The medieval Visigothic kingdom--even after the full-scale conversion of the population from Arianism to Catholicism--was barely held together by a fluctuating mixture of tradition inherited from Roman law, Germanic and provincial influences, local custom, and Catholic values. In her study of a society riddled with instability and conflicting paradigms of power, Rachel Stocking dissects the social meaning of consensus in the early medieval state. Using the compelling example of contemporary records and by drawing out the often-conflicting aspirations of kings and bishops, she addresses the dynamic and contradictory relationship between the ideals of Christian governance and early medieval social conditions.
This eloquently presented, exhaustive study concludes that legislation, however persistently enacted, was unequal to the task of remedying a lack of unity and other social and political ills. Notions of consensus are explored as a way of maintaining community cohesion and order in the absence of strong central authorities. Other issues the author confronts are Catholic tolerance and intolerance toward heterodox and non-Christian "others;" the transformation and transmission of ancient ideals and social structures from the Roman to the later medieval worlds; and the position of medieval Spain in relation to the mainstream of western European history.
This nuanced study is a must-read for anyone interested in medieval life, politics, religion, and the precarious nature of the medieval state.
Rachel Stocking is Professor of History, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.