Book review: “Belisarius: The Last Roman General”, by Ian Hughes

One of my older reviews I thought useful to post here… 🙂


Belisarius-Ian-Hughes-20091-667x1023.jpgTo start, I must say I was a bit hopeful this book might be good by the reviews online despite being a work of popular History, but I was a bit defrauded while reading it.

The introduction and the first chapters (on the Roman world) are a bit awful, with many real basic mistakes being done there. The contrasting descriptions of the governments of Ravenna and Constantinople and the people from the western and eastern provinces regarding the way how they viewed themselves are completely false as well as the claims that the Romance languages were already around (that’s clearly ridiculous and Ian Hughes should learn something about Romance philology), the Equites Sagitarii (called by their Greek equivalent in this book) were the results of Hunnic influence (when they had been around for much longer than that), the equestrians can hardly be called “middle classes” and the late antique Roman world wasn’t stagnated. Basically, a person will learn very few actual facts if it won’t get confused by them.

The actual description of Belisarius’ campaigns are much better, but aren’t anything special at all (namely the descriptions of his private life) and the maps lack the movements by the Romans and its enemies through the theatres of operations (which would be certainly a nice addition to it), besides claiming the Suebi were subjects of the Franks (this seems a basic research error). He also sometimes uses Norwich as a source (when he isn’t a trustworthy one and even that popular historian wrote his claims didn’t have academic pretensions) and his bibliography and notes are non-existent (an horrible flaw especially if someone wants to check his sources), notwithstanding the fact he cites Procopius and Agathias often.

To end this review, this is the kind of popular History I don’t like: a book with lots of oversimplifications and mistakes which mislead the public unaware of the actual historical events. I also wonder how Goldsworthy passed many of these mistakes by what I already read from him. Perhaps he advised the author in the right direction, but was simply ignored, but even I’m a bit disappointed with his support of Ian Hughes’ work.


Matilda II of Dammartin (1202-1259), Countess of Boulogne and Queen of Portugal.

Text by Pedro Alves

Also known as Mathilde, Maud or Mahaut, she was Countess of Boulogne, Mortain, Aumale and Dammartin in her own right since 1216 and Queen of Portugal by marriage to King Afonso III from 1248 until their divorce in 1253. She was the daughter of Ida, Countess of Boulogne and her husband and co-ruler Renaud, Count of Dammartin and was great-granddaughter of Stephen of England.

Married in 1238 to Infante Afonso, second in line to the Portuguese throne, younger brother of King Sancho II. He became King Afonso III of Portugal on 4 January 1248. At that time he renounced Boulogne.

In 1258, Matilda charged Afonso with bigamy, following his marriage to Beatriz of Castile. Pope Alexander in response, imposed interdict upon any place the couple stayed. At the time of Matilda’s death, Afonso and Beatriz were still together, despite the Pope’s protests.
She had no surviving issue with Afonso III and Matilda’s then apparent barrenness was the true reason for their divorce. According to reports, Queen Matilda remained in Boulogne and was not allowed to follow her husband to Portugal.


History of wine in medieval Portugal – producing, consumption and exports

Text by Pedro Alves



By the 10th century BC, the Phoenicians had arrived and introduced new grape varieties and winemaking techniques to the area. Up until this point, viticulture was mostly centered on the southern coastal areas of Portugal. In later centuries, the Ancient Greeks, Celts and Romans would do much to spread viticulture and winemaking further north.

Of particular importance for the development of viniculture during the medieval period were the Benedictine and the Cistercian monasteries. In Portugal it was late in the 12th century that after establishing 120 monastical communities, the Cistercians essentially became the keepers of agricultural knowledge but also provided training on how to grow wine to the faithful congregations. Through them the first quality varieties were selected and intentionally propagated. The Alcobaça Monastery is one such example.

