acts (donations of land, wills, and contracts of various kinds); to fix the measures of weights, liquids and solids, the size of a day's wages and the price of merchandise; and to elect the market inspectors, who were the first autonomous officials of the city.
The people of León lived close to the land, driven purely by sensuality and by a deep and burning spiritual devotion. Mystical and sensual, militaristic and rural, the whole city divided its hours between prayer and agriculture, love and war. Laymen grasped their sword to fight the infidel, or the plough to work the land, a spade to dig the garden, or a quill to copy the Old or New Testament, the works of the lading Church Fathers or the current liturgical books. Almost all loved and prayed; but only a chosen few kept alive the dying flame of classical culture, reading and occasionally copying the beautiful verses of Horace and Virgil.
Let us try now to eavesdrop on a few moments of life in León during this century, not in order to behold scenes full of drama and passion, but rather to witness the routines of daily life. We will go to the market, wander through the streets, alleys and roads, walk into houses, listen to conversations, and attend meals, seeing the city lively and curious when something is afoot at the royal court, militaristic and pious on the eve of military service or war, and quiet, silent and withdrawn in days of peace and tranquility.
On a broad highway, whose pebbled surface - with its frequent potholes and rough edges - suggests that it has fallen into neglect, two magnates are riding with their retinue. It is a warm October morning. The air has that marvellous transparency which comes in the autumn, when the rain has settled the summer dust. The lords and their vassals are crossing the Leonese meseta. From left to right, the road crosses gently rolling plains. Nearby, the travellers can see stubble, still yellow, and freshly ploughed land, awaiting the seed; they see fields of flax, leafy vines which no longer offer black clusters of grapes amongst their green shoots, tall poplars on the river banks, and to the north, in the background of the landscape, the dark silhouette of distant mountains.
The morning light allows the riders to make out some poor villages to the left of the stony road; the adobe huts, covered with branches and dried mud bricks, barely rise above the ground. By the roadside, a group of peasants scatters seed on various plots of land nearby, while others - each with a pair of oxen - sink ploughshares into the ground and cover the seed with new furrows. They are rent-payers of the episcopal church of León, performing the obligatory days of labor service which they must give several times a year on these lands, where the produce is reserved by the church for its own granaries.
The unknown riders are mounted on two colts, one chestnut-colored and one bay. As they are crossing the river Porma, some Jewish merchants catch up with them, bringing in their train some valuable religious gems from Byzantium, some silks, tapestries and brocades from the Islamic Middle East or Muslim Spain, and various other products acquired from the Byzantines or from Andalusia. They have trafficked successfully in Castile. Doña Abba, the daughter-in-law of Count Fernando, has bought some coverlets from them, various pieces of cloth, two dalmatic vestments, a chasuble and two Grecian frontals. Later they sold some Hispano-Arabic items in Sahagún, and they are going to León now that they have traded with the monasteries of San Miguel de Escalada and San Pedro de Eslonza.
It is Wednesday, the Day of Mercury as the Romans used to call it, and they are riding quickly so that they will arrive in the market in good time. The Jews adapt the stride of their mounts to the step of the magnates' horses, and since all speak Latin, they chat to each other as they approach León. Two things have favorably surprised the Jews on their travels: the astonishingly delicate, white hands of count García - an image still etched in their memory - and the wonderful church of San Miguel de Escalada. They were already acquainted with Córdoba, Toledo, indeed the whole of Spain, yet they were exceptionally struck by the simplicity and harmony of this church's design: they can still see San Miguel in their mind's eye, resting on the steep, treeless hill, around which the wide River Esla flows.
The pleasant conversation seems to shorten the journey. The travellers have already crossed the river Torío on an old bridge, and have passed various laborers from the area who are carrying turnips, garlic, onions and chestnuts in baskets or panniers on the back of their donkeys. They have also passed a number of folk from the village of Macellarios who are bringing meat (some of which is salt-dried) and animal fat to León. A slow-moving cart, laden with wood and pulled along by oxen, is also left behind in the distance. At last, they arrive at the market. A thronging mass of people is squeezing together, shouting, arguing, and gesticulating. The bright colors of the women's tunics and the men's jerkins, smocks and cloaks stand out against the dark gray backdrop of the city walls, which are only just beginning to turn golden in the midday sun. Human voices, the ringing of cattle bells, lowing and neighing, can all be heard. The Jews move forward as best they can through that crowd of men, beasts and merchandise. The armed men who are accompanying the two magnates head eastwards, to enter León through the Bishop's Gate, so that the only man to remain with them is a serf whom they got from a fellow named Froila (along with thirty cows, a bull and two dogs) in exchange for some land.
