Basque People - Culture - Society

Society

Historically, Basque society can be described as being somewhat at odds with Roman and later Western European societal norms.

Strabo's account of the north of Spain in his Geographica makes a mention of "a sort of woman-rule—not at all a mark of civilization" (Hadington 1992), a first mention of the—for the period—unusual position of women. "Women could inherit and control property as well as officiate in churches. Combined with the issue of lingering pagan beliefs, this enraged the leaders of the Spanish Inquisition, perhaps leading to one of the largest witch hunts in the Basque town of Logroño in 1610".

This preference for female dominance existed well into the 20th century:

...matrilineal inheritance laws, and agricultural work performed by women continued in Basque country until the early twentieth century. For more than a century, scholars have widely discussed the high status of Basque women in law codes, as well as their positions as judges, inheritors, and arbitrators through ante-Roman, medieval, and modern times. The system of laws governing succession in the French Basque region reflected total equality between the sexes. Up until the eve of the French Revolution, the Basque woman was truly ‘the mistress of the house', hereditary guardian, and head of the lineage.

Although the kingdom of Navarre did adopt feudalism, most Basques also possessed unusual social institutions different from those of feudal Europe. Some aspects of this include the elizate tradition where local house-owners met in front of the church to elect a representative to send to the juntas and Juntas Generales (such as the Juntas Generales de Vizcaya or Guipúzcoa) which administered much larger areas. Another example was the fact that in the medieval period most land was owned by the farmers, not the Church or a king.

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