Initially, however, Portugal did not participate in this huge international wine production due to trading constraints in the early Middle Ages and Islamic rule. Since viniculture did indeed survive and alcoholic beverages were drunk even by the Islamic elites (!), it would appear that the Islamic rulers tended to tolerate the existence of vineyards, but often in the case of Umayyad or Almohad rulers there were a few ritual persecution of people drinking wine and the destruction of vineyards, mainly around CĂłrdoba. Also al-Andalus engaged mainly in trade with the eastern Mediterranean from the 10th to the 12th/13th centuries, when Genoese merchants became the main traders of Islamic Hispania. For this reason the Portuguese wine sector only made its appearance on the international scene later as it made contacts and cemented its new trade with Atlantic Europe, without ever having lost its relative standing in the domestic agricultural sector.

By the late 12th century viniculture and cellar technology experienced a noticeable revival, of which Alcobaça is one example. This was achieved through research and vocational training of the faithful congregation and from a cultural perspective, Portugal was no different from other European countries.

The Hundred Years’ War (1337‑1453) wreaked havoc on French viniculture, and the French lost a substantial part of the English wine market. With the end of the war, and the consequent reversion of Aquitaine to the French crown and the Turkish occupation of the Mediterranean islands England was cut off from its former procurement markets. This facilitated the entry of Iberian, but particularly Portuguese wine into English, Flemish, German and international trade. From 1360 onwards, England encouraged the importation of Portuguese wine, not so much the light table wines, which in spite of the situation continued to come from France (Bordeaux until 1460) and Germany, but rather the dessert wines, particularly those made from the well known Malvasia and Muscatel grape. These varieties doubtlessly belong to the Vitis occidentalis gene pool. They were previously known as “Greek wines” and were traded by Venetian merchants before the Portuguese took over. In England, they were thought of as Malvasia (Malmsey), and it is possible that Malvasia‑type wines began to come from Portuguese vineyards as well.

With this new alliance, Portugal intensified wine exports to England, and much later to colonial America, although only in the 17th century, already in the early modern period, due to the Anglo-French conflicts, did Portuguese wine start to gain a greater hold in the British markets. In the third quarter of the 14th century Portuguese wine was traded with the Hanseatic League, which took it to Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and the Baltic States. Wine was transported in vats, casks, barriques, barrels, and amphorae.

Crane in the Hanseatic city of Bruges, c. 1510. Flanders was a major Portuguese trade partner in the late Middle Ages.


The first Portuguese export successes were the wine from the Monção area (vinho verde/green wine), and the “Osoye” and “Bastardo” dessert wines. At that time, one did not speak of “Muscatel from Setúbal”, although this has to be what was referred to as Osoye. Johnson (1990: 166) writes, “… It began with the sale of wine from the North; in 1430 primarily because Lisbon was an important port of embarkation, “Osoye” gained more widespread recognition, as did Bastardo later”. Johnson (ibid.) continues, “There is no doubt about the Osoye of the 14th century; it was the dessert wine from Azóia, a small harbour situated on the South bank of the Tejo river, quite close to Setúbal.” Marques (1992: 83) gives the following names by which Osoye was also known: Ansoye, Azoy, Asoy or Azoie. Kuske (in Marques 1992: 83) writes, “Ansoye is a wine that is made from dried grapes, or even those of bastardo, so called because of its uncertain colouring”. (Dion, 1959: 321‑322) refers to it as “a small harbour situated on the south bank ofthe Tagus, near Setúbal” (Johnson 1990: 166). Franco (1938: 6) writes, “The wines from this area were famous because of their excellent quality which made them particularly rich and noble wines”. Statements such as these lead one to assume that these wines are the same as those that the Phoenicians first brought to Alexandria (Egypt) and Kelibia (Tunisia), and probably to Setúbal too, which would give them the characteristics of the so‑called Greek wines.

Vineyards close to the castle of Beja, in southern Portugal.

Although these vineyards were destroyed in the 12th century by the invading armies of the Almohad caliph Yaqub al‑Mansur, viticulture recovered and soon thereafter produced exceptional wine which was in great demand. Documents even exist on the piracy of Portuguese wine during this period. Marques (1992: 84) writes, “Portuguese wine destined for Germany was definitely seized by English pirates from Sandwich”. The punitive expedition of 1471, which King Afonso V had entrusted to the future Marquis of Montemor, was cancelled because of the death of the English King Henry VI, suspected to have been caused by the corsair Focumbridge, who was in his service (Fonseca, 2010: 29).