The magnates, whose steps we have been following, stop at the livestock market. Two men from the city are eating thick slices of bread and quenching their thirst with a bottle of the rough wine that comes from the region; they are celebrating the completion of a deal. The one with the happier face, whetting his gullet with the wine, has sold the other man a pair of young bulls: two beautiful animals, one spotted and one white. He has received twenty solidi for them, and he is satisfied with the sale. A friend of his recently sold three top-notch bulls for twelve solidi, and at the last market, two bulls - with their trappings and cart - fetched fifteen solidi at the absolute most. The price of each of his own young bulls even exceeds the six solidi for which a black ox, the pride of its owner, has been sold. All of this explains the fortunate seller's joy, and he is treating the witnesses to his success to some of the wine.
Next to the group of people who are eating, drinking and laughing, a pregnant cow is being sold for twelve solidi; a peasant is asking four for a giant donkey; a villager offers eight denarii for a fattened pig; a hundred sheep are bought for a hundred solidi, and a goat is bought for a modius of wheat; colts, mules, mares and donkeys are all examined. The two mysterious riders come to a halt again by a ring of people who are observing, with some curiosity, the haggling over an ugly reddish-black colt. The buyer is a peasant from the town of Castrojeriz who has come to León to sell off an inheritance from an aunt. He has sold a fodder field, a flax field, and his share in some mills on the River Torío, and such is his impatience to become a knight that he cannot wait to return to his own region before he buys a horse. He has received sixty solidi for those properties, which represent the divisa or share that fell to him when he divided the inheritance with his siblings. This figure is very low: it does not allow him to acquire a good horse, which costs a great deal in every market in the kingdom of León. A horse is indispensable for war against the Moors, and fetches an extremely high price in comparison to other kinds of animals. After the battle of Simancas, in which so many beasts died, and mounted Christian knights played such a decisive role, the kings gave marked privileges to these knights, so the demand for suitable horses has risen and it has become more difficult to acquire one. A man from Galicia, who is amongst the observers witnessing the bargaining, remarks at this point that in his neck of the woods he has seen a chestnut horse and a bay horse - like those of the two unknown riders - exchanged for eight and six solidi respectively. The riders would not accept such an exchange: they would ask for at least ten to twenty oxen, or a hundred solidi. In León a horse is worth between forty and sixty sheep, and six to twelve oxen at the minimum. The aspiring knight has already agreed to buy a Galician saddle with high panels for ten solidi, but he cannot use the remaining fifty to purchase a horse because he needs to have the trappings appropriate to knighthood, and he has yet to buy them: the halter, the breast-leather for the horse, the reins, the bridle, and the broad crupper, which are necessary to equip the horse fully, and the shield, sword and lance he needs for his personal equipment. He has found a red-black colt, bony and scrawny, for which the owner is asking thirty solidi. He is not satisfied by the animal's appearance; but with the hope of building it up, and with his hand forced by his limited resources, he haggles with singular determination, in order to reach a cheaper price. The bargaining goes on; the seller - who is pressed to sell because the ruinous condition of the horse reflects his own poverty - finally gives way; and the new knight gives twenty Galician solidi for the colt.
A little further on, the two unknown men see a mule being sold for a hundred solidi to a bishop's serf; fifteen for an old mare to a nobleman of the count of Luna; and, to their surprise, they admire a bay horse of the same height, appearance and hair of one of their own, which they see being traded for a hundred solidi. They dismount; their serf who is following them takes hold of the bridles, and they leave the cattle market for the King's Arch, through which they will enter the city.
It is no easy task to make one's way through the middle of the market. Since, every week, the people of León have to obtain their daily necessities there, along with some extra things, like essential personal and household adornments, the city has emptied into the marketplace, which faces south, outside the walls. There are already a few shops within the walls, but some have been opened for the sake of the poorest, whose penury does not allow them to gather all they need on one day a week, while others have arisen to meet the luxury market, to provide the rich people who live or come to León with soft bread, exquisite morsels, fresh meat, jewels and fine pieces of cloth. Neither the shops for the poor, nor those for the wealthy, are adequate for provisioning the city. Their total number is, in any case, very small - they may have been outnumbered by the four Evangelists - and so the whole neighborhood gathers every Wednesday at the market, to sell and to buy. Most people are both sellers and buyers. Some sell clogs, sandals and shoes which they have made during the week, to buy turnips, animal fat, bread, wine, a leg of mutton, salt-dried beef or goat meat, and some loins if there are any; while others sell their surplus wheat or wine, sheep and goats, flax, vegetables, or cattle aged by work or injured in an accident, in order to acquire ploughshares, swords and the trappings for a horse, or to buy tunics, tablecloths, rugs and feather pillows.
