History: Epochs or Trends–Medieval Spain

EDITORIAL, 20 Feb 2017

#469 | Johan Galtung – TRANSCEND Media Service

Visions of the Past for Constructing a Future: Historiography of Spain

          The distinction made by Fernand Braudel between events, trends and permanents, was a gift to historiography, how we conceive of history.  This essay favors trends over epochs, seeing epochs as some kind of static racism or prejudice in time–“those people, at that epoch, were like that”, blinding us both to the diversity and to the dynamism.

History unfolds over or in time, the basic variable, the X axis.  The events are points. The trends are curves of any shape, not necessarily continuous, could also be “jumpy”. And the permanents are horizontal lines set at a certain value.  Points, curves, lines; with texts indicative of highly complex proactio-actio-reactio relations.

History is the totality. However, trends accommodate the others. Trends are initiated or terminated by events.  Trends may together generate events. Permanence is also a trend; lines are also curves.

Trends were identified for an epoch in time, Middle Ages, and a region in space, Spain.  For data about “medieval Spain” Colin McEvedy, The Penguin Atlas of Medieval History (London: Penguin, 1961) was used.  28 maps of the European+ situation, with the Iberian Peninsula, from close to +400 to close to +1500, 1,100 years, gives an average of one map for every 40 years, enough to draw curves with some confidence. We would have liked to cover the 1,600 years up to our days, but did not find a source of the same quality for the following 500 years.

Historical curves are A-shaped.  Something new is born in a context of many trends-curves, so we had better know them.

Birth-growth-maturity-decline-fall.  Like for the Roman Empires from -750 to +395, and then onward to +476 (West) and +1453 (East).  Two dialectic laws: New actors are born. And die, nothing is forever.

We started with the +395 division of the empire in a Catholic and Orthodox part and ended with the 1492 ethnic cleansing; only decline and fall of the Roman Empire, and only the rise of Castilla-Aragon.

In short, we found five trends for power-holders in that period:

  • A less than a century decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire;
  • Two centuries+ rise, culmination and fall of the Christian Visigoths;
  • Eleven centuries of Jews toward decline and fall in the end;
  • Eight centuries Umayyad-Abassid Moros from the 711 Córdoba Caliphate;
  • Eight centuries of rise and victory for the Christian counterforce.

Dramatic, not static, “dark middle ages”. Masses of people moving, conquering, being conquered. With Vandals, Basques, Gallegos, Leon in the slow rise of Castilla and Aragon, their Isabella-Ferdinand union in 1469 (two curves producing an event!), ruling Spain from 1492.

And then, what happened? Felipes? Decadencia? Badly wanted trends:

  • The power of Madrid, the capital, over Spain;
  • The power of 8,000 local communities, ayuntamientos, in Spain;
  • The power of aristocracy in counties, duchies, principalities;
  • The power of Castilla, and Catalans, Basques, Gallegos, Baleares &c.;
  • The power of land-owners, military, clergy; Franco’s “normal” Spain;
  • The power of industry, military, modernity; the 2nd republic;
  • The rise of that clash in the 1936-38 civil war as mutual genocide;
  • The rise of dictatorship as dictadura, decline as dictablanda;
  • The rise and fall of ETA and GAL; conciliation?;
  • The rise of electoral democracy, parliamentocracy, party-ocracy, and?;
  • The rise of power over Madrid: USA, NATO, European Union, and?;
  • The rise of regionalism over state’ism–United Regions over UN?;
  • The rise of civilizations over national cultures;
  • The power of West, and Islam, India, Buddhism, China, Russia, and?;
  • The rise of multi-polarity, and?;
  • The rise of inequality in Spain, Europe, the world, and?;
  • The rise of erratic climate, and?
  • The rise of artificial intelligence and robots; over humans?

Many holons to be explored for the dialectic inside them.

So far, we have seen power as one-dimensional.  Better using four dimensions: military and political, and economic and cultural (not “hard” vs “soft”, many more people die from economic than military power, from starvation and curable diseases than from killing).

With high correlation we get a very powerful group-class on top, high on all four, and at the bottom a powerless group low on all four. A static feudal society of people domestically, and of states globally.

With low correlation we get all kinds of mixes, in-betweens. A very dynamic system striving to rise on the lagging dimension{s} to become high-high-high-high; in the competition easily becoming violent.

High correlation: structural violence; low: direct violence.

Solution: membership in a community, striving together to promote the community; NGOs for people, regions for states, United Regions.

Dangerous, genocidal, is one group-party-class high on military-political power but low on economic-cultural, and another the opposite.  Armenians in Turkey around 1915, Jews in Germany around 1938, Chinese in Malaysia (and all over SE Asia) around 1966.  Horrendous genocide in the first two cases, a brilliant lifting of the Malay majority economically and culturally in the second (Tun Mahathir).

However, there is no denial that some points in history, some events, are more important than others.  In another context the focus was on “karma years”, the years when something happened that threw a deep shadow over following years, decades, centuries. The +395 division is found more than 1,600 years later inside Ukraine (“at the border”); the 1893 Durand Line is a key factor in Central Asia, and so on.

Spain has many karma years: 395, 476, 711, 1492, 1898, 1936, 1975; all throwing shadows.  Some with traumas to be conciled.  Many with faultlines generating conflicts to be solved.  Much has been done. Spain is better off than many others; Spaniards find protection in extended families and local communities. Others can learn from Spain.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. Prof. Galtung has published 1670 articles and book chapters, over 450 Editorials for TRANSCEND Media Service, and 167 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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One Response to “History: Epochs or Trends–Medieval Spain”

  1. Gary Corseri says:

    A very interesting framework for contemplating the megatrends, “events,”
    permanents of history.

    Personally, the concluding paragraph most piqued my curiosity. I hope there will be follow-up articles by Professor Galtung or others, illuminating how Spain has successfully navigated the “karma years” and the “shadows” of history. How might Spain serve as a model for nations long struggling to emerge from the chrysalis of modernism?