The stability of the genetic base of Portuguese grapevine varieties was one interesting phenomenon.They retained their “endemic” individual characteristics, which were fortified by new varieties introduced by migrating peoples, and by trade relations with colonising nations such as the Phoenicians, Romans and Greeks.

After Lisbon, the Algarve was one of the most important wine export centres in the 15th century. The wines of the Alentejo were shipped via the River Guadiana from the old Roman river port at MĂ©rtola to the Algarve from where they were then marketed.

Documents exist on the first wine export in 1456 from Madeira to England. Johnson (1999: 245) quotes António Cordeiro (1717: 79) in this regard. In his True History (1557), the German mercenary soldier in the service of the Portuguese, Hans Standen, refers to its two main products: wine and sugar cane. By improving the competitive position of Madeira wines, made possible by using “Greek” grapevine varieties, “Malmsey” (Malvasia/Malvasier) became a favourite of the English.King Afonso V was far‑sighted enough to send for plants from Candia (Crete), including the Malvasia grapevine (Cordeiro 1717: 79). Strategically, Madeira gained in importance, because it was able to compensate for supply shortfalls of “Greek wine” from elsewhere.This was to Portugal’s advantage when Crete was occupied by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century. Crete experienced a similar exodus with Muslim occupation as had Iberia, but this time it benefited the Iberian wine regions. That Iberia rose to become a wine superpower by supplying products comparable to “Greek wine” was thanks to the Venetian merchants, who had already secured its excellent international reputation. The Fall of Constantinople in 1453, which represented a victory for the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II as did his subsequent conquest of the Balkans, caused the collapse of the local wine industry, including the marketing and distribution of its wine by a Venetian Doge. This opened up a new and important market segment for Iberian wine growers who, in contrast to the French and Germans, were capable of producing naturally sweet dessert wines. The Muscatel dessert wines from Osoye, the Porto, Madeira, and Pico wines, Sherry, and Malaga and Tarrragona dessert wines targeted this all‑important new market for “Greek wines” in Northern Europe, from which the Venetians had been expelled. The centuries of Ottoman rule prevented the resurgence of original “Greek wine” in the market. It also lost its prominence because the market had developed a taste for lighter wines as processing and preservation techniques improved.



Even Shakespeare gave voice to the reputation of Madeira wines, although we must be careful given he wrote already in the 16th century: in the play Richard III, when Richard sentences to death the Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV, by having him drowned in a butt of Malmsey. He also mentions Portuguese wine again in Henry IV when Falstaff is censured for having sold his soul to the Devil for a cup of Madeira wine.

There have been vineyards in Minho for almost two thousand years. Because of its distance from the centre of Arab power, when Afonso Henriques founded the state of Portugal he could see extensive vineyard views in his home country. The wine was characterized by its mild alcoholic content and freshness, and was normally drunk during the year following production because it was not suitable for storage. Cultivated by growing the vine on trees as did the Romans (the arbustrum method. See Figs. 69a and 69b) – as is still the case today in some areas, incidentally – is what naturally gives this wine its low alcohol content at full maturity, and is the determining characteristic of this type of wine which is seldom found today. Because of its special geographical location Viana was a major exporting seaport. History tells us that the harbour was used by the first English traders to establish foreign branches. “The English installed themselves in Portugal with a huge number of special rights, and it was therefore only natural during their war with France that they obtained their wine from Portugal.”

Was Leo III iconoclast?

A nomisma representing Leo III (on the obverse) and Constantine V (on the reverse), coined probably between 737 and 741. This coin shows well the Isaurian dynastic concept of imperial succession.

First of all I’d like to express my thanks to Professor Nicola Bergamo for helping me regarding the resignation of patriarch Germanus I of Constantinople (r. 715-730).


