Author Topic: ARAGONESE HISTORIOGRAPHY  (Read 1983 times)


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« on: February 09, 2017, 05:12:19 pm »
One of the peculiarities of early Aragonese history is the
relative dearth of historiographic materials surviving from the
old heartland of the kingdom. The Aragonese have traditionally
been viewed as proud of family and jealous of tradition. One
might expect that such people would have cultivated the writing
of history, but such does not appear to have been the case.  An
analysis of the Aragonese source materials available to the
compilers of the fourteenth-century Chronicle of San Juan de la
Peña suggests that a native Aragonese historiographic tradition
was virtually non-existent in the eleventh and twelfth
King Pedro IV of Aragon (1336-1387) was a patron of the arts,
particularly of history, and had determined to compile an
official history of his realms. Sometime around 1350, he
requested the monasteries of Ripoll and of San Juan de la Peña,
reputed to be the oldest in his realms, to assist in the project.

Ripoll responded by sending from its library a copy of the
history of the counts of Barcelona, the Gesta Comitum
Barcinonensium. San Juan de la Peña, by contrast, invested
considerably more labor in complying with the royal request. The
scribes there utilized as a base the rather sketchy Aragonese
sections of the Crónica de los estados peninsulares,(2) probably
written near Huesca in 1305 and relying heavily on Rodrigo
Jime'nez de Radás De rebus hispaniae.(3)  They then utilized
various documents from the monastery's library and archives,
additional material from Jime'nez de Rada, and current oral
traditions in expanding its treatment. When the Chronicle of San
Juan de la Peña was completed around 1370, San Juan's
contribution, which covered the history of Aragon from the first
settlement of Spain to the year 1136, comprised about a third of
the entire account.(4) An close analysis of the sources of these
particular sections discloses the extent and nature of the source
materials available at San Juan de la Peña when the fourteenth-
century compilers wrote their history of eleventh- and twelfth-
century Aragon. Since San Juan de la Peña had been the major
monastic center of Old Aragon for over two centuries, the records
that had been preserved in its archives and were available to the
compilers of the Chronicle of San Juan de la Peña provide a good
reflection of the extent of Aragonese historiography during those
early years.
Chapters four through eleven of the Chronicle, recounting the
legendary foundation of the monastery of San Juan de la Peña,
the Christian settlement of the district, and the history of the
kings of Navarre up to the year 958, were based upon a unusual
document contained in the monastic archives. Copies of this
document, popularly known as The Donation of Abetito, have
survived, and the source can be analyzed.(5) Purporting to be a
grant of land to the monastery by King García II Sánchez and
his wife Toda, it is in fact a short history of the monastery to
the year 959, and may have been compiled in the period
It relies heavily upon the vita of Saints Voto and Felix,(7) to
whom the establishment of the monastery was traditionally
ascribed, upon documents and inscriptions from the monastery
itself, and upon a vanished account of the history of the
Sobrabran monastery of Pano, which the compilers mistook for that
of San Juan de la Peña itself.(8) Throughout its history, the
monks of San Juan de la Pea were eager to gain for their
monastery a reputation for great antiquity. Given the great
probability that San Juan de la Peña was not founded until 1025
and certainly did not gain real prominence until 1071, its
archives would have provided the compiler of The Donation of
Abetito little authentic material with which to construct the
sort of foundation document he might have desired. His readiness
to utilize traditional accounts and other materials of dubious
validity is therefore quite understandable. His work is
nevertheless a skillful attempt to create a coherent account out
of disparate and difficult materials.
Chapters twelve through fourteen deal with the Navarrese Kings
Sancho I Abarca, García I el Temblón, and Sancho Garce's III el
Mayor, and cover the years from 905 to 1035. There was apparently
no better source available than that of Jime'nez de Radás De
rebus hispaniae, and the compilers relied upon it almost
exclusively, embellishing its romantic accounts somewhat. Some
specific data were drawn from charters contained in the cartulary
of San Juan known as the Libro gótico, as well as individual
documents from the monastery's archives.