The villagers from the region, and even the rich lay and ecclesiastical landowners of the Leonese countryside, also come to buy and sell at the market. The limited size and scattered nature of their poor domains, which in general are large only in comparison with the little parcels of land which most peasants possess, prevents them from living off their own resources and forces them to send their stewards to León on Wednesdays. Not even the wealthiest can be economically self-sufficient. They need to sell the surpluses from their harvests or their herds of cattle to acquire household goods, luxury garments, arms, the trappings for their horses, or food products from other areas. They therefore have no option but to move within the commercial orbit of the neighboring town, and to do so frequently; their coffers are full, and their men, flocks and carts - filled with cereals, vegetables and fruit - help to make the Leonese market an exceptionally important center of trade, which it is difficult to bypass.
Leaving the livestock market behind, our mysterious friends first come across some peasants and various stewards representing various churches and magnates; next to their donkeys, or at the foot of their carts, these people sell sacks of barley, rye, wheat and millet. When they pass by the servants of the monastery of Abeliare, the magnates see a woman baker of León measure out several modius of wheat at the cost of a solidus per modius. The price does not surprise them. From olden times, a modius of wheat - like a sheep - has been worth one solidus, and they have often seen people pay in cereal, sheep, lands, livestock, or other merchandise, given a monetary value.
Further on, they find the gardeners of the city and the region. To make use of shade - the sun is hot today after having been hidden by clouds for several days - the gardeners have set up their ramshackle awnings. They have driven thick stakes into the ground, passed two branches through the two holes just below the top of these poles, and have hung a dirty piece of dark canvas over the two rods (which are extended in the shape of a cross). Beneath these stalls, in large baskets made with thin strips of chestnut wood, beech wood or willow, or in wicker baskets, hampers and bags, they offer apples, garlic, onions, grapes, figs, pears, chestnuts, other nuts and fruits, and various vegetables. Already on sale are some early turnips, a fundamental part of the Leonese diet, which the womenfolk of León seek out eagerly, dressed in their ordinary bright red and yellow tunics. At one of the stalls, a man in the service of the canons of the episcopal church now chooses the best figs that he has been able to find in the market. They are not for his fellow clerics at the church, but for the monarch, because when the sovereign is living in the city, the chapter is obliged to provide him with figs and desserts.
The bailiff comes round collecting the king's dues, taxes that must be paid by those who take something to sell in León on Wednesdays. For every cart of turnips, he demands three denarii; he demands one for each donkey's load, and a handful of turnips from the peasants who come on foot with their knapsacks full. From every cart of garlic or onions, he takes twenty strings of eight onions or garlic cloves, ten strings for a donkey's load, and five from a peasant on foot; in analogous proportions he takes dues in chestnuts, pears, nuts and other products on sale in that part of the market.
From there the riders make their way towards the west, where wine skins from Toro and olive oil from Zamora may be found, transported from the banks of the river Duero by Leonese pack animals, along with some sacks of salt brought on donkeys from the salt mines of Castile, heath branches to light the fire, animal fat, baskets of chickens and doves, wax, honey, peppers, ducks, cheese, cider from Asturias, and a large number of cranes which are raised for the Leonese market by the people of the neighboring village of Grullarios. The bailiff charges an emina for each cart of salt, one solidus and a pot of wine for each cart of wineskins or barrel, and fifteen pints from the wine-merchants for each donkey-load; similar charges are placed on wax, cranes, chickens and doves. The skins of olive oil are already empty: olive oil does not come to León every Wednesday, but only once in a while, and on the day when the pack animals bring it in from Zamora, servants from the bishop's kitchen, the count, the royal palace, and some magnates, all fight over it. The fight can be easily explained: it is not always easy to get hold of lard in sufficient quantities, the flavor of animal fat in meals is insufferable, and the olive oil tastes better than the flax oil which is in widespread use (it comes from Orbigo) or the nut oil (made in the region of León or in Asturias), which is also difficult to find and acquire. Today the oil skins from Zamora have been snapped up faster than ever, because some men from the monastery of Escalada have come to market in the morning and acquired as much oil as they can carry in their carts. Some of the monks from that cloister are still Mozarabs, and are accustomed to the olive oil of Andalusia or Toledo, so they hunt down by any means possible the rich product of those sunny landscapes where they were born.
