Local Communities and the Uses of Justice in the Kingdom of León
Fernando Luis Corral (Salamanca) and María Pérez Rodríguez (Salamanca)
Peasant communities were fully settled and developed in the Kingdom of Leon by the tenth century. Some members of these communities had managed to achieve a certain social and economic status due to relatively large personal wealth, which together with the activity of other powerful groups with whom these local communities were in contact, helped generate social inequality within these groups. These powerful elites were mainly ecclesiastical institutions and/or lay aristocrats interested in taking control over the economic resources managed by these communities.
Relationships between those peasant communities and different power groups sometimes led to conflicts, resolved, in many cases, through litigation usually favouring the above mentioned power groups. This fact could deeply alter the balance between the local communities and the exploitation of natural resources within their environment.
Thanks to the Leonese charters we are aware that the elites knew the Liber Iudiciorum as a legal source which could be used to solve not only disputes between people belonging to the peasant communities, but also conflicts between the community and elite members. Nonetheless, such documents show that the penalties established by the Liber were quite usually commuted to hand over a good part of the offender’s properties. These goods would eventually end up in the hands of the elites who would then achieve even more economic power in those territories.
We will focus on the analysis of some judicial cases in different areas of the Kingdom of León during the early Middle Ages, and more specifically we will explore these litigations as a way to better understand the use of justice as a tool in the hands of these groups of power – a tool with which they could more easily gain access to the lands and assets controlled by the members of the local communities.