Chapter sixteen is devoted to the establishment of the
independent kingdom of Aragon and the reign of its first king
Ramiro I (1035-1064).(9) The account is sketchy and reflects
meager sources. The death and interment of Ramirós brother,
Gonzalo, may have been drawn from a lost chronicle of the
Sobrarban monastery of San Victorián; the mentions of Ramirós
illegitimate son, Count Sancho Ramírez, and of Ramirós pact
with the king of Navarre are based upon documents from the
monastery's archives; and the account of Ramirós death is simply
an expansion of a brief mention in the Chronicle of the
Peninsular States. There was obviously little material available
to the compilers of the Chronicle of San Juan de la Peña
concerning the period. This suggests strongly that the Aragonese
had no written account of the establishment of their kingdom or
of the reign of their first king.
Chapter seventeen covers the reign of Sancho Ramírez, 1064-
1094, and utilizes the framework of the Chronicle of the
Peninsular States. This section departs from the previously
established style by adopting a rigid chronological framework and
presenting a number of more or less precise dates. The Chronicle
of the Peninsular States adopts a similar style, though less
pronounced than that of the Chronicle of San Juan de la Peña. It
is clear that the compilers of each work had available to them
formal annals that have not survived.(10) This source first
reveals itself with the notice that the monastery had adopted the
Roman liturgy at noon on Tuesday, 22 March 1071. Other events,
mostly achievements of King Sancho Ramírez, are recorded for the
years 1080, 1081, 1083, 1084, 1088, 1089, 1090, 1091, 1092, 1093,
and 1094.(11) After the beginning of the siege of Huesca, the
dates become less frequent and are sometimes seriously in error.
This suggests that the source was in the nature of royal annals,
begun at San Juan perhaps at the behest of the king in about
1090, but deteriorating after his death in 1094. 
This decline of historiographical activity is signalled by the
fact that the compilers of the Chronicle of San Juan de la Peña
apparently turned to a cantar de gesta for information about the
death and interment of Sancho Ramírez. The manner of his death,
the use of quotes, the picture presented of the king on his
deathbed foretelling the future to his son, and the account of
how his body was hidden in a nearby monastery all suggest what
may once have been a longer and more complex tale.(12)
Chapters eighteen and nineteen discuss the reigns of Pedro I and
Alfonso I, 1094-1134, and are based primarily upon Jime'nez de
Rada and the Chronicle of the Peninsular States.  It is
instructive that the compiler of the Chronicle of San Juan de la
Peña had no better sources available. It is uncertain what
sources the Chronicle of the Peninsular States utilized besides
Jime'nez de Rada, but it is clear that they were Navarrese, not
Aragonese. The Chronicle of the Peninsular States narrates, and
the Chronicle of San Juan de la Peña repeats, how Tudela and its
territory were captured by the French count, Rotrou of Perche.
This account was untrue, and the fabrication appears to have been
designed to justify the retention of Tudela by the Navarrese as
the dowry of Rotrou's niece Margaret, wife of King Garcia
Ramirez.(13) The prominence and praise accorded to Gascons in
these sections of the Chronicle of San Juan de la Peña supports
the general impression that the account was based upon Navarrese
sources. There would appear to have been no native Aragonese
account of such glorious Aragonese accomplishments as the
conquests of Huesca, Zaragoza, and Tudela, or the victories of
Alcoraz and Cutanda.
The last chapter of the Aragonese section of the Chronicle of San
Juan de la Peña is in many ways the most interesting. Covering
the reign of Ramiro II the Monk, 1134-1136, it begins with an
account of Ramirós election that is in many ways simply an
expansion of Jime'nez de Radás romantic and unhistorical tale.