Old wisdom claims Iconoclasm (actually it should be called iconomachy; this will be treated in a future post) was started being promoted by the Roman Emperor Leo III (r. 717-741) as an answer to Islam and the huge disasters of the 7th century, after the eruption of Thera in 726, in a series of edicts until 729. It is also claimed he faced revolts from the iconophile provinces and entered a dispute with the Pope over these matters, which made him take away the bishoprics of southern Italy and Illyricum as well as church incomes from papal lands in Sicily. [1]

This might all seem very impressive, but this theory has several problems, as Leslie Brubaker and John Haldon outlined. [2] First of all the narrative sources available for Leo’s reign, most are from the 9th or 10th centuries and have axes to grind against the Isaurians for their promotion of Iconoclasm. [3] This means Theophanes’ Chronographia, for instance, is far from neutral and reliable on this period, as several other instances of the Isaurians’ reign, where contradicting evidence exists, prove. [4] The only 8th century reference to his iconoclasm is allegedly in the Liber Pontificalis, which records Papal conflict with Leo, however the passages referring the emperor’s religious belief suffered from later interpolations, making the text as reliable as our chronistic Roman sources.

To add to this scenario, we have the letters of patriarch Germanos (r. 715-730), that, despite the problems of such epistolary kind of evidence [5], are especially important for the case given his contemporaneity and his political role, especially if we have into account the story he was deposed for resisting iconoclasm.  In one letter written in the 730’s to Thomas of Klaudiopolis (a real Iconoclast), he wrote Leo III and his son Constantine V had ordered an icon of the apostles, prophets and the cross to be made in front of the imperial palace. [6] Since the Isaurians weren’t exactly popular after the end of the second controversy around iconomachy, the likelihood of this text being an invention is extremely low. As such, it introduces quite a different and startling conclusion: the founder of the Isaurian dynasty was an iconodule who suffered from character murder! [7]

Someone might object Germanos was deposed due to the iconoclasm of the Emperor, but this story was the result of later constructions with either defaming or moralistic ends, just like many others, including the story of the women on the Chalke Gate killed by the imperial guards and the reasons for the revolts during his reign as well as his disputes with the Pope. Regarding the patriarch of Constantinople, he was forced to resign not because he opposed to iconoclasm, but instead because he sought a hard line against bishops such as Thomas, while Leo wanted an ecumenical council to solve the issue and avoid aggravating the controversy as it was in the late 720’s. This made the emperor issuing a law forcing both sides to commit themselves to a Council and respect its outcome. It was Germanos’ opposition to it that provoked his resignation as Patriarch and exile. Later his story would be used and rewritten by the iconodules to serve as a model case of opposition to imperial heresy.

The rebellion of the Karabisianoi and the theme of Hellas in 727, like any rebellion at the time, should also be seen not as a riot of iconodule vs. iconoclast conflict (in my view pure imagination by modern historians), but instead as another riot for political and economic power (characteristic of the Roman Empire in this age) intended purely to overthrow the Roman Emperor and replace it with a general named Kosmas. Finally, the Popes never entered in conflict with Leo III over religious policy and actually kept a quite polite and friendly policy notwithstanding any divergence with the imperial court. The matters of conflict at hand were just over Papal incomes and grain (confiscated in 732 by an imperial army due to financial reasons as well as religious jurisdiction in southern Italy and Illyricum and that’s visible in the Liber Pontificalis, although it’s possible they might have viewed the conciliatory imperial policy of Leo with concern by 731. [8]

Concluding, Leo III, as far as we really know, wasn’t iconoclast at all. He was a man of his age who, according to patriarch Germanos, was an iconodule and assisted to the rise of Iconoclasm as a conservative movement designed to counter the innovations around icons (as in a future post we’ll see, icons didn’t have the religious power they had later on in the Christian church up to the late 7th century). Since Constantine V was the emperor who started imperial support of iconoclasm and the Isaurians had a very good military record (which led to the second iconoclast period in the 9th century), the founder of the dynasty was vilified by chroniclers such as Theophanes the Confessor, Patriarch Nikephoros I or Stephen the Deacon. Usually Leo III is remembered for iconoclasm, however I propose something different: let’s remember him as a cunning man who managed to rise to the throne under very hard circumstances, defend Constantinople during the siege of 717-718 (stopping therefore Umayyad expansion against Rome and preventing any possible annexation by the Muslim Caliphate), start the process of stabilization of the Roman borders seen in the 8th and early 9th centuries, make administrative reforms and issue a new law code that simplified and actualized Justinian’s Corpus Iuris Civilis, called the Ekloge. In sum, a great emperor who made the Isaurian Renaissance possible.

