Christian-Islamic coexistence in Iberia conditioned the socio-political identities of medieval Iberian elites, a process where demarcation of the ‘Self’ from ‘Others’ played a paramount role. However, such delimitations are not necessarily linear. I examine concepts of ‘Otherness’ in medieval Portuguese aristocratic historiographical discourses, using genealogical texts as sources. We can discern here two argumentative vectors: 1) hostility towards royal power, where the ‘Other’ is the king and powerful Muslims may be part of the ‘Self’; 2) hostility towards Islam, where the ‘Other’ is the Muslim and royal power is part of the ‘Self’. I discuss how these discourses intersect, analysing them from the perspective of the aristocratic discourses of political legitimisation during the 13th-14th centuries.
The Jews as a minority group, and taking into account the documents issued by the royal chancery, are often portrayed in a position of subservience, and therefore with difficulties to preserve their identity. This perspective is plausible and persistent, since little internal documentation emanating from the community survived in Portugal. However, testimonies from inquisitorial trials and the research made in provincial archives, or in provincial funds kept in the National Archive, allow us to listen to the echoes of a reactive culture, of a people belonging to a religious minority who tried to preserve their daily lives within the strict borders of their socio-cultural universe.
Informed by the studies of Nirenberg and Chazan on coexistence between Jews and Christians in the medieval Hispanic Kingdoms, this paper suggests, by comparing Hispanic sermons, religious polemics, legislation and legal documentation from 13th to 15th centuries, that one of the causes of the definition of the Jews as ‘others’ (and the ensuing segregation and persecution) was the blurring of group identities (clothes, sexual relations, work…) at the popular level until the end of the 14th century and more so following the forced conversions of 1391 and until the expulsion of the Jews from the Hispanic Kingdoms.
Following the persecutions of Jewish Communities in Castile (1391) and the Tortosa Dispute in Aragon (1412-1414), numerous Jewish families embraced Christianity. Yet, their conversion confronted them with their own alterity from two sides: they became aliens to other Jews, and as they did not take on Christian values wholeheartedly, they were not recognized by Christians either. The only people with whom they could share their deepest feelings and thoughts were their friends (vezinas, amigas). Based on unpublished testimonies of Jewish women, who converted to Christianity in the Kingdom of Aragon (1484-1492), we propose to recover their voices and show that friendship proved to be a salvation for many of these women.