After its discussion of Ramirós accession, however, this
dependence ends, and the Chronicle moves directly into a detailed
narration of the famous Aragonese legend known as "The Bell of
Huesca." These passages are so evocative of the genre that one
author has constructed from them stanzas of poetry that are
probably the closest we shall ever get to a medieval Aragonese
cantar de gesta.(14)
Immediately after this romantic tale, the Chronicle begins to
discuss in a sober and informed manner Ramirós resolution of the
hostilities that had sprung up between the Navarrese and
Aragonese.(15)  The story combines international conferences,
frontier treaties, conspiracies, secret councils, dawn escapes,
betrayals, and royal alliances into a coherent whole that
constitutes a remarkably sophisticated piece of historiography.
It is distinctly superior in quality to any other source we have
encountered, and, judging by the overall treatment, it was
written by an eye-witness to some of the events, a person with
access to public records and able to interview some of the main
figures involved. It is impossible to determine the authorship
with any certainty, but the bulk of the evidence suggests that it
was written in the Navarrese monastery of San Salvador de Leire.
It is an excellent piece of history, and one only wishes it had
been continued.(16) This does not seem to have been the case,
however. Immediately after discussing Ramirós success in
persuading Alfonso VII of Castile to abandon his support of
Navarre in favor of establishing a protectorate over exposed
Aragonese territory, the narrative of the Chronicle of San Juan
de la Peña loses specificity and depth. The source utilized in
the preceding section was both unusual and interesting, but it
stood alone and unfortunately tells us little about Aragonese
historiography in the period.
An analysis of the Aragonese sources of the Chronicle of San Juan
de la Peña suggests that there was remarkably little in the way
of historical writing in Aragon in the eleventh and early twelfth
centuries. There may have been a chronicle kept in the Sobrarban
monastery of San Victorián, but this cannot be proven. The
demonstrated Aragonese sources are reduced to four: the Vita of
Saints Voto and Felix, The Donation of Abetito, the lost Annals
of San Juan de la Peña, and Hebrethme's Translation of St.
Indalecio. Moreover, the first three are closely interrelated,
and an analysis of their interconnections is worth the effort.
The original manuscript of the Annals has not survived, but some
preliminary jottings for such a work have been preserved in a
royal document dated 15 May 1090, found on folia 100-103 of the
cartulary of San Juan de la Peña known as the Cartulario
visigótico. Folia 97-112 of this compilation form a separate
cartulary, bound with other materials, but written in caroline
miniscule rather than visigothic script, and prepared sometime
around 1095. The document of 15 May 1090 suggests a possible
reason for its compilation. In it King Sancho Ramírez confirmed
the monastery in all of the possessions it had acquired prior to
his conquest of Muñones in 1089, and freed these properties of
all royal taxes and services. This would have provided ample
motivation for assembling documentation of such acquisitions, and

the Caroline Cartulary appears to have been intended, at least in
part, to perform this function. The first document of the
compilation, in the position normally occupied by a foundation
charter, is the Donation of Abetito to which we have referred
previously. One detail demonstrates the close connection between
the royal document of 1090 and the Donation of Abetito. The
former ends with the note that the prior of San Juan, in an
effort to defend the monastery's lands against trespassers, had
decapitated a sheep with his own hands. Accepting the
justification of this action, the king granted the monastery the
right to kill the animals of trespassers. The Donation of Abetito
concludes with a similar license, supposedly granted by García
II Sánchez in 959, but in fact copied from a concession to the
monastery of San Julián de Labasal in 893. It is difficult not
to conclude that the author of the Donation of Abetito was also
the copyist of the royal charter of 1090 as well as being the
compiler of the Caroline Cartulary.
Moreover, there are sufficient similarities in style and approach
between the Donation of Abetito and the Life of Saints Voto and
Felix as to suggest a single author here also. Both show a
familiarity with, and willingness to utilize, archival materials.
