chapter  15
14 Pages

Transhumant herding systems in Iberia

WithMargarita Fernández Mier, Catarina Tente

The topic of medieval transhumance in the Iberian Peninsula inevitably brings to mind La Mesta. Two Iberian case studies provide good examples of the intricacies of studying transhumance systems: Cantabrian Mountains in northwest Spain and Estrela Mountain in central Portugal. Livestock breeding systems in both Estrela Mountain and the Cantabrian Mountains can be better understood through ethnographic and anthropological analyses. In both areas, transhumance has persisted into the twentieth century. Short-distance mountain transhumance involves the movement of flocks from villages to high-altitude pastures. The balance between livestock breeding and agriculture required wide compromises in the midst of these peasant communities, as well as the existence of some very precise statutes which held until the twentieth century. There are two scales of ethnographically documented transhumance on Estrela Mountain. One short-distance system occurred in the summer when flocks went up to graze on mountain pastures. Another medium-distance system began with the first snowfall in November/December.