The Jews of medieval Toledo: Their economic and social contacts with Christians from 1150 to 1391

Nina Melechen, Fordham University


Medieval Toledo was a political and economic center whose ethnic diversity promoted cultural variety. It was the first place where Castilian Christians lived beside large numbers of Jews and Muslims for extended periods of time. The norms of coexistence that developed there during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries formed a model for other towns of the kingdom, especially for the Andalusian cities conquered during the thirteenth century. By the last half of the fourteenth century, however, the model had ceased to be effective. This dissertation uses Toledo in the twelfth through fourteenth centuries as a window onto the questions of ethnic interactions and majority/minority relations during the Middle Ages, discussed in Chapter 1. Chapter 2 shows that the majority Christian population there was faced with a large, identifiable Jewish minority which was far less segregated in its behavior than were most medieval European minorities of any religion. Despite the harmony between the groups for much of this period, Chapters 3–5 demonstrate that leaders of both religious communities maintained strict conceptual boundaries between themselves and the others; despite this insistence on alterity, members of the groups interacted in ways unknown in most of the rest of medieval Europe, described in Chapters 6 and 7. In fact, economic documents from the period show that Christians and Jews in Toledo were involved in very similar activities, often in cooperation with each other, although Christian rhetoric ignored this fact. The Toledan experience demonstrates that alterity was not an inevitable source of social conflict for medieval Europeans. Boundaries between groups were enormously important for medieval people, but the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Toledo were not a time of pressure to conform or the persecution of minorities. The fourteenth century, however, saw a breakdown of toleration; Chapter 8 discusses how Europe-wide economic stresses and local political upheaval destroyed the balance between hostility and acceptance and led to violence against Jews. And once again, developments in Toledo proved to be a model for events in the rest of the kingdom of Castile, leading to the anti-Jewish riots of 1391.

Subject Area

Middle Ages|European history|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Religious history

Recommended Citation

Melechen, Nina, "The Jews of medieval Toledo: Their economic and social contacts with Christians from 1150 to 1391" (1999). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9926907.