The description of Voto clearing with his sword the overgrowth
hiding the primitive monastery and finding the inscriptions
hidden there has close affinities with the account of Count
Galindo and his hunting party finding and clearing the monastery
of San Martín de Cercito. The Donation of Abetito, for its part,
utilizes numerous archival sources, such as the license to kill
stock to which we have already referred. Both accounts utilize
oral sources. The Life acknowledges this explicitly, and the
Donation has apparently incorporated historical traditions
properly pertaining to the Sobrarban monastery of San Juan de
Pano. Both are adept at setting scenes, and are particularly
impressed with the striking location of the monastery itself.
Finally, both are interested in the origins of the material
remains of the monastery. These grounds are largely
impressionistic, but, coupled with the relative contemporaneity
of the two documents, it would appear reasonable to conclude that
the Life and the Donation had a single author, a man who was also
the writer of the Annals as well as the compiler of the Caroline
Some things may be deduced concerning this individual. First, he
was a foreigner or he would not have had to solicit oral
testimony to compose his elaboration of the Life of Saints Voto
and Felix, would have used the Spanish Era in dating rather than
the Year of the Incarnation, and would not have mistaken the
Sobrarban monastery of San Juan de Pano for San Juan de la Peña.
Second, judging from the superlatives accorded to the memory of
Saint Martin of Tours in the Life, he was probably French. His
account of the saint's final homecoming would suggest that he was
not immune to homesickness.  Last, he probably left the monastery
by 1095, the date of the last documents entered in the Caroline
Cartulary and the year in which the Annals were apparently no
longer being kept. 
The cover of the Libro de San Voto states that the Life had been
composed by a certain "Macario," of whom nothing else is known.
All in all, this may well have been the author of all of the
Aragonese sources utilized by the compilers of the Chronicle of
San Juan de la Peña: Macario, a French monk who arrived at San
Juan de la Pena sometime after 1090 and probably left in 1095. In
short, the Aragonese sources were not been written by an
Aragonese at all. They were composed by a Frenchman in response
to a specific archival requirement.
This raises the question as to why a proud, dynamic, and
expanding people such as the Aragonese failed to produce any
historians. The simple fact of the matter appears to be that the
Aragonese instead produced an oral tradition which has since
disappeared. Only infrequently does the Chronicle of San Juan de
la Peña reveal its reliance upon written histories, but time and
again it discloses the remnants of a rich and vibrant oral
literature. Sometimes these stories, such as the rise of Ramiro
and the Council of Borja, are drawn from Jime'nez de Rada. Most,
however, such the Campana de Huesca and the warrior transported
from Antioch to Alcoraz must have drawn directly from the oral
tradition, since no other source of these stories survives.
The number and nature of these cantares de gesta suggest that the
Aragonese were intensely interested in history, but not in
immutable facts fixed forever on ink and parchment. We can see in
the inaccuracies of their tales some of the uses to which their
histories were put: to explain the origin of families, to
establish the antiquity of institutions, to justify custom, to
cast past events in human proportions, to make a political point,
or perhaps to point out a moral. In this sort of activity, the
songs of the minstrel are infinitely more useful than the
manuscripts of the historian since they evolve with the times. In
the eleventh and twelfth centuries the cantares de gesta
adequately embodied Aragonese ambitions and aspirations. There
appears to have been no historiographical tradition in the modern
sense of the term. ENDNOTES
1. The standard Latin text of the Chronicle is that provided by
the Cr'nica de San Juan de la Peña, ed. Antonio Ubieto Arteta
(Textos Medievales, 4: Valencia: Anubar, 1961). The modern
Aragonese version is Cr'nica de San Juan de la Pe~a (versín
aragonesa). Edicín cr'tica, ed. Carmen Orcastegui Gros
(Zaragoza: Institucín Fernando el Cat'lico, 1986); also
published in J. Zurita. Cuadernos de Historia 51-52 (1985): 419-
569. The Catalan version is found in Crónica general de Pere III
el Ceremoniós. dita comunament Crónica de Sant Joan de la
Penya, ed. Amadeu-J. Soberanas Lleó (n.p.: Alpha, 1961).
2. Cronica de los estados peninsulares (texto del siglo XIV), ed.
Antonio Ubieto Arteta (Colección filológica, 11: Granada:
Universidad de Granada, 1955).
