Céline Martin

The Asturia of Valerius: Bierzo at the End of the Seventh Century (pdf)

(*En Portugués aquí; En Español aquí; En français ici)


This essay firstly presents the Bierzo region as a geographical unit: a large basin surrounded by mountains on almost all of its sides. It consequently can be described as a dual region, consisting both of fertile and relatively low areas endowed with a favorable microclimate, and highlands and slopes subject to harsh climatic conditions. Such a duality is very apparent in Valerius’s writings, and must be understood as much in a concrete, practical sense – for these were the physical conditions in which he was living – as well as religiously and spiritually. Valerius’s eremitical spirituality was by no means original in the seventh century, although the region in which he led most of his life certainly was suitable to forming his binary worldview.

Seventh-century Bierzo had inherited most of the Roman framework of public roads and settlements. These are the concern of the second section of this essay: across Bierzo at least one Roman road joined Asturica, to the East, with Bracara in Gallaetia; there may have been another itinerary between Asturica and Bergidum, capital of the region, but scholars today tend to doubt the existence of two different roads. The other places named by Valerius are a castrum (Castrum Petrense) and several monasteries, the locations of which are in some cases quite certain and in others still unclear.

The last section of this essay deals with Asturia as an administrative entity. Although included in the Diocletianic province of Gallaetia, it has been claimed, since the 1970’s, that Asturia was promoted to a new independent province some time in the seventh century; the main argument for this theory has been taken precisely from Valerius’s works. However, such an idea is insufficiently supported, whether by Valerius’s writings or by the few other pieces of available evidence: the lack of a stronger foundation for the theory should prevent scholars from considering Asturia, Valerius’s patria, as anything other than an ecclesiastical diocese.

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