Towards the east of the market, protected by awnings like those used by the gardeners, the craftsmen of León and the region sell various utensils for daily use in the houses of artisans and workers of the town and countryside. Behind their pitchers, pots, earthenware, pans and red-clay casseroles, which are glazed on the inside, some women from the village of Nava de Olleros, with their prominent cheekbones, graying hair and dark complexion, sit with furrowed brows, waiting for someone to buy their crockery. By their side, other women from the village of Tornarios sell wooden jugs and plates, bowls, pans and pails. Next to them, some young lads with blackened hands and smoke-darkened faces are selling objects made of iron, brass, steel and copper. On threadbare blankets they have axes, sickles, spades, adzes, padlocks, knives and tongs; piled up next to the blankets are several ploughshares, and in front there are long rows of cook's trivets, mortars, pans, bowls and cauldrons, some of which are made of brass. At this moment, a cook from the bishop's kitchen, who has brought an entire olive oil skin, chooses some enormous trivets; and a peasant from Trobajos tries to convince Domingo the blacksmith that he is gaining by exchanging an axe, a knife and a ploughshare for a load of turnips and wheat.
Right by the stalls of the potters and metalworkers, some villagers from Sejambre are selling threshing harrows, carts, winnowing forks, instruments to crush the wheat, and some carts without wheels. Next to them, some artisans from Rotarios offer the typical Leonese-style wheels without spokes, made with joined pieces of wood, which they sell singly or paired by an axle. At this point a man with privileges of behetría, who lives near San Félix del Torío, hands over three Galician solidi for a solidly-built wooden cart. The seller praises the quality of the merchandise and guarantees that the man can tell how excellent the cart is by listening to the pleasant sound it makes as it rolls along.
Further on, several muleteers from Arbolio are reaching a deal on some wine skins, examining some ox and horse hides, and haggling over some goat skins which they need to replace the ones they have worn out on the frequent journeys with their mule packs. A couple of steps away, some workers from the village of Toletanos are touching and touching again, looking and looking again at some strips of leather, some straps for tying the yoke to the pole of the cart, some yoke pads for the nape of the oxen, and some halters and yoking straps, all hanging from a horizontal pole which has been placed on two vertical stakes driven into the ground. These are the leather workers' stalls, which likewise offer bridles and saddles. Here we meet the new, puffed-up knight with the reddish-black colt again; at this instant, he is paying for the saddle he has acquired and various other costs of his horse's trappings. In everyone's presence, the leather worker is preparing some small weighing scales which one of the market inspectors has lent him, and is getting ready to weigh the Roman denarii, the Galician solidi, the Moorish dirhems, and the other pieces of silver which the man is handing him for the breast-leather, the cinch, and some recently-fashioned bridles for the horse. In the kingdom of León, Hispano-Muslim dirhems are in circulation alongside the old Galician or Roman solidi which the plough is always lifting out of the ground. But dirhems, solidi and denarii are not enough, and although people often resort to the direct bartering of objects for other objects, since this is not always adequate and the kings of León do not coin money, it is necessary to allow payment in pieces of silver and to weigh the money, in order to equate in some way the various means of exchange.
Rows of sandals and shoes await a buyer in the adjacent stall. Further on, rabbit skins, lamb skins and weasel skins hang from cords suspended from two white poplar trees; and opposite, thrown over large chests, spread over canvases on the ground, or hanging from ropes tied to other trees, tunics, cloaks, shorts, fabric for pillows or featherbeds, blankets, various pieces of cloth, and bed coverings are being sold. Three, four, five, six, seven, and even eight solidi are being paid for dressed rabbit skins, weasel skins and lamb skins; three for a rug, eight for two blankets; five for a blue robe; three modius of wheat for a large skirt; thirty modius for a rich crimson tunic; and fifteen solidi for a bright red woolen tunic of Mozarabic making.