[1] A good example of the way how Leo III is traditionally depicted is in Treadgold’s A History of the Byzantine State and Society, pp. 346-356.
[2] Brubaker and Haldon 2011, pp. 69-155.
[3] Brubaker 2012, p. 28-30; Whittow 1997, p. 143.
[4] A nice example of this is the supposed anti-monasticism of Constantine V. Actually we know he was a patron of several monastic communities and the monks he persecuted were actually political enemies probably involved in the coup against him in 765/6. See for further informations Whittow 1996, pp. 147-148 and Brubaker 2012, pp. 47-49.
[5] Whittow 1996, pp. 4-7.
[6] Brubaker 2012, p. 24.
[7] Regarding the damnatio memoriae inflicted on the Isaurians, check Bergamo, La Familia Dannata: Leone III e Costantino V, Vita di Due Empi Tiranni, Imperatori di Bizancio, in Porphyra no. 15, fascicle no. 2.
[8] Brubaker and Haldon 2011, pp. 85-86.



Brubaker, Leslie; Haldon, John. Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era, c. 680-850: A History. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Brubaker, Leslie. Inventing Byzantine Iconoclasm. Bristol Classical Press, London, 2012.

Bergamo, Nicola, La Familia Dannata: Leone III e Costantino V, Vita di Due Empi Tiranni, Imperatori di Bizancio, in Porphyra no. 15, fascicle no. 2.

Whittow, Mark, The Making of Orthodox Byzantium, 600-1025. California University Press, Los Angeles, 1996.


Book review: ‘The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages’

Chris Wickham’s A1eOBexiX+L._SL1500_ is a very good and witty survey of Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages that shatters many kinds of misconceptions on the period, even if I think it’s at some points overrated. Let me also add that this “enlightening” of the period is exactly what in many ways was promised (and even required) from this work, yet I think there’s a partially missing field, as we’ll see.

In part I, Wickham exposes many features of Roman society and economy while also evaluating the impacts of the Christianization of the Empire and of its collapse in the western provinces in the 5th century. His exposition was very interesting, namely from the point of view of social and economic history, yet I think his revisionism of the late antique Roman Empire regarding its overall power goes a bit too far and there are a few “weaker” details, but perhaps the biggest issue is that it lacks an accompanying political/military perspective that might have been useful in analyzing the causes of the decline of the Roman Empire (these weren’t covered enough in my opinion when these were mostly needed, or were a bit disregarded, namely in the case of the hugepost-Diocletianic bureaucracy).

In part II, the early medieval West from 550 to 750 is investigated and unraveled wonderfully before the reader, from the “shadowy” regions of Britain and Ireland to the Lombard and Visigothic kingdoms. I also loved his emphasis on the study of the peasantry “in opposition” to the aristocracy of all those medieval societies (namely the Frankish), when the book could have easily have become just a history of the elites and the church. I also loved his ponderation of the “continuity vs. transformation” problem. Yet I must say that the comparison between the late Visigothic kingdom and the late Merovingians, although it’s true we can’t see events teleologically (the greatest fault of much books and even some good scholarship around), ends up being unfair since the Visigoths were in a period of unusual relative political stability in the second half of the 7th century. Moreover, the Visigothic kingdom was also starting to disagregate by the late 7th century (the duchies are one of the greatest signs of this), with royal authority not being respected in practice in several regions, namely on the northern mountains.

