One of the many stereotyped images of the Catalans propagated over the years by the Castile-centered Spanish state is that of the freebooting corsair interested, above all, in money, and disposed to doing just about anything to get more of it, a mindset, it is said, that makes them fundamentally different and less trustworthy than the supposedly spiritual and non-materialistic people in the rest of Spain.
Like all stereotypes this one has a grain of truth to it. Though it is not widely known today, Catalonia was a major Mediterranean trading power competing, often quite successfully, with the erstwhile giants of commerce in that region, Genoa and Venice, for access to the most lucrative markets around the Mare Nostrum in the years between 1292 and 1516. And as anyone who has studied Mediterranean history of the era knows, the line between commerce and piracy (along with its twin vice, smuggling) at the time was often quite thin.
While the Catalans were making deals – albeit not always devoid of a certain degree of coercion – in the cradle of European deal-making, Castile was still deeply immersed in a holy war against the Muslim residents of the Peninsula, the clear goal being that of forcing every follower of Muhammad (as well as the Jews that often lived peaceably and comfortably among them) there to either leave for other parts of the world, or convert to Christianity.
Whereas concepts of personal and group identity in the Mediterranean at the time were quite fluid and often subject to sudden and opportunistic transformations, those in the heartland of the Peninsula were comparatively static –and unlike those deployed in the prime trading nations of the Mediterranean basin – undergirded by a high degree rigidity-inducing sacrality.
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