The Kingdom of Granada has generally been neglected by students of Spanish Islam in favor of the more glorious days of the Caliphate, the high adventure of the Berber invasions, or the intellectual splendour of the Party Kingdoms. Ladero’s book, therefore, is a welcome synthesis of a subject only briefly treated in other works. The book covers the period from the establishment of the Nasrid emirate in 1232 until the expulsion of most of the Muslim population of Granada after the second Alpujarras revolt (1571).
Ladero is at his best when discussing Granadan political and economic history within the context of international relations. From this point of view Granadan history can be developed only in counterpoint to that of Castile. For Granada survived as a state only so long as she was able to maintain a politics of equilibrium by playing off Castilian against Marinids and waiting out periods of Castilian agressiveness by paying the traditional tribute or by skirmishing on the frontier.
In spite of rivalry with Castile, the Granadan frontier still remained the locus of a surprising degree of cultural fluidity. Political instability and insecurity seemed paradoxically to have created conditions favoring the maintenance of stabilized cultural pluralism, some of whose attributes recapitulate those of more tolerant days, before Castilians had been overwhelmed with crusading franzy. Ladero’s discussion of “frontier fauna” is most revealing. As late as 1477 one still found groups of Christians converting to Islam. There was considerable evidence of bilingualism and biculturalism, notably among enaciados, men who changed sides and religions with ease. Frontier conditions also gave rise to idiosyncratic institutions such as the specialized frontier police, alcaldes entre cristianos y moros, who dealt with violations of treaty arrangements by men on both sides.
As for economic life, Ladero demonstrates the preeminent trading position of the Genoese, who established a virtual economic colony in the Islamic state. The Genoese bore the principal export trade (silk, the technology of which industry is interestingly described) and controlled the importation of cereals, filling the needs of Granada’s chronic wheat deficit. Moreover, through Granada’s North African connections Genoa was able to establish a lucrative trading link with the Saharan entrepot of Tlemcen.
The author is not an arabist, and hence his description of Islamic society in Granada is superficial. Some statements regarding institutions are wrong. It is not true, for example, that there was no hisba jurisdiction in Granada; ibn al-Khatīb mentions a Malagan muhtasib (market inspector) in 1310. The transliteration of Arabic words is often capricious or inexact, mixing archaic and current standard forms. There are frequent, but not consistent, substitutions of e for a. Some forms are garbled, e.g., emir al-moslemir for amīr al-muslimīn, chief of the Muslims. Fnally, the many dozens of place-names which figure in the saga of the frontier make the lack of an index and maps keenly felt.