The buyers - nobles, clerics, knights or workers from town and country - immediately translate these prices into terms of sheep or oxen. For them, a skin is worth five to twelve sheep; a blanket is worth between four and thirty sheep; and a tunic, is worth from three to six oxen. The value of these cloths and clothes is considerable in comparison with the various kinds of livestock, and consequently business is slim at these stalls. People usually spin and weave their own clothes at home, and only when they need to acquire items that they cannot make domestically, or when they are tempted by luxury, do they go to the shops within the city walls or to the market, to empty their purses into the hands of the weavers, who were born in León or who have come in search of work or freedom.
The bailiff also collects taxes in this part of the market. Strips of leather, shoes, and sandals are exempt from taxes - they are sold in limited numbers, or are exchanged by non-professionals - but the artisans generally pay taxes on all the products they take to market on Wednesdays. Those who sell objects made of iron have to give a ploughshare for each load, and a meaja for every two ploughshares; the sandal-makers have to give some sandals each month; and the women who sell pots and pans, the saddle sellers, the leather workers, the tanners and the weavers all have to pay in a similar way.
After having stopped by various groups of people, receiving a thousand greetings and examining some mighty swords of well-tempered steel, the magnates whom we have been following from the beginning now arrive just a couple of steps from the open arch in one of the sections of the old wall, and prepare to enter the city. But before they manage to do so, they are stopped in their tracks by a hubbub in the distance, seemingly coming from the livestock market. In the blink of an eye, cobblers, tanners, weavers and saddlers are left standing alone in their stalls. The crowd runs, in curiosity, towards the place where the argument has broken out. Our two riders follow them, and in a jiffy they find themselves by that part of the market where we have seen people selling oxen, mules, foals and horses. A mass of people has gathered earlier in the meadows: lying down on the grass, muleteers and peasants are eating and drinking there, having already sold their wine and olive oil, or the barley and wheat that they brought on their mules or in their carts. When they hear the voices, they leap up from the ground, but fearing that the animals will take fright, they do not join the curious crowd, so as not to abandon the donkeys and oxen pasturing by their side or risk losing the small, slow, squeaky carts which are lying sadly on the ground without their yoke.
Once the travelers manage to make their way to the middle of the group of people who are arguing, listening and contradicting each other, they find the market inspectors and the bailiff hearing a man who is gripping an unsheathed sword in his right hand while he holds the bridle of a mare in his left. An old Jewish man from León is also anxiously grasping the horse's halter with his bony hand. The man with the sword, a lesser noble of the count of Luna, whom we saw buying his mare a little while ago for fifteen solidi, says that against all custom and the king's orders, the Jew and his men have tried to seize his animal, and have angered him so much that he has been forced to menace them with his sword. The Jew, without letting go of his grip, is telling his own version in words calculated to inspire pity: a long, hypocritical and entertaining account of his grievances. The nobleman, he says, has a poor memory: he has forgotten the favors which he showed him in one of the bad years which the city recently experienced, when he relieved his hunger and suffering with a substantial loan. He has filled his pockets in the service of the count of Luna, he buys animals in the livestock market, he spends and he profits, and yet he is scoffing at his debt again. But this time he won't get away with it. He, the Jew, has taken his mare in order to force him to appear with him in court, and he asks everyone to support him in his search for justice. The bailiff asks him why he has not waited for a different occasion, and how he has dared to seize his debtor in the market; the Jew answers with feigned amazement that he has not seized him in the market but just outside it, where the king allows people to take bondsmen and debtors. The Jew's tricks do not convince the bailiff, who demands sixty solidi for disobeying the royal decrees which prohibit seizing someone in this day, place and hour; he also demands sixty from the nobleman for having unsheathed his sword and thus broken the king's peace.
The debtor and the Jew answer back several times; opinion is divided
among the observers. Not without difficulty, the mystery men separate themselves
from the throng of people, since they have no direct interest in the matter,
and discussing the Jew's subtleties they enter the city through the King's
Arch. They follow the road where the households of Doña Eldoara
and Deacon Miguel, the prince's palace and the recently constructed monastery
of San Salvador may all be found; they continue down a narrow winding alleyway
until they reach the intersection with the road which links the Bishop's
Gate with the North West Gate. Finally they enter the household of Don
Arias, the unknown rider with the chestnut horse. His companion, more mature
in age, is Assur Fernández, the count of Monzón, who has
come to the city to keep himself entertained during the long autumn months
and enjoy himself in the bustle of the court.