3. Rodericus Ximenius de Rada, Opera (Textos Medievales, 22:
facsimile reproduction of the edition of 1793: Valencia: Anubar,
4. San Juan's contribution is found in chapters four through
twenty-one. Antonio Ubieto Arteta, "Notas sobre la Crónica de
San Juan de la Peña," Pirineos, 6 (1950): 463-493, discusses the
organization of the work as a whole, as well as the procedures of
its compilation.
5. The Donation of Abetito is contained in the so-called Libro
gótico of the Library of the Faculty of Law of the University of
Zaragoza, charter no. 273, and dated 959. See Angel J. Canellas
López, "El cartulario visigótico de San Juan de la Peña,"
Homenaje a Don Agustín Millares Carlo (2 vols.: Madrid: Caja
Insular de Ahorros de Gran Canaria, 1975), 1: 205-250 for the
structure and catalogue of this cartulary. Canellas, p. 216,
dates the compilation of the section of the cartulary in which
this document is found to the period 1086-1103. Another copy is
found in the Libro de San Voto, in the same library, charter no.
2, dated 959. See Antonio Ubieto Arteta, "El Libro de San Voto,"
Hispania Sacra, 3 (1950): 191-204 for a discussion of this
compilation. The Donation of Abetito has been published by Manuel
Magallon Cabrera, Colección diplomática de San Juan de la Peña
(Anexo de la Revista de Archivos, Bibliotecas, y Museos: Madrid,
1903-04), pp. 44-54 as charter no. 13, dated 959. A text and
discussion of The Donation of Abetito will appear in Antonio
Durán Gudiol, El condado de Aragón, but was not available at
the time of writing.
6. The fact that the monastery was not actually founded until
about 1025 and did not achieve much importance until 1071,
militates against accepting the Donation as genuine, although it
does utilize historical material and its authenticity cannot be
definitively rejected until Durán's views are available. It
occupies the position within the so-called Caroline Cartulary,
contained within the Libro gótico, in which a foundation charter
would be expected to appear, and, by its historical character,
performs that function. This is not unusual. See Cartulario de
San Juan de la Peña, ed. Antonio Ubieto Arteta (2 vols.: Textos
Medievales, 6 and 9: Valencia: Anubar, 1962-63), charter no. 9,
dated (ninth century?), where a similar historical account is
provided for the foundation and endowment of the monastery of San
Martín de Cercito. If The Donation of Abetito was written to
serve this purpose, its date would be that assigned by Canellas
to the compilation of the Caroline Cartulary, 1086-1103.
7. The Vita of Saints Voto and Felix may be found in the Acta
Sanctorum, 7 (29 May): 56-63. There are two versions, a
primitive account and a later, expanded and elaborated narration
attributed to an otherwise unknown Macarius. The author of the
second version mentions that he had based his expansions upon
traditions told to him, suggesting that he was not a native. His
use of superlatives ('sanctissimis ac gloriossissimis") when
referring to Saint Martin, and his allusion to Martin's eventful
return home, suggests that he was French, and not immune to a
certain degree of homesickness. If this author was Macarius, he
would have been a French monk, perhaps one of the Cluniacs
assigned to San Juan de la Pena after its reestablishment as a
Benedictine house by King Sancho Ramírez in 1071. 
8. For a discussion of San Juan de Pano and its history, see
Antonio Dur'n Gudiol, Ramiro I de Arag'n (Zaragoza: Guara
Editorial, 1978), pp. 100-104. Dur'n suggests that Blasco, abbot
of San Juan de Pano, was head of a monastic congregregation of
which San Juan de la Peña was only an almonry until 1071. In
that year, Sancho Ram'rez elevated San Juan de la Peña into the
mother house on the occasion of his introduction of the Cluniac
reform. This would explain the presence of a chronicle from San
Juan de Pano in the archives of San Juan de la Peña.
