Presentation

Dr. Belen Vicens (Saiz) is a historian of law and society in medieval Spain and the Mediterranean world, with an emphasis on relations between Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Other interests include material culture, cartography, visual art, and women’s history. She will be joining the History department at Denison University as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Fall of 2017. Prior to this appointment she held an Arts & Letters Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Notre Dame (2016-2017), where she completed her dissertation in July of 2016.

Dr. Vicens is currently working, among other projects, on a book manuscript titled Negotiating Power and Privilege: Law, Monarchy, and the Nobility in Medieval Aragon that draws on her dissertation work.

Negotiating Power and Privilege opens a new way of approaching both social interactions and legal maneuvering between the crown and the nobility in thirteenth-century Aragon (situated in northeastern Spain today). This monograph examines how law came to play a crucial role in politics in the High and Late Middle Ages. Taking the kingdom of Aragon as a focal point, her work challenges the notion that monarchs had a monopoly over the law; in other words, that they imposed laws upon their subjects in order to centralize royal power.

Negotiating Power and Privilege focuses on a hitherto little-studied source—Aragon’s first territorial law code, the Vidal Mayor. Composed around 1247 by the bishop and jurist Vidal de Canellas, the Vidal Mayor is both a law code and a rich commentary on contemporary society. By analyzing both the laws and the commentary, in conjunction with other sources, Dr. Vicens’ work reveals the central space that law occupied in Aragonese politics. In demonstrating that the Vidal Mayor arose as a product of negotiation between varied political forces, not as an imposition from the crown, this monograph alters our understanding of how law was negotiated at the local level and the fundamental role it played in mediating relationships between crown and nobility at the cusp of early modern state building.

Dr. Vicens’ publications include an award-winning article on Christian-Muslim relations titled “Swearing by God: Muslim Oath-Taking in Late Medieval and Early Modern Christian Iberia” (Medieval Encounters 20, no. 2 (2014): 117–51). This article won the 2015 Best First Article Prize of the Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies (ASPHS) and the 2015 Philip Gleason Prize from the Notre Dame History Department. An earlier version also won the 2014 Vincent DeSantis Prize from the Notre Dame Department of History. See readers’ comments here.

Dr. Vicens is a native of Catalonia in Spain where she received two undergraduate degrees from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. In the US, she has earned two Masters’ degrees, one in Islamic Studies from UCLA (2008) and another in History from Notre Dame (2012). She is a native speaker of Spanish and Catalan and has advanced reading skills in Latin, French, Portuguese, and Arabic.

Dr. Vicens can be reached by email at «vicensb at denison dot edu» or by mail at

Denison University
Department of History
100 West College Street
Granville, OH 43023

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Photo Credit
Detail of folio 3r of the manuscript of the Vidal Mayor (Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ludwig XIV 6).
The Vidal Mayor is a thirteenth-century book of fueros or customary laws from the Iberian kingdom of Aragon that was authored by Vidal de Canellas. The passage, written in Aragonese Romance, reads: “Aqui comiençan los titu- | los del libro de los fueros que | ha nopne uidal Mayor” (Here begin the titles of the book of fueros that is named Vidal Mayor).