Benjamin R. Gampel
Anti-Jewish Riots in the Crown of Aragon and the Royal Response, 1391-1392
Cambridge University Press 2016
New Books in European StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Jewish StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books Network February 6, 2018 Moses Lapin
Benjamin R. Gampel‘s award winning volume Anti-Jewish Riots in the Crown of Aragon and the Royal Response, 1391-1392 (Cambridge University Press, 2016) is the first total history of a lesser known period in Jewish history, overshadowed by the Spanish expulsion of 1492 which it would come to foreshadow. Over the course of ten months, Jews across large parts of the Iberian peninsula were murdered or forced to convert to Christianity, and entire communities were decimated—the intensity and duration of this period mark it as the most devastating attack on the Jews of pre-modern Christian Europe. While many historians have written studies about 1391-92 from isolated perspectives, in the face of an overwhelming number of local archives found throughout the peninsula, and the complexity of those sources, a unified narrative has, until now, remained a desideratum. In this methodological tour-de-force, Professor Gampel tells the story of Spanish Jewry and their relationship to royal power by reading state records and the almost daily correspondence of the royal family against the grain, telling the story of the subjects of these sources imbedded in the thick context of their composers.
The book is divided into two sections that mirror its title. The first is a detailed study of the violence of 1391-92 arranged according to the geographic regions of the peninsula—the Kingdoms of Castile, Valencia, and Aragon, Catalonia and the island of Majorca. Using a rich array of archival sources and in dialogue with contemporary historiography, Professor Gampel painstakingly sets out the limits of what we can know about the riots, both of the victims and the perpetrators, detailing each episode chronologically, in order to form a picture of the period as a whole. Central to the book is the question of how and why those tasked with protecting the Jewish communities failed to do so. To this end the second section is centered around three members of the Aragonese royal family—King Joan, Queen Iolant, and Duke Marti—and their response to the violence as it unfolded. Here we see the Jewish community as one of many competing interests the royal family faced, and thereby can better appreciate the contingencies of history. The two sections together provide both a deep macro and micro study of this crucial time in Jewish and Spanish history, exposing us not only to the story and context of the too often voiceless victims, but the lives of those in power as well. Its a narrative of tragic violence and the failure of the Royal Alliance, grounded in extensive historical research stripped of none of its drama.
Professor Benjamin R. Gampel is the the Dina and Eli Field Family Chair in Jewish History at The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. You can hear more from him in his video lecture series on the history, society, and culture of medieval Sephardic Jewry.
Moses Lapin is a graduate student in the departments of History and Philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; his friends call him young Farabi.