Biography of Gabriel Alonso de Herrera (ca. 1480-ca. 1539)

Spanish naturalist born in Talavera de la Reina (Toledo) near 1480 and died around 1539. Little information about the biography of Herrera are known, came to Granada to 1492 where he/she studied for the priesthood and practiced horticulture for a decade. In 1502-1503, already Bachelor, was employed by the Marquis of Mondejar to manage some orchards in Granada. Between 1503 and 1512 he/she traveled constantly for Spain, France and Italy, to study agricultural practices, possibly at the expense of Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros. His work of agriculture was published in June of 1513 and the own Herrera personally directed the successive revisions, until the 1539. Such work is divided into six books. The first is an overview, as well as the qualities of soils, but is mainly dedicated to the cultivation of rainfed cereals; Book II is a treatise on the vineyards; Book III, on trees; and the fourth, on vegetables. They are listed in alphabetical order, showing the intention of Herrera for publishing a reference work. The 5th book is farm animals and their diseases. The latest book is a brief calendar of the agricultural year, inspired by Palladium.

The work of Herrera is a compilation, not an original Treaty, or, rather, the originality lies in the way in which the compilation is intended. Herrera blends extensive quotes from ancient sources, Medieval Christian and Muslim with his own remarks, introduced to support and occasionally to refute the statements made by his sources. The best way to evaluate the work of Herrera is to identify areas of agreement and disagreement between the ancient and Islamic traditions and then see their own position in specific contexts.

Thus, the peculiarities of Herrera should seek in the balance of sources, because there is little original content. The most cited ancient sources are Pliny (602 quotations), palladium (529), Columella (517), Theophrastus (262), Varro (165) and Aristotle (93); between medieval Christians, Pietro Crescentino (888 quotations) and propietatibus Bartholomew Anglico rerum (89); the Muslim authorities cited are Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 147 citations) and Ibn Wafid (Abencenif, 102).

Herrera justifies their confidence in the ancient authors to say the climate and geographical unit of the Mediterranean basin, the fact that he/she had observed in his travels. Its agronomic theory is classical and Aristotle. The balance of the four qualities (heat, cold, humidity and dryness) that dominate in a given region, must combine with the qualities of the cultivated plants to make agriculture flourish. The man can enter the water to alter the natural balance in its favour.

He has been generally accepted that Herrera was a Renaissance follower of the medieval tradition of Agronomy Arab Andalusian, especially since José M. Millás Vallicrosa showed that the Abencenif quoted by Herrera was in fact Ibn Wafid, author on agronomic topics from the 11th century in the Toledo Islamic, and Herrera has had access to the Spanish translation of the book of Ibn Wafid agriculture. Miles offers numerous examples of similarities in texts; the capacity of the cabbage seed to produce turnips and vice versa; radishes grow to the length of the diameter of the hole in which were planted; that the onions should be stored in barley straw, and so on.

However, Herrera deviations from the practice in al - Andalus are more significant. For example, the Andalusian thought that the quality of the soil was the most important element in agriculture; Herrera assigns to the water first. The Constitution were in favour of greater flexibility in the adjustment of the number of rows to the quality of the soil; Herrera is the prescription of Varro to only three. The Andalusian thought that fertilizers were the principal means to adapt the soils to the quality required for crops. Therefore, they paid meticulous attention to the individual qualities of a wide range of animal fertilizer. Herrera preferred the ashes to manure, minimized the differences between different types and thought that demands risk controlled the use of fertilizers.

The work of Herrera reached a wide diffusion in the 16th century. Apparently, Cisneros paid for the first edition and distributed it among farmers (according to Herrera's brother, Hernando: "ovo le desparzido by the hand of everyone in villages, towns and places, a grand taste of the people"). Twenty-eight Castilian editions that took until 1862 are an example of the popularity of the work of Herrera. In addition, the places of publication of these give an indication of its large scope of broadcasting: Alcalá de Henares, Toledo, Logroño, Valladolid, Medina del Campo, Pamplona, Madrid. In summary, it seems that the practical experience of Herrera in Talavera weighed more strongly on its readers that his years in Granada. His book found the best reception in areas producing wheat of Castilla la Vieja, in the districts of wine La Rioja (remember that book II of the play is dedicated for full wing viticulture) and in the gardens of Toledo used the wells for irrigation.



Work of State Agriculture of various antiquissimi (Alcalá de Henares, Arnao Guillen of Cousland, 1513). In addition to twenty-eight Castilian editions, was published in French (1596) and Italian (six prints between 1557 and 1608). Among the current, preceded by reprints of historical studies, pointed out that of José Urbano Martínez Carreras (Madrid, Atlas, 1970), and the facsimile of the 1513 with introduction of Thomas F. Glick (Valencia, Hispaniae Scientia, 1979).


MILLÁS VALLICROSA, José M.: The "book of agriculture" of Ibn Wafid and its influence on the Agriculture of the Renaissance, Al - Andalus, 8, pp. 281-332, 1943.BOLENS, Lucie: Les méthodes cultural au moyen-âge d' après les traités d'application d'Agronomie andalous: Traditions et techniques. (Geneva, médecine et hygiène, 1974).BEUTLER, Corinne: A collective sensibilité chapitre: La literature agricole en Europe continentale au XVe siècle. (Annales, 28, pp.1280-1301, 1973).GLICK, Thomas F.: Agronomy and environment in the work of the Agriculture of Gabriel Alonso de Herrera. Introduction to the of. Above-mentioned facsimile, pp. 13-59 (Valencia, Hispaniae Scientia, 1979).

Thomas F. Glick