Part III was probably the hardest to write for the author, since it dealt with areas almost completely out of his area of expertise (early and high medieval Italy), but he suceeds anyway in making a good introduction. He manages to make a nice, even if a bit stereotypical account of the medieval Roman Empire that suits just fine for a general survey and doesn’t fall into the worst prejudices regarding this polity (he only shows some typical, old and baseless prejudices by “Byzantinists”, but again, nothing that bad for an introduction). The Islamic world is treated a bit worse as Wickham just relies too much on later 9th century accounts which form the traditional narrative of the period, which has been challenged in the last decades by Arabists, so its value is a bit reduced, although it’s decent as an introduction.

Part IV is one of the best and worst of the book, depending on the chapter. Carolingian Francia, England and post-Carolingian Latin Christendom are very well explored in the period between the years 750 and 1000 on both political, cultural, religious and socioeconomic histories, yet the chapters on “Outer Europe” should have been better explored. I’ll return to this issue at the final paragraph, since my wider critique is general to the work.

Generally, this work has already a great scope and, considering it was written by a single man with a limited expertise (regional rather than continental, which would be practically impossible due to the impossibility of someone having a very deep knowledge of such vas a subject as late antique and early medieval Europe), it’s a work of tremendous overall erudition and a monument of knowledge, that gives to the reader a very different picture from that promoted by popular culture. It also has the advantage of being written both as a potential university textbook and as a book of scientific divulgation,yet there are some flaws which I specified along the review that take one star, but I’ll now develop my biggest objection to Wickham’s effort. I hope that a Penguin History of Europe written by a great scholar (the author is clearly one) should try to leave the typical bias of writing mainly about western Europe (often accompanied by teleological history). While Chris Wickham powerfully manages to shatter the idea that western Europe, namely its northern and central regions, was destined to thrive and even rule the world during the much of the modern period, and manages to include the Mediterranean and the eastern polities in his narrative, still doesn’t leave enough the old paradigm of looking mostly to western Europe, since eastern and northern Europe aren’t adequately focused. There’s just a single chapter on “Outer Europe” that tries to somehow compensate for it, but that isn’t enough. Cultures like those of the Slavs, the Northmen (I refrain from the term “Viking”), the Huns, the Khazars,the Magyars, the Avars and also the peoples of pre-Frankish Germany (not in any chronological order, of course) should be much better covered given their overall interest to the History of the period and the fact they “occupied” most of the continent. It’s true that written records are much smaller for these regions if existent at all (often these records come from more sophisticated neighbours who wrote down biased accounts of them), yet a different kind of history, an archaeological, social and, when possible, religious one, should be written and I didn’t see much effort at making it. I admit a single small chapter is already good for histories of this period, yet more is demanded of a brilliant work.

Four solid stars.

Castle of Montemor-o-Velho

Montemor-o-Velho - Castelo 01          The area of Montemor-o-Velho, in central Portugal, is inhabited since pre-History, but the first references to the castle date to the 9th century. Being securely under the kingdom of Asturias by 878, it was disputed between Christians and Muslims between the late 10th and the early 12th centuries between Christians and Muslims due to its strategic position along the Mondego and its proximity to Coimbra. The Christians only managed to take the castle definitely in 1034 by Gonçalo Trastamares and was one of the castles which formed the defensive line around Coimbra that defended the city from Almoravid attacks in the early 12th century until the second “taifas” period and Afonso Henriques’ conquests in the Tagus valley in the 1140’s.

Aerial view of the castle.

Architecturally, the original 9th century castle was repaired in 1085-1091 and probably in 1109 precisely because of its position along the border. In the transition from the 12th to the 13th century the keep tower was built and in the  early 14th century, besides reparation works, the castle also received a new ring of walls and a barbican.

The castle (which guarded the medieval settlement) belonged in several periods to princes in Portuguese medieval history like the infantas D. Sancha e D. Teresa (who gave the town its first “foral” in 1212, confirmed in 1248 by Afonso III), princess Branca (daughter of Afonso III), Afonso IV (before he became the King of Portugal) and the infante Peter, Duke of Coimbra. It was one of the favourite places of the court in Afonso IV’s reign precisely due to its strategic place and, according to tradition, this was the site where Inês de Castro’s execution was decided in 6th January 1355.

