How to build a frontier: the Franks and the Spanish March

2019 edition

Sergi Tella

In 801, after a long and hard siege, the Carolingians succeeded in the conquest of the city of Barcelona, in andalusine hands for almost a century. From then onwards, this city became the main Carolingian strongpoint in the south of the Pyrenees, thus becoming the epicenter of the administrative district known as the Spanish March.

Which was the interest of the Carolingian Kings in an area placed so far from their palaces and states? Why bother in a difficult conquest campaign, and making the effort on holding a Frankish political and social structure in these territories? This talk has the aim of provide a general overview on these questions and their answers, focusing on the problems and particularities of this specific research subject.

The idea that lies on our approach is that, studying the history from its borders (both in a geographical and a social use of the word) can give us clues to comprehend the width and the limits of historical processes: what were the Carolingians worried about? Had they stablished strategies when conquering a territory? How the local and the central collided or worked together in these border spaces? And how their elites behaved in the dawn of the CarolingiansÔÇÖ empire disintegration?

Against the conception wielded by the traditional historiography, which tended to see the Frankish kingdom under the Carolingians as a politically well-defined structure, our study is based in the recent interest in studying how that was, indeed, a much more loosely organized structure, thus becoming dynamic and able to adapt to different contexts. A framework which allows us understanding its particular territorial features as something foreseen by the Carolingians themselves when conquering new territories.

The talk will be driven through some particularly well-known examples to illustrate which are the sources of our work, how we use them, which are the problematics and limits of our study, and how they can help to the better understanding of a period which has long been misunderstood by the influence of concepts as Dark Ages or Reconquest. Concepts that can be hardly applied at the light of these examples.