9. Chapter fifteen is merely transitional, explaining the reasons
for moving from consideration of the kings of Navarre to those of
10. Ubieto believes that these annals were written probably in
the early years of the reign of Alfonso I (1104-1134). He also
suggests that they may be related to the Adnotaciones de ecclesia
Sancti Iohannis de Pe~a, MS Aemilian. 30 of the Biblioteca de la
Academia de Historia, which would date them to about 1120. See
Antonio Ubieto Arteta, Historia de Arag'n. Literatura medieval, 1
(Zaragoza: Anubar, 1981). p. 25 and note 28.
11. The notice for 1084 is concerned with the translation of
Saint Indalecius, the acount of which was written by a monk by
the name of Hebrethme. See Hebrethme, "Acta translationis Sancti
Indaletii," Acta Sanctorum April, vol. 3: 733-739. It is unlikely
that the compilers of the Chronicle worked directly from
Hebrethme's account, since they date the event to Holy Thursday,
5 April. In 1084, Holy Thursday fell on 28 March, the correct
date of the translation. For a discussion of this passage, see
Antonio Ubieto Arteta, "Sobre la nunca reñida batalla de Morella
(1084)," Bolet'n de la Sociedad Castellonense de Cultura 49
(1973): 97-115.
12. See Federico Balaguer Sánchez, "La muerte del rey Sancho
Ramírez y la poesía e'pica," Argensola 4 (1953): 197-216, for a
discussion of the death of Sancho Ram'rez and the possible
relation of the accounts of that event to a lost cantar de gesta.

13. Crónica de los estados peninsulares, p. 126; Lynn H. Nelson,
"Rotrou of Perche and the Aragonese Reconquest," Traditio 26
(1970): 113-133.
14. See Antonio Ubieto Arteta, "La Campana de Huesca," Revista de
Filología Española 35 (1951): 29-61.
15. See Charles J. Bishko, "A Hispano-Cluniac Benefactor in the
Epoch of Navarro-Aragonese Separation: Fortu'n Garce's Cajal and
the Foundation of San Adrián de Vadoluengo (Sanguesa), 1133-
1145," Estudios en homenaje a Don Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz en
sus 90 anos, 2 (Buenos Aires: 1983), 275-312. The text may be
found in Próspero Bofarull Mascaró, Colección de documentos
ine'ditos del Archivo General de Aragón, (40 vols.: Barcelona:
1847-1910), 4: 360-364. The manuscript states that it was
faithfully copied from a carta percamenea in the year 1293, but
fails to indicate the provenance of the original or whether the
transcription was complete or partial. Neither question can be
easily solved. Since the account was utilized by the compilers of
the Chronicle of San Juan de la Peña, it is reasonable to assume
that a version was present in the library of San Juan de la Peña
in the 1350's. Since it has not survived, it likely perished
there, perhaps in the fire of 1492. Since no other version has
appeared, it is likely that the source located at San Juan de la
Peña was the sole exemplum, and the source of the copy in the
Archives of the Crown of Aragon. Authorship is a more difficult
matter to decide. C.J. Bishko (p. 305) suggests that it may have
been written by a monk of the monastery of San Salvador de Leire,
perhaps even Abbot García himself, shortly after 1137. This
conclusion is based upon the prominence of Fortu'n Garce's Cajal
and the monastery of Leire in the carta pergamenea, however, and
would be less certain if the carta were only a partial
transcription. Nevertheless, if the passages in the Chronicle of
San Juan de la Peña represent the entire account, Bishkós
suggestion is still attractive. In any event, except for the fact
that the manuscript was found in San Juan, there is no reason to
believe that a member of that congregation was its author.
16. Published in Documentos correspondientes al reinado de Sancho
Ramírez. Volumen I. Desde TLXIII hasta TLXXXXIIII anos, ed.
Jose' Salarullana y de Dios (Colección de documentos para el
estudio de la historia de Aragón, 3: Zaragoza: M. Escar, 1907),
charter no. 41, dated 15 May 1090.