In 1516 Manuel I gave to Montemor a new “foral” and the town reached a peak of development thanks to the agricultural activities on the Mondego’s valley (namely of corn) and the trade that was made using it. New palaces, churches and nunneries were built or remodeled; the town also was the place of origin of Fernão Mendes Pinto ( explorer, adventurer and the author of Peregrinação) and Diogo de Azambuja (important Portuguese noble and the conqueror of Safi, in Morocco, in 1508). That prosperity lasted until the 17th century, but the river shored up with time and the town (especially the castle, which hadn’t any defensive role anymore and had strict rules for the people who lived inside it) declined, which was made worse by the rise of the town of Figueira da Foz in the 18th century.

Why did Count Henry gain the County of Portucale?

It’s a known fact Henry of Bourgogne gained the county of Portucale around the year of 1096, together with the hand of Teresa of Portugal,a bastard daughter of Alfonso VI of Léon and Castile, but the fact it was gained from the domain of his cousin Count Raymond (the husband of Alfonso’s daughter Urraca and the count of Portugal and Galicia) raises the following question: why was the region taken from the control of the supposed heir to the Castilian throne and given to Alfonso Henriques’ father?

According to traditional Romantic accounts, Henry was a knight who helped Alfonso VI and the county together with the marriage to Teresa were
the “rewards” for his brave actions against the Almoravids, but, if this was true, why would be given Raymond’s lands to him? This simply doesn’t explain historical facts (if the King was kind in giving lands, he wouldn’t surely take lands from his son-in-law, besides the fact “there aren’t free lunches”).

Many Portuguese historians see this appointment as a result of the inability of the Galician count in holding the border against the Muslim attacks, resulting in the losses of Sintra and Lisbon in 1094, but there are two commonly forgotten but important facts which in my view undermine this theory: Portugal was part of Urraca’s dowry (so Alfonso VI couldn’t hope to take it out without annoying his son-in-law and daughter) and the military record of the Leonese king and his court, including count Henry (who would fail several times as count of Portucale and royal commander), in the border skirmishes against the Almoravids was very mixed.

Now that all these theories were discarded, I’d like to present one I saw which explains everything: the cession of the county of Portugal to count Henry was a political manoeuver to weaken Bourgogne’s faction at the Castilian court. The new “Portuguese” count was a royal agent at that time (as his early rule clearly shows) and a grandson of Duke Robert I of Burgundy through his older son Henry, while Urraca’s husband was the 4th son of Count William of Burgundy, which meant that Henry’s status was superior to that of his cousin, thereby creating rivalries between the two for lands and any potential succession rights.

Why would Alfonso VI want to create such troubles in his kingdom? It seems the answer lies in the succession issue: the Leonese king’s concubine Zaida (who converted later to Christendom and possibly married with the monarch under the name of Elizabeth) had given to birth an illegitimate son called Sancho Alfónsez and Alfonso started preparing his succession to him instead of his legitimate daughter Urraca and her husband Raymond. We mustn’t forget succession in medieval Hispania (until the early 13th century in Portugal and the end of the century in Léon and Castile) was much more open than in late medieval France, as all sons (including sometimes bastards) had right to part of their father’s inheritance (even resulting in the splitting of kingdoms in the case of several sons, like in 1065 or 1157) and dynastic claims could also be transmitted by female or bastard lines (royalty was seen as shared by the whole family and not something exclusive to the monarch and his/her consort). In fact, this wasn’t the whole move and made part of a wider strategy of weakening Latin influence at the court, especially from Cluny.

The only problem with this plot (notwithstanding the Succession Pact between Raymond and Henry) is that Prince Sancho, who was proclaimed as the heir to the Castilian throne in 1107, was murdered in 1108 by mudéjars after the battle of Uclés, ruining it completely. Another evidence for this theory is precisely what Alfonso did next: he married Urraca (her first husband had died in 1105) with Alfonso the Battler of Aragon and nominated them as their heirs in 1109, in an attempt of avoiding the succession of either the future Alfonso VII or Count Henry and Teresa.